Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Arrival in China

So it's currently my 4th day here in Beijing. I've finished teaching a bit earlier than expected, and for the first time during these 4 days, I actually have a bit of time to take a seat and type something up for this blog in my wonderful, air-conditioned hotel room. It should be noted that the A/C is the most essential thing here--outside is 90 degrees, humid, and did I mention MASSIVELY polluted. The air quality here makes Hong Kong look like the Andes Mountains, really just disgraceful stuff. We've also been doing an insane amount of walking, which has resulted in requiring to drink literally a couple gallons of water/tea/Pocari Sweat to stay hydrated.

Anyway, so let's start from the beginning. Flew out of Chicago a few days ago for Beijing, connecting in Toronto. Flight to Toronto went smoothly, and after a 2 hour layover involving the obligatory Tim Horton's coffee and donuts, I hopped on the 13 hour flight to BJ. I was quite shocked when the person I was sitting next to on the plane turned to me and asked "Are you by chance going to teach in Shenzhen this year?" So right away, I'd made my first friend. After the 13 hour flight, I met a few others in the Beijing airport who were doing this program, and, as directed, we just sort of hung out in the arrivals hall for a couple of hours (just as well we'd not just flown halfway around the world) for the coordinator to arrive. About 1.5 hours after my arrival, I heard a deep London accent from behind me say "hey Blaine, how's it going?" Sure enough, it was John Scutt, a good friend of mine from when I was at HKU, and one who would be doing this yearlong program with me. After catching up for a few minutes, we decided it would be rude not to have a good night out after having not seen one another for a year, and as Scutt had spent ~2 weeks in Beijing previously, he knew a good place to go. Late evening rolled around and we showed up at our hotel, prepared to sleep for an hour and a half before orientation. Remarkably, we made it to orientation on time, and were pretty on it in terms of participation.

Starting on our 2nd day, we were teaching. I'm teaching a group of about 25 Chinese kids with incredibly varying levels of English, and have two other teachers that I'm teaching with for the first few weeks. Most of the students in the class are the children of Peking University faculty, and are therefore well-off, well-educated, and well-behaved, something which we've been assured will almost certainly not be the case in Shenzhen. We're teaching in classrooms of Peking University, and taking Mandarin Chinese courses here as well. Given that PKU is the most prestigious universities in China, it should look pretty good on a resume. Also--PKU is basically a city within itself. I have no idea how big the campus is, but I'd imagine the walk from one end to the other would take close to an hour. There are tons of shops, houses, and an underground mall within the university's walls, and basically all the buildings look the same, which makes finding one's way around pretty difficult. Our hotel is just across the street from PKU, and is located within a Chinese Sports Complex. From here, the center of Beijing is about 30 minutes away by subway, and the subway station is about a 20 minute walk from here. Needless to say, most of the people on this program have not made the 1 hour trip into the center of town, mainly because it seems most of the people on the program are pretty content just hanging around the hotel.

The schedule here has been pretty packed, with Mandarin lessons every morning from 8:30-10:20, then TEFL courses from 10:30-11:30, lunch until 1:00, then teaching in the afternoon followed by planning for the following day. All things considered, we'll usually start working around 8:30 and be finished by 6:30pm or so. This schedule will be 7 days/week while in Beijing, though once we get to Shenzhen it seems that the consensus is that we'll be working ~15 hours per week. Thus far Mandarin has come pretty easy, with a lot of everyday phrases being used. Today I was able to ask a shopkeeper how much for a bottle of water, understood his response, and even threw in a thank-you. Practically fluent!

Yesterday we were shown the different districts of SZ on a map, and given a brief overview of each of them. It looks like the district I'll be trying to stay in is Luohu, which is closest to Hong Kong, and probably the best combination of low prices and proximity to worthwhile things.

Anyway, that's about all that's gone on the first few days. I understand that this blog post is 1) rather short, and 2) very choppy, but these few days have been somewhat uneventful. More updates to come as the Beijing adventure continues.

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