Tag Archives: culture


A few weeks back, the university asked us foreign teacher’s to cover for one of the Chinese teacher’s that was sick. We had to be creative to figure out how we’d cover it and still be following our contract which only allows for us to teach 16 course hours each week. We ended up splitting up the classes and each picking lessons we wanted to cover. The course? American culture!

I chose to cover families, weddings, and sports in America.

For the wedding lesson we actually had a pretend ceremony. I had the students pick cards to decide who would play what role… except I ran into a problem when it came to groom’s men – as there were only 3 boys in this class of 30. One had to be the groom, one the father of the bride, and the other, the best man. Afterward we had some “wedding cake” as I explained more about weddings in America.

And for the sports lesson, what’s more all-American than kickball? Well, I guess you could say baseball, but kickball’s a lot easier to play and teach. A few people had trouble knowing when and where to run (or to stop after you get to home plate). After about the 3rd inning they started to get the hang of it.


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What foods did they make for New Year?
饺子 (Jiaozi) Boiled dumplings filled with pork, mushrooms, and nuts.
They really were the best dumplings I have EVER had. We ate these New Years morning for breakfast, steaming hot, a huge bowl full. And I had an even bigger bowl of them on the morning I left, because her mom found out I liked them so much.
汤圆 (Tangyuan) Sweet rice flour dumplings filled with peanuts, sesame seeds and sugar.
Her dad made these. We ate them New Years Eve while watching the CCTV Spring Festival Gala. Below is a picture of the filling before it’s lightly tossed in rice flour and boiled. Yum! When I came back to Harbin, I bought some frozen ones, but they’re not as good.

馒头 (Mantou) Lots of steamed buns! Whenever one of their younger relatives brought a gift (a large box of milk or breakfast biscuits or cooking oil) they’d return the gift with a large bag of steamed buns. Some of the buns had red beans in them. All of them were handmade by my friend and her mom.

New Years Eve Dinner was big spread of about 7 or 8 dishes including: pigs ear, preserved yellow eggs, pork with garlic scapes, pickled lotus root, potato and tomato stir fry, another pork dish. In addition to the dishes we also had two kinds of “main food“ 主食 steamed buns and rice porridge. There’s also a fish on the table in this picture, but it disappeared when we actually sat down to eat.

What did her parents think of you? Did they speak any English?
It’s hard to know what her parent’s thought of me because not only did they not speak a word of English, but their native dialect of Chinese was mostly unintelligible to me. Most of the time in Harbin, I can understand 60-80% of what’s being said around me (depending of if I know the context), but down in that area of Henan I could only get about 10-40%. I did learn a few words like “le” is “er” for “two” and well, that’s all I remember. Both of her parents were really patient with me, though, and before I left I was able to have conversations with each of them without assistance from my friend. I hope they liked me!

What kinds of things did you do there?

New Years Eve was spent as most of China spends it: watching fireworks be set off on the street (her dad set off firecrackers and then the neighbors/relatives had some real big fireworks) and watching the CCTV Spring Festival Gala. (My favorite part was the funny sketch about college graduates selling potatoes…I hope this is not the future for my students).

New Years Day my friend, her parents and I took at trip to a local Buddhist mountain and climbed to the top with hordes of people. I never expected to see a temple so packed in this country. Her mother went into each pavilion to burn incense or offer something while the rest of us waited outside and took pictures.

The other days I spent there were passed going around her hometown, visiting her relative’s houses, a bamboo garden, and the downtown shopping area. And one day my friend and I went to a larger city about 30 minutes away to visit the Henan Jiaozuo Film and Television City where they film those TV series like “Three Kingdoms” or other period pieces.

All in all, we really didn’t “do” much, but it was really relaxing just to sit next to the coal stove, eat sunflower seeds, chat, and observe life in “small town” China.

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I’d read about in books

the kitchen god hanging over the one coal stove,

the village that is home to five generations of the same family,

the dense population of Henan that makes the countryside seem like a city,

I’d never seen this China.

I’d heard people talk of

the Shanxi and Henan dialects that my untrained ears can’t understand,

the constant roar or fireworks throughout the night and early morning,

the squeeeeel pop pop pop of children playing with firecrackers in the street,

I’d never seen this 中国。

I’d felt the cold of China’s Siberia yet

I wear all the warm clothes, the same clothes every day, under my down coat,

I borrow my friend’s warmest shoes and wear the same two pairs of wool socks,

I lean closely against the radiator in the evenings and go to bed early so I can bury myself under two heavy comforters,

I 没 seen this 中国。

I’d smelt my share of smells in this part of the world but

the incense at the packed temple on New Years day overwhelmed,

the odor from out back was thankfully too cold to reek too bad,

the dingy gray air filled with coal dust that turned your nose black,

我没 seen this 中国。

I’d eaten these Chinese specialties before, but oh!

delicious dumplings and sweet glutious rice balls from scratch on New Years,

endless plates of sunflower seeds – snacks at each relative’s house,

that huge bowl of dumplings on the morning I left made me full for a whole day,


Google Translation: I have not seen China.


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Before last month,

I’d never been to Henan Province 河南

I’d never been to China’s countryside 农村

I’d never been to a Chinese person’s home 家

I’d never been in China for Spring Festival 春节.

So, when my friend invited me to spend 春节 at her 家 in the 农村 of 河南

I said, Sure!

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新年快乐!Happy New Year! You might think it’s a bit late to wish this, but think again. This year, Chinese New Year, which is based on the lunar calendar, fell on February 14th. … Oh wait, that was about a month ago. I guess I am a bit late in posting, but I’ll tell you about it anyways.

New Years is more than a day in China – it’s a full-blown festival – in fact, they call it 春节 Spring Festival. You’re probably wondering why they use the word spring? Well, think of it like Groundhog Day where the groundhog doesn’t see his shadow since after Spring Festival, 春天来了! Spring is coming! The doorman who works in my apartment building said exactly when I returned to Harbin on the 17th.

Most students or anyone who’s talked to a Westerner know nothing about Groundhog Day… but they do know that the best holiday to compare Spring Festival to in America is Christmas. Getting out of school, huge travel headaches, visiting family, way too much food, decorations that have a lot of red and sparkles – you’d have to agree, they do have some things in common. The red and sparkles of 春节 Spring Festival, however, are much much noisier.


Taken from my 6th floor apartment balcony in Harbin on 元宵节 Lantern Festival, the last day of Spring Festival when supposedly everyone uses up all the fireworks they haven’t set off over the past 15 days. How come I’ve still heard some this past week?

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