Our fourth month begins

Trip Start Aug 22, 2010
Trip End Jul 01, 2011

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Flag of China  , Jiangsu,
Saturday, December 4, 2010

It's hard to believe that December is starting already!?! Seems to me I always feel that way at home too, so no culture gaps going on there.  We make up for it in lots of other ways though:-) Had a few cultural moments at school this week.  One of the Chinese assisting teachers left this week.  A lovely woman, she's been helping in one of my math 11 classes from the first day I was here.  She always starts her sentences with me, "Kate I have something I need to tell you." So when she came up to my desk on Tuesday with this statement, I expected nothing out of the ordinary. This time however, it was to tell me she is leaving.  Oh, said I, when are you leaving? "Today is my last day." I was bowled over.  Not at the news per se, but the lack of notice.  As it turns out of course, the other Chinese staff have known for sometime that Jenny was leaving, returning to school to finish her degree to provide more future job options.  Good on her, but it was revealing in terms of the gap between the Chinese and foreign staff, and the relationships between us. When I have proximity with someone for 3 months, my cultural tendency is to presume a certain closeness - albeit depending on the rapport etc, but I've talked and office-bantered with Jenny for 3 months so was quite taken aback by her short notice choice.  (The next day after her departure, I gently asked Vivian, my other assisting Chinese teacher - who is pregnant - when she anticipated taking her maternity leave.... and she thinks not until March... so next time I'll be a tad more prepared! I'd like to host a baby shower for Vivian before she goes.) So Jenny is gone and no replacement hired yet. 
The weather was fabulous this week.  We had one night of heavy rain and the day that followed was sunny and warm with clear blue skies.  It is a rarity to look up and see blue.  I called John from school and we bolted as soon after the bell as possible to get in a hike before dark.  We hiked up Tainping Hill next to the school.  I was hoping for a smog free view.  There was significantly less smog, but the distant hills were still haze covered.  We did luck out getting some bread at the Hill from an ethnic food vendor.  It's a flat bread from northern China we've discovered we really like.  The bread vendor pulled out his camera and gestured to take a picture of us.  We quickly agreed and of course asked to take theirs too.  We often wonder who is staring/gawking more, us or the Chinese!  
After work on Friday Leslie joined John and I for our next quick outing.  The plan was to get biking before Friday traffic and we succeeded somewhat, but the end of the ride (45 minutes maybe) was a tad harrowing.  The final left turn to where we wanted to go was across 6 lanes of traffic in a sea of perhaps 60 bikes all making the left hand turn.  It's really hard to describe what that's like. In the midst of this crowd of left turners, we are being stared at of course, and part way through the left turn there are other bikes, threading the needle so to speak, coming towards us. You have to keep your wits on high alert.  (John says it like being in the Tour de France) I only screamed out once when I only realized at the last moment that a bike was coming at me, not riding with me, right alongside my curb. It was a relief to leave the busy road and turn into the road for Hanshan Temple.  Greg and Jeff biked there when they were here.  It's a newly built structure with an enormous bronze bell.  The bell is perhaps 30 feet high? For a small donation one can ring the bell of course.  I took a video of same! After the Temple we did a little shopping.  I found a red silk scarf for Madonna.  It was her birthday yesterday and tonight we are all celebrating.  After climbing up above the bell Leslie, John and I biked back towards our neighbourhood stopping on 'Downtown' street.  It is filled with night clubs and pirated video stores.  I was hoping for a Harry Potter video, but apparently it will be available on the 5th.  We went to a Cantonese restaurant on the Downtown street and had a very nice meal.  It was oddly familiar - it was Chinese food more like the flavours we get in North America.  Clearly many of the Chinese in Victoria are from areas close to Canton. 
We biked home, had tea and the bakery goodie I had bought at Franco Papas.  We got hooked on a lovely light animated flick Jeff had suggested: How to Train your Dragon.... only to have it crap out 3/4's of the way through!  iChatted with Ian in Mississauga this morning and he very nicely linked up his copy of the film and we are letting the computers do an iChat file transfer:-) It's a slow process, 8 hours, but we are both just leaving our computers on. 
It is now Wednesday and my blogging efforts of last weekend were sadly interrupted by ill health:-( Ian's file transfer efforts were wonderfully successful and on Saturday we got to watch the end of the movie we'd been enjoying. Thank you Ian! Unfortunately my plans to enjoy a Saturday night out with our group to celebrate Madonna's birthday were ill fated.  Within minutes of arriving I realized I was in trouble, that something was terribly off with my digestive system.  After two visits to the Chinese toilet in the restaurant, I talked with John and headed off to flag a cab to get me home. I saw no need for John to come with me, I just planned to retreat to our home and washroom.  My Chinese phrases have grown a little and I was able to tell the driver that my friends were in the restaurant but that I had la duzi (bad stomach) and needed to get home. I opened up his window to try and keep some cool air on my face, hoping I'd make the drive.  He warned me about getting cold (leng), but his other comments I couldn't figure out. He took a wrong turn going home and out came his English,..."sorry, sorry." We had to backtrack a couple of blocks but it was a good traffic-free route and he got me home in no time. Good thing too.  I'll spare you the details, but I had to call John, who by then had left the restaurant as the group had moved onto the Chinese Karoke efforts - called KTV here. I guess Jen got John on video singing before I called for back-up.  Anyway, it was a long and dreadful few days.  I lost 5 pounds through the ordeal.  John found a Health clinic across town run by a Singapore Doc -- who had perfect english - who fixed me up with some rehydration salts, probiotics to refuel my system, and some more goodies to calm my system.  The surging rock and rolling of my gut was literally felt by John on the other side of the bed before the meds! Never mind, I did say I'd spare you the details.  I even managed to get my GP on the phone at one point of the ordeal - very helpful of him.  Singapore Doc said he'd been seeing more of same - a viral affair - hence why my Cipro from home was missing the mark. Now I'm gingerly eating soup and bananas but am happy to say I'm on the mend. Tomorrow I start my re-entry at school. It's chaos of course there.  We are a small staff and understaffed there to begin with.  I was no help by disappearing!  My absence lead to more trouble as no one would sub my math classes. Vivian had already done one day for me with 2 blocks of the grade 11s, but was away on a pre-planned maternity check-up for my next missed day.  The next in line was supposed to be the Chinese teacher from my math 12 class, but he didn't feel comfortable tackling my day and to make a long story very brief, he's decided it was a better option to leave the school. I realize that doesn't make for a complete story, but it's the best I can do: the politics of a small school are always tricky, add in some cultural differences and communication challenges, and you start to get a picture.  Anyway, now I'm without an assisting teacher in two of my classes! Let the challenges continue:-)
On the positive side I got a really sweet get well card from the Leadership 12 group I usually do Tuesday Club with, and a very nice phone call from one of the Chinese teachers. 
 I hope to share other positive stories soon. Mending in Suzhou,
love kate
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Barbara Jolliffe on

Hope you're fully recovered, Kate. Sounds like your adventures in staffing problems are like the ones we have in retail stores here - folks just up and leaving with little or no notice - though with different consequences! Much harder to find qualified teachers! Hope that all sorts itself out. Sarah said she had a nice chat with you, though she was so tired she was starting to zone out. Say hi to John.

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