Category Archives: China

A Warmer Winter With Hot Pot

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Growing up in Florida, the word “winter” was never in my vocabulary. Pools were never covered, flip-flops were worn year-round, and the closest thing anyone had resembling a coat was a thin cotton hoodie. Life was good.

Then I moved to Seoul a few years ago and everything changed. Initially, I thought winter lasted a couple of months. I imagined wearing cute boots and petticoats, sticking my tongue out to catch snow flakes. I pictured myself making snow angels with my students. But then I quickly realized: winter sucks. It takes a solid 5-10 more minutes to get dressed in the morning, you can’t feel the snow when it hits your tongue, and making snow angels ruins your hair. As a Floridian, my idea of winter was shattered in about a week.

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Xi’an-Style Persimmon Cakes

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Fall has always been my favorite time of year. The air is crisp, the leaves are changing, boots and scarves are for sale. But now that I live in China, there’s another reason to look forward to the season: persimmons.

Starting a few weeks ago, the fruit began popping up all over the markets—showcased as the prized product by every vendor. They are being sold on street corners, in grocery stores. The woman I kindly refer to as “the fruit lady” behind my apartment complex has been shoving bags full of them into my hands, demanding that I buy them. I tell you, the Chinese have a certain charm.

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A Field Trip to Yangshuo

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When you’re a student, there’s nothing better than being told you’re going on a field trip. It doesn’t matter if it’s to the zoo, to the aquarium, or to a museum. Heck, I remember getting excited about going to the bank for math class. And I hate math.

During orientation at my new school in Shanghai, I learned that after just two months of teaching we would accompany one of the grade levels on a “China Trip.” Some would go to Inner Mongolia to learn about culture, some to a rural village in the mountains to build houses. And the seniors were going the beach for a week to learn how to surf.

I thought back to my trip to the bank and laughed.

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I recently returned from a placed called Yangshuo–a small town in the south, famous for its limestone hills and rock climbing. For five days, the tenth graders and I biked along the Li River, explored the area’s most impressive caves, took cooking classes, tai chi lessons, and abseiled down the side of a mountain.

It was an amazing time, and I feel lucky to be working for an international school rather than a public school in Florida. (Note: I’m not knocking the public education system. I’m just stating that a field trip to southern China is a bit cooler than a trip to the bank. Maybe I’m still bitter?) However, after 100-plus hours with 30-plus 15-year-olds, I was ready to go home.

I will definitely visit Yangshuo again to experience it through the eyes of a tourist instead of a chaperone. It’s an area of immense beauty with lots to do, and I suggest others add it to their China itineraries as well, before tourism grows any further.

Here are some highlights:

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Exploring the area by bike was my favorite part of the trip. It gave us a chance to see the countryside, as well as every day life within the quaint neighborhoods. Bike Asia is a reputable company with day trips running from $40 US dollars.

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There are plenty of bamboo rafts for hire down the Yulong River, allowing you to view the scenery from a different vantage point.

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My school booked the entire trip through outdoor education company, Insight Adventures. However, I hear good things about Black Rock Climbing for reasonable excursions.

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Abseiling: the thing you do after you climb to the top. Rappelling down the side of a steep mountain was both beautiful and slightly terrifying.

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“Impression Sanjie Liu,” or the evening light show, is something everyone should do while in Yangshuo. Set against the limestone mountains, hundreds of performers participate nightly in a Chinese-style musical. I had no idea what was happening, but was entertained non-the-less. Try to buy tickets close to the front row.

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Walking along frenetic West Street (Xi Jie) allows for great people watching, souvenir shopping and eating. This street also seems to host most of the hostel options for backpackers.

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There were several tai chi schools scattered around town. It seems that Yangshuo Traditional Tai Chi school is the most popular for a reason.

IMG_6063And while Yanghsuo is known more for its adventure sports than its cooking schools, my students and I still really enjoyed our time at Cloud 9.

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The Pollution Problem

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A photo taken from America.aljazeera.com, displaying a record-setting pollution day last December in Shanghai.

I never expected to live in China. In fact, China wasn’t even on my radar when considering international teaching jobs. This wasn’t because of the long plane ride home (although that does suck), or the strange food and customs (let’s be honest, this is what intrigued me). My aversion was strictly environmental: I was scared to death of the pollution.

But, as I’ve learned during my time abroad, nothing is what it seems, and you really have no idea about the reality of a place until you actually live there.

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Golden Week Protests in Hong Kong

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Just two months into the school year and we got our first break: “Golden Week.”

According to the trusty Internet, I learned that the roots of this seven-day holiday go back to the Western Jin Dynasty (265 – 316 AD). Back then, it was a one-day celebration, and fell on whatever day the emperor was born, or took the throne. Nowadays, “National Day,” as it’s referred to in English, takes place every year on October 1st, and is a day to commemorate the founding of the People’s Republic of China.Throughout the years, it’s been expanded to a week-long celebration, allowing residents to travel the country.

Of course, I had to join the Chinese and travel. So I convinced my friend Meghan, who I often refer to as “wifey,” to join me on a trip to Hong Kong.

Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into.

Golden Week, as an ode to mainland China and its communist government, became the perfect setting for pro-democracy student rallies. And beginning the day after our arrival, the streets in the Central district of Hong Kong filled with protestors.

For the most part, Meghan and I were able to avoid the area. But on our way back from Victoria Peak, there was no choice.

Victoria Peak is one of those touristy things one must do when visiting Hong Kong. It’s the 360-degree vantage point for the classic Hong Kong skyline pictures, and it affords tourists the opportunity to ride the intensely steep, 120-year-old funicular railway up the mountain.

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The top of Hong Kong felt like the top of the world. Neon lights twinkled in the night sky and reflected off the harbor. A gentle breeze flowed through my hair. Even though I was elbow-to-elbow with Chinese tourists, a sense of peace washed over me.

But it didn’t last long.

Meghan and I were soon swept back into the tram by a sea of people. And as the old locomotive reversed down the mountain, tourists crowded windows to see the high-rises tipped sideways.

When we were pushed out of the doors, we followed everyone down the hill, and quickly noticed hoards of policemen. And with each block, there were more and more.

The Central subway station was blocked, and soon we heard chanting. The noise grew louder and louder around us. Then people began running. In raincoats, surgical masks, and goggles. Some had wrapped their heads in plastic.

Meghan and I no longer wore expressions of excitement. And having gotten a taste of tear gas during last year’s protests in Bogota, I knew we had to get out of there.

It turns out that was the first night of violence in the former British colony. CNN reported more than 30 people were injured just moments after we fled the scene.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to discuss political motivation with any of the protestors before I left. And when I returned to Shanghai, I realized that without a VPN, most people in mainland China are in the dark about the current situation.

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The trip to Hong Kong gave Meghan and me the opportunity to try new foods, see the famous city lights, and experience the unique culture of the island. But more importantly, it opened the doorway, ever so slightly, to understanding just how different Hong Kong is to mainland China, and how important keeping this difference is to Hong Kong’s residents.