Sunday, January 30, 2005

Kids, bombs, and freezing cold temperatures

As i sit here typing on the computer, i can see fireworks exploding outside in the chilly night air. Chinese New Year is approaching fast - February 9th this year, year of the Rooster!

The intensives are half way done already (2 out of 4 weeks), and i'm liking the routine, structure and just the fact that that classes are more spread out. Definitely more my kind of working environment.

I have a class that is extremely rambunctious on Saturday afternoons. This week we learned the "If you're happy and you know it" song, you know the one, don't deny it! I got them all in a circle, holding hands, doing a full body workout - it was fabulous. I'm using a lot more TPR techniques with my wee ones, especially to start and end a class. I really believe that coming together as a group, and even doing stretches and (limited) call and response yells is beneficial to learning. Coming from a single-child family, these kids hardly get time to just chill and 'play' with kids their own age. You can see some of the symptoms of "the little emperor" shining through when they refuse to participate and pout in the corner, or in the other extreme, when they scream and yell and basically go bananas, clamping on to the backs and legs of their classmates... or their teacher for that matter! And that's when Teacher decides that everyone should sit down and not get up until class is over. Ah, the power.

As taxing and draining it is to control a group of kids in the morning, some of them are just precious precious precious. Poor little Blue (yes i have a student named Blue, and funnily enough, he is always wearing blue) has all this pent up energy that needs some major directing. A bright little boy, he has what i think is the most baby-beautiful face i've seen. His eyes shine and dance, but it's also as if they long for more. More life, more challenges, just MORE. I don't know, but just looking at him is like looking into a bottomless oasis. Bob, another spunky kid in the same class, is so hyper and just adrenalized (is that even a word?) he is constantly sweating. Not in a disgusting kind of way, but his face is always moist with perspiration and normally it would be a bit gross but this kid, a bit chubby with a round face and spiky hair, c'est cute. Without fail, I would have to tell Bob to "sit down" about a dozen times each class. He is the one who constantly falls out of his chair (the EF chairs are connected to the desks, which are extremely tiny even for 7 year olds) and once he falls, down goes the textbook, workbook, crayons, pencil case and all its contents. Anyways, Bob is worth a mention in this journal because if he isn't sitting in his desk, or falling out of it for that matter, he is on the floor crawling under desks or wriggling around on the floor like a worm. I've caught myself laughing out loud, almost to the point of tears too. It's just so funny! When i would turn my back to the board to write something, and turn back around to face them, there would be Bob - face down squirming like some fish out of water. Why the other students don't laugh or make fun of him or even seem to think it's weird/obscure/strange is beyond me. "Bob, sit down please," I say, trying to sound annoyed that i have to remind him all the time. "Ok, Teacher," he says, eyes wide open, sweat dripping down his rosy cheeks. My heart just goes out to him; I'm a sucker for kids, i admit it. Hey, kids are kids.

There were two explosions on Jan. 22nd. The first one happened when a short-distance bus travelling from Karamay city to Usu city in northern Xinjiang exploded on a highway, killing 12 and injuring many more. About four hours later, a blast killed two people and injured 10 others in the Uyghur area of Urumqi, leaving a nine square meter (97 square foot) hole in the ground. At first we weren't sure what the cause of these attacks were, besides relying on rumours, only that they were hours apart and it just happened to be on one of the Muslim holidays. The one in town is said to be caused by a natural gas leak.

It's been hovering around -27 degrees for the past few days, a bitter bitter cold, the kind that can snap in two if you could actually snap a substance like air. Every part of me is dry, I cannot wait for the sunshine and tropical humidity in Thailand! Wahoo! One week baby!

Monday, January 17, 2005


Overdue entry, i know. But here goes, my attempt to summarize what has been happening in the past few weeks.

Christmas was filled with lots of fun gatherings with friends and colleagues. Susi and I hosted a Christmas Party on Dec.24 - lots of people showed up (more than i ever expected actually), and after pretty much everyone had left, Uli and I went clubbing down the road in some underground club, excellent times!

Kids EF Xmas Party was on December 26th at the Yindu Hotel. Lots of games, food, screaming, songs, yelling, dancing, and finally... beer for the teachers!

New Year's was celebrated amongst the biggest gathering of foreigners i have yet seen in Urumqi. We gathered at the Silk Road bar, where one of my colleagues had the intention of setting up his discs and tunes.

Unfortunately one of the wires busted and we were left only with the cacaphony of random drunken slurs of people manoevering their way through conversations about mountaineering in the desolate Xinjiang mountains to the debates of whether China should become a democratic nation.

We welcomed a couple more teachers since the last time I wrote.

Alina, who hails from Canada also (Windsor!), arrived a week ago with experience in electrical engineering and various stints of ESL teaching in Eastern China, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Peter, a British bloke (from the North, a very important distinction I've gathered), who landed a couple of days ago with his mountain bike and will be part of the new school of EF. He's been biking around the dodgy streets of Urumqi and getting to know the city well, although he did pass through the area 4 years ago when he biked across a part of central Asia and China.. and ?

The winter intensive courses are begining tomorrow. They run for 4 weeks. This means I have almost 40 AC hours (1AC hour = 40 minutes) of teaching to do, not including the 'chores' that we are assigned weekly, such as Social Clubs, OPI's (Oral Placement Interview), etc.

I'm actually really looking forward to them, getting to know the students on a more personal level since i'll be seeing them several times a week. This is good motivation for me to conduct a good class, something that i've been needing as of late i feel.

Went skiing with a bunch of friends a few weeks back. Of course, it was nothing like many of the Canadian ski hills that most of you are used to, but it was good fun nonetheless.

There were a few runs, some powdery snow, and a lot of first-timers on the 'bunny run', which i think proved a lot more difficult than the 'advanced run', only due to the fact that you had to manoever your way around these people who would literally set themselves up on the top of the hill where they could see a straight line down the mountain that would prove the least dangerous.

Then watch out, cause once they're off, they speed like rockets down the hill oblivious to whatever is in their path. Perhaps oblivious is not the proper word, i do think they are completely aware of what lies ahead of them, but the fact that most haven't mastered the skill of turning or even slowing down renders the object that unfortunately happens to be in the way, redundant, and sooner than later, hit/squashed/pummelled/smashed to bits.

Had a teen class yesterday where I invited some 'guest speakers' to come in and do a mini presentation of their home country.

Each student had to choose a country to research on and present in class. Michael talked about Canada and even sang a Lumberjack song, much to the students' amusement. Fatima talked a bit a bit about El Salvador and showed us how to swing our hips to Latin beats. And Matt introduced us to the charms and treasures of tiny Jersey Island, entrancing the students with stunning pictures and captivating stories. Good variety for the class, and an opportunity to hear different English accents!

Making plans for Chinese New Year (Feb.7-13), where pretty much the entire country is on some sort of 'holiday'. We at EF get one week off. To avoid the vicious crowds that will be undoubtedly be travelling en masse to all sorts of in-China destinations, not to mention clogging up the modes of transport like trains and buses, Matt and I are heading down to Thailand for one week! I'm getting super excited as i've never been to South-East Asia before, and Thailand will just be a taste of what can be experienced there, probably leaving me with an urge to keep travelling and seeing the surrounding countries. Going to stop on the way back to see Stella-bean in Bangkok who is doing an internship there right now - yay!!! It will be very very nice to see a familiar friend from back home!

We are planning on going up north to Chiang Mai for some trekking, and then flying down south to Phuket for some sun-infused times. At first we thought of going to the East side, thinking the south/west was still too devastated from the horrible tsunami disaster. Upon more research and thinking and talking, we decided that the best way to help a situation that has brought so much devastation to a single country is to reply to its many urges of tourists to return to their hotels and beaches so that their financial situation can pick up again. Matt and I have said that if we see something or someone that needs help, we will do so, not limiting ourselves in any way. It will be interesting to see first-hand how it really is, and not just read about it.

I organized a mini-drive at EF amongst colleagues to see how much money we could raise for the Canadian Red Cross. I was so thrilled at how many of the local staff also contributed, well aware of the fact that their salary is only a slight percentage of what we foreign teachers get paid. The good news was that with the money we gathered together, my dad at SDM doubled that, and then the Cdn. Gov. also doubled that amount. Let's just say that the total amount raised (in Chinese RMB) is equivalent to seventy years salary for a local farmer here. A little certainly goes a long way.

We went through a rather nasty cold spell, and we are experiencing the tail end of it, although i'm sure we'll get another one before spring comes. It got down to -32 on Xmas day, the coldest i've ever been here! Nowadays, there is a lot of fog and pollution, ugh. I'm sitting up on the 25th floor and all i see outside is this pasty-milky fog/haze. It's so dense i can't even see the ground. Somedays the drab of the city in winter really does get to people, me included, and we hibernate and recoil into our homes and thoughts and spirits. I'm trying to keep happy and surround myself with happiness, which at the moment is NOT a problem (!), so even though i feel as if i'm floating on clouds, at other times i do think Urumqi needs a big heads-up on what constitutes good clean air and how to manage it...

So to sum up, this month has basically consisted of a lot of growth, discovery and sharing. Intense as everything is, i'm standing solid on the ground with my wings spread. There are emotions errupting inside of me that I have never felt before. Let me try and paint a word-picture: Think beautiful rays of a sunrise, when it first peaks beyond the sealine or mountain peak, of how its radiant glow just captures the childish awe in you, enveloping you in its warm embrace. Imagine how the sun rises, quickly but steadily, and as it does everything in its path is touched by all its glory and light, and those things in turn begin to breathe and smile... unjustifiable words i'm using to describe to you this feeling inside of me. But there you have it. Lots of good memories and appreciative lessons learned in so many different and (sometimes) difficult circumstances; they have only prepared me for what I know will be a truly incredible 2005.