Monthly Archives: April 2011

Same, Same on Planet China

The weather here is starting to get steamy.  It gets ridiculously hot and humid here and on top of it, sometimes it rains.  I might have mentioned this before, but a funny thing happens in the streets of Shekou during this time.  Because of the sticky weather, the men pull up their shirts halfway and walk around like this.  Now, look, I am not one to judge – okay, even I had to laugh at that one – but as far as different cultures, I usually just try to go with it.  It’s a when in Rome type thing.  However, these men don’t have Beckham’s abs and I am being generous with that one.  Last night, I was walking in Old Shekou on my way to a lovely dinner, and I saw at least five different men sitting at real restaurants with their shirts off.  In a restaurant, at night, public and all.  And there is no Christiano Ronaldo in sight.  Sigh.  I am just going to go on record and say; it’s never that hot.  Seriously.

What I have heard from several people is when the cultural revolution happened here in China, anything middle class, including manners, was considered bourgeoisie so it was done away with.  When I think of it political terms, I completely understand.  And to be very honest, I have met some of the nicest people in China and I am excited to be learning about this culture through the language.  There is one waitress who only speaks to me in Chinese and goes out of her way to help me learn the language – it’s really sweet. But for someone who grew up with using please, thank you, and excuse me… it’s an adjustment because from what I am learning, these types of formalities are not built into the language or culture.  In fact to use them is considered rude as it is a way of distancing yourself from that person. Additionally, there just doesn’t seem to be any consideration of other people in some ways.  For instance, lines.  People here will literally cut in front of you and begin ordering when you know they saw you.  Another one is luggage.  When you go through customs, you put your luggage to be x-rayed and people will just push in front of you to get their stuff, even though their luggage is behind yours. Or when you are walking on the sidewalk, a scooter will come up behind you and start honking at you to move out of the way, even though it is a sidewalk and you clearly have the right of way (I’ve just begun to slow down when they do that). It’s aggressive, but it’s not intentional.  I have to remember it’s not personal, but it’s really difficult to process that as you are getting pushed or bumped or cut off.

So as I try to make sense of what I call Planet China (it is that big) and not get frustrated when someone will see me but still continue to walk right in front of me while spitting, I happened upon this book yesterday called Dreaming in Chinese.  I literally could not put it down and read about a third of it just sitting there in the mall.  It was the book I wish I had written.

Now, I don’t know if it’s one of those things that you have to know or experience to enjoy reading about.  For instance, soccer.  I LOVE soccer and love watching soccer.  But I played soccer for about 25 years of my life, so I understand soccer.  I mean; I used to practice my throw-ins, trapping, and passing for hours by myself in the backyard.  Well, I am the only person in my immediate family who feels that way about the world’s greatest sport (shout out to Berto and Stephen – go soccer) so I understand that they probably don’t want to watch the World Cup with me.  It might be the same with this book.  You might have to live it to get it.  However, I will bring my copy home this summer; so if you want to borrow it, just let me know!

Okay, so yesterday in Hong Kong I did a bit of shopping before my hair appointment, and I bought the cutest dress. It can be worn in any season and it looks great on me (bonus!).  So, I am going next week to buy some material so I can get it ‘same, same’.  That just means the tailor copies it for literally, half the cost.  Go Planet China!

Below are some random photos that I thought you might enjoy!

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A New Hong Kong

Being an upper grade teacher usually involves field trips.  For me, it’s akin to going to the gym.  I don’t like the preparation, but once I am there, I am usually glad I went. This was the case for my most recent overnight field trip on Lantau Island.

As a rule, I try not to talk about my job too much.  It seems that some teachers tend to talk about their classrooms just a bit too much for my taste.  I mean, as a teacher I don’t usually want to hear about it; I can’t imagine how boring it must be to a non-teacher.  However, this recent outing was school-related and I have this fantastic class.  I swear there this one girl in my class who must have been my bff in a past life.  She absolutely cracks me up.  But honestly, I feel that way about my students.  They really are remarkable in their own little weird ways.

This particular field trip focused on the environment and to make two, jam-packed days as short as possible… we hiked (a lot), went to the ocean, cleaned up a beach, planted trees, visited an eco-house, and had a close encounter with a large water buffalo.  All in all, a fantastic time! I do feel blessed to have such a great class.

Walking around this southwest part of Hong Kong is the complete opposite of the hustle and bustle of Central.  It seemed that I was in another part of China, but it’s only about 2 hours away from my place.  I have heard about the great hiking in the New Territories and now I just have to explore this region more.  It is gorgeous.

Along the way, I took many photos.  I wish I could show you photos of my students, but alas, I am not sure I would want someone posting pictures of my child on the internet, so you will have to just take my word that they are as wonderful as I say they are.  I did however take photos of worn down walls, doors, and buildings that reminded me modern art paintings as well as some of the other sights.

As a quick side, I went to this place today called the Artist’s Village about an hour away from where I live. I bought this quaint painting for about $6US that I love as well as some art supplies and some blank canvases for about $50US.

Life is good.

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Ni hen ai nide shouji.

English translation: You love your cell phone.

What’s surprising to me is that the Chinese language isn’t that difficult.  The grammar is actually very straightforward.  For instance, if I am going to Hong Kong tomorrow the structure is ‘I tomorrow go to Hong Kong’ – subject, time, place, verb, object.  I am simplifying it, but that’s the gist.

For me though, there is one aspect that makes it very challenging: Pronunciation.  Sure, some of the words seem similar -natian, jian, tian- but take for instance the word ‘nali’. Depending on how you say it, it means two different things.

One meaning is ‘there’ and the other is ‘where’.  It’s where you stress the syllable. In this case, the ‘a’ sound – one is naaah-li and the other is nah-li. And let me tell you, I cannot tell the difference.

Most Chinese are helpful as I fumble my way around this new way of speaking.  However, sometimes they look at me like I am saying something in Swahili. The other day, this guy in my favorite coffee house was telling me something and I asked ‘why’ in Chinese – I pronounced it wah-she-may, and he looked at me like I was crazy and seriously, he was like, ‘Oh! Whey-she-may’… I thought, I just said the same thing!

The nice part about all of this though is that I feel more a part of things as I learn the language.  For instance, my Chinese friend Holly recently opened up a nail salon.  It was fun because I was the only Westerner in the place and I actually understood small bits and pieces of the conversations around me.  Then as I was hailing a taxi to go home, one of my usual drivers pulled up and offered me a ride – Holly was impressed.  I was a rock star at that moment.

My tutor thinks I am doing really well.  I have a photo of the cards we use in class to learn and create conversations.  Here is are the translations:

Quin jin=please come in
Qing zuo=please sit
Xie, xie=thanks
Bu yong xie=no need to thank me (or just bu yong)
Bu ke qi=you’re welcome
Qing he shui=please drink some water (or whatever else)
Qing chi qiaokel=please et some chocolate (or whatever else)

Welcome to my Monday and Thursday nights!  Living on the edge baby, China style. Tai hao le!

A Half-Dressed Chinese Man

There are two Chinese men in my apartment and one is half-dressed… it’s not as scandalous as it sounds, unfortunately.  They are the workers I hired to paint my place.  And you probably thought things were just getting interesting for me over here!

I have been sticking close to home lately, just working and hanging out with friends.  It’s been an introspective time for me personally.  I am really looking forward to coming home this summer.  I literally can’t wait to hug my nephews and have my mom make me a sandwich.  I do love my mom.  Oh!  And head to Lolitas for some real Mexican food.  Mmmmmmm good.  I also really want to take a road trip.  I miss driving so much and being on the open road.

However, I am also already planning my next adventures when I get back to China.  I really want to see Beijing and The Great Wall.  A friend of mine is moving to India and seeing India is on my list of places to go. I also really want to take that motorcycle trip at some point.  I just have to prioritize at this point.

It’s funny because two friends from high school facebooked me. It’s been fun catching up with them.  I was actually skyping with one of them this morning and he essentially asked, is the life you are living now the one you thought you would be living at 18?  And I thought about it for a minute and the answer was yes.  I mean; there are a couple of areas that aren’t perfect and it isn’t exactly as planned, but for the most part, yeah, I can’t complain.  And what isn’t perfect, I can work on.

Now I have to check on the painters… hopefully, he put his shirt back on… wish me luck!



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