Wednesday, November 25, 2009
We’re on the ferry. I’m leaning on his arm trying to get some sleep. It was a very hectic morning. We were late catching our ferry because he forgot his passport so we had to drive an hour and a half back to the house and another hour back to the terminal. I’m cranky because I’m tired. I’m cranky because I’m leaving. I’m cranky because I am leaving him tomorrow. The ferry docks and we make out way to the hotel in silence holding hands to show each other were sorry. I lay on the bed in the hotel holding in my tears and trying not to think of tomorrow.
“Get up, we have a whole day planned, let’s not ruin it,” he says.
“Okay, let’s go,” I reply.
We leave the hotel; I take out a piece of paper from my pocket. It’s our list of
THINGS TO DO BEFORE TOMROROW:
1. Transfer Money
We walk to the nearest Western Union. It’s raining and it matches my mood. I transfer my money over to Thunder Bay, Ontario.
“Okay, so 6200 yuan is 840 dollars Canadian,” Wow, what a difference.
“Sounds good” I say as I sign the piece of paper and hand it back to the man behind the glass.
2. Take Eli to Museum
We walk 2 blocks up the busy streets of Hong Kong. Hand in hand bumping into everyone shuffling by. I see foreigners and my heart begins to ache. To distract myself I think of reasons why they are all here. I see two older ladies holding Gucci purses, dressed up in fancy designer clothing and looking pretty snobby. They probably flew their rich husband’s private jets here for the weekend to shop. Must be nice. I see two men with huge backpacks almost reaching down to the ground. They are scruffy and look like they haven’t seen a shower in months. Exploring Asia, classic. I see a group of guys and girls walking beside each other laughing, talking and taking pictures. They must be English teachers. We reach the museum and as I go to reach for the door I see a sign, CLOSED ON THURSDAYS.
“What? Why Thursday? What’s so special about a Thursday?” I am agitated and not impressed.
“Baby, its okay we can go somewhere else,”
2.Take Eli to Space Museum
We walk inside and pay to see a 3D show and take the tour. I’m upset; this day isn’t going as well as I planned.
“Chels, look!” I turn over and Eli is crouching under a globe pretending to lift up the earth.
“Take a picture, look how I strong I am” I smile and take out my camera. We continue on taking silly photos leaving everyone thinking we are completely insane. I have forgotten about tomorrow.
3. The Market
After the museum we catch a taxi. The weather is clearing up and it’s getting darker. We get dropped off on a street where there are people everywhere walking towards the market. We pay the taxi and begin to walk with the sea of the crowd. The smell of Chinese food fills my nostrils and turns my stomach. It smells horrible, the different typed of food mixed together is not a good combination. There are red tents set up with random people selling random things for cheap.
“Okay baby, lets haggle,” Eli says as he grabs my hand and pulls me forward. To the right of me there are purses, watches clothes, boots, and to the left I see pictures, scrolls, Chinese artifacts, hats, backpacks, glasses. I become overwhelmed by all the people pushing past me. I can hear people yelling numbers for prices; people grab your arm as you walk by trying to get you to buy something. I stick close to Eli and we walk over to the t-shirts.
“I need 17 I love Hong Kong T-shirts,” Eli asks the man with all the shirts. His eyes become wide and he rushes to put together our sizes.
“300 kuai” the man asks.
“250” Eli responds smiling.
“Sir, more money.”
“200” Eli replies back, still smiling.
“Okay, okay 250,”
Eli turns to me and smiles. We pay the man and move on. Buying as much as we can for as little as possible.
We return to the hotel exhausted. I see my bags sitting on the floor and my smile fades. I am worried again and I fight very hard to keep the tears away. I empty my suitcase and cram everything I possibly can back into it. Eli helps me zip up my bag as I sit on top of it.
“Where’s my passport?” I ask.
“Are you serious Chels?”
“I think it might be in the bag” I say very carefully. Anger fills his eyes as he opens the bag again and begins to dig through it.
“Shit, it was in my pocket, sorry baby,” I say quickly.
“Wow, Chels,” he slams the suitcase shut and attempts to close it up again without my help. I try to walk over and help but he refuses. We are both mad. My face turns read and I want to cry. I’m mad because he’s a jerk. I’m mad because my things won’t fit in my bag. . I’m mad because I am leaving. I suck back my tears and take a shower. We lay down and try to fall asleep. I don’t want to sleep because when I wake up it will all be over. I am scared to wake up. My heart sinks and I don’t want to close my eyes. They burn as I try to keep them open and fight off sleep but I am too weak.
I hear an alarm and realize I had fallen asleep. We wake up in silence and get ready in silence. We check out and catch the bus to the airport. I rest my head on his shoulder and fall asleep.
Once we arrived we check in and sit down to eat until my flight is ready to board. I hold my tears in. I can do this. We sit in silence waiting…
“Now boarding flight 233 to New Jersey, please proceed to gate 88” I look up and stare at Eli.
“Okay, let’s go.” I say.
We walk over to security holding our hands tightly together. I can’t do it anymore. The tears come flowing out of my eyes and I’m shaking. Trying to catch my breath and talk at the same time Eli grabs me tightly and holds me. I feel his tears on my cheek. He is keeping it more together then me. My tears turn into sobs and I can’t think straight.
“It’s only a few months,” he says.
I nod my head yes because I can’t speak. We separate and I walk to the gate. He grabs my hand and says, “I love you,”
“Love you too” I manage to spit out.
I turn away and walk. Crying my eyes are blurring I cannot see where I am going. I turn around and he’s smiling waving goodbye. “I love you,” he mouths. I smile and walk forward not taking another glance back because it is just too hard. I think about not going home and just turning back to run into his arms. But I can’t. I think about going home and my heart breaks. I think about the past 4 months and how they flew by-it all happened so quick and now it’s over.
This was the last time I saw him.
Febrary 23rd, Febrary 23rd
Thursday, November 12, 2009
I walk into the school and the children who have finished their breakfast are walking by and saying, “Hello, Chelsea,” and “Hello, Teacher”. I smile and wave at all of them. As I enter the office cool fresh air hits my face. I look around and all the Chinese teachers are smiling. The ones who know English say good morning, the ones who do not just smile and nod. I take a seat in front of my computer and try to log on to MSN so I can talk to my mom before class. My friend Venus comes in and is as excited to see me as I am to see her, “Did you miss me, my friend?” she asked.
“Of course!” I reply.
“How did you sleep?”
“My bed is too hard” I complain. She laughs at me and sits down at her desk. We continue to talk and make plans for the upcoming weekend and the head of the English department comes over to us. “Ah, Chelsea, I would like you to teach the children a song”
“A song?” I gulp. I can’t sing!
“Yes I think they will like it a lot” Oh no. I think quickly of all the childhood nursery rhymes I learned growing up. Jack and Jill? No…stupid. Little Miss Muffet? No…too many hard words. Humpty Dumpty? No, too sad. I’m a little teapot? YES! I throw together a power point with the lyrics and pretty pictures of teapots and make my way to class. My heart begins to pound. I can’t sing. I CAN’T SING! I walk towards the room gripping my books tight. I’m sweating already. Please don’t be another teacher, please, please, please! I look into the room and see only children who are screaming “Yayyy!” once they see me. No Chinese teacher! YES! A little bit of relief passing through me.
I start up the computer and put the song on the power point. Clap, Clap, Clap Clap Clap. I get the students attention. A silence fills the room. I smile. “Good morning class” I say. “Good morning Chelsea” they reply. I smile again. “GOOD MORNING!” I yell. “GOOD MORNING CHELSEA” they scream back. I laugh and draw my tree on the board. I want to waste as much time as possible so we don’t have to sing for too long, so I begin with an activity. I put my name at the top of the tree and pull out three pictures of different coloured monkeys. “What is this?” I ask them. “MONKEY” they scream back. I pick out one of the colours and move towards one section of the room. I raise my hand and ask “What colour is this monkey?” Hands shoot up into the air and the students begin to yell, “Let me try, let me try!” I choose a student. She is cute; her hair is up in pigtails. “It is a green monkey” she says. I smile and give her a sticker. I hold up the next monkey in the middle of the room. I choose a boy who has glasses that look too big for his head. “Blue monkey” he says. I give him a sticker and hold up the last monkey. Hands fly into the air once again. I look around the room and choose a boy who has one hand in the air and the other in his nose. “It’s a yellow monkey”. “Very good,” I say, “if you are good the monkey will go up, if you are bad it will go down, the monkey closest to my name at the end of class gets stickers.” I hold up the stickers and the whole class screams in excitement.
Clap, Clap, Clap Clap Clap. Everyone becomes silent. I turn to the board to begin this humiliating act of singing. Knock Knock. I look towards the door and see Venus standing there smiling, she walks to the back of the room and takes a seat to watch. NOO!!!! My heart sinks and my face flushes red. I can do this! “Stand up!” I shout. All the students stand up in arms at their sides like a soldier. “I can do this.” I whisper to myself. I go through each line of the song and show the kids the actions. “I’m a little teapot,” I sing. Oh no, my voice cracked. My face beats red I can feel the blood rushing to my cheeks. I swallow and continue. No one noticed no one noticed. I get them to repeat it in groups and then as a whole class. Aww, they are so cute. I forget about my mistake and get carried away singing and dancing like a fool with the students. The bell rings. I look at the board and the blue monkeys have behaved the best. I begin to hand out stickers and Venus approaches me from the back. “Chelsea,” she began “you have a terrible voice.” I stare at her and begin to laugh. “I know” I admit. She hugs me and says, “It’s okay because you are beautiful” Wow, well that makes me feel better. We laugh together as she helps me pack up my things. We walk back to the office and as soon as we enter Venus finds it necessary to inform all the teachers of my horrible singing ability. My face turns red and I decide that I am never singing again.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
7:30 AM- alarm goes off. Urgh Sunday. Get up brush, brush teeth, fix hair, put on make up, look out window. It’s sunny, great. Put on clothes, eat peanut butter and jelly sandwich, walk to work.
8:30 AM- teach classes.
10:20 AM- What? It can’t be that time already!
“Canada, let’s go,” Haydn’s beautifully brilliant English accent echoes. Urgh the park. “Yah I’m coming.” I steal 5 more minutes of my time to sit in front of the fan taking in as much cool air as I can.
10:30 AM- walk to park with Haydn. There are people everywhere, and they are all staring. I am too distracted by the beautiful gardens of flowers and trees to care. There are different colours everywhere I look and it is amazing. I walk over to “our spot” and take a seat under this tree where 6 other foreigners are waiting to be stared at like zoo animals. Damn it’s hot. I am sweating already. Beads of sweat are dripping down from the top of my neck to the bottom of my back. Eww, I feel like I am in a sauna.
10:40 AM- Oh no! He’ll be here any minute! As I try to take cover under the tree where I think people wont see me I smell his tobacco chew. Damn. “Good morning Chelsea”
“Good morning Tony.” Standing before me is this middle aged Chinese man, 5’4”, bulky glasses, tobacco chew in his lower lip, his pants are hiked up to his belly button, he is holding a cloth in one hand for dabbing his sweaty forehead and a bottle in the other to spit his tobacco in. Gross. Every Sunday Tony comes to the park to talk to me; this is where I and the other foreigners are forced to go every Sunday for an hour to help people in the park improve their English. We usually sit and take pictures with people because a lot of the people don’t speak English. They stare and they point and take pictures. But of coarse I get stuck with the only guy who speaks English and is extremely creepy.
As Tony comes over to sit next to me he pulls out a pack of cigarettes and lights one. Here we go, really is both products of tobacco necessary?
“You know, Chelsea, I am a doctor”
“Yes Tony I remember” Shouldn’t you know that tobacco kills then!
“Well I am old, and I have no one to take care of me,” Oh no… “I need a wife, can you cook?” Oh dear God, is this man for real?
“Actually, I am a terrible cook; I would make a horrible wife.” I reply back very quickly.
“Well can you clean?”
“Nope, lack that ability too.” Clearly I am lying…someone save me!
“Well maybe we should go out for lunch this week, are you busy?” This would be the 4th time I have denied his lunch date.
10:50 AM- “Uh…” As I consider what excuses I haven’t used yet this young woman approaches me and pulls out a piece of paper. She looks older; her hair is very short and has some grey bits in it. She is wearing a very colourful shirt and black pants. Smiling, she sits next to me and says, “Hello, I am Mina”
“Hello Mina.” She unfolds the piece of paper and begins to read questions that she has written down: “Nice weather today yes? You look good; did you just get back from vacation? Are you in love?” Whoa, that one’s kind of random. Suddenly I remember Tony; I look up and see him no where in sight. A smile spreads across my face, this lady is my savior. As I continue to talk to this amazing woman she fills me in with details about her life in broken English, “I have two children, one girl and one boy. I work 6 days a week in a factory where I sew clothes. I wake up at 6 am to get breakfast ready, send my children to school and then go to work. At lunch I come home and feed my family then head back to work until 7 pm. I make supper when I get home and clean until midnight. My husband is a drunk, he says that me learning English is pointless because I am too old. I am only 46; will you help me better my English?” Um, yes!
“Of coarse I would love to help.” You saved me from the creepy man. Time flies as we talk more and more giving information back and forth about our lives.
11:35 AM- Oh wow I get to leave. “I am so sorry Mina I have to go but I will meet you next week.”
I agree to meet Mina every following Sunday and some days during the week when she is not busy. I started teaching an adult class at night and offered her to come along. She came every class she could. I would buy her English books to help her practice her reading but her husband would throw them away. By the end of my contract her English was amazing. I appreciate my life so much more after meeting Mina, not only did she show me how privileged my life was but she saved me from the man who wanted to make me his wife. He never came to the park again after that and I have Mina to thank for it.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
“Guilin…this Sunday…two tickets…” I said. Blank stare.
“Guilin…?” I repeat again. Once again, blank stare. After getting slightly frustrated I said “Eli call Joyce”. Joyce was our translator. She was amazing and did a great job at getting us out of difficult situations. After handing the phone over to the lady selling the bus tickets we receive a smile and know that she finally understands. The bus: a sleeper bus is designed for the comfort of the passengers travelling at a long distance. We were travelling for 8 hours. Once you walk on the bus there are three sets of bunk bed type beds on the left, the middle, and the right. We cram through the tiny aisle trying to find our bed, hoping they are close together. Documenting our travels after 5 minutes of taking ridiculous photos on the bus we realize that motion sickness is very common for Chinese people. There were people vomiting everywhere, so one can only imagine the smell. Keeping positive we sucked it up and slept most of the way there.
4 a.m. we have finally arrived at our destination. Fact: Chinese people do not stay on any time schedule what so ever. Exhausted from our trip we see two motorbikes, as we walk over to them they give us a look and smile. We show them the Chinese translation for hotel and they take us there. The man at the front desk sees us and charges us 400 yuan (which is approximately 60 Canadian dollars), but a ridiculous amount to spend on a room. Since we are both so exhausted we turn to each other and take out our wallets. The man was only doing this because we were white, and foreigners are seen as rich figures. After being ripped off we went up to our room, showered and went to bed for 5 hours, anxious to see where the next day will take us.
Waking up I drew back the curtains and seen mountains. I was speechless, it was absolutely breathtaking. “Eli, wake up! Wake up!” After struggling to get my boyfriend out of bed we leave the hotel and venture around the town. We eat breakfast at a waffle place where they wrap the waffle in peanut butter. Mmm… Soon after filling our bellies with food you shouldn’t eat in the morning we planned our day trip. We were going to the caves. Taking an hour bus ride out of town and then another 40 minute car ride up to mountain we finally make it.
We pay for our tour and get into this tiny boat that brings up into this cave. “Watch your heads” the sign (in English) reads. We duck down very low and come up into an amazing feeling of fresh cool air. It is dark and the only light is that coming from our tour guides flashlight. After being taken around this dark, miraculous cave they tell us about the mud bath. It is a giant pool of mud that we can swim in. My heart was pounding with excitement. “A mud bath Eli! A mud bath!” A feeling of nervousness comes over me because I cannot see what I am stepping into. It is cold. Eli goes in first and drags me in after him. Finally we work up the courage and submerge into this pool of mud screaming as we go down. Once we got used to the feeling this is where the games of throwing the mud began. “OK, now that we are done we have to wash off, where are the showers?” Oh how simple minded we were. There were no showers at all; there was a stream and hot springs that we had to wash off in. It was defiantly an experience.
This was my first trip with Eli into a cave of wonders and mud.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The first thing I began to notice was the people staring. This made me very nervous because I thought maybe there was something wrong with either my outfit or I had leftover breakfast food on my face. I panicked. I began to walk faster. Near the company there is a bus station and walking very briskly past it I heard someone speaking English. As I turned my head I saw three security guards standing up waving at me saying "Hello beautiful". I didn't know how to respond so I just waved back and continued walking. As soon as I got to work I seen another colleague of mine, "Have you gotten used to the staring yet Chels?" he asked. "What! Is that what that was?!" I answered, shocked and appalled. Immediately I knew that this was why everyone was staring. This is where the idea of "erotic difference" came into my mind.
Since there were only a handful of 'foreigners' in the town I was living in it was a shock to the Chinese culture to see us walking about. The stares varied from shocked, curious, excited, to angry and rude. Being a girl, we tended to get the happier of the stares. It was defiantly an ego booster to some of the woman I taught with. One wouldn't even come out with any other girls because it 'drew attention away from her'. I didn't think much of this because it is the exact same reason to why Western men find the Chinese girls very attractive. They are different. When you are not used to seeing someone who is different they automatically become 'erotic' in your mind.
This idea of attractiveness became an advantage to me in the long run. I had an interview at the private school I taught at and as soon as the principal seen me he hired me on the spot, "You are beautiful and will be an excellent teacher". He hired me based on his perspective on how attractive I was. I could have been the worlds worst teacher, but because my principal thought I was good looking he truly believed the children would obey me and I would be an excellent teacher. This bothered me in the beginning because he had no idea how my skills of teaching were, but it didn't take long until I appreciated the decision and thought myself lucky from having to sit through an interview when I have never taught before.
After some time, in a way, I got used to the staring and the pointing and the whispering. Living the life in China is defiantly in some aspects living like a celebrity. Everyone is always complimenting you and you can do pretty much anything you like, (legal that is). I also caught on to the limited amount of English the Chinese people knew. It was basically: Hello, Okay, Bye Bye, and Beautiful.
To conclude this story, every Sunday that I walked by that bus station to go to work the same three security guards sat waiting for me to come by so they could say "Hello beautiful", and every morning I would smile, wave back and reply "Ni hao ma?".
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Culture shock can be defined as “a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange, or foreign social and cultural environment”. Were you aware that this could also be experienced when returning into your familiar social culture after being absent for a period of time? This could be as short as four months, and that is where my story begins.
Four months of my summer vacation was spent in Xiaolan, Zhongshan, China. I was an English teacher in a private school for student’s grades 1-4. Oddly enough, my greatest challenge was in fact returning back to Thunder Bay Ontario. After being absent for this period of time, my body and mind was used to a specific way of life and returning back into my own lifestyle was not easy for me.
The disgusting cold weather aside, I was in fact not used to being surrounded by so many people of the same race as I was. When I got back I refused to drive, work and even leave my house.
I remember my first day back, my parents and my sister had come to the airport in Minneapolis to pick me up. I am not sure if it was the fact that I just flew for 22 hours and was extremely exhausted, but as soon as I got off that plane and into my parents loving open arms I felt anxious and very upset so I began to cry. I cried so much one of my eyes remained red for 2 days following this. It was very embarrassing. After I got myself together I started to feel comfortable with my family again and began to tell them my tales of my over sea adventure.
The following day my sister wanted to do some shopping before we went home. As soon as I entered the mall my heart began to race. I felt scared and worried, but for no reason at all. I couldn’t spend more then 5 minutes in a store without having a minor panic attack. My heart was beating a million miles an hour; I could feel it pounding inside my chest trying to escape. After spending a few hours inside this terrifying atmosphere my sister was finally ready to retire.
Finally getting home I felt more relaxed. I was very comfortable on my couch in my living room for a number of days before my parents were fed up I wasn’t leaving the house. One day I decided to venture out. I got into my car and sat for what felt like hours staring at my steering wheel. The familiar heart pounding in my chest began and would not let me drive. So I gave up. Eventually, I over came this fear and drove little bits at a time to get used to it, and now feel comfortable driving.
The time change was exactly 12 hours ahead. So coming back home my days and nights were completely backwards. You can imagine my life for the first few days back short days and long nights. It sucked. Getting back into my natural way of life was very difficult as well as stressful for me. The thing that scares me the most is that I was only gone for four months! It is scary to imagine the distress that comes from being away from six months or even years.
Needless to say, I was not expecting to be so greatly affected by this change of society coming home. I think my excitement and interest in going there in the first place protected me from the culture shock of China, but when I returned home my the excitement and interest had run dry.
You can never expect something to happen until it has happened to you. The degree of this “culture shock” can vary and some people who are lucky enough don’t even experience it. This fear and culture shock made me a stronger person and I am glad to have experienced it, and glad to have accomplished something so important to me.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Four months of my summer vacation was spent in Xiaolan, Zhongshan, China. I was an English teacher in a private school for student’s grades 1-4. Oddly enough, my greatest challenge was in fact returning back to Thunder Bay Ontario. After being absent for this period of time my body and mind was used to a specific way of life and returning back into my own lifestyle was not easy.
The disgusting cold weather aside, I was in fact not used to being surrounded by so many people of the same race as I was. When I got back I refused to drive, work and leave my house. Getting back into my natural way of life was very difficult as well as stressful for me. The thing that scares me the most is that I was only gone for four months! It is scary to imagine the distress that comes from being away from six months or even years.
Needless to say, I was not expecting to be so greatly affected by this change of society coming home. I think my excitement and interest in going there in the first place protected me from the culture shock of China, but when I returned home my the excitement and interest has run dry.
You can never expect something to happen until it has happened to you. The degree of this “culture shock” can vary and some people who are lucky enough don’t even experience it. I am glad to have experienced it, and glad to have accomplished something so important to me.