Posted in 2014 (China), Articles

Article: A List of Things I’m Really Glad I Brought with Me (and Some I Wish I’d Brought)

  • Nasal Decongestant
    • Okay so I had trouble with breathing through my nose when I was in the US but it was nothing like living near Beijing. There are days when the pollution here is so bad I can’t see the line of trees just across the road from my bedroom window. Those days, I stay inside. But when I get back from Beijing, I’m so happy I can clean out my nose and get all that black air out of there. If you’re coming to China and living in/near a city, this is a must!
  • Alka Seltzer Cold Plus
    • My family swears by this stuff when we’re getting sick and I am so happy I brought some with me. Now when I can feel the tinges of a sickness coming on, I don’t have to hear about “Chinese Traditional Medicine” from the adults, I can say “Oh, no I’ve got some medicine, thanks.” If you’ve seen Chinese Traditional Medicine, you’ll know what I’m talking about….
  • Aspirin
    • I did not bring enough with me because I can’t buy just a bottle of ibuprofen at the supermarkets here. When I can find it, it’s expensive and there’s not many tablets in the package. I now am hoarding my aspirin.
  • Sunscreen
    • Not really a problem on the super pollutiony days, but when I was in Hong Kong my ginger paleness could not handle that sun. But I left my sunscreen at home. Thankfully, I found my favorite brand in a shop by chance because all of the Chinese sunscreen has whitening agent in it. (AKA snails. There’s snails in the sunscreen.)
  • My Laptop
    • The computer supplied to me by the school is old and slow along with every other computer at this school. At least the one they gave me is in English? I guess…
  • Kraft Mac and Cheese Powder Packets
    • I’m definitely buying some Kraft Mac and Cheese before I go to Ireland because I know for a fact macaroni and cheese isn’t a thing there. I could still make stovetop mac at least because I had access to cheese, but there is a disturbing lack of cheese in China. I just want cheese!
  • Non-Chinese Tea
    • It’s so expensive here and kind of hard to find a variety of, so when I moved here I brought with me lots of Irish tea. When I leave China, I plan to buy lots of Chinese tea to bring back with me. I really have a thing for tea. Like, my apartment has no food, but it’s got tea!
  • Perseverance
    • I spent the first few weeks in China absolutely terrified. “What if I can’t get to the supermarket? What if I can’t go to the bank? What if I can’t get home from where I am?” A lot of it was self-doubt. I cried a lot. I wanted to go home. I was ready to give up. But I said I would do this, and so I would. Maybe that’s stubbornness. Maybe they’re the same thing. All that matters is seven months later and I’m still here. There’s nothing I can’t do. Well, except speak Chinese.
  • Taking “It’s Good Enough” for an Answer
    • “60 students?! for 2 hours?! Most of whom speak as much English as I speak Chinese?!” Now we do 1 hour of lecture and 1 hour of a movie in English with Chinese subtitles. I slow down how I speak and simplify my grammar and use incorrect grammar because that’s the grammar they use and are used to, so watching a movie in English will help them get used to listening to it at full speed. Plus, what the hell am I supposed to do with them for two hours (from 7-9 at night) after they’ve been in class since 8 or 9 in the morning? I feel bad for the kids when I think of my university schedule.
  • Not Taking “It’s Good Enough” for an Answer
    • I’ll be honest. I’ve always been that way. I lived on campus all four years at university and I was always the roommate to call maintenance. I bet I annoyed the shit out of them. But if I was given something and told it would work, guaranteed, I was going to take them up on that guarantee. So when I was told my apartment would be up to my foreign standards, I was going to take them up on that guarantee. (Plus, it was in the contract.) When autumn was becoming winter, my apartment was unbearably cold. (Imagine a standard 4-person dorm apartment on campus with tile floors, blank white walls, and large windows and you’ve pretty much got my apartment. Which I live in alone.) I found that using the toilet with my winter coat was still too cold. So I complained. They brought me another duvet, which helped. Then it was winter. The radiators weren’t on. So I complained. Now my radiators run and my apartment is warm.
    • Basically, people will take advantage of you if you keep your mouth shut. If you’re unhappy and were given different expectations, don’t keep your mouth shut.
Posted in 2014 (China), Blog

29/05/14: Success

After a week’s worth of teaching, there are a few things I’ve noticed about teaching here in China.

The college I work at has about 3,000 students enrolled (mostly girls). Of the classes, I teach 3 through my department (the classes have 47, 13, and 62 students) and an “English Corner” elective (about 80 students). The maximum I taught in the US was 36, so this can be very overwhelming.

Langfang, Hebei, China
My class of 47 on Mondays
Langfang, Hebei, China
My class of 13 on Tuesdays
Langfang, Hebei, China
My class of 62 on Wednesdays
Langfang, Hebei, China
English Corner (first class) meets Thursday and Sundays for 1.5hr

Unfortunately, we have chalkboards in the classrooms and many of them have no computers. Instead, we move the class to the “language lab” room, which is set up like a computer lab, but only the teacher has a computer.

The classrooms have no air conditioning and neither do the shops. It’s hot. Today, the high was 41C (106F). Luckily, I have an air box in my room and it’s a dry heat. It doesn’t rain much here and the nearby construction makes everything super dusty.

There’s a lot of garbage around. In the fountain (which has no water), in the street, on the sidewalks, etc. The boys who live in the next unit throw theirs out of the window! It drives me crazy because there’s a bin just outside the apartment’s main door!

Everyone wears shoes. Always. They have indoor shoes they change into as soon as they get home. As someone who loves being barefooted, it’s a tough transition because I’m always offered indoor shoes. I don’t even want to wear shoes when I go outside…

Everyone stares at me whenever I go anywhere. Sometimes they even take my photo, which is weird. I feel like my skin is a beacon of light here. My students tell me they wish their skin was lighter, but I told them that Americans go to tanning beds to get darker skin!

Posted in 2014 (China), Blog

26/05/14: Words that End in “子”

During the dumpling party, Cathy asked if I wanted some of the zongzi, or sticky rice dumplings, she was making for the upcoming Dragon Boat Festival. The answer, clearly, was yes. Today, the students rang to make sure I was at my apartment to make the delivery. When they brought the zongzi, they were very worried about making sure they were doing the right things, like taking off their shoes and not going in too far.

Langfang, Hebei, China
粽子 (zòngzi)

They did have to show me how to eat the zongzi, since I’d never seen anything like them. Wrapped in bamboo leaves, the super sticky sweet rice and fillings basically maintain the triangular shape when unwrapped. They’re best when warmed, but very messy! They reminded me a lot of how I eat oatmeal: sticky and sweet! Although, I think there were jujubes in the filling.

Langfang, Hebei, China
粽子 insides, yum!

So far, I’ve tried a lot of foods that end in “zi” (jiaozi, baozi, zongzi) and Google Translate translates both jiaozi and zongzi as “dumplings” even though they’re very different. (Baozi is buns.)

Posted in 2014 (China), Blog

22/05/14: Oh, Walmart

This morning, Jennifer brought over more soy bean milk. It’s so good I could have it all the time, but I want to savor it. It’s a dilemma. I started to look into things to do with my classes, but I was so overwhelmed from the previous night’s class that I ended up starting to clean again. I even tried to mop, but the mop was dirtier than the floor. Luckily my students who invited me for dumplings also invited me to go to Walmart with them so I could pick up some cleaning supplies there.

First, though, I had to meet the students of “English corner”elective, which was another 50 students or so. We ended up talking about my tattoo, which was visible under my tank top.

After the English Corner meeting, some of the students from my class of 13 and I took taxis to Walmart. I noticed that our driver took us the long way to hike the fare, and when the foreigner notices, you need to work on your underhanded fare hiking. We still ended up waiting at Walmart for the other taxi, even though their driver took them the normal route. They needed a lot of veggies for the dumplins and they had me translate as many as I knew. The ones I didn’t know, they used their phone translator and I had to just hope I read it right. As we went through the store, they kept asking “What do you need?” but beyond a mop and biscuits, I wasn’t sure. I ended up with some odds and ends, but was disappointed to find my Visa still didn’t work. As we were leaving, my students kept asking me if I wanted anything from the sugar-coated haws stand, but they insisted more than I declined and I ended up with something that’s supposed to help with your digestion. (Although if you eat too much, it becomes a laxative.)

Langfang, Hebei, China
Seriously, it’s all about the food…

Back at my apartment, I realized it was time to get dinner. I unloaded my supplies and went to the rice place to get my usual. One of the girls tried to “practice” her English, but all she could say was “How are you? I’m fine thanks” as one sentence. After my supper, were the TV broke and I spilled rice on my clean-ish floor, it was time to test out my new mop. The apartment was just remodeled before I got there, so there was plaster dust everywhere. I scrubbed down the kitchen and the living room and decided to tackle the bathroom and my bedroom later.

Posted in 2014 (China), Blog

20-21/05/14: Teaching

20/5/14: It’s a Brand New Day

On Tuesday, I didn’t really do much of interest. I “taught” my second class and they were a lot more receptive. Of course, there was only 13 of them and we just chatted the whole 2 hours. (No! I don’t have a boyfriend!)

Langfang, Hebei, China
Class 13-1

21/5/14: Holy Cow, How Many Students?!

I started the day off by going to the Langfang Internation Economic and Trade Fair with Jennifer, although it turned out the fair was over. There was still a market happening where they sold a lot of dates and toys and other stuff. Everyone was staring at me (of course) and some of them would say hello and ask where I was from. A lot of the people who asked guessed I was from America. How do they know? Is it because I smile so much?

Langfang, Hebei, China
Didn’t want to look TOO out of place by taking a picture in the market, but I’m sure you can imagine a bunch of sweaty people selling stuff at tables. Like a craft fair, but not as expensive.

Next we went for lunch at Yummy Street, where we had Korean stir fry. It came with the veggies separated on top of the rice and then I stirred it all together. On a hot day, it probably wasn’t the best choice temperature-wise, but it was so worth it.

Langfang, Hebei, China
It’s like I’ve become a food blog…

After we went back to the school, I went up to my apartment to do…. Well, not much, to be honest. I had my last class that evening and I wasn’t really sure what to prepare. I knew this was going to be a big class, so I looked up some activities to do with large ESL classes.

At 7, I went to the classroom where my 62 (!!) students were waiting. For the most part. Some of them were late, but at least they showed up. It was a hard class to teach because they had what my dad called “group mindset.” With 62 of them, they weren’t exactly piping up. I tried to do a map and directions activity, but as I walked around, I noticed some of them didn’t understand it (even though I asked twice and got the class blank stare) and some of them just weren’t interested. Some of them were genuinely trying, even if they didn’t understand and that was awesome. At least I know some of them are learning. I also asked them to write down 3 things they wanted to learn, but again, got a lackluster participation. I told them I was collecting and it suddenly it was silent save for the rustling of pens and paper.

Posted in 2014 (China), Blog

19/05/14: A Day at a Time

Although I’m a lot more comfortable with where I am, I’m still taking it a day at a time. Especially since I often forget where I’m supposed to be on certain days and just hope I’m awake when someone calls to remind me. Like this morning when Jennifer brought me soy milk.

Langfang, Hebei, China

Everyone seems really surprised at how much I like the food here, but I’m from a very food-oriented family. When we plan our family road trips, the food is as important as the attractions. Often, the food itself is the attraction.

After I finished my soy milk, Chris called to remind me to bring my passport to the police station and the Ms Su was picking me up. Unfortunately, Ms Su doesn’t speak English, so I was in the dark about what was going on. Chris met us at the police station, which was great because apparently we had the wrong paperwork. We ended up picking up another form before heading off.

Back in my room, I made “proper” Irish Breakfast Tea (but no biscuits) and settled in to read. I decided neither the bed nor the desk were the best places to sit and read, so I moved some things around and pushed one of my armchairs into the little alcove. After some adjusting, it ended up being a cozy reading nook.

Langfang, Hebei, China
Needs more plants!

After a while, one of my students called me and I had to give her directions to my apartment. She and a friend came up and we tried to talk, but they were both very shy, so there wasn’t much talking. We went down to get dinner and neither of them actually ate.

The class started at 7 and, man, was I nervous. They were all in the classroom already and I started by having them write down some basic things about themselves. I shared my answers as an introduction and some of them shared but they were too shy. Eventually, the class dissolved into a lot of side conversations, so I used a trick from my teacher arsenal and collected it. The rest of the first hour wasn’t so great, but during the break, they all crowded me and had a million questions (even though I had asked them if they had any questions and only got blank stares).

After the break, we moved the desks away and I sat on the floor with them to try and make them more comfortable with me. It worked for about half an hour before they decided to teach me Chinese. We kept talking the rest of the class, mostly about me. They wanted to know about my family, my friends, my hometown, what I like to do, and (of course) if I have a boyfriend. I’m still not really sure what I’m doing as a teacher, but nothing catastrophic happened.

Posted in 2014 (China), Blog

10/04/14: Nearly There

A month and three days ago, I updated here and said I’m going to China. Now, the reality of it has begun to set in and I’m nearly on my way.

The last thing I said was I was expecting a contract. It took about a week to finalize the contract, not because we (mainly my dad) were dissatisfied, but because we just had questions. This is, after all, my first salaried job with a contract. (I’ve been saying that of course I’m the kind of person that my first salary job straight out of college is going to a foreign country.)

For the visa, I need a letter of invitation from the school (which is currently in the mail, on its way here) and loads of other things. The letter of invitation took a while to complete, but, now that it’s on its way, the date looms ever closer.

I’m hoping to be leaving in about two weeks, but there are no guarantees about that just yet. I still have to send the paperwork off to be processed and I need the letter of invitation first. Hopefully (fingers and toes crossed!) it’ll be two weeks. 😀

All that matters is, I’m nearly there.