Friday, September 29, 2006

The Breaking of the Fellowship

Tomorrow is Ema's last day. Ema is one of five TAs, and a fantastic person. Money can't buy the abuse she heaps on Duncan, nor the help she's given me and many others. It's thanks to her that I'm doing tai ji quan - her translation and interpretation made it possible. I'm going to miss her, but I know she'll do great out there. This job was a bit below her, but we've all appreciated everything she's done.

So we took her out to lunch today, and forced her to "'ganbe' ganbe" as Alistair dubbed it (downing beer in a toast). She was flushed by the end of the meal, but everyone had a great time. For some reason, very few people were photogenic. I blame the distraction that is abundant and good food.

Ema also helped me book my accommodation in Datong today. So that's taken care of. It's 140 Y per night (2 nights) - not too bad. Now I just need to get there, which I will be doing next Weds morning. Quite a few things on my to-do list once there, the most important of which are Yungang Caves and the Hanging Temple on Heng Shan, one of the five sacred mountains. Also, from Yungang Caves I can walk 15 mins to the Great Wall... and that portion is more or less untrafficked by tourists or locals. I'll also check out the Nine Dragon Screen, a few temples (one of the is considered one of the largest Buddhist temples in China) and a few other places. I'll be there from the 5th until the 7th. The rest of my holiday will be spent relaxing here in Tang Shan, doing tai ji quan, and cleaning my cesspool of a room from top to bottom.

Michelle has been on holiday this week, so I'm covering two of her classes: her intermediate business class and two of her beginner youngster classes. The business class was tonight, and went well. The case study they were doing was of a corporate HR department disgruntled as a result of layoffs. Quite funny. I drew a number of anecdotes, and the class (which included Ema) manoeuvred through the task of settling the issues that had arisen. It was quite fun.

Not sure how the young class will go. One of them is 2 hours, which is nearly unheard-of for a class of 7-9 year olds. But it should be fine. It's all about language-focused activities. My two VIPs (1-on-1s) are good. One is a middle-aged financial consultant (codename: Mr. Happy) for the brewery in Tang Shan that was acquired by Anheiser Bush, and the other is a 17-year-old who will be in Toronto for four years, studying. She was a little slow and tentative to start off with, but is now moving quite smoothly through the material. My other classes are status quo, though I'll be starting a new class soon - Nick's TB 2As (12 or 13 year olds) are finishing up on Sunday, so I get them as 2Bs a week later.

Anyhoo... all is well, though this "weekend" will be hell: we have tomorrow off (except for me... I have a VIP) so we can plan for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Monday becomes Saturday in terms of classes, and Tuesday becomes another Sunday. So it will be fairly intensive. Yet there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel: one week off. So yeah, that's that.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

My bad

Re: my lurkers thread. I didn't intend for it to come out the way it did, but I totally deserve the reactions. I sound like an asshole. I didn't mean for it to come out quite so... whiny and "I'm taking my ball and going home". Sorry, all. Just wanted to say that I appreciate the comments, and I'd love to see more. Of course, it wouldn't be me if I only said that and then shut the hell up. So now I will. Shut the hell up that is.

I'm sorry about that

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

To All The Lurkers Out There

I know there are nigh on 10 hits to this page per day (sometimes 20+), and given that some of them might be repeats, I'll say 3-5 unique click-throughs. I'll know more when I bother to check the metrics for page hits.

Please understand something. If you aren't emailing me or talking to me on MSN/Google/Yahoo IM or Skype, this is my sole means of communicating with you. Post comments please, even if it's only "Sounds like you had a great time!" or "I'd hit it" or whatever. If you aren't communicating with me in other ways, this is me putting effort into communicating with you, so take 20 seconds to make this a two-way thing. Nothing more dejecting than checking my inbox and finding zero comments to an indepth post that took me 40 minutes to write.

All I'm asking is that you take less than a minute to make a comment. They mean the world to me and I frequently read them multiple times so great is my joy at hearing from the people I dearly miss. I'm in a foreign country with high-tech vehicles of communication at my disposal. Please use one of them. To those of you who keep in touch with me through various means, this obviously isn't aimed at you and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. It really does mean a lot to me.

Sorry if this sounds pissy, but look at it from my perspective: no family, no close friends, no familiar comforts, treading foreign ground... and no word from folks when the opportunity is staring them in the face. Yeah, it irritates me. If it's the character code required to post a comment that is baffling you, then please lay off the smack. ;) That's there to foil the numerous spammers who post "I really like your blog. Are you looking to buy organic, fair-trade sex toys? Then click HERE!" (I'm serious)



Just got that metrics email, weirdly enough:


Total .......................... 142
Average per Day .................. 9
Average Visit Length .......... 1:25
This Week ....................... 66

Page Views

Total .......................... 281
Average per Day ................. 17
Average per Visit .............. 1.8
This Week ...................... 120

Monday, September 25, 2006

Chengde hen hao!

Me, approaching Golden Hil by stony paths near one of the lakes. So yeah... the Chengde Chronicles.

A list of my kit, to start off with. The Chengde trip was a field test of my German webbing. I had with me my hydrapak (camel-back pack) and my webbing. It worked great. Webbing underneath, hydrapak with 2 litres of water fitting over that, resting on/above the buttpack of the webbing. It also created a lot of interest. If people weren't staring, they were discussing where I was from... and then saw the Canadian flag patches. I discerned a lot of "Ahhh... ta shi Canada ren." after I'd passed by. No issues at all with army gear - it's a big thing here. Anyway...

Usually, no trip in China is complete without a series of mishaps. Well, I guess I broke the tradition. No real mishaps except that the voyage by bus into Chengde was longer than I thought it would be, and I arrived at midnight (left at 5:30).

The buses en route were freakin' awesome. The first one was sort of like a drab mini-bus that had been gutted and had had prison bunks surgically implanted. It was a shady hostel on wheels, with 28 bunks in it, in three rows of three, plus two solid bunks at the back that held five. I was near the front, on the right side, upper bunk. (double windows, also, for both upper and lower bunks)

I was feeling a bit uncertain of everything, as I was out on my own with limited Chinese. Turns out all was fine. Being a foreigner does have some perks, as bus attendants seem to remember me and where I'm going. I say 'attendants' because there's one driver plus two or three others who are just kind there, riding along, doing random things to help out. ... like chain smoking. I got to talking to the main attendant of the first bus. He was asking me where I was from, which is about as far as we got since he wasn't overly patient (though quite nice) and my Chinese is broken.

Our first stop was a warzone. Or it looked like a dead city after a warzone, as if two sides had jointly decided to decimate a city, then move on, and people sort of filled in the holes. The bathroom was a pock-marked cement and brick wall with brick-laid holes and a cement trough that was squirming with maggots. A single yellow bulb kindly shed flickering light on their wriggling omni-presence.

The roads were absolute shite. Crews were destroying them and rebuilding most of the night, so we were on major highways that were nothing but 5 or 6 lane back-roads. Hell, half our trip was through back-roads, as there is no main route to Chengde, and we were doing a milkrun. If you've seen Romancing the Stone, then you've seen what my bus trip was like (when what's-her-name is on that bus that breaks down in Columbia). The main attendant spent most of his time yelling into his cellphone, and telling the driver to change course to pick up some random person on the side of the road. They were the ones he was talking to on the cellphone. So we zigzagged a bit, and 400 kms took 6.5 hours to traverse. All this in the dark, with the bus spending half its time on the wrong side of the road, or nearly off the road where it narrowed to single-lane through canyons or valleys.

Around 9:30, I was tapped on the shoulder (I had been dozing) and was gestured at to get off the bus. I saw a few others disembark, so off I went, shouldering my bags. We were at some downtrodden waystation, and after being ushered through a gauntlet of grumbling buses, I got onto another one, one that was a lot nicer and more modern. I thanked the guy and shook his hand, and found a spot on the bus at the back, in the under shared bunk, after creating much talk. "A foreigner? In the middle of nowhere? What the hell?" was the general bustle. One kid said "Hello!" and I responded, and he proceeded to talk to anyone he could, retelling the grand narrative of our bisyllabic exchange.

The rear bunk covered the width of the bus, as in the other bus, but it was more comfortable and semi-reclined. There were only two people back there, with room for 4. I took the middle. There was a Chinese guy who didn't say boo and promptly went to sleep on my left, and a girl on my right who kept watching me.

After thirty minutes or so, I asked where she was from, and she immediately leaned on her elbow and started chatting. I got across that I could only understand a little (Wo mingbai hungyu yi dien. Bu hen dua.), but we talked for 2.5 hours. She did a lot of laughing and saying "Bu shi" (another way of saying 'no', depending on what was said: "Ni shi blah blah blah?" "Shi" would be yes in that case). I found out she was going back to some town in Mongolia. She is a 24-year old Mongolian, which explained her beautifully exaggerated features. I'd say that chatting with her was one of the most enjoyable portions of the entire trip, as she was an interesting person, asked me lots of questions, and I had a chance to meet someone who put up with my attempts at Chinese and helped me improve. I've gotten better simply by virtue of this trip.

She let me know when we got to Chengde, and opened the back window and waved to me. Myself and one or two others were dropped near an underpass, with no sign of a city in sight. It had also begun to drizzle and I had nothing but a sleeveless t-shirt. (The Mongolian woman had asked me about if it was cold in Canada, and I said yes. She asked why I didn't have a jacket and I said "This isn't cold". The Chinese are really weird about the cold - they wrap themselves in layers if the temperature drops below 25 degrees.)

The taxi trip was without issue, and took 10 minutes. My hotel was literally across the street from the main south entrance to Bishu Shanzhuang, the imperial summer resort and gardens built in 1703. I was allowed into the hotel (it being 12:30am at this point) and numerous fuwuyuan had to be woken up. I was given a laminated card and a receipt and directed to the third floor. There, I woke up yet another woman who took my receipt and, jug of hot water in hand, led me to my room. From a massive ring of keys, she chose the one for my room, and that was that. The room wasn't nice, but it was clean and comfy after a 6-hour bus ride.

I slept in til 7am, then got up and went downstairs in search of breakfast (zaocan). It had been raining almost all night, and was drizzling outside still. I didn't let that disuade me, however. Breakfast was complimentary, so I had a boiled egg, a spongy rice bread roll, some sour bean sprouts and headed out for the day.

I wandered down the road a bit, then got a cab to Punning Si, the only temple with Buddhist monks. I arrived a bit too early, as they only open at 8am. I heard the gongs and the trills of pipe instruments from inside, so hung out for a bit til I could go in. There was a tour bus there, but their tour was slow, so I saw most of Punning Si without there being many people. I got a shot of the monks entering the main temple. I looked all around, and went into Mahayana Hall (where the monks had been praying), where a 22-meter high wooden Buddha stood. It was pretty staggering. The statue of Guanyin is one of the largest wooden buddha statues in the world, if not the largest.

By that point, I was pretty damp. By 9am I was wandering down one of the streets of Chengde, after being accosted by all manner of merchants. I bought an okay-quality Chinese jacket for 140. The only reason I bought it (I've decided) is because I talked them down from the 260 they were asking. I should have started the bargaining at 100 yuan. Aw well. Haggling was a success.

I then grabbed a taxi to Pule Si, which is off the beaten path. Puning Si was still somewhat within Chengde, but Pule Si is up on the hills, farmers' fields arrayed around it. Puning Si was 50 yuan, Pule Si was 30 yuan. Pretty cheap, really, and I donated a bit at the altars. While Puning Si was impressive with the wooden statue of Guanyin and the array of designs, Pule Si was architecturally impressive, and at the summit in the Temple of Universal Joy was an ancient buddha, Yamantaka (I think), a very Tibetan buddha. He had six arms, a dragon's head, and didn't look overly kind. No one was there, so I had the place to myself.

(Pictures within the temples and temple out-buildings were prohibited, so you won't find any pictures on my Flickr page of them, but a Google search should yield images.)

After that, I decided I needed a bite to eat. It was 11:15, and I had walked down from Pule Si, through some poor streets, to hit a main road. Restaurants weren't busy yet, so I didn't wait. (The sign of a decent restaurant in China is the degree to which it is busy and the people are happy, so I had no gauge.) I grabbed some stick thing from a vendor near the south entrance to Bishu Shanzhuang, walked the shops along the main drag and bought something for Angie, and 90 yuan later, into Bishu Shanzhuang I went.

I took a tonne of pictures of Bishu Shanzhuang, and I saw the entire place. It was absolutely beautiful, and very peaceful. I took a 'golf-cart' ride through the western, mountainous portions. That took 30 minutes or so and took me from the south to the west, north, east, and back south in a rectangle. The driver was a bit of a dick, but he was good and we didn't go flying off into any abyss (we had many occassions to do so on that Chinese rendition of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride). A pheasant attacked the cart, and many deer bounded off the cobbled path as we rolled through. Once we were near the entrance and had stopped, I got off and didn't go back to the cart. A random guy took a picture of me standing with his daughter ("closer, closer"). Their English was good, but it was odd. They just came up and asked if he could take a picture of her and I (I had first thought he wanted a picture of the two of them across from the Tower of Rainy Mist). She put her arm around me (she was foiled by my webbing - ha ha!), and I managed to twist out a crooked smile at the last moment for the second photo (I'd screwed up the first one with my bewildered expression).

I then walked about the lake areas for an hour and a bit, then headed north up the east side of the gardens, all the way up to the Mongolian yurts (soooo disappointing) and a huge tower. I then headed back south, past places I had seen, and wandered down a different path, back over the water pavilions and to the other south gate. At this time it was 3:20, and I needed to get to the bus station.

(I had picked up my ticket prior to going to Pule Si... the taxi broke down 2 kms away, so I walked the remainder. No issue buying a ticket to Tang Shan.)

I read Dracula while waiting to board the bus. God the bus was uncomfortable. They over-booked it, we had frequent long stops (sometimes for no reason), got stopped by the army and investigated (and the people seated in the aisles on little stools were told to get out), but finally arrived back in Tang Shan around 10:30pm. I had a headache from dehydration and fatigue, and pretty much went straight to sleep last night after two large glasses of orange juice and lots of water.

That was my trip. Lots of fun, and Chengde is a beautiful place. Thankfully, most of it can be seen at a leisurely pace in a 9- or 10-hour day.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

And I'm off...

... to Chengde. I'll report back late on Monday night (my time). Wish me luck, stranger in a strange land that I am.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Chengde hooooo!

I'm going to Chengde this Sunday. All plans have been made. 61 yuan by bus each way, 120 yuan for accomodation.

Rough plan: arrive in Chengde, confirm timing of bus leaving Chengde for Tang Shan on Monday (should be 4:25pm), head to the hotel and crash. Wake up at 6am, and hit the streets, starting with Puning Si which is the only practicing Buddhist temple in Chengde, and has morning prayer. I'll likely cab to Puning Si, then begin the walking. I will have to go about 8-10 kms throughout the day, but I should be able to do that easily at a military (100 meters a minute) pace.

Targets: Puning Si, Pule Si, Bishu Shanzhuang which contains the imperial palaces and a small lake-riddled resort spot in the southeast. After that, I'll worry about checking out the other temples: Anyuan Miao, Puren Si and Putuozongcheng Zhi Miao (which was built to resemble the temple in Lhasa, Tibet).

Monday, September 18, 2006

Monday Adventure

Every week, I try to do or experience something that I can look back on and say "That was fun/cool/neat/bewildering". Yesterday, it was going to Xiao Shan, "Small Mountain".

I started the day getting up around 9 or so, and chatting on MSN, and shaved my head. Gave Michelle a shout around 11:30 to see if she was still up for checking out The Banquet, a Zhang Ziyi movie set in 907 CE, China. It was something we'd talked about over beers on Sunday night. It was basically just her and I in Tang Shan, as Alistair, Nick and Duncan had headed to Beijing for a night out.

The answer was yes, so I got cleaned up and went for something to eat at Das Restaurant. I was to meet Michelle at the cinema at 1:30, but she met me at the restaurant instead. Good thing, as I got there at ten-to-one, so would not have met her in time. We had breakfast, then began what Michelle dubbed the Quest for Tai Ji Pants. I began with the manager and a few of the staff at Das Restaurant: "Wo neng zai na mai tai ji kuzi ma?" That didn't work quite that well, so I just went to broken Chinese: "Wo yao kuzi. Tai ji quan zhe dao ma? Tai ji quan kuzi. ... Kuzi. Zhege." They got it, and started pondering and brainstorming. They came up with Xiao Shan. We sort of laughed because Xiao Shan is the name of the pole-dancing guy that Michelle fancies from Xin Dong Li.

I had them write it down in Chinese, and we went to check the movie show time at the cinema. 3pm, so it being 1:45pm, we had time to have a Pants Odyssey. So we set out by taxi.

We didn't have to go too too far - maybe three kilometers and we were dropped off in front of this row of shops. Michelle and I looked at each other and just shrugged. So began the "Wo yao kuzi. Tai ji quan kuzi. Zai ma?" We ended up wandering down an alleyway, finding a mini-market of clothes, and asking. They pointed towards this partially obscured building.

In we went. Behold: four storeys of floor-to-ceiling clothes of every description. It looked like a clothes black market. Again, it was huge. Picture a department store with only small aisles and little stalls with false walls behind them going up to the ceiling, all clothes laden. Scattered everywhere were twenty-foot high bundles of wrapped clothes, or massive bags of them being stacked on the counters.

Anyway, as it really defied description. ... but no tai ji pants. Wandered outside and through the rest of the clothes district. No go. Le sigh. So tonight I'll go to tai ji in street clothes and just ask where I can get them. I really can't do tai ji without something as I don't have proper clothes for it. Thus I need to ask where I can get more Chinese clothes. You'd think you'd be able to find traditional Chinese clothes in China... but nope. It's proven extremely difficult.

The Banquet was quite good. Like a Chinese "Hamlet". Big production, and the music was interesting. It kind of clashed with itself sometimes, which was freaking cool. And it had English subtitles, which surprised the hell out of us. We expected to just have to suffer through with very limited Chinese understanding. (Oh, movies here also have Chinese subtitles due to the different dialects all over the country.)

The Chinese have to be one of the most rude people in the world. At least ten cellphones went off during the movie (there only being about 20 people in the theatre), and only two people got up and went out to answer them. And Chinese people are not exactly quiet. Then in the middle of the movie, this middle-aged couple comes in and start to talk loudly about where they should sit. ... and they kept talking throughout the movie, so I started kicking the guy's chair. He eventually shut up, but then other people would talk, or shout into cellphones, etc. Really kind of irritating. It got Michelle and I talking about what exactly is polite in China. So we're going on a quest to discover what it is. Because it can't be common courtesy, not spitting, helping others, watching where they're going, not staring, not jumping in front of others in lines, etc. Kind of blows my mind. I think people think China and picture courteous people and customs. Not so.

So that's my story of the day. It was a good day, over all.

Oh, and someone hot-boxed Tang Shan this morning.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Me In The Middle [School]

Okay, not a clever title in the slightest. Would you feel better knowing that I stared at a blank subject line for like 20 seconds before just choosing that stupid one? ... Well okay then.

I realized just now that I have spoken about how sucky teaching in Chinese public middle-schools is, but I didn't say much about the schools themselves, or the kids in them. So here goes.

The schools are just buildings. These ones are relatively nice since I think they're private schools to some degree. There is a kid in one of Alistair's classes who is from Dalian, and another who is from Shanghai of all places. They stay in dorms or something. So I suppose these schools (one school, two 'branches' - north and south) are relatively good academically.

All the kids except the grade 1s (grade 7s) wear uniforms, which are pretty relaxed. They have a red, black and white jacket, black pants and have to wear a white shirt of some form. I say 'some form' because some wear dress shirts, others wear polo shirts, others t-shirts, and almost all of them have logos or other colours on them. They can wear any kind of sneaker, though. They also all have short hair. I have a few kids whose gender I can't distinguish in the slightest. I have no idea why they're completely de-sexed. I have seen this with my EF students, also: school's started, and their hair is chopped. Not all of them, but quite a few.

Each class has 50-60 kids, in 6 rows of 7-10 kids. The kids never move between classes; teachers come to them. Their desks are pretty small, and are actually just tables. They look like nightstands draped in blue table-cloths. At the front of the room is a raised platform of concrete where the teacher sits/stands behind a lectern. In half my classrooms, the backside of the lecterns are used as refuse bins and I'm forever tripping over plastic beverage bottles. If there is a chair behind there, I move it. EF teachers don't sit ever, unless we have a VIP and then we sit because it's culturally intimidating to be speaking down to a single person, so you sit to be at eye level.

Anyway, next to/behind the doors (which are really wonky wooden doors that were stolen from my grandparents' outhouses, I'm sure) are a handful of mops. The concrete stairs are always wet before a class, because students aren't just students. That would be wasteful. They're also all custodians. They're responsible for their class as well as cleaning the entire school. I saw two kids out in rusty metal window-guards/cages washing the outsides of windows the other day. ... on the third floor. Between classes, they're wiping down bannisters, scrubbing by hand or mopping the stairs, floors, walls, railings and anything else that can be made damp. Of course, most of this is ineffectual since 700 kids running up and down stairs and hallways just makes the floors worse.

At 5pm, all the kids empty into the school's courtyard where parents/guardians have brought them something to eat. They then return inside for more school, meals in hand (sometimes in pots and pans). Vendors also appear to sell food for kids whose parents are working or whatever. They're in school from before 7 in the morning until 8 or so at night. Sometimes later. They only have four classes in the morning and four in the afternoons, but they have mandatory study periods prior to and after school. They pull compulsory 12 or 13 hour days, most of them.

Oh, inspections. At random times, an inspector will come in and all kids will slap their hands on their desks, palms down. Their nails are then inspected. Shit is bestowed upon those whose nails are not deemed to be on par and they're sometimes asked to leave the class. Where they go, I haven't the foggiest, but most I never see again. (kidding) I think there are also hair checks, but I haven't seen those. They have gym class to megaphone-voices on poles in the yard, work-camp style.

As I've said before, they're programmed. Chinese kids don't learn by thinking. They learn through memorization or sequence. They don't know the days of the week, really. They only know their order. If I say "Monday" they'll rattle off "Tuesday! Wednesday! Thursday!" etc. at the top of their lungs. Also, everything is "beautiful" or "delicious". I told my students that I went to Qinhuangdao on Tuesday, and was asking why to elicit some thought-out answers. In every class, I've gotten "Because it's beautiful." but only after beating on them for an answer. ........... I really wish I could erase the words "hello", "beautiful", "delicious" and "I'm fine, thank you" from their minds.

Many of them are dense as hell. As I said, it's not their fault. They learn by rote and mindless repetition. Asking them what they like will elicit only the vocab they've been taught. They don't even like those things usually, they only know the words and know that if someone asks you what you like, you say "basketball", "ping-pong", "badminton", etc. Parents care only about marks and pushing them harder. It doesn't matter if they don't understand something, they just want their children to advance, be seen as better than someone else.

Keeping order is pretty easy. God bless shame cultures. "You. What's your name?" (Questions are answered standing up, by the way.) "Come write it on the board." Then send them back to their seats. They stay silent the rest of the class. It's an asshole move, but I really don't take crap from these kids and if they irritate me, I have them stand up and tell me something. It's fool-proof because those who misbehave either know the stuff backwards and forwards, or have no idea what's going on. So you either engage them, or embarrass them. Regardless, they realize that they're not immune from being singled out.

The sad thing is that I really only teach 3 or 4 kids out of 55 in most classes. Some of my classes rock. All the kids want a chance to answer, or one-up the last responder. However, being a caring and driven teacher will get you nowhere in these schools because you have 45 minutes once a week to teach robots something outside the box. It doesn't work, so all we do is build an illusion of it working by pulling Charlie Chaplins up on the concrete podium and having them make English-esque noises. I use the blackboards a lot since it wastes time. Brainstorming colours or hobbies or modes of transportation? Have the kids write them out. More time used up. Blag, blag, blag.

It's really quite senseless, but I have to be there. I do what I can for those who want to learn. I give them new phrases and vocab, as well as plenty of opportunist language: sit down, okay, come on up front, describe it for/to me, I don't think so, almost but not quite, you're close, etc. Phrases that are not target language phrases; things that are said all the time in a classroom but have no bearing on the focus. Most of them, however, don't learn squat.

I think I have a reputation with the Chinese teachers, one of being a hardass and non-accomodating. None of them try to watch my classes - I've turned many away at the doors to their own classrooms, waving my hand in their bewildered or uncertain faces. Not to be mean, but to keep the class mine and not theirs. Teachers influence things in the worst ways: they give the answers, they berate students for wrong answers, they tell the kids to shut up if I want them to be shouting out ideas or answers, and their presence just plain puts the kids off the idea that English class (once a week) is different and that they can act differently and think.

So yeah... that's the story of the middle-schools. The end.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Well, it had been shaping up to be just another two days off, until yesterday Alistair, Grace and I said "Let's do something". We had initially thought Chengde, the emperor's summer palace. So we raced to the bus station... only to discover the trip was 5 hours long, and the next bus left at 5:30pm. It was then 12:45pm.

Alternate plan: Qinhuangdao, a small (hahaha!) city by the sea about 200 km east. The bus trip was fine. I sat next to some guy who scoffed at the idea of an adult eating chips. I was told that only children eat them in China. Xien zai wo zhe da, I guess. (Now I know) The tv show was complete ass, and very emblematic of Chinese television - slap-sticky, irritating, easily-digested swill aimed at 4-year-olds. Half the people on the bus who weren't sleeping were snorting and giggling. Le sigh.

Qinhuangdao. We arrived at 3 o'clock, and checked out the train station to see when the last train left, given that if we took the last bus we'd only have two hours to wander by the sea and grab a bite to eat. Couldn't get an answer. Checked tourist information... they didn't know or didn't care to know.

After a forty yuan cab ride, we were at the beach and wandered a bit. The air was nice, and it was good to stare out across the waves. We couldn't get to the Old Dragon's Head, where the Great Wall emerges from the sea, but that was alright; it was 40 minutes farther east.

Brides. There were so many wedding couples on the beach. There was a rocky outcrop that jutted into the sea past a nice pier (pictures soon to come) with like 10 brides all arrayed for photographs.

Anyway... we wandered the pier, took some photos, then went back to where the pier met the land and paid admission for this museum-y place. Some square plus building commemorating an emperor (can't remember who). So more photos, and climbed a bunch of stairs... only to have them close the doors to the big building on us as we arrived. So we toured the grounds, saw peacocks and ostriches, Alistair almost walked into a nasty green and black spider whose main bulk was the size of my pinky, and left.

Grace needed to call her friend to see if she could buy us train tickets so we could stay longer, so we waltzed into the Holiday Inn on the seashore and had a few beers while she did that. That was successful, so we had another few hours - until 10pm.

Supper. It freakin' rocked. We walk into this restaurant and are led across the foyer and into this enormous room filled with tanks. They had everything: lobsters, crabs, eels, sole, rock crabs, nurse sharks, sturgeons, etc etc. Alistair and I chose two crabs (poor guys) and we all picked another three dishes from their menu. We had the crab (messy but good); eggplant with seafood; a large mixed seafood dish that had squid, fish, shrimp, etc. (awesome); battered fish; and a pork dish just to spice it up.

Then we hit this off-the-beaten-track bar that looked like a cave or something. The only lighting they had came from candles and a few small lamps behind the bar and near the KTV machines. We ordered beer and people started coming over to talk to us. Grace did karaoke, then I did "A Hard Days Night" which is a really sucky song to sing karaoke to, by the way. In the midst of that, one of the Chinese guys brings me a glass of beer. Then afterwards he arm-wrestled me, of all things. (Don't ask)

To the train station, where we hung out with Ting and her husband, and talked for a bit, providing something for a hundred-some-odd folks waiting in the queue to watch. Then a last-minute scramble: the tickets Ting had gotten us were for today, not last night, so those had to be changed. No problems in the end, but it was just one of those "of course the tickets are wrong" kind of things. We'd had issues like that since we left our apartment.

The train... wow. I'd forgotten what trains here were like. Only 13 yuan ($1.50), but 3 hours long... and there was no space whatsoever. At one point, I was kneeling on the ground getting stares because I'd assumed a beggar's stance. Spoke with a few people near me, and managed to sit down for a bit when a few guys stood on their benches, allowing for more actual sitting room. It was just packed, seats and aisles. On top of that, they tried to move trolleys through for food, beer and water... and at some point an attendant was mopping! That was freakin' funny. Grace said "Why are you mopping?!" and he said he didn't want to be, but that was his job.

We finally got back to Tang Shan at 1am, tired and sore... only to find that our entire apartment block was without power. Woke up this morning still without power. I'm posting this from work, and that's why there are no pictures as of yet.

So yeah... a fun day, well worth the minor hassles and inconveniences. I think next week I'll head to Chengde on Sunday night, and spend all of Monday wandering, getting back late Monday night. For National Day and the week we teachers have off, I will go to Datong and check out the Yungang Caves and the Hanging Temple for 3 or 4 days. That's in early October. Then Steve and Nika will be here late Oct, early Nov.

Okay, time to plan my three middle-school classes and my business class. Pictures will be up by the time most of you get up. (if I have power back)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

No pain, no "Hallo"

I am so achy right now. Just got back from 1.5 hours of tai ji. I'm pretty sure I did about 300 kicks - front kicks, cross kicks, crescent kicks, reverse-crescent kicks. All with my arms out to my sides, palms out. After about forty minutes of working on the first form, which had me sweating.

Whoever says that tai ji is for old people really really needs to realize that the tai chi of the west is only Yang style, which is not considered a part of tai ji quan, which is one of the three Chinese wushu arts. I watched Ziang (sp?) Lao Shi drop another master using his index finger and not even watching. Then he hurled that master a good 8 feet away by just moving that index finger vs another attack. I also tried to push over the master in white... and got hurled on my ass, but only after having been pushing against what felt like an unconcerned mountain for 15 seconds.

I hurt, but I got a lot of "OK"s and "Hallo"s from Ziang Lao Shi, and he kept teaching me new things. (He can and will only say "OK" and "Hallo", usually together, and that's all he wants to be able to say in English.) Then he shook his head, waved his hands at me and muttered something in Chinese about how he had showed me enough. So I have a lot of practicing to do: the form, the kicks, and the final hand-strike/kick 'windmill' combo. That's the only way I can describe it. It's block-chop-kick in this graceful windmill motion. Not that it's graceful when I do it...

Anyway, I will be a hurting unit tomorrow but no pain, no "Hallo".

How many Chinese women does it take...

... to punch two holes in an old belt?

Give up?

Four. One woman to punch the holes, and three to giggle at the foreigner taking his belt off in front of them. I suppose they considered it a floor-show. They didn't charge me anything, and when I asked they just grinned from ear to ear and waved their hands. I was tracked all the way to the elevator. I decided it was safest not to look over my shoulder more than once.

It was an alright day. My kids are beginning to get out of hand. I need to learn "Shut the hell up or Confucius will return from the grave and smash you over the skulls with thick tomes" in Chinese. I did, however, receive a gift from my TB 2B class this morning: a little Chinese checkers set (not my picture above, by the way). It was very nice, and they all chorused "Happy Teacher Day!". I didn't even know it was Teachers' Day. Now I have an excuse to learn Chinese chess. I see people playing it all the time, along with this dice-and-cup game. I'd love to just sit in the memorial park and play chess with old men. That'd be an awesome afternoon, in my opinion. It's not like I can't discuss anything: "Zhege shi hao ma?" or "Zhege hao" (demonstrative "that/there" + "good" = endless possibilities).

The word zhege has gotten me through just about every Chinese exchange thus far. If anyone was to ask me "What do I need to know if I'm going to be in China?" I'd say:

- zhege (jay-guh)

... and that's it. Though if you were keen, I'd also say:

- duei (due'eh; Yes)
- bu ('boo'; No/Not; negatory in general)
- nihao (nee'how; You're good [lit.]; Hello)
- xie xie / duo xie (see'ah-see'ah / due'oh see'ah; Thanks / Thank you very much)
- hao / hen hao / bu hao / buhai (Good / Very Good / Not good / Bad)
- meiyo (mayo; I don't have anything ; this is very handy when in the presence of persistant beggars)
- dui bu qi (due'ee bu see; Sorry)
- bu yong qi (boo koe see; No problem; you're welcome)
- Wo bu mingbai (wh boo ming'buy; I don't understand ; also very freakin' handy)
- ma? (just add "ma" to most sentences to turn it into a question)
- ling, yi, er (are), san, si (suh), wu, liu, qi (chee), ba, jiu (jee-ooh), shi (shh'e) [0-10]
- wo (I/me), ni (you, s.), women (woe-men; we), nimen (you, pl.), ta (he/she/it)
- kwai / yuan (kwhy; Chinese RMB; no one says yuan, though)
- Wo yao yi/lienge ping pijou, xie xie (Wh yao yee/li'an'gah ping pi'joo, see'ah shee'ah; I want a/two bottle(s) of beer, thanks.)

Simple phrase beginners: Wo yo (I have); Wo yao (I want); Wo xi huan (I like); Wo shi (I am).

Ex: Wo yao yiga ping shui (I want 1 bottle of water); Wo xi huan ni (I like you); Ni xi huan wo ma? (Do you like me?); Ni xi huan zhege? (Do you like that?); Wo shi Canada ren (I'm from Canada).

They use yiga and lienge instead of yi and er for some things, for some reason. Usually when you are talking about getting something. Oh, and "please" isn't really used. Anyhoo, my vocab is limited but I can roughly do parts of speech with "want", "have" and "like", point madly, and say zhege. No one needs vocab with zhege. I shit thee not; zhege is the key to the entire Chinese language.

And that's my language tutorial (Steve & Nika, take note). That'll be $19.99, please.

One hour and twenty-some minutes until tai ji quan! Woot!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Tale of the 40-Foot Scroll

I had one helluva day. Screw the middle-school classes, I checked out tai ji quan. Ema went with me to help me translate. We got there at 5:20, and there was a man buying or discussing a shu fa scroll with another guy. In a chair in the main room was an older man (maybe 35 or 40) in dark blue patterned, traditional Chinese clothes, head relaxed, sleeping it seemed. Not so. He was on his feet and talking to us before I could blink. I found out he was a master. He asked me a few questions (through Ema) and we spoke a bit about tai ji quan.

I found out that it is 100 yuan. It seemed like it was for a course, there being many layers to it. The first is 'fist and wrist' or something. At this point I was going by mime and interpretation. I asked if I could watch a class, and he said certainly. So I left in a fantastic mood, set to go watch the class at 8.

Suffice it to say, I haven't been in such high spirits since I came to China. The next two hours passed so slowly, but I went for a beer with Nick and Alistair, then food with Nick. I told Nick where I was going and he wanted to tag along, so off we went. I was pretty nervous and very excited.

We arrived and watched the warm-ups and people practicing. No one was younger than 30. Then the guy who I assumed was the master came out all in white, with another man all in black, very somber, with quiet motions (if that makes sense). Well, the master in white came over and greeted me and invited me to join them. So I did.

The master asked me a few questions about what martial arts I had studied before, and I told him judo, tae kwon do and haidong gumdo. At this point, there was no shortage of listeners, all smiling and nodding and trying to help my horrible Chinese. For example, the master asked about Ema, saying something and putting his hand out to my shoulder-height. So I asked Nick what "friend" is, and I tell them "Ema shi wo hangyo, bu tai ji quan." and mimed translator. Nick held my bag and took off to grab alcohol after he helped me translate a few words.

Then the somber man in traditional black clothes steps to the front, and begins. I figure it was a senior student starting off the class, with the formerly-sleeping master (dressed in white) watching me. At the time I didn't realize he was watching me specifically, though in retrospect, he kept himself angled so he could observe me the entire time. So I did what I could, which was tough, as I tried to follow both feet and arm motions. About five minutes later, the man in black wrapped up and made a motion, and the master in white ushered me towards the doors. (Sorry, class was outside)

I turn around and there's Karen, a former sales admin with EF! She had gotten a call from one of the students (or someone in the neighbourhood) saying that there was a Canadian English teacher doing tai ji quan, so she came over. She lives a few doors down... and her father was one of the other masters! Never thought I'd use the expression 'it's a small world' in China, but there you have it.

So inside we go, and we sit down in sofas across from the masters. The head master, Zhiang Lao Shi (Zhiang Teacher), asked me a bunch of questions, and Karen translated as best she could. Turns out he was curious as to why I moved as sharply as I did. So I told him I used to do tae kwon do and I was trying to keep up with the movements without knowing them. He nods and gestures me to the centre of the room. Karen tells me he wants me to demonstrate.

I haven't done tae kwon do in over 14 years. ... but I did it again then, mixing different blocks, kicks and strikes together because I'll be damned if I can remember any of the forms. Again, the head master nods and gestures. (turns out he was quite satisfied) We are all ushered upstairs, Nick more bewildered than I. I was just in heaven. We ascend past these long long calligraphy scrolls and ink brush paintings of lions and karst landscapes.

... right into the head master's bedroom-slash-study. The place was unreal. I don't think I've ever seen so much paper amassed together. There were scrolls floor-to-ceiling, and tables covered with dozens upon dozens of bound, rolled scrolls, wrapped around some kind of beautiful dark wood. Carved chairs, tables and a twenty-foot desk - all made from the same kind of wood - occupied the rest of the room, along with a very modest bed. The head master then proceeds to say very little, with the master in white and Karen's dad doing most of the talking.

First off, the master in black is not only a tai ji quan master, but renowned for his shu fa calligraphy and artwork. We talk for 15 minutes or so, and then the piece-de-resistance...

A 2'x40' scroll detailing the master's entire philosophy and interpretation of tai ji quan and taoism is unfurled across the entire expanse of the floor, and into the landing, and a short ways down the stairs. Fucking amazing. Imagine seeing a life-long philosophy essay written in elaborate, artful ink brush and pen strokes... spanning an entire room. I don't think Nick was all that impressed, but my jaw dropped. I crossed over to see it right-side-up and knelt down. Unreal.

After that was re-rolled and bound, the words "yi bai yuan" were mentioned again (100 yuan) and I said, "Yes, 100 yuan for a course." Then Karen said, "No... not a course. Only one time you pay. 100 yuan forever." Apparently, the master is well-off and teaches because he loves it, so he doesn't charge anything but the barest pittance. He does so purely to weed out people showing up for a night, fannying around, and then disappearing. He also doesn't believe in being selective - those who wish to learn can and will learn, if they're willing to give it what they've got. Additionally, I was told he would instruct me in shu fa if I prove myself in tai ji quan. Another jaw-dropping moment.

Oh, at one point I was asked my name. I said "Patrick" and Zhiang Lao Shi waved his hand in front of his face. They wanted my Chinese name. There were smiles when I gave it. They said it was good, but a bit too long. I guess they'll think of something.

We left on great terms, and Karen's dad drove us back to our places in one of the nicest cars I have ever been in in my life: a brand-new BMW, with on-board computer and enough room between the back and front seats that we almost needed an intercom.

If I had a bike, I could get to tai ji in about 15 minutes. It would take me 45 minutes to walk there, or 8 minutes or so by taxi. I don't want to pay for a taxi all the time, so I'll have to figure something out. I'll be there tomorrow for 8pm, with 100 yuan in hand. I'll need to change clothes at the school, I guess, and head out from there most nights since my weekday evenings are filling up with VIPs and classes. I'll be damned, though, if I don't show up as often as possible.

The instructional periods are every night, from 7:30 until 11pm. Tomorrow, the master in white will instruct me individually, and I will be there with metaphorical bells on.

I would say "that's all for now" but believe me... tonight was enough. It was a fantastic night, and bears the promise of many more to come.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Sux

Yesterday was my first day teaching in an outside school, a middle school. It was completely wretched. Seven Chinese teachers sat in on my first 40-minute class and the kids were dead silent because of it. I had to actually say through an EF admin that it was okay for them to speak and respond. I was some pissed. Those teachers fucked my class up hardcore. Then the second class was better, with only one teacher (their usual teacher). The third class was meh. In between, I found out that I had gotten the crappy students. Not stupid, just very very weak in English.

And everything they do is so formulaic. I had them doing dictation on the board in teams, and one of the classes couldn't grasp why I was saying days of the week randomly. They are all programmed English-bots. If you say, "Hello, how are you?" the canned response is "Hello, I'm fine, thank you." They could be lying half-dead in a gutter and they'd still say "I'm fine, thank you."

It sucked. I'm going to approach the director of studies today and make a formal complaint and suggest alternate activities that we teachers could be spending that time on. Off the top of my head, I would say sharing lesson plans, activities, brainstorming solutions to common teaching problems or particular students, coming up with new activities, and working on marketing for the school.

This is just bullshit, and it's completely souring my attitude towards private teaching at EF itself. So not only is the school not making money off this (nor are they gaining students from it), they're pissing off and demoralizing their teachers which could affect performance in classes that are money-making and crucial to the business.

Just a load of shit. And I have 4 more classes today in 3 hours, and 2 tomorrow. Three times a week I get to be pissed off as I watch any planning go down the shitter in a vain attempt to teach something to these mindless "learners". Weeehoooo

I'll see how today goes, but I'm not expecting much. The rare ups are not worth the emotional investment considering the constant downs.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

One Nipple to rule them all...

... and in Xin Dong Li bind them.

Wow. What a completely surreal night. **Disclaimer: this is not a censored post by any stretch of the imagination**

Aside: my classes were good, but the kids were a tad rowdy, and my afternoon class of intermediate teens… I had to run them, literally. I had them doing running dictation: race to the board, get as much info as they could from dialogue cards in 5 seconds, then run back and dictate. Did that for 30 minutes, until one team finished the exercise. They loved it, and it got what I needed across. Two of the girls from my other 11-14 year old class followed me again during the class break in the morning. It’s just starting to get a little disturbing.

Okay, so back to the surreal night and the no-doubt attention-grabbing subject line. Alistair and I headed out around 10pm to meet Michelle and Nick at Han Re (“Hon Ray”), a kind of western-ish bar nearby. (western as in the hemisphere, not music style) We ran into two of the teachers from the other ESL school in Tang Shan, and Nick does… well, Nick-like things. Such as licking spilt alcohol from the table (Hepatitis A, B, C, D, E, F and G anyone?). In doing so, he undoes the button (purposefully) of his shirt to show his nipples. Some guy was leaning against a pillar near our table and Nick gives him the seductive eye and bares his nipple at the man, and continues to soak up the alcohol.

… the guy was the fucking owner of Han Re. He comes over, orders us all another round of beers, sits down, and proceeds to toast us and engage us in conversation. For some reason, he chose me as his primary interlocutor, despite my constantly looking to Alistair to attempt to translate and converse for us. We got across that we’re lao shuan (teachers; “Wumen lao shuan something something”), and he says he owns the place. Given how he ordered us a round quite quickly, didn’t pay anything, and had long conversations with various workers there, I’m disinclined to be incredulous.

Throughout this, Nick is off talking to the two other ESL school teachers, leaving us to the misery he and his nipples of doom instigated. This guy was offering smokes and pulling friends and workers over to show them that he was sitting with us, three foreigners. He then invites us upstairs, which apparently is just a KTV (karaoke) place. Wifey shows up and drags him off. We flee the scene within 3 minutes, heading to Xin Dong Li.

Xin Dong Li. I really don’t know how to describe it except how I did to Aaron in an email: it’s a cross between Barrymore’s (tiered levels), the Mercury Lounge, and a 3-ring circus exotic-dancer club. I mean if Cirque de Soleil had pole-dancing, weird-ass Michael Jackson-dancing 3-pitchers-of-beer drinking shows… it would look like Xin Dong Li. It was just… befuddling, really.

We showed up as some guy is downing a litre of beer on the dance floor, and suddenly the Star Wars theme blares, reverberating in our ribcages and this guy in ‘Thriller’ Michael Jackson wear saunters down and blam… goes to town. He starts downing beer, doing flips while singing, kipping, walking on his hands, etc… then proceeds to chug 3 pitchers of beer within 20 minutes. I figure at this point (4 hours later as per the time I’m writing this), he’s dead in an alleyway, having succumbed to alcohol poisoning. I think he was actually poured yet another pitcher as he was wrapping up. The entire place was clapping and chanting “yi, er, san, si!” (yee, are, san, suh… “1, 2, 3, 4”) as he drank. Oh, and there was a half-ring of fire at some point.

Then he finishes up (I seriously thought he was going to just drop dead on the stage/dance floor) and techno/dance music starts up and right there in front of us is a girl in a two-piece pink sequin-y skimpy outfit, pole-dancing. It was just staggering. Simultaneously, another dancer takes the dance floor a la some kind of twisted square-dance caller and goes to town. Half the bar empties onto the dance floor and starts to… well… see my description further down*.

Girl in front of us finishes up, and goes to another pole at a different bar counter, and a guy takes her place (one that I was there to judge for Michelle, giving her a “sober second opinion”, obviously minus the sober at this point). Then another girl switches in, then identical twin 1, then identical twin 2, etc. It was just crazy. The entire staff behind the bar minus one were all dancers, swapping in and out.

The odd thing is… no one paid much attention. It wasn’t perceived as sexual or alluring at all, despite their get-up and the nature of their performances. It was just freakin’ weird. Maybe it’s a shame-culture thing.

*By the way, born-and-bred Chinese people can not dance. White men can’t jump, and the Chinese cannot dance. It was like watching Dawn of the Dead to techno with a strobe-light. The dance floor itself moves, up and down. It’s like a movement stimulant, or a means of disguising how unresponsive they are.

The entire Xin Dong Li experience was just plain mind-jumbling. Now I understand why the other teachers kept saying “We can’t explain it - you just have to see it”. Indeed.

Oh, I now have a decent Chinese name, as the other teachers arrived at a concensus for my super-hero name last night: the Roving Monk. In Chinese, that’s liu lang de heshang, so that’s my Chinese name. Katy, one of the TAs, wrote it out for me in Chinese, and I copied it with crayons (I was Angie-inspired) and adorned the back of my office chair with it. Laminated to boot. Katy was raving about how I should do shu fa, Chinese calligraphy - she pulled in the cleaner to inspect my work as well. Apparently I did a good copy job. I credit the blue crayon and my muse, Angie.

So now everyone has a super-hero name: Alistair is the Flaming Duke (I swear he was saying the Flaming Jew because of how the Brits pronounce it ‘dee-uke’ - Michelle nearly pissed herself laughing), Michelle is Princess Blacksnake, Duncan is The Aceman, I’m the Roving Monk and Nick is… Little Miss Moist. He walked out in the midst of the democratic process a few months back, and thus was stuck with whatever name they saw fit to give him. We also gave some of the TAs hero names: Ema is the Wise Dragon, Lily is the Inquisitive Sorceress, Katy is the Fiesty Fox and Sophia is the Dizzy Diamond.

Anyhoo… it has been one helluva 24-hour period. I need sleep, and badly. I think images of that guy in a gossamer loin-cloth thingy will haunt my dreams… It just ain’t right to see a guy pull himself up a pole to the ceiling and then do acrobatics down it to a techno beat.

I wish I’d taken pictures of Xin Dong Li (especially for Aaron)… it defies description. Sorry, not much censoring in this post. I may as well not have written anything had I attempted to skirt the reality of this evening.

[I had to post this in the morning, as I couldn’t get to my blog to post.]

Friday, September 01, 2006

Air Canada, why dost thou hate me?

Stupid aircanada site. I managed to use my PC to book my flights here and back, but now I can't get it to work well with my iBook. I'm trying to re-book my return flight for May 3rd (Beijing to Vancouver, Vancouver to Ottawa on the 4th).

Having looked over the places I want to see (and in what order), 25-30 days should give me enough time to do so. ... I hope. A lot of it will come down to the amount I can manage to save. I should be good, though. It'll be approx 2,200 yuan for travel (bus and train), 1,200 yuan for food and 6,000 for accomodation. Overall, that's 9,400 yuan which is $1,300 Cdn, and those are over-estimates. A bus from Shijiazhuang to Tang Shan (~500 kms) is 130 yuan, so travel will likely be cheaper, and I can eat cheaper also by using markets and grocery stores and avoiding temple markets and such. Accomodation will mostly be hostels (and farmers' fields... kidding!). I'm also avoiding larger cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. Anyway...

Here's the rough itinerary, April 1st - 28th, with "-" indicating small side-trips out from a larger centre:

Heading South:

Beijing to Ji'nan (to see/climb Tai Shan)
- Ji'nan to Zhengzhou (to check out Song Shan and the Shaolin temple - rockin'!)
Zhengzhou to Nanjing (to see a museum dedicated to the dead from the Japan-China war and wander the old streets)
- Nanjing to Yixian (to see/climb Huang Shan)
Yixian to Wuhan (or just straight to Shiyan)
- Wuhan to Shiyan (Wudang Shan! WOOO!)
- Shiyan to Yongshun (to wander around Wulingyuan)
Yongshun to Zhuhai by overnight train (to visit Linda and John... not gaming Linda and John, obviously)
[approx 10-12 days]

Turning West:

Zhuhai to Guilin (karst scenery ftw)
Guilin to Kunming
[approx 4-7 days]

Angling back North:

Kunming to Chengdu (I will spend quite a few days here as there is MUCH to see and do - Giant Pandas yay!)
Chengdu to Xi'an (terracota army and just an old city overall)
Xi'an back to Beijing (flight home)
[approx 8-10 days]

So that will take me south and into the central provinces (Shandong, Henan, Hubei, Jiangsu and Anhui), then the southern province of Guangdong, then northwest into the southwestern provinces (Yunnan, Sichuan and Chongqing) and back north in a teardrop-shaped circuit.

Just need to plot out a more accurate budget and figure out realistic travel times between different places. Overall, that odyssey will take me 7,500 kms across/through China.

What am I doing again?

Culture shock. I guess it's starting to hit me now, but not what most people think of when they hear "culture shock". The fascination stage is over and I've moved into the sinking stage - looking around and shrugging apathetically. I'm starting to think "Why exactly am I here?", and that's not a good thing.

I'm glad that Duncan and I are going to check out tai chi quan on Monday. I need to feel a sense of actually being here, imbedding myself for the next 7 months. I can't do that by simply teaching because I'm surrounded by the English language, other foreign teachers and an environment that is not very Chinese. This gives me a strange "half in, half out" sensation; I'm in China but not reaping the benefits of that.

Part of it is that I haven't been anywhere: Beijing, Qinhuangdao, or Tianjin. I will try to go with Michelle the next time she heads to Beijing, and hopefully Alistair and I hit Qinhuangdao (chin'juan'dao) before the summer weather fades, as it's by the sea.

I just need to step out of this shell and do things. Tang Shan isn't exactly the place to be, but it is a great access point to many neat areas nearby. Seeing Nan Hou (the park) was nice, and I need more outtings like that. I should go check out the mini-mountain to the north of the school at some point, maybe on a day with less humidity and a breeze. It's quite a climb. It would give me a sense of doing something different.

Anyway... I need to dispel this feeling of waiting. To do so, I have to be doing. Most of this bleh sentiment comes from the fact that I arrived in a busy period, and now things have slacked off and I have no clue what to do with myself. I have a few classes during the weekdays, and a few at the weekends, but I'm not doing 30 hours a week at this point. Closer to 15-18. If I can't fill in that time with activities or hobbies outside of my apartment, I will slip quickly into a rut and that's what I came here to escape.

Rant over. Time to plan for my VIP this evening. Maybe I'm just having a crap day.


Alright, so the day ended on good notes. My VIP was cool. I have never seen someone so enthusiastic. He wasn't reserved at all, which is what ought to be expected. Most VIPs don't want to talk; they want you to do all the talking while they nod or give one-word responses. This guy stood when I came in, greeted me as best he could, and for the rest of the lesson he said everything I said, trying to assimilate it. He learned quite quickly, and it was neat to watch him scrawl English words on the scrap sheet I gave him. He'd think in Chinese, then write the word in English on the sheet and try to communicate what he meant. He absorbed quite a bit, and would follow me to the board if I was trying to draw something or explain an idea/concept. He just amazed me. Though his skill is considered Basic, his earnestness and willingness to progress was staggering. He just rejuvenated my own enthusiasm and overall regard for the human spirit.

Then I had a funny/cute bus incident on the way home. I was standing near the rear door, as per usual (I'd rather stand than sit), and a seat opened, so I said "Ni hao?" to a young woman standing near me and gestured to it. She shook her head vigorously and said "No, you" (or maybe "thank you") and pointed to it. I laughed and said, "Bu, bu. Ni." and pointed to it again. She went bright red and again waved her hands at it for me to sit. Well, she went as red as she could, I guess. So neither of us sat. Then the seat behind it opened up and she looked at me and grinned shyly. She continued to track me for the rest of the bus-ride, staring quickly away when I caught her doing it, and smiled when I got off. I gave a nod and a wave, and off I went. It was just one of those moments when everyone around you loses that faceless quality and I could see the individuals. See the trees for all the forest, per se.

Strange what a difference a few hours makes.

WTF?! Kelly just sent me this! Words can't describe.