I was traveling in the middle of the city and looked out the window from a bus. I couldn’t believe what I saw nestled in the middle of the back of this truck.
I was traveling in the middle of the city and looked out the window from a bus. I couldn’t believe what I saw nestled in the middle of the back of this truck.
As some of you may have heard, Jesica (music friend from BSU and teacher here too) and I ran into quite the adventure two weeks ago while traveling in Xi’an, China. It was a rather last minute weekend trip, though we “knew” we would be going for quite some time. We left on a Friday at noon and returned at noon on a Monday (okay, so it was just a wee bit longer than a weekend).
It was quite a crazy trip plan and itinerary. Ticket booking was a nightmare, but we were grateful for the help of our wonderful Chinese co-worker, Season, for booking assistance. Without her, it wouldn’t have happened at all!
Anyways, we decided to take our trip the weekend preluding English summer camp. Therefore, we set up camp in the morning on Friday and taxi-ed our way to the train station for our 20+ hour ride to Xi’an. Yes, 20+ hours on a train WITHOUT a bed!! Yah, we booked last minute.
Of course, there are bonuses to being young and stupid. As we arrived at the train station, both Jesica and I were absolutely giddy with excitement at the thought of being stuck sitting inside a moving box on a HARD seat for almost an ENTIRE day! Honestly, dogs are smarter. They’ll usually put up a little fight before entering a little dark box with tiny windows/breath holes. We superior humans PAID to be put on a moving box. Uh. …Wow.
So, there we were all happy and boarding our little OH SO STUPID SLOW train.
One of the reasons I was particularly excited for our train trip was because this is the way that many Chinese college students and normal people will travel to visit once place or the next. Some provinces are richer and have better, faster trains, others, like the Shaanxi province aren’t as rich (so I’m told) and have slower trains….much, much slower. But, if train-ing is doable for them, then it would work for us, too! By George!
Well, “real China” we wanted and “real China” we got! I think most times foreigners are funneled onto fancy tours and pampered more or less wherever they go. This was none of the sort. Jesica and I boarded our train and found our seats right away. We had booked 2 hard seats on the train which we thought were together. They were not. Luckily a few college boys were in the same boat, and a little pantomime communication, we quickly found a way to sit where we wanted. Anyways, the seats were arranged in groups of six on one side and fours on the other. Each row of three or two would face the chairs across from it. As we settled into our seats, our knees nearly knocked against those of the people who were across from us. Jesica and I found getting close and personal with our neighbors to be rather easy under the circumstances. haha.
This brings us to our entertainment for the entirety of our train traveling, i.e. our neighbors! To name a few, we had…
After awhile, initial neighbors left and on came new ones, and then more new ones, etc. Some of these really stood out.
Note: On slow trains (like the one we were on), cars might get filled beyond capacity–a lot beyond capacity at times. When hard/soft sleepers AND chairs get sold out, then trains may sell “standing” tickets. These are the same price as regular tickets, but they have to stand the WHOLE time. When one person gets up for a bathroom break or there is a vacant seat, these “standers” may snatch up another’s seat. Many of the “strange-vibers” were these. Hold on to your ticket! Yikes!
Note: This was also REALLY awkward. Getting asked to take pictures with students or even other people around China just because you’re white has been weird to get used to, but do-able. On the train, however, it really started to bother me. It felt like going to the zoo, but being the animal. What do you do in a position like that? You can’t run, walk, or hide. You’re stuck on next to your seat. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, but it really was obnoxious.
There were 3 little boys with their mom, grandma, and dad. Ages were perhaps 10, 8, and 3? “10” and “8” were pretty funny/ cute kids and were entertaining. “3” was a nice little boy, I’m sure, but he was PANT-LESS! YES! PANT-LESS. And not only this, but he was also short a pair of underwear. Yup, you got it right. NO UNDERWEAR! ON THE TRAIN!!! WHAT?!
Yes, this precious little baby bottom brushed many seats and also was plopped down on the headrest next to my own. (I tried not to let the question of overall sanitation disturb my personal sanity!). This little boy ran all over the place and was at one point on the seat next to my own. The dad could tell his son was a bit antsy, so he started bouncing him on the seat–up DOWN up DOWN up DOWN. I think I know what earthquake tremors feel like!
To top it off, boy “8” started chomping on the bare-bottomed-baby-brother’s buttocks.
…? ….? ….?
Bedtime was a little challenging come nightfall due to the obvious fact of the lack of sleeping space. We were inspired by a tiny little Asian woman who seemed to have mastered the trick by turning herself into a little ball-knees to nose-while facing the back of her chair. Wow. Amazing. Another reason to stand up and applaud the entirety of the Asian women population. Not only can like EVERY SINGLE woman in China wear heels (none of the “kitten” business either. We’re talking the 3-inch. to sky-high stilettos here!), but they can also wear them while walking on ANY surface (pavement, gravel, water, un-even you-name-it surfaces), riding on scooters, bikes, or motorcycles, AND run. WHAT?!
Now they can turn themselves into portable human sleeping balls on tiny train seats. What gives, man?
Our entertainment on the train came to a conclusion after 22 and 1/2 hours! The encore was standing up at the end and realizing that our feet were bloated. AH! I didn’t even know that traveling could cause one to retain water. Talk about being shocked! I was just really grateful that Jesica was there to tell me that water retention isn’t a permanent thing and will go away with time. Yay!
We got into Xi’an a little before noon and were very grateful to be able to stretch our legs again. We met up with Min, a cousin of our co-worker Lynn, who happens to go to university there. After lunch and getting acquainted, we hopped on a bus to see the Terracotta Warriors right away! It was an hour long trip which Jesica and I quickly fell asleep over. This was ironic considering how long we had just slept on the train!
All this to say that when we did finally arrive at the Warriors, we were officially “wow-ed” and our traveling was worth it. We visited the museum right away and then journeyed to each of the 3 pits where the warriors are “stationed”😉. Pit #1 was by far the most cool. It is really, really big and the warriors are best preserved there.
Additionally, it was a tourist trap. This is usually a bad thing, but here it came across as a cool experience just because of the international diversity. People from all of the world snapping photos, vlogging and saying “Hi” in their own languages, etc. It was neat to see people from all over the world gathered here to gawk!😉
After a few hours, Jesica and I were wiped. Min, however, was still energetic and was eager to go look at the trees around the buildings where the warriors were. So, she galavanted after those while Jesica and I collapsed in a little cafe near the warrior pits. While we cooled off (it was REALLY REALLY hot outside) and drank something semi-cold, we enjoyed people watching and trying to pin-point where those around us were from. There was a group of 4 girls nearby which particularly intrigued us. We were close enough to know they weren’t from the States or Canada, but far enough so we couldn’t tell whether Australia or Europe. Bummer.
Anyways, we boarded our bus again and headed back to the train station to get a taxi to our hostel. Unfortunately, the taxis and took-tooks are notoriously over priced (15-40RMB+). After saying our goodbyes to Min, we hired a took-took to take us to our hostel.
He overcharged us AND dropped us off at the wrong place. We had to wander around and ask for directions a few times before we found where we needed to go.
The funny thing was our hostel was on a ghetto alley, or at least it looked that way since night was falling. However, when we did finally locate it, it was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to us. Season had been to Xi’an before and highly recommended a particular hostel to us. What she didn’t tell us was that it was somewhere between the 4th-10th best hostel in the world! WHOA!! WAY cool. Here’s some photos from the next day:
Anyways, so this amazing hostel offered tours to sign up for for the surrounding attractions, English directions and pricing for just about everything, and had staff who spoke English. YES! From this, we were able to gauge what we wanted to do for Sunday and also book a taxi for our early departure on Monday morning.
Jesica and I were really, really wiped after our train travels and sight-seeing and were ready to fall into bed. The one issue was getting there. haha. Thankfully our amazing hostel had an elevator! YAY! (Little things are appreciated when you’re tired). Now, this was the part where I was a little nervous. It was my first hostel experience and we had had to book a room that housed 6 due to our late booking and pricing (though hostels are known for being cheap). Obviously, Jesica and I only made up 2 of the 6-some, some I was a little nervous about who our roomies were going to be–? ? Yikes!
As we were settling in, Jesica said in passing, wouldn’t it be funny if it were those 4 girls from Australia/Europe that we saw at the Warriors today? hahaha?
Yup, it was.
We noticed in the room that we had a group of all girls and, when they got in later that night, we were delightfully surprised to meet our 4 new British friends who were taking a gap year and traveling, literally, around the entire globe. Really cool!
After dinner, Jesica and I slept and stayed that way forever.
We woke up the next morning with plans of visiting different attractions and then going to a dinner/dance theater in the evening.
Unfortunately, on the way to the Bell Tower, we turned the wrong way, asked for directions, and Jesica got her wallet stolen….complete with U.S. credit cards, her Chinese bank card, S.S. card, over 1000 RMB, and train/plane tickets for returning home.
This was a problem.
It took most of the morning and into the early afternoon to fix, thanks to having to go get tickets from the train station (thank you long lines in China!).
The good news is that everything worked out. George and Season, our co-workers here at CIBT, were huge, huge, huge helps and knew just what to do. Jesica got a hold of her parents and I got a hold of Jesica and in the end everything was figured out (long story short).
Despite the adventurous wrinkle in our journey, we decided to still enjoy all of Xi’an that we could. We came back to the hostel, enjoyed the rooftop garden and then grabbed dinner with out new British girl friends. After Jesica and I left for the dinner (that we didn’t eat)/dance theatre which was a recreation of the dance from the Tang dynasty. SO cool.
To finish out our night in Xi’an, Jesica and I came back and hung out a little more with our new friends.
We really enjoyed eating our little bites of brownies which we bought from the hostel, learning the latest British slang, and coloring flags for the walls.
We went to bed late after some serious pillow talking and rose early the next morning when it wasn’t bright–4:30am. It was really hard to leave Xi’an even in our groggy state. So many adventures, experiences, and new friends! We couldn’t stay though. We caught our taxi, made our 8am flight to Qingdao, taxi-ed 45min. to the train station where we traveled an hour back to Weifang. We made it just in time to the school–15min. before teaching our first class of English summer camp! Talk about amazing timing. PTL!.
As a teacher in China, July is probably the busiest month faced yet. The end of June marks the end of the regular semester, but, as a teacher under a contract until August, my work goes on—at camp! Earlier I mentioned there were 2 schools in which I taught: Beihai College in Weifang University; High Tech International School. Now in July, I will go back to High Tech to help teach an English summer camp. Ages go from 1st to 7th grade at this 2 week long camp and we teachers for CIBT were given the task of putting together the entire camp, including making the curriculum (OHMYGOODNESS!). It was a very good learning and growing experience for all of us and, thus far, the first two days have gone well although we are continually seeking ways to help the camp to run as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
Today (Tuesday, July 9), we finished day 2 at the camp. It runs from 8am-8:30pm (I believe). I teach from 8am-5:30pm each day. For those of you church-goers, our camp (the theme is “International Leaders”) is structured identically to VBS’s at home, minus the “religious” part (this is a very strange concept). There are 3 classes of children that are divided by ability level which rotate between 3 stations (music, lesson, and drama) in the morning. Each station is 50mins long with a 10min break in between.
After lunch and a nap for the children, we all meet back together in one big room for the “gathering.” This consists of reviewing songs, lesson, the theme of the day, and doing a fun activity. Following the gathering is something called “Reading buddies.” This was a really neat idea that Hugo created. A bigger child is paired with 3 younger children and together, they read a short, easy English story. The idea is for them to be able to practice their spoken English amongst themselves amongst their peers and also teach the older ones to build relationships and mentor the younger. Games and Crafts follow for the last 2 hours before dinner and it is organized madness! However, it is very fun and, I think, a favorite for the kids.
Together, the schedule might look something like this:
At the end of the day, they have something like “film appreciation” (yay! For watching movies!). Unfortunately, I was not assigned to teach this class😉 haha).
So, at the end of the day, the kids will be pretty exhausted! It’s a really full day for them…let alone us teachers!
Drama and Games are the two classes that I teach during the day. In the morning , Mana and I team teach for 3 hours and in the afternoon, Alex and Jesica assist me the games (I PTL for them both!).
Today, was the first regular day of camp since Monday was largely introductory and not in line with the regular schedule. It was a really fun first “official” day. We started out with drama. Mana and I are teaching the “Three Little Pigs.” Through teaching this story and then dramatizing it, we hope to help students to go beyond feeling self-conscious about a second language and learn to express meaning through both spoken word, action, body movement, and facial expression. Very fun. On the good side, the first two classes went really, really well and I think these two classes will enjoy the next two weeks very much. The downer is that the combined 1st-3rd class is the definition of “WILD” and “LOUD” and are about as manageable as taking a blender, removing the clear, plastic pitcher part, pressing “start” and then trying to slow down the blades with your hands. Yah. Enough said. OUCH!
Games were really fun. Yesterday, it was in the upper 90s without humidity and we were drenched in sweat from our game of “Octopus.” Needless to say, we had many water breaks.
Today, we played “Giants, Wizards, and Dwarves,” which is a really fun, glorified version of tag. Anyways, the kids really, really liked it. However, between the 2 classes, it drizzled lightly and then…it poured! Really. Like, “Wow, I just went to Africa during monsoon season” type of pour. And Alex, Lynn (our TA) and myself were caught right in the middle of it before making it back into the school. It was actually very refreshing and I decided to dance in it a little before drying off quick for the next class. Thankfully, I did have an extra set to jump into at the school (whew!).
This class was the end of my teaching at summer camp and I headed over to a different school to teach 1 more hour before being off-duty for the night. My 5:30-6:30pm class is held T and F with a group of 5-7 of the most adorable little kids you’ve ever seen. It was a wonderful way to end a very long, busy day of teaching. “UFF-Da!”
Have you ever met a person who has a name for literally EVERYTHING? Like both normal (pets, friends, and …their car (?)) and, also, the ridiculous (pictures, figurines, coffee makers, and other inanimate objects which have no way of responding, etc).
I’m one of them…in fact, Michaela, Alex, and I went out just two days ago to fly a kite. We dubbed it “Spaz” due to its remarkably unpredictable pattern of actually flying for a moment before dramatically dropping dead out of the sky onto the field in front of us. Huh.
yah. Glad to have that on the table. lol.
Anyways! Of all the things on the planet, I think names are one of the most interesting. Really (Hence my odd obsession). Names can be really meaningful and descriptive of a person and describe the specialness of the person whom they are attached to.. Or, at the very least, each person has a story behind their name–some very fun and colorful, others touching, and still others lamer than cold macaroni and cheese, but still a cool story.
My name, in particular, has very special meaning. I was raised by a single parent for the first few years of my life. My mom had many great women friends in her life who would often take care of me, thus becoming my “aunties.” “Tia” means “aunt” in Spanish (my mum was really good at Spanish) and thus I was named–after all those wonderful women who played a huge part in my early life.
In years since, I have been fortunate to discover that “Tia” is also part of many words and also has many meanings in other languages. For instance, “tia” makes up half of the word for friendship in Latin. I’ve also found that my name has meanings in Finnish and Swedish and kinda loose ties into Hebrew as a nickname meaning, “princess.” However, this realization is quickly balanced after discovering that “tia” is also the word for “road” and “ten” elsewhere. Lame.
Still, my biggest surprise was in chatting with my boss, George, the other day.
As humiliating as it is (and as you’ve probably already guessed by the title of this blog entry), my name in Chinese means “toothpick.”
So, for the first time I’ve introduced myself to every single Chinese person met in the 4 months since being here,
I have told them,”Hi. Nice to meet you! My name is Toothpick. (Insert smile here. Extra large, of course, to show off my lovely pearly whites). What’s yours?”
George said it was really funny talking to me for a little while there. No wonder!
Maybe I should adopt a Chinese name after all… haha
On April 4th, I met my birthfather for the first time. Louie flew into Weifang around 9pm and we met for a late dinner out at a Chinese restaurant (lol. All the restaurants in China are Chinese restaurants. Go figure!).
That night for me was really a showdown with reality. Here I was, a million miles from home meeting a man for the first time that most girls would have known their whole lives. What goes through your head at a time like that? Are you nervous, excited, scared, nervous, mad, happy…? This sort of experience definitely doesn’t happen for everyone and if it does, it only happens once. In addition, when I met him, would I even like him? Would we get along? What if, what if, what if…?
For me, I was a little anxious and just kind of in awe of the fact that I was even having this experience. (PTL! “Honor to whom honor is due…”). As to getting along, we did. It was an easy first meeting. I gave him a hug and we chatted pretty naturally throughout the night, albeit we did chat about some rather odd things for strangers (“How was your childhood?” haha). I discovered that Louie is a very normal, non-creepy (much to my relief!), hard-working man and pleasant to be around.
Dinner was lovely and a wonderful way to get acquainted. It came to a close around 11:30pm and we headed home to get some rest for our travels to Beijing in the morning.
And, look who I met there! There’s the fam. From left to right: Louie, Grandpa, Me, Grandma, and, my aunt, Xiao Ping (sounds similar to “shopping.” Yup, we get along. Just in case you were curious😉. Louie and I “train-ed” it to Beijing and bused out of the middle of the city to the Beijing Sport University (BSU) campus where my grandparents live in the faculty housing. They are retired now, but are allowed accommodations there for their years of service in the past. I thought it was ironic that the university they taught at and the one I currently attend both have the same abbreviation “BSU” (Bemidji State U/Beijing Sport U).
Anyways, after a very long trip out of the middle of the city (I had NO CONCEPT of just how large Beijing is! It took an hour! Buses are slow.) to BSU, we were greeted most warmly by my grandparents and Xiao Ping. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my Grandpa can speak English very well and the Xiao Ping, too, has excellent English speaking skills. Her pronunciation is really fantastic (Score!).
I was ushered all around the apartment and told to make myself at home. We got our things unpacked and spent the time talking and looking at photo albums. This was so neat and special! My Grandma, who doesn’t speak English, explained the photos of herself, Grandpa, Xiao Ping, Louie, and our ancestors through the translation skills of Xiao Ping. It was so interesting. I learned so much about both Chinese and my family’s history.
In addition to family history,I also discovered other interesting tidbits about my family while sitting there and being educated in the Luo family tree. I observed right away that my Grandfather is everything you’d picture a proud, retired Chinese professor to be. He always carries himself with a dignified air, sits very straight, and stands very tall. I also found out that he worked for the government as a translator in the Foreign Relations branch for many years. This may or may not have something to do with it. lol.
My grandmother looks like a Chinese version of my 6th grade piano teacher reincarnated! haha. She is just a sweetie and was so very talented in her day. She was a member of the first national volleyball team under China’s new government and she went on to coach China’s national volleyball team in later years. She very much enjoyed showing and explaining all of the photos of her playing and coaching or traveling with her team.
On another note, when I asked, she said she’d never played the piano.
Xiao Ping has one of the sweetest spirits ever, although she often behaves a little differently due to a mental illness which came on when she was actually about my age. Nevertheless, she was also very talented in her time, a brilliant student and excellent volleyball player as well.
To end our day #1 together, we enjoyed a nice supper out. We walked through the BSU campus where Louie pointed out where he used to swim when he was a student or where they would do this or that. Nice and sentimental.
Supper was fantastic. We all ate Peking duck, of course, in Peking! SO, So, So good.
When we all came back, we put-zed around awhile and eventually made it to bed. I went to bed that night happy, content, and with lots of sentimental family thoughts on my mind. But, I didn’t sleep in the next morning. Louie and I were off to be off to the Forbidden City and Tian’anmen and were determined to get an early start.
Contrary to the popular opinion, I have NOT fallen off the face of the earth for the past 24 days. It’s just been one crazy month!
What was the biggest, craziest event?
I met my biological family for the first time.
My schedule for April has been teaching classes during the week and then leaving right after class is over on Friday with Louie to sightsee and visit family. We then travel back Sunday night to Weifang. Repeat cycle. Every week in April. Nothing like staying busy!
Here’s a brief record of events:
I will chronicle each weekend in the following posts. Keep reading!
George showed me the link to WU’s website page which promotes study to BSU. Take a peek
Yup! Starbucks has made it halfway across the world. In Weifang, it is a haven for foreigners who need a taste of home and Chinese who want to taste a little of the West. Surprisingly, the menu is the same as at home. The only real difference is the fact that there are Chinese characters on the menu instead of the English alphabet.
We teachers come here quite often when we need to get things done. The high-speed wi-fi, quiet atmosphere, and normal toilets are a huge draw. Take a look at the sign in the bathroom though. As you can see, it is not quite the Starbucks we are used to at home😉.
1. Please dispose of your waste paper in the waste basket.
2. For your safety, please refrain from squatting on the toilet.
3. Please refrain from smoking in the rest room. (People smoke anywhere here).
4. Extend a courtesy to…..etc.
bahahaha!! No squatting!! OKAY?!
Anyways, all that to say…
Last week, Mana and I went to Starbucks to try to get some work done. We sat on comfy chairs right next to each other. A short coffee table was in front of us and on the other side were two more chairs sitting parallel to our own. Working diligently on our laptops, we noticed out of the corner of our eyes a group of guys acting a little odd.
I should note here that all of us teachers have become accustomed to unabashed stares and pointing. However, what these guys were doing was a little obnoxious even by Weifang standards.
After a little while, two of them mustered up some courage and plopped themselves down on the chairs directly in front of us. Obviously, they were demanding attention. Mana and I, however, instantaneously both found our computer screens highly engaging and couldn’t bring ourselves to look up. huh, funny how that work, right?😉
Although the boys could hardly say “hello” in English, they did eventually get our attention. In particular, they got mine when the one boy assaulted my phone which was lying on the table. Uh, excuse me! Apparently grabbing a girl’s phone is the best way to get her phone number. Who knew? lol.
Anyways, they proceeded to tell us (via some translation servie on their phones) that they were students, were hoping to meet some foreigners who could help them with their English, and wanted to “make friends” with us. They were particularly interested in knowing if we had boyfriends or not.
PTL I had just bought a cute little ring from a market a few days prior and just so happened to be wearing it…on my left hand…on my ring finger. Boom. Yes!
Mana too had a ring and we “quickly” explained that we were already in relationships. (Flash, flash, flash the rings!! point, point!)
Yay! for the brides of “Jesu Cristos” as Mariana’s Venezuelan roots would have her say😉.
They didn’t really get the whole “engaged” idea and proceeded to invite us to a movie or something. However, we are proud to say that we stayed grounded with both our cell phones…and rings…on hand.
As I stepped into the office yesterday after finishing teaching a class, I see Michaela and Stephen hard at work on their computers. Then, in the back corner of the room, I notice Mana, sobbing with a pile of tissues on the edge of her desk.
Immediately I rushed over to her thinking, “Oh, no. What happened? Who died? Who’s been hurting my Mana!”
“What’s going on?” I ask all concerned.
Her puffy eyes lift to meet mine as she ceremoniously finishes off another tissue. She turns her screen towards me and plucks an ear bud from her ear.
She doesn’t tell me and I don’t ask.
One word: Bollywood. Of course it would be Bollywood!
Mana has a sincere love for these films and just ends up emotionally ridiculous sometimes! haha.
No one is dead. No one is harming my dear Mana. It’s just the power of another Bollywood film.
Gotta love it.
Every Wednesday night there is a Mandarin language class that is offered at a local coffee shop. The name of the shop is called SPR (think eSPResso) and it has a cool Western feel to it.
This is probably because Min, the owner, grew up in Weifang but moved to England for 10 years before returning. Here coffee shop definitely bears witness to her experiences abroad.
Because of her experiences in the US, she knows the difficulties of being a foreigner and not knowing the language of your host country. With this in mind, she opens her coffee shop up for “Mandarin Corner” every Wednesday night. Any foreigner who wants to learn a little more Mandarin is encouraged to come, grab a cup of coffee, and learn and engage.
As you can see, it is quite popular. All of us CIBT teachers try to make it. Also, there are other foreign teachers at other schools in Weifang who we are able to meet and befriend.
This is me and our Mandarin teacher who comes to teach us. She prepares great power points and has very good English in addition to her excellent Mandarin skills.
Avi and Michaela having such a good time learning…;) Actually, I think they were watching youtube vids or looking at pics or something in this pic. haha.
In addition to our teacher, there are also a few “helpers” who assist us with grasping the sometimes difficult grammatical structure of Chinese. They are students at WU who are majoring in teaching Mandarin as a second language. The one next to me with the “V” peace signs (fyi. in China, these actually mean “victory,” not peace) is named “Summer” and has been a particularly good helper/friend thus far.
Oh so cute…:)
This is Margarita, a foreigner teacher from Russia. She speaks English and Russian fluently and is, obviously, now learning Chinese. We look pretty similar, so we are now sisters, just fyi.
Here’s Alex and Max chilling after Mandarin. Max and Margarita teach at the same school.
Look forward to going to Mandarin as much as possible.