Monday, 20 October 2014

Life in the Fast Lane

The last couple weeks have been an absolute whirlwind.

The rest of my holiday was relatively uneventful, did Karaoke another night, but didn't end up getting to the beer festival due to weather (torrential downpour).

The Wednesday we are back at school, but was a screwy day, because Keinan had just gotten back from Canada. We had planned a field trip to the movies but ended up not being able to do it, so we showed the students "The Lion King" and I have been doing writing and editing assignments for the last two weeks with them around character development in the Lion King. I have been doing Upper and Lower Canada leading into the rebellions in Social Studies so classes have been fun of late. I can't wait to get into my Confederation assignment, where the students are each going to be given control of a given territory and will have to create a country and will need to come to an agreement on all the issues that were faced in the real confederation of Canada. It's pretty easy to do when you only have 11 students in that class.

We are also starting a student council at our school. Some students are really getting into it, but most are fairly hesitant or reluctant about it. That being said, we do have races for Council Prime Minister (we are Canadian, no way in hell I'm letting them call our leader the Student Council President), Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. The Grade 10's especially have been reluctant to sign up, with only one running so far. It's the first year we're doing this so I'm not surprised. I think when people see the good that can come from it, and the effect it will have, they will be more into it in the future.

Keinan and I have also been working a lot closer on how to approach the English Development class. It's a little difficult when you have to teach a class with no curriculum, but I am thankful for Keinan's experience and ideas. I am working my ass off trying to help these students but I know being a first year teacher, they probably really need someone with more experience, expertise and frankly, someone who is a better teacher than I am. Keinan has some great ideas and has really helped me to be more advanced and modern in my approaches so hopefully we will start seeing more marked improvement quickly.

Since the winter holiday, I have had about five students who were failing my class and that I was really worried about, turn things around. I really have no idea why, and I wish I could take credit for it, but I really don't think it has anything to do with me. One reason may be, is Keinan worked hard to make night study optional for our students. All Chinese students seem to have to be at school for night study between 7pm and 10pm. Keinan made it happen so that if the students have higher than 60% and don't have any behavioural issues, they can be excused from night study. Since then, we have seen a huge improvement in many students, and many are taking more interest in their schooling and their grades. Free time is at a premium here, so any they can get is huge incentive. Some were students we knew were completely capable but were being lazy or were unmotivated, and some were students we were really worried about, and have now started showing that if they put in the work they might be able to make it happen.

The problem at our school is we have such a mixed bag. We have some students who barely speak or understand any English and some, who are quite strong in it. We have ESL teachers, but the main focus for them is at a Jr. High program which we're hoping will be feeding into our program, but isn't even a guarantee. We have three students that we tried to move into a program at a different school, better equipped to work with them, but unfortunately two of them have very powerful parents who pulled some strings with the ownership at our school and suddenly they aren't going anywhere. We tried to find other ways to support them but those attempts are being blocked too. It seems weird for a country where success and grades seem to be everything, that when we explain that these students do not have the capability right now to pass these courses and will almost undoubtedly fail, it doesn't really seem to matter. We're going to work hard for these students but it's kind of a perfect storm: They don't have the capable writing, reading, speaking or listening skills to complete grade 10 course work (of which 4 of their courses are provincials), the students have readily admitted they hate doing school in English (I think they probably just hate school in any setting), they are completely unmotivated, skipping, sleeping in class, one has not handed in a single assignment and it's hard as a teacher to create any kind of connection when they do show up because of the language barrier.

We are also getting a much better idea as to the social atmosphere of our students, friend groups, who's dating and where the tension is, and being Grade 10 and 11, there seems to be a lot of it right now. Between the three of us we're trying to get a better idea of it to try to combat it, but all we know is that there is some extreme tension and none of us so far have made much progress in finding out the source of it.

One Saturday we took our students on a trip to Nanning (hr and a half bus ride) to visit the other two campuses associated with our school and do some intercampus mingling. It was set up as a sports day, with basketball, soccer and volleyball, as well as a multi-legged race with four people tied together, and a tug of war competition. Keinan, and I joined with Julie and Josie, two teachers at one of the other campuses to demonstrate the multi-legged race and man was it tough. Coordinating all four of us took some extreme teamwork but that was the point. They also had to have at least two students from a different campus in their team so they did have to work with people they didn't know. They did great and it was a ton of fun. It was a heck of a long day though, leaving our campus at 7am and returning at 10pm. Denise also got sick so it was Keinan, Jane and I with 40 kids, taking the hr and a half train ride, followed by a 30 minute bus ride both ways to get them to the campus from the bus station and vice-versa. We went to dinner with our students before heading back to the train for our ride home which was a ton of fun, and we had five of our girls, sit with Keinan, Jane and I which was a great bonding experience, as these were a few girls who I hadn't had a chance to really connect with yet.

When we got back to Liuzhou, we got the kids where they needed to go, either picked up at the train station by parents or back to school and then Keinan and I grabbed a cab home. Our cab driver was trying to screw us over, because we had a third random guy in our cab who was dropped off first, paid the fare up to that point, but the driver never reset his meter. When we got to our apartment we were trying to get the money were owed, but eventually gave up and paid the full fare. It was 10:30pm after a 15 hr day. The problem was, I was so focused on the cab driver, I left my cell phone I had gotten a week earlier on the seat in the cab. Keinan phoned it about a dozen times when I realized it, and no answer. By an hour later the phone was not I knew either the cab driver or next passenger was swiping it and I was never going to see it again, because it had an 85% charge on it when I last looked and the ringer was at 100%. So another 1000RMB later, I now have my first Iphone, a 4S.

Sunday morning I finally got a chance to see Jerry again, as it had been over a week and a half since I'd seen her. She works till 8 or 9pm, so I don't really get to see her during the week, We had a really nice couple hours together with a few other people where we had brunch and then went to a public park that was just gorgeous. Tons of flowers everywhere, well maintained, just a beautiful day.

The Wednesday, Belinda takes Denise, Misty and I for a massage. The massages I've had so far here have been pretty bad. Either no pressure or just an oil rub, where they hit some pressure points but don't really massage. This place was a lot better, although the main focus was still on the pressure points. They didn't use any oil and man did he find a ton of knots in my back, calves, arms and butt. I do like that they really aren't afraid of your body here because they are very aggressive massaging your butt and thighs, which is something I find they are very tentative about back home. He even found a knot in my left buttock that was one that ended up piercing my brain. That gave me a good laugh after he stopped. Strong massage and I really felt good after, but definitely not relaxed. Belinda, being the amazing person that she is, covered the massages for Denise, Misty and I. My guardian angel in Liuzhou.

At the end of school that friday, of a week that seemed to fly by, Keinan Denise and I, along with Misty, Anthony and his friend Shawn, head off the Guilin and Yangshuo. Keinan and I spent Friday in Guilin and the rest went on to Yangshuo. Keinan and I went for a massage with an ESL teacher there, who is connected to our school through the ownership, as we have the same owners of our schools, though they aren't officially affiliated. This massage was incredible. They asked if I wanted to have her walk on my back which I agreed to. She did that for the last twenty minutes and that was amazing. I could tell the first 40 minutes her touch would normally have been weaker than I wanted, but I was still raw and feeling the massage from wednesday so it was actually perfect. Hendrik (the ESL teacher) and his wife Eve then gave us a tour of some great sights in Guilin before dropping us off for the night.

The next day Keinan and I hopped on a boat down the Li River to Yangshuo. It was a four and a half hour ride but with amazing scenery and we had some great conversations with people. We met people who were originally from Kelowna, now live in Prince Albert, a couple from Florida, but he was originally from Toronto, and a couple from Poland. We then met Denise, Misty and Anthony and headed on our first adventure, to Silver Cave. We rented bikes and rode bikes there. Man it felt good to get on a pedal bike again. I felt fantastic, and my butt and legs felt it the next day, even though it wasn't an exhausting or exerting ride by any means. You're dodging the traffic as well as the motorized scooters, and Denise and Misty started a thing where we all yell HONK HONK anytime we pass anybody. I was laughing way too hard because it just sounded like the stupidest Canadian Geese sound you could think of course this has become a running joke for us ever since.

You wander through the cave for a while, which is incredible, and then you get to a mud bath. It was weird because we were all dressed in our bathing suits when we walked in and we walk past all these Chinese people fully clothed...and we both exchanged weird glances as we were trying to figure out what the other group was doing. Lots of people just tour the cave without going in the mudbath, lots where their suits under their clothes, and we were the only ones who just walked around in our swimming suits. I'm glad we did though, because I was sweating just being in my swim trunks.

The mudbath was amazing. The mud was thick and you just cover yourself in it. In some areas it you were basically sitting on top of the water the mud was so thick. We had so much fun just splashing around and covering ourselves in mud, but your skin really does feel fantastic after the mudbath, There was also a hot spring that we sat in for a while. Totally a great experience.

That night we had dinner and then went around and did a little shopping and experienced the night life in yangshuo again. Tons of laughs, great stories and great company. We also have the makings of some great inside jokes, and I think we would make a great reality show. I started calling us the next Jersey Shore, except we are actually intelligent.

The next day we went Whitewater drifting. It was about an hour ride in an 8 seater van to get where the rafting is and man did we have some laughs. There was six of us and at one point they picked up another woman who didn't speak any English. Denise had the line of pretty much all time when were joking about what this woman might be thinking when Denise said: "This van smells like stale alcohol and broken dreams!" That was a full 36 hours ago, and I still find this insanely funny (as I said, immature)

I didn't really know what whitewater drifting meant, but we'd been prepared that it might not be much fun because the water would be lower. It was pretty expensive so that worried us a bit. Well she was completely out to lunch. The whitewater drifting is basically the tube ride at a waterslide park, for 2 hours with two people per boat, down waterwater rapids that have been transformed and maintained for safety. It was amazing. They also send you down in groups of about 25 boats. Of course we turned it into a competition. I rode with Keinan, Denise and Misty were together and Anthony and Shawn went together. Right at the start the splashing begins and everyone of course, wants to splash the white girls, because we haven't even started and Misty and Denise are drenched. Keinan and I started at the back but we were making moves quickly to move up to the front. Anytime my boat or Denise's boat passed anybody, you could here one of either Denise, Misty or I yelling "HONK HONK" as we passed, and it never got old. Yes we are completely immature but life is way more fun that way. Keinan and I moved up from almost dead last to being in first place. There are spots along the way where they stop you and make you wait till everyone catches up before you go through the next section, and we were in the lead, and we go through an extremely fast section and get jolted a bit and Keinan gives a loud yell. He's had knee surgery before and he is grabbing at his leg in quite some pain. I'm a bit panicked because I know we have at least another 30 minutes to go but he is in pain.

We stop in a pooled area for a while to let Keinan recover a bit and he says he's good to go...and now he's mad because we had about 12 boats pass us and he's in a lot of pain. We get back to work trying to work our way back to the front and we do end up passing Misty and Denise, but we never could quite catch Anthony and Shawn who finished first out of everyone that went. It was such a fantastic time. Then it was off to the bus tot take us to Guilin, to grab the train to Liuzhou, and we get home around 9pm. These weekends are great, but man are they tiring. Next weekend will hopefully be more relaxing although we do have all day Friday and part of Saturday for Pro-D which we have to travel to Nanning for, so it won't be fully restful. Yangshuo is officially the best place in the world I have visited. We are already planning our next trip back there, as there is so much to do and it is just a great place to visit. If anyone comes to visit me, we will definitely be going there for sure.

Until next time,


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