Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Survey Says!

This may be of no interest to you or your dog, but it's huge for Heza, me, and the other 4 teachers. I now know for relative certain, that this year i'm gonna teach 2 grade 7 ESL classes, gym, IT and grade 1 .

I now know for relative certain that Heza and i will move out of our evermore cramped rez room w/ 2 single beds, into a newly reno'd 2 bdrm apt, which is apparently quite nice (minimalist, marble and wood floor, not exactly the coziest but who cares?)

The class info in particular is particularly tardy in coming. It would've been nice to have known the particulars a month or so ago. But hey, that's life in a brand new private school, with a brand new principal, brand new desks, and brand new students.

One of the teachers has just assumed the role of principal, and he's an a-ok dude, so i'm not much concerned w/ his inexperience.

Also, it turns out that 3 meals/day is included in our stint in the school. Much much better than the shit KD they served in Manitoba.

And as a side note: I should mention that yes Heza sure gets unnervingly cranky at times (no doubt compounded by the shits). And yes, my insistence at frequently bolting off in unknown directions infuriates her. And sure, our thermostats and sleep schedules can clash. But be it known that i totally LOVE Heza w/ all her foibles and she loves me and mine. It's pretty rad. Ok, now go and throw up if you want.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Climate Control

It's hot. Damn hot. but we have air con in the room. Which has spurned a battle between Heza and i about how cold it should be. It's cold. Damn cold.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

And As For the Gated Community...

30,000 people is a lot to keep all bottled up. People are free to walk in and out, though security are sure to interrogate anyone who doesn't fit the accepted profile. Vehicles all go through paper slips to get in/out.

Security guards circulate, sometimes on bike, sometimes in groups, sometimes marching in step and calling out squadron cheers/communist cheers/something.

The residents are generally very affluent, definitely by Chinese standards. There are sculpted gardens, pathways, and park areas. In fact, moreso than any other residential area in the city

On one hand, it's stifling being here, and knowing what it is. On the other hand... it's great! People really use their "public" spaces here. Late at night the streets can still be full of people playing Go or cards. Kids and cute little dogs are ubiquitous: the family vibe is really pronounced. And it's great that by the rec centre plaza, someone brings a crappy ghetto blaster and plays some sappy canto-waltz music, and couples dance away on the patio. Apparently there's swing dancing on another patio, and it doesn't seem particularly organized.

So in it's way, this place really seems like a strong Community. You could do worse, throwing some rich people together in a Vancouver suburb.

The security dudes all seem pretty nice (esp. to us foreigners?) and are always happy to open the mechanized gate to the school residence for us. I think they're happy to have something to do, since there's so many of them.

And it's not hard to get out of the place. Just outside Yihai Gardens, there's a scrappy little outdoor market which provides a sharp contrast to its neighbour. As of yet i've noticed no animosity between the scenes. Though surely the farmers ain't trying to bust into Yihai.

And Heza and i really enjoy a little eatery just outside the gates, where we can get a full meal plus beer for $1.75. It's the kind of joint where i asked where the washroom was, and the dude grabbed my arm and pulled me to the alley.

Weirdly, it feels pretty natural to walk between the 2 worlds. And i suspect many people feel the same. No doubt there's tons of people who would never slum it the way i like to, but such was life in Van too.

What a Picture's Worth

Side street vendors just off of the Nike and French Connection drag

Ok, i got a new camera, after not lasting very long in my brave attempts to Experience China Directly And Not Through A Viewfinder. Everything's up on my new Flickr page, in backwards chronology. (i'm anal about order, so you might start out on the right hand side). I'm posting highlights. Heza posts lots more on her flickr page.

Anyhow, you've got a few pix from China, and some from the recent trip to Chengde, 230km NW of BJ.

We had a gongshow of a trip out. Major issues trying to get directions to the train station from the subway. One cabbie kicks us out 'cause the trip was too short. We proceed to get lost trying to cover that short distance. We end up trying to buy tickets for the trip at the cargo side of the train tracks from a cranky woman w/ no patience for non-Mandarin speakers. Eventually a nice employee takes us behind the scenes and under the tracks since we can't figure out that where we're supposed to be. Then we find ourselves locked IN, and unable to get off the platform to the ticket sales/waiting room. We get our tix ($2.43 each!) and then later discover we are on a milk run train that takes 7 hrs to arrive. Our booked hotel turns out to be full, and we chaotically get one rebooked via the phone (and ended up in a ridiculously deluxe joint w/ a piano player in the lobby most hours). A train employee seems quite drunk and he makes "friends" with Heza and i (but mostly Heza), talking fast and loud in our faces, though it's obvious enough we comprehend little to nothing. He is eventually dragged away by coworkers twice.

As for Chengde, it's a small town of 500,000 peeps, and it houses a veritable forest of temples to check out. The largest wooden statue in the world, a 23m tall buddha, was unexpectedly awe-inspiring. (Bigger is better in buddhism? Oh, those mahayanas!). But it did feel really humbling to be in its presence.

The other temples were alright, though you get squeezed for cash every step of the way, and i did have it out w/ our tour guide who was intentionally stretching things out (can't blame a guy for making a buck, but still...) The park temples were actually created as a sort of Disney park for the Qing emperors, so they lent themselves well to tourism.

Now we're back, and (as w/ splitting Canada) are reminded how good it is to have even just a tiny bit of outside perspective.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

And As For the Great Firewall...

All i know is that the school has set Heza and I up w/ internet in our temporary residence. We are shocked, shocked i tell you that...

We still have access to CBC.

And BBC.

We still have Facebook (well, Heza does).

Dan Savage: yes.

Truedirtystories.com: yes.

That's all great. What we don't get is Wikipedia or graphic porn (which i'm still avoiding anyways). And we can't view our blogs, though posting is fine. But via a sneaky tunnelling program, we can do pretty much all the surfing we did at home, though at a rather slower rate. Wikipedia, we love you, and your info on beijing train stations!

ps. we're heading to Chengde for a couple nights, to bust out of big city life, to small city life. 400,000+ pop. More on that later. AND... i got a camera, so i'll do some pix for y'all soon too.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Heza and StatusQ in a Test of the Wills

It's not unexpected that Heza and my relationship experiences some stress now that we're overseas, in a place where we don't speak the language, and where our social circle has become just a handful of people, whom we don't even hang w/ much.

Anyhow Heza and I have been spending a lot of time together though, for sure. Toss into the mix, slightly skewed sleeping schedules (jetlag remnants?), resulting crankiness, language barrier ineptitudes and stresses, constant heat and humidity, yadda yadda, and you get the picture.

Also I've been pretty bullheaded about wanting to see as much of the city, and do as much stuff as possible, regardless of Heza's energy level, or my own. This was also an issue in Vancouver, where i liked a super busy schedule, while Heather was more of a homebody.

In a city as insanely big as this one, i feel weirdly boxed in in this massive gated community. So i go for lots of walks outside the gates, which is ok. Anyhow, this particular day we were stuck in the complex all day due to some housekeeping. So for the evening i wanted to bust out. Heza was low energy so was staying in: no problem. But first we had dinner, which finished after dusk. Afterwards my plan was to bus to the subway and to go somewhere, anywhere that looked ok. Heza felt that plan was completely stupid. But why should that matter if she's not along for the ride? We grumbled about it a while until it really was too late for me to go off. In the end we sat on the freeway curb and smoked cigarettes. Then I refused to go bk to the apartment, choosing to walk around a bit, and then run some laps on the track before crankily turning in for a long hard sleep.

So:
I should recognize that Heza is really dealing amazingly well w/ her 1st time in a foreign developing nation.
I'm superduper happy that we're on this trip together.
I should recognize I'm not a solo traveller for the first time.
I don't feel unsafe here at all;
But I can recognize that the Unknown Quotient is def higher than in Vancouver.
And Heza admits she hasn't really felt unsafe either.
I admit that my idealized schedule is a bit bombastic.
And that Heza and I definitely have diff energy levels and sleep requirements.
Now I'm trying to ask, “what do you wanna do today/this afternoon/this evening/tomorrow” w/ a bit less insistence/frequency.
It's hard.
And Heza just wants to take things as they come.
Did you catch that role reversal? Heza's all laid-back, and I'm Mr Planner.

And the real moral of the story is:
Get the much needed 10 hr sleep before you freak out unnecessarily.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Enter Optimism

Today started out as a blank slate, and Heza went off for a massage ($10/hr). We were just about to choose the day's destination when we learned we were to go on a school tour and have lunch w/ the school admin and staff.

The school (still under construction) is shaping up to be the slickest, best equipped school i've ever laid eyes on. 5 stories, computer labs, sound proof audio/visual labs, a dance room w/ hardwood floors and wall to wall mirrors, a pool, and much much more. This is the new addition to the preexisting school which has a huge rubberized track and astroturf field, and tons of student residences. This place is too new, too big, and too fancy to compare to any schools in BC.
Not only is the school cutting edge, it also has a rep as being the most prestigious school in China for churning out students who actually make it overseas after graduation (the new school is the new satellite school of the preexisting dntn school). How the hell did i fall into this job?

After the tour we went for (yet another) feast, but this one was the biggest one yet as more and more admin, teachers, owners, and support staff had arrived in BJ. It was a very warm vibe amongst the gang, translators and all. And we all overate and downed glasses of chinese beer. It seems like everyone's pretty pumped on the upcoming year.

After lunch, us foreign teachers were told we were being taken to Hou Hai lake. Which i'd heard good things about, but i was kinda pissed off that yet once again our plans were being made for us. We had one chaperone (Big Sis #2) to show us around. Hou Hai turned out to be a super touristy but really lovely lake, filled with paddle boats, and surrounded by expensive hipster bars and people hawking souvenirs. Big Sis #2 is really nice, and i finally chilled out after i realized that i actually did want to be at Hou Hai after all. Eventually we sent Big Sis#2 on her way to have a bit of time off, and quit working her bloody long hours (not inc hrs of commuting daily).

Goodbye "Friedman". Hello Big Sister

In the interests of modesty, Friedman, Demo Crazy, Sins Or Ship, etc will be my words of choice to avoid embarassment.

News: Heza are no longer slated to work in dntn BJ, blocks away from the Forbidden City and Tiannamen Square. We have been switched to a school in South BJ. A sort of suburb. A sort of gated community. Of 50,000 or so, we've been told. It's surreal. Our apartment isn't quite ready, so until Sept, we're staying in a hotel-style room for visiting teachers. I'll post more on this, after i've had more time to process.

The school has been super helpful in helping us take care of the dirty work (such as our health tests and visas which problematically stated that we were permitted to stay for ZERO days!)
A couple lovely young women have been designated to help us with whatever needs we have, helping us get from A to B, to translating when needed, etc. That is wonderful. One of them stays in the room next door to us. She helped us set up our air con, cellphones, internet, etc, all of which would be a major pain in the arse w/ the language barrier. That is great.

But hold on just a sec. The other morning i went for a walk outside of the gates, and told Heza i'd be bk at 9:45am, as we'd arranged w/ Big Sis to get cellphones at 10. Upon my arrival, i learned that Big Sis was getting gray hairs due to the stress of me going missing! Big Sis pretty stressy when it comes to taking care of our business. This, just after i'd gotten over my initial cell phone retaliation, since i've never wanted one in the first place, and having to carry one so someone can keep tabs on me is a little frustrating. Now that we have cells, we get periodic check-ins. Yes mom, we're still out. Yes mom, we're coming home at 7. Yes mom, we're at home now.
Not that it's Big Sister's fault or anything. She seems like a very hard working young woman, surely under strict orders to keep us foreign devils safe, happy, accounted for, and out of trouble. I can only assume that this is a school responsibility passed down from the Glover Mint.
What this has meant so far is that plans and schedules are sometimes made for us, some necessary, some not. Also, it seems they like us teachers to hang out w/ the other teachers, which is great and all, except that it may be just because we're easier to keep track of that way.
Sigh... I should just mention that none of this is any huge surprise. The school's principal had told me that “they” tracked his phone calls, and always knew where he was. Sheesh, the things i get myself into.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hello China Hello

Yes, we have contact, and it's been a good and long haul thus far. Very limited internet access at this pt in time, hence the massive first entries. A novel's worth of stuff has gone dn, and here's some initial comments.

After stressing over all the shit you're definitely not supposed to bring into a county where all sorts of crap is disallowed, the customs on this side of the Pacific was literally nonexistent. They didn't look at shit-all: just a glum glance at some papers, and then a disinterested rubber stamp.

Then a friendly slap in the face from the hot dirty humidity, a crazy rush into a cab, and then we were off to downtown Beijing. Initial observations of note: practically all the buildings lining the major roads are ENORMOUS. It kinda screams Money. The air is definitely not fresh. And sure you can't see buildings more than 1km away at times, and the early evening sun is strangely red, hazy and starable. But frankly, i thought the air in London seemed filthier than this place. That may change in future months, but i'll keep you posted on that.

Anyhow, the rather confused cab driver dropped Heather and I off at what turned out to be the opposite side of the hutong of where our hotel actually was. (Language barrier and map issues). So my first experience in the homeland was getting lost in the hutong (narrow alley ways filled w/ supremely cheap hair cut places, produce being sold off of bike trailers, food vendors, bike riders, pedestrians, dogs, etc. Do note that hutong dwellers are not Chinese High Society). Anyhow, i can't help it: i love the hutong scene. So i got to run around using my terribly lacking Mandarin skills to find the hotel, drop off bag #1, and then rushing back to find Heza (my gf) staving off the tears, and feeling considerably less enamored with China than myself. Lugging 150 lbs of luggage through the hutong did nothing to improve her mood, though we did eventually come across a dude with a bike trailer who we paid to carry our stuff the rest of the way. I did haggle down his price, though it was all for naught, as we had no small bills to pay him in the end anyways. Oops.

In dealing w/ jetlag, caffeine was in order, and Heza was quite pleased to learn that we had a Starbucks just a block away. So chilling w/ a coffee and a Lesser Panda cigarette, things were feeling on the up and up. So then we explored another hutong w/ some dinky little eateries which looked pretty rad, but i thought the bigger one would be a bit safer and statusquo. we barely managed to order some beer and food, which turned out to be a simple and tasty beef noodle soup. But before the food even arrived a man approached us, laid a few polaroids on the table and started rambling loudly to us. He seemed pretty pissed off about something or other. i recognized the word Chinaman from his mouth but nothing else. I recognized the smell of rice alcohol gently spraying my face, and heavily infused in his breath. No less than 5 female servers were trying to coax him away the whole time, but it was a good 5 minutes before he would be swayed. We never found out who the man in the pictures was or what relevance he had to anything, but he did have a bit of a Mao thing going. So much for easing Heza into everything, as things had been really In Your Face thus far. But at least we did have some local help onside.

More soon: but hopefully after my internet connexion is a bit less public.