While hanging out with the sex ed students, Tianjin gets snow!

End of the semester for the Bright Future sex ed class
The same weekend as the bath house/octopus wrestling adventure, we also spent an afternoon playing games, baking Christmas cookies, and having fun with local university students that attended the sexuality class Jessica’s been volunteering with this semester. Jessica’s actually been volunteering regularly every semester, and this weekend was sort of the end-of-semester party. The students are fun and the cookies are good. For more on the sex ed class, see here, here, and here, or see the links at the end of this post. Jessica has a million interesting stories from observing these classes each semester — the class is for many students their first time to have any real sexual education. Kristi, our friend who heads up the whole project and teaches the classes (in Chinese!), could (and should!) write a book.

After Joel’s eventful evening at the bathhouse, he returned home…at that time, around 10:30 pm, the ground was still dry. However, when I left my friend’s house at about 11:15, there was already about an inch of snow on the ground and it was falling fast. By the time I got home about 20 minutes later, I was covered from head to toe with snow…and had icicles in my hair. Since it hardly ever snows in Tianjin, it wasn’t difficult to convince Joel that we should go out for a nice romantic midnight walk in the snow. He put all of his stuff back on, we strolled along the canal and down to the TV tower. The snow was still falling pretty heavily, and it was so peaceful and still outside, aside from the occasional whoops of joy from the other few people out playing in it.

Tianjin is so dry that last winter we basically didn’t get any snow. Our local friends say that when they were little Tianjin used to get decent snow every year, but no these days. We’ve seen only two “big” snows since we got here…one two days after we arrived back in Feb. 2007, and the one this weekend. I did see a few flakes fall on my birthday last year, but I was the ONLY one that saw them…so they must have been a special gift just for me. One local friend speculated that the dryness has to do with the deforestation and desertification in Inner Mongolia, which is where Tianjin’s weather blows in from. Either way, we weren’t expecting snow for Christmas, so this is extra special.

Once we got to the TV tower, we found some untouched areas of snow…fell backwards into them and made some snow angels. We would have made a snow man too, but we didn’t think about it until after we were already soaked from making the snow angels. Note to self for next time we get this much snow in Tianjin: Snowman first, and THEN snow angels. It was an awesome walk…we finally came home around 1:30 in the morning…but were so excited that it took quite a while to fall asleep.

Unfortunately at this point two days later, there is very little white snow left…and the slush on the roads is BLACK.

There’s no getting around the ankle-deep icy muddy slush that’s covered Tianjin’s roads for most of the last two days. Tianjin city deals with the snow by sending out saltwater trucks and legions of migrant workers who shovel all the ice and slush into three-wheel carts.

The worst of it had melted away by the time I took this photo this afternoon. I (Joel) spent two hours biking across town and back yesterday; bald road-bike tires (what most people have) weren’t made for this stuff. Navigating major intersections full of taxis, buses, bikes, and three-wheel carts sure is a lot more interesting though, especially when you don’t want to lose momentum and have to put your foot down.

Living in China Q&A with a California Intercultural Studies class

One of our professors beamed us into her Intercultural Communication class this week for a little Q&A session with the students. They had great questions, and it was tons of fun… thought I’m not sure how much we’ll remember, seeing as how we were tanked up on coffee and didn’t sign off ’til 3am.

They e-mailed some questions beforehand, and we’ve posted brief answers to some of them below (in no particular order). Lots of these are great questions, and they tease out different aspects of the cross-cultural living experience. The links go to examples from the blog.

[1a] What was the biggest challenge when it came to learning the new culture & language?
Joel: The people.
Jessica: It is possible (but sad) to live in China with a minimal amount of interaction with Chinese people. That said, when you make choices to try and interact with the people around you, it pushes you out of your comfort zone and it is inevitable that some of that interaction will not necessarily be easy as the bumps and edges of your two cultures grind against each other.
When the culture differences feel like getting ambushed by a firehose

[1b] What has been the easiest part?
Joel: The people.
Jessica: For the most part, Chinese people are very warm, welcoming, and extremely encouraging of our poor attempts to learn Mandarin.
Hospitality… with Chinese characteristics
Sharing Chinese New Year’s with the neighbours
Lao Zhao on Beijing accents

[2] What customs in China do you find interesting?
Jessica: There are so many interesting customs here that it is difficult to choose…also, I’m sure that there are still many, many more that we have not yet learned about. I love how Chinese play with the sounds and meanings of words, which sometime causes seemingly unassociated items to become connected to another word. For example, what do a flower vase, bottle of beverage, and an apple have to do with peace? If you are a foreigner, not much. But the words in Chinese for flower vase (华瓶), a bottle of beverage (瓶), and an apple (苹果) all contain characters that are pronounced “píng,” which sounds the same as å¹³, which is used in words for peace and well-being. In this case, you might bring all three of these seemingly random gifts to a friend who has recently moved into a new home, so as to wish peace on him or her and their new home.

Joel: I like how the neighbourhood has much more of a community feel than the Canadian suburbs I grew up in. After dinner, families go out walking in the parks; people don’t like to stay in when they don’t have to. And the whole approach to food is more fun (if less sanitary), I think. Instead of each person with an individual plate, everyone eats directly out of the serving dishes, one bite at a time. It sounds gross when I write it, but in practice it makes a meal out with friends a lot of fun. And Chinese New Year is a blast – literally.
A little taste of Chinese New Year in our neighbourhood

[3] What is a common misconception we have toward one another?
That Chinese are meek and quiet. That Americans are all Christians. That Chinese don’t have much diversity of opinion. That popular Hollywood movies depict realistic American lives and relationships. And that fortune cookies come from China.

[4] What is something Americans need to know about China in order for us to better understand them?
The Chinese version of modern history has a huge impact on attitudes and understandings of the present, especially their perceived relationship with “Westerners.” It affects how people interpret and react emotionally to events, like the Olympic Torch relay. Americans (and most other major Western nations) have a lot of baggage and bad history with China that they may not be aware of. The Chinese have not forgotten; it’s reinforced in their education system.
January’s propaganda: museum style
The Tianjin “Incident”
Why Mainlanders are taking it personally
What Do the Olympics Mean to “Their China”?

[5] Do you have any funny stories with the language and cultural differences?
Comfort Zone Violation #379 – Naked English Practice?
Please Stop Paying Attention to My…
Too fat! Too thin! Everyone’s got an opinion
Becoming morning people
Killing Mosquitoes with Curry
And those experiences don’t include the random stuff we see everyday: people walking backwards for exercise, yelling at the river, taking their birds for walks, biking down the road singing to themselves at the top of their lungs…

[6] Besides the language (verbal and nonverbal) how does the Chinese way of communicating compare to communication here in America?
They’re blunt where we’re sensitive and indirect (body image, personal business), and we’re blunt where they’re sensitive and indirect (“face” concerns, personal opinions, missing nonverbals). Also, Americans are much more comfortable airing their national dirty laundry in public for the whole world to see, and mercilessly and publicly vetting their leaders with little concern for how it might look to people from other nations. But in China the desire to protect China’s ‘face’ (nationally, racially and culturally) is too intense and doesn’t allow for that. So when we talk or write about China (in a local magazine), we have to take that sensitivity into account.

[7] Have you ever offended a Chinese person accidentally?
Jessica: Considering the number of times it’s gone in the reverse direction (I’ve been accidentally offended by a Chinese person) I’m sure that I’ve also done my share of being unknowingly offensive. With our current level of language, it’s even more difficult to not cause offense, because we sometimes don’t have the “right/polite language” (or know-how) to talk about some subjects (death, relationships, etc.) and could easily come off as being crass or crude.

Joel: Ha, all the time! It’s so annoyingly easy. Not that they usually tell us. But they tell us about other foreigners, and I assume they tell the other foreigners about us. Many people’s patriotic feelings were rubbed raw by the Olympic Torch relay, and during the ‘Olympic season’ accidentally saying something deemed offensive was really easy.
National ‘Face’ & Local Sensitivity (Part 2): One hour of criticism
National ‘Face’ & Local Sensitivity (Part 1): Not fit to print in Tianjin
No-go zones: what we avoid talking (and writing) about in Tianjin

[8] Are the Chinese people helpful in teaching you how to use their language better?
Joel: Yes and no. Here in Tianjin it’s super easy to find people willing to chat, but regular people (in any country) don’t speak text-book language or limit their vocabulary for new language learners.

Jessica: Also, younger Chinese people (college age, especially) tend not to want to speak Chinese with us, but to practice English. While we will occasionally be part of one of these practice sessions, our goal here is to learn Chinese…so we try to spend at least an equal amount of time with that person speaking Mandarin.
When speaking practice is fun it can be really fun

[9] Have you gotten over the stages of culture shock? What was it like?
Jessica: When you’ve studied culture stress, you can get the mistaken impression that knowing about it might somehow make you immune from experiencing it. I see people (foreigners) here all the time who are going through culture stress or culture shock but don’t realize it because they think they’re immune from it. Also, the “stages of culture shock” aren’t something that is really just “gotten over” like a cold, or the flu. Culture shock and readjustment is a process, which takes time…and the stages are often recurrent and cyclical.

Joel: Like when I yell Chinglish at vehicles when biking through rush hour traffic? Not my best moments. Culture stress affects your perception; it causes you to see everything with a negative slant. You complain more, get more suspicious of people, get more judgmental and have feelings of cultural superiority… it’s not pretty. The key is to recognize what’s happening to you, why you feel these ways, and to realize that your feelings aren’t based on reality.

[10] Were you completely sure about your decision to move to China or still apprehensive? Are you supposed to be completely sure?
Joel: We always planned to live internationally, and felt we had the whole world to choose from. But since we want to really “live into” our adopted country and culture (“culturally immigrate”), we can’t get by with just a superficial grasp of culture and language. For us, choosing China also means we’ve made a big commitment to learning the language and culture.

Jessica: We felt at that time, that we were as sure as it was possible to be that we were doing what we needed to be doing. We felt a great deal of peace about coming here. Apprehension is still a part of it though, as you consider the vast life changes and the “unknown” that must be faced.

[11] What is the weirdest experience you have had?
Joel: In some ways, every day brings weird experiences. But you’d be surprised what you can get used to, so that you stop noticing it or thinking that’s it’s weird. When people come to visit and you see them react strongly to things you don’t notice any more, then you suddenly realize how much your view of things has changed.

[12] Do you feel rejected in any way?
Jessica: One of the times I felt most rejected occurred with one of the people that I feel like usually accepts me the most. One day in class, I was talking with my teacher (who is also a friend) and she started saying how different we are, and that no matter how well I know Chinese language and culture, there will always be a huge and unbridgeable gap between us. As one who understands that the differences between us are vast, but is studying very hard in hopes that that gap can at least be narrowed a little bit, this conversation was a little disheartening. It felt like a rejection of me and of my goals in learning this language. However, time has proved (as our relationship has continued to grow closer) that it was probably not rejection, but possibly more of a practical observation.

Joel: the insider/outsider distinction is generally much stronger in China. If you’re “outside,” it’s sometimes like you’re barely even human. Foreigners here are sometimes shocked at the way locals can seem so callous to the suffering of others, at the apparent lack of a “Good Samaritan” ethos (like crowding to watch a serious accident but doing little to help). But how this distinction plays out all depends on the context, most often family (and closest friends) vs. the public, or China (nationally/racially/culturally) vs. the ‘West.’ There’s also locals vs. out-of-towners… the merchants will up the price on out-of-towners. “Foreigner” in Chinese is literally “old outer” or “out-country-person.”

[13] What things did you do that allowed the Chinese people to accept you?
Jessica: Showing interest and desire to learn the language and the culture is really important. That said, there is a balance that need to be found on where we stop asking “why? why? why?” all the time. Chinese friends have said that the continuous “whys” from foreigners are not only annoying, but can feel condescending. The interest and desire to learn needs to be coupled with a willingness to just accept and experience.

Joel: To the limited degree that we are accepted, and based on direct and second-hand feedback from locals, it seems that choosing to live in an average Chinese neighbourhood (rather than living somewhere better-than-average like most foreigners), and spending time with people seems to have scored us a few points.

[14] What aspect of the Chinese language has been the most difficult to learn?
Joel: Tough choice, because some days it seems all the aspects are competing for that honour! But often how I feel about my progress or lack thereof has less to do with the language or my actual progress and more to do with culture stress-related factors.

Jessica: Oh Chinese! It’s not for no reason that it is often listed as one of the most difficult languages to learn. It depends on the day which thing I may find most difficult.:D The aspect of Chinese that I find most “unfair” (haha) are the 多音字 (characters that pronounced differently depending on context and meaning). So it’s the SAME character, but there are multiple different pronunciations. It is often really difficult for us to know which pronunciation to use, and there are MANY of these 多音字 in Chinese.
Learning Chinese and Culture Stress: the importance of mind games
Learning Mandarin: Realistic Expectations

[15] How has the different communication process in China affected how you communicate with people back here in the states?
Jessica: I sometimes feel like I need to be more indirect about saying something. I usually end up saying it the normal way, but at the feeling level… I now sometimes hesitate, and wonder if I’m being “too direct” about something.

Joel: My mother will be appalled at my table manners when we visit Canada this February (it will be our first time back in 2.5 years).

[16] How long did it take you to learn the non-verbal aspects of the Chinese culture? Any examples?
Joel: We’re only just starting to catch on to this stuff. Understanding how it’s supposed to work in your head, and being able to naturally behave that way in a conversation — to really “feel it” yourself — are two very different things.

Jessica: I’m not sure there ever really comes a point where you can consider this “learned.” It’s definitely a process, and a lot of it is unconscious…where you slowly begin to absorb the non-verbals and consider them when figuring out the meaning of a particular conversation.
Free Advice — for you and your Chinese friends
To “lie” or not to “lie”

[17] What was the extent of your language education before going to China?
Very little. A handful of informal tutoring sessions from an encouraging biology prof who’d immigrated to the States from Beijing.

[18] What do you do for leisure activity?
Biking around exploring the city, going to parks, hanging out with the neighbours (but that’s not always as relaxing due to our lack of language and culture), playing with other foreigners (probably too much).
How to: Hang with the homies and not get totally hammered
Tianjin’s Forsaken Places
– Exploring Tianjin on a bike (here, here, and here)

[19] Have you had any altercations with the government?
Not really, unless you count this: When the Police Knock On Your Door, It’s Best to Have Your Clothes On. The Public Security Bureau “has tea” with leaders from our N.G.O. every month, just to check in and let them know they’re paying attention.

[20] What about the extra restrictions over there?
The restrictions tempt us to have bad attitudes, and bad attitudes make a difference. Often they seem ridiculous and paranoid, make us want to roll our eyes, or even get offended (as in, it’s my life and none of your business!). Jessica’s not comfortable writing examples on the blog, so we won’t put any here. But we knew it’d be this way coming in, and we try to remember that we’re guests here.

[21] Do you think you will spend the rest of your life in China?
Right now we plan to live, work, and raise our family here. When our (future, theoretical) kids are ready for college, who knows. But this is such a major investment for us (time, money, youth, career, etc.) that it’s hard to imagine a future that isn’t connected to China in some way.

[22] Do you miss the US?
Jessica: I sometimes miss good customer service. It will be nice to go shopping and not have to mentally psyche myself up for the experience or worry about the salesladies fighting over whether a certain garment will fit me or not and whether or not I should be allowed to even try it on.

Joel: She’s not exaggerating, and she’s not any more sensitive than the average North American woman either. The Western girls here have to learn the hard to way to become really thick-skinned when it comes to personal comments in public about body size. Especially when they come from America, where customers are pretty much worshiped. But really, we miss family and friends more than anything else.
The Things We Miss….

[23] Have you been able to have family come and visit?
Not yet. We plan is to hold their grandkids hostage. And we told them to wait until we have better Chinese.

[24] What part of American culture are you most happy not to be a part of anymore?
Media bombardment isn’t as all-consuming here (though there is plenty). Plus, we tune out a lot of it anyway because we can’t read it, or the images don’t effortlessly connect with us like American ads do.

[25] Did you start teaching immediately or did you take time for language learning?
We’re going to take as much language school as we can possibly afford. When we do start working/having kids, we’ll be working towards jobs that let us use Chinese (English teaching is a last resort).

[26] Do you enjoy the cuisine?
Joel: Yes and no. there’s tons of good food, but there’s also lots that isn’t that appealing at all (chunks of congealed pig’s blood in soup, for example, which we had to eat this week when friends took us out). Everyone loves going to Chinese restaurants, but our foreign friends order different dishes than our Chinese friends do.

Jessica: While I like foods that fall in the “家常菜” (down home cookin’) category, I really don’t like many of the foods that Chinese consider “fancy.” If we have to attend a banquet, or are invited to a nice dinner with Chinese friends, chances are I’ll be eating more for the sake of politeness than because I’m actually enjoying it. On the other hand, some of that down home cookin’ and many of the street foods are just awesome!

[27] How long were you in the “rejection phase”? [note: refers to culture stress cycle]
It’s hard to say, because there aren’t real clean lines between the phases, and you repeat the cycle many times (hopefully less and less dramatically each time).

[28] How have you seen your goals being accomplished?
Jessica: On days when I feel like I’ve really been able to connect with a Chinese friend and talk, especially when we can talk on a deeper level about our lives, I come home feeling both that my goals are beginning to be realized in some small ways and more inspired and motivated to keep working hard and pressing deeper into the language.

Joel: Some days more than others. Some days you feel good about what you can do in the language, some days you feel bad about how limited you are — and those feelings often have a lot to do with your current levels of culture stress. But our goals are very long-term, so for now we just look at progress.

(If you’re still reading, you so totally deserve an A.)

Photos & Stories from a day in Olympic Beijing

We took the super-fast train to Beijing (30 minutes) yesterday to run around and see as much Olympic stuff as we could. Here are some photos. Click them to see bigger sizes.

Seeing Beijing was fun, getting there was convenient, and meeting Olympic athletes was awesome, but honestly most of the Olympic stuff was disappointing. It’s all big and grand and everything, but lacking in the tourist-friendly department (and conspicuously lacking in tourists). It’s like it wasn’t designed with regular people using it in mind; it just needs to look good on TV.

The volunteers were cute though. Full points to them for enthusiasm and staying power.

(not so) Tourist Friendly
Sorry, but that’s how it is.

The Olympic Green is supposed to be Olympic tourist central, but no one, including us, can figure out how to actually get in. Even the volunteers at the information booths by the main security checkpoints don’t know. Conclusion: the people in charge don’t want us to get in.

I thought the Olympic areas would be crowded, but the long, wide, tree-lined boulevard leading toward the stadiums was like a desert: no shops, snack stalls, or displays (other than flowers and some weird jello-block things), and just a token sprinkling of people. This is as close as we got to the famous stadiums without game tickets or day passes to the Olympic Green:

On this sidewalk you could buy super-expensive event tickets from scalpers (standard price was 10x the printed price) and bootleg (China-priced) Olympic souvenirs, as opposed to the official souvenirs that sell at American prices. I got two t-shirts for less than $4 — the People’s Olympic souvenirs.


Laws work differently in China. Sometimes the laws matter. A lot of laws are just there to make things look good on paper, and sound good in foreign press conferences. For example, you may have heard that China was “cracking down” on ticket scalpers. These photos are from a subway exit walking distance from the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube stadiums. The English portion on the sign says they “should” be punished, and boy do they look scared.

The Olympic sport of Bargaining
Natalie and I convinced Joel and Rob to take a detour into fake-goods central (aka the Silk Market) because my bag was breaking. It’s four or five floors (I forget) crammed full of little booths selling fake name brand everything to tourists. Vendors call out “Gucci! Prada! Hey lady, I give you good price. My friend, you want to buy some bags?” There are no price tags; if bargaining were a sport, this place would host the Olympics and the Chinese would win the gold medal in every category. We heard so many tourists getting slaughtered (å®°/zÇŽi) on prices as we walked by. However, Natalie is an Olympic level bargainer in her own right and experienced at handling the competitive atmosphere of the Silk Market. It was my first time there, so I just followed her cues.

We located the bag I wanted, and then set about the bargaining process. We had another advantage in that Natalie bought the same bag two years ago and paid 150 kuai ($21 USD) for it, so we knew that we didn’t want to pay more than 100 kuai (and hoped we could get it for even less). Given the abundance of tourists willing to get slaughtered, the vendors were throwing out extremely inflated prices.

The starting price for the bag I wanted (at several different booths) ranged from 400-600 kuai ($58-88 USD)!!! Our opening price was 50 kuai ($7.50), along with a spiel about how this was an old bag from three years ago and should now be extremely discounted. It took about thirty minutes…the lowest we could get anyone to go was 100 kuai. It pays to speak Chinese…usually as soon as you start speaking, the price will be slashed by at least 50%, because they know that you won’t be “had” quite as easily as all the tourists.

Natalie and I were wearing these little jelly bracelets in the Olympic colors (a set of five) for which I had paid 2 kuai per set ($.30)…and these attracted the attention of all the young sales ladies. They were (I’m not even exaggerating) literally trying to take the bracelets off of our arms. Apparently those kind of bracelets are a big higher priced in Beijing…8 kuai per one colored bracelet, rather than 2 kuai for a whole set. These came in handy when we finally located a shop keeper that was willing to bargain. Natalie opened (using English) with the spiel about already having the same bag and not wanting to pay more than 50 kuai. Then, in the grand tradition of bargaining, the shopkeeper must protest the impossibility of such a price. Next, I spoke in Chinese…at which point, the lady immediately dropped the price from over 300 kuai down to as she put it, “80 or 100.” I think she meant to say 100, but as soon as that 80 was out of her mouth, we pounced on it…and said “oh, you said 80!” So she couldn’t go back on that price. Even though I’d pretty much already decided to get it at 80, I thought I’d just see if she’d go any lower than that. So I offered 70…which she wouldn’t take. Until, that is, she noticed my beautiful Olympic colored jelly bracelets. She started asking me where I had gotten them and asking me to give one of them to her. At which point, seeing my chance, I said “70 kuai…and I’ll give you the bracelets!” Her eyes widened, and she said “All of them?……DONE!” I took the bracelets off, she rapidly shoved them on her wrist and began admiring them as she wrapped up my bag. She was pretty happy about it all, and was the envy of the other two girls in her booth, who immediately began begging Natalie to give them her bracelets. So, I think we may have just gotten the gold medal in that particular match…a final price of 70 kuai ($10 USD) for my very own fake (but very good quality) Giorgio Armani bag.

Meeting Olympic Athletes! (Woowoo!)
While we were off bargaining, Joel and Rob were off stalking Olympic athletes…it was full of athletes when we were there! They must have bused them all in from the Olympic village or something. It was cool to have so many nationalities all in one place. We saw some extremely tall Germans signing autographs…I’m assuming they were basketball players. In one booth, a couple of Swedes were trying on underwear over their underwear, and the shop girl was hiding on the other side of the display dying from laughter.

I (Joel) chatted with a two Canadian athletes and their coaches (totally should have taken a photo!). One American athlete — I forget her name but we’ve seen her face in the news — walked past me and a friend with this frizzled look on her face: “This place is insane!” The sellers were a little aggressive and grabby sometimes, but most were polite and (understandably) in really good moods.


Tiananmen square was crowded with Olympic displays but Mao’s mausoleum was closed, which I thought was kind of odd, since it’s apparently a super-popular domestic tourist attraction. Didn’t stop people from trying to sell us cheesy Mao trinkets, like wrist watches where his upraised hand tell the time. Totally should have bought one! One day I want to go through the mausoleum to see people’s reactions.

Taipei to Chiang Mai

Well, we made it to Chiang Mai. We found curry, asap. But we’re really tired after pulling an all-nighter packing so we’re going to bed early.

Leaving is no fun – it’s always rushed: the packing and getting everything in order, but also the last moments with friends and all the things you want to say and moments you want to savour. I’m beginning to wonder if this will be a recurring theme in our lives… though I sure hope we get the packing part down before we have kids!

Mingdaw, Yang Mama, Zhi-ling, Wang Ge, Mu Shi and Gong-zhu (‘Princess’) came with us to the airport at 5am to see us off. We’re really going to miss them! We already do.

We’re in the mall at an internet cafe. When we figure out where the wireless connections are we’ll put up pictures, as we have a few small Thailand adventures planned. But tonight it’s just showers and bed.

ps – Chou-chou and Fire Chicken are now Mingdaw’s… I’m sure Doo-doo is thrilled.

聖誕快樂! – Shèng dàn Kuài lè!

Merry Christmas!

When we interviewed for our Taiwan job last Christmas, they told us that Christmas isn’t that big a deal here and that we’d be working on Christmas Day. That’s what we were expecting. But Mingdaw rescheduled our classes so we wouldn’t have to teach today. He didn’t have to do that, and we’re glad for the break.

It seems like most people don’t observe Christmas at all, though the MRT (subway) was so packed Christmas Eve that Joel actually couldn’t reach the camera in his pocket to take a picture (lots of parties/dinners out, we guess). And for the people that do observe it, it seems more like a one day thing, rather than a whole season. But the church where we do the English class on Sundays makes a huge deal out of Christmas. They put on a Christmas program at a local community centre on the 23rd, and then another program at church on Christmas Eve. Lots of people put a lot of work into it. They let Joel play with the band, our English class sang two songs in English, and we sang an English song. There was a Christmas Pageant (with very cute little sheep), lots of music and singing, ribbon dancing, candle light, and even some caroling.

After the English class sang, the MC made two of the students say some stuff in English on the stage. After our song, he got us to try and say some things in Chinese. Jessica went first, and used up most of what we know to say that fits such occasions, and Joel was left trying to make stuff up. But it was lots of fun for us and everyone laughed, and we probably made our English students feel better!

Jessica is making Mexican food for Christmas dinner, since we’re sort of Mexican food deprived over here. For the next two days we’re hibernating and trying to get over our bad colds before the weekend, when we take a long awaited trip to Hualien with some friends.

You can see lots of photos from the Christmas shows here.

How ‘they’ see ‘us’, pt. 3

Guess who the foreigner isn't.

This is from a page from one of our Mandarin text books, a text written for teaching foreigners at Peking University. “Seventh Lesson: I like to drink tea.” Can you guess which of the three people are supposed to be Westerners and which one is Chinese?

First trip to the Night Market!

There’re two main types of markets here: “wet markets” (fresh fruit/veggies/meat/parts of animals we don’t usually consider ‘meat’), and “night markets” (a massive shopping & eating par-ty!).

Our new friends Sunny, Rachel, and Cathy took us to the “very famous” Shilin Night Market (click the link for more info), which is a five minute walk and a 50 cent MRT (subway) ride (which takes about 20 minutes) from our apartment.

Since yesterday was ***JOEL’S DAD’S 50TH BIRTHDAY!!!*** (surely he’s pleased that we just placed that on the internet), we’ve dedicated the evening’s cultural experiences to him. Not that we’re entirely sure he’ll want them, after he reads what we ate.

Shilin night market is a few city blocks in size, a labyrinth riddled with alleys lined with small shops, food stands, and diners, and packed with people. In fact, it was hard to take pictures of anything due to all the people (getting in the way!).

Sunny, Rachel, and Cathy wanted to give us a fun night on the town and really got into it once they found out how open we were to trying new things. We tried to eat our way through the market, getting samples of the most interesting and famous (and/or frightening) things, but we weren’t through a fraction of it before all of us were full (apprently that’s the way you’re supposed to do a night market). We had a great time wandering through, and much had to be left unexplored for now as there’re only so many hours in an evening. We probably only covered about a quarter of the whole market.

Highlights from the evenings culinary adventures…
hot candied strawberries and cherry tomatos, on-a-stick
– hot and cold versions of a dessert soup with various flavours of ‘bubbles’ in it (the ‘bubble tea’ kind of bubbles). These bubbles are called “frog eggs” because they’re dark, but don’t worry…there really weren’t any frogs involved. One of the soups was ginger flavored. Yum! The other one had lotus seeds and some kind of fungus in it. Yes, fungus, but it was still really good.
– famous shilin pork soup
little bird eggs (quail?), on-a-stick
duck tongues, on-a-stick (pictures on the photos page)
duck hearts, on-a-stick
chicken hearts, on-a-stick
chicken or duck liver, but no stick
chicken butts (yes, that’s correct)
pig gums (also on the photos page)
pig skin

And that doesn’t cover even half the exotic stuff we saw, and we still haven’t found the snakes or the insects-on-a-stick yet. (Btw, Houston, we’re getting closer to locating that special dish you requested). The girls mentioned it last night, but we were already WAY too full.(=