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…

The countdown is on.

So I suppose this is the point where I’m supposed to acknowledge that with my departure date arriving in less than a week that nerves are starting to waiver a bit.  I hate to disappoint.. so I indeed will acknowledge that there’s a certain sense of anxiety lying beneath my calm, yet excited exterior.  How could I not be feeling–something?  Regardless of the fact that I have done this before doesn’t make this new experience “old hat” or completely familiar.  I’ve gone back into the troves of blog archives from a site that has not existed for more than a decade (RUHome, anyone?).  Reading through a post after my arrival articulates what I felt at the time fairly well:

For the record, I’m still not feeling much of anything about my current situation. It’s been like this for days now. I’m just continuing to roll with the punches as they’re brought forward. For some reason, all this just seems like a normal day to me and I can’t figure out for the life of me why this is.

There is a significant difference to this trip, in that I have had much more time to prepare.  My now longtime friend at the time had been doing all the legwork in finding us a teaching placement where we could both go together for mutual support, and in mid-February she announced that she had found a place and we were to be there in slightly over two weeks.  It was a complete whirlwind and as a result, the whole situation didn’t sink in until long after I had arrived.  This time around, I have had plenty of time to think about everything.  Most of my whirlwinds for round two happened in June as I struggled to collect, notarize, and authenticate all my documents before I left British Columbia–leaving me with a LOT of time to think about things.  Fortunately, most of that thinking hasn’t happened until the past day or two.

Interestingly, I am not really sure what it is that I’m feeling anxiety about.  It’s just there.  The whole “OMG, I’m moving to China in x days” kind of anxiety.  I know what I’m getting into– well– mostly.  I have my wife as a Mandarin speaking security blanket, but I still find myself apprehensive this time around.   Maybe its the anxiety I should have felt 14 years ago that is finally catching up with me.

 

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.

A missed connection in the subconscious.

What time does my connection leave?

If dreams are a representation of the subconscious, then apparently I’m worried about missing my connecting flight when I go to China.  While I won’t get into the dream details, I thought it interesting to point out that for the past two days, my dreams have had to do with my upcoming new adventures.  I don’t think I’m worried about it– at least not consciously.

I’ve realized that while I have a pseudonym for the school I’m teaching at, SchoolU, I’m missing one for the city in which I’ll be living.  A part of me wonders if I should even bother trying to keep it anonymous.  Especially if at some point I start posting pictures here (which will inevitably happen).  I guess it makes sense as I don’t really need any students or faculty reading this here collection of my words.  It probably wouldn’t take much to find this space via search engine.  I just tried using the mainland’s primary search engine and could find this site if I used the title, but realistically speaking, how many people will know?  Further, I searched my authorial pseudonym, and it was not on the first page.  Despite this discovery, I think I’ll still refrain from using the city’s name.  Call me paranoid.

If anyone has any suggestions for a name, I’d love to hear it.

Although it’s not going to start it quite yet, after being inspired by Ed Pratt’s unicycling adventure across China, I think I’m going to add a vlogging component to my experiences.  The first time around, I made a couple videos of comedic value, but little substance.  I’m older now, and.. older, but having a video perspective of my adventures that are less filtered than they would be if I had written them, could prove interesting.  But we’ll see.  I still have 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.

Answering the why.

Author’s Notes:  For those whom I haven’t told yet, my career is taking me back to Asia.  I wrote the following on June 11.  For the purposes of surprise visits upon my return to Ontario, I decided to delay this entry.  I’m sneaky that way.  I may have also fibbed to a few people.  Obviously, I am not here on vacation.

—-

So it certainly is beginning to feel more real.  Now that I’ve officially graduated, the task of packing up my life in Victoria truly begins.  Vehicles took next to zero effort to sell, thankfully.  The tough part will be selling the odds and ends.  One of the advantages of having moved out to the west coast in the first place is that I was able to do away with a lot of things, minimalizing what I’ve owned.  This makes the process infinitely easier.

Here we go again…

I’ve spent the past couple of days washing up some clothes and loading suitcases.  I’ve been able to fit almost my entire wardrobe in two bags.  I feel as though that is a great accomplishment!  I then look at TheWife’s™ packing, and I am incredibly humbled.  A carry on and half a full-sized suit-case.  This realization is somewhat mitigated with the knowledge that I am twice the size as she.  I’ll take this as a victory.

So, the question may be circling some heads.  Why is he going back?  There are multiple reasons for this.  In all honesty, I knew this day would come again at some point.  As those closest to me know, I have the itch.  I like to wander.  As I’ve said before, I compare myself to a potted plant as opposed to a tree.  I have difficulty rooting myself to one place.  A second aspect to what has brought me to here relates to the whole mid-life crisis thang, and my general desire to experience more of Asia.  My trip to China will not be my last stop.  China is my refresher course.  Further on the docket are destinations such as Thailand, Vietnam, and the Holy Grail that is Nippon!  Let’s face it.  I am not getting any younger and my window to experience these countries the way I want to experience them is closing ever so slowly.  Third, is of course, timing.  Everything seemed to align to make this happen, with my getting laid-off from my employer and me completing my degree in close proximity.  What really sealed it, though, is a bit more complicated.

As I’ve gotten older, I have come to the conclusion that there is something horrendously wrong with the world and how it functions.  Many of us are still living in a world where we consciously or subconsciously believe that buying things makes us happy (although it is good to see that more people are spending on experiences than on things).  We accept the status quo of governments and businesses working in tandem to keep power in the hands of an increasingly select few.  The betterment of society as a whole is only used when it is convenient for corporate or governmental needs.  I, up until recently, worked in a company that, while I firmly believe was cleaner than most, worked in the very grey industry of internet advertising.  The excuse I heard most often was basically lemming theory (i.e. everyone else is doing it).  The majority of what we do, by extension, is corrupt somewhere down the line.  I, for one, want to participate as little as possible in these machinations.  I also believe that the best place to initiate change is with students.  I am now in a place educationally, and mentally, to start to plant my own seeds, in an effort to get the next generation to think more critically and hopefully come to similar conclusions so they can be a part of the change in which needs to come if society is to move forward.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
-Nelson Mandela

So, yeah.  Part of my decision is certainly self serving, but I’d like to think that it also has a greater purpose than just what I want for myself.

 

 

150 Years – what are we celebrating?

I may get some hate from this, but hey, it wouldn’t be the first time I got heat for something I’ve written online.

So Canada celebrates its sesquicentennial on Saturday (in upfront honesty, a friend tipped me off to that word).  150 years ago, the Queen gave her royal assent to the British North America Act, which united the province of Canada (which became Ontario and Quebec), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia into one union.  This law came into act on July 1, 1867.  A century and a half later, we have been blanketed with advertisers telling us that to we should give company X our money as a form of the grand celebration.  I’m sure the fathers of confederation certainly expected that this is what our celebrations would turn into– a reason to buy things.

Maybe this makes me a bad Canadian, but I cannot buy into these celebrations (pun intended).  Will I go see the fireworks on Saturday evening?  Sure.  It’s a 150 year celebration, and I expect it to be quite the explosive affair (again.. intended).  I will even partake in a beer beverage or two during the day, but Canada Day is just a convenient excuse for me to crack a cold one open.  What is escaping me more and more as I age is the notion of patriotism and nationalism.  It’s funny to say that, as I’ve just put on a top 150 Canadian songs playlist, but I’ll chalk that up to nostalgia.
One of the more difficult things for me to grasp now is taking pride in the accomplishments of other Canadians.  Whether it’s an actor, musician, comedian, doctor, athlete, etc., I fail to recognize what sharing being born within the same arbitrary borders has to do with someone else’s success and why I should be proud of it.
There is also the thought of so-called shared Canadian values.  What are these values?  I can promise you that for every value you pinpoint, I can find someone in my social media streams that run contrary to that value (even if only from my perspective).  Part of the Canadian identity is that we are not American.  By country borders, I cannot disagree with that, however I would also bet that I could find at least one American that has 95% value similarities to match with one of Canada’s 36 million people.
We are also far from being saints as a nation.  We upper classes still repress the lesser classes.  By celebrating 150 years of Confederation we are also celebrating colonialism and the failure of reparations for our forefathers misdeeds.

I want to acknowledge that I am thankful and fortunate that by genetic lottery, I am a Canadian.  People have fought for many things that we now take for granted (like celebrating 150 years by participating in a neo-liberal economic structure).  But why do we fight for our country?  Shouldn’t we be doing it because it’s the right thing to do?  Our acts of heroism, courage, kindness, or benevolence should have nothing to do with the country in which we were born or live in, but be done out of simple morality.  I recognize that not all countries are as fortunate as we are here, and perhaps it is our good fortune that we are not living in a North Korea, Syria, Sudan, or Somalia.  And perhaps that is what we should be celebrating.  The problem here is that we are celebrating our good fortune that has come from basically piggy backing off of the hard work and dedication of others, meanwhile the vast majority of us have done very little to move the needle forward.  Hell, in the last 6 elections, we averaged on a 62.6% voter turnout rate.  Voting, in my mind, is the easiest form of participation and 13.5 million of us can’t even do that (I don’t include Facebook posts as participation as it is a form of bitching, not acting.. like and share if you agree).

I think my biggest issue is that we still find ourselves thinking in terms of nationalities, genders, sexualities, and ethnicities.  We have yet to truly understand that we are all Earthlings and should be celebrating the culmination of all our lives together.  I still long for the day where we recognize and respect differences, but these differences have no impact on how we treat and think about each other.  Someone’s gay friend becomes just their friend.  Like Jim Jeffries reminds us, “we can do better.”

So, yeah, Happy Canada Day.  And stuff.

“Imagine there’s no countries…”
-John Lennon