August 30, 2006

This being my first full week here, I've been observing the various classes that I'll be teaching, before I start my own classes next week. The lady who made my schedule for this week, didn't tell any of the teachers ahead of time that I'll be going to their classes, so some of the teachers were understandably shocked when I was waiting outside their class. One poor lady was quite frightened that I would be listening to her class.

The obvious thing that I've noticed is how well behaved the students are, and how much the students study. Each of the classes is 40 minutes long, with the first one starting at 7:30. They have 5 classes before lunch, a 2-hour lunch break, then another 4 classes. After dinner, they start back at 6:30 with another 2 classes, followed by 80 minutes of time to do homework before they go back to their dorms at 10:00. Apparently there are schools where the students study even more.
The English classes vary in size, from 35-50, but the average class for other subjects is 50 pupils. The classes involve a fair amount of repetition, reading and repeating words, although I'm impressed with the amount of English that some of the teachers use in their classes.
Being that I'm at a foreign language highschool, the students take English classes everyday. That being said, there's a great disparity between the students even in the same grade. Some can't form basic questions, others can have good conversations and express themselves well. In some ways that makes sense, since there are over 5000 pupils in this one school alone. Most of the students know how to say "Bonjour" or "Salut", which surprises me. Apparently after English, which is required study for all students in China, French and Japanese are the most popular 3rd languages.
*The picture is of one wing of the school, between Sunday evening study sessions.

August 27, 2006

Today's Lesson...
...Shake out your shoes before you put them on. There could be grasshoppers in them.
Solo Excursion...
Today was my first solo excursion into town, which turned out pretty well, although I wasn't able to find the mouse trap I was looking for. Yes, I have a resident mouse in my room, living beside my bed to be more exact. I saw him a day or two ago, when he ran out of my room. I didn't expect to find him hugging my bed this morning when I moved some of the sheets to wash the floor. Maybe that's why I've got two beds?
So I took the bus into town, and decided to wander the streets a bit. There were tonnes of tiny shops, street vendors, and markets everywhere. During my wanderings I came across a traditional Chinese music/dance performance outside of some store. There was a five-piece band (drum, cymbals, sheng, and two suona), and 15-20 dancers. The dancers had their faces all painted white and red, and the women had on fancy wigs with fluorescent green or pink blouses holding coloured fans to match. I wish that I had my camera! What was cool about it is that it wasn't staged for tourists -it was only Chinese people watching (and me).
Eventually I made it back to the RT-Mart to buy an elementary school character copy book, and some sweets. I asked about a mouse trap, which involved some pidgin Mandarin, and a few actions (they thought me slitting my throat indicated I wanted to make a necklace out of the mouse!), but they didn't have any traps. As far as I can tell the lady told me to go back to the store on Tuesday and find her because she would bring something from home to help me out.
For lunch, I decided to go for Chinese fast food at Mr. Lees, a Chinese chain selling beef and noodles. They were actually pretty good, and I think I'll have to go back and try some of their other food too.
I've yet to see another foreigner since leaving the Beijing airport...

August 26, 2006

My place was in desperate need of some cleaning supplies, so I went shopping with one of the English teachers today at the RT-Mart (大润发 -DaRunFa). The adventure started with the school's shuttle that takes the teachers into town on Saturday afternoon. You have to close the bus door yourself, and the driver didn't even shoulder check when pulling onto the road right in front of a bus (I won't comment any more on his driving).
The supermarket was all underground, which was cool. At the entrance there was a lady who's job is to give you a cart as you enter. I've never seen a place with so many staff, most of whom just stand and watch you. There were a few aisles where there would be 2 or 3 girls just standing there, and they move out of your way if you want to look what they're standing in front of. When I wanted to buy one doughnut, the lady at the bakery bagging centre said that I could only buy 3 doughnuts, and not just one, so I didn't get my doughnut. Maybe next time.

August 24, 2006

Arrival in China...
I'm sitting in my new living room, on the verge of sweating from the heat and smog, about to head out on an orientation of Baoding (保定), the city where I'll be working until I leave China. I've got a lot to write about (donkeys carts on the street, crazy toilets, my trough/sink), but I really have no idea where to start because I'm dead tired. I didn't know how to work the AC/fan, so I sweated in bed all night, swatting away a really annoying mosquito that I never managed to kill, and never finding a comfortable position on one of my two beds that are harder than rocks. Yes, I have two beds (a twin and a double), although I'm not allowed guests. Why do I have two beds then? It's beyond me.

August 22, 2006

Leaving Tomorrow...
In 24 hours, hopefully I'll be at the airport waiting in line to get through security. There shouldn't be a strike, since the security workers are going to mediation to try to settle things.
I've got a lot of stuff laid out on the floor to try and pack, but I've still got to go through my clothes and pick up some more stuff to take with me (multi-vitamins, etc.). I'm going to try and finish before tonight, not like before going to France when I did everything to 30 minutes before I left. Now it's off to get travel insurance...

August 17, 2006

Less than a week...
It's true, I'm leaving in less than a week now. My parents picked up my Chinese visa from the consulate in Vancouver yesterday, so I've got a nice drawing of the Great Wall of China in my passport now. Before work this morning I went to the pharmacist to get my prescription for 'traveler's diarrhea' filled.
I haven't actually started packing, although I've started putting stuff in a corner that I'll take with me. I got some pencils that say "Canada" on them as prizes for the kids. What's funny though is that the pencils were made in China, shipped to Canada, and now I'm taking them back to China to give away.
Despite the new terrorist concerns, my big concern at the moment is that the security workers don't go on strike starting Tuesday, as my flight is on Wednesday. The one side says the whole airport will be shut down, and the other says that it will continue to operate, but just with longer line ups. Hopefully nothing will come of it.

August 11, 2006

Chinese Visa... Check
I headed into Vancouver yesterday to hand in my documents to get my work visa from the Chinese consulate. Everything seems to be in order, so I can pick up the visa on Tuesday after it has been processed.
It was quite interesting though to compare the French and Chinese consulates. When I went to get my French visa, I was maybe 3rd in line, and it took me over an hour to talk to the lady behind the counter. At the Chinese consulate I was 25th in line, and after only 30 minutes I was able to talk to one of the two ladies. Talk about efficiency! So far, this seems to bode well for my time in China.
This of course is not to mention the anal security guard (ex-foreign legion?) at the French consulate who freaked out because I opened the door. Apparently I was supposed to wait for it to fully close, then ring a buzzer, then he would open the door and permit me to enter. I think our entry barely registered on the security guard at the Chinese consulate. The French consulate had a large French flag in the corner, a replicate bust of Marianne, and tourist brochures with the Eiffel Tower prominently placed on the front. The Chinese consulate had photos of their space program, a tourist video (in Mandarin with Chinese subtitles) playing on the TV, and a sign stating that "spitting, eating, and drinking" were forbidden.

August 08, 2006

Documents... Check
I received a package by FedEx today from Beijing, with the documents I need from China to be able to get my visa from the consulate in Vancouver. I don't really know what the sheets say (I can pick out a few characters here and there), so I'm assuming it's what I need. I guess I'll find out in a few days.
Speaking of things in the mail, I also got my Lonely Planet China guidebook from today.

August 05, 2006

The world is a great book, of which they who never stir from home read only a page.
-Aurelius Augustinus

August 03, 2006

I went into Vancouver last night to watch the Czech fireworks. My family and I left a big early to have a BBQ on the beach, and stake out seats before the place was too packed. There was an estimated 400,000 people who went out to watch the 25 minute show. The weather was perfect, and the fireworks were pretty good, although the music and the explosions were a bit out of synch. I don't think the Czech's will win the competition, but it was still fun to watch.

August 01, 2006

China Guidebook... Check
I borrowed a few China guidebooks from the library while I'm waiting for my Lonely Planet China to arrive from I like Lonely Planet the best partly because it's more backpacking oriented, but also for the writing style. I thought I'd include a few quips from the Beijing guide for your reading pleasure:
-On waiting in line:
"Basically, there are none. People tend to 'huddle' rather than queue, resembling American-style football but without the protective gear. You're most likely to encounter the situation when trying to board a bus or buy a train ticket. Good luck."
-On spitting: "The national sport, spitting is practiced by everyone... Never walk too close to a bus full of passengers, and try not to get caught in the cross fire elsewhere!"
-On buses: "Sharpen your elbows, chain your wallet to your underwear and muster all the patience you can because you'll need it. Overstuffed buses are in vogue in Beijing..."