Tag Archives: foreigness

Summer is Coming to an End

Well, the summer grind is almost over. This is the last week of the 2nd of back to back intensive short semesters. Three week mini-courses stacked on top of my regular schedule. One thing that I have come to learn is that things would be a whole lot easier if every class wasn’t different. By that I mean, or I assume, that academic teachers typically have at least a few courses that they teach more than once during the week. Something along the lines of writing a lesson plan that can be used for all three of your freshman history classes. This is not the case here because every student only comes once a week, with every class at a different level in order to offer a wider range of English levels to customers/parents. While great for the business model, it means I have 11 different lesson plans to write up every week. Oh well.

The heavy work load and many hours of actual teaching has been hard, but my self-assurance and proficiency in the classroom is through the roof. I simply have no nerves when I am in front of class or in front of a group of parents, and it has translated to a tremendous boost in confidence, which is further encouraged by actually successfully living and working in a city and country as foreign as Wuxi, China. Outside of my phone, which I never use, or WeChat, which I frequently use, I spend much of my time communicating in very poor Chinese, usually with the Koreans who own the local Mom & Pop stores, and I get along just fine.

Knowing my time here is limited to about a year makes this a great learning experience. I can take it all in comfortably aware of the impermanence of this sojourn, which makes the moments of difficulty or frustration bearable and beneficial. Experience is essential to finding out what is important in life. Experience forces a reorganization of what you need and don’t need as it pulls new things in and out of your intellectual and emotional ambit. Auxiliary wants and needs fade away unremembered, while the indispensable and precious intensify in their importance, adding a new, permanent vitality as I wend my way through life and living. To say that family and home is the most important thing in life is trite and sentimental, but it is also simple and true.

Here are some images I’ve tried to gather since I last posted. It has seemingly been raining everyday in this sodden state so I have only a few:

These are some of my kindergarteners. Amy is the girl, CJ is with his head down and Justin is using his pencil tube as a telescope. Justin is very hyperactive but I like him very much. All three of these are good kids with great personalities, Amy being smart and mischevious and CJ is just along for the ride. That is my TA Lori, she is by far the most amiable of the lot, in part because she is the least experienced. Regardless, I enjoy working with her, and in fact I like all the TA’s, for the most part. You can’t like everybody you work with, that’s just an axiom of life.

This is just a quick video of the corner at the end of my block. My bank, some shopping and dining are all in this area.

The image below is a shot outside one of the other Shane Schools that I went to in order to sub for another teacher. The weather map said no clouds, which gives you an idea of pollution levels that day. A teacher was on vacation so I took one of his classes. That Scotsman walking by is Ian, a fellow teacher that arrived in China the same time as me.

This was my welcoming party for my substitution gig. I am pretty sure it was for me.

This is a nice image of one of the canals in a shopping area for Chinese tourists.

And finally a view along my street on a clear and quiet night.

That’s all for now, I should be posting more often now that my very busy summer is coming to an end.

New Schedule and Streetviews

We started a new summer schedule here at Shane School tailored to take advantage of the eight weeks off for summer vacation the kids get here in China. I had a bit of trepidation in anticipation of the condensed schedule, with more class time and larger classes, which made the run-up to the start of the sessions the most stressful time here since I first started. However, if the first day is any sort of guide, my concerns were misplaced.

These courses are a pair of 3 week semesters, with a 5 day break in between. They consist of three 40 minute sessions with a 10 minute break between in the morning, followed by the same format in the afternoon, with the day finishing off with my usual preschoolers in the evening. These are MHF, then a normal weekend schedule, which means full days. It seems like a lot, but the new courses replace normal weekday courses and they all come with lesson plans and supplementary materials which makes preparation a whole lot easier. Lesson planning is one aspect of work that truly is work, it's tedious and boring, but also essential. My afternoon summer course is my largest class, about 20 kids in all, about twelve years old I would guess. That's a lot of kids to manage when they don't speak much English and I don't speak any Chinese, but a lot of stuff I do is in teams with a scoring sytem, so the threat and implementation of point reduction is a good way to get the kids to discipline themselves. If a student continues to act up it could cost the whole team, and they are all pretty competitive. Everything went smoothly for it all being my leadoff day with new classes and curriculum.

Some of my favorite foods back home are blueberries and strawberries, salmon, fajitas and pretty much any good dairy, with cheese and milk particular favorites. Well, I can't really get any of that here, so I've been trying to make due with what I can source nearby. There are plenty of dried grains such as rice and oats, as well as dried beans and lentils. Well, I'm not an inveterate consumer of rice, oats, beans or lentils; I really haven't found a way to cook them well and they aren't very exciting. Let me rephrase that. I can cook them correctly, I just haven't found a way to turn them into really enjoyable dishes with the ingredients I have here. I had to search for thirty minutes to find a sealed package of what looks like and I hope are bay leaves. They don't smell like bay leaves as I opened them at home. We'll see how it turns out, I'm making a big pot of pork and beans. Oh well, they do have good squash and purple sweet potatoes, two of my favorite foods.

Just to give you some bearings on what and where you see things, I walk out of my apartment complex gates and face a divided four lane road, bordered with bike lanes and sidewalks, spaced by grass and trees as the median. It's called Changjiang Road, for the purpose of this blog I'll call it Main Street. Across Main Street is the open area where the community dances, sings, trades and gets together in the evenings. Beyond that is a walking mall. More on that later. On my side of Main Street, if I turn left, my school is about fifty yards. If I turn right, I pass the fruit stand, the Korean grocery, several hair salons, new & second hand clothes stores and my coffeeshop. Then in about a 1/4 mile I turn right onto the “Food Street” (Xinguang Road), and about a mile down that road is the shopping center with Carrefour's, the edge of New Business District with larger buildings and what not and some more restaurants.

All the restaurants are pretty much the same, presumably because of the lack of economical, diverse, quality ingredients. If I get food to go I usually buy noodles with meat & veggies at the Muslim owned restaurants/shops, which are the best places in my opinion to buy street food. They have little signs outside (forced or voluntary?) that denote the ownership is Muslim and the food is Halal, which is akin to Kosher and said to be much cleaner than regular street food. The Muslims and Koreans are by far the friendliest store owners, welcoming and kind, so I try my best to shop at their establishments when possible. Perhaps it's simply my perception, but the local Chinese I interact with as cashiers or employees often appear rude and dismissive to Laowai.

The area behind my apartment running along Food Street, behind the restaurants, is a neighborhood for working class (really poor by Western standards) Chinese; vendors, construction laborors and service workers. The scene presented is a blend of shanties, crowded one story apartments, stalls selling everything from exposed meat to industrial chemicals, low hanging power lines, naked & dirty children in the streets…you get the picture.

I took some pictures today. Here is a video to give you an idea of the traffic on the corner of my block at about 6:30 PM. This is the corner of Main Street and Food Street, my side of both. I turn right here to the supermarket. Busy and cacophonous. Everybody honks the horn on their electric moped because the motors are silent, and the honk let's pedestrians know they are coming up on them. Very annoying.

The calm before dinner rush.

Prepping:

Think this would pass the health inspector? Notice the guy cleaning the crawfish in the background with the China tap water in back.

A little cigarette ash gives the grilled mystery meat that authentic Chinese aftertaste. It seems like every man smokes. You can smell it in stores, elevators and restrooms because there are no rules against smoking inside establishments, it must be what it was like in the States before no smoking rules went into effect. I have to say I like no smoking rules.

Typical side street.

Here is a video of the neighborhood next to Food Street, directly behind my complex. I wasn't at all scared, even though everybody stares in one of three ways: amusement, conviviality or resentment. With that said, I wouldn't walk through at night. It's palpable that some of these working class Chinese, with limited access to the outside world, see me and an undefined malice swells up. I can see it intensely in the eyes of the younger men. Certainly a small minority, but present. The kind of fear of the State that doesn't exist in the West keeps violence here minimized, I do wonder for how long. Envy coupled with impotence to State power is always a powder keg.

Not exactly The Grand Canal. You would probably die on contact. I doubt that 24' white PVC pipe running along the embankment pipes in Evian spring water.

On my way out of the neighborhood, opening up to shopping and dining.

The juxtaposition is stark, with high end shopping a hundred meters away. It occured to me most neighborhoods are very well defined in terms of economics and yet exist side by side, and they all have gated entrances coming in and out. The poor areas are gated but don't have security guards to keep people out and the gates are always open, so are they there to confine people in case of emergency?

Look what I found. Two rays of Golden sunshine just outside the entrance/exit of the locals block. Goldens are the dog here. Smart folks, the Chinese dog owners. Somebody is showing off. The one Golden was a really good looking male.

OK. I've got my groceries, left the Mall/Carrefour's, it's getting dark now and you can see how the food street that runs to the Shopping has filled up.

 

I dropped of my groceries at my apartment and decided to take some pics of the walking mall past the dancing and such across the street.

This is the walking mall once you get past everybody dancing/exercising. Not much quality shopping, but that's typical. I'm not sure you can make it out, but most of the second story neon signs and some on the first floor are massage parlors, the kind that don't just give massages, right here within a stones throw and sightline of kids singing. I didn't want to make my filming of the massage parlors obvious, so the “Massage” signs may be tough to make out.

It's really weird. I had more than one strumpet offer a massage with a “happy ending”, which for me would have probably meant phenobarbital and a nap in the gutter, sans wallet. I would have taken a closer video, but I'm sure nobody would have appreciated it. Not the pimp, prostitute or the Japanese business men who flock to these establishments. How many malls in the States have massages and prostitution one level up from an Umbro apparel store.

One last video, this is directly across from my apartment facing my building, the walking mall is behind me. This is the area where families get together.

That's it for now, when the first five day break comes here in about three weeks I might go to either Nanjing or Shanghai with a couple co-workers just to sight see. Nothing is decided, everybody is waiting to see if we even want to go after the first three weeks of a condensed schedule, so I'll just have to play it by ear. Trains go most anywhere here and are really economical, so travel expenses should be relatively low.

If I have problems with the video links I'll have to put them in the next post. Sorry, I don't know how to fix video links yet once I post. I always cross my fingers when I hit the “Publish” button that the censors haven't crushed my video.

That's all for today.

 

 

Presentation for Parents and What I Miss So Far

Sunday at school I had parents come in to my kindergarten class and watch me teach for about 40 minutes. I was suprisingly sanguine, I guess it was because the kids probably know more English than the parents, which meant as long as I looked good and the kids liked me, then I was fine. The class went smoothly, the only hitch was a particular student that has a tough time concentrating and could probably use some pharmaceutical assistance. He simply cannot sit down and pay attention, which kind of made me a sympathetic figure in that I have to teach class with this maniac. I tend to ignore him on most days so he doesn’t rob the other kids, but today I had to feign concern because his mother was right there. The setup was such that all the kids sat in an arc in front of me in their little chairs, meanwhile the parents and grandparents sat behind them watching intently. If the students weren’t quick to participate, which the weren’t since they didn’t want their parents to see them get a wrong answer, the parents sharply said something in Chinese that loosely translated into any language “Answer the question!” It went well, the manager said there was no problem and I’ll get a full review on Thursday at work.

Here are some pictures of my immediate neighborhood, with the fruit stand and small grocery that I visit most days. The grocery store is owned by a Korean family, with what I believe is the mother or mother-in-law running a fruit stand next door.

That slightly blurry women is the owner of the store, and as you can see in the back there is a small meat counter. Not shown is a reach-in deep freeze with various frozen seafood items and a produce refrigerator with some essentials such as bell peppers, onion, cucumbers and what have you. The Korean shops are the best because the food is not Chinese sourced, its imported from Korea with Korean lettering, however for canned items the only thing that is immediately recognizable is Spam. This is the afore mentioned fruit stand, the little lady that runs it watches action films dubbed in what I believe is Chinese on a little TV in the corner of her stall.

Since no small shops have signs with prices, I know I was getting Laowai (foreigner) prices when I first began shopping. My prices have slowly gone down, so hopefully they are beginning to assimilate me. The fruit is very good and they have fresh produce and some basic cuts of meats inside. They sell the best kimchee I’ve ever had, and while my experience is limited, the stuff in the states doesn’t come close.

There are of course some items that cannot be purchased easily or affordably here, such as protein powder which I like for convenience, and there is no decent yogurt or cheese or quality beef and seafood worth mentioning. What do you take for granted that would be immediately missed if you lost access? Not big things like family or health care, I mean stuff like particular foods, conveniences or entertainment. A few things come to mind for me. First is the amazing variety and affordability that our supermarkets provide us with in America. I miss stuff like my 10 pound bag of frozen blueberries, in retrospect an amazing variety of cheeses, meats and fish, all available without concern that it is safe to eat. I miss being able to jump in a car and pick up most anything, clean air to breath and water out of the tap that is safe to drink. Cable TV is nice and watching sports, but it seems my teams do best when I can’t watch them. Being able to order food and get what you thought you ordered, which is difficult here because if you can speak English you are not going to be serving in a restaurant. Oh, and I cannot forget a clothes dryer. Not so much the convenience of not having to hang clothes, that is really no big deal. No, the big thing with the dryer is that it gives you softness and fluffiness that hang drying doesn’t, and today I wore my last remaing shirt that had that dryer softness from back home. Nothing left but hang dry stiffness. This isn’t to bemoan my condition here, I certainly am not going without. It is simply a reminder that a lot of little things are taken for granted back home. So the next time you dry off with a soft towel or order a pound of Boar’s Head havarti cheese from the deli or want to tell the waiter medium-rare, remember they are all under apprecited luxuries, however small.

Street Video

OK, so after much effort and downloading, I'm going to try again to post a brief video of the the street I walk down to get groceries. I took the video with my iPod, so we’ll see how it looks. I'll link it above and I'll try to embed it in my post below, unfortunately this has been difficult because the censors seem to be very adroit and attentive to blocking anything related to video uploads. I'm going to show you one side of the food street that I walk down, so turn your volume up so you can hear the sounds and pay attention to the signs you see. Definitely not in Kansas anymore.

The smells on the street are the best part. The aroma of grilling meats and stir-fried garlic, onions and peppers combine into an ambrosia that is a joy to take in. I partake a couple times a week, that is my self-imposed limit on eating meat in China that is bought off the street. My general axiom is this: for street food, and less expensive food in general, if the meat is so small I can't recognize the source animal or cut, only eat semi-weekly. The small bites of meat on the kabobs could be anything. I cook at home often.

 

Coffeshop

I stopped by the coffee-shop downstairs today for the inaugural patronage and tried the coffee. I got an Americano of course and it was absolutely blissful, all the while being joined by new friend who seems to be about an 8 month female, all Golden.

This was as comfortable and relaxed as I’ve felt the whole time, I could have been sitting on my own front porch. The shop has a wifi connection, zero English to be found of course, but everyone is nice and the clientele is definitely upper middle class. I had my drinking companion as well, although I haven’t got the name yet, I thought it would probably be bad form to ask the dog’s name before I knew anybody else’s. My coffee was 30 kwai, or about $5.50, pricy for China but a bargain in that the atmosphere truly does ameliorate the foreigness and gifted me a sense of the familiar. The brew had the crisp taste of clean, fresh coffee and the service and ambiance was nice.

As far as school, earlier today I graded the tests I gave this weekend and only had 2 out of 10 that clearly weren’t giving English their undivided attention.

This afternoon was very pleasant.