Jun 1, 2012

Happy Children’s Day!

Making new friends

Our new friend on Children's Day

I ran into two of my Junior students today at lunch, and they informed me that today is Children’s Day in China.

“Stay right there, and we will bring you some candy,” they instructed me, and ran across the busy street. I tensed up as I watched them dodge cars (we haven’t addressed it yet, but the traffic here is frightening), but they returned safely with two lollipops that they gave to me. It was very kind, although I’m a little puzzled that they gave me sweets rather than the other way around.

But back at home, I looked up Children’s Day. It’s a Chinese holiday that, obviously, recognizes children. Sometimes the kids are given a half or whole day off from school. Our juniors were given the afternoon off for a celebration in the gym, as I found out when I arrived to an empty classroom later that day.

At dinner, we celebrated Children’s Day by making friends with a child (he’s pictured above). Kids of his age do nothing to hide their astonishment at seeing us, which is always funny to see, and we usually wave and smile and say 你好. Because his family was sitting right next to us at dinner, he had the chance to move in closer and closer to our table.

There are different levels of amazement that we see people express towards us: First, there’s “Look at that!” Next up is, “It speaks!” Then there’s, “It speaks to me!” — I think for many little kids who have only seen westerners on TV, there’s an element of surprise that we can break the fourth wall with them. And, finally there’s “It speaks! To me! In Chinese!”

We sped through all four stages when I said to the boy, “我是 Emily. 他是 Peter.” He really liked Peter’s name. He repeated it over and over. I also asked him his name, but the Chinese slipped out of my head as soon as I said it.

(Peter pointed out that I’m at a good level for conversation with children; they don’t ask a lot of questions and a whole exchange can comprise “How are you? What’s your name? Great!”)

The family finished their meal soon after our little conversation, and they all said good-bye. I said to the mother, “Very cute!” (in English; “cute,” like “OK,” seems to be a word known universally) and she smiled.

May 1, 2012

Happy International Workers’ Day!

So take the day off

Today, we had yet another day off of work, because it’s International Workers’ Day. When I asked our boss about the holiday, she explained, “It’s like Labor Day, and because you labor for us, you get a day of rest.” She added that sometime later this week, she’d like to take us out to dinner to celebrate. Pretty sweet!

Apr 13, 2012

The world-wide sports meeting

Our very own Olympics

This kids is fast

Through a confluence of events, from March 31 to April 15, we will only have had to work 4 days. And that’s paid time off.

We’ve had a national holiday 1, the kids had midterms, and now we’re in the middle of a school-wide track and field meet.

Yesterday morning was the opening ceremonies. They did ‘em Olympics-style, with each class from Junior 1, Senior 1 and Senior 2 (Senior 3 gets some days off, I guess) representing a different country. Each country’s representatives marched around the school track, stopping in front of the panel of judges in the bleachers to perform a little dance.

We actually marched with Argentina (Senior 2, class 22). Wendy, our neighbor, is their teacher, and she came over the night before to ask if we could dance with her class. We were very hesitant about the dancing, but we said that we’d go watch them practice. By the time we got down there, our potential roles had evolved into drumming on a plastic water bottle. That we could do.

By later that evening, our roles had changed again: Now we were to march in front of the group and carry the Argentinian flag they had made. Even better.

The festivities began at 8 am. Our group was second to last, so we sat up in the bleachers to watch the students. There was varying amounts of effort among the different classes put into costume and choreography, but they all were fun to watch. America (Senior 1, class 1 - my students!) was very funny - the class incorporated soldiers, Native Americans, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Santa and Michael Jackson into their display. This is not an inaccurate picture of how they view the U.S.

It was a little difficult to identify all the other countries - I’m pretty terrible with the flags of the world, and often there wasn’t any clue other than that as to each class’ nationality.

When we saw Argentina lining up, we ran over to join them. (On the way, we caught a glimpse of the kindergarteners next door having their own field day.) We unfurled our flag, and marched toward the podium. After we finished, the games began.

One of the classes in the march of countries

Click on the photo above for a slideshow from our Olympic games!

UPDATE: Argentina came in second!

1. April 4 was Qingming Festival, or Ancestors Day. It’s a public holiday where families go visit the graves of their deceased relatives, clean them off (the graves, not the relatives), and set off fireworks. Now the thing is, April 4 was a Wednesday, and the three-day weekend is not a foreign concept to the Chinese. But, whereas in the U.S. we’d move the holiday to be observed on a Monday, here, we moved Monday and Tuesday’s work to the Saturday and Sunday before. Having no ancestors here, we bought a computer instead.

Feb 16, 2012

Chinese New Year: The last night

More and more and more fireworks

Last Tuesday was the last day of Chinese New Year. Now, there had been fireworks every night for the entire two weeks, but the last night display was something. We joined the throngs down at the river to catch the show.

After the official fireworks, people started shooting off their own:

Feb 16, 2012

Happy belated Valentine’s Day

We love you

Fun fact: The Chinese recognize Valentine’s Day. “I think it’s an international holiday,” my friend told me.

I apologize for the lull in posting. School started last week - after a six-week break - so we’re busy getting back into the swing of things. You know how hard those 20-hour work-weeks can be.

Feb 2, 2012

Happy New Year: Karaoke time!

Let’s sing

Karaoke on New Year
More karaoke pictures here.

Karaoke New Year’s from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

The night after they first invited me to celebrate the holiday with their family, Wendy and Xi Xi invited me again to their clan’s continuing New Year’s party. (Peter, again, was still recovering from his cold.)

After another great feast, we all went out for karaoke. It took some doing to find an open room; this is apparently what all families were doing that night. But eventually, after many phone calls and some driving around, we found an open spot. In addition to the singing, there was also a lot of dancing. You can see me, in the video below, dancing with Xi Xi’s uncle, the evening’s host. You can also hear some of the karaoke-ing going on. Make sure your volume’s not too high.

Jan 31, 2012

Spring is just around the corner

Even though it’s very cold

We’re smack in the middle of Chinese New Year — aka, Spring Festival — and while most people have returned to work, there’s still a party atmosphere in the city (and a ton of firecrackers). Today, also, was the first sunny day in a while. And, the weather is starting to get warmer.

All of this added up to: “Too nice to stay inside.” So we took our camera and got out there.


A group of musicians giving an impromptu performance by the river.

We found a new bar! You can hear people doing karaoke in the background, of course.

Jan 24, 2012

Happy New Year: I ate goat and rabbit tonight

Spring Festival with friends

An healthy spread for Chinese New Year
More pictures of our New Year’s celebration!

Our neighbors Xi Xi and Wendy invited us to dinner tonight with their family - during Spring Festival (that’s what they call Chinese New Year), family members take turns hosting parties for their whole clan. Peter has been fighting a cold for the past few weeks, and it has not been responding well to travelling, going out and staying up late, so he’s trying out staying home and resting. But I’m not sick, so I went along.

It was a lot of fun. Wendy’s sister-in-law is also an English teacher, and everyone there spoke at least a little bit of English, so I had someone to talk to all night. Like usual, there were many toasts, and everyone was excited to try out their English on me.

The issue that’s a silly issue for me is that the Chinese eat a lot of meat, and they’re much more OK with whole-animal eating that Americans-in-general and me-specifically are comfortable with. I guess you could describe my diet as “very picky,” and it’s a different kind of thing to negotiate than Peter’s vegetarianism. There are some things that I don’t feel bad about turning down outright; offal, poultry feet (once, someone offered me “duck’s paw”) or anything super cartilage-y, brains … But other than that, I do feel obligated to try everything that’s offered. Which is part of the experience; I’ve had to choke down some meat of a texture I didn’t really enjoy (according to a Christmas-present Sichuan cookbook [thanks Lizzy and Jesse!], the local cuisine is all about textures that are pretty foreign to the American palate), but I’ve also tried some stuff that I really enjoyed. As the heading says, I ate rabbit tonight, and that’s something I’m getting to really like. The goat … it wasn’t baaaaad, but it’s not my favorite.

But, regardless, the night was a lot of fun, and it’s such a great privilege to be invited to a family gathering for such an important holiday.

Jan 23, 2012

The Nian Will Not Come Tonight

Happy Spring Festival!

01 Xin Nian Hao

(This is not camera noise in the video above. There are so many people setting off stuff that it’s just that loud.)

So, tonight is New Year’s Eve. From what we can gather, the entire holiday is observed for 15 days, but the real heavy lifting is done in the first three days.

We went to the grocery store this afternoon in the mind of buying three days’ worth of food, and we were glad we did. There was almost an end-of-the-world feel, or at least a battening of the hatches.

At about 6 pm, the fireworks started. These were not city-organised; we passed by several stores that had been specially converted for the season to sell crackers and heavier to anyone who wanted. We bought a pack of snappers for the equivalent of 20 cents.

As midnight approached, it got loud. According to wikipedia, the celebration of New Year’s started with frightening off a beast called the Nian with loud noise and the color red. I think we achieved our mission this year.

02 Xin Nian Hao

Jan 7, 2012

New Year’s Eve, part 2

Time to eat

Dinner and karaoke are the perfect New Year's Eve celebration in China.
Check out the full New Year’s album here.

After the sports meeting, the school hosted all the staff for a big dinner at the Luzhou Laojiao headquarters. Luzhou Laojiao is the local liquor company here that is known throughout China. We have some connection with them - our school is named after them - but I’m not exactly sure what. Anyway, the city provided a few buses and we bussed over to the LL banquet hall.

The room was definitely decked out for a party, with lanterns and garlands and a bottle of Luzhou Laojiao on each table (by the end of the night, much more than that would be consumed). We were sat at the head table with the principals and a woman from the Laojiao company. Linda told us that it’s still uncommon in China for women to hold high corporate positions, so this woman was pretty cool.

Before the dinner, the principals made speeches and there were a few toasts to the school. Fortunately Linda was sat with us so that she could translate. Then the food started streaming out of the kitchen. When the table was full, the servers started stacking plates on top of plates. It was incredible! And really delicious.

After a while, Linda asked me if I would sing karaoke for the crowd.

She took me in the back and showed me some English-language songs, saying, “Pick something up [tempo], to match the mood of the crowd. It’s a party atmosphere.” Something I’ve run into in the few karaoke situations that I’ve been in here is that while the Chinese love American pop, they’ve fallen for songs usually that I’m not actually familiar with (or that I actively hate). But I always find something. This time I found “Wannabe,” by the Spice Girls, an oldy but a goody. When I started to sing, the whole crowd got to their feet. People started taking photos and videos on their phones and a few guys even offered me toasts while I was singing! When I finished and was walking off stage, an encore was called for. I looked to Linda, because I didn’t want to hog the whole night, but she nodded her head and I said I’d do it. “I love you!” cried our downstairs neighbor and she gave me a hug. This time I picked “Baby One More Time …” by Britney Spears. It went down a storm, again. But when I was finished, I ceded the stage to other performers.

They sang a mix of Chinese pop and traditional songs. Crowd members offered the singers little gifts during their performance, like fruit and one guy (joking around) offered one of the plants from the stage. This is a thing, I guess. While people sang, there was more eating and more toasting. But at a certain point, there was a collective, unspoken decision that dinner was over. (This turned out to be during while one of the principals was singing - I don’t know if that was related or not.) We’ve read, and seen, that the Chinese don’t tend to linger after dinner parties. There’s no: let’s retire to the living room and have some port and talk for hours. It’s more: food is done, let’s go.

So people slowly started getting their coats on and leaving. Though not everyone. There was still a ton of food left, and Luzhou Laojiao, and some were sticking around to enjoy it. But we were ready to leave. We got a ride home in the school car with some school officials. They helped me practice my new phrase that I learned, “Xin Nian Hao,” which means “Happy New Year.” (Pronunciation tip: “X” is pronounced with an “Sh” sound, so the phrase kind of sounds like, “Shin Nyan How.”)

It was only about 8 pm when we got home, but it had been a big day. So we rang in the New Year drinking beers and watching English-language television on our computer. Not too shabby.