Cwray's Blog

The Good and the Bizarre
November 24, 2010, 5:49 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Teaching has its fair share of highs and lows.  Living and teaching in China also has highs and lows but the in-between is comprised of the bizarre and unthinkable.

High – Any teacher knows that you are not supposed to have favorites, but anyone who has taught for an iota knows that those who repeat this phrase are merely lying to themselves: you have favorites.  I, like my peers, favor the following students: the well-behaved, intelligent and thoughtful (I would have hated a 10 year old Chris, sorry teachers).  This story is about the thoughtful.

One of the things I have enjoyed most about teaching is that I have a unique opportunity to witness young personalities emerging – the sassy, the feisty, the dominant – are all personalities I witness on a daily basis and Mary is all three personalities wrapped into one sassy tomboy.  Mary is in the third grade and as my Chinese counterpart told me, “she plays with the boys.”  Today Mary was dressed in a long, bright green puffy coat, she had on black gloves much like you would see on biker headed to Sturgis, and she wears a look of that both intimidates and stirs up fear.  Mary wears this look well, but believe me, it is much more than a look.  One day a student (a boy) was acting up and Mary could tell I was not happy.  Most students would have shh’d him, but not Mary; instead Mary said something to him and lurched towards him like she was going to pounce on him.  He immediately recoiled in fear, not wanting to know the reason for Mary’s gloves or what she had learned from the boys she played with and stopped his disruptive behavior immediately.  This is partly why I like Mary; she is tough, she is respectful, and she is extremely intelligent and as we will soon see, insightful.

When I enter any one of my twenty classes I am met with the cheers of adoring fans and for a moment, all chaos ensues.  I stand at the front of the class waiting for the silence to rejoin us all the while scanning the room for disruptive students and approval from my Chinese counterpart.  One day as I was doing just this I noticed a bright green bottle on Mary’s desk.  At first glance I thought it was another unusual Chinese beverage, but upon further inspection I realized it was Mountain Dew.  I grew extremely excited and asked Mary (through a translator) where she bought this haohe (delicious drink).  She informed me that she bought it down the road from the school, but that did me little good as there are more stores in a square block than NYC has in a square mile, but at least I knew there was Mountain Dew in Baoding.

The other day I arrived at class to find that Mary had bought a Mountain Dew and brought it to class for me and asked my Chinese counterpart how to tell me that she had a surprise.  This gesture not only shocked me, but will be one that I remember years down the road.  It is a simple enough gesture, it didn’t cost her much money, but the thought that went into it and the action that transcended the cultural and linguistic barriers is enormous.  So now, as I sit here writing this to you while looking at my bottle of Mountain Dew I realize that I have just experienced one of those rare moments in life, a moment that has forever changed me somehow, a moment that will remain with me forever and all thanks to a young tomboy named Mary.  Thanks Mary.

Bizarre – Now I must admit, I have edited this post since first writing it a few days ago, because the bizarre events that happen here never cease to amaze me.  As you are well aware, the stares one encounters while in China are an everyday occurrence, an everyday annoyance, but some of them become blog worthy and this is one of those.

Lizzie and I were off to the store on a Friday evening as we wanted to avoid the weekend rush.  Lizzie was looking at the various Chinese baked good while I was wandering around looking at some of the strange things that are considered delicacies here (premade hotdog/focaccia breads) when I noticed behind me a young girl, late teens possibly early twenties, who was holding a rather large stuffed teddy bear looking curiously at me.  This, not being out of the norm, did not disturb me and I offered a smile and continued on my way to find Lizzie.  On my way to find Lizzie I noticed a teddy bear lurking behind me.  I informed Lizzie of the situation much like, I would assume, a secret service officer informs another officer about a possible threat to the president: “we have a tail at 6 o’clock”.  We headed towards the dairy section making our way through the crowds and various free-sample stands that made up our now hostile terrain and as we arrived at the dairy section I once again noticed the teddy bear bobbing up and down closely behind.

Now at this point the stalking had grown from only slightly annoying to full blown “What the____ are you doing”, so I told Lizzie I would attempt to lose the stalker.  Like Sea Biscuit out of the gates I was off, rounding the first turn and heading for the coffee section.  I arrived and turned around to see if there was any sign of an oversized stuffed animal and there was not: success!  I made my way back to Lizzie only to discover hovering behind her nothing else besides the helpless teddy bear being clutched by the young girl wearing the same she had first flashed fifteen minutes ago.

Lizzie had been wanting some cereal for quite some time (considered a delicacy here, and priced the same) so Lizzie, the bear (and the smile), and I made our way to the cereal aisle.  Lizzie scanned the selection and the prices and decided against purchasing what would be the equivalent of a nice meal out for a box of cereal, and as we turned around to see where the bear was we noticed it was facing the other direction, perhaps distracted by another victim, perhaps not.  Lizzie and I wasted no time in darting away to the candy aisle and thankfully, we were not followed.


Seeds and Stems
November 15, 2010, 12:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Sunflower Seeds

Those would be sunflower seeds.  Why am I posting a picture of sunflower seeds you ask?  I am doing such a thing because, in my humble opinion, sunflower seeds are one of the top 10 foods eaten in China: everyone eats them.  Picture if you will a good-looking girl walking down the street.  You think to yourself, “here’s a girl I could date, she’s good looking, she has nice eyes, she has…just spit a sunflower seed onto the street.”  Yes, you will see the young, the old, the beautiful and the, well, not so beautiful, spitting seeds while they are walking down the street;  you will see the seeds in piles on both the ground and on tables, you will see them everywhere.   Not wanting to miss out on the action, or the chance to flirt with a lovely lady (“Hey, what flavor seeds are you chewing?  Excuse me while I spit”) I too grabbed some sunflower seeds.  I must admit, the first time I tried some, I was disappointed.  You see, in China they do not have Ranch, dill, and the other flavors I had grown accustomed to.  Instead they have green tea, milk, and various other flavors I have yet to try, and so, on my first attempt at fitting in I picked up milk.  Milk?  Really?  Yes, really, and they were sweet.  And so, disappointed with the seeds they sat on my shelf, practically uneaten, for a month until a few days ago I was running low on food and thought I would try again.  And try I did.  Now I don’t know what happened in that months’ time, maybe it was the various illnesses I have contracted, maybe my tastes are changing, but the bag of seeds was gone in two days.  In one week I have gone through three more bags and I am anxiously awaiting the next grocery store visit so that I might try another flavor of seeds.  You see, I am now hooked on sunflower seeds and am forever changed.  When I return home to the isles of ranch, cheddar, and dill seeds I will be disappointed, perhaps even a bit China-sick (home sick for China) when I don’t see my milk flavored seeds.

My new cup!

The next picture is of my tea-cup.  Pretty nifty eh?  As I’m sure you all now, tea is extremely popular in China.  There are teahouses (and teahouse scams), teas ranging from very cheap, to very, very expensive, teas in all colors, shapes, and sizes.  The majority of the water that people drink here is hot because water has to first be boiled before it can be consumed.  I myself have always enjoyed tea so this is no problem for me, but one of the differences with tea in China is that it is loose leaf, no bags here.  For the past three months I had been drinking tea in a normal cup, doing my best to avoid the leaves and stems, with very little success until one day at the market I decided to buy this cup for around $3.  Now I enjoy my tea without nearly choking on a leaf and my world is that much brighter.

As you can see, China has changed me.  I now grow excited at the prospects of new sunflower seeds and loose leaf teas, but I suppose that is not a bad thing.  Things are different here.   For instance, when choosing a mate, how they spit their seeds is an important thing to know: do they go for distance or do they just let it fall out?  One should know this before saying “I do.” That’s all for today folks, s so from China, I bid you farewell.  Zaijian!

Beijing Revisited
November 5, 2010, 2:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Now I must admit when I don’t write a blog for quite some time I feel like a husband (or wife, no chauvinism here) who must answer to his wife about the unaccounted for hours between work and the time he arrives home, who must explain the mysterious late night phone calls, and what is that, is that lipstick?  I assure you it is not lipstick, there is no other woman (or in this case blog), and my unaccounted hours can be explained by two illnesses in two weeks, an uncertainty on seemingly everything, and honestly, I needed some time to myself.  Now I realize the “I needed some time for myself routine” is not an appropriate answer for a husband to give a curious wife, but for my fellow blog readers it will have to do.  But as consolation for your sleepless nights and countless hours spent worrying about our relationship I have something to offer, and it comes in the form of lots of pictures and the quality blog you have come to love.  So from the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry.  Now shall we begin?

This past weekend Lizzie and I went to Beijing and I, having yet another sinus infection, was armed with what I thought would be an ample supply of toilet paper, but by the end of the Forbidden City China once again proved me wrong.  So between the sneezing and nose blowing, I was able to take a few pictures which I hope you will enjoy.

The main square of the Forbidden City.


Fall in The Forbidden City

The emperor's house of study and relaxation.


Next on the agenda was Central Perk.  Now for those of you who are wondering what Central Perk is, I will explain:  Central Perk was the coffee house featured in the TV show Friends and as far as I know, this is the only recreation of it anywhere in the world.  Lizzie and I searched high and low for this place which was supposed to be on the sixth floor of an office building.  After two hours of searching we came upon what we thought was the building and went in the lobby to check.  There was no listing of a “Central Perk” anywhere but we asked in broken Chinese if it was in fact located in the building and the attendant in the lobby thought that it might be on the sixth floor.  Lizzie and I searched all but one corner of the sixth floor and found nothing.  As we turned the last corner we had given up all hope of finding it, but out of the corner of our eye we saw what we had been searching for so long.

As we turned the last corner this was what welcomed us.

Central Perk

From left to right: Joey, Rachel, Me, and Gunther.

The next morning we arouse at 6:30 to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall.  Now I have seen pictures of The Wall, but let me tell you, they do it no justice.   The Wall is absolutely incredible to look at and surprisingly tough to climb.  Our tour took us to some less touristy parts of the wall that were unrestored and at times we could see no one as you will now see.

This was the part of the wall we climbed. As you can see it is in desperate need of repair.

A view from a guard tower.

A view from the top.

I could have sat here for hours.

Now even though I am glad to have seen The Great Wall, I will admit the whole time I was a bit, turned off by the fact that it was built by essentially using slave labor.  Workers were often sentenced to work on the wall as punishment for their crimes and the majority of them died doing so.  Those who died had their “sentence” carried on by their family members, and you can guess their fate.  The steep hillside you saw in the pictures?  Laborers carried stone up them from the bases of the hills, back and forth, over and over again.  So although it took a monumental effort and is considered a wonder of the world, the thought of the millions of lives it cost kept seeping into my mind making the moment a seemingly eerie sense of wonder.

Lastly on our list of excursions was the 2008 Olympic site.  Like many things in China, words and pictures do this no justice.  It seems fitting that when you exit the subway you must ascend stairs into the center of the site as the buildings seem to rise around you.  The first building you notice is the Olympic Tower which served as the command center for the games.

The Olympic Tower

The second, and most impressive of all the structures, is the Birds Nest.  The Birds Nest is absolutely incredibly and is one of the most impressive structures I have ever seen.   The sheer size of it is mind boggling and one cannot help but stop and gape when in its presence.

The Nest.

Even the walking path lamps were influenced by the nest.

And lastly is the Cube, which, because of Michael Phelps, needs no introduction nor any more words from me.

Michael Phelps' stomping grounds.

Well there it is folks.  This blog took me two days, nearly six hours of time (most of which was spent uploading pictures with incredibly slow internet).   I hope you enjoyed it and until next time, zaijian!