Thursday, March 29, 2012

Woken Up

It's pretty unusual that the students around here do anything that is too annoying, but on Sunday night at about 11:30, when I was actually in bed (I know it's a shock but with all the 8am classes I've been going to bed at around 10:30), I got a phone call from a student. Now every once in a while I'll get a phone call that only lasts one second, so little time that it's impossible to pick it up. What I've learned is that these phone calls are actually a scam where they want me to call them back and then I will be charged money for the call, like dialing a 900 number in the US. So at first I assumed that the call on Sunday night was just one of these, but when my phone kept ringing I had to answer it. On the other end was one of my students trying to explain about not coming to class during the week. I was so sleepy that it took me a while to figure out what was going on. When I finally understood I was really angry to be woken up on a Sunday night just so some student could try to explain an absence. What was even more annoying was that I don't give me number to the whole class, only to the class monitors in case there is some problem. So this student had to get my number and then still decide that 11:30 pm on a Sunday was an appropriate time to call me. I can't really imagine this. First, I never had a teachers number as a student. Second, even if I did I wouldn't call late on a weekend. Finally, I wouldn't call anyone at 11:30pm unless I knew for a fact that they were awake. I'm not sure if this is Chinese rudeness or particular to one student. As Ma Ming used to remind me you can't assume that just because one Chinese person does something rude, that all Chinese people will act like this, maybe that one person is just rude.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


One big part of wanting to go to grad school is taking the GRE. For those who don't know the GRE is like the SAT, a college entrance exam, for grad school. It's structure is pretty similar to the SAT also. There are three parts. A verbal part with sentence completion and critical reading questions, a math part, and a written part, which didn't exist when I took the SAT but is part of that now as well. I've got a while before I'll probably take it, the consensus seems to be that late summer is the most common time, but I've started studying quite a bit already. I bought a couple of GRE books and have been doing some vocab flash cards as well. I've also been working a little on my spelling, since that's my greatest concern with the essay part. Practicing the verbal questions has been useful but some of the advice they give is pretty questionable. It seems either to be incredibly obvious or exceedingly dangerous, like telling you to skim a lot. Some of the advice from the reading section seems to have been written for someone whose never read anything before. I haven't really started on the math yet, I'm going to do some more of the verbal first, but I looked through it a lot and while there is a bunch I need to practice I hadn't forgotten as much as I was worried I had. It seems like I can take the test either in Guangzhou or Hong Kong, it's all done by computers these days, but it's actually to early to register for the summer tests. It's interesting studying for something again since it has been a couple of years since I graduated, but I'm getting back into the hang of it. I definitely need a good score on the GRE since my GPA wasn't very good but I think I can do well if I study enough.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Grad School

I've mentioned this to a number of people who regularly read my blog, though I've never really posted about it here, but I've been thinking for a while about going to grad school. When I graduated from Wisconsin I didn't have any real idea what I wanted to do besides traveling, but I think that living in China has changed that. I really do enjoy teaching, not every aspect of it, but the overall experience, especially at the college level. But I don't want to do what I'm doing now forever. For one thing with making no money is OK for now, at some point I'd like to make at least a little money. Another thing is that while I like teaching, teaching English specifically isn't that interesting to me. I actually got the idea for what to do from Ken who mentioned years ago, this might have been during my first year in China actually, that he was thinking about applying to graduate school for international relations. It had never occurred to me that was something people went to graduate school for, but over time the idea has stuck with me. International relations combines my love of traveling and seeing new things with my interest in politics. Living in China for these years would definitely help me with grad school in this field, or any possible job afterwords. If I went all the way through to a PhD it would also be something I'm much more interested in both researching and teaching. So I've started looking into programs and studying for the GRE, which I would take in the late summer. That means that I'll probably spend the next year in Guangzhou, which I'm liking a lot, and then be back in the US for a few years. I'd like to even be back in DC, since there are a ton of really good program there, but who knows. I just wanted to share with you some of my plans for the future.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Sun is Gone

Well I feel like an idiot now for telling everyone how nice the weather is in Guangzhou. "It doesn't rain very much," I said. "It's been really warm recently," I said. But no, it has been cold and overcast, sometimes rainy, for about three straight weeks. I haven't seen the sun in about two weeks. This is actually worse than the 95 degree and humid days during the summer. It's weird how weather can affect your mood. I've found myself in a bad mood for no real reason for the last couple of days. When I was thinking about it I finally realized that it was the weather. It just saps the life out of you when you don't see the sun for two weeks. I was especially surprised because generally the most rain around here comes in June and July. I think the difference is that during the summer the rain comes in bigger chunks, while during the winter it is just cloudy a lot. Many of the recent days I don't think it rained at all, or if it did it was so little it barley wet the ground, but it has been one unbroken gray sky forever. Maybe I'll regret saying this in the summer, but bring on the sun.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chinese Trains

The Chinese haven't always loved trains. When they were first introduced during the last dynasty they caused a popular insurrection for fears that the trains would harm the surrounding community's feng shui. These days though, China has what is probably one of the worlds better passenger train systems: It goes basically everywhere. It's usually on time, or close enough. It's clean, by Chinese standards. And it's really really cheap. The biggest problem is that you can only get tickets a few days ahead of time, and with a few exceptions, only from the city you are currently in. But I've written about that before. When I was in Taiwan, though, I found that they also had an amazing train system. The best part was their fairly new, my guidebook was missing some of it, High Speed Rail system. There's only one line for it going from Taipei in the North to Kaohsiung, the second biggest city, in the South. I was also going to Kaohsiung so I got to ride it twice. One time I got the "local" which makes all eight or so stops between those cities, which means the ride takes about and hour and a half. But when I went back I got the "direct" train which only makes one stop. As a result, the train covers the 350km between Taipei and Kaohsiung in almost exactly an hour. To put that in perspective that would be Beijing to Shanghai in three hours. It takes more than three hours to go from DC to New York which is also only about 350km. There's a faster Maglev train in Shanghai but the track only goes about 10km and it's more of a toy than anything. That's sort of Taiwan in a nutshell, like China but better.

Monday, March 12, 2012

No DVD Shop? No Problem

I never really found a good DVD shop in Guangzhou. I'm sure there is one, or many, in a city this size, but damned if I know where it is. On the other hand this hasn't really become much of a problem. My internet connection is pretty good here, no great but better than a lot of places in China, and I can just download pretty much anything I want from the internet. I just leave my computer running most nights and watch the stuff later. I know the fact that you can download movies from the internet isn't much of a revelation, unless I mail this blog back to 1990, but what amazes me is that it still can win out over buying cheap knockoff movies. Even if I found a DVD store tomorrow I don't think I'd go there. I remember my students making fun of me back in Changzhou for spending $1 on a DVD instead of downloading it, and I've come to the conclusion that they were right. DVDs in China may only be a dollar but the price on the internet is holding firm at free.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

So That's What the Kids are Watching?

In my first class when the students are asking me questions, I always get a number of questions about various American pop stars and TV shows. While I was never that familiar with many of the people they like here, I've noticed that more and more I have no idea who or what they are talking about. Living outside the US for nearly four years now has left me sort of disconnected from pop culture. I still watch a number of American shows, mostly HBO stuff and a few comedies, but I don't watch the network shows that they like here. I only new the "Vampire Diaries" was a thing because I saw an add for it somewhere on the internet. I actually try to keep up a little with US pop culture, I read Gawker which talks a lot about that sort of nonsense. It's just weird to have someone ask me what's popular in America and I have to answer that I don't really know since its been so long since I lived there. For music it's worse, but than again I probably wouldn't know any of the popular musicians if I did live in the US so I guess that's a wash. The other thing I've learned is that if someone could find a way to sell these shows in China, instead of everyone just downloading them from the internet, they'd make a ton of money since it seems like every student wants to ask me for my opinion on some US sitcom I've never heard of.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Again and Again

I finally started my new classes. They're all freshmen English majors, despite the fact that this school is 70%+ guys my classes usually only have three or four guys in them. Even in this heavily male school English is a women's major. I like my classes, and having only one type of class, oral English, taught at only one level, freshmen, certainly makes planning easier, but it does get boring. I gave the same class eight times this week. By the last one I was forcing a chuckle or smile in all the places I had smiled the first six or so times. It doesn't help that the first class is always a little slow since they're fairly nervous around me, and I have a lot of bookkeeping things to take care of, the school never gives me a class list so I have to create one. Doing the same class a lot also makes it harder to get my energy up in the morning when I'm feeling tired. Beyond that though the classes were pretty normal. I spend some time in the beginning answering their questions about me, so I don't have to answer the same question with each student later, and I always get a bunch of uncomfortable ones like, "What do you think of Chinese girls," or "Do you want a Chinese wife." One girl was so excited to talk to a foreigner I thought she was going to hyperventilate, it took her about a minute to composer herself before she could actually get any words out. I have a hard time imagining living in society where just meeting someone from another country was considered so rare and exciting. I imagine this is how I act if I met an alien. I wonder if that's how I seem to them, like a man from Mars.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

New Classes

Well it's almost time for me to go back to work. As per usual in China it has been so long since I last taught a class I barely remember how anymore. The best thing about my classes this semester is that I don't have to commute to get to them. All my classes, every single one, is at the campus where I live. I've never been happier not to go somewhere. Even though I have more classes than I had last semester, I'll probably end up working fewer hours. I'm also teaching English majors, who are the easiest type of students, since their English is usually very good to begin with and they really want to learn more. My schedule is also very even, with four hours of classes four days a week. The only downside is that all my classes are in the morning, and I've never been much of a morning person, but at least it leaves a lot of free time in the afternoon. I had a schedule very similar to this in my third semester in Changzhou and I remember how easy it was to get stuff done since by noon everyday I was up and had already had two classes. The only downside is I remember being constantly tired for almost the whole semester as I could never quite get the hang of getting up early.