In The Way

Archive for the tag “international”

October Update: Highs and Lows

Things in China are going pretty well for the most part. I haven’t updated in a while besides lots of pictures on Instagram / Facebook, but I figured it was high due a new blog post. I would like to write about our first Taobao order, which was a whole blog post worth of experience in itself. So, without hesitation, here’s some current highs and lows of our experience in China.


 

HIGHS

  • We got paid! Our first payday came October 10th, and it is nice to have some cash in our pocket here. While we have plenty of cash saved in our emergency fund to fly home at any point, we had not been paid since the end of July in Milwaukee, essentially going all of August and September without any income.
RMB, Yuan, Kuai, Money, complete with our Dave Ramsey style Envelope system. Budgeting gone global!

RMB, Yuan, Kuai, Money, complete with our Dave Ramsey style Envelope system. Budgeting gone global!

  • Figuring out how Taobao works. Thanks to a very helpful post on Reddit we figured out how to order things on Taobao, which is basically like Ebay for Everything in China. We got lots of American food including BBQ sauce, spices in little baggies that look suspiciously like drugs, CHEESE!, butter, whole wheat flour, all sorts of stuff like this.
Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary, yummy Italian seasonings!

Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary, yummy Italian seasonings! Definitely not drugs!

  • We finally got a vacuum & an air purifier! While our apartment was relatively clean compared to many Chinese apartments, it had not been vacuumed since we arrived. Being able to vacuum gave us a bit of our sanity back as there was hair and other dusty particles on our couch from whoever lived here before us. The air purifier, I’m not really sure how much it does, but it takes out some of the pollution and dust from the air. Since we are trying to treat our apartment like its own contained International Space Station with plants and an air filter, this is nice to have. Makes our air more pure in our apartment.
Our air purifier. The blue light at the top means the air is relatively clean right now. This was about $110, but compared to lung cancer is quite cheap.

Our air purifier. The blue light at the top means the air is relatively clean right now. This was about $110, but compared to lung cancer is quite cheap.

  • We have found food that we like! We typically eat cookies for breakfast, but there is also sometimes 包子(BaoZi), which are a hot steamed bun stuffed with meat and sauce on the inside. There are also 热干面 (ReGanMian), which are a kind of hot noodle slathered in sesame butter. The Ramen noodles here are surprisingly good and there are about 100 varieties of them at the store. We also enjoy some street wraps, which are called 卷并, which literally translates to Rolled Tortilla Frybread, or something like that. We told the school that we didn’t really like the food they were serving us for lunch and they have succeeded in fixing it by making it hot, having more, and making it taste better, honestly. So now we eat at the Kindergarten for lunch most days. The food here is SUPER SUPER cheap. We can go out to eat at a restaurant for anywhere from 园10-25 RMB, or $2-4 USD. This is, for the most part, cheaper than it costs for us to cook within our own home, so we end up eating out probably about 1/2 of the days and eating in the other half.
  • We are learning some Mandarin, so can now sort of kind of communicate with people. Valerie and I meet with a teacher from the school on Tuesday nights for about 2 hours to study mandarin. We are focusing on questions, basic grammar, food vocabulary, pinyin spelling, character and stroke order, and pronunciation. All very helpful. While I typically do not understand hardly anything they say back to me, we now have learned some of the basic ways to form and pronounce questions.
  • We really enjoy our jobs. Working with 3-5 year olds is very rewarding. Kids are able to love and appreciate you as a teacher in a way that I did not even know possible. Several of my students run up and give me a hug spontaneously each day. We really connect with our students and the work is rewarding most of the time. Obviously, with any job, it has its challenges, but we really enjoy working at the school.
Chinese Fire Drill at school! A real live Chinese fire drill!

Chinese Fire Drill at school! A real live Chinese fire drill!

  • Our internet is good so we are able to Skype and call people in the USA pretty easily and consistently. We try to call someone almost every day despite the 12 hour time zone difference. This is really awesome, and I have started videoing with people on a very regular basis. This has been really nice, as we were skeptical about how good this would be before we came. China + Internet do not always get along very well, but thankfully Skype and calling over wifi works most of the time.
  • Badminton. We have been playing 2-3 times a week, and we both really enjoy it. There is a pretty OK gym at the school that we go to and play at, often with Wesley and Marissa, our friends/coworkers, and sometimes withsome of the Chinese teachers and other ESL teachers as well. They take this very seriously here and I really enjoy the sport.

    A badminton tournemant at a local university. Unfortunately they had the entire rock climbing wall closed for some reason in the other room due to this event. We asked the people at the front desk if they have a schedule of events for the gym so that we could check if it was going to be closed before travelling 1 hour across the city to go to the gym, and they said no. We asked them if it was on their website somewhere, and they said no. We asked them how we were supposed to know when the gym is open and she said the only way to know is by asking the rock climbing professor.

    A badminton tournemant at a local university. Unfortunately they had the entire rock climbing wall closed for some reason in the other room due to this event. We asked the people at the front desk if they have a schedule of events for the gym so that we could check if it was going to be closed before travelling 1 hour across the city to go to the gym, and they said no. We asked them if it was on their website somewhere, and they said no. We asked them how we were supposed to know when the gym is open and she said the only way to know is by asking the rock climbing professor.

 


LOWS

  • Air Quality. The air quality is really unbelievably bad. It is overwhelming at times. Last weekend we wanted to go out and do something instead of staying inside our apartment all day but as soon as I stepped outside I got a headache. I am very health conscious and so rather paranoid of things like lung cancer and other issues. It sometimes burns by eyes, and throat, and will leave me with a sore throat and cough for days. This is incredibly discouraging and we are trying to figure out ways to cope with it, but in my opinion, this really affects the quality of life for everyone in a city in China. The best way I can describe it would be to be walking next to a person grinding concrete with dust flying in the air, except that it tastes like dirt and chemicals. It’s really the worst. We are even considering getting a Wii so that we can do more physical activities within our apartment without exposure to the polluted air.
    Nice day with blue skies our second week in China. It was like this for about two weeks straight at the beginning of October.

    Nice day with blue skies our second week in China. It was like this for about two weeks straight at the beginning of October.

    More average day with pollution outside. I swear it is not natural clouds, just smog. Notice the lack of sunlight.

    More average day with pollution outside. I swear it is not natural clouds, just smog. Notice the lack of sunshine.

  • Mandarin is really really hard and can be quite discouraging at times. Sometimes when I try and talk to someone in Chinese they will just not talk to me at all and go find someone who speaks English. And I don’t mean try and talk to me, I mean, they will completely stop talking and go find someone else. Very discouraging. Anyways, we have learned some food, but conversation is difficult. Just today I took this picture below to memorize what is on this menu at the Baozi (steamed bun with meat inside) restaurant/tienda.

    Baozi menu. I will learn all of these characters so that I can try all the different kinds!

    Baozi menu. I will learn all of these characters so that I can try all the different kinds!

  • Making friends is difficult. I would really like to make some Chinese guy friends to be able to play badminton or soccer or something with, but there are not very many opportunities to do so. There is literally one male teacher at our school who is Chinese, the rest of us guys are English teachers. We have connected well with the group that we meet with on Sunday mornings for church, but I am having a hard time meeting new people and making friends. My plan for this is to just be really outgoing at the gym and join some people in basketball or badminton, as well as starting to play Xiangqi, a funky and very popular Chinese chess.
  • Traveling anywhere in any mode of transportation can be really frustrating. Biking is dangerous as people, scooters, buses, taxis, and vans will come out of nowheresville and cut us off. It is constant conflict management and it really stresses us Americans out. People walk out without looking to see if traffic is coming. It takes FOREVER to take the bus anywhere. Taxis are the best way to get around as they only cost about $3-5 USD depending on how far we are going, but in certain parts of the city it is just basically impossible to get a cab so we end up taking the bus which can take literally like 1.5 hours to go something like 6 miles.

    This was a car accident on a very major road. They were completely stopping traffic, and traffic was backed up for, literally, like 3 miles on this road. When people get into an accident, which happens very frequently, they stay in the exact spot until the police arrive. On this day it delayed our bus for about 40 minutes. Ugh.

    This was a car accident on a very major road. They were completely stopping traffic, and traffic was backed up for, literally, like 3 miles on this road. When people get into an accident, which happens very frequently, they stay in the exact spot until the police arrive. On this day it delayed our bus for about 40 minutes. Ugh.

  • Backwards China. Many things are done very inefficiently. Banking is a nightmare. Websites are buggy. Sanitation is a complete joke. Children are undisciplined. Bikes are super slow. People avoid saying no, instead of communicating directly. This list is long, but a lot of this is just culture shock, not right or wrong. Just challenging to adapt to.
  • Missing America, especially friends and family. 

 


That’s all. I am still posting consistently on Instagram, although I am considering switching to wordpress as a platform for the photos instead of Instagram for all of the people who are interested but not on Facebook or Instagram.

Questions? Want pictures of something in particular? Let me know!

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Backwards China

Before coming to China I was told many things are done differently here. Some would say backwards. These have many reactions varying from disgust, surprise, disappointment, excitement, and remembering all cross cultural training from college to recognize that things here are not necessarily wrong, just different. So different.

Before I get to that, here are most of my students in the Deer Classroom:

Most of the students in the Deer Classroom.

Most of the students in the Deer Classroom.

Some noteable differences include:


 

People Park Their Car Anywhere and Everywhere. Literally wherever they want. This includes in the middle of the road, on the sidewalk, in front of the gate to your apartment complex, on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant. You name it. If you think your car can fit somewhere, you can park there. From a driving perspective it is awesome. From an everything else perspective, it is just ridiculous.

– The heat is turned on in the summer. It is like 90 degrees or so outside during the afternoon here when the children should be napping at school. Since my office is also the children’s napping area, I get to see this every day. I typically set the air conditioning to a nice 25 C, or 77 F. When they nap they turn my air conditioning off and change the temperature up from 25C (77F) to 29C (84F), which is quite toasty. So I guess technically this is still cooler than outside, but sometimes they will just straight up turn the AC off during naptime which will lead my room to become in the 90s during naptime, in the heat of the afternoon.

– They often have air conditioning on with the window wide open next to it. ‘Nuff said.

– Lights are turned off more than they are on. At our apartment complex there are these awesome lights along the walkway that light up the sidewalks. They are only lit until like 8 or 9pm, after that they are turned off. Even better than this is that at the school’s gymnasium, instead of lighting the hallways to the rooms, the pool, and the gym, the staff uses flashlights to walk around and lead people to the room. When we went to play Ping Pong, they only turned the lights on over the table we were playing on instead of the same room. Not that electricity is expensive here – as far as I can understand it is much cheaper than the states.

Funky eyeball computer speakers to replace the ones I fried!

Funky eyeball computer speakers to replace the ones I fried!

– The electronics are different. Electronics have two prongs, not 3, and they are not polarized, which means that they do not have 2 different sized prongs. I have so far fried my computer speakers and my hot water heater trying to use their electricity. And that’s with a voltage converter and proper adapters.

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Cathy, our supervisor, and her husband Roy and their child at a restaurant about 1 block from our house! Yum!

– Hot soup or noodles are served 3 meals a day. Most notably including breakfast. While I enjoy hot soup and noodles for dinner, I find that eating hot soup for breakfast during the summer to be just, well, different.

– They do not drink ice water. Chinese people do not really drink ice water at all. They have hot water instead, often unflavored hot water. We got drinks and popcorn at the movie theater and they gave us a warm lemon tea water instead of ice water or something. This makes the ice bucket challenge much more of a challenge, really. It is hard to find ice!

– Traffic does not use turn signals. This can be very confusing. Many times people walking, biking, driving a moto scooter, or driving, will simply drive straight at you. With no turn signals, it makes it hard to get out of their way. Especially if you cannot see the motos because their lights are not on in the middle of the night. That is a thing.

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The rugrats themselves doing some sort of group dance thing. These group dance things are very popular here.

– Kindergarten and preschool here is loooooong. The students are here 9-10 hours each day. Compared to most preschools in the States that are only a few hours long, this is quite extensive.

Meetings, and everything else, are done last minute here. The Chinese work system does not really consider your personal out-of-work life important. So they will often ask you to do things very last minute without considering that you might have personal plans. We have a good understanding at this point with the school about this, that if we are not told at least 1 week in advance, that it probably will not happen if it is outside of work hours. We have a good cultural excuse. The Chinese work long, long hours, like 10-11 hrs a day at the Kindergarten and are typically not paid any more than 8 hours of work per day.

Most children, before they are potty trained, pee in the street. In fact, they do not even have diapers on. They just wear sort of little pants with giant holes underneath. I would post a photo of this but I feel that it would be inappropriate. So when they need to go, they go, pretty much wherever they want. I have seen kids peeing in the ‘hospital,’ on sidewalks, in the grass, over grates, over trash containers, pretty much wherever. Just today a kid peed right in front of the entrance to the school, right between where the students wash their hands and before they have their temperature checked by the nurse. With no effort by anyone to clean it up. I guess that’s why the new laminate floor in the entrance to the school is yellow!

Air pollution blocking out the sun.

Air pollution blocking out the sun.

While Traffic is Scary, Bicycling Is Quite Safe, and Slow Here. We bought the fastest bikes we could find for under $200. They cost about $50 each, and they are low quality Chinese single speeds. My bottom bracket is creaking already. I do not think it will survive. However, we live about 1 mile away from the school so it is about a 9 minute bike ride to school and 9 minute ride back. Very slow, easy, and nice. There are giant bike lanes and sidewalks separated by trees from the main road, which makes cycling feel much safer than the states. Suburban areas in the USA are scary to bike in. Mind you, we bike THROUGH some very polluted air and water, but at least we are not competing with cars going 60 MPH next to us.

– Meat is chopped, not separated. The bones are not removed from the meat here, so eating it can be a bit of a challenge. Instead of having  a section on the lunch tray for milk, there is a section on the lunch tray for spitting out bones and things like this.


There is much more that we are missing, but that will have to do for now! Thanks for reading, and feel free to Skype or WeChat us sometime! We’d love to talk!

I should also note that I have been adding a photo each day on Instagram at instagram.com/dshinabarger . Let me know if you want to see pictures of anything in particular! It seems like most people like pictures better than text anyways 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Top 5 Free Spanish Resources Online

It can sometimes be difficult, annoying, and time-consuming to weed through all of the resources out there for learning another language.

I thought I would compile a list of my personal favorites. I´m sure there are others out there, but these are the resources that I use most often.
1. Google Translate

This is a classic. Just type into your top bar translate.google.com, and you have a very quick, concise translation to just about anything. And, if you type in any url or website, it can translate just about everything. Whenever I am working on a computer in anything Spanish related, I will have Google Translate open. It is, like most Google products, efficient and user-friendly.

The one downside? The vocabulary is incomplete. Some localized words cannot be found in Google Translate.

2. Radio Ambulante

As a passionate This American Life listener (I´ve listened to every podcast since May 2011) I was ecstatic to find a podcast like TAL in Spanish. Radio Ambulante offers interesting stories, and even if your Spanish is at a very basic level, it is good to listen to. Amidst what seems like hundreds of wierd or lame Spanish podcasts, Radio Ambulante is hands-down the best story-telling program to listen to in Spanish. Great for learning, and has enticing stories.

3. YouTube

As perhaps one of the best unofficial DIY (Do-It-Yourself) websites, it seems like you can learn just about anything on Youtube. There are lots of good Spanish Youtube channels out there. YouTube is perhaps best supplemented with a class or a textbook, but it serves as an amazing way to get free and simple explanations to complex problems. My favorite Spanish Channel is from Senor Jordan. His channel is at http://www.youtube.com/user/tontitofrito .

He does a great explanation of reflexive verbs. If you don´t know what those are, check this video out! It helped me greatly with understanding this concept!

4. Spanishdict.com

SpanishDict does everything Google Translate can´t. It has a much better and extensive vocabulary list than Google Translate does, and it will tell you words that are in slang. For example, there are many words in Central America that are A-OK in one country, and quite offensive in another. Or consider the word ¨coche¨. This can be used to describe a car, a pig/swine, or a person who is a jerkface.  SpanishDict can most likely tell you the difference.

If Google Translate doesn´t have it, look on SpanishDict. If SpanishDict doesn´t have it, it might not be a word. Check with someone who is fluent.

5. Duo Lingo

DuoLingo incorporates into it´s Spanish-learning software something most softwares lack: social networking and competition. As an online network, in DuoLingo you not only have intuitive lessons where you apply similar ¨overlearning¨ techniques like in Rosetta Stone, but it incorporates social networking in an innovative way. You can also help translate the internet, or so they claim. I´m currently a level 10, and I´d love to compete. Add my username davidshinabarger and we can compete!

I realize that there are a plethora of these resources out there. Studyspanish.com gets a shout out, but these five are my current personal favorites!

Let me know if you have any other suggestions to share!

Slinkies at Tikal!

It was totally worth the adventure hats. Last Sunday we flew up north the see the ancient ruins of Tikal.

Our flight left from Guatemala City somewhere around 6:30 in the morning, which meant that our bus left Antigua at 4am. It gets light around 6 here, which made 4 am either very early in the morning or very late at night.

On the way to the bus we witnessed two men stop their moto, dismount, chug the rest of their can of beer, and keep driving.

It was cold in the morning as we drove to Guatemala City, and my zipper broke on my athletic jacket I wore in the morning.

After checking into the airport with our passports, and checking out all of the other American and Asian tourists, we were ready to fly.

Valerie and I had been talking about going to Tikal for months, and had exquisitely planned wearing extreme jungle adventure uniforms as well as imitating Ace Ventura with some slinkies.

Here is a picture of us with our adventure uniforms!

Matching outfits! Photo from Libby Sgambelluri.

When we arrived in Peten about an hour later we noticed two things. 1) it was much hotter than Antigua and 2) our touristy van smelled of mildew.

While driving into the park we noticed these signs. These signs were hilarious, but also instilled some fear in us. Seeing 3 giant yellow signs warning of the eminent danger of snakes is a little intimidating. I am terrified of snakes, and I’m still recovering from our adventures through rattlesnake country in South Dakota.

Here are some pictures of the signs.

Snake!!

Small animal of some time! I don´t remember what these were called!

Pabo / Turkey!

Puma / Jaguar!!

This is either a boa constrictor with cute bunnies inside, or a speed bump with three bumps. I´ll let you decide.

After arriving where we enter the park, we met up with our guide, whose name I believe was Carlos. He had a large mustache, and grew up in this very jungle area. He was super knowledgeable, and gave us a very excellent tour. Crystal, an assistant with Spring Arbor University, noted that he was the best guide we have ever had for any SAU tours.

He made jokes like ¨You can´t run from a jaguar. You just have to run faster than someone else.¨ or ¨If you touch a branch on a tree, and realize it is kind of slimy and moving, you should probably move your hand. It might be a snake.¨ and ¨If you feel something falling on you from above, it probably isn´t rain water. It´s pee from the monkeys.¨

You get the point.

After a few of these jokes we stopped by the beautiful Ceiba tree, the national tree of Guatemala, and a tree integral to the rainforests in this part of the world. I saw this tree in the Milwaukee Public Museum this summer, but of course, it was merely a fake replica.

Here´s the tree.

The beautiful Ceiba tree, national tree to Guatemala.

This tree is something of an oak tree in Michigan in that it is the centerpiece for the surrounding jungle. It provides shade for surrounding plants and trees, is much taller and wider than other trees, and, I would imagine, has some huge root systems.

As we walked up to this tree, Carlos said, ¨Hold on a a second, I am going to see if I can find my little friend today.¨ From the path, he walked behind this beautiful tree. The way he gave us his mustachioed smile, and the way he had a twinkle in his eye, I was sure he was about to throw a fake snake out at us from inside his backpack. Valerie and I hung back from the group, not wanting to panick upon said snake-throwing. We were thinking something like ¨this is going to be great, us laughing at them.¨

When we heard girls screaming, we realized we had guessed incorrectly. Instead, Carlos had walked behind the tree and lured out a real live, wild tarantula that was living under the tree! It was unbelievable!

He said ¨When I was a kid, we didn´t have uhplaystation. We just had these, and these are my favorite toy.¨

And with that, he asked anyone if they wanted to hold it. Here is a photo. There is a video, too, but it is on the Facebook, so I can´t post it on here. You´ll have to befriend Valerie or I to view this.

Valerie holding the tarantula! Seconds before she held it, I thought to myself ¨There is no way I can hold that thing¨, and even did a sissy shudder at the thought! There´s an awesome video on the Facebook!

The rest of the day went great. We saw ruins, monkeys, turkeys, tarantulas, (NO SNAKES!), and the incredible views from the tops of the ruins of Tikal. It was a blast, and we absolutely loved it.

Valerie and I at one of the 4 ¨main¨ temples. This is on all of the Guatemalan liscence plates, and currency, and things like that.

Guatemalan National Liscence Plate!

For months Valerie and I had been scheming how to make the Tikal experience the best experience possible. So, we thought, what better to take to some ancient pyramids but a SLINKY? After watching this memorable scene from Ace Ventura, we had to take it with.

Heres a picture to prove that it happened!

Slinkys down some ancient Mayan stairs.

Valerie just has the best of ideas. Altogether, we slinked, we slanked, and got a bunch of great pictures.

As always, thanks so much to the Gilman Scholarship for helping fund this awesome trip to Guatemala! Check their site out at http://www.iie.org/GILMAN

Thanks for reading!

Postcards from Guatemala

I´m in the process of reading Ben Franklin´s Autobiography. Compared to the last book I read, The Lord of the Flies, Franklin´s peace holds a much more optimistic view towards life and humanity.
He discusses the benefits of personal virtue and discipline, and warns against the dangers of pride.
He includes a list of virtues he tries towards becoming moral, and without flaws. While realizing this is incredibly difficult, morality is a goal we can at least attempt to hold.

Here it is:

“1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

9. MODERATION. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.

11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”
With this list he keeps a checklist of how well he is doing on things, and makes a daily tally of when he failed on different circumstances. For example, if he were to eat a GIANT banana split from The Parlor in Jackson, Michigan, by himself, he would probably be violating the rule of Temperance.
I am working on his goal of Resolution. I have resolved to send out 22 postcards from Guatemala to people back home.

They might look something like this:

It will look something like this!

Here´s where you come into play.

E-mail me your addresss at davidshinabarger@gmail.com , Facebook message me, comment on the blog, tweet, whatever. If you send me your adress, I will send you a postcard from Guatemala.

Maybe this will become a Birthday tradition.
So please, write me.

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