All Quiet on the Eastern Front

Alright, so that’s a stupid play on a great novel title. However, it’s appropriate.

I see that my blog has gotten a couple hundred views since I’ve been here, and I’ve been the world’s worst blogger too. I haven’t updated anything yet. Nearly two months here, and unless you’ve been keeping up on my Facebook, you’d think that I’d fallen off the face of the earth. Well, at least the face of the continent. Now that, my friends, would be rather correct.

So, two months in to my Chinese adventure, and what do I say about it?

Overwhelming. I went from feeling like a tourist, to having culture shock, to slowly accepting that this is my world and my life.

Frustrating. English and Mandarin Chinese sound nothing alike, nor do the languages even slightly resemble each other. Trying to communicate your needs to others is very difficult to do, even with Google Translate.

Exciting. Around every bend is something new. I see something different every day. I’m learning about myself and my resilience – and about a truly fascinating culture.

Silly. There are times when I just laugh. You have to, or you’ll be trying to get the next ticket to the West Coast. Or, at least, Hawaii.

But, I’ve done this because I didn’t want to stay the same way and I didn’t want the same things I did before. I wanted to teach abroad so things were different, but when they are different (even if you are expecting them to be different), that is a source of stress.

You can say you won’t go through the stages of culture shock, but that’s a lie. However, I’ve learned to recognize it and get over it quickly. I’m here for an adventure, not because I want to move my little American existence to China so it’s the same as before.

I mean, why else would I just up and move to China?

Alright, enough philosophizing. That’s boring.

Time for the cool stuff I’ve been up to between getting acclimated and starting up school!

Since I’m a listy-type person, I’m going to do a little list of some of the AMAZING experiences I’ve had so far in China. And, since I’m promising myself to do better about blogging, it’s my hope to update it daily, even if it’s a little blurb. That’s the point of a blog, anyway – to bugger you senseless about my ultra-cool existence.

The First Two Months: An Abridged Version
Reader’s Digest Edition

  1. 14 Hour Flight to Shanghai: Why was this cool? Well, unless you’ve sat on a plane for 14 hours straight, you have no idea how cool this is. Your legs cramp up, you fall asleep and hope it’s been a few hours but find it’s been only 45 minutes, and you have a lady next to you who pokes you because that’s just what she does. But, on the bright side (of life), I learned a bit of Mandarin from my seat partner, had really interesting airline food (pizza with soy sauce and slurpy noodles), and caught up on my reading and music collection. Oh, and watched the ultra-sappy movie about some army guy getting a letter from some chick and then said army guy goes and finds said chick after coming home, they fall magically in love, yada, yada. You can tell I really paid attention to that one…snooze…SNORE….ZZZzzz…
  2. IKEA Shopping: Sadly, there are no cinnamon rolls at the end of the tunnel of Swedish goods, but there are 1 kuai ice cream cones. If you go on Sunday, there’s the added bonus of it being crowded with a lot of people. The best possible purchase at IKEA was a mattress pad, because unless you like hard wooden bedframes, mattress pads are a lifesaver. Never mind a backsaver. Also, if you have lots of stuff in your cart, people like to check out what you have because they may want it too. 
  3. Foot Massages: Dude, it’s a foot massage. I don’t like people touching my feet, but I’ll make an exception for my #10 foot massager. She’s a genius. We go every Friday without fail. Nothing says “It’s the weekend” like a foot massage for an hour after having TGIF cocktails with your middle school staff. And, if you get a pedicure with your foot massage, they do it at the same time. I didn’t know who to kick in the face first, honestly.
  4. Great Wall: Yup, found it! Part of our 7th grade trip to Beijing was a foray into the countryside for a walk on the wall. And when I say walk, I mean a four hour hike. By hike, I mean mountain-climbing. By mountain-climbing, I mean crawling and butt-sliding because I’m such a chicken about heights. Some parts of the Great Wall don’t have walls, perhaps, unless you meet it on the way DOWN to the trees below. I never truly realized how high up the wall was. At the very tippy-top of mountains. Beautiful, astounding, and frankly, I nearly fell over before I even got up all the stairs to the wall just so I could walk/climb/hike on the wall. Got to see Mongolia, so I can check that country off my “To Do” list. 
  5. Abseiling (Rappelling) Down the Great Wall: I done jumped off the wall. I had a rope, of course, but I did have to actually jump. So cool. Would actually do it again – next year. 
  6. Temple searching: Confucian and Buddhist temples abound in hidden parts of the city. They are beautiful respites from the noise and traffic of the streets. The smell of incense rises up to greet you. Koi fish bubble up quietly in the ponds. Red ribbon prayers sway in the trees. The modern world encroaches but slips away when you duck into traditionally-built parts of the compound. 
  7. Hutongs: Did you know what a hutong was? No? I didn’t either until I came here and had to teach about them. They are courtyard homes in Beijing – a way of living for ages. We held an Amazing Race for the kids through the hutongs (easy to get lost in, BTW), and one other chaperone and I wandered around a bit until we found a bread-seller. I bought flatbreads and savory buns and steamed buns with brown sugar crystals on the inside. Hutongs radiate life; they are early suburban neighborhoods. Everyone was really friendly. 
  8. Mandarin Chinese: I’m taking classes. I can type in pinyin. Pinyin is the Romanized letter form of Mandarin so us Westerners can learn the pronunciation of Mandarin. I can recognize several characters now, and I can always find coffee. Starbucks’ half-dressed mermaid is internationally-recognizable, though I know the Chinese character well enough now. 
  9. Antique Halls: Harry Potter’s Room of Requirement has nothing on these little back alley places. Piled high with steamer trunks, bird cages, teapot collections, Buddha heads, furniture, and music boxes, these antique buildings are a story waiting to happen. My mind was running rampant. 
  10. Random Alleyways + American Stores (in Asia): Tourists don’t know what they are missing. They stick to the tour books; we find the roads less traveled by. You never know what you’ll find – street food, markets, seafood, antiques, friends, etc. By proxy, I have also found a Walmart and a 7-11 here. Different.
  11. Street Food: America is just getting on the street food bandwagon with food trucks. China is putting it in its prime. The street food is absolutely fabulous – and cheap compared to Western restaurants. Yes, you do have to have a sense of adventure and a stomach of iron, as some of the stuff isn’t for the faint-hearted. My favorite so far include the following: roasted, salted chestnuts; baked and roasted purple yams with brown sugar glaze (they crack the yam open after roasting and glaze it); danbing – a flat, grilled bread with scrambled egg, bacon, ketchup sauce, and spicy mayo, rolled up; octopus balls – bits of octopus with scallions made hushpuppy style; fried Shanghaiese noodles with egg; Shanghaiese dumplings – soup dumplings; and Eggy Bread – well, what I call eggy bread because I have no idea what it’s real name is – a huge flat piece of egg and bread with different fillings like scallions, radishes, and thinly sliced potatoes. My least favorite? Salted fish on a stick, grilled millipede (no, I did NOT eat), and sticky PB&J square. Am planning on purchasing a whole (yes, whole, merely plucked) Peking duck for dinner one night. 
  12. Street Markets: What do you need? I guarantee I can find it. Be it tech stuff, kitchen stuff, fruit, veg, fish, crabs, flowers, DVDs, dumplings, tea – there’s a market for that. We found a kitchen market where I got several small kitcheny things I needed like a garlic press, cheese grater, and mixing spoons. I buy fruit and veg from a guy on the street where I live, and personally, the figs and black grapes are amazing. I just got rose tea and jasmine green tea from huge oak barrels at a tea merchant. I got earbuds for my iPhone right next to my kitchen seller. Markets are awesome – be prepared to bargain hard. 
  13. Fabric & Pearl Market: You can have anything custom-made here. I got a royal blue cashmere and silk winter coat made and a red cashmere half-cloak made too. All for great prices. Also, the pearl market is wonderful for all sorts of gifts. They’ll even make commissioned pieces too if there are other stones and pearls you like but don’t see made already. 
  14. English Book Stores: No, not like British bookstores (but if I’d found that, trust me, you’d know!), but English-language bookstores. You take it for granted that you can pop over to Barnes & Noble whenever, but here, of course, English bookstores are usually small and have only a few titles. We found a larger one the other day, and our excitement was extreme. Of all my six books I picked out, all six were about England. Strange. 
  15. Shopping on Nanjing Road during MidAutumn Holiday: If an Olympic medal existed for shopping, I should have a gold medal. Nanjing Road is the hotspot shopping district in Shanghai. Do recall that Shanghai is populated by about 23 million people. Nanjing Road looked like a never-ending tide of those 23 million people last Monday. It was honestly incredible. So incredible that people were stopping to take pictures of people. It was Black Friday at Super Walmart times a couple million folks. How people got shopping done, I don’t know, but I did try for shoes. However, I have wide, big feet. Not really popular and easy to shop for. But, the bookstore, and my discovery of a yarn store did make me very happy despite the madding crowds. 
  16. Shopping at Carrefour on Sunday Afternoon: Oh, Carrefour. My sweet, amazing, Carrefour. It’s Woodman’s on steroids with an Asian twist. There is the indoor wet market at the back. I often check in on the bullfrogs and turtles and say hello to them. I mock the fishies in the tanks only because I can. The bins of chicken feet amaze me. I do wonder how they taste, but I haven’t the means to prepare them. The bulk bins are fascinating: star anise, cinnamon logs, chamomile tea, rose tea, lotus root, green tea, jerky, seeds, nuts, rice, barley, millet – you name it, I may be able to find it. It’s a culinary paradise if you’re a cook looking for some really neat things to prepare in your dishes. Personally, plucking out your own mussels from a tank is a character builder. So is purchasing your own cuts of beef. Moo. And pork belly. Oink. But it’s also an exercise in people-watching too. I think you could do a great thesis about grocery store behavior. Until you’ve been to Carrefour on Sunday, you haven’t been grocery shopping. Pansy. 
  17. Lost in Translation: It’s no surprise that I’m a grammar nerd. So, I find signs that are just interesting even more interesting than others do. I can only imagine how hard it has to be to translate signs. 
  18. Teaching: Oh yeah, I did come here to teach. I do work, honestly, between the foot massages and weekends spent exploring the city. The teaching part is awesome, by the way. I’m loving it. My students are the awesomest group of 7th graders here – and they know it. They seem to like my off-the-wall, quirky personality – and the fact I do wacky things like the chicken dance, squirrel-chasing (it was mocking me!), and the cha-cha slide (we have a double period together – they need to move!). They challenge my own learning and the way I see things. I’m growing every day I teach – no matter what I teach or where I teach.
  19. Bubble Tea: Bubble tea, Bubble tea, bubble tea. Thou art delicious. Once you go bubble tea, you can’t go back. It’s wonderful tea (of many flavors to choose from) with huge, chewy tapioca pearls that you suck through a wide straw – and, if you aren’t aware of such slimy, gooey things in the first place, inevitably choke upon. Not that I did. I just heard about someone’s cousin’s sister’s friend who did… 
  20. Friends: I have made great friends already among new and old teachers. We really bonded that first week together, and now we’re travel buddies. We hang out at each others’ apartments on weekends. It’s like college without interviz, dorm rules, and roommates.
Great Wall Tower

So, there’s a rundown of my life so far. I will try to do better in the future about updating so I don’t spend an entire night doing this again in two months. It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least. 

Looks like a giant, writhing dragon.
Postcard perfect
Never know who you meet along the way. This is a Mongolian farmer who sells souvenirs on the wall.
Endless wall

From the top of the hill at Via Ferrata

This would be a Rocky Mountain High, if only it were the Rocky Mountains.

In a Soviet/Chinese bunker. I had to say, I was having a District 13 moment in here.

Great Wallin’ it.
Backbone of the dragon

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