Day 17 - Caged With Ayi

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016
Smog Level: 1ish

The mornings are still a bit rough. After staying up later than planned, it’s even worse. Caffeine is all but useless, but damned if I don’t try to overcome that fact. Josh offered to drive us both on his moped/scooter thing, but I figure two guys over 6”3’ on a small motorbike will be difficult enough to drive without the chaotic Beijing morning traffic. I’ll roll the dice on finding my way on the bus alone.
I arrive at the school without mishap, but come across my next hurdle: the front gate. I don’t have that keycard and my mandarin is still terrible, especially with listening. “Wǒ shì lǎoshì, dànshì wǒ bù yǒu kǎ” is what I try to say, but it doesn’t work. Maybe it’s the accent, maybe it’s the grammar, who knows, but it’s supposed to mean “I’m a teacher, but I don’t have a card.” They ask something back, but all I can make out is “Carden?” which is the English Department I work for. I say yes, and they direct me to another person posted in a small building right next to us. They ask my name, which I give. You’d think this would clear it up, but it adds to the confusion because my last name sounds like the Mandarin word "shuí," which means “Who?” They’re about to let me in when Josh appears on the other side, solidifying my entry.

The Observatory
I’m a zombie all day, but luckily most of the teaching method and material makes sense and is easy enough to understand. I look over my contract and the list of things that were supposed to be supplied in my room. Well, my permanent address is wrong, and apparently I was supposed to get a lamp and a microwave… Poor Ms.Handler. Because of one minor address error, she will have to draft up another contract and get it officially stamped once more.

Some Giant Store Mascott
I grabbed lunch with two other Coworkers, Wendy and her roommate, Jen. Helena, one of their Chinese co-teachers (all the English teachers get a Chinese one to assist), joined us. I wasn’t sure if she was Chinese or American, as her English was great. She helped clarify a few things that I wasn’t sure of in Mandarin, and we talked about some cultural differences. 

One difference I wasn’t sure about was for gifts. Josh had said that the tradition was to reject the gift a couple times, “oh no, you shouldn’t have! I can’t possibly!”, then accept if they persist. In the few gifts offered to me, I had accepted right away. I had assumed that rejection would be a bad thing. Alina said to just take it if they offer, just do what we’d do in our culture. Jen mentioned what she heard from Brazil, that if your boss asks you to dinner, they expect you to pay for it. It trips up a lot of foreigners, who think the boss - the inviter - is paying.

Selling Single Spoons
I happened to leave the Caf at the same time as Dopple, who commented that the smog would be alleviated a bit by rain, but that rain is prevented by the smog. Vicious cycle. He made a comment about being here “forever,” despite his time only being for 2 years. He also warned that if you do something wrong, the administration won’t tell you. They’ll let it build up over time then spring it on you as they walk you out the door. Something tells me he’s not enjoying his experience anymore. What’s the story there?

Another of the Veteran, Brad, walked me through some other aspects of teaching. He seems to know a lot about grammar, though he didn’t study it in university. The system they’re teaching us, he says, is one that was meant for native English speakers to learn how to read better. These Chinese students are doing what was expected from native English speakers of the same grade. Nuts.

I bus home, this time getting off at the correct stop and cutting 10 min off my walking time. I’m winding down and getting ready to crash for a nap when I hear violent knocking at the door. Josh had told the weekly cleaner (only ¥50 / 10.50 CAD for the whole apartment) was supposed to arrive at 5. 

It’s only 3:30. 

The View from the Apartment at Night
In walks a seemingly confused, but still somehow aggressive, Chinese women, who says a flurry of words at me. One stood out, “Ayi” which means “Aunt.” That's what cleaners are called here, "Aunty." We have a confused exchange where I realize just how full of holes my Mandarin still is, which ends with me walking away and closing my door for the nap I had been trying to take. She speaks on the phone, loudly. As I fall asleep, I hear the cleaning begin.

I awaken to a silent apartment some hours later. I had planned to throw myself at setting up posts for the blog, since I only have the first 5 days ready and the apartment internet is making this incredibly difficult to get anything done. Oh, but wait, I’m locked in. Apparently Josh had been home, and left.

Ms.Handler informs me on WeChat that the way Chinese locks are like that. You can lock it from the inside, and only unlock it from the inside. If you lock it from the outside - with your keys - it can only be unlocked with keys from the outside. I’m inside, Josh locked from the outside. Looks like I’m staying in for a bit.

Eventually, Josh returned from swimming and freed me to work at Starbucks in the mall across the street. This may be a more difficult living arrangement than I first thought.

Words of the Day: 
Important - zhòngyào [jong-yow]
Give - gěi [gay]
plus - jīa [jee-ah]
milk - (niú)nǎi [(neo)nye]


  1. I'm enjoying your blog Phil. :) Sounds like you're having a great adventure. The end of this post reminded me of an Arrested Development episode.

  2. Ahahah I love J Walter Weatherman and his prosthetic arm.

    I'm glad you're enjoying it, thanks for the comment!


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