Jan 1 Caught up!

Happy new year, happy 2008!

Apologies for the poor updating, I don’t have much time and this keyboard is whack. But! I am in Hong Kong which means I can access WordPress for the first time in weeks and weeks. Thanks, relatively free media. Man I love the internet. Anyways, tons of updates for you to peruse. Again, apologies if they’re not great. Also, the photo site has new photos of Macau, and soon photos of my school, and soon(ish) after that photos of Shenzhen and Huang Gang (Hong Kong). No time to moderate comments or anything. Sorry. I’ll update again… whenever. Enjoy! 

Somewhat exahauted, as it is about 7 in the morning here in Kowloon.

 New Year’s weekend:

Saturday- work til 10:15, check email, clean up, pack

Sunday- 1:00p bus to Shenzhen, arrive about 3:30, with very little idea of what to do in Shenzhen

3:30-8p wander around Shenzhen, waiting for Kyle, which is interesting

8-10:30 wander around Shenzhen, waiting for Kyle, which is boring

11p- 2:30a Bar and streetfood (grilled: chicken, pork, eggplant, man tou, tofu, mushrooms, chives, beans), hanging out, catching up, listening to music

3a -4p Spend THIRTEEN hours and 260RMB ($35) in a spa: showers, free toothbrush and paste, toiletries, endless juice, fruit, coffee, ice cream, a sauna, hot/cold pools, pools with slides, a 90 minute aromatherapy massage, sleeping a few hours… paradise. Amazing.

4p-9p Wandering Shenzhen, dinner (more yummy Japanese food), catching buses to Hong Kong, border crossing into HK

10p-1a Happy new year! Not that exciting but fun. Lindsey and I wore masks, I wore angel wings (ppics on Facebook, eventually). Standing on the street might be boring, but standing on the street in costume is fun.

1a-6a Making English friend in German bars, making Hong Kong friends (drinking games and learning (and uickly forgetting) Cantonese) in Chinese bars. I want to dance but clubs close eventually and everyone’s tired; witness a fight and the cops called; Kowloon is cool and pretty shady

6:30-7:30 Sweet, sweet internet

Now: morning on the harbor, Ang Lee’s new film, uncensored, unlike on the mainland, and who knows what else. Back to Shunde this afternoon maybe sleep sometime???

Cheers.

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Dec 29 Holidaaay

Merry Christmas (and a belated Happy Chanukah, and Happy Solstice, Happy Eid, and Happy Kwanzaa; Happy Diwali? When is Diwali? January?)

I had to work a half day Saturday, then had Sunday off, then had to work Christmas Eve. The two days off, then work again Thursday, Friday and half of Saturday, then Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday off for the New Year. Ick.

I didn’t especially mind working Christmas Eve except that I had class until 5:20, then had to rush to meet Lindsey, get to Guangzhou, and walk to the church. We didn’t get there until 7:35 (Mass at 8). We found a large crowd of Chinese people outside, taking pictures of the church. The police had blockaded the entrance and wouldn’t let anybody in. We couldn’t figure out what was going on and the police just waved me away when I tried my very broken Chinese to ask. After standing around for twenty minutes, we found another white guy who explained that the church was full, which is why no one was being let in. I was really, really disappointed. We stood around looking sad for awhile.

At 8:10 two Chinese men came up to us, and flashed some orange badges with Chinese writing. One looked around and made a quick, sneaky sign of the cross. We nodded. They waved us to the side and gestured down the street. Although we were waiting for our Chinese friend Richard, we followed them. They took us down the street, around the corner into an alley, knocked on a door to a house, and let us in. We then followed a different man up some stone steps, around the top of the building and then down again, into the side courtyard of the church. Success! We went into the side chapel to watch a video feed of the Mass in the big church.

The service was in Chinese (Mandarin, I think) and there were only a few other Westerners in the chapel. Lots of non-Catholic Chinese though, you could tell when we went up for Communion. The service was interesting, the music was nice, I liked it better in Chinese than the last time we came to the English service (the priest’s English is wretchedly painful to listen to). The only thing that seemed caught us off guard is that during the sign of peace, instead of shaking hands, or hugging or kissing, everyone bows and it’s all over very, very quick.

Christmas day we simply had a vegetarian feast at Lindsey’s and went out at night. I cooked mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, corn, green beans, eggplant marinara, apple crumble, and sweet potato pudding with orange caramel glaze. Afterwards, we met some people at a pub in Guangzhou than finished the night dancing in a massive, overly done but still fun club called Tang (as in the Chinese dynasty, not the orange drink).

In general, I’ve had quite the whirlwind of social activity lately. Lindsey and I went with David and Richard to the Mansion last Saturday, a posh gay/mixed club that David goes to a lot that we quite like as well. We had a good time, and met some good people. The new editor of That’s PRD (the English language monthly magazine for Guangzhou) was there and he seems like he’ll be good for improving a decent but not great publication.

We also got invited by the PR guy for the Mansion, Andre, to the new restaurant that the Mansion owner is opening. It’s called Wilber’s and it opens Jan 1, but they’re having some tastings beforehand to test out the menu and the staff. Lindsey and I went on Thursday and had a nice, chill 7-person dinner party. Fantastic drinks, some really great food, some just good food (no vegetarian options:(), and a generally very pleasant four or five hours. And, all free (okay, except the 200 yuan (about $25) getting there and back in a cab but still, not bad at all).

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Dec 21 “Have a holly jolly Christmas”, and we do mean that in the command verb form

Just had a really awkward “tea session” at school. If you’re thinking “tea session” sounds friendly, yet authoritative, you’re right. It was too acknowledge the “two important festivals” for the foreign teachers, Christmas and New Year’s. We had tea, ate some fruit, got some gifts, listened to a little welcome speech and then Mr. Li invited/demanded that we give feedback to the school, comments and suggestions for improvement. “We could be here all week,” joked David M.

It sort of brought the level of jollity (it’s a word now) down a bit. We sat in awkward silence. Kimberly thanked Dominic for all his work on the Christmas festivities around school. William informed of us China’s rising salary index or something economic having to do with inflation. I don’t know. It’s up 9% whatever it is. We all have lots of feedback. Teachers have driven themselves mad trying to induce change in the school system. Personally I would loooove some curriculum development, some broad education goals for the year, some cohesive learning experience for my students, a serious evaluation of how the Chinese exam culture hurts the mission of an IB school… you know. Just not exactly the time or place.

In completely other news, I have learned the basics in giving directions and it is the most useful thing EVAR now that I can sleepinly yell at the taxi driver (zou yi zhi, yi zi; ting zuo bian; xie xie!)

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Dec 16 Twenty four

Don’t have much time to write at the moment. Birthday was pretty decent. A few of the teachers from school, Lindsey and I went out to a nice little out of the way place for dinner and drinking. The Sleeping Wood, and it’s one place in central Guangzhou “without loud wankers” as James put it to me. He also got me a nice bottle of wine for the occasion, do that’ll be good for Christmas.

Here’s what’s on my mind though: Should we stay another year? Lindsey and I have started to talk about it. I find myself thinking, and sometimes saying, “Well, next year…”

The cons: being so far from family and friends, the frustrations of working in China, being out of the loop in the China-bubble (I’ve given up keeping any close track of politics, celebrity gossip, sports, what have you), having to vote absentee in a Presidential election again

The pros: learning Chinese, acquiring more work experience, saving money, travel, figuring out The Next Step, being a better teacher next year

Speaking of being out of the loop: send emails! I’ll try sending more too. I keep in fairly close touch with my family and a few friends, but I really don’t want to lose touch with [you], all you brackety people. You know who you are.

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Dec 10 Winning over the cafeteria ladies

I knew today would be a good day, because it started with a triumph at breakfast. As I’ve said, you get three items for breakfast, plus soy milk and congee (if you like congee, which I very much do not). I usually get a tea-boiled egg and two buns. So, first of all, I noticed that today they had my one of my favorite buns: sesame ball with red bean paste filling, freshly deep fried and still hot in the middle. Yum num num. Second of all, they had corn on the cob, which they haven’t had in so long.

But the triumph came with the egg. “Dan”, I said, pointing at the eggs, as I always do. The woman looked at me with a yeah-what-else look, because she had already put an egg on a plate for me. Yes! The cafeteria lady remembers me and is on my side! Often they’re quite cranky and mostly enjoy chastising teachers for not swiping their cards or for taking too much/the wrong foods. This feels like a successful alliance. Or maybe she’s just tired of hearing me mispronounce “dan” (what’s the tone again?). Anyway, the sesame ball, corn, egg and soy milk were super delish.

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Dec 9 Open Day is over!

Well, the open day was Saturday, and I think it went pretty well overall. I took lots of pictures, which I’ll try to put up soonish. Speaking of which, there are also pictures of the trip to Macau up now. The debate went pretty poorly; or rather, it went just as I thought it would. The prepared sections were okay, all the students spoke as well as I though they could. The cross-examination was a mess of awkward, and at the end I gave a few stumbling comments for which I could not feign enthusiasm. Happily, Julia won the Best Orator award, which is great. She did a truly wonderful job with everything in the debate.

Last night we watched Once, which I highly recommend if you like that sort of movie where nothing much happens. Which I love. This morning Linds and I slept wonderfully late. We tried to make it to GZ in time to catch a Canadian film as part of the documentary film fest here, but the bus we were planning to take was already full.

It was nice to get out and walk around though. We happened across a dragon dance at one point. In front of a Thai restaurant, there was some sort of ceremony, featuring a table of bai jiu (white liquor), roast pig, incense, and flowers; men with a drum and gong; and two dancing dragons. It was very cool, partially because it was so random. We also happened down an alley to find a pleasantly busy Buddhist temple. We could hear the nuns singing in one building, and the monks were out in the main temple, praying and chanting while the head monk read verses. There were three impressively large Buddha statues in the main hall with two great stelae on either side of the central one. While getting a little lost, we also found where People’s Park is; it looks quite nice. So it was an interesting day.

We also tried to go shopping, but couldn’t find the right street we wanted. We walked around Haizhu Square and all over and around Beijing Lu. Supposedly right off of Beijing Lu are streets like Painting Street, Jade Street, Pearl Street, etc, but we couldn’t find them. We’ll try again some other time. If not, Yi De Lu is also right there, which has lots of wholesale markets. We did manage to find a very long alleyway in which was sold nothing but underwear and swimsuits, though also some outerwear and, near the end, belts. I bought some lucky underwear. (Your Chinese Zodiac year is unlucky, requiring the wearing of lucky red underwear. I was born in the Year of the Pig; 2007 is the Year of the Pig. Hence, 2007 should have been rather unlucky for me without red underwear. I bought some today: red briefs with two gold pigs printed on the back. I’m quite pleased to have found some with pigs as most of what they sell is to get ready for next year, the Year of the Rat.)

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Nov 30, some summary

Well, WordPress isn’t working, so I’m writing less, which is too bad, because I’m not thinking any less. I’ll keep writing posts and put them up whenever I can I guess. Let’s give a quick roundup about my love-hate relationship with China (all of which are extremely typical of expats in China):

What I love about living in China:
Learning a new, complicated language
Delicious, cheap food
Saving money without making serious sacrifice to lifestyle
All of the great places to visit in China, and the travel possibilities nearby
Cheap beer, even if it’s not such great beer
Fun and interesting expats, travelers, friends, coworkers
People here are so nice, really (I hear from people who’ve worked in Beijing, Wuhan, Shanghai, etc, that it’s especially nice around here)
My coworkers, if I’m not talking to them about work, are friendly, funny people
Adorable, outgoing babies/little kids

secret DVD shops

I hate:
The exam culture
Chinese communication- are we kept out of the loop or is there no loop to begin with?
Lack of responsibility- bureaucracy diffuses power to such an extent that everyone has something they’re in charge of one, but no one is responsible (on the other hand, near total lack of accountability means that I can’t ever really get in trouble, because there are no clear expectations)
Reinventing the wheel with every new project at work
Annoying/sketchy expats, backpackers, tourists, etc
Air pollution (and water, and ground, but mostly air)
Getting on and off the bus
Being illiterate

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