Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Adorable Part II

Dear Janet,
Hello! I am your student. I became attached to you. Because you are a great teacher. You're from USA. We don't listen to language but you graple (?) diffcult and become acquainted with us slowly. You are not only gather new knowledge but also playing back to the community be way of volunteering their service. I very love you!

How do you like Disney? I think it's very interesting. I've seen a film called Micky Mouse from Disney. The mouse is very smart, it can get lots of foods. It not only get food but also do some work. For example, it can make a big house with garden. It can also grow many plants. It tooks beautiful. If I have chance, I will go to the USA.
From, Amy

Monday, October 22, 2007

Can These Letters Get ANY CUTER???

A couple more of my favorite letters from the high school students:

Dear Janet,
How are you? You can talk to me when you are sad! I'm a good listener all the time. You are very funny and always make us happy. I like your hair very much. What is your QQ? If you have lots of things to eat, please call me! Are you happy? You must smile every day. Take care...

Dear Janet:
Nice to meet you! I'm very happy you to teach me English. You are a good teacher. I like your class very much. Do you willing to make friend with me? I'm looking forward to your answer. You are a beautiful girl and have a sence of humour. I like you very much. My hometown is in Suixi, you have free, welcome to my hometown visit. Good lucky!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Time and Money, Money and Time

Money and time. Two things most people wish they had more of, right? This is probably the only time in my life I won't have to worry about finances or stress about time restraints.

I'm being paid 4000 yuan ($500) per month. It doesn't sound like much; however, my only expenses are food and few necessities from the Trust Mart every week. I eat two meals a day out, which costs me anywhere between $2 (at the noodle restaurant) and $10 (at Pizza Hut). That means I can live like the Duchess of Zhanjiang on no more than $20 per day. I can also purchase DVDs for $2 each, take a 30-minute taxi ride for $4, etc. My salary is paid in cash, which means I haven't withdrawn money from my bank account since August.

Time is another thing I have plenty of. I teach 12 hours each week. Lesson planning takes another four; Chinese lessons and studying perhaps six. The rest of the week I have completely free to go to the gym, read, go out to dinner, write, sleep in, or just lounge around. Although I do get bored every once in a while, such an excess of time really is a luxury that I appreciate very much.

Letters, Movies, and Foreigners

The past week has been the best so far since my arrival in ZJ; actually, each week has been slightly better than the last. If this trend continues, imagine how great my last few months in China will be!

For one thing, classes have at last begun to go well. Rather than dreading class all day, I've come to sometimes even look forward to teaching. A real breakthrough with the high school students came this week; magically, they're now participating in- even enjoying- class. I think the trigger was my letter-writing lesson plan, an excellent idea given to me by Kevin, in which each student writes me a letter about anything they want. I made a "USA-CHINA MAILBOX" so they can pretend to mail the letter. Even though I have 90 high school kids, I'm responding to each and every one. Since most of the younger students' writing skills are much better than their speaking abilities, it's a great way to get to know each child on a more personal level. The letters themselves were precious, of course. Here are two of my favorites:

Dear Janet:
Everything is going well in China? You are a American so you mute know a lot of Hollywood movies. The actor: named Pieers Brosnan I think he is very good. I know have seen the Jurassik Park the film is very wonderful in the film that man is very brave. When he is in danger, he as cool as cucumber. And the theme of film is very agreeable it is it?
Come from,
You student Patrick Sun

Dear Janet,
How are you! Nice to meet you! Welcome to our school! I like you very much and I like American too! I hope to be go to USA package! because I like USA very much, and American people is very kind. How in our school is happy? I miss you.

I've only had the chance to write back to a few letters, but we'll soon see how popular of a pen-pal I am!

Thursday evening was the inaugural "movie night," a weekly get-together Scott and I have started for the college students. Last week, 40 out of 75 invitees showed up for a showing of Happy Feet, which was a smash hit. The students, between ages 18 and 21, were engrossed in the film from start to finish: they thought the idea of dancing penguins was hilarious. The evening was a lot of fun. Next time, we'll make it more movie theater- style by bringing along some snacks for them to enjoy. It's a great way to get to know some of the students outside of class and provide them (and ourselves!) an escape from sitting at the dorm, bored.

I want to maintain my ability to speak regular, smooth English during the next year- which requires some interaction with other non-Chinese people. So, Friday nights I'm currently attempting to establish The Weekly Zhanjiang Foreigner Dinner at the Western restaurant we visited with Madison for Mid-Autumn Day (called the West Coast Coffee Shop). Last night we had representatives from the United States (Kevin, Scott and me), Wales (Jaime), and Cameroon (Irene). During dinner, Jaime treated us all to a mini-piano concert... much to the delight of the entire restaurant. Afterwards, Jamie, Irene, Scott and I hung out at a nearby bar and played the Chinese drinking game LIAR!

Now I'm planning for next week's classes, responding to 50 more student letters and finishing some little tasks I wasn't able to get done during the week.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


The cover of this week's The Economist reads "China beware: The leaders meet, the cities grow, the peasants are left behind." The article describes Chinese leaders' failure to adequately address the gap between rural peasants and the increasingly wealthy city dwellers. I also briefly discussed this issue in "The Haves and the Have Nots," posted September 26.

On a different note: I had a good weekend! Yesterday Ruth and her friend Steven took Scott, Kevin, Jamie, and me on a day trip to a nearby park and then to the beach. Jamie is the new, mid-twenties Welsh piano teacher at the Normal College. He studied music at Oxford and then spent four years in the Ukraine working on two Masters' degrees and teaching English. It was great to meet someone closer to my own age who also comes from such an interesting background.

The park we visited in the morning is centered around a volcanic lake about an hour outside of Zhanjiang. I'd heard from all the students that the "volcano lake is very famous in Zhanjiang," but I certainly wasn't expecting the Coney Island-style amusement park stations that were set up around the large body of water. At the gate to the park was an elaborate fountain with a giant plastic turtle and dragon; upon entering, we tried shooting a cannon supplied with tennis balls for ammunition; played Robin Hood at an archery booth; visited several Buddhist temples; laughed our way through a fun rope bridge obstacle course; took pictures of a fake colonial-style water mill; rode a bright, gaudy train around the lake; and ate at a vegetarian restaurant. All throughout the park, speakers blasted a recording of a lion's roar. Random...

After lunch, we drove to the beach at Donghai Island, about 30 minutes from the volcano lake. Interestingly, the beach park sells visitors an insurance policy which provides coverage in case of any watery deaths (many Chinese people don't know how to swim). It being a windy day, we all paid the $1.50 in hopes that one of us would drown. :)

Although isolated miles of sand with not a soul in sight stretched to the horizon in either direction from the main beach access point, the two hundred or so Chinese beachgoers there yesterday felt the need to clump together on a small patch of sand inside a roped-off area. Seeking a relaxing swim, we all walked away from the crowds a few minutesand jumped into the ocean (yes, it's clean). Just as we were beginning to have a good time bodysurfing and playing in the waves, the beach authorities arrived. Frantically blowing whistles, waving, and shouting at us, they forced us out of the water. Too dangerous for swimming (AKA insurance scare).

Unphased, we relocated a little further down the beach and hopped back into the waves. A few minutes later, the authorities- whistles and all- reappeared. It seems that because of the "dangerous waves," the roped-off area was the day's only acceptable swimming zone. After our double violation, the park patrol was pretty angry. We decided not to push our luck and headed into Donghai to enjoy some cold beers and dry off.

On the way back to Zhanjiang, we stopped at a tiny restaurant to enjoy some seafood. If you're thinking fried shrimp baskets, don't. We had shrimp and fish, yes; but our table also featured octopi, sandworms, and the local favorite concoction of vinegar and Coke. I didn't partake of some of the stranger delicacies, but the rest of the dishes were delicious and we all had a nice time chatting and enjoying the meal together.

My first day at the beach, Chinese-style!

Friday, October 12, 2007


Today has been a relatively unoffensive and pleasant day. I slept in this morning and then Scott and I headed to the gym. Sounds like a simple enough morning, right? Heading to the gym at home consists of jumping in the car, driving ten minutes, and there you are at the gym.

Here, it is a much more complex and intricate process... one which involves publicity, stardom, and Miss America-esque waving; one which requires unremitting friendliness in the face of intense curiosity.

I walk downstairs and out of the building; upon opening the door, I'm usually faced with fifty or so students lingering in the courtyard. After appropriately greeting everybody ("Hello's" all around!) I continue.

Halfway out of school, I'm heckled by the kitchen boys. They spend most of their time sitting out on the stoop peeling garlic, and my presence is a welcome distraction at any time of day. They say some sort of jibberish to me in Chinese and laugh, and I usually return with something like, "How's the garlic peeling going?" or "Smoking will kill you." No one understands each other, so our heckling is pretty harmless.

Passing through the gate, I must wave hello to the guards and several pedicab drivers who regularly wait outside for potential passengers. I proceed up our side street to the main road, encountering throngs of students hanging about and buying snacks; of course, they all want to say hello as well and then giggle about it afterwards.

Finally I make it to the main street. While I wait for a cab on the corner, every pedicab driver and motorcyclist who passes by attempts to sell me a ride into town, which I smilingly (albeit sometimes with gritted teeth!) refuse. Farmers, peasants, students, people on the bus, and whoever else is passing by at the time slow down to stare at the tall, blonde foreigner until I manage to hail a cab.

So- to continue with the narrative about my day- I went to the gym, or as my membership card says, "The Body Sculpture Fytness Club (Group)." Today, as usual, Scott and I were the only people inside, so we could sculpt our bodies in peace. The place is not air-conditioned, which makes jogging on the treadmill a tad uncomfortable, but it's got a good selection of working weight machines, ellipticals, exercise bikes, etc.

After the gym, we go to the Muslim noodle restaurant for lunch as usual. Located right across the street from both the Normal College and the Number One Middle School, the place is a favorite of students. It's owned by a very nice Muslim family, who handmake our bowls of noodle soup and serve us the delicious, fresh dishes. A filling meal for the two of us normally ends up costing about 25 yuan, or $3.50.

We ride the bus back to school. Since our street is under construction, the last bus stop is about a 15- minute walk from the front gate. Pleasant enough in today's beautiful fall weather. On the way, I stop to make 50 copies for my class, which takes about 15 minutes because the ancient copy machine keeps jamming.

Back home to shower, study a bit of Chinese, and then class at 2:50 with the college freshmen. Today is listening day, so I read passages out of the book while they answer multiple choice and fill in the blank questions. During the second period, we listen to English songs (today, Backstreet Boys and Tim McGraw) and the students complete worksheets of the lyrics that I have assembled. The lesson goes smoothly, except for some difficulty with the cruddy bass on my $20 speakers.

Class ends at 4:30, and I head home to do some laundry and write this journal entry. Tonight, Scott and I are introducing Kevin to the awesome Western restaurant we visited on Mid-Autumn Day. Tomorrow morning, our Chinese tutor is taking us to a nearby beach with a few of her friends; it will be a good opportunity to practice my fledgling Chinese.

Yes! I have plans for the weekend! TGIF.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Social Life

I've spent the past month getting adjusted to life as a foreign teacher in Zhanjiang. Now that I'm feeling slightly more settled, the next step will be developing friendships with Chinese as well as with a few other foreigners in town. Here are some of the people I've hit it off with so far:

1. Scott- Duh. Naturally, we're together constantly- neither one of us particularly enjoys going out in town alone yet. :)
2. Kevin- Kevin teaches at the Normal College down the street. This is his third year here; before this semester, he taught at another middle school here in town. He's a lot of fun and gives me much-needed advice on handling my difficult classes of 15- year olds who barely speak English.
3. Ruth- Ruth is my Chinese tutor: she's a 30- year old Evangelical Presbyterian and probably the only Chinese one of those I'll ever meet. She's a sweetheart and has proved a very valuable "cultural liaison" by providing an insight to the city that only a native can give. We're planning to head to the beach this wekend with Ruth and a few of her friends.
4. Caleb and Karen- They're a late-20's couple from Canada who have spent the past two years teaching at another university in town. He speaks fluent Cantonese and she's working on her Mandarin. We met them at the annual Zhanjiang Foreigner Dinner and got together for some Western food and good, smoothly-flowing English conversation. We're planning on meeting up for some UNO soon.
5. Helen- Another English teacher at our school who means well but sometimes comes on a bit strong in her desire to practice English.
6. Zhu- A young male Chinese teacher here who has promised to help me practice speaking Mandarin. His English has radically improved after just a month of conversing with Scott and I. When we first arrived, he shyly refused to speak English; now, we can carry on a relatively pleasant conversation together.

There are a few interesting foreigners in town I have yet to spend much time with, including the new 23- year old Welsh grand pianist at the Normal College; a mid-twenties, gorgeous couple from Uzbekistan; a recent college graduate from Australia who I hear "likes to drink a lot;" and Irene, a young teacher at our school from Cameroon.

We certainly are an eccentric bunch thrown together here... I'm looking forward to getting to know some new friends, both foreign and Chinese.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

National Day Vacation

Last week, there were no classes for the Chinese National Day. While some more adventuresome teachers may have chosen to travel to destinations within mainland China, Scott and I decided that what we really wanted was a relaxing week in Hong Kong. The journey from Zhanjiang takes a mere eight hours by bus, but Hong Kong is a completely different world... kind of like taking a tropical London or New York... except extremely clean.

We stayed at the Maryknoll House, which is in itself a haven of comfort: the wonderful staff, excellent food, fabulous views of the ocean, and interesting group of eccentric priests to chat with makes this a great place to unwind. There was an environmental conference going on during the holiday, so priests doing mission work around Asia were there as well for most of the week. I especially enjoyed meeting one angelic man who has spent the past two years working with Cambodian children with AIDS. He's learning to speak Khmer and also ministers to families whose homes are the local garbage dump; they make their livings by collecting plastic bottles and aluminum cans. This remarkable priest is incredibly generous and extremely dedicated to his work... but needless to say, he was thrilled to be spending a week in luxury at the Maryknoll House!

I spent two days at the beach, saw a movie, went shopping for class supplies and home decorations, and satisfied most of my Western food cravings: margaritas, feta cheese, quesadillas, nachos, cheeseburgers, and lasagna never tasted so good! Saturday I returned to Zhanjiang with a 70-pound suitcase full of canned goods, sodas, and snacks to last me for the next couple of months until I go back to Hong Kong.

It was a perfect vacation in every way; I'm leaving the week refreshed and ready to continue adjusting to life in China.