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Archive for February, 2011

Another long weekend is done. I just got back home from the Monday teachers’ meeting and have one class tonight before my first two days off in a row since coming to Wuxi. Tomorrow I’ll be going to Suzhou to visit Maria and hopefully take a lot of pictures. My only hope is that the weather warms up a bit by then. That and I hope that I can successfully get to the correct place by train.

It has now been a month since my arrival in Wuxi. So far my time in China has been a mix of good, bad and other. Most of the experiences have been good. I’m enjoying teaching for the most part. Most of my classes are full of good students. I particularly enjoy my Sunday classes. On Sundays I start with a low level class of 8-10 year olds that are both well behaved and eager to learn. Following that, I have group of 10-11 year olds that are at a slightly higher level. There are only 7 of them in that class and they are completely adorable. The boys, like all boys that age have a lot of energy, but for the most part they restrain themselves. The girls are a bit quieter. One in particular is a bit smaller than the others and quite a little cutie. She looks like the type of little girl that would be chosen to look cute in commercials for kids toys or McDonalds. Yesterday we studied activities in class and I had them each draw their favorite activity. After class they each decided to give me their picture. Some of them are quite talented. I also found out that in addition to my adult class on Mondays, I’ll be teaching a business English class at the new center on Thursdays.

Also on the good side are some of the places I’ve gone and people I’ve met so far. Jonny another teacher who started about the same time I did and I have taken the opportunity to explore some of the city together. We checked out Lake Taihu, a couple malls and markets, as well as a few local ex-pat bars. One in particular, called Envy has become a regular spot on evenings that are not followed by an early morning. As a result of their one pool table a few pretty good players, my pool game has improved quite a bit. I am still quite a ways away from the best pool of my life, but I’m good enough to split most best of three games 2-1. The drinks aren’t exactly cheap. A Heineken costs about 25 RMB or $4, but a shot of tequila is only 15RMB. More importantly the owner and staff are good people.

Like everything in life, there are downsides to my situation here. Working for a foreign language school can be hard work. I teach many different ages and levels and just last week started teaching off site at grade school and middle school twice a week. The classes do require quite a bit of prep time as well. But working a long week is nothing new to me. One downside though is that because the school is a business, we have little or no recourse against disruptive students. In one class in particular on Saturdays I have two boys who are quite disruptive. Unfortunately the nature of Chinese society, the one Child policy and preferential treatment of boys does produce some quite spoiled children.

Friday was also my first payday. The paycheck was a bit smaller than I’d hoped because it was prorated for the first month, included the 1000RMB loan the school gave me when I first arrived and an incredible high electric bill. I believe I have mentioned before the insufficient ability of the wall-mounted heating unit. As a result I often run it when I get home from work at night until the morning, in the vain hope that my apartment will get warm. Unfortunately the desire to be warm cost me. My bill was nearly 500 RMB or about $80, which is two or three times what most of my colleagues think it should have been. So I’ve decided to use it more sparingly this month in an attempt to evaluate whether or not the bill changes. If there is little or no change next month I’ll be requesting an actual copy of the statement. You see, the way the school pays is quite different here. First they put your entire salary in front of you and have you count it. Then they give you a list of all the charges they pay for you, including rent, electricity water etc. You then have to pay them back that money and you can keep the rest. I assume it is an attempt to seem more transparent, but in actuality you never see the actual bills or rental contract to know the exact amount that they paid.

My paycheck was however, enough to cover a 6 month membership to a local gym. The membership cost me 800 RMB, which isn’t a bad price especially considering that I hope it will mean that I spend less time at the bar, so I won’t be spending my money there. I was also able to buy a few cooking supplies and some groceries, so that should help cut down on expenses too. I hope starting next month to be able to put away some money every payday. I’m still looking into buying a new bed set and a thicker pillow for my bed, but that can wait for the time being.

This week should be a good one. Tomorrow I’ll be heading to Suzhou and back. On Wednesday I plan to check out a museum with my coworker Jonny who also has the day off and I’ve been dinner with two other coworkers who are dating. Anelie, who is a native of the Philippines, will be cooking Filipino food. Thursday I start me new business class and then the weekend starts all over again. That is it for me. Below I’ve included a picture of my apartment from my bed, for those who were wondering. I just got back from shopping so I didn’t tidy up before snapping the picture, so yes that is my coat on the sofa and some snacks on the table! Next to the water cooler, not shown in the picture is a desk and a closet.

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If you are white, you are paying too much for everything…

If you don’t speak Chinese, you are paying too much.

If work rents your apartment for you, you are paying too much!

If you are white, or a foot taller than everyone else, you will be stared at. Deal with it!

If a girl walks by and says “Hello” or looks back after she passes, she isn’t interested. You are just white and that’s interesting.

Finding a quality burger in China, outside of Hong Kong is nearly impossible. McDonalds? Bleh!

The main streets are completely safe at all times of the night, much safer than home. You won’t run into nearly as many shady people.

Back alleys are not always quite as safe at night, but what are you doing walking down a back alley at 2AM anyways? I mean come on.

The streets are going to be dirty. Get used to it!
People spit all the time. Get used to that too.

If you are in a touristy area after dark, people will try to sell you everything. Learn to say “Bu yao!” and walk on past.

If you go to a bar, there are approximately a million games using dice or cards, designed specifically to get you drunk!

Female taxi drivers are much more patient with broken Chinese, especially if you have had one or two too many to drink…

When crossing the road, a walk sign does not guarantee your safety. Sometimes you just have to look both ways a couple times and go for it! Also, beware of scooters!

When calling a waitress, don’t point and curl your index finger upward, like you are calling a dog. Wave your hand instead.

Many Chinese girls can probably play pool better than you, but give it a try anyways. Don’t be a sore loser.

Smog is a given, everyday. Blue skies are rare and to be treasured. If you can’t take handle it, then go home.

If none of those things bother you. If you love Chinese food and a mix of modern and ancient, then China is the perfect place to call home!

More to come….

I love it here!

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Another week gone by… This week has been eventful and interesting. Two of my classes this week were held at Papa John’s, making pizzas with kids from the school and teaching them about the various ingredients and steps. As a bonus I got to make my own pizza twice and eat it. It is probably the only time I’ll be able to eat pizza with enough tomato sauce while I live in China, at least until I get a place with a proper oven! Once I get pictures from the event, I’ll do a blog post full of pictures.

Wednesday was my one day off this last week. My friend Liang, from Seattle, has been in Shanghai visiting his family for Spring Festival. On Wednesday, he took a train over to Wuxi to visit for the day. It was certainly nice to see a familiar face and the irony of him coming to China to visit me was not lost on us. Despite the rainy weather, we took the opportunity to tour Xihui Park here in Wuxi. The park is known for having one of the few 9 Dragon Walls outside of Beijing, and The Second Spring Under Heaven.

Entrance

As usual my weekend was full and extremely tiring. Generally speaking I am at the school teaching from 8am to 6pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Today is a much lighter day for me, with a teacher’s meeting this morning and an adult class tonight. Tomorrow is my one day off and I can’t say how much I am looking forward to it.

Lakeside

Anyone interested in seeing more pictures can check out My Flick Page. I’ll be adding more soon.

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For many people in China, spring festival consists of 3 things each beginning with the letter F: Food, Family and Fireworks! This year however, for me Spring Festival brought only 1 of the three. The first day of Spring Festival it became obvious that I was coming down with a cold. The occurrence was not unexpected, as I’ve gotten a head cold 2 of the last 3 times I’ve flown to China, within the first week. Unfortunately, being sick put a major crimp in my plans to visit Shanghai or Suzhou, as well as my appetite. Obviously being on the other side of the world precluded the possibility of my having family around, so both food and family were out of the picture for me this year. Fireworks, however did not abandon me. In fact, 8 straight nights of near constant fireworks were going off outside my apartment and around the city.

The view of fireworks from my apartment window.

Fortunately, by the end of Spring Festival I was feeling well enough to venture out from my house for a day or two before I had to get back to work. I took advantage of the slightly warmer weather that we were having, to explore a little of the city including a trip to Lake Taihu. The lake was beautiful despite it being winter, but the constant smog does detract from its beauty to an extent. I am told that they do occasionally get blue skies here after a hard rain, but I am yet to see it.

A view of part of Lake Taihu

After the holiday, I started working in earnest, instead of just observing classes. During the week I generally have 1 or 2 classes a day, while weekends are extremely long days of 8-10 hours with approximately 6 hours teaching time. For now I am teaching 1 class of 5-6 year olds, a couple classes of 8-10, two teenage classes and one advance adult class which meets twice a week. The lesson planning is quite time consuming, but for the most part my classes are pretty good. The younger ages take a little more effort to control however.

Saturday and Sunday are quite tiring. As exhausted as I was after Saturday’s full day of teaching, I was given a slight energy boost when I woke up to snow on Sunday morning. Overnight the temperature dropped below freezing and my 15 minute walk to work Sunday morning was covered in snow. Unfortunately the snow only lasted a few hours, unlike the freezing temperatures which have continued through today. I am certainly looking forward to a gradual warming over the next few months. My wall mounted heater is woefully underequipped to handle the cold. This week should be a fun week. Two of my working days will be spent at the local Papa John’s teaching kids how to make pizza and the various English vocabulary associated with the process. Perhaps I’ll be able to teach a new generation of Chinese that pizza needs more than just a drop or two of tomato sauce.

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And so it Begins…

It has now been one week since my triumphant return to China. I say triumphant, only because I have spent the better part of the last year preparing myself for this one goal. In truth there was a decided lack of fanfare upon my arrival. I arrived at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport after a spending 15+ hours airborne and made my way through customs to the Arrivals gate. As two tons of luggage and I wound my way through the throngs of waiting friends and family, my eyes darted side to side scanning the massive crowd for a welcome board with my name on it. Finally I saw it, Matthew Farguson! Farguson, that had to be me. Who else would be flying in to Shanghai with a similar name to mine at 5pm? I made eye contact with the driver and an approached. “Qu Wuxi ma?” (Go to Wuxi?) I asked him in my limited Mandarin. He smiled in response and asked “Mattew Ferguson?”, failing in his attempt to pronounce “th” sound of my name. “Dui!” I said. The driver smiled again, grabbed my luggage and we were off.

Once we got to the car, I decided to ask in Chinese if the driver spoke English. “Bu hui”, meaning I can’t, was his only reply. Having not slept in over 24 hours, I decided that my brain was not working well enough to attempt to carryon a conversation any further in Mandarin and I settled in for another two hours of silence. We arrived at my apartment around 8pm, where I was met by the recruiter, Jackie, a DOS David and another woman from the school Yao. After giving the signed contract to Jackie, they handed me my keys, asked if I needed anything else and took their leave. The apartment was nothing like I had expected. From my conversations earlier I had thought that a single accommodation was just a two-bedroom shared teacher’s apartment that was paid for and occupied by a single teacher. What I got instead was studio. Fortunately the apartment is livable, and I have stayed in worse (Piggy’s basement), but it is certainly nothing to write home about.

The next morning at 9AM David came to escort me to the school for my first day of work, observing classes. The first day went well. Both Jonny, another new teacher from England, and myself spent 6 hours getting to know the school and observing classes. For lunch we accompanied Melissa, a teacher from a nearby EF (English First) school, to a small restaurant serving la mien. La mien is a hand stretched beef noodle served as a soup which common to western China, when the population is largely Muslim and therefore does not serve pork. La mien has three main benefits. 1.) It is warm. 2.) It is filling. 3.) It is cheap. A large bowl costs about 5 RMB or 80 cents. After classes were done, Jonny and I went with his roommate Stephen, who is also English, to a local expat Bar called Havana. The bar is owned by a gentleman from Portland and all of the bartenders/cocktail waitresses speak some amount of English. I’ll save everyone’s names and descriptions for another post, as there were quite a few people coming and going. After a couple drinks at Havana, we went to a tea house/restaurant for nourishment, before heading home for the night.

The weather in Wuxi has been cold, ranging from about 30-55 degrees f, so warm food, warm water, tea and alcohol have been necessary to keep warm. Given the lack of central heating in China, and the location of my wall heater above and behind a large cabinet, the girly sheet and blanket I was given have been barely enough to keep me warm at night. When I say the blanket and sheets are girly, I mean it quite literally. They are a matching set of pink, purple and white striped sheets with a flower motif. The second day of school I was suffering from bit jetlag and dehydration from the night before, but I made it through the day. I decided to take a night to just relax at home after work, since I only had one very short day of work left before Spring Festival.

I will continue with the story in my next post, but for now lunch is calling my name! Here is a shot from my apartment window at night time. The window is a bit dirty on the outside and Wuxi has a constant layer of smog, but the view is still quite nice.

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Welcome

Due to the GFW (Great Firewall) of China, I’ve been forced to move my blog to this location until I get a solid VPN up and running. I will have much more to add later today, but for now I’d just like to say welcome!

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