my goals for 2017

This weekend has shown me that I really need to work out my goals. I feel rather aimless at the moment. Each morning, I find myself asking the same questions over and over. Why should I get up? What am I doing here? I’ve never been good at getting up in the morning, and am constantly fighting against a part of me that just wants to hide in bed all day. I’m not tired as such. I am lying in my bed, in a semi-sleepy state, with my mind thinking, considering, questioning, analysing and debating. I could quite happily do this for hours if it weren’t for the guilt of being in bed at 1 p.m.

I really don’t know if it’s normal or if I’m suffering from a mild form of depression – or maybe it’s homesickness. I have no idea. I just know that I wish I had the get-up-and-go like other people do.

So, I wrote myself a list of goals. At one point today, I realised that I needed some plan to focus on (or distract myself with).

  1. write your book and finish the 1st draft
  2. list grammar points that students need for each lesson
  3. study Chinese
  4. pay off debts
  5. read books
  6. watch films

1) I have been writing my book since 2012 and am currently up to about 45,000 words. I’ve been writing it on and off, but I’m finally nearing the en and should be finished writing it in a few months How exciting! My first book! It may not be such a good read, but nevertheless, I look forward to the feeling of having written my character’s story, which has been cooped up in my head for so many years.

2) As the teaching material I have to work with in my job jumps from one place to another, there have been times in my classes when I have felt unprepared. Although I have a lot of experience teaching English grammar, in my other positions as an ESL teacher, I have always had sufficient preparation time to look at the grammar point and determine what the students need to know and what they don’t. In my current position, I don’t have sufficient preparation time as most of that time is used up decoding the lesson plans and trying to convert them into something that can actually be taught in a classroom. I am also lost as to what level corresponds to the ESL levels that I have been familiar with. I often have students who are clearly upper elementary level students in upper intermediate classes and visa versa. This makes it very hard to know how far to go when clarifying grammar points. In actual fact, I’m not supposed to be presenting any grammar to my students as the focus is on using the language that they have learnt in a conversational situation. Well, that’s all very well, except when the students actually do not know the grammar to begin with and really need the extra help. Anyway, I am going to list the grammar points for each lesson that I come across so I can use it the next time the lesson comes up.

3) My third goal is to put more effort into studying Chinese. When I get home, I am busy with other things and tend to put my Chinese studies off. When I do get inspired, I make lists of a few useful words, but forget to actually study them. I want to see more progress – I have probably come further than I would have ever thought possible in the past, but I still feel like an ignoramus when I speak to people at the shops.

4) Debts, debts and more debts. I was confident I would be able to do this quite easily until I realised how hard it is to transfer money back home from China. Hopefully I will work out a way.

5) My fourth goal is to read the books I had hoped to read last year. I am already near to finishing Madame Bovary and will then move on to Don Quixote. I have a rather large list, but I think it’s doable on my commute to work each day.

6) My sixth goal is to watch lots of classic films that have shaped cinema. I started by watching Citizen Kane last night. I had tried to watch it in the past but became a little overwhelmed by all of the dialogue in the beginning. I’m happy to say that I very much enjoyed it the second time and can see why it was such an important film for the history of cinema. I found it interesting to see the similarities between Citizen Kane and Donald Trump as well… A very pertinent film still (and especially) in today’s world. After watching Citizen Kane, I watched Spring in a Small Town which was a most lovely story and so very beautifully made. I have also started watching Victor Sjöström’s Körkarlen but ended up pausing it as I needed to sleep!

I hope these goals will help me to feel a lot less lost. I feel dread at the thought of going back to work tomorrow. I like the people and my students, but honestly don’t feel as though the position is working out for me – mostly due to the shoddy teaching material. I will keep trying.

xinjiang

Oh, by the way! I had the most delicious meal at a Xinjiang style restaurant yesterday! I ate lengmen which is a stir fried noodle dish with cumin, sesame seeds, chilli and the nicest noodles I have eaten as of yet here in Shenzhen! I went in feeling quite nervous as I had no idea what would be on the menu. I was also receiving lots of inquisitive looks, which made me feel even more out-of-place. This noodle dish was the cheapest item on the menu – around 33元 and as it was so tasty that I would have been happy to pay even more for it than I did!

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a koala learning mandarin

I thought I might write a little about how I have been studying Mandarin Chinese. Please note, my Mandarin Chinese is very basic. Like, super basic! I will write a post once a month to measure my progress.

To begin with, when I was at university, many of my friends were from Hong Kong and used to load a whole lot of their favourite Canto pop songs onto a USB for me to add to my iPod playlist. I had to spend about three hours traveling to and from university each day, so I had a lot of time to kill and remember listening to a lot of Canto pop during my commute. Some songs were in Mandarin, but I have to admit that I preferred the sound of Cantonese (I still do…)

The first time I started studying Chinese, I was in France, sitting at the dining table in my home in the Alsace. It was perhaps a little strange to decide, in the Alsace, that it was a good idea to learn Chinese for the future, but I went to my local library and borrowed a book and there I was, studying away. It was a basic book, but showed me that maybe Chinese grammar wasn’t as scary as I had first thought.

Well, that was in 2008 and to be honest, nothing much came of that study attempt. I am a bit of a slapper when it comes to languages. I jump from one to the other rather quickly. Anyway, I came back to Australia and bought myself a copy of Integrated Chinese Level 1 Part 1. Despite the price (I could have bought 31 lattes for that price….), it’s a very good textbook. I enjoy the dialogues and the vocabulary in each chapter is quite good. I used this textbook for several years. Don’t look at me like that! I know it’s pathetic! To be honest, I have been more motivated to study other languages rather than Chinese.

Over the last few years, I also found a great video series on the net called Growing Up With Chinese. Although some of the dialogues are aimed more toward Intermediate learners, I find it entertaining and there were many things that I picked up from watching the videos. You can also find these videos on YouTube if you are interested.

Another resource I have been using is Zhongwen Red. There is also Zhongwen Blue and Green, and I am not really sure what the difference is between them. Zhongwen Red seems to have more lessons. These lessons are very similar to the book I borrowed from the library in Alsace. Each lesson is based on the previous lesson and the sentence gradually takes on different verbs and different meanings. I find it really helpful to get my head around different grammar points in Chinese.

To compliment these resources, I have my trusty Lonely Planet Mandarin phrasebook. I find phrasebooks really useful when learning a language. They provide up-to-date vocabulary and help you to see how questions and statements are best phrased depending on a particular circumstance.

I have been very frustrated over the last few weeks. My level of Chinese is so low and I find it very hard to remember the tones. I use Pleco dictionary on my iPhone which, as well as providing you with the pin yin for each word, shows you the character in a colour which corresponds to its tone. For example: 館 túshūguǎn (1st Tone: purple, 2nd Tone: green, 3rd Tone: Blue, 4th Tone: Purple) I have just discovered that apparently this colour system is not just used in Pleco but is also mentioned on the Mandarin Chinese phonology page on Wikipedia! Colours are great, but you really need to be able to recognise the characters enough to be able to associate the colour with the character, so maybe it isn’t quite as helpful as it could be.

(You may notice that I used the traditional characters up above. Well, I am much more interested in learning the traditional characters than the simplified characters. Some would say it is silly, but I feel they are much more interesting.)

Ideally, I would be attending a Mandarin class. I feel like I would benefit immensely if I had a structure to my studies. The classes I have seen are all very expensive, so I might have to save up. Until then, I will have to continue to write vocabulary lists of useful words that will help me to get by in Shenzhen…

sunny day

I am a snack-a-holic! I have no self-control when it comes to food. When I buy snacks, I swear I don’t intend to eat them all in one sitting. I like to think I can make them last. Biscuits! I buy biscuits so that I can maybe have one or two to accompany my morning coffee. But no. I end up eating the whole packet.

I bought these puffed rice snacks which I have had before in Australia. You get about a dozen cakes in the pack. They’re oblong cakes made of puffed rice glued together with some sort of honey-like toffee. I bought two packets for my cupboard, in hope that they would fill my cupboard which has been so incredibly empty for the last month and a bit. At present, there are so many pieces of empty packaging right in front of me. Along with sticky crumbs on my coffee table, on the floor and stuck to the bottom of my socks.

So, before I clean all that mess up, I thought I’d write a little about my day. Today was a beautifully sunny day in Shenzhen. It was so warm outside, and there was a positive vibe in the street. Everyone seemed happy. As I walked to work, a huge group of primary school kids were hanging around, laughing and shouting, eating snacks and checking out the toys at the small side street stalls.

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I wasn’t looking forward to going to work today. Yesterday, I was feeling a little down, so despite the weather, it was hard to leave my apartment. It turned out that my classes today went quite well! Well, they felt as if they did. Students were happy and although I was quite busy, my plans and preparation all seemed to pay off.

I had the most delicious lunch of 炒饭 (fried rice) from the supermarket deli on the bottom floor of my building. It was so full of flavour, a tad spicy and only 10 yuan! 10 yuan for a box that was packed with scrumptious rice and veg!

On my way home, I stopped by 王子拉茶 and ordered a rose flavoured teh tarik. I was a little frustrated as it turns out I had been saying the wrong word to order something for take away. For the last three or four weeks, I thought it was 投保. Someone had muttered those words to me at one stage, and looking them up in the dictionary, the closest thing I could find was 投保 toubao -take out.

Well, today, the lady serving me my milk tea gave me such a confused look that I knew I must have it terribly wrong… The girl behind her muttered ‘da bao’ which I repeated back to her. She nodded, so I must have pronounced it O.K.  I left the shop and opened the dictionary on my phone. Typing in the words, it came up with 打包 – ‘to put left overs in a doggy bag’. Well, that makes sense. So where did I go wrong, I wondered. I decided to look up the word I originally thought could be used to ask for ‘take away’. Apparently I should have read the definition more clearly. 投保 ‘tou bao’ was indeed ‘take out’ – but not ‘take-out‘. It means ‘to take out INSURANCE’! Oh my heavens…

Well, I now feel enlightened! I can’t wait to order something tomorrow and use the correct word when I want it to-go. What a way to end a pretty cool day.

 

a coffee and a bike ride

One of the most brilliant things about Shenzhen is the mobike. Similar to the ‘velib’ in Paris or other free city rental bikes in Europe, you scan a QR code using your smartphone and the bike, unless it is in need of a repair, will unlock and allow you to ride all over town for less than one yuan per half hour. Once you’re done, you can drop the bike off at a bike rack and continue on your way. There is a small set-up process as well as a refundable deposit of 299 yuan that you must pay to be able to use the service, but ever since I got it set up, I have been riding around and loving it!

So, instead of heading to my usual cafe, I decided to head up to Coco Park 购物公园 which is about 10 minutes from my apartment by bike. A friend took me to a sweet little cafe a few weeks ago near the Shangri-La Hotel. I liked the peace and quiet there and thought it might be nice to go a little further today while I had the chance.

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I ordered a cappuccino 卡布其诺 which was a big thing as I had never used the word cappuccino in Mandarin before. To my surprise, the man understood me with no problems, so I paid and picked a nice table outside. I opened my book and began to read, however my mind was too unsettled to concentrate, with thoughts about tomorrow rushing through my head.

Although I have been enjoying my new job, I have been feeling slightly unsure if it is the right place for me. Some days, the job is easy. Other days can be so frustrating. Of course, this goes for every job, however I have noticed that I am blaming myself for failing rather than blaming the material that I am working with. I know that I shouldn’t blame myself and try to remind myself of this when I am feeling down. Time will tell. I am still getting used to the way things work.

My coffee arrived. After a few teaspoons of the chocolatey foam, I took a sip. It was just as pleasant as the last time. I wondered to myself if ‘double shots’ were a thing here and if I would have to pay more. I tried once again to focus on my book but was interrupted by a man speaking loudly on a mobile phone and by a persistent mosquito which had decided to join me.

I finished my coffee and decided to ride around for a little before I headed back home. I wanted to enjoy the beautiful city all lit-up at night! It is really impressive to see all of the modern buildings with so many different and intriguing designs. The lights are fabulous at night! I also found this beautiful window display at the Shangri-La Hotel.

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I was feeling a little hungry so I went to a restaurant near my apartment. I have visited this restaurant several times, and so, with a little too much confidence, strode in and smiled at the cashier. It often happens that I forget where I am and exactly how little Mandarin I can speak. Sometimes I go to speak in Japanese or French!

As it dawned on me that I needed to say something in Mandarin, I began mumbling and throwing words left right and centre, which made me feel even more nervous and stupid. 我要鸡肉. 这是鸡肉…吗?

I am ashamed to say that I really have no idea how to order something in Mandarin. Maybe 我要… is correct, but it feels so strange to say. One of the waitresses standing nearby was watching on and laughing nervously. I smiled and laughed a little with her, hoping to break the awkwardness with a little humour. However the awkwardness carried on and her laughter continued. Finally, one of the chefs brought out the meal I had hoped to order. I smiled, paid and turned to walk away.

The whole interaction put me down a little, but the food was tasty. All I can do is try to communicate as best as I can, and I have to accept that there will be times when I can’t make myself understood and when people will perhaps not have as much patience in trying to understand me as I would like.

Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day. SZKoala’s other half is currently nestled in the fork of a tree in Australia – eating yummy gum leaves – but we sent a heart emoticon or two on chat and are both still having a nice day despite been away from one another.

It is 4 p.m. and I am considering venturing out to the little cafe down the road. It is becoming one of my favourite sitting and reading spots and has a very relaxing, chilled out atmosphere.

The first time I visited, I was very taken by the design of the cafe. It’s a very trendy place. The people were lovely as well. Then I realised that the music they were playing was in fact only one track which was stuck on repeat and never seemed to end! Despite the music, I went back to enjoy the atmosphere and was very happy to find that they had added a few more songs to their repertoire.

I have recently finished a book called Cadans, a book written by Micha Meinderts about a young gay guy growing up in Belgium in the 1970s. It is the first in the series, and after such a sad ending, I will make sure to read the next two books. As I am unsure how to order their delivery to China, I will carry on reading Madame Bovary, which I have had since July last year and have found so incredibly hard to get into that I don’t find so much pleasure in reading it. I usually read books in order to practice the languages I have learned, so this book is naturally the original French version. Admittedly, it is my own fault that I find it hard to read. Flaubert uses so much descriptive language, and his sentences go on and on. I must persevere.

Reading is one of the goals of my trip to China. I have several books I did not get a chance to read last year, so hopefully I will be able to read them all this year. Of course, reading is not my only goal. If it were, it would be a very odd goal to have for someone traveling in another country. That said, I am still working out my goals to be honest. I know that I want to improve my Mandarin Chinese. I know that I want to improve my abilities as a teacher, and I know that I want to save money for the future. They are my main goals, but I still feel a little strange here. As though I am not sure really why I have come.

Perhaps this is why I find that cafe so comforting. It is a place where I can sit and just be. I can become lost in the worlds created by my books. A respite from my nagging, questioning mind which is constantly hassling me about my motives, my actions and my intentions.

Shenzhen is a busy place. My neighbourhood is a noisy, bustling area that doesn’t seem to sleep. I do love cities. I love the noise and the excitement, but in these first few weeks – I have been here only one month –  it has been nice to escape from it for a little. Moving to another country is a wonderful experience, but the first month can seem like an eternity. Every day offers its own challenges and tasks that would normally take a minute to carry out can seem like a never-ending battle. In those crazy first moments, you need a zone of quiet. You need some still water. The cafe gives me that. I don’t want to be holed up in my apartment all day – I am good at making myself feel guilty for staying home – so, I push myself to head outside, to fight through the crowded streets of cars, taxis, motorbikes and bicycles, to the safety of my local cafe.

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So, I will venture out now with my book under my arm. I will order an expensive cup of coffee and enjoy the zone for a few hours.