Two weeks down...
I'm finally caught up enough to the point that I can finally write an entry in the blog. I suppose it's best to explain to everyone the arduous task that was in getting here in the first place.
The craziness began the day after Christmas. We had been planning to go to Chicago to obtain our Chinese Visa's from the consulate there. This was the last step to officially getting to go. Unfortunately, we found out that day that the Chinese consulates have jurisdiction maps for the US. We found out that the Chinese Government required us to go to New York to obtain the visas. Due to the fact that neither me or Liz had been to New York, we hoped we would not have to go. After a phone call to Chicago, we found that we actually did have to go to New York. Great.
Saturday Jan 1st: We left for Cleveland to stay at Liz's parents house. A new apartment overlooking Lake Erie and The Cleveland Browns' Stadium is quite awesome and it cut our long drive up a little. We spent the night there and decided to stick around for the final Browns game.
Sunday Jan 2nd: We decided to watch it from the apartment as the Browns were playing the Steelers, and if the game was a blowout, we could just get on the road. A tailgate party was held in the apartment (awesome) with approximately 12 people, and everyone else went to the game. By halftime, Liz and I had everything cleaned up and were gone as the game was indeed not worth watching. We finally arrived at the hotel in Newark. The hotel was very nice. Newark (and the rest of New Jersey) was not. What a dump. Walking into the hotel lounge, 5 televisions were all playing the Jersey Shore. I knew then it was time to go.
Monday Jan 3rd: Checked out of the hotel and went into New York via bus line. We arrived not far from the Consulate which was nice. I would have to say that if New York does one thing right, it's public transportation. Very easy to get anywhere you want to. We put in our applications for the visa, and then had to wait 5 hours for it to be processed. We walked through the streets of New York and found Times Square (a bunch of advertisements, quite boring), Broadway St. with all of the theaters, and the Empire State building. The best story was at Rockefeller Center where Liz saved some guys life by alerting him of a punk NY driver who was going 25 mph in reverse and almost ran the guy over. Afterward several construction workers saw what happened and began cussing out the driver which was quite humorous. We then found a small irish pub and had a beer. ($8) and later found a $.99 pizza shop and had a total of 3 slices. One trip to NYC, $10.99 in expenditures. Victory. We returned to the Consulate, obtained our visas, took the bus back to the hotel, and drove back to Cleveland.
Tuesday Jan 4th: Got up early at Liz's parents again and headed back to Cincinnati. Finished packing up most of the house as the movers were coming the next morning.
Weds. Jan 5th: Moving. (Enough said). 1 last stop to say goodbye at work also.
Thurs. Jan 4th: Moving finally finished. Watched my cousin at NKU play 1 last basketball game then drove to Cleveland again for our flight on Sunday. As much driving as I did in this week, I was convinced that it would make up for the year that I would not have to...
The next 2 days were used to relax a little before the big trip. We had an outstanding dinner at Guarino's in Little Italy in Cleveland and left in the morning.
Sun. Jan 7th: Plane from Cleveland to Chicago at 9 a.m. It was a little cramped on this flight, but it only lasted an hour. After this we sat and waited for our flight to Beijing. The flight was on an enormous plane which made me excited. Maybe I would have some legroom. That theory quickly diminished. Our seats were in the last row of the plane. My seat was an aisle seat but I had to continually put my left leg into the aisle to keep room for the right one. 13 hours of this... Each time I attempted to fall asleep a flight attendant would come by with her cart and smash my knee. This only happened about 22 times on the flight...
Outside of the cramped space, the flight was very entertaining. We a a television with a selection of 16 different stations showing tv shows and some newer movies. There was also an audio selection of 22 channels. Perhaps my favorite channel though was the map. It showed us going over the North Pole (very close to it) and seeing all of the snow and ice caps was very neat. It also showed that at our altitude of 30,000 feet the temperature was a toasty -58 degrees.
Upon preparation for landing in Beijing, my knee was purple (kidding) and the captain said that we could see the great wall out of our window. It was quite cool to see. We landed and then prepared for our transfer flight on a Chinese airline to Yinchuan. Little did I know how hard this was going to be.
After trying to get our luggage checked 5 times, we finally found an airport attendant who could take us to where we needed to go. He said that we needed to be in terminal 1. He requested $30.00 american and Liz quickly obliged just to get this over with. He took us onto a bus similar in size to American airports and then we went to Terminal 1. However, VERY unlike America, Terminal 1 was a 20 minute bus ride that took us across down a highway and two side streets. I thought O'Hare was bad... We arrived and had plenty of time to relax at that point.
Once on the Chinese Airline I found myself quite disappointed again. Not at the fact that there was no space, but at the fact that on a CHINESE AIRLINE I had AT LEAST 3 inches of extra legroom as opposed to my flight on United. I was dumbfounded but quickly went to sleep on the 2 hour flight.
We arrived at Yinchuan airport at 10 p.m. their time. We met our manager Phil who took us to our new apartment and then out for a quick bite to eat. We then had to be a school for training at 8 a.m. the next morning. No rest for the weary.
We met with the head manager the next morning who took us to breakfast before training. Breakfast in China apparently consists of steamed pork dumplings. They were quite tasty however. Training was as any other, long and boring. Only 2 days of it however and the teacher did the best he could to make it entertaining. By day 3 we were teaching. I currently teach M-F from 10-12 and at night from 8:15-9:45 on Monday and Wednesday. Tough schedule huh. I was thinking to myself that once I get settled in I won't know what to do with myself. That later changed...
Come week 2 we were also assigned to hours by leading certain students of the school on a field trip. On Tuesday we went to a place where they made pottery. Wednesday they made Chinese Pizza (Quite gross). Thursday we took them to a orphanage where they all played some games together. Unfortunately I was sick on Thursday from the Chinese Pizza but I still attended anyway. All in all things went ok with the trips. On the following weekend I was preparing for my first day off in 2 weeks but was advised that another teacher had been sick. I was asked to work for overtime on Saturday and Sunday and did so for a whopping 2 hours each day. Now as I am writing it has been 2 weeks and 2 days without a day off (this feels familiar...) and I'm very much looking forward to Saturday. Even still, the hours are not extensive at all.
Teaching here is great. Right now all Chinese students are on a long break for Winter Holiday from their public schooling. The students here have several weeks off in the winter and several in the summer as well but that is it. When they are in school their lives consist of being at school at 7 a.m.until 6 p.m. and then have tons of homework to do until about 11. They then wake up and do it all over again the next morning. Weekends are used for secondary schooling. The students will come to the school where I am teaching to reinforce their English or will go to a private tutor for other homework. Our school's philosophy is to make the classroom as fun as possible. We teach by using games like charades, hangman, throwing a ball around a classroom, and many others. In one aspect in is the only fun time that the kid's have all week. They are all so nice and willing to learn the language.
I also teach adults on Monday and Wednesday nights. In these classes the students are usually business people looking to get ahead in their field of work. My class for example has 2 students from the Yinchuan International Airport, 1 from a pharmaceutical company, and another who is transferring to Germany in March for his job and needs to know as much English by then as possible. The adults are fun to teach in the fact that they really want to learn. With the kids, it is usually the rich parents who are forcing their kids to go. (Sounds like home but for different reasoning) All of my adult students are very intrigued in my life back home and have continually asked questions about life in Ohio. The kids could care less. They just love that I am so tall.
In case you haven't seen it, there is a video on Liz's blog about the apartment here. The apartment is small but plenty big for what we need. The toughest part is getting used to the different cultural rules about the bathroom. First, toilet paper is not be flushed. There is a small trash can to put it in and later taken out with the normal trash. Quite disgusting but hey what can I do about it. The bathroom itself is a tile floor so you take a shower on the floor. No tub. It was weird at first, but now it makes quite sense for the size of the apartment. The water is hot immediately too which is nice.
The kitchen is quite small but I haven't had to be in there too much anyway yet. The most frustrating thing there is that there are no ovens here in most apartments. Baking is simply not used often. For me this is an issue as my go to lunch of chicken fingers and fries in the oven is no longer possible. I do have a stove with a wok and an overhead vent so I predict cooking some awesome foods later on.
Both bedrooms provide plenty of storage space and room for us to work and sleep in. The only part that sucks there is that the beds are as hard as a rock compared to back home. Nice to work on, terrible to sleep on. I won't even go into laundry. Watch the video for that.
This is by far my favorite part so far here. The neighborhood is so awesome. Right outside of my house there is a pool hall which charges by the hour. Very cheap and you can bring your own beer in too. Just under the pool hall is a small market to get essentials. Again, very convenient. Just past that in the day hours is a farmers market unlike any other I have seen before. Not only are the choices of fresh fruits and vegetables huge in number, but it is all EXTREMELY cheap too. I plan on making a homemade salsa at some time here. The total cost of making approximately one gallon of it will be about 3-4 American Dollars. The market is not only fruits and vegetables though. There are several butchers, fried bread stands, and tons of stands who have peanuts, grains, and other spices for sale. Again, these are all extremely cheap. Recently, the market has transformed with Chinese New Year coming up next week. Many of the normal stands have also started selling fireworks. and I'm talking LOTS of fireworks. They have been going off everywhere for the last week so I can't even imagine what next week's going to look like. You can't buy a string of like 5-10 or 50 firecrackers here. The ropes are all 1,000 or more. The roman candles look like bazookas. (again, see Liz's video) Next week will be very interesting.
Driving in China definitely deserves its own category. While we have only seen 1 crash here so far, I can't believe for the life of me that we haven't seen more. In China, the vehicles have the right of way. ALWAYS. They are not afraid to let you know about it either. In almost every video you can hear the honking of some car somewhere no matter what time of day it is. The four way intersection that we cross through every day is like most others here. NO STOP SIGNS. Yes, there are crosswalks, but again, the vehicle has the right of way. I have taken it upon myself to just walk out into the road and dare them to hit me. Most of the time there is no other option and everyone else does it also. Every time it happens, the driver lays on the horn forever. I made the comment the other day that I SERIOUSLY believe that there are tons of cars here that probably have their car taken into the shop to fix their horn. There is a good segment of the video devoted to driving in China.
In our city, which is still tiny for China standards, Downtown Yinchuan is quite busy. The amount of stores everywhere is quite unbelievable. You can't go a block without seeing a store for something. It is a 10 minute walk to school and you will pass 5-6 restaurants and 6-7 barber shops on the way. And these are all side streets. Taking a cab downtown is the best for now. It is not far by bike and when it warms up, we will use them more often. The cab is great though. I will talk us into the heart of downtown for a grand total of $1 American. Downtown has a huge mall which I haven't visited yet and tons of outdoor stores. There is a huge movie theatre there and we also found this cool bar the other night too that serves Budweiser . There are many restaurants, including the ONLY western chain in the city, KFC. I have been there twice now and I still don't like it (not that I'm a fan at home either).
Anyone who knows me knows that I enjoy the occasional drink, as does Liz. By day 2 we were introduced to the local brew called Xixia. The beer tastes more like water then Natural Light does. Though it does come in a 1.5 liter bottle and costs about $1.25 American, the beer is only 3.5%. The beer is brewed locally and therefore is pretty much the only beer you can come across at every store. There is one competitor called Snow but the same characteristics apply. During our travels we found a western market store that sells some foods from home and Heineken. The problem is that everything is expensive there. Bars here are everywhere though. We found a very nice bar downtown as mentioned above that sold Heineken and Budweiser. Though expensive, the bar was very clean and reminded me of a bar like MLT's in the daytime. The bar was not crowded but it played music in English of a huge variety. There is also a Paulaner German Brewhouse here in the city which just opened recently and serves the dark Dunkel beer and will also be hosting Oktoberfest in September. That I have to see... I have been anxious to check it out but as it remains I have not had a day off yet.
Two night ago we were invited by the teaching alcoholic known as Kai to go to a bar that he and his Chinese friends had just found last week. We joined and was it ever worth the trip. Perhaps the last thing I ever expected to see here in town was a Reggae bar. The place had Bob Marley pictures and posters everywhere. Jamaican flags were hung all over and advertisements for the bars' self proclaimed Bob Marley day in March were also posted. The bar at first played some music in English but quickly switched to Reggae. It felt totally out of place for that bar to be here which made it awesome.
The people of China could not be any nicer and receptive to us during our time. Everyone including myself believed that the people here would be either fascinated or terrified of my height. However this is not the case for 2 reasons. First, the Chinese people here stare at all foreigners. It doesn't matter where you are from, how tall or big you are etc. They know a foreigner and they will constantly stare at you. Liz has found it to be interesting, where as I have found it to be no different from home. Walking around at work I got the same stares that I do here and most of you all reading this can attest. The second reason is that our city is somewhat close to Mongolia. Many Mongolians have moved into the city and they are must bigger and taller then Chinese, so my height is not that big of a deal. I have been told that if I visit southern China to be prepared to get treated very differently on this front...
For every store/restaurant/bar or market stand that we go to the employees there are more then helpful. They are always kind and those who know just the tiniest bit of English will be sure to show off their skills. There is nothing funnier then walking in a huge pack of people and someone walking the other says "Hello!" and giggles hysterically.
It's cold. Very cold. -6 degrees F last night. In the day however, it gets to be about the same as at home around 28 degrees F. The good news is, no snow. One of my fellow foreign teachers here told me that she has been here since September and has not seen rain or snow once. The air here is so thin and since we have this desert climate the temperature drops about 30 degrees every night. We are slowly adapting to that. In the summer (can't wait) the temps will be near 100 almost always but there is NO humidity here. I will not be missing that from home that is for sure. And no having to wear polyester pants in it either....
I'm sure there are things that I have missed over the last 2.5 weeks that I have forgotten but I want to get this first long post up. I will try and keep up with this better and I'm sure the updates will not be this long. Next week is Spring Festival so no work for anyone all week. We need to get to the store to stock up the fridge soon.... I hope things are well for everyone back home. Please check out Liz's blog (I will post the web address when I know it) and check out our videos from here. My only contact to America basically in via this blog, Skype (kenny.voskuhl) (it's free video phone people get it), and email. My email remains firstname.lastname@example.org. Please email me any updates from home. Don't have too much fear though, ESPN.com still works just fine here and I can still keep track of my Xavier Musketeers and UConn Huskies. Keep in touch everyone!!!!!