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China-November 7-11, 2006


Tuesday, 7 November 2006

It’s quiet now in the late evening. Today was sunny and much warmer, enabling me to do laundry (which is quite a process, since I just have water, soap, and a plastic basin), which I really needed to do. Classes went well, the kids knew much more about professions than I had anticipated which made the lesson plans go quickly. I thought I would enjoy teaching, but have been surprised by how much I really do—the kids continue to be one of the best parts of being here, always curious, always smiling, and even when they are bent on not understanding, with protests of shaking their hands in front of their faces and saying “Bu dong! Bu dong!” (“don’t understand”), they are pretty funny, and easily coaxed into sounding things out more clearly or trying again. Pronunciation is one of the biggest battles, because so many of the language sounds are just completely different from Chinese. Lucky for them, I very much understand this since I know how hard Chinese sounds are for me. They are also happy to point out when I’m translating a word in Chinese with the wrong tone, in good humor.

After some laundry this afternoon I took a bus downtown and had some errands to do. The pollution stung my nose when I inhaled and I felt sort of aimless, in this paradox of feeling like everywhere I walked around was familiar and boring to me, and at the same time feeling dwarfed by how big Yantai is and how much of the city I don’t know.

This evening I explored some place new though, a street I had seen on the other side of our school away from downtown that has a ton of little restaurants lining it on both sides. I caught the bus with another teacher, we found a place and ordered by checking out what other people were eating at this popular place and then choosing among them. Hanging out with other foreign teachers, whom I’ve been thrown into community with simply by being here, is a good exercise in making friends with people whom I wouldn’t likely otherwise get to know, and good practice in conversation and relating to other people, something that I spend a lot of time self-analyzing. I definitely want to go back and check out some of the other restaurants there, when I need a break from the food at school.

Now to sleep and up to teach at 7:30 tomorrow.

Thursday, 9 November 2006

Today after classes Vicki arranged a ‘guest teaching appearance’ with me that I’ll do at 8:00 am on Sunday morning at another bilingual school downtown. Early mornings here are nothing to cough at, everybody is used to working hard, early in the morning until late in the evening. The kids wake up and get started at 6:30 am and are in their classrooms until 8:00 pm during the week, and some come in Saturday and Sunday for other instruction.

This afternoon I went back to a market I visited a few weeks ago and got a few souvenir-type things before coming back to have dinner with Li Ping. She took me to a restaurant downtown, proud to order pig intestines for me, among more palatable things such as noodles and beef and onions. It was great to be with her after a slightly frustrating day. She is so smart and kind, talking to me throughout dinner about showing me the real China through movies and food, sharing her knowledge of dynastic history, Chinese geography, and analyzing Chinese people, who, she said over and over again, are “the most complex.” Her comments on these complexities included talking about how in China you must be strong, because everyone’s looking to take or destroy what you have based on jealousy; how you must “put aside, not inside” what other people say about you, because they will talk. This cultural perspective makes sense given the population density, and a history of periods of great scarcity. Of course, Li Ping is the prime example of a wonderful and generous friend, as are many of the other Chinese friends I’ve made. We went home and watched a DVD received from Hong Kong with Li Ping’s favorite star.

Yesterday classes were good and in the afternoon I took the #58 bus to Yantai Ta Shan Amusement Park, an attraction a short bus ride away into the surrounding hills, where I wanted to enter to hike up the hills to a few pagodas.

It was sort of creepy because it was totally deserted, aside from the few attendants who sold me a ticket to get in and the animals waiting on paths

or as attractions in cages, such as the ostriches and deer. There was a lone vendor closing up shop at the base of the gondola, which wasn’t running. I picked a little path I found after exploring, and started up, unsure of whether it would just dead end at a maintenance shack or something. But the path continued, leading to a clearing and opening to a view down upon Yantai.

I made it up to one of the pagodas and stayed there awhile on my own. This reminded me of hanging out on Insight President, David’s, balcony before leaving Boston, and talking about getting a sense of a city by having an elevated view. Looking down on Yantai I could pick out the main streets I knew and recognize buildings—it looked big in its sprawl and yet small, as I could think about walking down those streets and finding my way around. On a clear day you could definitely see as far as the sea. It was a good afternoon to be alone, just staring down into the city, thinking of things that have been stressing me out lately, plans for next year, reflecting on the deliberate personal developments that I have made since I started the Fellowship, as well as the accidental ones that have just happened. Both have brought meaningful things.

Friday, 10 November 2006

The downpour, thunder and lightning have subsided for now, it seems. It also seems that my water is off, which is a little unsettling since the weekend has begun here and everyone else has left school. One of the things that will be the biggest lessons from being here is no matter how flexible I think I’m being, I need to be more flexible. Off the top of my head I can probably think of a dozen instances that that could apply to.

I worked with Vicki on my Chinese today, trying to regain my writing skills so I can read characters while I’m out and about. She invited me to spend the night at her house tonight and check out her local night market, but then the weather started and she needed to get home earlier. It’s just as well because tonight we’re planning on celebrating some of the other foreign teachers’ departure next week at Ali Baba’s, which will be fun.

Saturday, 11 November 2006

Ah, the skies were refreshingly clear and blue today. Last night was a late and really fun night, and it has been a beautifully lazy Saturday. The only inconvenient part is that the water is still off, which means no shower, no sink to wash my hands, no flushing toilet. I found some teachers in the school this morning to ask them about it and they called the principal who said that from now on, the water will be shut off on the weekends because “there is no one there” (except for all of us who live here…) and they’re worried about the pipes freezing. I called Jack Liu to ask him about it and he said it is just a maintenance issue and it should come back on later, which it now has. Big relief. There are many things that I can be without, such as hot water, but no water at all is completely different.

Went on a walk to take advantage of the weather, and came upon a funny scene of outdoor exercise: this time not Tai Chi, line dancing, or martial arts, but elliptical and ski machine-esque equipment outside!

Tried another place on Café Street for an early dinner and made a friend who asked for my phone number so she can practice English. I stopped to watch a cake decorator artfully finish a birthday cake, and made another friend with an onlooker who was watching beside me. I have gotten pretty used to the staring at my foreign features and blonde hair, for the requests to take pictures with strangers, but I much prefer the friendly connections with people who want to practice English or just speak together in Chinese. We walked up to the bus stop together, and now here I am back at home.