Buddha, China, Chinese, confidence, cuisine, culture, enthusiasm, ESL, Food, Freed, freshmen military training, Hangzhou, happiness, language, language improvement, new beginnings, new friends, old friends, Pimsleur, popupchinese, Teaching English, translator
“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth… not going all the way, and not starting.” ~Buddha
Hey all, time for a weekly update. So yes I have been in Hangzhou since September 8th and boy has it been such a great start to my year. The beginning of this year is much more different than my start last year, mainly due to my previous experience and expectations of what is to come.
Let me start by saying that my transition into China is much smoother, not just because of my renewed VISA but because of my really good friend Rebecca.
Rebecca is a good friend and classmate of mine from college who taught at the same school that I am currently employed at. I give her credit for putting me in touch with my employer, taking me to delicious restaurants and stores in the area and introducing me to many of her friends including students and other teachers. It is thanks to Rebecca that I have been so busy in between waiting for classes to begin. There are two main factors as to why I feel so positive and hopeful for this new chapter in my life.
1. Noticeable Improvement in the Language
I told myself before the year began that I was determined to take Chinese courses again. While one may learn more of the language outside of class, I would prefer to have a teacher that I can continually ask language questions that no one else can answer clearly. Before Rebecca left, she let me know that while beginner classes are much more common at the school, there are intermediate classes if you contact the right people. She was correct as I quickly found the more advanced classes and how lucky (and terrified) was I to find it was what I was looking for, all spoken Chinese, little to no English.
My new teacher took a photo of the only other student, named Chris, and I reading the book. You can’t tell but I am nervous and frustrated but it is the class that I both wanted and needed to take and am looking forward to continuing the course. I was just surprised to notice that I was able to pick up on the conversations exchanged between the teacher, Chris and I.
As my level has improved tremendously since last year, my role in the language is so different. One day I was with my friend Monica at the Freed shopping mall looking for shoes when I had a strange realization. As most of the shopkeepers, they kept saying standard phrases like “they are comfortable”, “the shoes look good”, and more. While I’m sitting there understanding everything, Monica kept turning to me for translations. That’s when it hit me, I’m acting as a translator this year.
It is not a bad thing at all, it is just something I am not used to. Last year, I was mostly relying on other people for translations from Chinese to English but this year, my Mandarin level is suddenly a bigger deal than I thought it was. I’ve been going to order food and reading menus, communicating what people are trying to say into Mandarin and even getting my friends and I from downtown to home by taxi. This is the first time that I have seen proof of my language improvement in a long time.
Knowing how difficult it is to not only know the language but to rely on others for translations, I have been giving advice to the teachers at my school on how they can improve their levels. I’ve been recommending Pimsleur, a listening and speaking language program and Popup Chinese, a website of Chinese podcasts in all level ranges.
My language skills have allowed me to form the self-confidence that I definitely lacked when I first came to China. Now I am going to restaurants and ordering food, buying bubble tea, shopping in malls, and jumping into taxis and giving directions on getting on. My new confidence is inspiring me to travel as much as I can and enjoy every moment of my second time abroad.
2. Old and New Friends
So I do not actually start teaching until October 8th since I will be teaching freshmen who are still in the middle of their military training courses. I even get a wonderful view from my apartment window on the 11th floor of the military training at the nearby school.
While I do not teach until the 8th, I have been making the most of my days before my hours begin, including making plans for the National Holiday from October 1-7th. Mostly, though I have been spending time meeting up with old friends and introducing myself to new friends.
I have been spending time with a few of the teachers at the same school, most of whom are here through a graduate program. They are all very nice and eager to not only teacher but to experience Chinese culture and learn Mandarin. I’ve taken them to a few delicious places around the area for curry, bubble tea, and baozi, the same places that Rebecca took me to when I visited her in Hangzhou. When I’m not with the other teachers, I’m happily spending time with an old friend and a new friend, both teachers at my school.
My friend Rachel was my classmate from elementary to high school who decided to come teach English in China this year and I’m so fortunate to be working at the same school as her. We have not only been catching up on old times but also been meeting new friends including Monica. Our adventures have included but not limited to eating Indian food, visiting downtown Hangzhou, and meeting other expats and Chinese locals.
I’ve made another great friend whose English name is Charlotte who works in Xiasha, the area we both live in. Although we have only met up three times, I feel that we are already becoming such great friends. She has been great and invited me to eat delicious Chinese food and even some Hangzhou cuisine.
These are just an assortment of vegetables including raw purple potatoes, peanuts, and corn. Typical Hangzhou food is either prepared with little to no flavoring or seasoning or made very sweet.
This is called 糖醋里脊，translating to sweet and sour pork tenderloin. Charlotte described this as a Hangzhou delicacy so whenever it is available, I should order it. She was right, as it was one of the best dishes I have had since being in Hangzhou。I look forward to spending more time with her as well as my other Chinese friends.
Before Rebecca left, she shared many of her friends’ contact information with me on Wechat. Through her I met some great people including students from the school. They include but aren’t limited to Sally, Dave, and more.
My other new friends, Cloud and Helen are upperclassmen who I’ve already met up with for dinner. They are sweet, welcoming and enthusiastic about spending time with me and helping me if I need it.
Cloud and I met up with his friends Miranda and Monica while I brought Rachel and our Monica to go eat Indian food with our friend Katie, a friend of Rebecca’s and a teacher at the neighboring school, and the other foreign teachers at her school. Thanks to Cloud I already know when English corner begins and has even asked for my advice on how to attract more students to come to the sessions.
Helen has already invited me to dinner with her friend Angel. She also took me shopping at the local mall called Freed where she bought me a panda purse after bargaining down the price from 20 to 15 yuan!
As a second time teacher, I must say that becoming friends with Chinese locals is the real treat to teaching abroad. You can travel and eat food anywhere but how often can you become friends with someone from the country you’re a guest in? Remember that expat friends are great to have, (I have quite a few now) but don’t let your friendships with other expats keep you from experiencing your time abroad. Depending on your attitude, expat friendships will keep you away from the culture whereas local friendships will help you be immersed in the culture.
I don’t know what else I can say but I already am enjoying my time back in China. I am blessed with such great and supportive friends both in and out of China. Unlike last year where I longed to find friends (before I met with Emily and Matt and my students), I am using every moment to experience what Hangzhou and China has to offer and inviting friends to enjoy the ride with me. What a wonderful new beginning it is.