Posted by: andrewcockerham | February 13, 2010

Star Studded Beijing Olympics, Day 1

Natalie Coughlin and Me

(originally poster August 20, 2008)

Wednesday August 20, 2008 Starbucks in Beijing, China   2:19 pm

Wow, so much to say.  So I have been in China almost 3 days now.  I arrived on Sunday late afternoon and was met at the airport by an English speaking lady from English First, the company I am working for.  She was quite helpful. Because I had my large bicycle case with me, there wasn’t room for all of us in the car so we took a train to Tianjin.  We had a bit of difficulty finding taxis and then a train that wasn’t sold out.  While waiting for the train, Luna took me to have Beijing duck, which was quite good.  It is basically just sliced pieces of duck meat dipped in sauce and you put them in a rice tortilla, much like fajitas.  The ‘bullet’ train went over 200 mph! We got to Tianjin and on the way to drop me off at my hotel, we passed a man peeing on the street.  I guess Tianjin is more ‘real China’ than Beijing.  The next morning I went for a run to scope out the area as usual, and Tianjin seems to be a beautiful city.  People from the school picked me up again and we went to the police to register, as all foreigners must do within 24 hours of arriving in China, even tourists.  While we were waiting, a man saw me and turned to me to try to practice his English.  He was very kind, and it turns out his daughter who was with him is an English major.  He gave me his name and phone number and told me to call him if I needed help with anything.  I was certainly struck by the openness and friendliness of my first experience with local Chinese culture.

Then I caught the train back to Beijing in the afternoon and caught a cab to my hostel.  The taxis here are really quite cheap here, although not as cheap as the 15 cent bus rides.  The hostel is not great.  The shower is pretty dirty, it doesn’t have a toilet, only a squatty potty, and the bed is basically just a metal slap with a blanket.  (A squatty potty for those who don’t know is pretty much like it sounds, not a toilet but just a hole in the ground where one must squat to do their business.  Also, not toilet paper.)  It is not any softer than sleeping on an tile floor with a blanket.  But I will survive.  The guys at the front desk are quite helpful.  My next trip was off to pick up my Olympic tickets, which proved to be quite simple.  I already sold my extra track and field ticket to my roommate at the hostel.  We walked around town a little bit and saw Tiananmen Square briefly, which was cool more for its history than its beauty. Lou, an English girl who went with me, really wanted a ‘local’ meal, since this was her first night in Asia.  Having just come off from 6 weeks in Thailand, I was looking for anything but rice, but alas I went along with her.  There would be plenty of time for the proverbial McDonalds later.

The next morning was yesterday, which was Tuesday.  It was a most storied and incredible day.  I got up early to go to the men’s triathlon event which it turns out was an over 2 hour bus ride from my hostel, but is still in Beijing.  Just to give you an idea how immense Beijing is in land mass, I heard later that the city of Beijing is roughly the size of Belgium!  And I thought Houston was large.  I set out to find the triathlon venue with only my ticket and some scribbled Chinese from the guy from my hotel.  I showed everyone on the bus and thought I was a goner until I miraculously found one Chinese person on the bus who spoke English (I was the only foreigner on the bus) who was also going to the triathlon.  He was very helpful.  Inside the even I sat next to some Canadians, who turned out their brother was competing for Canada in the modern pentathlon on Thursday.  His mom said she might be able to get me some tickets.  It was quite nice to speak normal English.  The race was close, and I thought the Americans had a good chance since two of them came off the bike in the lead pack.  But they couldn’t hang on in the run and in a thrilling sprint finish a German guy outran Simon Whitfield of Canada.  I followed the Canadians back to the city and went to the Olympic park to walk around the stadium.  I was really keen on finding tickets to the last night of gymnastics that night.  Despite all the news reports about police cracking down on scalping, there were hundreds of people selling tickets on the street right next to the sign announcing that it was prohibited.  It was literally a giant buffet line on the street of hundreds of local Chinese selling all sorts of tickets at ridiculous prices.  But after some haggling I finally got a gymnastics ticket for 1700 RMB, or about $210!  My quest was successful about 2 hours before the event started Considering the guy I had bought my other tickets from said he sold his gymnastics tickets for over $600, I was pretty pleased with my buy.  I met a German guy on the street who was also on a quest for gymnastics tickets, and he was eventually successful as well. .  I went in, grabbed some dinner and walked around a bit.  Both the ‘Bird’s Nest’ Stadium and the Water Cube were more incredible in person than on TV.  Truly beautiful venues. I was soo pumped as I walked in the stadium.  Since I hadn’t eaten anything all day, I quickly ran to McDonalds for dinner, as it is the only option for food inside the Olympic Complex.  Strangely enough, this turned out to be a great analogy for China.  There were about a dozen registers and hundreds of people pouring through the restaurant to get food.  I have never seen so many people at a McDonald’s in my life. Behind the counter were scores of employees rushing around to efficiently bring dozens of meals per minute to hungry and pushy customers.  Here was a perfect example of how personal space as we know it does not exist in China.  I thought it was a great analogy of China using its biggest resource, people, in a workmanlike almost Communist style to efficiently feed the masses.  Maybe I am being over poetic about a simple trip to McDonalds, but I thought it was interesting.

This night was some of the most exciting gymnastic event finals: Mens Parallel Bars, Womens Beam, and Mens High Bar.  I was particularly excited about seeing Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson on beam.  There were some empty seats so I went down closer to get a better view of the Beam.  On my way some other Aggies saw my A&M shirt and yelled out Gig’Em.  I think they were class of ’96 or something. I chatted with them for a bit, then went down and ended up with just about the best possible spot to watch the Beam.  I was right over the entrance where the athletes came in and out.  The first time Nastia came out with her dad I yelled her name and she turned to look up and me and gave a small smile and smirk.  Then after she won the silver I yelled out ‘Way to represent Texas’ and she turned to look up at me and gave me a smile and a wave.  Oh man was I excited! J  It was awesome to watch her and Shawn with the silver and gold.  Man what a great experience.  And American Jonathan Horton won silver on the High Bar.  But this is by no means the end of my Star Studded day.  I went with one of the Aggies I met out to where they film the ‘Today Show’ right outside the stadium.  If you can find on the NBC website or Youtube or somewhere the Today Show from August 19, I am in the background a few times, most prominently right behind Tiki Barber’s head.  Ya I know go figure, Tiki Barber, a running back who is the all time rushing and receiving yards leader for the New York Giants was an analyst for Track and Field and I got to see him from about 5 feet away.  I came all the way to the Olympics in Beijing to see an American football star.  Ironic. Even better though, was the next segment of the Today Show where American swimming star and 11 time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin was doing a cooking segment.  After it finished not only did I get her autograph, but I got a picture with her!!!  She was really friendly, and I felt like I was dreaming.  Unbelievable.  I am hoping to meet the two American gymnasts at the Today Show tonight.  But again, don’t be fooled, there is more to this story.  After all this excitement I finally headed off to my soccer semifinal match that night, which turned out to be a soldout game between Brazil and Argentina!  Ronaldhino versus Messi.  Since I purchased the tickets over a week ago, I didn’t know who was going to be playing, but turns out I hit the jackpot.  And not only in who was playing in the game.  I didn’t arrive until halftime, but up until that point the score was 0-0. Then less than 5 minutes after I arrived Argentina began their scoring spree and ended up with a dramatic 3-0 crushing of Brazil.  But here is the kicker.  As soon as I sat down in my seat, the guy next to me (who was Dutch) told me to look at the end of the row behind me.  And yes, even though I could scarcely believe it, there sat Kobe Bryant, basketball megastar from the Los Angeles Lakers!  I must have looked at least ten time before I could believe it.  It was really funny too, because the NBA is huge in China, and all these people kept walking by to take pictures of Kobe, not the soccer game.  He had a whole row of security guards along with almost 30 Chinese volunteers escort him out of the game.  But the climax is that as he was walking out right behind me, I stood up and said “Whats up Kobe?” and stuck out my hand, and he shook it!!!!  That means I got smiles, pictures, and shook hands with 3 Olympic gold medalists in a matter of 3 hours!!  It still sounds crazy when I think about it.  What a first day to the Beijing Olympics huh?  I guess everything from here on will seem really quiet.  Wow what a day!!

I had a real difficulty finding an empty taxi coming out of the soccer stadium. I began walking farther away and a Chinese guy offered to help and walked with me trying to flag down a cab.  He also helped me dodge the crazy cars and bikes while crossing the street.  The Chinese are very helpful and friendly.  Back at the hostel that night I met a British girl who speaks 4 languages already and is here to work on her Mandarin.  Pretty impressive at age 19.

Today I spent 3 hours taking buses the wrong way and asking dozens of people for directions who didn’t know English trying to find the American Embassy to get more pages added to my passport.  But in the end I made it.  Now I am at Starbucks to write down all my adventures.  Man I must still be jet lagged because I am exhausted even though I slept late this morning.  I have also developed a rather concerning sore throat, but I’m praying it will go away on its own soon.

On the Mandarin note, I have already learned 4 characters, and since during my day in Tianjin I saw 0 foreigners, I’m sure I will be quite immersed in the language.

Posted by: andrewcockerham | February 12, 2010

Thai Aerobics and Jungle Spiders

(originally posted on Friday July 18, 2008

Sunday July 13, 2008 Chiang Mai, Thailand 5:45 pm

Halftime

Testimony

Learning English?

Learning the Industry

Surviving a night with the Jungle Spiders

So today marks exactly 2 weeks that I have been in Chiang Mai.  We are halfway done with the course, and can see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.  I feel as though I am slowly getting the hang of this teaching thing: teaching itself really I find quite natural, it’s just the planning that is annoying.  But it gets better and quicker every time.  My comfortableness in the classroom increases and my anxiety beforehand decreases every class.  On Tuesday we had the opportunity to go to the British Counsel School to observe some experienced teachers.  I was quite comforted because I felt that I could be as good a teacher as they were.  Also, I learned that jobs at British Counsel schools pay well and have decent benefits.

Along those lines I have had countless invaluable conversations with our tutors and other trainees here who have taught in various types of schools in several countries.  The information gleaned from these conversations will certainly prove useful in the event I end up teaching for more than one year.  For example, I have learned what schools/countries have the most enticing salaries, that private lessons are a great way to make lots of money per hour, that some schools offer ‘part time’ teaching contracts, which means a teacher can teach full working hours for a few months, then just take off a few months whenever they feel the urge to relax or travel.  (This is certainly the most appealing thing I have learned, and this was from an American guy who does this.  He only works between 6 and 8 months a year: a few on a few off!)  I can certainly see myself in that kind of a job!  This is just one of the unforeseen benefits of doing this CELTA course that I have found.

One strange thing that has given me much laughter and thought is the wide mix of demographics of the trainees, and the varying types of spoken English that this represents.  I have learned dozens of knew words, in ENGLISH!  The Brits and Aussies and Irish and Kiwis all have very strange yet funny sayings.  I have attempted to catalogue the ones I can remember, but certainly have missed a few.  I learned that after a stonkingly good time, one might end up locked and knackered, and spent time on the dunny until half 4. Translation: After a fantastic good time, one might end up drunk and tired, and spend lots of time on the toilet until 4:30.  There have been tons of other words, and I will continue my attempt to learn the ‘new’ language of English.

Two nights ago, I had an adventure.  As I turned on my lamp in preparation for going to bed, I saw two HUGE spiders (and this is not an exaggeration, they were probably 6 inches in diameter) crawl out from between my suitcase and the wall.  They were the largest spiders I had ever seen!  I retreated awestruck for a moment, then quickly gathered my wits and my shoe and set about attacking the smaller one.  I quickly demolished him and deposited him in the ‘rubbish bin’ then chased the second larger one.  Unfortunately he retreated into a hole somewhere and I lost him.  The thought of turning off the lights and crawling into bed with a ginormous spider lurking around my room was not appealing.  So I elicited help in the Search for the Deadly Jungle Spider.  Ironically two girls came to offer assistance, no males.  But they proved to be more than adequate, as one of them brought in a giant bottle of bug spray and began aggressively spraying away to flush the big fella out.  Once she had a clear shot at him she proceeded to pound him violently to a pulp of dozens of spider pieces on my floor.  I just watched in awe!  It sure made for a good story among the other trainees.  I fell asleep with dreams of hundreds of spiders overtaking my bed, but survived the night with the Jungle Spiders unscathed.

So July 4th was definitely nostalgic for me, mostly because I missed the fireworks, boats and BBQ back home.  I wracked my brain for something “American” to do to celebrate, but with our limited resources here, we just ended up going out for a few beers.  We happened upon an alley with a few bars, and no kidding, at the end of the alley was a small boxing ring with free Thai boxing shows going on all night.  Although this was incredibly tourist-ized (I think I just created that word, and am keeping it from the British) and fake, it was interesting.  A few guys would get up there and play fight for a while, then come around asking for tips.  It was funny too because these aren’t the type of guys you would typically find in a boxing ring, as they were barely 5 feet tall and probably 120 lbs at the most. When they came by to ask us for tips, one little guy asked me if I would like to fight him.  I laughed, but I think he was serious.  I’m sure he relished the idea of kicking himself some tourist butt.  I considered the story/memory value of taking his offer, but declined because I couldn’t decide if he would play nice or extra mean because I was a foreigner.  I didn’t want to take that risk and end up in a Thai hospital.  But I did get a cool picture with him.

Speaking of hospitals, two of the girls here have made trips to the local medical facilities here this weekend with stomach problems.  Apparently one was E coli poisoning and one Dyspepsia.  They were quite impressed with the Thai hospital, and I have heard form several people that the medical facilities here are not only cheap (as might be expected) but good quality.  Go figure.  Anyway, so far I have avoided any sickness other than some slight GI discomfort.  (everyone please knock on wood now)

Last weekend, we went into town and Clarabelle and I went to the zoo.  It was actually quite fun, with an extensive animal selection.  We saw monkeys, dozens of birds – many up close, giraffes, ostriches, emus, lions, tapirs, capybara, tigers, leopards, a white tiger and white lion, and even koala bears.

That night we miraculously all met up in town and went to eat some good western food.  I had a juicy bacon cheeseburger which was heavenly.  It was so good to not eat rice.  Then we went in to the famous Chiang Mai night market, which was huge.  We walked through it for over an hour and never go to the end.  It was pretty interesting, though it got repetitive.  I got some Thai silk boxers and a Thai soccer jersey.  A few of us got bored so we went in search for ice cream, which turned into ice cream bars from 7/11.  We ate the peacefully down by the river which was quite enjoyable.  When we tried to meet up to return home, 2 girls met at the wrong end of the street, and it was a miracle that we found them.

On Sunday I walked to Hang Dong with Lizzie and Leila and just as we got about a mile out it started raining.  It was actually pretty fun, and some kind Western guy pulled over and offered us a ride in the back of his truck.  At the Hang Dong market, I found a miniature kolache drizzled in syrup, which would have been great if it had been warmed, but for $0.20, I guess you cant really complain.  In the market we found grilled frogs for sale on the street, not frog legs, but the entire frog just lying there covered in flies.  Next to the frogs were fried chicken feet.  I didn’t try any, but we did find a pizza place and ordered pizza for dinner and watched a movie.

Saturday July 19, 2008

Thai aerobics

Testimony

So the ‘new’ English words keep coming.  “Taking the piss” and “bits and bobs” are the current ones I just learned.  Even worse though, is having to explain what our biscuits are, and explaining cornbread and chicken fried steak and sweet tea!  Oh how these Westerners have missed out!  It’s sad.

So a few days ago one of the tutors was making conversation and asked me point blank if I had a religion.  So I got to share my testimony with her and two other of the trainees!  That was really cool.  Most of them are atheist or agnostic, so it was really cool to get to share with them my beliefs.  Also, I had a long conversation with another one of the trainees here who is an atheist.  We started out discussing politics and economics, and ended up on religion, so I also got to share my testimony with her.  It was great because she shared what she believed and I shared what I believed and we discussed it civilly and openly.  I think she is searching, cuz she admitted that sometimes she feels a ‘leading’ from something outside of herself.  During another long conversation with another one of the trainees, I was able to share my testimony with her as well.  Praise God!  Pray that it will take root and God will touch their hearts.

Last Sunday we walked to Hang Dong for another pizza dinner.  As we were walking, we came upon a large house with a dozen Thai women doing aerobics to a video in their front yard.  So naturally, we asked if we could join and they were quite friendly and invited us in.  So Lizzie, Leila and I danced and did a Thai aerobics routine for a few minutes, trying as best we could to follow all the moves.  We took pictures and video of course.  It was a great time and a good memory.  Thai people are so friendly.  On the way home we eventually found a taxi and as he didn’t know the place where we are staying, I sat in the front and gave him directions. He was teaching me the Thai words for left – ‘sai’, right – ‘kwa’, and straight – ‘dong’.  It’s amazing how much you can communicate with someone even when you don’t speak a word of the same language.

The rest of this week has been teaching and working.  I have enjoyed the teaching though, and I feel like I am improving.

This afternoon I am headed out with Pracha to preach to some of the jungle tribes in this area. Apparently we are going to spend the night in a sleeping bag with a mosquito net, and return tomorrow afternoon.  I am excited and anxious.

One week left!

Posted by: andrewcockerham | February 12, 2010

First!

Hey everyone! I’m going to add all my posts from my other blog (redbeard07.blogspot.com) so that all my friends in China can access them!  I will post future entries to both blogs. Enjoy!

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