Saturday, December 31, 2011

bye for now

Great Wall, August 2011 - I can't believe so much time has passed! 
Quick note: my VPN expires on December 31st, American time, and I decided not to renew it since I'm home in 11 days (!!!!!!) anyway. Psh, who needs Facebook and Blogger? So this is my last post 'til then, but don't worry - I have tons more in my little post bank to update when I get back, and lots of pictures to add to previous posts! I am SO excited to finally be going home. Lately, I've been sitting on the subway ride home from work daydreaming about the prospect of sleeping in my bed, walking Molly, going out for brunch with my parents, hanging out with friends, and finally seeing Wilson after 6 months. Crazy how when you're away from home for so long, the littlest things that you usually take for granted become the biggest things that you miss. But I'll stop there since I've probably said that, like, a bajillion times already. Thanks for following along with me, guys. See you at home :)

Hello, 2012!

Happy 2012 everyone! I can't believe a year has passed already - at this time last year, I had no idea that in a year 6 months, I'd be in Shanghai. So what a crazy year it's been. Super eventful - I met lots of new friends while teaching and traveling, and learned so much more about myself, my family and this country I temporarily call home. I think that you learn so much about yourself and how to really appreciate what you have when you try to carve out a life for yourself in a foreign country. Not that it doesn't happen at home, it's just more noticeable because the learning curve is much higher and you're kind of forced to go with the flow even when you have no idea what's going on. Definitely brings out parts of yourself you never even realized existed. Anyway, enough with my self-reflection, which leads to my resolutions for 2012:

1. Get started on my career. I knew I wanted to get into publishing before I came to Shanghai, but after not doing it for 6 months I am itching to get back into it. Teaching has been great, but I think publishing is just where I'm the happiest. I can't wait to write, edit and lay out again, so wish me luck on the job hunt!

2. Exercise more. Extremely cliche, I know, but while I take public transportation and walk everywhere in Shanghai, I know this isn't always the case at home. I'll definitely have to make a conscious effort to get out and move. Why is staying healthy so much harder at home? (And I vetoed the whole eating healthy resolution because I know for a fact that when I get home I'll be gorging myself on Mexican food, In n Out, and Nutella brownies for at least the first month. Possibly more.) Maybe I should pick up yoga or tennis again?

3. Get back into the cello. After 6 months of no practicing, I am already wincing at the idea of how this is going to go. It's kind of like going through the stages of loss - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance... I can already see myself emoting by sawing away unsuccessfully at some Bach. It's infuriating how out of practice your fingers can get at something you've done effortlessly for years :(

4. Learn something new, or get involved in something new, and hopefully be passionate about it. I'm not sure if this counts as a resolution, since this kind of stuff usually happens when you're not looking, but I don't want to fall into the whole work/eat/sleep rut again that I was in last year.

Time to write this on an index card and stick it in my wallet as a reminder.

Since I'm quite a few hours ahead of most of you who are reading this, have a great NYE, and happy 2012! I celebrated earlier tonight by going to the Bund and Nanjing Road. It was SUPER crowded, as expected. I almost didn't go, but then I figured what the heck, this is probably the only chance I'll have to be in Shanghai for New Year's. Verdict: I prefer celebrating with friends back in good 'ol California. I'd take champagne and sparklers in the backyard over a pyrotechnic spectacular in one of the world's most crowded cities, any day.

The fireworks, car alarms, and yowling cats outside my window finally stopped. Time for bed.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Oh Christmas Tree

There is a Christmas tree right by the subway stop near where I work. Every time I walk by, there are less ornaments hanging on its lower branches. I can't help but chuckle every time I walk by, but it's also a little bit sad - do the people not realize that the tree is there for public enjoyment? I took a picture but the upload took forever and did not work (story of my life), so here is a placeholder for when I return to the land of fast and reliable internet connection (yes, that is my nickname for America).

 8 foot tree missing all its bottom ornaments

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas in Shanghai

China is not big on Christmas. While the department stores deck themselves out with trees, lights and bulbs, the majority of the population does not celebrate. I asked my students if they celebrate, and what they know about Christmas, and minus Santa, Jingle Bells, and the birth of Jesus, they did not know much at all. They've never seen Elf or Home Alone (gasp!), decked out a tree, decorated sugar cookies, taken part in a secret santa gift exchange, or sung Christmas carols. They have no idea what they are missing out on! The holidays definitely make me more homesick than usual, especially since none of that stuff goes on here. Store windows are decorated and Christmas songs blare from mall loudspeakers, but its just not the same. There's no bustling Christmas shoppers and there's just not that 'spirit' in the air of anticipation and celebrating family traditions. People do get together with their families, or if you're religious, go to church, but mostly it's just another day. Most of my coworkers and students used it as another day to catch up on work, some ate with family, or went out with friends.

Luckily, technology allows me to participate in the Christmas festivities even though I'm far from home. I spent a quiet weekend at my apartment (well-deserved after that huge party) doing laundry, cleaning, and just relaxing. Melody webcammed me in for some present-opening, and Wilson was a sweetie and skyped me into his family festivities. I made mashed potatoes (been craving them for ages) and pork chops and finished it off with some yummy chocolate cake. All in all, Christmas was not as brutally homesick-triggering as I thought it would be; in fact, spending it alone wasn't all that bad. It gave me time to think and appreciate all I have in life and the people who are important. Most Christmases are so hectic that you don't have time to stop and reflect on why it's really meaningful. It doesn't matter that I'm far away, because I'm lucky and grateful to have so many people who love me and whom I love in return. And Skype makes home feel not so far away anymore. Despite this, I am promised a second Christmas when I return home, complete with candy canes and gingerbread houses!

p.s. Four Christmases is a horrible movie. What does it take to find a copy of Elf around here?!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Tongji IEC Annual Christmas Party

… is finally over. I never thought I’d be happy for a Christmas party, of all things, to be over. But when you’ve been planning the details of a party for 200+ students for over a month, you’d be glad when it’s over, too. Especially when there is free booze involved. Picking up prizes, handling the raffle, making sure the students are on track for the talent show/performance I can handle, but praying that nothing goes horribly wrong when the bar is handing out pitchers of whiskey? Thank god this night is over. Whatever happened to free (light) beer at college parties?

I'm feeling magnanimous since its the holiday season, so I'll share with you my secrets to throwing a successful party. Ingredients include: a coworker ditching the Santa costume for a Miffy rabbit one and not being afraid to dance on stage in it,  a mini Azn popstar/rap concert complete with a skinny guy in an oversized sweatshirt with fangirls draped all over him, the teacher's pet screaming his soul out to some Megadeth, and a poor boy who kneeled on the stage and professed his love with a ginormous bouquet of roses only to have the object of his affections freak out because she didn’t like him. Poor guy got rejected in public.

I’ll post more pictures when I get home – It’s hard enough at the moment to upload text without freezing my temperamental internet connection by trying to load pictures. Until then, I am off to enjoy my quiet, relaxing Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

China is bad for my English

Fact. Sure I'm teaching English, but most of the time this means making sure my students understand the grammar and technicalities behind the English language. Simply put, I end up explaining more complex subjects in simpler words, and hoping that they can read/write/speak at a 4th grade level. While my grammar has improved, one thing that has definitely slipped - and the same thing happened when I was in Paris - is my vocabulary. And I hate it! What I love about the English language is the expansive vocabulary available that you can use to articulate yourself so that you can convey exactly what you mean with just-right words. For example, why use 'fake' to describe the merchandise at the tourist shops in Shanghai when 'ersatz' fits so much better? Use dissonant to describe the grinding noise as the subway approaches the stop? I'm afraid that all the Chinese I'm trying to stuff in my brain is pushing out the English I already knew. Thank goodness for my Kindle-- I am that nerdy girl on the evening subway commute reading Fitzgerald and catching up with new vocabulary words.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cheating is NOT cool!

I’m not saying I’ve never done it – you’d make exceptions too if you grew up with the reigning UNO champion who plays by her own rules – but I never realized until yesterday how much it irked me. After taking a dip in the world of academia, I now understand why it drives teachers absolutely INSANE when their students cheat. As a student, I got that it was beyond unfair for one of my peers to get an A ripping off someone else’s work when the rest of us worked our asses off, but it never drove me crazy. Until yesterday, when I caught some (note: not ONE, but SOME!) of my students cheating during their weekly writing exercises. How it works is every week they are assigned a passage to memorize, and on Monday they have to write it from memory for me to take home and correct. It’s supposed to help them with their grammar, spelling and writing – although to be honest, improvement at the moment is questionable. I personally think making them write paragraphs and do grammar corrections is more advantageous, but that’s the Chinese teaching system for you – and I am totally getting sidetracked so back to cheating.

Yesterday afternoon, I caught a few of my students cheating during their memorization exercises. They were looking at their phones, at pieces of paper tucked into the side of their desks and into notebooks – you know, the oldest tricks in the book. I was – and still am – infuriatingly mad over it. When your student cheats, it’s like a personal insult. They don’t realize that A) I was not born yesterday and B) the only person they are cheating is their self. Even after taking away their phones, making them put away their stuff, and telling them I was not afraid to fail them, they still didn’t get how serious cheating is. I would rather them fail honestly then be sneaky and cheat their way to me giving them an A. I’ve been fuming about it ever since, and you know what? I’ve found a new pet peeve!!

This morning, I became that lecture-y teacher no one likes. And I held back my harsher words, because while I want them to understand that cheating is NOT okay, and in the States you’d be screwed for the rest of your career if you ever tried it at an institution of higher education, I did not want to insult their culture and upbringing. Harsh as that is to say, cutting corners is an ingrained part of Chinese society. Forget all the contaminated food scares in the news – I see it all the time in the classroom. Cutting in line is a fact of life for some of these kids, as is stealing information – I was pissed when I found a couple of students swiping my lessons of my USB without even asking me earlier this semester! The atmosphere is very first-come, first serve. I learned this first-hand when I brought cookies to share with my 6th graders over the summer. Long story short, I directed the class monitors to make sure everyone got a piece and ended up watching in horror as a riot unfolded before my eyes. I did not bring cookies after that, and while that was a class of 6th graders, I see variations of the same thing with these college-aged students. They don’t think twice about starting fights DURING class. It’s happened 4 times already this semester. Not in the classroom during study hours, mind you, but interrupting your teacher mid-lesson fighting. Where is the respect for your teacher and classmates? I always thought that kind of stuff only happened in the movies – I mean, a girl fight breaking out in the middle of your grammar lesson? Only in Barney Stinson’s world.

Looking at all this, I guess I can’t blame the individuals — it’s the system’s fault to begin with. How are these kids supposed to learn that cheating is never okay when the only reprimand they get is a slap on the wrist? There are going to be some kids upset with their grades this week, and I only hope that this will help the fact sink in before they learn it the hard way.

I know I’m being a negative nancy – teaching is actually very rewarding and fun, and I’ve been enjoying my time here, but it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. It’s funny how a couple of bad apples can make you forget that the rest of your students are trying hard – it’s always the generalizations in a moment of anger that lead to stereotypes, right? So let’s leave this rant where it is and I’ll go back to being a cheerful lao shr tomorrow morning.