I’m back. The second I set foot in Kunming’s fancy schmancy new airport, I let out a huge sigh of relief. After sleeping the night before on airport chairs in Beijing, and a re-routed and delayed flight from Beijing to Kunming, I was glad to finally be back on Yunnan soil. A mere 15 hours later, I was on the bus to the Chenggong campus, preparing to teach my first class. It’s been a whirlwind two weeks.
Since arriving back in Kunming, I’ve noticed some things have changed (construction projects everywhere for the city’s “beautification project”) and some things haven’t (good friends and good food). After a few days of harried house hunting, I was feeling discouraged, and decided to continue living in the same apartment. Despite the blaring music from the kindergarten next door, despite the eight flights of stairs that I walk up and down multiple times each day, and despite the cranky grandparents who lock the complex gate at night, this place has become my home. I’m very attached to it…and couldn’t bear the thought of moving all of my junk to a new place.
I’ve tried to make up for the apartment’s shortcomings by finding awesome new roommates, establishing better guanxi with the gatekeepers through small gifts and smiles, and buying things. Today I bought a box fan for the living room, an ice cube tray (it’s the little things!), a frying pan and *drumroll please* an OVEN. This is no little dinky toaster oven. This “Tomato” brand roasting machine can and WILL cook a Thanksgiving turkey. It doesn’t fit in the kitchen, it takes up about a third of our dining room table… and I couldn’t be happier. What will I make first? Not sure. All I know is that it will taste delicious.
One of my new roommates is a 26 year old French woman who taught French for two years in Beijing. She moved to Kunming to study Chinese, and promises to use the oven to bake delicious tortes and pastries. Oh la la! We’re still looking for a third roomie to join our posse, and have some promising leads.
As the song goes, “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold.” In the past few days I’ve constantly thought about how lucky I am to be surrounded by a great crew of people– old and new. I had to say goodbye to some very close friends in July, but knew that a few oldies (but goodies) would be waiting for me when I got back. We’ve caught up about our summers over beers, coffees and dinners with Chinese dishes that I’d been craving all summer. I’ve also met some amazing friends-of-friends (new arrivals to Kunming), and my social circles are expanding faster than I could have imagined. I’ve welcomed more than a few people to the Spring City, and it felt good to play the role of knowledgable tour guide.
The other night, we sat around a friend’s living room, old and new mingling together, drinking vodka tonic concoctions with fruity additions like mango juice, winter melon juice, and lemon iced tea. The topics of conversation were dorky things like the Chinese version of the New York Times, the Bo Xilai scandal, damming along the Mekong river, Chinese bureaucracy, and the intricacies of life in different Chinese cities. Everyone in the room (all foreigners) had an intimate knowledge of China. Most had majored in a China related field, and we all have at least intermediate Chinese under our belts. Everyone had a great “China story” to share. We all connected based on this common ground, as we sipped on our drinks and casually dropped Chinglish phrases that everyone understood.
I’m still teaching in the same program at Yunnan University and things are going well. This semester, my course load includes British Literature, American Literature and Public Speaking. Oh, and how could I forget? The “bonus” freshman reading course that I was “asked” (read: made) to take on because the department is short-staffed. These little surprises are part of life in China. Instead of getting angry, I simply shrugged my shoulders, asked for more money (for the additional course), and got to work planning a new syllabus.
The students continue to make teaching worthwhile. All of the first years that I taught last year are in my literature courses now, which means that we started off the semester with a great level of familiarity. I know who likes to sneakily update their QQ status in class. I know who to politely shut up (because they will answer every question). I know how to pronounce names like Meester (Mister), Emmmma (Emma), and Cacti (well, just like it’s spelled). I know the routine, I feel in control, and I think that we’re off to a great start.
Other random things that I’ve done in the past two weeks:
- Helped the Yunnan Department of Education record phrases to accompany a new English textbook for seventh grade students in Yunnan. (Paid well! Done in a super fancy recording studio!)
- Been offered multiple part time jobs and tutoring gigs (which I turned down). I’ve got enough on my plate right now.
- Cooked a slew of awesome new meals at home. My new favorite is stir fried noodles with veggies and a sweet/spicy Chinese sauce that I picked up at the market. Today I added peanuts for some crunch. Hit the spot!
- Inherited a down mattress topper that makes my bed look like a puffy marshmallow. I’m sleeping on it for the first time tonight.
- Was gifted a beautiful woven bag from a student who has started attending one of my classes (even though she isn’t registered for the class and isn’t my student). Another student gave me a red pashmina, and yet another gave me some amazing green tea. Each gift was unexpected and reminded me how kind and thoughtful my students are.
- I’ve unpacked my suitcase (slowly) and discovered that a jar of spices cracked and exploded all over. My clothes smelled like oregano for a while.
- I got down on my hands and knees and wiped down the dust and dust bunnies that had accumulated throughout my room over the summer. It was disgusting, but now my room feels sparkly clean. I’ll try not to look at the new dust that has already settled on my desk near the window.
Who knows what the next weeks will hold. At least this year I didn’t have to deal with a wasp nest fiasco!
I hope to continue with a regular blogging schedule for your enjoyment (and for my memories’ sake). You have the right to hassle me if I don’t write a post for a while!