The jury is still out

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.


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