Friday, October 22, 2010


If we had known what Malacca was like, we would've stayed more than a day.

After spending a couple days around Kuala Lumpur, my parents, Jia, and I took a taxi to Malacca, a quiet colonial town less than two hours outside the Malaysian capital. The hotel concierge helped us find a friendly driver for a reasonable price (and his car ran on natural gas). When we arrived, he even offered to pick us up the next day after dinner for the same price.

Malacca is a walkable town, although the heat and humidity take some getting used to. After the noise and traffic of KL, this was a great place to relax. And we relaxed in between the sights--we found great food near the hotel and cafes along the river. And like everywhere else in Malaysia, we found the locals to be very friendly.

In America, we love to talk about diversity and tolerance, but we've got nothing on Malacca. On one particular street near the central tourist area is a beacon of religious tolerance. At one end of the street is a church. A little further down is a mosque, which is next door to a Hindu temple. A short walk down from there is a Taoist temple across the street from a Buddhist temple. I have never seen anything like it before or since.

On the same street, we found a shop that sold Buddhist paintings, furnishings, and other items mostly imported from Dharmsala. The shop owner was from India. He explained that he first came to Malaysia to visit his brother in Kuala Lumpur, but decided to stay after seeing Malacca. He pointed out the houses of worship outside and said he couldn't find a more peaceful street.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dangerous Dates

I recently came across a few blog posts about dating in China--in particular, one at ShanghaiShiok caught my attention. And I realized I never wrote about my experience of dating Jia (though I use the term "date" loosely).

Jia and I began our relationship as co-workers and friends. She took it upon herself to plan a few weekend excursions around Shenzhen with Winnipeg and me. Of course, office gossip caught up with our friendly relationship--oddly enough, I wasn't the foreigner mentioned in the gossip.

By the time our relationship turned romantic (about a month after my arrival in China), we decided to keep things quiet. It sounded like a good idea, as I didn't know where it might lead. A month later it was apparent that we made the right decision to keep it quiet--Jia's boss warned her about hanging around foreigners. In a staff meeting for our Chinese colleagues, the boss made some veiled threats of termination if the Chinese staff spent time with the foreign staff outside school-approved activities. Not wanting to end our relationship, Jia and I kept it a secret.

We casually met at the bus stop, avoiding anyone we might know, and pretended that it was a coincidence that we were taking the same bus to other parts of Shenzhen. Somehow, we turned these chance meetings into dates, even though I had to fight with Jia to pay the bill at restaurants. She always found a way of either paying for part of a meal or paying for something else to even things out between us.

The most difficult part of our quiet relationship was explaining my travels. I took some impressive trips that first year, and had to claim that I took them alone (as well as hiding photos with Jia while using the school computers to email home).

We maintained our secret for the first seven months, though a few of the foreign staff guessed there was something going on (in particular, the foreign couple we kept running into late at night, which forced me to make up some lame excuses). Even after the summer, our relationship was kept quiet from the Chinese staff--even the other foreign teachers knew not to mention it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Same Difference

Most days I wonder if there is any difference between teaching ESL in the U.S. and China.

When I taught at the graduate school in Shenzhen, I was given an attendance policy that was supposed to be strictly enforced, even though it was a lenient policy. There was no official policy for tardiness, but my department agreed that students would be counted absent after 15 minutes, which really pissed off some students. Most students showed up on time, but there were also the habitually tardy.

Now, I've been given a much less lenient attendance policy (two absences per class and four lates equals one absence). I've repeatedly told my classes about this policy. Still, a few of them are habitually late. I also have a few who have already failed the class (it's not even mid-term) because they've missed too many classes. And I'm fairly lenient on the tardiness--I give them a few minutes before I mark them late.

The only significant difference I see between my current and previous students is that the current ones are much more active in class and usually ask questions. In a year and a half at the grad school, I only had a few students who regularly asked questions (mostly clarifications of assignments).

One aspect I miss about the grad school is the communication. We had a small department and held weekly meetings to discuss the classes and any administrative matters. Unlike most meetings in China, these were not boring or useless--my boss only made the meetings as long as they needed to be, which occasionally meant the meeting lasted a few minutes. Now, if I have any problems or concerns, I have schedule a meeting that somehow fits my schedule as well as my supervisor's.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Busy Streets

My first trip to Macau was almost a year after I arrived in Shenzhen. If I had visited the city earlier, I might have tried to move there instead of staying in Shenzhen.

On that first trip, I traveled with Jia and her mother during the October holiday--it was their first trip outside of mainland China. We rushed through Macau in two days, visiting as many non-casino attractions that we could (of course, we also stopped in a few casinos, but we only gambled 20RMB).

I always enjoyed the sight of the Lisboa (before the Grand Lisboa opened across the street) in the distance as I looked down Avenue de Alemeida Ribeiro from Senado Square.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Working the Beach

During my short stint at the training center in Bao'an district, I was treated to a day at Dameisha. We were promised fun on the beach and plenty of food. The weather was terrible during that May holiday--it rained, and, like all days in Shenzhen, it was horribly humid. But, it was my first trip to Dameisha, and I was excited (I definitely had my expectations set a little too high).

There wasn't much of interest by the beach--and there wasn't much more when I returned a year later. It reminded me of Seaside Heights without the boardwalk (another destination I don't plan on ever revisiting).

As it was the beginning of the national holiday, it was crowded. I expected plenty of tourists, but I wasn't prepared for all the local factory workers. When it came time to have our beach barbecue in the designated area next to what appeared to be a landfill, I realized we were surrounded by people who rarely get a day off work. I also realized I didn't want to eat anything that the training center had provided--the meat and vegetables were mixed together and had been sitting on the hot bus all day. I ate a few things that were purposely overcooked in an effort to avoid illness.

Unlike my other foreign co-workers, I decided to take the free bus back to Bao'an. In hindsight, I should've taken a public bus with the others. The company decided the bus would stop elsewhere in Bao'an to make it more difficult to get home. I split a cab with a Chinese co-worker, but found that she lived in an area I didn't recognize. Of course, I had no idea which way the taxi driver was going and ended up paying much more than I should have. It would've been easier to take a taxi back from Dameisha.