I’ve just realised I haven’t written in a while!! This past week and a half has been very busy and a little hard. Time seems to be flying recently. I feel like I just got back from Changsha, but it’s actually been two weeks already!!
That week of teaching after Changsha went pretty well, except my Tuesdays with the 2nd graders as usual. It’s great because after Tuesday, the week is so easy. I’m glad it’s at the beginning of the week!!
That Friday Selina, the English teacher that I rode the bike around with on Teacher’s Day, invited me and Craig to her house for dinner. She lives with her husband in a really nice apartment about a 20 minute walk from the school. After all the kids went home for the weekend around 3pm, me and Craig and Monica went over to her house in the car of another teacher who was also coming. In China, when you go to someone’s house for dinner, you are the guest and often get told to ‘sit and rest’ while the host prepares food and gives you tea and things like that. And there is always some fruit or dried fruit and nuts on the table to eat before dinner. Since we were there so early, we all just sat and talked for a bit, then Selina asked if either of us knew how to play Liuyang style Mahjong. Neither of us did, so we went into Selina’s Mahjong room to learn. Mahjong is basically a gambling game with 136 tiles with three or four different suits on them, Bamboo, Circles and Numbers. It’s too much to describe here, but all I can say is its pretty fun. Selina has a special table that sorts and stacks the tiles for you, and has a crazy light in the middle with a dice roller. Pretty spiffy! The game is usually played with money, but since me and Craig were learning, we just used cards as money.
We played that for a while, then went to eat dinner when it was prepared. Selina is a really really good cook, so I ate a lot and got really full. After dinner we played Mahjong again until about 10pm, then went back to school.
The next day around 9am Monica called me, waking me up and said ‘Aimee! All the teachers in our department are going to a restaurant for lunch and more Mahjong. I will be there with the van in 20 minutes.’ I got up and showered and got dressed really quickly, then Monica called me again saying, ‘We will be there in 5 minutes, and I didnt get a hold of Craig, can you ask him to come as well?’ So I went downstairs and knocked, waking Craig up, telling him someone is picking us up in 5 minutes to go somewhere. (Good ol’ typical last minute news!) When Monica got there, we were just getting to the school gate, and got into the van. Monica said ‘The place is a little far from school’, but I think that meant ‘really close’ because we just went behind the big dirt hill behind the school and there is apparently a big restaurant and lake there! None of us had had breakfast, so we asked the restaurant if they had noodles, but they didn’t so everyone decided to ignore their stomachs by playing a little early-morning Mahjong. There were about 30 people all together from the department there, so we all split up into different Mahjong rooms to play a little. I sat down at a table, but then realised they were planning on playing for money, so I quickly got up and said I would just settle for drinking tea and watching. It was Monica, Selina, Craig and another teacher in our mahjong room, and I sat and watched for a while then got a little bored and decided to go for a walk and take some pictures.
It was really nice, and I actually didnt know it was right behind our school until I walked around the lake a bit and saw the top of my apartment building over the big dirt hill. It was pretty rural there and on the far side of the pond I could see an old man fishing in an umbrella hat. There was a bamboo raft tied to a dock and i sat there for a while, then walked around a little more. This restaurant has all private rooms that you can eat in, no communal eating areas. I think this style is pretty typical for restaurants in China, especially nicer ones in the countryside. The kitchen was way off to one side in a separate building, and there was even a pig barn next to the kitchen, where I heard a lot of squealing. At least I know the meat was fresh!! I went back to the Mahjong room and Craig was done playing so I went with him on another walk around the lake. When we got the other side of it, there were all these little paths going in different directions, so we followed a few of them and found little gardens in the middle of the woods of hot peppers. Hot peppers are the main ingredient in all food in Hunan, so I can see why there were so many gardens full of them and nothing else! One of the paths led to someones house, which might have been the people who own the restaurant’s house. There was a dirt road going from it in the opposite direction that looks like it might lead to a main road. There were also a lot of little sheds along the road and a lot of ducks running around and some baby’s clothes hanging on a tree to dry, next to the little rice field that was down below the house.
We walked back to the lake and saw people heading towards the dining room so we ran back and sure ’nuff it was time for lunch. Our group filled up about four lazy-susan tables in a big empty room. The staff brought the food out, one dish at a time. It was all really really good food, and some really good tofu that I wish I knew how to make. When we were done, everyone just cleared out and were going to go to another teacher’s house for more Mahjong, but I was tired and so was Craig, so some other people that were leaving brought us both back to our apartments.
Later on, Monica called me and asked if I wanted to go to Selina’s again for dinner that night, so I went and got Craig and we walked over to Selina’s house again. We played more Mahjong, ate more good food, and then went for a walk downtown. Me and Craig wanted to go to ‘Party Bar’ that evening, so we invited Selina and Monica to come along too. They went shopping for a bit, and me and Craig went walking around to find that little TsingTao place to sit for a bit. A huge rainstorm broke out, so we stayed under the plastic overhang there with a bunch of old ladies and old men who were hiding from the rainstorm. There were lots of stares and lots of giggling, and I’m still not used to it, but I tried to relax and ignore it. After the rain stopped and we had finished our beer, we went to walk around to find a bank and then go to ‘Party Bar’ to meet up with Monica and Selina. When we were at the ATM, I saw that there was a place accross the street called ‘M16 Bar’ (hmmm…M16 eh?), and so we went over to check it out, since we had been told that Liuyang only had one bar. It was smaller inside and had apparently just opened, and I liked it because no one ran over to us and tried to make us sit somewhere or make us buy a drink just because we are foreign. We left though, after just walking around because we were supposed to meet Selina and Monica. Anyway, it was a fun night, and we went back to Xinwen by taxi later on.
That Sunday I was supposed to go to Changsha to change the rest of my travellers checks so I could by my train ticket to Beijing for the National Holiday, but when I woke up and was about to leave, I figured I should check to see if the bank is open on Sunday. I checked and sure enough, it was open, but the foreign exchange counter isn’t, so I would have gone for nothing. I just hung around the rest of Sunday and did some lesson planning for my 3rd graders on Monday.
Monday went fine, as usually, but Tuesday was horrible. In class 20 I had four kids standing up facing the wall because they were causing so much trouble, and one kid standing outside. After that, the class ran rather smoothly (in comparison), but then a few hours later I got a text message from Cindy saying exactly this: ‘Hello Amy, there have a news the school want me to tell to you. If the students are very noise teacher can’t let them out of class, can’t ask them to stand in front of classroom. Because that’s a kind of corporal punishment, and it’s not permit in our school.’
So as you can see, I was kind of taken aback, since not a week before, I had seen a student get slapped across the face by a teacher, and multiple teachers do the whole ‘ear grab and drag’ down the hallways. After class I went to Cindy’s office and said ‘Cindy! I never hit a child! It was just standing!’ But apparently corporal punishment includes standing. In order to ‘save my face’, she made up a story about how it was a new policy and that the teachers had just had a meeting about it the day before and she was instructed to tell me. This is not the case. There was no such meeting. I think maybe I might have embarrassed some rich guy’s son, maybe the son of someone who gives a lot of money to the school or something, so they want to prevent anything from happening.
I asked Cindy if there were any alternative disciplinary methods, and she said well, you could just ask them to be quiet. And I told her, the only reason the kids are standing up is because I had to tell them that six times, and they were still hitting their classmates, making kids cry, running around the room or standing on their chair or dancing around behind my back. She looked aghast, ‘hitting classmates??’ "yes cindy, hitting classmates." I told her i suspect it is due to my foreignness and inability to always for grammatically correct sentences in Chinese that the kids just don’t care, and the kids know that oral English class is kind of joke, since you just play English games in the class, and are asked to talk all the time. She suggested that the head teacher be present in all my classes, which I am going to have to accept, because there is really no other alternative.
After Tuesday, I emailed my fellow Buckland teachers and asked them what they would do. There were some good ideas from the more seasoned teachers in the bunch. One idea that I’ve been using for the rest of the week was holding up a piece of paper at the beginning of class and telling the kids that anyone who i have to tell more than 3 times to behave, gets their name on that paper and the paper gets given to the head teacher at the end of class. The kids got a little wide-eyed as soon as they found out I was serious, when the first kid had to write his name down. This worked pretty well for the rest of the week, and this week I gave the kids a break. At the end of class I called the kids whose names were on the paper up to my desk and told them that this week they were lucky, because since it is the first time, i wont give the paper to their teacher, but next week I will, if the act up again. I’ll have to see how this method works on my second graders next week!! I wish I only had one or two classes, then I could really get into some good methods, but having 22 different classes every week makes it kind of impossible to do any sort of reward system or anything like that. We’ll see, we’ll see.
Anyway, on Wednesday afternoon I took the bus into Changsha to find the bank and change my travelers checks. I will never again bring any sort of check to China, because it is such a hassle to get them changed. I think a bank card will work just fine next time!! Anyway, when I got them changed, I went and got some noodles and walked around for a bit and went to Carrefour to get some floss (very hard to find in China), and then took a moto-taxi back to the bus station to go home. When I got there I saw a little ticket office for train tickets, so I decided to stand in line and get my train ticket to Beijing right then and there, since I had heard that tickets sell out very fast for the National holiday in China since it is one of China’s golden weeks where everyone goes on vacation since it is one of the few times the Chinese get off from work. I got the counter and bought a one way ticket to Bejing, since I can’t buy my return ticket until 10 days before. I told the lady I wanted to arrive in Bejing on the 2nd, but I think it said it wrong, because when I got my ticket it said I will leave Changsha on the 2nd. I figured that’s not so bad, I’ll just get to Bejing that night instead of the morning. So I bussed home and went online to check the train’s specifcations and things, and found out the lady had given me a ticket for the longest train ride to beijing, and I would be getting there at 11am on the 3rd. Most of the time the train takes about 14 hours, but my train is going to take 21.5 hours altogether. I guess I said it wrong. I should have said I wanted to leave on the 1st, and probably had a list of the trains I would be willing to take. I probably should have bought my ticket in Liuyang! On Friday afternoon I went to the ticket office in Liuyang to see if I could change it, and sure enough, the only place I can change it is at the station in Changsha. It’s gonna work out in the long run though, because I will have to pay for one less night at the hostel, and have to spread my money over 5 days 4 nights, instead of 6 days 5 nights! I’m travelling on the remainder of my money here, and we don’t get paid until after the holiday, so this is actually going to be good, except for 21 hours of boredom on a train. Maybe I’ll learn some Chinese card games, and play with the people next to me.
Last night I went to Selina’s again for dinner, and played a little more Mahjong, then just came home and had an 11 hour sleep. That pretty much brings everything up to right now.
Next week is going to be a short week, only three days. October 1st is the National Holiday and I don’t have to start teaching again till October 9th. I’ll be leaving for Beijing on the 3rd, coming back on the 7th. I’m also going to be seeing two old friends from Taiwan, who are currently living in Beijing! That is one of the main reasons I’m going. I’ve just booked my hostel today too, and it’s in the middle of a Hutong, and was apparently an old prison, and it’s only 5.50 U.S. a night! I can’t wait till I can leave, but since time is passing so quickly, I think that won’t be a problem!!
Oh, and I also wanted to mention, all my photos are up on Facebook since some good friends back in Montreal have been posting them for me! I can’t really upload photos on any website here since the connection is so weak, so just Facebook will have to do for now. Hope all is well back home!!! I miss everyone…