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Published: March 15th 2007
I've been here about 2 weeks now, and I'm settling into a routine.
I had teacher training the first weekend of March, and taught my first week of classes last weekend. I teach many ages and levels, from 5-year-olds to 17-year-olds. Class size is 19 students maximum, which is nice. A few classes are smaller, maybe 5-10 students. There are no desks, just chairs in a semi-circle. The emphasis is on speaking and listening, not reading and writing (since most students get very good at that at their public schools).
There are several levels at Aston. The beginner classes are parents and children together (PC1-PC3), plus there is a Chinese teacher (CT). The children are adorable! The foreign teachers (FT) -- that's me and the other "Westerners" -- only teach 30 minutes of their 90 minute classes.
Then the elementary and intermediate classes are typically about ages 7-14. The parents are not there, but there is a CT there to co-teach and help me. I teach either 60 minutes (for C2-C3) or 120 minutes (for C4-C9). As the levels go up, the involvement of the CT diminishes. The advanced classes (C10-C14) are typically teenagers, and are 120 minutes in length. There is no CT in the advanced classes. I have one advanced class (C10), with only 5 students.
My weeks are busy with lesson planning and social outings. Aston is a private school, so we teach Friday evening, Saturday all day, and Sunday all day. I treat Monday and Tuesday as my "weekend" - my days off work. Those are the days we teachers socialize and relax. Then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday are work days / prep time. I take a long time to write my lesson plans, but I'm new and still adjusting to the books and the structure and all. I want to make sure I have strong lessons so that the kids are learning new things and having fun!
As for the other aspects of life in Jinan.... It's a big city, about 6 million people in the city and surrounding area. The city has mountains on 2 sides that I have seen. On a clear day I can see the pagodas and huts at the top of the ridges. I don't know how high they are, but next week a few of us teachers are going to hike up Thousand Buddha Mountain (weather permitting of course), so I will report on that another time.
There are many tall buildings, though there isn't such a thing as city planning, so buildings are randomly built and torn down. There are modern tall skyscrapers next to apartment blocks next to alleyways next to a building that's being torn down. There are very wide major streets that you can turn off and be on a secondary road or on some old narrow street with street vendors. Actually, most every street has street vendors, selling everything from food to beverages to socks to purses to ... you name it. If you have ever been to Chinatown in New York, it's like that with the street vendors.
The air quality is quite poor, I treasure the clear sunny days. Many days there is a haze in the air, smog that hangs around. I don't know if it's smog or fog but some days the sun is barely out. But the days that have been sunny are beautiful. I have walked around my neighborhood quite a bit, and explored a couple of other parts of town with my fellow teachers. My solo outings have been few and far between, but as my comfort with my surroundings increases, so will my outings. Now that spring is here and the temperatures are warming up, my outings are sure to increase. The temps recently have been in the 40s and 50s, at night in the 30s. It's hard to know the temps without looking it up on the internet, since the weather isn't broadcast every 5 minutes like in the US, plus the temps are in Celsius, not Fahrenheit. I'll get used to it -- zero degrees = freezing and 30-40 degrees is summertime -- but I don't have the hang of it just yet.
I am lucky to live in the middle of everything. I am a 10-minute walk to Aston 2 (where many of the trainings and meetings are held), a 25-minute walk to Aston 1 (the main branch in Jinan), and about a 15-20 minute cab ride to Aston 3. I work at Aston 3, which is on the western side of the city. My roommate Clare (pronounced like Claire) and I share a taxi. My other roommate Andrea (pronounced like An-DRAY-ah) rides her bike every day. She is braver than me! The traffic is a zoo. I would describe it as orchestrated chaos. Cars, buses, taxis, bicycles, motorcycles, pedestrians -- all watching in all directions for oncoming and turning traffic. Yes there are lights but it's a bit of a free-for-all. Watch out or you will get run over! Same thing with lines and getting through a crowd. It's every man, woman and child for him/herself in this city, and throughout China I am told.
As for food/groceries/dining, I can shop at any number of nearby supermarkets. The Uni-Mart chain is a couple of blocks from me and carries imported and domestic goods, so I can get my Skippy peanut butter and my Lays potato chips along with my local fruit or imported fruit and all manner of cooking oil. We use peanut oil since it's the cheapest. The imported olive oil is VERY expensive. I'll spend a few extra quai (yuan or RMB) on Italian pasta but skip the olive oil. I found a cereal and (surprise!) a yogurt that I like for breakfast. It's a sweetened yogurt and it's good. In the US I never ate yogurt, but here it's a staple and a primary source of dairy/calcium. And as for those Lays potato chips, there is "classic American flavor" (plain) and some very different flavors! My favorite is the Cool Cucumber and I also like the Cherry Tomato flavor. I take note to avoid the Meat Flavor Lays! You can get just about anything with meat flavor over here. As a vegetarian, I ask: Is this necessary?
The "superstores" that are nearby are RT-Mart and Wal-mart. Yes, I've been to Wal-mart! Both RT-Mart and Wal-mart have a bounty of groceries, as well as clothing and household goods. Like the Super Targets back in Minnesota. The supermarkets are indeed superstores. I can get 7Up or Pepsi or Dove or Tide or even Land o' Lakes cheese. But the imported/American goods are always more expensive, so I split the difference and buy local sometimes and familiar brands sometimes. Everything is in Chinese but once in a while something is in English. It's quite the experiment in shopping!
And dining out is just as affordable as cooking at home, though I'm doing a bit of both. The Buddhist vegetarian restaurant near my apartment is wonderful! As are the other various restaurants I have been to. One that I went to last night with my new friend Gao Jie is actually open 24 hours. It's good to have that nearby! I can always find tofu dishes and yummy veggie dishes too. In my first 2 weeks here I've been to McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut. Those 3 American fast food chains are plentiful and they are the only place I can get french fries or a cheese pizza. I don't plan to make it a habit to eat at these chains, since I never go to McD's or KFC at home, and the pizza at Pizza Hut is expensive, but it's a place to go to get my fix of "American food". Hmmm... now I want some Cheetos... they are good here, and they are not neon orange like at home, just a nice light cheese flavor and non-finger-staining color. 😊
Well, I'm off for now. Time to head home to finish prep for this weekend's classes.
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