Holidays

Jan 5, 2012

New Year’s Eve, part 1

Let’s have a Field Day

The teachers jump rope
Check out the best of our Field Day photos here.

The Gregorian New Year isn’t a huge deal here in China (except for the fact that there are even more sales on). A Chinese friend, when we told her we celebrate New Year’s Eve with a big party, said,”But didn’t you just have one at Christmas?” But our school has an annual Field Day and dinner for the staff members on December 31.

Linda, my head teacher, told me to join them in the school gym wearing my sports clothes, which I had trucked halfway across the world and not worn yet, so I was happy to have the chance. For the rest of the teachers, “sports clothes” apparently meant, maybe bring sneakers or comfortable shoes to put on with your normal work clothes. So I was the odd one out, in my NY Running Club-acquired gear. (And, oh yeah, the gym is open to the outdoors, so that’s why everyone is wearing coats.) But, I pretty much stick out no matter what, so I couldn’t be too embarrassed about it. (Peter was an event photographer, so he was dressed in street clothes, too.)

We were divided into four teams by the grades we taught: Junior 1, Senior 1, Senior 2, and Senior 3. Because I teach Junior 1 and Senior 1, I did one event for each team. The events were: Horse Crossing a River, wherein each pair had to traverse the gym together stepping only inside the two hula-hoops that they inched down the gym floor; a sack race, which I had only ever seen done on TV before; jump rope - the handle had a counter and the idea was get as many rotations as you could in one minute; and a relay race. I did the last two. There were varying levels of athleticism on display - and a lot of falling over during the sack race - but everyone laughed and cheered everyone else on.

They announced the winners at the end. My teams both lost the events I was in (not because of me, I hope; I think I performed decently), but everyone got prizes. I won a badminton set! Now Peter and I will have to learn how to play.

Then it was on to dinner. See you in part 2 …

Jan 2, 2012

Christmas in China

It’s time to party

Santa is watching
More Christmas sights around Luzhou here.

We’ll get to New Years, but first I wanted finish up Christmas, which they do actually celebrate here. It’s mostly a secular holiday, though around 7% of the Chinese population is Christian (our head teacher’s mother is one), and they celebrate as you would expect by going to church. But for most people, Christmas Eve is a good excuse to party. So much so that our school bumped up curfew so that the kids had to be home early. (We did run into some of Peter’s students at karaoke, however, having a raucous time.)

Kids give each other presents, our friends told us, and adults throw parties and do karaoke. There are also massive sales, leading up to and after the holiday. (We bought our new toaster at a Christmas sale.) Santa is everywhere, saying Marry Histmass among other things. Like many things here, it’s surface-level familiar, but totally alien at the same time.

Dec 25, 2011

Christmas Eve in Luzhou

We throw our first party

A small party in our living room
Take a look at our Christmas Eve photo album.

Our teachers have been very kind to us at Christmas. Tonight, they threw us a pot luck party at our apartment - we provided the alcohol; they liked the sangria and gamely took tiny shots of Jack Daniels. We finally performed “Just Like Heaven” — I was sick when we were supposed to perform it at a school-wide assembly — and they loved it.

After dinner, we went to karaoke at one of the places by the river. We had a private room, and they asked me to sing every English-language song. Peter also helped me sing one song. It was very silly fun. And it made for a nice foreign Christmas.

Oct 7, 2011

Our first date in China

Let's eat

Today is the last day of our holiday - from what I understand, the Chinese government only allows schools to give kids 3 days for a holiday, but schools like to give kids five days in a row, so they just do make up days this Saturday and Sunday - and after we finished our lesson plans for the week, Peter and I went out on a date.

We walked down to the river (of course) where we met these girls.

River friends

They had been giggling behind Peter while he was taking pictures of something else, and when we started to walk away, they called out, “Hello!” They each took pictures with us on their phones. We said fair is fair and took pictures of them with me.

Our restaurant

Here’s where we went for dinner. We ordered food with the help of our list of translated foods. We kept pointing at dishes until we found two that this place served - our waitress was very patient.

Peter and the food

We ended up with spicy tofu, spicy cucumbers and steamed rice. It was very delicious, and very spicy. The meal, including 3 beers, cost $7.

Emily

Did I mention the food was spicy? The hot pepper flavor really fills us up quickly, even though we love as much as our foreign little mouths can take, so we took the rest of the tofu to go. I’m getting quite good at pantomime.

At the bar

After dinner, it was still early, so we walked up to Tower Square, where there was a western-looking bar. We attempted to order some whiskey (oh, the tastes of home!), but we ended up with two Budweisers instead. But at least they were cold; the Chinese drink their beer light and warm. On the way out, I took a photo with one of the workers. He spoke a little English, so he sat and chatted with us on his break.

We have class early tomorrow, though, so after that, we headed home. All in all, a lovely night. By the way, it’s in the mid 70s here.

Oct 4, 2011

Bao’en Pagoda plaza

Happy National Day

The tower

We’re a few days into our National Day holiday, and I think people celebrate just by spending time with their families out in the city. Peter and I have been doing that too, so we’re fitting in well.

Today we went out to the white tower that we saw from the bus yesterday. It’s actually just a block down from CBest, the department store that we’ve been going to every day in the city’s commercial center. We had thought we’d seen all of the center, but really we’d only seen the tip of the iceberg. This plaza is even more bustling than the square by CBest.They have a 24-hour McDonald’s there.

I couldn’t find a lot of information in English about this tower, but it’s called the Bao’en Pagoda, and it was built by the Song Dynasty in 1143. Some of my students mentioned it last week when I asked them what Luzhou was known for. It’s very pretty, though you can’t go inside. The action is all around it, anyway.

There were tons of street vendors set up all over the plaza, and a lot of activities for kids, like bouncy castles and small cars that they could rent. Something that I’m still getting used to is that small children don’t seem to wear diapers. Instead, their clothing has a gap at the crotch, or in some cases, no butt, and when they have to go, they just squat down wherever they are. Mom or dad cleans it up, and good as new!

Babies drive around blow up monsters in the plaza around Bao'en Tower.
Like what you see? Check out the full album.

Oct 2, 2011

还在下雨 (It’s still raining)

And I can understand numbers!

The view from our apartment
The small park across from our apartment

The kids were not lying when they told us that the weather in Luzhou is very rainy. The rain started yesterday and is set to continue through Tuesday/Wednesday. Thursday’s supposed to be sunny, though, and in the mid 80s.

But, last night, the rain did let up a little, and we took advantage of the respite to do some shopping. First we hit the big department store, just because we knew we could find certain necessities there, including the new wok and a broom. The place is called CBest, and it’s kind of like a cross between a Wal-Mart and a Bloomingdales. They sell groceries, housewares, appliances, jewelry, clothing and more. Some of the stuff for sale is junk, but some of it is quite high end. I actually find it very overwhelming. We usually have about 15 minutes before I tell Peter that I need to get out of there. I’m just not a shopper.

But, after that, we wandered the little streets by our house, checking out the smaller shops.

Our school is bounded by a large, bustling street to one side - Jiangyang Middle Road, Jangyang is the district we are in - and a smaller street lined with small ma and pa operations that we’ve taken to calling the low road. This side also leads to the Yangtze River. Between our school and the river, the narrow streets are lined with walk-in-closet sized shops which are jam packed with merchandise. There doesn’t always seem to be any rhyme or reason to what stuff a given store might sell. We’ve seen ladies underwear hanging next to electrical adapters and umbrellas. But this style of shopping was much more my speed. On a mission for pens, scissors and tape, we poked our heads into each shop to see what they had. We found the aforementioned items at three different shops, although the last shop, which seemed overall stationary themed, did actually have all three.

At the stationary shop, I was so proud, I understood my first spoken number: Liù () means six. I recognized it from a commercial we saw in which there was a phone number with a lot of 6s in it, so they kept repeating liù, liù, liù. Otherwise, I needed people to write out the Arabic numerals (their hand signs for numbers are different here), or I just kept handing them bills until they started to make change. I’m pretty sure no one took advantage of me, because I think we ended up spending about $4 total on pens, tape, scissors, 6 eggs (I think they were duck eggs; I know they were delicious), a pepper, a head of broccoli, an onion, 2 carrots and a healthy handful of green beans. The food we got at this (comparatively) large open market. Everyone was on the verge of closing up their stalls, but they were glad to make one last sale. The broccoli was actually the most expensive, which makes sense, because I think it’s a cold-weather vegetable (and see above re: mid 80s on Thursday).

I’m getting pretty good with figuring out the money. The yuan (which is also referred to as renminbi or RMB (the people’s money) is the basic unit, which is then divided into 10 units. This smaller unit is sometimes divided further still into 10, but I’ve only come across that once. They do have some coins, but what we’ve seen so far is mostly paper money. The “cents” are just smaller-sized bills, which has been a little confusing.

As for the holiday, we didn’t really notice anything special. There were some things on sale at CBest, but no real festivities out in the street. Our conjecture is that this is just a week off that people use to travel or visit with their family. Or, go shopping.

Oct 1, 2011

Work is done for the week, let’s fix up the apartment!

It’s our first day with no classes and/or meetings, and we’re taking the opportunity to get our apartment in order. We washed all of our bed linens - which will, with any luck, be dry by tonight (it’s supposed to rain all day and the air is really damp) - and we’re on our way out to the market to buy some cleaning and cooking supplies. The floors especially could use a good washing.

Let me tell you about our kitchen: We have a small fridge, a sink, a two-burner range, a microwave, a rice cooker and an electric kettle. The small laundry machine is also in the kitchen. Our cabinets are all on the floor and the counter is really low, which works for me, although Peter might want to get a little stool so that he doesn’t have to hunch over while he works. They left us some dishes: small deep bowls that we use for drinking tea and having soup, and larger shallow bowls that we use for rice and other dishes. They also supplied us with chopsticks and a Chinese soup spoon. We brought our own pint glasses (they have our favorite Marvel characters on them). After using these supplies for a week, we’ve decided this is probably sufficient in terms of dinnerware. We just need a new wok (the one they left us is pretty gross and the Teflon is crusting off. Quick aside: We suspect that in Chinese culture they don’t really throw anything out. Our apartment is all furnished with hand-me-downs, some of which are still useful, but some of which are actually garbage. We have a storage closet that looks to be full of busted junk. We may be adding to it soon.), a good knife and cutting board. Then we can start having meals that aren’t instant ramen (though the Chinese version is a little more robust than the American version) or rice.

But it’s not all chores. Today is National Day, which is actually a week-long holiday. We’re not really sure what this means, but we’re planning on going out tonight, and I’ll report back on what goes on.

Sep 29, 2011

The principal’s office

Today we met one of the school’s 4 principals. It was just an informal meet-and-greet; next week is National Holiday - the whole country has the week off from work - and the two teachers who are in charge of us are traveling to the US and Korea with some of their classes, and they wanted to make sure that at least someone in the administration knew who we were before they left.

The principal was very nice, though imposing looking behind a big wooden desk bedecked with Chinese flags. His assistant poured us some tea (they really do drink tea all of the time) and through our translator, he welcomed us to his school. This is a really busy time for the school, apparently. In addition to the traveling teachers, the school is also preparing to audition to get into the national arts and music program. But they promised us that they will throw us a formal welcome banquet at Christmas time. We certainly didn’t expect a welcome banquet, but they seemed really apologetic that they had to put it off for so long. There’s also talk of English department karaoke night when our teachers get back from overseas. We’re feeling pretty popular.