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T Minus 30 days

Only one month left in Tianjin!

It’s hard to believe that in just thirty days, I will be packing up my things and leaving my sweet gig at Tianjin University of Technology and Education forever.

While my contract here has had its ups-and-downs, I’ll be sad to say goodbye to so many aspects of life here that will completely change when I head home.

Goodbye, “rush hour” traffic over the campus’ pedestrian bridge and girls carrying umbrellas when it’s sunny out.

If this were America, the bridge would have collapsed from students enjoying one burger too many,

If this were America, the bridge would have collapsed from students enjoying one burger too many,

And of course, goodbye to my many marvelous students.

Let's learn about Russia!

Let’s learn about Russia!

THESE GIRLS ARE CRAZY! And I love them.

THESE GIRLS ARE CRAZY! And I love them.

I'll never join you!

I’ll never join you!

But it’s not just the campus. What about the strange guy at the 拉面 restaurant? Who will send me philosophical texts in Chinese after I go home?

Let's ruminate over the meaning of life together xoxo

Let’s ruminate over the meaning of life together xoxo

Will I still be able to find underpants in the trash while karaoke-ing into the wee hours of the morning?

There are a number of explanations for this situation.

There are a number of explanations for this situation.

Will roses smell so sweet, when there isn’t suffocating pollution?

Mmm, doesn't smell like cancer!

Mmm, doesn’t smell like cancer!

And will an adjacent table at the bar leave TWO-AND-A-HALF TSINGTAO TOWERS behind for us to steal??? I don’t think so. I really don’t.

Who leaves $25 of beer at their table? Downright irresponsible.

Who leaves $25 of beer at their table? Downright irresponsible.

With all this being said, there’s only one thing left to do: cherish this last month in Tianjin before heading on to the rest of my life.

And there will be METAL

It will be BRUTAL

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Posted by on June 1, 2013 in Life, Tianjin, University

 

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MIDI Metal Madness

\m/

\m/

China never ceases to amaze me.

This past May holiday, my friend Chenguang and I headed to 蓟县 Jixian, a county north of Tianjin and east of Beijing, for a massive musical festival called MIDI.

Love for metal crosses all barriers

Love for metal crosses all barriers

We made the mistake of placing all of our trust and faith in his GPS, which meant we got hopelessly lost a few miles away from the festival. Instead of taking the main road, we ended up getting a tour of the local village and meandering through the hill country.

A lovely day for a village tour.

A lovely day for a village drive

But we finally made it to the party! Although we were only going to the last day of the festival, some people had been camping out there for the entire three days.

Tent City

Tent City

Three main stages, over thirty bands, sunshine, grass… what wasn’t to like? I saw more tattoos and dreadlocks and generally nonconformist behavior here than my entire time in China. People were dancing, drinking, moshing, and crowd-surfing. It seems that loud music can break through even the legendary Chinese reserve.

Even security guards got to break loose and crowd surf sometimes.

Even security guards got to break loose and crowd surf sometimes.

A lot of students came from all over northern China to get their crazy on. Each group had huge flags that they waved around in front of the stage, to both represent their homelands and keep track of their posse.

Most of the bands were Chinese, with many a “fighting” band (metal with screamed lyrics and no melody anywhere). I love me some metal, but they were a little too intense even for me. Many bands also incorporated traditional Chinese instruments into their music. Chinese folk metal, yessss!

If you didn’t like one band, all you had to do was wander to another stage and find something else that more suited your tastes.  That’s how I ended up listening to The Ordeal, a shamelessly-generic power metal band from Germany. Since power metal was my gateway drug into the metal world, I was quite pleased by their epic choruses and screaming guitar solos.

Let the hammer fall!

Let the hammer fall!

Another unexpected treat was a Swiss drumming duo called Bubble Beatz (horrible name, entertaining show). They had a whole set-up of unconventional “drums” made from various pieces of metal and wood, and even broke out a didgeridoo at one point. Their dance and dubstep breakdowns, as well as their shirtless man-chests, caused quite the stir.

Drop that bass.

Drop that bass

It was a thoroughly enjoyable day, with the only drawbacks being a mysterious lack of water anywhere around the festival and some horrendously dirty port-a-potties. Squatting outhouses should never be a thing. Here is a picture to haunt your dreams forever.

YOU'RE WELCOME.

YOU’RE WELCOME

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2013 in Life, Travel

 

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Let’s go fly a kite, up to the highest height

Tianjin gets much more fun when the weather warms up. For example…

Kite-flying!

Angry Birds. Because it's China.

Angry Birds kite. Because it’s China.

A couple students and I ventured out into an empty, grassy expanse on campus, in full view of many students passing by to get dinner, and ran around the field like frolicking five-year-olds. It was just as much fun as I remembered.

The Tianjin wind served us well.

The never-ending Tianjin wind served us well.

Subpar camera skills, but three lovely people.

Subpar camera skills, but three lovely people.

In my business writing class, we had a particularly interesting activity involving cowboy hat factories in Thailand being threatened by a raging elephant.

Complete with illustrations!

Complete with illustrations!

Due to Chinese Labor Day, we had to work the weekend to make up for the three-day holiday. Working THREE WHOLE DAYS in a row seriously lowered my motivation, so I decided to have class outside by the pond. This quickly became “let’s put flowers in our hair and take pictures and ask Kirsten a lot of weird questions.”

So much better than sitting in a stuffy classroom.

So much better than sitting in a stuffy classroom.

And finally, we had some dang good hot pot at 海底捞with a couple cool cats we met at a coffee shop. High-quality beef, boneless fish, scallops, the works!  The service is also top-notch… they refilled our water and gave us cloths to clean our glasses in case they fogged up from the hot pot. And best of all, our kind host footed the bill! Rosie the Riveter was pleased.

American Freedom approves of this meal.

American Freedom approves of this meal.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2013 in Life, Tianjin, University

 

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Checkin’ off that Checklist

Remember that checklist that I made before I came to China? With only two months left in my teaching contract, I’m starting to have panic attacks about leaving this place without accomplishing everything I set out to do. For the record, here was the initial list, with accomplished tasks crossed out.

  1. I will go crazy.

I was bored/lonely to death for my first few months here, until I met the right people and started seeing more of the city. And certain days, I still can’t handle the staring/spitting/pollution. But despite these things, I really do enjoy my life in Tianjin.

  1. Major language gaffs.

I don’t think I’ve said anything too inappropriate (at least not on purpose,) but I’ve been in plenty of situations where my Chinese abilities have been far less than adequate.

  1. Dance til the world ends.

There has been dancing. A lot of dancing. The best was at the all-Chinese Top Club, where we single-dancedly started a party.

  1. I will be mistaken for a boy.

More times than I can count. Looking “alternative” in China is just not a thing. I will never forget the little girl in Beijing asking her mom, in the cutest little girl voice in the whole world, why there was a boy (me) in the girl’s bathroom.

  1. Public speaking super star.

This happens naturally when you stand in front of people and talk for 16 hours per week.

  1. KTV Master.

***GOAL UPDATE*** My friend “Amidala” and I have set out to learn five Chinese songs before July. We will dazzle our friends with our amazing Chinese abilities and knowledge of heart-wrenching pop songs.

  1. Oh right, classes.

I’ve gotten into the groove of planning for my classes no more than two hours before they happen, and it’s working gloriously.

  1. Meet great people.

***GOAL UPDATE*** I’ve already made some friends-4-life here, but I REALLY want to meet some of my students’ families, and see more of how Chinese families interact. I think this will be an important step in understanding more about Chinese culture. And I’m still on the look-out for anyone special out here, obviously. I may be practical, but I’m not dead.

 

And a new goal! Here we are with number nine.

  1. TRAVEL EVERYWHERE IN CHINA

After my contract ends in June, I’ll have about a month before I need to head back to America and get ready for the next four years of irresponsibility and shenanigans–I mean college! Obviously, traveling all across China isn’t a possibility, but I would love to see several cities near Shanghai, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, and Xinjiang province if I have enough time. Also, this will be a great opportunity to visit my students in their home towns! Basically, I can’t wait.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2013 in Life

 

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The Trip That Never Was

Happy Qingmingjie! People all across China are sweeping the tombs of their ancestors, or not and pretending they did. I originally planned to spend my three-day holiday at 泰山Taishan, a mountain about 2.5 hours south of Tianjin by train. But a series of tragic events, accompanied by laziness and thriftiness (thrifilaziness), crushed these plans into oblivion. Which I’m OK with.

At first, my friend and I were going to make the trip to Taishan by ourselves, but she quickly recruited some students from her school to go with us. Lucky for us, her student Steve took the reins and reserved hotel rooms for us and basically planned everything.

All we had to do was sit back and sip margaritas until the start of the holiday on Thursday–or so we thought. On Monday we got word that Steve somehow tore a ligament in his leg, obviously meaning he couldn’t go climb a mountain with us, and that he canceled the hotel room reservation that he had made in his name.

Our carefree holiday had changed forever.

I foolishly believed that one of my friend’s other students would help us poor foreigners out and find us a new place to stay, but no. I began searching online for hotels near Taishan, and English websites only had ridiculous expensive Chinese-style Sheratons and Hiltons. I switched my search to Chinese websites, but most of the hotels were already full, and the few rooms still available were far too much money.

I decided to persevere. But the task of reserving a hotel was made more difficult, since I couldn’t use my American credit cards on the websites, and I hadn’t yet set up my Chinese debit card for online purchases. I headed over to the ever-venerable Chinese Construction Bank and went through the preposterous process to simply be able to buy things online. Unlike the name/date of expiration/back-of-card code system used in the US, Chinese cards are FREAKING COMPLICATED.

On a website, you have to enter in your full name, debit card number, and a six-digit pin, then hit confirm on a super-futuristic device that the bank gives you.

01110110000101011

01110110000101011

After spending over an hour at the bank filling out one piece of paperwork incorrectly (not in caps), filling out another one correctly (in caps), and having one of the employees try (and fail) to set up banking on my phone, I went home and attempted to reserve a hotel. But in the box where I had to type in my full name (first, middle, and last), I COULDN’T TYPE IN THE LAST LETTER. My name was too long, since the bank insisted that I use my entire name, as listed in my passport, for all my paperwork.

Foiled again.

That night, less than 24 hours before we were supposed to catch our train, my friend and I sat in her room and freaked out that we wouldn’t be able to find somewhere to stay. Most of the hotels were completely full. One website said it would accept US cards, but my debit card didn’t work. Another said it accepted Paypal. Not my Paypal, evidently.

At this point, full of frustration and heartache, we realized we had to make a decision: spend another indeterminate long period of time looking for rooms and pay over 200 RMB, or $30+, per person each night (which is a lot for China), go to Taishan without hotel reservations on a busy holiday weekend and hope for the best, or call it quits and cry silent sobs for a trip that never was.

Other factors were also at work in our decision-making. Taishan is not for the weak of heart. It requires about six hours of climbing, and since it’s China, you have to climb the mountain IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT to see the sunrise. And it was supposed to snow the night we wanted to climb it. And I’m out of shape. And I didn’t want to slip and die.

So my friend and I took the difficulty of reserving hotel rooms and the scary weather forecast as omens: this Taishan trip was simply not meant to be.

Yippee! Seriously, after all of the drama that this almost-vacation had caused, I was glad to be rid of it.

We celebrated our new-found Tomb Sweeping Day freedom at our usual neighborhood bar. We chatted with some Japanese girls in Chinese (still a strange experience), and met a motorcycle-owning Chinese man with a helmet that prominently displayed a swastika. His drunken explanation of his grandfather or somebody fighting in WWII didn’t make much sense, but it was acceptable at 4 o’clock in the morning. Rosie the Riveter was also sighted with a beer and smoking hookah. She really needs to cut back if she’s going to continue being an inspirational American icon.

Chinese beer and Arabian smokes? How very un-American of you, Rosie.

Chinese beer and Arabian smokes? How very un-American of you, Rosie.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2013 in Life, Tianjin, Travel

 

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Coffee, Hot Pot, and Rhinos

Hello, dear interweb friends! Interfriends? Life marches on here in Tianjin. The weather continues to warm by slow degrees, and people still gasp in surprise if I happen to wear a short-sleeve T-shirt (inside or outside.) Little do they know that my blubber layer protects me from extreme cold.

There was slight shenanigans last Friday night. This is an oddly-placed rhino statue on Chengdu Road that obviously needed to be climbed.

Yeeeeehaw!

Yeeeeehaw!

Later, creepy Chinese businessman asshole from last week showed up at Helen’s, but we managed to ward off the evil by already having our table full of awesome people. Sorry, your money can’t win our hearts and minds.

Saturday, I continued my campaign to watch All of the Movies I’ve Missed. I also met a wonderful student on my campus via WeChat, who is offering to show me his hometown in Anhui province when I’m making my mighty trek all across China this summer. Due to his and three other’s generosity, I now have tour guides for Qingdao, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Anhui. I can’t wait for summer!

Sunday, my  friends and I bought our train tickets to Taishan for this Thursday. Since Tomb Sweeping Festival is a three-day national holiday, a lot of the trains were already sold out. But we managed to hold up our line at the train station for an awkwardly long time and got everything figured out.

With our travel arrangements made, we headed to Perfect Day Cafe (formerly The Spot) and lounged on some bean bag chairs. Notice the pile of papers waiting to be graded on the table. I graded three out of forty in the span of two hours. Not bad.

Lounging just got a whole lot bean baggier.

Lounging just got a whole lot bean baggier.

Next up was hot pot at my Chinese friend Ting Ting’s apartment. We hit up a vegetable/meat market for all of the necessary ingredients. Holy food mountain, Batman!

Complete with festive pink Easter baskets.

Complete with festive pink Easter baskets.

After buying far too much meat and veg, we then returned to her apartment, only to discover that she didn’t have chopsticks….?!?!?! Her excuse was that she never cooks for herself. Hm. By the time she ran out and picked up a package of chopsticks from the convenience store, our veggies were chopped, the pot was boiling, and we were ready to dive in! Hot pot is seriously good, guys. It’s so good, it makes eating vegetables fun again.

Nothing like various foods boiled in a tasty broth and dipped in peanut sauce.

Nothing like various foods boiled in a tasty broth and dipped in peanut sauce.

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2013 in Friends, Life, Tianjin

 

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A Potpourri of Excitement

Hey, guys! Things are happening. THINGS!!

Last night marked my first foray into the world of Xinjiang food. Xinjiang is a province in westernmost China with a Muslim majority, so their food is quite different from the rest of China. Check it out–Xinjiang pizza! Naan, potatoes, peppers, and some kind of mystery meat.

Quite tricksy to eat with chopsticks.

Quite tricksy to eat with chopsticks.

My friend and I also made the mistake of ordering “beef waist” skewers, whatever part of the cow that’s supposed to be. Not recommended.

In other exciting news, I finally got my bike fixed for about $5. New tire, new pedals, and the guy even wiped all the dirt off. Unfortunately he couldn’t do anything about the rust.

See how the rust glitters in the sunlight?

See how the rust glitters in the sunlight?

I met another American teacher who is not a jerk (this is quite rare, actually. Foreigners here can really be assholes.) Also, one of my new students this semester is amazing and offered to take me to a section of the great wall that snakes through the Tianjin area. And somewhat less thrilling, I got yelled at in a bathroom. Again.

But this is a good story, so bear with me. So I went to my fancy new gym and walked into the girl’s locker room to drop off my jacket. As I walked in, I heard some lady yelling behind me. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but I knew it was directed at me. But having been the victim of this so many times in China, I decided to ignore her and see what happened.

She ended up being one of the gym’s janitors and followed me into the locker room, yelling all the while. I turned to her, and she just looked at me for a second.

“This is the girl’s dressing room!” she said, predictably. Then, a moment of hesitation. “Are you a guy or girl?”

I gave her my best exasperated smile. “Actually, I’m a girl.”

She looked me up and down, sparing a long glance for my sports bra-smashed boobage. “Oh, I really couldn’t tell. I saw you walking, and you walked with such… confidence!”

Yes, that’s right. This lady said I walked with SWAGGER! So as embarrassing as it was to get yelled at once again, at least I got some kind of compliment out of it. Maybe the key to not attracting this sort of attention out here is to adopt the prevalent Chinese girl shuffle? I’d rather not.

On the school front, the upheaval I caused by failing some of my postgraduate oral English students has been resolved. I conducted a make-up test with two Chinese English teachers at my university. I asked the simplest questions I could think of, like “What did you do last weekend?” and “What is your favorite hobby?” But the other two teachers were RUTHLESS with their questions. “Do you think you are a successful person?” “How do you define happiness?” “How would you rate your English, and what are some ways you can improve?” I felt sorry for my poor students… but I’m sure the university will pass all of them.

In one of my shining moments as a teacher, I somehow skipped grading one of the students on my sheet… which meant we got to the last student, and I thought we still had one more student to grade. So for all I knew, I had given most of the students on my grading shot the wrong score. But the other teachers told me not to worry about it, which basically informed me that they were planning on ripping up my sheet or otherwise disregarding it completely. In this case, that might be for the best.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2013 in Food, Life, Tianjin, University

 

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