Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Getting Settled

I have been in China almost two weeks now and I have finally settled into an apartment. It has been a long, grueling day; and at 10:15pm, I am ready hit the floor. I am currently laying on another stiff bed, only this time with new white/pink sheets. I think I had something like this when I was 16. It was on sale, what can I say? It doesn't matter that the sheets are new because this entire apartment is covered in dust, dirt, and residue of the last renters. I can see the thick layers of dust hanging from the ceiling light right above my bed. The dust bunnies are toying with me. Just when I thought my new habit of sneezing wore off, it is back again full throttle. So, everyday has been long, but today especially. In this blog, I want to talk about my job (finally assigned), apartment hunting (hello roaches), and my first day as an ESL teacher.

The Job

I applied for a high school position. Unfortunately, I need 1 more year of experience so I was offered a 6-8 position. I got here and things took a turn. V  asked me to teach kids. Little kids. Primary school. I did not hesitate when I said no. Then I was told that the lower level teachers are put with middle school because it is easier. They already know English by that point and are rather obedient, so it is not as much of a challenge. They thought it would be a pity to put me with 7/8 grade. I agreed to visit a primary school with V and have a look. Perhaps I should have taken Ryan's advice and done a poor job during training to avoid being put with kids. I remember being up there giving a pretend lesson and pretending to slip on a banana thinking, aw man, they are so gonna try sticking me with kids for that one. I came here for a challenge, but I did not plan on teaching little kids. I don't know how!

My company, JESIE, hires us to work at a variety of schools, but I had no idea how nice this school was going to be. If you get a chance, google YU SHUI WAN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL (yo-shou). There is YU SHUI 1 and YU SHUI 2. YU SHUI 2 is the top primary school in Nanjing. It's hard to even get a job here. Extensive interviewing I hear. I heard allllllll about it. People in this city would assume I am some high level educator making dough and paying someone to lick my toes. Little do they know, however, that I am living in dust and naming roaches. Yu Shui is nicer than my university. Okay, I'm exaggerating. I didn't understand why V wanted me to teach there when I have no "real" teaching experience with kids. It didn't make sense. I work well with teenagers.

I sat at a conference table next to V and there were four other people waiting, "eager" to meet me. They shook my hand as if I was saving the school or something. I didn't know how to act. The principal of the school stared and smiled at me the entire session. Literally, I would be talking to someone else and I'd see her in the corner of my eye smiling at me. Later I found out that they adored my resume, and loved that they had a blonde hair, blue eyed female teaching in their school. The parents would love it! I was told a blonde hair/blue eyed female teacher in China is rare.

English is a huge and rising deal here, and so these parents are paying top dollar so that their child learns proper English. I wish you could have seen parents during placement. They are hardcore on these little kids. I saw two kids nearly in tears when they could not answer "what do you like". I am collaborating with a Chinese-English teacher, Amy, because I have to help HER! I cannot teach kids. I DON'T KNOW HOW. I will meet with her every week to help her plan. In return, she will help me with classroom management and getting around the school. I have to learn what my boundries are in China. It's not the same here. Rules have been flipped inside out. Chinese people really do think and act differently here.

So, I'm at this conference table, I have Amy asking me all these questions, V is translating for me in Chinese, Chinese are speaking Chinese about me and I am just smiling away nodding my head, and I have this British man trying to give me tips, but he doesn't even work in the classroom. Mediocre tips. I just felt like my head was going to explode at that table. During the taxi back, V and I just started laughing and he FINALLY told me more about this school. It is amazing and I have no idea how the heck I got here. It's scary though because they expect so much out of me and I have very little experience with that age group. After giving a few demo lessons (scary), I suppose I was rated me effective. They treat me so highly here, I don't understand it. Is it because I am American or something else? I've met one or two people who have been working for JESIE far longer than me, and I want to know why I am about to teach here and not them.

Lastly, I have a fourth grade and 2 more 1st and 2nd grade classes at Yu Shui 1. That's great because I wanted to also work in a regular school that way I can compare. I am spoiled at Yu Shui 2 with Smart Boards (not the same as home) and modern looking classrooms. They even have a few computers :] Every other school has wooden chairs/desks and a green chalkboard that bends back if you write on it too hard. I want to teach at both. My fourth grade class has 50 kids in it. Oh God!

Apartment Hunting

Days 1-3, I stayed in a hotel. Afterwards, I was put in an apartment that I didn't want. They are supposed to give us a few options. I had nothing to compare it to. I knew that secretly these JESIE people wanted me to get comfortable and just stay, but I kept my bags packed and asked about seeing new apartments everyday. I just knew that I could get better. I'm not sure many of my friends/family could have stayed there. It just felt so dirty. At home, you clean apartments before you rent them out again. Here, they are left and shown "as is" from the people who lived there prior. It can get pretty grimy. Each day is nonstop walking and I have packed and moved my luggage about 4 times now. I sweat just thinking about it. I've seen about six apartments in three days. There is always something seriously wrong with them. I am not high maintenance! Ex) one of them only had 1 air conditioner (2 bedrooms) and the other only had a squat toilet and the shower was directly over it. Stuff like that. The other hard part is the roommate nonsense. It's too expensive for me to live alone. Nanjing is a popular city and the prices only increase around here. The ONLY 2 girls who showed are leaving :( Val said that like clockwork, some people come and leave every year. You either love or you hate China. Some people do not want to adjust. There's quite a lot of adjusting to do around here. You CANNOT let yourself get angry. More about that later. There is NO WAY you can live here if you are not open to adapting to a new lifestyle, get angry easily, or freak out over dirt or urine. You have to be independent here. You do A LOT on your own. It can be a lonely place if you do not force yourself to roam. You have to find your own way around and make it work. I guess it's not for everyone. I digress, in this case, it's not for the 2 girls(Samantha and Alex). I can only room with a guy. Greaaaat. I'll try and hide the tampons.

I decided to room up with Ryan, who I will talk more about soon. I was only a day away from teaching so I could not live out of a suitcase anymore. My options were limited. I was up at 7:30am to have blood test, some boob-suction cup-thing, an ultrasound, eye exam (basically a lovely morning), and then immediatley saw other apartments. All day, moving moving moving. Meeting agents, meeting up with landlords,shopping, blah blah blahh. It has been days of this walking/moving/getting lost/training and I was so glad it is over. We had the option of this place or another. We offered to pay more for the other place, but suddenly this place was our ONLY option. Not fair, but okay.

Compared to the last apartment I stayed in, this place it more spacious and it is easier to shower in. We actually have a living area. Leather chairs. Tv. The kitchen is way worse though and the refridgerator stinks up the entire place when it is opened. The other apartment had its own room for hanging/drying clothes. In this place you have to hang your clothes on poles out of the window of your bedroom. They left a stick for help. It feels wrong to hang my underwear in the wind. You should have seen me try to hang sheets and a towel. The sheets nearly fell off and so I had to change windows. Nearly broke my neck hanging out of that window. I know there was someone somewhere laughing at me from their window. The very first thing I hung was a bright pink towel (it was white when I washed it). It fell 4 stories. Saw it hanging near the ground on somones window. Of course, someone took it.

So Ryan and I are PAYING to leave this place. Ugh, where do begin? I can only think of one word to describe the vibe in this place: kafkaesque. I've read that term, spoke that term, and now I have lived out that term. Besides the greasy, dusty, sticky, odorsome, dark and gloomy condition it was left in, we are leaving for other reasons. I woke up my first morning to "you're not going to be happy." In two days, Ryan and I collected 15 roaches. Many of them were rather large. We have to walk nine sets of steps to get up here, so we thought roaches wouldn't be an issue (higher is always better). Big, thick, brown, long legs, stick to everything. EW! They just appeared everywhere. I never saw 1 bug in the last apartment. Also, the very first morning the toilet broke. Poor Ryan took a #2 and it took him an hour to get it to go down. Ha, glad it wasn't me. It is safer and cleaner to just go out of the window. Kids want to poop on the ground everyday (you step in it), well so can I. Anyway, in addition to the toilet, the sink started leaking. Everytime you turn on the water your feet are soaked. Did I mention that there is a hole in the bathroom floor and when we walk in it smells like a dead animal? The only way to keep it from stinking up the whole place is by shutting the door. Sound like a place you want to take a shower? Don't even get me started on the kitchen! The landlord never cleaned it. It has old dishes in it, grease and food residue EVERYWHERE (smells), dead insects pasted over everything, a refrigerator that smells like ungodly, and for some reason we keep finding roaches in the sink. At one point I just stopped talking to Ryan as he tried to stay optimistic. I just sat there with my runny nose from all the dust, staring at the danky walls, while the landlord was fixing the toilet. I found a roach under a chair as I looked around. It was alive on its back. I looked over the chair to a spot I had found a roach before. Its leg was lost in the napkin battle. It layed there on the floor, looking like some chinese symbol. HOME SWEET HOME it must have said.

In order to leave we have to pay 1200 RMB (half months rent), and 1700 RMB for the cost of agents. That's about $445. That does not include the money we have already spent to clean this shithole up and the taxi we will have to pay to move our luggage because I am DONE rolling these 2 heavy suitcases, heavy messanger bad, and 2 backpacks around the city. DONE. I am running out of money here!

My First Day of Teaching at Yu Shui 2

Beep! Honk! Haha! The traffic here is horrendous. Just when I thought Costa Rica took the cake...nope. The center of the traffic are the cars and then there are lines and lines of bicycles and motor bikes all beeping their horns and bells at eachother as if they are orchestrating some traffic musical. Try getting a taxi in that mess. I saw two Chinese people point and laugh at me. Chinese people have no moral filter. They will point, laugh, and make fun of you. Especially if you're fat or smell. My first 2 taxis did not recognize the address and the third one brought me to the wrong location. That was before he tried to rip me off. I had to tell him to turn the meter on! The travel books I read were so right about taxi drivers ripping off foreigners!

Amy saved me when she answered her phone and gave the cab driver directions to the school. With no time to review my lessons, I was thrown right in with the sharks: 1st grade. They all just stared at me. "Good morning boys and girls! My name is Lexy! Lex-eeeeeh!" I just remember thinking what the hell are you doing here. It was great though. I'm really good with the creative side of it all; it's the reprimanding and classroom management that baffles me with this age group. When the 2nd graders became too talkative, I gave them the stare down and asked, "Who is talking? You!?" Then I would point 2 fingers to my eyes and point at them. Real smooth.

I had them color their name tags and I made sure they all had english names. Sounds easy right? No! They don't know english! Some knew a little. The even richer parents sent their kids to an international kindergarten. Those kids knew a little english. During one of my lessons, a group of adults came in and started taking my picture. The principal came in, smiled brightly, and gave me two thumbs up. Alrighty then.

After class came lunch. I walk in with my notebook and LWE books because I thought I was having a meeting during lunch. I also walk in with a bright orange cup of hot water. I will explain the deal with hot water in another blog. As soon as I hit the cafeteria, or canteine, I ended up talking to three very nice teachers who wanted to meet me. By the time I was done with them, everyone was sitting down eating. I made my way to the food guy. He did not know english. I picked up a bowl and he shook his head no. It was for rice soup (he pointed). He held up a plate and I guess I was supposed to tell him what I wanted. All I saw was questionable meat and something squishy, so I pointed to what was green. I had "greens" and rice. Mmm. Everyone at the staff table stared at my tray when I sat down. And I was the only one with a book of any sort, and I was the only one in the whole cafeteria who had a drink (they do not drink with meals). I feel like there won't be a chair for me at that table tomorrow. Westerner.

After classes and lunch I had a meeting with the principal, another principal from another school, the vice principal of the english department, and Amy. In short, it was explained to me that for some reason, kids at this school are scoring lower on standardized tests (in english) than those in regular schools. Their books are exceptionally better, and they are taught additional english classes. They are taught two english books whereas regular schools are only taught one. What can we do about it? What ideas can I bring to the table? The whole meeting was the four of us bouncing ideas back and fourth. Note that I said the four of us. The principal of Yu Shui just took pictures of me talking with them on/off for fifteen minutes and disappeared. She tends to do that a lot.

After finally leaving at 4:00pm, I was ripped off by the taxi driver! I told him, "Fop-yow!" and pointed to the meter. He acted like it was out of paper. At the end of the ride I said "Fop-yow" again, and he started yelling at me! I paid him, got out, and felt defeated. I was defeated. Whatever dude, I slammed the door so hard getting out. Great way to end a long day. It wasn't even over; I still had apartment hunting to do.

It is now day 2 of teaching. I have to be out of this apartment by 6pm. I have no idea where I'm staying tonight and I still have to see more apartments....and pack...and prepare my lessons. Oh, and I cannot keep paying for these hotels. They do not want to let she-hulk out of her cage!                                                    

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