Sunday, September 16, 2018

Teaching in China!

Our first day teaching and I look like I'm ready to serve drinks on a low budget airline, Phil's joined the Mormon church and the girls are thinking these school uniforms are a form of cruel punishment. Thankfully, teachers are only responsible for wearing uniforms on Mondays and Fridays.

Entrance to school

We knew before moving to China that the school where we would be teaching (the same school the girls are attending) is not a fancy international school filled with expat kids speaking English from around the globe. With our lack of international school teaching (read: zero experience) our options were somewhat limited, especially since we wanted to teach subjects other than English and have the girls attend the same school. 

Our school is striving to be an international school and has a very long way to go. Of the over 1400 students, 99% are Chinese with varying abilities to speak English. What makes this school "international" in the eyes of its administration, are the international teachers who are here (58 of us) from around the world all teaching in English.  We knew working / attending this school would have it's challenges...we just didn't know exactly  what was going to be challenging. 


The school feeds us lunch everyday...and sad, but true, it's actually good. I'm not claiming the food is great, but good. Unlike American school lunches the food is unprocessed. They actually serve vegetables...lots of vegetables. Rice comes with every lunch. Since Phil and I eat lunch together every day, we on occasion will dare each other to try to the mystery meat. For the most part we eat lots of veggies, grab a few extra bananas and call it a "lunch". 

We opted not to try this school lunch.

Jessica is attending high school in 10th grade and is finding it challenging. The school uses (as almost every private school in China does) UK (Cambridge) curriculum. It's been a challenge for Phil and I to understand how this curriculum works, how the tests are created, how the books are structured and how to teach sometimes 3 different grade levels out of the same book. 

Good news for Jessica is she's finally being challenged like never before (something she really wanted). Jessica's teachers in high school all speak English which certainly helps with her demanding schedule. Jessica is taking Algebra 2 in her first semester and Statistics in her second semester.  For science she's taking both Chemistry and Physics, which are year long classes. She's also taking Economics and Global Perspectives, other year long courses. To satisfy US college requirements we've added an English homeschool module to her studies...poor kid is BUSY.
They love to use Emma for their videos. The 1 Chinese student with flawless English.

Emma is at the middle school in 8th grade with her own set of problems.We had been told that the middle school is mostly taught in English...not even close! Middle school teachers are both Chinese and international educators. Although most of the Chinese teachers can speak English they're choosing not to while in the classroom....something we've been very vocal about. The school doesn't seem to think that the students English ability is adequate, yet any time an international teacher is teaching  in only English (Phil and I certainly don't speak Chinese) the students are able to understand. 

This means that the majority of Emma's lessons are in Chinese, a language she doesn't understand. After 2 weeks of slight hair pulling, I have rearranged Emma's schedule with the help of her homeroom teacher and Emma is now enjoying some classes with her classmates (when taught in English) and private one-on-one tutoring for the majority of her subjects. I've also gotten the school to provide Emma with private Mandarin tutoring so she can learn her native language.  These are the types of challenges we did not anticipate. 

Our second Monday teaching and it was already time for "Teacher's Day". Phil was recognized as a mentor as he is mentor to two other Chinese teachers. Phil's the only teacher with a PhD and it's a pretty big deal...the school LOVES him!

The first few weeks were rough. We're both teaching at two different schools, both middle and high school which aren't even on the same campus. The schools are about 1.5 miles away from each other and we have to be shuttled between the two. Makes for a busy schedule. Phil and I were feeling overwhelmed, especially thinking Emma wasn't going to be getting any formal education. But now that we've figured things out, we're feeling better about our move to Suzhou. 

Honestly, our family had to sit down and remember why we came here in the first place. We didn't move to Suzhou so we could teach at this particular school. We didn't see this school on the internet and say, "We need to move to China so the kids to go there!".  We moved here (China) so Emma can see where she's from, experience her culture, explore China and get the chance to meet her foster family face to face (we're working on putting that trip together). Teaching at this school is just a way to make all of "this" work.  How quickly we've lost our island mode!

Subway rides suck...the only saving grace is that Phil, Jess and I are tall enough to see over everyone's head....Emma, not so much.

Phil's "recognition" and milk

For teachers day the school gave each of us a cartoon of milk. Weird, right? Actually, once another foreign teacher explained that in China they like to give practical gifts, it made sense. We were told to expect future gifts of laundry detergent, toilet paper, and clothing softener. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Retracing our steps in Guangzhou

We really wanted to visit Guangzhou to show Emma where we had been together 12 years ago. Americans adopting from China exit through Guangzhou (specifically the White Swan Hotel) because the American Consulate, where the adoptions are finalized, is located here.  

Located in the White Swan Hotel is the famous Red Couch. The Red Couch was where thousands of  American families would set up their babies and take photos the day before departing for the States. 

CCAI adoption group 912

For months we have been anticipating geeking out on recreating pictures from over a decade ago. 

I'm particularly proud of the next photo. Without a map (even with a VPN we can't seem to figure out how to download Google Maps offline), no way of asking for directions and relying on memory from 12 years ago, we found the exact spot the original photo was taken. We zoomed in on the original photo and studied the buildings behind Phil, examined the air conditioning units in background and miraculously found our spot. 

The same year we adopted Emma (2006) China began to limit the number of international adoptions (by drastically slowing down the process) and eventually lifted the one child policy in 2015. When we were previously at the White Swan Hotel there were dozens of adopting families. Today, the famous red couch is in a corner with a sign explaining it's significance and the patrons are mostly Chinese from various parts of China. 

Our adoption group from 2006, Emma on the far right screaming into the couch.

The White Swan hotel is surrounded by a nearby park with many interesting statues.  The statue in particular that we remember depicts an American couple (the mom is a bit plump) pushing a Chinese baby in a stroller. 

Lucy's Cafe is still within walking distance of the White Swan Hotel, serving American Style food. Just like the last time we were here with Emma, we ordered the cheeseburgers and club sandwiches, which still taste great!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Hong Kong, Kowloon side

Fun story. We met a guy at a jazz bar in Hong Kong. He is originally from Scotland, married to a lady from Hong Kong, has lived in Hong Kong for over 30 years and after hearing that Jessica's 15th birthday is Sunday, he insisted on making us reservations at the Peninsula Hotel for high tea. Reservations are awesome especially since they can only be made if you're staying at the hotel, which we are not. 

Phil and I enjoyed high tea at the Peninsula Hotel over 12 years ago during our first visit to Hong Kong on our trip to adopt Emma. It was a true highlight for me to bring our girls to the Peninsula Hotel for high tea after 12 years. Emma thought the string quartet was a hit. Phil was amazed by the men's room attendant, we didn't have one of those aboard Terrapin. Jessica thoroughly enjoyed the finger sandwiches and amazing little desserts.

My new favorite photo

We enjoyed perusing the "jade" market, so many colorful items, not one of which is really jade. Emma scored a small ring which started at $280 and ended up costing $20 (Hong Kong Dollars). 

Temple Street Night Market

Although we had scored a phenomenal view of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak we wanted a solid view from the Kowloon side across the bay. The Ozone bar at the top of the Ritz-Carlton offers over-priced beverages with a fantastic view. 

View from Ozone bar in the Ritz-Carlton

Sign reading not to feed the Terrapins.

The street food in Hong Kong is everywhere. Fish balls. Shark fin soup (which made Jessica cry just seeing the sign). Fried food. Lobster balls. Dumplings. Won Tons. For me, anything fried starts to taste exactly the same...and it's not a great taste. I've opted for hunting down "Club Sandwiches".

We love being able to to share things with the girls that we had experienced from our previous trip. Phil and I remember being in a park watching a light show across the bay. Hong Kong is still providing the light show and it's still worth waiting for. 

This is the first summer in years that our daughters are escaping homeschool. In years past our girls would have studied the local areas and would write reports explaining the significance of the artifacts and exhibits seen in local museums. Both girls have really enjoyed being able to visit the local museums without school work. 
Sanpan in the Hong Kong History Museum.