Monday, September 29, 2008

Trust-Mart

Last night, Lounes took us to Trust-Mart.

We arrived in Wenzhou a few days prior to Mid-Autumn Festival. In honor of the Festival, the Language Center gave each of its employees a bonus- ours was 100-Yuan gift cards to Trust-Mart.

Trust-Mart is, apparently, the name Wal-Mart uses in China. They sell several unfamiliar brands of housewares and groceries alongside the "Great Value" and "LifeStyle" brands. Like many large stores in China, the main store was a few stories high, with floors one and two for housewares, and the third floor for groceries.

Shannon and I took the perspective that the gift cards were like a bonus, and that consequently, we could in good conscience spend them entirely on junk food. Which we did.

:-)

We got Snickers bars, M&M's, Butter-flavored non-sweetened popcorn, Pringles, Coffee, 100% Juice, Dove Chocolate, Wafer Cookies, and a few other things. We're pretty happy about it.

It turnes out that Trust-Mart is within walking distance, just a little over a kilometer away from here. It's good to know where we can buy American junk food- for emergencies.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wenzhou Wonderland

On Saturday, Mr. Jiang took all the Language Center staff to "Wenzhou Wonderland" for the day.

Saturday marked the first day of the National Day festivities, for which we have an entire week off. To kick things off, the Language Center all went to Wenzhou Wonderland, a popular amusement/theme park in the South Wenzhou region. The general style of the park was clearly inspired by Disney World, and the rides/attractions bore a strong resemblance to rides found at the County Fair.

We left Wenzhou City at 10:00, got to the amusement park at about 11, did a few rides, had lunch at an on-site eatery offering Chicked Sandwhiches and Fries (much like Chick-Fillet. Oddly enough, though, in China everything served on a bun is called "Hamburger"). After lunch, we continued through the park.

There was everything from a Tilt-a-Whirl, Bumber Cars, and inversion rides to Bungee Jumping, a Haunted House, and a shooting gallery. Mr. Jiang rode on almost every ride, while a significant portion of the rest of us took a slightly more cautious approach. You might notice there are a few pictures of Shannon and Jeremiah hanging upside-down while spinning in circles- I'm on the other side of the camera.

I'm not sure whose legs are whose, but one pair belongs to Jeremiah.
Here's Shannon, spinning upside-down while the whole thing rotates:
And a zoomed-out look:

Sherry's Fiance took the camera for me so Shannon and I could ride the roller coaster together:

We're in the first car, the second row (behind Jeremiah):

The Carousel:
The Kiddie-Coaster:
The Tilt-A-Whirl (a.k.a. "The UFO"):

I think Jeremiah, Jessica, and Shannon are seated at the lower-most portion of the circle.


The Water Ride! Shannon and Jeremiah coming down the flume:





The weather was very nice- although it was overcast, it was pleasantly cool, not hot or humid.

There was a parade with Clowns on Stilts. Clowns are scary.

There was a tall swirly slide which I neglected to take pictures of. It was probably 25 feet tall. This is me, coming out of the short (15 feet?) swirly side:

The sign coming in to this area was very clear: The Sand is for safety, not for throwing.

It's not a very good picture, but this is Sherry and her Fiance. They're getting married in February in their home-town, about an hour and a half west of Wenzhou. Sherry is the executive assistant at the Language Center, responsible for the Chinese Teaching Assistants and Schedules. She's VERY busy.


The last ride. We're getting ready to go forwards and backwards in a circle, all the way around. It was neat.


Jeremiah took his camera. This picture is correctly oriented for North American audiences.

Jeremiah was able to take a video! I need a pocket-sized camera.
video

All in all, it was a good day. It was nice to spend some time with the Language Center staff outside of the normal work environment.

Afterwards, Wally took us to the Wenzhou Electronics Mall, where we were able to get D-Link wireless router for about $35 USD. We're pumped.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Wireless Internet

We have a wireless router! We can now all connect to the internet FROM OUR OWN LAPTOPS!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Shared Internet

Our apartment comes with a high-speed internet connection. One high-speed internet connection.

We've all been sharing, at first by passing the cable back and forth, and then by enabling "internet sharing" on Jeremiah's Macbook, but lately we've been back to the cable thing. For reasons unknown, Jeremiah's laptop is no longer ebale to consistently share the wired network connection via the integrated Wi-Fi adapter. This doesn't impact Jeremiah much, but the rest of us are just a bit stranded- frequently.

We're going shopping tomorrow for a wireless router.

Oh- classes are going well. I found out tonight that my teaching assistants both quit. The fact that they were assigned to work with me is, as far as I can tell, coincidental.

We all went out to one of the schools this morning to watch a class. Shannon taught, with Lounes assisting. It was good to see what an English lesson in the public school was supposed to look like. I took some pictures, and will post them when I can get my laptop connected to the internet.

- Jonathan

Friday, September 19, 2008

I have a tentative schedule!

But it's not in front of me right now.

This afternoon, we got our schedules from the Language Center. They're not very well laid out, and it took quite a while to transcribe them into a format that each of us could understand. The result, though, is a relatively good idea of when we'll be working, where we'll be working at, and what sort of lessons we need to prepare for.

I haven't looked at any of the other schedules yet, but I'm teaching three or four classes at the Language Center, four or five classes at one local school, and a few classes at a second local school. I don't start until Sunday, so tomorrow I'm going to observe a few classes.

- Jonathan

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Week in Review

The intensive training period is over, I think, and we're starting on what will be our regular schedule.

The lack of updates for the past few days was caused in part by the sudden onset of a head cold, which has had me in bed for most of the time we're not actually at the school. I think I'm almost over it, as the headache and congestion are giving way to runny nose and a general lack of strength. I've been getting a lot of rest and eating lots of fruit (and chicken soup!)- I should be back to normal soon.

The training was very good- we had some instruction on presentation techniques and classroom management, and did practice presentations. Our training was facilitated by Lounes and Hakan, who also gave voluminous feedback on our practice presentations. We were joined on the first day of training (Tuesday, I think) by Tara, and yesterday by Laura. There are eight English teachers with the Language Center that I'm aware of, and we've now met them all. I intend to post pictures soon, so you'll be able to connect faces to names.

Yesterday when our schedules were worked out, I was assigned to assist Hakan in teaching older students. I'm not sure what all this will entail, but Hakan says it's very straightforward. In addition to assiting Hakan, I'll be teaching a few classes at one of the public schools in here in Wenzhou, and (I think) one regular class at the Language Center.

I think we're starting to adjust to life in China- Jenny returned to Shanghai yesterday morning, so we're as much on our own as we will be for the duration of our stay here. The staff at the Language Center is doing very well in making sure we have everything we need, and there's even a full-time employee as our English-speaking contact person.

And ... it's time to go to work.

- Jonathan

Monday, September 15, 2008

First day of training!

Today we're starting at the Language Center. We're going to have three full days of training, then (I think) two weeks of working with one of the established teachers before teaching classes by ourselves.

We're also planning on signing our employment contracts today- everything has looked very good so far, but we haven't yet seen our weekly schedule (What day, what time, where) beyond a specified number of hours at the Language Center and a specified number of hours teaching.

The Language Center has been very accommodating- they've even scheduled a mandarin class for us every Friday, to take place during our working hours. I've also heard talk of a calligraphy class...

I'll update tonight after we get back.

Sunset in Wenzhou

Last night the rain cleared up, and we were treated to the foregoing view out our bedroom window.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mid-Autumn Festival, Jiangxin Island

2008-09-14 Sunday

Today is the Mid Autumn Festival! It is a time of much rejoicing all over China. With the moon reaching its fullest size tonight, people return home to celebrate and spend time with their family and enjoy traditional foods--especially Moon Cake. This is one of the biggest festivals of the year, so most businesses will be closed tomorrow.

We woke up a bit late this morning, and while we planning out our day, we received a call from Mr. Jiang, the director of the Language Center. In honor of Mid Autumn Festival, he wanted to take us out for the afternoon, starting at 11:00 for lunch. The hospitality shown us by Mr. Jiang has really been quite unexpected- Mid Autumn Festival is traditionally a day to spend with family, and he chose to take the opportunity to invest in us. He and his son, Jerry (I think he's about 5 years old), and a friend, Mr. Guo, took us out to the Beefsteak Restaurant for lunch, then took us to Jiangxin Island for the afternoon.

Jiangxin island sits in the river separating the north edge of Wenzhou city from the south edge of Yongjia city. In the middle of the river is an medium sized island, on which sit two ancient towers--one a lighthouse--dating back to 860 and 960 A.D. The island also contains an amusement park with a roller coaster and a ferris wheel, but we focused instead on the old portion. I coudn't find wikipedia page about the island, but was able to locate a short write-up here.

The weather today was rainy- there's a typhoon heading slowly towards us, and it should hit Wenzhou sometime tonight or tomorrow morning. We're expecting heavy rains, maybe strong winds, but it shouldn't affect us too much. Jenny says we should be prepared for temporary power outages- probably the same sort of preparation we would have in Oklahoma during tornado season. We're not expecting to be a really big deal, but it would be good if everything went smoothly. Thanks!

Some pictures:

This is the view out the window of the Restaurant. It's on the second floor of a building situated near the Language Center, the center of Wenzhou, and the downtown shopping district. The black car is a Mazeratti (There really is a lot of money flowing around Wenzhou).


Jessica and Jerry at the restaurant:


Our group at Jiangxin Island. The man in the white shirt standing behind Jessica is Mr. Guo, who works with Mr. Jiang. He accompanied us for the afternoon. In the background is Wenzhou city:

The south-east coast of the Island. Mr. Jiang said that the entire east end of the island (verdant lawn and palm trees included) was artificially built up a few hundred years ago:

The Island is a bit unusual in that it has an interior lake with streams- this end of it, behind the photographer, is connected to the river via a sluice gate:

It's me!

Shannon and Me:
The East Tower. This is one of the oldest lighthouses in the world, and has been selected as significant enough to warrant preservation. It was built around 860 A.D.

The east end of the island contained a lot of colonial architecture. The walks, gardens, buildings, and lampposts looked like they could have come right out of the carribean.

This seems to be a popular flower in China. In addition to spotting it all over the east end of the island, it is prevalent between the divided highway on the road from Shanghai to Wenzhou.

It's a really good color for Shannon!

One of the walkways circling the island:
The was a bonsai garden in the middle of the island, but it was closed. This was taken through a side gate:

The west tower. This was built in 960 A.D.

Mr. Guo:
Jeremiah!
There were signs like this everywhere. Each one was different, but they all had a bit of humor. I'm not sure, but I suspect they are intentionally humorous.
Jessica, Mr. Jiang, and Mr. Guo at a well:
A loghthouse in the channel between Jiangxin Island and Wenzhou:

Tomorrow will probably a very quiet day, with most businesses closed, typhoon rains arriving, and not too much else.

- Jonathan

Quick Update

We found a third apartment in our building! We're not going to all be off by ourselves! Update to follow...

- Jonathan

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Joy of Soap

We got up late this morning- I woke up at 9:00, Shannon woke up at 10:00, and we got started on the day at 11:00.

We were all up late last night cleaning, and didn't get to bed until about 2:00 in the morning- but the bathroom ended up basically clean! It's really nice to be sharing the apartment with three people who like things clean. I'm not sure if Jeremiah or I would have gotten around to deep cleaning for several months.

This morning we did more cleaning, the girls did the bathroom again, Jeremiah cleaned the TV, stand, and accessories, I washed walls, and we all worked on the living room. We took a break at 1:00 for pizza[1]- it was really good! It wasn't quite the same as American pizza, but it was remarkably close, and very good. We'll probably do it again sometime.

We had a cleaning lady come this afternoon for several hours and work on cleaning the kitchen. It's completely cleaned by any stretch of the imagination, but it looks so much better, we can visualize actually preparing food in it on a regular basis. It really is that much better.

After the cleaning lady left, Jessica went to observe an English lesson taught by Lounes[2], one of the teacher/administrators of the language center. They got back to the apartment at about 5:30, at which time Lounes invited us to go out to the Chinese market with him. Aparently, he goes there several times a week to buy fresh food, and really likes seeing "real" China. It was quite an experience. We're going to go back in a few days (after our refrigerator is up and running) to do some grocery shopping. The market runs along a "river" (one of the wide algae covered canals seen frequently in Chinese photographs) and through a few alleyways, and consists primarily of food stalls- fruits, vegetables, fish, seafood, chickens, pork, breads, a few barber shops, and a few tiny restaurants. Almost everything was fresh, especially the seafood. It was a bit unsettling to see a lady picking raw shrimp out of a bowl, then seeing that the shrimp were still crawling. We're going to go back.

Lounes bought chicken, fish, and potatoes for about 15 yuan, then invited us all up to his apartment for dinner an hour later. It was delicious! The chicken was cooked, the fish was splayed and baked, and the potatoes were sliced and cooked with ginger and garlic. We stayed and visited for a while, and talked about his background with the language school. It is encouraging to hear from him what the school is trying to accomplish in Wenzhou- there are several English schools, but only two of them are properly registered, and only one of them is investing in its teachers and giving them ongoing training.

From talking with Lounes tonight and Mr. Jiang on Thursday, it seems that the David Cambridge English Language Center is striving to create a language center which is good for its students (teaching them English, not teaching them how to pass an exam), good for its teachers (investing in their ongoing training, providing integrity throughout their business relationship), and good for its investors (a well-run business that provides a quality service and takes care of its employees is well situated to be financially successful). It sounds like it will be a good company to be associated with. We're going to meet the staff and begin our on-site training on Tuesday, as most of the teachers have Mondays off.

While Jessica was out watching the English lesson, Jenny and Shannon went for a massage. Shannon told me all about it when they got back, and it sounds amazing! Jeremiah and I are going to go next month when we have more local cash.

- Jonathan


[1] Pizza Hut. It cost 150 Yuan--$23 USD--to get one 12 inch double cheese and one 9 inch peperoni delivered to our apartment. Apparently, pizza is one of the very few American foods that is popular in Asia. We saw several Papa John's in Shanghai.

[2] Lounes is one of the investors in the language center. He is from Algeria, with Spanish and French parents. He speaks five languages, including Mandarin, has a few years experience teaching English, and has been working with the Language Center since its inception last year. He is very hospitable- when he found out we had gotten to our apartment two nights ago, he came right down to meet us and welcome us to Wenzhou.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Trip to Wenzhou

Yesterday we traveled to Wenzhou from Shanghai. The trip went very well, and we are now in our apartment.

We got up relatively early, had a traditional Chinese breakfast, took a soft sleeper bus to Wenzhou, checked out our apartment, went out for dinner, checked out the other apartment, and are now outlining our plan for tomorrow.

We ate breakfast at the hotel. It was a buffet, with the traditional Chinese breakfast trappings. The buffet started with watermelon, went on to porridge toppings (mix-ins?), steamed dumplings (baoxi), hard boiled eggs, rice porridge, fried eggs, and soy sauce. The porridge mix-in options included tofu noodles, brown sugar, some sort of spam, seaweed, picked cabbage, and a few other things. Unfortunately, I didn't think to take any pictures.

I did take quite a few pictures on our bus trip. We left Shanghai at 10:10am on a sleeper bus. There were about 36 berths, outfitted with a slightly inclined "head" end, a pillow, and a blanket. The trip was very comfortable. The Chinese countryside was rather uniform, with rice paddies, road traffic, white houses with green and orange roofs, and construction. After about an hour, we went over the longest bridge in the world of a certain type- I think it was 26 miles long, and connects Shanghai with the northeastern quadrant of the Zhejiang province.

There are taxis everywhere in Shanghai!


Some pictures from inside the bus:



This is Jenny- she's staying with us in Wenzhou for a few days until we get settled in.



A typical non-sleeper bus:
The Countryside:





We stopped for lunch after about two hours, and had a rice something. It was a small ball of cooked/steamed rice, with a few pieces of meat stuffed in the middle. I'm not sure, but I think the meat was some sort of pig organ. The rice tasted unusual, not unpleasant. On the other hand, the meat was just a bit too unusual.



The second portion of the trip went by very quickly- I slept. It was good. By the time I woke up, we were in the mountainous regions north of Wenzhou. The road was relatively flat, so we ended up going through many tunnels- some of them quite long (1km+).

More Countryside:

There is a surprising amount of construction. It seems like everywhere we turn, there's a new building going up, or extensive remodeling, or road expansion, or train tracks, or something. Lots and lots of construction.


One interesting thing I noticed on the drive to Wenzhou was the subject matter of billboards- they have a very industrial bent, advertising everything from plastic injection moulding machines to fireproof cables. Apparently, the demographic that travels to Wenzhou is comprised of entrepreneurs in search of manufacturing.

In spite of all that, I'm not sure what exactly this sign advertised:
There is also a surprising number of churches in the Wenzhou area. I'll probably touch on this a bit more in the future, but Wenzhou is unique in all of China in that the population here has a high concentration of Christians - about 30%. It is also an area high in businesses, and the Christian businessmen tithe 10%. Consequently, the Christian population has a mucher degree of influence here than it does anywhere else in China.



We got into Wenzhou at about 4:30pm. We met Mr. Jiang at the bus station, and he took us all to the first apartment. There are only two apartments rented at this point, with the third apartment due to be available in about ten days. In the meantime, Shannon and I will have guests!

The first apartment is relatively large. I think it's almost twice the size of our apartment in Oklahoma, with three bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a large livingroom/dining room/entryway area. I think it will work out fine. The kitchen is fully equipped, with a refridgerator, a microwave, a stovetop, a toaster over, a sink, pots and pans, etc. The bedrooms all have beds--two queen size, one twin size--with bedding. It is located about two blocks from the language center in a relatively upscale quarter of downtown.

A few pictures of the apartment:




The second apartment is located in a different building, about 8 blocks past the language center. It is located in the old quarter of downtown, where the buildings are a bit more dated. The condition of the neighborhood appears to be a bit rougher, definitely noisier, and quite a bit more interesting than that of the first neighborhood. The building is also not as secure, with a small entryway, a lazy looking watchman, and switches on the hall lights. The interior of the second apartment, though, is much nicer. I think it was cleaned more thoroughly by the previous occupant, and the furniture quality is much higher- it's both more elegant and better kept-up. Everything is smaller, but it has much more character.

The third apartment is located in the same building as the first apartment- it's just not available yet. It's supposed to open up in ten days.

After we dropped our things off at the first apartment, Mr. Jiang took us out for dinner a fancy chinese buffet. It was very nice, located in an incredible-looking hotel, and had a well stocked buffet. Most of the meats were seafood, with everything from escargot to shark fin soup. There was also a fair amount of fruit, Chinese dates, plums, grapes, melon, and dragonfruit. I was gratified to learn during the course of the meal that the Chinese name for "Dragonfruit" is almost exactly what I had called it when I asked for it at the Asian Market in Oklahoma City. Dinner was very good. Shannon and I ended up seated with Mr. Hsu and Mr. Jiang, and we chatted about the BCOC conference, Mr. Jiang's background with CTI China, and a few other small-talk topics. It was very pleasant.

Mr. Jiang at the restaurant:


After dinner, we checked out the second apartment and then all returned to Apartment #1. For the next week or two, all four of us will probably stay in Apartment #1, and Jenny Hsu will stay with us. There are just enough beds to go around. So far, it is going very well- it's been really very nice to have other people around as we get settled. The space constraints haven't yet been much of a factor. We'll see how things go over the weekend.

:-)

- Jonathan