Posts tagged China
Posts tagged China
Some of my favorite photos from across the trip.
The summer camp I was at ended last Saturday, and after three days of very stressful phone tag where I thought I had gotten ditched (I like my boss but she is the single worse person at communication I’ve ever met), I’ve moved over to a new camp this company is running. This new camp is great, mostly because in her words, “all these kids’ parents are really rich.” And that means I’ve moved into a cushy hotel with hot water showers, wifi, and beds that are long enough. I’m feeling much happier, both from the modern resources and from finally knowing what in the world I’m doing up until my plane takes off.
So these last few days I’ve been able to make preparations to go back home, bought all my books, got started on work for USC stuff, and I’m glad that this trip is ending on a high note. I am not really a language teacher here – this camp is more of a ‘see Beijing have some fun’ type camp – I am more of an English language partner for everybody. All of these kids are really talkative and are pleasant to be around (except one of the older guys who keeps grabbing my arm and asking how much high-end brands cost in the States), and there are a bunch of wild elementary school kids who can’t not run around when we’re outside.
The activities are definitely more fun – yesterday I got here and taught a quick primer on western foods and place settings, then we all made pizzas. Today, we all went to the Great Wall, followed by Ice Age 3D in Chinese. The movie was just a movie, but it was neat to see the Great Wall again, especially because it was a different section than the one I had seen before. Impressive, as always.
My favorite part, however, was the botched translation job on the map they had up. China puzzle of the day: try to figure out where this picture was taken.
I think I’ve nailed down why exactly this camp is so frustratingly tiring – it’s because I’ve lost all spontaneity. Living at the end of the bus line means that you need to end the night and get back on the subway by 8 or 9 at the latest, or risk not getting back at all. And total travel time into the city and back is 3 hours, minimum. When I’m teaching till late afternoon, this means I can’t get out at all. Back at Capital Normal University, we were never more than a 20 minute cab ride away from anything. Living in the city was fantastic, it allowed for exploring and popping off to new restaurants on a whim, and those were the best moments of the whole trip. Up here, I’ve lost that ability.
I think that I would have actually liked living in a more rural area if there had been a community. I think that would have made for a more – authentic is the wrong word – human experience, getting to know a few people really well. The people I do see every day – the custodian down the hall, the woman who makes food out by the side of the road, the guy at the internet bar counter – I like a lot and chat with. I look forward to seeing them. But the camp as a whole has no such feeling of community. It’s a school campus that leases out its space to about 8 different summer camps, so everyone is always shifting in and out and no one really calls this home. It’s a transient space where no one is meant to stay long, and as such there’s no community in place.
It’s the worst of both worlds, really. The impersonality of a city without the modernity and freedom, the remoteness of a rural area without the community and culture. During my research into what to do the last month, I found schools 3 hours west who were absolutely desperate for anyone who could speak English. And around the Beijing city center, I found many people looking for tutors who could do the same. One would have been a drop off the map into ‘real’ China, never-seen-a-foreigner and doing-things-as-they-have-always-been-done territory. The other would have been a bustling metropolitan life, shuttling around to different language partners during the day and exploring and breathing the life of the city at night. Both were riskier options, but ones that I think would have been much more rewarding and in the future I fully intend to take the decision into my own hands.
I went shopping for Christmas presents in the Chinese markets today and this is about how it went.
Some of my kids wanted to hear Western music today, so I obliged and played them some songs after class.
Songs they didn’t like:
Songs they liked:
Well, I tried. A fair number of Chinese have actually elevated Lady Gaga to a divine status – I have head more than one little girl yell “OH MY LADY GAGA!” upon learning some Earth-shattering revelation. I fear for this young generation.
However, they did like Goldfish – Hold Tight, which confirms the fact that everyone likes Goldfish. Maybe there’s hope left.
I got into the city this afternoon – I need a wifi connection pretty desperately to upload some things I’ve been working on so I’ve sought out a Starbucks, the only reliable source of internet out here. And now you get 4 blog posts at once!
First, I want to showcase some of the delicious street food.
Second, situation at the language camp is still waffling. I’ve moved into a different dorm with a private bathroom so that’s a huge plus, and I’m getting along much better with the other teachers here. But the program itself is put together really poorly and it’s making the job tough. I got a new batch of kids today and it’s already a much bigger challenge. There is no pre-sorting whatsoever before the kids come, either by ability or by age. So in my class I have a third who speak literally no English and are still learning the alphabet, a third who have already had 4-5 years and are pretty conversational, and a third in the middle. It’s incredibly frustrating because I feel like it’s impossible to engage the kids at either extreme of the spectrum – the advanced ones very clearly did this all two years ago and it’s two years ahead of the inexperienced ones (who are actually the oldest in the class, so I think they feel ashamed at being outpaced by the younger kids and don’t make any effort at all). Between teaching for 6/7 hours a day and trying to get all my own stuff in order, I don’t have much time for anything else at all. I’m going to need a vacation from this vacation.
Tuesday was my day off, and I spent most of it down at Air China offices being thrown around between the help desk, website, and call center. During the process, one of the people at the Air China desk had me fill out a form online that he said would quote me how much of a refund I could get. I finally managed to get them to give me a number for how much more an early flight back would be. And that number, for getting back to USC a week early, was out of my price range. So I was going to Vietnam! I was actually pretty stoked, and had completely committed to going down to Ho Chi Minh City and making the best of the rest of the trip.
Well today I found out that Air China form I filled out wasn’t for information – it was an irreversible refund request and I got an email about 2 hours ago telling me that money had been successfully sent back. Dammit. So after trying my hardest not to yell at the call center lady because she like I was very clearly powerless about it all, I learned that it was very much set in stone and my original tickets are gone.
So I’m not going to be going to Vietnam at the end of the trip to see my uncle as originally planned, and buying the new tickets is going to set me back. I’m pissed because I had decided it was too expensive and had already committed and was looking forward to Vietnam, but the silver lining to this is that I’m heading back to USC earlier than I expected! So to all my USC friends, look to my coming on first light of the 18th day (of August). At dawn, look to the East.
I am trying my hardest right now to get an early flight back to the US. There’s a couple things that contribute to this decision and they all add up.
Travelling to Vietnam would be cool. But right now I’ve travelled well enough, and the idea of yet another completely foreign language in another country just does not appeal to me right now. I’m going to broaden my search for tickets from the one weekend I was looking at to a 2-week spread, and go down to Air China offices to see about a refund rather than moving the dates (because Air China, while it had legroom, is pretty damn pricey in comparison to the other trans-pacific airlines). It has been a good trip over all, but right now I’m having a horrible time, there’s stuff I need to do, and I’m ready to call this a wrap.
Internet update: Can now get emails, still can’t upload stuff to the internet. I’m in Beijing for the night so I found some wifi to hop off of to upload this.
Perspective: July 24 (Tuesday)
I’m touching base once more – these past few days have been the turning point in my trip here. Classes finished up on Friday with our final, which went well (this summer has been a nice extra gpa boost). After the final we had a farewell dinner at a fancy ‘traditional court style’ restraint. What this means is copious amounts of food in front of you on the table, and then a stage at the front of the restaurant where a whole series of performers came out and put on a show, much like would have been done for the royal court back when China still had emperors. There was a magician, singers, dancers (including a fan dance that was really cool), a martial arts performance, and musicians. It was actually pretty awesome, and we were the only foreigners in the restaurant so it felt authentic as well.
And then over Saturday and Sunday, everyone started leaving, slowly trickling out. These goodbyes weren’t hard – I’ll see them all back in Los Angeles and we’ve got plans to go out as a group to go grab Chinese food at USC. (Because that’s how you socialize in China – you eat.) A much harder goodbye was to a really good Russian friend I met here because more likely than not, I’ll never see them again. It is more and more apparent that I am now on my own.
A quick note – a couple people asked me if I was alright because they heard Beijing was flooded by rain. Well the rain was awesome and hard and torrential, but the flooding was only limited to a few low areas of the city. So I was absolutely fine, and it was actually pretty fun. It also meant the weather the next day was absolutely beautiful, and we took the day and went to the mountains west of the city, and got this picture of Beijing laid out in all its glory.
So, the plan for the next month is to teach English! My teacher set me up with a program USC students have used in the past, a language camp 40 minutes north of Beijing where I will be teaching kids. I interview with them last month and they liked me, so I got the job! There was a bit of a mixup over the past few days as our contact at the program changed and didn’t know about the arrangement, so he said they already had enough teachers. It was fairly stressful – Monday morning I wasn’t sure where I was going to be living Tuesday night. But it all got sorted out and I’m actually typing this from my room at the camp! I just got here so I’m still not sure of the ropes. But I’ve met the team of teachers I’m going to be working with (I’m not completely on my own thankfully), and I’ve got an orientation in a few minutes. I’m going to have more unscheduled time and less of a city to explore now, so I think I’ll be able to write some posts from the perspective of different points of the past month. Starting with the break in between the first two months to Seoul (Joomes I haven’t forgotten!). Right now though I need to run and get acquainted with this new language camp.
So it’s the end of day two of the summer camp, and I think I have a pretty good idea of how everything is set up.
I am teaching a class of about 12 kids of all ages and language abilities, from across China. It’s actually pretty troublesome, because it’s pretty clear that the sorting into different ability levels that their website advertises, never happened. But between myself and the help of some of the older students, it’s all right, no one has zero English and my smattering of Chinese is enough to get most messages across. My assistant teacher doesn’t do much besides sit in the back playing on her cellphone, but she helps translate if I can’t get something, and keeps an eye on the one firecracker of an 8 year old girl in the class (age range: 8 to 17). For the family reading this, think of 8-year-old-I-have-the-world-wrapped-around-my-finger Natalie. The camp will run for 8 days, after which I get a day off and then a new group comes in.
The actual teaching, when I can figure out how to stretch the one page lessons across three hours, is pretty fun, and probably the most rewarding part of this whole jaunt. For example, today we studied American holidays, and I managed to have them act out Santa delivering presents, draw Thanksgiving hand turkeys, Valentine’s day cards, Halloween masks, and at the end had an Easter Egg hunt for candy. Behavior and learning style wise, they’re just the same as American kids. The levels of the students like I said are very varied, so I don’t think I’m going to make much progress with their English grammar/vocabulary. But it’s good practice for them, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job of teaching culture if nothing else. I’ve never done this before, but I’m trying my best to earn my keep.
So the kids are nice, but the program is pretty ramshackle. The dorm I’m staying in is the dirtiest, moldiest place I’ve ever seen people living in, and the bathroom is downright septic. And I never ended up having any official introduction or orientation – I showed up to the first lesson with no preparation whatsoever, not even seeing the lesson plan until my assistant teacher found me an extra copy by the end of that class. The program’s ill prepared and gives off a sketchy vibe. If my teacher hadn’t worked with them in the past, I’d be packing my bags right now – language schools out here are infamous for not paying at the end of the month.
This is the nice bathroom for teachers only.
I’m still settling in, though this is no metropolitan Beijing. I’m several bus stops up from the northernmost subway stop, far enough to be home to several grass fields and zero other foreigners. We’ll see how this goes.