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Month: April 2018



One evening this week, while preparing dinner, my roommates and I began discussing Planet Earth II. I shared, rashly I now realize, that I usually watch Planet Earth I or II at the dentist’s office because I like to be seen as watching “educational” material. As many of you are now likely shouting at your computers, yes, I do typically choose to watch reality television when I have my druthers. Particular favorites include Below Deck: Mediterranean edition, Real Housewives of the OC, Beverly Hills and New Jersey (but only circa 2010-2013). I also, of course, enjoy watching Keeping Up with Kardashians with Mairead over brunch.

Anyway, as I explained my strategy to my roommates, one of them paused and said, “We contain multitudes.” This saying struck me, beyond my television preferences, because it relates to something I have been thinking about lately, language.

Because of my language limitations here in China, the way in which I interact with people is different. I think my personality has even shifted a bit. For example, I am a bit humorless when I speak Mandarin. Understanding when someone is making a joke often takes me a few extra seconds. I don’t really speak well enough to make my own, though I have tried. One of my favorites involves making a pun on the word teacher, which in Mandarin is laoshi, or “old master.” When people tell me that I look young, as they often do when discovering my profession, I like to remind them that I am a LAOshi. Therefore I must be old. As you have likely guessed, no one ever thinks that I am funny.

But I do make other unintentional jokes. I mixed up qizi (“wife”) and qiezi (“eggplant,” or “aubergine” for my UK readers) once. This resulted in me telling someone that I was preparing their wife for dinner. Additionally, I find expressing large numbers in Mandarin difficult. Instead of dividing numbers in threes, they divide by fours. For example, English-speakers think 10,000 while a Mandarin-speaker would think 1.0000. So one time, someone asked my salary and I told them that I make 5 million a month, which is incorrect but I did not correct myself.

Though I am rarely chatty, even in English, sometimes I am rendered virtually silent. When I get my hair cut, for example, the gentleman who cuts it is quiet and doesn’t make conversation. I could but get nervous, so I sit completely silent for two hours. My nervousness is something I still have to overcome, since people don’t tend to give you conversation topics in advance and I should just get over it. But it is always frustrating when I can’t communicate exactly what I am thinking, or I can’t find a word with the connotation that I want. It makes me feel like a 2D person, like I can’t cram my whole being and all the things that I want to say into my relatively small vocabulary.

But I suppose this is the challenge faced by all language learners in all languages, including my students, and will improve with time. Additionally, some things are just untranslatable and that is why we learn languages in the first place. Though now when I speak Mandarin sometimes I feel limited, with time speaking a second language will be so freeing, as it opens up a whole new way of communicating!

Photos taken between March 31 and April 8

Photos taken between March 31 and April 8

I was lucky enough to host my parents in China from the end of March to April 8. It was a classic “Easter in China” trip and we celebrated my dad’s birthday! It was wonderful to see them, though seeing my siblings too would have a been a bonus. Anyway, here are a few images from my parents time in China. We saw Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou and Shanghai, in that order. These photos are not in order, nor do they include images of my loved ones (due to my ongoing online privacy crusade). However, I hope you enjoy them anyway!

This is a white tulip and/or magnolia tree (we struggled to correctly identify the species) silhouetted against a roofline at the Summer Palace. It was fun to return to the Summer Palace. I was first there in early November, leaf-pepping, and it looked so different in early spring.

This is a photo of Jing’an Temple, in the heart of Shanghai. The Buddhist temple itself is stunning, with buildings made of teak from Southeast Asia. The beams were absolutely massive! This temple is known for helping adherents to succeed in business. Along those lines, the roofs are golden and adorned with fish. The sound for fish in Mandarin Chinese (yu) sounds similar to a word for prosperity. I also really loved the image of the rooflines of the temple buildings in front of the ultra-modern buildings in the rest of the Jing’an neighborhood.

This is Shanghai’s Pudong district, all lit up at night. We were standing on the Bund side, to the West, and looking East. The older, European-built facades face off with these shiny new skyscrapes on the other side of the river. My sister pointed out that the view is actually more spectular at night, when the buildings are glittering. I would have to agree.

This is a photo of the best duck that I have ever eaten, and I eat a lot of duck. This photo was taken on Saturday night in Beijing at a Beijing duck restaurant with my parents. The restaurant is called 大董 and is known for serving very lean roast duck, with barely any fat. It was delicious! And there were three ways to indulge. The first way, more traditional according to the server, is the use a flat pancake with some onions and plum sauce and some duck. The second was to eat the duck on a small seseame bun, with an assortment of toppings. The last was to take a piece of duck skin and dip it in sugar, which sounds strange but may in fact be the best thing that I have ever eaten. Another fun part of going to a duck restaurant is that they bring the duck out and carve it in front of you.

This was taken by a canal in Beijing’s Dongcheng district. The weather was a little gray, but after a morning eating Yunnan food and wandering the hutongs, we stumbled upon this canal. It was lined with really vibrant cherry and plum and willow trees.

This is the wisteria in Suzhou’s Garden of the Master of the Nets. Though I have been to Suzhou before, going in spring was a different experience as everything was in bloom! It was fun to see, and later we got dumplings, so I was happy camper.


Highlights from Hangzhou

Highlights from Hangzhou

In the middle of March, my roommates and I hopped on a train in Nanjing and exited about two hours later in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province. Fun fact: Hangzhou was the landing site for famed explorer Marco Polo in China. It also held other draws for us. One, that one of our friends from Wellesley, a Hangzhou-native, invited us to visit. And two, that Hangzhou is farther south than Nanjing and therefore, spring arrived earlier. Hangzhou was bursting with new growth in mid-March, while Nanjing really began to bloom again at the end of the month. 

Below is a photo journal from our weekend away.

Hangzhou’s biggest attraction is the lovely West Lake, which sat to the west of the city wall and traditional city limits. To one side is bustling Hangzhou with a population of 9 million, but to the other side is a lovely set of mountains. The lake is framed nicely and so pretty to walk around.


This is a photo I took on our second day there, when we left behind the crowded cityside and found a quieter path ariund West Lake. The gardens were bursting with flowers and it was a bit misty that day.


Hangzhou has tea fields nearby; this photo was taken at the national tea museum, in an active tea field. We visited a few weeks before the Tomb Sweeping Festival (清明节)and our local friend informed us that this is the time of year to pick a local variety of green tea, Longjing (龙井茶).  The museum was fascinating and this view was stunning. There were two sets of wedding photos being taken in the field, despite the rain.

This is a photo of some of the best fish that I have ever eaten. I photographed the menu, to make certain that I would remember the dish. It is fish from the South China Sea with a white and flaky flesh and it was cooked on the bone until it was perfectly tender. The name of the dish was fragrant wine fish, 酒香带鱼, and we ordered it at a Hangzhou-based chain called Grandma’s. 10/10 would recommend.

In Hangzhou the magnolias were blooming already (Nanjing’s trees followed a few weeks later). I found this vibrant tree on a rainy day by a canal. This beautiful tree was the perfect chance to try out “close-up” mode on my camera. 


All in all, a wonderful weekend!