I'm very sorry for not e-mailing. It has been difficult to find time to use a computer. I shall update here everything I can, hopefully twice a week from now on. I'll be a bit selective in what I post, as my computer functionality is limited. ;)
Arrived in Shanghai. Hot, humid air! I gagged when I stepped out of the flight gate because I wasn't used to the humidity. But got on another plane only three hours later anyway. Arrived next in Chengdu, and met the team who is coaching soccer. We slept overnight in the airport hotel. Certainly not the first-class hotel though. :) No time at all to find a net cafe, so sorry.
Woke up, went to the Bank of China to get some Chinese currency, and then went to the airport to get on our flight to Xichang, capital of the Liangshan prefecture (still inside the Sichuan province). Met up with the rest of the English teaching team on the Xichang flight (well, technically, after we all got off). Also got to meet some of the local volunteers. We had lunch in Xichang. Later, we went shopping for important stuff. I bought a flashlight (which doubles as a battery charger!) and a collared shirt to wear while teaching; other people bought a watch, some CDs (Jay Chow and Andy Lau I understand, but Avril Lavigne and Linkin Park out here? Interesting ^^), and food for our trip to Zhaojue. A big tub of KFC-style chicken did the trick, with lots of french fries. Oh, and I got to ride a bicycle-pulled rickshaw.
Zhaojue is in a mountainous region, and the only way to get there is by bus. Lucky for us. This other person was telling us that it took her 3.5 days to travel on horseback to the town (well, back then, it was only a fort). I've developed a theory about the power hierarchy on the mountain roads of Liangshan. It goes something like this (from most powerful to least):
Arrived in Zhaojue, elevation of 2000 feet. Had a team meeting, messages off to daddy, went to bed.
Orientation. We got to meet the head administrator of the YC, who is from the Zhaojue County Government, as well as the head of training, and various other important people. 97% of the population around here is Yi. The Yi are a cool people, with their own language, own style of dress (even in this day and age), and own way of life. Most of the students at the YC are Yi. But when the students enter the school system, they have to learn Mandarin, since Mandarin is the standard language in China. It's like getting people in Canada to learn English (or French, if you're in Quebec). The YC does all kinds of training, besides our English and soccer stuff. For example, you can learn how to sew here in a two-month program; after you graduate, the YC will help you find a job. We got to see some of the clothes the students were capable of making by the time they graduate, it was very impressive. You can also learn about agriculture here, as much of the industry in the area is agricultural. Also, you can learn about business, and even get a loan from the YC to go start your own business after going through the program.
We spent the rest of the day preparing our lessons. We each have to do four to six lessons a day (usually six), five days a week, plus two on Saturday morning. My class will be 13 to 15 year-olds. The government is always looking for new ways to get kids in this area to stay in the school system. By the time kids enter middle school, the dropout rate is 50%. In junior high, the dropout rate is about 20%. Many of the children here will have trouble reading anything but the most basic of Chinse characters. This might explain why my sixth graders are teenagers. Thankfully, we all get local volunteers as partners for teaching the classes. This makes it a ton easier. My partner is currently an English major at her university. I'll call her H.O.T. Fangirl because she really likes kpop; H.O.T. was one of the first things out of her mouth.
My goodness, I can't believe how difficult it is to prepare this many lessons. No wonder the textbook publishing industry is so lucrative. To make all of your own curriculum, lessons, and exercises from scratch is way too time-consuming. Classes start on Monday.
In the evening, we got to eat with the YC administrators at a local hotpot restaurant. It was great. There's this one spice seed where if you bite it and then drink a bit of tea, flavour positively explodes all over your mouth. The hotpot was so hot that one of the soccer guys burned a hole into his tongue. Well, that might have been more the temperature, than the spice.
Went back to the YC, had team time, more messages off to daddy, to sleep.
Whoops. I clogged the toilet that my roomate and I use. Well, we can get a plunger for it. Erm, the entire town's water system shut down? Hmm. With the conditions here, sanitation is a huge issue if the town has no running water. Mind you, the immune systems of the local people are much stronger than my own, but still, it's a concern. And besides, what about our toilet?
Spent the day preparing more lessons. It rained for the first time in months, so much to be thankful for. Though there is concern for the soccer team's ability to actually do anything on wet grass (especially since probably none of the local kids will have soccer cleats).
Well, the water's out, so how do I wash my bowl for lunch? Use the rain! Idiot. Then I found out that the YC has an underground water resevoir for these situations. There was a hose stretched all the way from outside to the canteen's kitchen. Stupid idiot.
The soccer team figured out a good way to get their toilets flushing. They just sat these tubs out in the rain and then poured the collected water into the toilet bowl; they concluded that pouring directly into the toilet bowl was better than pouring into the toilet tank, as the prior method provided a stronger force for the swirl.
Got to play soccer a bit with the soccer team after the field had dried a bit. That was fun. More team time in the evening, more updates to daddy, then the experience of a lifetime.
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I have never had such bad diarrhea in my life. Is it so hard to forget that the rain can be polluted sometimes? I went to the bathroom seven or eight times during the night. This wouldn't have been so bad, except our toilet was out. So I went to the communal one. That wouldn't have been so bad, except the town's water was out. And many of the students living at the YC used it. And it was squat. Now once or twice, ok. Seven or eight? This was... uncomfortable. But more uncomfortable was the headache and fever. I've never felt so sapped for strength in my life. Spent the entire day bedridden and couldn't move. I've never imagined that I could ever feel this weak. One of the team members let me sleep the day in his bed, since their toilet was still working (provided that you continued to collect rainwater).
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No idea what the other team members did, except that there was a presentation from a Yi on how to interact with Yi students and adapt to their culture. I'll have to catch up. The team decided to move me to the hospital for the night, in order to get me healthy ASAP for teaching English. Congee tasted so good....
Went to service. It was nice. Then the team member who let me sleep in his bed ended up joining me in the hospital. He got it pretty bad. Maybe I shouldn't have slept in his bed. I'm not outputting the bad stuff anymore, but my strength is still pretty gone. If I walk even a short distance, I become exhausted. The nurse said I could go back to the YC tomorrow, if everything turns out ok. A substitute teacher will take my place for one day, and then I'll take over on Tuesday. Thankfully, we do have some spare personnel available for a couple of days. There is a team that will be training some high school English teachers, but they are not starting their stuff until Wednesday. I'll update again soon, I hope. Take care. I think of Job and Matt Redman's song.