School begins. Well, sort of. OK, not really

27 08 2009

So today, after a week or so where we’ve basically sat around waiting for something to happen, with little or no contact with the school outside of trying to understand or be understood by the ayis (Pronounced I-YEE; means “auntie” – essentially is the maid for each floor), I think all of us were ready for today’s orientation. Like everything else in China, there was little notice, besides a note posted by the elevators saying we were meeting up at 10 this morning. So we all (the teachers in the dorm building) trooped over to a small classroom where a mildly frazzled looking British man, probably in his mid- to late-thirties, was waiting with a stack of papers.
No representative from the school was present. The guy in charge of the orientation was a former teacher at the school – now a teacher at a different school – and for the most part, he spent the first part of the class just talking about what we could expect from living in China and Nanjing specifically, as well as what the school’s rules were. (Worst one: No visitors after 11 pm. ESPECIALLY Chinese girls). Apparently at the school, you’re not allowed to live together unless you’re married, but there was one couple who was considered a very special case. Wonder who that was? I’m sort of curious what our contact said was our reason for having to live together, besides me saying I wouldn’t work there unless we could share an apartment. Most of the stuff we went over was fairly run of the mill China stuff that we’ve already encountered a lot of (People spit; it’s crowded; they stare; food is cheap; watch out for electric bikes, scooters and bad taxi drivers, etc…) He did name off some places to visit, which I was keen to hear about. We also discussed some of the food you could find. The second half of the orientation was more of the same, except some other teacher who had been there a couple years came in and brought a giant bottle of beer he swigged from, while occasionally giving his mostly unasked-for opinions on stuff. (Best places to get drunk; which administrators did poor jobs; how to get around the Great (fire)Wall) They did hand out some good Nanjing maps, which was nice, as well as a list of bus routes and where they go, which should prove very valuable. At the end of orientation, he gave us the option of saying which age group we wanted to teach. Our options were Junior 1, 2, and 3, and Senior 1, 2, and 3. At the end of Junior 3, the students take the test which determines whether they continue at Nanjing Foreign Language School or whether they move on to another occupation the government thinks is more appropriate for their skill set, whether it be cobbler, anime-haired TV star or street-side bike fixer. Senior 3 is the point where they are applying to school. For the record, Nanjing Foreign Language School sends quite a few students to Ivy League schools and other American schools of note. It’s generally considered one of the best schools in the country. I’ve been very impressed with the campus, though some of the dorm areas are a bit shoddy. I’ve attached a picture of the campus. I was one of only two teachers who didn’t have a preference on the age group, which probably means Hello Junior 1!
Tomorrow we return at the same time to learn more about the teaching process. Wish me luck. I don’t really need luck. Wish me luck next week.

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First full day in China is a hot, wet success!

23 08 2009

Hello again from Missy. This one might be long and boring so feel free to skim. I can guarantee future posts will NOT be this ridiculously long.

I’m determined to catch you up chronologically so I don’t forget anything from the past few days. For all of Jeremiah’s faithful readers, my poor memory is infamous, ask anyone. It’s a trait I vehemently deny but different groups of people throughout my life all seem to agree on this. Memory Schmemory. So, let’s travel back in time to Friday.

We woke up bright and early because of ridiculously early bedtime and had the free breakfast buffet at our hotel. I LOVED IT. I recognized almost nothing and had to take a few bits of everything that looked meatless (Jeremiah’s faithful readers- I’m a 16 year vegetarian.) My favorites were the pickled green beans, rice & eggs, pickled beets (say whaaat?), whole tomatoes that looked like plums, sesame seed pastries, dumplings with black beans inside, and the tea. Oh, the tea, the tea. It is gorgeous. They serve it before everything and there’s no bitterness or chalkiness like American hot tea. Yum.

Since we were up and out early we got to find and navigate the metro during rush hour. Similar to everything else, it only takes one halting, stuttering experience before you can navigate the waters. We needed help with the ticket machine because, although they have English instructions (pick line color, pick destination, insert money, etc.), none of the destinations on the map are in English. The thought was nice. This phenomenon is everywhere- a big sign in English offering help/hope, but only Chinese characters underneath it. My favorite today was one that said “Free Tourist Information” with Chinese maps and pamphlets.

I think Jeremiah already wrote about most of our touristy day but I’ll do a quick recap also. While walking from the metro station to the garden we walked down a authentic Shanghai neighborhood street complete with people doing their washing in the street and apartments that doubled as storefronts for street vendor cooking. It was really cool, friends. It felt like the perfect kickoff to our adventure (yeah, yeah, I said ‘adventure’ again.) We ended up in Old Town Shanghai which was tourist central. People from all over Asia were there with their guides holding triangular colored flags to lead the throngs through the sites. Everyone wanted to sell us a watch. I gestured that I was already wearing a watch and one guy said, “Cheaper!” which made me wondering how he could go cheaper than something I already owned. We also went into the nearby City God Temple for Shanghai and bought incense sticks to burn. Everyone lit their sticks, bowed three times in each direction and then threw them in a box that kept burning. Jeremiah and observed carefully and did our best to follow suit with respect. I’m pretty sure we wished for the same thing.

We had to walk back through Old Town Shanghai to get to the fancy gardens I can’t remember the name for (check JW’s blog) and I encountered my first fan. A woman pulled me over and gestured to her camera. I thought she wanted me to take a picture of her and her friend but it became clear quickly that she wanted a picture with the ginormous, sweaty American woman. I was happy to oblige. I think Jeremiah already posted a picture of this bizarre encounter. Fame, people. It’s coming.

The gardens were lovely, but the most exciting thing that happened at the gardens was that I PEED IN A SQUAT TOILET! Yes, folks, I did it and I did great. It actually was much easier than I expected and I don’t feel nervous about encountering another. I think I got lucky in that it was quite clean and porcelain with locking doors, I’ve been warned that many are just holes and smell awful. I’m sure you’ll be the first to know when I meet one of these monsters.

Right after my urination triumph, a thunderstorm quickly rolled in and everyone cleared out. I was delighted that it started to rain because, as you probably notice in all of the pictures where I’m wearing the gray dress, I was disgustingly sweaty and the rain hid my shame. Bear with me a moment while I acknowledge the heat- Friends, I have NEVER been as hot or sweaty as I am here. Houston has nothing, NOTHING, I say, on the heavy, wet air of Southeast China in August. It will be 87 degrees outside and overcast but we will both be drenched in about 10 minutes. Later that day when we read the guidebook about Nanjing it fondly called it ‘one of the three furnaces in China.’ Great.

To cool/dry off and avoid the rain, we headed for the Shanghai museum. We blew 90 minutes here looking through four floors of exhibits. Very nice. As we were leaving to find lunch, a friendly young man called Murphy asked us to take his picture in front of the door. We agreed and he immediately engaged us (one could say ‘Shanghai-ed’?), said he was on vacation also and that he was headed to a tea market festival thing that was right across the way. Would we like to go with him? We were hungry and ready for food and, truly, didn’t have any choice but to follow him. By the time we got into a mall and he wanted us to follow him up an escalator I finally stopped him and said, “Where are we going?” and he replied, “An authentic Chinese tea ceremony!” We quickly and briskly wished him luck and untangled ourselves to go find lunch. Later while reading part of our Living Abroad in China book we discovered that bringing tourists to an expensive tea ceremony scam was listed as one of the top 10 scams of China. I was very proud that we thwarted that one. I’m sure we’ll get duped somewhere else!

Gastronomy alert- Lunch was great. Free tea with every meal, chinese noodles, and pickled green beans (I love ’em!) We ordered a pinwheel cake made of green tea cake with cream filling that was equally interesting and delicious (is that what the Feast one you go on about was, Doug?) We’d been up for 9 hours by this time and decided to take the Metro back to the hotel to rest before heading out in the evening. We rawked the ticket kiosk solo this time and navigated ourselves back to the hotel like pros. As soon as the door shut, we stripped out of our sopping clothes and sat around in our underwear for a solid two hours. I don’t know how the natives manage. No one seems to gleam like we do.

We headed out that evening to see Shanghai at night and see The Bund. It was a bust. They’ve torn up the city in preparation for the World Expo 2010. There are signs and construction everywhere and they have a 20 ft wall of plywood covering the view to the river. Not so pretty. We also got hounded by everyone who tried to sell watches that morning to buy a river boat trip. They wouldn’t take no for an answer and then Jeremiah reminded me how to say “bu xie,” (JW note: pronounced BOO-SHAY) which means No Way, and they would giggle, bow and leave us alone. We stumbled upon the Shanghai Brewery for mediocre beer, fries, and girly martini. The best part about this place was that the music was Destiny’s Child circa 1998 (Ladies leave your man at home….) until the live musician started- a violinist with a karaoke backing track. Bizarre. Our friendly waiter brought us an English nightlife guide and we headed out to find some ex-pat bar with cheap food and then to Abbey Road, the Beatles themed bar.

On the way to the bar we both hit the wall. We managed to choke down some mediocre bar food and headed back to the hotel to hit the hay.


pic 1- Breakfast
pic 2- Post squat toilet triumph
pic 3- I miss my dog enough to make stupid faces at ancient statues.

Job-hunt update

2 07 2009

So at this point, it looks most likely that we’ll be moving to Nanjing. Missy was offered a position with a school in Nanjing, albeit a different one than we thought she was applying for. It’s not ideal – the pay isn’t exceptional, and they told us that they would not offer an apartment stipend (the apartments they have are on campus.) In addition, the school specified that the apartment was for her and her only. In talking to our recruiter (a woman named Echo who works for the government, hooking schools up with English teachers), she said that we could move in, but sort of hide it from the head of the school. We’re not willing to do that, so at this point, we’re still in negotiations, if you can call it that. As for the pluses the school offers, it’s downtown, which is a nice location, we wouldn’t have to worry about furniture/utensils, etc…, and it’s a government school, which is generally considered safer than working for private schools. I’m still waiting for a job offer from the Nanjing Normal School, though it’s possible one might come tomorrow. It’s a little confusing discussing it with the recruiter, partly because of the language gap, and also just because it’s not completely clear what they’re looking for. If we can secure either some sort of apartment stipend, or at least find out that living in the apartment is no problem – and that the apartment is large enough, we’ll probably accept the job(s) outright. In the event that they won’t meet us on those conditions, we are still likely to move to Nanjing, just because it’s considered a cool city for ex-pats to live in, and I’m sure that it wouldn’t be that difficult to get another job offer. The picture at the top on the title bar is Nanjing.


In addition to the Nanjing schools, we have both been offered positions in the previously mentioned city of Lianyungang. It’s not a huge city (about 1.5 million), and it’s about 90 minutes north of Nanjing on the coast. I don’t yet have a lot of information on the school, but I’ll talk to the guy and see what I can dig up. If it was a good offer, and the Nanjing ones were not, we might consider it, though the city isn’t quite what we’re looking for.

At any rate, either route will be a good one. We’re just looking for the adventure, which will happen one way or another. More news when I get it.

Here is a picture I found on someone’s blog of Lianyungang, though obviously there is a lot more to the city than this:



28 06 2009

I’ve never used Skype, and neither has Miss. P, but apparently that’s how we’re being interviewed for a position at the Higher Normal School (or something along those lines) in Nanjing (pronounced NAWN-JING). We’re both hoping that this interview is successful and results in us getting a job offer or two. Missy is interviewing tonight, and I’ll be interviewing on Wednesday, thanks to my job schedule.

In addition to this, I’m supposed to get a call from a school in Xi’an (pronounced SHE-AWN), one of the older cities in China. We also have a guy in Lianyungang (pronounced LEE-AHN-YEN-GAHNG, so far as I can tell) which is a city close to Nanjing and Shanghai. Xi’an is further west; probably the equivalent of living in Kansas City to Shanghai’s Richmond, Va. Anyway, hopefully we’ll have an offer this week. Wish us luck.

Until then we have lots of little errands to get done – phone calls, selling stuff, disconnecting stuff, etc… – and my parents will be in town the weekend of the fourth to pick up some furniture and junk I want to keep but see no reason to take with me (lots of band memorabilia, some books,  pictures of Vin Diesel with his shirt off, etc…). After that, we’ll need to work on shipping out some of her stuff and painting my floor (don’t ask) among other fun moving-related projects.

Six weeks!