Thursday, December 29, 2011

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

Not really though. It's 75 degrees here today so I hope everyone else is enjoying winter since we are apparently skipping it in Guangzhou. The Chinese people are still around in their jackets though. I used to think it was just that they always dressed to the season even if it was weather inappropriate, but after talking with some people I now believe that the incredible amount they overdress is due to the fact that most people still believe that physically being cold makes you sick. Which I why I see babies on the bus sweating like crazy when they are dressed for 10 below and it's in the 70's. But around here we are experiencing the upside of the incredibly hot summer. It's very pleasant when everyone else is freezing. I remember last year at this time in Alaer I had my space heater on at night despite the fact that it light up my room like a fireplace because even with the radiators and my big comforter I was still incredibly cold at night. I also remember going to Urumqi where it was so cold that walking outside felt like getting slapped. I don't think I have to worry about that cold in Vietnam either. I'll write up my full travel plans in a post soon. But besides some time in Beijing I'm staying mostly in the South. Snow on Christmas may be nice but 75 and sunny is better.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Commute from Hell

After I had finally started my classes here in Guangzhou I ran into a big problem. The school here has at least three different campuses spread out around the whole city. One campus is in a fairly downtown part of the city, this was the original campus but the city kept taking more and more of the land so they got squeezed out. The next campus, where I was living, was in the North-East of the city, it would basically be considered a suburb in the US. This campus wasn't right on a subway line, though an expansion in two years will go right by there. The area was nice, it was fairly urban with a big shopping area just outside the gate but still less crowded then the main city. Right behind the building I was living in was a small green mountain and a little lake. The school also had one more campus in the South-East of the city, on an island called the Higher Education Mega Center. This whole island was basically just different universities. Guangzhou University, a higher ranked school has a huge campus there, as does Sun Yat-sen University, one of the top schools in all of China. Guangdong University of Technology, my school, had been moving more and more of its operations to this island for years, and nearly 80% of the school was now there.

The problem was almost all my classes were there as well. I had heard that there was some possibility of a commute, with only 12 hours of classes it didn't sound so bad, but for many of the other teachers who lived in the North and taught at the Higher Education Mega Center campus the school arranged a car to drive them two and from. Because my classes took so long to start, and since I was the only one teaching there in the evening, this wasn't possible for me. Instead I had to take public transportation both ways. To begin with I had to walk to the bus stop, about a 10-15 minute walk from my apartment. Then I'd get on a bus for about nine stops until I finally got to the subway. There I had to transfer twice and go about 18 stops until I finally reached the Higher Education Mega Center stop, there were actually two stops on the island. Then it was another 10 minute walk to class. The whole thing took between 90 and 100 minutes each way. So I ended up spending more than 3 hours commuting some days.

What was worse is that on Monday and Tuesday I only had one class. So I had to commute for three hours for 90 minutes of actual class time. This basically turned my light schedule into annoying slog. I was furious at the school the first time I realized exactly how far I had to go for such a little amount of teaching. It also made it really difficult to care about the classes since I was pissed at the school every time I stepped off the metro. It was just the usual Chinese way of turning what should be something really easy into something monumentally difficult. It also didn't help that riding the subway with Chinese people is infuriating. Everyone tries to get on and off the car at the same moment, though it is sometimes satisfying to knock people out of my way when I'm getting off, and no one moves away from the door making the whole thing one big clusterfuck. At least I was usually going at off-peak hours so it wasn't as crowded as it could be.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


No one tells me anything. Sometimes I think I'm just being too conspiratorial when it comes to feeling like I'm left out of the loop, but I'm pretty sure that as long as I've been in China people have been not telling me vital pieces of information. For example David, the foreign affairs guy here, texted me a week ago asking if I wanted to go to a concert of Christmas Eve. I said yes, but when I asked him about it today he told me it was off since not enough teachers wanted to go. The thing is I don't think he was planning on telling me that unless I asked. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who doesn't know something as well. Trying to figure out when classes start next term is hard, unless I ask the students who all seem to know. There have been times at every school I've worked for when I come to class and no one is there. I find out later that all the students have a meeting or something, which is fine, it's just that no one bothered to tell me. I wonder if there's like a secret Chinese website where the school discusses all this stuff without me. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but in China you never know.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Making Pasta

I don't cook very much, this is true in both China and the US, but when I do the one thing I like to make is pasta. I made a big bowl of pasta with some vegetables and chopped up sausage tonight which was good, but it also reminded me why I so rarely cook. I try to keep my little kitchen really clean, there were roaches when I moved in but I think I got rid of them before I started putting any food in the kitchen, so it feels like it takes longer to clean up properly than to actually make or eat the food. Also I now have enough leftovers that I think I can eat nothing but pasta until Christmas. Finally, the cost for American food is out of hand. I traveled across the city to the only Wal-Mart around here and payed probably double what pasta and a little, and I do mean little I don't think I've ever seen a smaller jar, tomato sauce should cost. It came out pretty well even though despite using one and a half jars of sauce, plus adding a lot to it, there was still way to much pasta. Either way I probably won't be doing that again for a while, not that I need to with all my leftovers.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Favorite Activity

I've taught mostly Oral English in my time in China and over all the semesters teaching it I've done a lot of different activities. Some have gone over well with the students and some flopped pretty much immediately, but one stands out as my favorite by far. The idea wasn't mine originally, I got it from Dave's ESL Cafe, which has some great suggestions for TEFL class activities, even ideas I don't like from there I often adapt into something that would work with my class. I start out with having them sit next to another person in the class, usually in columns, if I have a classroom where I can move the desks I might but them in a two concentric circles. Then I have them come up with imaginary people. I tell them to come up with a name, an age, a job, a hobby, a goal, and some story about their imaginary person. I used to have them just do this in their heads but some students won't really do it so now I have them write it down. Half the class is assigned to make men and half the class women. Once they have finished I try and explain the idea of speed dating to them. I tell them that they are going to pretend to be the people they just created and go on a short "date" with the person next to them. I use my cell phone as a stopwatch and tell them to go on this "date" for four or five minutes. I'm not sure exactly why but even in class where people tend to speak too much Chinese they keep almost entirely to English for this activity. I think it might have something to do with the embarrassment factor of being on a "date" with their classmate so they feel more comfortable pretending to be there people they created and keeping that illusion up by talking in English. I usually walk around and listen to make sure that everyone is talking in English but I rarely have to correct anyone during this activity.

After the allotted time is up I make some sort of buzzer noise and tell them to switch partners, I usually tell them to move in a circle so that each "man" will eventually talk to each "woman." For the next round I slightly decrease the amount of time they have to talk to their next "date." I found that decreasing the time is really important since it keeps the game from getting dull or losing its energy. By the end they have so little time they are basically shouting at each other. I've boys run to their next partner and yell something like, "Hello, my name is Jane! Who are you?" With bigger classes, I did this yesterday with a class of 38 it take pretty much the whole 90 minutes to do all of this. Smaller classes are faster but it still takes a while. In the end the students end up talking basically nonstop for the entire class period. They also find the whole thing pretty funny and I see a lot of people laughing every time I do it. It's also is one of the easier activities for me since all I have to do is tell them to switch every few minutes. I like this activity so much I find myself saving it for later in the semester since once I've done it I don't have anything quite as good.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Buying anything in China is always an adventure especially when it comes to food. One of the most common things I buy is eggs. They're easy to cook in a bunch of different ways and stay good for a long time. But deciding what eggs to buy in the supermarket is still a challenge. They packages don't seem to have a sell by date like they would in the US. Instead there is a date on them but I assume it's when they were packaged, since the date is always a few days before when I'm actually buying them. What's really weird is that the eggs in the store are never, ever, refrigerated. They just sit there. Also they sit there for a really long time sometimes. I've gone in to buy eggs and looked at the dates, then come in a week later and eggs with the same dates were still for sale. That being said I've never gotten sick from eating them, I think it can be hard to tell in China. I usually hard boil them, though that actually reduces the shelf life of eggs. What's a more interesting question is that the little supermarkets near me only sell unmarked eggs in plastic bags. They just stack them in open containers and you take as many as you want. I don't overly trust Chinese food safety standards but it's harder when you have no idea if any standards are being followed at all. Well I guess that's China.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Your Papers Please

I don't know how to write that title in a German accent, so if you would be kind enough to just go back and read it in your best black and white Nazi movie accent I would appreciate it. I'll wait. Done? Good. This morning I heard a really soft knocking on my door. The way the apartments are positioned around here I almost always here some sort of knocking or hammering or something. I wasn't sure it was anything but I decided to go check. Just as I got to the door I looked out and saw two people in uniform heading back toward the elevator. I opened my door and they came over and started talking to me in rapid Chinese. The people were two police officers, I can't tell exactly what type, there are a lot of different uniforms around China. They kept trying to explain to me what they wanted, but I had no idea what was going on. Finally they flipped through big book with lots of sheets of paper coming to one in English and thrust it into my hands. It was pretty confusing. It seemed like some sort of survey about who lived there but included weird lines which went something like, "this is to make sure you received all the correct propaganda." I was starting to wonder if they were about to give me a big picture of Mao to hang up. They saw that I still didn't really understand what was going on and one of them called David, so they clearly were either with the school or knew a lot about the school since they knew who to call. David said they wanted a copy of my visa and passport, which I didn't have, but when they took the phone back they didn't ask about that anymore so I guess David said he'd give them one on Monday. Finally they flipped to another piece of paper and had me put down my country, but looked disappointed when I wrote it in English, and had me put down my phone number, which I "accidentally" got wrong. Finally they basically shrugged an left. I didn't see if they had been to the other two apartments on my floor before but they got into the elevator after talking to me. It might sound sort of disturbing to be visited by the police and it would have been if they weren't such a comical looking pair. It was one man and a woman. The man was half a foot shorter than me and had the bad teeth and leathery skin of a long time chain smoker. The woman was at least a foot shorter than me and he uniform was at least two sizes to small. They looked more like police from a Monty Python skit than the Gestapo. Still a very strange way to start my day.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Baby it's Cold Outside

Not really though. Today is the first day of December and also the first time I felt it was cold enough in Guangzhou to wear jeans. That's right up to this point I've been wearing shorts so far. While I hear about cold and snow in other places here it's been sunny and warm. It's still pretty warm, I was only wearing a t-shirt today, but it's a lot colder at night, I may actually have to wear a sweatshirt at some point. My students have a far different view of the weather and have been wearing pants and jackets for the better part of the last month. I guess when you live in such a perpetually hot place even a slight downturn in the temperature sends you running for warm cloths. That and a lot of Chinese people believe the old myth that being cold, at all, leads to a cold. I don't think my attempts to persuade them that it's a virus have been very successful. The only downside to all this is that there are still some mosquitoes around, though not as many as when I first got here. It's still better than Alaer where I was wearing long underwear by this time of the year.