Monday, September 18, 2006

Well....this is my last blog entry from China.
It's very sudden, but I am flying back to the US tomorrow (sep 19).
Why? I got some unfortunate news this morning, and suffice it to say there is a funeral this week that I feel I need to attend, even if it means flying halfway around the world without knowing when I will be able to come back.
I don't feel that my time here should be over yet, but sometimes things happen and tough decisions must be made.
So Zaijian (goodbye) for now, China...it's been fun. I will miss the delicious street food; I will miss the old men with no shirts playing Chinese chess on the sidewalks; I will miss riding my bike to work; I will miss my cute little kindergarten students; I will miss the random, strange things I see on a daily basis; and I will miss all the friends I have made since I got here. China, I hope to see you again soon.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I am happy to report that I finally had my first Beijing Kao Ya (Beijing Duck)! Beijing Duck is a famous duck dish that is extremely popular in northeast China (where I am located).
The preparation of this dish is probably the most interesting thing about it. The duck is prepared (and served) with the head still attached (yep...eyes, beak, and all).
First, it is inflated with a pump or other object, separating the skin from the body (this was done by blowing through a straw by someone with a strong lung in ancient times). Then the skin is scalded with boiling water to make it drier and tauter and brushed with molasses so that it acquires a dark, rich color with the slight aroma of caramel during the subsequent cooking process. After drying for half a day, the duck is hung by its neck in a hot oven where it is roasted for an hour or more, during which time the copious fat of the duck melts off and the skin becomes crispy. Because a large oven is required, as well as other complicated preparation techniques, Beijing Duck is not usually prepared at home; it is customarily eaten in a restaurant or bought already prepared at shops or restaurants and taken home to eat.
A special breed of duck is grown in the North exclusively for this dish. The ducks are kept in individual cages and forceā€‘fed so that they grow plump and without muscle. Beijing duck is thus also called Beijing stuffed duck.
A traditional way of serving Beijing Duck is a three course meal: first course is served with the crispy skin and steamed mu-shi flour pancakes, slivered spring onions (scallions), sliced cucumber strips, hoisin sauce, and plum sauce. You place pieces of chopped duck skin on a pancake, add a bit of hoisin sauce, plum sauce, and spring onion. The mixture is rolled up and eaten...a little pocket of yummy goodness!
The remaining duck meat is usually chopped up, stir-fried, and eaten wrapped in fresh lettuce, while the bones are used for broth.
So that is exactly how my meal went last night. Because the duck is already prepared, you don't have to wait for it when you order; it is brought out immediately. The chef came out (with his little chef's hat and all) and carved the duck...it was funny, because the first thing he did was snap the ducks head off and set it on the side of the plate! Then we went to town on the yumminess! We also had the broth that was made out of the bones, etc., but I honestly that it was a little watered-down and bland. (Perhaps at the more expensive Beijing Duck restaurants it tastes better.)
Basically, it was a delicious meal, and I am glad I got to try it, since I have been wanting to ever since I got here! I would recommend that you try it also, but apparently the way chefs do it in the US is not the traditional way (they try to get rid of most of the fat, while Chinese chefs prefer the fat). So I guess if you ever make it to this side of the world, you should definitely give it a try!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Just an quick update:
I have finally posted pictures of my apartment on my webshots.com website, so check them out if you are curious about my living situation.
Nothing really exciting has happened...I never got my hair "fixed," so it still looks ridiculous!
I bought a new bike for 90 yuan (just more than $10), and it's a pretty nice one, nicer than the one that got stolen, so I am happy with it.
I also just wanted to share with you some of my students' English names (they choose an English name for their English classes):
Echo, Anger, Happy (and I am not kidding, this girl NEVER smiles!), McGrady (as in Tracy McGrady, the NBA player), Quick, Sailor, Dragon, Apple, Grage (he says it like "George"), Miker,Pager, and Mimi.
I thought some of these names were SO cute and/or funny. There are also lots of Bobs, Tinas, Janes, and Toms...not sure why those names in particular are popular, but they are.
Anyway, check out the picks, keep in touch, and have a good one! :-)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I FINALLY have internet in my apartment! I have been living here almost three weeks now, and just got it hooked up yesterday. YAY! So I guess there is a lot of catching up to do.
So the apartment is great. It has it's little nuances, but nothing I can't deal with. Sometimes you have to give the light fixtures a little tap to get them working, and you have to plunge the toilet everytime you try to flush "waste" down or else it won't go anywhere, but it's still a really nice apartment, and much nice than any of my friends' apartment, whether they are Chinese or another foreigner. Everyone that comes over goes on and on about how nice it is. It makes me happy. :-)
My bike was stolen last weekend...actually, it was practically given away...I let my roommate's brother borrow it, and he forgot to lock it, which is not something you should do unless you WANT someone to take your bike away. See, bikes are stolen frequently here. Everyone has had a bike stolen from them at least once, even when they are locked. What happens is people steal bikes and then turn around and sell them to make a little money. This has become such a problem that the police are now making it illegal to buy secondhand bikes. Instead of punishing the seller, the police are targeting the buyer. I guess the idea is if the demand disappears, then so will the supply, hence reducing the incidence of bike-stealing. But after work the other day a Chinese friend helped me buy another used bike (yes, technically illegally), and it is really nice. It's practically new, and only cost 90 yuan (a little more than $10).
Another new experience for me was getting my hair done here. A chinese guy that knows my boss (he's a 20 yr old student) that speaks English very well took me to a hair salon and interpreted for me. I picked out the color I wanted from one of those hair book things, and they went to town. Two hours later, when I saw the final product, and started crying. It looked AWFUL! The top of my head was bright yellow, it looked like it was glowing! And I had to pay 380 yuan for it! I was SOOOO upset! So the next day my Japanese girlfriend Mika took me to a Japanese hair salon to try to fix it. The guy cut my hair first (not a great cut job, by the way), then added some darker highlights to my hair. Well, it looked a little better, but it still looks terrible. So now I have spent over 500 yuan on my hair, and I still HATE it. I am going to try one more time next week when I have some money, and if it still looks bad then I give up. They just don't know how to do blonde here!
I also just finished my first week of full-time teaching. I ride out to Taida (another district in Tianjin, a little more than an hour's ride in a car) and teach two kindergarten classes in the morning (from 9 to 11), then get home right around 12. I have two hours for lunch and relaxing, then I ride my bike (about 10 minutes on a bike) to a middle school, and teach three 45-minute classes there. The kindergartners are really cute, but can be SOOO frustrating and the long drive is a huge hassle. I like the middle school classes though. I have a lot of fun with the students, and they seem to enjoy the classes also. Their English is pretty good too, so it's not as difficult to teach. This Sunday is Teacher's Day, so on Friday many of the students brought me gifts: flowers, tea cup sets, pictures, food, etc. One boy actually drew me a really good picture of Kobe Bryant dunking a basketball. He obviously spent a lot of time on it, and I thought it was really cool. They really are sweet kids.
Also, it is starting to get pretty cool here. Unfortunately, when I packed for China I only expected to be here for the summer, so I only brought two thin sweaters. I am wearing them over and over because I have not had the time to go shopping and buy new stuff. I think when I have time for that I will go to Beijing, because they have really great stuff for really cheap prices. It is only an hour by train, so I can just go for the day. My friend Mika wants to go too, so it will help to have someone with me that speaks Chinese.
All in all, I am having a really awesome time. I keep getting packages from my parents (thanks Mom and Dad) with clothes, shoes, and food, etc., and that rocks. When I can afford it, I have some packages I need to send to family and friends also...so if you are one of those that is expecting something, be patient! It is more expensive for me to send stuff there than it is for you to send stuff here, so I have to have the funds to do it. But it will happen, I promise...
When I have the chance, I will take some pictures of my new place and post them on the webshots.com website. In the meantime, keep in touch! Now that I have internet, I will be checking my email frequently, and will try to be diligent in responding to them.

Monday, August 28, 2006

I have assimilated.
Yes, it's true. It seems that I have allowed myself to absorb much of the culture of China without even realizing I was doing it. Some examples:
I was recently presented with the option (in a puclic restroom) od using a "western" style toilet (such as what we use in America) and a squatter toilet...and I chose the squatter. It just seems like squatting over a hole in the ground saves me the displeasure of sitting on a public toilet, or the daunting task of squatting over a regular one. It was the lesser of two evils in my opinion, and I never thought I would feel that way about those things! (Though I must say I am happy to have a regular Western toilet in my apartment).
Also, I have on more than one occasion eaten in a restaurant that provided both chopsticks AND silverware (a rare occasion, believe me), and I chose the chopsticks. I have gotten so used to eating ANYTHING and EVERYTHING with them, that using regular silverware almost feels weird.
I also use my bike as my main source of transportation, I buy frozen dumplings (and other traditional Chinese foods) at the grocery store to cook at home, and I have gotten accustomed to all the Chinese "things" that I found so foreign when I first got here. China has such a unique and interesting culture, and you can't help but be drawn into it. Wo ai Zhongguo! (I love China!)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

I wanted to add one more thing...
My new address here in China is:

Jamie Sheffield
6-1-502 Zhong Yu Yuan Guang Dong Road
Hexi District
Tianjin, China 300201

So, if anyone feels the urge to send me some non-perishable food items that I can't get in China, or maybe some good English reading material, feel free to send it my way. ;-)

I have been a busy girl the past few days...let me explain.
I found out that there were all kinds of problems with getting my visa, and the man who was going to hire me was not trying to help me take care of it at all. So his assistant tells me that his friend has her own English teaching school, and can get me a job and help me with my visa. I went to meet her, and ended up spending almost four hours talking to her (Lily, she's Chinese), and her fiancee Shawn (a Canadian). They gave me a contract to look over on Friday, then on Saturday I went back and signed it with them. And I start work on Monday! (the 21st!) I will start out teaching kindergarten kids in the morning for a couple of weeks, and then in September when the other schools start, I will have a couple of middle school classes also. These people that hired me are really helpful though...they are going to pay me weekly instead of monthly for the first month because I explained to them I don't have a lot of money right now, and they are also going to help me out with my visa, among other things. So this has worked out well!
So aside from getting a lesson plan ready for my first week EVER of teaching, I have also been packing up my stuff because today is moving day! Yep, I get to move into my new apartment this afternoon. It will probably take a couple of cab rides to get all of my stuff to my new place, but I can definitely get it done. I have had a lot of fun here in the dorm, but I am ready to live in a real apartment, complete with kitchen, living room, balcony, etc. I am so excited!
On another note, today is August 20, 2006, the two-year anniversary of my brother's death. So I just want to say rest in peace, brother...you are deeply loved and missed...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Well, I started tutoring this week, so I am offically working now (only three days a week, but still working). My student is a 32 year old Japanese woman who is living in China, but knows no Chinese (which makes me wonder why she is trying to learn English instead of Chinese??) Anyway, she studied English for several years, but it has been about 10 years since she last studied. She seems to remember much of it, though, and we have been flying through the textbook we were provided to work with. I am eager to get my first paycheck, though, but that won't be until the 31st.
On another note, we finally found a suitable apartment! In fact, it's more than suitable, it's actually really, really nice! It is a 2 bedroom 1 bathroom apartment that comes fully furnished. The furniture is exceptionally nice, and includes lots of extras (like a TV, stereo equipment and surround sound speakers). It is in a safe neighborhood, is across the street from a hospital, and has a fresh goods market behind it where we can buy all kinds of fresh (and cheap) vegetables and fruits, among other things. By the way, when I say 'we,' I am referring to my friend Ben and I. Ben has been living here since March, but has not moved out of the dorms here on campus yet, so he was eager to find a roommate and move into an apartment. It works out well for both of us because although he signed a year lease and I am only here until December, his brother will be moving here in September to live in the dorms on campus for a few months, so when I move out in December he will simply move in and take me place. It's a win-win situation for everybody. The best part about the apartment is the price: only 2300 yuan/month, which is SO much cheaper than other apartments like it cost (trust me, I know, because we looked at a LOT of apartments). That comes to about $288/month, or $144 per person each month. The awesome thing is, paying rent for the entire four months here is still cheaper than paying one month's rent at my place in Tallahassee. So basically, I am very excited to move in! Moving day is Monday, so as soon as I get my internet up and running in the apartment I will be taking pictures and posting them on my webshot.com page (I know you want to see them, Mom and Dad).
In the meantime, I am still in the process of getting my working visa taken care of. It looks like I will be extending my student visa for another 30 days so I can have enough time to take care of all the necessary paperwork for the working visa. Everything is so complicated in this country...