Saturday, February 24, 2007

Welcome (back) to Whitby. *shudder*

I might as well accept defeat and move on.

I've gone through all the stages of grief and the last one on the list is "blog". So here I am, telling you that I cannot go back to China.

Car crash. Lightning bolt. Baby crying. Whu-hat???

I won't go into great detail and admit to you all that I'm a terrible criminal with dark evil thoughts and a labyrinth in my basement, but close enough.

I picked up this job in China knowing that it was a sketchy deal, but once I got there this small concern became miniscule compared to the great times I was having. I was working in China illegally (technically, although I don't like to consider myself a total criminal) and I didn't even care. Work Visa who cares. As long as I could enter the country, have an awesome year long experience and exit the country with a clean record I was cool with it. Work visa, who cares? Unfortunately for me the Chinese Consulate in Toronto cared, because when I visited them last week to get this sketchy non-work-visa of mine extended for my intended re-entry into the country, they stopped me. The jig was up. The Chinese women who work there mean business, and I tell you, I haven't been stared down like that in a looong time.

"Excuse me while I deliver your 'request' to the head office," she trotted off, giving me a side long glare the whole way out.

She returned with her superior, likely the head of the Chinese Consulate, and the two proceeded to explain to me that what I was doing was illegal and it was their duty to tell me that if I get caught I face deportation, imprisonment, a hefty fine, etc.

I know for a fact that hundreds of English teachers do their thing overseas without a proper working visa. They take this risk all the time because it's actually not much of a risk. The authorities overlook it all the time. I was hoping they'd do the same for me for the extent of my stay, but it seems the authorities in Canada aren't as willing to bend the rules for little old me.

What to do now? I'm hoping my employer will have some sort of plan worked out by next week, as I've called her twice so far and she's taking her sweet time negotiating my future. In the meantime I've admitted defeat in my heart. The government of China wins this round, I'm afraid. I've started looking for work in the GTA half-heartedly, and it's slow going. It's cold outside so I don't feel like going anywhere, I'm slightly depressed so it's hard to muster up the motivation, and I keep thinking that this thing with China might just work out, so I'm a little bit hesitant to proceed with full force.

It's a messy situation I've gotten myself into. I was willing to give up this life in Whitby for a full year and now my escape has been cut short so I'm left to continue with the life that I intentionally shafted. Who wants to eat the cake that they threw to the ground? It's not the best metaphore I've ever crafted but it's exactly how I feel.

The one positive thought I have is "only 6 months until university". Let's hope it cleans up this mess I've made with my life.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Japan Super Highway: How you die

I know I know... I've been making far too many posts about Japan. I don't live there, I haven't even been there! But I love it none the less. An incredibly gripping video here that I guarantee you will watch for the full 14 minutes. This guy is insane!

Never to be stuck in traffic again.


Went back to my old highschool today to pick up my high school diploma and Ontario Scholars Award. Got the chills. That place is dead - or was dead - to me. I saw an old favourite teacher of mine and called him the wrong name. I was terribly embarassed and cut our conversation short because of this. None of the guidance councellors remembered my name or my voyage to China. I was too distraught at how quickly they'd forgotten me and my weekly visits to their office to remind them how far I've gone. High school is even more of a grey memory to me now that I realize how easily detatched I can become from it.

I had an excellent weekend full of Shakespeare and Korean-owned KTV downtown Toronto. I've discovered that life in Canada isn't all that awful, it entirely depends on who you are with. Also being in a multi-cultural city with no limits such as Toronto helps the cause.

Next weekend I'll take the train to Ottawa and visit my cousin at University of Ottawa, my future resting place. I have no clue what to expect from next year, but you can rest assured knowing that I'll keep you updated at least up to that point.

Wo ai ni.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Hilarious Japanese Game Show

The Future.

For the longest time I've been struggling over what path to take next year. I've been unsure of myself and what the future holds for me once my teaching contract in Dongyang expires in June.

But things seem to have fallen into place recently and I'm ecstatic. Really. I realize my writing has been less than enthusiatic lately, but I'm going to blame that on Canadian Culture Shock, not my life falling apart. Au contraire.

I have been discussing with my good friend Veronica the idea of her coming over to China for a few weeks near the end of my contract. She has a plan to follow through with (A big movie-type plan) before she meets up with me, but then I walk into the picture. If all goes as planned she will stay with me at my apartment for a few days leading up to the end of my contract, then we'll travel around China for 2 weeks, sleeping on beaches and benches and up in trees... Okay, perhaps we won't be roughing it this much, but money will always be an issue so we're likely to take the BUDGET hotels and hostels route.

Then I come home to a job (hopefully). I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this one as it's the plan I'm most unsure of at the moment. My dad recently started up a new job downtown Toronto at Young and Eglington. He works for Canadian Tire Corporate now, some sort of Project Manager type deal. I've never had this sort of corporate connection before and I'm looking to milk it for all it's worth. I've already spoken to somebody at HR and my newly revised resume is floating around the building somewhere. Here's hoping that I won't be broke and lazy come summer upon my return from the far East.

But what this post is really about: University. I only learned today that I've been accepted to University of Ottawa for this fall. I'm stoked. Screw U of T. Screw Western. I'm heading where it's cold and cultural (not that there aren't enough Chinese people at U of T). Also I've been given a scholarship that I didn't even need to apply for. What Luck. Actually I'm going to call this one hard work on my part, not divine intervention or voodoo or luck of the draw. I worked my ass off my last year of highschool and this is my reward.

What would I have done if university was not an option? I had planned this one out too. I've actually written my 10 year life plan already, and I have 2 versions of it. Plan A is the one I'm following through with now that I'm going to University of Ottawawa. But Plan B could have been quite an adventure as well. I'm not about to divulge to you my inner-most dreams and aspirations, but I'll give you a hint: it's called the Island of Women. Had I not gone to university, I would have headed straight from China to the Coast of Mexico. To this tiny remote little fishing island only 5 miles long, where I would have searched for a teaching contract at one of the 3 elementary schools on Ilsa Mujeres and soaked up the sun right above the equator for a year or 2. It's nice to have these kind of options. But it's also nice to not have to resort to Plan B. It's always better to be pale than golden brown - at least they say so in China.

They even have whitening cream and powder for your face!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Beijing temps hit 30-year high

BEIJING, China (AP) -- The weather in China's capital has been unseasonably warm with temperatures hitting a 30-year high, state media said Tuesday amid concern over the country's soaring greenhouse-gas emissions.

China, already the world's largest producer and consumer of coal, is expected to surpass the United States as the world's largest greenhouse-gas emitter in the next decade.

The China Daily newspaper said Beijing's temperature hit 12.8 degrees Celsius on Saturday -- a 30-year high for the date -- prompting an early spring, with frozen lakes melting and trees blooming...

Read full story

And according to my trustworthy sources (or source, ie Andrea) in Shanghai, the weather there appears to have been above 20 degrees for the past few days. People walking around in their shorts and t-shirts, she says!

Forget the fact that it's caused by destructive energy sources, I have something to look forward to!


Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Since you're wondering

As much as I have loved being able to spend time with my family and friends for the past week, I can't help but feel a tad overcome by this feeling... this culture shock.

Canada is an incredible country, true. Almost all of the problems that I faced in Dongyang and the surrounding area could conceivably never happen in Whitby, my hometown. Things are simpler here, quieter and more decent and straightforward. But there was a certain method to the madness that I must confess I found quite alluring in China. There's something so meaningful and inspiring about finding your way out of one of the several hundred problems that China throws at you. Here... there's nothing. Just some snow and ice and Tim Hortons and a smartly-heated house (as opposed to the icey cool air and tiles in my apartment overseas). Things have been looking rather bleak to me.

On a lighter note, taking full advantage of the quick wireless internet I have available to me on my laptop at the moment, I have some things to show you. Pictures that I never found the time nor energy to post at the Internet Cafe I became so twistedly attached to.

A new take on the school cafeteria - total chaos.

A wall of snuff bottles and other stuffs, all handpainted from the inside.
Me chilling in a real uncomfortable wicker seat in Shanghai.
This picture must be enlarged to find the humour in it. A notice to backseat passengers in a taxicab.
I'd like to think of this as me bargaining for a good deal, but I think we all know that I was only driving down the wildly inflated price a tiny bit.
The best part was when he flew into the air via rocket propulsion. What a babe.
On top of the world! Well, almost... it looks pretty high up.

Where much of Jet Li's film Hero was shot, in Hengdian, about 20 mins from my city.

And the movie poster for Hero, where you can see the same buildings in the background.

And that's all the input I have for you today. More soon.

Friday, February 2, 2007

The Tower of...

Thought I'd kick start my Canadian blogging session with a cute video from New Years this year. One might wrongly assume that this vid was taken after the countdown, after everyone is coming down from their cheap booze binges and celebrating with a traditional Chinese song - but it was only eight o'clock. However it is true that these people were thuroughly sloppy and not ready to go home just yet. Yeah KTV!

Also posted above is live video footage of me trying to get my bearings within a huge rubber ball! Impossible! ... not to mention dangerous.

And above is the film that I just returned from seeing at the Local AMC (one of the perks of being home!) called Babel. I loved the movie upon seeing it, but there is nothing worse than having a tonne of crap reviews ruin your perspective. After watching this trailer it's obvious the theme of the movie is miscommunication between cultures and languages, but that's just not the message I got after watching the film. Oh well, it was a fun experience none the less.

Also, what's with Japanese people? This movie completely makes them (especially the young girls among them) out to be anti-conservative and totally out there in terms of drugs/sex/drinking/lifestyle etc. If all this turns out to be true, I guess that means Chinese and Japanese are even more different than I had thought.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007


I had a delightful conversation with an elderly foreign man lastnight.

It's so strange to call white English speaking people "foreigners" but that is the reality here. So I was extremely surprised to see him walk into KFC while I was indulging in a delicious sandwich (I never eat KFC in Canada but since being here I've become an addict for various reasons). Cass and Andrea dared me to go speak with him and because I'm not really scared of anything, least of all a kind looking older man, I went up and interrupted his dinner and shook his hand. And I knew right away that he was a gentleman because he stood up and insisted that I sit down before he did the same. His accent was heavy as he was originally from Scotland, but now he resides in London. I cannot express to you how strange this meeting was for me. The only 2 people I can speak regular English with (without slowing down my speach in a major way) are Andrea and Cassandra, and to finally add a third person into this equation was just too surreal.

So what was this man doing in such a city as this? After 5 minutes of him speaking in his heavy heavy accent, I discovered that he is here for the grand opening of a Ramada hotel in the neighbouring city, YiWu. Turns out he is the vice prez of Ramada Hotels in Asia. Impressive. He's obviously loaded and it showed. What with that fine looking trenchcoat of his and his gold rings. Tres impressive. Of course I tried to get a deal out of him when I stay in Shanghai next time, but he forgot the name of the owner at one of the Shanghai Ramada suites so .... no deal. But what I did get out of him was an indepth 30 - 45 minute conversation about the world. Two people that are so far from home; the conversation always veers towards that subject. It's so big and accessible. I just thought I'd let you know how blown away I was by this epic event. And this is coming from someone who will be in Canada in approximately 48 hours. Surrounded by blonde haired blue eyed "foreigners".

I've been thinking that the lack of attention that I get in Canada compared to the loads I get for being blonde haired / blue eyed in China will crush me. I have gotten so used to the stares that I'm sure I'll miss them. Rejected, downtrodden, Dejected, etc will be my state of mind 48 hours from now.

And what's with women watching pornographic movies at this internet cafe? The men never do, only women! What is up with that?


Saturday, January 20, 2007

What have we been up to?



Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Land of Oz

It's not that I'm going through culture shock or that I dramatically roll my eyes and knock my head against the wall everytime I venture outside my door.

It's just that nothing that I could have learned in any culture and customs classes could ever have prepared me for the status quo in China. Especially in such a city as Dongyang that is so isolated from the rest of society. It's great that China is attempting to open its doors to the world and prove what a developed country they are, but even speaking for open minded people everywhere, I boldly state that China has a long way to go.

It's weaknesses are its strengths and vice versa - but how twisted it all seems when I take a step back and compare this country to my own, Canada.

Example number one: The Bank. This girl is going home in less than 2 weeks, fact. Don't tell anyone, but I have a large sum of money, not dirty, that needs to go with me. And it's in cash form. And it's quite thick. And like everything else here it has Mao Zedong's mugshot front and centre. Naturally my options would be to open a bank account with the Bank of China and wire this money over to my Canada Trust account, or to exchange it to Canadian funds and bring it over, or (as Cassandra suggested) buy a huge ass fanny pack and stow it away under my clothing on the 17 hour flight back home and pray no one steals it. I see a problem with every one of these options.

Firstly, I was informed today through an interpretor that wire transfers take one week and cost 200 yuan per. Let's take into consideration the fact that I'm leaving very soon and don't have 7 days to sit and wait and see if my money finds its way home. Plus I'll take into consideration the fact that absolutely no help can be found on the spot and takes about 4 days to line up and schedule and reschedule, I hope you will come to the same conclusion as me: I simply can't wire my money back home, by the time it "get's there" I will already be on a plane and chances are something will go wrong on the Chinese side and it'll be too late for me to make things right.

"It's no problem to exchange Chinese Yuan to Canadian Dollars," they say with a smile on their faces. And the exchange rate is 100:66 according to the board on the left, which makes me a rich woman - sort of. But upon coaxing and coaxing the bankers for an answer they inevitably come up short: they have no Canadian Dollars to buy, only US. Big surprise and actually I'm sure if pushed on about US funds, they'd eventually have the same answer for me. I must make an appointment to exchange my money so they have the opportunity to import the Dollars from Shanghai. Something tells me this will take 12 days when all is said and done, and yet I only have 11 to spare. No chance.

But why don't you just take the RMB with you on the plane and be safe about it? Well Doctor, my answer to you would be that despite the fact that hair bands and giant scrunchies (relics from '92) are still wildy popular in China, I have yet to spot a fanny pack, even a pink one. And this money just won't fit inside my money belt, it refuses, it's that big. Plus I'm even unsure of the legality of this procedure. I've been told many times that it's illegal to take any Chinese Money outside of the country, unless of course you have a permit or permission or whatnot. Many people seem to think so, especially Chinese people. I don't wish to take this sort of risk.

So there is my gaint, stuffy dilemma. If only China's (or at least Dongyang's) policies regarding foreigners and their money weren't so primative. You should have seen the look on these bankers' faces, honestly. It's like they had no clue what they are getting themselves into. I'm sure most of them had never even been faced with a remotely similar situation in their lives. And yet they work at an "international" banking institution. Interesting.

But really, how can I blame them? Is it their fault that a huge amount of people are leaving the country and very few people, oddballs like me and some others, are coming into it? They have very little opportunity to experience the ways of other countries and their people. I on the other hand have daily reality checks that teach me "there is a whole other world out there more different than you could have ever imagined, and everything is backwards and forwards at the same time".

Like my good friend Andrea says to me: "we aren't in Kansas anymore". It's a little cheesy, but be my guest and visit China for a few months and you will heartily agree.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

New Laundry

Don't get bitter, be creative. Just like me. Look at me, not being bitter about losing months of precious work. Couldn't care less, right here.
And as a special tribute to joyful nonbitterness, here are some fun pictures from a couple weeks ago.

At XiShan Park: a bumper balls project where your goal is to be the King of the water arena and knock around the other balls. My only two fears were a punture in the soft plastic leading to a leak and then drowning and death or lack of oxygen leading to suffocation and also leading to death. Fortunately neither of these things happened and I discovered my new favourite sport (which would never ever happen in Canada, silly!).
And some cleverly photoshopped photos from Fri Nite Hotpot

Andrea and Cassandra eating various witch-like foodstuffs. Mmmmm Octopus.

And for those of you who really have nothing else to do, take a look at my bare bold room, all blue and stuff. This is where I sit and contemplate Chinese-type things; I've become quite a little philosopher thanks to the lack of visual distractions in my domain.
I'll be home in Canada for a one month vacation two weeks from today at midnight. Please don't bother me for 4 days after that as I'll be recovering from extreme jetlag and I'll probably be flaunting that fact because it sounds oh so continental.


Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Fall of my Life

This could be a guidebook designed to keep you sane and breathing. But. In reality I'm only trying to make my story even more fantastic.

There I was. At the Internet Bar as per usual. I was eating Ramen Noodles and my mother in Canada informed me via MSN that Mr. Ramen passed on. So, not only was I sidetracked with this heartbreaking news, but my friend RL who works at said Internet Bar was speaking to me about how many sisters he has (24).

When all of the sudden there was a flash fire. Right there in the middle of the internet cafe. Infront of me I had several hundred pieces of paper, all with memories and pictures and video written on them. I had been working on this volume for quite some time but my mind was elsewhere. Fire. Sisters. Ramen. All too much to bare. The sprinkler system kicked in just in the Nick of Time. Pandemonium was avoided. But. At the expense of my Several Hundred Sheets of Memories. Firstly they were skorched by the fire. Then they were waterlogged and washed down the drain.

100 memories lost forever.

And thus begins the rebirth of this blog. Long live techonology and the accidental deletion of months worth of painstaking sarcasm.

Monday, December 25, 2006


"Ms. Mitchell Ms. Mitchell!" six 12 year old girls run at me with piles of red lanterns in hand.

"Well hey! What's with the lamps?" I question them.

They look at eachother in puzzlement. "Shenme? Shenme?" they ask eachother. "What-is---with-the-lamps. Wo bu dong... Wo bu dong, Ms. Mitchell!"

I roll my eyes and chuckle at my mistake. These are primary ESL students after all; they have no clue what I'm saying.

"These things. They are called lanterns/lamps. Why are you holding them?"

"OH! I KNOW I UNDERSTAND!" and they tell me they are for the New Years concert on Saturday. This rings a bell.

"I am performing a song for the entire school for that concert," I blurt out. This is a first for me, it's just that I only then remembered it. Somewhere in the foggy depths of my memory I recalled agreeing to said performance. The girls clap and cheer in glee.

Lastnight I had a vivid dream. I was on an ancient pirate ship playing darts with my friends back home and my ex boyfriend. As the pirate ship moved from port to port everyone slowly deserted me until I was left quite alone. I think I may have walked the plank in the end, or that may just be dramatic embellishment.

I awoke from this meaningful dream with one of the sharpest headaches I've ever experienced. My vision was blurry and I was still dressed. What? I hate wearing regular clothes to bed. What went on lastnight? I vaguely remember coming home... Shenme?

Lastnight was Christmas dinner with colleagues and new friends at an enormous restaurant. It was hot pot and for those of you who don't know what that is, it's like fondu or raclette but with soup. Included in my personal witches brew were the following: fertilized duck eggs, baby silver eels, razor clams, regular clams, cow's throat, cows stomache and many more but my memory got foggy about halfway through and I'm not sure what else was consumed. I will attribute that fogginess to the beer that my male coworkers all but forced upon me. Why are they so bent upon me having a "good time"? It's not all that fun when you find yourself unable to even work your chopsticks by the end of the meal; I dropped at least half a dozen eggs under the table.

But that's the way these meals seem to go, and I am somewhat used to it at this point. Included in this celebratory meal was the headmaster of another school in Dongyang. He sat across the table from me and toasted me quite frequently. I knew he had something up his sleeve when he continually instisted I have yet another and another bottle of Bijio. About an hour into hotpot he cleared his throat and stood.

"I have something important to say," and I'm sure he slurred a bit because he was not going easy on the wine at all. "We are friends as well as co-workers," he began, and I couldn't help but question this so-called friendship considering I'd never even spoken to this man before lastnight.

"And that is why I am honoured to request that you begin teaching three classes at our school every Wednesday. Starting this Wednesday." AHA! I knew there was something suspicious about this dinner! Right when I saw several men dressed in black suits arrive, I knew it had more to do with business than pleasure. "They are trying to relax me with alcohol so I agree to this 'request' which has actually been forced upon me!" I thought. I regret not making a fuss about it now, but at the time I was wayyyy too happy to do anything but nod and smile.

"To the relationship between Chinese and Canadians! May it be long and happy!" Mr. Headmaster cried and raised his glass. "Bottoms up!" he insisted, which meant that I had to down yet another glass of cheap beer.

And then there was KTV (Kareoke television bar). Not my idea, honestly, although I love the place. If a rowdy group of slightly drunken Chinese people finish a meal, it seems the only choice they have is to visit the nearest KTV. Which we did. And I threw out my vocal chords belting out various songs by Westlife, Britney Spears, Celine Dion and some lame attempts at Chinese pop songs. Apparently this was when I agreed to perform a song for the New Years concert this Saturday, because I was "just so good!". Those people were taking advantage of me to the fullest when I was at my most vulnerable! I would have agreed to anything! For shame.

After this I guess I went home and slept in my clothes. I hate myself for wrinkling my good threads!

So I awoke at 6.30 and it was still dark.

And seeing as it was a chilly "London Fog" day and I was cold in my bare white room, I turned on my heater. And it didn't work. And then I tried my light and it didn't work. So I ran to to fridge and threw it open and the light didn't go on. NO! I've lived through enough electricity problems already; I really didn't need yet another blown fuse. But upon checking my neighbours' fuseboxes I discovered that our entire apartment was in the dark. I rushed to the school to find some answers and was informed that the whole block would be out of power until 2pm. Who schedules a power outage, honestly?!

I also discovered something kind of cool from my boss this morning. Her good friend owns a bar in Dongyang. This friend wants me to visit his bar once a week for a few hours and speak to the customers in English. Not only will I be educating his regulars, I will be attracting business to his bar (apparently). In return for this small favour, the owner of the bar will give me free drinks whenever I want. This sounds a bit like a sketchy deal and I'm not too hot on Chinese Alcohol, but at the very least it will be an opportunity to make more friends. Which I love.

I'm off to take advantage of all my wonderful Christmas gifts. Happy Boxing Day, y'all!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

FROM THE ARCHIVES Merry Christmas!

Greetings to anyone who may read this!

I currently have class in one hour and just recently spoke to a whole spit load of my family members on the phone for 20 minutes. They are all over at my house in Canada for Christmas Eve celebrations.

It's Christmas morning here in China, but it certainly doesn't feel very festive; I can attribute that to the 10 degree grey drizzly weather on one hand and on the other I can very easily say that being at an internet cafe full of smoking spitting 20 year olds doesn't set the mood either. But that's neither here nor there.

Lastnight the celebrations took place and considering the circumstances, I'd say it was a good effort all around. The beautiful Cassandra slaved away in the kitchen for hours like a good housewife, and produced candied yams, shortbread, stuffing, mashed potatoes, perogies and cabbage rolls. Andrea had been at her Mormon church in Shanghai, conferring with rich expatriates, and she brought home rolls, french bread, whipping cream etc that doubled as gifts. Us three girls exchanged gifts and it was a happy occasion. My good friend Woody bought me a wonderful Christmas gift and my neighbour stopped by and brought my some Chinese Wine with a ribbon on it. Ribbons are cool and all, but they don't change the fact that Chinese Wine is only one step above grape flavoured rubbing alcohol. But a nice thought all the same.

I was forced to play judge of this Chirstmas Concert starring my students on Saturday night. The only thing festive about this concert were the imposing (and disturbing) santa head appliques on stage and a few red streamers. The rest was just magic and charm... sort of. The skits put on were in English so of course the English teachers were to be the judges of them. Problems: one, kids in the audience don't know how to shut the beep up so I couldn't hear what was being said onstage; two, I believe in constructive critism while the rest of the judges never gave a rating below 95% even if the performances were awful; three, I had told Woody to meet me in the auditorium to keep me company during the inevitably boring concert, but he got locked out and kept text messaging me during the skits. However, we went out shopping after the concert and he showed me that there actually is an iPod store in Dongyang, which will come in handy seeing as the stupid retarded dog I'm forced to share a house with decided it would be a good idea to eat my iPod headphones and charge cord. To quote a wise man, "Canines are the devil in disguise".

I'm finishing up chapter 3 of my long and winding crime novel. It's getting extremely tense, so much so that I have to take a break from it and settle down a little bit. I'm instead spending my time learning how to text message and send instand messages to my friends in Chinese. It's quite simple really, you just have to know how to spell things in Pinyin, which I am also currently studying. I will be master of all things "Asian Tech and Communications" by the end of the year, that is a promise.

I'm off to teach 3 conversational English classes on the subject of "Idioms" such as "you must be pulling my leg", "it cost an arm and a leg", "the whole world hates me" etc. You get the picture.