After the early faze
Last night I got home and struggled to sleep for the first time. It was nothing to do with jet-lag or unfamiliarity; it was excitement and anxiety after my first day on site at my school. And I should have slept because I was knackered. I haven't worked in so many weeks that to sustain concentration, to constantly deal with people and absorb copious acronyms and institutional knowledge was rather taxing. On the subway last night I felt too tired to do anything. I could have fallen asleep so heavy were my eyelids. This morning, though, I woke after the sun for the first time since arriving, meaning that I'm not far from running on Chinese time.
My workplace has been an enjoyable discovery. My workmates, both foreign and local, have been very easy to get along with. The school already had one Canadian, one Brit and one American so I add another flavour of English. In the two branches I've visited this week, I'm the only antipodean. The majority of foreign teachers are Americans. The students are cute. I'm still about two weeks away from my actual teaching but it has been good to be amongst it all. I do feel part of the team.
I'd like to officially retract that dreadful title that I bestowed upon Guangzhou: Guangzhou is not the arsehole of China. On Tuesday I went to a similar place to that which I visited in 2000 (can't be sure it was the same) and what a change has occurred: The people are probably less foreigner-struck than when I was in Shanghai two years ago; It is a great deal cleaner; Beggars are not on every corner; The people, aside from the service, have been great to chat with. Last night while I was waiting for my food at a local eatery, a young man (Lin Huangjie) sat down on the neighbouring table also waiting, we started a nice conversation and though he had some interesting thoughts about the difficulties of learning English, he refused to speak with me using English.
Yesterday may also mark the time that my Chinese study was reignited. Ever since my birthday the heat and fire of my study have been weak; even being here I didn't feel interested in pushing myself to learn. Two colleagues and I enjoyed a lesson with the visiting teacher. It was better than I had imagined although my demands of a lesson will probably see me seeking another teacher to supplement my studey. There seems to be a slight issue inherent in the class. When it was just my two colleagues in the lesson, the less proficient of the two was quite inhibited by his more fluent classmate (the Canadian is a very unrestrained speaker). And now there is a newer, more fluent fish in the pond; apparently he was even more affected. The teacher took me aside at the end of the lesson to let me know about this and we discussed teaching methods to deal with it.
I managed to make my first vendetta though as part of my quest to bring a good service culture to China. A colleague that I went apartment hunting with and I went to a "korean" restaurant. We ordered and within ten minutes my dish came - I didn't start waiting for the other order to come through. Ten more minutes passed and I grabbed a waiter and he grunted that he'd check. We chatted and after another ten minutes I grabbed the same waiter and asked him again where the dish was; he grunted again and headed to the kitchen. Then suddenly all the waiters swarmed over to our order sheet and then to the table next to ours where a lady was eating a certain Chicken Curry Rice that we'd also ordered. The orders were somehow confused and became the one. After about ten minutes the dish arrived. I told my companion that I'd like to raise hell / a complaint on payment, but mainly for the purposes of language practice and making a not-to-subtle point. But it didn't end there: after finally starting our meal, I asked for some tissues; they came but when the same waiter delivered them he added a charge that was even more of a red rag to a bull. When we went up to pay, I camped us at the till and explained how dissatisfied we were and how it was completely unacceptable. The staff scurried around; signals came back and forth from the kitchen; and even when they refused to recognise any obligation on their part to show any goodwill, I stayed camped at the till. The boss came out and said: "We're very busy here and these things happen, sir." I continued telling him that this was not good enough. He appeared to be starting to crack. But we decided just to pay the bill and tell him that we'd mention the service here to our friends in our language school. After leaving the restaurant, I felt myself rather untactful and suddenly much better ways to reason them into the ground appeared to me. God save the next restaurateur who crosses me.
Cantonese has been on the menu too this week and it has been good to be in the environment to hear it and learn it. When I walked with an agent to help me find an apartment, he'd always talk to the landlords in cantonese and I caught quite a bit of it. And the basics comments are all immediately understood. But, boy, I've got a long way to go (and a year to do it).
I've got a well-timed day off today. Whoever designed the schedule for new teachers had it pretty much right. I'll have another two days of "work" and then another day off on Sunday.