Monday, July 31, 2006

A few questions answered

I just realized that I haven't answered a few questions, the answers for which I've likely taken for granted. Thanks to my aunt Holly who asked them, so I'll answer them here:

Do they have a curriculum for you to follow or do you have to do all of your own lessons?

There are curriculum books for us to follow, but we have to plan lessons around the book guidelines. 60% of what is taught in a class is based on curriculum 'target objectives' (redundant, perhaps?). As Joe, the Director of Studies (DoS), says "They paid for the books, so use them, but use them sparingly." So we base lessons around, say, introduction to A-E letter phonics (for a young beginner class, for instance) but then have flashcards and games to reinforce it; we don't do strictly book exercises. Ex: The other day I taught 24 kids aged 7-12 a 45-minute lesson around 12 words that all started with the letters A, B, C, D or E. So you first identify the objects. Usually the students know them, and if so, then you ask them what letter it starts with. Then have them spell it out. Have that student ask another student "What is this?" "It's an apple." and continue. With my older class of advanced English students, the book is a curse for them; the focus is conversation and discussion (the room is set up seminar style). No writing, and as little reading as possible is the rule.

What is your room like?

Very freakin' boring. I have a bed (with a mattress, yay!), a really uncomfortable sofa, a kind of temp clothes hanging 'cabinet', a desk. I'm still living out of suitcases, and that's likely to continue. In terms of basic amenities, we (Alistair and I) have them all: fridge w/ freezer, washer/dryer (horrible but functional), a water cooler (very very necessary as we don't even brush our teeth using tap water), a western toilet (though you can't put toilet paper down it because it works on some sort of rotating fan thinger that blocks easily), a water-heater + shower-head in the middle of the bathroom, a TV and DVD player. Our tile floor is tan with dirt and grime, my window-sill has like 1/8th of an inch of crud on it from the construction site and dust. Our apartment is about 25-30 minutes' walk from the school, on the same main street. 10 minutes by bus, 5 by taxi. 2 yuan for air-conditioned bus, 5 or 6 for a taxi.

How is the food? Are you trying new things?

The food typically rocks, though it happens every once in a while that you either eat something 'unhygenic' or otherwise intestinally disturbing - regardless of whether you get it from someone in an alleyway cooking out of an oil drum or from a restaurant where you lounge around on sofas. I had dog the other night (sorry, Bubba!) at a Korean restaurant, and I've had squid and cow stomach. To answer Kris' question: YES! They do actually call it Chinese food and not just 'food' here. :) Though they might make the distinction simply because we're foreigners.

As far as doing different activities... the other teachers here are pretty social and enjoy going out. That said, there are 2 bars and 1 club here in Tangshan, so our options are somewhat limited. There is a bar around the corner from the school, so we're often there. The servers love us because we draw people in: "An entire table of foreigners!! Let's go stare." Otherwise... we played pool last night at a pool hall that was downstairs from the club (we all unanimously suck at pool, by the way), and we've done karaoke at a place called KTV. There's also a bowling alley somewhere here.

Traditional tea-houses here can charge up to 1,000 yuan for a single cup of tea. 1,000 yuan is about $150. Other places you can have a nice sit and a cup of tea for 3-5 yuan ($0.50-$0.75).

Is it safe hanging out in the streets?

Usually very safe. I've had no issues, regardless of time of day. I've heard some places in southern China can be extremely dangerous (guys on motorbikes snatching a purse, woman holds on, guy cuts off her arm with a sickle, etc.). Depends where you are, and how stupid you want to be with advertising your status/wealth. No one is jobless - no matter what, everyone has a job here.

Is getting hooked to the 'net hard or what do they use for that?

I'm still trying to figure that out for home. We have the net at school, so I usually check every day, sometimes twice a day given the 12-hour time difference. Once I get it at home (hopefully next week) I will be able to post more 'diary' style blogs instead of curt summaries.

That's it for now. All is well, but this week is busy. Got 2 3-hour classes a day until Friday, then Saturday I start my first full course (2-hour classes). Summer is extremely busy, but next week is the last week of the insanity, and we'll be moving down from 2 & 3 hour long classes to 45/60/90/120 minute classes.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

A good day

Had my second and third classes, each 45 minutes. They were 'demo' classes, meaning they were summer camp kids in from rural areas - 19 in the first class and 24 in the second. They both went really well. I thought things might go to hell since part of my lesson plan was to give them handouts, but they had no writing station or pens/pencils. So 5 seconds before the lesson I had to scrap that. It ended up working out really well, and they responded great, both in chorus and individually. Up until this morning, I was also anticipating 2 kids per class, so the large class sizes (large for ESL environments) was a surprise.

It was really nice to have a very positive teaching experience. My first class (last Thursday) was wretched, as I'd written. So things are looking up!

It's Alistair's bday tomorrow, and we're trying to find him a guitar. Duncan and I went on a sojourn to a department store at lunch, but it was fruitless. Everyone we asked (*cough* Duncan asked) said it was somewhere else. Finally we got out of someone back on the first floor (out of 4 floors scrounged in 42 degree weather with humidex) that they didn't have them. So we went for dumplings. When in doubt, eat.

When I get home, I should have an air-conditioner in my room. So I can finally close my windows to block out the 24-hour construction and not die of suffication. Yay!

I think that's it for now. Oh, wait... Friday. Friday was a day off, thankfully. That evening, we all went for steak (and it wasn't bad!) and then bought beer, popped 'em open and wandered down the street to the memorial. It was busy, but not packed. It was awesome. Tonnes of people, lots of lights, folks sitting in front of flower plots playing cards in groups of 5-8... and I played hacky-sack for 2 hours with a group of Chinese teens. I think about 8-10 pictures were taken of the weird foreigner playing what they all must have assumed was a Chinese game. To be fair, it was: the 'sack' was actually a padded spring with colourful feathers coming out of it. It looked like a badminton fly (or whatever that widget is called). Lots of fun, but I paid for it... I was soaked after 2 hours of playing, I got a sore throat, and woke up with a nasty cold.

Meanwhile... I missed Nick mesmerizing 120+ Chinese by pretending to do stunts with glowsticks. He was even pulling people out of the audience to help him. He'd do some strange moves, and everyone would clap. Ever seen that Fat Boy Slim music video where they're all doing dance/interpretive dance in a mall and people start gathering, half-amazed, half-confused? Duncan and Alistair described it exactly like that: Nick wasn't actually doing anything. Just moving his hands around fast or putting glowsticks in his mouth and pretending to balance them, etc. Too funny.

Okay, I'm outta here. Busy week ahead of me, starting Weds: 6 hours of class a day (2 classes per day) and only 2 days to prep for them all. Next Saturday, I start my first new class (ie, not just taking someone else's over).

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

O Life In Flux

Okay, so... I jump into work tomorrow afternoon, 2:30-5:30 class. 15-17 year olds, advanced English. I've met them and spoken with them (been "interviewed" by them) and they're an absolutely stand-up bunch. I then have more prep to do for a class of 13-14 year olds (also advanced) on Friday morning. Then it looks like we're shut down for half the day as the Chinese Chairman is in Tangshan to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the earthquake that killed 250,000 people.

Did I already write all this in my other entry today? Christ, things are just moving really quickly, and I have to jump into a young learners class in 2 minutes to observe the language level and exchange style.

I now have a temporary address (the school's) so email me if you want it. Zaijian!

To Tangshan, go!

Alright, I'm finally out of Shijiazhuang. With a dense population of 8.6 million people, the polution was pretty bad, and there just wasn't much to that city.

I arrived yesterday in Tangshan (5.5 hour bus ride during which they played a Jet Li movie, a movie with the actor who was Broken Sword in 'Hero', some weird-ass romantic comedy about a calligrapher, and the beginnings of a Chow Yun Fat movie... in FRENCH of all things).

All is well. I wish I had the time to write down all the cool stuff and minutiae that have stood out in my mind since being here. I will do so once I have internet access at home. I'm writing from a public computer at the school I'm at. I'm in an apartment with a Brit named Alistair (awesome guy - he's been fantastic). There are 6 teachers here now with Camilla and I having signed on. They're all British except for her and I. We went for drinks last night (most beer is served in like 750 or 1 litre bottles, and you're given snifter glasses) and everyone has been just incredible.

Today I found out that I'm taking over the classes of a teacher who did a 'midnight run' a short while back. My first class is on Friday. It's 2 hours. It's busy time right now, and will be for another 2 weeks or so. The class is pre-intermediate (basic conversation level) and aged 13-14. Should be fun. I watched Duncan's 10-11 class this morning, and I did an introduction and the kids all asked questions. They thought it was hilarious that my Chinese name is Bai ke. (A woman at Shijiazhuang Foreign Language University gave it to me. It means "white", with ke simply being a phonetic extension so that Bai ke sounds like Pat ck.)

Enjoying myself a good deal, though it'd be nice if China didn't have 24/7 construction directly behind my new place, just outside my window. Nothing like listening to 3am jackhammers and loud Chinese cursing and I-beams being dropped from a hundred feet onto packed earth. Hey, it's all part of the experience, I figure.

On Friday, the Chairman of China is in town as Friday is the 30th anniversary of the Tangshan earthquake that killed 250,000 people. The memorial is a 2-minute walk from my place, so I plan on going down and checking things out, and taking pictures.

That's it for now. Oh, I can't read comments, by the way. I can post but I cannot check the actual blog (at least I couldn't in Shijiazhuang). So your comments are going unread, except those that have been sent along by Holly (THANK YOU).

Thank you all for the well-wishing. Everything is fine here, and it seems like I have great support both from the teachers and the staff (teaching assistants and the director).


Friday, July 21, 2006

I'm alive and well

All is well. No flight complications or anything. I can't write too much as I'm on a company computer for now, but will write about my thus-far fun experiences soon. I've already taken a number of pictures which I will share when possible.

You may not hear from me for a week or 2, as I'm in transition at the moment. In Shijiazhuang (cool city, and wonderfully insane in ways that only pictures can describe).

So if you don't hear from me in a week or so, don't panic.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

5 Days to the Minute

... and I'll be standing in the Ottawa Airport, no doubt looking dazed, excited and a little nervous; a slough of black luggage surrounding me. I fear it will be anti-climactic to some extent. After all, while I am leaving Ottawa for a year, I won't be out of the country until the following day. It would be somewhat comedic were it not for how I and others present will be feeling.

I can't say I'm not looking forward to going to China. I most definitely am. I just hate leaving such good friends as I have, even if only for a year. I've decided that, for now, I will only be there for a year. That's not to say I won't be going back, but there will be at least a 4-6 week period where I'll be back in Canada. Possibly longer. Some things need to be examined and decided, and I can't plan a year ahead nor see how a year abroad will change me.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Many thanks!

To put it simply, the party on Friday was fucking awesome. I had a blast, and it looked like everyone else did too. It accomplished what I wanted: a chance for me to see as many people in one spot as possible, and for those friends to all meet and/or catch up.

Thanks to everyone who made it out! If you have pictures taken from that night, please email them to me so I can add them to the collective. Thanks again to everyone! It was fantastic to see you all, and I look forward to seeing you all when I return.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Last Step

I only have to book my flight now. I got my Chinese visa this morning. All my things are packed; the rest is in storage at my parents'.

I guess I've been putting off booking my flight. One, I had to because I wasn't sure of visa process time, but mostly... I knew it was the final step. After booking my flight there's no looking back. I'm not one for intense change, and I've been caught up in some very major changes to my life. One of my own choosing, and another one a blessing brought about by time and one unimaginably phenomenal woman. It's all a bit scary, but I'm getting to love this feeling. It's been a long time since I've been forced out of this apathetic "comfort zone".

Change is good; both of them are fantastically good. I, being a coward, just need to get my head around them.

Guess I'll see a bunch of you folks Friday! We're up to 28 confirmed people... it will be one helluva party. Lots of laughs, litres upon litres of beer, and I'm sure a few tears. Bring it on!

Saturday, July 01, 2006


I am... so... very... tired. I just want to sleep and be back at my old apartment. I had a huge stress attack (I guess) last night around 10pm driving all this stuff to my parents' place, and I couldn't figure out why. Then I realized... until I had given up my apartment, plans for China were still relatively idealistic and didn't feel "real" to me. Now they're moving ahead and there's no looking back. That kind of scares me. Okay... not 'kinda'. It scares the shit out of me. I get my Chinese tourist visa on Tuesday.

So much has happened in the last 10 days; I'm still trying to make sense of everything and not burst into tears for a multitude of reasons. I'm back into Ottawa tomorrow and staying with Mr. Evileddy - woot! Like old times.

At the moment, I feel cast adrift, as though I'm existing in Limbo simply because there's no room for me yet in any other useful plane of existence. Now that everything is stored up at my parents' place, I feel better, but not much. I keep wondering if there are other things that I should be packing for China. I still have a few small things yet to get. Looking at airline ticket prices now... the cheapest I can find is $1700 (out of Ottawa). That doesn't seem horrible, but I'd like to get that down to near $1400.

Meh. Happy Canada Day, folks. Drink one for me.