Saturday, August 25, 2012

Professional Road Trip!

I have been quiet about my professional future since we have moved to Shanghai, because I am under contract with a new employer but I don’t know the specifics as to where I will be teaching.

I do know that I will be teaching oral English to Chinese students in the Chinese public school system.  I had job offers to teach at private academies, but I figured if I was going to live in China I might as well go native and teach in their public schools.  I will learn next week where I will be teaching during my job orientation.

In late July, my new boss called me and asked if I would be interested in teaching Chinese teachers about Western culture and how we teach English in the US.  The training would be held in a smaller town about two hours outside of Shanghai called Hangzhou.  I am always up for a road trip, and I wanted to get a peek into Chinese Schools before the first day of school, so I gladly accepted the challenge.  How difficult could it be?  Professional development has been my life for the past five years. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Parts of Hangzhou are quite beautiful. Luckily I was able to catch a sunset at the West Lake area the first night I arrived. 

A very large dragonboat floats on West Lake.  Unfortunately, I did not arrive in time to take a ride.

West Lake at sunset.  When I originally thought we were moving to China, this is what came to my mind.

A couple poses in traditional Chinese costumes near West Lake.

Chinese folks are hard-core when it comes to professional development.  What started as a light five-day training turned into a seven-day marathon of Western language, cultural and teaching methods.  Each day from 8:30-4:30, students would learn about British and American holidays, family structures, vacations, table manners, songs, games, teaching strategies and more. 

Students celebrate Easter by bunny hopping around the classroom.

All students had to create Valentines to celebrate Valentine's Day.
We review animal vocabulary by playing The Farmer in the Dell.


I quickly learned the teaching conditions were a little different than those in Dorchester 2.  (My former district.)  There were no SMART boards, iPads, or even Internet access in the classroom.  There was a no smoking sign in the front, a lovely vintage chalkboard with multiple colors of chalk for notes, and the tables arranged in neat rows.  Luckily, there was a desktop computer circa 1995, a microphone, and TV projection system so I was not totally out of my element.  (Even if the all of the computer menus were in Chinese.) After wondering how I was going to manage, I took Chris’ advice and I pretended to teach like I was on the TV show Little House on the Prairie.

Despite the different conditions, I taught a lot, learned a lot, and had a tremendous amount of fun.  I was extremely impressed with the teachers.  They were attentive, cheerful, and extremely generous with their cultural advice and enthusiasm.

Sandy reads a newspaper article and prepares to share the details with her small group.  I LOVE the South Park dress!!

Sugar debates the advantages of eating organic food.

Group Six completes their hand turkeys for Thanksgiving.

My British Co-Presenter, Donald, chats about his recent holiday in London.

My Chinese students were very generous.  One bought me an iPhone cover the day after I mentioned I liked hers.  I don't know what moved me more, the fact that she thought of me or the fact she presented it perfectly wrapped the day after my mini lesson on Western gift giving.  Chinese folks don't usually wrap gifts.  I was moved to almost tears.

The week was a challenge, but I am so glad I had the opportunity to work with such a lovely group of professionals!  Next week I will have my formal job orientation, and will finally learn where my career is heading.  

I am going to miss my Hangzhou crew!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Shanghai Shopaholic Take 3

I love the shopping in Shanghai.  For my first shopaholic post, I visited the Honqiao Pearl market and snagged some jade and pearls.  My second shopaholic post was an adventure to the textile market.  For my third post, I ventured to a small, smelly yet famous institution in Shanghai.  I went to the Bird, Fish, Flower, and Insect market.

Before I tell my story, I want to post a disclaimer that I do not agree with everything I saw.  I am just sharing a sensory overload experience.

As I stepped into the market, I did not anticipate my reaction. All I could see were stalls and cages containing bugs, cats, birds, flowers, fish, and many other animals whose native habitats are not cages. 

Some of the animals were really cute.

This shot made me think of my SES Sea Turtle fam.
Others were quite sad.

So many kittens, such little space.

Yes, that is a bird with a leash on a perch.

A few made me giggle.

Shoulda bought a squirrel.  They make Cracker Jack pets.

Of all the animals that I saw, one intrigued me the most.

There were hundreds of crickets at the market.  It has been reported that people will pay upwards of $800 for a prize fighting cricket.

Meet the cricket.  I would have to say that 2/3 of the vendors were selling crickets in tiny cages.  I have seen many vendors trekking through the city with hundreds of crickets in little bamboo cages and have asked myself,

“Why in the world would anyone want to purchase a pet cricket?”

My initial internal answer was,
“Crickets make wonderful snake food.”

Oh my friends, I was wrong.  I researched this topic, and have learned about the sleazy industry of Cricket Fighting.  Yes, I said Cricket Fighting.

According to Wikipedia, Cricket Fighting started around 1000 years ago during the Tang dynasty.  By the time the Song dynasty came into rule, people were hooked.  Multiple sources state the Prime Minister of the Song dynasty was so obsessed with Cricket fighting that he would demand that no one disturb him during cricket training time.  He wrote a book about how to fight crickets while his empire crumbled around him. 

Concubines would keep pet crickets for company. 

Needless to say, Chinese people love their crickets.

From 1966-1976, cricket fighting was banned as part of the Cultural Revolution. 

Now that China is on the economic and political upturn, many people are embracing this national past time.  According to the New York Times, more than $63 million was spent on cricket sales and upkeep in 2011. 

To see the skinny on cricket fighting, click on the New York Times video here.

The good news is crickets do not fight to the death.  A cricket loses a match by backing out of a fight.  If a cricket loses a fight, they are set free on a farm where they will have lots of room to run and play…or at least they are set free.  It has been reported that fallen prizewinning crickets are buried in silver coffins.

There is a dark side to the cricket bouts…many cricket owners decide to place illegal wagers on the fights.  Last September 79 people were arrested for betting around $1600 on each cricket fight. 

As I was explaining this to my Dad, he came up with some really good questions.

“How does one train a prize winning cricket?” he asked.

“I don’t know.  Apparently they live in clay pots, the owners poke at them with mouse whiskers and hay, and drop a female in the clay pot the night before a fight to get them aggravated.”

“How do you know which one wins?  Wouldn’t it get confusing if it was a close match?” he inquired.

“I don’t know…the spectators have good tracking skills?” 

I do not have all of the answers.  At this time, I am simply thankful I did not indulge my impulses by buying one and naming it Tyson.  J

Unfortunately there is not room for a tattoo on his face.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Look What the Storm Blew In

On Tuesday morning, Chris and I got the email that every expat looks forward to when moving to a new country.

I let out a "woot" in the middle of the Metro station when I read this email!
After 58 days without our personal affects, our airfreight passed Chinese quarantine, customs, and was ready to be delivered! Chris and I were elated, to say the least.  Why the delay?  In China, you can’t get your airfreight until you have your work and residence visas.  (We did not get our visas until 2 weeks after we moved here.)  After you get your visas, your boxes are shipped to China, sit in quarantine for a week, and are inspected.  Finally, they are cleared for delivery.  It’s a piece of cake.

As noted in my prior posts, nothing about this move has been predictable or easy.  Unfortunately this includes getting our airfreight.

Around 3:00 pm yesterday, we got the following message from China Unicom, my cellphone provider. 

“Meteorological Observatory issued the Shanghai Typhoon Warning Center, in the middle of the night from the 7th typhoon severe storm impact on the city, the cumulative rainfall of 250-400 mm, wind 8-11 grade, pay close attention to the typhoon warning, and to strengthen prevention.”

This was going to be no big deal.  We had two typhoons last week that produced a little drizzle and a breeze.  We could move boxes in that. 

One hour later, we received a similar email from the American Consulate in Shanghai. Suddenly, I had a feeling the shipment may be further delayed due to the weather.  My hunch was confirmed with this email.

Thank you very little Mother Nature. 

The next morning, we woke to the worst typhoon China has seen since 2005.  Sheets of sideways rain were flooding the streets, and for the first time our neighborhood was pretty much empty. 
A typhoon was a GREAT excuse to take the new rain boots for a test drive.

A taxi splashes down the street outside our apartment complex.  The water was about 4" deep on the sides of the road.

Chris got a “Typhoon Day”, so we hung around the apartment and worked on our laptops.  Around 9:00 AM, we got the call.

Chris gets down to business.

“Hello, this is AGS Four Winds.  We would like to deliver your airfreight today, but it may be a little late due to the typhoon.  Would 3:00 pm be okay for you?”   

I could not believe it!  The movers were going to brave the flooded streets and gusting winds so I could get my stuff!!!  I felt like a giddy child on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa to drop off my loot. 

The moving crew arrived at our place at 2:30.  They were able to move 35+ boxes from the truck to our apartment in 20 minutes.  

The movers were amazed that we had so many boxes of air freight.

Chris counted the boxes, signed the paperwork and the movers were on their way.

The next four hours were similar to Christmas morning. We gleefully ripped through our goods one box at a time.  The movers had packed everything in the States, so we found some surprises in the boxes.   

I did not expect our movers to pack the Sweet N Low and Equal!  Thank goodness they did; it is impossible to find good artificial sweetener packets around here.

This is my dream-mare.  I have to completely reorganize my scrapbooking room/ office. I see an IKEA visit in my future!
I am having packer's remorse...we don't have space for all of our glassware.  Did I really need to bring my snowmen and pilgrim salt and pepper shakers?

It is amazing how a few personal touches can make an apartment feel like a home.

In spite of the typhoon, Shanghai is starting to feel like home.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Olympic Fever!

Every two years, viewers around the world crowd around their TV sets and computers to watch the Olympics.  Our household is no exception to the rule.

The 2012 London games have been quite different for me.  In years past, I was able to plop on my couch and watch athletes from many different countries bring home medals.  If a country other than the US won a medal, NBC would show the event and medal ceremony.  Mind you, the US Olympic team would be highlighted, but US viewers knew other countries sometimes won the gold.

I prep for the games with a team USA inspired pedi.

This year, I have watched the games on CCTV.  CCTV (aka Central China Television) is a 22 channel, Chinese government run TV network that reaches upwards of 1 billion customers.  CCTV takes GREAT pride in the accomplishments of its motherland’s athletes.  So much pride, that it is easy to catch events that feature Chinese athletes medaling.  The three or four channels that are carrying the games have done a great job of looping footage of Chinese athletes competing in weightlifting, shooting, fencing, speed walking, Ping-Pong, and badminton competitions.  They also make watching the coverage very efficient by showing only featured athletes during the events.  There is no need to waste time with computer streaming; everything you need to see is on CCTV.

We were so inspired by the CCTV programming, that Chris and I decided to hold our own mini-version of the games, Wilcox style.  Here is a peek at our events.

Chris trains for the Wilcox Family Olympiad in Fuxing Park.

Venue:  The streets of Xuhui, and Jing’An.
Event Objective:  Race your bike through the streets of Shanghai without getting plowed down by other cyclists, motorbike riders, taxis, or busses.
Chris warms up for his Olympic ride by taking a lap around the fountain.

Results:  Chris wins the Gold, and comes home without a scratch! 

Fountain Racing
Venue: The Les Marquis Fountain
Event Objective:  Run around the fountain to wear the puppies out.  The first participant (human or canine) to cross the finish line wins.

Leia takes the early lead.
It was a tight race at the end!
Results:  Leia wins the gold.  Chris wins the silver. Ditka wins the bronze.

Sport Fishing
Venue: Jing’An Park
Event Objective:  Catch as many tadpoles as you can with an umbrella in a lotus pond.

It looks like they caught a few!

Results:  The nice Chinese family wins this round.  Sorry team Wilcox, you can’t win them all.

Venue: People’s Square Park
Event objective:  Lift all three Flintstonesque weights above the head. 
Chris lifts the lightest weights with the greatest of ease.

Round two proved to be no problem!

Spectators gather around as Chris approaches the third lift.

Will he make it? 
OH!  Not quite!

Results:  Chris gets another silver.  Much to the chagrin of his Chinese fans, he is not able to execute the most difficult lift.

Doxie Bowling
Venue:  Apartment Stadium
Event objective:  There are two objectives to this sport.  The human objective is to knock down the empty plastic bottles at the end of the hallway with a doggie ball.  The human gets 10 points for each set of bottles knocked over.  The dog objective is to intercept the ball before it hits the bottles and return it to the human.  The dog gets 10 points for each ball intercepted. 

Ditka analyzes the pin setup and determines the most efficient way to intercept the ball.

Ditka races for the interception!

Results: This event is still in progress. The current scores are:
Ditka- 1100 points
Chris- 900 points
Leia- -1000 points  (Leia loses 100 points each time she intercepts and hides the ball in my closet.  She gets tired of the attention being showered on the participants. )

Go team Wilcox!