Daily Archives: September 3, 2012

A Word on Education

Good morning and happy first day of school to all my educator friends and colleagues.  Today you’ll meet your students briefly to count heads, check registrations, greet returning kids and welcome newcomers.  Here in Jiaxing, today will be our fourth day of school, having started on Saturday, so we already know most of their names, a bit of their personalities, how they write and speak.  I know you’re not impressed but just so those of you who might consider working in Asia, this early start seems to be a bit of a Jiaxing anomaly; in Shanghai, our sister schools started Monday.

So what’s different?  No bells, only soft Chinese or classical music plays into the classrooms and hallways when it is time to begin and end classes, head to morning exercise on the paved play area or start eye exercises.  To date, we haven’t actually had the daily exercises but we have, school-wide, gone to the location and assumed the position, which is to say, formed straight lines of students from one end of the tarmac to the other.  2000 kids in this school and they are nothing if not organized to keep them literally in line and disciplined.  Every Monday, instead of exercise, a formal flag raising ceremony takes place on the tarmac.  A selected group of students lines up away from the group, then once everyone turns, at a single command, to face the flag pole, the flag raisers march in and launch the flag.  The national anthem—quite a nice tune—plays.  Today a student speaker gave a rousing speech that made all the kids laugh.  I asked our guide and fellow teacher David what it was about:  how to be a citizen in civilization.  Well yes, that’s always struck me as hilarious, too.

A universal truth is that kids are kids everywhere.  Like their peers in Canada, they value friends, music and movies; the girls, sadly, are overly concerned about their weight while the boys are more into hair and sports.  (There is some good hair here– Dude, I love the bullet head!)  Our classes have the usual assortment of  students: class clowns, passive-aggressive you-can’t-make-me’s, serious studious types, shy ones and those who love to speak up.  We have a class monitor, assigned by David.  Tom is bright, well-spoken and out-going, with a great sense of humour.  His job is to help keep the kids in line, to remind them to cooperate with the teacher and help organize kids for any small jobs that have to be done.  One morning we came in to find a group of them swabbing the hallway.  All students do work like this at some point in the school year.  They seem happy to do so, always working in groups.

This afternoon we had the opening day ceremony.  It began at 3:30 and ran for an hour and a half, the principal’s address alone was 30 minutes.  Imagine 2000 kids in a school gym in 30 degree temperature listening for 90 minutes.  They did a good job; the kids seemed reasonably attentive given that they laughed together at various points.  I got a bit of a translation from the vice-principal:  the first part of the ceremony was acknowledging the successes of students from the previous year.  The award-winning grade 11’s, now grade 12’s, were given their certificates of honour.  I was at the head table and handed the paper to four students.  The gist of all the speeches was that Jiaxing Senior Secondary School is one of the best in the city, that 98% of the graduates go on to college and university, and that they must all work very hard to achieve good results.  Our BC Off-Shore School was acknowledged as an example of how “Jia-co” is an institution open to the world of new ideas and welcoming to their new colleagues and connections to Canada.  I have no doubt that our program will grow.  It is now our teachers’ job to ensure our students are successful.

It’s time for me to get ready for school.  I haven’t brought an umbrella and it is pouring rain for the first time since we’ve arrived.  Looks like I might be riding the bus this morning—1 yuen, about 16 cents.

The World of Work

We already miss some Canadian traditions.  The one dearest to our hearts is that of school starting the day after Labour Day.  We have been at work with kids since Saturday.  Sunday we started our regular classes . We worked Monday morning and then returned to school for an opening day assembly where there are to be 2 hours of speeches delivered in Chinese.  It’s not the best plan to start the school year with a 7 day work week but we will get through it.  We are largely past the jet lag but not pleased to have to start this way.

Our kids are cute and not unlike any we have taught in Canada.  It has been interesting finding out what kind of music they like, who their heroes are, what they like to do in their spare time.  The school takes over the role of parents who try their best to keep kids busy and out of trouble.  After attending 4 hours with us, they have lunch then spend the afternoon in Chinese school.  After dinner, another 3 hours of supervised activity awaits them.  They have lots of choice in the evening and it seems to be good bonding time between student and teacher, but yes, it means the teachers work long hours too.

Have been in touch with Greg Corry and Bruce Carabine, both former colleagues of mine from Coquitlam.  They are working at Cinec schools in Shanghai.  We hope to meet with them as well as Mary Lee and Al Thomas over the next two weeks.  Looking forward to visiting some good spots in the BIG city and learning the ropes from Greg’s experiences in the 3-4 years he has been in China.
Photographer’s Note:

Due to someone’s lack of planning, it appears the cable which links the camera to the computer was left behind. That issue will be dealt with in the next day or two, and then we will begin posting photos.

What’s the matter with Wal-Martians?

Our apartment is in a good location:  about a 10 minute walk to work and 5 minutes from Wal-Mart.  We have been there once each of the last 3 days buying groceries and household items as we get settled into our new abode.  Take my word for it, in Jiaxing, we are the odd ones. There are almost no Caucasians here.  We stand out like, well, Wal-Martians.  People are pretty open about checking us out, which is to say they generally gawk at us.  Children point, old people peer; shock is the initial reaction to us.  We have become wonderfully adept at sign language with the staff who try pretty hard to help us.  When one of them can find something as esoteric as shelf paper, that’s pretty good, especially when arm-waving is the only form of communication.   Our students have told us that there are bilingual helpers at Wal-Mart but we haven’t found them, and it’s not for looking.  There are at least two employees in every row in Wal-Mart and we ask everyone of them if they speak English.  No luck so far.

Today David took us to a huge grocery store about 20 minutes away and helped identify a variety of foods that had up to this point been vague as to heritage.  We bought a number of things, including wine!  This is the first time we’ve found any reasonably priced and not locally made.  I have been wine-less since we left home!  The good news is that the beer is good and plentiful. (Ed, Note: The other news is that I saw scooters on sale. They are electric, you don’t need a license and they cost – wait for it $350.00. Look out Jiaxing – Geoff is soon to hit the streets [Maybe])

Thank God we’ve got that out of the way!

One of the things we had to do just before we left was visit our doctors to have them complete a 2-pager on our health, pretty much detailing our every bodily function.  Fortunately for me, I had had an ECG last year when I fainted and hit my head, so the doc was able to fill in that detail.  But she insisted that I have a chest ex-ray and have my blood typed, as required on the form.  Geoff had similar details to attend to so we ran around and got it all down in an afternoon and scanned the info to the fellow organizing our visas.  Imagine our excitement, then, to be told that we had to have a physical two days after our arrival and that we would be taken to the hospital early Friday morning to do so.  Imagine our enthusiasm when we discovered that they would be testing us to fill in the identical 2-page form.  No amount of protest helped:  it had to be done.  I was not a happy camper.  I was particularly incensed at the need for another chest ex-ray.  Please, could you give me another round of radiation?  Anyway…it turned out to be an incredible picture of life in China.

The hospital was huge, massive…and we visited each of 4 floors several times as we were sent from department to department.  Initially it was frightening:  what do we know of Chinese doctors?  What do we know of how they do things?  However, as  time went on, it became strangely fascinating.

I was told by a nurse that one of the main problems facing hospital staff in Canada is that the Chinese don’t have their own doctors in clinics; they are used to going to the hospital for all their ailments, small or large.  In a hospital the size of this one, there were MANY people needing attention and no hope of personalized or private service.  You take a number and become a body in line. It is the only time in my life that I had an ex-ray, an ultrasound and an ECG without disrobing!   My hair was still perfect when it was all over.  Geoff ran into a little trouble with the ECG—too hairy for a good connection.    Poor David—he struggled for the right words to tell us that we had to pee in a cup then bring it to one particular desk.  Only about 60 people watching us approach the counter.

Did I say doctors ran these tests?  Girls who looked to be about 16 were wiring us up with unsophisticated machinery; technicians still wet behind the ears ran the ex-rays.  In one test area, a young girl asked a few questions about the state of our elbows and sent us on our way.  The most fun we had was while waiting for our ECG results.  The police escorted a person who had been picked up for theft and was being brought in for a strip search.

After 3 hours, we returned to the station where we started where they collected our stamped forms.  We found out that within one week, that area was going to be transformed into a full-service area specifically for visa candidates such as ourselves.  Good to know the next batch won’t have to travel to 8 different departments getting the bill of approval.

First Impressions

Long time, no blog!  Lots of complications with internet and firewalls,  but hope to be able to post regularly from now on.

Arrived at Shanghai airport around 4:00 in the afternoon on Wednesday after a twelve hour flight that was long but problem-free.  As we waited for our luggage at the baggage carousel, I watched with some interest as a group of 5 people moved to one side, opened all their luggage and began to chatter loudly as they loaded what appeared to be a large number of duty-free items into each of their bags..  I looked a little further and saw another group doing the same thing.  The customs gates were about 100 metres away but clearly no one was the least bit concerned.  Later we noticed them going through the “nothing to declare” line.  Fascinating!

Were met by Harvey, the owner of our school, and our new good friend, Daisy.   They had a bus ready for us and the two other staff members of our school, Puneet and Wes.  We were excited but tired as we drove the hour and a half into Jaixing.  Along the way, we saw the familiar sites I remember of China:  lush green mixed vegetable farms along the freeway interspersed with small scale fish farms; apartment complexes of 20 towers 20 stories each; the striking blend of old and modern.   We were here!

Arriving in Jaixing, we passed under an archway announcing one of the local manufacturing businesses, Elegant Prosper Clothing Company.   The streets are wide and heavily treed.   It does not give the impression of being large, really., but we know it is home to 3.5 million people.

Although exhausted, we were all hungry and happy to go for our first meal in China.   The driver pulled into a dead-end parking lot with cars parked cheek by jowl and managed to maneuver into a spot vacated behind us by slowly but certainly backing-up and into the slot, narrowly missing parked and moving cars and pedestrians.  Apparently this is what a horn is for.  More on driving at another date.

When we finally reached our apartment, we fell into bed hoping for a solid night’s sleep.  We would have but for the bed.  The mattress was not what we are used to:  a 2” slab.  We tried but it was actually painful to lie on this platform; we started the next day tired but happy that our adventure had begun.