Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ms. Lemon

That's my new nickname (usually just "lemon", without the miss).

So to explain a bit- I came back to China to chaperone a trip that was organized by DCIS, my alma mater and former employer. I went to visit a few teacher at the school when I was home last summer and during a lovely brunch at Racine's, Cathy (one of my former teachers) and I
started talking about China. When she found out that I would be in China in the fall she insisted I talk to Melanie, who was organizing the trip- Cathy had been offered the chaperone gig, but didn't think she could do it and thought it would be perfect for me. I talked to Melanie and got the details- the trip would be three weeks long, two of those weeks in Kunming, Denver's sister city, where we would stay in host families and some of my expenses would be paid. All I had to do was meet them in Shanghai and be a responsible adult. The group was small, only 4 high school students (all of whom I knew well from when they were in 6th grade) one DU student who decided to tag along (who I also know fairly well) and Mel. The kids are great and require very little in the way of actual supervision and I would get a plane ticket home- sounds like a deal to me!

It has been a great deal so far. During the day we go to classes put on for us by the high school we are visiting (Kunming Foreign Language School). With the exception of Chinese Language, which is way over my head, the classes are great. We've learned a few Chinese songs and arts. The kids are having a great time with their host families as am I. I think the kids Chinese skills will have improved a great deal by the time they get home and I think my skills will have improved by more than 100%- from two words to maybe five :-).

I don't quite remember where the "lemon" moniker came from- probably some mispronunciation of my name by someone, but I think I like it- the Chinese pronunciation also seems to sound a lot like my actual name, so I think I'll have someone teach me the characters and just run with it. That's Ms. Lemon to you. . .

Chinese food

In the first two weeks I was in china I didn't have very much in the way of "authentic" Chinese food. It's hard when you are traveling alone to find good places and because Chinese food tends to be family style, when you are without a family to eat with, fast food is sometimes just an easier option. As a solo traveler, I found China to be a lot like Italy- you know there is good food everywhere if you just had a local to show you where it is!

Luckily, on his last leg of my trip with the DCIS students, I am staying with a host family (an English teacher) and have been taken out to eat many times. Also, the food that my host has cooked at home has been wonderful. Even the school lunches have been better than the Chinese food I found on my own.

Besides fast food, the chinese take on "western food" is sort of funny. My first host (I had to move because her father got sick and she needed to take care ofhim) was extremely worried about what I would eat. She bought a hilariously huge loaf of mediocre plain white bread- I was too polite to tell her that I didn't really like it. Even my second host, who has been to America and understands me a little bit better worried ceaselessly about what I was eating (especially for breakfast). Twice this week we were taken by the school principal to what he described as a "western style restaurant ". It turned out to be a sort of buffet with waiters roaming around
with various types of meat skewered on large swords. I think I would rather eat traditional Chinese food (although eating jello with chopsticks was fun). I love how the Chinese family style works. Depending on how many people you have, you order a ton of dishes (usually a few more than there are people) plus rice and soup and it goes on a rotating platter in the center and everyone grabs things as they go by. I love this because with a big enough group you are always
guaranteed to have a few things you like. I think, maybe because you tend to grab things just a few bites at a time, you tend to eat less this way (at least I think I do), but you also never leave the table feeling hungry. My favorite thing so far has been "hot pot"- basically there is a pot of hot soup that is set on a hot plate on or in the table. You order different meats, vegetables and noodles and then put them into the hot pot to cook. Then everyone reaches in with their chopsticks and grabs what they want (or what they can). All of this family style eating has really improved my chopstick skills. I was not too bad before as we used to practice with our Chinese take out lunches at school, but now I can even eat rice noodles with chopsticks, which is no easy task.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Last weekend I was invited to a weekend trip with a group of teachers to a hot springs in a town a few hours away. It seemed to be a bonding trip for the group of teachers that all teach one grade (junior 3, equivalent to about 9th grade). We started out on Saturday midday and after a lunch stop arrived in the early afternoon. After a short rest, everyone headed to the indoor pool to swim and relax. It was quite nice, with a few large pools of different levels and a wet and dry
sauna. Neither of the two English teachers I was with knew how to swim, so we had a funny afternoon while I (along with the PE teacher and some others) tried to teach them, without much success. The other highlight of the afternoon was the awkward match making that was
attempted by some of the teachers between me and the chemistry teacher, who was not bad looking and seemed sweet, but didn't speak any English and even though he was a chemistry teacher- I didn't feel any.

After dinner everyone split into two groups, one for karaoke and one for mahjong. I really wanted to play mahjong, and they even let me play one hand before they kicked me out to get down to the real business of playing. I think they thought it was cute- they played really fast, not like my friends. I probably could have caught up after a few hands. I was glad I went to watch anyway, since I saw the coolest thing ever- a self dealing mahjong table. A disk in the center of the table rises up and you push all the tiles into a drum below the table. The drum mixes the tiles and pushes them into slots, then the tiles rise up in perfect rows onto the table to form the wall. Magic!!! Anyway, they started to really play and I left, time for karaoke!

If you have ever done karaoke in Asia, then you know it is different than we do it at home. Instead of having to perform for the whole bar, you and your friends rent out a small room and you sing just for each-other. In a lot of ways this is better as people are leas nervous, but you do miss out on the great opportunity to make fun of strangers. . .

When we arrived the singing was already in full swing. A few of the group had great voices, a few didn't, but everyone had fun. One of the girls figured out how to find the English songs on the computer and I stated to look through them. I found what I expected- mostly. There was Madonna, Brittney, MichealJjackson- there were a few other random songs- they somehow convinced me to sing "My heart will go on". My big surprise came when I was scrolling through and saw a familiar title "Handlebars". I was overly excited and confused the Chinese teachers a
lot by trying to explain that I know the band. In fact there were two Flobots songs on the list and I (tried to) sang both of them. I had more success with Handlebars than with Rise since I know the rap part better (mostly on Rise I only know the "rise" chorus part). I asked one teacher to take my picture while I sang, but she was very confused (later I was able to explain why I wanted my picture with the video behind me). I'm still a little confused as to why there would have been two Flobots songs on the karaoke machine at a hotel at a hot springs in rural China- there are tons of English songs that are more famous or more popular that were not there, so I think that it must just be fate- whoever programed the machine is a Flobots fan, which is kind of awesome.