China, Food, Republic of Georgia, Social Customs, Travel

Gone Over to the Dark Side

An unexpected casualty of several years abroad is that my taste in coffee is getting worse. First step is to admit I have a problem, right? So. Deep breath. Hi, my name is Amy. I like instant coffee.

How did this nasty addiction develop? It started in Georgia. Though real coffee beans were available, my host family was firmly entrenched in the instant coffee camp. They drank a Brazilian instant coffee, called Café Pele, that once I got used to it I grew to like, even love.

I left Georgia with a gigantic Yuban-style can of Café Pele. At home in California, I explored the delights of how convenient making iced coffee is with instant coffee. I found that the French Roast that had been my mainstay through grad school suddenly tasted like mud. I tried to readjust, but it just wasn’t working. In desperation, I bought a bottle of Nescafe. I know, right? Nescafe. Seriously?! But it tasted good to me. Another step down a slippery slope. By the time I left America again I was on a half brewed, half instant coffee diet, having somewhat readjusted to “real” coffee.

I came to China last year with the end of my Café Pele. When it was finished, I went out and bought a ceramic one-cup coffee filter and some ground coffee. But it just wasn’t working. Maybe if I had a real coffee pot it would work. But by the time the water had finished dripping through my coffee was usually cold. And if I wanted a second cup? Do it all over again. And me and Nescafe were just getting along so…so well! I liked the taste. I liked the convenience. It was great. My ground coffee sat in the cupboard, sad and neglected.

This past summer was a repeat of the year before. I struggled to find a drip coffee that tasted good to me. I, coffee purist, even experimented with flavored coffee. Maybe a nice mild vanilla-flavored coffee would taste good? No, though it smelled good, it tasted like chemicals. I bought a small jar of Nescafe. Used it up. Bought a larger jar. Oh dear. This was serious.

On vacation with the family, my brother gasped in mock horror at the bottle of Nescafe I’d brought along. “You’ve gone to the dark side, eh?” I couldn’t really deny it. Maybe I was a double agent. Behind enemy lines, exploring the dark side of instant coffee culture. Or maybe I was actually a triple agent, professing reluctant use of instant coffee due to present circumstances when, in truth, my allegiance had changed. Stockholm syndrome? Maybe a little.

Some communal coffee drinking with my brother weaned me off a 100% instant diet. Coffee drinking is very social, you know. As with alcohol, it’s much nicer to drink coffee with other people. No one likes to drink alone.

In defense of instant coffee, you do realize that it’s popular the world over? I have no reason to be ashamed of instant coffee drinking. America is one of the few places that scorns instant coffee for mysterious reasons. Starbucks had released its Via instant coffee in Europe long before it attempted to market it in the States. Did you know? We are the lone holdouts. American instant coffee drinkers must sip in secret lest their preferences open them up to the ridicule of their friends and neighbors. Having their instant coffee shipped in plain unmarked boxes. It’s tough. Maybe someday there will be acceptance of instant coffee drinking in America.

I don’t think I’ll be giving up instant coffee anytime soon.

You’ll still love me, right?

Transportation, Travel, Weather

Traveling Solo – Part II

So where were we? Ah, yes.

My first day consisted of moping around the hostel. I couldn’t check in until later. I couldn’t swim. This was not the vacation I had in mind. It’s all very nice if you’re staying at a resort and can turn on the AC and the TV, but I was at a no-frills hostel waiting out the rain with like 30 other people in a very small common area. I small talked with other travelers. Lots of other English teachers from China on holiday as well. Lots of oh-my-god-last-night-was-so-crazy stories being exchanged. When there was a break in the rain, I escaped down to the beach to have a look around. Everything pretty wild: waves, wind, and clouds. I was consoling myself at Starbucks when it started raining like crazy again. Sigh. The rest of the day was much like this.

I spent the first three days mostly walking up and down the windy beach, trying to take photos when possible, drinking lots of coffee, eating foods that I couldn’t get in China. I went shopping. At night I strolled the beach and listened to some of the live bands, one of which I really enjoyed. It was okay, but there was this strong sense that I was just killing time. I didn’t feel like I was really enjoying myself and was anxiously contemplating the hours until I could get on a plane outta there. It’s sad, but true. I didn’t make any strong connections with other travelers at the hostel initially.

On my third night, I met up with a Filipino girl who’d contacted me through Couch Surfing. I was thrilled at the prospect of not being alone for an evening. She and several of her friends were in Boracay for the weekend and we planned to spend the evening together. Finally, I had a satisfying evening with good conversation and great people. I woke up in the morning feeling much better about my trip.

My final day was sunny and beautiful. I spent the morning at the beach and in the afternoon went out on a catamaran with another girl from the hostel. I think boats are so invigorating. Love that whole wind-in-your-hair business. One of my life goals is to learn how to sail. Really. We snorkeled a bit. Getting back on the boat, I was taking down my hair, only to feel something sharp and moving in it. Somehow a little crab had gotten into my hair. The boat guy helped me get it out and then we raced back to the shore.

That evening I failed to connect up with the girl from the evening before and was feeling disappointed. I’d flopped on my bed in the hostel, trying to convince myself to go out again, when this fantastic Korean girl entered my evening. She’d come to Boracay with a guy who was interested in her, but she didn’t reciprocate his interest. Dreading another evening of just the two of them, she invited me along as a sort of buffer. I very quickly agreed. So we drank some strange Korean wine, talked, and passed the evening quite nicely.

In the morning, the three of us went and had a great breakfast at a local restaurant. Then the girl and I packed our bags and headed off. She helped me get onto the correct boat and heading the correct airport. She was so kind and I was so grateful. We exchanged contact info and said goodbye.

The rest of the trip was spent pacing airports, lolling in waiting areas, drinking coffee, and killing time. After a delayed flight back to Macau, I arrived back at the university sometime after midnight.

In retrospect, I am glad that I went. The weather was unfortunate, but normal for this time of year. Though the first few days were rather lousy, at least I had several good experiences to balance it out.

I had a classmate in grad school who loved to travel alone. She only traveled alone. I was astonished and could never imagine myself doing it. Well, I’ve done it and survived. Worst parts? Eating alone in restaurants, having no one to take photos of you, and no one to watch your stuff when you want to swim. Best parts? I suppose you are extremely grateful when you do make a connection with someone. My journal from the trip is a record of the emotional highs and lows of those 5 days.

As I tell my students, the most interesting trips are often the ones that don’t go according to plan. And they make great stories, too.

Transportation, Travel, Weather

Traveling Solo

I’d like to give a report on my first solo trip, as mentioned in a previous post. For the National Holiday week, I booked a 5 day trip to Boracay, an island in the Philippines which is famous for its White Beach. One of the top beach destinations in Asia, so I’m told. I’d really wanted to travel during this holiday for several reasons: (1) It’s a rather long holiday to stay home; (2) I wanted to see more of Asia; and (3) I promised myself last year that I’d travel this week. So though my funds were limited and I couldn’t find anyone to travel with, off I went.

My flight left from Macau. I chose Macau because I can take public transportation all the way from my university to the airport there. If I go to Hong Kong airport, the ferry ticket is a little steep; and if I go to Guangzhou, it would actually be a much longer trip, with changing between buses, trains, and subways. Since Macau is a Special Autonomous Region, that means you have to exit China and enter, uh, another part of China. So a stamp out of China and a stamp into Macau, with forms to be completed on each side. I’d feared the lines would be epic due to the holiday, but I actually made it through in good time and caught my airport bus with no problems. (Traveling alone, there’s so much mental checklisting going on: bus to Macau, check; immigration, check; money exchange, check; bus to airport, check; arrival at airport, first mission accomplished. Penguin high five to self.)

The Macau airport was compact, but stocked with all the essentials, like Gloria Jean’s Coffee. I had lots of time to kill due to excessive planning-for-the-worst-case-scenario. So I sat and sipped and read books on the Kindle. When I went through Security, my eyebrow tweezers pinged on the bag check and I apologized, expecting them to confiscate them (Rats, I thought, my favorite tweezers!), but surprisingly they said it was okay and sent me on my way. This trip also marked a landmark accomplishment for me. Not only did I travel solo, but I also brought only a carry-on. Gasp! First time in my life I’ve managed to do this.

Flight to Manila was fine. The layover was not so fine. I actually attempted sleeping across 3 chairs. It was horrible. I paid what seemed an excessive amount of money to be able to sit in another coffee shop with comfortable chairs. I was very grateful to board the flight to Boracay.

We landed in Boracay in a very jungle-ish environment. I’d asked my hostel to help me with transportation because it seemed a little complicated, so a nice young guy was waiting for me outside. We look a giant tricycle down to the ferry port, a boat across to Boracay island (impossible to land on the island itself), then another tricycle, and finally a brief walk down a very muddy lane to the hostel. The sky wasn’t looking so good and I’d only been in the hostel maybe 30 minutes before it started pouring. And I mean pouring.

Will the rain ruin her trip? Will she survive her first solo adventure? Stay tuned!

Campus Life, China, Teaching, University Teaching

Hello. My Name is Beef.

As I am teaching mostly second-year students this semester I did not expect to have as rich a harvest of English names as I did last year. Assuming, I suppose, that the second-year students have grown in wisdom and no longer wish to stick with the English name of “Lazy.”

I am happy to report that I was in error. Second-year students choose equally strange and bizarre names. Hooray.

First up, we have lots of a mixed bag of cultural and literary references, some recent and others quite ancient: Dante, Sheldon, Pink, Jack Sparrow, Simba, Nemo (Captain Nemo or Finding Nemo?), Liszt, Moriarty, Byron, Ares, Ophelia, Cassanova, Regan, and Winehouse.

Winehouse startled me a little as I read the attendance sheet. I understand the reference, but it seems a bit like calling yourself “Drugstore.”

Second we have the progressive verbs and/or gerunds: Singing, Living, Sunning, and Laughing.

One of my favorite students from last semester was Playing. When I asked her about her English name, she told me that it sounds similar to her actual Chinese name: He Pei Ling. So I assume that this is the cause of so many “progressive” students.

We have food items: Hamburger, Yogurt, Carrot and Beef. I’m low on fruit this semester. Mostly just a few “Cherry” girls.

Still English, but not really names: Boon, Thumb, Torch, Chaos, Air, Robot, Monster, Poem, Suit, Vino, Nature, and Spark. Particular favorites are Morale (did she mean moral?), Winsome (love the mental image I get for that), and Handsome Boy.

Unfortunately Handsome Boy couldn’t take the twittering of his classmates. He caved under social pressure and changed to a more conventional English name.

A few recognizable brands: Sony and Polo (Ralph Lauren, I assume.)

Then we get into the strange stuff. English names that are not English names. For example, Asmile, Rocchan Woo, Ultraman, Yentok, Titor, Levana, Surwing, Lewer, Linka, Rigge, U-Know, Fandy, Amin, Loren, Cancy, Vane, Germin, Odelia, Sweeda, Zelia, Witsan, Yucca, Cubid, Roki, Manx, Shmily, Caron, Freel, Hares, Zegina, Katthew, Keroro, Eason, Tsetina, Java, Hava, Kava, Eassery, Calbee, Sinnya, Neeve, Yetta, Ria, Chera, and Kama.

I’m not sure sometimes if they are making these up or if they are references I don’t know. Sometimes these students are very insistent about how I pronounce these “English names.” To which I want to protest their non-English-ness.

Favorites are ones that could almost be a normal name, but they’ve changed a letter. Like Fandy (Mandy?) and Katthew (Matthew?). Oh, and Klever. I like that one. Did she mean ‘clever,’ or perhaps ‘cleaver?’ Smart girl or Dexter-accomplice. Embrace the mystery.

There’s also Famanda and . . . . Jennify. I love Jennify. Perhaps because my sister is named Jennifer. It’s like instead of electrifying something, you Jennify it. Fantastic.

I do have a Christ. Yes. Christ. The student doesn’t seem to feel there’s anything unusual in this choice, so I’m going to let it slide.

And finally I have a student names Hores. This name causes particular mirth for me due to a favorite passage from Master and Commander, by Patrick O’Brian.

Captain Jack Aubrey talking to one of the young midshipmen:

“Mr. Babbington,” he said, suddenly stopping in his up and down. “Take your hands out of your pockets. When did you last write home?” Mr. Babbington was at an age when almost any question evokes a guilty response, and this was, in fact, a valid accusation. He reddened, and said, “I don’t know, sir.” “Think, sir, think,” said Jack, his good-tempered face clouding unexpectedly… “Never mind. Write a handsome letter. Two pages at least. And send it in to me with your daily working tomorrow. Give your father my compliments and tell him my bankers are Hoares.” For Jack, like most other captains, managed the youngsters’ parental allowance for them. “Hoares,” he repeatedly once or twice, “my bankers are Hoares,” and a strangled ugly corwing noise make him turn. Young Ricketts was clinging to the fall of the main burton-tackle in an attempt to control himself, but without much success.

Ah, English names! A great institution! They’ll never know how much amusement we get from them. What? You have a question, Cassanova?