Our last few days before classes began were spent shopping and wandering around the city, but mostly being a little bored. We were excited to actually start working, and our schedules are pretty nice! A normal work week is only 24 hours, but the school is really popular, especially right now as the students are on summer break and want to devote extra time to their English study (are they nuts???), so Helen asked us if we wanted some extra hours. Uh, yeah! At this rate, we should be able to pay off our credit card within two months and continue to pay our loans on time. After that, we can spend two or three months paying back Andrew's dad, and then we should be able to start saving money and taking some trips. Thankfully the cost of living here is pretty cheap, especially since all of our utilities and rent and even our everyday medicine (like aspirin, couch syrup, etc.) is all paid for by our bosses. They gave us a generous advance on our salary when we arrived, and we're currently living on $12/day. And this includes shopping at Tesco, the big British supermarket where we get most of our groceries. I've been cooking all of our meals, mostly because we don't have the time, money, or courage to visit restaurants yet. But we have been eating a lot of Chinese food! Here's a picture of my ginger chicken:
Our vegetable lady at the market
There are some yummy desserts available in the bakeries here, but I have to say, no one does chocolate like the U.S. or western Europe.
For the moment Andrew is working 29 hours a week and I work 30. Basically my schedule is as follows: Thursday-Monday I see one student from 8:30-11:30am and another from 2:00-5:00pm. So far my week is only divided amongst three girls: Molly, Sandi, and Karen. So I see Molly pretty much every day and the other girls about three times a week. I helped Sandi choose her American name, and she chose my mother's! And on her birthday, too! Andrew has some individual classes with Sandi and Lily, but the bulk of his classes are two-hour time slots with groups of 12-15 students. The students are so serious, though! They always read through the chapter beforehand and do the exercises and they always ask for ways to help them learn. It really makes me step up my lesson plans and my preparation. They're paying a lot of money to have me as a private teacher, and they work so hard, the least I can do is be prepared and help them get ready for their exams. Helen and John are also workaholics. They don't usually take any days off in a week, especially during the summer. The language school is very popular, even though they don't do any advertising or recruiting. In fact, Helen is having to turn away students because between the three of us, we just don't have time to teach them all. Helen and John typically spend 12 hours a day at the school, Helen teaching and John handling administrative things and being a general handyman around the school. We might add some more hours to our schedule next week, and forfeit a day off. This boom will only last until the school year starts again and then we should be down to a more manageable time schedule.
Andrew's group class
Me and Sandi
Having individual classes is fun. We just sit and talk a bit, and then we read through a chapter in the textbook together, and then the last hour is spent doing exercises to help them prepare for the IELTS or the TOEFL exam, which are required English-language exams for foreigners who want to study in the states. I have a very good rapport with my students, especially Molly.
Me in front of the school
Yesterday, our first day off, Molly took us to the beach in Qinhuangdao. It was overcast and a little windy, so we just walked around and took note of the "Undersea World" and the "Dolphinarium" for a future visit. We then drove to a different beach and met Molly's parents for dinner at a very cool restaurant. In this restaurant, they had huge tanks of live seafood, including a tank with a mako shark, sea slugs, giant clams, the biggest crabs, lobsters, and shrimp I've ever seen, and even sea urchins! The idea is that you walk around and order your food. We let Molly's father deal with this part, as we were giggling over the sea creatures and too busy to pay attention to the menu. Our dinner was served in a private room overlooking the beach (private rooms are very popular in Chinese restaurants), and to begin we were served a Chinese "white wine," which was actually more like schnapps! It was so strong. In addition we were given tea and fruit flavored yogurt to drink. On the table was a large glass lazy susan, and our appetizers consisted of a strange nut, cold jellyfish salad, papaya in honey, chicken wings with chestnuts, and a bunch of different wrapped candies. Our first dish was a skewer with one giant shrimp on it. I love shrimp, so this was my favorite. Then was a skewer of an entire spicy fish. After that they brought out beef, a huge fish in a noodle sauce, sushi, and dumplings. They also gave each of us our own crab, which was pretty big and a little difficult to eat. We also tried sea slug, which was too rubbery and not very tasty. There were a couple of other dishes on the table, but I was too stuffed and nervous to eat any of it. You see, despite the fact that I've managed to eat five meals at home using chopsticks, I didn't do so well in public with them. I had a difficult time, and didn't feel really comfortable even when they brought me a fork and knife. But also, it was just way too much food! After every dish or so, Molly's dad would make a toast to us and require us to drink 1/2 or 1/4 of our "wine." He quickly gave up on me, but Andrew followed him drop for drop, which made him very interesting in the evening. To finish the meal was watermelon, dragon fruit, and cantalope. After dinner we walked around the pier and let our very full tummies digest.
Andrew, Molly, and me
Tonight Molly will be joining us for taco night at our place. We're going to make the tortillas by hand, I bought some $10 avocados for guacamole, and we have some shrimp and black beans and ground beef. The only thing we're missing is sour cream and cheese! Cheese is not really available here, which normally wouldn't be a problem for us, since we like to make our own, but you can't get fresh milk either! The only thing available is long-life boxed milk, which won't work for cheese-making.
We've found we can get most other things at the store here. The only things we're lacking are western-style spices, such as rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, etc. We also can't find vanilla for baking or baking cocoa. We have a little oven so we should be able to bake some things, once we get some key ingredients. We're going to try the big supermarket in Beijing when we go next month, so we'll see what they have there! There's also a real shortage of English books here, so we're hoping to find some good reading material, too.
For those who'd like to send postcards or care packages, here's our address:
Nicole and Andrew Wallace
Ao Jia Language School
351 Wenhua Ave
We found the DVD "store" yesterday, and were able to score the Vampire Diaries, Season 1, Heroes, Seasons 1-4, and Spartacus Season 1, as well as all three Indiana Jones movies, for about $1.20 each! Yes, they are all pirated copies, but the quality is good and after a while you learn to ignore the Chinese subtitles. We also have a couple of English channels on the TV, including one that plays bad, never-even-knew-it-existed films, like Fair Game with Billy Baldwin and Cindy Crawford, and the Witches of Eastwick! Vampire Diaries was obviously my pick, and I actually enjoy it more than Twilight. It's not as awkward. Also, Stefan is HOT. But seriously, how did they get away with so blatantly plagiarizing Stephenie Meyers? Spartacus was Andrew's choice, and it really only has two types of scenes in it: very graphic sex scenes and very graphic battle scenes. Perfect for men.
Tomorrow it's back to the grind. I have to say, after working an almost-normal work week, I HATE it. It sucks being at work the entire day and not having any time or energy by the time you come home in the evening. This only makes me more freaked out to return to the states and "grow up" and "get a real job." It sucks working the 9-5! Anyone know of a part-time job that's fun and dynamic and pays a lot??? Seriously, my job is easy and fun, but it sucks when 90% of your waking day is taken up with work. The real world sucks. How do you all do it???
Here are some random photos from the past week:
View from our apartment at night
Near our apartment
How's our Chinese coming along, you ask? Not very well. We don't have an official teacher, and anytime someone tries to teach us something, we can repeat it but it's always in such an informal setting that we can never remember it later. Andrew has been reading through a book, but even he can't really use what he learns. He can recognize some characters, but in terms of speaking, we're pretty incompetent. Luckily, body language works pretty well at getting what we want. I asked for some chili peppers at the market today, and when I asked how much (in Chinese) she responded with something that wasn't a number (I know the numbers, kind of). It took me forever to realize that they were a gift. Chinese is hard! I also think I'm a little worn out from language learning, and I'm not that interested in becoming fluent. But maybe when I get on a regular schedule and have a little more time to study, I'll pick things up. The pronunciation is the hardest. Andrew does a much better job than me. I still keep thinking in Bambara or French!