Workin’ It

Today was my first full day working with the students.  It was a mixed bag.  They started me off with kids.  Pre-teen kids.  Who don’t speak much English.  Being taught by me.  Not exactly the sort of combination that makes for a stellar class.  The kids were fine, I’m just not the right teacher for that situation.

The next class, however, was adult students who are learning English for business.  This was a great class.  While their grasp of the language may not be fluent, their ideas and opinions on economics are definitely well-established.  I think they’re ready to start picking up a copy of the Wall Street Journal and commenting on how the US is doing things wrong.  🙂  
Their language skills are also quite good.  While they certainly have strong accents, the actual issues are small and quickly corrected when pointed out.  One thing I noticed in the class (6 students) is that when I corrected one student’s pronunciation, all of the rest of them immediately repeated the word correctly.  That sort of initiative is something  I rarely saw in my US students, and never in an entire class.
My third class wasn’t really a class.  It’s called “English Corner”, and is basically just a free talking session.  One of the other teacher uses the time to play word games.  Today, I used the time to ask them what sorts of things there are to do in Kunshan [1].  We talked about parks, stores, restaurants, festivals and “moon cakes”. 
There were about a dozen students in the room, and most of them talked.  I had to prod a few of the high-school students to get them to speak up, but for the most part, they joined in the conversation and had fun.
I have one more class from 7:40 to 8:30.  I really don’t have any idea what it will be like, but I have a worksheet in front me to hand out.  And…. Lynn, one of the support staff, just told me that another teacher is going to take the class, so I can go home.
Tomorrow is my day off, and then I’m back on Friday for another round.

[1] Just to give an understanding of the confusion between English and Mandarin (Chinese), “Kunshan” is pronouced “Quinn-shyahn”–the ‘y’ in the second syllable sounds like the beginning of “yes”.  Plus there’s the “tone”, which makes the first syllable sound like a question.  So, it’s more like “Quinn?-Shyahn”.   And Tsing Tao beer is pronounced “Ching Dow”–this is very important to know if you want a frosty beer at the end of the night.


So, the big news that I left out of the last post is this:  I’ve had a job offer.

Both Jason and I interviewed (via phone) with a school in Kun Shan (I’ll link to a map when I have a good net connection). The city is about 30 miles west of Shanghai and is listed at #5 for most important economic cities in China. The area is home to national headquarters for a wide range of major corporations.

The school itself is a private school catering to adults who are looking to advance in business.  This is exactly the kind of position I was hoping for.  Instead of having to deal with grade-school children who are just learning to speak, or even high-school students who can be apathetic about learning, I’ll be working with adults who have spent a lot of money for the opportunity to improve their English.  They *want* to be there, and they’re going to be demanding about their education.

I was about 90% ready to accept the offer right away, but Jason wanted to “sleep on it”–which is, apparently, a foreign concept to the Chinese.  We spent about 10 minutes explaining what “I’d like to sleep on it” means, and the concept behind it.

This is and example of how I notice the differences over here.  For me, it’s the little things that pop out.  The language, architecture, crazy driving, and other major differences all fall into the background for me. I’m in China, of course those things are going to be different.  But the little things really pop out.  People carrying (open) umbrellas on a sunny day.  They are, of course using them to keep the sun off, but it’s *just* different enough from what you’d expect to see that it leaps out.

Anyway… Today, we’ll officially be accepting the jobs, and tomorrow we’ll be on a train bus to Shanghai.

Dinner With “The Kids”

Aug 7, 04:00

Once again, I’m writing this offline instead of directly to the blog.  I’m finally in a place that has an internet connection… except for the fact that it doesn’t.  I think they’re sending the data by carrier pigeon–one byte at a time.  The connections here (at this hotel) are very flaky.  I was able to get online with no problem for about 5 minutes, then it just died.

Anyway…  Yesterday was a busy day.  I woke up early (about 06:00) after a great night’s sleep, and did a little reading.   Then it was time for the train ride to the mainland.  I wrote a little bit about it yesterday.  Getting to my destination involved:

Walking to the metro station
Taking a metro from Hong Kong to Kowloon
Walking across Kowloon to the train station
Taking a train from Hung Han (?) station to Lak Ma Chau
Discovering, half-way through the ride that I had to switch trains.
Going through immigration
Going through customs
Walking another mile to Jerry’s car
Walking from the *intended* hotel to another one
Finally settling in.

All of this was in 92-degree heat and high humidity, carrying a backpack and laptop bag and pulling a (small) suitcase.  I am going to lose *so much* weight here.  🙂

And then… we went out again (for lunch).
Back to the hotel for interviews
Back out for dinner
Back to the hotel to crash.

A little info on our “group”.  There are 5 teachers and 2 employees from Teach in China (the recruiting company).  Jerry and Helen worked their asses off getting us to our various destinations, dealing with logistics, setting up interviews, and keeping us informed.

As for the teachers:  There are 5 of us, as I said.  One is a Canadian man in his 30s. The other 3 are college students (at least one has not graduated yet, I think the two boys have).  When we went out for lunch, they asked Jerry to take them to a KFC or McDonald’s.  And… that’s where we went.  Well… that’s where *they* went.  Jason (the other “old guy”) and I asked Jerry to take us to a real restaurant.  While the kids were munching on McMeals, the three of us were eating noodles and dumplings.  Great stuff.

Jason and I gave the kids a bunch of shit for traveling half-way around the world and then eating McDonald’s.  During the afternoon, they decided they’d try some of the local food.  So, for dinner Hellen and Jerry took us to a local restaurant.  Let’s just say that it won’t be getting any 5-star ratings.  They ordered all the food for us and we just grabbed it off the serving plates.

First was a type of battered shrimp.  Very good.  I’m not sure what the primary spice was in the batter, but it tasted similar to ginger or fenugreek seed.  The only complaint (very small) was that they still had the legs on.  It was only a problem, because they’d get stuck in my teeth.  The kids, however, were “intimidated” by the shrimp.  One of them said she’d never had shrimp back home, so this  was *really* weird.  While  the rest of us were mowing down the shrimp, the kids were nibbling on one piece each.

Next came sausage and broccoli stems.  Not so good–and that’s not because the sausage slices looked like fried cat tongues, either.  The flavor was like sweet fat; that’s the only way I can describe it.  Nobody else ate it (including the locals), so I’m going to guess that it was supposed to taste better.

Next was a plate of sauteed mushroom stems and beef.  That was pretty good.  I think it could have used a little something more in the seasoning, but overall it was well done.

After that was chow mein–with a kick.  Besides the rice noodles and egg, there was a collection of vegetables and a lot of chilis.

Finally, duck bits in soy sauce.  The flavor was very good, but the meat… well… basically, they just took a whole duck and cut it into pieces–fat, bones, and all.  So you’d bite into a piece and crunch down on bone.  Luckily, by this time I was full.

The kids basically ate nothing but the rice and some of the noodles.  They made no qualms about the fact that they’ll be spending all their meals at KFC and McDonald’s while they’re here.

That is, of course, assuming that they last very long.  If you can’t handle some very basic food (most of it is stuff you’d find at a Chinese restaurant chain in the states), you’re not going to be able to handle the serious cultural differences inherent in this job.  I’m glad I won’t be around when the reality of it all sinks in for them.


[Aug 6th, written offline and posted later]

funny signs
click to embiggen

I spent the night in Hong Kong and made it into China today.  Only two minor snags:  1) I almost left my laptop back at a train station 2) I didn’t fill out a form at customs, and had to step out of line, fill it out, and go to the back of the line. As these things go, a really smooth time.

I don’t know if you can see it in the photo, but I just had to take a photo of this.  It’s a view out of the window of the apartment I stayed at last night.  The black sign says “Joyce Baker Design Studio”. The blue sign is for a bar across the street; it’s name is “Joyce is Not Here”.  *Brilliant* marketing.  🙂

bamboo balcony
click to embiggen

The second photo is of the building across the street.  That “balcony” you see is built from bamboo–and it’s about 10 stories up.

The last photo is from the hotel I’m staying in.  I just had to laugh.  Yes, there are condom displays on the end-table.  There’s also a big bowl of instant ramen on the shelf.  None of them are free, of course.

Condom display
click to embiggen

In the Air

[This was written offline and is just being posted]

I’m at 10,000 feet (rather low for an international flight) [Oops!  later on I realized it was 10,000 meters–about 32,000 feet] just starting to pass over Hudson Bay.  And… for some reason my in-flight information is in Spanish.   I’ll be posting this to the Geekistan blog once I’m in China and have access to the net.  As with all things on this trip, I have no clue when that will be.

I contacted a couple of you with a quick story of my delay, but I’ll go into a bit more detail here.

I made it to O’Hare with plenty of time to spare (thanks, Sean!), got checked in and past security with no problems or long waits, and found my gate.  That left me with about 3 hours to wait until my flight left.  About half an hour before the flight was going to leave, I notice a lot of people standing in line at the counter.  I got up to see what was going on… and saw the bad news:  the flight from ORD to DTW had been delayed by *three hours*.  Apparently the plane had mechanical difficulties in MSP, and they needed to fix it.

So… I got in line to see what could be done to fix this.  The staff handed out pre-printed sheets with phone numbers to call, so several of us got on the phone while standing in line.   Just as an aside:  It says something about how airlines run that they have a stack of pre-printed cards telling you who to call when your flight is delayed or canceled.

I manage to wade through the phone tree and get an actual person.  I quickly explain the situation, and she (of course) apologizes for the inconvenience and sets about seeing what can be done to help.

“Okay, sir.  We can put you on a later flight to Minneapolis, then from there to Narita Japan, and from there to Hong Kong.   The Chicago plane leaves at 12:07.”  From there she  went on to list the other flight times.  I can’t remember them, I just remember that I would get into Hong Kong at 10:30pm.

Then it struck me.  “Ma’am?  Did you say that the Chicago flight leaves at 12:07?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Umm… It’s 12:21 now.”

“….  oh.”

There’s only one flight from Detroit to Hong Kong each day, so I ended up flying to Detroit on the delayed flight, staying the night at a hotel (on Delta’s dime), and coming back to the airport this morning.  The ticketing desk was a little confused with my ticket (and lack of baggage–it stayed in the system and will meet me in Hong Kong (I HOPE!)).

Because of check-out time at the hotel, I ended up at the airport about 4 hours ahead of flight time.  Yay!  More time sitting in airports.  (Can you hear the sarcasm in my voice?)

I made it through security with only minimal hassle.  I was sent through the nudie-scanner, and they had to pat down one leg because I left my (paper) money in my pocket.  I didn’t hear them say anything about emptying out all my pockets, and paper money has never been an issue before.

I encoutered one thing that I’ve never dealt with before:  After having my boarding pass scanned and walking into the skyway structure (a building extension, not one of the extendo-arms you have on smaller flights), there was a cadre of police.  I’m guessing they were INS/ICE.  They weren’t TSA.   Everyone was pulled aside and informed about the rules on transporting money (which I already knew about, and was in no danger of being affected by; I didn’t have more than $10,000 on me).  I was asked to turn on my camera.  Not sure why.

And now I’m on a plane over the middle of nowhere Canada.  I was supposed to have a row all to myself, but there’s another guy sitting in the far seat.  At least there’s an empty chair between us.

The only disappointment about the flight is that I’m directly over the wing.  I was hoping I’d be able to see land when we flew over the north pole–just so that I can say I’ve seen the north pole.  🙂