So last week I had to go to Shanghai to do some work.  Originally, I was going to take a train, but not only have they not yet built a high-speed line between Guangzhou and Shanghai yet (so the only option is an overnight sleeper train), but all the seats were sold out a week in advance.  Therefore, I had no choice but to book a flight online.

At that time, the only flight available that wasn’t at a ridiculous time or stupid expensive (I would be reimbursed, yes, but until then I have to float the costs myself) was a flight to Hangzhou, connecting with the high-speed rail to Shanghai Hongqiao Station.


So as some of you might have heard, the department I was substitute teaching English for finally got their regular contracted teacher in, and so I was out of work.

Rachelle had been going to Pilates classes and had been talking to the instructor about various things, and she mentioned she was thinking about bringing in a new instructor.

I think you see where this is going.

Over the last month or so I’ve been learning Pilates and getting myself back into shape, and today was the first day of the first weekend of instructor training.  And since the owner of the studio, who was leading the training, feels it’s official enough to tell everyone else at the session, it’s official enough to spread on a blog:  I will be teaching Pilates at Ying’s Authentic Pilates studio in Guangzhou.  Following the instructor training, and a certification exam, of course, and then there’s a period of apprenticeship and then I can lead classes at the studio and hell, run my own show if the fancy strikes me.

So, y’know, progress.

  • Author: krysztov
  • Category: Work

Spare Change

5 Mar

Things in China seem to happen at a different rate than they do elsewhere. People, for example, tend to be slower. I’m not just talking about the people in front of you on the sidewalk who can’t seem to manage any speed faster than “arthritic statue” while walking seven abreast, although that certainly jumps out at you (though slowly, of course). Punctuality does not seem to be a virtue. Any time you plan on meeting someone here, they will show up no less than fifteen minutes after you. Even if you’re also late. I have since come to never expect anyone to arrive on time.


Other things, however, seem to progress much more quickly. For example, most of Guangzhou’s central business district, now towering high-rises on top of shopping malls for as far as the eye can see, was not twenty years ago an expanse of remote farming villages. To this day, one can still see cranes dominating the skyline, as though somebody decided the skyscrapers weren’t nearly dense enough. In a city of 40 million and growing, as more migrant workers arrive daily from the countryside, they might be right.


The other day, my wife wanted to go to a small grocery store on campus to buy some new notebooks. We had not been by there since before the Spring Festival holiday. The store was no longer there, and there seemed to be no explanation for its removal. Likewise, tonight I planned to take her to dinner at our favorite Sichuan hole-in-the-wall. Again, it had been a little over a month since we had been to that area. We walked along the little road outside the Little North Gate, until we were certain we had walked too far. We turned back. Rachelle was frustrated that I had led us right past it. When we reached the place I was sure it had been last time, I stopped, and realized our favorite place for spicy deliciousness was no more. The sign had been changed, but more surprisingly, the entire layout of the building had been remodeled. The food was still plenty spicy, but they didn’t have our favorite dishes, and everything seemed more expensive. It seems everything’s getting more expensive. The Irish pub and restaurant we frequent recently did away with their daily specials and replaced their whole menu with a selection that was almost identical, but much more expensive. We can’t go there as much nowadays. In the same part of town, the lady Rachelle bought oranges from every week stopped showing up, and none of the other vendors are a suitable replacement. Nothing seems to stay the same around here for very long. This isn’t all bad, though. My time as a last-minute replacement English instructor ended last semester, and now I’m training for a new career as a replacement Pilates instructor.


Only a few things stay the same around this city: The heat and humidity are back, the meat-on a stick vendors still sell their yummy wares, no matter how many times the cops make a show of driving them off, there are still random couches on street corners and people napping on them at all hours, and the haze of pollution never leaves the air for long. Ah, Guangzhou!

Last night Rachelle made some delicious lentil soup and we had Jenny and Sebastian over for dinner and Cards Against Humanity.  While Rachelle finished up dinner preparations, I downloaded the game and ran it down to the little print shop next to the Dig’n'Shop, across the parking lot.  I returned back and Rachelle and Jenny spent some time cutting out hundreds of little pieces of paper while we waited for Sebastian to arrive and the soup to finish cooking.

The soup was delicious, but the wine we had was not so much.  China does not have a long-standing wine tradition, and even the oldest vineyards are very…industrial? so pretty much every bottle of domestic wine I’ve had tastes at least a little off, with some flavors that don’t quite belong in wine and the ones that do belong still being slightly off-kilter.  I joked that the best way to enjoy Chinese wine is to already be drunk.  Fortunately we had plenty of beer as well to wash it down.

I don’t think much more needs to be said about Cards Against Humanity, other than that Sebastian got a crash course in the seedy underbelly of American culture.  He still managed to win a few points by playing cards he didn’t fully understand, though.

I thought I would have enough time to sleep last night, but I forgot to tell you that Chinese wine, in addition to its sub-par taste, also has a devastating effect on my battle-scarred intestines.  Lordy lord.  I woke up at 5:30 in the morning and ended up having to skip my Chinese class for the day just so I could try and get some rest.  I finally managed to drift off for about fifteen minutes before my body said NOPE, time to piss!

Grumble grumble.

So I was going to try to fit in a little more sleep before I had to seriously finish preparing for the class I teach in the afternoon, when China decided to thwart me again.  I get the feeling that the enthusiasm most Westerners feel about watching sports, or having sex, or both at the same time, pales in comparison to the way most of China feels about noisy construction activity.  I closed my eyes, and a hammer started pounding downstairs.  Then another joined in.  Before long a whole chorus of hammers were pounding away beneath me.  At first part of me worried someone was at the door (Rachelle was out at Pilates, and she wasn’t quite supposed to be back yet, but you never know), but eventually drowsiness overcame disturbance and away I drifted for the next hour.  By the time I had finished hitting my snooze alarm, my headache was less terrible, my guts had mostly settled, and I was ready to get on my laptop with its annoying colorful stripe down the middle of the screen (that’s another story, for another day) and finish my lesson.

On a positive note, the new double-edge razor I ordered (well, had someone order for me because most of Taobao’s payment methods require Chinese citizenship), and hopefully I will not turn my face to hamburger in the process of removing my November beard.

Yesterday was my first day teaching.  It’s an all-morning class, wherein I attempt to teach adult students (mainly professors and researchers it seems) how to speak English clearly enough to pass a test and be understood wherever it is they’re going to do research.  The class had been pushed up a day, so I wasn’t nearly as prepared as I had hoped to be.  I had access to my predecessor’s lessons, which made it easier for me to derive one of my own, but when I arrived at the classroom I found that my slides and files would not open on the computer.  So yeah.  I ended up having to use someone else’s lesson after all.  My students came into the class.  There were about fifteen.  I asked if more were coming, and was met with an affirmative answer.  More did, in fact, arrive.  And more.  And more.  And I had more students in the class than seats, nearly fifty, actually.  It was not a particularly difficult class to teach once they started coming out of their shells, and I managed to go all the way until 12:25 without running out of lesson, hooray!

I returned to the apartment.  Rachelle had completely taken the place apart and was cleaning and organizing.  She enlisted my assistance in finishing up the work and showed me where everything was supposed to be.  We’ll see how long this system works, eh?

It was still early in the afternoon once we finished everything up and had some food, so we met up with Jenny and headed to the famous…YUEXIU PARK.

*skip generally pleasant metro ride across town*

Yuexiu Park is big, and like most of Guangzhou, it doesn’t always follow Euclidean geometric rules.  Furthermore, even though it’s mostly a great big green wooded green space, you can tell pretty easily that the entire place is professionally landscaped.  It’s definitely a natural area, and the fact that some of the more remote wooded trails have loud dance music emanating from …somewhere? ensures you don’t forget that you are, in fact, still in the middle of a megalopolis.  Pictures will have to suffice, because typing is tedious.

Rachelle saw a new bird, and there were people playing some kind of Chinese hacky-sack.  Also you could rent paddle boats with water cannons.  The water did not look very nice.

After this adventure, we wanted some drinks.  There was a Marriott across the road, but no obvious way to cross without dying.  Fortunately, the Metro station was still right there, and so we entered on one side and emerged on the other.  Hooray!  The hotel was fancy and shiny and we found the bar and it was expensive.  Well, it was about what you’d expect for a hotel bar in the States.  Martinis, mojitos, beers, and bowls of peanuts.  We found out that Guangzhou has an Oktoberfest.  We might have to go.  The service was terribly slow at the bar at first, but we’re all pretty sure that our drinks required the bartenders to find and open stuff that they don’t usually use.

Anyway.  Rachelle was starting to feel hungry, and we were all a little buzzed by this point, and we saw a McDonald’s around the corner.  We had originally planned to go to a Middle Eastern restaurant that had a “Vagetarian” menu, but honestly we weren’t in a mood to wait until after dark for food.  So Rachelle ended up eating a Big Mac.  In China.  It was funnier with the alcohol.  Did you know they deliver?

We decided to head home and Jenny wanted to use up some groceries in her fridge, so one metro trip later we were back on campus.  The Dig’n'Shop had large Zhujiang Draft cans for 6RMB apiece, so Rachelle and I went to get six of those and some playing cards and our German friend while Jenny prepared some food.  Honestly I don’t clearly remember much after that but I think I enjoyed myself.


Hey, so it’s been a while, hasn’t it?  I’ve been getting my data where I can, but until today there hasn’t been a nice enough connection for me to post at my leisure.  This all changes starting today, and yes I will post about my first week in China over the next few days.

But let me tell you about my day.  Today was the opening ceremony for the School of Foreign Languages at SYSU’s Zhuhai campus.  Rachelle had to attend, and of course, that meant I did as well.  We woke up bright and early and prepared ourselves for the day with coffee and kiwifruit on the balcony.  It was a cool, breezy day–the first we had encountered thus far in Guangzhou.  We met Jenny and the German teacher in front of the SFL building and waited for the rest of the faculty to arrive.  We’re always so early!  Well, except when we’re not.  Anyway.

It was a fairly nice bus ride–long, but we got to see a lot of China outside of Guangzhou.  Spoiler, even outside the city there’s construction everywhere.  I found it hard to imagine how the little agricultural patches could coexist with the high-rises being built just on their edges, but they seemed to be working just fine.  I’m sure that it wasn’t quite so simple as that, but I’m just giving you the drive-by view.  The scenery was beautiful and I do wish I had taken more pictures, but I didn’t.  Maybe next time.

We finally arrived at the Zhuhai campus.  I had looked it up on Baidu and Google maps and image searches, and heard that it was essentially one giant building, and it was true.  The ground floor was really just shops and banks and bike parking around giant support pillars, and the rest was around four stories suspended in midair for what looked like a quarter-mile, at least.  We gaggled along to the second floor, I tried my damnedest not to hit my head on anything, and after a quick restroom break and some taking-in of the views, we filed into a lecture hall of some sort.

Oh, here are some of the aforementioned views.View from Zhuhai

Yeah, my phone camera seems to be a bit blurry.  Meh.

There were a bunch of speeches and the event was MC’d by a guy who reminded me of a Chinese Steve Buscemi.  Then the English department all went into another room and the teachers all introduced themselves and there was a speech speech speech.  It was mostly in Chinese, which I’m still terrible at, so I can’t say much more about it.  THIS IS NOT THE INTERESTING PART.

LUNCH, HOWEVER, MIGHT BE.  We got back into the bus and headed to a restaurant located pretty much across the street.  Food was served in what I assume to be the common fancy-Cantonese style, based on my prior experience (you’ll read about it later I’m sure).  I noticed that in addition to the chopsticks, we all had an additional wooden ‘stabby stick.’  I was informed that this was for snails.  And sure enough, the first thing to come out was a plate full of snails.  Stab, pull, pop, munch.  Not too bad.  Much like clams or other similar molluscs, but these had a bit of an aftertaste if you chewed too long.  Their shells were plenty cool though.

snail shells

From there, the plates kept coming.  There was some sort of freshwater fish that nobody could recall the English name of (mighty tasty though).  At the same time there was a plate of random bird chunks which I was told were pigeon.  Also not bad.  Chicken feet came out next.  Uh…  I tried one, and it wasn’t terrible, but it was a little too bony and gelatinous for my taste.  The beer kept coming–if you didn’t refill your glass, someone nearby would, and if they didn’t a waitress would come by–and the rest of the meal isn’t quite as clear, but there was a mushroom stew with seafood, a beef with peppers and leeks, some greens, some great big pieces of daikon with goose pieces, buns stuffed with either savory meat or sweet pineapple filling (which Rachelle said tasted a bit like bubble gum), a tofu and pumpkin dish, and probably a few more I’m sure I forgot.  By the end of the meal, I was half-staggering, half-waddling back onto the bus.

The itis, Cantonese style

The itis, Cantonese style.

On the way back I got a shitton of text messages in Chinese and then my phone stopped working.  Apparently, although my SIM card allows me 200MB of data per month (I know, right?) my phone is still in “use ALL the data!” mode.  And that’s how I drained every last yuan on my card in two days.  Son of a bitch.

We arrived back, and Paul took us to the networking center to set up our Internet accounts.  It was madness, but we got everything working which is why you are reading this.  Yay.  The following is on the doors of the helpdesk office, and made my head explode.

Merry Christmas, indeed.


Oh, I forgot to mention.  The class (which you would have known about had I been posting regularly up to this point) which was supposed to start Sunday, has been moved to Saturday.  I am teaching this class.  It is five-ish hours long and starts first thing tomorrow morning, and so why the hell am I still here on the internet?  Fortunately, my predecessor had some good lesson plans which I could shamelessly rip off build my course around.