Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chinese New Year

So Chinese New Year's Eve was Sunday night and I spent it with Jean. She was a bit homesick as this was the first Chinese New Year's that she hadn't spent at home with her family. And remember that Chinese New Year is to the Chinese like Christmas is to us in terms of being together with family.

Anyway, we stayed up to ring in the new year, and all throughout the night we'd constantly hear fireworks, not unlike you would in the states, perhaps for New Year's and certainly for the Fourth. However, at midnight... Holy Cow! (I just realized how appropriate that expression is after I typed it because on the Chinese calendar, this is the year of the ox.)

Anyways, at midnght, a deluge of firework and bombs went off. This wasn't like when you go to see a fireworks show and there's lots of fireworks they set off and you look at from a distance of perhaps a quarter or half mile. This was like fireworks being set off everywhere in all directions everywhere in the city. (By the way, I was in Hangzhou, a Chicago-sized city, during this.) And perhaps not as widely dispersing, but people would be setting off these rockets that would explode, with not a whole lot of fire, but a LOT of boom, and we're talking just outside the apartment. You couldn't talk, it was like a warzone, without all the imminent danger. It actually was kind of cool :) But, if you had plans to go to sleep shortly after midnight, you can forget it. While the super loudest bombs died down after about 20-30 minutes, there were till fireworks going off some place in the city until well into the night.

The next day, Jean left to go to Qingdao to visit her grandparents. She wasn't able to get a ticket to Harbin to see her family, but found a super cheap ticket to Qingdao to at least see her grandparents (like $40 one-way).

Since she was leaving, I went back to Huzhou. When I got back to the school, I noticed a bunch of leftover launch pads from dozens and dozens of rockets that the guards must have set off the night before. Considering how much is going at the school this time of year, I don't blame them. It's gotta be a relatively boring job to begin with, but when no one is in the school and off for vacation, ech.

Happy Niu Year everybody! (Niu means cow)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


So while I am learning the Chinese language and practicing in some form every day, I am also unexpectedly brushing off and practicing my Spanish.

Here in Huzhou, there is a Peruvian man named Erik. I met him around Christmas time and he and I have been hanging out a bit since then. His English is ok, a little bit better than my Spanish, but not great.

Anyhow, it's a good chance for me to dust off and get some practice with my Spanish and Chinese skills at the same time... Which also has some unwanted side effects. Since I've been studying Chinese more intensely and more recently, often when I want to say something in Spanish, the Spanish word just will not come to mind because the Chinese word won't go away. And I'm talking about with simple expressions like "I", "He is... ", "I want to...", etc.

But while I have forgotten a LOT of Spanish since high school (when I was actually pretty decent at it), having used it with him recently has gotten me back into the hang of it a little.

Now I just have to work on switch between "Spanish mode" and "Chinese mode" more easily. Which, like anything, practice makes perfect.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Vacation Time

Well, I was originally supposed to have classes at a training center this week, for a winter program they were having, teaching kids from 3 to 14. But, it ended up getting cancelled, so my vacation began this week!

So now, with not much to do (since my girlfriend still has to work during the week), and since many of the students with whom I have become friends have gone home, I've basically just been focusing on doing two things that I had become too lazy about over the past few weeks: working out and studying Chinese.

You may think, "well you're already in China, why do you need to study it?" The problem is, certainly being here helps a LOT in terms of exposure to both written and especially spoken language, but there's still so many words I just dont know, so I gotta keep at it.

Chinese New Year is a HUGE holiday here, it is their Christmas. The city gets decorated, the stores get super crowded, the same thing everyone back home was doing a month ago. Anyway, most of the time, people go home for Chinese New Year. My girlfriend's home is in Harbin (way way way northern China, practically Siberia. In fact Harbin is FAMOUS for its enormous ice sculptures). But she may not go home for the holiday. If she doesn't, the week she has off, we're thinking about flying down to Guangzhou for a few days. Guangzhou is in southern China, and latitude-wise it is like Havana, Cuba, so it should be nice and warm. The tickets are actually pretty cheap. Round trip for one seat is about $90.

By the way, to any of you who are reading, if anyone ever feels like giving me call you can do so at (813) 990-0980. Using Skype, I was able to set up a local Tampa number. Anyone can call this number just as you would any other number in Tampa, and its a local call (if you're in Tampa. If you're not in Tampa, it's still the same as if you are calling to Tampa). It goes to my Skype. If my Skype is on and I am home, I will answer it on my computer. If my Skype is not on, or I am not home, after a few rings it will get forwarded to my cell phone here in China.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I forgot to mention in my last post here that late last night it snowed here.

Only the 2nd time in my life that I'd seen snowfall.

But unfortunately, by the time I woke up this morning, around 7am, the snow had already melted so I couldn't get a picture. Bummer.

Finals for the Students

So today I wrapped up giving my students final examinations, which in their case was an oral presentation.

I have to say, in the last class today, one group of students did something that I couldn't help but laugh at.

First let me explain a phenomenon that is extremely common here in China that is fairly rare in the US. Quite often here you will see a group of girls, 2 or 3, walking along or in class holding hands or arm-in-arm. And we're not talking 7-year olds. We're talking girls as old as 25, 26 years old doing this. Anyways, you get used to it, and here, it's actually kind of endearing.

Anyhow, during this one presentation, there were a group of 4 girls. They were standing up doing their presentation and there was a pair on each side. Each pair of girls was holding hands throughout the entire dialogue, and it just reminded me of the Xmas episode of Futurama. They visit Robot Santa's workshop on Neptune and all the Neptunian elves there always are in pairs, doing everything while holding hands. After reading what I just typed it no longer seems funny, but if you've seen that episode, you know what I'm talking about, and it seemed funny at the time.

(By the way mom, I'm not being lazy and not typing Christmas, in Futurama, in the future, everyone calls it Xmas, pronounced "exmas", and that Christmas is an archaic pronunciation, kind of like "ask you a question" instead of "aks you a question")

Another thing I thought was funny is one group did a presentation on England and they said the food there was very good, which is funny considering everyone always talks about how awful the food is in England.

Finally, in another class, they also did a presentation on England, and while listing cultural activities that British people enjoy mentioned "watching opera." However, and I'm not trying to be mean, but with her pronunciation, the way she said it sounded like "watching Oprah."

I'm not making fun of these kids, as most of them are making a genuine effort, and learning a foreign language is definitely not easy. It's just the mistakes are sometimes a bit funny, and if you can't laugh at life, what fun is there? :)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Cold with a cold

Woke up this morning with a little bit of a cold, but not too bad, so it's really not a big deal.

But the weather is quite cold, and today it is sprinkling out so you have 40 degree rainy weather. Miserable.

Today I had my first set of "final exams." I had the students in each class work in groups and do a presentation in English on a city they'd like to visit, talking about the people, the culture, the food, things they'd like to do, etc.

It went pretty well, though I guess some of them weren't clear that for each group they should talk about one city. Some groups had each person talk about a different city. After looking back at what I wrote down for my requirements, it seems I wasn't explicitly clear, so as long as they had good information, pronunciation, and grammar, I didn't count off any points for that.

Something funny happened when the other foreign kids and I went out for dinner last week. We were talking and I had mentioned that the previous week, due to it being cold, me being lazy, and it being Christmas-time, I skipped the gym completely that week.

Ellis then mentioned that she hadn't been in a couple weeks, and that she Would go but that she "couldn't handle the stairs."

After hearing her say this, I was thinking in my head "I know we live on the 6th floor, but jeez, I didn't think it was that big a deal." After a couple of us didn't respond, she said, "It's just really annoying when at the gym and on the bus everyone is looking at me all the time."

She said she couldn't handle the "stares," haha.

(FYI: They stare because they don't often see a tall American female in Huzhou.)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Weekend in Huzhou.... and Shanghai... and Hangzhou

Happy New Year!

So this weekend I went to Shanghai to see the PS2 seller about my PS2 prblem. When we (Jean went with me) arrived there, the clerk hooked my PS2 to their TV, popped in Guitar Hero 3 (their disc) and let me play. Now the thing I was worried about is that the problem happens about 90% of the time. Perhaps 10% of the time it gets through the whole song without a problem. Luckily, it DID mess up in the song. So they got out another PS2, and I played the same song, and it went smoothly, no problem. SO they agreed to swap out the PS2. However, I had originally bought a red one and they didn't have another red one to swap it out with. It wouldn't have bothered me to have a different color one, but for whatever reason, they decided to have one of their workers leave the store and go to, I suppose, their supplier and get another one. (I'm not sure why, maybe it was that one they tested it with was theirs and they didn't have another one in the store of ANY color.)

Anyhow, we had to just stand around waiting for about 30-35 minutes before the guy got back and I tested it. I played three songs with no problem so I exchanged it.

I was glad to have that taken care of, but Jean was visibly bored and perhaps slightly annoyed at all the 麻烦 (ma fan, trouble). To add to her displeasure, when we planned to go to Shanghai, she asked if we could also go shopping at the fake market, to which I of course agreed. However, because we arrived in Shanghai a bit later than we originally planned, and because it took longer at the video game shop than anticipated, there wasn't enough time to to go to the fake market, and barely enough time to eat lunch (which by 4 o'clock we had not yet eaten) before catching a bus back to Huzhou.

At that point we would've gone ahead and eaten lunch/dinner, but I had ALSO forgotten to look up where to find a nice restaurant in that part of Shanghai, and Jean wasn't very familiar with that part of town. So, hungry, bored, and cold, we decided to go the bus station to head back. She knew there was at least a McDonald's at the Shanghai South Bus Station, so at least we could grab a bite before heading back home. I promised her that once we got back to Huzhou we could go to a 火锅 restaurant (huo guo, hot pot, like a fondue restaurant where you have a boiling pot and they bring you stuff you cook in it yourself).

However, as we were walking to the ticket counter, we came across a Papa John's. We hungrily and happily decided to go ahead and eat there! Our bellies full, and our moods both much improved, we left the restaurant when I noticed that also in that bus station was a Cold Stone Creamery! I had yet to find a decent ice cream place in China and it seemed like a good choice for dessert, so we got some ice cream. Finally we headed to the bus ticket counter only to find out the last bus for Huzhou had left at 6:05 pm and it was now 6:20 pm.

So we decided to take the 7pm train from Shanghai to Hangzhou and stay at Jean's place that night. It wasn't all bad though. At her place, we were talking about movies and she said she had never seen Back to the Future, so we watched it. (On a side note, Ellis, the other foreign teacher living at my school had ALSO not seen Back to the Future. Which is pretty unusual considering she is an American and even MORE unsual considering she was a FILM major!) Anyways, I was able to find the movie on a Chinese “youtube” like website. When I was clicking the link to it, Jean noticed the info listed about the movie, that it was made in 1985. She said, “That movie is 24 years old?” .... I had never thought about “Back to the Future” being an “old” movie, but the truth now is, at 24 years since its release, it is a fairly old film.

The next day in Hangzhou we ended up eating hot pot for lunch, went around, got some shopping done, ate a cheap pizza for dinner and finally hopped on a bus to Huzhou. By the way, speaking of shopping, there is a brand of clothing that I've never seen in the US before called Kappa. I find their logo very interesting, as you can see here. A Chinese friend of mine mentioned that the logo gets even more interesting when you cover the top part of it with your hand...

One other interesting thing I noticed is that they actually have an MLB store there in Hangzhou!
As expected the majority of the gear was Yankees stuff, but the most disappointing thing of all was that there was NO Rays gear. Nothing. Not a cap, not a hoodie, not a jacket, nothing. To be fair, the Rays weren't the only team for whom I didn't see any stuff. Neither did I see any Marlins, Orioles, Rockies, Cardinals, Blue Jays wear, or even anything for the Phillies or the Braves! So, I blame it more on lack of inventory.

After shopping, we headed toward the bus station. On the walk to the bus station though, I saw a strangely familiar sight... the Goodyear Blimp!

Anyways, this week in classes are final exams, and my students will be giving oral presentations in class. Then Thursday, if I can (meaning, if the field is open), I'm going to try and teach some of the students American football (for which I will try to fabricate some flag football belts) and then Friday morning I will wake up and watch the National Championship game through Slingbox. Go Gators!