Twin takes a bite out of the big apple

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Change sucks. For me it rarely feels good. It looks like I’m going to be spending all week holding back tears and trying not to think about my twin sister’s big move to NYC. I knew one day would come when we would separate, like really separate. In college we got a taste of it, going to schools literally 15 min away from one another, but we managed to build separate lives. Then I went off to NYC for grad school while sis stayed in Atlanta. Whether she likes to admit it or not, I know she was sad when I left. We came crashing back together in China where we became a lot more close, or at least I think we did. Childhood close does not compare to adult close. We became inseparable because we kinda had no choice. After suffocating under the arm pit of one another for 10 whole months we arrived back in America. I wasn’t ready to break free but sis needed her space. After a while I got used to our separate lives again. But as history has repeated itself time and time again, we decided to move into our townhouse together. Surprisingly, I was not hip to this idea, but embraced it because being a responsible young adult often means that you need roommates. And it turned out to be a great decision. As two working adults we were barely home and when we were home together it felt nice to unload your day into the carpet of someone else’s room, sister’s room. It felt good to be able to use her tupperware, sneak some of her groceries into your mouth after midnight hunger strikes and all you bought was yogurt and sweet potatoes. But now all that is changing and I am rather emotional about it. Trying to balance gratitude with attitude. I am so happy that she gets to move to the city of her dreams, work for a great company, and crack into her field, but gosh darn it! I was getting used to this. I was comfortable. I needed her. For those moments when the boy is making you cry and she whips you into shape. Or when someone said something wrong to you at work that rubbed you the wrong way because you’re super sensitive and she made you feel better. Or when you were fasting and she said it was okay to have a cheat meal. I needed that. But I know this is for the best. So, I’ll get out my Being Mary Jane post its and write positive affirmations because getting through this week is going to be tough. Having a twin sister is a HELL of a bond. I can’t even put into words how much someone who has been there from your conception to your first steps to your first words to your first break up feels. What will I do when she moves a million hours away. I’ll keep living and breathing. I’ll be a more independent me. I’ll be spending countless hundreds on flights to Laguardia. And I’m sure I will exceed my monthly wifi allowance because FaceTime will eat away at my data quickly. But change sucks.

In all honesty it’s probably the last place I’d choose teach abroad

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With more sweetness than bitterness I am excited that I am a few days away from being 2 months away from going home. I think I am expected to claim that this was the best experience of my life and that I can’t wait to return. However, those are not my sentiments at all. I am quite over mainland China and quite excited to get back to the USA. I do have the habit of not being comfortable in new situations, but who doesn’t!

China has had more cons than pros for me. When I compare it to my experience moving to NYC for two years, being my first time ever away from home in Atlanta, this experience doesn’t compare. My first year in New York was extremely hard because I was surrounded by negativity, being away from my closest friends, being a poor student in an expensive city, and being away from family. The difference between NYC and China was that I was able to make the trip to see family and friends at home. I could walk outside in NYC and blend in. In China I cannot escape. I made a commitment to do the full 10 months and not fly home because I wanted to travel to other Asian countries. After all, how likely is it that I’ll ever have this opportunity again.

There have been many things I could never get used to in this country and only a few would understand. As an African American I am always on edge about racism and hate. I know that their (Chinese people) world works very differently from the western world and their knowledge of racism in America is little to none, but that is a huge part of my reality. I carry it wherever I go. I was aware that I would cause some attention by being probably the only black face besides my sister’s in my district and small town where we live, but I really had no idea that I would be one of two. In addition, I didn’t know how close minded people would be here when it came to other cultures, races, and the fact that white people with blonde hair and blue eyes aren’t the only ones who live in America.

Sometimes I feel as if I am treated as if I am not even human. People here are intrigued by every SINGLE thing that we do and it’s mind boggling. They look intently into our shopping baskets at the supermarket as if we don’t need food to survive as well. They are surprised when we say we actually do things on the weekend other than sit in our dorm rooms because China must be so foreign to us I guess. My coworkers are surprised that we take naps as they do during the day. They yell at us on the bus because it is just unbelievable that we might actually know where we are going. I have been the subject of many unwanted selfies taken by random train riders, bus riders, etc. I wish people would just ask because most likely I would take a picture with them, but instead they don’t and it makes me very uncomfortable to know that my picture is somewhere out there in someone else’s hands. I can definitely understand what celebrities go through with paparazzi and I know I’m not that interesting to look at.

I have not gotten used to the lack of courtesy in this country either. I have had numerous experiences where some Chinese person was thoughtless in their interactions with my sister and I, and with others. One of my coworkers, for example has a horrible cold and continues to cough and sneeze without covering her mouth in our very small office. I am lucky I haven’t gotten sick, and I have been nothing but polite about it because manners are not universal, but it is disgusting and inconsiderate. I have greeted my co-workers, all of whom speak English, and on many occasions have been ignored and given no response. Pushing and shoving every where is the norm. Our van driver has no driving etiquette and will cut off or nearly kill walking pedestrians no matter how old or young they are. I’ve been finger snapped at, whistled at, and etc. as a form of communication. I could expect that from strangers, but this is usually done by staff at the school who know who we are. I could list many other things, but the stories are way to lengthy and elaborate for this post.

Truthfully, I decided to embark on this journey because I wanted to see the world, not just China. Maybe that is selfish, but who cares. I never really wanted to visit China before deciding to teach here. It never really interested me and neither did the Chinese culture. Teaching in China meant that I could have paid time off to travel for 2 months, and do what I love to do and want to do with my life: teach. It delivered in that area so I am grateful for that. It also came highly recommended by many of my college friends who had done the program as well. Other than that, I wouldn’t commit to an experience like this unless it was somewhere else where cultural diversity is accepted and where it exists. I am sure the experience in Shanghai or places like Beijing (which actually wasn’t true for me after being there for 3-weeks) are different. Perhaps they are more open minded there.

As far as teaching goes. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed it. I don’t believe my program was transparent about the treatment of teachers and foreigners in Shenzhen, but after being in Beijing we learned the truth, and way more truth in Shenzhen. Some schools really value their foreign teachers, some look at our classes as a miscellaneous electives. Some of my colleagues in my program have had amazing experiences and many have had horrid experiences. I can only speak for my school, however. I would describe it as unorganized, full of angry teachers, contradictory rules, and pointless English instruction. My school has several English teachers, with varying degrees of English language competency, per grade who teach grammar and vocabulary. Their classes are mostly rote learning and writing. They don’t practice much or any dialogue, thus many of my students only know scripted English. When I first arrived the only way they could answer me when I asked, “how are you?” Was, “I am fine, thank you,” even when they weren’t fine. They could not answer any questions said in a different way than the way it was written in their books. It was quite hard to get them out of those habits and have them use authentic language, but I found a way to meet them where they are and it has been very rewarding. The children are truly the highlight of the experience, but everything else is like a very large cloud over it all. From not being given any direction or much of a clue as to what my students know to being told constantly “their English is so bad,” by their Chinese teachers. I often want to just ask why do they even bother.

I could include all the great things that I actually like about China because I have a few things, but today is not that day. Had I known what I know now, China would have been the last place I would teach abroad.

Why Tokyo won my heart

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After visiting Tokyo, Japan for a week I must say it is my favorite city. I don’t believe I had a favorite city before, but if I definitely fell in love with Tokyo. If I wasn’t so eager to get home to my family then I could see myself living there.

So why did I love it?

1. Cleanliness is next to Godliness: Oh my, Tokyo was the cleanest place I’ve ever been to. Even the streets sparkled. I often couldn’t find a trash can in sight in public, but Tokyo managed to be practically litter free, which was awesome!

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Even this back alley way in Omotesando cannot be considered your average back alley way. 0.0 trash.

2. Culture is not dead: Many people complain that big cities lose its sense of culture as they become more western and modern. However, the Tokyo/ Japanese culture was very apparent to me, not because the people look different from me, eat different food, and surface things like that. I could feel their culture in the extreme quiet on the train, in their use of flip phones in the year of 2014, in their extreme kindness, and in the many preserved historical sights.

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It was very evident in the architectural style

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It was evident in the vast amount of sake in the 7Eleven

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Temples like this one, Sensoji Temple, are visited by tourists and locals alike

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Sumo wrestling is apparently something that tourists and the Japanese elderly can still witness

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Fat/muscular men can still make a living this way

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Brides still dress in traditional dress. (Taken at the Meiji Shrine. This photo does her no justice. She was beautiful)

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And more sake, just outside of the Meiji Shrine

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Although English is every where, it is not as widely spoken as I thought it would be.

3. The food! (This should have been #1): I loved the food in Tokyo! And not for the reason you’d think. I did not have lots of Japanese fare while I was there, but after being in mainland China for 6 months I always crave other types of food and Tokyo had it all! It also helped that the Japanese food that I did have was awesome!

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This really surprised me. It was a deep fried pillow of apricot glazed, red bean on the inside goodness. The best thing I ate while in Tokyo outside of the Sensoji Temple.

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My first piece of raw tuna and avocado sushi. It was great, but I am not a fan of the raw fish texture. If you plan to enjoy sushi in Tokyo prepare yourself for the raw.

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I was told that Tokyo had some of the best authentic pizza outside of Italy. I can’t be the judge of that, but as a pizza connoisseur it was great, thin, and the right amount of chewiness.

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The chicken yakatori was excellent. Makes me hungry just typing this.

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Presentation here seems to be everything. These desserts at Tokyo Station looked delectable.

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At least you know what you’re getting. The love to siliconize their menus in Tokyo.

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Candy makers in Tokyo Station

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For the New Yorker who loves a good pastrami sandwich, cheese cake, and pizza.

4. The land of kind hearts: People in Tokyo seemed to be so gracious and nice. It was such a breath of fresh air after being in China. I would say the hospitality in Tokyo would rival the southern hospitality of my native Atlanta, Georgia.

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A really helpful man giving my friend Jen direction by drawing on a box.

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She didn’t have to throw up a peace sign but I she did.

5. Its like 10 New Yorks in 1! HUGE!

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6. Everything in Tokyo is done so orderly. What impressed me most was that they waited in line to enter the train. It really disciplined me. I mean I’m already courteous, but I become a tad bit more in Tokyo.

7. There are just so many experiences that one can have in Tokyo. I saw many historic sights, Harajuku, Akihabara, went to a yoga class, went out to a small bar, walked through a garden, and walked across the famous cross walk at Shibuya. I had a blast and can’t wait to go back!

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8. The awesome hi-tech toilets that are heated, create music, and etc.

9. Tokyo was quite ethnically diverse. Of course the majority of people were Japanese, but I didn’t feel like the only one while I was there.

10. The shopping that I didn’t do was amazing!

Holiday season in Shenzhen

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So, it’s long overdue but I think reflecting on Christmas and the new year in China is important for my journey. On Christmas my teaching program, CTLC, and the education bureau gave us a Christmas party. It was definitely a nice gesture and a very smart move on their part. Holidays for many “foreigners” can be a lonely time where missing loved ones back home is super intense. This was my experience:
Having an excuse to dress up always makes me feel good inside so I was in a great mood as we headed to the hotel for the party on Christmas Eve. I was even more excited that we had hotel rooms to stay the night in because I love hotel stays, and that we had Christmas Day off. The party was sub par, I won’t lie, but being around familiar faces and friends from CTLC was the best part. It definitely wasn’t a lonely Christmas for me. My twin sister finally arrived at the hotel around 9pm, super late, after I had to force her to come. No one wants to be alone on Christmas. I definitely don’t understand her logic sometimes. We ended the night partying the night away in a friends room, very briefly for me, and having friendly conversation over McDonald’s. (Don’t judge, it’s just the go to place if you don’t want Chinese style food). My hotel bed was comfy that night and all I could do was wonder if Santa knew I was in China and not Atlanta.
It turned out that he did find me in China. My boyfriend bought me a new camera to take along on my Chinese New Year trip. My Canon Powershot G15 is awesome! Christmas Day was spent searching around the Dongmen shopping area for travel p/ vacation stuff. Needless to say, I left empty handed.
In a few days New Years came and went. I had a great time, went out to a restaurant/club area and brought in the new year with dancing, champagne, and music from the states. My Chinese coworkers kept asking me if I would “get drunk” because it was the new year and they were not very pleased by my answer I guess. I don’t drink often and don’t really like to, and that didn’t seem to make sense to them. I guess as a foreigner I am supposed to have had a wild night. Well, champagne was enough. I didn’t get drunk and I had a great time over the holiday season in China!
Now I am 2 days away from a month of traveling. I am headed to Tokyo for a week to visit a friend from grad school, and then off to Thailand for 3 weeks to join my sister. I am super excited and hope to blog along the way. It has taken lots of planning, debating, researching, and arguing to get this trip together. May the odds be ever in my favor!

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