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.

College Culture Night

After many hours of prep work, I pulled off my university’s culture night. And oh boy, it was more work than I ever imagined! I asked the participants, I helped them think of an idea for a performance, I wrote bios for each performer, I wrote the script for the emcee, I arranged the facility, and I advertised. Shew! I’m tired all over again from just typing that!

I desperately wanted to give our international students a chance to showcase their culture and their talents, and I wanted to give our American students a chance to learn about their classmates. We had students from Japan, Guatemala, the Philipines, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, and America  perform. They all did an excellent job, and I do believe that all involved had a great time. I hope to make this event a yearly thing!

Japanese culture

Masa and Shin doing kendo fighting

Filipino student

Mara singing in Tagalog, a dialect of the Philipines

Japanese student

Hikari bowing in her kimono after her piano performance

Japanese kimono

Masa writing Japanese calligraphy

Puerto Rican student

Orgen rapping in Spanish

traditional Chinese dress

Minmin introducing a video about dating in Taiwan

Puerto Rican musician

Orgen, from Puerto Rico, playing the bongos

culture night

Culture Night Participants (I’m 2nd from the left in the front row)

Thanks to our school photographer, Derek, for the great photos.

5 Things I Learned This Summer

Summer. It’s a break from the norm. It’s full of vacations and warm weather, cook-outs and shorts. It can also be bursting with lessons and realizations. And now that fall has crept in and summer is over, it’s the perfect time to talk about what I learned this summer.

#1- Fake it till ya make it.

Act like you know what you’re doing, even when you really don’t. I did quite a bit of this during the summer, especially during my time in Japan. Teaching small children English with no translator? Sure, I’ve done that dozens of times. With my eyes closed. And my hands tied behind my back. I acted confident, which made me feel confident, and , in turn, others thought I was confident. And it all ended up going well.

#2- You don’t have to like everyone.

While you do need to love everyone, you don’t have to like everyone. This means that you do need to be polite and have manners with everyone and treat everyone kindly. It does not mean that you have to enjoy being around them or purposefully seek them out. My friend oh-so-wisely pointed out to me this summer that I feel like I’m being mean when I don’t want to be around someone. It’s not being two-faced to be nice to someone and yet not like them; it’s called having manners.

#3- I hum when I’m nervous. 

Sorry this is not a huge life lesson that is applicable to everyone,  but I noticed it while traveling overseas. I was in so many new situations, whether it was wondering around in downtown Tokyo by myself on my first day there or getting ready to meet the superintendent of the Tokyo school system. I never realized I do this, but apparently I just hum a little tune to calm myself down. So, if you ever see me, and I’m humming something that doesn’t even resemble an actual tune, I’m probably a little anxious about the situation I’m in.

#4- It’s ok to say no.

Why do we feel like we always have to do everything people ask of us? And then you know what happens? We can’t do any of it well. It is absolutely ok to tell people no sometimes. Sometimes they are shocked when you tell them, but, hey, they’ll get over it. And I know you- you would be nice and tactful and  not  just blurt out “NO!”, so it’ll go fine. Try it once and see how you feel. I am still working on not feeling guilty afterwards, but I’m getting there.

#5- We regret what we didn’t do more than we regret the things  we did.

We never know when we’ll get another chance to do  something. We never know when we’ll be at that place again or have that opportunity. I hate when people travel somewhere and say, “Well, I didn’t get to see “x” that I really wanted to see, but I’ll catch it next time I’m here.” What if you’re never there again?! What if you don’t get that chance? This isn’t just about traveling either. I know there are several things in my life that I wish I had done, and sometimes I still think about how I wish I would have. That’s a terrible feeling! It’s not too often that I sit around and think about how I wish I wouldn’t have done something. Usually there is at least a lesson learned. So, I ate the raw beef dish at the Korean BBQ. And I don’t even regret it.


Now here’s to hoping I learn a few things this fall as well!


Have you noticed that certain objects can hold memories for you? That certain smells can transport you through time and space? That music will take you to a different place completely?

For example, in March when I went to China, I took a certain moisturizer. Now, whenever I use it, I think of being in snowy Harbin in northern China, piling on layer after layer of clothing to keep out the numbing cold and never quite succeeding.

The new shoes I bought to take to Japan with me this summer make me think of all the walking I did in Tokyo. While those shoes bring to mind the fabulous places I’ve been, they also remind me of the blisters I suffered because of my treks. :]

And speaking of clothing, an item that I can hardly bring myself to wear is the skirt I wore on my recent 14 hour flight back from Korea. The second that skirt touches my skin, I get a feeling of impatience and anxiousness over the long flight all over again. My brain is also tricked into thinking I won’t be able to change out of that skirt for over 24 hours.

Smells are what really hold memories for me. Smells can transport me back to a place in an instant. For example, I took a certain perfume with me to Puerto Rico to wear as I made my way from city to city on that island. I recently bought a new bottle of that perfume so that every morning when I put it on, I feel like I’m heading out into the tropical sunshine of that Caribbean island to go exploring.

If I smell sesame oil, I feel like I’m taking my lunch break from teaching in China and eating dumplings at my favorite little food stall on campus.

Hearing a certain song can remind me exactly where I was when I heard the song for the first time. It might have been with my best friends in junior high swimming in the back yard, or it might have been in a church building in Mexico.

It’s strange how our brains use objects and smells to remind us of our past, but I’m glad it does. I can travel in my mind over and over again just by eating a certain food or even hearing a particular song. Next time you take a trip, take a new album and make it your anthem. Take a new perfume, so that when you return, your nose will always be able to take you back. Eat foods there and then find then here. Your heart will thank you later.

What song, smell, or object transports you to a different place or time?

Sayonara Japan

My time was ending in Japan. I had spent almost 2 full weeks in Tokyo, and experienced so many new things. And I had just a few more things to see and experience before I left…

I took a few last field trips with my students. We went to Tokyo Tower, a tv tower that looks just like an orange Eiffel Tower. It is painted orange as an air safety regulation. The observation deck we went to is about 500 feet up, and we got a nice view of the city. Tokyo Tower is Tokyo’s major landmark and is used to set the scene in movies and tv shows. And apparently Godzilla has destroyed it a time or two.  That Godzilla is elusive. I didn’t see him even once while in Tokyo!

Tokyo, Japan Tokyo, JapanTokyo, JapanSkyscapers

We also go to go to the Asakusa area of Tokyo, which has a really famous temple called the Senso-ji Temple. The main gate to the temple is known for the HUGE lantern hanging there, which is a popular photo-op. I couldn’t even get a picture that didn’t have 20 or 30 people in it. After going through the gate, but before getting to the actual temple, there is a huge shopping street! This is where I bought a few souvenirs and also my sesame ice cream. The most interesting thing about the temple itself was the incense area. People would get as close as they could and waft the smoke onto them so they could receive purification.

Asakusa, Tokyo Tokyo Temples Asakusa, Tokyo Tokyo, Temples



I had an excellent time in Japan. I got to see a lot of exciting sights, meet a ton of great people, have some new teaching experiences, and learn about Japan and its culture. It has definitely peaked my interest to learn more about the country’s history, its people, its music, and so many other things about Japan. I hope I have the chance to go back and spend time in some other cities as well. 2 weeks is too short of a time to spend in a new-to-you country! But, knowing that I still had South Korea on my itinerary made me somewhat eager to leave. Also, the 12 hour work days, the high humidity, and those eerie crows that seemed to follow me around the city pushed me out the door as well. Well, Sayonara Japan. Thanks for having me, and I hope to see you again soon!

You Are So Fashion!

I was so sad to see that in Tokyo there was no “Chinglish” like I always saw and heard in China. (Would it be Janglish in that case??) If you don’t know, Chinglish is incorrect English in China (Chinese English), which is usually quite comical. The title of this post “You Are So Fashion” is something I always heard my Chinese students say, and it always made me smile. So, I never heard this phrase in Japan, but I couldn’t help myself from using it to talk about fashion in Japan.

I felt like such a dweeb while I was in Tokyo! Everyone was so fashionable! I saw more suits in the 2 weeks I spent in Japan than the combined total of suits I’ve seen in my whole life. People pride themselves on looking fancy and fashionable.

Even though Japan is all about the latest fashions, you can also see the traditional as well. The kimono is not common now-a-days, but I did quite a few women wearing them. I’ve heard they are so difficult to wear that most young people don’t want to be bothered with them. They really are beautiful though. The traditional shoes are still worn with the kimono too. I like to think of them as wooden platform flip flops but with socks.

Japanese Fashion

Japanese Fashion

Lolita is one of the strangest fashion crazes I’ve ever seen. It’s when girls dress with tons of frill, lace, pastels, and bows. Imagine what a nursery rhyme would look like and you’ve got Lolita. This look usually incorporates petticoats, parasols, and sometimes even wigs. I saw this look quite a bit, but the best girl I saw at the bus station. She had on a pink wig, a frilly, lacy pink dress with cupcakes on it, a bonnet, pink shoes, and a pink purse with a teddy bear stuffed animal attached. So of course I secretly took a few pictures of her on my phone! (Hence the bad quality).

Japanese Fashion

Japanese Fashion

Another form of Lolita is Gothic Lolita, which I also witnessed. The girls were  still wearing the frills and lace, but it was darker. This is probably my favorite/most crazy fashion I saw.

Japanese Fashion

I saw the Gothic Lolita girls in the Harajuku district of Tokyo, which is known for its shopping but is famous for its strange fashion. Young people go to Harajuku to show off their imaginative outfits.

Strange Japanese Fashion

Weird Japanese Fashion

Strange Japanese Fashion

These are just a few of the run-ins I had with fashion while I was in Japan, and I enjoyed every minute of it! Lady Gaga would be proud!  Have you witnessed any weird fashion trends while visiting Japan? I’m also interested in hearing about the  fashion trends that surprised you anywhere you’ve been lately. Let’s hear it!

Now what did I do with my petticoat?

Head, and Shoulders, Knees, and Toes!

There’s a first time for everything, right? Right. I had the chance to teach elementary students English for the first time in Shiojiri in Nagano prefecture, which was a 3 hour bus ride from Tokyo. It was good for me to get to see what Japan is like outside of the capital city. Shiojiri is a smaller city that even has some countryside to it, including rice paddies!

Japan countryside

Rice paddy

Shiojiri, Japan

I taught at a juku, or learning center/cram school. Students go here after school or on the weekends to learn and study even more than they do during the school day. They study various subjects, but the most popular subject for jukus is English. This juku was very modern and nice!

The room I taught in

So this was a special session on a Saturday that was advertised as “learning joyful English” from an American and learning about studying abroad.


I hope this advertisement said some good things about me!

Teaching these kids was a hard task because I didn’t have a translator, and they hardly knew any English. So, I thought singing some sort of the song would be the best route. I decided on teaching the parts of the body using the song “Head, and Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”. I had a PowerPoint that I used to show a cartoon picture of each body part in the song. I said the word while pointing to the body part, then had us say it together, and they had the students say it on their own. We did that with each body part and then sang the song. About 8 times. Haha. It wore me out! We also did the hokey pokey, which, in hind-sight, may have been a bit too difficult for them. Oh well. You live and learn. I think they enjoyed it and hopefully will now remember the parts of the body.

Teaching ESL elementary

The elementary students

I did have a little mishap while I was there. I was in the bathroom right before it was time for me to teach, I used the facility, flushed, and then was washing my hands. As I was washing my hands, there was a knock on the door. I was thinking- give me a minute, will ya?! Then a lady came in and said in broken English, “Are you ok?” I told her I was fine and was very puzzled as to why she was asking. When we exited the bathroom together, there were 2 security guards with very concerned looks on their faces. Apparently, when I thought I was flushing the toilet, I instead pushed the emergency help button. My bad. They probably thought I was idiot, but hey, I can’t read Japanese, and I’m not used to having emergency buttons in the bathroom! Whoops! All’s well that ends well, right?

This was a good day for me filled with many new experiences, so I’m really glad I had the chance to go to Shiojiri. And next time I go there I’ll be more careful about what buttons I push in the bathroom!


Chowing Down in Japan

Eating has been an interesting experience for me  in Japan.

First, let’s talk about seafood. Sadly, I don’t like seafood. And too bad for me, since Japan is an island everyone is always eating seafood! They absolutely can’t believe it when I say I don’t like seafood. In fact, they always ask why not. How do you even answer that? I have seen a lot of seafood dishes that look pretty tempting, but alas, I only like fish. I have had some good salmon here, but I’ll pass on the shrimp, eel, octopus, and crab.


Convenience store eating is such a phenomenon here! There are popular convenience stores such as Lawson, Family Mart, and 7-Eleven. (I think 7-Eleven is more popular in Asia than in America!) People will go in here to grab a quick meal, and surprisingly, it’s actually pretty good food! They even advertise the food on tv.  You can get sushi, sandwiches, cold noodles, salads, and so much more! I’ve had a couple convenience store meals so far when I was in a hurry, and it was decent.

The food here is way more expensive than I imagined! For example, tonight I bought a simple bowl of noodles, and it was 9 bucks! I guess I am just used to China, where a bowl of noodles costs less than 2 bucks! The food prices are killing me!

Japanese Food

Ramen, and that junk was SPICY!

And I haven’t eaten many vegetables since being here. The only vegetable I’ve really had is raw cabbage. It’s served with almost every set meal. I’ve had  a lot of meat. Especially deep fried meat. And of course rice.

Miso Soup

Pork cutlet, rice, miso soup, and some pickled vegetables

There have only been a few times when I had to eat by myself, but a lot of the menus either have a little English or have menus. The craziest thing is the plastic food. Outside each restaurant, they have fake food so that you can see what they have. It’s definitely helpful to me!

This food is all fake!

And of course, when in Japan, you’ve got to have sushi! Although I’m not a big raw fish fan, I tried some. I do love vegetable sushi though. (And yes, it’s still sushi, haters!) I loved going to the sushi conveyor belt restaurant where you just grab what you want as it goes by. At the end they add up your bill based on the color and amount of the plates you have in front of you.


Kaiten-zushi (sushi conveyor belt)

Japanese food

Cucumber sushi



And Asian desserts are always, um, interesting…Red beans are used in many of the desserts in Japan, much like in China. I can’t stop thinking that beans are for dinner, not for a sweet snack. There are some other strange flavors, like a lot of green tea flavored things, such as a green tea (ma cha) frappuccinos at Starbucks. I tried one, and although I do like green tea a lot, I didn’t like it. What about green tea ice cream? Tofu ice cream? Sesame flavor? I tried a sesame cone, and I actually liked it. However, it just seemed wrong eating black ice cream.

Green tea ice cream

Overall, I enjoyed Japanese food. I tired some new things, and became a big fan of miso soup. I hope if you get a chance to go to Japan, that you now know a little more of what to expect! Well, I’m going to go eat some red bean cake now!

Foxy Lady

Today I met with my small classes, and we had our field trip to two different places. First, we went to the Imperial Palace. To get there, we took the subway to the main Tokyo station. It has really beautiful architecture and has some signs around it explaining the history of it. One sign was talking about how the station was 100 years old but had to be restored after a fire. I went on to read aloud to my students that the fire had been caused by a bomb that America had dropped on it. Ohhhh…….That was actually a really awkward moment. I mean, I know I had nothing to do with it, and I know that they weren’t alive when it happened, but it is strange to have lingering. I never really thought about that aspect before coming to Japan. Our countries have done some terrible things to each other in the past. However, I think while the older generation may hang on to some past afflictions like that, we, in the younger generation, don’t.

As we continued walking to the palace, I asked my students the name of the emperor. In Japan, the emperor has no real power and is more of a figure-head. The prime minister is the one that makes all the political decisions for the country, like in England I guess. Well, when I asked the name of the emperor, they all looked at each other with confusion. “We just call him emperor. We don’t know his name.” I couldn’t believe it! “You don’t know the name of the emperor of Japan?” I asked amazed. Well, the question was answered quickly with a little help from an iphone- Akihito. After doing a little reasearch myself, I discovered that the emperor is never referred to by name; he is only referred to as “His Imperial Majesty the Emperor” or Tennō Heika. So, I guess they had a good reason for not knowing!

The imperial palace is mostly just old castle walls and gardens. You can’t actually go into the “palace”, and we never saw the actual building in which the emperor lives. Lame! I did see my first bonsai trees though. They were the pine trees surrounding the moat. I was told by my students that doing bonsai trees is an old person hobby. Haha.

students at the Imperial PalaceImperial Palace, Japan

On my way back to my hotel, I stopped by a shrine that I have passed by everyday and have been curious about. The fox shrine. There were 100’s of fox statues at this shrine. Foxes are important in the Shinto religion in Japan. Inari, the protector of the rice harvest, is guarded by foxes. Foxes, or kitsune,  are thought to have supernatural powers, such as being able to morph into a human and also hearing and seeing all human secrets. It was definitely different than any shrine I have ever been to, and I have been to 100’s of them!


Tokyo, Japan Shinto Shrine


Shinto Shrine Japan