Friday, August 29, 2008

taxis are my favorite

it's true. i think the taxi rides are the best part of shanghai. many are non-descript but then you get one that speaks a few random words in english and the fun begins.

last night, the ride included myself, jenna, and steve, a brit that we met here. not long after we started going, the driver points to me (in the front seat) and starts saying something that sounds kind of like "english." thinking he means the language i speak, i nod vigorously, yes, english! until steve pipes in, no i'm english, she's american. ah, i get it now. but it doesn't matter, in fact, it's probably even better because then the taxi driver starts pumping his hands in the air and saying Obama! and lots of things in chinese. we also hear Clinton in there somewhere and it takes a bit of broken chinese on our part, but we finally figure out that he is, in fact a democrat, rooting for clinton and then obama. hung hao obama! (very good obama!) bu yao McCain. (no want McCain.)

after finding the political cartoon for obama in the chinese newspaper at his side, the taxi driver then turns to steve and starts saying something about the english soccer players, i think. i didn't know who he was talking about, but steve did and the taxi driver seemed very excited about it. he kept mimicking one of the soccer players, who is apparently quite known for his boasting. even without knowing the real people, the imitation was hilarious.

we also spent some time discussing where in our respective countries each of us is from. as soon as i said america, the taxi driver started listing off the cities that he knows - san francisco, los angeles, new york, bismark. so i say nebraska! and he looks confused so i make a map in the air and point to the middle. and he says something in chinese that i think meant, oh, ok, the middle. and so i show him bismark and nebraska on our imaginary map and hope he will remember so that he can make the day of the next american he drives. then we point to jenna and say michigan, detroit? michigan? and of course he knows michigan. why bismark and michigan, i have no idea, but then, that's just how things go here in china. (we also mentioned houston and yao ming, as that's usually a crowd-pleaser, but he was not a fan of yao ming and the conversation quickly turned.)

our discussion also included starbucks - cappuccino, mmm! and how the US doesn't like to let people in. it went something like, "wao (me) love USA! (make passport gesture) USA no, no, no, no, no!"

and finally, to top it all off, our cab driver starts humming yankee doodle. yes, yankee doodle. then he says "america, something something something in chinese. england, something in chinese, pow pow pow," complete with the gun hand motions and sound effects. yes, there was a war, but it's ok, we're friends now. thanks for that refresher on american history. i needed it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

the start of a beautiful career

so, as first days go, today was probably the most memorable first day of school i ever could have asked for. i never even made it to school. and not through any fault of my own. shanghai decided to flood this morning. only no one realized exactly what was going on until it was too late. the bus picked us up at 7 and it was raining pretty hard, but we didn't think much of it. until we started driving in water up to our bumpers. then we started to wonder about whether it was worth going to school.

it took an hour and a half to pick up 2 kids. it should have taken like 20 minutes, tops. it took another hour to pick up the next 2 kids at the same complex. then we headed out of the apartment complex, around the corner, into a river of water and stopped. and not on purpose. our bus had stalled out, probably due to the water pouring into the engine...and then the interior of the bus. we called the school, but all they could do was send another bus and tell us to wait. so we did. for 3 hours.

at that point, both 3-year-old boys had run out of seatbelts and buttons to explore, the two 5-year-old girls were running out of things to say to each other and the 2 brand new teachers had pretty much exhausted their patience, with no rescue in sight. and then walks by one of the neighbors of the kids we had just picked up. there was a bigger bus full of kindergartners stalled right in front of us whose parents had come wading through the river of a street to get them. the neighbor called our students' mothers and shortly thereafter, here comes two mothers, wading in up to their thighs, umbrellas in hand, to rescue their children from the bus. and we were down to two. (had we realized just how close to their building we were, we would have called them sooner, but we thought we had gone a lot farther before getting stuck.)

a few minutes after that, Hana's mom came back to the bus to get Wakana, the last little girl. she had spoken with her mother and they had decided it would be better for Wakana to stay at Hana's. looking at our sad, sorry selves sitting on the warm bus with an antsy kid, i think she took pity and invited us all to stay with them at her apartment until the new bus could arrive. thinking it wouldn't be long, we gladly agreed. little did we know that, 3 hours later, we would still be sitting at her apartment, essentially babysitting.

she was the nicest woman. she took us into her apartment and showed us some toys; gave us a towel to wash the yucky street water off our legs and let us hang out. she somehow didn't seem to mind the 3-year-old boy throwing their toys and screaming, nor the disruption of her day. she even made us sandwiches and sent us on our way with a bag of bananas and cookies. finally, finally, the new bus called to tell us they could see the apartment building. we said, we'll meet you outside. luckily the water had gone down a lot and the ride home wasn't terrible. it still took way longer than it should have, but we made it without incident.

my only hope for tomorrow is that i actually make it to school. if i accomplish that, i will consider my day a success.

p.s. important lessons learned: Do not try to use your bus as a boat!! (oh, little did that man know...) also, never leave home with a purse devoid of toys. i can't believe that the one time in my life i choose not to carry crayons and silly putty is the time i need them most.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

epic week.

oh man, the excitement of this week will never end. we've spent most of the week at school, trying to get our classrooms ready for the open house this weekend. that has been a bit insane. i've spent half the week just staring at my room wondering what on earth i should possibly be doing. unfortunately, the more i do, the more i realize i have to do and tomorrow will be a bit frantic. it is the last day before open house and our toys are bulletin boards are being delivered. it's going to be a long day.

after school, when jet lag tells me i should be sleeping, we have been going out every night, eating here and seeing these people and buying tickets to the olympics. the first night was dinner with janice and josh at this giant restaurant on the 5th floor of what is basically a four-story home depot. the restaurant takes up the entire floor and seats 2000+ people. it apparently is booked every night, although i'm not exactly sure why. the food was ok, but it was fun to try everything and attempt to use chopsticks while exhausted. my skills fluctuate with the amount of sleep i need. i did discover that mushrooms come in more varieties than the little brown ones you get at home and i actually like some kinds.

then, on monday, we get to work and they tell us that we are going for foot massages at 2:30. this is a culture i can get used to. (it more than made up for the chicken gizzards they served us at lunch.) they took all of the girls from work for 90 minute foot massages and then our bus driver took us to dinner. massages are definitely something i am going to have to look into on a regular basis. our foot massages also included an arm/hand rub, a foot soak, a leg rub and a little shoulder massge. after that was dinner with the girls, which was way better than our first dinner. pretty much everything is served family style here. everyone has a little plate and they bring out food as it is cooked and put it on a lazy susan in the middle. then you can try a little of everything and get more of the things you really liked. i actually really like it. it seems like a better way to enjoy a restaurant b/c you get to try lots of things instead of just one. and if you don't like one, you're not stuck with it.

tuesday is fighting with wednesday for best day of the week. i think probably wednesday will win. i think my favorite part of tuesday, though, was the cab ride home from work. it took forever b/c of the traffic and the olympics. we live just down the street from shanghai stadium, which is where they are playing some of the semifinals, so our street was all blocked off and we had to go a long way around. which was ok, b/c we had an awesome cab driver. there was a big screen showing a commercial for the soccer game and we were trying to figure out what time it started, and our driver, Li, spoke just enough english to understand, so he chimes in with "seven" in english and chinese and we all get excited and then kaitlin starts talking to him with the little chinese that she knows. we only had a few words in common, but it was fun to talk with him. he asked where we were from and kaitlin starts in with, "houston, yao ming. houston," while making basketball motions with her hands. we also taught him to say "kat-e-lin is aw-some." which is way more amusing when you know that he was probably in his 60's and definitely looked it.

when we finally got home we cleaned up real quick, donned our red, white and blue and headed down toward the stadium to see if we could get tickets for the game that night. on our way, we stopped for dumplings at this little hole in the wall (literally) on our street. thank goodness for kaitlin and her limited chinese, but even that doesn't help us read the menu. after some pointing and a bit of procedural confusion, we ended up with a small dinner of dumplings for 3 for under $2.

getting tickets turned out to be much less of a problem than we thought it would be. as soon as it was known that we were looking for tickets, we were surrounded by a mob of people waving tickets in our faces and shouting prices. we ended up buying 3 out of 4 legit-looking tickets for like $17 from a very desperate-looking belgian. apparently he had gotten tickets for his buddies only to discover that they had also gotten tickets through someone else. so, he sat with us, or rather, we sat with him and it was fun to chat during the game. the game itself was pretty good - nigeria vs. belgium, i'll let you guess who won. and i'm pumped that i actually got to go to the olympics! it still doesn't seem real.

after the game, we were waiting to get out of the stands and some random chinese guys stopped by us to take a picture. i kept moving out of their way, only to quickly discover that they had stopped to take a picture with us and i was foiling their photo-op. it was so bizarre, but fun to feel like a celebrity. we took pictures with their camera and our camera and they just loved it. on the way out, a bunch of japanese guys stopped kaitlin and took pictures with her, thinking she was a belgian fan. only after they were done did she pull out her american flag. the chinese also liked taking pictures of the nigerian fans. at first we thought the players were coming out, based on the mob of cameras around them, but then we realized it was just the fans.

wednesday i already wrote about mostly. wednesday night is ladies night at zapata's, which is a mexican bar not far from us. it's a lot of foreigners and pretty expensive, but ladies night means free margaritas and 80's music, so we had a good time. it would have been better had i not been dead from jet lag.

today was school and then carrefoure. this particular carrefoure is something like a 4-story wal-mart, only not as good as that would be. they have a lot of the same kinds of things but somehow the selection is not as good. one floor is house stuff, one is a grocery store, one is full of little shops, kind of like a mall, and all are full of people. it was so busy and so overwhelming. i think i managed to find half of the things on my list. there were so many that i just didn't even bother to try looking for. like groceries. we got a few basic things and some random things, but mostly, by that point, we were so overwhelmed by all of the things and the people, we just gave up. i did manage to find chocolate-chip and red bean cookies (just ok) and strawberry popcorn (yet to be tried).

when we got home, kaitlin tried to call for a new jug of water for our apartment and ran into a bit of a language barrier. so she runs down the hall to find a neighbor that can speak chinese and brings back maria, who happens to speak english as well. i'm still not sure how she found her, but maria turned out to be incredibly sweet. she spent 3 years in the US, going to school in Illinois and living in NYC. she came back here just before 9/11 and got breast cancer a few years ago. so she's been living at home and trying to get well for the last 4 years. she was so sweet, though. she asked us what we were eating and made sure we had pots and pans and that we are drinking the right kind of water. only instead of just asking, she would just turn around and start opening cupboards to make sure that we had the things we need. so, i think we've found a surrogate mother here. she even offered to take us to the stand where she buys vegetables and show us how to cook. so that will be fun. i'm looking forward to getting to know her better. and it's nice to know there is someone so close to help us out with things that we really can't do on our own.

ok, i know that was epic, but it think i've covered the week. probably the weekend will be just as epic, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

wednesday is a good day.

ah, another good day in china. everyday is a new adventure and today was an especially good one. jenna and i had our new resident physical this afternoon, which meant no food after 9am (they want an empty system for the blood test). that being the case, we decided on a heavy breakfast of street food. kaitlin took us to her favorite one by the school - some sort of dough/egg wrap with garlic, onions, bean paste and some sort of fried onion wafer. ok, it sounds bad but it was actually really good. and like 50 cents. rock on.

after a few hours of "work" preparing our classrooms, one of our fabulous chinese teachers took jenna and me to the international clinic for our physical. i have a feeling it will be one of my most memorable experiences in china. first of all, there are several buildings and it took us 3 tries to find the entrance we needed. when we finally found it, they had us fill out a form and then sent us back to the first building to have our picture taken. when we got that all straightened out, our physical experience could begin. it goes something like this:

they send you back to a room that looks something like a big dressing room with some lockers. a nice chinese nurse hands you a folded up robe and tells you with her hands that everything has to go. only after you go into the changing room do you realize that it's just a shirt and, luckily, your pants get to stay. after putting your things in a locker, she then directs you down the hall to an open room where you walk in, hand the chinese doctor your form and wonder what will happen next. and so it goes for the next room, and the next, all the way down the hall. well, mostly down the hall. the x-ray portion happens in a blue bus parked next to the building. yeah, a bus. where you stand on a box and they x-ray your whole body...or maybe just your torso, i'm not really sure. there's also a vision check, a general exam, a blood sample, an ultrasound (of your abdomen, i still don't know why) and, my personal favorite, an EKG. that one was actually a little bit scary. you walk in and go behind this screen to find a doctor's office bed with a sheet, a pillow, some random metal clamps and a couple wet spots. the nurse motions for to lay down and open your robe. she then proceeds to clamp metal clamps to your ankles and wrists and stick other strange metal things to your chest. in the end, you realize that she's just looking at your heartbeat, but somehow, with the language barrier and the underdeveloped country, it's a little bit terrifying.

all in all, it was perfectly harmless and just amusing, but it was amazing to me just how much scarier it was with the language barrier. you never knew what was going to happen and the staff couldn't really tell you ahead of time. none of them spoke more than a few words of english - just the ones they really needed for the task at hand. you really had to just follow the hand gestures and trust that it would be ok. i was also amazed at just how much could be accomplished without much verbal communication at all. there are some things that you almost can't do without talking, but so many things for which it is superfluous. while language may ease the transaction, it is unnecessary.

after the physical, jenna and i were pretty ready for some food, so, after a brief stop for olympic memorabilia, Carol took us to Metro City for dinner. after a lap and a half around the food court of chinese food, we ended up at pizza hut. which was actually kind of nice because it was familiar, but not. at home, pizza hut is fast food. here it is fine dining. after being seated in the classy restaurant by one of the many waitresses wearing blouses covered in the words pizza hut, we ordered cappaccino's and marveled at the forks. i don't think i've really been here long enough to appreciate the significance of a fork at a restaurant, but it was the first one we'd seen outside of our apartment since we got here. and i have yet to actually eat at my apartment. we also were amused by the fact that pizza hut offers tea time. i'm still on clear on what that means, but they definitely don't do that at home. nor do they have smoothies, cappaccino, appetizers or chocolate cake.

anyway, we ordered boring pizza, but you can get it with all kinds of random things here like salmon, carrots, probably tofu. we also orderd the salad bar, the contents of which are much like at home but the rules are very different. i'm not sure if we ordered one or three, but they brought us one little bowl and told us we had one trip. so we made it count. as carol said, we exercised our skills. when the pizza finally came, it was tiny! i don't even think it was as big as a small at home, but i don't really know. i don't think i've ever ordered a small pizza. thing is, i don't think the large would have been very big either. that's just not what they do here. anyway, it tasted pretty much like home and while i wasn't really craving american food yet, it was nice get a taste of what home looks like, china-style.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

and the year begins...

ok, so this is the first installation of my (hopefully prolific) series about my first year of teaching in an american kindergarten in shanghai. in order for everything that i say this year to make sense, i am going to begin by giving some background about me.

i was born and raised in lincoln, ne . my family is fairly average - middle class; white; two mildly overbearing parents; two siblings, one older, one younger; formerly a cat, currently a dog. my family is pretty close and we tend to stay close to our roots. i love them dearly and would have a pretty hard time being where i am were it not for their help and support.

i've wanted to be a teacher since about the 4th grade and i've been teaching since the 5th. the grade level and subject matter are still evolving, but i can't imagine doing or being anything else. i always kind of assumed that i would do the college thing and then graduate, get a job, get married, have kids, settle down. the american dream. and maybe i will eventually. but about a year and a half ago, my life took an interesting turn. it happened while i was doing a study abroad down in costa rica and simultaneously trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. i travelled a lot while i was down there and discovered that i love traveling, seeing new cultures and learning about how they see the world. and i realized that i wanted to be able to continue doing that, even after the study abroad was over.

which led me to africa. for whatever reason, i have this burning desire to go and spend some time doing whatever i can to help there. really help. and it suddenly occurred to me that there is absolutely no reason why i can't go do that. it seems obvious, but this was a landmark realization for me. i don't come from a family of world travellers and i had never really considered doing anything outside of getting a job teaching in the states. the idea of moving to a foreign country to teach was kind of huge.

my next thought, of course, was that it's going to be expensive to go teach in africa if i want to go with any sort of program and i'm not exactly rolling in the dough at this point in my life. this thought was immediately followed by, you can make a lot of money teaching english in japan. or china, that would be good too. and thus my current life was born. i pretended to think about it for awhile, as much for my benefit as everyone else's, but pretty much as soon as the thought was thought, i was in. and i think it shall be one heck of a ride.