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...


Camilo said...

Evan, your blog is fascinating. Also, your relationship analogy was great. Quite a clear explanation for what you are going through. Keep up the updates.

Garrett said...

Pretty awesome stuff man. Quick question - on the picture of your room, I see a TV with some laptop on it... is that a first person shooter on the display? :P

Any chance we can get a rough outline of your awesome speech?

Also, I was wondering - was your freshman year housing really that bad? I thought our senior year was about as bad as it gets in Pittsburgh.

Evan said...

thanks camilo, glad to see you found this

carrot, lol. classic. You know its a fps! And dude the dorm freshman year was kinda crappy yeah; living on Frazier st. senior year was the shit. 1st, u can actually say now that u lived in "a hood." 2nd, it had a washer, dryer, and dishwasher. That's the definition of luxury in oakland. 3rd, it was the single furthest house from campus in South Oakland, hands down. 4th, a dude was killed seven doors away from our house. And not just by chance, someone kicked down his door, came in and fuckin murdered him. Truly legend-worthy.

The speech sucked. Writing about it on the blog was an attempt to make me feel better about it, but the speech was exactly the minimum of what needed to be said... namely hello, good to be here, hope to help u guys out, thanks. My original copy had some thoughts about pittsburgh and my education, but that girl making me translate it really sucked the life out of it (cuz I had to make it translatable for her, i.e. simple).

One more note about the first picture of my can actually see the old library with the girls dorms nestled in the mountain if you look closely enough. Forgot to mention that. And the picture makes things look smaller, remember that's taken from the 18th floor (real high up)

TallE said...

Life was so simple back when there was only one channel to watch. Sometimes I'm not sure if the extra channels are worth the fuss. Then I realize that is a dumb thought.