China Stories and Tips

Week 22, 23, 24 & 25 - Big Chest

Benxi Skyline Photo, China, Asia

Since coming to China I’ve been called many things. Edwin, Adin, Andy and even the odd Andriy have all made appearances. The pronunciation of English names isn’t one of Chinese people’s strong points. Saying that though, I can’t say I can boast to being any better. I only remember those students with an English name. Those without an English name, disappointingly on my behalf, get little more than an array of finger points for months before I finally learn them.

If I can expect my Chinese students to adopt an English name to make my job easier, I thought it only fair that I returned the favour and adopt a Chinese name. I of course have no idea where to start when it comes to adopting a Chinese name. Luckily a local friend decided to take this prestigious task upon her shoulders. After several days of deliberation, she sat me down and triumphantly whispered my new Chinese name, as though she’d just solved the world’s hardest mathematical equation.

So for the completion of my time in China I will now forever be known as ‘Yang Yi Ming.’ I was under the impression this new Chinese name must be something special to take several days to pick. Instead I found out my Chinese friend had given me a combination of her surname and her school’s name, which in English translates to, ‘Tree Knowledgeable Hope.’

When introducing myself as Yang Yi Ming I’m met with a variety of sniggers and giggles. My wife on the other hand, who also received her very own Chinese name of Wang Xiao Li (meaning ‘Pretty Little Queen‘), gets nothing but sighs of admiration and jealousy from those who want such an admirable name. I later learnt my name is the equivalent of Gertrude, Winifred or Reginald, a name savoured only by people aged eighty or over.

With new Chinese names adopted and our Chinese friend beaming from ear to ear thanks to her ingenuity and name giving abilities, she decided a celebratory meal would be the fitting tribute to end the days events. It’s always nice when eating with locals, as you can sit back and allow them to order the restaurants specialities; specialities my Chinese skills would never have the ability of ordering. In this case though, maybe it would have been wise to show a bit of self-confidence and order myself. Within a few minutes, a variety of dog meat dishes had been brought to the table.

When it comes to eating dog I’ve always sat on the fence. I like to try local delicacies but I’m also aware of the awful conditions many of these dogs face during their torrid, painful existence. My friend must have seen this predicament etched on my face. "This is the best dog meat in the city and is fresh from the countryside," she confidently pointed out. Apparently buying dog meat is very similar to buying eggs. You have the caged cheaper variety and then you have the ‘free range’ prime choices bred in the countryside, where the air is crisp and clean, and the quality of life remarkably improved. Having finally a grasp of eating and drinking etiquettes, I knew that by declining to eat any of these dishes that lay before me would end in an awkward silence and my friend feeling insulted.

With this in mind, I decided to plough ahead and try and enjoy my ‘dog dinner’. While I might stay away from the dog soup in future, the fatty parts of the limbs floating in a near-water broth, the main course of slow-cooked, tender dog meat with a selection of side sauces was refreshingly delicious. Similar in taste to rabbit, I didn’t feel squeamish as I have in the past eating other slightly controversial foods, such as guinea pig, snake and scorpions. More impressive though was my wife, who has now gone from a pure vegetarian to a dog eater in five months flat!

Working six day weeks and only receiving three weeks worth of holiday in a fourteen month contract is something I hadn’t quite comprehended when coming to teach in China. With little chance to travel, instead being stuck in a cold, polluted city, it can be slightly depressing at times. Imagine my delight then, when my immediate employer mentioned a five day break from work at the start of May. With so few holidays to travel and knowing half of China would probably be travelling at the same time as well, my wife and I quickly arranged a guide and a hiking trip to the Jinkou section of the Great Wall of China.

Located approximately 120km outside of Beijing, the Jinkou section is known as one of the ‘wild’ and most picturesque parts of the wall. It’s seen no restoration or renovation work and is closed to the hordes of day tourists that travel from nearby Beijing. Left to nature’s devices, it’s usual to hike this part of the wall and not see another person.

After paying the deposit, I excitedly mentioned to my superior of my upcoming holiday plans. Upon telling him the details of our trip, the last words I expected to hear were, "but we only have one day holiday." A little confused, I enquired what happened to the five days holiday he had informed me of only days earlier. Making a rather feeble attempt to hide his mistake and blame the ‘misunderstanding’ on my keenness, I soon realised there was little chance of him admitting his blunder. Such people, I’m learning, will rarely apologise for their own mistakes. To do so would mean ‘losing face’ and having their leadership skills questioned. With deposit lost, this trip unfortunately will just have to wait until a later date!

Although I will have to wait until October now for my next chance to travel, morale has been high and teaching rather enjoyable. With an extra twenty-five students joining my current classes and another two absolute beginner classes added to my schedule, I’m finding my days are split between marathon training in the morning and teaching in the afternoons. Trying to train for the Great Wall Marathon in a heavily polluted city is proving to be a lot more difficult than I expected, leading to many training runs being temporarily suspended to fend off wheezing coughs and bursting lungs.

With an influx of new young students, I’ve realised many are already fledgling comedians. At the beginning of every class I always ask my students how they are feeling. Normally when asking, "Are you happy," I’m met with nothing but a barrage of ‘yes’s.’ On one occasion a plump five year old girl shouted ‘no’ with an air of urgency. Upon enquiring why she wasn’t happy, she replied without hesitation, "I’m sad because I ate too much food for dinner and now I feel sick." When she left my class abruptly minutes later I asked no questions.

Pronunciation is always an issue with some students. Some words seem to be more problematic than others, including ‘walk’ and ‘walked’. Listening to students say, "I w*nk my dog," and "I w*nked my dog" makes extra pronunciation practice a priority. Other interesting sentences uttered by my students have included;

"My mother is very loose." (when teaching the words tight, lose, short and long).
"The teacher is tight." (all he needed to add was ‘with his money’ and he would have been spot on!).
"I have some of your wife." (when teaching ‘I have some’ and ‘I don’t have any’).
"The teacher has a big chest." (when teaching body parts…..even children mock my man boobs!).

And on that note I’ll finish for now!

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