Saturday, October 29, 2011

Napping, Laundry, and Dancing

After four periods of teaching about the government in the U.K. and how to problem solve with friends on a telephone, I sat in a bus with rays of sunshine pouring through, a bus full of people taking naps.  Before I knew it, I too woke as we pulled up to the front gate of my city campus.

Been too busy to do laundry...
Am I living the American lifestyle?
Too tired after full days of work to even do laundry?
Of course after a flooding, my washing machine has been broken.
Doing laundry by hand takes extra effort.
Today I finally had an afternoon at home for the repair guy to come and fix the broken hose.

Tried Salsa dancing tonight with students, but realized after
being dipped and twirled and spun and moved all over the room in crazy steps
that they were preparing for a performance.
They weren't just learning Salsa for fun.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Can I survive today?

How can the quiet sleep of not even being aware of anything be so suddenly and rudely interrupted by lists of things to include in a budget or images of how to arrange text in a newsletter?  What does it mean that my brain won't remain sleeping but at 5 in the morning in the darkness before dawn demand that I start thinking?

Neon soaking layers unable to dry in the wet wind of a speedy ride under a dark gray sky
Peeled off to a single layer of skin already dry
Vulnerable to the day's responsibilities waiting in the wings of pre-productivity
Cleansed with a baptism of cup after cup of warm water
Splattered mud mixed with sweat rinsed clean from a bright pink bucket

Wrapped from head to toe
with soft creative colorful creations of
a slouchy hip hat
a maroon triangular bulky gartered scarf
pink and orange fingerless stockinetted gloves and
purple and red striped fitted socks

Head to toe
warmed by colorful uniqueness
knitted with a single strand of yarn
a memory of the pleasure of creating
instead stuck
in front of a bright screen
with bullet points
and outcomes
typing for cold hard cash
when my soul today
really needs
something different

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Busy: Work and Flat Tires

I've been busy.  For the past two weekends I have been attending various PC workshops/meetings- Professional Peer Support Network (PPS) and Volunteers Supporting Volunteers (VSV).  I got to eat great free food pasta, Turkish, pizza, brownies, cheese, and carrot cake. 
On another note, I am thinking I should probably buy a computer.
Coz with this PCVL position there is a lot of work I could be doing more efficiently if I had a computer to use at home that didn't have outdated software that was all in Chinese.  Right now I am just commuting to the office whenever I have free time to finish up work like newsletters or reports.  It gets tiring commuting.  I could be working from home.
Last week I got up at 5 am to start biking to my other campus at 6 am and lucky for me got a flat tire about 1 mile from the gate of my destination, the countryside campus.  It made me feel happy to fix my first flat tire.  Would you believe that after years of biking, I have rarely had a flat?  Most of my flats were in China and in China there are always people around whom you can pay to fix it.  I figured though I had better make sure I actually knew how to fix a flat tire especially if I do a bike trip and get a flat in the middle of nowhere.  In theory I knew how but now I know I can at least fix a front tire.  The back tire... I think I may need a book to teach me what to do if I have to change that tire.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gansu and Sichuan Students

One reason why I choose to stay a fourth year in PC China was to discover if students from different provinces were different. 
The Gansu college I taught at was a 4-year school training future teachers in a city with a population of several 100,000.  The students were from Gansu, small towns.  Their parents were farmers. 
The Sichuan college where I am currently teaching is a 3-year vocational school training tourism and business students in a city with a population of 14 million.  The students are mostly from Sichuan, smaller towns than Chengdu.
In America there are differences between kids raised in a city compared to those raised in more rural settings.  There are differences between kids raised in California compared to those in Alabama.  So I expected there to be differences between the students raised in Gansu and Sichuan provinces.
Have I noticed many differences?  Not really.  There are three major differences though.  The Sichuan students have been exposed to more American media like "Gossip Girl" and Lady Gaga.  The second difference is many of the students' parents don't live in Sichuan, but are migrant workers.  In Gansu, most of the students lived with their parents in Gansu before going off to college.  The Sichuan students were raised by their grandparents being forced to stay in the province where they were born.  In order to take national exams, their ID cards require them to take the exams in the province the ID card was issued from.  The third difference is incredible.  Many of the Sichuan students have part-time jobs making 1,000 RMB a month.  My living allowance is only a little more at 1,500 RMB.  In Gansu, the students were happy making 15-20 RMB/hour, maybe working a few hours per week.
There are many similarities.  Students are traditional and feel like they need to be married by 24-25.  They are strongly loyal to family.  Their English level is similar and they are energetic, motivated, young in maturity and love their English teacher.  When asked to make a poster about a geography section of the book, students tended to just re-copy a photograph next to that section of the book instead of reading the text to find words they could draw or use for the poster.  When five students were asked to go to the chalkboard and draw the body parts of a monster that their classmates described, the students drew the exact same monster.  All five of them had almost the exact same drawing.
The students in Gansu and Sichuan are very similar.  The English teachers on the other hand are quite different.  The teachers at my Sichuan college are not as traditional as the ones in Gansu.  They married later than 24-25.  Their English is amazing and they have such a variety of opinions.  They are less shy to use their English and many of them have cars!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I have two PC approved beds

I am super excited.  I have two beds. 
One bed is in a large empty flat with a kitchen, a shower, a huge living room, a washing machine, a bedroom, and a computer hooked up to the Internet.  This flat is in the new business district undergoing construction and is super noisy with big diesel trucks gearing up and down outside my bedroom window at all hours of the night.  On an old bike that will hopefully not be stolen, it is about a 40 minute ride 8 km (5 miles)  to the PC office where I work once a week during my free time.
The other bed is in a student/teacher dormitory where I have a private room and a squat toilet.  The shower is a community shower where I just have to borrow a key from the security guard.  I am back to doing laundry in a bucket.  This dorm room is about 30 km (18 miles) outside of the city, next to a park with a beautiful stream and fits my desire for countryside living.  It is fantastic!!!!  If I didn't work in the PC office, I'd permanently move out to the campus where I teach.
I bought an expensive GIANT bike and have been commuting via bike.  I LOVE it!  I am glad Africa taught me how to tie heavy things to a bike rack.  I have to carry school books, reading books, shoes, and clothes between two campuses.  Why not have two sets of clothes?  Umm... well I am down to very few clothes because I wasn't expecting to stay in China for a 4th year.  I took home all of my good clothes and I am a terrible shopper.
It is a quick fast ride, 1 hour and 20 minutes on a 10 lane highway where 4 lanes are devoted to bikes, motorcycles, tractors and buses.  The only ugh factor is the air quality.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Drawback to Electricity

Electricity is great.  The world of night is lit up.  People can stay up and live like it is daytime.  People can be entertained by moving pictures and noise.  Students can do homework and books can be consumed.  We can have midnight feasts, do chores, and work till we drop from exhaustion.
In Africa, I learned the delights of sitting outside under the stars creating entertainment with friends and family under the moonlight.  I went to bed early and woke up early.  I found peace in the immense quiet of a world dead to technology.
At night, my Chinese apartment scares me silly.  Would I say that the scorpion carriers and the mice of Africa were bigger and scarier than those in my new Chengdu flat?  Humid wetness breeding wildlife- chunky spiders bigger than my hand, cute mice with long tails and plump furry bodies, and cockroaches not quite as gigantic as the ones in Africa.  Actually no.  It is not the creepy crawlies that scare me. 
I am afraid of the light.
I have lived with wildlife for years.  I slept outside in Africa and one might assume that by living in a flat, the living things would stay outside.  The problem is I am on the first floor and things can climb in through the screenless windows.  The only thing that is kept out is a robber, bars too narrow to crawl through.
In Africa, I went to bed early, listening to the mice checking out the shelves for food and fell asleep believing the comforting lie, "The mosquito net would keep out things with legs."  I was a peace with the living creatures in Africa.
On the other hand, in China the spiders and mice scare me.  In Africa I could pretend that the things unseen did not exist.  In China, as I lay in bed reading, I have the opportunity to watch a large spider crawl along the ceiling from one corner to the next hoping that as I fall asleep it won't crawl over my face.   As I go to the bathroom, flipping on the light, I try my best to stifle a scream as a mice scurries along the wall to the window praying it won't run over my feet.
In Africa, the creatures didn't exist.  In China they do.  Electricity feeds light bulbs and I see all that I am living with.

Blog Backlog

I have just gotten internet and have just recently been able to fix my blogger account to publish via email.  Here are a few blogs I meant to publish several weeks ago.
September 7, 2011- Life without Internet
How much time as a PCV in China does Internet occupy one's time?  Without access in my flat, I am learning that it probably occupied many hours of my day- writing emails, watching online TV and movies, writing blogs, looking up info, hanging out with the online knitting community.  Luckily I quit Facebook several years ago or that probably would have turned my life in the real world into a faint ghost forgotten for an online addiction.
I've still got two weeks before school starts.  The freshmen are doing 10 days of military training and I'll be teaching them speaking, listening, and western culture which is mostly a history class.  My days are empty.
Okay not really.
Last week was full.  There were the last days of PST (pre-service training) and supervisor meetings.  All new PCVs moved to a fancy hotel and I used my "perfect" English to sneak into the hotel provided free breakfast buffet pretending to be a roommate of a room that only had one person in it.  I ate my fill of fresh fruit, baked beans, and bacon.  For some reason I haven't found cheap fruit in this big city and haven't bought any.  It seems fruit is double or triple the price of Gansu.  My dean says that the cost of living these past few months has really really gone up.  I helped my new sitemate buy housewares, a fan, and showed him the free box in the PC office where he got a hot water kettle and plates.  I love the free box!  I met up with a family of one of my friends in Lanzhou.  I got them their return train tickets and they invited me to dinner.  It is good to have friends all over China because getting a train ticket for the day you are leaving can be difficult if you don't buy them 10 days early.  I had dinner with my Chengdu host family.
So it sounds like I'm busy, but actually there is still a lot of downtime.  I've been writing letters and have been reading a book a day which isn't so good since my access to English books is limited.  I go on bike rides and found an authentic American bakery, Leanna's in the Tibetan district that has a small library.  I sit in Ikea drinking free coffee watching fathers feed their toddlers mashed potatoes and meatballs, see the elderly talking and drinking green tea, see young rich people buy trays of food worth $10 of food, pasta, Salmon, dessert, a drink when I can only afford $1 meals waiting for 2 pm happy hour when I can get a $1 smoked Salmon salad.
Do I miss the Internet?  I miss writing daily emails and blogs.  I wish I could look up things to do in Chengdu, find the museums and the live music.  So yes I do miss Internet.  Is the quality of life better without Internet?  I think I do pretty well balancing my Internet use with real life.  I do hope the school accepts our request for free Internet instead of having to pay for it each month.
September 12, 2011- Good news and Bad news
First the bad news
Each week, I am teaching 16 hours, preparing 5 different oral English lesson plans, commuting 4.5 hours, holding 2-4 hours of office hours, and 2-4 hours of English corner.  It is umm.. a heavy load, something that I did not stay a 6th year in Peace Corps for.  So I am a bit disappointed and feeling a bit stressed on how to balance teaching with other things that I want to do and learn.
(Several days ago, I negotiated my teaching schedule and the bad news has turned into better news.  I will be teaching 10 hours some weeks and 14 hours during other weeks.  I only have 3 lesson plans and 4 hours of office hours and English corner.  I will be living on the other campus once a week in a dorm room that has a private toilet and a community shower.  It is a good compromise and I am learning to accept the idea of being a full time teacher instead of a volunteer working full time in the office.)
Next the good news
I got a beat up ancient heavy bike that hopefully no one will steal.  After a couple weeks of getting used to the bike seat, I can say that Chengdu is an awesome biking city!  There are wide bicycle and motorcycle lanes throughout the city.  There are roundabouts and underpasses where major highways cut through.  Also, workers in bright orange uniforms with red flags keep pedestrians from congregating in the bike lanes as walkers wait to cross the street making it easy to ride through intersections.  There is a natural flow of the slower vehicles and only a few go the wrong way.  Biking in Chengdu for me is actually surprisingly not stressful.
I went to Chengdu's Museum of Contemporary Art and was surprised to find a drive-thru McDonald's across the street.  I enjoyed the free entrance fee and the quiet cool open space.