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Life in Harbin as an American English Teacher

a travel blog by carseat tourist

My family and I are from LummiIsland, Washington. We are teaching English and adopting from China.
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The wedding.

Harbin, China

The ayi's son fell in love and now will live happily ever after.
We attended the wedding on our lunch hour from teaching Saturaday classes.
The lunar calandar has double May this month. And this was an especially lucky day because it was dragon boat day again, although the dragon festival was not celebrated a 2cd time. The weather was very unlucky with a big downpour and flash flood. We walked to the wedding, so were quite wet.
It was a loud fun time!

permalink written by  carseat tourist on June 27, 2009 from Harbin, China
from the travel blog: Life in Harbin as an American English Teacher
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Harbin, China

Well, when I started the blog, I wanted it to be very positive about China. I think many people write culture shock blogs and they are not fair to the country they visit. I wanted to be different. I wanted to point out some fun differences and share some cultural stuff. I wanted our son to read this in a few years and think, "oh, I'm glad my parents lived there. I'm glad to know that about China."
But days like today make it hard to stay positive. And I think it is more of a people problem, than a country issue.
The recruiter for the job in Beijing flaked out. We had been in contact with this person for a while. We had felt it was legitimate, we had numerous emails, 2 phone interviews and even submitted sample lesson plans. I'm annoyed that they have cancelled at the last minute because we already have train tickets, and from there plane tickets... We think it is better that they flaked out before we got there, but it doesn't mean we are any less frustrated. My biggest irrational thought is it is a scam to get lesson plans and our well thought out design for the week of language training is going to be used and sold for whatever. If I was in my own country and this situation occured, I wouldn't be worried about plagerism. But if I was in my own country I would have different problems, so that's life.
Now to make the best of a tough ticket situation, vacation in Beijing or hours of rebooking negotiation at the ticket agency?

permalink written by  carseat tourist on June 29, 2009 from Harbin, China
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Moving On

Harbin, China

Good news, train tickets can be exchanged without too much trouble in China. Yeah! We will go to Beijing the day before our plane leaves for Anhui and enjoy that yummy Western food and visit the coveted Foriegn Language Bookstore.

The semester is almost over...3 classes left to teach!
I had a moving experience with my class. I teach mostly faculty so they can further study abroad or people from abroad can work in their labs. I thinkit's a great program that they offer for the staff, I wish I had a job where my employer wants the whole company to speak another language and they invest in training classes for us. Oh wait I have that job, let me say I wish in America I had that opportunity. Anyway I also teach 2 classes of students. They are just there to better their English speaking skills. There are no grades, that part I love! Knowledge for the sake of knowledge, wow! Anyway, in one of my student classes, they are a sweet bunch of students, very honest and open. So we were talking about names and then we got on the subject of adoption. And one of the students told me how she had read a book about a girl being transracially adopted. The girl used make up because she wanted to look like her mom. So I said, oh yeah. It will be a difficult thing to be adopted out of your culture and race. I told them how just the week before princess blue eyed/blonde hair feels lost here in China where everyone has black hair and brown eyes. She took the black marker and colored her hands and her hair and legs. They said, she wants to be black? I said, noooo, she wants to be like everyone else, we didn't have the exact skin tone marker and she just wanted not to be different. So then they asked where little guy was born in a village or city. So I was honest and said I don't know, and talked how maybe because it is illegal to abandon kids that maybe the people rode the train from one place to another and left him in a different city, I don't know. I thought that sounded callous and so I reworded and said, "in my heart, I can't believe that this was done with malice. I think it was done out of poverty and lack of education. I think they loved him and when they realized he was deaf, they didn't know what to do. In fact maybe it wasn't even the parents, it could have been the grandparents. Maybe they got pregnant again and decided they couldn't afford him. And what's just as sad is maybe he's deaf because of mercury piosoning. Maybe his mom thought she should eat lots of fish and the fish contained mercury. Even in the USA there are cases of deafness associated with eating too much tuna. So here is someone trying to do the best for their baby and it causes this, what caused the mercury in the fish, environmental pollution, who buys the things the things cause the pollution, its all so sad. I don't think any of this was done out of malice." So I look up and 3 of the students eyes are brimming with tears. The only guy in the class had one running down his check. I was so moved that they were moved. So, I said we are glad to be getting him, and moved on to the class topic.
The summer palace is a nice cool place to visit in Beijing. Incredible buildings, a lake, Temples and trees. We even saw a traditonal style singer playing in a courtyard. Our student guide did not like his music. Despite the crowds our young princess charmed a shopkeeper into giving her a free drum. I think that only could have happened in China, people are so nice here. Teenager did not visit the palace last year, she had a bad experience with something she ate and stayed at the hotel. Maybe she will visit it this year.

permalink written by  carseat tourist on July 2, 2009 from Harbin, China
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4th of July

Harbin, China

I love America! I love the 4th of July because it is my Grandma's birthday. She is a wonderful person. I have the best memories of celebrating her Birthday and 4th of July together.
This is my 3rd Fourth of July in China! I can't believe it. The first one in Shenyang was lame. Last year we had enough foresight to bring some decorations, so it was better. Our Australian buddies gave us some fireworks. Last year I swore I'd be in America on the next 4th of July. This winter I didn't go see my Grandma because I thought I was going to fly home for her birthday.
Then the swine flu hit. My grandma lives in Ottumwa, Iowa in a beautiful retirement center. With all the fuss about the swine flu, I knew it would worry her to death if I flew home. I would felt so guilty if I picked up the bug and brought it to her retirement center.
So here I am in Harbin. My grandma has been to China. My grandpa was a doctor and when they first opened up China for foriegners he came over with my grandma and a bunch of other doctors and they learned about chinese medicine and taught the "barefoot doctors" Western medicine.
So my grandma toured China's hospitals. They weren't impressive back then, and I must agree that they aren't too great now either. She thought I was crazy when we moved over here with our kids.
So what did we do for the 4th of July?
All week I tortured my students with a power point about the 4th of July. They loved that the majority of fireworks and flags are made in China. They all seem interested in what things cost, so I quoted prices of all the various fireworks for them. The word Philadelphia nearly killed them, so they weren't that excited about the history stuff. There is a big pow wow in Flagstaff and they were very interested in that. Why do the indians celebrate 4th of July at all? Ugh...well the Native Americans are American and the Britsh weren't that great to them either. Then we talked about how Lummi Island is across the water from the Lummi Rez and they make a killing on fireworks and their displays are awesome. I ended the show with a bunch of pictures of traditional American 4th of July food. They go crazy over the food pictures. I used to make the big US jello mold every year, so I have a picture of that. The students are so sharp-where's Alaska and HI? They wouldn't dream of showing a map of their country that wasn't complete. Ugh..It wouldn't fit on the screen...umm, we use a strawberry for Alaska and the islands get a blueberry. They know the picture of the hot dog and when I show the mustard jar, they all wrinkle their noses like that is the most disgusting thought ever. The beverages are beer and lemonade. Lemonade is just starting to take off in China. I'm so glad, I love lemonade.
Then I had them do a speaking activity with used postage stamps. It ended up being so funny. I save all the stamps from letters I get over here, and divided them between the students. One person is suppose to be the stamp collector and goes around and the students try to sell them their stamps. One gal did a good job of detailing her collection, so the next guy really had to one up her. He came up with the funniest story about how Tom Cruise had licked this stamp and it was from the movie mission impossible and had secret codes if you held it to the light. The buyer was just as clever and said, "if it has spit on it, it's used, so I want a discount." The best thing was my last class was on the 4th of July! I'm free!!!!
Back at the aprtment...We made the red jello (not in the mold of the 48 States) and chocolate chip cookies. We actually bought on deep clearance in the States bags of Christmas chips that were red and white striped and green and white striped. Princess got the job of sorting out the red from the green chips. We decided to support America and grabed some McD's burgers since buns can't be found here if we made the burgers ourself. We had Doritos and were going to make baked beans, but then forgot. We bought the can of baked beans 2 months ago at the import store for big bucks, but then forgot about it until dinner when the ayi was cooking. We thought it didn't go with her dishes and in general if she's in the kitchen she considers it quite rude that we try to cook to.
Afterwards, we went to a party with the other foriegners. We found out that in Australia they call jello-jelly. And ice cream floats-spiders. There were 2 other Americans there and one of them didn't realize it was the 4th of July. The English gal told us they were glad to be rid of America anyway. Friendly banter. The coal trucks were rolling all night so we didn't even try any fireworks cause we be covered in coal dust and our eyes would burn, etc. But I must say, that this was the most fun we've had on 4th of July in China.

permalink written by  carseat tourist on July 4, 2009 from Harbin, China
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Gearing up for the journey

Harbin, China

In less than a week we will be in the same province as our son! It's so exciting.
We spent the day taking care of details...
the best thing was collecting the yuan...payday has a whole different feeling when you go get a stack of cash. Back in the States, half the time you never see your money, it just is automatically deposited, automatically spent. But here, you are going around GO in Monopoly and collecting the real stuff. When we first moved to China and experienced the cash payout we were a little freaked. Nobody except drug dealers in the States handles that many 100 bills, course they aren't worth 100 US dollars, but it still was a little mind blowing. Now we are seasoned cash kings and kick back and pretend to be laid back when we count the yuan.
The the social worker called. We love her, she's very cool. We had the foresight to update our homestudy in Decemeber. Actually we did it 2 days before we flew back to the US so we were really quite frantic, but tried to be calm while she was around. Imagine having your house checked out when you are leaving the country for 2 months. That was the physical part of the homestudy, the paperwork is always expiring, so she wanted to give us the report closer to the time of adoption. Anyway because we like to do everything under such pressure, we're meeting her in Beijing to get the copy of the homestudy. We are going to take the red eye train to Beijing and then try to find our hotel, then try to meet her at a different out of our price range hotel lobby to get the paperwork. She says it is very near the import store where we can get those things from home we miss but aren't for sale in Harbin. I don't even know what I'm hoping they have. My list of things I miss is very long.
The bad news about her call is that she wants an updated police clearance. We aren't criminals and if we were, we wouldn't still be in China, that much is a given. But for some reason, nobody wants to issue this document. I swear every piece of Chinese paper that is needed for the adoption has been this way. So we are hoping for a miracle to get this clearance before we leave on Thursday.
Then just to roll with the punches, the Wenzhou job cancelled. Ugh, more swine flu rumors. It's hard to understand. We are indeed Americans, but we haven't been there since March, so really we don't have cooties any more than anybody else. In America, you'd whine and say you can't discriminate. But actually in America, if somebody was from another country, you could claim that you wanted to hire a local. Even the UK says you need UK passport to teach English over there. So I guess, this situation really is no different than anywhere else in the world. It just hurts, because we are Americans and it is hard to hear that we are losing job opportunities just because we are Americans. So we are sending out those resumes again. The Wenzhou job was going to pay our way in the final step of the adoption, GuangZhou and home. Augh, we'll be half way there and what will we do? We wanted to pay for all of the adoption with the yuan, so we really hate to think about plan B (or in this case, it's about plan F now).
Fundraiser, fundraiser, fundraiser!!!
On a side note, kudos to blogabond. Facebook is the latest to go down behind the Great (fire) Wall, but here I am typing a way at blogabond!

permalink written by  carseat tourist on July 6, 2009 from Harbin, China
from the travel blog: Life in Harbin as an American English Teacher
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Goodbye blue skys

Harbin, China

Tonight's the night we hop on the midnight train.
Chris's students took us out to eat at the 100 year old restaraunt. The original chef invented Gu Bao Ru when he cooked for the Emperor. It's like sweet and sour pork without the sauce or pinapple. It's good. But the big hit was the bugs. I don't know why the students ordered them because only about 2 of the 14 tried them. I think it is a status thing. Anyway, princess was facinated. They were cooked, sometimes they are served live. Chris ate one and then princess really wanted to eat one. She got it on her plate ands then realized everyone was staring at her, and chickened out and fed it to her dad. She saw how much attention she got from that and immediately picked out the student who was most squeamish about it and offered to feed him. It was a good time. Chris dissected one of the bugs and taught the students all the moth part names in English. He was really getting into the dissection and afterwords the students said, "I now believe that you are a biologist".
So the big ride is tonight.
Today we will take the cat to our friend's and give away all our plants and fish. I love my orchid, it's going to be hard.
Since we had the ticket swap, we don't have seats together. We don't have seats at all, actually we have bunks. Our previous journeys via the rails, we have had bunks 1, 2, and 3 and somebody else has the other 3. Tonight we have three level 2 bunks, 2 in the same compartment and one 5 compartments away. The problem with level 2 bunk it that you can't sit up all the way. Usually you hang out on the bottom bunk until it's time to sleep then move into your upper bunks. Not a problem for us if we have the bottom bunk, but this time we don't. So there is the tension of princess being a monkey on somebody's bed and the fact that we will have to socialize. The plan is to run her ragged today so she will be exhausted when we get on the train. This plan has never been successful for us. The train is just too exciting for a 4 year old. The second challenge is the squatty potty. I find that a challenge everywhere, but the train is an added element of difficulty. I, personally could go the whole journey (10 hours) without visiting that place, but princess thinks that public facilities should always be checked out.
And if you are in there, well, it's hard to not go. Not that it is easy to go! The key is to dress appropriately and carry hand sanitizer. Since the train is moving, keeping the clothes dry requires skill. I find that a skirt is the easiest traveling garment. Since we are on an upper bunk, it does have the drawback of climbing up while your bunkmates are checking you out. So, I'm wearing a big hippie skirt, managable in the WC and can be gathered to climb up. In the past, we have found that our bunkmates are not as modest as we are and won't think twice about changing clothes infront of us. We have had some unusual bunkmates before, so today I'm hoping for a student. All the colleges are letting out for the summer so there should be lots of them.
Tomorrow we have an interview for a gig after Anhui in Beijing!!!!!!! We have hope...

permalink written by  carseat tourist on July 8, 2009 from Harbin, China
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Humid and happy

Hefei, China

Can I say how happy I am to be out of Beijing! In our 2 1/2 years in China, lets just say that city has a record of 2 MIA cameras. This time the MIA camera began it's new career with someone else associted with the hotel. Also MIA is our ear endoscope, who has a bright career ahead as a flashlight. I'm quite sure the new owners will not have a clue to its real purpose.
The ride to the airport was quick, thank goodness because in the shuttle was another middle age woman complaining profusely about having to ride with the foriegners.
The flight was quick and complete with a Western breakfast. I always love the Chinese idea Western food. Of course, we eat white hot dogs with our eggs and brocolli and warm tomatoes all the time when we are in our native land for breakfast. I ate it except for the white hot dog because I had no idea what food might be in store for me later. My only experience with someone from Hefei was listening to a student report about the food. I remember the student said they eat anything and then rattled off a bunch of things that I would never eat.
Well, I have been pleasantly surprised! First, the weather is just like Georgia in the summer. Oh, I miss Georgia! It is hot and humid. I feel my skin just soaking it up. Harbin is sooooo dry, we look old within a day of arriving in that climate. Then I was expecting it to be very impoverished. Well, they took me on the scenic new developement route so I didn't see anything worse than we'd seen before. In fact it was cleaner than Harbin. Then a majority of the scooter/motorcycle riders were wearing helments. Nobody wears helments in Harbin, so that was nice to see some concern for personal safety.
But the best thing is that the school is on an island! I love islands! It is on the campus of a science academy.
We were treated to a big feast and one of the dishes was my favorite corn thing. The co-workers seem nice. We've been issued our uniform yellow polo and our schedule, so we are ready to go.
On the downside, they thought they were going to be able to give Teenager a job, but they had low enrollment so they couldn't do that. She was bummed, but has been very cool about it. She knows we are here for little guy and she's going to be an awesome big sister to him.

permalink written by  carseat tourist on July 11, 2009 from Hefei, China
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first day of teaching & trip to town

Hefei, China

The first day of teaching went ok. I started with 17 students, but had 20 by the end of the day. The classroom is not air conditioned, but has ceiling fans. My book is ok, but not enough activities to last 4. I brought Bingo and old maid and some menus to keep them busy. Bingo was a hit, but Old Maid was too tough.
I have noticed that the older ones have really taken the younger ones under their wings. My youngest student is so happy and having a blast.
After class we took the bus to town. We walked forever and finally found the Carrefour.We cried because they had the best selection of cheese we have seen in China. It was so unfair, because we don't have a fridge!
We tried to take the bus back but it stopped running before 9pm. We took a taxi and we were afraid that the driver would overcharge us, but he was great! The trip back only cost 22rmb.

permalink written by  carseat tourist on July 13, 2009 from Hefei, China
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Day 2 teaching

Hefei, China

My biggest frustration with the for-profit education scheme is the cheapness when it comes to supplies. In Dalian, I was issued 2 dry erase pens for the whole summer of teaching. They lasted about 3 days because they were old pens from the last teacher. Now this summer, I have blackboards. I have the left over box of chalk from the previous class. The English camp is using a school that is out for the summer. Now I watched these parents pay a huge amount for these English lessons, I don't understand why I can't have a box of new chalk. I'm all for recycling but these nubs are the worst. I'm on an island and there isn't any chalk for sale. During the school year, I work for the public university system and each room is stocked with boxes and boxes of chalk.
On a more pleasant note, Princess has curls again! When she was a baby, she had the cutest curls, now with the humidity they are back! She's never experienced hot weather for very long, but doesn't seem to mind at all.
She has fallen in love with a family of cats at the island market. They are the skinniest things. I was impressed with the mama cat (who is skinny too) that brought her kitty a big stuffed bun from the garbage. The little cat that it was given to, started eating right away and the other little kitties were creeping over on their bellies. We would have stayed longer to watch the scene unfold but it smelled too bad.

permalink written by  carseat tourist on July 14, 2009 from Hefei, China
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English camp

Hefei, China

There is something in the air and it seems like things are turning crazy. Someone in Chris's class ran away last night. He was caught.
Then in my class, the little guys have been fighting.Not just a little shove here and there. A full throw down with punches that you can hear go thunk. These little dudes fight hard. I have Chinese assistant teachers and she'll step in and try to break it up and then she walks away and they start up again. I'm not sure what to do. As a foriegner, I have to just watch. If they seriously get injured and I'm involved, then it becomes something more. It is almost the extreme opposite of the responsibilities of a US teacher. In US, you have to break it up or else it is your irresponsibility that causes the injuries. In US you would break it up and then talk to the guys individually, call parents, etc. Here they just stop the punches and walk away.
Then in the cafeteria, one of the students (maybe 14 at the most) spilled soup on an older guys shoe. This school shares a community cafeteria with the island. People from other schools eat there, workers, who ever. Well, the soup was spilled on the worker and he went nuts. The Chinese assistant teachers jumped in and protected the kid. The guy was still verbally upset and the lunchladies jumped in on his side. The school manager came in on the action. The kid changed tables and the worker followed him and kept yelling.
The big eclipse is next week....

permalink written by  carseat tourist on July 15, 2009 from Hefei, China
from the travel blog: Life in Harbin as an American English Teacher
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