July 5, 2010 § Leave a comment
Now onto the deep stuff.
Compared to the complete freedom I enjoyed in Hong Kong, this is like being in high school again: Everybody is focused on studying and I have no autonomy. I saw very few taxis around the city and there’s no way to know how the bus system works. Even if I wanted to go somewhere, the teacher’s bedroom is located INSIDE the classroom, in which there are students 12 hours a day. Getting out isn’t as much of a problem as the fact that there is literally nowhere to go. This is more in the middle of nowhere than Columbia, Missouri.
I’m also suffering withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from my exchange student friends I spent my precious last weeks with, withdrawal from the city I’ve grown to love, withdrawal from a high-speed internet connection that is the tool for my addiction, withdrawal from the freedom of having no responsibilities and being able to stay up as late as I possibly can, and most importantly, withdrawal from being able to be myself.
I urged my students to refer to me as Laura and nothing else, but some of them still call me 老师 [teacher]. This is discomfiting for me as only three of them are younger than me, and even so, only by two years. That’s only the surface of a gap I haven’t quite figured out how to bridge yet. Because I’m not comfortable [or awake] enough to go mingle outside of my bedroom yet, I receive a knock on my door by my escort to meals, or for a delivery of fruit or tissues or breakfast or what have you. Their attention is touching, for sure, but I could literally be in a prison. An air-conditioned prison with smiling guards and a big bed…but a prison nevertheless.
My meals are all paid for. Even my after-dinner bottle of juice at the tiny convenient store was paid for by Mark. The 2600RMB from my aunts is burning a hole in its secret compartment, and I’ll be lucky if I get to spend even a quarter of it this whole month.
The niceties can be stifling. I asked Mark how to operate the speakers so I can get my private late-night fix of loud music bwahaha and he showed me willingly, but added, “You don’t wave to worry about it, teacher, we can set it up for you.” THANK YOU BUT I REFUSE TO BE A DEPENDENT SIMPERING WEAKLING OKAY DON’T ASSUME THINGS ABOUT ME.
After class, one of my students came up and asked me something about people in Chicago. I couldn’t understand the phrase he used, but after some difficulty, I deduced that basically he was asking if people in Chicago dress like the do “in the movies” … that is, skankily? I almost died. I suppose it would be advantageous for me to hide my penchant for deep-cut tank tops despite the 100-degree weather, but that means half of my clothes are out of service. And if that’s considered a curiosity, I suppose I had better not reveal all the other kinds of sins I’ve gotten into.
Augh! I can’t seem to word my thoughts precisely, but the final kicker is this: The family that was supposed to come and co-teach with me, whose mother had fallen sick a few days ago, just sent word to Hannah that she passed away from her illness. Not only is this a dreadful shock to their family, it also means that I, an UNTRAINED English speaker-turned-teacher, may very well have to teach alone for the next three weeks.
It’s the kind of task that I can do if I grit my teeth and fake it, but I will not enjoy it.
Ever since she got it into her head that I wouldn’t be able to find employment after graduation, mother has been pressuring me to pick another occupation. Like teacher. Or teacher. Or maybe teacher. But I shrugged off the suggestions because I knew I wouldn’t like it. I also know that I have the potential to be a good teacher — I’m patient, caring, loud, etc — but if something doesn’t come naturally and pays insufficiently, there’s no incentive. Also, when I think about most pop culture young female teachers I’ve seen [the one in Matilda comes to mind], I would hate to be put into that smiley, pristine little box. I may feel pedestal-ized here in China, but in America the position of teacher does not nearly receive enough social esteem as it deserves.
I almost cried a couple of times last night while thinking about my situation, but each time the tears could not quite escape. I’ve never quite been able to cry out of sheer self-pity; my destiny is in my own hands. A strong statement, but my last thought before drifting off to sleep was, Park Yong Ha, was it so bad that you really lost all your will to live?
July 3, 2010 § 1 Comment
These posts might be a bit delayed because the bad internet connection doesn’t let me format them properly, but they’re written according to the dates in the titles…so use those as reference. AND I WANT TO INCLUDE PHOTOS IN THESE POSTS BUT FOR SOME REASON THE FREAKING UPLOADER WON’T WORK CORRECTLY FML. So you’ll have to do without for now.
I woke up at 6AM to start repacking my belongings. We left [with all my luggage] an hour later in the church van and headed toward the factory, half an hour away. Despite having only gotten a little more than four hours of sleep, I sat wide awake in the passenger seat to observe the city of Yiwu as we drove down the spacious and well-paved roads.
This place isn’t exactly poor, as I could tell from the better-than-crappy apartment buildings, but like mother told me, it looks like the 农村 [I suppose “countryside” would be the closest translation, but in actuality it’s less romantic and closer to “undeveloped area”]. People walk across five lanes of nonexistent traffic as comfortably as you might stroll down your driveway.
Once we got nearer to the factory, though, the buildings became shabbier. Rusty tractors occasionally came down the road, the traffic lights didn’t even bother turning on and people moved around as if they just…didn’t care.
We are inexplicably* stationed inside this factory compound, where most of the residents are workers, and we use a classroom and some dorm rooms. I’ve gathered that the students usually come live here for five days while taking classes, then go back to the church building on the weekends. This means that I will have to pack and haul ALL of my crap across town twice a week.
I stood before my class of 16 and introduced myself, mostly in English at the behest of Hannah, and took them through the lesson book. We played a couple rounds of Telephone [to practice their listening and speaking but mostly because I miss playing that game], answered some personal questions, and thus three hours passed more or less smoothly. Praise God…but boy was my voice tired from talking so much.
For lunch, the students bring their own tableware and swipe for servings of the same mass-made food as the factory workers, which they then eat in a large dining area that is basically four slabs of concrete. Teachers and managers, however, get the privilege of eating out of actual dishes in a partitioned room off to the side, so my little vision of happily bonding with my students over lunch in a modern cafeteria is totally moot.
I’d like to add here that after a semester of dining out every day and eating mainly meat, having mostly vegetables at every meal is rather refreshing. On the other hand, I never get to choose. Nor do I get dessert. This situation might turn dire.
Lunch break is from 11:30-2PM, during which I took a much-needed nap. The subsequent two hours were spent having more lessons and musical dictations, during which I played Hillsong’s “All For Love” from my laptop and had them fill in some of the lyrics, which they all seemed to enjoy, this being a Christian program and all. Mark, the class captain [president? leader?], then helped me set up the Ethernet connection, which is adequate but just as undependable as the wifi at the church. Like yesterday, I spent most of the day in my room, glued to my laptop.
*I’m told we spend our weekdays here because it’s safer; over by the church, police tend to poke around, and we don’t want them getting in our business.
June 30, 2010 § 7 Comments
When I got a forward from my youth pastor about a summer volunteer/missionary program in China a few months ago, I skimmed over it without much thought. After being laid off and suffering the stress of eventually being kicked out of the student dorms, I started to consider the position more seriously, and decided to take it up as something useful to do with my life, a stark contrast to the sheer idleness of June.
I was accepted without much ado, and as my date of departure crawled closer, I tried not to think about how I was going to a strange place by myself where the strangers I was meeting might or might not kidnap me for ransom [stories fed to me by my cousin…]. The night before leaving, I slept for two hours because I was so busy packing and doing laundry and stressing about how I would stuff a whole semester’s worth of living into my suitcase.
The trip to Shenzhen airport went smoothly, as I had already taken that bus before. In line for customs, I stood in front of three middle-aged Chinese people who were speaking an unfamiliar dialect. The man kept inching in front of me as they were conversing, and even motioned for the two women to join him once he placed himself entirely in front of me. They didn’t move, and eventually he retreated behind me, letting me back in front of him with a gesture that made it seem like he was going me a favor. He didn’t even notice his rude behavior?
On the flight, I had the misfortune of sitting next to an asshole: He had the aisle seat, and his beady eyes looked up at me coldly when I motioned to the window seat and said, “Excuse me” in English. Shoot, I thought, and switched to Chinese, which doesn’t come naturally on two hours of sleep. “I’m sitting on the inside,” I mustered eventually. “So what?” he replied obnoxiously. My brain didn’t register his hostility in time to formulate anything other than a muttered “Well, could you stand up…” Thankfully, he roused his fat self from the seat wordlessly. The guy who sat between us didn’t even bother with an exchange and simply climbed over him, which I was definitely not willing to do. The mean one also stood up immediately when the plane landed and wouldn’t sit even when the flight attendants told him to. Seriously…what’s the rush?
The Yiwu airport is tiny; I saw no other planes when we landed, and there are a total of two baggage claim belts. Makes me miss O’hare. According to Wikipedia [which is blocked in China], Yiwu is “famous for its small commodity trade and vibrant free markets and is a regional tourist destination.” I’m not sure who edited the Wiki page because it also says “Yiwu’s early culture has given birth to many great figures in the fields of literature, art military, education, and engineering. Among these were … Wang Lee Hom, a very famous singer.” Not sure what that’s supposed to mean, since he’s Taiwanese-American… Another tidbit: “Yiwu is also known as the “sock town” as it produces over three billion pairs of socks for Wal-Mart, Pringles and Disney annually.” [That’s good news; I need some new socks.]
Mark, a polite young man with a goatie, picked me up from the airport with the church van and brought me back to the church building 15 minutes away. We climbed five [exhausting] flights of stairs up to my room, which was spacious and furnished with two queen-size beds and a private bathroom.
He also took me across the hall to meet Hannah, the coordinator [and apparently the only English speaker on the premises]. She tried to acquaint me with the situation — the students are mostly 20 to 30-year-olds studying mythology or theology at the local seminary. Hannah introduced me to a few of them at dinner, which takes place 3-4 hours earlier than I’ve become accustomed to eating in HK. They all refer to me as 老师 [teacher], which is off-putting because I’m younger than most of them.
From what I understand, the students take classes five days a week at another location; like, we actually have to move there for those five days, then come back on the weekends [wtf]. There was supposed to be a family coming to teach them English as well, but the mother fell ill in another city, so I will have to be teaching for an indeterminate number of days on my own for 5-6 hours a day. Lord help me…
In my recent memory, I’ve never taught English before, unless having a conversation partner counts; frankly, that kind of situation is more of what I was imagining this position to be, not having to stand at the front of a classroom for hours a day. I’m really not more qualified than these students in any way except for the fact that I’ve grown up speaking English, a skill I didn’t ask for that they all crave. I have the burden freedom of creating my own curriculum, and from the looks of their textbook, most of the students are still at level one. I’m straining to remember how I first learned French all those years ago…
The optimistic side of me wants to do my best to serve these people who are feeding and housing me. Three weeks can pass by very quickly if the past month is any hint. But I’m scared! And nervous! And I hate talking! Especially in front of groups! And I hate being the center of attention! And Youtube videos load really really really slowly on this wifi connection! Please pray for me and my spiritual well-being as I google ways to teach effectively :X
March 29, 2010 § 1 Comment
Thanks to mother’s foresight, I acquired a multiple-entry visa in Chicago and was therefore all set to trek to and from mainland China without having to spend time and loads of money applying for a mere double-entry visa here in Hong Kong like my friends do because China hates America. So far, I’ve taken advantage of my freedom three times, which I’ve separated into a three-part tale.
The last week of January, I visited Shenzhen on a whim with a guy I had only known for two weeks [if even]. He was going to visit some friends [Chinese exchange students] he had met back in California who were going to the city during their winter break, and I didn’t have class on Wednesdays so I tagged along.
We departed on Tuesday evening and planned to meet Mike’s friend Edmund [from CUHK] and spend the night in Shenzhen at a hostel that his friends had already booked. From HKU, the journey to the border takes almost an hour and a half, CUHK is pretty close to it:
Not more than five minutes after meeting Edmund at 上水 [Sheng Shui] and right as the train to take us to mainland pulled into the station, Mike realized that he had left his passport in his desk. UNBELIEVABLE. He ran off, leaving Edmund and me to bond for the next three hours as we awaited his return. Thankfully, Edmund was a nice fellow, and we got along pretty well as he and I wandered around the area near the MTR station.
Unfortunately, the border closes at midnight, and the last train left before Mike could possibly have returned. What to do, what to do… We considered spending the night at karaoke and catching the first train, but eventually decided to stay at Edmund’s university instead, since there was no point in going all the way back to HKU.
It turned out that Edmund lived in an all-male building. When we first arrived before Mike had reached us, a gaggle of guys were in the lobby [the outside of which was all glass] having a ping pong tournament. I tried to be inconspicuous as Edmund had a short discussion with one of them and the rest stared at me, wondering about the girl he was trying to bring home at midnight. The two of us took a walk around the lovely [and more expansive] campus as we waited for Mike [and the ping pong tournament to end].
Edmund’s building didn’t have security at night, but we still entered sneakily just in case my presence aroused too much suspicion. While talking with Edmund’s roommate, I found out that he had actually BEEN to Naperville [my ‘hood] before because his aunt & uncle own Trudy’s Flowers, which I drive past ALL THE TIME. Absolutely insane.
That night I slept in Edmund’s bed [which was more comfortable than my own] while he and Mike spent the night playing ping pong in the lobby, resulting in 15 minutes of sleep for both fools. We woke up at 5AM and left at 6AM with Edmund’s friend Sandy, who apparently had stayed up the whole night due to relationship troubles and wanted to join us on our excursion.
The process of crossing the border was quite complicated. I had to show my passport at four different stations, some of which were on different floors. Mainland China definitely has a distinct smell, which I noticed almost immediately. Ah, the fragrance of the motherland! I was so glad to be surrounded by Mandarin instead of Cantonese and simplified instead of traditional characters. We met Mike and Edmund’s friends, three lovely girls studying in southern China, and ate a deliciously cheap brunch before setting off to do some shopping.
I bought a pair of Adidas sneakers [110RMB] and some Kpop paraphernalia [alas, they had very few SHINee products] in the large shopping center we visited. I didn’t think much of the clothing styles I saw, and the quality looked even less remarkable than Argyle Center in Mongkok. Everything was so cheap! I bought two fresh starfruit on a stick on the street for only 1RMB [15 cents USD]!
Shenzhen has a reputation for being dangerous, but so far each time I’ve gone, strangers have been helpful and nobody has been robbed. There are definitely beggars and dirty places, but every urban area is going to have those.
After a yummy seafood lunch, our group found a massage parlor for our tired feet — one hour for only 20RMB! It was my first foot massage, and I was certainly self-conscious about somebody touching my feet & lower legs, but my masseuse made me more comfortable by carrying on a conversation and being relatively attractive.
At the end, I went to find him to give him a tip, but he ended up giving me his name and phone number instead, which made me feel awkward about giving him money right afterward. Someday I shall go back to that place…someday…
Four days later, I went back to Shenzhen, this time with a different group of people. Once again, I was kind of tagging along with no agenda of my own. Laurent, Fiona, Jacqueline [three Canadians] and I took a completely different turn from the first time and went to 世界之窗 [Window to the World], which we more or less randomly chose from Laurent’s guide book. We figured we would spend a few hours there [the book estimated two hours], and go shopping.
Whoever had written the guidebook made a rather grave miscalculation. Window to the World is a humongous park full of miniature [but still sizable] replicas of international landmarks, from Egypt’s pyramids to Thailand’s temples to the garden of Versailles. We spent a good seven hours exploring and taking fun photos, and even caught the surprisingly magnificent nighttime show at the end. The sunshine-filled day was one of the most fun experiences that I’ve had this semester, and it was definitely worth the $20US entrance fee.
This past Saturday, I traveled across the border with yet another group of friends: Paris, Justin and Cathy. We were supposed to join another group that included Laurent, but they ended up splitting up/going late/all sorts of shenanigans so we left early in the morning without them. Our priority was to shop. Thankfully, Cathy had a place in mind [the rest of us did not plan ahead at all] and we headed to 老街 [“Old Street”?]. It was the first time in Shenzhen for all of them, so Cathy [who is from mainland] and I took turns leading our group.
The first time I went to Shenzhen, the fashions seemed rather poor to me, but this time the mall we went to was extremely chic. A large fraction of the stores sold menswear, which is rare [I saw some amazing D&G sneakers], and unlike the ultra-cheap shopping centers where you can find the shirt you just bought down the hall for $10 cheaper, the styles from store to store all varied.
One thing that I still haven’t gotten the hang of is haggling. Not only do I handle rejection badly [“Can you give it to me for cheaper?” “No.” “…Oh. Okay…”], the way I shop is to fall in love with something at first sight, which means I then have to have it [as long as I can afford it, and in Asia, I usually can]. Besides, unlike the thrill that some people get from forcing a shopkeeper to slash prices, I only experience heightened levels of stress from what I feel like is an evil game designed to wrestle money from somebody who probably needs it more than I do.
At one point, I stopped in a shop to admire a jersey dress, but turned to leave when the shopkeeper told me that it was 300RMB [$43 for a simple dress]. She then pressed me to give her a price I would pay, so I halved the price even though I would’ve only bought the dress for 100RMB or less. In this way, she basically pressured me into bargaining with her even though I felt highly uncomfortable about it [just let me shop in peace!].
I had been wanting a pair of gold high-tops for a while, so when I spotted them in the men’s section [the women’s styles all had freaking butterflies or were Converse, ick] of a shoe store, I couldn’t resist, even though they were 280RMB. I had a mere 25RMB left in my pocket afterward; Paris & Cathy were pretty much in the same boat. Justin, on the other hand, didn’t want clothes or shoes, so after five or so hours of shopping, we located a salon so he could trim his faux-hawk.
All three of them ended up getting their hairs cut while I idly sat by, and then we took our tired feet to a spa. We had originally planned to return to Hong Kong at 9PM, but that goal was unsurprisingly sidelined, forcing us to speedwalk our way through customs like we were Cinderella trying to make curfew. There was a slightly traumatic moment when we ran through the gate to the subway JUST AS IT CLOSED ON THE PEOPLE RIGHT BEHIND US as if they were contaminated and being quarantined o____o it was seriously a scene right out of a zombie movie.