Entering August, there are a lot of mixed feelings amongst most people in the program. In the last week, there has been a lot of reflection on the summer and talk about what’s going to happen when we leave in just two short weeks. Will we keep in touch? How has the time passed so quickly? Is it possible that we only have two weekends left? So on and so forth. Although we can avoid seriously discussing these questions for a little longer, they still loom over our heads. While this sometimes creates a depressing atmosphere, it also often acts as a reason to truly take advantage of the remaining moments we have together in Shanghai.
While recovering from my weekend in Huangshan, I managed to make it to Chinese class as well as sociology on Monday. The rest of the day was spent in a state of constant sleepiness, and I warmly welcomed my early night. Tuesday I woke up early and started my morning off a little differently than usual. I threw on some Drake, showered, put on a cute outfit and make up. That evening I had my Peace Corps interview, and I wanted to ensure I had a great day, starting with a great outward appearance. The day was a standard Tuesday, great class with Kevin and Gao Laoshi, and for Chinese table we went to a new restaurant near Tonghe that featured ‘street food’ that was made not on the street, but inside their kitchen. Same types of dishes you’d see on the street though, skewed duck, mutton, beef kabobs, roasted straw mushrooms, eggplant, etc. It was quite tasty albeit a little slow on the service side. Since no one tips for anything in China (i.e. dining, drinking, manicures, massages, haircuts, etc) it’s relatively hard to find really great service at your standard restaurants. Obviously, at fancier restaurants you can expect higher standards. That afternoon I filled in for my friend teaching a TOEFL class on Fudan’s campus (clearly, the fact that I have not passed let alone ever taken the TOEFL didn’t matter; I was a westerner and English was my native language, which was good enough for them) and to go over the material I’d be covering for the class took me well over an hour. The kids (high schoolers) had two articles they had to read, with accompanying questions for each article. It was my job to make sure they could comprehend what they were reading – and besides the general summary of the article, I had to make sure they understood all the vocabulary they were reading. This was the hardest part for me, as a lot of the words in the articles I knew, but when thinking about explaining what they meant in a way that would make sense to someone who was learning English, was at a loss. The class went spectacularly and I really enjoyed my time with the students, which in turn made me excited at the prospect of working as a teacher in the future! When I got back to Tonghe, it was time for our, sadly, last calligraphy class. I had really come to look forward to Tuesday evenings, and the hour I spent working on my calligraphy with Zhou laoshi. Before class, I took one of the postcards Dad had brought over from Atlanta, and wrote a short note (Chinese- with the help of Hannah, and English) thanking Zhou laoshi for teaching the class, and explaining how much I enjoyed it and hoped to continue my learning of calligraphy in the future. Our final piece was one that promoted friendship and peace throughout the world, which I thought was very beautiful. When I got to my room, I worked on some homework before doing my last minute preparations for my interview. It was scheduled for 11AM CST, which translated to Midnight here in Shanghai. The interview was expected to last an hour and a half, and sure enough, after I disconnected the online video with my Peace Corps recruiter, it was well past 1:30. The interview went really well, and I had a good time talking with Jennifer. I won’t find out until later if I’ve been formally invited to an assignment, but I have high hopes coming out of the interview!
Wednesday was another simple day, spent mostly in class and on homework. During the evening we went over to the SUFE field again to play soccer, this time bringing Ploi, Anne and Stephanie with us. Much different from the last time Schuyler and I went, Wednesday evening was spent running around, goofing off, and eventually playing a game that consisted of spinning in a circle 20 times and then attempting to take penalty kicks. It was particularly fun because three younger boys joined us for the evening, and any chance to interact with local people is really awesome.
Thursday was another very important day. First and foremost, it was my teacher’s birthday! Kevin and I have really developed a close relationship with Gao laoshi, so her birthday was a big deal for us. We planned a fun surprise for her for Friday night, so for Thursday’s class, we settled for lots of “Happy Birthday”s (zhu ni sheng re kuai le). After class, Schuyler, Allison and I got lunch – and we had to get Mom’s! I don’t think I’ve really mentioned “Mom’s” before, but it’s a little hole in the wall right next to Tonghe, run by Roger, who is awesome and speaks extremely basic English. His menu boasts pork, beef, chicken and even tripe, and within 10 minutes and for less than 20RMB ($2.50) you’ll have a hot meal of rice/meat/egg/veggies. He’s super popular with everyone at Tonghe. Anyways, Thursday was his last day until the end of August! He’s going home to Anhui Province (near Huangshan) with his family, for the first time in six months, alas our obligation to get Mom’s.
After lunch, I gathered some schoolwork and hopped on the bus -> metro, arriving at Yu Yuan Garden forty-five minutes later. I was on my way to the Fabric Market to check on my suit when I was stopped by a young Chinese man who asked me to take a picture of him and two of his friends. After I had taken their photo, we talked for about ten minutes. They explained that they were students from Beijing, here in Shanghai to do a little sightseeing. I also explained that I was a study abroad student, and that I’d been in Shanghai for the past two months. Towards the end of our conversation, they asked me if I’d been to a tea shop that was a short walk from where we were. I explained that I hadn’t, but when they asked if I liked to drink tea I told them that I definitely did! They then invited me to join them for some tea. Since I was kind of on a tight schedule, I had to politely decline, but I know that on any other day I would have joined them, since I like to meet new people and I thought they were really nice. I continued on to the fabric market and thought nothing else of the encounter. Once at the fabric market, I tried on my blazer, which I was really happy with. It took some convincing for them to accept that they needed to make the skirt a little tighter in order for it to be a standard pencil skirt, but they eventually complied. Finally, I asked if I could try my dress on. I went into their changing room (more accurately a changing closet) and tried to put the dress on over my head. After it was clear it wasn’t going on that way, I tried over my legs. When it still didn’t want to go, I poked my head out and asked the shopkeeper, “um, Auntie, excuse me, who’s dress is this? This isn’t my dress!” I came back out and showed her the dress. After a few moments confusion, she explained to me that she had made a mistake – and read my hip width as seven inches smaller than what she’d measured! I laughed with her and said that yes, those seven inches are probably very important. She assured me that it’d be fixed next week when I came, and I left the market, pleased that my time there hadn’t taken more than half an hour. When I was walking back to the Metro, I was stopped again by three young people, this time two young women and on man. They asked me to take their picture, and then tried to start talking to me. It was at this point that a few things came to mind. In the background of the picture I took for the first people I met, there was nothing particularly special, in fact they’re backs were face away from the actual Garden, where people would usually ask for their picture to be taken. In this second instance, the only thing behind the three kids was a KFC, and why would they want a picture in front of that? The second thing that came to mind was Felix warning us about the “Tea Scam” during orientation our first weeks here. She explained that young people would come up to us, engage in conversation and then invite us to a nearby tea shop, whether to just chat, or in some instances because they wanted the foreigner to “teach them some English”. Once at the tea shop, the owner would saddle you with a huge bill (anywhere from 600RMB up), and if you tried to leave without paying it would be comparable to stealing. In many cases, if you didn’t pay, they would call their body men to come, virtually holding you hostage until you came up with the money. As I quickly excused myself from my conversation with the second group, I mulled over it in my mind. I definitely didn’t want to believe that there were people out there who, on a daily basis, viciously targeted foreigners instead of working or making a respectable living. I knew that if I passed the first group on my way back to the metro and they were still there, an hour later, instead of at the tea shop or their next tourist destination, that that was exactly what they were doing. Sure enough, ten minutes later, when I approached the place, they were still there, standing around. I was furious! I thought about what I should do, and fuming, walked across the street to where they were. I paused behind a van, out of their line of vision and thought about my choices. I could go over there, and in my broken Chinese try to yell at them and ask them what their problem was. I knew that I could get my point across, but it wouldn’t be a very strong argument. More importantly, I was relatively hesitant to confront this group of kids, by myself, on the streets of Shanghai. Felix warned us to stay away from instigating situations, which is exactly what this would be. I thought about it for about five minutes, and eventually walked out from behind the van, and on towards the metro station. I’m not sure if they saw me see them, or even if they did, if they would have cared. Regardless, it rattled me that I almost let strangers take advantage of my outgoing, trusting nature.
It didn’t take long to shake it off, and part of this was because I knew I really needed to get in the proper mindset for my final round interview with New Pathways Education and Technology Group. Since I got lost on my way to my second interview with them a few weeks back and ended up being late, I made sure I was very early this time. It was at a different location, their offices at Cross Region Plaza, a place I’d never been before. I arrived an hour early, and used the bathrooms in the lobby to change into my interview clothes (it’s way too hot in Shanghai to be walking around in work slacks and heels!) and studied for Friday’s test. I met with their Head of Academy, and had a great interview. I left feeling positive and excited! I think I’ll probably hear back from them sometime next week, but it would be wonderful if I was offered the position as a Middle School language arts teacher, because it’d allow me to spend the next year in Shanghai and would be a great start to my life after college.
Friday morning we had our last ‘normal’ test of the summer. Next Friday we’ll take our entrance exam, and the following Friday we’ll take our final exam. The test wasn’t too bad, in fact, I was quite pleased because this was the first test I could really see myself recognizing characters with ease that, at the beginning of the summer I was clueless to. The oral went the best, as usual, since speaking is the easiest for me. Kevin and I planned to meet at the Tonghe lobby at 1PM so we could go to Wal-Mart for groceries, so after my test I went home to rest before Kevin and I set out for Wu Jiao Chang. Shopping for groceries in China is always interesting, because their dishes use such different ingredients than dishes that we make in America. Gao laoshi told us earlier in the summer that she really enjoyed eating Spaghetti, so that’s what we decided to make, with homemade meatballs. The sauce and noodles were easy to find in Wal-Mart’s brief imported aisle, where we got a bottle of EVOO as well. Getting the ingredients for the meatballs proved a little more problematic. First off, there’s not a lot of ground meat in China definitely not like there is in the States. Eventually with a little help from an employee, we managed to rustle up a lb of ground beef and ground pork, which was great. Next, we attempted to find sage, thyme and other herbs – to no avail. Neither of us had any idea how to say the names of the herbs in Chinese, and trying to mime/explain what they were was futile. When I found garlic, it was in sleeves of five knots, which was way more than I wanted/needed. When I asked one of the employees where I could find just one knot, she simply told me to rip the sleeve open. Easy enough, I mused, and proceeded to get my one knot of garlic. The recipe called for either Romano or Parmesan cheese, but given the fact that Chinese people simply don’t eat cheese, we took what we could get. In this case, it was a very expensive pack of what looked like kraft singles. Kevin decided he wanted dumplings as appetizer (I tried to rationalize how dumplings went with spaghetti, then gave up when I thought about rationalizing anything Kevin does) so after he’d gotten those, we checked out and headed home. Later that afternoon we stopped by the bakery down the street, where Kevin had ordered a cheesecake from on Wednesday. One of the other teachers had told us that Rene’s (gao laoshi’s American name!) favorite dessert was cheesecake, so we were planning on surprising her after dinner. At 6:30, Kevin and I met Rene in the Tonghe lobby, and we walked back to the apartments. Shortly after, Schuyler and Stephanie came back from their afternoon field trip, and we got got to cooking! Kevin took charge of the dumplings first, and yes, they were delicious. While he was making the appetizer, Schuyler, Steph and I worked on the meatballs. All the meat went into a big bowl, along with eggs, onions, garlic, some stale bread and lukewarm water. We rolled them into balls and as soon as the dumplings were done we started frying the meatballs. It’s a little difficult to cook in these kitchens because we’re not used to gas stoves – we wanted to simmer our sauce and ended up burning a quarter inch of it onto the pot! Close to two hours later, dinner was finally ready. Chen laoshi had come in the meantime, and she and Rene were very understanding/entertained by our cooking skills. We sat down with our wooden chopsticks and mismatched place settings, and enjoyed our meal (the meatballs were actually quite tasty). After dinner, Kevin went down to his room to get the cheesecake. It worked out well because Rene’s back was to the door, so he was able to set up the candles and cake while the rest of us talked around the table. When I saw he was ready, I shut the lights off and he lit the candles. We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ in Chinese, and encouraged Rene to make a wish and blow out her candles. You could tell that she was really touched, and that made me very happy. The cheesecake was delicious and even better was that I think Gao laoshi really had a great time. Stephanie and I stayed in Friday and watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s, headed to bed early.
The early night has resulted in me feeling incredibly rested this morning. I’m up pretty early because I’m meeting with one of dad’s old co-workers for brunch this morning. Should be a good time, we’re going for dimsum on the bund.
I hope everyone had a good week, and I hope your weekend leaves you relaxed and worry free!
Working on our final calligraphy piece
Hannah and Zhou Laoshi!
Kevin belongs in the Kitchen
Spaghetti dinner for six!
Gao Laoshi making her birthday wish :)))))