Thursday, December 29, 2011

Take 2. Lights .... Camera....

soooo.... last night was kinda rough.

I think I'm just at that point where I'm realizing a few things all at once and it's causing a major traffic jam across the intersecting roadways of my heart and mind.

1. I like her more than I ever realized.
2. I want and need clearer and more firm and regular communication than I have in the past.
3. I might not be able to change things as quickly or as easily as I want to (this one's a hard one to swallow)

They talk about "reverse culture shock" when someone moves back to their home country after living abroad. I NEVER thought that would be possible when I first came here. I was frustrated with everything - trying to figure out how to do my banking and pick up packages and get around and my visa issues, etc. etc. I didn't think that I could ever fall into a routine or " get used" to anything here. But I think I have .... and I think there might be some "reverse culture shock" coming home to New York. Spending some time in Chinatown, eating some congee while listening to some Cantonese conversation around me might help ease the transition.

I have actually, kind of experienced it before. Coming home from my high school graduation trip that I took with Aunt Joan. We went on a 10 day tour of Ireland/England/Scotland & Wales. We had a great tour group and just a wonderful time and I fell in love with Ireland ..... and coming home I found myself needing to listen to Irish music and spending lots of time in my room practicing playing some traditional Irish folk songs on the "Tin Whistle" that I bought while I was over there. It took a few days to .... "bring myself back" - and that was only a 10 day tour.  So, I'm bracing myself for April. ( but then coming back to this side of the world in June... for my 2nd year maybe the reverse culture shock won't be that hard? I don't know. )

I LOVE my family and friends. BELIEVE ME. I am so happy to live in the Facebook/Skype/Online Blogging age where I can see your pictures and send you messages in an instant. I cannot wait to see you and laugh and catch up and to be able to communicate SO EASILY. I also really miss using sarcasm and jargon. I look forward to those times. So please don't take it personally if it takes a minute to "bring me back" - my mind might wander a bit for the first few days at home.

I am a New Yorker through and through. I am an American. But ... I cannot live in another country simply as "a tourist" or as a "photographer". I didn't want my heart to get caught up in something here, but I also know that it's not easy to be so objective when someone touches your heart and pulls you into the picture.

I am just going to step back, take a breath, and "start over" as my mom would say. Start this day over and gather the tools that I need ( learn some more Mandarin phrases) so that the next time I talk with LL I can tell her how I'm feeling, what I am scared of,  etc.

Love Is A Battlefield (that is littered with cliches)

Dudes, it's tough.

*(WARNING- this entry is a MESS. Just emotions all over the place. Probably a ton of misspelled words. Is this even English? .... it's a land mine of delicate feelings....so just know that walking in. OK?)*

This is my third night of insomnia. Luckily I am off this week, so there is no sleep schedule. This entry is not THE entry that I want to write - it is not THE recap of Christmas Eve ... but it's related. .. and I will get to that one. Maybe tomorrow.

But right now I am just so .... teary and emotionally tired and frustrated and scared. ( and maybe a little hormonal - even though "my friend" is over and done and left me yesterday)

I am willing to fight for who I love, but there's a part of me that knows that it should never have to be that hard. Never too hard. It makes me wonder .... how much do I want this? How far can this go?... and thinking that makes me sad because I want it to go ALL THE WAY.

I'm feeling a little deja-vu here, like maybe I wrote this entry before? .... or maybe I knew that I would be writing this entry ( at 1:56AM on a morning in late December)

IT'S TOUGH BECAUSE OF ...


1.) The need to have a 3rd person with us at all times. ( I sometimes get jealous of the third person -how easily she can communicate with me in English and LL in Chinese -especially Helen. Helen likes to travel and is fun and is a lot like LL and I and so sometimes I get jealous of her. --even though she has a boyfriend that she lives with here in Foshan. )


2.) The need to translate our text messages ( and yes, it's great to have an app on my phone that does that pretty well... but still, sometimes the messages come out a little... funny looking and confused) and sometimes getting lost in translation. 


3.) The feeling that we never have enough time. Every time I leave her, it never feels like we have spent enough time together. The hours fly by and I go through this CRAZY withdrawal. I've never felt this way before. It's not like typically after spending a night with someone who you love you feel butterflies and giddy and warm. I feel that way when we're together ..... but the next day ( or DAYS apparently now) ... is hell. 

Maybe it's also my mind .... knowing that April is coming... that I will be leaving China and yes of course I want to go home and see my family and friends. I also want to come back to Asia to teach next year ... but I know that I am not coming here.... not coming to Foshan ... or Guangzhou .... and so.... that just means more distance.... more work ....

I will definitely be taking structured weekly classroom type Mandarin classes - whether I am in Shanghai or Taipei next year.... so that when we DO get together we can talk more freely.

But I'm not gonna lie, Christmas Eve was hard. I kind of got in a little "fight" with LL too on Christmas Day.  A "translated text message fight" --- and yes that does sound silly right now and just reading it is making me smile. I was the only one who was really "fighting" though. I even called her, knowing that I don't speak THAT much Chinese, but confident that I could speak enough to get my message across
(but she didn't pick up because she "cannot speak English and so it would be no use" - according to her text message) Seriously, if you SAW me .... I would want you to smack me upside the head.... cause I was SO GONE. It was so silly now.... looking back. It's easy to get confused and get jealous when the lines are not drawn clearly and when there is a language barrier.

So.... originally we had talked about spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day together in Guangzhou ( where LL lives and works - about an hour subway ride from Foshan). BUT then Helen ( our mutual friend) realized that her boyfriend wanted to spend Christmas Day with her and so she would not be free.... to hang out with us. (aka to be the "third wheel" - that we need).

I will write an entry about Christmas Eve, but let's FF to Christmas Day for now. On CD morning I text Lisa to ask her if she wants to come in to Foshan to see the movie and have dinner with Metis, Bella, and I. Lisa tells me that she is in Shenzhen with her sister at their relatives new house. on Christmas Eve, she had not decided what her plans would be for the following day.... she was pretty sure that she would be going to Shenzhen though. Then I call Helen to see what she's doing and she tells me that she is in Guangzhou (where Lisa lives) for the day with her boyfriend.

Long story short- I got confused and angry because I thought that LL and Helen were spending the day together in Guangzhou and had not invited me. I know that Helen really doesn't like Guangzhou too much and so I was surprised that she went back the next day. But apparently her boyfriend had not been into the city in awhile and wanted to go. They used to live there.  LL HAD previously mentioned that she might be going to Shenzhen with her sister, I had just forgotten. LL was hurt that I would assume that and told me that if Helen was free she would have been fine with us all hanging out.... but since that couldn't work - our three separate alternative plans seemed like a good solution. She told me that she "hates to be deceptive and to lie" and "urged me not to be confused"...

LL texted me the night of Christmas Eve to make sure that I got home OK and to thank me and told me she had such a  great time ... very happy, etc.  She has told me in the past that she does not like communicating over text and QQ and wished that she could tell me her "heart feelings" -- but you know... I think it's time that I learn how to TELL her mine ( in Chinese).

I know that she only has one day off per week typically and that she works late hours. I know that she works hard. She's hard working and sincere and caring and that's a good part of why I love her. In addition to being funny, cute, etc... I wish it was easier ... believe me I do. I didn't plan on falling for someone who does not speak my language. I didn't plan on ... all of this. She is the ONLY one who I have feelings for like this here. I have co-workers and other friends who speak more English than she does.... but my feelings for them are NOT the same at all. I just hate blurry lines and confusion. Maybe this is all a lesson that I have to learn in this life? Chalk it up to the wheel of karma coming back around? This attempt at a relationship is ... teaching me to take the initiative and to talk (text) about my feelings and to truly go after what I want and not just settle for what is handed to me. If anything -- this time with LL is teaching me that. This .... "second time" around.

Honestly right now, I feel better just having gotten this out. If anyone stayed with me and read this all the way through, you're a champ. ( and I AM FINE... really.)

LL and I are making plans to get together again in early January ( thought it was going to be the 1st but might be the 9th now..) with Quinny - an old co-worker who used to work in Marketing at BL too. Between now and then I will try to learn enough Chinese ... to talk to her more about love and my own feelings.

Here's something cute that happened, a "long time ago" now that I never wrote about before, but I will share it now.


Back when she used to work at my school, maybe in August, she and I were sitting in the little library surrounded by kids books and I was "teaching" her a little English. I was holding this little Disney "shapes" book and holding her hand, using her finger to trace the shapes and say the name of the shape in English. We went over "rectangle" and "triangle" and "square" .... and when we got to "heart" and I was tracing the "heart" with her finger ... she looked up and pointed at both me and her and said " you and me" ... and I looked at her and smiled and said "yes". It was very simple and sweet. Our hearts. Our love. Us. 

I want it to be simple and sweet again. I miss her in my "everyday".

Is this entry a mess? I just want to post it and release it. I look forward to 4 years from now when I am fluent enough in Mandarin to chop off our third wheel and to laugh at this and when she and I are back in the USA living our "happy everyday" without a worry about tomorrow.

"More and more time without the influence of our friendship.... I am quite psychological you!!!!" 
- LL in a recent previous text.

I am SO there right now. I am definitely psychological you.

*Prayers for both of us - would be extremely welcomed right now.*

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Flowers of War

The Flowers of War - has been haunting me since Christmas.

Seriously, I've had such a "tormented" sleep the past two nights and I think at least 75% of the reason was because of flashbulb memories of this movie shooting through my head and freezing the worst possible stills of the film in my mind.

The movie has just recently been released in China. I think it came out on December 18th, 2011. It's pretty much the Asian "Schindler's List". It deals with the time during the 1940's when Japan was occupying Nanking (Nanjing) China during the war. It follows the stories of certain specific characters - this one American man (played by Christian Bale), this group of Chinese school girls, and this group of Chinese call girls/hookers. It's just SO graphic in terms of the raping and bloodshed though. The scenery is beautiful and the individual stories are raw and real and beautiful .... but THE STORY ... is so sad. The ending is kind of a cliff-hanger in a way... but in your gut you know the conclusion... and you can paint a pretty good idea in your head of what happens.

I went and saw this... on Christmas... with my TA Metis, her boyfriend, and Bella my former TA for my Pre-K1 class. Not exactly a "merry and bright" Christmas film, but it was a nice night out with some really great people. Everyone was crying a little during the movie .... so definitely bring tissues if you go. We had great seats right in the mid center. The movie tickets were actually given to us from "Hannah's"- from my Pre=K2 class- mom as a gift a few weeks ago ( Hannah is ....just  the sweetest... and so is her mom).

Coming out of the theater Bella said "it makes me hate Japanese people" ... and in the moment that she said I could have almost said "me too" .... because I knew what she meant. Seeing that kind of brutality, makes you hate the group that is doing it. In that moment I truly hated those Japanese soldiers.

 (and I do really hate the idea that apparently there's some kind of "it never happened" denial spread across Japan. Like the Holocaust deniers in Germany. That's just ridiculous.... if you have the pictures and the stories... you know it happened. But then again...I have heard that in some rural sections of China they don't teach about the "Tiananmen Square Massacre" in schools... so it seems everyone has their moments that they want to... "forget".)

But NO ONE involved in a war has clean hands. America dropped bombs on innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki .... England starved the Irish people during "The Great Potato Famine" .... and no doubt, I'm sure there has been raping and murder cover ups going on during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan done by Americans. War is an .. awful.... awful thing .... especially for all of the innocent souls who never wanted it in their backyard to begin with. I cannot imagine living through that kind of hell and it makes me want to do something for the trafficking victims that are still being bought/sold/raped today. Children and teens who are still sold into slavery.... work slavery... sex slavery .... it's not something that I think about in my usually "happy everyday" .... but seeing a movie like this ... really hits you.

So instead of agreeing with Bella.... I told her that I understood and I gave her my examples... of my family being from a small country (Ireland) that was fought over and starved and experienced its own hardships back in the day. Metis chimed in with the fact that the story  "is history..." it's simply history ... and we have to learn from those mistakes.

Maybe now that I got this story out here I will be able to sleep peacefully tonight?... I promise that I will write a REAL "Christmas Eve and Christmas Day In China" update in the next day or two here. They were both very nice days/nights in different ways .... and I was SO. PROUD. of my kids in the Christmas Talent Show that we put on at my school. Especially hearing them all sing "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" for the first time EVER (well, after practicing in class for several weeks) ...in front of an audience, their parents and the staff. It was the BEST thing. Seriously, I had tears in my eyes just watching them. I think we need to do one EVERY month ... I have SO MANY cute, talented kids!

(PS: attached here below is a "real" review of the movie. It's coming to Hong Kong in January 2012. I don't know about release dates for other countries. But keep your eyes open.)


THE FLOWERS OF WAR REVIEW


by James MarshDecember 28, 2011 2:43 AM

Arguably the most eagerly-anticipated Chinese movie of the year, Zhang Yimou's epic retelling of the 1937 Nanking Massacre is not only the country's most expensive movie ever, but boasts Academy Award winner Christian Bale in the lead role. Bale plays John Miller, an American mortician who is summoned to a Cathedral in Nanking to help bury the deceased priest, only to take his place and help defend the young female students, as well as a troupe of prostitutes, from the invading Japanese forces. 

THE FLOWERS OF WAR is a big movie in every sense of the word, from its kinetic battle scenes to the beautiful photography and impressive performances from a mostly young and inexperienced cast. Any new project from Zhang Yimou is a big deal. He is China's most internationally-renowned filmmaker, praised for both for his bold visual style in films such as HERO and CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER, but also for his earlier, more character-driven films, like JU DOU and RAISE THE RED LANTERN, which detail the plights of young women in oppressive, male-centric societies. 

While many of these themes reappear in THE FLOWERS OF WAR, there is no escaping this is primarily a story about one of the most notorious and enduringly sensitive incidents in recent Chinese history, which has put serious strain on the relationship between China and Japan to this day. What is disappointing is that THE FLOWERS OF WAR takes a very simplistic, heavy-handed approach to history and seems content to demonize the Japanese soldiers without ever attempting to justify or even question their behaviour. 

The only Japanese character displaying any notion of decency is Colonel Hasegawa (Watabe Atsuro), a man so well educated, disciplined and versed in Western culture that he is barely acknowledged as being Japanese - and is obviously rendered completely powerless the moment he shows a glimmer of compassion for the women Miller has sworn to protect. This approach is especially disappointing in the wake of a film like Lu Chuan's CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH, which goes to great lengths to humanize those who took part in the massacre, to examine the impossible choices made by Japanese infantrymen during the invasion, without ever excusing what took place.  

In the film, Bale's character is seduced by Yu Mo (Ni Ni), a prostitute looking for a way out of the city. She has been elected by her colleagues, as the most attractive and seductive, to use her charms on the Westerner so that they may find their freedom. In some ways, THE FLOWERS OF WAR is attempting to do the same thing. It is oftentimes a very entertaining film, in the same way as SCHINDLER'S LIST or BLACK HAWK DOWN can be considered so. Although it is not always a happy experience to watch - indeed there are several moments of distressing violence and savagery - it is an extremely effective and accomplished piece of filmmaking. The action, cinematography and acting are all up to Hollywood standards and edited together with a sweeping, melodramatic style that will prove very effective on audiences, nd could steer them wide of having a wider, more balanced perspective on what took place. 

The inclusion of Hollywood A-lister Bale is certainly a bonus, and his presence ensures that at least half of the film is in English. Combine his star power with a supporting cast of beautiful and exotic women, in a thrilling and highly emotional story of life and death during one of the twentieth century's most infamous occurences of mass-slaughter and the film's backers are almost guaranteed a sizable crossover hit. The problem is that Zhang's approach is completely one-sided and even exploitative, in its depiction of the rape, murder and victimisation of Chinese people at the hands of their aggressors.

On the surface THE FLOWERS OF WAR is a story of redemption. Miller arrives on the scene as a chancer and a drunkard, looking to swipe some cash from the cathedral and get out of Nanking as quickly as he can. But when faced with the horrors of the Japanese invasion, and seemingly the only beacon of hope for a group of innocent schoolgirls and "fallen women" he eventually finds his true calling and, in doing so, also "saves" himself, in a deeply spiritual sense. The prostitutes are also given a chance to atone for their sinful lives, but divulging exactly how would spoil too much of the story. Suffice to say that the young students represent the innocence and purity of women, of humanity, and also of China, which must be preserved.

One of the film's greatest strengths is its cinematography. As the title might suggest, there are numerous moments where a dash of colour - be it a stained glass window or the silk of a cheongsam - shines through the fog and dust of war as a fleeting glimmer of hope, of humanity, of life. There are also moments when colour is used more heavy-handedly, namely when a shocking streak of blood appears on the tip of a bayonet, or smatters across a curtain. The huge red and white cross that emblazons the courtyard outside the cathedral, implores the enemy not to attack this house of God and place of refuge. An international symbol of peace and innocence, the red cross on a white background also makes for a poignant comparison with the Japanese flag, that signals impending horror, and even betrayal when worn on the armbands of coalescing Chinese. Miller himself also stands out as the sole Westerner (save for one brief scene featuring Paul Schneider) amidst an otherwise entirely Asian cast. 

The beautiful actress Ni Ni makes a very strong debut as Yu Mo, the leader of the prostitutes, whose command of English enables her to converse and bargain with Miller, and ultimately to seduce him. She strikes the perfect balance between seductress and scared victim, drawing our gaze even when surrounded by other beauties, and holding her own admirably in numerous scenes with Bale. One minor frustration is that Yu Mo's faltering English often lacks authenticity, and she is able to compose beautiful analogies and allusions when it suits the scene despite her limitations. Not a fault of the character or the performance, but rather of the screenwriters. Elsewhere characters, such as the young student Shu (Zhang Xinyi), or altar boy George (Huang Tianyuan), speak with more convincing inaccuracy, but as the primary character with whom Miller must converse, Yu Mo speaks in poetic phrases that seem unrealistic coming from a character with her limited linguistic skills.

Wisely, Bale is given plenty of freedom with the character of John Miller, and never shies away from making him fallable and unlikable. Ultimately, the audience does warm to him, and so do the other characters, but when it happens, it feels earned, and it is reassuring to see Bale challenge himself in the role, rather than simply taking the cash and phoning in a performance. It is a rare treat for a Western character to be given such responsibility and exposure in a Chinese film, and that such a talented actor has been employed. Bale does good work here, for which he should be proud, despite the political accusations that have been levelled at him in the aftermath of his participation.

In the end I am left conflicted by THE FLOWERS OF WAR. On the one hand it is an impressively staged war drama and a frequently exhilarating experience, from which I honestly feel many viewers can get quite a lot. On the other hand, it is a blinkered, unbalanced and frustrating portrayal of the Japanese that makes no attempt to explain, question or even understand their behaviour. Because of the film's narrow perspective on this particularly troubling chapter of history, it is very difficult to recommend, despite its many strengths. What can be said with some certainty is that THE FLOWERS OF WAR will reach a wider audience than many of China's other recent militaristic dramas, but it is unlikely to win the Chinese Film Industry many more supporters in the long run.

THE FLOWERS OF WAR opened in China on 16 December and will open in Hong Kong on 19 January 2012. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

I'm a teacher. I'm not a saleswoman.

What am I? Who am I?.. intrinsically, intuitively, to myself I know that ..
I'm a writer. I'm a singer. I'm a dancer. I'm a musical-improv comedy-improviser. I'm a dreamer. I'm a romantic. I'm a traveller. I'm a poet.

I know that scripted acting doesn't interest me.
I know that Posing/Modeling/Purposely Selling one thing doesn't interest me.

When I give praise I mean it. That being said, I gave my TA so much "face" today during our staff meeting that I made her cry. Well, tears filled her eyes anyway. I will explain in a minute.

First let me say, working for a private ESL language school can be challenging in very specific ways.

#1. Marketing is the main focus of the company really, not teaching ( notice I said "company", not school) Whatever you are doing as a TEACHER ( whether it is teaching in a classroom or holding your school Halloween party at a golf resort) it is pretty much "posturing" - showing off for prospective families with money who will pay and enroll their child in the school and perhaps tell the child's other friends about the great ESL classes and keep the school afloat.

#2. The owners of the school may at times need to be reminded that taking care of the students who are currently enrolled ( who have paid for the year- whose money has already been spent by the owners on staff salaries and school utility bills) are JUST as important as courting and pleasing the potential students whose parents are going to sleep tonight and thinking about possibly writing checks to enroll them tomorrow.

I do not like being a "saleswoman". I do not want to push someone to buy something that they have not expressed an interest in buying.  I do not want to "act". I would rather have my natural "actions" speak for me. I like to be passionate about things .... I have things that I AM passionate about and that I would not hesitate to "sell" for free -- via word of mouth ( or "word of blog" in this case). I can list 5 off the top of my head. In no particular order.... ( see below)

1.) Cafe Bustelo instant coffee
2.) Giovanni Organic Hot Chocolate Sugar Body Scrub
3.) REAL books ( not Kindle or iPad "books" or any other "reading from a screen" type unnatural thing)
4.) The Fresh Mozzarella Pizza from Roma Pizza in Park Slope, Brooklyn (THE BEST. Seriously. That's all I order when I'm there. I don't know what their other pies are like.)
5.) the eCurrency Converter app on the iPhone ( a little nerdy maybe, but it's wonderful! I check it like 5 times a day- great to use when traveling - very up to date and accurate exchange rates for every country) - if you were wondering, currently 1 USD  is worth 6.33 RMB ( Chinese yuan). To put that in perspective I can buy two 20oz bottles of soda in 7-eleven here for 7RMB ("chi kwai") that is $1.11 ... so that's cheaper than in the US where I'd pay probably $1.75 or more for each 20 oz bottle.

So anyway ... I just "sold" you those 5 things freely. But they are things that I love and that I am excited about... so it doesn't even feel like "selling".

I love my students and I care about them as individuals. I am passionate about my specific classes and their needs. I know all of students by name and at this point I can anticipate what to expect (different behaviors, ESL levels, personalities, etc...) on a given day and am pretty well prepared with the right amount of physical/emotional stamina and intuition.

However, I'm "set" for the year... you know? I'm "done". I have my 4 classes. So there's a part of me that doesn't feel like giving demo classes or experience classes or "showing off" anymore. Luckily I don't have to give the demos or the experience classes now. Dona ( my TA from Uzbekistan) handles those.

But my boss is now ( in an effort to try to bring in more money) trying to setup some sort of "Winter Camp" and my heart ... is just not in it. It's a one week camp that is scheduled to go on at some boarding school outside of our school in February. I ( and the rest of the Academic Department) am supposed to design the curriculum ... and I'm just not feeling it. I will give her some basic .... games and songs and crafts ...  I will go online and GOOGLE ... but I'm just not feeling it. I put together the SUMMER CAMP ( which I knew we would have) and put on a really great "Cinderella" show. I don't know ... a WINTER CAMP... just sounds kind of silly.

So today during the staff meeting- when we were talking about Christmas and the Christmas party. I made it VERY clear that I am happy with everything that has gone on in the Academic Department over these past 7 months. We have 3 great classes up and running and I mentioned that Metis Zhou ( my TA who has been with me since we trained together in Beijing) works VERY hard as a TEACHER in class with me ... that TEACHING is our primary responsibility and that OUR STUDENTS are our main concern .... making sure that THEY are PROVIDED FOR so that THEIR PARENTS will RE-ENROLL them next year.

We have two new guys - one Chinese TA "Norman" and one British "Foreign Teacher" David- working with us now. They are both very quiet and standoffish... and definitely not as energetic as Metis and I. We are outspoken and loud and firm with the kids. Both of their styles are very different. Neither of them have ever worked with young children either. So ... it's kind of strange and interesting to see. I'm not saying that it "can't" work .... it's amazing how kids respond and what they respond to .... both of them working together MIGHT be really good. But it just made me realize how much Metis and I have done for our classes and HOW MUCH we have to BE PROUD of.

So I called her out specifically during the meeting and "gave her a lot of 'Face' " - the eastern term for singling out someone with specific praise, personal attention ( to "Lose Face" would be to "shame" or "embarrass" someone) She was sitting across from me at the conference table and I could see after I said it that she had tears in her eyes and gave me a small smile and said "you sound very serious". And I was. I didn't realize how firm my tone was - but I think there was some anger and frustration towards my boss brewing inside and that accounted for the "seriousness" of my tone. I wanted them to know how proud I am of the TEACHING that is going on at the school (regardless of the "selling")

My boss knows that Metis is a great TA and I know that she appreciates her and pays her as well as any TA in China is paid. However, for foreign teachers, it's also important to appreciate when you have a good TA and to maintain a good relationship. There are a lot of differences that could potentially come between a TA and a "Foreign Teacher" and a lot of resentment that could build up. So ... when it doesn't and when it's really good I think you need to call that out and acknowledge it.

I feel like I'm running on two or more different tangents ... but I guess I'm passionate about this too. So here is another little list.

TA STUFF ( reasons to appreciate your teaching assistant)


1. ) Remember that she or he is most likely making approximately 1/8th of your salary. Regular teachers in China make about 1000 RMB per month. My TA makes about 1300 RMB per month. ( that's roughly $205 USD. per month. ) Yet they are doing SO much of the work - updating the school blog online after each class, making phone calls to the parents, disciplining the students in the class in Chinese, etc. 


2.) You are a foreigner and often the task of "teaching the foreigner" how to do things - like go to the post office, get their home wireless internet hooked up, find a kindergarten for their daughter (Metis helped Dona with that for her 3 yr old daughter Zora)... is left to the TA's at the school to help with. RECOGNIZE and APPRECIATE THAT. 


3.) remember that English is not the TA's first language and the fact that they have mastered it so well, should inspire you to try to learn more of their language. 


I am a good teacher. I have a great teaching assistant.   I honestly feel like the "marketing" should be left up to the "Marketing Department".  Anything that involves "teaching" - demo classes, experience classes, regular classes ... I am ready/willing/open to do.

But my heart is not in "selling" or "posturing" or ... "forgetting" about my students because they have already paid.

I will never forget them. I could never forget them.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Counting Blessings/Basic Survival Tips ( including how to access Facebook from China!)

Living and working in a foreign country where you don't have the strongest grasp on the language can leave anyone (especially an independent New Yorker who's used to getting things done and not needing or asking for much help in the process!!!) feeling some combination of helpless, frustrated, angry, and defeated at many different points in time.

Over the past few months living in Foshan, I've adopted the "Count Your Blessings" mentality where every time I hit a little "bump in the road" and something is NOT going right and/or NOT happening as easily or quickly as I expected it to ... I take a breath and mentally pull out my "list of accomplishments" in my head. To reflect on them. To metaphorically lift myself out of my self made little black rain cloud and get back to feeling proud and grateful. 

and no, I'm not talking about accomplishments like "getting all A's in AP Calculus" (Ha. that would NEVER happen anyway!) or "being able to recite the US Constitution word for word". I'm talking about really basic accomplishments that would not be listed as accomplishments in my home country. Things like ( my list of accomplishments here below)

1.) knowing where to buy a shaving razor. 
("Watson's" is a standard "Duane Reade/CVS type" store all over China) 

2.) knowing how to buy fruit. 
(you can't just put it in the bag and take it to the checkout counter, it has to be weighed and given a weight/price sticker by someone at a station by the fruit/vegetable section first then you can go checkout)

3.) knowing how to turn on/use my hot water for my shower/dishwashing,etc.
(you have to plug a plug into the outlet outside on my little "deck" where my washing machine is and turn two knobs to the right and ....voila!) 

4.) KNOWING HOW TO ACCESS FACEBOOK/BLOGGER/YOUTUBE, etc...  and every other website that the Chinese government has blocked.
( before moving to China, several people told me "oh, you'll never be able to get on Facebook over there"... but where there's a will  ( and/or a Gemini who needs communication and free speech like a Himalayan mountain climber needs a good supply of oxygen) there's a way. It's really easy - just purchase a VPN CODE. I would hesitate to download a FREE VPN. I don't think they are as reliable. They don't seem to work as consistently. 

I use Express VPN and I love it. You can access it here at http://www.expressvpn.info .I pay about $12 a month for the VPN, deducted from my US bank account. It's reliable and just really awesome! I have it installed on my laptop ( you can also get VPN's for your cell phone if you want to access FB, Twitter, etc. from there as well).  Maybe right now it seems like a ridiculous monthly expense, but it's really worth it. I also sometimes use this VPN at work http://www.happynewjokes.com . It's a website ( so it's not a file that will stick/ have to be downloaded to your work computer) that ... kinda feels like an old speakeasy or a secret passage way .... you might even say it's the cyber  "freedom trail". On the front page it looks like a "comic strip" ... but once you log in, you are taken to .... another world. ;)  I paid about $100 for a year subscription. 

But if you only get one VPN code - GET EXPRESS VPN.

5.) being able to get a manicure/pedicure/eyebrow wax by myself ( and knowing how much is standard so I don't feel like I'm getting ripped off). 

6.) being able to wire transfer money home to my US bank account to pay my bills 
    This actually requires a few steps, but at the end of the day, I am able to do it once every month. I have to transfer the money to my TA's Chinese bank account first. She goes to the bank with me every month and fills out the paperwork with her account information and so it looks like the money is being transferred from her bank account in China to my bank account in the US. Then I add my US Bank information and the Swift Code. My Chinese bank account here .... is really just a place where I withdraw money when I need it and/or transfer money to my landlord's account to pay my monthly rent and to my utilities account to pay my monthly utilities. I think it's because I don't have a "Chinese name". The ICBC Bank ( in Foshan anyway) doesn't recognize the English letters in my name ... something about it is complicated... I'm not sure what ... but whatever. As long as you have a helpful, patient, willing Chinese friend/co-worker, you should be able to send money home. Maybe this will be easier when I move to a bigger ( more international!) city ... like Shanghai. or to Taipei ... ( the capital of that democratic country in Asia known as Taiwan.) ;)  

7.) knowing how to pay my rent and utilities every month. ( as mentioned above)

8.) knowing how to receive packages from home (!!!!)
    This one may be number 8 here but it's definitely up on the list as being just as important and exciting as accessing Facebook. Being in a smaller city in China, the post office here generally does not understand addresses written in English. I guarantee that it will take you a month or so longer to get what is sent to you ( if you even get it ) if your address in China is written in English. Again, in Shanghai or Beijing it might be different, but to be safe.... I would suggest having YOUR BOSS SEND YOU AN EMAIL WITH YOUR SCHOOL ADDRESS or APARTMENT ADDRESS in CHINA WRITTEN OUT IN CHINESE CHARACTERS. THEN YOU SEND THIS EMAIL TO YOUR PARENTS/FRIENDS/etc. and they PRINT OUT COPIES of the ADDRESS IN CHINESE and PASTE IT  ( along with your name and ADDRESS written in ENGLISH) to each LETTER and PACKAGE that they send to you. Doing this, I've been able to receive .... brownie mix! and books! and birthday cards! and some canned/boxed Thanksgiving food goodies that I would not be able to find here! Getting those little "care packages" from home can truly make any day feel... like Christmas.

9.) knowing that whatever you are missing/frustrated about today, you will ultimately be taking for granted tomorrow.
  Just being patient and trusting that whatever you "can't do" in this new strange land, you will eventually be able to do and you'll do it and probably take for granted the fact that you're doing it and that it has become so easy and accessible. For example, I'm using wireless internet from my apartment right now. I'm doing it without thinking, and even getting a little bored and totally (unfortunately) taking it for granted. For the first few months that I was here, I fell into this pattern of religiously going to Starbucks, getting coffee and using internet from there. (sometimes going at 10pm and staying until they closed at midnight). Then I finally got internet for my apartment (paid for the high speed connection). BUT there was a snag .... something was NOT right. My poor little (relatively NEW iMac) laptop was SLOWER than ever,  the screen would FREEZE up, I had to manually shut it down every time - pressing the power button.  I literally thought it was infected with some sort of Chinese web virus. Then of course I became impatient and blamed "China" and "the censors" and chalked it up to "someone trying to spy on me" ....  when really it wasn't that at all. My TA ( as my translator) and I and the computer guy tried several things - when we disconnected the wireless my computer, I found that my computer was as fast as ever - and it played movies and songs and could shut down normally. So it wasn't a virus in my computer ... it was something with the interaction of the wireless and the computer. THEN we took the computer to the Apple Store here where the "Apple Doctors/Wisemen" discovered exactly what needed to be poked/prodded/fixed and ... viola it was fixed!  I had shut off my airport or something...I don't know... but it's... working at full speed now ( and the grumbling beast craving cyber communication is sleeping soundly inside of me. warm and satiated. )

So... I would just say try to be patient... and don't hesitate to ask for help. That's so much easier said than done... I know. But just trust that in the end it will all work out .... celebrate your small successes and know that you will be coming home stronger and wiser and with a list of "accomplishments" to be proud of. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Foods. Accents. & Fisticuffs.

I know... maybe it's just me ( or maybe it's true) but it feels like it's been awhile since I've written a post here. I have 5 different tangents that I could go on right now. Different paths of intertwining information and thoughts that I could travel down. But I think for this post I'm going to keep it about generalizations and observations that I've made about China so far.

Time seems to be really speeding up right now. I can't believe I only have FOUR MONTHS left in my teaching contract here. We went from having no classes and no students at the school to having 4 steady classes and at least 25 confirmed students ( spread out over my 4 classes) in our school at this point. We also JUST got ( *fingers crossed he's a keeper*) our second "foreign teacher". His name is David and he's from England. He seems pretty quiet in general but he also seems very nice and sweet. He had taught for 5 months at a high school somewhere else in China but the school program was closing and so he had to leave.

OK so - CHINA. - FOODS. ACCENTS & FISTICUFFS. - that could be the title of a book, but actually it's just three themes - how I'm going to break down my generalizations/observations here. :)

FOODS - I can now say for a fact that most Chinese food that's served in restaurants all around small town USA is definitely more like "Chinese Fast Food". (I still have yet to find an "egg roll" in China) It's like the Chinese version of a KFC or McDonald's. Sure, if you go to NYC or a big city you're more likely to find options that are a little more "really Chinese" - like Dim Sum and Hot Pot, etc. But what shocks me about FOOD IN CHINA is how it can determine where you live. People have SERIOUS opinions when it comes to FOOD and LOCATION. In the USA we can find burgers, sandwiches, pasta, pizza, mexican food ... in ANY state and sure, of course in every city or town that we live in we also know that certain restaurants are better than others.  But I would say that if you compare say Chicago, San Francisco, and NYC - you'd find at least one good burger/pizza/burrito/sandwich place in each city.

But here in China, when it comes to relocating from one town or city to another I've heard things like
"It was really hard to live there.... because I couldn't get used to the food" ..... 
"Shanghai food is too sweet...." 
"His parents are from the North and so they're used to certain foods...it would be challenging to move here." 


In general, "Noodles and Dumplings" are - northern foods. "Rice and Rice Noodles" are - southern foods.  You can find both all over the country - but that's the stereotypical breakdown. You're either a noodle/dumpling person or a rice/rice noodle person. Southern food is also generally more mild - not so extreme in being either spicy or sweet. (And specifically - foods from the GUANGDONG PROVINCE in the south can be stereotypically the most .... bizarre. They eat all parts of all different KINDS of animals.)

For me ... I like noodles and dumplings the best.

ACCENTS - Mandarin is the "standard" Chinese language that everyone is taught in school and everyone speaks in business. However, like in the US, each area of the country still has it's own distinct accent. I don't know much about the West or East Coasts of China, but I've been here long enough that I can definitely tell the difference between a northern and southern accent. In the north ( like Beijing) the Mandarin has a very distinct "arrrrrr"  sound added to everything. For example "Zai Nar" and Zai Nali" - both mean "where are you?" but "Nali" is the variation that's commonly used in the south, while "Nar" is more of a northern term. It's almost like the northern person has a bunch of mARbles in their mouth when they're talking ... but in reality it sounds nicer than that. It's a little "gruff" ... a little "coarse". In contrast the southern accent is no so pronounced. It's more fluid, more relaxed. But it's not .... so special to me. I'm kind of indifferent to it. I actually prefer the northern accent.... I think it's cute.

At this point I can also tell the difference between someone speaking Cantonese and someone speaking Mandarin. In general, I prefer Cantonese. I think it's such a cute and  FUNNY language with it's frequent use of "GAY" and "SUP" and "MMMMMM" and "GUM" and "KAT". It has more tones than Mandarin, so they say it's more difficult to learn, but I also think it's more interesting. A Canadian guy who was training with me in Beijing said that "Mandarin sounds like singing and Cantonese sounds like arguing." I would disagree with this. ... I think it depends on who is speaking and the context of the conversation. At different times I've heard some beautiful Cantonese and some awfully rough and angry Mandarin.

FISTICUFFS- YES!!! VIOLENCE!!!! FINALLY!!!... ...ahhh sorry no tales of bloodshed here. In general, it's interesting to note that guns are illegal in China. No one owns a gun. I'm not sure what kind of hunting is done in China - but wherever it's done I'm guessing they use the tried and true, good old bows & arrows and axes and knives to capture their prey. Also it's interesting that this law is pretty much followed by all as far as I can see. No really big stories of "gun smuggling" or any "black market gun trade" that I've seen.

But as far as daily interactions and communicating frustrations- people in general have different ways of expressing anger and frustration in different parts of China. My boss has told me this -- but I've also witnessed it personally -- so I know that there must be some truth to it.

In the NORTH - people don't waste time arguing, they just smack each other and get into physical fights.
I actually saw this in the train station in Beijing when I was waiting for my 20 hr train to Foshan. Two men, seemingly out of nowhere got into this fist fight in the station and when it was all over they went back to sitting down next to each other completely CALM and like nothing happened. ( .... so weird!) Sure, the security guard guy came over to check on things, but he didn't really get involved, he just waited for it to be over. Then when it was over, it was over.

In the SOUTH - people will verbally argue and trash talk until they are blue in the face. Raising voices and going on and on. I've actually seen this too .... when my boss was upset with one of the male teachers who decided that he did not want to stay after two days ... she really laid into him. (She's from the South).  But also, like the physical fights- when it's over, it's over.

When it comes to being angry, I think i'm definitely SOUTHERN CHINESE - if something makes me angry enough, I could go on and on. I remember once in 9th grade me and my friend Lisa got in a little fight in class and she was sitting in front of me and I was just behind her and we spent at least a good 15 minutes going back and forth, each trying to "get the last word" saying "mmm-hmmmmm" and muttering little "not-so-nice" things under our breath to each other.

So... combining all of the above, I guess that would make me a Cantonese woman who loves being Cantonese but also has an affinity for northern Chinese staples - noodles, dumplings, and northern mandarin accents.  :)

"Ni Na"  ( and you?...)
.