I made it! The past two days have been one exciting whirlwind. I will start from the beginning…
My flight to China went extremely smoothly. I watched 4 movies on my flight (Iron Man 3, Miss Congeniality, James and the Giant Peach, and Risky Business) and didn’t sleep for a second…I was just too excited. I did however start bawling my eyes out and snotting all over the place after the first 12 hours because I opened the sweetest letters my family members wrote for me while I was in the air and just lost it. I should have waited to read them until I got off the plane and read them in my room like my mom told me to, but with 15 hours of nothing to do I thought what the heck. (Thank you mom, dad, Jordan and Liv- those were so thoughtful!) I felt bad for the old Chinese man next to me (he offered me his tea and used handkerchief to try to comfort me…gross). I got to Shanghai Pudong Airport a little delirious and exhausted, but stoked for my new adventure! I was then greeted by two Chinese women (both teachers at SHSID) holding a huge sign that said “Alexandra Hesse” and I felt so special. They helped me carry my suitcases and brought me to a van, which then drove me directly to my school.
When I got to my dorm, I met Casey and JoJo- we have been like triplets ever since. Casey is from Florida (she also graduated in 2011, minored in psychology, Is borderline OCD and also just got diagnosed with some GI issues…we are pretty much the same person. She lives 2 floors above me in the same building, so we meet-up and walk everywhere together. She is better at directions than me, but I can communicate with all the Chinese people and she can’t, so we combine our skill sets for extra efficiency. Jojo is from Lexington, Kentucky (she has a great accent) and she has also never been to Asia and does not know Chinese. Jojo is teaching at a different campus than most of us are but she still gets to live on the main campus. Since she can’t sleep in as late as us and has to commute to work, she got put in a BEAUTIFUL and modern new dorm, which looks like a 5 star hotel. It all equals out. Casey and Jojo are both awesome and very easy to get along with. We are already planning our first traveling adventure together for our week-long break in October. We are thinking possibly Hong Kong. We all agreed we want to do TONS of traveling while we are here.
Our first night the three of us took an excursion to Wal-Mart (about a 10 minute walk from our dorm). It was quite an adventure! We got back to campus at 10:30pm only to discover that we were locked out! The gates apparently closed at 10pm that night. I had no choice but to call Helen Hu (the foreign teacher coordinator) and explain to her that Casey, Jojo and I were locked out of the school and waiting on a stoop outside the gate (I am sure she now has a great first impression of us…not). We contemplated climbing the gate, but decided that was probably a bad idea for night # 1. Helen contacted the guards who then let us in, phew. Lesson learned. I guess it’s good to know that the campus has such great security – it is very very safe! I came back from Wal-Mart with 40 clothes hangers, face wash (I think I accidentally bought the kind that whitens your skin…oops!), spicy peanuts, seaweed, febreeze and a cheetah print towel (I am holding off on nice towels until my iKEA run). I am still not unpacked and my updated Wal-Mart to-buy list is about 4 pages long. I need to unpack first and get my life a little more together before the decorating begins.
My dorm here is pretty nice (for China standards that is). I have a regular toilet yay (no squatting necessary). It will take some time for me to get used to my hand held shower head and Chinese style stove. My room came with lots of furniture, a basic bathroom (with a washing machine that supposedly shreds your clothing, so I think I will do a lot of hand-washing), and a kitchen…I am not going to do much cooking that’s for sure. When I opened my fridge for the first time, it smelled like a dead animal. The only thing allowed in my fridge is medicine that needs to be stored in there…no food aloud. I bought some baking soda, so we will see if that helps with the stench. (My microwave is just not bearable). I am thinking a microwave and rice cooker might be on the IKEA list. I did just purchase a water heater to make some oatmeal and tea, so that should come in handy. I am not worried about not cooking, eating local here is incredibly cheap. Casey and I got dinner tonight (a tofu dish and eggplant dish) and spent $1.50 (USD) and were both stuffed afterwards. I plan on eating a banana in the morning, lunch in the school cafeteria (which I hear has great food) and dinner out with friends. So far, being a vegetarian has been absolutely fine. Lots of mushrooms, veggies, tofu, and rice. I did mess up my Chinese this morning because my tones were slightly off. I meant to order a plain steamed bun with nothing in it and instead received a huge bowl of mushroom and noodle soup. So, that was today’s breakfast!
By the way, I may have made my apartment sound bad. It’s not. For China, it’s pretty great. And, it’s free! So I can’t complain. I will give it my “zen touch” in no time. Just waiting for the first paycheck! I feel pretty at-home here already. My back is just a bit sore from the board of a bed I am sleeping on, but I will be getting a pillow-topper for my mattress asap.
As for the campus, it’s HUGGGGGGEEEEEEEEEEEE. It must be at least 5 times the size of Hamilton’s campus. It’s pretty confusing and I have gotten very lost multiple times a day but I think I will get the hang of it in the next few days. I am trying to figure out which way is North/South/West/East and learn which gates I am allowed to leave and enter. Some buildings are beautiful, modern and brand new and some are older with their own special charm. The primary school building where I will be teaching is brand new. It’s amazing! My students are lucky. My classroom is so homey, bright, clean and new – I love it. I can’t wait to decorate and start teaching (the first day of official school is Monday September 3rd). However, this Thursday I get to meet and greet my students and their families. I met my Chinese co-teacher and she is really sweet. Knowing Chinese is definitely a plus when working with a Chinese co-teacher! She has never taught 1st grade either (she just moved down from 4th grade), so we are learning everything together for the first time. I can tell we are going to get along very well. I have a Yale t-shirt wrapped for her, which I will give her on the first day of school.
As for the area around the campus…it’s very different than the touristy, modern, trendy Shanghai that Jess and I visited in 2010. It’s super duper authentic Chinese (very grungy and pretty much no one speaks any English). The streets surrounding my school are lined with tiny hole-in-the-wall dumpling shacks (I am grateful for the Wal-Mart down the street – they have everything you could possibly imagine and more…it is the first 3 floor Wal-Mart I have been in…a bit overwhelming). The majority of the 128 foreign teachers at SHSID don’t know any Chinese at all, so I definitely have a huge advantage knowing the language. I have been a translator for several new teachers. It is allowing me to be more independent and brave conquering the dumpling-lined streets. However, the touristy and modern part of Shanghai is only a subway ride away. I can get out into the city and experience all districts of Shanghai quite easily, so I am very happy that I get to experience both worlds here. I am sure most weekends will be spent in the more modern parts of Shanghai along The Bund (that’s where all the nightlife is). Living in this location is definitely better for my Chinese practice!
Living in my district, I definitely stand out. My blond hair attracts many many stares. When Casey, JoJo and I were in line at Wal-Mart, this Chinese man came up to us and starting talking to me. He called me “yellow-haired teacher”. That is my new name. The foreign teachers here stand out like a sore thumb. I stand out even more when I open my mouth and start yacking away in Mandarin…mouths are dropping left and right.
I don’t have much energy left today, as it was a pretty eventful and exhausting day. We started with a welcome ceremony and orientation and then all of the new teachers took a bus to a hospital where we got physical exams. We were there for about 4 hours. We couldn’t eat anything all day until the exam, so we were all getting a little spacey and light-headed. The foreign affairs office then treated us to puffy muffins and canned coffee after the health exam to cure our hunger. Following the health exam was the bank. We opened up Chinese bank accounts so that we can get our paychecks deposited directly into our account. That was another 3 hours or so. Time for bed!!!
Anyways, I am going to go take my cold hand-held shower now. I accidentally bought two conditioners instead of a shampoo and conditioner at Walmart because all the bottles looked identical. I guess I will have extra knotless hair! I am going to try running the track in the pollution tomorrow morning at 5:30, so I want a goodnight sleep. The air quality is not actually that bad near my school (there are trees all over the place here (including palm trees), which I am sure helps!) I live across from an indoor swimming pool, so Casey and I are thinking of swimming laps a few mornings a week before we head out to teach.
Stay posted for pictures coming soon! Hopefully tomorrow! (Make sure to look under the “photos” section of the site)
Lots of love xo