我学中文


Lately in March, I’ve taken the step to get serious about studying Chinese while I’m here. You learn the basics in the first month – how to say “this one” and the numbers 1-10; you learn to say “I’m a teacher” and tell people where you’re from since those are the first questions that people ask you. I have two Chinese lessons per week: one provided by my school, and also I’ve hired a private Chinese tutor (who came recommended by a friend) to help me grasp this incredibly simple, yet frustratingly complex language. Having a base set for me from my Chinese 101 class certainly helps me as I learn and my general knowledge of grammar and linguistics doesn’t hurt either. flowershop-vintage.jpg

Chinese is really simple grammatically. They don’t bother with grammatical fluff like indefinite and definite articles, subjects are often optional, there are no verb tenses or conjugations. Even the vocabulary is fairly simple most of the time, with the complex nouns being compilations of other, more simple vocabulary. For example: if you know the word for medicine, and shop, just put them together and you know the word for pharmacy. It doesn’t always work like that, but that helps with the lack of cognates. On the other hand, English is a very hard language to learn – it has one of the most extensive vocabularies of any other language, the grammatical structure is complex, it breaks rules faster than it can make them, and the phonetics is such a mutt of languages that it’s no wonder even native speakers have to guess how to pronounce a word.

Chinese being the third language I’m learning, I’ve noticed how confused my brain is. It’s trained to respond to any non-English speaking person in French…which certainly doesn’t help in China. Sometimes I manage to compose a sentence from all three languages, which ends up being incomprehensible to everyone but me. Also, during my Chinese lessons, we haven’t even gotten to tones yet when working with my phonetics. We’re still working on the initials and the finals…the problem being that I can’t seem to say them together. My tutor is really confused that I’m able to make (most of) the sounds individually, but I can’t put them together. By the end of a two hour session, my mouth is in so much pain from trying to say the words correctly.

Next stop: Beijing

 

Hello Friends


It’s been a while…

Sometimes you’re just out there living life and then you don’t really notice how much time has passed. In some ways, it feels like nothing has happened, and in other ways, it feels like there’s a whole different person emerging. It really depends on the day and the hour that you ask me “so how are you doing?”

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To recap, we finished up the first semester of the school year in January and then had a week long break for Chinese New Year. In class, we’re reviewing some more and working on trying to get my kids to speak in sentences rather than just words. Meanwhile we’re also planning the new curriculum that will begin in March. We’re talking about things that are important (like, keeping the toilet paper stocked in the bathroom, and wiping the foreign toilet seat off when the Chinese teachers pee all over it) and organizing who is going to teach all the extra classes we have. If anyone’s looking to teach abroad, our kindergarten has about 4-5 positions available.

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During my Chinese New Year break, I wasn’t in a good enough financial situation to travel in or outside of China (prices are through the roof during this time!), so I stuck around in Changsha to watch everything close down. I really expected there to be more parades and parties, but it was really quiet because Chinese New Year is the time of year where all the Chinese go back home to their families. I had almost anticipated that it would be like the lantern ceremony in Tangled or have the dragon dances and masks. Alas, all that happened was an abundance of fireworks. And boy, were there fireworks.

The Chinese love noise. They are so loud. They blast music, they scream through microphones, and they release fireworks ALL the time –even during the day when you can’t see them. But during Chinese New Year, especially on the eve of the New Year, there are fireworks all night long. My landlord told me I needed to shut my windows to make sure that no sparks entered the house and started a fire. The fireworks were set off everywhere–even less than 20 feet away from my apartment building! Fortunately, the weather was extraordinarily warm and the air was clean and clear, so you could see for miles! At least that meant the fireworks were actually pretty.

 

Church in Changsha


welcome word cloudThis Sunday afternoon, I managed to get out of my apartment and find my way to a church that I’d heard about from another foreigner (who’s been living in Changsha for a couple years now). I was a little unsure if I was in the right place at first, so I just kind of  hung around for a bit until I started to see a bunch of other foreign people going in the building. Then I just followed them.

The church is called Changsha International Christian Fellowship. Now to
answer the question(s) that I’m sure is sitting on the edge of your tongues: Is it an underground church?  Are you going to be arrested?? No. We’re on the 27th floor of a large international building near the center of the city. There are a few Chinese people there, but since the services are bilingually run in French and English (more on this later), and most Chinese here don’t speak either of those languages well enough to follow the service, nor do they have much interest in religion…I’m going to guess that’s why they don’t typically attend.

The church is called Changsha International Christian Fellowship. I loved the service and this welcoming, energetic, enthusiastic group of Christians. The service really is a compilation of denominational styles–which is actually why I love it so much. There’s enough Pentecostalism to keep things moving and fun, but there’s also a fair bit of liturgy in there. Since I’ve spent most of my time in rather liturgical churches, I really appreciate that.

And then here’s my favorite part: the majority of the service is bilingual in French and English. For those of you who might not have a good picture in your mind of what a bilingual church looks like–they say a sentence in English and then someone is standing next to them in translate it into French. I experienced this in Hillsong Paris and I fell in love with it there. It takes some getting used to the repetition and language switching, but once you do adjust, it’s nice to have the extra processing time to really focus on the message being said. And since translation is never exact – you actually get the message in two different ways, so you can kind of choose the translation that makes more sense. Or if you didn’t hear the first line, you can go off the second line. There are so many benefits to this, so I love it.

So while the majority of the service was in French and English, there was also some other languages that popped up. In worship time, there was an…African language (sorry I couldn’t tell which one…) that made a debut. And then Communion was bilingual in Chinese and English  (Chinese first, then English). I also heard in the short meeting for newcomers after the service, that there’s some Portuguese and Spanish speaking members as well.

One of my favorite things is when believers from around the world gather together and our faith unites us despite our cultural, linguistic, and physical differences.

 

 

Welcome to Stage 2


Well, it’s been about two weeks since I landed in Changsha, and in general, I’ve liked China pretty well. Sure, the internet censorship is frustrating, the hard beds take some getting used to, and the painfully spicy food makes you dread mealtimes sometimes…but at the end of the day, those things aren’t so bad. Certainly a shock to the newcomer, but not unbearable.20151128_150958.jpg It’s easily evened out by the awe of the Chinese characters everywhere, the dragon arch in front of my apartment complex, and the general joy of being back in a city with public transportation.

All that’s fine and dandy until stage 2 of culture shock starts to hit. The reality that I’ve really moved here has set in; I finally finished unpacking my belongings and my apartment feels a little more like home. The magic and awe of the Chinese characters has worn off and it’s frustrating to be completely clueless about how to read and write -to have no way to read bus routes, menus, etc. 20151130_074845.jpgI’ve begun to notice that going to the grocery store is at least a 3-4 (sometimes even 5) hour ordeal and almost always leaves me feeling frustrated and incompetent. The joy of being in a city is dampened by the realization that the buses shut down at 9 or 10pm (even on weekends), followed by the panic that I don’t know how to tell a taxi driver where my apartment is located.

In my psych classes at college, we learned about egocentrism and the imaginary audience that plagues the teenage years. It’s not imaginary here. Every time I step out of my apartment, people turn and stare at me. Kids point and ask their mothers questions about me on the bus. Random people in the supermarket ask how much money I make, what I do, and where I’m from. Every move I make is monitored and watched; I’m the representation of my culture. Sometimes that feels like a lot of responsibility.

20151201_091153That said, China is still a great experience and I’m not regretting a thing (except for maybe the whole ‘preschool’ part of the deal). Since nobody really speaks English, it’s forcing me to get on the ball about really buckling down and studying Chinese or look like an incompetent American. 20151128_125848.jpgSince I don’t want to resort to McDonald’s for every meal on every weekend, I might actually have to learn to cook (and get over my fear of speaking to my fellow Changsharén). If I want to buy something, I’m going to have to learn to negotiate for the price I want to pay.

It’s not going to happen in a day, but it might happen in a year.

#ayearinChangsha

 

 

 

Changshaguó


Just to clarify: I made up the word in the title. That is not an official Chinese word, though the etymology of the word means “Changsha” (my city) and country. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

There is so much going on in my head right now. I am “fresh meat” as one of the seasoned English teachers called me while we drank coffee on our afternoon break. It’s very true. So as a new American in China, I’m going to list some basic cultural differences that I’ve noticed thus far.

My primary note on Chinese culture is – what seems to me  to be – complete lack of structure and regulations. It feels like anarchy. Drivers and cyclist weave all over the road as if the lines just don’t exist. Likewise, pedestrians just walk into the street when they want and cross as space becomes available. People standing in the middle of 3 lane highways is no big deal (and the drivers just weave around you—with inches to spare!). Waiting in line isn’t a thing here, and prices are also usually negotiable. Maps and bus schedules are rare, if they even exist at all.

20151123_102901School in China is indeed year round with hardly any vacations  (so if you’re looking for the reason that the Chinese tend to be ahead of us academically—that would be at least part of it). The children at my school can already read and write in Chinese. However, let me burst the bubble that Chinese babies are inherently more well-behaved than American ones. These children do, in fact, act like little (adorable) demons several times a day. French children still have the prize so far for the most well behaved…but then again, I never worked in a French preschool!

And then some other fun/interesting observations.

  • Weather in Changsha is even more ( or at the very least, equally) variable than in New England.
  • 20151124_210121The ‘normal’ toilet in China is a squatting one.
  • All food in Changsha is extremely spicy. Whatever you think is spicy, multiply it three or four times and then you’re getting close to Changsha food. It is completely delicious, but it causes physical pain to my lips that lasts up to about 10 minutes after eating. Hopefully I can adjust to that!

Until next time!

 

你好!


Hello!

My first few days in China have been pretty scheduled with meetings with my work agency, observations in my new school, settling into my new apartment, and getting to know some of my fellow (English speaking) teachers. Everything is crazy new and I keep flipflopping between being terrified and beyond excited.

I live in Changsha, which is the capital city of the Hunan province and contains about 8-10 million people (according to my work agency). I live in  a three person apartment, but I was the first to arrive, 20151118_163514.jpgso I got the first choice of bedrooms–which was definitely nice. It also meant that I had to clean it a bit, as well as get it set up with heat and wifi. My roommates are also foreigners, and should be arriving within a week or two. More updates on that to come!

My apartment building is in a very safe neighborhood, with about three levels of security. It’s gated off and there are several guards that let you in and out. Then I have a card chip that lets me into my personal apartment building and, of course, my house key. My apartment also h20151118_162529.jpgas a security system installed–if I were to feel that necessary. I live on the 7th floor and I have a balcony in my room. The view outside isn’t great, but it’s nice anyway. There are fireworks throughout the day, and usually each evening as well.

The School.

20151120_110100I work at an international preschool called Wan(g)Ying / King International Preschool. It is also in a very “posh neighborhood” as my British friend put it. There isn’t really any heat in the school though, because it’s not fully enclosed–so everyone wears winter coats all day long. Though during the afternoon, they turn it on occasionally in the classrooms and in the nap room.

I haven’t been given my classroom assignment yet, but I have gone through a sample day schedule during my observation day. My day begins at 8:20 and ends at 5:40 (though we’re often there until 6, since the dinner for teachers is served after all the students are gone). I teach one English-explicit class for 30 minutes of the day and the rest of my day is just playing and managing preschoolers all day while I encourage use of English. There are 3-4 teachers in each classroom, with one of them being a ‘foreign’ (English) teacher.

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The nap room

I get a two hour break while kids nap (IN ACTUAL BEDS!!!). During Chinese instruction time, I get some prep time to work on lesson plans for following week or put up decorations.

 

Dear Texas


image I’ve been here for about 48 hours and, I’ve got to admit, this state is like no other place I’ve ever been. Even in the airport, I was innocently running to the bathroom while I waited for the airport to unload my luggage. Another woman walked in at the same time and just started talking to me. I replied politely, but distanced. She continued to talk to me through the walls of the stalls. Who does that?? Welcome to Texas. Anyway, so I’m just going to make a list of some of my observations…with my own commentary.

– Power. Running water. Tv and internet. ‘Nuf said.

– Not everyone has a southern accent. I have been pleasantly surprised that I can understand what people are saying.

– There are nearly no crosswalks. So in angered revenge, I just wander leisurely across the street whenever and where ever I want. Like come on Texas, catch up with the rest of the world.

– The weather is beautiful. My friend told me it was hot, but compared to Saipan, this is glorious. I can actually go for a run or a walk without coming back drowning in my own sweat. It feels like freedom for my lungs and my pores.

– So many white people. More than in MA. Definitely more than Saipan.

– Not every radio station is country or Christian. I actually kind of expected there to be at least four different genre-based Christian music radio stations. The rest of them would be country. And maybe one pop station.

– Texas has a higher sales tax than Massachusetts. I did not expect that from the most conservative state in the country.

-The alcohol here is dirt cheap.

– In Massachusetts, there are Dunkin’s on nearly every corner. Sometimes there’s even two. In Texas, I expected to see a church on every corner…maybe even two. This is not the case.
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– Texas is less vibrant than Saipan, even after it got hit by the typhoon. The sky isn’t as blue, the grass isn’t as green, and the trees feel more brown than the trees stripped of their leaves on Saipan.

Texas is an interesting place y’all.