"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page." - St. Augustine

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Welcome to Jiujiang

Today marks my 14th day in Jiujiang. So, it’s about time I introduce you all to my new place of residence! I arrived in Jiujiang’s pathetic excuse for an airport at about 8:45 on Wednesday, August 31st. Since my flight was a little early, I was waiting around anxiously in one of the two rooms in the airport for my ride to get there. Before long, I was greeted by Hamlin, my school’s Waiban, or Foreign Affairs Officer, who is basically my tour guide, translator, security guard and general go-to guy for the duration of my stay in Jiujiang. Since it was dark and raining, I didn’t really get to see much on the sketchy, seatbelt-free taxi ride to the school, but I was just eager to get to my apartment and get some sleep.
My first few days were full of cleaning (still an ongoing process), unpacking, meetings with various school personnel, and meals with my Waiban at the hotel where my apartment is (more to come on my living quarters in a later post).  I met with my boss in the English department and finally found out my schedule for the year. I would have the weekend to get settled and ready before classes began on Monday, September 5th.   
the building where all my classes are held
I teach 7 classes every week – a pretty light load considering I’m getting paid incredibly well compared to my Chinese peers! Four of my classes are Oral Business English for English majors and three are Oral English as an elective for non-majors. Each class lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes –two 45 minute halves with a 10 minute break in the middle.  Unfortunately, the elective classes run until 6:00pm Monday, Thursday and Friday. This is a little later than I would have liked, but my morning schedule is, well, a lot lighter, so I guess I can’t really complain. I have class from 2:30-6:00 on Monday, from 10:00-11:40 on Tuesday, no class at all on Wednesday, and 4:20-6:00 on Thursday. My busiest day is Friday, when I have class from 10:00-11:40 and then again from 2:30-6:00. Since all of my classes are oral English, I have pretty much no grading to speak of, so my only responsibility outside of class is lesson planning. 

courtyard inside the teaching building
one of my classrooms
 Outside of figuring out how on earth I'm going to be a teacher, I’ve spent most of my time these last two weeks getting settled in my apartment and wandering around the city (here begins the tour guide portion of today’s blog). Juijiang is located in the north of China’s Jiangxi province (see map below).  As Jiangxi’s second largest city, Jiujiang’s administrative district has about 5,000,000 people in it. The “urban” population, however, is only about 600,000. While this sounds like a perfectly good sized city to me, it is quite small by Chinese standards. In fact, it was described to me as being “more like a town than a city” by one of the Chinese students in Shanghai. 

Jiujiang’s two major claims to fame are Lushan, the famous mountain just south of the city, and the Yangtze River which flows through the north of the city. The name Jiujiang means “nine rivers” or “nine waters” so there are numerous other lakes and smaller rivers that run through the city. While this makes for some very humid weather, it makes navigating much easier. Since I can’t read any of the signs, I use the lakes and other waterways as points of note on my mental map so as not to get lost in the huge labyrinth of streets and dirty alleyways.

the many waters of Jiujiang

My favorite discovery to date is the park/kids amusement park/all around fun center located in the middle of the lake about 10 minutes from my school. Although it’s full of slightly decrepit-looking rides, old and shirtless smoking Chinese men, and some very loud insects, it has a certain charm that has already made it my favorite place in the city. Whether for people-watching in the park, reading a book in one of the hidden-away corners, or relaxing on the little island in the lake with some local music, I am sure I will spend many an hour here over the next few months.

entryway to my island getaway

That's all for now. Goodnight (or morning, depending on where you are)!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Orientation Part 2

Alright, let’s pick this up where I left off last time.
Monday, August 29th – Orientation Day 3:
Yeah, that's a whole duck on our dinner table
Old Shanghai Quarter

 Most of the day was more of the same. Breakfast, Chinese lessons, a seminar on cultural differences and living in China, teaching practice, lunch, and more teaching practice. That afternoon, we took a trip to the Old Shanghai Quarter. This was kind of more of what I was expecting of China – street venders and people trying to sell the most random gadgets, crazily busy streets, and beautiful traditional-looking Chinese buildings.  We ate what was definitely the most interesting dinner to date. There was a lot of seafood (bummer for me), a whole fish, a whole duck, and who knows what else. 

When we were done with dinner, we came outside to see all those beautiful buildings lit up and looking A-mazing.

Old Shanghai Quarter at night

It was just starting to rain a little, but we carried on to our boat cruise down the Huangpu river, which we ended up waiting around for an hour for. But it was well worth the wait. The Shanghai skyline looks INCREDIBLE at night. Plus, the clouds were really low, even obscuring the tops of some of the buildings, which made everything look super magical and mysterious. It started pouring rain while we were on the boat, but I didn’t mind. After the massive drought we’ve been experiencing in Texas, and the intense and unrelenting humidity of Shanghai, a downpour was completely welcome!

After the boat, a lot of people decided to stay in that part of town and find somewhere to go. I, however opted for the cheaper option of taking the bus back to the university and finding somewhere around there to go. I headed out with a group of 8 other people to find a row of bars that someone had been to a few nights before. Andrew, one of the guys who’s going to be in Nanchang, a city about an hour away from where I will be, busted out the Catch Phrase at the bar which completely fascinated the Chinese waitresses. And that’s pretty much all I feel like sharing about that night – not my finest hour!
Tuesday, August 30th – Orientation Day 4
The next morning, with a surprisingly mild hangover, we began our last day with more Chinese lessons, our last teaching seminar, and a debriefing session before lunch. In the afternoon I went on the “optional walking tour” which was really a ride on the metro to the Tian Zi Fan “Art” area. 

Tian Zi Fan art district

It was actually a pretty cool place – a labyrinth of little alleyways and hidden stores with all kinds of little arts and crafts and souvenirs, as well as some cafes, bars and dry cleaning stores! 

Art made out of watermelons!
Last was our Farewell Dinner back at the Faculty Club. While some of the food was just as questionable as always, it was nice to have everyone together for the last meal. Oh, and we got some free AMAZING entertainment from Felice, a fellow teacher, who is also an outstanding magician.  After that, some people headed up to bed before early departures the next morning. Since I was not leaving until 5:00 pm on Wednesday, I was in no hurry to go back to my room and pack. I headed out with a group to a bar just around the corner for on last round of beers and a farewell to Shanghai.
Wednesday, August 31st - Shipping Out
I spent my last day in Shanghai packing my bags and taking one last walk around the shopping area near the university. It was a great city and I had a great time getting to know everyone, but I was definitely ready to get settled in in Jiujiang. But more on that next time!

Saturday, September 3, 2011


It’s funny. Just a few months ago I was so ready to be done with Baylor. Don’t get me wrong, it was very bitter sweet – there were so many things and people I would miss and I knew the transition to real life wouldn’t be easy - but I was mentally prepared to start real life outside of the Baylor bubble. I was told that it wouldn’t really hit me that I had graduated until the fall when everyone else was going back to school that I wouldn't be joining them. It would just feel like another summer vacation.
Until now, this whole China adventure has seemed like the best opportunity I could ask for. I’m getting to travel and meet new people and learn a new language and learn to see things from a different point of view. Oh and BONUS, I’m getting paid for it. There was never much doubt in my mind that this was the right move to make.  Sure, I knew there would be tough times and challenges, but that’s just part of the experience and I’ll be thankful for every moment (eventually). I wasn’t prepared for this. This morning (China time) I bawled my eyes out as I watched Baylor beat TCU (SIC EM BEARS!!!) on ESPN via my slingbox. I know that my time in BUGWB is over, and that it was always going to be hard to watch the first game or two without being in that uniform (not that I miss the uniform itself), piccolo in hand, surrounded by my flutes. But, somehow, this realization seems so much harsher when watching the game on a fuzzy feed from my laptop at my kitchen table 10,000 miles away. This morning was the first time that I felt like I was missing out on something by being here, that I had deprived myself of something the moment I stepped on that plane.
I’m sure this feeling will pass before long. My life is nothing if not an emotional roller coaster. I’ll get back to relishing my time in China in no time. But for now, I just have to say to everyone sitting in Floyd Casey right now, or anyone who is wishing they were there like me, that I miss you more than you can possibly imagine. That place and the people in it will always be like home to me, so just enjoy it for me while you can, because it won’t and can’t last forever. Do a couple of sic ems for me and down a few too many pixie sticks (shout out to my flutes!!).
Love and miss you all,

Friday, September 2, 2011

Orientation in Shanghai

Alright everyone, this is gonna be a long one, so go get yourself a drink or something and come back. I won’t be offended if you get bored! It’s time to document my arrival in China and orientation in Shanghai (although I might have to split this into a couple of posts).
I left Austin bright and early last Thursday morning (the 25th) on the 6:35 to Chicago.  Leaving was hard and definitely emotional, but you can fill in the details on that for yourself. I got to the airport just before 5:00, so I had plenty of time to check in and everything. Once I had gone through security, I got myself some coffee (I had only slept for about an hour the night before) and a steak breakfast burrito from the saltlick as my farewell to Austin – yum! The flight was about 2 hours and 30 minutes and I had three seats to myself which was nice. I tried to sleep a little, but my head kept doing that dashboard doll-style bobbing so I didn't really get much rest.
The flight from Chicago was much less enjoyable. To start with, it was delayed almost two hours while we waited for other delayed flights to get in and then hung around on the ground for a while longer just for fun.  I was seated second in in a row of five, which is never fun. Plus, my tv wasn’t really working – all the people were blue and the screen kept splitting and rearranging!  To put it nicely, it was the longest flight I’ve ever been on. But, 14 ½ hours later we landed in Shanghai, so it ended up alright. I got through customs fine and collected my bags. There was a slight moment of panic as I went through to the arrivals area when I thought “Oh no, I’m not going to be able to find the CIEE people and then I’ll be stuck here and have to make my own way and then I’ll get lost in Shanghai and be abducted by my cab driver…” but fortunately that was not the case. I saw the “CIEE” sign they were holding and raced around to meet the Chinese students that would be helping us out at orientation.  After everyone else from the flight joined us, we went out to the shuttle bus where a bunch more people were already waiting and headed off to Shanghai Jiaotong University.
view of shanghai from our shuttle bus from the airport
It was about an hour’s drive from the airport to the Faculty Club at the university where we were staying. We got to see some great views of the city, as well as experience the completely insane driving of Shanghai: the lanes are too small, traffic lights and crosswalks are mere suggestions, and it’s basically a free-for-all horn-honking fest. Also, Shanghai is humungously outrageously unbelievably huge. That is all.
Once we arrived at the hotel, we checked in and took showers stuff and then a bunch of us set out in search of food. We stopped at what ended up being a Japanese restaurant just around the corner for some delicious dinner, but ordering was quite the battle and paying was even worse – only a preview of what’s to come I think.  Since I had been up for about 48 hours at that point, I decided to go back to the hotel and call it an early night.
Saturday, August 27th - Orientation Day 1:
Thanks to 13 hours worth of jet lag I was up at around 4:00 am on Saturday. FUN. I went down and had breakfast a little later before our schedule for the day began. First, we just kind of introduced ourselves and figured out who was going where before beginning our “Survival Chinese Lessons.”  Next was Lunch before an incredibly long four hours of teaching lessons. We had seminars from three different teachers on teaching at different levels (college/university, high/middle school, and kindergarten/elementary school). Then we split up and worked on our own lesson plans until dinner.  For dinner we went to this awesome restaurant where there was a bian lian or "face-changing" performance. It sounds kind of lame, but basically this guy can change his mask insanely quickly. Like I said, it sounds lame but it was actually really impressive and apparently there's only ten people in China who can do the real thing. The food there was really good too, so all in all it was a great night.

After we got back to the hotel, a huge group of people decided to go out in search of bars. I think we split in half, but the group I was in ended up at an overpriced Irish bar called Murphy's. We stayed for a round and then kept walking, only to discover that most of the bars around there were just as overpriced and overrated. We stopped at one more place before I left with three others and headed back to the hotel.  The four of us called in at the Family Mart on campus and bought another beer  and just sat talking in the park area on campus. It was pretty nice out, but at around 12:30 five or six policemen came up to us brandishing night sticks and told us to get out  recommended that we go back to our hotel and "get some rest." We decided to call it a night.

Sunday, August 28th - Orientation Day 2:

Shanghai Museum
Shanghai Museum - one of my favorite statues!

Jet lag had me up again bright and early on Sunday.  Our morning was full of more Chinese lessons and teaching practice (note: 9:00 is way to early to be trying to learn a tonal language). We once again had lunch at the hotel - more interesting and varied foods containing who knows what - before our afternoon excursion to the Shanghai Museum.  There was some really cool stuff to see but by 5:00 we were all kind of dragging our feet (3 hours of sleep + jet lag + lots and lots of walking = tired tourists).

Shanghai Museum -Another favorite!
Shanghai Museum

Next was dinner at the Jujube Tree, a vegetarian restaurant that makes dishes that look and taste like meat.  I was a little apprehensive, but it was really good. I'm still not sure how they made some of those dishes - I could have sworn they were meat - but it was definitely a unique experience! After dinner we went to see a Chinese Acrobatics show. I was a little disappointed -  it didn't quite live up to my Cirque du Soleil experiences - and there was a high cheese factor, but it was still impressive. Highlights included a guy who could catch a plant pot on his  back, four guys on motorbikes almost killing themselves inside a giant metal cage, and an ariel ribbon piece set to a poorly mixed titanic soundtrack. After an exhausting day it was back to the hotel for another early night.

Alright that'll do for now - I'll finish up my shanghai experiences tomorrow


Thursday, September 1, 2011


Hello everyone and welcome to my little blog!

 I have tried in vain to maintain a blog before, but I just couldn't keep up with it. But, I'm hoping this time will be different. It seems I am going to have massive amounts of free time and my life might actually be interesting enough now to be worthy of a blog!

In case you didn't know or haven't yet picked up on the reason for my blog, I am now living and teaching in China. Yep, that's right, China. Don't ask me why or what on earth I was thinking - I've been asking myself that enough over the last couple of days. But right now I am just trying to keep an open mind about absolutely everything and hope that things will settle down as I get to know my new, if only temporary, home.

Just as a brief overview,  I arrived safe and sound after a 15 hour flight to Shanghai last Thursday Friday - sorry my sense of time has completely disappeared since I left the states! I stayed in Shanghai for orientation until Tuesday night when I left for Jiujiang where I will be living and teaching for the next 11 months. I'm just settling in and getting to know the campus before classes start on Monday. I'll post more detailed accounts of my journey and time in Shanghai soon if you're interested, but the highlights reel says Shanghai was awesome and now I'm settling in in Jiujiang.

Again, thanks for visiting and I'll post more updates and some pictures soon!