Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Officially a volunteer!

A lot has happened in just one week. First I moved out of my host family’s house. It was weird and sad. I had gotten to know this family very well and now would be leaving them. My host parents gave me a going away present of a photo album and coffee. The photo album is beautiful and they signed a note to me which my host brother translated. It reads that I hope all of your days in China are happy ones. This home is always yours, and we wish that you will come to visit. I almost cried. The coffee I handed out to my friends since I don’t drink coffee. I gave my host parents a letter that I wrote in Chinese characters. It took me almost 2 hours to write about 5 sentences. I said “Thank you. I learned a lot. I learned how to make dumplings and to play mah jong. I liked your cooking. I was happy in your home.” I also wrote my host brother a much longer letter in English thanking him for all that he taught me and for showing me such hospitality. I gave him some advice for going to America (which he left today) and to keep in touch with me should he need anything or just to say hello. So on Tuesday I moved out of my host family and into a hotel. It was the nicest hotel I have ever stayed in. It was in the middle of Chengdu where most westerners stay, so it was an entirely new experience in Chengdu for us. We would go to restaurants nearby and the people working there would speak English to us. They wouldn’t even let us speak Chinese. Anyways, so Tuesday thru Thursday night were filled with last minute sessions on various things, Peace Corps giving us more and more stuff, and parties to get in as much time with each other as possible before going on our own. The last day was difficult, but we will all see each other again in December for IST. Hopefully everyone has a wonderful semester. It is still weird though, that we have all spent so much time with each other for 2 months—who knew that people could get so close in such a short amount of time. I feel as though I have known my fellow China 16s for years, not just 2 months. I know some of us will be able to visit during the weekends. It may be a month before I make the trip over to see other people. I need to be sure to get comfortable in Jiangyou before I take a trip. I can only visit my friends in Sichuan and Chongqing because those that are in Gansu and Guizhou are just too far away.

But back to the last week. On Thursday we practiced our swearing-in ceremony which we all thought was ridiculous until we realized that we were a bit confused. The practice was mainly for the picture. It is a bit of a feat to squeeze in 88 volunteers and 4 dignitaries. We needed to practice so that our guests wouldn’t have to stand around while we situated ourselves. The ceremony was Friday morning and we had someone from the US embassy to swear us in. His name was Robert Goldberg and he is the Charge d’affaires of the US embassy in Beijing. There were also two other individuals there to talk with us. So we started by standing when the dignitaries came in, then he said a few words. Next we stood up and swore and oath to defend the constitution against all enemies both domestic and foreign, etc. etc. Afterwards the floor was opened to questions regarding Peace Corps China and the Foreign Service. The government encourages Peace Corps volunteers to consider a career in the Foreign Service upon completion of the Peace Corps, and many do. I think about 5 people asked questions and all of them received a detailed answer. The questions referred to Foreign Service, Why Peace Corps China, and the Shanghai expo. Following this we took a picture and went down to the banquet hall to meet our counterparts and to have a ceremony and lunch. Along the way, Alissa our Program leader, asked me and Leo to speak to the Chinese press. So the press person for the US embassy took us over to meet several reporters from the Chinese news stations. There were about 5 TV reporters there from both local and national news stations. It was kind of surreal to have all of these microphones and cameras in our faces. They asked us simple questions about who we were, what we were doing here, if we could introduce ourselves in Chinese (which we did), and if we liked China. It was extremely difficult to hear the reporters, so I don’t know if they always talk this quietly or if they felt nervous talking with foreigners which many Chinese do. It was interesting. As we were walking away one more stopped us and the press relations guy from the embassy said No their ceremony is starting, but we did a quick interview anyways because it didn’t really matter to us. The ceremony itself was nice. Alissa started everything off, then our country director Bonnie welcomed everyone and then individually introduced each of the guest speakers. The entire program was in both English and Chinese. The guests included: Robert Goldberg (Charge d’Affaires), Gregory May (acting US consul general), Yang Meng (deputy secretary general of Chinese educational association for international exchange), andTan Xin (deputy director general of foreign affairs department of Sichuan province). Robert Goldberg was the guest speaker. There were also speeches by Yang Meng, Li Xiaojiang (Dean of the English department of Longnan Teachers College in Gansu province, a school that has a history of Peace Corps volunteers), and two China 16s. Next there was a slide show of pictures from our PST. And one training site wrote and sang a song to close the ceremony which was hilarious. It was off of the 12 days of Christmas, but was the 12 days of PST. I might ask someone to email it to me. Mainly the volunteers got most of the puns, but it was still enjoyable for the rest of the crowd.

After the ceremony we had lunch. My stomach had been hurting for the whole day, since lunch the day before. I think I ate something bad, so I didn’t really partake in the delicious food that was served (both Western and Chinese food). So our counterparts then left us to get our bags together and get ready to leave. Most of us were leaving right after the ceremony, so we just brought our bags down and prepared to ship out. I think we all hugged each other at least 5 times. Eventually I, too, brought my belongings down (with the help of Leo, thank you) because 2 suitcases, a laptop case, backpack, and water purifier were too much for me to carry alone. And then I was off to Jiangyou with my counterpart and his wife. The drive took about 2 hours, so we shaved off 30 minutes by not taking a bus or train. We arrived and I got the key to my apartment.

Well then Kerry, my counterpart, started looking at things and noticed that the gas didn’t work, hot water was broken, air conditioning in my room was missing the remote (a key component), the toilet doesn’t flush well, the sink sometimes leaks, and water wasn’t coming out of my shower. So…he called someone about the gas. They couldn’t fix it, so I assume they will come back sometime this weekend to have a look at it. But we left to get some dinner and to buy some necessary items to tie me over into the next day. We went to dinner at this little restaurant that had several varieties of rice and rice porridge that you chose from and then ordered different dishes. It was good. I was able to eat most of what I normally do, although my stomach was starting to hurt towards the end of the meal. Then we went shopping and I bought sheets, a pillow, this thing that goes between the sheets and mattress, trash can, trash bags, toilet bowl cleaner, bleach, sponge, dish washing soap, dish washing rags, towel, hangars, toilet paper, and laundry detergent (although I don’t think my washing machine is working right now, I will have to ask my counterpart later). Then I came back home and started cleaning. My apartment is so dirty. I liken it to a frat house. I still have much to do, but I quit at one point because I was tired and listened to music, emailed, and chatted with another volunteer who was also online at the time.

This morning I woke around 730. My counterpart said we would meet for breakfast around 830, so I figured that gave me time to wake up and go about my morning routine. Well I only got through half of the things that I wanted to do in the morning before I got a call at 745 to say that I should meet him by the gate of the university at 8. So I did, but breakfast was just him showing me where I could buy food. I really could have done that on my own, but I appreciate his concern. I bought some milk and a sweet roll. It was okay. So then I went into this little shop to buy a few more things that I needed, like body soap, conditioner, toilet bowl brush, another trash can for the bathroom, bleach for my produce (we were told to wash it with a little bleach), a hand towel and some water. I still need a lot more things, but I will get them in time. Next on the list is a mop, floor rug, actual food, pots and pans, and some other things I am sure I haven’t realized that I need yet. Anyways, so I got back to my apartment, did the morning exercises I didn’t have a chance to do before, and was going to start cleaning when I got a call from Kerry that said he would be at my apartment in 5 minutes to take me to a department meeting. Okay. So I went to my first department meeting, sort of. We met in the dining hall and it was so noisy and bustling. Teachers were excitedly greeting each other after long vacations. There snacks, people on cell phones, basically nothing like I have seen in the states. The meeting started with a roll call of all the teachers, also a little different. Then the president spoke and introduced me. I just stood up and waived. Everyone was craning to get a look at me. Then he introduced all of the other new teachers (all of them Chinese). Then Kerry said we should leave to meet the dean of the foreign language department. I thought that was strange since the president of the university was still speaking. I guess we didn’t really have to be there, but I hope it didn’t leave a bad impression of me. I would have liked to have stayed and maybe met some of the other teachers. I met a couple, but it was difficult to hear one another over the bustling of the crowd. But, anyways, we left and went to the department where the dean wasn’t there. He was talking with the president, but he asked Kerry to have me pick out a cubicle, which I did, and to give me my teaching schedule which Kerry said he would do later. Then we went back to our apartments and Kerry said he would meet me for lunch at the teacher’s dining hall at 11:50. So now I am just emailing and blogging, and not getting into my cleaning clothes because I am afraid if I do I will just have to change again. Maybe I will leave cleaning to at night when I don’t have to worry about getting a call to come away.

So the next week is sure to be quite busy, which I am excited about. I think if it was really slow and I didn’t really have anything to do I might get sad or lonely here. I am curious to know when I am going to start teaching because I have heard mixed things. I heard Monday, but then I also heard the following Monday. I suppose I will see later today. I kind of hope it is this Monday, so I can go ahead and get started. One really wonderful thing is the view from my apartment. It is beautiful with rice patties, trees, and mountains. There are no clear blue skies, as I am still in Sichuan where this is rare, but the greenery is wonderful. I will send pictures after I have finished cleaning. I should be able to write more, so I hope no one gets too bored with my blogs!

Okay so just to add. I just got a call from Kerry to talk with me about my teaching schedule. Remember two weeks ago when I went on my site visit he told me that I would be teaching oral English and culture of America and British English? Well now I will be teaching 5 classes of Intensive Reading and one writing class. I just said okay, whatever the school needs. So… this changes things a little. I will have to read back up on my Intensive reading notes because foreign teachers do not typically teach intensive reading but rather extensive reading. Mei Guanxi. No problem. Lol. More news to come, but maybe not in the next two minutes. Lol.

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