Rob 1: 我自己做饭: Cooking in China

Hello all! Qufu life is settling in pretty well after a month and a half (or is it more?).

Lately my life has seen a lot of cooking. As teachers, we were asked to host “free talks” every week, where students can come and talk with us outside of the classroom environment (a “low-stress opportunity to practice English” kind of thing), so to make life more interesting for me, I’ve started hosting culture activity free talks, the most recent of which have been focused on cooking Western food (you can see pictures of us making zucchini bread at the end of this entry).

Despite our furnished kitchens, as teachers, we tend to go out for meals a lot in Qufu. Part of that is because its easy, part of it is because it’s very affordable, and part of it is because when someone else decides to go out to eat, saying no to the invitation just seems antisocial. Still, I really love cooking, and I was excited last week to host our second foreign teacher potluck at my apartment.

Potluck’s are always lots of fun, and this on was no exception! (If a little crazy — figuring out how to fit 20 people around a table in an apartment is never easy). It involved TONS of delicious food, struggling to fit tables through doors, locking myself out of my apartment with the stove on (long story), and other fun adventures; BUT, I think the most exciting adventure of them all was making my contribution to the potluck: chicken soup (story and recipe below).

“Chinese” (but not 中国式 — that is, not “Chinese style”) Chicken Soup

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Sarah 1

Now that I have finally achieved VPN status, I can share some of my stories as well!

As my second year in Qufu, I slipped quite easily back into life here. I moved apartments from last year (as all the other teachers are fully and completely aware, I stored my things here over the summer) and am enjoying my new living space on the top floor of the Qushida apartments.

One thing very different from last year for me is I have so few classes. Last fall, I had 20 teaching hours, which is actually over the contract limit (for which they paid me extra). Now, I have only 8 teaching hours. I teach more advanced classes, which in theory requires more preparation, but in general I have a lot more free time than last year.

Therefore, I’m finding ways to keep myself occupied, such as this week I will be a judge with Max at an English speech contest at Qushida. The contest consists of a prepared speech (topic: what word has changed the world?), a short speech on a topic they get only a few minutes before, then a question from a judge. One night will be English majors, and another night non-English majors. The winner from each night will go on to a competition in Jinan, the capital of the province, and if they win there they would move on to Beijing. It is an ambitious goal, but I really respect the students for getting in front of a room full of strangers and making a speech in a second language.

Nick covered all of the stunning pictures from Taishan, so I will post a simple picture of some of our new Chinese friends, Connie and Crystal. Connie is a dean at Xingtan and in charge of the American crew over there, while Crystal is a translation teacher at Qushida.

Nick 2: Looking to the East

Well, I feel pretty settled in right about now. We’re into the third week of classes this week and now starting our very first full week of classes with our freshmen and sophomores. It’s nice to finally have some stability, getting a feel for our daily schedules and beginning to develop our daily lives and routines. It also sucks to have stability – routines get boring. I came here to break routine. Routine and spontaneity – an excellent example of the Chinese philosophy of yīnyáng. I’ve been doing a small amount of traveling on the weekends here with some of the other teachers. Last weekend we took a day trip to Jǐnán, the capital of Shandong Province. It was a short trip – we took advantage of some of the city’s Western delights to ease our homesickness: pizza, hamburgers, enchiladas and CHEESE.

This past weekend we went to Tài’ān, a city about an hour away, and did a nighttime climb of Tài Shān (Mount Tai) one of the most sacred mountains in China. It has been summit-ed by the who’s who of Chinese history: Confucius (Kǒng Zǐ – born in Qūfù), Mao Zedong and over 70 Emperors from different dynasties.

We started hiking up the over 6,000 steps to the top at about 11pm and it took us anywhere from 2 1/2 to 5 hours to complete (pretty good times considering many take over 7 hours). Arriving at the top at around 3:30 am, it was cold and windy. We somehow killed the time (I must admit I got some shuteye after lugging my sleeping back to the top) and woke up to watch the sunrise with what we estimated to be at least 1,000 tourists (98.7% of them Chinese). With that many people staring off into the Eastern sky, the anticipation was palpable and, when it happened, the sunrise was beautiful; but what was more amazing was the sheer number of people that had made the pilgrimage to see it.

Climbing up the mountain the night before was crazy – it was impossible to get any space from others climbing the mountain. Many of them were students (I ran into 8 of my students alone on the train going to the mountain) but there was a fair share of adults too. Each carrying their flashlights, huddling together for warmth on the 2,000th, 4,125th, and even 5,999th stair, underprepared and seriously risking hypothermia each step of the way. It was eye-opening to see how important this was to each and every person. It didn’t feel like those people were going as sightseers or tourists but they were making the trek and pilgrimage just as it had been made 2,000 years ago. Max brought up the question: Do we have anything like this in the U.S.? And if not, why?

History. China has this immense cultural history and I think, as a result, they have a deeper historical understanding. Mount Tai, for example, has served as one of the most sacred mountains in China and been a place of revelation for Confucius, Mao Zedong and everyone in between. Not only that, but the mountain has been under continuous human settlement since the Neolithic period (about 10,000 years ago) with religious worship of the mountain has beentraced back over 3,000 years. Anything with that much history becomes a superstar celebrity like Mount Tai.

Do we have anything like that in the U.S.? Nothing comes to mind. Why not?
I think many would make the argument for certain sites in the “New” World that have just as an immense cultural history as Mount Tai. But the vast majority of European-Americans aren’t culturally linked to those sites. They belong to cultures that are no longer in existence for one reason ror another. And when you think about it, most Americans don’t have a cultural history or heritage that dates to beyond 500 years ago. This cultural history did exist and continued to until about 500 years ago. Now we Americans can only look at places of cultural importance as tourists rather than as participants continuing to make history.
Some photos:

Max 2: Dui means Yes!


Dui
has rapidly become the most common word in Chinese that I say. I say it to let people know I’m listening, I say it to food

and I say it to adventures.

City Wall Garden

Dui has left me with a new bike, freshly made noodles and a free guitar for the year (I’ll give that whole story when I play the concert on the Qufu campus with the music teacher and his friend in October).

As I write this, it feels like no time has passed in the last week and a half since we were brought after 13 hours in the air between New York and Beijing to the Zhong Xie Hotel hours before Hurricane Irene would strike the east coast. After corn and congealed blood for breakfast

we spent a morning in Beijing waiting for the entire group to assemble, visiting Tiananmen Square,

and after a hearty dumpling lunch,

made our way through impeccably clean streets,

past children trying to dirty the streets

to the massive Forbidden City, which I will need another visit to fully explore.

We also saw some blue sky in Beijing

We took a night sleeper train to arrive in Qufu around 8am. A new high speed rail cuts travel time to the capital down to slightly over 2 hours and just over 3 to Shanghai.

The first week in Qufu consisted of trying to stop myself from waking up between 3 and 5am due to jet lag, acquiring a phone and bike and getting to know my way around the campus and city directionally and gastronomically. Biking in Qufu is my favorite way to get around because bikers are a pampered minority, with designated bike lanes for the large groups of manual and electric (!) bikes that transport people around the city.

Biking and walking happen at a much slower pace, which allows ample time for people watching

Popcorn Love

 

and watching of other species

“Your voice in “Oral English” made me feel very energized!”

Anita and her boyfriend Cheney were grinning outside of my class. I had just finished a two hour introduction class for one of the two sophomore “Oral English” classes I’ll be teaching for the year. Anita and Cheney were not in this class and I realized that my voice had carried over the sound of fireworks celebrating some social event near the campus

the Qufu Normal campus is a popular spot for grandparents and babies

and the clip-clop of the freshmen and their military training

(after two more weeks of training I’ll pick up two more sections of freshmen “Oral English” to round out my course load to eight classes a week totaling sixteen hours of in class time for the semester)

I checked my phone last night after biking back from our first Pinyin lesson. (Pinyin is the latin alphabetized versions of Chinese characters that were invented to keep up with the spread of computers in the 1950s) to find this text message:

“I am another max! i am very happy ! i heard that you are as energetic as me. Maybe we can be friends”

This student Max is notorious for being a big talker. There can only be one answer:

Dui

 

 

P.S. Don’t forget to listen to the new Dizzy Peoples Comedy podcast!

 

Annie 1: Chew-Foo(d)

As you can probably guess from the title, this is a post about food!

Since arriving in Beijing late last Friday, we have been feasting non-stop. After everyone finally arrived at the airport, Connie and Andy (some of our bosses) took us out to dinner at a restaurant near our hotel. It was my first time eating real Chinese food, and it was very good! I was too jet-lagged to remember to snap a photo of our meal, but I’ve documented quite a few more that will give you an idea of what Chinese meals are like.

Breakfast in Our Hotel in Beijing

For starters, breakfast is kind of like dinner. Actually, all meals are kind of like dinner. We discovered this when we sat down to our first breakfast in China: corn on the cob, steamed bread, sliced sausage, pickled veggies, couscous-like porridge, soy-soaked hard-boiled eggs, warm milk, and–brace yourself–clotted blood soup. Mmm…salty.

In the U.S., I’m practically a vegetarian (i.e., I hardly ever eat meat), but I hesitate to commit to vegetarianism because I want to be able to fully experience the culture of different places when I travel. I think I’m doing a good job experiencing the culture so far. I’ve tried everything we’ve ordered, including jellyfish, pig’s ear, pig’s liver, pork fat, cow’s stomach, whole fish and shrimp (complete with eyes and fins!), and deep-fried crabs that you’re supposed to eat without taking their shells off!

Here are some more pictures to whet your appetite:

Dinner in Our Hotel in Beijing

Fried rice, spicy soup, rubbery mushroom dish, flaky dough, many meat and veggies dishes, and, my favorite, the pumpkin dish with sweet sticky rice.

Hot Pot with Some Students and Connie in Qufu

Beef tartar, tofu, lamb, beef, quail eggs, spinach, sweet potato slices, fried dough, noodles, and more. (Cultural note: Most of the foods served at Hot Pot are raw because you’re supposed to cook them in your own personal pot of boiling broth.)

Massive Lunch with Sarah and Gen in Qufu

You know you have too much food when you have to double-stack the dishes on the lazy Susan AND use the small tables against the back wall.

More of Our Massive Lunch with Sarah and Gen in Qufu

Even More of Our Massive Lunch with Sarah and Gen in Qufu

So now you probably have a better idea of what Chinese meals are like. I’ll be sure to post more about food (and other things) as I explore more. Maybe I’ll give you a taste of Qufu’s street food next time! Oh, and one more thing: if you’re unsure how Qufu is pronounced, just take another gander at my title. 😉

Nick 1: Not quite ready…

Here we go! Heading out tomorrow morning from Cincinnati to Chicago and then Chicago onward. I won’t be flying with the rest of the group – sadly – but I’ll be meeting them in Beijing on friday. As mentioned, I’m still not quite ready yet. I returned home from working for a summer in Glacier National Park in western Montana just late saturday night – so I’m still organizing things. As you can see in the photo below.

I’ve still got most of my clothes to pack. But I feel that after 4 years of going back and forth to Skidmore and travelling in India and Europe – I’ve got a pretty good feel for it.

Being part Chinese, I’m pretty excited to be embarking on such a personal adventure. In a way, I was raised to be American – not knowing much Mandarin or about many of the cultural intricacies. My mother emigrated here in the 80s bringing her mother and my brother – they are all very very excited for me! My biggest goal will be to improve my Mandarin so that I can communicate with my grandmother when I return. I’ll keep you updated on how that goes!

Below is a photo of the reading material I’ll be bringing:

A textbook for Mandarin, my Kindle, Lonely Planet’s travelers guide to China and… A book called Remembering China that my great aunt wrote. Born in America, she married my mother’s uncle and spent time in China – these are her memoirs.

 

Until next time! Safe travels everyone!

Max 1: Two Days to Liftoff!

Ni Hao!

This marks the start of Skidmore College’s largest group of alumni ever to go teach in China. Skidmore has been sending students to teach in Qufu, Shandong Province since the year this group of students was born (1989). This year 20 new students will join two returnees, split half and half between Qufu and Zhuhai, Guangdong province (the left and right pictures above respectively).

I, save for some final preparations, am ready to leave for my year teaching at Xingtan College in Qufu, the hometown of Confucius. I’ve spent the summer teaching English at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington to students ranging in age from 18-65 from countries ranging from Peru and Mexico to Vietnam and Syria.

I also spent a few weeks with 29 Chinese middle schoolers as an teacher/camp counselor, exploring the comparatively rural setting of Vermont.

I’ve also been teaching myself Mandarin.

After landing in Beijing on Friday afternoon, the Qufu teaching team (9 other recent Skidmore College grads) will have a few days to adjust before our first classes begin on Thursday September 1st. Two days later, the teachers who will be stationed in Zhuhai will fly to Hong Kong to start their year at Sun Yat-Sen University.

We will have a rotating cast of bloggers, each approaching the upcoming academic year from disciplines as varied as economics, environmental studies, anthropology, French literature, religious studies and more. As they begin to post, readers can visit the “teacher bio” pages to learn more about the backgrounds of the authors.

Bookmark or RSS the blog to be updated when new posts arrive!

Until next time Zai Jian!

-Max