Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Haves and the Have-Nots

Although about six million people live in the Zhanjiang area, this is a small city by Chinese standards. The north part of town, where Scott and I live, is called Mazhan. The Mazhan area is less developed than the central and southern districts, mainly because it's on the edge of the countryside. If you were to continue north about ten minutes outside of Mazhan, you would be driving past people working the fields and rice paddies. That's why Mazhan is made up of primarily farm parts shops and it's not uncommon to see farmers and oxen pulling carts down the street.

Continuing south, one will next come upon the central district of Zhanjiang, called Chikan. In my opinion, this is the best area... it's where the Zhanjiang Normal College is located, as well as small stores and the Wal-Mart owned shopping center called TrustMart (which Scott and I visit almost every day). Chikan is home to lots of great little restaurants, most of which are located in winding and narrow alleyways. It's just civilized enough to be relatively comfortable, but it lacks the pollution, noise and crowds found in bigger cities like Tianjin.

The southernmost area of Zhanjiang is known as Xia Shan. From our school in Mazhan to the end of the line in Xia Shan, it's about a 45-minute bus ride. Xia Shan is considered "the city" because it's the most developed section of Zhanjiang, with several large shopping malls, tallish buildings, and lots of honking and traffic. Xia Shan is closer to the sea than Mazhan and Chikan, and is home to several beautiful parks with excellent views of the water. The common opinion of Xia Shan amongst Zhanjiang-ites is that "It is more beautiful than Chikan." For me, however, Xia Shan is too loud, too crowded, and lacks the personality and interesting quirkiness of Chikan.

Last night, Madison invited us along with about ten other young teachers out for dinner. This was no small act of kindness: last night was the Mid-Autumn Festival and one of the most important family holidays of all Chinese festivals. During dinner, Madison told us that the headmaster had called him and "demanded" that he make us feel welcome on Mid-Autumn Day. So, the end of the story is that the bunch of us all went to an excellent Western-style dinner in a very upscale, new area of town: Madison really does a great job of taking care of Scott and I.

The restaurant was located on the way to Xia Shan in a trendy new neighborhood that's quickly becoming the hottest commodity in Zhanjiang. Here, affluent Chinese families stroll along avenues lined with palm trees, spacious stucco-sided apartments and sophisticated restaurants: all overlooking a lovely ocean-side park, which we walked through to view the moon after dinner.

The evening really got me thinking about the huge income gap apparent in many of the places in China I've visited, including Tianjin, Beijing, and Chengdu. So many cities in this country are sprouting neighborhoods like the one I visited last night, while just 20 minutes down the road people are still living in shacks as peasants. More and more Chinese are purchasing cars, which are still considered a luxury item here, while others still employ an ox-pulled cart as a mode of transportation. Our dinner party feasted on steak, French fries and red wine; just down the street, there were numerous families sitting on the street curb eating a tin of rice and fish.

There are several wealthy teachers at this school: Miss Wang has a brand-new car and carries a Louis Vuitton purse; David has a new Honda Accord, talks on a Bluetooth, and wears designer clothes; Madison owns a second home in the upscale neighborhood we visited last night. On the other hand, there are the teachers like Helen and Zhu who live in cramped, non-air conditioned apartments, teach twenty classes every week, and get paid about $250 per month.

I realize that the same problem exists in the United States, but in China the disparity is much more obvious, as evidenced by its strong effects even in an isolated place like Zhanjiang. Elderly Chinese lived in a completely different country than the one their grandchildren are growing up in today. As the standard of living rapidly increases, it is inevitable that some people will be left behind to continue life in the old way... but I wonder when these country people will realize the new opportunities that exist to challenge and better their current modes of existence.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Mid-Autumn Festival BBQ

The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated with mooncakes and barbeques. Tonight, some of Scott's students who didn't get to go home for the break invited us to a cookout in the school courtyard. Initially, I didn't feel like going but the party turned out to be a really good time. There are about 35 graduating seniors in the class, all business English majors. They bought pork, chicken, sausage, hot dogs, fish, beer and soda at the supermarket and set up several little brick grills. Everybody skewered a few pieces of meat and had a good time roasting all the food together. After a little while, I ran up to my apartment to grab the speakers I bought for class and my MP3 player so we could have some music.

Everybody was really friendly, full of questions about life in the United States, and eager to practice their English. I talked with a boy named Shine for a while. It turns out that Shine loves country music, but only knows one country song... so tomorrow he's coming over and I'll help him download some good old Brooks and Dunn, Alan Jackson, and Keith Urban.

Everybody harassed each other about singing and dancing- "Hey, I hear you're a really good dancer, Apple! Why don't you show us?" "Oh, Shine, can you stand up at the top of the steps and show us your dance moves?" The students sang a bunch of songs for Scott and I- mostly in a group, but a few soloists did volunteer to perform English songs while everyone else clapped along.

Later in the night, the students clumped in two groups around Scott and I, asking questions about everything: business in America (I told them about my successful brother), our families (one girl also has a twin), famous sites in America, Florida, my pets at home, food in America, what my ideal job is, college life, etc. It was really interesting to hear their perspectives and views, especially since they are all close to my age and will be heading out to look for jobs in December.

The food was delicious and the company and music were excellent. China, you have redeemed yourself.

Being a Celebrity

It would be fair to say that I'm happy in China about 75% of the time. "Happy" means a lot of things: not getting annoyed by the constant staring; patiently answering ritual questions asked in halting English such as "Do you speak Chinese?" "Where are you from?" and "What is your name?"; responding good-naturedly to the incessant screams of "HELLO!!!!" followed by nervous giggling; posing for pictures several times a day; and just putting up with the hundreds of little everyday annoyances that make life in China so much more difficult than life in the United States.

And then there's the other 25%. Today was a 25% day, during which all of the above occurrences really, really got under my skin. It's funny- as I said before, most of the time I'm okay with all of it. I feel that I have adjusted relatively well and am now infinitely more tolerant in every way than I was three months ago. Some days, however, I wake up, step outside... and I just KNOW it's going to be "one of those days."

The afternoon started out just fine with a great lunch at Pizza Hut. I had my defenses up for afterwards because another English teacher at our school had invited us over to her home. Sounds innocent... even fun, right? Wrong.

The invitation was initiated at eight o'clock Friday morning with a gift of mooncakes delivered to Scott's apartment. We should have known better than to accept (in China, looking a gift horse in the mouth is a must). A few hours later, the teacher called with a sad story about her extremely intelligent son at the #19 primary school who "just really needs some extra help with his English." Any chance we would be free on Saturday afternoon to come by and meet him? Having taken her mooncakes, we were now required to oblige.

So this afternoon, the four of us played cards and listened to the woman's 12-year old son play the piano. He is actually a very bright and cute boy who speaks surprisingly good English. It's just the manner in which we were tricked into coming to her home that made me angry. To make matters worse, thirty minutes after we showed up, a neighbor's daughter- who, SURPRISE! ALSO needs help with her English!- just happened to drop by. Every once in a while, the boy's mother whispered some English phrase into the poor little girl's ear and then little Wendy would turn to me and ask, "Do you like to play football?" or something like that.

After resisting a very aggressive invitation to stay for dinner, the five of us trucked down to the park to take pictures. This is another favorite pasttime in China- taking pictures at random places. And if there are two foreigners to pose with, even better! We refused a second box of mooncakes and finally managed to disentangle ourselves after forty-five minutes of picture taking with a made-up story of having to visit a friend. Judging by the frequent references to "next time," Scott and I are now expected to tutor the woman's son and his friend... something that I am NOT planning on doing.

On the way back to my apartment, I was in a very bad mood. When I am feeling like this, I just hope that the Chinese people will not be too aggressive in their friendliness (for their own sakes) because this is when the Dr. Jekyll in me really comes out. I did stare down a few students who excitedly said hello to me, as well as pointed and widened my eyes at some little boys on the street... and yeah, and I dismissively refused to take a picture with a group of girls. I feel bad about it now, but sometimes I'm just really not up for playing the monkey.

Scott and I made reservations at the Maryknoll House for the upcoming October break. I'm looking forward to eating some Western food and relaxing on the beach for a few days. But most of all, it will be heaven to just be a normal person again. I miss being one of the crowd.

A Wild Friday Night

Last night, the entire English department went out to dinner in style, financed by prize money won for being "the best department in the school" last term. So, Scott and I hopped on the teachers' bus and rode to the restaurant with everybody after the last class of the day. Friday was the start of a four and a half day holiday for the Mid-Autumn Festival, so all the teachers were in a party mood from the beginning. The festive atmosphere heightened as the twenty of us rapidly consumed about ten bottles of Chinese red wine mixed with Sprite. The food was delicious, but most of the male teachers were too busy running from table to table shouting GAN BEI! (BOTTOMS UP!) at each other to take much notice of the array of delicacies coming from the kitchen.

After about twenty minutes of drinking the semi-weak wine, at least a half- dozen male teachers and Helen were completely GONE. Helen was probably the funniest, just because her face turned "as red as the wine" (to quote Angel, who was sitting next to me) and she was overcome with non-stop giggling for most of the dinner. Madison freely admitted, "I am very drunk. I should drink tea." As for the other drunkards, they put on a show for the rest of us by dashing around the room trying to pick each other up and pretending to propose to the older female teachers. It was a very entertaining evening and there will be pictures soon.

Later, the party moved to an upscale karaoke joint. Scott and I got to ride there in a real car with the headmaster, but the "common" teachers had to take regular cabs. Of course, we were cajoled into picking out English songs; one came up in the rotation every twenty minutes or so and we had to sing. Grrr. Let's just say I have never thought of myself as a singer, especially not in front of twenty Chinese teachers urging me to get up on the stage. Which we did- for Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You." Luckily Madison knew that one and screamed into the microphone so I didn't have to do much work. Other songs we sang include "Eidelweiss" and "Hotel California." So, let me just recap this for you. I sang the above songs at a karaoke bar with the Chinese teachers from the English department. What have I become???? Some bizarre creature who has nothing to do with my American self (who would die before she would sing karaoke) apparently.

Fortunately, the other teachers soon discovered that Scott and I did not want to sing so they stopped the torture and started the Chinese songs. Karaoke is a strange obsession in China; even elderly men are not the least bit self-conscious about belting out a love ballad in the bar. Our headmaster did three or four songs alone: so did Madison, David, and all the other teachers. The young P.E. teacher jumped around on the stage most of the night and everybody applauded wildly after each song. A potentially awkward situation came when a guy who'd had too much wine at the restaurant threw up on the floor. However, nobody batted an eye; the attendant came in to clean it up while David and the headmaster continued tenderly singing a romantic duet.

After three and a half hours of karaoke, Scott and I were tired, so we accepted a ride home from David and that was my Friday night. Certainly unlike any I've had before... but that makes sense, because it took place in a southern Chinese city called Zhanjiang

Monday, September 17, 2007

Gender Confusion

Friday I finally received my full schedule for the semester. I'm teaching three groups of students: two classes of high school sophmores and one class of college freshmen. My classes are divided up into two 45-minute periods with a 10-minute break halfway through. Wednesday is the only day I have two classes.

Monday & Tuesday- Speaking and listening w/ class #1 of high school sophomores
Wednesday- Speaking and listening w/ class #2 of high school sophomores & Speaking and listening w/ college freshmen
Thursday- Speaking and listening w/ class #2 of high school sophomores
Friday- Speaking and listening w/ college freshmen

This afternoon was my first class with the high school sophomores. Their English level is quite a bit lower than that of the college freshmen and today, most of them seemed pretty scared of me. After introducing myself (JA-NET! JA-NET! JA-NET!) I had them choose English names from a list of about 200. There are some cute ones, including Fire, Alerwen (not sure where that came from?), Yoyo, Beny, and Cloud.

The most embarassing moment of the class came when I enthusiastically shouted, "SO! WE ONLY HAVE ONE BOY IN THE CLASS!!!!" and pointed to the effeminate and very thin "young man" sitting in the front row. The students laughed, and the "boy" quietly said, "No, I am a girl." OOPS. I think it happens to him a lot... Scott told me that during the meet and greet we had with the students a few weeks ago, some girls asked him to, "Guess whether that is a boy or a girl." Of course, he said boy... Poor thing. Anyway, I apologized during the break and she decided her name would be Bobo.

Tomorrow I have one class in the morning, then we'll have our first lesson with Ruth the Chinese tutor. Ruth speaks excellent English and is also an Evangelical Presbyterian: a rarety in China. Scott and I met with her Saturday, and not even thirty minutes into the conversation she was inviting us to church and showing us her English-Chinese hymnal stash. Good thing I could tell her I'm already a Christian! After the lesson, Scott and I will have our first basketball game with some of the other teachers on campus. That will be an interesting journal entry, I'm sure!

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Today was a low-key day. This morning, I did some lesson planning and reviewed a bit of Chinese to get ready to start lessons next week. Kevin came over around lunch time: today he trailblazed by navigating through the railroad construction zone between our two schools instead of taking the less direct but safer way we usually go. This is a shorter route, but requires slightly more concentration in dodging sewage, potholes, etc. along the way. When the railroad renovations are finally complete (exact date is very TBA) the distance between our school and the Zhanjiang Normal College will be cut in half.

Our buddy Kevin dropped by for a visit, yes, but it was more than just a friendly social call. He wanted to try the infamous MFC fast food restaurant, our neighborhood's only attraction. MFC is a shameless, blatant copy of KFC: same colors, same font, same food. The only difference is instead of a giant Colonel Sanders outside, there's a picture of a little cartoon kid eating chicken. In Chinese, "KFC" is "Ken di gi;" "MFC" is "Men di gi." They're long lost twin brothers separated at birth! David's opinion of MFC is, "It is a fake. Everything in China is a fake." He says that about a lot of things.

I'll leave it up to your imagination to fill in the blanks on what exactly "MFC" stands for. Hint: the C is for Chicken.

After some Men Di Gi, I walked back through the Danger Zone with Kevin. I've mentioned him before, but let me just say again that Kevin is pretty hilarious. Today, he decided to bring a huge black umbrella around town to shield himself from the sun, which he had no problem twirling and spinning over his shoulder like a little parasol. We sure got some looks on that walk...

Kevin went back to his school, and I rode Bus #11 to the end of the line and back again for lack of anything better to do. The bus costs 2 yuan, or about $0.25, and is a great way to see the city and discreetly observe large numbers of Chinese people. On the way, I picked up a few colorful mats to fill up some of the space in my cavernous apartment. I got back to campus during P.E. class and a bunch of students invited me to hit the volleyball around with them. We did that for a little while, and then I was mobbed by about 35 girls wanting to know all the usual things (do I like Chinese food, where am I from, do I like surfing the Web, etc.) They're really cute kids.

Somehow the rest of the afternoon slipped by; Scott and I had dinner at the Macau, one of our favorite restaurants so far. The restaurant has a display for every dish, so all you have to do is walk around and point to what you want. Everything I've had there has been very good, especially the oolong tea, which has a delicious honey aftertaste.

Coming back from dinner, we ran into our new pet cat on campus, who was very hungry and told me so by meowing very loudly. I gave him some food and we played for a while. The students all think I'm nuts for paying so much attention to that cat, but I don't care... he's black and white, tiny, and adorable. It will be a fun project to fatten him up and I miss Panda.

Well, that's it for now, good night!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Just Another Day in Zhanjiang

Today Scott and I had a conversation I didn't think I'd ever have in my life...

*After being bullied into having lunch at the campus canteen with another teacher*
Me: Did you have that dish with the cucumbers?
Scott: Yeah.
Me: What was the meat in there?
Scott: Octopus tentacles.
Me: Did you eat them??
Scott: Only the ones without suction cups.

As you can probably tell by the above dialogue, we are both adjusting to life in Zhanjiang. After just ten days here, Scott and I already have several favorite restaurants and have established ourselves as "regulars" in each one- it's not too difficult to do when you're blond and eight inches taller than everyone else in town. When I say I'm a "regular," I mean the restaurant workers' faces literally light up with joy when we walk in... or even walk BY. They scrounge up the inevitable "English speaker" (i.e. someone who knows how to say "Yes," "No," and "Thank you") and scramble to find the picture menu for us. Not a day of class goes by without a student informing me of one friend or another who spotted me around town. Mostly it happens when I go to fast food restaurants: "JANET! I saw you in _____ !!" (insert either McDonald's, Pizza Hut, or KFC).

We are also very well known amongst the cab drivers in town. It's happened more than once that I've told the cabbie the name of our school, only to be interruped with "Zhidao, zhidao!" (I know, I know). The pedicab and motorcycle drivers are in on it too. There's one motorcyclist who hangs out on the corner outside school. He seems to think that if he rides around us in circles everytime we stand outside the gate, we will eventually be persuaded to accept his aggressive ride offers. Tonight, Scott and I were having a hard time hailing a cab so he decided to be helpful, rode his motorcycle a few blocks away, and came back with a cab trailing along behind him. Thanks, wo de pengyou! (my friend)

Another sign I'm getting more comfortable here is that I actually went jogging the other day. Jogging is semi- embarassing anywhere, but it's exponentially so in a small town in China. Crowded streets, no traffic rules, tiny old people, and random markets everywhere don't exactly add up to an ideal track. So, after some pathetic wandering in search of somewhere to run, I stumbled upon a beautiful park that's linked to the Zhanjiang Normal University where our friends teach. It's centered around a good sized lake, and has lots of little radiating side paths with interesting destinations, such as the one that leads to the "Tombs of the Revolutionary Martyrs/ Barbeque Area." The most fun part of the jog, though, was observing the looks on peoples' faces around me. Imagine this: a park teeming with miniature elderly Chinese people going for a mid-morning stroll. Enter me, jogging and sweating, listening to rap music. I'm rapidly coming up behind the unsuspecting Chinese people. They hear heavy breathing... turn around... and with expressions of pure terror, scuttle out of the way JUST IN TIME.

So tonight was a lot of fun. The students put on a two- hour talent show outside on the track to welcome incoming freshmen. Everybody in the audience got glow sticks, and there were mist and disco lights galore. The performers were extremely talented: they sang Chinese pop songs and ballads and performed ghetto-esque dances dressed in fun costumes. One of my students, Tina, did a great solo song and dance piece. My favorite routine was a dance to a rap song called "I am your Super Boy," done by eight girls wearing matching high tops, cut-off jean shorts, sports bras, and wife beaters.

Tonight was also our second encounter with the extremely famous "30,000- yuan flute." This flute is made of pure silver and is a legend around campus. It's owned by a young teacher, whose family (I hear) is very wealthy and so they bought her this flute just for the heck of it. The girl also played her flute at the Teachers' Day Banquet. On both occasions, I was informed by at least five people, "Do you know, that flute cost 30,000 yuan?" *that's about $4000.

Scott and I sat by some adorable, sweet English teachers. One of them is named Shi He (pronounced "Shurr Huh"); she wanted an English name, and was thrilled when we came up with Shirley. After the talent show, our friend Zhu invited us to "play computer" but we declined and headed to KFC instead. On the way back inside the campus gate, Scott and I said hello to a student we both have in class. We were having trouble remembering her name, but Scott soon had it. "Oh yeah! That was Bobo."

Oh China... the land of famous flutes, suction cups, and precious English names.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Excerpt from Business English textbook

It's funny that we actually do use these motions often- albeit some more than others- but rarely think about them.

Now you have a thousand and one reasons to learn the nonverbal communication system well together with the verbal communication system in English speaking community. Work with your group members to figure out the gestures in Chinese for the items in the following table.

Meaning: Come here.
English gesture: Extend one's closed hand, palm up, with only forefingers moving back and forth.

Meaning: Shame on you.
English gesture: Extend both hands, palms down, with forefingers stretching out and one forefinger make several brushing movements over the back of the other finger.

Meaning: I am full (after a meal).
English gesture: With an open hand, palm down, raising to one's throat (often with the remark "I am full up to here.")

Meaning: Hitchhiking.
English gesture: Move several times a closed hand with an outstretched thumb pointing to the direction in which one intends to travel.

Meaning: Kill oneself.
English gesture: Raise one's right hand closed to his head with the forefinger and the thumb stretching out and the forefinger pointing to his temple.

Meaning: Show impatience.
English gesture: Stamp one's foot.


Suddenly, the front door telecom chirped out a loud, tinny version of "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" to let me know someone was downstairs buzzing to come up. Joyful, joyful for me- it was David, the metro computer guy/ inventor of Chinese cake, gracing me with his presence to install Microsoft Office on my computer. "Hello Janet I am David Chan! Open the door!"

Wearing ironed khaki pants, a crisp white collared shirt, and polished black leather shoes, David delicately stepped into my apartment, apologizing profusely for walking inside without taking off his shoes, but at the same time demonstrating no intention to remove them. He interrogated me for a few minutes: Have you learned to cook for yourself yet? Does your mom cook for you at home? Do you drink a whole water bottle every day? Then it was down to business (David is very professional). After shoving in the bootleg Office CD and a few rapid clicks on my computer, David informed me, "This copy is a fake. Everything is a copy in China. It is no good. I come back tomorrow."

We joked around for a few minutes; he giggled a lot and called me "Crazy Janet" repeatedly. When I showed him the hammock I'd bought at the store to hang on the back porch, David immediately seized it, hung it up across the middle of the living room, suggested that I have Scott get in to test it out... and with that, the whirlwind that is David was out the door.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Banquet and Baijiu

Baijiu: the unofficial national Chinese banquet beverage of choice. A foul- smelling, clear substance that's about 60% pure alcohol, baijiu is served in small shot glasses: even a tiny sip burns all the way down and numbs your lips for a few seconds.

Tomorrow is the national Teachers' Day, so tonight our school held a huge dinner party for its 200+ teachers. It was my first official Chinese banquet... and also my first contact with the wonders of Chinese people drinking baijiu.

Having never been to a Chinese banquet before, choosing an appropriate outfit proved a difficult dilemma... but after 30 minutes of trying on everything in my limited wardrobe, I decided on a turquoise tank top and a flouncy black skirt. Nice and festive! As it turned out, this outfit was a bad choice... everyone else had on pale collared shirts and dark pants: the school uniform. oops. Now I was a tall, blond flamenco dancer venturing into a room full of black-haired people wearing identical business casual.

Despite the initial embarassment of entering the room, I covered my losses and wrangled a seat at "the fun table" with our friends Madison, Nemo, David, Helen, and Zhu. They're a great crowd.

Madison is our "waiban" (contact person) and is always very stressed out and sweating bullets. I think we foreigners make him nervous with our many demands. He sure loosened up tonight after a couple of shots of baijiu, and was having a great time tearing around the room toasting everyone who won a prize in the raffle drawing. Madison was also our "food narrator" for the night and took special pride in telling us exactly what every dish was (although it probably would have been better had I not known).

Nemo, another English teacher, was sitting to my right. He chose his English name because he "likes clownfish and also likes Captain Nemo." Nemo was the perfect gentleman the whole evening: pulling out my chair when I got back from the restroom, making sure I had always had enough Sprite, and selecting the tastiest morsels of the many delicacies spread before us and delivering them directly to my plate. Between bites of sandworm, fish, and vegetables, he wanted to know all about American high schools. "Janet!" "Yes?" "How much money could a high school teacher make in America?"

David, sitting two people away from me, is my very favorite so far. He's the computer guy on campus and is also very, very metro. He came over to set up my computer the other day; five minutes after the thing was turned on, he was jamming out to a karaoke knock-off version of Allison Kraus's "When You Say Nothing at All." He wears tight, whiskered jeans, talks constantly on his Bluetooth, and loves to "go to the club." David was bored by the whole "let's give two hours of speeches before the banquet starts" deal... so he resorted to texting up a storm and tapping his feet impatiently. During the meal, we were served a delicious cake with coconut filling. David asked, "How do you say this in English?" We didn't know, so David came up with a new and creative word for the dessert: "Chinese cake." The rest of the night, he boasted to the table about his invented word.

Helen is a very sweet English teacher and serves as our back-up helper if Madison isn't available. She strategically placed herself next to Scott and proceeded to flirt and giggle for the duration of the banquet, becoming more flushed with each toast. Shortly after I noticed her placing a hand on Scott's leg, I overheard her gush, "Maybe you will find a nice Chinese girl to take back to America with you!"

Zhu, across the table, I don't know very well because he's shy and self-conscious about his English. After dinner, Zhu rode with Scott and I back to campus in David's Honda Accord (a very snazzy vehicle!). On the way there, he turned around and slurred, "Tonight, David has taught me a new English word." We asked, "What's that, Zhu?" "Chinese cake." He then proceeded to laugh hysterically.

Thank you, baijiu, for a wonderfully entertaining night.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Campus Cat

On the way out this morning, I noticed a very thin and dirty kitten eating some scraps out of a garbage bag. I ran up to my apartment, fixed bowls of water and milk, and put them in front of Kitty. He immediately abandoned the trash and frantically lapped up the milk. Poor little thing.

When I came back to campus after lunch, this note was taped next to the front gate of my building:

Dear Teachers:

Thank you for your milk.

The cat is very happy.

Best wish for you!

Friday, September 7, 2007

First Day of Class

The sound of hundreds of students chanting "YI! ER! YI! ER! (one! two! one! two!)" outside in the courtyard has been my wake-up call this week. All freshman high school students have compulsory military training for the next two weeks: which means that every day from 8 am until 5:30 pm, they've been standing in squadrons around campus learning how to turn their heads and raise their arms in unison. Sometimes they march and do push-ups, but most of the day is spent standing still in one place. The goal of this horrendously tedious week is to increase students' appreciation for the military, therefore strengthening patriotism and unity. I have to say, it's pretty good morning entertainment- helps pass the time while I'm brushing my teeth in the kitchen.

Because of military training, I only have four hours of classes to teach for the next 10 days. After training is over, I'll receive my full schedule. Today I had my first Business English class with a group of overflow freshman college students from Guangdong Ocean University. I'm still not really sure why these students take classes here, since this is a high school. As far as I can tell, they're part of a community college- style program for lower end students from Ocean University. They didn't score high enough to take classes at the university, so they have to come over to the high school for a year or so.

Going in, I didn't know what to expect from these students, but they were so much fun! There are only 25 of them and everybody was very receptive to my lesson plan and interested in what I had to say. First I had them think of questions to ask me; they came up with, "Do you have a boyfriend?" "Do you like to swim? You look very fit." "Are you married?" "Tell us about your family." "Do you like Chinese food?" "Do you like Zhanjiang?" etc. etc. The second part of the class I had them interview a partner and then take turns introducing each other to the class. Since they're college students, they all have English names. I have a Bobo, Sunny, Tomato, and Pink in my class. There is only one boy. He didn't have a partner for the introductions so I teamed up with him.

The two hour class flew by and we didn't even finish all that I had planned. My next class is with the same group of students Wednesday morning, so I have plenty of time to look through the textbook and figure out something fun to do.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Oxen on the Street

I'm now in my final Chinese destination: the "lovely" city of Zhanjiang. Saturday morning we left Hong Kong by bus, and seven hours later got dropped off in a completely different world.

Scott and I are the only and first foreign teachers at our school, the Zhanjiang Finance and Trade Secondary School. Basically, it's a fancy name for a vocational high school- most of the students will go to work right after gradution instead of going to college. There are four other Maryknoll volunteers at the Zhanjiang Normal University, about a 10 minute cab ride from our school.

The school and surrounding neighborhood are difficult to describe to someone who has never been to China, just because there is nothing like it in the United States. Zhanjiang has three main roads and a whole bunch of back alleyways and narrow streets. From the university, you drive down the road about 2 miles and make a left hand turn, pass about two blocks of random and dirty little shops selling weird farm parts, and then there's our school. There's a large gate at the entrance and a long driveway leading up to the new classroom building. On either side of the driveway are a pond and a soccer field (no grass- just dirt). Behind that are the two canteens where the students eat, some more classroom buildings, and the student dorms and teacher apartments. There are about 4,000 students there, most of whom live on campus.

Our apartments are very comfortable. I have a large bedroom with air conditioning, a study, and a spare room. On the other side of the apartment are the living room, eating area, kitchen, and bathroom. The school provided a TV, mini-refrigerator, couch, queen-sized bed, kitchen table, desk and chair, and washing machine for each of us. They put new white tile down and painted all the walls. I've never had so much space to myself! I need to get some big rugs and pictures to fill it all up.

This week, the students have military training so there's no class until Friday. We have just been getting settled, cleaning, buying things for the apartment, and trying to figure out how to get around. I probably won't have my class schedule until Friday- what I hear is that I'll be teaching about 12 classes in 45-minute periods each week. I don't know what level the students will be yet. The other night, we had a "meet and greet" with about 90 of the freshman (15-16 years old) and their English was pretty poor. I'm anxious to find out more about my students and classes.

Anyway, to sum it all up: I'm in Zhanjiang, it's a crazy and random place, I have no idea what I'm teaching... oh yeah and the other day I saw an ox pulling a cart through the middle of town.