cooking, huzhou, out and about, Parks, students

A Chicken On Every Stick

12.22.09 | 5 Comments

I tend to make my job significantly more stressful than it should be, especially since I teach a whopping 12 hours a week. Instead I’m haunted by constant doubt that my class is evenly remotely interesting and that I’m teaching my kids anything at all. There are some days, walking up the steps to the classroom, where I am so consumed with anxiety that iron hands clamp my stomach, my heart tries to wriggle out through my ribs, and I just want to retreat to bed.

Being a teacher is like being deaf and giving a concert: you never hear the applause or the boos.

So it’s been kind of sweet to get a bunch of text messages from students I had last semester telling me that they miss me. And truthfully, I miss them too, because most of the students were from my favorite class ever. This semester is TJ’s turn to do English Corner (I was secretly pretty glad not to have to deal with it this term) but a lot of my English Corner regulars were disappointed that I wouldn’t be doing it. So these students, from my favorite class ever, kept texting to tell me they missed me. Aw.

I decided that we should all get together for something fun, like lunch or dinner, thinking that there would be maybe 8 of us. The kids coordinated and, turned out, there were more than 20 of my former students who wanted to hang out with me.

Awwwwwwwwww. So I’m not a total teaching disaster after all.

One of the students, Linda, had the genius idea of getting together for a barbeque at a nearby park. They could use their class funds to get all the food and equipment. All I had to do was meet them on a Saturday morning and hope that the weather was peachy.

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The weather turned out to be…not so peachy. It was grey and spitting rain, but luckily it turned out to be the last day before the really cold front hit. So at nine AM, I met my students, who are really now more like my friends, to bicycle out to the park. There were more students than bikes, so I took one of the more petite students on the rack on the back of my bike.

A lot of people here get around like that, with one person pedaling and another person balancing on the back or in the physics-defying position in front of the pedaler hunched over the frame’s top bar. Sometimes both.

I felt a little like a mom, trying to drive really carefully so that I didn’t inadvertently kill one of my students and get sued for the millions I surely have stashed away in the secret foreigner bank. The student, Anna, did not in fact die, nor did I, and in fact, she was rather excited to be chauffeured on the back wheel of her teacher’s bike.

After a few problems with directions, we ended up at Pishan at the foot of a temple on a hill that I’ve seen for the past year and never known how to get to. Linda and a few classmates were already there with bags filled of skewers and rented grills.

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Barbeque, or 烧烤 shaokao, is a different beast than it is in America. Barbeque here isn’t burgers, it’s small skewered chunks of fatty meat, skewered veggies, mystery hot dogs, corn, and niangao. (If you go to shaokao restaurants you can also get squid, cartilage, and a variety inner organs skewers.)

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The skewered foods are brushed in oil (can’t have food without oil in China!) and then coated with a spice mix (chilli powder, cumin, salt, MSG). It’s a popular late night meal/snack/activity and it goes great with cold beer.


Since it was 10 in the morning, there was no beer. Though since there’s no drinking age or open container laws in China, I suppose there could have been.

First was the battle to start the fire.


The students stood over the grilles and coals, fanning away zealously.


Then they lit papers and tissues, which smoked furiously, and set them on top of the coals.

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I can start a grill fire with Western round grills, but these were small, shoe-box-sized grills, and I wasn’t about get in the students’ hair. all smoky. Sorry. But I knew they’re smart kids and that they’d figure it out, so I just took pictures instead.

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Once the fires were lit, they started divvying up the food, which they had brought along in huge garbage bags. (They wouldn’t let me bring anything along. I asked repeatedly what I could bring or do, and they kept telling me nothing.)

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There was an ear of corn for each person. Ours were cooked a little long, resulting in crunchy corn. I quite liked it, actually.

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Chicken legs, chicken breasts (not boneless), beef, hotdogs.

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I had never had one of these hot dogs. They’re sold in stalls all over the place, but I can tell by their Pepto-bismol color that they’re the sort of food that smells good, and maybe even tastes good, but God knows what you could be swallowing. Especially in China.

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That day, though, I had my first, and last, Chinese hot dog. From now on I’ll stick to Hebrew National.


There was also niangao, which is the best form of rice EVER.

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Since we could only grill one type of food at a time, we were eating for about an hour and a half straight. Eating is the best use of one’s time!


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Say hi to some of my students! Remember Gracie?


She’s sharper than super-aged cheddar. I would totally adopt this girl.

These are the only boys in the class, Freeze and Sink.

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Isn’t Freeze the coolest name ever? He’s also a sharp one, and a real kick. We played badminton together over the summer. I might adopt him, too. Heck, I might adopt half the damn class.

Betsy and Fifi are so cute.

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Hancy, Fifi, Linda, and Nancy.

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They barbecued an orange.

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When Nancy sends me text messages she says, ‘Hey, guy.’ This totally cracks me up.

Me and my broods.

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This was my grilling group.


Yes, I am a giant. But check out my spiffy tailored coat.

That day reminded me that, even though I feel really, intensely lonely sometimes, there are people out there who genuinely want to spend time with me. (And not just because they think I’m pretty. They’re past that stage. I think.) These kids are a really special class. I’ve taught about 600 students at our school so far, and this class still stands out.

And here’s a family picture.

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Octo-mom’s got nothing on the giant laowai.




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