Saturday, August 30, 2008

Things I've been missing

I've been in China for about four days now, and understandably I've begun to miss home a bit. But sorry friends and family who are reading things, its not you yet. I miss the little things from home that I never really thought about. Hot water. My apartment has it every day for five hours: 6am-8am and 8pm-11pm. I miss the luxury of waking up and hoping in for a nice hot shower. I also miss drinkable tap water and the ease of brushing my teeth. No rinsing with bottled or boiled water; a nice cold gulp after I've rinsed. I rinse my plates with boiled water before I use them to get rid of the tap water I've just cleaned them in. My bed here is fairly comfortable but my one pillow is just not cutting it and no where near my fluffy cocoon I'm used to. Good crusty bread. Most of the bread I've had here is a sweet, Challa like bread with a mildly stale texture. Cheese. I love it; they only have processed. I also miss eavesdropping. One of my favorite ways to pass some time waiting in line or on a bus back in the US, eavesdropping is impossible for me here. Often I can tell that people are talking about me, but I can't understand what they're saying. So the next time you wake up at 10am in your fluffy bed and take a hot shower, brush your teeth and rinse tap water and think, "hey, i'll have cheese for breakfast" with a side of listening-to-someone-else's-conversation, think of me.

Things here are good though. My apartment is large and spacious. Though it's still pretty bare, it's beginning to feel like home. Slowly the nuisances of the water situation are becoming comfortably, a part of my daily life.Classes begin on Monday and I'm more than a little nervous to begin teaching. I'm really just now beginning to feel the weight of the responsibility I have to these students. My classes and how I prepare my students will affect further education opportunities and subsequently their ability to get a job after graduation.

But life is good. China is continually surprising in me with humors curiosities, like the multi-cultural pair of little boys in the underwear on my fridge and many other electrical appliances here.

Friday, August 29, 2008

How do I get the meat stick open...?

So I made it!

I'm currently sitting in my Appartment in Qufu, Shandong China. The trip itself was, all in all, uneventful. The only real noteworthy thing about the flight over was that for the first twenty minutes of the flight out of San Francisco, the "call flight attendant" ding noise wouldn't stop. We were discussing the possibility of it continuing for all 11 hours and 45 minutes of the flight, but luckily that bloody scenario did not have to play out.

Interestingly enough, we completely missed the night of the 26th. When we passed over the International Date Line the sun was shining, and continued to do so all the way to China.

The Beijing Capitol Airport, recently COMPLETELY BUILT ANEW for the Olympics, is absolutely massive. I mean just massive. They also designed it so that international travelers were not only in a different terminal than domestic flights, but almost in a completely different airport. We had to transfer to a domestic flight to Jinan, which required us to get our luggage, go through Customs (which consisted of us putting our carry ons through a security scanner... the U.S. seemingly has far stricter customs - nobody even asked us questions about where we were going, how long, etc.), and travel to "Terminal 2." Terminal 2 is where the old airport was, I think. It's a 10 minute bus ride away from where they bring in the International flights, and is much more what you would expect to find in a Chinese airport (People, mostly). The terminals were still quite nice and easy to navigate, and we got on our local flight without any major problems.

Our local flight was only about 45 minutes, but in that time we were given these awesome little "snack packs" which had several types of rolls in them, one filled with this strange brown paste, which while delicious, myself and Andy agreed we did not wish to know its origins. Also in the snack pack was a butter roll (delicious pastry type thing), a packet of Sechuan Pickles (an acquired taste), and what can only be described as a pudding cup container filled with 100 mL of water. They gave us a bottle of water, and we didn't know what to do with the pudding cup, so we just left it alone. Better to be safe than accidentally drink the water you are supposed to wash with, or wash with the water you are supposed to drink with.

We landed in Jinan at about 6:45, and the first thing we noticed was the sky. The dark, heavy air which hung in the city of Jinan is something I have never seen before. It was difficult to tell whether it was just so unbelievably humid (it is) that the sky looked like you could cut it with a knife, or if it was just the obvious air quality issues, but I'm guessing it's somewhere in the middle. You can feel the dirt in the air. Less so in Qufu, however it is still noticeable.

We were met At the Airport by several people. Connie, for the Xintan College group (my group), A guy whose name I can't remember (he was very nice) for the Qufu Normal group, and a whole separate cadre for the Dongying group. The drive down was about two hours long, and having eaten only airplane food, we all agreed that we would like something to eat. We stopped at a Chinese truck stop about half way,which was an experience. There are massive numbers of trucks on the Chinese highways, and as best as one can muster, very few restrictions as to load size and what happens to be carried. For example, we saw a truck carrying another truck of identical make and model, in the back (it was a little European sized personal truck, so it was rather hilarious). There are also random broken down trucks along the road which, while swerving in and out of traffic, you sometimes almost hit. So it goes. Did I mention that Driving in China would be an experience? I can't even begin to describe Chinese driving habits. They aren't horrific - but lets just call it extreme white knuckle driving. Anyway, back to the truck stop. Our hosts (Connie and the nice man I can't remember) Purchased us a loaf of sweet bread (very similar to Challah and very good), a bottle of water, and what can only be described as, a meat stick. It looks like bologna, and I would imagine would taste like it, however I haven't tried it yet. We couldn't get the things open. Nobody of course had a knife, and try and try as we might, penetrating the plastic force field encompassing the meat stick proved impossible. So we just poked each other with them discreetly (as to not offend our hosts). Hey, after traveling for almost 24 hours poking someone with a meat stick is more comical than you might imagine. When we finally arrived in Qufu (very cool looking city by night), after dropping off Eliza and Lucy at Qufu Normal University (massive campus), we headed to our Apartments at Xintan. Hard wood floors, queen sized beds, nice kitchen - the living situation shouldn't be a problem. I even have an office with a spare bed! Below is a picture of my bed, and my living room.

After dropping our stuff off we were taken out to eat at, you guessed it, KFC. Gotta love KFC. Actually, KFC was closed, so we ate at the Chinese equivalent, CBC - China's Best Chicken. Who were we to contest? They were very proud of the KFC, and CBC was the next closest. We'll visit all the street vendors selling some sort of amazing smelling barbecue later. Connie is taking us to eat real Chinese food this afternoon, so that should be fun.

Well thats all for now, time to shower, shop, eat, clean, unpack, and attempt to figure out what on earth I'm going to do come Monday when classes start (Oh hell, I actually have to teach... and here I thought I was on vacation).

Is that a beak?

Finally, an outlet to tell all of the things that have happened! Yesterday was our first full day in Qufu and Joni Strohm, one of the ELIC teachers here, has been a beacon of hope in a very confusing place. Qufu is beautiful and I am thrilled to be here, but the language barrier can make things seem a bit overwhelming and isolating. Yesterday we ventured to the grocery store which involved a lot of impromptu sign language: pantomiming washing my hair for shampoo, pretending to brush my teeth for toothpaste, etc. The salesgirls were very helpful and actually followed Eliza and I around. I wasn't sure whether it was out of curiosity or suspicion, either way it was like having an audience while doing our mundane everyday shopping. For lunch Joni took us to a restaurant right behind our housing and it was DELICIOUS!!!! We had some pork, but I must say the vegetable dishes were the highlight of the meal. Then we got a tour of the tree-lined campus and the local market where they sell everything from fresh baked bread to pet hamsters. (The PET part was emphasized to me by Joni after I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the hamster stand next to the roasted chicken stand.) Though the day was quite exciting, I must say dinner was the highlight. Eliza and I went to Qufu Normal's other campus and met up with Olivia, Rachel, Nick, and Karrin and planned on feasting on the left overs they had from lunch. We decided against eating the leftover soup that the waiters just poured in a plastic bag. All was going smoothly until Rachel noticed that a chunk of the chicken dish had eyes and a beak. After a day of getting used to a new foreign city we decided to save the adventurous eating for another meal.
Today was more about setting up our apartments. After an early morning of tea and some highly entertaining, but altogether unintelligible children's t.v. shows, Eliza and I cleaned our apartments then Joni took us to one of the large department stores in town. Because KFC is one of the main sites at the department store we met Nick, Rachel, and Olivia there. I thought I ordered a chicken sandwich, but it turned out to be fish. I have to say it was much fresher and more authentic than it would have been in the U.S.; I could see the scales which actually comforted me more than anything. A real fish sandwich is better than a processed one no matter what country you are in. After lunch there was more pantomiming in the department store. I successfully bought the cheapest rice cooker I could find and a top sheet for my bed. I have yet to find a lamp or a throw rug, though. Now I am off again to the grocery store where I will buy Mi, or uncooked rice and later we are all going to Karaoke.
...If any of you are thinking "isn't she supposed to be teaching, not eating and shopping?", well the school year starts Monday. I am teaching Freshmen Oral English mostly and as for now that is all I know. The school doesn't have a schedule for me or textbooks.... guess that's life here.