April 29, 2007

Random (Toaster) Conversation...
As you may or may not know, bread isn't too common or popular in China. It's still a bit of a novelty and many people think it's funny that we in the West eat 'so much bread'. Then I point out how much Chinese people eat rice, which we eat only occasionally.
Anyway, near the beginning of the second semester it was decided that a list should be made of the things in my room in case I try to put the sofa or meat clever into my suitcase. The ladies who run/clean the dorm building came into my room and started to make a list. Then they saw it...
L1: What's that? (Pointing at my toaster)
L2: I don't know. (She walks closer to look)
L1: What does it do?
L2: Do you plug it in?
Me: Um, you put this (I pick up the bread) bread into it.
L1: Ah, it's a bread toasting machine.
Me: Yes.

April 26, 2007

The 1 Minute Job Offer...
I went to one of the local universities yesterday to say goodbye to Marie who's heading back to France after a week of travel with her parents. I met her between classes while she was dishing out slices of a huge cake she had bought for her students. While eating a piece, the head of the French department came over to say hi and introduce herself. We spoke for less than a minute when she offered me a job teaching French at the university to fill Marie's position (she will finish her contract this week). She asked where I was working now and when I mentioned that I had a contract here until the end of June she said not to worry.
It's a tempting offer. No real curfew, three classes of 20 to 25 students who really want to learn the language (instead of 16 classes of 65 to 75!), bathrooms that don't smell, accommodation close to the city centre, fewer hassles, no 6:20AM wake-up bell or late night boys-screaming-like girls upstairs, etc. The only cons are that the pay is slightly less (not a big deal), have to administer a final exam, and I wouldn't have a toaster.
What's interesting is that this is the second time the university has offered me a position teaching French there this year.

April 25, 2007

Random Conversation...
This one, or something very similar, happens fairly often.
A group of us, maybe 6 or 7 foreigners, were getting off a bus. A little kid waiting at the bus stop was quite excited to see so many foreigners, so he was jumping up and down and shouting.
Kid: 外国人!外国人! (Foreigner! Foreigner!)
Me: 你好。你会说英语吗? (Hello. Can you speak English?)
I hurried on because I was the one to get off the bus. As I walked away I heard:
Mother: 他说了“你会说英语吗?”为什么你没说“Heeello”?
(He said "Can you speak English?", why didn't you say "Hello"?)

April 24, 2007

The Honey Poo(l)...
One of my favourite places in town is called "The Honey Pool", though I affectionately refer to it as "Honey Poo". They've got great cakes, a relaxed atmosphere, and a recent addition of real coffee for a reasonable price. But it also includes two of the funniest signs that I've seen in a while. They crack me up every time I go to Honey Poo.
In case you can't read the signs clearly, I've included a typed version beside the photos.
to any your way
So much meat floss
all over!

'Meat floss' anyone?
Charlie and the Chocolate meat Factory

Since when did Charlie have meat in his factory?!

April 21, 2007

XinJiang Dancing and KTV...
I know there are a lot of photos from last night but I didn't take my own camera, which makes me a bit afraid to see what photos other people have.
A big group of us started out, late of course because we can never be on schedule, by going out for XinJiang food at one of the best little joints in town. Lots of chuar (beef tendon/ligament and lamb on a stick) followed by two huge steaming plates of potato and beef, and potato and chicken. It's definitely not Chinese food, and reminds me of a big spicy casserole from back home. It's served with long flat noodles and nang bread that you can dip into the sauce.
After dinner a large group of students at another table, from XinJiang and studying at the local uni, pulled out a guitar and started singing a bunch of traditional (drinking?) songs in Uighur. It was really cool to hear, and us foreigners thought it was great (I'll see if the video turned out, and maybe I can post it). One thing led to another and I ended up asking them in Chinese if they knew any English songs. So the Laowai and the XinJiang joined forces to take over the restaurant and belt out a few classics (with the few remaining Han Chinese taking photos on their camera mobile phones). After a few songs we were going to head off to KTV (karaoke) and we were almost ready to go when the guys called me back. They had cleared a few tables out of the way to make a bit of a dance floor in the restaurant and invited us to dance to a traditional XinJiang folk song. How could we say no?

We eventually made it to the KTV joint for a great round of songs (mainly in English), though Bob and I sang a song in Chinese for good measure (that one I posted way back in November). It was too much fun and a shame we had to leave KTV to make curfew while the night was still young and the songs were just getting started.

April 19, 2007

Random (Train Platform) Conversation...
This takes place just after we got off the train from Beijing to Baoding as Kim and I are dragging our bags and feet through the station. We were pretty much the last ones off the train when I heard some lady saying something loudly in Chinese behind us. It didn't register at first, but then I realised she was talking to us.
CL: You know that you're in Baoding? You've gotten off the train in Baoding. You're in the city of Baoding.
Me: I know.
CL: (Surprised look on her face) What are you DOING here in Baoding?
Me: Working.
CL: Ahhhhh, ok. What work?
Me: Foreign teacher.

April 17, 2007

Four Days in Beijing...
I was finally able to make it to Beijing for longer than 3 days, and that extra day made a huge difference. I was actually able to relax a bit, and enjoy some wonderful food (that's what my life seems to revolve around here, and my mom thought I was food obsessed before!). It gave me a chance to walk around and see more parts of the city, and to forget about work life for a bit.
Arriving on Friday morning with Jodee and Stephanie, the first order of business was getting a hostel. The lady behind the desk asked her friend in Chinese, thinking I couldn't understand, "should we tell them 60 or 70RMB?". So of course she told us 70RMB and I wouldn't take anything over 60. Next we went for lunch and had sushi before having Blizzards at DQ! The weekend was off to a good start when we met up with Kim and Tami at the hostel. The five of us headed out for all you can eat and drink at another sushi place for only 68RMB! Lots of sushi, sashimi, tempura, salad, and a few drinks. I planned to make it an early night, but I ended up running into a few Canadians and French at the hostel, so I didn't make it back until sometime past 5AM.
Saturday the girls headed up the Great Wall, so I decided to do a bit of exploring on my own. I started with Prince Gong's Mansion and gardens, which were quite nice except for the hoards of Chinese students on a tour who stood in front of everything interesting. But I could see how it would be nice if it was quieter. The weather was actually nice and warm, so I wandered by HouHai then to my new favourite cafe between the Bell and Drum Towers for a much needed iced latte.
Then it was off to the National Art Museum of China, which had a few really cool exhibits. I couldn't bear the thought of eating Chinese food so I had a turkey club sandwich back at the hostel, which definitely filled the craving.
Sunday morning Kim, Tami and I went for breakfast at Steak & Eggs, a great place with REAL Western food including toast from real bread, bottomless coffee, and even poutine (I almost cried when I saw it on the menu, I must go back!). The three of us headed to a friend's place for lunch where we head real shepherd's pie with a real salad complete with olive oil and vinegar dressing. See, I'm obsessed with food! Next we hit up the NiuJie Mosque, one of the biggest/oldest mosques in Beijing. The architecture was surprisingly Chinese, with only a few inscriptions in Arabic to set it apart from the average Chinese temple. Of course we had to have Muslim food (大盘鸡) for dinner.
Monday was my last day in the Chinese capital, so I made the best of it by starting off with pancakes and French toast at Lush with Kim near WuDaoKou. Next we went to the Beijing World Art Museum which had a great special exhibit on Pompei which for some reason we got into for 25RMB instead of the normal 50. We had a late lunch/coffee with an Aussie friend whom I met in Kunming, before grabbing another DQ Blizzard and the train back to Baoding.

April 13, 2007

Back to Beijing...
I'm going back to Beijing again this weekend!

I'll be there for four days or so, since my kiddies have exams on Monday. Yay for Beijing weekends!

April 10, 2007

Dragon Meat...
Way back when I posted about donkey burgers, one of my favourite local foods. I recently came across the Chinese saying "天上龙肉,地上驴肉" which roughly means "dragon meat in heaven is donkey meat on earth". I don't think I could've said it better myself.
In other donkey news, you can now buy fresh donkey intestine and some sort of donkey stomach jelly at DaRunFa (RT-Mart) in town. I think I'll stick to the donkey burger.

April 08, 2007

Music Video...
As an Easter treat for the long weekend back home, which is a not a long weekend here in China, I give to you 菠萝菠萝蜜 ("Pineapple Pineapple Money" -am I missing something here?) by 谢娜 (Xie Nuo). I don't claim to like the song, but I hear it every time I get on the bus so the tune is now stuck in my head. The music video is a bit interesting/weird too, so take 4 minutes out of your life and check it out.

April 07, 2007

Thursday this week was QingMingJie (清明节), or the Tomb Sweeping Festival, in China. Although my students and I didn't have any time off to sweep tombs, students at another middle school in town were given the afternoon off to take care of their ancestors tombs.
This time of year you often see a lot of people on street corners at night burning Hell Money for their dead parents. You do see them burning money all year long, but especially around this festival. People will also clean up the graves and sometimes offer fruit or alcohol to the dead, always left in groups of four (i.e. four bananas). My guess is they're left in groups of four because the words for "four" (四) and "death" (死) in Chinese are both pronounced "si".
In China cremation is highly suggested by the central government, as a way of preserving land in this overpopulated country with a lack of arable land. But of course people still want to be buried, which has lead to skyrocketing prices of funerals to between 10,000RMB and 20,000RMB ($1,300 and $2,600) in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai according to an interesting news article about pressures on the funeral system in China. Not to be morbid, but with a current population of 1.3 billion it will be interesting to see where all the bodies are put after they pass away.

April 05, 2007

Random Conversation...
This one shows some interesting differences; things we use in the West to describe people, like eye and hair colour, aren't so relevant in most of Asia.
A while back when I was taking a bus from town to my campus with a friend of a friend, a girl starts talking to me telling me what she studies and how she tutors spoken English. When she found out which school I worked at, the following conversation occurred:
Girl: Oh, I tutor some students that you teach.
Me: Really?
Girl: Yes, she is maybe in senior one or two, maybe you recognise him. But she never has talked to you. He is a girl.
Me: OK (*that narrows it from 2,000 to 1,000 students)
Girl: She has glasses.
Me: OK (*that narrows it to 600 students)
Girl: And maybe a round face.
Me: Hmmmm (*that narrows it to 500 students). Does she have black hair?
Girl: Yes.
Me: (*still 500 students) Sorry, I don't know which one you're talking about. I have many students.
Girl: Ah, OK. Can I have your phone number?

April 03, 2007

Random (Medical) Conversation Part II...
In China the Foreign Land People are supposed to get medical checkups before they are legally allowed to work/obtain their residence permit. Talking to one larger American with high blood pressure, he told this story which almost literally made me split my gut with laughter (it did hurt for a long time after).
So this guy goes to ShiJiaZhuang to get his medical exam and the doctor says that his blood pressure is too high to teach and therefore he can't work in China. The Chinese guy with him from the school has a discussion with the doctor, and voices raise over the next 30 minutes or so. Then he quickly pats the American on the shoulder and says "Let's go quickly".
The American asks what just happened. The man from the university informed the Chinese doctor that in American it's "fashionable to be fat". Because it's "fashionable to be fat" that also means that fat people have larger organs, including a larger heart to pump more blood. So because the American in front of the Chinese doctor is fat he must have a larger heart, which would explain the higher blood pressure.
"Fine" says the Chinese doctor, "he's medically OK to teach".

April 02, 2007

Random (Medical) Conversation Part I...
I've heard a few funny medical related conversations recently from a few foreigners in town. I think part of the hilarity is the way the story is told, but consider the situation and you too will laugh. The first conversation is quite short and occurs between a Chinese doctor and a Foreign Land lady with gall stones and goes something like this.
Dr.: You have a problem, something with the part that makes eggs.
FLL: No, it hurts up here.
Dr.: Yes, you have stones.
FLL: OK (as she has a painful gall stone attack in the room)
Dr.: You should stop eating so much meat if you don't want that to happen again.
FLL: But I've been a vegetarian for 10 years!
Dr.: Then you should stop eating so many green vegetables.
FLL: Which is it, the meat or the vegetables?!
He also told her to keep her feet warmer, so she went back to the US to have an operation to remove the gall stones.

April 01, 2007

Crazy Week...
This past week has been pretty intense, in many more ways than one. On Monday, after my 6 classes, I went out with a few friends for a big foreigners dinner and met a few new foreigners and touched bases with some I haven't seen in a while.
There was a lot of excitement on Wednesday when a police officer came to our school for a 'passport check'. It was interesting because he never looked at our passports, but instead asked us questions about our safety. Questions like "What do your parents do for work?" and "Do you have friends in Beijing?". Our interview was relatively tranquil, compared to other interviews where "foreign land people" were asked about their religious beliefs and the war in Iraq. The interview seems to have lead to a lowering in our curfew from 10:30 to 10:00PM.
There was a big disagreement near the end of the week which hasn't been resolved yet so I won't comment further.
Friday evening I went to visit some new friends and feast on an excellent home-made Mexican meal. There were enchiladas, horchata, pina colada, fresh salsa, and home made tortillas, all of which was incredible. The evening was a lot of fun, and we ended up staying way past our curfew so we spent the night at our friend's place.
Saturday was my birthday day, and I woke up on a few cushions on a Chinese floor. After I got my room cleaned up I had a bag of lamian for lunch outside in a park. In the evening I met up with a group of friends for Korean food (I'm tired of Chinese food, so Korean is always a nice change) at a little place behind the university and close to my dorm. After dinner we headed back to my place for some cake (thanks to Shakira), snacks, and gin and tonic (thanks to Kim and Tami). We all had a great time, and even got to play a round of "Pin the Tail on the Donkey Burger!" One of the VPs of the school, whom I had never met before, stopped by with a small bottle of wine and a bunch of bottles of Pepsi for everyone! There were a few funny stories from people as they tried to make their way home, but I'll leave that for another time. Jodee, Stephanie, and I ended staying up until 3:30 playing long games of 'Uno' (we were mean and Stephanie had to pick up 28 cards!).
This morning I went to Military Square Park with a few students to fly kites, a common Spring activity in China. Kim and I weren't too successful, and ended up flying my student's kite into an apartment rooftop where we lost it.