Day 13 (7th of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
I only had one class today, and it was an easy one in the afternoon. We learned about the great Mao ZeDong. In typical Chinese fashion, he was given glowing reviews by the teacher.
You undoubtedly would have noticed the blue and yellow balloons taped to the wall on the right of the projector screen. This festive addition to the classroom appeared last Tuesday to mark International Women’s Day. The extent to which they brighten up the classroom is roughly proportional to the liberties afforded to women in China. How appropriate.
Over the past few days I’ve been gradually building up my language confidence to the point where I don’t prepare the sentence I’m about to say. That’s good in the sense that it’s bringing me closer to fluency, but it absolutely betrays the age-old piece of wisdom: “Think before you speak”.
And oh boy, did I learn that lesson today.
Let me paint the picture for you. It’s a 0-degree windy day, and all the students (95% Korean, 4% Japanese, 1% Australian) are sitting silently in their puffy jackets. The teacher files through the rows of desks with the class roll, asking each student to mark their name off. To my dismay, I realise that I have not brought a pen to class.
The teacher arrives in front of my desk.
“May I use your pen?” I ask, or so I thought.
Silence. A mortified look begins to eat its way into her face. The classroom erupts in laughter.
It turns out that the word pen (笔 bǐ), when pronounced in a slightly different tone, becomes a vulgar reference to female genitalia (屄 bī). Yes, I had literally just tried to solicit sexual favours from my professor.
Needless to say, I was forgiven. Being a foreigner comes with its perks.
Following the class we were given our new textbooks. A big step up from the 2 Chinese textbooks I had in Year 12!
Day 14 (8th of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
Today I had 4 hours of classes. Outside of these hours, I roamed the University looking for new and interesting foods. I snapped this photo of the University’s sports ground to give you an idea of what much of the campus looks like:
My favourite finds of the day were a vegetarian Chinese crêpe and a much better take on the Western favourite ‘sweet and sour pork’. My new favourite post-dinner drink is a hot soy-milk, which is incredibly popular here.
I met someone new during the meal who was really good company, but I think I enjoyed it mainly due to the ego boost of realising that my Chinese was better than her English. Her accent is also really easy to understand, so I’ve organised that we have dinner again next Tuesday to practice each other’s languages (not a date this time).
After dinner, I fell asleep watching 叶问, a Chinese kung-fu movie. It only had Chinese subtitles, so I didn’t understand a lot of it. I could grasp enough that I enjoyed it, though. I’ve organised with my friend Taff that we go see the 3rd movie in the series on Saturday which just came out.
Day 15 (9th of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
This evening, I met up with Maddy (the girl whose heart I broke). The purpose of me asking to see her again was so that I could give her a gift, because I felt bad for the situation last week. It was only upon giving a box of chocolates to her that I realised I had once again falsely indicated a romantic interest. Luckily she said she didn’t like chocolate, so I ended up eating them all on the bus to the metro.
During a speaking class today, we were taught that “how much do you earn?” is a commonly asked and acceptable question in conversation. We were told that we should answer it to avoid seeming like we didn’t like the person who asked. However, we were told that if we truly felt that it was a private issue due to our own culture, we should respond “八亿十亿” (1.8 billion) as a joke. By chance, Maddy asked me that exact question on the bus. I initially responded with 1.8 billion which received a laugh, but she then pushed me for an actual answer. I decided that I would tell her my pay for teaching English. It turns out that a market rate for a foreign teacher dwarfs that of a Xuzhou shop assistant.
Suddenly she realised that she’d forgotten to bring any money with her. What a coincidence.
For the next 4 hours, I watched her deplete the contents of my wallet. We bought food and drinks from every street stall. After eating 3 rolls and some dumplings, she dragged me into KFC where I reluctantly agreed to buy her the AU$40 family box (funnily enough, KFC is one of the most expensive food joints in the city), because apparently she was very hungry. No more than a quarter of the way through the meal (or 5 meals, rather), she was full. “吃吧吃吧” she insisted to me, surprised that I couldn’t eat any more. The Chinese get very offended by wasting food, so I was forced to take it all with me.
The homeless man who decided to snuggle up next to the entrance of KFC undoubtedly had the biggest feast he’s ever had.
I still got a few good pictures from the night.
Day 16 (10th of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
Class continued as normal today. Like every morning, I passed the noticeboard in the foyer and stood there gawking at it for about 5 minutes trying to decipher its meaning.
At lunch I caught up with some people I met at the supermarket while asking for some help. They showed me a hidden food court which a lot of the uni students go to, and we had some good conversations about Chinese and Australian pop culture. A lot of the girls in Xuzhou are really into K-Pop, which surprises me.
Dinner was one of the best meals I’ve found since arriving. It was a spicy chicken, salad and rice dish.
Tonight would have to entail one of the best stories I have of this trip. My roommate, as I’ve mentioned before, is a terribly bad snorer. So bad, in fact, that he wakes me up constantly throughout the night. Normally I smack the side of my bed really loudly to jolt him out of the snore, but on this particular night, not even that would work. I had been awake for over an hour, my peace disturbed by what can only be described as an asphyxiated squeal. I had to resort to desperate measures. In my half-awake and zombie-like state, I formulated an ingenious idea. I climbed out of bed to get the clothesline hanging pole (a 1.5m metal rod). Laying back in my bed with the pole, I reached it over to my roommate’s bed, giving him a sharp poke and waking him up. Before he could roll over, I had stealthily brought the pole back under my blanket and was pretending to sleep. For all he knew, it was a dream (or the boogeyman). The next morning, I woke up hugging the pole and remembered what I had done. I felt incredibly bad. I don’t deserve this snoring, he doesn’t deserve an abusive roommate.
So I went out and bought some earplugs.
Day 17 (11th of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
Today was mostly spent at the Public Security Bureau working out my new visa to allow me to go to Hong Kong. After much trouble, I’ve finally been given a new student Visa which will allow me another entry into the country. I couldn’t have been happier to receive this piece of paper, despite my shocking mug shot.
I also received information about clubs and societies at the University today. I have registered interest in the basketball club, ping pong club and breakdancing club (thought I’d try something wild). Wait till I whip out some moves when I return home.
I also received news today that Elijah made NSW Schoolboys (shoutout to Elijah). It made my day. I can only imagine the world of opportunities this now opens up for him. No one deserves it more.
I’ll take any excuse to celebrate, so I went out to raise my glass to this achievement from the other hemisphere.
I’m glad I did go out too, because I stumbled upon what has to be the most exquisite toilet in Xuzhou. Hidden in a trendy café in the city centre lies this porcelain throne. I’ll definitely be returning here.
You have to understand that this is the first non-squatting public toilet I’ve seen in weeks, and certainly the first with toilet paper. Not only that, but the room’s décor is such a nice touch. I went and found the owner, Ken, to compliment him on the bathroom (this is true). He was genuinely very appreciative, and we’re catching up next week so that he can show me where a big Western import store is (apparently they sell Aussie beef – I can’t wait).
I met some nice and some not-so-nice foreigners at various bars. It was only at this point that I decided it might be a good idea to call it a night:
Day 18 (12th of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
Today was the first day of teaching English. I’m not much of a selfie-taker, but I thought I’d give one a shot in the staff room.
I enjoyed most of the classes, although there was always the sulking kid in the corner who was scared of the big white guy. I’m actually quite proud of myself for rising to the challenge of being overly theatrical for the young kids.
During one class I was teaching everyone the words for “moon” and “star” when a boy was misbehaving in the corner by rolling on the floor and running around the room. My teacher’s assistant walked over and hit him really hard over the head (corporal punishment is legal and regularly practiced here), and I just had to continue teaching while this kid got whalloped. Was a bit confronting, but it certainly put him into line.
One of my colleagues, Marcus, showed me a spot for lunch. Lunch breaks in China are 2-3 hours which are actually a challenge to get through, so I will definitely bring some books to occupy myself tomorrow. We literally ate in a construction site, which is typical China. Sorry for the bad photo quality.
Marcus, like all the foreigners here, has a pretty interesting story. He’s got a Chinese wife and a baby on the way, neither of which he recommended. He’s been living in Xuzhou for 6 years after coming here on a whim to get some work experience teaching. It turns out he owns the bar I was at last night. He told me some interesting stories about all the lunches he had to buy for policemen, government officials and gangsters just to get the bar up and running.
Day 19 (13th of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
I worked all day again today. The mentality of the students is really striking. Each time I invite them up to the front of the classroom to answer a question on the E-board, they always look over at me for approval just before they click the correct answer. The fear of failure is so evident in their eyes, which is sad considering how young they are. In one class I had to conduct a vocabulary test. I was testing each student individually on a selection of words and noting down which ones they got wrong. One student bawled their eyes out when they noticed me write down a word which he got incorrect. I couldn’t believe it – it was just to tell his other teacher which word he needed more help with. He genuinely thought he’d failed everyone.
The other thing which is very unique about education over here is how rote-learned it is. The students learn things in a very specific order and by their look and sound, so they lack the ability to think for themselves and apply their knowledge to any situation other than the one it was originally learnt in. I saw this at high school in Beijing too. I personally don’t think it’s a good way of learning, but it probably has its merits too.
On my lunch break I passed an Apple store.
I’ll definitely be buying from this AuthorizedResdller.
I also found out that electric wheelchairs gain access to the E-Bike lane.
In the evening, I went with Taff to see 叶问3, which was great. I actually almost cried during one bit, which was a sudden realisation that I was genuinely engaging with the movie despite not fully understanding every word. That was definitely a confidence booster.
I’ve also begun reading a simplified version of Great Expectations in Chinese to pass the time. It’s definitely helping my reading skills.
Looking forward to hearing from everyone.
Until next time,