Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

Turned out to be a great day. I was slow moving in the morning, but was over at Michelle's and Nick's for about 11 (after shaving my head and picking up batteries for my camera). Katy was already over there, so we opened presents before Betty and Ivy arrived. I was a dork and didn't get any for people, but Michelle and Nick got me one, and Michelle got a shared toy for Nick and I: a remote-controlled car. Nick got me a zany Chinese pop-box/song thing. It looks like a barrel of gold coins and this Chinese guy bobs up and down singing a really really annoying song. It's great. All of our stuff made noise so we had worse song/noises competitions.

When Michelle went with Katy to meet up with Ivy, Betty and Jung Lei, Nick and I went to forage at the grocery store. We got: 1 kg of sausages, another pack of 8 eggs, orange juice, two bottles of wine, eight bottles of beer, and mushrooms. Mix that in with the two packs of bacon, 16 eggs, two loaves of bread that Michelle already had and we were set. I cooked up a huge breakfast - with Katy, Ivy and Betty attempting to butter toast (new experience for them) and Nick microwaving scrambled eggs. Nick and I got into one of the bottles of wine. I cooked up the sausages, mushrooms, bacon and did some botched fried eggs. We were working with very poor culinary resources. It was a MacGyver xmas breakfast.

God it was funny watching the Chinese girls and Jung Lei try to eat with forks and knives. They ended up making sandwiches out of everything. Then we made an obstacle-course out of boxes and raced the car around. That fun lasted for a good 40 minutes, then we headed downstairs to Nick's apartment to start the games.

First up... monopoly, another new experience for Betty, Ivy, Jung Lei and Katy. I was teamed with Betty and Ivy, Michelle was with Jung Lei, and Nick was with Katy. At first, Ivy and Betty weren't sure what was going on, but once they got into it, Ivy kept shouting "Pay money!" every time someone moved to a property she thought we had. Betty kept feeling guilty about rolls that landed us on tax squares and trying to get Ivy and I to not buy anything and just amass wealth. It was a good time, but kinda petered out as monopoly does.

We switched to card games, so I taught everyone Crazy 8s. We played a few rounds of that, then tried Go Fish, but I couldn't remember all the rules and that fell apart. So we played Chinese Go Fish (Dao Yu... I think?) which was cool. Kind of like blackjack. Everyone gets 4 cards, and a central card is placed face-up. You have to make 14 out of it with a card you have, then you take the combo for yourself. If you can't, you have to lay one of your cards down so the next person has two options. Also, spades are worth 4 pts, hearts 3, clubs 2, diamonds 1. You tally points once everyone is out of cards in their hand (when the deck is out of cards in the centre). Very fun. We played quite a few rounds. I did horribly. I think Betty got a higher score on our first round than I did in the entire game of 5 rounds.

After that, Jung Lei headed home so Michelle walked with him. Nick and Katy just hung out, chatting, and I played a fishing game with Ivy and Betty. I started cheating by wrapping their fishing pole lines up with mine, and by the end it was "who can keep the others from getting any fish". We had to stop because we were laughing so hard we couldn't breathe.

Then we played Pictionary. Michelle and I had dragged a portable whiteboard from the school the evening before. It was Betty, Katy and I vs Michelle, Nick and Ivy. It was great, and we played for quite some time. We had a few arguments over being exact ("age" vs "aging" for instance) but all in all it was great. Pictionary lasted quite a long time. When Ivy and Betty departed, we played darts for a bit and just hung out. Then we went back to Pictionary since it was going so well.

For supper, we went to a Western restaurant and kind of pigged-out. By the time we finished there, it was almost 10pm, and we called it a night. All in all, a fun day. Everyone had a good time. Can't ask for more than that.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Show

Alright, it was chaotic, but fun.

Things opened up around 3pm, and kids just queued to perform, thanks to Lily's organization. Prior to the show, Nick and I wandered Ke Ji Guan (the Museum of Science & Technology, where the show was being held) and saw some of the stuff. It doesn't hold a candle to Science North in Sudbury, but there were some fun things there, including a cool tunnel version of the "crooked kitchen"... it almost made me vomit I got so dizzy walking through it.

The best part of the night was definitely seeing the kidlets do their thing. And "their thing" ranged from choreographed modern dance, traditional dance (from many different time periods), martial arts, comedy acts, singing, and many assortments of musical instrument playing. I got to see Andy and Jenny from my EL class sing. They were very cute. Jenny followed me around half the rest of the show, and when I was on stage, kept waving and clapping. Most of the uploaded Flickr pictures were taken by Johnson and Angela from my TB 5B class, as they arrived to help but really had nothing to do.

The parents of the kids were horrible. They never clapped for anyone but their own child, so the place was silent except for Michelle, Nick and I clapping enthusiastically. Some of the acts (like the red dancer trio, the boy pianist and the guzheng player) got some hearty applause, and deservedly so. Most of the kids put a lot into this.

As far as the teachers went, the first thing was the Beijing Opera skit with Michelle and Joe, which was quite funny. Second up was Ivy showing us how to make a paper crane, which only Camilla got. Michelle wound up with a triangle, I tore mine to shreds to create a demonic phoenix-esque thinger and I have no clue how Nick, Joe and Andrew did. Not much better, but the kids loved watching us mess about. (I gave Jenny my horrible folded thingy.)

Then Nick had a Santa race (three teams of High Flyers dressing one of their teammates up as Santa), and then I was on with my search for tai ji quan pants skit, which Lucinda, Katy and Angie helped out with. They definitely kicked ass. The kids had a lot of fun with that, as it was all in butchered Chinese and involved them trying to sell me a pair of shorts, a skirt and sweat-pants, respectively. At the end I was trying to haggle with Angie and asking the kids to approve, and I was getting universal dissapproval until I added a piece of candy to the bargaining. It was hilarious watching fifty little hands slowly rise into the air, hoping for the candy. Nick said their faces all dropped when I gave it to Angie to close the deal. It was fun.

No real issues with the show except that it was a bit mad. We almost got lynched at the end when we were doing the final lucky draw for prizes. Poor Lily, though... she worked her ass off for the entire 3 hours. She was so exhausted and dejected afterwards. Got her feeling better at supper, though.

We went for supper at a Brazilian restaurant. We took up half the place. I sat next to Lily and Kelly, the cleaner (who is damn funny and just plain awesome). Nick and Katy were across from me. Everyone opened up their secret Santa gifts, and were generally happy. ... except for Lucinda who I think said "What the hell is this?". I think she got an alarm clock, as did Ivy. Not good things to receive in China, by the way. Traditionally, it means you want the recipient to die. Ivy burst into tears, which I thought was a result of the clock, but she was upset that Joe is leaving. It was his last hurrah. He's heading to Wenzhou tomorrow.

It was a good night, all around. My secret Santa gift was this Swiss Army Knife lighter thing. It looks like some high-tech acetylene torch, with a knife, file, and scissors that come out of the sides of it. Oh, and it has a compass. I certainly did alright. Nick got a baby bottle, which had to be from someone who has been around a while and knows about Nick and Katy. That was funny as hell. He drank wine and beer from it all night. (Takes 5 minutes at a single go to drain a full bottle, by the way.) At least no one got an apple. The Chinese and their apple giving at Christmas. It means prosperity and health, but the idea of getting an apple as a gift is just weird. Xiang Li gave Camilla and I one each when we went for supper. It was like "Ahhh awesome. I've always wanted... fruit."

Now to get some sleep, teach two classes tomorrow, and wake up to Christmas.

Edit: having issues uploading to Flickr the 50-some photos from tonight. Will get that up there soon.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Terrors of baijiu

God, do I ever have a love/hate relationship with Chinese spirits, called baijiu. It's like vodka/sambuca... 38% or higher. I ought to have guessed it'd be a rockin' supper when Xiang Li hauled two massive bottles - plus a veritable suitcase containing two more bottles - of it out of his truck. I love how you can take almost anything into a restaurant.

This is in reference to the supper I "owed" my Budweiser VIP, by the way. And yes... writing this, I'm still heavily under the effects.

There's this place in Tang Shan that I've always wondered about. It's actually just around the corner from me. I mean, literally 200 meters away, down a side-street. The restaurant is all white and gold, with fancy-dressed staff and tonnes of seafood tanks in the main lobby. I've walked past it a number of times, but tonight... we ventured within. We had a side room, and by 7pm, there were 10 of us in there. Thankfully I roped Camilla into coming with me or I might have been bombarded with ganbei's and a tonne of questions I couldn't understand/answer.

The assorted folks were friends of Xiang Li's, including a financial business owner from Shanghai, a "secretary" (there's no way she was anything but a consort dressed- and made-up like she was, intelligent though she seemed to be), a self-made man, and the local CCP head of "department of discipline" supervision and enforcement. Basically, anyone in the local CCP steps out of line, and he and his dept step in to set them straight. This guy was smoking 120 yuan/pack smokes and commanded the place like nothing I've ever seen. The baijiu was flowing like ummm... wine... and though I tried to steer clear, I had about 3.5 glasses of it. And two beers.

I'm sorry, but the Chinese put every other culture to shame when it comes to celebratory toasts and getting wasted at events. I was toasted for being a teacher, a friend to Xiang Li, sitting near the head minister of punishment (or whatever), for being there with another teacher (Camilla), for being Xiang Li's teacher, for having supper, for gracing them with my balding presence, for being "handsome" (what the fuck?!)... jesus. We went through the four bottles of baijiu fast. The food was awesome, and plentiful in the extreme. It was the most expensive supper I've ever had, and I shudder to know what the bill ended up being. No doubt half of my monthly salary, I don't doubt. We had whole crabs for dessert, for chris'sake!

Ended up getting a lift from my VIP which was a bit scary, as baijiu laden as he was. However, I've never seen a more girly driver than him when sober, so he was simply a usual Chinese driver when drunk. I wouldn't have driven with him, but hey... it honestly can't be worst than most drivers here. All was well and there were no incidents. It wasn't the wisest thing to do, but Camilla and I all but pleaded to be allowed to take a taxi. Honour and the guest-right wouldn't allow it. He'd lose face if he let us do that, as our host.

Tomorrow is the Xmas Show... and it should be a wondrous cluster-fuck. We had a meeting today, and found out that contrary to our plans, people will be showing up around 3pm. Also, there are 57 student performances. WHAT - THE - FUCK? I mean, honestly. We have two hours, and with every performance being restricted to 2 minutes, you figure out what 57 goddamn performances equals. Never mind dragging a guzheng on stage or some other random instrument or what-have-you, doing sound set-up, introducing performers, etc. It'll be a funny kind of hell.

Christmas is looking to be worse than Halloween, but I don't care. I'm just doing my bit and will laugh at the rest. I have to do a skit to find tai ji pants... and try to make a big paper origami something or other. And supervise students wrapping someone up as a Christmas tree. It'll be insane and unstable, the whole show. I can't wait. I embrace the insanity.

Now I need to down about a litre and a half of water before hitting the hay.

This is such a scattered post.

PS: in Batman Begins, he is in a Chinese prison. Can't remember who I argued with about that, but Christian Bale says "Wo bushi zuifan". ("I'm not a criminal.") So score 1 me.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas, Past and Present

Definitely a bit of a difference between how I felt about Christmas when I was 4 (left) versus how I feel about it now. Obviously, I loved getting presents of the He-Man, Transformers, LEGO, GI Joe, ThunderCats, GoBots, Star Wars variety back then. Nowadays I have more fun buying gifts for people and seeing/imagining their reactions.

That said, I'm not sure how I feel about this Christmas. Christmas in Tang Shan... just sounds like a weird juxtaposition. I guess part of it is that I have very little time to ponder and anticipate. We have our school's Christmas Party on Saturday, in the Museum of Science and Technology downstairs, then a Christmas supper that night, then a full day teaching on Sunday, then Christmas. With Alistair and Duncan gone (and Camilla in Beijing) it will be Nick, Michelle and myself along with a few of the assistants (I hope). If not, I will just spend a quiet day by myself, maybe go to Tianjin and wander some of the old culture streets and visit the museum to Huo Yuanjia. I'm just not in the mood for abiding Nick if he's in one of his slumps.

Christmas just doesn't feel like anything this year. It feels like a day I ought to be looking forward to, but am not. Part of how Christmas will be depends on how Nick decides to act. Will he be or pretend to be a human being, or will he be a moody prick? Beijing duck isn't really a substitute for my mom's turkey and stuffing and potatoes and carrots and gravy and lemon merange pie! Also, Christmas really is more about having a bit of time off and being with people you care about. While I like the people I work with, it seems like a very poor exchange. Part of Christmas is all the little things that cause those "yay!" twinges in your brain: my parents waking up the morning of, making coffee, pouring orange juice, my mom baking cinnamon buns, my brother having to be prodded out of hybernation, etc. first before anyone approaches the tree. How my parents settle with little smiles into their chairs around the tree while my brother and I dole out the presents to everyone. (We start by sorting everyone's stuff first, then piling them at the recipient's feet, then unwrap them one by one... it's like Canada Post Christmas!)

Anyhoo. Time will tell how I'm feeling about Christmas this year. It's very weird seeing shops with xmas decorations all over, and no one celebrates it here. Well, that's not true. Some families do, or use it as an excuse to give gifts. Like most people, the Chinese love an excuse to celebrate with family and friends.

Tonight I have my Budweiser VIP lesson and I've finally relented to his pestering me about taking me out for supper and drinks. I hope I can rope in Michelle and/or Nick to come with me. Otherwise, it could be a very dull and trying time with him no doubt continuing to try to plan my Christmas. At least I will have an excuse to turn in early: my Early Learner class is at 9am, and I need to be in for 8:20am or so to double-check materials and prep.

I'll try to get one of my TB 5Bs to take pictures at the Christmas Party. Almost all of them volunteered to help, but there isn't much for them to do, so I'll put one on camera duty. Should be a fun night. I can't wait to see the spoof of the Beijing Opera.

So Merry Christmas, all! Eat some turkey and drink some wine for me.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

To Send a Box...

Here's the story of why I'll never again send anything overseas from China.

Last week, I had my box of xmas presents all ready to send, but wasn't able to go to China Post due to having a class and the post office closing. Michelle, kind heart and friend that she is, went for me with Lily to translate. No go. They wanted receipts.

On Saturday, I bought three different kinds of generic receipt pads, and the girls at work made some up for me, each doing a different one. Today, Katy and I hit China Post... and were there for 2 hours. The first time. The gritty details:

Issue number one: receipts. I had one that I'd kept, but only had the made-up ones otherwise. When I told them I'd bought half of the gifts in Chengde and Datong (a slight exaggeration) and when they saw (but did not read) the other receipts in my hand, they relented. Phew.

Issue number two: I couldn't use regular post. I had to send using EMS, Expedited Mail Service (I think). This brought about........

Issue number three: they wouldn't use the box I had. They, instead, had to charge me 35 yuan and transfer everything into a China Post box, which took 30 minutes for them to do since they tried to over-wrap everything in toilet-paper and half the things didn't fit back in their boxes. ... so then they had to undo the wrapping. Once that was done, I had to cut out the address stickers to place on the new box, the main one of which they half-concealed using China Post-marked packing-tape.

Issue number four: internet failure and translation issues from the info slip to the computer. As the lady (one of three involved, of course) was entering my info onto the computer, the internet went down. That's right: the whole thing. I'm sure you heard about it - Bill Gates was weeping, Google stock dropped 23.4%. (kiddin') Chinese ISPs are problematic at best. Also, apparently capital letters and clear writing wasn't enough to transition my personal information to the computer. They had to ask for the spelling. I'm not sure if they even looked at the slip in front of them with all of it written there.

Issue number five: a second visit. As a result of issue number four, I had to go back an hour and a half later, rushing to meet Katy at the school and taxi down there to make it before close so they could ship that night. Which meant I had to leave the parcel there in between. The place looked like the back room of a shady gambling parlour. They said if I took it with me, they'd have to re-open everything and go through it all... even if it was the same three ladies helping me. Weeeeeee

Issue number six: contents recording and translation. I had to write down exactly what was in there, and then try to remember what those things were. It ended up being 9 things (I hope), and Katy had to translate what they all were into Chinese for the packing slip. That wasn't too too bad, but I hope their assurances that a bag with two things in it count as 1 item are true... otherwise this box'll never make it out of China.

Issue number seven: it cost a small fortune due to having to send it via EMS and not regular post. Regular post is about 10 yuan per kilo. ... EMS is 85 yuan per kilo, or thereabouts.

To summarize: it took them examining everything in the box very carefully, false receipts, a new box I had to pay for, an over-abundance of toilet-paper wrapping and other packing silliness, contents translation, internet failure, three clerks, a chunk of my monthly pay, and over two hours across two visits to get it done.

I consoled myself with a few DVD purchases (I'm up to 110 DVDs, total). And now... to sleep I go, hopeful that around the second or third of January, the box will arrive in Canada in one piece, with all its contents.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Greatest response to spam ever

Just got an email from a good and old friend, and it contained a quite a gem. Everyone has gotten emails termed Nigerian email scams (people wanting your personal info to send you money... yeah), as well as identity theft attempts and every other sort of crappy email junk. Well, my new hero, writing under the name Okershee Holdergrass, had correspondence with his 'hopeful'. Let's look at a few priceless morsels, shall we?

Okershee's response to the primary email:

Place your trust in the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY. With a little faith, perhaps you may be spared from the horrifying death that awaits those with CANCER OF THE LUNGS. As for me, my LORD GOD forbids me from seeking wealth. You may stick your money up the ORIFICE of your CHOICE. But please, when you meet our maker, tell him that Okershee is at his service.

God bless you, and may you find a deserving beneficiary.

Rebuttal from She Who Suffers? Indeed!

My relation that i am supposed to give out this funds to poisoned my parents and the same time tried to kill me but God secured my life that period but the sudden death of my parents led me to this deadly habit (CHAIN SMOKER) that i am suffering today.My health is seriously tormenting and will give up soonest that is the main reasons why i want you to take possession of these funds for charitable purpose.Kindly Send me this information, Your full name, your contact address, your mobile phone number to enable me forward them to the cargo company for release of the cargo in your favour.Thanks and may God bless you for being there for the poor children.

Okershee responds with a message of hope!

But wait - THERE IS HOPE! I have in my possession an ELIXIR or potion of healing herbs and spices, given to me by a holy vagrant. I have saved it for my dying father, perishing of the crotchrot. But i feel God informing me to send it to you, my lovely sister in Christ. I sense in you a wonderful righteousness and titillation, while my father is a wicked man given to sex-sin and philately.

But you, i know, would use your moneys for the appreciation and enjoyment of little children, for the eternal glory of Christ (AMEN). So i will send this powerful potion to you my sister. Please kindly send your contact address and mobile phone number so we may arrange a delivery.

There is more, of course... those are but snippets. It's just fantastic. Sir... you truly are a wonder and a credit to sarcasm and imaginative sardonic retaliation. Reading that really made me smile. This parting line truly deserves some sort of immortal praise: "I will feed you filbert nuts by candlelight. I will sing you Berber folk songs. I will bathe you with silken cloths and frothy goat milk. I will perform your last rites. And you will perish in agony, but also in delight. With rotting lungs but a soaring heart."

One of the greatest email exchanges ever.

Nothing really new here in Tang Shan. Hopefully sending out xmas gifts tomorrow. That's about the highlight. Can't wait to get that all sent off. Our plans for our school Christmas show is coming along well. Should be a laugh. We're holding it in the Museum of Science and Technology on the 23rd, and it will be full of fun skits including my on-going quest for tai ji pants, Nick doing a magic show, Michelle along with Joe and Camilla doing a rendition of Beijing Opera, Lily juggling, a modified version of The 12 Days of Christmas... the list goes on.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Another week, another kuai

<---- my TB 5B class (none absent!)

Since starting to work here, I have a new-found love of Sundays.

Yesterday I had my first of forty classes with my early learner kidlets. There were seven of them, six boys, one girl. All of them were great except for one kid who looked like he'd been stuffed by a blind taxidermist and propped up in a seat. He was so blank it was kind of funny in a sad sort of way. I did "Hello! What's your name?" chain around the room, having the students asking and answering. When it got to him, he just sort of stared and Lily had to prompt him. It reminded me of someone with stage-fright - someone so freaked out he couldn't even whisper "line!!".

They're so very cute, those kids. I have one boy who must love his name a lot. You say hello to him and he jumps up and cries "Hello Andy!". Ask him "What's your name?" and he, again, pops up and says, "Hello Andy!".

While it's fun, it's also a helluva lot of work. If you pause for 3 seconds, you have to spend 30 to get them re-focused and back on track. Poor Lily has her work cut out for her. Early learner classes should have two assistants, but she'll be the only one. Rudy was helping for a bit, though, which was awesome. Some things take so long... one hour just isn't enough time. Giving homework and making sure they put the worksheets in their folders can take 10 minutes alone since you basically have to do it with them on an enlargement. You also have to get them moving and doing things while you mess around with flashcards or whatever on the board or around the room. There are numbers and letters on the floor, so I'd just go "Okay, everyone stand up. Hmmm... WHERE'S GREEN?!" and they'd all race around as I scramble to arrange resources for the next portion of the class. "FIND 4! Where's 4?" etc. Andy almost dropped his pants when I asked "Where's red?". Apparently he has red long-johns. LOL Lily caught him before he could, though. Going to class, I look like Leon (sans tuque, plant and sunglasses) with my massive case of resources: tapes, flashcards, roll-up laminated printing lines, pictures of Noddy and his pals, laminated worksheet enlargements, activity cards, etc.

I didn't have another class til the afternoon, which was my class of 14-15 year olds (class picture above). The unit topic is Movies, so we had a blast with that. I'd just gone out the day before and bought a few DVDs, so I brought the sleeves in. Their homework was "The Last Starfighter... what do you think the plot could be?". One girl (the one on the far right in the photo) came up with a brilliant plot that would make a kick-ass movie: it was basically The Big Lebowsky meets Hard-Boiled. They discussed agreement/disagreement, and brought back Making Excuses from last unit, and did interviews with one another in the future progressive (hard as hell). Had a lot of fun with it, anyway.

Then... had 1.5 hours of "English Corner", which is basically a social style venue where conversive Chinese chat with foreigners. It was at the hotel near the school, and we ate for free, which was alright. However... the restaurant was playing "The Sound of Music" on a big screen... which was not okay. Actually had fun, though. It was the DoS, Michelle and I there with four Chinese university students.

Today was mostly crap. My morning TB 2B class just sort of went "bleh" at the beginning... and it didn't really turn around. They have a show class (*cough* I have a show class *cough*) in 4 weeks. That'll be a blast... a 1-hour "this is what your kids learned" class (which could go completely to shit if they freeze up or just don't focus) and then parent meetings. Then I observed Nick's 6-7 year olds. I will be getting the same level class as he has next Saturday or Sunday. Should be alright, but my hours are booked solid at the moment. After that, I had my other TB 2B class, and I think I've hit the limits of their abilities. They were dubbed a problem class when I took them over 9 weeks ago, but I had hope. I still retain some hope... but not a great deal. They spent 45 seconds attempting to locate Canada on a map, placing it in every continent (including Antarctica) before choosing the right country. They only got it because they were running out of countries after Uzbekistan and Finland. I was just relieved when they got China right off the bat. ... then one kid points out Argentina. What the hell?! They can't find the US, but this guy knew where Argentina is. Quite funny.

Anyway... the weekend is over. Now I can look forward to two days off, then right back to the grind. This week I'll have a lot more planning to do with these two new classes. Oh, and I might be playing street hockey with a university club on Tuesday. My VIP university students invited me to play with them, so we'll see how I'm feeling when Tues rolls around.

That's it for now. Hope everyone had a good weekend!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Kidlets Incoming!

My school schedule has changed radically since yesterday. Tomorrow, I have a new class: early learners (ages 4-5) and next week I start a starter class for kids ages 6-8. Should be fun, and it will add some very welcome variety to my current weekend line-up which is all pre-teens and teens. I may also get a weekend adult class, and my first 2-student conversation VIP class is happening today. That one should be relaxed - two university students who just want conversation exercises and excuses to chat in English.

So yeah... I'm looking forward to those, but I still have a lot of planning to do for this weekend. The lesson plan for the very little youngin's alone is 7 pages... for a one-hour class. Talk about pedantic. It should be fine, though. I've covered these kids for the DoS before, and they're pretty good. One of them is a spacial genius. I gave him a puzzle of shaped wooden blocks that you have to arrange so they all fit together. He did it in like ten seconds. Also, I'll have Lily as my assistant, and she's good about classroom control. I also get paid to act like a goof. The goofier and more spontaneous the better with kids that age.

I need to finish up xmas shopping on Monday or Tuesday and send stuff out. Does anyone else find that Christmas seems to approach faster and more silently every year?

Oh, forgot that I hadn't updated from the post below where I said I was going for the interview meeting at the university a few weeks back. I didn't take it, though the contract was good. The main issue was losing out on 5,000 yuan which I'll get from my current school once my contract is ended (half my round-trip flight ticket reimbursed). That doesn't seem like a great reason, but 5,000 is about a month's pay and more importantly... covers a quarter of the cost of my trip around China in April. Also, we have a new DoS in two weeks' time, and the change will be welcome, I think.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Debauchery in Beijing

Quite a night in Beijing.

Alistair and I arrived around 3:30pm, with the plan to meet Duncan on Wangfujing Street at 5pm. The two of us wandered down, taking a short-cut through the Orient Plaza, which is a nice mall on one of the main drags. As we approach the locator map of the mall, this Chinese student immediately homes in on us. They're like friendly parasites in Beijing, and they're almost always women in Arts programs at university. She was a Philosophy major named Rose. She offered to show us around a bit, and we had nothing else to do, so off we went. Alistair wanted to hit up a DVD/music shop. He went off to do his browsing while Rose and I chatted about Chinese movies, actors and directors. She recommended a few directors to me, and suggested checking out a movie called "Letter From an Unknown Woman". I found that there and bought it to watch with Angie when I get back.

On Wangfujing Street, she went her way, and we went ours. Fun to meet new people, even briefly. All they want is to use their English with a foreigner, though you sometimes have to be careful they don't talk you into a drink someplace and slap the bill on you... which could be extremely pricey if you've walked into a swank tea house or coffee shop.

Alistair and I then headed to the Foreign Bookstore. Before that, I did a price check on a piece of camera electronics for my dad, and the lady started asking me to make an offer. I kept saying "Wo bu yao" (I don't want it) to which she replied "Make me an offer". So wrote down 2100 yuan. She glares at it and says "NO! Can't make any money from that." ... some people's kids.

I bought a Chinese-English dictionary and "The Count of Monte Cristo" in the store, and we went across the way to McDonald's to get a small hamburger while waiting for 5pm to roll around. When it did and Duncan still wasn't there, we tried to get my phone card to work. We must have looked like complete morons. No workie, and we spent like 10 minutes with the damn thing. So we went to the hostel, checked in and called Duncan on his cell from there.

Anyway... we hooked up with Duncan at the hostel at 6:30... he was a tad late. Then we grabbed a beer in the Backpackers' Club and went to the Sichuan restaurant that Steve, Nika and I had tried in October. Good food, good times. We even had the same waitress, which was funny. We had another beer there, and headed for Sanlitun.

First stop... Kai Club, this little place off behind the main street that played trance/techno sort of stuff. We lounged about on crap couches for two or three drinks, pondered a strange painting of a naked Chinese guy lying down on his front with a bullfrog leaping over him (or possibly out of him...), then packed it in and wandered farther along.

Bar Blu was next on our list, but before that, Alistair and I checked out a great 24-hour DVD shop across the street. I bought "The Machinist", "On the Wings of Desire" (movie that "City of Angels" is based on), "Old Boy", "Hotel Rwanda", "Tsotsi", "Lost In Translation", and "O Brother Where Art Thou?". I think I'm now up to... well, almost 90 DVDs. I've bought approx 60 here.

We had quite a few drinks in Bar Blu, and watched some cricket and football (English football). Alistair explained the mysteries of cricket, and it's actually quite a cool sport. It gets a bad rep for being boring, and maybe the 5-day games can be boring (Alistair says "strategic") but the 1-days are pretty cool. The bathroom was quite nice. It was like an aquarium 'trench' urinal. At least it was nice until some Chinese guys stumbled in to ummm... expess his body's displeasure at the amount of alcohol he'd consumed. That was our signal to continue stumbling onwards, so we hopped in a cab and headed for Suzie Wong.

Suzie Wong has a feel like a remodeled 1920s opium den. It's quite lavish, with friendly and knowledgeable staff, decent drink lists, and tonnes of atmosphere. I abandoned beer in favour of whiskey sours. (Turned out to be a big mistake around 4am, but I digress.) There was a party of 20 or so near us, so we stayed on the same floor and didn't head up to the loft area. They were all from Paris, doing a one-year roaming something-or-other. They were Economics students. They'd been to Shanghai for three months (I think), were in Beijing for ten days, and were headed to New York for six months. They were blowing cash like nothing. Absinthe, champagne, towering glasses soaked in alcohol that they set fire to, blah blah blah. They must have spent 3,000-5,000 yuan there, easy.

Anyway, when Alistair and Duncan decided to carry on to Mick's, I decided to cut myself off (which I ought to have done at Bar Blu) and head back to the hostel. It was, at this point, 2:45am. I had a very very rough morning, the details of which I will skip. The first point I felt semi-decent was when we got onto the bus back to Tangshan and passed out for 2 hours. That was at 12:30pm, so yeah... it was a harsh morning. Alistair and Duncan had it slightly better, but they got less sleep. They stumbled in at 5:30am. They also passed out on the bus.

Quite a night. Part of the plan had been to get up at 10:30 this morning and hit Wou Hei hutong and have lunch and do some shopping before coming back to Tangshan. Well, that got scrapped since we looked and felt like zombies this morning. All in all, it was a great night, and there is lots of photographic evidence...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Week in Review

I'm off to Beijing tomorrow with Alistair and Duncan, and I think Michelle. I need to send a whack of cashola back to Canada, and need to check for a Chinese-English book and buy a few things for xmas to send back. I have a few things already. Ever had that "Oh my god... this item is PERFECT for so-and-so!" moment? I had one today. I'll grab it for my dad for sure. I'm not sure he'd use it that much, but I know he'd love having it. Now to find something that really cries out to me for my Mom.

This week has been a little rocky, like watching that scene in "Pi" where what's-his-name has his migraines and the camera goes nuts. It's been like watching the world around me shake and quiver with no ability for me to do squat about it. (Speaking of shaking... we had a minute earthquake here this morning at 12:35am... lasted six seconds, but was easily felt!)

First, things have not been going well for very very close friends of mine, and I fucking hate that I can't do something, even if it's only give them a hug and treat them to a beer overwhich I could listen and be vented at. I loathe the feeling of utter helplessness, but that's where I'm at. I can only hope my emails can contain enough of "me" to be of some worth.

The other thing revolves around poor Betty, the new teaching assistant. Lovely girl - shy, friendly and above the usual juvenile female Chinese gossip-mongering and silliness. Well, on Thursday she was accused of stealing 100 yuan from Katy... $17. Everyone stacked on her. I didn't see it, but Alistair (not knowing at the time what had happened) said he saw her in the teachers' room crying that night whilst the rest of the TAs were on the other side of the room maliciously ignoring her.

Heard about it all from Nick on Friday at lunch. I was some pissed. I guess I've always sided with the underdogs. Since I know Katy well I talked to her first, telling her about Camilla's issue with a workman being in her room moving things. Workmen have been all over the school engaged in huge overhauls that our over-zealous DoS felt were necessary. Very likely one of them nabbed the money from the cabinet, but Betty, being new, got the shaft. I told Katy what I thought of the entire affair, the end result being Katy ending up a bit chagrined. Somewhat pissed and upset at things happening beyond my sphere of control in other areas, I took a stance with this. I spoke with Betty after that, supporting her and talking to her about things. Poor girl was on the verge of tears seeing someone on her side. I just wanted to hug her, but talk about tossing napalm into a fire...

She seems to be doing better now, as I spoke with her again today to see how she was feeling. If she gets any more shit, I'm going to stand up and declare that I stole the money. When Katy or another TA says "What?! Really?" I'll say "No, it was Lucinda" and get them all over fucked up over it, then lay into them as they deserve. Childish prats. My 12-year-old kidlets wouldn't sink this low and cruel. Leave it to a close-knit bunch of 23-26 year old Chinese women, however...

Anyhoo... I've done my good deed. Just hope it's helped. At the very least, Betty now feels she can talk to myself and Michelle if something like this happens again. Sad but true... one teacher can win an argument or grievance vs 7 assistants combined. We're simply worth more than they are, in the Chinese mind, so if it comes to an administrative look at the situation, I win. I plan to use that to my full advantage when/if needs be. This shitty behaviour and attitude affects everyone. We have a very symbiotic and fragile little bubble-world going here, and one thing can set everything off pretty fast.

Not much happening in my own life, to be honest. Had a really good Chinese lesson on Saturday night. My classes are good, but one of my TB classes has been cancelled permanently. I find I really rely on my kids to pick me up if I'm feeling tai bu hao or kun le ("not too good" and "tired" respectively), and boy can they deliver. Nothing like walking into a room to a bunch of little faces that suddenly light up, turn your way and cry out "Hello, Teacher!" or "Good morning, Teacher!". It can't help but make me smile.

Oh, I found out Chow Yun Fat's Chinese name (and no, that's not it strangely enough). It's Zhou Run fa (Joe Roon faah). Well... I now own "Hard-Boiled" (got it for $1). I also got a copy of "District B-13" with English subtitles. Weee!! Now if I could only find "The Last Starfighter"...

That is all. Pictures of Beijing antics will be incoming. Also, I'll take a few more shots of my classes. I have a TB class closing up soon and I want to get a class picture of them before that.