October 5th, 2010
This is a brief update. I returned from my holiday on the Yangtze River this morning VERY early (like 6 AM early) and as such, don’t have it in me to really recap the trip at the moment. It’s been a great several days, and (rest-assured) there will be plenty to come about the last week and a half or so. Stay tuned over the next few days for reflections on Chongqing, Chengdu and the legendary 3 Gorges. For now, I’m going to rest up and get ready for a full week of teaching!
September 22nd, 2010
A Happy Mid-Autumn Festival to all of you! In China, like everywhere else I guess, there’s always a special kind of air you feel on holidays. Today there was an almost tangible sense of the holiday atmosphere in Ji’nan. Spirits seemed to run high all over the town, buoyed by incredibly blue skies and beautiful sunshine. The weather was too perfect today, so much so that I felt guilty staying inside (indeed, many of my Chinese friends told me when I talked to them today that they took this opportunity to get out and go to the zoo or to the park). And so, of course, I went out to seek what I could of the holiday.
And what does one do as an American on this traditional Chinese autumnal festival? You import your own American autumnal traditions, of course: We played football. Yep, we walked across the street to the large open parking lot in front of Hero Mountain and threw the football, which made for an incredible and pleasant September afternoon. I found it somehow appropriate that on this holiday, which is not unlike Thanksgiving Day in its sentiment, we marked the day the way that many Americans do on Thanksgiving at home: tossing around the pigskin.
All around the park, people were out doing the same as we were: enjoying a beautiful day. On the way to throw the ball, we passed various clusters of activity. Amateur opera troops had set up shop and were drawing crowds with their performances. Groups of people with colored scarves or flags were waving them around as they did line dancing to blaring Chinese Pop tunes. Kite-fliers were out in abundance. The roller-skating rink in the middle of the park was PACKED with skaters. People were flocking up the mountain, making an effort to get to the summit and gaze out. Something was going on almost EVERYWHERE today.
As afternoon began to fade in to evening, we all headed for a favorite dumpling restaurant for a big holiday dinner. We weren’t the only ones with this idea, though. The restaurant was crowded and buzzing. Like us, many of the patrons were out enjoying a lively holiday meal. Again, in places so boisterous it’s hard not feel like the excitement of the celebration, or the “holiday spirit” if you will, is something you could literally feel or take hold of. At times like these I always feel like I’m (tangentially or not) sharing in some larger part of the Chinese experience. It’s a good feeling, like I’m very connected to the place where I am, and I’m always grateful for moments like these.
On the way home from dinner tonight, I caught a glimpse of the moon. As Mid-Autumn Festival is centered around the moon, moon-gazing is one of the many past-times you’re supposed to enjoy on this day (An aside: My roommate, Chris, told me that at his University Chinese class they were asked share– in Chinese of course– what folklore existed about the moon respective home countries. Lacking a better response, he apparently talked about werewolves, much to the amusement of his teacher. Later, when asked to explain how Americans feel when they look at the moon, Chris apparently responded– after a moment of trying to think of something to say– “Because we’ve sent a man up there, we look at the moon and feel very proud,” which apparently prompted the teacher to laugh and confirm that there was an American flag planted somewhere up there). So, of course I took a moment to take a good look. The moon tonight (fittingly) was round, bright and beautiful as it sat up above the top of Hero Mountain. The skies which had been so clear and blue during the day had deepened into an inky navy blue dotted with stars. Of course, wrapped up in the spirit of the day and also in a bit of nostalgia, I felt like this was the perfect end to the day.
Tomorrow we’ll go back to work and before too long will come my much awaited trip to the Three Gorges. All of this means that I’ll probably be M.I.A. for a while, but stick around as updates will surely come upon my return. Until next time!
September 22nd, 2010
So, today is Mid-Autumn Festival. Plans for later aren’t exactly clear yet, but I think that some friends and I will get together to have dinner, eat mooncakes and possibly climb Hero Mountain. The story of Mid-Autumn Festival is best summarized on Wikipedia, and I won’t try to do it justice since all of the details of the myth are pretty intricate. Basically, it involves a beautiful woman living on a palace on the moon with a magical rabbit who makes her immortality pills as she awaits the arrival of her lover. Pretty nuts, right? In any case… in the spirit of the holiday, I thought I’d post some pictures of the main attraction of the Mid-Autumn Festival: Mooncakes.
September 19th, 2010
Today, rain swept into Ji’nan. With it came an awakening: cold weather will soon be here. The drizzle was nothing terribly new (much of late July and August here were marked by overcast skies and buckets of rain). Unlike the showers of summer– which only made the air steamy, and the city feel like a greenhouse– the rain brought a chill with it. Suddenly, temperatures dropped into the low 60s and I found myself wearing long pants and a sweatshirt.
Is this the end of the warm weather I’ve been living with since nearly May? Last year, it was almost November before the seasons really turned. In this sense, there really wasn’t a long Autumn and vaguely warm weather lingered on until nearly Halloween. For the temperature to drop so dramatically now seems premature. To be sure, it would be nice to get away from the searing heat that has characterized this city over the past several months BUT, I can’t say that I’m looking forward to the full plunge back into winter (the last one here was perhaps the longest and coldest of my life). Nonetheless, as previously noted, Ji’nan is beginning to take note of the change of seasons, and it won’t be long now before the warmer days are really over for good.
The end of this week marks the start of a nice little vacation for Chinese National Day. As I mentioned before, I’ll be headed with some friends to take a cruise down the Yangtze River’s Three Gorges area starting in Wuhan and ending in Chongqing. We’re also trying to work in a side-trip to Chengdu (and possibly to the panda reserve there). Stay tuned as plans get more specific. I’ll be sure to fill in the pre-trip itinerary soon.
September 16th, 2010
Last week, in my highest-level class (6th year English speakers), I closed with an activity called “Open Questions.” Every student is given a blank square of paper on which they are able to write any question that they’d like me to answer, and we in turn have a class discussion about it. Among the may questions given to me last week, this one stood out:
Do you wish you could eat mooncakes with your family on Mid-Autumn Festival this year?
And so, it’s that time again… Mid-Autumn Festival is coming up next week. Last year at around this time, I wrote a little blurb about the festival, which is still online here. To briefly recap, Mid-Autumn Festival is much like Thanksgiving in America: the focus is on being together with loved ones and eating mooncakes. Sounds like a pretty good deal, right? Appropriately, mooncakes have been back on the shelves in grocery stores for a good few weeks, baijiu sales are on the rise, and people have begun to ask me the question that always seems to get asked around holidays over here: Are you planning on going home to celebrate with your family?
It’s at this point that I usually have to explain that since my family is in the U.S. (where the holiday is not really celebrated) that this would be virtually impossible. This usually elicits a response of something like “Oh, that’s too bad,” from whoever I happen to be talking to. It does, however, bring up a more interesting point: I’ve never really celebrated this holiday before. Last year, I was traveling in Xi’an and spent the day sightseeing, so any real “celebration” was more or less lost on me. I admit, the concept of the holiday seems really nice, as it’s an opportunity to be with those who are close to you, and appreciate them and their company. In that sense, Mid-Autumn Festival seems to be a holiday with fairly little pretense, which is also welcoming. In fact, the holiday seems to lend itself to a sort of wistfulness about family, loved ones, and home– perhaps best expressed by the legendary poet Li Bai in his poem “静业思” (Jing Ye Si), “Thinking in the Quiet Night,” which I wrote about a while ago here. With all the talk of togetherness and celebration, I can’t help but think that it would be a lot of fun to observe the day in some way, no matter how small.
As for my plans? This year, the festival falls during the course of a pretty hectic work week (another holiday, Chinese National Day, follows very soon afterwards and as the schools will be closed for that day, Aston is forced to reschedule classes, sometimes on weekdays). So, unlike last year, I’ll be in Ji’nan for the festival, which means that I may get an actual opportunity to celebrate. It’s my hope that, true to the spirit of the holiday, my friends and I can use it as an opportunity to get together and appreciate each other’s company, but as of yet plans have not been made.
Big plans are on the horizon, however. As I mentioned earlier, National Day (which falls on October 1) is a BIG vacation opportunity since everyone is given a week off from work. I’ll be no exception. With my classes canceled for National Day Weekend, I find myself with a good 9 or 10 days to go somewhere. My group is heading south and west on a cruise of the Yangtze River in an area commonly referred to as the “Three Gorges.” We’ll be starting from the city of Wuhan, and then floating down-river towards Chongqing and (hopefully) Chengdu. In total, this means about five days on a boat. It should end up being a really interesting adventure. I’ll be sure to post updates as plans develop. Until then… stay tuned.
September 2nd, 2010
Here’s a look at my new apartment. On the whole, I’d say it’s a little more cozy (even if that means it’s a little smaller) than my previous apartment, and I definitely think it’s got a certain charm to it. These pictures come courtesy of my friends Mackenzie and Joanna (who actually lived here until the end of the semester when we moved in).
You can also see some more of their photos of the place where I now live here. Unfortunately, at this point I haven’t been able to get any good pictures of what the place looks like now that we’ve moved in (though, really, little has actually changed). Hopefully I’ll be able to give a better look at both the apartment and the neighborhood before too long.
August 29th, 2010
Today, my second semester at Aston officially came to a close. It passed, even more than the first, incredibly quickly. There is, I’m sure, some wholly appropriate metaphor I could use here, comparing my time here with the wind: the semester began in March as a frigid gust, and blew through the spring into the summer as a swiftly moving current of warm air. In any case, I’ve been here for a year now, and while in some cases that both seems like and is a very long time, I find myself often thinking that it seems precisely the opposite.
One of the interesting things about working for a school whose employees work, by and large, on six month contracts is that people come and go rather quickly. If you stay around for a year or so, you become one of the veteran staff members. I find myself going into the third term of working at Aston as one of the most experienced teachers in the city of Ji’nan. That’s an odd feeling for me. Suddenly, I’m one of the one who’s answering questions about where to go, what to do about lessons, who to call to ask certain questions and the like. A year’s worth of accumulated experience goes a long way, I’ve found, but it still doesn’t seem possible that I should be the one helping the new recruits find their footing in this city.
I’ll also have to be learning some new tricks myself. After a year out on the west end of Ji’nan, in an apartment complex on a street called DiKou Lu (堤口路), I’ll be moving tomorrow to a new neighborhood and a new apartment. The new place is on YingXiong Shan Lu (英雄山路) literally, “Hero Mountain Street,” so named because of it’s proximity to the aforementioned mountain. It’s one I know well, as my friends Mackenzie and Joanna lived there up until this point. Now, I’ll live within close walking distance of a pretty attractive area of Ji’nan (the mountain is surrounded by a big park, the entrance of which is on my new street), as well as Ji’nan’s Culture Market (where one can buy lots of nice calligraphy, pottery, jewelry and antiques), the Provincial Sports Center (where all the local team’s home soccer matches are played), and a pretty good and diverse restaurant street with a large decorative archway. It will be a nice setting to live in, and I’m looking forward to setting up shop over there.
It’s not insignificant to me, and perhaps a little fitting, that my last night in this apartment comes one year to the day after I left the United States, and mere hours after completing my original year-long contract with Aston. My change in apartments, in a way, closes one chapter of my time here. The experiences, I think, bookend each other very nicely. As my friend Chris put it: it is a break in continuity within greater continuity. I will remain in Ji’nan, but under different circumstances, which will allow for new and varied adventures and opportunities for exploration.
It also seems fitting that this should occur on the brink of Fall’s arrival, which is itself (even in East China) a season of great change. In Ji’nan, September’s imminent arrival marks the end of a brief “rainy season.” For much of August, the city was caught in a drizzle. Now (though the rain continues to fall every now and then), the city has dried somewhat, and the sweltering heat of summer has subsided. While it is by no means truly fall yet, you can feel a sense that soon, the long summer will be over. Slowly but surely, these signs are beginning to emerge: mooncakes have returned to display cases in grocery stores in anticipation of Mid-Autumn Festival, roasted sweet potato vendors are beginning to pop up again, fall clothing items are beginning to pop up in department stores, public schools have started their academic years, university students have returned to campus. Very soon, the season will have completely changed, and we’ll all be looking at another Ji’nan winter. From where I sit now it’s hard to imagine, but as I’ve learned in a year here change comes quickly. More to come soon.
August 21st, 2010
Ok, so I’ve gotten kind of behind on the blog (No big surprise here, right?). An explanation is in order. It’s pretty simple, actually: As is often the case over here, the website just ceased to work, meaning I couldn’t log in to update. So here I am, much later, trying to fill in all of the blanks for about a month. I guess, I’ll go for the lightning review… Here goes nothing, then:
Summer is coming to an apex here in Ji’nan. For one thing, the temperatures continue to be blazing hot. Venture outside your apartment for any reason, and you’re sure to return sweating copiously (and I mean it. I have to take a change of shirts when I ride my bike in to work to avoid having to teach all day in a shirt that’s drenched with sweat). Inside my apartment, my air-conditioning unit runs constantly, keeping my room not unlike the inside of a refrigerator unit. Understandably, when it is so hot outside (and I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s been well over 90 degrees on average) it’s hard to summon up the wherewithal to get out and do things. Despite this, however, I’ve been managing to continue to play in weekly pick-up soccer games. In fact, my foreign friends and I have become regulars. When it’s not blazing hot, it’s usually raining buckets. Ji’nan doesn’t have a monsoon season on the order of Southeast Asia (or anywhere close), but there is a “rainy season,” which is pretty much the entire month of August. Several times in the last month or so, I have walked outside to find my neighborhood completely flooded with rainwater. When it rains here it rains VERY hard. Runoff spills out into the streets. Gutters overflow… as (occasionally) do sewers. It’s unlike rain that I’ve encountered elsewhere because of it’s intensity. The storms come in short, violent bursts and drop tons of water on the city and then go just as quickly. In merely the span of fifteen or twenty minutes, streets will be covered in water.
It’s not really that surprising then, that everyone here seems to want to flock toward cooler climates. During the past several weeks of classes, my students have told me that they’ve all been to many of the various beaches in the area at places like Yantai, Rizhao, Weihai, and of course Qingdao. August seems to be summer vacation time for most Chinese people, and many of my classes were missing students over the past several weeks due to family beach trips. Foreign teachers are no exception to this rule. My friends and I have made two trips to Qingdao in a month (one that I described previously and another last week to get back to the beach and visit Qingdao’s “Beer Festival” which is basically the Chinese version of Oktoberfest… this will be described in detail in following entries, I promise). Each time, I’ve returned to Ji’nan feeling refreshed, so I am convinced that the ocean air does me quite a lot of good.
Summer will linger here for several more weeks. If last fall is any indication, it will be Halloween before the weather really turns here, and then the weather will turn abruptly. The arrival of fall brings a lot with it: new colleagues, new classes, cooler temperatures, and the opportunity to get out and travel again. I’ll get some time off for China’s National Day in October that I can use to take a trip (might head down to Sichuan province to see the very famous national panda reserve). I’m hoping that I’ll get a chance to take some trips further afield this fall (Inner Mongolia’s grasslands come to mind for one), but much depends on scheduling.
Now that the blog is operational again, I’ll get some pictures of Qingdao and Beer Fest posted ASAP. No more excuses. Until then, stay tuned.
I’ve just returned home from a short get-away trip east to the city of Qingdao, and the beach. I’ll post a more thorough report on the city and my impressions of it (complete with photos) very soon. For now, I just wanted to give a small introduction to Qingdao while it’s still pretty fresh in my head. The city lies on the east end of Shandong province in which Ji’nan is situated. By bullet-train, it’s about three hours away from Ji’nan and makes for a really easy trip between teaching weekends. The city is famous in China for lots of different reasons: its seaside location, its former status as a German concession, its self-proclaimed title as the beer capital of China, its hosting of the sailing events for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. More importantly, it is, for us, the perfect spot to get away to for a while.
Some friends and I decided that this week would be a good chance to get out and away from the scorching heat of summertime Ji’nan. Temperatures have been in the nineties on average for at least a few weeks in a row now, and there’s been a pretty thick haze lately (whether this is induced by heat, or pollution, or both is difficult to say). Getting out to Qingdao to enjoy some sea breeze, and cooler weather made a lot of sense. So, we enjoyed a good two days of taking in all the city had to offer: cooler weather, (comparatively) cleaner air, good seafood, and a chance to relax. After a few days by the sea, I’m feeling a little more rested and happy to have had a respite (no matter how brief) from the heat.
I’ll post pictures and more reflections on Qingdao in the next couple of days. Stay tuned…
July 17th, 2010
So my very good friends, Kenzie and Joanna, are also doing the whole blog thing. They’ve got a pretty great website that is definitely worth checking out. It’s a good read, AND they’ve got TONS of pictures posted. Take a look. More on my own adventure to come. Stay tuned…