Friday, September 5, 2008

Settling In

I've been in China for over a week now and I’ve finally begun teaching. Life here is slowly starting to take shape. I’m gaining new routines each day, becoming more familiar with the neighborhood and city as a whole. I know that the shop across from my apartment sells delicious soft pretzel-like bread with a sweet glaze and sesame seed that makes a great breakfast—even better  if you put some cinnamon on it. I know that “ji” mean chicken and that if I go to a restaurant and order a dish with the word “ji” in it a may get an entire chicken hacked to pieces. And though I’m not quite used to the chicken head on my plate, I’m used to the fact that if I order a dish it may show up. Life is becoming comfortable here. I no longer feel like I’m halfway around the world; I’m simply living away from home as usual. I’m in love with the midday naps people take and evening communities of families and students that mingle outside in the mild nights here. The children are adorable and if it didn’t happen so frequently their “haaalos” might almost be endearing. I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing them do their ‘business” (number one only—hopefully) on the street, but again, like the chicken, I’m getting used to the fact this is what they do.

I’ve only taught three classes so far—I will have five a week in total—and have found the students incredibly welcoming. They are so eager to please and motivated to learn that it makes teaching them easy and enjoyable. I am teach all writing courses and though my students have goals of improving their skills most have asked me if I think writing courses can be interesting and fun. In learning English they are especially eager to learn more about Western Culture and to improve their speaking. So I will have to find ways of keeping them entertained and enthusiastic about my course—any ideas are welcome.

Life in Qufu, though different in many ways from America, is comfortable. Life is not as rugged as you may think. There are fast food restaurants, though street food is just as fast and often tastier. I can find rice cookers, electric kettles, alarm clocks, sheets, pillows, even Tupperware in many stores including a large and very clean department store downtown. Shops sell trendy clothes in buildings that, though old and rich in history on the exterior, blast pop music from modernly designed interiors. My apartment has strong AC to combat the day’s humidity and heat and I can find all the cold drinks I want. It is an incredibly interesting time to be in Qufu. This city that has been around for thousands of years, whose architecture is six hundred years old is developing. But though its developing, it is doing so in its own way of honoring and preserving its history—hopefully this practice will continue. People text on cell phones while they wait for a chicken to be butchered in the market. There is a wonderful balance between the old and the new and in how people utilize both in their daily lives.

So I am slowly settling in. Whatever anxieties I had about the year I will spend here are fading away. Though interaction is often difficult with the very little Chinese I have, optimism about the language I will acquire, about the relationships that will grow, has taken root and I am excited to see where I will end up.

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