Oct 20, 2011

Hangman update

Every other one of my classes has gotten the game pretty much right away. I don’t know if I’ve gotten subtly better at explaining it, or what. Some of the classes even grasp it so quickly I can have one of the students come up and pick their own word. I’ve dispensed with the hanging man, because I don’t want to cut them off when they’re finally getting the rhythm of it, so it’s more of a “guess the letters” game, but they seem to be having some educational fun.

Oct 20, 2011

The plumbing saga

Where the heck’s the toilet plunger gone?

The story of a plunger
(Photo illustration by the non-graphic designer of the house, FYI)

Yesterday, we were having some trouble with our toilet. I like to be a fix-it-yourself girl whenever possible, so before calling for help, I went out to see if I could find a plunger. This turned out to be harder than I thought.

I looked up the Chinese translation for plumber and I armed myself with my trusty notebook (fig. 2). I wrote out both the characters and the pinyin, just in case my characters were actually meaningless scribbles to a Chinese person. I also drew the top plunger as a visual aid.

My first stop was the hardware-looking store right next door to our school. I showed the shopkeeper and another customer the characters and the drawing. Blank looks. The shopkeeper went into the back to make change for his customer while she continued to try and help me figure out what I was trying to say. I did a little pantomime of plunging, and made a “pchew, pchew, pchew” sound. Suddenly, comprehension. She shouted back to the shopkeeper in Chinese. After he sent her on her way, he started looking around for something for me. Nails. Unfortunately, the woman interpreted my moves as hammer and nails. So I did it again for him. He had a realization, and wrote down the characters on the slip of paper in fig. 3. I think the second line was an address.

I took off in the direction he had pointed, excited that I was probably hot on the trail of a plunger. I saw another, more industrial-looking hardware store across the street. I showed the girl at the counter my paper, but she just shook her head. I noticed it was pretty much all lighting supplies, not really general hardware. Not the place to have a plunger. (Or a bicycle pump, as it turns out I was really asking her for, stay tuned …)

Nearby, there was what looked to be the equivalent of a dollar/variety store. I show the proprietor fig. 3. She nods and goes to get something: a bicycle pump. (There it is.) Oops. So I show her my original drawing, to which I’ve now added the squat toilet on the bottom left. She shakes her head no.

I continue on to a toilet supply store. They have both squat and western-style toilets, so I show the woman working there my notebook, and then do my miming over an actual bowl. She nods in recognition, but then indicates that they do not sell plungers. But she does say “zhu sai,” which is what Google translate said that I was looking for.

Moving on. Inspired by the toilet store, I do the drawing on the bottom right of fig. 2. I come to another hardware looking store and show her the whole thing. She does recognize it. But they don’t have it. She gives me directions in Chinese, though, indicating that somewhere back the way I came I can find what I need.

I turn around and go back the way I came. At this point it’s been an hour, but I’ve confirmed that I can communicate to a Chinese person that I need a plunger (and I’ve found where to buy a bicycle pump, should the need arise). I veer off onto a side street and find another thing shop. I show my notebook to the man here and he nods and goes back into his store. Success! He comes back with the item on the left of fig. 1. It’s brittle plastic and costs about $.30. I’m pretty sure this will not be effective, but I pay the man and take my prize.

Tired and discouraged, I head for home. Coming at the entry of the school from the other side, I see right in the front of another general thing shop an honest to goodness recognizable plunger (fig. 1, right side). Elated, I purchase it.

It’s also kind of crappily made, but I set out to buy a plunger and by gum! I got one. Those of you who know anything about plumbing and toilets can already guess how this turns out, however.

After a failed plunge and some research, I discovered that this is not the right kind of plunger to use. I tried the little plastic one for fun - and it was not that fun - which also didn’t work. Given how hard it was to find these, I decided against going out again and called our boss lady to say, “Help! Our toilet’s clogged!”

They sent over a pro, who got the job done in two minutes with some fancy snake machine.

The grisly conclusion: I suspect that, despite it’s modern, western look, our toilet may not be up to the task of handling toilet paper - I’ve seen it before in developing areas that you have to throw your paper in a waste basket, not the bowl. The pipes just can’t deal with it. But, as has been our mantra thus far, we didn’t move to China because everything would be the same …

Oct 18, 2011

Christmas carols all year

It’s happened a couple times now that we’ll be out and I’ll hear over a store’s PA system the lovely sounds of Christmas carols. It happened tonight at the restaurant we were at. Mixed in with regular “I love you, baby” pop music. I think, because most people don’t understand that much English here, the carols just sound like another nice song. But it’s really funny to hear.

Oct 18, 2011

Hangman is kind of a creepy game

This week, I’ve been trying to teach my juniors to play hangman - which, when I started breaking down the concept of the game to it’s simplest terms, I realized is kind of creepy: Guess all the correct letters before this stick figure man is killed!

It’s been a little tough. They’ve never seen this game before, and when I tell them, “Just guess any letter. One letter. Say a letter that you know,” (in much more patient and teacherly tones. To start, anyway.) they just look at me blankly. So I demonstrate by guessing the letters myself, some right and some wrong. Yesterday, my class caught on pretty quickly, but I had a really difficult time with today’s class. The vocabulary for this week is sports, and so they would just go through the words we learned and spell all of them. They could do this quite well, but this was not the point. Another thing they did was to count the letters and just guess a word with that many letters. I could not get them to understand the concept of “just guess one letter” for anything. I even went out into the class, squatted down, raised my hand and guessed, and then ran up to the board and wrote down my guess of ONE LETTER.

We got to a point where one girl just kept spelling “baseball” at me (which was the word; she had guessed from the amount of letters), so I had her stand up. “B-A-S …” She started. “Stop!” I yelled, and wrote down “B.” “OK, what’s next?” I asked her. “A-S …” “Stop! A,” and I wrote down both “As.” This started to click with some of the students. So we finished baseball, and I chose a word from one of their earlier lessons, “eraser,” which you’ll notice has the same amount of letters as “soccer.” Which they all started yelling out (there’s a lot of call and response in the classroom, so this wasn’t quite the chaos it sounds). Again I did the “Stop!” thing with the girl, who was spelling “soccer.” But the “S” went in a different place, of course, than they were expecting. The class went quiet. And then someone guessed … just one letter. They got it!

When they caught on that I was using earlier vocabulary words mingled with this week’s, they all scrambled to the dictionary section of their books and started counting the letters again. I guess hangman - and language - is all about pattern recognition. It just doesn’t seem as fun a game when you play it that way.

But, I’ll make some adjustments to my strategy and try again tomorrow and see how those kids do. That’s what this job has been about so far. And when it finally clicks, it’s really cool.

Oct 16, 2011

On the other side of the other river

A tour of the supermarkets

Today we took the bus over to the far bank of the Tuojiang, the river to the west of us. We went in search of a Carrefour, which is a French supermarket chain, but what we found wasn’t all that different from the other supermarkets we’ve been in. We did buy some “sesame catsup,” which smells like it might be tahini.

But we had a nice walk around a different neighborhood. The riverside street there was dotted with tea houses, much like our riverside street, but it was a lot quieter. Inland, it seemed much more commercial, with stalls hawking everything from socks to tape.

We walked over the bridge back to our side of the river, and found this enormous market. In front of the brick-and-mortar stores, entrepreneurs had all set up their own racks and carts and stalls of merchandise. It seems if you have stuff to sell in this city, you just roll up on a piece of pavement and do it.

Tuo Jiang River
Check out the full album.

Oct 16, 2011

Lonely God returns

Now with new cabbage flavor

Lonely God cabbage

We found more Lonely God! This one is cabbage flavor, we think. It tastes kind of sour cream and onion-y, if you’re not thinking about it too hard.

Oct 15, 2011

It’s playtime

Old fashioned toys

The girl with a stick and hoop

We saw this girl the other day playing with a hoop and a stick, like something out of the 1820s, but what I’ve noticed is that people here — not just children — seem to go in for old-fashioned modes of entertainment; I’ve seen more little boys doing tricks with yo-yos in the past three weeks than I ever have in my life.

I don’t know whether it’s the city we’re in or the entire culture, but here there seems to be more life lived out in public than even in New York City. On our evening walks, we meet plenty of people taking similar strolls, and we pass countless groups of people at tea houses and what seems to be semi-private clubs playing cards or Mah-jong - they seem settled in and like they’ll be there for a while.

Anecdote: I asked one of my students what his favorite weather was, and he said rainy. When I asked why, he said it was because then he was allowed to stay in and play video games. I asked the whole class, “When it’s sunny, do your parents make you go out and play?” A resounding yes was the answer.

Whatever the cause, the people are on the streets, and it’s awesome. This city has a really lively energy that’s exciting to be a part of - and the language barrier is blocking less than we feared; everyone understands a smile (New Yorker Emily is barfing over in the corner and making faces, to be sure).

Oct 15, 2011

A very fine house

Upgrading the kitchen

The kitchen, beforeThe kitchen, after

Today we finally had the time and the tools to do a deep cleaning of the apartment. Everything looks and feels infinitely better (Peter says we’ve stepped up from camping to living), but the kitchen is where the most dramatic results are seen. Above is a before and after.

And while every mundane thing has been more fun just by virtue of the fact that we’re doing it in China, housecleaning is housecleaning all over the world.

Oct 14, 2011

Something looks familiar

An apple a day ...

Is that ...... yes! It is!

Recognize this? There are actually a couple of “Apple Stores” around town.

Oct 14, 2011

My Chinese name

Today one of my students gave me a Chinese name (they all have English names): 爱美丽, which is pronounced Ai Mei Li - very close to Emily, if you’ll notice. The kids laughed when he said it, so I was a little worried that it was something bad. But it means “Beautiful Love,” which is kind of sweet.

It’s really hard to not get a big head over here.