China, Travel

Away I Go

I spent most of the day up to this point (3 PM) hard at work. Working on what? Travel plans.

Next week is the Chinese National Holiday, which is equivalent to the 4th of July. Yet instead of a mere 3-day weekend, Chinese do it right with a full 8 days of vacation.

Last year, as it was only my fourth week in China, I stayed in Zhuhai the entire time. It is an understatement to say that it was not a very good week. I was not surprised to hear that a freshman student committed suicide last year. Far from home on a deserted campus in an unfamiliar city—who wouldn’t consider it?

This year I was determined to travel. And not just China travel, but international travel. Everyone in China has this week off and everywhere in China will be absolutely smashed as only China can be. Why not take the opportunity to explore Thailand? Malaysia? Indonesia? Don’t mind if I do!

Unfortunately with the busy-ness of the semester starting plan-making got delayed. And delayed. And delayed. The holiday starts for us tomorrow and it was just today that I sat down to make plans. Which means that tickets are scarce and expensive when they are found. My list of possible destinations was being slowly whittled down to nothing.

I found a relatively cheap ticket to Manila and was intrigued by the historical aspects of the city. I was seriously considering it, but I’d really been dreaming more of a lay-on-the-beach vacation that a steamy, populated city trip. A little more digging led me to Boracay, a popular island in the Philippines famous for its white sand beaches. With the additional flight from Manila to Boracay the ticket is not nearly as cheap as I’d hoped, but is still lower than flights to Thailand or Malaysia.

And did I mention that this is a solo trip? Yes, I, Amy Abigail Esther Van Gundy will be traveling alone. Send a search party with coffee if you don’t hear from me in a week.

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Campus Life, China, Cultural Differences, Teaching, University Teaching

One down. Seventeen to go.

The first week of the semester went down relatively smoothly. It felt long and tiring, but I took comfort in the knowledge that it would eventually finish. After my summer sloth, it’s quite a transition.

First classes always seem to get taken up with lots of bureaucratic details: textbooks, grading, class expectations, etc., etc., etc. Blah, blah, blah. Or that’s my interpretation of the looks on the students’ faces. I try to remember that even the classes I came to love last semester looked much like this on the first day.

Some classes are almost all students from last semester. Some of them I feel moderately optimistic about; others I had to restrain a sarcastic “together again.” It’s a mixed bag for sure.

I am teaching my Tourism English class again, three sections of it. I have some required English courses for second year students: reading & writing, listening, oral English. I have some oral classes for English majors. I am also teaching a short course for MA TESOL students on teaching pronunciation. Surprised? Me too. I figured it would be a good challenge and a nice something to add to the ‘ol resume. Yes, yes, but it’s also been taking me like ten hours to plan a 1 ½ hour lesson. And, no, I do not get paid for teaching hours. The students are lovely though and at least all the planning keeps me out of trouble.

The added challenge of the first week was moving apartments. The university renovated a block of apartments for the foreign teachers and we were told to move in the day before the semester started. Nice. However, the building was not really complete and issues immediately presented themselves: Internet, electricity, incomplete furniture, etc., etc. We had a week to complete the move, so on Sunday I just stuffed as much as I could into my suitcases, packed up my books and papers and sent it all off with the ridiculously tiny, but ridiculously strong Chinese moving guys. For the first few days I stayed in the old building with just the essentials.

On Thursday when I had most of the day teaching-free I completed my move only to find out the Internet still wasn’t working. I’d waited until Thursday thinking that all the kinks would be worked out. Surely! But, no, kinks galore. I was having last year déjà vu: workmen tromping in and out to install things, inspect things, missing items, and lots of noise. I tried to not let my irritation get away from me. For a country that has students who major in logistics, I see very little evidence of their application in university matters. I said, nicely, to several people, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to just finish everything and make sure it’s all working before having everyone move in?”

To their credit, the Internet problem was resolved within 24 hours. I get seriously panicky without Internet and begin to experience withdrawal-like symptoms, so I was relieved. And very grateful.

It’s a beautiful apartment. A proper one-bedroom place, not a studio. Though there were some rather odd choices about cabinetry and furniture placement, I’m confident I’ll get over it. It’s adapt or die over here. And to put it all in perspective a foreign teacher who’s been in China a long time told me foreigner housing is usually called the “panda house.” Ouch. I’ll be sure to munch my bamboo quietly and gratefully.

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I was amused to see a signigicant increase in site visits in the last few days. My devoted readers! Waiting for, like, the first blog post in, like, FOREVER! Yeah, sorry about that whole not-blogging-for-four-months business.

But I’m back and feeling ready to write! So stay tuned!

Thanks for coming and reading!

Is She Blogging Yet?

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China, Travel

Look, Ma! No Tears!

Look, Ma! No tears!

Yesterday I made my way from San Francisco to Hong Kong, arriving in the wee hours of the morning. Trouble-free, I made my way through the city via the Airport Express and its accompanying shuttle bus to the Kowloon ferry terminal.* Ferry ticket purchased, I impatiently waited for boarding time. Though it wasn’t even 8 AM, Hong Kong was already sweltering. The layers of clothing I’d shed were making my hand luggage that much heavier and I was afflicted by that every-traveler’s desire to just BE there already! Finally settled on the ferry, I dozed and reflected on my painless journey back to China.

A major reason for deciding to return to China was its status as a known. As nice as it sounds to surf from country to country every year, two years in I was already thinking twice about a third country in so many years. (That’s not, of course, implying that more countries won’t be in my future. Just that the moves might not always occur on an annual basis.)

The wisdom of my decision became apparent in the San Francisco airport. The family had accompanied me to the airport, which, to be clear, I very much appreciated, but it naturally makes for a more emotional leave-taking process. Last year’s goodbyes were extremely weepy, literally beginning as we pulled out of the driveway and culminating in frantic waving and coursing tears as I made my way through security.** They were honest tears, which I don’t regret, but I guess I hoped for a little less drama this year.

Boy, did I get my wish! Those reportedly cool cucumbers could’ve learned a thing or two from us. It was an entirely tear-free event, which I didn’t think was possible, certainly not for me. Several rounds of hugs were exchanged: near the airline counter, half-way to security, and at security. And then the family calmly waved and departed and I made my way through security, composed and clear-eyed.

So not only does the return to a familiar place have benefits for me, but it also offers the same benefits to my family. Not that I think they generally are losing too much sleep over me, but I know I am in their thoughts and prayers while I’m away. And my mother certainly operates as emotional support and counselor in all my traveling and acclimatizing. She’s a very sympathetic soul, my mother. And hopefully her dear heart will be comforted knowing that I am not venturing into a complete unknown, but rather just picking up the threads of an adventure well underway.

Not that I expect this to be a challenge-free year. Yes, some issues will just pick up where I left them and others will surely present themselves in time. So, please, don’t forget about me! All thoughts and prayers warmly appreciated! Though, in general, I anticipate a smooth transition and a good year.

A smiling face waiting for me outside the ferry terminal and a dim sum feast absolutely positively had nothing to do with all these strangely un-Amy like, optimistic vibes. Nothing. Zilch.

*Hong Kong International Airport, with its integrated transportation to/from the airport, is truly a marvel.

**I’m convinced that this year’s departure was made that much easier by the lack of a dear, dear feline to take leave of. How can you not feel terrible leaving behind a pet to which your absence cannot be explained?

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