Sunday, July 4, 2010


Lets see what the old memory can do...

Here I am on my Sunday thinking... wow... I could really go for two more days of no responsibility. Midterms are this upcoming week on tuesday, which means that tomorrow I need to have a full fledged review day and today (sunday) I need to go into work and make sure that the exams are ready so that I can set up my review class and then put in grades sometime before tuesday.

If I ever have an interviewer who asks me if I can self-motivate... Im going to tell them that I taught English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and then possibly smack them in their mouth!

Its permeating my life a little more than I care for it to.... but I suppose I am learning things along the way.

Though... two more days would be nice. Somewhere in this journey I have to pay for the opportunity to do what I really want to do... and this would be it.

I tried to take a nap about an hour ago - and while I got to sleep... it was completely restless. For some reason I’m having a very difficult time unwinding right now.

Let me start at the beginning and then I’ll get back to my real story.

At the beginning of the semester meeting before classes actually started, my boss gave us a word of advice: The summer semester is long, and we don’t have any real statutory holidays, so if you need a few days for mental health, just find someone to cover your classes and take them off. Not that this really makes the situation any different, but it is nice to know as an underling that your boss is not gonna hunt you down if you take a responsible “hookey” day.

I’d planned and alerted my boss that Beijing was in the works, so my day off to go travel was scheduled way in advance. It came and went, and was shortly followed by a trip to Tianjin for business (the focus of this blog). Both of which yielded some missed classes with only two of those possible to be covered by other teachers which means.... make up classes. Ewwwwwww grose - make it stop. Well... as it stands, I have one more to do... with my compulsively absent minded foundations students. I’ll have that last make up class after the midterm, the other make-ups already finished. Super tiring, the lot of it.

In fact, with all of the summer related drama, every teacher at ESLI is showing some wear.

The students are in summer mode, and really not in the game, and the teachers are hurtin’ for a holiday just like everyone else.

Here we are - at the halfway point going.... breathe... breathe... snore....

So back to one of the culprits that has lead to such tiredness - Tianjin

I get back from Beijing at 3 something in the morning on tuesday, take a nap, wake-up and teach the whole day.

The next day is our only holiday - Dragonboat Festival. In the morning, I check my phone and see a text from my boss asking me if I would be willing to go to Tianjin to administer some tests.

It turns out that there were some administration issues between ESLI Canada and Trinity Western and somehow promises were made to a school in Tianjin that tests would be given in the very near future. Basically it boiled down to - my boss was already scheduled to go on a business trip, and I was the next best thing. It would be considered as a personal favour to my boss’s boss in Canada (sorry if there are any grammarians out there who were harmed in my use of “s” for the possessive of boss ).

Hey - I love playing the game. I live to serve - sign me up chief.

So we book my flight and hotel together on wednesday (dragonboat festival) for thursday evening after class needing to be in a taxi by about 6:00pm to get to the airport ect... and Friday would need to be made up if a substitute could not be found (which of course they couldnt because it was 1 day notice and the only available teachers were us and the CALL program... which is a flexible schedule set 1 week in advance anyhow).

It was nice - the inviting school offered many concessions including paying for substitutes... aside from the near impossibility of the thing. - 1 class of 3 was fortunately covered... but that still leaves me 2 (with 2 from Beijing... yielding 4 total makeup classes at 1hr 15mins each... 5 contact hours of work....)

Ok well - Thursday after class 4:45 ... I jet home, pack, jet back to work, make the necessary photocopies and grab the tests I am supposed to proctor for my 1 substitute and then jet back down to the street with my bag and burden of stress in hand. After all, this is my first ever business trip.

I was given an envelope of cash, addresses for all the appropriate places, and the instructions to never let the exams out of my sight and get receipts for everything I pay for.

Well aren’t I fortunate! Its 5:45pm.. and i’m already trying to get a taxi! I don’t need a taxi until about 6pm.

Well aren’t I unfortunate! Its Rush hour... combined with the changeover of taxis (whose genius entrepreneurial decision was that!?!!)

I wait for 30m until I actually find an available taxi, with a few somewhat frantic attempts to call my boss and find the best route to the airport. There were no responses however... and I had to keep reminding myself that in none of these issues was I at fault.

Keep cool Pedro... kinda hard to do in Zhengzhou summer but whatever.

Finally I get a taxi and tell him I need to go to the airport and were off.

I was trying to make sure the price would be within the realm of reasonable, but he only spoke thick Henan Hua and was makin’ no kind of sense... but after he got paid at the end he gave me a stack of receipt stubs (evidently they are the ones I needed according to my boss).

I get to the airport in just enough time to comfortably check in - which is super easy, only requiring your official ID/passport. I headed through security and eventually found my gate, which was totally not in an intuitive place. Whatever.

I sat down and started studying Chinese cause I hate boredom more than almost anything - that and I enjoy studying a language that I can feel growth in.

Then I hear a man ask in English... Can I ask you a question? Where are you from?

So I tell him and we chat for a minute. Then he incites all of our neighbors who were waiting at the gate into a full on discussion on language acquisition. Granted, that part was in Chinese, but they noticed that I was watching (that and my Chinese book was in my lap and they had heard me talking to the man in Chinese...) and decided that I had been learning super fast.

Boy do I love hearing my praises sung. Fortunately... because good language learners are so rare... especially when you are talking about learning Chinese... I get my praises sung fairly frequently :D

The plane was delayed, so I kept listening, and I would speak when I had some idea of how to contribute to the conversation.

We finally get to the boarding phase - and fortunately even Zhengzhou airport has English and Chinese announcements so I wasn’t completely out of the communication loop.

I board and get seated and along comes one of the ladies that was in our little discussion and she tells me that she is on the inside seat, so I let her in. In the course of the flight Im studying some more, so she takes the opportunity to ask her own questions about my language learning, how I like China etc. I do what I can with the tools I’ve got and it was good enough to kill about an hour flight’s worth of boredom.

When I didnt understand her question well enough to furnish some kind of answer I would tell her I didn’t understand - bu dong. She would smile and find a way to reword it. Sometimes it worked.

She decided that she should write down her questions at one point, and I thought it was hysterical because of how impractical that would be for many other foreigners. A lot of my friends... if they speak any chinese... can’t read a lick. But I was surprised because we held up pretty well. I pulled out my little Berlitz dictionary (which is awesome by the way), and we worked back and forth to have ourselves a great little conversation.

Aside from my productive little conversations, I was furnished by the flight attendant with an English copy of China Daily - which I really appreciated - and thought it was interesting when I looked across the row at two Russian fellas who were also on their way to Tianjin. I got to thinking how annoying it must be to be Russian in China. I know how often the Chinese love to greet you with “HELOOO!! Can I help you!? COME LOOKA LOOKA”

ahhh well they’re russian so I didnt care too much :P (just kidding...)

I also thought it was interesting because only a few days before I had been in Beijing, and the number one tourist language I heard was Russian. There was relatively little English.

It was also nice on the plane, because the Chinese still have a pleasant approach to flight service. They have a light dinner and what not even on a 1.5-2hr flight to Tianjin. Beats those awful crackers that you get on American Airlines - HANDS DOWN.

We land, and I collect my checked bag and start thinking about getting a taxi. It was up in the air as to whether or not someone was going to come pick me up, so it really just slipped my mind - especially after an already full day.

I was strollin’ along towards the sign that said “Taxis” relatively relaxed with my new adventure, and I see bright white piece of A4 paper (regular Chinese printer paper) that says “Peter”. So I stop and stare at it puzzled for a moment and look up at 3 chinese
people that look at me.

Well I’m white... so I figure this is probably for me. “HI! I’m Peter”

“Are you with ESLI?” They asked?
“I am” I reply in my cleanest business English... not entirely sure if they speak more English than “Hello, are you Peter”

So I asked them in Chinese... and they told me that they were English teachers too.

Oh good! That makes life easier.

We zoom along to my hotel and I get settled in, and they inform me that I would be met in the lobby the next morning by another teacher at 7:50am.

I notice advertisements for wancha (Evening tea - the northern cousin of my all time favourite Dimsum or “Yumcha”). It was a very good first impression of Tianjin.

After getting checked in, I get up to my room, set my alarms and crash.

The next morning I went down and enjoyed my hotel breakfast - once again reminding me of both why I love hotels and why I love breakfast. I even recognized that I’ve grown/ compromised my morals since i’ve been in China. Im not sure which it is... but I can now drink even questionable hotel coffee without thinking twice/sneering. It did however need cream and sugar...

After breakfast I collected the oh-so-precious exams that this whole trip was about and came back down to the lobby and met my transportation - an interesting teacher who had studied in France.... and then England. Odd combination I decided.

As we drove onward in the cool morning (it had just rained so the normal heat and dank was suppressed), I was taking in all of the crisp newness of Tianjin. Im pretty sure its a conspiracy, because there was gloomy weather (my favourite) and a cool reprieve from the sweltering heat and humidity of Beijing and Zhengzhou AND really cool european architecture from all of the international influences upon Tianjin during the Opium Wars. I had not long before read a book called “Chinese Cinderella” which partially took place in Tianjin... so it was cool to actually be in the city I had read about.

I really enjoyed it - it was like a clean european backdrop, but with a distinctly Chinese feel. It didn’t look Chinese... but it did feel that way. Im not sure how... maybe it was the traffic that was a constant reminder, but it felt alive in a way that Beijing most certainly did not.

After about twenty minutes of driving, we arrived a the Highschool: a colossal complex that hosted around 3,000 - 4,000 during the day.

I was taken up to the board room to relax until the time came for me to give the tests.

The board room was absolutely stately, with Classical Chinese exhibitions such as old suits of armor, a rather large piece of (possibly white jade?) carved in the shape of an elephant tusk and then further carved out to have a herd of horses in it. Thats like two separate acts of sculpture!

The tall standing lamps had a traditional Chinese woodwork style to them, and then there was the modern-esque furniture. It was an interesting (though kind of cliche when you think of movies...) contrast.

Finally came the time we had all been waiting for. I was told that only 7 of the original ten would be tested, three having dropped out. I got to the room... only five have shown up today... OK whatever - im here ~ lets get to it.

I pass out the tests, take their cellphones and give the instructions for the two-hour written portion.

Proctoring exams has got to be one of the easiest things on earth.

every hour... so three times total (at the start of 9... at 10 and then at 11 when the exam ended) the group calisthenics track would come on.

I felt so bad for the students having to listen to it during an exam. It is essentially juvenile music with a girls voice counting to eight over and over again.

I would have harmed someone if I were in their place... but then again - I was born in America.

In due time - the exam came to a close.

Now came the interview... also easy... but it was nice to have an easy job and meet some interesting people.

I met each of the students, and there was definitely a range in skills. Some with hardly any skills, and nice aspirations of being an accountant or business person... (like every other Chinese student... LAME) to some relatively articulate students who wanted to be psychologists and such.

One girl even told me that she enjoyed dancing and singing (unlike the perpetual... basketball - from everyone), and that she could speak Deutch. HAH imagine that - a Chinese girl who has rather good English, and can speak a years worth of German. Not sure what that equates to, because my German is almost non-existent and it was an English interview so I didn’t think it appropriate to prod to satisfy my curiosity.

Work done - I headed up to boardroom again and had lunch - the day starting to gain heat - despite the mild rain at this point.

Only being slightly after noon at this point I had the day to see a bit of Tianjin, so the Intern at the school was assigned to show me around. We went and walked around ancient culture street (古文化街) which was a collection of shops, with interesting areas and a temple that actually felt like a temple. After Beijing, it was interesting to go into the temple complex, because it was still in use - unlike all of the tourist attractions of Beijing. Aside from the air that was thick with incense, it was interesting how tangible the place felt.

After plenty of walking around and chatting with the intern (who was about 4 years older than I... ) We decided that there was not too much more to do, and I was feeling a small need to get back and do some sort of work at the hotel. We headed back and I was a bit productive on both school and Chinese stuff, killing time until Wancha.

Dinner time came and I went down and on my solitary enjoyed Tianjin’s version of Dimsum... which was somewhat more deep-fried rather than actually steamed - even though it came out in steamer baskets.

I still enjoyed myself, but definitely thought of my father. He is a pilot, and off on his own in hotels and foreign cities probably half of the month. He always comes home with stories about these people he had flown with and I was always impressed with what kind of information he would have about them. He’s an interesting guy and all, but somewhat introverted ~ not given to story telling on a regular basis. I always thought it was interesting, because I didn’t understand how that kind of information would come out in such a short time. I guess you’ve got 2 - 4 hours or so on a flight (depending on where you’re going) and then possibly dinner, but that isn’t enough time for one’s life story.

And then it made sense... having even a random person to talk with at dinner on a night before you both head back to wherever you come from is better than being off in a corner and then walking up to your room with next to no human contact.

Back up to my room I go.

Eventually I came down for a stout cup of coffee and some delicious fresh apple juice (think Cracker Barrel cider if you know what that is) while I graded some papers.

Yawning and not totally enjoying the grading of papers (can you blame me?) I headed back up to my delicious bed and went to sleep ~ heading for the airport at a respectable time the next morning.

My intern friend met me with the school’s driver and we made it to the airport with relative ease - aside from almost being smoked by a twenty something hoodlum in a mini-van... which I thought was hysterical after we all got over the initial shock of a sideswiping near-accident.

And there I was - home - after my first business trip with most of sunday left to me.

I was also left with the understanding that... next week is gonna hurt.