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16 posts categorized "*Chinese Culture"

A Family Visit

Sometimes I forget that I haven’t lived in China my whole life. I know this sounds silly because, of course, I’ve only been in China since October, but having my grandparents and their two friends in Nanchang for a few days threw into sharp relief just how much I have assimilated to life here in that short time.

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For instance, I did not even consider that my visitors would be unable to use chopsticks effectively. Nor did I realize that I had become accustomed to the stark language barrier. People in China don’t speak English. They speak Chinese – they all learn Mandarin, but usually they speak the dialect of their own province or city. My students speak English because they are English and translation majors currently attending college. Occasionally there is a hotel manager with English skills, or a cashier at a Western brand store that can use a little English to help you, but mostly people speak Chinese and you have to do your best to communicate when you want or need something. For me, that means learning key words and phrases during my time here, but for my grandparents it meant using body language and hoping for the best (and then relying on me and my poor Chinese skills to translate… yeah, good luck with that).

Considering the rainy weather, the language barrier, and the sudden realization that I would be subjected to a multitude of questions that I didn’t have the answer to, we had quite a good time! We visited Tengwang Pavilion across the river, which I had not previously been to. It is one of the famous sites of Nanchang, and it’s large and beautiful! The only fun fact I knew before visiting is that the structure has been rebuilt several times, so I was able to learn a lot more that day. The site of Tengwang Pavilion includes the pavilion itself filled with artifacts and information, the gardens surrounding the many structures, and a superb view of the river (on a sunnier day). We also visited the Bayi Memorial museum during the weekend, which memorializes the Nanchang Uprising led by the Chinese Communist Party on August 1, 1927. I have now been there three times, but this time I had my trusty colleague present to provide additional information, and four extra Americans to offer their comments. I learn something new every time I go, so I expect to visit at least once more before I leave this city!

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In addition to learning a bit of Chinese history during our adventures, my grandparents learned more about Chinese people, especially those who live in a smaller (hah!) city like this one and who rarely see foreigners… they want lots of pictures! For the most part I’ve gotten used to strangers approaching me on the street asking for a selfie, but it was a new experience for my four companions. It was kind of nice to deflect the attention to other people for once. When they visited my classrooms the students attempted to be a bit more discreet, but there were still a handful that approached for photos at the end of class.

It was a great opportunity for my students and my four American companions to be able to meet each other. The students listened to four voices that differ from my own, and benefitted from it in many ways. Not only did they listen to these voices, but they asked questions about daily life in America and my grandparents’ hobbies. In return, my grandparents asked a few questions of their own about the students’ daily lives and activities here in China. We were able to generate some good discussions, and I was very proud of my students who spoke confidently and clearly in a new situation. We’re all hoping that my grandparents and their friends are enjoying the rest of their travels through China. Meanwhile, the students are improving daily!

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春节 (Spring Festival)

The more I learn about Chinese New Year, the more interesting it becomes. First of all, only people who are not Chinese call it the Chinese New Year... here it’s called Spring Festival or 春节. It’s celebrated based on the lunar calendar, so this year Spring Festival will take place on February 16th. The upcoming year is The Year of the Dog, so this is my year! Any of you born between February 10, 1994 and January 30 1995: This is your year too! Additionally most people born in 2006, 1982, 1970, 1958, 1946…….. this is your year too! (The lunar New Year typically falls somewhere between January and February, so if you have a birthday in one of these two months, you should check other sources to accurately know what your zodiac sign is.

Back to those of us celebrating “our year”: don’t get too excited yet! When I first found out that I would be here in China as the lunar calendar unfolded into another Year of the Dog my reaction was: YIPPEE! I was so excited to be in China during MY year… I thought it was such good fortune that the two things would coincide! But alas, my knowledge of Chinese traditions was limited. Little did I know that your zodiac year is your year of bad luck! When I found this out I was immediately resistant. But then I thought back to 12 years ago (the last time my zodiac year came around) and realized it actually wasn’t a very good year! (It was 7th grade… we all know 7th grade is no fun!) So I was really sad… I don’t want bad luck while I’m in China! Nor do I want bad luck for the duration of the lunar year!

But, oh! My students and friends came to my rescue and told me a wonderfully helpful tradition! To ward off bad luck, you must simply wear something red all year until the next Spring Festival takes place. I thought, yeah, I can do that! I just need to buy lots of red clothes and make sure I wear them. I already have a red scarf anyway! Then, I got the best piece of advice I’ve received thus far. One of my friends said: just buy lots of red underwear, then you can always have something red on and not have to worry about it!

There is so much more to say about Spring Festival… traditional foods, activities, customs. But the truth is… every province in China is different, and every family celebrates a little differently too. So my goal is to collect as much information as I can from my students after they go home for the winter holiday and celebrate. Then I will be able to share more diverse information, rather than the tidbits that I know right now. One thing I will share is that a big tradition surrounding this festival is for older relatives to give their younger relatives 压岁钱 (red pocket money). This is a red envelope full of money to symbolize good luck and to ward off evil spirits. The specific traditions regarding red pocket money vary from province to province and between the north and the south of China (similar to how regional differences exist within the United States). However, the general idea remains the same.

Bearing all this in mind, the winter holiday is almost upon us. The students will go home soon, and the festivities will begin. So…. if you’re wondering what my plans are leading up to Spring Festival: Buy red underwear is the first thing on my list!

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*Edited and fact checked by Bella

First Semester Wrap-Up

In the interest of giving a lot of information in a short amount of time I want to share a few moments from my first semester in the style of superlatives. So without further ado…

Best Lesson: My best lesson this semester was the one I previously wrote about on this blog. My classes watched a scene from Harry Potter in silence and created their own ideas about what was happening with the characters. It went well in every single class and I believe the students genuinely enjoyed being creative with each other.

Worst Lesson: My worst lesson was during our formal and informal speech unit. I created a few different lessons to help differentiate between formal and informal vocabulary and expressions. There were some very successful lessons with mock job interviews and a game using “slang” words, but one lesson fell flat. We discussed how diary style writing influences informal speech, and how casual videos can show informal relationships. However, the lesson did not have enough substance, so I’ve put it on the blacklist for the future.

Funniest Moment: I can’t pull out one specific funny moment from my memory because the students all say humorous things quite often in my class. One of the most fun weeks though was when the students were learning raps for their pronunciation and intonation class and they came into my classroom mumbling the lyrics to “My Humps” by the Black Eyed Peas under their breath. I forced them all to tell me which raps they were learning and many were throwbacks to my middle school days, so we listened on QQmusic and I rapped right along with them.

Scariest Moment: The scariest moment is a toss-up between two memorable incidents. One: during our Harry Potter acting class two of the boys were such good actors that I was convinced they were actually going to fist fight each other. Fortunately, they played nicely. Two: in two of our classes a computer began smoking in the middle of class and scared the students half to death. We have since marked that computer as the computer of death and NO ONE is allowed to touch it EVER again! ~Fun times!

Most Memorable Class: Again, difficult to choose, but we have now acted for two class lessons and I think those are the most fun. We did our Harry Potter scene lesson, and we also did a class that focused on improvisation. Improvising in a second language is so difficult because it strains your mental capacity to remember vocabulary and sentence construction. Buuuuut… this is how spoken English is used – we don’t plan out everything we say on paper before we say it. So we did a class-wide improv game and the students were once again creative and successful!

Most Difficult Parts of Learning English: Everything. Just kidding – the students are actually quite good at memorizing vocabulary and using it in their writing. They also know a lot more English grammar than I do, which stinks because native English speakers tend not to use grammar appropriately when they speak. The pronunciation is also difficult because it’s so different from the pronunciation of Chinese. There are many sounds that exist in one language, but not the other and vice versa.

Most Interesting Discussion: We spent time one class discussing winters in our hometowns. This was just after a big storm in New Hampshire, so I decided to share my typical winter experience with my classes (Nanchang does not get any snow). It became interesting when I opened up the floor to all the students and had them share with each other about their own hometowns in winter. Many are from this province (Jiangxi) but there are also many from more northern or southern provinces that had cool things to share with their classmates.

Things I Learned: My biggest learning moment (in class) this semester was about the education system in China. We discussed high school, applying for college, and admittance. In China the Gaokao is the college entrance exam (similar to the SAT… except not… the Gaokao score can decide a student’s future entirely). Everyone takes the Gaokao and sends their scores to the universities of their choice, along with their requests for a major. You get 6 choices. Then, a while later you receive information telling you which school you will attend and which major you will be, almost solely based on your Gaokao score. This is very different from receiving several (hopefully) acceptance letters from colleges in the U.S. and choosing one along with your major. It was a big learning moment for me, and it helped me to understand my students even more.

Well, classes are over. Exams take place during the next two weeks. And then it’s time for the students to go home and relax and celebrate Spring Festival (or Chinese New Year) with their families. More on that later!

 

My Student-Actors

Today one of my lessons went even better than I could have imagined! I was very hesitant at first because from my (minimal) experience here the students have a lot of difficulty being creative and imaginative. Many students prefer to ask a question, get the answer, and then memorize the answer. There is right and wrong without much opportunity for individual thought within the classroom. BUT TODAY we did an activity that involved watching a silent scene from a movie and then creating a dialogue to match the scene.

Last class we discussed body language, facial expressions, and how to use your voice to carry your meaning (all things that support the actual language of conversation - whether it is in English OR Chinese). For our purposes, of course, we were discussing the value of these tools in English. The scene we watched today was from Harry Potter (duh, I love Harry Potter) and it was rather emotional. Two characters are talking, then a third one joins them, and an argument ensues! It’s very clear that they are having an argument due to their body language and facial expressions (aka good acting). So the students grouped up, we watched the scene, and then I allowed them free reign to create a dialogue - or at least to create an idea of what was happening in the scene. It didn’t have to be TRUE as long as it realistically MATCHED the emotions, actions, etc.

We took some time. We discussed a few words along with their meanings and pronunciations as a class. I roamed the room listening to their ideas and guiding them toward speaking in English rather than the Chinese that they are so used to. AND THEN a few groups were chosen to share with the class. And boy, oh boy, was it AWESOME! They had us all laughing, and smiling, and one group even had a few of us feeling afraid - it seemed like the two boys in the group were actually going to start fighting. The first group decided the argument was about money - the third character in the scene was the next-door neighbor and he came over to ask for some money. The second group pretended that two of the characters were practicing their lines for a play and the third one didn’t believe them because it was so late at night! The third group decided that the two first characters were studying together and the character that entered the scene was a jealous boyfriend that didn’t believe they were “just studying”. DID I MENTION THAT THESE STUDENTS ACTED OUT THESE SCENES?

It was wonderful to watch and listen to. All of the groups seemed to enjoy hearing from one another because they all had different ideas about the scene. Most importantly, as the teacher, all of their ideas matched up with the body language that we saw. It was a great way to watch the students apply their knowledge rather than regurgitate what they learned last class onto a piece of paper in the form of a test or quiz. All in all, a great lesson and highly recommended to future TEFL teachers! (I actually got this idea from another TEFL teacher who had to DO this during her own high school French class.)

Written on November 29, 2017

Published later to see how this lesson fared in the other 3 classes - same results! Excellent lesson. Highly recommended!

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(This photo was taken by a student during our Thanksgiving lesson the previous week. #InTheClassroom)

 

Midterms are coming! Midterms are coming!

It’s midterm season here at Nanchang University. To those of you at home that statement probably seems like a quick jump from “new professor” to MIDTERMS! It is. My fellow Americans and I arrived during the fourth week of the semester, and therefore midterms have arrived very quickly. However, we can’t wait any longer or else we’ll be giving midterm exams back-to-back with finals and that’s just not fair to the students. So here we are.

 

At my university in America midterms meant, “Okay people, here come a few tests to take and papers to write. Make sure you study and write in advance because these are not things that you can cram for the night before!” (I assure you, they are things that you can cram for the night before.) In China midterms mean, “Keep studying! Don’t stop! Here comes an exam that is worth 30% of your grade, so memorize all of the information and spit it all back to me next Monday!” Now, in an English speaking class in China taught by a foreign teacher (me) midterms are somewhere in between my two examples.

 

My wonderful freshmen have been creating dialogues with a partner for the past week and will be presenting them to their classmates on Monday and Tuesday of this coming week. So they are still doing some memorizing, but they also have a chance to be creative in the process. We have been talking about the past and future tenses, pronunciation, and confidence so that is how they will be graded. GASP! “You mean, you aren’t grading the specifics of their grammar?” you ask, horrified at my less-than-expert teaching abilities! But let me ask you this: how often do you use proper grammar in every aspect of your conversations? Grammar is very important, but the students here have spent enough time memorizing grammar and vocabulary! My job is to help them produce their language on the spot. And on the spot? We all make mistakes.

 

It will certainly be an interesting week (I think some of my students secretly hate me) but I’m excited to see what they share! I’ve had a few previews in class and I am impressed with how hard the students are working to perfect their conversations. I am a bit less impressed when they use their phone dictionaries to search for complicated vocabulary that even I don’t know how to use, but all in all I have high expectations of success! That is, until it comes time to do all of the grading… and inputting the grades into the complex spread sheets on my computer… and planning for the second half of the semester…

 

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Though I’ve told you what midterms meant to me in America, and what midterms mean to students here in China, I have yet to tell you what midterms mean for a professor with 5 English conversation classes, one of which has 81 students in attendance. To me, midterms mean: stay up all night grading and don’t stop until you’re done!

 

With all that bearing down on me, I did what any sane person would do: I bought a bottle of wine to sip my way through all of the grading! Happy Midterms, everyone!

 

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11/11

Double 11 is this Saturday and it’s a big day according to my students. It’s the day to celebrate single people (I just heard the echoes of many laughs from my friends and family as they read this)! Due to November 11th being written as 11/11, people here in China think of those individual 1’s as single people. On this day the goal is to bring single people together to not feel so lonely. There are events happening all over the place on Saturday, and most importantly there are huge discounts for online shopping. APPs like “Tabao” (very popular here - similar to Amazon in the United States) are having major sales. That way if you’re single and feeling lonely, at least you can do some cheap online shopping! It’s comparable to what’s become known as “Cyber Monday” in America, but it’s done for a totally different reason. So if you’re single and lonely, come to China this weekend!

 

For me, this Saturday marks other significant things. First of all, it’s Veteran’s Day in the U.S. (A quick thank you to all the veterans back home!) Secondly, it marks one month of being in China! My way to celebrate: pizza! It’s become a living abroad tradition for me (this is only my second time living abroad, but back in London on the 1-month-aversary of being there I ate an American meal as well: Chipotle) so now it’s time for Pizza Hut! Don’t be mistaken: the food here is great! But having a small taste of home is relaxing and it’s a fun way to celebrate being away from that home. So of course, I will drag some American friends along with me to eat that cheesy goodness.

 

During this first month we have learned our own ways of living and teaching successfully here at Nanchang University. One piece of advice I will give future Teach in China participants is this: The difference between your first day in China and your first month in China is that after a month those difficult moments from the beginning seem very small and far away. The adjustment was hectic and frustrating and I swore in those first days that I would maybe never feel comfortable here, but then I pushed on and made friends and planned lessons and started remembering NOT to rinse my toothbrush with the sink water. I started to figure out how to get places on campus and cross the street without getting hit by a bus. I finally took a hot shower after about a week of cold, military style showers. (My colleagues all had hot water from the start, so don’t worry future teachers! This was just my bad luck.) I learned some Chinese words and I’ve even used them out in the real world (barely, but still). And this is only me! My colleagues have made great progress as well. So yes, we had a tough time jumping into everything at the beginning (it’s a lot!!), but here we are a month later feeling (mostly) confident about teaching, eating, and living in China! So Pizza Hut, here we come!

 

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(Lulu or 龚露, Collins from Texas, Nate from Maine, ME, and Nick from North Carolina after a great dinner out in the city and before watching the Nanchang light/fountain show!)

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(Photo of said fountain show...)

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(Hot Pot! Very delicious, but I still miss pizza.)

Making New Friends

I've settled into my exciting life in China and it's been nothing but nonstop fun and adventure. 

Whenever I need a break from the daily escapades, I retreat to a cozy coffee shop on campus. This coffee shop is special because I made a great friend here. His name is 猫 and he enjoys napping and talking about Chinese culture. Pictured below is a selfie 猫 and me took together. 

Happy Friday! 

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Culture Shock

I have been in Chengdu, China for a little over a month now. Of course, when you enter a new country,  you know things are going to be different... a lot different. Although there's no better way of finding out those differences than entering the country itself and figuring it out, it's nice to be aware of them before coming to alleviate some of the "shock". I want to share with you the culture shock I have been experiencing my first month in China. 

 

  1. Squat Toilets - The first one of these bad boys I encountered was at the airport in Chengdu. I knew it was coming, but oh how soon it came! It's practically just a hole in the floor. Something to get used to, that's for sure. Also, there's no toilet paper or soap so always have some hand sanitizer and kleenex handy. And I mean ALWAYS. The smell of these bathrooms is quite excruciating and don't be surprised to see older ladies doing their business with the door wide open. It's quite normal. 
  2. Smoking - I absolutely hate cigarettes and this is the hardest thing for me to get accustomed to. I try to walk around people that are smoking in front of me which usually isn't too hard given I'm from Chicago and am an extremely fast walker compared to Chinese people. However, I am a little stuck when the guy next to me lights one up in the elevator. Remember when you were a kid and you would go to a restaurant and the host would ask "smoking or not smoking?"...and how that was banned a long time ago?! Well, here, it's completely legal. Smoking. Everywhere. Inside. Outside. EVERYWHERE. 
  3. Spitting - My dad was right!! He warned me about this. You will commonly here people hacking up phlegm and spitting on the ground. No shame at all. At first, I was very disgusted by this, but after being here, I honestly can tell why they need to do this all the time. The pollution can really get to you and I'm sure it's better to get that stuff out rather than keeping in. Although, not smoking probably would help this situation a lot. 
  4. Traffic - Chengdu isn't the most populated city in China (around 4 million people) but holy crap, that's a lot of people! There is rush hour just about every hour and people lay on their horns the entire time they drive. You really just have to mute the honking in your mind to remain sane. There's no other way. 
  5. Food - The food is so spicy, but so delicious! So this isn't really a culture shock for me, but the pig brains in a bowl and pig's feet hanging up...that's another story. I only ate chicken and fish at home, but I made the decision to end that for my duration in China. Food is a huge part of Chinese culture and the way they prepare these dishes (no matter how strange the body part), it's really delicious. Just don't think about it too much or have your Chinese friend tell you what you ate after you already ate it. 
  6. Stares - I am blonde with blue eyes. So my daily life consists of Chinese people staring at me and asking to take pictures with me. So much to the point sometimes, it's hard for me to get through what I need to get through. I went to the cherry blossoms a couple weeks ago and about 20 people stopped me and asked if they could take a picture with me. And when I say ask, they wrap their arms around me and a photo is taken so quickly, I didn't even know what happened. It doesn't bother me though, they are truly curious about foreigners and are happy you are there, especially if you're a teacher.

My best advise to future teachers/travelers that are coming to China is to just come into it with open arms. These are the norms are and it's best not let them get to you. 

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China Menu Survival Guide: 6 Foods You Need to Try

China in all of its vastness can be a little overwhelming. Not only is it populous, it is the world's second-largest country by land area. Its people find pride in its 5,000 years of history and in all of its cultural and technological advances. The languages in China are just as vast as its borders, with dialects abounding in all parts of the country, some mutually unintelligible to anyone other than a native speaker of that particular dialect.

Population, borders, and dialects aside, there is one more aspect of China that always seems limitless: the menu at restaurants.

There is so much variety in Chinese cuisine. Meats and vegetables can be cooked in all sorts of ways, blended with all sorts of spices, garnished with all sorts of add-ins, and complimented by all sorts of sauces. To those of us who did not grow up in China, sometimes the options just seem greater than the distance between our home countries and China itself. We may think we know what we're doing once we learn the words for chicken (鸡肉), pork (猪肉), beef (牛肉), and fish (鱼), but what we don't realize is that those words are always followed by more options for ways of cooking it and serving it than we could even imagine.

For these reasons, ordering at restaurants can be a stressful activity for people who cannot speak Chinese or who have not been acquainted with Chinese cuisine before. To save some stress and strain, I have compiled a short list of some of the foods I have been eating often in Chongqing. Granted, I have only been in this part of China for a month, so there are still many, many foods I have yet to try. Even so, these are foods that I have come to know and love and would recommend to any person looking for something good to eat in China.

Beef Noodles (牛肉面 - niu rou mian)

In class, my students always said that their favorite food was noodles, but I never really could figure out why. It wasn't until I started eating beef noodles more that I realized why they all love noodles so much. When I first started eating them, they were just okay to me. They had a nice flavor and made me full, so they got the job done. But the more I ate them, the more I craved them; something just clicked in my brain that made me obsessed with them.

Beef noodles can be found anywhere you go and are a solid choice for lunch or dinner. I'm sure people even eat them for breakfast here too! You can find them at restaurants or on the street. Since they're so easy to make (it really is just broth, beef, and noodles, and maybe a vegetable like cabbage), they are usually a very good price. I think I pay about 10 RMB on average for a bowl, which equates to about 1.67 USD.

I have just come to love them so much that I get excited whenever I see their picture on a menu! And if you ever find yourself needing a very late-night snack around 4 or 5 am, I can almost guarantee that you will find a 24-hour noodle place with beef noodles ready to serve.

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Braised Eggplant (红烧茄子 - hong shao qiezi)

Before coming to China, I never really was a fan of eggplant. I know now that the reason I never found eggplant delicious was that I had never experienced it cooked in a way that catered to my palate.

To make this dish, eggplant is fried ever-so-slightly and served in a warm, red sauce. It is not spicy, but I have come across some varieties that add red chili peppers mostly for decoration. This is one of those dishes that is guaranteed to be served at most restaurants and is guaranteed to make your mouth water every time. I highly recommend it as a vegetable side to any meat dish! And if you are a vegetarian looking to add some good vegetable dishes to your must-eat list, I definitely think I've found you a winner.

Hot Pot (火锅 - huo guo)

In my neck of the woods (Chongqing), hot pot is just about everyone's favorite food, or at least among their top favorites. The way I like to describe it is that it's more than just a meal: it's a festivity for friends. And if there is a single food item that Chongqing people would brand next to their name or get tattooed on their body, it's this one.

There are three sizes of hot pot: small, medium, and large. Unless you're dining alone, medium or large is generally the way to go. A group of four or five people can definitely take on a large hot pot pretty successfully. Depending on the tastes of you and your group, you can select as many meats and vegetables to add into the hot pot as you would like. The hot pot already comes with a few vegetables inside the broth, such as potatoes and lotus root (藕 - ou).

After ordering the meats and vegetables you want to add in, the server will bring the hot pot to your table, where it will be heated with a gas stove that is affixed to the center of the table. You can think of hot pot as you would think of fondue, so at this stage, it is just a big bowl of broth with a few vegetables at the bottom. The gas stove will make the water boil, and once the water is at boiling temperature, you can add the raw meats and vegetables in to be cooked.

In places like Chongqing and Sichuan Province, the default flavor for broth is spicy, spicy, spicy. Chongqing people and Sichuan people can't get enough of spicy food, and both places pride themselves on the level of spice found in their hot pot dishes. If you are like me and cannot handle spicy food well, you can ask to order a hot pot that is half spicy broth and half non-spicy broth, almost like a chicken broth. That way you can still get a little bit of that spicy flavor that people crave while still having the ability to switch back to a more comfortable flavor range.

It takes about thirty minutes to actually order the meats, get the hot pot boiling, and have the first few pieces of meat cook all the way through. Then, the actual eating of the food can take an additional thirty minutes to an hour. Every time I go to eat hot pot with my friends, I end up staying there about an hour and a half. That is why I say that hot pot is something to be enjoyed when you have time and good company, not as a quick meal before your teaching day.

The first time I went to hot pot, one of my school's foreign teachers (who speaks excellent Chinese) decided to order us some meats that can commonly be found in a Chinese person's hot pot but that usually intimidate us foreigners. He ordered us pig brain, which he said is one of the most common things ordered at hot pot restaurants. He also got chicken feet and a kind of intestine, both of which are quite commonly consumed at restaurants all across China. Throughout Chinese history, food was valued as a treasure, so wasting and throwing away food was considered criminal.  Thus, consuming all parts of the animal became deeply ingrained in Chinese culture and cuisine.

When you go to eat hot pot, take a lot at what some of the people are ordering around you; I guarantee you will see some animal parts you never thought about eating before. And the next time you go back, you can be brave and bold and try them yourself!

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Pigs brain is commonly ordered at hot pot restaurants.

Dry Pot (干锅 - gan guo)

Dry pot is actually similar to hot pot in the fact that everything is cooked in a large bowl, but the difference is that the meat and vegetables in dry pot are added in and cooked in the boiling water before reaching your table. The process is the same of selecting which meats and vegetables you want to add to the broth, but more experienced people actually make sure that everything is cooked before bringing the big bowl out to your table. When the gas stove on your table is turned on, this time it is simply to keep the water warm so that your already-cooked food stays as warm as possible.

One of my school's foreign teachers says that he prefers dry pot to hot pot because of the fact that he knows the meat is cooked all the way through before he bites into it. I also think that I sway more towards dry pot than hot pot for the same reason. Although I will say, the atmosphere feels much more lively and jubilant when you're eating hot pot.

Just like with hot pot, in Chongqing, the default broth for dry pot is spicy. So, if you do not want spicy broth, you can always just tell the sever that you don't eat spicy food (我不吃辣 - wo bu chi la). She or he can then help you select a broth that isn't too spicy.

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Fried Eggs with Tomato (番茄炒蛋)

This dish sounds pretty basic, but the combination of fried eggs and tomatoes is just classic. This is one of those dishes that you can order a few times per week and never get tired of. It's perfect with a side of rice and compliments just about any other dish on the table. Especially if you have a hard time stomaching Chinese food or want to stick with something easy and safe, this can be a tasty go-to option. Sometimes green peppers or onions will be added to the dish as well for a little extra burst of flavor. I have never met a single soul who has ever opposed to ordering this dish at any given time, which clues you in on just how much of a winner it is. I eat it at lunch and dinner time, and if I went out to eat at restaurants around brunch time, I would probably order it then too.

Gong Bao Ji Ding (宫保鸡丁) - The Original Kung Pao Chicken

No post about food directed towards visitors to China is complete without good 'ol Gong Bao. This is the original Chinese dish that inspired the making of Kung Pao Chicken in America. It's a stir-fry chicken dish that also contains peanuts, vegetables, and some red chili peppers (for decoration, not for consumption) drenched in a delicious, flavorful sauce. The dish typically matches the foreign palate quite nicely, especially since it is reminiscent of the Kung Pao Chicken we all know and love. The pieces of chicken themselves are much smaller, but meat dishes are typically cut into thinly sliced pieces in China anyway.

Gong Bao Ji Ding can be found at just about any restaurant you visit, which means that it can easily be added to your list of go-to dinners. While it is typically not spicy, in places that rave over spicy food like Sichuan Province and Chongqing, you might get a plate of Gong Bao with a kick every once in a while. The sauce on most Gong Bao dishes typically appears brownish in color, so if you get a plate with a reddish-colored sauce, it might be a good indicator that that particular plate has a spicy flare.

No matter what, this dish will always be a foreigner favorite that is timeless and tasty wherever you go. 

My First Week in China at a Glance

It’s kind of hard to believe that I have been in China for nine days already. With all of the running around I’ve done, I feel like I’ve been here for a month already! There is no coherent way to organize all of my thoughts and experiences, so I am going to do my best to recount as much as I can in as orderly a fashion as possible.

I arrived in China at 7:50 pm on my birthday. I flew to the Chongqing airport with one other CIEE teacher working at my school. When we got to the airport, two students from the school were waiting to pick us up. Their names are Jason and Matt. They are both very eager to practice English, so they volunteered to meet us at the airport so they could speak English with us on the ride to school. When I told them it was my birthday, they decided to stop at a restaurant to buy me and the other teacher dinner. Since that day, Matt has become one of my good friends here in China, and Jason has amazed me with his leadership in the English Club.

On my first night in China, I was a little surprised by my living situation. To describe the setup here, there are five CIEE teachers (including myself) at the school, and we all live on the same floor. We each have a single apartment with a bed, a wardrobe, a fridge, a desk or table, and a chair or two. There is a door in the apartment that leads to an outside balcony, on which our sink and bathroom is located. However, the door does not touch the ground all the way; there is about five inches of open space. I was informed that I live on the side of the building that gets all of the bugs, so on my first night, I found myself killing five little bugs in my room and one cockroach. Since then, the bug situation has gotten a lot better. One of the teachers created a barricade for my door with tape, which has so far done a nice job of keeping bugs out. Nonetheless, my apartment is considered a very nice living space in this part of China. It has all of the things I need to go about my daily life, so I have come to peace with it.

I do not have a kitchen, but the school did provide me with a water boiler and a rice cooker. I have used the water boiler to boil the water from the sink, since tap water is not safe to drink in China. Water bottles are also very inexpensive here, so I make sure to keep a few in my fridge at all times. If you are not familiar with the typical Chinese bathroom, it usually only has a toilet and a shower head. The shower head is right next to the toilet, so when you take a shower, the toilet also gets wet. It may sound a little worse than it actually is; all you really have to do is move your toilet paper out of the way while you shower and keep your clothes off to the side where they’ll be dry.

Since your apartment may not come with basic necessities, you will probably have to go run errands for the first few days to get everything you need. For example, my room does not have a mirror. I found a small mirror that I use to look at my face, but I have yet to find a full body mirror. You can get just about everything you need in a Chinese supermarket, or chaoshi (超市). They even sell blankets, pillows, shoes, clothes, towels, and hangers for your clothes.

The beds in China are hard, but you can also find mattress pads in the supermarkets for a little extra cushioning. When washing clothes, people do not really use driers, so loading up on clothes hangers is definitely a good idea. Clothes hanging out to dry is a very common sight in China. Also, it is common for people to wear the same clothes over and over again.

Of course, there are some things that will be very difficult to buy in China. People do not really wear deodorant here, so most stores do not stock it. You can find some types of deodorant in some places, but they are typically on the expensive side and most likely not what you use back home. If you have big feet or wear a large clothes size, then shoes and clothes might also be a bit of a hassle. Mini hand sanitizer is always handy in China but is not commonly sold here. I would highly recommend bringing some from home before traveling to China, especially since most bathrooms do not have hand soap.

Rather than a large city, I am living in more of a town. My school is located in Shuangfu New District, which is located about 45 minutes outside of the big city of Chongqing. Many of the people here have never seen a foreigner before, so my colleagues and I are often met with stares when we go out. When we all walk together, we really get everyone’s attention. It can sometimes feel weird knowing that people are looking at you and talking about you, but you have to remind yourself that it is all coming from a place of genuine interest and not a place of malice. In China, there really is no concept of personal space, so you may even have some people come up to you, stand there, and just watch you. How people react to your foreign-ness will all depend on where you are in China – some places have more foreign influence and a greater population of expats than others.

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The entrance to my school, Chongqing Vocational College of Transportaion

I started teaching my classes two days ago. So far, my work week has been very manageable. My school wants us to focus on oral English, so we do not really give reading or writing assignments. I am teaching at a college, so all of my students are 18-22 years old. Because we are similar in age, we have a lot of fun together in class. The students are all beginners in English, so I have to rephrase things for them, repeat, and speak slowly. Some of my students do not need to learn English for their future professions, so they do not really care about taking a class in English. But I have plenty of students who enjoy learning English and want to practice with me outside of class. For the most part, my students have been very energetic and engaged in class. I honestly look forward to going to teach every day so I can meet all of my students and get to talk with them in English.

So far this week, I have been teaching an introduction class suitable for their level. I come up first and introduce myself to the class. I tell them my name, age, where I am from, my favorite food, and my hobbies. Then, I ask them to remember the questions I answered (such as “what is your favorite food?”) and write those questions on the board. Next, I ask one student to come to the front of the room and to introduce him or herself, answering all five questions. Then, that person chooses who will go next. This continues until everyone has introduced him or herself.

After that, I play a game with them. If the class is smaller and the introductions take up less time, I start by playing telephone. I only play a round or two and give them a word that they have already heard in class, such as “shopping” or “hamburger.” If the class is larger, then I just launch into the second game, which is word chain. I have them play two rounds of word chain. In the first round, they are allowed to write any word they want. In the second round, I make it more challenging by saying that they can only write the names of foods. Since they are still beginners, I let them use their phones during the game. After each round is finished, we all look at the words on the board together. After the first round, I correct the words for spelling and have them point out the words that are the same on each side of the board (since all of my classes have typically been writing the same words, such as “good,” “dog,” and “teacher”). After the second round, I tell them if the food is eaten in America or not. Sometimes, Chinese foods cannot directly translate into English, although their dictionaries give them some sort of English equivalent. I always point out which foods we do not typically eat in America, such as “shark fin.”

I have found that my students know a lot of popular American movies, but they only know the names of those movies in Chinese. So, I have also been teaching them the English names of popular American movies by using pictures. That part of the lesson is always fun because they love to see their favorite movies come onscreen. I also do an activity where I have students raise their hands if they like the movie. Then, we see which movie was the most popular among the class.

At the end of class, I give them the assignment of choosing an English name. Since most students have never interacted with foreigners before, they have not ever thought about getting an English name. I think that they will have fun choosing an English name for themselves, and it will also make life a little easier on me too. I am only an intermediate-level learner of Chinese, so remembering hundreds of Chinese names is certainly a difficult task for me. Some of my students already have English names, and some have really crazy and random English names like “Starfire” and “Sword.” For those two, just seeing their personalities and how happy they are to say their English name, I don’t have the heart to tell them that their names are very out-there to Americans. I think that if they like it, that’s all that matters.

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Me with one of my students!

This weekend, I also got to take a fun trip out to Ciqikou (磁器口), which is one of Chongqing's well-known tourist destinations. It is known for its old architecture and for it's huge open-air market. All sorts of little trinkets and gifts are sold there, and you can find just about anything you could ever want to eat or drink. There is also a Buddhist temple there, which is a serene escape from all of the chaos on the streets. We spent a good six hours there and then took the metro to Honyadong (洪崖洞), which is inside the big city of Chongqing. It is also known as "food street" because it has all sorts of restaurants there. It is a popular place for foreigners to meet and hang out. We all loved the feel of the big city of Chongqing with all its lights at night, so we have planned to go back again this weekend for some more fun. 

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Some of the food on the street at Ciqikou

All in all, my first nine days in China have been jam packed. I may have gotten a little sick from the jetlag, but it is totally worth it when you walk out of class knowing that the students loved being with you. When my students say hi to me on campus, I just light up. This job is nothing short of exciting, and while Shuangfu may not be as big and beautiful as Chongqing city, it’s a place that is full of little charms and hidden gems. The people here are really starting to grow on me, and more and more, I am starting to feel like part of a big family.

 

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