Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Supposedly Teaching, Part XII

Or: "I Blessed the Snows Down in Africa"

Miss Bowers: *Enters classroom dramatically at the start of class after photocopying last minute pop quiz which is totally not something that happens a lot* Clear off your desks! We're taking a quiz!

Students: What? A Quiz? On What? We haven't learned anything.

Miss Bowers: *deep, deep inside restrains the biggest eye-roll of her life*

Miss Bowers: It's a quiz. And it's going to be the hardest quiz you have ever taken. And it's a summative grade. And it's worth 75% of your entire class grade.

The students laugh, roll their eyes, and start clearing their desks.

Miss Bowers: Close your laptops. All you need is your brain and a pencil.

Student 1: You really like that phrase, don't you?

Miss Bowers: What, close your laptops?

Student 1: No, "All you need is a brain and a pencil."

Miss Bowers: Oh, I thought you meant "close your laptops." But I do like saying "all you need is your brain and a pencil" because every time I ask you a question you automatically try to Google it. When I was your age we didn't have that option. We actually had to think!

Student 2: You had dial-up.

Miss Bowers: *makes screeching dial-up sound*

Miss Bowers: And it would take forever for anything to load, and because I lived in Africa, it would take, like 17 years for anything to load.

Student 3: Really?

Miss Bowers: Of course, I also had to walk uphill both ways in the snow, so, it was a really hard childhood.

Multiple Students (whispering).

Student 3: Oh, wow...really? In Africa? I didn't know they had snow in Africa. *Looks very confused*

Miss Bowers: Of course, I lived at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, so that's why I had to walk in the snow.

Student 3: Oh, that makes sense. I was so confused as to why there was snow in Africa.

Multiple students nod their head in acknowledgement of the logic of this factoid about Miss Bowers's African childhood.

These were the 10th graders. And they actually believed me. Looks like I may have to recreate my sarcasm sign...

It's a good thing I stopped before I got to the part about riding the camels to school and all the lions I had as pets as a child.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Supposedly Teaching, Part XI

Much Ado About Nothing is one of my favorite Shakespearean plays, and the 1993 Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson version is The Best Version. Sorry, Joss Whedon, even with Nathan Fillion playing Dogberry, it doesn't compare to Branagh and Thompson's verbal barbs, and Keanu Reeves as an absolutely so-bad-he's-good Don Jon. And Denzel as Don Pedro because Denzel. And I could go on and on.

I've shown the movie several times in class over the years, and, if you've seen the movie, you know that if you are showing it to school children, you have to skip two minutes near the beginning - the part where everyone is undressing and there's random naked people (well, naked butts). No really, it is kind of random. Yes, they're undressing, but it's just not a movie with naked people in other parts of it.

Because I wanted to make sure I skipped the naked parts, before class I carefully jotted down the exact minutes - 6:08 to 8:15 - to make sure I skipped ahead to the non-naked parts. I would like to add that normally, I am very bad at doing this, usually because I don't have time, so I tend to wing my attempts at PG-ing a movie in class, which is usually not a good idea.

Come class time, I introduced the movie, and we started watching it, through the Hey Nonny Nonny's and Beatrice's comic evisceration of that poor messenger. And then we were about to get to the naked butts. So, I froze the projector so that I could fast-forward. But, then I realized there were still a couple of moments that I wanted to show the class - most particularly Denzel and company coming riding over the hill triumphantly, horses' manes whipping in the wind as they raise a fist in the air. So I unfroze the projector.

We watched Denzel and company riding over the hill triumphantly, horses' manes whipping in the wind as they raise a fist in the air. And then I paused the movie, and said: "We are skipping the next two minutes.


"Because it contains gratuitous nudity."

"What does gratuitous mean, Miss Bowers?"

"In this context, it means unnecessary. Well, even if it was necessary, I still wouldn't show you."

As I spoke, I advanced the movie forward, not really paying attention to what was on the screen, just watching the minutes till I was past the naked butts parts.

"Um, Miss Bowers..."

I looked up, to see naked butts flashing very quickly across the scene. Because I had forgotten to freeze the projector before I fast-forwarded.

"It's okay, Miss Bowers, we have seen them before," one of the boys told me kindly.

This wasn't quite as bad as two weeks ago when I began liberally throwing around the phrase "Netflix and Chill" because I thought "Netflix and Chill" meant, well, watching Netflix and relaxing.

My 8th graders were doing an activity where they mapped out their identity, including hobbies and activities they like to do for fun.

"You know, what do you like to do? Do you like to "Netflix and Chill"?" I asked my 8th graders. One lone soul, a more recent transplant from America said: "Miss Bowers!"

That was my first clue.

I  may have also used it in my 11th grade class, in a different context, where someone else said a little skeptically: "Miss Bowers!?"

You know how sometimes you use the same phrase several times, in part because it's cool, and in part because it's sort of an ear-worm and you can't get it out of your current language? Yeah, it was like that.

Later that week, it was Thanksgiving, and we had a staff dinner. Because I was around adults for the first time in a while, I casually asked the group: "So, I have a question. Is the term "Netflix and Chill" a euphemism for having sex?" Why I decided to ask real people, and not Google, I'll never know.

"Yes, of course it is," Michelle said matter-of-factly. "Haven't you seen those memes making fun of people who try to be cool by using the expression "Netflix and Chill" without knowing what it means?"

No, no, I haven't seen those memes. I'm a little off my Pinterest game lately.

So, in the course of three weeks, I have suggested that one of the activities my 8th grade students like to do for fun is have sex, and I have shown nudity in my 10th grade class.

That's just how things go when you're supposedly teaching.

p.s. Why is it always Shakespeare that gets me into to trouble when I'm teaching??

[It's been more than three years since my last Supposedly Teaching post...!]

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Trip to IKEA Hangzhou: A Cautionary Tale

I first went to IKEA about a week or two after arriving in China. In my bleary, jet-lagged state, I didn't really remember much about it. I remember people - lots of people - and I remember it being nearly impossible to get home. But, I don't remember much else. I got a lot of stuff, but I knew I still wanted more stuff. (BUY ALL THE THINGS!)
By the way, the credit for the art for this meme goes to the blog Hyperbole and Half, which is a really great blog, and you should read it alot. You'll get that grammatical error if you read this post.
So, almost two months later, I decided to go with Michelle, who had not been to the IKEA yet. We knew it would be an all day trip, and we knew that there would be a lot of people. We also knew that we were planning on buying couches, and getting a few other bigger items that we could ship. Before you raise your eyebrows at our decadence, it costs a fraction of what it would cost us in the States. The main reason we chose this weekend is because we are off for a week for China's National Holiday, and so we could afford to spend an entire day shopping without feeling like we lost either a work day, or a rest day, on the weekend.

First, you have to get to IKEA. It's really far away - about 24 miles. I realize that's close, compared to most IKEAs in the States, but please remember, we don't have our own vehicles. The choices are to go by taxi, which is pretty expensive, or by public transportation, or a combination of the two. For some reason (I think we were feeling energized and gung-ho!) we chose public transportation all the way. Apple Maps is a great app, because it works in China without a VPN, and it has bus and metro routes.

First, we had to take about a 30 minute bus ride to the metro stop. There will be a metro stop near our school...soon. Sometime. Maybe December. Maybe April or something, since the motivation to put in the metro was the G20, and that's over with. After the bus, you take the metro for about 40-45 minutes. It's actually pretty easy - one bus, one metro ride (no switching). And, the IKEA is about half a kilometer away from the metro stop.

We arrived and made our way to the cafeteria (restaurant?), first, as it was already quarter of one, and we didn't want to shop hungry. This was the first obstacle. If you've ever eaten at IKEA, you know the food is decent - nothing to write home about (I'm sorry, but I just don't get excited about the meatballs...). You would have thought the food at IKEA was Michelin star quality at low, low prices, based on the crowds and the amounts of food people were getting. There was a long queue just to get into the restaurant , and then an even longer queue to wait for the food.
Again, if you've ever been to an IKEA in the States - I'm mostly familiar with the one in White Marsh - imagine a dining room triple the size of a "standard" IKEA...with every single table and almost every seat filled. After getting our food, Michelle and I wandered forlornly, awkwardly balancing our trays as people just bumped into us again and again. Of course, being a genius, I had gotten soup, which made it particularly difficult when people nudged and bumped me as we wandered around. Finally, after what felt like an hour, but was probably only five or ten minutes, someone offered to let us share a table, and we settled in for a bit.
This is actually from my first IKEA trip, but I got the same thing. The dish tasted like American Chinese food, which was weirdly comforting. 
After eating, it was of course, time to hit the showrooms.

Typically, I skip the showrooms, but our reasons for touring them were twofold: we were there to buy couches, so we actually wanted to sample them, and secondly, Michelle had not yet experienced the wonder that is the IKEA showroom in Hangzhou.

I don't know if it's like this in IKEAs across China, or simply in the more "provincial" cities. Hangzhou, for all it's modernity, is a city that has grown quickly in the past twenty years (like so many cities in China) and I think people are still catching up to that. I don't know how to say that tactfully, but my tact is about to completely go out the window.

When you get the showroom, there is a massive press of people. There are so many people it's difficult to move around in spots. And, there are people on all the furniture. Not sampling the furniture, but...using the furniture. They are sleeping in the beds, as in, under the covers. And they are actually asleep. They are napping on the couches, dozing peacefully as people wander around them. There are babies completely sacked out, with their mothers and fathers sleeping next to them. While literally hundreds of other people browse around them. It's nearly impossible to sample a couch because people are sleeping on them.
No one is sleeping in this bed...but obviously someone was, recently.
Just, you know, hanging out.

To be fair, some people were just sitting and they were awake and just spending time together. But they were still settled in, and not going anywhere. The number of people simply enjoying the couches provided by IKEA is much higher than the people who actually want to purchase a couch.

We wandered through the showroom as quickly as possible, which of course took more than an hour. After the showroom, we got to the "Market," which was even worse. Because now, those hundreds of people all had shopping carts.


The laws of traffic were not observed.

I think that's all I should say about that.

Imagine trying to push your shopping card through literally dozens of other shopping carts, all in a gridiron at certain points because no one can move, and no one seems to be able to figure out how to move out the way. At one point, I crossed the aisle to look at a mug, foolishly taking my cart with me when there was a gap in traffic, and I couldn't get back. I stood there, probably for several minutes, trying to make a break for it. I finally lunged out into the middle of the carts, devil may care, and had to cut off several grandmothers and mothers with infants to get to the other side.

We slowly wended our way through the store, not wanting to miss anything because we knew we were never coming back. This, of course, took approximately forever. IKEAs, in general, seem to be the sort of places where time forgot. I think they're like the furniture version of the Lotus Hotel in The Lightning Thief. Several days passed outside, and we were none the wiser.

This is an adult woman sitting in a shopping cart. This was the third or fourth adult woman I saw riding in a shopping cart.
So. Many. People.
We finally made it to the warehouse, and picked up several of the furniture items we wanted. Neither of us had ever bought big furniture from IKEA, so we didn't know the social protocol, unfortunately. We made the mistake - I say we, but I feel like it was my fault because I'm an annoying know-it-all - of checking out first. I thought that we would buy bigger furniture after the checkout, in the same area where you ship items.

We went to the wrapping area and wrapped up our fragile items, and realized that we couldn't order couches after the registers. So, I went back into the warehouse area, found someone to help me - he spoke English - and ordered my couch while Michelle waited with all the stuff. I had no way of telling Michelle why I was taking so long (initially I was just going to look at the bargain area), because her phone died. I got in a pretty fast line, paid for my couch, and got back to Michelle in less than twenty minutes. I gave her directions on how to order her couch, drew her a map (yes, really), and sent her off. She came back twenty minutes later to get my phone number (because her phone doesn't really work). and she explained that the person helping her spoke very little English. I hadn't had to give my number at all, and the process for me had been straightforward. She went back, and returned twenty minutes after that.

Then (yes, it's still not done), we had to figure out how to ship it all home. Fortunately, that was a easy process. We were able to most of our things shipped, though I wanted to take all my stuff (except for the furniture), which meant lugging it home.

We finally exited the IKEA almost 6 hours after entering. It was still the same day, much to our surprise. Fortunately, there was a Starbucks across the street, so we schlepped my bags to the Starbucks, and collapsed there for a bit before getting the metro home.

The metro was nearly empty, so we found seats, which was good, because it was almost a fifty minute ride due to delays. We then decided to still take the bus home - I'm not entirely sure why.
Michelle was really thrilled about the metro ride.

Of course, the bus was completely packed, and so we crammed onto the bus with my three large bags. There were many pictures taken of us. I'm pretty sure we're trending on Chinese social media. I literally saw one woman upload the video she had just taken up us to several - I'm not exaggerating - several different sites.
Actually, it could have been much worse.
We finally got home about 10:00 pm, almost 11 hours after we left.

Eleven. Hours.

There are two types of people in the world, I think. Those who love IKEA, and those who avoid it at all costs.

I'm never going to IKEA again.


Until I need something.

p.s. I know I haven't blogged all...Life is really busy, in a good way. I just haven't had time or energy or inspiration to write since moving here. Everything is going well, even though it's overwhelming at times. I'm sort of getting by one day at a time, and with five courses to plan for with no curriculum...I don't have much personal time!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Hello, Hangzhou, Part 2

After arriving, I was brought to my new apartment (housing is provided by the school, so we don't have to find an apartment on our own, or even pay for rent) a very spacious on campus flat. It was clean, and bright, with all new appliances. They've done renovations on the on-campus housing this summer, so I have a new fridge, a new washer/dryer machine, and a new stove. It's nicer than my house in the States, I think. The apartment has two rooms, a huge master bedroom with an attached bath, and a smaller spare room. There's also a bathroom off the living room. The kitchen is tiny, but that's okay. There are huge floor length windows in every room, providing lots of natural light, albeit, very hot natural light (there are floor length curtains to go with said windows). There's a foot high ledge around the windows, which provides the perfect spot for Lucy to sit and watch the world. It's a great view (for her) that looks out onto the school blue top, which means, I hope, she'll be able to keep any eye on all the happenings on campus during the school day.

The apartment is sparsely furnished, and we were provided with a few groceries to get us started, and a single plate, and set of silverware. We are given a generous settling in allowance, so that will help in buying the list of goods that I need.

Thanks to Target's Dollar Spot, I brought along a couple of colorful tablecloths and placemats. With one of my Malian baskets, and apples, I was able to dress up the sparseness a little. I'm don't have a decorator's eye, but I'm trying to be really intentional about decorating my flat (it's pretty stark at the moment).

The view outside my living room window.

My first day was spent getting up very early, unpacking a bit, getting a SIM card for my phone, finding a pet store with a few other new teachers, and eating lunch in a little restaurant near the school. Even though they had an English menu, I ordered dim-sum (not on the English menu) by pointing at the pictures (I speak fluent "smile and point"), and was successful in getting something that tasted delicious.
I desperately needed a caffeine fix at lunch, so I ordered "Milk Tea in Ice Bucket" which was, quite literally, milk tea brought in a bucket of ice. One cultural observation - cold drinks seem to cost more than hot drinks.

After lunch, I did a little more unpacking, took an unintended nap, walked Lucy around campus a bit, and then found some other new teachers going to supper. This time I had Italian food (I know), which was delicious.

The neighborhood the school is in is green, with wide boulevards and wide side walks. Trees line the streets, which is wonderful, especially in the heat. The school is about a half a kilometer from the river, which has a wide walking/biking path along the bank. There are no dogs allowed, but on the other side of the street, there is a tree-covered sidewalk that works fine. There are lots of shops and restaurants in the area, and many tall apartment buildings all around.

It's funny how quickly it is to forget what it's like to be a foreigner when you live in your own country for a few years, and how quickly it comes back to you, the natural patterns of being Other, of being the only Westerner around. At the airport, the children stared at me unabashed and wonderingly (and this was after I had checked-in Lucy, so it wasn't the dog thing). One little boy wouldn't stop staring despite his mother's attempts to get him to stop (it didn't bother me; I just thought it was funny). This is also the first country I will live in, other than my eight weeks in Taiwan, where I can't understand the language at all. It's definitely humbling, and a little terrifying.

One last random impression just for my West Africa friends - I keep wearing my indoor shoes outside. I think there's a song about that.

Today starts our official orientation events, which kicks off with mandatory medical tests to make sure we are healthy enough for our visa. Tomorrow our meetings will begin, which I am oddly looking forward to, probably because I know it will finally jump start my brain into focusing on school (and not packing, moving, saying goodbyes, my dog, and so on).

Hello, Hangzhou, Part 1

Well, we made it to Hangzhou. I've been in my new home for about a day now, and we are adjusting to the time zone and the heat and the culture slowly but surely.

It was one of the most stressful 30 hours or so of my life. Travelling with a pet is definitely not for the faint of heart. Susanna spent my last three weeks or so with me in Baltimore, which was convenient because that meant I drafted her to take me to the airport - all the way in New York City. She's using my car, so it was only fair. Of course, this made my parents more nervous than my flying to China. I drove to the airport, which was terrifying. I'm a cautious driver, and it was pouring rain most of the way. We actually saw one accident happen (a car slipped off the road right behind us and slid into the median strip in the middle of the highway, thankfully missing all incoming traffic), and had to call 911. There were a couple of other near misses that made me stressed for Susanna driving back.

We made it to the airport in one piece, lugged two carts with my four suitcases, 2 carry-ons, and one dog into the airport. We waited forever for an elevator because our two carts took up so much room, but finally manage to get up to the check-in level. China Southern Airlines was right by the elevator, we waited in line for about twenty minutes and then, the best thing happened: we were collected from the line and taken to the VIP line. I think the VIP line is one step up from the first class line, mostly because there was a red carpet. The reason for this VIP treatment was the dog, of course. Processing the dog took just a few minutes, I checked in all my bags, and then was told to go walk the dog and bring her back at midnight. So, Susanna and I took turns walking the dog up and down the outside of the arrivals terminal until it was time to bring her back. We brought her back to be inspected by TSA, which isn't as official as it sounds; I closed the door and sealed it with a zip-tie, and the guy cheerfully took my dog off to be loaded on the plane, unseen by me for the next 18 hours or so.

After that, I went through security, waited in line to board the plane, and was in my seat within the hour. I spent most of the fifteen hours somewhat sick to my stomach about Lucy, but I was able to sleep a bit, and sleep through a few movies (watching movies is the best way for me to get any sleep on a plane). I was lucky enough to get an exit row, which I usually don't like, but it was nice to have lots of leg room and be able to stand up easily.

In Guangzhou, we disembarked, and entered the airport, which was extremely hot and sticky inside, and so I proceeded to sweat, as if a sprinkler had just been turned on over me, following me down the long corridors to passport control. I followed the crowd through passport control, where I met another person going to China to teach at an international school (but not mine), and a college student who assumed I was just out of college due to my Jansport backpack because, and I quote "only college students would wear a Jansport backpack." This simultaneously amused and irritated me. I mean, I just needed a new backpack, and they had this really cute one at JC Penney so shut up and I'm old enough to have been your teacher since you were in elementary school so shut up again. After passport control, which was less invasive than entering the United States as a United States citizen, I went to pick up my bags and my dog at the baggage claim. I had a bit of a panic attack when I couldn't find her, and couldn't get anyone to understand me (which was just the beginning), but finally a sweet China Southern attendant disappeared for five minutes, and returned with Lucy's carrier (with Lucy inside...) on a cart. I was at the wrong baggage carrel.
I know. Mad luggage stacking skills.

I somehow loaded up all four of my suitcases and the carrier on one cart (they were bigger than stupid JFK's overpriced "smart" carts) and stumbled through customs (they barely looked at me), found the animal and plant inspection area, registered Lucy, and then, just like that, we were out of there. It took me a little while to figure out where to go. I went up and down the elevator three times, much to the amusement of one of the airport workers who kept trying to help me, but whom I was reticent to let help me because I had no idea if I needed to tip him, or if he was just being helpful. In Africa, everyone expects a tip. Well, not everyone, but attendants at the airport definitely do.

I finally located the departure hall of the airport, found where I would need to check in about five hours, and settled in for a long, bathroom-less wait. I got a lot of weird looks. Like, a lot. Like, "Look at that crazy toubab and her dog" looks. I don't know the Mandarin equivalent for toubab, but I was definitely getting the "crazy toubab" vibe. And, let's be real - in this moment, I was a crazy toubab.
Five hours of waiting with no bathroom breaks (too much luggage). At least Lucy's carrier made for a good foot rest. 

When you have five hours to kill, can't sleep, and can't go to the bathroom, you watch The Middle and Parks and Rec until it's time to go. 

I waited till 12:00 pm to check in my bags and figure out what to do next with Lucy. The check-in attendant was overwhelmed by my bags, and seemed almost unable to process (mentally) the dog. I think it was just striking because now I was flying domestic, and people normally don't have four bags, much less an animal carrier. I finally understood what I needed to do with Lucy - check her in at the "oversize baggage" office. After paying for my excess luggage, I waited another hour to check-in Lucy. At this point I realized that the professional handling of Lucy by the airline at JFK was probably just because it was an international flight, and I started to get incredibly anxious, again.

I took her to the "oversize baggage" office, where the attendant and I had a very confusing conversation which involved taking my only piece of proof that Lucy entered the country legally (yep, took it away and I didn't even get a picture of the document, not that a photo would be legal tender), lots of "Okay" symbols, and a few major sighs on the part of the attendant (everyone I talked to that couldn't get me to understand had these huge sighs - it was kind of funny because several people did it; I know it was just polite frustration, but still interesting). I finally understood that I had to go pay for the dog back at the airline counter (I was quite confused because they took my boarding pass!). I paid, and came back to try and get my paperwork, but they wouldn't give it too me. I had hoped it was just being held as collateral, but no. It wasn't. So, I don't really have any evidence that Lucy entered the country correctly. So, that's a bit worrisome!

Lucy had been taken off by this point, so I reluctantly passed through security (in which my roll-on suitcase was completely unpacked because I had electronics, like a travel transformer and digital camera that I didn't take out the first time through the x-ray machine). I made it to my gate in good time, and anxiously waited and prayed that my dog wouldn't die on this flight.

We finally boarded the plane - a classic take-a-mile-long-bus-ride-to-the-plane situation a la Lisbon airport, where I was one of the first to board, thanks to being perched precariously on the doorstep of the bus on the ride over, with other passengers pressed awkwardly against me for that hot, stuffy mile to the plane. As I was waiting in line, I saw Lucy's carrier being tossed - yes, basically tossed - up into the hold, so at least I knew she was on board. And yes, I wanted to throw up.

Once on the plane, I made sure the flight attendant knew the dog was in the hold, having had the foresight to look up in my English-Chinese dictionary app the words "dog" "baggage hold" and "verify/confirm" and shoved the phone in her face, and said "Please tell the captain." She went to tell the captain about the dog, and my temperature request (26 Celsius) for the hold. I went back to my seat feeling sick and hoping that the hold was pressurized and temperature controlled, despite the cheerful thumbs up I got.

It was a quick flight to Hangzhou, wherein we made the hardest landing I've ever experienced (and I've traveled a lot), and were bustled off the plane. I saw the carrier from the distant window of the airport. After a bit of a wait, Lucy was actually one of the first pieces of luggage off the plane, wherein, again, I got many strange looks as my dog carrier came around the conveyor belt. I loaded her up, and was met outside the baggage area by my new principal and a driver from the school. I had to borrow a strong pair of scissors to cut the zip-tie on the door of her carrier, but finally released poor Lucy after 30 hours in her carrier.
Happy dog.
Fortunately, Lucy seems her normal self. A bit more clingy than usual, but that's understandable. She's camped out on my bed  most of the day, but we've taken a few walks around campus, despite the heat, and she's eating and drinking, which is the most important thing.

Like I said, animal travel and transport is not for the faint of heart. I don't want to think about the process of getting her out of China. We're going to worry about that in two, three, or more years!

More to come...first day in Hangzhou, first impressions, etcetera, ectetera, etcetera.