Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The problem with Cellphones

This morning marked a major accomplishment! Figuring out how to change my Chinese cellphone from all Chinese characters to English! Thanks to google translate for showing us the characters for language and English, we managed to convert our phone over. It was very exciting. Tommy and I legitimately celebrated. Hahaha.

Everywhere around us in Suzhou is construction. You cannot go anywhere without seeing a crane that is busy operating. This is very different from Troy and even from New York, but it is exciting to know that the city is constantly growing. Another thing about the city is that all, and I do mean all, of the trees have white paint on them about a quarter way up their trunk. I have no idea why, but I'm hoping one of the Chinese English teachers can tell me. Another side note about the trees is that all of them are still green and have leaves!

Yesterday was exceptionally busy. After getting up at 6:40 to watch the sunrise and our neighbors practice a form of exercise in the courtyard (see Tommy's youtube video), our contacts took us around the area we are living in to get cellphones (where some of the sales people spoke limited English) and bank cards (where no one spoke English). Our contacts are very nice but thye don't seem to understand that we need to eat .... I.e. we specifically had to ask them if we could stop to eat lunch since we don't own any food yet.

For lunch we stopped at a very small Chinese restaurant that served noodles and rice. Tommy got rice with tomato sauce, tomatoes, and egg; and although it looked really questionable, Tommy said it was very good. I, on the other hand, refused to be so daring. I got plain white rice to which our contact laughed at me and said that was a weird thing to order. Glad to know my taste in food is questioned even in a foreign country. The entire menu was in Chinese and the staff all spoke Chinese so without our contact I'm not sure how we would have ordered. Today Tommy and I are on our own, so I guess we will see how it goes.

In the afternoon, our contacts showed us to our different schools. I took the bus to my school, their buses are very clean even though the bus stops are pretty grungy. It takes me about twenty minutes by bus to get to my stop, then another ten minutes to walk to my school, plus the fifteen minutes to get to the bus stop by my apartment. Thus, I need to leave an hour early arrive on time. Tommy's first school is a fifteen minute walk from our apartment, but for the second school he has to get picked up and dropped off by a teacher because it is so far away and the bus transport takes too long.

The schools are very different to say the least. First, to get into any school you have to walk through a security gate. This is a gate which stretches across the entrance and opens up just enough to let people walk through or opens up for a car. It is controlled by security police. Second, the schools are set up like multi-level motels. My building has four floors, all of the classrooms face a middle courtyard. There is no heating system for the schools. Hence, it is freezing. Everyone, including the teachers, walks around in their winter coats. Finally, the cafeteria is a separate building that is three stories tall, one story per meal. So I eat lunch on the second story.

My staff seems very friendly, although the Chinese English teachers thought I was stupid for not knowing Chinese. However, the Chinese English teachers spoke in broken English so I felt just as dubious as them. Luckily, my contact arranged with the staff for me to start on Monday rather than on Thursday like Tommy has to. This gives me plenty of time to work on my lessons and help Tommy with his, since his are far more immediate.

My schools are similar in their layouts. Courtyard in the middle of a multi-level motel like classroom set up. What differentiates my workplace from Michelle's is that not only do I have to begin tomorrow, I will be giving 2 lectures and introductions to each entire student body! One lecture will focus on Christmas and America because each school is having a International Day Festival and since I am one of the few Americans at each school, I am all knowing.

Other than the intensity of standing up in front of over 500 students I think my schools are good. When I visited my second school (3rd-5th graders) classes were ending and there was a huge swarm of parents waiting outside of the gate looking to pickup their child. When we entered through this gate I was met with a large amount of "HELLOs" and "HIs" that went hand in hand with waives, huge smiles, and wide-eyes. Grace, who took me to each of my schools, let me know that Michelle and I would be a little bit like local celebrities due to our "very western looks". It's very obvious that people know that we are not around here but I think they are curious rather than hostile.

Wish me good luck. Next time I'll update you all on how my first classes go. Hopefully all will go well with my 5th grader! -Tommy

I arrived home at 4:30pm. I went straight to the bedroom, grabbed the comforter, went to the couch and instantly fell asleep. Tommy got home at 7:10pm and joined me on the couch. We woke up this morning at 5am. Good thing we didn't believe in any of that jet lag nonsense. Hahaha.

We have today to ourselves so we are setting up to explore the area around us, get groceries, sheets, and other items. I'm sure we'll come back with many stories since we plan on going to the mini mall by our apartment and the really cheerful looking pet store that I'm sure is far less cheerful on the inside.

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