It's hard to complain considering we would have killed for training and support like this four years ago in Korea. But, on the first day Arnold (our vice superintendent, if you remember) went line by line through our manual. He read it aloud. His English is excellent, but reading aloud is a chore even when it's a native speaker. Since then it's been all practice classes ad critiques. I'm not sure if it's true for all of China or just Jinan or just ALWAYS, but, man, do we take long breaks here. And we take many of them. Our lunch break (during training) is two hours long and we have a few fifteen minute breaks outside of that. I'm not complaining, it's nice to have time to eat and regroup, but it really stretches the day out. I'm used to needing to scramble to get something down while on shift. On Saturdays and Sundays (our busiest days with over twelve hours on campus) I have an hour and a half for lunch scheduled each day and an additional half hour dinner break on Sunday. Basically, there's a world of difference between our last ESL experience and this one.
I encourage you to come visit us! We're much happier (and therefore more pleasant) here than we were in Korea. Interestingly, if a person does come to stay with us, we must register them at least a week in advance with the government.
The one real downside to living in China is the air. The air quality has been very poor the last couple of days and I have a sore throat. As soon as our schedule normalizes I'll be looking into getting a filtration mask shipped down here from Beijing. I'll look silly, but I'm already a foreign alien, how much weirder can I get. Oh, actually, a bit. I wear a helmet when I ride my bike (maybe 5% of native people on bikes/scooter/motorcycles wear one here), so if there is occasion for me to wear the mask and helmet at the same time I'll look like the worst super villain ever: The White Weirdo.
The pollution is bad here, yes. But, it's not like we're taught in the west. The Chinese government has really pushed through with some policy changes and initiatives as of late (there are commercials on tv encouraging people to save water). Also, people here are quite environmentally conscious. Lights are turned off whenever possible (or left off if not necessary), AC is only on when there are people actually in the room, and though the tap water is not potable, there isn't a lot of plastic waste. Folks carry sustainable water bottles and hot tea mugs instead of buying plastic disposable bottles or using paper cups at the coolers (which are pretty much everywhere, including our apartment). I also caught part of a discussion on changing the penalties for littering on CCTV America. So, things are changing here in China. It's an interesting time to be here.
Shandong is known as the friendliest province of China and also the most traditional. Sort of like the American midwest, I suppose. Does that mean we're in Chinese Chicago? Maybe. Those factors also make this a super interesting place to live.
We've met four other ALWAYS teachers so far: Rudy (at the bar the other night), Garfield (the third teacher at our campus whose been here two years), Stephen (a newbie from London) and Amira (a newbie who has ties to the UK, Egypt and a smidgen to the states). We're in good company here. We're especially getting on with Amira and Stephen. I look forward to spending time with them outside of the school setting. I think the four of us newbies will probably meet up with some of the other expats on Sunday after classes.
Yesterday Ian and my morning consisted of discussing our classes this semester with our Chinese counterparts. The Chinese English Teachers (CET) teach most of the grammar and formal English study. That bums me out a bit, but considering that the average native English speaker has grammar skills on par with a 6th grader, I understand the policy. It'll likely change as China opens and more foreigners come to live and teach here. I have 8 CET co-teachers for 24 total classes. So, there is a lot of collaboration involved.
We also had a sort of welcoming lunch part two yesterday. Oh, and ALWAYS employs at least four vegetarians (Ian and I, Garfield and Stephen) and Amira, who is gluten free.
Anyway, we ate hot pot for lunch. It was wonderful: boiled (in water and chili oil) veggies and several different types of tofu with a sauce that you create at the sauce bar. I made a peanut/sesame sauce with cilantro, garlic and chilis. Pretty much awesome. Peanuts are a regional specialty here (Western peanut butter is also easily found in stores) . They are a little earthy and sweet and you generally buy them stir fried it seems. Cilantro is also everywhere. I had a black fungus (it's just a tree mushroom) dish with cilantro and it blew my mind a bit. The lunch was very social and fun (another stark difference between our previous experience and here). We found out that one of our co-teachers, Dany, is expecting her first baby in Spring. I like Dany quite a lot and I hope to become friends with her. So, I'm super excited that there will soon be a miniature of her. I wonder how long she will take for leave.
We've taught three practice lessons so far and we'll teach another tomorrow. We taught each other as a warm up, then some of the Chinese teachers from the ALWAYS arts and tutoring departments and finally some real 5 year olds this afternoon. There were about twenty-four students in the room, far more than I've ever managed at one time. It went very well and my kids were quite engaged. My classes will range from as few as six students to twenty-two. I'm excited for the challenge that such a range brings. This is part of the reason that ALWAYS uses a Chinese co-teacher in the room with the FET. Their presence alone ensures that things will go more smoothly.
While my class went quite well today, Ian completely killed it. He is a rock star with the wee ones. I know many of you have seen him with one or two munchkins (namely, Grant and Audrey), now imagine that level of energy with twenty-four. He has a way of making little kids feel like they desperately need Ian's attention and friendship. I'm supremely jealous of that, it makes it very easy to keep his classes' attention. Granted, Ian has a tendency to whip up a circus and that can make classroom management a bit of a chore. I wouldn't be surprised if Arnold uses Ian's video from today for training. Arnold said I could copy the video file, so perhaps I'll be able to post it here for you. Or part of it anyway. In short, Ian kicked major ass today.
Phew, this post got a bit our of hand, didn't it? Here's a video and some photos to round things out for the night.
Here's a look at tonight's evening traffic as a taste of life in a crazy populated country (morning traffic is worse even still):
One last story before I go. On our way back home from training this evening, Ian and I stopped stopped by a food cart (read: a cart on a bike) and purchased some moon cake-ish biscuits. They're not exactly moon cakes, but I don't know what to call them. I'll take a picture tomorrow. We only intended to buy one, but the lady insisted we take five. It turned out that they were sold by weight, so buying a few made much more sense. They were very inexpensive (and the one we split was very good) any way. But, it got weirder. Just as she bagged up our goodies, she suddenly tossed the bag into her cart and wheeled away, off the sidewalk an into the courtyard of our apartment community. Several other food carts pushed passed us to get off the sidewalk. We were confused, but we soon realized that there was a police car behind us. The food vendors were running from the fuzz! Ian and I quickly began to walk away from the scene (foreigners need to be cautious about those things here). But, the biscuit vendor chased us down and sold us our bag of five. Ian apologized for us bailing and motioned to the police. She seemed to understand and was very nice about the shenanigans. I'm looking forward to a mung bean biscuit with my dragon fruit for breakfast in the morning.