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Monthly Archives: September 2012

It’s early.  I’m not ready to throw in the towel and I soldier on.  Perhaps if I was alone I would have blown this pop-stand, but Shujie likes it.  I’m a touch (okay, more than a touch) more fussy than her.  She’s Chinese so she can tolerate the inconsideration and idiocy that seem to be a major part of this school system.

As I’ve mentioned several times, I hate my schedule, and with each week I hate it more.  Ten classes, 300 students, 2 subjects.  I see them once a week and I really have no problem with the students.  However, if I don’t see them more, it’s just so hard to build a decent relationship.  They don’t know me and I don’t know them.  It’s so stupid.  I’m sure that if I had them 3 times a week teaching different subjects the whole dynamic would change  and we would all be big winners.

I’ve been told that the schedule will be changed for the 2nd semester.  Then I was told it might be changed.  Let’s just say I’m skeptical.  I don’t trust anyone here over the age of 30.  Is is paranoia when people are really screwing you around?

I speak to the acting head of the English department fairly regularly.  They asked the students what they thought of the new teachers and I got a brief insight into what passes of thoughts for them.  I basically threw out everything they said because if they don’t tell me, it doesn’t count.  And if the moron who sits at the back of the class and pays no attention has a problem, it doesn’t count.  Those that try and have suggestions I’m very happy to listen to.  I want to change to make the class better.  I told her I didn’t want to see these Chinese comments because I thought they were crap and I would do my own question and answer period.

If every class I asked the students to write down what they thought about the class and about me and write them down.  I left the classroom so they could discuss in private.  I wanted constructive criticism, not just “let’s bash the class”.  Seriously, I’m  open and don’t know everything.  I want to learn and I want to have the best classes possible.

I have received a few good ideas that will change my class but the majority of things I received were received from students who suffered a lobotomy before entering school.  In my writing class one student wrote that she didn’t like it because, “I don’t like writing”.  That helps.  I have students who don’t like if I sit on a desk (that’s disrespectful but I told them to grow up and deal with it.).  I drop my books on my desk instead of laying them down neatly.  I told them to suck it up.

My marks are too hard.  I explained that you don’t get 90 because you don’t miss a class.  I told them on the first day that if they talk and try, they will do well.  They don’t have to talk, but I don’t have to pass them.  I’m not friendly because I’m not all smiles for 100 minutes straight.  Of course, no one is.  I’m not as kind and considerate as other foreign teachers.  I asked what that meant and no one would tell me.  So it’s bullshit.  The majority like me but I’d love to know where the intelligent students are coming from.  I have no idea and until some confronts me at the  time they think I do something wrong, I’ll never know.

Then there are students who want to talk about other topics.  I tell them, “great, what topics”?  Dead silence.  I’m sorry, but what a bunch of fucking idiots.  Not all of them of course, but enough of them to perhaps pass along a false impressiom.

I think after years of doing this I have a good idea of what I’m like.  I never get angry, I’m always friendly and helpful, and I tell everyone they can talk to me anytime, inside or outside of class about any subject, school or not.

I show movies every Wednesday night.  That’s not a subject.  That’s my money and time at work.  It’s been one year and one month not one student has said, “thank you”.  I had students write that I shouldn’t show black and white movies, but only colour.  What a bunch of idiots.  I’m trying to expose them to different things that most of them haven’t seen.  I’m sorry, I’m not showing “Transformers” movies.

Obviously this sticking in my craw.  If I was smart, I’d just ignore it all, but I’ll admit that I’m hurt.  I know what I am (pretty well) and these students don’t know me.  Maybe if I had them more than once a week, we could build a relationship.  We shall see but I don’t hold out much hope.

I had students write that I need to give homework every week.  I do give homework every week.  I need to show examples of what the work is, but I do show examples every week.  Now if you’re  a 3rd party who doesn’t know my class, what do you think?  That’s why I basically told her this was all crap.  Now I said it much more diplomatically so I’m sure it goes over her head.

Shujie doesn’t want to move next year but wherever we go, if anywhere, would have to have a job for the both of us.  I try.  I could be better, but I need the help of the students telling me what could be better.

Enough of that crap.  In high school this week I showed the Norman McLaren short film (8 minutes) called “Neighbours”.  It’s 60 years old now but it’s just as great now as when I first saw it.  The students liked it.  It is probably the best-known Canadian film every made.  If you haven’t seen I strongly suggest you invest 8 minutes.  It can be found at the National Film Board site or on You Tube.

We are on our 10 day holiday now.  We will just run around town until Monday when we’re going to the desert to put Shujie on a camel (a fate worse than death) and to visit the Genghis Kahn Mausoleum.  Old Genghis won’t be there but it’s supposed to be good to see.  On Wednesday we will go to Hohhot (capital of Inner Mongolia) for a couple of days.  It will be nice.  I’m already worrying about how to fill up 7 weeks of holiday.  It’s not cheap to be on holidays and I have no desire to sit here.  It’s soon time to start thinking about it.

Maybe things will get better but it has got me down at the moment.  It’s funny, but some of my freshman from the dumb school are smarter than some of the morons here.  Weird.

One other thing is that I brought the Beatle song, “Can’t Buy Me Love” to high school and played it.  I was surprised that some of the students had even heard of the Beatles.  One boy says, “Hey Jude”, and then he takes out some paper where he as written down the words.  It was pretty amazing.  I asked him to sing so he grabbed a friend and they tried.   By the time I whipped out my camera they were near their end but here are the 18 seconds I got.  I hope you enjoy.

Only in China.  I have seen some pretty awful (yet funny) translations over the years of my travels.  I have no idea why countries where they don’t speak English insist on having some signs in English.  I think someone could travel the world and take pictures of bad signs, and have a pretty good book to publish.  Until this, my favorite was in Korea for the “nose and nose clinic”.  I’m not sure what this is.  It looks like some sort of Emergency vehicle.  I’m not sure what kind of emergency, but perhaps if China goes to war with Japan these will be used for any Japanese daring to be caught in China.

Speaking of war, the talk can be pretty hot and heavy.  Talk of war is in the air over those freaking islands that 2 months ago no one had ever heard of or cared about.  You can see cars on the road with people waving huge Chinese flags on poles out the windows.  In Baoding (Shujie’s home town), some stores have “No Japanese allowed in” signs in their windows.  If it does come to war, I guess I’ll have to leave and that’s no fun.  So I vote, “no war”.  Of course, even if I weren’t here I’d vote “no war”.  But of course this is Communist China and there is no voting.  So I guess my vote is moot.

Last Saturday we took our trip to the grasslands.  I’d say we had a good time and it was something different.  Miles and miles of nothingness followed by more nothingness.

There are a few tourist places and this is ours.  You stay in yurts, which is some kind of Mongolian tent/home.  There is a raised slab of concrete inside that you lay blankets on and there is room for six to sleep side by side.  We were lucky and got our own yurt.  Of course, no washrooms and you really don’t want to visit the communal ones outside unless you have no choice.  I don’t understand people who think it’s okay to go in the middle of the floor.

We went on an 1 ½ hour horse ride.  We saw lots of nothingness.  The horses don’t gallop.  They are so trained that they don’t respond to anything but just do as they’ve been trained to do.  I’m glad we went but I would have liked a few minutes of galloping.  We went with our downstairs neighbors (from Canada) and here is a picture of them and moi on our horses.

This blue thing is some sort of praying yurt (I guess).  It was so tacky looking I just had to pose with it.  You can leave money for Buddha (or whoever) but I controlled myself and didn’t contribute.

After the ride it was time for lunch.  We had lamb ribs and they were rather tasty.  Then we walked and sat on the ground and just relaxed.  It was nice to be in the fresh air and enjoy the quietness when there were no Chinese people around.  Chinese are loud and love to talk and talk.  I don’t think silence exists in China.

Here are some sky pictures, which are always a thrill to look at, plus my picture of the sunset.  I lucked out with this one.  I guess for every 10,000 pictures you are entitled to one good one.

It was then dinnertime and the “Mongolian show” by the fire.  Dinner was horrible and the fire was some wood in a garbage can.  The show was like a Karaoke show with some of the Yurtland people singing songs.  We were pretty tired and retired to our yurts.  I asked what time I should get up for the sunrise at, since I heard it was quite a sight, and I was told between 4:30 and 5am.

I slept in my clothes since it was pretty cold at night.  I had 4 shirts on and my wool hat.  I didn’t sleep that well since sleeping on concrete is not a real thrill.  And if you do fall asleep and dare to turn over, you wake up.  Rolling on concrete tends to wake you.

I got up at 4:30 and went out.  There were stars to see and I waited 2 hours, standing outside, for the sunrise.  Ha!  It was hazy so I didn’t see any sunrise.  Here is my one morning shot and this doesn’t qualify as a sunrise.  I guess I was being punished for my good luck with the sunset.

We left Yurtland at 8am and went to see the 3rd best temple in China.  We saw the best when we were in Tibet and I don’t know where number 2 is and I don’t care.  I’m templed out.  We were about an hour late for this big ceremony that was going on.  We didn’t know about it but they unfurl a huge picture of some big-shot Buddhist on the side of a mountain.   Then they roll it up and take it back in.  Here they are marching back with their rolled up picture, along with a shot of some big-shot Buddhists.  I know they’re the upper crust because of their cool hats.  Seriously.

Then it was back to Baotou.  On the way we stopped for sunflowers.  Here’s a picture of the one Shujie took.  She loves sunflower seeds and was quite happy with this one.  The seeds were gone in a couple of days.

Travelling with the 2 other people wasn’t too painful.  They seem pretty nice.  We were tired when we returned we were pretty tired and just did basically nothing.  I probably finished marking some papers and looking at what I was going to do in class during the week.  10 different classes, 300 students, and 2 subjects.  I teach culture six times a week and writing 4 times a week.  It gets kind of boring but I can’t let that show.

I’ve changed how I do homework.  I can’t give everyone homework and mark all 300 students in a week.  I could, but they don’t pay me enough.  So in my culture class, seven different students get homework for the week and in my writing class everyone gets homework but I only mark 10 a class.  I figure they need the practice.  I’m letting them mark each other papers in class and that seems to be working out well.  They get into finding the errors in other people’s work (which is good).  They don’t always know how to fix them, but they are pretty good at recognizing what is wrong.  Naturally I don’t use their marks, but just use them for my own entertainment.  I am a much harder marker than anyone it seems.

In one of my classes a student told me I was very happy that day.  I told her I’m always happy and she said no.  I was quite shocked.  I think I’m the same every class.  I’m friendly, encouraging, open, and so on.  I told her that the next time she doesn’t think I’m “happy” she should tell me so I can see what she means.  I think what it is, is that some students think I’m too strict.  What is it that makes me strict?  I like the homework to be in on time and if it isn’t they get a zero.  That’s strict.  I think I’m supposed to give one warning.  You try and treat them like adults but they’re not adults.  They’ve been babied all their lives.  Their parents baby them and their teachers baby them.  I don’t.  So I gave a free shot this week and no zeros.  But that’s it.  So now everyone agrees I’m not strict.  I love maturity.

I dealt with my student who copied his homework off the Internet.  I’m glad I had a week to cool down.  I told him in private that he copied and I told him how stupid it is to copy off the Internet because it’s so easy to find.  You can’t cheat in English because if you write too well, then I know you’re copying.  He got zero and I told him if it happens again he’s expelled from my class.  He thanked me for my kindness and assured me that it wouldn’t happen again.  We shall see.

I had an incident with a student this week.  On Wednesday during the break in one of the classes, a student from the class across the hall took out a cigarette to smoke.  I have this student too and I think he’s a bit (okay, more than a bit) of an idiot.  I told him to take in outside and he laughed at me.  (Respecting the teacher is part of the culture here I’m told).  He lit it and I went to grab it out of his mouth.  He ran away laughing.  I wasn’t going to run after him so he smoked and then he just tossed the butt on the floor.

I waited for his teacher to return after the break and I reported this to her.  She told me she doesn’t like this student and she failed him in a class last year.  She told me she would tell his head teacher.  That’s all she can do but I wasn’t happy.  It took me 2 days to find a time when I could talk to the acting head of the English Department.  I told her about this and told her who the student was.  She told me that she’s never had him but she knows whom I was talking about and she doesn’t like him either.  She said she’d have him apologize and I told her I don’t want an apology.  I told her I didn’t want him in my class anymore.  She said she respects my decision so he’s history from my class.  If he’s there on Tuesday, class stops and one of us leaves the room.  What jerk he is.  The students get away with too much crap and if you let them, it just goes on and on.

I took a 2nd job.  There was this guy lurking at the school on Tuesday and he stopped me as I was returning home after class.  He asked me if I would be interested in teaching 4 hours (4 40-minute periods) at the high school.  I went with him to the high school and the times I can do that are in between some of my classes.  So it’s not work after work, but just time I’d probably be sleeping between classes in my apartment.

The money isn’t bad for China but I’m not doing it for the money.  High school students are a new demographic for me, so there is something I can learn.  I started on Thursday and the energy level in the classroom was so high.  You can’t help but feed off that energy.  It was fun.  The kids seem quite enthusiastic.  They are 1st and 2nd year high school students and they say things to me like, “I hope we can be friends”.  It’s nice.  And it is funny when a 16 year-old girl tells me that I’m “cute”.  But that is the beauty of China for me.  It means something like you look like a nice and kind old man.  There are no hidden meanings and no hidden meanings when a student tells you you’re cute or handsome or kind or whatever.  It is what it is and I like that.

Our downstairs neighbors came upstairs last night to watch one of our movies.  I was within seconds of murdering the woman.  I don’t know if she has A.D.D. but 60 years old and she couldn’t shut up.  If there is a sign in the movie, she reads out loud what’s on the sign.  If the characters are singing, she sings along.  She makes inane comments.  Shujie told me she was so nervous that I would do something but I just kept quiet but never again.  Her husband is welcome but she is never going to watch another movie with me.  It was the worst behavior I have ever seen exhibited while watching a movie anywhere.

I showed “Witness for the Prosecution” last Wednesday.  There were about 60 students and the reviews were glowing.  They loved it.  It’s an older (1957) black and white British mystery by Agatha Christie.  The ending is a real surprise and they were all quite shocked.  I was thrilled that they enjoyed an old movie so much.  I have no idea what I’ll show this week, but I’m pleased when they like it.

Oh joy!  We got to wake up at 6AM every day for the last week.  Today might be the last day or perhaps tomorrow.  What’s the occasion?  It seems that freshman go through army training before they start classes next week.  They march, they shout, they march some more, they shout some more and they wander around.  They wear these silly track suits so they are easily recognized but I don’t think I’d go into war wearing a powder blue track suit.  I don’t think they fire guns, but they march.  Their instructors lead them (1, 2, 3, 4 over and over again).  I’m not sure what they are trying to teach them, but then again here I am at a school and I can’t figure out what they try and teach them here.

Here are some shots and a short video.  I keep hearing Phil Ochs in the background.

And of course, the video evidence:

Last Saturday night we went for dinner to a pizza place/bar that was supposedly for Westerners.  We were the only 4 Westerners and I was quite good about bargaining on the prices.  Karl ordered a Chivas and they brought him a full glass, the price being about $5.  Good price!  No Bloody Mary for me though.  I tried Vodka and Lemon Juice (not good) and Vodka with Peach Juice, which wasn’t bad.  The Pizza wasn’t too bad either.  We had a nice time.  They seem like nice people.

We invited them to join us on our overnight this weekend.  We leave about 7:30 tomorrow morning (it’s a private tour) and we visit some temple built in the Tibetan mode.  Now, I’ve been to Tibet so big deal, but this is supposed to be the number three temple in China.  I’ve been to number one and temples are great if they’re not crowded.  Then it’s off to the grasslands (I hope there is still some green grass).  We will enjoy the scenery and ride some horses.  I will be galloping across Mongolia (Inner Mongolia that is), imaging I’m Ghengis Khan or his brother Don.  Shujie has never rid a horse and she’s looking forward to it.

We will sleep in a Yurt which is a kind of Mongol tent.  We didn’t go for the private yurt which includes a washroom but a yurt that sleeps six to eight people.  We were told that we would be the only ones in the yurt (Shujie and I) and our friends will have their own yurt.  It’s supposed to be only a 5-minute walk to the washroom.  I’m sure it will be cold at night (about 0 Celsius).  I’m taking my winter coat and gloves and hat.  I will dress warm and I don’t think I’ll be having a shower Sunday morning.  Another big sacrifice for me in the name of adventure.  I’m looking forward to this.

After getting 100 students last week to my movie, I only got about 60 this week.  I’ll never figure out the patterns.  I showed “Million Dollar Baby” and I asked the students if they liked it.  Most said yes, but a few said no.  I asked them why and they said it was too sad.  Apparently Chinese like happy endings.  Welcome to the real world kiddies.

I have an issue to deal with next Wednesday which I am still trying to figure out how to do it.  I gave all six of my culture classes a short assignment to write 2 paragraphs.  One paragraph on what they like best in Chinese culture, and another of what they like least in Chinese culture.  So all my students (300 of them) had homework to hand in this week.  Never again as it’s just too much.  My culture students are 3rd year students and their writing is horrendous.  Actually it’s worse than that.  They can’t write sentences (or most of them can’t).  Many don’t understand what culture is (Great Thinking????).  It’s kind of sad and it’s too late for me to teach them how to write.  I will take my writing a little more seriously because I’d die of shame if my students were writing like these students next year.  (My writing students are 2nd year.)

They don’t study grammar here after the 1st year (go figure) but they do study British Literature and they have that class twice a week.  I think something is screwed up here.  But I can’t change anything, but then again, I don’t have to like it.

One of my students who was writing about what they liked best and least in Chinese culture turned in a paper where the English was perfect.  Idiot!  If you hand in a perfect paper, grammatically correct, then I know you copied.  Now I can’t really come out and say you copied without actual proof but these are really stupid kids at cheating.  They copy from the Internet.  So I typed in his first sentence and the first hit from Google was the article he copied from.

I know how I like to handle these things but I was looking for other people’s opinions.  Shujie’s was to let it go this time.  Everyone cheats and no one cares.  Some students told me when they get caught their teachers don’t do anything.  I can’t do that.  It’s my classroom and it’s my rules.  Other foreign teachers say “everyone cheats so just give them a zero on the paper and move on”.  What a place!  If no one gives a damn then how do they learn what is acceptable and what is not acceptable?

My solution is to humiliate them in class.  Let everyone know they cheated, and they were really bad at cheating.  Give them a zero and let them know that if it happens again they get zero for the year so they might as well go home.  Other teachers tell me not to humiliate them in class as they will lose face and everyone will hate me.  I don’t believe that.  I’m quite charming.  And if I make an example of one, then others get the point.  I’m insulted and feel disrespected that some idiot student thought he could “fool me”.  I pity that fool.

In one class this week there was too much chatter and I kept asking them to be quiet.  If anyone tells you Chinese are polite, you can tell them they’re wrong.  It got to the point where I knew the next person I saw talking to a classmate was going bye-bye.  So one talked and she was thrown out.  It was unfortunate that it was that girl because her friend told me after class that she was just asking her friend if she knew a word in English because she wanted to answer a question.  I believe her but I had to make an example of someone.  Isn’t that natural with 22 year-old students?  Dumb!  Once she was expelled from class, everyone was quiet when it came to talking to their friends, but their class participation did not wane.

I am so friendly and smiling and joking in class but there is a line.  They will learn.  I just can’t tolerate the jerks and the idiots but fortunately there are only a few.  In one class I said, “I’m a nice guy”, and some idiot boy said, “I don’t think so”.  I told him, “I don’t like you either and you should care if I like you”.  I can see the writing on the wall for him.

I had a surprise email last night from Kimoko, a student from last year.  The subject was “I miss you very much”.  I was quite touched.  I did make a small difference last year.  That email made my week.  She did write something funny in it.  She told me she never realized how small I was until she got the new foreign teacher who is “big and strong”.  I thought that was kind of funny.  But she told me her classes are deadly boring and she misses my classes.  I was on cloud nine.

I had to stop and it’s now Sunday evening.  We had our overnight in the grasslands this weekend.  I will report on this in my next post, and there are even pictures to share.  Let’s just say I was exhausted and filthy upon our return.

I went looking for all the papers I have to mark and it appears I lost one classes homework.  How stupid can I be?  If I don’t find it before their class I’m going to tell them Shujie threw it out.  I can’t look like a total dolt in front of them, even if I am.

I’ve decided that about half my students are mentally challenged.  I’ve told them twice to email me their homework.  There should be one attachment containing all homework in it and the name of the document should be their name and class number.  The subject should be their name and class number.  I get multiple attachments in one email, or I’ll get three emails with an attachment for each little piece of homework, or I’ll get the homework typed into the email.  Are they just stupid?  And if they don’t understand or aren’t sure, they should ask.  They’re 21 years old (at least) but you have to lead them around by the nose.  I think a little maturity wouldn’t hurt but that’s one of the downsides of the 1-child policy.  Children are spoiled and many of them never have to do anything for themselves, including thinking.  I will survive this and hopefully it will stop being an ordeal.

That’s it for now folks.  Grasslands story coming soon to a page near you.

Two weeks down and the jury is still out.  Do I like it?  I don’t know.  I’m still adjusting and naturally there are things I like and things I don’t like.  We were right to leave Jurong but I miss it.  Wang Jing called last night and I told her I miss her.  That school got 2 English teachers for this year (amazing) and she told me they were nice, but not as nice as me.  But then again, who is?

The head of the English department is away for 6 months.  He’s gone to England to study (or something).  I spoke to a vice-dean (of something to do with English) and told her that perhaps teaching 3 different subjects to the same class and having them 3 times a week might be more beneficial.  It will be for me but my random survey of classes shows 4 – 1 at this point for a preference for one foreign teacher per class.  That way they get to experience different foreigners.  That’s true and important, but you’re trading away building a relationship and having the teacher know you and learn your name and treat you as the individual you are.  I’m not sure which is in the student’s best interests.

The vice-dean told me they try to make all the teachers happy (I did not vomit).  Some teachers just want to teach one course (shoot me first) and others like the way I like it.  She told me that some of the teacher’s don’t want to have to prepare too many lessons.  If you only have one subject taught to 10 classes, that’s only one lesson plan taught 10 times.  I took out a Kleenex and told her to give it to those teachers so they could cry.

She told me that since she’s the schedule lady that she would make my classes like I want for the 2nd semester.  It’s too late for the current semester.  That was nice of her and we’ll see if it happens.  I am troubled too by what is best for the students.  I guess there is no right answer.  Each way has its pros and cons.

I have 300 students total (approx..) and that’s too damn many.  I teach culture 6 times a week and writing (yawn) 4 times a week.  The only teachers who get the same class twice a week are those that teach British Literature.  That’s two classes a week for each class.  I don’t know why British Literature is so important.  I think there are other things they could teach.  I know they teach “news reading” and “advanced audio-visual”.  I’m still trying to figure out what “advanced audio-visual” is.

All my culture classes are on the 1st or 2nd floor.  Those floors have “multi-media” classrooms (computer and screen that projects).  My writing classes are on the 4th and 6th floor with no multi-media.  The elevator doesn’t work so I don’t like climbing to the 6th floor but I need the screen for writing more than culture.  In writing it’s good to show samples of student’s writing to everyone so we can look for the errors together.  I went to the secretary and asked her if the rooms could be changed for the writing classes.  She looked at the schedule and for 3 out of 4 classes she found empty multi-media rooms so of course she said “maybe”.  I said, “no maybe”.  No one is showing on the schedule in those classrooms, so they’re mine.  For that 4th class I will personally look and see if one of the multi-media classrooms are empty.  I’m betting one is.  They are just too disorganized to trust anything they tell you.

This secretary cowers when she sees me.  It’s funny.  She’s scared what I’m going to ask for now.  But as we all know, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.  It’s nice to make friends with the locals.

I showed my first movie Wednesday night.  I thought I’d start with “BIG” starring Tom Hanks.  It’s perfect as it’s funny and easy to understand.  I had no idea how many students would come from my 300.  After all, some of them were told about it the Thursday before.  I had about 100 students.  I was pleased and they loved the film.  Will this lead to a bigger turnout next week?  Who knows?  I learned last year you couldn’t predict.  I do know that there are about 120 seats so if it grows too much I have a small problem.  But that’s a good problem.

The school is offering Chinese lessons for foreign teachers.  I’d love to do it but it’s also on Wednesday night.  I’m committed to the movies.  Juliet (from Foreign Affairs) told me I could start the movie and go to the Chinese classes.  I wouldn’t be comfortable doing that.  I feel I should be there for the movie in case there is a problem, and these are all movies I love.  It’s too bad Shujie can’t come because she has a class at the same time.  Her class is next to where my movies are so I ran in and introduced myself to her class before the movie.

Shujie is starting to calm down which is good.  It’s getting easier and she’s getting more comfortable.  She still needs more time, but it’s good to see she’s feeling less pressure.  I try to give her ideas and be supportive because when I’m not being humourous, I’m being supportive.

I’ve met the woman who lives beneath us.  She knocked on the door to ask us a question and we’ve chatted a couple of times.  Her and her husband are about my age and are from Quebec.  They’ve been teaching in China for 5 years.  We are going out for dinner with them tonight so we’ll meet the husband and maybe hear some good stories.  I wish some of the Chinese English teachers would befriend me.  They smile and say hello when they see me but it would be nice to make a friend or two.

We found a decent supermarket, which was a relief.  We’ve been there twice and I’ve tried some hamburgers (barf) and other new things.  I haven’t found a decent bread which I think is strange.  In my first town in Korea I could get French bread.  In Jurong I could get French bread.  I haven’t seen one yet.

We are off from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7 for the National holiday so it’s time to start looking for a vacation spot.  We went to the travel agent’s yesterday and they told us that what I wanted to do (visit the grasslands) would be too cold.  So next weekend we are taking an overnight trip to the grasslands.  It’s a private trip for about $50 each (no food or horses included).  We leave from here (which is easy) and head out to the middle of nowhere.  We rent horses and ride (like the wind) and we’ll sleep in a yurt (some sort of Mongolian tent thing).  I’m looking forward to it.

Later this morning we are going to the travel agency to see what they’ve put together for us for the holiday.  We are looking at 4 days/3 nights.  Since it’s a private tour there are no Chinese shopping stops and since cities are involved I will be able to get food I can eat (even if it’s only rice).  I’m hoping the price is decent.  I’ve checked the Internet and contacted 3 places a couple of days ago.  I haven’t heard anything back yet.  But I think the local one will be cheaper because the Internet people are trying to capture the big-buck foreigners where we are just a couple of poor Chinese teachers.

Yesterday we went out to look for printer cartridges.  It was a long bus ride and we went to this place with many computer stalls.  We could only find one stall with the cartridge I needed but he was overcharging, by a lot.  Not only was he overcharging, he was quite unpleasant.  I said forget it and we heard about another place close by.

At the other place everyone was nice and reasonable.  We got the cartridges and it was nice to have a pleasant shopping experience (it doesn’t always happen in China).  The city seems reasonably clean and we’re still learning things.

How school will go is still up in the air.  If I give all my writing students homework every week, that’s 130 papers I have to mark every week.  That’s too many.  If I give all 300 students homework and mark it, that’s about 25 hours of work a week.  Forget it.  I guess that’s another reason to have just one class teaching different subjects.  You can mix and match your subjects and have a better chance to give them homework and mark it.

I’m not depressed which is good.  My mind is still open and I’m still trying to figure this out and if I like it.  But I do miss being the only white guy in town.

The jury continues to deliberate.