Surfacing out of a blur

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October 4th 2010
Published: October 4th 2010
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The last couple of days have been a blur. My body clock is upside and needs new batteries.

I landed, was met at the airport and transported in a new, mid-sized Nissan to the small town of Yutai, which is south of Jining, Shandong. Try and find it on a map. Go on, I dare you.

My apartment is shared and dumpy, which is fitting. It's a three bedroom on the second floor of a dusty apartment badly in need of paint. I have my own room. It has most mod cons: Wi-Fi, A/C, washing machine, clothes line, TV, hot water dispenser. Right now, I am sharing the apartment with my mentor (Jasmine) and the school director, a young chap whose name sounds something like "Mr. Zheoung". Eventually, the other foreign teacher will arrive and a couple of Chinese teaching assistants will be my roommates. On the ground floor is what I would term "mixed retail". A motor scooter repair shop, beauty salon and crop seed sales outlet.

On the first day, I was dragged to a wedding banquet. Of course, I knew nobody except for my roommates. Jasmine and I sat with Mr. Zheoung's buddies. Two bottles

Joe gets a cut while Jasmine (background) fiddles around with her camera.
of baiju appeared. Baiju is a sorghum-based liquor that tastes as if it would be better off cleaning wheel bearings.

Being a wedding banquet, there was food. Lots of food. Your standard round banquet table with a "Lazy Susan" in the middle, and a server who kept bringing dishes until it was past ridiculous. Some stuff that you would immediately recognize, such as bowls and chopsticks, and loads of everything else that you would not. This is northern-style food, not Cantonese or Hong Kong style that most of us are familiar with. I particularly liked a slow-cooked pork leg, the Peking duck, soy sauce chicken and a cold salad that had tasty bits of pork that, in appearance, resembled bacon. Those "tasty bits" turned out to be sliced pig ear.

The only dish that I would not sample was the turtle. I don't eat turtles.

I was propped up and posed, smiling, in front of the wedding party, the father of the bride and random others for multiple photographs. My first "rock star moment" of many that I will experience whilst here in China. And you know how much I like smiling and posing for photos...

Afterward, we walked off the effects of the midday baiju. Jasmine and I needed some provisions, so we went to a supermarket and picked up milk and bread, that sort of thing. The milk was UHT, the bread was white and sliced sandwich bread. Oh, what I would give for whole grain right about now. Butter for my bread was (and remains) not available. How unavailable? There are "helpers" in every aisle who are supposed to assist you and help you find what you need. They had never even heard of butter. Stuff that I need will have to wait until I travel to the Jining.

Today was busier. The three of us went to the school and I was given a crash course in teaching methods. Credential? Who needs one of those? I will be teaching mainly primary and middle school and the text books are fairly straightforward. My task is to keep them focused and to participate. I spent several hours in this crash-course of being an elementary school teacher, then we went off to do errands and have some lunch.

Lunch was al fresco at a sidewalk cafe. Cold, spicy rice noodles (50 cents) and a Coke. Errands were centered around getting me a haircut; I have started to look shaggy again. The taxi (85 cents) took us to a salon that did a shampoo, cut and blow dry for $1.50.

I look vaguely human again.


4th October 2010

I'm glad you landed. You'll eventually find butter, or not. My hat is off to you to teach KIDS. All the uncomfortable things in my travels have made the best copy, and pressed me to grow the most. Who knows, maybe by the time you get back, you won't be such a curmugeon about getting your picture taken! PS -- I'm glad you didn't sample the turtle
4th October 2010

Thanks for the update, Joe! Nice to hear from you and see the photos! I look forward to regular updates with your adventure, your students, your teaching and your daily life.
5th October 2010

Reading along here with great interest. This sounds difficult and fascinating and I hope it turns out to be a great and worthwhile adventure for you!
5th October 2010

Spiffy Joe
Looking good Joe, all trimmed up and completely presentable. At first glance you standing at your place of employment made me think you were a hostage but I snapped out of that thought. When do you start teaching?
5th October 2010

Could you fill in the near-backstory? How did you decide in particular to go to china & Yutai to teach English? Were you afraid sexual slavery would be in your future?
5th October 2010

Hey buddy, glad the trip went well! Great blog entry, thanks for posting for us folks back home!
5th October 2010

Actually, most chinese don't eat turtle, or something like that. but for some reason, when it's a wedding or other important event, they order those strange stuff, because they are expensive. If just put some beef, pork, fish or chicken, that will look too shabby. It's very hard to find dairy products in china, especially in a small town like Yutai, so No butter, cheese ( small town chinese don't eat those things), but they do have milk, and yogurt.
5th October 2010

don't know if you pay the rent. you can easily find an apartment for less than RMB500 in Yutai, and better condition.
6th October 2010

Nice! You do look vaguely human.
9th October 2010
My place of employment!

Keep on writing!
Hey Joe, I'm loving your blog. Keep it up, OK?

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