Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dragonboat festival, pearl river night cruise, some other updates

June 16th was the actual holiday for the Dragonboat races - so I was invited by a local family to go check them out.

Definitely worth it!

Locals practicing before the races on the 15th of June.

We headed to a really unique, but out-of-the-way, restaurant for lunch.

Just to taunt everybody back home :)

Viewing was...improvised.

Lots of people.

Lots and lots of people...

Luckily, we had tickets for a less crowded area with a better view!

See if you can spot the guys smoking in any of these pictures; how funny is that?


The front is the "head" and the back of the boat is the "tail." (Should I say fore and aft?)

We stopped at a fruit market on the way back - yum!

Misc. Updates:

Two things wrong with this picture: 1) I don't want meat flavor, I want...meat. 2) I especially don't want "meet flavour."

American Jazz concert partially sponsored by...the State Department?

Cool place, too.

I love this shirt.

Baby on car? That's no place for a baby.

Sorry I don't have many pictures of the night cruise, my phone usually can't handle poor lighting! Although this picture came out surprisingly well...


Info about the Guangzhou Pearl River night cruises:

You can do it with or without a dinner, and prices range from 39 yuan to 120, roughly. It's all around the metro station at Haizhu Square (Line 2), and you just walk East along the river. Get there early (before 7:30 PM) for dinners.


Have some video to go with your pictures...and a new layout

So I finally created a Youtube account and uploaded some videos from my phone - expect more in the future.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Brief FAQ regarding my work teaching English here in China

Q: "Do you teach at one school?"
A: I actually teach at 2 different primary schools in the same district. I alternate days, except Fridays, where I go to my 2nd school after lunch after my first school.

Q: "Public or private?"
A: Both schools are public, government-funded.

Q: "What grades do you teach? How old are the kids?"
A: Grades 4, 5, and 6. The kids are roughly 10-12 years old.

Q: "How big are your classes?"
A: No less than 40 students per class, usually around 42. (Read: too many)

Q: "Do you assign/grade homework? How about tests?"
A: I don't have anything to do with any homework assignments nor any tests. The only outside work I have to do is preparing lesson plans every week: one lesson plan per grade.

Q: "How many classes do you have per week? What's your schedule like?"
A: 25. Each class is 40 minutes long. My shortest day is 10:25 AM to 3:40 PM (4 classes), with a 2 hour lunch from 12 PM to 2 PM, and my longest day is 8:25 AM to 3:55 PM with a lunch from 12 PM to 2:20 PM (6 classes).

Q: "What do you like best about the job?"
A: The pay is pretty decent in terms of per-hour of actual work, and it's pushed further given the low cost of living here. I like the hours, and I actually have a ton of fun in my *good* classes. I really like not having any homework or tests to worry about, as I really just focus on helping the kids with their speaking.

Q: "What do you like least about the job?"
A: Hmm, where do I begin?
  • The *good classes* are an extreme minority; the other classes can be pretty awful. Combine this with a language barrier, no translator for the classes, and no authority over the kids, and you end up with some awful classes. The company only trained me to "stand there and look angry" in terms of discipline and quieting down the classes; they can't comprehend the possibility that this method might not work, so they don't offer me any other solutions. Furthermore, I tried taking some kids to their class teacher a few weeks ago to punish them, but it ended up with the class teacher complaining to the company that I was trying to "offload my work onto them." Um....okay. Either way, good luck trying to discipline 10-12 year olds in a language they can barely understand.
  • The schools have no foresight whatsoever, specifically referring to holidays and to the end of the semester. For example, I am usually informed about holidays less than a week ahead, and I still don't even know the dates the semester ends, even though it's less than 3 weeks away (roughly) from the date of this posting. This is rather infuriating for making plans, and the schools just don't seem to care. Quite frankly, this is one of the most frustrating things I've dealt with, because it feels like they have no regard for you, when in fact, the "powers that be" are just being lazy.
  • The company I work for prides itself on being around for a while, yet I have to come up with my own lesson plans and print out pictures using Google Images. In other words, they seem to be expanding but not developing. Now, don't misinterpret this as complaints about having to do any work, but isn't it strange that a company that's been in education for a while doesn't have set lesson plans by now, nor any resources on-hand for teachers like me? I mean, Google Images? Seriously? Furthermore, they are missing a lot of policies and procedures. For example, there was a minor fight in one of my classes a month ago, and they were upset that I didn't inform them about it. I was never told that I needed to inform them about how was I supposed to know? Is this the first classroom brawl to ever happen in grades 4-6? I doubt it. There are other examples, but I won't bore you with more details.
There are a few other complaints I have, but those are the biggest ones. I think the authority / discipline one is my biggest gripe, however...


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dining etiquette in China

Here are just some general tips I've picked up regarding eating with local company (or in public, for that matter) while in China:

In no way do I consider myself an expert on the matter, but I at least have some idea what to do, at this point (either that, or the people here have been messing with me for the last 4 months).

For many meals, your setup is going to usually look like this:

  1. 1 Bowl - Generally, use this instead of your plate. It's perfectly normal to mix your food in it, as well. If you have soup in this bowl and don't want to finish it, ask for a bowl of rice and use that instead. Or, simply ask for another bowl. You're perfectly allowed to use more than one bowl at a time, since you'll have another one if/when you get rice. In fact, you're virtually expected to mix your rice with some of the dishes on the table, and it always ends up being rather tasty.
  2. 1 Plate - This is for discarding bones, shells, etc. If it gets full, just have your waiter/waitress replace it or clean it. You might be told that you should NEVER use your plate to eat off of, but this isn't true; I've seen locals use the plate instead of their bowl. However, it might still get pointed out to you that you should probably be using the bowl, instead.
  3. Chopsticks - Self-explanatory. You might want to practice your skills before eating with locals; it's amusing for them to watch foreigners struggle with something that comes naturally to them at this point.
  4. Spoon - No catches here, it's a spoon. Useful for when you just can't get your chopsticks down. Use it for soup, other foods, everything.
  5. Tea Cup - Also self-explanatory.
  6. (Likely, but not always) A large bowl on the table that you will have no clue what to do the following for an explanation:
Pre-meal dish-washing: Generally, people pour or get poured tea into their tea cup first. Then, they pour it into the bowl (#1), slosh it around a bit, wash their chopsticks in it, and then pour it all out into the giant bowl you see in the picture (#6). This is not required, and not everyone does it. You probably won't be called out about it if you choose not to. Additionally, if your setup came wrapped like in the picture above, you probably don't need to do it. However, it never really hurts, unless you manage to spill it everywhere, of course.

Some general tips:
  • Most importantly, always rest your chopsticks over the edge of the bowls or plates as pictured above; never leave your chopsticks lying in your food, pointed out. This is extremely rude and a very important rule to follow. I think the only time I have seen someone do this was when a woman was trying to make a statement to a restaurant of what she thought of their food (right before she walked out).
  • Avoid showing the bottom of your feet when sitting. This means crossing your legs, etc. Many people find it extremely rude.
  • Avoid using your hands to eat, if possible. Exceptions do exist, such as when dealing with shrimp/prawns. Many locals seem to use a plastic disposable glove if they eat with their hands; particularly to eat chicken wings. I suppose the general rule to follow is not to touch any part of the food you'll actually be consuming.
  • If you're male, try to avoid tiny bites using only your chopsticks, especially of rice. It's viewed as a feminine way of eating, so you probably don't want to give the wrong impression.
  • If you don't eat everything, you'll be asked by your host/hostess if you don't like the food or you'll simply be encouraged (rather strongly) to eat more...especially if you're skinny, like me. They are simply being polite, but I have a theory they are also trying to fatten me up, since fried foreigner is a delicacy here. (Just joking...I think).
  • If you don't want any more refills of something, leave it full. Unlike the food, nobody will ask why you're not drinking something.
  • If you see someone tapping their index finger near a glass during or after it's being refilled, they are saying thank you. You can do the same, be it to a waiter, waitress, or a friend. I usually just say "xie xie" (thank you), since I find it easier and everybody here enjoys a foreigner *trying* to speak their language.
  • Try to avoid saying "gan bei!" during cheers with alcoholic drinks, as it literally translates to "empty cup." This is a good way to get into a drinking contest, or it'll just get you a surprised look of "wait, what? no!" from the other person. If you just want to do cheers, say "cheers!" It's perfectly OK. I have heard "gan bei" used for "cheers" but I still suggest avoiding it, unless you know the people you're with well enough.
  • When tapping glasses to say "cheers," the person with the glass lower than the other's during the tap is offering their respect. Don't take this lightly, as it's a pretty significant notion, apparently. That being said, if you want to offer your respect through this method, go nuts.
  • Alcohol should be consumed in a glass, not out of the vessel it was brought in. It would be rather awkward sitting at a table, taking swigs from a 600-640 ml bottle of beer...
  • Soft drinks, however, can generally be consumed directly out of the can or bottle, but usually with a straw (not mandatory, however).
  • Don't wait for your waiter/waitress for service. They don't come by to check on you, they wait for you to call for them. (I personally like it this way; the servers in the US always seem to come by to ask me how I'm doing right when my mouth is full...).
  • It's okay to spit out bones or other bits of food you don't want to consume onto the plate. This may seem odd given the abundance of other rules, but it's normal. You don't need to worry about spitting everything into a napkin. Additionally, if you're at a casual restaurant and there is no plate to spit it out, use the table next to your plate. I'm not kidding.
 Chicken, fish, etc, are all usually served bone-in, so get used to that last rule.

Here's an example of a meal-in-progress. Mmm, tasty. Note the position of the chopsticks when not using them.

Prawns are an interesting dish, as there's no right or wrong way to eat them, unlike just about all the other dishes. I've seen people eat them whole, eat them with their hands while using chopsticks to help peel them, etc etc.

I generally just grab the head with my chopsticks, and eat the portion between the tail and the head, then discard the remains onto the plate.

Again, there's no real wrong way to eat them, and you can usually eat them with the shell still attached, which is a good way to avoid hassle.

You might get instructed as to a specific way to eat them, but it's generally just going to be based on the preference of whomever is giving said instructions; as a general rule, there aren't really any general rules in this matter.

Anyway, if any of you have any questions you'd like to ask, feel free to leave me comments here, and I'll see if I can answer them.


White Cloud Mountain (Baiyun Shan) and some general updates

Baiyunshan, aka White Cloud Mountain, is a major tourist attraction in Guangzhou. It's not quite Victoria Peak, but it's still interesting and has different things to offer.

The cable cars are 25 yuan per person to go up, and 15 yuan per person to come back down. If you choose to "hike it," there is a comfortable paved road all the way up, and an alternate path that mostly consists of well-maintained stairs; I was really impressed.

General admission is only 5 yuan (under $1 USD).

...I was also impressed at the age of some of the folks walking up this mountain...

The view from the top, and a view of Josh getting recruited for a picture with a tourist group.

We actually got asked to be in 5 (five) different groups' pictures that was pretty funny.
 So this is what it's like being famous, yet no one knows your name.

 From left to right: Galin (not sure if I spelled that correctly), Josh, Jasmine (with whom Josh and I visited that temple back in April).

In my defense, I just climbed a mountain. Also, that's the first shirt I bought in China, so that's why it doesn't really fit; I'm still proud of it!

It says "THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NOT A CARPET" - no, I don't know why, but I can tell you that's why I bought it.

I was cracking up at this sign; I choose to interpret it as "Warning: cars will chase you" or something like that...

For some reason, Josh, Galin, and Jasmine decided to take their shoes off and take the path that "massages" (see also: tortures) your feet. I stood by, laughed, and took pictures:
 I also enjoyed the scenery, even though it was accompanied by frequent spouts of "ow! ouch!"

Pretty, indeed.

Tons of games of jianzi (shuttlecock) going on.

Josh decided to go bungee jumping; go Josh!

We decided on the cable car for the trip back down.

The temple. It has a name..but...I don't know it.

More of...the temple.

Last glimpse of...the temple.

Not sure how I snuck this picture in; usually they always know when you take a picture of them, and it's always accompanied by the peace sign from Jasmine.

We left the mountain and headed toward downtown to get lunch at the Macau Street Restaurant. I don't have pictures but, take my word for it, it was amazing.
 Well that's not something I expected to see while walking down the street.

...I was dying from laughter.

It was actually a really poor advertisement for a sex shop about 50 feet to the left of this picture.

Seen at the metro station: an advertisement for EF, English First.

I think it's trying to say: "At English First, we tie a white guy to you until you know English."

If not for the pollution, it would have been rather pretty out...