what happened on winter break

I have been off work for seven weeks, but all that ends on Monday. That sounds like a great deal, and it is. A little less pressure during the year in exchange for a little less vacation would be even better, but this is the system. This term I’ll be teaching 18 hours each week (3 lesson plans to prepare), plus graduate school, so it’s going to be a tough slog. I’m looking forward to getting back into class, but it’s going to be a lot of work.

In January, I spent a few days in Chongqing. I had some business to take care of and, more importantly, I got to see some friends. I’m really glad I don’t live in CQ anymore. It’s cloudy all of the time, and it’s huge and hard to get around. But the people I met are wonderful and I miss them. It’s going to be harder to see them when I leave China, which is something I am starting to be more acutely aware of.

My friend Chloe and me on campus.
My friend Chloe and me on campus.

Then, Hong Kong, possibly my new favorite city. Oh, I loved it. People speak English, it’s clean, there is anything in the world you want to do or eat, it’s easy to get around, there are lots of islands and stuff. I mean, yeah, of course I like being on vacation, but even beyond that, I really enjoyed being there. I went to some museums, saw some parks that had really cool birds in them (I know, now is the time to start birdwatching in earnest—I haven’t though), and went out to some outlying islands to walk in nature. Wonderful. For real, if you want to come visit me there, maybe next winter, let me know.

Big Buddha on Lantau Island
Big Buddha on Lantau Island

 

Lamma Island. I took a hike around and hadlunch n the waterfr

    Lamma Island. I took a hike around and had lunch on the waterfront.

 

Laser light show on Victoria Harbor.

My original plan had been to go to Vietnam for 10 days after Hong Kong. However, I had some communication issues with the travel agent, so that fell through. This was not such a bad thing. I had a lot of work to do for school. Plus I’m not sure if being away from home for three weeks would really agree with me.

Then I got super bored and isolated and weird. So right before classes started last week, I took the train and 3.5 hours later, I was in Shanghai for a few days. I like Shanghai, too. It’s not Hong Kong, but it was nice to be in a city with museums and subways. A lot of foreigners, too—it’s nice to not be stared at.

 

Oriental Pearl Tower.
Oriental Pearl Tower.
Lantern Festival, Yuyuan.
Lantern Festival, Yuyuan.

Travel is good for me. As I said earlier, backpacking around for multiple weeks on end isn’t really for me, but getting out and seeing new places helps me keep perspective. We don’t have spring break here, so unless I take a quick trip for May 1 (unlikely), this is it until July. Work work work.

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cultural explorations

We made these!
We made these!

I’m trying not to be the kind of expat who only speaks my native language and hangs out with other expats. So far I’ve achieved about a B-minus in this area. This is mostly due to language barriers. Chinese is fairly impenetrable to me. I have a tutor who is helping me, but it’s slow going. She and I are both trying new things to help me, but I can’t exactly make a lot of sentences yet.

I did learn how to make Chinese dumplings! I eat them a few times a week. There is a restaurant near me that makes amazing dumplings. And they have a menu I can point to, which is key (I only recognize a few characters, but most of them are food-related by design). I’m going to miss those dumplings when I return home, so when Emily, my Chinese tutor, offered to show me how to make them myself, I cheerfully agreed.

One Sunday morning, Emily came to my apartment and took inventory. I had very little stuff in my kitchen. “In China,” she explained, “we cut our vegetables on a board.” Yeah, I’m familiar. I just haven’t bought one yet. So we walked to the supermarket and bought all the ingredients and tools.

Food shopping is a much more active process here than in the US. I usually just skulk into the meat department and grab what I need out of the cooler. If I do need to approach the meat counter, I wait to catch the eye of the counter worker and say something like, “Excuse me, terribly sorry to trouble you, but could I have a pound of sliced turkey? Please oh please?” But Emily seemed to be straight up negotiating with the guy to get a decent cut of meat. I don’t know a lot about meat, not because I’m American, but because I’m a bonehead. So I’m not sure if I can go back and recreate these dumplings, even though I mostly know what to say to the butcher.

After we had everything, we came back home and started working. Emily knows her way around food and the kitchen. She kept sniffing the cabbage and saying, “So fresh!” It really was, but I don’t know if I would have noted it the way she did. When my students did presentations on cultural differences, I got a little offended when they said that Chinese culture values delicious food more than Western culture does. But maybe they aren’t entirely off base. (And to be fair, many of my students have never met a foreigner before meeting me; they don’t mean to offend, they just copy-pasted from the wrong source.)

Dumplings are less of a recipe and more of a technique. I had trouble pinching the outsides so that they’d stay together. A few of my early ones fell apart, but Emily said that stirring the pot in the same direction would keep things together, so we could eat least eat the insides and outsides separately. I got better, and the end results were pretty good. I will likely change the insides to suit my tastes (we used pork, cabbage, ginger, and garlic) next time.

Emily also taught me Chinese paper-cut art. I thought this was going to be an unusual technique, but it’s essentially making paper snowflakes. Paper snowflakes are one of my favorite things to do to unwind. We used lightweight red paper and little scissors, and they turned out really well. Truthfully, mine looked as good as or better than Emily’s. I’m planning to look for more paper at the shops near the Sichuan Art Institute and go to town on them. My place could use some decoration.

Also, I’m making a Chinese friend, I guess? Truthfully, I was looking to date, but I met this guy and he sort of declared it a friendship before I had a chance to declare otherwise. Honestly, I am having a little trouble getting my head around dating here. Most of my students have very little dating experience. They were too busy studying so they could get into college. So maybe they’ll start now, maybe they’ll wait until they’re done with school. But they want to be married by age 27 (especially women) because anything older is “left over.” So nobody has any experience and wants to meet the love of their life right away so they can be saved from being single. Getting experience does not seem to be valued. I suppose the closest analogy would be Mormons.

But this guy seems cool, and I could certainly use a friend here. We had lunch today. It kind of felt like a date, but maybe because it was a little awkward due to the language barrier (his English is not so great, but much better than my Chinese). And he ordered and paid, but that’s a normal Chinese thing. And we talked about going out next time. But his keychain has a heart-shaped photo on it (not that he mentioned a lady friend). So, I’m thinking not a date. Oh, well, maybe he knows someone. Shit’s kind of overwhelming enough without getting too into dating, maybe?

I’m going to Korea

A photo of the Korean DMZ. This is a place I could totally go and visit, because holy crap, I'm going to live in Korea.
A photo of the Korean DMZ. This is a place I could totally go and visit, because holy crap, I’m going to live in Korea.

It’s official. I’ve been accepted to the program I applied to (to which I applied, WHATEVER). I’m totally going. In August. For two semesters minimum. I don’t know a lot more right now. I’m slightly freaking out, but as I get used to the idea that’s starting to go away.

Move over Spanish, I’ve got some Korean to learn.

Rebuilding season

Please enjoy Johan Santana in a Twins uniform (hubba hubba).
Please enjoy Johan Santana in a Twins uniform (I know I am–hubba hubba).

My boyfriend ended things on Wednesday. He’s a good guy, but we weren’t really a good fit as a couple. I agree with the decision, and was only a 3 1/2 month relationship. It’s still kind of crappy. More rejection? Sure, pile it high.

So this year, 2014, which is less than 1/3 completed, I’ve had major car trouble, an ended relationship, a broken coffee pot (hey, coffee is VERY IMPORTANT), a dead computer, broken glasses, broken bed frame, a failed grad school application. I’m not even going to put an “and” in there just in case I need to add to the list a few more times. In sports, they call this a rebuilding season. Don’t expect a championship, just lay some groundwork for next time.

The thing is, if you’re a Twins fan for more than a few years, you discover that all seasons are rebuilding seasons. They never quite get to the championships. The last league championship was in 2006. World Series? Yeah, right.

And that’s kind of how I’ve lived my life. I go HAM for a while, then I fall back and cocoon, then burst out, then retreat. I’d really like to have a more consistent path of progress. I think some rebuilding is OK and natural, but I don’t want to take it to the extremes I have in the past, where I just completely disappear for nine months at a time. They can’t all be championship seasons, but at least try to get a .500 record now and then.

Things are progressing. I’m applying to a program that I feel good about. I know some people who know people who may be able to offer assistance or advice. And my friends and family have been supportive through all this. (A little support goes a long way. Just a kind word helps so much. I plan to pay it forward soon and often.)

Ex-pat bound?

Search result for "sardonic as all hell."
Search result for “sardonic as all hell.”

I’ve had a lot of time to think this weekend. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I might have to leave my beloved Minneapolis soon. The fact that this winter has been a wide-awake nightmare probably helps.

I’ve been eyeing everything I own and mentally tagging it “bring,” “discard,” “donate,” “sell,” etc. I even brought a cardboard box home from work yesterday to pack up books. I know it’s silly, as any move will be several months in the future, but if I can take whatever baby steps I can, I’ll feel better. And for a reader, I’m really not that attached to books. I’m sure I could get a whole $5 for the contents of my shelves.

In my world, you don’t have to dig too deeply to find someone who has taught English abroad. I have two friends and a few friends-of-friends who I’m asking for advice. So far, advice has been conflicting, so I don’t even know. I’ve started the TESOL course, and it seems OK so far. Not too tough or time-consuming, but not a joke, either.

I’m also looking for ex-pat blogs. I’ve found a few. More recommendations would be helpful. Especially if they are a) teachers b) women c) American d) funny.

I may also change the name of this blog. I know I’m sardonic as all hell, but I feel like it’s a little bit edgy toward myself. And maybe that’s not what I need right now.