So it has been a real long time since my last blog and I haven’t even started to describe life out here. It is most definitely a different culture. I have already learned so much about perspective and different ways of living. I have never felt so much like a minority. IT’s quite interesting. So much different from European or Middle Eastern culture that I have needed a lot of time to process exactly what is going on. (Not to mention learning how to teach, my teaching load, learning the language and trying to have some fun in the mean time)
For starters there are over four times the amount of people than the United States. It is easy to read this and not have any idea of just how many people I am talking about. I myself still don’t quite understand the significance of this statement. I am currently living in a gated community made up of over 150,000 people. There are supposedly over 22 different races and at least 10 different schools within. It is within this “community” which would better be described as a town or city where I see the majority of other foreigners. I would say I see an average of 5-10 other foreigners every day and it is only when I am near my home. Every morning I get up and get on a jam packed bus for about thirty minutes to my work in Shiqiao (this is not a city rather a large town). I have grown to become very comfortable with being the only foreigner. It can be kind of fun especially if I have had enough sleep… It is not like living in a diverse metropolis like San Francisco or New York. When I do go into the city of Guangzhou I see many other foreigners (However, I am mostly there at night and in a somewhat inebriated state!) People tend to stare a lot and love to practice the most well known English phrase, “HELLO.” Its actually really interesting, I was watching on TED.com that China may have, if not already, the largest English speaking population in the world. However, one most take into account the number of people.
Public Transportation and Public Areas. For awhile I have been trying to adjust to the way things are around here. There are so many people that there is a constant flux of pushing and shoving, running to get a good spot in line, a lack of manners, and spending a lot of time skin to skin with many people I don’t know. I was taught in my psychology courses that Asian cultures tend to be interdependent in nature while Western cultures are independent. My initial understanding was that in interdependent cultures the people look out for everyone and there is less stress on the “individual.” Part of this is very true. In my classes, when some of the less talented children are struggling the others literally step up to help them out. While riding public transportation, people will stand and give their seat away to the elderly and/or women with children. However, there are so many people that it is hard to consistently look out for everyone. Take driving/traffic for instance. It seems, in China, the driver has the right of way. Cars are not about to stop for a mother and her 2 baby children walking across the street! Stop lights are more of a suggestion and there is no such thing as using your blinker. This still scares the crap out of me but I am now used to making my way the right of way! In addition to bad driving habits, there have been so many instances where I see people walk into each other without saying anything (no excuse me, watch out I’m coming through, could you move?, communication via eye contact/body language). It sometimes seems as if there is no such thing as “personal space.” I know this sounds a wee bit ignorant but I had an epiphany the other day while I was in one of these crowded situations. It has taken me awhile to adapt to the “up close and personal” way of life out here. I know better than to make an initial judgment from my first few months’ impression. Cultures are always shifting and every day and instance will be different from the other. I want to be able to look at things with a positive spin. It is always a possibility that it is my perspective that needs shifting, I can always be wrong. That is why this epiphany was my inspiration to start writing again. China IS an interdependent culture. Everyone has accepted that there are gazillions of other people; space must be shared with everyone. Social norms are simply different here. It is like that whole social psychological idea of the “urban overload effect.” There are simply too many people to acknowledge and validate everyone’s presence (if one did there would be no time to think for oneself).
I have noticed that there is little emphasis on the individual here. I don’t quite understand the “style” as there are not as many radical trends similar to the ones taking place in Europe and America. However, there are so many different kinds of people here and in the world. I am currently living in Guangzhou aka Canton. Does this look familiar? Cantonese originated here. It was kind of weird when I got here. I couldn’t really hear the difference between the Chinese I learned in school and the Chinese known as Cantonese. It doesn’t help that I only learned a few months worth of Chinese which was diluted and covered up when I went to France and started practicing a little French again. Almost all the people here speak both Cantonese and Mandarin (aka Chinese). Their pronunciation is different from what I learned at USF. I hear the people from the north, like Beijing, Shanghai, Hunan and Harbing, speak much more “proper” Chinese. However China is a huge place. There are all sorts of different dialects and people. Just as the people from the South are Radically different in America, the people here in Guangdong are radically different from their neighboring provinces. Even within Guangdong there are different dialects and instances when the people have trouble understanding each other.
The Food! In general the food is quite tasty and quite cheap. I am already beginning to think like a Chinese person and my money. 1 US$ = 6.6 Chinese RMB. My lunch today consisted of chicken, rice, vegetables and bbq pork. It was 8 RMB. Of course, if I want to spoil myself I can spend anywhere from 15-50 RMB but hey, 8 or 9 bucks. Whatevs… I have had some cravings for my typical western cuisines though. A lot of the food is cooked with much grease. It has actually been quite difficult finding vegetables that are steamed! I have tried some amazing dishes though. A great breakfast food is Congee. This is like a rice porridge served with some pork or eggs, onions and thinly sliced ginger. Many people like to eat dumplings and/or noodles for breakfast but it’s a little heavy a start for me. (I imagine they think the same about western breakfast- bacon, eggs, hash browns, toast w/ jelly, sausage…) Another tasty breakfast I have tried are these little fried egg mixed with some sort of batter. Damn good. I’ll try and get a picture. Some cool dinners? Of course! There is this special type of restaurant called a “Hot Pot.” There is a large pot filled with some sort of broth (it can be spicy or not). It is then heated up till it starts boiling. Then your job as the guest is to order as many types of different meats and vegetables to put in and cook. Fabulous. I have really enjoyed these places on a few separate occasions. One place was a Sichuan Hot Pot and the other was a Mongolian Hot Pot. Different flavors and spices. Sichuan is known for its spicy overtones, maybe most comparable to Mexican food in the states because I hear many people from the north don’t enjoy spiciness. I have tried everything from Beef, Chicken, lamb, mushrooms, spinach, potatoes, and chili peppers to frog legs at these restaurants. Apparently the pig brain is supposed to be lovely but they had run out when I arrived!!!
Speaking of crazy new food, Cantonese people are also known to eat just about anything. I have tried duck and chicken feet within a couple weeks of being here. I still don’t know how I feel about this. Nothing like looking a claw in your eye and chewing on the remnants of a tendon. But it is supposedly a delicacy so I couldn’t say no. Haha. In some places people eat mice, the neck and head of chicken/ducks and I’m sure much more.
Now let me get this straight. I didn’t go out searching for the best chicken foot in town. Many of these situations are contextually driven and fine examples of me taking the moment as it comes. After all, you only live once!! On a few separate occasions my friends and I have been invited to drink and eat with some of the locals. There are many people who love to practice their English, listen to you sound ridiculous speaking Chinese and of course, Drink!! I arrived in China during the heart of the world cup. I had previously been in France and Israel; in every country I went to there were people crowded around televisions to watch soccer. This made me really happy to see. I really felt like sports had brought the world together. It establishes a common language understandable by all and thus allows us to share life with any and everyone. But back to China. There are these giant BBQs where 7-8 giant projector screens are placed around a parking lot. 3-4 different restaurants serve food and beer till about 4 in the morning. I had the pleasure of partaking in the fun many nights. There are some really fun games like liar’s dice and “Dao yi dei ju?” (Landlord card game) that many Chinese people know. The best part is by the end of the night when you are finished drinking and eating you can hop on a motorcycle taxi for 4 RMB and go home. Motorcycle taxis are a blast.
I almost forgot. They love Karaoke. They have these giant 5-8 story buildings filled with separate Karaoke rooms. They are called K-Party or KTV. I won’t say much more but this can be a lot of fun. Just be sure you don’t go to one of the “nice” KTVs because it may in fact be a brothel!
As I said earlier I have encountered a lot of staring. But what do you expect? I look different! We are curious about the things we don’t know. There have been some really funny photo times though. One day I was walking in this giant park and came across this dude and his girlfriend. He asked if he could have a picture with me. I took a picture with him and then with his girlfriend. Hilarious!
Now for the good stuff. Teaching. I was quite apprehensive about teaching before I came to China and even for the first month or so. What was I going to be doing? Were there guidelines? How would I attune with the different age groups? Would they be able to have fun and learn? Could I be a good teacher? None of this apprehensive anticipation helped when I arrived. I was soon to find the company I signed up with is rather unorganized and unclear in its communication with employees. (Part of this is due to the fact that I arrived during summer school. There were many different students signed up for different periods of time so class sizes were always fluctuating.) Also, my bosses are like no bosses I have ever had in the past. One man is a native Hong Kong man who spent half his life in Australia. He is a nice man but has a much different way of living. He smokes a lot of cigarettes and it always sounds like he is stressed to the max when speaking to my other boss. I know he is a good man, I just think he is going through a tough stretch with his personal life and trying to keep the company afloat. My other boss is a 27 year old Belgian man named Bart (quite a fitting name if you ask me). He is recently married to a Chinese woman in the past year and father of an 8 month old baby boy. I see a lot of myself in Bart. He is known as The foreign teacher and is very good at teaching. Other aspects of his life may be up to interpretation! I spend a good amount of time next to Bart. He has a great sense of humor but sometimes its as if that’s all he has. His view of China is quite negative and pessimistic leaving me questioning why he is here in the first place. He has made many inappropriate jokes that in the states would have landed him an expensive lawsuit. I’m not too worried about it though. It goes both ways with people like Bart. Usually adopting this way of looking at life is to adapt in some way or another. Maybe its because he has seen so many different countries and ways of living that he understands there is nothing to take that seriously. Maybe he has a low self-esteem and attempts to compensate by laughing at everything. Maybe its just who he is. Nonetheless I have learned to accept it for what it is. The company and I signed a contract when I was still in the states. It stated I would be working 40 hours a week and for 5 days per week. Immediately when I arrived I found out it would be more like 48 per week and for 6 days. I was a little frustrated so I let him know. I also found that everyone would be leaving except for me for the last two weeks. All of this is a good lesson on the importance of asking questions and knowing your own needs. In the future I will know more about what is necessary for me to live comfortably. Its all good, I booked myself a ticket to Shanghai for 5 days in the middle of September against his wishes. It is only fair. I am a little worried about the school year here. I don’t know what to expect. Part of what I am learning about teaching is to not have too many expectations. Some days the kids are wound up while other days they can’t wait to learn. Also, we sometimes get new students and I never know when this will happen. There is horrible communication between the bosses and the staff here. Schedules are constantly being changed and teachers are forced to accommodate on last second notice. Perfect example, its my second day of teaching ever. I get done with class and apparently I need to do a face-to-face interview with 2 of the parents explaining their child’s progress over the past 2 months. Now how much could I know about their child after only one day of teaching? I will explain more about random occurrences later, as this place is full of them. (I am currently a little ticked off at their “system” right now. The fact that I called it a system may even be giving them too much credit!) Bart often says we are in the service industry. I always thought of education to be separate from service but I can now see the correlation. We are here to meet people’s needs, teach them and help them to be satisfied. Teaching has been super interesting. I have totally become an old man. I wake up at 7, get on a bus/taxi by 745, start work around 815, finish, workout, get dinner, shower and go to sleep. Kind of funny, as heavy as this schedule can seem I have had some of my happiest and simple moments during these days. I have really looked forward to my workouts and dinner at the end of the day. Watching movies/reading while eating has been real nice too!
Some things have remained constant though. I still very much love interacting with people. Of course, some days are better than others, but for the most part I have had a great time with most of my students. Its always a matter of how prepared I am. If I have things to do and I know my students abilities it is fun to teach. One of my English teachers once taught us that life is a series of patterns and cycles. We learn many of the same lessons through different experiences and it is our ability to accurately recognize which situation we are in and embrace
next blog update
Traveling – Yangjiang (beach city in Guangdong) this weekend. Hong Kong next weekend. Shanghai September 8th-12th. Possibly Tibet beginning of October???
People interest foreigners