Working with Kids

Today one of the kids from class came running up to me, “Hi, hi, hi, hi! How are you?” When I was opening my mouth to answer, the kid popped a lychee out of her mouth, all half chewed up, and crammed it into my open mouth, “This is for you!” Then she gave a great big grin, and her grandmother shoved a bunch of peaches into my hands, and off they went.

Thanks… I guess?

Job Hunt

A couple of weeks ago Bella, and I decided we were going to go to another city to have a job interview. There were several factors motivating us to do this, but the main one was the company where we are currently working told us one thing about my next contract when we talked about the future last year, and when we were negotiating the contract they told me a substantially different thing. The thing they clearly told me last year (I wrote it down), was met with, “That is not possible with this company, you are mistaken.” When I told her exactly what she said last year, she didn’t respond, and said, “This is what we are offering you, take it if you want.”

Take it I would not. So, I threw a resume up on a job hunt site, and found a few offers I was interested in looking at further. The one in the other city would provide a little more than what I had been falsely promised here, so I decided it was the one to follow. Included in the contract was a very large house (4000 sq. ft.) with a private yard. This sounded good. The pay was right, the schedule was right, and the classes sounded pleasant as well. All said, they offered me the job over email, and we accepted. We were ready for me to sign the contract, and move there in the fall, giving our resignation for the second half of our current deal here.

“We will send the contract tomorrow.” Then tomorrow we received a request to come visit. “The headmaster wants you to do a sample class for the high school to be sure you are suitable,” they said. They paid the hotel, and we paid the train tickets, off we went to the most polluted city in China.

We were taken to the hotel, endured a meal in a restaurant where the goal was to wow us with their hospitality (I do not enjoy these showy meals, but when in China one must participate in them from time to time). After the meal, we went to see the house… The house was actually a mansion sized duplex. The large yard was being used by our neighbours to be, the Clampetts. They had geese trying to make more noise than their dogs, trying to make more noise than their generator pumping the water to water the garden which covered 90% of the non-cemented ground. The large, jumbo picture window at the front of our half of the house had a large crack in it, with a chunk of glass missing from the top corner. This was not mentioned as something to be fixed. Inside the house was covered by a good 2 inches of dirt, with shuffle trails through it where the people who were living there had been going from room to room. There were about 12 pieces of furniture for the whole house including the broken ping pong table. It was an unattractive house they were trying to sell us on the whole time. We smiled, we nodded, but we didn’t bite. They saw our dislike of the house, and the offer was made, “We can get you an apartment instead. However, you will need to pay the internet/power/gas bill there.”

The class was great fun, and while I know they assembled the best, and brightest to be in the classroom, I was impressed by their communication skills. I am used to teaching primary school, so it was nice to have a conversation beyond, “Hi! What can you see?!?”

The city wasn’t wooing us at all. We were both of the mindset, “Meh, a year, maybe two, then we will be out of here.” They took us out for another ceremonial meal for supper. This is where the road started really becoming rocky. I noticed for about 20-30 minutes they were talking to XiuXiu in Chinese, and the words, “Shawn/Canada,” kept coming up. I assumed at first it was just about travel, but that long seemed like something else. XiuXiu’s face was getting more agitated by the conversation as time went on, but she wouldn’t tell me what they were talking about there because everyone spoke English, we wouldn’t have our normal cone of silence when we talk.

The goodbyes were said, and they pointed us back to the hotel with, “Assuming the headmaster signs off on it, everyone was happy with your performance here today. I am certain the position is yours. I must leave early tomorrow morning, I will leave the contract with the hotel’s front desk if it is a yes.” We were glad for the short walk back to the hotel. It was the first privacy we had enjoyed all day.

I asked her, “What was the conversation about, ‘Shawn, and Canada?” She said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” Which of course means we are going to need to talk about it. Short story of the conversation, they spent 30 minutes trying to get her to admit she married me so she could get Canadian citizenship. “Marrying Shawn increased your value to a half a million dollars,” they told her in reference to her ability to get Canadian citizenship much more easily now. Even though she protested the whole time, they would not let go of their theory. When she said, “I married for love,” they said, “Nobody marries for love, they marry for what they can get out of a relationship.”

Morning came with the contract at the front desk, and neither of us were excited at the idea of moving there anymore. What to do, what to do. XiuXiu came up with the best idea, “Call the boss of the company, and tell him I would like to stay in my hometown, but Shawn is set on moving because he is angry about the boldfaced mistruth he was told about future contracts. If he was interested in keeping us there, then he would have to offer us more.” She made the call, “Shawn has a contract in hand, blah, blah, etc, your call.”

“No problem,” he said,  “the new contract will be waiting at your home this week.” We told the school we had interviewed with there we wanted to think about things. “Thank you, blah, blah. We will let you know in a few days after we process the weekend.” This of course was polite code for, “Assuming we get the contract we were offered, we won’t be moving here, sorry.” The contract came, it was signed, and we are sticking around XiuXiu’s hometown for a couple more years.

It is funny to think of how the weekend swayed things. Had they not insisted on us coming to visit, we would have gladly signed the contract over the internet with them for fall. It took things from us sure/them unsure, to them sure/us unsure. Knowing we had a new contract in hand moved the owner of our current company from unwilling to negotiate to why don’t I honour the foreign teacher supervisor’s word from last year.

*Some of you may be saying, “How can you trust what they said this time with the new contract? They lied before.” You are right, they lied before, but it was one of the managers who lied to me, not the owner. China likes saving face, and XiuXiu told me if the owner was planning on lying to us he would have had the manager call us back with an offer. Then he could say she made a mistake. XiuXiu said he wouldn’t lie to us directly because it would make him lose face. Lies/Mistruths are filtered through others so the blame can be placed elsewhere.

Stop Spitting on the Floor!

I repeatedly have to tell this kids in my classes, “No spitting on the floor!” Today I heard one kid working a big snot ball out, “Snort,hock, hock, hock, hock.” I looked at him, and he knew I was going to growl if he spit it on the floor, but I was already all prepared in his mouth to spit. So he did what any of us would do, he pulled open the neck of his shirt, and spit it inside his shirt. He then patted his shirt against himself, and smiled at me to say, “See, I am well behaved.”

10 Questions To Ask About Your ESL Job

       Well, you’ve decided you want to go and teach English, and you aren’t sure what you are doing. Join the club. Going overseas to teach English is fun, exciting, adventurous, tedious, and annoying all rolled into one. It’s just like your life in [wherever you are], there will be things you love, hate, like, dislike, and don’t really care about. 

       I still have no idea what I’m doing, but I thought I would share two cents worth of free advice with you. Before you say yes to the job, there are some questions you should ask. Once you have the answers, you can make a better informed decision on what to do.
1. Is the apartment shared with another teacher, assistant, or will it be a private apartment? 
       My school tried for a while to get me a roommate, and I kept saying no. Their reasoning (beyond it was cheaper for the school) was, “You will be lonely.” No I won’t, I am quite happy without a roommate. You just need to make the decision for yourself whether you want/don’t want a rommie. 
2. Who pays utilities?
       My deal is a max of 200 RMB each month paid for utilities. Don’t confuse a monthly maximum with a yearly maximum. If one month my utilities cost 75RMB, and the next month they cost 325RMB, I owe 125RMB for utilities. I wanted a yearly, but the response I got was less than polite. I decided this was not a hill on which I wanted to die, so I tabled it until the next contract negotiations. 
3. What does the apartment include? 
       Is there a washing machine, stove, oven, is it a bed/sleeping mat (not my favourite), couches, TVs, and so forth?
       Make a list of the must items for your apartment before you talk to the recruiter/company. Be sure it is there already for you. The main thing missing from my apartment was an oven (because oven cooking at home doesn’t seem to be super popular here), I bought a good toaster oven for $75. 
       Also, ask about the hot water. You want either an electric hot water heater, or a gas one. They do solar ones on the rooftops here, and they are terrible from what I’ve been told. Lukewarm in the summer, and not warm in the winter. 
4. How far is the apartment away from the school?
       My place is about 3km away from the school. There is a chance you will be offered an apartment on the school grounds with the local teachers. It will be more like a college dorm room with (maybe) a kitchenette. It never came up as an option, but I would say no if it was offered.
5. If the school is more than 1km away, do they offer a bike/bus money/transportation?
       I bought an electric scooter for myself here. They gave me a bike which routinely had something broken on it. Before I got the electric bike, I walked most everywhere I went. If it weren’t for the fact I sweat buckets from May until October I wouldn’t have bothered with the e-bike at all and just kept walking. 
6. Is there a yearly raise in your salary? 
       If yes, how much? Also, is there a cap should you stay long term?
       Mine will go up every year until it hits a cap in 4 or 5 years. You can always change companies when you get to China, but if you find a good starting company, maybe you can settle in for the long haul instead.
7. Important Quesion: What are the required teaching hours, and what are the required office hours when I’m not teaching? 
       Be sure you are getting the answer for both, otherwise you may arrive to find you have double the required hours each week with office hours.
       I have 0 required office hours, and about 17 teaching hours. Remember you will have to prepare for classes at some point, whether it is home/office time.
8. How many days each week do I have to work? 
       I have 5 days each week (M-F). During my last contract talk, they tried to talk me into 5.5 days each week. You may hold a different opinion than me on this, I know the company did. I told them I wanted two days off each week, and they said, “It is 1.5, it’s the same thing.” No it isn’t. 1.5 means it is only 1 day off to me. In the end, they gave 2 full days off each week. 
9. How much vacation time do I get through the year?
       Each year I get Chinese nation holidays, if the kids have good enough test scores. I can’t bank on these days until the afternoon of the day before. Also, keep in mind some “holidays” require pay back days during the weekends before/after the holiday. I also have about a month for Spring Festival, and a couple months for summer. 
10. What do you get paid during your holidays? 
       Some companies will pay you full pay, half pay, or a daily allowance so you don’t die. 
Here are a few things to remember:
  • If you get a job at a public school there will probably be 40-50 kids in each class. If it is a training school then probably 12-15 per class.
  • You will hear “maybe” as an answer quite often. My experience has been it does not mean, “Possibly,” it means, “I don’t know at all. I can’t rule it out, but I have no information about this to give you.” If you get maybe as an answer you can ask someone else, or you can sit back and wait to find out. Just don’t put stock in a maybe.
  • Don’t be afraid to put your foot down. There are a bazillion jobs in China for foreign teachers. They will have a harder time finding another you than you will finding another them. If you want it, and it is within reason, go for it. Don’t be a jackass, but be firm. They will hum, they will haw, but in the end they will probably meet you somewhere near where you wanted. 

That Time The School Caught On Fire

Living abroad brings an abundance of new experiences. You get to see how the local culture changes how people react to situations. Sometimes the reactions are identical to what I would do, and sometimes they are night/day different. This is a story of one of those night/day differences. This is a story of the time the school caught on fire.

I must admit, I have never been in a burning building before. The plus side is, the building was made of concrete, so it wasn’t about to go up in flames. However, there is plenty to make enough smoke to kill an elephant; I’m getting ahead of myself.

It started like any other day. I went to school, had my classes, growled at naughty boys (I would say 90%+ of the naughty kids in my classes are boys), and taught English. The fun started during my first class of the afternoon. We were learning the months, and I started to smell smoke. I assumed it was coming in the window, because they burn trash here. I closed the windows… this was the wrong thing to do.

We continued with the months. Despite the windows being closed, the smoke smell was getting stronger. There was a hole in the concrete wall, drilled to run power cables through it. The hole was grey with smoke, and it was quickly starting to come into the classroom.

“I think we should take the kids down to the courtyard,” I said to the translator. She calmly said, “No, we need to stay here.” The headmaster came to the classroom door to say the same thing, “Stay here. Have the children do their homework.” We opened all the windows, but the smoke was still heavy in the air. My translator said, “It isn’t this room on fire, we must stay.”

Soon there was a rush of groundskeepers past the door. They took out the firehose on the wall (which I honestly questioned whether or not it was real before this point), and thundered up the stairs with it. Our smokey room with the dry floor then experienced two changes:
1. The smoke grew thicker, and blackened (Despite my protests, the translator would not allow the students to leave).
2. The floor became un-dry, very un-dry (At this point the translator told the students to put their feet up on their chairs so they don’t get wet feet). 

Finally the bell rang, and sweet freedom was ours. We should have had a machete to cut our way out of the smoke it was so thick. The staircase on our corner of the building had become a river from the firefighting attempts. The class on the other side of the stairs emerged from their fiery furnace as well, and we all exited through the second nearest staircase. The kids, and teachers all laughing about the experience.

This happened early in my time here. Should it happen again, I am going to tell the headmaster we will be having class in the courtyard. If there were a fire in a western school, there would be a fire alarm sounded. The students would have an orderly exit from the building. After the all clear was given, then the students would return to classes. My school decided to give the all clear while the fire was still burning 2-10 metres (6-30ish feet) from classrooms filled with children.

This is a story from before Xiu Xiu was my translator in class

Welcome Back Kotter

Vacation has come to an end, as has my first week back to school. Ugh, it was a long week. Nothing terrible, horrible, very bad, just long. I am happy to say, Friday night is here, and I have nothing to worry about until Monday morning, 8 am.

Here’s my week in a nutshell:

“Welcome back to school, good luck ditching vacation mode.”

Monday morning, I was a train wreck. There was no force in the world strong enough to make me want to go to school. I woke up, healthy as a horse, and cursed my luck to not be sick.

Pinkeye is my disease of choice. A little uncomfortable, but all in all, it is a free day feeling mostly healthy.

Monday is grade 1 day, the day requiring the most energy. The kids were sweet, and kind, and they are really well behaved, for the most part, but they are high energy. All in all, grade 1 is starting to be my favourite grade to have classes with as a whole. Monday night I died, all night.
“Hey, it’s Wed. night, how would you feel if your fridge died. Doesn’t matter. Dead.”

There was a power flicker, followed immediately by another power flicker in my apartment. The result, a burnt out lightbulb, and a very dead fridge. I wished, and hoped, and prayed it would just be a blip, by morning the motor would be buzzing away… but it was not meant to be. Long story short, I got a replacement fridge from the school at suppertime today (Friday). It could have been worse, but there were casualties reported. I lost the bananas I keep in the freezer for smoothies, so I’ll have to replace those for $2. The biggest loss was my cheddar cheese. The fridge didn’t just go, “not cold,” it went into a swampy sweat. The already grated cheddar cheese didn’t stand a chance.

*Sheds a Single Tear*

” Friday means Grade 6, pains in the neck, the lot of them.” 

There was a time last semester when grade 5 was the bane of my existence. By the end of the semester, it was grade 6. I remembered within 3 minutes why this was. I don’t beat the children. Might sound strange to open with, but their teachers punch, kick, throw things at, wallop, bop, slap, hit, and smack… among other things as a punishment. I refuse to do this. My classes are, at the request of the school, homework free. I am there to teach conversation English. So, upping the homework is not an option for me either.

Last semester I struggled to think of a way to keep grade 6 in line, because if I’m not hitting them, why would they listen. That isn’t my statement, it is exactly what one of the students said when I told them to sit down, be quiet, and pay attention. I finally *crosses fingers* came up with the solution to my unwillingness to participate in extreme corporal punishment.

Today I warned them, “Last semester, blah, blah, blah. It is not going to happen this semester. Anyone who does not want to obey the rules will have a letter sent home to their parents, which must be returned signed by their parents.” Xiu Xiu will be writing the letters in Chinese. One boy shouted out, “No, please just beat me, it would be easier than taking this letter home to my parents.” Hopefully knowing I am willing to communicate with their parents will put them into the learning frame of mind. 😀

“Sweet Freedom”

After school I got my new fridge, which was of course a used fridge they had already. I don’t care, it works.

Then, Xiu Xiu and I went to the movies. There were quite a few people there, but we still got pretty good seats to see Jupiter Ascending. It started off a little slow, and I questioned whether I was going to like it, but it delivered. I was very happy I saw it. Next week, Paddington Bear. It is a jackpot of foreign films this week!

Now, I have my weekend ahead of me. Here are the bullet points:

  • Morning market tomorrow to get 15-20 kg of potatoes, because I have a problem. No, because they are super cheap there, and I eat a lot of potatoes.
  • FoodLove with the girl who showed up at my door shortly after I arrived in China, “You help me with English, I’ll help you with Chinese.” I haven’t seen her since Sept. because she was busy at school.
  • All you can eat buffet with Xiu Xiu! If I did it everyday, it would be gluttony, but on Sunday, I shall call it a feast. 2 people, $20.
  • Whatever else comes my way.

I also decided to start a budget this week. I have the next two months marked out in a notebook, “how much I spent,” “total for the month,” and, “what the total should be.” I have actually been doing really well with it (I’m shocked too). Here’s hoping I can keep it up. 

It Was a Long Week

I am not dead. I say this, because I felt I should start with a positive statement on this entry. Now, to the venting. I can easily say, this has not been the best week I have ever had. I guess part of the problem is, the couple of dogs who have taken up residence below my apartment window. They appear to be half owl, because they sleep during the day, and at night they like to make their noises. Is it wrong I think, “I hope someone eats them soon.”

In Fengxian, one of the more popular dishes is dog meat.

Each week I have 25 classes, children from grade 1, to grade 6. I like 24, of the 25 classes. They may get a little rowdy sometimes, and have moments of, “ugh,” but as a whole, they are good. I tell them to be quiet, and they will stop talking for quiet a while. Then there is the 25th class. It might be worth pointing out, I have no authority in the classroom as far as discipline goes.
– I will not hit the children like their teacher does.
– If I were someone who would hit the children, I am not allowed anyway. Only their regular teacher can.
– Stand in the hall/against the wall doesn’t yield any results, because the worst of the bunch don’t care.
– I am not allowed to assign homework, I am just there to practice spoken English.
So, yesterday (Thursday) was a particularly rough day with them, and I had it up to my eye teeth. I told them to be quiet, and one boy said, “Why should we listen to you, you don’t hit us, so we don’t need to listen.” Sparing you the rest of my nightmare, we went to talk to their regular teacher. I have now met the first person I dislike here. I have met people I am indifferent towards, not hot, not cold, just whatever, but I actively don’t like this woman. The translator did the talking, so I got the conversation after the fact, but the gist,

Teacher: “They aren’t bad when I am there, you are terrible teachers.”
Translator: “We have 25 classes, and 24 of them aren’t a problem. If it were us, then we would have a problem with almost all the classes.”
Teacher: “I don’t care about this. Go and talk to the headmaster, because you don’t have the authority to cancel the class. He deals with your company”
Translator: “Ok.”
Teacher: *Thought the mention of talking to the headmaster would scare her off*
Translator: “We won’t hit the kids, but we won’t put up with a class who doesn’t want to learn. If you don’t care, we will discuss the state of your students’ behaviour with the headmaster. You should teach them to behave in class without the fear of being slapped in the head.”

I was pleased with what she said to the teacher. The short version above doesn’t quite capture the condescension she had towards the two of us, but we were both quite irked (mildly put).

Anyways, this is really more of a vent than anything. I have a good life, and I cannot complain. I just had a less than stellar week, and if I were smart, I would focus on the good stuff. Therefore, I will end with a list of the good stuff from this week.

– Great girlfriend (Cheesy? Maybe. True? Yes)
– Found Lays Sour Cream and Onion Potato Chips for a snack
– 24 good to great classes
– Lots of hugs from the kids
– Still loving my electric bike (scooter?)
– I made flour tortillas, which tasted perfect (the tortillas led to having some Mexican-esque food)
– Went to the movies to see Hercules, which ended up being halfway decent
– Had some great dumplings after the film
– Plenty of good coffee at the coffeeshop I go to
– Pretty much everything else in my life. 🙂

Venting complete, moving on