Although I am 1 of the 3 Canadian teachers at our school this year, that isn’t to say I didn’t appreciate American Thanksgiving–it just meant I got to have *nearly* the same holiday twice this year. Throughout the past week, lessons revolved around pilgrims and feasts, ultimately prepping everyone for the holiday. On Thursday after my morning classes I joined about 50 other staff members in upstairs in a classroom that has seen the greatest variety of delicious treats over the years; a row of desks held boxes upon boxes of Chinese pastries as well as traditional pumpkin pies. With a lot of hushed tittering and hunkering down in chairs we awaited the arrival of Ms. Wang, Carden’s headmaster, whose birthday fell on Thanksgiving, and whose sly personality definitely contributed to her pleased-but-not-shocked expression when we all jumped up to sing Happy Birthday, first in English and then in Chinese. After taking pictures we proceeded to pounce on the various desserts, a culture exchange in itself.

           On Saturday I joined the foreign teachers who, like a flock of birds, migrated to Sonny & Maya’s apartment in Wudaokou, a thriving university area of Beijing (though my quick entrancement by food and banter would cause me to forget the outside world). By 3pm, after Paul who had been donned The Carver had worked up an appetite, everyone was ready to fill their paper plates with a feast, thanks again to Ms. Wang, of turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, veggies, cheeses, etc. etc. etc., followed by 6+ hours of as many drinks as their bulging stomachs would allow.

           In the end, I learned a lesson from Maria’s dog, who was able to make it to the gathering due to no conflicting priorities, and was smart enough to hide bits of turkey around the living room. This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for napkins, because that was how I managed to slip turkey and ham into my pocket for the taxi-ride home.

~ Heather ~




           Every year on Halloween, Carden holds a Halloween carnival. October 31st happened to be a Wednesday, and I was assigned to run an afternoon game, so I had the whole morning to drink coffee and ponder the details of my costume. I had bumblebee wings from a Beijing Wal-mart, a borrowed witch, and oversized glasses. I ended up scratching the idea of being a nerdy witch bee and threw on a button-down, an old man wig, and the freaky $1.00 mask I bought from the Dollarama in Canada this past summer (I have taught English at Carden for one year preceding this, so I knew I’d need something for the ghoulish holiday).

           Upon entering the school I received some funny looks from the other staff members, but most people avoided looking at me because I had the appearance of a conniving and possibly lecherous old guy. I had to go to the bathroom to adjust the slipper I had shoved up my top for the illusion of a beer belly, at which point I was met by a gaggle of screaming 5-year-old girls–apparently the first-graders had arrived early. I apologized and told them I was Ms. Brown under my costume, but because their English is yet limited to simple phrases, the more I spoke the more they screamed. Walking down the hall, students everywhere pointed and masked their fear of my presence by giggling.

           I arrived at my classroom and presented the Monster Walk with another teacher, Ms. Z. Students were to walk around a circle of chairs while we blasted Justin Bieber and other such rock stars from the mini-speakers I’d picked up from the local supermarket. Every time we stopped the music and withdrew the name of a monster from a bag, whoever had that monster on the back of their chair received tickets which they could later redeem for stickers or toys. A few of my students were sure I was Ms. Brown, which I tried denying until they spotted the elephant tattoo on my wrist. Caught in the act, a mere lunge in their direction was enough to send them scattering.

           The hour-and-a-half of parading around the room and waving my makeshift broom-handle cane at the little witches and skeletons and princesses went astonishingly quick–it seemed only minutes passed before we were tearing down the balloons and congregating with the forty-or-so other staff members present that day in a room on the fourth floor, where we were greeted by the sweet aromas exclusive to pumpkin pie and various other cakes. We took a group picture and had a vote for the best costume. The winners were: Ryan R. dressed as Batman, Barbara dressed a waitress, and…ME dressed as a creep! Not surprisingly, the detail to draw the most affection for my costume was the tie I’d picked up from a Canadian thrift store, printed with pictures of some actual guy’s grandchildren.

           Much to my roommates’ delight, the prize was a whole red velvet cake, the rich cream cheese dressing on which I had to fight not to devour in one fell swoop. Needless to say, Halloween with Carden this year was a memorable and delicious event.

~ Heather ~


           Sitting here thinking about what topics all the teachers can write about, I started to think about the past. Wow, I can’t believe I have been in Beijing for 4 years of my life. I still remember the day I decided to quit my job, and randomly try out teaching English overseas for a year. Finding a job teaching English was somewhat hard due to my Asian appearance. I applied to many places, but each school required a photo of yourself. Many of the schools in China give preference to those with more “western” features, even if you are qualified for the position. Finally, I got an interview and ended up at the same school I have been working at until now.

           In early August 2008 I left on a plane to Beijing from JFK and landed around 5AM. I was met by the driver for our school holding a small sign with the word “Carden” on it. I figured that was for me and met up with him and the CEO of our school, Ms.Wang. I followed them to her car and we set off to my new apartment. Luckily, she was there to answer all my questions about the upcoming position and helped me buy a few things I needed for the apartment. I was expecting a not so wonderful apartment because of things I read about on ESL forums and the housing some teachers received for free. To my surprise, the apartment was actually nice and fully furnished.

           After unpacking all my bags, I decided to venture outside of my neighborhood for a little exploration. I walked for awhile and found a big French supermarket called Auchan. The number of people in the supermarket shocked me. I have never seen that many people in a supermarket ever in my life. The concept of personal space in China is a little different than America. I was looking at something in the aisle, when someone stood right in front of me to look at stuff too. He was literally 1 inch away from me which made me step back. The stuff I read online did say things would be different lol. After buying some things for the week I went to a KFC that was located in the building. That day I learned the hard way that in the area I lived in, English wasn’t spoken. After some pointing and hand gestures I finally got some food and headed home. On the way home, I was a little worried about how I was going to get food from the local restaurants. If getting food from KFC was hard, how would I get by?

           The next day I took my Chinese Manadarin language books out and wrote down some vocabulary to help me order some food. At this point in time I didn’t know how to properly pronounce Pinyin. So, I was going by the book’s given pronunciation using words from the English language. I went to a restaurant that had a lot of people, and luckily, a picture menu. Right as I tried to order, the waitress was very confused as to why I couldn’t speak Chinese. Of course, I had no way to explain to her that I am American and not 100% Chinese. I tried to order some dumplings but didn’t know that they were sold in 8’s, so I just showed them the number 20 on my phone. 20 dumplings sounded good for lunch to me but in reality I just ordered 160 dumplings. After saying the word “to go” 20 times because I couldn’t pronounce the word correctly, they finally understood my meaning. I waited around 35 minutes and wondered why it was taking so long. I saw them packing up food in boxes and then they came out with 4 huge bags of food. I sighed, knew I messed something up, and paid for my food and left. At least I had some food to eat for a few days.

           A few days later, I met up with 2 of my new coworkers who lived in the same apartment complex and they took me around the city. Luckily they were so nice and patient with me because I was like their lost child. They taught me some basic Mandarin phrases and wrote down characters for me to help order food and get around the city. With their help, I was able to adjust to my new life and surroundings. I also got a tutor to learn conversational Chinese because it would be too hard to get by without being able to speak at least a little Chinese. Fast forward 4 years, and here I am, still in Beijing. Working at this job has enabled me to travel all over Asia for over 2 months every year. I think this is why I keep coming back, for the opportunity to save money and travel. When I leave I will really miss the people and the culture here. Being here for so long I kind of consider it my 2nd home.


Carden China Blog #1

Hello, and welcome to Carden China’s blog where teachers from our school will contribute posts to talk about living and working in China.