Day 108: Sunshine & Smog

09 Dec

Happy Monday everyone!

It was a good day! Classes went really well for both of us and we had a very productive and enjoyable meeting with Li Laoshi (our waiban/Chinese-at-school mommy) at the end of the day discussing the holiday breaks, upcoming exams, and the problem foreign teachers seem to experience across China – the lack of discipline from Chinese students when there are no grade-related repercussions to bad behavior.

Only hours after my last post, we endured the worst smog conditions we have ever seen and I could have ever imagined. The smog was so bad that while riding down the street on our motorbike after dinner, the buildings across the street were fuzzy looking. Under the street lights we could see the smog clouds billowing like rain during a storm and from our apartment windows we could only barely make out the sidewalk lights directly below our window only four floors down. It was near impossible to see the classroom lights on in the building across from our apartment. When Johnson tried to order a big case of masks for us from the Internet, we discovered that it was impossible – all the masks were sold out. After reading a fact that stated breathing the air in Beijing is like smoking 21 cigarettes a day, we feared the damaging toll on our bodies from our time out (just thirty minutes to and from dinner) in one of the worst smog conditions Saturday night. We periodically wonder how many years have been taken off of our lives already and how much damage we’ll have done to our bodies after living here for a year. It is completely inconceivable to us why masks are not sold at every street corner here in China and even more incomprehensible as to why masks are so difficult to actually find. We have been searching for face-masks since we arrived and have only found them online. Of course, the way internet shopping is set up in China, you must have a Chinese ID card or a Chinese bank account to make a purchase and so any purchases we want to make have to go through a Chinese resident. This requires making sure they have enough money in their account at the time to make a purchase for us, if we did not give them cash ahead of time, and that they are willing to help. Then there must be stock available to ship and if all that works, you still have the risky postal service to deal with. Hopefully, though, by the end of this week, Johnson will have ordered masks and we’ll get them before the smog gets really bad again.

Sunday was not as bad as Saturday night but was bad enough for us to decide to stay inside most of the day watching Harry Potter and preparing for this week’s lessons. Dreading another day of risky breathing, we woke up this morning to find a beautiful blue sky and the warmest weather we’ve had in a while (with weather in the Fahrenheit forties).

Over our lunch break, Duncan wandered around Military School Park taking advantage of the beautiful clear day and practicing his photography skills. A very intrigued older man followed him around for a bit asking him questions and operatically singing. Apparently he was very good and they had fun talking to each other. A couple of days ago, a similar experience happened when a Chinese guy, also practicing his photography, came up to Duncan and they had a conversation in Chinese and shared their pictures with one another. Who knew photography would lead to some of the most interesting conversations Duncan has had this year in Chinese.

I’m grateful we’ve had such a good experience so far with our school, our teachers, and, of course, CIEE. Neither of us have any complaints about going through CIEE, and I would do it again, as well as recommend them to anyone considering teaching abroad (not just in China). The orientation was great, they dealt with the headache-inducing part of officially getting to China, and they offer a 24/7 support system the entire time we’re here. We’ve recently become aware of some people who are very loudly spouting venom against CIEE on various internet forums but it seems that, in most but certainly not all of those cases, the people who are displeased did not think realistically about what life would be like for them in China and are eager to blame anything and everything but their own poor attitude. Coming here requires a very open mind, a willingness to change and adapt, patience, tolerance, and, very importantly, a desire to learn and grow from all experiences. Life in China is not life in the US and those people demanding an American life in China are setting themselves up for disappointment and misery. There are certainly cases where people meet with unforeseen complications they have no control over, no matter their attitude, but I do not believe that is normal. And though unfortunate, this (unlikely) possibility is the best reasoning I can think of to go through an organization like CIEE (though there are others) to take advantage of their ability and preparedness to help you negotiate such unexpected complications. Having said that, we have experienced no situation in which contacting CIEE has ever crossed our mind. We’re blessed to have had such a great experience so far and we don’t foresee any reason why it wouldn’t continue (if not get even better than) the way it has been.

As we wrap up another speedy day of teaching, we are bundled up in our (very well) warmed apartment, thankful once again for the Internet as we continue our holiday-inspired Harry Potter marathon.

Stay warm and thank you for reading!


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Posted by on December 9, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized


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