Archive for October, 2008

Everyday Life

I sit here writing with a VERY full stomach because I’ve just been stuffed to the gills with Jiaozi (dumplings) and fruit by my neighbor downstairs (this happened after I’d already eaten lunch, but I couldn’t refuse…). She is one of Leo’s many good friends, and we don’t pass by her place often without taking a piece of fruit or a little toy home with us. She also happens to be a chef (lucky us!). Our nanny brings Leo down to her place to visit every once in a while, and I have the sinking suspicion that she’s told them we don’t cook (which right now is basically true – things being as busy as they are and food being as cheap as it is, we eat out rather often during the school term to save time). I think our neighbors and our ayi feel like they need to take care of us ‘poor kids’ right now because gifts of food have suddenly become rather frequent. Our Ayi made us lunch once last week without us asking, and our other neighbor brought us some big giant stuffed dumplings last week as well. I now have a pile of beautiful homemade jiaozi in my fridge ready to be warmed up and eaten. I have no idea how to repay all this kindness!

We had quite a conversation about why our parents aren’t here living with us and helping out. I explained that it’s just not the custom, although we’d welcome their presence if they wanted to come. I didn’t even go into how many brothers and sisters we each have, because it’s just such shocking news here sometimes! She then gave me instructions about how to feed Leo and proceeded to give me some food that she had bought for him. I invited her to come over for tea, and I’m sure she will. She’s a delightful neighbor and Leo gets a HUGE kick out of her. It took me 45 minutes to calm him down for a nap after our visit!

Our neighbors and the shopkeepers in our neighborhood have generally accepted that we are going to be here for a while. I have to plan extra time for errands because we make many stops along the way, chatting with different shopkeepers and bosses, security guards and merchants, neighbors, and old ladies taking walks.

Classes are going well, and we continue to learn much, especially from our mistakes. My latest gaffe was to proclaim, “Women only have to start smoking cigarettes, and then they will become pregnant.” Thankfully, I was only with my good friend and tutor, and after she stopped laughing at me, she corrected my faulty speech.

And just to prove it…

Regarding our last post about last-minute operations here, we today encountered another reminder of how abruptly things happen. Sitting through our Friday morning reading class with our favorite teacher, we were unaware that everything was about to change. At the end of class:

“You all know that I am a third year graduate student, so I have to find work. Because of this, starting next week you will have a new teacher, since I won’t be able to keep up with teaching. Please remain earnest students for your new teacher-” Here she motioned toward the gentleman sitting in the back of the room who had been observing the class today.

And that was about it! So, next week new teacher. No need to be briefed in advance- this is just the way things are! We’re a little disappointed, but at this point we’ve ceased being surprised. We’ll let you know how things turn out with the new arrangements.

We have repeatedly encountered a cultural difference here in China that can only accurately be called ‘now’ time. Basically, everything that needs to happen is most suitably done right now, no matter what else might be occupying one’s attention. Can you come for a job interview? Sure, when? Right now. Can we find time to come look at that apartment? Sure, how about right now? Can you decide right now if you will be buying/renting this? If ever one asks for time to think things over, the responses range from puzzlement to plain dismissal.

One example of this is the midterm in our speaking class. We had been completing small dialog assignments at home all semester, when out of the blue our teacher announced, “We need to have a midterm now, so your last homework assignment will be graded as your midterm test.” Our jaws dropped, because of course we would have worked more diligently on the assignment had we known it would be graded more heavily. There was no anticipating this. Our other teacher even replied straightforwardly that she didn’t know the next time we’d be having a test. “When we need it, that’s when we’ll do it.”

This all has the effect of making advance planning rather difficult. If you ever expect something to happen in the future at a given time, there is always a strong chance the timing will change significantly due to last-minute circumstances. Music concerts are rescheduled not a week before the performance. The 10-day summer camp JM taught for changed its dates less than a week out. The administration at our school still doesn’t know the day classes will be starting next term. It’s a new way of life for we who like to plan things out months in advance. This is simply not the way our new cultural surroundings operate.

In the thick of things

We haven’t been keeping up very well with this blog lately. We realize you will all get bored and find better things to do with your time than keep up with our mundane happenings. The reason we’ve been out of the loop is simply a busy schedule, going to school every day, studying in precious spare moments, and child rearing.

Work opportunities also pop up in many unexpected places. JM has been doing TOEFL lessons and translation on the side, while Liz has found a nice weekly speaking practice class to teach. English jobs pretty much have constant openings, for anyone wanting to know what the situation is like on the ground here. There are far more students of English than there are teachers, which means one can be fairly choosy about the work taken on.

Keep checking back, as we have plenty of other interesting stories to tell, if only we could find the time!

The last few weeks

Hi to everyone!

Sorry we’ve been behind on posts the last few weeks. You’d think with having the whole week off of Oct. 1st for National Day we’d have time. Instead we spent time visiting parts of town that we had meant to see, and enjoyed watching Leo grow bigger and smarter all the time.

We’ve been watching the news back home of all the financial turmoil. People on this side don’t seem too affected in day to day life, probably because the average citizen here doesn’t own a lot of stock, if any at all. We hope things stabilize pretty soon.

For some more interesting updates of what we’ve been doing, please check out our picture post on our other blog:

http://polis7.blogspot.com

And on another note, we leave you with one more comment from our outspoken speech teacher. After a Russian classmate delivered a speech in the front of the room, she said with a smile:

“I hear two things about Russian men. One, they drink liquor. Two, after they drink they like to beat their wives.”