Monday, March 19, 2007

Hello! My name is Jello!

Chinese naming conventions are a funny thing. To say the least. As you may (or may not) know, real Chinese names are written with the family name first, as in “Mao Zedong.” Mao was not his first name; he was in fact Mr. Mao.

When you add English to the mix, it becomes much more interesting. All of our students take an English name when they begin studying English. Usually that’s just a first name, although some of them have middle names. (When I was explaining to some girls today that you do not give your middle name when you are introducing yourself, they became rather annoyed. “Why do you have it, then?” demanded Abbey.)

Sometimes these names are assigned by their first English teachers. Other times the girls choose their own names. And by western standards, the choice of name can be . . . different. I had one class explain to me why they chose their English names. Some of them picked names that they thought were pretty. Some, like Crystal, chose names that have similar meanings to their Chinese name. Many picked names that sound like their Chinese name, like Faye and Lucy. And some . . . well, I asked Garfield why she chose to name herself Garfield.

“I love to eat food, like Garfield the cat!” she cheerfully replied.

“But do you know that Garfield is a man’s name?” I queried.

“Yes, but I don’t care.”

Other girls in my classes have names like Shine, Keno (formerly Hawaii), Elvis, Snoopy, Corona (“I am named after a famous beer”), Jelly, and, yes, Jello. I am told that highlights of past years included such appellations as Sheep, Dang-Dang, Tissue, Eleven, and Porky. Seriously. I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Is there an editor in the house?

Being surrounded by another language has made me notice everything I see that’s written in English. It’s kind of annoying, really—my eyes are drawn to all kinds of advertisements that I would have just glanced right past in the states. But sometimes I am rewarded by a real gem of mistranslation. Come with me on a stroll through a grocery store, and you’ll see what a mean. (Click on photos for a closer look.)

First we’ll get some food. Can’t have this because it contains peanuts, but its challenge to “make the ture qualities of our own return to reality” is quite tempting.

For obvious reasons, I decided to go ahead and skip the paste.

But I did get some hair dressing.

After a little more shopping, I take note of when the BonuY days are taking place.

And then it’s off to the heckiout!

The editor in me wants to scream when I see these atrocities, but I really have to just laugh (and always have a camera ready). Who knows, maybe my editorial skills will come in handy.


Friday, March 9, 2007

Wouldja like fries with that?

This is Friday. That means that tonight is date night—the time that Desiree and I have set apart to spend together. We live on a hall with nine other American English teachers, and while they’re great, it’s nice to be by ourselves once in a while, right? Well, as alone as you can get in a city of twenty million people, anyway.

So, we’re going out for dinner. This is trickier than it sounds, since we aren’t exactly experts at getting around. Plus, Des wants to go to a mall that’s half an hour away (which is practically next door by Shanghai standards). We manage to catch bus 624 into Zhoupu (pronounced “Joe-pooh”), then hop the 581 towards Shanghai proper. Somewhere along this bus route is CenturyMart, a mall in which Des was hoping to find a romantic little sushi restaurant.

We managed to disembark at the right place, but just as we were walking into the mall, we realized something: no Benadryl. Worse yet, I had also somehow managed to forget my little notebook that contains my helpful “no peanuts” phrases. No notebook + no Benadryl = no Chinese food. We searched the mall for an alternative, but finally concluded that there was only one place that was absolutely safe to eat: KFC.

If you’ve seen our other pictures, you might already know that people love KFC in China. It’s the most popular American restaurant, and they have helpful picture menus. Theoretically, a foreigner should be able to just point at what he wants . . . but in reality, it’s not always that easy. Des pointed out some popcorn chicken, corn on the cob, and a funky peach custardy-looking thing. I figured I’d keep it simple and ask for “Number Two, please,” and then, when the cashiers looked at each other and started speaking Chinese, I helpfully added, “with fries.” This is important, because it could also come with some kind of weird corn-slaw. The cashier smiled at me and said “Pepsi?” I nodded, and she rang me up: 52 yuan, or about seven dollars. I started adding in my head; the stuff I had ordered only amounted to about 41y, but by the time I got it figured out, they were bringing out our food . . . and then some. We left the counter with one more order of fries and Pepsi than we had ordered, reasoning that we could save everyone confusion and embarrassment by just eating our extra food. Only, when we sat down and started eating, one of the cashiers came up, set another chicken sandwich on our table, gestured helpfully at it, and left.

So our first Chinese date out turned out pretty well. Romantic ambiance? Not so much. Food? American, and WAY more than we wanted. But we made it out and back without dying. I call that a good date. And seeing the lettering on that kid’s jacket made it all worth it.


Thursday, March 8, 2007

One week down

You may have wondered about the silence that ensued after our last post. But don’t worry—we are alive. Mostly. It’s been difficult, but we’re just about finished with our first week of teaching. (We don’t teach on Fridays, so we just have to make it through this afternoon’s classes.)

As some of you already know, Dave and I teach English in two separate programs: I teach in the American program, and he teaches in the British program. Aside from a few differences in grammar and spelling (Dave’s sticking with Canadian pronunciation), there is one major distinction between the two programs—he teaches twice as much as I do.

We don’t know why. That’s just the way it is. His students are younger, and it seems that they have more of a high school schedule. While my students have class with me twice a week, his students meet with him every day except for Friday. So even though I have more students than he does, he is actually in the classroom for a little more than twice as long as I am.

The good news is that he has a set curriculum, so there’s a little less prep time than if he had to come up with everything from scratch. My class, on the other hand, is more of a free for all, so I’m constantly trying to decide what is best to cover in the 160 minutes that I meet with them each week. These are some of the challenges, but with a lot of grace, we’ll be able to adjust to our new responsibilities.

There have also been many blessings this week—like meeting some really sweet students and getting help from the thoughtful teachers who work with us. We appreciate the kindness and generosity that they’ve shown us, and we’re really happy to be part of the team here.


Sunday, March 4, 2007

Just a bit nervous

Well, we’ve seen Shanghai, we’ve eaten the food, and we’ve already met some friends. But tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock, we start doing the thing we came here for: teaching English. The prospect of trying to teach 118 college-aged Chinese girls (40 at a time) for 80-minute periods in a rather cramped classroom is a little intimidating—mostly because, although I taught freshman English as a graduate assistant at Bob Jones University, this is unlike anything I’ve ever done before in my life. And it’s what we’ll be doing for the next few years.

So while you’re eating dinner, relaxing, reading, hanging out with friends, or getting ready for bed (whatever you normally do around 7 to 10 p.m. EST), remember us. We’d really appreciate it.


Thursday, March 1, 2007

Life's like that . . .

One of the major concerns that has arisen about our new life in the Middle Kingdom is a purely biological one: I'm allergic to peanuts. Although we're not living in an area of China where peanuts are an integral part of the cuisine (thankfully), they're still pretty common -- especially since peanut allergies aren't. So we've been living on more or less yellow alert since we arrived.

The problem is twofold: I can't speak Mandarin, and I can't read Mandarin. That makes it pretty tough to tell a restaurant cook that his fancy chicken dish will put me in the morgue, and just as tough to tell whether or not the bottle of "Delightful Tasty Curry Sauce" that Des bought will kill me. I've made some progress (I bought a Chinese/English dictionary, and one of the students has promised to write "Please no peanuts. I am allergic to them. They will kill me" in both Mandarin and Pinyin as soon as we see her again), but it's still a bit nerve-wracking.

So far I've survived three genuine Chinese meals (plus some KFC and two western-style dinners that don't count). I had a narrow escape at Megabite two days ago. I chose a stir-fry looking dish, figuring that anything in which I could see all the ingredients would be OK. I watched them make it, cook it, and put it in a dish -- and then, right as they handed it to me, dump a handful of crushed peanuts on top as a garnish. *sigh* Plain white rice for me, thanks.

The real irony came yesterday. The girls were out, and Elijah and I were working in the office. We went up to the kitchen and chowed down on some leftovers for lunch. Afterwards, as we were standing around talking philosophy, Elijah offered me one of his Almond Crush Pocky sticks, saying, "Don't worry -- they're almonds, not peanuts." I scarfed one down and idly flipped the box over in my hands to see where it was manufactured (addresses are often in English). My eye flicked over the ingredient list, which was also in English. And wouldn't you know it, right next to Almonds was Peanuts.

In case you were wondering, I hate the taste of Benadryl.