Monday, September 24, 2007

CD30: Has It Really Been A Month Already?

A Collection of Mini Stories:

When we went to KTV with Ester, she got back past her curfew. Long story short, she got beat up by the acting "gate keepers" and when I tried to figure out what could be done to right this wrong, I was told that this type of thing was "normal" and Ester was told to not tell the foreigners things that would give them a bad impression of the school.

While running around the track, I was hit in the face with a soccer ball. I got a bloody nose, a bruised face, and a scab on my nose. Clyde laughed and no one else came to my rescue. Heaven forbid I be seriously injured here!

A drunken Grandfather kicked in my door then proceeded to hand me my "lost" keys that had been given to him about an hour before. He then returns to repair my lock and door frame which he broke. Yes, he ran and kicked my door ninja style. No, I don't think he had anything else to do either.

My refrigerator has been returned to me, but my computer is still not working. I am contemplating throwing it out the window.

Speaking of the window, a small-cat-sized rodent came in through my window by pushing the screen open and shoving its body through. It then proceeded to wake me up, scare the crap out of me, make me chase it around my apartment, make me scare it out from under my bed, climb up the window screen, sit on the top of the window frame, then exit just as swiftly as I am guessing it entered.

Our first rehearsal was Sunday. Good times. Everything else is staying under wraps until it actually happens. We did get tickets for the other foreign teachers so pictures of this event will be available. I also have to learn an song in Chinese by then. Wish me luck.

I have not been in possession of my passport for almost 2 weeks. When I asked Bob about this, he did not give me a clear answer as to when it would be returned. My Visa expired on the 22nd and I do not know if I have a new one yet. I do not know if I have a resident's permit that will allow me to stay here. I do not know when I will be getting my medical clearance forms either.

Next week there is no school. Bob told someone, who passed it down the grapevine, that we would have to make up the classes we miss that week on the Saturday before and the Saturday after the vacation. After much stress, confusion, and conflicting stories, I contacted the dean. She informed me that this was not the case, a holiday is a holiday. Thank goodness! We are hoping to travel but have not decided where we are going yet.

The dean has asked me to help her find a school in the US to attend this next fall as she plans on leaving Pingxiang College to get an advanced degree. I am not sure who else knows about this endeavor, but I was just happy I wasn't in trouble when she pulled me into her office.

Along with the BBC website, we do not have access to Wikipedia. This makes me incredibly sad, especially as a majority of my job is explaining things that happen in America to my students. I just want to know, "What did Wikipedia ever do to you China?!"

Tomorrow is Mid-Autumn Harvest Day and the celebrations seem endless. I have already been given 1 moon cake and I was told to expect many more. Moon cakes are a traditional treat for holidays and celebrations. We have also been invited to numerous parties, dinners, and events with no clear details for any of them other than they all start around 7pm.

I have booked my tickets to Egypt for Novemeber and will be having a short stay in Hong Kong before having another, even shorter, stay in Quatar. I have no idea where or what that is. It isn't Paris, but it was much cheaper, so I will make the most of it!

Today I talked about holidays with my students. They had no idea what St. Patrick's Day is. I plan to make this my singular mission while I am here.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

CD27:If Teaching Doesn't Work Out, My Future Is Still Secure

A lot can happen in a week. After the disaster that was last Friday, life looked bleak. That all changed on Saturday when we went to not one, but two karaoke bars. The most popular place here to go for karaoke is called KTV. I cannot ascertain whether that is the name of the chain or if it is short for the Chinese name for "a place where you go to sing karaoke".

We went to the first place with a student from the college, Jimmy, and one of his friends. They hang out a lot with Tim so when they invited him to go, they invited the rest of us to go as well. Clyde was the only English speaker who ducked out, so Ben, Andreana, and I figured we would make the best of it. The KTV was a 5 minute cab ride from school. The building itself was HUGE, dirty, and smelled kind of funny. All of the rooms are private rooms that are rented by the hour. Us girls were feeling a bit outnumbered, so we called Ester and told her to come join us. Jimmy invited his sister and she brought some friends so we ended up rocking it about 10 deep.

They do have some English songs available here on karaoke, but it is a strange assortment. They had some artists we knew, but many songs by those artists weren't ones we had ever heard of. To our enjoyment, they love Backstreet Boys and Michael Jackson. Our Chinese friends kept choosing random titles that were in English and then were shocked when none of the Americans knew them (but they still made us sing). Karaoke here is a very serious affair. When it is your turn to sing, you stand up, you hold the microphone like a pop star, and you sing like your life depends on it.

After this first experience, Andreana and I had a brief shopping intermission with Ester. Ester then calls a friend of her's and arranges that we meet up with him and his friends at our 2nd karaoke place of the evening. This second place we have seen before. Or shall I say we have "noticed" it. It is hard to miss as it is Greek/Roman themed and they have a giant sign outside that has all Chinese save for the word "SEX". Fate has a funny way of sending things your way sometimes.

The inside of this place is immaculate. All of the staff is dressed up in incredible "uniforms". The women at the main door are in ballgowns! The inside is a Greek/Roman theme as well. Where at the first place, the wait staff was sleeping at the front counter and couldn't be bothered to do much of anything, at this place the waitstaff waited inside our personal room to wait on us hand and foot. There was no funny smell, marble floors, and the look of opulence everywhere. The crowd at this establishment was also older...at least our group was. Ester's "friend" is a teacher at one of the English language schools in the city and his guests included the principal of his school, other school officials, some government officials, and their wives.

If we thought the first people were serious, we didn't know what was coming. All of the songs chosen were sad love songs. Many of these songs had parts for both a man and a woman. Not only did the singers sing like their life depended on it, they sounded like professionals. I wonder what they thought of Andreana and I busting out with "Get the Party Started" by Pink. It went over well at the first place...

Of course the only way to accompany this caliber of musical greatness is by formal dancing, so formal dancing there was. Thank goodness I took those ballroom classes back in high school! We also tried our hand at such classics as "Achy, Breaky Heart", some Avril Lavigne, Backstreet Boys (when in Rome...), and goodness only knows what else. Ester, sweet thing that she is, agreed to sing on one condition: Andreana and I had to dance. So, we did. I am sure these people thought we were insane, and we are most likely giving America a bad name too, but oh well.

You are probably getting a good laugh at my expense now, but just wait! It gets better! On Monday, after class, Clyde informs Andreana and I that he got some strange call from Bob asking him if he would sing an English song with some girl. At the time, we thought nothing of it other than it was strange and went about our days. Then, on Tuesday...apparently Andreana and I got calls one right after the other from Bob about singing an English song. He, as usual, was hard to understand, but we got that some girl won an English speaking contest and would be singing a song in English and wanted us to join her. We both agreed, not having any idea what we were getting ourselves into.

Yesterday, we meet a nice girl, Lily, who won an oral English competition and has "moved on to the next round". Apparently the next round happens next Saturday, the 29th. As National Day is around that time, it is a National Day festival of sorts. The event is only for city officials and invited guests...namely us. IT GETS BETTER! Andreana and I are going to be singing Madonna's La Isla Bonita with the girl - on a stage, as a performance, for a competition. What have we gotten ourselves into? We are going to have our first practice on Sunday when Andreana gets back from Hong Kong. On Wednesday we are going to have a dress rehearsal of sorts where we do a mock run through of the entire performance with the other performers and then the gig is on Saturday. Ha! I have a gig... what is happening with the world? I think that karaoke bit really lit a fire somewhere. On Sunday we are going to work out our outfits. Since it is an invitation only event, I have no idea how we will get photo documentation of this event, but it will happen. I will not let you down!  Wish me luck!

Pictures from karaoke night have been added to the "September" photo album on Picasa so check though out for a good laugh as well.

CD21: We Liked It So Much, We Went Back For Seconds

Last Thursday afternoon, around 2pm, we were notified, through the infamous "Chinese Grapevine" that we would be going back to Nanchang the following day. This came as a surprise as most of us had seen Bob on separate occasions that morning and nothing had been said to any of us. Then, someone's co-teacher told them and it worked its way down the line. We were not happy about being kept in the dark or for the short noticed, so we attempted to contact Bob directly. This did not work. I was then contacted by my co-teacher, who said she was told to get my passport from me. Should got really explain why and just said that Bob wanted it, so I said no. We told her, Olina, that we wanted to talk to Bob. She told us that he would be unavailable as he was taking a "rest". We then told her that we would not be handing over our passports to her and wanted to speak to Bob about it directly.

Some hours later, Bob arrived at my apartment and we had a small powwow. He told us that he had put in for us to get a van to go to Nanchang and he had only found out that morning that a van would be available so we would be leaving at 6am the next day. He seemed confused as to our questions as to why we were going – apparently we weren't supposed to be asking questions. Either that, or he didn't want to tell us the reason as he knew it would piss us all of. All 6 of us had to go to Nanchang to get our medical testing done so that we could get some little health clearance book that we have to carry with us when we travel.

This might not seem like a big deal to you, but considering the fact that most of us spent close to 300 USD getting all of our medical testing done in our home countries, per their requirement BEFORE we came, we were not pleased at having to repeat the process. Bob tried to console us with, "You will not have to pay". Super. The classes that we were supposed to teach on Friday needed to be rescheduled, and we could not eat after dinner because of whatever testing they would be doing on us the next day.

Sidebar: Our first Chinese lesson was Thursday night. Unlike last year, this year we do not get our own books to use and instead have library books. We also have a teacher who told us immediately that her first choice was to work for CCTV (the major TV network here) but her language test was only a 92% so she was left being a teacher. I feel really bad for her. The class went okay. Chinese people are amazed at the fact that Americans do not know the phonetic alphabet.  That is how they teach English here so everyone knows all 52 sounds. She was trying to teaching us Chinese phonetically which was slightly difficult as it felt like learning two things at one time. She briefly covered the 4 tonal sounds in the Chinese language, and something called finals (without really explaining what they were), then would say a sentence with some 2 letter word and ask us to figure out what she meant. It was pretty frustrating. As for the take away message, I am not sure how much being able to say "I love lotus root" is going to help me in my day to day needs while in China.

Back to my main story: the day from hell. Andreana and I ended up staying up way too late Thursday night drinking wine and doing voice overs for Chinese movies on TV. 6am came too soon, but we were all outside and ready when we needed to be. I called Bob at 6:15 and asked him where he was – he said he would be another 30 minutes. Note: it is totally typical here for time to pass differently than it does in other countries and if you are going to be late, it is not customary to tell anyone who might be waiting for you. Andreana and I went back to bed. We were on the road by 7am – all hungry, tried, and disgruntled in general at the whole situation.

Nanchang is approximately 3.5 hours away from Pingxiang and we were about 2 hours from Pingxiang when the van broke down. As per usual for me, I was totally passed out and woke up in a repair shop with men hammering away underneath the driver's seat to identify the problem. They told us they would not be able to fix the van quickly for some reason or another and we ended up waiting there for 2 hours for 2 cars from the college to drive out to meet us. (Please keep in mind, it is now about 11am and none of us have eaten for about 15 hours.) We take the cars into Nanchang and arrive at the medical place around 12:30.

I think the people at the medical place were waiting for us to get there. They rushed us through the whole thing, yelling instructions at us in Chinese, slapping devices onto us, yanking up our clothes, and shoving us about in general. The filled out the EXACT SAME forms we had all had our own doctors' fill out and did EVERY single test over. I did have the joy of the added internal organ sonogram…or at least I think that is what it was… Hopefully I have not contract syphilis or polio in the last month.

There was no question that we were going to Pizza Hut for lunch, and that is exactly what we did. By the time we got to the restaurant we were feeling sick, angry, and beyond hungry. We hadn't eaten for 18 hours and most of us had not slept much either. Bob tried his first piece of American pizza and hated it. Sadly, the Pizza Hut at 2pm was the highlight of the day and doesn't make up for what happens next.

Bob tells us that we have less than an hour to wait before the van is ready (they had gotten it to Nanchang) and then we would be headed back home. "Less than an hour" turned into 3 hours and it was 5:30 before we left the city. This time, we made it maybe an hour before the van broke down. Apparently the problem was overheating, and it had not been solved. Bob made us all pile out of the car and wait by the side of the road while it cooled down. The driver then poured some water into the radiator and we were good to go – for about another 30 minutes. We again had to get out of the van, the whole while it is making death throw noises, and walk along the dark highway about 10 minutes to a station area. There, Bob tries to make nice by saying we are stopping for dinner.

By that point, we don't really give a crap as we should have been home, not at some place 2 hours from home. We eat dinner and hear Bob say no one from the school can come to get us, that the van won't go and he isn't sure what to do. We hang out there for at least an hour and then the great decision is made to just go in the van and stop before it gets too hot and then let it cool down before going again. I think we made it 30 minutes before The Fates had a good joke with us and made the spare tire fall off the bottom of the van. Watching Bob and the driver run down the side of the highway in search for a tire and the metal bar that kept it on was worth it though.

After many stops, each requiring we get out of the van and wait by the side of the road to be "safe", we made it home at 1:30am – a mere 8 hours after we left Nanchang. I hope I never go back - at least not with Bob.

New pictures of this trip have been put up as well as more pictures added to the "September" album.

Sidebar #2: I got a computer! In typical local fashion, it has a Chinese operating system (no way to make the primary language English), no access to the Internet, and no cd drive! But it turns on, so that is an improvement. My refrigerator also stopped working (I lost a ton of food) and they took it in for repairs on Sunday. I have no idea when I will get it back.


Editorial comment: In my last blog, I said that my students had been studying English for 8 hours . What I meant to say what that they have been studying English for 8 years . Forgive this error! Probably made me seem like a real ass too! =)

China: Nanchang Round 2 Sept 07


CD21: We Liked It So Much, We Went Back For Seconds

Last Thursday afternoon, around 2pm, we were notified, through the infamous "Chinese Grapevine" that we would be going back to Nanchang the following day. This came as a surprise as most of us had seen Bob on separate occasions that morning and nothing had been said to any of us. Then, someone's co-teacher told them and it worked its way down the line. We were not happy about being kept in the dark or for the short noticed, so we attempted to contact Bob directly. This did not work. I was then contacted by my co-teacher, who said she was told to get my passport from me. Should got really explain why and just said that Bob wanted it, so I said no. We told her, Olina, that we wanted to talk to Bob. She told us that he would be unavailable as he was taking a "rest". We then told her that we would not be handing over our passports to her and wanted to speak to Bob about it directly.

Some hours later, Bob arrived at my apartment and we had a small powwow. He told us that he had put in for us to get a van to go to Nanchang and he had only found out that morning that a van would be available so we would be leaving at 6am the next day. He seemed confused as to our questions as to why we were going – apparently we weren't supposed to be asking questions. Either that, or he didn't want to tell us the reason as he knew it would piss us all of. All 6 of us had to go to Nanchang to get our medical testing done so that we could get some little health clearance book that we have to carry with us when we travel.

This might not seem like a big deal to you, but considering the fact that most of us spent close to 300 USD getting all of our medical testing done in our home countries, per their requirement BEFORE we came, we were not pleased at having to repeat the process. Bob tried to console us with, "You will not have to pay". Super. The classes that we were supposed to teach on Friday needed to be rescheduled, and we could not eat after dinner because of whatever testing they would be doing on us the next day.

Sidebar: Our first Chinese lesson was Thursday night. Unlike last year, this year we do not get our own books to use and instead have library books. We also have a teacher who told us immediately that her first choice was to work for CCTV (the major TV network here) but her language test was only a 92% so she was left being a teacher. I feel really bad for her. The class went okay. Chinese people are amazed at the fact that Americans do not know the phonetic alphabet. That is how they teach English here so everyone knows all 52 sounds. She was trying to teaching us Chinese phonetically which was slightly difficult as it felt like learning two things at one time. She briefly covered the 4 tonal sounds in the Chinese language, and something called finals (without really explaining what they were), then would say a sentence with some 2 letter word and ask us to figure out what she meant. It was pretty frustrating. As for the take away message, I am not sure how much being able to say "I love lotus root" is going to help me in my day to day needs while in China.

Back to my main story: the day from hell. Andreana and I ended up staying up way too late Thursday night drinking wine and doing voice overs for Chinese movies on TV. 6am came too soon, but we were all outside and ready when we needed to be. I called Bob at 6:15 and asked him where he was – he said he would be another 30 minutes. Note: it is totally typical here for time to pass differently than it does in other countries and if you are going to be late, it is not customary to tell anyone who might be waiting for you. Andreana and I went back to bed. We were on the road by 7am – all hungry, tried, and disgruntled in general at the whole situation.

Nanchang is approximately 3.5 hours away from Pingxiang and we were about 2 hours from Pingxiang when the van broke down. As per usual for me, I was totally passed out and woke up in a repair shop with men hammering away underneath the driver's seat to identify the problem. They told us they would not be able to fix the van quickly for some reason or another and we ended up waiting there for 2 hours for 2 cars from the college to drive out to meet us. (Please keep in mind, it is now about 11am and none of us have eaten for about 15 hours.) We take the cars into Nanchang and arrive at the medical place around 12:30.

I think the people at the medical place were waiting for us to get there. They rushed us through the whole thing, yelling instructions at us in Chinese, slapping devices onto us, yanking up our clothes, and shoving us about in general. The filled out the EXACT SAME forms we had all had our own doctors' fill out and did EVERY single test over. I did have the joy of the added internal organ sonogram…or at least I think that is what it was… Hopefully I have not contract syphilis or polio in the last month.

There was no question that we were going to Pizza Hut for lunch, and that is exactly what we did. By the time we got to the restaurant we were feeling sick, angry, and beyond hungry. We hadn't eaten for 18 hours and most of us had not slept much either. Bob tried his first piece of American pizza and hated it. Sadly, the Pizza Hut at 2pm was the highlight of the day and doesn't make up for what happens next.

Bob tells us that we have less than an hour to wait before the van is ready (they had gotten it to Nanchang) and then we would be headed back home. "Less than an hour" turned into 3 hours and it was 5:30 before we left the city. This time, we made it maybe an hour before the van broke down. Apparently the problem was overheating, and it had not been solved. Bob made us all pile out of the car and wait by the side of the road while it cooled down. The driver then poured some water into the radiator and we were good to go – for about another 30 minutes. We again had to get out of the van, the whole while it is making death throw noises, and walk along the dark highway about 10 minutes to a station area. There, Bob tries to make nice by saying we are stopping for dinner.

By that point, we don't really give a crap as we should have been home, not at some place 2 hours from home. We eat dinner and hear Bob say no one from the school can come to get us, that the van won't go and he isn't sure what to do. We hang out there for at least an hour and then the great decision is made to just go in the van and stop before it gets too hot and then let it cool down before going again. I think we made it 30 minutes before The Fates had a good joke with us and made the spare tire fall off the bottom of the van. Watching Bob and the driver run down the side of the highway in search for a tire and the metal bar that kept it on was worth it though.

After many stops, each requiring we get out of the van and wait by the side of the road to be "safe", we made it home at 1:30am – a mere 8 hours after we left Nanchang. I hope I never go back - at least not with Bob.

New pictures of this trip have been put up as well as more pictures added to the "September" album.

Sidebar #2: I got a computer! In typical local fashion, it has a Chinese operating system (no way to make the primary language English), no access to the Internet, and no cd drive! But it turns on, so that is an improvement. My refrigerator also stopped working (I lost a ton of food) and they took it in for repairs on Sunday. I have no idea when I will get it back.


Editorial comment: In my last blog, I said that my students had been studying English for 8 hours . What I meant to say what that they have been studying English for 8 years . Forgive this error! Probably made me seem like a real ass too! =)


China: Nanchang Round 2 Sept 07

Monday, September 10, 2007

CD17: Everybody Nanchang Tonight

Today marked the first day of our second week of school here. I made it through the first week okay but today both of my classes told me the books are boring and they want to just know about America. The hard part is that most of my students have been studying for at least 8 years and their spoken and written English is…sub par to say the least. I am not sure if the determining factor has been that most of their English training has been done by non-native English speakers or if there is some other unknown. From our experience, speaking decent English is not a requirement to be an English major, work in an English department at a college, or teach English to children. We are struggling with how best to help them learn and keep them interested. That is always the teachers' problem though.

I ended up only teaching 3 days at the middle school last week. The students knew more English than we were told they did so it was nice to do more than the A, B, C's. Do not be fooled into thinking that there are no discipline problems with Chinese students! I am sure language barriers can be part of the problem such as when they don't understand what you are asking but they are pretty typical kids. They do have to do military training as well, which is a little intense. The biggest difference at their school was that the students are pretty much self-run. They have different bells for the start and end of class. When the bells ring, the students know what to do. They have 4 45-minute classes with 10 minute breaks before lunch. Then, they have 2 1/2 hours off for lunch and they can leave campus. They return for 3 more 45 minute classes and school ends at almost 5pm.

At the college, our students have similar schedules. They start classes at 8am and they go until almost 5, with the same long break at lunch time. They are enrolled in 16 classes each term which meet for 2 hours a day each. It is more like a full-time job when compared to the college schedules I am familiar with in the states. This is the last week of military training for the freshman. They have morning work from 5 to 7, break for breakfast, regroup at 8, work until 12, then regroup again in the afternoon and sometimes go until the early evening. They also do training on the weekends. Apparently after freshman year it is no longer compulsory. All of the freshman are easily identified because they wear white and red track suits around campus every day.
As for life here, I am still waiting for a computer or for someone to figure out what I mean when I ask for the program to install the Internet host onto my laptop. I am practically living in Andreana's apartment for the company more than anything. We were without Internet all together for all of last week which was pretty terrible. We do try to get out and see more of the city when we can. The biggest restriction on that is that we are locked in at night. Supposedly it is for our own safety, but protection from whom we are not sure. The hours on curfew were supposed to be changed, but as we were locked in at 10pm last week, they apparently aren't. We just climbed over the wall, which wasn't easy. The difficulty factor skyrocketed when we came back to a very angry Grandfather - our keeper. He reported back to Bob that it was Clyde and students from the Middle School so that was a little confusing. Andreana and I are small, but not that small. We ran into this problem with the gate again on Saturday. We went to this Province's capital city, Nanchang for the day and didn't return until 11. At least by that time, we had a borrowed key to get back in. Nanchang was definitely more of a city than Pingxiang. There were many more people, tons of shopping, and a Walmart. There were KFC's on every corner, McDonal's, and even a Pizza Hut (which we should have gone to). The Walmart was the reason we went - in hopes of American products. Walmart in China is worse than you might imagine. There were roughly a million people on the escalators to get up. Then we had to physically fight people to get lockers for our backpacks. As elsewhere in China, there isn't enough for everyone and waiting in line just doesn't happen. At least we were roughed up a little after having to fight to get a table and our lunch. We survived Walmart but weren't too impressed. They did have some American products, but it was all about $30 each. $30 for a small jar of Prego, for a small thing of Jiffy, for a package of Pringles...you get the idea. We wandered around the city a bit as well and saw what there was to see. We took a crazy packed bus there than rode home in the luxury of a charter bus. The train station in Pingxiang was pure insanity. Not liking lines is a big part of that, the love of chaos and a gabillion people help too. People were climbing over the chairs and running people over to get to through the gate onto the platform. Apparently seats are first come, first serve, but the companies sell more tickets than seats so some people just stand for the whole trip. Our trip was only 4 hours, but Andreana said she did an overnight trip before and met people who didn't have seats who were traveling for over 30 hours. That would be another prime example of insanity. After this week, there are 2 more weeks of school before we get a week off. We get a full week off in May as well. We are hoping to use those times to travel a bit! The break between terms is almost 6 weeks long so that will be AMAZING! Japan is the only thing that is really planned for now and that will be in April. We are tossing around some other ideas. The hard part, other than having shotty Internet and not speaking Chinese, is that tickets for buses and trains cannot be purchased online. Our language classes are supposed to start this week, so that will be good. Right now my Chinese is limited to ordering things - "one", "two", "three", "how much", "a little", "I don't want"...all of the basics. New pictures were added to 3 albums...enjoy!

China: Pingxiang August 07
China: Trip to Nanchang, Jiangxi Province Sept 07
China: Pingxiang September 07

Monday, September 3, 2007

China Day 10: Getting the Ball Rolling

Today was the first day of school. My teaching schedule here is something of a joke  - at least compared to US standards. I have 8 classes and each class has around 50 students. I see each class once a week for two hours. There are 18 weeks in the semester, so each class will only consist of 18 meetings. This puts my work load at 16 hours a week. While that is at least half of what is common in the US, get this: we work almost twice as much as the Chinese teachers!! INSANITY!!! Tuesday and Wednesday my "work day" is done at 10am!! This week, I will also be working at the middle school (as was planned for last week). For the 4 days I will be at the middle school I will only teach 10 classes of 45 minutes each! The other teachers here do not understand how light of a teaching schedule this is! Granted, I am not sure what a typical American college teacher's schedule is like, but it seems rather light to me.
 
My 2 classes today went okay. We are still hammering out details such as what books, if any will be used for the classes. Everyone seems to have a different idea. I am teaching 3 classes of oral English and 4 classes of written English to English Education majors. My 8th class is rhetoric (huh?) to so-called undergraduates - the select few who are in a 4 year program here. This is a 3 year school and all of my other students are 2nd years. The freshman don't start school for another 2 weeks as they are doing compulsory military training every day, all day.
 
It was nice to have something to do today more than getting out of bed. My students seemed friendly but shy. I had one student tell me we are "going to be the best of friends". This is WAY different than my start of last year where a student called me a "stupid white b**ch". Don't think they are total angels though. I had 1 student come 30 minutes late without any materials, students who had no pen but paper (??), people talking while I was talking, people listening to mp3 players, and people's cell phones going off.
 
In other life news, Bob is trying to redeem himself by petitioning the school for me to get a brand new computer. In the mean time, the campus server is down so we are without Internet. (I am currently in an Internet cafe type thing that is running me 1.5 yuan an hour...roughly 20 cents.) Everything else in my apartment is up and running well which is nice. All of the foreign teachers are here now: 4 Americans, 1 Brit, and 1 Japanese. We are planning a trip to the capital city this coming weekend as we heard they have a WalMart and we are wanting of some American products. After that trip, if there is anything I need, I will send out an S.O.S. email.
 
Some of the things that I have not seen that I find interesting: tampons, mouthwash, dental floss, deodorant, body lotion, cheese, jelly, and refrigerated milk.  They do sell name brand merchandise but it is more than double the price. Funny way of life is that most American products are made in China. Then they are sent to the US. If places in China wants to carry these products, they then have to but them back from the US and ship them back to China. No, it doesn' t make sense, so don't even try!
 
Some quick cultural observations I have made are as follows:
 
Note: these are based on my limited experience in a relatively small city.
 
1. Spiting and burping in public are common and not uncouth.
2. Giving people way more food than they can eat is a show of honor.
3. Nothing is refrigerated - milk, eggs, water, meat, etc. - and "cold" things are just barely cooler than room temperature.
4. Lines might be made but they count for nothing. Shoving ahead of people is the norm.
5. Clothes are meant to cover your body and matching does not matter - utility is king!
6. "Maybe" means you must and "possibly" means not likely.
7. Women cannot drink alcohol unless a man buys it for them. Chinese women do not drink beer.
8. Smoking is accepted everywhere and at any time. It is rude to ask someone not to smoke or to refuse the offer of a cigarette. If you refuse a cigarette, you should apologize until you are blue in the face.
9. You don't really have to take your shoes off everywhere you go.
10. Women wear heels everywhere they go whether or not they are riding scooters, it's pouring, or they otherwise just don't make sense.
11. Diapers do not exist. Little ones are put in clothes that have the back side cut out and they squat like everyone else (I'm hoping/guessing.)
12. Contrary to popular belief, electronics here are very expensive. A digital camera (around 300 USD) costs the equivalent of 900 USD.
13. Ovens, toasters, toaster ovens and the such are not available.
 
I know that isn't all of the great stuff I wanted to share, but that will do for now. I hope that everyone is well. More picutres will be up soon.