Not China-related, but important.
Leah and I went to Korea for our honeymoon, which sounds simple, but we had to jump through a couple of hoops. Due to governmental pickiness, we were forced to travel into and out of the country with a tour group. The good news was that we could split from the group for the majority of our stay. The bad news was that the tour group was only staying six days. 没办法。Nothing could be done.
October 3rd - We got to the airport in the late morning and stood around with the tour group while the leader guy said a bunch of stuff I couldn’t fully understand. The tour company brought Korean electrical outlet adaptors to sell us, and I foolishly didn’t buy one because I already had one. Little did I know that gravity would not be a friend to mine. Anyway, I was not the only traveller with a foreign passport, as a Chinese girl who had studied in the U.S. happened to also have a passport from the States. This meant that she had to fill out immigration papers just like me, even though she was native Chinese. This fascinates me for some reason.
The flight was blah. It was a small plane, and not very comfortable. Plus, whenever I go a few months without flying, all my fears of flight rise back up, so I was nervous the whole time. Landing is the hardest part; I always say to myself, “I’m never flying again.” And I always lie.
Our destination was Seoul, but we flew into Cheongju instead, then took a long-distance bus for two hours to the capital. Disappointing not to see the much-lauded airport in Incheon, but we probably saved money. The bus ride was maddening because a tour guide had to lecture us via microphone for, like, one-third of the trip. Over the last year or so, Chinese tourists have been making embarrassing headlines around the world for their crude behavior, and it’s giving the country a bad rap, so the government and media (which are one in the same) have been imploring citizens to have more class and obey respective local customs. The guide was up there telling people to sort their trash and a bunch of other stuff that people ought to be doing already. Leah was falling asleep on my shoulder, so I just put my headphones in and listened to Demon Hunter to try and drown out the stating of the obvious that was going on.
When we finally got to the Lotte World department store/theme park, the real fun began. No, we didn’t go check out the fake Magic Kingdom or any of that; this is where we (and a few others) split from the group. It’s also when we discovered that the Seoul subway system is harder to navigate than even Beijing’s.
Now, my home base, Shenyang, recently got into the subway game and is only just now building a third line. The Shenyang subway map looks like a cross. Beijing and Seoul have had subways for decades. Beijing’s subway features lines and circles. Seoul’s features, lines, circles, forks, and…circles with lines coming off of them (haybales, maybe?). You actually have to transfer from line two to another line two if you want to go certain places.
Also, in Beijing, almost every subway trip will cost 1 RMB (about 1/6th of a dollar). In Shenyang, the longest trip will cost 4 RMB. In Seoul, the cheapest trip we took was 3,300 won (around 18 RMB). But we did get a 500 won deposit back each time, so that’s something.
Anyway, now’s the part where I admit that I didn’t look up directions to our hotel in advance, nor did I think to print or download a copy of a map from the booking website. No, all I had was our voucher with the address on it. I guess I thought we’d just get into a taxi, point at the address, and be there. I forgot to take into account that I’m scared of people, especially taxi drivers, and would rather use public transportation whenever possible.
In Shenyang, the solution is simple: Leah asks random passerby in Chinese, and eventually, someone points us in the right direction. But in case you didn’t know, they speak Korean in Korea.
The info booth guy spoke English, but he also came across as oblivious to our problem, because he gave us a subway map and said something about “gate 7 east.” Didn’t tell us which line to take, which station to get off at, nothing. In his defense, though, I probably should’ve mentioned that we had absolutely no idea where we were.
I tried to use logic, and I bought us tickets to Mapo-gu, because our hotel’s address was in that district. I totally ignored the logic that, since our hotel was called Shinchon Y Hotel, maybe I should’ve thought about going to the Shinchon station.
After teaching Leah how to use a turnstile and losing money on one ticket in a story I don’t feel like rehashing, we took two trains to Mapo-gu, then went above ground to find it was nighttime. We found a nice couple who led us to a busstop and told us to take a bus to Shinchon Rotary. A frightened-looking yet very patient bus driver helped us pay for the trip (they actually give change on their buses!), and after twenty stations, we embarked and found a girl who looked up the hotel on her phone and sent us to the backlots behind a nearby LG building.
And we found it! And we were the last check-in, so I only had to give my name. And I think the front desk guy must’ve hated me, because the sign said “CLOSED,” but he was still there.
When we got to our little room, we were disappointed to find no free toothbrushes, but we were too tired to go out and buy some, much less get dinner. I was able to get on the hotel’s wonderful wi-fi and let my friend Jake know I was in town, and then we went to bed and hoped the next day would be more manageable.
To be continued…
I didn’t get around to doing a June newsletter last month, so I guess I’ll have to combine two months. That’s just as well; it’ll be easier to leave the unnecessary stuff out.
So, in June, my schedule changed when Mike left our school. Now we’re down to two foreign teachers: Janet and me. We’ve been fortunate enough to have a couple of fill-ins for a little while, but they’re all about to head back to the States in a couple of weeks. We really need more teachers, but it doesn’t look like any replacements are on the way.
Also in June, Leah and I finally set a date for our wedding: September 29.
In July, we took our wedding photos. In China, couples typically go to a photography studio, get dolled up, and take several series of photos in different clothes with different scenery. Then they go back and pick out the good ones to make a book and get framed. This is all before the wedding. We managed to finish in a day, and I wasn’t as miserable as I thought I’d be. But I’m glad it’s done. I’m not a fan of all this superficial fluff.
Also in July, my 31st birthday happened. Through no planning of my own, it also happened to be my official marriage date.
In China, couples tend to apply for and receive their certificate of marriage around six months to a year before their actual wedding. We went with two months. So, by the government’s standards, at least, Leah and I are married (we’re just not going to live together until after the wedding).
So, you might ask, if the wedding photos are taken before the wedding, and the marriage certificate is finalized before the wedding, why have the wedding?
Simple answer: Money.
You see, it’s Chinese tradition to give the couple money at their wedding in red envelopes. There are a bunch of silly rituals that are a part of it, such as lighting an old person’s cigarette before he hands you his gift. Also, it’s common practice to keep track of the money you get from each person at your wedding so you can give EXACTLY that much back to each of them at their respective weddings. I personally despise this practice, as I feel that gifts should come from the heart, not the calculator. But, as with much of the other parts of this wedding, it looks like it’ll have to be filed under “Necessary Evil.”
In August, we’re likely going to be having some kind of summer school special classes (unless not enough people sign up), and I’ll be teaching a class that uses a movie to teach English. I’ll probably choose Frozen, since I have it now. Also, it’s going to be stupidly hot. It’ll probably be the longest month of my life. At least I’ll finally get to start pre-marital counseling…
May saw some significant things happen for me. First of all, the elephant in the room: I am now engaged to be married to Leah. I proposed to her at a KTV (karaoke) party in front of several of her friends, and she quickly said yes. The plan so far is to have a wedding in the fall. We don’t plan on moving to the U.S., though we will visit as soon as we can.
Meanwhile, at school, we started the ACE program, which effectively ended all but one of my World Link classes. I am not teaching any ACE classes yet, but I expect to in the near future. We’re still working out the kinks in our format of the program (ACE classes usually meet five days a week for several hours, but we can only accommodate once-per-week, two-hour classes right now), but I think it’ll improve a lot of our students’ English.
My schedule is all wonky right now because of dropping the World Links, and also because we’ve lost/are losing two teachers in as many months. One teacher finally got out of teaching and is visiting the States for a couple months right now. The other got another job and will be leaving shortly. That leaves us with only two non-Chinese teachers (including me) and a couple people who can sub or help out temporarily.
I’ve also had a lot of stomach and/or intestinal problems recently. I’m currently finishing a two-week period of eating no peanuts to see what effects that has on me. After that, I want to try to get off of soy for a little while, but I don’t know if that will be possible, considering how soy’s in pretty much everything, and I regularly cook with soybean oil.
Summer’s just about here, so it’s going to be annoying hot. I’m not going to be in the best of moods until fall gets here, I suspect. My birthday may be the only respite. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll be surprised.
The big thing that happened in April was when four friends from Lakeland came through China, and I took Leah down to Beijing to visit them for three days before they flew back to the States.
It’s always a good time when I can see old friends from back home, and it’s even better when I can introduce them to my new friends in my new home.
It was especially good to see Matt again. We used to spend a good deal of time together, particularly when we lived together for a month or so during our first year-long stays in China.
The first thing we did (after eating) was take a trip to the Silk Market. If you’ve never been there, it’s a multi-story indoor marketplace with many shops selling many things. A lot of the shop keepers speak English, and they’ll do their darndest to get you to buy whatever you’re interested in. Oddly, even though there are signs on every shop window that forbid bargaining, everyone bargains.
Then again, if you’ve ever spent any time in China, you’ve probably figured out that signs mean nothing.
After everyone bought their stuff (I got Leah a special comb), we went back to the hostel. That evening, Derrick, Matt, Leah, and I went to Wang Fu Jie. It wasn’t that interesting, because most everything was closed. Leah and I split off and ate together, but the food was more expensive than she wanted it to be. I thought that the fried dumplings were tasty, though.
Before we went back, we encountered a man with a car who offered a decent price to take our group to the Great Wall the next day. Long story short, the three of us who wanted to go took him up on the offer. Thankfully, they weren’t kidnapped and sold into slavery.
Matt, Leah, and I had already been to the Wall, so we decided to stay behind and look for other things to do. We visited an antique market asking exorbitant prices, ate at Yoshinoya - a Japanese fast food restaurant that Matt hadn’t been to in forever - and finally went to the “World Garden,” a sight-seeing park full of scaled down replicas of famous monuments. It was pricey, but we spent a long time, took a lot of pictures, climbed on things that we weren’t supposed to, and more or less got our money’s worth.
That night, we all got together and had Korean barbecue.
The next day, we tried to go to the Forbidden City, but after the recent terrorist attacks, their security has been amped up to 11, so the line to get in was massive and not moving quickly. We bowed out and went back to the Silk Market instead. Not the best end to the trip, doing something we’d already done once, but I did get a chance to see a bronze bust of Hitler for sale. There’s something you don’t see - or want to see - every day.
We parted ways after that, but I’m gracious to have had even the smallest opportunity to see those friends again. I hope more come in the future.
Big changes are happening at our school this month. I’m tutoring SAT now, and I’m almost down to only one World Link class. Ryan will soon be done with teaching, and he has a car now, so he’s going to be driving all over the place. A bunch of girls are pregnant, so there are going to be lots of new babies in the summer and fall, as well as a lot of people needing time off.
We could really use more foreign and Chinese teachers at our school. But what else is new?
This won’t be a long one, because I can’t remember much of interest that happened in March (that involved me, anyway).
My biggest issue was one of my students dropping out in controversial fashion. He’s a quiet kid, and apparently, one other boy in the class had been rubbing him the wrong way, because he has refused to come back to the school. On top of that, he doesn’t want anything to do with English anymore, even in the public school.
I feel for this boy, because I think he’s a lot like I was in junior high and high school (though he’s still in elementary school). I was depressed and anti-social. I didn’t want to talk in class very often. I just wanted to do the work in silence and hand it in so I could go home. There were other boys (and some girls) who were jerks to me, and my response was to try to ignore them and hold it in. I didn’t want to be a tattletale (though I was sometimes).
The thing is, if a kid is bullying you, you’d better tell somebody. Tattle or no tattle, it’s not about just you. If you don’t tell someone, the bully’s just going to keep ragging on you, and he’s going to do it to more people, because he thinks that this is acceptable behavior, or at least that he can’t be punished.
I can’t absolve myself of any blame. Maybe if I were a more professional teacher, my students would respect me more and actually obey when I tell them to stop doing bad things in class. Maybe if I were bigger and actually looked like I could defeat any of my students in a fight. Maybe if our school had more organized, cooperative forms of punishment for wrongs beyond “take away their points.” Maybe.
Meanwhile, I lost two classes. One was the result of the students essentially graduating. That just means that they finished the book and they’ve completed all the class times their parents paid for. The other was the result of Enoch - who probably never should’ve been forced into teaching in the first place - leaving to go back to his hometown. There aren’t enough Chinese teachers to take his place, so the students in that class who didn’t quit went into another teacher’s class. And that caused a whole other bit of hubbub that I don’t want to go into here.
So work is a mess, as always. I hear they’re trying to start a kindergarten, too. I’m not interested in teaching it. I’d rather tutor potential TOEFL takers in writing.
Leah and I are still together. We’re going to Beijing in April to visit some friends of mine from LS who will be passing through. It’ll be nice for her to meet some of my friends for a change. It’ll also be nice to have two days off of work.
Things at our school are going to change drastically in May. I don’t know if it’ll be for the better. Stay tuned.
Welcome to my February newsletter about what’s going on with me.
I’ll start off by saying that I was wrong last time. I don’t have any major good news or major bad news yet; at least, not the kind I was expecting. Could be coming soon, though. But I don’t want to talk about it publicly until something happens.
February started with our school still on vacation for Spring Festival. A big group of us teachers took a trip to Liaoyang to stay at a spa hotel. We stayed for three days and two nights. I spent a good deal of time in the hotel room, but I did go swimming once, go to the hot tub once, and get a foot massage. I also ended up with a stomach massage (as did the four other guys with me) thanks to something getting lost in translation.
We were lucky in the hot tub. Normally, you’re not allowed to get in unless you’re buck naked, but John got the manager to let us white folks wear swimming trunks.
One of the most interesting things about this hotel was this one TV station they had. All of the others were the same generic stuff you can see on any basic Chinese cable channel, but one of them was from Taiwan. It was a movie channel that seemed to only show English-language movies (with Chinese subtitles). However, they took many commercial breaks, and all the commercials were in Chinese.
By the way, Avril Lavigne is either coming to Taiwan or has recently been there.
Getting back to teaching after a long holiday is always a pain. It’s always been difficult for me to get back to work after a break. I remember when I was in elementary school and was sick for several days, I cried when I got better and had to go back.
Nothing much transpired once we got back to work; just back to the grind. I did start teaching one of my classes an extra day each week until they catch up to what they’d missed (their holiday started before ours).
Meanwhile, another class of mine is inching closer to being complete. All three students (the fourth one just finished) are done with the book and have almost completed all of the classes they’d paid for. Thus, I’ve been hard-pressed to find useful things to teach them. So, last class, we started watching The Princess Bride.
Another one of my classes is still driving me crazy. It’s got five kids, and there are major issues with at least two of the boys. One of them is loud, obnoxious, and inconsiderate of others. The other is quiet, reclusive, and doesn’t seem to have any interests. Then there’s the third boy who would be good if he didn’t just copy whatever the obnoxious one did, and the two girls who don’t speak unless spoken two (if then).
When I studied for my TEFL certificate, I was taught that classes should start with a little bit of “Teacher Talking Time” (TTT) and then move into “Student Talking Time” (STT). In large classes, that’s probably easier, but when you only have four or five students, pair work doesn’t come naturally. (Also, I hated group work in school, so I’m not inclined to practice it as a teacher.)
On the positive side, my youngest class just added, like, four or five new kids, so it’s doing well.
Leah and I went and saw Frozen in 3D on February 16. It was fantastic. I wrote a little about it on my new Letterboxd account (http://letterboxd.com/a_good_reed/film/frozen-2013/), but another website wrote a better article than I could. I definitely want to see it again, but unlike Gravity, I don’t think it needs to be seen in 3D.
Ash Wednesday is this coming Wednesday, and I’m looking forward to the next month. Also, I’m starting a new older kids’ class on Tuesday, and I’m a little nervous, but it’ll make me feel more useful.