Ping Tracker

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Night Markets and Foreign Banquets

Well, this week has been really good - I'm learning how to get into the rhythm of teaching and figuring out what I need to do to keep up my stamina, and having some fun with my classes. It's been fun and challenging!

Well, Fall is here, and Winter is just around the corner, and every morning I wake up and think, "GOD, it's freaking cold this morning..." But hey, Lanzhou gets cold. The central heating doesn't get turned on until November 1st, so I've got about a month before the heat comes on.

One thing that signals the onset of winter is the sweet potato vendors. As you can see, there's an empty oil barrel filled with wood/coals, and the sweet potatoes are baked whole right on top of the barrel.

From what I've heard, this was originally a Beijing/Northeastern tradition, but it seems that over the years, it's made its way out to Lanzhou and other places in China.

I don't eat sweet potatoes, but it's just one of those things that I see and think, "Well, I guess it's officially Fall now."

So, I've been up to a lot this past week - one of the things that I enjoyed the most was my trip to the Zhengning Night Market. It's one of Lanzhou's more famous and popular night markets, and deservedly so. There are a lot of great snacks to be had there.

One of the best things you can have there are the kebabs - lamb kebabs, chicken kebabs, octopus kebabs.....all kinds of great stuff.

They'll have the raw meat on sticks there, and they season it and cook it whenever you order it. It's pretty awesome, and really fresh! You can see the guy here seasoning it with a water bottle poked full of holes filled with the seasoning.

One of my favorite things is the octopus kebabs, and it's great, but the ones I had weren't cooked quiiite long enough, and I was thinking....."And yet again, I'm rolling the dice with my food here." Haha that's part of the deal in China. But I was fine.

It's a chaotic place - crowded, a little hot, dirty, and such delicious food. Oh,'s so awesome, and so uniquely China.

I went there with a Chinese friend who hadn't been to Lanzhou in a while, so I got to sort of play the guide and she got to be the tourist.

We had a lot of fun sitting and chatting about China, America, life, culture, and a lot of great stuff. I was thinking,

"You know, this is life. This is a good time. Just watching the people go by, talking about culture, eating some delicious food, and not really doing anything."

I dunno, I enjoy those little moments of being idle and relaxing in this crazy, chaotic city. It's refreshing.

One thing that I enjoyed a couple of days ago was the Gansu Provincial National Day Reception for Foreign Experts. It was a little gathering for about 100-ish foreign teachers, delegates, and workers in Gansu Province.

I didn't know that it was a really special dinner, but apparently it was. Not a lot of people were invited to this dinner, so I was pretty lucky to go. Lanzhou Jiaotong University is a pretty well-regarded university in the province, so all the teachers were invited to go.

Only about 8 of us went, but it was pretty fun. As you can see, it was a pretty nice spread - a lot of great food, some wine (I don't like win), and some great conversation.

(Also, check out the menu. My favorite one is "Fried Bun stuffed with Vegetarian Stuff"....awesome, huh?)

We got to meet a lot of other foreigners, a few of them who had read my blog. I met a girl from Europe who had emailed me about coming to Lanzhou, and another American teacher who read my blog before coming to Lanzhou.

It was pretty cool to meet them, and it really made me feel like this whole blog thing is finally worth doing. I've gotten emails, met people who've read it, and I keep getting hits. It's nice to know that it's not just numbers - real people are actually reading it.

I always love meeting other foreigners in China, because we're all here for the same reasons - we love China, and we all are here to do something we can't really do back home.

It's also fun to share those funny stories about talking to kids, embarrassing moments, our crazy-normal lives. There's no such thing as a foreigner with a 'boring' life in China, and once you get a bunch of foreigners together, it's readily apparent. Once the China bug bites someone, it's not a bug that people that can easily get rid of.

Until next time,


P.S. - If you guys want to see more pictures of Lanzhou, I've got them up in a couple of albums on Facebook: Here and here and here. I've got way more, but it would be a lot of trouble to put up everything on here. Anyway, yeah......see you guys later!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Good Times and Being Content

So, it's been a while since I posted something, and a lot has happened in the past few days. I'll do a post tomorrow or the day after about the other stuff.

One thing that has been the highlight of my recent life was my trip to Bai Ta Shan, or White Pagoda (Tower) Mountain Park in Lanzhou.

It's located just north of Zhongshan Bridge near downtown Lanzhou.

Along with the bridge itself, it is a central landmark of the city. If you say, "Oh, it's by Bai Ta Shan," people will know exactly where you mean. 

Yeah, you can see from the pictures here, it's a pretty cool place - there's a lot of trees and shade, and it's pretty "new." 

Last year, it was being remodeled, so I didn't get to go to the park itself. I just got to go to another peak of the mountain range. 

I went with a bunch of Chinese friends and another foreign teacher. It was a great afternoon - a lot of laughs and a lot of new sights.  

The part is facing directly south. If you look at the picture here, you can see the gate to the park is directly across the street from the north-south running Zhongshan Bridge. Pretty much every important building, historical site, park, etc. has a gate somewhere, if not the main gate, facing north or south. 

That makes living in a city like Lanzhou easy. The river runs east-west, so you always can figure out where you are.

I had seen this exact picture so many times on the internet, but the pictures just aren't the same as actually being there. You just think to yourself, "Wow, I can't believe that I live here. This is such a crazy, amazing, polluted, wonderful, dirty, loud, and unique city. How did I end up here?" I did another post about "Seeing The Elephant," which talked about how it's impossible to understand these kind of feelings without actually being there. I hope someday you can come here and experience these things for yourself. It's great here.

You know, I came from a very small city of about 100,000 people, and to be in a city like this is a very interesting and wonderful experience.

It's so different from my hometown - Lanzhou has a long history and has a lot of special food and culture. I'm not saying that my hometown doesn't have these things, it's just a different kind of special.

Just look at this place - do you live in a place like this?? If you do, that's great! If you don't, try it! If you live in a big city, try going out to the countryside for a little while - find something different. It's been great for me, and I can't wait to try even more new things. It gives you this little rush - a little endorphin buzz every time you do something. It's something that can't be replicated.

Going to Bai Ta Shan may have just been a fun afternoon for my friends, but for me, it was a time to just be in the moment and reflect about where I'm at in my life right now.

I remember, just before I left for China, I was at church, and the preacher did a sermon about being content and not being restless in your life. For some people, they can find it in their job, some people can find it in religion, some people can find it with their friends, or any number of places.

For me, I am truly content in being here and continually learning new stuff and learning new things. I really wish I was my sister sometimes so I could pull out some crazy word from the Oxford English Dictionary to express myself, but I'm not, so I can't. I definitely miss home sometimes - my family, my friends, and the food, but I'm having a good time right now being a teacher and doing my China thing.


Well, that's all I have for tonight - I'll put up another post about some other stuff  this weekend!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Teaching Begins

Well, I guess I'm a teacher now!

As I write this, I've just finished teaching my classes for this week at Lanzhou Jiaotong University. It's been interesting, encouraging, discouraging, awesome, extraordinarily dull, and amazingly crazy all at the same time.

There are a lot of emotions for me because I'm a first-time teacher. Dull from teaching the same lesson 8 times a week, awesome because of the students, discouraging from the limitations of the book/curriculum, interesting because of the questions I've been asked, and a lot more.

I've got big classes - all around 60-70 students each, so it's going to be hard to get all of them interested and engaged. I can already tell which classes are going to be the most outgoing, which students will be the most interested, and which students don't understand anything I say. I hope to work more with them soon.

I'm teaching non-English major freshmen students. A pretty shy group, all in all. I've taught the first week - I teach 4 hours a day, 4 days a week. One hour of required "office hours" a week, and that's about all. Since I don't teach English majors, I don't have to deal with English Corner! (at least at the moment)

It's been really fun to be at the front of the class and talking about where I am from. It's so easy in one respect - this is my language and I'm talking about my home and my culture, but on the other hand, these are freshmen, non-English major students. I have to talk slower and make sure most of them understand what I'm talking about.

It's also really fun to share funny stories about being a foreigner in China - it feels good to have the whole class laugh and whisper and stuff at my comments. That way, I know they're paying attention. If I say something funny, and there's crickets.....then there's a problem and I need to explain myself haha

I have had no discipline problems whatsoever - it's always quiet, maybe too quiet. The students are smart, but they're shy. That's going to be the biggest challenge: getting them to come out of their shells. That's the big thing about Gansu students...they're just too shy.

Chinese students in general are too shy. They have low self-esteem, and they think they are not smart enough to contribute to the class. But if I ask them questions, they can answer them almost every time. If I can just convince them that they're worth something and that they're smart, maybe we can really open up and have some fun. I've really tried to emphasize this, and I've seen a couple of encouraging smiles and a twinkle in some students' eyes, and that's great. Maybe it won't always be there, but I'm happy right now.

We've talked about movies, music, sports, the Diaoyu Islands, Apple, traveling, and a lot more. It looks like this will be a good year.

I'm sorry that I haven't been posting much in the past week or two - I've been adjusting, preparing for my classes, losing my USB Drive (which gets videos from my laptop to the desktop computer with faster internet. Long story for not using the laptop), and my new addictions to "Inside the Actor's Studio" and "Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza."

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Unfamiliarity of it All

Finally, a new video is here! Yeah, I've been pretty much keeping to a once-a-week update unconsciously, so I guess I'll be sticking to that schedule!

I just got my teaching schedule and textbook/curriculum and everything, so I'll be putting up a post about that soon.

First, the videos! Watch, and then I'll get into more detail below. As always, YouTube and Youku:


As I said in my previous post and in this video, everything you do here is different. Everything. And to a certain extent, it is really wonderful, but sometimes it can be really tough.

I'm not really sure how to explain it, but there's a great amount of satisfaction to be had in daily life in China, especially in a place like Lanzhou, where there are few foreigners.

You find yourself in these seemingly normal circumstances here - buying food, going to a restaurant, talking to people in Chinese, seeing the neon lights at night, and all of these other you they are normal life, and to be able to function in these ways without really thinking about it is really satisfying.

You have to use your Chinese to do all of these things, you have to always be aware of the fact that people may be staring at you literally all the time, you have to use your patience to deal with crowds or lines or noise or whatever, and at the end of the day, when (or if) you think about what happened that day or what you did that day, you kind of say,

"Oh, yeah, I totally just did ______ in China/Chinese, who knew I would/could ever do that?"

Just doing simple things requires a little work in another language or requires a little more thought, and it's these little daily/hourly challenges that make life here so interesting. Some people relish how awesome new and unfamiliar things are, and some people just don't.

You think and live with a different part of your mind here than you do back home. Because you're utilizing this other language, it changes how you think and how you deal with the circumstances around you, and that's something you just can't fully explain to people. It's one of the biggest reasons that people who come here stay here. 

That's about all I've got for you now - I guess I'll talk to you later!


Sunday, September 2, 2012

"Don't Lose Your Sense of Wonder..." and Upcoming Projects

Well, I have run out of things to do today, so I guess I will put up a blog post! It's funny, blogging was so important a few days ago, and I have totally neglected documenting this "just arrived and still adjusting" time.

I spent yesterday and today at Lanzhou University of Technology, my old school, to see old friends and help one of them do a crazy difficult and heavily technical translation for a recruiting presentation. It was so difficult and seemed impossible at times, but together, we did it! I feel pretty accomplished because I was able to translate pretty well in my own right except for some really, really technical things (like different kinds of engineering projects and statistics kind of technical).

Basically, that made me realize that I DON'T want to be written translator. Ever. That's just too tedious, and because of the nature of written vs. spoken language (not just Chinese, any language), it's much harder and it takes the human element out of the equation. No fun.

Besides that, I hung out, had a few meals with, and joked around with my friends who are still left at L.U.T. - they kind of became my family during that time there, and it brings back memories of great times to see them.

Anyway, you didn't come here to read about me waxing nostalgic - you came here to read about me and Lanzhou (or just Lanzhou.). 

I met a couple of American teachers who live next door to me at Lanzhou Jiaotong University, and they are really cool - they're in their early 40s and the wife has spent some time in Kunming and Hohhot, Inner Mongolia. They can't speak much Chinese, so I gave them some advice and said I would help them out anytime they needed. I like them a lot, and I hope we can hang out more.

Campus is still kind of crazy with all the new students - I see people giving tours to groups of 30-50 people at a time and people are clogging the shops to stock their rooms with snacks, water containers, etc.

Living in China is a constant exercise of your patience, your sense of adventure, and your capacity to deal with unfamiliarity. Pretty much how you do everything in China is different from how it's done in America. The public transportation system is the best way to get around, which is new to most Americans, water must be boiled before drinking, walking is just part of life, not an exercise regime, people drink tea instead of coffee and soda, eat rice, noodles and dumplings instead of pot roast, steak, hot dogs, and burgers, and live in apartments instead of suburban houses. It's a whole different way of life.

My dad told me,

"Hey, while you're over there, don't lose your sense of wonder and appreciation at where you are. You have a really unique opportunity, and you need to not lose sight of where you are and where you come from."

That's been rolling around in my head a lot these past few days, and while the wonder is still fresh in my head being sort of "fresh off the plane" for this time, it's my third time to come to China and to Lanzhou. It's more or less daily life, and it's hard to shake your head out of the daily routine and remember where you are. Most days last year, I totally forgot I was living in China - it was just life. Anyway, I'll try to stay conscious of that.

Anyway, I will make a video about all of that soon - I've been a bit busy and distracted to film much stuff. I've got about 2 minutes of raw footage I could spin into a video, but I want to wait until I've got enough for a good video. I want to make good stuff, you know?

I met an American couple online who are in Lanzhou now who said they saw my videos and read my blog about Lanzhou, and they said it gave them a lot of really good information, so I'm very happy about that, and the American couple who live next door to me said they read my blog and watched my videos as well, so it appears that what I'm doing is at least reaching a few people.

I know  that Lanzhou seems like a relatively unimportant place in a world with cities like New York City, Shanghai, Beijing, Mumbai, London, Sydney, and Chicago, but that doesn't mean that it's not a place worth visiting. It's a whole different kind of city, with great people, great food, unique culture, and a long history.

I will be putting together a series of pages/posts about a "Guide to Lanzhou" project, and I'm hoping to get some feedback from my readers and the people I know here as to what they want to see in it. In the future, I'm kind of hoping that my blog will become a significant stopping place for people who want to visit northwest China, and hopefully Lanzhou in particular. It's got it's faults, sure, but I like it just the way it is.

Until next time,

Austin Guidry
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