Saturday, April 16, 2016

Shanghai

We left for Shanghai at around 6:30 pm on Thursday, March 10th. It was our first official vacation (we got Friday and Monday off from teaching) and we were SO excited. Our head teacher had lived close to Shanghai the last time she was in China, and she had only good things to say about this thriving, modern city. We took taxis from our school to a bus station, where we took a 2-hour bus ride to the Guangzhou Airport. We waited around for our flight for a few hours, got some expensive airport food and finally boarded the plane. It was delayed almost two hours, which we are now finding out happens basically all the time in China due to air traffic problems. We got into Shanghai around midnight, and after another hour of trying to translate directions to our hostel from English to Chinese, we finally figured things out and got a couple taxis. The taxi ride was quite an adventure in itself- our driver was going about 60 mph through town weaving in and out of cars. Chinese drivers are not to be messed with.

 Our hostel.

Around 2:00 am we made it to our hostel. It took a while to get our payments sorted out and close to 3:00 we finally got to go to sleep. Well, sort of. The six of us got split into two rooms, and the room I was in had five other guys already sleeping soundly. Well, four guys were sleeping soundly and one guy was snoring so loud the walls were shaking. Seriously, I swear he had a megaphone stashed under his pillow. It was sort of unbelievable how loud he was. One of my roommates was across the room from him and she got a recording of his (quieter) snoring on her phone and you can't help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. I laugh at it now, but when I averaged about four hours of sleep a night in Shanghai it wasn't quite so funny.




We woke up late on Friday and decided to explore some of the more touristy parts of Shanghai. We took the subway to People's Square- Kind of a Chinese Times Square. It just had a ton of shopping. Right away we found a cute little souvenir shop where I bought my first souvenir- a pig key chain. (I'm the year of the pig.) There were a few Chinese shops along with a lot of American stores, including H&M, Forever 21, and an Apple store. We also found a Subway for lunch, which was very exciting. Their meat tasted a little funny, but no one got food poisoning so we were ok. After lunch we did more shopping all evening. I found some really pretty scarves and fans for gifts. We ended up heading back to the hostel pretty early since we were all exhausted.









On Saturday we went to the Yu Gardens. It was this really gorgeous gated garden in the middle of the city. It had some beautiful ponds with lots of Koi fish, a room full of old Chinese paintings, lots of walkways and trees, and really pretty architecture. We spent a few hours in the gardens, and then went to go find lunch. Shanghai is a huge, touristy city, but we had the hardest time finding good places to eat. We ended up getting noodles and dumplings (which were actually very good) at this sketchy looking place. After they gave us our food we had to go up two flights of stairs to find a place to sit. Upstairs we discovered they were cooking stinky tofu, a popular dish here that happens to smell like the rhinoceros exhibit at the zoo. It's legitimately hard for me not to vomit when I smell it. After lunch we found this cute area full of yet more shops. We came across one guy who painted our names in Chinese with really beautiful pictures. We also found the cricket market, which sells (among other things) crickets because they're lucky. Mulan was very accurate about that one. In the evening we went to the Bund, this walkway across the river that gives a great view of the skyline of Shanghai. It was insanely crowded, but eventually we were able to work our way to the front of the crowd and get some pictures. After dinner we went back to see the Bund at night, which is quite an experience.




On Sunday we went to Suzhou, a twenty- minute bullet train ride away. Suzhou is known as "the Vienna of China", full of gardens and canals that run through the city. There is also a church branch that meets in Suzhou, so we were able to go to church, which was really cool. It was small, only about 30 people, but everyone was super friendly and it was a really cool experience to attend church in another country. We talked to the branch president and his wife for a while and they gave us some suggestions about where to go in Suzhou. We got a ride to a part of the town that supposedly had some cool canals, and our driver dropped us off on the side of the street. Did I mention it was freezing? It was freezing. We walked for quite a while until we found sort of a strip of stores on a cobblestone path that looked kind of touristy. It was pretty but we really wanted to see canals, so we tried asking a bunch of different people for help but no one seemed to want to help us. We did end up finding a few canals...not quite the ones we had seen on Pinterest, but still pretty. We also did some shopping and I found this really cute tea set I decided to buy. My roommate and I also found a puppy and played it for while. We were supposed to be able to take bus back to the train station to get us back to Shanghai, but we couldn't find any buses so we ended up just walking to the train station, which took us about half an hour. We got there around 7:30 pm and found out the next train didn't leave until 10:00 so we had to wait in the train station for a few hours. I'll spare you all of the uncomfortable details, but we met a lot of very strange people there. We kind of stand out as six American girls in a sea of Asian people, so we tend to get targeted by the weirdos. It happens a lot, but the Suzhou train station was by far the worst. After a lot of creepy stares, panhandlers, and people following us around we were able to get on the train and get back to Shanghai. When we got back to our hostel we had the best surprise- the snorer was gone! I almost cried I was so happy. We ran to our other roommates' room, and it was literally like a whole different world. We walk into their room and some Chinese guy hand us chocolates and asks us how our day was going. Their bathroom didn't smell like pee like ours did, and it just seemed so much cleaner and nicer. We talked with some of the other guys in their hostel room and had a really good time. Then we went back to our room and realized the toilet was clogged and full of poop and they didn't clean it for the next two days. But at least we could sleep at night.

Our plane back to Guangzhou left Monday evening, so we had some time of Monday that we decided to fill with the fake market. The fake market is this market full of booths and shops inside the subway station. It's totally illegal, but they let it slide. It's full of clothes, electronics, shoes, etc., that claim to be name brand but are really fake. This is where I learned to barter/bargain! It was super scary for me at first. Basically you just argue about the price of whatever you want to buy. They set the initial price enormously high (especially  for us since we're tourists) so we would try to drop it as low as we could. I had a few people tell me to just leave their shop because apparently I was asking too low, but I got everything I wanted for pretty decent prices. I got a pair of Nikes, a pair of Vans, a pair of Toms, a pair of Hunter boots, and some Chinese tassel things that are really popular here. It was fun bargaining for a while, but it did get a little exhausting after a while. One guy also tried to steal my money too, so I had to totally confront him and basically demand my money back. There is also a pretty cool Pearl market next to the fake market, and we had a great time in there. It was actually my favorite place in all of Shanghai. We met a super nice lady who gave us a great deal on pearls. These were real, too. You would buy pearls by the strand and then she would string them into a bracelet or necklace right in front of you. It was a lot of fun.

We got on a plane to Guangzhou that night and got into Guangzhou close to midnight. It was too late to take a train back to Zhongshan, so we had booked a hostel to stay in for the night. We waited in line for an hour to get a taxi, and rode the taxi for a good 45 minutes to the address we gave him. It cost us a lot of money, but at least we got there alright. We were dropped off on the side of the road at 2:00 am and wanted nothing more than to just get into a bed and sleep before we had to get up the next morning. The problem was we couldn't find our hostel. Anywhere. The address we had led us to some closed convenience store, and nothing nearby resembled anything like a hostel. After wandering around for ages we went into a hotel to ask for help. A very nice Indian man who happened to be taking a smoke break offered to help us. He walked back with us to where our hostel was supposed to be, and after he couldn't find it he went back to the hotel and asked the concierge to come out and help us. We walked around with the man and the concierge for another half hour, and even with the concierge talking to every Chinese person we came across we were completely lost. Eventually we figured out the hostel was in this huge apartment complex nearby, but when we found the building the security officer wouldn't let us in. So we called up to the room and our hostel owner kept hanging up on the concierge because she thought he was the police or something. Finally the security officer took pity on us and let us up, where we found the room which was actually our hostel and the owner, a woman, let us in. There we found out she had given one of our beds away because we didn't show up when we said we would, even though we had called a dozen times earlier that day and she never answered. One of our girls had to sleep on a couch, but it all worked out in the end. We got to bed around 3:30 am and had to wake up at 7:30 on Tuesday to get a train back to Zhongshan because we had to teach that day.

When we got to the train station by our hostel we were told we had to go to a different train station clear across the city to take the train we wanted, so we took the subway clear across town and finally got on the train we wanted. We got into Zhongshan around 11:30 am, grabbed lunch, took a shower, and had to teach at 2:15. It was a long day. We slept well that night.

So. Shanghai was cool and great for shopping, but would I go back? Probably not. Would I recommend it to anyone visiting China? It depends. I don't like cities that much to begin with, so my opinion is a little biased. If you're someone who does like cities, I think Shanghai would definitely be worth stopping by. It is very modern but also combines a lot of Chinese history which was really cool to see.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Teaching in China

This post is just going to go over what my teaching schedule is like while I'm here, for those who are interested.

Monday-Wednesday I teach from 2:15 to 5:25. Lunch is at 11:30 and after that we will usually go to the school and prepare our lessons until it's time to start. It is a pretty easy schedule. On Mondays and Wednesdays we pick up 2nd graders and first and do two rotations with them, which are 25 minutes long. Then we take them back to class, pick up the 1st graders, and have four rotations with them. Everyone is assigned a group. I have the "Blue" group. We end with our home group every day. I have a home 1st grade group and a home 2nd grade group. So we teach other people's groups but evaluate our own and do more with our own group.

Thursdays we only teach until 4:30, so we have two rotations for each grade. Fridays are super short and we only have one rotation for each grade.

I have to let it be known- We may only teach for a max of three hours a day, but it feels much longer than that. Chinese kids are...insane. They have so much energy and they don't really consider us an authority. The Chinese teachers here are allowed to hit the kids and we aren't, so the kids will be a lot worse for us because they know we can't really do anything. Plus the language barrier is awful because especially with the first graders it often feels like they take in absolutely nothing from our lessons. Everything we teach is in English, and the children are not allowed to speak Chinese at all during the lesson. That never happens, of course, we just have to do our best to get them to stop speaking Chinese. Everyone is exhausted by the end of the day.

That being said, the kids are adorable. They are so sweet and cute and fun to be around. Their energy is infectious. Nothing makes you feel better than a eight year old Chinese girl telling you you're beautiful.

I am absolutely in love with my kids. Both my first grade class and my second. I'll try to get individual pictures of each of them up here sometime. They love pictures, which is great but it's also hard to get a clear one because everyone want to be in the shot!

First grade:
Leo- Leo is a dream. He is just so cute and the funniest kid. He makes me laugh every day. He's also a very good student and will do his best to listen to me in class and participate a lot.

Wing- Wing is so fun. At first glance she is the sweetest, shyest little girl but she'll stand up for herself if she wants to. Once she hit one of my boys and made him cry because he was teasing her. She's really smart too.

Michael- Michael can be a little difficult sometimes, but he is easily one of the smartest kids in my group. He likes to goof off and not try, but when he does he definitely knows what's up.

Bryce- Bryce has been my favorite student to watch progress. He started off being so difficult to work with- he wouldn't try, he wouldn't speak, and he would just talk to everyone in Chinese. He still goofs off a lot and has a hard time grasping concepts, but I have seen definite improvement in him. I've learned that if he sits next to me he follows the lesson much better.

Marcus- Oh, Marcus. I love this boy. He is just cute. He's a bit of a stinker, but nothing too bad. Currently he's missing his front two teeth which makes him that much more adorable. He also has the most genuine laugh. There is just pure joy in that face. Also I'm pretty sure he has a crush on Marley.

Caleb- Caleb is just funny. I'm pretty sure there's a lot more going on in his head then he lets on. He likes to just stare at you with a blank look on his face for ages. He's very sweet though.

Marley- And my sweet Marley. Marley is the ideal student- she is smart and kind and participates fully in every class. She and Wing are best friends, which is so cute. Lately Marley has been doing this thing where I put up my hand for a high five and she tickles my hand instead. Melts my heart every time.

Second Grade:
Coco- Coco is my perfect child. She is smart and genuinely so kind and speaks really, really good English. I love everything about her.

Bayley- I'm not going to lie, I wasn't crazy about Bayley at first. She is very touchy. She also really likes to pinch my butt, which is weird. But I've gotten used to her and now I just adore her. She can be a bit of a handful but she's very smart and sweet.

Hayden- Hayden is just a typical boy. He loves to pretend to shoot me with guns and run around and be crazy. He takes a little longer to grasp words but he tries really hard. He is extremely sweet.

Bill- Bill is one of my smartest. He is also very similar to Hayden and likes to play fight with him. One of my favorite memories ever though was when we were doing face painting for an Easter Party for the kids and at first Bill wanted nothing to do with it because it was too girly. Then he saw Hayden get a rocket ship on his cheek, so Bill decided to go for it. And he picked a butterfly. So I drew this butterfly on Bill's cheek with I melted.

Emma- Emma is very quiet but easily one of my best students. It took her a lot longer to warm up to me, but now that she has I just adore her. She is very kind and I love being around her.

Hazell- Hazell was another student I wasn't crazy about at first. She can be kind of moody, which is strange for an eight year old. But she has improved lately and actually has very good English. She has gotten much sweeter towards me as well.

David- I'm not sure if I've completely figured David out yet. He is a big kid- very tall for his age. He's pretty smart too, but sometimes it takes him a while to get things. Sometimes he's loud and goofy and other times he's quiet and shy. I really like teaching him though.

Tony- Tony, Tony, Tony. Tony cannot sit still. He is physically incapable of sitting still for more than five seconds. He is also the clingy-est child I have ever encountered in my life. I've had times I've look away from him and in two seconds he was sitting on my lap. He loves to hold my hand and wrap my arms around him. He can be exhausting to be around, but I love him so much. He is so sweet.

Morgan- Morgan cracks me up. She is this tiny, cute, little girly-girl who wears bows in her hair every day and is super quiet. But when she get crazy she gets really crazy. Like, shakes her whole body around and screams crazy. But she's good in class and always makes me smile.

 Marcus on the left and Michael on the right.

 Hayden


 Baylee


 Tony


 Marley

 Marcus



 Marley




 Coco



The Ups and Downs of China

So, good news: I think I might be able to blog again! In case you didn't catch it last time I explained, you need a VPN to access many websites and pretty much all social media sites in China. Blogger is included, since China is not a big fan of Google. I have a VPN on my phone, but for some reason it doesn't like my laptop and won't work there. But today I did some digging and was able to get a VPN on my computer that has worked for three hours now, so I'm crossing my fingers that it will last.

I definitely have a lot of catching up to do. I've been living in China for over a month after all. Lots has happened. And I promise I will catch up, but first I wanted to do a post on what it's really like living in China. When I share my pictures on Facebook and Instagram, I'm sure it's easy to think that my life is basically perfect right now. I'm traveling the world, I'm teaching adorable kids, I'm making new friends, and I'm literally crossing items off my bucket list. And that's definitely true- I don't want to take away from that. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and experience.

But I think it's important to know that social media only shows the good side of things. And now I'm not talking about just me- 95% of the posts you look at, especially on Instagram, will make their subject look perfect. They show a fraction of a second of a person's life, but we look at them and wish our lives were as perfect as that. I do this all the time. So for the sake of making a point, I want to share what my life is like here in China.

1. First of all, China doesn't have clean water. We are lucky enough to have clean water supplied to us at our apartment, but anywhere we go we have to bring our own water or buy it. You can't drink out of the tap unless you want a parasite growing inside of you.

2. My shower is a corner of the bathroom with a drain in the floor. The water heater also has to be turned on at least 20 minutes before showering, but not more than 50 minutes because then it shuts off automatically and the water begins to cool. That's when it's working correctly. I've had more cold showers here than I would have liked because the heater just didn't feel like working.

3. Humidity is not fun. It is extremely humid here, and basically all it does is take the temperature outside and make it uncomfortable. When we first got here and while we were in Shanghai it was so about 60 degrees, but the humidity made it so cold that with five layers on I was still constantly shivering. This past week it has averaged 75 to 80 degrees, but the humidity makes it so that you sweat the second you step outside and don't stop sweating until you take a shower that night. You feel sticky all the time. My jeans haven't felt dry since I've gotten here. So far two pairs of shoes in our apartment have molded. MOLDED.

4. We have rats. Our supply room at the school always has rat poop in it. We found a dead rat at the bottom of the stairs a few weeks ago. We have to keep our food in bins so we don't attract them. We also have cockroaches. I woke up to one scurrying on my bedroom floor this morning. Also, mosquitoes. So. Many. Mosquitoes. They are everywhere. We cannot escape.

5. China is dirty. Trash is on the streets. People don't wash their hands here. Soap isn't even supplied in most bathrooms. Neither is toilet paper, by the way. You have to bring your own. Their toilets, squatters, are basically holes in the ground. (The irony is that bathrooms are usually so gross I would much rather use a squatter and not have to touch anything.) The Chinese men burp and spit often. People hock loogies (is that even a word?) ALL THE TIME. Honestly, that is my least favorite thing of all. Also, they don't wear deodorant here.

6. The food here is not that healthy, contrary to what I had believed. There are a lot of vegetables served, but everything is cooked in oil. They love frying here. A lot of the food is very good, to be fair, but not healthy. A lot of the food is also not very good. Panda Express is not Chinese food. Except for chow mein and rice I haven't had a single thing on their menu. Not even like an authentic version of it. Carbs are very popular. I am gaining weight. Half my meals are rice, which I enjoy, but rice makes you retain water like nothing else so I just feel bloated all the time. All I want is a fruit smoothie. Also a brownie.

7. The air is polluted. It's crowded. I miss my family. The internet is bad. Crossing the street is like a game of Frogger. Creepy people stare at us a lot. We stand out anywhere we go. The language barrier can be really frustrating. It shouldn't be that hard to ask for directions, but it is.


Sorry for the extremely pessimistic post. Like I said, I really do like it here. It might not seem like that right now, but I do. I'm surrounded my great people. I've met a ton of great people. I'm getting a cultural experience I just couldn't get back in the US. I'm trying new things and having some incredible adventures. Things are super cheap here, which is great. People stop us all the time to take pictures or just tell us we are beautiful. People for the most part are very kind and friendly. But I also don't want people to think I'm rubbing it in their faces that my life is perfect, because obviously it's not. But it is awesome. I'm having such a good time and I'm so excited for the adventures I still have ahead of me.

I'll get some more posts up as soon as I can. Hope everyone is doing well in America!