Saturday, March 31, 2012

Unemployment Update

So yes, I will not enter post-COS (close of service) as unemployed.

After 6 years with Peace Corps as a volunteer, I will soon be officially employed.  I have formally accepted the job offer as Program Manager with Teach for China, a 2 year commitment with opportunities to stay and climb the career ladder.  It is kind of funny that I will be living in China for another two years.  I never studied Chinese with an intensity because of a motivation to find a job in China, but here I am after 4 years in China, language skills still somewhat basic, starting a job where strong language skills would be an asset.

Am I lucky or what?  I tend to jump from opportunity to opportunity, getting to explore incredible cultures from Alabama, Seattle, Africa, to China.  Am I living the dream, or just settling for opportunities because they are offered, making decisions based on the fear of not having security?  Have I stopped and really explored what I want to do?  Well I do know that my resume with its career objective was written way before I ever heard about the positions at Teach for China, a perfect match with my resume. 

Am I following my heart?  Well, at least I am out of chemistry and I will not be a classroom teacher.  Those are two careers I am sure about.   I can cross them off my list.  What about Alaska or Antarctica though?

Anyways enough philosophizing.  Now, I need to buy a computer.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Is it stupid to...

ride a bike for 1.5 hours in heavy rain whose raindrops sting when they hit and you are soaked through, shoes little puddles, a poncho strapped to the back useless against the torrential storm, riding in amazement at how waterproof skin is compared to the cotton long sleeve shirt, afraid of what is hidden- manholes missing their covers- under the the muddy rivers flowing in the street?

For teachers and students, festivals in China can be annoying.  A 5 day work week becomes a 7 day work week which means more lesson plans and more classroom time.  Saturday and Sunday are make-up days, so that Monday-Wednesday can be 3 days off where Wednesday is Tomb Sweeping Festival.

The only cool thing about this 7 day week is that I was finally able to ride my bike to the countryside campus.  Unlike last semester, this semester I have not been able to commute by bike because I teach one morning class on the city campus and then only have 1.5 hours to commute to the countryside campus.  It just isn't enough time for unforeseen bike troubles plus a shower before class. 

This 7 day work week though allowed me to bike to the the countryside campus.  It was heaven, the weather divine.  The fields blooming with yellow flowers.  The trees covered with pink.  There was a cool breeze and the sun was at perfect strength.  I even considered teaching my Haiku lesson so we could go outside and celebrate nature with poetry.

After 4 hours of class, I hopped back on my bike to ride home but the spring weather had turned into a dark and stormy night.

Sometimes, I might not be the smartest cookie in the jar.  Being all hardcore and biking in the rain, I was lucky.  I saw two accidents on my way home. 

I shivered for 30 minutes waiting for the water to boil for a bucket bath, thinking.. so... hmm..stupid?  

BUT, I LOVE my bike!  The stupid things we do for love eh?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

I thought I was right

Never having access to a projector in Gansu, I rarely created lesson plans that needed a computer.

In Chengdu, every classroom that I teach in has a computer and a projector.
I observed a Chinese teacher and she used Word for her lecture.
I thought it was strange, as she struggled changing the 10 pt font to 16, but figured that maybe she didn't know how to use Powerpoint.

Then yesterday a student asked, "Why don't you use Word in your classroom?  Why do you use Powerpoint?"
It was then that I realized, "Teachers at my school usually use Word for their lectures and never use Powerpoint."

Funny...  I thought I knew the right way to give lectures, but here there is an opposite ways of thinking.

I am an American teacher who thinks Powerpoint is the best for presentations.
Chinese teachers at my school think Word is best.


Up until midnight things were fine.  I was busy knitting a bright turquoise hat listening to Rubyfruit Radio.  It was when I lay my head down to sleep that I noticed the bruit outside my bedroom window.  From midnight till 4 am, workers used shovels to move construction debris into a metal dump truck, a consistent scrape, clunk, scrape, clunk rhythm that kept me awake all night.

Earplugs are important if you are a light sleeper.  Unfortunately my many pairs have been scattered across the globe these past 6 years.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What is a good salary in China?

What is the cost of living in Chengdu?

Living in Chengdu, I have met so many people from all walks of life!!!  My social life is booming.

Rent in Chengdu ranges from 200-2000 RMB/month ($32-320)

200 RMB is for a room in a three bedroom apartment (800 RMB/month; $130) where each bedroom is lived in by a different family/person and the kitchen and bathroom are shared.  This apartment is up by the train station, a not very safe location and probably very very old apartments.  Two people live in one of the rooms- a mother who is a motorbike pedicab driver who earns 3000-6000 RMB/month ($475-950) and even has time to play mahjong in the afternoons and her daughter who works in a clothing store who makes about 3000 RMB and gets two days off per month.

One of my friends, a college graduate, who worked for a tourist magazine lived in a furnished room that was 600 RMB ($95) in an apartment that she shared with one other stranger.  Her salary was super low at only 1500 RMB ($238) and she decided to quit to return to Suzhou, a much better paying place.

I heard that hairdressers make about 3000 RMB ($475) per month.

Teachers at my school make about 3000-4000 RMB ($475-635) and some of the teachers pay an apartment mortgage of 2000 RMB ($320).

I met an 18 year old student who still hasn't graduated from high school.  She makes 3000 RMB ($475) and is given free housing at her place of employment- a cigarette and alcohol shop that is open 7 days a week from 9 am-11 pm.  She gets 2 days off per month and gets 20 RMB ($3) per day for food.

The salary at the KFC in Gansu was 4 RMB ($0.63) per hour.  Here in Chengdu it is more like 20 RMB/hr ($3.17).

As a PCV, my living allowance is 1500 RMB ($238) but of course I don't pay rent.  Also, we get that special bonus when we return to the USA with the readjustment allowance.  Plus we aren't trying to support a family or think about future security.  1500 RMB is a sweet deal; although, it feels weird that an 18 year old non-high school graduate is making more than me.

Monday, March 19, 2012

3 good things

1.  The weather has turned for the better and I no longer have to sleep in my sleeping bag anymore.

2.  I got a job offer in China that is not teaching.  I am not sure I will take it though.  I am doing my pro and cons list but the likelihood of me taking it is strong.

3.  I got an awesome Chinese tutor and am doing Chinese corner at least 3 times a week.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

One Yummy Chinese Snack

I don't like Chinese snacks. 

I have lived here for 4 years and can walk up and down an aisle without much tempting me.  After trying many of the packets of meat shaped tofu, crackers, cookies, and dried fruits, I have come to the conclusion that most of it is strange and spiced with strange combinations of glop, chemicals, spice, and oil.  I still try though, just coz it is kind of fun eating weird things like cuttlefish with their spiky skeletons even though I doubt I will ever buy that fishy bag of dried yellowed shapes again.

Tonight though, I found a yummy snack, the first one in years.

It is sliced, dried, sweet potato slivers melded together into a rectangle wedge with caramelized sugar. 

I like sweet potato french fries covered with salt.  I like popcorn covered with salt, but for some reason China likes to sweeten the things that I like salty, even the bread.

The sweet potato squares though, good!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Different Sites- Different Opportunities

After teaching in Gansu for 3 years, teaching in Chengdu is pretty much the same except:

1.  Because the city students have access to Internet in their dorms and often have at least one computer that is shared amongst 4-6 roommates, the students like to send me email.  This is new and some of the more shy students feel more comfortable communicating through written English which I hope will lead to them being more confident to use their spoken English in class.

2.  In Gansu, I did not hold office hours but went to the English Library and Community Center for 2 hours, 6 days a week.  Because I currently don't live on the countryside campus where my students live, I hold office hours once a week when I stay overnight at the other campus.  Thursday evening about 20 students came to my office hours which is a bit much.  I cannot give individual attention to everyone.  I spent about 30 minutes having 4 minute private conversations with students and then walked around to join in the conversations that different groups were having.  My Chengdu students do find the value of speaking with each other in English compared to my Gansu students who often felt they could only improve their English by speaking with a native speaker.

3.  More students have the opportunity to go abroad at my 3 year Chengdu college.  I know 3 students who are going to America, one for graduate school and two for a work and travel summer program.  They will work at KFC for a couple of months and then use the money that they earned to travel around.  Also, students are having interviews to work in Dubai.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Daily Life Update

So I have been busy.  With what?

1.  Lesson planning-  During the even weeks I have to prepare 4 lesson plans.  Luckily for my writing class, I have lesson plans from Gansu which I am currently using.  During the odd weeks, I have to prepare 5 lesson plans (2 writing lesson plans), but again I still have all the lessons from my writing class in Gansu.  Later I will run out of lesson plans though because the Gansu writing class only had about 14 lessons; whereas, this Chengdu writing class needs a total of 30 lessons.  There is a lot of lesson planning this semester, but I cut my work in half by planning a detailed speaking class and then just use the listening book and its activities for the listening course.  Lastly, I have to grade essays from my writing class.  At least it is a small class of only 20 students.

2.  Secondary projects-  I sleep on the countryside campus once a week so that I can hold office hours that every student must attend at least once.  Also, there is a room that the school wants us to make into a Resource Room, so that is another responsibility.  Another task I have been doing this semester is helping students practice their English by answering emails from students.  In Gansu, students didn't have daily access to internet; whereas, these Chengdu students have computers in their rooms with internet. 

3.  Job hunt-  I have applied for a job in China with a NGO and have been going through a rigorous interview process.  The first one was a written interview where I had to do three tasks, even reading and commenting on a 20 page document, a rubric for the qualities of an effective teacher.  Then I had two interviews over Skype and have another interview in a week.  Preparing and having interviews is mentally wearing, the beforehand background reading and reviewing of one's accomplishments and work experience, then the after the interview replays where at 3 am in the morning one starts having conversations with oneself, answering the questions again but better.  Even if I don't get the job, it has been a great experience going through all these interviews.  Good prep for my future job hunt.

4.  Chinese language-  During one of the interviews, I had to do a role play using Chinese where I had to talk with a middle school principal about the exam scores of an English class.  I did not have the language to do it which means I need to really start studying Chinese again.  This week I have started having Chinese corner with my students.  We met 2 times already and talked about Women's Day, personalities, and traditional women and men.  I need to find a tutor.

5.  Office work-  PC newsletter, PC Annual Report, preparing for COS conference and PDM workshops, helping the PMs figure out a more efficient way to write letters of recommendations

6.  Fun-  The American Consulate offered free tickets to a musical evening of an American opera singer and Sichuan opera singers.  I love live music and it was fun to invite fellow colleagues to attend.  I was actually surprised that they accepted my invitation because opera is not the most popular musical genre, but they really appreciated the opportunity for the exposure to American culture.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Mutton Stew

Yesterday, I played badminton with my counterpart, her high school friends and their wives and husbands.  My counterpart is in her mid-twenties and I found it fascinating that she still hangs out with her high school friends.  Instead of going out for dinner, watching a movie, going camping, or having a wine and cheese party, they rent a badminton court at a local gym and play badminton.  Fun!

I have lived in China for 4 years and have NEVER eaten a mutton soup hot pot.  It was amazing.  A lamb broth, not spicy, filled with chunks of meat, liver, lung, and stomach that is placed on a gas stove.  After fishing out the meat, we then added to the boiling broth plates of vegetables- lotus root, greens, potatoes, dumplings, and rice noodles.  I would highly recommend that if you haven't had mutton hot pot yet ask a Chinese friend to take you.