Saturday, July 26, 2008

Living in Luxury

Living in campus university apartments for staff and teachers, is a step up from living outside with the frogs, stars, mosquitoes, and scorpions of Africa. My host family is pretty well-off. The father is a retired Chinese language teacher. He was the vice-president of a university.

Our apartment is on the fifth floor, the top floor and is a huge living space. There are two floors with the top floor having an outdoor patio with a lot of plants and where the washing machine is kept. There are 4 bedrooms, 2 sitting rooms, a small kitchen, and 3 small rooms plus two bathrooms. I still have a squat toilet though. It is a nice one. It flushes.

The living room probably will indicate to you just how luxurious my life is at the moment. Notice the pears on the table. My family always has fruit sitting out for me. We never use the tall air conditioner.

My bedroom is lovely. I have a hard bed which reminds me of sleeping on the rope cot in Africa, a taste of home. Back in the states I didn’t have time to get used to the soft beds. I have a nice desk where I spend most of my evenings learning Chinese or working on lesson plans. During practice school, I will be teaching English for 7 days on the theme of Summer. My teaching partner and I came up with the theme.
My bedroom has a clothes rack and I have the bottom cabinets of a bookshelf to put my clothes. There is a lovely big window which brings in a cooling breeze. The one bad thing about my room are the mosquitoes. I thought by moving to China I would escape from those tiny insects. I do have water though, so I don’t have to worry about staph which basically ruined my skin. My room has a guess what, air conditioner. I don’t find China to be too hot so I never use it. My host family noticed and gave me a fan which is nice. The fan is all that I need.

Life is good. I have no complaints. My biggest challenge is learning Chinese.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Daily Life in China

What is my school week in China like?

I wake up at 4 am and study Chinese.

6 am I go for a 30 minute run then eat a breakfast of yogurt sucked through a straw, a piece of bread and fruit.

7:30 I head to school, a 7 minute walk. (I am living on Chengdu University's campus in teacher's housing.)

8:30-10:15 Chinese language class

10:30-12:00 General session on cross culture, teaching English, safety security, or health

12-1:30 Lunch on your own

1:30-3:15 Chinese language class

3:30-5:00 Another general session

6:30 Dinner with host family

9:00 Bedtime


As a young girl, my favorite food was Chinese dumplings called jiaozi.

Here in China, it is one of the first words Americans learn, an easy dish to order at a restaurant. We only soon realize that restaurants don't serve jiaozi. You have to find the special hole in the wall places that sell dumplings and noodles.

Today, my family left the house early to go to the market to find the freshest vegetables on the day when veggies disappear quick, a Sunday full of thousands of shoppers. The market is such an interesting lively place full of wriggling eels, huge frogs, plucked geese being blow torched, peaches, and watermelon and hundreds of other food goods. We bought bak choy, dried tofu, green onions, eggs, thousand year old duck eggs, ground pork, cucumbers, and jiaozi wraps.

Freshly made jiaozi wraps! Yay! Dumplings for lunch.

It was super fun watching my Chinese host mother make dumplings and helping her stuff and squeeze them shut. I did a good job coz none of mine broke open when placed in the boiling water. I was proud and was rewarded with a tummy full of the most delicious things ever.

For dinner the ingredients we bought became a cucumber and thousand year old duck egg soup, a bak choy stir fry, a dried tofu and green onions stir fry, and jiaozi leftover from today's lunch that was rewarmed by deep frying. Yum yum!!!

I am excited about learning how to cook Chinese food.
I shall invite you to Chinese meal when I get back to the states.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Things Seen

The veggie market is gorgeous! It reminds me of West Africa's food markets except there are a lot more greens and other veggies.

Girls are very feminine here, not sure how I will adapt to that. Will I change into a femme who wears high heels and cute little dresses? My host family has already commented that I don't wear lipstick and I shouldn't eat too much. They don't want me to get fat.

The food is simple and delicious. The flavor is the vegetable itself. My host mother cooks about 5 veggie dishes each evening. It takes her two hours. We don't eat much meat, maybe a bite or too. The meals suit me just fine.

The family is very close. The first Sunday I was here, the father, the mother, the daughter and me all went to a clothing store and helped her pick out the best dress that everyone liked. She changed 4 times allowing us to see the two different dresses several times to help her make a decision. It took us about an hour to make the decision.

Men here walk around with their bellies showing. They hike up their shirts coz it is so hot.

I do not find Chengdu hot. Africa was A LOT hotter. I have no complaints about the weather. The other day we had a rain storm, lightening bolts from ground to infinite sky, tremendously powerful strikes seen from the glass wall of our language class.

When a little kid who hasn't been totally potty trained yet, has to go, his parents hold him out in the street and make sounds, "Shh, shhh, sway.. shhh..." I guess to help the child go. Children who are not potty trained yet wear clothes that have a slit in the crotch.

Gender roles are different here than in Africa. I see both men and women going shopping for veggies. In this household the mother cooks and the father and daughter clean up. There seems to be more equality. In West Africa most of the Peace Corps staff were men. In China, most of the Peace Corps staff are women.

My most difficult challenge so far is learning Chinese. It is hard.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Don't let Jennifer order if you are a picky eater

China is very different than Africa and is an exciting new place.

One of the main reasons I wanted to live in China though was to experience my ethnic heritage as an adult; however, being Taiwanese American in China has its challenges. I have heard about these challenges and yes they did scare me a bit, but I know that I am strong and can overcome difficulties proven by my two years of living in West Africa.

One major challenge is looking like I should be able to speak Chinese and not really knowing a word.

Tonight I went out to eat with three other Peace Corps trainees and felt the attention right away.

We walked through the alleyways between tall concrete polluted black coated buildings. We passed people sitting at hole in the wall quick eats looking for the noodle dumpling place we had gone to at lunch. Lunch was easy because our host country national trainers ordered for us. Instead of an opened restaurant, we saw the doors were drawn with the mom and pop preparing the dough for the next day. We continued down the alleyway that was just big enough for one car and walked into a noisy restaurant.

As soon as we sat down I was the person who all Mandarin was directed toward. All I could do was say, "I don't understand. I don't understand," in Chinese.

A crowd of 10 waiters surrounded our table. It was like being in a full bar with the music blaring except this place was only half full with no music. People know how to have a good time when going out to eat. There was so much noise and everyone was shouting at us. I was the only one smart enough to bring the menu that Peace Corps provided us that had Chinese dishes written in characters and explained in English. Since all of the shouting was directed at me, I had to make the decisions.

I got up and went to a table full of good food and pointed at the green vegetable dish that looked inviting. Then a waiter who spoke a little English pointed at various items on my Peace Corps provided menu and we picked two items: a pork vermicelli dish and a hot spicy tofu dish. Then the main waiter said something which I understood to mean that we had four dishes coming our way. We thought we had only ordered three.

So our three dishes came and then a HUGE pot filled with hundred of dried peppers and licorice like peppercorns filled with red oil and big chunks of fish arrived, our mystery dish finally making an appearance. But then another dish arrived, a HUGE bowl of clear broth with cabbage and a HUGE fish head. Lucky for me Africa taught me all about fish heads.

It was a meal to remember, savory, tasty, and cheap only $14 for the whole meal.

Plus I survived my first challenge, the challenge of being in a confusing atmosphere of language barriers where the locals can't understand why I can't speak Chinese and where I feel the stress of having to communicate somehow. It was intimidating but I survived. Lucky for me my dinner partners were not picky eaters.