Wednesday, October 27, 2004

*Blink Blink*

Looking back at my blog (and believe me that’s a somewhat difficult task given that the Chinese government has censored it) I can’t help but notice that my last post was just about twenty days ago—it’s been too long. Now, it would be easy to jump to conclusions and assume that I’ve just been lazy. Rest assured my friend that this is not the case…at least not entirely.

Actually, I’ve just been in a pensive mood of late. That’s not to say that I’ve been depressed exactly, it just means that after two months here in Kunming and five months in China/Asia (depending on whether or not you feel like considering Taiwan to be part of China) the stars have aligned themselves in such a way that I seem to be constantly on the edge of some great revelation about how my experiences here come together and make sense. Alas, it never comes, and it makes actually organizing one’s thoughts more difficult and time intensive than maybe it should be, which should explain the delay in posting. Let me attempt to share some thoughts with you all anyway. I mean, what’s the point of a blog if you can’t pour your heart and soul out to nobody in particular?

Point for Reflection #1: One of my classes has its final exam this Friday. It’s over. It’s done. There’s nothing more that I’m going to teach these students, and if that’s not a scary thought, I don’t know what is (okay, not true, I would consider four more years of Bush to be a scary thought). It’s my first class, and although I didn’t have them for the entire semester, in fact I only got them for the last two months, I’m still left with the feeling that it’s somehow one of those life changing moments. Although I’ve had jobs before where I’ve had some semblance of authority over one or more persons, for the first time I feel directly responsible for the fate of other people’s lives.

It’s a thought that really hit home to me last week when I was talking with my students about the final exam, an exam that will make up more than a significant portion of their final grade for this class. First, I must explain that this class is a class of adult professionals who earned the opportunity to take this intensive English training course by working hard at their Electrical Power Company. It’s a class offered to people that the company is hoping to promote up to its higher echelons, but whose English is maybe not quite up to par. In any case, last Friday we were talking and the students seemed incredibly worried about the final. I told them not to worry too much, but they kept insisting—they even went to the point of siccing (sp?) another teacher on me to air their concerns. Finally the other shoe dropped and they made clear why they were so worried: if they didn’t pass the class, they would be required to pay the roughly ¥4000 (around $500) tuition for the course instead of their company. It seemed a lot to me, but not the end of the world. Then one of the students mentioned that ¥4000 is somewhere around three or four months of their salary.

Now, how can I in good conscience, regardless of the student’s performance, fail any of these students? And anyway, how did I suddenly get the right to decide between whether a person gets to live a comfortable life (in China that $500 goes a long way) or live in destitution. I’m more than likely making too big of a deal out of this, but I couldn’t help but wonder when I signed up for this.

Preview of Coming Attractions: Well, as this already seems long enough (yeah, I know the attention span you people have), I thought that I would go ahead and leave Reflection Points 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 for a later date. But before signing off, just to tantalize your taste buds I thought I’d at least give you the titles of future discussion points. Reflection Point 2 is intriguingly entitled “Beyond Where the Sidewalk Ends” and will be a discussion of my personal Never Never Land known as the YangPu Campus. Reflection Point 3 will consider ”Crisis at Hand: Midlife in the 21st Century?” Reflection Point 4 turns to reflections about the Chinese experience and is entitled “LaoWai and Proud.” Reflection Point 5 is perhaps more fun and will include a diatribe on the topic: “Why Karaoke is Fun.” “Scary Days” is the title for Reflection Point 6, and will obviously be a recounting of my Halloween and Election Day experiences in China. PSA: ROCK THE VOTE ON NOVEMEBER 2ND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Finally Reflective Point 7 will perhaps be less reflective and more focused on my experiences at a teachers conference which I will be attending in Shanghai from November 12-14th, and is tentatively entitled “Shanghaied.”

I know you’re all excited for the next installment now!


Thursday, October 07, 2004

I’m baaaack!

That’s right, I’m back from my five or so day vacation to the SiChuan (pronounced something like se-chwan) province, and I’ve made it back relatively unscathed. Actually, we were golden until the train ride home, but that’s a different story.

What I ended up doing was taking a good long (19 hours!..and the person that bought the tickets for us thought it would only be 9!!!) train ride up from Kunming to the capital of SiChuan province, ChengDu (pronounced more like ch-ung-doo) to meet two other Whitman in China folk who are teaching in Xi’an (pronounced she-on). During the train ride I got to play the main attraction for a number of Chinese youngsters who thought that seeing a foreigner was just about the coolest thing they could imagine. It was exhausting, but at least they were pretty cute, and I even taught one how to sing “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” Anyway, despite my longer-than-expected train ride, we all arrived in ChengDu at about the same time, so it worked out.

After a night wandering around ChengDu and getting thoroughly lost, we got up early the next morning to catch a bus to KangDing (pronounced k-awng-ding), a small town up in Western SiChuan. It was an eight-hour ride, but at least the scenery was gorgeous. The town itself lies at about 13,200 feet and has a large Tibetan population as it is actually not very far from Tibet. Since the new highway from ChengDu to KangDing is mainly finished, KangDing has suddenly become quite the tourist spot for the Chinese themselves. The problem is that KangDing is a pretty small town that isn’t really used to seeing so many visitors, so they weren’t exactly ready for all the people. What that meant was that we could not find a hotel room for the life of us. While wandering from hotel to hotel we happened to run across a Danish couple from Copenhagen that was in the same situation. So, working together we were able to get one hotel to clear out a room in a neighboring tea house of its mahjong table and they laid some mats on the floor for us. Actually, the mats were probably the most comfortable thing that I’ve slept on since my arrival in China; for some reason the Chinese prefer their mattresses hard.

Having secured a place to stay, we went exploring. The town was quite interesting, and the surroundings beautiful. We had some good meals, took a hike up to a Tibetan “stupa” (although I think stupas are actually Indian things, I don’t know what else to call it—it’s essentially a big statue/temple with no opening designed to hold relics…check out my photo album for a better idea of what I’m talking about.), relaxed in some hot springs, and traded drinking games with our new Danish friends.

Our bus ride back down to ChengDu turned out to be about 10 hours…a few more than expected. The problem was that we got stuck behind a construction zone. As we found out when we finally got to go through, the zone itself that was blocked off took us 45 minutes to get through. What this meant was that since it took so long to get through, they blocked off the road for about FOUR HOURS at a time!!! Yep, we got to just sit there for about 3 hours and 45 minutes. I couldn’t believe it! Alas, it’s the Chinese way.

Back in ChengDu we decided to take a trip out to ChengDu’s famous Panda Breeding and Research Station. It was great getting to see so many pandas up close and personal. I can’t figure out why they are so cute, but I think it must be the black circles around their eyes. They really make them look like they’re just looking at you with those big, round, puppy dog eyes.

Anyway, after all that fun and excitement, it was back to Kunming for me. Coming back I didn’t get mobbed by children (although they did try once), but it was mainly because I wasn’t feeling so well. Then, right as I was going to bed, it hit me. I ran to the bathroom and threw up dinner and maybe even lunch. It continued that way about every two hours or so. At least after the second time it was mainly just dry heaves. I’m assuming I caught some sort of stomach thing, but I’m not exactly sure where I got it from. It has meant that I’ve been awfully tired though because I haven’t really been able to eat anything (although I was able to keep down crackers this morning for lunch, so hopefully that means I’m on the mend). I start teaching tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll be feeling even better by then.

Anyway, here’re some fun facts for Thursday:

0- The number of pandas that were born in captivity outside of China that have survived.
40- The percent of time I spent in a train or bus on my vacation.
2- The number of weeks it’s been since I last did laundry. The fuwuyuan (worker people) here said my laundry basket was particularly heavy today.
<1000- The number of calories I've consumed in the last 48 hours I think.
9- The number of new photos I have up in my photo album, so go check it out!