Category Archives: Nanjing

My “Rent-a-Foreigner” Experience

One particularly interesting business tactic that has fascinated me during my time in China is the “Rent-a-Foreigner” strategy.  In order to appear more international and exotic, some Chinese companies—ranging from real estate to engineering—will hire foreigners to give their companies an international face to appear more high-end.  The entertaining consideration is you don’t need any knowledge or education to do this; you just play the role you are assigned.  The greatest part?  You can make some good money as well.

Here is the Weixin commentary based on the BusinessInsider article.  It’s a short, interesting read that provides a little more information on why the Chinese perceive the foreign face to be advantageous during events and other business-related happenings.  I mean, it’s a running joke here that you can buy anything off of TaoBao (think Chinese Amazon and Ebay on steroids), but I didn’t realize that you can really buy anything, even foreigners.  Shoutout to Shelby Tuseth for sending this article to me.

I told myself that if the opportunity presented itself, I would at least interview and try to be that foreign face just to experience it.  I would be able to meet new people and possibly have some fun while earning that sweet Mao money so why not?  On April 4th and 5th, experience it I did.

Over time, a few friends I’ve made over here would post in their WeChat feed (think Facebook, but more mobile-oriented) that they knew of a company looking for a “white male, 6’0″ or taller, aged 21-25.”  A few of the times that I applied for the position, I was turned down with the reason being that I wasn’t skinny enough.  Maybe to some that would be upsetting, but you also have to understand the expectation of skinny here in China. I’m a 33″ waist which is pretty common for men my age in the U.S.  The first position I applied to was looking for someone “lankier than me.”  It was just funny having that explained by my friend who originally asked if I was interested.  After a few more attempts, I was finally accepted to help a kitchen appliances company, Robam, advertise during a shopping holiday at the beginning of April 2015 here in Nanjing.  Little did I know, I signed up for something a little more intensive than handing out coupon fliers.

That weekend, I met up with a group who were also in consideration for this event and I quickly realized that I was the only male among about eight Asian women who were around my age.  We get to Robam’s meeting room where we were told to wait.  The leader of this Robam promotional event has the girls stand up, show her how they look with different hair styles, and a few other things to ensure their qualifications and they wrap up after about 20 minutes.  Meanwhile I’m just twiddling my thumbs wondering what they will require from me.  After the girls are ok’ed, we’re told that all of us can leave.  I’m a bit puzzled so I ask one of the girls why the Robam woman didn’t even talk to me.  The woman heard me and told the girl to ask me if I can dance… which I said yes to.  Apparently, with that sole question, I was hired.  Did I just accept a role in an advertising dance promotion?  Yes.  Yes I did.

We were going to be working Saturday and Sunday doing choreographed dance promotions at 4 different Robam store locations in downtown Nanjing.  They would pay me 2,000RMB (~$330) for the whole weekend and while it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, I went with it.

All of us met again Friday night April 3rd, to finalize the full dance and I was fitted for the outfit that I would rock as the front man of my troupe: a pretty snazzy chef uniform. I just remember thinking to myself what is going on?

IMG_2765 Throughout Saturday and Sunday, we were led around various Robam locations within a shopping mall center and put on a 3 minute show starring Jack the Weigouren Chef and his Chinese French Maids. In total we probably did about 8-10 dances each day and we even got to cruise on Segways a couple of times.  While walking–sometimes Segwaying(?)–between locations, we would carry signs with the girls chanting a slogan in Chinese.  Meanwhile, I would just lead the girls in a line from location to location with the camera crew and assistants directing me.  I have never been stared at so much in my life. IMG_2746 IMG_2747 Every time the music would start, shoppers and passersby would look to the source of the upbeat tempo, see our costumes, and realize that some white guy is making an ass of himself for the sake of commercialism.  We would start dancing in front of maybe 10 people and by the end of our routine, there would be 70+ people recording us on their phones; at other locations, it was much more people.

So without further ado, here is the entertaining video of our dance with the laughing of my friend Tony (the person filming) included.  Sorry it’s not in 4K and surround sound.

Although it was a little odd at first, the whole weekend was fun.  The entire job turned out drastically different from what I imagined and I was paid for something I thought I would never get paid to do.  Sounds like the embodiment of a perfect foreign experience in China to me.

Faces of Nanjing No. 5 High School (3)

Here we go with the 3rd chapter of Faces of Nanjing No. 5 High School with a larger-than-normal collection of my 7th graders.  Unfortunately the seniors that I teach are less accessible before and after my classes, but I will manage to get a few interviews at some point.

This time we have a good mix of 7th graders from both class 10 and 11.  Enjoy!

IMG_2950
She didn’t want her stuffed animal in the photo.

Name: Zhong Yi, G7C11

Voted the most adorable classmate (apparently her class did this in another period), Zhong Yi brings a large lamb stuffed animal almost everyday; it’s uses range from a pillow during nap time to hug buddy when she has to speak English in front of the class.  Usually she can be found walking arm-in-arm with her best friends during P.E. or enthusiastically turning any English lesson into a time for her to practice her drawing.

When are the happiest?
“When I am with my dog.”

If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?
“More time to spend with my friends and family.”

What do you want to do when you grow up?
“I don’t know.  I have time to think about it.”

If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them?
“Happy stories.  It will make them feel better.”

If you could only eat one thing the rest of your life, what would it be?
“Something sweet.”  Like what? “Uhhhhhhh…Cake!”


IMG_2954

Name: Xuxin Yu, G7C11

While he is one of the more quiet students in Class 11, Xuxin Yu likes to talk to me in-between classes about Transformers, CS:GO, and various superheroes.  His show-and-tells have included his favorite band being Cold Play and his favorite scenes in the Transformers movies.  You can usually find him playing basketball after study hall or just laying down and enjoying the Nanjing sun.

If you could only eat one thing the rest of your life, what would it be?
“Chocolate.”

What is your biggest dream?
“I want to be a professional computer game player in China.”

If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them?
“I would want to invite them to my party.”

What is your favorite class?
“P.E. class.” Why? “Sports are my favorite.”


IMG_2955
Deadly serious until she is allowed to have fun.

Name: Zhu Kexin, G7C11

Being the deskmate of Wu Longing comes with an exhausting high energy presence during class and no one handles it better than Zhu Kuxin. Once she starts having fun, the party doesn’t stop until the bell.  Her and Wu Longing foster the energy in the classroom and help people be serious or relaxed when they need to be.  They are pretty much inseparable.  She is the other mind behind making every character in a romantic relationship die during story activities and always claims it makes the love more beautiful because it continues in heaven. Always entertaining.

What is your favorite class?
“Computer class.” Why? “Because I can play computer games.”

What is your biggest dream?
“I want to be an artist.”  What kind of artist? “I don’t know!  There are so many different artists!”

If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them? 
“I want to play a fun game with you.  Do you want to play and be happy?”

If you could only eat one thing the rest of your life, what would it be?
“I don’t know.”You have to pick one thing.  “Ok.  Ice cream.”


IMG_2958

Name: LiWei Jin, G7C11

A DOTA player amongst the many League of Legends enthusiasts in my classes, LiWei Jin enjoys everything you would find in a boy his age: video games, sports, and nervously teasing girls.  When he is called upon to speak English, he likes to tap at his teeth as his gaze wanders as if he is following a fly zoom around the room.  He also reps the flyest shoes in the class.

What is your biggest dream?
“I want to be Superman.”

If you could only eat one thing the rest of your life, what would it be?
“Beef.”

What is your favorite class?
“The holidays.”

If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them?  
“You are lucky to be alive.  Don’t be sad!”


IMG_2959

Name: Zhou HongYi, G7C10

Another one of the more quiet students I teach, Zhou HongYi has a tough shell to crack.  His English is actually pretty good for his age, but he can get quite nervous talking in front of his classmates and even just talking with me.  He must think that I am always testing him or something because I can always see his gears grinding for the best possible answer to a question, even if it is a simple answer. He doesn’t ask his classmates for help like many of my other students so he takes the time to think and will then answer my questions 3-5 minutes after moving on.

What is your biggest dream?
“I want to be the manager of the biggest company in the world.”

If you could only eat one thing the rest of your life, what would it be?
“Pizza.”

If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them?
“Should we go to the sea?  We can be at peace.”

What is your favorite class?
“English.”  Why?  “It makes me feel good talking English and I have fun.”


IMG_2964

Name: Jin Joaquin, G7C10

Although many of my students are avid gamers, Jin Joaquin takes the cake when it come to being a League of Legends fanatic and loves tying the game into our current unit.  His drawings and stories?  League of Legends.  His past 3 show-and-tells?  Each have been about the various aspects of the game.  At the beginning of the 2nd term after Chinese New Year, I asked the students what they wished for going into the new year and he replied: “I hope Teemo gets deleted from the game. I hate him so much.”  (Teemo is a character who embodies the soul of Satan and is frustrating to play against.)

What is your biggest dream?
“I want to be a successful computer engineer.”

If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them?
“This is nothing.  You must think of the good things and you will be lucky.”

If you could only eat one thing the rest of your life, what would it be?
“Hamburger.  No cheese.”

What is your favorite class?
“Math.  I think it is cool and I wear glasses so I have to like math.”


IMG_2965

Name: Wang WeiChen, G7C10

It can be both funny and annoying at times, but Wang WeiChen is one of the more vocal students in my G7C10. He likes to give his opinion on everything we do whether it be to me, his deskmate, or the entire class. Thankfully he enjoys 99% of what we do so it is never really a problem, but some of his classmates tell him to quiet down sometimes. He has joined Jack’s Super Awesome Lunch Crew a few times and even bought me a few yogurts much to my surprise.  Jin Joaquin and him are very close friends.

What is your biggest dream?
“I want to be a teacher when I grow up.”  What kind of teacher? “A math teacher in China.”

If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them?
“I will take care of your problems. You should be happy everyday.  I am always happy.”

If you could only eat one thing the rest of your life, what would it be?
“Beef.”

What do you do with your family during the 2 months of summer holiday?
“We will often have a big dinner at my grandparents home many times during the week and we have a good time.”


I love doing these.

Faces of Nanjing No. 5 High School (2)

If you didn’t get the chance to see my last post about some of the wonderful students that I have the privilege of teaching, you can check out my motivations for doing a HONY type human-interest piece here. I get a kick out of doing these interviews, which allow my students to showcase their personality outside of the classroom. This post includes four of my 7th graders that hail from Class 11.  Cheers!

In the rare times that I take pictures of my students, it sometimes scares me that smiling for photos isn't an automatic reaction here.
In the rare times that I take pictures of my students, it sometimes scares me that smiling for photos isn’t an automatic reaction here.

Name: Yang Sen, G7C11 (I didn’t do this in my last post, but from now on I am going to put the surname first since that is typical in Chinese culture.)

Yang Sen is a pretty calculated student.  He chooses his moments to speak and in general, he is naturally curious.  He usually eats lunch with Flint Lockwood and I, but somedays he will not even say a word; he will just listen.  He is constantly puzzled why I always get beef and rice and even though he already knows the answer, he likes to ask me why I don’t get noodles and pork (not very filling).  He is a Minecraft junkie who loves to do everything during class except speak English.

What has been the happiest moment of your life?
“When I go to my grandparent’s home.  I can watch TV, they take me shopping for nice things, and cook with them.  That is where I am always most happy.”

If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them?
“Don’t worry. I will help you.”

What is your biggest dream?
“I want to do something amazing.”  Like what? “Fly in the sky with no help.”


One of the more popular and eccentric students in my class.
One of the more popular and eccentric students in my class.

Name: Wu Longing, G7C11

Harboring a hatred for boredom, Wu Longing puts 100% effort into any activity or lesson during class.  She motivates students with the energy she brings to classroom, but on the 1% chance she is not rarin’ to go for Foreigner English class, it can be a struggle.  During her group story activities, she will somehow steer her team into writing a romance story that ends up with the lovers dying in the end.  Every. Single. Story.  The first story I can remember had the couple dying of heartbreak and the latest one has them falling off of a cliff.  I don’t know.

What is your biggest dream?
“My biggest dream is to be an artist.”  What kind of artist?  “I will use Chinese gardens, flowers, and trees.”

What is your favorite class?
“Chinese.  It’s easier than English.”

If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them?
“I will show you some interesting and happy things.  I want to tell you happy stories to make you feel better so you will smile.”


He tried his best to pose as Ezio Auditore from Assassin's Creed.
He tried his best to pose as Ezio Auditore from Assassin’s Creed, the video game.

Name: Wang Si Miao, G7C11

The self-labeled “nerder” of Grade 7 Class 11, Wang Si Miao is the most video game and comic obsessed student I teach.  He runs around with his hood up, arms flying behind him, and a pencil hidden in both of his sleeves so that he can practice being an assassin. His knowledge of Marvel based superheroes is unparalleled and his passion shows; he became extremely flustered with a classmate who would not copy the Avenger’s story during a group “make up a story in English” activity.  He is the third member of Jack’s Lunchtime English Speaking Crew and never stops talking about Assassin’s Creed…never.

What has been the happiest moment of your life?
“When I came to this school as a top student. Also I was able to finally play and beat Assassin’s Creed Victory. So happy.”

If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them?
“I will say ‘don’t worry’ and then I go help them.  No matter what.”

What is your biggest dream?
“Which dream do you want.”  What dreams do you want to tell me about? “I want to be an assassin with Spiderman’s powers.  I will make the world better. Technology and practice will make it possible.”


“Do I look more business with my jacket like this?”

Name: Ma Wenjie, G7C11

The head honcho and class decision maker, Ma Wenjie is quite vocal.  If she doesn’t like something, if she is bored, or if she is done with an activity and wants feedback, she will make sure you know.  She is the most popular girl in Grade 7 with many friends in the two classes at the high school and with the junior school 7th graders.  She went to primary school with most of her classmates and her decisions are final among her friends.  I swear she is the class mother as some students will check their homework with her or ask her to speak for them if Warren is not around.

What is your biggest dream?
“I want to be a teacher.  A Chinese teacher.  Maybe travel, but I don’t know.”

If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them?
“I can cry with you.  No problem.”

What is your favorite thing in the world?
“Hong Kong films.”

Why are their two 7th grade classes at this high school?
“We are the best in all things at school. Much better students than junior school.” (I 100% agree with this statement).

Faces of Nanjing No. 5 High School

I’ve always found Humans of New York to be one of my favorite human-interest pieces that I peruse daily.  It reminds me that every single stranger I walk past each day has an entire life that I have no clue about. They have their own problems, interests, and personality that I will most likely never know of. The amount of events that occurred in our lives to lead each of us to that exact location in the world is crazy to contemplate.   I guess you could say these are my shower thoughts?

I really should’ve thought about doing this type of thing when I first arrived and started teaching at Nanjing No. 5 High School.  My students are all friendly, love to talk English with me, and enjoy taking pictures (although I thought it might be a little weird if I were taking pictures with/of my students with my phone, but I guess it isn’t here).  So I started interviewing individual students outside of class, and eventually my coworkers will work their way into this mix, to help introduce the wonderful people that have made my work this year both fun and rewarding.

My main classes are Grade 7 Class 10 & 11 so it can be pretty funny trying to teach English to 13-year-olds who know just enough English to be knowledgable and who clever enough to make jokes at my expense. Some of my students are middle class and some are super rich. Some have excellent English and some struggle a bit.  Some can be found out on the basketball court during break time while others can be found leisurely walking around the track or sitting, nose buried in a book.  I’m more than thankful to be consistently teaching 90 students who are diverse in their interests and—if their math teacher didn’t completely fry their brain in the morning—enjoy my classes enough to freakin’ clap when I enter the room. Most likely, it’s because my class is less stressful than any of their other classes.

So without further ado, here is my first edition of “Faces of Nanjing No. 5 High School,” introducing three of my 7th grade students.

The name is Lockwood.  Flint Lockwood.
The name is Lockwood. Flint Lockwood.

Name: He goes by Flint Lockwood, G7C10.  He won’t tell me his Chinese name…
Flint is probably my most helpful and most intelligent student.  He taught himself English through American movies, has a deep fascination with “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and “Men in Black,” and even eats lunch with me while asking the most random of questions.

What is your biggest dream?  What do you want to do in your life?
“I want to be an inventor and make the world a better place.”

How are you going to achieve that?
“First, keep working hard at my studies and learn many new things.”

What is you favorite thing in the world?
“Science.”  Just science?  “Oh and scientists.”

If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them?
“No matter how bad it gets, it will be good.  Everything gets better.”


She is really self-conscious about the scratches by her eye and refuses to tell me what happened.  I did here it was a PE accident.
She is really self-conscious about the scratches by her eye and refuses to tell me what happened. I did here it was a PE accident.

Name: Meiwen Gu, G7C11 (technically GuMeiwen since Chinese names typically put the surname first.  Her first name could mean “warm beauty,” but I may be wrong.)

Meiwen is shy around me, but very popular in her class.  I have to coax her to speak English and when she does, she speaks it well. She has a habit of meowing in my class at random times and enjoys tongue twisters.

What is your biggest dream?  What do you want to do in your life?
“I want to be a teacher.  Maybe teach in different countries, but I don’t know.”

What is your favorite thing in the world?
(stone-faced and stares at me) “Cats.”

If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them?
“Get a cat.  Pets make everything better and will make you happy.”


When I asked where he wanted his picture taken, he said," That looks like a nice tree."
When I asked where he wanted his picture taken, he said,” That looks like a nice tree.”

Name: Warner, G7C11.  He just likes to be called Warner…

Warner is one of my favorite students.  He is the class mega-phone; I can always count on him to translate instructions, get people excited, or help me understand how the class is feeling during class.  If I explain an activity we will be doing, he gauges class opinion, stands up in the nicest way possible, and says, “I think that the class will not like this the most, but they will still do it.”  I have to resist laughing because his voice is still a bit high, but is always very calm. He is a huge gamer who plays League of Legends and Minecraft, and is obsessed with the show, “Fringe.”  He always refers to J.J. Abrams as a genius.

What is your biggest dream.  What do you want to do in your life?
“Policeman.  I want to help people as a policeman.”

What is your favorite thing in the world?
“Nature.  It is the world.”  

If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them?
“You just need to be brave.”

There and Back Again: An American’s Chinese Tale

IMG_8371

How did I go from a Minneapolis job-hunting hopeful to a foreigner casually eating dumplings contemplating whether I should teach American football or tongue twisters on Monday?

February, 2014—In the midst of a pounding blizzard, the University of Minnesota makes the decision to resume holding the annual College of Liberal Arts career fair despite the weather ensuring low attendance.

A week leading up to this job-hunt circus, I research every single one of the 150+ businesses to be in attendance, jotting down notes and marking their locations on the mini map we were provided.  Although I glance at the Ameson Year of China, I put it in the back of my mind since I was determined to begin working in Minneapolis, MN after I returned from backpacking through Europe after graduation.

Although both of my parents are teachers, I didn’t find myself following in their footsteps as I plan on having a career in project management, the public relations, and the advertising industry.

I tirelessly work my way through countless booths, passing off my resume and scribbling down answers from the set of questions I prepared.  When all is said and done, I begin eyeing the exit but notice my path took me right by the Ameson Year in China booth; I decide I can stomach one more informational interview before heading home to contemplate my future.  Although I left the AYC booth feeling positive (I found it was the only job I was excited to apply for), I couldn’t have told you that a year later, I would be living, working, and developing myself in the vast, foreign land that is China.

That’s cool and all, but why would you move to the other side of the world?

Growing up, my parents always made it a point to travel.  On holidays (when I wasn’t playing hockey), my family would either pack up the car for a road trip or collect our bags for a flight.  Whether it was to Glacier National Park, Montana or down to Key West, Florida, I was familiar with traveling and experiencing new places.  I believe that traveling is a necessary influence in becoming a well-rounded person.

After evaluating my post-graduate opportunities, I decided to challenge myself further and work in China for a year.  Maybe I would find more opportunities in a growing country after my first year teaching.  Maybe I would enjoy living there more than America. Maybe I was just delaying the real world back home.  I really didn’t know.  The only thing I understood was that making a big jump like this, sticking with it, and learning from it was a big risk that would make for a worthy investment in my future whether I decided to stay longer than a year or not.

After a successful application process, I was happy to know that the next year of my life was planned for Nanjing; a city that I’d never heard of, living in a culture that I’d never experienced, communicating in a language that I’d no knowledge of, and teaching English in a capacity that I’d never worked.  Challenge accepted.

My 2nd home: Nanjing, Jiangsu, China.
My 2nd home: Nanjing, Jiangsu, China.

After the longest flight of my life, one information-packed week in Shanghai, and a 2-hour train ride, there I was, in a city 12 times the size of where I call home, placed with 2 AYCers (each of us at different schools) that I had come to know at orientation, $1000 that I brought with me, and my class schedule given to me by my school.  The rest of my time here depended upon my open-mindedness, interests, willpower, and patience.

So you have a little optimism, a passion for new experiences, and the ability to just leave all of your family and friends that you have come to know and love the past 22 years of your life. Well aren’t you special.  How did it go?

The first month or two was quite a trial.  I had to establish some type of routine, explore my surrounding neighborhood locating my favorite supermarkets and restaurants, and really put myself out there to meet new people. I eventually found a group, both Chinese and expat/foreigner, who I am extremely proud to call friends and many of whom I will for a lifetime. I’m constantly meeting new people every weekend as well. It was just really difficult understanding how patient you have to be.  Going out and trying to force myself into friendships wasn’t a worthwhile effort.  I had to accept that the friendships and networking come casually and with a little patience, my friends group became apparent and I began meeting more and more people over time.

IMG_7708

IMG_8411
A very foreigner Christmas
IMG_8704
New Year’s Eve in the Gulou Tower

Teaching was difficult at first, but with a little experimentation and more time, it became easier.  I started getting acclimated to standing in front of my different classes consisting of 45 13-year-old 7th graders and 45 16 year-year-old seniors.  In total, this year I taught five different 7th grade classes, two 8th grade classes, and seven different senior classes.  I took into full account what my students wanted to learn (US culture, sports, video games, improving their speaking, etc.) because there is absolutely no hope attempting to teach them a language and a disinteresting topic at the same time.  I even surprised myself too.  At the beginning, I would just grind through my classes to get to the weekend.  Eventually, I found myself enjoying this whole teaching thing.

IMG_6460 IMG_6455

I became close with my coworkers who gave advice on my lessons and would help me with every single problem I ran into including finding the printer room, telling my students what to bring for next class, or even getting my laptop fixed (that was a dark week).  A few even took me out to dinner with their families and the English department presented me with high-quality scarf and gloves for Christmas.  (Side note: They don’t understand how I wear just a light sweater in 50° without a jacket and hat. I’ve tried to explain to them that I’ve lived in the cold my whole life and for 4 years, I braved Minnesota winters just to get to class in the morning, but they still think I am crazy for not dressing “warm enough.”)

IMG_8482
Christmas week. They thought I was going to catch a cold in the 30° weather. I humored them.

The students were not easy at first either.  They gibber-gabber and gossip loudly when they get bored.  They will ask you completely irrelevant questions ranging from if you have a girlfriend to when was the last time I ate at McDonalds.  It can be incredibly frustrating.  Somehow, my students began looking forward to my classes (this may be because I am the only foreigner English teacher at my school) and eventually started policing themselves.  It’s an amazing feeling when a student starts talking when yo are and a few students turn around and tell the interrupter to “shut up because teacher Jack is talking.”  Feels good man.

Thankfully, most of my students have a functional grasp over the English language so I’m not required to speak Mandarin.  I do take the opportunity to at least try because: 1) My students find it incredibly entertaining to hear my horrendous accent and futile attempts, and 2) why not take advantage of a two-way learning system where the students can help me learn?  It takes a lot of stress and frustration off of them when they see me go through the same embarrassment and frustrations learning their language as they experience when learning mine.  The more fun they are having, the more fun and rewarding my job is.

IMG_8493

I do find it entertaining how incredibly physical my students’ friendships are with each other.  In class, boys and girls give each other a couple light jabs on the shoulder, pinch each other’s cheeks, or hang off of each other.  Some hold hands while they walk around the track at lunch and last week I witnessed 3 seniors hold one of their friends down and tickle him.  Not exactly the physicalness I grew up with or a component common in American student friendships, but it doesn’t even phase me any more.

Christmas card making right before the holidays.
Christmas card making right before the holidays.

It’s a huge advantage being an American English speaker here in China as it usually opens opportunities for you to teach others in your free time.  Usually, a coworker of yours knows someone who wants to improve their English or you have a friend of a friend who needs the lessons.  One of the families I tutor for has a daughter attending school in Delaware next year.  On New Year’s Day, they invited me to their daughter’s piano recital and on my birthday, they took me out for coffee and skating.  The father will even make me dinner after our weekly lessons and talk with me for hours. I’m already appreciative that I became close with the students and coworkers where I teach, but I would’ve never thought that I would become so personally close to a Chinese family; a family I feel invested in and who will keep in contact with me when they move to America.

Depending on your age, height, and skin color, you can find other less common opportunities…

Promotion dancing for a kitchen appliance company is apparently a thing.
Promotion dancing for a kitchen appliance company is apparently a thing for “white males who are 6′ or taller.”

That leads me into something I found to be the most profound learning experience here: self-awareness.  Growing up in a predominantly white suburb of Minnesota and attending a predominantly white high school and university doesn’t leave much for being conscientious about your race as a Caucasian.  I was more judged on where I was from, my hobbies, my accent, but my race was never brought up in casual conversation and before coming to China, I never really thought about a person’s race no matter who I was talking to.  The media I ingested, the people I interacted with everyday, and my hobbies had me surrounded by more English-speaking (apart from Spanish class) Caucasian males and females than any other race or ethnicity.  Coming to China was eye-opening.

You also have options for non-teaching opportunities just for being an English speaker here in which, some of these jobs are only given to you depending on your skin color.   No matter what, if you do not look Chinese, you will be stared at as people around you try to figure out where you are from and what you speak.  And I don’t mean a quick glance over; people here will stare you down as if you are the first extraterrestrial to ever touch down upon this Earth. They are curious about the laowai ordering Beijing Duck in Mandarin at a Chinese restaurant and look on as he struggles using chopsticks.

While I’d never say it was a negative or distressing experience (outside of a few people making fun of me for my accent or referencing me as a few disrespectful terms), here in China I’d experienced being a minority for the first time in my life.  It was just crazy to realize that.

So it sounds like you had a pretty good year learning about yourself, the culture, and finding enjoyment in your teaching.  What did you take away from it?

I honestly could give a 50 bullet-point rundown of all the differences and learning experiences in China, but you can find anything that I would’ve thought of in the bullet-points section here in a photo-essay written by one of last-year’s AYC participants, Linda Wang.

I’m incredibly comfortable and confident at my job and I couldn’t be happier about my placement here at the Nanjing No. 5 High School.  My students and coworkers respect me, my work is rewarding, and I received a generous amount of holiday time to travel China and SE Asia. Participating in the Ameson Year in China program gave me this great opportunity to further my capabilities while expanding my interests and knowledge; a unique opportunity on the international scale with a multi-cultural experience.

Sports day at Nanjing No. 5 High School
Sports day at Nanjing No. 5 High School

Initially, my plan coming to China was just to take a gap year to figure out my future while (hopefully) learning a few things along the way.  Almost a year later, I’ve learned more about myself than I could’ve hoped.  I proved to myself that I could live on the other side of the world, away from any sort of familiarity or comfort that I’d grown accustomed to, and fully benefit from the experience. I’ve met some amazing people that I would’ve never met otherwise. I like Chinese food more than any other type of food and it’s going to be difficult not having the option to go get chow fan at 3am in the morning.  I’ve continued to learn and push myself and China gave me this motivation.  I’ve assimilated into a completely different culture that, admit-tingly, still feels mysterious at times, but although I still may be a weiguoren, I don’t really feel like it anymore.

Nanjing along the Yangtze River.
Nanjing along the Yangtze River.

Nanjing Hidden Gems: The Chinese Farmer’s Markets

The Chinese farmer’s market.  Abuzz, overwhelming, intoxicating, and the most fun you can possibly have grocery shopping.  The nearest market that I frequent here in Nanjing—there are many, but farmer’s markets are difficult to find as there are no signs that proclaim its existence—is an experience I look forward to when it’s necessary to re-stock my fridge and cooking supplies.  I can walk in with 100 RMB (~$16) and purchase enough food for 2 weeks whilst still walking away with a good chunk of change jingling rhythmically in my pocket.

Similarly structured to an indoor bazaar, this market has everything you need to make a fresh meal each night while costing you less than $2 per meal; the only problem you’ll run into is your motivation to cook when you only have one hot plate and two pots/pans forcing even some simplistic meals to consume 30-45 minutes of your time. Open 24/7 with prices that would make Black Friday shoppers foam at the mouth, this Chinese farmer’s market boasts an incredibly large selection of booths displaying: freshly butchered meats (i.e. beef, chicken, pork, seafood, turtles, bull frogs), ripe fruits (i.e. bananas, mangos, apples, oranges, pears, dragon fruit), impressive vegetables of all sizes (i.e. potatoes, mushrooms, onions, jalapeños, and many I’ve never seen or heard of), exotic spices that laugh in the face of the Blazing Wings Challenge at Buffalo Wild Wings, and much much more.  I’ve crunched into the crispiest and brightest green jalapeños to ever grace my tastebuds.  I’ve sliced potatoes bigger than my hands to make fries.  Crab and shrimp have never tasted fresher and the flavor just explodes in your mouth.  I’d honestly write a George R. R. Martin-esque rant elaborating on the aesthetically pleasing and mouthwatering foods you purchase from these markets, but I don’t want to make you read 20,000 words.  If you enjoy cooking and selecting the ingredients that nourish your body, Chinese farmer’s markets will elevate you to cloud nine; heaven for your body, heaven for your mind, and heaven for your wallet.

Booths, booths, and more booths.  I think there are about 75-100 different spaces in this particular market.
1/12) Booths, booths, and more booths. I think there are about 75-100 different spaces in this particular market.
Fresh homemade noodles.  It is weirdly interesting to watch them being made.
2/12) Fresh, homemade noodles. Watching them being made is oddly hypnotic.
Veggies
3/12) Some merchants use these pans.  Some just have big bundles of produce.
Plump, juicy, luscious fruit.  Fruit is very expensive in Chinese supermarkets and the prices in farmer's markets are a steal.
4/12) Plump, juicy, luscious fruit. Fruit is very expensive in Chinese supermarkets and the prices in farmer’s markets are a steal.

DISCLAIMER: THOSE WITH LIGHT STOMACHS MAY NOT WANT TO SEE THE NEXT TWO PHOTOS.  I DON’T KNOW. IT SHOWS A LOT OF BUTCHERED ANIMAL MEAT.

Fresh meat for those who like a fresh burger or mutton chop.  It doesn't even really smell too bad.
5/12) Fresh meat for those who like a fresh burger or mutton chop. Surprisingly, it doesn’t even really smell bad.  
Meat-lover's dream
6/12) Meat-lover’s dream
Shrimp
7/12
Best crab I have had. I had it cooked at a nearby shop.
8/12) Best crab I’ve had. I had it cooked at a nearby shop.
Right out of the water, the merchant filets the meat and packages it for you...or you can take the whole fish home.
9/12) Right out of the water, the merchant filets the catfish meat and packages it for you…or you can take the whole fish home. There were about 15 other kinds of fish to choose from.
Fresh eels.  The slimy look just looks sooo appetizing...
10/12) Fresh eels. The slimy look just looks sooo appetizing…
Amazingly, frog legs are delicious and you forage for the meat as you scrap the bottom of your giant hot pot.
11/12) Amazingly, frog legs are delicious and I frantically forage for the meat as I scrape the bottom of the pan at Hot Pot restaurants.  Still don’t know how to prepare it though.
Fresh warm bread.  Chinese bread has an odd sweetness to it compared to North American and European bread.
12/12) Fresh warm bread. Chinese bread has an odd sweetness to it compared to North American and European breads I’ve tasted.

I fully recommend giving your business to these farmer’s markets, albeit the market isn’t exactly sparkling clean (if you are a germaphobe, this may be your own personal hell), but for those with unwavering immune systems who love the thrill of negotiating prices with charming merchants, grab a large bag to later sling over your shoulder with pounds and pounds of food and enjoy.

Escape to Purple Mountain Part 1

Although Nanjing is an incredibly dense city of about four million citizens, it houses a few areas that are a haven away from city life; the only reminder that you are still in Nanjing is the enormous volume of people at every location. If you are a city-dweller, you would love it here.  There are always new restaurants, bars, street-side barbecues, and various knick-knack stores to encounter whether or not you meant to take that left down Shigu Lu on your way to the bank.

The city is pretty peaceful at night during the week.
The city is pretty peaceful at night during the week.

Although there are many things to do in this city, after 2 months the honeymoon affect starts to wear off.  You begin to tire of the over-whelming city-life and find the itch to explore the more scenic areas of this metropolis. You want to find a place where you can just take a break from the noise and recharge.  Whether it is just to relax or to fulfill your burning curiosity, you will eventually find yourself at the beautiful and Purple Mountain.

West side of Purple Mountain overlooking XianWu Lake.
West side of Purple Mountain overlooking XianWu Lake.

Purple Mountain is an extremely convenient 20 minute bus ride from my location and it only costs 2 RMB (~$0.33 )  You begin the bus ride in the heart of the city, peering at tall buildings and busy sidewalks and then all of a sudden, you are whizzing by dense forest area on narrow roads that skirt one section of the Nanjing City Wall to the northeast of the city.

This is one section of the wall that you drive past, but unlike other sections, you cannot walk on the top.
This is one section of the wall that you drive past, but unlike other sections, you cannot walk on the top.

Purple Mountain hosts about 200 scenic and historical locations including: the Purple Mountain Observatory, Linggu Temple, Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, Mountain Top Park, and many other attractions.  It is impossible to experience all of this in one day and requires a few trips.

Purple Mountain has trails made for adventurers of all ages.  There is a nice paved roadway that can be utilized for biking and cart tours, an intimidating amount of stairs that can take you up to a nice scenic area, and then there is a more rugged path that you can rock climb and catch a breath-taking view of Nanjing (about a 60-70 degree incline).  After you get up to this area, you backtrack down to the paved road and head towards Mountain Top Park, the Purple Mountain Observatory, and a few other trails that can take you higher up the mountain.  The Purple Mountain Observatory costs 15 RMB to access and we could see about six other signs pointing to areas past the gate; we noted the observatory for a return visit.

It is not a bad climb at all.  The rocky path goes up and to the left for the view.  Then it continues back and right to proceed up the mountain.
It is not a bad climb at all. The rocky path goes up and to the left for the view. Then it continues back and right to proceed up the mountain.
The first rock climb view of Nanjing.
The first rock climb view of Nanjing.
A little hazy, but there are days where it is clear.
A little hazy, but there are days where it is clear.

For this first trip we decided  the Mountain Top Park path since we could not figure out how to get to the mausoleums; yay being college graduates.

After the first scenic view, you can go into the back woods for the next view
After the first scenic view, you can go into the backwoods for the next view and resume your hike to Mountain Top Park
IMG_7847
Walking to Mountain Top Park
Not the actual top of the mountain.  This is one place where you could eat lunch at Mountain Top Park.
Not the actual top of the mountain. This is one place where you could eat lunch at Mountain Top Park.

Anyways here is the first of many trips to Purple Mountain.  We went to the Mountain Top Park, which was a solid 3 1/2 hour round trip, and caught the sunset over the city on the way down.  We noted that there were still three trails leading further up the mountain from Mountain Top Park.  The next visit will surely bring us more to enjoy.  I just hope that it is on a clearer day!

Sunset on the way back down Purple Mountain.
Sunset on the way back down Purple Mountain.

Here is a little look at our first journey up Purple Mountain.

Follow my blog and experience China with me.  I want you to WANT to read about my experiences.  Comments, feedback, and content requests are more than welcome as they will help me engage you, the reader, in a more effective manner.  Stay awesome.