Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

Turned out to be a great day. I was slow moving in the morning, but was over at Michelle's and Nick's for about 11 (after shaving my head and picking up batteries for my camera). Katy was already over there, so we opened presents before Betty and Ivy arrived. I was a dork and didn't get any for people, but Michelle and Nick got me one, and Michelle got a shared toy for Nick and I: a remote-controlled car. Nick got me a zany Chinese pop-box/song thing. It looks like a barrel of gold coins and this Chinese guy bobs up and down singing a really really annoying song. It's great. All of our stuff made noise so we had worse song/noises competitions.

When Michelle went with Katy to meet up with Ivy, Betty and Jung Lei, Nick and I went to forage at the grocery store. We got: 1 kg of sausages, another pack of 8 eggs, orange juice, two bottles of wine, eight bottles of beer, and mushrooms. Mix that in with the two packs of bacon, 16 eggs, two loaves of bread that Michelle already had and we were set. I cooked up a huge breakfast - with Katy, Ivy and Betty attempting to butter toast (new experience for them) and Nick microwaving scrambled eggs. Nick and I got into one of the bottles of wine. I cooked up the sausages, mushrooms, bacon and did some botched fried eggs. We were working with very poor culinary resources. It was a MacGyver xmas breakfast.

God it was funny watching the Chinese girls and Jung Lei try to eat with forks and knives. They ended up making sandwiches out of everything. Then we made an obstacle-course out of boxes and raced the car around. That fun lasted for a good 40 minutes, then we headed downstairs to Nick's apartment to start the games.

First up... monopoly, another new experience for Betty, Ivy, Jung Lei and Katy. I was teamed with Betty and Ivy, Michelle was with Jung Lei, and Nick was with Katy. At first, Ivy and Betty weren't sure what was going on, but once they got into it, Ivy kept shouting "Pay money!" every time someone moved to a property she thought we had. Betty kept feeling guilty about rolls that landed us on tax squares and trying to get Ivy and I to not buy anything and just amass wealth. It was a good time, but kinda petered out as monopoly does.

We switched to card games, so I taught everyone Crazy 8s. We played a few rounds of that, then tried Go Fish, but I couldn't remember all the rules and that fell apart. So we played Chinese Go Fish (Dao Yu... I think?) which was cool. Kind of like blackjack. Everyone gets 4 cards, and a central card is placed face-up. You have to make 14 out of it with a card you have, then you take the combo for yourself. If you can't, you have to lay one of your cards down so the next person has two options. Also, spades are worth 4 pts, hearts 3, clubs 2, diamonds 1. You tally points once everyone is out of cards in their hand (when the deck is out of cards in the centre). Very fun. We played quite a few rounds. I did horribly. I think Betty got a higher score on our first round than I did in the entire game of 5 rounds.

After that, Jung Lei headed home so Michelle walked with him. Nick and Katy just hung out, chatting, and I played a fishing game with Ivy and Betty. I started cheating by wrapping their fishing pole lines up with mine, and by the end it was "who can keep the others from getting any fish". We had to stop because we were laughing so hard we couldn't breathe.

Then we played Pictionary. Michelle and I had dragged a portable whiteboard from the school the evening before. It was Betty, Katy and I vs Michelle, Nick and Ivy. It was great, and we played for quite some time. We had a few arguments over being exact ("age" vs "aging" for instance) but all in all it was great. Pictionary lasted quite a long time. When Ivy and Betty departed, we played darts for a bit and just hung out. Then we went back to Pictionary since it was going so well.

For supper, we went to a Western restaurant and kind of pigged-out. By the time we finished there, it was almost 10pm, and we called it a night. All in all, a fun day. Everyone had a good time. Can't ask for more than that.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Show

Alright, it was chaotic, but fun.

Things opened up around 3pm, and kids just queued to perform, thanks to Lily's organization. Prior to the show, Nick and I wandered Ke Ji Guan (the Museum of Science & Technology, where the show was being held) and saw some of the stuff. It doesn't hold a candle to Science North in Sudbury, but there were some fun things there, including a cool tunnel version of the "crooked kitchen"... it almost made me vomit I got so dizzy walking through it.

The best part of the night was definitely seeing the kidlets do their thing. And "their thing" ranged from choreographed modern dance, traditional dance (from many different time periods), martial arts, comedy acts, singing, and many assortments of musical instrument playing. I got to see Andy and Jenny from my EL class sing. They were very cute. Jenny followed me around half the rest of the show, and when I was on stage, kept waving and clapping. Most of the uploaded Flickr pictures were taken by Johnson and Angela from my TB 5B class, as they arrived to help but really had nothing to do.

The parents of the kids were horrible. They never clapped for anyone but their own child, so the place was silent except for Michelle, Nick and I clapping enthusiastically. Some of the acts (like the red dancer trio, the boy pianist and the guzheng player) got some hearty applause, and deservedly so. Most of the kids put a lot into this.

As far as the teachers went, the first thing was the Beijing Opera skit with Michelle and Joe, which was quite funny. Second up was Ivy showing us how to make a paper crane, which only Camilla got. Michelle wound up with a triangle, I tore mine to shreds to create a demonic phoenix-esque thinger and I have no clue how Nick, Joe and Andrew did. Not much better, but the kids loved watching us mess about. (I gave Jenny my horrible folded thingy.)

Then Nick had a Santa race (three teams of High Flyers dressing one of their teammates up as Santa), and then I was on with my search for tai ji quan pants skit, which Lucinda, Katy and Angie helped out with. They definitely kicked ass. The kids had a lot of fun with that, as it was all in butchered Chinese and involved them trying to sell me a pair of shorts, a skirt and sweat-pants, respectively. At the end I was trying to haggle with Angie and asking the kids to approve, and I was getting universal dissapproval until I added a piece of candy to the bargaining. It was hilarious watching fifty little hands slowly rise into the air, hoping for the candy. Nick said their faces all dropped when I gave it to Angie to close the deal. It was fun.

No real issues with the show except that it was a bit mad. We almost got lynched at the end when we were doing the final lucky draw for prizes. Poor Lily, though... she worked her ass off for the entire 3 hours. She was so exhausted and dejected afterwards. Got her feeling better at supper, though.

We went for supper at a Brazilian restaurant. We took up half the place. I sat next to Lily and Kelly, the cleaner (who is damn funny and just plain awesome). Nick and Katy were across from me. Everyone opened up their secret Santa gifts, and were generally happy. ... except for Lucinda who I think said "What the hell is this?". I think she got an alarm clock, as did Ivy. Not good things to receive in China, by the way. Traditionally, it means you want the recipient to die. Ivy burst into tears, which I thought was a result of the clock, but she was upset that Joe is leaving. It was his last hurrah. He's heading to Wenzhou tomorrow.

It was a good night, all around. My secret Santa gift was this Swiss Army Knife lighter thing. It looks like some high-tech acetylene torch, with a knife, file, and scissors that come out of the sides of it. Oh, and it has a compass. I certainly did alright. Nick got a baby bottle, which had to be from someone who has been around a while and knows about Nick and Katy. That was funny as hell. He drank wine and beer from it all night. (Takes 5 minutes at a single go to drain a full bottle, by the way.) At least no one got an apple. The Chinese and their apple giving at Christmas. It means prosperity and health, but the idea of getting an apple as a gift is just weird. Xiang Li gave Camilla and I one each when we went for supper. It was like "Ahhh awesome. I've always wanted... fruit."

Now to get some sleep, teach two classes tomorrow, and wake up to Christmas.

Edit: having issues uploading to Flickr the 50-some photos from tonight. Will get that up there soon.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Terrors of baijiu

God, do I ever have a love/hate relationship with Chinese spirits, called baijiu. It's like vodka/sambuca... 38% or higher. I ought to have guessed it'd be a rockin' supper when Xiang Li hauled two massive bottles - plus a veritable suitcase containing two more bottles - of it out of his truck. I love how you can take almost anything into a restaurant.

This is in reference to the supper I "owed" my Budweiser VIP, by the way. And yes... writing this, I'm still heavily under the effects.

There's this place in Tang Shan that I've always wondered about. It's actually just around the corner from me. I mean, literally 200 meters away, down a side-street. The restaurant is all white and gold, with fancy-dressed staff and tonnes of seafood tanks in the main lobby. I've walked past it a number of times, but tonight... we ventured within. We had a side room, and by 7pm, there were 10 of us in there. Thankfully I roped Camilla into coming with me or I might have been bombarded with ganbei's and a tonne of questions I couldn't understand/answer.

The assorted folks were friends of Xiang Li's, including a financial business owner from Shanghai, a "secretary" (there's no way she was anything but a consort dressed- and made-up like she was, intelligent though she seemed to be), a self-made man, and the local CCP head of "department of discipline" supervision and enforcement. Basically, anyone in the local CCP steps out of line, and he and his dept step in to set them straight. This guy was smoking 120 yuan/pack smokes and commanded the place like nothing I've ever seen. The baijiu was flowing like ummm... wine... and though I tried to steer clear, I had about 3.5 glasses of it. And two beers.

I'm sorry, but the Chinese put every other culture to shame when it comes to celebratory toasts and getting wasted at events. I was toasted for being a teacher, a friend to Xiang Li, sitting near the head minister of punishment (or whatever), for being there with another teacher (Camilla), for being Xiang Li's teacher, for having supper, for gracing them with my balding presence, for being "handsome" (what the fuck?!)... jesus. We went through the four bottles of baijiu fast. The food was awesome, and plentiful in the extreme. It was the most expensive supper I've ever had, and I shudder to know what the bill ended up being. No doubt half of my monthly salary, I don't doubt. We had whole crabs for dessert, for chris'sake!

Ended up getting a lift from my VIP which was a bit scary, as baijiu laden as he was. However, I've never seen a more girly driver than him when sober, so he was simply a usual Chinese driver when drunk. I wouldn't have driven with him, but hey... it honestly can't be worst than most drivers here. All was well and there were no incidents. It wasn't the wisest thing to do, but Camilla and I all but pleaded to be allowed to take a taxi. Honour and the guest-right wouldn't allow it. He'd lose face if he let us do that, as our host.

Tomorrow is the Xmas Show... and it should be a wondrous cluster-fuck. We had a meeting today, and found out that contrary to our plans, people will be showing up around 3pm. Also, there are 57 student performances. WHAT - THE - FUCK? I mean, honestly. We have two hours, and with every performance being restricted to 2 minutes, you figure out what 57 goddamn performances equals. Never mind dragging a guzheng on stage or some other random instrument or what-have-you, doing sound set-up, introducing performers, etc. It'll be a funny kind of hell.

Christmas is looking to be worse than Halloween, but I don't care. I'm just doing my bit and will laugh at the rest. I have to do a skit to find tai ji pants... and try to make a big paper origami something or other. And supervise students wrapping someone up as a Christmas tree. It'll be insane and unstable, the whole show. I can't wait. I embrace the insanity.

Now I need to down about a litre and a half of water before hitting the hay.

This is such a scattered post.

PS: in Batman Begins, he is in a Chinese prison. Can't remember who I argued with about that, but Christian Bale says "Wo bushi zuifan". ("I'm not a criminal.") So score 1 me.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas, Past and Present

Definitely a bit of a difference between how I felt about Christmas when I was 4 (left) versus how I feel about it now. Obviously, I loved getting presents of the He-Man, Transformers, LEGO, GI Joe, ThunderCats, GoBots, Star Wars variety back then. Nowadays I have more fun buying gifts for people and seeing/imagining their reactions.

That said, I'm not sure how I feel about this Christmas. Christmas in Tang Shan... just sounds like a weird juxtaposition. I guess part of it is that I have very little time to ponder and anticipate. We have our school's Christmas Party on Saturday, in the Museum of Science and Technology downstairs, then a Christmas supper that night, then a full day teaching on Sunday, then Christmas. With Alistair and Duncan gone (and Camilla in Beijing) it will be Nick, Michelle and myself along with a few of the assistants (I hope). If not, I will just spend a quiet day by myself, maybe go to Tianjin and wander some of the old culture streets and visit the museum to Huo Yuanjia. I'm just not in the mood for abiding Nick if he's in one of his slumps.

Christmas just doesn't feel like anything this year. It feels like a day I ought to be looking forward to, but am not. Part of how Christmas will be depends on how Nick decides to act. Will he be or pretend to be a human being, or will he be a moody prick? Beijing duck isn't really a substitute for my mom's turkey and stuffing and potatoes and carrots and gravy and lemon merange pie! Also, Christmas really is more about having a bit of time off and being with people you care about. While I like the people I work with, it seems like a very poor exchange. Part of Christmas is all the little things that cause those "yay!" twinges in your brain: my parents waking up the morning of, making coffee, pouring orange juice, my mom baking cinnamon buns, my brother having to be prodded out of hybernation, etc. first before anyone approaches the tree. How my parents settle with little smiles into their chairs around the tree while my brother and I dole out the presents to everyone. (We start by sorting everyone's stuff first, then piling them at the recipient's feet, then unwrap them one by one... it's like Canada Post Christmas!)

Anyhoo. Time will tell how I'm feeling about Christmas this year. It's very weird seeing shops with xmas decorations all over, and no one celebrates it here. Well, that's not true. Some families do, or use it as an excuse to give gifts. Like most people, the Chinese love an excuse to celebrate with family and friends.

Tonight I have my Budweiser VIP lesson and I've finally relented to his pestering me about taking me out for supper and drinks. I hope I can rope in Michelle and/or Nick to come with me. Otherwise, it could be a very dull and trying time with him no doubt continuing to try to plan my Christmas. At least I will have an excuse to turn in early: my Early Learner class is at 9am, and I need to be in for 8:20am or so to double-check materials and prep.

I'll try to get one of my TB 5Bs to take pictures at the Christmas Party. Almost all of them volunteered to help, but there isn't much for them to do, so I'll put one on camera duty. Should be a fun night. I can't wait to see the spoof of the Beijing Opera.

So Merry Christmas, all! Eat some turkey and drink some wine for me.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

To Send a Box...

Here's the story of why I'll never again send anything overseas from China.

Last week, I had my box of xmas presents all ready to send, but wasn't able to go to China Post due to having a class and the post office closing. Michelle, kind heart and friend that she is, went for me with Lily to translate. No go. They wanted receipts.

On Saturday, I bought three different kinds of generic receipt pads, and the girls at work made some up for me, each doing a different one. Today, Katy and I hit China Post... and were there for 2 hours. The first time. The gritty details:

Issue number one: receipts. I had one that I'd kept, but only had the made-up ones otherwise. When I told them I'd bought half of the gifts in Chengde and Datong (a slight exaggeration) and when they saw (but did not read) the other receipts in my hand, they relented. Phew.

Issue number two: I couldn't use regular post. I had to send using EMS, Expedited Mail Service (I think). This brought about........

Issue number three: they wouldn't use the box I had. They, instead, had to charge me 35 yuan and transfer everything into a China Post box, which took 30 minutes for them to do since they tried to over-wrap everything in toilet-paper and half the things didn't fit back in their boxes. ... so then they had to undo the wrapping. Once that was done, I had to cut out the address stickers to place on the new box, the main one of which they half-concealed using China Post-marked packing-tape.

Issue number four: internet failure and translation issues from the info slip to the computer. As the lady (one of three involved, of course) was entering my info onto the computer, the internet went down. That's right: the whole thing. I'm sure you heard about it - Bill Gates was weeping, Google stock dropped 23.4%. (kiddin') Chinese ISPs are problematic at best. Also, apparently capital letters and clear writing wasn't enough to transition my personal information to the computer. They had to ask for the spelling. I'm not sure if they even looked at the slip in front of them with all of it written there.

Issue number five: a second visit. As a result of issue number four, I had to go back an hour and a half later, rushing to meet Katy at the school and taxi down there to make it before close so they could ship that night. Which meant I had to leave the parcel there in between. The place looked like the back room of a shady gambling parlour. They said if I took it with me, they'd have to re-open everything and go through it all... even if it was the same three ladies helping me. Weeeeeee

Issue number six: contents recording and translation. I had to write down exactly what was in there, and then try to remember what those things were. It ended up being 9 things (I hope), and Katy had to translate what they all were into Chinese for the packing slip. That wasn't too too bad, but I hope their assurances that a bag with two things in it count as 1 item are true... otherwise this box'll never make it out of China.

Issue number seven: it cost a small fortune due to having to send it via EMS and not regular post. Regular post is about 10 yuan per kilo. ... EMS is 85 yuan per kilo, or thereabouts.

To summarize: it took them examining everything in the box very carefully, false receipts, a new box I had to pay for, an over-abundance of toilet-paper wrapping and other packing silliness, contents translation, internet failure, three clerks, a chunk of my monthly pay, and over two hours across two visits to get it done.

I consoled myself with a few DVD purchases (I'm up to 110 DVDs, total). And now... to sleep I go, hopeful that around the second or third of January, the box will arrive in Canada in one piece, with all its contents.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Greatest response to spam ever

Just got an email from a good and old friend, and it contained a quite a gem. Everyone has gotten emails termed Nigerian email scams (people wanting your personal info to send you money... yeah), as well as identity theft attempts and every other sort of crappy email junk. Well, my new hero, writing under the name Okershee Holdergrass, had correspondence with his 'hopeful'. Let's look at a few priceless morsels, shall we?

Okershee's response to the primary email:

Place your trust in the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY. With a little faith, perhaps you may be spared from the horrifying death that awaits those with CANCER OF THE LUNGS. As for me, my LORD GOD forbids me from seeking wealth. You may stick your money up the ORIFICE of your CHOICE. But please, when you meet our maker, tell him that Okershee is at his service.

God bless you, and may you find a deserving beneficiary.

Rebuttal from She Who Suffers? Indeed!

My relation that i am supposed to give out this funds to poisoned my parents and the same time tried to kill me but God secured my life that period but the sudden death of my parents led me to this deadly habit (CHAIN SMOKER) that i am suffering today.My health is seriously tormenting and will give up soonest that is the main reasons why i want you to take possession of these funds for charitable purpose.Kindly Send me this information, Your full name, your contact address, your mobile phone number to enable me forward them to the cargo company for release of the cargo in your favour.Thanks and may God bless you for being there for the poor children.

Okershee responds with a message of hope!

But wait - THERE IS HOPE! I have in my possession an ELIXIR or potion of healing herbs and spices, given to me by a holy vagrant. I have saved it for my dying father, perishing of the crotchrot. But i feel God informing me to send it to you, my lovely sister in Christ. I sense in you a wonderful righteousness and titillation, while my father is a wicked man given to sex-sin and philately.

But you, i know, would use your moneys for the appreciation and enjoyment of little children, for the eternal glory of Christ (AMEN). So i will send this powerful potion to you my sister. Please kindly send your contact address and mobile phone number so we may arrange a delivery.

There is more, of course... those are but snippets. It's just fantastic. Sir... you truly are a wonder and a credit to sarcasm and imaginative sardonic retaliation. Reading that really made me smile. This parting line truly deserves some sort of immortal praise: "I will feed you filbert nuts by candlelight. I will sing you Berber folk songs. I will bathe you with silken cloths and frothy goat milk. I will perform your last rites. And you will perish in agony, but also in delight. With rotting lungs but a soaring heart."

One of the greatest email exchanges ever.

Nothing really new here in Tang Shan. Hopefully sending out xmas gifts tomorrow. That's about the highlight. Can't wait to get that all sent off. Our plans for our school Christmas show is coming along well. Should be a laugh. We're holding it in the Museum of Science and Technology on the 23rd, and it will be full of fun skits including my on-going quest for tai ji pants, Nick doing a magic show, Michelle along with Joe and Camilla doing a rendition of Beijing Opera, Lily juggling, a modified version of The 12 Days of Christmas... the list goes on.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Another week, another kuai

<---- my TB 5B class (none absent!)

Since starting to work here, I have a new-found love of Sundays.

Yesterday I had my first of forty classes with my early learner kidlets. There were seven of them, six boys, one girl. All of them were great except for one kid who looked like he'd been stuffed by a blind taxidermist and propped up in a seat. He was so blank it was kind of funny in a sad sort of way. I did "Hello! What's your name?" chain around the room, having the students asking and answering. When it got to him, he just sort of stared and Lily had to prompt him. It reminded me of someone with stage-fright - someone so freaked out he couldn't even whisper "line!!".

They're so very cute, those kids. I have one boy who must love his name a lot. You say hello to him and he jumps up and cries "Hello Andy!". Ask him "What's your name?" and he, again, pops up and says, "Hello Andy!".

While it's fun, it's also a helluva lot of work. If you pause for 3 seconds, you have to spend 30 to get them re-focused and back on track. Poor Lily has her work cut out for her. Early learner classes should have two assistants, but she'll be the only one. Rudy was helping for a bit, though, which was awesome. Some things take so long... one hour just isn't enough time. Giving homework and making sure they put the worksheets in their folders can take 10 minutes alone since you basically have to do it with them on an enlargement. You also have to get them moving and doing things while you mess around with flashcards or whatever on the board or around the room. There are numbers and letters on the floor, so I'd just go "Okay, everyone stand up. Hmmm... WHERE'S GREEN?!" and they'd all race around as I scramble to arrange resources for the next portion of the class. "FIND 4! Where's 4?" etc. Andy almost dropped his pants when I asked "Where's red?". Apparently he has red long-johns. LOL Lily caught him before he could, though. Going to class, I look like Leon (sans tuque, plant and sunglasses) with my massive case of resources: tapes, flashcards, roll-up laminated printing lines, pictures of Noddy and his pals, laminated worksheet enlargements, activity cards, etc.

I didn't have another class til the afternoon, which was my class of 14-15 year olds (class picture above). The unit topic is Movies, so we had a blast with that. I'd just gone out the day before and bought a few DVDs, so I brought the sleeves in. Their homework was "The Last Starfighter... what do you think the plot could be?". One girl (the one on the far right in the photo) came up with a brilliant plot that would make a kick-ass movie: it was basically The Big Lebowsky meets Hard-Boiled. They discussed agreement/disagreement, and brought back Making Excuses from last unit, and did interviews with one another in the future progressive (hard as hell). Had a lot of fun with it, anyway.

Then... had 1.5 hours of "English Corner", which is basically a social style venue where conversive Chinese chat with foreigners. It was at the hotel near the school, and we ate for free, which was alright. However... the restaurant was playing "The Sound of Music" on a big screen... which was not okay. Actually had fun, though. It was the DoS, Michelle and I there with four Chinese university students.

Today was mostly crap. My morning TB 2B class just sort of went "bleh" at the beginning... and it didn't really turn around. They have a show class (*cough* I have a show class *cough*) in 4 weeks. That'll be a blast... a 1-hour "this is what your kids learned" class (which could go completely to shit if they freeze up or just don't focus) and then parent meetings. Then I observed Nick's 6-7 year olds. I will be getting the same level class as he has next Saturday or Sunday. Should be alright, but my hours are booked solid at the moment. After that, I had my other TB 2B class, and I think I've hit the limits of their abilities. They were dubbed a problem class when I took them over 9 weeks ago, but I had hope. I still retain some hope... but not a great deal. They spent 45 seconds attempting to locate Canada on a map, placing it in every continent (including Antarctica) before choosing the right country. They only got it because they were running out of countries after Uzbekistan and Finland. I was just relieved when they got China right off the bat. ... then one kid points out Argentina. What the hell?! They can't find the US, but this guy knew where Argentina is. Quite funny.

Anyway... the weekend is over. Now I can look forward to two days off, then right back to the grind. This week I'll have a lot more planning to do with these two new classes. Oh, and I might be playing street hockey with a university club on Tuesday. My VIP university students invited me to play with them, so we'll see how I'm feeling when Tues rolls around.

That's it for now. Hope everyone had a good weekend!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Kidlets Incoming!

My school schedule has changed radically since yesterday. Tomorrow, I have a new class: early learners (ages 4-5) and next week I start a starter class for kids ages 6-8. Should be fun, and it will add some very welcome variety to my current weekend line-up which is all pre-teens and teens. I may also get a weekend adult class, and my first 2-student conversation VIP class is happening today. That one should be relaxed - two university students who just want conversation exercises and excuses to chat in English.

So yeah... I'm looking forward to those, but I still have a lot of planning to do for this weekend. The lesson plan for the very little youngin's alone is 7 pages... for a one-hour class. Talk about pedantic. It should be fine, though. I've covered these kids for the DoS before, and they're pretty good. One of them is a spacial genius. I gave him a puzzle of shaped wooden blocks that you have to arrange so they all fit together. He did it in like ten seconds. Also, I'll have Lily as my assistant, and she's good about classroom control. I also get paid to act like a goof. The goofier and more spontaneous the better with kids that age.

I need to finish up xmas shopping on Monday or Tuesday and send stuff out. Does anyone else find that Christmas seems to approach faster and more silently every year?

Oh, forgot that I hadn't updated from the post below where I said I was going for the interview meeting at the university a few weeks back. I didn't take it, though the contract was good. The main issue was losing out on 5,000 yuan which I'll get from my current school once my contract is ended (half my round-trip flight ticket reimbursed). That doesn't seem like a great reason, but 5,000 is about a month's pay and more importantly... covers a quarter of the cost of my trip around China in April. Also, we have a new DoS in two weeks' time, and the change will be welcome, I think.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Debauchery in Beijing

Quite a night in Beijing.

Alistair and I arrived around 3:30pm, with the plan to meet Duncan on Wangfujing Street at 5pm. The two of us wandered down, taking a short-cut through the Orient Plaza, which is a nice mall on one of the main drags. As we approach the locator map of the mall, this Chinese student immediately homes in on us. They're like friendly parasites in Beijing, and they're almost always women in Arts programs at university. She was a Philosophy major named Rose. She offered to show us around a bit, and we had nothing else to do, so off we went. Alistair wanted to hit up a DVD/music shop. He went off to do his browsing while Rose and I chatted about Chinese movies, actors and directors. She recommended a few directors to me, and suggested checking out a movie called "Letter From an Unknown Woman". I found that there and bought it to watch with Angie when I get back.

On Wangfujing Street, she went her way, and we went ours. Fun to meet new people, even briefly. All they want is to use their English with a foreigner, though you sometimes have to be careful they don't talk you into a drink someplace and slap the bill on you... which could be extremely pricey if you've walked into a swank tea house or coffee shop.

Alistair and I then headed to the Foreign Bookstore. Before that, I did a price check on a piece of camera electronics for my dad, and the lady started asking me to make an offer. I kept saying "Wo bu yao" (I don't want it) to which she replied "Make me an offer". So wrote down 2100 yuan. She glares at it and says "NO! Can't make any money from that." ... some people's kids.

I bought a Chinese-English dictionary and "The Count of Monte Cristo" in the store, and we went across the way to McDonald's to get a small hamburger while waiting for 5pm to roll around. When it did and Duncan still wasn't there, we tried to get my phone card to work. We must have looked like complete morons. No workie, and we spent like 10 minutes with the damn thing. So we went to the hostel, checked in and called Duncan on his cell from there.

Anyway... we hooked up with Duncan at the hostel at 6:30... he was a tad late. Then we grabbed a beer in the Backpackers' Club and went to the Sichuan restaurant that Steve, Nika and I had tried in October. Good food, good times. We even had the same waitress, which was funny. We had another beer there, and headed for Sanlitun.

First stop... Kai Club, this little place off behind the main street that played trance/techno sort of stuff. We lounged about on crap couches for two or three drinks, pondered a strange painting of a naked Chinese guy lying down on his front with a bullfrog leaping over him (or possibly out of him...), then packed it in and wandered farther along.

Bar Blu was next on our list, but before that, Alistair and I checked out a great 24-hour DVD shop across the street. I bought "The Machinist", "On the Wings of Desire" (movie that "City of Angels" is based on), "Old Boy", "Hotel Rwanda", "Tsotsi", "Lost In Translation", and "O Brother Where Art Thou?". I think I'm now up to... well, almost 90 DVDs. I've bought approx 60 here.

We had quite a few drinks in Bar Blu, and watched some cricket and football (English football). Alistair explained the mysteries of cricket, and it's actually quite a cool sport. It gets a bad rep for being boring, and maybe the 5-day games can be boring (Alistair says "strategic") but the 1-days are pretty cool. The bathroom was quite nice. It was like an aquarium 'trench' urinal. At least it was nice until some Chinese guys stumbled in to ummm... expess his body's displeasure at the amount of alcohol he'd consumed. That was our signal to continue stumbling onwards, so we hopped in a cab and headed for Suzie Wong.

Suzie Wong has a feel like a remodeled 1920s opium den. It's quite lavish, with friendly and knowledgeable staff, decent drink lists, and tonnes of atmosphere. I abandoned beer in favour of whiskey sours. (Turned out to be a big mistake around 4am, but I digress.) There was a party of 20 or so near us, so we stayed on the same floor and didn't head up to the loft area. They were all from Paris, doing a one-year roaming something-or-other. They were Economics students. They'd been to Shanghai for three months (I think), were in Beijing for ten days, and were headed to New York for six months. They were blowing cash like nothing. Absinthe, champagne, towering glasses soaked in alcohol that they set fire to, blah blah blah. They must have spent 3,000-5,000 yuan there, easy.

Anyway, when Alistair and Duncan decided to carry on to Mick's, I decided to cut myself off (which I ought to have done at Bar Blu) and head back to the hostel. It was, at this point, 2:45am. I had a very very rough morning, the details of which I will skip. The first point I felt semi-decent was when we got onto the bus back to Tangshan and passed out for 2 hours. That was at 12:30pm, so yeah... it was a harsh morning. Alistair and Duncan had it slightly better, but they got less sleep. They stumbled in at 5:30am. They also passed out on the bus.

Quite a night. Part of the plan had been to get up at 10:30 this morning and hit Wou Hei hutong and have lunch and do some shopping before coming back to Tangshan. Well, that got scrapped since we looked and felt like zombies this morning. All in all, it was a great night, and there is lots of photographic evidence...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Week in Review

I'm off to Beijing tomorrow with Alistair and Duncan, and I think Michelle. I need to send a whack of cashola back to Canada, and need to check for a Chinese-English book and buy a few things for xmas to send back. I have a few things already. Ever had that "Oh my god... this item is PERFECT for so-and-so!" moment? I had one today. I'll grab it for my dad for sure. I'm not sure he'd use it that much, but I know he'd love having it. Now to find something that really cries out to me for my Mom.

This week has been a little rocky, like watching that scene in "Pi" where what's-his-name has his migraines and the camera goes nuts. It's been like watching the world around me shake and quiver with no ability for me to do squat about it. (Speaking of shaking... we had a minute earthquake here this morning at 12:35am... lasted six seconds, but was easily felt!)

First, things have not been going well for very very close friends of mine, and I fucking hate that I can't do something, even if it's only give them a hug and treat them to a beer overwhich I could listen and be vented at. I loathe the feeling of utter helplessness, but that's where I'm at. I can only hope my emails can contain enough of "me" to be of some worth.

The other thing revolves around poor Betty, the new teaching assistant. Lovely girl - shy, friendly and above the usual juvenile female Chinese gossip-mongering and silliness. Well, on Thursday she was accused of stealing 100 yuan from Katy... $17. Everyone stacked on her. I didn't see it, but Alistair (not knowing at the time what had happened) said he saw her in the teachers' room crying that night whilst the rest of the TAs were on the other side of the room maliciously ignoring her.

Heard about it all from Nick on Friday at lunch. I was some pissed. I guess I've always sided with the underdogs. Since I know Katy well I talked to her first, telling her about Camilla's issue with a workman being in her room moving things. Workmen have been all over the school engaged in huge overhauls that our over-zealous DoS felt were necessary. Very likely one of them nabbed the money from the cabinet, but Betty, being new, got the shaft. I told Katy what I thought of the entire affair, the end result being Katy ending up a bit chagrined. Somewhat pissed and upset at things happening beyond my sphere of control in other areas, I took a stance with this. I spoke with Betty after that, supporting her and talking to her about things. Poor girl was on the verge of tears seeing someone on her side. I just wanted to hug her, but talk about tossing napalm into a fire...

She seems to be doing better now, as I spoke with her again today to see how she was feeling. If she gets any more shit, I'm going to stand up and declare that I stole the money. When Katy or another TA says "What?! Really?" I'll say "No, it was Lucinda" and get them all over fucked up over it, then lay into them as they deserve. Childish prats. My 12-year-old kidlets wouldn't sink this low and cruel. Leave it to a close-knit bunch of 23-26 year old Chinese women, however...

Anyhoo... I've done my good deed. Just hope it's helped. At the very least, Betty now feels she can talk to myself and Michelle if something like this happens again. Sad but true... one teacher can win an argument or grievance vs 7 assistants combined. We're simply worth more than they are, in the Chinese mind, so if it comes to an administrative look at the situation, I win. I plan to use that to my full advantage when/if needs be. This shitty behaviour and attitude affects everyone. We have a very symbiotic and fragile little bubble-world going here, and one thing can set everything off pretty fast.

Not much happening in my own life, to be honest. Had a really good Chinese lesson on Saturday night. My classes are good, but one of my TB classes has been cancelled permanently. I find I really rely on my kids to pick me up if I'm feeling tai bu hao or kun le ("not too good" and "tired" respectively), and boy can they deliver. Nothing like walking into a room to a bunch of little faces that suddenly light up, turn your way and cry out "Hello, Teacher!" or "Good morning, Teacher!". It can't help but make me smile.

Oh, I found out Chow Yun Fat's Chinese name (and no, that's not it strangely enough). It's Zhou Run fa (Joe Roon faah). Well... I now own "Hard-Boiled" (got it for $1). I also got a copy of "District B-13" with English subtitles. Weee!! Now if I could only find "The Last Starfighter"...

That is all. Pictures of Beijing antics will be incoming. Also, I'll take a few more shots of my classes. I have a TB class closing up soon and I want to get a class picture of them before that.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Busy Day

Today Alistair, Nick and I toured the Tang Shan brewery, where they make Tung beer. Our students at the brewery - directors, managers and the boss himself - invited us yesterday.

It was a lot of fun. We met up with two of them and a driver at the school at 10:45am, then were taken to the brewery, which is more or less behind where Alistair and I live, a bit to the north and east. We were greeted by a few of our other students, and shown to the owner's office. I was offered an extremely expensive cigarette (one pack of twenty is 150 yuan) and we chatted as our various other students were assembled. I got to see where my student, a finance manager, worked (holy nice office). Then we were given hats and safety glasses, and off we went.

We hit the room for the mash boiler, rice cooker, and Launter mixer first. A pretty sterile room that Alistair noted "looks like a Bond villain lair", complete with control room with bright toggles, buttons and switches. Since they weren't in production at the time, we were able to pop open the hatches to the five tanks and peer down into them.

Then we went below to see all the mechanical works. Terry Gilliam would have had a field day with all the ducts and pipes. Then we saw the fermentation tanks, and the filtration and cleaning areas of the brewery. Very cool. Like vast rooms of sexy stainless steel. Apparently, they make up to 500 tonnes of beer a day in peak (read: summer) times. Pipes, pipes and more pipes. It was quite something to see. So much goes into beer-making... everything from a centrifuge to separate bacteria from the fermented beer to a machine that turns hard-water soft. We didn't get to see the bottling lines since they weren't going at the time.

After the one-hour tour, we all walked south a block or two to a "famous" restaurant - famous apparently for dumplings. We all filed into a quiet room and a case of beer was popped open. Thus began the biggest early afternoon drunk since 1999 (for me). It was non-stop gan bei's and toasts/thanks. I had a few new dishes today: cow stomach (chilled), jellyfish (chilled) and sole. We also had crab, pork, mogu (mushrooms), two types of shrimp, two other kinds of fish, dumplings, a few chicken dishes, spare-ribs, about six other dishes, and beer, beer, beer. Dear god... I have no clue how these guys went back to work after that. Nick had five bottles (720 ml), Alistair and I each had three, plus I shared a 4th with my student, Xiang Li. Nine of us finished off a case of twenty-four Tung plus six more.

I'll post later tonight, also, since we have our first work social event happening: bowling. Everyone will be there, which means 8 teachers (6 of us minions + the DoS + our new DoS, Andrew, from Qinhuangdao), 3 Sales, 6 assistants, 1 accounts manager and the coordination manager. I'm with Duncan, Julia (coord manager) and Betty, a new assistant who helps me out for one class. It should be fun, and I plan on taking many more pictures.

I just hope there isn't any beer...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Sorry, bit of a lapse in blog posts there.

There hasn't been much happening, and yet there has been. I'm copying and pasting (with edits and omissions) from a long email sent to a friend, since I can't honestly be bothered to try to remember the minutiae of the last three weeks.

Tomorrow, I have an "interview" with the university dean for languages (or whatever the title is). All I know is that I'm not sure I want a switch, though I'd enjoy the university's holidays... which are quite good. I haven't had a chance yet to speak to my tai ji quan masters. I just don't know who I can trust to translate for me. I think I'll go Thursday night and give it a shot with the doctor who goes to tai ji quan. His English is decent, and I just want to see what rough offer they can make.

So I have one opportunity lined up, with another as a potential. The 'potential' is the one I'm most interested in, that being with my tai ji quan masters and having the maximum chance for a "real" China experience with travel and immersion.

Work hasn't been too bad this week. I've wound up with this rich lady - about 30 years old, if that - as a VIP. She offered me a smoke in class (1-on-1) which was funny. She's going to Vancouver in a few weeks, and just wants vocab and useful phrases for airports, shopping, restaurants, etc. She's kinda cool, an in all honesty not hard to look at, if a bit flakey. My other VIP is Mary, one of my 12-year-olds from TB 2B. She is MC'ing an English competition in late January, and needs to boost her English and public speaking confidence a bit. She has always been very quiet, but she spoke for almost 40 minutes straight about everything from playing piano to what classes she enjoys, to what her brothers and sisters do and what she thinks about China. Very cute kid. I keep forgetting to take pictures of my classes. I need to do so.

On Sunday I had parent interviews with parents of my TB 4A class... it was horrible. "How is my child compared to the rest of the class?" "Are they better?" "Why isn't my child's English perfect?" "Can I offer you a few suggestions on teaching? Well, first..." Blah blah fucking blah. One actually tried to shanghai the class reports of the other students. The Chinese sales girl almost gave them up and I said "No no NO." Fucking christ... I am not looking forward to my TB 2B show class in 7 weeks...

They don't care about their kids really except how theirs can have the best marks and be in the highest level. It makes me ill. These poor kids already have so much pressure on them, and are in school for like 8-10 hours a day, usually 6 days a week. I really just wanted to say "I don't fucking care what you do... it's your kid. I want no hand or thought in how you handle this because I want no part in how your child becomes more fucked up as a result of this meeting." It was so demoralizing. You get close to these kids to a certain extent, and after the first round of meetings I walked in to that class and just felt this aching sympathy. I wanted to hug them, even the little shitbags (of which I don't have many). Poor things. They have NO time at all to do anything except daydream and hope that their lives will be worthy of their parents' pride now and in the future.

Two of my students have been withdrawn from the school... so I'm losing two good students, and another two won't start up TB 4B (the next level). It really makes me sad, and angry because their parents have made this choice against my strong recommendations and realities of their kids' knowledge of English. I feel like they're being taken away from me. Susan, Kevor, Fanny, Bright... christ. Half the parents wanted their kids to re-sit TB 4A, and I wanted to hit them. It was really frustrating, and one of my lowest points in school as a teacher. Thankfully, I more or less walked into my low-ability TB 2Bs afterwards, and their silly enthusiasm and guileless enjoyment made me smile. I really love these kids, and I hate what they have to go through - what their lives are like day-to-day. Though Lucy is getting a little much. She slapped my ass. ... and she's 11 (going on 20). Scary. A few classes ago she was asking if I was married, what's my phone number, where do I live... funny, yet not at all.

Otherwise I'm doing alright. I bought a Chinese chess set. The game is fantastic. It's ten times better than Western chess. You can block opponents, some pieces can jump others, there is a 'kingdom', a 'river' and some pieces can operate differently depending where they are. It's freakin' awesome. For instance, a zhou (soldier - pawn) can cross the river (middle of the board) and then start moving sideways. Shi (advisors - bishops) can only move diagonally within the 'kingdom' on your side of the board, the pao (bomb) can attack from anywhere in a straight line so long as it can jump a piece (yours or the enemies) to strike an enemy piece, the ma (knight) can be blocked from moving forward if there is a piece in front of it. The elephant can move in large diagonals (two squares at a go). It's amazing. Lily and Katy are teaching me. Katy whoops my ass, and Lily usually beats Katy. There are men in the parks who play a single game over hours. It's so damn cool.

Chinese checkers is also superior to Western checkers, I think. You don't take any pieces 'out'. You just use them to jump from your start pyramid to the other side of the board (board looks like the star of David). So it's very strategic in terms of limiting your opponents' moves through the middle of the board and maximizing which of your pieces can jump as far as possible on the backs of the other players. Three can play at once. It's great.

Learning those two games on Friday has been the highlight of my week, to be honest, and I got a chance to get to know Lily better. I know Katy quite well, but haven't spoken too much to Lily.

Tai ji quan is going pretty well. I haven't advanced too far because there was a combination of moves that I was having issue with. Though doing them for three hours that one night might have simply mentally exhausted me. It's this defensive set of movements, just repeated with some differences four times, in two directions. Figured it out tonight, and moved a bit farther along. Also adjusted how I approach my other movements, thanks to a good friend of the master's. Not sure if he's a teacher, but he has been mentoring a few of the advanced students, showing them application of tai ji quan as a fighting art. He's quite good. Anyway, I started turning my head more and leaning into some of the moves, which has had a great effect on how how my body shifts and adjusts. Also started moving as though I was fighting multiple others. That helps it all make sense and come together. I had been wondering about this one move where you just bring your fist down into your palm, but you're dragging an opponent forward and snapping something or other, and then brushing him/her aside in the next movement(s), then snapping someone's arm and pushing them back. Etc.

Anyway, that's it for now, I guess. Another work week looms. ... yay.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

This Week: Thus Far

Me thinks me be blocked from my blog. Again. I can't get to it to respond to comments but I'm still getting them via email, so it's all good. Carry on!

Not too much to report on. Still sick, but getting over it. Slowly... Still haven't been to tai ji quan since last week. I'm contemplating going tonight, but I forgot my tuque in Ottawa, and am currently hatless. Given it's 10 degrees at the moment, with a bit of a nippy wind, I think I'll have to opt out or find myself in worse shape tomorrow. Practiced for about an hour this afternoon, though.

Got a cute email from my Chinese teacher, in response to my cancellation email on Saturday:

Dear Patrick, Are you feeling better now? What kind of medicine are you taking now? This season it is likely to catch a cold. Be careful and eat some pear which is good for your cough, and drinking chicken soup is useful for respiratory organs. Your "hanyu" is good. I am happy to teach you Han Yu for you bring me happy elements.

Made me smile. Happy elements indeed! (I really need to stop bringing xenon and tungsten to class...)

Last night, I had my business English class... with both my Director of Studies and the Director of Academics, North China, observing. Of course, they just had to choose the first class that had 3-4 assistants sitting in. I also had a new student. Ugh. It was almost like a military review board, except silence wasn't an option. The first hour was brutal, but everything got better in the second half. Their only real criticism was that I moved through some tough material fairly quickly. Otherwise they were pretty pleased - everything else was positive criticism. I was the only one they observed because no one else was teaching.

"Funny" story. I was out for a beer with Duncan, Michelle and Camilla after my class, and got home around 11:30. Well, the apartment was dark, and Alistair's door was closed. I assumed he was asleep. So I cleaned up, flipped the dead-bolt on our door, and went to bed myself. Problem was...

... Alistair wasn't home. He got back around 1am, only to find the door bolted. (There is no key for the dead-bolt) So Alistair knocked and banged, then went down and used the apartment ringer. Me no wakey. He went and got two of the guards and they banged and knocked and buzzed. Nothing from me. They got tools and tried to take the hinges off the door. Me no wakie. The guards, after attempting to remove the door (which didn't work) attempted to physically evict him from the compound. He resisted and told them to kindly piss off. Alistair then spent the night out on our step. At 6am, I hear the buzzer going like mad, and then knocking. So I stagger to the door wondering who in the name of Jesus God-Dancing Christ would be stupid enough to wake me up that early. I had it in my mind to hurl the offender down the concrete steps.

I opened the door and my first thoughts (vocalized in my bleary state) were: "Alistair?! What the fuck??" He was none too happy, but what can I say? I'd have been in the same situation myself had our positions been reversed. We always flip the dead-bolt at night. He was pretty cool about it, actually. Not sure I would have been. It wasn't exactly nice weather last night, and squatting in our building isn't a cheery thought. (see picture at the top)

Thankfully he didn't have a lesson or any staff meetings today, so he just slept until 3:30pm. I felt like a horse's ass and then some, I'll tell you that. It was funny - I usually wake up to most sounds, or even if someone is standing near me. I suppose I've become completely acclimatized to night-sounds in China (construction, horns, screeches, people shouting, etc.). Also, I was having a nice dream that my subconscious was clearly unwilling to interrupt.

That's it for now.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Alien Loves Predator

I'm always on the lookout for decent webcomics, and I stumbled upon this sometime earlier this week: Alien Loves Predator. Usually quite funny, and the bonus is that it's been going a while so I can go through the archive like a fiend and (so far) not run out of new comics to chuckle over.

I mean 'mom jokes'... with Jesus... c'mon?! What's not to love? Seriously, though, it's no Penny Arcade but it is a pretty funny comic.

In other news, I'm still sick as hell and feeling - as Michael Marshall Smith so eloquently wrote - like "two kinds of shit in a one-shit bag". I just about coughed up a green lung in front of my morning VIP. I've taken to going to classes armed with a roll of toilet paper so I don't wind up like Peter-2: cough/sneezing so hard his hand could barely contain what his body so vocally and forcibly rejected. Suffice it to say, I've not been to tai ji quan this week and that has me a bit pissed off. On top of that, my sleeping has been all weird and out-of-sync. I got back to my apartment today at 5pm and it felt like midnight.

I was 15 minutes late for my VIP this morning... which was actually a full 30 minutes late because I thought it was slated for 9am instead of the 8:30 that was quite legibly written on my schedule. Ugh. It's okay, though, she still got a 2-hour lesson. It was funny... yesterday, I was told by one of the Sales girls that her mom wanted to know if I thought she was ready to go to Canada. I just stared blankly for a few seconds, and a few of the other assistants nearby paused to listen. I just said, "I'm an English teacher. I have no freakin' idea. However, given that most Canadians are the descendents of people who couldn't speak ANY English upon arrival, had NO money and NO private school seeing after their every need, I'm pretty sure she won't be slaughtered on her first day." Made me wish I had a Magic 8-Ball. Not sure Ella translated that to the mother...

Until... after the class, I spent half an hour talking to her mom via the same Sales girl. The VIP's mom wanted to know what I knew about Toronto and to see if I knew the school her daughter is heading to shortly. (She ended up my VIP because I'm Canadian... points for being obvious.) It's right downtown, so I know the area somewhat. Anyhoo... it was an odd conversation, wavering between her drilling me on what her daughter would learn at AN INTERNATIONAL PRIVATE SCHOOL FOR ESL STUDENTS (to which I just about said "I have no fucking clue, lady. You're sending your daughter 12,000 kms away and you don't know what she's going to study?!") and being ecstatic that I've been her teacher. Questions like:

Her: "If my daughter is in Toronto and I'm in Tang Shan, how do I know she's studying? Who will be watching her?"

Me: "Umm... the same people that are watching and looking out for the other 899 kids from Japan, India, Kenya, Russia and French Polynesia? Maybe?"

Her: "What do you think about this school? Is it a good school?"

Me: "... these 1"x1" pictures sure are nice..."

Customer ended up happy, and thanked me profusely. I told her that I'd taught her daughter things like: asking for help, giving and asking for directions, how the subway works, how the buses work, what Canadian money looks like and is called, how to send a letter, what to ask/do at a bank, what things are different in Canada vs China, etc. Ass covered.

I think Ella had a blast translating that conversation for me...

And now I'm going to give serious consideration to going to sleep and attempting to wake up in a sound enough state of mind tomorrow morning at 7:30 to teach my Budweiser VIP, do a kids demo class, and bore the snot (har) out of my TB 5Bs... then head to Chinese class. Actually, I think I'll cancel that. Sleep is more important at this point. Nighters.

PS: Hopefully this post makes up for my boring Beijing post... ;)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween. Hate. Children.

That about sums up 2.5 hours of hell. I would have preferred being assaulted by legions of the dead and ghastly to Chinese children pumped on candy and excitement overload. Fucking hell, I just can't censor how happy I am tonight is over with. It was complete Chaos. Chaos Manifest, I think was how I described it as to Angie.

By the second 20-minute set of kids, I was drenched in sweat. My poor TB 5B helpers (two girls who volunteered to help me) got flashed as I tore off my sweater from under my volumous black robes that was my costume. I just didn't care - it was the most indifferent I've felt as a teacher yet.

I screamed and yelled myself hoarse by the 4th barrage. They just kept coming in waves and I wanted to cry, or pummel them. The only satisfaction I got was causing a stampede towards the door with one group (5th wave, I think) because I stood perfectly still in the middle of a candle-lit classroom with a freaky mask then ran right at them, yelling. There was a pile-up of chil'luns in both corners, 3 and 4 deep, respectively, and lots of crying and fear. It sustained me for their session and the final group. Yes, I'm a bastard, but believe me... you'd have run screaming had you seen and experienced this fiasco. ... and had to endure it for 6 x20 minutes... on your day off. Can't wait for Christmas...

God, I hate Halloween right now. I wish I could say I was kidding, but I hate it. I can't wait to celebrate a decent Halloween back in Ottawa next year, sans 140 Chinese children wired on sugar and excitement.

Time to sleep off these two beers that, due to dehydration, have me semi-drunk. Today sucked, but it was good in that feeling it over is something of a euphoric relief.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Evening of Hangyu

Had a decent day yesterday - classes were kind of shite, but not horrible. I just hate some VIP classes. One-on-ones can be difficult, especially if they're adults.

Then at 6:40 I raced to the bus stop to head to my Chinese lesson. Learned a few cool things, and attempted to relay my Beijing experience in Chinese. I don't know what the Palace Museum is called, but at least I knew that the Summer Palace is Yihe Yuan. Then was introduced to the wonders of "de" - there are 5 uses of it in Chinese, and it took a bit to get my head around a few of them. Some were straight-forward, like "Wo ji dao de" (I understand! [firm/forceful inflection]) or "Wo de kuzi shi hei se, ni de shi hong se" (My pants are black, yours are red). Other ones were more difficult to grasp.

Then we (my teacher and I) headed to the supermarket down the road to put some Chinese into use. Specifically, we were practicing "Ni yao mai shenme?" (What do you want to buy?) and "Wo yao mai ", as well as "Ni xi huan ma?" (Do you like ?). That blank ended up being zheige (this/that thing) more often than not, since I don't have a strong items/objects vocabulary. It was cool, though, getting out and trying it as opposed to a more academic class environment.

The looks we got were a bit much, though, and quite... disapproving/angry. Everyone stared at the 40-something Chinese woman being escorted by the 20-something white guy, especially when she was checking out pillows and trying to elicit a preference-based response from me. That got us some nasty glares from other Chinese nearby to the point where I thought some were going to spit. I guess it was a "huang se de" kind of perception - yellow (huang se) being a... hard to explain... traditional colour for "illegitimate encounters" or impropriety. Yet it was the imperial colour for so long. Weird. Anyhoo...

Today is going well, so far. My kids were great this morning, and reminded me why I like teaching, especially them. They had a test which they bitched mildly about, but I'm sure they did fine. A manager sat in for the last half of the class, and was taking notes. Not sure what that was about, but she seemed happy with everything. I may have had a complaint from a parent or student, and she was checking up on how the class dynamic is. Whatever. The kids were great, and got everything I was presenting, and I was just myself. At the end (thankfully after most students had vacated) one girl asked me if I was married. Quite cute, and funny the questions they have the moxy to ask.

Another two classes today, then I'll grab something to eat nearby and head home to change for tai ji quan, which I've been absent from a bit too much lately. Wo mang gua le (I've been busy [emotional inflective]). I'll show the masters my work schedule so they can understand what my weeks look like, on average. That's been hard to convey thus far. Also, maybe I can fit some other training time in there (like mornings, which I haven't done for a week and a bit due to the trip to Beijing).

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Beijing - Summer Palace & Forbidden City

So much Beijing, so little time. (had a hard time choosing which pic to use... went with the wicked awesome lion statue from the Forbidden City/Palace Museum)

So classes finished up fine on Sunday, and I raced back to my apartment, got all my junk together, and split for the train station. I had a real can-do taxi driver, so I got there in record time, and hopped the last bus to Beijing. Camilla was on board as well, so I sat next to her for the trip up.

Had no issues finding the hostel and Steve and Nika around 8:45pm. We checked in - I was in a nice little 6-bed 'dorm' - dumped our stuff off, and hit a hotpot place they had seen earlier in the day. I got to say "Kuai ying li Jungguo!" ("Welcome to China!"). Beer tasted soooo good. We then wandered down to Wangfujing Street in search of a bar of some sort. None there, of course, so it was off to Sanlitun, the bar district. I chatted with the taxi driver the whole way, and I knew what he was saying! It was a marvel. We talked about the weather and people from Beijing, as well as which areas of Sanlitun were alright.

We went into a small bar first, then moved on. Found a decent little spot farther along where a couple were singing/playing guitar. It was nice, and we could talk. We were there til around 1:30am.

The next morning, we got up at 8:45 and dragged our asses down to the lounge where I had three coffees (they tasted amazing - I hardly get decent coffee over here) and set our agenda for the day. We had some breakfast at the hostel, and departed. We took the subway as far as we could on the Loop Line of inner Beijing, then after standing around like dolts waiting for a bus that wasn't coming, cabbed it northwest to the Summer Palace (about 15 km from where we got off at Xizhimen subway station).

Ah, the Summer Palace. It was fucking amazing. We had incredible weather for late October. It was about 23 degrees, sunny... amazing. We wandered most of the place, seeing plenty to keep us "oooh" and "ahhhh"ing for hours. We were there for about 4 hours or so, and watched the sun set from the quiet western point of an island that juts out into Kunming Lake. Absolutely gorgeous. We sat there for about thirty minutes, just watching the sun sink over the water, and in behind the Jade Bridge and scenic hills.

When we got back to the hostel around 6:15pm (Beijing rush-hour sucks, by the way...), I found us a Sichuan restaurant called Baguo Buyi up north a few streets past the Forbidden City, so off we went. I had no idea what the address was, but managed to ge the driver to trust me. Found it easily: could spot the Qing costumes of the staff from a ways away. We approached and were greeted by 5 young teenage boys, all dressed up. One mashed a gong as we moved towards the stairs, and in a chorus they all chanted a greeting... and whammed another gong. Quite an entrance ritual, I tell ya.

The food rocked - it was some of the best I've had in China. At the end I tried to order mantou and we got a cool platter of rice bread (half of which were fried) with custard instead. It was a fabulous botch.

We then walked back to the hostel... a good 5 kms or so. It took us 35-45 minutes to walk past the outside of the Forbidden City. It gave us a taste of what to expect the following day, and the idea of going back and walking it was a tad daunting after that sojourn. Fantastic little side roads, though. Saw a shu fa shop doing some late business and stopped to peek in. It was a pretty nice evening, though the temperature had dropped 8 or so degrees and it was a tad nippy.

Exhausted from the triumphant day and the 5-6 hours sleep from the night before, we crashed early (10pm or so) after attempting to have a beer in the hostel lounge. We were falling asleep at the table. I had my dorm room to myself for some reason... all five other beds were empty. ... So I built a bed fort. (Okay, I didn't but I thought hard about it for quite a while)

The next day, we had a slightly earlier start, sans breakfast. We booked tickets to Tang Shan for 5:30pm and then hit the subway again for the short 2 km jaunt to Tian'anmen Square and the entrance to the Forbidden City/Palace Museum. The sheer size of the place of the entrance alone was staggering, nevermind the actual Palace Museum area. It really is a mini city. Unfortunately, they're doing renovations in stages, so one of main gates inside was closed off with weather sheeting and scaffolds. However, they only had renovations happening to two buildings out of like 800 so no big loss... pun intended.

Alistair was right when he said he was a tad disappointed by it. It's amazing, but so much has been stripped out of the buildings to preserve the relics, furniture, etc. Also, the weather was a bit foreboding: it was overcast and a tad misty/hazy. Added a bit to the feel of the place, but I depended heavily on the Enhance feature of iPhoto to brighten and sharpen contrast in many a picture of that place. The number of people in there was a bit irritating as well, but to be honest it helped provide a sense of scale. I would have loved to see a mock military assembly, with all soldiers ordered according to rank and station on the stairs and across the courtyard of one section. (I don't have a wide or long shot to show distances... but 9,000 sq meters would not be an over-exaggeration.)

We walked through most of the place for three or so hours, then headed back and had hotpot before getting our stuff ready for Tang Shan. No issues on the train, nor getting back to Tang Shan. We were all tired, though, and slept in fits on the train. We were back by 8:30. After supper at 'the restaurant' (our usual Chinese food haunt here), we went for a beer at Yi Yang You Mang, our usual bar. Sleep was very very welcome that night.

Steve and Nika headed out this morning after we had breakfast. Work wasn't too bad - but it felt like a long day. Now I look forward to sleep and sleeping in.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Mingtian, wo chen que Beijing ba! Woooo!

Yay Beijing! Heading there tomorrow to meet up with Steve and Nika. Should be a blast... if this weather improves. Temperature is set to drop to 10 degrees, so qouyi and qouku (long underwear) will be the order of the day. Not too much else to post except all has been well the last few days. Tried to get to tai ji quan last night, but no go. The masters were out and about on a Tang Shan adventure. Fighting evil or some such is what I was given to understand. Of course, my Chinese sucks so the other student might have said they're meeting business partners or something. I dunno.

Right now it's pouring harder than I've seen in a very very long time. The streets are completely obscured and rain is bouncing about two feet off the ground (where the ground wasn't already under 10 centimeters of water). My Chinese teacher had brought me an umbrella. lol And she brought me yu mi - corn. A sweety she is, but like an old-school head mistress. She's very very happy with my progress, and I hope to find a decent coursebook on Wangfujing Lu on Monday or Tuesday morning. That's about the only thing on my Beijing agenda, to be honest. Otherwise, it's act as barely-functional translator for Steve and Nika and enjoy the sights. We may have to opt out of the biking idea given the weather and suck up taxi costs, or hazard the subways.

Then Tuesday afternoon/evening, Steve and Nika will brave Tang Shan and stay overnight before heading on to Shanhaiguan near Qinhuangdao. Will be treatin' 'em to dumplings and other goodies tomorrow night. I think a round or three of beer will also be in order if we can find Shanlitun district.

Anyway... hopefully I will have a good batch of fresh photos to upload in the next three days.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tai Ji Quan Photo Madness

Lots and lots of pictures. And two videos. Just don't know where to host them. Photobucket is teh sux for that, but I may have to use it.

I haven't gotten the pictures from the other night sent to me yet, but I took a tonne tonight, and was able to give my gift to Xiang Laoshi - I gave him my Malak photo book of Ottawa. I think Xiang is his surname... it could be 1 of 30 or so variations based on intonation and how it's being pronounced (Xiang, Sheng, Cheung). Of course, it could be an honourarium: xian also means 'gentleman', 'sir' or 'mister'. Though Sir Teacher would be an odd title... I'll see if they'll write it in pinying at some point.

But yeah... go here for tai ji quan picture madness. Got pictures of him with the qiang (spear), jian (broadsword) and dao (sabre), as well as pictures of him demonstrating ji focus with the 'master in white'. That was very cool. They started off in traditional duel stance (I guess), and then just began this circular whirlwind, with Xiang Laoshi gaining so much of an advantage that he had the other master up and on the calligraphy table. (I got a video of that.)

Anyway... I must go to bed. I have to be up in like 6 or 7 hours just so I can go back there.


Yup, his name is Xiang (shiang, said quickly), and the 'master in white' is Song (soong).

Friday, October 13, 2006

Blown Away

My master at tai ji quan just gave me two shu fa scrolls. I'll take pictures of them soon (edit: a picture taken). He also took a bunch of pictures with us both, which hopefully I can get on Monday or Tuesday so I can post them. It was an awesome night. I didn't learn tonnes in terms of form progress, but I learned a great deal in terms of movement and focus. It felt so much more natural tonight.

Xiang Lao Shi also had me try to fight him, and he whipped me... badly... by just watching my reflection in the mirror. He taught me a tonne through demonstration. He also wants me to learn Chinese as fast as I can so he can take me to Beijing and all over the place to help him translate and train with him. (I'm not quite sure why he wants me to do that... except that he plans on coming to Canada soon. I dunno. I was a bit lost in the conversation.)

Xiang Lao Shi and the other master want me to come in whenever I can, including mornings. I'm so there - Monday, 9am. Apparently they think I can do exceptionally, but I have to practice with them more often and really apply myself. They were asking me how much I make a month, and if I make money in other ways. They then segued into asking me how much I would charge them to learn English. I said "Meiyo!" (Nothing).

Sorry, this is a rambling post. Just such a surreal night. They were very disappointed in how short a time I'll be in Tang Shan (short in terms of tai ji quan training, anyway). Oh, the master was also filmed (a good 8-10 minutes, solid movement, like watching water). Maybe I can get a copy of that.

Crazy night. I just need to find a safe place for those shu fa scrolls.

This Is a Call...

... for pictures. At work, we're doing a big picture board for the kiddies. We teachers are supplying what we have from our various wanderings here in-country, but they're also looking for pictures of our home countries (more interesting to the students, obviously). So if you guys are out and about with a camera in your respective Canadian cities - Geoff in Vancouver; Suzi, Jamie, Angie, Kelly, Roger, Adam, Roxanne, Andy and many many others in the Ottawa area; Michelle and Jason in Toronto - fire a few pictures of landmarks, country-sides, whatever to me. I'd be most appreciative! Thanks!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Golden Week - Datong

This is freakin' long. You have been warned. Let's do this:

I left Tang Shan by bus at 8am, arrived at the Beijing (eastern) train station at 11:30. It was busy, but not too too bad. No trains to Datong, though. Enter stupidity number one: coming out of the train station, a guy offered to take me to the bus station. He said it was a ways away, so wanted 150 yuan for it. I offered 80 and we settled on 100. The guy wasn't a taxi driver like I thought. He was just some guy with a car. Whatever. He dropped me off at the wrong bus station, also, on the west side of central Beijing. When I got in and they didn't have any tickets to Datong, I was about ready to take a bus or train back to Tang Shan and say screw it. However, a taxi driver took me all of 4 kms to the other side of an expressway to the main bus terminal, and I got a bus ticket there to Datong. It was 12:40 at that point, and the bus left at 1:30.

Finished Dracula on the bus (holy anti-climactic) and got into Datong around 5pm. Had no issue at the hotel, which was across from the train station in the utmost north chunk of Datong. So I checked in, dropped some things off, had some tea, and wandered. Found a nice restaurant near the hotel and had dong bao tze ding (spicy chicken, green pepper and peanuts) and a good qiezi (eggplant) dish that was tangy. Had a beer and relaxed, happy to be in Datong finally after 10 hours of traveling and messing around. Then pretty much went to bed around 8:30pm.

Woke up at 6:30, had breakfast, and tried to find a way to get to Heng Shan and the Hanging Monastery. I asked a random local bus driver, and he wrote out instructions for me to get there, taking local buses. I jumped on the first one, and a woman who'd said hi to me the day before was sitting across from me. She asked where I was going, and told me to just walk a few dozen meters to the Old Station and get a long-distance bus from there, Heng Shan being 65 kms away. It's funny how much depends on random chance and kindness from locals. I took her advice, paid 27 yuan and hopped on.

There were three Canadians sitting right behind me. They were from Toronto and had arrived on National Day, thinking it was only a one-day holiday. Whoops. So I talked to them the whole trip. The countryside was gorgeous - rocky, with glacier defiles. The houses were mostly built into the hillsides. (that's not a great picture example... but I wasn't fast enough with my camera to get the really good complexes.)

Two hours later, winding through the foothills of Heng Shan, we got there. The bus was going on to Wutai Shan and Taiyuan in the south, so I was the only one getting out. It was pretty chilly up there - definitely an autumn morning. The Hanging Monastery was a good first expedition for two reasons: 1) it was 65 kms away and as buses travel (especially over mountainous or hilly ground) it took an hour and a half, and 2) the sun had just risen over Heng Shan (left)... the lighting was perfect. The sun shone through a spur in Heng Shan, putting the monastery in perfect illumination. Also, by seeing the Yungang Grottoes second, the caves/grottoes were wonderfully lit by the mid-afternoon sun. But I'll get to that.

Admission to the Hanging Monastery was 60 yuan, well worth it. The monastery itself didn't hang too high off the side of a mountain - maybe 150-200 feet up. The temple is of ingenius construction: pillars supported those parts of the temple that jutted out from the rock, and the rest was rooted into the rock by virtue of half the rooms being in the rock itself, as well as with thick wooden beams. That's not to say my fear of heights didn't kick in, standing on 200-year-old walkways of stone and wood, looking over a railing that is supported by slender poles, and climbing steep, narrow iron-studded stairs.

I bought something in one of the shops, then got a taxi to Hunyuan, the nearest town 3 kms away. Got on a bus heading to Datong, and that was that. That took two hours... to go 65 kms. I was let off at some random bus depot, and crossed the street to have lunch (it being 11:30). I went into a Chinese fondue place. I don't know what the official word(s) is for that style of restaurant, but basically they bring you a big soup dish that is set on a burner. It has two soups in it - a spicy one and a milder one. Then you order what meats you want, and you're given an array of garnishes and sauces, and you cook it all up yourself however you want. Rice porridge (really good) ended the meal.

Around 1pm, I went to the long-distance bus station again, and for 25 yuan, hopped a bus to Yungang Grottoes, a world heritage site. When I got on, everyone tried to talk to me. Once I told them I was Canadian, they went off on their Bethune praising. That guy is way more famous than he ought to be. I think the Chinese government uses him to epitomize Canadians in order to maintain strong associations to Canada in the minds of the Chinese. A girl seated in front of me wanted my phone number for some odd reason. Her boyfriend then proceeded to yell at her. Weird exchange, anyway.

The caves/grottoes were fucking amazing. Most of the grottoes, statues and carvings were over 1,500 years old, having been built between 460 and 495 CE. The details and sheer quantity of details were staggering. At 'infamous' Cave 20 (the central "cave" - the front section of the roof had collapsed in the Liao dynasty) I lit incense and said a prayer for Poppa, whose ashes were being scattered the following night.

I wandered around there for two hours, until about 3:30, just taking my time and really enjoying everything. I hopped a local bus back into Datong (which I should have taken to get there in the first place), got off at some random stop, and took a taxi to the old part of Datong where the Jiulong Bi (the Nine Dragon Screen) was located.

Jiulong Bi was cool, but it was just sort of there. A wall enclosed it, and 10 yuan got me in. One woman was there, at a table at the back. I snapped numerous pictures, then sat down and did some writing under a tree. As I was sitting there, a few others came in, so I helped them out by taking pictures for them so they could all be in the photos. I spoke with one family for a few minutes, the grandmother taking especial interest in me and trying to translate through her granddaughter and son-in-law. Very nice people.

I took a local bus back to the hotel around 5 or so, and planned to head out the next day (Saturday). From the journal I was writing: "I still need to get a bus or train ticket to Beijing. I'll do that and buy some fruit or something before bed. Should be back in Tang Shan by 1 or 2 tomorrow. Hope I don't have any more issues."

Followed the next day by: "I'm stuck in Datong. [...] There is no way out by train tomorrow, either." Anyway, I headed out Saturday morning at 6:15 to check on train tickets. There was one that afternoon, actually, but it was late and train from Datong to Beijing is not direct. So I went to the bus station... at 7am it was pandemonium, a mosh-pit fueled with people's urgent needs to escape and return home at the end of the holiday.

Short of it was: I was stuck in Datong that day, and possibly all of Sunday as well. I went for a walk to clear my head, and then went for lunch near the hotel. I saw two foreigners in there, approx my age, whom I'd seen at 6am in the hotel lobby. I went over and invited them over for a beer. They were from Sweden, and had been in country for six days, but had been in Mongolia for ten days just prior. They'd taken the Trans-Siberian train in. So chatting with them raised my spirits a bit. I then showed them the long distance local bus station place and worked out that they could get to Pingyao from there by going via Taiyuan. Then we hopped in a pedicab and I took them to Jiulong Bi. The lady in the back of the pedicab had been my server at breakfast that morning, so she chatted with me. Made for a fast pedicab ride. At Jiulong Bi, I split from the Swedes and headed west to try to find a temple (couldn't locate it). We made plans to hook up again that evening.

I took a cab to a third bus stop, thanks to the taxi driver's knowledge of it. I got a ticket for Sunday morning to Beijing and was ecstatic. Truly, I can't express the absolute relief I felt that that night would be my last in Datong.

Back at the hotel, I ended up helping 5 other foreigners (two Germans, a French woman and a guy of unknown origins) translate at the hotel front desk. I had gone down to complain that there was no attendant on the 4th floor. The staff kept gesturing me over because they assumed my Chinese was better than the other guests'. Ended up down there for 25 minutes, helping them with check-in stuff and telling them how to get to Yungang Grottoes. It was cool to meet different folks. The only foreigners I've really met here have been my fellow teachers in Tang Shan.

Went for supper with the two Swedes (can't remember their names) and had a few beers and chatted about travel and different countries. Around 9pm we called it a night. In the morning, I had breakfast, took a taxi to the bus terminal, waited an hour, and headed out. Thus end'eth the chronicles of Datong.

However, I wasn't through yet, though I had thought that I was. There was still...

Beijing. No issues getting to Beijing in the morning, and it was a relatively quick trip. I really love the area around Badaling, to the S/SW of Beijing. There is a really nice section of the Great Wall there, and the mountain passes are just beautiful. (the emergency brake pits are funny, too - inclined gravel pits to drive into if your brakes fail.) It had been a drizzly morning, and the temperature was down. There was mist in the mountain valleys and the peaks were wreathed in low clouds. Just beautiful.

I chatted with an English major on the bus, and she pointed out her university once we got into Beijing. We arrived around 12:30pm, and she showed me where I could buy a ticket to Tang Shan from the bus station. I went in and... meiyo. No tickets. So, experiencing some of the same panic I had in Datong, I headed for a taxi and went downtown Beijing to the train station. Passed Qian Men and Tian'anmen Square. Got a train ticket for 5:30. Excited was I. That gave me about two and a half hours or so to wander. I knew I couldn't get far or see much (not without taxi'ing around, and paying entrance fees, and feeling rushed) so I went to Wangfujing Street, a pedestrian business district.

As I approached Wangfujing, two art design students started chatting with me, and offered to take me to Wangfujing and the two bookstores there. We talked for quite a while, and they had an exhibit in the basement around the corner from the Wangfujing Bookstore, so in I went. It was amazing. Their class has serious talent. Everything from oil paintings, water colour, ink on silk and rice-paper... really nice pieces. I bought one for 100 yuan and talked to them about Chinese history, the meaning of various Chinese symbols (bamboo, the crane, dragon, phoenix, plum blossoms). It was a nice intimate experience.

Then, left to my own devices with an hour and a half left, I wandered up to the other bookstore. No "Black Company" by Glenn Cook. Curses. But there was a digital camera shop next door, so I bought an adapter and a larger memory stick, a 128 meg. So now I can take... 350 or so pictures at a go. Combined with my 16 meg stick, I'm hanging at about 400, so I don't need to be as conservative with my photo taking. Then I sampled some tea from an assortment of tea vendors, and headed back to the train station.

The waiting hall was fairly quiet, for China. When the ticket agent appeared, the mosh-pit formed, and I forced my way towards the front. No problem with a seat (I didn't know they were only selling seat tickets). I sat down with four guys who were going to Tang Shan also, and a guy heading to Tianjin sat down beside me. We chatted for a while, and he showed me how to recognize a bunch of chinese symbols so now I know: people, some, numbers (different ones), wife, husband, percentile, sky, up, donate or give, strength, health, head, hand, kill, no, boxes, big, and small. It was a fun trip. One of the guys seated opposite me had to be a "volunteer from the audience" to help some vendor stress-test a sock. The vendor took a wire brush to it and began to beat on it. It was quite funny. Nice bunch of guys, anyway. At one point, a woman sat down with us and asked me if they were my students. We all burst out laughing. Comraderie is a good thing; language barriers just don't come into play. It's amazing what a shared grin over an inside joke can accomplish in so short a time.

Got in to Tang Shan around 9:30pm, and I was so happy to be back. So that's the story.