The Perfect Last (Two) Days

Although I was angered to be leaving Beijing so quickly, having not seen the Summer Palace due to lack to available trains, I was happy to be home again in Changsha, even if only for two days.

I went book shopping with Dove and her friend Zero Joe for English test books and reading books. Then we had Hot Pot for lunch. I was worried because they said it was expensive, but it came out to be 12$ (and I realized adjusting to US prices is going to be HARSH!) Like dutiful friends, Joe and Dove dropped me off to meet Jeremy, who spent the afternoon giving me a tour of Changsha South Central University and Hunan Normal University on the West side of the Xiangjiang River. I think that I have officially seen ever part of Changsha now.

Today, I got up early to go to the Bank of China to exchange my money and while I was waiting a college student sat down beside me a struck up a conversation with me. In just 15 minutes we (mostly him) covered all of the topics and questions that I have been confronted with all year:

How is my English? How is my pronunciation? How is my fluency? What is the best way to learn English? Have you seen the Big Bang Theory? Do you like Sheldon (of the BBT)? What do you think of China? Do you think the food in Changsha is spicy? Where do you teach English? Do you believe in God? Why do you believe in God? Do you think the traffic in China is bad? Have you ever been robbed in America? Doesn’t everyone have guns? Do black people try to take your money? And use guns? Etc. etc. By this point my number was called and I said a hasty goodbye to my highly intelligent and curious new friend, who reminded me that China and America still have so much to learn from each other.

The day continued in true Chinese fashion with a final 18th birthday lunch for Dove. Five of her closest friends and myself enjoyed an awkward hour of Brazilian BBQ buffet. The day before I had heard a rumor from Zero Joe that the lunch would cost 1,000 Yuan, but of course it was Dove’s treat because she was the birthday girl.

After lunch we headed downtown, bought movie tickets from scalpers standing outside the theater and I finally saw the Hunger Games! I was surprised that China was allowing this movie to play, as it is somewhat of a comment on government control, but interestingly enough there were no edits, that I know of. (I did sleep through a lot of the movie the first time though) The birthday guests seemed to enjoy it and after a quick goodbye, we all parted ways.

I ended my day but finally procuring a souvenir I have been eyeing all year! And, I was able to successfully bargain down the price (wayyy down) all by myself in Chinese. It may have had something to do with the fact that I physically did not have enough Yuan on me, having just converted all of my money, but I like to think otherwise. Or should I say that I am finally Changsha streetwise?

I walked down BeiZhengJie, the alleyway by South Campus and I took a picture of each little crazy shop that I am worried I will forget. I went and said goodbye to my favorite drink stall man, whose name I never learned but will hold a huge place in my memory of this year in China. In the picture he looks very happy, but I know that he is torn up by my departure on the inside.

I am glad that my departure was not too rushed, but now as sit here I am dreading the slow return home. I will leave my apartment tomorrow at 9AM (China time) and will not return to my home in Petersburg, PA until about 1AM Sunday (China time). About 50 hours in total!! Wish me luck, patience and that the Seoul Airport has an English bookstore and Tylenol PM.

It has been a journey. Thanks for following along. Until we meet again, China, and dear blog followers-

Time to leave China, officially

For 2 main reasons: First, I can now say that I have been to Beijing, I have climbed the Great Wall. (twice, actually) and second, because I am all out of good travel Karma. If I were to do any more traveling at this point, I fear the travel gods have turned their back on me. (the 2 day trek back to the US I am hoping, is excluded.) These two points are related, so stick around for the punch lin My trip got off to a bit of a rough start with thunderstorms in Changsha delaying my 11PM flight by 2 hrs. I did not make it to the hostel until about 5AM. I was determined not to loose a day though, so I set an alarm and was off to the Square by 10:30AM. When I awoke it was cold and raining still.

First stop, seeing Mao, a solemn, continuous moving line past the leader. Then, I ducked in to the National Museum. Saw some old stuff for free. The museum was recently re-architected? as part of an international competition and they had all the bids displayed which was kind of interesting.

When I came out of the museum it thankfully had stopped raining so I was able to cross Tiananmen Square, say Hey! to Mao and explore the Forbidden City for about 2 hrs. I ducked back to the hostel to reserve my spot on the Great Wall trip. I then took the metro out to see the Olympic Stadium complex, and for the first time ever regretted that I was not part of a large Chinese tour group. They just looked like they were having so much fun!

The evening was spent trying weird street food and buying souvenirs. When confused about questionable food, I like to follow the Chinese, do what they do, eat what they eat.

Earlier in the day I had seen a line forming at this one tiny restaurant with a big sign on the wall and people talking pictures. There was a HUGE pot of steaming broth in the window. It was a two-man team. One man would scoop the soup into a bowl; the other man was chopping furiously and adding what looked like meat, to the bowl. I was game, until I think I figured out mid bowl that the specialty was intestine of some kind. I managed to pick out the bread, tofu and potatoes but decided to stick with what I know from then on!

A second morning with lack of sleep, my alarm did not go off and I awoke 5 minutes before the hostel van was leaving on the tour to the Great Wall. I made it in time and luckily had 3 hours to sleep before we arrived at JinShanLing, in Hubei province, to the southwest of Beijing to climb the wall.

I kid you not, our group (of about 15 people) was the only group on the wall at this particular point!!! It was so nice not to have to deal with the Chinese tourists on the wall, although we did have to deal with the local farmer woman who insisted on following you up the wall. Talking to you, holding your hand, pointing out good places to take pictures, all with the expectation that you will buy something from them.

When the wall changes from new to old brick, the steps become less even and the hike becomes more grueling, the women make their final sales push. Once denied, they send you on your own refusing to sweat along with you without profit.

It rained the entire way to the wall, stopped raining when we started climbing but did not clear until we were hiking back. Still a wonder!! We had a group lunch and bussed back to the hostel arriving around 6PM. At this point I needed a shower and a beer.

I sat in the hostel bar and simultaneously people watched, eavesdropped and wrote my postcards home. Then, I met Claus, a chatty Law student from Germany. In just a few short minutes I learned how he was a nanny for a summer in DC, and how he planned to come to China to meet his girlfriend, who then broke up with him a week before his flight. Most travelers love to talk about themselves, and as I was traveling alone, I was in the mood to listen. We soon set off for Beijing’s Bar Street, which was fabulous and did not feel like China in the slightest.

This is where the bad travel karma appears. Claus and I made a plan to have breakfast and a full day of sightseeing- my last day in Beijing. I set my alarm for 10AM, but was awoken in panic around 9:45 by the hostel front desk saying that two girls were at the hostel looking for me. I rushed to get ready and had 2 messages from Kirsten and her sister. I knew that they were coming to BJ, but we had not made any set plans so I called them and was able to meet them at the Metro close by. I did not realize that their plans were to also go to the Great Wall, but Matunyi- a different part of the wall. So I can now say I hiked the Great Wall, twice.

And so I stood up my new friend Claus. But I had a great time with my old friend Kirsten. When I returned to the hostel at the end of the day, I looked for him but to no avail. I have a feeling that when I did not show, he just sat down to talk at the next table and had just as much fun in Beijing.

I completed my obligatory pilgrimage to Beijing. Even though I ran out of time, I was glad I went. Before I left I felt like it was a trip I had to make before I left China, and now I feel as if I will need to go back to Beijing to finish seeing everything, again someday.

TOP 10

Top 10 Things I want you to know about China:

10. You can’t really say that you know China after being here for a year, but you can try.
9. The countryside of China is unlike anywhere else. I could enjoy watching the countryside for days if it did not involve being on a Chinese train.
8. Chinese people cannot dance to save their lives, but boy can they sing!
7. Chinese people appreciate and use their public parks. They like to do things in groups, rarely alone and they do not feel crowded when doing so. It’s a good feeling.
6. The food is delicious and oily. And bony. And nothing like Chinese food in America.
5. Central heating is not a basic human right, just an unnecessary luxury. (Although I disagree!)
4. I have met some of the most hospitable people here. Americans are nicer to strangers, but Chinese are nicer to their new friends and old friends and extended family members.
3. The Chinese generate a lot of trash, but every day the Chinese sidewalks start clean again.
2. China changes every day.
1. I might find the need to come back.

Top 10 Memories:

10. Leaving the safety bubble of orientation and arriving at Zhounan Middle School
9. Dancing to MJ’s “Beat it” at the New Year Party, taking 1st place for being Foreigners
8. Shooting our commercial for Untrace Skin Whitening cream
7. Having lunch with Sky’s family
6. Class 17’s mid year skits and Class 6 singing ‘Call Me Maybe”
5. The neighborhood baby LiBeiBei saying my Chinese name “Ke Teng Fei Ayi” before being able to say anything else
4. Hiking TLG in Yunnan province w/ WT friends
3. Staying in XingPing village in Gangxi province w/ WT friends
2. Spring Festival 2012.
1. Saying goodbye to English Club, Zhounan teachers, friends, and WT friends

And just for fun….

Top 10 Ways you know you have been in China too long:

10. You see nothing wrong with standing on a white stripe in the middle of a
highway while cars whiz past you at 60mph

9. You comment that the pollution “isn’t really that bad…”
8. You’ve got a pre-paid ticket with a reserved seat on a train or plane, but you still run like mad to to the get there first
7. You stand up as soon as your plain lands and stand in the aisle for half an hour before the doors open.
6. You squat to have a rest
5. You start to think the fake purses and goods look real
3. You spit your bones on the table and go to McDonalds to eat chicken.
2. You put up the peace sign in every picture
1. You “ting bu dong” even though you are starting to understand

Here are some more contributions for a Foreigners in Changsha Website:
You have trouble sleeping when you go home for a visit because it’s just too darn quiet

You get a discount if you speak English, but you pay more for Putonghua (Mandarin)

How about incessantly pressing the close button in an elevator… even AFTER the doors have begun to close?

You wear plastic flip-flops and a suit jacket to do construction work.

You’re surprised when the life in the office doesn’t die out from 12:00 to 14:30.

You think the taxi driver in Moscow has gone mad when he doesn’t want to drive you all the way form the airport for 20$

The more you listen to the news, the more uninformed you are.

You hold hands with others of the same sex and think nothing of it.

You carry your wife’s purse and she wears high-heel shoes to climb the mountain.

You sit 3 inches from the TV.

You turn the KTV volume up to 11.

You visit your home country and answer the phone.. WEI?!!!!!!!

You blow your nose with your thumb and forefinger

Dear Miss T

OK, OK , maybe it was a tad bit narcissistic, but for the last week of class I had students write letters to me. I have a few good justifications: Chinese students can write much better than they can speak, I wanted to get a sense of what they were thinking of the year, I was done teaching, etc.

To be fair, I gave them three options: to write to the next foreign teacher, to write to an American high school student or to write to me. I influenced their decision in no way! J

Some of them are funny, some of them are serious, but I want to include their letters because with such simple language they were able to say a great deal. At least to me. While I may not be able to remember names or faces of my 1,000 students for much longer, these goodbye letters will help me remember what I was doing in China and the relationship I created with my students.

Once, again, sorry for the length. I tried to organize the letters by category. I won’t judge you for skimming, but just remember I read all 1,000!

On Gratitude:

Thank you for teachering me English. I like you class. I wish you can study Chinese better. Chao Wei.

But youll go to America next week, I’m so pity. In a short, keep in touch, Ill miss you.

Welcome to China! Welcome to Changsha! Welcome to our school and our class. I’m very happy in this year because of you. We are playing together and fighting together. My English is pool but you make English funny. I can’t forget the days we were take together. Sky Smith. JiaWei Peng.

In your class, we always be delighted. It’s a very unforgettable experience! May you have favorable winds on the way. Tang Shi Qi. Pagge

In first class, you give me a so good English name. thanks very much. I like sarah, this name. sometimes I’ve a rest in your class. Im sorry. I think I will be a doctor or have myself clothes stores. I also want to go to America. If I got there would you can visit America with me? And I want to learn a song. Sarah Lie.

This term goes by. And you will go to America. I’m very grudge about you. You was loath to part with us. Loath to part with Changsha.

Im glad to meet you and be your student and friend. Though you also punished me but you are my teacher I can’t be angry with you. That’s all, I love you. Edward Class 10.

你是 一 名 好老师. You are a good teacher.

When classes will have finished, and you will return to America. I feel a little upset. You, who remains in my mind is a pretty, outgoing teacher. I know our class usually loudly and speak English (because our English is pool..) that make you feel angry. But I really hop that you will forget it, leave a pleaant memory in china! Wish you a fantastic trip in china, I will still miss you! Best wishes, wang ying zhou. Amy.

But I is very sorry. Because I told you I would talk to you. But I don’t go to office. I am very shy and I am afraid to speak English. Because I will have a fault of grammar.

I love your class and you are a good teacher. But I love a girl, she is beautiful. Her name is LiuSha and you should know her. Ha ha.. You always my teacher, ChenZiQiao.

I want to let you know a adj. It’s significantly indispensable. There are 26 letters. How smart I am! ^-^! Jeff. K1105.

My name is Wang Yu Xuan. And my English name is steven. America always is a country where I really want to have a look, even take a trip. And I know whats the difference from ‘developing country’ and developed country’ from you. Your oral English class is very lively, which I love it very much. If you don’t care, id like to talk to you and it can help my spoken English make a progress. Yours, Wang Yu Xuan.

I want to go abroad. I want to go to University in USA. I couldn’t understand anything in your class. So I usually go to slep on the class, I have headache while I go to class. But I also thankful for you because I like the USA. Do you understand? I guess you know.

I like you class very much. I want to have more classes with you. But unluckily we cant. I think you really lots beautiful and kindful. Although we only spent one year with other. I will also miss you. My spoken English teacher. I feel unlucky that we don’t enjoy English club that I cant talk more with you. Whatever. I will remember it. Wang jia xin. Tony.

I never think you are our teacher. I just feel you are our sister or best friend. I like you. You are the best kind of teacher who I have see. I don’t know can you know my feeling, but I just want to let you know: Maybe you will cant meet again, but I will remember you. Good lucky. Hope you beautiful better and better ^-^!

On my future:

You learned some Chinese from us. I’m thankful for this. Wish you have a good family. Marry soon! Have a baby soon!  -Fan YiYi

I will always miss you like a darling.

I am sorry to hear you will leave tomorrow. I want to tell you something: No. 1 I love you No. 2 I will miss you No. 3 Thank you No. 4 I hope we will meet in the future No. 5 I hope you can find a handsome, rich and kind husband. No matter what you think of me, I will love you forever.

I think I am very like you. To learn from yourself, I become more happily.  Because you always laugh. I argue with myself that my English is so bad. I want to say too much to you but I cant use words. Sometimes, I think in the future I will go to America because I have a dream that travel around the world. I hope we can be friends for a long time. I think the friendship is no nation. I want to play with you in America when I grow up. But that time maybe you will have your babies. I had two foreign teachers before. They are all from USA but they are the man and they aren’t friendly. … I hope you will be more beautiful then have a good boyfriend and happy everyday. Your dear, Watermelon. K5.

I think we needn’t more words. I just want to tell you that: kind people will have good lucky. Hope you have the life that you want. We love you.

I hope that Zhounan can give you a good dream.

I wish you have a brilliant future. I wish your lovers eventually become spouses. May you enjoy happiness in this earthly world. Every beginning is only a sequel after all. And, the book of events is always open halfway through. Thank you, Shirley.

I have a dream. I want to take a trip to Taipei. Do you know Taipei? A province of China. If I can someday I must come to visit you. That year, you will have a baby? Or two? Or… five? Ha Ha. Happy life! I will have a happy life too. Tree. K117

Hello Miss Cool-T. Im sorry to hear you are going back to the America. America is good. America is cool. Sir, welcome to the U.S.A. And I get to tell you. You could really go to New Jercy. That’s a good place. In chinese tradition, I hope you can get marry soon, have a lovely family, including a husband and son. Goodbye and Goodluck.

On China + America:

China is great, and America also is. We are a family in Earth! Scott Lu

America is a out-going girl. I love it. I have been to Hawaii, it’s a great place. There people was so friendly. I have two friends in Hawaii, I miss them. –ZhouDan Lei

In a fact. I really want to go to America. But I heard that many American hate Chinese. Because many chinese have bad quality in other country. I think I can’t. I hope I have chance to see you. Miss T. I really love your class. And I think you so beautiful. And I love beyonce. Bye Bye. My name is YuLingLIng. Could you remember me?

Don’t forget a girl is honor of you so much in China. – Megan (the English name you gave me!)

We, class 21, is a special class different from other classes in ZhouNan. We are from a northwestern province called XinJiang. There are many peoples there so we’re taken care of by the governemtn. Because of that we could study in Zhounan. So it’s a wonderful chance for me to meet you! My dream is to go to Beijing Foreign Language university. – Shirley(used to ) Elf (now)

Dear Commisit Miss T,

We don’t forget you and you cant forget me. All over, I can play Facebook. In FB< my name is Zeng BinHeng. I’m your commander. Comrade Zeng. (***remember him!!)

On GaoKao:

What’s your view about China’s GaoKao? I think it is so bad. We study many years. If we haven’t pass it. That means we are waste the time before GaoKao. How about the USA? Maybe the students in America doesn’t be boring. Chary. Chen Yuan Yuan.

I hates college entrance examination (GaoKao) very much. I even don’t know whether I will still alive after Senior 3- XiaoXuan David.

Through your class, I put my hand in bravely among this times and know many things about high school in America. –ZhouQiShan K1117

On Unburdening:

One year, after that exam, my life has changed after that exam. I didn’t go to my dream high school. I think my future is black. I came to Zhounan and met Miss T, friends and teachers. I think this must be a new begin. And my life will have a new sun rose. That will be beautiful!

I know you want to get out the China. I’ll miss you forever. Next, I’ll tell you stories about me. In my 6 year old. I went to New York City with my father. I think it is a very nice city. I stay at there 2 months. I learned much thing. When I back to China. Only two years. My father was dead. Im very sad. But I did many thing to make me feel happy. But the most good thing is learn English. that’s made me very happy. –Kevin Kennidy. C2.

Hello! Welcome to ChangSha! I like study. In my family. My grandparents were die. But I don’t feel cry. Because I am strong. In my family all the people were crying. In last summer, I learned English. I remember GuoQiaoMiXian from Yunnan. Your Student, Li Ke, Class 4, Chu Yi J1.

Shuai Ge’s making moves:

To: Continey (maybe …have..a little wrong) Im so sad. That you have to go back to American. You’re so …. Nice. I cant describe how nice you are. Maybe like this >——-(> < )——< longer and longer. You have sweet voice. White skin. Brown hair… and…hot…body. Ha ha… I think I will remember you forever in the future. So.. you will not forget me. Don’t you?China is a complicate country. I have seen some many dirty things. Dirty person. Maybe will change in the future. Love, Anthoney, CiZiYang

Oh Miss T. I want to tell you a secret. I very like the color of your hair.


The answer: Long time no see (CCC) Do you think very funny? –LiMinHui. K10.

Dear Mr. T: I like your class very much. Its very interesting. And movies are very well. You are very beautiful. I like your eyes. They are blue. I like this color.

I know. Only know. You are beautiful very much NOW. Yang Zhi Chao

The year you in Zhounan must be fun. Zhounan is a beautiful school, and there are many beautiful girls and handsome guys in Zhounan, if you miss them, you can come back to see us. –Everlasting friend, You can call me Zhong or Uncle.

Hey I just miss you, and this is crazy, but here’s my QQ, so call me maybe?

Change the “Call me, Maybe..” Hey Miss T, I love you. Miss your smile. Time run so fast. I love you baby. Love you so sweet. You make me happy. So I just miss. Much too love. (look at the first words) J

I like you very much because you know how to make your life colorful. I will talk more with you by QQ, wait for me.

Next year, I will wear long hair and I don’t know if I could see you, but I hope “yes!”

I like your curly hair. You are very interesting. Puck. Chen Ya Zheng

Oh, I don’t know what I can say. But miss T I wish you will be good-looking.

You are beautiful. But I wish you to get slim. Because slim can let you more beautiful. I from Changsha. Please remember the city and these lovely children, ok? Last. Im chinese, you are American. Were from two countries, but we are friends. Love, Zoe

When we meet you first in class. We all said: Look, so beautiful girl! Of course. We said in Chinese. >_< And when you speak a little Chinese. Do you know why we keep smile? Not because you speak not well. We all think when you speak Chinese, you are so cute. At last: What about your PROM? Can you tell me?

On Confidence:

I think you class is a little exciting. Before I’m afraid of speaking English in public. But now, I can speak English loudly.

I learn love and fun from your class. I think I become more outgoing.

Your classes are so interesting that I listen so carefully. I think that my spoken English has improved a lot. –Zhou Jian LI/Lucy K5.

My English is very pool, so I didn’t know what you said. But I can feel that your classes are interesting.

I have learned many things for you, so thanks. I talk something about myself. I become stronger. Taller. Know the world and America. I am a outgoing boy so I want to become a freedom poet. I like this feeling. I have a big dream. That is change the world.

In the past year, I did many things, which I haven’t ever done before. It’s a good experience for me. I am a shy girl. However, in your class, I sang, danced and spoke loudly. I even cant believe that I did this. –Zhong Rou Han

In your class, I’m learn so much. Such as I’m from close to more outgoing. I think its good! I hope that we can often connect after you back to America. (Use the QQ) I want to know more American culture from you and I want to go to America to watch the NBA. (Boston!)

You make me happy. I think you respect me. I like it. To my surprise, you like Allen Iverson too and your hometown is a great city because 76er. I answered some questions. I think you are humorous and patient. Final, best wishes to you. I will go to American to play NBA. Believe me. YW.

And perhaps a concrete example of how Spoken English does have a place in the Chinese Education system. Just yesterday Dove received her GaoKao Score: 141/150 -English 594/750 -Total.

Its difficult to explain the score because each University in each province has different requirements, but from my research I know that her English score is way above average. Now she has 2 weeks to decide her University and Major, stay tuned.

Miss T’s Summer Reading List

(** Apology: My last blog post was random and incomplete. My post did not upload correctly, and I seem to have lost all of the content that went with the links. So you will have to stay in suspense. There’s an old Tomlinson adage, anything worth doing is worth doing well, so let me try again!

** That being said, I should warn you that this next post is lengthy and a little academic-heavy. )

As the year winds down, I am struggling with the best way to summarize my experience and how to prepare to explain my thoughts once I am back in America. There are 3 things I want to leave you my fellow blog readers, with: a summer reading list, words of wisdom and goodbye from my students, and my Top 10 China moments.

The first, is a book list for those of you who are really interested in learning more about the culture and people, as well as what it is like to live here.

If you are looking for summer reading, I can personally vouch for:

1.River Town- Peter Hessler (also Oracle Bones, which is on my ToDo)

2.Wild Swans- Jung Chang

3.A Thousand Secret Senses- Amy Tan

4.Factory Girls- Leslie Chang(Google just told me, Chang is married to Hessler)

And, because I just can’t leave it at that, (I have a feeling some of you aren’t rushing to the bookstore!!) I want to give you some quotes that I think really highlight the China I have seen.

Factory Girls by Leslie Chang

Spending time in Chunming’s circle was like looking at an optical illusion. Out in the city, they appeared plausibly middle class. They owned apartments and cards, or planned to buy them soon. They took driving lessons and vacations; they got manicures and went on diets and learned Latin step dance. They always knew about the newest Brazilian barbeque restaurant or the best place for frozen yogurt. At other times, the village seemed indelibly stamped on their DNA. Their apartments might be tastefully furnished but the bathroom invariably had a squat toilet. Their medical knowledge was the folk wisdom of their grandmothers: To recover from illness they steamed chicken with ginseng, and when the weather cooled they ate pork lung soup to stave off respiratory infection. They still traveled long distances by bus and train, and almost none of them had been on an airplane. Tradition was most on their minds when they journeyed home for the New Year, covering in one day the distance they had traveled over years. (216)

Passengers crowded the aisles and perched on the metal sinks next to the bathrooms and crammed into spaces between the cards, squatting in rows in their dark suits like crows strung along a telephone wire. Metal carts barreled through, forcing the human pile to rearrange itself every few minutes. The carts sold chicken legs and warm beer and hot dogs skewered on sticks. The vendors called out: hot milk good for you. Only the well off bought food on the train. Most people carried their own- hard-boiled eggs and wafer cookies and mason jars filled with green tea so cloudy that algae could be growing in it. At 10:45 a sweeper came through. We had been on board only three hours, but she pushed before her a mountain of peanut shells, orange peels, and empty plastic bottles. Nobody on earth generates trash faster than the traveling Chinese. (276)

“Where is he from?” was always the first question. “Hunan,” she said- and there the conversation died, because there was no good answer to that. (280)

The Chinese today have a troubled relationship with their past. On the surface they take pride in it-China has five thousand years of history, one is constantly reminded as an American- but there is an aversion to going much deeper than the level of a Qing dynasty television soap opera. Why did a great civilization collapse so rapidly when confronted by the West? What made people turn so readily on eachother- in workplaces, in villages, in families- during the political movement of the 1950s and 1960s? And how could they pick up their lives afterward as if nothing happened? The last question is the easiest: through forgetting. “That is for history to decide,” people say when the subject comes up- as if speaking of long ago rather than events they witnessed and participated in themselves. Forgetting is also a personal choice- a tacit agreement among a great number of people to put the past aside. Perhaps for a long time, china will feel the way it does now: a country that is at once tethered to history and unmoored from it, floating, free. (317)

Wild Swans- Jung Chang

“I did not appreciate either that information about China was not easily available, or was largely misunderstood, in the West, and that people with no experience of a regime like China’s could take its propaganda and rhetoric at face value.” (621)

… This is something I myself was guilty of before coming to China. One of the reasons I wanted to come and see China first-hand for myself. This is also one of the things that I am dreading upon returning home, the prevalence of this misunderstanding among my friends, family, and fellow citizens, as well as my inability to full articulate what a whole Country is like, without explaining it at face value.

“I memorized the whole of the Declaration of Independence, and my heart swelled at the words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” These concepts were unheard of in China, and opened up a marvelous new world for me. My notebooks, which I kept with me at all times, were full of passages like these, passionately and tearfully copied out.” (623)

This passage reminded me instantly of Dove, who is constantly and passionately writing passages in her notebook. Often from American T.V. or movies. She once recited a speech of Obama’s in its entirety to me. Furthermore, like Jung Chang, many girls have told me that the first Western book that they read in China is Little Women. Of course the only difference is 40 years.

Many of the systems and policies were initiated under Mao. I am surprised to see are still in present in China today. I am starting to understand the Chinese culture I have been observing and interpreting all year.

The three big ones are the concepts of losing face, guan xi, and social space:

1-    Losing Face: This extends from asking questions, asking for help, to questioning any time of authority figure, both in the classroom and outside.

2-    Guan Xi: Even though at first Communism took a strong stance against bribery, familial favoritism and using class to your advantage, after the Cultural Revolution, fear drove most Chinese to rely on Guan Xi, relations between people as a means to and end.

3-    Social Space: Solitude was considered to be a bourgeois habit of looking down on people, and being aloof, cutting yourself off from the masses was considered suspicious and criminal even.

Two other quotes from Mao, most pertinent to me, and my year of China, demonstrate concepts that have prevailed and molded the Chinese way of life that I have observed. The first covers the gender role in China. Despite Mao’s claim that “Women hold up half the Sky,” Men still hold up China.  ( As for me, this was made clear during our New Year Celebration when the Zhounan leaders got up to speak, and there were about 10 men and 2 women leaders.

If I am honest, the real reason that this quote struck me is because it has been used by my favorite journalist Nicholas Kristof, and his wife, as a title of their book about women’s empowerment and importance around the world- a topic that I love. I guess without carefully checking or considering, I thought this was an old Confucius saying, but now I can’t help but think that Mao has tainted it.

The second quote refers to my year in China teaching English. When schools were reopened in China, naturally science and technology were trumpeted as the way of the future. English, however, was an important subject and should be learned as a way to “win over foreign friends.” Some days when I am feeling particularly helpless in a class, either in dealing with issues of discipline or just getting the students to participate, I can’t help but think that to some, I am only here to help with their mission of acquiring these foreign friends.

There are also physical reminders of Mao’s lasting influence. During the Cultural Revolution, when arts and culture were destroyed, when most Chinese were unemployed and had nothing to do, the only entertainment allowed was fighting and playing cards. Today, cards still remain the most popular past time.

Within the school system, I was interested to find out that the dormitory structure- 6 students to a dorm with one bathroom, as well as the weekly schedule, having only Saturday nights and Sunday mornings free, begun under Mao. Mao also initiated the Eye exercises and the Morning exercises that fill my students schedule, down to the minute, today.

I see Mao’s face constantly, hanging in tiny shops with nothing else on the wall. Tiny gold statues on the dashboards of newly purchased cars, and on the 1Yuan bill. And yet, before reading Wild Swans, I might have gone the whole year without making the connections to China’s long history.

Likewise, I purchased Factory Girls in the Hong Kong airport on my trip to Taiwan, and was finishing it on the fast train ride home, from Shenzhen to Changsha. Factory Girls was written before the existence of this high-speed line, but I have the feeling that while some things change dramatically, some remain the same. Passing the factories as I was reading about them was a surreal experience. (That same weekend, Maureen was visiting a friend in Shenzhen, who took her to see the Foxconn factory, famous for its apple products, NPR publicity, and mass suicides, earning it the nickname among Chinese as the Jumping factory.)

It’s hard to believe I am leaving this country, when there is still so much to learn. I am thankful for these authors and journalists to keep me cognizant of the East.

The Accidental Chinese Date

As my time in China winds down, it is on my agenda to attempt to pay back all the Chinese Guan Xi and hospitality I have been shown this year. While an impossible task, one I value as important in making sure my closest friends, and even new acquaintances know how much they have impacted my experience. Turns out, this task was even more impossible than I thought.

At the top of my list was a new friend, Jeremy, who had treated my friend Amber and I to a steak dinner. So, this weekend, I tried to invite him to dinner. He doubted that I knew of a place, but I insisted. He immediately changed the time and activities to include a movie. This is when I became suspicious of the conditions of our evening…We saw Men in Black 3, in 3D, which was ridiculous! As was the fact that he refused to let me pay, when I specifically followed the Chinese rules of stating 我请你! I treat you.

After the movie, we went to dinner, at a restaurant that Jeremy had never been to! Although I knew what to order, he insisted on fish soup, but then agreed to let me pay for dinner.

We went to Starbucks, a quite place to talk, even though I expressed I couldn’t eat or drink anything more! We took the obligatory, iphone photos and ran into Sunny, passing through on the way to meet some friends! China can be a small world.

Jeremy’s English is really excellent, although he says he needs to improve. Of all my Chinese friends, talking with him is probably the easiest. One of the many tidbits I learned about China. When we (and I mean, Will Smith) says “Bingo!” it is translated into “Cheng Gong le!” Cheng Gong is the name of the man who is known for reclaiming Taiwan for China in the 1600s. So while we think of Bingo, as “got it!” The Chinese got Taiwan!

At the end of the evening, Jeremy put me on a bus and handed over a bag, which he had been carrying around all night. A message that said, “To Courtney, its Jeremy! Happy Every Day!” along with souvenirs of China- a bai jiu glass and a pig made of stone. While I am still not sure what the pig is about, it’s the thought that counts, right? At the end of the night, I received a message that said, “It was an honor to spend time with you, I look forward to seeing you again.”

While some, including myself, might scoff at the Chinese male role of “purse carrier” and the typical Chinese couple’s insistence on wearing matching t-shirts… there is something to be said about the Chinese courtliness. Who doesn’t like presents on a first date!

Even though the night was great, I don’t foresee this style in my future:

Torrential Rains and Potential Tsunamis in Taiwan

I am behind. I am sorry if you have been missing me, I have been missing you. I do want to document all of my adventures that I have had in China, while still in China. I know that the minute I am back in the USA I will be caught up in the whirlwind of the lives of my family and friends, and a year’s worth of catch-up. And that will be important then, just as this is important, now.

So- two weekends ago, I had requested two days off of teaching so that I was able to travel to Taipei, Taiwan to visit my Uncle Judd and Cioci Ellie Maul, who were visiting on a business trip. A full day of travel from Changsha to Shenzhen, crossed the border to Hong Kong and then an hour flight to Taipei. I met them at the Grand Hyatt hotel around 5:30PM and our evening tour began at 6PM.

Over the course of two full days, we saw temples, where I got a “YES!” to one of my questions to the gods, a night market where I saw the biggest snake, but refused to drink the blood for good luck, and hiked through a tea plantation in the hills.

Then, it started to rain, and we were forced inside. We went to the National Museum, which is in the old palace of the Japanese king. We saw the most extensive Cartier Jewelry collection: East meets West, and had dim sum and tea from the top floor of the palace with quite a view.

We went on another tour that ended with a traditional Chinese shopping stop; we searched at great lengths for pearls until deciding that they would be less expensive to buy in the U.S; and we window shopped for hours in the most impressive luxury shopping complex and decided that there is just nothing that compares in the U.S.

Due to the relentless thunderstorms, we never made it to the top of the Taipei 101, the second tallest building in the world, but I have a feeling it won’t hold the title for much longer. Regardless, the best part of the trip was spending time with my Aunt and Uncle (followed closely by western food and Yellowtail wine). Although they were glad to have me along to bargain prices and show them how to hold chopsticks, I get the feeling they are still each other’s best friends, 30 years and just one more memorable trip.

(I returned on Sunday night to find out that my liaison, Joy, never told the English teachers I would be missing my classes, so the English teachers were left high and dry wondering where I was. So much for planning ahead to save face! Thankfully, there was only one week left of class.)

mid week news reports & updates from changsha

1-Changsha to build the World’s tallest building, to be completed in just 3 months!:




2- The debate about fake cars in China:

3- Pictures of an evening out with Dove, post college entrance exam:


4- Silly students:




Chinese Peculiarities

As the school year winds down, along with the kids’ enthusiasm for Spoken English class, I find my energy matching theirs some days. But always the planner, I have planned out my remaining 4 weeks of lessons for the year. Last week, I had planned to show a movie in class, so I did not prepare a lesson.

Then, I was informed by my liaison, Shirley, that all of the Senior 1 English teachers had been invited to attend my class on Wednesday, as they had been attending one class of each subject all year, and had made it to Spoken English. I’ll admit it was a bit of a struggle to come up with a lesson, my heart wasn’t in it. I figured maybe two or three teachers would show up, just like previous open classes that I have held before.

What Shirley failed to mention was that the class was open to ALL of the English teachers at ZhouNan, so when I arrived to class on Wednesday, it was FULL of teachers, maybe twenty had showed, sitting on little plastic stools in the rows between students. I was a little nervous.

This semester, I have started each class with a Riddle and a Game.  This week, it was my favorite, Boggle. The kids of Class 17 are my smartest, and have played before; they looked like pros in front of the teachers. Unfortunately, I am afraid I did not. My 2-minute YouTube video, entertaining and informative, did not play at the beginning; I lost my hook, and became flustered.

The lesson was on Food Colloquialisms. The kids breezed through the material, so I had them come up with their own examples. The creativity demanded of them was a bit challenging, but they came up with some great ones, used in conversation- “as angry as a pineapple” and “as comfortable as an old shoe.” As I walked around, I thought the teachers observing me were taking notes, turns out they were still trying to solve the game of Boggle.

Upon returning to the teachers’ office, I thought that teachers might ask a few questions or make a few comments, but no one said anything to me, and it made me wonder what the point of this open class was after all. I was grateful for their attendance and their interest during the class. But just like my timid and shy students, it is difficult to gauge the learning process when there is no feedback, or dialogue. Its as if the teachers themselves need an Oral English class.

Wedding Sunday in the Month of May

Before I left for China, I had to complete volunteer hours working with English as Second Language students in some capacity. I ended up observing a class, teaching a class, and meeting up with some Penn State graduate students to serve as a conversation partner. About two weeks ago, one of these graduate students, Dan Hong, emailed me to invite me to her wedding in Changsha. I remember her mentioning that her boyfriend (also a Penn State PhD student) was from Changsha, but did not know about the wedding. I was thrilled, about the connection, and to attend the wedding, which was one of the things I have wanted to do in China.

The wedding was this past Sunday afternoon, and I invited Loring, as he was in town for the WT End of Service conference on Saturday. We gave the taxi driver directions and were worried that we would be late, as the wedding started at 12:08, due to custom; it is considered lucky to include an 8 in your start time. When we arrived at the hotel, there was a wedding taking place on each floor it seemed, but we found the right one!

I was worried about recognizing the bride, whom I had only met a handful of times and the groom, whom I had never met. Luckily, their picture was on the wedding e-vite. The groom, Ken, who was extra chatty and Dan Hong, my friend, who was unusually silent, welcomed us in. I am guessing she did not want to ruin her make-up. We took a picture and then were seated with another friend and fellow Penn State student, Chao.

I will try to describe the scene, which was fabulous and overwhelming. The whole event, wedding and lunch took place in a hotel ballroom. Twenty tables of ten, with a runway aisle and stage. The colors were white and green; there was a crane, with a video camera and lots of lights! In the corner, there was a power point slideshow of the couple, complete with baby pictures and their timeline of how they met, and the typical, ridiculous pre-wedding pictures that all Chinese couples love to take. Oh, and a sign, with the theme of the wedding, “And I love you so.”

At 12:08, an MC, who reminded me of a game show host came on stage to welcome everyone and to commentate on the wedding procession. Ken appeared with a bouquet of flowers and walked to meet Dan Hong, whose father passed her off. Then the couple walked to the stage and ring bearers, similar to best man and maid of honor appeared, they said I do. There was a long kiss (longer than yours, Bren!) and then some clapping. It was cheesy and beautiful at the same time.

Afterwards, while everyone started eating lunch, the couple called both of their parents on stage. They presented each parent with a cup of tea and the parents presented them with red envelopes, full of money.

Turns out, we were sitting next to the ring bearers, and our table was all of the young people. We were maybe in the wedding party, who knows! We were called on stage, welcomed as the foreign friends and stood in a line. As they counted down 3..2..1, I got nervous because I didn’t know what was happening! Turns out, Dan Hong was throwing her bouquet. Our seatmate, Chao, caught the flowers. When we jokingly asked him at the table, when he and his girlfriend would get married, he matter-of-factly said, “next year.”

As we ate our fancy lunch, complete with boneless fish (a rarity), shrimp and snails, the newlyweds and their parents went around to each table and did a Baijiu shot and cheers, thanking everyone for coming. Dan Hong had changed into a traditional, red dress at this point.

After they finished eating, the couple made a point to come over and talk to us. I proceeded to put my foot in my mouth, as Loring and I had been discussing what a wonderfully, bizarre wedding this was. Dan Hong asked me if it was like an American wedding and I said, “no!” When the answer she was looking for was “yes!” I never have had much social grace, but I recovered with promises to meet up with both of them when I return to State College. They were both only in Changsha for one month, for the wedding, and will return to finish their degrees now.

Drinking and smoking abound. As soon as the meal was over, everyone left!  We were one of the last guests to leave, and it was before 2pm. As we were leaving, a girl from our table, who had not spoken to us at all told DanHong and Ken that we go to the same gym- in China, in a city of 7 million, what are the chances!

We were so pleased to be included in such a special day of a new friend! This hospitality takes the cake of the many experience I have participated in this year.