Hello Uncle Foreigner

Oct 2, 2011

还在下雨 (It’s still raining)

And I can understand numbers!

The view from our apartment
The small park across from our apartment

The kids were not lying when they told us that the weather in Luzhou is very rainy. The rain started yesterday and is set to continue through Tuesday/Wednesday. Thursday’s supposed to be sunny, though, and in the mid 80s.

But, last night, the rain did let up a little, and we took advantage of the respite to do some shopping. First we hit the big department store, just because we knew we could find certain necessities there, including the new wok and a broom. The place is called CBest, and it’s kind of like a cross between a Wal-Mart and a Bloomingdales. They sell groceries, housewares, appliances, jewelry, clothing and more. Some of the stuff for sale is junk, but some of it is quite high end. I actually find it very overwhelming. We usually have about 15 minutes before I tell Peter that I need to get out of there. I’m just not a shopper.

But, after that, we wandered the little streets by our house, checking out the smaller shops.

Our school is bounded by a large, bustling street to one side - Jiangyang Middle Road, Jangyang is the district we are in - and a smaller street lined with small ma and pa operations that we’ve taken to calling the low road. This side also leads to the Yangtze River. Between our school and the river, the narrow streets are lined with walk-in-closet sized shops which are jam packed with merchandise. There doesn’t always seem to be any rhyme or reason to what stuff a given store might sell. We’ve seen ladies underwear hanging next to electrical adapters and umbrellas. But this style of shopping was much more my speed. On a mission for pens, scissors and tape, we poked our heads into each shop to see what they had. We found the aforementioned items at three different shops, although the last shop, which seemed overall stationary themed, did actually have all three.

At the stationary shop, I was so proud, I understood my first spoken number: Liù () means six. I recognized it from a commercial we saw in which there was a phone number with a lot of 6s in it, so they kept repeating liù, liù, liù. Otherwise, I needed people to write out the Arabic numerals (their hand signs for numbers are different here), or I just kept handing them bills until they started to make change. I’m pretty sure no one took advantage of me, because I think we ended up spending about $4 total on pens, tape, scissors, 6 eggs (I think they were duck eggs; I know they were delicious), a pepper, a head of broccoli, an onion, 2 carrots and a healthy handful of green beans. The food we got at this (comparatively) large open market. Everyone was on the verge of closing up their stalls, but they were glad to make one last sale. The broccoli was actually the most expensive, which makes sense, because I think it’s a cold-weather vegetable (and see above re: mid 80s on Thursday).

I’m getting pretty good with figuring out the money. The yuan (which is also referred to as renminbi or RMB (the people’s money) is the basic unit, which is then divided into 10 units. This smaller unit is sometimes divided further still into 10, but I’ve only come across that once. They do have some coins, but what we’ve seen so far is mostly paper money. The “cents” are just smaller-sized bills, which has been a little confusing.

As for the holiday, we didn’t really notice anything special. There were some things on sale at CBest, but no real festivities out in the street. Our conjecture is that this is just a week off that people use to travel or visit with their family. Or, go shopping.

Oct 1, 2011

Work is done for the week, let’s fix up the apartment!

It’s our first day with no classes and/or meetings, and we’re taking the opportunity to get our apartment in order. We washed all of our bed linens - which will, with any luck, be dry by tonight (it’s supposed to rain all day and the air is really damp) - and we’re on our way out to the market to buy some cleaning and cooking supplies. The floors especially could use a good washing.

Let me tell you about our kitchen: We have a small fridge, a sink, a two-burner range, a microwave, a rice cooker and an electric kettle. The small laundry machine is also in the kitchen. Our cabinets are all on the floor and the counter is really low, which works for me, although Peter might want to get a little stool so that he doesn’t have to hunch over while he works. They left us some dishes: small deep bowls that we use for drinking tea and having soup, and larger shallow bowls that we use for rice and other dishes. They also supplied us with chopsticks and a Chinese soup spoon. We brought our own pint glasses (they have our favorite Marvel characters on them). After using these supplies for a week, we’ve decided this is probably sufficient in terms of dinnerware. We just need a new wok (the one they left us is pretty gross and the Teflon is crusting off. Quick aside: We suspect that in Chinese culture they don’t really throw anything out. Our apartment is all furnished with hand-me-downs, some of which are still useful, but some of which are actually garbage. We have a storage closet that looks to be full of busted junk. We may be adding to it soon.), a good knife and cutting board. Then we can start having meals that aren’t instant ramen (though the Chinese version is a little more robust than the American version) or rice.

But it’s not all chores. Today is National Day, which is actually a week-long holiday. We’re not really sure what this means, but we’re planning on going out tonight, and I’ll report back on what goes on.

Sep 30, 2011

Two successes

Last night we did laundry for the first time. I spent about an hour two nights ago tracking down the manual (which was only in Chinese) on the internet and then trying to match up the characters in the PDF to the ones on our machine. But it turned out to be quicker to just run the thing and keep checking the water temperature each cycle. We can at least safely wash all of our clothes in cold water.

The other thing was that I confirmed that the Kindle 3G works here! I have books!

It was quite a night.

Sep 29, 2011

A fruity mystery

Would you eat this? I did.

It's a dragon!

What is this fruit!

Sep 29, 2011

Today’s phrase

“No throwing.” They may not understand English perfectly, but they understood that.

Sep 29, 2011

The principal’s office

Today we met one of the school’s 4 principals. It was just an informal meet-and-greet; next week is National Holiday - the whole country has the week off from work - and the two teachers who are in charge of us are traveling to the US and Korea with some of their classes, and they wanted to make sure that at least someone in the administration knew who we were before they left.

The principal was very nice, though imposing looking behind a big wooden desk bedecked with Chinese flags. His assistant poured us some tea (they really do drink tea all of the time) and through our translator, he welcomed us to his school. This is a really busy time for the school, apparently. In addition to the traveling teachers, the school is also preparing to audition to get into the national arts and music program. But they promised us that they will throw us a formal welcome banquet at Christmas time. We certainly didn’t expect a welcome banquet, but they seemed really apologetic that they had to put it off for so long. There’s also talk of English department karaoke night when our teachers get back from overseas. We’re feeling pretty popular.

Sep 28, 2011

Tell me about school

The first lesson we planned was about small talk, so I’ve been asking kids to “Tell me about school” all week. So now, I will tell you about school. Do you understand? Am I speaking too fast?

Peter and I both teach Senior 1, which is 14-15 year olds, I think. I also have some Junior 1 classes, 11 year olds. Many of the Junior 1s have only started learning English 3 weeks ago, so that class is a lot of showing pictures of stuff and shouting the word out over and over. Senior 1s have a little more skill; some of them can even extemporize without prompting. Then again, to get some of them to “repeat after me” is a struggle. But the kids are all very eager and well behaved.

We work between 1.5 and 5 hours a day, depending on our schedules. The majority of my classes are in the morning, and Peter mostly has afternoon ones. Our classes are between 8:40 am and 5:30 pm, but the kids go to school from 7:30 am to 9:30 pm. We can hear the class bells ringing well into the night.

We live in an apartment on campus. When we moved in, our hosts apologized for it being so small, but it’s probably 3 times the size of our Brooklyn apartment. We have a master bedroom, guest bedroom, office, TV room, dining room and kitchen! The toilet is located on the opposite side of the apartment from the shower and sink; when we have a camera we can show you how strange this looks.

There are three school buildings and an office building, in addition to many dorms and apartments. The campus is located in the middle of downtown, but the gates here lock by 10 pm - which isn’t that big of an issue as we have to get up early every day (Peter nicely gets up when I do, even though his classes aren’t until much later). Next year, this school is moving to a huge complex just outside the city. On our first-day-in-China tour, our colleagues drove us around the construction site. It’s huge; they’re planning on housing and schooling 7,000-8,000 students.

Every time Peter and I walk the grounds, all the students shout out in English to us. Some are our students, some just know us by reputation. Everyone who knows a little bit of English wants to practice on us, including some of the staff (although they don’t yell at us from 10 feet away).

So far, it’s been a blast. With each lesson we get better at communicating with the kids, and every day we feel like we are learning something new, whether it’s about teaching, Chinese culture or where the heck to buy trash bags. Last night, we ended up at the “western restaurant” for dinner because we forgot to bring our translated list of food and they had a waiter who spoke some English, but even having a Budweiser and a pizza in China was fun. (The pizza was not terrible, by the way. It was no Luigi’s, but it was definitely edible.)

Sep 27, 2011

Quote: Who’s the boss?

Early days at school

“You teach me English, I teach you Chinese.”

— An offer from one of my thirteen-year-old students

Sep 27, 2011

Today’s vocabulary words

Small victories

过敏 Allergies

氯雷他定 Loratadine

Look up the characters in Google translate. I successfully said those things!

Sep 27, 2011

We’ve landed

First days in China

We’ve been in Luzhou for three days now, and we’re really liking the city. It’s an interesting mix of familiar and completely foreign - for instance, the people here dress about the same as they do in New York, but there’s a whole workforce whose job it is to pick up trash and carry it in rattan baskets strapped to their backs. All the things that signify “typical Chinese” in America - lion statues, pagoda-like roofs, etc. - are just a normal part of the decor here.

Everyone is really friendly and helpful here. They love Americans, so we’ve been getting first-class treatment from everyone we’ve come across even though we don’t speak any Chinese yet. (Though we’ve both learned to say “thank you,” and that’s been a big hit.) On our first day here, one of our fellow English teachers showed us around town and took us to breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was all delicious. It’s a little hard for Peter, because they don’t do vegetarian, really, but he’s gamely sucked down noodle soups with chicken broth and just scraped the meat off of some vegetable dishes. Last night, we’re so proud, we ordered lunch and dinner by ourselves! OK, so for lunch, we just pointed at a picture menu and for dinner we pointed at a translated list of foods one of our colleagues typed out for us, but it was still some fun moments of independence.

Classes are really fun. We’re teaching at a middle school, but in China that means 14-18 year-old, or junior and high school age. We’re pretty much left to our own devices in terms of planning, and the students are really eager to learn. In one of my classes yesterday, in small-group discussion, two of my girls wanted to eschew the topic to talk about Justin Bieber and Will Smith (their favorite singers). I figured they were enthusiastic about speaking English, so I just went with it. Peter and I also signed numerous autographs and turned down many requests for phone numbers. Their is a huge variability in skill amongst the kids, but they all want to learn - even the girl who told me that she is learning English for the national exam and the one who said her favorite school subject is nothing.

No pictures yet. We do have plans to get a camera, because y’all have got to see this place. One of the teachers might take us hiking on a nearby mountain next weekend, so we’re hoping by then to have some sort of picture maker.

On the blog title: “Hello Uncle Foreigner” is what little kids are yelling at us in the street. Last night, one such three-year-old joined us for dinner, and he was delighted with all the attention we paid to him. We’re seriously like rock stars over here.