Sunday, February 28, 2010

Happy Birthday to me

It's my birthday today. I had forgotten, until someone reminded me (thanks!).  It seems anticlimactic after all that has happened.

Today I had a half day free in the morning, it was soooooo wonderful.  They have been keeping me so busy that even a few hours to myself seemed luxurious. I managed to finally catch some of the Olympics other than the seemingly endless curling (what a weird thing that is). I watched some of the figure skating medalists' encore performances. Also finally had time to run the mop around the floors; it still needs to be done again, but it's much better, I can at least step onto the floor without my feet turning black.

One of our keepers took another foreign teacher and I out to get our bus pass, bank account and cell phones today.  Just after we started out the light rain changed to hail, and shortly after that it was snowing.  At first the snow was so pretty, it really changed the look of the city.  I took a few pictures, but since I forgot to bring my camera cable with me, I can't upload them until I find an SD-USB converter here.

It snowed for at least an hour, enough for snow to stick on the ground and make a HORRIFIC mess.  It was slippery as can be, I wished I had my hiking boots.  The streets are now filled with dark brown goopy slush and water. Found out that  my faux Ugg boots are not watertight. Fortunately, only a little water leaked in around the toes, the rest of the boot stayed warm. 

Because of the cold and wet, we won't be going out to the restaurant tonight after all.  That's fine with me, because I really want some time to relax more than anything else.

Before I crash, I should probably put my mucky wet clothes back on and go out and get some bottled water, I'm almost out. The tap water here is truly horrid, it tastes of mud or something worse, even after boiling.


It was snowing again,windy, and beginning to get dark, so I decided not to go out after all, I'll brave it in the morning instead. I just cooked my first meal, some stir fried eggplant with chili paste and soy sauce (the only condiments I have so far), and used the rice cooker to make rice and steamed broccoli.  I need to surf for some recipes and stir fry tips, the eggplant took a ton of oil to keep from sticking, that can't be right.  I miss my nonstick cookware already.

It's the Lantern Festival today (or all week, I'm not sure), so the locals are setting off fireworks in the courtyard, all round the buildings, all over the city...  I feel like I'm in a war zone.  I'm not talking bottle rockets and roman candles here; these are HUGE.  Apparently fireworks are only legal during the Spring Festival (what we call Chinese New Year) and the Lantern Festival, which I think sort of run together for a two or three week long explosion fest.  Fortunately (I think), there is nothing flammable around, it's just a concrete jungle.  There are some grubby little plants struggling here and there.  The grounds of this building have fake flowers stuck in the ground interspersed with the sad little plants.

Took the bus home alone for the first time today (I've mostly been walking) and was lucky enough to get my stop, for a few moments after I got off the bus I didn't recognize anything and was afraid I was lost, but then I saw my street. Phew!


In this pic it has just begun snowing.

By the time we finished at the bank and went to the bus stop it had been snowing for about 30 minutes.  In this pic you can see where someone made a little snowman on the trashcan, and also how quickly the snow was churned into muddy slush by the cars.
We crossed this river on the way to the cell phone store, it looked so beautiful with the snow falling and the steam forming a fog over the river.

Here is a picture from my kitchen window of the courtyard covered in snow.  The statue in the middle is seen from the side; from the front, it's a bird feeding its chicks in a nest and quite lovely. The buildings are all part of the apartment complex.  I'm on the second floor. 

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Getting better

Today was better and I felt less anxious (thank goodness for meds), but as usual they didn't tell us what the heck was going on until it happens. Yesterday it was "show up at 9:30 and we will do your demo lessons", which we all thought meant that we would be done by noon.  This morning we showed up and it was "Well, you will do the demo lessons at 11:00".  Then at 12:00 we had lunch break, after only 2 demos out of the 6 of us.

At lunchtime we wandered around looking for a place we had eaten lunch a couple of days ago.  The back streets around the school are interesting and more like what I would expect "China" to look like.  We did finally find the restaurant and the food was delicious like before.  Total cost per person: about USD $2.50.  I have to remember that I'm being paid in Chinese currency and be frugal here, but the conversion still amazes me. 

After lunch we had to go to meet the Chinese English Teachers we will be working with, that was totally disorganized.  I got to spend about 3 minutes with each of the teachers I'll be working with.  Then back to the demos... did one and a half demos when we were interrupted and told we have to go watch a public promotion class.  By the time we got back to finish the last two and a half demos, it was already quite late.  Finally around 6:00 we could go home.  So much for "just doing our demos in the morning".

And then I find out that on my DAY OFF on Sunday, they want to take me to do stupid errands that in my opinion could easily wait until Monday.  They will take David and me to the police station for registration, then get our bus passes, then get our cell phones. The others say that these errands are likely to take the entire afternoon, so much for having even one whole day to rest.  Well, at least I have HALF a day off...

Tomorrow evening the Pakistani restaurant we went to last night will have a special buffet dinner and a lot of us are planning to go, yum.  I have not had a single food so far here that I didn't like. Unless I can resist all these wonderful restaurants and learn to cook with the local foods, losing weight is going to be a losing battle!  Although the 35 minute walk to and from school will help quite a bit with that.

I begin teaching on Wednesday.  I will have one class on Wednesday night, one class on Thursday night, 9 classes on Saturday and 5 on Sunday.  Eventually I'll be bumped up to 20 hours which is my contract level, and after that any additional hours will be paid "overtime".

I did get an hour to play with the SmartBoard this morning and rehearse my lesson properly, so it went quite well, except that I was last and by that time my colleagues who were playing the "students" were getting tired.  Anyway I didn't get much criticism on my lesson, so I guess it was acceptable.

On the way home this evening I took a slightly different route, and saw some really cool back streets I want to explore someday.  Stopped at several street food vendors on the way home: the steamed bun shop where we have been going and the girl at the window speaks some English; a place selling what look like little custard tarts but who knows what they really are; and a woman on a bicycle selling corn on the cob and pineapple on a stick.  Probably paid a whole dollar for all that in US currency.

Finally had the energy to haul all my trash down to the rubbish bins since I got home before it was totally dark for a change.  I'll get to go to bed EARLY tonight for the first time yayyyyyy!!!!

Friday, February 26, 2010


This morning I took the bus to school, and just as I was standing on the bus congratulating myself on my achievement, I looked down to find the compartments of my purse all unzipped and my wallet missing.  Thankfully there was not a lot of money in the wallet, or in any case not a lot of money in US terms, and my driver's license won't be too useful.  Called the credit card company and had the card cancelled immediately, even though I thought that I had taken it out of my wallet (turns out I had, it's here in the apartment).  Great start to my day.

Then we were off to another school for more training and observing classes.  I had prepared my demo lesson plan for tomorrow, but when I got the SmartBoard program for my chapter there was very little there to work with, so I'm back to square one.  Using the SmartBoard with an actual lesson is much harder than just playing around with the features like we did yesterday, so I am wishing that I had at least a day just to mess around with it before doing a demo lesson with it.

Training went until 8pm, then everyone wanted to go for dinner, and since I don't yet know my way home, I had to go too, even though I was exhausted to the point of nausea.  We ate in a Pakistani restaurant which was fabulous.  I've enjoyed all the food here so far.  Some things resemble "American Chinese food" and some are totally new.

Then the hour long bus/cab ride home, and then our foreign director came by to install the SmartBoard program on my computer so I could practice with it (in my copious spare time between now, 11:20pm, and 8:30am tomorrow).  The programs look like they will take a couple of hours to download, so at least I'll have something to do when I wake up at 4:30am as I've been.

Needless to say, I'm feeling rather downhearted tonight.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Today was the second day of training.  I was quite excited that I was able to walk to school without getting lost.  It's about a 30-40 minute walk for me.  The weather has turned cool again, for which I'm exceedingly grateful.  Apparently I'm much more warm blooded than the Chinese; I was wearing just a short sleeve turtleneck shirt and a fleece sport jacket, and was quite hot while walking.  By contrast, they were wearing heavy winter coats, hats, and mufflers.

In training we went over the curriculum most of the day, and at the end of the day we finally got to play with the SmartBoard (Interactive White Board).  It is a fantastic tool, and quite fun.  It will definitely have a bit of a learning curve to get accustomed to it.  The program includes the materials for the textbooks.  The one thing I don't like about it is that if something should go wrong with it, the teacher has to get really creative because there is no other board to write or draw on in the classrooms.  Apparently the SmartBoard in every classroom is one of the school's marketing points.

Tomorrow we will go to one of the branch schools for training from 1:30-8:30pm and will also have the chance to observe some more lessons. On Saturday we are expected to give demo lessons for the head of the school, so we need to prepare lesson plan drafts before we go to training tomorrow. 

I wish I had had some time to rest before this training started!  Still getting about 4 hours of sleep a night, which is half what I'm accustomed to.  Mentally I'm adjusting to life here, but physically I really don't feel good.  Lesson learned: when starting a new teaching assignment, try to arrive several days before work begins so there is time to adjust to jet lag.

Our foreign director took us to a nearby restaurant for lunch.  The food there was similar to Chinese food in the US, only better.  There was one dish of some kind of mushrooms that resembled seaweed in texture, a sweet and sour pork that was not as greasy as that in the US, something with broccoli, spicy eggplant which was somehow crispy rather than mushy and had garlic and peppers in it, and still more steamed buns.  The steamed buns are everywhere and could easily become an addiction; I'll have to resist that, or I'll end up gaining weight here rather than losing it.

Went to the supermarket and got some more things to fix up the apartment, spent some more time cleaning the bathroom.  Little by little it's improving, I'll be able to do more when I have a day off.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Travails

What a day.  Today was exhausting but am feeling much more positive. Five of us went with our admin to some kind of government health clinic for a physical exam required for the Foreign Expert Work residency permit. We got:
  • Blood pressure 
  • Height/weight 
  • EKG 
  • Ultrasound 
  • Vision test 
  • X-ray 
  • Urine test 
  • Blood test 
I am so glad we all went together because it was really a bizarre and daunting experience, but we joked a lot to get through it  They processed us as a group and we were laughing and goofing around.  The locals must have thought we were totally nuts.

Our admin took us all to McDonalds afterward, which I thought was kind of funny, but having not eaten since yesterday because of the blood test, I was so hungry that it tasted wonderful. 

Got to ride the bus at least four times today, at least that is pretty much like any big city.  Traffic is nuts here, it follows the rules very loosely, but there must be some implicit rules because despite the fact that everyone is doing as they please and navigating by use of the horn, I didn't see anyone actually crash. Crossing the street is a lot like the old arcade game "Frogger".

Didn't have time to go back to the apartment after that so I just took a nap in the teacher lounge at the school and then it was time for our training with our foreign director.  We got introduced to the curriculum and watched a model class, the tiny kids were so cute.

Walked back to the apartment with the foreign director, so hopefully I will be able to find my way to school in the morning.  I will try to get around on foot at least until the weather gets too hot for me. I need the exercise and there are a ton of interesting little shops and food joints on the side streets. We got some steamed buns at a place near the school, my first real Chinese food and it was really tasty.

 I'm glad our admin took me for a sample shopping trip in the supermarket after I arrived here, because some of the procedures I wouldn't have known, such as having the employee weigh up the produce. Braved the supermarket on my own this evening to buy new pillows, go me! 

After watching our admin shepherd all of us through the exams today and listening to the very vocal complaints of one teacher couple who hate their apartment, I think he should be nominated for sainthood.

The Third World

It's 4am here and can't sleep. The smell of raw sewage from the shower drain combines nicely with the odor of Stinky Guy (whoever had this apartment before me).  

The neighborhood is not pretty.  Very dirty and lots of buildings torn down in the area, including right across the street. The complex is a U shape so my view is of other apartments.  The omnipresent dirt/dust seems to come from both pollution and this construction/demolition that is going on everywhere.  Even boiled, the water from the tap tastes too horrid to drink, I hope my bottled water service gets going soon. The apartment and everything in it is filthy by US standards.  Good thing it's warm because the bedding was foul.  I was so glad I brought some sheets and had to borrow a pillow from my colleagues who live next door and have been here for 6 months. The air smells like smoke and is making me cough.  Spring came early so instead of the 40 degree weather I brought clothing for, it was 70 degrees, and my cooler clothing will take 6 weeks to get here.  Woke up wondering how I'm going to survive 11 months of this.

I will have to work on some serious gratitude about how good of a life I have had... Millions of people all over the world live like this their whole lives, but one day here reduced me to tears.  OK, so the jet lag and culture shock may have contributed to it, but still...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

First Impressions

Made it to Jinan. At first glance, Jinan is more like Taipei or Tijuana than like Tokyo, very industrial, smoggy, there is a layer of dirt that is on EVERYTHING. The person who previously occupied this apartment apparently had an aversion to cleaning (and possibly bathing). I'll be cleaning for days. Managed to figure out the washing machine, yay!


In this pic you can see my bed, on which is a blanket that smells of prior occupants but not as badly as the comforter, which I stuffed into a closet.  Also my desk with my laptop, and the porch-like room that holds the washer and a weird little thing that looks like a miniature urinal but I guess is a mop sink.  The clothing drying poles are suspended on pulleys that can be cranked to move them up and down for use or to get them out of the way.  The left end of the curtain rod fell apart totally when the curtain was moved, so I hooked the curtain hooks onto the remaining hardware and tied the curtains together for the time being.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Travels, Continued

My flight from Seoul to Jinan was cancelled due to fog. After being dragged around the airport for an hour and a half like a sad puppy, I was sent to a hotel. I got a few hours' sleep and will leave for the airport in a few minutes for round two. Hopefully the weather will cooperate today and I'll make it to Jinan.

Had to wait in line for an hour and a half to check in.  The line goes in front of me, turns the corner and then winds back and forth.

When I got to the gate, the first thing I did was look to be sure there was actually a plane there waiting this time!

The Travels Begin

Exhausted greetings from Seoul, Korea. Highly recommend Singapore Airlines for international flights, the entertainment center is top rate, service was good and my knees were not touching the seat in front of me. Now for a nap while I wait for the next flight.

Here is some funny English from the washroom.  FYI, this was over the sink, not the toilet...