"Isn't life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?" -Andy Warhol
More often than not, a typical morning for me in China consists of me waking up before my alarm due to an external interference to my slumber. This can be anything including, but not limited to, construction noises, horns honking, fireworks, car alarms going crazy due to fireworks or roosters crowing. Sometimes, I am even awoken by a Skype call from home, when I have forgotten to close my laptop before falling asleep the night before and friends and family across the blue have forgotten the large time difference between us.
Whether it is because they have woken me up, or because I have time to spare, I usually talk to someone from the States while drinking my morning cup of coffee before heading off to work. I then throw together my backpack, stuffing it with my lesson plan book, my ipad, my wallet, and a few packs of instant coffee. After this, I head out the door, down the elevator, and onto the street.
The weather has been getting nicer and nicer as of late, so I am much less inclined to pay the extra cash for a taxi to work. Instead, I walk to the bus stop and catch either the 15 or the 126. I spend my time on the bus reading, pretending not to notice that almost all eyes are on me, the foreigner. I also try to stand when I am on the bus. If I do sit, I am always sure to give up my seat for anyone older who steps aboard. My biggest bus-riding pet-peeve is when younger people sit comfortably without so much as a bother to care as they watch older people struggle to maintain footage while standing. On the other hand, when, on the rare occasion, I do see someone in less need of a seat offer their seat up to someone more in need, it makes my day.
After a few stops, I hop off the bus and go the rest of my journey on foot. I enjoy walking along the city streets. I see more of my environment this way, I appreciate the added exercise, and I like to snag some breakfast from one of the many street vendors I pass on my way to the school. My favorite is the baked flat bread coated in a buttery-sugary glaze. It counteracts the added exercise perfectly.
When I get to the primary school I am greeted by the 53 smiling faces of my second grade class. I spend the next hour singing, laughing, teaching and playing games with some of the brightest, loveliest, most excitable students I have ever met. They have a way of turning around even the most miserable of days. Their smiles are my medicine for when living in China is at its hardest.
After teaching, I stop at Starbucks for a tall brewed coffee and a double chocolate chip muffin. I love my afternoons at Starbucks. It is quiet, warm, comfortable and it reminds me of home. I spend my time there studying Chinese and reading. I sit in the same chair and order the same thing every visit. The staff is very friendly and they often offer me and extra cup of hot water if I look too cold. Hot liquids and added layers is the Chinese solution to sickness prevention. I am frequently told that I "wear too less." As an ESL teacher in China, I typically respond by saying that I, in fact, "wear too little." The corrections never seem to stick for the Chinese, nor do I ever heed their advice.
After Starbucks, I head home, usually walking the whole way back. The distance is a little over a mile. Every walk presents something new to see: An old lady walking with a basket of chickens, a woman knocking a pedestrian over with her motorbike because she was driving in the wrong lane then getting off of her bike to yell at the grounded pedestrian for being so stupid as to be in her way, or a young Chinese man waiting at a bus stop sporting a full U.S. Army Airborne Uniform, to name a few.
When I finally arrive home, I drop everything in my bedroom and without fail, I dash to the bathroom. I have come to the scientific conclusion that waiting for the elevator is directly correlated with the instant urge to pee, and the higher up the elevator is when called, the greater that urge increases. After relieving my bladder, I go for a short run. On the way back from my run, I make three stops before retuning to my apartment. First, I stop at the convenience store directly parallel to my building and I buy a small pack of cookies. I probably don't need them, but the older woman who owns the shop always gets so excited when I walk in. I then go next door and I buy rice and produce. I pick out different types of vegetables to stir-fry. The proprietor is a very kind man who enjoys speaking to me, and is very forgiving of my broken Chinese. Last time I was there, he asked me as he was weighing my bag of rice, if people in my country like to eat rice because I sure do eat a lot of it. I chuckled, nodded and said "Dui, women chi mi fan" (Yes, we eat rice).I choose to go to his store for my veggies because it is fresh, and I would rather support him and his individually owned business than the giant supermarket down the street where I go when I am craving American food. After his place I make my final stop at the larger convenience store next door to my building. They sell my favorite kind of tea, where as the woman I buy cookies from tends to only sell soda and water.
Once home, I drop the bag of rice on the counter and I chop up my veggies and throw them into the wok. My roommate always has a fresh pot of rice sitting in the rice cooker. We have a lovely arrangement where I buy the food and she cooks the food. A full bag costs less than a dollar and lasts about a week, and no matter what, I can count on there being rice ready to eat whenever I am hungry. I take my bowl of stir-fry and rice and my bottle of red tea, and I consume them in my room while doing my Bible study or while watching Hulu. My four go-to shows are Whitney, Once Upon a Time, Cougar Town and New Girl. New Girl just got moved to HuluPLUS, however, so now I have 3 go-to shows and a huge bone to pick with Hulu.
Lastly, I lesson plan for the following day, brush my teeth, drink a cup of hot water, send a few emails, skype, say my prayers and fall asleep wondering what it will be that will wake me up the next morning.