November 2nd

Today’s photo may not look like much…

On the right, there is a student named Michael.  He’s 15 years old and in my grade 9 class.  He is inquisitive, hardworking and has a great attitude.  I’ve been his teacher since 2015.

On the left is Tim.  He’s new to IGCSE.  He’s in grade 7, and his English skills are a fair bit lower than the rest of his class.  Still, he has a positive attitude and a very encouraging home room teacher, so instead of giving up on his writing assignment, he asked for help.

Michael obliged.

These two students chose to spend their lunch hour today working together.  I’d like to say it’s a happy coincidence, but so much has gone into this.

  • Encouragement from homeroom teachers and parents.  Without their support, neither of these students would have been where they were today at lunch time.
  • A department that fosters a willingness to help.  In IGCSE, students learn that helping others is both rewarding, and their responsibility.
  • An English teacher that believes that collaboration is the most effective way to learn language.

Being a teacher is about so much more than ‘reading, writing and arithmatic’.  It’s my responsibility to teach these kids to be caring and compassionate people.  It’s my job to teach them about responsibility and expectations.  It’s my job to give them the confidence to reach out for help and to offer it to those in need.

This picture might not look like much, but today….I felt like a superstar.

November 2b

 

 

圣诞快乐和新年快乐!(Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!)

Although my next post was going to be about our trip to Hong Kong, I thought that writing about the Holidays might be a little more relevant.  The holiday season can be awful or amazing when you are a foreigner in another country.  It’s easy to feel homesick and marginalized when you live in a country where Christmas is important on a superficial level alone, but it helps a lot when you work with awesome people and have good friends to celebrate with.   Dave and I were fortunate enough to be part of several events with the great friends we’ve made over the last 4 months.  And although our Christmas definitely had some ‘downs’, it was, for the most part, an excellent holiday!

The school held several events around the holidays that definitely helped encourage the Christmas Spirit.  In addition to the Lao Wai Holiday supper, there was also a spelling bee the week before Christmas and then on Thursday we had the IGCSE New Year’s Gala.  All 3 events were great fun and big successes.

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One of the dearest friends I’ve made in Suzhou:  Alecia.  She teaches Spanish at the school (she’s from Spain).

My favorite of the holiday parties though, was the IGCSE New Year’s Eve gala.  IGCSE is the department of the school where I work.  Suzhou Foreign Language school is huge and there are actually 3 middle schools within the one larger school.  IGCSE is the ‘English’ department because when the students graduate middle school, they receive a bilingual diploma from the University of Cambridge.  We have some of the brightest students I’ve met in China in this program and I’m proud to be their teacher 🙂

I also got to perform at the gala.  My boss, Nathan, plays the Ukulele, so he and I chose a couple of songs and performed them for the kids and parents.  It went over really well, and when it was done, one of the IG2 students presented me with a bouquet of roses.  It was so sweet!

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We look far more professional than we actually were!

The gala finished with Abba’s ‘Happy New Year’, which I may now never get out of my head!  They asked Nathan and I at the last minute if we would sing the first 8 lines of the song solo, so I had to learn it over night.  I was so stressed about the whole thing (Abba is WAY out of my range) that I lost my voice!  Luckily, I found it the next morning, but it was still a bit of a scare!

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Nathan and I with all of the IGCSE students!  It’s unfortunate that none of the other IG teachers could make it to the event (they all work in multiple departments and couldn’t get their classes changed).  I’m glad I was able to attend, though!

But the school was not the only place where I was able to celebrate the holidays (don’t worry, Dave and I DID see each other!!).  We were invited to, and organized, several events with friends.  Just like we would back home, we ate FAR too much and spent great time with great people 🙂

Christmas Day was a lot of fun as well.  Dave and I got dressed up and had dinner at the Kempinski Hotel in Suzhou.  We ate far too much (again) and then head out to The Camel (a bar in SIP) to meet some friends that I met in Shanghai.

New Year’s Eve was also a nice evening out, though I didn’t take any pictures.  We hung out with my favorite Suzhou-Canadian: Jeff.  Whenever I miss home, I hang out with Jeff…he is basically every Canadian stereotype personified!

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This is basically Jeff

Of course, I can’t exactly say that our holiday season was everything I had hoped it would be.  The pollution from Beijing made its way down to Suzhou and Dave and I both got pretty sick from it.  My skin was very irritated by the smog and dust and both of our lungs suffered.  We really do love our life in Suzhou, but when we decide to move home, it will probably be because of the smog.  Coming from small town Canada has left me with high standards as far as air is concerned, and Suzhou doesn’t cut it.

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The first of these pictures was taken over the summer, when the pollution was very low.  The second was taken when it was at it’s worst.  We base the air quality each day on whether or not we can see the ‘Pants Building from our apartment.

 

But the smog was the least of our holiday worries.  We had Poe scheduled to be spayed on December 23rd, and although she was in heat at the time, we needed to get the surgery done so that she’d be healed in time for our departure for India.   We read about it online and everything seemed like it would be fine.  The surgery is a little more complicated when a cat is in heat, but vets do the surgery out west all the time.  So we went ahead with the surgery.

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Our Sweet Poe

A few hours after her surgery was over, we got a call from the vet telling us that she had to go back under because she had internal bleeding.  2 hours later, we found out that the vet had accidentally damaged her spleen during the original surgery (he has apologized profusely for his mistake and has admitted that it was due to his inexperience…inexperience we weren’t actually aware of…).  As a result, Poe lost her spleen and we came pretty close to losing her.

Now, anyone who is not an animal lover may not understand where I’m coming from here, but Dave and I have really fallen in love with that cat over the last month and a half.  She’s such a little ray of sunshine…very affectionate and always purring.  She became part of our little family so quickly and we were so terribly worried we’d lose her.

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She really is my little sunshine!

The veterinarian did come through for us though, and he saved our little Poe.  She spent 3 nights at the hospital and we visited her between our holiday parties whenever we had the chance.  The nurse there commented on how much higher her spirits were when we were there, which made us feel like there was SOMETHING we could actually do for her.

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Visiting her at the vet

Poe came home on Boxing Day and is still recovering.  We try to keep her out of the cone as much as possible so she can get some good rest and feel comfortable, but she’s a cat…so bathing is inevitable.  Her spirit is slowly returning and she’s becoming playful again, which is wonderful to see.  Hugo rather enjoyed being an ‘only cat’ for the 4 days she was gone, but he’s adjusting to her return.  And as much as he tries to pretend he hates that little black ball of fur, he was worried and searching for her the entire time she was gone.

 

So I guess our Christmas story had a happy ending.  🙂

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The best present I got this Christmas was to have Poe back home safe and sound, but I did score some other shwag as well!  The beautiful wallet and book were from Dave (he also got wii controls so we can play on his computer) and the painting is an original from my boss, Nathan, who is quite a talented artist!  I also received a lot of chocolate and other goodies from my students.  The cat key chain was given to me by Ken…one of the coolest 13 year olds I’ve ever met.  My whole class was worried sick about Poe.  It was very sweet that they cared so much!

I’ll be back soon with some stories about Hong Kong!

 

 

Beginning our new life in Suzhou

Another Starbucks, another city.  We are spending the last day of our holiday in Beijing working, as is often the case with Dave and I.  It helps that we both love our jobs and don’t usually see these kinds of things as really being ‘work’.  Now that I’ve finished my Power Point presentation on writing summaries (riveting stuff…), I can spare some time to blog!

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This fine gentleman took a 3 hour nap (I kid you not!) while Dave and I worked today….yes…this is at Starbucks. And no, he did not order anything from Starbucks…

It’s now been 41 day since we left Canada and head back to Eastern home.  Suzhou has been welcoming and beautiful and there is so much to tell you all about this new city.  So, even though I am itching to write about our trip to the Great Wall, I want to finish writing our time adjusting to life in Suzhou first.  Plus, putting off writing about the Great Wall means I have awesome material to look forward to (and hopefully that will entice me to writing again soon!)

Spoiler Alert! The Great Wall is bloody incredible!!!!
Spoiler Alert! The Great Wall is bloody incredible!!!!

After moving into our apartment, the next step to getting settled into Suzhou was to start work.  For those of you who are new to my blog, or are foggy on the details, here’s a recap regarding the school….

I originally took the position expecting to teach Drama and English, but that quickly changed (things change a lot in China…you come to expect it).  The IGCSE program that is taught at Suzhou Foreign Language School is a pretty big deal.  It basically means that students who graduate from our school, graduate with a bilingual diploma, which is a huge help when it comes to applying to western Universities (IGCSE is an ESL program through Cambridge University).  So, because this program is so important to the school, they didn’t want a brand new teacher teaching too many of those courses.  Some people would have been hurt by the insinuation that they are not ‘good’ enough to teach English, but I saw it as a plus.  Any school that wants to put the RIGHT teachers in place for the important classes is alright with me!  It showed that they are concerned with the quality of education their students receive, and that is exactly the type of school I want to work for.

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My boss used the projector to paint a map on the staff room wall….with the flag of each country in that country’s space…he did all of this in a single afternoon….
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I work for a school where the teachers care so much about the way that our staff room is perceived, that they spend the day making something as awesome as this map. He’s still not quite done…because he’s like the busiest guy in the universe…but I’m still blown away by the effort he and the Chinese staff put into this project

I was able to keep my Drama classes, which I was very happy about, but my English classes were replaced with Food and Nutrition classes; basically I’m teaching Home Economics.  The beautiful thing about both these programs is that I can custom make all of my classes.  There is a basic syllabus that I need to follow, but really…at the end of the day…it’s up to me to decide what I teach and how I teach it.  Once more…some teachers may not be thrilled with this sort of set up, but for me…this is heaven!!

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Another fun fact about the school where I work….they teach several languages at the school, including French, German, Spanish, Arabic and Japanese. Their aim is to teach all of the languages of the UN.

My creative side kicked into full gear and I began brainstorming ideas for both my courses while I was still in Guiyang.  For Drama, we are starting with a play called “Meet the Ancient Greeks”.  It’s set on Mount Olympus and all the Greek gods are fighting over who was the worst of them.  While I teach the students about acting (something I’m actually pretty good at myself…who knew???), I also teach them about pronunciation, confidence, voice projection, body language and emphasis.  They learn a tonne and it doesn’t even feel like learning to them!  Plus, because of my background as an ESL teacher, I use the plays to teach the students lots of new words.  And because of my background in Classical history (my minor in University), I’m also teaching them about ancient Greek culture while I’m at it.

So.  Much.  Fun!!!

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My Elite Boys 1 class practicing the first bit of the play. These guys are AWESOME!!! They get SO into the roles!!! They have me in stitches every class!
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One of my students, Colt, wrote this on the Smart Board before I got to class. Needless to say, it made my day! (and yes…I have Smart Boards in my classrooms!!!)

I decided to take a fresh approach with the Food and Nutrition classes, and have turned it into a bit of a ‘culture course’.  I’ve been teaching the students about different countries and then I teach them how to make food from those countries.  So far we’ve only been to the kitchen once, but the students were all very pleased with their Mexican taco dip 🙂

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This is my middle school class. It’s a mix of boys and girls, which is nice, because most of the classes I teach are gender specific.
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These are my Grade 7 Elite Girls. The girl who is second from the left is named Hani….she is SUCH a character. I also teach her Drama and when I told her off last week for talking while I was trying to explain something, she went into a big soliloquy about how I am the most beautiful and kind of all the drama teachers in the land. Once more……So. Much. Fun!!!
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One of the groups’ dip when they were done. My budget didn’t allow for cheese or meat on all of them, so I had to pick and choose which students got what. Not bad for a first try!!!

The teachers and students are all fantastic at SFLS, and although I’ve had a few small issues with the payroll office (that were promptly sorted out), the administration has also been a dream.  Last year, I was walking on eggshells at about this time, scared to say anything to anyone for fear of being taken aside for a ‘talk’.  This year, I was greeted at the gate by the principal of the school on Teacher’s day, with a box of mango milk and a flower.  I also received a small crate of Chinese dates (which are delish!) and countless other flowers and chocolates from my students…who I’d only been teaching for 2 weeks at that point!!!

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I’d already received this and I took the picture at 8:30am…..by the end of the day, I had to leave some of it at the school because I just couldn’t bring it all home!!  ***Note that the flag in this picture is not on my desk.  It is on my neighbor’s.  I’ve already received some flack for not representing Canada in the office from some family members…but trust me….I represent in my own way!  I get razzed for every ‘eh’, ‘aboot’ and ‘toque’ that I say….

The school is not the only thing that has been great since we got here either!  Suzhou, as a whole, is a fantastic city!  Unlike Guiyang, where I really disliked the spitting, the littering and the smoking…Suzhou is spotless!  Very few people spit, smoking is prohibited in many public areas and people actually put their trash in the trash can!  Although the air is a little more polluted that Guiyang (because Suzhou is so close to Shanghai), it’s so much more comfortable of a place to be!

And the gardens!!!….

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This is just one of Suzhou’s many gardens. A friend of mine referred to Suzhou as ‘the secret garden’ when I showed her pictures of the city a few years ago (we had been interested in living here for a while). I think she gave it the perfect nickname.

Dave and I arrived back in China just in time for a holiday!  This year marked 70 years since the Chinese victory over Japan in the Second World War.  It was celebrated across the country and everyone was given a long weekend.  Dave and I spent those days familiarizing ourselves with Suzhou.  We visited one of the lesser known gardens here (one we’d happened to stumble upon when we were still staying in a hotel).

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The circular doorways add such a beautiful touch to the already beautiful greenery
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The pathways are bordered by benches, where you often see the elderly enjoying some time in the relaxing atmosphere
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I love how the doorways open up to whole new areas of the garden…
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The girl in the blue dress (on the right side of the picture) crossed over that stone bridge. I waited there for ages to get a picture but when she’d finally finished crossing, she just stood there for a while afterwards, looking at her phone…. So, here she is in my picture; a testament to my inability to wait.

The city outside of these gardens is also very nice.  We’ve spent countless hours walking around the different areas of the city, enjoying the scenery along the canals and trying new restaurants.  Times Square is one of my favorite places to take a stroll.  I love walking near water and there are a lot of really great restaurants in the area.

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I love this picture. We both look so happy 🙂
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There is a ceiling above the boardwalk at Times Square that lights up at night with a show. When we walked by a few weeks ago, it had aliens staring down at us!!
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Times Square also has a tonne of western brand stores. Papa John’s Pizza, Toys R Us and a Crocs store are just a few!

I think my favorite part of the city (so far) has been ShanTang street.  There are countless shops that sell all sorts of souvenirs and traditional Suzhou items.  It’s along the canal, and you can even take boat rides around to see the old architecture, which is especially beautiful at night.   We never had a chance to go the last time we were there, but this is where I’m planning on doing a lot of my Christmas shopping, so I know there will be other opportunities 🙂

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The crowds can be a little overwhelming, but this was nothing compared to the Shanghai metro experiences we had….but I’ll have more on that in future posts!
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I love, love, LOVE the canals in Suzhou!
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We bought this print on ShanTang street for only around $15 Canadian. I feel like it was worth more than that (just the frame would cost that much in Canada!). It was the first thing we really bought for the apartment (aside from toilet paper! haha!) and we hung it proudly on the wall by our water cooler as soon as we got home from our shopping adventure

I don’t consider myself a superstitious person and I believe that we are responsible for making our own fate, but still, I can’t help but feel like I’m exactly where I’m suppose to be right now.  Suzhou fits like a glove and it became home  to us more quickly than I really imagined possible.  Maybe I’m still a little shell shocked from everything I went through last year, but I am honestly still overjoyed at how smoothly everything has been going over the last 41 days.  Life…in short…is good.

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A Roots store in Times Square
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Cooking a spectacular dinner in our clean and usable kitchen…..what more could I possibly need?