Friday, July 15, 2011

New Theme, New Look, New Storyline, etc

So it's been almost a year since I've made a post in this blog. To anyone that kept up with my blogging during my last time abroad, I thank you again, and encourage you to check in from time to time. For those who weren't following my blog last time, but are reading this now, welcome to the blog! Feel free to have a look at some of the older posts if you're so inclined, expect the same basic type of writing for this time around, but hopefully with more (sometimes relevant) LINKS!

Anyway, From the time of my last post until now, I've finished my last year of university, traveled to Thailand (twice), Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, and Canada (twice), have done a couple of international consulting projects, learned how to be good at finance, and probably most importantly, made the monumental life decision to move to Shenzhen, China in August to teach English for a year. Yes, you've read that correctly, Blaine Curcio is moving to mainland China. A sentence many (in particular a one Ms. Madlien Schenker, most likely) would have thought they'd never hear. I'll be moving there three weeks from yesterday, certainly one could call this period of time the home stretch before my departure. Given the fact that mainland China is notorious for their internet censorship (mainly that of Facebook and Google), my abilities to keep correspondence with people will be extremely diminished during my year there. Due to that, and my constant need to tell readers (either real or imagined) what I'm doing, I will be re-vamping this blog and attempting to keep up with it as frequently as possible. So let's talk about what to expect here over the coming year:

The program I am doing is quite an interesting one. In addition to paying for my apartment, the program will also pay for my airfare, some Mandarin lessons, and a salary of 6,500RMB (~$1,000) per month. This is an extremely livable salary for China. The program starts off with a 3-week TEFL training course at Peking University in Beijing, China. This will begin on August 5th, 2011. I've not been to Beijing, and I'm looking forward to it, if for no other reason than the fact that I have yet to see the Great Wall, Forbidden City, etc. From there, we take a train to Shenzhen, which will be about 25 or so hours. At that point, my career as an English teacher in Shenzhen will begin.

Anyway, here's a brief rundown of Shenzhen, the city in which I am teaching. Shenzhen was China's first "Special Economic Zone" (SEZ), which became the case in the 1970's. As an SEZ, it became very easy for foreigners to invest in Shenzhen, and since the 70's, the city has seen staggering growth, going from a few hundred thousand people about 40 years ago to over 10 million today. Shenzhen was chosen to be an SEZ due to its proximity to Hong Kong, the former British colony and rampantly free-market yang to China's (at least at the time) communist, closed-market yin. Being immediately over the border from Hong Kong, Shenzhen was an ideal place to produce goods to be shipped from Hong Kong's port to cities worldwide. Today, Shenzhen and the surrounding cities in Guangdong province are considered the "workshop of the world"--there's a decent chance that anything you see with "Made in China" on it was at least in part produced in Guangdong province. Anyway, modern-day Shenzhen is a massive and cosmopolitan city, with the world's 9th tallest skyscraper, a new and efficient metro system, and one of the higher per-capita GDP's in China. Shenzhen also has the 2nd largest stock exchange in China, and is becoming one of its most important financial centers. So at the end of the day, it's pretty clear that Shenzhen is at the center of one of the most important regions in China, and is certainly a good place to start a foray into the business world of Asia.

One of my main goals during my year in China will be to learn as much Mandarin Chinese as possible. Shenzhen is a wonderful place to learn Mandarin, given the fact that it's quite close to Hong Kong (just over the border into China), is a relatively western Chinese city, and yet, rather than most of the cities in the region (i.e. Guangzhou, Hong Kong), Shenzhen's population speaks mainly Mandarin, due to their enormous number of migrant workers. For those reading this that aren't familiar with Southern China--the rest of the region speaks Cantonese, a far more complicated language than Mandarin (while Mandarin has 4 tones, Cantonese has 9. 9 tones. That is, you can say the same word 9 different ways, and it means 9 different things. Combined with the fact that Cantonese has 60 million speakers compared to Mandarin's 1 billion, it's no wonder people prefer to learn the latter.) Anyway, Shenzhen is a great place to learn Mandarin, and fortunately, as part of my teaching contract, I will be given Mandarin lessons for the duration of the year. So assuming I put in a solid amount of effort into learning the language, I should have no excuses for not learning at least conversational Mandarin Chinese over the course of a year.

Another goal during my time in the Orient is to see a few more countries while I can. Topping my list at the moment are Mongolia, Pakistan, and Myanmar (Burma), though if I get the time India would also be excellent. Last time around, HKU provided us plenty of vacation time with which we could go wherever we pleased within Asia. This time, the Shenzhen Dept. of Education will be giving us at least one week of paid vacation in October, as well as 4-5 weeks during Chinese New Year (January-February). Additionally, they will be paying us ~$700US (a small fortune in rural China) as a severance package in June, allowing us to travel a bit through China after our teaching is finished.

It should also be noted that a good friend of mine from my exchange in Hong Kong, Mr. John Scutt, will be accompanying me on this teaching program in Shenzhen. As a fellow Sinophile, Scutt has spent a great deal of time in Asia, and has been known to spend more time than advisable at Khao San Road. Consequently, if anyone reading this blog will be in Thailand during the coming year, shoot me an email, we'll have to catch up (over 10-12 Chang Beers).

So anyway, in conclusion (for now), here is the triumphant return of the blog. For those who have read this far, a big thanks, looking forward to keeping anyone who cares to know informed of my whereabouts between now and mid-2012. Expect 1-2 more blog posts before I leave, then intermittent ones as we move along through a year in China.

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