I have not posted since I arrived in LiuHe. It would be a waste of space for me to attempt to explain what has happened over the past four months. So instead, I will introduce you to the people that I spend 99.9% of my time with: Johan Rocha, Zhu Yun Te, and Cai Qiong Qiong.
Introducing Johan Rocha….the bad joke maker.
Johan is my other half in 六合。He was born in Brazil, moved to America when he was eight, went to college at Texas A&M, and worked as a teacher for Teach for America for two years before heading to China.
Johan has two sides. We have unbelievably impenetrable, serious “work Johan”; then, we have” silly bitch Johan”–I love both dearly. “Work Johan” is relentless in his pursuit to learn Chinese–his fifth language. “Work Johan” builds fake cities for his students, so he can guide them through the city and teach them english directions. “Work Johan” plans meetings for us to maintain group unity. “Silly bitch Johan” is a bad joke maker, as he has knack for making some really bad jokes–always leading to intense fits of laughter on his side (this is usually when we chant “bad joke maker”). “Silly bitch Johan” places giant orange peels on his head and sings silly songs about broccoli and being hungry while we cook. “Silly bitch Johan” also takes really suggestive photos (see below). He has a true commitment to testing out as many jokes a day as possible. These jokes—good and bad—have become one our main sources of laughter in LiuHe.
In addition to being a silly bitch, Johan is my best friend here. He is who I complain to, cry to, and beg to drink baijiu(chinese rice wine) with me after a long day of work. To entertain ourselves, we often resort to asking one another about hypothetical situations that will never actually happen in LiuHe. (i.e. “Do you want to go to that new club downtown?”, “Did you hear they were building a new Wal-Mart in LiuHe?”, or (my personal favorite)” I can’t wait till Florence and the Machine films her next music video here.”
Meet Zhu YunTe….the vamp.
Oh, baby Zhu 小猪。 Lucky for YunTe, his last name Zhu is a homonym for another Zhu in the Chinese language–pig. So, we often call him 小猪–small pig. “Small pig” is also very small. 小猪 went to college at sixteen, so at twenty years old he is starting his career. We might make fun of 小猪 a lot, but we have never let his size fool us. He is who we go to for everything, which is why we have a saying in our village: “Let YunTe do it.” Qiong Qiong (see below) recently purchased a bell for him to wear. Now, we always know his whereabouts.He can build anything, fix anything, and he never fails to make us laugh.
It would be an understatement to say that Yunte has a potty mouth. It would also be dishonest if I said that his potty mouth was a result of words that he independently sought out. I may have introduced him (aka trained him) to use the best words that the English language has to offer. As a result, it is quite common for Zhu to enter one of our bedrooms and say something like ” Go fuck yourself”, “Who the fuck cares?” , “What the fuck?”, or “Listen bitch!”. As if this is not entertaining enough, Zhu also carries around a small BB gun with plastic pellets that he uses to add to the impact of his potty mouth. He also wears a great hat that says “vamp” on the front–according to him, “vamp” is slang for “bitch” in English. So, with his vamp hat on and his BB gun out, he often walks into my room and says something like, “Give me the fucking yogurt bitch.”
I love this guy! 🙂
Introducing Cai Qiong Qiong….the strong woman.
Two weeks into training at Summer Institute (so, before we arrived in LiuHe) Qiong Qiong was hit by a motorcycle. She has serious head trauma, and no one was sure how she would make it out. Even after four weeks in the hospital, she did not opt to return home–she stuck with her commitment to TFC and moved to LiuHe. And thank God she did! My first two weeks in LiuHe were spent solely with “the vamp” and the “bad joke maker.” As much as I love those guys, I could not wait for Qiong Qiong to arrive.
Qiong Qiong is a rare combination of a stoic, maternal woman. We often refer to her as “the strong woman.” She is firm, yet gentle. And while she still has not gotten used to my rather affectionate personality, she is getting there slowly. At first, she would scream when I would try to give her random hugs, but now she just laughs. She even gave me a hug the other day!
She is who I like to call ‘my main bitch’. To say she cooks well is an understatement. She does it all: classic Chinese chilled cucumber dishes, spicy peppercorn fish, pumpkin pancakes, stir fried egg and tomato, my favorite eggplant and potato recipe, rice porridge, spicy shredded potatoes, comforting mushroom and spinach soups, and so much more. In addition to her being a Chinese cooking mentor for me, she is also my Chinese tutor. With her dependability and down to earth nature, she is a grounding figure in our group.
The below pics will probably reveal more than my words.
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If you know me well, you know that my thoughts are often pre-occupied with breaking down the dichotomy between things, removing the contradiction, making things mutually inclusive (i.e. life and death, mind and body). Recognizing that these things are simply different sides of the same coin or even one in the same floods my reality with relief and joy.
These floods have increased since my arrival in China. Strangely, the catalyst has more often than not been rain. Water and fire are almost perfect opposites in Chinese medicine. So, my thoughts return to yet another dichotomy. Back in America, the arrival of rain is usually coupled with, for lack of a better word, my bitching—“today is ruined,” “how ugly it is”,” I am so sad when it rains.” In Lincang, China, the presence of rain during summer time is a welcome friend—now my welcome friend. I brought an umbrella with me everywhere, and as it rained multiple times a day, I felt myself slowly adjust. It is strange that it often takes shifting to extremes to recognize the beauty/the meaning/the essence of something. The rain demanded so much of my attention in Lincang that I finally surrendered.
I could not help but smile when this happened, as I felt that Lincang and I shared the same elemental state, that of fire. We were both in desperate need of some rain. My first three weeks of teaching and 150 new friends brought both the most hectic schedule I ever had and more happiness than I had experienced in months. The rain was a welcome reminder of a lesson that I often forget in all of my intensity: slow down; reflect mindfully (exhausting mental chatter, what I often confuse as intellectual thinking, is not the same as reflecting mindfully); smell, taste, see, feel, and hear the world around you. Rain—water—forces this on me.
The dichotomy between fire and water collapsed last Thursday. As I left the school building on my last day of teaching, the sky was as blue as could be, not a cloud in the sky, sun shining bright, and it was pouring down raining. Mother Nature shook up the stark contrasts between my associations with sunshine and rain in her confusing weather display. There was a purging of the sky on the most beautiful day I had seen in Lincang. I walked slower than usual that day, not having a care in the world where I would end up. Instead of avoiding puddles, I intentionally walked in them (while wearing my awesome shower shoes of course). The water felt like heaven on my feet. The trees smelled so good I could almost taste them. My senses merged to create something God-like. In that moment, nothing else mattered.
It just so happened that I discovered a song on that walk, “the woods” by Bon Iver. On any other day, the lack of beat, the lack of intensity, would have been labeled as simply inadequate to sustain my usual overly energetic mood. On that day though, that same perceived (key word) inadequacy manifested itself into near perfection. Who would have thought that 4 minutes and 45 seconds of the below mantra alone could rest with my mood so well that day.
“I’m up in the woods, I’m down on my mind
I’m building a sill to slow down the time
I’m up in the woods, I’m down on my mind
I’m building a sill to slow down the time.’
It was not until after my walk that I realized that the lyrics were a time capsule for my experience.
Reflecting on this now is another reminder of how necessary rain/the essence of rain, in all of its forms, are to my staying grounded. I should not and do not have to wait to wait for it to rain on the most beautiful day in Lincang to slow down and truly feel life, as it should be. Lucky for me, Sunday marks the beginning of my two years in Liuhe, a village on a mountaintop known for water shortages.
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I taught my kids family members yesterday. The incentive I gave them was that I would show them pictures of my family if they were reallllllllllllllyyyyyyyyyy awesome!! They got super quiet when I told them that they could not see my family if they talked during class. Their behavior was fantastic! When it came time to show them these pictures, I had 55 students surrounding me in the front of the room. Their excitement was contagious. As they yelled “mother, brother, sister, father, and Sophie”, I felt like a teacher. A huge part of my excitement though, was being able to share my family with my students. I miss the shit out of you guys! Even though you might feel like you have no idea what is going on in my life here, know that you are making an appearance in my classroom! The students love you 🙂
So, I just finished my second week of teaching. Saying that I am having growing pains in the classroom does not come close to explaining the last two weeks. A little background information to start is necessary. I have been awarded the opportunity and bestowed the punishment of teaching the youngest students at this summer school. Imagine 2nd graders. Now imagine fifty-five 2nd graders. Now imagine fifty-five Chinese 2nd graders. Now imagine fifty-five screaming Chinese 2nd graders. Yes, it is adorable and terrifying all at the same time. This is the first time they have been exposed to English; they do not know how to read or write in Mandarin; oh and I forgot—about ¾ of them just finished Kindergarten and lied about their age.
Before you begin reading, I need to introduce you to a special someone, Diamond (see picture below). My co-teacher Andrew and I decided that someone needed to be named Diamond in our class. We said we would know who Diamond would be, because she would sparkle. On day one, it was clear who Diamond would be. With her Disney princess type dress, pearls and curly pigtails, Diamond was born. It soon became clear that she had an extensive wardrobe full of many frilly bejeweled dresses. Since that first day, she has come to school with fake hair, a tiara, and a headdress with jewels that hang over her face. While she is my favorite student, she is also the most disruptive student in my class. This has made for an interesting situation. With this being said, keep your eye out for Diamond in my passages. She was born to entertain.
Enjoy reading about my first two weeks in snap shots of how I felt on that very day!
I am a rock star…best teacher ever. Kids love the shit out of me. High note and Low note=the same: My pants rip down the back entirely on my first day. I pretend to be a naughty student that can’t sit still at my desk when rippppppppppppppppp. Thank God I co-taught on the first day. Andrew had to walk up and down the rows the rest of class. Lesson learned: Don’t pretend to be a naughty student at desk where the wood is splintered
Absolute failure. My angels have officially turned into devils. Tommy refuses to go into the reflection chair. After waiting for him for a solid minute, I cave and walk away. Lesson Learned:NEVER CAVE IN FRONT OF YOUR STUDENTS.
I have the hang of this! In the clear! Students are eating out of the palm of my hand. I actually convince myself that teaching is just natural for me. (hahahahahahahahaa—this is hilarious) I have them doing “total physical response” (TPR) to “This is red, this is blue, this is green” —-lovely dancing and screaming occur. High point: I realize there is still a parent in the back of the classroom that is only staying to learn English herself. Lesson learned: Wear clothes that you are okay with sweating through entirely. TPR is exhausting.
Diamond is the devil incarnate—standing on the desk, talking constantly. Every time I correct her, she tries to charm me with her pearls and smiles. High Point: Diamond goes to the reflection chair when I tell her to. Lesson Learned Diamond knows she is adorable and will use it as a weapon against me—I must be careful.
Disaster hits. It’s Friday, and I have antsy kids. Tommy and Tim are punching one another in the face (Yes, they are 6 years old). I tell them to go to the reflection chair, and they will not listen. After wasting 5 minutes of class, a parent from the back comes to help me. She tells Tommy to get up, and what happens? He starts balling his eyes out. All psycho babble that Nagging’ Nancy and Bonsai Bob taught me regarding effective communication cannot be applied in this context—my Chinese sucks.
I also choose to administer my first exam this day. These 6 year olds have no concept of “no cheating”. Mean girls style, the kids have gone wild—kids standing on desks, passing papers back and forth, etc. The bell rings. Welcome weekend. I leave feeling defeated to say the least. High Point: same aforementioned parent stops me in the middle of the class to yell that I am pretty and have beautiful eyes. She also keeps raising her hand to answer questions that I am asking my actual students. So what if I gave her a star on her hand for answering correctly? Lesson Learned: Behavior Management is my number one priority for week two
I am terrified after Friday’s disaster of a class. I decide I am not just a bad teacher, but also the worst teacher of all time (classic Hannah). Guess what though? New behavior management system is put in place, including a policy for test taking! In order to demonstrate what happens when someone cheats or talks, I rip a student’s test into many little pieces and dramatically toss it to the floor. I also quickly apologize to the kid, as he looks up at me horrified (someone had to be sacrificed). I hand him another test immediately. Guess what? Diamond gets her test ripped up for cheating. High note and low note: after grading the test, there is a mystery student with no English name that has scored a 100. Guess who? Aforementioned helicopter parent that insisted on taking the test. Adorably cute note and sad note: June cries the entire class period, because she does not understand what is going on. Third Low note: 5 people tell me the star meter that measures class success on the wall looks like a penis. Lesson learned: Be careful when drawing star meters.
辣肚子(la duzi) hits. Direct translation=spicy belly. No explanation necessary. My co-teacher teaches students
Rock star status is turned back on. I create TPR for the different fruit that I am teaching, which leads to my students successfully saying “peaches” while doing “Little Miss Sunshine” dance moves (the one where she is clasping her hands above her head). Western Wednesday is introduced. Students violently dance to “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles. High Point: peaches dance move…duh. Lesson learned: Students will do any TPR that you tell them to do. This sparks an official contest among fellows of who can get their kids to do the most hilarious TPR. Stay tuned for the results.
First official embarrassing teacher moment. I decide to incorporate an English-speaking rabbit stuffed animal into the classroom that my co-teacher has previously used. Am I confident with my rabbit voice that sounds like towelie from South Park? Hell No. Result: I am met with dead silence from my students as I humiliate myself for 40 minutes. High note: being able to make fun of myself for the rest of the day Lesson learned: Never use the towelie voice again. Be wary of bringing English-speaking animals into the classroom.
Best day yet. I also realize that many of the students that I think ignore my instructions to stand are actually standing; they are simply too short to see over the desk. This also explains why Diamond, along with others, stand on their desk to see. High Point: Diamond’s mother suggests that we take Diamond for the weekend. As much as this idea excites me, it is equally horrifying. A compromise is made: home visit to Diamond’s house is scheduled for Sunday. Score! (More info to come on this) Lesson learned: Maybe, just maybe, I can get the hang of this teaching stuff.
***To end on a positive note, this is what I have been waking up to every morning***
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At the risk of boring you, I must begin my blog with a little Chinese 101 to explain my title. A Meridian, as defined by good ol’ Wikipedia, is a path through which the life-energy known as “Qi” flows. Simply put, these meridians are the highways of our vitality and/or life force. This might all sound a bit simple to you, but this Qi business can get very complex. I took a Chinese Medicine course the last time I was in China, and I discovered the innumerable things, good and bad, that can happen to my Qi at any given time. The proper flow of my chi is often dictated by the balance of the 5 elements and how they function with their corresponding season and organ.
Lucky for me, my fire element is overactive 365/24/7, leading to an overactive heart. (I know you are dying to find out your dominant elements now , so click here). Luckier for me, people with overactive fire elements suffer most during the summer–I left at the perfect time. Most of you will not be surprise by the fact that Chinese medicine predicts:
“If the Fire Element is out of balance, or is blocked from fully expressing itself, Fun seeking becomes giddiness; humor becomes excitability, conversation becomes incoherent babble; friendliness turns to flirtation; charisma becomes seduction; and enthusiasm becomes grandiosity.”
Anyone who knows me well knows that saying the word “China” or pointing to a Chinese baby (See photo below) is a foolproof strategy for witnessing my overactive heart and most likely the above symptoms–especially the incoherent babble. (Note to self: the last time I arrived in China my excitement led to me running over an elderly Chinese woman with my luggage cart at the airport). With this being said, China is an interesting place for me. Now, here I am, back to my surrogate motherland, overactive heart and all.
So, why did I choose “My Chinese Meridians” as my title? Because this blog is about expressing how my Qi will flow through these Chinese paths over the next two years. With me being a passionate person, you will witness many instances of an overactive heart. I also fully expect to share with you the grounding power of being accountable to a cause greater than myself–the cause of Teach for China. My job is to empower underprivileged students in and outside of the classroom. I will channel my overactive heart as intensely as possible to bridge the education gap in whatever capacity I can.
Since accepting my position with Teach for China, I have often wondered if I have a single clue as to what will be best for my students. Have I reached a conclusion? God no! All I know now is that everyone has a unique energy to share–me to my students and my students to me especially. With our humanism to share, I will strive to connect with my students at a core level. I look forward to sharing me and my students’ journey: our inspirations, our blockages, our overactivity, our choice of escape, and all the fun in between (we should never take ourselves too seriously).
Look forward to stories about my students, sexy (and not so sexy) chinese food, sqautters, bug infestations, inevitable encounters with cultural faux pas, and some epiphanies here and there.