Tea, Chai, Cha, Te,

Do you prefer tea or coffee? I favor tea. However,  I am in the minority in the US for having that opinion. 75% of Americans favor coffee, while only 25% would rather have tea.

tea and coffee around the world

If you go to the actual link, you can interact with the infographic and see the percentages in each country.

Tea is overwhelmingly embedded into cultures.  It speaks of hospitality, of tradition, of history. The tea ceremonies of Japan, high tea in England, the offering of spicy chai in India when a neighbor visits.

It is said that tea was first discovered in China in the Yunnan Province probably before 1000 BC, so tea has been around for quite some time. The legend is that Emperor  Shen Nong was boiling water to drink when some leaves fell into his water from a nearby bush, and he decided he liked this new drink. Tea traveled from China into other areas of Asia, then to Europe, and then on to America.

Did you know that tea is grown on a bush? If left untended, the bushes turn into tea trees, which can grow to be 50 feet tall. The tea fields are beautiful because of the arrangements of the rows.

I had the chance to visit the Longjing (Dragon Well) tea fields in my Chinese hometown of Hangzhou. It was amazing to see the beginnings of a beverage I love so much- the picking of the leaves, the roasting.

Longjing Tea

Chinese Woman Picking Tea in Tea Field

American drinking green tea in China

Tea was constantly offered to me in China- at meetings, in people’s homes, from complete strangers! It is a way to connect with people, a way to show hospitality, and a way to socialize with friends. While bars are the most common places to consume a beverage in the West, most Eastern countries spend their time in teashops. I wish America was more of a tea culture still like it was in the revolutionary days. I need more people who can understand my need for a good cup of black tea with milk and sugar in the morning! I’ve even had my girl friends over to my house in the US for tea parties, and we really had a lot of fun. I am trying to single-handedly bring back the tea culture to the US!

American girls drinking tea

Iced tea was invented at the 1904 World’s Fair when a tea plantation owner couldn’t sell his hot tea to fair-goers because of the high temps, so he dumped a bunch of ice in his tea, and it became a craze. And now southerns can’t live without it! I have an IV of sweet tea that is pumped into my bloodstream daily. Southerns in America use sweet iced tea to show hospitality to their guests, much like the hot tea traditions around the world. In fact, 80% of tea consumed in the US is served cold.

Tea is thought to have quite a few health benefits, especially green tea. Cancer prevention is one of the greatest of these benefits. Tea may help cardiovascular health, improve metabolism, and help fight viruses. Drink tea for your health!

As a language teacher, I’ve always wondered about the word “tea” and its origins.  I’ve always heard that tea comes from the Chinese word, but I know the Chinese word is cha, which sounds nothing like tea. So, one day my boss and I, the language nerds we are, looked it up online. Apparently, it comes from a southern China dialect in which it is “teh” or “te”, which is how we have the English word tea. The word  probably traveled out of a port in Xiamen and moved on to Europe.  However, many languages follow suit with the more Chinese-sounding cha, while many middle eastern or western Asian countries stick with a variant of chai.

German- tee                    Spanish- te               Swedish- te

French- the                      Italian- te                 Indonesia- teh


Korean-cha                      Persian- cha            Tibetan- ja

Japanese- cha                  Thai- cha                  Punjabi- chah


Aramaic- chai                Ukrainian- chai        Turkish- cay


Only an English teacher would make a chart about the etymology of the word tea! Please don’t tell anyone I did this! I’ll never admit it. :] 

Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water. Now can you tell me if you prefer tea or coffee?

Please share on your social media if you think someone you know might enjoy reading about tea!

Why Do Asians Always Do The Peace Sign?!

I sent a few pictures to my Dad of my recent field trip with my ESL students. He said, “Why do Asians always do the peace sign in pictures? They always did it when you lived in China.”

Anji, China

In China


“When you visited Korea and Japan, they did it too. ”

Koreans Doing Peace Sign

In Korea

Japanese people doing the v

In Japan

“They do it in the US. What does it mean and why did it start?”

I was able to explain that it actually is a “v” for victory, not a peace sign. But what does it really mean, and when did it start? I wasn’t able to give an explanation. So, I thought I’d do a little research on the topic.

The V sign began to be used during World War II by Allied troops.  Victor de Laveleye, former Belgian Minister of Justice, suggested the V sign on his 1941 BBC news broadcast as a way to rally support for the war. It spread through Belgium and moved on to France and the Netherlands and eventually all of Europe. Even Winston Churchill used the V for victory sign.

US President Richard Nixon went on to use the V sign for victory in the Vietnam War. However, protesters and hippies who were against the Vietnam War, changed the v from “victory”  to “peace” by holding up the same sign but saying “peace” as they did it as a subtle protest of the war. They wanted this hand gesture to change from its meaning of war to a meaning of positivity and happiness. 

The V sign probably became popular in Asia through an ice skater named Janet Lynn, who was a peace activist. She was often photographed in the Japanese media in the 1970s doing this sign.  Although the Japanese knew the V sign as victory because of WWII, Janet Lynn often displayed this sign as peace.

Another story says that a famous Japanese actor named Jun Inoue starred in some camera commercials in the 70’s where he flashed the V sign, thinking it was popular in the West, and it caught on from those commercials.  All in all, a lot of Asia copies Japan. And more importantly, Asia copies the West. Whether or not it was from seeing this ice skater make the V sign and thinking it was a popular thing to do in the West, we may never know.

China, Taiwan, and South Korea are also well known for doing this sign in photos. They say that the symbol means “yeah!”, like they are feeling good. But, really, Asians do so many poses for photos. They have the need to do hand gestures  in almost every informal photo.

There is one that guys do in China that means handsome. They might even just throw up a fist.

Chinese guy pose for photo

My students Cole and Soul doing the handsome pose and a fist


When girls do the V sign, it is usually close to their face. My Chinese friends told me it is a good chance for them to cover up some of their fat face. (Having a fat face is a big issue that many Asian girls dread).

Asian girl doing peace sign


I had to include this photo of me and my friend Ben in a bowling alley in China. Here I am being all fierce and competitive, and he told me he was doing a pose like a flower!

bowling in China


I even started doing the V sign after living in China for 2 years and traveling there in the years after.  It just became natural. In fact, it was nice to actually have something to do in a photo instead of just standing there awkwardly with my hands down to my sides.

Americans in China

Not a single Chinese person in sight, but here we are in China doing the V sign


American and Chinese on Great Wall of China


So the general rule of thumb is for that every month you live in Asia, you are 5% more likely to throw up your V sign in a photo. And, actually, it can be kind of fun. :] So I’m still not sure I fully understand why Asians do the V sign, but hey, sometimes with cultural differences, we don’t need to and can’t fully understand certain phenomenons, and there’s a real beauty in that.

Chinese New Year

I am sponsoring a diversity club here on campus. It’s a new club we’re starting up this semester. To kick it off, we did a presentation today about the Chinese New Year, since today is, in fact, Chinese New Year. It went really well! I wrote it and a student from Taiwan delivered the speech. I think most Americans know nothing about the holiday. Here is the presentation; I hope you learn a thing or two.

Today is Chinese New Year. You didn’t even realize today was a holiday, did you?

Over 1.4 BILLION people around the world celebrate it. It is called Chinese New Year because one of the main places it’s celebrated is in China, but it’s also celebrated in Australia, the U.S, Taiwan, Korea, Canada, Malaysia, and anywhere else that has a large Chinese population.

Have you heard of the Chinese Zodiac? Perhaps you’ve been in a Chinese restaurant and seen a placemat that lists years and animals. This is similar to Western astrology, like being a Gemini or Virgo. There is also a Zodiac sign given to each year. This new year is the year of the horse, or,ma, in Chinese.

Here’s a short video about the legend of the animals in the zodiac.


There are many traditions that people keep as they celebrate the Chinese New Year, which is also called Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year. The Festival lasts 15 days. Most people have about 1 full week off work and 1 full month off school. How nice!

During this time, everyone travels home to be with their families, just like at Christmas in the US. In mainland China, the population is over 1 billion people, so the trains and buses are so crowded!

Red is the lucky color of the New Year and everything is decorated with red and gold. We decorate with paper lanterns. In fact, the last day of the New Year celebration ends with something called the Lantern Festival. On the 15th day of the lunar calendar, you can go around town and see huge lanterns or light displays. These huge light displays can also be found at temples.

Fireworks are a huge part of the celebration. Did you know that fireworks were invented in China and have been around for over 1,000 years? It is said that we began using them to drive away evil spirits from our New Year. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, you will see and hear so many fireworks.

Hong bao, or red envelope, is used to give gifts of money. This is always done for Chinese New Year. Again, the color red is lucky and also wards off evil spirits. Mostly the hong bao are given to children. This is probably pretty similar to giving Christmas gifts.

 Of course a huge part of any holiday is the food. There are many traditional foods that we eat for Chinese New Year. One of the main ones is fish. The Chinese word for fish is yu. It sounds similar to the word for riches. So, on New Years we eat fish so that our wishes will come true in the year to come. Many sweets are also eaten because they symbolize a sweet and rich life. Can you see that the Chinese really love symbolism? The luck might come from the name, as I already stated or it might even be considered lucky based on what the food looks like.

I hope you enjoyed learning about Chinese New Year.


Photo I took in Xi'an, China for New Year 2011

Photo I took in Xi’an, China for New Year 2011

Online Freedom Around the World

Did you know that in Burma (Myanmar)  a screen shot is taken every 5 minutes of any computer that is online in order to monitor activity? Did you know that there are employees in China whose only task is to read e-mails all day?

Using the internet is such a natural thing to do now-a-days. We expect the internet to be available to use whether it’s getting mad when a building doesn’t have wireless or expecting the whole world to have 4G so we can access the internet from our phones. We Americans are obsessed with the internet, and we are expectant of the internet. We expect all sites to be available to us, and we expect all of our web surfing to remain private. Americans have been going crazy over the idea of the government spying on our telephone and internet usage.

I saw a clip in Time Magazine about Cubans and the internet, which sparked this post. As you know, Cuba is a communist country, so many things there are restricted, and the internet is one of those things. In Cuba, it costs $4.50/hour to use the internet when the average monthly salary is only $20. If you are found to have connected to the internet illegally, you can be thrown in prison for 5 years.

Reporters without Borders considers Cuba to be one of the top 10 restrictive countries in regards to online freedom. The full top 10 is as follows:







-North Korea

-Saudi Arabia

– Syria



– Uzbekistan

In most of these countries the internet is state controlled. That means that the government decides what sites are able to be accessed, what search terms will bring up error messages, and if the going online means going on the internet (worldwide) or the intranet (within the country). For example, North Koreans only have intranet access, which means they can view only a small number of sites controlled by the communist government. Only a select few government officials can access the internet. In Turkmenistan, less than 1% (ONE PERCENT!?) of the population is online.

Self censorship is essential in these countries if a person wants to retain his or her internet “freedom”.  Currently in China, 52 people are imprisoned for expressing themselves too freely online. Bloggers in many of these countries are imprisoned or forced to shut down their blogs if the government deems them inappropriate.

In many of the countries listed, governments blame internet blocking on technical problems. However, Saudi Arabia is honest and straight up says certain websites and topics are blocked because of their immorality. For example, pornographic sites cannot be accessed, governmental opposition sites or searches are blocked, and anything about homosexuality is inaccessible. In the same manner, Iran currently blocks 10 million websites its government sees as immoral.

Much of my information was gathered from the Reporters Without Borders website, which can be directly accessed by clicking the embedded link.  Check it out for more details. US citizens should make themselves more aware of cyberspying issues and internet freedom issues here in America. Do you think think it’s only a matter of time before all governments in the world try to control the internet more? Are they already doing this and we don’t even know about it? How is it in your country? Be sure and leave your opinion in a comment and share this post on your social media site if you enjoyed it and want others to as well. Thanks for reading!

Eastern vs. Western Learning and Education

I’ve had a few requests to share what I do to help train teachers to go to China. This is my 5th year helping with this training. It’s the program that I went to China with way back in 2006. They help teachers find jobs in China and train them to go. The training includes things like the history and culture of China, information on living in China, and teaching in China. To be a teacher in China, you need a bachelor’s degree in any subject area. It doesn’t have to be in education. However, in the last few years, many provinces in China are starting to require either a teaching background, teaching experience, or a TEFL certificate. Therefore, we now require all our teachers to go through some sort of online TEFL training that China will recognize.

So, my job at orientation is to give them detailed information on teaching ESL, and, more specifically, teaching English in China. I do four sessions that are about an hour each.

In the first session I teach, I try to help the teachers understand the different mentality between the east and west when it comes to teaching, learning, and education. The difference is quite vast!

For example, the concept of the teacher is extremely different between the East and the West. In America and Europe, the teacher is more of a facilitator. The teacher leads a discussion, as opposed to dominating it.  In opposition, in Asia, the teacher is “the sage on the stage”. The teacher is the authority on everything and shouldn’t be questioned. That was such a strange concept to me as an American teaching in China. I could literally write the word “kat” on the board and no one would dare correct me.

Americans are very individualistic as a whole. We focus more on me, me, me. In the educational world, this translates to being very competitive in the classroom. In the Eastern world, students are more group-oriented. They work together more and help each other more often. This also translates to more cheating, because they feel the need to help their classmates.

In China, students are most often respectful and polite in the classroom. Students are eager to please the teacher. As we know, Americans are like this when they are very young, but, usually, after elementary school, this sadly disappears.

In the West, students are taught to think outside the box, to do their own thinking, and to challenge existing ideas. Whereas, in the East, students usually memorize, usually take official answers without questioning them, and have trouble being creative in the classroom.

These are just a few of the differences in learning and education between the East and the West. If you plan to go to Asia to teach, knowing these differences is extremely essential. You might try a teaching method or a way of managing your classroom and it just doesn’t work and you don’t get why. Culture affects learning. Expectations affect learning. Learn these differences before you go and teach. These concepts are also helpful even if you teach in the US and have Asian students in your classroom.

More teacher training to come!

A Tiger Does Not Father a Dog

This week I am teaching at an orientation for new teachers who will go to China in August. This is my 5th year helping in the wonderfully exciting state of Arkansas.

Perhaps I’ll post more about the training soon, but right now I want to share some Chinese proverbs I was reading in the training manual. It lists some popular American proverbs that have Chinese equivalents. Some of them are tooo funny, including the one that I used to title this post. Look  at each Chinese proverb that is listed first and see if you can guess the English equivalent. I wasn’t very successful when I tried!

A tiger does not father a dog. (Hu fu wu quan zi.) Like father, like son.

Bitten by a snake on one morning, afraid of the rope by the well for ten years. (Yi zhao bei she yao, shi nian pa jing sheng.) Once bitten, twice shy.

There is no person that has 1,000 good days in a row and no flower that stays red for 100 days. (Ren wu qian ri hao, hua wu bai ri hong.) All good things come to an end.

A daughter-in-law who suffers will one day become a mother-in-law. (Xifu ao cheng po.) What goes around comes around.

– When the old man from the frontier lost his horse, how could one have known that it would not be fortuitous. (Sai weng shima, yan shi fei fu.)- Every cloud has a silver lining.  [This one makes me chuckle but makes sense!]

– Even water gets stuck in your teeth. ( He kou liang shui dou neng sai ya feng.)- When it rains, it pours.

If you don’t enter the tiger’s den, how will you get the tiger’s cub? ( Bu ru hu xue, yan de hu zi.) Nothing ventured, nothing gained. [There’s quite a few about tigers, huh?]

One can not get fish and bear’s paw at the same time. (Yu yu xiong zhang bu ke jian de.) One can’t have one’s cake and eat it too.  [I don’t get this one at all! Hehe.]

Were you able to guess any of them? I like some of the Chinese translations better, as they seem more poetic to me somehow. Are there any proverbs in other cultures that you have encountered that make you chuckle? If so, please share! And, as always, please share this post on your social media if you enjoyed it.

The Paris of China

So, I’ve been slacking on my blogging. My excuse is that I’ve been to China and back. Likely excuse. That’s what everyone says, right? 😉 Well, I have lots to say about my trip, so you have lots of posts to look forward to!

I went to China for a teaching program that I work for. Every summer I help train new teachers to go to China, and then the following spring, I visit them in China. It’s nice because I also get a chance to visit my Chinese friends from when I lived in China several years ago.

I got to visit my friend Derek’s hometown of Haining. Haining is in Zhejiang province in the east. It’s a really small city, and I’ve been there several times. However, this time Derek surprised me by taking me to the French area of town. I had no idea it even had a French area. It was more than I imagined! They have a stinkin’ Eiffel Tower! A life-sized one!

Eiffel Tower in China

We also got to walk around the french gardens. They were really beautiful! And I even found some Chinglish, which I always love.

Paris of Haining, ChinaEiffel Tower in ChinaParis of ChinaFrench GardensImage

I’ve never had the chance to go to Paris, but apparently this looks pretty similar. I hope I get to compare it one day! Looking at these photos, you would never guess that I was in China, huh?

My Photo is Hanging in Random People’s Homes

One thing that really surprised me about living in China is all the attention that I got just for being a foreigner. I couldn’t walk down the street without someone shouting “HELLO!” in their loudest and best English. I’d shop in Wu-Mei, the neighborhood grocery store, and people would stop to look in my cart to get a glimpse of what Americans buy. While eating at any restaurant, the diners at the table next to me would stare at my chopstick skills the whole meal. What can I say? I am  a walking, talking circus act! :]

This superstar mentality for foreigners in China may fade away in the next few decades since China is becoming more and more open. But until then, it causes random people to want to take photos with me, like I’m Angelina Jolie. If I happened to have my camera with me when someone asked me to pose for a picture, I’d usually snap one too. I know there are several 100 that I don’t have a copy of though. I imagine I am sitting on the mantle in a picture frame of many Chinese people’s homes, and during Chinese New Year the family sits around and talks about that one time they met that crazy, curly-haired American girl.

Here are a few of my favorite photos with strangers.

Many people would often ask me to hold their babies. This should be a cute and cuddly time. However, Chinese babies wear split pants. Never heard of split pants? Well, instead of diapers, the babies wear pants with a hole in the back, so they can use the facilities whenever they have the need. Supposedly, they are trained to go when their mom whistles, whether that be over a trash can, a sewer drain, straight up on the bus, or most rarely, over an actual toilet. So back to the photo and me holding that cute, cuddly little baby. In the photo below I am enjoying holding that little bao bao, but I am also a bit worried that someone is going to start whistling.

Chinese baby

Chinese baby

Split pants

Is this not the biggest baby you have ever seen?! So cute!

Is this not the biggest baby you have ever seen?! So cute!

I was so excited to go to the Great Wall in Beijing. I wasn’t expecting to get stopped every few minutes for photo ops though.

American and Chinese on Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China tourist

Xianjiang is the most western region of China. It borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It is more like one of the “stan” countries than part of China. So the people there look very different than the Han Chinese people. They often go to other parts of China to sell special foods or crafts. When on a trip in Nanjing, my friend and I bought some street food off of a really nice man from Xinjiang. He asked if we could take a picture together. I told him sure. He said he didn’t have a camera, so my camera would do. Why did he want the picture when he would never see it again? I don’t know, but I’m glad I got a photo with such an interesting guy. Would you have guessed that he is Chinese?

American and Uyghur

And sometimes it’s whole groups of people who want a picture. A few weeks after arriving in China, the vice president of our school took the foreign teachers to a restaurant downtown. Before a shift at a restaurant in China, you’ll often see the manager gather all the employees and give them a pep talk. A photo with the foreigners was the pep talk that day.

Americans at restaurant in China

It’s strange being back in America. People don’t chase me down on the street to try and talk to me. People don’t secretly take photos of me on their cell phones during class. People aren’t throwing their babies at me to kiss like I’m a politician. The strange thing is….I kinda miss it all. Life is weird.

As always, please share on your social media sites if you enjoyed this post. Thanks!

Chinese Pigs Say “No, No, No!”

While living in China,  I discovered that Chinese people say that animals make different noises than we Americans say they make. It always made me laugh, so on my most recent trip to China, I made sure to capture some of those differences on video. And since then, I’ve discovered that most countries differ in the noises they hear animals make. Enjoy! And feel free to share on Facebook or other sites or reblog if you enjoy!