Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Note On Prices

1 yuan is worth 14 cents. And you can spend 0.1 yuan or even 0.01 yuan. These $0.0014 CDN coins seems completely ridiculous. But hell, if you got 'em, you gotta get rid of 'em! And you thought pennies were bad.

15 cents will get you most places on the bus.
$1.75 can get me and Heza a tasty full meal with more than 1L of decent beer.
A pack of smokes for $1.40.

But we buy the deluxe Lesser Panda smokes for $3.80. And if you go to a bar, a Heineken runs for maybe $5.

A digital camera cost me a lot more than one in Canada.

Actually, anything w/ a brand name (that's not a knock off) can cost substantially more than it would in N.America. It's weird the way people blow money on that crap which is made in China anyways (ie. sneakers).

Yay cheap shit. Paving the way for off hours indulgences. Yay National Holiday. We're free!

Friday, September 28, 2007


I guess i shouldn't be surprised that there's a difference between the first and third world. But everyday i see stuff that makes me question the infrastructure that everything here is built on.

People build stuff. Then a week passes. Then they rip it up, to build in all the stuff that was omitted the first time. Oops! Seriously, this happens all the time around here. They pave the road in front of the school. Then the sic crews of workers to rip out all the manhole covers and then repave the whole street. They build walls, paint them, then send in a crew with sledgehammers to bust down the wall, then send in another crew to build it up again, and then other people to paint it all pretty-like.

One part of the equation is that the labour and materials are so cheap pbly no one gives much of a crap about the costs. The other thing is that around here knowledge is power and information is valuable. If Ling has info that Liu doesn't then Ling can justify his employment. Information is not shared, and communication is often scant. This plays into the school bureaucracy daily, much to the disgruntlement of the foreign teacher squadron (FTS, for short).

But make no mistake about it, mistakes and all, shit gets done around here. There's no avoiding it when you can afford a small army to do your dirty work. For example, the speed of the final touches of construction on the school were def impressive. They had tons of workers on the job, swarming the building from 7am to 10pm or later. The school cafeteria has as many as THIRTY kitchen staff. And there's pbly 30+ custodial staff in a space which would only employ 2 in Canada.

Of course things get done, but not well. For example, the stairwell is apparently noone's cleaning jurisdiction hence it has fruit peels on the floor, mud smears on the wall, etc. And then you come out of the stairwell to see a woman scraping dust out the corners of the windowsill with a toothpick sized chisel, or people dusting nonexistent dust. Also, our school which was so impressively hurled into shiny existence, started falling apart in the first week of class. Like doors were literally falling off their hinges. Railings mysteriously falling off or disappearing. And you'd think that someone would get more cheap labour to fix it. But they don't.

And the tile patio has been tiled, cleaned, retiled, cleaned, taken apart, and retiled, and cleaned, and retiled... it's fucking weird. Not like the workers care. They're just taking orders from someone who took orders from someone etc. Hell, you gotta make your 35 cents however you can. Times are tight, mofo!

If this is the state of things, it could be fun to check out the state of BJ a year or 2 after the Olympics. (If you thought construction was going full force in Vancouver, you were mistaken).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Approaching Exodus From The Drone

Hi gang,
Here's the latest. School continues to dominate my life and Heza's but after two full days of teaching this Saturday and Sunday, we get the 7 day National Holiday to celebrate the unity of the country under the Communist Party (or something like that). I will be sure to celebrate in the way of The People, which will pbly be to get drunk.

Actually, i'm pretty stoked on this coming wkend, since Saturday night will be my first attempt to get bk in touch w/ hipster culture. Heza and i wanna chk out some bands in the Uni district area. I wanna see Hedgehog, a cutesy guitar alt pop band, and Heza wants to see Car Sick Cars, who have a more punky feel. Both bands are from BJ. Apparently Hedgehog is one of BJs hottest bands right now, but i made sure yesterday by asking Big Sister if she knew of them, and she'd never heard the name before, in Chinese or English. Score! So that should be fun, presuming we can get in.

Then i have to wake up at 6:30am the next morning. And will pbly kill some time by teaching the grade ones Duck Duck Goose.

As for school, it is what it is. The grade ones seem to love me which is great in class, but it's kinda scary out of class, when they literally swarm me yelling Mr Wang! Hello! Mr Wang! It's pretty cute, but mostly i try and avoid walking down that hallway. i guess they like the classes, not realizing that my brilliant teaching ideas were desperately scrapped together at 9pm the night before.

Grade 7 is another story. Some of the 7s are at grade one level, but some are at 2 or 3. Grade 3 is great: you can read and talk and stuff. But some of them are so low, that you can barely do anything w/ them in class. Ok. So some kids need remedial attention badly. So i have officially started remedial classes, since i didn't expect anyone else to. But even then some of the kids are equally vacant even when the materials are accessible. i'm rackin' my brains on this gang regularly.

It's ok. Today only 3 kids showed up for remedial session, including one of my most capable students and as well as the least capable. And it's good for both of 'em.

Holiday much in need. Heza and I both recognize the need for space from one another. Last weekend we had planned some time apart which just didn't turn out to be convenient. We were both cranky and rather getting on each other's nerves. i ended up snapping at Heza in the cab coming home which was unfortunate. Oops, my first time losing my temper w/ Heza. Ah well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Things are a-ok now, though we will make a point of having a bit of solo time this wk. Hell, we've bn spending crazy #'s of hours w/ each other in the last 6 weeks, mostly awesome.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Capitalist Forces That Be

I'm afraid to say that Shop Til You Drop has gone from a fashion fantasy to a tragic necessity. Buying pants from the Astroboy store was fun, but requiring a work wardrobe asap, and all the household niceties has been a real pain in the arse. Also it's sad but true that most excursions Heza and i go on involve shopping destinations. Ok, you get some cultural exposure in the bizarro behemoth markets (6+ massive stories of haggling vendors/expensivorama name brands), but it's just capitalism in a raw and concentrated form. I can dig it, but i still get a dirty feeling from it all. Kinda like too much tv.

99% of everything is Made In China, so the western world guilt of supporting and enabling the system which underpays and overworks workers/kids etc, has been strangely alleviated. Now i can call it Supporting the Mother Land. Go China! Make shit cheaper than anyone else! We DARE you to make it cheaper! You can't! Hahahaha!

Also, pretty much everything is overpackaged, and clearly you must be partly insane to say, "No bag, thanks". In the field of enviro-consciousness, Canada is miles ahead of China. Which is a bit odd considering how the impacts of enviro degradation are pretty clear (or should i say, "hazy"), considering the air quality around here. Granted, it's not at all as bad as i'd been forewarned: most days seem pretty decent for now. But there are definitely times when you can't make anything out that's more than a few km away. For now i'm just gonna call that humidity.

Maybe people don't make the link between Consumerism and Industrialization. Or maybe people don't get it that we all contribute to enviro probs through daily choices. Or maybe the magnitude of the population makes Personal Responsibility seem like... Well, "a drop in the bucket" seems like far too generous of a metaphor, if you catch my drift Heza shakes her head at me when i do go to unnecessary lengths to recycle a bottle or something around here, and even i can appreciate that my efforts are realistically (?) inconsequential. But i can't help it. Around here I don't actually feel like i'm accomplishing anything except protecting my personal karma.

i also bet that a whole shitload of people get the links between consumerism, industrialization, and environmental degradation, but why bother thinking about it when it's obvious that the cheap labour and toxic factories have created a China which is more stable and prosperous than anything ever experienced? Also, i suspect a few of you readers may be aware of how the capitalist machine tends to self-propell. And we wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Into the Hallucination Called Work

I heard its bad etiquette to apologize about not blogging for a long time. And fuck it's only been one wk, so lay off wny don'tcha? Shee whiz! As you may have guessed, i've been pretty inundated w/ school stuffs, which are all going ok, despite my present cranky mood and disenchantment w/ one grade 7 class in particular. But who can blame them for acting up when this dude keeps talking to them in English and they can't read or anything? But then again he did just waste 15 minutes going over a sheet of classroom vocab which hosted priceless gems such as "I don't understand" and "This is too hard!"

-Ok, that was yesterday, and now is today. After not enough sleep and my worst day yet w/ the 7s, today i had a good sleep and my best day yet w/ the 7s. Such is life.

Anyhow, here's the present lowdown on the school scene. Heza carried me thru my 1st wk w/ grade 1 thank god, and that class is great. "Apple! Living! Rock! Non-living!" The kids are super nice and they really dig both of us. We teach them on alternating days. (lucky kids!)

Gr 7 is up and dn. i spent the 1st wk or so lowering and lowering and lowering the level i thought they were at. How do you explain "forget" ie. "Do not forget" to someone who doesn't even know "remember"? And you wanna figure out why Tim was punching Liu before class started? Not a chance.

The advanced 7 esl'ers are great. they do a good job, and usually can figure out what they're supposed to do. They're also quite... controlled and respectful! How weird to have students who always start and end w/ "Hello, Mr Wang, goodbye Mr Wang." and who bring you flowers and presents on Teachers Day. Seriously.

And i've also got a whopping class of three EFL'ers, kids from Canada and the states. they're also rad. i'm doing this wonky course w/ them called Explorations, which doesn't actually exist except for what i wanna throw together, so we started off w/ the China Toxic Toy Crisis, leading into Walmart: The High Price of Low Cost, and starting yoga on Friday. Later on we hope to do volunteerism, drama, writing, and music (we have a singer, a drummer, and a guitarist/violinist plus me. And the school has sound-recording studio spaces! Score!)

So school is mostly good. Sure there's been staff members crying here and there, but mostly life is good. Sure there's lots to bitch about too in a school which is brand new, lacking in resources, computers, infrastructure yadda yadda, and sure all of us teachers found out our classes days before we started teaching them. And yes it sucks when you teach to day by day since noone's figured out what their year plans are gonna look like (a major task which needs to be handled asap)... but i guess such is life in this crazy new hi-end school which is crazy nice in so many other ways.

Oh, and the apartment they've stuck us in! The conditions we're expected to deal with! Ok, i admit it's convenient being just 2 minutes walk from the school, and yes it's WAY more spacious than anything i'd expected. And yes it's in brand new condition. And yes it's styley to boot. And yes it has mirrory polished stone and hardwood floors. But still, still... uh where was i going with that one? Well let's just say that us staffers keep the conditions here hush hush lest our sister school staff find out, thus causing great upheaval.

Ok. Enough school for now. this blog is, of course, procrastination.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Countdown to Monday

School kicks in shortly. i have a barrage of planning to try and do. Heather is providing me tons of support for grade 1. I'd be completely lost w/out her. Everything school is bordering on bewildering. Please wish me luck.

On top of school, after a 2 hr line up my visa application was rejected since my passport was deemed unacceptable (too battered after going through the laundry in Van). That was annoying/disappointing/stressy. Reattempted it today, and after the angry officer told the dude in front of me to get lost, she proceeded to OK all my docs, no questions asked. Big thanks to the universe.

Happy News Happy China

Today many interesting things happened in China. People very excited and happy for Olympics. Many upstanding citizens learning English. All China and all the world will be impressed. No bad news in China. We are all very glad.

Aside: Upon getting wired, we could access BBC for maybe a day. We now must get it through the tunnneling program, which is pretty slow. But it feels good to check in with the planet (and this very country) occasionally.