rcintheprc

Hell froze over

December 31, 2011
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During my college search five or six years ago, one thing I looked for in prospective schools was a lack of a history requirement.  Even in elementary school, I hated history class.  I distinctly remember the day when, in 4th grade, we passed the chapter on the 1950s.  On that day, I felt jealous of my parents.  It was so unfair that when they were my age, their history book just ended there, whereas I still had three decades of happenings to study.  My jealousy of my parents was quickly replaced by a feeling of pity for my children, and then horror as I realized that my grandchildren and great grandchildren and each following generation would be more pitiful than its predecessor in the sheer volume of history they’d have to study.  Looking at the thickness of my book, I supposed my lot in life was manageable.

So, I found myself a college with no history requirement (although I ended up taking two classes that were cross-listed in both History and other cooler departments).  You’d have thought that after that I’d be home-free for a anti-historical life.  But then, of my own free will, I decided to (as of this unit) become my least favorite kind of teacher.  That’s right.  If you don’t believe me, check out this totally candid photo from Tuesday of this past week.

Yep.  That’s me teaching what, if I may say so myself, was a pretty cool lesson about the Missouri compromise.  In the picture, I’m using a very long light bulb (much to the amusement of my students) to point out the boundary of America in 1803 before the Louisiana Purchase.  Most of the kids got really into the lesson, and when I later gave them a fact-sheet about the situation in America in 1850 and asked them to try to make the 1850 compromise, a few kids came up with just about the same compromise as Henry Clay.

One of those kids’ English name is Henry, and when I told him that he had not only made as good of a compromise as the American government had done, but also that he shared his name with the man responsible for the 1850 compromise, he couldn’t contain his smile as he shouted, “zeally?! (really?!)”

So, in my case, being a history teacher is a lot more fun than being a history student.  Especially because I’m not a history teacher at all, and therefore have no responsibility for filling my kids in on all the boring details of America through the ages.  I’m in the perfect situation to brush up on only the parts of history that I find interesting, and I end up really, really thinking hard about them as I ponder how to present them in simple enough terms for a foreign language class.  I love my job.

But seriously, who would have ever thought…


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Meatorcycle

December 31, 2011
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In the fall, as soon as the weather is chilly enough to prevent rapid decomposition, the Xiuning meatorcycle takes to the street.

It’s a red motorcycle with large baskets on either side.  The baskets are large and strong enough to hold a lopped and chunked cow, and that is precisely what they do.  They hold cow limbs and chunks.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a photo.  I like how the meatorcycle’s proprietor (the other woman in this photo) is so amused at my amusement with her business practices.

After taking this photo, the woman asked if I wanted to buy some.  I said… not today, thanks.  Actually, though, I think I have eaten some meat from here before.  Aaron sometimes makes brisket, and makes a bean soup that involves some animal products, and I’m pretty sure this is where he shops.


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Reasonable characters

December 28, 2011
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A very long time ago, I wrote a rant about how ridiculous some characters are.  Specifically, I think I was complaining that the Chinese can’t just make their character for “circle” look like a circle.  And why zero is so complicated (零).  Actually, I have an answer to that zero question now, but I’ll save that one for a bit later.  Today, I want to applaud China on getting two characters right.

Ladies and gentlemen, It is my pleasure to present Āo and Tū:


They mean “concave” and “convex.”  I don’t have to tell you which is which because, for once, these Chinese characters make perfect sense.


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Christmas Eve

December 28, 2011
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Being Jewish, I never do much for Christmas.  The typical Jewish Christmas tradition is to go to a Chinese restaurant and the movies–the only two establishments that are reliably open on that day.  This year, my Christmas was pretty unusual.  Of course, it still involved a bit of Chinese food, though to a lesser extent than my average day here.

On the evening of Christmas Eve (is that redundant?  evening/eve?), a van from a big five star hotel in the nearby city of Tunxi came to pick us up.  When we arrived at the hotel, a woman was waiting for us at the door.  She lead us through some “fire escape” doors and down some “employees only” stairs to the uniform room.  There, we were suited up in very clean and simple suits (for Sabrina and I, this involved a rather restricting skirt that came to just above our knees, high (but not too high) heel black shoes, A silky gold blouse, and a plain tailored suit jacket with an official hotel name tag plus one of those hair clips with a bow and a cute little net-bag to stuff your hair into.  Our job?  Pretend you are the assistant manager.  Stand by the door and greet people in Chinese and English.  Make us look International.  Because the theme is Las Vegas.

Sabrina and I had a lot of fun shouting “晚上好!祝你圣诞快乐!欢迎管理!” (Good evening!  Merry Christmas!  Welcome!  I’m actually not so sure about the 汉字 for that last one, but I just took a guess…)  After most of the guests (who had each paid over 400 kuai to attend!) had arrived, we processed into the banquet hall.  There were about 400 people seated around long tables.  In the middle of the room there were tables for gambling (gambling for points and prizes, not money… because real gambling is illegal here), along the sides, there was a huge buffet of semi-Western food, and in the front of the room was a stage where performers were doing various singing, comedy, and dancing acts.

After a while, we were asked by the management whether we would be willing to perform.  In America, it might be kind of weird to ask someone to throw together a little performance at what is literally the LAST minute and then perform it for your 400+ guests who have spent a good sum of money to be there.  But in China, it’s pretty standard.  So, we agreed.  Moments later, we were on the large stage, introducing ourselves in Chinese and then singing “Let it Snow” in English.  I was having a great time, pretending to be a person who is actually qualified to sing before an audience.  Holding the microphone and leaning slightly sideways and backwards as if I had a good enough voice to warrant all that motion.  When else in my life am I gonna sing for such a large audience?  Probably never?  Unfortunately, when the management decided to start up the on-stage bubble machine presumably to make our performance just that more magical, I couldn’t help but start laughing at the absurdity of the whole situation.  So much for my serious singer mystique.

Finally, we were excused from our duties, and were allowed back down to the uniform room where we changed into our normal clothes and returned to the party.  We were allowed to eat from the buffet and play the casino games and watch the performances.  Finally, having eaten more than my fill of smoked salmon and capers, and having seen the last performance, we told the management to fetch us the van and take us home.

It was truly a Christmas Eve like no other.


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Chilblains

December 22, 2011
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This is happening to me.

The one thing that made me really, really wonder whether I should take this job was weather.  I have incredibly poor circulation, and the thought of teaching in an unheated classroom in the winter was pretty terrifying when you’re effectively cold-blooded.  When I called Doug (almost a year ago) to ask him about this, he told me that kids at the school usually look pretty ragged in the winter with this thing called chilblains on their hands, faces, and presumably also on their feet.  Dang.  Do I really want to agree to expose myself to conditions likely to cause minor frostbite?  But, of course, I wanted to come here, so here I am.  And now, here are the chilblains.

When I’m out in the cold, my toes sometimes hurt a little, but mostly they just feel numb.  They feel worst when I’m inside and under the blankets.  As the tissue in my toes come back to a reasonable body temperature, it itches like crazy, sometimes waking me up at night.  I don’t have any signs of this problem on my fingers yet because, really, I’m being quite careful.  But there’s only so much that thick socks can do for a foot that fails to produce any of its own heat.

The kids and teachers and everyone here goes through this every year.  It’s just a part of life.  Annoying, uncomfortable, but not dangerous.  It’s the Xiuning experience.


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Clotheses

December 22, 2011
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Every day, regardless of how much I’m wearing, I am instructed by my Chinese friends, neighbors, and coworkers to “穿多衣服!”  When they try to say this in English, they invariably translate it as “wear more clotheses!” Yes, sometimes Chinglish can be pretty adorable.

“But I’m already wearing 6 clotheses!”  I respond.

In any case, the multi-zipper look is becoming my standard fashion statement.

On the other hand, when I wear my ridiculously puffy marshmallow coat, they point and laugh and say “这么胖啊!” (”So fat!”)  Just can’t win with these people.


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Happy Hanukkah!

December 22, 2011
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Happy Hanukkah from Xiuning!  So far, my celebration has included lighting my bamboo menorah, making potato (and sweet potato) latkas, and deep frying doughnuts, which came out pretty delicious.


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歙县

December 19, 2011
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On Saturday, I went to 歙县 Shexian.  It’s a nearby town that’s a bit of a tourist attraction because of the old village.

It was beautiful, but the best part was taking a boat ride with this badass 71 year old man who is a very skillfully paddler.  Apparently, when he was a teenager, he built himself a raft and started boating.

He let us try to paddle, but I did a pretty bad job.  It was fun, though!

 


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What’s in a name

December 15, 2011
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In tutoring today, I practiced writing the names of us 四个外教 (four foreign teachers).  The Chinese names, of course.  We talked a bit about the meaning of the names.  I’m still kind of confused about some of them.  But, my tutor was telling me that names here often have semi-cryptic (or at least complicated) meanings to keep people thinking about them.  So, I guess it’s normal for me to not totally understand them.  It’s a good excuse, anyways.

Then, I told her about the name my Chinese teacher this summer tried to give me.  孔碧秋。 It supposedly means “green autumn.”  She laughed at the name and told me that it sounded very old fashioned.  So, if it weren’t for Christina’s dad having given me an awesome name in advance of my arrival here, I’d be walking around China with a name approximately equivalent to Ethyl or Beatrice.  Thank goodness for Christina’s dad.

I explained to her that another reason I don’t like 孔碧秋 is because it kind of sounds like it contains an English curse word (As you may have read, I don’t know the International Phonetic Alphabet, but here’s my phonetic spelling of   孔碧秋: Kong Beetchyo).  She laughed, and we both agreed that Christina’s dad is awesome.  She said only a very smart and well educated person could have come up with 孔瑞琦。I guess my name’s a little classy.  Sweet.


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奶奶s and 宝宝s

December 14, 2011
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This is the kind of thing you see all the time here.

An old, often hunched over, grandmother carrying a baby.  They seem so happy together.  The grandma spends all her time with the kid, and I guess the kid ends up knowing her a lot better than it knows its own parents.  Just a cultural difference.  It makes a lot of sense here, though.  Gives the grandma something to do so that she’s still clearly very useful in the family, and frees up the parents for work.


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