Sunday, August 9 through Monday, August 10 – Beijing – Hong Kong – Newark, N.J. – Singing Journey & Final Thoughts…
After spending nearly 3 1/2 weeks in China, mostly in Qinhuangdao, with stops in Beijing, Xian, and Dragon Head, I’ve taken some time to think about what I’ve learned and taken away from my travels. First off, I have a greater appreciation for Chinese culture today. What I’ve read in books and magazines, and watched on television only begins to describe one of the oldest civilizations on Earth. The people of China are embedded in a culture rich environment steeped in traditional beliefs and a sense of family. Materialistic items are not that important to the Chinese. Family, especially grandparents, take on the role of the second set of parents, helping raise their grandchildren. Everyone in China seems to have a purpose. No matter how big or small, everyone is doing their part in China. Whether it be sweeping the streets, pulling weeds from parks, building skyscrapers, or driving a taxi, every Chinese citizen is an important part of society. People are not so enthralled by what they are owed, or how much they can get for doing as little as possible. Chinese people seem to be more “family oriented” and less concerned with the problems and monetary challenges many Americans face on a daily basis. Obesity is not a problem in China, however, smoking is. Did I see any storage locker units in China? No. Many of the students I worked with owned 2 or 3 sets of clothing. The school didn’t have air conditioning or heat. I didn’t see any of the Chinese students wearing LeBron 12’s. Learning is very important to the Chinese. One exam taken in high school determines whether or not you go to college. Learning English is also very important to the Chinese. I got the sense from my travels that hard work is a part of Chinese culture, and the Chinese aren’t afraid of any challenge.
What challenges do the Chinese face? Well, all of the structures in China, from the subways to the schools, seem to have structural issues. The Chinese are very good at building anything attractive to the eye. The gym I worked in over a 2-week period looked beautiful from the outside, however, inside, puddles amassed after hard rains, the roof was caving in on one side of the gym, and the stage was off limits due to the fact that it was ready to cave in. The subways were leaking all over Beijing after a hard rain Saturday morning. All of the new construction throughout China seemed to have some sort of flaw. The new turf placed in the soccer stadium at my school in China didn’t have any padding underneath. To the eye, the stadium looked amazing, yet falling on that turf could do reprehensible damage. All throughout Beijing, wires hung from the sides of buildings. In the U.S., there seems to a be a lot of red-tape wrapped around construction, now, I understand why.
Regardless, China was a fascinating study from Day 1. The people and culture taught me much and left me with a greater appreciation for all that I have in America. Don’t get me wrong, after 3 1/2 weeks, I felt very comfortable in China. The smog-filled skies and constant stench of cigarette smoke didn’t bother me like it did at the start of my trip. Leaving the country for a period of time and experiencing a culture so different from ours, yet similar in many ways, helped me better understand the differences in people. My Chinese students learned English by singing songs in class. The video posted above will always be a reminder of those who provided me with the opportunity to teach English in a foreign country and share American culture. The best line in the song… “Born and raised in South Detroit!” As Dr. Phillip Dillman once said back at Central Michigan University, “Travel is the best education.”
Saturday, August 8 – Beijing, China – My First Bullet Train & The Pearl Market
After finishing the day in Xian, we headed back to the train station. Coming to Xian, I spent 12 miserable hours on a sleeper train. Going back to Beijing, I was riding in style. To start, the seats were much wider, actually, more comfortable than the bed in the sleeper train. The trip back to Beijing was only going to take 5 hours. After boarding, we immediately left the Xian (pronounced Sheee-N) Train Station and headed for Beijing. There were a few stops along the way. I felt like I was traveling on a cloud. The train was virtually noise free and very smooth. The cars on the bullet train were spacious and included a food and beverage station. Speeds topped out at 300 km per hour, which I believe is 160 miles per hour. I felt like I was on a ride at the boardwalk. To watch everything just zip by from the seat of the bullet train was amazing. In America, we have yet to put a bullet train on the rail. The Chinese are very progressive when it comes to building, yet I’ve also discovered that many of the new structures come with cracks in the buildings, leaky ceilings, and doors that won’t shut. I don’t think there is much to code and inspection in China, but when it came to the bullet train, the Chinese got it right.
The trip back to Beijing was like a blink of the eye, arriving by midnight. The next morning, our entire group ventured to the Pearl Market. The Pearl Market is 5 floors of goods, much like the mall. If you think it up, it can be found at the Pearl Market, however, what I came to see surprised me a bit. There are literally hundreds of retailers in the Pearl Market who rent small spaces, with each of the 5 floors having a theme. The ground floor included mainly electronics. No price is set and everything can be bargained. The more you buy, the better the price. I made several purchases throughout the day. A pair of Beats (Studio) for 30 Yuan ($5 U.S. dollars) and three pairs of Nikes for 65 Yuan each ($10 U.S. dollars per pair). Why was everything so cheap? Well, I believe 99% of all the products in the Pearl Market are knock-offs. From Polo clothing to Bose mini speakers. This is China. The country does not adhere to copyright laws, which has become a major problem for the country as it strives for credibility in the world market place. Corporations want to sell their products to the Chinese (who wouldn’t want 1.5+ billion new customers), however, the country can’t help itself when it comes to copying products. If you can think up the item, I can tell you it was for sale at the Pearl Market.
I also stumbled across people on the streets who were selling knock-off items such as movies. A copy of Minions and Jurassic World could be purchased for 10 Yuans each, or $1.50 U.S. The quality of the items varied, from horrible to okay, but nothing seemed to be truly comparable to the real deal. My experiences in China have led me to a few conclusions. If China is to gain credibility with other 1st world countries, they must address the counterfeiting problem they seem to embrace. In addition, China still needs to move hundreds of millions of people still living in poverty. Combine these two issues with the severe pollution problems that have become a part of the everyday culture and you have an enigma. A fascinating story of growth and development over a very short period of time that has taken other countries 100 years to achieve. China is fascinating to say the least, but they must recognize the impact they have on the environment and how it is impacting the Earth on a global scale. 1.5+ billion people is nothing to ignore. The Chinese are here to stay, yet all they’ve accomplished over the past 35 years can disappear as quickly as it was achieved.
Friday. August 7 – Xian, China – The Terra Cotta Warriors
I’ve been waiting to see the Terra Cotta Warriors for the past 3 weeks! Cities in China are not small. Xian’s population is just over 8 million people. Much like Chicago, Chinese cities just keep going… We stopped at KFC for breakfast to eat hamburgers. The Chinese call chicken sandwiches “hamburgers”, and you can just about guarantee that the “hamburger” will have corn in it. After spending 90 minutes in KFC waiting for our “burgers” and a coffee, we eventually made it back to the bus for a 1-hour ride to the Warrior site. The ride through Xian was beautiful. The city is positioned up against a mountain range. Many of the people live along both sides of the main road that runs through Xian. The commercial aspect of Xian was evident from the start. Replica, life-sized warriors lined both sides of the street. As we pulled into the parking lot, I couldn’t believe how busy it was. It sort of reminded me of Disneyland when the park opens, people everywhere.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Terra Cotta Warriors, the first pit was discovered in 1974 by a group of Chinese farmers who were actually looking for and drilling water wells. Today, 3 pits are being excavated. Pit #1 was discovered in 1974, followed by Pit #2 and Pit #3 shortly thereafter. In total, Chinese archaeologists have discovered 24 pits, however, only 3 of the pits are actually being worked on. Large builders have been built around the 3 pits to allow people to visit the site. In addition, a fourth building holds the bronze horses that were discovered with the warriors. As a matter of fact, when the warriors were discovered, weapons such as swords, knives, etc. were found on each warrior, all finished in bronze. As I walked through each pit, I marveled at the active sites. Pit #1 is 5 times larger than Pit #2 and Pit #3 combined.
Archaeologists were actually in the Pit #2 while I was visiting, tagging broken fragments of warriors. Many of the warriors, when found, are missing heads, body parts, or are fractured into thousands of pieces. The archaeologists, while digging, tag each piece with a number and begin reassembling the warriors. To date, 8,000 warriors have been put back together. At first, the warriors were restored with their original colors. Paint was found on some of the warriors when excavated. However, the archaeologists learned that paint would begin to fade and chip after three years of application. None of the restored warriors have been painted since. The emperor’s tomb was discovered, yet, the emperor himself has yet to be found. If you think about the amount of time it takes to reassemble just one warrior, it could be hundreds of years before all of the sites are uncovered, and every warrior is restored back to their original clay-fired origins. Each soldier was molded after every individual member of the emperor’s army. This also included the horses. Each clay statue is different, which makes the process easy and difficult at the same time.
Thursday, August 6 – Beijing, China – Preparing for Xian and The Terra Cotta Warriors
I haven’t had access to the Internet for the last several days. So I’m going to catch everyone up with the timeline. Thursday morning, we boarded a bus and headed back to Beijing, which is a 5-hour bus ride. We arrived in Beijing around 3 p.m. and checked into the Park Lido Hotel, the same hotel I stayed in when we first arrived in Beijing. The group, headed to Xian to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, had about 3 hours before heading to the Beijing Train Station. I ended up walking across the street to an Irish Hockey Bar. When I walked in for some pizza and Diet Coke, I notice a hockey jersey hanging on the wall. Who would have thought the Detroit Red Wings would be represented in Beijing? I knew I was in the right place. The toilets were western, the pizza was great, and the atmosphere reminded me of Tyler’s or Klondike Kate’s back home. The last part of my trip was off to a great start!
Little did I know what would be in store for me as we boarded the bus to the Beijing Train Station to catch the sleeper train to Xian.
I’ve ridden Amtrak twice in my life. Once I rode the train from Chicago to Detroit, and another my second trip was from Newark, Delaware to Washington, D.C. I should have known the sleeper car train ride from Beijing to Xian, a 12-hour train ride, wouldn’t be pleasant. The Beijing Train Station reminded me of an airport in the U.S. during a busy holiday. The place was jam packed. Most people in China, when traveling long distances, take the train. In the U.S., more people fly. The train station featured a McDonald’s, KFC, and all of the outlets you’d typically find at a U.S. airport. To my surprise, I stumbled across Bruce Lee Fast Food. How could anyone mistake that yellow, one-piece jumpsuit? The restaurant wasn’t exactly a hot spot in the train station. As a matter of fact, there wasn’t a single person at Bruce’s counter, which only served a handful of Chinese options. McDonald’s and KFC were both jam packed. My group decided to eat at McDonald’s. The Big Mac was the first burger I had eaten in nearly 3 weeks. It felt like Thanksgiving… I almost ordered the Shrimp Burger at McDonald’s but decided against it, knowing full well what I’d be getting with the Big Mac.
We boarded the train at 9 p.m. 4 sleepers made up my living quarters for the next 12 hours. The mattress felt like a piece of plywood. The pillow was about 4-inches thick. Over the next 12 hours, I didn’t sleep for more than 5 minutes. The train shook, rattled, stopped, started, and made lots of noise. Our sleeper was a second class sleeper. The third class sleeper housed 6 beds. Can you imagine? One guy in our cabin snored for good portions of the night, however, the snoring was the least of my worries. I was hoping that our 9 a.m. arrival Friday morning in Xian (pronounced Sheeee-n) to see the Terra Cotta Warriors would be worth the ride. Travel in China is still very 2nd world. The scenery in the early morning hours was amazing. So many people living in rural areas in China live in 3rd world conditions. This is the gap China must close if they want to achieve 1st world status.
Wednesday, August 5 – Qinhuangdao, China – My Final Day With Chinese Students
After spending two weeks teaching English and basketball in China, I’ve come to realize that my Chinese students have taught me just as much as I’ve taught them. The Chinese middle school students aren’t that much different from American students. They have much in common. However, there are a few subtle differences that I’d like to address. First off, the Chinese students take their learning very serious, especially learning English. All Chinese students in China take English for a good part of their education. In order to study abroad in America, a Chinese student must take a very difficult test called the Test of English Language (TOEL). Believe it or not, very few students pass the test, and nearly every student in my class of 23 wants to study in America. In addition, Chinese students are responsible for cleaning the classroom. Being that yesterday was our last day, several students went back to our classroom last night and cleaned the room to a shine! Every time I tried to straighten a desk, throw out a piece of trash, or even sweep the floor, a Chinese student sprung up out their seat to complete the task. The chalkboard was wiped clean every morning before I walked into class, and the room was always tidied. For all of my 6th graders who have been following my blog in American, when was the last time you cleaned a classroom? 🙂 The Chinese students take this task seriously, and it is a part of the respect the Chinese have for teachers.
I was told before my trip to China that the students give gifts at various points throughout the camp to their teachers. I didn’t really think much of it. Many of my students often give very generous gifts throughout the school year, usually just before the Christmas break and the last day of school. Well, gift giving is a bit different in China. I received my first gift on the second day of camp, a box of Starbucks coffee. After that, I received a gift from a student each day for the next 11 days. Being that our last day was Wednesday, I received about 30 gifts yesterday, nearly 60 gifts total. The gifts are a bit different compared to the Dunkin Donuts gift cards I typically receive (and greatly appreciate by the way!). Gifts included a statue of a Buddhist monk, a rubber snake with the students name written in Sharpie, 3 miniature replicas of the Eiffel Tower, boxes of tea (several), a knee pad (the student told me the knee pad would protect me from injury while playing basketball), Big Hero 6 snow globes, money (about 30 Yuan which equals $5 U.S. dollars), food, A DeWayne Wade pencil holder, Chinese fans, and bookmarks from the Beijing Opera and Chinese Zodiac. Many of the kids cried, hugged me, and asked for a picture and autograph before I left. Yes… I signed probably 300 autographs yesterday. Shoes, shirts, notebooks, photos, book bags… Now I know what a celebrity feels like, and I can say, I somewhat understand why famous people don’t necessarily enjoy signing autographs.
I’ve made many new Chinese friends and come to fully understand and appreciate the Chinese culture. One of the students at camp, his English name is Caffrey, was the Chinese national diving champion. He was on his way to the Summer Olympics when he injured himself in a diving accident and went blind in his right eye. We met a few days back, and I got to know Caffrey through a fitness challenge (Caffrey did 50 push ups in 60 seconds, I did 40 push ups) and English Corner, a time when English teachers meet with Chinese students and answer questions about their cultures (American and the United Kingdom). Caffrey is humble, kind, sincere, and a very good English speaker. I was honored to get to know him and now call him a friend. Teaching China in my classroom back in America is going to take on a whole new twist this year. I have so many great pictures and stories to share regarding Chinese history, economics, culture, government, and geography. The people in China have been so welcoming and gracious throughout the trip. No book or movie can ever take the place of travel. Dr. Phillip Dillman, one of my professor’s at Central Michigan University once said, “If you are ever given the opportunity to travel, take it. Travel is the best form of education.” His words 25 years later are ringing loud and clear.
Tuesday, August 4 – Qinhuangdao, China – Random Thoughts on Chinese Culture
Wednesday will be my last day in the classroom with my Chinese students. Final celebrations began with a talent show last night, performed by both students and teachers. I was amazed at how talented many of the students are. The kids truly get into these types of activities at camp. The dancing and singing, mostly with American themes, was incredible. A Chinese girl sang Hey, Jude and another group of students put on a break dancing routine that should be on China’s Got Talent (if they had the show in China). Sadly enough, I spun a basketball on my finger for about 60 seconds, so I would say my talent would have ranked towards the bottom of the show, regardless, everyone had a good time. American music is very popular in China, and being that a lot of the music is making its way to China through the Internet, the kids listen to a wide range of music. Rap isn’t the most popular, more of he classics spanning the last 4 decades seem to be favorites. The Beatles, Michael Jackson, and Taylor swift are the most recognizable acts in China. Justin Beiber’s Baby is huge in China. Many students listen to American music to improve their English. Who would have thought… I believe the Internet is the main reason why China has modernized over the past 35 years. There are also many other factors, however, the gap between 3rd world China and 1st world China continues to shrink with each passing day.
As a history teacher, I’ve always been interested and fascinated with other cultures. The Chinese have taught me much over the past few weeks. Although we have much in common with the Chinese, there are also stark differences. I haven’t seen a single Chinese person with a tattoo. None. Can you imagine the Delaware beaches or the Jersey Shore without a few hundred thousand tattoos? Also, dogs and birds seem to be the pets of choice. Being that there aren’t any houses in the cities (all apartment buildings), the Chinese have bird cages hanging from their balconies. Not one bird cage, but several. As for dogs, they seem to be randomly roaming the streets. Every dog I’ve seen is a small dog, and they don’t bark. Yes, that’s right. I have yet to hear a dog bark in 2 1/2 weeks. As a matter of fact, I’ve probably walked past 50 dogs on the streets of Beijing and Qinhuangdao, and not one dog growled, barked or followed me. Also, I haven’t seen any facial hair on a man in China. No beards and no mustaches. Clothing is somewhat different as well. I haven’t noticed any name brand clothing. Many of the people wear simple, plain clothing. Many of the kids and young adults wear shirts and shorts with English writing that often doesn’t make sense. For example, I came across a young lady in her 20’s wearing a t-shirt that read “ACNE.” Now for those of you who don’t know what “acne” is, I can simply describe acne as a zit on your face. On the back of the shirt was a random blurb about Batman. Yes, the Cape Crusader. Much of the English on the clothing is either strange or labeled with broken grammar. These are all the little things that make China a bit different compared to the U.S.
Being that the end of camp is near, I’ve received many gifts from my Chinese students. My next few blogs will focus on my experiences at Hebei International English Camp, pollution in China, and a trip I’ll be taking to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. Until my next post…
Monday, August 3 – Qinhuangdao, China – The Story of the Blind Masseur in China
All of the teachers working English Camp here in China are either from the United States or the United Kingdom. We’ve now been here in China for just over two weeks. Finding things to do in Qinhuangdao can sometimes be a challenge. It seems as though the only thing on our minds at the end of the school day is where we’ll eat for dinner. One of the teachers recommended finding a massage parlor. Fortunately, the Chinese teachers who work with us at the camp have extended themselves and help us find things to do at night. They’ve been very gracious with their time and hospitable, going out of their way to make sure we enjoy our time here in China.
A massage parlor was booked for 16 teachers over a three-night period. Yesterday, I decided to join in and give it a try. I was told that the masseur was blind. As a matter of fact, in China, blind masseur’s are considered to be doctor’s. Because they are blind, the Chinese feel that the blind masseur has heightened senses, making them experts in their field. The trip to the blind masseur was interesting to say the least. In Chinese cities, when you go to find the eye doctor, shoe store, or even a masseur, the stores tend to be clumped together. While roaming the city with my friend Darryl, we stumbled across an eye doctor. I then noticed there were 4 eye doctor’s shops in a row. The massage parlor was no different. I counted 7 message parlors in a row. This was a problem for the group of teachers who went before us. Apparently, the teachers went to the wrong massage parlor, and their experience wasn’t so pleasant. The group should have realized their massage didn’t include blind masseurs! Then again, when every message parlor looks exactly the same, and all of the store front signs are in Mandarin Chinese, who could tell the difference?
The blind massage was great! For a whopping 80 Yuan ($12.50 U.S.) I received a one hour message. The masseur also provided a diagnosis of where my back pain was. Being a bit skeptical, I was surprised to learn the blind masseur knew exactly what he was talking about. He told me my back muscles were tight on the right-side (I sleep on my right side) and when on to say my neck muscles were a bit strained (something I experience from working on a computer). The same massage in the U.S. would cost anywhere from $70 to $100. Furthermore, I’ve learned through my travels that the Chinese do no accept tips… Anywhere. There is no tipping in restaurants, no tipping in hotels, no tipping period. The Chinese make a lot less compared to Americans, however, the price of living in China is very cheap. Dinner last night cost me 9 Yuans, which is $1.50 U.S. The food is something that I’ve come to appreciate in China. Nothing is processed. Everything is made fresh. All in all, it was another great day in China. I have two more days at English camp, and then I’ll be back to Beijing for one day of shopping and a day-trip to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. Until my next post…
Sunday, August 2 – Qinhuangdao, China – New Friends, Shirtless Men, & Spitting
Just the other day, I decided to venture out and have dinner with one of the street vendors. I’ve been very cautious when it comes to meat because I’m weary of getting sick. Thus far, I’ve only caught a cold, and otherwise, been very healthy. I stopped at the corn vendor. The corn vendor roasts corn in an oven on the street, attached to a moped. I guess you could call it a portable corn oven. The corn was just okay, however, what happened next was a once in a lifetime experience.
While eating my corn, and enjoying some down time, I starting playing a game on my iPhone. Next thing I know, the vendor next to the corn guy, an older lady is watching me play. She, herself was playing a game on her phone. I haven’t noticed a single Chinese person in China without a cell phone, which is similar to the U.S. I motioned to the older lady if she’d like to play the game on my phone. She declined. Next thing you know, her granddaughter, probably 8 or 9 is looking over my shoulder in amazement. There was maybe 6 inches of buffer between myself and this little face. The Chinese really do not have any sense of space. I’ve been bumped it every single day from day one. I looked over my shoulder and offered the game/phone to the little girl. She sat down next to me and started to play. 5 minutes later, the old lady brings me a bowl of noodles with tomato, vegetables, and spices. I offered to pay, but she insisted it was a gift. A Chinese man nearby, who spoke some English, told me the old lady wanted to feed me because I was kind to her granddaughter. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I continue to find the Chinese to be warm people.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve noticed many Chinese men walking around topless. Many actually pull their shirts up over the bellies. It has been hot in Qinhuangdao, similar to a summer on the East Coast, but you don’t see people in America pulling up their shirts. I’ve seen this on the street, in restaurants, at the school, in the shopping mall, and the grocery store. Why? Well, there are many reasons why Chinese men do this. For starters, most of the men pull their shirts up have bigger bellies compared to the rest of their Chinese counterparts. The big belly is a sign of power and wealth. However, many educated, western Chinese view this as a bad habit and not very gentlemen like. The men not only pull up their shirts, they also spit! Yes, spit! The men spit everywhere! Just yesterday, I noticed a man in a restaurant, shirtless, spiting while sitting at a table. He was with his wife and kids, and probably spit 20 times. The spitting is also deemed a bad habit by many of the more educated, western Chinese. I see this is a clash of the old and new culture surfacing in China. As the country modernizes and westernizes, I believe some of these habits will disappear. For now, there are hundreds of thousands of men walking around Qinhuangdao shirtless and spitting! Just one of the stark differences I’ve noticed between American and Chinese culture.
My next post will discuss smoking in China. 70% of the men in China are smokers, and I can say from experience that the percentage may actually be higher. Until next time…
Wednesday, July 29 – Qinhuangdao, China – Bare Bellies, Mongolian BBQ, & New Friends
Yesterday, the entire group of British and American teachers ventured out to dinner. There is a restaurant located directly next to our hotel. From the outside, it looks like a slum. I’ve walked past the restaurant at least a dozen times over the past week and haven’t even thought of trying the place. I guess the old adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover” applies in this case. Some of the teachers went to dinner at the restaurant a few days ago and said the food was amazing. I was a bit puzzled after hearing such glowing comments. From the outside, a vacant building is attached to the left side, with a row of industrial complexes to the right. It is dirty, dusty, and located along a polluted river. Could the food be that good? Well, let me tell you, it has been the best meal I’ve had thus far, much better than the Peking Duck in Beijing!
As our group walked into the restaurant, the owner yelled at us in Mandarin and told us to sit outside. Many of the restaurants in Qinhuangdao have plastic tables and chairs outside the store fronts. Often, the tables are scattered along cars and mopeds. There isn’t any designated parking anywhere. People just pull up to stores and park anywhere. Most of the time, the parking lots resemble Jenga. And still, I have yet to see one car accident while in China, which for some reason, is probably one of the more amazing things that haven’t happened.
Our group worked in a very hot school all day long, and none of us were interested in sitting outside. We bullied our way in and had the staff set up one long table for us. We had about 30 people in our group. The teachers who frequented the restaurant a few days earlier ordered for everyone. The restaurant from the inside was absolutely beautiful. You would have never guessed from the appearance outside. Next, the food starting coming. First, beef and lamb on a stick. In China, the people eat nearly all meat and seafood on a stick. It was amazing! The pieces were cooked over an open fire, with tiny pieces of fat in between each piece of meat. This was the first time I had meat other than the Peking Duck in nearly two weeks. Next came a vegetable tray, followed by salad, soybeans (the soybeans were so good!), hot rolls with creamy sweet sauce to dip, and then the soup. In China, the soup is always served last at the meal. Next, the owner of the restaurant came out with the staff and told us that we are now all friends. They broke into song and dance which felt like a ceremony and gave each one of us a friendship scarf. I later learned the restaurant is Mongolian. Want to take a guess what dinner costs? $8.50, and that included the tip as well! A similar dinner in the U.S. would have cost $40 to $50. All in all, it was a great experience. As I exited the restaurant, I couldn’t help but notice two men eating near us. As you can see, they weren’t wearing shirts. There is more to this story, and I plan on elaborating in a future post. I continue to learn something new every day while in China. The culture is fascinating! Until next time…
Tuesday, July 28 – Qinhuangdao, China – The Invasion of American Culture: Hershey Bars & Lottery Tickets
After being in China for nearly 2 weeks, I’ve been in the country long enough to see the impact America has on Chinese society. While at a dinner with my cohorts, the Chinese teachers who are observing the classrooms, I was asked if I watched the show “Prison Break.” To my surprise, the Chinese have access to many American television shows and movies. I was also asked what my favorite shows are. I replied by saying, “The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Seinfeld.” The Chinese teachers were very familiar with The Wire and Breaking Bad. They have never heard of Seinfeld. This is when I realized some shows and movies are censored by the Chinese Communist government. I mentioned other movies like E.T., Casablanca, Rocky, and Lord of the Rings. The Chinese teachers were not familiar with any of the movies.
There are American food brands in China. Most of the American food brands I found are in the candy section, or as the Chinese would say, the “sweet” section of the supermarket. Snickers, M & M’s, and Hershey’s all graced the aisle. However, to my surprise, Dove chocolate had its own aisle! Dove is not a popular brand in the U.S., more so the U.K., yet I learned the Chinese love Dove chocolate. Dove was also the most expensive chocolate, being double to triple the price of the American brands. A Hershey’s Almond bar is 4 Yuans, which is about .67 cents U.S. Very cheap. The Dove bars are 12 Yuans, which is $2 U.S. dollars.
As I was leaving the supermarket, I noticed a counter selling lottery tickets. Yes! I said lottery tickets. I couldn’t believe my eyes! This is where communism and capitalism collide, only in China, which makes this country so unique and fascinating. Gambling is a big part of Chinese culture, but I’m told several Chinese travel to Macau to gamble. Macau is located next to Hong Kong, a special administrative division of the People’s Republic of China, just like Hong Kong. Macau would be China’s version of Las Vegas. Getting back to the supermarket, I also noticed Red Bull, Gatorade, and Monster on the shelves along with Evian water. I’ve yet to visit McDonald’s while in China, yet I’m hoping to get to a McDonald’s when we arrive back in Beijing. Qinhuangdao is estimated to have 3 million people living within the city limits, and thus far, I’ve only seen 1 McDonald’s. Then again, I’ve seen KFC’s like I see Wawa’s back in Delaware and Pennsylvania, they are everywhere! KFC is by far the most popular fast food chain in China. Two new KFC’s open per day in China. Seriously, think about that. In addition, I’ve seen many Ford’s and Buick’s in China, along with Coke and Pepsi. It seems as though the Chinese only like our sweets and junk food. What kind of influence are we having on the Chinese? Is this what America is known for? Until my next post….
Monday, July 27 – Qinhuangdao, China – Michael Jordan, Andre The Giant, & American Culture in China
If I told you the Chinese have no idea who Michael Jordan is, would you be surprised? At Blue Demon Basketball Camp (the Chinese camp) many of the kids have asked me who my favorite NBA team is, and who my favorite player is. I responded by saying, “the Detroit Pistons and Isiah Thomas.” Of course, none of the kids have heard of the Pistons, nonetheless, know of Detroit. Basketball is a huge sport in China, the second biggest sport next to soccer. I asked the kids at camp who their favorite players are and the responses I received… Kobe Bryant, James Harden, and Steph Curry. However, no one knew any other NBA players. That was the full extent of their “NBA” knowledge. I was puzzled. How could a country so fascinated with the game of basketball and the NBA not know the teams and players? All of the kids at the summer camp I’m working at either have English names or were given English names. The student who told me his favorite player is Steph Curry named himself “curry.” He made it a point to tell me that his name started with a small c.
Lessons are taught each day focusing on a theme. Teachers from the U.K. tend to have themes from Great Britain, and the American teachers tend to focus on the US culture. I prepared a lesson on Sports & Hobbies in the US. I listed the Top 10 sports and hobbies in the US, and embedded videos throughout the presentation to give the Chinese students a glimpse of American culture. Little did I know what I was in store for and what kind of reaction I would get from the Chinese students.
Basketball is the #3 sport in America (behind football and baseball). I embedded a video clip of Michael Jordan’s 10 most famous dunks. As the students watched, they “oooooooo’d” and “awwwwwwww’d” throughout the entire 3-minute video. Once the video was over, the entire class clapped. I was simply stunned. Never have I seen such a reaction from students. The pure amazement on their faces told me that I had exposed them to something they had never seen before. How could they not know who Michael Jordan is? The students asked me to play the video one more time and I obliged. How could I deprive them? Later in the presentation came the 9th most popular sport in the U.S., pro wrestling. A clip of Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan grappling at Wrestlemania III in the Pontiac Silverdome was the video of choice. The student’s mouths dropped to the floor. They had never seen 2 human beings so big. When Hogan slammed The Giant, the room erupted! From the Central Michigan University Hail Mary Bahamas Bowl play, to NASCAR crashes… It was like a revelation. The Chinese students want to learn so much about the western world, and even more so about the United States.
Each day brings a new learning experience. I will continue to remind you all that the Chinese are kind, generous, hard-working people who want to better… Each day. Their attention to detail, whether it be sweeping a street or clearing a table in a restaurant is second to none. They take such pride in all that they do. Yesterday… 44 kids ran through a 45-minute strength conditioning session with me in a gym that topped 100 degrees. Not one student complained. Not one student asked for a break. Not one student cut the session early. Once strength conditioning ended, I drilled the kids in basketball skills ranging from dribbling, passing and shooting. This is just another example of how thirsty the Chinese are for knowledge and how impeccable their work ethic is. The Chinese simply want to be great at all that they do. Until my next post…
Sunday, July 26 – Qinhuangdao, China – What Makes China So Different?
Over the past week, I’ve noticed many differences between Chinese and American culture. For starters, in China, they don’t use napkins of any sort. How do they wipe their hands? Well, that would be a good question. The restaurants I’ve eaten in have been fairly modern with a western twist. They offer napkins that would be more comparable to the cheapest tissue you could purchase back in the States. I often have to take 5 or 6 pieces of Chinese napkins to wipe my hands or face. To say the thin layers of “napkin” literally wilt away in your hands would be an understatement. Also, the Chinese do not use toilet paper. There are some toilets in China, however, every public bathroom is simply a porcelain. As you can see from the picture, there isn’t any toilet paper. Also, in China, they call the bathroom the “toilet.” To an American, this may seem somewhat odd simply due to the fact that there isn’t a toilet in the bathroom. This is just one of the subtle differences between China and the U.S. I do think this will change with time as China continues to modernize and westernize. Then again, my group leader told our group of teachers not to flush toilet paper down the toilet because the toilets easily get clogged up. All paper waste goes into the garbage can.
In America, we take for granted all that we have at our disposal. We have become a society of accumulating “stuff” over our lives. In China, the people like “stuff”, yet it isn’t as important to them as I believe “stuff” is important to Americans. The other day, while leaving QHD #1 (the school I’m teaching in), I noticed several students walking to their dorms with small tubs. I asked another teacher what the purpose of the small plastic tub was. The reply I received was somewhat surprising. Apparently, most Chinese do not have showers, and some Chinese have tubs in their homes. Most Chinese bath themselves by filling the small plastic tubs with water and sponging down. What is even more surprising is that I haven’t noticed any differences in overall hygiene between the Chinese and Americans. The Chinese just seem to do things a little different from us. The price of the small plastic tub converted into U.S. dollars is about .75 cents. 6 Yuan = 1 U.S. dollar, so as you can see, the plastic tubs are fairly inexpensive.
With over 1.5 billion people and counting in the world’s largest country, things seem to get done. I continue to be amazed by how well the people have treated us since our arrival. After ordering pizza yesterday at the supermarket, the young Chinese girl who made my pizza asked for a photo, and no, she didn’t speak English. Ordering the pizza wasn’t that easy! The culture of China continues to teach me valuable lessons about life each day, and more importantly, reminds me why I’m so grateful for all that I have back in the States. Until next time…
Saturday, July 25 – Qinhuangdao, China – Restaurants & Supermarkets
Today, I’m going to talk about my experience at a Chinese restaurant and visit to a Chinese supermarket. One might think that the food at a Chinese restaurant might be similar to the food found in China, however, I can tell you that the food in China is nothing like the Chinese food back in the States. The Chinese food back in the States has been Americanized or influenced by the deep fryer. Don’t get me wrong, I love fried food, but Americans have definitely influenced the way Chinese food is prepared in the U.S.
A group of teachers from my trip decided to try a restaurant in Qinhuangdao called Hot Pot. If you’ve ever been to the Melting Pot, this would be the Chinese version. The menu we received was a pleasant surprise. The entire menu was converted to English and what I found was somewhat astounding! Have you ever tried Sheep Waist, Duck Blood, or Hairy Belly? Yes, these were all items available on the menu. I started with a simple bottle of water and decided to wait on ordering. As the food came out, my stomach started to turn a bit. I decided not to eat and actually ended up leaving early because I wasn’t feeling well. The combination of raw foods and a headache cut my night short. The next morning, one of the teachers shared with me that 3 of the 15 people who attended the dinner ended up getting sick later that night. I’m thinking I made the proper call of bowing out early from the Hot Pot. Qinhuangdao is a fairly big city, but what I’ve learned in my short time in China, there is more food street vendors than restaurants. Most Chinese simply purchase their food from the street. I will post a blog later next week solely dedicated to the Chinese food street vendors.
I’ve taken two trips to the Chinese supermarket, and I continue to marvel at the hustle and bustle. I would compare the supermarket to a Super Wal-Mart. They sell everything… From chicken feet to bed sheets, or, if you’d like, a pet dog (yes, they had one small white poodle for sale in a cage as I entered the supermarket). The clothing section felt much like Wal-Mart or K-Mart. However, when I went to the food section, I’ve never witnessed such a scene. Through all the mass chaos and people maneuvering the aisles, everyone seems to accomplish their tasks. Oreos, Dove candy, and knock-off Chef Boy-Ar-Dee is available for purchase. The meat and seafood sections are wild! Pigs feet, chicken feet, and every part of each animal is for sale. The Chinese are not big on waste. The literally eat every part of the animal. Nothing is wrapped or frozen. The seafood section provided the option of purchasing live fish, more specifically, horseshoe crabs and turtles (turtle soup is very popular in China, and no, I haven’t tried it.) Most of the American brands were found in the candy and sweets sections, not anywhere else in the store. I found the supermarket easy to navigate, but I did run into one problem. I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the store. There are 3 floors, with an escalator taking you up to each floor, I couldn’t find the down escalators because they were on the opposite side of the store. In the U.S., the escalators tend to run parallel to one another. I motioned to a worker with my arm pointing down, and I was guided out of the store.
My next post will focus on the Chinese food street vendors, and the various foods offered “on the street.”
Friday, July 24 – Qinhuangdao, China – The Difference Between Chinese & American Students
After completing my second day of teaching in China, I started to realize the stark differences between Chinese students and American students. My day is comprised of two parts. From 8:30 a.m. to Noon, I work with 23 students in a classroom. All of the lessons are based on exposing the students to English through American culture. As many of you know, I’m a big fan of graphic organizers. The students have been learning English words by creating picture dictionaries. I present a word with a picture, use it in a sentence, and then ask the students to use the word in an English sentence. For example, when I introduced the word banana, I asked students if they liked bananas. I taught the students to reply “Yes, I like bananas” or “No, I don’t like bananas.” All of the students have been given English names and use the names during class instructions. Some of the students had English names prior to the start of the summer academy, however, many did not. On the first day of class, I gave English names to many students. Some of the Chinese students may have your English name! When a Chinese student is called upon, they stand up and look you in the eye to answer the question. I haven’t been able to get them to understand to raise their hand to answer a question. Regardless, the Chinese students have been eager, polite, kind, and willing students.
In the afternoon, I run a strength training course and basketball clinic. To my surprise, most of the 40 Chinese students who signed up to participate know nothing about the game of basketball. The kids understand the concept of putting the ball in the basket, however, they know nothing about passing, dribbling, or shooting. Day 2 of our basketball clinic focused on basic dribbling and passing techniques. I also taught the kids how to shoot a right-handed lay-up. The Chinese students are so anxious to learn the game. They want to get better and work very hard. During strength conditioning, the Chinese students give 100%, all while working in a gym without air conditioning. The temperature has to be near 95 degrees in the gym. When the sessions are over, everyone is drenched. After Friday’s session, several Chinese students approached me and asked who my favorite NBA player was. To my surprise, they only know of a few players… Kobe Bryant and James Harden. When I asked if they know who Michael Jordan was, they just looked at me puzzled. As I walked out of the gym, several Chinese students participating in the basketball clinic asked to take a picture with me. Earlier in my blog, I shared with you that Americans are revered in China. I continue to be reminded of this each day.
To answer a few of Julia’s questions… The Great Wall of China was an amazing experience. The best part, climbing some of the steeper parts of the wall. One of the angles of the wall had to be close to 75 degrees. It was difficult! I haven’t seen as many photos of Mao as I thought I would, however, Mao is on every piece of paper Chinese currency. By the way, Chinese bills are in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 Yuan. The burns on my legs have healed. The water and air is very polluted in China, more so than I thought. I’ve had a difficult time breathing and I only drink bottled water, nothing from the tap.
My next post will discuss the crazy experience of visiting a Chinese supermarket, and what you might find on the menu of an authentic Chinese restaurant (not the Hong Kong Buffet in New Garden).
Thursday, July 23 – Qinhuangdao, China – A City Rises
We arrived in Qinhuangdao, China Wednesday night. The city is located to the northeast of Beijing, about a 4.5-hour bus ride. The city looks as though it virtually popped up in the middle on the night. Apartment buildings and industrial facilities lined the streets of the city. During our first night, a group of teachers and I decided to check out the town. Immediately, I noticed differences when comparing Qinhuangdao to American cities. A group of people was dancing on a street corner. A 10 man band played horns and drums. One of the older men in the group noticed all of the “westerners” watching and invited us to join in. We were all taken by the scene and decided to watch. The dancing was simple yet elegant, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
I then ventured into the supermarket. It was bustling, crowded, and busy. Let’s just say it was somewhat different to what you might see at ACME or Giant. I didn’t take any pictures, however, I’m planning to go back to snap some photos. The meat counter was interesting, to say the least!
I met my class yesterday for the first time. The entire student body was introduced to the English teachers from the U.S. and the U.K. at an all-school assembly. The students literally “oooo’d” and “awwwwww’d” as we walked into the auditorium. They were very excited to see us. Many of these students travel from various part of China to attend the 2-week summer camp. The focus is English, however, students participate in chosen sports and game activities in the afternoon. I’m running a basketball clinic, along with strength conditioning.
I will share more about my students in the next blog and answer some of Julia Snoke’s questions that she sent through e-mail.
Wednesday, July 22 – Beijing, China – The Great Wall & KFC!
If you ever get a chance to see any of the Seven Wonders of the World, don’t cheat yourself out of the opportunity, go! The Great Wall of China was more than anything I could have expected. Of course, I didn’t expect to see the novelty shops located at the base of the wall to include a KFC and Subway, however, I learned about some amazing history about the wall and what it means to be a hero in China.
The Chinese believe, if one climbs a peak at The Great Wall of China, you are now a hero in the country. There were literally, thousands of people climbing the wall in both directions. Young, old, some foreigners (very few) and several Chinese who travel during the summer months for vacation. The two sections I climbed were identified as easy and hard. Tourists are made aware of the sections and the challenges the wall can present. 2 months ago, a Canadian tourist lost her footing and started running down one of the sloped walkways. She couldn’t stop herself, ran into a 70-year old Chinese woman, and killed her. Think about how fast one must be running and the angle of the downward slope to run at a speed you cannot stop!
Climbing the Great Wall was special because it’s not something most Americans can say they’ve done. Also, I climbed the wall with one of my former 6th-grade students (Sean Connolly) who will now be a Senior at Kennett High School this year. Not many teachers can say they’ve climbed The Great Wall of China with a former student. Sean learned about China and its storied history and culture in our class just over 6 years ago.
The Great Wall of China was built by the hands of the Chinese people and donkeys. The Chinese would start construction on peaks and work their way down. The Wall is also known as the world’s first large-scale securing system. Fires would be lit by Wall attendants making people aware of incoming danger. The smoke from one fire meant 100 soldiers were coming. 2 fires equaled 500 soldiers, and 3 fires equaled 1,000 soldiers.
If you would have told me I’d be eating KFC Chicken Poppers after the climb with Sean, I would tell you to wake up! We decided to venture into the KFC. The place was buzzing. No one spoke English in the restaurant, so I point to the small Chicken Poppers. it took a few minutes before the KFC employee took my order and cash, but she figured it out. The Poppers were good. They had a little spice and kick that I had, however, spicy food has been a part of every meal I’ve had in China. If you climbed the Great Wall of China and had to choose between Subway and KFC, what would it be?
Tuesday, July 21 – Beijing China – Rock Star Status
Rock Star status. While walking through Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, and the Imperial Palace, I was stopped three times. The first time, a large group of young kids, probably 3rd or 4th graders asked me to take a picture with them. I was told Americans are revered by the Chinese, however, I didn’t realize how popular we all are in China.
Later in the day, two teenage girls followed me for 10 minutes before summing up the courage to ask for a picture. Of course, I obliged and ended up taking 5 minutes worth of pictures with them! Many of the men and boys just simply look at you in awe. Staring is not rude in China. After visiting some of the major attractions, our group went to dinner at one of Beijing’s most famous Peking Duck restaurants. Apparently, the restaurant is 600 years old and has served ruling emperors and dignitaries of the past!
What makes a Peking Duck so special? Well, there is a process when preparing and serving the duck. For starters, the duck is slaughtered at the ripe old age of 60 days. Next, the duck is cooked not in an oven, but over the wood taken from an apple or peach tree.
When served in China, the duck is carved at your table. Very thin, small fajita wraps are given, along with duck sauce, chives and onions. I’ve never had duck, but I have to say this was probably the best meal I’ve had in some time.
The Peking Duck was amazing and I highly recommend this dinner to anyone traveling in Beijing. Today’s post will be a two-part post. Later today, I’ll add another post and discuss my experience climbing The Great Wall of China and celebrating by having some KFC! I’m amazed by how much western culture has influenced China in such a short time. I see signs of westernization all throughout Beijing. By the way, if you click any of the pictures, they will enlarge in size.
Monday, July 20 – Beijing, China – Air Pollution: A Part of Chinese Culture
Well, I finally made it! After a long plane ride and stop in Hong Kong, I’ve soon realized that Beijing is much like what I anticipated, however, the pollution is absolutely horrendous! The forecast calls for rain all week. There is some humidity, but it hasn’t been too hot. As I was walking from the Olympic Park yesterday, some water kicked off my flip flops onto my lower legs and ankles. I immediately felt burning on my skin. This morning, I woke up with red streaks on the bottom of my legs. My guess, there are toxins in the water all throughout Beijing.
As you can see from the picture I posted today, smog lines the air throughout the city. I can actually smell the pollution. I would compare the smell to standing behind a car and inhaling the exhaust fumes. The Beijing subway is 10 x’s busier compared to the subways in NYC.
Dogs are left unleashed in China. Yesterday, I watched a dog play “Frogger” in a busy intersection. A man got out of his car, stopped traffic in all directions, and pushed the dog along. One of the interesting things I’ve seen… A teenage boy riding a motorized unicycle in the subway. It was actually very cool! Traffic is crazy in this town! Cars don’t stop for pedestrians. In China, if you get hit by a car while traveling by foot, the pedestrian takes the blame. Today, we are going to Tiananmen Square and having a Peking Duck dinner!
Sunday, July 19 – Hong Kong International Airport – McDonald’s in Hong Kong
After a long 15+ hour flight (we actually landed 30 minutes early), we now have a 3-hour layover in Hong Kong. One of my former students (Sean Connolly) and I took some time to explore Hong Kong International.
To our surprise, Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Popeyes are all at our disposal!
The McDonald’s menu looked very similar to what we see in America, however, there were a few items on the menu that are noticeably different (see pictures below, look in the bottom left-hand corner). Click the picture to enlarge the photo.
People are very pushy in Asia. I was warned that Asians just push through lines. I did experience this on the plane as we were getting off the plane in Hong Kong.
If you have a question, send them to email@example.com. I’ll start answering questions once we land in Beijing.
Preparation for Beijing, China – Wednesday, July 15
Over the past few days, I’ve started to prepare for my trip to China. I can’t help but feel anxious and excited. Teaching Chinese history and culture from 1850 to the present, I feel as though I’m prepared for what I’m going to experience, however, I’ll actually be able to touch and see all that is China, as opposed to reading and watching videos. What am I looking forward to?
Well, I can’t wait to meet the students. I’m also looking forward to jogging in Beijing, in addition to visiting the Great Wall of China and experiencing the Terracotta Warriors. Culturally, I’m prepared for the air pollution in Beijing (said to be among the world’s worst), people, and food. Cobra Heart is said to be a specialty in Chinese restaurants, yet, I’m thinking I may become a vegetarian while on this 3-week journey. The weather in Beijing this time of year is similar to summers on the East Coast, however, much rain is expected.
The flight from Newark, NJ to Hong Kong is 16.5 hours, with another 3-hour flight from Hong Kong to Beijing. I’ll be packing entire Seinfeld seasons to watch on the plane, bringing a book or two, and splurging on in-flight WIFI to watch True Detective on HBOGO.com. I will be posting daily from China, sharing photos and insight into all that is China.
Hope you find my blog interesting and educational over the next 3 weeks! Feel free to share the link.