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.