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?”


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.


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.


Unrealistic Expectations

When I went to France, Americans told me that the French were mean, they smelled bad, and that they hated Americans. When I went to Saipan, Americans told me that it was too hot, it was too isolated, and I’d be rejected as a non-islander. When I went to China, Americans told me that it was too polluted, the government would control my every move, and that they hated Americans.

In every one of these statements, there is some truth. Someone had a [bad] experience and they’ve just passed the story down like a game of telephone. The truth gets twisted and exaggerated the farther it goes. If all we see is the bad in a place, then we will never be happy anywhere we are or anywhere we go.

If all I remembered of France was the grumpy expressions on the metro and how it smelled like pee, I would never want to return. If all I remembered of Saipan was the typhoons and the heat, then I would never want to return. If all I remember of China is the pollution and the firewall, I will never come back here again.

If you go to a place and expect it to be bad, I guarantee that you will not be disappointed. If you go to a place with unrealistic expectations of greatness, then I guarantee that you will be disappointed. No place–no matter how it seems–is perfect. Similarly, no place–no matter how it seems–is completely horrible either.



polluted China
Just because Changsha doesn’t always look like the photo above, it doesn’t always look like this either…just more often than the one above!

Also, there’s a common theme among all the things that Americans tell me is that everyone hates Americans. I’m not really sure where this started, but it’s not necessarily true. People only hate Americans when you act like you’re the most important person in the world (a self righteous jerk) and then tell them you’re an American. They don’t hate you because you’re American, they just don’t like you because you’re being rude and disrespectful.

There are bad days and good days in China. Sometimes I look out and I see China as district 12 from the Hunger Games. Other days I feel as happy as I would working in New York City.  It’s like that no matter where you go; you just have to remember the good days along with the bad ones.

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.






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!