Friday, August 31, 2007

The Tutor Situation

I have complained about the lady I tutored in small ways, and now it is time for a long vent.

Before I even arrived in China I had this job. Brian was tutoring her over the summer with the intent of handing her over to me when I arrived. It all sounded good on paper - she is a wealthy Chinese business woman who plans to move to Singapore early next year so that she can then gallivant about the world. For this she wants to learn English and is willing to pay well for a regular tutor.

The reality is slightly different.

First a few physical annoyances. It gets hot in Shanghai. Mid to upper 90s hot. Dang hot. Sit and drip sweat off your nose hot. But unlike France, China has air conditioners. I've written about them, you've seen them. They work well. They are wonderful.

This lady even has central air, so potentially it could really cool the entire apartment. This is theory because she rarely turns the sucker on. The first day of tutoring I went with Brian and it was probably 90 degrees outside. It was maybe 85 inside. Luckily she lives on the fifteenth floor so I think the upper atmosphere cooled us down a bit.

It isn't like she's some sort of ice queen who doesn't get hot. That very day I watched her sweat. I saw her take a tissue and wipe her forehead many times. I see her husband walking around in nothing but his shorts because he is so hot.

Yet still, no air conditioner. I thought I was going to die. I sweated and sweated. We all sweated.

A couple of times I have showed up and been visibly overheated. The first time I went by myself the tax dropped me off a couple of blocks down and the walk made me perspire like a drunk loon. These times she has pitied me and we have studied in a small office and she has turned on the Air. Not very low mind you, so it went from the upper 80s to the lower 80s which does make a difference.

Our tutoring sessions last four hours at a time, and though she promised a break every hour, we never take any. Usually about two hours into it she will get up and wash her face or go to the bathroom and then we are back at it. I usually don't have enough time during that bit to even stand up.

Again, it isn't like she isn't tired during the sessions, for she visibly sags and has difficulty concentrating and even mentions that she is tired, but we don't stop. We don't break.

That's the physical annoyance, but the real pain comes from who she is and what she wants.

As mentioned initially the plan was to get her ready for travel. When I took over the sessions, I created a three tiered plan to get her ready:

  1. 1. Grammar and vocabulary from the book - She has a couple of books that she has been studying, and they are good for learning new vocabulary and helping with sentence structure and basic grammar.
  2. 2. Conversation - each class we would dedicate time to discuss popular culture or news events to help with her ability to both listen and talk. I also planned some role playing where she could get some practice with the types of things she would encounter while traveling; such as riding a taxi or shopping.
  3. 3. Listening - I planned to record various audio from places like NPR and the BBC so she could get used to listening for understanding and hearing other voices but my own.

That's a good plan right? It covers the basics and should have helped her learn.

She would have none of it. Immediately she changes her goals. Goal #1 is no longer being able to speak English when she travels, in fact she doesn't seem to be planning to travel at all. The premier goal is now for her to be able to watch English television and understand. She seemed to say that she is paying for satellite TV and this contains English language programs and if she can't understand them then it is a waste of her money.

Goal #s 2 and 3 were to listen to English language radio and read English newspapers.

No kidding. TV, radio and newspapers, these are her goals.

Here's the catch - she is unwilling to watch TV or listen to the radio to help her. I suggested these things and to talk to her husband in English and she nodded her head "no."

What we do each day is read and repeat. Each lesson from the book contains a story. I read this story one sentence at a time and she repeats it behind me. Often we read a sentence two or three times until she can repeat it verbatim, from memory. Once done I ask her some standard questions about the reading.

They say the Chinese tend to learn by rote memorization. Education isn't about problem solving or understanding a subject, but simply memorizing facts and figures. They say that and this lady is the epitome of it. She almost always gets the questions right because she is able to memorize almost all of the story.

She will repeat, exactly what the page said. At first I was impressed then I realized that so many times she has no idea what she is saying. A couple of days ago the lesson was on the judicial system. We talked about judges and juries and all of that stuff. We must have discussed the word "guilty" a dozen times. She repeated it. She used the word to answer the right questions.

Then later I asked her a question in which she actually had to understand what "guilty" actually meant. She had no idea. I wanted to scream that she had used the word to answer questions, that I had used it many times and she said she understood, but she really didn't.

Now I know some of this is a basic problem in any language learning. Sometimes you forget a word, sometimes your brain gets tired. Sometimes you pretend to understand because you are embarrassed when you don't. But I swear to you all this woman does is memorize without understanding.

I really think that she thinks that if she can just memorize every word in the English language she will automatically understand what everyone says. I actually kind of understand this thought because as I studied French I would often try to understand every word instead of trying to understand the main points.

This isn't the best way to learn though. I don't know every word in the language, and I've been speaking it for 30 years. I've tried to explain this. I've tried to tell her we need listening exercises but she just won't have it. Actually I think she lies to me because she says she does listen to things - like the audio version of our daily stories - but then we go over the material she doesn't act like she's ever heard it before.

Because she is a business woman (what she actually does is beyond me, but she's constantly getting calls) her schedule is weird. Normally we meet at a set time, but sometimes she changes it up, or as was the case on Wednesday where (as the elevator door was closing between us on my way home mind you) she mentions that she is unavailable on Thursday. Thus the tutoring schedule is and will be weird. If you know me I am very much anti-weird schedules. I like to know what I am doing from day to day.

Lastly working out a pay schedule was murder. She wanted to pay me a low monthly salary (and I know it was low because she was paying Brian more money for less hours) with a large bonus at the end, if she could meet her goals.

Again, her goals were to be able to watch TV and understand. Um, first you'll never reach that goal with read and repeat, and secondly that goal is too vague. I could work my butt off only to find that you don't think you understand enough and screw me out of a bonus.

I said I didn't want a big bonus, I wanted a larger salary. She balked. She argued. She swore that wasn't the Chinese way. I said I don't care, that's what I want. She scoffed. She argued. She promised a bigger bonus. I said I could find another job.

Honestly, I was hoping she'd tell me to take a hike.

She begrudgingly gave in.

The funny thing is, after all that I'm probably quitting. She goes on a ten day vacation next week and I am doing everything in my power to have something else going when she comes back.

On Family Dinners And Residential Permits

I think I have only mentioned it in passing, but my sister's husband's sister and husband (and two children) are also here living in Shanghai. They are the Canfields (Amy, Buster, Caleb and Emmy) and they are good people. They have almost immediately taken us in as family, even though blood and pretty much any legal system would differ.

Last night they had us over for dinner. It was quite lovely and an especially nice thing after a week full of culture shock, and annoyances.

They very recently adopted a wonderful little Chinese girl named Emma. She is sweet and beautiful and carried an amazingly voluminous banshee squeak, which I think she found last night for the first time. We were all gathered around after the meal and Emma started to laugh, which made us all laugh, then came this loud, high-pitched wail that surprised us all. It was like no other sound on earth. Of course we all laughed some more which only solidified into her mind that this sound was a good thing.

Sorry Canfields, I think you'll be hearing that sound again.


Today we had to go get our residential permits. It was actually quite painless. The company does a really great job of handling most of the red tape for us and then bussing us all together for the times we have to sign something or get our picture taken.

I keep thinking about our time in France and how we had to figure everything out ourselves and how painful that all was.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Trip Into The City

Edit: Apparently I am confused. Brian says I live on the side with the Pearl Tower and thus the pictures start on the other side of the river. If you are wondering how I could not know this, understand we live in a very big city and all of these landmarks are a long ways from my home. To start the day we took a subway, which is of course underground and thus I had no idea where we traveled. To end the day we took a taxi, but by then I was too exhausted to pay attention.

I told you I would eventually get these pictures up. This is from a few days ago when me and the wife and Bethany took a trip to the Bund, which is this massive shopping district which also afford a lovely view across the river.

The big tower in the middle there is the Pearl Tower which is a very famous Shanghai landmark. You will see lots of it in the following pictures.

Yes, that is a giant Coke bottle.

This whole street was nothing but shops for miles.

We didn't really go into any of the shops as we didn't have much money, but it was crazy cool to see them all. Except for the random Chinese guys selling random fake crap. They would approach us and say stuff like "hello, cheap watches, good quality." And then keep bugging us for about a block. I ignored them, but Bethany kept trying to ward them off with, "no, I don't need anything" but I think that just egged them on.

And here is the skyline.

More sky.

I think I saw Spiderman walk buy and scoff.

If you look closely you can see a McDonalds, a KFC, and a Pizza Hut. No wonder nobody likes globalization - all we do is export our rotten fast food joints.

They skyline of Shanghai is one of the prettiest in the world. It is especially beautiful at night as all these buildings are lit up nicely. Of course, we went in the day so it isn't lit up, but it is still very pretty.

You will begin to notice in these pictures that they are doing an awful lot of construction. They say pretty much none of these building were there ten years ago, and I counted construction on at least 9 skyscrapers going on right now. Crazy construction.

The coast is littered with these enormous crane. The two big tall poles there are part of a really cool looking bridge. You can't really see them, but the poles are connected by these long expanses of wire.

That boat was a moving advertisement. That is a big old TV screen it is carrying that ran a series of ads.

Yes we are the cutest thing you have ever seen.

No, they aren't the cutest thing you've ever seen.

More skyline.

No idea what this building is.

I like this shot.

To get across the river we had to take a little boat. My sister has to think she is cool.

Shiny happy girls.

The view from the other side of the river. That is the side I live on, but I love a good bit away from what you can see here.

I like the building there in the middle with its crown like top.

I've seen pictures of our side of the river, called the PuDong area, from ten years ago, and there is absolutely nothing here. It was a few huts and small buildings and lots of farm land.

Amy wanted me to take this shot with the lady and the umbrella.

Starbucks will soon rule the world. The building just behind it is an enormous mall with about 7 stories of shopping.

Ooooh, pretty.

Just outside Vanita, Oklahoma there is a McDonalds that makes a bridge over I-44. They say it is the world's largest McDonalds. This, I think, may be the worlds smallest. On the other side of the golden arches lies a little man in a little booth, serving little greasy burgers.

The Pearl Tower again and I believe that is a motel next to it.

And that's it folks.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The LQ

This is the entryway into the LQ, otherwise known as our Living Quarters, or as I like to say the compound. There are at least four entrances into the LQ and all of them come with these gates and security guards. I'm not really sure what they are guarding as they always let everyone through.

This is just past the gates. Straight ahead is the people only walkway to all of the apartment buildings, except ours. Ours is just to the left, but we will come to that later.

As Amy continues to be our model for the day, you can see her relaxing at one of our many benches. There really is some nice greenery along the way, and the benches are comfortable (or as comfortable as a bench can ever be.) It seems strange to me that all of them face away from the walking path. I suppose that is to give you a better view and to not have to stare at all the people walking, but in reality it now faces other apartment building so the view isn't really good.

RMB is another name for Chinese money. I can only assume that the 200 RMB mentioned here (excitedly with an exclamation point!) is the fine for littering.

A little farther down the path. There are something like 20 of these apartment buildings in the LQ. We live in what they call Phase 1 which are the older and not quite as nice apartments. There are also Phase 2 and Phase 3 apartments which are slightly newer.

Next we have the little tykes playground. There are actually more stuff on the other side of the camera, but I figured this is enough. Plus there were actually kids playing there and I didn't want some Chinese dad wondering why the strange American was taking pictures of his kid.

These are the magic music mushrooms I've mentioned before. They pipe in classical music all over the LQ for a few hours in the evening. They remind me of the Super Mario Bros mushrooms for some reason. The elementary school has the Super Mario Bros theme song for their hourly bell, so maybe that's a theme.

Not sure exactly what MA rest, but as this sign is close to the playground, which is close to many apartments I always assume it is asking the kids to pipe down after hours.

There is a canal that runs down the middle of the LQ. On the other side are the Phase 3 apartments and what they call the Villas which are really nice townhouses.

Across the canal again, for a closer look at the townhouses. Us poor peasants aren't really allowed, so that's as close as we can get. (not really, but the people in the townhouses are much more wealthy than me and usually are the administrators and big whigs, and I don't normally walk across the canal anyway.)

This is the building that we live in. We live in the center section on the third floor.

The mailboxes are inside the front door, as you can see Amy is checking our mail. So far this has consisted of bills that are for the previous tenant. The little box to the left of Amy is the classic big city password key to open the door, or if you do not have one a way to call up to the apartment you would like to enter.

And that is our little commune. I'll try to post a couple of pictures of the school tomorrow and maybe get our pictures of our trip into the city.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Culture Shocking

When I hear the words “culture shock” I usually mentally image someone lying in their bed, curled into a ball under the covers afraid to leave, afraid to do anything. While that certainly would count as culture shock, that isn’t necessarily what it usually amounts to.

Having lived in France for awhile I am proud to say that many aspects of culture shock don’t really affect me. The lack of convenience, while annoying doesn’t make me break out into curses. I have no problems walking about or going to the market or a restaurant. I can buy the products I want and order food without a hitch. Well, maybe there are hitches because many of the products I want aren’t available, and I can’t always tell what I am ordering, but I can still navigate these problems without feeling what I’d call culture shock.

However, there are still lots of little things that send me into delirium.

I find that the little annoyances now add up into a giant ball of – I hate this place, this school, this country. For instance, I noted our ant problem in another post. Truth is we had an ant problem at our last apartment in the States. They were annoying, and we put in several complaints to the apartment management, but they never went past the stage of irritation. Ants happen, as they might say.

Yet here they seem even worse. Our kitchen was already bothersome with its lack of good shelving, and our lack of a lot of food and dishes. Add ants to the mix and you get two very frustrated Americans.

The thing is we wind up associating the annoying ants to our troublesome kitchen which is attached to housing that is unfamiliar and different which is then attached to our whole Chinese experience.

Thus China = Annoying Ant Problem.

All annoyances/problems/pains are automatically lumped into this stupid country.

That’s culture shock.

In about thirty minutes I have to go to my first tutoring session without Brian. I am nervous. No, I am scared to death.

Why? Culture. Freaking. Shock.

Logically it is no problem. In a few minutes I will gather my things and walk to the front gate where there will be a taxi, or if there is not a taxi, one will arrive shortly. I have a piece of paper from my tutoree that tells the taxi driver where to go. The taxi driver will take me to the correct place. I will then punch a button on the apartment complex where I will then tell the lady I have arrived. Up an elevator I will go where I will be greeted.

The tutoring session will be hot and long and probably pretty miserable, but it is nothing to be scared of, in fact she is a very nice lady.

When it is over, I will again climb into a taxi, show the driver a card and will be taken home. All of this is simple and without much complication. Even if some complication arises I can easily call someone to help out.

Yet I am all knotted up inside. The reality is all of that is new to me. I have not yet ridden in a taxi by myself. I have not had to find the right apartment and enter the right number. I have never tutored anyone in my life. All of which makes me nervous.

Yet, I know it will be alright.

Edit: Tutoring was, in fact, alright. I had to hail a cab, as one wasn't sitting there waiting, but that didn't take long. He read my little Chinese instructions without a hitch and we were on our way. My tutor lady lives in a high rise apartment alongside a pretty busy highway. Coming from my direction you have to do a u-turn to go along the right side of the highway in order to pull over and let me off. The problem was the taxi driver didn't know exactly where to let me off, and neither did I.

He tried one spot, decided my look of uncertainty meant move on and so he did, around the block. Eventually he left me off and I started walking - to where I wasn't sure. After a block I called Brian and he pointed me the right way.

Nicely this meant that I arrived at the apartment all sweaty, which made her turn on the air conditioner, something she normally doesn't do. The lesson was long and boring and annoying, but OK.

The return home was easy too excepting the 8 minutes I spent trying to find a cab to hail. I'll do it all again tomorrow, a little less nervous, but still a bit uneasy.

Edit, Part II: It has been noticed that I am being negative of late. Truth is I am in full culture shock mode. I'm still quite overwhelmed by everything. But that doesn't mean it is all bad. I'm enjoying many things and mostly we are having a good time. Things will get better and in time we will grow to enjoy ourselves a great deal. This will be especially true when we start getting regular paychecks and can enjoy the great cheap things.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

This Kitchen Is A Mess (And I Want To Go Home)

We finally took a trip into Shanghai proper and I took some good pictures around the Bund. Those will go up hopefully in the next few days. But for now some more complaining.

We have ants. Lots of ants. Bunches of them sneaking and crawling across our kitchen counters.

We had them pretty much from day two crawling around the dirty dishes in the sink. We moved everything out of the kitchen and I laid down some heavy duty ant spray outside the door (for their is a door that leads to a little balcony from the kitchen) and all over the trouble areas. This seemed to work.

It worked for a few days in fact and I moved all the stuff back in. The nearest supermarket is a ten minute taxi ride away and so we can only buy food and things in small batches. At this point the batches were pretty small indeed. I had all of our non-refrigerator food in one little cabinet.

Then the cabinet go ants. It was weird because the ants would seemingly have to go across the counter where I sprayed, or at least underneath the counters where I also sprayed to get to the food cabinet. Yet they were doing no such thing, they just seemed to magically appear in this cabinet.

Again I cleared everything out and sprayed like crap. At this point I'm beginning to worry about the effects of the poison as I'm pretty much layering my kitchen in it. This is doubly concerning as our little apartment doesn't really move air around much. But it was poison or ants and I chose poison.

Again this worked for a few days and I started putting food back. Again the ants are back, this time back to the sink again. They aren't in the droves they were before, but they are still her. Laughing at me. Mocking me.


I woke this morning to find my kitchen floor full of water. Well, it was more like I awoke, checked my e-mail, played a game, piddled around and eventually went into the kitchen where I found several puddles of water across my kitchen floor.

Curses were uttered and I began to look for the cause. The problem with the kitchen floor is that it isn't exactly level so it wasn't like I could follows the trail of water to the source. Like I said there were several puddle of water all clumped together, but no real trail. I checked the water bottle and found nothing (in fact we ran out of water yesterday.) I checked under all the counters and again found nothing.

Amy came in and said she heard a dripping noise last night, but thought it was the water bottles heating mechanism (I guess she didn't know it was empty). We continued to look and eventually found a small drip underneath the gas water heater.

Our kitchen is absolutely horribly designed. Every single cabinet has piping or duct work or something really obnoxious in it that should have been hidden inside the wall. In one of the upper cabinets is our gas water heater and all the pipes leading out of it. This is doubly obnoxious because every time you turn on the kitchen sink to a hot water setting, the gas ignites in a giant WHOOSH right next to my hear. I duck every time.

Anyways, one of the pipes was leaking. After a lot of sleuthing we decided the drip was seeping into the side of the cabinet, down through the wall behind the lower cabinet and out onto the floor. Sure enough the wall down by the floor was soaking wet.

We stuck a glass underneath the drip and went to complain to the LQ. We are amazingly lucky in that most of the folks at the LQ speak some amount of English. While this can be very frustrating when we want to explain in detail what is happening to our kitchen, with our complete lack of Chinese we are thrilled we can at least explain that there is a leak.

This explanation rendered an appointment on Monday. As the lead was pretty small we figured we could glass it until then. When we reached home the leak had increased. It was dripping very heavily from two places now. I called Brian and he called the LQ saying maintenance was needed now.

The guy came quick and fixed the leak (which was now back to a drip and thus made me feel stupid.) I tried to explain the whole leaking through the wall thing, but he speaks no English and I still speak no Chinese so it was pretty much impossible.

Thus the war with the extra water is not over. Not by a long shot.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Shanghai Diaries

I have decided to write a weekly post over at Blogcritics about my experiences in Shanghai. These articles won't be anything new to my regular readers as they will have already been blogged about here. However, they are more concisely edited, and the idea is to make these weekly posts less about the day to day and more about the larger experience. So if my poor grammar and bad spelling drive you crazy, feel free to just read those articles.

You can read this week's article all about setting up our new apartment here.

And then you can read last weeks issue about our long flight over.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Our Apartment

I've finally gotten around to taking a few pictures! They aren't very exciting I'm afraid - just my apartment, which suddenly looks very bare. But still those who read this are mostly family and I suspect you guys are interested in where we are living.

This is our living room from our entryway, so it is also the first image we see when we walk in. Yes it is a little unkept, and yes it is very bare. The couch is quite nice, very comfortable as is the chair, though it has suddenly became the place to throw all our random crap when we walk in the door. The little chair is being used as a stand these days. When we want to watch a DVD we throw the computer on the chair and watch from there. We have a television and stand on order, but it has yet to arrive. Sort of. You see we bought it from a guy who is moving to America, but he hasn't moved yet so he's still keeping the TV. And really we haven't actually paid for it yet, so we can't complain.

I do like the spaciousness of it, and the nice hard floors.

A shot of the living room from the other side. The door on the far left is our entry way. The next door over goes to the kitchen. The phone hanging on the wall isn't a real phone but one of those entryway phones that allows us to let people in from the downstairs door.

Here's our kitchen. Or at least the sink (it is difficult taking pictures inside a small room.) The kitchen is a bit small and greatly lacks in usable cabinet space. Pretty much all of the cabinets have some sort of plumbing or gas pipes in them making them mostly unusable. We're shopping for a nice shelving unit for all our stuff, and trying to make due until then.

The kitchen from the other side. Notice the lovely water bottle. China water is totally undrinkable so everyone orders the big bottles. It is fairly inexpensive so not too big a deal. Bethany ordered our first one as the water guys doesn't speak English, so I don't know what we'll do next time.

Sorry for the turned picture. I turned it right on my hard drive, but for some reason blogger turned it back and I'm too lazy to figure out why. I'm not sure how well you can tell, but the fridge is small. It comes to about my neck but is about half the width of an regular American fridge. The bottom part is a freezer.

Back to the living room. The door to the left goes into one bedroom which we're turning into a study. The door in the middle goes to the bathroom and on the right goes to our bedroom.

Our bedroom, from the door. The bed sits quite low to the ground, but is soft and comfortable. That's our little chest of drawers that we bought at Ikea. At the window, where all my clothes are piledis a nice shelf type space by the window. It is big and nice which partially explains why all my clothes are there. Sorry for the mess, but we're still trying to figure out what to do with everything with our limited storage space.

Bedroom from the other side. China pretty much doesn't do closets and that big wardrobe came with our apartment. They usually don't but whoever moved out probably didn't feel like moving the thing.

Our awful bathroom. It is small, but not terrible. However the tiling is uneven so that even through there is a drain in the floor when the water falls on the floor (and it inevitably does) it doesn't actually make it to the drain. The hot water works in two ways - scolding or freezing cold. We literally have to turn the sink water on hot in order to give us some semblance of a decent shower. Also the shower head sprays water everywhere so we get water all over.

It isn't ventilated well so everything stays damp. I've started opening the window to help, but mildew is creeping in. I hate it. Really I do.

Our sink and small little shelving unit. The sink makes this godawful noise when you use it.

The study. We had to move the dining room table in here to set up the internet. It is scattered and ugly, but I spend a lot of time in here these days. When we get paid we'll get to buying more things and it will look nice.

One of three air conditioning units. We have one in both bedrooms and one in the living room. They are kind of like window units but in the wall. They work fairly well for the room they are in, but strain to work on any other rooms. We tend to only run them when we are actually using that particular room and shut all the other doors. This keeps us pretty cool, and saves on some electricity.

That's supposed to be our air conditioner remote but you can't see it well. Sorry I'm really in know mood to mess with my finicky camera. These things are insane to figure out. Each of our three remotes are totally different and written in Chinese. Basically we press various buttons until it starts getting cooler.

And that's our apartment. I'll try to get some pictures of the living quarters and school soon.