Monday, December 20, 2010

Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful-

But here in O'hare International airport at least I'm not getting kicked out at 2 am.

I was supposed to get into Omaha three hours ago. Unfortunately it started snowing big American-sizey snowflakes around the time we touched down, and an hour after I was supposed to leave, my flight got cancelled.

Dude, I kid you not. At one time I had really good travel karma. No idea what's become of it.

So I was forced to buy Oingo-Boingo credit, forced to scour the airport for tampons and a USB plug (uhhhh, for two completely different reasons, and am now about to go see if macca's here has Reese's McFlurries on offer at 1:30 in the a.m. Because, you know, when in Rome, right?

Remember a few weeks back, that comment I made about quaint little places? >sigh< Yep.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Oh. Boy. Where do I even start with this? This is what happens when time picks up.

So about a month ago our Chinese principal tells me I have to make Christmas crafts for the charity bazaar that takes place during the school's pre-holiday extravaganza, and that I have to decorate the stage for the Christmas program. I - calmly and politely - protested that a month wasn't enough time for me. She - calmly and politely - informed me that the old art teacher didn't find this to be a problem so maybe I had been a poor choice for the position. I said that I'd get it all done, but that I didn't appreciate being told things at the last moment.

Yes. One month's warning is the last moment when it involves small children you see once a week making cutesy crafts.

Two weeks later, the coordinator in charge of the dog and pony show...errr...the extravaganza...comes and tells me I'm supposed to head up the parents' committee for decorating the whole school, as well. I - somewhat more forcefully than with the principal - inform her that I had more than enough to be getting on with at the moment. She once again lobbed back, "Well, the OLD art teacher didn't have a problem with it." My friendly neighborhood music teacher was standing by when this conversation took place, and she held me back from throttling said coordinator with the promise of talking to the Western principal about it. I went up to my classroom with steam streaming out my ears, and decided that I'd better have a look at my predecessor's schedule. And what I found was that SHE had been given four hours a week in her timetable dedicated to putting up displays. Yup. So I emailed a copy of this very enlightening document to the Western head and said, "Look, I know Music is talking to you - just so's you know, this was the schedule for last year, and I'll be more than happy to do whatever you want as long as it's not more than fair." And that is how Jo-Jo the Chinese/Art teacher got landed with it. And why the stage looks nice and the school looks like crap. Maybe next year I won't have to teach ESL and the school can look nice, too.

Two weeks later now, the stage is decorated, the crafts are as done as they can be, the art display (the only bit I knew I was responsible for a month ago) is up, my belly dancers have done their bit at the after-school concert (and they were SO good, I was really proud of them), and I've attended the bloody staff dinner.

Oh yes, the staff dinner. Pain. So much pain.

Don't get me wrong. I like my coworkers. Mostly. On the other hand, I don't go looking to spend time with most of them, most of the time. But we were basically told that it wasn't exactly optional, and I ditched the last one, so I cowgirled up and waited the half hour for the bus to come and take us into Xujiahui where we had a reservation at a Xinjiang-style restaurant. I wasn't exactly looking forward to it, but on the other hand, some of them WERE, in fact, the people I DO spend non-paid time with, and Xinjiang is the Muslim quarter of China, and I was curious what the food would be like. So it couldn't be too bad, right?

Yeah, actually, it could. Cause as we're pulling up to the restaurant someone mentions that our secondary campus was there, too - and this place doesn't look that big. We go downstairs and there are a few seats randomly scattered around the room - and the people I was hoping to sit with ended up scattered at different tables, while I was given the choice between sitting with two of my colleagues that I don't dislike but would rather poke out my eyes than make small talk with...or a table of secondary people that I've never met...Oh, no - wait! It turns out I HAD actually met one of them before. I thought at the time he looked familiar but for the life of me I couldn't figure out where I'd met him. Well, when I talked to Socrates, he tells me that his friend mentioned he'd sat next to me (I met this friend all of once, on a night when I was in just about as good a mood).

At any rate, I chose to sit with the people I didn't know. Yeah, awkward, right? My reasoning was that if I sat with my colleagues, I would have to make small talk and pretend to listen while my mind engaged in other business. With the total strangers, I could get out my iPod and read, and hopefully come down out of my temper. Or I could if people would quit trying to convince me to go sit with people I don't care for (which they did....eventually). So I sat down, said hi, and indicated that I would be playing the part of antisocial bitch for the evening, nothing personal.

Dad, if you're reading this one...try not to worry. I've managed to mostly succeed in life, in spite of my abrasive tendencies.

So - by this time it is around 5:45, and having had nothing more for lunch than cookies, I am getting pretty hungry. It was a half-hour before any food finds its way to the table, although there was a liter bottle of coke on the table which I proceeded to empty over the next hour and a half. Finally, the food began to come, and it was actually really good. Well, most of it - I don't eat seafood no matter what cuisine cooks it. And, as I've been told, it has a lot of similarities with Arabic cooking - although I think this was MUCH more flavorful - including the prolific use of lamb. Lamb's not my favorite meat, but I'm down with it...or at least, I am until they cart it out, roasted and whole, up to and including eyeballs and teeth, making a "Baaaaa!" noise. Eurgh! I mean. EURGH! I'm-not-a-child-I-grew-up-on-a-farm-I-know-perfectly-well-where-meat-comes-from-and-I-believe-if-God-hadn't-meant-for-us-to-eat-animals-he-wouldn't-have-made-them-so-delicious-but-I'm-sorry-I-do-NOT-want-to-see-the-face-of-my-murder-tasty-tasty-murder-victim-thank-you-very-much!!!!!!!


Yeah. So. Food good. I also noted, on my way in, that the wall had an image of a woman wrapped up in Isis wings, and the possibility that this restaurant might have a dancer was one of the reasons that I didn't leave when things started looking tedious (also, as I said, I was hungry, and figured if I had to cab home I might as well get something for my money). When the "stage" lighting came on, I found Giancarlo was back in my pocket and I was looking up before I became aware of what I'd just done. Two ladies and a man, all three of whom looked Persian to me (possibly because they were dressed in the costume that I've come to associate with Persian folk dance, although I don't know the style well enough to be sure), came out and started to dance, and I found that I was happy to be there. Even more so when the girls came back separately to "belly dance" for us. They were pretty okay - I've seen excellent dancers...hell, I've LEARNED from excellent dancers...and excellence is great, but the real show-stopper was when one went dancing up to our wee Irish principal, and dragged him out onto the floor. He's a great sport, and a fine comedian; I thought I'd bust a rib when she dropped to the floor and he kinda wobbled his way down to one knee! The next set saw her pulling -

Oh, I don't have a nickname for this guy! I'll call him Bilbo, cause he's about as tall as a hobbit, but isn't cool enough to be Frodo. A guy as short as Bilbo has only two options in how to live his life, and he chose the enlightened path. This guy does yoga and reads books on how to be a better man while cooking gourmet food for his Chinese girlfriend (cliche, he knows, but when you're that short, you have limited options and a Filipina would make him feel cheap and uneducated!) He's just so bloody earnest in all that he does, it's fricking annoying! Anyways, he was standing on the sidelines aching to bust a move when she pulled him out. Enlightened as he may be, he has no CLUE that when a belly dancer takes you out on the floor, the only expectation we have of you is that you bop along idiotically beside her for a couple moments - possibly mimicking some of her moves with nowhere NEAR her grace - before slinking back to your seat as soon as you can manage (embarassed and yet secretly pleased because YOU danced with a belly dancer). Oh no. He actually danced with her - twirling her over and over, or trying, because with her heels she was about four inches taller than him. And after his fifteen seconds of fame were over, he didn't slink back to his seat, but stood on the sidelines, so she pulled him back out, not once, but twice. It was so awkward to watch that it was painful.

Anyways, that was the staff dinner, and now it's over, and tomorrow, so will this week and school, too, at least until January. Shanghai is freezing, finally, I guess. Yesterday just past noon it started snowing. The kids went wild. I even got a little excited, until I realized that if it REALLY got going Socrates might not be the only one spending the holidays in Shanghai. I finally worked up some enthusiasm for the whole "home for the holidays" thing, as my darling Glamwhore will be in town, hopefully so will my niece, and Babysis invited me to go to the movies with her and a friend next Tuesday. Also - deodorant. I ran out last week, and rather than buying whatever I can get my hands on here, I'm just going without until I get back to the states. It really isn't as disgusting as it seems...well, not if you have good hygiene and don't eat too much garlic...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Half the Fun???

Whoever said getting there is half the fun needs to be drug out into the street and shot. Seriously.

Socrates, having been unceremoniously given the boot by the bastards at his school, managed to procure work temporarily at a school up the tracks in scenic Suzhou - VENICE OF THE EAST! I've been a bit miffed about it because it's left me largely without a walking buddy, but you gotta do what you gotta do. To make up for it, he invited me to come up and visit this weekend, so Friday I packed my stuff and headed up to the train station. I bought my tickets earlier in the week while my bike chain was being prepared. I didn't go to the station; it just so happens that there is a very handy little ticket office on Hongmei St. So I walked in, showed the lady a calendar, indicated the days that I wanted to go to Suzhou and come back, and what times, and she sold me my tickets. Easy cheesy.

On the other hand, I show up at the train station, and I look for the train number and time on my ticket, and it's not listed. I fight my way through the station, to information, and they inform me that the woman at the ticket office has sold me tickets for Shanghai station, rather than Hongqiao. My bad, I'm sure, for assuming that since I was physically IN Hongqiao at the ticket office that they would assume that was the station I wanted to begin and end at. Oh well, 20 minutes of my life later I had exchanged them for the correct tickets, texted Socrates to let him know I would be two hours later than originally anticipated, and found the Subway in the downstairs shopping area to kill some time (and 30 of my last yuan) in.

The train was fast, clean, and comfy. I have no complaints about the train. But when it pulled into Suzhou station, my life became complicated again. See, there's not a whole lot of guidance to get to the taxi stand, and once you do, you have the opportunity to be stared at and approached by beggars while you wait. Or at least I did. I'm sorry, little Chinese girl with the funny hands, but I teach your kind all week. Your adorableness has no effect on me. I was ready for the communication gap when I finally did get a taxi - I had the address Socrates gave me in Chinese up on my iPod's email - but the smell was none-too-pleasant, and when I texted Socrates to let him know I was on my way, my phone wouldn't send it. Crap. It also wouldn't let me call him. Double crap. But when we got to the business he told me to go to, I thought, "No worries, I'll pop in and use their phone"...only when I did, their landline wouldn't call his Shanghai mobile number. Triple crap. So what's a girl to do? Well, folks, this ain't my first rodeo. I pulled out my iTouch, found an unsecured wireless network, and emailed my partner in crime. For a lot of people, this might not work, but Socrates is the proud owner of an iPhone which (sometimes annoyingly) notifies him every time he gets an email. So two minutes later I got a reply that he was on his way. Problem solved.

Now, writing about all of this two days later, I have gained the proper perspective. I'm proud of my resourcefulness and can laugh at the comedy of errors that took place Friday night. However, when Socrates showed up at the rendezvous, he did not find a particularly happy camper. In fact, I had that feeling I always got when I went on one of my little adventures outside of Seoul, back in the days when I at least knew some of the language; ie, the feeling of WHY THE HELL DO I EVER LEAVE THE CITY?!?! I was also pissed off because people do this to me a lot. A LOT. "Right. When you get into the (airport, train station, bus station, etc) get the (taxi, train, bus, etc) until you get to (landmark) and give me a call." Being competent is a pain in the ass sometimes. On the other hand, if people coddled me the way I do anyone who comes to me, I'd probably get offended, so I guess there's no way to win.


Well, we went out for a few drinks once I'd finally calmed down, and had a reasonably early night. I went for a wander while he was doing job search stuff, and saw some of scenic Suzhou on foot by daylight, coming to the conclusion that it was not so bad, after all. That afternoon we saw Suzhou's Coiled Gate (which may be the last land and water city gate in all of China) and climbed up a pagoda (invoking fond memories of the Eiffel Tower and a reflection on the value for price of the two), and paid 15 kuai each to shoot crappy arrows with a crappy bow at targets that were way too close...which was enjoyable nonetheless. Later we met some of his colleagues and went to a rock (punk???) show at a youth hostel that involved a lot of screaming and a wee bit of talent, before hanging out at a place closer to home where I made a new friend. Suzhou touts itself as the Venice of the East - it is pretty enough, and full of beautiful places to see (more of which I will hopefully see next time I go, maybe I'll even rent a bike for the day), but comparing it to Venice it probably going a little far (as Socrates pointed out, "For starters, it's not sinking.")

Hmm. Shouldn't have mentioned I'm wishing I was there. Oh well, two more weeks of playing Santa's workshop (actually, I might have misspelled something there...) and I'll be home for the holidays.