Sunday at school I had parents come in to my kindergarten class and watch me teach for about 40 minutes. I was suprisingly sanguine, I guess it was because the kids probably know more English than the parents, which meant as long as I looked good and the kids liked me, then I was fine. The class went smoothly, the only hitch was a particular student that has a tough time concentrating and could probably use some pharmaceutical assistance. He simply cannot sit down and pay attention, which kind of made me a sympathetic figure in that I have to teach class with this maniac. I tend to ignore him on most days so he doesn’t rob the other kids, but today I had to feign concern because his mother was right there. The setup was such that all the kids sat in an arc in front of me in their little chairs, meanwhile the parents and grandparents sat behind them watching intently. If the students weren’t quick to participate, which the weren’t since they didn’t want their parents to see them get a wrong answer, the parents sharply said something in Chinese that loosely translated into any language “Answer the question!” It went well, the manager said there was no problem and I’ll get a full review on Thursday at work.
Here are some pictures of my immediate neighborhood, with the fruit stand and small grocery that I visit most days. The grocery store is owned by a Korean family, with what I believe is the mother or mother-in-law running a fruit stand next door.
That slightly blurry women is the owner of the store, and as you can see in the back there is a small meat counter. Not shown is a reach-in deep freeze with various frozen seafood items and a produce refrigerator with some essentials such as bell peppers, onion, cucumbers and what have you. The Korean shops are the best because the food is not Chinese sourced, its imported from Korea with Korean lettering, however for canned items the only thing that is immediately recognizable is Spam. This is the afore mentioned fruit stand, the little lady that runs it watches action films dubbed in what I believe is Chinese on a little TV in the corner of her stall.
Since no small shops have signs with prices, I know I was getting Laowai (foreigner) prices when I first began shopping. My prices have slowly gone down, so hopefully they are beginning to assimilate me. The fruit is very good and they have fresh produce and some basic cuts of meats inside. They sell the best kimchee I’ve ever had, and while my experience is limited, the stuff in the states doesn’t come close.
There are of course some items that cannot be purchased easily or affordably here, such as protein powder which I like for convenience, and there is no decent yogurt or cheese or quality beef and seafood worth mentioning. What do you take for granted that would be immediately missed if you lost access? Not big things like family or health care, I mean stuff like particular foods, conveniences or entertainment. A few things come to mind for me. First is the amazing variety and affordability that our supermarkets provide us with in America. I miss stuff like my 10 pound bag of frozen blueberries, in retrospect an amazing variety of cheeses, meats and fish, all available without concern that it is safe to eat. I miss being able to jump in a car and pick up most anything, clean air to breath and water out of the tap that is safe to drink. Cable TV is nice and watching sports, but it seems my teams do best when I can’t watch them. Being able to order food and get what you thought you ordered, which is difficult here because if you can speak English you are not going to be serving in a restaurant. Oh, and I cannot forget a clothes dryer. Not so much the convenience of not having to hang clothes, that is really no big deal. No, the big thing with the dryer is that it gives you softness and fluffiness that hang drying doesn’t, and today I wore my last remaing shirt that had that dryer softness from back home. Nothing left but hang dry stiffness. This isn’t to bemoan my condition here, I certainly am not going without. It is simply a reminder that a lot of little things are taken for granted back home. So the next time you dry off with a soft towel or order a pound of Boar’s Head havarti cheese from the deli or want to tell the waiter medium-rare, remember they are all under apprecited luxuries, however small.