Friday, August 24, 2012

24 August 2012 – Journal Log

Scooter's Journal Log
Earth Date 24 August 2012

I awoke at 6 am to the countdown timer on my cell phone. I dressed and got ready to go. I almost drank a glass of water, but remembered this was a no-no just in time. I walked over to the main entrance of our campus (also known as the West Gate) to meet up with my group. When I arrived, I was reminded that we were supposed to bring two passport photos, but now it was too late for me to go back for them. I was bummed that I had forgotten them until I realized that I put all of my extra required passport photos in my backpack! Finally, lugging this thing around packed with stuff was paying off!

We were merged with a group of four new ESL teachers all recent graduates of Cedarville College in Ohio named Steph, Robby, Xiao (where Xiao is the pronunciation of the Chinese character for little 小 – meant as a term of endearment not stature) Jared I named him this to distinguish him from the other Jarrod (Pre-Calc) whom I decided should simultaneously be called 大Jarrod (where 大 is the character for big in Chinese and is pronounced "Da"), and Niall. I thought they were pretty cool people, and it was fascinating to hear what had drawn each to take this opportunity to come and teach English in Beijing. I debated internally whether they or I was more brave and concluded they are far more brave.

We were transported by mini buss to the clinic which was about an hour away.

Once there, we filled out a one-page form and stood in a line. Clinicians took our form and stamped it, took our passports and entered a ton of information about us into their system, and then printed us a new sheet with our information typed onto it and a bunch of matched bar codes. After signing and approving the information on the form, we were directed to the payment line where Beijing National Day School (BNDS) paid for our physical. I was personally glad that I did not pay for a physical in the USA as I had been tempted to do because all of the people who did were informed their information wasn't helpful, and they needed to go through this process anyway.

From there we were set lose to go to various rooms and labs for each test. It was a round-robin sort of thing similar to a health fair in the states. I picked the shortest line to start which turned out to be an ultrasound of my belly. Guess what, turns out I am not going to get Disney World if you know what I mean. From there, it was an ECG, then blood pressure, then chest x-ray, eye exam (color vision and distance), blood test, blood pressure, and finally what they called surgery. I really did not want to go to surgery. I had no idea what it could mean. It turned out to be height, weight, and a glandular exam. Our height and weight were taken electronically on this one device similar to a scale, and a doctor felt the glands under our chin. At each station, our bar code was scanned and attached to our result page or sample. Then our form was stamped or signed to ensure we went to every station. I think the first person to finish should have gotten a prize. It wasn't I, but I still think he or she should have gotten a prize. We then waited in another line and submitted our form to a final person who gave us a receipt for our group leader to use to acquire our results the next week.

We returned to campus and were told we could have lunch on our own but to be back at school by 12:30 pm for a campus tour. A group of us headed to the grocery store for things. Lena bought a slice of some kind of melon with parsley decoration so she wouldn't have to find a place to wash it before lunch, and then I said I just wanted to go to McDonald's for lunch rather than take the bus to the mall to go to Pizza Hut. Lena agreed with me, so the two of us went to McDonald's.

I really wanted to use the wi-fi to get a FourSquare check-in and check my email. I also wanted to try the McDonald's. I had never been to one in Beijing before. It was a cool experience. The combo meals cost between 15 – 18 CN 元 ($2.38 and $2.85 USD). They are a more healthy portion size than the USA versions but taste relatively the same. They also do special things like bubble tea and this month they have yin-yang buns meaning some are pure ghost white and some are black. Apparently the black ones have a fish taste to them. Lena's melon slice was basically tasteless. She thought it was honey dew or cantaloup or watermelon. To me it looked like none of these, and it had zero taste. It was neither bad nor delicious. I accidentally ordered a spicy chicken sandwich and had to swap it with McNuggets later. Lena and I ended up sitting at a table next to two students who will be Senior II students at BNDS. They explained to us that Senior II is equivalent to 11th grade. Here, they are called Senior I, II, or III instead of 10th, 11th, and 12th graders. We were also told they wear school running suits of the same color depending on grade level with each grade having a signature color. Senior II is navy blue. They told us about the hamburger buns and translated some words for us. They were delightful students. They also told us that Lena's melon was not to be eaten that way, rather, it was supposed to be chopped up and put in soup to add a crunchy texture to the soup – sort of, I guess, like USAers add celery. This made sense. It was the first encounter either of us had with kids from our school. Mind you, we had not yet toured the campus or met any of the students in the interview process, etc. We told them we were new teachers at the school, but they did not seem to believe us.

We walked back to campus and met up with our people for the tour. Todd immediately took us into the International Building / Department. The building is a huge Corporate HQ-looking building that would fit nicely on any upscale college campus or office park. The inside rotunda was filled with the flags of nations from around the world. Much of the place was still in disarray as many things were being moved for the start of the year. The biggest thing that was going on was something that may well be extremely traumatic for the success of the students.

Traditionally, in middle and high school, Chinese students are put in groups like big families. They then get a classroom and a desk, and it is the teachers who move from room to room, not the students. This is the way it has been done for decades, and this is the way it will continue to be done in the rest of the school. In our department, however, it was decided at some point this summer, that this system is not good for the teachers and eventually it is not good for students who intend to go to university in the USA for which our program is designed to prepare them. I cannot imagine how much time and effort it took to build the case for this monumentally complex change. Of course, the motivation for it in the USA is that it allows for students to take courses for which they are developmentally ready. Some are stronger earlier in math and science or language. So, rather than teach a class of wildly mixed levels of ability; and, in our case, the ability may be predicated somewhat also by how good the students English is, the students will be placed according to level of ability. The end result is that most teachers will now have their own classrooms starting this year of the program. So, needless to say, this means a lot of stuff is being moved around. It will also create rooms that are designed to deliver on a specific area of content, something that was not previously possible. It also explains why Todd wrote to us this summer authorizing a $150 budget for classroom decorations – I couldn't see how that would work and didn't acquire anything given knowledge of the old system only. I guess my classroom is going to look sort of boring for a while! I will have to do creative projects right off the bat to get things up on the walls! Anyway, back to the tour. So, we got a tour of the 3rd and 5th floors which house our department in this giant building. What else goes on in the building we had no clue. We ended our tour in Conference Room 2 which looked like something out of an episode of "The Good Wife" where the partners would hold a meeting to impress an Asian law firm. It is here that we would be gathering for our first 'official meetings of the school year'. Opening Ceremonies for the school year would be held a week from tomorrow – the birthday of one of my relatives by some coincidence – and school would start on 3 September.

After that, we were dismissed to return to our apartments and await for internet set-up. We did not actually get a campus tour or even a tour of the rest of the building which we could only imagine might occur later.

Internet set-up took an incredibly long time. Jasmine had to go with the installers to each apartment and give instructions as to what the guys were to do. I was so grateful for her time and everything she did for all of us. The whole thing had to be paid for upfront for one year of service to the tune of 1,700 CN 元 ($269.84 USD) including a wireless router. I did not budget for this at all, not even close.

Anyway, it was great to have Internet set up and be able to email and Skype though I may have to eat Ramen for the entire next month!

Because of the delays in getting Internet set up, we had to leave on our planned group trip to get what we were told was going to be the best pizza in Beijing in two groups which turned into three. This trip involved taking the number one subway line about five stops to the number two line. Then we got on the number two line for about three or four stops and then walked about 200 miles, actually it was probably two miles but it felt like 20 to the pizza place. The pizza place itself was off a road that ringed a beautiful lake. The best way to describe the area would be to imagine Venice Beach's boardwalk merged with South Beach Miami and throw in an element of Chinese gardens, dragon gondolas, and lanterns everywhere. It was a sight to behold. It is a place I would love to go back to, but early in the morning so I could spend the whole day exploring the hundreds and hundreds of shops, restaurants, bars, karaoke spots, street acts, and vendors. The one thing I noticed most that was new and unusual were vendors who could carve up little plastic dolls and paint them to look exactly like you and your sweetheart. Sort of a new twist on the caricature artists. When we finally got the pizza, it was pizza in the sense that it had a thin crust and toppings. It is possible you must ask for sauce and cheese if you like that sort of thing on your pizza. I ate it without complaint, though I did have to wonder what the worst pizza in Beijing might be like.

After filling our stomachs, we boxed up the uneaten pizza and exited into the bright lights of the area. We were told there would be few if any expats or tourists, but it was teeming with tourists and expats. I don't care about such things. I am not one of those people who thinks that unless you are 24-7 doing the 'right 'cultural immersion activity, you are missing out. I believe that every experience is invaluable, and it was just as fun either way! We then walked around the lake to the Starbucks but had no time to really go in and look at it as we had only until 11 pm before the subway closed. We hurried, but didn't make it back in time forcing us to wait quite a while for taxis. We had to split into two groups for the taxis which hold at most 4 people if you really squeeze in the back seat and put one up front. Three is better with two in back and one in front. The cab ride back for three people cost us 50 CN 元 or around $7. Nowhere in the USA can you take a cab with three people, late at night a distance of nearly 20 miles for $7, I don't think.

Bedtime! Very long and tiring day, and now the swelling of the foot after all that walking was causing some concern and pain. I emailed my sister-in-law hoping to connect via Skype sometime Friday night her time and Saturday morning my time. I put triple antibiotic ointment on my elbow as my 'Rocky' injury was still healing and hurting, and hydrocortisone on my angle and foot. I slept with my food elevated of course!

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