Monday, July 10, 2006

What Did We Get Ourselves Into?

As I am sure you all have noticed, we haven’t written in a week. Yes, we have started to work and it is just a time consuming and exhausting as in Miami. I will try to recap the past week for you.
Monday July 3, 2006

Eagerly anticipating meeting everyone from the program, we waited in our Shanghai hotel lobby to be picked up by the organizers of the program. Raf noticed a young guy across the street wearing bright yellow and pink Crocs and yes you guessed it,,, he was there for us. Fitting in the cab with the luggage was quite an ordeal. Albert escorted us to our new accommodations, which were about the size of the bathroom in the previous hotel, (the beds were harder than stone, the windows would not close, and there were mosquitos living there first), and instructed us to meet the next morning for breakfast in the lobby. We started to question what we had gotten ourselves into. We were no longer in the bustling area of town and couldn’t even ask someone to point us to a restaurant, Luckily, Albert walked up at that moment and we settled for a few snacks from the market down the block. He saw our profiles which included our salary (about one third of what we make at home ) and told us that teachers here make about $150 a month. We thought we had it bad.

Tuesday July 4,
Our colleagues, we found out, came from all over the US and Canada. After a tour and lunch in Shanghai, our bus headed for Suzhou. Sunny, the coordinator of the program is a tiny Chinese woman who looks like a teenager.
We got off the bus in front of the 100 Happy Hotel (what a name), which from the looks of the lobby was considerably nicer than where we had just been. Hu Ming, our principal met us in the lobby and Sunny told us he would be taking care of us from here on in. (8 of the 19 in our group including us were staying here for the month and the rest were going to outlying areas. We lucked out I think.) Due to the success of last year’s program Mr. Hu it seems had the hook up. He negotiated a better hotel than last year, and agreed to give us a stipend for food and laundry. We were given two rooms and decided that we could live together lol and use one as a workroom for the group. That seemed to please Mr. Hu and he promptly supplied the room with a printer for our use. Most of us have our own laptops but he prepared to supply us each with one if we needed one. That evening a dinner was held in our honor by the equivalent of the superintendent of the Suzhou schools. Raf of course sits next to the chiefs and when the toast was made he found that it meant literally bottoms up. He never backs down from a challenge.
Our room, by the way are large and comfortable with really strong AC!!

Wednesday July 5
The city is amazing, and we are on a street with everything: foot massage parlors, restaurants, stores (that sell clothing in sizes 0 and 2) and bars (all kinds). It runs along a really pretty canal. Amazing for a small city of 6,000,000

A bit of touring, silk museum and quick meeting at the education bureau where we were paid in full and we finally were going to visit our school. It is literally 2 short blocks from the hotel and takes 3 minutes to walk there. Each classroom has a computer, lcd projector, overhead camera, speakers with subwoofers, etc. Each teacher has a personal assistant what takes care of our every need. It’s good to be the king/queen. Mr. Hu invited the 8 of us to dinner where we had another small feast. It is hard to believe how thin everone is when you see the portions on everyone’s table.

Thursday July 6
Our students, who are all teachers, are so cute and young and mostly girls. ( mine a all girls and math majors!) We had to administer a writing test and conduct interviews all morning. I wish I spoke Chinese as well as my students speak English. Many of the students have been selected to participate based on their qualifications and many teach in what is called an experimental school: having the lastest technology etc
The teachers we are working with, Richard, Shelagh, Jane, Tom, Hector(who has been living in Suzhou for 3 years and is a great resource) and Ian are all experienced teachers and a pleasure to work with. We collaborate as much as possible to alleviate the work load. Went to Starbucks in a taxi for that coffee fix with Hector. It was around $1.25 each way.

Friday July7
After a full day of class, getting to know the students and their level (planning) we headed to a Sichuan restaurant recommended by Raf’s assistant with Shelagh, Jane and Shelagh’s son Jonathan. We discovered a whole new area of town in the center of the city with shops and many people. Very modern. We had another feast, slathered in spicy peppers for about $4 each including 3 large bottles of beer. Absolutely delicious. Finished the day the Chinese way, with an hour long foot massage ($5.00). Wow, this could be habit forming.

It’s getting shorter. Can you tell I’m tired?? Shopping, more great food and discovered an Italian restaurant, owned by an Italian with better pizza and tiramisu, than Miami. We splurged and spent $8 per person. He didn’t speak English but we had no trouble communicating in Spanish and French and a little Italian. It is a big time soccer place Rossoneri (AC Milan). They are all over the place. The guy however opted to watch the finals in our common room at 3 AM the next day. Had to work on Mon. Spent the day Sun writing lessons for the week. That is why I have some time to write. Hot Pot here we come.
Miss you all. Feel free to post any comments on this site.