There will be a Saturday address

Official.

I was expecting not to be back on line much before some time next week when I’d be informed that the ubiquitous worker would be coming to sort out my computer some time between 6am and 6pm. He would, of course, arrive at 7.30pm instead.

The phone was also live, but fortunately, like Internet access, the school has taken care of that, too. None of the ridiculous business in Fuzhou about ¥3 not having been paid off by people who were not there to pay it.

So, where are they now? Glen and Row are still in Fuzhou to the end of the week. Todd’s been written out of the story, but still remains there. Jane is also being written out of the story. She’s off to Japan, but her departure was delayed because she couldn’t get a flight as soon as she would’ve liked.

Thus Fuzhou fades into history. Rather a wasted year to be honest and this final week was merely the icing on the cack [sic!]. It’s typical of the schools to treat the foreign teachers badly as their time comes to an end. We had to make the school help us with the medical on Wednesday. However, this is the first school I’ve been at where we had neither a welcome lunch/dinner (that was lumped in with Teacher Appreciation Day) or a farewell lunch/dinner (no lumping at all). I’m not too bothered about the latter which would’ve been marred by fake bonhomie. The school never had any particular interest in us except as a means of making money off the parents of total cretins.

The school in Chengdu, from what I’ve been told, seems more committed to the programme as an academic exercise than a mere money-making venture. That said, the pupils still appear to be a bit of a mixture. Ap­par­ently, I’ve landed Senior 3 for the 1st term. Won’t be much teaching, but they might be a bunch of little pains, although that’s what I’ve come to ex­pect from that level.

The accommodation is generally good. (18.08.14. Well, it was more modern than my flat in Fuzhou.) Pity about the view. The shower is a bit of a pain to use, and I wasn’t pleased to see one of those huge cockroach-like insects climbing up the wall while I was having a shower. There’s a lack of decent storage space. I live in a world of chests-of-drawers, and I need a couple of bookcases and a cabinet for the DVDs. The bedroom needs some decent curtains as well, and curtains that cover the window adequately. A couple of decent-sized rubbish baskets would be useful. (Sorry about the ex­ces­sive use of “decent”.)

Well, I’m off to do some exploring (which is really a euphemism for seeing whether I can find my way back to Carrefour).


Weird Chengdu – Report No. 1
(Mr Bamboo, having successfully made his way to Carrefour and back, notes a local oddity.)

I turn right into 文庙前街 and immediately notice several shops selling police uniforms and equipment from two-way radios to the entire light set that’s mounted on top of police cars. There are quite a few shops like that locally, including one quite big one. Who, exactly, would be buying this stuff? Would they sell me a police uniform or a flashing light or two? Perhaps the local plod is nicknamed the Keystone Cops because they’re always losing the lights off their cars or getting their uniforms torn to shreds, and the Chief Super is forever having to send them out to buy new gear.


Have a good success.

My trip to Carrefour revealed a couple of solutions to my storage problems for DVDs and books. They have some fairly solid bookcases, and there are some small drawer units which would be ideal for the DVDs.

I’m back in business

What? So soon?

I know I said I’d be back in business next week, but Internet access was just rearing to go from the flat.

Let’s start with this morning. As I was sorting out the last of the mess, I noticed my boots, which were sitting under the table. I stuffed them into my rucksack and squeezed the remaining items into one suitcase or another. Jane was kind enough to help me take my suitcases down to Cang Qian Lu where they were setting up a stage, probably for the opera troupe. I needed the help. The three cases together were one too many for one person. A taxi arrived almost immediately and the driver helped me with my suitcases when we got to the Apollo.

I got the e-ticket at the airport without any fuss and bother and paid the ¥500 fee for excess baggage. I still had 40kg of stuff even although I’d tried to box up as much as possible. Went through security where they seemed to be passing the whisk over everyone. The girl who dealt with me seemed to be enjoying it. Really. I don’t think I’m imagining things.

I ended up with a window seat for the flight, but patchy to dense cloud obscured the view for most of the route. I did a couple of sudoku puzzles to keep me amused.

James and Linda, who is the co-ordinator at the school, met me at the airport, where my bags appeared on the carousel in double quick time.

I was brought to the flat which seems to be in the same building as a hotel. I wonder whether the whole building was meant to be a hotel, but part of it was turned into flats. Altogether, the place is nice. Big sitting room with a small dining area to one side, decent kitchen, although the bathroom is a larger-sized version of Fuzhou. But, the quality is vastly better overall. And I can flush loo paper down the loo (which is why I think this was all meant to be part of a hotel).

A view from my first flat in Chengdu, 2007The downside is the view which looks out on, well, see the pict­ure.

The alternative is on the 11th, but smaller.

I’ll need to buy a couple of bookcases, because there’s really nowhere to put books or DVDs. I could also do with a desk with drawers. There’s a kind of work station, but I want drawers rather than awkwardly placed shelves.

Overall, this is much better than where I’ve been for the past year.

James, Katie and I had lunch at a lamian restaurant where I had to read the menus for them. We then went to Carrefour, but I’m told there’s a Metro Supermarket here in Chengdu. I wonder whether my card is transferable.

Linda took me to the police station to register me until I can get the foreign resident’s permit done properly in September. After that, I tried the Internet connection from the flat. Might not be 100Mbps for real, but it seems faster than the connection in Fuzhou. No messing around either, and the school is paying for it.

I’ve only seen a little of central Chengdu, but it seems to have more going for it than Fuzhou. But I’m in the heart of the city and not some decaying district on the outskirts. I’ve already seen a bunch of foreigners, although they mostly look like tourists, including one group who must’ve come here on the Fat Pallid Foreigner Package Tour Scheme. James says that there are a lot of foreigners in Chengdu, although a lot of them are meant to be a bit crazy.

My first impression of this place is that it’s much better than where I’ve been. Hopefully, the rest of the year won’t spoil that view.

Nothing to do with us

But we’re not going to tell you.

This afternoon I learnt, although hadn’t been previously informed, that we’re basically on our own when it comes to getting the medical done. The most that the school will do for us is give us the address. When we get to the medical centre, the helpful <span class = “sarcasm”>English-speak­ing</span> staff will no doubt tell us where we need to go and what we need to do. Past experience tells me that we’re going to need someone who can speak Chinese for those awkward little moments where otherwise con­fusion would ensue.

That was one thing. The other is my departure on Friday. I’ve come to expect schools to collect me from the airport when I arrive and take me back when I depart. Perhaps there’s no duty in this instance, but I’ve always believed that there was. I happened to mention the revised departure time, to which the response was an enquiry whether I’d be making my own way there. I think that’s what might end up happening. It would be such a fitting end to my time here and the perfect summation of this place.

If you could see me now, you’d see I’m making my I’m-not-impressed face.

Updates
1. The medical check has now rejoined reality. The contract still goes to Saturday, but contracts here are merely loo paper waiting to happen.
2. [27.06.07] Just before we got taken to do the medical check (¥410, please), I asked about being taken to the airport on Friday. No, was the answer. Why? Because it’s early in the morning (no different from usual, actually) and because the other (foreign) teachers would expect the same assistance. I’m pretty certain that the school is meant to deliver us to the airport at the end of the contract. I’m making my not-impressed face again.

Appendix
Employment contracts
As far as I can tell, employment contracts are, in one respect, just like every other con­tract in China, with the terms being suggestions that are never that rigorously enforced.

In other respects, because of the power differential between the employee and the em­ployer, employers do appear to see contracts as sticks with which to beat employees when it suits them to do so, but not because they value the contract.

In contrast, employers probably don’t think they’re bound by the contract because (here comes the hypothesis) they regard it as a set of instructions binding the employee, and not instructions which bind them.

Leaving on the 30th?

That’s so yesterday.
 
I was going to go to Chengdu on the 30th, but that’s now been switched to the 29th because the weekend has suddenly become a sacred animal. We’re going to have out stuff shipped off on Thursday, which means the fun of packing, an activity that I’m not much looking forward to.
 
We may have had our last classes today, but we’re not certain. We’re giving the IELTS class a test on Monday, and there seems little point in bothering after that. We’ll probably find that the kids make the decision for us by not turning up.

But why?

Citizen Kane again.
 
I see that there’s been yet another poll where Citizen Kane has been voted the Best Movie Evah™. I’ve only ever seen the film once and lost interest in it as I watched it. It was dull, pretentious and stagey. Definitely very overrated.

92 minutes

Finally a film that’s been put on a diet.
 
I see that Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer has been released. I note, to my surprise, that it bucks the recent trend for films to be even more bloated than usual by being a mere 92 minutes in length. I wonder how many people said at the end of the film, "Well, that’s the ads over, now for the main feature", because they’re too young to remember the days when films were typically 90 minutes long.

The subjunctive

A Spanish obsession?

If you do a search for the word “subjunctive”, Google returns 1.34 million hits. Without tallying them all up, I’d have to say that 1.3 million of them are for web pages about the subjunctive in Spanish, and the other 40,000 are for the subjunctive in other languages, including American English. (I mention American English specifically by name because it still employs this form – or whatever renowned grammarians of that language call it these days – quite widely, whereas the English language only retains a few vestiges of the subjunctive just to wrong foot foreign learners.)

I wonder why the Spanish appear to be obsessed with the subjunctive. Is it because they’re always saying, “Mañana”, and thus life is always hypothetical since everything happens mañana? Or is it because they’re always sitting around sleeping under their sombreros? [That’s Mexicans, you idiot. –ed.]

Since searching the Web often leads you to strange and unexpected places, I shouldn’t be surprised that a search for ‘subjunctive’ led me to winonadailynews.com. I’m disappointed, though, that the site isn’t about ageing Hollywood cutie Winona Ryder and stories of her latest heists.

[16.08.13. Edited for some abysmal formatting and an embarrassing typo.]

Painful, painfuller, painfullest

Living & Dying.

Take a potentially good idea. Limit it to three locales. Throw in some ridiculously bad acting. Mix the ingredients together to ensure maximum audience suffering.

The idea is that a bunch of armed robbers end up in the clutches of a couple of psychos. I think the idea has potential. But when the action is limited to three locales and there’s mostly just sitting around and yelling, it turns into a rather dull film-in-a-bottle. I assume that this was straight-to-DVD fare. It might be a TVM, but it all seems too cheap for that.

The twist in the tail (probably tacked on to try and redeem the film) is that Arnold Vosloo (Darling, loved you in The Mummy!) is in thick with the robbers who are really decent at heart. Bai Ling proves that gunshot wounds to the abdomen are not only not fatal, but you can be up and walking around after about half an hour. She also proves that when it comes to shooting guns, Chinese girls couldn’t hit a barn door at point blank range.

One to send spinning into the woodchipper.


Sunshine.

Not since Solaris (I mean the original, although I hear the unnecessary remake was also dire) has a sci-fi film been so dull and pointless. A group of astronauts are on a routine mission to launch some monster-sized bomb into the heart of the sun to reignite it. So far, so dull. It’s all routine and apart from a few arguments among the crew, the whole mission seems to be about as exciting as a wet Sunday in Minehead. Then someone messes up some calculations and the mission goes pear-shaped. People started to die. Someone gets barbecued and turns into a raving psycho (who then takes some armed robbers hostage [Wrong film. –ed.]). Everyone dies one way or the other; the Sun gets reignited.

I’m sure the scientists at NASA, when they’re having their weekly Science Nerds’ Saturday Film Night Club, must’ve wondered why it was necessary to send a manned mission to the Sun if the intention was to chuck as enormous bomb at it. Also, the Sun’s quite hot and a bit bigger than the Earth, and I’m sure the bomb would melt long before it could have any effect, and be too small even if it could penetrate the surface of the sun to some small depth.

Ugh. If the Alien had been in the film, you would’ve been cheering it on to do it’s worst on the crew.


Munich.

The film is about the aftermath of the hostage crisis at the Munich Olympics in 1972 when the Israelis sent assassins after the people who plotted the attack. It’s not just about the assassinations themselves, but the mental toll it took on those involved. But there are also questions about what was really going on because every time the hit squad got another target, a new extremist would step in to take that person’s place. It didn’t seem that their actions were really achieving anything other than supposedly sending a message to anyone who wanted to attack Israel and Israelis.

There were also hints of the tangled web operated by the world’s intelligence agencies, such as the news that one of the Palestinians was working for and being funded by the CIA.


Trust the Man.

Some sort of comedy, I think, but most of it wasn’t really funny at all. I shouldn’t condemn it out of hand, though, because I don’t think this was meant to have you rolling in the aisles and crapping your trousers. Not really a rom com; not quite a romantic melodrama.

There were two couples. The married one was getting bored with married life; the female half of the unmarried one wanted to get married, but the male half was a plonker. It all sorted itself out.

David Duchovny and Julianne Moore ride again. Garry Shandling, Dave’s mate, was the marriage counsellor, but wasted in the role which could’ve been comfortably cut from the film.

Don’t expect too much out of this one.


Venus.

Peter O’Toole plays an aging thesp whose friend (played by Leslie Phillips) has a niece with whom the former has a kind of January-May relationship.

Low budget film four production. Nothing really new here (predictably, O’Toole dies at the end), but worth a look.

How many tomorrow?

Class numbers can go down as well as up.

All of one pupil in the General English class this morning, but there might be two of them tomorrow. Who knows? The IELTS class was down to nine, but the numbers are all over the place, being up one day and down the next. I split the class in two, giving the kids who did IELTS in Senior 2 a writing task, and continuing the book with the rest. It sort of worked.

Meanwhile, later that day… My sources inform me that we may not have class tomorrow because the kids are going to be at some meeting. I haven’t heard this from an official source, which means the official source hasn’t been informed.

East-West Station has an interesting entry Is this the way you think? which is about approaches to essay writing. We seldom get anything longer than a paragraph out of our pupils, and we teach them a model structure of intro. – supporting sentences – conclusion, which does get used, although unimaginatively. The kids whose English is bad don’t have enough language to use this model effectively, and merely end up repeating themselves or, in some cases, wandering off on some unrelated tangent (usually about Counterstrike, it seems). I’d like to get my little darlings beyond single paragraphs, but they just don’t have it in them. Yes, they occasionally do produce more than one paragraph, but the result is usually one sentence = one paragraph. They potentially have something which could be turned into an essay, but there’s never the time to get into expansion nor any good reason to do so.

As far as I’m aware, school children here never do any creative writing in Chinese class, and while we only did creative writing in English now and then when I was at school, we did do some. A lot of the time we’re getting them to do writing of a practical nature, but there are occasions when they’re given the opportunity to be creative.  Even the kids with better English largely don’t appreciate the chance to do that, although occasionally they’ll come out with something quite imaginative. Overall, the response is never enthusiastic because we’re still viewed through the lens of the mantra “foreign English teacher means oral English; Chinese English teacher means book English”. To our pupils, writing means book English, which, in their eyes, isn’t really our job.

I have to wonder how China ever produces a single creative writer. Perhaps the education system is designed to prevent those creative urges so that the ones who pop out the other end are complete recidivists who simply cannot be cured.

It’s a pity that creative writing doesn’t seem to be appreciated because I would’ve thought that non-mechanistic writing might stimulate greater interest in the subject. There might be a specific topic, but the means of handling it is wide open. Or perhaps that’s the problem. You give them too much rope and they get tangled up before they can hang themselves, even if you nag them about things like planning.