Friday, September 14, 2007

Update from China Oct 11 2004

Ok, so this morning I woke up to find about 15 emails from people asking for updates! I guess my pictures just sparked a whole lot of interest!

Needless to say, I have been busy, so the updates have been far and few between! But here goes my attempt at a thorough one for everyone who is interested and dying to find out how I am doing here at the heart of China.


As most of you should know by now, I am teaching English, Technical English, Business English and IT English to graduate IT students at Peking University's School of Software. I teach 4 classes a week, all of them 3 hour lectures (yeah, can you believe it? Can barely sit through a 3 hour lecture, let alone teach one). 3 of the classes are for one course, the mandatory English course for all the graduate students. Two of these three mandatory classes is teaching IT and Software Engineers, and the third of the three mandatory classes is teaching Digital Arts students. Each of these classes have their own different dynamics, most noticably between the two IT classes and the Digital Arts class. My fourth class is an elective class, where I hold a 3 hour speaking English workshop. This one is completely different than the first three, just because it if focussed purely on speaking and I get to spend a lot more time improving their pronunciation and speaking styles.

But all of my classes are superb! PKU (Peking University) is ranked #1 or #2 in all of China, so its practically seen as the Harvard or another of the top ivey league schools here in China. What does that mean? that means all my students are the BEST in all of China. What a treat. And truly, they are really great, awesome students. They are so eager to learn, they have so much energy and are so focussed to get the most out of every class. Well... most of them anyways. haha. But what is not an exception is their level of English. Sure, some are better than others, but they really are a cut above the rest.

In terms of working hours, 4 classes each 3 hours, is 12 hours of class time a week. I also spend time holding office hours of the students (yes, I have an office... weird!) and having faculty meetings, and also marking assignments, and ofcourse preparing for my classes. With all that put together, it adds up to somewhere around 20 hours, some weeks more, some weeks less. "Kevin youre living the life!" is what most of you will probably say, haha yes, infact I am! It is sooo awesome to have free time, and time to myself. But I don't just laze around either.

My free time:

Ok, so working only 20 hours a week, yeah, sure, I get a lot of free time. In fact, I get 4 days off! Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday! Yup! thats a four day weekend. In fact, Friday I finish work at 1130 am, and Tuesday I start work at 6pm, so really, I have about 4 days off in a row.. WOOHOO! haha so what do I do? Well Fridays, I relax, cause.. its Friday! I go to the gym, and go out for dinner, and plan Saturday! Saturdays are my "Exploration" days. Each Saturday I pick a part of Beijing, or a surrounding area and explore. A district, a tourist site, a market, something new, every Saturday. Most of the pictures that you see of me at certain cultural sites or cool places, usually takes place on a Saturday. In the beginning I go with people, coworkers, friends. Now that I am becoming more familiar with the city, and its crazy little nuances, I am taking more opportunities to go out by myself. Just recently I went to the Temple of Heaven by myself! That might sound a little childish "I can do it all by myself!" but seriously, come here to Beijing, and tell me if you could do it by yourself. Good luck. Sundays for me is a day of rest, a day to be with my God, a day of reflection and journalling, and a day of peace and quiet. I also find time on sundays to do some work if that particular week there is a lot of work that needs to be done. Monday is a day spent gearing up for the rest of the week (what week kev?) that means going to the gym again to get my body loose, buying groceries and supplies to last me the week. And ofcourse work and prep for classes. And basically from Tuesday to Friday its full time work. It gets busy with the meetings and office hours (I hold them on thurs, so i only really get half a day off) and ofcourse prepping for the classes and the classes.
I dont have to tell you how tired I get after a 3 hour lecture. I don't even want to open my mouth or say another word... Its is less of a lecture as it is a performance for me. I really put in all my energy into the classes, so when I finish, Im completely wasted.
But its worth it...

The deeper side of things...:

I am LOVING my job. Why you may ask? I am sure some of you never thought of me as an instructor, and ofcourse there are some that could totally see me one. But teaching here has reaped so many rewards beyond the skills gained from being an Instructor. The skills learned on the actual job are plenty enough, flawless presentation skills, quick improv and thinking, encouraging students, time management, etc etc etc.

But what I learn OUTSIDE of class is much, much more practical and enlightening. Of course number one is the language. Wouldn't it be a waste if I came to China and did not improve my Mandarin? But please, don't expect, or even ask if my Chinese is fluent. We all know I SUCK at languages. But I am improving at my own rate, that is for sure. How am I getting my practice in? Ofcourse, talking to people on the streets. I am gaining more confidence everyday to strike up new conversations with anyone I can find, the taxi drivers, the police, the workers at the gym, and ofcourse, my main source, my students.
I have given my msn messenger contact to my students. And yes, some of you might say that was a mistake because now once I turn on my msn I have immediately at least 5 conversation windows that pop up. But honestly, it is more of a blessing than anything. I encourage my students to type to me in Chinese characters when they speak to me on MSN, and I type back in English. That way they practice their English and I practice my Chinese, and the conversations go a lot faster. If I dont understand, or they dont understand, we can always translate and explain.

In addition to the Chinese language, another major area that I am learning outside of class is the culture. I have learned SO much in terms of Chinese culture, just by talking to my students. And no, not about ancient chinese "culture", but Im talking about present family dynamics in Chinese families, contemporary political ideas from informed students about 1) the rest of the world and 2) their own government and situation. I am also learning a lot about their views on personal issues such as their views on overseas Chinese. Most importantly, I am investigating their dreams, hopes, and aspirations. What they want to do in the future, how they see themselves as their identity, in their family, social group and society in general. I am learning what they do for fun, for work, how they manage their time, and most importantly why they do the things they do.

Why am I learning all of this??? Because if my dream is to be a positive influence on the Chinese people, then I better understand their culture and their dreams and WHO they are, so that I can best REACH them. I hope most of you will agree with me that its strategic. This whole experience is turning into a "research" study for me. First hand experience and knowledge of how this generation "thinks". I am seriously loving it. To further my "research", I am organizing quasi class trips on some of my Saturday outings, like the Great Wall, and the Fragrant Hills. Why? Because most of my students are not from Beijing and have never been to any of the sites or cultural areas in or around Beijing. Actually I have only found 1 of my students who is actually a native of Beijing, everyone else is from other provinces (and that is over 200 students). Remember, this is PKU, its like Harvard. How many students from Harvard are actually from Boston? So anyways, I know there is great interest, 1) to go and see these places or 2) just to spend more time with their English teacher. haha. Yeah it sounds like a laughing matter, but they are all really genuinely intrigued by me, a Hua Yi (foreign born chinese). I hope to use these opportunities not only to do some sight seeing, but also to further my understanding of these Chinese, and also to perhaps teach them other "lessons" that I would not necessarily be teaching them in class. So its like killing 10 birds with one stone.

In addition to the Saturday trip thing (yeah, I know I initiate a lot of little projects) I am looking for multiple "exchange" tutors. What that means is I teach them english, and they teach me chinese. One on one. I think that would be a great way to learn chinese, and the chinese culture and also make some good friends and connections with some of these students. I am hoping to find at least 3 different ones. the more the better really. But I have to manage my time too.

This is the real reason why I came to China. Just to get my foot in the door, and to really pick at the brains of some of the brightest that China has to offer. And it is completely worth it. When this opportunity at PKU came up, I couldnt turn it down, it offered everything I am looking for!

Other "travel" related things:

Ok, so I know many of you just want to know about my general experience being in China, after living here for a month and a half. What can I say? Its CHINA. Everything you imagined it to be and much, much more. Haha that means the nastiness (toilet situation, the spitting, the dirtiness, etc etc etc.) yes, that is all there, and much, much more. But honestly you get used to it in about 5 minutes. Seriously. I dont even notice or flinch anymore when someone is pissing on the sidewalk beside me, or if someone spits on my shoe. Its China. Ofcourse, it is different in different places. Coming back from Shanghai and Hangzhou, things are a bit different over there. If you want a place that is closer to western style, in dress and in etiquette, then go to Shanghai. Its the closest you will get. Its close enough to Hong Kong styles that they could easily be related. I would not think twice about moving to Shanghai... that is, if I found a job that PAID enough.. because the catch about Shanghai is that its DAMN expensive. Like, Nasty expensive. I dont know how my friend Joseph does it on a teacher's salary. But then again, we do make 6 times more than the average urban Chinese.

But I live in Beijing, the Heart of China, and during National Day, it was MADDDDD.. they estimated about 150 MILLION people would visit Beijing within that 1 week holiday. That is 5 TIMES the population of Canada. HALF the population of the United States. In one city. Yeah. It was Rammed. I love this city too. It has its own, very distinct characteristic. It is Chinese all the way down to the soul of the city. Yes, it is modernizing, but in a very Chinese way.
I havent even begun to talk about the CONSTRUCTION in this city. Geez... no one has EVER seen anything like it. Except for maybe Joseph who is in Shanghai, and I guess 30 million other people that live between the cities of Shanghai and Beijing. But no where in the world will you see construction like you do here. And I do have to say Beijing has a bit more so than Shanghai.
Have you ever been in a really really REALLY dense fog? the kind that you cant drive in because you cant see 5 metres in front of you? well this past week a dense fog like that rolled into Beijing. Only it wasnt fog. And it didnt go away. It stayed for about 5 straight days. And it was pollution. POLLUTION. like ive never seen before. I blew my nose, and lets just say it was BLACK. For days on end. YEAH. the construction. The fog is gone now, but I seriously want to Xray my lungs...
Every time I travel from my home into the heart of Beijing, I pass by a construction site. I have never seen a construction site like this one before. I took my finger, and I counted how many buildings were going up. I counted 15. 15!!!!! AT THE SAME TIME! and not just low 2 or 3 storey buildings. Im talking about TALL condominiums and skyscrapers!! all EXACTLY the same! they were all going up at the exact same time.. all of them 1/2 done. What really takes the cake is that there are at least a dozen of these exact types of constrcutions zones all over the city, not to mention the hundreds of various other buildings going up all at the same time. Yeah. The Construction.

Ok, enough of bashing Beijing. It is a GREAT city. Everything here adds character, and it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness development like this. The people here are caught in the midst of all this change and they are trying to make the best of it, although most of them are severly ill-equiped to handle what is coming next. Let me tell you a funny anecdote. Every building that gets torn down, the government or the construction company alwasy spraypaints a chinese character on the wall of the building, it notifies that it is destined to be demolished. There are so many of those signs around, that my friend Barry here owns a T-Shirt with that exact symbol on it. Its become a fashionable statement in Beijing. I kinda want one myself!
But ok seroiusly, enough bashing Beijing. You can always get away from the development and the hustle and bustle of this amazing city by just going to any cultural site or park that will remain even after this city totally reinvents itself.

To end off...

Just this past weekend when I was at the Temple of Heaven, I found myself sitting by myself in a small pavillion, writing in my journal and enjoying the afternoon sun. Off on a nearby pagoda, a person was playing a Chinese flute, and playing it flawlessly. The scenery was indescribable. I had to stop writing and sit there, and take it all in. I was in China. By myself, in the middle of a garden in the Temple of Heaven, enjoying a sunny afternoon, listening to the sound of a Chinese flute playing from a nearby pagoda. Could it get more surreal?

It is truly remarkable the experiences that I have already have. I have touched on a lot of things in this email, all of which could open up their own complete conversations and discussions. But here is a snippet of what I have been upto and what my life has been here in Beijing.

I hope that is enough for now! as always, you can always call or email me for more details on certain areas that interest you specifically.

Yes, I know it was long, but I hope it was worth it for you. It was most definitely worth it for me to write this.

I send you all my love and best wishes. Please keep in touch, as many of you have!

I will write again soon when I have the time with more of what it is to be here in Beijing.

Keeping you in my heart and prayers,

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