Wednesday, August 29, 2012

29 August 2012 -- Journal Log

Scooter's Journal Log
Earth Date 29 August 2012

I awoke a bit later than usual and had to scurry about a bit to get in a bowl of cereal and sweet milk for breakfast. I delayed dressing up in fancy attire as long as possible as I knew I was in for a day of hot humid weather and intermittent air conditioning situations as we would be alternating between being outside and then inside various rooms and facilities. Eventually, I got ready and walked to school.

Photographic Memory & Unfortunate Mishap
The entire faculty, staff, and administration of the International Department of BNDS, which seemed like something on the order of 100 people, gathered in front of our prized building at approximately 8 o'clock in the morning for a panoramic picture. We were told to climb these metal risers: men behind on higher rows and women below. I was positioned on the second row from the top unwilling to go any higher without hand rails. The person next to me bumped me inadvertently sending me sprawling forward rather than backward which would have been a 3-m fall onto solid concrete. Unfortunately, I hit my colleague and dept. head in the face with my fist knocking him off balance. Fortunately, he recovered quickly thereby preventing what surely could have been a domino effect all the way down the chain into the Principal of BNDS, Mr. Li. I have no doubt that the resulting pictures will be marvelous and have captured all of us smiling our best.

A School with Its Own Banquet Hall
After many photos were taken, we were told to reconvene in a few minutes in what was called the 6th floor Lecture Room. As I rode the elevator up, I had no idea what to expect. I was worried how so many people would fit in a traditional lecture room. I need not have worried as the room was precisely of the same quality and size of any 5-star hotel banquet room that seats easily 500 persons. The carpet was a spectacular, customized pattern featuring the BNDS logo in purple and red on a blue background. There were 10 groups of tables arranged with 9-10 people assigned to each one including a mix of international teachers and Chinese teachers returning and new.

No Matter Where You Go – Opening Faculty Meeting Hi-Jinx
First on the schedule was a welcome speech from our deputy principal, Betty Wu. After this we had two rounds of introduction activities that included the introduction of everyone in the room via what are called here, PPT (powerpoint) slides.

Chinese Game Show
We were than challenged to a series of getting-to-know-you games and then a quiz. The quiz involved everyone standing up and then facing true or false questions about the school and about 中國 / Zhōngguó and Beijing. Everyone was on the honor system, which as you may know, means something very different in 中國 / Zhōngguó than in the USA where one might cheat a little just to get ahead a few rounds. As each question was posed, people with their eyes closed standing up, were to hold their arms high and made an 'X' for false and an 'O' for true. If you got it wrong, you had to sit down. I made it into the final round of 15 people and was very proud. Two previous trips to Beijing didn't hurt, however. The final round was conducted up on stage. I thought it was going to be more trivia; but, instead, we played the Chinese version of musical chairs. In this game, people walk quickly in a circle around a group of chairs. When the music stops, a number is called and you must immediately grab people until you have a group of people hugging / clinging together that matches the number called. If you are left out of a group, you are eliminated. My strategy was to immediately grab the person in front of me when the music stopped because the number was always going to exceed one, and it would be easier then to convince or grab or be grabbed by others to reach the number needed. As I would be in the center, if the group grew too big, I would be less likely to be pushed out. The strategy succeeded and I made it to the top five. We were each rewarded with a bag of Hershey Kisses. It was kind of a cosmic coincidence given my previous year of teaching barely 45 minutes from the Kisses factory! I couldn't help but reflect on all of the wonderful people I would be missing this year back in York, PA. The chocolates made it seem like they were somehow here enjoying this experience with me in a way.

Trying to Teach Chinese Language in 5 Minutes or Less
Next up was practical Mandarin training. For an hour and a half, we were treated to the fundamental of the Chinese language learning such useful expressions as the name of the Great Wall, how to say hello and good bye, and how to correctly pronounce the name of our school in Chinese. It was pretty cool, and the teacher was awesome.

Who Needs a Coffee Break?
In China, of course, they do not take smoking breaks or coffee breaks, it's all about the tea1 We then took a break for tea and snacks. This also allowed us to mingle with our friends and colleagues and learn about his or her experiences is the games.

From there we were then treated to a couple of presentations. Mr. Zhou Bin, Vice-Director of the BNDS International Department and supervisor of foreign programs gave us a very nice discussion of our relationship to our partner school, Wasatch Academy, in Utah as well as many other very nice details about our school and the way it fits into the world. Then Mr. James McClenahan, Director of the Oral English Program, gave a short presentation on his program which included my favored new friends Stephanie, Robbie, Xiao Jared, and, of course, Niall. After all of this hard work, we were treated to a short walk and exercise as we travelled across campus on foot past the stadium, gymnasium, library, and student dormitories, to the dining hall building which is really the basement and ground floor of the International Department Teacher housing building – a very tall complex. We had lunch in the second floor canteen. It was a traditional meal of Chinese food. I mostly had rice.

After lunch, we returned to the 6th floor banquet hall for more orientation activities, and presentation. We hear from Todd regarding the AP program and then Heather Milton regarding the A-Level program. Finally, Mr. Tu Xin gave a bit more about the A-Level program. We were released from duty around 4:00 pm.

Powerless?!? How to Get Electricity in Beijing
I walked home to find my power was out due apparently to the fact that my electricity meter for my flat had run out of kilowatts – not surprisingly, electric power is handled very differently in China than the USA. I started to panic because I did not know how late the bank would be open to recharge my electricity meter smart card, and then the complex management office would be open to add the kilowatts to my meter. I grabbed my card and rushed to the bank two blocks to the west of my flat complex of Qin Shan Shui. It is an ICBC bank. I showed the electricity card to the person in the bank who greets and assigns numbers to people. My number was nowhere near being close to being called, so I headed to the ATM to get cash assuming you needed cash to recharge the smart card. When I pulled out my debit card, the greeter person rushed over to me and started shouting something. He then took my by the arm to the big Diebold ATM in the lobby. He asked for my debit card which I handed over, and he inserted it into the ATM. The ATM is mostly in Chinese with some English such as deposit, withdrawal, balance inquiry. He then pointed at the number keys, said something, and turned his head. I got the idea this meant I should enter my PIN which I did. He then turned back and selected a series of options on the screen in very short order. The ATM spit out my debit card and he inserted the electricity smart card. Then he pointed at the screen. The screen meant nothing to me. I got the idea I was supposed to enter in how much money I wanted to spend. I did not even know how much I had left in my account, but I was pretty sure I had enough to cover 100 CN 元, so I put in 100. He gave me a very funny look as if I had not idea what I was doing, which I did not, so I wasn't offended, and then pushed a bunch of buttons. The ATM did a lot of thinking, grinding and chugging before it spit out my smart card and two receipts, one very long and stamped several times with red ink. He handed all of these to me and smiled and waved me away. I left feeling that I had succeeded and rushed back to try to find the management offices at Qin Shan Shui. I found the signs and then scrambled around. Eventually, I found they led to a small building with not windows and no activity. This made me wonder if it was just closed. As I searched around the back side, I noticed across the path a covered entrance to an underground world. Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, I descended the granite micro steps down three levels into what turned out to be an absolutely enormous underground world of offices and apartments where many of the groundskeepers and their families reside deep in the bowels of the complex. I went to a receptionist and waved my electricity card. She smiled and said something, which I took to mean show her my apartment smart card which had my building, tower, and unit number on the back. She then handed me back my cards, picked up the phone, and waved me away. I took this to mean I should go home and wait, which I did. Of course, by now, I am sweaty mess. Minutes after arriving home to my flat, there was a knock at the door. The gentlemen took my smart card and then showed me how to stick it into the meter, push a button, and flip a switch. Moments later, 100 or so KW appeared on the meter which had been flashing red. I went into the apartment and test the lights which worked fine. Twenty minutes later, my flat was cooled and pleasant.

Ice Cream, It's Not Just for Dessert Anymore
For dinner, I had ice cream which, thankfully, had not melted. I don't remember what happened, I just know I fell asleep and then woke up in time to get ready for the second day of our opening departmental activities.

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