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

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

New Kids on the Block

So we have finally started teaching. My last post was leading up to this, and this is my first week in the classroom. We got into the school, which is about a 30 minute bus ride for us each way. I am teaching Socials Studies 10, to a class of twelve Grade 11 students, English Development 10 which is basically an ESL course that leads into English 10, which has 31 students, and Communications 11 which has 23 students. We only have 43 students, and they are split into three groups: The Grade 10's, the Grade 11's who are repeating certain subjects, and the Grade 11's.

The english speaking ability of the students is lower than I expected so that presents a challenge right away, especially in the class of 31. Apparently we will be getting four ESL teachers, we just don't know when. The students are pretty typically grade 10/11 students. Disorganized, don't like taking notes, and they will talk any chance they get. Another big problem we are facing is them falling asleep in class. The Chinese school is quite a bit different than ours but we have had to give the school certain concessions. The students start at 8:30 where all 4,000 + students go outside onto the field for DPA (Daily Physical Activity.) They come back in around 8:50 and start class with us. Our blocks are 8:50-9:45, 9:50-10:45. 10:50-11:45. Then we have lunch until 1:00pm. 1:00pm - 1:55pm, 2:00pm -2:55pm and 3:00pm - 3:55pm. We have double blocks everyday so our schedule either looks like: AABCCD or ABBCDD. The order of the blocks never changes, so I get a double block prep to end the day every second day, as my prep is in D. After we are done teaching the students have PE for an hour on Monday, Tuesday, (Run by the Chinese School) or Basketball Wednesday and Thursday (Run by Keinan, and I am going to start helping him) and Friday I believe they have free time. The students have to be back in class at 7:00pm for homework time which run from 7-9pm. We had to negotiate on that as the Chinese school runs from 7-10pm. The problem we are figuring is that the students are probably not going to bed at reasonable times, and with how long of a day they have, their biggest chunk of free time is after 10pm. It is a daily battle with kids falling asleep and it doesn't seem to matter what class, because all three of us teachers are battling it (no it's not just that I'm a boring teacher.)

The first week was like any first week, it was a feeling out process. Our school laptops weren't available, the wifi wasn't connected for the first few days, then didn't reach our classrooms or office, so we couldn't do much work at school. We also didn't have textbooks in, and my projector didn't work for the first week, so I ended up having a couple of days that were pretty creative, and admittedly a couple days that were fairly lecture based and boring. Fortunately we have all of the stuff in now, so it should be a lot smoother sailing.

The other problem I am dealing with is that my sleep is still a disaster. I am going to bed at 9 or 10pm and waking up at 4:30 or 5am right now and not sleeping soundly through the night. A great sleep would be lovely right now. The beds here are also extremely hard so that doesn't help.

The first three days of the teaching week were still bloody hot (35-40 degrees, huge humidity) although it has cooled off a bit. It was pretty awful as you basically walk out of the apartment building and are instantly sweating, and I mean full out, I feel like I should be running a marathon right now for the amount of sweat pouring off of me.

One thing that has blown me away is the ability of the support staff at our school. We have Jane, Seven, Shannon, Jerry, Wesley and Eric in our area and they are absolutely amazing. They are extremely organized, and when you ask for help or something to be done, they are on it. They also help with personal stuff too which makes life so much easier. Shannon showed up at the apartment on the first day of school to help Denise and I with the buses, Seven has set up train tickets, taxis and helped us figure out the bus routes for our main points in the city. Seven also came to the gym where the three of us are going to work out to translate, read the contracts and help us get set up. We took a trip to Gulin and Yanshou (I'll talk about in my next blog post) and Eric picked us up from the airport, took us to dinner and then set up a driver for us to take us around Guilin and then set us up to get to Yanshou. We're constantly on the phone with these guys to translate for us to cab drivers, servers etc. and they are just absolutely amazing.

Jane is our main support within the school, and is referred to as the secretary/receptionist although she plays many roles in our school. She will be in the classroom helping both Denise and I at times, she does printing and photocopying for us, she helps Wesley, who is the students' homeroom teacher and really is just the force at the school to help keep things organized.

Wesley caught me off-guard because one thing about the people over here is they are not very fit. Most of them are skinny, but you realize they are not in good shape, as most of the women have arms you could snap between your pinky and ring finger, and most guys are pretty small, especially in the upper body. Most people have pretty fit looking lets as you definitely do a lot of walking while you are here. So Wesley caught me off guard because wow, he is not the usual Chinese man here. He is an inch or two shorter than I am but he is an intimidating man. He is a solid, well built man and kind of reminds you more of a soldier than a teacher, but he works extremely well with the students and is a great homeroom/homework time teacher for them.

The first week was pretty uneventful school-wise but man did we have an eventful weekend, which I will write about tomorrow because I am needing to go to sleep. I am now on Facebook/Twitter etc so send me messages, let me know how you're all doing and I will talk to you soon.

Easy

Hot for Teacher

I am finally in China!!! It was a bit of a painful process to get here and now it’s been a bit of a whirlwind since I got here.

I met the other teacher (Denise) at my school in Vancouver, since she went through the same problems I did so it was great because we did manage to get to sit beside each other for the flights so I had someone with me which was pretty awesome.

We land in Beijing from Vancouver and have a four hour layover before heading to Nanning. First thing we notice is the smog is real and quite incredible. It reminded me of when we have really bad forest fires around Vernon and the smoke sits in the valley, except it’s that way all the time. The second thing we notice is the heat. We step off the plane into the tunnel and the heat hits us like a wall. It was amazing. It was 40 degrees Celsius and the humidity is overwhelming.

Anyways, we get off the plane and start trying to get through customs. I pick the wrong line and get the guy who takes forever sending people through. It takes almost an hour to get through customs. Then we have to take a ten minute train ride to get to the part of the airport to pass through security for our transfer. Once we pass through security, then we have to take a five minute bus ride back to an area we passed on the train to get to our gate. Altogether it took us two hours from landing in Beijing to getting to our transfer gate, so the four hours was whittled away pretty quickly. We both had a bit of a snooze in the Beijing airport before our flight, which was the most sleep either of us got during our travel day.

Our flight is forty minutes delayed but we get to Nanning and there are two guys from the school waiting for us to take us to our hotel. The first thing I notice is that driving in China is absolutely nuts compared to Canada. There are very little rules, and basically whatever vehicle is further ahead has right of way. Denise has travelled in Asia before, so a few days later I asked her what the rules for pedestrians were, and she said “Don’t get hit.” Alrighty then. First thing I thought of after she said that was “If you can dodge a car, you can dodge a ball.” Thanks Patches. Needless to say I have zero intentions of driving here, and have had even the desire to bike here all but drilled out of me, because I think the anxiety of trying to bike in traffic here would be too much for me. Plus public transit costs the equivalent of $.20 per bus so I’m not exactly breaking the bank to use transit.

We get to our hotel at about 10pm, and man the school is looking after us. Very nice hotel, nice sized rooms, and right in the downtown area of Nanning. We’re also told that our principal, Chris is taking us to lunch the nice day before our orientation. We go to bed and just as I’m drifting off to sleep I hear a knock at my door. Keinan, the Vice Principal is at the door to say hi. Great guy, but I probably wasn’t the nicest to him then, because I was a little perturbed and tired. Finally get off to sleep, although a very scattered and poor one at that. Slept for two or three hours at a time so I wasn’t overly well rested the next day.

The next day (Saturday) the school has one of the guys that picked us up the day before, pick us up again and take us to the restaurant. Keinan, Chris (Our Principal for the three campuses), Denise and I have a great lunch and then we head upstairs to meet the other teachers from the other two campuses. We are a pretty spread out groups with a few from BC, and then teachers from the maritimes and everywhere in between. I am definitely the most inexperienced of the teachers here but they are a great group and have been extremely helpful when I’ve needed it.

We have our orientation and some discussion in our subject groups before we go to dinner at a restaurant owned by the man who also owns our school. I get my first introduction to Baijo (I think that’s how you spell it.) It’s an alcohol that is a shot and it is a tough one. I think they said it’s 60% alcohol. I just kept thinking that the shots have to get easier, but they never do. We also get served budwesier (lol) and some absolutely incredible food. I got my first time trying Goose Liver, which was actually quite tasty. So goose liver was my first real adventurous food. On a side note, I absolutely love the food here. Some of it is a little weird, and they don’t take nearly the care in presenting it that is taken in North America but it is awesome. You are often fighting with bones and the like because they don’t really care about cutting around it, but it’s a minor inconvenience. The food is well cooked, tons of meat and rice, and tons of vegetables. If you don’t like spicy food, you’re going to have a tough time though, but the spiciness has been fabulous. Everything pretty much has a kick to it.

The next day (Sunday) we cab downtown with one of the people from the school (Jerry) and he takes us to the biggest mall in Nanning. It felt pretty much like a mall at home other than the fact it had six levels, and a freaking skating rink in the middle of it! It’s 38 degrees outside, and people are skating on the fifth floor of a shopping mall. All the brands were the same, except the brands I wouldn’t usually shop at in Canada. Armani, Swarovski etc, very high end brands. There were also the Gap, H&M and I think three Starbucks in the mall so those are okay. We then have lunch then head back to the hotel to grab our bags and head to catch the bullet train from Nanning to Liuzhou (pronounced leo-jo). The Chinese service industry is quite interesting because it’s not really focused on the ass kissing like the Canadian one is, but they refuse to allow you to do anything. It was really funny because the front desk people at our hotel also serve as the bellhops, and I’m pretty sure my luggage weighed more than the woman trying to get it onto the bell cart, but she managed to get it on there.
We get to the train station and holy crap, it’s a freaking madhouse. It’s like going through security at the airport, except nobody lines up, so you have force your way into line, you don’t take anything out of your bags as you pass security but do put them through a scanner, and they are pushing you through incredible quickly. I may not mind it as much when I don’t have 130lbs worth of luggage with me when I try to do it. It’s also close to 40 degrees again, and incredibly humid. I don’t mind when Vernon hits 38 degrees but the humidity here just kicks the crap out of you. You approach a doorway to outside and are basically in a full out sweat. There is no deciding, “eh I probably don’t need a shower today.” It’s trying to decided, “Was my two showers today enough? Probably not, I probably do need a third.”

So we catch the bullet train in to Liuzhou and then get picked up at the Train Station by two employees of the school. Seven (that’s his chosen English name) is the guy I ride with and Denise rides with Shannon. Seven is probably three or four inches shorter than me, and pretty slim, but just a bundle of energy, and pretty funny. He’s also a go-to for us at the school to get things done.
We get to where we are living and they show us our rooms. My room was bigger than advertised. I am actually just in a hotel room, but it’s a pretty significant size with room for a desk, table and couch and bed area. The school also provided a nice wardrobe for clothing storage and a small washing machine. It will be quite comfy once I get organized (which will probably only take 6 months)

That night (Sunday) we got to dinner with Seven and Shannon and her husband. Another fantastic meal. It pretty much seems to be expected that you have beer and wine at every meal here. This time our beer turns out to be Pabst Blue Ribbon, which I don’t think has ever tasted so good. (Side Question: Can a beer taste bad when it’s 40 degrees?). I also tried my second weird food: Pig’s hoof. I can’t say I was a big fan of it, as it was kind of rubbery and tough, but I can now say I’ve tried pig’s hoof. They show us around a bit, including the supermarket. Denise and I head back to our respective apartments as neither of us have really slept well to this point. Still neither of us are able to sleep passed 6 or 7am.

Now to Monday, which mercifully was a holiday here, Denise and I go to Pizza hut for lunch with Seven and Belinda (she teaches English, but in the Chinese part of the high school.) Belinda loves having us there because her husband doesn’t like pizza (huh?) so she’s happy to have some pizza buddies. As much as I’m loving the food here, pizza was fabulous. They show us around a little more and then we head back to the apartment. We were also informed the school had set up for us to go for dinner at the house of one of our students. We had some confusion about the time this was happening, (we thought it was at 7, they were there at 5:30.) so I was in my apartment just going to have a quick nap when there’s a knock at my door. Even in Liuzhou it’s still close to 40 degrees with huge humidity everyday so when I’m in my apartment, even with air conditioning, I am usually wearing very minimal clothing. I scramble to throw some pants on, not worrying about a shirt and my future student is at the door telling me they’re there to pick us up (crap). I am in the 18th floor of the building and Denise is on the 12th, but they have different elevators that service the 13th floor and above, and 12th and below. I go down to the lobby and then up the elevator to Denise’s apartment and sure enough, no answer (double crap). Denise had gone for some groceries so we found her about ten minutes later, she went and quickly changed and then we headed for dinner.

This was the mid-autumn festival which our student informs us is basically like our Thanksgiving, and is their second biggest holiday after Chinese New Year. I felt like a bit of a jerk because we’re late for a holiday dinner, when it’s pretty humbling in the first place for them to invite us for dinner on a pretty special day for them. We get there and the food is amazing. Our student’s grandmother had cooked, and there were probably eight different meat dishes and then three or four dishes of vegetables. It could have fed a small army. It was all immaculate, and they had a really nice Australian Cabernet Sauvignon and German beer for us as well. I kind of laughed at that, drinking an Australian wine and a German beer in China. We stayed for about an hour and a half, with our student translating both ways and then his parents toured us around the city for about twenty minutes before we went back to our apartment.

Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever had that easy of a time filling 2000 words. It’s been a pretty amazing time so far and that’s all before I even started teaching. Looking back at the first couple days, I can’t believe how much we actually did in that time here.  I will write a post about my first week once I am finished it. The biggest surprise for me so far, is I haven’t really felt all that culture shocked. There’s definitely noticeable differences and maybe it’s just that I’m pretty flexible but I haven’t felt too out of my element, other than the fact I can’t speak the language or read it. The school has been fabulous so far and I’m having a great time right now.

I miss all of you like crazy, and wish you could all be here experiencing this with me. Tata for now.

Easy

Saturday, 23 August 2014

One Week

My First Post for my blog that I will be writing to keep everyone up to date while I am in China.

I am still in Canada. We are in the finishing touches of getting me my Visa so that I am legally allowed to teach in China. I'm guessing it will probably take the remainder of next week so you have me for maybe another full week in Canada. To explain a bit of what I will be doing: I am teaching High School in an English Immersion BC Offshore School. From what I know right now, which isn't a ton, I will be teaching Grade 10 History, English and Planning, with the possibility of some Drama. I teach the BC curriculum and these students graduate with a BC Dogwood graduation certificate. I am definitely looking forward to escaping BC's Education situation right now, and being able to get full-time work straight out of school. My housing is just about totally paid for (I will end up paying about $80/month due to choosing an expensive apartment), and I make a similar starting wage to what I would in BC, but pay a much lower income tax than I would in BC.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment on the blog and I will respond when I can. I am writing the blog as I do not anticipate having Facebook in China.