Monthly Archives: August 2012

Here we are, the morning of Friday, August 31, at 9:03AM.  It’s been a week since this adventure began.  It’s had it’s down moments and then it’s had it’s down moments.  So far I am not filled with a warm, fuzzy feeling but perhaps that will change.

As you can see in the title it’s now “adventures in baotou”  The link remains the same but no more Jurong (unless it’s me pining for it.)

We got up early on August 25th for our flight from Toronto.  It was 5:20 PM when the flight left.  I guess I should have know I was in trouble when they came around for dinner and asked, “do you want Chinese food or Western food”.  I naturally asked for Western food.  They give it to me and I ask what it is and they tell me, “fish noodles”.  This is Western food.  Western China maybe, but not the west I know.  What it actually was a piece of fish with noodles.  So I gave it to Shujie who ate it along with her Chinese food which was “pork noodles”.

They had personal video screens.  That was great.  A wide selection of movies.  Ours didn’t work.  At first the stewardess brought me a newspaper to make up for no movies.  I threw it on the floor.  What a brainless twit.  Their explanation for the problem was that the plane was old.  That’s a good reason.  They have an old plane they can’t maintain.  Did that mean if it crashed they would have said, “sorry, the plane was old and thrown a newspaper on my corpse (or body parts).  Let’s just say it was not the finest flight.  I didn’t sleep 1 second.  A very nice lady switched seats with me for a few hours so I could watch some movies and then I read a book.

We arrived in Beijing and it was pretty painless to make our way to our local flight to Baotou.  The flight took off about 25 minutes late, but no problem.  We arrived in the “Deer City” (nickname for Baotou) and naturally couldn’t see anything since it was Sunday midnight local time.  They picked us up and seemed nice.

We got to this excuse of an apartment (that was called foreshadowing).  It was a clean building (good), it has an elevator (good), we live on the 4th floor (good), and we have the larger of the 2 sizes of apartments they have (good).

Whoever designed these apartments must have an IQ of 43 and failed architect school.  It’s kind of smallest compared to Jurong but the big problem is the layout.  To say it’s stupid would to give it too much praise.

We come into the small living room, one couch and no chairs.  Four steps and we are in the world’s smallest kitchen.  Here are 2 pictures of the kitchen.

Notice the sink.  The water wasn’t hooked up when we arrived.  They told us the apartment would be fine and clean when we arrived.  Ha, Ha.  Typical Chinese lie.  They tell you what they think you want to hear and when it isn’t so, they just forget about it and hope you do too.  They just don’t give a damn.  I shouldn’t say everyone.  Wang Jing in Jurong as wonderful.  Here they are scum until they show me different.

As you can see from the other picture we have a burner.  The toaster oven is ours.  The microwave sits on the floor.  There are no cupboards above the sink or the “cooking area”.  There is about a cooking area of about 18 inches.  What a joke.  And then you’re supposed to eat on the coffee table while sitting on this uncomfortable couch.

I think the problem is that many Westerners come here and think this is all they can get and there is no point saying anything.  I may be the only person who will tell them the living arrangements suck.  There is no balcony.  You dry your clothes inside since there are very few dryer’s in China.  Room is at a premium.

Here are some pictures of the living room.  It’s cramped.

I asked for a small kitchen table to put in our living room since I hate eating at the coffee table, 3 chairs, and a sideboard/small cupboard to give us some room to put things.  They said yes.  Then they went to their garbage room and we got this table (it’s useable) and 3 chairs, 2 of which we wouldn’t accept.  As for the “sideboard they brought us this huge bookshelf to fit in an 18 inch space.  The outcome of all this is supposedly we will get 2 chairs from the school but as for the sideboard with shelves we are on our own.  I just love spending my own money on things they should provide.

The bedroom is large.  Too large.  They should have made the bedroom smaller and the living room and kitchen bigger.  What idiots.  The closet and shelves are too small.  We don’t room for everything.  There is an excuse for a desk in the bedroom.  It’s about 15 inches thick and who wants a desk in the bedroom?

Here are some shots of the bedroom.  You can see the bed, the closet and the excuse for the desk.  We have set up wireless in here but I like to sit at a desk.  Morons.

The bathroom is big with the world’s worst washing machine.  There is lots of room but it’s still another shower where the water goes everywhere (are shower stalls against the law?).  Last night Shujie did laundry since I had no idea how the machine works.  This is  a machine that retails for about $100 so you can guess at the quality.

Here is an overview of it.

On the left you turn on the water until it gets to the level you want and then you stop the water.  You have to hook up the hose for the washing machine to the shower (after removing the shower head) to fill it.  Then you set the timer and it washes.  The water goes nowhere.  When your time is up you move the clothes to the right of the machine for spin.  While that is happening you empty the dirty water from another hose to a drain in the bathroom.  Then you fill it up again with clean water.  When the spin is done you put the clothes back in for the “rinse”.  When that is done you move them back to the spinner part.  You manually remove the water again and when the spinning is done, you’re ready to hang them up.

Here are a couple of washroom pictures.

How effing cheap can you be.? If I had known all these things I wouldn’t have come here.  If you don’t have a decent home, it’s hard to really enjoy your job.  Shujie wants to stay for the teaching opportunity but my feeling is that if the people you work for are not “good” people, then you are asking for trouble.

We had our schedules and I had 2 classes on Thursday and 2 classes on Friday.  I do 20 classes a week.  I was led to believe I would have no classes on Friday but they say, “it’s so difficult to do and blah, blah, blah).   Shujie had classes Monday to Thurday evenings from 7 until 9 and a Friday class.  Not exactly what we were led to believe.  I really wanted out but I thought I would stick it out until our meeting on Monday morning.  After the meeting Shujie now has Monday to Wednesday evenings (asses, making her work 3 nights a week).  They moved her Friday class and my Friday class so we have 3-day weekends and that is good.  I know you have to compromise but why they put you through the ringer, I don’t know.  I am not filled with the warm and fuzzies.

We have been to 3 supermarkets, garbage all.  We lived in a town of 600,000 people with a fine supermarket.  There are 2 ½ million people here.  We will try a couple of others today.

Classes.  What can I tell you.  There are 18 foreign teachers here and no teacher has the same class more than 1 time a week.  I understand wanting to expose the students to different foreign styles, but on the other hand you don’t have time to make a connection with the students.  I would rather do 3 different subjects and have the kids 3 times a week.  You can overlap the subjects and have time for other things.  I suggested this to someone I work for and her idiotic response was the teacher would have too many classes to prepare.  We ask the students to prepare and work hard.  I don’t think you’re asking too much if you ask a teacher to work a little harder.  Besides I don’t see the problem, but that’s just me.  If they want to be stupid, there is nothing I can do.

The students themselves are fine.  Their English is pretty good (a huge change from last year) and I like the ones I’ve met.  Of course, because I think I like them I’m bothered that I won’t get to know them better).  But Shujie wants this year of teaching experience so it will be easier if we want to go elsewhere next year.  I’m willing to do it and I’ll try to keep my complaining to a minimum.  It’s just so interesting the difference between last year and this year.  Last year I work for a garbage school and they treat me like gold.  I come to a better school and they don’t give a damn.  I know you can say they can get other teachers, but some of the teachers don’t really give a damn.

Maybe this will grow on me (like a cancer).  It’s only been less than a week.  It just makes it so much easier if you have a decent place to live.  The things that get stress you disappear and you’re a better teacher.  I don’t take it out on my students but this seems to have been a bad choice (so far).  But you are always taking a chance when you come to a new place.

We will start to get out next weekend and see the sand dunes (which are supposed to be beautiful) and the Genghis Khan Mausoleum, and some temples.  This weekend will be spent looking for food I can eat, and some cheap furniture.  We’ve gone out twice for Shao Kow (bbq) and it was good but lots of people.  And they drink.  One guy was peeing on the street.  A real class place.

They have a KFC, McDonalds, and Pizza Hut here.  Three is supposed to be a Western Restaurant that was opened by a former teacher at this school.  I don’t think eating will be a problem I am looking for a good Mongolian Grill.

This has been a difficult for Shujie.  She sometimes comes in and feels like the student’s English is better than hers.  I tell her that give it a little time and she start to relax.  I have never heard her “whine” so much in 4 ½ years.  I try to be supportive.  Things could be picking up for her and that’s important because she’s the reason I’ll stick it out.  So far the air hasn’t bothered me and the campus is pretty nice.

It’s been a frustrating week.  Next week I tell the head of the English department my idea how the teachers should be used.  Will it be changed?  No, of course not.  But if I give my opinion then I feel I’ve done my job which is to try and improve things for the students.  As I tell all the students, I don’t work for the school, I work for them.

God, you just have to love me.


I think the last couple of weeks have been extremely stressful for me.  Probably more stressful than I was prepared to admit.  Just waiting and trying to carry on like everything was normal.  I think it took a lot out of me.  I think my mind started playing games with me (I would feel like I couldn’t breath and I would feel like I was having a heart attack).  And I would wait each day for the next day to come up to August 15th and the big test that would determine my immediate future.

I had my test this afternoon.  The staff at the hospital was wonderful.  The doctor was cheerful and informative, and the nurses couldn’t have been nicer.  I actually filled out a comment card naming names because if you can do that when the service is lousy, you can do that when the service is good.

For the test they stick a tube down your throat to get a good picture of your heart.  They spray your mouth to freeze it and then give you some drugsrrrfvffvf to relax you.  It’s like you’re in twilight time and it feels wonderful.  You can hear everything and if they were drop an anvil on your head, you wouldn’t care.

When it was all over the doctor told me there was no problem.  The ultrasound that led to this does not take a totally accurate picture.  Now they had an accurate picture and the valve has not narrowed and I do have some calcium around it, but nothing to worry about.  The doctor who did the test phoned the cardiologist who said I should come and see him next year.  That was so nice of the doctor to call him to either set up an immediate appointment, or just tell me to carry on.

So it’s off to China on the 25th and I’m thrilled.  I’m exhausted due to the stress and the medication wearing off.  I have no worries except for the normal ones (will we like the school, etc.) so it’s business as usual.

I’ll have to start looking at the textbooks they sent me now that I’m sure I’m going and I’ll have to start worrying about the coming year since I always need something to worry about.

I can’t believe this turned out okay.  It’s so unusual.  It’s a nice feeling.  I can’t complain.  I was sure I was done for but every dog has it’s day, and I guess I had mine.  I just fell asleep typing this.  Sitting down and typing and falling asleep.  I’m done in, but I’m happy.  So it will be adventuresinbaoding after all.

I would rather have a pita party with maybe some falafel or kebabs or something of that nature.  However, food has nothing to do with this.  In fact, I think I’m writing this because I’m stressed and perhaps writing it will be therapeutic.  Because I need some therapy.  Now.

I was/am so excited about going back to China and teaching at the Teacher’s College.  I was/am so excited about Shujie getting to teach there.  I was/am going to meet new people in a different part of the country (Inner Mongolia).  I was/am going to teach supposedly “smarter” kids.  The classes are about 12 people (so I’ve been told).  We’ve shipped things to Baotou from Jurong and they’ve arrived.  They’re sitting in the apartment that is waiting for us.

A two-month “vacation” to Toronto wasn’t the smartest of plans.  I love seeing family and living with my sister’s family during this time has been pretty easy-going.  I don’t think we’ve stressed each other out and I can’t say enough about how comfortable everyone in this family has made us.  We’re lucky, that’s the least I can say.

So now it’s August 2nd.  We have a flight back to China on August 25th that arrives the evening of the 26th.  School starts on August 27th.  I used to be good at planning but I dropped the ball on this one.  My papers that I need to get a visa are winging their way to me as I write.

Yes, I was/am psyched about the coming year.  It’s a true joy to have a job that you actually look forward to going to, knowing that you’ll have some laughter, learn from others, and pass on some knowledge to a few.  Usually just a very few since I no longer have any illusions about being a teacher.

Being in Toronto this summer gave us an opportunity to go to the doctor, free of charge.  (Thanks socialized medicine).  Shujie got some standard woman-like tests and saw an ear, nose, and throat specialist and there was nothing serious so that was good.  She’s happy that she got taken care of.  It’s not that she doesn’t trust Chinese doctors, I think that she doesn’t trust Chinese doctors as much as Canadian doctors.

Me, being me, and having had a great year last year with no illnesses at all, came to the attention of the “supreme being” who said, “whoa Nellie, what’s this?  Martin hasn’t been sick in a year, how did that happen?”  Yes, no strokes, no heart attacks, not even a common cold.  So it might be time to pay the piper.

My blood work was a mess.  I was shocked and decided the blood lab were idiots (how could my condition, which was stable, change so much).  My doctor of the moment (who is my cousin) didn’t have time to discuss anything with me since he thought I’d only need 15 minutes of his time and I had the temerity to have this boatload of problems.  He said I should go see a kidney doctor (forget what they’re called) since my levels were so elevated.  I guess that’s not good for someone who has suffered acute renal failure in the past.  But I saw the kidney doctor last August before I left and all was fine.

He also said something about my ECG (heart test) but that just blew by me on the rush to get me out the door.  He gave me a requisition to go get a stress test.  I went upstairs in the building and made an appointment for the next week.

For those who don’t know what a stress test is, it is not how stressed you are.  Basically you walk on a treadmill while they increase the speed until you can’t take anymore.  They do ultrasounds and have you monitored to judge how much stress your heart can take.

I had an uncle who in 1992 had a stress test at a downtown Toronto hospital.  He then left the hospital to go home and dropped dead on the street.  Then someone robbed him, as he lay there dead.  I guess he shouldn’t have had that stress test.

In 2001 I was scheduled for a stress test at my doctor’s in Texas.  Before the test they do an ultrasound to be sure you don’t drop dead during the test and that you’re up to it.  They saw something, called the doctor, and he said, “no test”.  I went to the cardiologist who did an arterial angiogram and came to me with the results as I was coming out of the anesthetic.  The upshot of that was I had quadruple heart bypass surgery and had my aortic valve replaced by a mechanical valve the next day.  Seriously, I’m lucky.  I’ve had a boatload of sicknesses in my life and I don’t look sick and I’m still kicking.  So I look at it as my good fortune rather than, “whoa is me, why does this happen to me?”  If not me, who else?  I can handle it (and there has been a lot of it i.e. cancer, carotid endarterectomy  (that’s a biggie), quadruple bypass, valve replacement, acute renal failure, stroke, heart attack, diabetes, pneumonia, and maybe others).

I’m not complaining.  It’s kind of like a family joke (and I hope it’s more than me who is laughing).  It’s like, “what’s next”?  That’s why this past year was such a shock with nothing bad happening.

So yesterday I went for my stress test.  They hooked me up and did the baseline ultrasound.  It seemed to me like it was taking a long time for this ultrasound.  Then they call the doctor in and he has a look.  He asks them to take pictures in some area and goes away.  He then comes back, takes a look, and cancels the test.  This is not a good sign.  I know my arteries are good (they were last year).  My 4 main arteries come courtesy of my leg and the last angiogram I had the doctor was shocked at the condition of them.  That’s shocked as in they are in great shape and didn’t look 10 years old.

So I’m puzzled and perplexed.  The doctor said I should have an ECG right then and then he would talk to me.  He’s a very nice man and he took the time to examine me and talk to me when I had no appointment with him.  He gave me a good feeling like I was with a good person who cared about doing a good job and making me as comfortable as possible.

When I went in to see him, it seems like that there is something weird going on with my mitral valve.  The mitral valve is the other heart valve (remember my aortic is mechanical).  Maybe it’s narrowed too much.  There is a lot of calcium buildup by the opening (that’s not good).  However, he said he can’t be sure from the ultrasound and I have another test on August 15th where they put me under, stick a tube down my throat, and get a good and clear look at things.

I’m not sure I understood everything I was told but it sounds to me like there are 1 of 2 solutions to this situation.  The good solution is that the mitral valve is working fine.  It’s a normal size, nothing is blocking it, and it’s opening and closing, as it should.  That would be nice and I’m on my way to China.

The other possibility would be the opening to the valve is too narrow, or there is too much calcium in the area.  Either of those basically mean open-heart surgery (been there, done that).  Maybe I get a new mitral valve to match my aortic valve.  Maybe they cut me open and just clean the area.  I don’t know and it doesn’t help to guess.  All I can do is stress about it.  And of course once someone mentions something like, “is your breathing okay”, then you start to think about it and wonder that maybe I am suffering from a shortness of breath.  What’s weird about shortness of breath is that it happens slowly so you don’t really notice it.  It becomes a way of life.  But I’ve lost all perspective on it and am lost as to how I really am.

If I need open-heart surgery they either make an incision under the heart and “dig in”, or they make an incision in the middle and break the breastbone open.  Now, I’ve had the incision and the broken breastbone.  My breastbone is held together by what looks like a bunch of wire hangers.  It is kind of funny looking in an x-ray.  I think when they put me back together in 2001; they shouldn’t have used staples to close my chest up, but rather a zipper.  Then they could just unzip me this time and work away.  I guess it’s tough to plan for the future.

So I’m here in purgatory.  I want to go back to China and have fun.  I have no job here and no place to live.  My mother doesn’t need the stress of me going through surgery again (although she’s a pro at it).  My wife talks about getting some minimum-paying job at a Chinese grocery or restaurant, which depresses me.  There are lots of Chinese people with graduate degrees working at minimum paying jobs over here.  I want her to be a teacher.  I think she’ll love it and she’ll be good at it.

Where will I live?  I don’t want to impose on anyone.  I just want to live a life.  I’m not asking for tons of money (I work in China, I make no money).  I just want to enjoy life and I’ve positioned myself in a place where I do enjoy my day-to-day life and have fun and adventure.

I know I shouldn’t worry about it until the test but of course that is easier said than done.  I’m very stressed.  I swear I feel like crying when I think about it.  If I need surgery then China goes on hold.  Then I’m like a kid at Christmas time that has had all his toys taken away from him.  I think that’s not a bad analogy for a Jewish kid who never had Christmas.

I can’t stop thinking about it.  I never complain about being sick.  I never feel sorry for myself.  But how about this one time just giving me a pass on heart surgery.  Let me enjoy life and not be an inconvenience to anyone.  As an atheist I don’t know who I talk to about this.  I guess this is it, talking to myself.

If I’ve had all these things happen to me before I’m 56, then shouldn’t I get a pass for the rest of the way?  These things I get happen to people 60 and above.  Maybe it will be nothing and I’ve worried for nothing.  However, my track record isn’t exactly the best when it comes to medical issues.

Do I feel better after writing all this down?  Maybe a smidgen.  Not a lot.  What will be, will be.  If I don’t go to China this year, it won’t be the end of the world.  I will endure.  Whatever happens, I’m still a lucky guy.  (Have I convinced myself yet?)  Yes, I really am.  But just like Cyndi Lauper, I just want to have fun.