What’s new in Jinan?

I’m more or less settled in Jinan and my new work situation. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. Wow…Has it really only been two weeks? A lot has happened since I last wrote; I’ve gotten to know the teaching staff here at ALWAYS, all of whom are nice folks. Quite a few Canadians, oddly, and maybe one Americans besides ME, so I’ve a torch to bear! There’s Kelly and Ray, a Canadian couple, their daughter Holly, Tyler and Chrissy, Canadian couple, Hannah; Canadian…There’s Jennifer, also Canadian…Tony, who I THINK is an American though I’ve yet to meet him, Mary and Martin, an Australian couple, Victor, a UK fella, and a few other teachers on vacation, none of whom I’ve met. Tyler and Chrissy and I have really hit it off; probably because they’re 27 like me and so we’ve gone out to eat at seemingly half the shops in Jinan (drawing on Tyler’s immense knowledge of the local flavor), done a few drinking parties, joined a local gym (Tyler’s among other things, a personal trainer), and generally had an awesome time.

Jinan is…Rarefied chaos. Don’t know how else to put it. Just watch the roads and people going about their business…Okay, to MY eyes, it’s a chaotic scene. But people do get to work and back home and to the store…It only LOOKS like a chaotic muddle of busy bodies, animals, vehicles and garbage. The people have been nothing but friendly and/or cautiously curious. I’ve only met a single other black face here in Jinan; Antuane from Kentucky, who teaches at Ashton, another English school (and the main competition!!). Naturally we had to speak. And I’m going to a basketball game with him and his wife in an hour, by the way.

I’ve already started teaching…Sort of. We have during the break before the main school season promotional classes to get parents and kids interested in our school. So I’ve been cutting my teeth on the "practice" classes and getting a feel for working with these groups. The upside is that it is indeed practice, though the downside is that the students are generally new to English schools and so are shy, guarded and sometimes have zero English skill. It’s been a mixed bag, but mostly positive. The Interchange students, the oldest, are probably the worst; they’re easily bored if they’re not engaged exactly right and if they’re shy they just sit there, being bored and won’t let you do a thing about it. The Kindie/Sticker level (kindergarten to second grade) are probably my favorite, as they have a much thinner shell of ice. And big classes, paradoxically, are easier to teach because the kids feed off each other’s energy and confidence. Once one kid starts speaking up (generally there will be one or two kids that should be in an advanced class taking the promo, eager to show off for their parents), the rest quickly start chiming in. But getting through to the shy kids must be the sweetest joy of all. Seeing that tiny hand creep up from the back row and hearing a soft voice chime in with "panda," before his eyes dart behind his hands…This should be a good year.

My apartment is better than I’d expected; it’s almost exactly the same as the one in the promotional pictures on the website! Which is good, considering some of the horror stories I’ve heard from the other ALWAYS staff; but minor things like leaky fridges or grimy bathrooms. I, too, received a grimy bathroom with no toilet seat, but that was relatively minor. The place is SWANK, frankly. Nicest place I’ve lived in since I moved away from home, no exaggeration, and fully furnished. Even have a decent internet connection (for China) – the one niggling detail I have is 290 kbs playing League of Legends 😦 But we can’t have everything in the world, now can we?

Hmm…Another thing is the pollution. The pollution in Jinan is horrendously bad; like nothing I’ve ever experienced. We get a sunny day maybe once a week but otherwise we’re looking at a dreary grey sky for most of the year according to the other teachers. No sun makes Earl a sad panda..I’ve gone through a gamut of local illnesses; a headcold for a few days, some pollution migraines, some minor digestive upset, and finally cold sores on my lip as my body’s adjusted to the local germ flora but again, nothing serious whatsoever. But seriously; all part of living in a new part of the world; none of this should discourage anyone from moving abroad – this could easily happen in Europe or any other part of Asia, too. We’re all living communities of cells and microflora, after all!

Ack – want to write more, but need to catch a taxi to Antuane’s place for the basketball game! Stay cool, America! (or wherever you are)

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