Changchun, China

What you are about to read has nothing to do with kiteboarding.  Although this blog was created mostly to center around kiteboarding and my time spent on the water, I think it is equally as important to share valuable life experiences.  From July 2010-March 2011, I lived in Changchun, China as an English teacher.  People always ask why I went.  I can’t answer that question except to say that it just felt like something fun to do.  The important thing isn’t why I went, but what I learned while I was there.  China changed my life in more ways than I can imagine.  I directly credit the experiences in China with my decision to take a different path and become a kiteboarding instructor.  I came back and realized that I was doing everything in my life for someone else and I wasn’t happy.  The rest after that has just been a long stretch of happy days.

What you are about to read are e-mails sent while I was living there.  These are not all of them, but essentially as many as I could find.  I haven’t changed these e-mails at all (spelling and punctuation errors included!) except to remove personal asides to the people I was writing to.  I hope you enjoy it…

7/29/10

Well, I told you I would e-mail you!  China is so different.  The poverty here is astonishing to see and apparently I am in a very good area.  I am in a fairly large city (7 million), but they have a very small foreign population.  As a result, most Chinese have never seen a foreigner here.  It

My bedroom

makes daily life more difficult.  I am enjoying myself though.  Anyways, this was just a short e-mail, I’ll send a longer one when I get internet set up in my apartment.

7/29/10

Well, I have been in China for about a week now.  I am incredibly sick, but still alive.  It is a big culture shock to be here.  I am enjoying myself though and am sure that I will have a lot of fun once I am settled and not sick!  Teaching to someone who speaks another language is incredibly difficult!  I do have a lot of support from the school here and am sure I will get the hang of it.  I am working for a school called English First.  They are a fairly large global language institute.

Anyways, I’ll send another e-mail in a week or so when I get internet set up in my apartment.  I hope all is well.

8/4/10

Yeah, jet lag was kicking me but I am getting settled in.  The sun comes up at about 0330 or 0400, so it makes your sleeping schedule weird.  I am finally not sick anymore and feeling a little less out of place.  I need to learn more. The food is great, the people are nice, it smells really bad here, I don’t know, its different.

8/9/10

So far I am doing fine.  It is a big adjustment being here but its still fun.  Teaching is not easy but it is very rewarding.  My hours don’t even compare.  I work about five hours a day Wednesday through Friday and then about 8 or 9 Saturday and Sunday and have Monday and Tuesday off.  We get a five day public holiday in October so I think I will go to Beijing.  I am nowhere near a tourist area so they are not used to seeing foreigners here.  I get a lot of stares and do a lot of gesturing when trying to communicate with others.

8/11/10

So…China.  I have stepped into another world altogether.  In some ways it is a huge culture shock, in others, it isn’t that big of a deal being here.  The language barrier is very difficult.  I haven’t started tutor lessons for Chinese because we only get paid once a month.  So, until we get paid at the end of August, I am trying to save money.  I am picking up the language a little.  I can recognize more words than I can speak.  Forget about trying to read the language.  That is a different animal altogether.  The people are great though.  Because foreigners are a novelty, they do try to help you, but it is still difficult.  You may gesture that you don’t understand and the only thing they will do is repeat themselves, but faster.  It makes for interesting exchanges.  I draw a lot of pictures, make a lot of gestures and generally struggle to do day to day exchanges.  It is very cheap here though.  I went to the market yesterday and bought groceries for the week and some household goods for about $30.  It would have cost much more in the U.S. and I would not have spent that much had I not bought peanut butter and honey (a very expensive item here).

Brian and I at our friend's restaurant

Generally you can eat on $1-$2 a day here. I bought a gym membership for 15 months for $90 USD and internet for a year for $190 USD.  I don’t make much…about $1050 USD for the first three months and then it jumps up to $1200 USD, but most people here only make about $200 USD a month.  So, I am obviously in the upper middle class.  You can live very well here on the salary I have.  I will say that I am lacking for cool people to have out with though! There are two schools under the same banner here in Changchun.  They are located on opposite sides of the city and I am in the smaller school.  It is advantageous in that it is more relaxed and a less overwhelming environment for a new teacher.  On the other hand, there are only 5 other foreign teachers here and that makes the options of people to hang out with limited.  I am meeting some locals who speak English and there is an event for both schools coming up, so I should be able to meet more locals and some of the foreign teachers from the other school.  Oh my gosh, I have been so sick since I have gotten here.  The food is great, but it kills your stomach.  It’s the sanitation here, it is very bad.  There is an alley that I walk through on the way to work, we call it BBQ alley because there are many vendors who come out and cook meats and dumplings (gyoza).  The food is excellent as long as you don’t watch how it is prepared.  The meat for the dumplings is put into buckets and left outside while they prepare them…big tubs of meat and they wash vegetables in buckets out in the street too.  The water is what will really get you. Despite all of that, it is good food at a very cheap price.  It’s a popular spot where you can get food at all hours.  Forget about beer here…it’s 3/2 beer..you can down a 6 pack and not even feel a buzz. Most of the people here drink Baijo (a kind of rice liquor).  I don’t drink it, it smells like paint thinner and tastes even worse…but it will get you drunk.  I recently found an American style bar and a German restaurant.  The American bar/restaurant is decent and you can get food like home and liquor from home, but it will cost about 300 RMB…which is about $50 USD..a small fortune here.  The German place was amazing.  It was a buffet where you can get vegetables and then waiters come around with skewers of meat and just slice meats for you during your meal.  You can stuff yourself if you wanted.  For two people with two pitchers of decent beer and the food, we paid $20 USD. haha…crazy.  Oh, and there is something called Hot Pot here..really good.  Think of fondu but healthier..  The teaching is going OK.  I had a parent observation last Sunday that didnt go well.  My boss sat in on the class and really likes my teaching..they all think I am a good teacher, but the parents had wanted a male teacher for their kids, so they complained and I will lose that class.  Hopefully no one else complains about something stupid like that.  It was a class of 5-6 year olds and, while some of the kids are mischevious, I enjoyed teaching them.  As a result, I will just pick up additional teenage and adult classes.  I tend to prefer that though.  Teenagers are little bastards here too though.  It is a lot harder to get them motivated…

8/11/10

Things are going really well.  Yes, I am still being stared at.  Actually, another teacher and I got our picture taken at a restaurant a few days ago..  The other teacher said it happens a lot here since they don’t see foreigners very often.  I am really enjoying living here.  The language barrier makes day-to-day things quite difficult. I am going to start language lessons in September.  I am picking up on simple things though.  Honestly, I can recognize words more often than I can recall them to speak.  My apartment is nice, just as big as my apartment in the states.  We make the salary of an upper-middle to lower-upper class resident here, so all of the teachers definitely see the nicer side of things.  You wouldn’t believe how cheap things are here.  You can eat on $1 USD a day…you can buy a DVD for less than $1USD (They are all pirated, but the same quality as one you would buy in the store in the states).  I am doing pretty well as a teacher.  My boss is happy with me so far.  I did lose one of my classes because the parents wanted a male…and, well, no matter how well I teacher..I wont be a guy!  I am still working on getting internet in my apartment.  Communism at work….someone came to drop off the cable for the internet two days ago.  Someone else will come to drop off the

Friends at a movie theme park

modem..sometime (there isn’t really a rush on anything here) and then someone else will come to activate the internet.  They create so many ridiculous jobs here for people.  At the market, they have people staged in the different areas.  So, if you want to buy some household appliance, like an iron, there is someone there who will write down the price.  Then, you will go to the cashier for that area and pay them.  Then, you go back to the first person who will give you what you just bought.  It is definitely weird, but this is China.  It’s different, but enjoyable.  We all get 5 days off in October.  A bunch of the teachers and I are going to take the train down to Beijing to see the great wall.  The hours are incredible here…my weekend is on Monday and Tuesday..Wednesday-Friday I work maybe 4 hours and then Saturday and Sunday is about a 9 hour day.  It is a lot of fun too, I am enjoying working with the children.  I teach 3 year olds to 30 year olds.  The little kids are adorable, it is very rewarding.  I am doing much better with the young ones than I thought I would.

9/29/10

Hello everyone, Well, I am leaving in a few days for the October holiday.  It is in celebration if the Chinese independence and lasts for one week. Unfortunately, I only receive five days of holiday, but it will still be a nice break.  I had planned on traveling to Phuket to visit some friends and to kiteboard, but my plans fell through.  I managed to secure last minute tickets to Beijing.  I am going with another teacher and we both know several people in the city.  I will be leaving on October 1 and returning on October 5.  I have heard some horror stories about Chinese trains, I will let everyone know whether that is true upon my return.

Right now I am sitting in a coffee shop near my home waiting to go to work.  Like many places here, once you become a regular, they treat you much better.  I received free soup, nuts,  fruit and a gift with my meal and coffee because I come here and pay $16 for coffee and a meal.  That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is considered very expensive here.  They also have wifi, so that is very nice.  It is like being in a Starbucks.  There is a bar near hear that is the same way now as well.  It serves western food and I have befriended the bartender.  Now, if we order a drink, he let’s us serve ourselves…which is both amazing and cheap. I think being able to serve yourself at a bar is some kind of amazing milestone.

Well, I have now officially had my second bout with food poisoning since coming to China.  I wish I could say it was uncommon with the foreigners, but it is not.  I am doing much better now and managed to avoid another experience with the hospital.  Things have been relatively tame here.  I have tried to take it easy since the holiday is coming up and is likely to be “expensive”.  Our school has been doing some interesting things with our adults.  Last week, we had a wine tasting and this past Saturday we went to KTV.  The Chinese love KTV.  I must admit that it is fun.  In the states, you sing in front of the whole bar.  Here, you have your own private room.  Some of the locals will even go on their own during the day!  We met with the students and stayed with them for about two hours.  After that, we sent them on their way and went back inside.  It was pretty calm as it was only my boss, his boyfriend, a Canadian teacher and my three Chinese friends.

I do have an interesting story to tell, but it isn’t really my story. Unlike the U.S., massages are very popular here….for many reasons. All of the people that i know that get massages actually get a massage.  However, it is equally common for those places to double as brothels.  In fact, my friend Brian (an industrial designer who came here from Beijing) told me that Changchun is known as both “long spring” and the “sex city” of the north!  So, my friend Ben went to go get a massage at a place near school (actually, under school, but the entrance is on the opposite side of

Class

the building).  We had kept running into a local who was trying to get him to go to that place. Anyways, he went there the it other night and it turns out that it is a brothel!  Not only do prostitutes live here, but it doubles as a kind of hostel for poor factory workers (foreign auto works, or FAW, runs this town).  So, you pass by beds of workers sleeping and prostitutes working in the same common area!  Needless to say, he was shocked and left.  I thought it was a shocking story and really wanted to share it with everyone.

That’s really about it.  I I’ll finally start Chinese lessons after the october holiday.  I think I have gone as far as I can with my local friends in learning the language and could really benefit from a real teacher.  I am excited as my vocabulary is still very limited and I am sometimes too intimidated I even share what I do know when speaking to people!  It also makes it difficult when even your Chinese friends speak very good English.  I have about seven Chinese friends and they all speak fluent English.

I hope everyone is doing well.  It is really getting cold here.  We should get snow in the next few weeks.

10/18/10

China is great.  It is nothing like the U.S.  People are so much nicer and they appreciate what they do have so much more.  I am living in the Northeast in a city called Changchun.  It is like America’s Detroit before the city fell apart.  The auto industry is booming here and really does run the town.  I think all of my Chinese friends are engineers for FAW (Foreign Auto Work-VW, Audi, etc.).

10/19/10

Hello everyone,

I know if has been a while since I have written, BUT I am still alive!  Not much exciting has happened since Beijing.  The trip was expensive, so I have been taking it easy this month to save money.

I have met a lot more locals to spend time with and that has been a lot of fun.  I have been trying to organize some basketball games and have been mostly successful.  It is difficult to get everyone together because my work schedule is nights and weekends!  We agreed to meet about a week ago at 8 pm.  It was dark, but my friend said he knew about a court about ten minutes walk away that had lights.  So, in about 10 degree weather, 9 of us set out to go play.  We got there and…there were lights, but they weren’t turned on!  We decided to play anyways..it was dark and we ended up not doing very well.  The ball rolled into the bushes and my friend got it out.  Instead of throwing it to one of us, he tried to throw it over the tree.  That is how we got our basketball stuck in a tree.  It worked out because we found a really nice billiards hall near the school after that happened and we ended up having a really good night.

I have finally started my Chinese lessons!  What a difficult language!  Just one hour takes a lot of effort to concentrate and stay focused!  I never felt like Spanish or German were that difficult.  It is paying off though.  While I still struggle with speaking, I find that I can understand more and more.

It is really getting cold here now.  All of the teachers have a pool on when it is  to snow.  So far, everyone has lost and if it doesn’t snow by October 23, everyone guessed wrong.  There are many days when it is below freezing, but we have no snow.

I have picked up more classes and more responsibilities at school.  I have two new classes, have become the consultant for classes of children aged 11-14, and have been helping some of the adult students with getting jobs in English speaking companies.  This is such a rewarding job.  It isn’t even really like a job.  To be honest, I wish that I worked more hours!  I make 6 times as much as the average person here and I work half of the time.  The average person in Changchun only makes between 1000 and 2000 RMB (which is between $180-$400 per month).

Well, sorry nothing exciting is going on!  We should have some things happening towards the end of the month for Halloween.  I have found a website called Changchun Friends where the ex-pats here organize events, but they are often while I am working (for example, a soccer and basketball league!).  Anyways, take care everyone.  Keep in touch please.

11/7/10

Well, China doesn’t have toilets like you do in the west.  They are called squatter toilets.  Basically it is just a hole in the ground. It is still surrounded by porcelain, but you still squat down to do your business.  It was really annoying at first, but now I don’t mind it.  My apartment has a western toilet, so it is only something I encounter when I go out.

Do you remember BBQ Alley?  The alley by my school where they cook on the street (I got food poisoning there..)?  Now that it is getting cold they have started setting up tents.  So, even in the dead of winter there will still be street BBQ.  What else do I see?  Well, people sell things everywhere.  All over you can buy things on the street.

As I have said, the Chinese love their music.  There are not motorcycles here really, they all drive these scooters.  They aren’t just scooters though, they are pimped out scooters with huge stereos and lights.  So, if you hear loud music down the street..it’s not a car…it’s a scooter!

Honestly, less shocks me now. Sometimes I see things and think…damn..I really have to write back home about that, but it isn’t as often.  China is much like other places around the world.  You have some parts of your city that are nice and clean and other parts that are just trashy.  I just think that the “clean” parts are less clean than expected and the “trashy” parts are downright disgusting!  It can be really bad!  BBQ alley is so unsanitary because of all of the foot traffic and food they sell.  It is good when it rains because that alley gets cleaned out.  We haven’t had any rain lately though and when we do get precipitation I expect that it will be snow.

11/22/10

Hey everyone,

I don’t remember how long it has been since I have written to everyone, but I hope everything is going well!

It has been really “warm” here lately (about 40 degrees), so all the snow has melted.  I don’t know if it was just as dirty on the streets before or if I just think it is dirtier now because I got used to seeing snow on the ground.  In any case, the streets are filthy right now!  It was probably always that way.  Needless to say, I can’t wait until it snows again just so I don’t have t see what I am walking on!

School has really picked up lately.  I got another class (this bring me up to teaching 3 clubs, 2 adult classes, 1 class of 4 year olds, 3 classes of 6-9 year olds, and 2 classes of teenagers plus teaching demonstrations throughout the week for potential students).    It is nice at this point now because one more class is all that my schedule can handle, so I am pretty set with my students now.  Luckily, I have very good students except for a few in the teenager classes (teenagers are so much fun…!….not..).  On a side note, we really need another teacher because of the amount of students we have, soooo…if anyone wants to come here and teach, let me know and I can set you up with an interview! (OK, that was my plug for my school:) )

One of my friends from London just re-opened his restaurant here.  I went there with my boss, another teacher and a Chinese friend of mine.  It was a very nice restaurant.  After we ate, he took us on a tour of the building.  There were three levels.  The first level had normal tables, the second level had semi-private and private rooms and the third level had private rooms and a dorm for the staff.  It is very common to pay the staff only about $180 USD a month and then to house them in a dorm in the restaurant.  It was nicely decorated, the food was excellent and (most importantly) the kitchen was very clean.  I did get to see the fish and the frogs that they keep on hand to cook (in a tank…alive).  It actually made me sad that I eat frog because they looked really cute!  Oh, and my disgusting new food that I tried was cow stomach recently!  Actually, it was pretty good, it just looks and smells terrible.  The smell isn’t everything.  They have a fruit here that smells like poo, but apparently it is really good.  I haven’t gotten the courage to try it yet.

So, some of you may remember my stories about BBQ alley.  If you do not, here is a quick refresher…  BBQ is an alley that I frequently walk through as a shortcut to work.  We call it BBQ alley because people cook on the street and it is a popular place to eat very cheaply.  They basically get a small, long metal grill.  They then cook everything on skewers.  The food is either kept in the open or a dirty bucket or a foam cooler that is just there to hold the food.  Nothing is kept cold, even the meat.  Along this street, there are also small restaurants that BBQ as well.  In any case, this is incredibly delicious and incredibly dirty.  I haven’t eaten there since I got food poisoning from one of the vendors.  Well, now that it is cold, they have started setting up makeshift tents for the people to eat in.  BBQ alley has transformed.  So, half of the alley is full of tents and the other half is open for people to walk down.  One vendor even brought in a bus for people to sit in while they eat.  The street has gotten so dirty that I don’t even want to walk down it anymore! Well, one of my Chinese friends ate at one of those small restaurants in the alley the other day.  He told me his friend found a cockroach in the bottom of his bowl.  Well, his friend understandably freaked out and started yelling at the manager.  The manager started yelling at and hitting the cook.  Can you guess what the cook did?  He started crying and telling the manager that there are too many bugs and he can’t pick them all out!  Awesome.  Yay basic sanitation.  Haha, not all places are like that.  It is just wise to stay away from the small places because they can be very dirty.

11/24

Well everyone, tomorrow is THANKSGIVING!

So, I just wanted to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving this year.  Regardless of where you are or who you are with, there is always something to be thankful for.

Take care and talk to you soon!

P.S. Everyone needs to eat an extra piece of pumpkin pie for me because they don’t have pumpkin pie here:)

11/30

Hey everyone!

Well, I hope all of you had a memorable Thanksgiving!

I had a very relaxed Thanksgiving.  I taught until 2030 on that day.  I had ended up working extra because another teacher was sick.  After we finished teaching, my boss, another teacher and a Chinese friend of ours went out to eat at a place called Strollers.  The foreigners here had planned a big feast at two restaurants in town, but we would have been arriving nearly two hours after it began and probably would not have gotten any food.  So, we decided to try Strollers.  It is a western bar and restaurant, so we figured they would have turkey.  They had turkey, but the rest was definitely the Chinese version of Thanksgiving.  Still, it was good to be with friends and I was very thankful for what I received.  As a side note, I think I will take an extra serving of sweet potato and pumpkin pie next year:)

Today I went to the city center with a friend.  It is called Chongqin street.  I had only been there once and only very briefly.  Before I went, my friend had texted me saying where he was and that he would be at my apartment complex in 1.5 hours.  I thought it was strange since he was already on the street we were planning on meeting.  I told him I could meet him there and he asked how I would do it.  I just had him send me the chinese address that I could show to a taxi driver.  He seemed really surprised by this!  You know, in some ways, the foreigners here can be kind of helpless and sometimes our friends assume we are more helpless than we actually are!  Anyways, what a great day!  We spent hours

Sam goofing around

looking at antiques.  I found many things that I think will make excellent gifts.  I had not prepared myself to buy anything nice, so I will have to go back.  I do have an interesting story about today though…  It is not uncommon for my Chinese friends to be asked if they are my translator.  Different friends take this question quite differently.  One of my best friends here takes incredible offense to this.  I can understand as it is just as likely that we are friends.  Well, my friend today (Sam) does not necessarily take offense to it.  We were looking at a stand that sold coins.  One particular coin caught my interest, though I had not yet asked if it was real.  When I inquired about the price and began to negotiate, the woman asked my friend if he would help her cheat me.  She told him it was fake, but not to tell me so that she could make money.  Sam didn’t tell me this until later.  At the time, he just ushered me along and took me into the real stores (We had to pass by the fake ones first).  I think I would have been very upset with the woman if he had told me right away.  Unfortunately for her, she assumed Sam was my translator!  Anyways, after that we walked along the street.  I found a store called Kama.  It is a brand from Hong Kong.  What a great store!  Luckily, I have restraint now and just bought a sweater (I hadn’t planned on buying anything, but Sam is my Chinese shopping buddy and I should know better than to go into a clothing store with him!).

After we were done, we tried to get a taxi as I had agreed to meet another friend at the new mall to see a movie.  Well, if you are trying to get a taxi between 4 and 6, forget it.  We waited for twenty minutes before deciding to take the bus.  This was my first bus experience in Changchun and it took FOREVER!  The bus is very cheap (maybe 20 cents), but the taxi is cheap as well and much more convenient ($3 is the most I have ever spent and that is considered very expensive for a taxi ride).  Well, we got there OK and Sam walked me in to drop me off with my other friend!  Haha!  Now, for all of you reading this, I am quite capable of doing this on my own:)

Well, that is about it for the past few days.  Our school just hired another teacher.  He was teaching in southern China, so he should be here soon actually.  Exciting!  That means an easier workload on us….yay!  I planned the Christmas event for our school on Friday.  It was meant to be a brainstorming session that I organized, but the teachers here can be a little spacey.  So, I ended up just seeing if there were any problems with my ideas and gave out assignments and deadlines.  I think that may have been what my boss wanted all along.  If it works out, it will be really cute.  Our 3-5 year olds will sing Jingle Bells, We Wish You a Merry Christmas and O Christmas Tree.  Our 6-11 year olds will do a simplified version of “A Christmas Carol” and then we will have craft stations for everyone.

Anyways, I hope you are all doing well and that preparing for the Christmas season is joyous and not too stressful.  Being here and seeing so many people in utter poverty really opens your eyes.  So, if you get a chance, do something nice for someone less fortunate because that is really what Christmas is all about:)

12/13/10

How is the wind?  Man, I would kill for a beach right now.  However, I did go skiing and snowboarding yesterday for $22 (90 minute bus ride to the slope, lift ticket, and rental of skiis and a snowboard).  Now that we finally have enough snow I will probably go every weekend.  Snowboarding is a lot harder than boarding on the water though!  Haha..maybe I should get a coach next weekend because I spent 3/4 of my time tumbling down the hill.  Anyways, I wanted to say ‘hi’.  I hope you are all doing well:)  If you ever had the itch to come to China I am doing a ski trip during our spring festival in the beginning of February to Harbin (Super cold because it is right on the Russian border…think -40 degrees, but it has good slopes apparently).

12/18/10

Ni Hao!

Well, I hope everyone is doing well.  It has been a little while since I have written.  It is really cold here now.  Winter is definitely here to stay!

I have had a fairly eventful past few weeks (maybe too eventful)!  This past weekend (Monday and Tuesday) was probably the coldest I have ever been.  I went to a place called Lian Hua Shan to go Skiing.  It cost me $22 for the bus (1.5 hours), ski AND snowboard rental, and a lift ticket!  It was a little difficult to reserve because the tour guide spoke no English and I speak very little Chinese.  In any case, I had one of the Chinese teachers at my school help me.  I took two of my Chinese friends with me to the slope.  They had a really difficult time because they had never been skiing before, but they managed to do pretty well by the end!  When we arrived back in Changchun it was rush hour, so we could not find a taxi.  This would normally be OK, but it was about -10 degrees outside.  It took us 1 hour on a bus with no heat to get back home.  Being out in that definitely reminded me of cold days in New York with a poor excuse for a jacket!

I visited the movie theme park here recently as well.  Again, it was freezing, but it was also free.  A friend of mine knows someone at the park, so she got free tickets for 5 of us.  It was pretty neat (like a mellow version of Universal Studios in Orlando).  I think I will go back in the summer when I don’t feel like I might freeze to death!  She did introduce me to two of her friends though, one of which owns a steel factory here.  They were good contacts to make, even if we have a big language barrier.

I am not sure if I have ever talked about the club/bar scene here very much.  Unless you go to a western style bar, it is much different (and much cheaper).  It is similar in that the clubs and bars will play loud music, but no one dances.  You will arrive and be given a table.  Everyone just drinks and sits there because it is often too loud to even speak to the person right next to you.  I went to one of these places this past week because a friend of a friend knows the boss, so we got free drinks and food (yay!).  However, it was that night that I went to the dirtiest restaurant I have ever seen in my life.  I have talked about BBQ alley before…this was worse (also BBQ).  It was in a small house, which is thankful because of the cold.  My friends warned me not to eat much, but I think they were just curious to see my reaction.  Most of my friends here are really wealthy, but I have also managed to make friends with people who just have an average income.  At some point while we were eating, I went to the restroom.  I took a picture of it because it was that bad….  When I came back, they asked me what I thought of everything and said they were happy they could show me “real” China.  Haha!  It was OK though, I am always glad for the experience.

We had our Christmas party for the adult students yesterday evening.  It included LOTS of food and LOTS of wine!  They all had a very good time and our hard work planning it really seemed to pay off.

One thing that I have really noticed here is the power of networking.  Networking is very important everywhere.  It is really what makes the world go round.  It is even more valuable here than I could have imagined.  It is all about who you know here.  I’ve been very pleased that I have managed to establish a pretty extensive network of friends here.  I can get you anything..from help with the government and lowering the tax you should pay, to finding a good restaurant where you will most likely eat for free because you’re my friend!  Some of my Chinese friends call me their facebook in real life!

Well, that is about it.  Next week is Christmas!  I can’t believe I won’t be in the U.S. for that, it makes me a little sad, but it will be a good experience here.  Some of the teachers and our friends are having a Christmas party, so we are all very excited about planning that.

Take care everyone and don’t stress too much about your holiday preparation!

12/23/10

Merry Christmas (Well, in two days),

I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a Merry Christmas before the real craziness of preparing meals, wrapping last minute presents, etc. began.  Something happened to me the other day that I would like to share…

I received a Christmas present from someone back home.  It was very simple, but it meant a great deal to me.  When I called to say “thank you”, they said that it was just something small, not really a big deal.  I have had that on my mind since that conversation.  I used to be the kind of person who didn’t appreciate anything.  I was maybe given too many things as a child.  In the past few years, I have really begun to cherish those “small” things.  It isn’t the size or cost of the gift, it is the meaning behind it.  A card could mean as much as a new car depending on who it comes from and how it is given.  I’ve had an opportunity here to see people who can have anything they could possibly want and others who struggle just to survive in the worst kind of poverty.  So, wherever you are and whoever you are with this Christmas, be thankful and cherish those small things.  Those are the things that matter:)

1/2/11

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Well, I hope everyone had a very memorable holiday wherever you were or whoeever you were with.  Holiday in China was a “memorable” one!

Christmas Eve was spent at my apartment with my boss, another foreign teacher and two of my Chinese friends.  It was very relaxed.  We just played Clue actually!  My Chinese friend Brian had a really difficult time understanding the concept of not trying to look at other people’s cards or having to help someone when they asked a question.  The next day my boss had everyone come over to his house.  I left my apartment quite early (1000) to help with the baking and cooking.  It was -15 degrees outside and there were no taxis!  I waited outside for 20 minutes before I finally got one.  I arrived at my boss’ apartment and helped to prepare Christmas lunch and dessert.  It was a lot of fun.  Most Chinese households do not have an oven.  Foreigners will buy portable ovens, which is what we ended up using.  I really enjoy to bake so it was really nice to get to do that again.  People began arriving around 1130.  It was my boss (Karl), two other foreign teachers (Ben from Australia, Alex from Canada), a local teacher (May), and two of our Chinese friends (Brian from Beijing and Iefan from Chongqing; They are my closest friends here in China).  We spent the whole day eating and drinking (China = lots of food and lots of spirits).  Later in the day we exchanged our secret santa gifts (only not so secret).  Through some mishaps with the name drawing we all basically knew who each other had.  It was still really nice.  I think it made everyone miss home a little less.  It was the first Christmas celebration for May and Brian, so they thought it was really novel.  The really interesting part of Christmas came later that night…

We had arranged a “Secrets” game to play.  Everyone gave three secrets to Karl.  The game was to try to guess whose secret it was.  You would get a point if you guessed the right person and 6 points if no one guessed your secrets.  Anyways, as we were starting, Alex became sick.  It was a huge mess and very embarrassing to the other foreigners since we had Chinese guests.  The next day Karl referred to it as a car wreck because everyone scattered throughout the apartment.  May found an empty bedroom and took a nap.  I went into the kitchen with the dog and Brian to avoid the mess.  Karl, Iefan and Ben took care of Alex.  After they cleaned him up and he felt better, we finished the game.  It was really interesting, but the night was basically over.  After we left I went to a foreign bar with Brian.  It is really popular bar (The Classic) here among foreign and Chinese (it’s basically a dance club).  There were so many people there!  It was incredible.  I ended up meeting a lot of my friends there.

I had to work the next day, which was unfortunate, but it was really relaxed.  Karl was upset that we had to work on Boxing Day, so he let us watch movies with our students!  The whole next week was quite busy.  People were still in the “holiday” mood so I went out every evening with friends (from going to KTV, to going to the Classic Bar, visiting a friend’s restaurant, etc.).  By the time New Years Eve came I was exhausted.  I really just wanted to spend a quiet evening at home.  I ate a quiet Hot Pot dinner with one of my student’s and his mother.  It was really interesting.  This student is 17 and is one of the students I am mentoring as he prepares to go abroad.  His parents are really influential people here in Changchun, so it is a little humbling to socialize with them.  They have invited me to dinner at their home (I can’t wait, it will be my first time in a Chinese home!).  I went home after that with plans on just going to sleep.  As it turns out, Brian’s friend that I had met the previous week had no plans either.  So, we went out to celebrate New Years with the foreigners at the Classic Bar.  It was not as fun as I had expected it to be, but at least I can say I celebrated the New Year! It isn’t really that important to the Chinese, they are more interested in Spring Festival (Chinese New Year).  I did go skiing/snowboarding the very next day with friends, which turned out to be great.

So, that has been the past week for me.  My Chinese improved A LOT recently.  I have very few western friends, so I had many opportunities to speak Chinese with my friends during our week of celebrating the new year.

We are about to start a very busy month.  From January 10-31 we will be working overtime.  The students have vacation from normal school, so we will be holding “Intensive” classes.  After the intensive time is over we will have time off for Spring Festival.  Our contracts only give us 3 days off, but it is a long public holiday for the Chinese, so they are forcing us to use some of our days in lieu (you get these when you work on a day you should have off).  I would have 10 days, but I convinced them to let me come back and work a day early (so I have 9 days holiday; it is only important because of travel time I will have when I return to the U.S. in July).  Anyways, I will be going to Beijing.  Apparently the West Point Supe will be in Beijing the week before.  There are about 6 or 7 graduates in China, so one of them sent out an e-mail about it.  When I do go to Beijing I will stay with an old grad (yay!).  It will be good to connect with other grads while I am there, plus I have some Chinese friends in Beijing.

I am learning so much here.  It is really great.  I think I will be a little shocked when I return to the U.S.  When I meet westerners here, I am really shocked by their behavior.  Maybe that’s because I am only socializing with the Chinese most of the time.

I hope everyone had a good holiday.  Be safe as you return home and return to work.  Oh, and good luck with your New Years Resolutions!  I have yet to keep one throughout the entire year.

1/22/10

Hey everyone,

Well, I will be returning to the U.S. (Savannah) on 27 February for good.  China has been an incredible experience, but it really is time to come home and return to reality.  I’m so happy for the opportunity to do something like this.  The next few weeks should be a blast as well.  I will go to Beijing with some friends from 31 January- 8 February.  My last day in China is on February 26.  It will be bittersweet for me.  I have made some great friends while I have been here and know that a return trip to visit everyone here will be in the works in the next few years.

I really appreciate everyone’s words of support during these past months.  I have very much enjoyed keeping in touch with everyone, especially in the absence of facebook!  I will probably send out an update after my holiday in Beijing.  Besides that, I will talk to everyone when I return to AMERICA!  YAY!

1/28/11

Well, I will still be traveling to Beijing from 31 January – 8 February and staying with an ’86 USMA grad.  This will work out great since it will make things much cheaper.  After that, regardless of what the school decides, I will be returning to the U.S. on 26 February (to a final interview for logistics and a holiday with Cliff:) ).

I hope everyone is doing well and I will send out an e-mail after I get back from Beijing!  Take Care!

2/1/11

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! I am currently in Beijing.  I had planned on staying with an ’86 USMA grad, but that fell through, so I found a cheap hotel. By the way, excuse any spelling errors as I am on the subway typing this on my phone!

Yesterday I visited the forbidden city and a park nearby.  It was 30 degrees and sunny – a big change from where I am living.  I was actually hot!  After that, I went to a place called Tim’s Texas BBQ in the ambassador district.  I haven’t seen that many westerners since I left America.  It was really nice.  This evening I will celebrate the new year with a friend’s family.  It is traditional to spend this day with family (or your adopted Chinese family!).

I will spend the rest of the holiday visiting the art district, great wall, summer palace and some local places with my friends here.  Well, I will talk to everyone soon.  Oh, and if you were born in the year of the rabbit, this is your year!  Wear red today :)

2/9/11

Hey everyone,

Well, I am back from Beijing.  What a trip!  I’ll give you a short breakdown of the trip.  I actually documented it day-to-day this time and if anyone actually wants to read through that, let me know and I’ll send it to you!

I flew to BJ on Monday, January 31st.  We left in the evening, so it was around 2300 when we arrived at the airport.  I had arranged to stay with a 1986 USMA graduate while I was there, which would have been incredibly convenient (not to mention inexpensive).  Unfortunately, I could not reach him when I arrived and the two friends I was with would not let me go to where we had arranged to meet without first getting in touch with him on the phone.  So, my friend arranged a hotel for me and his father drove me there once we took the shuttle in from the airport to the city (the subway stops running at 2300 in BJ).

I visited the Forbidden City on that first day.  It was incredible yet again.  Fortunately, there were not as many people, so it was much more enjoyable.  When I left the city, I ran into a park called Jingshan Park.  It was really beautiful and offered an excellent view of the city.  I enjoyed just wandering around and taking pictures.  I had gotten in touch with the USMA grad and we had agreed to meet for dinner and drinks at a bar called “Tim’s Texas BBQ” in the ambassador district.  I met up with the grad and some of his friends and enjoyed a few drinks.  It was surprising

View of the Forbidden City

to me to see so many foreigners/westerners in one place.  I havent seen that many together since I came to China.  It was right about then that I realized that I will really be quite shocked when I return to the U.S.  Anyways, it was fun, but they seemed a little unreliable so I didnt end up staying with them.  My hotel cost about 200 RMB a night  (about $35).

The next day was the Chinese New Year.  I went to a popular shopping district to try to find gifts for people.  I ended up in a marketplace where I could barter with the owners and ended up getting a few gifts.  I really enjoy haggling over the price!  Anyways, that night I went to my friend’s grandmother’s home for dinner.  I arrived and they were playing Mahjong.  This is a popular domino-type game in China.  It’s actually not that difficult, but it requires you to understand some chinese characters and it can be played quite fast.  I partnered up with my friend’s mom and lost almost every hand, but it was a lot of fun to learn!  Dinner was fantastic.  It was my first time in a Chinese home with a family, so I really enjoyed the experience.

The rest of the time in Beijing is kind of a blur.  One of the days, I visited a section of the great wall.  It was breathtaking…literally and figuratively!  I climbed stairs for over an hour!  I went with a tour group and the other person on their own was French, so we partnered up to climb the wall.  He was actually a NICE Frenchman!  It was a great experience and one that I know I will never forget.  Another day I went “skiing” with some friends.  I use this term loosely.  Beijing is really warm, so there wasnt any snow in the city.  Even as we drove outside of the city into the mountains, there wasnt any snow.  The “slope” was more like a very gentle “hill”!  They made there own snow, which meant that it was actually just ice.  It was still a lot of fun though.  My friend, Carol, had gotten free tickets so we didnt have to pay for it.  They didnt know how to ski, so I was able to teach them.  They really enjoyed it.  That same day, I went to visit the Summer Palace.  I really should have taken a whole day to go visit the palace.  It was huge and incredible.  I will definitely have to go see it in the Spring or Summer.  I went back to the art district, 798, again as well.  We went on a Monday, so it was actually really empty because most of the galleries are closed on Monday.  I had food poisoning (3rd time) the previous day, so I was still feeling a little weak.  The district was quite far from where I was staying, so I had to take a cab to the subway and then a cab to the district.  When I tried to get a cab after taking the subway, I could only find “black cabs”.  These are illegal, but common cabs.  You can mostly find them in areas where it would be difficult to find a normal cab.  Anyways, when I told them where I wanted to go, they told me 50 RMB.  I was shocked!  I asked him, in Chinese, if he was crazy?  The drivers got a good laugh out of it and then told me they would take me for 20.  This is still too much, but it is reasonable.  I was in the district for a few hours when a buddy called me saying he was coming to the district as well and wanted to meet up.  I hadnt seen him since we parted ways at the airport, so I decided to stay despite still feeling a little sick.  We walked around for about an hour and a half when another friend showed up with two of his friends.  Everyone had come to take pictures, but it was getting cold, so we just ended up at a cafe for coffee and to play with our iPads (everyone has an iPad here, its ridiculous).  On the last day in BJ, I went to the military museum with my friend, Vicki.  It was really interesting, I had a great time.  I did more during my time in BJ, but it mostly included just spending time with my friends and their families.

Overall, it was an incredible trip.  I had a lot of fun.  The fireworks during the Spring Festival sounded like bombs.  I took video of it just so I could record the sound.  Imagine thousands of people in NYC setting off powerful fireworks all night long for a week straight.  It was a little disconcerting.  Two people died from being careless in BJ.  Needless to say, I didnt stay out too late at night.  Spring festival also included A LOT of eating.  I would go to my friend’s family’s home to eat dinner several times.  I would say I’m full and they would just ignore me and give me more food.  I hate food now!

It was a nice closing trip for my time in China.  Now, I am back in Changchun and I have 16 days left in China.  I’m sure the next 2 weeks will include a lot of preparation and a lot of time spent with my friends here.  Still, I am definitely ready to come home.

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