Saturday, July 10, 2010

Another Country, Another Language

My arrival in Beijing, China marks my 25th country visited, my fifth inhabited, and my tenth language attempted (none of these include the U.S.). Wow.

After a long flight, we were greeted at the airport by Helen and John. Helen is the owner, principal, and fellow English teacher at Ao Jia Language School in Qinhuangdao, a medium sized city (of 3 million!) located about three hours east of Beijing. John is her husband and our resident fixer-upper, handyman, and Chinese teacher. John speaks about three words of barely recognizable English, but both are so sweet and welcoming. They met us at the airport with a huge bouquet of flowers, bottled drinks, and snacks for the long trip back to Qinhuangdao. We arrived at our apartment around 8pm. It's an awesome space! We have big leather couches, internet, a big TV, a really nice bedroom, bathroom, air conditioning, the works.
Our bedroom
View into the bathroom from the bedroom
Living Room

They then took us out to dinner at what can only be described as a "meat restaurant." There's no ordering; you sit down, and a procession of waiters brings out different meats on a skewer and cuts you off a piece of each type (be sure to say no to the chicken hearts). It was a fun and tasty experience, and thankfully the norm was to eat with a fork and knife. I wouldn't be so lucky in future days.

We collapsed into bed and slept until 10:30am the next morning. We met Helen and John at noon when they took us out to yet another restaurant, this one more "Chinese." I had the best sweet-and-sour pork I've ever had, and the dumplings were delicious. Here I showed my real ineptitude for the chopsticks, which would become the bane of my existence, and after some pathetic attempts to put food in my mouth, they took pity on me and dug up a fork from a dusty drawer somewhere. After lunch, one of my students, Molly, met us and took us to the giant supermarket, Tesco, to help us with our shopping. Tesco is really awesome and has Skippy peanut butter, brown sugar, and pretty much everything but pasta. Oops. Did I mention that pasta is a staple of our culinary life? I think monthly trips to Beijing might be needed to remedy this situation. I wouldn't mind making my own, but I doubt I can find semolina flour here.

After shopping it was time for yet more food, this time at a seafood restaurant. Did I mention that Helen's entire family accompanied us? This restaurant was a seafood buffet and hot pot extravaganza. The idea is, you take as much raw fish as you want, including eel, octopus, ray, shark, etc., and you give it to the cook, who then cooks it for you. While you're waiting, you take easy things like shrimp and mushrooms and lots of unidentifiable stuff, and you throw it into a pan of simmering water that sits on your table. When your food is done, you scoop it out and eat it. I found this so overwhelming, especially since they didn't have any forks at this place! I was so embarrassed and ended up eating pretty much nothing but shrimp, as it meant I could use my hands to peel off the head and shell and legs (very appetizing, I know).

I spent the next day trying to master the chopsticks, but to no avail. In frustration, I threw the chopsticks at the wall and packed a fork in my purse for future use. I'm planning on ordering some rookie chopsticks like I used to have in the states, as soon as I can find someone to ship them to me.

Today was spent at the police station, validating our visas, and completing a training with Helen. We looked through the dozens of books we're supposed to use in our curriculum and received our schedules. I will be teaching all individual classes for the summer at least, while Andrew will have mostly group classes. I'll have one student for three hours in the morning, and another for three hours in the afternoon, for a total of 24 hours a week. Classes begin on Thursday.
Our textbooks

I haven't taken many pictures, because it's been rainy here and very hazy, and because we're still in the process of unpacking so the apartment is a little messy right now. Also, we haven't been out much because we've been so jet lagged, so there isn't much to show. For the moment, here's a picture of the park near our place. You can see all the skyscrapers in the background.

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