Monthly Archives: October 2011

I love John Malkovich as an actor.  I think he’s very talented.  Tonight we watched “Being John Malkovich” which I haven’t seen for years and couldn’t remember if I liked it.  I loved it.  It was brilliant, unique, original, and I give extra credit to Mr. Malkovich for allowing himself to be in the movie kind of making fun of himself and being silly.  It was a real treat.  Since Shujie couldn’t relate any part of it to any reality, she didn’t like it.  Even in fantasy it must have some basis in reality.  Harry Potter passed that test (the kids were just kids even if they were wizards) but in this, everyone is just plain weird.

Classes on Thursday went well, even the one where I did some butt-kicking on Wednesday.  It’s ridiculous.  You have to make them fear you a bit which is silly.  Of course, maybe I’m silly for expecting them to be like young adults.

I brought in the song “Imagine” along with a copy of the lyrics for everyone.  Before introducing the song I asked everyone if they could change one thing in the world, or make one thing happen more, what would it be.  In my “better” class I got answers like “the environment” and “freedom of speech”.  I was suitably impressed.  Of course I got answers that I didn’t think much of but I didn’t put anyone down.  I personally don’t see how more trees will make a better world.

In my other class I got very few answers I would consider to have an inkling of intelligence.  “More friends”?  “Smiles”?  “Parents”?  What the hell does that mean.  The best answer I got from that class was “Love”.  I’ll buy that.

I then handed out the lyrics and played the song once.  Then I asked for questions on the words or things they didn’t understand.  And they asked questions.  I was quite pleased and you have no idea what a huge step forward that was.  They asked what religion is so I stick my arms out and put my head down and do my impersonation of a crucified Jesus.  They get it.  Heaven you just say you die and point up.  Hell is you die and you point down.  And I guarantee you there is more of a chance of them learning the word with my silly actions than there is if I just gave them the word in Chinese.

Of course sometimes it isn’t that easy but I work hard at being understood.  Brotherhood isn’t too tough to do.  Possessions and greed aren’t too hard.  You just have to lack the fear of looking silly and act like a ham or draw stick figures.  It works.  I do break down occasionally and give the Chinese translation, but that’s a rare occurrence.

I love when we get to religion because then I digress, and I am always digressing in class.  Once I say religion I have to explain my contract, which forbids me from talking about religion or politics.  They asked me why I’m forbidden to speak about religion and the best answer I could give (and the one I think it is), is that the government is afraid of teachers proselytizing.  I can understand that and if a teacher does that they should be shot.  However, with me, they don’t have to worry about it.  I’m an atheist like 99% of my students.  Then I get on politics and how I don’t think China is a true communist country.  Everything here is money, money, money.  The students agree and are amazed when I tell them that in Canada doctors and hospitals are free.  I tell them we’re more communist.

Then I do my freedom of speech spiel.  I tell them I can go up to the White House and scream “Barack Obama is an idiot and should drop dead” and all that will happen will be that some people will look at me like I’m crazy.  If I go to Beijing and shout, “Hu Jin Tao is an idiot and should drop dead”, what will happen to me?  One boy made the slashing sign so they get it.  I love breaking the rules and talking about what I’m not allowed to talk about.

I would really love to teach something about religion.  It’s fascinating.  Not as something to believe in, but as history and how it controls people and is responsible for more deaths in history than anything else.  But I won’t push my luck.  I’ll just throw in things when I can.  I find it sad (although sad is the wrong word) that Shujie and I can’t discuss religion since she knows nothing about it.  It’s so hard to imagine someone who knows nothing of the bible or the 10 commandments.

Imagine is a good song.  It’s 40 years old and just as relevant today as it was in 1971.  We can talk about ideas a little as I do most of the talking.  But by doing these things I hope I’m opening their minds a little more than they are already opened.  Chinese teaching is basically the teacher talks and the student listens.  The student really doesn’t have any input.  That’s what I’ve been led to believe and I believe it.  I think that’s part of the problem I’m having.  And I introduce subjects into the classroom that they will never have introduced in any classroom and who knows if they get discussed anywhere.  Homosexuality, religion, freedom of speech, free health care, and so on.  It’s good.

I’ll have to find some other songs with some meaning.  I can’t go too far back because then I’d have to give a history lesson.  I love “Eve of Destruction” but as Ricky would say, “I’d have a lot of splaining to do”.  I mean “Think of all the hate there is in Red China, then take a look around to Selma, Alabama”.  It psyches me up to thing of trying it, but I think I might just be aiming too high.

Tomorrow we’re going out for dinner and bringing our friend Lisa with us.  Lisa is the 1st year student who visits me after class sometimes and other times will sit in on class.  She can be my friend since she’s not my student and I don’t tutor her.  There’s no conflict.  If I take a student to dinner and then have a problem with them, that would be difficult.  This way there is no wall that needs to be there.  And Shujie and I are both fond of her, so this works out very well for everyone.

I’ve been thinking about things and while we all know that things can always be better, I really can’t complain.  Life is pleasant.  The school isn’t bad.  I could have more knowledgeable students, but I could have worse students too.  Considering that you’re basically throwing a dart at a map and saying, “I’m going there”, and you know nothing about where you’re going, I’d say I lucked out coming here.

What’s wrong with me?  Why aren’t I complaining more?  This can’t be healthy, can it?


And some days you do both.

Monday was Monday as it usually is.  No classes which is good.  I can’t remember what I did (which was probably nothing) which is bad.  I think I tried to watch the baseball game Monday morning (it was Sunday night in North America) and just like I was back in Canada, I fell asleep watching it.  I love sports.  They are so relaxing and such a good sleep aid.

I paid $20 for the MLB post-season package (I hope I haven’t posted that before) and I rarely watch the games but I do watch the condensed version of the games, which take about 20 minutes.  I don’t love them but they’re not too bad.  It’s not the same as watching the full game but I don’t feel I have time to watch a whole game.  Of course I do, but it just feels more right at night.

Monday night was tutor night and Beata came over.  It is truly a struggle to try and understand her.  Her accent is deadly.  I’m good at listening and understanding but it takes almost all my powers to understand her.  And she’s getting better too.  She actually left on her own without Shujie throwing her out although she did overstay her hour.  I’m such a softie.  I really should learn how to say, “time’s up”.

Yesterday’s classes were nothing special.  The speech topic this week is “what kind of man/woman would you like to marry”.  I find it very interesting to hear what they have to say.  Some of them are more mature in what they want than I imagined.  One thing you hear a lot here that you would never hear in the West is that the potential spouse accepts and respects their parents and their wife or husband’s parents.  It seems to be a big deal here and it’s something we would never mention.

I was pleased to hear a lot of people wanting a “sense of humour”, “responsibility”, “not having to be the most beautiful”, and things of that nature.  When they were finished I asked the class why none of the woman wanted a short foreigner with no hair and glasses.  That really puzzled me.

The movie last night was “Dial M For Murder”.  I haven’t seen it in years and I loved it.  Shujie said six students walked out but you can’t love everything.  The few I spoke to claim to have liked it but found parts of it boring.  I’m not sure anyone except me understood it all.  Even Shujie didn’t really know the reason the man wanted his wife killed.  She thought it was something different than it was.  But you had to listen to know.  I don’t think there were as many kids as I had for “Big” which surprised me.  I thought we’d get a bigger crowd because “Big” seemed to be such a hit.  But we shall see.

After my final class yesterday my friend Lisa was outside waiting for me and talking to Shujie.  Lisa is a 1st year student (not in my class) who started talking to me the first day of school.  I’ve offered to tutor her if she wanted but I think she just likes coming to see me after class sometimes or sitting in on my classes when she has a chance.  Because of this relationship I feel I can classify her as “friend”.  She’s a sweet, well-mannered girl who’s English isn’t too bad.  Both Shujie and I are fond of her.  Yesterday I told her that if she wasn’t going away on the weekend, we’d like to take her out for dinner on Saturday night.  I think she was both shocked and pleased.  I feel we can invite her since she’s not a “student” of mine.

Today I had a new student to tutor.  She is in my class but asked for extra help, which made me happy.  I’m glad to help.  She’s a nice girl and we had a nice chat for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  I have to say goodbye after 1 hour.  We met in an empty classroom and a boy was wandering around and just came in and listened because he’d like to be better at English.  He asked me if it was okay if he spoke to me if he saw me outside and I told him, “of course”.  I didn’t offer to tutor but I love when strangers start up a conversation with me.

I asked Julie (the new tutoree), why the students in her class don’t stop talking.  She told me that none of them believed I would kick them out of class for talking.  I told her to watch me this afternoon.  I threw 3 kids out.  Were they shocked.  I knew when the class started that heads would roll because they talk.  It was time to set examples and things got quiet after that.  The last 10 minutes of the class was a disaster because I told them to just keep quiet and I sat down and said nothing.  What bothered me was I had asked a question that most people knew the answer to, so they all shouted out their version of the answer.  I told them I would ask again and they should raise their hands and I’d ask one of them to answer as I couldn’t understand anyone when everybody was talking at the same time.  I asked the same question and no one raised their hand.  I asked again and again no response.  So I gave up.  I told them before they left at the end of class to not come back tomorrow unless they were prepared to participate.  I’m tired of the “Chinese students are shy” line.  This is college.  Granted, a 4th rate college, but college just the same.  If I wanted little kids I’d teach kindergarten (it pays better).

What makes this class look bad on the whole is my other class is wonderful.  They’re quiet and when it’s time to come up to the front to give their speeches all I have to do is say, “who wants to go now”, and they go up.  In other classes you have to call them by name.  It’s wonderful.  No, they’re not all brilliant at English (far from it), and not all of them are interested, but they’re polite and respectful of their fellow students.  They are a pleasure.

Tomorrow is Thursday which is the final day of the week for me.  Then it’s another 4-day weekend.  We’re not going away and the weather is supposed to be rainy.  It’s getting cooler and it goes right though to your bones.  There’s no central heating but we have a machine in the den and in the bedroom.  Monday night was the first time we used them and they didn’t work.  However, Wang Jing had them fixed an hour after we called her.  I visited with her the other day and I thanked her again for being so helpful.  I told her that I only had to worry about teaching because she was very responsive to any problems we might have.  She said it was her job and I told her that it’s not that it’s her job, it’s that she’s helpful.  She doesn’t have to be so helpful in her job but she is.  It’s not easy to compliment some Chinese people but she’s A1 in my book.

Imagine my surprise when as the bus was arriving to the beautiful city of Suzhou when I saw this billboard the city uses to attract foreign visitors.  It was quite a shock but I heard they are having great results with it.

Friday morning we left for Suzhou (pronounced Sue-Joe) and the bus driver let us off someplace he said wasn’t far from the hotel and that we should get a taxi.  Weird.  He told Shujie that the bus station didn’t like to have his bus go there.  Weird.  He told Shujie that he would pick us up at the same place on Sunday at 1:20 in the afternoon.  Weird.  I admit I’m slow sometimes and it took me about 24 hours to figure it out.

The bus driver is stealing from the bus company.  He picks up all these people without tickets who pay him a reduced rate and he pockets the money.  Welcome to China, the home of greed and avarice.  There are many fine people here but there are also loads of not so fine people.  Like the 2 vans who ran over the kid and the 18 people who passed by without helping the kid who later died.  This is one strange place.

We got to our hotel which was a good deal as it wasn’t too expensive and it was spotless.  We could check in early (about 11AM) and we took off to see some sights.  Suzhou is supposed to be one of the prettiest cities in China and one that the communists didn’t wreck to badly with their build and their desire to destroy a lot of “old China”.

First we headed to the Suzhou museum.  I’ve seen what feels like thousands of museums in my lifetime and after a while they all start to look the same.  This museum was a treat not because of what was in it, but the building itself.  It was designed by I.M. Pei (who even I’ve heard of but know nothing about).  It was incredibly beautiful.  We enjoyed our time there immensely.  Everything we saw felt nicer just because of the atmosphere.  My lousy pictures cannot do it justice but here’s just one view from an area outside.

From there we hired a bicycle puller (he rides his bike and pulls the carriage) to take us to the silk museum.  Suzhou is the number one spot for silk in China.  The museum was supposed to be quite good.  But the driver doesn’t take us to the silk museum.  He takes us to the Number 2 Silk Factory store.  Why?  Because he gets a commission for every tourist he brings in.  Everybody wants to make a buck.  We looked in the store but there wasn’t much so we walked the few steps to the museum.  What a letdown.  Boring.  We asked at the museum where the best store to buy silk products was and surprise, surprise, it was next door.  So we went to have a look.

Shujie saw a scarf that was very pretty and tempted her.  I told her it was nice and if she liked it, she should get it.  The price was 598RMB (a little less than $100).  She asked for a discount so they told her 568RMB.  She countered with 550RMB and they said yes.  So Shujie thought because they said yes so easily she had made too high an offer.  She told them she wanted to think about it.  Then they had me try on a silk shirt, which I kind of liked.  The silk was different and I was told it was the “old style” of silk.  The price tag on that baby was 898RMB, which is over $140.  I didn’t like it that much.  Shujie really liked it on me so that made me like it a little better.

Shujie said she was going to offer them 1,000RMB for the scarf and the shirt.  I told her that if they said yes (and no way they would), that she should buy them.  I come out of the dressing room and I’m the proud owner of a new silk shirt.  So the price tags for the 2 items totaled 1,496RMB and they took 1,000RMB.  Did we get a deal?  Who knows.  The only thing known for sure is that the store made money.

From there it was time to eat and I was dying for a good cheeseburger so we went to Friday’s.  They didn’t have a bloody Mary for me to drink but I had vodka and lemonade along with a Fuzzy Navel while Shujie had a martini.  We ate, relaxed, and it was very nice.  From there we found out we were very close to our hotel so we walked through this huge area that is a pedestrian mall area.  It was nice to walk without being bothered by cars and bicycles.

We went into a bookstore and Shujie got “The Secret Daughter” in Chinese.  She doesn’t read books and I’d love to recommend books to her.  This one had the title shown in English while the rest was Chinese.  So she got that book and we also got her “The Kite Runner”.  Who knows?  Perhaps she’ll develop a taste for reading.

Here’s a picture of a tower I thought I’d throw in.

Suzhou is a city of many gardens.  We went to the “Humble Administrator’s Garden” which is the largest and supposedly the nicest of them.  There were too many people.  These gardens with their little pavilions are only nice when there are few people around and you can sit and relax and contemplate your life and your navel.  We didn’t like it.

From there we went on a short boat ride of the canals (about 40 minutes).  There is an oarsman and once you’ve seen one stretch of the water, you’ve seen them all.  Some say Suzhou is the “Venice of the Orient”, but I’ve been to Venice and this place is not Venice.  Shujie enjoyed the ride but she thought it would be circular and not something where you go for 20 minutes one way, and then turn around to go back.  She complained (as she loves to do) to the driver and he said only the foreigners go further.  That annoyed her but didn’t surprise me.  Foreigners tip, Chinese don’t.  She got what they advertised which was a 40-minute boat ride.  I think she finally got it and stopped being annoyed.

Here is a canal picture.

From there we headed back to the hotel for a break.  Shujie bought some dates (Chinese dates which she loves) on the street from a woman who gave her one to taste.  Shujie said it was delicious but she fought with the woman over the price (she loves to fight).  She thinks everyone is trying to cheat her and a lot of them are so deal with it.  She also didn’t like the dates because she said the woman gave her the sample from the pile of “good” dates and the dates she bought were from the bad pile.  She never throws anything out but these were so bad she threw them out.

We had a nap and then headed out for a river cruise at night.  She loved that.  I thought it was okay.  There was a guide who spoke the whole way in Chinese and even some entertainment.  There was a woman who played a string instrument and sang some high-pitched Chinese songs.  But I was pleased that Shujie liked it.  I was in Suzhou back in 2004 for several hours seeing the canals and the Number one silk factory.  It is a pretty city.

After the boat ride we were going to check out this street that supposedly had a lot of western restaurants.  It wasn’t easy to get a taxi so Shujie hired a “gypsy” cab.  There are quite a few of these around.  They agreed on a price and he was to take us to this street.  Soon she’s yelling at him and he’s yelling at her.  I can’t take the fighting.  I’ve asked her several times to stop fighting with people and she says she won’t be quiet when people are trying to cheat her.  Okay, say something.  Just don’t yell.  It makes me nervous and anxious.  It seems this guy offered to take us somewhere else that was better and she agreed.  Then he wanted more money, which she didn’t agree to.  So that was the reason for the fight.  So Shujie and I fought about her yelling and I told her that if you are doing business with dishonest people (like gypsy cab drivers), don’t be surprised when they try to cheat you.  Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

We ended up at a very nice Italian restaurant in bad moods but the food was quite excellent.  We kind of made up but she was upset with me for not supporting her and I was upset because of the yelling.  I told her I do support her but speak in a normal voice.  If the driver isn’t going where you want tell him to stop the car and get out.  Tell me to pull his hair from the back seat.  I’m game for that.  I just can’t tolerate the yelling.

Today we came back to Jurong.  We had shao-cao for dinner (finally I’m spelling it right).  It was delicious as always.  It seems that all the street stands had to close down for 4 days last week because the governor of the province came to town so they wanted to clean up a bit.  That’s ridiculous.  These people work hard and pay money to put their stands where they are.  They shouldn’t have to close down.  This country is in no way, shape, or form, a communist country.

I’m starting to get more students asking me for help.  This is good.  Perhaps I’ll be able to be of some use here.  On Thursday I talked a little about homosexuality, which is not something that is talked about here.  I told them that this was probably the only time they’d ever get to discuss this in class.  I did an informal survey to see who was against it and I was pleased that the majority thought there was nothing wrong with it.  This country is changing in some good ways, but it’s still too money driven.  I wanted to argue with those who were against homosexuality but I didn’t think I should say anything.  They’re just homophobes anyhow.  One boy gave the best answer.  He didn’t say yes, and he didn’t say no.  He said, “whatever”, which to me is the right answer.  Why should I care if someone else is doing something that doesn’t hurt anyone?

While in Suzhou we went into some DVD stores and bought some DVD’s.  They cost between $1 and $2 each.  Tonight we watched “Con Air”.  I haven’t seen that since it came out in theatres years ago and I thought Shujie would like it.  I was right.  We laughed.  And I just love Steve Buschemi (in a manly way).

Finally let me leave you with some footage of the new tactics the Chinese are working on when they decide to go to war and take over the world.  These people are sneaky.

Not much is happening which I guess in some ways is good (less to whine about) and in some ways is bad (less to whine about).  But I need to post regularly for my 2 or 3 regular readers.

I can’t look at online newspapers during the baseball playoffs.  I bought the MLB playoff package for $20 so I have to wait until the games are over and I’ve seen the “condensed version” (who has time for the real) before I can look at a paper.  It would have been nicer being in Canada and watching the games on time, but this isn’t a bad deal.  If I chose to keep really silly hours I could do that (it’s just like watching  TV).  You can see replays of the games or the condensed version.  It should be a good series and maybe I’ll see a full game or two.

Tuesday night I showed “BIG” with Tom Hanks.  It was the perfect film to show these kids.  A simple story easy to follow.  Simple language.  And funny.  They laughed and comedy doesn’t always translate well.  I’m only afraid they’ll be expecting more of the same in the future.  However, “To Kill a Mockingbird” isn’t quite the same as “BIG”.  I don’t think I had any 2nd year students show up and only a bunch of 1st year students.  That’s fine.  What I don’t get are those who say they’re interested but don’t show up.  I can’t believe what these kids tell me as a general rule.  It’s not that they’re vicious liars, it’s just that they are immature and forgetful.  Anyhow I was pleased with the response and I truly expect to see more next week where I’m sure they’ll be disappointed by a great film more geared to the adults.

Classes seem to be an up and down thing.  I had a bunch of kids not do their assignments so I read them the riot act.  If they do it again, they’re out.  Two kids came to one class without their assignment (after the warning) and ran back to their dorms to get it.  In the other class there was one student who I’m rather fond of and she didn’t have it.  She tried to debate me as to why she should stay but speaking Chinese isn’t going to sway me.  She ran out of class and returned with it.  Good for her.  I have to follow through on my threats.

June, the moronic and idiotic head of the English department (I love her) told her that one of my classes (40 kids) wanted to get up and do more things.  Maybe we can play “Simon Says” you ignoramus.  It’s great if you have a suggestion but lets get it filled out.  I asked the students if that’s what they wanted and they said yes.  I said, “give me ideas”, so it will die a death.

I did come up with an idea that the students said they were interested in.  I proposed that I would make a recording they could listen to and email it to those interested along with the text in writing.  They could listen and then record themselves.  Then they could listen to the two and compare.  Great idea.  If I don’t say a word and ever student takes a turn speaking, in one week every student gets to speak 6 minutes.  That’s nowhere near enough and their accents are mostly terrible.

I told them to email me if they’re interested and most of them said yes.  I haven’t heard anything yet.  I won’t spoon-feed them.  It’s something extra I’m willing to do to help them, but if they’re serious, they’ll help themselves.  You roll with the punches.  If they don’t care I guess I shouldn’t care.  It just bothers me since so many seem interested I find it hard to believe they won’t go the extra inch to get better.

I keep getting new students (who are just students with free time) to come and see the foreigner teach.  I like it.  It makes me feel good.  The sad thing is that they are not my regular students.  I guess the trading deadline has passed or I’d put in an offer on some of them.

My “friend” Lisa (a 1st year student I met) keeps coming to my classes when she has time.  When she comes in everyone gives her the “fish eye” and tell them, “what’s it to you, she’s my friend”.  I’ve taken a real liking to her since she’s polite and pleasant and I get the feeling she cares about doing a good job in English and anything else she tackles.

The microwave broke last night so we just reported it and hopefully it will be repaired soon.  We live for these moments.  Tomorrow we head to Suzhou for a couple of days.  It advertises itself as the “Venice of the East” and although there are many canals and it’s quite beautiful, it’s not Venice.  I’ve been and have actually stood in the footsteps of Marco Polo, but Shujie has never been.  I found a bar/hamburger joint that I hope is still open to get a good cheeseburger.  If not, I’’ suffer through a Friday’s.  Is my life sad when looking forward to a cheeseburger is the highlight?

I have 3 classes today.  Hopefully I’ll have a voice at the end of them.  I can’t say it’s all smooth sailing but it’s better than Korea and Israel from a stress standpoint.  I don’t stress.  If the students want, I’ll go out of my way to help them.  If they’re not interested, I don’t give a damn about them.  I have to split them like that for my own sanity and so I can provide good learning for the interested ones.

We come back Sunday.  I guess that means Shou-cow Sunday night.  Ah, I look forward to it.

That’s a little more catchy than “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”, and it makes you wonder what the hell he’s talking about this time.

When we last left our hero (that’s me I guess), I was about to head out for shou-cow (I seem to spell it differently every time).  I just love that stuff.  I have 2 pieces of chicken, 10 lamb skewers (the lamb pieces are tiny), and 12 potato skewers (3 potato slices on each).  The spice is just the right amount and it’s worth being thirsty all night just for this pleasure.

When it was time to pay, I was the one to call over to the lady owner, “Loban, Mi-dan”, which basically translates to “boss, I’m ready to pay”.  Her and her husband cracked up and actually understood me.  It’s a real pleasure to be a “regular” somewhere where you feel like you’re treated with respect and decently and the “bang for the buck” is amazing.  There’s no tipping here but I always feel like tipping because it almost feels like I’m getting something for nothing.  They must be making money.  They just seem like a couple of decent kids (in their twenties I guess) and I feel a loyalty to their stand.  There are many stands along the street but they’re my choice.  I asked Shujie how do I say, “how are you” so I could say it next time.  That’s a no-go since Chinese don’t say, “how are you”, and come to think of it, who’s ever sincere and listens to the answer anyhow?

Sunday was a lost day.  This trouble sleeping I’m having is getting quite annoying.  I was up about 4:30AM Sunday morning and lay in bed until 6.  We went to the supermarket in the morning and then when we got home I took a nap.  Then I got up and ate lunch.  After lunch I had a long nap.  Then dinner and a movie, a little reading, and back to sleep.  It’s just ridiculous and I hope it stops soon.

While in Nanjing a piece of the front of one of my teeth chipped off.  It was almost a piece from the middle of the front of the tooth.  Of course, that meant a visit to your local Chinese dentist.  This was not something that I wanted to do, but something I had to do.  I asked Shujie to call Wang Jing to get a dentist recommendation.  Guess what?  No recommendation.  It seems Chinese don’t go to the dentist unless it’s an emergency.  No six-month checkups.  No cleanings.  No nothing.

You can go to the dentist at the hospital (no thank you) or there are some who have offices.  Naturally there are no appointments and you just go.  I guess if he’s doing a root canal you just wait.  It’s strange.  Shujie called a couple of places and the first one had two dentists who ran the office.  The dentist with 20 years experience wasn’t going to be in until 7 in the evening.  The dentist who was there didn’t want to work on a foreigner because he only had 2 year’s experience.  I guess Western teeth are different from Asian teeth.  You learn something new every day.

The second place was one dentist who had 20 years experience so we went.  There was no one there except employees.  I’ve never been in an empty dentist’s office.  It was a new office and he’d only been there about a month and it was clean which was a wonderful surprise.  He spoke in a quiet voice (so un-Chinese) so I liked him.  He didn’t speak English, which was fine because dentists who talk to you while their hands are in your mouth are not my favourites.

He fixed the tooth the way I thought he would.  It was painless and quick.  The cost?  It was about $14.  How do these people live?  I decided I would go to him for a cleaning next month.  The cost?  That’s about $12.  He does all his own work including making dentures and he has an x-ray machine.  We got the office tour because what else did he have to do?  So it’s good to get a dentist I feel comfortable with.

At 7PM tonight I had my “tutoring” student, Beata (pronounced Beta).  I keep waiting for the official edition to be released.  She studies “Tea Art” and she brought her tea stuff with her.  Not all her stuff but a tiny teapot, 3 tiny cups, and some tiny bags of tea.  It seems the there is a whole big deal about making tea, the ceremony involved, the music, the ceremony, and you study the growing of the tea trees.  This was our 3rd meeting and although her English is terrible, she’s getting better just by spending time talking.  That pleases me.

I learned something about tea.  You have a different teapot for a different family of teas.  You wouldn’t make a “green tea” in the pot you used to make a “yellow tea”.  Beata studies music because the music is part of the ceremony and atmosphere.  She studies English from a textbook that is written for “Tea Art” students.  She says she’s going to sell tea when she’s graduates.  There are 33 students in her class, 27 females and 6 males.  The males don’t like the ceremony stuff because it’s too feminine so I asked why they took “Tea Art” and she told me it’s because they want to sell tea.

Shujie shows her the door after an hour because I’m too polite.  I told Shujie to show her the door next time after 50 minutes because it’s another 20 minutes or so until she’s out the door.  I’m sure if I said she could come every night, she would.  I’m touched that she’s so comfortable with me and thinks so highly of us.

Tomorrow night is movie night.  This time it’s “Big” starring Tom Hanks.  I’m trying to work with the simpler stories.  Hopefully they’ll enjoy it and realize that it’s a kid who wakes up older.  Who knows what they comprehend.

I will leave you with a picture of Beata filling the teapot.  She is a cutie.

We got up at 5 on Friday morning to begin our trip to Nanjing.  It’s an hour bus ride (usually) and Shujie needed time to wash her hair and we wanted be there by 8.  We caught the 6:40AM bus and it took 90 minutes of honking to get there.  These bus drivers should have their hands amputated.  If I was “King of the World” that would be near the top of my list.  The ride was on schedule until we hit Nanjing.  In China it seems that everyone and their brother has a car and those that don’t have a car have motorcycles and electric bicycles.  The roads are jam-packed.  I’m told that Chinese salaries are terrible so I wonder where they get the money to buy cars.

Just judging by the cars I see on the road I’d say more than half cost about 160,000RMB or more.  That’s about $25,000.  I earn 6,000RMB and I’m doing well.  I probably make more than a lot of teachers here.  I can’t figure it out.  There are a lot of rich Chinese since the country opened up, but not that many.  And as far as I’m concerned this is not a Communist country.  This is the most capitalist country I’ve ever seen.  Everything is money, money, money.  I have trouble adjusting to doctor’s costing money and having to pay cash for my blood tests.  It’s weird.  So the next time someone tells you China is a Communist country you can tell them that Martin said, “they are not”!

Once we got to Nanjing we took the subway to the hospital where all the doctors speak English.  Ha, ha, and double ha.  Don’t believe anything anyone tells you here.  They may mean well and they’re not trying to mislead you (at least most of them) but they know from nothing.  It’s more like they heard something from their mother’s friends’s brother-in-law’s son so it must be true.  It’s ridiculous.

We checked in and were sent to the 4th floor to see an English-speaking doctor.  He didn’t speak any English.  None.  Not a word.  And he ignored me as he asked Shujie questions.  Shujie is in a bad position since she wants to help but she doesn’t know everything about me.  She gives him a list of my medications that she had translated and he didn’t look them up himself.  He took her word for everything.  That’s not very professional.

I was getting quite furious at being ignored but I guess the thing that tipped it was that I take 1mg of some medication and they don’t make them in 1mg size here.  He told me (through Shujie) that the 2 ½ mg that you get in China was the same as the 1 mg I get in Canada.  Now I’m not a math wizard but where I went to school they taught us that 1 does not equal 2 ½.  Ever.  Under any circumstances.  This guy obviously got a PHD at the University of Idiots.

When we got out of his office my mood wasn’t the best.  I told Shujie we were going downstairs to get an English-speaking doctor and she wasn’t to stand with me or say anything.  They see I’m with a Chinese person so they think they can ignore me and talk to her.  I want them to deal with me.

I went to the front desk and told them I wanted to see an English-speaking doctor, which of course they couldn’t understand.  However, they knew I was speaking English so they could figure it out.  They looked around and saw Shujie and someone went to talk to her.  She was good.  She told them that they had to deal with me.

So I wait while they work the phones.  While waiting this man starts to shove me because there are no lines in China.  Everything is chaos.  So I gave him a hip-check and he looks at me.  The nurse catches his eye and warns him to stay away from me.  I’m happy to be the “crazy foreigner” if it gets me what I want.

Finally we are sent to see the English-speaking doctor.  They were in the “nice” area of the hospital.  Instead of being in a filthy war zone, we were in modern offices that were spotless.  This was the area for those patients who have money.  I was told I would have to pay about $70 for a consult.  I told them that after the consult I would decide whether I was going to pay them.  Not that I don’t trust them, it’s just that I don’t trust them.

A young lady who is a doctor came in.  Her English was fair at best.  She spoke some Chinese to Shujie and I told her that no, you talk to me.  She looked up all my medications (using the English) on the computer, which was a good sign.  But she was only seeing if their pharmacy had them.  I thought she was doing research.  She did agree with me that 1 mg did not equal 2 ½ mg.  I told her that the doctor who told me that was an idiot and should be fired.  I can be blunt.

After a while a second doctor came in.  Her English was a little better and I got some further information.  They asked me about one of the medications I take which is an anti-depressant.  They asked me why I took it and I told them it was because I was crazy.  They bought that.  However, their hospital’s pharmacy didn’t have carry it but they directed me to the hospital next door which dealt with crazy people.

Another medication is a new one that was just released in China in July.  I did my homework before coming here to be sure I could get everything.  They told me that they didn’t carry it yet but that their boss had 2 samples that were given to him by the drug company.  I asked if I could have them and they said they would check.  It might cost me something to get something that they got for free.

Their boss came and gave me a price of about $140 for one.  That’s not bad for him since he would pocket the money and was much more than you pay in Canada.  He told me that I could have as many as I wanted by 3PM that day.  I told them it was too expensive and I’ll be reporting that corrupt criminal on Monday.  Shujie says it’s quite common for doctor’s to get a kickback on the prescriptions they give.  They’re not all criminals, but one is one too many.

Because Asians and Westerners are different (in case you didn’t know) many of the meds I take have very different doses than those you can get her.  For example one of them is a pill that is 80 mg that I take.  Here the largest size is 20 mg but 10 mg is the common dosage.  So I would have to take 8 of these pills a day to equal the 1 pill I take.  It makes the price much more expensive than I paid in Canada.  I told them that the price was silly and I couldn’t believe some of the drugs were more expensive in China than in Canada.  It doesn’t compute.  If we make more money in Canada then things should cost more.

We finished up with the 2 doctors and I agreed to pay them.  I told them that we were told that “all” doctors at this hospital spoke English.  They laughed.  In fact I was the only foreigner in the hospital.  Shujie told me later (and I wish she would have told me when we were in with them) that one of the doctors kept saying I shouldn’t be there since I didn’t have a lot of money.  If I knew that I wouldn’t have paid.  So like school here isn’t about the children, medicine isn’t about the sick people.  It’s all about the money.

We went to get lunch and check in to the hotel before visiting the crazy hospital.  I remembered where we had seen a Subway sandwich shop last time and we were both quite excited to be going there.  It was in a subway station.  Really.  It wasn’t quite identical to Canada but I thought it was damn good.  Shujie was disappointed because she was expecting identical.  If you want identical, then stick to McDonalds.  For desert there was an Italian ice cream place across the hall and it was delicious.  I was much happier.

We checked in to the hotel (which was clean and fine) and then went to the crazy hospital.  We checked in and went upstairs where we went into a room and Shujie told the doctor that we came from Jurong and showed him a list of my medications.  He didn’t speak any English but he did quite well for me.  He just gave me the prescriptions I needed (only for the different anti-depressants I take).  No questions asked.  No examination.  This doctor sits there typing in prescriptions.  It’s kind of weird.

I thought that I should ask for some Tylenol #3 while I was there since it never hurts to have some around in case something painful pops up.  I explained with my dictionary and he understood and happily wrote out a prescription for 50 of them.  I could have asked for 500 and I’m sure I could have got them.

One of the prescriptions had a limit of how many he could write up but he wrote a bunch of them for different patients (their names that were sitting on his desk) and gave them all to me.  He was very nice but I don’t get it.  Is this the special foreigner treatment or no one gives a damn.  After we went downstairs I was sorry I didn’t ask for morphine and oxycontin.  It’s not that I really wanted them, I just wanted to know if I could get them with no questions asked.

So I have some of my prescriptions filled and a list of others.  I can go to the pharmacy and see what they have and maybe they can exchange one brand for another.  I was told I could get up to 1 month’s supply at a time but the doctor at the crazy hospital wrote me for 3 months.  Don’t ask.  And at the pharmacy you can ask for as much as you want.

We went back to the hotel and had a nap.  It had been a long day.  After we got up Shujie thought we should hit the Walmart first.  I thought we should wait until we were ready to leave on Saturday but she said we wouldn’t be able to get in with the suitcase and she was right.  So off we went to Walmart where I’m hoping I can find some Western goodies.

What a joke!  It was worse than the supermarket here in Jurong.  They had nothing special and in fact, didn’t even have American cheddar cheese.  All we bought was Chinese dates for Shujie since she said they were cheaper and a better quality than here in Jurong.  I was happy since I could leave and know that I wasn’t missing anything by not going to Walmart.  I hate Walmart.  Shujie commented on how dirty it was and I told her that all Walmart’s (in any country) are dirty.  I’m surprised she didn’t remember that from Toronto.

And it was packed with people.  I don’t know what they wanted or why they were there.  I didn’t examine the prices but stuck to what they carried.  I think they were there because of the American name.

When we left we started to walk and saw a pharmacy.  It’s a big chain in Nanjing so a good one to check out.  We are looking at the drugs and finding out what we can switch so it could be cheaper and also figuring out how many I would need to make the dosages match.  I asked Shujie if we could negotiate a price and she said, “no”.  She had told me you can negotiate anywhere except the supermarket.  You can negotiate in a restaurant after you get the bill.

I was also told that you needed a prescription to get certain drugs such as Insulin.  We got what I needed that I was willing to pay for.  There was no Insulin on my prescription paper but I had her ask what they charged for my Insulin.  I was curious.  They gave a price and I didn’t think it was so great.  Then they gave a better price but I still didn’t bite.  I made an offer but it was too low for them.

The other strange thing is that they don’t keep the prescription paper.  The patient keeps it.  So after it’s filled you can go across the street to another pharmacy and buy more.  Strange.

After we paid for the meds the lady helping us came up with a new price for the Insulin that I didn’t have a prescription for.  I decided that was the winning price so I bought it.  I’m always making fun of Shujie since she thinks she knows everything about China because she’s Chinese.  I asked her after “what did you learn tonight”?  She said she learned that you don’t need a prescription to get drugs and that you can negotiate in the pharmacy.  Good for her!

So it was about 9:30 at night and we had done all our Nanjing things.  We grabbed a quick bite and went back to the hotel.  I had a lousy sleep waking at 4:30 and not falling back asleep.  This country is messing with my sleep patterns and is starting to play with my stomach.  That isn’t fun.

When we got up we checked out and went to Starbucks for breakfast.  Shujie had coffee and a croissant, which was a mistake for her since when she drinks coffee she can’t sleep for a long time afterwards.  She couldn’t sleep on the bus or nap this afternoon.  I had 2 double espressos and a Frappuccino and a blueberry muffin.  It didn’t stop me from sleeping.

So here we are back in Jurong.  We’re going out for show-cow (bbq) in a few minutes.  I’m psyched.  I love this stuff.  What’s your favourite food?  Street meat I answer.

Okay, the title of the post.  I knew the rooms had Internet in the hotel and I had my Ipad.  I couldn’t get wireless so I phoned the desk and asked if they had wireless Internet.  I didn’t think the front desk person understood me when she said she would send the housekeeper.  But what do I know?  In China when you have Internet connection questions, call the housekeeper.

She came and explained there was no wireless and it was only a hard-wired connection.  So I guess she was the expert.  We got a good laugh out of that.

This is a weird country to my eye.  There is corruption, greed, no concept of lining up, little care for your neighbor and other things.  I have to adjust since I’m the visitor but some things I can’t adjust too.  The problem is that the majority of people are nice (I believe) but when you have 1.3 billion people even if a small majority are scum that’s still a lot scum to go through.  I try to adjust and work with it but sometimes it’s just so hard.  I do take pleasure in little things such as a young girl (about 10) giving me the eye yesterday and smiling at me.  I guess she doesn’t see many foreigners.  I love things like that and they always have given me a warm feeling inside and I hope that never changes.  Of course, doctors who are trying to sell you something they got for nothing is not something I can accept.  This country could be so much better if they looked carefully at cleaning things up and they did away with a lot of useless paperwork and learning how to work efficiently.  But I can’t change it no matter how much I wish I could.

Now isn’t that an original title?  How do I think these things up?  I truly amaze myself at times.  I’m tired.  I need sleep.  I don’t like to go to sleep early and I hate waking up at 6:21.  If I had morning classes I could sleep in the afternoon but my Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons are all booked up.  Woe is me.

I didn’t realize I haven’t posted since Monday.  I usually post every 2 days and now it’s three.  Is time flying or am I just out of it?  Who knows.

Tuesday I began with my class of stupid cheaters.  I pointed out how they cheat and I assured them I’m not stupid.  I reminded them that I’ve been around a lot longer than them so I know all the cheating tricks.  I told some of them that I was disappointed in them because I know they are smarter than that.  I hope it was just a one shot deal.  I just had to waste time with a class on cheating.  Sheesh.

When it was time for my first class with my one of my 1st year classes, no  one showed up.  The idiot head of the English department came in the room and asked me where the students were.  Doh!  How the hell do I know.  Then she said, “it’s not my fault”, and I knew it wasn’t.  How insecure of her to say that.  It seems the head teacher of that class didn’t get the message to the kids.  Since we weren’t sure about the 2nd group I was to come back to teach but if no one showed up, I could just leave.  They showed up.

I felt a different vibe on Tuesday.  No one really talks to me or says hello to me.  It’s weird.  People, especially students, should smile at the strange foreigner and say hello.  Maybe after 1 year of school they’re jaded.  Anyhow, starting Tuesday, I was getting hello’s for lots of people I’d never seen before.  Naturally, not all of them were my students.  I was quite pleased.

The new students seemed pumped to have a foreigner as a teacher.  For more than 90% of them I’m the first foreign English teacher they’ve ever had.  These kids are lucky.  There are about 3,000 new students and I have 70 of them.  So many lose out.  I wonder how they choose the winning classes.  It’s not that I’m great, but I’m the only exposure they’ll get to English spoken properly and all the other benefits of having me.

One little girl (okay, she’s 19 but tiny) came up to me and starts blabbering in Chinese that morning.  I told her I didn’t speak Chinese but she kept talking to me in Chinese.  She was with a friend who spoke to me in English.  Naturally the one who only spoke Chinese is in my class while the other one who spoke English isn’t.  But I invited her to my Tuesday movie night and told her that I was available for talking any time she’d like to arrange something.  She came to the movie Tuesday night and came to one of my classes today.  She’s a real sweetie so I guess that’s why she’s not in my class.

I do a great opening “dog and pony” show.  I do the blurb about my background and why I’m here and that I’m not Chinese and a bunch of other things.  Then they all talk about themselves.  Some are very brief.  For example, “my name is xxxxx, I am 19 years old.  Over.”  It’s very illuminating.  My favourite was a girl who said, “My name is xxxxx.  I am Chinese.”  Did I laugh and so did the class and she was rather embarrassed when she realized what she said.  I faked a heart attack and said, “You’re kidding!”.  It was quite funny.

I have one boy who had an English tutor (I think) from England.  His vocabulary is quite good but he didn’t shut up.  He even sang a song.  I think his classmates were yelling at him in Chinese to sit down and shut up.  After class some of them wanted my phone number so I gave it out and I got a message from him asking for my QQ address (it’s like MSN) so we could chat online.  I told him I didn’t chat online so he wrote back that it was okay, we could chat on the phone sometimes.  I hope he makes some friends.  I really hope so.

On Tuesday night I showed Rocky.  The kids said they liked it and I loved it.  I had new students there and some of my old ones.  The ones I only have on Thursday’s now didn’t show up because they mostly forgot.

Wednesday I returned to the hospital for blood work and to have a doctor figure out what blood tests to do.  Of course I had the results of my last blood tests with me but he needed to do this by himself.  I think it’s because he doesn’t read English.  It’s frustrating.  After all this I was told that I should go to this hospital in Nanjing that has a bunch of doctors who were trained in the U.S.  So that’s tomorrow.  I need to go through all this to get all my prescriptions in order but what a pain.  I’m not looking forward to this.  We’re going to stay in Nanjing tomorrow night and hit the Super-Walmart on Saturday in search of Western delicacies.

Wednesday night my “tutoring” student Beata (don’t ask) came over.  Her English is terrible but she’s trying.  It took a while to explain what “inside” and “outside” meant.  But she’s a sweet kid and she brought apples with her.  So she has good manners and a pretty smile.  She shows up at the movies and she’s interested in learning.  Shujie likes her but doesn’t think she’s very bright (and we’re not counting English).  But I say if they’ll try, I’ll try to help.  She asked to borrow a DVD from me and I leant her one.  It’s against my policy but since she’s not a real student of mine I leant her “The Wizard of Oz”.  I hope she likes it.

Also on Wednesday I got 6 extra students in one of my classes.  They came to audit the class.  They’re interested in English and I’m the only foreigner in town.  I was quite pleased to have them.  I wish they were my students instead of some of the lunkheads I have.  I may be able to build a harem of English loving young ladies.  It’s a bit of a high when they like you and laugh at your jokes because they really do think they’re funny.  There are a lot of nice kids here.  And then there are others.

Some of the names of my new students are “Michael Jordon”, “Kobe”, “Orange”, “Blue”, “Green”, “Red”, “Brad Pitt”, and “Nine”.  I understand the basketball tributes but the colours?  I don’t get it.

Today I separated 2 boys so they wouldn’t be sitting beside each other and talking.  This is college.  It’s ridiculous.  I gave them this break since it’s the first week.  Next week I start kicking them out.  My pleasant personality makes them think they can talk in class.  Today I had to slam a cupboard door to get their attention and after that there was no talking.

I gave another of my standard speeches to my 2nd year class today.  I asked them if they understood what they had taken in the textbook so far (all 7 pages).  Naturally no one says anything.  So I take a deep sigh and start around the room to ask each student individually.  The first one hesitated and I’m telling him it’s okay to say that you don’t understand.  He sucked it up and admitted he didn’t understand.  Good for him.  Most of them didn’t understand.  One boy who knows nothing and never pays attention said he understands but I just laughed at him.  I have a few students who I trust and when they say they don’t understand, I know that it’s close to no one understands.  The highest I got was one girl who said she almost understands.  I believe her.  She’s the kind that’s a joy to have in a class.

I tell them that it’s their responsibility to tell me when they don’t understand so I can explain things better.  I do the “I work for you” speech.  I hope it works this time.  I know this book is hard and I’ll “dumb it down” as much as I can.  But I need the feedback.  I don’t know why those that want to learn don’t tell me when they don’t understand.  I know it’s an Asian thing but I just can’t accept that.

I guess in a month or two they’ll beat the enthusiasm out of me but I hope not.  I hope I can beat the desire into them before they beat the desire out of me.  If only you could cherry-pick the students who get to do spoken English with the foreigner.  It would be a bit of heaven.  I’d feel quite worthwhile and the students would appreciate learning with someone who can help them and cares.  Maybe in the next life.