Chinese National Day

First off, I must apologize for my one week hiatus from the interweb.  Dave and I were fortunate enough to visit beautiful Guanxi Province as well as take a short trip to Xiamen for China’s National Holiday.   As much as I’d love to sit down and write for the next 4 hours about this trip, I teach at 8:00am tomorrow morning, so I’ve decided to break this post up into 3 parts.  Before I can get to the details of our wonderful adventures, I must explain what it is like to live those adventures during this Golden Week of Travel!

The Chinese LOVE Holidays!!
China LOVES Holidays!!

Holidays in China are fantastic!  Instead of getting several long weekends throughout the year, the Chinese get 3 weeks off, one week at a time.  The first holiday of the year is Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year.  I am fortunate enough to have 2 weeks off for this holiday, because it lands right between semesters at Interlingua.  Most places have one week off and this is a major family holiday in China; similar to Christmas for North Americans.  Everyone travels to their hometowns to spend time with their families, drink tea, and enjoy many other traditions.  By the time the holiday is over, everyone has gone up a belt size, and is ready to rid themselves of their families once more…or at least until the next holiday (boy, does that sound familiar!!).

Instead of Turkey and mashed potatoes, Spring Festival brings an array of dumplings, seafood and sweet snacks for families to enjoy. I was lucky to experience Spring Festival with a Chinese family in 2006, and after finishing my plate and thanking my hosts for a wonderful meal, I was told there were 8 courses yet to come. I was already full...
Instead of Turkey and mashed potatoes, Spring Festival brings an array of dumplings, seafood and sweet snacks for families to enjoy. I was lucky to experience Spring Festival with a Chinese family in 2006, and after finishing my plate and thanking my hosts for a wonderful meal, I was told there were 8 courses yet to come. I was already full…

The second Chinese holiday is in May, and it’s similar to our Labour Day.  Once more, Chinese citizens have a week off to travel home, or see a new part of the country.  As I mentioned in my last post, China is so diverse in climate, geography and tradition, that I feel I could visit a new city every holiday for the next decade and never come close to seeing all I want to see.

The third holiday is the one that we just celebrated:  Chinese National Day.  This one, like Labour Day, is a chance for people to travel and see the sights; a much needed break from months without a break.

While it is wonderful that we have 3 long holidays in China, it is unfortunate that everyone else also has that same holiday time.  The result: 1.3 billion people, visiting a select few cities where all the ‘cool’ things are.  Some of the teachers at Interlingua were brave enough to go to Xi’an this holiday (the home of the Terracotta Warriors), but Dave and I decided to visit some of the less popular destinations: Guangxi Province and Xiamen Island (where I spent a year teaching EAL in 2005/2006).

The Terracotta Warriors were buried with an emperor in 210 BCE. They were discovered in the 1970s by a farmer, and are still being unearthed now. Each warrior was caste in the image of a real person, making the collection unique and about as amazing of an archeological discovery that we can hope to find
The Terracotta Warriors were buried with an emperor in 210 BCE. They were discovered in the 1970s by a farmer, and are still being unearthed now. Each warrior was caste in the image of a real person, making the collection unique and about as amazing of an archeological discovery that we can hope to find

Now, I realize it may be difficult for you to imagine the number of people we were travelling with during this holiday, so I will attempt to describe it through comparison.  We spent one day of our holidays on Gulang Yu, an Island located off the coast of Xiamen.  The island has an area of approximately 2km square (about the size of a small town in Southern Manitoba), and is home to roughly 20,000 people.  During the national holiday, however, the population of the island jumps to roughly 100,000 people.  If you think that Canada day in Osbourne Village is a nuthouse, you should try National day in China for some comparison!!

This was Beijing on October 1st, this first day of the holiday
This was Beijing on October 1st, this first day of the holiday
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Zhongshan Lu is a popular pedestrian shopping street in Xiamen. We stopped for a moment to take a picture of the crowds in front of us and behind us.

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Waiting to get onto the ferry to Gulang Island
Waiting to get onto the ferry to Gulang Island
NanPuTuo Temple from afar. The crowds were so bad, that we decided to forgo our original plan to climb the mountain.
NanPuTuo Temple from afar. The crowds were so bad, that we decided to forgo our original plan to climb the mountain.

Luckily, China knows how to handle crowds.  Other than a short delay for one of our flights (air traffic was so clogged up that we had to wait a half hour before taking off from Guilin), the country continued to run rather smoothly.  Planes load quickly here, because people know that if they don’t move quickly, they will likely be moved out of the way by the line up of people coming up behind them.  China has learned to stand in line ups (something I rarely experienced in Xiamen 8 years ago), but those lines move quickly, because China is all about efficiency.  We actually timed the unloading and reloading of a ferry going to Gulang Island.  From beginning to end, it took 6 minutes to unload all 850 passengers from this two story ferry, and then load 850 back onto it.

6 MINUTES!!!
6 MINUTES!!!

China is incredible for so many reasons, but being a part of that 6 minute ferry experience has got to be near the top of the list of crazy things I’ve seen here!

Next I’ll be writing about my amazing stay in Guangxi Province!  Stay tuned because I have some incredible pictures and fantastic stories!!

The Life of the Lao Wei

China is an interesting place to be for a foreigner.

First, let me begin by asking you:  what do you know about China?  Really?  The fact that dog is eaten here may have popped into your mind, and perhaps you pictured deep fried ‘honey garlic’ something or other as well.  Maybe you thought about the Great Wall.  But really, for a country with 5000 years of written history, many North Americans  know very little about life in the Orient.

Many of my friends and family assumed that I would be going to a country with more advanced technology than we have in Canada.  Many people also assumed that I would be eating nothing but rice and chicken feet. But in reality, China is an incredibly diverse country.  There are hundreds of local languages here, an incredibly diverse geology and every city has it’s own specialty cuisine.  In short, China is so much more than you can imagine.

There are over 50 ethnic groups in China.  They all have their own traditions, holidays, cuisine and language.  How's THAT for diversity!!
There are over 50 ethnic groups in China. They all have their own traditions, holidays, cuisine and language. How’s THAT for diversity!!

But as little as you know about China, China knows less about you!

Eight years ago, when I lived on the east coast, in a beautiful little city called Xiamen, I was stared at daily.  I had people point at me and yell “Lao Wei!” (foreigner) so that their friends might notice in time and get a look at me too.  I had people come up to me and ask for my photo.  More often still, I caught people sneaking photos of me.  There were times when an interested man or woman would come up to me as I shopped, pulling things out of my cart to see what the strange ‘lao wai’ was purchasing.  Everywhere I went in Xiamen, I was pointed at, shouted at and stared at.  Whether I was taking a 2am stroll (the only time I found quiet in that small city of 2 million people), or walking up the path to my apartment, I was constantly met with stares and pointing.  And of course, the ever-present sound of the words “Lao Wai!!!!”

Beautiful Xiamen City.  My home in 2005/2006
Beautiful Xiamen City. My home in 2005/2006

I imagined it would be different in Guiyang.  8 years have passed, and thousands of teachers have arrived and left the country since I departed in 2006.  Nearly every young person here now speaks at least a little English.  EAL teachers are everywhere, working for private training centers (like I am), for private schools and even at public schools.  There are easily a hundred of us in Guizhou province alone.

I live in the capital of Guizhou province; Guiyang
I live in the capital of Guizhou province; Guiyang

And if the presence of white teachers isn’t enough, Western culture has also permeated life here.   Guiyang has several KFC restaurants, 2 Pizza Huts, 3 Walmarts, a Starbucks and H&M, just to name a few.  English is everywhere!  In their music, on their signs and on their T-shirts.  Any company who aims to have a ‘cool’ image must have English in their name, even if no one within the company speaks a word of the language.  People here are obsessed with Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, and today I even heard “Criminal”, by Brittany Spears, blasting from a lingerie store.  8 years ago, this was not the case.  Sure, there was a Walmart and KFC in Xiamen, but seeing English on signs and T-shirts was hardly an every day occurrence.

We have a Dairy Queen and a Baskin Robs by the school where I work
We have a Dairy Queen and a Baskin Robs by the school where I work

Yet, the sight of a foreigner is still shocking for the majority of Chinese people.

A few weeks ago, I was driving my scooter to school, when a bus pulled up beside me.  I had to focus on the traffic and ignore the commotion that my presence had caused in that bus.  Windows were rolled down, and people were shouting and laughing and saying ‘Hello!’.  I sometimes feel like an un-talented celebrity when this happens!  (Perhaps this is how the Kardashians feel?)  When Dave and I went and visited QianLing Hill Park, we were in as many pictures as we took!  Even the monkeys seemed to think we were interesting and strange!

A wild monkey, staring at the Lao Wei!  (Lao Wei is 'foreigner'.  We hear it everywhere we go!  We are treated like celebrities because there are so few of us in Guiyang)
He’s looking at me, thinking to himself “Lao Wei!!!!”

On good days, this isn’t an issue.  I laugh and smile and respond to their calls with ‘hello’.  A simple wave, or greeting in response to their excitement usually results in further excitement.  “Did the Lao Wei just say hello to ME!!!  Oh My God!!!”.  I waved at a child who was staring at me from a restaurant this week.  Her entire family waved back.  Some of them even stood up to get a better view of me!  And this, I should add, was in Zhong Tian Garden, where I live.  There are between 8 and 10 EAL teachers who live in this area, yet it’s still exciting for them to see one of us.

On bad days, this aspect of life in China is less enjoyable.  Being stared at while you are fighting back tears after a particularly difficult day, is not a pleasant feeling.  Having a crowd form around you, while you struggle to chain your scooter to a gate because it has a flat tire, is exasperating.  There are some days where I want to shout: “What’s wrong with you!  Didn’t your mothers ever teach you that it’s rude to point!!!”. But I don’t.  I know that even if I did, they probably wouldn’t understand me anyway, so I keep my head down and try to blend in with the masses.  I’m vertically challenged so that’s easy, but it’s certainly harder for some of the tall teachers at Interlingua.

Still, in spite of these bad days, I’d say life in Guiyang is more interesting than upsetting.  More often than not, people here are curious, but kind.  We’ve had people bring out dishes for us that other customers in the restaurant have paid for us to try.  Most people thrilled when I greet them in Mandarin, and embarrassed but excited when I respond to their ‘Lao Wei!!!’ with a ‘hello’ and a coy smile. (Yes, I know that you are talking about me…).

I consider myself lucky to be in China in 2014, during such a time of growth.  In the last 8 years, many things have changed: I now see English everywhere I go, I hear English Music in cars and in stores and I can shop at H&M (I can’t even do that in Winnipeg!).  But in some ways, China continues to be its cut-off-from-the-rest-of-the-world self.  The people here still marvel at the foreigner as though they are something special and interesting.  I can’t help but wonder whether this will still be the case in 8 years from now.

M.

My First Post :)

I have to admit, I’m a tad overwhelmed by this blogging thing. I suppose I’m old school; I enjoy paper and a good pen. But it IS 2014, and it’s time I catch up to the rest of the world. After hours of customizing my theme, and tweeking the color of my font (because that is what is important, after all!), here I am! I’ve created this blog in the hopes that I can share this “Asia Experience” with all of you. I hope you will enjoy my stories (both the tragedies and the comedies) as much as I will enjoy telling them!

May this be the first of many posts 🙂

Looking forward to your comments!

M.