I woke up this morning around 7:30, thinking that I had a class to observe at 8:30, but I had misread my schedule and wasn’t due to arrive at the Mingshi 1 location until 10:30. I set my alarm for 9:45 and rolled back over to sleep.
I woke up, packed my day-bag and left my apartment for the 15-20 minute walk to school. I’ve been doing more walking here than I have in years, despite the fact that taxis are abundant and extraordinarily inexpensive. My legs are constantly sore, but I’m sure that will go away as I get more used to it. You really don’t realize how sedentary the average American lifestyle is (at least, in Charlotte) until you’ve been here, where everybody walks. Then again, this is a city where everything is in actual walking-distance, unlike a lot of America where suburbia stretches onwards for miles, and the only viable solution for transportation is having a car.
I arrived at Mingshi 1 on the money, and reported to the class I was to observe. It was being taught by one of the other ESL teachers who I had met before, Andrew. Andrew is 30 years old and has been teaching ESL for almost a decade, starting his career in Peru and from there hoping from country to country to teach. He’s been in Fushun for at least 3 of those years, although I believe substantially longer. I just can’t remember. He’s a great guy, always dresses sharp, and is hugely competent at what he does. He’s been exceptionally helpful in helping me get acclimated to Fushun and teaching. He lives in the Wanda apartment complex, a studio flat of pristine quality that sits above the best mall in Fushun — lots of comforts from home there: KFC, McDonalds (nearby), Pizza Hut, and plenty of familiar Western shops that you would expect to find in America. It’s also a very short walk (approximately 5-10 minutes) from the Mingshi 1 school.
Class ended around lunch, and entering the main lobby of the school we ran into one of the other teachers, Ray, a 25 year old from Philadelphia who has only been in Fushun for a short period of time (Ray was the teacher that supplied me with the universal converter for my computer’s charger, which is thus far working great). He originally came from an illegal school in Beijing that basically scammed him into working there on a business visa, and was picked up by Mingshi ESL here in Fushun. He’s a really great guy, and I thoroughly enjoy his company. I can see him ending up a good friend, though he plans to relocate to Hong Kong on a student visa by this time next year (then again, there’s a good chance I’ll be returning to America anyway). We all decided to get lunch together and Andrew recommended a local pizza place run by a Chinese national named “Lou” if memory serves me correctly. It’s a tiny restaurant about a 5 minute walk from the school. The owner (“Lou”?) speaks fairly good English — he lived in Ireland for a few years before returning to Fushun — and his pizza is pretty good too! The place feels very homey, very comfortable and welcoming, and is apparently one of the school’s dives. Lots of pictures posted on the walls showing current and former teachers from past outings and past parties hosted there. They were all extremely friendly and welcoming, as most of the Chinese here are.
Over lunch I was able to ask plenty of questions about the schools and the city, stories were exchanged, and Andrew and I went over my schedule. We talked about one of the former teachers that once had the apartment I’m currently staying in who apparently was crazy, and lost his mind here — fleeing in the night back to America and is now supposedly back in China trying to teach English in a different city. I actually found some text documents he had written on this computer, and it’s pretty clear the guy was absolutely bonkers from the little I’ve seen. I’m quite determined not to end up like him. Contrary to what I expected, and what many expats talk about regarding culture-shock, China is growing on me on a daily basis. Everything is becoming more familiar, more comfortable, and I’m learning how to get around, problem-solve, and become more self-sufficient on a daily basis. The culture is beautiful and so far the people are extremely friendly and helpful.
Over lunch Ray and I had some great conversation. We talked about his experiences thus far, he answered some more of my questions, among other things. Somewhere along the conversation gyms came up. Ray is a weight-lifter, something that I’ve wanted to get into, and he mentioned a brand-new gym that opened in the aforementioned Wanda mall. Not only was I interested in the fitness aspects of joining a gym, for the sake of bettering myself and giving myself something to stay busy with, but also having access to warm showers. My hot-water heater in my apartment is still inoperable, and all the water is ice-cold. We left the pizza restaurant, saw Andrew off, and walked over to the mall to give the gym a look. He got his membership some months ago for 1,100 RMB (about $183) for a year’s worth package, which is the shortest package they offer. Upon arrival we were greeted by a beautiful Chinese woman who didn’t speak a lick of English, and despite Ray’s attempts to show me around and find one of the staff he knew who spoke English, was adamant about quarantining us to a waiting room where she could bring someone in to market memberships to us. Eventually one of the people Ray was looking for — a very buff 22 year old Chinese man by the name of “Lucky” who studied English in Australia — met with us to talk about the potentiality of my becoming a member. The Chinese woman returned as well with a binder of prices, listing a year’s membership at 2,000 RMB (about $333). Ray, myself, and Lucky got into a debate about the prices, and after some haggling and deciding to stand up and walk out of the place (having found such a price absolutely unacceptable) we settled on a year’s membership for 1,200 RMB. We decided to try and barter further, and I didn’t make any initial purchases. We told them we were going to walk around town and compare other gyms, but not before being able to walk around the gym and have Ray point out the different areas of the gym and machines that were offered. Us, being foreigners, got plenty of stares from the Chinese people there, and at least two women that I observed took pictures of us on their smartphones.
Ray had to return to his apartment to plan for an upcoming class, which is somewhat on the way to mine, and I decided to follow and continue our conversation. We walked the majority of the way to my apartment, with Ray showing me different potential routes I could take from where I am living to the school. I decided to go to my local corner-shop to buy a bottle of water and Ray went the opposite direction towards his apartment. I left and began walking back to the school I was due at to observe another one of Andrew’s classes, but ended up getting lost along the way. I took a wrong turn, and before I knew it was engulfed by apartment blocs and tiny shops which spit me out on a major thoroughfare bordering a park. I opted to go through the park, full of elderly people and young children, trying to find a familiar road or landmark that could guide me in the right direction, but I never found either. I ended up coming across train-tracks which I had never before seen, and with 10 minutes before I was expected to be at Andrew’s class, I decided to hail a taxi and pay 6RMB (about $0.83) for a 5 minute drive back to the school.
I arrived earlier than I thought I would, and Andrew was able to take about 15 minutes before his class to show me how to use some of the computers and smart-boards here (electronic white-boards) enabled via a projector). I tried to use the restroom at the school, but all the facilities are only equipped with traditional Chinese “squat” toilets, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Too strange, too awkward, and being not used to it in any sense, it was difficult to maintain a squatting position comfortably. I decided to give up and wait until I returned to my apartment with a proper Western toilet.
I sat through Andrew’s second class, which was eerily well-behaved and quiet. He told me this was usually one of his worst-behaving classes, and guessed that one of the Chinese English teachers had reamed them out prior to his arrival. During break we walked down the 5 flights of stairs to the street and had a cigarette. We talked about my first assignments, teaching the local Chinese middle-school, and how the school system here works. Jobs in China, according to him, are basically purchased — at least teaching jobs. To cover the costs of buying these jobs, teachers regularly force children to take extra classes taught by these teachers which the parents pay for them to take, where the teachers basically just feed answers to the kids so they can ace the tests. It’s a total and complete sham, but is apparently wide-spread and common. It’s known as “grey money”. I also learned the Chines names for various countries: China, in Chinese, translates literally to “Middle Kingdom”, America in Chinese translates literally to “Beautiful Kingdom”, and England in Chinese translates literally to “Hero Kingdom”.
I finished up observing his class and told him about my water-heater problem. He retrieved a school form for me to fill out regarding grievances, more specifically tailored towards living conditions, and we parted ways. He had another class to rush to. I walked back to my apartment, stopping on the way to purchase some bananas from a street-vendor. I ate one on the way.
Arriving at my apartment I spent about 45 minutes trying once again to get hot-water in my apartment, to no avail. I decided that having not showered for 3 days, I would go ahead and purchase a gym membership at the Wanda Mall location… really, just to be able to have access to a hot shower and be clean. I packed a bag with a change of clothes, assembled 12 100RMB bills, and hailed a taxi to drive me to Mingshi 1, with the idea that I could drop off the now-filled grievances form and then make the short walk to Wanda Mall to find the gym… but the school was closed, so I continued on.
I arrived at the mall and found the gym in short order. The beautiful Chinese girl from before greeted me and took me to the waiting area of before. I guessed her Chinese (“1 minute please”) which she had repeated to us earlier in the day, which she found amusing. I waited and was once again greeted by Lucky. We agreed on the price decided upon earlier and got into the paperwork. I forked over the money and started signing forms. The Chinese girl tried talking to me, but resorted to speaking to Lucky to translate for her. She asked my name, my age, and wanted to know my phone number so that she could add me to WeChat (a Chinese messenger service, which I already had set-up). I agreed and entered my contact information into her phone, and she gave me a huge smile. I finished up the paperwork, had my picture taken, and became a gym-member.
My goal was to get a shower, but I didn’t have any towels or washcloths, and hadn’t seen any at any of the stores within the mall. Lucky graciously wrote in Chinese “I want to buy a towel” on a piece of paper for me to take to the mall and hand to people in order to be sent in the right direction. After a headache of a time due to the language barrier, I was pointed in the right direction, and bought 3 towels and 3 washcloths before returning to the gym to take a nice, long shower. I left close to their closing time feeling like a new man. It was amazing how different it felt. Walking out onto the streets of Fushun, freshly showered, in clean clothes… I felt so much better about everything. More confident about everything than my entire time here thus far. I hailed a taxi, showed them my address, and headed home, pulling my phone out to give my dad a call.
The taxi driver dropped me off in front of my apartment bloc, and I took a 3 minute walk down to the local market to buy 4 PBR’s (which are considered fancy American beers here) and return to my apartment to change and get ready for bed.
It’s been, all in all, a pretty fantastic day. Included below are some pictures I took of Andrew’s classes I sat in on today, and a picture I took outside of my apartment the first day after I arrived. It looks bleak, but it can be quite beautiful when the sun comes out!