Sunday, February 8, 2009

Chinese New Year Celebrations

I just posted some pictures from our travels during the
Chinese New Year.

Click here to see them!

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Chinese Christmas

It is a rite-of-passage that the new English teachers plan and execute the Annual Newton Christmas Party. This task requires a great deal of patience, diplomacy, cultural sensitivity and delegation. In other words, it was one of the worst experiences of my life. However putting all thoughts of suicide and homicide aside, it turned out great. Well, almost. You'll know what I mean when you see the costumes Stine and I wore.

Click here to view album

A Chinese Wedding

When my friend Lucia wed Englishman Dave on November 2nd (my birthday), I was honored and excited to be invited to attend the festivities...from the beginning (around 10 am) to the end (around 10 pm).

In the morning we went to collect the groom, then a last minute bouquet, and finally to the brides home, where Dave had to bribe his way to Lucia's bedroom door. Family and friends looked on as he asked over and over again to be let in and kept sliding red envelopes full of money through the door. Finally, after serenading her for what seemed like forever, he gained entrance. He then carried her out the door, down three flights of stairs, through a crowd of curious bystanders, and to a waiting car.

From there we were off to the lakeside, where the photographer had the couple pose in hundreds of uncomfortable positions, with the wedding party (that's me) trailing behind. It was cold and wet outside, yet the photo session lasted at least three hours. I escaped briefly to treat myself to a birthday latte at Starbucks, and then returned to participate in a game of Ring Around the Rosy. We ran circles around the couple while they held hands and smiled at each other.

We then found our way back to the waiting procession of cars and returned to the bride's house. Dave picked Lucia back up, carried her back through the crowd, over a small bonfire, up the three flights of stairs, and into her room, where she changed into her second of five wedding dresses. While we waited for the bride to finish changing, we were fed a sickeningly sweet soup that we all had to swallow bravely, since the bride's mother was watching very closely.

Then it was back out the door and to the restaurant for ceremony and dinner. The bride and groom came down a red carpet laid in the middle of the restaurant and upon reaching the stage, read vows to each other in Chinese and English. After a plethora of speeches and toasts, the food was served. It was a very traditional meal, featuring turtle, crab, tripe and some suspicious smelling gizzard-type bits. We were then told it was our duty as the foreigners to go to each table and offer a toast to the bride and groom. There were at least 40 tables. Things are a little fuzzy after that.

View the wedding album

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pictures Updated

I just updated my pictures...three new albums! Wahoo! Look to the left of the page and click to view.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Do you remember the Staples commercial that ran the summer and fall of 1996? It was a dad gliding down the aisles of Staples to the tune of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" while his children trailed behind him,looking completely defeated。Although "back to school" time in China is a bit different than the mad rush in the States,I did spend a few of my afternoons fighting through crowds at Aschun (Walmart-like megastore which is so full of people at any given time that I often dread being mowed down by a shopping cart driven by a deranged, bargain-hunting family) to get a notebook or two.

Surprisingly enough, being a teacher at the beginning of the school year did not bring with it the mixed bag of emotion I had as a student. When I was in school, there was the warm fuzzy feeling of going back to something I knew and loved, while also dreading all of the work I did not want to do. As a kindergarten teacher, I wake each morning ready to face the day as a glorified entertainer. My lesson plans consist of games and songs, and my days are made up of kissing boo-boos and breaking up "biting battles." All of last week I was without a voice due to the fact that I have become a rubbing post for every runny nose and the receptical of all hacking coughs. Newton Kindergarten is one giant germ-fest. Wahoo! However, I do love all of my kiddies. The kindergarten has both ex-pat and local children. I teach two English classrooms and 2 bilingual (which means local) classes. In my English classes I have children from America, Australia, France, Japan, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Malaysia, and the UK. It's the new U.N! Despite the language barrier, the two Japanese children seem to have taken a shine to me. One is constantly biting me on the behind, the other, well, she's even more friendly!

In addition to teaching kindergarten, I have taken on a business English class at a German air conditioning company. For three hours each Saturday morning I do roleplays, Power Point presentations, listento music, and converse with the middle age, middle management of Trox Air Conditioning. It's been fun. It probably wasn't the best idea to sign up for working six days a week right from the start, but who said I did anything in moderation? Speaking of working hours, next week is a national holiday (I have no idea which one) and so we have the whole week off! Wahoo. However, the catch is that we need to work Saturday and Sunday of this week. Who doesn't like working 7 days a week?

The apartment is turning out to be quite nice. The air conditioning, refrigerator, bathroom light, and washing machine have been fixed and our ayi (means "auntie" in Chinese, aka housekeeper) comes twice a week to give us a thorough wipe down. I will post pictures as soon as it's presentable (i.e. when the walls are no longer bare, but instead covered in original art work by Jess and I). Right now it's clean but depressingly spartan. However, this week we are definitely going to start using the kitchen. We have pots and pans, although they are so cheap that the flame from the stove heats them through much to quickly. It will be hit or miss at first, but what's a little burnt garlic?

To the left I have posted pictures of some of the children in my classes, and a softball game where Jess and I were the only spectators in the grand baseball stadium in Wuxi. Our friends, most commonly referred to as "the lads" or by thier team name "The Mooseknucklers", are part of a four team league. It was the first game of the season and let's just say they didn't play the best game of thier life. They played against a team from Singapore who were at the field hours before the game, practicing. I think the Mooseknucklers rolled out of bed an hour before the game and were still hungover from the night before. It was highly entertaining to watch. Although I do not have a future career as a sports photographer, the pics are not half bad!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tea or Vodka?

Last weekend I joined the Harvey girls on a trip to the great city of Shanghai. We stayed at a swanky art deco hotel with a bathroom the size of my bedroom at home and beds as hard as rocks. I had a fabulous time. Uncle Harvey had put me in contact with some people in Shanghai who I contacted upon arriving in China. One of those contacts, Sophie, met us for lunch and then showed us around some parts of the city. That night Jessica and I stayed out till early in the morning dancing with the expats of Shanghai. The next day we went to the market where I practiced my bargaining skills - let's just say I need to work on my poker face.
I wanted to catch a train back to Suzhou in the late afternoon so I could start on my homework, but when we went to the train station, all of the trains were full except for a 9:30pm "K" train. In China there are different kinds of trains. "D" trains are clean, sleek and comfortable. "K" trains, well, not so much. After entering the "lounge" to wait for my train, I saw people sleeping everywhere: on the floor, on top of garbage and food...I guess they were gearing up for the long train ride home. After being corralled through a narrow gate we went down to meet our train. It was then that I realized that my ticket did not have a seat number. I went to the conductor and showed him my seatless ticket. He proceeded to point to the ticket, then at me, and then to the space beside him - like he wanted me to wait. I thought, I can do this, and settled for standing next to him for the next half hour. He talked to me constantly in Chinese, probably thinking that if I heard it enough I would understand him. Not so much. Instead, the more he talked, the more I panicked. Here I was in a strange country, in a far stranger train station, and not able to communicate. Meanwhile, a small crowd had gathered around us...fellow conductors, people getting off the train for a smoke, and people who just seemed to want to stare at me. There was a lot of finger pointing and laughing.
By the time 9:30 came around, I tried to retrieve my ticket from the conductor and board the train, but he refused to give it back. He pointed to the train, which I awkwardly squeezed onto - there were no seats left and so I was fated to stand in the front of the train amongst chain smoking, personal-boundary-pushing locals. Then came the kicker...the conductor followed me onto the train, took my baggage and brought it to the "captain's room". Unwilling to let my luggage out of my sight, I followed, and was sat down on a bench in a closet. The conductor sat next to me and launched into what I assumed to be a thorough explanation of the events of the last half hour. I just nodded and smiled while carefully watching to make sure he did not close the door, as I didn't think I would want to be couped up in a closet with him for the entire trip, alone.
As he lit up his first of many cigarettes, he started up the conversation where he left off...and I still had no idea what he was talking about. As he kept pointing to his nose, and then at me, several passengers stopped by to glance into the closet, stare at me for an uncomfortable period of time, wave, and then make room for the next spectator. I felt like a zoo animal. Meanwhile, his charming cohort (another conductor) squeezed past everyone and into the already filled to capacity closet. After situating himself opposite "my conductor" and I, he lit a cigarette for himself, spat right by my foot for good measure, and then offered me the choice of tea or vodka. And my very own cigarette. What a lucky girl.
While I turned down his offers as politely as I could, My Conductor" picked up my arm and started counting my freckles. A young man, who was taking his turn watching me, started to translate a bit for us. He said that the Chinese people only have freckles when they are old. My Conductor pointed to his freckle and said that it appeared when he turned 40. As I clearly wasn't forty, they were mystified as to why I had developed freckles at such a young age.
The half-hour long train ride passed fairly quickly and upon my arrival, the translator helped me off the train with my bag, and then proceeded to escort me through Suzhou's train station and into a cab. Although he told me that he was heading to his sister's house, which was far away from where I am staying, he got into the cab with me. He and the cab driver deliberated over the address of the Hotel for a good ten minutes, and then we headed off. Of course, I knew where the hotel was, as I have lived there for the past three weeks, but it seemed like they wanted to navigate it on their own. They dropped me off at 100Happy Hotel and the next morning I woke up and asked myself if last night actually happened. It did. I have the spittle on my shoe to prove it.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Rain and Doors

This morning we went to the Master-of-Nets Garden, which is right down the road from the hotel. Although the compound is very small, its maze-like layout makes it seem much larger than it actually is. Take a look at the pictures on the left.
I couldn't get into my room this afternoon. Sharon and I had been sitting in a coffee shop waiting for the monsoon-like rain to stop and the flooding in the streets to recede, when we saw a glimmer of light. Thinking that we could dash back to the hotel before it started again, we made a break for it. As soon as we were out the door, the force of the rain increased tenfold. It felt like we were getting shiatsu massages the entire run back to 100Happy Hotel. After we had squeaked our way across the lobby and up the elevator, I tried to open my door. The knob wouldn't turn. Here I was - a dripping, shivering mess - desperately trying to open the door. Housekeeping stopped by and tried the room keys for a good ten minutes, consulted amongst themselves, and then started the process all over again. After 20 minutes, a young man with a cocky smile stopped by, tried his card, and to our surprise, the door swung open. Being the complete genius that I am, I closed the door and tried my card. It didn't work. He tried his key again, but this time it didn't work either. So he opened the door to the room next door and climbed out the window. The fifth floor window! While he was trying to figure how to break into my room through my locked windows, I tried my key card and of course it worked. Why wouldn't it? After locking me in my room, he tried to open my room and couldn't. Up came the locksmith. Right now he is taking apart the door and singing.
At least the bucket under the air conditioner is gone.