I’ve tried to start this blog post at least five times in the past few days, and each time I run into the same problem: I don’t know where to begin to describe my crazy experiences in the past week–which has felt more like five years because everything is so new.
My days have been filled with health checks and taxis and buses and lots and lots of Chinese that I don’t understand. While some if it has been frustrating and rather intimidating, it has also been exciting and all around a learning experience.
I will start by saying that if you are looking for an easy job that takes you abroad and will help you quickly pay off your college loans then teach English in China. My housing is completely paid for, so the only things I have to take care of are my personal items, transportation, and food. And with food, the school provides a large lunch for me on the weekdays.
So then I’m responsible for breakfast and dinner, and all food on the weekend. But food in Qingdao costs next to nothing. China is big on its open air markets. Most people shop for every meal, and there is a market directly across the street from my apartment complex, so it is almost too easy to run down there for fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat. You can get a bag of apples for less than a dollar, and most other food follows suit. My friend and I each purchased a serving of pork dumplings for 10 yuen each–or about a $1.50. A serving of these dumplings lasts me two meals, so I effectively only spend 85 cents on a meal . . . when I chose to go out to eat.
Sunny and I have kept our apartment stocked with noodles, rice, oatmeal, sunflower seeds, and fresh fruit–most notably fresh dates and persimmons, both of which I had never tried before. Dates taste like hard pears and persimmons are very sweet. Often we will sit and talk, or watch a movie while endlessly shelling and eating sunflower seeds.
Transportation is my other “big” expense. Most foreigners take taxis everywhere, but the bus is also an option. A one way ride on the bus costs 1 yuen–or 15 cents. So, if I rode the bus 100 times, it would cost me around $16. The problem I have run into with the bus is that I can’t read the language at all. While the bus numbers are the typical Arabic form, the directions are in Chinese characters. Which I can’t read. Which makes it very difficult to figure out where to go on the bus.
This is the reason foreigners take taxis. When I first heard that, I was appalled, because in the US and especially Europe, a taxi ride costs your first born child. This is not the case in China. Sunny and I took a 25 minute taxi ride and it only cost $4. The base price is 9 yuen–$1.50–and it takes a good while for the meter to go up. So most taxi rides will only cost about $2 or less. The problem I have run into with taking a taxi, though, is, again, the language barrier. Even if you write down the address of the place you want to go, the driver might not be familiar with it. When this happens, my roommate usually gives the driver directions, or describes the general area. I can’t do that. Not only do I not speak the language, but I am not familiar with the area. One thing Sunny told me I could do was if my driver does not know where I needed to go, I could call her and she would tell him. So that’s an option, but its still not infallible.
Conclusion: I seriously need to learn Chinese.
Sunny has been charged with giving me Chinese lessons twice a week, which will definitely be helpful. Daily market and taxi Chinese I am going to have to teach myself or learn from listening in order to get by. Luckily, my apartment is two buildings down from my school, so it takes me about 2 minutes to walk to work in the morning, and most of it is honestly spent waiting for the elevator–the downside to living on the 16th floor.
When I received my Visa in Chicago, it wasn’t my final visa. There are still a number of steps we have to take place before I can receive my official Visa, which we have 30 days to complete. If there is one thing I’ve learned about China through this visa process, its that the government is full of red tape. Everything is done through windows in which you must turn in the correct form. There is a lot of running back and forth and confusion. It is absolutely an emphasis on the collective rather than the individual, which we in America absolutely do not understand.
Never did I experience the communism of China more than when Sunny took me downtown for my health check on Monday morning. Foreigners must receive their health check at a specific clinic for foreigners. When you arrive you are handed a form which you must fill out with your information and attach a passport photo to. Then, you are given a sheet of bar code stickers with your name on them. You and your fifty new best friends make your way upstairs where you enter room after room, often with many people already waiting, hand the doctor your form, and they scan the barcode, perform whatever task they specialize in, mark something on the form, and hand it back to you. Then it’s on to the next room. I got blood drawn, an ultra sound, my eyes checked, my height and weight checked, and I had to give a urine sample, etc. All this was done in a cold, clinical way, with people often wandering into your room as you are getting a test done. Add in that I did not speak that language and it made this experience even more crazy.
Finally, that was over, and Sunny took me to get a Chinese phone (I got the cheapest, stupidest phone I could find) and open my Chinese bank account. This was my first time really out into the city, so I finally got to get more of a picture of Qingdao.
On Wednesday I started observing the other English teachers to get an idea of my own job, which I officially start next Tuesday. I will be teaching all seven classes of students for between 15-30 minutes a day over the course of three hours in the morning, and for 1.5 hours a few afternoons a week. The Wan Jia branch of Big Apple Preschool where I will be working is the newest, and is a beautiful building full of light and is very highly equipped. The kids are at school from 7:45AM-4PM everyday, as most Chinese parents work.
The kids are adorable and seem to really enjoy school. They have mostly been happy and laughing when I have been in the class room. At 11:30 they have lunch and nap time until 2:30. The afternoon is mostly play time versus the morning classes.
While this transition has been more difficult that I thought it would be, I have truly been blessed with incredible people. Joel and Jessica, a couple who teach at another branch of Big Apple, have had me over for dinner and lunch already. Jessica took me shopping a few days ago, and they have acted as an invaluable resource to me over the past few days. They provided me with coffee and a strainer to make it as China does not really do coffee, and have been available for any questions I’ve had. Nicole, a girl who used to teach at Big Apple, took me out for coffee and to see some of the city the other day. Sunny, my roommate, has made sure I have everything I need and has taken wonderful care of me this week. I don’t know what I would have done without them, and know I will continue to be thankful for them in the coming months.
I know this post has been long, but it hasn’t even begin to cover everything that I have experienced. While some parts of this week have been difficult, there have been many parts that have been positive. Right now I am still very intimidated by my surroundings, and the fact that I can’t speak the language. But I know that in time that intimidation will fade, and I will fall into a new routine that will become my life for the next few months. I just need to give it time.