This summer really flew by didn’t it? My last two months and a half were mostly spent traveling to see friends and family and spending time with my husband, Mark, and our little dwarf hamster. We were able to squeeze in a visit to a few places we had been meaning to go to such as Fort McHenry, the Inner Harbor and the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and the Gettysburg National Military Park. We spent a fun fourth of July in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the United States. Mark and I also visited some of my best friends and former bridesmaids from grad school in DC. During the first week of August, we flew to see family for a beautiful week in New Mexico. It was a pretty busy summer!
On Being Back in the USA
Returning to The States was interesting. I didn’t have as bad reverse-culture shock as I did the first time I came back from China seven years ago (Mark likes to remind me that I would repeatedly mention how I couldn’t believe how blue the sky was after living in smoggy Shijiazhuang for a year), but there were still some noticeable differences. For instance, it felt really weird and slightly wrong not having to take off my shoes when visiting people and places. I asked my doctor during my checkup if I should take off my shoes when I stepped up to have a seat on the bed, and she laughed and said, “that’s a super Asian question!” since apparently the only other people who ask this are usually Asian foreign exchange students. I caught myself multiple times handing people things two-handed (as one does out of respect in China). I also apparently picked up the Chinese habit of going “Mm. Mm. Mm.” or “I see” when listening to people talk, which my husband finds pretty funny.
It was so nice, though, to be back in The States for a little bit with clean, spacious streets and not have to hear people hawk a loogie everywhere. You realize what you take for granted when you’re abroad. I missed the smell of freshly brewed coffee and having clothes lint-free fresh out of a dryer (well, having a dryer in at all). I missed being able to have a hot shower without waiting fifteen minutes to half an hour for the water to heat up. I also missed breakfast food, fruit salad without mayo, unsweetened sandwiches, free toilet paper in restrooms, and having access to soap everywhere.
On the other hand, there were things I missed about living in China, too. For one, the cost of living is much cheaper and you don’t have to pay taxes when buying anything. China’s actually one of the few places where it’s cheaper to eat out than cook for yourself at home. It’s hard to justify spending so much to go out in the US after living here when beers cost roughly a dollar and you can order tons of food for your whole party with only paying about $5-7 per person. You also don’t have to worry about tipping or not having cash or a card on you since in China all you need is your phone to pay for things. What I missed most, though, was the ease of transportation.
In the US, you can’t easily get anywhere without having access to a car. In Lishui, traveling around town is super convenient. I can choose to to walk, ride my electronic scooter, take a bus, or take a train anywhere I wanted. There are a myriad of other reasons why I prefer to just visit The US for now rather than live there, but I won’t detail them all here. It’d make this post way too long.
On to China!
My flight to Shanghai from Boston on August 30th went really well! In terms of cheap tickets, Hainan Air was a great decision! I had a really good experience with them. Upon arrival, I spent the night in Shanghai because I came in too late to catch a train to Lishui. The following morning, I road the metro to the Hongqiao railway station and successfully claimed the E-ticket I bought online. I boarded with my second class ticket (to guarantee space for my luggage) and had a lovely and uneventful train ride down.
Lishui, Zhejiang, China
I arrived in town last Saturday, September 1st, and was given two days to acclimate. I was lucky, I was told by another friend that her school made her teach the next day after she arrived! William, my primary school coordinator showed up at my door with a bouquet of flowers, which was super sweet and unexpected. On Monday, my new coordinator, Vivian, at my middle school sprung my schedule on me, telling me that I was to teach the next day. This is a very Chinese thing to do, and I was lucky she didn’t wait to tell me until that night.
It’s now been a full week since I returned to Lishui! Getting over jetlag has been a slow process. I’ve now stopped waking up at 5am every day, and instead I automatically wake up between 6am and 7am.
I must admit, it is slightly unnerving to be back in Lishui and realizing that not much has changed. There are some new shops here and there, but it honestly feels like I haven’t left. The weather has been a mix of humid, sunny days and cold, rainy days. I’ll take this over the weather we had back in June where it would rain for days on end here.
A New Academic Year
My first week of classes went pretty well! With the exception of maybe three students, they all seem super eager and well-behaved (thus far). I teach 8 classes of seventh graders, one class of fifth graders, and two English clubs this year.
Everyone in China loves basketball, and woe is me for having a name similar to Steph Curry! The first question I’m asked is often “do you know Stephen Curry?” My name is sometimes mispronounced as “StEphen-ie” and I’ve had my name hilariously mistaken for a boy’s name more than once last year because of this. Only one older male teacher currently calls me Stephen still, despite hearing me tell others how to say my name multiple times. In one of my classes, I was asked if I know of Stephen Curry’s teammate Kevin Durant. Let me just say I’m not very good at or knowledgeable of sports.
Kids at any age can be pretty blunt. As with last year, this year I’ve had a few students already remark on my weight and overall appearance. Women in China generally aspire to be pale and pencil thin. So, with my easy-to-tan skin and curvy body type, I stick out like a sore thumb. In a land of conformity, this brings a lot of general confusion and rude comments meant to encourage me to meet the norm…I usually just tell people Americans like bigger butts and boobs and leave it at that. Side note: I may do a post on beauty standards one of these days when I make time. There are some interesting beliefs and preferences out here.
Anyways, one going-to-be problem child asked why my brothers were so dark and thin while I was so fat. Another loud, kind of obnoxious one kept saying he was from the WC (bathroom) and wouldn’t give me his real name. It’s generally easier when I have another teacher sitting in as the kids tend to behave with another set of eyes watching them.
This past week, however, I actually taught two classes alone without a helper, and boy oh boy. I made it through somehow! Thank goodness my Chinese has improved from last year. Some students are barely able to form two sentences in English let alone follow a whole class in only English. With my Chinglish (Chinese+English), we were able to get through the lesson to their homework relatively easily.
It warms my heart that former students go out of their way to yell “Hello, Stephanie!” to me as I pass by. When I walk around both my primary and middle school, I try to smile and wave at the students I see. I live in a teacher’s dorm at the primary school, so it’s super hard to avoid not seeing anyone. I’m not always sure if the students I wave to are mine or not. Usually if they respond back, I assume they’re mine. If they give me the stink eye or dear-in-the-headlights look, I garner they aren’t.
Some of my new coworkers noticed this very “American” habit I have of greeting and smiling at everyone. I’ve been accused multiple times of being “so popular” as other students don’t take the time to greet or talk to them. I just tell them that I’m really friendly and it doesn’t hurt to stop and say hi to someone. Come to think of it, I probably know more students now than any of my coworkers (at least at my middle school). This is due to the fact that teachers tend to rotate up a grade as their students move up, so that students follow the same teacher up until they change schools for middle or high school. At my middle school, since I taught one eighth grade English Corner and all of the 7th grade classes last year, I now know a few of this year’s 9th graders, all of the 8th graders and all of the 7th graders currently at our middle school. The other teachers only know the two classes they are in charge of within their grade.
This past week at the middle school, I’ve also gained a little group of students who’ve taken to following me and hanging out in my office between classes. They’re pretty cute and inquisitive, poking at everything from my posters, to my sticky window clings, and even my hair. I found out some of them really like Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift (of course).
I’m glad the old owner of the corner store near my school still remembers me. I like to drop in whenever I need something, although I’ve come to prefer going during the mornings. In the afternoon, his son tends to be there, shirtless and with a potbelly sticking out. Once the son found out I was American, he’s been super talkative and awkwardly shadows me around the aisles when I shop. I’m never quite sure exactly what he’s saying, despite my repeated attempts at telling him I don’t understand. I’ve concluded that 1. He likes to talk and 2. He REALLY likes the NBA, which I know very little of.
A surprising note, on Thursday, to my consternation, I was informed that I did “such a good job last year” that my school wanted to give me even more classes and have me coordinate two performances! Ack! Coordinating my English club’s one performance of Snow White last year was hard enough. ☹ We tied for first place! See pictures below:
My fellow American English teachers in town sympathized with my pain and semi-jokingly suggested I should have instead just strove to be average to avoid being given extra work. Had I known earlier….I’m not sure how this schedule will pan out. I already know Fridays are my worst day of the week because I have five classes that day, but I guess I’ll just have to try my best and see how things go!
In between this hectic week of adjustment, I turned 29!! Ahh, it’s so weird to think this is my last year of my 20s. I’m so lucky to have so many caring and supportive people in my life. Shout out to you lovely folks! I think it’s going to be a pretty good year. I have some wonderful trip ideas planned, so stay tuned ❤