Thursday, September 9, 2010

foreign teacher festivities

Today is Teachers' Day in China, where countless baskets of flowers and other gifts decorate the streets for students to purchase for their teachers. (Even China's Google is getting into the holiday spirit, as demonstrated by the above picture I've snipped from the website.) Unfortunately, I don't expect to receive anything from students today, since I haven't officially begun to teach yet aside from the little tutoring I provide on Saturdays, but it's still fun to see so many students walking around holding flowers, cards, and stuffed animals. It just feels friendlier, even if I'm not the direct recipient of this friendliness.

I did, however, attend a wonderful dinner last night hosted by my university's board of directors in honor of its foreign teachers, both returning and—in my case—brand new. Taking a bus to the middle of the city, we ate at what looked to be a very expensive hotel, where we were each given a bouquet of flowers by some pretty hostesses and were directed to our very own private room on the second floor. We all sat around a marvelous circular table, where on its rotating centerpiece we shared an endless variety of food: octopus salad, beef and tomato stew, cream-filled cakes, seaweed soup, roasted chicken, sweet potatoes, cold fish (its beady-eyed head and tail still intact), and a number of other dishes, most of which I sampled, at least when I was quick enough to catch the food with my chopsticks before it rotated away! To drink, we had red wine, delicious sweet milk, and beer, which were refilled by our busy attendants at just about every other minute, making it rather easy for me to become drunk if I wasn’t careful.

During dinner, nearly everyone gave a short speech of some sort, something I certainly wasn’t expecting. When my turn approached, I simply said that I was honored to be here and that Shenyang has been a wonderful introduction to China for me—it was difficult to really know what to say, given that I haven’t even started my classes yet, but everyone seemed pleased with my remarks. At the end of the dinner, the director gave us each a tie gift and shook our hands, followed by a group photograph (I will try to obtain a copy of it so I can post it here). I certainly felt honored, to say the least; the experience, with all the praise and talk of the teaching profession, gave me some much-needed enthusiasm as I begin to plan my first lessons next week.

On a more interpersonal level, what I most enjoyed about the dinner was getting a chance to meet some of my fellow colleagues. I introduced myself to two friendly Frenchmen (one of whom is named Jeremi—we may be the only two people with that name in Shenyang), a man from the U.K. (a nice “gentleman”—I’m sure he gets that a lot—who offered to show me the mountains sometime), and a very sweet Japanese couple. The latter and I had a great time over dinner discussing various Japanese filmmakers, such as Oshima, Kurosawa (both the old one and the recent director of Tokyo Sonata), and Mizoguchi. I was sure to get their phone number before leaving so the three of us can have dinner sometime and continue our cinematic discussions or just talk about teaching (the husband once taught in a Japanese high school, too). It’s funny—I thought that moving to China would be a good way for me to get to know the nation’s people and their customs, but being at the university is providing me just as many opportunities to meet citizens from other nations, too! I feel like I’ve walked into Disney Epcot’s "World Showcase" park, sans the family-friendly cultural stereotypes, of course.

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