An Eventful End to Summer

It’s hard to believe that Dave and I have nearly been back in China for a month already!  The past 3+ weeks have flown by possibly even faster than our time in Canada did!  I sat down today with the intention of writing about Vancouver and realized that until I updated all the things that have been going on out here, I couldn’t focus on another topic.  So here we go!!

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Here’s a picture of Suzhou’s iconic ‘Pants Building’ being cleaned.  Just because…

I’ve  Been Performing as a Lead Vocalist!

Until recently, I was working back up or in duets with The Chairmen.  It’s been great fun playing with those guys, but when Kit (our fearless leader) approached me and asked if I’d do a duet show with our guitarist, Mark, I jumped on the opportunity.  We’ve only done one show so far, but it was pretty cool singing all 3 sets by myself.  Best of all, Mark is super flexible about what play, so I’ve been able to do a bunch of new stuff.  It was a nice switch up after all the Adele and Stevie Nicks I’ve been doing since May!!

I’m Competing in the Suzhou Expat Talent Show!

This one came about in a bit of a crazy way…Back in July, one of the HR staff at my school contacted me about representing the school at some kind of school district party.  I agreed because I knew I’d already be back in Suzhou by that point and all was good.  They knew I cover Adele, so they recommended I do “Rolling in the Deep”.  I was cool with it.

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We ran into our friend, Nick, at the show.  He was there on behalf of  his new school, Eaton House.  (Also, my face looks like that because he was photobombing us)

Fast forward to the day of the ‘government party’…it turns out that this was less of a school district party and more of a ‘government beer party’.  There was a full band there waiting for me along with about 100 government officials and 200 teachers (etc) from schools in the area.

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I had a tough act to follow…this (rather tone-deaf) district big wig sang some traditional Chinese songs before my performance

The real kicker was when HR Frank told me…about an hour before I went on…that if it went well, I would be representing Suzhou Foreign Language School in this year’s Expat Talent Show.  Notice that he didn’t ask…

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Oh yeah, and that talent show will be televised and recorded in front of a huge audience.  And it’s in 4 days…
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This band didn’t like me very much…They wouldn’t believe me when I said I did the song in A Minor (I don’t have a terribly high voice) and they refused to play it in my key.  I had to sing it high, and I wasn’t as strong as I could have been, but it was alright…I guess…

It went well.  Fast forward to 4 DAYS LATER (!!!!) and it was talent show time!  There was a mix up with the band (mainly, there wasn’t one) but I lucked out when I learned that The Chairmen (my band) were also going to be performing (the rest of them all work for the same school).  They ended up backing me for my song too, and the performance went pretty well!  Here, you can see it yourself!!!

To my credit, I don’t feel like I looked as unprepared as I felt!  I was very relieved to have Kit and Mark there!  I also had a student come to see me perform, which was pretty awesome.  I have awesome students.  Have I mentioned that?

I have no idea what the results were for this show.  From what I understand, they are going to be watching video auditions for the next month, and choosing people to go onto the second round from there.  I just hope I find out with more than 4 days to prepare this time!!!

I Am Writing for a News APP and a Newspaper!!

The night of the talent show, I received a text message from an editor at Nihao Suzhou, an APP designed to help foreigners in China (it’s actually a branch of Nihao China…every city has their own, I believe).  They had been for writers earlier in the week, and I’d inquired along with a link to my blog.  The editor liked my work and asked me to write an 800 word piece about anything I wanted.  A week later, I was published!

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The article was pretty successful and received over 2000 views in the first day.  Carrie, my editor, told me to go ahead and write another article if I wanted, and I submitted that one today!  Also, she was so happy with the article that she recommended it for publication in the Suzhou Daily Newspaper!  So there’s that, too!

 

I Lost the Olympics

Dave and I decided that we wanted to be more social this year, so we’ve been busy trying ot get involved in the expat community.  Dave’s joined a gaelic football team, I’ve been doing gigs (and everything else above)…and we subscribed to this really cool website called InterNations.

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The Olympic Athletes

InterNations plans all sorts of events across the city.  The one we attended last weekend was held at the Kempinski Hotel, where there is a Paulaner Brewery.  We got to learn about the ancient German art of beer making and we spent the afternoon playing games with a few friends we’d dragged along, and a LOT of new friends that we met at the event.

I did not win.  Not by a long shot.  But it WAS a blast!  And I feel like we met some really cool people.  It was definitely a good time and we’ll be attending another InterNations event next Friday.

School Started

September 1st was our first day of classes.  I am transitioned into a full-time English teacher (no more cooking classes) and am getting to know my 2 new grade 7 classes!  So far, my new coworkers are upbeat and awesome, and I’m having a great time!

So that’s been our last 3 and a half weeks!  Pretty wild!  Now I need to catch up on some sleep…

An Update on Life in Suzhou (Part 2)

Another day, another blog post!  We decided to change things up and go to a Starbucks out in Suzhou New District (where SFLS is located) because I have a farewell IGCSE dinner to attend later tonight.  It’s so crazy that another term is finished!  Most of the department is returning next year, but we are losing a teacher or two that I wish we were keeping.

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Me with some of my favourite IGCSE teachers at Nathan’s Art show.

Personally, I’m happy to be staying in the department.  I really like the administration in IGCSE and next year I’ll be taking over as the grade 7 and 8 English teacher.  Right now I only teach 1 writing class but next year I’ll be teaching 3, plus 3 oral and listening classes.  I think it’ll be better for me than teaching Food and Nutrition and I know I’m more qualified for my new role.  Plus, I still get to keep 2 of my drama classes and I’ll be starting a new Publishing and Editing elective next year (my class will be in charge of the school yearbook, the school calendar and our departmental blog!).  Exciting things are in store for me in September!

My grade 7 writing class is one of my favourites to teach, and I know I’m going to miss them over the summer.   These kids are very bright for their age so I decided to teach them how to write simple thesis statements in an effort to better organize their writing.  Michael is a student who tends to be a bit of a downer…always complaining about how tough life is.  I taught him the word ‘optimistic’ earlier this year and he’s used it every chance he could.  This was my favourite use of this word:

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This year I see them twice a week, but next year I get them 6 times a week, so I’m pretty excited about that!  These kids never stop making me laugh!  They are truly a joy!!

IGCSE is a really cool department to be part of.  Although I mostly taught in the Elite Department this past year, I took part in several IGCSE projects and I ran the school yearbook as well.  All of the staff try to provide a well rounded school life for the students and I try to help out whenever I can.  But my favourite thing about IG is the way they help out with a migrant school in Suzhou.

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One of the Blooper Pages for the yearbook.  It’s mostly just Nathan and Adam making faces…but I feel that it well represents the spirit of the IGCSE staff room.

Migrant schools are for children whose parents are from other provinces but who have come to Suzhou for work.  They are highly underfunded and the students don’t as good of an education.  Each class in our department gets a chance to visit a migrant school each team.  This means that nearly every month, my department takes an afternoon to spend time teaching students English.  It’s a learning experience for everyone involved because the migrant kids get some English lessons and the IG kids get to see how lucky they are to be going to a school with the resources that SFLS has.  We have Nathan (my boss) to thank for this added activity for the students.  He’s been working with the migrant school for years and has won awards for the help he’s given them.

So all these little projects have really filled up my year, but none of them took as much of my focus and hard work than  the Drama Festival.  It took months of work, hours of writing, days of rehearsal…but in the end, it was all so worth it!!!

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I was in charge of everything including writing speeches for the MCs, setting up mini shows between each play and writing and directing 4/5 of the plays at the festival this year.  From sets, to sounds to costumes and script…I was involved in all of it!  It was a pretty big job…

Because of my background in writing, I decided early on that my focus was going to be on writing the plays and (of course) having them act them out with comprehend-able English.  Nathan ran the Drama festival last year, and with his art background there was a lot more focus on sets and props, so it was kind of cool to mix it up this year.  I’m especially proud of the way each of my classes came up with their plays:

Step 1:  I began the term in February by teaching my students how to write a story.  First, we focused on writing good characters and making sure that their characters had depth.  Then, I taught them about plot and what a good plot line looks like.

Step 2:   Each class was separated into 4 groups and I gave them 2 weeks to write the outline for a play.  I gave them free reign on the topics and they came up with very different stories.

Step 3:  Each group presented their outline to the class and then the class voted on which play they would do for the drama festival.

Step 4:  I took the winning outline and turned it into a play.  I met with the students and got a better idea of what they wanted to see in their play and discussed ways that we could add characters so everyone who wanted to act could.  Then I wrote the dialogue and presented it to them.  Other than a few small details, the students were thrilled to see their ideas come to life on page in proper English.

Because of the way we did this, there was HUGE buy in from the students at the Drama Festival.  Each class was so proud of their play and they all worked very hard to impress all the other students.  Here’s the breakdown of each play:

Elite 1 Girls Class (Grade 7)

These girls wanted to write a story with a moral, so that’s what we did.  They worked the hardest out of any of my classes on their emphasis and pronunciation and the other students noticed.  Although their play wasn’t as exciting as a lot of the other plays, they really shone because their speech was so clear.  I am very proud of these ladies and I’m super bummed I won’t be teaching them again next year!

Elite 1 Boys Class (Grade 7)

This was one of the funniest plays at the festival.  Adam, the student wearing the big glasses, is a Drama King!  He wrote the outline to a fabulous “Robots and Mad Scientist” type play that the class voted in.  There were several fighting scenes (with correlating sound effects) that had the audience in stitches and everyone loved how the Narrator was killed by the villain in the end.  I was worried about this play before the festival because it seemed like the students weren’t listening to anything I was saying during rehearsals, but someone was obviously paying attention (probably Adam lol!) and they pulled it together in the final hour!  It was an AWESOME play and I’m very excited to be teaching them again next year!

Elite 2 Boys Class (Grade 8)

These were easily the most hardworking students at the Drama Festival.  Not only did they participate more than any other class with the writing of the actual play, but they were practicing in their free time and they added so many things to the play that weren’t in the script.  They OWNED this play and it was a huge success at the festival.

The story line was very funny and although it wasn’t originally suppose to be a comedy, we were all glad it became one.  It was a detective story about a murderer who’s calling card was to leave high-end underwear on his victim’s heads (the underwear wasn’t part of the original script but when I told them they needed to have something memorable in the play, that’s what they thought up….middle school boys are hilarious!!).

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No matter how many times I saw that play performed, I laughed every single time.  I loved watching them from the side of the stage…I’m so proud of these kids!!!

IGCSE (grades 7-9 co-ed classes)

The IGCSE play is the one I’m personally most proud of, because I wrote it all myself.  The students were in the middle of their IGCSE exams during the festival so they didn’t have time to help as much as I would have liked.  Still, they worked hard at remembering their lines and bringing their best actor-selves to the stage.

The play was called ‘Breaking Bad:  Candy Crush Edition’ and it was based on the television show, only instead of crystal meth, the students were selling a special type of candy that was addictive and high in sugar content.  Because the play was set in IGCSE, the kids LOVED the issues brought up (the candy starts as a distraction to break ‘the homework system’ that’s keeping them all prisoner).  Best of all, 3 teachers (myself included) made guest appearances in the play.  Isaac, the Economics teacher. does body building on the side, so he came out and raged at the students for misbehaving, even breaking a meter stick in the process.  Adam’s socks were stolen for candy and I was found crying in a hallway because of all the ants that the candy had attracted into the Food and Nutrition kitchens.  Students and teachers alike loved the play and I think it was the perfect way to end the festival.  Even Mr. Rehan, who prides himself in being quite serious, sent me a message after the Drama Festival was over saying:  “Thank you.  In my 2 years at this school, this is the first time I found something so entertaining”.  Win for Marie!!!!

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Adam playing himself…a stressed out teacher who’s socks have been stolen

So that’s been my spring term!  Lots of projects and lots of hard work…but all worth it!

(I am truly looking forward to next year’s Drama Festival already!!)

So, You’re Visiting Suzhou

We fell in love with Suzhou before we’d even moved to China.  I did a quick search on the internet for the most livable cities in China, and Suzhou was near the top of the list.  From that google search on, I always knew I wanted to live here.  Although it didn’t work out for our first year in China, with 2 years of teaching experience under my belt, it wasn’t a problem to find a job here for year 2.

Living in SIP, we are surrounded by expats, western food, western bars and English.  It couldn’t be more comfortable for us and I sometimes forget that we’re living in China. But Suzhou isn’t only good as a place to live and work.  There’s plenty to see here as well, and although tourism isn’t as high as it is in cities like Guilin, you’d have no problem filling a week in Asia’s Venice.

Watertowns

Where Guiyang has minority villages, Suzhou has Water Towns.  Water Towns are built along the canals and are a peaceful retreat into ancient China.  They can be a little over crowded during holidays and weekends, but if you can escape to one during the week, they are a lovely experience.  You can get traditional minority candies and food and there are always plenty of little restaurants where you can stop for some food.  Water Towns are also nice for shopping and it isn’t difficult to find a shop that sells scarves and other traditional Chinese gifts.

Shantang Road and Pingjiang Road

There is no shortage of places to shop in Suzhou.  Shantang Road ad Pingjiang Road are both ancient shopping streets where you can find any Chinese souvenir you desire.  They’re also great places to grab a beer, hop on a boat and eat some local food.  My favourite pass-time on Shangtang Road (we haven’t actually visited Pingjiang yet) is taking pictures.  These roads are beautifully picturesque and no matter which time of day you visit, there are endless photo ops.

Although Dave hates shopping and crowds, even he is impressed by some of the craftsmanship you can find on Shantang Road.  Jade carvings, paintings and wood art is easy to find along the street.  Not only are these things beautiful to look at, but they give you an (air conditioned) escape from the crowds when they get to be too much!

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An elaborate stone carving.  It cost over 10,000 rmb and I had to pry Dave away from the window he was so impressed by the work.

Parks

What drew me to Suzhou happens to still be my favourite part of living in this city.  Suzhou has the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen in my life.  They are a mixture of old and new, with old style buildings and carefully trimmed trees.  In some of the more famous parks, the crowds can be a problem, but if you go to some of the smaller parks, they are peaceful and refreshingly quiet.

Circular doorways are abundant in Suzhou Parks and I never grow tired of taking photos of them.  Most of the parks we’ve visited have also had rock formations that make mini caves.  There are dozens of parks in Suzhou and so far I’ve only seen 3 or 4, but each has been impressive in its own way.

And if you’ve read any of my other posts, you know that I consider it a game to find all the crazy translations each park has to offer.  Here are some from Lingering Garden

There are really 2 types of parks in China.  There are the walled off ‘old style’ parks that are a step into ancient China…and then there are modern parks that are free and open, similar to the ones we have out West.  I don’t often go to those parks, but we had one particularly beautiful weekend back in May where Dave and I, and our friend Michael, spent several hours chatting and walking around Central Park.  I ended up with a pretty impressive sunburn, but it was worth the peaceful afternoon.

If you’re lucky, you may even spot some wildlife in Central Park!  We saw this little guy from across the pond…a testament to the zoom on my camera!

All the Other Cool Stuff

Although we’ve been here nearly a year now, I still haven’t had the chance to make it to some of Suzhou’s most famous landmarks.  Tiger Hill is somewhere I was hoping to go this week, but my leg is still very swollen so I haven’t been able to.  There is a pagoda there that leans that is pretty cool to see.

A smaller and lesser know destination I HAVE visited is Suzhou’s city wall.  It’s located at the Xiangmen metro stop on line 1 and although it isn’t the kind of thing that would take up an afternoon, it’s a nice place to stop during sunset  or at night, when the area is all lit up.

So there you have it.  These are some of my favorite places to visit in Suzhou.  This list will continue growing the longer we live here, but I think this is a pretty good start!

In my next post, I’ll be writing more about SIP, the area where Dave and I live.

Regarding Suzhou

I spent most of yesterday working on a post about the last few months at SFLS.  Just as I was in my last paragraph, I realized that I am missing some pretty crucial photos from the Drama Festival.  Now, I usually wouldn’t let something like that stop me from publishing, but the Drama Festival was my baby this year, so until I get those photos (I did track them down!  They’re on someone else’s camera!!), I’m going to leave that post in my ‘drafts’ folder and move onto something I’ve been working on for ages…

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A sneak peak of my IGCSE play

A few months back, I published a poll asking my readers what they’d like to see next.  It was a 4 way tie, so I made the decision to write about Suzhou…the beautiful city where I live.  I’ve spent the last 3 months seeing more of the city and taking photos for the post and wound up with so much material that I’ve decided it’s going to be two posts.

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Trust me…Suzhou is worth 2 posts!

Post #1 – So, You’re Visiting Suzhou

My first post will be about all the famous landmarks there are to see in Suzhou.  The focus will be on the top places to visit if you travel to this lovely city.  The scope will be broader and more geared toward my family and friends back home who we HOPE will be encouraged to come out and visit us 😉

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We have a lovely spare room for anyone who wants to come for a visit 😉

Post #2 – So, you’re Moving to Suzhou

The second post will be more focused on the different areas of the city and the things anyone who is moving here should know.  There is a huge expat population in Suzhou and every year there are new teachers who arrive, so that post is going to be focused on helping those teachers get to know the city and helping them get settled.  If you enjoyed my ‘so you’re moving to China’ posts…you’ll enjoy what I have planned for that one.

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Auchan is the Carrefour of SIP…there is a love-hate relationship here….

So stay tuned, friends, family and internet people!  I’ll be back before you know it….

 

 

 

An Update on Life in Suzhou (Part 1)

It’s been ages since I’ve posted about life out here in China, so I thought it was time for an update.  Going through my pictures last night, though, I realized that it’s going to have to be a 2-parter!  There’s just been way too much going on!

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Many things have not changed, to be fair.  We are still going to After Hours so much that our waitress knows our order and where we like to sit…

April and May were busy and filled with birthday parties and ‘just because’ parties.  We had several mini holidays in those months and we made the most of them getting together with friends and cruising around on the Ebikes (I got lots of pictures of Suzhou, so expect a post about Suzhou Must-sees later this week!)

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A sneak-peek

Dave and I also bought a barbecue this spring and had a barbecue party during our May holiday.  We haven’t been able to use it as much as we’d hoped because it’s been raining so much lately (it’s the wet season in Suzhou), but in August and September we should be able to enjoy our grill a lot more!

 

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Sadly, as the semester winds down, we must once more grow accustomed to one of the less enjoyable aspects of expat life:  many of our friends are moving on or moving away.  For a number of reasons, turnover was high at the school this year and more than half of the people I work with are moving on to different schools or different countries.  Still, we’ve made the most of our time together and I’m looking forward to all the people I’ll meet next year.

In other news, Hugo and Poe have been wonderful, as always, but we recently ran into some trouble with Hugo’s amputated leg.  What turned out to be an ingrown hair caused him 2 months of pain.  Our original vet (Beck and Stone…I would NOT recommend these guys!) told us that Hugo had an infection when we brought him in (we were worried about a wound that had developed in his stump).  They prescribed an anti-fungal ointment and sent us on our way.  Well, it turns out that the ointment they prescribed is designed specifically for injuries that need to stay open…so instead of this wound closing, it kept getting bigger.

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At first, he didn’t mind the cone so much

After another trip to the same vet and no improvement we decided to get a second opinion.  That’s when we found out about the medication…and it turned out at that point Hugo needed surgery to clean the wound out and stitch it back up.  He was home for about 5 days after that before he split open his stitches and had to have the surgery redone.   When he came home a week later, the same thing happened again and he needed the surgery done a 3rd time.  He’s home now, but he spent a total of 6 weeks in a cone, 3 weeks in a cage at the vet (basically on bed rest so he couldn’t tear out his stitches) and he’s turned back into a bit of a grumpy boy in the process.  I’ve trained him to be gentle before, and I know I can do it again, but still…I feel awful that he went through all of this.   All because of an ingrown hair (he never even had an infection), a bad veterinarian and his clumsy disposition (it was jumping off of furniture that kept causing his stitches to tear).

The moral of my story is:  Just because a vet is shiny and western looking (Beck and Stone looks pristine and very professional), doesn’t mean that it’s actually your best option.  The vet we are seeing now (Simon Pet Healthcare Center down near Zhongnan Jie station and Aeon Mall) is far more low tech and has a very simple set up, but they are FANTASTIC.  They love animals and work to rehome animals that have been surrendered by their owners.  They took such good care of Hugo and cost less than half as much as Beck and Stone did.  I highly recommend them if you are looking for a vet in Suzhou!

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So life has been busy between work (which will be its own separate post), birthdays and parties and taking care of our furry family, but nothing has kept me as busy as my new project.  In May I began singing with a band.  We go by many different names (there are 12 of us in total I think and depending on who’s playing, our band name changes) but I’m officially a vocalist and I perform pretty much every weekend!

The most exciting gig for me so far was a music festival last weekend called Suzhoubury.  The Bookworm is a popular expat hang-out in Suzhou and they throw this festival annually.  It’s free and people LOVE it!  Usually I sing at restaurants and bars, where we’re sort of background noise, but at Suzhoubury, people were there to hear us perform!  It was a tonne of fun and I got to sing my two favourites:  Rolling in the Deep and Summer of 69.  The wonderfully talented Christina Peters took the pictures below of our event.

So that’s been life as of late.  My plan is to write 5 blog posts this week….I was hit by an ebike last night on our way to dinner, and my leg is pretty damaged, so I figure it’s a good week to stay off my feet and blog a little!

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Be careful driving in China!  This guy was entering the street from a back alley and didn’t so much as slow down when entering the road where we were driving.  He drove straight into my leg (I was riding on the back of the scooter).  The worst part is that when I stood up and was checking to see if anything was broken, he had the nerve of saying it was OUR fault…didn’t even apologize….jerk!

 

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!!!