Monday, 20 October 2014

Life in the Fast Lane

The last couple weeks have been an absolute whirlwind.

The rest of my holiday was relatively uneventful, did Karaoke another night, but didn't end up getting to the beer festival due to weather (torrential downpour).

The Wednesday we are back at school, but was a screwy day, because Keinan had just gotten back from Canada. We had planned a field trip to the movies but ended up not being able to do it, so we showed the students "The Lion King" and I have been doing writing and editing assignments for the last two weeks with them around character development in the Lion King. I have been doing Upper and Lower Canada leading into the rebellions in Social Studies so classes have been fun of late. I can't wait to get into my Confederation assignment, where the students are each going to be given control of a given territory and will have to create a country and will need to come to an agreement on all the issues that were faced in the real confederation of Canada. It's pretty easy to do when you only have 11 students in that class.

We are also starting a student council at our school. Some students are really getting into it, but most are fairly hesitant or reluctant about it. That being said, we do have races for Council Prime Minister (we are Canadian, no way in hell I'm letting them call our leader the Student Council President), Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. The Grade 10's especially have been reluctant to sign up, with only one running so far. It's the first year we're doing this so I'm not surprised. I think when people see the good that can come from it, and the effect it will have, they will be more into it in the future.

Keinan and I have also been working a lot closer on how to approach the English Development class. It's a little difficult when you have to teach a class with no curriculum, but I am thankful for Keinan's experience and ideas. I am working my ass off trying to help these students but I know being a first year teacher, they probably really need someone with more experience, expertise and frankly, someone who is a better teacher than I am. Keinan has some great ideas and has really helped me to be more advanced and modern in my approaches so hopefully we will start seeing more marked improvement quickly.

Since the winter holiday, I have had about five students who were failing my class and that I was really worried about, turn things around. I really have no idea why, and I wish I could take credit for it, but I really don't think it has anything to do with me. One reason may be, is Keinan worked hard to make night study optional for our students. All Chinese students seem to have to be at school for night study between 7pm and 10pm. Keinan made it happen so that if the students have higher than 60% and don't have any behavioural issues, they can be excused from night study. Since then, we have seen a huge improvement in many students, and many are taking more interest in their schooling and their grades. Free time is at a premium here, so any they can get is huge incentive. Some were students we knew were completely capable but were being lazy or were unmotivated, and some were students we were really worried about, and have now started showing that if they put in the work they might be able to make it happen.

The problem at our school is we have such a mixed bag. We have some students who barely speak or understand any English and some, who are quite strong in it. We have ESL teachers, but the main focus for them is at a Jr. High program which we're hoping will be feeding into our program, but isn't even a guarantee. We have three students that we tried to move into a program at a different school, better equipped to work with them, but unfortunately two of them have very powerful parents who pulled some strings with the ownership at our school and suddenly they aren't going anywhere. We tried to find other ways to support them but those attempts are being blocked too. It seems weird for a country where success and grades seem to be everything, that when we explain that these students do not have the capability right now to pass these courses and will almost undoubtedly fail, it doesn't really seem to matter. We're going to work hard for these students but it's kind of a perfect storm: They don't have the capable writing, reading, speaking or listening skills to complete grade 10 course work (of which 4 of their courses are provincials), the students have readily admitted they hate doing school in English (I think they probably just hate school in any setting), they are completely unmotivated, skipping, sleeping in class, one has not handed in a single assignment and it's hard as a teacher to create any kind of connection when they do show up because of the language barrier.

We are also getting a much better idea as to the social atmosphere of our students, friend groups, who's dating and where the tension is, and being Grade 10 and 11, there seems to be a lot of it right now. Between the three of us we're trying to get a better idea of it to try to combat it, but all we know is that there is some extreme tension and none of us so far have made much progress in finding out the source of it.

One Saturday we took our students on a trip to Nanning (hr and a half bus ride) to visit the other two campuses associated with our school and do some intercampus mingling. It was set up as a sports day, with basketball, soccer and volleyball, as well as a multi-legged race with four people tied together, and a tug of war competition. Keinan, and I joined with Julie and Josie, two teachers at one of the other campuses to demonstrate the multi-legged race and man was it tough. Coordinating all four of us took some extreme teamwork but that was the point. They also had to have at least two students from a different campus in their team so they did have to work with people they didn't know. They did great and it was a ton of fun. It was a heck of a long day though, leaving our campus at 7am and returning at 10pm. Denise also got sick so it was Keinan, Jane and I with 40 kids, taking the hr and a half train ride, followed by a 30 minute bus ride both ways to get them to the campus from the bus station and vice-versa. We went to dinner with our students before heading back to the train for our ride home which was a ton of fun, and we had five of our girls, sit with Keinan, Jane and I which was a great bonding experience, as these were a few girls who I hadn't had a chance to really connect with yet.

When we got back to Liuzhou, we got the kids where they needed to go, either picked up at the train station by parents or back to school and then Keinan and I grabbed a cab home. Our cab driver was trying to screw us over, because we had a third random guy in our cab who was dropped off first, paid the fare up to that point, but the driver never reset his meter. When we got to our apartment we were trying to get the money were owed, but eventually gave up and paid the full fare. It was 10:30pm after a 15 hr day. The problem was, I was so focused on the cab driver, I left my cell phone I had gotten a week earlier on the seat in the cab. Keinan phoned it about a dozen times when I realized it, and no answer. By an hour later the phone was not ringing...so I knew either the cab driver or next passenger was swiping it and I was never going to see it again, because it had an 85% charge on it when I last looked and the ringer was at 100%. So another 1000RMB later, I now have my first Iphone, a 4S.

Sunday morning I finally got a chance to see Jerry again, as it had been over a week and a half since I'd seen her. She works till 8 or 9pm, so I don't really get to see her during the week, We had a really nice couple hours together with a few other people where we had brunch and then went to a public park that was just gorgeous. Tons of flowers everywhere, well maintained, just a beautiful day.

The Wednesday, Belinda takes Denise, Misty and I for a massage. The massages I've had so far here have been pretty bad. Either no pressure or just an oil rub, where they hit some pressure points but don't really massage. This place was a lot better, although the main focus was still on the pressure points. They didn't use any oil and man did he find a ton of knots in my back, calves, arms and butt. I do like that they really aren't afraid of your body here because they are very aggressive massaging your butt and thighs, which is something I find they are very tentative about back home. He even found a knot in my left buttock that was one that ended up piercing my brain. That gave me a good laugh after he stopped. Strong massage and I really felt good after, but definitely not relaxed. Belinda, being the amazing person that she is, covered the massages for Denise, Misty and I. My guardian angel in Liuzhou.

At the end of school that friday, of a week that seemed to fly by, Keinan Denise and I, along with Misty, Anthony and his friend Shawn, head off the Guilin and Yangshuo. Keinan and I spent Friday in Guilin and the rest went on to Yangshuo. Keinan and I went for a massage with an ESL teacher there, who is connected to our school through the ownership, as we have the same owners of our schools, though they aren't officially affiliated. This massage was incredible. They asked if I wanted to have her walk on my back which I agreed to. She did that for the last twenty minutes and that was amazing. I could tell the first 40 minutes her touch would normally have been weaker than I wanted, but I was still raw and feeling the massage from wednesday so it was actually perfect. Hendrik (the ESL teacher) and his wife Eve then gave us a tour of some great sights in Guilin before dropping us off for the night.

The next day Keinan and I hopped on a boat down the Li River to Yangshuo. It was a four and a half hour ride but with amazing scenery and we had some great conversations with people. We met people who were originally from Kelowna, now live in Prince Albert, a couple from Florida, but he was originally from Toronto, and a couple from Poland. We then met Denise, Misty and Anthony and headed on our first adventure, to Silver Cave. We rented bikes and rode bikes there. Man it felt good to get on a pedal bike again. I felt fantastic, and my butt and legs felt it the next day, even though it wasn't an exhausting or exerting ride by any means. You're dodging the traffic as well as the motorized scooters, and Denise and Misty started a thing where we all yell HONK HONK anytime we pass anybody. I was laughing way too hard because it just sounded like the stupidest Canadian Geese sound you could think of...so of course this has become a running joke for us ever since.

You wander through the cave for a while, which is incredible, and then you get to a mud bath. It was weird because we were all dressed in our bathing suits when we walked in and we walk past all these Chinese people fully clothed...and we both exchanged weird glances as we were trying to figure out what the other group was doing. Lots of people just tour the cave without going in the mudbath, lots where their suits under their clothes, and we were the only ones who just walked around in our swimming suits. I'm glad we did though, because I was sweating just being in my swim trunks.

The mudbath was amazing. The mud was thick and you just cover yourself in it. In some areas it you were basically sitting on top of the water the mud was so thick. We had so much fun just splashing around and covering ourselves in mud, but your skin really does feel fantastic after the mudbath, There was also a hot spring that we sat in for a while. Totally a great experience.

That night we had dinner and then went around and did a little shopping and experienced the night life in yangshuo again. Tons of laughs, great stories and great company. We also have the makings of some great inside jokes, and I think we would make a great reality show. I started calling us the next Jersey Shore, except we are actually intelligent.

The next day we went Whitewater drifting. It was about an hour ride in an 8 seater van to get where the rafting is and man did we have some laughs. There was six of us and at one point they picked up another woman who didn't speak any English. Denise had the line of pretty much all time when were joking about what this woman might be thinking when Denise said: "This van smells like stale alcohol and broken dreams!" That was a full 36 hours ago, and I still find this insanely funny (as I said, immature)

I didn't really know what whitewater drifting meant, but we'd been prepared that it might not be much fun because the water would be lower. It was pretty expensive so that worried us a bit. Well she was completely out to lunch. The whitewater drifting is basically the tube ride at a waterslide park, for 2 hours with two people per boat, down waterwater rapids that have been transformed and maintained for safety. It was amazing. They also send you down in groups of about 25 boats. Of course we turned it into a competition. I rode with Keinan, Denise and Misty were together and Anthony and Shawn went together. Right at the start the splashing begins and everyone of course, wants to splash the white girls, because we haven't even started and Misty and Denise are drenched. Keinan and I started at the back but we were making moves quickly to move up to the front. Anytime my boat or Denise's boat passed anybody, you could here one of either Denise, Misty or I yelling "HONK HONK" as we passed, and it never got old. Yes we are completely immature but life is way more fun that way. Keinan and I moved up from almost dead last to being in first place. There are spots along the way where they stop you and make you wait till everyone catches up before you go through the next section, and we were in the lead, and we go through an extremely fast section and get jolted a bit and Keinan gives a loud yell. He's had knee surgery before and he is grabbing at his leg in quite some pain. I'm a bit panicked because I know we have at least another 30 minutes to go but he is in pain.

We stop in a pooled area for a while to let Keinan recover a bit and he says he's good to go...and now he's mad because we had about 12 boats pass us and he's in a lot of pain. We get back to work trying to work our way back to the front and we do end up passing Misty and Denise, but we never could quite catch Anthony and Shawn who finished first out of everyone that went. It was such a fantastic time. Then it was off to the bus tot take us to Guilin, to grab the train to Liuzhou, and we get home around 9pm. These weekends are great, but man are they tiring. Next weekend will hopefully be more relaxing although we do have all day Friday and part of Saturday for Pro-D which we have to travel to Nanning for, so it won't be fully restful. Yangshuo is officially the best place in the world I have visited. We are already planning our next trip back there, as there is so much to do and it is just a great place to visit. If anyone comes to visit me, we will definitely be going there for sure.

Until next time,

Easy

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Glory Days

So I've been slacking off a bit on the blog, so my last week. Keinan and I went out for dinner Friday night and then went to a really upscale bar around the corner from our hotel. It looks like it's a pretty great spot to go to and might be a regular place for us. It's nice talking with Keinan too, because he is both a big CFL and NHL fan so we have lots in common. We packed it in early as he left Saturday morning at 6am to go home to Canada to see his family. Saturday I took it pretty easy, didn't do much of anything.

Sunday, we headed over to the Confucius temple as Anthony and Misty were in the performance that was being performed as representatives of their school. It was a memorial celebration of Confucius. It was pretty funny watching the two of them because they had to read a bunch of quotes or a prayer from Confucius, we don't really know because they were with a bunch of people and had to read it out (pretend to anyways) in Chinese. The whole ceremony was pretty amazing though.

This is the first time where I felt like we stood out being foreigners. We were trying to get pictures with the performers, and just as many of the performers were trying to get pictures with us. I swear between the four of us we are probably in about 1000 pictures at the temple. Denise and Misty were definitely more popular than Anthony and I but we are both still in a ton of pictures. Misty and Anthony also were interviewed by the Chinese national news station, and a reporter was even trying to interview Denise and I, but that never actually happened. After that the four of us went to lunch.

Later that night Misty and I went bowling with another teacher, Jeff from her school. We bowled a game then played pool, then went out to check out a street we'd heard there were a few bars. There are about 12 within five minutes of each other and we checked out about half of them. This is where the advantage of being a foreigner played in nicely, in two different bars. The first one we go into, we ask them what a bottle of wine costs and this is where things got lost in translation. We both understood 80 rmb for the wine, which was reasonable, so we order it. About five minutes later they come by with it and Misty hands them a 100 RMB bill. The guy takes it and comes back a few minutes later and asks for the rest, written on a piece of paper. He could tell we were confused and writes that the price is 580 RMB. CRAP!! I'd had half a glass, Misty had finished hers, so we poorly discussed with them the confusion and gave the rest of the bottle back. Fortunately they were nice enough to understand, so we paid the 100 RMB and we left. The next place we went to we had a couple of drinks and sat with the guys who run the bar and about ten of their friends. we go to pay our tabs and the guy says in passable English essentially that, if we promised to go back, no charge for tonight. Pretty sweet.

Monday and Tuesday were track meet days at the school leading into the holiday so other than that Denise was in the skipping competition tuesday, it was two days we didn't have to teach. The students pick and choose what events they go in, and don't actually have to compete at all if they don't want to. I think only about 10 of our 43 ran in any events, so it was two fairly boring days because we didn't even have many of our own students to cheer on. They also went with the Chinese High School calendar, so the track meet had a 2 and a half hour break at midday before resuming. That break is painful.

Tuesday night I went to a wedding with Belinda. It was a lot of fun. We were only there for the reception but it was pretty great. Lots of  English love songs, (Bryan Adams, Michael Bolton, Backstreet Boys) an amazing amount of food, and unfortunately I can't really tell you much about the speeches because alas, my Chinese is non-existent at this point. The fortunate thing is that Belinda's table was all English teacher friends of hers, and the bride herself is an English teacher, so I was able to have good conversations with all of them. I have been invited to go into a few of their classes for an afternoon as a guest, during my preps or after my school day is over.

The next day Seven toured me around the city for the afternoon on his electric motorcycle (basically what we call a scooter in Canada). After driving with Seven, it actually gave me the desire to have one...it's so convenient so we shall see. Seven took me out to his parents wonton shop for dinner and drinks. One thing about being here is, everybody wants to impress you by drinking alcohol with you, so anywhere you go as a guest, they are always giving you alcohol. They don't really ask they just start pouring. I'm okay with that when it's beer or red wine, but I'm still having a hard time with the Baijo, they called it white wine but it's I think about 60% and this stuff is still lethal. The best way I can describe it, is like a cross between moonshine, Vodka and rough tequila. It never gets easier. I don't know how they get used to drinking it, and every teacher/foreigner I have talked to, if you bring it up, they all start laughing and the one word most often used is lethal.

As we were at dinner, I got a call from Belinda, asking if I wanted to go to Karaoke. Well, I never turn down Karaoke, but we hadn't been there long so I said I would call her when we were done dinner. I called her back around 9pm figuring I might catch them near the end...um nope they were just on their way. So we headed over and joined them. The karaoke place was amazing. Huge rooms, an xbox 360 in every room, and tons and tons of English songs to choose from. Oh and there is a club that you walk through to get to the Karaoke rooms. Each room is themed too. We were in an Egyptian themed room. That's where I found out we were actually in a room with the wife (Jo-Jo) of the man who owns the club (I took a couple pictures of his Maserati). He joined us later on. We were there right until closing at 2am. I also met their neighbour Jerry.

The next day we went out to Jo-Jo's place for lunch. It was a huge bbq, tons of food all over the place. I think this was the first time I ever had Rabbit. Good meat, just not much on it. I also had liver, a bunch of beef, seafood and chicken. Such a great meal and the thing that is just so much fun is how hospitable everyone is. There were about 30 people there, and we had great conversation about lots of different things. Seven was translating for me for much of the day, and apparently the women of the group took a great liking to me. I started getting a few questions from the women on my relationship views and status before they let it slip that they were already planning my future with Jerry. They were talking around the table about our wedding. I had only met Jerry the night before but she's a ton of fun to be around, quite smart and definitely attractive, so I ask the question if they were okay with me taking her on some dates before they started setting a wedding date. That got the table hooting and hollering, which was pretty funny. I think Jerry was a bit embarrassed by all the attention but she didn't make any comment to them (at least that was translated for me, and Seven's pretty good about that sort of thing) or to me that she wasn't interested.

To get a little bit personal here, one thing I get the impression of, is that casual dating is not really a thing over here. I really hope that's the case because I LOATH casual dating, I'm not good at it, and I hate all the games that seem to be involved so if I'm reading this situation right, I will be a happy man.

After lunch we headed home, but Jerry and Belinda planned another night of Karaoke. I got home around 4pm, and slept till 8:30...my first official, middle of the day, Chinese style nap. We then went to Karaoke again (Jerry and her crew picked me up) and we sang until about 1:30am and then went downtown to a roadside BBQ where we sat and ate and drank a bit longer, before heading home. Jerry also invited me to go out of town the next day with her and a couple other people.

The next day I went to the gym, and then didn't do much of anything waiting till we were going to leave. Unfortunately, Jerry showed up and said she got called on a work emergency and had to go to Guilin airport and deal with something. Too bad but oh well, she said she'd make it up to me with dinner in the next few days.

I have done absolutely nothing today, but Misty and I are heading to the "Beer Music Festival" that is playing just down the block from my apartment in about an hour. Should be a fun night.

Until next time,

Easy

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Money for Nothing

So school this week was a bit more exciting. The students have almost all of their textbooks now, and we've started planning field trips and stuff so it's pretty sweet. Monday and Tuesday next week are a track and field day, we then have 7 days off and the first day back we are taking the students on a field trip to see a movie. Keinan is away for all three days as he is flying back to Canada to see his family so Denise and I are running the show with the help of the Chinese staff.

Denise has been recruited because as part of the track and field events there is a jump rope event where you have to run as many people as you can through a rope, each person jumping once, and you keep going until your team is eliminated. The jump rope contest is legitimately the only event anyone seems to care about because I have not seen anyone practicing for any other event plus that. We have also been told that near the end of Tuesday, they do teacher events, that are mainly the running events of track and field, so apparently this guy is going to be trying to beat all the Chinese teachers at sprinting and long distance. We'll see how that goes.

I also confiscated one of my student's phone for the weekend. This is the 4th time her phone has been taken during school. Once by Keinan, once by Denise and twice by me. It was actually kind of amusing to me how distraught she was because she had been told she would lose it for a week next time...but with the National holiday on Wednesday I wasn't keeping it through the holiday. She gets it back on Monday.

Thursday was Radisson Blue night. We had a great buffet with Anthony and the three of us, but even two for one, it was freaking pricey.

I have found one thing about Chinese culture I really do not like. When it is your birthday, you are expected to pay for everything!!! I was invited to dinner tonight through Misty by the sales and marketing manager at the Radisson. It's a woman who I hadn't met yet, but her name is Liz, and she's from Michigan and teaches at a college here. I met her when I arrived at her birthday and didn't know this custom until she's paying the entire bill. I saved $300 Yuan tonight ($60 Canadian) on drinks because the birthday girl, who I didn't know until tonight, paid my bill along with everyone elses. That is a pretty raw deal. Good thing that if things go according to plan, I'll be in New Zealand for my birthday with Loewy and Alana. I better go to bed because I have to be up early on Sunday, because Denise and I are going to go watch Anthony and Misty recite Confucius in Chinese with their school tomorrow morning, bright and early, and I don't foresee an early night tomorrow either.

Keep the questions coming, I'd love to answer any of them if I can.

Until next time,

Easy.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Have a Drink on Me

While we've been here Keinan has put a couple of texting apps on his phone, and on one of them he was added by two girls that go to college in town here. He responded to them a couple of times and asked if they would show the three of us around the city. On Sunday we met up with them, had a home cooked brunch in Keinan's apartment and then went and toured around. We've been trying to find a beach in town so asked if they knew where to take us. It turns out they haven't actually been in town for that long so they don't really know the city. We took two cabs down to a beach area, but it was really small and definitely a family beach (read: tons of kids under 7 years old). Not quite what we were looking for. We ended up right near a place where the water taxi is though, so we took the water taxi which took us about 10 minutes further down stream. We decided, why don't we take the gondola up to the top of the mountain in town. We started walking towards it and came to a massive park area.

One cool thing that happens a lot here is people in the parks, dancing. Huge groups of them, all kinds of different styles and music. We stopped to watch a bit, and apparently Keinan and his wife dance a fair amount, so he took Anne (one of the college girls, the other is Rainbow) out and danced a waltz with her. Well people were pretty amazed by the big white guy out on the dance floor so he drew quite a crowd and after dancing with Anne, he ended up being dragged out by a Chinese man who was about 8 inches shorter than him, but the Chinese man was trying to lead Keinan. It was hysterical to watch, and instead of any of us trying to save him, I started taking video with Keinan's own phone of him dancing with this Chinese man. It was a sight to behold.

We kept on going and there was all kinds of music, dancing, singing and crafts in this park. We walked through, got to the Gondola and went to the top of this mountain. My goodness this city is huge. I am going to climb the mountain next week and take my camera with me because it is amazing. After taking the Gondola up, we decided to walk down. One thing you notice here, is that there are stone steps absolutely everywhere. All these mountains have steps built all the way up them. It boggles my mind how tough some of these projects must have been. The steps are quite small, narrow and steep. It doesn't actually take that long to climb down, because you feel like you are going straight down.

About two thirds of the way down, we come to this cave, and there's a whole bunch of artifacts and stuff inside. Then I realize, they built a Buddhist temple into this cave. It was absolutely incredible. So many cool things inside, and just kind of eerie being in it.

We then decided to go and check out the girls' college. It's a science and tech college quite a way out of town so I see why they haven't seen much of the city. We walk around the college a bit and then saw their basketball area. They had about 20 hoops in this area, and Keinan being a big basketball guy, we decide to go shoot around with one of the guys on the court. He's wearing an Oklahoma City shirt, and says his favorite player is Kevin Durant, and this guy was a pretty good shooter, and a fairly physical player. We ended up playing three on three when a couple other people came over and wanted to play basketball with the three white people. Keinan, Denise and I all found out just how out of shape we all are, because we were huffing and puffing pretty quickly but it was a ton of fun.

We then went to a western restaurant near our place. Decent food, good price. Denise and I are waiting outside when Keinan comes out and says: "Did you guys say hi to the black guy inside?" Denise and I hadn't even seen him. We went back inside and talked to Drew, who is from Mississippi, and is teaching English at the college we had just come from. Talk about luck, meeting another westerner after meeting Anthony and Misty the day before.

Monday, we're at school and Keinan tells us: "Anthony sent me a text and said there's a foreigner night at the Radisson tonight, and invited us." The Radisson is one block away from where we live so pretty damn close. Keinan was getting sick so he wasn't going to go but Denise was, and despite the fact I was pretty close to broke and the price was around 150 Yuan, I wanted to go so decided to, despite the fact it was close to all I had left. So we went, and a couple of great things: It was only 129 Yuan, which included unlimited drinks and food.The staff at the Radisson was amazing, and all the big wigs were there. I met a sales executive, the executive assistant manager, and sat and drank most of the night with the General Manager, and the Director of Sales and Marketing. There were about 30 foreigners there, all worked either for General Motors, a construction company in the area or were part of a restaurant. Mostly Americans, but also a couple people from France, who are opening a French restaurant in town (and we're (Anthony, Misty, Denise and I) invited to the soft opening at the end of October, as well as a Swiss man who is working in their restaurant, and then two people from Greece. It was a pretty amazing night, although the night they picked could have been better. Tomorrow is Radisson Blu(spelling intentional) night where if you wear a blue top, you get 2 meals for the price of one. I also have my blue checkered work pants from Predator with me, so I told Denise (the GM for Radisson, not my teaching partner) I would be wearing those as well, so she intimated I might get a drink or two out of the deal. Should be fun.

I've had a couple of questions from people so I figured I'd answer them here:
1. I haven't overly felt the culture shock...yet. The language barrier is definitely the toughest cultural difference, but you learn strategies to get by. My charades skills will be much improved. We'll see if the culture shock hits me later, but it isn't as different from Canada as I thought it would be.
2. Least favorite things here: You can still smoke virtually anywhere you want in public. It drives me up the damn wall, dealing with people smoking in bars and restaurants right around you. Even in places you're not supposed to, people will. I've had people smoking in the elevator of my building, and Keinan had people smoking in the dressing room at our gym.
Also the air quality. We're in the green province, and it's definitely nothing like Beijing here. Some days are clear, and great and the quality is fine, but others, the smog just sits and it sucks. It's been about 50/50 good days and bad since I've been here.
3. Things I've liked: No tipping. It's kind of nice, not that I mind tipping, but it's neat the way service is here. In restaurants the servers are definitely abrupt, they don't kiss your ass but still provide decent service. I haven't had bad service anywhere, and it's just a different way of doing things. If servers didn't depend on the tip money in Canada, and if it wouldn't cause service to go into the toilet (which I think it would for 70-80% of places, just look at retail stores like sportchek when they switch from commission to hourly...you can't find anyone that works in those stores for help, ever.)

Feel free to ask about anything you're interested in, I'd love to answer your questions.

Until next time,

Easy

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Born in the USA

So I really haven't posted much about school, because there really hasn't been a ton to post about. It's been busy, but right now we're doing grammar and writing work in English and Socials is an introduction to Canadian culture before we get into the swing of things. The two weeks have flown by, and I went out to one practice with the basketball team so far. They need a lot of work before they are game ready. We might be losing a few students from our school as there are a few that I really question how they qualified for an English immersion school when they can't read, speak, write or hear the language. Hopefully that will be sorted out shortly.

In extremely exciting news though: WE MET ENGLISH SPEAKING FOREIGNERS TODAY!!!! We were sitting in bank while Denise and Keinan were making transactions, Denise had finished, Keinan had not, when I heard someone speaking English. I tapped Denise and we looked over and we saw a white person!!!!! You have no idea what it means to see this until you have been in a city for two weeks and not seen another white person except the two you work with. This was a "Holy Shit" moment for us. So I make eye contact with her and then she and the man she, as well as their Chinese guide come over and say hi. Turns out they are teaching at the Liuzhou High School in an immersion program there organized from the States. Anthony, is from San Diego, originally from Texas, teaches history and is part Mexican, part native american (I only mention this because I only mentioned that she was white, and not him), and Misty is from New York and teaches English literature. The Chinese woman with them is Martina, and she is their "handler" as we have taken to calling our great staff. Funniest thing is, as we're talking she asks: "Do you know Seven?" We get all excited and she tells us that her and Seven worked together the previous year. Even in a city of 2 million people it's a small world. We talk for about half an hour and then they invite us to join them for KTV.

KTV is their version of Karaoke. They take you into a room where you are with just the people you came with. Then you load up the songs and they play on the screen in your room for only your group. It's a neat way of doing things and these things are incredibly popular. There are four of them within a ten minute walk of our apartment. Oh, and adding to the list of stereotypes, I have yet to hear a Chinese person who can't sing. So yes, we went with them and did KTV for five hours before going for dinner. Martina is an incredible singer. One of the options on KTV is to choose whether the person sings along with you, and I swore the first two songs Martina did, she had the person singing along with her but nope, she didn't. Oh and the first two songs she did were Celine Dion and Whitney Houston. We just sat back in awe every time she sang. Incredibly powerful voice.

We went for dinner and then walked along the waterfront and got a tour of our area from Martina and Anthony (Misty had a dinner date with an American girl she met on WeChat). We also found out the Liuzhou high school is only fifteen or twenty minutes from our apartments and Misty and Anthony live on campus, so we're already making plans to see them again. So that was wickedly exciting.

Until next time,

Easy

Friday, 19 September 2014

Heaven is a Place on Earth

I know I said I would write this yesterday, but I had a rough day yesterday so this had to wait till today. I had to have a health examination done yesterday and I passed out when they were taking my blood, and I felt like shit all day. On the bright side I had my first fantastic sleep last night since I've been here. Okay, on to Yanshou.

Yanshou is a place Denise and Keinan had heard about and decided we should go, and at this point I'm just trusting that they know what they're doing because we've seen some pretty cool things so far. The buses to Yanshou from Guilin are hilarious. It seems like the buses are independently owned, because you pull up to the bus station and a woman walks right up to us and asks "Yanshou?" We say yes and she beckons us to follow here. We walk for a few minutes and then she leads us straight onto a bus, points to our seats and tells us to sit down. She comes back about five minutes later and asks us for the money, which is 20 yuan each (so 4 bucks each for a 90 minute bus ride). She then tells the driver five minutes later to leave, and she hops on the bus. We then proceed to make five or six stops through town where she is just yelling out the window at people on the side of the road with luggage whether they are going to Yanshou or not. We actually do stop and pick up eight more people from these various stops, so kind of a weird set up. So we take the bus to Yanshou and then we proceed to get dropped off at a fairly weird spot. Basically we just got dropped on the side of the road. Eric had told us that cabs aren't totally frequent in Yanshou but if someone offers us a ride for no more than 20 Yuan, we should take it. We wait about five minutes and no cab, but a guy in a van pulls up and asks if we need a ride. Eric had sent Keinan our hotel address in Chinese, and Keinan shows it to the guy. He says 20 Yuan, and we hop in. Definitely not a taxi, but he takes us right to the front door of our hotel, and he spoke a little English so Denise had a chat with the guy (we almost always let Denise take the front. Keinan does if he has to give the phone or multiple directions. I think I have yet to sit in the front when it's been the three of us).

We get to the hotel and it's beautiful again. We are all in separate rooms this time, so we each have a shower and meet half an hour later. Denise and Keinan had talked about how there was a street where all the foreigners go so we figured we would wander over there. Well this place was amazing. It reminded me a bit of Whistler village, except narrower streets, and way way way cooler shops. Tons of bars, hostels, restaurants and places to buy cool souvenirs. Definitely made for tourists. We go into a place called the "Bad Panda, rooftop bar and hostel." In there we meet to British guys, William and Damien. They've been in China for two years, one year running the bar. The hostel is more or less one dungy room, and they don't charge for it usually, because more often than not it's the place they "can toss the drunks that can't remember where they're actually staying." Two great guys, very personable people. We stayed for a drink and then went for dinner at a place that had both chinese and more western dishes. I had a hamburger that tasted so damn amazing. I enjoy the food here, but each time I have pizza, or burgers or even McDonalds, it's actually a nice delight. Peanut Butter is actually fairly easy to find too, so I have peanut butter and jam in my apartment. The only problem I have with the food here is that despite the fact you have rice or noodles at every meal, every meal feels heavy. So having that change up is pretty nice.

Denise is still battling with sleeping properly so she went back to the hotel after dinner while Keinan and I continued to wander (It was about 9:30pm at this point.) We wandered through all the shops and Keinan bought a few things for his kids and I only bought one thing and it was actually a present for Denise. We had been joking earlier about getting posters of Mao and starting dictator hall of fames, and Keinan and I are walking past an artist that does pictures on t-shirts and I bought this great one for Denise of Osama Bin Laden. (I'm thinking next time we go, I'm getting one for myself too.) Keinan and I went and grabbed a drink which cost us ten and twelve bucks each. We were wondering what were getting as he ordered a drink with rum and I ordered vodka. The waitress literally just brought us each a glass filled with rum and vodka with ice. We did get good bang for our buck as there were at least three or four shots in this glass but man that is tough drinking straight like that. Takes me back to Grad kidnapping ;)

Keinan and I went to bed after that. The next morning we took a bamboo boat ride down the nearby river into Fullytown. It's a neat little village that we wandered through. There was a tourist market but we didn't find it till we'd wandered for just about two hours and by then, we were all too tired to walk through it. The amazing thing was, we got to see some really amazing stuff. People in their houses with all the doors and windows open, and this is a pretty poor looking village. The one major difference was we saw tons of Mao stuff hanging in people's houses. I haven't seen as much in the cities but there was lots in this place. The other thing was, even though it's not a huge tourist attraction, there were a ton of people selling artwork out of their houses. I bought a book of quotes by Mao, and Denise and I both bought fans that had artwork of Mao on them. Cost me 35 Yuan total. (Two great buys imho). After that, we took a bus back to Guilin. Keinan wanted to hang out till 4:30 and catch the last bus back to Liuzhou (a three hour ride) but Denise and I both wanted to be home earlier so we left Keinan in Yanshou and headed back. We went to the bus station but they only had buses to Liuzhou at certain times there, and the other times were at the other station, which we had no idea where it was. Denise and I started wandering and then after about 20 minutes we saw a bus on the side of the road and a woman saying "Guilin?" So we paid 20 Yuan and headed back to Guilin and caught the bullet train from there to Liuzhou and then got home. We were home by about 6pm, Keinan got home around 10pm so we were quite happy we left early. Yanshou has some great scenery, and we've all decided we're doing at least two more trips to Yanshou so I will have pictures of it next time. Such a great place though and another amazing weekend. If anyone decides to visit, I have some pretty sweet places to show you.

Till next time

Easy

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

What Do You Do For Money, Honey?

After my First week of work, which was a four day week, we (Keinan, Denise and I) set off on what would be another three day weekend. We left straight from school on Friday and took a taxi to the Train Station to set off for Guilin. Cabs here are great. They start at 7 Yuan and they don't move for the first 2KM so most cabs are fairly cheap. The exchange rate is 5 yuan for a Canadian Dollar so it cost us basically $1.50 for a cab to the train station. We catch our train and it's a little over an hour to Guilin on a train that goes 200km/hr. Such a great way to travel.

We get to Guilin and things are a wee bit different. The cabs expect to get paid up front so you have to negotiate with them right away. Fortunately, Eric (works for a school in Guilin, run by the owners of our schools but not officially affiliated) was on his way with their cab driver to pick us up. The cab driver gave me one of the greatest moments ever. He is a Chinese man who speaks zero english and his phone goes off, and his ring tone of his phone is: "Baby one more time." I still laugh every time I think of this forty year old Chinese man with Britney Spears first hit song as his ring tone. He gets us to our hotel and what an amazing hotel it was. It was 468 Yuan/night ($80ish/night)  for a room that all three of us could stay in. Denise had her own room and Keinan and I each had beds in the main area, and they were actually soft. Finding soft beds here is not easy. We had a great dinner with Eric that night and he had set up the next couple of days for us.

The next day we set off to a nearby village that had a great cave in it. This cave was incredible. It took us two hours to walk through it and then we had lunch in the town before heading to nearby waterfalls. This cave was big enough to have housed the Transformers. Incredibly cool spot and of anyone dares to visit me, I will definitely take you to see it.

We made the mistake of underestimating Eric on the waterfalls. He showed us a video and we were all basically like "it's nice, but a little dinky." You can climb up the waterfalls for an additional fee to the park but we all declined as we weren't sure it'd be worth it, and we were all hurting for money at this point.
                                                       
The park itself is huge, and we finally make it the waterfall area and see the small waterfall and start the climb up. Well it is a huge series of waterfalls and you can climb up the waterfalls for a long ways. We should have done it as it was 35 degrees and humid but we didn't. Keinan jumped out half way through the hike and started swimming in the ponds at the bottom of the waterfalls (not allowed. You can climb the falls but not swim in the pools, go figure.) Keinan got yelled at by a couple different security guards, but no big deal. There was a zipline, a cart that drives you for the climb down the hike, and some other cool things, although you have to pay extra for all of them. Second great moment of the weekend comes as we're walking out of the park. Keinan had worn his regular shorts and then his swim trunks underneath and had walked without his regular shorts for the entire hike, just his swim shorts. He tells us in a dumbfounded tone that A) He had dressed himself with his boxers over his swim shorts and B) Denise and I had walked with him for over an hour and neither of us told him he was walking around with his underwear over top of his swim shorts. Denise and I both start laughing hysterically and can say that neither of us actually noticed that Keinan had his boxer over his swim shorts for over an hour. So awesome.

At this point we are all running our of money (I had already been borrowing from both of them, but now we are all low.) I attempted a Western Union transfer from my Canadian bank account but had only informed my branch and not Scotiabank that I was going to China so they locked my account, and I don't have a phone. Shit. So I emailed my wonderful parents and asked if they would wire me some money and my Mom did, and that transfer was confirmed by Western Union online. So Sunday we are getting ready to head to YanShou and all we need is for me to get the money transfer. Western Union online says to go to a certain branch of the Agricultural Bank of China. Perfect. The three of us checkout and head to the bank by cab. We get into there, and I'm about 18th in line so Denise and Keinan head to a nearby coffee shop. After waiting for half an hour someone comes over and I tell them I need to do a Western Union transfer. This is around 1:00pm. They tell me they can't do it at this branch today and give me directions to a different Agricultural Bank. A woman who spoke just enough English to help me worked there. They even write the directions in Chinese to get to the next bank which is a five minute cab ride away. I tell Keinan and Denise, and Keinan gives me 100 Yuan, which is half our remaining money to get a cab.

I get to the second bank and walk in. I walk over to the teller and she tells me they aren't open to do Western Union transfers either. She gives me directions to a third Agricultural Branch and writes it for to give to  cab driver, a further five minutes away. The third branch is not doing the transfers either. I'm starting to get kind of pissed off at this point. She gives me directions to a fourth branch, I pay for another cab and head there. That branch she sends me to a different bank altogether, the China Everbright bank across the street. I get there, and they won't do the transfer either. I left Denise an hour and a half ago, and I'm trying to figure out what to do because we need this money to keep our weekend going. I start walking and think and try a Bank of China to no avail. Then I remembered that when I was looking at Western Union in Liuzhou, they said Postal Services Bank of China. I go to the nearest one and walk in. All five windows are open and one of them is specifically labelled "Western Union." I actually shed a few tears of relief. After completing the transaction which took about 20 minutes I had the money to keep our weekend going. The Teller probably also thinks I'm nuts because I gave her a XieXie (thank you in Chinese) with a bow and then blew her a kiss. She definitely thought I was weird.

I now had a new problem. How to get back to Denise and Keinan. I didn't have anything with their location written on it, as Keinan had gotten Eric to text him the bank location in Chinese (Keinan is the only one with a phone at the moment.) It took me three cabs and another 45 minutes to get back to Keinan and Denise. I left them around 1:30 and got back to them at 4:10. They were inside a little pizza place and when I finally got back to them I stood outside the window doing a happy dance until they both noticed me. I was freaking exhausted. Anyways we are finally making our way to Yanshou at this point. And that will be the post I write tomorrow, as I am finally almost caught up now that I have internet access to this site, facebook etc. Until tomorrow,

Easy