Friday, June 29

text messages

I left America before text messages were popular, so I learned how to text in Asia. I would sometimes rather call, because it takes more time to message than to call sometimes, but it can also simplify things. Students especially love to text. I was going through my old messages today, cleaning out some of the especially cute ones that I saved. I decided to save them here.

These from my Chinese tutor:
I fail in love. The boy I like. Like my best friend. Sadness in the heart. It is dramatical.

Hello. I want to ask a question for you: Are there any train in American? My friend tell me there are not any train in American now. But I can not believe that.

From a student after I showed the movie The Pursuit of Happyness to my American Culture class:
Hello. I am very like this movie. It touched me deeply. It makes me think a lot, about family love and life itself. Thanks a lot.

From a student to thank me for inviting her over:
Thank you for your dinner. It is really nice. And I cannot forget the lovely cake any more! The plants are very beautiful.

From a student the day before Children's Day:
Happy Childrens Day tomorrow!
(I asked her later if adults also celebrate Children's Day. She said "Yes, I think adults need to remember the magic of childhood more than children need to celebrate it.")

And, this one from a random student who was studying in my classroom before my class. He asked for my phone number and I gave it to him, which I kind of regretted, but it turned out to be okay. This same thing happened again later and I didn't give my phone number out the second time.
Just call to say best wishes to you, happy everyday.
(Happy everyday must be a Chinese saying, because Chinese students love to wish it in English.)

Monday, June 25

my stealing record

I went to the gym today and took my iPod in the top pocket of my backpack. I went to lunch afterwards and then downtown to the market. I visited the ATM, but it wasn't working, so I put my wallet in the front pocket of my pants and walked away. I felt someone really close behind me and I pulled my backpack in front of me. I checked the pocket where my iPod was and it was still there. I made eye contact with the guy who was behind me and he gave me a weird look.

After walking around the corner, I put my backpack on my back again, but when I got into the store I was heading to, the top pocket was open and the iPod was gone. I stood there in the store telling myself how dumb I was to do the classic "check to see if you have it and then the pickpocketer knows exactly where to look" trick.

I use the iPod for playing songs in class, which is over, and at the gym, where it makes the treadmill time go faster. I was also looking forward to making some good travel playlists for the upcoming summer, but I'm guessing there's something I need to learn from this.

So, I'm still kicking myself. I guess with all the places I've travelled to and lived in, one loss of an iPod isn't too bad of a record. A used bike that was given to me was stolen in Seoul, but then I got it back. Then the seat was stolen from it when I had it locked up at the subway station. My Mom gave me a watercolor she had painted and I left it in my locked car overnight in Austin. That was stolen. I think that's the extent of my record, though. Besides the bike seat (which couldn't really be helped), I have felt stupid every time.

ode to my Chinese tutor

When I first met her at the beginning of the semester, I didn't think it would work out and was thinking of ways to let her know gently that I didn't want to continue. But, I couldn't think of a good way to tell her we should stop meeting, so we kept on. I began to like her because she's funny, she spoke a lot of Chinese to me (which I didn't understand, but it still helps!), and she encouraged me in speaking Chinese.

She's from Hainan Island (far South China). She tells me stories about how cheap fruit is there - how her parents sometimes eat 10 bananas each per day during banana season (because they have a banana tree in their yard) and how they have egg bananas there! She says they are a little fatter than a normal banana and taste a little like egg. I've gotta visit and check this out.

She has some pimples on her face and she says she's drinking special tea that she says is supposed to calm the fire in her body that is erupting on her face.

She sends me messages in Chinese and then teaches me what they say. This is the latest one:
鱼说: 你看不见我的眼泪, 因为我在水中.
The fish says: You can't see my tears because I am in the water.
水说: 我看得见你的眼泪, 因为你在我心中!
The water says: I can see your tears because you are in my heart.

She gets on to me because I don't actually study Chinese except by listening to Chinese language learning podcasts a few times a week, so I can't read many of the characters. My ability to read characters is the main way she gauges my progress, so she covers up the pinyin (the romanized way to read Chinese) and makes me read the characters. I either get lucky or can read the top half of the pinyin that she's covering up, and she praises me and tells me that I must have been studying!

Oh, thanks to a special commenter recently. The comments make me smile, but I can't comment back and can't visit other people's blogs to comment either because blogger blogs are blocked right now.

Thursday, June 21

cooking complications and things to come

It looks like I'm gonna be moving out of my apartment soon because I'll be travelling for a few weeks in mid July and there is a family that's going to use my apartment while I'm gone. So, I had my last group of people over on Tuesday. I decided to make salad, thinking it would be pretty easy. I made pesto pasta salad from the spinach stems left over from a spinach salad that I made over the weekend and this bean and corn salad minus avocados and a few other things we can't get, then I cut up a bunch of stuff to put on lettuce.

The preparation ended up being far from uncomplicated because all sorts of things went wrong. Last weekend, my oven broke right before I had some people over. Thankfully the heating element on top still works so I could heat up what I needed to serve, but I couldn't make the bread mix I brought from Korea. I took it to my friend and she made the bread. The night before the salad dinner, I was getting some stuff ready and then realized I didn't have any water. They are doing construction outside on the street, so I guess they had to turn the water off. That's only happened a few times in my apartment, but in some of my friends' houses the water goes off regularly. Luckily, it came back on early the next morning, but then as I was boiling the beans, my gas ran out. My apartment isn't hooked up to central gas (in some apartments it's not an option), so I have a big gas tank in one of my cabinets. I've had it for almost two years and it finally ran out. Of course on a day when I needed it for that night's dinner. I didn't know how to order more, so I went next door to my neighbors' house and the mom helped me out. That was good. I needed to see her anyhow. Despite all the complications, the salad dinner was yummy.

I gave my conversation speaking final today and then finished all the averages. Yay! Now I just have to give the written culture final on Tuesday and grade it. I'm looking forward to being finished with classes, welcoming the summer volunteers late next week, showing them around and getting them settled teaching, and then taking a trip with a friend to somewhere in South China mid July.

Wednesday, June 20

the market, good fortune, and the bus lady

This is one of the center sections of West Market on a weekday afternoon. On weekends it's much more packed. The fruit and veggie market is inside on the left and the meat/paper and dried goods market is inside on the right. I was standing on the second floor looking down from the entrance to the fabric and clothes market where I went to get some fabric to have a new pair of capris made since our weather has turned much hotter in the past week.

Older ladies walking past the nut vendors below me.

This curtained entrance into a restaurant caught my eye. I think the character (if looked at from the other side) is the character fu which means good fortune or blessing.

While I was stopped taking a picture of the good fortune curtain, I snapped one of these pajamas (I think they're actually steam room or massage room clothes) hanging out to dry.

I got a secret pic of the bus money lady as I was sitting across from her. It was a hot day, so she's wearing a sleevelss shirt and shorts, but she's also wearing elastic sleeves and gloves, I think to keep her arms and hands from getting coated with dirt, although I'm not really sure why. She's the one that opens the door, pulls you on and pushes you off if you are moving too slow. She's holding a bundle of money. She has it pre-folded into groups of four ones so she can give you change for a five easily. I'm not riding the bus as often now because I usually take my bike if possible. I don't miss the smallness, stuffiness, and the stares I get. (I get just as many stares on the bike, if not more, but I breeze by them instead of being stuck in a little space with them.)

Wednesday, June 13

truth is better than fiction

At the gym on Monday a lady in the locker room started talking to me. First in Chinese and then I asked her to speak Korean. That might have been a mistake, because then she wouldn't leave until I did. She showed me pictures of her daughter who is a student where I teach. She asked me when I usually come so that she can come at the same time. She told me as we walked out that she has gained weight since coming (she told me exactly how much) and then asked me if I could give her some of my fat.

Today, I ran into her again on the way in as she was on her way out. She told me about her day and then said she was wondering if I'd be at the gym today. Then she asked for my phone number so that she could call and see when I'll come. I hesitated, trying to find a good way to get around it, but gave it to her. She sent me some message in Chinese today that I can read 8 characters of. Not much of a clue what it says.
I was eating at my favorite hole in the wall Korean place last week when one of the kimbap ladies took a break to sit next to me and give me a short quiz:
How old are you?
Have you gone to your inlaw's house? (a creative way to ask if you're married)

She didn't go to the normal next question - Why not? or When do you plan to? And she didn't ask any more questions about my job or how much money I make, so she was less nosy than most.
I had this conversation on the phone in the office recently:

Hello. This is William. I can find Nathan?

No. He's not here.

Yes. I know. Bye.

Well, obviously he didn't know that Nathan wasn't there. If he had, he wouldn't have called. In Chinese, the phrase "I know" is used in a lot of places where we would say "I understand," or maybe even "okay." My Chinese tutor always says "I know dat" at funny times. After I explained to her about that, I used the Chinese "I know" phrase in a context I thought I had heard before and she called me on it, told me it was wrong. It's good when I get a taste of my own medicine.

Sunday, June 10

culturally confused

...Some, however, involve themselves in their new cultural surroundings, and learn to appreciate it, and in doing so, become more aware of their own cultural assumptions and of alternate life-styles. They acquire an international perspective and the ability to adapt to more than one culture, but at the price of being fully adjusted to none of them. They are often happiest when they are flying from one country to another.

-Cultural Anthropology, Paul G. Hiebert

I'm scanning through this book that a friend loaned me when I told him I was struggling through what to teach my American Culture class. It's interesting, especially the little story snips from different cultures. I read the above quote this afternoon after happening to talk about the same thing with a friend at lunch today. I am still learning more about the cultures here, but I also find myself questioning what is really American culture and how to answer certain questions my students ask me. I told my students that I am not the typical American but hopefully I can answer questions based on what "normal" Americans would think or say.

Last week, my Chinese tutor wanted to tell a foreign teacher that he was handsome. She asked me what the correct way to do that would be. I told her that unless she wanted him to think she liked him, she probably shouldn't comment on that. That's my response, but it's certainly not every American's response. She persisted in asking, trying to find an okay way to say that. I told her that she could say he looked nice today without much worry, but she wanted to say more than that. She said that she often encourages her friends (male or female) by telling them they are attractive. I wanted to tell her that it was a superficial way to encourage people anyway, but I didn't go that far. Commenting on people's appearance (good or bad) to them seems to be a common part of both Korean and Chinese culture.

Anyway, I kept on telling her there really wasn't a good way to say what she wanted to say, but then I started second guessing myself. Maybe this is just my response and not the way most Americans (or Westerners) would view this situation. I asked a few of my friends here and they agreed with me, but we're probably all culturally confused.

I do agree that I am no longer fully adjusted to any culture, but I can't agree with the last sentence of the quote above. I definitely don't think I'm happiest on the plane between places.

I told my swimming buddy about the picture I took of the locked door to the language lab as we were walking out of the (new and nice!) swimming building. At the same time, we saw these guys putting down the center stripe on the road up to the building. She told me that I should take a pic of that, so I did. She (this is another example of not remembering how things are done in America) asked "Is that how we do it at home?" I told her, no, I think we have special cars that paint the stripes. These guys were working with a string, paint, and boards to mark the outsides of the lines.
I do know that I've never seen a toilet like this in America. It's the one closest to our office in the foreign languages building. This is one stall in a line. You walk in and close the door, but the door only covers up to chest level. You squat, legs straddling the trough, and go. The other people are straddling the same trough in front or behind you. You don't flush, but water comes down from a large tank at the back of the line every so often to sweep away the stuff. It's actually the cleanest version of a squatty I've seen, so it's not a bad experience. Sorry if that was too much info, but I wanted to share. :)

Wednesday, June 6

The Titans and Freedom Over Me

I happened to listen to "Oh Freedom Over Me" on the American Radio Works Podcast tonight
about blacks and whites working together for the black right to vote in Mississippi. Now I'm watching Remember the Titans (trying to find a good clip to show during my last American culture lecture on sports and leisure time) and I started tearing up even from the beginning scenes at training camp.

I don't know why I'm sitting here in China touched by this look at American history. It's ironic that I'm learning so much about America and American ways this semester as I teach. I wondered, as I listened to that radio program, if I had been around then, would I have been passionate about equal voting rights? To think that us Southerners made up ways to keep people from voting not too long before I was born....

So what is it that's going on now that history will look back on as a disgrace? And what part do I play in changing it?

Sunday, June 3

veggies and bike repair

Supplies for the last (at least for a while) batch of spaghetti sauce and salad for students and another salad to take to a friend's house. All bought at the nearby market (total of 37 yuan for evertything, bought from different vendors) where they watch and comment on what I buy.
"Please give me just half a pound of beansprouts."
"You're just cooking for one, huh?"
Well, actually, the beansprouts were to put in this salad, and half a jin (close to a pound) was plenty.

This is my last and smallest group of students to have over for spaghetti and meatballs. They were a fun group.

I had a close to flat tire last week so the bike repairman put a new tube in it for me for a dollar. He was a really nice guy. We had a limited conversation in Chinese about how long I've had the bike, where I bought it, how much I paid, etc. I couldn't remember the word for week at the time, so I told him I'd had it for two... and then I paused. He said "years?". "No." "Months?" and I went ahead and said yes, even though I've had it closer to two weeks. I guess weeks would have been his next choice down the list. Then I told him I bought it at the used market. (Funny how I could remember the name for that and not the word for week.) He told me I paid about 50 yuan (6 or 7 bucks) too much for it, but I figure that's just the foreigner markup and don't feel too bad about it. Now I have an issue with the pedals so I have to go back, but I'm glad I made a friend. This is one good reason to get a used bike - more practice with the language when I need to get it fixed.

I planted a ginger root a few months ago and now there's a long shoot that's grown out of it. Not sure why I planted the thing, but it has grown a pretty impressive shoot.