Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Three Months, No Whimper

Of course, I’ve done plenty of whimpering up until now but, as I plan for my first Christmas here, I noticed that my three month anniversary went by without so much as a mention. To be perfectly fair, the three-month mark hit on Thanksgiving and I was busy celebrating that holiday, so I couldn’t exactly also celebrate my 3-month anniversary.

And really, the only reason it is remarkable is because I’ve been told that most foreign teachers decide that they can’t hack living in China and by the 3 month mark, they are packing it in and dead-heading for home, wherever that might be. It is said that if the teacher makes it past that time he or she is in it for the duration.

All in all, up until just recently, that was also my predominant thought. Packing it in and making a graceful exit, that is. But now… let’s just see where things stand, shall we?

I’ve expanded my knowledge of the bus system and have ventured even further out than Sam or my students thought I would have dared to on my own. With the help of that (sometimes not so) trusty website and having acquired a bus itinerary, riding the buses is actually kind of a snap. Ergo, I conclude the bus system no longer terrifies me and getting around is not a problem. Of course, there are still buses I have not ridden, places I have not been and areas of the city to explore.

I have to admit: I am not necessarily a fan of Wuhan culinary specialties. Although I do like ‘Hot Dry Noodles’ – a noodle dish that is served with a brown sauce and various toppings, for the most part, I do not like the overly spicy cuisine, or fare that tastes like dirt. Thus, doing my own cooking has become the norm and experimentation in the kitchen has become an adventure in itself. A rather fun, albeit challenging adventure. So far, most everything I’ve produced is acceptable if not tasty. Of course, it helps that I now know how and where to shop for food. Let’s not forget how handy that little oven of mine is, either!

I am on track with my financial goals: in the three months I’ve been earning money here, I have managed to save 2,000Yuan each month on the average. That sounds impressive until I remember that that is only half my paycheck and I have virtually no living expenses. In my defense: I did have extra expenditures such as buying a heater and my oven, and taking that trip to Xi’an over the October National Celebration holiday. And now, here comes Christmas. I resolve to save more money in the coming year, now that I’ve learned how to be more frugal.

Am I more frugal or less wasteful? Good question, and I’m not sure how much of one and how much of the other plays a factor in this aspect. I think I could make the distinction in this manner: I am more frugal in my needs and less wasteful in my habits.

That lesson was sharply driven home when I was preparing my Thanksgiving dinner. In planning my meal I reasoned I had to go to Metro, that fabled store that has all those wonderful ‘foreigner’ goods. Not just for a bird to roast but because there, I could buy Del Monte brand canned corn. And I did – 38Yuan for 2 cans of corn. On the way home, toting my bloated grocery bag and moaning over my empty wallet I realized that corn is currently in season and I could have bought fresh corn on the cob for 2 Yuan apiece at the local farmers’ market. Believe it or not, that was a pivotal moment for me: a pointed lesson in spending that I’ll not soon forget. Now I do all of my produce shopping at the farmers’ market. I spend less money and have fresh goods. I have not been back to Metro since that canned corn incident.

What about my teaching? You know… the whole reason I came here? My job? Oh, yeah! Teaching! Well, let’s see: I can now write a blackboard full of stuff and not break the chalk. That is an accomplishment in itself. When I first started teaching I didn’t dare use a whole, new piece of chalk because it would invariably break. Also, it does not feel as if my arm is going to fall off after writing a few words on the board. My arm muscles must have gotten stronger.

I still do not see myself as the be-all and end-all of teaching English. Although my students enjoy my class for the most part, I find that I’m doing way more talking than they are… and they’re supposed to do the talking! I‘ve resorted to teaching them song lyrics that we sing together. Mainly I seem to teach more about culture than about the language. I still have work to do here.

With regard to socializing. I do seem to be more social than I was before, but I think that has a lot to do with the crashing loneliness I live with. I’m starving for human interaction and so I find myself reaching out to the students to fill that void. I can’t thank all of my friends who fill my email inbox up with news and tidbits; I honestly think those emails have a lot to do with helping preserve my sanity. Not that the students are bad company necessarily, it is just that their interests and mine are sometimes not even in the same ballpark, let alone the same league.

In short, I guess you could say that I’ve learned how to exist here. Now it is time to learn how to live. There’s only one barrier to that: learning to communicate better.

I guess it is time to resume my language studies.

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