Monday, December 28, 2015

Chinese Christmas Spectacular

One of the questions I always get around last week is "What's Christmas in China like?" so today I'll recap the holidays here. First, there are no holidays.

You're very likely to see fancy, decorated apples for sale in December, because somehow Chinese people are under the impression that Westerners give each other apples for Christmas. Personally, I've never gotten an apple, and I STILL haven't gotten an apple (thanks a lot, students).
For the low price of 4 regular apples!
These overpriced apples reflect the big picture, that basically all that has made it over from the West is Christmas' commercialism. Malls play Christmas music that no one understands and stores sell decorations not many people want, but apart from that the average person has no interest or knowledge about this foreign celebration. It's strange to see decorations put up in such a setting, like I'm in a private joke everyone else is just humouring me with.
Decorations at a nightclub, DJ in the background
Although, sometimes their mysterious displays of our customs can be handy for expats. It's tough to get into the Christmas spirit here, but their Christmas efforts definitely help, like the buffet put on by a hotel here in Fuzhou. Since we work at a foreign school, they're nice enough to give us Christmas Day off, so on Christmas Day we all got dressed up in button-down shirts and ate until those buttons popped off. Turkey, gravy, bread, cheese, sushi, chocolate cake... we all got to eat something we'd been missing to make us feel at home, or perhaps miss home even more. In any case, all the white people saying "Merry Christmas!" to each other helped as well.
Decorations in the lobby. Photo by Andy
Stuffed to the smiles. Photo by Sean
These kind of activities are possible when living in a community of expats, and another one is the classic Secret Santa, which will help make any office feel like a Western office. There's nothing like trying to find that perfect gift for someone, going shopping to find weird Western things for them, then gathering 'round the tree in the library, feeling the excitement of tearing open a box to find exactly what you were hoping for, the one thing on your Christmas list: chocolate!
Let the rationing begin!
Excited like kids on Christmas morning

The final part of Christmas that affects me is also at school. Christmas-themed lessons are popular in schools to teach English topics, and my school is no exception. We had Christmas activity classes a couple weeks before the big day, spending the time making winter crafts and playing Christmasy games. Oh and of course Santa, played by a Chinese woman, came by with treats.
Exciting Christmas brainstorming session
I made a snowman!
So what did we learn? For some people living far away from their friends and family, the holidays can be a difficult time. You may miss home more, and you may even resent where you're at because of it. But it's like I found when I celebrated my first Thanksgiving in China, two years ago. There are plenty of people around, just like you, away from what and who they know and love, but together you can create something. It will be different; it might not match the holiday traditions you're used to, because come on, it's tough to find all the ingredients for Mom's recipe and you can't even make it as well as her anyway, but it will be a celebration with people looking out for each other. Besides, who you teach with becomes like your family, because remember this: you can't choose your family, and you can't pick the nutjobs that travel 6,000 miles to teach Chinese kids how to say 'instruments'.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Kindergarten Christmas

This week we brought Santa to Kindergarten.

At first, I was really nervous to show up at a strange school and teach lessons to 4 and 5 year olds who have most likely never had a foreign teacher or interacted with a foreigner, and probably have never seen a foreigner in real life before. But after doing this a few times, I've come to accept how crazy the situation is and embrace the freedom in being such an evanescent part of their lives.
I think they put the naughty kids up there. 
As part of my job, once a month I head to two nearby kindergartens to teach classes. Along with a bilingual teaching assistant, I present 20-minute vocabulary lessons to the kids that aren't crying. Thankfully, I've been teaching the same children for the three outings I've had so far, so they're getting used to me and the number of tears is decreasing.
You're OK you're ok youreokyoureokyoureok.....
Here's how it works: one Wednesday a month, I show up at school and am told what vocabulary I will be teaching. Last week it was body parts, and last month it was snail, crab, and butterfly. Since I have such tiny kids, there aren't a lot of activities I can do, so planning is simple. We take taxis over to the school, wait around in the playground until the kids are finished their water breaks or playtime or whatever is happening, and then we teach! Walk to the next kindergarten and repeat!
Waiting around that playground
It seems like these students are learning English the same way I'm learning Chinese: taking classes once a week, and then immediately forgetting the material afterwards. It's not the best system, but there's very little pressure on the teacher this way. Of course, they are tiny babies, so I'm not surprised they can't remember how to say 'snail' from a month ago, but what's my excuse? I should really get some Chinese review going.

Anyways, with Christmas around the corner, Santa came along to hand out candy. It was actually my branch manager in a costume! Do these kids know who Santa is? Hard to say! Were they willing to put up with another white guy to get candy? You betcha.
NOT happy with his candy trade offer.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Forest Park

Someone recently wondered on Twitter if a person posting a bunch of pictures and almost no type is still considering blogging. Well it is, but it's a photo blog! Which for the next... however long it takes you to look at pictures... is what this blog has become!
There's Fuzhou!
Earlier this week a few fellow teachers and I headed to nearby Forest Park, a "botanical garden" too massive to be called that. We hiked some mountainous terrain, swam in a mountainous pool, and admired the mountainous scenery, wildlife, and vegetation.
This tree was very impressive.
I liked this vegetation, and if you look closely you can see a butterfly- wildlife!
One of the highlights is that we did this hike on one of the last days of summer. It was still warm enough for an impromptu dip in a surprisingly deep swimmin' hole. Nowadays, four days later, the temperature has dropped to a windy 15 degrees, making impromptu outdoor swimming a thing of the past. Let's see the photos. 

Did I mention there was a waterfall? Shhhhh it's a secret waterfall.
Photo by Nick
Beautiful end to a great day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Scoot Scoot!

Last year I was showing off my beautiful, old, junky bicycle, but nowadays it's big city, big bike for this boy! China is all about moving on up, so here's the next level: a scooter! A Heart Good Time Star Scooter! I don't know if that's the actual model name, but that's what it says on the front!
Possibly some horsepower in there?
Let's talk specs: I don't know any! It runs on a battery, doesn't require a license plate, and transforms into sidewalk mode when the situation calls for it. I charge it overnight under my apartment building every two or three days. It could definitely run for longer, but I'm a man who enjoys a full, stiff battery. Plus you never know what challenges you might face tomorrow; you may need to carry a passenger or go up a hill!

I picked this baby up used from another teacher at my school about a month after moving to Fuzhou, because I quickly realized how popular scooters and e-bikes are in this city. On major streets they usually rival the number of pedestrians, especially when you factor in how many e-bikes are carrying families of three. So far it's been really convenient, both for my daily commute to school and for longer trips to the large Westernized grocery stores. 
Notice the repair job I did using only zip ties
It's a lot of fun to drive! Sure, the traffic here can get a little crazy, but with so many two-wheelers on the road, drivers are a lot more aware of us than they are in Canada. It's chaotic, but there's a different kind of organization within the relaxed rules that lends confidence to drivers. I just have to keep watching out for those street cleaning trucks that just launch water everywhere while blaring "It's A Small World" over loudspeakers. Dive, dive! 
Serious airtime on that kickstand

Friday, October 23, 2015

Crappy Real Estate Photography

Check out my latest Chinese apartment!
My room! And the most made my bed will ever be!

I moved in over a month ago, so it's high time I showed everyone around. This place definitely has charm, but it also has plenty of weird features that can't be explained. Too many features that no one has ever asked for.

Let's start with the basics: 2 bedrooms (although one bedroom is 2 rooms), 1 bathroom, 1 study that I converted into a yoga studio by keeping it empty), 1 kitchen, 1 living room. There's a washing machine on the balcony, and plenty of pole to hang drying clothes from out there. Closet space galore; this whole apartment is covered in cupboards. The kitchen came with a stove (1 working element) and fridge, and I bought a little oven as well. 
Big enough for a Thanksgiving duck
Now for the interesting stuff. First, the bathroom. Take a look!

Did you see it? Look again. In case you didn't notice it, I've highlighted it for you in this next identical picture. 

A urinal! Yes every guy thinks he wants a urinal until he has to clean a barely functioning urinal all the time. This immediately made my "Do Not Pee In" list. Next up, the shower.

I feel bad using the word shower, because it's so much more than that! It's really more of an experience. CD player, in-shower speakers, rainfall faucet, interior water jets... AND NONE OF IT WORKS. The doors slide closed to create an airtight chamber, so what I'm left with is a shower too short to stand up in, and too narrow to turn around in comfortably. There is a small seat in there as well, which has actually come in quite handy and made weeping alone a lot more relaxing. Yes sir this is really where all the magic happens, and by that I mean David Blaine once spent 50 moonless nights locked inside underwater. 

Next, the lighting. Tired of boring overhead lights at your entrance which conveniently allow you to see everything as soon as you come in the door? I thought so. How about lighting up your shoes instead? Not good enough you say? I'll throw in a glass floor panel with fake grass underneath! IT'S LIKE YOU'RE STILL OUTSIDE! Walking Christmas lights, trophy case lights, palm tree sconces... if you want inadequate, fancy lighting, you'd feel right at home squinting your way around here!
Come on in!
Overall, I'm a fan of this apartment. Spacious, nice views, river adjacent, and a nice quiet community. The cockroaches are only winning 3-2 (3 sightings, only 2 killings), and the previous tenants left me with a lot of useful stuff. I'm really starting to feel settled and at home here. Maybe one day I'll figure out my address! 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Forgot About Hong Kong

If you're going to visit Hong Kong, take it from me: it has so much more to offer than just China's visa office!
Recently I flew down to HK to get a new visa that will allow me to continue working in China, which really isn't the best way to go, but between waiting in line and paying for photocopies, some other teachers and I were able to catch a bit of that big city colonial HK charm on our quick two-day trip.
You read it right- that's blueberry syrup!
Biggest I've ever had and top ten overall
Even though I'd only been back in Asia for a month, HK offered a paradise of Western civilization that I haven't had a chance to miss yet. Big breakfasts, bigger pizza, supermarkets with chocolate chips... actually yeah it was mostly just food. Oh and I played basketball with some locals, which is something I try to do everywhere I go! We were also able to check out some tourist spots, like riding the tram up to Victoria Peak, shopping at the popular Ladies and Temple Street markets, and taking the Star Ferry to scope out the bay.
When we weren't busy doing all that, we were chilling at my friend's magnificent hotel. It had a slight edge over my 9 beds to each bathroom hostel, so we opted to meet there instead. From enjoying the view from the rooftop pool to enjoying the warm peanuts and raisin medley and FREE WATER in the hotel bar, it really felt like I was doing HK in style. Shout out to having one rich friend in the group! Thanks again Sean!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Abandoned German Mall in China

If you have any idea how an entire mall with German architecture got uprooted from Western Europe and plopped down onto an island in the middle of a river in the middle of a Chinese city, let me know.
Hiding behind the bridge
When I heard that there was an abandoned mall in my new home city of Fuzhou, I needed to be there. I have no idea what happened, but today this mall is almost completely empty, save for a few people trying to make a go of running their own stores on the property, and a couple of squatters we woke up accidentally.
Fine line between looting and getting a bargain
When you go up the broken escalators to the top, you're able to get onto the roof and even up a tower to enjoy some wonderful views of the city.
There's that bridge again!
... and some parts are pink!
Next time you're in Fuzhou, check this place out! Then do some parkour? Then send me the video.