Tuesday, August 28, 2012

28 August 2012 -- Journal Log

Scooter's Journal Log
Earth Date 28 August 2012

I awoke early as usual. When people say it takes a couple of weeks to get used to the jet lag when you move to a new spot on the planet many time zones from your previous zone, they know of what they speak. Lately, I find myself getting very sleepy around 4 pm, and I don't mean drowsy-I-want-a-nap sleep, I mean, ok, get into bed and go to sleep sleepy. Eventually, one has to give in to the urge or find oneself asleep in a chair, on the floor, or on the sofa anyway. Yet, then I have been waking up at two or three or four in the morning ready to get up and go. So, indeed, it does take time to adjust no matter what great tricks and tips world travelers' will offer – believe me, I received dozens of ideas. There is also a monumental difference between traveling and relocating, just for the record. In any case, I did not wake up to the alarm particularly well-refreshed but rather nearly dazed and confused. This was to be a nine o'clock report-to-school day with plenty of time to relax in the morning. Weighing on my mind, however, was the need for cash. So, I got ready, and decided I would walk to the ATM at my closest bank branch to get 100 CN 元 to use for food for the next few days. The gardens in the courtyards were full of people doing Tai Chi and the usual hustle bustle of people hurrying off to work. Likewise the morning street vendors were busy frying up any manner of delicacy for those needing a bite here or there on their way work.

I arrived at the ATM, acquired cash, and realized I needed to immediately break the bill. So, I decided to try McDonald's breakfast in Beijing. I thought I had been told that McDonald's didn't do breakfast in Beijing, that, rather, they served lunch / dinner all day. This turned out to be false. They do breakfast sandwiches relatively similar to the ones served in the USA. So, I ordered an egg and cheese sandwich combo. I did not pay attention to the drink attached to the combo worrying more about ensuring I ordered the sandwich without sausage and found it came with a steaming hot cup of coffee. Rather than attempt to go through a swap for a different beverage at the McDonald's where I worry I am already developing a reputation for being a nuisance and a pain in the neck, I decided to give my coffee to the ancient blind minstrel I had noticed strumming near the corner of the parking lot in front of the McDonald's and the bicycle / scooter lanes.

I tried to motion to get a passerby to help me deliver the coffee, but no one seemed to get what I was suggesting. One person did stop to inform me that the person was blind, "He cannot see," she said. I smiled and nodded in agreement. As I struggled more and more to figure out how to give a blind person a piping hot cup of coffee – probably one of the oddest things when you think about it, a small crowd of seven to eight people began to circle around me observing my attempt. They looked on with some amusement as if to wonder what I was doing. Eventually, the blind man began to feel around near his donation cup.

I thought of putting the coffee there but worried it would be dangerous and he would either burn himself or mistake it for something else. A man told the blind man I was there. I do not know what he said, but this caused the blind man to perk up and relax a bit. At which point, I took his right hand in mine and then opened his fingers and put the cup of coffee in his hand. The helping man shouted something and motioned that I should remove the lid for the blind man, but he removed the coffee lid himself before I could get a chance and immediately started gulping the steaming hot beverage. At this point the crowd had grown to perhaps 20 to 25 people. The blind man smiled and started thanking me. I am sure I looked pleased when I looked up at the crowd. It was a very surreal experience. I have no idea why this drew a crowd. All, I know is that I felt good about it because it was something I got the urge to do sort of spontaneously.

I then went to the Chao Shi Fa (CFS – grocery store) and found it surprisingly closed. So, I headed back home. I opened my egg sandwich to eat it as I walked along and noticed that the egg was poached and there was ketchup on the sandwich. I am not nor have I ever been a fan of any condiments on my sandwiches. I made a mental note that I need to use google translator to make up a quick chart I can use that says things like "hold the ketchup" and "ice water please". Eventually, I hope to be able to say these things on my own, but in the meantime...

I ended up having time to go back to my apartment which I am thinking I may start calling my flat and use the British English expression for it because it sounds nicer than apartment to my ears and my place is nicer than a normal apartment. It is more like a luxury rental condo. So, maybe my 'flat'? We'll see. Heading back turned out to be a good thing because we were enduring a heat wave with ultra-high humidity in Beijing, and that walk to the ATM which is probably a nearly a mile round trip, caused me to be entirely drenched with perspiration. I changed clothes and then went to meet Lena to walk to school.

So far, I am not going to lie, but I am really enjoying my 15-minute walk / commute to work. Realistically, a normal person could probably complete the walk in ten minutes assuming they get a favorable crossing of the main street that separates the school (BNDS) from the apartment complex. Oh, I found out what the apartment complex is called. It is called, Qin Shan Shui (pronounced Chin Shahn-Shhhweee). What does it mean? That is a good question. Some research has still not revealed an answer. Unfortunately, it is really difficult to look up meanings of expressions in Mandarin when all one has is the so-called Pin-Yin. I tried speaking into Google Translator, which is always fun, and it came up with "minor injuries belonging", so I'll have to keep trying.

Lena and I arrived once again in the conference room earlier than our peers to reclaim out seats at the conference table. When Todd arrived, we spent time going over the changes in the schedules to ensure we had no room conflicts. This process took me some time because there were so many details to check. It also gave me the first insight into my schedule for the term which I have a feeling is still going to change since one of my classes was reassigned due to a scheduling conflict which may mean that I end up teaching another class instead. Right now, I am slated to teach one section of Biology 11/12, two sections of AP Honors Biology, and two sections of tenth grade biology. This makes for 25 hours of class minus 5 taught by my Chinese counterpart or 20 periods, so I will probably be given another class. It may be a chemistry class in the national program in fact. I would much rather have an additional section of a class I am already teaching rather than another prep. We shall see.

The rest of the morning was all about faculty evaluations. We were told there will be a camera in our classroom, and we will never know who, if anyone, is watching. We were told that we know that people, especially our Chinese counterparts are known to watch so they can learn your style and decrease the differences between themselves and us when they teach our classes. It was also explained to us that the Chinese students and how much they enjoy us as teachers means more than it might in the USA. If we are perceived by the students as unprepared or not holding them to high standards, they will think we are soft teachers and find our classes boring. We are to give a minimum of 30 minutes of homework per night including weekends. Believe it or not as this would never fly in the USA, we are to assign EXTRA homework over any holidays and vacations.

We also learned something that I found incredibly fascinating as our school is a public school. We were told that the parents of students in our special International program are paying 90,000 CN 元 ($14,900 USD) to send their children to our public school. Yes, this was shock to most of us. We are very used to free public school in the USA. Free, in that the money comes from property taxes not tuition collections. Meanwhile, $14,900 by Chinese standards represents an enormous sum of money to any family just as it would to 90% of families in the USA. This huge monetary commitment from parents combined with the huge hurdle students must make just to be accepted (top 5% on the national Chinese high school placement exam) means we have a very rare and exceptionally talented student-body.

We broke for lunch, and a whole group of us headed up the street to a traditional Chinese restaurant called Blue Horizon Zhongdinglou Restaurant. Out front, we were greeted by a series of hosts all dressed up like French bell captains who then directed / escorted us into the restaurant. Once inside the main entrance, we each picked an entree off a wall-sized picture menu and then were seated at a big table with a lazy-susan in the middle. It seems like there were many other options going on that we just did not know about.

We were served drinks by our wait staff. We managed to order a bucket of ice which I then had a glass of hot water poured over it to make chilled water. I was very happy. I know the expression, "when in Rome," and I normally subscribe to it, but when it's 90-degrees out with 120% humidity, I cannot drink hot water. I need ice water to feel psychologically healthy. Our entrees started arriving one by one. They were placed on the lazy-susan and shared around for everyone to enjoy. Some of the dishes were excellent and others missed the mark. I did not care for the dish I selected, but other people loved it. It was basically sprouting corn and soybeans in a very delicious sauce. It was oddly chewy to me. I loved one of Cameron's choices which was a bamboo steaming dish of vegetables and fruits including corn cob quarters, slices of sweet potato, boiled peanuts, and tender soybeans in the pod. This was definitely a dish designed to help one practice chop stick usage.

After lunch, we semi-hurried back to campus to listen to two presentations given by our colleagues. The first was a history of our program and the second was on what we can and cannot do in class – more of a nuts and bolts concept when it comes to reading the student-faculty handbook. The rules are pretty similar to US standards. We had free time then until 4 o'clock while all final changes in the schedule were made, and we returned to make class schedules for our rooms. Todd informed us that on Thursday we would be all going off campus to a nearby nature preserve or park. The school wanted us to be prepared to bring a sack lunch on that day. In addition, it was confirmed that I was going to be teaching most of my classes in room 5D.

It was a nice room that would soon be nicer as all of our rooms were undergoing a renovation to be completed by the end of September. One of the problems that our school is facing is that the International Department has grown by leaps and bounds. It has doubled in size between this and last year, but only recently has the magnitude of this become so apparent. We needed more classrooms than we had. We need more office space than we had. The Deputy Principal and American AP Principal are both going to have to move offices twice in the next two months to accommodate this growth. Two new science labs are being built as I write this – and when I say science labs I mean state of the art, brand new, science labs. It's like two days ago there where two empty rooms, a hive of workers descended, and now there are science labs. It's incredible.

By the end of September, there are supposed to be all new teachers desks and student desks, new white boards, and new printers in every classroom. It's pretty cool. After our final scheduling meeting, I walked to the dry cleaners to pick up my ironed shirts. For 15 CN 元 ($2.38 USD), I did not have high expectations. What I received was five beautifully ironed shirts, each bagged on a hangar. There is no way on this earth I could have done this myself to this degree of perfection of five shirts in one day. I have no idea how these were done, but this has to be the most well-spent $2.38 in my lifetime. I was so appreciative I wanted to hug the dry cleaner personally. Instead, I thanked the people so much, and I promised to bring them more business from all of my teacher colleagues. Then I decided to instead of walking straight home, I would take the long way by continuing on in that same direction (east) from the campus to the next big intersection. This took a while of walking. Eventually, I came to a very big street called Yong Ding Lu Road. I headed north and saw my first KFC in Beijing. I had to go in. If I had been hungrier, I would have immediately ordered up a bucket with mashed potatoes and gravy! Across the street, I saw my first DQ. I had to go in. They have a very interesting operation at the DQ / Orange Julius. Of course, they have two types of Juliuses (orange and pineapple). They have four types of blizzards (two of which involve green tea ice cream). They have amazing looking chocolate covered moon cakes. I did not stay for food, but I had an excellent time checking the places out.

Next, I then walked back west on Bei Tai Ping Road. Eventually, I came to our school-selected bank (China Construction Bank) and the Chao Shi Fa (CSF market). I entered the Chao Shi Fa to acquire items for my sack lunch on Thursday. I purchased: a half loaf of wheat bread, a nicely ripened pear, a box of Oreos with special cream (1/2 blueberry, 1/2 raspberry – two flavors in one bite), a small chocolate chocolate chip muffin cake, a two-serving package of Lays® Potato Chips (American Classic Flavor), and a bottle of sweet tea – similar to southern USA sweet tea with lemon flavor. I spent about 39 CN 元 ($6.90 USD) which is a lot more than I expected, but then again, the bread and cookies and chips are enough for more meals!

Note: I forgot I wanted to make a note of something about grocery stores, or should I say, eggs, in 中國 / Zhōngguó. At least in this region of Beijing, they do not refrigerate eggs. It's not like they do not refrigerate them sometimes, or for periods of time, or they don't have the ability or knowledge of how to do so, obviously. It is because they know what I have been saying for years and years and years, that eggs do not need to be refrigerated. They do not rot or spoil due to a lack of refrigeration. In fact, they only spoil if cracked. Either way, you will know because of the odor or appearance that the egg cracked. It is probably safest just to throw cracked eggs away anyway refrigerated or not. Finally, I was vindicated in my beliefs by an entire country!

Then I walked back to my flat in Qin Shan Shui.

I do not know if it was the long walk carrying my back pack and my ironed shirts, jet lag, dehydration, or some combination, but I wanted to go right to sleep. I readied myself and my bed and complied. I awoke at about 10 pm to find I had left the lights on. I got myself a little better organized for the morning, made sure the wake up alarms were adjusted for the earlier start time of 8 am, and selected my outfit for the opening of school faculty panoramic photo that would be taken the next morning. Then I climbed back into bed and went to sleep soundly.

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