Lisa McClure's China Diary

Lisa in front of the foreign teacher's guesthouse
Lisa McClure standing at the front entrance of the foreign teacher's guesthouse.

Living Room
Here is a view of my living room. The window faces south. The couch is made up of four separate pieces, so it can be rearranged as desired. I am so glad that the floor is tile. A quick mop and it's clean again. The desk and TV, which sits on a small cupboard are on the right side of this photo.

Living Room
In this view, you can see the rest of the couch along the right. The refrigerator/freezer is quite large and modern. The door opens out into a long corridor that runs along the northern side of the guesthouse.

Living Room
The large appliance next to the door is my washing machine. It is plastic, and very lightweight and portable. I drag it into the bathroom and connect it to the water supply and drain and electricity whenever I want to use it. The entry on the far left of this photo leads to the bedroom, the other entry leads to the bathroom.

Living Room
When I'm home, I spend most of my time comfortably seated at my desk. My students ooh and aah over the TV set, but frankly, listening to Chinese on television makes me kind of crazy, so it's nearly always kept turned off!

The bedroom

The bathroom. You can see our hot water heater above the bathtub.

A view of the hallway taken from our front door, and our clothes hanging on the line.

Sharing a meal
Lara sharing a meal with the caretakers in the duty room. Han jie is on the left.

March 5, 1999

Well, we've been here in Jinzhou, China one week already. The adjustment continues. Lara's constant refrain is still, "I want my Grandpa" or "I want my Grandma" but she is nearly over her jetlag now, and reverting to her normal outgoing and happy self. Lara really likes this communal living, I think. It is not nearly as boring for her as just being with Mama.

Let me tell you about our housing. We have an apartment in the foreign teacher's guesthouse on the campus of the Liaoning Institute of Technology. Our building is a one story strip building, with all of the rooms lined up along the south side, and an indoor corridor along the north, connecting all of the rooms. The foreign teacher's guesthouse has its own private yard, and is very quiet and peaceful, and located very centrally, at the intersection of the southern gate of the campus and the western gate of the campus. Jinzhou seems very flat to me, but the campus is on a small hill, and the foreign teacher's guesthouse is nearly at the top of the hill.

The entrance to the guesthouse is in the center and you walk through the building to the corridor, which is along the opposite side of the building. On your right as you enter is the guesthouse manager's office. This office is staffed 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. There are three people on duty, and they are in charge of the building, and taking care of the foreign teachers. They meet our guests, and help us take care of domestic matters. All three of the people who care for us are very sweet and kind, and they all seem to adore Lara. She is always welcome to visit with them, and on the first day after we arrived, they gave her a small metal bowl and spoon. Very often when they are eating, they will send her for her bowl and spoon and feed her whatever they are eating. None of them speak more than a few words of English, and I think they will be a big help in teaching Lara to understand and speak Chinese. I also feel that with them keeping an eye on her, Lara is very safe to run around the building freely.

There are 6 foreign teacher apartments in this building. Each one has a living room with a desk, TV, Chinese washing machine, refrigerator/freezer, bookcase/cabinet, couch and coffee table. Luckily, the floors are ceramic tile, because Lara's a very messy child, and China's a pretty dirty place. Each apartment also has its own bathroom with individual hot water heater, bathtub, toilet and sink, and its own bedroom. Our bedroom has a double bed, which Lara and I share, a small bedside table, plus a large clothes wardrobe and another small bookcase/cabinet. The bed is harder than I like, and I hate my pillow, but despite these complaints, we are both sleeping very well and comfortably.

There are only two other foreign teachers living in the building this semester. Angus, from Britain lives next door. He is a very pleasant chap, and quite mature for his 23 years. Interestingly enough, when he returns home, he has a job waiting for him at Price Waterhouse! (My first job was also with PW some 20 years ago!) He is a workaholic, and is constantly running from one class to another, mostly teaching Business English. Angus likes to cook, and has been showing me the ropes of cooking in a Chinese kitchen.

Denis, lives at the other end of the building, near the kitchen and dining room, and just arrived also. He is French Canadian, and is teaching Oral English and Business English. He speaks Chinese pretty well, smokes, and tends to eat out a lot, so we don't see him as much.

The other foreign teacher at the school this semester is Gary. He lives a few blocks off campus, in his own apartment. When we first visited him, I was very impressed at how nice his accommodations are. He has a very spacious and pleasant apartment. But for Lara and me, the benefits of living in the guesthouse far outweight the few inconveniences here. Gary is American, and also 40 years old. He's a likable, if somewhat cynical fellow, and far more in tune to world events than I am.

I find I have little interest in the news, so if anything interesting happens, I'll have to rely upon my e-friends to keep me posted. Our TV has a couple of stations, in Chinese. I haven't had much time to spend watching it yet, but the caretakers encourage Lara to watch the kid shows. They seem to have the same assortment of cartoons and human interest shows that you can find back home, but with a distinctly Chinese slant. This morning, we watched a child acrobatic/dance show in the caretaker's office while Lara ate her scrambled eggs out of her metal bowl, and Zhang jie knitted on a beautiful blue sweater that she is making for somebody.

We foreign teachers are under the auspices of the foreign affairs department. They have several staff members who are responsible for us, and who help us with our professional and private tasks. One of them, Darwen, lives in the foreign teacher's guesthouse, and is frequently around to help us. He and a friend of his, met Lara and I at the airport in Beijing last Thursday evening, and escorted us to Jinzhou by plane last Friday. He also helped me open my Internet account, and find my classes.

Another staff member, Leanne, has also been very helpful. She has a 6 month old baby boy, and also cares for her niece, Meng Meng. Meng Meng is just exactly Lara's age, 3 1/2 years old, and in Lara's class at pre-school. Meng Meng and Lara have quickly become very good friends, and Leanne picks up Lara with Meng Meng on those days when I have to teach late afternoon classes and takes her home with them. (Interestingly enough, Meng Meng has told her Aunt Leanne that she can understand Lara, even though Lara still doesn't speak any Chinese, and Meng Meng doesn't speak any English.)

So there are usually always several people around the guesthouse to help and provide company for Lara and me. I can't emphasize how comforting this has been to us. We've both been jetlagged and sick with colds (and me with asthma) and assaulted on all sides with new sights and experiences and language. It's fascinating and wonderful, but very tiring and a little intimidating as well.

I've gotten to the point now, where I can go out and shop a little by myself, but the first few days, I didn't even feel up to that. Although I learned the basic numbers in Chinese before I arrived, I was completely unable to understand the vendors at all. Now, with difficulty, I am able to purchase basic necessities, and even order jiaozi in a restaurant. (Jiaozi are a northern specialty, little steamed dumplings with meat fillings.)

But everybody has been tremendously understanding, giving me just the right amount of privacy and quiet time when I need it, but offering companionship and real assistance on a regular basis. Without this support system, I think that the adjustment to China would be much more difficult for me and for Lara.

For me, having a connection to the Internet is also essential in helping me stay connected to my friends, both back home and also in China. For example, before I left Colorado I had made an e-friend with a person who used to teach here in Jinzhou, Susan. Now, she teaches in another part of China. She was incredibly helpful in giving me an idea of what life in Jinzhou would be like for us, and just this morning, she called me on the telephone to welcome us here, and to give me some helpful suggestions for the Oral English classes I will be teaching.

As I sit here typing this, Lara is visiting down the hall with Zhang jie and whoever else may be down there, happy and enjoying more freedom to come and go than I was able to offer her while we were living in that studio apartment back in Colorado.

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