Monday, October 15, 2007

Living in China (October 16, 2007)

I actually have a few stories from this past weekend. I wasn't able to post it up earlier because a few last minutes discoveries pertaining to my class ate up all my time, but I think I got everything straightened up now.

First off, I had originally planned to have 2 days saved during the last week of my current class so that an oral final could be given. Unfortunately, that would've meant that each student would only have 2 minutes for me to give them a question and for them to answer it. Because it was an unrealistic timeframe, I had to quickly finish off 2 chapters and then prepare all of the questions for the final. Yesterday I got my first group of 26 students and gave each of them an individual oral final. It's interesting how well one's attendance and writing skills directly equated into having pretty descent speaking skills. I'm fairly certain that when I test the dumb/cheating kids, at the end of the week, they will have no frilling clue what I am saying and I will happily give them the lowest D imaginable.

But yes, grading the last slew of HW papers, calculating out how the grades would weighed, and writing up a buttload of test questions takes up a lot of time and energy. I really wonder what I'm going to do with the freshman since the class is all about "tips on how to have a conversation", and not actually teaching them about any particular topic.

So yes, classwise, this is what's happening. I have one class ending and one class beginning. In a few more weeks I'll have another class beginning so I'll have 2 when the semester ends. Oh yes, and the semester does not end in December like in the US; it ends during the middle of January for some odd reason.

My real story comes from my solo adventure in Beijing last Saturday. The school had arranged a fieldtrip for the teachers to go to the Great Wall, but I had already seen it and was not really interested in freezing my ass off in that super windy area of the country. I had instead planned on going into Beijing to see if I could convert Chinese money back into US dollars.

Everything started out ok as I got onto the bus, sat there for 45 minutes, and then reached the main subway stop. I then purchased a neat little RFID card at the subway station for 20RMB and then put 80RMB in credit on the card. It's useful because every time you use the subway, it costs 3RMB and every bus ride is 4RMB with the card as opposed to 5RMB without. You can just wave this card over a sensor instead of waiting in line to buy a single ticket. I swear we should have more of these forms of public transportation in every major city in the would help out a lot.

My first stop was a place called a "Friendship Store". This is a chain store that caters to tourists. They have a lot of touristy items as well as a money exchange counter. I wandered up with a huge wad of RMB cash and asked it to be switched into USD. It took the guy 3 minutes to get everything prepared, but afterwards, I walked out with $261 USD. The exchange rate was 1:7.5, which was accurate when compared with the daily list rate at XE. There was no service charge either, so that was a big bonus. Hopefully this type of service continues, because in this country, I can easily see something working for a while and then a few times I could walk in and they could tell me to screw off. Again, the system is very random and broken here, and that's very annoying.

My next stop was the silk market. I know, I really shouldn't go shopping where a ton of tourists are because the prices will usually be higher, but I don't really know where else to go unless there is a map or directions written in Chinese so that I could just give it to a taxi driver or something. Not being able to read sucks. Anyway, in the market I bought a light jacket (36USD) and a messenger bag (30USD) after wheelin' and dealin' a ton. Bad thing is that after I walked out, I only had $17RMB left. I was fiendin' some McD French fries and there was one near the subway terminal so I paid 5RMB for a small fry. FYI they taste exactly the same and oh man was it good. I made it back to the bus stop and I took a chance with which bus I would take home. The buses are odd here because the only thing the school told me was that I could take any 930 Bus and it would bring me back to Yanjiao, but only a few of them would take me all the way to the school gate. I usually choose this "middle" stop, but it never brought me to the front door of the school. On this day I decided to try my luck with another 930 stop; sadly I've never been a very lucky person.

After getting on the bus, the ticket lady came around to collect money. An older man and his son said "Yanjiao" as their destination point, and the lady said (In Chinese) that this bus wasn't going there. Oh great... so now I started freaking out a little because I was evidently on the wrong bus and it was already on the expressway. When she got around to me, I also said "Yanjiao" as my destination point, and she started rambling out all this stuff that I couldn't understand, but she still took money off of my card. The bus got off the expressway a few minutes later and the lady pointed at me and the older guy with the kid. I thought this meant that I was supposed to get off here, so I did.

After I got off, I looked around and all of the postings at this bus stop had totally different routes, none of them being 930. There was a younger girl standing there so I asked her if she spoke English, and of course she said no. I then asked her in very crappy Chinese how I was to get back to Yanjiao. She looked at the route postings and said what I already knew; I needed a 930 bus and this stop had none. Again...great. So picture this; I have no idea where I was, only that I was 15 minutes east of my starting location. There was no subway stop in sight and I only had 12RMB in my pocket, which was definitely not enough to pay for a taxi. Yes, I was fucked. If all else failed, I did have my celly, so I could've called the foreign office informing them that I was lost with no money, but yes, that would be very embarrassing and it would be a lot of trouble for my handlers back at the school.

I ended up doing what any person would do, I started walking west. After walking for around 20 minutes, cursing my horrible decision with every step I took, I finally found an oasis: a subway stop. It turns out that this was the second to last subway stop on the eastern border of Beijing. Thankfully I had put a lot of money on my RFID card, so I was on my way back to the original starting point. 30 minutes later, I was back at the bus stop, but this time I got on the one that had the most young people waiting in line. As you might've guessed, the ticket lady verified that I was on the right bus. I got back home an hour later, exhausted and a little wiser. Note to self: always carry 300RMB as "oh shit" money whenever you go out. An interesting fact is that I sent a text to a friend about the 930 buses, and it turns out that they all will all stop in Yanjiao at least once, so the lady was fucking lying. If I would've just stayed on the bus, I would've made it home. Yes, I might've had to walk a lot to get back to my apartment, but at least I would've been in the vicinity.

I've finally found a good tasting pastry that doesn't jack up my stomach. It's made out of egg and it's hella good; only 1.5RMB per piece, so I've been buying it almost every day.

Last Sunday I got a call from my TA saying that he wanted to take me and the other Business English teacher out to dinner. We went to this pseudo-fancy place that had a lot of pictures and foods with English titles on the menu. One was very amusing, so I took a pic with my crappy cell phone camera. Yeah, one thing I learned about eating with other Chinese people is that they love to drink. Even when I asked for a Coke or a Sprite, they only smiled and filled my cup with beer. Yes, so after being force fed beer throughout dinner, I walked out of the restaurant very red and very talkative. The food was ok, but I would definitely take a Wendys #2 or an In-N-Out #1 any day of the week. Oh how I miss burgers and fries.