Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Life in Shanghai

Well, here I am in the great city of Shanghai. You know, foreigners have been coming here for hundreds of years, and it really shows. This city is so different from any city I've been to in China. I'm currently staying with some friends who teach in an international school for a company that makes superconductors or something like that. That means that we're way out on the edge of town in the high technology park, everything is nice and new, it's not too crowded, most of the stores and restaurants cater to foreign tastes (just slightly), there are foreigners and their kids walking around everywhere, the cafe I'm in has a genuine latte, genuine chicken salad, and genuinely free wireless internet access. It's like I've left the country or something. I don't feel like I'm in the same place. This country can't possibly contain something as drastically different as Shiyan and Shanghai, can it? I guess it can. Yesterday I got off my extra long train ride in the nicest train station I've had the pleasure of being in. Then I took the nice, clean Shanghai subway halfway across the city to this part of town. No one even looked at me like I'm an alien! This city is crazy. It doesn't belong in China. They should be their own country, like Singapore. Shanghaipore. Has a ring to it, doesn't it? Now I'm starting to sound weird. I'm leaving here tomorrow night at 6 on flight 288 to Chicago, so I'll see some of you guys and gals soon. If not, have a happy Groundhog Day and I hope you get a short winter.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

What I'm actually really going to do this holiday

After much consideration, preparation, revision, finagling, and ticket shopping, my holiday has come down to this: I'm going home to America for three weeks. Yay! Thanks for buying me a ticket, grandmother! And Jennifer, for putting the idea into my head and making it seek out and destroy any other ideas that may have taken root. So Tuesday morning I'm taking two trains that will eventually, after 26 hours or so, get me to Shanghai. I'll spend a few days there enjoying the sights and possibly enjoying the company of some friends if they can find a spare moment from work. Then on Friday I'll fly from Shanghai to Chicago to Nashville. I'll be in the States from the 2nd until the 22nd, and plan spend some time in Nashville, some time in Cleveland, MS, and hopefully some time in Longview, TX. And now you know exactly which plan I'm going to follow through with. And I better be able to follow through with it because the tickets have already been bought. :)

The last week has been spent mostly in bed or in a chair. At the beginning of the week it was due to a sinus thing I had going on, but after Wednesday it was basically due to laziness. There's just about no students left to hang out with at my school and all the foreigners in town are gone except for me and Darla, so it's been the opportune time to just chill out to the max. I've never had the busiest, most hectic life here in China, but you'd be surprised what kind of mental fatigue can come about from living in a foreign country. The slightest thing can make you more tired than a full day at work. I think I must have been more fatigued than I thought because this week I've been sleeping 12 hours every night, when usually I wake up after 8 hours without an alarm clock. I do feel much better, though. I almost let all my relaxing put me into a reclusive state, but Happy Guy took care of that last night. When I'm eating alone I like to go eat late so that it will be less busy and Happy Guy can take off his apron and hang out with me. I went to eat after 8:30 last night and he ended up telling me that I wasn't allowed to order because I was going to eat with the family and employees at the end-of-night meal that they always have after the customers stop coming in. So around 9 we all sat down to the biggest fish hotpot I've seen. Usually I try to stay away from fish because I'm not very accustomed to the tiny bones and I always feel awkward when I take forever trying to eat around them while the Chinese can eat a whole fish in less than a minute. But I was with the Happy Family and employees, so I threw my reservations to the wind and dug in. Happy Guy is a great friend, he always knows exactly when to tell others to speak more slowly so I can understand, and he always knows when he needs to rephrase other people's questions with vocabulary I know. His wife is a great hostess because she always keeps my bowl full and she always knows when there's something I'm not used to chewing on (like a fish head) and she's ready to give me a quick lesson on how to handle it. Without exception, I'm always nervous when they invite me to eat with them. A lone foreigner amidst a sea of jovial Chinese diners can easily be overwhelmed. Yet without exception, they never fail to put me at ease and allow me to have a great time. At one point they all talked about how the foreigners never eat without first giving thanks and they all wanted me to show them how I do it. Then they began to argue about what I say and why I do it. Because of some of our conversations in the past (most with an interpreter, mind you) Happy Guy was able to jump in and gladly tell them exactly who we thank, how we thank him, and why we thank him. It was a pretty cool moment for me to sit there and listen to him talking about all of that. He was very kind to point out that there's apparently no smiling involved in giving thanks, though. Haha! He said "No... smile! No!" It kind of took me by surprise, the things that people can notice while watching us foreigners. I've never really thought about it, do I ever smile while giving thanks? I'm not sure if that's something I need to work on or what, but it was just weird because I've never really thought about it before. :)

Well, Darla and I were thinking about meeting for dinner and a movie tonight but neither of us wants to go across town to meet the other so I guess it's another quiet night at the Automobile School. We don't feel bad since neither one of us wants to get out. We've accepted the fact that we're lazy this week. :) I've already promised to help her buy a train ticket tomorrow, so I already have plans to be out and about tomorrow. Don't worry and think I'm becoming a couch potato shut-in or something. I'm not even on the couch. It's not comfy enough to sit on for long periods of time. If you're going to be in or around those areas where I'll be in the next three weeks, drop me a line. I can't promise anything, but I'll try and stop by. I hope you're all having a blessed Sunday.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Maybe some possibly tentative ideas for consideration when thinking about if I would perhaps like to travel this holiday break. Maybe.

Recent news: I only have one more final to administer and then I'm done with classes for the semester. It snowed two days ago (didn't stick or anything, but it was still fun). I have awesome Chinese friends. Playing mahjong for two and a half hours is the perfect way to begin lunch in a Chinese home. A crummy day in China can be made better by avoiding English. The language barrier seems to magnify the problem and I find it more relaxing to be the one struggling to speak than to be speaking fine and wish the other person could do it too. Besides, many Chinese people's personalities don't show through when they're using English. Or else only the annoying parts show. Sometimes, not always. On to other things...

I'm going to go out on a limb here and talk about my plans for traveling. Yes, again. Plan Q. The first 16 plans didn't quite make it through to the final stages. I have high hopes for this plan, though! So I've coerced Darla and Frank into traveling with me to Yunnan. Darla is one of our foreign teachers at the medical school across town and Frank is a student there. Darla is really stuck on the idea of not doing anything at all during the break. She really just wants to sit here in Shiyan for 6 weeks and do nothing. Yeah, that sounds like a load of fun! Seriously, girl. So we're going to take about another week to give her some relaxation time before we go. In the meantime, I've got a trip planned this Thursday to Ox Head Mountain, which should be an all day affair. Then Friday morning some of us are planning on heading over to Wudang Mountain (birthplace of Taoism and Wudang style kungfu). That will be an overnight affair, so we'll be coming back Saturday. Possibly Sunday, but probably Saturday. Anyhoo, Ox Head Mountain is just on the edge of town here so it's not that far. Wudang is a little less than an hour, but I hear that it's snowy once you get to the top. I'm excited about that! I'll make sure and take lots of pictures. So next week Darla, Frank, and I will head off on the train to Kunming, the Spring City. We'll spend about three weeks traveling to Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, and Guilin (which is in another province but we really wanted to tag it onto the end of the trip). It should be a bit warmer in those places, in the 60s instead of the 30s, and the scenery is supposed to be incredible. I've been to Guilin before, but I definitely wouldn't mind going again. Beth, a teacher in Yichang, will probably join us after her classes end around the 3rd of February. Beth, Darla, and Frank all want to be back in Wuhan on the 14th, so they'll all leave Guilin together and catch the train to Wuhan. I will do one of two things. 1) Go to Hong Kong for about 6 days and then head down to Hainan to meet Derek, Angelyn, Janis, and Yvonne on their way back from Cambodia. 2) Go home. The home option came about this morning and isn't even a definite option yet. My sister called and after we were done talking she asked if I would come home if someone bought me a ticket. Before, this was definitely not an option. That's a lot of money for two or three weeks at home! But the thought has been in my head all day and I don't think I can say that it doesn't sound like a good idea. Anyhoo, if the opportunity presents itself then I might take it, but otherwise I'll be wandering my way all over south China.

I just got a phone call inviting me to an exciting evening over at the medical school, so I should probably wrap this up. I hope everyone is having a good time, because I sure am! Let me hear from you.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A case of the lazies

I just finished my last class of the week. You know, the busier I am, the less I mind teaching and whatnot. But now I'm down to two classes, both of which only have the final exam left, and I just don't feel like doing anything at all. It just goes to show that there's a fine line between tons of free time (which we usually have) and too much free time (which is now). Once I cross that line, I go into lazy mode. It doesn't help that all the students have gone into hiding in order to study for exams. In the past I've always been able to count on them to help me fill my free time. Now it's just me and this blasted internet. Seems to be mostly working for the moment. Mostly.

So it doesn't look like my travel plans are going to work out quite as planned. I'm developing a great track record here, aren't I? I'm still going to travel, it's just a matter of where, when, with whom, and for how long. I definitely want to stay in China if possible because I'm planning on visiting a friend in Japan during the May holiday. I need to save up some money plus I want to get in some Chinese sites this year. I'm not going to begin listing the possibilities until I know something more definite, so for now just know that I'll be done with classes next Wednesday and after that I hope to travel since I won't have class again until after March 5th. Yay! Just in time for my birthday! I'm really hungry now, so I'm going to hunt down some breakfast. Have a great Friday!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Random Pictures

Dacy brought by her roommate's new puppy. We named him Jesse White, after Dacy's guy friend. Isn't little Jesse so cute?

Doesn't little Jesse taste so good? Derek could definitely win at Iron Chef.

We didn't really cook Jesse, but someone definitely cooked Benji and sold him at the supermarket. Tasted kind of like roast beef. Kind of.

Flashback to Thanksgiving. Preparing to teach some students American football. The foreigners are (left to right) Angelyn, Darla, and Andrew.

The chaos that ensued.


The traditional Christmas cake with a dog in a Santa suit. Wouldn't be Christmas without it!

Yvonne painting Happy Guy's door for Christmas. Derek's just having fun in the background.

The finished product. Merry Christmas from the Happy Family!

Attack of the exams

It's strange to enter exam season here, because students seem to get sucked into some kind of black hole. Students who were always free to hang out before are now glued to the chair in their study room of choice. Imagine the best crammer you ever knew in college in America, and the worst Chinese student could blow them out of the water. A student who hasn't been to class since the first day four months ago can spend 16 hours studying one textbook everyday for two or three days and learn everything there is to know in order to pass an exam. These exams are usually 70-100% of the grade for the class. No wonder I have trouble enforcing attendance in my classes! But now that students are getting exams out of the way, more and more of them are disappearing and heading home. The usual hustle and bustle of campus has receded to a whisper and a breeze. So in about 1 week, most of the students I know will be gone, and just about every foreigner in town that I know. About 5 days after that, I will hopefully also be on my way south to beautiful Yunnan province. South of the clouds, that's what the name means. Kunming, the Spring City, where the weather is wonderfully mild all year long. Dali, a place where (I've been told) you can sit back and take a vacation from traveling for a while. Lijiang, supposedly one of the most beautiful scenic areas in all of China. Xishuangbana, an area near the Vietnam border containing some of China's rare and unspoiled minority cultures. I'm excited! But before that, I get to plan oral English exams for about 80 more students. THEN I'll finally be done. Well, once I match up their English and Chinese names so I can turn in the grades to the administration. So far, there's only one name that I have no match for. Oops! I'll work it out. :)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Home sweet home

Well, I'm back from Yichang. After a pretty ambiguous schedule, I finally decided to come back on Thursday so that I would be rested for class Friday morning. The other option was to try and get my coteacher to teach for me so that I could stay in Yichang for the weekend and hang out. Brad assured me that I would be distracting him from finishing his grades and that we probably wouldn't get to do anything exciting (like go to the Three Gorges Dam, the soon-to-be largest dam in the world when they finish it) so I caught the bus home. The ride was fine other than it lasting two hours longer than scheduled. That's China!

So where did I leave off? I wrote some about Christmas. Christmas night we had a nice foreigner party over at the Lewis' house. I got some awesome stuff from my secret Santa. Thanks Breanna! I'll have to figure out who was taking pictures when I tried it on, maybe I can get something on here. We had some snow on the night of the 29th. It wasn't too much, but it stuck to the trees and was enough to inspire about 2 billion text messages from various students who wanted to make sure that I knew it was snowing and that I should wear warmer clothes and that I should drink hot water so I wouldn't get sick. Good news! I didn't get sick! But it probably has nothing to do with how much hot water I didn't drink that night. It's probably because the next morning I got up and caught the bus to Yichang for about 5 days. Apparently a cold was passed around whilst I was away and I got back just in time to miss it. Yay! I came back to a sick Yvonne. Cindy apparently got her ticket home and left while I was gone, guess I'll see her again in March. Derek and Angelyn went to Xi'an for the weekend. I got a text message from them today. They're having a blast checking out the terracotta warriors and other sights there. I went to Xi'an once, it's a really cool place. Right mom?! She went with me, she knows how cool it is.

Wow, I'm all over the place in this post. I'll try to reign in my thoughts. So our winter holiday begins in about two or three weeks. That means that I'll have about 5 or 6 weeks in which just about every student on campus will pack up and leave. Most businesses and restaurants will close during the week of the Chinese New Year. This is the time of year when most foreign teachers in China get some travel in. I've been browsing my trusty Lonely Planet guidebook and I think I've decided to hit up Yunnan province this year. It's in south China and has mild weather year round, so while it may not be the tropics, it's as close as I can get without a boat or airplane. I could always head down to Hainan or Taiwan, but I'll save that for another time. I've been told that there's a lot to see in Yunnan, so I'm thinking I'll spend at least three weeks moving around down there. It should be nice to escape the cold and hang out in the cool/warm for awhile. Before I go to Yunnan, I think I might go over to Chengdu first. It's the capital of Sichuan province, the home of super spicy food and super elusive pandas. The main thing on my list right now is a genuine TexMex restaurant I've heard about, but I'm sure I'll eventually look into other things in the area. If I still have a lot of time left over during the holiday, I'll probably make a trip over to Hong Kong to hang out with my cousin Suzanne. I went twice during winter holiday my first year here, so I sure don't need to go for the sights. But it's always fun to hang out with Suzy! Plus I know other people in Hong Kong now, like Miss Deuce McMillan.

That's all I've got for now. The internet is being a pain again and I think I'll have to save this and post it another day. I'll sure be glad when it's fixed and I can get onto my blog more than once every few days.