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Archive for the tag “language”

6 Months in China: Figuring Out The Rules

Each day of my kindergarten class I begin with a routine. The routine starts with a song, reviews easy kindergarten vocabulary like the ABCs and the weather, and ends with the rules. Rules matter.

English class rules are:

  1. I will sit properly.
  2. I will raise my hand.
  3. I will listen carefully.
  4. I will be kind.
  5. I will do my best.
  6. I will speak English.

Future versions will eliminate the adverbs. These rules govern the class each day. Students and myself are expected to follow these rules. They are written down in a concise sort of simplified mission statement that we cover each day. China, and the real world, is not quite simple. There are many unwritten rules we follow.

Some examples of unwritten rules and etiquette in America: 

  • Not talking on the phone during a performance at the Theatre.
  • Using your inside voice inside
  • Parking your car with more than 1inch of space between your car and the car in front of you
  • Covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough
  • Saying bless you when someone sneezes
  • Avoiding extended periods of eye contact with strangers

Now, occasionally, people violate these rules.

In China, many of these rules do not exist. The consequences:

  • People answering their phone during theatre performances, talking loudly to their friends, which results in the venue cranking the volume to the max to be heard over people talking.
  • Yelling inside. I listened to two woman talk at the bank the other day about what kind of clothes they had just bought. If I did not know what they were saying I would have thought they were fighting.
  • You can park wherever you want. Sidewalks, in the middle of the road or intersection, grass patches, wherever.
  • People not do not cover their mouth. Instead they, without shame, urinate, defecate, spit, snot-rocket, and cough.
  • Theres is no word for bless you. Or excuse me. Or sorry, what was that you just said? or No.
  • People stare here. I enjoy a staredown on a regular basis, where I get into a staring fight with a stranger, assert my dominance, and make them look away before I do. It makes me feel uncomfortable, but is kind of a unique challenge.

Figuring out what rules don’t exist in China that exist back in America is easy. The bigger challenge is figuring out what rules DO exist. Some of these are written down in guidebooks, others I have had to ask people to explain to me, and there are MANY that I still have no idea exist, and even if I know exist, cannot figure out the implications. There are too many to know or remember for this post. I’m sure books have been written on this subject. Trying to figure out the answer for reasons here can be an impossible challenge, but I am constantly trying to ask Chinese people “为什么?” or “Why?” So I try to just have the rules here, not the basis behind them.

So. Here’s some rules that DO exist in China.

In Chinese, rules are called “规则” or “Guize” (pronounced “Gwadezeh”).

  • Don’t Call People Out: Don’t call anyone out on anything ever. Someone is blowing smoke right in your face in a train station right in front of a sign apathetically posted saying “NO SMOKING” in English & Chinese? Don’t call them out.
  • Cutting in line: If there is any space between two people waiting in line at all, like, if there is a 6 inch gap between two people, it is OK to get between these two people in line. If they call you out on it, either argue with them endlessly, or go to the back of the line. Just remember the first rule.
  • Pushing with minimal force: It’s okay to push and shove people when getting on or off a bus or train, but only with a small amount of force. If you push people too hard they think you are rude and violent. If you push them too soft, they will not move.
  • Smoking: You can talk on your phone on the bus, but do not smoke or eat anything smelly. Inside the bus station or underground train station it is OK to smoke or eat, just not on the actual vehicle.
  • Always answer your phone: Answer your phone anytime anyone calls, no matter where you are. In the shower? Answer it. On the John? Answer it. In a meeting negotiating with your boss not to fire you? Answer it. Driving a bus with 100 people on it? Answer it. Teaching class with parents observing you? Answer it. If not, people will be very upset and bewildered as to why you did not answer their phone on the second ring.
  • Chopsticks sideways, not up: As a foreigner you can get away with this. But you should keep your chopsticks horizontal in your bowl if you are setting them down. Vertical chopsticks remind people of death or something.
  • Hand over cards/cash/receipts: When giving or receiving anything, use both hands, and bow a little as a way to say thank you. If you are holding stuff with your other hand, like your phone, then it’s not expected.
  • Shaking hands. Many Chinese give you the worst dead fish handshake you’ve ever felt. Mostly, they just don’t do it here. It’s a sanitation thing, and to be honest, might be a good idea for us germophobes in America.
  • Walk, bike, and drive slow. The slower the better. Don’t let your car go above 25 MPH, too dangerous. Bike at a walking speed. Walk slower than you thought was possible.
  • Don’t say no to people higher up on the power distance chain. This really throws our boss off at school, since she is not used to people saying no to her ever. This one is tricky, since we have to say no to not be exploited.
  • It’s OK to lie. Since there are no set in stone ethics of right and wrong, lying is normal here. It drives me insane.
  • Taking a nap at work is OK. Just make sure it is between 12:30-2:30 pm, and you aren’t missing any important meetings. I don’t partake in this, but most Chinese staff do.
  • Prices can be incorrect. If something you are buying rings up for the wrong amount, which it almost always does, there is no convincing the person running the cash register to give you the product for the advertised price. Again, Lying is OK. 
  • Keep the windows open: Gotta let that fresh 300 PMI polluted air in each day, otherwise you may get sick from the lack of fresh air. I can’t even.
  • Bring multiple gifts: When visiting someone at their home, with one of the gifts being some sort of fresh fruit. The more, the better.
  • Shoes off, booties/slippers on: This also applies to visiting people’s homes.
  • Get more food than you can eat: At restaurants or at home, make many dishes, and way more than people can eat. Don’t finish off a dish, or the host will think you are hungry and buy/make more dishes.

There are many more rules that could be on this list, but this is a good start. Each day I learn a little bit more about some of the rules in China. Many things I do not expect to ever understand.

What are some other rules? Either in the USA or China? I think each nation, region, city, neighborhood, family, and workplace has it’s own unique cultural rules. Sometimes they’re written. Sometimes they’re not. I like to talk about them. What rules do you have in your life?

Thanks for reading.

First time? My wife Valerie and I are living and teaching Kindergarten English in Wuhan, China this year. You can visit her blog here. I also post updates each day on Instagram.

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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!

First Day Staying in a Homestay in Antigua

I’m finally settled in one spot for a few months now. That may not be long, but after packing up and leaving every day all summer long, it feels good knowing that in the morning I don’t have to gather all of my things to leave for the day.

Today was a wonderful day. We awoke in Detroit around 3AM (1 AM Antigua Time), flew on Delta out of Detroit to Atlanta, and then to Guatemala City. I hate to summarize the miracle of flight in such short terms, but it is indescribably incredible. There is nothing like floating 25,000 feet above sea level and 10,000 feet above the clouds you went through a matter of minutes before. Just amazing. I hope that I never get over the joy I have when I fly. I tried linking back to my journal post of when I flew for the first time on the ol’ Xanga, but I can’t figure out how to manage that finagled site.

Anyways, this is a picture of us coming into Guatemala City.

If you didn’t know already, Valerie is not here in Guatemala with me. We are sadly separated until December 16th, when I return to Michigan when the semester ends.

I can already tell though that the semester is going to be a good one. I’m excited to be able to blog with a real computer and be able to upload pictures and things like that. If there is any city in the world that demands to be photographed, it is certainly Antigua. Everything here is photogenic. Even the rubble that is falling apart resemble Spaniard architecture and beautiful overgrowth of jungle plants.

When we arrived in Antigua we went straight to La Union, the language school that us students will be taking Spanish lessons at, and who have arranged our homestays. They had a line for us applauding, the kind of thing you would expect to see at the end of a 12-year old’s undefeated soccer season. There were beautiful blue and white balloons reflecting the Guatemalan national flag, and a banner that read “SPRING ARBOR UNIVERSITY BEINVENIDOS” You know, like the tunnel with all the parents in the air cheering, and yelling so that you can’t understand anything anyone says. Except this time it’s because they’re speaking in Spanish. The spanish is exciting. I’m excited and determined to learn as much as possible. I’ve been writing down different words and looking them up and I have already decided that I shall need flashcards, definitely. Our lessons start on Monday morning, and I sure am excited! Estoy emocionado!

I’ve got my own room just inside our house here in Antigua which I am thoroughly enjoying! Us 4 male students are staying in one house together, while the other people with are group are set out in four houses, two with four students each and two with two students each. This message awaited me when I arrived:

The national election takes place this Sunday, which means there is a whole lot of political propaganda and such taking place throughout the nation. In fact, one of the nine possible presidential candidates spoke in Antigua today at a large gathering in La Parque Central. We weren’t able to attend his speech, but we did catch these clowns watching these guys perform!

Yes, this picture is real.

Yes, the clowns in this picture are real.

We have been warned about potential political turmoil, but so far the only political action I’ve seen are a bunch of Orange balloons, some orange clowns, families of children dancing, some guys selling ice cream in the streets, people in costumes dancing, and a very large fist (to the left of the stage if you look closely). I’m not sure why they picked orange. Ever since a particular Lightfoot Company t-shirt in high school I am convinced that noone looks good in Orange. That, and it made the orange traffic barriers look like they are biased towards this political party.

At this point I’m not particularly concerned.

There are some other students on the trip keeping blogs, which I will be sure to post on here, and I will do my best to update on the whole political situation in regards to safety, security, and how much danger we’re all in for being in this country. That’s what you want to hear about, right? In the meanwhile, I’m learning what I can.

Hasta Luego!

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