In the Jungle

I'd like to publicly apologize to all teachers I've ever had in my life. I didn't realize your job was as difficult or stressful as it actually is. Perhaps you were just really good and made it look easy, or perhaps (like most of the students I've been in front of) even if you weren't, you were at least clever enough to exploit how forgetful and easily amused children can be.

Even though I'm only a few weeks into my training, I've had the opportunity to observe and "teach" a number of classes. I say "teach" because I'm merely getting a 4-week certification instead of a 4-year degree. In spite of the short time-frame, we've been exposed to heaps of information and it's been difficult to retain and apply it all. It seems like each answer spawns yet another slew of questions that could never be answered in the short time we have in this course. Child development, psychology, sociology, linguistics... I wish I had the time to drown in a pile of books.

Teaching stands out to me as a challenge because you are thrown into a jungle. Your eyes slowly peer over the cover of a book; camoflauged, you quickly scan your surroundings. You spot the weakest prey - that little bastard in the corner who isn't paying attention to anything but the exquisite flavor of his own snot. It will be an easy kill. "Andy!" you shout. He turns, but it's too late... you're already behind him and pounce: "Point to the line we're on."

He is so dead.

As a teacher, the classroom is your domain. It's absolutely primal - kill or get killed. The struggle is unrelenting. Even if you like the students, you can't trust them, and you can't give an inch or they'll soon be a mile past and you'll never be able to bring them back. It's not all hell, but the point is you simply have to bring your A-game all the time, which is not only challenging, but tiring as hell. I can't be wrong for 8 hours straight. Compare that to programming, where you type up some code, click "run," and if it crashes, well, now you know you have a problem to fix. Granted, I'm teaching English, my native language, but have you seen English? Yes, you are using English right now, but try reading aloud the following poem (“English Is Tough Stuff” by G. Nolst):

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.


Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.


Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.


Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.


Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.


There's more to the rhyme, but I rest my case: English sucks. Granted, most of my students aren't at that sort of level, but just last week I was explaining the process of mining bauxite to extract aluminum for use in manufacturing... so it's still easy to get tripped up. Additionally, I've learned about the indigenous peoples of Jamaica and Barbados, debated the idea of mandatory forced labor for convicted criminals, and dissected the cultural differences between Eastern and Western civilization. Belive me, I enjoy such topics immensely, since I'm learning as well, but it takes much more effort to prepare for than, say, something like "He is a boy. She is a girl." I find that in teaching English, I use the language barrier as a security blanket of sorts to preserve my sanity. This might be a bad habit to begin, but when you're trying to convey the meaning of he/she to a bunch of pre-schoolers who'd rather eat the book than look at it, everything helps - even muttering on about transgenderism.

Working at a private school in China has its merits. The simple fact that I could work here because I have a degree and am a native speaker is amazing in its own. In the US and some other Western societies, I'd probably have already been served litigation for "inappropriately touching a student" (read: giving a high-five). Not that young, male teachers are often trusted around young kids in the first place. I'll be certain to devote some time to this issue after I've researched it further. In the meantime, here's a quick dose of the paranoia that can be so quick to ruin the lives of innocent men. It wasn't too long ago that a friend and I took some sandwiches to a public park to eat and catch up on things. We were sitting near a playground with a bunch of kids running around and while I can't say for sure whether we were getting the evil eye from any parents nearby, there was certainly discomfort in the air. Naturally, after finishing our meal, we headed straight for the swings; I'll be damned if I'm going to sit idly by and perpetuate the idiocy.

For now, back to lesson planning so I don't get eaten alive tomorrow.
Your assignment is to have fun. Jump from a swing, bounce on a trampoline, eat vanilla pudding, pretend the floor is lava - do whatever it takes - just remember that everything doesn't have to be so serious all the time.

(returned to sender)

Dear Reader,

How are you doing? I hope the weather has been fair and not too dusty.

Much has happened this past week. I have been studying English grammar and how to teach it to students of varying age and ability. The pace of my Mandarin study has picked up as well, and while I'm not yet convinced the complete immersion approach is always best, it is appropriate for understanding how Chinese students understand their English-only teachers.

Harbin's restaurant offerings have kept me happy and sated. Some of the exotic dishes that have recently run their course through my digestive system include pig lungs and, I guess I don't really know what they were called, but they were protein-packed insects. Tasty ones at that. The beer selection in this city as also pleasantly varied, and at my favorite hole-in-the-wall, a mere 2 RMB ($0.30) will get you a tall bottle. Three tall bottles is more than enough, I've discovered.

There was also a visit to the local hospital for a physical. Oh my, what a story that will be when I have the time.

Speaking of which, Sunday class beckons. Stay safe, sane, and consentual, dear Reader.
I'll just work on getting over this cold.

200 km/h in the wrong lane

Apologies already for being slow to update - as I've only recently arrived here, I was hesitant to write my first impressions without first learning a bit more. As my head is overflowing with new experiences and information, it will be hard to go into much detail now, but I will try to give you a feel for the less-opinionated things I've found interesting.

I'm currently living in Harbin, the 10-million-strong capital of Heilongjiang province in northeast China. For being so far north, the weather has been quite pleasant. More than temperature, I'd have to warn about wind and dust; just walking down the busier and wider streets, it's common for me to become temporarily blinded if not wearing sunglasses. I've been experiencing chapped lips and a runny nose at times from this as well. Since I've yet to travel anywhere else in China, I can't compare, but my assumption is that Harbin is afflicted due to a subway construction project, being near Mongolian deserts (Asian Dust), and just being a dirty place in general.

I say dirty because hordes of people prowl the streets and many leave evidence of having been there. Food-stalls line the sidewalks, so wooden skewers and other trash from the treats are often discarded. Similarly, there's a lot of spitting - nothing casual, just full-out, loogie hawking. I'm not talking about falconry, but that loud, grinding noise of the mouth that gives "fair warning" to those nearby that they'd better mind their penny-loafers. Similarly, cleaning up after one's own pets is not much of a concern.

The trashy, neglected look isn't limited to the streets, but buildings as well. When we first pulled up to my apartment building from the airport, I thought we were making a quick stop to procure some crack. The front door evokes the feeling of a bomb shelter slum, and you'd think the residents were all squatters. (Thankfully, the apartments inside aren't ruins, but well-sized and respectable.) The Chinese so far seem to be quite pragmatic, and details such as trash, debris, rust, and simply hideous architecture aren't of much worry. We were told the importance of making a good first impression with student's parents by dressing well, yet the building we're working from looks just as dire as any of the others outside.

This doesn't make Harbin a bad place, just different. So far, I'd compare it closest with New York City. The tall buildings, bustling people, strong smells, constant honking, reckless cab drivers... it's all there. My first experience with a driver was on a 30-minute tribute to terror from the airport to my apartment. To summarize, here are my core observations about traffic in China:
  • Traffic laws are more like "guidelines."
  • Traffic control systems - such as lights and signs - are more like "guidelines."
  • The concept of the road, itself, is a "guideline."
  • Pedestrians do not have the right of way - ever.
Those are the four key points to remember. In spite of the anarchy I've just bullet-pointed, the roads here aren't awash with blood. Everyone understands the system, so it can work. It's only the unlucky bastards who walk in not knowing what's going on who will be maimed.

In my particular scenario, I got in the car at the airport and upon searching for the receiving end of my seatbelt, was told by my chaperone, "don't bother, this car doesn't have them in the back seat." By law, only the driver must wear a seatbelt. If you were paying attention earlier, you should know this really means that nobody has to wear a seatbelt. Naturally, this lack of restraint makes the sudden lane-changes and G-force turns all the more fun. It's as if the city is one giant theme park and each cab you see is its own roller-coaster ride waiting to be experienced.

Car horns are used so much, the little horn logos on the wheel must wear off. Honking isn't as much of a "fuck you" as it is a "it looks like we'll be hitting one another soon, and I want you to know that I'm not going to be the one backing down." An example would be a car looking to pull out from a drive and your taxi honking to keep them put. Another would be a car already on the road and your taxi honking before cutting them off. Since nobody wants to be in an accident, this still works, as you have the alpha-drivers zipping around and honking, while the others reflexively back off.

Our airport driver was so alpha, he shit omegas. At one point, there was a traffic jam for half a kilometer ahead of us and the car was actually stopped. Not one to tolerate such an idea, he pulled out from the "fast lane," across the lines, and slammed on the gas towards oncoming traffic, horn blaring. We flew past all of the stopped cars on the right and the oncoming ones unlucky enough to be in his way were quick to get out of it.


In sum, if one were to come to China with the intent of participating in the elaborate transportation tango, my advice would be to get in the appropriate mindset first. For example, one might consider making a mix CD for the car with the following tracks:
  1. Ludacris - Move Bitch
  2. Ludacris - Move Bitch
  3. Ludacris - Move Bitch
  4. Ludacris - Move Bitch
  5. Ludacris - Move Bitch
  6. Ludacris - Move Bitch
  7. Ludacris - Move Bitch
  8. Ludacris - Move Bitch
  9. Ludacris - Move Bitch
  10. Ludacris - Move Bitch
  11. Ludacris - Move Bitch
  12. Ludacris - Move Bitch
I'm pretty sure this is comprehensive enough to be effective.

To wrap up, it's easy to poke at the stark and often times alarming differences between another country's way of life and one's own, but it's all in good fun, and I've been having a blast here so far. The people have all been very friendly, the food has been great, the warm beer at restaurants... less than great - but it's all very interesting and I'm enjoying every second of it.

RSS 2.0