Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

More stuff to pack
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Well, Tenacious Reader, two weeks from RIGHT NOW I will be somewhere over the North Pole . . . in the air, on the way, the die cast, the adventure begun.

At the moment, though, I'm staring at the already-overfull bags and thinking about the other things I need to pack. Fortunately, this other category of items is very portable so it won't take much room; but it's also not immediately to hand, so it requires a lot of thought.

As I get closer to leaving, I start to imagine talking to my friends or being in the classroom. I always have one eye out for curriculum. And I can see clearly the kinds of things I would like to have to show my Chinese friends, things that are indicative of or emblematic of American culture.

One big area to consider is called "realia" by foreign language teachers - actual items and artifacts from the target culture. Once again, I'm wishing that I had more of this. I'd like videos to show of very mundane things - a trip to the post office or supermarket, or a transaction at the bank. I never quite know what will strike people as unusual or interesting; one day, on the way to somewhere else, I went to the drive-through window at the bank with one of my Chinese friends. She was completely amazed by the vacuum tube that carried my request and brought my receipt. Who knew? Certainly not I.

I'm also going to rally the remaining teachers to round up restaurant menus, so we have something to work with next summer. The differences in ordering food in America and China are extensive; despite being able to read the words on the menu (which gives them a definite leg up on me), my Chinese friends are as clueless about ordering food here as I am about ordering food there. One of the best ways to talk about culture is to talk about food practices, and right before I go, I tend to notice the differences more.

I want television, too. The Chinese can get some of our tv shows and like some of them a lot (most notably Friends). There are shows I'd like to use to base whole curricula around (at least for the summer program). I won't be able to download them from Netflix, and although I'm sure a lot of things would be, um, available if I asked, I also know that the things I want to use probably wouldn't be. And even more than the shows, I want the commercials. I got a little device a while ago that will record directly from the television to a flash drive, and I'm going to collect some commercials before I go (but I know I'll want more). I won't be able to access youtube while I'm there but there's a site called youku.com.cn that has a fair whack of English-language videos. It would be nice to have popular songs and lyrics; we always use those.

And I'll want pictures to show my friends, and pictures to show my classes. Mostly, I want pictures of things they wouldn't see otherwise: the inside of our house, the pictures from recent holidays, our classrooms, our town. It's the minutiae of everyday life that interests people, which makes perfect sense to me, because when I travel, that's what I want to see, too.

I don't know how much of this material I'll be able to round up before I leave. I'd like to be intentional about it but I'm afraid that at this late date, I'll just end up grabbing whatever I can get and sorting through it on the other side. I always take too much of something and not enough of something else . . . time will tell what it'll be this time.

Back to packing. More soon.

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