Sunday, February 27, 2011

Beijing and TEACHING!

First of all, sorry I’ve been neglecting my blog this week! Obviously, A LOT has happened and I won’t be able to write about everything, so just know that China has been a pretty awesome experience thus far :)

I went to Beijing for FOUR DAYS last week and it was absolutely AMAZING! It felt like we were doing stuff all the time and seeing so many places! However, showing you a few pictures would be a lot more exciting than making a list of everything I did. So, here are a few pictures of me on the great wall, on Tianmen Square with a picture of Chairman Mao, and in the Forbidden City.

Sorry I don’t have more details… just know it was really cool! Instead, I want to save this blog to describe my first couple days teaching! They are definitely blog-worthy… at least, my first one definitely is.

I am one of two teachers that have to travel to a different school to teach first graders every Tuesday and Thursday. I teach six different classes of 20-30 children each of those days—four in the morning two in the afternoon. Each class is forty minutes long and I personally find it EXTREMELY exhausting. By the time I get back to my room around 330pm, I’m ready to sleep. But, the children are adorable—the little girls are my favorite because they come up and give me hugs after every class. One little girl even gave me her little thing of Nail Polish…I gave it back, but she slipped it back in my pocket. Along with being sweet, they’re very intelligent children, and I can’t believe eight year olds know more about my language than I do about theirs’.

So, these kids are really intelligent, right? Right. But, I didn’t know that my first day. In fact, I didn’t know much of anything my first day! All I knew was that these children had received English lessons last semester from ILP teachers and that they were probably going to be first graders. I didn’t know what they remembered, or even all of what they were taught last semester and I was given no direction on what to teach. So, what the heck, let’s go over body parts (eyes, ears, legs, etc.) and the alphabet.
They knew EVERYTHING already. Goodbye lesson plans.

The first two classes were fairly calm, though I could tell they were bored with everything they already knew. But, a Chinese teacher was there to keep them in line and translate things I needed her to.

The third class: No Chinese teacher. This is more worrisome than you know.

I couldn’t even get them to sit in their chairs!! One boy ran back and forth from one end of the classroom to the other, just screaming, occasionally tackling another child on his way. Ten of them practically wouldn’t take their arms and hands off of me, making it pretty hard to move around, and another ten kept screaming, “Teacher! Teacher! W.C.! W.C.! [Bathroom! Bathroom!]” The rest of the children were content to color and talk to each other, ignoring the chaos.

The children are NOT allowed to go to the bathroom during class, so I had to constantly say “No W.C., after class! After class!” As well as catch children running out the door. One boy had a water bottle and decided to poor it on his pants then point as if he had wet himself, still screaming, “Teacher! Teacher! W.C.! W.C.!”

Luckily my fourth class was better behaved, though they too were bored and didn’t pay as much attention. After my fourth class I was able to take a break for lunch and prepare for my last two classes. Mostly mentally prepare, but I did try to re-think my next lesson plans. But the classes aren’t the only difficult thing to deal with while I’m at the school—there’s also the fact that all the other teachers on my floor don’t speak one word of English.

My first day I didn’t have a schedule or anything, so I just listened to the music that meant it was time to start or stop class. I also need to switch rooms every class, and seeing as how I didn’t have a schedule my first day, I simply tried to sign to the other teachers to let me know which class I needed to go to next. This worked fine until after lunch when a teacher pointed me to room 2. I walked into the room and was blown away by about forty different students running around. I simply told myself it was going to be alright, I just needed to get through the day and plan better lessons next time. I shut the door and immediately noticed it locked. The doors apparently lock with a key on the INSIDE of the classroom. Somehow this door had been locked, and I didn’t have the key. To make things more embarrassing, room 2 wasn’t even the room I was supposed to be in. Luckily the doors have little windows so I signed to the teacher (who DID belong in that classroom) that the door was locked. Also luckily, it only took less than ten minutes (which seemed a lot longer) for a janitor to finally come and get the door open.

Best teaching day ever? You bet! [note: I’m afraid that WAS sarcasm]

Ok, so actually it was really hilarious. And, I laughed about it a lot, and really wished the teachers could understand me so I could joke around with them about it too. Also, the next day teaching went better and I have hope that I will continue to get better as I learn what works and what doesn’t. I still feel like I have so much to learn, and after my second day of teaching I was stressed about how much I don’t know what I’m doing. But, I’m sure that after five months I’ll at least have a handle on this whole teaching children thing!

And, that’s pretty much the latest and greatest—Living in China is still a blast, and I’m still getting used to things like the food and not having most people understand me—but those are some of the things that make living here so fun most of the time. I guess that’s a lot of what makes life in general so fun—diving into the unknown and living not for success or fame or even for assured safety or pure pleasure, but instead living simply for the experience of it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Beauty of Inconvenience

So remember me talking about the shower and the bathroom? Well, I think it’s time to tell some stories about that.

WARNING: The following stories and descriptions contain some rather grotesque details. If you would like to keep on living in the fantasy that all other countries are like America, please do not read any further.

The bathroom itself is a small square room with many functions. It serves as a shower (meaning we don’t have a separate shower stall—the bathroom IS the shower stall), a place where we wash our clothes in the small washing machine, a place where we brush our teeth and look into the only mirror here, and where we relieve ourselves of internal waste. It is also where we keep our bag of used toilet paper because we are not allowed to flush it down our small toilet [note: ‘keep’ meaning when the bag is full we throw it away… we are not actually keeping our used toilet paper around for fun]. It also serves as a gateway to sewage smell which I find rather annoying at times, but with the help of lavender air-spray have been quite content. I will say that the bathroom is ingenious for its multi-purpose set up in such a small space, and I praise the Chinese for being so practical.

Now, our shower. It is not directly attached to the wall, but the wall has a place where we can set the showerhead while we shower. When I tried doing that my first day I notice that it sprayed directly at the door, thus likely causing water to seep into our bedroom. Yeah, no good. So, instead I have to hold the showerhead myself and set it down when I have to use my hands. The nice thing is that because the bathroom is so small, it stays very warm with all of the steam from the hot shower! Which leads me to the next point—our shower in particular doesn’t seem to understand that we need the hot water and the cold water on at the same time in order to be comfortable. When we turn red knob then the water starts to turn hot—hallelujah! But, when we turn the other knob for cold water, the showerhead acts likes it’s going to explode. I’m not sure if there’s any other way I can describe it. I haven’t yet tried to turn on the cold water alone, but I do know that even after turning down the hot water as much as possible, the cold water still makes the showerhead go crazy. It must be a water pressure thing. At any rate, the nice thing is that our water takes so long to really heat up so only by the time I am about done with my shower does the heat become too much. I think it’s a wonderful thing, really—this way not only does the whole bathroom itself get very warm, but I am forced to take a quick shower (something I have always struggled with).

Now, our washing machine. This morning my roommate Lacey and I had the greatest triumph! We got our old foreign washing machine to turn on and actually wash our towels! This adventure made my morning totally worth being awake for!

First, after putting our towels and soap in, we tried pressing every button on the machine. Nothing came on. We made sure that the water was hooked up to the machine, but still nothing. All of the buttons have only Chinese characters on them, so we didn’t even know what buttons were for what. However, our thinking was that if we could just get it to turn on in the first place then we could experiment with everything else. Luckily, my friend Eliza happened to be on Skype while Lacey and I pondered over our predicament. Eliza said that she would try to get someone over facebook who could read the characters for us. Then, as the time went on she asked us if it was plugged in.

Me: “yes, yes we already checked to make sure that the water pipes were securely twisted into the washing machine!”

And then it dawned on me. We hadn’t yet tried plugging it into the wall to get electricity. Because, I guess electrical appliances like washing machines need electricity to run.


I’m not blonde, really.

Anyway, we had a good laugh about it and ended up pressing the right buttons to get our towels washed! Now they are currently hanging up on our coat-rack thingy to dry because the Chinese don’t generally use dryers. I miss having a dryer, but I find the energy efficiency of letting things air-dry kind of comforting actually—kind of like "going green" or something. Plus, in the winter time basically all my sweaters have to be air-dried anyway, so this way I don’t run the risk of shrinking any of my clothes! It’s very convenient actually!

Now, about the smell. Our room actually smells quite lovely every time we walk in the door now! We simply keep the door to the bathroom shut and put something on top of the main drains to keep the odor out. This leaves us with our wonderful lavender spray making the air smell beautiful. We didn’t know what to do at first and I believe the first night was a little frustrating as the smell would always be there, but be worse sometimes and better others. However, one of the ILP (ILP is the program I’m with) people suggested we keep our door closed which helped a lot. After that I learned from a very useful source who learned from another very useful source that the sewage smell comes from the drain and all we need to do is cover it whenever we can in order to contain the smell. And now our room smells like lavender :)

Overall, I’d say our set-up is quite nice and I’m enjoying all of the little previously unknown perks immensely! [note: this post may seem to some a bit sarcastic, but in all honesty I’m being very blunt about how I feel. I thoroughly enjoy making the most out of the small inconveniences we have here—it’s like a game and I think I might be winning!]

Saturday, February 12, 2011

First Days Over Seas

China. Weihai, China. That’s where I am. Awesome much? Yeah, you don’t even know.

There are SO MANY things I can write about it’s hard to really pick the best or most unique (to me) parts of my trip… or even what to tell first. I suppose I’ll start where I left—in Salt Lake City airport. Also, considering much of my trip has so far consisted of little things that may not be interesting, I’ve tried to put a sort of heading before each paragraph so you fine people can skim to what sounds most intriguing. Unless of course you’re really bored or something, then you can just read it all :)

[SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH]: boring. I checked in and left for LA. Met maybe two people in my group. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

[LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA]: again, boring. Met a lot more people from my group! Really cool people. Spent maybe two hours trying to figure out where to go to prepare for the flight to Korea. That’s where I got my passport stamped. It looks so cool. Well, ok, considering this is the first thing on my passport ever, I’m not exactly an expert… but, whatever. It’s awesome.

[SEOUL, KOREA]: HUGE AIRPORT! And, very long plane ride. About 13 to 14 hours I think is how long the ride is. T O R T U R E. I was in the last row of the plane and actually did a good job of sleeping most of the way. Unfortunately, our lay-over was between about 630am-330pm so we didn’t get to go out and see much. The airline lent us a hotel and a free meal there which was cool, but since we weren’t allowed to sight-see, we just slept most of the time. I had Kimchi Fried Rice and it was SO GOOD. The hotel was also super high-class. I don’t know if I’ve ever stayed at a hotel that nice. It was awesome. And free :)

[WEIHAI, CHINA]: Now we get to the good stuff! Our group arrived at 330pm-ish and afterwards got to the school that we’ll be teaching and living at around 5pm. After dragging our luggage up about ten flights of stairs outside we continued up another five flights of stairs inside to get to our rooms. Will I have a good butt after these five months are over? I had better. After putting our luggage down we got to eat at the school’s cafeteria and then were let back upstairs to unpack and finally sleep.

[WIEHAI WEATHER….and other kind of boring stuff] This morning I woke up at about 645am to make sure I showered [note: showering is another adventure here which I will share in another entry I think] and then chatted with my mom and little sister over skype while my roommate showered. At 845am-ish is when we left our dorms to go out into the city!!! We walked. Yes, we walked. This is important. Why? BECAUSE IT’S FREEZING HERE! Not only is it temperature cold, but it’s very humid which makes it worse [note: am I aware that I am a huge wimp when it comes to cold weather? Yes, but hey, I wasn’t the only one in our group complaining!]. We first went to the police station to register our passports with the city or whatever then went to the bank to transfer money. After that long endeavor came the fun stuff.

[FOOD AND BEING AN ALIEN] We got to go out to eat and shop. No one really speaks English here. And, everyone stares at us when we walk by, like we’re aliens. Maybe for some of them, for all they know we could be. I guess Americans aren’t seen as much this far north in a smaller-ish town. At any rate, it’s kind of fun being an alien. I don’t know why, but I enjoy the strange attention. The lunch I had was SO GOOD! It was the fried bread stuff with meat and peppers and then I also had dumplings/pot-stickers (however you like to say it) with this tuber onion [note: I would not have known what the green vegetable stuff in there was called if it weren’t for Kelly, our coordinator, who told me..or, whose Chinese-English dictionary told us] and egg inside.

[MORE ON BEING AN ALIEN… AND CHINESE PEOPLE SO FAR] After that we went shopping in the grocery store for anything we were missing in our rooms. I had to find shampoo and conditioner and body and face wash and a bunch of other stuff. Seeing how I can’t even speak, let alone read, Chinese, it was a very fun adventure. My friend and I finally ended up asking one of the workers (who of course didn’t speak English) where the face wash was. We rubbed our faces and pointed to soap and I think she got the message… I’m not really sure, she nodded her head and spoke Chinese to us (as if we would understand) and took us to an aisle where face wash was pretty close by. There were also a couple Chinese women (older) who just thought we American girls were so funny. Anything we said? I don’t think so. Anything we were doing? Considering we were just standing in the middle of the produce section, I imagine not. They just thought we were hilarious and tried to talk to us. We just laughed back and said we couldn’t understand them. Did this deter them? Not in the least, they just spoke slower is all. That seems to be a trend though, instead of trying other means of communication, it seems like people just talk slower, as if that will magically help us understand their language. Well, anyway, it’s pretty funny and once I start wrapping my head around the language, I’m sure I’ll appreciate them talking slower! Anyhow, later on we met up with the older ladies again and they waved and smiled and my friend and I replied with “Ni Hao!” which they found even funnier than us standing in the middle of the produce section. It was great.

[END] So, that is a basic run-down of the what I’ve done so far. There are lots of other things I can talk about—like the smell, and the multi-functional bathroom, and the lack of good heating (I’ve been indoors for a couple hours or so and my coat and scarf are still on), and, well, lots of things. But, for now I think this will do. Now that you have a basic run-down, I’ll go into actual fun stories later. All you need to know right now is that I love it here and trying to enjoy even the seemingly unenjoyable has been more fun than I even thought! ‘Til next time!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The First

So, I told myself some years ago that I would never start a blog. I mean, not only are blogs time-consuming, but they're a little weird--why would someone spend such time writing about themselves when they can use real-life communication (aka, face-to-face....electronics not being involved.... ever heard of such a phenomenon? It seems some people haven't...)? Well, though blogs may still be time-consuming and weird, here is my own blog nonetheless. I have decided that it actually makes sense for me to finally get a blog and here are my reasons why... because, apparently I'm supposed to write whatever I want, whether or not it sounds interesting.... right?

First, because I hear it is a good way to keep in touch with friends and I find that I actually like reading my friends' blogs occasionally [note: if you are one of those friends, you probably don't know it. I don't subscribe to blogs, I only blog-stalk randomly... so, you never know who or when or what I'm reading... I know, creepy, right?], so maybe this will get me engaged enough in the blog world to not only keep up more faithfully in what's happening in my friends' lives, but have them keep up in some of what's happening in mine.

Second, I'M GOIN' TA CHINA!!!!!!!!! And I want to remember everything I can and have a lot of memories stashed for after I return in six months. Unfortunately, I'm not so good at regular journal writing, so, I'm hoping that this sort of thing will give me more motivation to write everything down and put up pictures and all of that great, great stuff. Also, I believe in record-keeping for the sake of keeping even memories which aren't associated with China, so I think this will be something good for me to do even after returning.

Third (closely related to the first), sometimes I feel really guilty for being so horrible at keeping in-touch with closer friends [note: I don't really feel bad at all for not keeping in-touch with not-so-close friends.... but, I guess if they want to read this too I have no objections! Who knows, maybe I've read they're blog at some point too  .....  ]. At any rate, I'm hoping this blog will be an easier way to relieve some of that guilt--I'll just hand my blog address out like candy to fat children and feel comforted that people will know what's going on in my life without having to talk to them individually all the time [note: I do not actually think any of my friends are like fat children..... it was just an analogy....].

And, fourth, I think it might actually be kind of fun..... in a weird sort of way... :)

So, in the end, I like to think of this blog as an investment towards my general peace of conscience.