China is… Cold and Rainy

The last thing I told you guys about China was that I had signed a contract with a University. Well, I’ve been teaching at said University for a while now and a ton of other stuff has happened.

  1. I have a girlfriend
  2. I made way more local friends
  3. I’ve given about 25 two hour lectures at my University
  4. I went, by train, to Hong Kong for a couple days to get my Work Visa
  5. One of my Canadian friends visited me for a week
  6. We “taught” English to some little children
  7. We had a blast wrecking an awesome Changsha club (paid for by the children’s school)
  8. We went to a Buddhist temple on Yuelu mountain
  9. We ate frog
  10. I bought an awesome coat
  11. I modelled clothing at an event in downtown Changsha (which paid for the awesome coat)
  12. I played with a cat
  13. It’s been raining for almost three straight days

To entertain you I’ll throw pictures in no particular order.

I briefly mentioned that I had a girlfriend in my post about Chinese Dating. Well, she’s super awesome. We officially started dating on Chinese Valentines day after a brief courting period involving the usual two months of separation and the obligatory white water rafting. She’s an English teacher and knows basically everyone who speaks English in Changsha, which is pretty cool.

She’s happy all of the time and is incredibly sexy. Everything else is a bonus!

I also have a bunch of local friends now. I had some before, but now I have a fairly full phone book. I complain a lot about foreigners (I’m going to stop doing that… now!) so I’m kind of limited in my choice of friends, but they do come around. One of my closest friends is an English teacher at one of the best private schools in Changsha. He has some really interesting ideas and reads two books every day, so he’s fun to talk to. Another guy I like spending time with is a foreigner (gasp!) from the US who has spent a long time in China and speaks mandarin fluently. He’s in the entertainment industry, so he’s pretty regularly on TV, shooting movies, or working on his book.

Teaching in China is both easy and hard. It’s brand new to me and I haven’t gotten any training or guidance, so I’m just kind of winging it. I think that the university has set fairly low standards for the students. All of my students are English majors and have been studying English since they were in primary school, but even the most advanced have extreme problems with grammar, pronunciation and listening. There has to be something fundamentally wrong with the system for a student with almost 15 years of education in the language to struggle so much with the basics. My first year students are learning how to introduce themselves.

In any case, hopefully I can make a difference by being there and pushing them a bit. For me it’s a good experience to prepare classes, organize activities, and especially lecture. Also, my campus is beautiful.

Hong Kong was interesting. I had some trouble with the paperwork but my school remedied it eventually and I got my Visa without any further issues. The interesting parts for me were the two 10 hour train rides and the eerie mish-mash of UK and Chinese culture.

The train rides in a nut-shell were sleepless and uncomfortable. It’s hard to call them bad experiences because they also happened to be brand new to me. I didn’t see anything out of the windows as both of my trips were overnight, so everything I saw was related to the people and the train itself. The trip to Hong Kong was on a train that was so crowded that a woman was sleeping on my leg for three quarters of the ride. Both the ride there and the ride back I spent breathing the smoke of the cigarettes of men around me, and in general I was never able to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. I always have to imagine that if I could speak Mandarin it would have been way more exciting. In the end I spent the majority of the trip reading English translations of Chinese literature that turned out to be really interesting, and on the way back I listened to Purple Cow by Seth Godin in audiobook form.

Hong Kong itself is basically a more crowded London with a higher ratio of Chinese people. When I asked a street cleaner, in Chinese, if there was a subway station nearby, the man responded in clear King’s English that there was a station just a short jog around the corner. I’m not sure if this is good or bad – it made me feel like someone had killed every aspect of Chinese culture in the city. The locals seem to aspire to UK ways, but there doesn’t seem to be any influence of Chinese culture on local British culture. Everyone being in a business suit and obviously in a hurry didn’t help to make me feel relaxed either.

My buddy from Canada showed up a while ago and stayed for about five days. The weather held up pretty well while he was here and I tried to take him everywhere I could imagine.

I took him to one of my classes, to an English Corner, to Chinese Barbeque and to my favourite Changsha coffee shop (Fifth Tone!). I also took him out to a nightclub with my girlfriend and her friend. We grabbed a formal sit-down meal for my local buddy’s birthday and ate potato and fried pork at a restaurant on dirty street. We ate frog on his last night here.

I even got him to “teach English” to little kids. Have to work while you travel, right?

Oh, and we did touristy stuff by going to a Buddhist temple. The pictures that look like parts of a Buddhist temple are actually just taken around the area – it’s not good form to take pictures of the temple itself.

On a minimalist note, I can finally get rid of my torn, stained and over-sized sweater. I bought a new coat! The next things that have to go are my running shoes and sandals. I just need to find something that will replace the both of them seeing as my five-fingers are actually a size or two too big (sad face).

Finally, I was asked to do a modelling gig by an acquaintance of mine. That was an experience, but I was way more nerve-wracked by it than by sky-diving. I don’t think I’m especially good looking (despite what I say) and I’ve never been photogenic. I spent the night before and morning of with butterflies in my stomach. Apparently the first time my girlfriend told me she loved me was that morning, but I was too pre-occupied with my panic to notice.

In any case, it went well and was definitely a fun experience. I’m not averse to doing it again, but I’ll have to practice being, you know, sexy in pictures.

I’ll probably have to buy my girlfriend a pony for the whole “I love you” fiasco though.

Nothing is ever easy :)

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