Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cultural Embrace Training Week: July 3 - 9

So I'm writing a blog about Cultural Embrace training a few days after it ended. I'll try to keep it short, but we'll see how that goes. The week was pretty much a blur for good reasons. First I met so many cool new friends, and just like the first few days at college we all bonded pretty quickly. The first few days were kind of funny because I know that less than a month prior, I had been in most of these peoples' shoes; it was their first day in China. Our lodgings were adequate, but I would have rather been in a hostel in the middle of Beijing. We were at the Beijing Politics Youth College on the fourth ring of the city, just too far out for anything fun to be around. Our group took taxis to Houhai area (a lake and shops and rooftop bars) and then Wangfujing Street (shopping out the wazoo and scorpions on sticks!) a few different times during training. I even ate a fried scorpion the second time we visited as a group! It was actually not bad- the thought of eating a bug was the worst part and once I got over that the spices actually tasted good. Chris Jones ate a live one, and someone else (maybe Aaron) ate a fried seahorse. Those looked worse than the scorpions!

The actual lessons taught during training were a mix of old news and beneficial. I had understood a lot of the cultural tips just because I have been in China for a month, and I know numbers and some basic phrases. The most helpful parts of orientation were getting to practice making lesson plans and go over how we needed to teach. Also, part of orientation was seeing the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. This time on the Great Wall was even better than the last (the sky was beautiful blue, and we went to a different section), but the Forbidden City got to be old after the first few gates. Worth the trip, but I couldn't spend more than two hours inside. Lucilla (Lollipop) and Deana and I went souvenier crazy and practiced haggling a lot. Deana and I are shopping buddies because she says I haggle really well. Well, what can I say? It's a talent. ;) The looks we got wearing traditional chinese clothes and funny hats on the Great Wall were hilarious. It made some great memories! 

One of the last and most important notes about Cultural Embrace Orientation was my new assignment! Inner Mongolia fell through because of some ethnic conflicts. So I was assigned, along with Colin, Meredith (McNabbster), and Lollipop, to go to Yanqing County and be private tutors for a week. After a week with a host family, we would get an apartment and be joined by Becca and Deana. From then on, we would be teaching classes at a school. I'm kind of disappointed that I couldn't go to Inner Mongolia, but I'm sure we will make the most out of Yanqing!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cultural Embrace Introduction Blog: July 1

I know that some of this is a little repetitive if you have read this blog, but this is my introduction blog for Cultural Embrace and I figure I might as well post it here. I wrote it on the train to Beijing...

So, I've been here in China for almost three weeks, but I'm now starting the third leg of my journey. First I will be returning to Beijing for the Cultural Embrace teaching orientation and then, a few days later- Inner Mongolia! I'm really excited to meet not only the other teachers but also the students and faculty I will be working with for the next month. I think the thing I'm most excited for about Cultural Embrace is meeting new people here in China. I've worked at a preschool/summer camp for a few years, but teaching English will be a whole new ballgame. I can't wait to have, as Emlyn Lee says, "twenty pairs of eyes looking up at me", waiting for me to start a lesson.

China has been fantastic so far! I got the travel bug last year when I studied in Cambodia and Vietnam in May, and I am so happy to be back in Asia. I have been traveling throughout China and studying Contemporary Daoism and Eastern Religions since June 8th. As an International Studies Major concentrating in Asian Studies I have some insight into Chinese culture, and it has been awesome getting to put some of what I have learned at the College of Charleston (in the great state of South Carolina) to use. I have definitely used the few weeks I have been here to learn as much as possible about everyday life. Now I feel pretty comfortable ordering street food or buying things from stores, but there is always room for improvement.

In just a few hours my bullet train from Shanghai will arrive in Beijing and I'll have my last night before I meet some of the other participants. I have gotten to do a lot of the "touristy" things in China like see the Terra Cotta Warriors, the Panda Conservation Center, and the Great Wall, but I missed the Forbidden City. That will be a great trip during orientation. See everyone soon. Here's to new friends, interesting experiences, and a great summer!

Visit to Shanghai: June 28 - July 1

I left Chengdu by plane, and by some kind of miracle, ran into Helene in Shanghai even though she didn't have my correct Chinese phone number and I got in 2 hours later than I planned. I stayed at the Mingtown Hikers Youth Hostel, which was fantastic. It was better than the hostel in Chengdu and I even got a private room the first night! 

On the 29th, Helene and I went to the Shanghai Museum to look at old Chinese art, pottery and even ancient furniture. I saw some ceremonial masks from Inner Mongolia, too! After the museum, Helene wanted to go shopping, so I decided to head back to my hostel to catch a small nap. Unfortunately, I was accosted by a young lady who said she thought I was her German friend who taught English in Shanghai. What a coincidence! She ended up inviting me to get a coffee, and being friendly, I obliged. It turned out that coffee really meant coffee, a pot of tea, and fruit at an expensive restaurant in the middle of downtown Shanghai, and it turned out that she was a prostitute. Well, by the time I had figured this out, I had concocted a story about being engaged and my fiance was waiting for me at my hotel and Oh! Look at the time! I was supposed to meet her ten minutes ago... The "coffee" turned out to be about 500 Yuan, but I only had 300 on me, so I gave that to the waitress and dashed out of the restaurant as quick as I could. Let that be a lesson to anyone that reads this blog. Watch out for Coffee Prostitutes.  Later that day, Helene and I took a walk on the Bund (the river that goes through Shanghai) and went out for a few drinks on roof-top bars such as the Bar Rougue. It was a really fun night, and we ended up at a club called Brown Sugar. It was a great night and we both made some new friends in a really fun city!
On June 30th I found a way to get onto facebook... I am not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It's been pretty strange not having access to a lot of websites here in China. Some news, blogs, twitter, even linked in doesn't work here. Since I am getting on a bullet train to Beijing today, I booked a hostel there for the night and found a bookstore and bought some books for the ride. It's a speedy train, but the trip is still over 4 hours. I cannot wait to come back to Shanghai, and I'm sure that if I get a free weekend during the teaching program, I will be back down here on a fast train for the weekend! Upon arriving in Beijing, I managed to find the right hostel. It was in a hutong, and I think the only word I can use to describe it is ghetto. There really wasn't even a ceiling in most places in the common area, just some glass panes on rafters. About ten Chinese people were passed out on chairs or couches. The girl at the front desk seemed entirely annoyed at having to help me, and by the time I got to my room, I found out it was not even air conditioned. Not what said at all! 

The next morning, July 1, I woke up at 6am because the room was boiling. I read Stephen King's "It" for a few hours until my roommates woke up. Three of them were guys from Denmark traveling around China before they went to university. They seemed pretty nice. I also met a girl in the lobby who was from England who had just finished teaching in the Hebei province. I'm now about to go start my adventure with Cultural Embrace!

A Week On My Own. June 23 - 27

So, my College of Charleston classes and Daoist tour of China have officially ended, and I bid my friends farewell as they head back to the US or to a Daoist Conference. I will go back to Chengdu with Dr. Siegler and find my own adventure there because the border to Tibet is temporarily closed. Most likely this is due to the 90th Anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (July 1). While in Chengdu, I stayed at the Dreams Traveler Hostel in the Wuhousi area. It was pretty nice, but one of the first things I noticed was that there were fewer western patrons than I would have imagined. As I was figuring out where the closest ATM was, an Irish voice greeted me. I guess the most surprising part was that it had come from a Chinese guy! Ben, who had moved to Ireland when he was young, became my good Chengdu friend for the week. After booking a flight to Shanghai for later in the week and checking out the huge Chengdu bookstore, Ben and I got Indian food and explored some of the bars in Chengdu. We found that the crowd at Shamrock's was a bit too old, but Jellyfish was really fun. I ran into Will Cutler from my Chinese class there. Out of how many millions of people there are in China, and the hundreds of cities, I ran into one of the 20 kids from my Chinese class! Unbelievable!

I'm loving the hostel living experience, but the lack of English speaking guests made it difficult to meet many people. My roommates were silent sams, but I used the most of my second day to send out emails and then go to the Chengdu Panda Center with Dr. Siegler and his kids. It was pretty sweet to see pandas up close, and the red pandas were being fairly active. I tried to find out how to hold one, but couldn't figure out where you could do it, even though it's advertised almost everywhere. I guess there will have to be a next time! Today I also had a bad experience with doing laundry in a Chinese washer, but am pretty thankful that when it all dries I will have relatively clean clothes for once (albeit still with grease spots from food).

On the 26th, (my third day alone) I got all the Cultural Embrace stuff squared away! Totally excited to go and teach and meet all the other teachers in Beijing! This morning I also discovered the rooftop area of Dreams Traveler which has a tv and tons of relaxing couches and a nice view of the area. You can even see Jin Li street if you look from the far side of the roof! For a treat I went to dinner at the Sichuan Opera and saw the mask switching and firebreathing acts. It was such a phenomenal show, and I kept thinking that a show like this could do pretty well for an American audience, too. It would have to be altered a little, but still enjoyable for most people. A girl also played some bluegrassesque songs on a Chinese instrument that looked like a two stringed banjo. Also, I have run our of deodorant, and because no one in China knows what it is, have given up on it for the time being. I don't smell too bad... hahaha.

For most of the 27th I thought how cool it would be to travel around China or SE Asia with friends. I'm really enjoying hostel life (thank goodness they have western toilets). Also, I have discovered that some emails are also blocked so their recipient never gets them. Seriously, China?!? Are you kidding me? No. I checked out Jin Li street again in the daytime. They have some crazy food stands and tons of little shops. It is created to look like old Chengdu (except they have a Dairy Queen!) I'm getting really tired of all the spicy Sichuan food; it's killing my stomach, so I've been getting western food at the hostel or not-spicy noodles from down the street. I'm leaving tomorrow for Shanghai to meet up with Helene, and so for my last night here, Ben and I got Tex-mex and I tried to teach him to do a Southern US accent. It's pretty amusing to teach someone from Ireland to speak with a southern accent. I would say I have a pretty neutral accent, so it was kind of difficult even for me to talk like a Texan. I also tried to speak like an Irishman, but there wasn't much success there. The bars were dead because it was a Monday, but we met some interesting people.