Sunday, August 31, 2008

About Town

Teddy came in this morning and gave me a map of Changzhou, while it was all in Chinese characters he did point out to me about where we are and some features of the city. It's pretty sprawling having apparently taken over at least one nearby city in the last few years. The center of town, around where the rail station is, is a short bus ride, or about an hour and a half walk from campus. I walked about 1/3 of the way through some interesting streets and a lot of vendors. Crossing the streets is still the most harrowing part as it usually unclear when the appropriate time to go is since there are basically no rules for when a car can and can't make a turn. Near the school was an open air market which is almost exactly how you might imagine it. There are lines of vendors selling all sorts of fresh meats, fish, and vegetables. The guys with the meat would sit around swating off flies and talking to one another. The fish in some of the bowls seemed to be still alive and I have no idea how recently they must have been caught. The people seemed amused by me waling around taking pictures of them while they went about their day. I'm not sure I would be quite so accepting of someone walking up to me and jsut snapping away with a camera, but they don't seem to ill disposed toward it.

Changzhou has a huge number of water ways cutting all through it as you can see on the map, but Teddy tells me that they are all actually man made. Most seem pretty slow moving and smell a great deal. There are a lot of houses lining them and all I could think of is the contrast between these crowded houses lining a disgusting canal and Nanny and Poppy's big back yard on the Hudson. Back along the main street there were a lot of little shops selling food, cigarettes-which I imagine are totally unfiltered, and all sorts of other things. There were a really large number of barbershops, I must have passed at least six and there were a bunch more in the other direction. I'm told some are poorly disguised fronts for prostitution, but all the ones I saw people were getting actual hair cuts. People on the street were playing some sort of board game that looked like a more complicated version of checkers.

The park I came to was amazingly beautiful. The city got a lot quieter as soon as I entered it and people were hanging out doing all the usual Sunday things. I saw families and old men flying kites and a lot of people just sitting around. The park is centered around a lake which has an island in the middle and a low bridge out to across part of it. On one side of the park was a big statue to what looked like some sort of warrior from the 5th century but I couldn't read any of the description besides the dates. Back on campus I was starving and a lot of the places to eat were closed since it as in between lunch and dinner. A few places though had fried chicken which I ordered by a series of points. I don't know if it was just because I was hungry or because they fried it right in front of me but it could have been the best fried chicken I've ever eaten. That place never seemed the busyest, I wonder if the prices are considered high for the students. I paid 3 yuan, or about 45 cents for the chicken and alter I had a chicken sandwich which was 5 yuan or about 75 cents. On the street earlier I also had some sort of fired bread thing which is a little like pita bread but greasy for about 2 yuan. It's amazing how much you can communicate with pointing and miming, I'm going to be a champion charades player when I come back, you don't want to know what the mime for toilet paper is.

There are a bunch more pictures with caption on Flickr now so go check them out also. I upgraded to the better Flickr account to hold all of my pictures.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

I Have Arrived! (Part 1)

I arrived in the train station in Shanghai lugging my two enormous suit cases behind me. The large green one, which was already about the size of a bookcase was made even heavier as I moved some stuff from my backpack into it. Somehow I managed to squeeze in through the various fenced off areas that serve as lines and even made it up one escalator. Our guide who had accompanied us to the train station pointed out where we were supposed to go. We waited in an area not unlike any other seating area except for its enormous size. That's what I'm starting to notice about China everything is pretty similar to the US just multiplied by like 5. We waited in this cattle call until our train was called, technically we only thought it was our train since they were making all announcements in Mandarin.

I took my bags and managing to knock over only a few Chineese people made my way to the train. Just as I thought we were about to emerge onto the platform one final hurtle presented its self, a huge flight of stairs which I had to navigate with about 150 pounds of bag in toe. After trying several techniques I just basically dragged both bags, xbox included, down about 50 stairs. I was terrified that I would loose control of the bags and knock over about 2o Chinese people like bowling pins. I finally made it down the stairs not killing any Chineese but brusiing one arm pretty badly. On the train I discovered that there was not nearly enough overhead space for my oversized bags so I simply hoisted both into the seat I was supposed to be filling and stood in the aisle besides it.

Now I can say this for Chineese people they certainly know how to roll with the punches. With my bags taking up the seat and me taking up a good portion of the aisle a lot of people were forced to somehow maneuver around me. Maybe they were angry but the certainly didn't show it. They just bunched up and moved on as best they could. As one other traveler pointed out if this had been Italy or Spain I certainly would have been the target of a lot of yelling and cursing. The people in China are a pretty orderly bunch even if there not much for lines. People make lines but no one seems to have a problem with just bunching up in any area trying to get through, and they certainly aren't going to stop and let you pass, they aren't being rude it's just they're way of getting things done quicker.

The train was pretty quick getting us about 160k in about one hour with only one stop along the way. When we finally arrived we were just able to get all our stuff off the train before it pulled away on towards Nanjing. When we emerged into the city it was overcast and grey but not raining. The city, small by Chineese standards, is huge bustling and growing from all corners. Every where you turn some thing is being town down and rebuilt as a 60 story megabuilding. The Chineese style of building seems less like immoninte domain and more like just domain, we'll tear down anything are rebuild it bigger.

Teddy my Waiban, the person who helps foreign teachers, was there to meet me at the railway station. After finally loading the bags into a van I was off through Changzhou toward the school. The city we saw was huge including a Wallmart, but Teddy assured me that this was only about one-third of this sprawling city. The traffic moves with even more ferocity then it seems to in Shanghai, making crossing the street a near death experience. I don't know about the offical Chinese Communist party line, but there are no atheists crossing the streets in China.

Where Shanghai is an cosmopolitan and pretty clean city, Changzhou is not. The signs of industry and a boom town are everywhere. The air has a sort of permanent construction smell and all the buildings, even the new ones, are dirty. The most surprising building we passed was a rather large restaurant and Mosque for the city's sizable Wuiger population, who are mostly Muslim. I was reading up on the history of Jews in Shanghai, apparently there were quite a few in the 40's as China took a lot in from Germany but most left soon after because of harassment from the newly Communist government. There is at leas t one rabbi I found and apparently one historic Synagogue, which is now some sort of museum or government building was allowed to be used for a Jewish wedding not long ago.

When I arrived at the school to say I was impressed would be a huge understatement. The building I'll be living in is actually a functional hotel, which guessing from what I've seen must be at least 4 stars. The hotel straddles the edge of the campus and is used for conventions as well as to house some foreign teachers. This is not to say I'm living in a hotel room exactly as when it was built the school reserved the top two floors, 14 and 15 for apartments. Not being able to do the hotel justice below are some pictures of the outside and entrance. I would not that it is somewhat better looking then the pictures credit it as being since it was a lousy looking day outside.

Since this is such a long post I'm breaking it up into at least two sections stay tuned from part two of my day and some more pictures.

I Have Arrived! (Part 2)

Basically the first thing I did when I saw my room was laughed. This picture doesn't nearly do it justice. The room which you see here is my living room/kitchen. The kitchen has faux marble counter tops and a bunch of appliances including a microwave. The rest of the room comes with a computer desk, and computer, a sofa, and a TV nicer then the one we have at home. The whole room is probably a little larger then our family room. The view is pretty amazing also. I posted some of the shots but it's hard to get a view on camera. I'm on the 14th floor facing much of the city. It's really quite a masters of the univerise type view. The whole apartment has beautiful hard wood floors and is incredibly clean. The bedroom which is a little smaller then the living room area also has an amazing view, plus these amazingly hard mattresses the Chinese seem to like. The bathroom is bigger than both are bathrooms put together and nicer. In between the bedroom and bathroom is a little room with a washer and dryer. My first thought when I saw all of this was basically I'm never coming back.

We had about 5 minutes to put our stuff down before we went to lunch at the hotel's restaurant. Despite a french name and the promise of western food it serves what seems to be pretty classic Chineese fair. A lot of oddly labeled dishes like, "meat," or "duck claw," which I tried and wasn't so bad is a little gamy. We had lunch with our Waiban Teddy and Clark a returning American teacher from Montana. He told us, and Teddy basically agreed that the amount of work he did was laughable, he said that last semester he tough 6 hours a week and only worked 2 days a week. Though he said that this was on the pretty extreme end he noted how lucky we were to be at this school. Teddy noted that we probably wouldn't start teaching for 1-3 weeks. He didn't have any more real info though. China seems to be an enormously go with the flow place. I asked Teddy if we had a meeting tomorrow or something and he laughed and said no, at which point Clark just said not to worry about it, "If they want you, they'll find you."

After lunch I explored the campus a little. The students were just coming back and it looked like a scene right from freshmen week at Madison. Everyone was carrying around there stuff any walking in small groups between the dorms. I was stunned by just how exactly it matched my image of the start of term at any school in the States. There was an enormous basketball court, more like 20 courts actually where a ton of students were engaged in all manner of games. Apparently this wasn't even the only court on campus.

The campus is huge I walked for a good hour and didn't see nearly all of it. Teddy said they're used to be a village here but they moved them all to expand the school. He pointed out from one window a nearby Tibetan high school which he said had become basically encircled by the campus and was going to be moved also to make room for more development, quite the metaphor. There are something like 13, 000 students who live in various small dorm like rooms. They have a strict 11pm curfew but foreign teacher apparently just can pretty much come or go as they please. The space where a few other foreign teacher are living doesn't have the same new feeling or view but is immense. Two CIEE teachers are living in places with 2 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms at least 1 porch and a bunch of other rooms each. That's 4 bedrooms between 2 people.

At about 6 we had some 20 cent beers with Clark which assuming they don't poison me weren't that bad. Clark said the company sometimes had trouble controlling how much alcohol was in the beers, and while most had about 3.5% some were known to have about 3 or 4 times as much. He said the school was incredibly lax and at one point last semester he and another teacher just canceled class for two weeks to go on a trip. Well I'm sure there's more but that's all I can think of now from Shangri'la. Check out the photo link as it has been hugely updated with all todays pictures.

Friday, August 29, 2008

100 Year Flood

Today is the last day before we head out to our schools. I have a train trip at something like 10:30 tomorrow. I can't wait to finally be able to unpack all this stuff. It's been very weird looking at all the political coverage on the NYT's website for a political junky like me. I miss seeing all the speeches and what not on CNN. I suppose I can get them on You Tube, my internet connection at the hotel isn't really good enough for video, but it's just not the same. I don't know what the connection will be like at my school, but the connection here is pretty slow. Fast enough for surfing the internet sure, but pretty slow for everything else. On top of that it's also pretty shaky popping on and off at random times.

In the last post I noted that it was raining on our first day. Raining though isn't exactly the word to describe it. It was like some one turned the who outside into one gigantic shower. The water was just absolutely poring down. On top of that the thunder and lightning were so close to our building it sounded like cannon fire. I think the building was even hit once since we lost power for a few hours. When I finally came down after it was mostly over the street were hugely flooded. There were a few parks that I couldn't tell if they were fields or ponds. The people though just waded or rode there bike right through the flooded streets.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

One Man in his Time Plays Many Parts

Today a lot of the people gave there mock presentations of 20 minutes of a class for comment and criticism from the instructors. All I could think is how the hell am I going to keep with up for an hour and a half at a go. Though no one I've talked to has said that it's really hard to teach here I just have no earthly idea how I'm going to do this. I just have this feeling that I'm going to get up there in front of all the students, who are basically my age, and have them look right through me as if to say, "you don't have any idea what you're doing, do you?"

Besides panic about teaching we spent a bunch of time in the afternoon and early evening down by the main river and on a boat cruise around Shanghai. The city is amazingly pretty at night. While the buildings are more spread out then lets say a Manhattan so it doesn't have a similar sky line, all the buildings have these amazing light displays on them. The most impressive was on the side of the Citi Bank building which had what was essentially television quality picture streaming up one massive face of the 50 story tall building. Other building had all manor of flickering lights on them to make for a truly dazzling display.

The other day we were on top of what is now the second tallest building in Shanghai. The tallest building, built right next to it in sort of a giant fuck you, opens to the public in about a month. Even though it was a little bit overcast, actually it had just finished poor but more on that in a second, I could see just how far Shanghai stretches. While it's not as concentrated as New York the number of 40+ story buildings that stretch in all directions around the city is just mind boggling. It gives it a sort of Blade Runner feeling of an endless city. On the viewing deck they have some well placed shops which offer little freebies to attract customers. For example every visitor to the top receives a free pearl shucked from a clam in front of your eyes, your right Mom they really do have a lot of pearls here. Then they go about trying to sell you an over priced necklace to go with it for your theoretical girlfriend. In fact the only person who bought one was the guy with hid girlfriend on the trip.

The street vendors in the tourist areas are also amazingly pushy not dissuaded by my usual tactic of just looking away and nodding my head no. Some people told them no in Chineese, Bu Yao, which really seemed to amuse the vendors. The bargaining here, which can be done on almost everything, has a huge price rang to it. You can get something like 90% off what they first say sometimes, which is probably still paying too much.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

DDay + 3

Not to start in the middle of things but... Today I saw a kid going to the bathroom on a plastic sheet sort of like a dog, this is after having seen a parent holding a kid over a trash can for the same reason. Some of the precious little tykes even have slits down the back of their pants to facilitate this process. This is not to say that China is a particularly dirt country, in fact Shanghai is about as clean as any major city and quite cosmopolitan, its just one really gross practice.

We had some more lectures today about how to teach the take home from which are that I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to do when faced with a classroom full of expectant kids waiting for some insight from their foreign teacher. The lessons haven't been exactly unhelpful there just to general to do much good. None of the past participants have described it as exactly hard but damned if I have any idea what I'm going to do. Part of the problem is that I have no real idea what my particular school expects of me or what it will be like there. Being in Shanghai is sort of like being on extended vacation. Moving involves a sort of daily routine like you have at home just in a different area. But in Shanghai its just take every day as it comes not really sure what to expect.

That brings me to my Xbox. Some of the people here have sort of snickered at bringing it all the way from the States but I think of it as a sign that I'm not just on vacation that I'm really moving here. What I want is to get into my daily routine. Not the same routine at home mind you, I am in China, but some sort of routine never the less, and my routine involves playing video games to relax. I think that if I didn't have my Xbox it would make it like too much of a vacation something out of the ordinary not the new ordinary that I want to make it. Put another way it's a way to be comfortable here.

We had a lot of free time in the afternoon today, and for the first time I haven't felt so massively jet lagged, I'm still tired at 9 o'clock but not fall over unconscious tired. So with my new found time and energy I went with a group around the Nanjing street a shopping district near the People's Square the essential heart of Shanghai. After a while we walked over to the Bund an area of historic building near the river and some really amazing views of buildings, link to pictures coming. We were beset on all sides by pan handlers and people hawking every sort of junk imaginable when ever we stopped sort of like a bright light attracting moths to it. Our guide told us one funny story about these little wheels that the street vendors were selling that attached to your shoes and sort of let you roll around like your on skates. He said that about a year ago these had just come out so that all the street vendors selling them, who skate around on them to show off the product, weren't very good and kept crashing into people.

Yesterday we saw an acrobatics show at some fancy little theater. The show was good in other parts, seemed under rehearsed in other parts, and was just plan hokey in some parts. The best parts involved them standing on meticulously staked chairs and flying through the air on a set of sort of curtain like thing, a trick I've seen in Cirque du Soleil. The under rehearsed parts involved some diving through hoops where they would occasionally knock the hoops over and try the trick again sometimes for a couple of tries. The just plane hokey was a series of magic tricks that seemed to be out of the Vegas of the 50's style pick a card in which the secret to every trick is that the magician has a deck of cards up his sleeve.

One final note is where I got the name of this blog from. Cars and traffic laws here seem to be a still evolving thing and a red light seems to mean you might want to consider stopping. So when the little green man illuminates for me to walk and the cars are still going across all I can think is please don't run into me as I carefully try to make my way across the street.