This week I definitely got into more of a routine here in Guangzhou. Weekdays, I wake up in time to grab a bottle of chocolate milk tea and to prepare for the daily 听写 (tingxie, Chinese character dictation) before heading to Chinese class on the South China Normal University campus. After three and a half long hours of class, I head back to the snack street outside the hotel for a lunch of liangmian (cool hand-pulled noodles) or perhaps a jianbing (a burrito-like wrap filled with greens, sauces, spices, and more good stuff) before meeting up with everyone in the Brigade Room to go to GETCH (Guangzhou English Training Center for the Handicapped) for practice teaching. Our commute to GETCH is over an hour each way; either an extremely long and crowded bus ride or two subways (crowded but smooth and air conditioned) before a much shorter bus trip. It’s too bad that GETCH is so far away, because it’s a really cool place and it’s been a blast teaching there and meeting the students – all of whom have pretty amazing English. We each have ‘language partners’ at GETCH, with whom we’re supposed to meet up and practice Chinese and English, but in reality we’ve been so busy that we haven’t had many opportunities to hang out. Rather than meeting the students one-on-one, we’ve gotten to know them better through our practice teaching this past week.
Practice teaching has been going quite well; while I wasn’t too happy with my first day (when I taught the second half of an hour-long class on nature/environmental words), I was really pleased with my second class this past Wednesday. I taught a class on news, which introduced a little bit of grammar and vocab but was really designed to get the students thinking, speaking, and writing as creatively and as actively as possible. All of the activities went better than I had hoped, and the students were extremely engaged for the entire class. But more importantly, this class was the first time I really felt comfortable in front of a class for an extended period of time. The only problem is that the class at GETCH ranges from five to nine students, which is much smaller than any of the classes we will be teaching at our posts. It would be nice to get some practice teaching large classes to prepare for the 50-student, 45-minute classes that will be the mainstays of our teaching experience, but our work at GETCH will have to suffice.
Speaking of posts, I finally have some type of certainty as to my post situation. Early this past week, Patrick spent three days in Xining meeting with Maria, our China program waiban, to work out some program details – and to try to finalize a post for me. Maria has excellent guanxi (connections) in Xining and was able to arrange a post for me at one of the middle schools affiliated with Qinghai Normal University (QNU, the school at which Maria works and at which both Devin and Sarah will be teaching). The paperwork has already been started in Xining, so if all goes well (and things are looking good) I’ll be headed for Xining! I’ll keep the blog updated with details as I learn more, but this promises to be a pretty awesome post.
In other news, I’ve been doing quite a bit of exploring around Guangzhou. Yesterday was Ingrid’s 24th birthday, so near the end of the week I went on several procurement missions to large grocery stores to buy wine (not baijiu!) and cheese. But most of my explorations involved failed attempts to find the Guangzhou Public Bicycles.
Yes, Guangzhou is far ahead of American cities when it comes to public transportation systems. Not only are the metro and bus systems impressive (and rapidly expanding), but – like cities such as Paris and Barcelona – Guangzhou has a public bicycle system. So after getting some (vague) instructions from Natalie, I went out to find the bicycles one day near Tiyu Xilu metro station. They were not there, but I decided to keep exploring and went on a very interesting (and long) walk which eventually took me all the way to the Gongyuanqian metro stop. Along the way, I was amazed to find a small climbing shop, which stocked all the latest gear (including ice axes – in Guangzhou!). And even more amazingly, in the back of the climbing shop was a climbing wall! It might have been a (somewhat small) bouldering gym, but it was a Chinese climbing wall nonetheless.
Now this was pretty much the last thing I was expecting to find in Guangzhou. But every time I explore, I find new – and amazing – things tucked away in GZ’s back alleyways, or hidden in plain sight on the big boulevards. Such was the case for the public bicycles.
After two days of failed attempts, I walked down a street in the Tiyu Xilu area and – all of a sudden – saw gleaming rows of yellow public bicycles! The mythical public bikes of GZ had been found – and they were right on one of the Tiyu Zhongxin area’s major streets, in plain view. My false starts were partly due to (ever-so-slightly) inaccurate directions from Natalie, but they were also due to my failure to sufficiently explore the area and ask around. Like the corny quote from the inspirational lecture, ‘brick walls are only there to test how much we want something.’
But corny inspiration aside, I found the bikes – but I couldn’t rent them at that location; I needed to sign up at a spot on the other side of SCNU. So I went over, rented a bike from a very nice fuwuyuan, and took a spin around the neighborhood which – though filled with public bike stands – was strangely inhospitable to bike riding. There was a huge public park next to the stand where I rented the bike, but bikes were not allowed inside. All of the sidewalks were under construction, and none of the roads had any bike lanes or shoulders, so I spent most of the time trying to avoid getting run over by Guangzhou’s insane traffic (side note: Guangzhou’s traffic is best described with reference to 16th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, for it mirrors his vision of a “bellum omnium contra omnes,” a war of all against all).
Regardless, it was a lot of fun. I went to Carrefour (and bought cheese!) and tooled around the neighborhood for a bit before coming back to the hotel. It was also really cheap: though I had to pay a Y300 deposit, the first hour was free and subsequent hours were only Y3 (less than 50 cents US). 很好玩儿。
Like I said, Guangzhou is full of surprises. Hence the title of this post: I found a shop the other day called the Potato Show, and could think of no better way to describe GZ. What is the Potato Show? What do they sell? What is their purpose? Who knows what might lie inside, behind the chocolate-brown awning covered in dancing potato figures?
Like the Potato Show, Guangzhou tantalizes, frustrates, and surprises all of us all the time. So even though I’m getting into a routine, this great big Potato Show of a city throws enough incomprehensible surprises and amazing moments at me to prevent me from getting too comfortable and to keep me on my toes.
I’m self-conscious enough to know when I’ve gone too far with a bad metaphor, so I’ll stop and wrap things up. As I mentioned earlier, last night was Ingrid’s birthday, which of course was an occasion for KTV, as well as some pretty awesome gifts.
All of the 2nd-year volunteers are here now, and it’s hard to believe that we’re starting our last week in GZ. Caroline is in Guyuan dealing with her residency permit situation (she’ll be back for the final week), and in the meantime we’re just enjoying the city (well, everything except for the heat and pollution) and spending time as a group before we disperse. Hopefully, we’ll have a little more time this week to explore and relax before we are all shipped out, as school (for most of us) starts on the 1st and we all have a lot of planning to do. I’ll most likely be taking the 30-hour train to Xining, which will be fun (if long). I am, however, looking forward to going somewhere with clear air and cooler temperatures. I’ve been a little sick recently, which could be attributable to a couple of long runs on polluted days; I’m really looking forward to living in a place where the natural world is cleaner and more accessible than it is here.
I’ll update sometime late this week or early next week with more details about my post and other such things. And as this is my first time writing a blog, please let me know if anyone has any suggestions. Thanks!