Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Busy Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Sorry, bit of a lapse in blog posts there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 09, 2006

This Week: Thus Far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's it for now.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Alien Loves Predator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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