Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Vacation to Dalian

A couple weeks ago I went to Dalian.

On my summer vacation, a couple teachers and I travelled south to the province of Liaoning to visit Dalian. Check out the video I made about the trip; I basically tried to give you a feel for the whole thing. Now you don't have to go through all the work of going to Dalian yourself! This video has it all: penguins, parks, and even some puppies. So if you like any of those things and more, enjoy!

Unfortunately, I was unable to get footage during two of my trip's biggest highlights. So in lieu of moving pictures, let me attempt to paint a video with my words. The first highlight was racing unlicensed motorcycle taxis through the streets of Dalian at night.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Serving at an International Level

This week I was a Chinese waiter. 

If there's one thing people absolutely love, it's a brand-new waiter that doesn't speak the right language. He can't get you anything, he can't read the menu, and he doesn't know where anything is. It's a good thing no one in China works for tips, because I wouldn't make any. I was actually working in exchange for the restaurant owner's secret recipe miân tao (might not be spelled right), which is basically China's take on mini-doughnuts. 
I'll still need practice. 
It started as a joke. Despite a sizeable language barrier, I've become pretty good friends with the owner of my favourite restaurant. I call him Quing-ge, which as far as I can tell, means some portion of his name, and "older brother" as a sign of respect. So while I was hanging out there, enjoying a plate of miân tao (Wow you are learning so much Chinese!) one evening, he said he could teach me how to cook Chinese food. That sounded great to me, and I mimed being a waiter, saying I could pay him back by becoming an employee. We all had a nice laugh. But then I actually showed up.

We did the cooking lesson as planned; that was great and there will be more to come. But I don't think anyone expected me to actually stick around and do something! I pushed through the early doubts, and in no time fell back into my old serving habits acquired from 3 years' experience in Canada: sitting down at guests' tables, balancing plates, and flirting with the waitresses.
They thought they looked too tiny in the standing up picture. Photo by Andy.
So once everyone figured out that there was really little I could actually do, I just relegated myself to busboy and got busy with quiet tasks like clearing tables and sweeping up. It become abundantly clear that I was incompetent when a guest asked for toothpicks and I couldn't get it. Seriously? When someone says and mimes a toothpicking action and you don't pick up on it, it's time to hang up your apron.

I put in a full shift... in Western terms. I was at the restaurant for over 8 hours, but that doesn't constitute a full Chinese shift. A Chinese shift is approximately the entire day. To illustrate, those aforementioned waitresses were pretty excited to work with me. But I think they were pretty easily excited, because for a month they were living in the back of the restaurant and working from 9 AM to around midnight. And that was how they spent their vacation from university! So sure, if a white guy stumbles up and wants to be a bad waiter, it's fun to look at.
My friend and restaurant regular, Andy. We throw up a lot of peace signs.
That whole shift, I was just hoping I wouldn't hear "FÚ WÙ YUÁN!!" yelled at me. It means 'waiter' and guests just yell it out around here... the easiest pronunciation I can describe for it is "foo," and then saying "You are" really quickly. "Foo Ya'arr!" Please not me please not me not me not me not me....
If I could read the name I'd tell you it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

謝謝, xièxiè!

"In life there are both good and bad people; choose your friends based on the heart."
It can be difficult for some people to function in a foreign country, and it only gets worse if you feel lonely as well. That's why in my experience so far, I've found that nothing is more valuable than my Chinese friends. Time after time I have been absolutely blown away by their generosity and support; they are extremely helpful and I honestly couldn't get by without them. 

Today has me thinking about this because my friends spent hours helping me and some other teachers. They took us to the train station to purchase tickets, to the bank to change our accounts, and helped us book a hotel on a Chinese website. Between the complicated procedures and the language barrier, I know we wouldn't have achieved any of these goals without their help.

I've figured out the ubiquitous nature of Chinese generosity, and it's reached the point where I need to be careful expressing interest in anything. If I admit to liking something, and a Chinese person has one, knows someone who has one, or knows where to get one, there's a good chance it'll be offered to me. And so far, it's been VERY hard to say no to my Chinese friends. This has already led to free cookies, ice cream, taxi rides, dinners, karaoke, beautiful Chinese calligraphy, cooking lessons, and one badass samurai-styled umbrella. 

Believe me, I have been and will continue attempting to politely refuse these offers. But until I figure out how a foreigner gets away with it, how do you boldly sing "I can't live without you" in Chinese?