Tuesday, March 4, 2014
2 years worth of crap pt.2
Well, for those of you have made it through the last "wall of text" thanks. Here is another. HA!
Well, seems like it is time for another email. It has been way too long and I apologize for that. Life here is always moving, always busy. Since I last wrote I have seen the Summer Palace and it is amazingly beautiful, and I took a weekend trip to Shanghai. I will go to the summer palace many times while I am here, I would like to see it covered in snow.
Speaking of snow, it we had our second snowfall this week. It was only a centimeter and wasn't a heavy, wet snow. So it isn't a big problem. The temperature has been very cold, and it is also very windy which just makes it worse. It hasn't been as cold as Bulgaria but it is still very early in the winter. Apparently the worse month is also the one where I get a 2 week vacation. YAY! February is going to be very crazy.
My birthday falls directly in the middle of the 2 week vacation schedule. I am hoping to go to Chongqing and Sichuan for my birthday. It is supposedly very tropical, and therefore WARM. Time to keep up the tradition I started in Peace Corps of going someplace warm during February. Best part of this one is that I don't even need to leave China. Sichuan is the area of China where the great panda is indigenous to. Near the city of Chengdu there is a large nature preserve for the pandas. There are also lots of hiking and monasteries in the area.
In other news I am learning a lot about cooking. I had a dinner party with a former colleague and her family and I learned how to cook duck leg, Chinese eggplant, Lotus root, and a fish they call “river fish”, and a couple other dishes. Everything was very delicious. I also learned about hot pot. It is just a pot of boiling, or near boiling broth (usually very very spicy) and a lot of raw vegetables and raw meat. To cook them just put them into to pot and viola, they cook. Then you dip it into a sauce which seems similar a Thai peanut sauce. I wish there were hot pot places in the States, but I am sure that it would be a very expensive place to insure because the customer cooks everything. If someone gets food poisoning it would be difficult to find out who was the cause. Additionally, I taught a couple of coworkers how to cook pancakes. They turned out alright. I think I bought the wrong kind of flour. They tasted alright, they just didn't look like white, fluffy pancakes. I think they will be getting a toaster oven and then I will teach them how to make chicken pot pies, regular pies, Mousika (a Bulgarian dish), some other dishes as well. And if we have a day of doing nothing, perhaps I will even teach them a couple of soups, such as leek and potato soup, split pea soup, and simple chicken noodle.
And that is only the beginning of my culinary exploits. I found the best coffee in Beijing last week and am now composing this email there. It is run by a couple of guys from California. The place is called Ocean Grounds and is run by two Q-Graders named John Lewis and Jim Lee. I finished a cupping class (coffee tasting class) here about an hour or two ago. They are an awesome couple of guys. They focus on relationship coffees (direct trade) and roast in house. It is amazing. The coffee is top quality and roasted very well and always to best suit the coffee. I got some Ethiopian coffee that was roast just past what is called a cinnamon roast and it bursts with lemon blossom, blueberry, buttery mouthfeel and crisp finish. It is the best coffee I have had since I left for the Peace Corps. The class felt a bit abbreviated and rushed, though. Mainly because the man leading the cupping was flying to Panama and Nicaragua to search for new coffees. After finding this place I am so jazzed and excited by coffee again it feels great. I am looking forward to spending a lot more time here (they even have beer on tap, if they served lunch and dinner I would never leave) and talking with them about the current state of the coffee industry and learning more about what is going on at origin (where the coffee is grown) and about more opportunities for work, or volunteer work, at origin. I am very excited about this.
Sorry it has been so long since my last email. I have been very very busy. Work has been work. Teaching and working with kids is fantastic. If it weren't for them I would have quit long ago...in fact I probably wouldn't have even taken the job in the first place. I recently went through a 2 day training on how to be a “Disney Trainer” which basically means that I get to teach other people who work for Disney how to do their jobs better. Which is nice and an honor, I guess, because I have only been working for them for 7 months. Because of that I have been working on developing a training for how to deal with cross-cultural relationships with a specific focus on working relationships and communication styles. It seems very similar to the trainings I went through in Peace Corps...in fact I am stealing a lot of ideas from those trainings. I am also organizing the second Academic Idea Exchange for Beijing as well. So, my plate is pretty full with extra work on top of my 10 classes. Also, I recently had one of my classes observed by our Regional Language Learning Director (RLLD) as part of a promotion from “Foreign Trainer” (foreign teacher) to “Senior Foreign Trainer.” The promotion is basically being a Shift Leader where others would come to me for advice and instruction on aspects of their job as well as leading official trainings at the center and being the person in charge when my boss is out of the office. Weee. I am not really holding my breath about this promotion because it usually means a year extension on my contract and I don't really want to continue working for Disney longer than I have. But we'll see.
Outside of work life has been...well, stressful inasmuch as I would like to be with Whitney and it looks like I won't be able to do that before my contract is up. The location transfer process is long and frustrating. It is always difficult when you want to be with someone and you cannot. It is also frustrating because it seems like I have been in this situation for the last 3+ years. But we are working on it and we are both being positive and hoping for the best. Otherwise, I am doing fine. I think I will be buying a bicycle soon. As the weather is getting nicer I am finding myself wanting to be outside more but in order to get to anywhere I have to go to the subway and therefore not be outside. Don't worry, I won't die (famous last words, right?). I will buy a helmet.
As for my vacations (yes, plural) they were great. My first one was to Chengdu and Chongqing. This was with Whitney for the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) back in February. Chengdu is a great city and I hope they are doing well there. In case you hadn't heard, they were hit with a 7.0 quake last week and I am not sure how many people died or are injured. Anyways, while I was there I got to see the Giant Panda reserve, and ancient village, the Sichuan Opera, and Mt. Qing Chen—or something like that, it is the “birthplace” of Taoism. The giant pandas are cute but not as cute as red pandas. Seriously, they look like a panda and a cat had a baby—well, they are more like racoons, but whatever. Chongqing was fun as well. There was less to see outside of the city but the city itself was very beautiful. We went to an ancient portion of the town and it was so crowded we could barely walk. We ended up finding a little tea shop and drinking a lovely pot of Pu'ar and playing a lot of табла (backgammon). Overall is was a wonderful trip and I found it hard, not only to say goodbye to her, but to head back to Beijing in general (it was still winter and very cold).
My second trip was to the lovely city of Ningbo. The city itself is very nice and small (only 8 million people. HA!) and has a beautiful lake within a short (45 minute) bike ride from it. Also, the lovely Whitney lives there. This trip was only for 4 days. But it was great to leave the still dead looking Beijing and go to a place that had flowers and I could wear shorts. There weren't any adventures, just lots of bike riding and getting to see all the places she goes to regularly so I can get a feel for her life there. It was very nice and comforting. For being a “small” city it has a strong ex-pat community.
Lastly, I figured out what my last name is in Mandarin and how to write it in a simplified for. So, Siu is Xiao (first tone for those of you who know what that means) and is written like this 萧 . I hope you all can see that okay. Now the trick is to get mom and dad to send me a picture of my middle name (the characters, duh) so I can know what my full Chinese name is in Mandarin. Man Cheung doesn't mean anything in Mandarin, plus the way of writing Chinese with Latin letters has changed a lot over the years.