We’re in Shenzhen! It is hot, muggy, and tropical–palm trees all over the place. The hotel we’re staying at is about as ritzy as can be. This morning I traveled with the eight other Longgang CTLC-ers to be interviewed by the Shenzhen police for our resident visas, and after lunch we’re going to have our medical exams. Including a sonogram. Even the men get sonograms here.
I wrote a bit about the rest of my time in Beijing, so I’ll include that here:
Training in Beijing has ended. I’m now a certified TEFL teacher. The last day of teaching training for me was August 16th, and the beginning of it was the most stressful time I’ve spent in China thus far. I thought I had lost my purse and wallet the night before, and was running around trying to communicate with the hotel staff as well as teach class, take a Chinese test, and finish my TEFL examination. Luckily, I had left my purse in a friend’s hotel room rather than out in the open. I thought that’s where I had left it, but when I went back the same night I lost it and checked the room, we couldn’t find it. It ended up being behind the curtains on the windowsill, effectively hidden.
Our time with the students culminated in a talent show, which was pretty much adorable. The youngest students sang “Do Re Mi” with hand gestures to match, and the oldest students sang, “We are the World.” My class did a skit, and stole the show because their voices carried and they improvised like professional comedians. I’ll miss the little brats.
Our graduation dinner was in a restaurant on campus, with too many dishes to count, including a fish, though I’m not sure which kind. Fish in China is often served whole, bones and head included. A plate with chunks also had the chicken’s entire head: beak, tongue, eyes, and the comb on top. Naturally, I gave it a try. It had a stronger taste than normal chicken meat, and a bit of skull bone got in my mouth. The fish was very good, but my favorite dish was the jellyfish tentacles with cucumber. It was cold, crunchy, delicious, and did not taste at all like fish.
That night we went out to celebrate. I started the night at the usual happy hour place outside the hotel, had a couple Tsing Taos (the beer of choice here, pronounced “Ching Dow;” I’ve also had a lot of Yanjing beer), played ridiculously difficult games that I will teach some of you when I get home, and then moved to a dance club called Vic’s and spent the evening in front of the DJs, dancing to the almost surreally odd mix of Chinese house techno and Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga is big here. Love her or hate her! Michael Jackson is well known, as well. My male students were big basketball fans, too, and liked Kobe Bryant and Lebron James.
The next day we were up early to tour the Forbidden City. The size of it was staggering. Obviously the Emperor lived there in ancient imperial China, but seriously? Who needs that much space? Even an emperor shouldn’t have that many concubines and servants. We went in the back entrance where there were gardens and trees and then walked through courtyard after courtyard, fenced on all sides by symmetrical red buildings with incredible blue tiles on the ceilings and carvings of animals on the peaks of the roofs. I want to see the compound from the sky, and as soon as I have an Internet connection I’m going to see if that information is available. I need a VPN—I miss Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter as well as free and easy access to any information I want. I couldn’t figure out why my Google search of “how to replace a social security card” (when I thought my wallet was gone) was failing me until I realized that those are probably key words that the Chinese government is keeping an eye on.
We came out of the front of the Forbidden City under the portrait of Mao Zedong. My patience was tried as I was separated from my friends by the pushing crowds, openly and continually stared at by Chinese men (staring isn’t considered impolite here, and it’s really no worse than it is in the US, except we stand out here as foreigners and so draw more attention than we would in the states. Another kind is just friendly amusement at the foreigner. One family stopped me and I thought they wanted me to take a picture of their family for them, but they actually wanted to take a picture of me with their daughter, just for the novelty of posing with a white woman. It has happened to all of us at some point, and will continue to happen. The little girl was very cute and after her father prodded her, she said “Sank you very much!” to me and ran away), and poked in the head and face by more umbrellas in fifteen minutes than I have in my entirety of my life in the US. Chinese women carry umbrellas to keep off the sun, because tan skin and freckles are ugly here. The woman next to me in the line to leave the Forbidden City was also completely clueless, and carried her umbrella low, so it hit everyone around her as we were pressed shoulder to shoulder trying to get out.
After the Forbidden City, we had about fifteen minutes to get across the street to Tiananmen Square and back if we wanted to go. I literally ran down the stairs, across the street, up the stairs, and down the road with my soon-to-be new roommate, Jessica, snapped a few hasty pictures and ran back again, sweaty and laughing. We made it in time to meet up with everyone and walk to lunch—unfortunately our walk to lunch took us right past Tiananmen Square, and if we didn’t mind cutting our lunch short by fifteen minutes, we could’ve had a much more leisurely look around. But unfortunately no one had mentioned that lunch would be in that same direction!
I’m on a train to Shenzhen as I type this. I’ve been on the train for twenty-one hours and counting. Not sure how long it will end up taking; I’ve heard from twenty-four to thirty hours, so here’s hoping we’re almost there. Flooding in the south could mean a much longer train ride, however. (Editor’s Note: It took 24 hours exactly!) Squat toilets in a moving train are a whole new adventure. They are remarkably much cleaner than many other toilets I’ve used. There was one particularly bad one on the Beijing University campus. But the worst so far were easily the Porta Potties at the “beer garden” in Wudaokou, the student district in Beijing. A beer garden, as far as I can tell, is a cluster of tables surrounded by food stalls; some of these stalls sell beer. Porta Potties are never good bathrooms to go to if you’ve got a choice, but these were beyond anything…I don’t think they’ve been cleaned since they were put there, whenever that was. Decades ago, judging by the mess and smell!
My ears are popping a little. We’re going up in the mountains before descending back down to sea level, it would seem. Part of Shenzhen is on the coast.
We’ve been told our placements in Shenzhen, and I’ve got a pretty sweet deal. I’ll be teaching seniors and living in a nice three-bedroom apartment off-campus with one other woman from the program. Nice housing is kind of a joke; usually CTLC-ers are placed on their school’s campus in a very tiny dorm/studio apartment type situation, so I feel very lucky! We’ll be in Longgang, which is outside the Shenzhen Economic Zone (SEZ). It’s a more suburban area with very few other foreigners. Parts of Shenzhen have a large expatriate community, but Longgang isn’t one of them. So I’ll be working to improve my Chinese as quickly as possible.
I’ve never been on a train before, so I can’t compare US trains to Chinese ones. We’re in “hard sleeper,” which has compartments with dozens upon dozens of bunks. In each compartment there are six beds, three on each side with a partition between the next compartments. It is impossibly tiny and cramped, but the beds themselves are decently comfortable and we have it way better off than the people in the standing cart, which is just what it sounds like: people packed like sardines and standing up or leaning against the walls for thirty hours. “Soft sleeper” is more expensive and has only four beds to a compartment.
Inside it is too small but from the window I watch as we make our way past the expansive Chinese landscape. There are no long stretches of vegetation. Everywhere are small, square, red brick houses and white houses with peaked roofs. Little villages nestle in valleys at the feet of mountains. Occasionally we pass through what seems to be ugly, abandoned cities halfway through construction. The dirt is sometimes red and the trees are thick and green. I’m keeping my eyes out for palm trees because Shenzhen is below the equator in the subtropics, and I’m beginning to spot a few here and there. We must be getting close.
I’m tired of living out of my suitcases. I can’t wait to get to my new home, unpack, and start getting to know my neighborhood. I want to see my school, meet my contact teacher (the bilingual teacher appointed to show me the ropes at my school), and meet the students. At the same time, I’m terrified. Beijing has felt something like a vacation, although I’ve never been so busy. I just spent two weeks in a foreign country for the first time in my life, and it was exciting, new, and interesting. But now I’m going to this place that will be home for the next ten months. This is also exciting and new, but I’ll be there long enough for the honeymoon phase to pass. I feel up for the challenge, but at the same time I’m nervous.
My cravings recently included M&Ms and pizza. I know I can find pizza eventually, but maybe not the M&Ms.
Love and miss you all. Be well!