Friday, June 29, 2012

Beijing 101: Living at the Ru, Shopping at the Wu

I feel like I'm back in China kindergarten.

Three years ago, I started out in China with a month of training in Beijing.  I lived in the Ruyi Hotel, went to sessions, explored Beijing, and hung out with my friends.  I bought many chocolate prince cookies at the Wu Mart across the street.

Fast-forward to today:  I'm living at the Ruyi for a week of training for the summer training program.  I again have a new team to meet, training sessions every day, and the Wu Mart calling my name from across the street.

The difference is, I actually know how to live in China now.  I don't need the constant presence of a team; in fact, I like being in Beijing alone sometimes.  I am no longer a beginning teacher; I am confident in the classroom.  I can speak (some) Chinese.  I can understand (some of) the culture.

So I'm finding it very jarring to have my hand held again, to be expected to be with my team for almost all my meals, to being slowly walked through a lesson in a textbook, and to feel self-conscious about dipping my chopsticks straight into the serving bowl because everyone else is still using serving spoons and passing the plates American-style.

It really does feel like I'm a second-grader visiting kindergarten again.  That sounds cocky but I only mean that my experiences have given me more independence in these surroundings than someone who has just arrived fresh from America, so of course I will respond to the programming, the expectations, and the training in different ways than I did three years ago.

I like my team but I don't know them very well yet and we've just had one day of training, so I'll report more when I have more to say.  In the meantime, here are some photos of my fun day yesterday before all the teams arrived.

My friend Lisa and I went to the Zoo Market and had fun buying cheap China clothes.  Then, on a whim, we went to the Beijing Zoo -- a new experience for both of us!

Beijing Zoo -- surprisingly green and (yesterday) not at all hot

Pandas in their natural habitat

Alison + Panda

The pandas are the main attraction, although there are many many other animals.  You have to buy the more expensive 20RMB zoo entrance ticket to see the pandas.




Lisa had seen one of my earlier posts featuring matching couples' underwear, so she asked me to get her some in Rizhao to use for funny gifts for friends.  Yesterday I passed them on to her, but not before taking some photos to remember them:

The Angry Birds set say "Center of Fury" and "FIGHT!! We are angry!"

I also got a few sets of couples' T-shirts:

We thought the yellow "Love's Story" shirts and the matching Mickey/Minnie underpants might make a nice ensemble.

Finally, let's get back to business.  Here's the only photo I've taken of any STP (summer teaching program) happenings.  It's my team at dinner tonight.  There are 10 teammates and the two ladies in the center right of this photo are my wonderful team leaders.

Team Ningxia

That's it!  This was kind of an odd mish-mash of a post.  Oh well.

Last Days in Old Rizhao

There's a book I want to read called Last Days in Old Beijing, which inspires the title for this post even though Rizhao isn't that old.

Anyway, my last couple days in Rizhao were pretty chaotic -- filled with grading, packing, moving, cleaning, and goodbyes.  I had a big Dongxi (stuff) Give-Away at my apartment on Monday night and about half of my 300 students trooped through my apartment taking my stuff and saying their goodbyes.  So that was exhausting, but it was good to have a last event that people could come to and say goodbye rather than juggle a bunch of smaller invitations.

Dongxi Give-Away

Goodbyes a-plenty

A few students asked me to write on the back of the photo cards I gave them to remember my e-mail address.  I felt like a celebrity... or a high school senior.

I meant to have a last "Rizhao" day where I went to all my favorite places and explored a few new ones, but I was about a day too short to make that dream come true.  Other unfulfilled dreams: An outdoor student dance party and a series of student Q&A videos.  Alas, there just wasn't enough time.

I got all my belongings whittled down to 2 suitcases and a small box I sent to America (heads up, Mom and Dad!). 

On my last day in Rizhao, my roommate and I were frantically trying to get our apartment ready for the next occupants, which meant a lot of in-depth cleaning and trashing.  She was still packing, however, so we were saved by some very sweet students who volunteered to come over and do exciting things with us like wiping out our fridge and carrying down our garbage.  Thank the Lord for Chinese students -- I'm serious!  I was thanking Him (and them) a lot.

Goodbye to my neighbor the Japanese teacher

Mid-morning on our last day in the apartment -- still a lot to do.

I cried when I said goodbye to Sara.  (She left about an hour before me.)  One of the students walked with me so I could get some dinner for the train.  He took it upon himself to comfort me by saying things like, "Just change your mood and be happy," and "You can't change it so just accept it."  Then he said, "Actually, I'm not very good at comforting girls when they are crying."  I thought it was pretty funny and I gave him some advice to improve his girl-comforting skillz.

Two fellow teachers drove me to the train station and then I had a good 12.5 hour ride up here to Beijing.

Goodbye, Rizhao.  It's been a good year.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Quf-iest Place on Earth

This weekend I took time I didn't have to make one last jaunt to Qufu, the town I used to live in.  I was only there for an evening and a day, but I got to see some good friends and favorite places.  As a bonus, my old teammate Lisa was there visiting from America.

As soon as I got out of the van, everything looked and smelled just as Quf-y as I remembered it.

Oh, the Qufiness
Here was my first view, the East Market at suppertime:

Students, trash, and vendors, just as usual


Then I immediately went to meet Lisa and some of our old colleagues, who wanted to give us a small banquet.  It was fun to catch up with them, especially the two or three that I knew best. 

Two colleagues' daughters, excited to see us

Love that homestyle Qufu food

The whole group -- all English teachers in the foreign language department


After the meal, a colleague introduced us to the Chinese medicine place where we got massages, hot cupping, and scraping.  You can read about it in yesterday's post.


My favorite class of students is still around, and some of them came to hang out with me.  We met at 8:00 in the morning at the school gate.

We didn't really have a plan, so we ended up hanging out for a couple hours at the fake KFC in the East Market.

I missed the memo on the hand signs

We walked back to campus.  At one point, while talking about their plans for KTV in the afternoon, the girls started singing together as they walked.

Someone bought a watermelon and we ate it in the dorm:

It was fun to see them.  I've known most of these girls for three years and they are just as fun and sweet as ever.

There was a three-day holiday weekend for Dragon Boat Festival, so there were more than the usual number of grannies and kids playing on campus:

I also got to see a couple seniors who I taught last year.  Ashley will study for her master's in Hong Kong and Sandra will try again to get into the grad school of her choice.

Quf on the Roads

I enjoyed seeing some of the typical Qufu street scenes.

Doubling up on bikes -- Nice try, Lisa.

These guys spotted me walking and turned around to say hi.  They are two friends from the student fellowship and were off to prepare a 10th anniversary celebration for the fellowship.

The large street in front of campus


Our colleagues Ashley and Darryl wanted to take me and Lisa out for lunch.  Little did we know that it would be a five-hour barbecue excursion into the mountains (once again proving my rule that there's no such thing as a short Chinese outing).

The little girls Sally and Amy entertained me on the way up:

We arrived at a little family-run restaurant and the teachers started wrapping and skewering all kinds of meat and vegetables.  Lisa and I weren't really allowed to help so we just chatted and explored.

The children of the three families -- best buddies

The view

We went up on the roof and I decided it was about time to pose with the solar water heater, since they're everywhere in China

Ongoing barbecue

Yum yum yum

Qufy Memories

When we got back, we took an hour or so to re-visit old stomping grounds.  Here is our teaching building: 

The stairwells all have Confucius sayings

The hallway I taught in most

Peeking in on students diligently studying on their three-day weekend

 We also went to the foreign teacher apartment building.  I saw my friend the French teacher:

and also popped in on my old apartment and another friend, Sarah.  Then it was time for some delicious Qufiness in the East Market:

My favorite crunch-wrap lady in the whole world.  I crave these all the time but they're just not as good in Rizhao.

Eating with Cherry, a sweet senior student

The Quf by Night

Then Lisa and I walked down the length of the East Market down to the city wall.  We spent a couple hours in and around old Qufu. 

The city wall -- one of my favorite things about Qufu

Looking back at East Market street

Looking across the street to BBQ and, behind that, the mosque

Elderly evening calisthenics

One of many gates

Walking path with willows along the outside of the wall

Coming and going through the wall.  I love all the different vehicles in this photo.

Our evening wanderings took us to WuMaCi shopping street, where Lisa tried on new glasses and I replaced the sunglasses I bought there two years ago.


Kids' shoes!


A tower in the middle of old town.  The bell tower, I think - does anyone know?

I rode these pedicabs everywhere when I first moved to Qufu.  Now they're mostly in touristy areas.  It was fun to ride again!

Breakfast and Nostalgia in the Quf

My shuttle back to Rizhao left at 8:00 a.m. Saturday morning, so I went out at 6:30 to squeeze a little more time from my visit.  Lisa and I enjoyed a street food breakfast in the East Market.

Setting up.  Most of the vendors were already doing business by the time we arrived at 6:45.

These ladies were selling this special plant for Dragon Boat Festival.  Is it mint?  Something else?

This woman often sells sweet potatoes or corn, but that day she was selling zongzi, the sticky-rice dumplings wrapped in leaves that are always eaten on Dragon Boat Festival.

Vegetables, meat


Lychees in water (mmm)

Bean sprouts (mmm again)

This little stand was serving most of the typical Chinese breakfast items: soy milk, you tiao (fried breadsticks), and tea eggs. The only thing missing was porridge.

Weighing out some you tiao

Pulling and deep-frying you tiao

Breakfast items: quail eggs on the left, tea eggs in center, beans, and soy milk (with some mint (?) for Dragon Boat Day).

Ladling out my soy milk

This couple made my breakfast -- a flat fried bread filled with fried egg, potato, and peppers.  I ate this all the time my first year in China.

We walked through campus and saw many students doing their early morning reciting in the courtyard.  One girl was practically yelling, "Much ado about nothing" over and over and over.  This is how a lot of students study English, among other subjects.  Hard to believe this is how they were spending their Saturday holiday morning!

I wanted to walk into the countryside, but barely had enough time.  We just made it to this harvested wheat field before having to turn around so I could catch my bus.

Goodbye, Qufu countryside.

All in all, I'd say it was a Qufamazing visit.