Big Red

By Bryan • china, life, nanjing, personal • 13 Oct 2004

Ah man…where to start….so much to say, every minute I see, hear, smell, touch or taste something cool and worthy of a post. I honestly don’t have the time. I wish I did.

The beginning, I guess. I flew out of Vancouver Friday afternoon (Oct. 9th) via Air China, bound for Beijing. I was very disappointed that I did not get to experience the sheer size and power of the 747, but had to settle for the mere economy of the 767. In addition, I was assigned what I like to refer to as a ‘double-bitch seat’. There are three columns of seating in a 767. The two outside columns have two seats each, while the centre column has three. I was lucky enough to have the middle seat of the middle column…and Air China seats a little smaller than average. Ten hours of being unable to move my arms or legs. Although I did manage to sneak a peek out the window every hour or so. We flew over Alaska and the Bering Sea, and I am almost absolutely sure that I saw Denali. That was about all I saw. I really wanted a window seat, in the hopes that I would be able to see the Great Wall as I flew into Beijing.

A window seat would not have made much difference. I knew before coming over to China to expect a certain level of pollution and desert dust, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw in Beijing. The smog and dust was so thick that I was unaware that we had landed until I felt the smack of the wheels hitting the runway and the jerk of the reversing jets. I could see very little other than the few scattered planes on the tarmac and a faint outline of the control tower. I was about 5pm. Everything was yellow.

Flew to Nanjing on an ancient 737. I used to fly West Jet a lot when I lived in Victoria, and almost every flight I took home to Prince George, I found myself on what I like to call the ‘patch plane’. West Jet operates older model 737’s and one of their milk-run 737’s had a patch on its right wing. Kind of funny, I would think to myself.

The Air China granddaddy that I flew to Nanjing, not only had more than one patch, but also had to be the filthiest looking 737 I’ve ever seen. The interior was fine, but the exterior was covered in grime, dust and oil stains. One didn’t have to look far to see why. I don’t think clouds exist in China…just dust and smog. I am convinced Air China is about 20 years behind the rest of the world in regards to food services. The three ‘meals’ I ‘ate’ had to have been the worst food I have eaten, anywhere…bar-none. It was awful…absolutely awful. I don’t even know what it was…it was just bad. The rice was edible, and the beverages drinkable, but that was about it. Warning…never eat ‘preserved vegetable meal’ no matter how good and healthy the package says it is. Thankfully, I was not the only person who thought like this, my Chinese seat neighbours were both equally disgusted.

I had a window seat on the 737, but it didn’t provide much of a perspective. Again, constant smog all the way to Nanjing. Anyone who has ever flown in overcast weather knows that as soon as the plane punches through the soup, it is straight clear skies overtop of a fluffy white base. We punched through the soup going to Nanjing, but it wasn’t fluffy white…just a fluffy yellow, as far as I could see….with the setting sun in the west. After experiencing this level of pollution in such a short time my faith in humanity is…well…a little less than it once was.

Nanjing though, is a completely different story. From the little I have seen, it is very clean, and very modern. Pollution levels are very low, relative to what I saw in Beijing. It is smoggy, but every now and then one can glimpse the blue skies.

Right now I’m living on campus, which is right in downtown Nanjing. Very cool architecture, with some buildings on campus over 100 years old. Yet there is still that ‘developing’ feel in some areas of the University. Loose wires and exposed pipes cover many of the buildings, a product of one too many renovations over their long history. Many buildings are chipped and have show illustrate the filth of coal power generation.

After my horrible experience with Chinese airline food, I seriously considered vegetarianism (still am…mostly because of preparation issues, but I am finding it very difficult to find dishes here without any sort of meat). However, my director met me at Nanjing Airport and took me out for some good Chinese food. Uygur food to be exact (from the ‘wild west’ of China…Xinjiang Province…the home of my director, Annie). Absolutely awesome. Very, very, very spicy…and the beer comes in 650ml bottles!

I eat mostly at the international students cafeteria, because it is cheap and convenient. It is like eating western Chinese food…everyday. I’m getting quite good with chopsticks. Also, I haven’t developed enough confidence to venture to far from campus on my own yet. People who say ones doesn’t need to speak Mandarin to travel in China on your own are full of shit.

I moved into the International Students dorm yesterday, after a few days in a rather nice hotel. I have a private apartment…it is ok, very large, but odd layout and hardly any electrical plugs (too freakin’ fussy for me), but I am hoping to get something with a better in a month or so.

I share an office with three Chinese. My director, Annie (who teaches my class vocab, reading, and listening) Jason (enrolment) and Sabrina (secretary). We are all under the age of 26, so it is a very laid back working environment.

I’m not part of the regular English department of Nanjing Normal University (I haven’t even met any other TEFL teachers yet); instead my department is the Nanjing Normal University Sino-British Foundation. We prepare a select group of students (17-20 years) who are interested in studying overseas (mainly the UK and Canada). My job is IELTS (International English Language Testing System) oral preparation, English culture and grammar. Our 13 students take classes from 8:00am to 8:30pm each day, with myself, Annie, and two other teachers. It is a very intensive and expensive course. In many ways, I don’t believe I really should be teaching this class, as there is so much riding on their success. I need way more experience.

Which is why I hardly have time to do anything else. I was thrown into the classroom two days after I arrived. Not enough time to prepare anything. I’m swimming, but it is quite hard to keep my head above the water. The learning curve is about as steep as K2. I am hoping in a month things will chill out a bit, and I’ll have time to take up Mandarin and explore the city. While my job is officially 16 hours a week, it is more like 50.

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2 Responses

  1. Bill/Barb

    hang in there brotha…we miss you and wish you all the best!

  2. Bryan

    Thanks guys…hope Calgary is treatin’ you well!

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