Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Week Six in Guangzhou

Wow! I can’t believe that it has been 3 weeks since I last posted a blog! It is now a week away from Christmas and I have been here for 6 and a half weeks. I only have 45 and a half more weeks to go. (Not that I am counting down or anything.)

Now that I have been here for a while I feel as though I am settling in and making a “life” for myself here. In fact, there have even been a few times that I have actually ran into people that I know while walking around. That is always fun because it makes a city of 15 million people seem “small”. In all honesty, there is only about a 10-block radius in all directions that we have explored. This works out to be only about 5% of the city. Therefore, there is still a lot of the city that is “uncharted” territory. I have been to a few places by taxi and metro, but am still having a difficult time being able to tell where the places are in relation to where I live.

As far as my health is concerned, China is definitely taking its toll on me. Out of the 6 weeks I have been here, I have been sick for 3 of those. First it was the “Guangzhou bug” in my stomach that prevented me from holding down any food, then it was the literal Guangzhou bug that bit up both of my legs that created extremely itchy red bites from which I am still trying to recover from, and lastly it has been a terrible case of bronchitis that has lasted a good 2 weeks. The smog, cigarette smoke, food, water, etc. is going to take my body quite a while to get used to. I am just trying to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. Of course, the local Chinese people say that I just need to drink more tea.

Work, on the other hand is going great. I was named “teacher of the month” for giving an awesome open door. An “open door” is when the parents are invited to sit in on your class so that they can observe you teach and see the progress that their child is making. I was very surprised yet very excited that I was named “teacher of the month”. Honestly, it has been all of my co-workers that have been so helpful that I owe my success to.

Next week is Christmas and we have been given that day off. Then, it is New Year and we have been given the 30th, 31st, and 1st off. I think that I might be going to Hong Kong for New Years with a few friends. Lastly, in January we have the 24th through the 30th off for Chinese New Year. Two of my friends and I are hoping to travel to Bali for Chinese New Year, but right now are just trying to work out flight logistics. No matter what happens, I know that I’ll be traveling somewhere outside of Guangzhou for Chinese New Year. I am quite excited about that!

Yesterday I took the metro to a nearby park called “Guangzhou Insurrectional Martyr Cemetery Park”. It is suppose to be one of the eight scenes to see in Guangzhou. (I’m not quite sure what the other 7 scenes are yet). Below are some pictures from the park. I had a very nice, peaceful time walking around the park.

And a funny sign found at the park:

Last Monday I volunteered to teach Christmas songs for my company’s booth at the China Plaza. If I am not mistaken, the China Plaza is the largest mall in China. I chose “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” “Silver Bells,” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to sing at the booth. It was fun and I even got paid extra for volunteering to do it. Below are a few pictures from me singing at the China Plaza.

Lastly, I am posting a couple videos that I have made. I have just newly discovered that I can make “movies” on my computer, so the two videos below are a product of me messing around with this new program. The “First Glance of Guangzhou” video was taken just outside the flea market I went to at Tianhe Sports Center as well as in the IKEA here in Guangzhou. The other video was taken while walking back home from work one day.

Merry Christmas from China!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Guangzhou View

View #1

View #2

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Do you ever have a dream that is so real and so vivid that you wake up disappointed that it was just a dream (or in some cases relieved that it was just a dream)? Well… this happens to me at least once a week, sometimes more often. Last night I had the most vivid reality based dream that I am still focused on it! What was my dream about? …YOGURT!

I will first start by saying that it has been almost 1 month since I have drank the delicious nectar of a cow or had sweet creamy fermented milk touch my lips! So with that being said, my body is staging a revolt. I cut off my habit of drinking at least one glass of milk a day so cold turkey that I think it was more “frozen turkey”.

Yes, they have milk here, but do you remember the milk scare they had here? Ever since then I question my desire to want to try their milk. Not to mention that I have been to several grocery stores now and the cold milk section is sparse. Also, the milk is almost unrecognizable as milk. They have milk tea, but no pure American made “happy cows come from California” milk!

Back to my dream…

I dreamt that I was in a Wal-mart in China. (I have no idea if this actually exists, but this was just my dream.) I was roaming the store when I came across the most glorious aisle-long case of dairy products. At the very tiptop of the case I saw something that made my heart skip a beat. I saw a case of 6 Yoplait yogurt fruit smoothies. The flavor wasn’t what I normally buy, but I didn’t care.

Unfortunately, I had a dilemma. I could not reach the yogurt. I couldn’t go find someone to reach the yogurt for me because then a yogurt snatcher might come and steal away my prize. Suddenly a bright blue shirted man popped around the corner. I screamed, “Excuse me, I need your help!”

The man was not surprised by my plea for help and showed it in his snail like head down gaunter towards me. When he finally arrived by my side he started to reach for the yogurt without even asking me. I assumed that he had spent most of his day reaching for the yogurt because it was a rare commodity and I was about to acquire the last one. Not to mention that I had already attracted a crowd.

When he handed me the somewhat mangled yogurt pack, I secured it tightly in my arms forgetting about everything else that I wanted to purchase and with a running back type mindset I headed for the end zone. As usual I had to wait forever in line but finally after reaching the cashier I realized that I had done it. I was salivating just imagining opening the first yogurt smoothie putting it up to my mouth allowing the first drop slowly slide down my tongue.

Then I woke up.

I just laid there for a while so crushed that it was just a dream. I kept replaying it thinking, “But it was so real.” I got up and drank some orange juice, but nothing could come close to satisfying my taste buds like a Yoplait yogurt smoothie. I guess my choices are to either try the yogurt here or just wait 339 days until I can quench this thirst of mine.

*smiles and hugs friends…

Week four in China...

A photo of me at the downtown English First office.

Wow! My last blog post was 2 weeks ago! So sorry for the delay. I have been so busy with work and such. I almost don’t even know where to start. Over the last 2 weeks I taught 20 classes, went to the Guangzhou theme park, moved into my apartment, attended more work training, studied Chinese at our twice weekly lessons, and hung out with my new found friends. So, needless to say I have been on the go.

Let’s start with my apartment. I moved in on Thursday, November 13th in the evening. It took me only 3 hours to get all of my things unpacked and put in to place. I was so ready to finally feel as though I had a “home” in Guangzhou. The journey from my hotel to my apartment was for sure an “experience” all on its own, but I made it in one piece. Miraculously I had acquired so much stuff in my first two weeks with preparing for my apartment that all of my things barely fit into the taxi. Space issues combined with a language barrier made it a moment to remember.

Anyhoo…My apartment is on the 27th floor and is a studio. It has a western style bathroom, kitchen, living space, and balcony. The apartment came furnished with all of the furniture: bed, couch, coffee table, built-in desk, and computer chair. The apartment has a washing machine on the balcony, but of course no dryer. It actually has worked out quite nice because I am able to just hang my clothes out to dry on the rod on the balcony.

I have curtains for my large sliding glass doors that lead to my balcony, but rarely use them because I LOVE how the sun shines in throughout the day. The night scene is unbelievable as well. My apartment is on the 27th floor (the building only has 29 floors). The view of Guangzhou is spectacular from my balcony and even more so from the apartment building rooftop! I feel so incredibly blessed that I was able to move into Dina’s apartment. Dina is a teacher at my school who is leaving on the 30th of November to return back home to Georgia. It has been so nice taking over her apartment because she has left a lot of things for me to use. I am SO blessed!

Speaking of blessings… I have met some amazing people here. Everyday there is someone inviting me out to go shopping, to go eat, or to go grab a coffee. I am definitely not feeling lonely here. It is just so wonderful because there are a total of 11 foreign teachers at my school and all of us get along. There are Dan, Rob, and Ashley from the UK, Liz from Illinois, Mike from Colorado, Lani from South Carolina, Sean from New York, Becca from Utah, Garrett from Massachusetts, Dina from Georgia, and me from California. (6 guys, 5 girls)

Last Monday, November 17th, a teacher from another school named Ben, Lani, and I all went to Chimelong Amusement Park in Guangzhou. It was a lot of fun. There were quite a few similarities to American theme parks, but also some differences. The main difference was the feeling of being a celebrity the whole time we were there. We had so many random people, sometimes even mobs, approach us saying, “Hi” and wanting to take our pictures. For the most part I played along and posed for pictures, but there were a few times that I just wanted to walk around without being approached by strangers. I can’t even imagine how a true celebrity deals with it day in a day out. However, I must admit that it did make me feel kind of special.

The moment that made me feel most special was when I was approached by a beautiful woman in her early 30s. I was sitting on a bench waiting for my friends to get off a ride when I saw a woman and her husband walk past me. The woman did a double take of me and stopped her husband. She said something sheepishly to him and then he approached me with camera in hand. He asked me in broken English, “Wife take picture with you?” I smiled and replied, “Yes.” The wife came over to me beaming from ear to ear, put her arm around me, and smiled for the camera. It was one of the sweetest moments I have experienced in a while because of the woman’s pure genuine excitement over taking a picture with me. I mean, who am I? I am just a small town American woman over in China teaching English. But perhaps that was enough for her.

The other moments at the theme park that were cool were the mobs of Chinese middle school girls who would approach me wanting to take their picture with me. These girls were able to speak a little bit of English since they study it in school. Their facial expressions were priceless when I would say a simple expression such as “Hi” or “How are you.” They knew enough English to respond, “Hi. Fine thanks, and you? You are beautiful.” I am sure that they were more captivated by my “American” look more than my beauty.

We rode on quite a few rides while at Chimelong theme park. Some were little kids rides that we went on as a way to shock our many spectators and provide for them a good photo op. Other rides were quite scary ones that made me question China’s safety regulations. I of course questioned China’s safety standards after Ben pointed to a ride and informed us that it has been closed for some time after several people died as a result of faulty equipment.

While at the theme park we saw a lumberjack show, a magic show, and a show they call “The Dangerous Show.” I watched the lumberjack show thinking that Chinese people must think that lumberjacking is something all Americans do. The people in the show wore jeans and flannel shirts. There were quite a few Philippine men in the show along with a few white-haired American men. The magic show was just plain creepy. The man looked like Michael Jackson (he may have just possibly BEEN Michael Jackson). He danced with a puppet, tried to do a sexy dance with a scantily clad female assistant, and he sang. I was so distracted by his makeup, costume, dancing, and singing that I didn’t pay much attention to his tricks. The Dangerous Show was actually pretty impressive. There were fireworks, explosions so close that I had to shield my face from the intense heat, motorcycle stunts, 4 wheelers, boats, ski-doos, etc. The whole time I kept thinking this show could never happen in the US because of the safety issues and possibilities for people to sue the park. Overall, I was impressed.

I have already been in Guangzhou, China for almost 1 month. That is just so hard to believe. I am so glad that I practiced my Mandarin by listening to my Mandarin CDs before I came here because it has helped with picking up on the accents. Today when I said, “xiexie” (thank you) at the grocery store the Chinese people around me smiled and said that my Chinese was very good. I may have the accents down, but I am nowhere near being able to read characters or produce any sort of conversation in Chinese! Oh well, I am sure that with my next 49 weeks here I’ll be able to practice a bit. *hehe

I will conclude my blog with some pictures from Beijing Lu. Lani and I took the metro one day to Beijing Lu which is a very popular pedestrian street lined with shops of every kind. After walking around for so long, we went to a place that Lani knew of to get a pedicure. To help illustrate how inexpensive it is to live here I will explain that my pedicure cost 45 kuai, which is the equivalent to about $6.00 US! I have a feeling that I will be making pedicures a bi-weekly thing here. *smiles

Well, until next time my friends! Zijian!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mailing Address

By the way... if any of you just happend to want to send me something I have found out that it is best to send it to my school. The address is as follows:

Stephanie Wells
EF English First Kids
3/F, East Block Huaxin Building
2 Shui Yin Road, Guangzhou
P.R.China, 510075

Telephone is: (8620) 37601518-14

And if you were to send something I would love skittles or starbursts, real basic American food (pop tarts are like gold here), deoderant, size 10 dress flats, small teaching supplies, movies, or guitar sheet music. That is IF you were to send me something. *smiles*

Love ya!

The Plague of the "Guangzhou Bug"

So it has happened. I had my first foreign doctor's visit. Today is Wednesday and finally after 2 full days of "the bug" I decided that I needed to seek out medication. I traveled to the doctor's office at 10am and by 11am I was out of there with 4 medications in hand. (I was even given the meds in a nice little tote.)

The doctor told me that it was best that I not eat anything for today. So, needless to say I am SO hungry! After the doctor's office I traveled straight to work, lesson planned for a bit, than had some more training, and then taught a small stars class. (4 and 5 year olds) After my class I stayed around for a bit to organized my things in the office. At about 8:15pm I put on my MP3 player, walked out of the office, and enjoyed my 45 minute journey home. Truly it was quite enjoyable to have some "quiet" time walking and taking the subway. I feel as though when I'm listening to music while walking I can truly take in the sights and think, "I am so fortunate to be here."

I took some pics while walking home. I tried taking a picture of the fireworks going off, but unfortunately couldn't quite time it right.

I also took two pictures of signs that are in the metro station that crack me up every time I read them.

Anyhoo... I'm going to go and pack away my things so hopefully I can move in to the apartment either tommorrow evening or Friday morning. SO way excited to move into my apartment. I'll for sure put up pics when I can.

Love ya my friends and family. Talk to ya soon!

*A little side note: While at the doctor's office today she ask me what I have eaten. I explained that I have been eating Chinese food. She then explained that I shouldn't completely change my eating habits. I felt like saying, "I don't really have a choice. Even when I go out to a "western restaurant" the food still tastes like Chinese food!" (But I didn't.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

First Week in Guangzhou, China

Well, it has now been 1 week and 2 days since I arrived in China. I still feel as though there is a lot to learn, but at the same time I feel as though I have already learned so much. I have already gotten through my first week at work and been able to successfully take the metro without getting lost. (2 big accomplishments!)

I’m sitting right now on the balcony of my hotel room trying to think of things that have most surprised me about China. Here are a few:

#1 The number of people who smoke and where they smoke.
When I first arrived in Asia I immediately made the assumption that smoking was a big thing. The first thing I saw at the airport in Seoul, South Korea was a smoking room. I am sure that there are smoking rooms elsewhere, but still I found it to be so unique that I took a picture of it. Later, when I arrived in Guangzhou, my assumption was confirmed. Everywhere I looked I saw someone smoking. People smoke in vehicles, in stairwells, in restaurants, everywhere! So, people assume that China is so smoggy because of the factories and such, but in reality it is just a cloud of cigarette smoke.

#2 The erratic driving pattern that by some miraculous way seems to work.
The drivers in Guangzhou make the drivers in LA look like saints! It is difficult to explain the driving pattern with words because it is unlike anything I have ever seen. Yes, there are streetlights, stop signs, yield signs, and lane markers, but no one seems to follow them. Turn signals are a rarity. Horn honking is the norm. When cars or buses want to change lanes they just start getting over into the other lane without taking into consideration that there might be a vehicle there. Amazingly, however, it seems to work here. I have been here for a week now and have yet to see a pedestrian, bicyclist, or vehicle hit! A miracle.

(The picture above is the bowl of noodles that I made as my first "homecooked" meal in China. And yes, those are chopsticks sticking out of the bowl.)
#3 The everyday costs.
The exchange rate here is for every 1 US dollar you get approximately 6.7 RMB. My first meal in Guangzhou was dinner and it cost me 12 RMB, which works out to be about $1.70. Needless to say I have been surprised by how inexpensively someone can live here. Of course, if I were to go out to a Western restaurant, meals would cost me much more. For example, I went to a nice Italian restaurant with my friends and the meal ended up costing me 130 RMB, which works out to be about $19! (Which is still cheap considering I ordered a drink and a whole pizza.)
Grocery shopping is also inexpensive depending on what you buy. If you buy locally made products it is very inexpensive, but again, if you buy imported goods from Europe or the US, it will cost you double sometimes triple the local amount! For example, I went to the grocery store last night and purchased a notebook, crayons, binder clips, water, crackers, soup, and several more items. The total came to 72 RMB, which is about $10. I’m thinking that my plan of saving money while living here is going to work out after all. (Fun fact… there is a Subway and McDonald’s right next to where my school is. The teachers, including myself, eat there often.)

#4 The enormity of the city.

(Pictured on the right is the China International Trust and Investment Company (CITIC) building in Guangzhou. It is the world's tallest skyscraper made of reinforced concrete.)

Just when I start to think that I know my way around, I found out that I actually have no idea. While driving around in a taxi I try to look out the window studying my surrounding so that I can get to know my way around town, but in reality the buildings all look similar to me. There are just a bunch of huge high rises followed by construction of more high rises with the occasional sign in English. Even if someone were to tell me the name of the street in Chinese it is so very difficult for me to remember it or even repeat it. It seems as though the other teachers know their way around the city pretty well, so perhaps I will get better once I am here a little longer. (Let’s hope.)

#5 The language/use of Chinese characters.

It makes me feel so helpless to not be able to read a single thing on menus, remotes, street signs, etc. when they are written in solely Chinese characters. I knew that there was going to be a language barrier here, but I never imagined it being this difficult. At least in Mexico I could at least guess at what the signs said, but here I have no way of even guessing! I am taking an hour of Chinese lessons at my school 2 times a week, but even in there I feel lost! Right now I am getting around Guangzhou with only being able to say “Hi” and “Thank you.” I guess it is a start.

#6 The loud crazy world of EF Guangzhou Kids 1 school.

On my first day at the school, Sunday, November 2, the whole school was celebrating Halloween. Therefore, I was hoping that the crazy, loud, screaming children throughout the school was only because it was Halloween. Sadly, I was wrong. This is just how the school works. EF Kids 1 school is a private language school filled with students who are for the most part forced to be there by their parents. The majority of these parents are wealthy members of the community who have nothing better to do with their money than to send their child to English school. Did I mention that EF Kids 1 is the most expensive English school in Guangzhou?
This last week I taught 1 Small Star class, 2 High Flyer classes, and 4 Trailblazer classes. The Small Stars (SS) class is comprised of 4-6 year old students. The High Flyer (HF) class is comprised of 7-10 year old students. And lastly, the Trailblazer (TB) class is comprised of 11-14 year old students. Needless to say the classes I enjoy teaching the most are the TB classes and the one that I enjoy teaching the least is the Friday evening HF class because Friday evening classes are the worst. The students are so misbehaved because throughout the whole week they have had to attend public school and now right after getting out of school on a Friday they have to go to English class. The Friday night class is the one that is truly going to put my classroom management to the test.

All in all, though, I am just so happy to be here. It still hasn’t quite hit me. I am excited to move into my apartment on Friday. I think after I move in there I will feel a little better because I’ll be able to “set up home” in Guangzhou.

More later…

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Day Four in Guagnzhou, China

Today I woke up at 6:30am. I was able to lounge around a little bit before meeting one of the teachers I work with, Dina, at 10:30 to go to the fabric market. We ended up needing to wait about 30 minutes for the third person coming with us, so we walked to the Tee Mall and had coffee at Starbucks. (Yes, Starbucks is in deed taking over the world.) It was actually quite a treat since I hadn’t had any coffee since Saturday early morning. (But, it felt much, much, much longer).

At 11:00am we walked to the bus stop and met up with Ariel, who is one of the local expert teachers at my school. Ariel is a sweet, Chinese, young lady around my same age. It is always very helpful to have a friend come along who is bilingual. We hopped on bus 89 and made our way to the fabric market. It was fun taking the bus. (Mostly because it was almost vacant).

At about 11:30 we made it to the fabric market. It really wasn’t what I was expecting. It was nicer than what I was expecting. The fabric market is a multiple story building just covered with every kind of fabric you can imagine. … literally. I went to the fabric market just kind of to tag along, but Dina had a purpose. She had taken several pictures of three different dresses that she wanted made for her. After walking through the maze of fabrics we reached a seamstress shop.

This seamstress shop is the same shop that all of the teachers go to. From what they have said it sounds as though the ladies can make just about anything. The seamstress looked at Dina’s pictures, sketched it out, measured her, and then told her how much fabric she would need to go buy. Next, I followed Dina as she walked throughout the fabric market looking for just the right fabrics. She ended up choosing a green shimmery material, a charcoal gray material, and a cream and mauve patterned fabric that she had brought with her to the fabric market.

While Dina was looking for her fabric, Ariel decided to get a few skirts made. I too was tempted to get something made, but I was able to restrain myself. What I really want made is a traditional Chinese dress called a qípáo 旗袍. Before I get something made I want to see how Dina’s dresses turn out. I know that I have plenty of time to get something made.

We were finally able to pull ourselves out of the fabric market at about 1pm. We then took the bus back to the bus stop near Tee Mall. At this point we were starved so we walked to a local vietemese restaurant. I ordered a delicious bowl that had rice noodles in the bottom and spring rolls on top. It came with a wonderful sauce that I poured over the noodles. It was spicy, yet sweet. Very tasty.

After lunch it was time for me to meet the translator, Justine, and real estate agent to go look for an apartment. We met up at 3pm and were out looking for apartments until 5:30pm. We looked at a total of 6 apartments in three different apartment complexes. The first one was a disaster and the others were pretty descent. However, after seeing the ones to choose from, I have chosen to take over on Dina’s apartment since she will be leaving soon. I will give more details of the apartment when I actually move in which will be on the 14th.

By the end of the day I was so exhausted that as soon as I got back to my hotel I laid on the bed and fell asleep. I thought to myself that I would only take a nap because I was suppose to meet up with friends at 9, but I ended up sleeping through my nap. I ended up sleeping all the way until 6:30am which felt so good. It was the first night in which I actually felt as though I selpt through the night and was rested. All in all… a good day.