06 September 2006

A Week(end) of Celebration and Frustration

My long-awaited first FIRST day of school has passed, successfully I might add, and I am alive to tell about it. I think the easiest way to go about explaining the last few days is to just take them one at a time. I apologize now for the longer length of this post, but there are pictures towards the bottom, so enjoy.

Last Monday: Assessment day. We gave a short assessment to all 10 of our middle school students. It was fun to meet them and talk to them and certainly helped us be more realistic about what we will accomplish this school year. In the afternoon, we had "orientation," which consisted of local officials telling us to lock our doors and windows, all the time being poorly, and quietly, translated by one of the teachers here. There's nothing like being lectured at in another language!

Tuesday: More orientation. This one was made complete by our Dean of Students who insisted on making her speeches in both languages, even though she was the only one in the room who spoke Chinese. That situation set our group off into multiple rounds of laughter many times that morning. In the afternoon, our MS/HS team set upon the crazy task of making a new schedule since our first one was too crazy. We combined into 6/7 grade, 8/9 grade, and 10-12 grades and are really grouping the students by ability, irregardless of their true grade. I now teach 10 credits of English (Oral and General) every week to the lowest level (6/7), 1 credit of English composition to the same group, 3 credits of Social Studies to our lone German students in 11th grade, and 2 credits of what we're calling "General Science" to a combined class of 6-9 graders. My core group for English is only 4 students, 3 from Korea and one from Taiwan.

Wednesday: Our first real staff meeting with everyone (foreign and national teachers combined). This meeting was held in a conference room that I never knew existed in our school and it even had wireless microphones! At that meeting we found out that the students were coming in the next morning to get their textbooks and pay their tuition fees. Wednesday was stressful because we didn't get the textbooks that we needed until 4.30. Frustrations mounted on all levels as 4.30 turned into almost 6. Needless to say, there was a "let some steam off" gathering at the local KFC for dinner that evening. Laughter is quickly becoming a necessary stress reliever.

Thursday: I don't really know how the handing out of the textbooks went today because I was meeting with one of the German students and her parents. I never, ever, would have thought that my German studies would be so useful in this vast Mandarin speaking country. The rest of day was spent feverishly getting things together. A principal from the International School in Tianjin was visiting our group for this week and so our group went out to a local Western-style restaurant for dinner. We hope he will be able to get us the needed textbooks for MS/HS (similar to student teaching, I have no textbook to work with for the upper-level social studies) and some more school supplies.

Friday: School starts at 8.00, but almost just after I arrived at 7.25, some of my homeroom students decided to camp out in my classroom. It was an interesting [read: stressful] way to start the first day of school. First hour was our Opening Ceremony, made complete with our whole group introducing ourselves to the students. My English students are fun but quiet. I taught them "Twinkle, twinkle, little star" and also did some tongue twisters to open the classes. Overall, I was pleased with how the actual classes went, it was just everything else that made it frustrating. I think my favorite part of Friday was watching our cook feed the left over rice from lunch to the fish in our courtyard pond and then proceed to wash out the pan in the yucky pond scum water. Accomplishing the task of school was cause for celebration, girls night style. A very late night, but one of building and growing relationships.

Our Opening Day Ceremony with our whole school.

Lunch in the cafeteria on the first day with some of the younger students.

Saturday: Yoohoo for sleeping in and cleaning. I think there is no better way to spend a weekend. We went out as a group for dinner at TGI Friday's which was also glorious because of the Western menu (although a bit pricey for our newly adjusted Chinese salaries). The whole purpose of our outing to downtown was to visit a bookstore that had English books because I only have one, yes one!, English book for my whole classroom. But no trip to downtown would be complete without getting trapped in a department store. They were doing construction and somehow we got up on escalators but when we were trying to get out every staircase was closed off and the down escalators were all being worked on. A good ten or fifteen minutes later we escaped and found our beloved bookstore only to realize that they were closing. All fifty employees proceeded to watch this crazy group of Americans frantically hunt for English language books and dictionaries. I must report that I have a basic dictionary and also now a total of five English books! That's what I call a Chinese-style success.

Our group at Friday's for some much appreciated American food.

A funny sign in the bathroom at Friday's.

Sunday: Another adventure, only no dark stairwells and closing bookstores. Our loftier goal was to attend the International Fellowship in Suzhou, a city of around 10 million about 45 minutes from here. We took all forms of transportation to get there. First a taxi from our apartment to downtown Wuxi, then a bus to Suzhou, then another taxi. Finally, we arrived just in time to hear the sermon and introduce ourselves. It was a good time for networking but it made me miss my church in GR. Some nice people helped us figure out a way to get back cheaply and so we hopped on a crowded city bus to get to the train station. But instead of taking a train, we figured it was easier to hire a driver. That was an adventure, but we made it back safely. The school bought us a couch because we all needed more furniture and we even got to choose what color we wanted. However, they did not take our color choices into consideration because we all have the same retro couch, either in orange or red. Mine is orange. I don't hate it as much as you would think and it's actually growing on me. It's just the kind of thing I would never choose for myself. It actually makes my living room look nice and I shouldn't complain, but I must state again that it is ORANGE!

A very crowded bus ride on our way back from church.

So many people!

Daniel, Karri and I enjoying some real Chinese takeout. For a very funny outlook on the whole couch incident, read Karri's second blog posting for Monday at www.xanga.com/karri

The delivery truck with all of our couches on it, taken from my stairwell.

The super strong porters carrying the couch into my apartment.

My very ORANGE couch.

My rearranged living room.

Monday: Today I got my bathroom light replaced by three people, it was really like those blonde jokes about how many people its takes to change a light bulb...well, in China, it's at least 3 people, sometimes 5, because it's definitely a spectator sport here. The principal of our school was even here to investigate and I got the stamp of approval from him as to the state of my apartment, which was great. Well, that's all I got for today...

How they water plants in China--yes, with a fire hose.

My beautiful bulletin board!

Good night from Wuxi,

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