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College studentsYou should have fun while you’re teaching abroad! But it’s also just as important to be safe. Health insurance is not one of the most exciting or fun things to blog about. However, when thinking about my scariest moment abroad, I automatically think about when I was living in Hong Kong with no health insurance. Realizing I was quite sick, I was so hesitant to go to the hospital knowing I’d have to pay for the visit entirely out of pocket. Thus, I went to cheaper hospitals and it took over a month for me to be diagnosed with mono. I wasted hundreds of dollars in the process, about a thousand dollars all together in hospital fees and various medications that were not necessary. Now, this wasn’t anything too serious and luckily I didn’t end up with thousands and thousands of dollars in medical bills before I returned to the US. However, if something more serious occured this easily could have been the case. From this experience, I cannot stress this importance of international health insurance enough.

Many schools in Korea will pay 50% of the National Health Insurance Plan, which means you’ll be paying about $32 to $45 a month for adequate coverage. However, if you’re responsible for insuring yourself, which is literally the responsible thing to do, you’ll be paying about $64 to $75 dollars per month, depending on which city you live in, and that doesn’t include your co-payments. That equals about $780 to $960 a year. With the national health insurance plan, you can go to Korean hospitals but the international hospitals, with English-speaking doctors, may not accept the national plan. Aclipse realized there had to be a better way to protect our teachers. So we’ve partnered with a top international insurance agency to offer 100% coverage for a responsible price-one that can be paid quarterly or annually to help you attain the insurance you need during your year overseas, which adds up to a cost of only $884 a year. It’s important to have access to English-speaking international hospitals all over the world, as you travel and explore new places. This plan offers that and more. 24/7 support, emergency coverage and portable coverage if you move are just some of the many benefits.

When the swine flu hit Asia, I’m sure many insurers noticed the calls to their company hotlines increased. Expatriates all over Asia had questions and wanted reassurance, and of course some really needed answers to critical medical issues that were happening at that moment. The 24/7 help line that Interglobal Insurance can offer is something that will greatly increase you’re safety and well-being when you’re abroad. It’s not enough to have a policy in place that’s there for you during certain hours of the day, you need a policy backed by a global insurer with support services available 24 hours a day-and let’s face it, we don’t only fall ill between 9am and 5pm, Monday through Friday. Add a time difference of 12 to 13 hours to that and it gets even more difficult to reach your insurer. That’s why the help line that Interglobal offers is so important.

Even if you’re school does offer coverage, you may wants to consider adding Interglobal’s plan to that. Regardless, some kind of health insurance coverage while you’re overseas is a MUST, take if from me!

Find out More:

For a table of benefits of the International Schools Gold Plan:

http://www.interglobal.com/aclipse/ISP_Gold_TOB_Aclipse.pdf

For a quote and to purchase online:

http://www.interglobalpmi.com/aclipse

For customer service & support, e-mail:

aclipse@interglobal.com.jp

MoonCake_PictureOne of the best things about teaching abroad is getting to celebrate the holidays that are unique to the foreign country you’re living in. China certainly celebrates some interesting traditions. Since it’s September, I’m thinking about the Mid-Autumn Festival, or Moon Festival, which is typically observed in mid to late September, depending on the Chinese calendar, followed by a nation-wide one week vacation that all public schools take in early October. It’s wonderful to celebrate a holiday with a “mandatory” week off. 

Even after two years living in China, I still couldn’t quite figure out exactly what I was celebrating during the festival. Part of the problem is that the holiday is based on a myth that has been re-told many times, so that now there are 5 accepted versions, none of which contain much historical fact. Each myth (all long, slightly complicated tales) involve a charming young woman, a savior disguised as a handsome mortal, some magic elixir, an emperor and a wicked merciless man, of course, right? Like any good fairy tale, the main theme is love. And the end result is that the Autumn Festival remembers the charming young woman’s move to the moon to remember the handsome young man (or savior) whom she loved deeply. Thus, the whole night is meant to be spent staring at the full, round autumn moon, while eating mooncakes. Mooncakes are round pastries, usually 10cm in diameter and 4 cm thick (and VERY dense). They have a thick filling, usually made from lotus seed paste or yolks from salted duck eggs. My friend Caleb, a fellow ESL teacher, once ate an entire package (20 or so) of mooncakes and slept for an entire day-they’re that dense. If you don’t enjoy a lot of salt with your sweets, skip the duck egg version and go for the lotus seed. 

The mooncakes may even hold a significant role in ancient Chinese history. According to legend, the festival commemorates the Ming Dynasty’s victory over Mongol rulers in the 14th century. As group gatherings were banned by the Mongol Dynasty, it was impossible for the rebel leaders to make a plan for rebellion. Noting the Mongols didn’t eat the dense mooncakes that the rest of the Chinese people enjoyed, they came up with a plan to carry messages inside the mooncakes to the rest of the Chinese people, with a message for attack to be carried out on the night of the Mid-Autumn festival. Like a very dense and rich fortune cookie, inside each cake, there was a paper with the message, “Kill the Mongols on the 15th day of the 8th month.” On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels successfully overthrew the government. What followed was the establishment of the Ming Dynasty. Therefore, the Mid-Autumn Festival hence forth was celebrated (and still is) with the eating of mooncakes! 

Another food the Chinese enjoy during the festival are pomelos; they’re like smaller and sweeter grapefruits that originated in Asia. Even though pomelos look just like mini grapefruits, they actually have no botanical relationship. Sometimes people put pomelo rinds on their heads during the festival, and I have yet to figure out why other than it’s a silly thing to do that gets a laugh!

Carrying brightly lit lanterns is also a tradition-a beautiful one. Burning incense for Chang’e (the charming young woman who moves to the moon), planting trees and collecting dandelion leaves and distributing them to your family members are also some of the common traditions associated with this holiday.

Besides eating mooncakes (which are everywhere from August-October throughout each Chinese city and suburb), just looking at the moon and celebrating the start of fall is what I heard about the most while I was there. I was lucky enough to be invited to a fellow Chinese teacher’s home for dinner on the Autumn Moon Festival. I managed to eat half a salted duck mooncake (considered the best because they are more expensive) and was happy to have a view of the very full moon from her beautiful high-rise apartment. Just like any American holiday, it was an excuse to be with family and eat special foods. It was also a way to give thanks to “the gods” for changing the season. With fall being my favorite season, I’ll definitely be looking at the moon this week and thinking of that country across the world that I love so much. I just might skip the mooncakes though…

By Rebecca McNeil 

There are many unique, cool and perfectly practical reasons to teach English in China, particularly in Beijing, China’s capital city. I loved my experience in Beijing and can think of many reasons why other people should live there too. But one highlight that I suppose is not entirely unique but none the less cool and historically interesting is the chance to visit the Great Wall. Teaching English in Beijing grants you access to many interesting site seeing opportunities, but the Great Wall, no pun intended, may be the greatest of them all. Here are the top 5 reasons I came up with to climb the Great Wall.

1. It’s still here! 

The wall’s construction began in 403 to 201 BC (yes, BC). Although, much of it was extended and reconstructed during the Ming Dynasty, which began in circa 1368 AD, some of it still dates back to that BC date. At it’s peak the “Ming Wall” was guarded by 1 million men; reading about the history is a must before you go. When so much of Beijing is now being reconstructed, torn down and modernized, the wall is still here. The history alone makes it a worthy destination. And if you’re interested in Chinese history, you can’t miss it. Oh and it’s estimated that 2-3 million Chinese died building it. So how can you not see something people gave their lives for that’s filled with history? The answer-you can’t. 

2. Beautiful Views

Did I say beautiful? I meant spectacular. Just google panoramic tour of the Great Wall of China, and you’ll see what I mean. The mountains…The greenery or the snowy landscape, depending on when you’re there, stretches on forever. No wonder it’s rated the 2nd most phenomenal man-made wonder in the world by the top travel writer Howard Hillman (2nd only to the pyramids). People are still arguing over whether it’s the one man-made structure that can be seen from space, but who cares? What’s important is what you’ll see what you climb it and that’s a beautiful view.

3. Fresh air! 

Who says China’s polluted? Ok, just like any industrialized, densely populated country, it does have pollution. But the Great Wall offers an escape to that dirty air. A 4 hour bus ride outside of the city center of Beijing, The Great Wall is a breath of fresh air. 

4. Space

Personal space that is. If you can handle walking a few miles, you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by only a handful of tourists and no large hoards. The more you walk the fewer people you’ll see-so just keep going! In a city of almost 12 million people (with the municipality at 17 million), it’s nice get away for a few hours from the crowds!

5. Exercise

As mentioned in the previous reason, keep walking and you’ll soon find yourself with spectacular views minus the large crowds. But in doing so, you’ll get great exercise and enjoy more fresh air. The great wall is around 4,000 miles long and stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east all the way to Lop Nur in the west and even touches the southern edge of Inner Mongolia! The wall is open to groups of tourists in section, but even those open sections are quite long, making it a healthy walking distance for anyone. 

There are plenty more reasons, but I think some of those you’ll have to discover for yourself. Seeing the Great Wall of China shouldn’t be the reason to teach English in Beijing or any other Chinese city (think of the travel, lifelong friends you’ll make, the kids you’ll connect with and help, and more importantly The Food) BUT it’s certainly one of many exciting and enticing reasons to go teach English in China!

Yum.

Yum.

When I lived in China, one Sunday morning I woke up with a craving for eggs and bacon. I decided to splurge on a western brunch at an American style cafe in my neighborhood. Sometimes living abroad, there is nothing more comforting than eating what mom would make. But I quickly realized, although the eggs were delicious, they weren’t quite as satisfying as I’d imagined.

I remember Frank Sinatra was playing in the background, but I could barely hear him as people outside chattered loudly in a language that was (and still is) indiscernible to my years. Some call Cantonese the “bird language” because it’s like singing. Every other word ends with “la.” My ears were acutely attuned to the buzzing harmony of the incomprehensible words floating back and forth and my eyes kept wandering, as I looked out the large glass windows that wrapped around the cafe. In nearby Chinese eateries, the sidewalks were chock full of people sitting on tiny plastic stools, eating and gathering the aroma and taste of fried foods and steaming hot noodles. These smells and tastes stick to clothes like perfume and linger in the mouth for hours.

There were seemingly innumerable characters around me, on signs that I couldn’t read. I couldn’t read much on the faces of those next to me either. They all seemed to hold a similar look of dazed contentment. Perhaps, I thought, there is nothing more fulfilling then a bowl of simple, inexpensive food.

Suddenly, my plate of eggs, bacon and toast seemed delicately and absurdly presented on white porcelain. My fork seemed awkward and heavy. My coffee cup seemed too fragile. I realized, I preferred the light movements that only a pair of chopsticks can make. I preferred sweet milk tea served in a thick plastic mug. I was officially “in love” with Chinese cuisine.

Rather than be alone at that moment, I would have liked to be with a loud family or a rowdy group of friends, spinning multiple dishes around the table on a lovely round disc-a lazy Susan that graces the table of most traditional Chinese restaurants. When one dish becomes “boring,” there’s always more to try. Spin, taste, share, spin, taste, share-that’s the fluid movement of the Chinese dining experience. In the west we hoard our individual plates, as though they are pocessions. But good food is a delight meant to be shared in China!

I missed the burning sensation of “la jiao” or hot red chili peppers, from the Sichuan restaurants, that leave your mouth numb but your stomach satisfied. Even in the most humble restaurants, you never have to ask for extra spices or sauces because the food is always spicy or flavorful enough when it’s served to you. It’s perfectly acceptable to holler good naturedly at the waitress to bring more food, spit out the bones and drink your soup, slurping your noodles with wild abandon. Your server never asks how everything is, and there’s seldom a complaint. Everything is made just how it should be-traditionally and with great care.

I suspect there’s rarely a culinary school graduate operating these tiny neighborhood joints. For these “dives,” instead of proper training, the Chinese cooking methods are passed down from generation to generation, almost like an inheritance or a gene. The cooks I met in China grew up eating the same simple dishes that they now prepare for their customers every day.

For most urban Chinese, eating out is a weekly ritual and not intensely dissimilar from eating at home; it’s casual, comfortable, communal and simplistic. To dine out is not an escape from your apartment. Rather, it’s an inviting hour or two, eating in an area similar to your own kitchen. With an oven-like interior, in most cozy Chinese eateries, the dining space is not much bigger than a city apartment’s kitchen. Eating out, night after night, in the same cheap neighborhood places is a ritualistic, collective activity and a simple pleasure.

In Southern China, I found that the most basic treats are the most inspiring. Restuarant workers stand, armed with metal tongs, watching over the plastic cases filled with dim sum, a series of tiny (but hearty) culinary treats prepared in small wooden baskets. Cha shao bao, sweet barbeque pork surrounded by a fluffy white bun, is less than two or three Chinese dollars for a small bag and is perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner. In China, with the exception of fancy dishes like Peking duck, there are no labels that dictate what acceptable breakfast, lunch or dinner fare is. Everything is open for interpretation. You can have noodles for breakfast, a whole fish (including head) loaded with garlic and hot peppers for lunch and a basic soup with chicken feet for dinner. Speaking of chicken feet, I detest the rubbery skin and the sickening crunch of bird talons in my mouth but I like the idea that nothing is off limits. In the Canton region, it’s said that everything is edible. I’ve tried donkey, pigeon and snake (I won’t be repeating those meals but it was fun to try)! Cantonese food has been labeled the most popular cuisine in all of China, which means the Chinese may be the most adventerous eaters in the world!

So on that Sunday, as I sat in my leather chair, with my typical western brunch, coffee and English language magazine, I realized there was nothing I would miss more about China than Chinese food. I was right. It’s an amazing cultural experience. But it’s also simply put “hen hao chi” (very good food)!

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