Mastering Mandarin, mini masterchefs, and my first time teaching
Wan shang hao (good evening) everyone!
So - a week on from the last blog and lots has been happening in the cultural hotspot that is Xingtai, China! For ease of reading, I have broken said occurences into three categories, plus an extra one at the end for all the other stuff that I couldn't compartmentalise under the catchy headings….
Yes, the chinese language lessons have begun, prompting myself, Sarah, and probably the entire non-English speaking population of Xingtai (about 99.99% of the total population) to breathe a huge sigh of relief. Until a few days ago our daily conversations with the locals have gone a lot like this:
Me / Sarah: "Ni hao" (hello)
Local person: "Ni hao" (hello). Speaks a few more sentences quickly in Chinese.
Me / Sarah: Blank looks. Apologetic gestures.
Local person: Laughs
-End of conversation-
Or in the supermarket:
Me / Sarah: "Ni hao" (hello)
Cashier: "Ni hao. Ershisikuaisanmaowufen" (unintelligible price due to speed at which spoken by cashier, and us not knowing the numbers)
Me / Sarah: Blank looks. Muted guessing about what on earth the cashier said. Hand over largest note possible so we are definitely providing enough money. "Xie xie" (thankyou)
-End of conversation-
Needless to say, as we will be living in this country for the next 4.5 months a considerably higher level of communication is desirable, or as a bare minimum it would be nice to learn a range of pleasantries to mix the "ni hao" up a bit. And thanks to our lovely Chinese colleagues at the English Language Training Centre we are well on the way to objective two at the very least. We have had a couple of hours of lessons and have learnt such necessary 'basics' as numbers, greetings, introductions, buying vegetables, as well as the all-important line "Qing shuo man dian" (can you speak slower please) - have a feeling we will be using this one quite a lot!!
For the knowledge-thirsty amongst you - here are a few of my favourite words / phrases so far, practice and learn, I shall test you upon my return!:
"Mingbai" (Understood / I know what you mean)
"Mei wen ti" (No problem)
"Wo xi huan Zhongguo" (I like China)
As many of my nearest and dearest will know, Chinese food was never exactly top of my takeaway list in the UK…in fact it was pretty much at the bottom. But two weeks into my time here in China it seems my regard for Chinese cuisine is in a state of metamorphosis and my inner chef is relishing the opportunity to get stuck into a bit of chinese cooking (hot plate, rice steamer 'n' all)! Sarah and I have our routine down already. On day one, we have noodles. On day two, rice. Day three, noodles. Day four, rice. Repeat. These staples are always accompanied by a vast range of vegetables, and one/several/all of the mystery sauces we have in stock. One of them is definitely Soy Sauce, one of them definitely isn't, and I'm not sure about the others. Sometimes we throw in some eggs, or some prawns if we're splashing out. We were quite happy with this set up - I am after all the kind of person who as a student (and recent graduate, ahem) quite regulary ate cereal for all three meals of the day… and enjoyed it- but when King (our manager) found out he was horrified at our repertoire and came round to give us cooking lessons. So far we have learnt to cook:
-Eggy tomatoey noodles*
-Spicy bean sprouts with saucy fish*
-Crispy tomatoey prawns with peppery oily potatoes*
*warning, not official recipe names
Whilst there will always be a special place in my heart for rice/noodles/vegetables with mystery sauce combination, under King's leadership (think Chinese Lloyd Grossman) I think we are well on the way to conquering many a chinese culinary challenge, commiting to memory a few new recipes; and many of you can look forward to testing out my skills when I return in September.
I must end this section with a touching tribute to our Rice Steamer, which has fast become my favourite kitchen appliance of all time. More about this in the next blog, but until then lets just say - never has cooking rice been so satisfying.
My first time teaching
Yes, the time had to come eventually, and after all the days we've had off to settle in / start preparing, our first lessons were sprung upon us in what seems to be the nature of the Chinese education management system - late notice, and without question. We literally found out with about 3 hours notice that out first lesson would be today (Tuesday) and though we had had time to think through a few ideas we hadnt even begun to sort out our powerpoint presentations or collect any props/aids. Eek! Cue quick combination of nerves, google image pilfering, and frantic typing in effort to put together legitimate lesson plan. Despite the haphazard nature of it all, my first lesson - with a group of about forty 13-14 year olds at a local Middle School - went pretty well. I'm not convinced they actually understood what I was saying but they smiled lots, and the lesson ended with them talking photos of me and even a request for my phone number (haha) so it can't all be bad. More lessons tomorrow so will keep you updated on how they go, but am generally feeling a lot more positive about the teaching now that I've got the first lesson out of the way…. The only thorn in my side now is the two classes of 100+ students (!) I have to teach on Friday morning…. the word AARGGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! springs to mind…
Another mammoth blog post, you can tell I was an English student, so will just leave you with these titbits of what else we've been up to:
-Eating hot pots with our new Nigerian friend Henry
-Checking out Xingtai's nightlife at club 'SOHOT' where you get free watermelon and arent allowed to take any photos
-Finally venturing out on our bicycles on the busy busy streets of the city - terrifying as an observer (which is probably why we put it off for so long) but suprisingly fun as a cyclist…
That's all for now - dinnertime!
Hope all is super back home,