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!

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!

 

 

Merry Christmas and 新年快乐

I’m baaackk!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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