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Monthly Archives: August 2015

So I’m here in Baoding. It could be worse, but it could be better. We have an apartment (it’s not bad), the city is about 2 million (not bad), and Shujie’s mom is about a 10-minute walk away which is nice for her.

When I arrived here they had a flyer made for our school. Shujie’s friend’s employee made it and it was butt ugly. I appreciate the effort but I didn’t need to be able to read Chinese to recognize ugliness. Shujie had business cards made for our “English Training Sentre”. Obviously those went in the garbage. Haste makes waste. It’s everyone’s fault. I should have asked for anything to be sent to me to proofread what I could, but I didn’t and no one asked me. So we learned. I have to be involved in any advertising. I write copy in English and Shujie translates it. Sometimes she changes things because we’re in China and what sounds good in North America doesn’t necessarily sound good in Chinese.

Shujie and I redid the flyer and it looks good (I think). Once our phone is hooked up and we’re sure they gave us the right number, we’ll get them printed. They came to hook up the phone yesterday but it appears the modem we had bought didn’t work. Welcome to China. Shujie is out getting a new modem and we’ll try again today.

I admit I’m getting a little tired (forget tired but sick) of China. We bought a new sim card for my phone and it didn’t work so we asked for our money back. No way, no soup (or money) for you. This is how you do business here? To hell with you. I took a pair of scissors and I cut the cord between their bank POS machine and the keypad where the customer enters their PIN number. I was angry, but smiling. It seems they caught me on camera (like I care) and were hassling Shujie. She didn’t do anything wrong. They called the police and when they came I had Shujie tell them I was calling the Canadian Embassy and getting them involved. After a few minutes one of the policemen told Shujie to just leave. So we left. Shuie says what I did was wrong and technically she’s right, however, the other option was to just let them keep our money with no consequences. Therefore the bottom line is we lost about $10 and they will pay more to get their machine fixed, plus they were out of order for the rest of the day. I felt good. You can spit on the Chinese and they yell and scream and accept it. Not me. Don’t fuck with me. I may be old and small but you deal fair with me or I’ll get you.

I saw this “luxurious” office that Shujie got us for free. By the time I got here it wasn’t free anymore but about $500 a month. I hated it.   It was nice but quite inappropriate. It had a huge conference room (too big to have a class) and a small office (good for 1 on 1 classes). I said, “forget it” and Shujie agreed. The problem when you’re in a hurry you leave yourself open to bad decisions. Shujie’s friend offered us an almost empty apartment that she uses occasionally for her business and she would give it to us to use for free (very nice of her). After looking around I said no. There were things that couldn’t be moved or touched and I didn’t want the responsibility.

We looked at a couple of offices. They were wrong for a school and too much money. Since there is no zoning here we found an apartment we can use as a school. It’s a new apartment and it’s next to ours. So we will start out there and if all goes well, we can move. I have no idea how we get customers but I guess we will manage. I want lots of classes so I don’t have to teach. I want to train the teachers and monitor the classes, as well as spending some time with each class.

Our investor has an advertisement expert who is helping us (I hear) for nothing. It appears that we are selling me. It’s the Chinese way. They will want to buy me (seven farthings or so) and become English mavens. I don’t want to lie too much. I offer them no pressure, a relaxed atmosphere, laughter, and a chance to be themselves and I feel that will help them learn. It’s a different way to do things, but if they way they did things here was so good, why would they need so many English training schools?

Our classrooms will not have desks or rows. We bought round tables and that’s where the students will fit, looking at each other. I want them interacting with each other. We will limit class sizes to 8 (or maybe 6) and offer private and semi-private classes. We won’t have classes by age, but by ability. If you are a bright 10 year old you might be in a class with 13 year olds. On the other hand if you’re an idiot 10-year-old maybe I’ll throw you into a class of 7 year olds. If that doesn’t motivate you, nothing will.

I have a goal besides putting food on the table and a roof over our heads and that’s to go to Austin in February to visit Leah and Harper. It’s been too long. I need money but hopefully it will work out. The Chinese New Year is February 8 so schools close down for a few weeks around then. I want to go so bad I can almost taste it. I want to go to England too but it’s been too long since I’ve seen Leah and Harper doesn’t know me. We need some serious bonding time.

So we wait. Shujie goes out and vis

its or whatever. I do basically nothing. I’m sure (and hoping) all this changes soon. Que Sera Sera.

We bought a lot of things online (cheaper) along with some things we can’t get in the supermarket (salsa, cheddar cheese, nacho chips). I don’t exactly have the best diet here but at the moment the thought of meat turns my stomach.

So life goes on. I hope I can keep my sanity or someone gives me a million dollars (which doesn’t buy as much as it used to but I’ll manage). The never-ending adventure.

Here are some pics.  First the apartment.

Front Hall

Front Hall

Main Bedroom

Main Bedroom

Living Room

Living Room

Balcony

Balcony

2nd Bedroom

2nd Bedroom

Kitchen

Kitchen

Hall or area where we stick the fridge

Hall or area where we stick the fridge

Bathroom

Bathroom

Desk

Desk

Now the flyers.

bad flyer page 1

Ugly Flyer

Ugly Flyer

advert4

Better Flyer

Better Flyer

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Yes. That’s the short answer. So why the 2-month delay? I’ve been busy, maybe. I was away (3 weeks). I’m lazy? I haven’t been in the mood? Who knows but he’s back with more nonsense.

I went to Toronto for 3-weeks (summer vacation) and I left early in July on a Sunday. On Friday I was told my job was over. My paid-well, do-nothing job was over. The school was decent. They gave me 2 months notice in salary and they’ll pay ½ my travel allowance (they already paid half). I can’t complain. If it’s too good to be true, it is too good to be true. They are closing the school and I understand. Why have a business if it’s not making money? From what I can gather, the program was for B.A. graduates who were going to go to the U.K. to study for their Master degree. Good idea. I taught “Research Methods” and how to write a thesis. For no extra money they get culture and humour. It was a good program to give them.

From what I understand (and the laws here in China are constantly changing so nobody really knows what they are), they could not sign students up until their 4th year of University. There are so many “International” schools here in China now so waiting for the 4th year puts you at a big disadvantage. Plus you have to come from a rich family because the school is expensive and a year in England is expensive. Your potential market is tiny. They are right to close and I’m not bitter at all. It’s too bad and all that, but that too is reality.

It’s not the sort of thing you want to hear a couple of days before you go away, but what can you do. I couldn’t cancel my flight (I could, but I’d get no money back), so it was off to Toronto. My flight was to leave on a Saturday and the taxi was coming at 5:30AM. I got up and checked my email and had an email from Expedia telling me to get in touch with them immediately. So I did. The first leg (of 3) of my journey was cancelled. Without that 1st flight I was going nowhere. Did Expedia help me to get rescheduled? No, why should they? I’m talking about the Canadian Expedia (expedia.ca) and not the American one (expedia.com). They said the airline was closed (LIARS!). I was furious and lost my cool. I cancelled my flight and because I had to get to Toronto ASAP because Elana was in from England, I got another flight for Sunday from expedia.com. It’s a long flight and seems to get longer every time. I flew from Changsha to Guangzhou, Guangzhou to Vancouver, and Vancouver to Toronto. The door-to-door trip was about 25 hours.

Visiting family. It’s a must if you love your family (and I do). However, visiting is a poor substitute for seeing them every week or two. You can’t jam it all into 3 weeks (or longer). Nothing new is happening. I’m thrilled to see them, but it gets boring pretty quickly. Elana was there the first few days so it was great to spend some time with her, it was great to see my Mom and even her live-in, I adore my sister and her family (and no Elyse, I’m not being sarcastic), and I got to see the 2 friends I have left in that area of the world (Paul and Celia, Steven and Cheryl). I love seeing them all. I stayed at my mom’s but I didn’t do much. Could I have done more? Probably, but there was nothing I wanted to do. I wouldn’t have minded going to a movie but there was nothing to see. I went to a ball game with my nephew and nieces and Elana and had a great time. It wasn’t the ballgame, it was the company. Elana bought her nieces a beer each (cute) and I ate too much (as usual).

10 years of baseball with Jairston

Ten years of baseball with Jairston (my nephew with more hair than me).

Elana and I had lunch one day and I must say, I am so effing happy that our relationship seems to be on steady ground. It’s taken a while, but all good things are worth waiting for. I’m happy.

I’m hoping Leah and I get better. I’m not sure what to do to escalate the process, but I’m muddling through it. I think a visit to Austin would help and I was so depressed this past Monday because I really wanted to jump on a plane and go see her. However, I didn’t (and I would have) because of my visa stuff that is upcoming due to my leaving the school. Shujie says I should go in February (spring festival here and a long holiday). It seems too long to wait, but if it must be, it must be.

So I spent 3 weeks in Toronto and it will be another year until I see them. One of the worst things about getting older is knowing that those you care about are getting older too. And if they’re really old, you just might never see them again. It scares me and depresses me.

When I had my heart surgery last October they opened me up but basically did nothing. That was bad. I’ve adjusted to my debilitated state and I’m not complaining. My friend Steven was on the table for 8 hours when they decided the surgery he could have used was impossible. Isn’t life wonderful (sarcasm)? You don’t have to go far to find someone who is a little worse off than you. I guess that’s why people who feel sorry for themselves bother me so much. Suck it up.

So I’m back in Changsha. I’ll be 60 in August and is that old? When I was a kid, it was pretty old. I don’t feel that old, and except for hair (or lack of) I don’t look that old. However, in China it makes it difficult to get a job. Most schools don’t care about the quality of teacher they get. As long as the face is white and they’re younger than 60, they’re happy. The teacher can be crap, but so what? It’s stupid and annoying.

I spent some time looking for a job and I found a few. The pay wasn’t bad but I didn’t take them. Shujie wants to open our own training school. A training school is a school that students go to after school. I told her I won’t teach younger than high school and she said we’d get Chinese teachers for that. I owe her. She’s followed me around and could never get a job (she’s too old for China), so I will do this crazy thing. It might mean working 7 days a week and it’s late afternoons and evenings (everything I hate), but if we have success we can get others to do the work.

She couldn’t get a license to open a school so she just got a business license and you run whatever kind of business you want. It’s China and it’s a really screwed up place. I hope to find out what we have to do exactly to be 100% legal and be able to hire foreign teachers. Shujie (the know-it-all) tells me things but I don’t believe her. She has to work the phones to get a real answer from the proper government office. I’ll have to ride her until she does this. It’s one of the downfalls of my not speaking Chinese (which usually doesn’t bother me), but I’m good at getting answers. I’m relentless but that doesn’t help me here.

We got $10,000 from someone she knows who doesn’t care if he gets his money back (I don’t understand either), and her mother is good for $6000 and her brother for another $10,000. I think if we can’t do it with the $10,000 then we can’t do it. We have an office that Shujie describes as luxurious. Last night she decided it’s too luxurious and it will scare people away. I think if it’s nice (I haven’t seen it), it will scream success and attract people. The rent is free until we start to make money so we can’t argue with that. We just need to figure out how to get students short of putting on sandwich boards and walking the streets. I think if we can get the people in, they’ll stay. We’ll hire a Chinese teacher for the younger kids and we’ll pay more than the other schools so we’ll get someone good. Paying good here still means paying peanuts. I’ll just sit, smile, and look white which will attract customers (in theory). We will come up with a starting marketing plan in the next 2 weeks. Chinese parents like to send their kids to schools after they’re finished school (which is insane), but we’ll be there. For some reason Chinese people like my face (I look like Norman Bethune) so that will help.

It’s kind of scary but Shujie says it’s better than me taking a job because those days are soon over. She’s always wanted her own business so if she wants to give it a shot, I’ll do it. It might work. I don’t think we’ll end up millionaires, but we might do okay.

So I’m going to live in another city that I once said I would never live in. The first was Tiberius in Israel and the 2nd was Baoding in China, and here I am going to Baoding. We’ll be packing up and going within the next 2 weeks. Shujie rented us an apartment (she says it’s nice and she knows me well enough to know what I like) so I’m not worried. We’ll be close to her mother (who I’ve mentioned 1,000 times and 1,000 times how fond I am of her). It will be nice for her mother.

Who knows? If you don’t give it a try, how do you know you can’t do it?