Qing Ming Jie - Tomb Sweeping Festival

Hooray for having our first long weekend since the end of the Chinese New Year holiday! We survived the whole month of March and we are feeling pretty successful. This past Monday was a Chinese holiday known as Qing Ming Jie or the Tomb Sweeping Festival. People visit the tombs of their ancestors and pay respect to those who have passed away. They also celebrate with food, as they do with every other holiday. The special food for this holiday is qingtuanzi which is a glutinous rice dessert filled with some sort of sweet bean paste in the middle. It was actually pretty good much to my surprise. 

Because we do not have any ancestors to visit here we spent the day in the city of Changzhou with some friend we made here. Changzhou is a small city just outside of Suzhou. It only took a 30 minute train ride for us to get there. We spent the day going roller skating. Holy cow the other people at the rink were SO GOOD! They enjoyed pretending like they were going to run into us backwards just to watch us dive out of the way because we were not skilled enough to actually turn... it was scary. But hey, I made some friends with a few Chinese girls that were there. They tried to teach me a few skating skills though my Chinese is virtually non-existent. They were very kind and helped me figure out how to turn a little bit better. Unfortunately none of my pictures from the rink turned out because of bad lighting... so the pictures I have of my new friends are not very good. 

Afterwards we went to Ho Mei Park in the City. Andrew (our friend) taught us that the park is directly in line with the Forbidden city and that the line that runs all the way through the Forbidden City matches up with the line through the park. It was a really nice park and we visited it at sunset. We enjoyed drinking coconut juice as we walked around and enjoyed the nice weather and the sunset next to the pagoda. The rest of the evening was spent at a hot pot buffet. It was so good and it was my first time at a hot pot. I didn't know what I was doing or how to go about it really, but that is half the fun of China. I thoroughly enjoyed throwing random things into my own personal pot of boiling water to cook them. It was a great day.

 

China life is rad. That's all I can say. 

Happy-okay

Things have been pretty busy here recently. We have been back to teaching for a little over a month and it has been crazy. The kids have been a lot of fun and have been learning a lot. I have also been learning a lot myself. One of my favorite stories from recent weeks is one particular afternoon when I entered Duckling classroom as they were having their afternoon snack. As usual the kids were asking me, "What's this?" And would point to their food. This happens daily. On this particular day they had some sort of liquid/milky substance in a bowl. I couldn't identify it from a distance. So I asked my coworker Cindy, one of the Chinese teachers, what it was. She hesitated a moment and then pulled out her phone. She typed the Chinese character into her phone so it could be translated. (This is a common mode of communication for us when our English and Chinese skills don't meet our needs.) I learned that the kids were eating tapioca. I knew what that was. The kids continued asking me what it was so I told them it was tapioca. Most of them looked puzzled and didn't dare make an attempt at forming the word. One particular student, Leo, who can be a bit of a challenge sometimes was sure he had it right. He came up, stood in front of me and said, " teacher, Leo happy-okay!" He had interpreted the word tapioca as happy-okay. 

Recently we have been preparing for what is called "Open Day" in the Kindergarten. On this day (two days actually) parents will have the opportunity to come to the school with their students in the morning and sit through a session of classes. We have had to prepare special lessons for these days and it has all been made to be very complicated. Also, given the lack of good communication between English and Chinese teachers we have no idea what is going on half of the time. I am truly learning the meaning of the quote, "Come what may and love it." My schedule has been changed, my classes have been disregarded, and sometimes I have been asked to teach lessons I am not prepared for. It has been an interesting ride for sure. I am learning to be more flexible because the Chinese culture demands it. And lets face it, it is not a bad quality to have. I am learning to expect the unexpected. 

A picture with my deaf student Richard. 

A picture with my deaf student Richard. 

 

We haven't had much time to explore lately because our workload has been pretty heavy with work and then our own schooling, but Mathias and I are still loving every bit of China. We had our first experience in a Chinese movie theater. It wasn't too different from an American theater except for the sweet popcorn (yes, no butter and salt flavor) and that the actual theater was extremely hot unlike American theaters that can be unbearably cold at times. We have also discovered some cheap restaurants on the back side of our complex (who would've thought...). Just yesterday we had the awesome experience of pointing to a random item on the menu and not having any clue to what it was. I ended up getting giant meatballs braised in soy sauce with some rice and soup. Mathias got duck leg also braised in soy sauce with soup and rice. So it didn't turn out too bad for us not having any idea what we ordered. Not to mention we learned the characters for duck and soy sauce. 

These are the things I love most about China. Even the mundane parts of life are an adventure. Going to the grocery store is like exploring a jungle. There are tons of different species of things we have never seen before. It is hard to take it all in at once. Learning how to pay the phone bill is an obstacle we have worked to overcome. Traveling across town to new areas we have not yet visited is a welcome challenge. China fills me with curiosity. I love it here. I love the people. I love the culture. I love the new challenges that each day presents. Being here has lead me to question every part of my life and that has in turn lead me to greater self-discovery. 

"Our journey as human beings is not about following a preordained path, but about creating that path. Life rarely makes more sense when things are done 'in order'. Life makes sense when we are centered in our own hearts and we let go of resisting how our own unique story needs to unfold in its own unruly way."- Anonymous 

This quote has never made more sense to me than it does now. Life is not meant to planned and limited. Each day is meant to be a unique adventure. Once we stop worrying about what the world expects us to be, that is what we can really start being who we need ourselves to be.

Ryan and his shapes art project.

Ryan and his shapes art project.

A few weeks ago while teaching shape names to my students we did an art project where I cut out several shapes and they used them to make a picture. I made a couple examples of a house, some fish, and then showed them examples online. As the kids started out some of them tried to make robots, fish, and other animals. However, as time went on they began looking at the papers of those sitting around them. Most of the kids took the easy way out and made the house I had made. In the end those who had started out using their creativity gave up and began making the houses as well. There was one student, Ryan, took the challenge and created what he called a dinosaur. Ryan's picture was unique from all of the rest because he wasn't worried about it looking like what I had done. He wasn't worried about what the other students were doing either. He used his imagination to create a piece of art that was entirely his own. I think we all would do well if we could be a little more like Ryan. 

One in a Billion

Fun fact: China's population is around 1.5 billion people right now. 

Knowing this, you can imagine it is pretty easy to get lost in the crowd sometimes. Especially when you are at popular destinations. Pushing and crowding is not considered rude, it is just part of life. This we got to experience over the last couple of weeks while we visited China's capital, Beijing. As impressed as we were by all of the historic places and things that we saw, we were also in awe at the sheer quantity of people that were there as well. 

This past week the rest of the teachers from our program finally made it to China. We came early so we had a month and a half of experience on those people. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves. Minus the part where we missed our train to Beijing... we'll blame that on overconfidence and just poor planning all around. Luckily we were able to get on another train an hour later. Most people won't understand how much of a miracle that is because it was peak travel time. During Chinese New Year most of China's 1.5 billion citizens travel around the country and train tickets sell out FAST! But we made it to Beijing and met up with a group of 40 other teachers going to various locations in China, though most of us were headed to the Jiangsu province. 

Throughout the tour we saw many incredible things. We went to Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace, to an acrobat show, the Temple of Heaven, Jingshan Park and many other things. However, our two incredibly unique experiences came from the Forbidden City and the Great wall of China. 

The Forbidden City. Never have I EVER seen so many people in my life!  I cannot even begin to describe the quantity of people that were there. Our group paid for a group ticket to get in which meant we all had to enter the gate one after another. Thinking about that with an American brain makes that seem easy and totally feasible, but it was a lot more complicated than you might think. Imagine thousands (yes, thousands) of people pushing (yes, pushing) towards a group of 10 or so gates where bags had to be scanned and everyone had to pass through a metal detector. Our program director made it very clear that we all had to enter as a group or some of us would not get in to the city. After that we plunged into the throngs. Our group created a chain, each person holding on to the person in front of them and somehow we managed to get through the crowds. (Though it did upset many Chinese people as we had to push past them...) Our chain kind of reminded me of the way elephants walk holding on to one-another's tails. We thought that once we got into the city the crowds would kind of disperse. They didn't. We marched through the Forbidden City elbow to elbow with who knows how many people. Midway through our journey through the city the words of one particular Mulan song came to mind. It says: 

"In a thundering heard we feel a lot like cattle..."

And we really did feel like cattle all the way through the palace. It was an incredible place though and was filled with so much history. It was nothing short of amazing. 

A small portion of the crowds we experienced in one of the courtyards of the Forbidden City

A small portion of the crowds we experienced in one of the courtyards of the Forbidden City

Lastly, I have to mention our trip to the Great Wall. The Great Wall was as great as we had anticipated. Upon our arrival our guide told us we could go one of two directions. One of the directions was relatively flat (as flat as a wall on top of a mountain can be...) and the other direction was a climb up to the end of this portion of the wall. We chose the climb. I have never seen stairs that steep before. I practically crawled up some of them. It was a hard climb, but eventually we made it to the end and there was a nice lookout point. Our trip to the wall was topped off by an amazing descent from the mountain. On this particular section of the wall they have built a toboggan slide down the side of the mountain. So you can pay a little bit extra in order to ride the slide down instead of walking. It was awesome!! It was also somewhat reminiscent of the Alpine Slide in Park City. So that was a lot of fun. 

Basically all I can say about the trip is China is amazing. The people here are amazing. It is totally a different lifestyle here, but I love it. Whether we are visiting a new city or trying daring new foods, China is one crazy adventure. That is what life is meant to be. 

"We travel not to escape life, but to not let life escape us."

One Month Later

Hello, my name is Myley. I am a student at the University of Utah. I am double majoring in International Studies and Linguistics. I love learning about the world, different cultures, and most of all languages. I love languages and communicating with others. I am fluent in Spanish and took a couple of semesters of other foreign languages and have really enjoyed that area of my studies. So naturally, when the opportunity arose for us to come to China and teach we jumped on it. 

My husband Mathias and I are currently  interning at the Suzhou Industrial Park Foreign Language School to be exact. We are foreign language teachers in the International Kindergarten. Our job consists of teaching children ages 3-5 basic English. If that doesn't sound like an adventure I don't know what does. Anyways, Today marks the fact that we have been in China for a month. The last month has been full of ups and downs, but most of all it has had tons of opportunities for us to learn and grow personally.

Lets start with our first few days here. We got here and were totally jet lagged out of our minds. We were taken to the apartment where we would be living by a driver that did not speak any English. When we arrived he asked Mathias to sign some form that was all in Chinese. We had no idea what it said. For all we knew we could have been signing ourselves into slavery. The apartment was a lot nicer than we anticipated and was well above the average living standard for most Chinese citizens. We were happy about that. We had a few days to get settled before we began teaching. 

Before our first day of school we literally had no idea what we would be teaching. We did not have any clue as to what age group it would be, or how many classes, or what our schedule would be like. All we knew, or thought we knew at least, was that we would be teaching English and that was it. Upon arriving at the school on Monday, January 4, 2016 we learned that we would both be assigned to two kindergarten classes each. Mathias works with the Dolphin and Sunflower classes while I work with the Duckling and Ocean classes. That was not much of a surprise. The shock came when we found out that we were not just teaching English, but we were supposed to be teaching math, art, music, and other subjects as well. We had not prepared for that at all. This was our first lesson on being flexible here in China. We learned quickly that things were not always going to be what we expected them to be. The important thing is that we learn to  appreciate things for what they are and make the most of the experiences as they come. 

And with that we started the adventure of trying to get groups of 25 children who do not speak English to understand us and interact with us. And the rest is history. Like all events in history, there have been good days and bad days but overall we have loved the experience. I feel like our experience thus far can be summed up with the quote:

"He who dares to teach must never cease to learn." -Richard Henry Dann