Teaching in China

Suzhou Foreign Language school’s Autumn semester begins on September 1st. As I prepare for my classes and plan out my term, I thought it might be a good idea to write a little bit about what it’s like teaching in China!

(Spoiler…it’s awesome!!)

I’m not going to lie…living abroad isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. When we arrived in Shanghai last week, after a sleepless 11 hour flight, I was not prepared to deal with the bus depot’s toilets or the long ride back to Suzhou. I wanted to get right back into the plane and return to Canada. But as I sat there, fighting back tears of exhaustion in the bus terminal, Dave reminded me that soon I’d be back at work, and that calmed me right down. I thought of all my students and all the plans I had for them this year, and I knew that everything would be okay. Teaching is what I was always meant to do and I can’t express enough how rewarding it can be. I’ve taught children as young as 3 years old, 50 year old business men and everything in between, and I’ve gotta say…it doesn’t matter what age or level you are teaching…being an educator is a blast!

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So pumped to see these guys again! Can’t believe they’re going to be in Grade 8 this year!!

No matter how awesome the job is, though, the beginning of the semester offers some rather large challenges. If you know about them ahead of time, it can help a lot, here’s a list of tips I have for teachers at the beginning of the term.
1.) Be Prepared!!!

I once had an interviewer ask me what my ‘super power’ is. I replied, without hesitation, that it is organization. My ability to stay on top of my chaotic life all goes back to my day planner. Without it…I am lost. I am the master of lists and checking off items is sometimes all that gets me through hectic days. But that’s the key…it DOES get me through!

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I started rubbing off on my students…at the beginning of the term, in food and nutrition, many of my students just left all their vegetables all over the counters…by the end of the 1st term, they were neatly putting things in bowls. They agreed that it made it much easier cooking this way!

I recommend check lists to everyone and everyone because they allow you to stay on top of everything (and not forget about important events or tasks!) but also because they can give you a real sense of accomplishment. I recently had a coworker tease me for having ‘start grade 7 ppt’ as one of my check-list items. He thought it was silly that I had only ‘part’ of a task listed as an item on my list.

So, I asked him: “What’s the hardest part of making your weekly Power Point?” He answered “getting it started…” Boom! Item #1 is done and once you start, it’s not nearly as daunting of a task.

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Literally, my day planner RIGHT NOW…I leave little boxes in front of the tasks so I can fill them in when I’m done! Also…notice the colour coding??? It’s an ongoing joke in the middle school that when a student asks if I have finished grading their work or if I know where something is, my response is ‘Of course! I am VERY organized!’

I also firmly believe in the power of lesson plans. I know countless teachers who go into their classes with an idea of what they’re doing…but with no physical plan. I honestly have no idea how they do it…I lose track of time, I miss items and I let the class get carried away in discussions when I don’t have a proper plan. Don’t get me wrong…discussions are great in an ESL classroom! It’s what you WANT!! But in your 8:30am writing class, it isn’t always good when little Tom asks me ‘what I like about Suzhou’ to try and distract me from teaching about Present Perfect tense…

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I am trying a new way of doing lesson planning this year. Last year I was doing much more detailed plans, but then I realized that my Power Points were pretty much all I needed. Now, I’m focusing on the big items I want to cover every week. I leave space for notes to comment on things that went well (or badly) and for information students who really excelled or may need extra help.

And going Macro…Term plans can also be an excellent idea, especially when you don’t have a book to teach from! Last year, none of my classes had actual textbooks, so it became very important for me to plan ahead to make sure I was covering all the material they’d need to know for their IGCSE exams. Even when I DID have a book to teach from, when I was teaching Elementary and Kindergarten, my term plans were crucial to making sure all content was covered. It was a simple outline for the term, but an outline nonetheless. I recommend these tools to anyone! (And if you have any questions about layouts or things you should have in any of these plans, shoot me a question in the comments section! I’m always happy to help a fellow teacher!)

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2.) But not too prepared…

This may seems silly…but in China, you need to expect things to change. Your classes might get moved around or cancelled at the last second. I’ve often walked into my classroom to find no students there…when I track down their homeroom teacher it’s usually because some other activity was planned and they forgot to tell me. This is normal in China. You have to roll with the punches because like it or not…these things are CONSTANT!

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Leading up to the Drama Festival I was losing my mind because each class was so important for rehearsal, and my classes kept getting cancelled so the students could go horseback riding…or because they had a dance rehearsal to go to instead…it was Maddening!!

These types of things used to drive me CRAZY until I had someone tell me the reasoning behind it. China is what is known as a ‘Shame Culture’. I’ve written about ‘saving face’ in previous posts, and that’s what’s coming into play here. Things are often planned at the last second in here because it reduces the chance of having to cancel events. Cancelling an event is very bad in Chinese culture and knowing that actually made me feel a lot better about the ways it affects me. People here aren’t stupid or disorganized…the cultural norms are just different. That is something VERY important to remember when living here!
3.) Be Prepared for all the September/October Holiday Mayhem

The beginning of term always takes it out of me… Whether you are in a Training Center, a Foreign Language School or an International school (the 3 basic types of schools in China). the beginning of term has many challenges to overcome.

First, you need to get back into the groove of things and find your flow in the classroom. Then, you have to get all of your ‘beginning of term admin stuff’ out of the way…then you have to deal with 2 holidays within the first month of teaching!!!

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“Teacher’s Day” is also a mini holiday (no time off) in September. Students bring you all sorts of little goodies and the school makes you feel very appreciated!!

Mid-Autumn Festival is a lovely holiday (one of my favourites!) celebrated by getting together with family and eating Moon Cakes. It takes place in the beginning of September and it usually means a 3 day holiday for teachers.

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Delicious, Delicious moon cakes!!!

Then, there is China’s “National Day”, which actually lasts a week. It’s known in the tourism industry as “The Golden Mess” because there are literally over 1 billion people all on holiday at the same time in China! The regular tourist sights are PACKED and even the lesser known sights are still teaming with people. We traveled to Xiamen our first year in China during the holiday and it was uncomfortable trying to get anywhere, because you were shoulder to shoulder with tourists…

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Beijing…literally, shoulder to shoulder….

And then there’s the other problem with all these days off…Holidays are great, but they REALLY mess with your schedule! In China, if you are given 3 days off, it doesn’t necessary mean that you don’t owe some of them back. For example, this year, Mid-Autumn festival falls on September 15,16 and 17 (a Thursday, Friday and Saturday). In order to make up for that time off, schools open on Sunday and the week following the holiday becomes a 6 day week, with 2 Tuesdays in it. My first year, I had to have someone sit me down and draw a chart so I understood what was actually happening and when I had to work!!

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4.) Form a Good Relationship with your Co-Teachers/Homeroom Teachers

I cannot stress enough how important this is! It seems like common sense…who doesn’t want to get along with the people they work with? But too often I see people treat their Chinese counterparts in the education system poorly (and vice versa). There seems to be a mentality at some schools (and even in some departments at my own school) that it’s US vs THEM!!! This is SO counterproductive!

I’ve always tried my very best to be kind to the people I work with…to me that’s just common decency. When I was at the training center, I became good friends with Talia and Kayla. They weren’t teachers, but they were the people who helped me translate for parents and made sure that parents got important information about homework and students’ progress. Now, I work at a Foreign Language school where I’m co-teaching with Chinese teachers. We may not always see eye to eye on the way some things should be handled (education systems vary greatly from country to country!), but I always try to find a reasonable compromise.

I also do my best to never to create more work for my co-teachers. I’ve worked with teachers that wait until the last minute to do their progress reports or who don’t grade their papers until they’re told they HAVE to, even when they know that their Chinese counterpart needs them to finish up before they themselves can begin. Once more, I feel like this should be common sense, but I’ve seen it happen SO many times!!!

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Too often, Expats won’t even invite their Chinese coworkers out to dinners and things. I always make sure to invite anyone and everyone in my office and a lot of the time, they come out! Ivy (in the middle) has been such a good friend to me over the past year…I can’t imagine how I could have gotten through some things without her (like when I went to the ‘acupuncturist’ and when we got Hugo and Poe.) I don’t understand why people don’t put in more effort with one another!

This doesn’t only extend to the classroom either. Staff rooms can be tricky when you have a mixture of different cultures together. For example, the Chinese staff typically don’t want to have the air conditioners on in the summer or the heaters on in the winter. It’s a belief in China that they both blow dirty air, so they prefer to open the window. I run hot, so this has always been an issue for me in summer, but I compromised and bought myself a fan. On days where it’s particularly humid, I ask if I can turn on the AC for 15 minutes or so, to dry out the air. Then, when the room is cool, I turn it off again! There’s no need to be demanding…you’re in THEIR country! And it’s amazing, because 9 times out of 10, when you are respectful, so are they!!! I didn’t even have to ask by the end of the year…my dear friend Ivy would go and switch on the AC when it started to get uncomfortable.

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One of my Grade 5 classes at Interlingua. Notice they’re all in parkas? Parents frequently requested that we turn off the heaters so that their kids wouldn’t ‘get sick’.

5. Extra Work = Extra Awesome!

I’ve found in China (and pretty much everywhere else in the world too) that the better you are at your job, the more you are asked to do. It can be a bit much sometimes when you’re an overachiever (I may fit that description…), but I always remind myself that I am asked to do things because I’m doing well. The bright side of those extra projects is that you expand yourself SO MUCH when you take them on! Last year I organized the school’s first yearbook and hosted the annual Drama Festival, both in the second term.

Both events were SO fantastic!!! Not only did the students work hard, but they also saw ME working hard…that does wonders for your relationship with them. When they know that a teacher actually cares about them…it’s like the game changes a little bit. There are so many foreigners teaching China that are only here for the visa and so they can live abroad….and that’s okay! That’s how I started out too…but then I fell in love with the job and now, I take that job very seriously! And students can always tell when they have a teacher who is present and putting in effort vs the teachers that show up and do what they have to do.

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The Yearbook was such a worthwhile project as well…not only was it a lot of fun to put together, but it really expressed what it’s like being in the IGCSE department at Suzhou Foreign Language School

Being a positive influence is SO important. As an educator, I know that my students are learning more from me than just what is coming out of a text book. My boss, Nathan, is a prime example of teaching through doing…As I’ve mentioned before, he does a lot of work with Migrant schools and other charities around the city, and this year, our grade 8 class organized a big fundraiser for the migrant schools Nathan works with! It was so awesome watching them find ways to raise money and they really did a great job! Students are watching you ALL the time! Be an inspiration!!

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I encourage Michael to be more positive all the time (he tends to mope a lot…). I was surprised when I saw this on one of his worksheets. He aspires to be more optimistic (a word I taught him!) because I’m optimistic. That’s the biggest reward I could ask for as a teacher!

6.) Have Fun with It!!!

Lastly, make sure to have fun teaching!! It’s an AWESOME job and at most schools you are given plenty of opportunities to let your own skills shine. I mentioned earlier that I didn’t have textbooks for any of my classes last year. That may have intimidated some teachers (which is why my boss offered me a few textbooks I could follow along with if I needed), but for me…it meant I got to be creative.

In Food and Nutrition, I decided to teach my students about culture and how it relates to food. I did focuses on Mexico, Brazil, Jamaica, Italy, France, India and then I also taught them about December Holidays around the world (and the foods people eat during those holidays). It ended up being a tonne of fun! Because I’m so interested in both travel and cooking, I was able to shape this class around my own interests and talents. It worked out well for everyone, I think!

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At Easter, I taught my Grade 7 girls to dye their deviled eggs. When I taught them about Jamaica, we made Jerk Seasoning and had topped some deviled eggs with it (SOOO good!). They liked the dish so much they asked if we could do it again!

For Drama, I used my writing skills and training to have the students write their own plays for the drama festival! I’m also very competitive and I turn everything into competitions within my classroom. The students ended up LOVING the way we chose which play we’d perform in each class.

The Drama Festival was a huge success because I used the skills I had to make it happen. Best of all, I learned a lot along the way! I’d never been given an opportunity to direct before, nor had I ever coordinated an event like that. I developed new skills while using skills I already had. It was a perfect combo 🙂

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One of the groups in my Grade 8 Boys class presenting their play to the other students. They were actually the winners and the whole class had a great time learning their parts

So that’s the beauty of my job! I decided to try and keep my posts shorter this year, but as I was writing, I just couldn’t stop! I’m far too in love with my job and have so much advice to give!! I do hope that you’ve found this informative and if you’re teaching in an ESL classroom yourself, and if you are just reading to know what it’s like to be a teacher, I hope you got a good idea of how awesome my job is 🙂

If you have any comments or questions about anything I do…feel free to as in the comments section below! Thanks for checking in!

So, You’re Moving to China…(Part 2)

As promised, I am back with part 2 of my post!
5. Kiss Comfort Goodbye

Whether you’re in your apartment or at a restaurant, the standards of comfort in China are very different from out west. Beds are often rock hard, couches are frequently nothing more than a wooden bench, and restaurants (in certain areas of the country) forgo purchasing conventional tables and chairs, and have everyone sitting at child-sized tables, with plastic stools.

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Our couch in Guiyang. My butt would go numb within about 10 minutes.
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One of our favourite hot pot places….not exactly the most comfortable restaurant…

And it’s not only your butt that will miss the comfort. People here have a different idea of what ‘public space’ means. I frequently see people watching movies on their tablets in public spaces (in the metro…at Starbucks…in restaurants…), without using ear buds. When you have several people doing this in the same space, the room becomes so cluttered with noise that it’s difficult to think.

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After taking this picture, and posting it online, I saw someone post an article about how it’s wrong to take photos of strangers. I agree…except for in cases when those individuals have forsaken their rights to privacy by taking away my right to focusing on my blog…

Smoking is also common place here, and you will see it everywhere you go. Restaurants, shopping malls and even some schools all allow smoking and although Beijing and several other cities are beginning to make smoking illegal in public spaces, China still has a long way to go before you can enjoy a meal without choking on someone else’s cigarettes.

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Without reinforcement, signs like this don’t actually do very much. There are ‘no smoking ‘ signs in most elevators, after all…it doesn’t stop people from lighting up in them…

And even in private spaces, China finds it’s way in. People in our apartment building frequently leave their front doors open to air out their personal spaces….this often results in my own apartment smelling like cigarettes. Our neighbours across the hall have apparently run out of room in their apartment, so they’ve begun storing personal items outside of their door, in the hallway…They are currently keeping their baby stroller and several other objects (including open umbrellas…) right outside of our door.

And Fireworks….The Chinese use them to ward of evil spirits and the following events all merit their use:

  • Weddings
  • Funerals
  • Birthdays
  • New Businesses Opening
  • Festivals
  • Holidays
  • Just because they like to make noise…
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Fireworks are a constant here. When you live on one of the higher floors of a building, you’ll wake up to the sound of these things going off right outside your windows. One day, when we were living in Guiyang, our apartment got smoked out when a new business had opened up downstairs. We’d had our windows open…

Even babies don’t get any break from the discomfort of living in China. I can’t help but wonder what this sort of thing means for this poor kid’s neck muscles…

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6. Traffic Laws are Non-Existent…and Mayhem most Definitely Ensues…

It’s rare that you will see a police officer pulling people over for bad driving. It’s so rare, in fact, that the only time I can remember it happening was in Guiyang, when police officers caught on that they could get bribe money from e-bike drivers who aren’t wearing helmets.

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Take Note: There are no drivers in many of these cars. In Suzhou, people frequently park in the areas meant for uturns….because… why not? Sidewalks are another very popular place to park and double parking is common. There’s no end in sight for this behaviour, because nobody gets ticketed for these types of things. It’s beyond me…

The results of this lack of enforcement are terrifying. In Suzhou, the driving isn’t TOO bad. There are e-bike lanes and for the most part, people pay attention to stop lights and stay in 1 lane at a time…Well, ok, that might be a little generous…

I don’t have many pictures of this stuff, because, I’m usually trying to jump out of the way of drivers who are busy taking selfies instead of watching the road, but this video that I took in Guiyang should give you a pretty good idea of what it’s like driving, or ever walking, in China…

7. You’ll Begin to Appreciate the Most Surprising things…

The most mundane things in Canada become the most appreciated in China. Something as simple as Shake n’ Bake chicken is the cure to culture shock and bad days. Although I was never really big on Deviled Eggs back home, I’ve grown to love them in China, because they remind me of Christmas and Thanksgiving.

One of the best things is getting care packages from home. Getting Coffee Crisps, clothes that fit and western spices is such a great event! It’s like the best Christmas gift you can imagine!! I especially love getting letters from my nieces and nephews, though it’s common that China Post loses those. I’ve had countless letters mailed to me over the past 2 years, but I’ve only every actually received 2. Most of our family and friends have given up sending things, and I can’t say I blame them. Canada Post charges an exorbitant fee to send packages overseas, and when they likely won’t even make it to us…what’s the point?

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China Post workers going through their mail deliveries…this could be why so many packages go missing….

On the subject of ‘stuff from home’, I realized something amazing about myself while I was finding pictures to use for these posts. I apparently have a need to photograph any western-brand sign I see. It must be the excitement of seeing something from Canada or America IN China…


8. Signs: The Good, The Bad and The Incomprehensible

This category doesn’t need much explaining….Let’s start with the good…

The Bad…

And, of course, the ones we can barely understand…


9. Things are Just Done Differently Here… (Part 2)

Of course, there are a few things I forgot to write in this section of my last post, so here they are…

  • Public space is used differently here…Below is a photo of a man shaving. In the metro. On his way to work…

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  • Advertisements are weird. These women are serving pie…in a glass cage..to promote a new restaurant. They’re white…and it was weird…so people stopped.

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  • Products are also weird. The grossest one I’ve seen are the facial creams that are supposedly made of human placenta. They have a rejuvenating quality to them….yeah….no thanks….IMG_20160319_224523
  • Crowds….crowds like you have never experienced…

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  • Chinese medicine can be questionable. I have tried acupuncture here and it did not go well. I wound up passing out and I think the guy did more damage than good. I’m a pretty firm believer in scientifically backed treatments, but if you want to try eastern remedies, I do urge you to seek out professionals. Cupping is one of the most popular thing for westerners to try out. It’s pretty harmless, and it leaves some pretty wicked (temporary) scars that you can show off. Every Chinese person I’ve asked swears that it does wonders…
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A friend of mine, after a Cupping session. The welts go away after about a month…

Some Final Tips for your Time in China

  • Buy clothing and shoes before coming to the country. Even petite girls can have a difficult time finding clothing here, because generally there is NO ROOM for curves in Chinese clothing. If you’re busty…shop at home accordingly, because you will not find anything above a B cup here. Similarly, it’s difficult to find shoes bigger than a lady’s size 6 or 7 (36 or 37 in European sizes).
  • While the Chinese are perfectly ok wearing mini skirts where you can actually see their bums when they bend over, cleavage is a nay nay…Be prepared to have pretty high cropped shirts here, ladies. It’s inappropriate to show off your goods (on the upper part of your body anyway…)
  • Learn how to use Tao Bao! It is truly a life saver. You can use Bing Translate or google translate if you have a VPN. ***Tip: Translate whatever it is you want to buy into Chinese (Google Translate works very well). The prices are much lower if you search in Mandarin.
  • Buy bedding foam. There’s very little worse than having a bad sleep. The first time I lived in China, I was able to get used to the hard beds, but now…I find it unbearable. There are all sorts of foam mattresses you can buy (Tao Bao is your best bet!) to soften up your bed. They are invaluable and I HIGHLY recommend buying one!
  • Find a local store that carries western goods. Metro, Carrefour, Walmart, Decathelon and Euromart are some of the best. Tao Bao also carries a wide range of western brands, so that’s always an option as well. It’s amazing how comforting it can be to find taco seasoning or salty popcorn when you have had a bad week.
  • Get a VPN (preferably before you enter the country)! I couldn’t blog or keep in touch with anyone on Facebook if it weren’t for my VPN. For $100 a year you can get set up with Astrill or Express, and both are reliable and fast. The government does sometimes crack down on that stuff, so expect the occasional glitch in service, but for the most part, I feel that they do pretty well.

My last piece of advice before ending this post: surround yourself with positive people. There’s nothing worse than spending time with people who do nothing but complain about the culture and the country. Of course, it’s inevitable that you will need to rant now and then, and that’s totally okay. But I’ve met so many foreigners who spend their time abroad angry that the people here won’t conform to what THEY think it normal. Those types of Lao Wai kinda suck…so don’t be like them. Remember that there are good things and bad things in EVERY culture, and you don’t come from a perfect country any more than the Chinese do. Be tolerant, and when it gets REALLY bad…grab some western bevies (because Chinese beer is pretty terrible) and chill out with people who are going through the same things you are.

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Having a positive group of friends is key to surviving overseas. I can’t claim that we’re all positive all the time, but we all count ourselves lucky to be having this incredible experience, and when all else fails, beers at Euromart, or a night out at KTV can go a long, long way for the spirit!!

That’s it for today! My next post will be an update on life in Suzhou! I’ll have pictures from my first gigs (I’m singing in a band :)), the Drama Festival at my school and all the stuff that’s been keeping me busy and away from my blog!

So You’re Moving to China…

I can’t believe it’s been a month since I got around to blogging! Life has been nutty here again…but I’ll have more on that in my next post.

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I also haven’t forgotten about my poll. It was a 3 way tie, so I’m going with ‘The Best of Suzhou’. I’ve been collecting material for weeks

Tonight, after realizing that I had bit of spare time, I decided to write a post I’ve been considering for a long time. This particular post was inspired by an old friend of mine who’s thinking of moving to China. I was giving her advice this morning and it got me thinking about all the crazy stuff that I’ve gotten used to dealing with living in this strange country.

So here it is…a list of all the stuff that you should know if you’re moving to China!
1.) The Food is Amazing…and Amazingly Weird….

Item #1 on my list isn’t a shocker. Chinese food is popular around the world, so there has to be something good about it! I love Chinese food and I doubt I’ll ever tire of it. There are many different varieties, depending on the regions of origin. In Sichuan province, you’ll get spicy hot pot, for example. On the east coast, you’re more likely to get sweet sea food. No matter where you go in China, the local cuisine is worth a try because WOW…there are some amazing things to eat out here!

Then again, when you say you’ll try a local delicacy, you might get more than you bargained for…

I think most of the world is aware that people in China will eat anything and everything. From chicken feet to pig face, and everything in between…nothing is off-limits in this country. I can proudly say I’ve tried everything that’s been offered to me since I got here (still no dog…that may be the one I turn down…), and some of it isn’t bad.

Strangely enough, I enjoy barbecued chicken feet. There isn’t a whole lot of meat on them, but they’re alright. I also like chicken tail a lot. They get nice and crispy on the barbecue. Organ meat has become far more normal for me to eat as well and I’ve become particularly fond of liver, though brain still grosses me out and chicken gizzards seem pointless and rubbery.

Most of it, however, I simply don’t ‘get’. I can understand how a starving person might think that pig intestines are the most delicious thing they’ve ever eaten, but for me…they’re kinda gross. There isn’t much meat in them, and every time I’ve had them…they always faintly taste like poop….maybe it’s in my head…but I swear I taste it. So I now avoid them when I see them on the menu.

2. Sanitary Standards are VERY Different in China

Currently, I’m teaching a Food and Nutrition class at my school. It’s basically home economics, but I mostly just teach the students how to cook. The biggest challenge for me has been teaching them about bacteria, food poisoning and basic sanitation. It isn’t as easy as it may sound…

There’s no hot water in our kitchens (a norm in China) and I had to teach them to boil water for doing dishes. When classes other than my own work in the kitchen, the dishes are left a bit oily because cold water just doesn’t clean that stuff off, and soap is often an after-thought…

Teaching them about meat safety has also been a huge issue. In China, meat is frequently left out, unrefrigerated and uncovered. Even in the western type stores, like Carrefour and Metro (if you are new to China, seek out those two stores! They are a must-have for anyone living abroad), you’ll frequently see questionable meat sitting out on the counters.

Similarly, the ideas about personal hygiene are different here. By the time you are finished your first (of many) colds here in China, you will grow very tired of people telling you to ‘drink hot water’. It seems to be the cure to everything here in China, while preventative measures, like hand washing, are never discussed.

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Throwing rubbish in the drain….no problem. Cold water….TERRIBLE idea!
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At the gym, cold water isn’t even an option. The best you can get is ‘warm’ water (which is still pretty hot), because apparently, cold water is bad for your health…

There are also some pretty nasty habits here, that I have never grown used to. Spitting, for one, still grosses me out. People don’t like to swallow their saliva here, so they just spit it out. This is especially true in poorer areas (where people are less educated regarding the spreading of germs) and with the older generations. Similarly, Chinese people think that sitting on a toilet seat is dirty, so they will often hop up on top of the seat and squat over top of the toilet, when an actual squatter isn’t around. The result is usually that urine ends up everywhere (because sit-down toilets aren’t made to be squatted over), which, to me anyway, seems a lot less hygienic than sitting on a toilet seat!

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Furthermore…flushing your toilet paper here is a no-no. The sewage systems can’t handle the tissue, so public restrooms always smell because of the tp sitting in bins…

3. Be Prepared for Pollution and Pollution Related Illnesses

Everyone knows that China has a pollution problem. It’s a topic frequently discussed out here, and Chinese citizens are really starting to pressure their government to regulate factories better for the sake of the air. In Canada, I’d never really experienced pollution before, and until I moved to Suzhou, I’d never really given air quality a second thought. Here, students actually know the names of the different air pollutants and what they can do to your lungs. For example, I had a 13-year-old girl tell me that the PM2.5 levels were very high one day, and that I should wear a special kind of mask so that the particles don’t end up in my lungs. PM2.5, she informed me, is the most worrisome pollutant because your body doesn’t have any way of flushing it out…the particles stay trapped in your lungs for years.

When I was 13…pollution was hardly a concept I’d ever even considered!

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A smoggy day in Suzhou

I don’t know a single teacher that doesn’t catch at least 1 or 2 terrible colds per term here. I was so sick back in March that I had to be put on oxygen after a short walk to the a nearby clinic. They put me on 5 different medications to combat the viral infection I had in my lungs and I was honestly really scared because I’d never had such trouble breathing in my entire life! Even pneumonia hadn’t been as bad as that lung infection was…

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My many meds

4. Things are Done Differently Here

If health hazards are shrugged off here, I don’t even know how to explain how people here feel about safety. Workers frequently wear minimal or no equipment went doing construction, and I don’t even want to think about the repetitive strain injuries that some of those people suffer. I’ve seen women in their 40s and 50s hauling broken concrete out of demolition sights in wicker baskets hanging off their backs…

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All of this was hauled out of the building by hand…on the backs of manual laborers…

And those are just some of the long-term consequences of having no standardized regulations for safety in the workplace. Sometimes the consequences are much more current

In funnier instances, some things just don’t seem to make sense here. Such as:

  1. Our hot water tank being right above our washing machine…but our washing machine wasn’t connected.
  2. Escalators being built outside, instead of under the roofed area…causing them electrical damage every time it rains.
  3. Having air conditioners in every room at a school, but forbidding anyone to turn them on because the cold (or hot…they do heating in the winter) air is bad for your health…
  4. At the school, we use paper so thin that the students have dubbed it ‘toilet paper’. It’s done because they are trying to use less paper and save the environment…yet no one sees anything wrong with having between 20 and 30 flyers left in your e-bike every week
  5. The government telling employees to smoke more to boost the economy…
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I can’t stress enough: Cold Water = Bad……transporting food in dirty-cut-up-old containers…FINE!!!

Well, that’s all I have time for tonight! It looks like this one is going to be a 2-parter! Come back soon to see the rest of my list which will include:

  • Traffic Laws (and lack of traffic laws)
  • Signs: The good, the bad and the incoherent

and plenty more!!!

Spring Term- The Life of a Teacher

I have about 10 blog posts planned at the moment, but have had so little free time that they’ve all just been sitting in my head Spring term has been a little bit crazy, and when you add in holidays, birthdays and regular life into the mix…finding downtime can be tricky! So, I thought an update on all my projects was a good idea…

Life since we returned from India has been eventful in both good and bad ways. When we got back to Suzhou, I started going to the gym again, but realized that I didn’t have anywhere near the energy I should have. I was actually feeling all around pretty terrible…by the time my lung infection hit full force, my body was having difficulty getting enough oxygen. I ended up at the Sing Medical walk-in clinic in SIP (the area of Suzhou where we live), where I was put on 5 different medication and told to stay in bed for the next week…

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The doctor wasn’t sure if it was a bacterial or viral lung infection, but he was fairly sure that it had been building up for some time…I think it began in India…but it might have even been before that.

Since that necessary ‘mini vacation’, life hasn’t really stopped. I’ve been put in charge of the yearbook committee and the drama festival this term (two huge projects!) and I’ve also been helping out with some grade 8 exam preparation and of course, I have all my regular classes as well. It’s been a busy few months!

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Brain Storming for the school yearbook. Yearbooks aren’t a ‘thing’ in China, so this is SUPER exciting for the students!

My favourite project has definitely been the Drama Festival. 4/5 of the classes that are participating in the event are taught by yours truly, so I’ve had my hands full preparing sets and props, teaching the students how to write a play, and of course, actually writing the plays. This festival has actually given me the chance to teach the students a whole set of new skills, and I really feel that they’ve gotten a lot out of these projects.

Of course, when it came down to actually writing the plays, that was mostly left up to me. So working with their plot lines and character profiles, I got to put my creative writing skills to use! It was a tonne of fun and although it meant spending my long weekend holiday at Starbucks, it was well worth my time and efforts! I am SO looking forward to seeing what these plays look like up on stage on April 22nd!

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This project has also given an opportunity to develop leadership skills in many of the stronger students.

Drama has been a blast this semester, and I have to say that Food and Nutrition has been on an upswing as well! Last term, and at the very beginning of this term, I was struggling with keeping the kitchen up to an acceptable standard of cleanliness. My students do alright, but students from the high school were using the kitchen in their free time and leaving quite a few messes to clean up.

And, in addition to the regular challenges you’d expect to face in a Home Economics-type class, there are some serious differences in culture when it comes to health and safety. It’s been quite the battle trying to teach the students about mold and bacteria. While in the past, it’s been perfectly acceptable to just stack up wet dishes into the cupboards (that aren’t finished…they have raw wood inside), the mold problem I faced in September made me determined to teach them the value of properly cleaning up. My students learned these skills pretty quickly, but as I mentioned earlier, I share the kitchen with other classes, and not all of the other classes were so quick to catch on.

My writing class continues to be one of the most rewarding things I do at the school. I love teaching those kids and they’re so engaged and interested in my lessons that they are making leaps and bounds as far as their writing is concerned. My biggest success has been a student named Jared, who went from getting 30-40% on his homework last term, to 75-80% this term! Something clicked for him and now he’s finishing 3rd place in the class on tests! That’s huge for a mainland kid, because it means that he beat kids from Singapore and Malaysia, who have been learning English most of their lives. I’m very proud of him.

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A classroom selfie. I very much look forward to Friday mornings, when I get my 80 minutes with these 13 year olds 🙂

And of course, in addition to being an incredibly hard-working group of students, they’re funny too! They played a very cute trick on me on April Fools day!

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I came into the classroom and this is what I saw! They had all put their hoodies on backwards and were sitting backwards in their seats. Little Tom was also hiding in the teacher’s desk and he jumped out at me as soon as I started teaching! I screamed and jumped about 3 feet in the air. I’m pretty sure I added about a year onto these kids’ lives with laughter!!

Life outside of the school has been busy too. With both Dave and I having birthdays in April, it’s already usually a busy month. As it turns out, our good friend, Jeff, also has a birthday in April and his friends Matt and Lisa came out for a visit as well, so we’ve been having lots of parties as of late!

I’ve gotta say though, the best part so far was the one we had last night. I turned the big three oh, and some of my favourite people took me out to Beijiang (a Chinese Muslim restaurant with INCREDIBLE food!) and then to KTV! It was such a great night! I can hardly talk today because my voice is so tired from singing…but it felt so good to be out! I have met some awesome people in Suzhou and last night I felt incredibly lucky to be out with them.

So that’s been life lately….it’s been full and awesome and 50 shades of crazy! Oh, one last thing…I already got Dave his birthday present! I found them for sale on the Suzhou Buy and Sell and I’m SOOO happy I did!!!

I’ll be back soon…though I’m not sure if I’ll be around again before the drama festival on the 22nd. As always…thanks for reading!

PS…Hugo and Poe say hi!

When Culture Stops Being an Excuse

I love my life in Suzhou. I’ve made some incredible friends and adopted some awesome cats. I’m working at a great school in a well-run department where I am respected and valued. I have opportunity for growth here in Suzhou, both professionally and personally and I’ve even been able to focus more on my health here, going to the gym and being more careful with my diet. I’ll be 30 soon and I need to stay healthy so that my 30s are as rockin’ as my 20s were. Still, today I’m not feeling much love for the Venice of Asia. Perhaps it’s the smoggy weather or maybe I didn’t sleep very, but China is getting on my nerves today!

This morning Dave and I met a friend for breakfast, and as is often the case with Michael, we got into a discussion about what it’s like living in China. Michael’s still on his first year here and he is still noticing some of the things that Dave and I have learned to ignore and his perspective on life here always reminds me of the things that foreigners live with on a day to day basis out here in the orient.

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A Frequent theme in my blog

And all things considered, there really isn’t very much that we need to worry about. China is safe and the people here are kind and friendly, the countryside in this country is diverse and stunningly beautiful and the expat community is quite large so it’s easy to make friends in Suzhou. But, as is the case anywhere, China (and Suzhou) has its problems…

As I mentioned earlier in this post, I’ve been going to the gym. I’ve been pretty good about going 3 days per week and although I haven’t lost much in the way of weight (I think I’m building muscle), I’m becoming noticeably more toned and I’ve been slimming down. I’m very proud of the way I’ve been looking lately and I feel good about doing something positive for a body that has treated me pretty well so far in my 29 years. But I’ve gotta say…as much as I love working out and feeling energized, it is EXTREMELY difficult to love Chinese gyms!! Where should I start?.

 

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I discovered, while writing this blog post, that Powerhouse is a chain outside of just China.

The Equipment: Although there are about 20 treadmills at Power House, they only have 6 eliptical machines, 1 stair master, 10 bikes and some weight side to side machines that kind of make you feel like you’re skating. Now, I have no problems with the treadmills…there are more than enough and they are in good shape…but I also don’t use treadmills very often because they kill my knees. So that leaves 20 cardio machines that I CAN use…except 8 or 9 of them are almost always broken. The ones that AREN’T broken are such poor quality that they always feel like they’re about to fall apart underneath you. Out of all the elliptical machines, only 1 of them accurately tracks distance and calories…1!!! It’s the same with the weights and the resistance machines. Many of them are missing pins so you can’t adjust the resistance without first hunting down a pin from some other machine. Plus, nobody puts their equipment away after they use them, so there are random weights just hanging around on the floor…a little bit dangerous…

Sanitation: This is a big one. There are no towels or spray bottles anywhere at Power House so people don’t clean their equipment like they do in Canada. I can’t tell you how often I get onto an elliptical and realize that the handles are covered in someone else’s sticky sweat. I bring my Norwex towel with me to help with that kind of thing, but it’s still pretty gross. The bathrooms are also pretty dirty. People don’t flush their dirty toilet paper in China (something about the sewage systems not being able to handle it), so the garbage cans are full of that dirty toilet paper. It smells awful and the cans get emptied so rarely that the entire hallway around the bathrooms and change rooms stinks like urine.   Not pleasant…

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The biggest problem with squatters themselves is that it’s sometimes hard to control where your pee ends up….so most of the time, it ends up on (at least) the bottom of your shoes, and you end up tracking it out of the bathroom…

The People: This is the worst part of going to the gym. I can’t even tell you how many times I haven’t been able to finish my work out because someone is sitting on a machine I need, texting or checking their WeChat accounts…it’s infuriating but I often feel like I’m the only person who cares. This kind of thing was especially bad in January and February, when all the New Years resolution memberships started up. Girls (the worst offenders) would hop on a treadmill and spend 10-15 minutes going back and forth between stretching (on the machine!!) and taking selfies to post on WeChat. This isn’t a huge gym, and while there are plenty of treadmills, that can’t be said about any other machine in the building. Yesterday I gave up after waiting 5 minutes for a guy to get off the crunch machine I wanted to use to target my upper abs. And that one elliptical machine that works…the one I mentioned before…people hog that machine for 50+ minutes…some of them hardly even breaking a sweat they are going so slowly because they are too busy enjoying their favourite TV show on their cell phones.

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And most of the time, people aren’t just taking short breaks between sets…they literally use the equipment like public benches…

And this is where the title of this post comes in…a lot of these problems are annoying but forgivable. After all, I know my standards are high…I’m lucky and I was born in a wealthy country where I have the luxury of having problems as shallow as ‘not having cold enough water’. I also know that the sewage issues in China are complicated and that not everywhere in the world is as sterile as North America (it’s weird coming home for visits by the way…everything feels too clean…the whole country feels like a hospital).  There are absolutely things that can be explained by pointing out cultural differences…and foreigners who have been here for a while are always quick to point out that you’re being judgmental for getting upset about some of the things we deal with here in China.  I always feel bad when someone says that to me, because I try very hard to be understanding of cultural differences…

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A picture depicting the difference between line ups in North America, vs the way it’s done in China…I even learned to embrace this in Guiyang and Xiamen (it’s not to bad in Suzhou).  I put aside my Canadian upbringing and learned to push my way to the front, just like everyone else…

But this morning, when we were having breakfast with Michael, he said something that really rang true with me during my work out today: When can we stop pretending that EVERYTHING is about culture? How many things can we blame on cultural differences, really?? When does Culture become an excuse?

 

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The Chinese think that drinking cold water is bad for your stomach…so even at the gym, you can only find hot water, or room temperature.  At Power House, one of the options is suppose to be cold, but it comes out warm enough to steam up my bottle, sooo…

I don’t think that the selfie taking at the gym is forgivable just because I’m in China and “things are different here”. I also don’t think people have to leave their equipment all over the place for others to trip on. And I definitely don’t think that a gym like Power House, who claims to be the ‘western gym’ and charges western prices, has any excuses as far as buying terrible equipment is concerned. None of these things are cultural…they’re just people being inconsiderate of others. And maybe it’s my Canadian background…maybe it’s just my upbringing…but I really have very little patience for inconsiderate people. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone just paid attention to other people’s needs and tried to be more aware of the world around them?

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Another example of this behaviour..some one took off with the school kitchen’s mop over the holiday.  There was a water issue in the kitchen and the only way I could get the water out of the mop they left behind, was to take it outside and step on the mop to get the water out…People take things from that kitchen all the time and leave messes as well.  I don’t know if they just don’t realize that SOMEONE has to clean it (that someone being me), or if they just straight up don’t care…

So those are my thoughts today. Living overseas can be very hard some days, and although it’s gotten ions easier for me since moving to Suzhou, there are still thing here that tick me off. I guess I still have not succeeded in becoming the Super Wizard that I long to be… a Super Wizard who is annoyed by nothing and can aparate to Canada any time she wants to go to the gym or meet her gorgeous new nephew, Zachary.

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Thank goodness I have these 3 to keep me sane!

There’s still more about India on its way! Thanks for checking in!!!

Hazardous Banares

Varanasi (also called Banaras or Benares), is easily the craziest place I have ever experienced.  If you take regular India, which is already astoundingly crazy, and add another factor of about 10, you have Banaras!

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This is the closest I got to the river.  I originally had plans to either go in, or to at least touch the water….those plans changed once I arrived and smelled the Ganges…

Located in the North Eastern state of Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi is the holiest sight in all of India.  3 million Indians and 200,000 foreigners flock there every year to see the holy Ganges and the many ceremonies celebrated there.  And it isn’t only the Hindus that find this place holy.  Jainism, Buddhism and Shiekism are all linked to Varanasi as well, and about 25% of the city’s residents are Muslim, so there is a great deal of cultural diversity.  Best of all, is that all these cultures seem to come together in a peaceful way.  That, in of itself, might be a miracle!

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Preparing to bathe in the holy river

We walked along the River Ganges several times, people watching, animal watching and enjoying the old buildings and colourful scenery.  Hindus believe that to die in Varanasi is very auspicious (lucky/holy) because it means that you will no longer have to reincarnate, and instead you will find Nirvana.  Many people die and are cremated here and certain Ghats (areas of the river with steps leading into the water) are specifically reserved for that purpose.  We saw several cremations taking place, which was both fascinating and a little horrifying for our sheltered western eyes.  To the locals, this was business as usual, and there were children playing cricket in the neighboring ghat, where the smoke from the cremations blew into…

Walking along the river at night was especially interesting.  In addition to the cremations, there is a ceremony every night where people send out little floating candle offerings.  This year hasn’t been great for tourism in India, so when we were there, there were probably more salesmen than tourists.  The big seller on the banks of the Ganges:  boat rides.  Everywhere you go, people will be asking you a 1 word question:  “boat?”. Depending who you speak to, a boat ride along the Ganges can cost anywhere from 100 rupees to 1000 rupees.   The official price is suppose to be around 250 (according to government regulations), but just like everywhere else in India, the salesmen in Banaras just can’t help but try and soak you for that extra money…

Plenty of people also tried selling us hash, opium and even Colombian cocaine (doubtful).  And of course, there were always beggars around, with various ailments..some real…some badly faked.  It is considered specially good to give money to beggars in Varanasi, but it’s very unwise to do so as a foreigner.  If you give to one…not only are you encouraging a practice that the government condemns, but you’re also opening yourself up to being mobbed by 30 other beggars in the area.  I had it happen to me in China, and it was scary!  It is very hard to give in when you are being asked by children…so hard…but it’s much better that they take on jobs instead of relying on begging.  Especially with India’s growing tourism industry and the jobs that are being created with further focus on sanitation in the country, there will be more and more jobs opening up for these people in the future.

There is also life away from the Ganges’ Ghats.  This densely populated city has a population of about 1.2 million residents.  When you add in tourism, there are some very full roads.  Varanasi is also quite poor, so the infrastructure leaves something to be desired.  In an alley barely wide enough to fit 1 car, you’ll find Tuk Tuk’s, rickshaws and cars all weaving around each other, while pedestrians and people on bikes try to get out of the way.  And of course, there is livestock everywhere as well.  We saw plenty of cows, goats, pigs, chickens and even a few horses walking the roads of Banaras.  Considering that the holy city is larger than the capital of my home province (Winnipeg, Manitoba), the variety of animals in the streets is surprising to anyone just arriving in India.

And if you think I must be exaggerating about the state of Varanasi’s roads, I will provide proof of the mayhem.  This is a combinations of several videos I took while visiting the holy city.

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A picture of the ‘back seat’ mentioned by the tuk tuk driver.  He insisted that he could fit all 3 of our suitcases…us…and him (plus 2 back packs).  Something tells me that wouldn’t have been a pleasant ride…

If markets and the River aren’t what you seek in Varanasi, there are also plenty of temples to see.   According to Wikipedia, there are an estimated 23,000 temples in Varanasi, ranging from small shrines to massive stone structures.  We didn’t go into any this time around  because we’ve seen enough to last us a lifetime.  Instead, we walked the busy streets and spent an afternoon at a small cafe near Assi Ghat.  Open Hand Cafe was wonderful…playing English music (the Dixie Chicks!!) and serving excellent coffee.  Best of all, they sell items made by disabled women and children, who are unable to otherwise create income on their own.  With fixed and fair prices, it’s an excellent place to make purchases.

In short, in Banares you will experience everything from fully visible cremations to near death experiences on the road to people claiming to be selling Colombian cocaine.  No matter what your interests are…Varanasi has something for you!!!

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And always remember…you may think you’re cool…but you’ll never be as cool as these guys!!  (they were probably about 14 years old…)

We’re home now…but don’t worry!  I’m not done writing about India just yet!  Stay tuned for my posts about the Taj Mahal, our night in the desert and our final days in Delhi!

 

An Update on Life in Guiyang

It’s beautiful and sunny  here in Guiyang, and it’s one of the hottest days we’ve had this year.  We chose to spend our day off scooting around the city and enjoying the beautiful scenery that Guiyang has to offer.  Guizhou’s rugged beauty is something that I know I’ll miss as we move on to the next phase of our travels.

Life here has definitely improved.  Part of that is because the worst of culture shock has passed…we’ve become accustomed to some of the things we find difficult in China (the last minuteness of everything…the terrible driving…the lack of customer service) and as a result we are both feeling a little more relaxed than we were back in October and November.

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See my post about culture shock here

So I suppose it’s true…time heals everything.  But I wouldn’t be giving myself due credit if I said that time alone helped my circumstances.  After all, with all the problems I was having at the beginning of my contract, there were several routes I could have taken.   The way I see it, I had 3 options at the time:

  1. I could have given up and quit/gone home.
  2. I could have given up trying…after all, I didn’t feel that my efforts were appreciated or noticed.
  3. I could power through and continue being the best I could be, in the hope that that would eventually be recognized.

Of course, given my tenacity, I chose the 3rd option.  Instead of sulking or giving up, I turned my focus to the classroom.    I transformed that bland room into an engaging environment where my students can learn.  I also started spending more time on my students themselves…creating customized worksheets to help the ones that were struggling with spelling…learning new songs for the students who love music…looking for new activities and games to ensure everyone is getting the most out of their classes.  And it paid off.  I’m now considered one of the top teachers at the school, and that means a great deal to me.

So I suppose I’ve been keeping busy.  I’ve spent hours on these displays and sometimes I don’t even bother going back to the staff room for breaks, I just tidy up the classroom and add posters to the walls.  And while I’ve been been so busy powering through the last six months, life outside the school continued…

We’ve celebrated milestones:

Undergone transformations:

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Anyone who thinks marriage is lame, by the way, is not married to the right person.

Received countless care packages from home, which always brighten our day (and restock our goodie bin!!

We’ve made friends…both of the human and furry variety:

And, of course, we have tried many new foods 🙂

One of our favorite new restaurants is in the Future Ark area of Guiyang.  Dave made a video to show you all what street food in Guiyang is like:

I have experienced so much in the last 6 months.  There have been highs and lows, but no matter what has happened, I’ve had a constant positive in my life:  my students.  They are really the best part of being here.  I know I should be exhausted every Sunday night, after back to back 10 hour days…but I always find myself energized at the end of it all.  I have no doubt that teaching is my true calling…I have never loved a job as much as I love this one.

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How could I ever complain when I’ve got kids as cute as Poppy, who brought me a rose on Saturday…just because 🙂

Sadly, it really hit me this week that I’m going to be leaving soon and that although I’m excited to move on, I don’t know how I’m going to say goodbye to some of these kids…

But I suppose, once more I need to remind myself not to complain.  I’d rather have met these kids and have to say goodbye, than have never met them at all.  They’ve all taught me so much.  Smile (a little boy in one of my kindergarten classes) has shown me how he can be brave, no matter how scary it was for him to be away from his parents when he first began coming to class.  Lee taught me that no matter how bratty a child may be, they can ALWAYS turn it around.  And Chuck…Chuck taught me that 6 year olds can get brain cancer, and that I should cherish every moment I have with all of my beautiful students.

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He was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer 3 months ago. His classmates still ask where he went. I have no idea how to answer…

Home Sweet Home Away From Home – Part 2

I’ve just returned from a gorgeous stroll around Zhong Tian Hua Yuan.  My heart rate is still elevated, and my cheeks are still a little flush, and I feel like a million bucks!  Over the past month, Dave and I have been upping the ante in maintaining a healthier lifestyle.  This has, of course, been partially in anticipation for the inevitable bathing suits that we will wear in Thailand, but it’s also more than that.  For the past 3 years of my life, I’ve been terribly unhealthy.  I’ve picked up some nasty habits (both nutritionally and physically) that have resulted in gained weight, a weakened immune system and overall sentiments of discontent.   My health fell low in my list of priorities while I juggled my university degree, a demanding job, home renovations and a variety of other factors.  It was unfortunate, certainly, but as any university student can tell you…some times all you have time to eat (or can afford to eat!) is a burger!

I fell victim to McDonald's Dollar menu more times than I'd like to admit. Seeing as how I was relying on their coffee a great deal to get through the long days at school, it was just so easy to pick up a burger with my Lg double double.
I fell victim to McDonald’s Dollar menu more times than I’d like to admit. Seeing as how I was relying on their coffee a great deal to get through the long days at school, it was just so easy to pick up a burger with my Lg double double.

But since I finished my exams in April, I’ve bumped health back up to the top of my priority list, and I couldn’t be happier about that decision.  In the last 8 months, I’ve lost 30 pounds and I’ve lost 4 inches around both my chest and my hips.  But more than that, I have more confidence than I’ve had in ages.  Not only because I’m looking better, but also because 30 pounds is a HUGE accomplishment.  I feel like I can do anything!!  It’s such a great feeling!

So far, I've lost as much weight as this cat weighs!!
So far, I’ve lost as much weight as this cat weighs!!  30 pounds is also the weight of 240 eggs, a human head, or a flat tire!!

And in addition to all the fantastic endorphins my body releases while I take these long walks, I’m seeing more of Zhong Tian, and Guiyang is feeling more like home, as I explore the gardens here and begin recognizing the owners of the shops I pass by each night.

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The view from our bedroom window. I’m looking forward to springtime when I can journal from inside that pagoda 🙂
The night market where we go for bbq. I often go by this alley when I go for walks at night
The night market where we go for bbq. I often go by this alley when I go for walks at night
This was the view from the bedroom of our old apartment. The dome is Zhong Tian's pool and the courtyard in front of the dome is where the neighbors excercise in the morning, dance at night and practice gong fu daily
This was the view from the bedroom of our old apartment. The dome is Zhong Tian’s pool and the courtyard in front of the dome is where the neighbors excercise in the morning, dance at night and practice gong fu daily

If you’d like to see more of Zhong Tian Hua Yuan, please check out the video we made this week!  We gave a mini tour of our garden and a bit of the community park.  We’ll be posting many more like it and I’ll be sure to update you as I blog!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19M6S577mMA

But living in Zhong Tian isn’t always a walk in the park.  As I mentioned in my last post, our apartment does leave some things to be desired.  The cockroaches and grease drenched walls definitely made me want to cry, but still…there are more things that have made me laugh (and shake my head) in Zhong Tian than have reduced me to tears.

See previous post for more information on how we broke these pipes by cleaning them!
See previous post for more information on how we broke these pipes by cleaning them!

Take, for example, our walls when we first move in.  For us, it was a no-brainer to paint them, but clearly the apartment’s previous tenants hadn’t thought that way.  Instead of patching holes in the walls, they stuffed Kleenex into the holes and then covered them in tape (that they covered with white out so that the colour sort of matched the rest of the wall).  Another popular technique to hide stains and holes in the walls at our apartment was to cover them up with posters and calendars.  We had several big bulky calendars in our living room (some of them for the wrong year) and many old, faded posters.  When we took them down, it was easy to see why they’d been placed there, but we still didn’t want to put the smelly paper back onto the walls (the previous owners smoked so everything smelled).  The worst thing about this form of ‘covering up’ issues though, wasn’t the posters themselves.  It’s that all of these ‘quick fixes’ had been stuck onto the walls with scotch tape, which couldn’t actually be removed from the walls.

Our bedroom door. We took the red poster off, but the tape remains...
Our bedroom door. We took the red poster off, but the tape remains… Our whole living room and dining room looked like this prior to our painting…

We discovered soon that a wide variety of things here are remedied with tape (and I’m not talking about duct tape…it’s usually packing tape, scotch tape or two sided tape…).  For example…we had water coming into our kitchen from an upstairs neighbor. The repair guy showed up to fix it, and decided that cutting a hole in our ceiling was the best way to figure out what was going on.

For example...we had water coming into our kitchen from an upstairs neighbor. The repair guy showed up to fix it, and decided that cutting a hole in our ceiling was the best way to figure out what was going on. He did replace the missing chunk of ceiling though! Any guesses how??
He did replace the missing chunk of ceiling though! Any guesses how??
Yup...he taped it right back up there...
Yup…he taped it right back up there…

Unfortunately, not everything in our apartment is so easily fixed….before we moved in, the school had our fridge and our toilet replaced because they were in such bad shape.  Those were two major things for Huang to replace for us, so we’ve let other things go unrepaired because there’s no point in trying to fix everything when we’re only living here for a year.  Some examples…

IMG_3125
The light above our dining room table is frustratingly non-functional. At first, we thought that it just needed a new light bulb, which was the case in nearly every other light socket in the apartment, but a new bulb didn’t do anything. Luckily, as we replaced the bulbs in the adjacent living room, the dining room also got brighter.
IMG_3123
The A/C is still a bit of a sore spot for us. Most apartments in Guiyang don’t have them, so when we found out this one did, we were thrilled and willing to overlook the cleaning we’d have to do as a trade off. We confirmed with the land lord that it worked (he said it did) but we never thought to check it ourselves.  We did ask the landlord to fix it, but property owners in Zhong Tian don’t seem to like to invest money into fixing anything in their buildings…

My favorite ‘unfixable’ problem in our apartment though, is in the kitchen.  We only discovered this particular issue after living in the apartment for 2 months.  It took us so long to discover the problem because that particular light socket is an odd shape and it took ages to find a light bulb that would fit it.  Even when we did find this odd light bulb (Naveed informed us that they are actually quite popular in England…), we could only find one that was far too long for the light fixture, so we had to leave it off.

The lightbulb only comes in size 'ridiculous'
The light bulb only comes in size ‘ridiculous’

The easiest way for me to explain what’s wrong with the lights in our kitchen is to show you, so we’ve made another video 🙂  I’m going to learn how to embed videos right into my blog soon, but as some of you know from my FB page, this week has been a little frustrating for me as I learn how to set up my blog in a more visually appealing way.  So for now, just follow this link to see the silly way our lights act in the kitchen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-8MEMvYcpM

But it the entertainment (and headaches) our apartment provides for us doesn’t end with quick fixes and the unfixable.  China hasn’t yet implemented much in the way of ‘safety standards’, and as a result, we have a phone line that runs through our shower, electrical sockets hanging out of the walls and flooring that has absolutely no texture, so if you are wearing socks, or are coming out of the shower, the likelihood of slipping is astronomical.  Slippers or shoes are nearly always worn indoors.

I'm pretty clumsy as it is, so the fact that Dave hasn't put these up around the apartment everywhere to remind me to be careful is a little surprising!
I’m pretty clumsy as it is, so the fact that Dave hasn’t put these up around the apartment everywhere to remind me to be careful is a little surprising!

We have definitely refrained from complaining about all these small things to the school, because we know that this is just what life is like in China.  Landlords don’t HAVE to fix things…your lights don’t ALL have to work…leaky ceilings are only a big deal if they’re causing damage in your apartment…things are just a little different here.  But in spite of our attempts to complain as little as possible, the school’s accountant grew very tired of us in the weeks after we moved into the new place (she is in charge of fixing problems in the teachers’ apartments).  The final straw was when I told her the washing machine didn’t work.  Now, in all fairness, that’s sort of a big one…..without a washing machine, I can’t come to work in clean clothes.  I’ve yet to see a laundrymat in Guiyang so it wasn’t something we could just live without.  But, as it turns out, our washing machine wasn’t actually broken; we simply had no idea how it worked.

In our defense, everything is in Chinese, so we didn't know that the middle dial needed to be turned all the way to the left for the machine to work...
In our defense, everything is in Chinese, so we didn’t know that the middle dial needed to be turned all the way to the left for the machine to work…

We soon discovered that it would have been better if our washing machine actually WAS broken, because now that it works, we have to take the following 14 steps to doing our laundry every week.  For your enjoyment, we photo-documented the process 🙂

2 - Laundry
Step 1: Face the beast…you will be dealing with her for the next hour or so….
1 - Laundry
Step 2: Begin boiling water, because although our hot water tank is directly above the washing machine, it does not provide hot water FOR the washing machine. We can take water from the shower, but only if neither of us plan on showing for the evening…the tank isn’t big enough to do both laundry, and shower…
Step 3: Remove the lid for the washing side (because it doesn't stay upright on its own). The blue circle at the bottom of the washing machine is what does the work, by the way. It spins both clockwise and counterclockwise to clean your clothes...
Step 3: Remove the lid for the washing side (because it doesn’t stay upright on its own). The blue circle at the bottom of the washing machine is what does the work, by the way. It spins both clockwise and counterclockwise to clean your clothes…
Step 5: Round up your clothes and throw them in the washing machine. Make sure that you don't throw in too much because the blue circle will only spin with a key amount of clothing in the washing machine
Step 4 : Round up your clothes and throw them in the washing machine. Make sure that the amount of clothing is exactly right because if there’s too much, the blue circle doesn’t spin, but if there isn’t enough, the spin section of the washing machine doesn’t work (yup…spin cycle is in a different part of the machine.  We’ll get to that…
Step 5: Add your first 2 kettles full of boiling water (make sure the drain valve is closed first...). Refill your kettles (yeah, we have 2) and get them boiling again.
Step 5: Add your first 2 kettles full of boiling water (make sure the drain valve is closed first…). Refill your kettles (yeah, we have 2) and get them boiling again.
Step: Add some cold water (by hand, with a hose, because the hole kinks up and sprays water all over the kitchen if you don't hold it just right...)
Step 6: Add some cold water (by hand, with a hose, because the hose kinks up and sprays water all over the kitchen if you don’t hold it just right…)
Step 7: Roughly 20 minutes later, you have warm water to wash your clothes in. Turn the far left valve all the way counter clockwise and let the machine do it's thing for 35 minutes
Step 7: Roughly 20 minutes later, you have warm water to wash your clothes in. Turn the far left valve all the way counter clockwise and let the machine do it’s thing for 35 minutes
Step 8: After 35 minutes (25 of which are spent just allowing the clothes to soak between clockwise or counterclockwise spins), your clothes have been 'cleaned'. This is what the water looks like. China is very dusty by the way...
Step 8: After 35 minutes (25 of which are spent just allowing the clothes to soak between clockwise or counterclockwise spins), your clothes have been ‘cleaned’. This is what the water looks like. China is very dusty by the way…
Step 9: Turn the middle valve all the way to the right, to let the dirty water drain out.
Step 9:  Get more hot water boiling and turn the middle valve all the way to the right, to let the dirty water drain out.
Step 10: once the water is drained, turn the middle valve back to the left and fill the machine with cold water. Turn the far left dial about 1/3 around so that you get about 10 minutes of swishing to rinse the clothes. While this is happening, start boiling more water
Step 10: once the water is drained, turn the middle valve back to the left and fill the machine with cold water. Turn the far left dial about 1/3 around so that you get about 10 minutes of swishing to rinse the clothes.
This is what the water looks like after the first rinse. We rinse it a second time (using hot water) because I'm pretty sure the clothes still aren't actually clean at this point.
Step 11:  This is what the water looks like after the first rinse. We rinse it a second time (using hot water) because I’m pretty sure the clothes still aren’t actually clean at this point.
Step 12: Let the water drain out one final time. I should also mention that when the water drains, it goes down a pink plastic tube that leads into a drain in the floor of our kitchen. This pink tube has been knocked out of the drain before....it can be a bit messy when that happens...
Step 12: Let the water drain out one final time. I should also mention that when the water drains, it goes down a pink plastic tube that leads into a drain in the floor of our kitchen. This pink tube has been knocked out of the drain before….it got messy…
Step 13: The clothes are now ready to be moved over to the other side of the washing machine, where they are spin dried.
Step 13: The clothes are now ready to be moved over to the other side of the washing machine, where they are spin dried.
I do have to admit that this feature works quite well, and probably saves us a day or two of drying time. Oh yeah...did I mention that they don't have clothes dryers here? You hang dry it all... Oh...and the plastic piece you put on top of the clothes so they don't fly out while they spin!
I do have to admit that this feature works quite well, and probably saves us a day or two of drying time. Oh yeah…did I mention that they don’t have clothes dryers here? You hang dry it all… Oh…and the plastic piece you put on top of the clothes…it’s there so they don’t fly out while they spin!
Step 14: Hang up your clothes to dry. We are lucky enough to have inherited a couple of dehumidifiers that speed up the process.
Step 14: Hang up your clothes to dry. We are lucky enough to have inherited a couple of dehumidifiers that speed up the process.
The key is to spread out everything as far as you can. In winter, it can take 2-3 days for everything to dry, so you also do laundry with that in mind.
The key is to spread out everything as far as you can. In winter, it can take 2-3 days for everything to dry, so you also do laundry with that in mind.

So that’s what it’s like living in a Chinese apartment.  As I mentioned in my last post, we live in the poorest province in China, so it’s definitely different elsewhere in the country.  The laundry was a pain at first, but once you get into a routine, it gets much easier.  The worst is when Dave throws the clothes in the wash, because he hardly ever checks to make sure I have a pair of pants to wear while the clean ones dry.  I came to China with 5 pairs but I now only have 2 that properly fit me (and they’re already pretty loose), so that’s always a bit of a struggle.  He’s pretty happy though, because I’ve forbidden him to do this part of the laundry routine again….you’ve lucked out this time, Reimer…

We are only 20 days away from Thailand now, and we’re both getting VERY excited about the trip!  Between now and then I hope to be writing some posts regarding what it’s like to be a teacher here.  It’s the end of the semester, so as I do my progress reports and correct tests, I’m beaming with pride as I see how much my students have learned in the last 5 months.  I think it’s a good time to write about the wonderful experience teaching can be!

Stay tuned and be sure to check back soon!

Home Sweet Home Away from Home – Part 1

Well, another weekend is coming to an end and I must say we spent it well.  A good portion of our time was spent in coffee shops, where I was either working on my blog, organizing pictures or finishing up some test corrections.  This may not sound very adventurous, on the surface, but it was all about the location this weekend!  We’d been hearing about a cafe that had several cat occupants for a while  now, so we decided to go hunt it down on Monday.  As an animal nut, I’ve gotta say I was pretty stoked to spend my day off surrounded by purring and fur 🙂

Favorite shot of the day.  This sweet girl became our bestie when I gave her some kitty treats :)
Favorite shot of the day. This sweet girl became our bestie when I gave her some kitty treats 🙂
She has the softest fur and the bluest eyes!!
She has the softest fur and the bluest eyes!!
This little man came over for a visit shortly before we left.
This little man came over for a visit shortly before we left.

Although it is great going on adventures and discovering new things,  it’s also just so fantastic to sit down and relax like we did this weekend.  The whole time I was finishing my degree, we worked like mad so that we could get our butts to China and slow down.  I feel like this is one of the only weekends where we’ve actually done that…slow down….since we got here.  It was well deserved and very appreciated!  And best of all, it was relaxing but still productive!  I had time to go through several hundred photos and figure out exactly what I wanted to show you about our apartments in Guiyang.  It turned out there is A LOT I want to show you, so this is probably going to turn into two posts.  I’ll make sure that they are posted closely together though, so that you don’t have to wait 3 weeks before the comedy portion of my story (SPOILER: this post is the tragedy portion ;))

First off, I need to give a bit of back story for those of you who don’t already know about our first apartment in Guiyang.  We moved in our second day here (after spending our first night at a hotel) to find the place moldy, damp and spider infested.  It was a beautiful apartment, and had so much potential if the land lord had been willing to maintain the place, but unfortunately, that hadn’t been the case.

5 Upstairs bathroom mold
The upstairs bathroom was particularly bad. There was mold everywhere and the entire room smelled of sour yogurt and rotten fish. We spent a great deal of time trying to pinpoint what exactly we were smelling…
6 Upstairs bathroom mold
the same counter after an hour of scrubbing, done by yours truly.

We tried to make the best of it, and did our best to clean the place up.  The apartment did have some wonderful features, including a balcony and a rooftop terrace (SO BEAUTIFUL!!).  It looked like it was all going to work out in that big apartment.  We had to climb 10 flights of stairs to get to our bedroom, but the exercise was doing us some good.  The spiders were terrible but were improving as we cleaned the place up.  We spent hours cleaning up the terrace and bringing the plants up there back to life…  I actually started to like the place…

But then it started raining…

7 Leaky Ceilings
And the rain started coming in…. It didn’t take long for us to realize why half the lights in the place didn’t work…
8 The results of that leaky ceiling
And the ceiling started to crumble…
9 - A growing problem
And then it got worse….

As a result of our ceiling starting to fall apart, our land lord decided to increase his efforts in selling the place.  He’d spent a small fortune trying to fix the apartment’s many problems already, and he wasn’t willing to spend anything more.  So he started showing the apartment 4-5 times a day, several days a week.  He was really friendly with us, so we put up with it for a while…

Then the mold started coming back…

That was my final straw.  I broke down and told the school how awful the place was and asked them to move us to a more suitable apartment.  We were fine with a smaller space and we were perfectly ok giving up the rooftop terrace.  After all…what good is a rooftop terrace, if you’re battling fungal pneumonia??  (2 of the teachers who’d lived in this apartment in the past couple of years had developed lung problems as a result of that mold…)

My boss felt awful about the whole mess, and began searching for a new apartment for us right away.  After several days of searching, she found us something that had 2 bedrooms (a requirement so that Dave could work from home) and that was in the school’s price range.  And that’s how we ended up where we are now!

I have to admit…it wasn’t love at first sight.  The stairwell left a lot to be desired, but I’d already learned in Xiamen that stairwells hardly ever reflect the individual apartments that they lead to.  So as I climbed the 3 flights (only 3 flights!!) to my new apartment, I kept that in mind.

10 Stairway to Our New apartment
The stairs leading up to our apartment
11 The entrance to our new place
Apartment 302. The outside of our door also has lots of red banners on it, presumably for good luck.

Step 1:  Remove Current Inhabitants…

The place was much smaller than the 3 story ‘rooftop-terrace’ space that we’d been occupying for nearly 2 months, but it was mold-free and had a lot of potential.  My first task was originally to wash the walls, because the previous tenants had been smokers, and the walls were all stained yellow…

Yum...right??  They had about 20 posters and banners up all over the apartment and this is what the wall looked like behind each of them...
Yum…right?? They had about 20 posters and banners up all over the apartment and this is what the wall looked like behind each of them…

Of course, my priorities quickly changed upon our first night-time visit to drop off some of our things (when you are moving everything down 10 flights of stairs…you do it bit by bit!).  We opened the door and turned on the lights, only to see about 10 cockroaches scurry under the furniture and into nooks and crannies.  I’d gotten used to cockroaches in Xiamen (they were EVERYWHERE there!), but in Guiyang we’d only seen a handful in 2 months, so this came as a surprise.  When we witnessed the same thing the following evening, we knew that the apartment we’d agreed to move into was far dirtier than we’d originally thought.

At this point, I definitely just wanted to curl up into a ball and cry…but I’m a ‘doer’, so instead of giving up, we found some heavy duty cockroach killer and got rid of the little monsters…

There are many ways to kill a cockroach, but the quickest and most effective way is to smoke ’em out.  You buy this stuff that sort of looks and acts like incense: you light the end, wait til the thing actually catches, and then blow it out.  The smoke does the rest!  It’s very important to get out of the apartment quickly after lighting the sticks, because they can seriously damage your lungs, but they work amazingly well at killing the roaches.  You basically let the stuff work for a few hours, come home, open the windows and sweep up the carcasses…yummy…I know….

Step 2: Declutter!!!!

Now, I realize that there is value in keeping things and fixing them when you can…but the Chinese take that to a new level.  When we moved in, there was so much stuff left over from the previous tenants, that we filled between 5 and 6 big black garbage bags with trash.  Among the things we found are:

  1. A stack of broken plastic stools
  2. Teddy bears and children’s pillows that were stained with cigarette smoke (I should also add that no children actually LIVED in this apartment)
  3. Large buckets with stagnant water sitting in them.
  4. Old ceramic pots that had (at some point) held plants.  They were still filled with dirt…
  5. A total of 4 desks (2 of which are broken)
  6. Mounds of old Chinese magazines and books
  7. Several broken dishes
  8. Drawers full of fish food, newspaper clippings burnt out extension cords
  9. Several broken lamps
  10. soooo much more….
This was how the spare bedroom was originally set up.  There were several desks , and many many broken stools in the room.
This was how the spare bedroom was originally set up. There were several desks , and many many broken stools in the room.
15.2 Decluttering
It’s still a little cluttered now, but it’s all neat and actually clean. The water dispenser you see was left here by the previous tenants. It’s listed as one of the items that are covered by our damage deposit, so we can’t throw it out…
The other side of the room, which Dave uses as an office.  I really like the way we set up this room.  It looks so much better!
The other side of the room, which Dave uses as an office. I really like the way we set up this room. It looks so much better!

We also swept up a garbage bag worth of dust, hair and dirt from behind and under all the furniture and spent hours wiping everything in the house down, because pretty much everything was covered in a layer of dust (and in some rooms, everything was covered in a layer of grease AND a layer of dust).  I don’t know if the people who lived here before us had ever cleaned anything…ever…

Our very cluttered bedroom.  It started off with teddy bears, pillows and a tonne of old books (that were missing pages and covers...).  We also found a gigantic hanger in this room...shoved behind the armoir.  Not sure why they didn't just throw it away....
Our very cluttered bedroom. It started off with teddy bears, pillows and a tonne of old books (that were missing pages and covers…). We also found a gigantic hanger in this room…shoved behind the armoir. Not sure why they didn’t just throw it away….Oh…and btw…that’s Timore 🙂  She is the Chinese Staff Manager.
I never got a before picture of this side of the bedroom, but this is how it looks now.  Pretty standard as far as bedrooms go...except of course that we've bought like 4 different pads for the bed so that it doesn't feel like we're sleeping on a piece of plywood.  Chinese beds suck!!
I never got a before picture of this side of the bedroom, but this is how it looks now. Pretty standard as far as bedrooms go…except of course that we’ve bought like 4 different pads for the bed so that it doesn’t feel like we’re sleeping on a piece of plywood. Chinese beds suck!!
Our very cluttered kitchen.
Our very cluttered kitchen.  To be fair, it looked like this because we’d moved one of the broken desks into here as well as the water cooler…we were a little tight on space until we got the place organized!
Our kitchen now.  Once more, there are certain things we couldn't throw out because of the damage deposit.  We needed counter space anyway, so one of our broken desks became just that :)
Our kitchen now. Once more, there are certain things we couldn’t throw out because of the damage deposit. We needed counter space anyway, so one of our broken desks became just that 🙂 Of course there is more to our kitchen’s new look than simple decluttering…but I’ll get to that in a moment….

Step 3:  Paint!  (Because washing the walls just wasn’t an option!!)

After killing all the cockroaches, and getting the dust and dirt out of the place, our next mission was to wash the walls.  The light switches were all filthy and the walls all had tape stuck to them and stains everywhere.  Of course, when we started to wipe down the walls, we quickly realized that our apartment had never actually been painted.  Instead of paint, a thin layer of plaster covered the concrete walls, and as we wiped away the dirt, we also wiped away the plaster.  This why we had to paint…it was honestly not in our original plans….

The light switch outside our 'sink room' before I cleaned it...
The light switch outside our ‘sink room’ before I cleaned it…
The same light switch after approximately 30 seconds of work...
The same light switch after approximately 30 seconds of work…

On top of the damage we did to the place while trying to WASH it…the previous tenants had stuck posters and banners on the wall with scotch tape, and as we tried to remove all these ugly posters, a lot of plaster came off with them…  It’s probably for the best that we painted the place.  I don’t know if we would have gotten our damage deposit back if we hadn’t…

The living room wall before we painted...
The living room wall before we painted…
The same wall after we painted
The same wall after we painted
The other side of the living room.  I love how much warmer this place got with a bit of paint, and some replaced light bulbs...only 1/5 of the light bulbs in the living room worked when we moved in...
The other side of the living room. I love how much warmer this place got with a bit of paint, and some replaced light bulbs…only 1/5 of the light bulbs in the living room worked when we moved in…

4.) Scrub…Scrub….Scrub…..

So, I’ve already mentioned that there were a lot of cockroaches here when we moved in, and I also mentioned that cockroaches aren’t a huge problem in Guiyang so their presence indicated a problem with the cleanliness of the apartment, right?  Well…step 4 was the most unpleasant of all the steps we took to making this place livable.  Yes…it was worse than the cockroach carcasses and even more gross than finding old, moldy underwear hiding in a closet (that actually happened at the first apartment, but still…).  I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

Dave, wiping the mold and grime off of the bathroom ceiling...
Dave, wiping the mold and grime off of the bathroom ceiling…
Our bathroom before....(we actually had them replace the toilet because there was NO WAY I was sitting on that thing!!)
Our bathroom before….(we actually had them replace the toilet because there was NO WAY I was sitting on that thing!!)
24 Bathroom After
Our bathroom now.  Notice that there is no shower in the room.  That’s normal in China.  Instead, they just have a shower head in the middle of the bathroom.  We added the shower curtain so that our toilet paper would stop getting wet…
The 'sink room' that's right outside the bathroom.  We put up a shower curtain here as well...mostly to hide the ugly, rusty pipes that we simply couldn't get clean....
The ‘sink room’ that’s right outside the bathroom. We put up a shower curtain here as well…mostly to hide the ugly, rusty pipes that we simply couldn’t get clean….

After spending an entire day scrubbing these two rooms so that they were useable, we decided to wait a while before tackling the kitchen.  Eating at restaurants is cheap here anyway, and we weren’t in a hurry to cook yet.  Of course, we did eventually have to open that door and deal with the grease and filth.  Once more, I will let the pictures do the talking….

What our kitchen originally looked like.  Notice the grease stains on the far left wall?  Yeah...that was basically everywhere...
What our kitchen originally looked like. Notice the grease stains on the far left wall? Yeah…that was basically everywhere…
31 A Greasy Kitchen
Some wonderful ‘mid way through’ pictures. Notice the wall in the right part of the picture has been wiped down. I still hadn’t gotten to the left side yet…though it made for a good visual….
32 A Greasy Kitchen
It took us several weeks to get the kitchen completely clean. We had to stop and take a picture as we finished up on the first day. And yes…this is all just grease. What bothered us both the most is how easy it was to clean all this…All it really took was some degreaser and some hot water, and most of it just wiped off.  Apparently the previous tenants weren’t up to that task though, so they’d just let the filth build up instead.  I don’t even understand how they cooked in there…

And some of my favorite pictures….

Our hot water tank, before we cleaned it...
Our hot water tank, before we cleaned it…
And after.  Oh, and yes...our hot water tank is in our kitchen.  We don't actually get any hot water IN our kitchen, but there just wasn't enough room for it in the bathroom, I guess...
And after….
The hood to our range before (at this point I actually thought that the glass was frosted...)
The hood to our range before (at this point I actually thought that the glass was frosted…)
And after...well...kind of in between...I just took a picture at this point because I couldn't believe that the glass had just been that dirty!!!
And after…well…kind of in between…I just took a picture at this point because I couldn’t believe that the glass had just been that dirty!!!
The ceiling above the range...
The ceiling above the range…
Annnd after...
Annnd after…
You can feel free to be grateful for the way damage deposits work in Canada now...
You can feel free to be grateful for the way damage deposits work in Canada now…

Step 5:  Fix what you broke while you were cleaning!!!

In addition to the grease and dust and cockroach poop (yup…lots of it…in the kitchen…..Bleach anyone!?!?!?), we also had a lot of lime build up that needed to be cleaned off the pipes.  Of course, we didn’t realize that the only thing keeping these old pipes from leaking was that very build up.  So after a day of scrubbing, we had to laugh when the pipes started leaking, making a mess in the kitchen.  Luckily the school fixed it quickly, but I never thought that cleaning a kitchen could actually MAKE a mess!!!

The pipes above our kitchen sink.  They carry the water from the hot water tank to the bathroom.
The pipes above our kitchen sink. They carry the water from the hot water tank to the bathroom.
42 Woops!
The pipe closest to the wall began to leak at the joint when we had the audacity to… GASP…clean it!! lol!!!

In total, we spent nearly 3 months making this place home.  It was a lot of work, but it was all worth it in the end because now this place is ours.

As I finish this post, I want to leave you with 3 thoughts:

1.) China is a crazy place.  Their cleanliness standards aren’t the same as they are in the west, but this apartment is not the norm for foreigners living in this incredible country.  I happen to live in a poor part of the country and our boss was trying to get us out of an even worse apartment, that could have made us sick if we’d stayed there much longer.  So PLEASE don’t think that Chinese people are all this filthy, or that schools here don’t care where they put their foreign teachers.  We just had some bad luck…

2.) I’m not writing about this all to gross you out, or to make you never want to come see us…I’m writing it to show you that the things you take for granted in Canada just aren’t ‘a given’ here.  When you move out of an apartment in China, you don’t lose your damage deposit if the place isn’t clean.  That means that you sometimes have a massive mess to clean up when you move into a new place.

and 3.)

I wrote this to show you what you are capable of (and to remind myself what I’M capable of), with a bit of determination.  A lot of people I know would have refused to live in this apartment, but we worked with what we were given.  This whole “China Experience” is about confronting all the difficulties of living in a foreign culture after all…it can’t all be trips to Guilin and walks along ancient walls!!!

So that concludes the ‘drama’ part of my Apartment Post.  Stay tuned for my next post, which will show you all the nutty ‘quick fixes’ that are common place in China!  This apartment sure has character!!!

Merry Christmas and 新年快乐

I’m baaackk!!!

I had hoped to write more often during the month of December, but I also knew it would be difficult.  Between Holiday parties, the school Christmas event and New Years, life has been pretty hectic in Guiyang city!!  But I’m back here now and that’s what matters most, I think!  Also, it is my goal for 2015 to write 50 blog posts, which means I need to be very dedicated all year long…or I’ll end up having 35 posts to write next December!!!

Dave and I are currently sitting in a small cafe on You Yi Lu, because the internet is down at our apartment again.  It happens a lot but it’s been pretty frustrating lately, because it’s been happening at such inconvenient times.  On Boxing day, the internet went down just as Ellie was opening her Christmas gifts from us.  I’ve never been so upset to have a Skype call drop!!  But tonight we refused to let the lack of internet change our plans, so after enjoying some fantastic Fish Hot Pot for supper, we headed on down to Meet Cafe where the wifi works and where I can enjoy some delicious Nai Cha (milk tea…my favorite drink here)

Fish Hot Pot!  We go here at least once a week :)
Fish Hot Pot! We go here at least once a week 🙂
The only this restaurant lacks is proper tables and chairs.  Like many restaurants in Guiyang, you are given tiny chairs and tables to eat on!
The only this restaurant lacks is proper tables and chairs. As is the case in many restaurants in Guiyang…the furniture is designed for children…
This is basically soy sauce with chilis in it.  You dip the fish in when it's done boiling in the hot pot, and it adds such a great flavor to the meat!!
This is basically soy sauce with chilis in it. You dip the fish in when it’s done boiling in the hot pot, and it adds such a great flavor to the meat!!

Our holiday festivities began the Monday before Christmas, at the Kempinkski Hotel in downtown Guiyang.  They have a huge western food (and wine!) buffet there, so we got dressed up and met our friends from the school for a night of wining and dining.  I am fairly certain I ate my own weight in Sushi while we were there (omg…I missed Sashimi!!!!!!) and our wine glasses were probably refilled more often than was necessary (or wise), but I think we all had a magnificent time!

Maggie, Jumoke and I
Maggie, Jumoke and I
Later on in the evening...you can walk around with open liquor here...it's the funniest thing!!
Later on in the evening…you can walk around with open liquor here…it’s the funniest thing!!
David (left) and Andrew (right).  I don't see it, but these two are mistaken for one another constantly at the school!  David is crazy tall (6'7 I think) so I'm not sure how he can be confused for anyone...ever lol!  Also...Andrew was being a goof.  He usually doesn't look like that :p
David (left) and Andrew (right). I don’t see it, but these two are mistaken for one another constantly at the school! David is crazy tall (6’7 I think) so I’m not sure how he can be confused for anyone…ever lol! Also…Andrew was being a goof. He usually doesn’t look like that :p
Maggie (from the JinYang branch) and I.  She was my sous chef during the cooking event in November and we was so great that she joined us for the evening at the Kempinski!
Maggie (from the JinYang branch) and I. She was my sous chef during the cooking event in November and it was so great that she joined us for the evening at the Kempinski!

After a day off to recuperate, the Interlingua staff were back into the Holiday Spirit at our school Christmas party.  Of course this time, the party was more ‘fun focused’ and less ‘wine focused’, which was probably for the best!  Dave and I were in charge of face painting, which turned out to be a total blast!  We were also told that our face painting skills were the best the school had seen in several years, which was pretty awesome 🙂  After the activities and games, Santa and Mrs Clause (David and Lexie) handed gifts out to all the students, which was very exciting for them!  I was really stoked that so many of my students were there.  Watching each of their faces light up as they saw me was so awesome!  Teaching HAS to be the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done!!  (Aside from being an Aunty, of course!)

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David and Lexie as Mr. and Mrs. Clause. If you’re wondering what exactly David is using as a beard, it was formerly a rabbit puppet. We realized at the last second that Santa was beardless, so Mauricio…the doer that he is…grabbed his Swiss Army knife, gutted the puppet, beheaded the puppet and tied it to David’s face. Yup…that’s how we roll at Interlingua!!
Steven and I.  This kid is so sweet...
Steven and I. This kid is so sweet…
One of my youngest students, Smile.  I especially love Ouyang's photobomb lol!
One of my youngest students, Smile. I especially love Ouyang’s unintentional photobomb lol!
Me and one of my students at the party.  Barbie is such a sweet girl :)  She's one of the first students I met here and we've been besties every since!
Me and one of my students at the party. Barbie is  one of the first students I met here and we’ve been besties ever since!

Our Christmas day was a little uneventful, other than some Skype calls to family back home.  We did treat ourselves to some Starbucks though, and spent the day walking around downtown, which always interesting!  For supper, we went to Romeo’s (we’ve now named our favorite hot pot place after the cat who lives there) and enjoyed Doache.  Sweet little Romeo came and hung out in our table, which was a wonderful Christmas gift in of itself!  It’s so nice being around an animal that loves me as much as I love him! Most pets here are afraid of people so having him jump up into my lap for pets puts me through the moon mood-wise!

Here he is under our table!  Hot pot tables usually have two layers so that you can keep food down there if your table is full.  We leave that level empty so Romeo can chill with us
Here he is under our table! Hot pot tables usually have two layers so that you can keep food down there if your table is full. We leave that level empty so Romeo can chill with us

Our next Holiday adventure took place in our very own apartment.  After a lot of hard work, Dave and I managed to clean the grease and dust out of our kitchen to a point where we could actually cook in there.  We scoured Tao Bao and Carrefour for all the necessary ingredients (cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy etc…) and put together a Christmas feast for all of my colleagues and friends at Interlingua.  Nearly the entire Guiyang staff were there and a good portion of Jinyang’s staff, and I think everyone enjoyed the food.  David’s girlfriend, Yolanda, even entertained us with her lute.  She had an exam the following day so it was a good opportunity for her to practice, and we all enjoyed the live entertainment (she’s REALLY good!!!).  It was great eating western food, and introducing mashed potatoes to our Chinese friends.  I was thrilled when Ouyang went back for seconds as soon as he was done his first plate!  My boss, Huang, even came and loved my honey dill carrots 🙂  She even said she was going to have the cook make them at work she liked them so much!  The dinner was a lot of work but I’m so glad we held it for everyone.  It was a lot of fun to prepare and even more fun to eat it all!

My deviled eggs 'a la Guiyang'.  I switched the paprika my mom uses for La Jia.  They went over very well!
My deviled eggs ‘a la Guiyang’. I switched the paprika my mom uses for La Jia. They went over very well!
Jumoke made sure nobody else would drink out of his cup.  It was an effective method!
Jumoke made sure nobody else would drink out of his cup. It was an effective method!
Yolanda, playing her loot
Yolanda, playing her lute
Manny in his snuggy-type Christmas gift.  He was thrilled to receive it, because he'd wanted to buy one for himself anyway! haha!
Manny in his snuggy-type Christmas gift. He was thrilled to receive it, because he’d wanted to buy one for himself anyway! haha!
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When dinner was done, most of the guests went off to do their own thing, but a small group of us head down to Trip Smith, a local Brittish-style pub.  Among us were the Jin Yang crew (who I couldn’t get a proper picture of due to lighting) and the four of us from Guiyuang: (from left, Me, my dear friend Lumi, Lexie and Ouyang)

Once Christmas was over, and our classes were back in full swing, it was easy to forget that there was another day to celebrate on its way. New Year’s Eve arrived before we knew it and it was time to plan another evening out in Guiyang.  Other than Naveed and his wife, Sherry, I don’t quite fit in with the Interlingua staff.  I’m quite a bit older than the rest of them (I’m 28 while my coworkers are mostly 22 or 23).  They are all single and living up life in Guiyang city, so we weren’t really involved in their New Year’s Eve plans.  But when Naveed sent me a We Chat message at 11 oclock, asking why we weren’t at the Paullaner bar yet, I was pretty excited to go out.  We hopped on the scooter and arrived about a half hour before midnight.  I got to spend my last moments of 2014 with good people and listening to good music.

Naveed, Sherry and I at Paullauner Bar.  Nav was pretty stoked to hear some Metal (Enter Sandman....we don't get a lot of rock out here!)
Naveed, Sherry and I at Paullauner Bar. Nav was pretty stoked to hear some Metal (Enter Sandman….we don’t get a lot of rock out here!)
New Year Selfie!!  I love this picture...mostly because it looks like my head is just floating there :P hahaha!
New Year Selfie!! I love this picture…mostly because it looks like my head is just floating there 😛 hahaha!

On our way out of the bar, we shared an elevator with a European man who had lived in Guiyang for 8 years.  The number of Lao Wai we saw New Year’s Eve was probably the highlight of the evening.  As much as I love being here, I miss striking up random conversations in elevators that aren’t just about ‘where I’m from’.  Also, the people you meet while traveling are like minded.  They are adventurers and they are interested in culture and new experiences.  It was great meeting so many people that night.

This picture was taken once we got onto our scooter to go home (don't worry...we'd each only had 1 drink in the hour we were there!).  The man we met in the elevator made our day when he said "You drive a scooter!?  You're basically locals!!"
This picture was taken once we got onto our scooter to go home (don’t worry…we’d each only had 1 drink in the hour we were there!). The man we met in the elevator made our day when he said “You drive a scooter!? You’re basically locals!!”

So that’s what the holidays are like in China.  Both Christmas and New Years are celebrated here, but only in a superficial way.  Still, there are things you can do to make yourself feel less ‘far away’ from everything normal during the holiday season.  The biggest thing for me was cooking that dinner for my coworkers.  I know that not everyone may have enjoyed it like I did, and I know that not everyone appreciated the work it takes to put something like that together, but I do know that Christmas can’t be Christmas without mashed potatoes.

I’ll be writing again in the next few days about our little Chinese apartment and all the ways we’ve turned it from a cockroach infested dump, to the cute little place we now call home 🙂