Day 69 - Birthday Celebration

Saturday, April 16th, 2016
Smog Level: 2/3 Mountains

I’ve noticed two trends of Western music here: Christmas music, and The Beatles. “Yesterday,” “In my life,” and a few french ditties waft out of the speakers in the mostly empty gym. My workout will be dictated by how busy it is. Fitting the atmosphere, I perform deadlifts for myself in the mirror while old guys gab.

Shimou’s Birthday is tomorrow; celebrate today! I have stopped asking where we are or the names of places since I seem to forget them almost immediately. Seriously, I usually have to bother Shimou whenever I write about the day.

Day 68 - Fridays Mean NOTHING

Friday, April 15th, 2016
Smog Level: 0/3 Mountains

Fridays = Lax days.

The pressure’s on from above to finish the reading books. It’s all about how many books they finish, no one cares how much they improve because that is the only true measure of success, right?

Keener Competition

The group I read with has two of my keener students, who I have only recently noticed their on-going competition. The one kid arrives at the table and asks “which spot is first?” I think he means the reading order. They forget that I’m not doing that anymore. Instead, I ask who wants to read and then make them mimic some gesture that I do. First person gets it, so then I can’t play favorites and they can’t complain about being unfair. I’ve upgraded the system because they wouldn’t pay any attention while other kids were reading. Introducing the strike system: 3 strikes and no goddamn sticker for you. Much more effective than I thought it would be, even with the kids who seem to not care about anything.

Day 67 - Good Teacher, Bad Teacher

Thursday, April 14th, 2016
Smog Level: 3/3 Mountains

I wake up, still feeling dizzy, but not enough to warrant calling in sick. Gotta make them ducats.

Riding the bus while standing can be a little wild when your sense of balance isn’t up to par and you are having fever sweats. This isn’t the first time, and it (probably) won’t be the last.

At the end of the first class, I’m feeling much better. While erasing the chalkboard, I hear two of my kids arguing over whether I’m nice or not. One girl thinks I am, while another boy thinks I’m not. Hahaha, oh kids: you’re both right!

Day 66 - Teacher Friend / Star Killer

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016
Smog Level: 0/3 Mountains

Now that I’ve used the fitbit to time my walk to and from the gym enough times, I know it takes about 12 minutes, 1km to walk each way. Now I can plan better around that.

I arrive at lunch at a more reasonable time, not cutting it to the last minute. There, I find Pool, Jen, and Wendy. They’re talking about how the guy’s fashion had to be stepped up since a guy last year began really kicking it up a notch by wearing daily suits. One of them said that they had recently complimented one of the more fashionable teachers, who flatly replied “I know.” Hah.

Day 65 - Amateur Chinese History

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016
Smog Level: 0/3 Mountains

Really glad I prepped that shake for this morning. When I work too close to bedtime, I tend to resist sleep and am not able to shut off my mind. So many things to think about, particularly anything but what I’ve been working on all night.

Classes go well, Aurora is watching again, and the kids are being their usual selves. I don’t know if I’ve ever really gone into detail about these “eye exercises” that they have in the mornings. They play this eerie tune, like mischief is taking place, while counting from 1-whatever in Mandarin. We open the door so they can hear the counting better, and they all close their eyes, massaging themselves in the way they all know. Massage the ear lobe, just beneath the eyes, the forehead, press on various parts of the skull. There are several stages, and some of the kids take it seriously, particularly the ones that voluntarily police the class.

Day 64 - Domino Life

Monday, April 11th, 2016
Smog Level: 1/3 Mountains

Life is like dominoes.

Because I stayed up late saturday, I didn’t get enough work done on Sunday; because Sunday is packed, I didn’t get to take a nap; no nap + the game always runs somewhat late = sleeping in even later on Monday; sleeping in monday, I was barely able to fit in the gym, almost missed lunch. How late? The guy was literally collecting the serving spoons from the food trays. I slopped what I could onto a tray and scarfed it down. Scrambled to the teachers lounge to make sure the posts were ready to go up on time today. Looking forward, I won’t be able to catch up on sleep until Wednesday.


Day 63 - Hotpot and How to Hail a Cab

Sunday, April 10th, 2016
Smog Level: 2/3 Mountains

Didn’t get to bed until 3am. Around 10, I drag myself out of bed and start buckling down on work. At 10 to 1, I have to leave to tutor. You know how I said that the girl had told her dad that I was bad at vocabulary? Apparently Shimou had mentioned that in front of the Maggie herself, who then said “I didn’t say that!” It’s hard to tell who’s lying at this point, but whatever. She's an ongoing client.

During our lesson, I wonder how the words “prisoner” and “jailer” could seemingly be the exact same thing, yet hold completely opposite roles. That must be very confusing. French sometimes had those issues, but luckily Mandarin has been exceedingly logical.

Day 62 - Schoolchild Ranks

Saturday, April 9th, 2016
Smog Level: 0/3 Mountains

The VPN is being stupid today and I hope that updating the OS on my laptop will fix it. It says it’ll take 25 minutes. Time to hop over to the grocery store. Fluffs are everywhere, seemingly from the flowering trees losing their flowers. It’s like it’s lightly snowing.

Free Flowers in a QR Code
I’ve noticed that I largely ignore people here. There are so many of them and they don’t speak the same language as me, so I basically just move about them and help them when I can, but don’t interact. I’m guessing this is common, especially for those who don’t speak any Mandarin. I’ve gotta stop doing this and start trying to speak to people if I’m going to get to a level of Mandarin that I want. God, It's going to be painful. Temporary Solipsism: my roundabout road trip to acting without inhibitions.

Day 61 - A Life of Happiness

Friday, April 8th, 2016
Smog Level: 3/3 Mountains

I had recently reviewed the notes taken on the books “Willpower” and “The Power of Habit,” though I can’t recall which this tidbit came from. It talks about correcting behavior and the three factors that come into play: severity, immediacy, and consistency. 

Naturally, we think that severity is what matters. Otherwise, why would we have the death penalty? Just like the death penalty, we see from research that severity has very little to do with correcting behavior. In fact, being overly severe can have the opposite of the intended effect, causing people to rebel. No, more important than severity is immediacy - catch them in the act - and more important still, consistency. Every time you catch them, you must act if you want the behavior to stop as quickly as possible. They say that the only humane war (if there is such a thing) is one that is as short as possible. Likewise with stopping unwanted behavior. Rip that shit off like a bandaid.

Day 60 - Boys Day

Thursday, April 7th, 2016
Smog Level: 3/3 Mountains

I’ve been thinking about ways I can improve the blog while still having a life. Both "what more would people want,"* and finding time to do so. I’m thinking of introducing some side pages that cover cultural things that come across the radar. I know some people enjoy reading the daily ups and downs of living in another country, but others prefer the cultural or historical side of things. I don’t want the research that goes along with the historical - aside from uninformed conversations with average people. Some form of the "unreliable narrator" that's informed by the locals I know. I’ll focus on what I directly observe and flesh it out as I go. Like a living document that will grow as I see more on the topic. Once I have something preliminary up I’ll link it.

Day 59 - Pied Piper And Child Violence

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016
Smog Level: 0/3 Mountains

I’m still playing around with my routine, seeing where I can tweak it to get more sleep, more work, more socializing - more more. Last afternoon day, I got up at 8:30 to go to the gym and was much too early at school. Let’s try 9:30 today and see what happens.

It would probably be reasonable if I didn’t get caught online in some enjoyable conversations with people I haven’t spoken with in a while. Part of me thinks I'm wasting time. Whatever. Relationships are more important.

Day 58 - Disrespectful Children

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016
Smog Level: 0/3 Mountains

Last night, I had a hard time falling asleep. Maybe It was from climbing the 13 flights of stairs at 8:30 at night, or having slept in until 10am every day this weekend. Either way, I only got 5 hours of sleep and I’m not feeling up to today.

Neither are the kids. They clearly didn’t study, and aren’t ready to be in class either. The first class has a girl that has told me a couple times “I hate you.” And with that, 2 stars blow up. First time was last Thursday, and here she goes again today. I’m not really sure if she’s joking, and I almost let it slide until another girl heard it and thought it would be a good idea to repeat it. Oh no, two more dead stars thanks to these two girls! One had almost saved them by telling me that she liked me, completely reversing her position. It feels weird to punish them for disliking me, but I suppose they’ve gotta have some level of respect.

Why I Delay My Posts

For those who are curious why I delay my posts, this (delayed) post will give some context to why it is a useful blogging practice. 

Yes, I do it on purpose. Here are the two main reasons why I delay my posts:

Day 57 - Tomb Sweeping Festival

Monday, April 4th, 2016
Smog Level: 3/3 Mountains

Day off thanks to the holiday!

The flowers are in bloom, it's a clear, beautiful day. It's good to be in Beijing!

Main highlight of today: Getting a haircut.

Upon entering, they beckon us to sit around a bar in the center of the room. Along comes a silver, silk housecoat to be draped over me. It's far too small, of course. I am led across the room to lay down and have them aggressively wash my hair. Back across the room to the chair where my assigned hairdresser is forced to switch out for a taller one. 

Day 56 - Café 16mm and The Gaping Girls

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016
Smog Level: 3/3 Mountains

Work on stuff at home until it’s time to ship out to tutor Maggie. Shimou’s sleep schedule is what mine used to be: late, morning and night. I automatically wake up early, robbing sleep and gifting plenty of alone time to sneak in work. After tutoring, Shimou meets me in an Uber to go to Nan duo guxiang, that favored hutong (walking laneway) where we always seem to end up.

Goddamn is it crowded, even for Beijing.

Day 55 - Festive Crowded Park

Saturday, April 2nd, 2016
Smog Level: 3/3 Mountains

Today is a beautiful day, and the first day of the long weekend. Silvia and Co. are inside the park where everyone seems to want to go. She also has our tickets.

Standing near the gate, waiting for our friends to find us, I can tell we’re in an area without many foreigners. A quick glance tells me that ~10 people are staring at me. We move closer to the gate. I hear someone hock up a loogie. I look. It’s an older woman, standing with the standard “old person” posture - forward hunch, hands clasped together behind her back. She spits with disregard. I grimace and make a sound of disgust, forgetting for a moment that some things aren’t protected by the language barrier. 4 or 5 people are looking at me, with more as they pass.

Day 54 - The Open House + Culture

Friday, April 1st, 2016
Smog Level: 1/3 Mountains

Blah. I’m tired and can’t wait for this open house to be over. I arrive on campus to find out that my classes don’t start until 9:05. It’s 7:40. The Director comes and goes, saying that he hears there’s a dust storm coming in tomorrow.

What’s a dust storm? Well, there’s a lot of dust, wind, and possibly sand. The Director said that his first dust storm some years ago, he had fallen asleep with the window open. He had a rude awakening to find himself, his bed - his entire room - covered in dust and sand. That must’ve sucked.

Day 53 - Sleeping in the Teacher's Lounge

Thursday, March 31st, 2016
Smog Level: 1/3 Mountains

Tomorrow’s the open house. I need these kids to be ready with the questions I’m coaching them on. Same lesson as yesterday, yet the first class, Washington (named after states), isn’t getting with the program. They had a field trip on Wednesday, which means they didn’t learn stuff from earlier. I’m forced to rush through the stuff they need to know for friday, and the stuff they need to know for Monday’s test. Trust me kids, I wish we could be more relaxed than this. 

Painful for everyone.

Day 52 - Impromptu Cultural Interview

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016
Smog Level: 3/3 - Clear Skies

Day 1 of going to the gym before work on my late days. I’m trying 8:30 as a safe estimate; wish me luck!

It’s not as cold as the days before, luckily, because a sweater and shorts wouldn’t have been enough. Aurora had told me a saying “you can experience all seasons in one day during beijing spring time.” True.

Day 51 - Great Day in Beijing!

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016
Smog Level: All 3 Mountains

First class went well. I was even able to mark both classes tests in the 30 minute break between sessions. Powered on through! Hurrah. The class returns and are usually not very happy about their break between classes because it’s a 30 minute period of exercises. Most don’t like it.

As the second half of this class ends, I’m prepping the board for the next class while the students pack up. CoTeacher Joy tells me that the other class is on a field trip which means: no second class! Sweet. I had been planning on staying late today to finish all the student evaluations, but I guess there’ll be no need. 
Typical Lunch. Top left going clockwise: somewhat flavourless breads;
semi-spicy, tangy zucchini and pork(?); various chewy greens with pieces of beef
one of my favourites, stew with beef and potatoes; lastly, tofu and green peppers. 

Guest Post - China like a Sledgehammer

[From Phil: The post is meant to emulating the struggles and discoveries that you are likely to feel and experience when first landing in Beijing. If it's confusing, or difficult to read, then you're probably getting close to the heart of it.

The original can be found on Ben's Blog Here]

Phil asked me to write a guest post about my experience in China.  "What should I write about," I asked him.  He told me cultural impressions, anecdotes, advice or stories. My impression of the culture is this: vast, deep, evolving, traditional, paradoxical, fascinating…

I’ve only been here one year longer than Phil and in a society with 5,000 years of tumultuous history that’s a drop in the bucket.

Let me share what I wrote my first weeks here:

Day 50 - Oddballs Abroad

Monday, March 28th, 2016
Smog Level: 0 Mountains

Beautiful, yeah?
In the lounge, I intended to study mandarin… but then a German teacher started speaking to me. He was kind of an odd guy, and neglected to give me his name when we first met. He seemed to be against the Syrian refugees being allowed into Germany, quoting them at 5,000 refugees per day. That sounds grossly inflated.. but how would I know?

He was a medical professor, he said, but left because.. I guess refugees replaced him because they were willing to work for less? Saying a lot of refugees claim to be doctors or engineers, yet don’t speak german. Sure? Usually displaced people don't tend to accumulate at the top of a the society they're seeking refuge in, but...

Day 49 - Tutoring DnD

Sunday, March 27th, 2016
Smog Level: All 3 Mountains

Turning Green
Slept in, hoping to kick the cold. I think it’s getting better. Either way, I’m going back to the gym on Tuesday. Despite walking 8-10km on average per day and generally avoided desserts, I’m fairly certain that I've gained weight since arriving. Great. Maybe it's just all the salt and oil making me bloated? Denial might just be the answer to everything!

I tutored one of my students, and have used Golf (card game) to motivate her. She wants to play that, and really doesn’t want to do any work other than just  basic conversation. That can only go so far when speaking with an 11 year old, so now we alternate rounds and learning/writing a vocabulary word. Upon reviewing at the end of the session, I don’t think she learned as much as she should, but at least her parents have a piece of paper with vocab work on it. Appeasement.

Day 48 - Hou Hai and The 4 Generations

Saturday, March 26th, 2016
Smog Level: All 3 mountains

No plans today, and Shimou is occupied with teaching a class of middle schoolers in another part of town until noon. I try to sleep in, but can’t make it past 9:30. That’s good, but I wish I could catch up on sleep without having to go to bed earlier. Cry me a river.

I had put forward a creative writing challenge with some friends. You write a “day in the life of” whomever you want, real or otherwise, and give it to the other person. Their job is to change 1 detail of the story - character, scene, event - and play out the ripples from there. I had given a coworker a bleak one about a man who was trapped in a life sentence of sorts, which he returned much improved. He had given me one where he had a few drinks over a night and a day. I decided to up the alcohol content every time he mentioned having one, changing his interactions and perceptions of events. I found it funny. Hopefully he does, too.

Day 47 - Fun Friday

Friday, March 25th, 2016
Smog Level: All 3 Mountains

We’re almost out of electricity. Josh took the recharge card to the bank to put money on it, but they accidentally broke it. He said they were all crowded around each other within view, looking in toward the circle and whispering. They returned the broken card and said "we broke it." We only have ¥25 left… and I don’t know how long that gives us. I think we had ¥40 two days ago, and the bank said it would take a week or two to get a new one.

The Student's Luggage
Fun Friday. The kids respect me enough to listen and know I can punish them, but I also joke around with them. I think we’ve struck a decent balance. I also think this job is good for me because I have a hard time knowing how to act around children, often being like… “so… what’s up? How about that... uh, toy. Is it fun?” We played hangman, then I taught them words that they would like, such as food items, desserts, and weapons (sword and shield, bow and arrow) because they’d probably find them useful for their composition stories.

Day 46 - Fighting Back

Thursday, March 24th, 2016
Smog Level: All 3 Mountains

Early morning, I realize that I have no food in the fridge except eggs. I opt to not eat over eating eggs. Had enough eggs. Fingers crossed I can grab a yogurt from the shop on the first floor. 

No such luck; it’s still closed. I remind myself that I used to fast for the discipline of it, and that I can pretend today is one of those days. Sometimes it’s easier to continue not eating than it is to eat something small. Also, taking ownership of something is easier to cope with than taking the victim mindset (i.e.“oh no, this is happening to me” vs "I'm choosing this").

Day 45 - On the Downswing

Wednesday, March 23rd
Smog Level: All 3 Mountains

While getting ready, my sister asks to call, which I didn’t really have time for because I slept in again. We ended up talking anyway. We caught up over things and I found out some rather infuriating/disappointing - and inaccurate - things were said about me back home. Things that no one needs to know, yet were said openly to family and friends in criticism of me. I also woke up to a message from a friend telling me my writing is boring. Good morning to you, too...

Day 44 - Aurora Enters

Tuesday, March 22nd
Smog Level: 1 Mountain

Early morning, early class. A bottle of yogurt for breakfast as I head out the door, mumbling a goodbye to Josh. I’m glad the commute is easy, and that I’ve kind of gotten the hang of crossing the street. The easiest way is simply to go when someone else does and make sure they’re between you and traffic. Today I was a little overly conservative, and the lights for the crosswalk weren’t on. 4 lanes of traffic with a concrete divider in the middle. Real-life Frogger while groggy. Traffic Roulette.

Day 43 - Kid's Games

Monday, March 21st, 2016
Smog Level: 2/3 Mountains

Given that I have the luxury and I couldn’t shut down yesterday, I take the opportunity sleeping in. Feels good, and the sickness keeps fooling me with a disappearing act whenever I wake up. Hey! Not congested! I must be better! Proceed to coughing up a lung. The cough and Beijing environment are going to be fast friends.

At school, I eat with some non-carden colleagues, going to the lounge with them. In the lounge, I nearly finish a post when Dan shows up and we talk a little bit. I don't resent this, but I'm falling behind. Live life, or catch up on writing about life? 

Baíjiǔ, aka Chinese Liquor
(Coworker's bottle he got as a gift)
I inch closer to the finish line when he introduces me to Susan, a very friendly non-carden teacher. We talk about her hometown of Chicago, her mom’s bakery, and somewhat about business philosophy. She hit the nail on the head that people are looking to buy a feeling more than the product itself, especially when the market is already flooded.

Day 42 - The 4 Faces of 'Being'

Sunday, March 20th, 2016
Smog Level: 0.5/3 Mountains (Note: Taken at time of Waking)

Today I didn’t waste any time. Got ready and started working immediately. Only one step toward doing work and then the rest was on autopilot, no resistance. So long as there are few distractions, or you get better at bringing yourself back on task, you can really plow through it. Edited Shimou’s resume, wrote and edited a few things, and chatted on Facebook. Finally caught up on some side projects I had agreed to do.

Gussied up, gobbled down, and headed out. Gotta tutor for a student, Maggie, who seems to like me, but blames me when her parents get down on her. She really likes to talk, hates writing, and doesn’t want to do vocab. In fact, she often flat-out doesn’t bring her vocab, but told her parents I’m bad at teaching it. In other words: her parents quizzed her and wondered why her vocabulary hasn’t been steadily increasing, so she said it was me. Great.