Annie and Nicol were invited to go with the Tangs and their son, Joey, to the countryside to visit their parents (Joey's grandparents). I referred to them in a previous blog post in which we all sat across from each other at our apartment not being able to communicate at all. They are all very kind people. Anyway, Annie and Nicol have traveled a few hours from Changsha to stay with them for a few days. We feel really comfortable with the Tangs and know that they will be safe and have a wonderfully enriching experience. I'm sure they are getting some good practice on their Chinese this week. It will be like a little weekend immersion program for them. We've gotten a few text messages from Annie indicating that they are having a great time. Apparently, they have been getting some of the best Chinese home cooking ever from Grandma Tang and even got to play laser tag. Supposedly, laser tag in China involves dressing up in Chinese military fatigues and hunting each other in the forest with fake sniper rifles. Annie and Nicol were a little scared because they were simply told they would be going to the forest to shoot at each other. That's it! No additional information. The most recent text message said Grandma Tang was washing Nicol's clothes in a mountain stream. I can't wait to get more details on this interesting adventure.
We could all use a little more practice on our Mandarin. We are trying so hard to study and learn this language, but it is so difficult. We have learned many words and quite a few characters, but it just doesn't click sometimes. I had a fun Skype call with my brother, Eric, yesterday and I told him some of my frustrations. He said, "So, let me get this straight. You've been in Changsha for 6 weeks and you are upset that you aren't fluent yet?" Then, he rolled his eyes. It kind of put it into perspective for me. I need to work hard, but also be a little more patient with the process. It's hard to be patient, though, when every day we have encounters that are frustrating. We want to be just a little more "conversational." I think it would really make our experience a bit more tolerable.
I found out today that my resident permit ends on June 30th. It was my understanding that the semester was over on July 15th and that we would be flying home to the U.S. around July 20th. I guess not. I will be wrapping up my classes and flying home before the 30th of June. So, we will see you all 3 or 4 weeks earlier than we thought. I'm not going to lie. We were pretty excited about this news. We are in the second stage of culture shock right now. The honeymoon stage is over. Now, we are squarely in the hostility/depression stage where we are a little uncomfortable and homesick. But, don't worry about us. We have a great deal of confidence that we will move through this stage and get to a place where we have a better attitude about things. I don't want to speak for Stacie, but for me, I have days where I can't stand to see another person stare at me, to watch someone spit really loudly on the sidewalk, or have people yelling at the top of their lungs over something so insignificant. It's just a very loud and overstimulating environment sometimes and I go home with big headaches. Of course, all these things I mention are minor compared to the goodness in the Chinese people. But, some days the small trumps the large because of my fatigue and lack of patience.
This week, the Chinese are celebrating the Chinese National Holiday. The holiday goes from October 1st to October 7th, but the really important day is October 1st, which commemorates the day in 1949 when the Central Chinese government passed a resolution at Tiananmen Square forming the People's Republic of China. The schools are all closed and nobody seems to be working much this week. The people who own businesses or sell things on the street are still very active since this is an opportune time to make money. But, it's pretty crowded on the streets during this week of celebration. Richard and Lily Tang invited us to go to a museum on the morning of October 1st to celebrate the national holiday. We thought it would be a fun experience, so we agreed to go along with them and some other friends of their family. It seems like every time they invite us somewhere, a mob of other Chinese families are there too so that their kids can practice their English and spend some time with our children. I should mention that this isn't the only motive for inviting us. They are very kind people and are trying to help us adjust and have an enriching cultural experience as well.
So, we drove to a museum in downtown Changsha that holds mostly British art. There were some really interesting paintings and sculptures in the museum and I enjoyed them for their aesthetic beauty. However, the descriptions were mostly in Chinese and I couldn't really learn much about the art. My tour guide was Richard and he was pretty quick about moving through the different rooms. Stacie, on the other hand, was guided by Lily who took forever to go through the museum and explain things to Stacie. I'm sure she learned much more than I did in the end. Outside of the museum was an old house that was the headquarters for the emerging communist party of Hunan during the 1920's. Mao Zedong used the house as a home for he, his first wife, and his mother-in-law and also as the political headquarters for the party. When we walked in the house, a man pointed at the picture and said to Lily to ask me if I knew how the young picture of Mao was different from some of his other pictures from later in his life. I responded that he didn't have his prominent mole in the younger pictures. The man was apparently delighted that I had noticed this and told Lily to tell me how smart I was. It's probably the first time in China I've felt anything but completely stupid. You feel kind of like a baby again when you don't know a foreign language. You need people to take care of you all the time and you can't speak more than a couple of words. Anyway, understanding that Mao had a mole emerge later in his life was a great accomplishment for me I suppose. Also, we found out the Chinese people view the mole as almost magical. Because the mole became more prominent as Mao's power increased, people feel that having a mole in that spot on the chin is an indication of leadership potential. After the museum, we went to a park called Martyrs park that was absolutely beautiful and absolutely huge. It was so incredibly crowded, we could barely move around, but it was fun to be a part of the Chinese culture during one of their most important days of the year.
With Annie and Nicol gone, we decided we would finally try to find the BIG barbecue place down by Hunan University (a neighboring university to Hunan Normal University). My friend, Brenna, who was on exchange here last year with her husband, Chance, told me how to get there. I invited the Sorensens to go with us and we hopped on the bus toward Hunan University. Unfortunately, I didn't read Brenna's instructions as well as I thought I had and we took the wrong bus. However, it dropped us off not too far from the barbecue place. Once we arrived, we saw about a hundred tables and a couple of dozen different vendors selling all kinds of different food. One lady ran up to us and asked us to sit at her table. She showed us a menu and we quickly realized that you can't just sit anywhere. You have to buy food from the places where you want to sit. So, we said in Chinese that we just wanted to look around. Once we found some vendors with some of the food we wanted to buy, we sat down at a nearby table. The barbecue place near our apartment (from previous blog entries) is delicious, but more limited in the food choices. Here, however, we ended up getting fish, river snails, oysters, eggplant, corn on the cob, fried rice, and chicken legs. It was pretty delicious. Ezra and Stacie were both good sports about trying the snails and oysters, but the girls would only eat the chicken and corn (once we washed all the spices off with some bottled water). Lucy ate some fried rice, which she has never done before and seemed to like it. But, later at home I asked her if she liked the fried rice and she said no. So, we are back to square one. I really thought we had added a new food to her very short list of things she will eat. Ezra said he wants to try to prawns next. I've had them before and they are delicious, but Americans are used to having the shrimp peeled for us and eating the tails. In China, they give you the whole shebang, so you have to know what to do with it. On the way home, we got lost because we had to wander around to find the barbecue in the first place. We jumped on the bus to head back to HNU, but apparently the bus went the opposite direction. We ended up in the middle of nowhere and had to take a taxi back to our apartment. It was quite a fun adventure.
For those interested in my classroom experience, it has been pretty interesting. It still remains very difficult to teach students who range in English proficiency from perfectly fluent to can't understand a word I'm saying. But, the students are very kind, respectful, and hardworking. I have taught the 3 PhD classes for 3 weeks now and just started two of the Freshmen classes last week. There is quite a difference between the two groups as you can imagine. The PhD students are a little older and more mature. The freshmen are very young and energetic. Surprisingly, there is absolutely no difference in the overall English skills between the two groups. The PhD classes contain many students who are teachers at HNU. I assume they are trying to finish their doctorates for more money and their fields of study differ greatly representing things like biochemistry and physical education. But, the English skills are fairly weak at this point and it's a struggle for me to try to teach the very good speakers and the very poor students at the same time. My PhD English classes have also sort of evolved since the first day now that I have a better sense of where they are and what they need to learn. I would say my class right now is kind of a hybrid English, public speaking, critical thinking, and introduction to graduate studies class. In my opinion, this is what they need the most to be effective professionals once they finish their degrees, so that's what I'm going to do. I received a discouraging phone call from Amy at the International Office the other day. She indicated that the students were trying to sell their books back since I wasn't using the book that was given to me. I was told that I could use whatever materials I wanted and so that's what I have done. The book they gave me to "take a look at" was mostly on resume writing and other useless topics for an ORAL English class. Once the students started to sell their books back (or however they return them), it started to irritate the Graduate School and so they contacted Amy to see if she couldn't persuade me to use a portion of the book so that the students would be forced to buy it. I asked Amy how much they wanted me to use. She told me at least half of the book should be integrated. I kindly explained to her that the book wasn't of use to me since it was mostly to teach English and she said that she would explain that to the Graduate School. I haven't heard anything more about it, but I am concerned that maybe I should be more accommodating at times. I really try to choose my battles carefully and this one was an important one to me, so I stood my ground. I had already structured the class and had a pretty clear game plan for the semester.
One thing that I think would be shocking for the people back in America to discover is that the Chinese never really take a holiday. We have been officially on holiday for a week now and the students have all been away. Yet, the university requires that all the students (and consequently the professors) make up for every day missed during the holiday. Imagine being told you had to teach class on Saturday or Sunday to make up for a Christmas or Thanksgiving break. Our students would clearly be up in arms over this. But, the Chinese students willingly make up for every missed day. I can't believe their dedication sometimes. The very first time I met two of my freshmen classes was on a Sunday. Yes, the first day of class was a make-up day for a day they would miss the following week. When I showed up to class 20 minutes early to get my projector and things set up, EVERY single student was there already. I couldn't believe it! They used that 20 minutes to snap photos of me as I was getting ready. I'm the celebrity American teacher over here I suppose. I really hope that I'm a good teacher because I'm likely the only foreign teacher they will ever have. That's some pressure. My favorite parts of teaching so far are how the students do a slight bow whenever they address me or they hand in their papers with two hands grasping it. I also quite enjoy the funny emails I get from my students. Here are a couple of samples:
Dear Dr.Kevin A. Stein,
Dear Dr Kevin,
|Ezra is almost ready to defeat some Chinese foes.|
|Ezra is getting a lesson on how to get the snail out of the shell using a toothpick.|
|Here we go.|
|The children were excited about this little amusement park at Martyr's Park. It looked to have some pretty fun rides, but they charge per ride and this could get a little pricey.|
|Huh, I've heard of 3D before.|
|So crowded on the lake at Martyr's Park. We decided to go out on the boat anyway and it was fun.|
|Lucy thought she could get a better view this way. One time, she had the upper half of her body out the window and I had to reel her back in.|
|Pretty girl among the pretty flowers.|
|The entryway to Mao Zedong's house and headquarters in the Hunan Province. The Chinese believe that Mao had these supernatural qualities and often compare him to George Washington. I was offended at first, but then realized they are just trying to explain to me how much they revere him. I kept silent, but I'll say it here. He ain't George Washington!|
|Outside of the Mao headquarters.|
|This tree had some massive grapefruits. They were at least as big as Nicol's head.|
|I'm told this is the biggest aluminum statue of Mao in Changsha. You would be impressed if you knew just how many statues there are.|
|People everywhere stopped to watch Jeanie draw on the sidewalk with chalk. We really should be charging for this stuff.|
This is a picture of the candy that my brother, Eric had in his fridge when I Face Timed with him. I randomly said, "I miss American food. Show me what's in your fridge." This is what I saw. It was so depressing.