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12 posts categorized "*Chinese Culture"

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.

 

Food of Chongqing

 

The food here is really good. It is spicy. They put spicy peppers in everything, EVERYTHING! They put in almost all the dishes and they even put it in their noodles they eat for breakfast. After living here for 6 months I can say that food just doesn't have much flavor without the spicy stuff. There are a lot of fresh vegetables and many different types of food. You can find Mexican, Indian, Italian and McDonald's and KFC here in Chongqing. But Chinese food is way cheaper and to be honest, it is really good. I like to mix it up though because in the US we eat a ton of different things all the time, but here in China they don't mix up flavors that much. So got to keep it interesting. Here's some food I've eaten and some very common foods. 

 

That Day I Was Treated Like a Celebrity

 

 
I'm a 'foreign consultant' here in China which pretty much translates to a glorified English teacher. But one of my responsibilities is traveling with my company to recruit students to join our flight attendant training program. About a week ago, I had the experience of going on my first recruiting trip for the company that I work for. Here is the story....

Translation: You won't be abel to see your dear New Yorker today, study hard!
 
Everything started off normally. I was traveling with my 
supervisor, Maggie, and an intern that Alexis (the other American in my office) and I named Christy because she just looked like a Christy. A van arrived outside our office around 8:00am to take us, I was told, an hour north of the city to a district (county) called Hechuan. The first bump in road came about half an hour into our journey while we were still in the city proper. Traffic.

Our driver having a smoke during the traffic jam
Now, we're talking about China here people so if you're thinking, oh I've sat in frustrating traffic before, Jared. I know exactly how horrible that is. Stop. Just stop. You think bumper to bumper molasses crawl on a road is traffic? Try literally four hours of not moving. At the beginning of the trip I was having a great time just looking out the window and seeing the city go by. When we came to a stop, that activity quickly died. But I didn't realize anything was wrong until our driver decided he was going to 'go for a walk' and just left the car running in the middle of the road. So I decide to nap, when I wake up almost TWO HOURS LATER we still haven't moved and our driver is enjoying a cigarette outside. At this time I panic just a little and envision myself emerging from this van/jail with a cast-away-like beard and squinting at the first daylight I've seen in days. But I tend to overreact and after about another hour, things finally start to move. Let me tell you, after sitting there for that long, the jogging pace that our car reached felt like we were flying. Then there were other small adventures during the car ride.

For example, the scenery. The countryside around us is so insanely green. There are mountains everywhere and small farms in between what look like normal neighborhoods. Rural China (if I can say I've seen that) really is as beautiful as the pictures. Unfortunately it's hard to capture it in a short video taken on an iPhone.
 

And then there's the radio. Easily the most bizarre mix of Chinese pop and American music I've ever heard. There was everything from Joni Mitchell to Michael Jackson with traditional Chinese music in between. It's like the DJ had a split personality between an old Chinese man and a young American girl. 
 
Next, because we were traveling for so long, we arrived in the late afternoon instead of morning and decided we needed lunch. These people dropped ¥800 on lunch. Considering that I spend about ¥15 on dinner and I'm stuffed afterward, this was a little excessive. But I wasn't complaining since I didn't pay for it myself. 
 
 
 
Finally we get to the school and I find out that we're set up in a sort of job fair at a vocational college. We're pretty late and everything is already underway, but we find our booth and begin hanging signage and putting out stacks of information. At this time, a few girls have gathered about fifteen feet in front of our both, all nonchalantly staring, waiting for us to set up so they can find out what's going on. We finish setting up our table, with help from some volunteers from the school. By now there are a few groups of four or five people, mostly girls, standing in front of our booth. I think nothing of it, after all, we do recruit flight attendants and the vast majority of them are female. The crowd is growing but no one seems willing to actually approach us. Instead, they stand in small circles, looking over their shoulders and making me feel pretty uncomfortable. The other tables have consistent participants, but we've just got something of a hesitant crowd now. Maggie starts taking selfies and Christy is not really paying attention, instead she's on her phone. I'm watching the crowd. There's one girl, probably my age, standing in the closest group. She keeps looking over but not really speaking to the rest of the girls she's with. They all look like a herd of timid deer or something so I decide to take out the weak one.  I call out in Chinese "Why don't  you come over here and we can have a talk?"
 
 
Biggest mistake I could have made. As if those dozen words were a rock I threw at that hornet's nest of a crowd, they literally began to swarm. "Did you hear that?" "He speaks Chinese!?" "What did he say?" "I can't believe it!" "I'm going to ask him something..." I turn to Maggie, "What did I do?" She just rolls her eyes, "You opened your mouth". Then they start coming up one by one. This is what I meant when I talked about being The Great White Whale in my last post. In the United States I was just some random guy, but here I'm apparently fascinating. Our 'recruiting' trip quickly dissolved into the most bizarre experience of my life. I had so many people coming up to me asking to take pictures. First they wanted group shots. We posed at least half a dozen times with different groups of people and took countless numbers of pictures. I can only guess as to what happened with those pictures, but I'm waiting for them to resurface somewhere and haunt me forever. Once they were done with the pictures, I had a guy approach me and ask me if I would write my name on a piece of paper for him. I assumed he couldn't understand my English name (most people think it's Jerry), so I literally spelled it out for him. But when he looked at it, he didn't seem pleased. He spoke to Maggie briefly who explained that he wanted my signature. 
 
 
 
You'd think I learned my lesson and would have politely declined, but no. Soon, I was stuck there signing everything from their resumes to their hands. The entire time I kept thinking, these people really don't understand how UNfamous I am. They don't understand that back home no one would care if I showed up to a job fair, no matter how well dressed I might be. But I guess this is China and it's just something you get used to as a foreigner? Also, being in a small town in the southwest of China rather than a big city explains a lot. There are plenty of foreigners in Beijing and Shanghai, even in central Chongqing, but not in the more rural areas. One girl told me I was the first person she'd ever seen who looked like someone on TV. 
 
So family and friends, lesson learned. If you give something to someone, you have to give it to everyone. And in China, that means you've got to give A LOT. Next time I'll just keep my head down and pretend I don't understand anything that anyone is saying. To my credit, once I was done with the awkward pictures thing, I used my apparent charm to get some decent recruits for our company. I realized that I could use what I didn't know I had and I practically forced girls to sign up for our program by telling them to sit down and show us their resume. I think this made up for the time we wasted posing for pictures, but to be honest, Maggie and Christy really didn't seem to mind the attention either.
 
 







 
 

Driving in China:

Driving in China is insane task, especially in Chongqing. You have to be willing to get into a car accident every 5 seconds or you won’t stand a chance. They do not follow the rules of the road. In fact they do whatever they want. That includes creating as many lanes as possible, driving down the wrong side of the road, going over the speed limit, cutting people off, blocking traffic, not caring what color the light is or if there are people in the road and so on. They really don’t care, they will try to to squeeze by and will just keep going. They don’t care whether they will get hit or not. There are more almost accidents than I’ve ever seen in my life. Every time I cross the road I see my life flash before my eyes. The cars get as close to you as possible without hitting you. They also, don’t care if you are in the road or not, they will keep going and expect you to move. Taxi drivers most definitely don’t go to driving school. They drive way too fast, merge in front of buses and don’t care what’s going on around them. Every time I get into a car I think, this is it, this is the time we get into an accident. It’s awful to say but until you’ve driven with someone in Chongqing, you will never know what a bad driver is. Other cars and buses get so close that if they moved an inch closer they’d hit you. At any given time there could be 10 accidents about to happen in front of your eyes but somehow there aren’t that many. I’m sitting here thinking about how I don’t understand how there aren’t more accidents. Use common sense and you'll be fine but don't stand around for ever waiting to cross a road, if you start crossing commit to it and they will not hit you. 

 

Zhangjiajie- Avatar Mountains

So we arrived in Zhangjiajie and weren’t exactly sure how to get to the park. We ended up taking a taxi and this guy tried to get us a tour guide. The tour guide guy was hardcore trying to sell us a tour, but it was expensive and I can navigate myself. He tried telling us that they don’t speak Mandarin because the people in the park are all minorities. Then he said that they hate Americans and that without a guide you would get lost and never find your way around. Well, let me tell you that was all BS. We navigated, found our way and talked to people in Mandarin just fine.

When we got to the park, we bought maps that had all the trails on it and we just followed that. It was pretty easy actually. The first thing we saw when we stepped into the park was MONKEYSSSS. Lots of them! I actually took more pictures of monkeys than the mountains right in front of me. I mean come on, monkeys or mountains? Def monkeys every time. Anyway once we got past the monkeys, we saw how beautiful the park is. There were trees, a river, the mountains above us, grass and it was nice to be in nature. It was like being in a forest with a tropical rainforest jungle feel. It was hot and humid but thankfully that first day wasn’t that hot at all and it was cloudy. I haven’t seen that many plants and animals since I arrived in China.

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The first hour or so was a pretty nice hike because it was mostly flat with some incline going up, but the second and third hours were tough. I’m not the most active person but I do go to yoga and I run on the treadmill at the gym and I walk A LOT. The hike during those 2 hours was just stairs going up and around the mountain. It was a very tiring and sweaty hike. I think I sweated off 5 pounds doing that hike, but when we finally got to a platform to look out over the mountains I forgot all about that torturous hike and was in complete awe. The mountain makes you work for it but it was so worth it the moment my eyes saw the view.

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It is the most incredible place I’ve ever been. I’ve travelled a lot but I mostly saw cities. The only place that was even close to Zhangjiajie was Slovenia’s Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj but they were picturesque and gorgeous whereas Zhangjiajie is magnificent and awe-inspiring. Zhangjiajie is so amazing that I don’t know how anyone can even question whether there is a God or not. I know there is a scientific explanation for  how Zhangjiajie was created and there were several signs explaining that there, but I personally don’t think that anything that marvelous and astounding came to be all by itself.

Once we finished the rest of the hike up to our hostel, showered and ate some dinner because we were starving, we went down the path next to the hostel and looked out over the mountains while enjoying a nice cold Tsingtao beer. The next day we walked to the bus stop and took the bus to the other side of the park. On the way to the bus stop we saw rice fields and people going to work in the fields. While we were on the bus we saw some great views of the mountains. The roads were really windy and the bus driver was driving way faster than he should. It was kind of scary. Chinese drivers already aren’t the safest drivers but those bus drivers take the cake for worst driving, although we didn’t die or get into an accident so I guess I can’t complain.

The other side of the park was even better than the side we hiked up. There were dozens of platforms to look at the mountains and even though they were all similar they weren’t all exactly the same. While going down to one of the lookouts I got cornered taking pictures with random Chinese people. I was just minding my own business taking a picture of the mountains and then the next thing I know I have a line of people wanting to take a picture with me. Seriously. No joke. Being foreigners we always get asked to take photos with random people but Zhangjiajie has the record so far. I personally had like 15 people take a picture with me or of me within 10 mins and together Jared and I took at least 5 more pictures with people.

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We tried to take the cable car down the mountain but it was broken L and we had to hike down. It wasn’t that bad because we were going down and we did get to see more nature and more views of the mountains for the first half of the way down. The second half was pretty boring actually because there wasn’t anything cool or interesting to look at and it was just stairs down. Towards the end there were some rivers and mini waterfalls which were pretty. And we saw a creature we never saw or heard of before… it was like a bug but it was white and walked around like a peacock with his feathers on full display the only thing was this thing was about the size of the nail on my pinky.

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We made it to the bottom, hopped on the bus to the exit, and then walked to the bus station to catch a bus to the train station. Once back we went to McDonald’s for some much needed lunch and to chill out for a while before our train. Once we got on the train it was smooth sailing till we arrived back in Chongqing Sunday at 6:45am. 

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