Thursday, November 20, 2014

Old Trip to Xi'an

During my last month in China we went on a trip to a couple different cities. The first one was Xi'an, and I've finally put together the video from that trip! It features a few of my favourite moments from our time there: biking the city wall, checking out pagodas, and impressing ladies through the universal language of sweet roller skating moves.

Also, travelling tip here- Xi'an is home to the world famous Terracotta Warriors, a huge tourist attraction. The story goes that an emperor had the stone army made to protect him in the afterlife. My opinion however, is that if you're in Xi'an one day, don't bother with them. As you can see from how short their portion of the video is, I didn't think there was much to see. It's definitely impressive that people carved so many statues to such detail, but I wasn't blown away like I was in other places (like the Great Wall for example). So imagine hundreds of life-size statues, then hundreds more. That's the Terracotta Warriors, and there are thousands of 'em.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Today I say goodbye.

It's with sad feet and a heavy heart that I say goodbye to my favourite shoes, my Supra Vaiders in Black Action and White. They were size 12.

Were it not for the strict luggage restrictions of air travel, my Supras would have enjoyed a relaxing retirement back in Canada; resting comfortably on a soft mat near the door, and slipped on only for short sunny walks to pick up the mail, or times of "Hang on, I just need to grab something from my car". Unfortunately, although they had many good years of stylishness left, they didn't make it home from China, and passed away comfortably, as was their way. 

It's at this time we look back and consider what a full life these Supras lived. They worked-hard, they were energetic, and even though they were bold and strong, they had a knack for making people comfortable. There was no challenge that my Supras could not face. They braved the sidewalks for years of Canadian winters, and the heat of Florida's theme parks. They walked the beaches of Thailand, and explored the markets of Chinese alleyways. Whether with shorts or pants, these courageous shoes could face any pressure, and look good doing it.

These Supra Vaiders are survived by their younger brother, my Supra Vaiders in Navy and Pink. 

A short ceremony was held outside my apartment, as my Supras and their brother-in-arms, that pair of Osiris' with the buckles, were laid to rest inside a small Chinese dumpster. 

I'd like to thank my Supras for their years of support. You will be missed; I will reflect lovingly on you whenever my calves look amazing, or I adjust my pant leg to accommodate a different pair of high-tops, or- hang on, I just need to grab something from my car.
Goodbye sweet Supras.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Sidewalk Bicycle Repair Shop

Today I got my bicycle fixed.
A Chinese classic, apparently.
I totally forgot to tell you, but I bought a bike a couple weeks ago! The bridge closest to my house is closed, and I've been spending too much money on taxis and too much time in backseats instead of out getting that light exercise we all love so much.

Now I know what you're thinking, "Andrew... you're leaving China in a few weeks- why would you by a bike now?" Well let me tell you, you buy a bike and you're saving money! My price range is right within the "old, used, and possibly stolen" category, and that kind of bike is dang cheap. I picked up this beaut for 80 yuan, and the guy said he he'd give me 60 yuan for it if I sell it back. Basically it's a 2 month lease commitment with a possible buy back option. Pretty serious.

Let me tell you, this bike is loaded. Dual chrome handlebars, dual tires, dual pedals, almost dual everything actually. After my repairs today I've got a new back axle, back tire tube, and one of those screw on valve thingies you put the air into. He did great work; sometimes the best repairmen are just guys who set up shop on the sidewalk. The guy even installed another brake on the back tire, so I'm rolling with quad brakes if you can believe it- that's dual back brakes and dual front brakes.
Oooo- this brand! 
After-market custom seat cover
The bike merchant threw in a lock for 5 yuan, although I don't think anyone would steal this 
The brand new valve (solid gold) and that shiny new brake pad
......... DUAL.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Western Walmart

A couple days ago I led a field trip.
All the good kids get ice cream! And me!
Sure, I've been a participant in field trips before. Tons of them! But I've never led one before, until now. I took our giant class of FOUR advanced campers (and by that I mean students) to Walmart! I created a scavenger hunt for them, with questions to answer and new words to learn. It was a really fun morning, and I'm sure you remember how a good field trip is SO MUCH BETTER than another day at boring old school. I mean camp! It's not school... it's camp! Camp for learning English in a classroom.
One of the challenges was to find a piece of clothing that would look amazing on Andrew.
Checking out some English on a t-shirt.

I loved how relaxed a Chinese field trip can be. There were no permission slips or waivers, no strict schedules, and get this- the kids actually wanted to wear those giant orange shirts! We strolled over from the school, chatting, which simultaneously blew my mind that I can talk to Chinese 11 year olds in English so easily.  Since their level is so advanced for their age, it meant we could joke around and have fun while checking out everything in the store.
No matter what country you're in, Walmart will only open 2 checkout lanes.

A great class... now I just need to figure out something to do with them next week!
Thanks to Lily for the pictures.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Well it's About Time

Lately I became a paid videographer.

Ok, so I took June off- stop living in the past. But now my video is up and playing on my school's website! I'm pretty excited to have this freelance opportunity while out here in China, and I had a good time making it too. Based on all that, I'd like to make some more videos! Hire me.

Or, here's the video in its natural habitat on the school's website. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Beijing Video

Here's a short video I made from the Beijing trip, highlighting a few of the famous attractions we visited. I chose the song "Breathing Space" because I was pleasantly surprised by how green and spacious the city of Beijing is. I was picturing an overpowering concrete maze with yellow clouds of smog, but I actually found Beijing to be beautiful and convenient! Don't get me wrong though, it's still massive. Every building in that city is huge; it's a city on steroids. The only small thing in that whole city was our room in the hostel.

Monday, May 5, 2014

That's a Pretty Good Wall

This past week I went to the Great Wall of China.
That's me! Photo by Matt B.
Going to the Wall was an absolute MUST on my to-do list in China, and I was ecstatic when I got the opportunity during our spring break. While staying in Beijing, we went on a day tour to visit the Mutianyu site, which is about 2.5 hours away from Beijing by bus. We spent a gorgeously warm, albeit hazy, afternoon hiking on this ancient structure, and I really enjoyed it!
Although on the way Matt and I joked about keeping our expectations low in order to decide for ourselves just how "great" this wall is, it's impossible to belittle this remarkable structure. Incredibly vast, it winds and stretches over and along mountains until it disappears from view. The amount of work it required, not to mention questioning how they even accomplished this tremendous task, is confounding.
As you can see here, some parts along the Wall are extremely steep as a result of the intense elevation changes it covers. I'm not used to doing anything higher than sea level, so this turned into a pretty good workout! I was very impressed by the vigour of both the young and old in conquering the Wall; some people were fully set on making serious progress, and didn't let the heat, elevation, distance, or difficulty stand in their way. Several high schools were touring the Wall while we visited, and by observing them, elderly Chinese people (some even being helped by family members), and everyone in between, it was good to see how important experiencing the Wall is to Chinese people. Another factor is that we were visiting during a national holiday, when thousands of Chinese people travel to the capital to take in their country's historical and commercial sites. 
Forever engraved at Tower 23.
Matt and I climbed to Mutianyu's highest tower, Number 23, where you can see the point at which restoration on the Wall stops and the natural, weathered surface continues. We also skipped lunch to hike further along in order to catch the toboggan ride down instead of a cable car. It was well worth the trip; the toboggan is like a sketchy luge on a water-slide: tons of fun! It was really strange to ride a carnivalesque attraction after getting off one of the ancient wonders of the world, but in China it just feels right.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Overnight Train

This past week I took the overnight train.

We went to Beijing for our "spring break," the little vacation we get for China's Labour Day (May 1). I taught my evening classes and we caught the train at around 9:30 PM, then about 12 hours later we arrived in Beijing. It was a long journey, but the comfort of the train really made it easy! We sprung for the "soft sleeper," which means you get your own bed in a room of 4. I shared the room with my two coworkers and a random Chinese guy who admittedly presented some snoring issues early on, but settled down pretty quickly.
Matt got the top bunk.
I've often heard what I thought to be an outdated opinion, that there is some class and sophistication to train travel, and now I can completely understand it. It hit me while brushing my teeth in the room with a bunch of sinks: the comfortable bed big enough for even me to stretch out on, the very affordable cost compared to air travel, even the Western toilet- everything added up to a wonderful experience that made being crammed into a jet seem even more miserable. I boarded at night, spent time with friends in our own room, fell asleep, woke up refreshed and did my morning routines, and suddenly I was in another city on a beautiful morning. Now I'm a fan of the overnight train, and I'll be looking to do it again!
Shhhhh..... bed time.....

Monday, April 21, 2014

Made it on the Billboard

This week I was on a billboard.

The Chinese kind of billboard I mean, which is actually a giant video screen that plays a variety of advertisements. My school put up a quick ad that features photos of all the current teachers. If you're looking for white teachers, then this is the school for you!

And when I say quick, I really mean it. The school must have opted out of the deluxe package, because our photo is light in the rotation and only pops up for about 3 seconds. I had to take this picture REAL quick, but you get the idea. Hopefully everyone who sees it has a paper and pen REAL handy.
Did you get it?

Monday, April 14, 2014

"All These People are Dead Now"

Last week we escaped the room.
And here's the squad that did it.
There's an activity here in Jilin that we've done a couple times that's unlike anything I've ever experienced before. "Locked Room," as it's been translated to me, is essentially a place you get trapped inside and have to solve a series of puzzles to escape. In some ways, it's like a giant point-and-click game come to life. There are physical challenges (like throwing balls or grabbing keys), codes based on words, numbers, or characters, and all throughout you constantly need to use your environment to your advantage (like aiming and reflecting laser beams to hit sensors that will unlock a door, or finding a lock combination on a scrap of paper with a UV light).

So far, it's been extremely difficult. The answers often require uncanny creativity, and many times I've been thinking "I never would have thought of that" as we move from room to room. But last week, we did it. The goal is to finish all the puzzles to earn your freedom in under an hour, and we were successful. Full disclosure: a couple of us had already done this room before, but we stayed pretty quiet and quite honestly had forgotten most of the solutions anyways.

To those who escape, the reward is a picture of them on the wall. So now we have the honour of mounted fame, plus we'll be the only foreigners on the wall!

Here's a video from our first attempt at the same room, when we were not as successful...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

From the Archive- Thailand

Today I'm opening the Archive.

In an effort to catch up on all the footage I have lying around, I hope to (in time) create videos of these little experiences I've had during my time away. It'll really clear up some space in my apartment, and hopefully someone somewhere will find some part of it interesting.

So today, I begin with a video from my trip to Thailand this past February. For some reason, although I was in one of the most beautiful locations I've ever witnessed, I was far too relaxed and usually couldn't be bothered to bring or use my camera. As a result, the video is a very short and admittedly erratic collection of clips. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

It's All Just so Terribly Confusing

Today I don't know what to do.

There comes a time in each foreign teacher's life when he must decide what to do next. For me, that time officially began today. I was approached and asked what my plans were regarding my contract, and sadly I had no answer. The decision is between leaving when my contract is up or extending my contract to stay for another summer.

I enjoyed my previous summer in Jilin immensely, and I'm sure I would enjoy the next one as well. The problem is, I don't know how long to stay here in China, and when to start looking for the next opportunity (wherever it might be). 

I've written before on the emotional difficulties of teaching abroad; signing a year long contract means a lot of goodbyes, and unfortunately, I can feel mine getting closer. I don't like that feeling. I'm dreading the moment I'll say goodbye to my students and leave them after what seems like such a short time. I still have so much more English to teach them! At the same time, I know I can't, and won't, stay here forever. My co-workers that I've spent a year with will be leaving soon, and sooner or later I need to join them and make a move. 

So for now it's a lot of thinking and praying. Am I done with China now? I wonder what's next.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Welcome to The Clubhouse

Today I get you a membership.

Obviously, one of the reasons you read this blog is how connected it instantly makes you. The insider tips on living in China, the little lessons in speaking Mandarin, and the coupons I mail my followers each month. Today, I give you the lowdown on one of Jilin's hidden gems. 
It's a barbecue restaurant with a fantastic deal: all you can eat and drink for 35 yuan (about $6 CAD). Now usually we go there after another restaurant because for that price you figure the food can't be great, but we went and had dinner a couple nights ago and I was pleasantly surprised. You can pick as much meat and vegetables and fish and tofu and whatever else as you want, throw it all in your frying pan at the center of each table, and away you go! After that, there's a random and constantly-changing assortment of cookies and snacks that I can't easily identify. 
Coolers full of food to cook, shelves full of snacks, and a make-your-own-sauce bar.
The Clubhouse earned its name for being an extremely relaxed and fun place to spend several hours. It just builds friendships. We've often stayed into the night, and it's an environment where we're free to yell loudly, and sing our favourite songs from Disney's Mulan even more loudly. Not only that, but our frequent visits have led to a friendship with the guy there, which has led to discounts on what's already the cheapest deal ever. He knows us pretty well too; for example he knows that I can be a heavy drinker, so the other night there were 5 bottles of Pepsi waiting for me at the table before I even sat down. The man just gets me. 
Just the clear ones are mine.
Whenever I hear we're going to The Clubhouse, I'm in. I've never not had a good time there, and I'm always down to go sit, eat way too many frosted peanuts, and drink enough Pepsi to keep me up all night. There's the time I got enough free ice cream for everyone by making friends with the next table, that strange moment when a man who clearly didn't speak English inexplicably warned us "DON'T SWIM!" and then disappeared into the night, or the time a Chinese stranger and I stood side by side to pee outside in the winter when the restaurant's one tiny bathroom was occupied. It's always an experience.

But you may be wondering: Is this place legit? How can they just give away food and alcohol like that? Is it actually a money-laundering outfit for the Chinese mafia? 

You ask too many questions. Be quiet and eat some more.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Chinese Workout: 5 Differences

Well, we are over 2 months into your New Year's Resolution; how's it holding up? In case you're still heading to the gym, here are 5 differences between that gym and a Chinese gym.

1. No Rules
There aren't really any rules at the gym, and the few that exist are pretty relaxed. For example, there's no smoking allowed in the gym, but in the locker room is fine. (Ah... evidently there's nothing like that first completely naked smoke after a workout.) You also aren't supposed to take your shirt off, but it's ok if you're SUPER hot on the treadmills or you want to check out your pec progress in the weight room mirrors. If flexibility is one of your goals, a Chinese gym has you covered.
Re-racking your weights? Not a rule, not a thing.
 2. No Wipe Downs
I see people complaining about others not wiping down their machines at Western gyms, but my gym doesn't even give you the option. There's no disinfectant or paper towels anywhere, and the full-time cleaning staff has their hands full with constantly mopping the floors to keep them forever slippery. We call that Priority Training. As a result, the machines have enough DNA on them to spawn a super-human, and the heart-rate readers will still sense a heartbeat with your hands in the air. 

3. Cheaper than Being at Home
Although a Chinese gym may come with some drawbacks, I just remind myself that being a member is dirt cheap. It cost me $100 CAD for a full year! For a fully-equipped gym that includes classes, that's the cheapest thing I've ever heard. Plus... it comes with a free locker! No more quarters! There is no Chinese quarter!
I had to crop all the nudity out.
4. Alternative Workouts
On any given evening, two of the most popular pieces of equipment will be the ping-pong and pool tables. I had never seen these offered in a gym before, but people here REALLY get into them. (Those stereotypes about amazing Chinese ping-pong players? They're true.) Anyways, these options mean that sometimes you'll see a person come and put on gym clothes to play pool for some reason. 
I'm too scared to challenge these guys.
 5. Gym Fashion
Speaking of gym clothes, the workout outfits might be the most interesting part of the gym. So far I've found that Chinese fashion includes ANY article of clothing, in any circumstance or combination. This remains true after people hit the locker room, meaning that I've seen everything from a denim jacket to matching pajamas. The strangest one I saw happened last week: a guy on a treadmill wearing leather pants, a shirt with a massive Union Jack, and a fedora. He brought a gym bag with him too... so who knows what he changed OUT of.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Everyone loves Thailand

This month I went to Thailand.
Thong Nai Pan Yai
The rumours were true. All winter long I heard about Thailand from the other teachers who had gone during Spring Festival in previous years, a tradition at our school. I heard about gorgeous beaches, fun nightlife, and amazing food (including the best hamburger in Asia). It was all true.

We went for two weeks and apart from one night in Bangkok, spent our time on Koh Phangan. This adorable little island isn't the most popular, developed, or expensive of the bunch, so it offers plenty of beautiful scenery and opportunities to chill out. The island is famous for the Full Moon Parties it hosts, and while we weren't there during a full moon, we were just in time to catch a Black Moon Party. It still offers the same body paint and peeing in the ocean experience, but with no moon. Fantastic night!

Here's my highlights from the trip:
1. Night swimming at Yai beach
Shortly after sunset
When heading into the water after midnight here, I was met with the most incredible surprise: glowing plankton! I found out later it's called phytoplankton (check out some amazing photos). With the stars twinkling above, and the water glowing around us, it was absolutely magical. I also may have been naked; apparently that's the best way to enjoy glowing plankton.

2. Scooting around Koh Phangan
Once you drop off your bag at the hotel, scooting is easily the best way to get around the island. It also happens to be the most fun. It also happens to one of the most dangerous activities Thailand offers (see here). So that's fun! But forget the danger and just focus on how those scooters can really move (over 75 km/h), there's tons of hills to bomb, and renting a scooter happens to be cheaper than taking a taxi in most cases! And yes, the optional helmet comes free with the rental.
Scooter rules: 1) Safety first and 2) show plenty of leg.
Photo by Matt B.
3. Muay Thai
Oh goodness, the muay thai fights. I went to two evenings of fighting and really enjoyed them. We saw plenty of exciting action, and some breathtaking knockouts. Competitors were as young as 12 years old (and were downright ferocious, making it the first time I've ever feared a tiny preteen), to the more seasoned mid-thirties (one with over 300 fights on his record). Hopefully the health care on a Thai island is alright, because some of these guys went to sleep in a BIG way.
They're just kids!
I really only had one problem with Thailand. Known for its natural beauty and carefree atmosphere, Thailand attracts every piece of Euro-trash that happens to set foot inside Asia. If you love house music and are currently wearing a backpack, then chances are you'll wash up on a Thai beach at some point in your life. Come on white people, don't ruin it for the rest of us.

Friday, February 14, 2014

It's a Lovers' Day Spectacular

Today I experienced Valentine's Day in China.

Over here it's called Lovers' Day, and this year it coincides with the Chinese Lantern Festival, which marks the end of Spring Festival. I'm not saying that China has perfected love, and who knows, perhaps there are a few marriages based solely on class, but I will say that China does V-Day better.
Taken at Century Square
All day long the city has sounded like Pearl Harbour under attack. And I really mean all day... I was woken up at 8 AM this morning by the bangs and pows. It's after 11 PM now, and the booms are still ging strong. Everyone and their only-born child has been lighting fireworks, or the machine gun sounding strings of firecrackers, and it reached a climax this evening. The sidewalks were full of people, the food carts were out, and there were plenty of treats and heart-shaped balloons to buy. Best of all, there is constantly something going on to look at. Everywhere you look, fireworks are exploding. People were also releasing Chinese lanterns, which are basically hot-air balloons made up of a flame and some highly-flammable paper that together float majestically to the heavens. The air was bright and smokey, ringing with explosions echoing through the city.
Be careful there sir!
In this environment, everyone was free to explore and enjoy the sights (and devastating sounds). Groups of friends, families, and couples of all ages were out to set off sparklers and snap, crackle, and pop the evening away. I find that often Valentine's Day can feel forced and fake, but this atmosphere seemed to create genuine happiness. And really, how can you not be happy when you're a nine year old setting off fireworks so loud that all the car alarms nearby start up too?

Happy Chinese Lantern Festival, Lovers' Day, and Valentine's Day. Just have a good day.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

4 Differences Between Chinese and Canadian Hospitals

Welcome to the hospital!
1. Showtime
At a Chinese hospital, you say goodbye to your privacy as soon as you walk in and pay your 7 yuan entrance fee. Whether you're describing your symptoms or getting examined (or both), expect there to be about 8 non-staff members in the room. Thankfully what I was in for wasn't terrible personal. but I did have a captivated audience when I popped part of my top to let the stethoscope roam about.

2. Have a Seat
Instead of wearing sneakers and dashing about from room to room, doctors in Chinese hospitals sit at desks behind computers, and you come to them. Then you go get a test done and walk the results back to him or her for approval. They also perform examinations while sitting down, so forget any tests that require straightened knees. Who needs all that looking into your eyes and ears anyways? I'm sure they're fine.

3. Quick-Acting
I'm sure that numbers 1 and 2 are factors in this, but Chinese hospitals are pretty fast. Even with a designated lunch break for all the doctors, things move along. Once you take privacy and thorough examinations out of the way, medicine can get going! For example, when you get a blood test, you don't need to get a little room and wait for the technician. You just stick your arm through a window in the waiting room, and then make way for the guy in line behind you. It's basically a blood drive-thru, and we all know how fast those can be.

4. Here's your IV
The default, go-to treatment in a Chinese hospital is administering an IV. I'd never had an IV before coming here, but now I've been to the hospital twice and both times was prescribed IV's. I have no idea what my diagnoses were, but they were IV worthy. It's gotten to the point where I love IV's.... and every time I go I'll be hoping to get one. It's nice, you relax and half-sleep while watching Kung Fu Panda 2 and the magical bag does all the work for you. Mmmmm I can just feel that cool liquid (whatever it is) working its way into my hand... I could really go for some right now.
IV selfie!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

It's Camp Again

This year I'll tell you about camp.
A lot of students, my teaching assistant Lee, and me.
This is my second bout of camp so far, but this time I can actually find enough time to tell you about it. For two months, July and January, myself and the other foreign teachers at my school have to work as much as actual teachers, and it always breaks me in half. There's more hours, more students, and more infectious diseases.

Now I call it "camp," but keep in mind that I'm in China, so "camp" is actually EXTRA, all-day English classes for young students during a rare break from their regular school. If you haven't heard it from me before- Chinese students are extremely diligent.
Back to work Paddy!
We're halfway through now, and this camp has been no exception to the aforementioned rules: class sizes have ranged from 25-30 students, and a couple staff members have already been in the hospital. It's a stressful time! But with this added stress comes a lot of enjoyment as well. Camp sessions tend to be less formal than our already informal regular classes, so we play a lot of games, and I get to have a lot of fun joking around with the kids in class. For example, it would be very inappropriate for me to sing while students are writing a test in class, but if they're only coloring during a camp session, it's fine for me to softly sing a song into their ear, making up lyrics as I go, about how Crime is the theme of the day. And yes, I made up that theme. We talked about theft and murder and then we made wanted posters.
Some very smart girls and me
Camp sessions also allows me to meet and teach many students that I don't have in regular classes, and I think it brings me closer to those I do have already.
So although camp can bring some good times, I definitely looking forward to what comes next: Spring Festival, going to Thailand, and getting back to our regular, lighter schedule.