One of the best things about living in China is the high speed train. Dave and I have no interest in buying a car in China, so the high speed train is how we get from city to city, when we need a break from Suzhou.
This year, we’ve taken a record number of weekend trips that I thought might be worth writing about.
Cirque du Soleil
My hatred of Shanghai city has never been a secret, but I’ve recently grown to appreciate this metropolis, regardless of its overpopulation and pollution…
The event that began this new understanding of Shanghai was none other than a Cirque Du Soleil show. Dave and I have seen 6 shows total now, so when we found out that Kooza would be playing in old Pudong…we booked tickets with our friends Kim and CJ.
Shanghai doesn’t get as many big shows as I wish it did (mainly because a lot of bands and musicians are banned in China), but now and then, they get a good one. Linkin Park played Shanghai a few years ago, before Chester Bennington’s death. Unfortunately, the concert took place while I was visiting family in Canada, which meant I missed my last opportunity to see one of my favourite bands perform.
Couldn’t pay me to see….
Don’t really care to see…
Christmas with Friends
We’ve taken a couple of trips to Hangzhou this year as well. Located about 2 hours away by high speed train, Hangzhou is a beautiful city. It was recently the location of a G20 Summit, and is home to West Lake, which is both scenic and huge. Hangzhou is the capital of Zhezhang province, Jiangsu’s neighbour to the south.
Christmas with Friends
A beautiful place to take a walk
More importantly, Hangzhou is home to two of my favourite people in the world! So, Dave and I, along with our friend Kevin, made our way down to Hangzhou for Christmas this year. We enjoyed some excellent meals, a nice walk around West Lake, and time with good friends. It was well worth the weekend trip!
Feeling ‘Christmasy’ at Eudora…a lovely restaurant in Hangzhou
On the train
A purple wreath
We had dinner at a very interesting place. The menu had some translation problems…
Weddings in Hangzhou
A few months later, we found ourselves back in Hangzhou for Deb and Dedrick’s wedding! We had another lovely trip in, and this time, we got to spend the weekend with our good friends Mark and Deb. Mark and I play in The Sundaze together, and it was good to get out and cut loose in a new city with them. And of course, my dear Kevin was there as well!
Back at Eudora
The adorable Deb and I
Mark, being himself
Midnight snack stop on our way home from drinks at Eudora
The longer you stay in China, the more people you meet. Deb and Dedrick’s wedding was a really cool experience because there were people from everywhere there. It was a beautiful mixture of North American and Argentinian culture, with guests from all over the world.
Dressed up for the wedding
A beautiful vegetarian wedding dinner
These were so darn good!
A beautiful dress designed by the bride
Friends travelled from France and Mexico to be there for the wedding
Moroccan food in Tianzefang
Finally, Shanghai itself can be an awesome little getaway. When Dave and I went to Taiwan in April, we opted to spend the night in Shanghai before flying out the next morning to Taipei (Suzhou doesn’t have an airport). We asked around for food recommendation, and my friend Andy told me of a good Moroccan place in an area of Shanghai called Tianzefang.
Such a great restaurant! Can’t wait to go back!!!
Pear and chicken breast….
figs and lamb shank
Morrocan friend rice
Tianzifang is lovely! It’s a vibrant and interesting area that doesn’t feel at all like the Pudong I grew to hate. It’s full of bars, unique shops and great international food options.
Dave and I, enjoying a walk home
Some strange signs
This cat doesn’t move….these two pictures were taken a month apart lol
A month or so later, Dave and I actually made a special trip to Shanghai just to have another meal at Andelus, the Moroccan restaurant Andy recommended. The following morning, we visited the very famous ” Lao Wai Park“.
Shanghai’s Lao Wai (foreigner) Park, is an are of restaurants and bars that are very popular among expats. The comedy group Mamahuhu did a series of videos there. Dave and I had an amazing lunch at a little Vietnamese restaurant. I can’t wait til we can visit again!
We also wandered around Shanghai for a bit during our last trip in. We saw the largest Starbucks in the world while we were there. There was a massive lineup, so we didn’t go in, but I did take some pictures.
In it’s first 8 weeks, this 30,000 square foot Starbucks roastery made more than $60,000 every DAY
The lineups were ridiculous and we didn’t want to wait in the heat, so we didn’t go inside
But I DID sneak some pictures from the outside!
There are so many more nearby places we want to visit before we leave China. We have friends in Nanjing that we really want to go visit. We also want to see Yellow Mountain, and of course we’d love to see more of Shanghai and Hangzhou. The high speed train gives us so many opportunities for travel. Now, to make the time!
I’ll be writing lots over the next week, trying to catch up on all my Indonesia posts before we head to The Philippines!
Being an English teacher has its challenges, but one of the biggest perks I have as a language teacher is that I can teach my lessons through a variety of lenses. If I’m teaching about conditional voice, for example, I can have the students talk about which super powers they wish they had, or about regrets they have from the past.
This year, I chose to teach my grade 9 students English through a lens I think everyone should consider: “Critical Thinking in Social Media”. I introduced them to Snopes, discussed the power (and danger) of memes and we talked about subjects ranging from gun control in the United States to South Korean fan superstitions. My hope was that I’d teach them how to be considerate and intelligent Netizens, but I probably learned nearly as much as they did.
Our class discussions about the dangers of Social Media really got me thinking. We discussed the idea that people rarely write about bad things that are happening in their lives, but instead tend to focus on the positive, making their lives look more glamorous and perfect that they really are. In of itself, this isn’t a problem, but when others see those happy posts, they start to compare their own lives with the (perfect) lives that others present to the cyber world.
Elephants in Thailand
Ziplining in Laos
Cruising down the Mekong River looking for Irawaddy Dolphins
Sunsets on the Great Wall
Sunsets in Phu Quoc….if all you see are these…it seems like my life is a breeze!
I try not to do this, but, of course, it can be difficult. I haven’t been feeling particularly positive lately, so I thought this would be a good time to write about the negative aspects of living as an expat. *Spoiler…it’s awesome…but like everything, it has its downsides*
June is a hard month for a lot of reasons. It’s the end of the school year, which is stressful for all teachers. Between grading, report cards and final tests, teachers across the planet are barely holding it together every June. When you’re an expat teacher, you have to also consider the stress of booking flights home, finding cat sitters, and spending 6 weeks living out of suitcases. It’s stressful.
Not to mention the nightmare of travelling…
And the fact that I have to go to an airport that has SIM card vending machines every few meters, but bottled water is hidden away
And then there’s the train station…. Have I mentioned we do all this with luggage???
That’s not to say that I’d give up my trip home to avoid these stresses…but it is something a lot of people don’t think about when they think of what it’s like teaching abroad. Other things include…
Saying Goodbye to Students
One event was particularly emotional for me this month. My grade 9 students have been with me since my very first day at SFLS, and in September, they will be moving onto high school. Many of them will be moving abroad as well, so it’s not as though I’ll be seeing many of them again. Their graduation was last Friday and although I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry (I even refused to bring tissue in an attempt to not even give myself the option), I ended up red in the face and tearier than I would like to admit. When you love teaching…it’s easy to become attached to the kids you see every day for 3 years.
Victor and I with Wendy. I was happy I could put my hands in front of my face because I’d started crying a few moments before and simply couldn’t stop
This class is full of the coolest kids in China. I’m sure of it
This is Angel. She’s the reason I was crying. She came up and gave me a hug and whipered ‘thank you’ in my ear and I just couldn’t stop. As a teacher, you pour yourself into your students. You spend all your free time grading their work and helping them on Wechat. You spend you life getting them ready for exams and making sure that they’re getting the best education you can provide. Unfortunately, teaching teenagers can be pretty thankless. They often forget about their foreign teachers because we aren’t as important at the school as the Chinese staff. It’s amazing what one quiet “Thank You” can make you feel. Also…I know teachers aren’t suppose to have favourites…but Angel is one of my favourite students ever. She’s kind and intelligent as she is beautiful.
Michael and I at the Drama Festival. I’m still waiting for him to send me the photos of us at grad, although he made me cry too. He has popped up in many of my blog posts and will always have a special place in my heart.
Ken, back when he was in 7th grade
He’s taller than me now…but still one of the coolest kids I’ve ever known. He’ll be moving to Hawaii over the summer. He was accepted in the a school there. I’m insanely jealous.
Still, I wish them all the best, and although it sucks to see them go, I have new students coming in next September, and they will provide new challenges and rewards for me and all their other teachers.
This class is full of the coolest kids in China. I’m sure of it
Kate looked beautiful in her graduation dress. She reminds me so much of what I was like at that age…kind of sarcastic…very dramatic…but as passionate as they come.
With the students at this year’s spelling bee
Final class photos
The friendships you form while living abroad are also a very important part of the expat life. I’ve made friends from all over the world, and although we’re all very different people with very different backgrounds, there is one thing we all have in common: we don’t really belong anywhere.
When you’re away from home, having a good group of friends becomes increasingly important. They’re who you spend Christmas with and they’re who help you through troubled times. Most importantly, they’re the ones who understand you, because as much as people back home can try and empathize, they only really see the really good and really bad parts of being an expat…none of the ‘in-between-everday-stuff’.
When a student of mine committed suicide in January, it was Kim and CJ who helped me through. Kim has been a teacher for years, and she understands the pressure Chinese students deal with. It’s pressure different from anything western students experience
These people have helped us both through a whole lot of crappy days, crappy months and crappy moments.
Mike also helped me through Pony’s death. He and I spend quite a lot of time brainstorming ways to make sure our students know we are there for them. Pony was his student as well, and I think that if I hadn’t had someone to talk to about how we could prevent this from happening again…it would have been even harder to get through it.
Dave and I are far more outgoing and far more adventurous abroad than we ever were back home, and our social life is pretty awesome. We spend lots of time going out for dinner, going to KTV, going to Salsa parties, and of course, I have my band. All these things are done with friends…and 99% of my friends are currently expats, or people who were previously expats, but have moved back home to China.
Cheetar (USA_, Myself and Tythus (Malaysia). They both work in the highschool. Cheetar and I have been working together for 3 years. He is leaving to move to a different part of China this summer. I’m going to miss seeing him around the school.
Dedrick, Mark and I….We are the Sundaze! Dedrick moved to Hangzhou last summer…it’s only an hour away, and I still get to see him often, but it’s sucked not having him around. Luckily, he’s moving back to Suzhou in September!! Mark and I are planning to leave Suzhou at the same time. I’m working on convincing him and his wife to join us in Vietnam. Fingers crossed!
Katie, Kevin, Dave and I last year at Dave’s Birthday. I just learned that Katie is moving back to Suzhou after finishing her Master’s degree in England. It’ll be great to have her back!
Jeff…the very first friend i made in Suzhou. When he found out a new Canadian was going to be working at SFLS, he emailed me to welcome me to the team. I felt more welcomed in Suzhou before I even moved there, than I did my whole time in Guiyang
Liz. One of my longest friendships in Suzhou
Adam is also one of my oldest Suzhou friends. We only worked together for a year before he moved to a different school, but we’ve stayed friends even though he’s across the city. His girlfriend, Tracy, lives in our building, so we get to see her often
Kevin is one of my best friends in the world. He moved away last week. I miss him more than I really want to think about
You make friends at school too, of course. Sam is the giant on the far left. He teaches economics with me in IGCSE. Crystal is the Chinese teacher and she is also my cleaning buddy in the office! And Victor is one of my bffs. We’ve worked together for 2 years at SFLS. He’s from Nigeria and he’s a fantastic human being
Linda and Paul are Taiwanese. We became friends over the past 3 years because Linda’s parents own a restaurant we like
Miya. One of the most beautiful people on the planet. She moved away for a year to live in New Zealand. It sucked.
Michael and Dave. Michael is a Kiwi who lived in Suzhou for our first 2 years. I still find myself missing him although he moved back to New Zealand more than a year ago now.
We are losing Shane on Saturday. He’s moving back to Australia. He’ll be missed a lot. Other than Dave, he’s our best groupie!
Of course…when you are a nomad and surround yourself with other nomads…people enter and leave your life regularly. It’s difficult because I understand it…but I hate it. I also hate that soon I’ll be the one leaving people behind. Already, I find myself wondering if I’ll ever find friends as good as the ones I have in Suzhou…
Occasionally, you get to see your expat friends again….
We were lucky to have 2 friends visit us this year. Joan and Lexie both visited us in the fall
And sometimes, people even move back…like Miya. this was us the day she came back to Suzhou. I look only about half as excited as I actually was!!
The ‘Home Dilemma’
Home becomes a really weird concept when you live abroad. I like to say that ‘Home is where my cats are’, but in reality, I spend 3 months away from them every year. I’d like to say that ‘Home is where you grew up’, but nobody in my family even lives in that tiny Manitoba town, so how can that really be home? Steinbach never really felt like home for me, because I was too different from the local people. Oddly enough, in some ways, Suzhou has been feeling more like home than anywhere I’ve ever been. I’ve become a part of the community, through music, foodie groups and through school.
My band has turned me into a more social and charismatic person. Playing with these guys is easily one of the funnest things I’ve ever done in my life
Whether we’re playing in dingy bars
Or at music festivals
We always have a blast!
I think that living abroad changes you in that way. Home isn’t as easily defined when you don’t ever quite fit in. In China, I’m a minority. I’m only one of a few thousand expats in a city of 8 million people. Back home, it’s the same. I’ve had such a different 4 years than most of my friends and family. It’s difficult to explain your feelings about things when the people in your life see the world differently than you do. It’s especially noticeable when talking about world politics or world events with people back in Canada. It’s easy to talk about India’s poverty or an earthquake in Indonesia when you see it as some far off place, separate from you. But when you can picture the smells and sounds of a place….when you’ve been there and it’s personal…you see those events very differently.
What makes it especially hard is that we’ve never had any family or friends visit us here in China. I know that it isn’t in everyone’s budget, and there are a thousand reasons why people can’t just hop on a plane and visit, but regardless of those reasons…it makes ‘home’ a difficult subject. At the end of the day, China is currently our home, but the people we know and love back in Canada have no idea what our life is like in the place we call home.
And that’s why I hound my family save up and come visit us…it’s not because I want to show them the sites or because I think China is the most beautiful place on earth….it’s because I want them to understand me. I people back home to understand what life is like in the city I currently call home.
Always Missing Somewhere or Someone
And of course there’s the obvious reason it’s hard being an expat is all the stuff you leave behind at the end of the summer. It’s great having stories to tell your family and friends…but I really do wish I had the power of teleportation. Then, I wouldn’t need to miss everyone so much.
I always laugh because when I’m in China, I call Canada Home…and when I’m in Canada, I call China home
There’s so much I miss about Winnipeg. Going to concerts is definitely one
I miss lakes and trees….and quiet.
I miss these wonderful people most of all!
It isn’t All Bad
Of course, it isn’t nearly all bad. June is probably my least favourite month of the year. It’s difficult saying goodbye to students. It’s difficult saying goodbye to friends. Add that to the fact that it’s exam season and end of term…and I can’t believe it’s taken me 4 years to write this post.
Still, there are a thousand things that being an expat allows us to do. It sucks saying goodbye to friends…but it’s great meeting so many new people all the time. It sucks only seeing our family and Canadian friends once a year, but we always have so many stories to tell them! And being an Expat gives us so many opportunities that we’d never have back in Canada. My band wouldn’t get nearly as many gigs if we weren’t ‘interesting foreigners’. Of course, we could never afford to travel this much if we didn’t live in China. And with Dave working from home, we were able to foster little Oscar. Here are some pictures of Oscar to remind you of all the reasons I love being an expat!
Stay tuned! I’ve got half a dozen more posts coming in the next month or so!!
He was found in the bushes right outside my school
He was mostly blind when we found him. Within our first week with him he started following movements
He was such a princely little cat!
What a flirt!
If Dave didn’t work at home, we never would have been able to give him the care he needed
These are the lovely women who adopted our little foster kitty
Suzhou doesn’t get a lot of snow. In fact, it only snows here every 5 years or so; and it rarely sticks around.
Fortunately for me, this year was one of those ‘off’ years, where Mother Nature bestowed some of the white stuff upon this beautiful city.
When people aren’t used to snow, it can be quite an ordeal! We saw one accident on our 5 minute walk home, and I can’t imagine how many delivery men wiped out on their e-bikes today! Imagine a late spring storm…with people who have never driven on ice before!
A chilly walk home!
The two cars in the intersection collided as we were waiting for the light to change. An hour later, they’re still out there, probably squabbling over who is at fault
Many of these notices were left around the city. Schools were PREEMPTIVELY shut down for 2 days because they knew the snow was coming. Unfortunately for my students…school had already ended so they didn’t get any bonus time off.
Kevin….pretending not to be thrilled about the snow. He was skipping through it a moment earlier…I swear!
Dave made a snow angel, to my disgust (Chinese sidewalks should never be laid on…)
I’ve lived in Suzhou now for nearly 3 years, and although I’ve had my challenges here, I really do love this city. Many of the gardens here are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are considered to be some of the most beautiful gardens in China. We often spend afternoons walking through them because even the smaller ones are a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Suzhou. I’m always amazed at how quiet the gardens here are…especially when I consider the 8 million + people that live here!
Various parks around the city
Unfortunately for me, I never had a chance to bring my camera to any of Suzhou’s gardens today. Plenty of others did though, so I’ve collected some of my favourite photos from the day and compiled them so you can see what a lovely city we chose to call home. I can’t actually credit anyone specifically…China isn’t big on copyrighting things, so I’ll just say now that none of these pictures are mine….
Behold, China’s greatest secret: How to fit far too many cars into virtually no space at all.
I took this at the end of our walk last night, and my biggest regret was that I hadn’t captured the much worse version of this parking job that we’d seen the night before. You see, there isn’t nearly enough parking available in China, so people just sort of park wherever they can. Some of the most impressive parking jobs I’ve seen:
Parking in front of other cars (as seen above)
Parking on the side walk (sidewalks are difficult to walk on because of all the cars…)
Parking in the middle of an intersection (so that your car becomes an extension of the median)
Parking on the ramp of a parkade
I don’t know if we’ve ever eaten a meal at the restaurant behind our building without the waiting staff coming in at LEAST once to ask if we had driven there, because somebody was boxed in, and they needed a car moved.
This is reason #211 why I have no desire to drive in China.
This is the little side street that runs behind our building. There are plenty of little restaurants down this road, as well as a couple of hotels and Euromart. It’s a popular area for people to eat, and get a few drinks.
This also happens to be the little road that Dave and I were driving past when we were hit by an e-bike.
Our bike was ok, and Dave was uninjured, but the guy drove directly into my shin. I suppose I was lucky that my leg didn’t break, but that’s not to say the injury wasn’t severe. Even now, a year and a half later, I have bruising, and I’m a bit afraid that the nerve damage will never fully go away.
I call this intersection “Shattered Shin Pass”. My shin may not have actually shattered, but my love for late-night e-bike rides surely did.
If Poe is Pretty & Poised, Hugo is Dashing & Derpy. With a missing leg, a slightly cleft pallet and stinkier-than-death breath, this boy stole my heart within 3 seconds of me walking into the SSAPA shelter. We walked in and he marched (limped) over to me for pets. He chose me.
I have never met a more pathetically needy cat in my life. If he could spend every second of the day in my lap, he would.
But he gives as much as he takes. If either Dave or I are feeling stressed or sick, Hugo is right there, cuddling, purring and head bumping us until we smile.
I work at a huge foreign language school in Suzhou. We have 3 separate middle schools alone (I work in 2 of them). In reality, we’re sort of a dozen or so schools all kind of crammed into one campus.
Each department runs a bit differently. Classes begin at 7:40am school-wide, but each department ends at a slightly different time. In kindergarten, they are finished at 4:30, but my students don’t finish their school day until around 7:30pm. (Yeah… Let that sink in).
This means more than 3000 thousand students are leaving the school daily, in shifts, beginning at 4:30 and going all the way up to around 8pm. This is fantastic for street vendors, looking to hock their goods.
There is almost always a guy selling flowers outside the school gates. Not sure why, but he must sell enough of them because he’s always there.
There are also the kind of vendors you’d expect outside of a school: guys selling candied fruit and other snacks. The kids see it and beg their parents for a treat. It makes for easy sales.
Occasionally, I see pet vendors there. They sell rabbits, birds and other small animals. That really bothers me. Luckily, I’ve never actually seen them make a sale, and they don’t come around often, so I don’t think they’re very successful.
Today, I noticed a new vendor. He was selling candied dates on skewers. It’s a popular snack and we see people selling them off the back of ebikes all the time. But this guy was doing it in style…
My camera didn’t quite pick up the colour properly, but his goods were all lit up with colourful and flashing lights. It was definitely eye-catching. I thought it was a pretty brilliant way to attract customers and to hopefully get an extra sale or two.
Dave and I have been taking a lot of walks lately. We’ve both been working a tonne (as we tend to do), and taking a walk at night allows us to catch up. I think that’s important.
On those walks, we talk about our days and we discuss the news and what’s blowing up on social media. Sometimes I take pictures of ridiculous or interesting things I see.
The funny thing about my feature picture today is that I took it because of the “Honey Babe” sign, but when I looked at the photo a few days later, I noticed so much more.
The photo is from right outside Euromart. I take money out at the little red ATM booth in the middle of the photo. I’ve bought noodles from the little restaurant on the left (they weren’t very good). I’ve walked across that square at least a hundred times and I never noticed how pretty it is at night.
Also, there’s a sign for a bar named “Honey Babe”. That’s pretty funny too.
Dave and I had plans today to explore the city. Suzhou recently opened its 3rd metro line, and it has made all sorts of local attractions easier to get to. We thought exploring the city and getting some more photos would be a grand way to spend the day…but then the smog came…
I realized while talking to my family this morning that many of the people back home can’t even begin to understand what pollution is all about and the many ways it impacts our lives here, so I thought it might make for an interesting article.
**Note** Very few pictures in this article will be my own…they’ve mostly been borrowed from the internet. If I did take the picture, I’ll indicate it in the caption Our Global Pollution Problem
Pollution is a problem all over the world. In India, I saw unbelievable amounts of garbage on the road, and I brushed my teeth with bottled water to avoid getting sick from the tap water.
Although much better than India and China, Vietnam also has some pretty terrible pollution problems. The number of motorcyles on the road leave your lungs pretty sore by the end of a day sight-seeing in HoChiMin City. Phu Quoc is also a giant dumping ground for garbage.
A helmet protects your head…one of these fancy masks protects your lungs
We saw this on our jungle walk, on the way to see some ruins…
Lots of broken glass on the beach…
Even in the beautiful Caribbean, you can find all sorts of pollution issues. Water there is generally unsafe to drink, and although resorts do a good job of keeping their shores clean, the same can’t be said in other areas of the country.
Pollution is a problem globally, there’s no doubt. I look forward to my time in Canada every year. The fresh air smells so fantastic, and even in the heart of Winnipeg, I’ve never smelt the tinny scent of PM2.5. Yet…where do you think this picture was taken?
What I’m trying to say here is that pollution is an issue everywhere. If you’re lucky enough to never have seen anything like this with your own eyes, you are a minority on this planet and this is a case where being a minority is a good thing… The Lingo
In Guizhou (the Chinese province where we lived prior to moving to Suzhou), the pollution isn’t so bad. That’s not to say the air was perfect there (because it’s such a poor province, many of the vehicles on the road are old and blow large amounts of black exhaust), but we never needed masks or felt like our health was at risk.
In Suzhou, things are different. We are only about 100km west of Shanghai, so we get a lot of our pollution from the factories out that way. On a bad day, our AQI level will go up to 200 or occasionally 300. During the current sandstorm, we are sitting somewhere between 450 and 600 on the AQI scale. What exactly does that mean, you might ask?
AQI is the global term that indicates how clean the air is in any particular place. Air Quality Index becomes a very important part of your life when you live in a city with a pollution problem. Most people have apps on their phones that tell them whether they should wear a mask outside. I don’t use an app because I have an easier way to tell. Suzhou’s iconic Pants Building is within eyesight of my apartment. I make a point of looking out the window every day, and I can usually tell how bad the pollution is by how clearly I can see the pants building.
Something else people are aware of here in Suzhou are the different KINDS of pollution. I’ll begin explaining this with a story…
Last year, one of my jobs as a teacher was to help students prepare for their IGCSE spoken exams. To do that, I met with students individually, gave them a topic and had them tell me what they could about that topic. The topic I chose one day was ‘The Environment’. One girl really impressed me, as she started rattling off different types of air pollution (PM2.5, PM10 etc.). I was FLOORED that she knew those terms. I had only lived in Suzhou for a few months at that point.
Now, these terms are part of my regular vocabulary. I frequently say things like ‘PM2.5 levels are brutal this week’, or ‘well this stand storm is mostly bringing in PM10 particles, which aren’t QUITE so bad’. All this ‘PM’ talk refers to the size of the particles. PM10 particles are slightly bigger, but equally as harmful as PM2.5. Both get trapped in your lungs and build up over time and both are linked to lung cancer, lung disease and even brain issues. Of course, living in China for a short-term period doesn’t mean that I’ll come home with lung cancer, but the elderly in China really do suffer.
Pollution is more than just something you see on the news. It’s something that is real and it affects a large portion of the world on a day to day basis. Here are some of the ways it effects me:
I sometimes need to wear a mask to go outside
I constantly worry about the quality of air in my home and at work
I spend hundreds of dollars every year on filters and machines designed to clean my air
I have had a lung infection so bad that I needed to be on 4 different medications to get better. I was using an asthma puffer for 3 months after that infection.
Colds last longer and are much more severe than they are elsewhere I’ve lived
If I don’t ride my e-bike for a few days, I will get dust on my pants when I sit down.
I dry my clothes in my bathroom because if I dry them outside, they’ll be dirty by the time I wear them again (most people in China don’t have clothes dryers)
Hanging onto a railing as I climb up or down outdoor stairs will leave me with dirty hands.
I go into coughing fits when I go to a country with clean air. My lungs literally try and eject the garbage that has built up over the months.
After a particularly dusty day, I’ll wake up with build up in my eyes and a bit of a sore throat.
When the PM2.5 is especially bad (usually in January or February), you can actually taste metal in the air.
I often worry about the long-term health hazards of pollution. The obvious ones don’t worry me as much (lung cancer, emphysema etc.) but after recently discovering that PM2.5 is connected to alzymers disease, I’ve been in a constant state of worrying about the health of my brain.
Pollution levels are a constant presence in my life. I need to know when they’re high so I can turn on my air purifier. I also need to know about the air quality so that I know when it’s appropriate for me to partake in one of my favourite pastimes: walking.
Since I was just a little girl, I’ve always loved walked. It started with walks around the block with my Pepere, and it evolved into walking my dog in the forest trails of St. Malo Provincial Park. When I moved to Guiyang, walking was one of the ways I dealt with the stress of living in such a difficult city. In Suzhou…taking a walk is off the table some days.
My sweet, Trace. He passed away 5 years ago. I still miss him. He was the best walking buddy I ever had
The man who got me walking when I was just a little kid. We seemed to go on endless walks…always with the same aim. “To see a man about a dog”
With this as my backdrop…I couldn’t walk enough back when I lived in Rural Manitoba
The provincial Park 5 minutes from where I grew up
How We Get Through It
On days like today, we mostly stay indoors. At home, we have 2 air purifiers, so we definitely have those running while we’re in the apartment. My classrooms also have air purifiers, but unfortunately, my school doesn’t see an advantage to making sure our offices also have clean air. Air purifiers can be a bit pricey and they seem to become obsolete frequently, making it impossible to find a new filter for a device you purchased only 6 months before. Our solution has been SmartAir Purifiers…they’re a small company that make purifiers that work well, for only 600rmb (most other purifiers that do a decent job cost up to 5000rmb…). If you’re living in mainland China, check out their website. They’re well worth the money.
How This Effects YOU
If you’re reading this from Canada, you might be thinking that I’m crazy for choosing to live here. I know the risks, but I still take them. There are risks living in Manitoba as well. Hitting the ditch in a snow storm, or sliding into oncoming traffic during winter/spring is every bit as much of a risk as living somewhere where pollution is a problem. I check the PM2.5 levels the same as you check the temperature to know how many sweaters you should wear under your parka.
You may also be thinking that countries like China and India are poorly managed and that if they ‘got their acts together’, this wouldn’t be an issue. But let me ask you this….
Where are the majority of your ‘things’ made? The truth of the matter is that we export our pollution to China to cut costs. One of the reasons things are cheaper coming from China is because health and safety standards aren’t as big of a deal here….it’s something to think about before you shop at places like Walmart, Superstore or other ‘low cost’ chains. You’re paying 50 cents less, but the global environment is suffering.
Furthermore…we live in a very wasteful world. I recently got into a heated debate about the use of paper cups in the office. I think they should be banned, whereas other people really like their convenience. What’s important to remember is that by using disposable items (on a regular basis), you’re contributing to our landfill problems, as well as creating a need for more factories in the world. For more information on that, I found this nifty article written by Time Magazine called ‘Throwaway Living’. Be sure to check it out if you’re interested in the topic.
PS..I know it’s been a while, but I have 3 posts in the works:
Our weekend in Seoul
Catching up on Life in Suzhou
Beautiful Suzhou (I’ve been on a picture taking mission lately)
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!
I don’t have many selfies with my older students! They’re too cool for selfies!
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!
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!
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.
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…
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!)
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!
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!!!
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.
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…
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!!
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!
It’s natural to connect more easily with other expats…
But it doesn’t mean there’s no value in befriending someone from a different culture. It can be difficult sometimes…because some people ONLY want to be your friend because you’re ‘exotic’. But most Chinese people are genuinely very warm and friendly. There’s no need to treat them badly just because you don’t understand their culture!!
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.
Talia and I at Halloween
Kayla and I…she and I went through the ringer together with some pretty difficult parents. She always stood by me and was always SO helpful! I love both the TAs I had at Interlingua
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!!!
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.
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.
The Drama Festival was SUCH a success!!!
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.
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!!
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.
I may not be much of a drawer, but my jelly bean people are always a hit! This is how I taught family vocabulary. If you notice that the family members all have different facial expressions, it’s because I was also teaching the students how to make sentences about emotions using their family members. For example: Daddy is angry.
I had a lot of free time during my administrative hours (we weren’t allowed doing grading etc…) so I jazzed up my classroom with my arts and crafts skills. I was VERY proud of this! It went from being an empty quark board, to a colourful masterpiece! lol
I also made these tracking boards for each class. I awarded stickers based on schoolwork, class behaviour and effort. Whoever reached the end first won a prize. It went over VERY well!
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!
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 🙂
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!