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Published: October 23rd 2010
I have lost track of the weeks but I have gotten better about the days. October has come and gone like a leaf in the wind. I have taken this time to really soak up China and now I finally feel at home. More or less.
I find that I always choose a taxi with the most aggressive driver. Where that would have originally scared the bajeezus out of me, now I think, yeah, he knows how to drive! There have been a few close calls where I thought we would hit a motorcyclist or a person crossing the street. People here, though they have guts, are sometimes very oblivious when crossing. Horns go off right and left. That has always annoyed me, even back home, and it's more obnoxious here. Especially when I'm crossing the street and I'm well aware that they're coming my way so I stop. And they still honk. I won't lie, I did have my own near death experience not too long ago. I was walking to a karaoke bar with Helen and Brandy, chatting away about God-knows-what when out of the blue came a taxi. I was a few steps ahead of Helen so thankfully she stopped me before I met my demise. Other than that instance, I would go as far as to say I might be becoming an expert jaywalker. That deserves an award in China.
If traffic in China is bad on a regular day, you wouldn't believe China traffic on a rainy day. It seems to rain at least once a week here. Sometimes more. On those days, more people drive and/or take a taxi, naturally. Talk about CFs and traffic jams. It seems drivers are less...patient. Or they think the rain gives them a green card to be completely inconsiderate and raise havoc with other drivers. On several occasions, my drivers have gotten out to yell at other drivers. The interesting thing about China traffic, though, is that I have not seen a single accident since I have been here. I have heard the same from other teachers. The closest thing to that was on my way home from school a few weeks back. A bus was stopped in the middle of the street and a few people were standing behind it. A lady was raging in Chinese at a man on a bike. She gave him her two bits and then stomped back into the bus with her entourage of small Chinese men, smoking their cigarettes. I can't even really say that was about an accident.
So now that I have gotten used to the traffic, I have started conversing with my drivers. I am currently teaching myself Chinese. There were various language books in my apartment that I picked up and go through on my breaks in between classes. The teachers are also very helpful and eager to help and hear me speak Chinese. They seem impressed so I must be doing something right. Anyway, taxi drivers usually ask the same questions: Where are you from? How long have you been in China? How long will you be in China? How old are you? Do you want my phone number? Can I have yours? What do you do? etc. And of course, they make sure I know how much they're charging me. So finally, I have been able to navigate through my broken understanding of the language and carry a conversation. There are some drivers who really enjoy this communication. We laugh at the fact that there are things we just can't understand either way, with or without hand gestures. The thing that really gets me is that even though it's clear that our communication capabilities are limited, they still ask for my number. Mainly, I hope, it's to see if I need a lift, but I can only speculate.
The kids at school also enjoy the few Chinese words I throw out in the middle of a lesson. I love seeing their reactions; their eyes opening wide, their small hands clapping wildly, their heads turning to each other to make sure they heard correctly. And there are those that purposely speak in Chinese to me, knowing that I only know so much. I joke around and shrug it off, for I know these are the trouble-making kids, the kids that are rough and tough and when they get in trouble, start to cry.
The number one problem I face in teaching is in controlling the ants in the pants of all those kids. They get noisy and rowdy and no matter what I say, they don't sit still for long. It's particularly hard because they don't understand me. My assistants are usually good about controlling them. I read somewhere that teachers are the equivalent of the male figure of the family and receive the same respect. Now why doesn't that resound with me? Or with the other young Chinese teachers? We must earn our place, I suppose. The situation gets wearing and I can feel that it shows in my enthusiasm, or lack of, during my lesson.
On the flip side, there are those kids, who in the midst of all the note passing, spit wads and in-class rowdy play, still raise their hand to read in what seems a whisper. They are interested. They want to learn. They want to show me that they can read English. And in some way, it helps keep me going. This is not to say that all my classes are like that. There are some that are very well disciplined. Or truth be told, they really love and respect me as if I was their Chinese father. These classes either have the really advanced kids or the really eager kids or both. The eager ones are the most fun to teach even if their English is not so good. For some reason I teach in what feels like a more natural manner. We have fun, they learn and I catch myself genuinely laughing.
Oh and let me not forget my private lesson. My student is 17 years old. She is your typical teenager, likes fashion, music, etc. But like most high school students here, faces the pressures of succeeding with little time for fun since she goes to school from 7 am to 10 pm every day with private lessons on her one day off. She is very smart to the point of almost intimidating. She wants to go to a language school in France. So last week, we were talking about traveling and I asked where she would never visit. She said Africa because "it's too poor and the people are too black." They scare her. I was taken back by her response, but tried not to show it and instead inquired further to see where this stemmed from. She has never met or talked to any Africans. She didn't have a lot to say about it, just that she didn't like them. I have no idea where she gathered that from. Maybe from her parents or society or maybe from Chinese history? I have no clue and I feel a bit naive. It was hard for me to continue with this specific topic with her but it left me with a reminder of the racial lines that exist in the world. She also doesn't like Mexico. "Drugs. And dangerous."
On an entirely different note, I LOVE CHINESE FOOD! At first, I was weary about eating street food and trying different stuff. But China has a way of killing old habits. There are foods I will eat again and some that I won't touch again, but I don't judge. Yesterday, Brandy and I tried the Northern China specialty, a chicken and mushroom dish. When it arrived at our table, it wasn't exactly what I had imagined. Parts of the chicken tasted like pork. At one point I wasn't sure if they understood me when I ordered. And then...how could I have missed the chicken leg and chicken head sitting in the middle of the dish? We hid the head under mushrooms and noodles and vowed to pretend we had never seen it. We also had what we think was bamboo. I will have to hit the books or ask the teachers to find out for sure, but it was pretty good, whatever it was.
I have also grown extremely fond of street food. They offer so much so you're sure to get something you like. And it's insanely cheap. For lunch the other day I got rice and eggplant and pork for a little over a dollar. It was so good. There are also little noodle/skewer huts. I don't know what they're called exactly. Mah la tang...or something. Anyway, they put out skewers of green vegetables and meats into boiling water. You pick whatever you want and eat it just like that with different sauces or you can get noodles and make a noodle bowl. The restaurants are small and packed tightly, usually dirty and always busy. But you just can't stay away. Brandy said that in order to know if you like something, you must do/try it three times. I like this philosophy. I hated this type of food the first time I had it. The second time, I was weary. And the third, I was willing to have it again. By the fourth, I was in love. There is also barbecue, which is also done on a skewer. I did not like barbecue the first few times I had it, but now, it's become the signature late-night-before-and/or-after-drinking stop. They have this bread called manta, seasoned with a little spice, to die for.
And then you have the more typical restaurants that offer their own variety of dishes at prices slightly higher than others. Since we can't read Chinese, we name the restaurants we like. For example, we went to a restaurant with Brandy once which introduced me to my newfound love for green beans. So we call it Brandy's Place. There is a restaurant around the block where Candace and Adrian took us one of the first days we were here. They said it had the best duck so they had already dubbed it The Duck Place. A restaurant across the street from the school is Armin's, the owners name. A little shack across from one of the public schools is The Dumpling Place. Note, most restaurants offer dumplings, but this place blew us away with how many dumplings we got for the price. The fancy restaurant Ellen took us to the first day we were here is....Ellen's Place. You get the idea. Now that I see it in writing, we need to get more creative...
That is all for now, folks. Girl's gotta work on her fitness thanks to all the delicious goodness floating around this place.
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