Wednesday, August 30, 2006

End of August

A former student of mine, from my conversation class, gave this to me yesterday. It's a Tibetan ring-within-a-ring, meant to bring good fortune. This particular ring is not actually handmade from Tibet, but it is quite nice and I was delighted to accept it. It has become... precious to me...

I can't believe it's been over a month since I've been in China. It seems to be passing quickly, though not astonishingly so.

On Tuesday, Alistair, Grace and I went to Nan Pou (sp?), a relatively large park in the south-west of the city centre. I've uploaded quite a few pictures from that outting to Flickr. It was a great afternoon. We arrived around 4:45pm, and wandered for a bit, just relaxing and allowing ourselves to believe that we were outside of Tang Shan. It truly felt like it. Lots of expansive green lawns, beautiful trees, winding flagstone paths, and quiet ponds. As we were coming back, we saw a few people gathered around a man who was reeling something in from the lake. We paused to watch, since his fishing pole was bent almost double. We joked that it was likely a body, then shut our mouths when he hauled in a trout (I think) that was easily 15 lbs and nearly as long as his leg. Alistair got a picture of that, which I need to upload. Then we went for supper and watched a movie.

I took over a business class last night. 6 women, ages ranging from 16 to 42, from various walks of life. I think it will be a fun class, but my first time teaching a new class always sucks. Like trying to dance to a schizophrenic rhythm. Nick was also teaching a class at the same time, so we went for a beer and a walk after, running into Michelle and Duncan who were returning from the bar.

Anyway... nothing of much interest to report. Just had a nice few quiet days. Now we're doing hours of training every day, though my class schedule for the weekdays isn't very busy. I have my business class on Weds and a VIP on Friday evenings, with most of my classes being on Saturday and Sunday.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Le Funny

Okay, this is fucking hilarious. Read the article, and then click the YouTube link at the bottom.

Nothing else to report. We all went for lunch, courtesy of Mr. Zhao. He congratulated us all (through Sonny translating) on having a great summer business period, and then proceeded to get like 9 bottles of beer for toasts. He went around to everyone. It was ganbe city. With guys, you have to chug the contents of the glass, I've realized. I thought it was perhaps an isolated incident the other night at the Chinese restaurant with Duncan, but nope... "Ganbe!", clink glasses, and down your beer. "A full glass indicates a full heart" goes the Chinese saying. It was sort of funny, since Mr. Zhao is usually very reserved and just kind of slinks around when he's not in his office.

Anyhoo... I have to entertain Nick's kidlets tomorrow while he does parent interviews, and then I have a new TB class. Then Sunday, it's my usual TB 2 and TB 4 classes. Weeeeee Then off for 2 days. I just find I get exhausted by week's end.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Okay, I'm here officially for 8 months (including this month, retroactively). So I'm done as of March 28, and will be back in Ottawa at the end of April. Contract signed today, and I was a hard-ass. To the point where the Director of Studies (DoS) said it was the "most lucrative" contract he'd seen approved, in terms of getting corporate to agree to my terms. What can I say... I've run the corporate legal gauntlet. These guys are small fries compared to that.

I'll be taking 3-4 weeks after my contract completion to wander around China, heading south to at least Nanjing, though I'd like to get to Zhuhai near Hong Kong to see Linda and John, and from there venture west into Yunnan and Sichuan. That would take me through most of the country (minus the Tibetan plateau and the Gobi Desert). I'd then train it back to Beijing and head out from there.

So that's the plan. I'm also looking at taking 3-5 days off in October to rendezvous with Steve and Nika when they hit Beijing and surroundings.

That's the update. I'm officially employed and such.

Monday, August 21, 2006


One thing about China that I really like is the markets. Tang Shan doesn't seem to have many, but there's one about a ten minute walk away. Alistair, myself and Grace headed there after watching three episodes of Lost, and were down there for about an hour and a half.

Chinese markets, more than anywhere else, remind me of where I am. That's a necessary thing in a city as developed and 'recent' as Tang Shan. The 1976 earthquake destroyed the city, so everything is new, so while it's China, it's likely one of the most un-Chinese places in the country.

Regardless... the market was quite nice. As per usual, they have all kinds of craziness: fresh vegetables and fruit stalls, live seafood (I swear a shrimp tried to jack my wallet), pigs' tails, noodle vendors, 'bits&bobs' places that have everything from old army blankets and used shoes to little trikes and sauce-pans, lots of hotpot places, jewelry (sketchy at best), etc. We wandered from one end to the other, and then back again, picking up 7 skewers of grilled squid (5 yuan), fried tofu and coriander (1 yuan), and Alistair and Grace got hotpot and we sat down. Hotpot, by the way, is basically oil or a broth in a huge basin (I hesitate to call it a pot, though it is) and they cook skewers of whatever on demand: cabbage, shrimp, tofu, blood cubes, pork, chicken, beef, squid, and lots of stuff I couldn't make out. 2 skewers for 1 yuan, so they got quite an assortment.

In the morning, I wandered down to a restaurant called Byone International, and had breakfast cheap. Then headed to the bank for some mullah, and then wandered over to a department store to get a head-shaving aparatus. After that, we needed more coffee and I figured some beer was in order. The lockers outside the grocery store had a sign that said, in English, "Scan your sex here". There isn't a lot of "Engrish" here, but damn... I started laughing. Two girls gave me a side-long glance, wondering what I thought was funny. I'm not exactly sure how they got "sex" from "ticket", but hey.

At one point in the store I had like 6 women who worked at the grocery store gathered around me. I was trying to ask where the tea and coffee were: "Ummm... cha, kefe nali ma?" Not even close to being right, except for 'cha'. Finally they found a girl who spoke English and I asked her. She asked someone else in Chinese, and that person said "cha".

Sometimes Chinese people bug the hell out of me. You can say something 10 times, then they get it and say the exact same fucking thing back to you as a question. Half the time they're surprised you're speaking Chinese (or attempting to), but half the time I think they're just culturally dense (not to generalize, but what else can you call it when 6 women don't understand "cha" + making pouring and drinking pantomime?). When I say culturally I mean that if there's no full sentence and you aren't saying it exactly exactly right, they just don't get it. There's no attempt whatsoever to listen to the word and work it out. And that happens everywhere: in taxis, restaurants, on the street. They have no concept of progression with the language, and simply don't seem able to deduce what you're saying. If a Chinese person comes up to me and says "it good" and points at my shirt, I know he's trying to say "I like your shirt". I don't stare at him like a mentally-challenged psychotic, which is what we foreigners get. It's all or nothing here: either you do speak Chinese or you don't. If you say a few things in Chinese, they'll go off like linguistic Roman Candles. They don't tone the speed down, and they just pour it at you. One of the few things I can say that irritates me here. Also, if you're with someone who is Chinese, say in a cab, a good many Chinese people will ignore you and wait for them to speak.

That's my only gripe, really, which I hope to assuage with Chinese language lessons. I understand that the language is extremely tonal (4 tones - flat, rising, rising and falling, and falling) but the inability to understand even with the addition of circumstance and context can be very tiring.

Pictures here and a few up on Flickr courtesy of Alistair, by the way. He lost some photos from his camera, so he was replenishing them.

Chinese tidbit of the day: roads. Most main roads in Tang Shan are made with thin, rectangular stone like something you'd see outside a hotel or something. Very odd, as they seem to crack and heave up frequently enough to force lane closures, etc. I'm not exactly sure why they use them, but they are quite nice compared to asphault or concrete.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Must... get through... today...

Ugh. Woke up at quarter-to-seven, sluggishly roamed about the apartment for a few minutes, then went to work. Did prep for my first class of new students (5 teenage girls, low level). It was alright, but the book might as well not exist for all they understand. The material is just too advanced for them. (The same holds true for the class I have in 25 minutes: teenagers, intermediate level.) Oh, and they followed me around on break. I'm really getting sick of this attention, and the giggling and stupidity and prodding for my email, MSN, cell number (what cell??), zodiac sign (I shit thee not), Chinese birth year, phone number, etc. FOOOOOOK OFFFF

On top of that, for this next class I'm at the end of unit 4 of 8 with only 6 or 7 classes of 20 so far. Yeah... the teacher who did a 'midnight run' did not bother to pace his lessons, so now I'm somewhat screwed. I'll have to create a revision chapter myself, devise a unit for 2 or 3 lessons that doesn't exist in the book, and then move back to normal lesson pacing - 2.5 classes, or 5 hours, per 12-page unit. Torture. T-O-R-T-U...

Additionally, I haven't eaten anything yet today. I'm running on a litre of water and 3 cups of coffee... which does nothing since I built up a caffeine immunity in high-school. Grrr...

Aw well. Finish off this next 2 hour block and I'm the hell outta Dodge (aka the school) for 2 days. Weds is a training day, but I need the morning for full week prep, then I have a test class on Thurs and Fri, both 'high-flyers' (7-9 year olds). Only 1.5 hours each class, though. That said... they're the worst bunches of kids, apparently. I don't mean their English level. I mean as kids. They're from the deepest abyss in Hell. Satan doesn't even want them there. So I've been told. Trial by Fire, I guess.

Then my usual Saturday/Sunday routine of classes.

I just want to head home and write a few long emails to those who are due them, watch a few episodes of Lost (season 1) and do some writing. Oh, and sleep. And eat.

Someone send me some mental energy, please.

---5:51pm update---

I survived. My afternoon class was awesome, and I somehow sustained my energy through the 2 hours. I went home right after, getting in around 4pm. I then watched 2 episodes of Lost and did a bit of email correspondence as spoken of above. Oh, edited in my Conversation class picture.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A good day

Felt like a long day, but really it hasn't been (though it is 12:40am here).

Woke up around 9am, and fumbled about for a while. Watched an episode of Lost (pilot part II), spoke with a bunch of people over MSN til 11, then meddled around and headed into work for 1:20pm. Did some prep and hit class for 2:30, which went well. We finished up the "if you only had 6 months before the world explodes, what 10 things would you do?" exercise, and then did a house-warming mingling party, a debate, and role-playing ordering. I used parts of the menu from the Royal Oak, and it was hilarious how they reacted. Electronic dictionaries flew out of pockets and they were bamboozled by 3/4s of the items. There was an almost unanimous outcry of laughter when they saw "chicken fingers" ("finger of chicken!?!") and Oak Club ("made with the tree?!"), and a few others. Funny the things we take for granted.

Then afterwards, went for a beer with Alistair around 6:45. At 7:30, Duncan joined us. We then met up with Nick at the bowling alley and played a few games. Seven, I think, and we each had another beer or two.

Then I went to (ack) McDonald's with Nick. It was the first time I'd really spoken one-on-one with Nick. It was great. Gave me really good insight into both teaching and the ideas of work vs responsibility. Nick's in a unique position because he's got experience as a teacher (6 months in China plus time spent in Italy) and he's a teacher by training. We had a great 45 minute conversation about teachers as commodities and the idea of what holds each of us into what we do, per se. I discussed my 6-month plan with him, and he spoke about his 1-year plan with me. It was great to have a chance to just talk to him. So far I've had awesome talks with Alistair (many), Duncan and now Nick. I've spoken a bit with Michelle, but she's a tad more closed in some respects.

Sonny handed me my contract today. I'll peruse it tomorrow, and fill it in myself. If they don't like the time-line I'm proposing, well... then they can suck it. I'd rather sign a 6-month contract than fanny about at the 8-month or 10-month marks and not get a reference. The Chinese can be a bit dodgy that way: they tend to take professional matters personally, and hold grudges. Or they can do. Hell, they might not be happy with a 6-month contract. The plan is to go til the end of February, then hit the road for 3 weeks or so and head south and see what I can.

New pictures up on Flickr, including the Chinese Tommy Lee Jones, shots of the gang as well as bowling lane wenches with Kill Bill uniforms, special order for Aaron. Rawr. Oh, and a good shot of me being uncertain of whether to choose Marianne or Veronica (bowling balls). Duncan, of course, always had the Lady Brunswick. The ball favouritism started last time, when it was Nick, Michelle and Duncan vs Alistair, Camilla and myself - Duncan and I had some friendly rivalry going on, and I had gotten 3 strikes in a row with Marianne. However, tonight she didn't treat me well so I switched. All in good, silly fun.

Oh, and it looks like Steve and Nika are coming to the Beijing area to visit for a week or so. I may try to work out some time off so I can hang out with them a bit. Depends on when they arrive, and what days I can swing in order to minimize others covering for me. The most I would be able to do is 4 days, if I use my 2 days off and take 2 days.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The little things

Tonight I finished up class and coerced Duncan into going for a beer with me. That was around 6pm or so. His girlfriend, Yang (said Yen, I think), joined us at the bar around twenty to 7. He had to meet up with one of his students for supper at 7, and he asked me along, so off we went. I had met her before during an interview thing with his class 3 weeks ago. Turns out her parents own the place we went to.

It was awesome. We all sat down, met her parents, and had tea. Worked out what we were going to have (a painless process for once - I attribute that to Yang's no-nonsense approach and the student's familiarity with everything), and then Duncan and myself had to switch spots with the student (whose name completely escapes me) and Yang, as we were not seated in the spot of honour: facing the doorway. We had beef (damn nice); a medley of peanuts, celery, carrots and califlower; lamb and coriander with a 'hotpot' kind of dealie; and then eggplant (fast becoming my favourite dish). Duncan and I had a beer, but the student's uncles (close friends of the family, actually, but called uncles out of affection) kept toasting us. One would come over from the table next to us and pour us more beer and click our glasses. The guy was a master of ensuring his glass rim was lower than ours, though I did my damndest to at least make the rims equal. The reason is because someone of higher station or higher honour/respect always has his glass higher than the other person. We tried to nullify that somewhat to no avail. So we toasted ("Gambe!") and downed the beer like a shot. Then again... then again...

Lots of fun, and it was awesome to have such an intimate experience. I learned how to say "I want" and "I have" to the point where I could put sentences together... kinda. Learned 1-10 (and by proxy, 11-80 or whatever) through the fierce and stern ministrations of Yang and the student (fuck I feel bad for not knowing her name). So we were the last ones left in the restaurant, we headed out and the entire staff (server, chef, preparer ?? and the mom and dad) came out to see us off. We four went to a hip-hop bar of all places. Neat little place, but the music sucked ass as one might expect. The student kept asking me if I could sing those songs, and of course Duncan said "Yea, yea... Patrick's quite a good singer". ... yeah. So I tried to explain what the guy was singing about (something re: genitals and the motion of appendages, etc., as per usual rap music shite).

I had a Corona, and then just kind of sat there. It found it hard watching Yang and Duncan across the table, so I mostly stared into space. I headed home within 30 minutes of us getting to this hip-hop place. So here I am. And now it's time for sleep. Was a great night, but I'm quite tired. Tomorrow, I have but my afternoon conversation class. My morning class finished this morning. Sleeping in... awww yeeeee-ah.

So yeah... it's all about the little things here. Being able to try to talk Chinese to those 'uncles', and laughing over them wanting us to chug our glasses of beer after the toast, cigarettes being offered back and forth, good food and decent conversation (both English and Chinese) and a nice slow wind-down to the night. It was great.

But now... G'night!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

When Monkeys Attack

By 'attack' I mean flee. And by 'monkeys' I mean monkey ladies: ladies with monkeys. I almost got hit by a taxi crossing a small side-street I was so distracted. Some weathered middle-aged lady had a spider monkey on a leash and was walking towards us. She even had a little crop. I'd say it was cute, except I think I saw her using it on the poor thing. I tried to get my camera out in time, and the lady gave me the most stricken look of horror... and shuffle-ran away, monkey clutched to her hip, out of camera-shot. "At least you can say a monkey lady ran from ya," Alistair quipped at the time. So I thought I would indeed make a note of it. Guess I can cross "have a monkey lady run from me" from my 101 Things To Do Before Expiring list.

Ah, China.

Well, today was my the second-to-last day for my TB4 class. Picture inserted above. It's missing two of the girls, but last days are usually quite barren, so I thought I'd get a shot in today instead of tomorrow. Quite a funny picture, with the 3 guys cowering at the back (4 including me, I suppose). Good kids. Tomorrow is mostly a games day. We'll do some work, but mostly games, methinks.

After tomorrow, my mornings will be free for a bit during the week; weekends are another story. I'm taking on one TB2a class for either Alistair or Duncan on Saturday or Sunday, so that will be different. My conversation class is going well. They did a 20 Questions game today to kick things off. I did a big mix-up of animals and people, so one guy had Zhang Yimou and the girl on the other team standing beside him had 'a lion'. I hate that they know Celine Dion here. Grrr... I thought 12,000 kms would be far enough to escape her. Not so, apparently. Others they did were Chow Yun Fat, Norman Bethune (insanely famous over here - Google him, the Chinese love him to pieces), an elephant, a lion, a fox, S.H.E. (Chinese pop trio) and Jou Jia Lun (famous pop star)... and 'our teacher' (it got a lot of laughs). Poor girl. She even asked "Am I a foreigner?" to which there was a resounding "YES" amidst much laughter... the class even said "It's someone from our class...". Oh my.

Not much else happened. Just crazy monkey lady. That made it all worth it, though.

Oh, looking at that picture reminds me of something: women holding hands. It's huge here. It indicates close friendship or comraderie. It's cool walking down the street and seeing like 5 women walking, holding hands, or couples of girls skipping along, hands clasped. Just gives me the ol' warm-'n'-fuzzies, I guess. This ain't exactly a gay-friendly nation, so it's interesting to see things that most Westerners would take for intimacy as simply a showing of closeness between friends. Guys don't do it, suffice it to say. So yeah, that's my Chinese tidbit for the day.

Wait! I've got something else. Something Kelly had written on her blog reminded me of it. Capris. Okay, so they're popular here also (only on women), but guys walk around with shirt 'capris'. They roll the bottoms of their shirts up to their ribs when they're hot (temperature-wise...). Quite the sight seeing an old man scratching his head and carrying on a conversation with someone with his shirt rolled up to his chest.

Tee hee! I'm still chuckling over the weathered monkey lady. Okay, I'll shut up now.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Fun Monday

Woke up around 8:30 or so on Monday, and when Alistair stumbled forth we hit a big new shopping mall about 8 kms south of our apartment. It was pretty nice. It felt like a Canadian mall. We grabbed lunch there (Chinese food court... surreal), then wandered and got some groceries for the movie afternoon/night: beer, chips/crisps, some Chinese baked goods (the white bread here is just too... much, and also sweet-tasting), juice and yogurt for work mornings. A group of 5 kids followed us around the grocery store for a bit, just trailing us wide-eyed. It's strange... Chinese react in one of two ways: they either stare as though we have three heads, or they don't care in the slightest. Odd to see such extremes.

Anyhoo... Then we hit a small DVD shop across the road. I got Strings (wooo!), V for Vendetta and the Inside Man. All copies work except Strings, but they all work on my iBook DVD player which means they'll work back home. They were 12 yuan each, so a great price, and they're all DVD-9 (high-quality). We got back to our place after a near-accident on a road perpendicular to Xinhua Dongdao (the main street in Tang Shan). The drivers here really suck, but thankfully most people don't drive very fast, so the taxi driver had time to break and swerve into oncoming traffic, which in turn shifted farther to their right. It was the result of a pedicab, a small van and a bike-cart all trying to move through/across traffic when the flow of cars hadn't let up.

Movie night was a success. Alistair, Michelle and I watched Ong-Bak while waiting on Nick and Katie to arrive around 4pm. Then we watched Tigerland (Michelle's), Click (Nick's) and The Inside Man (mine). We really should have watched the Inside Man earlier on as I don't think we were much in a mood for thinking or trying to track a plot after 4 movies and 8 hours. We finished up just after midnight. Everyone liked the movies, and I hadn't seen any of them before (except Ong-Bak which was a filler more than anything).

Oh, chips (ref. image). They have funky-ass flavours here; none of the usual NA flavours. There is Roasted Beijing Duck, Deep-Fried Dumstick, Lemon, Hokkaido Grilled Crab, Grilled Sparerib, Spicy Chicken and all kinds of other weird ones. They all still taste like most NA chips (and they're Lays), but I just found it funny. The little details make me smile.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

This is how NOT to start a day

I'll take 2 litres of beer + only a little food + only 5 hours sleep for $500, Alex.

I'm sure we've all been there, but this morning was brutal for me. We went for drinks after work yesterday (got some great photos I'll upload this evenin'), then took a pedicab (well, Duncan paced it by jogging alongside) to a hotel where they have bowling lanes on the 8th floor. Odd? I thought so. On that note, should anyone visit Tang Shan and stay at the Tang Shan Hotel, don't stay on the 7th floor.

It was awesome. Nick, Michelle and Duncan vs myself, Camilla and Alistair. We lost 5 out of 6, but I bowled a 120 and a 125. We played 6 games, and drank copious quantities of Budweiser. We played from 8:30 until 11:15. Good times, but this morning was rough.

I keep trying to think of things that I'm now taking for granted but which would be novel to you folks. Today I realized there are no speed limits on roads, nor do police ever pull people over. I thought about this as the taxi we used to come back to the school from lunch was driving in the far lane into oncoming traffic and honking as if the bus and 20 other vehicles racing towards us were in the wrong. Quite fun.

Bathrooms. They suck. Period. A few places have western toilets, and all places have urinals, so men do fine. I pity women, however. They have to have superb balance to use what are essentially glorified holes in the ground. Our apartment toilet-seat is busted, it doesn't flush quite right (never caused any problems, though) and it doesn't accept toilet paper because of some rotor thinger in the flushing mechanism. So yeah... less than ideal, and I'd rather not think of how hygenic it is.

This Monday, we're all gathering for movies at mine and Alistair's place. The rules: everyone has to bring two movies they've not seen, and one of them has to be in an individually-assigned genre. I've got "period piece". Thankfully yesterday we went DVD shopping and I got The Proposition (Guy Pearce; Australian movie about 3 brothers, etc.). Michelle has war/drama, Alistair is action/adventure, Duncan is black-and-white. Nick has horror/comedy. Apparently he has a movie that fits both, and many others. Satan's Little Helper? I'd not heard of it, but he's hell-bent on us seeing it. The person whose movie is the most well received doesn't have to pay for their supper.

That's it for now. I'll work on uploading to Flickr images from last night.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

What the fluggen?

Okay... I can view my blog from home. So...


Nothing much to report. My new conversational class rocks. No text book... just free-range activities and ideas for them to talk up a storm. They take to it with such enthusiasm, too. The issue is keeping them in activities. I may have to pull the debate card again as that worked wonders in my late-teens advanced class. They loved it. I just don't want to seem like I'm doing whatever I can do to make them talk and ensure I stay in the background, though that is the point. I had them do an activity today (from the mind of yours truly) where they work in pairs to think of anything about a country I randomly assign (using flashcards with the country names works great as they can draw like kids picking "a card, any card"). Then they decide who will be the tourist, and who will be the tour guide. The tourists then randomly pick another country that someone else has. The tour guide then tries to "sell" their country to the tourist. It was kick-ass. They tore the activity apart. It got to the point where I almost had to tell them to quiet down a bit as they were abustle in English. 16 late teens to early twenties (20 after today - had 4 new students) all chattering in English, asking questions and receiving responses. All on the fly. It was great.

Anyway... yeah. Supper time. God bless Grace. Mmmmm... FOOD.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Two Things

Numba Juan: I am getting internet hooked up at my apartment today, so I hope to speak with a good many of you in real-time soon. Actually, it'll be set up before most of you are awake. Boo ya! Good thing I brought my wireless router - it'll be a breeze. It's high-speed also, so I can use Skype and not sound like some hokey sci-fi radio show from the '30s.

Numba Tu: Next Thursday is my last summer class, so things will slow down. YAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAY! So... no more 6 hours of class a day plus 2-3 hours of planning. I will be able to take a breath. That was some of the best news I've had here in a while. I love having something to look forward to, especially when it's something that spells a bit of relief for yours truly. Also, the summer weather will be winding down a bit in a month and I can't wait. Feels like it's been summer for aeons.

Not much else to report. Things are going well, classes are flowing nicely, teaching grooves have been found, and I realized that I'd hit my last belt-hole yesterday. So I've lost enough weight to have moved two holes down on my belt since I left Ottawa almost three weeks ago. That's a good thing, I'd say.

I miss gaming. I was reading through some PDF sourcebooks that Todd put on a DVD for me and man oh man... by the time I get back to Ottawa I will be frothing at the mouth to game.

Happy Wednesday! I must away to find some lunch type stuff.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Three Cheers for Blaggin'!

Another day, another dollar. Wrapped up my EF 7 class on Friday (picture up on Flickr, along with ones I thought I'd uploaded), and took over a regular class today. By regular I mean not a summer intensive course. It's the same age, approx, as my class of 12/13 year olds, but slightly less ability. Also, all female it seems. There's one boy listed on the attendance, but I don't think he's been around. I don't blame him... 6 girls, 1 boy... ouch.

Oh, and this new course is using a different course book (woot!) and is only 2 hours long instead of 3. Unfortunately... I thought I had a former teacher's old lesson plan for this class. Turns out, he used it last time, so I walked in sans plan. "Jus' blag it, mate" Alistair or Nick would say. Heard the word 'blag' for the first time last week. Basically means to shoot the shit and stretch 5 minutes into 30. Nick's a master of it.

I am now done for two days. It's my "weekend". A few teachers are heading to Beijing on Tuesday to provide English escort for 43 students out on a day trip. I opted not to go simply because I need Tuesday to plan, and tomorrow I'm doing nothing. Blessed nothingness. Two or three teachers are also going to Beijing tonight on their own initiative and with their own agendas, coming back tomorrow evening. Again, I opted out because this past week has been mentally wearying, and I'm not in a great frame of mind to fully appreciate it the way I want to. When I go, I want to be able to devote my emotion in a mostly-positive direction. At the moment, I'm just zonked, and I know I'd be thinking about this upcoming week too much to fully devote my attentions to the splendor of the ancient downtown core of Beijing.

That's it for now. Maybe this weekend I'll have the rare opportunity to photograph the KFC Dance. I shit thee not... a KFC manager and kids do this weird dance at the top of the stairs outside one of the restaurants and people actually watch. I swear, the Chinese would watch paint dry so long as three or four people were already doing so. Within five minutes, there'd be a crowd, everyone jostling for a good paint-watching vantage.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Fridays just aren't the same...

... without the weekends off. As it stands, I thought my Sunday was looking decent, but it turns out I have a 3-hour class in the morning and a 2h10m class in the afternoon. 9-12, then 1-3:10. Ugh.

Monday is off, and Tuesday is as well but it's not considered "off" as it's a prime day for planning for the week. Next week is, I hope, my last insane week.

Things are going really well. Teaching is great, but I DETEST planning. It's like trying to forecast tomorrow's weather by licking your finger and sticking it up in the air the day before. Some classes eat through material, and other days... they languish on five minutes of lesson plan material/exercises.

Ex: I spent 25 minutes with my 10-11 year olds yesterday morning going through "If I HAD a ball, I WOULD play catch" (conditional tense) sentences. It just wasn't okay to combine past tense with future conditional. The Chinese mind was just about blown. And today the keeners hated picking film jobs (actor, dancer, singer, cameraman/woman, director, writer) while the quiet ones had a blast. The purpose was to try to convince one of the students (the producer) to hire them. I'd have thought they'd have eaten it up! Not so. The one girl named the movie "Sue and Victor" (two of the students) and that ended the fun for Sue who wanted her "di'ni'y" (dignity) and decided to "reshine" (resign). In a huff, I might add.

My teenage class is doing really well consistently, on the other hand. I've found the fine line between wielding the rod of authority and joking with my students and being called by my first name instead of "teacher". I had them in stitches today by tossing no few anecdotes about injuries and Canadian comparisons to various Chinese traditions. I finally really and truly understand and relate to Mr. Clancy's teaching style: toss in-your-face-ludicrous comments out and watch the class cannibalize each other in debate. It's like a sucker-punch. They love debating, and it even draws the quiet ones out. That class ends tomorrow, though. Next week at the same time I pick up a conversational class, meaning there is no book or serial lesson scheme. They are there only to talk, so it's all role-playing exercises and discussion topics. I act as English moderator more than a teacher.

The last two nights, Alistair and I have watched movies after work. We hit Rambo: First Blood on Weds, and Rambo II last night. Classics. DVDs cost like 10 yuan ($1.50), so he has a stockpile, as does the school and the other teachers. Duncan and Michelle are obsessed with the series 'Lost' (they have both 1st and 2nd seasons boxed sets). These cheap DVDs give us a great excuse to go "hey, I've never seen this movie... may as well buy it". It can be hit and miss, but there's a scale of quality on the DVDs. DVD-5... you roll the dice. DVD-9 is high quality. I might see if I can find Hard Boiled, since I haven't seen that in ages, and Alistair has never seen it.

Not much else happening, really. Just working on getting through the days in good humour (which is easier now that I've found my teacher's legs) and getting enough sleep. I've lost a bit of weight, but not much, and I spotted a tai ji qian school. Now if I could only remember where it was... I saw it when I accompanied Duncan on his phone card odyssey that ate up 45 minutes and took us all over Tangshan last week.

Nick's heading for a night and day in Beijing on Sunday night, and I think a number of other teachers are going. I don't think I will. Cost isn't too big an issue, but being gone from Sunday night til Monday night, with Tuesday for 5 days of planning... too busy. I'll hop along on the next trek, since they tend to happen monthly. Things are simply too busy at the moment.

When things slow down (after next week), I'll look into more formal Chinese instruction, either kung-fu or tai ji qian and RELAX a bit. Wow, this was a long post. Talk to you folks later - time for a beer with Nick - and happy Friday morning.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Sacred Time

Was there ever a more sacred time than 5:30pm? On work days, I would say no. Day's end, and time for a bit of planning then a beer.

Today went great, but 3 hours with 18 and 19 year-olds is... ummm... arduous at best. Getting them into a debate is like trying to undo 6,000 years of history-based cultural orientation. Yet debate they shall! Tomorrow, in pairs, they will have formal debates based on somewhat bold statements about family and the roles of various members.

My younger class this morning was great (as stated in my other entry). It turns out I'm a really good balance of clown and educator, which one must be in this kind of ESL environment. They need to be able to smile (and do so, as often as it's not disruptive!) but also learn. I feel I do that best with younger learners. I still enjoy adult teaching, but I am now feeling my mom's pain. However... she only ever had to deal with one at a time, and not 18 of them at once, locked in a room with them. Then again, she had to deal with 2 separately, for a collected term of 9 or so years. Ouch. I think I need to plan ahead for a really kick-ass Mother's Day gift.

But yeah, back to the younger class. As I said below, it went quite well and I have no concerns about them and the fact it's 3 hours. That time flies by. It's so damn hard to judge time with my teen class. They took 50 minutes on something I'd designed to take up only 15. Bonus, but then their attention began to wander, and it can be difficult to do activities with them since they're so cynical. Hell, I consider half the activities available ludicrous and irrelevant to 18 year-olds.

Anyhoo... it was a decent day, and I hope for the same tomorrer. (oh, some pictures have been updated on my Flickr account.)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Beginning of a busy week

Had my 3-hour morning class. It went really well, given that I was prepared to do a review of sections 1-3... yet the class had only done section 1. So it was all improv and speedy reference to the book. They had fun talking about the Battle of Hastings (though there was a LOT of new vocab for them: throne, promise, invasion, monarch, conquest, empire, etc.). It was going so well I forgot about their first break. I noticed at quarter after ten, and then again failed to notice their second break until twenty-five after eleven.

I'll just say this: 11-year-old boys are like 11-year-old boys everywhere. Quite funny. We did a "if you had 1 billion yuan, what would you do?" exercise. Of course to arrive at that number, I had to pull a Dr. Evil... "1 hundred-thousand yuan" and they just raised their eyebrows. So I went "1 million yuan" and they just looked at me and said "that's not wery much monies", so then it was up'd to a billion which I still don't think they were satisfied with but they spread that money around.

I came in to a piece of worrying news in an email, but things seem to be okay. I've been placated... somewhat by a follow-up email, so I'm feeling alright. Waiting on better news, however.

Everything here is status quo. Happy that I handled a 3-hour class of 11/12-year-olds (sans lesson plan) without issue. Makes me feel like looking forward to this afternoon's class of teenagers. Kinda.

Time for lunch. Alistair and Nick are staring at me. Later!