China’ed

“I’m so glad today is over.” “Today was a China Day.” I got China’ed so hard.” Grumblings and musings amongst the teachers have lead to a group consensus: we all got China’ed today. “How does one become ‘China’ed?'” you might be asking yourself right now, and that’s wonderful question! (If you were a nine year-old Chinese boy/girl I’d high five you right now, thereby engaging and enthralling you whilst subconsciously making you want to participate in class discussions. Don’t mess with Teacher – he’ll put some voodoo mumbo jumbo on you, kids.”) In order to explain being China’ed, allow me to demonstrate the various levels of emotional responses via things that I have thought at various points either in the past week in Beijing or two years ago in Wuhan.

Honeymoon

“This is so crazy, I can’t believe I’m in China right now. It’s so crowded, Pennsylvania has nothing on this. What kind of noodles are these? They’re so cheap! Everything’s just so alive right now, I want to live here forever.”

Hostility

“I didn’t even know I could sweat in that area. What’s that smell? Ugh, if I have to look at one more noodle stand I’ll scream. Hopefully the internet won’t be down for the third day in a row so I can maybe catch that one in a million chance of getting in touch with someone. God Bless America.”

Humor

“Is that child defecating in the street? Oh, China, you scallywag!”

Home

Erm, I don’t have anything for home. We discussed these stages in detail at our orientation meetings just to foreshadow the range of emotions we’d experience on our excursion. I’ve definitely cycled through the first three both during studying abroad and during our Beijing training. It’s sad that I’ve never hit that feeling of home, but I wouldn’t expect myself to. My time in Wuhan was only a six week program so that feeling of the temporary always lingered in the air, and I’m currently living out of a suitcase in a hotel so the settling in hasn’t quite hit yet. I’ll get there in due time, forcing anything isn’t going to change how I actually feel.

During our last meeting of the day, Beijing erupted. Fog and humidity wafted through the air the entire day. Air conditioners were the sole motivation for ambling through the sticky mess of the campus, desiring the comforting, artificially cooled environments our classrooms provided. But that sticky humidity brought a message forth upon us. A message to construct an ark, gather two of every animal, and wait out the end of the world to repopulate the world. Sheets of rain slammed into the windows, thunderclaps punched through the walls. By the time we were excused for the day, our path home was engulfed in a shin-high lake. Us teachers had no other recourse but to remove our shoes, roll up our teaching pants (Business casual is a habit, get like us.) and wade our way through the mile and a half hike back to our hotel barefoot.

So where am I with China right now? Wading in a river in the middle of a metropolis, watching cars and buses honk angrily at each other in attempts to weave in and out of the deep trenches of water in the street should read as a negative, but now that I’m back home, warm and dry, it’s funny. China is funny. I’ll have my moments where I’m annoyed, where I want to be back at home and know how to react. But the feeling passes, and the hilarity of the situation arises.

It may not be home yet, but I’d rather laugh in a madhouse than cry in a mansion any day.

一路平安

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Beijing Bootcamp

Studying abroad deludes people. I say this not to dissuade individuals from studying abroad (one of the best experiences I ever encountered and the reason I’m currently living abroad), but in the hopes that I can educate people not to act upon their “honeymoon” instincts. When you’re taking classes abroad, life is at it’s peak. Two, maybe three hours of class, followed by an entire day to explore your newfound home. Having an entire culture as your own personal playground is intoxicating, and it’s easy to overlook some of the negative aspects of a foreign country. There is no one Mecca of that ideal neighborhood/city/country where you always wake up on the right side of the bed, where life is grand and responsibilities can be tossed by the wayside.

This is why my Beijing experience so far, neither wholly positive nor wholly negative, has not been unexpected. I knew that I came here to work, and that not everything would be as carefree as studying abroad. We arrived at our hotel at 10:45 pm on Friday night, finally concluding a 20 hour journey originating in DC’s Dulles airport. Sleep was instantaneous, but short-lived. The following morning at 7:00 am, 120 jet-lagged “teachers” were marched in small groups throughout Peking University (北京大学), a sprawling campus of lush trees, streams and ponds, and traditional Chinese architecture whose size dwarfed any American college I had ever seen. Afterwards, we were led into our welcome meeting to give us some details about our stay. It was here that the nature of our time in Beijing descended upon us in one unholy sentence:

You will all be teaching tomorrow.

In a large auditorium such as the one we were sitting in, silence is the most deafening sound imaginable. Teaching. Our second day. Teaching. As the shock began to settle in, we were divided into groups that we would work with throughout the next few weeks, responsible for the same children throughout various points in the day.

This has been my life the past four days, but I feel like I’ve been abroad for nearly a month. From 8:00 to 6:00, I’m liable to attend various classes on Linguistic and English Teaching theory as well as Chinese language classes. Along with this, I’m responsible for not only creating a 50 minute lesson plan for each day, but making sure my topic coordinates with a general theme that my group agrees upon to ensure that our students have an easy transition throughout the day. We have one day off on Friday to go see the Great Wall, but every other day is filled with teaching and classes, weekends included.

Similarly to coordinating themes throughout our lesson plans, I feel like this blog also has an overlying theme: posts tend to start off as negatives but they should not be read that way. I really am so grateful that I’m here right now. While it was a big shock to adjust to, adjusted I have done. Being thrown into the hodgepodge of China life in such an intensive manner is only going to make my life easier when I get to Shenzhen, and my class and lecture planning will be significantly reduced. I have also come to several realizations in these past four days.

  • I love being back in China
    Nothing compares to walking past a group on the streets and hearing exclamations of “A foreigner!” Celebrity is instantaneous for Westerners in China. You stand out just by existing, and it can be fun to be gawked at. Some find it intrusive, but I thrive off of the spotlight so it’s nice to be noticed again! Plus, still can’t beat feeding yourself for $3 a day. Helloooooooo, retirement fund. (It’s too soon to be thinking about this, Connor. Cherish your youth!!!

 

  • I like teaching
    Standing up in the front of the room about to dive into a lesson plan, my stomach takes a plunge similarly to a bungee jumper standing on the edge of the cliff. But once you’re in the air, hurtling at breakneck speeds towards the ground, adrenaline and subsequently euphoria kick in. I find it enthralling to be working with people and to be making something of an impact on their lives. After that first lesson, every person I talked to had the same opinion: “That went so much better than I expected. I think I had fun!” It gets easier the more we go along, and with that our creativity flourishes.

 

  • I like working with kids
    Here’s where things get a little new for me. I’ve never really had an experience working with the youths. Working in grocery stores and restaurants tends to sway people away from looking at children with any positive feelings.

    Working with my class is slowly chiseling away at my icy heart, and I’m kind of falling for them. They have their moments where they start to get rambunctious and try to take control away from me, but they’re kids, I can’t fault them for that (I can, however, glare at them to snap them back into order. It’s that same look your teacher had on her face, the one that said “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed.” to get you right back into submission. I LOVE being on the other side of that look). No matter how hard I have it, these kids have it worse. Being forced to attend “English Camp” for six hours a day every day is not how they want to spend their summers, they’re in my class because their parents demand it. This, in a way, inspires me to try to make creative plans, ones that teach them what they need to know, but can entertain them as well. I learn as much from my failures as successes, and each new lesson teaches me new things. Doing the hokey pokey to teach kids body parts: good. “Marrying” ten year-olds off at the front of the room to teach them about family members: bad. (Very bad. The “wife,” upon learning that she was now married shaped her fingers into a gun with her pointer finger and thumb and held it to my forehead at the front of the room. Very, very, very bad.)

So while things have been a mixed bag of sorts, the positives have definitely outweighed the negatives. I’ve been meeting a lot of great people, and definitely have a more immediate group to fall back upon for support in the absence of all you lovely, attractive, kind people back at home reading this blog. (Send money!!!!) I haven’t taken any pictures yet and haven’t had many fun adventures outside of a random ex-pat bar experience (Imagine: a combination of a pizzeria and beer pong tournament being run by a woman who resembles and sounds like a Swedish milkmaid “Ja! No pahtnahs tonight, tonight’s ahbaht yew showing that yew can rely on yoosahlf, not yoo pahtnah!”) but rest assured that I’ll provide all necessary details once they come into my possession. Until next time.
一路平安