Goosebumps in sub-tropical weather.

Like many, I enjoy a pleasant surprise.  I’ll back up a little bit.

I was trying an exercise with my students where an audience benefits from watching an actor practice while giving them chances to make suggestions, meanwhile the actor gets the chance to have someone see them perform and receive feedback.  My approach was a bit of a flop.  And by a bit, I mean that if I had been sitting in that class, I would have spent my time been trying to memorize pi to two hundred decimal places.  It was brutal.  After the break, I altered the approach, and it made the process much less… painful.  That’s not the pleasant surprise part.
After the exercises, they were to apply everything that the exercises covered and apply it to a monologue–and perform it.  Specifically, they were applying changes of pace in movement, speech, and change in vocal tone to create emphasis and meaning.
And they performed.
Despite the fact that these were second language learners; despite having a drama class twice in one day; despite the fact that this was their last class on a Saturday afternoon; the performers nailed it.  Even Brad (an alias), who although has a solid technical knowledge of English, has some fairly significant pronunciation issues.  The performance of his monologue was entirely unexpected, as he completely changed the direction of what we had discussed.  I had goosebumps.  It was probably one of my happiest moments in teaching.

I gots paid this week.  Why so early?  I’m guessing because October 1 is the beginning of the Chinese national holiday.  A holiday where I will have no classes for eleven days.
Yes, I said eleven.
Now, it’s not the fact that I got paid or that I wanted to gloat about a holiday after only one month of teaching that I want to get into.  It’s more about what happened after the fact.  I am now officially hooked on mobile payment systems.  I’ve talked about them before.  There are two her, WeChat Wallet, and Alipay (a service provided by Alibaba).  With money in the account, I figured it would be appropriate that I give TheWife™ some cash.  My first instinct was to go to a bank machine.  We both headed out to a local supermarket and I figured I’d stop by an ATM on the way back.  We were wandering around the store when it dawned on me that a trip to the ATM was no longer necessary.  First, from my phone, I topped up my Alipay account with some cash.  I then asked TheWife™ for her phone.  “Why?” she asked.  “Just give me your phone,” I replied.  I opened up her Alipay app, scanned her QR code with my phone, and passed the money over to her account.  Mission accomplished.  I gave her back her phone which happily displayed a more significant balance then the zero in which it was just moments before.
While there are certain aspects of mobile payment systems that creep me the F out, I must admit, the convenience of it is just too easy to ignore.  I hope Canada catches up soon–I’m officially over pulling out my bank card for all my transactions.  That’s so 1994 (yes, that’s when using Interac debit transactions became a thing).

I up ‘n gots me a new Johnny

Well, not quite yet.  The plumbers are installing it now.  I actually had no idea this was coming.  You see, earlier in the week, the toilet kept running on and the stopper wouldn’t seal in the reservoir.  I contacted, for lack of a better term, our property manager, and someone was sent the following day.  TheWife™ was out and about when he arrived, and I thought we communicated okay.  The problem appeared to be solved, except for a small, but constant flow of water into the bowl.  This has always been the case and thought it was intentional, as it was happening from the moment I moved in.  There were also a couple cracks in the ceramic, but I thought nothing of it.  This morning, the plumbing people show up with a new toilet.  Surprise!  The porcelain God decided that a new altar was be bestowed onto us, for delivery if its sacrificial sacrament.  There’s a downside to our shiny turd collector; it can’t collect golden showers or chocolate hostages for a couple of days.  If I need to go, I now have to run to the public toilet in my building– which is down a flight of stairs, and a half-way across the building.  I’d call this a first world problem, but for some reason, I don’t feel as though I can classify this as one of those.

Oh yeah, I also started teaching this week after a 12-year hiatus.
And yes, it went well.  I commented earlier this week that it was like riding a bike, and I still stand by that.  I fell back into the process with relative ease.  The only issues I’m having is timing vs content.  Each class is two periods of 45-minutes each.  Under and overfilling that time slot is a bit of challenge.  Class sizes vary from 12 to 22, which means that the length it takes to finish an activity can drastically change from one class to another.  I’ll get it figured out, I’m sure.
Something else I kind of forgot about was the charge to the ego that teaching can bring–which I think I’m far more aware of this time around.  I think I can thank time and experience, and over a decade of self-reflection for this.  I’ve noted before that there’s a fairly strong reverence towards teachers here, and it really demonstrated itself on Friday.
Before my classes started, a couple of classes got moved, with on being changed to 4:30 on Friday.  Fine.  Come Friday, I show up for my class thirty minutes early.  I was surprised to find one of my student’s waiting for me outside of the classroom.  We chit-chatted a little, and she told me that a lot of students might not show because of the change.  Not everyone got the message.  Apparently, they did get the message, but the messages were different by two hours.  The coordinator gave me the wrong schedule.  The interesting part about this is that not a single one of the students who eventually showed up (only eight of what should have been close to twenty), every said anything about.  Just assumed my time was right, and their time was wrong, or just didn’t want to speak up about it.  If this had been a class back in Canada, there’d at the very least be questions of what happened.  Not here.

Oh, and one last thing.  The new Foo Fighters dropped this week, and it is awesome.

 

We all eventually get to where we’re going…eventually.

As you may have probably guessed, the past two weeks have been somewhat chaotic.  And by somewhat, I mean it has been.  Just yesterday I finally managed to feed some Interwebz™ into my abode.  It’s the standard campus internet and the speeds, while not third-world, are less than lightning fast.  I get faster speeds off of my 4G connection.

So let’s rewind a little bit.

As time wound down from visiting TheWife’s™ family, it was time to pack things up and first head to Shenzhen, and then to Hong Kong to obtain or Z Visa’s.  Of course, things are never that easy.  Because of limited trips, getting a direct train to Shenzhen was off the table (i.e. we were too late to get tickets).  Instead, we got tickets to Guangzhou, as there are trains between Guangzhou and Shenzhen that leave every twenty minutes.
At least usually.
You see, a typhoon was on its way to the mainland on our departure day.  Instead of killing us all, the train came to a stop when the first torrential pour came.  After an hour, when we started moving again, the train moved at a bit of a crawl compared to its normal pace, making our arrival two hours late.
No problem.
At least it shouldn’t have been.
When we arrived in Guangzhou, we began our search for the ticketing booth to get our tickets.  It was packed.  Of course, I thought nothing of it, since it was China after all.  TheWife™ had the smarts to ask, and discovered that those lines for refunds and rebookings.  All trains out of Guangzhou had been cancelled for the rest of the day.  However, there were some shuttle buses capitalizing on the shutdown, that would take us to Shenzhen.  It would be slower, but at least we’d get there.  No problem.
Well, at least almost.
We are guided for a few minutes until we reach the small shuttle.  It was going to be a cramped ride, but it wouldn’t be the first time.  TheWife and I, along with about six other passengers hop on.  Then we saw the cherries flash and the mini-bus is prevented from leaving.  TheWife™ begins to panic a little, worried that for some reason we may lose all our luggage.  As we all continue to wait in the hot, crowded bus, the operators get out and begin to discuss things with Police officer.  One puts his hand on his shoulder, as the China 5-0 speaks into his walkie-talkie.  There was some negotiating I’m sure, and after about twenty minutes, we were finally on our way.  We discovered that all this noise was because the mini-bus was illegally parked.  It was too large to be parking where it was.  Fine.  Okay.  On our way.  No problem.
And it was not a problem to Shenzhen after that– except for some traffic.  I could deal with that though.  It’s not like I didn’t have experience with that.
We had planned to arrive in Shenzhen around noon.  Noon turned into about 6 p.m.  All this, and we weren’t even in Hong Kong yet.  But I’ll save that for next time.

I’m big in China

For those who are not familiar with the mainland education system, the high school years are super stressful as the students prepare for their gaokao, or university entrance exams.  High school lives in North America is like play time in comparison.  My wife’s nephew has a very very common surname, which I will say is Wong, and is especially common in his home town.  Every year, those of the same lineage celebrate the year’s new university entrants.  It’s a celebration of pomp and circumstance, primarily for the parents.  Today was TheNephew’s turn, and so we tagged along.

In the southern small towns of China, a lot of areas look strikingly similar, in the same way a lot of suburbs in Canada and the US do.  We parked around the corner from the event, but it was clear that we were heading in the right direction with the sounds of symbols and pipe flutes clashing and chirping their songs.  We wandered further in and enjoyed some traditional Chinese snacks.  It wasn’t long, though, until the cameras started coming out.  My nerd-tan only helps to exacerbate my inability blend in with the locals.  In small towns, a foreign presence is quickly recognized and is a complete novelty.  When we finished our snacks we continued to wander around, stopping for a few more posed photos, until we were cornered by a more well-to-do Wong invited me to sit down.  I graciously accepted and as I began to sit, he called over his university bound daughter.  He pushed her forward, strongly encouraging her to speak to me.  I figured she would have some basic English fluency, and I prepared myself as such.  She introduced herself as Marjorie and asked a couple of questions.  My assumptions were smashed when she kept talking.  She had been going to high school in Ohio with a sponsor family.  She was pleasant enough and we chatted for a bit.  Her father, very pleased with her daughter’s ability to speak English, then asked me to give a few words when the ceremonies began.
I thought, ‘why not.’  I had forgotten how much celebrity gets thrown at white guys in small town China.  By agreeing to participate, I was also giving “face” to those in charge–and by extension, my nephew.

I really didn’t know what to say, and what’s more, I knew the entrants really wouldn’t want some random white guy to drone on about things.  So I kept it short, exiting stage right, thinking that my responsibilities were concluded.
Wrong.  It was group photo time.  I was lead to the back row with all the organizers and such–which was fine.  I wasn’t there for very long, though, as I was then lead to the front row between an entrant to Qinghua University (very prestigious here), and Marjorie, who got accepted into Virginia Tech.

Some white guy became a special guest for a university entrants celebration.

I think this is a problem I faced the last time I was here.  I’m not saying the false celebrity was the problem, but its effects on perceived self-worth.  Events like this can quickly go to your head if it happens frequently enough.  I will have to be sure to keep myself in check this second time around.  Gotsta stay humble.

Second book in the series.

The early morning sun is shining on the deck outside my mother’s rear patio doors.  It’s Sunday morning and all three of us are quiet, TheWife™, TheMom™, and myself.  TW gazes on taps away on her phone, likely sending messages back and forth to her sister using WeChat, and TM is probably falling through the click-bait rabbit holes.  I am sitting in front of my laptop, clacking at its keyboard and sipping away at my weekend morning coffee treat.  It’s the same routine that we have gone through every weekend since I arrived back in June.  The only difference is that in 17 hours, TW and I will be on my flight to Newold City (my new pseudonym for where I’m living–check the Cast and Errata page for a list of other pseudonyms I am using) via Guangzhou.

Of course, by the time you read this, I will have already been in the air for presumably six hours or more, flying for a total of fifteen hours and twenty minutes for the first leg.

So it’s finally here.  Any sense of anxiety I had is pretty much gone, which to me is indicative that I’m ready.  It’s a long list that I really don’t want to create new names for, so instead I will give a blanket, yet earnest thank you to everyone who took time out of their daily lives over the past seven weeks (SEVEN WEEKS!?!) to spend time with TheWife™ and I.

Preparing for Book Two!

I know, given our penchant for vagabonding, that being our nearest and dearest requires extra effort and while maybe not heartbreak, a certain sense of melancholy every time we show up and then leave again.  This is not lost on us, and for these efforts, I am truly grateful.
I was out with Lyle (see Cast) yesterday, discussing this very topic.  And while it sucks being away from each other, it is also demonstrative of the strength of the bonds that have developed between us.  During college, after we completed the taping of our last class project, I was feeling a little down knowing that this may be the last time I would see these people as we were now free to go out into the world.  I expressed these thoughts to a classmate of mine.  He had a different perspective which has carried with me ever since.  He said, “Andy, those who really truly matter will always continue to be in contact with you.”  He was right, of course.  And to me, these people who have been with me over these past 15-20 years are my family.  Whether biological or not, these bonds are far more important to me than any blood that runs through our veins.

Thank you, with all the love and appreciation that you rightfully deserve.

With that, I think it’s time to cap off this chapter.  For that matter, I think I’ll leave this as a cliffhanger for my first book.  Book Two: Version 2.0 begins…

Misfires and bad shots

Bureaucracy is a bane to all of our existences.  It’s a bi-product of government and corporate processes that permeates through the crevices of society.  My journey into China this year is far different than thirteen years ago.  In 2003 all I needed to do was to show up in the country with a tourist visa, and everything else would be handled by my employer once I got there.  When I first landed in the country, I was shocked to find how much work was still done on paper.  Electronic records had just started to canvas the Middle Kingdom at the time, and I was residing in a backwoods province.  Apparently, it’s not just the cities that expand at lightning speed there.  From what I’ve seen through short trips there, and what I’ve been dealing with during my process this time, the technological pervasiveness may have very well surpassed what we have here in Canada.  It is with all these new technologies in place that a whole new layer of paperwork has become concomitant with the work permit application apparatus.

Government proposes, bureaucracy disposes. And the bureaucracy must dispose of government proposals by dumping them on us.

-P. J. O’Rourke

New, just this year, are requirements for notarized and authenticated documents that are re-authenticated by the Chinese consulate.  This top heavy process is supposed to make further applications a lot smoother and expedited.  I can deal with that.  However, given that these processes are new, hiccups and confusions are bound to come up.  I have already gone through some new hurdles in the process, and I ran into new ones yesterday.  I received notification that I was not to arrive in China until August 28th.  The first stage of my work permit expires after 30 days, and those days would be needed to get my residency papers, updated permits, and other important documents.  I leave on August 14 at 1:30am.  tickets are purchased, and rebooking would be.. expensive.  The solution is to arrive on a tourist visa (which I already have from my previous trip, though TheWife™ will need to reacquire), have my documents sent to China instead of here in Canada, and then at the end of August, I am to journey into Hong Kong to get my proper Z visa.

This change also brought about a new issue– since I am to arrive on a tourist visa, I’ll need to show that I have a flight booked out of the country.  I only have one-way tickets purchased because I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be coming home next summer.  An inquiry told me that to upgrade my tickets to leave next July would add an additional $1200 to my ticket price.  I poured myself a bowl full of NOPE!  Research led me to a service for flying nomads called FlyOnward which will purchase a ticket for you, for a small fee, and will then cancel the ticket after 48 hours.  They purchase the ticket on their own dime, which limits the expense of buying full-return.  Genius.  This is what the internet has done for us.

International travel is never easy, and work permits are requiring increasingly complicated maneuvers to get them.  Good thing I learned a long time ago to let the red tape and other things roll off my shoulders.  Besides, it’s not like back in June, the day before I moved back to Ontario when I lost my passport.  Oh.  I haven’t told you that story yet.  I’ll save that one for next time.

The switch from ESL teacher to Prof

Probably one of the most exciting things about my new teaching position is that I’m not just an ESL teacher.  At this institute of higher learning, which for anonymity purposes will henceforth be dubbed SchoolU, my first semester will primarily be filled with me teaching a drama course.  This is a game changer.  Trying to encourage the creation of a drama group the last time I was in China was a difficult proposition, as the students I had wouldn’t have had the free time to devote to anything more than improv games.  While improv games are an important part of the experience, being able to add short plays and monologues into the mix has me absolutely thrilled.

Thank you boys.

Of course, this development was unexpected.  When I was hired, part of the discussion centred on whether I’d be interested in branching off into content courses.  Naturally, I said yes, but felt it would be best to get some ESL time back under my belt first.  Apparently that message didn’t carry, which I discovered when I received an email from one of the administrators asking what my content course was going to be, and that they needed a course syllabus within two weeks.

Surprise!

A brief moment of panic was quickly replaced by enthusiasm.  I mean, really.  This is going to be awesome.  I look forward to the day when I have all my students stand on their desks and exclaim, “oh captain, my captain.”  The only difference is that I won’t have been fired.

Cue the background noise.

We have all seen it before, whether it be on television, movies, or cartoons.  That moment when someone is so focused that all background noise ceases to exist as the character focuses on.. whatever.  A secret note that is going to lead Johnny Adventure to the treasure of a lifetime.  Catherine focuses on the hospital machine that goes BING, praying for her sister to wake from the coma.

In the modern era, this effect, which likely has some sort of official name, probably happens most when a person becomes absorbed in whatever is on display on the 5.5″ screen of their mobile device.  I know this to be true, because it happened to me.  It was the weirdest sensation when I became conscious of it.  I was reading another Trump news article (is there any other news, really), sitting silently in a local food court as the hustle, bustle, and conversations were completely muted behind me.  I looked up and the titlewave of sound swished around my brain.  The world was alive again as I brought my eyes up from the blue hue of the touchscreen.

The experience was a bit enlightening, and gave me new understanding as to how people are more prone to being hit by cars when using their devices.  It does make me curious as to what will happen when augmented reality is in full swing.

Music taste and adult evolution

One of the great things about where I live, and there are many similar locations across the country, is the proximity to a local park/nature trail.  The one in my neck of woods surrounds a municipally owned golf course, which has a path covered in mulch on the outer extremities of the property.  The majority of the course rests upon a large and rocky hilltop and has a creek that runs underneath it, ultimately forming into a pond in the centre of the north side.  Of course, there are plenty of ducks happily reside there, safe in the knowledge that the people who walk through the area will leave them be, or drop breadcrumbs for them to squabble over.  I’ve witnessed the odd feeding, and it is not for the faint of heart.

Usually, my strolls through this trail are not done solo.  The pleasant atmosphere makes it ideal for nice sixty-minute walk with a partner.  I actually had my first unaccompanied journey around the golf course this week.  When walking by myself, like many, my ears are caressed with music delivered from headphones or earbuds.  Knowing a situation like would eventually arise, I previously curated my phone with a bunch of artists that I have enjoyed listening over my four decades of life.  Some are guilty pleasures, and some I believe to be true musical artists who are honest to their craft.  What I am slowly trying to say is, don’t judge me with what is about to be transcribed to the permanence of TheInterwebz™.

I was approaching the second bend of the trail when a song from Sum 41 came on.  It might have been from their release from a couple months ago, I can’t remember.  What the song was does not really matter, but what it did do was remind me of events of my past when a song of theirs might have played.  Nostalgia was triggered in the way that only music can do.  How many times have we heard songs that we loved when we were growing up being used a modern television program, commercial, a movie, only to have it inspire us to buy a product or at the very least listen to the song or entire album?  Of course listening to this throwaway song from Sum 41 did not just trigger said nostalgia, but it lead me along a different path than what was before my eyes in the park.  I began to take stock in the music that I’ve been listening to or have purchased over the past couple of years.  More importantly, I thought about my usual process of finding new music to listen to.  Sadly, it goes something like the following:  First, on Friday mornings, I log into my Apple Music account and navigate to the new music prompt.  Second, I scan for artists I recognize.  Third, if there is an artist I know, I will listen to the album and purchase where appropriate.  Fourth, I navigate to the Just for You new music section and go through a similar process.  Sometimes, just sometimes, I’ll listen to the entire new music playlist that Apple generates for me, and maybe 10% of the time I find something or someone new that I enjoy and will investigate further.  The thought of this process yielded some conclusions that disappoint me and sparked further questions.

Eight short years ago (I remember when eight years seemed like a long time), I began my twenty episode podcast journey which explored new music and celebrated music from my past.  Since then, I’ve experimented with Nerdcore Hip-hop, EDM, but my roots still remain, which lean towards the rock, ska, SoCal punk, and 90s alternative (not the god awful stuff that counts as alternative these days), with bands and performers like Incubus, The Offspring, Foo Fighters (of course), Ben Folds, Gorillaz, Mad Caddies, Tegan and Sara, and yes, the aforementioned Sum 41.  While I still find new artists I enjoy, like Halsy, CHVRCHES, Tove Lo, and Dorothy, my scope modern music that I enjoy grows increasingly narrow.  I am getting perilously close to the point that most adults eventually reach.  That point where you believe all new music is crap, with music from our generation being infinitely better than what is currently being produced.

It began to dawn on me that perhaps this musical evolution is an indicator that the listener has completed the “growing-up” process.  A sign of full adulthood.  At first, this made sense.  I felt that even through my early thirties, I still had yet to completely grow up.  I quickly called bullshit on this, as there are people who have yet to really grow up and are listening to eighties hair bands.  While I called BS, the train of thought had merit.  The ability to enjoy new music as an adult could also be an indicator of ones ability to continue evolving.  There comes the point when a person becomes a full-on zebra.  This idea, I think, has more merit.  When I reflect on how much personal change I have gone through over the past few years, I know I am still evolving.  At the same time, I still occasionally find new music that I fall in love with.  I know I have not stopped my personal evolution.  In some aspects, I think my evolution is just beginning.  When I think honestly, I remember a period back in the doughnuts when I realized how much popular music is churned out like butter.  It is my hope that it’s not my evolution that has stuttered, but that I have become more of a wine taster.  I know what is good, and what I like.  Part of the role of a taster is also to experiment and try new things—which I still do.  It is with that in mind I find myself having a positive outlook on what is yet to come.  This journey that I am on, I believe, is far from being over.

People evolve and it’s important to not stop evolving just because you’ve reached ‘adulthood.’

-J. K. Simmons

China 2016: The first five days

It’s Easter today, but you wouldn’t know it here. No bunnies, no eggs, no religious doctrine. Not that I completely mind or care. This trip is worth far more to me than a holiday I barely celebrate. That being said, I can’t say that the five days I’ve been here has been all sunshine and roses.

Our first full day was Wednesday, which we spent just walking around Kunming and hopping random busses. A good mini-adventure as we were pretty jet lagged. We made it back to our hotel around 6pm and crashed for the night.

Thursday was more of the same, although we had a couple of destinations in mind. Hopping more buses, we eventually made it to a park. It wasn’t what we were actually looking for, mind you.   Sunflower was looking for a botanical garden. A botanical garden that was actually on the outskirts of town. Oops. But it didn’t matter.  It was nice to wander around there.  We happened to find a vegetarian buffet in the middle of the park that was pretty tasty as well.  No complaints.

On Friday we joined a tour group to the Stone Forest. This was an interesting journey. What we didn’t know was that there would be a couple of pit stops along the way for mini-shopping excursions. Three stops of an hour each, where each purchase made benefitted the tour guide in the form of a small commission. This really didn’t come as a surprise, but it was a little frustrating. At the end of the day though, it was worth it. The Stone Forest, a large, natural formation of protruding rocks, was quite beautiful to see. The area is quite large, and takes around three days to walk through it all. We stuck with the main tourist section which only covered a small portion (maybe an eighth of the park). We got home and grabbed a late dinner from a small hole in the wall.

Mistake.

It took a mere three days for me to get some food poisoning, leading me to spend day four in bed.  A day that should have found me on a plane to Nanning. Only, there was no plane.  There was no plane because there was no flight.  There was no flight because that route had apparently been cancelled.  All this we find out about only after TheWife™ and I laboured to the airport (she got a bit of poisoning too).  Without much fight, the airline booked us a hotel and a new flight with a different airline for a day later.  In hindsight, this was probably a far more optimal situation, as my sister-in-law’s home only has squat toilets (i.e. a hole in the floor).  

With a bit of a tender tummy, I’m pretty much back to normal again, sitting in the back seat of my sister-in-law’s Asia only brand Chevy Sail, on route from Nanning to Guigang, TheWife™’s hometown. It’s a relaxing and familiar drive. It’s a Sunday and there’s basically nothing on the highway. The next a few days I imagine will be pretty light, but given the past few days, I don’t really mind.