September 11, 2004

Trip Start Aug 08, 2004
Trip End Aug 2005

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Sunday, September 12, 2004

Orientation wrapped up and we all went our separate ways to our respective schools. I am now about an hour away in a city called Liuyang, much smaller and more provincial. It's a slightly more attractive city, surrounded on all sides by mountains and sitting next to a river. The city's claim to fame is its fireworks manufacturing, for which it is well known throughout China. The upside of this is that I have seen fireworks displays every day since I've been here...the downside of this is that they like testing those fireworks at all hours of the day and night, including some right outside my apartment building. And if the fireworks don't wake me up the bells at the school do. Morning wakeup bell goes off at 5:45 am, followed by a lovely brass symphony piped at full volume over the loudspeakers for 10 minutes. It's great living in a Communist country...

I had a few problems with my apartment when I first moved in, and so the director of my program and a rep from the Ministry of Education came out to inspect. Namely the lack of glass in my windows and the 30-odd cockroaches roaming around the place. Structurally, the building is about 100 years old... and it's very weird because they gave me the most ridiculous appliances. A brand new 40 inch flat screen tv and dvd player, a rice cooker (?), a washing machine, a brand new tub...too bad my tub is in my kitchen.

I've been trying hard to get adjusted to everyday life here, getting used to my fellow teachers (particularly my new best friend Gardenia who goes everywhere with me), trying to make sense out of all of the bureaucratic bullshit that goes on in Chinese schools. I think I start teaching this Thursday, but haven't been able to get a straight answer out of anybody. To keep busy, I've tried to be as helpful as possible. The other day I joined the rest of my workmates in cleaning out the new student dorms, scrubbing floors and sweeping. I showed up in dirty jeans and sneakers, and all of the women showed up in three-inch heels and dresses, looking immaculate. Strange that the teachers required to do what is essentially janitorial work.

I'm also slowly getting accustomed to the food here, except for the occasional nausea-inducing dish, like the chicken foot soup and pig stomach with celery dish at dinner the other night.

My liason, Henry, while a very nice man, is the most frustrating part of this whole experience. Why the school decided a 45-year-old Chinese man from the countryside would be well-suited to assist two American female teachers is beyond me. His English is atrocious, and he mostly ignores us at dinner, except when he looks at us every 5 minutes to raise his glass of beer and gleefully say "bottoms up!" This is his favorite English phrase.

The past couple of weeks have been incredibly hard, only because I feel like I've been in limbo. I walk laps around the city everyday to take up time. I'm seriously questioning my presence here, trying not to think about home too much, and trying to remember why I thought living in a communist country would be a good idea in the first place. I need to starting teaching...once I do I think everything will fall into place.
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