I apologize for my poor English skills ahead of time… I’ve really immersed myself in Chinese this semester and my native language has definitely taken a nose dive. Don’t tell the university where I teach English! They’ll never know.
Summer Me Go Home Home = Heck yeah, I’m coming home for the summer! (Is that grammatically correct?)
After almost two years of life in China and travels to North Korea, Western China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh, I’ve decided to spend a holiday back home with the people that care about me the most.
And it’s long overdue!
Please check your calendars and let me know when you’d like to meet up… I’d love to catch up on your lives and, of course, share about mine. If you have a small group or a big group that wants to hear about “overseas life,” I’d definitely consider sharing with them, too. Ask me anything!
When and where will you be?
I’m arriving home to Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the end of June, to firstly spend some quality time with my family and friends for a few weeks. I’ll be traveling to Washington, DC, to spend some time with various friends on the East Coast maybe in August? Back to Minnesota for the end of August.
There will be a weekend somewhere when I go to Chicago. Maybe spend a weekend up north at a lake. Maybe short trips around MN and surrounding states? Any road trip ideas?
I will head back to China by September. Make sure all of our adventures are completed before then. I’m afraid my time home will go by way too quickly.
What will you do whilst home?
I can tell you what I won’t be doing: having dinner with three beautiful Chinese girls at the same time! Hey oh! It’s possible, but unlikely.
Anyways, my options are really endless. What else would someone who hasn’t been in America for two years want to do?
Food (literally anything), Twins games (or any sporting event), Guthrie tickets (or any theater), live music (of any size or genre), cabins up north (or south or west), State Fair (self-explanatory), walks around the lakes (or rivers), more food (maybe not Americanized Chinese?), coffee/tea (or milk tea), and free things (like food!)…
And to be frank, I won’t have too much money to spend this summer, so if we’re deciding between things, I’d prefer the cheaper option… You know what I mean? Thanks. Good thing it doesn’t cost anything to just hang out!
How can I best support you?
Many of you want to help in various ways and with various resources while I’m at home. Here are my thoughts:
Does anyone have an extra car I could use for a couple months? In Minnesota or DC?
How about a two-month SIM card for my cell phone?
Any spare frequent flier miles laying around?
Who’d like to fill me in on recent pop culture/politics?
Anyone like to help me go shopping? I desperately need an entirely new wardrobe. For lack thereof and for lack of fasion know-how. (My second to last pair of shorts just ripped yesterday. Come on!)
Anybody know a cheap doctor and dentist to get check-ups at? My Chinese insurance won’t cover things in the States.
How about a counselor? Being home might be a tad bit overwhelming.
Does anyone have a record player I could borrow for the summer? I sold mine before I left, but saved my favorite vinyls.
Oh, and I’m thinking about taking up the banjo.. Anyone have one they don’t want?
I came across this video the other day and was completely surprised. Is this really the city I live in? True, I haven’t been here during the summer yet, but STILL. Shouldn’t I have seen at least one of these places already? I think this is just good marketing trying to lure unknowing foreigners into its grasp:
You know you stand out from the crowd if you get interviewed for a big magazine in town when you haven’t even been here 3 months. Well, that’s what happened to me.
I met one of my good Chinese friends, Jonathan, on the subway. Apparently, he knew I was a foreigner right away. (How could he tell!?) This was back in December and I found out he had just gotten a job at Tomorrow Magazine – “An Extensive Living Guide for Foreigners in Tianjin.” In January, he wanted to interview me. I only found the publication recently.
Here is that interview in its embarrassing entirety:
Daniel Konold, a big boy from Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. Before moving to Tianjin, he worked with computers in support and design. He loves travelling. So far he has been to over 20 countries covering almost all continents on the earth. For leisure time, he likes basketball, American football, and rugby.
1. Why do you choose Tianjin as destination? Actually, I didn’t choose Tianjin, Tianjin chose me! The company I work for places me in different cities around China, and Tianjin happens to be the city they chose for me.
2. How long have you been living in Tianjin? I’ve been living in Tianjin a little over 3 months.
3. What do you do here? Here in Tianjin, I’m an English Teacher and a Web Designer.
4. Did you feel difficult living in Tianjin when you just arrived, for instance? No, it wasn’t difficult at all to start living here. I think Tianjin is a good transition city with many similar things to my hometown, but still different enough to feel new.
5. How do you like Tianjin? Tianjin is not my favorite city in the world, but it’s a fine city to live in. The public transportation is very easy to use and I can find most food from around the world whenever I feel like it.
6. What do you think about Tianjin locals? Tianjin local people have been very nice to me, personally. Since the first day I arrived, many people have offered to help me move in and find things I’m looking for. No complaints about the locals!
7. By far, what do you think about Tianjin? I think Tianjin is, by far, the biggest city I’ve ever lived in but also small enough to start to call home.
8. When the day that you leave Tianjin comes, what will you miss about this place? Mostly, I will miss the people I’ve met along the way and all the nice Tianjinians who have helped me live here.
9. Tell me something about some interesting personal experiences in this city. One of the most interesting experiences so far was going to the TuanBo Hot Springs on the outskirts of town. I was definitely the only noticeable foreigner in the spa and I got a lot of stares. Dipping into all the different liquids was fascinating and I really felt rejuvenated after the visit.
If God grants me longer life, I will see to it that no peasant in my kingdom will lack the means to have a chicken in the pot every Sunday.
There it stood.
That multi-level “western” food flashiness: K. F. C.
I knew I shouldn’t, but its power was too great. I was on my way home and too tired to try and wok it up Chinese-style that night.
Excuses are stinky; I caved.
As I walked into this chain restaurant netherworld, I felt every single eye glaring at me. The place was packed, but I was completely alone in my inner humiliation. The walk to the counter was even more disgraceful. It looked exactly the same as the infamous fast food joint back home and I hadn’t been in a KFC for years.
What was I going to order? How was I going to order it!? These are questions that you think of way too late for impulsive crack moves like this…
The cashier said something in Chinese, which I understood as, “Welcome to KenDeJi, may I take your order?”
I had the fried wonderland at my finger-lickin’ fingertips, but I had no idea what to get. I quickly composed myself and a Chinese sentence, “I want a chicken hamburger.” (That was the only food I could translate at the time. If I had said, “chicken fingers,” I’m afraid they may have gone the literal route.)
The young lady didn’t have time for my poor Mandarin. She immediately handed me a full-page menu with color photographs and pointed at which “chicken hamburger” I really wanted. Honestly, none of them looked appetizing. Under so much pressure, I just randomly picked one. Note to self: never randomly pick one at KFC.
In total, my meal was about 35RMB, the same price I’d pay for many dishes of delicious Chinese cuisine. The sandwich was tiny. The meat was dark. And they only gave me a small napkin and one little ketchup packet, which I was warned about.
As I sat and ate this pitiful meal, I had lots of time to reflect… friends don’t let friends eat at KFC. Period.
(It’s been almost 6 months, though… that ain’t too bad, right?)
That gives you a week or two to get a little somethin’ somethin’ in the mail. I posted back in October my mailing address, and many of you have sent some amazing things! For that, I am very thankful. Receiving postcards, cards, letters, and packages is the highlight of my week – keep ‘em coming!
I just thought I’d remind ya’ll that my birthday was coming up just in case you wanted to send something…
Anywhere is walking distance, if you’ve got the time.
You could click the Amazon Wish List for a few ideas, or consult this subtle list:
1. Anything handmade or handwritten (gotta love the gifts from the heart)
2. Pictures of you that I can put up on my wall (my wall is so bare)
3. Fortune cookies (so many people have asked what these are, I’d love to show ‘em!)
4. Books (literally, anything)
5. Starbucks Gift Cards (yep, they work here!)
6. Easy Mac (I can get the boxed stuff, but it’s difficult to get good milk and butter)
7. Sunday morning comics (except Family Circus)
8. Pants (36 waist x 36 inseam, but I’m losing weight fast)
9. Shoes (they really don’t have size 13 here, folks… aren’t they made here, though?)
10. A wife (I know what you’re thinking)
The fireworks have stopped.
All but one of my favorite noodle shops has reopened.
The old man barber down the street has started to cut people’s hair again.
I got a letter in the mail that was sent over two months ago.
The new teaching semester at school has begun.
Is the New Year celebration finally over?
I’ve had quite an eventful couple of weeks and I’m glad to be back to the normal routine, whatever that is. The week before the Chinese New Year, I got invited over to a family’s home. And I wasn’t even trying! I was just at work, minding my own business, when my boss asked me what I was planning to do to usher in the Year of the Tiger. I told her that I didn’t have any plans and was just going to lay low and stay inside to avoid the craziness I anticipated outside. Well, she wouldn’t hear of it! She started calling around asking her friends if they had room for a large foreigner to join them. Sure enough, after class was over, she cornered me as I was sneaking out and told me that I had agreed to go to her friend’s house for the party! I really don’t remember agreeing to this?
The afternoon of New Year’s Eve arrived, and I hopped in a taxi to Chloe’s house – my Chinese boss’s Chinese friend and her extended family. Let the awkwardness begin!
Little did I know, but there were three daughters in the family: all cousins, all in their 20s and all spoke perfect English. One minor problem: two of them already had American boyfriends. Another minor problem: the aforementioned American boyfriends were also at the get-together. One more minor problem: I didn’t realize what was going on until it was too late.
The extravaganza began with food and lots of it. (My kind of party!) It was one of those meals where the entire table was filled with delicious dishes, and those were just the appetizers. Once one dish was finished, they’d bring another out! Chloe taught me how to eat crab, and I think I ate about six, 4 females and 2 males. The dumplings were homemade and seemingly bottomless. The Chinese ladies were almost having as much fun watching me as I was having eating. The Chinese men just gave toasts to each other the whole time. Oh, and the American guys were talking about politics.
After hours of dinner, we moved to the living room and they turned the TV on. The CCTV New Year’s Gala was on, of course! Imagine a four-hour long performance of song, dance, acrobatics, xiangsheng comedy, and magic shows. Besides being completely in Mandarin, the show was actually pretty entertaining. I even recognized one of the singers. And there’s a huge controversy around the illusion during the magic section, or so I’m told.
This did get old after a while, considering I understood next to nothing. So I decided to throw my two cents into the politics conversation. Big mistake. Before I could give my opinion on the current President or the previous one, they turned to me and said, “So, aren’t Chinese girlfriends awesome!?” Hmm. I like to think that I’m a smart guy, but this took a while to sink in. When I finally figured out the grand scheme of my boss trying to set me up with Chloe, I had already made myself endearing to her father and her uncles. I’d have to make a clean break before it got out of hand and start talking about my secret wife in Italy.
After hours of TV, we moved outside for fireworks. Words cannot describe how insane they were. So I’m not even gonna try… watch the video!
And the fireworks didn’t end on New Year’s Eve… they continued for weeks.
For the rest of the Spring Festival, pretty much everything was shut down except places to go shopping. I got to play some basketball indoors and I actually looked pretty good. I think I went to KTV three or four times. And I got a new roommate. Dangit! I hear more fireworks! When will these little demons stop!? Seriously.
Remind me to tell you this awesome train story from Italy some day! It involves 20 teenagers, 20+ American-sized luggages, a closed train bathroom, and a 6 hour train ride. Actually, don’t remind me of that. Never ever remind me of that.
Feel free to remind me of the bullet train I took from Tianjin to Beijing (and back), though! Thirty minutes and about ten dollars later, I had successfully taken this modern feat of Chinese engineering. The names of the train translates to “Harmony” and that’s exactly what I was thinking the entire trip. Travelling 120 kilometers has never been so easy! For all my Minnesota readers, this would be like travelling from St. Cloud to downtown Minneapolis in half an hour! For my Texas readers, this is like going from Garden Valley to Dallas in that same amount of time.
At top speeds of 350 km/h, it’s revolutionized the way middle-class Chinese travel and was very useful during the Olympics last year when most of the soccer events were held in Tianjin. I’ve heard stories of people that live in Tianjin but commute to Beijing every day for work. Maybe I should do that?
The one I took only got up to 329 km/h… I was only slightly disappointed.
Fares Second class = 58 RMB (be sure that you’re given a seat number, or you’ll be standing) First class = 69 RMB Deluxe class = 99 RMB (only 8 seats per trip)
You can easily purchase your ticket at the station the day of your trip; they also take reservations up to 20 days before your trip.
Timetable From Tianjin: Trains leave every half hour from 6:25 in the morning to 10:45 at night From Beijing: Trains leave every half hour from 6:35 in the morning to 11:00 at night
(subject to change, obviously)
(and I think it’s closed during the major holiday weeks) (EDIT: Nope, it’s open during the holidays.)
I’d recommend getting to the station about an hour before your intended departure.
“Never eat Chinese food in Oklahoma.” – Bryan Miller
Agreed. I would add Wisconsin to that statement as well. To get the best, most authentic Chinese food, you need to know what you’re looking for. If you’re not from China and you’ve never been to China or Chinatown you might lack this ability, but not always. The local buffet down the street may be tasty, but it’s likely to not be very bona fide. For instance, in the entire Minneapolis/St. Paul area there’s less than a handful of genuine joints.
My first post in this series listed the Basic Cooking Utensils and for this second edition, I’ve decided to list some of the rudimentary fixins’ you’ll need to have around the kitchen to provide the best, most legitimate Chinese meal. OK?
1. The Rice
Back in the day, people in China only ate rice. Many Chinese people that I’ve asked around Tianjin say that rice is their main course when they eat at home. And they buy it by the bag-full here. It’s quite easy! I have a nice little outdoor market on the way home from work. I haven’t figured out the measure word for rice yet, but the rice lady always smiles and asks me if the amount is okay after she puts in a load. I wouldn’t even know how to buy rice in America! The grocery store? In a box? Costco?
How to Cook Rice
Ancient Chinese Food
2. The Fresh Fruits & Veggies
Note, I said “fresh.” Over the next few months, I might start taking for granted the fact that I can walk a half a block away from my apartment and buy the cheapest, most delicious fruits and vegetables I’ve ever bought or eaten. Hopefully not. I noticed, though, that one stand was selling some Red Delicious with the Washington sticker on it. That made me suspicious! Until I can adequately communicate and ask where those apples came from, I’ll keep assuming they were locally grown by the person who sold it to me.
In addition to what’s in this picture, make sure to have tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplant around too; they were absent for the photo shoot.
Pictures of Chinese Vegetables
Made In China Fruit
3. The Eggs
Whether you want chicken, duck, or goose eggs, you can get them at the market. I think I’ve only been getting chicken eggs, but who can really tell anyways? (Especially an ignorant foreigner like myself.) Oh, and if you see some chickens running around the KFC on the corner, assume they’re only being used for the eggs. (wink)
By the way, eggs are essential. Some of my favorite dishes, so far, all have plenty of eggs in them.
The Century Egg
Eggs in Chinese cooking
4. The Cooking Oil
I think there are different kinds of oil, but I’m unable to translate them all. I just got the biggest tub of oil I could lug back so it would last a long time. It’s not lasting long at all. Oil must be its own food group here. Oh, and be careful when you heat this stuff up. Not that I’ve burned myself or anything. The pros make it look so simple!
What kind of oil?
Cooking with Oil
5. The Soy Sauce, Vinegar, Peanut Something, and MSG. (Lots of MSG.)
Ah, the condiments. Admit it, no one really knows how to correctly use soy sauce, right? Well, neither do I, that’s why we’re starting with the basics here. I just know it tastes good and a requirement for authentic Chinese cooking. In the market here, there’s an entire row of different sauces. It’s like the cereal or toothpaste aisle in America. I just picked the one that had an English translation on it.
MSG may have a bad rap, but I think it contributes a lot to the enhancing of neurotoxic flavors in Chinese food! If it’s supposed to cause health problems, why are Chinese people generally pretty healthy? I have no answers on this one, just questions. Leave your lawyers at home.
It’s Christmas night, and there I sat… in my apartment, by myself, watching The Muppets Christmas Carol. I had worked all day (teaching about Christmas to Chinese kids), went to a grand dinner with a Chinese friend (more on that later), and had a nice long Skype conversation with my family back home (who was all snowed in). It was different than any other “Christmas” I’ve had before, but I think I can get used to it. Different, but awesome.
Some people wish for a White Christmas, but I knew I’d be lucky if I didn’t get a pollution-filled Smoggy Christmas. And it turned out to be a very nice day! No snow, but I wasn’t expecting it.
(Interesting article: Why Christmas is increasingly popular [in China])
So yeah, now the holidays are almost over and I’ll have a new year in a new country… I kind of like it! I didn’t get a day off of work for Christmas, but I do get a day off for New Year’s Day this week. Ironically, I finally found someone to let me use their oven, so it looks like I’ll be baking New Year’s Cookies instead of Christmas cookies this week!
About Christmas dinner: I’ll choose to only write about dinner on the 25th because dinner on the 24th was a waste of money and left me hungry afterwards. One of my Chinese friends had backed out on plans, so I contacted a different friend to see if he was available. He was! I’d have some company, at least, on Christmas night. We went to the amazing restaurant/buffet that is Golden Hans. In China, I think it’d be classified as “western” food, but it’s not like those horribly-tasting, misspelled ones down the street. Golden Hans is the real deal. The best general way to describe it would be a huge Brazilian BBQ and microbrewery with a Germanic Amish feel. I’ll get pictures of it someday, I promise. Remember, we were going on Christmas Day night in China and I had no idea what to expect. We made our way up to the fourth floor of this strip mall and oodles of people were lined up to get in. Good thing I brought a Chinese friend! He was able to put our name down and we waited for a table. The place was packed. They were hauling in new tables and stools for people to sit on. Since there was only 2 of us, I think we got in sooner than expected – it only took about 30 minutes.
After sitting down and paying, the waiters dressed as German yodelers come around with huge skewers of meat and brush them off to your plate. They mark a sheet when they bring it, so you sort of know what you’re eating. Don’t worry, they’ll come around again if you liked it! They gave me honey-basted ham, lamb, beef, and pork. They had sausage. They had chicken heart and ox tongue. I had barbecued chicken and fried banana. Needless to say, this meal was amazing. The buffet left me wanting, but the meat skewers that kept coming around were quite fulfilling.
And to top that, one of my English students and her family was sitting in the table next to me! (In a city of over 10 million people, how does this happen!?) Her father was so excited to meet me and kept toasting me with his soda every few minutes and saying, “Sheng dan kuai le!”, the Chinese equivalent of Merry Christmas. It was wonderful.
A truly memorable Christmastime for me… I wish you all could have been here!
Well, I can definitely answer the question “What’s your job going to be like?” better now than I was able to a few months ago. Honestly, it’s not all it was cracked up to be. Don’t get me wrong, it got me to China and I’m surviving just fine. It’s just… that it’s still a job. I’m not on vacation. I’m not on a short-term summer trip. I live here now and that requires going to work every day, etc.
I work for a consulting company called ACES, American China Exchange Society. It’s an American company with offices in China. My office has all Chinese people working at it. I hastily discovered that the contract I signed back in August meant little more than a hill of beans once I finally arrived here. And when you’re a new foreigner in town, there’s literally no way to negotiate! Ha! Every time I try to point something out (like my contract says I’d have the day off for Christmas Day, but no – I’m working… and probably on Christmas Eve too) they reply, “This is China! That’s how it works here…”
Their website says that they interact and consult with businesses, government agencies and individuals to teach practical and relational English in everyday life. One-on-one teaching will help students improve their skills… blah blah blah. The American lady I talked to before accepting the position said my main job responsibility would be to “build relationships with Chinese people.” I feel like that’s the furthest thing from what I’m doing this semester.
To sum up my job placement this semester: I’m a Foreign English Teacher at two different middle schools here in town, Tianjin Yaohua Binhai School (a well-known boarding-type school around China) and Tianjin #4 Middle School (the 4th best school in Tianjin, obviously)(come on, it makes sense to Chinese people). Middle schools here are usually for Grades 7-12. The word for “high school” would translate as university, I think. At these two schools, I have about 24, 45-minute classes per week; each of those classes has 40-50 students in them. Can you do the math? That’s about 1000 Chinese youngsters under my tutelage every week. Whatever happened to one-on-one?
Most of the time, these youngsters could care less about learning English. Most all of my students come from very wealthy families and they’ll get good jobs no matter what their English skills are like. There are, though, one or two students in every class with whom I’m starting to slowly build relationships. These high school students are so busy and stressed out with their homework, it’s ridiculous!
In my opinion, this is a very easy job because all I need to do is prepare one lesson plan each week on whatever topic I want and blather on about that topic for a few minutes then have the kids practice it. If you also did the math on how much I’m working, I’m only in front of a class for 18 hours or so. The rest of the time on the job, I read my few books or study Chinese. Oh yeah – this week, I’m talking about the real story of Christmas.
On the other hand, though, this gets extremely boring for me by the tenth class. I’m used to having jobs that I can grow in personally and professionally. Maybe I’m learning public-speaking skills? Maybe I’m learning how to better deal with teenagers? I don’t know.