November 17, 1999
It's hard to believe it, but we're already into week 12 of the fall semester. Several of them will end in week 16, others in week 17, and the last couple in week 19, (the first week in January) so we're already well past the halfway point and beginning to play for the long winter holiday.
Right now, I'm teaching 9 two-hour classes a week, most of them Oral English. Two of my classes are outside the normal University system, and these students are adults of varying ages from a local company. The classes I teach them is somewhat similar, but with more of a business focus and a little more emphasis on reading and writing. They just started this week, and will continue past the end of the normal school year. All of my classes (except one new one) are scheduled for Monday - Wednesdays, which leaves me four consecutive days a week free. (I will start teaching one class on Saturday morning, beginning this weekend.)
I find that I really enjoy the teaching. It's completely different from my old job back home, doing technical writing. I used to spend my days quietly concentrating with my computer, and now I spend nearly all my time talking with my students, either individually or in front of up to 50 of them at a time. But underneath those obvious differences, there are some similarities to my job. In both cases, I have to figure out how to share information and teach the 'users', in an interesting and helpful way. Anyhow, the teaching goes well, and I really enjoy the work and the people here.
The weather turned very cold a few weeks back, right after my mother returned home from her three week visit to us in late September/early October. But we've been learning how to dress Chinese style, with lots of layers and long winter underwear, and haven't suffered too badly from the cold at all. Inside, the central radiator heat was turned on the first week in November, and our rooms are now always warm and comfortable.
Last Thursday, Lara and I took the train to Shenyang. It's a 2 1/2 - 3 hour trip, and there are frequent trains. As usual, Lara visited with our neighbors, and spent considerable time visiting two men across the aisle from us who were generously plying her with fruit and snacks. Here in Liaoning province, foreigners are few and far between, but NOBODY has ever before seen a Chinese child who can speak fluent English, so Lara is far more interesting and popular with people than I am. And as she can speak Chinese pretty well now, it is typical that she gets a lot of attention whenever we go out.
The only real plan we had for going to Shenyang was to visit one of my former students on Saturday evening. But I really wanted to just explore the city and 'hangout' and so Lara and I spent a lot of our time riding busses around town, doing a little bit of shopping, and a lot of time playing in various parks and fast food playgrounds.
Shenyang is the capital of Liaoning province, and it has a population of maybe 8 million people. (It's maybe the 4th or 5th most populous city in China) But there are relatively few cars, and because the economy has been so bad recently, most of the factories have been shut down, so the air is fairly clean and it's a very pleasant place to visit. From a Jinzhou point of view, it seems very large and modern and beautiful, with lots of lovely stores and beautiful things to see and buy.
We spent a couple of nights in the spare room at a teacher's dormitory building on the north side of town. ($2.50 per night) The bathroom conditions were primitive, but we each had our own comfortable bed, and it was a pleasant, quiet, and safe place to stay.
On Saturday evening, we met my friend, Lucy, and after a great dinner out together, we stayed with her in her parents home. On Sunday morning, we awoke to about 4 inches of snow, and it was still coming home.
Outside, the weather was very cold and blizzardy. Now, as a former Coloradan, I'm well used to cold winters and snow, but this was my first real experience of dealing with it as a pedestrian, and despite my layers of warm clothes, I felt a little cold. So, I taked Lucy into taking me to the local market and got her to help me buy some thick wool long johns.
The market was packed full of people, all buying similar warm clothing. My long johns reeked of mothballs, but once I got them on over my cotton long johns (just stood in a corner of a room filled with milling people and did the job in public) I was immediately MUCH warmer and stayed warm all through the rest of the day.
Lara and I took the 3 o'clock train back home on Sunday, but due to the bad weather, I guess, our train sat in the station and didn't actually leave until 4:30, and we didn't get back home until 8:30 pm. I later heard that many of my students didn't quite make it back home at all that night.
The Jinzhou streets were completely iced over, and they are still (two days later) very icy in many spots. It's been nearly impossible to keep from slipping and falling. But folks tell me that it's fairly unusual to have this much snow (about 5 inches) in one storm, so perhaps we won't have to deal with this too many times this winter.
People often ask me whether I'm suffering from the cold, and seem quite surprised that it doesn't bother me much at all. But they are equally surprised at how much I hate the snow and ice. Around here, it must be fairly rare, because everybody except me seems very pleased and excited about the snow, and not bothered much by the ice.
Anyway, it's Wednesday morning now, and I must run to get up and dressed and off to the first of my 3 classes!
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