Gratitude in Da ‘Buj

The hardest thing about living abroad in general for me is being away from my family, my mother and sister specifically. If I came from one of those globetrotting families who travel all over the planet and meet up in exotic locations, it would be much easier. If I had my way, we’d meet in London during fall break, South Africa during Christmas and some sexy beach locale during the summer. But whether or not I see my family and friends back home depends a lot on me. Folks simply don’t visit. I’m sure they’ll say money is an issue, but hell, even when I’m home I don’t see them unless I go to them and sometimes that requires me traveling an additional two to three hours even though I’ve traveled thousands of miles and most of the times, more than 16 hours. Continue reading “Gratitude in Da ‘Buj”

Reaction to the U.S. Presidential Election (WTF America?!!!)

Living abroad does not lessen the impact of government issues at home. In fact, I would venture to say that living abroad places those issues under a microscope of scrutiny and never-ending questions. This presidential election especially shone light on just how confusing Americans and their politics appear to the rest of the world. Countless times I’ve been forced, unwillingly, into conversations about the two presidential candidates, expected to weigh in on my choice and reasons behind it. This campaign season definitely contributed to sharpening my sidestepping and redirecting conversational skills. It has been utterly exhausting.

And now, while the election is over, the questions, confusion and bewilderment is not. My students look at me discontentedly and wonder what this means for them and their goals of higher education. Will it be safe for them to pursue their collegiate goals in America? Should they use the election results map to determine which college is better situated geographically to make them feel comfortable…welcome? And I honestly have no idea how exactly to respond, because much like them I, too, have questions.

I think the absolute worse part, is that I am expected to speak on behalf of the American people. I am expected to provide answers to the unanswerable when the truth is I have no idea how we knowingly elected a bigot, xenophobe, misogynist and just all around “mean” man as one student put it. What does it say about us, Americans, that we elected someone who spewed divisive rhetoric from the very beginning to the end of his campaign? What does it say? And I think that’s the scary part. It says a hell of a lot.

Those of us who didn’t vote for him can attempt to detach from the election results and even the president elect by saying we didn’t vote for him, but at the end of the day, does that matter? Does it matter to people abroad? When I navigate this globe, I do so as an American and I am, therefore, judged as such. Does it matter that I didn’t vote for him? I don’t think so. I think ultimately people will expect me to give them insight into what the hell happened in my country on November 8, 2016 and they’ll want answers. But where do I even begin? Because the truth is, a response to that question requires historical context that can’t be explained in a quick conversation and I don’t know that I would even want to do there in the first place. You know…there. Nah, I’ll pass. So for now, my response is simply, well, America can’t hide who and what it truly is any longer. The proof is in the pudding and will shortly be in the White House as well.

 

“Unromantic Realities of Teaching in a Foreign Land”

I thought about this piece while walking to work this morning. The lone unicorn walking down these China streets powering through the stares and scowls of those around me. When I first made the decision to move abroad I was at the juncture in my life where I knew that if I didn’t change something and in a very big way, I was going to leave the world of academia behind altogether. My life in the U.S. was fine, but something always seemed to be missing or askew or just not quite right. And the constant threat upon my black skin from sources concrete and abstract made living there scary and seemingly dangerous. So like the romantic that I am, I decided living and teaching in a new country would be the answer. I fantasized about the impact I would make, the lessons I would perform and how I would grow to the heavens in my teaching practice. I imagined myself and my daughter in our exotic new locale indulging in new foods, visiting new countries and learning new languages. And while the things that I’ve imagined have, in fact, taken place, my main reason for living in China has been the most challenging aspect of our new journey.

You see, teaching in China has many more challenges than I anticipated. Aside from the obvious challenge of a language barrier, there have been three distinct challenges with which I have had to contend: unrealistic expectations from parents, lazy, under-motivated students and lack of resources. Teachers everywhere are reading that thinking, “I deal with the same issues!” Believe me, I know. Like many teachers, I thought teaching abroad would be a teacher’s utopia. And I especially thought teaching in China would be easier. I was a victim of the same preconceived notions as many other Americans are, “Chinese students work hard”, “Chinese students are naturally motivated”, “Chinese students are blah, blah, blah. Just wonderful”. The truth is Chinese students are, well, students, merely children who suffer from many of the same ailments and conditions as other children – laziness, self-indulgence, self-centeredness and just plain incorrigibility. Now, of course, it’s not all students all of the time, but the model student that many of us believed existed in China is in actuality a rarity not the norm.

The good thing about this realization is that being a trained, certified, experienced teacher in the U.S. properly prepared me to successfully handle this reality. Therefore, it is business as usual in my classroom. I simply employed the same strategies and expectations that I would in my American classroom. The biggest difference is having a teaching assistant/translator. Somewhat similar to the co-teaching model without the collaborative planning. Of course, many of us who have had co-teachers know that collaborative planning doesn’t always happen either.

Nonetheless, those realities aren’t enough to make me regret my decision to teach abroad, especially since I would be dealing with the exact same issues in the U.S. Moreover, just like back home, the students always make it worth it. I have students with big personalities, students who are exceptionally quiet, some who are extraordinarily loud and some who love drama. There are comedians, fighters, actors and natural leaders. Their personalities are just as varied as any group of young people would be and so are their academic levels. They definitely have helped to make this journey quite interesting.

Thanksgiving in Foshan- Food for My Soul

I’ll be the first to admit that I was truly worried about how the mini and I would spend our first major holiday abroad. Despite my best efforts to spend the day surrounded by people we were familiar with eating food that fed our souls as much as it did our stomachs, nothing seemed to be working out. The plans that we did make fell through, well sort of…but that’s another story. Nonetheless, I was left trying to make sure we didn’t spend the holiday sad, depressed and alone. So I had to put on mommy cape and get to work. Not only did we have a decent Thanksgiving dinner surrounded by good people, but we were so busy that we didn’t have time to think about all the glorious food and family time we were missing back home. Continue reading “Thanksgiving in Foshan- Food for My Soul”

Dude, Where’s My Mail?

Forgive my reference to the tacky, yet hilarious, 2000 movie staring Aston Kutcher. But just like the movie, my search for and expectation to receive packages sent from the U.S. are both futile and absolutely comedic. First, in order to get anything done in China, you MUST speak the language. There is simply no way around it. Well, I don’t speak the language. Therefore, I have to garner the assistance of Chinese work colleagues to assist me with things as simple as tracking down my packages. Continue reading “Dude, Where’s My Mail?”

Where should we go? HELP!

I’ve tossed and turned and had many a sleepless night on Skyscanner, Ctrip, TripAdvisor and Facebook trying to decide where the mini and I should go for the December holiday break. Of course, I’ve come up with a multitude of destinations. All of which would be new or newish to both of us. Yet, I still cannot make a final decision as to where to go, so I’m asking for your help. I’ve created a poll and I need for my readers to tell me where they think I should go. I chose places based on access to a beach, duration of flights and cost of visa.  If you feel I’ve overlooked a destination, please share it in the comments. Soooo…where should we go??

To Bangkok with Love Part 2- A Happy Surprise

I remember asking some people how much time one should plan to spend in Bangkok and being told two days max. Admittedly, my perspective of Bangkok was a bit skewed due in part to the stories and feedback of others’ and largely the Hangover movie. I had a picture in my mind of a place with tons of garbage and grunge and lady boys and lots of sex for sale wherever you turned. I got the impression that absolutely anything goes and that two days was more than I could take in a place that offered up cheap booty and anal invasions even to those who weren’t the least bit interested. Needless to say, I was wrong and hella glad of it. Continue reading “To Bangkok with Love Part 2- A Happy Surprise”

How to Overcome the Chinese Stare: PETTINESS ALERT

The most difficult thing for me to get accustomed to is, by far, the stare of the Chinese. I read about it. Heard it mentioned in stories of travelers I know, but nothing and I mean absolutely nothing, prepared me for what I have deemed the Chinese stare. Don’t get me wrong, there are several places where people have extended their glance in my direction: India, Guatemala, Italy and Colombia are the first places that come to mind. Admittedly, the locals in each place stared for different reasons, but I never felt offended or uncomfortable. The Chinese however, my oh my do they take staring to a completely different level. I’ve had people trip, bump into one another, ride their bikes into trees, fail to yield in their cars and, of course, take my picture without my permission while eating, walking, shopping, handling business in the bank or engrossed in conversation. And it’s not even that they look you in your face. They look you up and down. Some people frown and furrow their brows while others stare with a look of surprise. And then there are those that giggle, point and whisper. I swear I wish I knew enough Chinese expletives for the latter. In my attempt to be as culturally sensitive as possible I asked my Chinese colleagues, “Yo! What’s up with the staring?” A question to which I’ve received basically the same answer – “They know it’s wrong, but they do it anyway. They don’t know it makes you uncomfortable.” …..Oh really now? They don’t know? Well, I’ve received quite a bit of advice on how best to deal with this intrusive, uncomfortable and dare I say, rude business of staring, but I’ve devised my own three ways of dealing with this madness. Yes, some may think it’s petty, but I can’t say that I’m torn up about that. *shrugs*

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My toes were so interesting to this girl. She stared at me and them from the moment she came into the salon until the moment she left.

Continue reading “How to Overcome the Chinese Stare: PETTINESS ALERT”

Chinese Medicine…or something

One of the things I was looking forward to during my stay in China, other than the proximity and easy access to the many countries on my bucket list, is the opportunity to study and learn about traditional Chinese medicine. Of course, one main component in understanding the medicine is having sufficient background knowledge to comprehend the many beliefs and reasons behind why they do some of the things they do. Needless to say, I have been seriously enlightened by what I’ve learned thus far. Mind you, I haven’t even begun to learn about some of the medicine because I’ve had such a hard time getting past some of the things they do that are commonplace.

The biggest hurdle I’ve had to jump so far is the hawking. You know…the hawking of spit and whatever else in their mouths at the time. Not sure how it’s viewed in other countries, but in America it is not viewed as a socially acceptable practice hawk and spit at will. Well, here it is rather commonplace and both men and women do it. They do it during casual walks down the street, leisurely chats in front of stores and even while driving, taxi drivers too! So I asked someone about this because I just did not understand why it was widely accepted and it was explained that it is done for health reasons. It is believed that phlegm needs to be removed from the body immediately to rid the body of sickness. Now that I understand, but I mean can we get a phlegm cup or something?

Another tradition which isn’t hard for me to accept or even practice is the removal of shoes once you enter a home. Now that I see just how commonplace spitting is here and because of the way they potty train their children (that’s a whole other story), I gladly remove my shoes just upon entering my home as I have no idea what I’ve stepped in outside. Some of my neighbors even remove them before they go inside their apartment. They don’t believe in carpet on the floors either for that very reason. It’s healthier.

And the last thing which I’m still struggling with practicing is the drinking of hot water. I still don’t quite understand the purpose behind this practice. I’ve asked several times and the only answer I get is – balance. Well, I need a bit of a more convincing argument especially when it’s hot as hell outside most days. I look forward to the day when someone can sufficiently break down to me the benefits of drinking hot water in 90 degree weather. I’ve done it on a few occasions and it’s tolerable but it is definitely not my favorite thing to do.

As I continue to learn more I will update my blog. I have been inspired in many ways to change some of my own habits because of what I’ve experienced here – more massages and rededicating myself to my yoga practice and spin. However, I still need help understanding why people so seemingly into their health smoke at such a high rate and in most public places. I look forward to learning more about that as well.

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