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.