preparations.

This last week has felt like a month with so much going on. We started work officially this last week, arriving at 8:30 every morning for meetings and attempts at being productive in our rooms. The hang up with the previous sentence is that the renovations on the school were supposed to be completed on August 10th [new floors, paint, air conditioning!, projectors and screens, bathrooms, etc. installed]. It was not all completed until Friday August 29th. Yes, as in the last minute before parents arrived the next morning for an open house.  I wish I could say this was some kind of fluke or there were delays because of some incident that could not be prevented but, no, that is not the case. I have spent enough time in China to say this is just the Chinese way. Workers everywhere seem to kind of dink around very slowly and accomplish very little as if there are no real deadlines for anything and certainly as if there is no motivation, which I can’t imagine there is, this is China. So we had only a little time Friday to actually see our rooms and arrange the desks, and maybe put a couple of things on the walls.  The amount of things I have accomplished at work since arriving here is incredibly laughable compared to my previous years of work, however somehow it seems par for the course here.  On that note, of the things I miss most, capitalism is very high on the list.

At 9:00am Saturday parents were coming for a meeting corporately with L and the director of the school to explain changes from the previous year and discuss expectations. Following the meeting the parents were coming to the classrooms for a meet and greet with their student’s teachers. That is the way it was explained by the American director to the foreign and native staff anyway.

Saturday morning came and we arrived early to make sure things were in place and parents arrived at the same time to start checking things out for themselves, quick with their cameras out to take pictures of everything. No matter. We moved to the auditorium where the teachers were all introduced and then dismissed to our rooms to await the parents impending arrival. An hour and half later parents started trickling in. I had discussed with my Chinese partner teacher, H, that we could just pass out the schedule and field questions if there were any and then be on our way, H seemed to look at me with the now familiar Chinese smile that says basically, “Ok, you just go on thinking that” in the kindest way possible. Then came yet another lesson in the Chinese way.  Parents filed into our room and immediately made a bee-line for my desk and started sorting through my things and the teacher editions of my curriculum, taking pictures of everything. I was by the door trying not to look disturbed as I greeted more parents. They all eventually sat down and looked at H and I eagerly. I assumed they were all waiting for some kind of formal introduction, so I greeted them all and gave a 2 minute introduction and mention of my excitement for the year ahead. Then I stopped talking and H just looked at me, smiled, and then launched into her 20 minute monologue in which whatever she explained had all the parents nodding and immediately ready with approximately 5,834 questions that took another TWO HOURS to answer, all in Chinese, while I stood quietly by trying to make my face inspire some kind of supernatural confidence so the questions would stop. This was Guantanamo level torture for my attention span. We’re talking Situation Room DEFCON 5 in my brain trying to come up with some way to end the madness of these questions which were all asked seemingly with life or death on the line. From what I could tell through some basic gestures by H, ranged from “Where will my student put their bag????” ON THE GIANT HOOK ON THEIR DESK. “What if it is hot outside, will the students have recess?????” YES WE WILL MONITOR THEM. “How many times will my child be able to fill up their water bottle????? (not sure what was said on this one, but I would have said, we will make sure your student is plenty hydrated throughout the day, do not worry.) “My child is special because __________________ what will you do for them????????????”

And on it went, for. so. long.

I asked another foreign teacher, Jon, who has been teaching in China for 5 years already about this experience because every grade experienced the same kind of parental intensity, and he said this was perfectly normal, that the parents feel compelled to be all up in the business of their child’s education because they are so concerned that their child is treated “fairly” and accommodated in every way possible. This is the helicopter parent taken to a whole other level, more like shadow parent. This is such a shock for me coming from teaching at a public high school for the past 6 years. Jon explained that the parents just need to be trained to trust and that it would be a complete reversal in the culture here. I suppose we have out work cut out for us.

School starts tomorrow, Godspeed to us all.

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a healthy check.

The next step in getting my Z visa turned into a work permit was a getting a health report, or a healthy check according to my hosts. They scheduled an appointment for me at the Shanghai International Travel Healthcare Center in Puxi (the west side of Shanghai).

The night before my appointment, it was realized that I would need 4 photos (visa style) to take with me in addition to lots of other papers and applications. Around 8:30pm, L and I set forth to find somewhere that could take care of that. After stumbling around our neighborhood (new to both of us) we come across quite the ramshackle operation that dealt in all matters of photography. After L explained what was needed, a man instructed me to sit on a plastic stool, while he changed out the sheet behind me from blue to white. Then he pulls two stands out from behind a pile of stuff. Both were made from the handles of what were once mops or brooms. One was the “stand” for his camera that also involved a finagling of cardboard while the other provided the proper lighting. Proper lighting in this case meant a lightbulb strung against the foil side of a noodle package.

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This is so typical of China and one of the things that anyone has to admire, that they just make it work. My little pictures turned out just as great as if I had gone to some “professional” outfit in downtown. TIC.

Now on to the actual health check-up…

We arrived at the scheduled time and I was given a number. I waited in a reception area with lots of other expats from around the world while numbers were called to proceed to the paperwork office. I was shuffled from the paperwork office to the cashier (yes, payment always comes first with Chinese healthcare!), then to room 113, the locker room. I turned to go into a narrow hallway which had about 10 rooms all clearly numbered. I saw many people, men and women, mulling around waiting to go into the various rooms, they were all barely clad in short white robes and smurf-like blue plastic shoe covers. I cringed and went into the locker room to change. From then on it was an hour and half of slightly traumatizing procedures by Chinese doctors, waiting beside an elderly Canadian man and a German teenage boy, while trying to make sure my robe was tied securely. Finally all the tests and procedures were complete and I have never gotten dressed so fast in my life.

The report should be here in a few days and then I just have one last step to complete at the police station and then my work permit should be final.

TIC.

the first few days. #TIC

Getting there…

Say what you want about United Airlines, but they have been nothing but faithful to me in my ventures to China and elsewhere. I was somewhat worried about the trip over this time only because I had 5 large checked bags along with my carry-ons. The baggage claim in Shanghai is still in the secure area, so you’re on your own for getting your stuff out the door. I had a few potential strategies involving: soliciting help from others (I struck out in this regard with everyone else around me already needing a cart) to recruiting an airport employee (he walked away quickly, seeming very frightened at my charades about lots of luggage), so that left me getting it on my own, which I did. All 5 bags and the little carry on I checked all arrived, thanks United! [Disclaimer: my luggage was all half-full of curriculum and workbooks, I didn’t bring all that just for myself.]

[A note about the Dreamliner to those who are interested…

My flight from LAX to PVG (Shanghai) was aboard United’s newer Boeing 787, the Dreamliner. I had heard the hype about the aircraft and was intrigued when it was the best option, scheduling wise, for me to take, so I booked it. Advantages over the 747: huge overhead baggage space, better humidity and air pressure so you feel less tired, personal entertainment. The verdict: did I vow to never take a 747 across the pacific again, no, I wasn’t that impressed. The improvements were not great enough to compel me to pay extra or compromise on a more convenient 747 flight, especially since I thought the cushions on the 787 were rather cheap. I always upgrade to economy plus now and so either bird is equally as bearable as it gets when it comes to a 12+ hour flight. This guy gives a pretty good review of the plane with more specifics, if you’re interested in that.]

In Shanghai…

The owner and Director of the school, I will refer to as L, had informed me before my arrival that my apartment would be ready the following weekend, so I would be living with her and her family in their apartment (also in the same complex) until it was ready. No trouble, except that anyone who has shared a hotel room with me knows living out of a suitcase is not one of my fortes. Packing for a week stay at someones house is different than packing for a two year adventure abroad, so in not wanting to drag all the suitcases upstairs, I picked the one I though had at least enough things in it to get me through a week or so and just leave the rest downstairs. It’s worked out. Somehow upon touching down in China you instantly a whole lot less concerned about most things you were when you left. I appreciate that about this culture.

I have been slowly exploring our new neighborhood and the city with Molly, my new friend and roommate. I am very thankful for her! We are kindred spirits in many ways. Our hosts have introduced us to great noodle, dumpling, and other Chinese restaurants around the corner from our complex, however we have already discovered that mentally man cannot live on noodles alone and we have already stopped for Dairy Queen blizzards. I will post more about our apartment next week when we actually move in. Here is a picture from the sales office, yes our apartment complex is called Dream of Space.

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This week we also went on an overnight staff retreat to the city of Shaoxing. This city is home to many famous Chinese. I cannot tell you who they are because I think they are only famous to the Chinese. We took a private bus to the city and were dropped off at the Qingbo Ice and Snow World/Convention Center/Hotel. We had a couple of sessions as a staff to get to know each other, shared meals, and then Wednesday morning we ventured over to the indoor skiing area.

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As I’m sure it will come out in my stories, a good perspective to have while residing in China for any amount of time is to check your expectations at the airport. This is one of those times where it was good advice to follow. It was apparent from some promotional items around the venue that there were 2 large slopes straight down. I thought it might be fun to suit up in the provided winter gear and take a trip up the lift and down just to have the “experience”. We walked in and went to the viewing area where you could watch the slopes from the comfort of the indoors. It had just opened and so there were no skiers out yet, but it became immediately apparent that the slopes were not maintained to even minimal expectations. You could see that there was virtually no powder and there were huge patches of ice covering the slopes and on one side, moguls placed at really confusing intervals that undoubtedly lead to some crashes, especially with the ice situation and navigating with hundreds of Chinese skiers with no experience or context for the sport.  This was where a few others and I made the call to skip the downhill crash course in the interest of not wanting to test my new insurance policy just yet and see if there were sleds or tubes available (this was a no). In the meantime I watched the safety patrolman go up the lift and start to make his way down the slope and proceed to fall 3 times. Soon after that (the following is guess at what was happening, it wasn’t readily apparent) some instructors started making their way up the hill to show some skiers how to properly stop, except they seemed confused at how to walk up the hill, taking their skis off and putting them back on every 15 feet or so, sliding down backwards instead of walking up sideways, and generally falling pretty often. I think I made the right call. (yes, that is christmas garland on the rail. and an old balloon.)

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Oh, and Fermented Soy Bean Prawn Lays anyone?

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In China there is a saying among expats and visitors, TIC, or this is China, which means, it is what it is, there is no more shock value in anything, just go with it.

More to come later, tomorrow I go to finish my visa processing with a health check and a trip to some government office.  Should be an adventure.