TheBlogcast – Episode 5 (repost) – June 5, 2009

Another re-release episode of TheBlogcast as I lead into the show’s relaunch.  It’s a bit dated.  Microphone audio is better.  Plus, I think I was still trying to find my “voice.”  Listen at your own peril.

TheBlogcast – Episode 3 (repost) – May 9, 2009

As I wait for my new mic to show up, I’m beginning the process of reposting all my old episodes of TheBlogcast™.  I apologize for the sh*tty microphone audio on this episode.  It was before I actually had a solid condenser mic.  They do get better along the way.  For the most part.

The gatherers.

I want you, the reader, to consider something.  Have you ever questioned, or even wished, that immigrants would learn how to join into Canadian/American society instead of congregating together within their own cultural/ethnic groupings? I’ve been guilty of this transgression.  I’ve also seen many of your Facebook feeds, so don’t try and deny that you have as well.  Hell, some of you are would openly stand behind these thoughts instead of doing the polite Canadian thing and just think about it to yourself.  At least you’re honest about it.

Now that is all said, I want you passing that judgment on to me and pretty much 99% of the expats that I meet here in China.  The majority of us English speaking white folk only hang out other English speaking white folk (there is a large disparity between white and non-white English speakers, but that’s a whole different topic).  Sure, we may befriend a couple of locals, but even when we do we are speaking English instead of learning the local language.  The hypocritical nature of us expats teachers probably doesn’t even occur to us.
So now that we’ve made it clear that I am guilty of this crime, I can also honestly comment on why it happens.  The reason is quite simple really.  In order to avoid the loneliness of being the other, we seek others on the outside of the majority.  The human species is lazy by nature and seeking out others who are similar is far easier than trying to join the majority.  Even if we do speak the same language of the majority, we are also the physical minority– a minority that stats out in a visually homogenous country such as China.  Regardless of speaking abilities, expats will always be the other here.

Applying this to Canada, I am almost certain that the process is the same there.  Children and grandchildren will adapt as first and second generation Canadians, while the landed immigrants will do the hard work of trying to establish themselves economically.
One of the benefits of being a traveler is that it opens the eyes and presents opportunities to alter pre-conceived notions and biases.  It’s these kinds of thoughts that pass through my head when I have a ten-day staycation.

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.

The leap frog of 12 years.

TheWife™ and I had an excuse to escape her hometown for a couple of days when an old classmate of hers announced that she would be in Newold City for a couple of days.  This presented us with a chance to hang out at the School U campus and hopefully find out where we would be living.

Alice and Howard also live on Campus, and naturally, we also spent some time with them as well.  Howard has lived in Newold City for about eight years.  During that time, he’s witnessed the city change dramatically. I couldn’t help but reflect on how backward Newold was back in 2003, and how they seem to have leapfrogged Canada over the span of 14 years– at least in the acceptance and usage of personal tech.  When I arrived in Newold in 2003, many people here were afraid of the technology that was beginning to surround them.  In particular, and to what suited me just fine, the locals avoided ATMs like the plague. Teller windows would be crowded (queueing still wasn’t a thing here) while the solitary bank machine would sulk in its loneliness and despair, knowing that it was a tool without a use.  Except for me. And any other foreigners in the area.
When we began coming for visits every couple of years, we witnessed the adoption of personal devices into day-to-day commerce.  Waitstaff would be using tablets or smart phones to take orders.  Reverse cameras in vehicles seemed to become standard at a much faster pace than back home.  With the introduction of large screen smart phones, more and more people were dropping laptop and desktop computers as they had become an added expense that wasn’t needed.  Today, mobile payments are everywhere.  Alipay seems to have won the hearts of major government and industry, while WeChat wallet serves small business and other smaller enterprises.  I can’t speak for the U.S., but Apple Pay is probably the largest of the mobile payment platforms, although I’d argue that individual corporate apps such as the Starbucks app probably have far more traction.

Unfortunately, social graces have a difficult time keeping up with technological advances.  There has certainly been some progress, but it will likely be a generation or two before it catches up.

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…