Category Archives: Zhangjiagang

Most Interesting Day Ever : Part II

A note to start on, I am having to post from my friend’s computer and typing characters isn’t so easy on her’s so the following blog will have pinyin only 😦

Making Friends with Strangers Who Don’t Speak Your Language

So after learning how to make Jiaozi with Ken, my day continued to adventure on. Friday night, we had been attempting to ask the DJs to play Lady Gaga but they weren’t having it (which we thought was odd since “Oh my Lady Gaga” is literally a popular and common thing to say here). So I decided to ask the group of people that were hanging out at a table behind the DJ booth if they had any pull with the DJs and could ask them. Eventually Lady Gaga was played, but more importantly, new friends! One of them was my age named ChenKai, and come Sunday afternoon, I was getting a phone call from him.

I think I’ve only ever answered a phone call with “wei?” maaaaybe once…and I’m pretty sure it was with a bilingual friend and that I just giggled and spoke English for the rest of the phone call. ChenKai, however, does not speak aaany English whatsoever. Happily, I was able to successfully understand and answer when he asked if I knew who was calling, if I was free that night, and if I could go eat with him at 5. My giddiness at being able to carry on an entire phone conversation in Chinese (which is slightly more difficult and nerve wracking because you can’t even use your hands or facial expressions), soon turned to nerves at the prospect of potentially just having been asked out on a date…with someone who doesn’t speak my language, whose language I don’t speak super well, and frankly, though we talked at the club, who I didn’t really know.

Fortunately my roomie Jenna had come back from Suzhou and stopped by to see how my foot was doing. Little did she know that she was about to be roped into my adventure. Initially I just asked if she could walk me to the gate to meet him, but when the car pulled up, it had two other guys in it and they wanted to know if she wanted to come too. She was awesome enough to say yes! Aaand so off we went…into the countryside…

Adventures in the Countryside

About 20 minutes outside of Zhangjiagang (which got prettier and prettier with trees and a view of the river), the kid driving called someone (yeaa zero cell phone laws here…people even text while driving motorbikes) and started asking a lot of questions that lead me to believe that he was kind of lost. He kept going though and ended up turning into something a bit more residential and I asked ChenKai if he lived here, he said he’d never been there…riiight…we kept driving, wondering where we could be going.

Eventually we ended up driving right next to the river (and I was seriously seriously kicking myself for not having my camera with me because it was gorgeous with antique looking boats and green and beautifulness). We stopped at what looked like a tiny shack on the river. ChenKai had said when we got in the car that we would “diao yu”…but I didn’t really know what “diao” was and kind of assumed it was some kind of fish because yu means fish. Turns out diao yu means “to fish”…I was wearing a dress…with a broken foot…there was a bucket of eels, a basket of crabs in the water (as with Ken, I say “wo bu chi haixian” (I don’t eat seafood) and am given the response “zhe bus hi haixian, shi hexian!” (This isn’t seafood, it’s riverfood!”).

Soo we ate eel. Which was actually the easiest and tastiest to eat after I got over the sheer fact that it was eel. Had to have ChenKai show us how we were supposed to eat it though, because it had a really thick spiky bone in the center. Then we had to have him show us how to eat the crab, because it was not a broken apart easy to eat crab. And I don’t eat crab even when it is sitting in easy to eat pieces…it was also super yellow. But it ended up being kind of fun to eat because it was a challenge and didn’t taste tooo crazy.

There was also some sort of chicken knuckle soup (the broth tasted like straight up chicken broth so this was fine), some other kind of knuckle/foot meat dish with ginger, two kinds of fish (I hate fish but ChenKai just kept putting everything on our plates and saying it was delicious, so I ate fish).  There was also a reaaally gross dish of green stuff that tasted like an ash tray.

Oh and it was me, Jenna, ChenKai, two people who were introduced as farmers, one who was introduced as an uncle and three others who were introduced as a friend, “a pain and you don’t need to know him”. One of them spoke some other dialect of Chinese so that anytime he said anything, the others translated his Chinese into Mandarin…talk about layers of communication!

After a very homey, countryside dinner in a shack on the river, we piled into three BMWs…such a weird contrast. Also, we listened to Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber on the ride back…not sure if that was for us or that they genuinely listen to them, but whatevs it was kind of adorable. They asked if we wanted to go drink tea, and Jenna was tired so she decided not to come. But in keeping with the adventure of the day (and also with my sincere love of tea), I said sure why not.  Jenna actually wanted to walk home (partially to get some food on the way back since dinner was so weird), but they all started demanding that I call her and tell her that one of them was going to come and pick her up to drive her home. Attentive, but geeez!

Tea Time

So here I am, a foreign girl sitting in at a tea house with about 10 Chinese guys who collectively speak about ten words of English. The experience actually really made me wonder if this is a normal way to spend a night for them: a group of guys, ages ranging from 20-34, all of them pulled out some sort of technology when we sat down (iPads, iPhones and laptops…ChenKai has a fancy cell phone/mp3 player that he was constantly plugged into the entire day/night…he later asked if I wanted to listen and I was shocked to find that he had been BLARING house music into one of his ears the whole day…like, I don’t even think that ipods even go this loud, I put a bud in my ear and felt the music in every single bone in my body!), sitting in a tea house drinking tiny and very methodically seeped cups of tea and kind of ignoring one another for the most part.

The kid sitting next to me actually tried to talk to me for most of the time we were there (3 hours). His name is DiDiao and he insists on speaking complex Chinese to me. Literally insists, I got QQ (Chinese version of instant messaging) and started talking to him, and I told him that the Chinese he uses with me is a lot harder than my other Chinese friends use. He said they should use harder Chinese with me or else I will never learn. I’m not sure how productive looking up every other word and phrase is, but it is an interesting addition to my Chinese learning experience nonetheless. Anyhow, the tea was completely lovely. We tried some 83 kinds and it was cool to watch the process. Again, wish I had my camera. Every once in a while, one of the wise guys at the table would ask me to say something in English and the only one I couldn’t figure out was something that they kept describing as some sort of vehicle. I kept listing vehicles until they gave up. I looked the word up later and found out that they were totally asking for the word for Transformers haha. Technically they are a kind of vehicle!

In closing:

# of seafood dishes that I was guilted into eating that day: Shrimp, crab, eel and two kinds of fish

# of seafood dishes that I have been guilted into eating since:  Zero since I now know how to say that I don’t eat Sea OR River food.

It is very weird reading through this entry because I wrote it 2 weeks ago and sooo much has happened that I want to share.  So look forward to, hopefully, some more pictures and stories!

Most Interesting Day Ever: Part I

First off, the proxy on my computer is broken.  So I’m writing from my friend’s computer and crossing my fingers that I can get a new proxy because I currently cannot get into my gmail account or my wordpress account on my computer!  So if you are trying to talk to me via gmail, my apologies for never answering!  Also, I wrote the following post before my proxy died, so a LOT more has happened since the following post:

I did not go to Suzhou last weekend.  My three day weekend was spent as follows:

Friday Night

First we had a teachers’ banquet (at which I ate little to nothing because it was dish after dish of seafood and odd stuff…the green beans came out and we got all excited because green beans are pretty basic, but then even those were crazy tasting).  Still, the banquet was nice because we got to meet some of the other teachers from our school, both international, Korean, American and Chinese.

After said banquet we went out:

Eventually we went to the best place for dancing.  It’s called 八八酒吧bābā jiǔbā, “88 Bar”, and it’s fairly big so you don’t feel like you’re dancing elbow to elbow with everyone.  Unfortunately, I think I danced a bit too hard, because my foot was hurting by the end of the night.  It hurt enough that I didn’t want to go to Suzhou because I knew we would be walking around everywhere.  Fortunately, we also made new friends that night (more on that later).

Sunday Morning Doctor’s Visit

I needed to get my foot x-rayed anyhow because I was actually supposed to be able to take my boot off this week, so going to the hospital was inevitable regardless.  Our friend Ken who kind of takes care of everything for us here was nice enough to take me to the hospital.  It was a process!

  • First you had to wait in a line to tell a person in a booth which type of doctor you needed and pay that person.
  • Then we went to wait in line at the bone doctors’ room where one of the doctors took a look at my foot (there were two doctors in the room and about a gazillion people too), wrote down a few things and sent us to go to another booth where you paid for x-rays.
  • Then you go to a whole separate building, waiting in another line to get x-rayed, then sit and wait an hour for the x-rays to develop.  This was actually not so bad though because Ken and I traded English and Chinese.  X-ray is X-光guāng (guāng means light), and Ken’s favorite new word was tornado (he adorably kept saying it over and over again in the taxi on the way back).
  • After an hour, they handed you a bag with your x-ray in it and you headed back to the first doctor in the other building to look at it.  Fortunately he just said that I needed to wear my boot for another month and a half and use my foot less.

My doctor from home had given me a cd of my past x-rays too, and I was happy to see that when I compared my last one from home with this new one, that the fracture really has filled in.  It’s clearly not fully healed, but at least it doesn’t look worse even though it hurts!

Learning to Make 饺子 jiǎozi with Ken

So Ken invited me over to his house to learn how to make jiǎozi (even though I felt like I should be the one treating him to lunch seeing as he spent the whole morning at the hospital with me!  But he insisted, so I brought him a T-Shirt from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que).  He had asked what I like/don’t like to eat, and I told him that I don’t like seafood 海鲜 hǎixiān.  When he picked me up, he was carrying a bag of shrimp and asked if I like shrimp.  I gave him a puzzled look and said hesitantly that I had told him that I don’t like seafood…he responded by saying that shrimp are river food.   Aiya!  6 stories up in Ken’s apartment, Ken handed his girlfriend the bag of shrimp and she put them in the sink.  At which point I realized that they were actually still alive because they started hopping so high that two of them actually escaped the sink!

Sitting on tiny little benches at a low table, Ken started rolling out the jiǎozi dough into flat little circles and showed me how to fold in the ingredients.  We made some 35 jiǎozi, there was the bowl of shrimp (which I ate two of out of politeness, even though I hate shrimp and especially dislike eating things whose little eyes and feet I have to rip off in order to consume) and this really really delicious Korean dish which was basically little strips of pork cooked on a flat open grill thing (read: bacon) that you stuck in a lettuce leaf with a sliver of garlic and rolled up…probably the best thing ever.

It was fun because the food was fun, but also because Ken can speak English pretty well but his girlfriend can’t.  So it was nice to talk to them because I could use Chinese and listen to Chinese, but if I got hung up on a question, Ken could help me out!  It was also fun because they had music playing, and Chinese people love random acts of singing.  It happened the last time I was in China too; people just aren’t embarrassed to bust out singing, any place, any time.  No one gives you a weird look or anything and I love it.

 ***

Part II to come.  But in closing, I totally bought a pint of yoghurt yesterday by accident.  I meant to grab milk, but they’re both in a blue carton, the second Chinese character in milk and yoghurt is the same, and I can’t honestly remember yoghurt ever coming in a giant carton in the states.  So you can imagine my surprise when yoghurt poured out over my cereal this morning.  Granted, it was vanilla yoghurt and egg and milk puffy star cereal so the combination was not so bad, but still…surprising.

Also, I bought a drink today that had the following ingredients:  Water, Fermented Milk, Sugar, High fructose corn syrup, Apple juice concentrate, food additives and food flavor.  The characters on the front of said drink mentioned the words lactic acid germ, drink and life.  Who knows.

Three quick notes

  1. Soooo, happy Teachers’ Day: today I had to take a box of live snails away from one of my students.
  2. In response to “write an entry about three things you like about yourself”, one of my Korean students said the following:  “I like my toes because they are cute.  They have hair growing out of them like insect antennae.”  It’s amazing the things that they can articulate when just the other day he was trying to figure out how to describe a hippo to me and said that it was a giant rodent that runs through the jungle…
  3. Oh and also, my younger Korean boy totally calls Elephants “ele-pants”, I keep correcting his pronunciation, but secretly wish every child called them that ’cause it’s super adorable
Suzhou this weekend, so more pictures to come next week!

 

English Teacher in China : Days 4-6

Things are a bit better and a bit worse.  I have now met all of my students/classes from both schools.  In total, I teach 21 classes.  2 at the Korean school every day but Friday, and 3 different classes each day at the Chinese school.  Added to my list of names are:  Magic, QQ (I actually have two QQs) and Honey (a boy).  Just in terms of generally cool names that aren’t super popular in the states, I also have a Benson, a Rex and Felix.  Oh and Racr answered when I said “Racer” today so, well, so that…Here is the breakdown of the most popular names from my classes:

  • 10 Erics
  • 9 Lilys
  • 8 Tonys
  • 7 Marys and 7 Lucys
  • 5 Jackies, 5 Candys, 5 Wendys and 5 Cicis
  • 4 Julies, 4 Julias, 4 Robins, 4 Cindys, 4 Cherrys and 4 Leos
  • 3 Sunnys
  • 2 Bruces, 2 Kittys, 2 Gretas and 2 Angels

Chinese School:

On the whole, all of my 4th grade classes have been fairly good, even the worst one.  But the second and third graders seem to be a mixed bag.  Today I had a perfectly lovely second grade class, yesterday I had a perfectly miserable one.

And I mean, second graders are still second graders…in my “perfectly lovely class”, one boy kept crawling under his chair to wear it as a hat, even when I swapped it out for a smaller stool, one boy kept trying to kiss the girl sitting next to him, and another had a pen explode in his mouth and also managed to get ink all over his friend’s face as well.  So I mean, lovely has become relative.

There also seems to be a huge range of understanding between the classes.  Almost all of my 4th grade classes are at about the same level, but my third and second graders keep surprising me with what they know or don’t know.  It makes it hard to come up with lessons because you’re really not sure what’s going to work until you start teaching it.  So you pretty much have to have a million different things prepared and hope that enough of them work to fill 40 minutes.

Sadly, I made my first kid cry today.  Whenever kids start playing with something at their desk, I might give them one warning if they put it away immediately, but usually I will just take whatever they were playing with.  Well this kid had a whole pile of origami that he kept pulling out, and finally I took all of it.  He immediately burst into tears, then promptly began to ignore me and moments later was back to making mischievous faces so I didn’t feel sooo bad.

My Korean kids are kind of hilarious.

  • What kind of animal would you be if you could pick one?  “Cat, I love this animal because cat is very cute and lovely.  But she doesn’t love me so I’m sad.”
  • Who would you like to meet if you could meet anyone?  “Angelina Jolie, She’s big lips and powerful body.  I love her but she love Pitt.  I’m sad.”  and “Lady Gaga, she’s fashionable and a few crazy.  Her face very special.”
  • What would you bring with you on vacation?  “Girlfriend, very very useful.  When I bored she will talk with me.”  and the other one said “Girlfriend, She is very lovely, I love her.  I will marrie my girlfriend but I don’t have girlfriend so I’m sad.”

If only they weren’t sad after everything they write!  They also when I asked their favorite seasons today said “I’m Fallman and he’s coolboy”  sooo now I can never uninvision them as superheroes.

To end on, my roomie friend Ashley likes to play tennis and wanted to join the club down the road from us but they never called her back.  So tonight I walked over to the club and played with her until these two sisters came and I asked the one to fill in for me.  It was really fun because they were both Ashley and the one sister were pretty good at tennis and they played under the lights with bats flyin around and whatnot, pretty cool!  Also cool because I got to speak some Chinese with the other sister (Named Rainbow)!

Aaaand of course, some photos:

I got a raid plug-in. This is a pile of dead bugs. I am less itchy.

Giant "smoothie" from the school cafe

I forgot to add this script from the Shanghai Museum and it's beautiful so I had to add it now!

Shanghai and Early ZJG Picture Highlights

Just to start things off because I feel like I’m going to die from severe franticness, I currently have 28 bug bites.  8 of which literally just happened in the last ten minutes.  Most of which are on my leg.  See picture number one.

With that out of the way, back to Shanghai.  Aside from taking more Chinese classes and getting lectures on what to expect when teaching English (most of which has not actually been the case!), we also went to the Shanghai Museum which was pretty awesome.  My favorite exhibits were the seals, the minority clothing and the calligraphy.

We also went to Old City and on a cruise where we could see Shanghai at night best.  And finally, the Chinese acrobats show, where we sat in the first two rows.  I “lucked” out and ended up first row, dead center.  Which was awesome except for when they wrapped their arms in long ribbons hanging from the ceiling and swung out into the audience…I don’t think I’ve ever ducked lower in my life.

The last few pictures are from around Zhangjiagang.  I realllly like it here.  It’s a lot bigger than I expected, but still pretty quiet and smallish.  I would just really appreciate for the bikes, motorbikes and cars to STAY OFF the sidewalk!  I almost got run over a few times today because they don’t always honk to warn you!

A closing comment:  I may or may not have eaten five slices of processed cheese last night.  I was craving cheese and browsing the snack section of the corner store not really expecting to find anything cheese flavored when lo and behold: sandwich cheese.  And while the food we’ve had here has by no means been lacking, when you have a craving and aren’t really expecting it to be fulfilled, processed cheese suddenly tastes like extra sharp cheddar.

English Teacher in China : Days 1-3

What better sentence to start describing my teaching experience in China than the following:  Today is Saturday and we have class.  Yes! Class was cancelled today!  (I wrote this post this morning, got to class this afternoon only to find out they only had class for the high schoolers instead) Oh and also to add to that, they didn’t tell us that we would have class until last night.  Hilariously the girl who told us had known for three days but “didn’t want to make our day sad”…so she waited till the absolutely last minute to tell us.  We very politely told her to please let us know right away in the future (she took us to an awesome Cantonese restaurant last night [it had tea that literally tasted like Grape Nuts!] and then to get our nails done though so we couldn’t really be mad at her).

Us getting our nails done:

The technicians took about a gazillion pictures of us on their cellphones too

Anyhow, back to classes:

I’m a little bummed out that a lot of the kids have been laughing at my boot….granted, it does look rather ridiculous, especially since I have worn a dress every day so far, but even after I explain that I broke my foot in both Chinese and English, they still point and laugh.  Hooray for elementary teasing.

Sadly I do not have any students named Skywalker.  At orientation, one of the teachers who was giving us lectures said that he had one with that name and it was probably the best I’d heard.  So far the most interesting names I have in my classes are:

  • Power, which was interesting since he was one of the bossiest in the class
  • Claoten…really….I can’t even guess where he got that…Maybe Clayton?  But he and everyone around him even pronounced it like Clow-ten and spelled it Claoten
  • Dabby, were they maybe going for Dobby from Harry Potter?  Or maybe Debby?
  • I also have a Rooky, I even spelled out Rookie and Rockie to see if that’s what he meant, but no, he meant Rooky…
  • One of my older Korean students also changed his name to Victory (he was initially Sam)
  • The final puzzler was Racr, which both she and everyone around her kept pronouncing like “rice” but that she insisted was spelled Racr and even when I asked her in Chinese she said it wasn’t rice…Baffling…
  • Oh and also Stone…and one of the other English teachers said she had a Stone in her class as well.  Naturally.

So my first day of classes were as follows:

  1. Korean school:  2 students age 10 and 11.  I had to give them English names and gave them a list to pick from…they picked Josh and Nancy…and then practically stopped speaking for the rest of the class.  Very cute, very polite, but so very shy and it was hard to tell whether they couldn’t understand what I was saying or if they could, but were just too shy or didn’t know how to answer.
  2. Korean school:  2 students, both 16.  They are probably my favorite class because their English is the best and I didn’t have to struggle getting them to speak as much.  Still very shy, but they told me all of their hobbies, who they like to listen to (Lady Gaga and Beyonce:  “Their music if very special”), what they like to watch (Prison Break is super super popular here), where they would like to go in the world (Thailand and the Grand Canyon) and a bunch of other things (one of them loves Mila Jovovich, the other likes female vampires).   When I asked if they wanted to know anything about me, they asked if I was married, if I liked jogging (“It’s good if you’re fat”), and if I liked makeup (I really didn’t have a lot of makeup on, but I did have a frilly dress on…when I asked him why he thought I might like makeup he said because I was pretty though so I was far less offended after that)
  3. Chinese school:  34 fourth graders.  AHH!  It was hard to come up with lesson plans because they didn’t tell us the ages or levels of English we had until the day before and even then, nothing can really prepare you for 34 Chinese elementary school kids.  This class was pretttty disciplined and fairly good at English, but it was hard going from teaching just two students to 34.  Think: having some activities planned and then watching as each one explodes in your face because either their understanding is not high enough, the activity takes too long with that many kids for their attention span to be held or else it’s an activity where you want to go around the classroom and talk to each kid but either the other half of the class comes over to your side of the room to talk for whatever kid you’re talking to, or they just explode with noise on their side of the room so that you couldn’t hear who you’re talking to if you tried.
  4. Chinese school:  26 third graders.  This class was the best of the three I had at the Chinese school the first day, maybe because there were a few less kids, or because I had the class before them as prep, but either way, they were quieter and more helpful than the other classes.
  5. Chinese school:  34 second graders.  Heavens.  By the end of the class I was practically shouting over them.  It was kind of like being in a younger Irish dance hardshoe class when they’re all pounding on the floor with their shoes at the same cacophonous time, except that they didn’t stop making noise when you told them to.  Clapping rhythms seemed to quiet them the most completely, but the silence would always literally last for about 30 seconds before I was shout-talking again.  I threatened to tell their teacher about a gazillion times but they seemed rather unfazed by it.  One of the other English teachers in my group said she literally ended up going and getting their Chinese teacher in the middle of class though and that the minute the Chinese teacher walked in, they were dead silent.  This will be a challenge.

I only see the students at the Chinese school once a week and the Korean students we see every day, so that makes it a little easier.  I’m excited though, and actually had a lot of fun even though it was a bit rough!

My second day was farrrrr better.  Probably because I had a better idea of what NOT to do and it also helped that I didn’t have any second graders.  My last class of fourth graders was by far the most fluent and most well behaved.  I have been writing a mark up on the board for every time a class won’t quiet down (with the threat of telling their regular teacher if they get too many marks), and all of the classes got at least 5 marks but my last class only got one!

Also, for whatever reason, maybe I was just noticing because they were the calmest so I had a clear enough head to notice, but this seemed to be the most diverse looking class.  One little guy actually was the first I’d seen with really curly hair and freckles and how cute is this: his name is seriously Lucky.  So adorable.

I really am having a good time and think I’m going to like teaching a lot.  One of the harder things with the littler classes is actually for me not to speak Chinese.  I’ve actually made up a rule in my head that I am allowed to talk to them in Chinese before and after their classes start because it’s so hard to tell them to use English when I’m totally loving being able to understand them discuss everything and help each other in Chinese!  I even had a dream last night where I thought the kids had woke me up because I had a late class and were all standing in my room speaking to me in Chinese…it was kind of annoying because I seriously thought they were there and just wanted to sleep, but interesting too.

To end on, I had one of the classes make name tags (then promptly ran out of paper), here is one little guy’s:

Who will now be known as Simon the Samurai in my head because that sword is kind of epic

Random post of Random

Orientation week was monster busy so the following post includes some random thoughts I wrote down throughout the week…I’m now in Zhangjiagang so I have lots to report on that as well, but for now, here is a week full of thoughts:

Sooo China.  Hello!  Let’s start with the airport terminal in Chicago and how silly I felt when I had pictured in my head that I would be on the plane with mostly non-Chinese people…why I made that assumption, I’ve no idea, but it was certainly not the case, and it was kind of nice because it gave me my first taste of being surrounded with the language before even leaving the country.

The flight actually felt quite short to me minus one very long minute when I half woke up in whatever REM cycle it is where you’re kind of paralyzed and freaked out in my head a little bit because my half-dream state had me thinking I really was paralyzed, that the plane was going down and that, well, that really wasn’t a good thing.  Otherwise the flight was good and I even watched an adorable movie set in China/in Chinese.

I brought the most stuff of everyone in my group….I was already embarrassed by my one massive suitcase but was hoping I would see others with the same…not the case.  Everyone else who I met at the airport in our program had less luggage.  Oh well…on a fun note, walking out of customs you kind of felt like you were famous or something because you walk down a roped off path lined with people holding signs, I’ve never had a sign held for me at an airport before!

I spent much of the rest of the afternoon/night sleeping and then woke up at 4am, went for a walk with my roomie around 6 and then had breakfast at 7 (this has not happened since…now we wake up at 7:30).  I had forgotten how many flavors I missed from my last visit to China!  However I will post a “first week of food in China” entry later with pics of food and more about restaurants.

So there are about 40 participants from our program, four of us going to Zhangjiagang and about six who are staying in Shanghai…one poor girl is going to the middle of nowhere by herself and she doesn’t know any Chinese…as you can imagine, we’re all tryin to be extra nice and helpful to her…

And oh right, it’s monster hot here.  It doesn’t help that it was all lovely and cool in New York just before I got here, but even if it hadn’t been, it’s  never typically this horribly humid there.  I am actually looking forward to the wet and cold winter at this point just as a reprieve from my hair fluffing up into a giant fro and my face melting off.  However, I have been hearing more and more from people here that it snows very little and that it doesn’t even get much colder until the end of October!

So here’s something great, my Chinese is 80 times better than last time I came to China!  Last time I could read about 25% of the characters on signs around the cities, but now I recognize about 60% and can figure out another 10% from context.  I’m still complete rubbish at tones but these are actually better than last I was here as well.

I currently have a habit of formulating sentences in Chinese in my head to say to people and then find that either I end up standing mute or English comes out of my mouth instead.  Frustrating, but it’s getting better.  My roommate in Shanghai has helped because we’re about the same level of Chinese and so I’m really comfortable talking to her.  She’s a bit better at actually putting words to sentences in the presence of Chinese people, I’m better at characters and vocab.  So we make a pretty good team when trying to talk to anyone.

I am best at Chinese when I am isolated from everyone in our group and confronted with a stranger actually.  I think it’s because I know I don’t have the crutch of some of the others in the group and I’m less nervous because this stranger doesn’t have any expectations of how well my Chinese should be.  We had our physical exam today and I was pleasantly surprised at how well I was able to communicate with each of the doctors (we had to see literally six different doctors who all did different things, including an ultrasound…)

I will try to make less scattered posts in the future, but I’m trying to make up for the past week without overwhelming everyone by jumping back and forth!

I will leave with a picture of our house here in Zhangjiagang:

Where I’m at, would like to and will be

Before I head over to China, I figured I ought to illuminate both everyone reading this, and to be honest, myself, more clearly on why I’m going to China.  I stopped writing in pen and ink journals a few years back because, well, to be honest I’m not really sure.  But I really wish that I hadn’t, because within a year, I meet tons of fascinating people, a million and a half events happen and I go through about a billion and a half new thoughts and emotions…seeing as I have the memory of a squirrel, it almost ought to be mandatory that I put said people/events/thoughts to paper at least once a week.  Apologies in advance for the length…

Where I’m at

I am 24.  This means that I’ve had the past two years to start learning how to function as an adult after being dependent on my parents and status as a student for 22 years, but am still young enough that I can be unsettled for a few more years before having to figure out how to function as a completely independent adult…point being, it’s the exact perfect time to move to China for a year.

I live at home with my parents.  This has been amazing because my parents are two of the most incredibly supportive, patient, fun and loving people ever.  I’m not just saying that because they can read this either, I’m one of those kids that was truly blessed to get great parents and coming back from college to live with them again has been wonderful, but now sad because I have to get used to missing them all over again!

I’ve spent the past two years going on adventures with them, getting to know the company where my dad works better because I’ve been working there (my previous understanding of his job was limited to, “something to do with plastic, purchasing and international business trips”) and having long talks every night with my mum before bed while Trooper tries to interrupt our conversation with loud squeaking of the “dog toy crushed between mandibles repeatedly” variety and Archie slays us with looks and sparky attitude…

I mean seriously...slays

I’m not afraid to go on adventures without my parents, but I will absolutely be thinking of and missing their commentary and company in China and can’t wait for them to visit!

I work at Welch Allyn.  Again, the company my dad works for.  I don’t work in the same building as him, but it’s still just ten minutes away from the house (I am not a morning person so this is heavenly and I will absolutely miss having a job so close to home in the future if I eventually have a longer commute).

It’s a lovely company to work for, full of engineers of the software, hardware, electrical and mechanical variety, business-type people, lazy people, fascinatingly smart people, confusingly smart people, helpful people, scary people, all sorts.

I would say that it’s a typical workplace, but I honestly have no idea.  My past jobs have been organist, dog walker and dance teacher…not so much your typical workplaces.

It took me a while to get used to it (A large majority of the people who work here are older, of the opposite gender and have actual backgrounds in engineering/business), but now that I have a handle on how things work, who’s who and what questions to ask, I’m really going to miss it.

So what is my current job exactly?  If I have to give a simple answer, I now say “Software Test Engineer”.  If I have to elaborate a bit, I say that I test the software on medical devices to make sure everything runs correctly by writing and running protocols.  If you had asked me 6 months ago, you would have heard quite a lot of stuttering.  I’ve pretty much spent the last two years learning how the company is run, what types of products we make and test, learning how to use the equipment we use to test things, and doing whatever I can to be helpful.

Much to my delight, I have actually been able to use my Chinese here.  They eventually translated the device I’ve been testing into Chinese…

This guy...

and I was able to help out with the characters and to run our basic suite of tests in Chinese just to have a record of it.  SO much fun.

The first boss that I had here had the incredible perception and confidence in me to realize that I could figure out how to exist and be helpful here, and for that, I cannot be grateful enough.  When I first started the job, I couldn’t wait to move on to a new job and any time my dad asked me “would you ever consider working full-time for Welch Allyn?” I scoffed and said that would be ridiculous, I would hate it and why would they ever want to hire me anyway?  About a year or so later when I shockingly was asked by my boss if I might consider staying, it actually ended up being a very hard decision.

Where I would like to be

Why am I now heading to China?  Because when it comes down to it, I majored in Eastern Asian Studies, I’m not ready to settle down yet, not sure where I’d even want to settle down, and will probably not be happy wondering whether or not I could have actually become fluent at Chinese if I don’t take the opportunity now.

So I’m heading to China basically to see where it takes me and to attempt to become fluent at the language.  I have studied on my own, but never really allowed myself to get anywhere because I’ve been too afraid to open my mouth and make a mistake.  So, I’m going to move to a place where everyone around me speaks the language and force myself to start making mistakes until I finally make sense of things.  From there, I’ll stage new goals.

Where exactly in China?  Zhangjiagang in Jiangsu province.  It’s about an hour or so from Shanghai and a few other bigger cities and from what I’ve read from people who have lived there, it’s a smaller city that is very very clean.  Sounds nice to me because, being so close to other big cities, I can still have a chance to experience the cities but will live in a less smog-in-my-face place that’s perhaps a bit quieter?

What will I be doing there?  Learning and teaching.  My job is as an English teacher at a foreign language boarding school.

Main square of the school campus

I don’t know what age of students I will have until I get there (anything between K and 12), but I’m supposed to be teaching conversational English and I will also be tutoring.  Right now, I already have two Korean siblings that I’m going to be tutoring 5 times a week.  I’m excited, but since I’ve never really tutored before, super anxious.  I’m hoping that I will find someone to trade English for Chinese lessons with too.

One more very concrete goal:  I would like to open up an Irish dance school.  I’m very much flexible on the where and when this will happen, but no matter what I end up deciding to do after my time in China, an Irish dance school will definitely be worked into the mix.  I fully plan on attempting to teach lessons to anyone who would like to learn while I’m in China as well.  There is currently an Irish dance school in Beijing, Hong Kong and Taipei and Riverdance and Lord of the Dance have toured all over China numerous times so I’m hoping there will be interest!