An embarrassment of riches.

I’m dangerously close to geeking out because after a day at school, I am positively giddy.  I went to campus empty-handed today and returned with not only a teaching schedule and new friends and a full belly, but also copies of Crazyheart, Black Swan, and seasons 1-7 of 24.  For which I paid a total of $8.36.  I’m positive these are legal copies, so don’t even worry about it.

A word about the teaching schedule.  Bao commented today, “Something you should know: in China, we plan for flexibility.”  True.  The semester calendar we just got a few days ago has already changed twice, and only today did we foreign teachers receive our teaching assignments.  Today is Thursday.  Classes begin on Monday.  I know I’m comparing apples to oranges, but I’m going to do it anyway: at Minnetonka, teaching assignments are released in the spring and very rarely change, granting the teachers all summer to prepare.  So yeah, I’m going to agree with Bao.  If you aren’t flexible as a teacher here, you might be in the wrong country.

So here are my classes!  (Instead of grades 7-12, HFLS uses Junior 1-3 for grades 7-9 and Senior 1-3 for grades 10-12.)

  • Monday:
    • Senior 2 from 9:45-10:25
      • Yes, I don’t start until 9:45am.
    • Senior 2 from 10:35-11:15
  • Tuesday:
    • Junior 2 from 8:00-8:40
    • Junior 2 from 8:50-9:30
      • Yes, I’m done by 9:30am.
  • Wednesday:
    • Junior 2 from 8:00-8:40
    • Junior 3 from 8:50-9:30
    • Junior 3 from 9:45-10:25
    • Senior 2 from 10:35-11:15
    • Senior 2 from 11:20-12:00
    • Junior 3 from 2:10-2:50
      • This is a big long day, but everyone get 80 minutes for lunch- compared to 30 minutes back home- and the teaching time is almost identical to what I do every day at MHS.
  • Thursday:
    • Senior 1 from 8:50-9:30
    • Junior 1 from 1:20-2:00
    • Junior 1 from 3:00-3:40
  • Friday:
    • Junior 2 from 9:45-10:25
    • Senior 3 from 11:20-12:00
    • Senior 1 from 1:20-2:00
    • Junior 3 from 2:10-2:50
For those of you keeping track at home, you’ll see that I teach at least 1 section of…all of them.  So 6 preps in all.  And I couldn’t be more thrilled.
At my job back home (and at many public schools in the area), teachers use online grading software to provide students and parents with constant access to students’ grades; teachers of the same courses use a required number of common assessments and common texts each semester; and parents have instant access to teachers via their school email accounts or voicemail boxes.  We follow state standards that number in the hundreds and change often.  There are excellent reasons for all of these things, and all of these practices fit well into the current paradigm of American education.
That said, imagine yourself to be an American teacher who suddenly gets these as her only marching orders:
  • Teach something about American culture.  Whatever you want.
  • Get your kids to practice speaking English.  However you want.
  • Give them a few assessments.  Whenever you want.  Whatever you want.
  • We don’t have school email addresses, but use this system to instant message your colleagues if you have questions.  Parents won’t contact you.  Because they can’t.
  • Your last day is June 17, so if you could give your students’ final grades to Bao maybe by the following week, that’d be great.  No, don’t worry about midquarter or quarter grading deadlines.  We don’t have those.
Now, let me say that I love my job at Minnetonka and even when I get stressed out about work (and who doesn’t?), I’ve always counted myself fortunate to work with such an excellent teaching staff (especially you, English Department peeps!).  To now have the opportunity- and thank you, MHS, for granting me this leave- to teach with these wide-open parameters and to exercise my teaching creativity in a new way just overwhelms me with excitement, happiness, gratitude.  Could I be any luckier?  Not to mention that I already feel I’ve gained a tremendous amount of trust and professional respect from the staff in China, and they hardly know me; it comes only from my training as a teacher.  These are not the reasons I entered education, but it feels amazing to be appreciated as a professional.
So the job is great.  Can I brag a little about the perks?  The food in the staff cafeteria is un-be-lieve-able.  (Of course I talk about food first…)  At least 30 different dishes to choose from at each meal- fresh veggies, proteins from shrimp to beef to fish to chicken to pork, a wide variety of spices and flavors, perfectly sticky rice- and the best part?  It’s un-be-lieve-ably cheap.  I ate (a lot) on campus twice today, and it cost me a total of 12.5 yuan.  Which is $1.90.  I couldn’t volunteer my own services to cook for myself and eat what I ate today for a cheaper price.
And I get to teach here.

Guess what lives in the 5 ponds on campus?  Goldfish and carp.  Minnetonka, I love our new commons, but until someone installs a koi pond, we haven’t officially arrived.  (Bao said that during the summertime, some teachers will take a Tsing-Tao or two and fish the campus ponds in the middle of the night!)  And you know what?  It isn’t even “pretty” here yet.  That will happen when the plants start growing and flowers start blooming.
I know, because I’m not an idiot, that I will have some trying and frustrating moments while I’m teaching here- that just happens no matter where you are.  But right now, I feel like I need to keep pinching myself to understand that this is all real.  I really do get to create my own curriculum, actually enjoy cafeteria food, hang out with decorative fish whenever I want, etc.
And the people!  Today I met 3 of the 4 Chinese teachers with whom Trisha and I share an office: Qing-Qing (I’m spelling her name with my amazing and vast knowledge of Chinese phonetics), Judy, and Emily.  They were so friendly, so chatty, so welcoming.  I can’t wait to get to know them better.  I got to catch up with Sabrina, who I realize now I’ve really missed.  I also met the other 2 foreign teachers: Eric and Ian.  Eric is from L.A. and has a Chinese wife.  They live in an apartment not far from me in the city.  He’s been here for a semester already and has a wealth of information about campus.  Ian is from Canada and appropriately stoic.  He also wields an axe.  Okay, just kidding about the axe, but he is quiet (for now).  He just finished a 2-year stint teaching elementary-age students with special needs in Kuwait (you know, the country whose government recently gave every citizen the equivalent of $3,577 and 14 months of food rations?), and once I force him to open up and be my friend, I think he’ll be full of interesting stories.
And how fun is this?  In early April, the school’s taking the 5 of us on a foreign-teachers-only bonding trip to Old Water Town (Chinese name is something like U Jin?), where Karate Kid was filmed.  O. M. G.  Be still my beating heart.  Probably I should see all of Karate Kid before I go.
Not a problem, since Sabrina, Trisha, and I found the Night Market DVD store tonight.  (Note that it’s called Night Market…)  The man who owns this place is already one of my favorite proprietors here.  For someone who owns…this sort of business, he is a highly scrupulous man.  I found a copy of HP7 (what?! I know!!) and when I tried to buy it, he said no, no Ying!  It wasn’t in English.  When Trisha wanted to buy The Chronicles of Narnia (ha, I know…how old are we?), he pantomimed that the disc might not be good.  He tested it out on his DVD player and determined it wasn’t worthy to be sold because of the poor sound quality.  He actually took it out of circulation.  And then he itemized my receipt so I’d know how much I was paying for everything:
10 discs of 24 x 4RMB:            40RMB.
1 disc of Crazyheart x 9RMB:  9RMB.
1 disc of Black Swan x 6RMB: 6RMB.
For a grand total of 55RMB.  Trisha bought an Adam Sandler movie and all 6 seasons of LOST, which I found hiding behind 8949893 copies of every season of Prison Break.  We are so set for entertainment.
You can see, then, why the title of this blog is what it is.  I left school today feeling so completely happy with what I have, with where I am, with my whole…life situation.  What a gift.  
So I’m totally going to revisit this post on Monday when I get hit with the first spitball. 
Tee hee.


  1. Hi Jenne! Thank you for taking time to be so thorough with your travels! I enjoy keeping up with your everyday adventures. Best of luck to you on your first day of teaching. You will be amazing and the kids will be amazed by you! Please say hello to Trisha – MHS misses you both.


  2. Jen-

    This is fantastic stuff! You're an excellent writer and it's very entertaining reading about your experiences over there.

    I know you've been super busy exploring and getting prepared to start teaching, but do you have any idea when you and Trisha might be able to put together a video I can play on our morning show? I tried e-mailing you, but it bounced back. If you get a chance to e-mail me at work, that would be great. Thanks!

    Alex Walker


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