Monday, February 16, 2015

A Puzzle I Call The Chinese Language

The Chinese language is an interesting one. One that I find to be intriguing but at the same time so frustrating. It’s like a puzzle that I cannot quite solve yet. Here are just some of the many differences I have noticed with the language.
  1. No verb conjugation. AT ALL. This is by far my favorite part. You just add a word that shows the various tense, but the verb never changes.
  2. There are 10 different meanings for the same word. It all depends on the tone. You have to hear whether the tone is one constant pitch, is rising and then falling or what. A lot of times, you just know by the context of the conversation.
  3. There are so many dialects of Chinese that typically use the same written form but complete different spoken form. Sometimes, they can understand the ‘standard’ version of Chinese, and then reply back in their dialect which is just oh so helpful!
  4. They like to repeat things a lot. If they say ‘OK’, they will often say it three to ten times. I’m not quite sure why, but this happens so much.
  5. My favorite part of the language is hearing a phone call end. There is a lot of ‘mm’ ‘hao’ ‘bye’ and ‘xing’ sounds that happen and of course more than once. It takes a good minute to even two minutes just to confirm the phone call is ending in a serious of repeated noises by each caller.
  6. The written language itself is my favorite. The characters normally build off of each other. For example, if you see 电 it means electricity, so then 电脑 means electrical brain or computer. As for pronunciation, you pretty much need to know the character in order to try and pronounce it which is rather frustrating.

This all leads up to me saying that I have a love/hate relationship with Chinese. I have been trying to improve my skills each and every day, but I just feel as though I've been at this plateau.

With that being said, I would like to announce this new language learning opportunity that I have received! I will be going to Brazil and volunteering for the Olympics in 2016, and so now I will start learning Portuguese!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What's Your Name?

Since today marks the day of 6 months being in China, I have been reflecting a lot on my experience thus far. Then, it hit me that I haven’t updated you all on the funny names that I have encountered here. Some of these you will not believe but NONE of them are made up. I have/had students named all of these names:

 1.       Fairy

2.       Birdy

3.       ABC (yes, that’s pronounce by just saying the letters ‘a’ ‘b’ ‘c’)

4.       Dudu (this one is simply their Chinese name but it sounds terrible in English)

5.       Seven

6.       Puker (like thrower upper)

7.       Kitty

8.       Tiger

9.       Wolf

10.   Apple

11.   Candy

12.   Feynman

It’s always interesting when the students choose to keep their Chinese name like Dudu did. I have some students I have to call Yuanyuan, Taozi, Cici, and Diandian. No matter what their names are, they are all so cute and keep class interesting each and every time. I feel like I have such a strong bond with each of my classes now, even some of the newer ones. I cannot wait to see what the next 6 months will hold as some of the classes will be ‘graduating’ and moving up to the next level! Maybe by then they will let me give them a proper English name.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My New Home Away From Home

Recently, I joined a gym which by no means is a New Year’s Resolution! The gym is actually in the same apartment complex that I live in, but I never knew it was there. After a friend told me about it, I chose to go gym hunting with my roommate (with only 6 months left, it’s the best time to get a membership as gyms only do by the year or 6th months). We looked at 3 different gyms, and this one was the cheapest and has a pool – I’m a little bit of a water baby. I slept on the idea of spending a decent chunk of money on a gym and decided that it was time to do something besides watch Netflix in my free time.

The main reason that I decided to join the gym was because I love challenges. Now, most people think of challenges when it comes to gyms as challenging themselves to reach certain physical goals. My challenge is being able to understand what these people are trying to say to me. The workers at this gym speak ZERO English. Okay, I take that back. They can say “Hello!” and love to do that whenever they see me, but besides that, I have to resort to using my Chinese. After I paid, they introduced me to my personal trainer, which took me a while to have me understand who exactly she was. Then, she starts talking to me in such a soft hushed voice that’s going a mile a minute (I’m assuming she’s explaining how she can help me). All these new vocabulary words and situations gives me so many more opportunities to learn and practice my Chinese which ultimately made my decision to join the gym.

The first day of working out, I had to go swimming. Swimming just relaxes me, it’s such a good workout, it’s not necessarily too challenging, it reminds me of being a kid, need I go on? So I throw on my bikini and the next thing I know all of the other swimmers at 9:30 am are old Chinese men who just happen to only wear speedos. They were shocked to see a foreigner join them as we all swim laps, but that didn’t stop me, nor will it ever. I plan on going back tomorrow and swim a few laps as they continue to stare.

The aspect of this gym that is the hardest for me to handle is the confidence people have when they are naked within the locker room. Don’t get me wrong, I am confident with my body, almost too much so if you ask my mother. However, there is a point where it’s too much. These ladies like to stroll around and chat to each other completely in the nude. This is something that I will need to work on being accustomed to.

Finally, this gym offers free classes each day. Unfortunately with my work hours I cannot make it to most of them but on my two off days, I’ve decided to attend at least 2 classes. Today was my first. I went to spinning class. I’ve never done this before. It’s where you are on a stationary bike which you can adjust the resistance for. The teacher plays some music and then leads you through the workout by varying the resistance, sitting versus standing, bouncing to the beat, etc. Let’s just say, I will be going back to this every single week! I have never had so much fun working out before. Tomorrow I will be trying a yoga and belly dancing class. I will let you know how that goes.

Next time, I will get some pictures and post them so you all can see what my new home away from home looks like.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

新年快乐! Happy New Year!

With the start of 2015, everyone is talking about New Year’s resolutions and how you can be a better person. Well I’ve never been a fan of this theory because what makes this day so special? Why can’t you start achieving your dreams on December 31st? Any way, Amy Kauffman posted this great article on Facebook that I wanted to expand upon, and let everyone know how I have been living my life and will continue to do so in 2015. I’ve picked 8 off of the list of 36.

1. “3. Leave the country or go somewhere you’ve never been before. If you don’t have money, look into doing charity work abroad, some programs will sponsor you, otherwise you would be surprised where you can get with a bus ticket.”

  • Living abroad, especially in China is a big change that a big majority people in this world would not even dare to try. I am so glad that I took this leap of faith because you truly learn so much about yourself and how capable you are in this giant world. Don’t let anyone stop you or hold you back. Going abroad and living there is something that you will never forget. Challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone.

2. “5. Don’t focus on losing weight, just focus on being healthy. Think about what you are putting into your body and make time to exercise. Your body is your greatest asset, take care of it.”

  • In December, I started a workout plan just to stay motivated and focused. I try and do something every day. Yes, I have had days where I skipped my routine, but I get back on track the next day. Holding myself accountable to this schedule makes me miss less days. I also am more conscious of what I am eating and more importantly, how much I am eating. By no means do I want to lose weight, I just want to maintain my healthy lifestyle.

3. “8. Learn a new skill. There is always room for you to improve, but it doesn’t always have to be life changing. Don’t ever feel limited in your growth potential.”

  • You never know if you will be good at something until you try. These last few months I have been able to take part in many company events, one being archery. The last time I had shot an arrow was in high school, and it was nice trying out this hobby again, even just for a few hours. Archery isn’t for me though. My next task is going to be to learn how to arm knit. Keeping hobbies alive makes life interesting and entertaining!

4. “13. Learn to cook. Eating out every day is only going to make you wonder where your money went. Eventually, you will have to learn to take care of yourself, but it’s also a skill you can use to impress that special someone.”

  • This is my newest hobby. I’ve always loved to bake, but this last week I cooked my first steak by myself. I’ve taken a few cooking classes here in Beijing which has been nice to learn some Chinese food, but I love just experimenting in the kitchen to see what I can come up with next. I’m also working on putting together my own cookbook of recipes that I like.

5. “21. Wake up early. You will fall in love with just having quiet time for yourself. At 6 AM, there is no one to bother you so you can invest some time in yourself. It’s ridiculously hard at first, but it gets easier.”

  • Having work from 1:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weekdays is nice; however, once I realized that if I sleep in until 11 a.m. every single day, then my whole day is wasted just on work. I’ve been following a personal rule to wake up before 8 a.m. every day and use the morning to be productive. I love my mornings now because I can choose to make a brunch date with the few people who actually want to or are free to partake, or I can just relax and enjoy my morning which is what I normally do. It makes a great start to the day.

6. “24. Read. If you were to write a book today, what would you write about? You would put everything you know into that book. People spend years writing some books but you can read it in a few hours. Reading is one of the best forms of mentorship, you have access to all the knowledge you need.”

  • This is my one resolution for the year. By the end of the year, I want to have read at least 50 books. I am just not sure if I will be able to handle that since I read rather slowly and everything else going on in life, so I am going to do small goals of reading one book every month. I also have an issue with setting my expectations rather high and then being disappointed when I don’t reach them. So this way I will exceed my expectations if I read 5 books one month or something. If you all have good book recommendations, please let me know!

7. “26. Practice meditation. Meditation is not about thinking of nothing. It helps build your awareness of your own thoughts and how you think about and treat others. With every distraction we have in this world, meditation helps you practice focus so you can appreciate being in the present.”

  • In 2014, I started to meditate. It has been helpful for me when I become worked up or anxious. Becoming one with your mind and focusing solely on breathing makes you feel so alive and in control. I like to wake up and either meditate or practice yoga. It helps that I have such an amazing few out my window that I can let my mind be at peace while staring at the beautifully crafted skyscrapers in front of me.

8. “34. Drink more water. It is easy to forget how important water is to living. Skip the sugary drinks and make water your new favorite beverage, you will live guilt free.”

  • Every single time I get sick here in China, I get told to ‘drink more water!’ They also specifically recommend hot water. It’s supposed to be better for your body and is basically treated as a cure all. The other cure is to wear more clothes. I choose to drink more water. You can now see me with a cup of hot water working at my desk or laying in my bed.

That’s all for now. I know this post is a little unlike the ones I have written in the past, but I felt like writing something different this time. Here is the article if you are interested in seeing the rest of the resolutions.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Everyone Should Know These Things About China - Part 2

4. Staring

I couldn’t even try to guess the number of times I get stared at on a daily basis. Whenever you ride the metro as a foreigner, you are bound to be stared at by at least one person. They think they are being so sly and look away if you look at them, but in reality, it’s really obvious since it often comes with their mouth hanging open as if I’m an alien. This look gets better when they find out you can speak Chinese.

I’ve caught some people talking about me, saying “foreigner” or “beautiful woman”. One time, I couldn’t stop myself from laughing after they started talking about how my face is so thin and my eyes are so big, and then they realized I could understand them. They were shocked that I was reading a book in English on my phone. Shortly after gaining the confidence to try and say the English they knew, they said “You are beautiful” and then “How are you?” Those were the only two phrases they knew. Ha it surely made my day.

Now my roommates are both black and have told me countless of stories about their experiences. One of them doesn’t have much Chinese language background, but she’s quickly learned the word for hair because everyone talks about her hair. The other one gets free fruit at the same fruit stand I go to (but I never get free fruit…).

Although this is normally not the case because they think that foreigners have more money, especially American so they try to charge us more. Be careful when going to a restaurant, sometimes the English menu has higher prices than the Chinese menu.

But going back to staring, it’s inevitable if you are a foreigner in Beijing no matter how long you have lived there. I've just learned to smile at them, most of the time it gets them to stop staring.

5. Dating

The dating scene here is very prevalent, but it is not the same as the United States. It is important for couples to settle down and have a child before the age of 30. If they haven't, then they have a huge pressure from their parents to do so.

The guy to girl ratio is off because of the culture wanting to have a boy rather than a girl. With that being said, the man take care of their woman very well. One example is by having the man carry her bag no matter what the size of the bag is. So many guys do this that to me it looks like it's the guy’s purse!

The end goal for these couples is to have a child together. To my knowledge, there really isn’t much divorce here. They do everything they can for this child. After they get married, the woman will typically move in with the man’s family, which then creates instant babysitters of the man’s parents!

Every day, I see grandparents hanging out outside with their grandkids and the neighbors grandkids just to have some outdoor time with them. Each hour it seems like there is a different age group of kids congregated out there.

6. Slums & Skyscrapers

The layout of the city seems really planned out, but when walking around there isn't really a "ghetto" or an area of slums. The slums just get mixed in with the skyscrapers. For example, right next to our apartment building, you can see an alley of traditional run-down Chinese houses where people still live.

I have started being accustomed to seeing so many tall buildings since I have a pretty awesome view outside my apartment, but at the same time, I have gotten used to seeing just as many nice cars. Whether it is Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, etc. I see them driving around my area each and every day.

At the same time, I see people begging for money on the metro, outside the metro, on bridges, anywhere basically. There is one man that has made the walking bridge his home even in the winter. It’s tough to see each and every day but I don’t have the means to help him out more than just some spare change or a nice warm cup of hot chocolate.

I know that this type of socioeconomic spread happens everywhere, but I just wish that people would share their wealth more. With Christmas coming up and all the gifting people are doing, it makes me realize how I don’t care about these material things. All the nice cars and brand name products like hand bags, cosmetics and clothes could never make me happy. All I want for Christmas is to continue exploring. I love seeing how others live their lives and hopefully positively influence others to cherish the little things.

With that being said, I hope everyone has a happy holiday season! If you are fortunate enough to be with your family, loved ones or friends, cherish those moments as not everyone can experience that.

Wrapping these last two posts up, I just want you all to know that every day in China something crazy happens to me, but you cannot describe the Chinese experience better than the author did at the end. "Stories of ricksaw drivers, of baijiu, of tonal mishaps, of being ripped off, of babies defecating on the street, of those euphoric moments where living in China for this brief period was worth it. You won't regret it."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Everyone Should Know These Things About China - Part 1

After reading an article about everyone needing to live in China, I realized there was a lot to be said about it. I feel as though the article makes a great impression and is well-written, but I have different opinions on a few of the points as well as personal stories to prove the points. Here is the article if you would like to read it first.

China is a wonderful place to live, despite the pollution and various cultural annoyances you may experience often. I don’t think it is necessary for everyone to come here, but if you choose to come, there will be things that hit you right on your head & make you think “Wow. Did that just happen?” or “This is unreal.” Things you take for granted back in your comfortable life at home are singled out and make you realize how different life is in other areas of the world. 

1. The Number of People

I have been to New York, but nothing can compare to the feeling of being pushed onto a subway train by other people and then having nothing to hold onto but just swaying with everyone around you. Rush hour is absolutely insane here. But hey, just like these dogs, everyone gets to where they are wanting to go eventually!

I value the mornings that I wake up early and notice the few amount of people who do the same thing. The elderly who are making lines outside the bank before it opens or exercising in the parks in various manners. The workers who are stiff and silent all in a line being talked to by their boss. The security guards who are trying their hardest to not fall asleep after a long night shift. 

Being alone physically is something that is hard to come by especially in public, but feeling alone is not hard to do at all. Everyone else has their family to go home to. In spite of the strong individualistic mindset that shines through as everyone is fighting their way through the subway, collectivism prevails when it comes to family & their country. They would do anything for China and their family and never say a bad word about either one. 

For me, not being able to fluently converse with all the random people I practice my Chinese with makes me feel as though people can’t understand my opinions fully which then makes a barrier between us. No matter how many conversations I have in one day, it never seems enough to make me feel that I belong here. I will always be in the category of being a foreigner.

Or when you cut your finger with a knife and freak out because blood is gushing from your body. You realize you have no idea where a hospital is, nor could you even communicate with the doctor about your issues, and so you call your mom who can fix everything. Right? She’s only 7000 miles away, and I’m sure she can talk me through how to treat a cut without going to the hospital. 

It’s moments like these that create the feeling of being alone in a city full of 20 million people.

2. 语言 - The Language

So it’s a well-known fact that Chinese is a difficult language, and I definitely am not fluent by any mean. Yes, I can get the gist of conversations, but when it comes to talking about a topic which I don’t know the vocabulary for, a lot of gesturing is used to portray the meaning. Luckily, I know the word for bathroom so I don’t have to act that one out ever!

It doesn’t matter where you are; the world is becoming more and more technology focused. Every time I look around on the subway, over 70% of the people are using some sort of electronic device. The people who aren’t are either elderly or with a child. It’s kind of a sad realization that people are more obsessed with technology than making conversation with the people right next to you.

Going back to the collectivism and family oriented, grandparents are in charge of taking care of the child so the parents are able to continue working. This means they all live in one apartment – something that almost seems unbearable in our culture. Daycares or childcare don't exist to the extent they do back in the United States. This then takes away the chance for children to learn social skills at such a young age with other people who are similar to them.

Something funny that I just don’t understand is that people think it is necessary to shout on the phone when they’re on the subway or anywhere in public. One time, there was a lady across from me who was practically shouting into her phone in a Chinese dialect. I was with my friend who is fluent in Chinese, and she could not understand anything she was saying. One of the other struggles of learning Chinese – the many dialects.

My favorite thing when it comes to the language is the look on their faces when they realize that I can speak Chinese. As that look is fading, they are bound to then say how good your language skills are which Americans would automatically say, “Thank you” however, if you are truly trying to be Chinese and take in all of the culture, you should be much more modest and say something to the extent of “Now, now, it is not that great!”  Then, you can proceed to have a little argument on how great your language skills are.

3. The Traffic

After getting a bike, I have started to understand how traffic works here. If you want to cross the road, you just go for it. As long as you don’t run into the car/bike in front of you, you’re following the laws and doing it right. Besides following speed limit and stop light rules, I haven’t noticed many other official ones.

There was one time I was waiting to cross a fairly busy street. After 5 minutes, I saw a brave biker next to me, just go for it, literally stopping the traffic just to cross the road. Sometimes, there isn’t a way around this. Same goes for walking, which is a little easier. You cross one lane, then wait between the lanes until the next one is semi-free.

Having a horn or a bell is so important! If you hear a honk, don’t think that someone is saying “Hello” or “What were you thinking?!” It’s more of “Hey, I’m right here” or “I’m passing you so watch out.” If you are not aggressive and proactive about your driving, you will not get anywhere.

Their ability to navigate their cars without hitting anything is astonishing to me. They truly know their car's size and how to park it in the tiniest of places. I oftentimes catch myself staring at the cars trying to park while someone tells them how close they are or when huge buses try to squeeze through the numerous anxious taxis and make it through with an inch to spare. They make it look so easy.

If an accident does occur though, don't be surprised if police don't end up coming and instead money is just exchanged in order to call it even. I actually saw this happen yesterday!

Moral of the story when it comes to traffic – just go for it!


That's only half of the story - the rest will come in the next post! There's just so much to say about this!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Memorable Events

Ironically enough, I lost my metro card after posting a blog on metros. It was a very sad day for me because I also lost a necklace that my mom gave to me right before I left which was my grandma’s. Thankfully, I was able to retrace my steps and found the necklace at the restaurant where we ate that day. The waiter had noticed it and kept it in his pocket because he didn’t want to damage it or lose it. My eyes lit up in happiness when I saw it appear from his pocket.

After living abroad with not much, I have come to realize that life isn’t about things. Yeah they can make people happy, and they mean so much more if they are gifts or are handed down from people. Overall though, I am living with the basics and honestly don’t need anything else.

I enjoy looking back at pictures. It helps me relive the fun times that I had, and it also get me excited for the future to create more memorable moments. So this last week, I figured out how to print pictures in China, and I am now in the process of making a photo wall in my room. It’s these little things that make me happy.

This last week, I had two really memorable events happen. The first was archery! It was a teacher event meaning it was completely free, and you get to meet others from the same company. I had a blast! The highlight of the night though was completely unexpected. Turning around from shooting an arrow, I make eye contact with a girl who starts to say “No way!” the same time that I do. She turns out to be a friend from my college who I knew lived in Beijing, but I just had not seen her yet. She tells me that she is there every single day. I just cannot believe that in a city so big, I manage to run into a friend from a school that is so small!

The other event was a school event for team bonding. We went to dinner at a delicious restaurant where the waiters dress up in traditional clothing (same place I lost my necklace). Of course it was a hot pot restaurant which is one of my favorites! After that, we went to KTV which is one of the most common entertainment sources in China. It’s basically karaoke, but you get your own room with just your friends and can order drinks or food to come to your room. It was fun singing both English and Chinese songs. For sure, a night that I won’t forget.

I just posted more pictures on facebook so check them out!

Next post, keep an eye out for me to talk a little bit about holidays here in China (Halloween, Singles Day, and Thanksgiving)! Until next time!