Yesterday, Monday, was my first training session which was held in yet another EF office located in an amazing mall. Malls appear to be a dying culture in America but here, they’re still going strong. Although mall-based chain stores make malls look generic everywhere in the world, you would never confuse malls here with the ones back in the US. For one, there are food kiosks and restaurants on all levels, every few stores, as opposed to large food courts back home. This is a food culture unlike anyplace I’ve been to.
Prior to the training session, I, along with my three new parters from the UK who are staying in the same hotel (we’ve bonded quite nicely) had to take a long drive to a health ministry to take a series of health tests which were almost identical to the ones I had to take back home, to qualify for coming to China. I had to go to six separate departments for largely cursory exams including (ugh!) getting blood drawn. I wondered if the needles were less sharp here than back home (no, thank Ceiling Cat!) The presumption is that I may have contracted some illness since I took those tests back home. I was also wondering if I had to take that loathesome test involving the doctor asking the male patient: “now, cough.” Do you suppose he would get the David Letterman reply: “OK, now it’s my turn”? The one major difference in exams here, was the use of a sphygmomanometer. If you’re young, you may have to look that one up.
I won’t bore you with talking about the training session which involved lots of “share/pair”, group encounters, profuse note-taking and other usual processes of training new-hires. What was interesting was meeting eight others who were in the session. Seven of them were Chinese. Their English was quite good and most of them held post-graduate degrees, all of them obtained in the UK. They were all quite enthusiastic about learning English and I asked two girls (I say “girls” because most everyone in the group was in their early 20’s) what they liked about learning English and they both gushed about how beautiful English sounded to them. I had never given that concept any thought whatsoever. To me, French sounds beautiful, right? English sounds strictly utilitarian and is neither beautiful or grating (think Deutsch!)
Afterwards I met with my apartment agent Tom (rest assured, no Chinese here has a given English name.) We couldn’t ink the deal on my apartment until the wire transfer to pay in full arrives which will probably be Friday. I did put a deposit on the place but they need full payment before the contract is signed. He assured me that I will still get the place. Anyhow, Tom was kind enough to take me to China Mobile to sort out why my phone account was suspended (while talking to my mom a few days ago). I thought I had signed up for a monthly plan and like back home, if I used up the minutes, I would simply be billed for more time. Not here! You pay as you go. Once the minutes are used up, your account is suspended until you pay for more minutes. That’s inconvenient. Once I get settled with internet service, I can (I was told) get a land-line (remember land-lines?) and through the miracle of VOIP, call back home for pennies. But wait, there’s more! Vonage said I could continue to use my old 415 phone number. I will believe that when I see it!
I then asked Tom (he’s my new best friend, by this point!) if he could take me to a restaurant to order food so I could take it back to the hotel. I’ve been somewhat shy about going into a restaurant to order food. I attempted to do that at lunch last week at my new office and became so intimidated, I simply skipped it. All of my phone apps with translation services, I discovered, are not as useful as I hoped. Inevitably, something gets lost in translation. Why not simply point, you ask? I tried that but there’s always a follow-up question I cannot answer, such as “do you want a full order?” or, “how spicy?” and of course, nothing proceeds because I have no idea what’s being asked. I was thrilled to learn that Tom knew of a good Chinese restaurant in the area and he took me there and helped me through the book-thick menu. A large chicken dish containing, who knows what, an order of rice and twenty- yes, twenty, which is half an order- pot stickers came to 43 RMB which is about six dollars, tips not allowed. Since this place was in a high-end district, I could easily have paid less if I had wanted to go a few blocks away. As anyone will tell you, food here is ridiculously cheap unless you insist on eating in areas of the city that cater to westerners. Then, you’ll feel right at home paying SF prices, if that’s your idea of a good time.