I've been in China for almost one month now, but it feels so much longer! I'm now comfortable going shopping by myself or going out to eat without a veteran teacher along to help order and navigate a menu. At first I thought the language would be impossible, but I'm learning a few words and phrases at a time. Learning Chinese has been different from how I learned Spanish. Instead of grasping grammar and vocabulary before speaking and reading, I'm learning helpful and practical phrases for taking a bus, getting something in my apartment fixed, ordering food, or bartering for fruits/vegetables/meat. I have an idea of what the things mean, but not always the literal meaning.
Eating at what we call "Old Sichuan" with Anna and Katie. We ordered a sweet and sour pork dish, broccoli and garlic, and a chicken dish with spicy peppers, peanuts, and green onions. I can eat just about anything with chopsticks now - grains of rice, slices of watermelon, bread.
Along with general life in Beijing, teaching is going very well. My Experimental English class is my favorite to teach. Each grade has one class in which students with superior English skills are placed and these students have often lived in Western English-speaking countries. They are a lot of fun because they don't get hung up so much on words that they don't know and we can do things in class that are more fun and challenging. We began a unit today on fairy tales. We talked about the elements of a fairy tale and why every culture has them. We'll be reading three Cinderella stories - each from a different culture - and then the students will write their own Cinderella story in a unique cultural setting, but with the timeless story we all know. They might place the plot within a science fiction setting or Harry Potter (which is HUGE in China, literally every student has read the books) or high-fashion, or even in a skating culture. Then one or two groups will act out their Cinderella stories at the end of the unit. The students are so much fun to teach because they love to learn and be challenged. Sometimes I forget that they're twelve, like when we got into a class discussion last week about the death penalty. The question was raised: which is more humane - capital punishment or solitary confinement?
In my Oral English classes this week, we're learning greetings and benedictions. The best part is including American culture in the lessons. They learned "what's up" and we watched the series of Budweiser "what's up?!" commercials: the football game, wasabi, the alien. It was great watching them practice saying it and trying to stick their tongues out at the same time. Then we watched the "So Long Farewell" clip from Sound of Music, which most of the students are very familiar with. They were able to sing along, and many knew the words.
The weather is starting to change at last. It's still quite warm during the day, but we don't see humidity as much. Fall is very short in Beijing, so we're enjoying it before the temperatures get bitterly cold. Next week is National Day Holiday, which is always the first week in October. This celebrates the CCP (China Communist Party) takeover, and people treat it much like our July 4 in the States. Schools and businesses take a break and everyone travels during this time. A girl that I tutor will be showing me some of the sights around Beijing early in the week, then Anna, Katie, Mark, Emmett, and I will be spending the second half of the week in Shanghai, which is a short and inexpensive flight. We have to fly because all of the train tickets are gone already...something that happens often when 1.3 billion people are traveling at one time!
Our school, RDFZ, is very generous towards us, the foreign experts. They often leave us gifts outside our apartments, and we've received 80 apples per apartment, a year's worth of cleaning supplies/tissues/toilet paper, towels, pork ribs/filets/feet, and boxes of bagged milk. We never know what will come or when we'll get it, but things magically appear outside our door every so often. Last year everyone received bottles of walnut juice...yum! Anna and I spent the better part of a day coring, peeling, and boiling apples for apple sauce and the reward was well worth the time invested.