Wednesday, June 23, 2010

There's a park near the school which is a nice place to take a sit, read, be a little closer to nature. In my free time I've been checking out GZ with the locals. On the 13th, USA played against England in the World Cup, though for us in China the game was at 2 am. But still, us foreign teachers at Bart went into Guangzhou to a British pub, The Paddyfield, to watch America tie England. It was a great game, and the pub looks just like one you might find in the US, or England, as the English tell me.

Most of the teaching I've done so far still has been in the form of OPTs, or oral placement tests. To the best of my knowledge I haven't traumatized any students, but during another teacher's OPT, the little girl's response after, "Hi, what's your name?" was to turn around in her father's lap and cry, calling him a "guaiwu", monster.

Also, Kate and Evan, two of the managers at Bart, took Julien, Trever and I to see Baomo Park. It is one of the top attractions of Panyu; it had a wax museum of some historical reenactments, an art museum, and many ponds full of goldfish. The fish here are so accustomed to people feeding them, that as soon as you come up to the edge of the pond, they swarm in the water near you and fight to get the best spot for fish-food; you can even hear their mouths snapping open and shut!

And both a low and a high were the chicken feet. They actually were quite tasty, due to the savory/spicy sauce, but there's no real meat. You just try to eat the skin, it's more of a snack. Kate and Julien had to help me work on it. It really is a strange food, like putting an alien hand in your mouth and working around the (non-sharp) talons.

There are tons of fruit marts on every street, with piles of durian fruit! If you're unfamiliar with durian, it tastes and smells like gasoline, bus tires, sulfur, and burnt onions. Some things (like the stinky tofu, the sewage rivers) really do smell truly awful. I'm trying to get better at "stomaching" the tofu smell, but I almost gagged the other day at it...and again when they said one of the things on Julien's plate was a duck elbow.

But on a more delicious note, bubble tea is quite common, as are dumplings, and even crab/shrimp flavored Pringles! They're quite tasty and mild. Also Boss John took us 3 summer interns to morning tea with his friends at the Panyu Guest House, which was very tasty. There they served basically a dim-sum: shrimp dumplings, fish rice congee, sweet buns, among other things, plus any kind of tea under the sun.

Boss John, Kate, and Evan took us 3 interns to see Lotus Mountain, where there's a huge Buddhist temple. It's on the banks of the Pearl River, and is mostly a park extending all the way up the steep slopes, with the temple (and enormous Buddha statue, currently under reconstruction) on top, and the quarry used to build it on the bottom, near the river. There was also an old fortification from a past dynasty, to protect the area from invaders. The swords, armor and rusty old cannon were all on display.

Last Wed-Fri., the 16th-18th, Trever, Chris (from England) and I all went to visit Hong Kong. For the most part, it's a beautiful place, and Hong Kong S.A.R. is actually 70% green space! This came as a surprise to me before I arrived, but it's true; taking the bus through the country, it is full of forested mountains.

I came into both GZ, and especially HK, with the mentality that it's crowded and super busy (and I'm glad I did - that was probably the best prep. for my time here), and it's true! To me, since I came directly from GZ (and went there first, as opposed to HK and then GZ), and since I've never been to London (the Brits here say that HK reminds them of it) felt like a Chinese city, like GZ, but scrunched together, on the ocean, with mountains in the background, and a little more Westernized. Actually, I think it's like downtown Guangzhou, but on the ocean. The hostel experience in general was new for me, though there are hostelsin GZ. We paid ~55 HK$/night (about $7 US) and let me tell you: you get what you pay for! It was crowded, run-down, and we couldn't get the AC to work the first night (so it was like sleeping in a sauna), but it was secure and clean enough to do the job, we were only there to sleep anyways.

Some big differences between Panyu specifically and HK are: HK has few motorcycles/mopeds, and the left-side driving. But you should know that Panyu is not the same as the actual city of Guangzhou; honestly, Panyu is more trashy, and driving motorcycles on the sidewalk is illegal in GZ. The food in HK and GZ was pretty much the same, and the stores (Chinese and Western) too. Another big difference between HK and China is the money...pros: the HK $10 bill is sweeeet! Plasticy with a window! But the fact that almost every denomination is in coins was really inconvenient for me...I find coins clunky and easy to roll out of my pocket when sitting down. I think HK reminded me of a combination of GZ and NYC, but mostly like Guangzhou. The climate is identicalto GZ (street-level air pollution included), except for the nice ocean breezes (like Hawaii). The street lights in HK click, with different patterns, depending on how much time you had left to cross.

The HK metro is called MTR, with a cool white octopus-looking symbol on a red background. A favorite thing of mine from HK was probably just staring at the downtown area from the Kowloon shore. When Trever and I first set eyes on it, I was in awe, and could have stared for hours! Trever and I also saw the last of the Dragon Boat races at Stanley, on the south end of Hong Kong Island. In addition, we checked out the city night lights (HK skyline to music), ate Michelin Star dim sum, trammed/hiked up The Peak, rode up the world's longest enclosed escalator, and saw Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island.

There are salesmen everywhere in HK, offering you anything you can imagine...but hashish was the most common, then suits, coats, trousers, food, electronics, hostels, "footy massageys,....I tuned most of it out; it's too similar to the U of M ;)

I'm starting my first actual classes today! It's an entry-level "daily" English class, D1, probably adults, 6 students. There's a Chinese teacher that covers that same class twice a week, and I teach it once a week (each class period is about 2 hours long). The course is taught out of a textbook, beginning with such phrases as, "Hello, my name is __" and "How are you?" The nice thing is that us teachers are given some freedom to "make the class real," how "real" people in America, etc. would say things; but it's mostly based on the textbook.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

This week I got to see a bit more of Guangzhou: Susan and her friend Vicky showed me the Chen Clan Academy near downtown. It's a very old, massive, traditional building that the Chen clan founded to educate their own family, and now it's open for tours. Among the artifacts inside were rooms where people lived and studied, old furniture, an extravagant gift shop full of amazing things, and really neat paintings. After the Academy we went to see Beijing Lu: one of the wealthiest shopping strips in Guangzhou. Traditional lanterns line parts of the streets, with a huge statue of the Asia Games GZ goat characters right in the middle. We also saw some street-pavement bricks from the Qing and earlier dynasties, blocked off and under glass in the middle of the street.

Last Friday I moved from the hotel I was at for the first four days, and moved into the Huang's house (the owners of Bart). I'll be living there for about a month, when I'll take John's apartment when he moves out. Like most people I've met here, they're super generous. Their house is very nice as well (only 3 months old); a vertical square column of stone, each floor with about 4 rooms, and a spiral staircase in the middle. The rooftop is an open patio, and that's where they do the laundry!

I also got to see Susan's school, the South China University of Technology (Faye, Susan, and Vicky are all engineering students :) ). The campus is similar to the U of M, a mixture of old and new buildings, but they also have a green, manmade lake (green from pollution, they tell me). On campus I met Susan's friend, also in engineering (side note: the ratio of guys/girl students is still ~90/10). He had been looking for an English name for a bit; the Chinese like taking on an English name that sounds like their Chinese name, in his case, Xiang. I had the honor to give him his English name, Shawn!

On Sunday night Boss John (the owner of Bart school) took all the teachers out to KTV - karaoke, Asian style! It's not at all the dump that I expected; from the outside it looks like a nice Hollywood joint with black glass walls and glowing blue song titles. Then a staircase brings you downstairs, with a gourmet-quality buffet on the right and corridor of karaoke rooms on the left, each party with its own separate room. The karaoke room had 2 tables for food, with a huge wraparound couch along the edge of the wall, and a computer panel to choose songs. It was legit! I sang "American Pie" with one of the American teachers, and I had to sing some Avril Lavigne because the girls wanted me to.

At Bart, things are pretty laid back right now; I mostly test prospective students on their current English skills and place them accordingly, and train by learning some technical terms of speech and sitting in on other teachers' classes.

My mailing address (the school's address) is:
2/F Jinli Building, #217, Qiaoxing Dadao,
Shiqiao, Panyu District, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, PRC

But just to be sure, if you send something, just let me know via email so I know to expect least until after I receive the first piece of mail.