Monday, October 26, 2009

The Gier Spot lives!

I’ve been gone for a while, I know. In fact, I haven’t made an appearance on this blog for exactly two months now. Did you miss me? Well, I’m back. And although I’ve made some mistakes the past few months (I’ll be blunt: I started up another page on myspace. I feel like such a traitor.), I intend to stick with The Gier Spot, and The Gier Spot alone. Hopefully obstacles that will go unnamed regarding my current geographical location will not intervene to the point that I cannot post an entry here now and then. And if it’s pictures you’re looking for, you can indeed find them on my myspace page: Hey, I think “The Gier Travelogue” is catchy. So maybe we’ll have to keep it around.

On that note, I posted my first blog entry on that site earlier which you can read below. It’s from a few weeks ago, but mostly focuses on the anxiety and paranoia I encountered within my first 48 hours of being here in Jiaozuo, China. But as the following self-introspection that came afterward in the post (typical of one of my entries) will reveal, I got over that quickly enough and I have been enjoying myself.

Therefore, I write to you that I’ve found a routine. I’ve settled in. I’ve gotten the ‘swing of things,’ as the many sayings go. What does this mean exactly? I’m not sure I know myself, but I can tell you I’m certainly used to being here, and I know my way around. Moreover, I’m basically used to my class schedule (though I’m never sure exactly who’s going to show up to my classes) and I more or less have a steady schedule. So let me walk you through a typical few days as they stand now.

Mondays and Tuesdays I have only one class and it’s not until 4:30 in the afternoon. If I actually had some sort of office, I’d use it, but I don’t so I just sit around in my apartment. Naturally, I sleep as late as I want, but I try to wake up within a decent hour, usually around 9am, and then try to be as pro-active as I can: wash up, make breakfast, write emails, and work on ideas for class. Though because I never have much food on hand, I have to leave and walk outside of my apartment to a little food stand where they have fresh vegetables, some noodles, and some meat and eggs. That’s about it, so you have to get creative if you don’t want to eat the same thing everyday, which for me is usually scrambled eggs mixed with diced mushrooms and onions, and some boiled carrots and bok choi on the side. However, I often make my meals with Brandon, who is resourceful and trying to learn how to cook, so we often fry up meet and eggs and veggies in a big wok, or make a big noodle soup.

Anyway, Mondays I plan out the lesson for the week, and depending on how it goes on Monday evening when I teach it for the first time, I tweak it for the coming classes over the course of the week. I teach 8 classes per weak, each two hours long, and because they’re all about the same skill level, I do more or less the same thing with each class. It’s very boring for me after a while, but it works and it’s giving me a good idea of which activities are effective and how to improve the ones that aren’t.

The most salient fact is that planning the lessons takes a few hours, but even that leaves me plenty of time to spare for other things throughout the course of the week. In class this week we talked about the simple past tense, did a few exercises to practice it, then watched “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” After that, I told the kids they have to prepare a simple role play for next time, and then gave them a few minutes to work on it. Not very complicated, I realize, but with each day I’m learning a lot on how to teach and teach better.

Of course if you know me, you’ll know that I’m a ham and love being the center of attention and public speaking. It won’t surprise you that I really enjoy the teaching and being in front of the class, being the funny American, cracking jokes, and trying to lead conservation. I’m quite certain the kids enjoy me. Honestly, it’s a lot of fun and rewarding.

However, with my few hours each Monday planning the weekly lesson aside, there is still a lot of free time to occupy. Thus far, I must admit I’ve been unproductive. I have lofty dreams of being ultra productive and type A, yet so far they go unrealized. I want to exercise as much as I can, but unfortunately a nagging flu has kept me from doing so for the past few weeks and it just won’t seem to go away completely. I also want to write, which I am doing now, as my form of self expression, and of course, I want to practice Chinese each day and learn it to a decent level. I want to read a lot, too. And I even want to do philanthropic work or environmental conservation remotely from where I’m at. Hey, what’s the difference between writing a congressman via email from here than back in Chicagoland?

The moral of the story is, there is very little socially-imposed structure to my life here. If I’m going to be productive and not waste all my time here, I have to motivate myself and give myself the structure. This is admittedly something difficult for me; I know I work harder when people are watching me and judging my every move.

I suppose that’s the moral of the story for today: I’ve been getting adjusted, relaxing, taking my time getting into the swing of things here in China, but until I’m pleased with how I’m handling my schedule well and being productive with spare time, I don’t think I’ll truly be adjusted to life here the way I wish to be. And though I’ve made many new friends, met a bunch of kids here, and am enjoying myself, I guess I’ll continue to feel there is more work to be done. Wow, such a serious ending to a post that began so lightly.

A Departure and Return

This is a post made on my short lived blog. It describes my arrival in Jiaozuo six weeks ago. But, though it describes my arrival here, it is also a return to The Gier Spot, and thus the title of this post. I will explain myself further in the next entry.

For over one whole month now, I have been living in this new country called China. I figured if I was ever going to do it, now would be the time to start this memoir of life anew. I will assume, unsafely perhaps, that the first month is the hardest when acclimating oneself to a new culture and environment, and initially, it certainly felt like this was the case.

My first 48 hours in this new place, where I didn't know the language, I didn't know a soul, and I didn't have a clue, were a bit overwhelming. I landed, got out off the plane, and was in a new world that at first didn't seem the slightest bit enticing: a state run Chinese university in the middle of a sprawling, rural province, where the freshmen dressed up in uniform and marched around all morning and night in a militia chanting slogans, and where I stuck out like a sore thumb wherever I set foot, perpetually the object of curiosity and staring. Naturally, all this can cause an individual to begin to harbor feelings of alienation and shock. But I reminded myself that this was what I had been searching for, or what I thought I wanted: to be out of place and learn to rebuild, rebuild one's attitude, one's outlook, and release all the stresses of my former life, if only for a short while.

I realize that this is clearly impossible: I can't move to a new place and expect to be a new man, without my previous anxieties, faults, and responsibilities. Not even moving halfway around the globe can free a person from that. In the end, we all live within our socially constituted minds; a change of geography alone won't do anything. But then again, I do believe a change of culture, of the relationships around a person, will do something in turn. The anxieties of my life up to this point do continue to persist; I have not mastered my past, and I never will. My past memories will always continue to drive me. As for the time being, I have the luxury of only thinking of my new environment, my new social sphere, where the problems are nothing but novel, trivial, and light.

I have settled into my routine, and have begun focusing on teaching my classes, which I really do enjoy very much. And of course, myself and the other westerners have established our pocket culture, our center of relationships and understanding that we have based on our mutual past culture and language. I hope that it’s not just the result of necessity, that we truly are friends and that we don’t spend time together for lack of other options. I believe I can optimistically say that this is not the case, that we truly are friends and would find each other in a larger pool of people.

But here I am, in a new place, doing something adventurous. I probably wouldn't be able to sleep comfortably if I weren't in such a fucked up position.