Damn it's nice to be teaching again!

Trip Start Aug 05, 2011
Trip End Oct 08, 2012

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Flag of China  , Zhejiang Sheng,
Thursday, September 22, 2011

Been here for 6 weeks.   Doing little at all:  day after day after day.   Endless days of being in a small apt in a foreign city on the other side of the world, makes me a bit restless, listless (even a bit shiftless).  Ha!  are these really words?    This is by far the longest I've stayed in another country.   And this ain't no Europe pleasure cruise existence.  China is not familiar,  nor does it care to be. You will find little English spoken or written here (except the train station or the Hyatt).  China is for the Chinese.  Don't come here and expect to enjoy yourself while living it up on the cheap.  Western oriented places are expensive.  Chinese places are inexpensive.    This is Xanadu,   a place that can mess with your mind.  Life here is both cheap and sacred--transitory--always moving on; like the big Qaintang river.  You will go through many lifetimes before the Qaintang changes.  But you will..I have.  One has to carve out they're own reason for being here, because Xanadu does not need another fool Westerner floating around expecting the place to serve him/her...  To be happy here you must be willing to please the dragon,  and that dragon is China itself.  The sole reason I am here is so my University can give their students prestige as well as a quality education. These are China's reasons for me to be here.  I have personal reasons why I want to live here,  but those really don't matter.  What matters is that you please the dragon and know that it will not be disappointed in your efforts.  China is a good dragon after all.  But it will not put your welfare above that of the Chinese.   Neither will the car drivers narrowly missing your white ass in the bike lane.   Never felt like death has been so near on a daily basis before. The 4 wheeled devil will kill us all in the long run.

   Damn nice to be earning a living once more;  and at a pace where one can stop and enjoy life; rather than some soul grinding teach-a-thon.  I can see why the average teaching career in the states only lasts 5 years.  I had it good in Utah only teaching 5 hours per day (of course I had to be there for 8 hours and the class sizes where HUGE), but it doesn't get better than that for a job in the states (as long as you don't mind having your pay cut by the state each year).   But when Monday morning came,  I (and many other teachers) were still exhausted.  It's tough to explain but constantly talking and interacting with hundreds of people during the day,  will suck the life right out of you. I still have the option to return to a teaching job in the same district I left.   Not sure what my answer will be,  but they need an answer by January.  I do miss Utah,  many nice people there.   I guess I just got bored with things.   Teaching here sure won't bore ya!   I recommend being a Chinese University teacher for all those  teachers from the US (or other English speaking countries), who are not ready or retire but no longer need a life stealing schedule, ( nor the money) that it provides.   

Today I taught my toughest scheduled day of the week (Thursday is my hell day).   Two 90 minute back to back classes beginning at 8:00 AM,   then I go to lunch for 3 hours before returning at 3 PM and teach 90 more minutes.  I love the three hour break, most teachers don't but it suits me just fine.  I like the siesta; makes my "Hell day" very easy.  The other three days I work are much shorter than this and only one day begins at 8:00 AM.   14 hours of teaching per week,  with a 1/2 day on Friday and every Monday is off!   I love it here!    I can see why some University teachers never go back to the States or Britain.    The students are wonderful as well,  they just want to talk to you so you assign topics for group discussions, and mingle from group to group discussing things with them.  Sometimes you break the monotony with a game.    this is about all one can do when they pack 35 to 40 kids to a class. I have about 250 students and see each one 90 minutes per week.   No work to grade except the final exam.

Went out when my homie/ coworker "Steve" from New Zealand and Britain.  Steve has been here longer than everyone and the only teacher who returned after last year.   I really enjoy his ideas and philosophies about being a University teacher in China,  and he is one of the few long term folks who stay longer than 5 years.  My teaching philosophy is similar "don't overdo it and keep the rules down to a minimum".   The kids seem to know if you care about them,  and if you do:  then they don't need a bunch of restrictions.   They will also learn more if they like you.   I'm sure he is here for the same reasons that I am,  plus he has a Hangzhou Gal!.   I am thinking about joining the market for a girlfriend as well.  But she will have to be wonderful because I love freedom quite a bit.    He is very content with his life and has the experience and credentials to teach anywhere,  but he likes China.   I don't blame him.   He also pointed out a couple Chinese dishes which will make my dining experience much nicer, once I learn to write them in Chinese.  Steve is looking for a used bicycle and the next picture shows you where I plan to find one for him.   I might pick me up one as well,  since its nice to have an older Maoist bike kickin around for a mere twenty bucks.  

Friday:   This morning I was craving eggs so I went to the hotel next door that I used to live in.  They serve eggs mixed with some kind of non-mushroom fungi, it's real good stuff.   I also got coffee, fried dumplings (so so),  little chinese plastic sausages (terrible),  melon and yogurt (excellent).   It's an "all you can eat" deal,  but I don't like to stuff myself.  I did pig out on the coffee and melon a bit.

After my 3 dollar breakfast,  I decided to explore the back alley places that I haven't been to. The amount of humanity living there is astounding,  I like the back streets because the people do much of their daily business outside in the open.   Things like washing clothes, chopping veggies, sewing, fixing things, playing board/card games.   Today I even saw two pool tables sitting in the alley waiting for customers in a place where the pavement was just wide enough for a car to squeeze between the concrete shop and the tables.   They do not waste space around here.    After cruising those neighborhoods I decided to explore the area South of where I live.  Mostly big industrial parks with few people,  i could sit in on a park bench on one of the major streets and maybe see a pedestrian every 5 minutes.   In contrast with the poor back-streets and downtown:  the Southern part of Xiasha is practically a desert due to the lack of pedestrians.

Tonight I decided to cook in earnest for the first time I've lived here (cooking was my passion back in the states).  Just a simple kidney bean curry "Rajma" which I've made many times back home. I  sliced an onion, sauted it until clear; then mixed in the curry powder,  added canned diced tomatoes,    cooked and stirred the stuff until it looked cooked.  Added the kidney beans some salt, more curry, butter,  and tabasco (since I had no fresh peppers).    Noticed that I had no rice,  so rather than walk down those stairs to buy some,  I put some macaroni shells in the mix.   Tasting often, I adjusted the salt, sour, sweet and bitter tastes.   This will be some good stuff.   

Spent much of the evening reading on my porch,  it's good to spend some time at home instead of racing around all the time looking for something fun to do.   My apartment is a bit ghetto,  but the happy families playing in the afternoon makes me appreciated how good I have it.   This place is a bit dirty but it's a very safe place.   The size is big enough.   And I have a front porch to read on, which is a strict requirement for "Yours truly" in order to be happy.   The 5th floor issues only crop up when gout rears it's ugly head.  Otherwise,  it's not a problem whatsoever.
I really like the amount of greenery and landscaping they have here as well.  Lots of plant shops around.  The Chinese culture seems to value greenery and plants. 

Wow the curry rocked!  The trick is to taste often and know how to cook whatever it is you're cooking.    For a vegetarian dish to be this good, a lot of love and tasting need to go into the dish.   The macaroni shells (giant ones) and tomato sauce make this taste like Italian food,  but the sweet curry taste is prominent as well.   Indi-"Al"-ian cuisine I guess this was.  Works for me.  time to create new new genre of food.   I am on my third bowl of the stuff.   I rarely have seconds,  much less thirds. And notice the word "Al" in it.

Saturday Sept 24th: 

Called an old friend,  took a shower,  shook my head at the dirtiness of this place (I dont own a broom but have lived here for some time), then I called Lil' Al (Chinese friend), and took him out to a Hunan restaurant near his college,  about 7 klicks away from my place.  My plan was to eat something,  then lose Al (he had a basketball game) and ride the Qaintang levee as far as I could go.   Al showed me this Hunan (spicy food) restaurant and was clearly suffering because he is unused to peppers in his food.   Lil' Al can understand about 15 percent of what I say but with my charade ability we can double that.   So we had a nice conversation,   some lunch,  then I was off to explore the levee and the Southern part of Xiasha from the river's point of view.   

I love to go to the river since it really is a semi-salt (brackish) water estuary and smells like the fresh ocean air when the tide is up.   I did sneak a pic of a man with three long casting beach rods with a heavy weight at the end of the line and two baited hooks split off from the end (I used to fish this method in the surf back in Texas!).   He will be successful since he has his stuff together.   Over on the fresh water bayou side of the levee,  there were many more people with old tech bamboo rods and one guy had a net.  These folks were mainly just fishing for a reason to be out there takin' it easy.    Reminded me of my dad and I when we used to go out to the fishing areas of Lake Lavon near Dallas,  and we would join the black folks that were out there fishing on the bank.  Since he admittedly didn't know how to fish,  he just looked for the black people,  because he thought they knew their stuff.   He was usually right.   We had many successful days fishing together.    Most of my own children were sick of fishing before 2nd grade.   I took them fishing in boats, on the bank, at the surf,  anywhere I could.  My first year of teaching didn't pay well,  but we lived near a lake.   We got half our protein from that lake.   My oldest kid still likes fishing.   I have cooled off on it since I don't like killing fish, when I can afford to buy a dead one.    And I don't like catch and release (hurting an innocent fish for the fun of it?),  because it stresses the poor things too much for me to enjoy it,  but it's better than killing them.    I don't mind catching and killing stupid schooling fish like shad or sand bass,  but a intelligent soul like a channel cat or largemouth bass???  No way!    (yes,  I too can pick a million holes in my own argument here).

   I do plan to fish a little here in China,  just to say I did it!  And a lot of my students will want to spend time with their English speaking teacher twice a month  (We are encouraged to do this by the school),  so taking a group along on a fishing trip would be more fun than a pool hall or something. We do have a bayou that runs across the front of our campus which should be good enough.    If fishing gets boring I'll buy some cheap RC boats and let the kids have fun with them.

Many folks laying around the trees and landscapes of the levee just kickin' it back and having picnics.  Some bring tents in order to sleep in the day w/o bugs.   The Chinese know how to relax and the weekend is a good time to witness this aspect of their lives.   I explored a large chunk of the city that I previously overlooked (every single shop and place of business),  and did find a place that sold DVD's and another music instrument store.   I found a Smoothie shop as well (there are not many smoothie shops here). 

     I did find an English copy of Theroux's "Walden",  which I haven't read in a long time.    I am halfway done with my Grisham book so "Walden" will be read simultaneously.    I did hit the first 6 or 7 pages and he sounded like the typical snot-nosed little bastard who judges the older people and see's himself as superior to them.   I bet he learned a lot after his two years in the woods (with a town next door). Other than that two years, he was mooching off of Emerson or his own family,  so I love hearing how he knows the best way to live when he really never supported himself.  He does have a few excellent points like:  Why spend your life killing yourself? Just find a way to live on what you can earn,  but spend as little time as possible earning it.   Smell the roses when you can.   I agree with him on this.  But he also made asinine comments to the effect of "there is nothing an older person can teach me" blah blah blah. I've read his book on civil disobedience where he was protesting the Mexican war by refusing to pay his taxes.   He wrote the entire thing from jail.  One of the first noted hippy protesters who have all the answers.  I do like the work less idea,  but modern society is often built around the 40 hour per week schedule.    I given up on this schedule after more than 20 years of trying to earn a living for me and others.   Now I just want to work less hours and enjoy life a bit more without mooching off others.  Heck,  if I was married this would even be much easier than it is for a single guy (assuming the woman worked part time as well).   Theroux became an ardent Abolitionist and Conservationist as well, so I guess he did have a lot of good things to say.  He was also a genius and incredible writer.  But he was quite the snot nosed little "prat" at one time...

I did manage to buy a broom and dust pan, picked up all trash,  put away everything that was laying around,  did the laundry and dishes before sweeping the floor.   Now this place is a much nicer abode than before.   This place is so easy to clean I'll probably not be hiring a cleaning woman like I had in Utah.   I do have the extra time to clean.

Sunday afternoon:   The grey skies appear low and gravid,  the smell of rain is in the air and I am writing as usual.  Last night I finished off the rest of the Italian/Indian curry with kidney beans and shells and a fried spam and cheese sandwich for dessert.  Today,  I plan to do the curry recipe again but want to use lentils and potatoes this time around.  

I hit the three fruit stands that are close by but no veggies except tiny tomatoes which will do fine for the sauce.   I really didn't want to experience the mega market on a Sunday just to buy a couple potatoes,  so I am going to use the remaining spam in my curry.   Found some guy cleaning a ton of green onions on the side of a restaurant (a must have for curry) and offered to buy some,  he just smiled and gave me a couple pounds of them.   The bulbs were cut off but enough white onion left on the stems to work just fine.  Guy refused to take my money.  One of the poorest folks around (judging by his clothes and ancient rusty bike) and was too proud to take a couple bucks for his onions.   Incidents like these prove that there is hope for the human race.   Started raining so I went back home and started chopping up the curry ingredients.  

"Indi-al-ion Spam Curry:

Two small onions or the equivalent of green onions... finely chopped
2 pounds of cherry or roma tomatoes chopped in 1/2 inch cubes.
McCormick Yellow curry powder
sea salt
soy sauce
large shell macaroni.
Olive oil

(Mix a little (not much) salt with your tomatoes and allow to sit for 30 minutes after slicing.)

Add olive oil, brown cubed of spam in it.   Set spam aside and fry the onions in the spam oil.
Fry the onions in olive oil until translucent,   add tomatoes and fry a couple minutes (trying to shrivel the skin a bit),  then add a 1/2 tsp of curry powder, stir, drop heat to simmer,  add  1/2 liter of water and cover.   Let this simmer for a long long time.  (yeah I know it's all relative but simmer, add water, simmer some more,  until the tomatoes are cooked).

Once you feel your tomato/curry sauce is cooked enough,  add another 1/2 liter of water and turn the heat up until it's slowly boiling, hardy boiling and add the shells.  Stir,  let cook another 10 minutes turn down to a simmer,  add the spam once it's browned.  Cover/simmer on low for 30 minutes,  add a little water if needed.    Taste is critical,  what do you think it needs?  Salt, sugar, vinegar?   If it's bitter add a litter sugar,  if too sweet add vinegar,  and so on.  If bland add soy sauce.   I personally add a lot of tabasco but I know not everyone shares my taste for spicy stuff.  Toss in some butter at some point,  really adds to the flavor.

*The trick to good cooking is to taste often, especially near the end,  and never over-add anything.   Try not be in a hurry when cooking something the first time.

Monday:  Did do much but I was compelled to buy a plant and a fish.   I've had a "Siamese Fighting Fish" for a pet for the past 5 years and they actually make good companions.   I also bought a large "Pothos Ivy"  hanging basket from a local plant store.   This baby has been cared for, recently repotted with new soil,   and will grow like mad for another year before I have to re-pot or split it.    Probably going to buy a Mother in Law Tongue plant and possibly a species of Ficus.   These are the easiest plants to grow indoors with bad lighting.  Funny,  I buy this fish in a little open vase and they have no way for you to take it home.   Even the worker who spoke English said that I must carry a small open vase with a fish in it, outside then home. Since I was on a motor bike that would not have been possible,  so I poured the fish into a leaky produce bag,  and set the bag in a larger pet container so it would sit flat on my floor board.   Got the fish home,  added some water to his much larger home (purified of course), and after 30 minutes he's stress free and eating like a horse.  Poor thing was a bit thin.   They also have little frogs and turtles for pets but these fish have way more personality than those things.

Did enjoy hanging out at the coffee shop for a time reading a book and drinking two cups of excellent coffee for 1.5 dollars.   They make each cup of their "Cafe Americano" in an expresso machine rather than the big pot sitting on the heat for hours.   Each cup is like two expresso's with a bit of water.  Excellent beans as well.   Two cups of Americano here will knock you on your ass!   I much prefer the inexpensive coffee shop to a bar.   Since I no longer hang out at night the coffee shop makes sense,  and I can always get the mango smoothie if caffeine is not desired.   






(more to come,  please check back)
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Joanne on

Are you lecturing first, then moving among the discussion groups? What are the topics of discussion? I don't have a clear picture of what it's like to be in your classes. Do all of your student speak English? What kind of games? Like the picture of your students. They look about 20, right?

albarnes on

I'll call you and discuss the teaching methods, this really is a "Travel" site.

Al Barnes. Senior on

Good description!!

Robin on

Nice that you have a little Al friend.

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