Sunday, December 28, 2008

X-mas week (part 2)

...So at noon I was to meet with my students at what they know to be my favorite place to eat in China: Pizza Hut. They got the typical weird pizzas with seafood on it, and I watched them eat the pizza with their forks and knives. I told them "once you get into Canada, eat it with your hands!" Keep in mind, I was in terrible condition. I felt bad. I had an opportunity to eat pizza with my students for likely the last time, but it didn't go the way that they wanted. The thought of eating anything was too dangerous to provoke, and I was huddled in my seat trying to keep warm even though the place was probably overheated.

Once they finished, Mr. Dong, Steven and I headed downstairs to buy things. This would've been fun, but after I bought one X-mas present for Han Jie, I was starting to feel real sick. I told them I needed to go immediately.

This is where the pizza hut is, sorry I don't have a daytime photo to help you picture the scene more appropriately.

On the way back I felt my saliva starting to taste a little more salty than usual. "Stop the car." I studied the area in a millisecond, rushed to the most secluded area (VERY hard to find), and keeled over with saliva pouring out of my mouth. After about a minute of waiting, nothing happened. I'm pretty sure my stomach was empty at the time, so this was probably for the better. We floored it back to my place and I slept for the next 4 hours.

Ms. Han's "party" was happening at 6:30 that night. I woke up from my nap in time to look presentable, but I was obviously still very ill. The party took place in a theater strangely enough. This was one of those moments where you think you have an idea of what's going on, and then when you get there, you realize that you had been preparing for a word that wasn't correctly used...namely "party." The more accurate definition of what this was going to be was "talent show."

I saw Michael in the front row and sat down next to him. He asked me, "How are you feeling?"
"Like Hell. You?"
"I woke up at 2 this afternoon."
"Yup." There was a spread of fruit and sunflower seeds just for us in the front row. I felt like a king! Mustering the courage to eat something was tough, but worth it.

The show started off really weird. A group of strangely dressed people, obviously characters from either video games or japanese cartoons, performed a choreographed "walking around the stage" number to some Chinese rock music. I only recognized three of the twelve or so characters -- Cloud, Aeris, and Sephiroth from FF7 (i.e. some video game characters). I guess they started like this to give me the false impression that everything following it was going to be weird as hell. The remainder of the show was actually a medley of normal performances, including music, dancing, games, magic, and plays. Very entertaining...and it was fun to see my students doing what they enjoy. My only complaint would've been that the speaker volume could've been turned down a little in light of my situation. There were way too many occurences of mic feedback that hurt way more than they should have.

Wednesday (24th) -- Christmas Eve. Can you believe I had class on this day? There was much to do...

First, I did not want to teach. The illness had not passed, like I expected, and I mean, it was Christmas frickin Eve. So I woke up that day and started looking for two things: Christmas presents for my coworkers, and Christmas DVDs at the local DVD "store." I was only able to find one Christmas DVD -- The Santa Claus 3, starring Tim Allen and Martin Short. Check out the cover:

There was no way in hell I was showing anyone this movie. I wanted to ask the guy at the desk if he had any christmas movies, so I called Ms. Han and asked her what the word for "Christmas" was in Chinese.
"Sheng dan kuai le!" she yelled.
Equipped with my knew word, I asked the clerk, "Ni you sheng dan kuai le DVD ma?" I eventually learned that "sheng dan kuai le" means "Merry Christmas," and "sheng dan" means "Christmas," so I actually asked "Do you have Merry Christmas DVDs?" In other words, once again, I sounded like a clown.
He replied, "dfjksaafsdssdfdslaspdk- mei -skjaskdjsdfsdfasdfa." As soon as I heard "mei," I knew he didn't have anything.

So, I got the idea to show them a christmas episode of the Simpsons. While I was still in the store, I bought a few DVDs for myself, such as "Seven Pounds," starring Will Smith. Yeah I know it was just released in theaters like a week ago. It's out on DVD here now. Anyway I went home to try downloading Simpsons episodes. On the walk back, I saw a beautiful miniature bamboo plant being sold on the street. It seemed like a great gift, so I bought it and then continued home.

Downloading crap is always hell. My first attempt needed a password to decompress. The second download worked, but the episode was in Russian or something. My last try was cutting it close; I started downloading at 2:15pm (with class at 3:40). I then got a call from Steven telling me to be at the front gate at I didn't have enough time to finish the download.

My backup plan was two options. The first was to show them "Jingle all the way," starring Arnold Schwarzeneggar. I watched this movie beforehand just to see if it was watchable, and it sure as hell was not. But, it was Christmas related. My other option was to show them "Toy Story," but that really had nothing to do with Christmas. It was, however, entertaining to all ages and pretty simple, so I grabbed it and headed out.

I arrived at the gate and met Steven, Mr. Dong, and Ms. Han. We were going to take a group photo with the students together for the last time. It was pretty sad... I haven't seen any of them since.

I got to class, showed them some of the movie, and then headed out the door. While I was waiting for the elevator, five of the girls from the class told me they had a Christmas present for me at their dorm. These girls are so adorable. I walked with them there and they were all locked arm-in-arm the whole time. We got to the warehouse that they live in and they gave me a box of chocolates. So cute! I wanted to say "thank you," but it wasn't enough, so I told them "I'm going to give you a hug!" They were clearly confused, so in the moment of confusion I grabbed THE most shy girl in the group and gave her a hug. Her face turned bright red. Then the other four girls understood and screamed with laughter, running over to hug me. It is definitely a fact that every girl in China is adorable like this.

In the meantime, I'd called Ms. Han and told her to meet me at the dorms. She, myself, Steven and Mr. Dong were all going to "xiao xi tang" (small restaurant) to celebrate my first Christmas in China. Afterwards, Steven had made reservations at a KTV, which I had seen around the city but didn't really know anything about. We got to xiao xi tang and we ordered the usual -- peanuts, something green, and a hot pot (pictured below). I was still feeling pretty uneasy, so I only ate three bowls of rice. Oh speaking of which... Hunger is often measured in bowls of rice. If you eat only one bowl of rice but you've eaten everything else on the table, you'll hear "eat more!"

To the left of xiao xi tang. It's located in the middle of a residential complex.

The entrance to xiao xi tang. It's seriously a dude's house.

A hot pot inside xiao xi tang. Very delicious, but you have to be careful...normally many of the ingredients are not meant to be eaten. Typical ingredients that can be eaten include: meat (watch out for the bones), carrots, potatoes, cilantro, and hard tofu

We finished dinner and headed to the KTV. On the way, I asked what it was. It's a place where people reserve rooms to stay in for a few hours to sing Karaoke together. So...that's how I was going to spend Christmas Eve night. That's the way it is here, except the KTV's are even busier at around midnight. The mission is to go out and party, not stay home and wait for santa claus. I actually got a few drunk text messages from my students wishing me a merry christmas. One was in Chinese haha.

Anyway back to the point, we were at a KTV and that was that. That's how the four of us were going to spend the next four hours. The staff brought some beers to make singing a little easier. Even though I was still recovering, it was welcome. Also, the music selection had some English songs, so I wasn't completely on an island. I mean, I was the only one who would choose English songs. My coworkers were only choosing sad, slow Chinese love songs to sing. It was sad! I wanted to hear happy songs, so I was only choosing the fun ones that I know really well. "September" (Earth, Wind & Fire) was a hit. But then after me, it was back to tearjerking slow Chinese music. BLEGH. Thankfully, Ms. Han is trained in classic Chinese-style singing, so it was cool to mix it up and hear her sing a few of those classical types of songs. It sounded like what you hear on the radio, very professional.

I was tired of this after about an hour and a half. Maybe its my slow attention span, but I just can't put up with that crap for too long. Definitely an interesting experience though, and it was funny to see my bosses singing. We headed out, and the traffic was even worse than before. Again, the party was just starting for Wuhan. For me, it was done. I had a plan in the morning...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

X-mas week (part 1)

I haven't kept in touch with anyone back home for the past week or so. This post is an attempt to justify/be payment for that. Also sadly, I did not take a single photo this week, despite the insane number of opportunities.

Weekend (Dec. 19th-21st) -- On the upcoming Monday, there was to be a final exam for the small class. This would also be my last class with them, which was a pretty big downer. I got pretty close with most of the small class because everyday I would make them tell me stories about themselves and I would often tell them (choice) stories about me. We had also spent tons of time together and usually had a great time doing it. It was easy to be successful in their class.

The weekend was fairly eventful, I met with my favorite "zhong guo ren" (Chinese person) Han Jie everyday for various reasons -- Friday we went out for drinks, Saturday I helped her buy shoes (thank you Bravo TV), and Sunday we had dinner with students from the big class to celebrate some winter festival that was happening that day. Apparently the tradition is that you have to eat "jiao zi" (dumplings) that day in order to ensure health during the winter. Jiao zi is a small dumpling that is usually sold on the street; they make them right there in front of you, throw them in a huge pot of boiling water, and then serve them to you in a bowl of hot water so that it can cook while you are holding it. So I guess it's pretty obvious that eating it definitely has a warming effect.

It wasn't easy to find free time. For some reason the big class students are a little more outgoing...meaning they want to do stuff with me outside of class. Also Han Jie is a starting to get less flaky, in fact most of what we did this weekend were her ideas, but who knows how long that'll last. Regardless, my time to plan the exam became more limited, which sucked because it took about 5 hours to make.

Monday (22nd) -- Gave the exam. All of the students were told about this last week, but, like usual, four of the really unmotivated students strolled in about 30 minutes late, holding bowls of soup they'd brought to eat during class. I wonder if they were surprised when everyone was quietly taking their exams? These tests are also stressful as hell because even if you tell them the consequences of cheating, like getting thrown out, they'll cheat anyway. I could go on a tangent now about why I think this is the case, but I won't bore you with that. Basically, proctoring sucks. The oral exam also included a conversational part, where I had to speak with each student individually for about 5 minutes. In the afternoon, I taught a writing class to the big class.

Monday evening odd one. The university planned a dinner for all of the foreign teachers which was to be held at this nice ass hotel:

From Wuhan

I was excited about the free meal and, surprisingly, the opportunity to meet other foreigners. Every chance to speak English normally is something that I don't take for granted nowadays. It's probably seems shallow, but I like dressing up and going to these types of things, tryin to act classy and adult and whatnot. Of course I'm kindof a joker, but it was hard to stand out at this party. I was going to go to this dinner with Michael.

I will dignify Michael with a paragraph of summary. He's the other foreign teacher who works in my office, but his students are going to Australia instead of Canada. I'd met him about a week before this dinner, despite the fact that we'd been working at the same place for three months. He's 45 and I'd guess 5'11", 230 lbs. This guy is fuckin unreal. Every time I've seen him, he's wearing a tweed jacket with no shirt underneath, shades, and a long, white wool scarf. I learned about all of his accomplishments, how much money and how many assets he owned, and enough about his life story to write a small book about...and I didn't even ask! For example, he graduated from Stanford, has at least one masters degree and two PhD' in philosophy, the other I don't know. He also owns real estate amounting to around $5 million, including a house on Madison Avenue. Foreshadowing alert: much of what I learned about him was after about 3 glasses of wine and a few very heavy rum & cokes, so forgive me if some of the details about him are blurry. I like his company I guess, because company is so hard to find, but the guy's ego is bigger than Anne Hathaway's grotesque mouth (sorry, watched brokeback mountain again recently).

The dinner was entertaining. I wanted to just relax after having dealt with that exam and teaching that day. Michael, myself, and two of our Chinese colleagues attended. Having Michael around as someone to talk to was good at first. He immediately made friends with the wait staff by paying them money to make sure he "didn't see the bottom of his glass." After the first 5 minutes of the dinner, a waiter refilled his glass. I hadn't drunk alcohol in a while, so I kept my pace relatively slow. I also realized that my colleagues weren't having much fun, not only because they had no one else to talk to, but also because Michael was flustering them by complaining about the job. At one point, he saw that people had brought friends, and asked why his girlfriend wasn't allowed to come. Ms. Ding said she didn't know, and that it was probably OK if other people were doing it. Hearing this frustrated Michael, so he immediately called his girlfriend and told her to come over. I couldn't wait to meet her!

In the meantime, he talked to a couple that was sitting at our table for about 5 minutes, and then headed off to get more food and socialize. As soon as he left, I looked at the couple. They looked at me. "Who is this guy?" It was a good ice breaker, especially welcome since they seemed like a nice couple to talk to. The man, Justin, was from Canada, and his wife Louanne was from China. There was obviously tons to talk about. They asked me where I was from. "Pittsburgh." I asked where Louanne was from. "Wuhan." Then I asked Justin where he was from. "Nova Scotia." I know where that is. "Sidney Crosby!" Maybe I've been to the Penguins' website a little too much. If hockey and being in China weren't enough to talk about, there was always Michael. Justin asked me if I'd ever heard of a book called "The Game," written by Neil Strauss. Believe it or not, I'd actually heard about it and know a little about the contents of it. Basically, Neil Strauss is a pick-up guru, and he wrote a book on how to pick up women. I could go on, but it just seemed like Michael had read about this too and was putting it into practice all night. But, Michael wasn't really a poster child of this book...I'd say as far as examples go, he was more like that mutated fetus from "Total Recall" that was growing out of a dude's chest.

Michael's wife showed up and met my colleagues. I didn't really see her coming in, so I knew I'd see her as soon as we were introduced. I turned around. "Damn." I don't know if I said that outloud, but these days, it's not like it matters heh. She was actually pretty hot though. Good for him. At this point, he was pretty drunk. He told her he wanted to go around to every table and introduce her. She looked at me. "Sounds like fun!" She definitely wasn't going to go along with this, so he went to all of the tables himself. Another opportunity to chat it up with the nice couple at our table. The party was settling down, and a Chinese host told the room the nice version of "get out."

Ten minutes passed, and the wait staff was starting to clean everything up. -doong doong doong- "Ladies and gentleeeeman." No way. Was it the Joker? Nah, but I turned around and saw some joker slouched over the podium adjusting the mic. "You may remember me as the guy who just visited all of your tables. We are going to go carousing after the party, so if you're interested, you can meet us at the hotel bar." I knew what to do. I looked at Justin and Louanne, and they laughed, "If you want, we can grab a coffee or something." I was alright. Michael is definitely rough, but I felt like going with him was at least good for a story. Plus he was buyin the first round. I was down. Justin & Louanne and I exchanged numbers, and then I headed out with Michael and his girl.

We went to the hotel bar -- "the Piano bar." I was appalled to find no piano in the place. We decided instead of buying a round of drinks, to get an entire bottle of Bacardi rum and a bottle of coke. With only us three, it was gonna be a hell of a night. I can't believe I'm saying this, but thank god some French people showed up. They were actually really entertaining though, and spoke English ridiculously well. I mean, they were French of course, but it was interesting to hear about what French people do.

By the end of the night, we'd ordered and finished a second bottle of rum. I made my own drinks -- 1 part rum, 1 part coke. Is that how you're supposed to make them? Well they tasted good, but damn. I guess I haven't drunk in a while. This is bad for two reasons...first, because my tolerance is that of a 15 year old girl's, and second, because I've forgotten how to drink. I got back to my apartment at around 2 am and immediately went to bed.

Tuesday (23rd) -- The next morning I had one of the worst hangovers I've ever had. I got up at 6 am couldn't get back to sleep. 7 am, first vom in China. I also didn't have drinking water in my fridge, so I was waiting for 8 am when the convenience store downstairs would no doubt be open. This wasn't good. First, Han Jie had been planning a big student "party" for this night. I also got a call from my boss at around 11am saying that one of my students wanted to take me out to lunch at noon. Thankfully, I didnt have classes Tuesday because Han Jie's party was a pretty big deal.... be continued...

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Just in case your didn't see the pictures link, they're here. I took a few more recently, namely a few views that I have from the three places I spend the most time in...

The first few pictures are of both of my teaching buildings. In the first picture, teaching building 5 (where I teach the small class) is in the center of the foreground, and teaching building 1 (where I teach the big class) is looming in the background. BTW, chinese lesson for today, "background" = beijing. I learned that when my coworkers were in the middle of a conversation about photos and I thought they were talking about going to Beijing (my basic understanding of Chinese only allows for me to assume simple-minded conversations, but at least it's progress from nothing. Still, I probably look like an idiot hehe).

Teaching buildings 5 (foreground) and 1 (background)

Big classroom (Teaching building 1) view 1. I teach on the 18th floor.

Big Classroom view 2. The view is of the East Lake and some of Hankou District

Another picture from my class. It can be pretty distracting sometimes!

From teaching building 1, taken at around 8 AM. That's right, I'm awake then.

View from the small class (teaching building 5).

The only decoration in my classroom. I recommend taking a closer look at this one.

This was taken from my apartment. I took it because there's a group of kids playing badminton on the roof of the building, without adult supervision. Not to sound like a mom. It's just like, they're pretty high up.

A picture of where I buy fruit, most notably the you zi and pineapple. You can see the you zi's; they're the big, round, yellow fruits in the middle.

Speaking of, when you buy a pineapple or you zi, they peel it for you. What a country! The service is top notch every time.

This is where I live. My apartment is visible, I just don't know which one it is in this picture. Somewhere in the middle.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Another mission accomplished

I bought a bowl of "re gan mian" today (hot dry noodles), which was the final item on the list of things that I wanted to buy from a street market. The Wuhan style of this dish is famous throughout China. It's made by boiling fresh rice noodles for about a minute, then straining them, putting them in a bowl, and then throwing a bunch of sauces on it (like sesame oil, for one..the others I'm not sure about). I almost feel bad only dishing out 2.5 RMB for the stuff; it's really unique and so delicious. Anyway so now my confidence in speaking to street vendors is at an all time high, so in celebration I've made a list of Chinese phrases that I use most often. It's kindof funny that the little Chinese that I know, while restricting, generally allows for a similar dialogue that I would normally have with people from the US. I'd never really realized that the phrases you say a lot often say a lot about you, but it's true I think. The list is in order of frequency of use, not preference.

  • #6) Hao kan de (clothing item) -- This means "Nice (clothing item)!" or "your (clothing item is looking sharp." I love giving compliments to people, so this was the first phrase I learned coming here. I tried to say it to a girl who was wearing a nice hat in the first week that I was here, but she said (the equaivalent of) "huh?" It's pretty difficult to pronounce well...

  • #5) Duo shao (qian)? -- "How much (does it cost)?"

  • #4) Bu zhi dao -- Simply, "I don't know." I say that a lot whenever someone gets the impression that I can speak Chinese and tries to say anything more than "where are you from" or "what would you like to eat?"

  • #3) Ke yi -- The most general meaning of "ke yi" is "it's ok," but I equate it to a phrase that I used to say all the time, namely "we're good." You can also add "ma" to the end of this phrase to make it into a question, something I enjoy doing very much. For example, if I go to a store I ask "wo yi ma?" which means (I'm pretty sure) "I'm looking around, is that cool?"

  • #2) Mei guan xi -- i.e. "it doesn't matter," but I liken it to "whatever" or "I don't give a rat's ass." Love saying it in it's many variations in the US, love sayin it here.

  • #1) Dui = This is the sickest word to say, so I try to say it as often as I can when the time is right.... It's pronounced "Dway" and you sortof lower your voice as you say it. My favorite time to use this is when I get in a taxi and explain to the driver where I want to go. He then says a bunch of things, and if I interpret them to be correct, I say "dui." An accurate translation is "correct," but in certain situations it can also mean "exactly," "affirmative," or "no doubt." Maybe the best translation is just the word "yeah," but it's a little different.

Storm of photos (bigger)

These are all of the photos that I've taken so far since I arrived here, about 150 total. I haven't put captions on them yet, though, so if there's one that's confusing, I'd say wait a day or so for me to find the time to add an explanation (or just put up a comment saying "wtf is this?" You'll probably be asking yourself that a lot until I add more info...)

In other news, I just had dinner with the president of the university last night, Mr. Liu (the same one who gave the opening speech before I spoke on the first day.) It was pretty funny...he couldn't speak a word of English, but I could practice the little Chinese I knew and was able to make people laugh with my attempts to speak (specifically colloquialisms in the Wuhan dialect, those always get a laugh as long as they know what they're listening to. In other words, they don't expect foreigners to say stuff like that, so they just ignore them usually even though I'm saying them frickin perfectly.) It was a great time though; we ate at this adorable little place that was basically a dude's house, and ordered a bunch of their best items for the day. One of their specials that day was some soup whose name I can't remember, but it was a little unsettling to eat. It wouldn't have been that bad if they didn't tell me what was in it.. It was a "meat and potato" soup, except the potato was a vegetable that's grown here that I don't really like (it's kindof a mix between a potato and a carrot), and the meat was "fresh" pig's feet (and by fresh, I mean that the owner of the shop had bought the pig yesterday, when it was still breathing). We also ordered a fish, which Mr. Liu told me was, again, fresh. Once again, "fresh" isn't just a day or so old, it means that the fish was swimming in water before it was thrown onto a pan with searing hot oil about 10 minutes before we ate it. He said "if the fish's mouth is open, you know it's fresh." Oh yeah speaking of which, when u order fish here, you get a whole fish that's cut in half from it's head to it's tail fin. The method of eating it is to grab as much of the meat from the bones as you can with your chopsticks., and if you like eating fish eyes, they're right there for the taking. I've actually grabbed a fish eye with my chopsticks before, plucking it from the socket by severing its optic nerve. Pretty gross. OK so back to the point, the food was good, and Mr. Liu was also very entertaining. It's clear why he's who he is -- his character, intelligence and general charisma were all evident despite my inability to understand him. My goal was to exude the same qualities, but that was a bit harder considering the number of English speakers in the room (about 3.5 out of 7 including myself). Regardless, I think we bonded. We drank this rice wine that he brought from his hometown west of Wuhan, which we drank heavy amounts of. At one point I almost reached puke-ville cuz he made me down an entire glass of this stuff... But after that I was cool. OK well I wish I had more time to have made this story better and more touched up but, the gist is that it was entertaining, I got wasted with the pres of Wuhan U, and that it'll likely happen again soon. Now I gotta get back to work.. only a few more weeks and then no work at all...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Storm of photos

These pictures are from facebook, and I included captions with all of them. Some of them you should have seen. Basically, they're the ones that I took in Beijing, and they're also from the first day of owning the camera. I also have pictures of the thanksgiving dinner and of a random walk around Wuhan City, but I'll put those up when I have more time. It turns out that grading the midterms is taking even longer than making them, something I didnt really anticipate. Anyway basically, I'm getting very little sleep. The night before the Friday midterm I got no sleep, and this thursday might be the same story. We'll see. Anyway, enjoy the photos, and I'll put the other ones up soon I promise. It will come in one big wave. Also, it should be noted that I won't be this crazily busy for long, so I'll be able to devote more time to updates (yay).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Midterm week

OK this won't be that long because every second this week has so far been devoted to teaching, eating, preparing for teaching, sleeping, or preparing the midterms. This week I had to give out (at least) three different mid-terms: two for the big class and one (possibly two) for the express class. The first midterm is done, so now I only need to make two more. The two remaining are the much harder ones too. Basically, I don't have free time. But I'll give a short update regardless...

  1. Got a camera today. It's charging right now, so I apologize for not putting anything up. Again, many photos on the way.
  2. Discovered another treat on Guangba Lu which I believe is called "Bing zi," but I call it "Thin meat bread." New favorite food (my favorites change a lot here, I've found).
  3. Speaking of, I'm obsessed with a fruit called "you zi." I am keeping a pace of eating one you zi every day for two weeks, noteworthy due to the fact that these are pretty big. Honestly the perfect fruit. The flavor is a mix between a grapefruit and an orange. Once you open the thick rind, you have to peel away a thin layer of skin on each piece (what you would normally eat on a piece of an orange). I never liked that about oranges... I always wanted to only eat the fruity part inside the skin. The you zi accomodates that.
  4. I'm establishing a rapport with the local folk at the Guangba lu night market. Charm is an international language, eh?
  5. A lady who likes me at the night market gives me food for free, even though I definitely don't want it (probably why she gives me food for free). So I ate what I'm pretty sure was a snail. I was interested in what it was, so I explained the experience to the express class. They laughed, "Be careful." I asked "why?" One student looked through his dictionary for a moment and then said the word "excrement." I learned not to ask questions about food ever again.
  6. Finally talked to friends back home. Very refreshing.
  7. Almost finished watching prison break season 2. Finishing the season is equivalent to a battle with my computer. Somehow I haven't resorted to using my fists yet.
  8. I went to a "dvd store," where I'm pretty sure there's absolutely zero legitimately sold dvds. This is a step up in class from the dvd street vendors, so I'll be frequenting this place. I bought season 3 of prison break and seasons 1-2 of mad men (havent seen an episode, but heard good things) for 20 RMB.
  9. Got paid for November. The amount in my bank account gives me the illusion that I'm rich as hell.

OK those are the big events. Coming soon, I need a haircut, bed sheets, and caulk for my windows. Also I'll be missing my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, for the first time. Ms. Han told me she and the other coworkers would do something nice for me though.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

包子 (Bao Zi)

As you can see, I have learned how to type in Chinese. Does ctrl + shift turn your keyboard into a chinese one? This was a trick I just learned a week ago -- not like it'll come in very handy. We'll see. But do I know what word in the title means? Do I...

So like I said before, for the past two months, I've been walking to my classes from my home. This is between a one or two mile walk if I had to guess; it takes me 35-40 minutes to walk there (comfortably, I can make it quicker). From the first day I walked to my class until now, I've passed by a food place located at the end of Guangba Lu. Again, the whole street is amazing; it's covered by "mom and pop" places...the kind free market economies wish they still produced, as opposed to the walmarts and mcdonalds and what not. This shop at the corner is the best of the best though. When I first got here, if I were to have chosen one place to order from on Guangba, it would've been this one. Why? Because of one food item. I hadn't experienced one until a few evenings ago...

Everyday I passed by the place, I'd eye up these rolls that looked like they were made of a rice-like dough, which were first steamed and then lightly pan fried for a short time...the process is one which I would guess is similar to the making of an english muffin. They seriously looked so frickin delicious. But, my inability to speak anything had stopped me from ordering them. I'd thought about them a lot, though. I asked some of my coworkers about what they are, and they told me they're called "Bao zi." They're one of those things that you never hear about that's all over the place here, but are so ridiculously delicious that you wonder how you'd never heard of them. Anyway the point is, I spent all of the walk back from work that day summoning the courage to buy "liang ge bao zi" (a pair of bao zi -- I was heavily coached), and then bought some for a wallet-crunching 1.5 RMB. I finally had in my possession a small bag of two of these things that I'd anticipated having since the middle of August. I reached in the bag and took a bite. My brain erupted. I was like a kid in a Gushers commercial. The roll was like the most deliciously baked bread roll you've ever had, the bottom and top of which were lightly blackened, and the inside of which was filled with noodles, pork, and green onions that had been cooked together in a brown sauce (oyster sauce, if I had to guess). That's right, onions were in it, and they didn't taste like garbage. The thought of having a Bao zi makes coping with the withdrawal from burritos a little easier...

Also, in an effort to catch up to now, I finally got paid for the first time last Monday. It was funny -- they dont make out checks here so they paid me in cash. Also funny is that there is no denomination of currency higher than the 100 RMB note, so what they gave me for my salary was a huge stack of 100's. I quickly deposited that into the nearest ATM.

Not much else to say. This weekend I just slept a ton, did work, cleaned the apt, juggled my soccer ball, studied chinese, etc. I went to pizza hut for my weekly injection of America. Finally now that I have money, I was actually able to look at things that I was interested in buying. I have a few ideas of what to buy, but feel free to make suggestions:

  1. dvd player -- Necessary. My computer doesnt play any movie files and I'm gonna go insane. It's also a crime that I'm not taking advantage of (as far as I'm aware) legal bootlegging.
  2. camera -- Necessary. I need to show ya'll how awesome this place is, and who I work with, and probably my class. Just to give you a glimpse, heres a picture of me teaching (taken by one of my students in a moment of surprise).
  3. dinner/gifts for my co-workers -- I already bought a rose for my favorite co-worker (Ms. Han haha, I'm charming her up good), but now that i have money I'd like to do something more. I'd like to get Mr. Dong a nice bottle of wine, he's been helping me out a lot since I got here, and something else nice for Ms. Han, but that'll take more thought (again, suggestions welcome).
  4. shoes/shirts -- There's a bunch of shops here that sell nice shirts and shoes that I'd like to go to. Apparently, tho, bargaining with the shopkeepers is a necessity, so I'll have to have Ms. Han or someone come with me so they can lower the price.
  5. a nice rug -- My apartment floor gets so dirty so fast. I'm thinkin a nice floor mat would make cleaning it a little more painfree.

OK now I gotta get back to planning classes. This week is one of the busiest yet...I have to plan, make, and grade midterms for all of the classes, while updating the admins with the class grades/weekly reports. I'll keep anyone with the willpower to read this as updated as I can :)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

No Chinese!

What do I say about teaching.... for the most part, it's great. Oftentimes I feel like I'm back in high school doing improv theater; it can be really fun. There are one or two kids who are constantly either sleeping or messing around with their phones all class.... I haven't really figured this out. I have been told that many of these students come from well-off families, and that coming to a program like this was their back-up plan in case they didn't do as well as they hoped on the college entrance exams. The pre-college system here is basically study your ass off until "the test," and then the university you go to depends on how well you performed on it. Wuhan University is a school which is very difficult to get into this way, but a program like the one I'm involved with offers the "brand name" of a degree from here, while providing the opportunity to study in an English speaking country. The only thing, though, is that in order to get into the program, you need to be able to pay. I have to believe, though, that the disappointment of not killing the college entrance exam is the reason for their disinterest. I mean, I keep things so interesting! I tell funny stories that everyone can understand, and we play a game at least once a week. Anyway other than that, the most difficult part about teaching them is the difference in each student's ability. I'll elaborate on that, but first I guess you should know that I only have two classes: a big one and a small one.

Big class: Very fun class to teach. This is a group of 44 students, all of whom will be leaving to study in Canada in two years. Thus, the pace is a little slower than the express class, and I usually spend most of the time trying to teach the correct way to say words (e.g. the difference between "th" and "s" sounds, or between "v" and "w" sounds), vocabulary, and practicing dialogue. Grammar and reading is taught by the other teacher, Ms. Tai.

What makes teaching this class so frickin difficult is that the difference in their levels is incredibly varied. My job is to make sure everyone is getting something out of each class, so it's tough to balance the needs of the advanced students and the beginners. For example, there are students who can write complicated essays with a good intro paragraph, body paragraphs, and conclusion, and there are students who incorrectly conjugate the verb "be" (I'm not kidding).

The dynamics of the class are pretty funny... the girls sit in the front middle of the class, and the guys form a "U" shape along the sides and back of the room, so they're totally isolated from the girls. There's even a buffer row of desks in between them. The girls are very adorable, fairly shy, and giggle every time one of their own has to answer a question from me. The guys for the most part are very studious and interested, but there are a few unmotivated emo types. Again, I do what I can! I think I handle the insult of students sleeping in class pretty well. I gently toss little pieces of chalk at them until they wake, or activate the speaker system and tell everyone to cover their ears, then play some dialogue really loud.

But, like I said, it's a really great job. The view from my classroom for the big class is nuts. I should be getting a camera soon, so I can show you what it's like.

Express Class: Again, another great class to teach with many characters. The class only has 17 students, all of whom will begin studying in Canada in January of '09. Because the class is smaller, a lot of the education and interaction is more personal. I'd say it's a little easier to teach them, too, since the difference in their levels isn't nearly as varied as the big class. But.... it's still varied. Here's one of my favorite quotes from the express class:

Me: OK, well before I talk about this paragraph, do we know what "atom" means?
4 students: Yes.
Me: (bracing to somehow describe what an atom is) Huh? Really? What does it mean?
Shirley: It means a very small thing, like of iron or of metal.
Me: Wow, very good... "atom"
Allen: "Allen"?

Allen is a funny guy who can barely speak English, but the whole class likes him a lot, and he works as hard as anyone to learn. It's students like him why I spend so much time ensuring the fact that every student, not just the ones who can understand every word I say, are getting something out of a lesson. Though, Shirley is another reason why I spend just as much time addressing the other side of the spectrum. She is the best speaker of English in any of my classes, in fact one of the best I've met in China, and she knows a lot of words that many Americans don't. For example, she knew what ATM stood for, something that is just totally unnecessary. She baffles me on a regular basis.

Anyway so I guess it's pretty clear why this is such a challenging task. The other reason it's so time consuming is the... time it consumes. haha I mean, the number of classes I have is ridiculous, because three days out of the week, I have to come up with separate lesson plans for three different hour-and-a-half classes. Two days, (monday and friday), I only need to come up with two, but again, they have to be unique.

As you can see, Thursday morning is back-to-back classes with the Express class. This is what I refer to as "Face turn black Thursday," a reference to a joke that Allen made one day regarding a dissappointing lesson: I had come up with a lesson where I drew a character on the board, and gave him several features that the students needed to give recommendations to fix, but it failed miserably. I let the students break for a moment and pondered to myself for a minute, but the class was oddly silent during the break. Then Allen said "Face turn black!" which is Chinglish for "You look flustered." Thursday mornings are very difficult to teach even the most focused and energetic students and often causes an utterance of "Face turn black!" by students like Allen.

The classroom for the express class is in a different building than the one for the big class. The window has been open all year so far, which has honestly been paradise. The window is on the 3rd floor, overlooking some of the campus while brushing the canopy of the trees on the ground. Just one of many reasons I need a camera. I should be getting one any day now. Expect an avalanche of photos.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Big 8 Road

Guangba Road -- My new home. Bustling, unkempt, odiferous, genuinely Chinese.... It's what makes being here both entertaining and unpleasant, exciting and repulsive, inspiring and concerning... Truly one of the many yin-and-yangs I've found myself in the middle of. It's purpose is to connect two major roads, Ba Yi Road and Luo Yu Road, so it's only one block. Again, that's one Chinese block, so it takes about 10 minutes to walk down the whole stretch. In the middle of the block is my apartment complex, Yinghai Yayuan. Like I said, I got really lucky.

(My building is obscured from view by the left-
most building, but it looks just like these)

Guangba Road is about every literary device you can think of...metaphor, simile, microcosm, onomatopoeia, hyperbole, personification. The character of Guangba is where I get most of my ideas about China, because there's so much to absorb every time I walk down it. The sidewalk in front of the shops is what a countertop is to a kitchen; workers weld carts and ladders, mothers change their babies' diapers or let them "do their business," and small restaurants lay out their greens on a towel for a natural rinsing when it rains. Thus, you gotta watch where you're walking, especially since many of the bricks on the sidewalk were placed specifically to sprain ankles.

Finding a clean spot on Guangba isn't easy, but, at the least, it's paved, and the city puts in efforts to beautify it. Trees uniformly line the street, and maintainance workers can often be seen sweeping it. However, I've only found three trash "cans" so far on the street. These are large metal boxes with little doors on the bottom so that garbagemen can rake out the filth into a burlap sack, then place the filled sack onto a pull cart and head to the next one.... This job could be a lot more efficient. I hope they get paid as much as they do in the US. Dealing with trash in general actually could be a lot more efficient. If I had to guess, I'd say that littering is not illegal. I see people littering all the time.

Another reason I love Guangba Lu? The translation. According to my students, "Guangba Lu" literally translates to "Big 8 Road." The names of the shops on Big 8 Road are also very entertaining. Most of the names are in Chinese, but there are a few shops with English titles. "Shoes," "Noodles," "Emo Rock Shop." Btw, the mannequin in the display case of Emo Rock Shop dons a T-shirt saying "Lose control of your feelings." There is kind of a weird emo fad going on here -- several of my students have these real elaborate, ridiculous hairstyles, telling me they love emo rock, often using writing assignments to vent their emotions... Whatever floats your boat, I guess. Anyway, my favorite name of a store is "Ann." What's in that store? I mean obviously someone named Ann, but what's the service? What if I opened a store named "Evan"... would people come? I tell myself, yes, since I've always wanted to charge people just to be around me. Once when I was walking the streets of San Francisco, a homeless person accompanied me and told me about all of the brothels and bars to go to. I didn't ask him to come along, but he did anyway. After about 20 minutes, he asked if he could get some money. I was pretty drunk at the time. I told him no. Then he got mad and told me that he had provided me a service. "Service? I should've charged you!" Maybe someday I will, thanks to trailblazers like Ann.

A lot of my biggest achievements have come on Guangba Road. For example, it was the first place that I ordered a bao zi. I will explain this in detail later, but I was incredibly happy when I accomplished this. It's also very vibrant at night. This was made obvious on the night I arrived here... We were approaching my apartment, but before we got there, we literally drove through a market that had set up right in the middle of the street. It was like driving through a block party, but at night. I, of course, laughed during all of this. But it happens every night here, and, similarly, one of my proudest moments was ordering a bowl of noodles in the night market.

Anyway, so my street is great. I've been to other places in the area, and it really is the best place around. A lot of the other streets are either too crowded or have vibrant marketplaces like Guangba's but aren't as pretty or well maintained. Most of these places I come across are on the walk that I take to class every day, so I've had a lot of time to think about them.

My walk, btw, is real long. Every morning I have to leave my apartment at 7:20 so I can arrive at my 8 am class on time. Despite the length, I enjoy the walk very much. It's usually pretty hectic to walk along Ba Yi road (again, that's "8-1 Road" -- sweet name yeah?), but walking in the university is always beautiful. There are many things to gaze at: the trees and flowers, the group of old women doing tai chi, the courtyard at the front of campus, the mountain to the east of campus. It's a nice calmness before the storm (i.e. me teaching)

trace of my route to campus from my apartment.
I'm workin on finding a quicker way, but keep
in mind that there are lots of walls here, and
theres also two mountains in between.
The important landmarks are labelled.


First, yes, it's been a long time since an update. I love updating ya'll, but my schedule over the last two weeks hasn't allowed the time to do so. Plus...I mean, I don't just pull posts like these off of a magical blog-posting tree. It takes hard work! But I really like hearing positive responses from people, so as long as you're reading, I'm happy.

Speaking of, I couldn't be happier in China. Every day is still loaded with challenges, but I enjoy living here very much. I remember people warning me about culture shock. "Psh!" That's what I'd say. Well it's been a month and a half, and I can honestly tell you that I was totally correct in ignoring that concern. There's an article in the textbook I'm teaching about the 5 stages of culture shock... whatever. I came here understanding that whatever routines or conditions I was used to needed to adjust based on the surroundings. For once, I can say that apathy was a positive trait to have. There's only a few things here that I demand, all of which are easily accessible and most of which are just trivial. Like pizza. Need it.

Granted, I guess I was a little worried about a few personality traits that I have. If you need an example of this, one of the more obvious ones would be that I prefer a certain cleanliness that no one really understands. I don't eat off of other people's plates; that's kindof normal I think. But then there's weird stuff, like the fact that I get grossed out by hard plastic containers or utensils. No real reason for that. It's a severe preference, but if it's necessary to adjust, then I adjust. So there were some concerns about meshing with China, but I was never concerned about feeling overly uncomfortable here. Are there some things that bother me? At first, no -- everything that would normally have seemed bothersome was cute or funny to me. Now, however, there are a couple of things about the culture that are starting to get old.

Things that are getting old:

People staring at me -- About 4 years ago, I went on a "rafting" trip in Ohiopyle along the Youghogheny River. Basically, I sat in a raft with my family for 5 hours, encountering brief and harmless rapids once every half hour and getting stuck on a rock for every new set of rapids because I was the only one paddling and our raft barely displaced water. It sucked; I will never go rafting again. But one thing I remember was, at the very beginning of the trip, watching a family of four flying by us on their raft. As they passed by, one of the little kids stared at me. After the first 5 seconds of staring I was pissed. "What the hell is he doing?" Then I became interested in how long he could keep it going. I stared back. 20 seconds passed. Their boat was now about 100 feet ahead of us, but he went out of his way to hold the stare, turning his head and body in my direction. Finally after about 45 seconds, I won the battle as he broke eye contact. "In your face, little kid."

That's kindof the feeling I get anytime I'm walking outside on the street. Surprisingly though, it's not young people who stare the most, but old people! I still get looks from everyone, but old people hold their stares the longest out of anyone. I often return the favor in spades just to stick it to 'em.

Sometimes it can be funny, though. People really like looking at me and will try hilarious things to be as covert and subtle about it as possible, even though they're being real obvious. Like yesterday, I noticed a business man's slowly peeking eyes behind my friend's head. Or the other day, I was shopping in a convenience store and someone noticed me. Once I gave him the "stop looking at me" glance, he went behind the shelf and looked at some noodle bowls, peeking between them to continue his stare.

The food -- Every day, my friend Han Jie asks me "what would you like today?" Uhhh, how do I answer that question... "rice?" Don't get me wrong, the food here is absolutely delicious, but China's snackhole is filled by rice and noodles exclusively, and noodles are made of rice. In fact, the Chinese word for "lunch" translates literally to "noon rice" (with "breakfast" translating to "morning rice," and "dinner" translating to "night rice.") Really though, I mean, how hard is it to make a hot dog? I feel like someone could make some serious cash opening up a hot dog stand on campus. Too much rice.

The language -- it's seriously fucking impossible. I like it, but learning it becomes more daunting the further I get into it.

Basketball -- I've never liked basketball before, but everyone loves it here.

Why do they like it? I've come up with several guesses... First, it's cheap to play; all you need is a ball and a court, both of which are very accessible. Second, nobody here is good at sports, so there's never a court that you can't play on. However, the most obvious reason is that their biggest international sports star is, without a doubt, Yao Ming. As a result, basketball has become the most interesting sport to them because they can actually root for someone who is their own and who competes at the highest level -- the very same cause of my obsessions with Penguins hockey and Steelers football. They can't do that for any other major sport in the US or Europe... soccer, baseball, hockey, football, etc. If any one of these sports had an exceptional chinese player in it, the ratings for them would no doubt double or triple. Additionally, they have their own pro sports leagues here, but they're hardly world class. Leagues like the EPL, the Bundesliga, and the NBA generate much higher ratings. So I imagine that before Yao, there was a major hole to be filled in the demand for watching sports. Fortunately for China, the NBA gives great opportunities to freak athletes from anywhere, so Yao's freakish athleticism was able to ignite the people's interest in the game of basketball.

In the wake of Yao-mania, people watch other NBA stars like Dirk Nowitzky, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash, and have consequently deified them. At lunch time here, the west coast of the US is in primetime, so the TVs in the cafeteria I go to have recently been swarming with viewers watching the goings on of the NBA, now that the season has started. It's a pretty big deal. So anyway the point is, because I'm tall and from America, everyone assumes I must have played before and therefore wants to talk to me about it a lot. Ugh.

My computer being in Chinese -- To the right is a screenshot of my computer. This used to be funny, but now it's just annoying. I can't watch anything because of a problem with WMP that is unsolvable because it's written in an alien language. So, all of the bootlegged dvd stands that are so plentiful here are completely useless to me until I get a dvd player, which I have no choice but to do.

And I guess some things that I miss:

  • steelers football
  • talking about the steelers
  • penguins hockey
  • talking about the penguins
  • golf
  • hotdogs
  • cheese
  • kettle cooked chips
  • Taco Bell
  • Yuengling
  • speaking English at a normal pace
  • TV I can understand

And surprisingly, i also miss:

  • doing math problems
  • playing frisbee
  • going to bars
  • crazy pittsburgh weather

I think the next post will likely be a description of what my street and my school are like. Also, since I'm not telling a story I've dropped the roman numerals in the titles. Hopefully I can continue the theme of naming titles that I've started..try to guess what it is!

Monday, October 13, 2008

V. Droppin Bombs

So I still didn't have access to the school materials...

Day 4 in Wuhan City -- At 7 am, I met with Steven and we somehow survived the drive to the Hubei Province Health Center. Even at 7:30, the place was packed. The workers behind the desk had about 20 people lobbying for their attention at any given moment, a job which I'm sure after 1 week of doing results in a stroke. Steven did most of the bargaining / bartering / bribing / whatever he was doing, so I just sat down and studied the little Chinese I had figured out already. All of this annoying administrative stuff wasn't in my control, and was often discussed right in front of me in Chinese gibberish, so I didn't ask that many questions. I mean, if I get my visa, I get my visa. So for me, knowing the subtle problems of dealing with this at every step wasn't really a priority.

All I needed to know was the mission for today: Pass 7 health exams so that I can qualify for the work visa. The first lesson of the day: Lines don't exist in China, except in very controlled spaces like the velvet rope in a bank, the lines in a supermarket, or the line to see Mao's mausoleum. A McDonald's doesn't have ropes or aisles to filter people through, so lines don't exist there. The same was true was a total down-in-the-dirt free-for-all slugfest. I mean, some of these people were using trickery! This one lady tapped me on the shoulder, pointed forward, and then just walked by me to the front of the line. "Are u fuckin kidding me?" I couldn't hold it in. Why did she point forward? I thought it about it for a long time. "Cleverly done," I concluded.

I completed the first test, namely the X-Ray scan (complete with no lead protection for me), a machine which I'm certain was tempted to crush me to death. Afterwards we moved upstairs to the blood, urine, and muscle reaction rooms. I felt like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, except the rooms were creepy medical testing rooms with uncovered jars of urine sitting within view, and the oompaloompas weren't nice and fun but rather emotionless and vacant. At least there weren't 6 people watching me while I fulfilled the "urine" portion of the examination. Getting blood drawn was like I expected – the nurses didn't really give a fuck about your concern with needles, so I did the classic "cowardly look away" maneuver.

After a good hour of that, it was on to the EKG, Ultrasound, and Sphygmomanometer rooms. I'm pretty sure I remember having monthly sphygmomanometer tests just for fun when I lived in North Carolina. This time was just as fun as it always is, and I of course passed with flying colors. The ultrasound room was odd... I don't know why this was necessary at all. Was I pregnant? The doctors studied the images and verified that I was indeed not. The last room I waited for was the EKG room, something I definitely didn't want to do. First off, this was where that lady did the incomprehendable "shoulder tap" move. I was really pissed about that. Second, I just knew that something was going to go wrong here. No idea why, it was just a feeling. Third, I also knew that during the test, like 5 foreign dudes were going to watch me pull my shirt up and then subsequently watch the entire test being performed. This made the possibility of something going wrong much less attractive, as the test would no doubt take longer.

Well low and behold, the doctor didn't like what she saw in the EKG. Steven told me that I needed to get my blood flowing a little faster so she could try to perform it again. Sick. So I had to do jumping jacks in front of about 15 people standing in "line" waiting for their turn as another person filed in to have their EKG performed. This was awful. And to make it worse, every time I looked over towards the line there was some Albanian dude eyeing me up. After about a minute of this, I'd had enough. I laid on the table, got watched by the Albanian dude some more as I pulled my shirt up for the EKG, and then listened to more Chinese bickering before I was escorted out of the room. To make matters worse, Steven apparently dropped this bomb: "The reason that took so long was, she said that you're heart is lower than most other people's." He said this as if it wasn't news to me, which it definitely was at the time. "Did you know about this?"
"Uhhh no...."
"hmm....Well, the good news is, she signed for your test."
"True." I was still pretty shocked. "OK, so we're done here?"
"Yeah." Thank fucking god. "Now all I need to do is submit this downstairs, and we can head to lunch." Sounds good to me. So, Steven waited in line for about an hour to turn in the forms, long enough for the news of my apparent heart issues and my recently developed prejudice against Albanians to subside.

We left at 11:30pm, 4 hours after we got there. This was definitely the worst thing I've experienced here so far; it was so relieving to be done with it and to go to lunch.

My suggestion: Pizza Hut. These are the third most popular foreign fast food chains here, behind McDonald's and KFC. It's really great to have these here because I can actually get something that tastes exactly like it does in America, namely the pepperoni pan pizza. There's nothing different about it in China, except here it's called "the American Special." They're also very clutch to have because pepperoni is impossible to find here, something that has drastically effected my creativity in the sandwich making department. Anyway I would've ordered exactly this pizza if I were in the US, so I did just that. Steven ordered the weird as hell "surf and turf" pizza, with sushi pieces lining the crust. This is one of their top selling items, so it wasn't exactly "going out on a limb" for him like it would've been for me.

As usual, Pizza Hut wasn't disappointing. The only thing disappointing I learned: there's no free refills in China! For me, this was devastating news. Anyone who's ever eaten at a restaurant with me is probably aware of my affinity for free refills. One time at Salt Works II in NC, I made the waitress refill my drink 7 times. I don't joke around about this stuff.

"So, ready to teach your first class today?" .....What the fuck? This was the second bomb that was dropped on me that day. Hell no I'm not ready. It was 12:30 when he said this, and the class was to start at 2:05.
"Of course... Umm, do we have text books yet?"
"Yeah they're in the office." Got it.

So, all I knew was that I was to teach an hour and a half oral class. I didn't know the structure or the goals of the class, and I had no idea how the textbook was organized and thought out. Needless to say, I was pretty freaked out.

I had a little practice putting together lesson plans in the online course that I took, so I tried to whip one up in the hour that I had. I decided to do the generic "introduce everyone and learn how to introduce others" lesson plan, and I made a list of names for students who might need an English name (so I can say it). Unfortunately, not knowing the theory behind the course material was a major blow to my confidence, and that was not a good thing to happen for my first class. I felt like the first class was going to be very important's where you set the tone for the rest of the year, where habits amongst students and teachers are formed or not formed, and where students make the most assumptions about you and the class. "But, no better way to get used to the water than to jump in the pool, right?" That's what my dad said about it, and it's pretty true I guess...I just got a lot of water in my nose.

I arrived at the class, introduced myself, and wrote a bunch of names on the board for people to select. Congratulations to Dan and Tony, your names were among the few to be selected. The pool water ended up being colder than I thought it would be though... Newsflash to all -- teaching is hard! I tried to teach a lesson but it ended up being really difficult, and I don't know if anyone learned anything. I also didn't understand the levels of each student, because the only student I met before class also happened to be the most proficient speaker. Thus, I spoke my English in a way that was too difficult for the majority of the other students. At the end of the day, though, I learned a lot about the class, and they learned a lot about me. I also had a class under my belt, so there was nothing to be nervous about next time. There was still a lot of room for improvement though. At the least, I could map out a plan for the course -- after all, I finally had access to the materials....

Almost caught up to now...basically, I've just been busy with teaching since then. Theres a few stories for sure tho, so I'll try to write those up as soon as I can.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

IV. Meeting Mr. Jenkins

It's still probably unclear to a lot of you why someone like me, who has spent so much time figuring out the subtelties and generalities of complicated mathematical concepts like groups, rings, real and complex analysis, ODEs, PDEs, etc...., is now in China teaching English to college students. Let me try explaining it metaphorically:

Math and I liked each other as soon as we met. We always thought the other was attractive, but never really made any big moves to go to the next level. In sophomore year of college, however, I decided to ask Math out and she accepted. For the next three years, we went on some dates and hung out a lot at night, but it was very low commitment and comfortable. However, things started to get more serious after I graduated, and I had to make a choice. I decided to stick with her, thinking that there may definitely be a future in her. Thus, I entered graduate school. Once things got "more real" though, it became harder to maintain the relationship. We were spending way too much time together; we'd meet for lunch and dinner every day and would sleep together every night. Counsellers (professors) would try to tell me what was wrong and how to fix it, but I wasn't able to execute their advice as easily as they made it seem. My friends didn't know our situation well enough to help, either, so that made making decisions even more difficult for me. Our relationship was hanging on by a thread (when i finished the year with exactly a 3.0, the minimum required). We both decided that it might be wise to see other people, and thus now I'm seeing "teaching English in China." We met through a website, but I got my foot in the door with the help of a solid wing-man (that golfer from NJ). Do I see a future in her? No. But I think we both understand that, and we're both getting a great experience out of it. I'm learning how to deal with these things better, and I'm making a lot of great friends. Plus, seeing her may bring about opportunities which I don't realize yet. It's going well, so we'll just ride it out and see what happens next. A year from now, I think Math and I will be in a much better spot than we were 6 months ago, so we'll find out if there is indeed a future there.

Back to the story....

I woke up at 6 am again. Jet lag was the reason, but I knew this wouldn't be a problem for long. My sleep schedule gets pretty messed up as a result of grad school, so this was a minor adjustment to make. Steven, my boss, was going to show up at around 10am to start purchasing the necessities of living here, so I had about 4 hours to kill. First, I unpacked my stuff into the apartment.

My apartment....well let me just say that I wasn't really expecting anything great about it. I mean, it's in China. I was expecting it to be really small, and was praying that it had it's own bathroom and shower. Turns out this place is fuckin awesome. It's located on the 18th floor of an apartment complex and has an amazing view of the city, campus, mountains, and a little bit of the East Lake. It also has everything; bathroom, shower, microwave, a water heater, a TV (with more than one frickin channel), even a washing machine. The only major drawbacks are that the fridge is pretty small, and there aren't any screens over the windows. Here's a couple of pictures to give you an idea though of how nice it is here.. The picture of the inside of the room was taken just before the camera died, fyi, that's why there's not a more appropriate, cleaner version for your viewing pleasure.

So like I said, I had 4 hours. I packed everything I brought neatly, and got ready to meet Steven, whom I was still pretty unsure about. I mean, there was a chance that he was some Chinese serial killer for all I knew, so I was actually pretty paranoid for the first couple of days. It became pretty clear later that day that this job was legit, but I mean there was definitely a chance that this was all an elaborate plot to kill an American. I was ready to fight at any time, and never lost track of "my 6."

I spent the remaining time watching Chinese TV. It took about 45 minutes to find something I could actually watch: the Chinese version of Face-off, starring John Travolta and Nicholas Cage. This is totally one of my favorite movies. The Chinese version was just as good; the voice acting for Travolta and Cage was awesome. My favorite part was when Travolta was explaining how to use the butterfly knife..."If he comes at you again, stab him in the thigh - twist it - he won't be able to move." -- in Chinese, it sounds just as good

Steven arrived, didn't murder me, and then we drove to the bank on Luoyu Road. He set up an account for me which I deposited my money into, and I got a debit card. Then we went to the supermarket across the street where I bought some necessities...e.g. a wok, contact solution, shampoo, & a cell phone.

Afterwards we got lunch, so I actually ate authentic Chinese food for the first time. I was very excited to try it. We got some beef dish with green beans, and then he ordered a dish that had tofu and lotus root. About the meal: 1st, I learned that they don't remove bones from any meat when they prepare it. This was a little unsettling, but on the bright side, it's been encouraging me to become less of a meat eater -- something I've been attempting to do for some time now. 2nd, you don't get a ton of rice like you do in the US. In fact, you have to order rice separately. 3rd, tipping is not a custom in China. When in rome, eh? 4th, Lotus root is the thing on the left. If you haven't had it before, it tastes amazing. It looks like an alien plant. It has an amazing ability to absorb flavors of the sauce it's cooked in, while maintaining it's own delicious crunchy texture and saltiness. They have lotus plants all over here; you see them whenever you go near the edge of the lake. The root grows underwater, so what you see on the surface looks like a lilypad.

When we finished lunch, Steven told me that we were going to see the office. OK....So we drove to the office where I met Ms. Tai, Ms. Han, and Mr. Dong. These three and Steven are the people with whom I work most directly. Ms. Tai is the other English teacher, Ms. Han handles all of the student's information, and Mr. Dong and Steven work with the teachers, parents, administration, etc. Mr. Dong and Steven can also speak the best English of anyone I've met, which is basically a servicable amount. These people will probably come up again, just fyi. After I met those three, I met the heads of the department of foreign studies. This was a little awkward, because everyone was all dressed up, and I was wearing my Texas Longhorns T-shirt and my chewed-up Mexico Soccer hat from World Cup '94. I mean, I didnt really know I'd be meeting everyone so quickly...I just thought I'd buy a few things, pick up the materials, and then go back to the apartment...whoops. Anyway so we had a conversation that Steven translated, which was basically us being very respectful and nice to each other. I was told that tomorrow, I'd be meeting the students. Oh, and the school materials hadn't arrived yet, so I wasn't able to plan for classes yet.

Day 2 --

Ms. Tai called me at around 8:10 am to walk me from my apartment (Yinghai Yayuan) to the campus. It took about 45 minutes, and I learned a lot about her. She's never been to an English speaking country, but she's been studying the language for 7 years. What this means is that she can speak better than "Chenglish," but her pronunciation is a little odd and her vocabulary is a little limited. Still, she probably understands English grammar better than most English speakers. Her job was also pretty tough to get, so she's obviously very capable in that area.

Once we arrived at the building, we just sat in the lounge and waited for students to come to us if they wanted to meet us. A few students came in to talk to us, but it was limited. The ones who I did meet were adorable tho, and really wanted to practice speaking with me. Then at around 11, every student had left, so Ms. Tai and I just sat around and talked by ourselves for a while. At 12, lunch was brought to us. Again, the meal was incredible. Fish with peppers, lotus root (yay!), and fried rice. The fish was delicious, but it had all these splinters in it that you could chew into small enough pieces to swallow, but it was annoying to deal with them. Oh right, they were bones. Once I learned that, the meal was the new best meal I'd had so far.

A new wave of students came in at 12:30, and I got to meet some more. Again, many were very enthusiastic and fun to talk to. It winded down around 2:00, and I just sat around again while Ms. Tai talked to the upperclassmen who were in the foreign studies department. I just assumed they were talking about me, cuz they kept glancing over and giggling every once in a while. Then Ms. Tai asked, "when we're done with this, these students want to know if they can take you on a tour of the campus." Having nothing to do, I gladly obliged their request.

They were way better at speaking English than I expected, though. We talked about Kobe, Yao Ming, the olympics, the Steelers, and the university, among other things. They took me to the famous old part of the school, which is just as beautiful as I'd imagined. The image to the right is of the girls' dorms; the picture is taken from the top of the staircase. At the top of the staircase, there is a beautiful library (the next picture). These buildings seem very old, but in fact they were built only about 50 years ago. They (and this university, basically) are a result of one of the social movements that Mao signed into action during his reign (either the 100 flowers, the cultural revolution, I can't remember). Regardless, seeing these buildings floored me. These were the first images I saw when I researched the opportunity, and seeing these really made it clear that what was once a seemingly great and crazy opportunity had actually come to fruition. I don't get those moments very often, so it was really nice to actually have one. I spent more time looking at these than I think the students giving the tour wanted to hehe. When I was finished there, we walked down to the main field (third picture on right), then up the stairs to see the head office (fourth picture). This building is truly a mixture of eastern and western architecture, and was even designed by a Brit.

The students and I then exchanged contact information, parted ways, and headed home. Oh, and I still didn't have access to the school materials.

Day 3--

I was told the day before that I'd meet the rest of the students today. I woke up early, as usual (still not over the jet lag), and surprised myself by arriving on time at the office. After I sent a few e-mails out to the folks, I was told by one of the administrators "So, are you ready to give a speech to the students today?" [Uhhhhhh. no? What the fuck?] "Uhhh sure, how much time do I have!" So I wrote a speech for about 20 minutes, and then we headed out to the student's dorms. Thank god for Model UN.

We came to a warehouse that stored a large heap of wooden miscellany. "OK, here we are." Huh? Oh, they live across from it. It was still very "third world" tho, and in fact I learned later that their dorm used to be a warehouse as well. I also toured their rooms a little. Each one of the rooms holds 9 beds, so I did the math and that means 9 students live in a room. No singles, doubles, quads.. I thought I got the shit end of the stick when I lived in a 5-person suite my freshman year at pitt. I mean I did, but relative to the student's here, I was livin the good life back then. None of their rooms had A/C, btw, which must have been awful during the first couple weeks. It was so humid, and was never under 90 degrees. Anyway I walked around, they all got a kick out of saying "Hello!" to me, and then we walked to a medium sized lecture hall. I also met the president of the university at this time, and he was to give the key note speech before I spoke. This whole situation was so ridiculously unfair it was hilarious to me, even at the time. But I was confident I'd be able to whip up something meaningful. I mean, I could say a whole bunch of complicated sentences that no one could understand, and that would've been received well.

So everyone sat down in the room. The president spoke and I pretended I knew what he was saying, laughed when everyone else laughed, etc. During his speech, I was told by one of my coworkers that she wanted to translate what I was saying, so I had to quickly write the transcript of what I was saying for her. Thus, I had to make it shorter and less fun. Then, I heard the words "Ewen Jenikensuh" and a lot of applause....The president looked at me, signalling that it was my turn to speak. I've done this sortof stuff before -- doing theater and model UN certainly prepares you for these situations. But I also just like adversity, especially when the situations are totally bonkers like this one was. I walked up to the podium. My assistant, however, whom I had written the notes for, didn't come up with me to translate.....sick. So I had basically done that for nothing. I also made the speech shorter for her, so she would be able to translate it better. Well I didn't adjust very well to this, so my speech to the students remained much shorter and less satisfying than I total, the speech probably lasted about 1.5 minutes, and was 6 sentences long. It was satisfactory, but not great, and I wanted to be great.

Of course, it was received with thunderous applause. After the speeches, everyone left and I spoke with Mr. Dong. He told me tomorrow morning would be the medical exams for the work visa. Not good news, but it had to be done. Then I asked Mr. Dong if he had the materials for classes yet, and he said they were to arrive tomorrow. Alright! But I still didn't have access to the materials...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

III. First day in Asia (part 2)

Whoops. Didn't really expect a summary of one day to take up more than one post, but I guess a lot was happening that day.

...So I'd had enough of the magnitude of being in Tian'anmen Square after about half an hour. Did I mention I was in Beijing during the Paralympics? There still was about a 1000:1 Chinese to non-Chinese ratio in the Square. There were also a few interesting... uh diarammas? I guess look at them yourself and judge what definition they belong to, but they were kindof neat (to right). After I took the second picture, I posed for a picture for some random little girl (seriously) and then realized that I was really hungry. Time to accomplish Mission 3 of eating in a McDonald's.

Why McDonald's? Does it seem uncultured? Maybe. Actually, without a doubt yes it does. First off, baby steps ok? Second, I hadnt been to one for a long time. Third, I figured they'd be able to accomodate a tourist like me better than most authentic places. Fourth, I needed a coke real bad, something which they would no doubt provide. Fifth, I wanted to contribute to globalization (no reason there), and finally I wanted to stick it to all the McDonald's haters (again, no real reason for that one either).

I started to walk back from where I came to avoid getting lost. As I neared the Tian'anmen, a girl approached me and asked if I spoke English. This being one of the few people I'd met so far who could perform such a task, I gladly obliged her with a conversation. She said that she was an art student from southern China and could help me find my way around the Forbidden City, if I wanted. It smelled of hustle, so I told her I just wanted to get back to my hotel. However, she said she had some of her art work on display very nearby, and having an interest in Chinese art, I decided to give her work a shot.

She brought me to the exhibit and showed me some of her work, which I thought was very pretty. The exhibit was covered in Chinese paintings, almost all of which were scroll paintings. There were very few weird or modern paintings -- the majority of the pieces were typical monochrome ink paintings of plants or landscape paintings (only with colors). There was a really neat work of calligraphy too, apparently a poem about a scholar advising a king with war strategy. (I remember this actually: the poem was written by the scholar, telling a story about hunting deer that the king was to connect to fighting in battle. Anyway the lesson of the story was not to attack all of the deer at once, because once you attack one, the rest will scurry away from you. If you kill the leading deer, however, the rest of the deer will be disoriented and unsure of where to go, and thus your hunt will become simpler.)

So after she showed me around, she tried to sell me her work, and after a long discussion was succesfully able to do so. This probably counts as being hustled (because it cost 350 RMB), but I really like the art in China and needed to accomplish Mission 2 anyway. Plus, she's an art student in China, so I didn't feel that bad about giving her money. Regardless, the score was now China-1 Jenkins-1 in the hustling department.

My stomach imploding in on itself, mission 3 became the new priority #1. My desire for a coke was tangible. I checked out my McDonald's map: one block ahead there was a street that had three McDonald's on a single block (yeah). This was the obvious choice. It also wasn't on the way I came from, but I was confident I could find my way around by now. On the way I saw a sweet looking gate which people were taking pictures of, so I took a picture of it too. Mission 6 (not looking like a tourist) was failing.

After walking west on Chang'an Avenue for two blocks, I turned right onto Xidan N. Street, i.e. my destination. The first McDonald's I saw was too big-city and crowded for my liking, so I decided to check out the other two candidates on the block. I also came across a big pedestrian walkway, which I thought was pretty cool because it had escalators. I took a picture of the view from the walkway; it was a pretty amazing one I thought (see left). Further down the road was another McDonald's, but I didn't like "the vibe" and resorted to counting on the last one. As I was nearing the end of the block, I was becoming nervous about finding it. Hunger now outprioritizing vibe preference, I decided to rush into the only visibly nearby american fast food place: the dreaded KFC. I don't go to these in the US for the same reason that the McDonald's haters don't go to McDonald's. They just seem like a twisted establishment. Can't really think of any other way to describe them. But I will say this: their KFC snackers are frickin delicious as hell and a pretty good deal. Still twisted though.

I got pretty much what I expected: a bland and guilt-inducing meal. At the least, it was satiating and it wasn't pricey. The coke was definitely the highlight, like it always is. I headed back to the hotel to sit down for a while since I was exhausted as hell. I did pass a neat looking buddhist temple on my way back though, so I strolled through it and kept going. I was going to take pictures because it was really beautiful, but it seemed like an inappropriate thing to do. In fact, just standing there felt like an inappropriate thing to do. It was obviously a really important religious place that everyone there was using for prayer.

Back at the hotel, I told Michael how my day was going. He brought out my suitcase so I could put the paintings I just got inside. Then I just relaxed in a chair for about 20 minutes. I had about 3 more hours at this point. The experience I just had was a pretty exhausting one, both mentally and physically. If I was going to do anything else, it needed to be something much more... quiescent.

I checked out the map to find the nearest temple or park. Labelled about a block away from the hotel, there was a temple that sounded like a perfect place to go: "Temple of the Moon." What a sweet name for a place. I walked over there and found what I was looking for, a relaxing strolling garden. I didn't find any notable buildings, but I did find something I really wanted to see: a wealth of various Chinese plantlife. I'm sure that sounds a little weird, but I like to analyze surroundings of places and how things survive or evolve in a place. Plants are definitely something which tell a story about a place, though perhaps very abstractly. Regardless, I like thinking about that sortof stuff.

I walked around slowly; it was very quiet and peaceful despite being in the middle of the city. People were laying down in the thick grass, which at the time seemed like a very attractive option. But I kept sauntering. A businessman sitting on a bench looked up from his book to say "Hello." This was about the fourth time that had happened to me that day, so I responded politely and thought nothing of it. I strolled a little further down, and saw people playing table tennis and a playing area for children. I turned around and found that the man who'd greeted me minutes earlier was following me. He asked me if I spoke English, and when I replied that I did, asked if he could show me around the park. Hustle? My hustle-sense wasn't tingling. He was dressed very professionally, so I just assumed he was on his lunch break from work. He also just generally seemed like a nice man who wanted to practice his English. The tour he gave me of the garden definitely enhanced the experience. I learned a lot about the different plants, the Chinese names for them, and about the temple's history. I also learned a little bit about how the Chinese struggle with learning English, and how to teach people English words without using their language. One word I remember successfully having taught was "coincidence," since it was pretty coincidental that he found me while he was reading his how-to-speak-Engish book. Anyway I think he was just as happy to give the tour as I was to experience it. This wasn't a hustle at all, just a nice experience with a really nice Beijing citizen.

Here are a few pictures I took of the walk (I'll try to put all of them on facebook):

and the man who gave the tour works here:

After visiting the temple, I decided it was time to leave. I got back to the hotel, said goodbye to Michael for a year (I'll be sending him an e-mail when I return), and then got a taxi to the airport.

Umm...have I mentioned the Beijing airport is huge as fuck? I wish I could explain it better for you. I got a glimpse of this when I arrived because customs was in the main terminal, but damn. When the taxi was approaching the main terminal from afar, the scale of the building totally amazed me. Take a look at the pictures below. Try to appreciate how big it is; these pictures try to do it justice. The first two are the left and right views of what it looked like when I got out of the cab...the one to the right is the really insane view. I'd guess the endpoint of the roof in that picture is close to a mile from where I'm standing.

inside Beijing International Airport:

Nothing out of the ordinary happened from here on. I took that picture from the beginning of post II (with the airplane and the sun), and then flew to Wuhan City. The meal on the trip was incredibly was like beef, green beans and rice, all cooked to perfection. Anyway it blew my expectations out of the water. I arrived at about 10pm, collected my luggage, met my boss and was transported to my new home. First thing I did in the new apartment -- watched TV obviously. Then I went to bed... the next few days would be pretty taxing as well..