Monday, 26 December 2011

A stranger in a stranger land

It’s been four months now since I arrived in China and I thought that maybe I should note down my impressions and experiences of the country and the people.  I’m not really sure what my expectations were.  Like many of us we probably don’t give China or the Chinese people much thought as we go about our daily lives.  Most of us know it’s a Communist country, some of us may know about Mao Zedong

and the Chinese revolution and most of us know that the vast majority of plastic cheap crap in the shops comes from China.

If we watch the news we know that the country is a huge polluter and has problems with air quality – my photographs of the great sunsets bear testament to that.

Some of us may remember the Tiananmen Square student revolt and the crack down by the government against the students and the leaders.

This may give us the impression that the country is a police state and that the people are ruled and controlled by an all-seeing ‘1984’ type of bureaucracy. On the other hand some of us will remember the triumphs of the 2008 Olympic Games held in Beijing, which might have given some of us a glimpse of what the Chinese government and people are actually up to.

Most of us frequent and enjoy Chinese food in restaurants and from take-aways.  So expectations of the food in China will always be high, but of course for me that is mediated by my vegetarianism, but as you will probably know the food in Chinese restaurants is often vegetarian friendly, so I had no qualms about that.

Prior to coming out I had read a number of books about China, notably:

Red Dust by Ma Jian

These are interesting books and I recommend them, but as I have found out, they offer little help in trying to make sense of the country and the people today and in the particular place you find yourself.  I firmly think that everybody’s experience of China is different and those experiences are going to be mediated by a myriad of different variables.  The problem with the insights offered by these books is that although many of them were only published a year or two ago in modern China things have now moved on a pace.. 

Two years ago in Xianlin, the area of Nanjing I live in there wasn’t a Metro line -there is now. Some of the English teachers who work at the International School here and have been here for many years tell me that the Yadong area of shops, where we shop, hi-rise accommodation, roads and facilities hardly existed two years ago.  And they are still building and expanding.  Some of the roads close to my accommodation still end in dirt tracks and paddies.

And of course China is huge. So my experiences reflect the fact that I live in a pretty prosperous area of Nanjing, the historical capital of China and a rich and prosperous city.  They reflect the fact that I am in comfortable accommodation and am lucky enough to work in a College that also employs other foreign teachers, mainly Americans apart from myself and Steve a Scot.  I have met other teachers from other schools, again mainly Americans, but with a sprinkling of Brits, Canadians, New Zealanders, Aussies, French and Greeks.

So I have a good support group and a ready made set of English speaking friends. We meet in a western style bar for drink, food and comradeship. So I am not lonely or alone as my recent accident has proved.  I know that my experience of China and its people would be completely different if I was at one of the Colleges/Schools that was out in the ‘bush’.  Somewhere where I was the only Brit and possibly the only English teacher in town.  This might have to be my next step next teaching year.

I am often asked why did I choose to come to China?  Why give up a good and secure job for teaching Chinese students English?  These are questions that do not allow trite answers.  Sometimes, when I feel at my most alone and down, they are questions I also ask myself.

To answer the latter question first most people who really know me would know that I was pretty fed up with the job I was doing. After 11 years doing it it had lost its lustre and I also think that the University was pretty fed up with the job too.  Maybe not fed up with me, but with all the changes at the university and within higher education I felt that the role of Market Research Manager was no longer ‘adding value’ (popular business speak for when management want to get rid of, or downsize something) and they were bored with it. I certainly was.

My New Year resolution for the year of 2011 was to be out of that job by the end of the year, I told colleagues that was my resolution when we went back to work, and blow me down, here I am in China – first time ever a New Years resolution worked!

Why did I come to China? – Why not? Is the trite answer. The longer version takes in all of the above. The vague notion of what China is or was.  The notion that China was shrouded in mystery, that it had been a closed society for much of its recorded history, either under the emperors or under the more recent communist emperors.  The fact that China had ‘suddenly’ turned its back on state organised communism and was now embarrassing capitalism or at least developing its own form of socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics (see here) by doing what the Capitalists do/did, but only better.  China is now one of the countries if not leading the world, now owns large chucks of western debt and real estate and as far as I could see was going to be a really interesting place to be to experience that huge rise and massive advance.

Evidence of those advances is all around me. 


I have mentioned above the changes seen during the last two years in my locale.  And I think this ‘modernisation’ is one of the things that first surprised me when I arrived in China.  Maybe my expectations had been coloured by travelling in Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc.  Ukraine was a drab example of what we expect of a former Soviet country. It was (about 10 years ago now) then a ramshackled poor country. The infrastructure was poor, the people were poor and they looked poor. The soviet housing blocks built by Stalin looked their age and fitted exactly into the drab grey landscapes.  Even the great Cities like Kiev and Lvov, whilst having a sort of majestic grandeur that spoke of more fortunate times still wore the patina of the Soviet Union like a mantle. The seaside resorts of the Black Sea, Sevastopol and Yalta were not places to have ‘fun’ – the beaches were littered, the sea polluted, the service bad.  The dourness of the place was summed up on my first arrival in Kiev airport, dour customs, dour immigrations, cold, dark, icy people.

Beijing airport, on the other hand, is a magnificent hall of modernism. Huge to the point of uselessness. Why make things so big that everything is lost? It is like a hall of a mountain king. Millions of light bulbs and millions of volts of electricity keep the massive spaces bright whilst armies of workers keep the place clean. The Southern Nanjing Train Station is the same, a huge marble palace, a monstrosity built so big that it simply becomes a waste of space, it is not even utilitarian as one wastes time and effort trekking across the marble wastelands in search of a toilet, the correct gate for your coach or train or even an exit where one might find a taxi to escape the monsters that surely live within.  Why build so big – because they can, has to be the answer!

Nanjing South Station

This is one of the first impressions of China, things - places, buildings, distances are ridiculously big and they are generally spotlessly clean.  The streets, pavements, public buildings are continuously being swept and mopped clean by an army of cleaners.  If the streets and pavements are not being swept, the planted verges are being trimmed and planted and replanted as the flowers whither and the seasons move on. Every tree along the side of the roads and cycle routes, every bush on the manicured verges have their trunks painted white, to about a metre mark.  When it rains and the white is discoloured with dye from the bark, the trees are painted again and again. Leaves barely touch the ground before a Chinese womble (lomble?) rushes out and sweeps it up. There is no litter. Although people litter in a way that would make the directors of ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ have an aneurism - its picked up promptly by an army of scavengers who earn money from the waste.

Scavenging for waste paper

Not only do they litter. Men piss on the side of the road with impunity.  (I have yet to witness a women being so indelicate.) Babies and small children wear trousers that are deliberately designed with a split crotch and they piss and shit indiscriminately too, on the pavement, on the street, in the Metro station.  I have seen little boys on the side of the pavement, amongst the bushes and plants, pants down doing their business whilst their proud parents look on.

Hawking and spitting is also a national sport, generally once again the men are the most obvious. They will hawk and spit at every occasion whether they are indoors or out.  Sat in the Blue Marlin the other night, we were at a bank on tables that happen to be right next to the entrance to the toilets, a Chinese guy, enroute to the toilet and less than about 8 paces away from the actual pissoire hawked and spat on the floor right by our table. It happens everywhere.

I have mentioned the toilets in other blogs, fortunately in the Blue Marlin they have the European style of convenience, but everywhere else it’s a porcelain hole in the ground.  At school they are pretty disgusting. Despite having the army of cleaners swabbing down everything they still stink. The stink clogs the hallways and hangs in every corner, skimming along the marble floored corridors leaving a fetid stench and the proverbial bad taste in ones mouth.

The public toilets at the monestery we visited

Every public building and shopping centre I have visited uses vast amounts of marble floor tiling. I hate it; it is hard on the feet, its cold, shiny and murderous on a wet day or when the ‘lombles’ have been swabbing the decks.  And whilst I use the term ‘swabbing’ what I really mean is moving the dirt around with a damp cloth, I don’t think they ever really clean the place.  If one takes a close look at the marble floors of the classrooms the place is awash with long black hairs, chalk dust and various bits of detritus and grime dropped by the students that use the rooms.

The frigid halls of the College

The marble floors also add to the chill or should I really say the freezing temperatures we are experiencing in the classrooms at the moment, because of course there is no heating at all in the College. This situation comes about because of the beaurocratic nature of how the country is run. Some office clone somewhere or other once set an arbitrary line across China which means basically everything above the line gets heating and insulation because its cold and everything below the line is hot and thus no heating or insulation.  By a cruel trick of fate, where we live and teach is on the northern extremity of the hot bloc. That means, a few miles north it is ‘Cold’ and they get heating and where we are its ‘Hot’ thus we suffer the freezing conditions in our classrooms and luke warm conditions in our flats as the air conditioner struggles to cope with the requests for heat.

I am luckier than some teachers at other colleges because my apartment is relatively new, less than two years old, so the AC works pretty well and all my heating and utilities are paid as part of my contract. I know of other teachers who earn less than me and they have to pay their utility bills, and as their accommodation is older their AC is poor so they have to supplement this by buying electric space heaters.

And yet the general façade of the area in which I live is one of modernity and expansion. This, as I have shown in other blogs, is not the case in rural China. I have published the pictures of Xia’s aunty who lives in the single storey house in the mountains with no heating, insulation or running water.  But living in Xianlin in Nanjing is like living in a little bubble of proto western life.

 'Living room'

Sometimes one has to ‘remember’ one is in China when one awakes in the morning, but the bubble soon bursts once one is out on the street again, out into the strangeness.  And it is strange and it does take some get used to being a ‘stranger in a strange land’.  Being out on the street does give one an insight of what it like being ‘different’.  We foreigners are constantly being watched, looked at and stared at.  Mostly its just inquisitiveness and if you catch the eye of the looker and offer a smile or a nod one is often rewarded with a smile or a nod back. 

Sometimes the stare is blank and unquestioning as if the watcher can’t quite comprehend what they are seeing and will look away when caught peeking.  But sometimes there is a slight whiff of racism.  Just little things, some people will not sit next to you if there is a free seat on the Metro, or they will move away if you sit next to them, Or the taxi driver that stops and then noticing that you are white will wave you away and drive off.  I personally haven’t come across any overt racism myself, but the younger American guys out on the prowl at night in the clubs and bars tell us that Chinese guys don’t like them coming on to Chinese girls and in fact they tell me that in fact the majority of Chinese girls are not interested in them anyway (although to be fair a number of the young guys have Chinese girlfriends, and AJ and Stuart have married Chinese women.)

The African guys, mainly students here, have told me that its difficult for them to find part time jobs teaching, although many of them are tri-lingual or better, one guy I know Joel, from Cameroon, has English, French and German, and probably a native language or two.  The private and public schools do not like employing black guys although I do know that there is a woman from Cameroon employed by my agency in a school in China.

One often catches the word ‘Laowai’ (the Chinese word for ‘foreigner’) on the breeze as we are pointed out by groups of people, or by mothers to their children.  Usually if one offers a smile and a hello the mother will encourage their children to say ‘Hello’ in English. And as I have shown the children are inquisitive and generally friendly to us as foreigners.  

The college students have no qualms and it makes ones day to have lots of young women, saying a shy ‘hello’ as one passes on Campus and having your response of “hello’ being repaid by a wide smile, a giggle and often a wave.  The guys say hello too and the reward is also a wide smile and a friendly wave.  We tend to get photographed a lot too. Often we are asked, especially at college, where we are asked to pose with students, but out on the street one often catches a mobile phone being pointed your way and of course when we were in Anqing we were followed around the theme park by a TV crew and the official photographer - apparently we were on TV that evening.

I have mentioned before that in general the Chinese do seem to have a ‘Joie de vivre’, they do seem not to be affected by the western malaise of anomie, depression and stress.  They seem happy and smiley and they seem to have good social lives (of course this is a City based assessment – but this was also the case for the people in the rural areas we met in the mountains, they seemed happy and friendly and were always ready to share a smile and a ‘joke’) Of course they haven’t had to cope with 200 years of Capitalism and the 9 to 5 drudge to make money to spend on life’s necessities such as a 56 inch flat screen TV and a mortgage. But it’s coming to them and they are already infected with the expectations of a western lifestyle.  

But still they have time to snooze. 

They sleep anywhere and everywhere.  In busy McDonalds, restaurants, buses, taxis (including the drivers), at school, (indeed the teachers have camp beds in our office and they are snuggled down most days when they are not teaching), in the Blue Marlin, everywhere seats are taken by sleepers, snoozers and snorers.  These are not the down and outs seeking a few minutes warmth and repose. No these are the students, workers, and the ordinary people catching some shuteye.  Everywhere you look people are sleeping, it seems like a national malaise.  

Chinese teachers asleep in my office - yes they have beds in the office!

The sleeping sickness infects young and old.  I have to wake my students up constantly.  Not that I’m boring them you understand.  They fall asleep during exams, during vocal practice, when they are meant to be writing and of course during the 10-minute break at half time.  Then they drop off the cliff and have to be shaken awake by their colleagues, as they can’t here me calling them out of the arms of Morpheus.

My students asleep

There is also a general torpor about day-to-day stuff.  They seem to wander across the roads in a daze, or just wander on the roads regardless of the traffic. The waiters at the bar forget your order about a second after taking it so you have to keep asking even for something like another beer, and its not that there is a language barriers. It might be simply because in general for menial jobs like bar work these kids are paid about 5rmb per hour. That’s about 50p.  So there is not much incentive to remember an order or even get it right.

One of the main culprits is probably Internet use and in some cases Internet addiction. China was the first country to recognize this as an addiction and it’s estimated there 457 million Internet users currently active in the PRC, the country now has the largest online user base in world, of which two-thirds engage in online game play. The average online gamer in China is relatively young (18 to 30 years old). (Wikipedia).

There are huge numbers of Internet games playing arcades with hundreds of computers where people can go online for not much money for hours, if not days. All their requirements are met there in terms of food and drink.  No wonder many of our students are too tired to learn.

Generally the food is not up to much, in my opinion. Although, like anywhere in the world, you can find good and bad food side by side.  And one adage that holds good, I suppose, is ‘you get what you pay for’.  As I have mentioned, however, the initial expectation when coming to China is that the food will be fantastic. Well some is, but there is a huge amount that isn’t, or at least isn’t to our taste - like dog or chicken feet, or chicken fetus on a stick, or stinky tofu. 

But even as a vegetarian, which I though would be quite easy, things are difficult. When I ask for dishes without meat, they don’t seem to understand the concept. A case in point happened just two weeks ago. One of the managers from the Canadian University I work for was visiting and we were taken out to dinner by the College to what AJ told me was ‘the best restaurant’ in the area.  As I knew that the food would be chosen for me I reminded Richard the foreign teacher liaison guy (he’s Chinese with good English) that I was a vegetarian and he responded that he was aware of that.

At the restaurant Richard and one of the other College directors were perusing the menu, discussing what to order and in particular what to order for me. Richard glanced up from the menu and asked me if beef was okay for me! What they eventually ordered was just as bad; all the vegetables seemed to be swimming in a chicken broth. I ate them but felt nauseous for the rest of the evening.  But saying that when the Director of the Canadian University came to visit we went to another nice restaurant and I had the best vegetarian food (vegetables basically) I have had in China.

The food in the College canteens is OK good, cheap and filling. Most of the English teachers eat there but we tend to find something we like and stick to it. So for me there is egg fried rice, which does have vegetables in it, chow mien, and a rice dish in a metal bowl that is sizzling hot, which is pretty good.

A lot of the little side street restaurants do good stuff too, although my experience is basically limited to chow mien (noodles). The best noodles locally is the guy down by the Metro station. 

The street stalls do not come out until about 5 o’clock in the evening and are there until quite late. This guy does roaring business. All he does is either Chow Mein or Mi Fan (fried rice) either plain or with a variety of chopped meats.  Of course I have the plain. But his noodles are just the right size and have just the right amount of heat (chili) and flavour. And of course the whole plate is 5rmb (50p) and if you grab a bottle of beer from the local stall which is 3rmb (30p) you have a meal fit for a king all for less than £1. Bargain.

One does miss things from back home. A few weeks ago I was craving a pizza, so with a couple of colleagues we went into Nanjing city and visited a Pizza Hut, that was enough to scratch that itch. McDonalds are ubiquitous through out the city are they continue their bid for world domination along with Apple.  But they provide a decent coffee and OK their fries are good too. There is a McD’s out by a local lake along one of the bus routes I can take home from school. One of my treats, when the weather is sunny, and even though it is winter and chilly here the sun still shines with some warmth during the day, so it is a treat for me to buy a large coffee (4 milks) and a large French fries (2 ketchup sachets) (cost 18rmb about £1,80) and sit outside overlooking the lake. Sometimes I might have a Pineapple pie, they don’t have apple apparently. (But I can’t get the Guardian newspaper which is a shame)

Decent chocolate is also a rarity. They sell something called Dove, which I think might be American, but has the consistency and flavour (or is that flavor) of soap. It doesn’t hit that spot. I found a toblerone, but that didn’t do it either.  Luckily we have a shop next to the Blue Marlin which only sells western foods. It’s called ‘My Shop’ and whilst it stocks mainly American brands, there are some things I buy there.

He sells pasta sauce, Ragu, which goes very nicely with the spaghetti I have found. (Of course spaghetti is Chinese, Marco Polo brought Chinese noodles back from his travels and the Italians have been eating spaghetti ever since).  Butter is another commodity its difficult to get in the Chinese shops but My Shop stocks ‘Kerrygold’ Irish Butter – just like I used at home. And as the bakery next door sells ‘proper bread’ I am able to have a civilized breakfast of real coffee (from My shop too) and toast.  He also does some good cheese, but the Cheddar sold in the Bakery next door is cheaper and better. He also does Salt and Vinegar crisps – just like Walkers, but branded ‘Lays’ which is probably the same company, probably owned by Pepsi.

The Blue Marlin also produces excellent western style food, the best chips I’ve tasted outside of England, a decent pizza and the burgers, steaks, pasta and so on seems to satisfy the western and Chinese customers alike many of who a regular customers – especially the cooking averse younger teachers.  The beers good to and the happy hour lasts from 4pm to 7 pm.  (Carlsberg 13rmb a pint or about £1.30)

I suppose, all this aside, my main surprise in visiting China is how modern it is.  Why this is a surprise to me I not sure.  I certainly wasn’t expecting coolies with pigtails and rickshaws like in some 1930’s film, but I don’t think I was expecting the development and the modernism. Well, the development in the towns and Cities to be precise.  But even when we were travelling through the towns in the mountains, building and expansion was going on. Of course this is just one corner of China and in other areas, and in particular the West I think development is not so fast or advanced, I might be wrong though.

Nanjing looks very modern and of course Shanghai looked ultra modern.

 Shanghai at night

 Shangahi inside a Mall
 Nanjing City Skyline

The main shopping/commercial areas are dominated by huge shopping centers, banks and high rise offices and accommodation.  The shop fronts display all the premium western brands, Chanel, Lacoste, Jaguar, Ferrari and so on. The shops are packed with shoppers buying the main popular branded stuff, for example UGGs are fashionable here, you can buy Levis, Clarks shoes - well all of the stuff really, I can’t even remember the names.

But of course, in terms of clothing, not much of it will fit us. Most of us, including the women teachers struggle to find clothing and shoes to fit. The Chinese are smaller than us.  I managed to get a couple of long sleeved tee-shirts from a branch of UniQlo and will probably shop there if I need other stuff, I have bought stuff from the London branches and the quality is OK.

I can’t think of much stuff here we can’t get. Sometimes it means a bit of a hunt or a trip across town for something particular. I guess its mostly food related. Electronics surprisingly are just as expensive as in the UK or the USA. Computers, cameras, mobile phones and so on are all about the same prices so there is no advantage in buying in China, which would also have the disadvantage of being loaded with Chinese software – so one would still have to buy English language software to replace it.

 The women can’t get tampons and have to have them sent in by friends.  But on the whole medicines and stuff like that is freely available from the drugstores without a prescription. So it’s easy to buy antibiotics, good painkillers and so on over the counter.

Out and about one might, as I mentioned above, expect the society to be strictly regulated with an overt police or security presence. We might also expect to see state propaganda hanging on buildings and I had read that loudspeakers would be broadcasting party scripture and slogans of the communist party.  In fact one finds it very difficult to find any evidence that this is in actuality a communist state.  There is, as far as I can see, no physical evidence of the last 60 plus years of communist rule.

In Ukraine the evidence of their Soviet past was firmly embedded into the actual physical structure of their buildings.  The hammer and sickle and/or the red star were clearly evident on many buildings and public structures such a bridges, boats and trains. Of course this was about 10 years ago now and this evidence might have been erased from the public view.  But here in China, which is still a communist state, there is none or at least very little.

Occasionally one might catch a glimpse of a Mao Zedong poster hanging on a wall in an office or workplace – which at street level are open to the gaze.  Official papers bear the red star but that’s about it.  As far as the police are concerned one hardly sees them. And when one does notice the police they are as halfhearted and as listless as the rest of the population.  My brush with the law, after my accident was a bit worrying at the time, but it seems to have gone away now.

There seem to be manned police boxes on many of the major junctions but the police in them seem to be doing little more than dozing, smoking and gazing listlessly out at the world. They are scruffy and disheveled, hardly a force to be reckoned with.

Saying that there seems to be little crime in China – I’m sure I’m wrong on this, but I have never felt safer on the streets and the women teacher colleagues also confirm this. One never sees people arguing, fighting or shouting, or wandering drunk in the streets.   A couple of the American guys have been beaten up by Chinese guys in the bar/club area in town, but as mentioned this was probably about them encroaching on their girls. Of course for some crimes, like fraud and so on, the death penalty is still used, and it is a public event where the criminal/s get shot in the head. So it makes good sense to not want to get caught doing something bad.

However, the general rule of thumb here in China is, if you see anything happening on the street, say a guy abusing his wife or girlfriend, don’t get involved because invariably it will become your fault. Similarly if you see someone ill or on the ground or in an accident the rule is don’t get involved because as the foreigner you will be blamed – just another example of the type of Chinese racism and for them the possibility of getting money off you, because of course we are all rich. (So my bike has been confiscated, even though the accident wasn’t my fault and it’s probably been sold by the police)

Now I don’t have my bike I have to depend on the transport system which is good.  Top of the heap, of course, is the fast train, the bullet train, the train to Shanghai upon which we travelled at a magnificent 189 miles per hour (305kms per hour), take that British Rail!  

We, in the West pride ourselves upon being technologically advanced, but of course we are not because we just cannot afford it any more. We don’t have the money that allows us, in a few short years to build the sort of transport systems the Chinese have in place.  As I have mentioned, the metro only appeared in my district two years ago, but it is fast, clean, sleek and cheap.

Buses are plentiful too. But as a mass transport system whilst the fares are cheap, usually 1rmb (10p) anywhere, the buses themselves are ramshackled, run down affairs.  But there are lots of them, one doesn’t have to wait too long for the next one to come along. The downside is they are sometimes packed with standing room only, which at 7am on a dark and cold morning doesn’t make the journey to college a good one.

The other option is a taxi. There are two choices, the official metered taxi or the gypsy illegal taxi. Both are generally good value.  One has to enter into a negotiation with the gypsy cab first though to get a good and fare price, as obviously they want to get as much as they can whereas the metered cab can only charge the metered fare. But the gypsy drivers think we are rich ‘laowai’ and they can overcharge us and get a good deal.  But the negotiations are always sort of good humoured and we usually reach an agreement. So for example from the Blue Marlin to College a metered cab will cost you 17rmb plus 2rmb tax, so 19 for the trip. The gypsy cab will try for 25rmb, but we will usually get them to do it for 20rmb. 

Driving on the road is another example of the Chinese not giving a damn about much. The roads are chaos. People swap lanes indiscriminately, there is no lane discipline, so it’s a bit like being in a game of Grand Theft Auto, but with out the shooting or running over pedestrians, although that often comes close as people wander across roads without looking.  Car drivers weave across the lanes, even when there is no traffic and if they are in a real hurry they just ignore the road signals anyway.  Sometimes if they cross a junction where the lights are against them they will serve into the junction that has a green light to make it look like they are coming from the free side rather than from the illegal stopped side.

 Of course there’s also the dangers of drivers using the wrong side of the road, just because it’s quicker to get where they need to be. Or the cars that just randomly stop in the middle of the carriageway, or the fact that nearly every driver is on their phone.  Or the drivers on the motorways that stop on the carriageway by a junction simply because they are not sure where they are going so they have to phone someone or look at a map, or something.

At night its even worse, many drivers, including bus drivers don’t bother using their lights, why bother when there are streetlights hey? And they probably thing they are saving fuel or something. All the bus drivers turn their engines off at the traffic lights and the bus stops.  The people on scooters and e-bikes are the worse they use the cycle lanes which are hardly covered by the streetlights and they hardly ever use their lights and they wear black clothes and of course the e-bikes make no noise so they swish silently out of the gloom like horsemen of the apocalypse coming for your soul.

And of course if the road is a bit blocked, the car drivers can always use the cycle lane, both ways.

I’ve hardly mentioned my teaching. I suppose because I have a handle on that.  The first few weeks were a bit chaotic and the organization at the college is just as chaotic as the rest of the country. Students fall asleep or don’t come to class.  Out of the 3 classes a run for BCIT (the Canadian University) I only examined about 6 students in each class (each class is about 30 students) because they were the ones that had turned up regularly (they had to have attended at least 66% of my classes to be eligible for the exam).  The College itself isn’t beyond changing the teaching arrangements at the drop of a hat. They seem to think we sit in our apartments with nothing else to do, so 1 days notice of an event or a change seems fine to them.

College Hallway
Students doing exam

All my classes have now finished and I will get new students next semester, so will simply have to repeat what I’ve done over the last semester. I have carte blanc to teach what I like. We are given books to follow, but basically they are very poor and the students find them boring.  So I tend to add a lot of stuff myself. The feedback I have got for the last semester about my teaching, is that I am very serious, I am always prepared for the class and that I am very caring with the students – which aint that bad is it?

 Christmas Fun!

 And pictures with pretty Chinese Students

 The End!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Rob it's amazing how close your experiences are to mine- students sleeping anywhere they can (and waiters too!), Dove Chocolate,the search for "real" bread! IT all rings exactly true with me... keep writing and check out mine