Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Impressions of China

Disclaimer: I really hope not to sound prejudiced. I'm simply trying to give my honest impressions of China, and I admit that my judgment cannot be applied to every single Chinese person; only to those I met.

The Good: Chinese students are very disciplined and well-behaved in class. They are the best students I've ever taught. They and their families are extremely generous, and did everything they could to help us adjust to our time in China. Helen and John, our bosses, were the epitome of this kindness. They were more like parents instead of employers. Our apartment was great, and the job itself was wonderful. Another big benefit was that we were able to get out of debt (not including our college loans) and even save some money to bring home. I highly recommend Asia for any of our friends who need a job and need to be able to save some money. They really know how to treat foreigners over there.

The food was also amazing, with the exception of the weird foods like pig and chicken feet. But even strange foods like those have an interesting history behind them (in times of food scarcity, peasants were encouraged by the government to eat every available part of the animal).

Another great thing about living in China was all the interesting historical places to visit. I had wanted to see the Terracotta Warriors since I was little, so seeing that and other famous sites was a dream come true.

The Bad: Pollution. The pollution wasn't as obvious as I thought it would be, but I still noticed and suffered from it. It was painful to wear contact lenses there because my eyes would dry out so quickly.

Dogs are small and ugly in China. In many big cities, it's illegal to have large dogs, so people compensate by having those small, yippy, ugly dogs. I really don't like dogs like that. Mop Dog was the only exception.

Smoking is something that just about every man does in China. They have little concern for others, and drop their ashes everywhere, including restaurants, trains, and supermarkets. I'm VERY anti-smoking, so this was a big deal for me.

The Ugly: I hate to say it, but hygiene isn't big in China. I polled most of my students, who are all pretty wealthy, and found that they only bathe a few times a week. I didn't really need to ask, because it was pretty clear anytime I got too close to my students. It was understandable for those boarding students, whose school only allowed them to take a (cold) shower twice a week, but that doesn't explain for the rest of the population. Also, deodorant doesn't exist in China, and my students usually wore the same outfit for several days in a row. All these things combined for some pretty bad body odor, which made close contact on public transportation, standing in lines, and just teaching in general pretty uncomfortable for me. But that wasn't as bad as their oral hygiene. Bad breath was really common, and I don't know if that was because of their diet or just bad brushing habits. I had a little talk with all of my female students before I left about hygiene expectations in the West. Many of them are planning on studying in the U.S. or Canada, and I had to explain that they could run into problems if they didn't take certain precautions. One of the hardest things to explain to them was about shaving. Of course, there's nothing wrong with a woman not shaving her armpits or her legs, but I had to tell them that westerners might look down on them or call them names if they didn't shave. It's incredibly unfair, but I thought it would be better to let them know then to have them get ridiculed at school (some are hoping to go to high school here).

There are no diapers in China. Well, there are, but nobody uses them. It's nice in a way, because of course it cuts down on what are really big contributors to waste, but it creates waste of a different sort. Instead of diapers, babies and toddlers wear split pants that allow the kid to crouch down and do his business wherever he is. Of course, this is pretty gross to see kids doing this on the street, public transportation, and right outside restaurants. I once saw a kid pooping in the seafood section of the supermarket. Eww.

I think I could have handled everything else in China with a shrug of the shoulders and cultural reasoning, but the traffic nearly drove me over the edge. There seems to be a very clear hierarchy in China, with drivers at the top, followed by motos, bikes, and then us puny pedestrians. As such, drivers seem to feel they are entitled to do whatever they like. Traffic lights mean nothing to them, and I've never seen a posted speed limit. Sidewalks? They're just convenient traffic lanes for those in a hurry, especially if you want to be going against traffic, or a nice parking spot. Nothing belongs to the pedestrians. There are crosswalks, but they make no sense. The light turns green when the cars are turning left across the crosswalk, so there's never a completely safe time to cross. And again, drivers seem offended if you try to cross the street. They honk and speed up when they see pedestrians, whether or not they are in the right (which they rarely are). I don't think I can ever fully explain what it was like there. Everyday took extreme willpower to make myself leave the apartment and go to work. I took to listening to my IPOD and reading my Kindle as I walked, because otherwise I'd get super-pissed at what was happening around me. Andrew was terrified to do that, but I was terrified of what I'd do if I didn't. I can't tell you how many times I've yelled at drivers, flipped them off, or thrown mini-tantrums at passing cars.

The Conclusion: China is an amazing place! I loved working there, and mostly enjoyed living there. But in terms of all the places I've been, I still think I preferred France, despite our financial woes while there. China was a nice conclusion to our four years living and working abroad, and if I could do it over again, I would.

Many Partings

I've been in California for a week now, but I never posted about my final days in China.

Because our replacements were coming a bit early, I left my cool downtown apartment and moved across town to the college where my friends teach. One of the teachers, Tom, just happened to have two apartments in town, and generously offered me his place to stay for my last week in Qinhuangdao. It was pretty great being so close to everyone there, especially my friend Morgan, who is the mover and shaker of all ex-pat events in town.

My last week was a crazy parade of farewell dinners, assisting the new teachers, and doing anything I hadn't done yet. This included going to Beidaihe, the somewhat ritzy beach area, and going to the local zoo.

The beach was nice, though it wasn't warm enough to go swimming, but the real treat was the zoo. We rented a car and driver for the afternoon and got to drive directly into the animal enclosures! It was totally Jurassic Park. We could roll down our windows and wave at the lions and tigers just outside our car. There was a scary moment when our driver's window wouldn't roll UP, but otherwise we made it through unscathed. We even got to get out of the car at one point and keep the bears at bay by throwing them pieces of bread.

In addition, my students took me out for a farewell dinner and gave me some sweet, but strange gifts, including a hot pepper-shaped pillow and two porcelain fertility dolls.

I had a great time showing the new teachers, Cally and Colin, around Qinhuangdao. They're going to do great there.

I finally got my fortune told by a street psychic palm reader. Apparently I'm going to have a big fortune after I'm 30, and my first child will be a girl. Here's hoping!

One of the best things about my last week in QHD was the farewell dinner I went to with the other teachers. We went to this Vietnamese restaurant, and because it was their last night in business, and because we were foreigners, we were given everything for free, including bottles of wine and beer. It was a nice end to my time in China. Later, I hope to work with Andrew to write a final impressions post.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Long Awaited Exercise Post

I've been putting this off for far too long. After almost a year in China, I feel I've gotten a good chance to experience and witness what is known as "morning exercise" here in China. The thing is, the Chinese will do just about anything if you tell them it's good for them. I've been compiling a list of the most common exercises here. Chinglish-y names are my own creation. So put on your yoga pants and get ready for a great workout!

Laughness Scare Away Bad Feelings: To be fair, I haven't actually witnessed this one, but I've heard rumors of its following, both from other foreigners and my Chinese students. Apparently, Chinese fitness nuts gather in the park in the early morning to share in a long, good laugh. This is good for the chi. Or something like that.

Swinging the Leg Like Gentle Rocking Boat: This exercise can be performed almost anywhere. Simply find a loose chain, such as one that forms a small gate to keep people off the grass, place your foot on the chain, and gently swing your leg back and forth. Do this 763 times. Repeat with the other foot.

Hardness on Tree Back: This is a popular exercise with the elderly. For good posture, stand rigid in front of a tall, smooth tree. Without bending your legs, lean back and hit your back against the tree trunk. Hard. Repeat until all feeling has been lost.

To Walk Backwards for Longevity Lifetime: I first witnessed this one down south, in Guilin. It's pretty straightforward: just walk backwards. It doesn't matter where you are. It doesn't matter if you are also pulling a baby carriage around a big lake. Don't worry about running into people; that's part of its efficiency.

Clapping the Hands in Loudly Methods: This is a partner exercise to Laughness Scare Away Bad Feelings. The noise from this exercise woke us up every morning that we stayed in Guilin. Rhythm is not important here.

Me Tarzan, You Jane: OK, not the most Chinese title, but an apt description of this exercise. Only men perform this one, so ladies, you'll have to sit this one out. Men: remove your shirts and walk down the street, beating your chest and back with alternate fists. Scowl at people you pass. Does wonders for your virility, and the red fist marks all over your body are sure to attract a date.

Me No Need to Thighmaster: Here's one for the ladies. Place your foot on a stool or use the chain from exercise Rocking Boat. With your thigh at a 90 degree angle, gently slap your thigh fat back and forth for about two hours. Switch legs. Guaranteed to get rid of dumpling fat.

Heavenly Pearl Tooths Are Happy: I only recommend this for those with dentures. In a public place, chomp your teeth repeatedly. Be sure to make a lot of noise or it won't work.

Jumping High Into Jade Paradise: This is one of the only legit exercises I've seen. One night I saw about 100 people in People's Park jump-roping together as I went to my favorite ice cream shop around the corner.

Go to any of the public parks in China on a warm night or sunny morning, and you'll see tons of Chinese people group exercising. It's actually quite nice the way they use their public spaces. Elderly people in particular are most likely to be seen exercising. They especially love dance and tai chi.

Hope this helps you all keep fit!