Sunday, December 28, 2008

X-mas week (part 2)

...So at noon I was to meet with my students at what they know to be my favorite place to eat in China: Pizza Hut. They got the typical weird pizzas with seafood on it, and I watched them eat the pizza with their forks and knives. I told them "once you get into Canada, eat it with your hands!" Keep in mind, I was in terrible condition. I felt bad. I had an opportunity to eat pizza with my students for likely the last time, but it didn't go the way that they wanted. The thought of eating anything was too dangerous to provoke, and I was huddled in my seat trying to keep warm even though the place was probably overheated.

Once they finished, Mr. Dong, Steven and I headed downstairs to buy things. This would've been fun, but after I bought one X-mas present for Han Jie, I was starting to feel real sick. I told them I needed to go immediately.

This is where the pizza hut is, sorry I don't have a daytime photo to help you picture the scene more appropriately.

On the way back I felt my saliva starting to taste a little more salty than usual. "Stop the car." I studied the area in a millisecond, rushed to the most secluded area (VERY hard to find), and keeled over with saliva pouring out of my mouth. After about a minute of waiting, nothing happened. I'm pretty sure my stomach was empty at the time, so this was probably for the better. We floored it back to my place and I slept for the next 4 hours.

Ms. Han's "party" was happening at 6:30 that night. I woke up from my nap in time to look presentable, but I was obviously still very ill. The party took place in a theater strangely enough. This was one of those moments where you think you have an idea of what's going on, and then when you get there, you realize that you had been preparing for a word that wasn't correctly used...namely "party." The more accurate definition of what this was going to be was "talent show."

I saw Michael in the front row and sat down next to him. He asked me, "How are you feeling?"
"Like Hell. You?"
"I woke up at 2 this afternoon."
"Yup." There was a spread of fruit and sunflower seeds just for us in the front row. I felt like a king! Mustering the courage to eat something was tough, but worth it.

The show started off really weird. A group of strangely dressed people, obviously characters from either video games or japanese cartoons, performed a choreographed "walking around the stage" number to some Chinese rock music. I only recognized three of the twelve or so characters -- Cloud, Aeris, and Sephiroth from FF7 (i.e. some video game characters). I guess they started like this to give me the false impression that everything following it was going to be weird as hell. The remainder of the show was actually a medley of normal performances, including music, dancing, games, magic, and plays. Very entertaining...and it was fun to see my students doing what they enjoy. My only complaint would've been that the speaker volume could've been turned down a little in light of my situation. There were way too many occurences of mic feedback that hurt way more than they should have.

Wednesday (24th) -- Christmas Eve. Can you believe I had class on this day? There was much to do...

First, I did not want to teach. The illness had not passed, like I expected, and I mean, it was Christmas frickin Eve. So I woke up that day and started looking for two things: Christmas presents for my coworkers, and Christmas DVDs at the local DVD "store." I was only able to find one Christmas DVD -- The Santa Claus 3, starring Tim Allen and Martin Short. Check out the cover:

There was no way in hell I was showing anyone this movie. I wanted to ask the guy at the desk if he had any christmas movies, so I called Ms. Han and asked her what the word for "Christmas" was in Chinese.
"Sheng dan kuai le!" she yelled.
Equipped with my knew word, I asked the clerk, "Ni you sheng dan kuai le DVD ma?" I eventually learned that "sheng dan kuai le" means "Merry Christmas," and "sheng dan" means "Christmas," so I actually asked "Do you have Merry Christmas DVDs?" In other words, once again, I sounded like a clown.
He replied, "dfjksaafsdssdfdslaspdk- mei -skjaskdjsdfsdfasdfa." As soon as I heard "mei," I knew he didn't have anything.

So, I got the idea to show them a christmas episode of the Simpsons. While I was still in the store, I bought a few DVDs for myself, such as "Seven Pounds," starring Will Smith. Yeah I know it was just released in theaters like a week ago. It's out on DVD here now. Anyway I went home to try downloading Simpsons episodes. On the walk back, I saw a beautiful miniature bamboo plant being sold on the street. It seemed like a great gift, so I bought it and then continued home.

Downloading crap is always hell. My first attempt needed a password to decompress. The second download worked, but the episode was in Russian or something. My last try was cutting it close; I started downloading at 2:15pm (with class at 3:40). I then got a call from Steven telling me to be at the front gate at I didn't have enough time to finish the download.

My backup plan was two options. The first was to show them "Jingle all the way," starring Arnold Schwarzeneggar. I watched this movie beforehand just to see if it was watchable, and it sure as hell was not. But, it was Christmas related. My other option was to show them "Toy Story," but that really had nothing to do with Christmas. It was, however, entertaining to all ages and pretty simple, so I grabbed it and headed out.

I arrived at the gate and met Steven, Mr. Dong, and Ms. Han. We were going to take a group photo with the students together for the last time. It was pretty sad... I haven't seen any of them since.

I got to class, showed them some of the movie, and then headed out the door. While I was waiting for the elevator, five of the girls from the class told me they had a Christmas present for me at their dorm. These girls are so adorable. I walked with them there and they were all locked arm-in-arm the whole time. We got to the warehouse that they live in and they gave me a box of chocolates. So cute! I wanted to say "thank you," but it wasn't enough, so I told them "I'm going to give you a hug!" They were clearly confused, so in the moment of confusion I grabbed THE most shy girl in the group and gave her a hug. Her face turned bright red. Then the other four girls understood and screamed with laughter, running over to hug me. It is definitely a fact that every girl in China is adorable like this.

In the meantime, I'd called Ms. Han and told her to meet me at the dorms. She, myself, Steven and Mr. Dong were all going to "xiao xi tang" (small restaurant) to celebrate my first Christmas in China. Afterwards, Steven had made reservations at a KTV, which I had seen around the city but didn't really know anything about. We got to xiao xi tang and we ordered the usual -- peanuts, something green, and a hot pot (pictured below). I was still feeling pretty uneasy, so I only ate three bowls of rice. Oh speaking of which... Hunger is often measured in bowls of rice. If you eat only one bowl of rice but you've eaten everything else on the table, you'll hear "eat more!"

To the left of xiao xi tang. It's located in the middle of a residential complex.

The entrance to xiao xi tang. It's seriously a dude's house.

A hot pot inside xiao xi tang. Very delicious, but you have to be careful...normally many of the ingredients are not meant to be eaten. Typical ingredients that can be eaten include: meat (watch out for the bones), carrots, potatoes, cilantro, and hard tofu

We finished dinner and headed to the KTV. On the way, I asked what it was. It's a place where people reserve rooms to stay in for a few hours to sing Karaoke together. So...that's how I was going to spend Christmas Eve night. That's the way it is here, except the KTV's are even busier at around midnight. The mission is to go out and party, not stay home and wait for santa claus. I actually got a few drunk text messages from my students wishing me a merry christmas. One was in Chinese haha.

Anyway back to the point, we were at a KTV and that was that. That's how the four of us were going to spend the next four hours. The staff brought some beers to make singing a little easier. Even though I was still recovering, it was welcome. Also, the music selection had some English songs, so I wasn't completely on an island. I mean, I was the only one who would choose English songs. My coworkers were only choosing sad, slow Chinese love songs to sing. It was sad! I wanted to hear happy songs, so I was only choosing the fun ones that I know really well. "September" (Earth, Wind & Fire) was a hit. But then after me, it was back to tearjerking slow Chinese music. BLEGH. Thankfully, Ms. Han is trained in classic Chinese-style singing, so it was cool to mix it up and hear her sing a few of those classical types of songs. It sounded like what you hear on the radio, very professional.

I was tired of this after about an hour and a half. Maybe its my slow attention span, but I just can't put up with that crap for too long. Definitely an interesting experience though, and it was funny to see my bosses singing. We headed out, and the traffic was even worse than before. Again, the party was just starting for Wuhan. For me, it was done. I had a plan in the morning...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

X-mas week (part 1)

I haven't kept in touch with anyone back home for the past week or so. This post is an attempt to justify/be payment for that. Also sadly, I did not take a single photo this week, despite the insane number of opportunities.

Weekend (Dec. 19th-21st) -- On the upcoming Monday, there was to be a final exam for the small class. This would also be my last class with them, which was a pretty big downer. I got pretty close with most of the small class because everyday I would make them tell me stories about themselves and I would often tell them (choice) stories about me. We had also spent tons of time together and usually had a great time doing it. It was easy to be successful in their class.

The weekend was fairly eventful, I met with my favorite "zhong guo ren" (Chinese person) Han Jie everyday for various reasons -- Friday we went out for drinks, Saturday I helped her buy shoes (thank you Bravo TV), and Sunday we had dinner with students from the big class to celebrate some winter festival that was happening that day. Apparently the tradition is that you have to eat "jiao zi" (dumplings) that day in order to ensure health during the winter. Jiao zi is a small dumpling that is usually sold on the street; they make them right there in front of you, throw them in a huge pot of boiling water, and then serve them to you in a bowl of hot water so that it can cook while you are holding it. So I guess it's pretty obvious that eating it definitely has a warming effect.

It wasn't easy to find free time. For some reason the big class students are a little more outgoing...meaning they want to do stuff with me outside of class. Also Han Jie is a starting to get less flaky, in fact most of what we did this weekend were her ideas, but who knows how long that'll last. Regardless, my time to plan the exam became more limited, which sucked because it took about 5 hours to make.

Monday (22nd) -- Gave the exam. All of the students were told about this last week, but, like usual, four of the really unmotivated students strolled in about 30 minutes late, holding bowls of soup they'd brought to eat during class. I wonder if they were surprised when everyone was quietly taking their exams? These tests are also stressful as hell because even if you tell them the consequences of cheating, like getting thrown out, they'll cheat anyway. I could go on a tangent now about why I think this is the case, but I won't bore you with that. Basically, proctoring sucks. The oral exam also included a conversational part, where I had to speak with each student individually for about 5 minutes. In the afternoon, I taught a writing class to the big class.

Monday evening odd one. The university planned a dinner for all of the foreign teachers which was to be held at this nice ass hotel:

From Wuhan

I was excited about the free meal and, surprisingly, the opportunity to meet other foreigners. Every chance to speak English normally is something that I don't take for granted nowadays. It's probably seems shallow, but I like dressing up and going to these types of things, tryin to act classy and adult and whatnot. Of course I'm kindof a joker, but it was hard to stand out at this party. I was going to go to this dinner with Michael.

I will dignify Michael with a paragraph of summary. He's the other foreign teacher who works in my office, but his students are going to Australia instead of Canada. I'd met him about a week before this dinner, despite the fact that we'd been working at the same place for three months. He's 45 and I'd guess 5'11", 230 lbs. This guy is fuckin unreal. Every time I've seen him, he's wearing a tweed jacket with no shirt underneath, shades, and a long, white wool scarf. I learned about all of his accomplishments, how much money and how many assets he owned, and enough about his life story to write a small book about...and I didn't even ask! For example, he graduated from Stanford, has at least one masters degree and two PhD' in philosophy, the other I don't know. He also owns real estate amounting to around $5 million, including a house on Madison Avenue. Foreshadowing alert: much of what I learned about him was after about 3 glasses of wine and a few very heavy rum & cokes, so forgive me if some of the details about him are blurry. I like his company I guess, because company is so hard to find, but the guy's ego is bigger than Anne Hathaway's grotesque mouth (sorry, watched brokeback mountain again recently).

The dinner was entertaining. I wanted to just relax after having dealt with that exam and teaching that day. Michael, myself, and two of our Chinese colleagues attended. Having Michael around as someone to talk to was good at first. He immediately made friends with the wait staff by paying them money to make sure he "didn't see the bottom of his glass." After the first 5 minutes of the dinner, a waiter refilled his glass. I hadn't drunk alcohol in a while, so I kept my pace relatively slow. I also realized that my colleagues weren't having much fun, not only because they had no one else to talk to, but also because Michael was flustering them by complaining about the job. At one point, he saw that people had brought friends, and asked why his girlfriend wasn't allowed to come. Ms. Ding said she didn't know, and that it was probably OK if other people were doing it. Hearing this frustrated Michael, so he immediately called his girlfriend and told her to come over. I couldn't wait to meet her!

In the meantime, he talked to a couple that was sitting at our table for about 5 minutes, and then headed off to get more food and socialize. As soon as he left, I looked at the couple. They looked at me. "Who is this guy?" It was a good ice breaker, especially welcome since they seemed like a nice couple to talk to. The man, Justin, was from Canada, and his wife Louanne was from China. There was obviously tons to talk about. They asked me where I was from. "Pittsburgh." I asked where Louanne was from. "Wuhan." Then I asked Justin where he was from. "Nova Scotia." I know where that is. "Sidney Crosby!" Maybe I've been to the Penguins' website a little too much. If hockey and being in China weren't enough to talk about, there was always Michael. Justin asked me if I'd ever heard of a book called "The Game," written by Neil Strauss. Believe it or not, I'd actually heard about it and know a little about the contents of it. Basically, Neil Strauss is a pick-up guru, and he wrote a book on how to pick up women. I could go on, but it just seemed like Michael had read about this too and was putting it into practice all night. But, Michael wasn't really a poster child of this book...I'd say as far as examples go, he was more like that mutated fetus from "Total Recall" that was growing out of a dude's chest.

Michael's wife showed up and met my colleagues. I didn't really see her coming in, so I knew I'd see her as soon as we were introduced. I turned around. "Damn." I don't know if I said that outloud, but these days, it's not like it matters heh. She was actually pretty hot though. Good for him. At this point, he was pretty drunk. He told her he wanted to go around to every table and introduce her. She looked at me. "Sounds like fun!" She definitely wasn't going to go along with this, so he went to all of the tables himself. Another opportunity to chat it up with the nice couple at our table. The party was settling down, and a Chinese host told the room the nice version of "get out."

Ten minutes passed, and the wait staff was starting to clean everything up. -doong doong doong- "Ladies and gentleeeeman." No way. Was it the Joker? Nah, but I turned around and saw some joker slouched over the podium adjusting the mic. "You may remember me as the guy who just visited all of your tables. We are going to go carousing after the party, so if you're interested, you can meet us at the hotel bar." I knew what to do. I looked at Justin and Louanne, and they laughed, "If you want, we can grab a coffee or something." I was alright. Michael is definitely rough, but I felt like going with him was at least good for a story. Plus he was buyin the first round. I was down. Justin & Louanne and I exchanged numbers, and then I headed out with Michael and his girl.

We went to the hotel bar -- "the Piano bar." I was appalled to find no piano in the place. We decided instead of buying a round of drinks, to get an entire bottle of Bacardi rum and a bottle of coke. With only us three, it was gonna be a hell of a night. I can't believe I'm saying this, but thank god some French people showed up. They were actually really entertaining though, and spoke English ridiculously well. I mean, they were French of course, but it was interesting to hear about what French people do.

By the end of the night, we'd ordered and finished a second bottle of rum. I made my own drinks -- 1 part rum, 1 part coke. Is that how you're supposed to make them? Well they tasted good, but damn. I guess I haven't drunk in a while. This is bad for two reasons...first, because my tolerance is that of a 15 year old girl's, and second, because I've forgotten how to drink. I got back to my apartment at around 2 am and immediately went to bed.

Tuesday (23rd) -- The next morning I had one of the worst hangovers I've ever had. I got up at 6 am couldn't get back to sleep. 7 am, first vom in China. I also didn't have drinking water in my fridge, so I was waiting for 8 am when the convenience store downstairs would no doubt be open. This wasn't good. First, Han Jie had been planning a big student "party" for this night. I also got a call from my boss at around 11am saying that one of my students wanted to take me out to lunch at noon. Thankfully, I didnt have classes Tuesday because Han Jie's party was a pretty big deal.... be continued...

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Just in case your didn't see the pictures link, they're here. I took a few more recently, namely a few views that I have from the three places I spend the most time in...

The first few pictures are of both of my teaching buildings. In the first picture, teaching building 5 (where I teach the small class) is in the center of the foreground, and teaching building 1 (where I teach the big class) is looming in the background. BTW, chinese lesson for today, "background" = beijing. I learned that when my coworkers were in the middle of a conversation about photos and I thought they were talking about going to Beijing (my basic understanding of Chinese only allows for me to assume simple-minded conversations, but at least it's progress from nothing. Still, I probably look like an idiot hehe).

Teaching buildings 5 (foreground) and 1 (background)

Big classroom (Teaching building 1) view 1. I teach on the 18th floor.

Big Classroom view 2. The view is of the East Lake and some of Hankou District

Another picture from my class. It can be pretty distracting sometimes!

From teaching building 1, taken at around 8 AM. That's right, I'm awake then.

View from the small class (teaching building 5).

The only decoration in my classroom. I recommend taking a closer look at this one.

This was taken from my apartment. I took it because there's a group of kids playing badminton on the roof of the building, without adult supervision. Not to sound like a mom. It's just like, they're pretty high up.

A picture of where I buy fruit, most notably the you zi and pineapple. You can see the you zi's; they're the big, round, yellow fruits in the middle.

Speaking of, when you buy a pineapple or you zi, they peel it for you. What a country! The service is top notch every time.

This is where I live. My apartment is visible, I just don't know which one it is in this picture. Somewhere in the middle.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Another mission accomplished

I bought a bowl of "re gan mian" today (hot dry noodles), which was the final item on the list of things that I wanted to buy from a street market. The Wuhan style of this dish is famous throughout China. It's made by boiling fresh rice noodles for about a minute, then straining them, putting them in a bowl, and then throwing a bunch of sauces on it (like sesame oil, for one..the others I'm not sure about). I almost feel bad only dishing out 2.5 RMB for the stuff; it's really unique and so delicious. Anyway so now my confidence in speaking to street vendors is at an all time high, so in celebration I've made a list of Chinese phrases that I use most often. It's kindof funny that the little Chinese that I know, while restricting, generally allows for a similar dialogue that I would normally have with people from the US. I'd never really realized that the phrases you say a lot often say a lot about you, but it's true I think. The list is in order of frequency of use, not preference.

  • #6) Hao kan de (clothing item) -- This means "Nice (clothing item)!" or "your (clothing item is looking sharp." I love giving compliments to people, so this was the first phrase I learned coming here. I tried to say it to a girl who was wearing a nice hat in the first week that I was here, but she said (the equaivalent of) "huh?" It's pretty difficult to pronounce well...

  • #5) Duo shao (qian)? -- "How much (does it cost)?"

  • #4) Bu zhi dao -- Simply, "I don't know." I say that a lot whenever someone gets the impression that I can speak Chinese and tries to say anything more than "where are you from" or "what would you like to eat?"

  • #3) Ke yi -- The most general meaning of "ke yi" is "it's ok," but I equate it to a phrase that I used to say all the time, namely "we're good." You can also add "ma" to the end of this phrase to make it into a question, something I enjoy doing very much. For example, if I go to a store I ask "wo yi ma?" which means (I'm pretty sure) "I'm looking around, is that cool?"

  • #2) Mei guan xi -- i.e. "it doesn't matter," but I liken it to "whatever" or "I don't give a rat's ass." Love saying it in it's many variations in the US, love sayin it here.

  • #1) Dui = This is the sickest word to say, so I try to say it as often as I can when the time is right.... It's pronounced "Dway" and you sortof lower your voice as you say it. My favorite time to use this is when I get in a taxi and explain to the driver where I want to go. He then says a bunch of things, and if I interpret them to be correct, I say "dui." An accurate translation is "correct," but in certain situations it can also mean "exactly," "affirmative," or "no doubt." Maybe the best translation is just the word "yeah," but it's a little different.

Storm of photos (bigger)

These are all of the photos that I've taken so far since I arrived here, about 150 total. I haven't put captions on them yet, though, so if there's one that's confusing, I'd say wait a day or so for me to find the time to add an explanation (or just put up a comment saying "wtf is this?" You'll probably be asking yourself that a lot until I add more info...)

In other news, I just had dinner with the president of the university last night, Mr. Liu (the same one who gave the opening speech before I spoke on the first day.) It was pretty funny...he couldn't speak a word of English, but I could practice the little Chinese I knew and was able to make people laugh with my attempts to speak (specifically colloquialisms in the Wuhan dialect, those always get a laugh as long as they know what they're listening to. In other words, they don't expect foreigners to say stuff like that, so they just ignore them usually even though I'm saying them frickin perfectly.) It was a great time though; we ate at this adorable little place that was basically a dude's house, and ordered a bunch of their best items for the day. One of their specials that day was some soup whose name I can't remember, but it was a little unsettling to eat. It wouldn't have been that bad if they didn't tell me what was in it.. It was a "meat and potato" soup, except the potato was a vegetable that's grown here that I don't really like (it's kindof a mix between a potato and a carrot), and the meat was "fresh" pig's feet (and by fresh, I mean that the owner of the shop had bought the pig yesterday, when it was still breathing). We also ordered a fish, which Mr. Liu told me was, again, fresh. Once again, "fresh" isn't just a day or so old, it means that the fish was swimming in water before it was thrown onto a pan with searing hot oil about 10 minutes before we ate it. He said "if the fish's mouth is open, you know it's fresh." Oh yeah speaking of which, when u order fish here, you get a whole fish that's cut in half from it's head to it's tail fin. The method of eating it is to grab as much of the meat from the bones as you can with your chopsticks., and if you like eating fish eyes, they're right there for the taking. I've actually grabbed a fish eye with my chopsticks before, plucking it from the socket by severing its optic nerve. Pretty gross. OK so back to the point, the food was good, and Mr. Liu was also very entertaining. It's clear why he's who he is -- his character, intelligence and general charisma were all evident despite my inability to understand him. My goal was to exude the same qualities, but that was a bit harder considering the number of English speakers in the room (about 3.5 out of 7 including myself). Regardless, I think we bonded. We drank this rice wine that he brought from his hometown west of Wuhan, which we drank heavy amounts of. At one point I almost reached puke-ville cuz he made me down an entire glass of this stuff... But after that I was cool. OK well I wish I had more time to have made this story better and more touched up but, the gist is that it was entertaining, I got wasted with the pres of Wuhan U, and that it'll likely happen again soon. Now I gotta get back to work.. only a few more weeks and then no work at all...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Storm of photos

These pictures are from facebook, and I included captions with all of them. Some of them you should have seen. Basically, they're the ones that I took in Beijing, and they're also from the first day of owning the camera. I also have pictures of the thanksgiving dinner and of a random walk around Wuhan City, but I'll put those up when I have more time. It turns out that grading the midterms is taking even longer than making them, something I didnt really anticipate. Anyway basically, I'm getting very little sleep. The night before the Friday midterm I got no sleep, and this thursday might be the same story. We'll see. Anyway, enjoy the photos, and I'll put the other ones up soon I promise. It will come in one big wave. Also, it should be noted that I won't be this crazily busy for long, so I'll be able to devote more time to updates (yay).