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来淮前的准备,在淮工作与生活散记
Legal Matters:
The application process for getting a U.S. Passport can take up to 3 months; luckily Jeff and I already had ours and they wouldn’t expire while we were in China.  So after getting invited and verbally committing ourselves to work at the school, the next step was to apply for a z-visa, which allows us to work in China for up to one year.  We drove to downtown Los Angeles and dropped off our applications and our passports at the Chinese Consulate.  Then a few days later we returned to the Chinese Consulate to pay for and pick up our passports and visas.  They are only single entry visas meaning that once we enter China we can leave but not return.  Now that we are living in China and the contracts have been signed we are official employees of the school so we needed to become residents of China.  Weird, we’re actually going to become residents of a different country, crazy.  So, in order to become residents we had to have a physical exam.  I guess they want to make sure we don’t have any major diseases that could contaminate their country.  Makes sense, we wouldn’t want that either.  The health exam was interesting.  I was really nervous because we didn’t know how invasive the tests were going to be.  For example was I going to have to see the Gyno and was Jeff going to have to turn his head and cough type of thing or what? It ended up that we had to do blood tests checking for STD’s, and diseases that haven’t been in the states since around the 1800’s, (who do you know with Scarlet fever? or Typhoid? that’s why I got vaccinations before I left so I wouldn’t get it from them, funny!), a chest x-ray, an EKG, a very simple eyesight test, and they looked in our mouths.  Thankfully it wasn’t as invasive was we heard from some of the other foreigners.  However, they definitely have a different perspective on privacy here.  In the rooms where the different tests were being done, random people (other patients) would walk in and out while someone is being examined, even while the x-ray machine is on.  Before Jeff and I started any of the tests, Martin cleared the room of those random people for us.  I wasn’t about to take my shirt off to do an EKG with random men walking in and out to take a peek.  Anyways, it turned out okay and about two weeks later we went to the Police Station to pick up our passports and our Foreign Experts Certificate.  So we are now actual residents of China for one year, which changes our visa status, we can now come and go out of the country as we please.
 
Life in Huai’an:
There are about 20 foreigners in this city of 800,000, 12 of which are teachers.  It’s pretty much a city; I haven’t seen any farms or too much unattended land, a lot of construction going on.  The development has been so rapid that sometimes the businesses fail and become abandoned.  There aren’t houses in China, at least of what I’ve seen so far; just apartment complexes that are on average 5 stories tall.  It’s the same for the businesses; they’re right on top of each other.  Even the richest of people still live in an apartment, there’s just no room for all the people.  We’ve been told that some large cities in China like Beijing and Shanghai have adopted laws against spitting, however not here.  People spit everywhere, that’s right, you’ll be walking down the street, or on the bus right next to you, I even had a girl in my class spit on the classroom floor.  I told her that I would appreciate it if she didn’t spit in the classroom; she needed to excuse herself to the restroom.  So it’s very dirty here, however people are constantly cleaning.  It’s dirty on the streets however the inside restaurants and shops are clean.  Actually the cleanest place that we’ve seen so far is the small canteen on campus, they wipe everything down and even mop the floors after each meal.  The air is also very polluted; you can even smell the smog.  Some days, if it is slightly windy, it will be extremely clear.  Quite a few people have hospital like facemasks to cover their mouths and noses.  I bought some at the store for really bad days but haven’t used them yet.  I’m not sure if it will be better or worse in the summer, we’ll see.  One thing that contributes to the air pollution is that a lot of people smoke, men much more than women.   They can smoke indoors in public places so you really can’t escape from the smoke.  One of Huai’an’s main moneymakers are cigarettes, there’s a huge factory for making the cigarettes here in town.
We’ve been getting together with 3 other foreign teachers on the weekends, last weekend we met the rest of the other teachers.  It’s so nice having other foreigners around to talk to.  There’s Meagan from Australia who’s in her mid 30’s and used to be a litigations lawyer; Mark from Ireland may be in his late 20’s; and Bill is from Oregon and is 25, he has been traveling around and living in Ecuador and Germany for the past five years or so.  The rest of the foreigners are over the age of 45 so not really the beer-drinking club-hopping type but are very friendly and I believe mostly from the U.S, and Canada. 
There’s a little bit of a nightlife scene here in Huai’an, definitely more so than in Hemet, but it’s still a small town atmosphere.  Oh my gosh! We went to this dance club that actually has a dancing dance floor. Imagine a regular dance floor that has 12” black and white checkered tiles, now make the whole floor mechanical so when you are standing on it, it moves up and down.  It’s the craziest thing.  We we’re told that Chinese people really can’t dance so they made this bouncing dance floor.  It’s really hard to dance on it, you just have to stand there and bounce. It’s very fun though.  I tried to break out my dance skills and this one girl was going crazy, I guess she’d never seen anyone dance like that before.  The definitely don’t dance very close to each other like they do in the U.S. no ‘freaking’ or ‘booty dancing’ here.  Being that we were the only foreigners in the club, the manager came up to us and bought us a round of drinks; he was young and actually really nice.  They played some English music like Gloria Estefan’s “Turn The Beat Around.”  Our friend Bill later met up with the manager and gave him a mixed CD of good English music to dance to.  He said that he would have the DJ play it for us when we go there; they obviously want us to come back.  It seems like everywhere we go we are given special treatment because they want us to advertise for them, bring other foreigners; it puts them on the map so to speak.  So, we try to see as much of the city sights as we can on the weekends.  It’s very beautiful especially at night because many of the businesses use neon lights.  It’s very colorful, and a great time to pull out the camera.
The city is so full of people, cars, buses, rickshaws (taxi by bicycle), little mopeds, and bicycles it’s crazy.  Seriously, crossing the street could cost you your life if you’re not paying attention.  Of course I don’t tell my mom this, she would freak out.  (Even though she’s reading this right now)  Yes we are extremely careful and we try and cross when there’s a big group of people with us.  Please don’t worry.  However, there are no laws against jaywalking and all lanes are marked with a broken yellow line so you can always pass.  There are a few stoplights so this helps out some.  Out of all the craziness, it seems to make sense though, we figure just keep moving forward and never stop.  We haven’t seen anyone get hurt.  We laugh every time we cross the street because we’re amazed we’re still alive. 
We have a few weeks off through out the year in which we plan on traveling as much as possible.  We only spent about two days exploring Shanghai when we first arrived but then got on a bus directly to the school.  The bus ride was supposed to only be about 6 hours however it started snowing so it took about 8 instead.  Since we were traveling at night whole it was snowing we couldn’t see much of the country since it was dark outside.  So during our time off we want to travel.  Our first week off is the first week of May; we plan on going to Beijing.  Jeff’s roommate from Cal, Tina, is teaching at Baoding University about an hour south of Beijing and we’re going to climb a mountain with her and maybe check out some temples.  During the summer we have a lot of ideas of what we would like to do however no actual plans yet.  We would like to take a boat up the Yangzte River to see the three gorges; they will be damming it up in the near future and will change it completely.  We also have two contacts in Hong Kong that we could stay with (Jim and Rhonda are from Texas and used to teach at our school.)  Living expenses are so cheap here that we can pretty much save enough money during these few months before the summer to not have to work during the summer so we can just travel.  However we may decide if it’s not too late to take a short teaching gig during the summer if we need some money.
 
Our School Living Conditions:
    Jeff and I have an apartment on campus.  Actually we have two apartments, you know because we’re not married.  We told them that we only needed one apartment but the guy said, “We provide you each with an apartment but where you sleep is your business”.  We though it was funny.  Our apartment(s) have one pretty good-sized bedroom with a queen sized bed, an attached bathroom (most importantly we have a toilet that flushes however we can’t flush any toilet paper) and an enclosed shower. In the other teachers apartments the whole bathroom consists of a toilet and the shower with a drain in the middle of the floor so while you’re taking a shower you’re getting the whole bathroom wet.  Ours is an actual enclosed shower.  Public restrooms are called “toilets” however there are no toilets; it’s more like a “piss pot” or what we like to call the “shit pit”.  Imagine a urinal…. now turn it so it’s laying down… stand on each side of it (mind you there are specific marks where you should be squatting) all while no toilet paper is provided, nor a sink to wash your hands.  If you’re lucky, you’ll find a restroom with individual stalls with a door, sometimes like here at the school it’s just an open room with more like a gutter that you stand on either side and the slope of the tile you just shat on is the “flush” so you can imagine the stench it creates when it’s humid outside.  Anyways, so we always keep some paper on hand.  So back to the apartment…there is a balcony off of the bedroom, a living room that houses a couch, a chair, a twin sized bed, a refrigerator, and another balcony.  We have a very small kitchen; it has a sink, a microwave, and some cupboards-no stove or oven.  Cooking is very difficult for two reasons: one is that we simply are horrible cooks and are retarded at making anything but eggs, PB &J sandwiches, and opening a can of tuna; and two: if we wanted to cook, we have no stove or oven, there is however an electric hot plate type thing that has all Chinese controls…so we eat at the school canteen mostly.  We also have two heating/air conditioning units that have proved to be great.  We have yet to see a building (besides the Police Station) with centralized heating and air ducts, it’s more like the olden days when you had the heater mounted on the wall.  So we have one in the living room and the other in the bedroom.
    We have excess to one washer that is shared by everyone on the 5th floor, however we are the only people who live on the 5th floor so that’s not bad.  There is no dryer so we dry everything outside.  Also, the only source of hot water is the hot water heater connected to our shower, so when we wash our hands or wash dishes, and even our clothes it’s all in freezing cold water since there isn’t a ”whole house” water heater.  Because this campus was built just a few years ago, the whole campus is very beautiful and clean.  There are many different types of plants and trees, a few statues, and they’ve even started planting new trees for the spring.  I guess they planted about 70 new trees in the past week.  There are rose bushes and other types that will be very beautiful when they bloom.  There is also a pond with fish and a bridge, and a garden that has benches and another pond with a rock fountain.
 
Living conditions for the students:
About half of the kids live in dorms on campus because their families live too far away to commute everyday.  Some students that live on campus go weeks without seeing their parents.  There are six concrete dorm buildings that are all five stories tall.  (You can see pictures of the dorms under the “Photo” section.  Two for the boys, two for the girls, one for the teachers, and one for the people that work at the school like security guards, cooks and groundskeepers.  The student dorms are twice as small as our apartments, so where we have an actual apartment they have a dorm room like at a University in the States.  There are four sets of bunk beds per room so there are 8 people per dorm room.  I’m sure they have some sort of closet but nothing else, no desks, no bathroom, and no heating/air conditioning units.  They have a communal “shit pit” and a communal place to wash their laundry but no washers; they have to wash everything by hand in cold water, and like us they hang everything outside to dry.  It’s great because with all the laundry hanging outside you can tell which one is the boy dorm and which is the girls.  The two boy dorm buildings are full of blue and grey clothes hanging while the two girl dorms are full of pink, purple, and red clothes.  There is also a communal shower however it’s like those that you see in Prison movie scenes where it’s one big room with a whole lot of shower heads.  I think there are only two communal showers for all of the students, one for boys and one for girls, the showers are located above the small canteen so it’s not even in the dorm buildings.  The communal showers do not have hot water.  Each student will take to the shower a container that holds about a half-gallon of hot water.  They do their own laundry and own cleaning, all at the young ages of 14-18.  So just living here is difficult let alone all their studies. 
 
School Administration:
    Schools in China are structured completely different than the U.S.  The entire educational system is based on exam scores (well, and money of course).  Students of all levels pre-university are tested about once a month on every subject.  The exams are geared towards preparing them for the College Entrance Exam.  This makes their education extremely competitive; they not only find out the their scores of their exams but their rank in the class.  This could be very encouraging and exciting, but at the same time it can be discourage those students not doing too well; make them feel inferior.  In turn, this exam can be compared to the SAT’s but much more difficult and even more feared since their whole family’s future depends on their score.  In the U.S. some four-year Universities don’t even require the SAT’s.  To attend a Junior College you don’t even need to be a High School graduate let alone take the S.A.T.’s; you can graduate from college without having your High School diploma.  In China, this exam is required to attend any college or University.  It’s actually the score received on the exam that decides which University will accept the student and what it’s major will be.  Every point higher will put the student into a higher classification for a better school.  Their score on the monthly practice exams decide which school they will attend and what subject material they will focus on whether it’s during primary school, junior middle school, middle school, or at the university.  As always, if the parents are well connected in the community by politics, government, or business, money can buy their child’s way into any school. 
    This school is ranked the number one of all the middle schools in all of Jiangsu Province, so the students here are either really smart or have wealthy parents.  The students here are Senior 1, Senior 2, and Senior 3 grades.  It’s the equivalent to 10th, 11th, and 12th grades; we only teach 10th and 11th.  We’ve talked with a few of the Senior 3 students (12th graders) but it’s mostly about colleges and helping them with their university interviews.  Each student is assigned to a specific class depending on their exam scores and there are 20 classes per grade; so someone could be a Senior 1 student in class 8.   The student stays with that class the whole day, so the whole class has the same schedule for the whole term.  Where as in the U.S. students have their schedule individualized basing their education around their specific needs. 
    The subjects that students study depend on their exam scores.  If a student in Primary school had better exam scores in Sciences (Math, Chemistry, Biology, Physics) than in Arts (Language, History, Geography) then the students focus in Middle School would be in Sciences, and so on up until the University.  The only exception to this would be based on a physical exam that Senior 3 students go through.  This physical exam tests all basic areas that might interfere with their success in their chosen field.  So, if it were found that a student had something wrong with their sense of smell they wouldn’t be able to study chemistry at the University because the student wouldn’t be able to smell the chemicals used.  Likewise, if you have a speech impediment they wouldn’t want you to become an interpreter.  Any ailment that would hinder a student’s success would be looked at as a disadvantage and not allowed.  Because schools want students to excel to their highest potential, universities require this physical exam, screening for any potential failures.
Just like is the U.S., Middle School/High School students are required to study the basic courses of their first language, foreign language, history, geography, sciences, and physical education; however they will be in more advanced courses of the area in which they are focusing on.  Then, they go to a University with the idea that they will be majoring in the area in which they’ve been focusing on since Primary School.  It seems like their major and even career choice is decided at a very young age all depending on how they score on those standardized exams. 
In Senior 1 & 2 they are taught the material of the subjects, during Senior 3 they don’t learn anything new, they just review what they learned in Senior 1 & 2.  My question was always what if a student doesn’t understand the material and doesn’t pass one of the monthly exams.  Until I realized that it’s all about preparing for the College Entrance Exam that they will take at the end of their Senior 3 year.  So, all they are interested in is getting the best score possible on the exam.  So they just need to learn the material by Senior 3.  So all they do is give them the material/information and then test them on it.  The students do not do any work based on free thought like writing research reports or essays that compare and/or contrast different topics.  Which answers our question of why there are no computers on campus for the students to use.  Not having papers to write eliminates the need for having computers.    
   Since 1979, China has enforced the “only one child” law.  We’ve been told that if a person works for the government and they have a second child, they may lose their job.  However some have told us that if you want to have a second child you can but you have to pay a fine.  The generation that is being educated now is China’s future.  The family heritage and gene pool rests all on one child.  The pressure this generation faces and the expectations that have followed them since birth will never go away.  They will always be expected to be better than everyone else.  As they say, one point higher than someone else on the College Entrance Exam will cost you your entire families future.  It seems melodramatic however it’s true.  It seems that they do not accept or tolerate anything but the best, at any cost.  One child means one chance, and they can only take the College Entrance Exam once.  The students of course know all of this because their families and teachers have told them since they were very young.
I read in a newspaper the other day that the government will increase their spending on education from 2.7% to 4%, I’m not sure how that compares to the U.S. but it doesn’t seem like very much.  Also, I’m not sure what others kinds of schools there are like if any of them are fully funded by the government or how it all works between private and public schools. 
The students have little or no extra-curricular activities; there is just no time.  There are no organized sports leagues like we have in the states, few competitive sports events between schools, no school dances, actually dating is not allowed at this school, anything that would distract their attention from the studies is not allowed.
 
Our classes:
Typical Chinese classes have about 50-60 students, however they split the class in half for us.  Half of the students go to Jeff’s class and the other half go to mine for about 20-30 each, which add up to about 2000 total students.  Our classes are on a two-week rotation so we don't see the same kids but every two weeks.  It makes it kind of difficult because you really can't make that much progress in one 45-minute class every two weeks.  It has its good and its bad points, we only have to make one lesson plan or activity every two weeks, but then at the same time we get kind of bored with teaching the same stuff for two weeks.  The school has given us full freedom with our classes, with exception to anything dealing with politics, sex, and religion.  Because they have been taking English classes since they were in Primary School, our focus in on listening and speaking.  Most of the classes are actually very fun to teach, we have a good time with the students especially when they participate in class activities.
Classes are only 45minutes long and we have about 21 classes per week.  So it’s only about 16 hours of actual teaching per week, Monday through Friday.  We also have 3 hours a week of what is called “English Corner” it’s basically the same thing as having office hours.  So we only work about 20 hours per week plus any prep time that we do on our own.  Since we are on a two-week rotation our schedule varies.  Some days we only have one class and some days we have up to six, it just depends.  Our earliest class is at 8:30am, then we have at least an hour and a half off during the middle of the day around lunchtime and our latest class gets done at 4:40pm.  So it’s really not a bad schedule.
The students schedule however is a completely different story.  These kids are crazy, their first class is at 7am then at 9:30 they have a mass exercise period for about 30 minutes, back to class, then a rest break from 11:30am until 2pm then back to class, they have 30 minutes for dinner then back to class until 10:30pm then it's lights out at 11pm.  This is all Monday through Saturday and they have Sunday off.   Senior 3 students however go everyday with only Sunday afternoon off.  Most of the students tell us that they do not agree with the way that China structures it's educational system because they do not have any time to sleep or play.  Some students don't even see their parents for weeks at a time.  Try and get them to do that in the U.S., yeah right they would all rebel, riot, emancipate themselves, and then sue their parents and probably the school for some weird new child labor human rights law.  All of their hard work and dedication definitely does pay off though, these kids are so smart, and they are very limited to what they are taught, because China’s censorship is so strict. 
Generally the students that we have met personally and had conversations with are great.  They are inquisitive about life in America.  “America” it’s funny how they refer to the U.S. as “America” instead of the U.S. It seems that the “American Dream” is very much alive here.  All of my classes talking about the “American Dream” where anything is possible really seems to exist, however living in the U.S. since birth it’s taken for granted.  Students here ask simple questions from teenagers growing up, driving a car, dating, and general life.  Sometimes we get more complex questions about politics and world issues that we’re not allowed to comment on, however my favorite question has been “Since the old President, Ronald Reagan was a movie star and then became president, do you think that your head of state (he couldn’t pronounce Arnie’s last name) will become president?”  I thought it was great.  They are “typical” teenagers with all the same likes and dislikes as that of people living in the U.S. they’re just socialized completely different, although a lot less materialistic.
 
Our special projects:
Even though this school has been rated the top Middle School in the Jiangsu Province, they lack some basic resources.  They don't have simple resources like a career counselor or someone that they can talk to about getting into college.  The need for this is less since their exam scores tell them pretty much what they will study, where, and what they will become.  However, some students want to get into a University outside of China and the school doesn’t have the information for the students.  Because the school has no structured system of doing so, we’re trying to set up a resource center for the school where they can get information about different universities.  We also have been asked to find a sister school in the U.S.  I want to find High Schools that offer Chinese as a foreign language.
 
Other:
When Jeff and I were going through the application process the lady we were working with said that one of the biggest differences between American and Chinese people is information and censorship. Americans ask tons of questions without thinking anything of it while Chinese people only volunteer information as they see is needed.  When we got to the school we were filled with all sorts of questions that we asked our contact person, he would look at us like were interrogating him, like we’re nosy or something.  It’s amazing how just a little bit of information really eases the mind.  We’re still full of random questions but we have to be careful of our timing and whom we ask the question to.
 
Life in Huai’an by the numbers:
5 = Number of floors we climb to get home everyday.
50 = Number of steps (10 per floor).
 
5 = Number of floors we climb to get to the classrooms where we teach.
60 = Number of steps (12 per floor).
 
11= Average amount of times we travel up and down the steps per day.
 
6 Kwai ~ .75cents US = One main dish that includes veggies and/or potatoes and/or meat, two heaping bowls of white rice and two hot bowls of soups. Well over enough for two people.
 
1 Kwai ~ .13cents US = Bus fare.
 
7-12 Kwai ~ .87cents – $1.50 US = Cost of Taxi ride to almost anywhere in town.
 
800,000 plus = Approximate Chinese population of Huai’an.
 
20 = Approximate population of foreigners who live in Huai’an.  12 of which are teachers.  These Foreigners are Swedish, Russian, American, African, Canadian, Irish, and Australian. Colleen and I make up 10% of the foreign population in Huai’an (chuckle).
 
1/40,000 = Ratio of Foreigners to Chinese in Huai’an
 
42 = Number of classes taught in two weeks.
 
28 = Average amount of students per class.
 
Approximately 1,200 = Total amount of pupils that we teach in one week.
 
6 Kwai ~ .75cents = Cost of DVD Movie Bootlegs.  (Originals aren’t sold, anywhere! They do not have copyright or piracy laws)
 
63 = Number of movies we purchased the first two weeks.
 
7 = Number of movies purchased featuring John Cusack.  Adding to our “Cusack Love” fix. Ohh Yeaaah.
 
1 = Number of McDonalds in Huai’an.
 
1 = Number of KFC’s in Huai’an.
 
2 Kwai ~ .25cents = the wage of a waiter/waitress.
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