Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mondays can be like this

Ah, today... was a good day that didn't seem at first like it was going to be very good. As I was packing my things this morning, my mom called, rather unexpectedly, to tell me that some company was denied a charge on my credit card and sent a collection notice complete with a $15 fine, also unexpected. The charge was related to the membership fee for the climbing gym, and we did have issues with that last week, but I assumed that they had been resolved. What I was really peeved over was the $15 fee, especially since I'm positive that I wasn't at fault in this situation in any way-- I'd just paid the balance on my card a few days prior, and it was nowhere near topped out to begin with. So my mom said she'd scan the letter to me, and I resolved to take care of it when I got to work.

I left at 8:30 this morning because I just needed to do something other than sleep in from now on. Last week was nice... nowhere to be until 1pm so I remained stubbornly in bed until perhaps 11 every day. But as cozy as that is, it gets old when you're already feeling pretty useless, and so today I went ahead and started volunteering my free time to do random office tasks for Transfair, an organization that I would have liked to had interned for, but whatever. My feeling is that volunteering is similar to interning, if less focused and intensive, but equally unpaid. Also, I've been dying to get to know this org a little better because fair trade is one of those interests that I'd consider pursuing academically and then professionally, out there in future-land. Anyways, the environment there was really nice-- their office space is huge and everyone on the staff was very friendly. I got a fairly menial task, though it was one I could appreciate. But also I got a nice cup of coffee, which had me buzzed etc. for most of the day. I'm headed back in tomorrow and really looking forward to it.

Then, on my way to work, I gave away an 85 cent BART ticket I've had sitting around in my pocket for months, and then made it just in time for the train. I listened to music I enjoyed. The weather was nice.

Once I got up to the library, I tackled the whole creditor issue with every ounce of self-righteousness I could muster. The thing is though, no matter how worked up I get, I can never bring myself to be rude to customer service agents over the phone. This is probably a good thing though. Anyways, I called the company, and the rep said that the charge eventually went through and they already took the fee, which is non-refundable. I was slightly indignant. I mean, if I wrote my card number down correctly and it was copied wrong by others, or if I paid my credit card bill and they denied it anyway, or if someone input the expiration date wrong or whatever, then... the fact that something went wrong has a lot less to do with me than it does with points elsewhere in the system, is that correct? That they arbitrarily charge a fee to the first person they see just seems sort of unfair.

Anyways, I followed that call with one to my card company, who directed me to call customer service at my credit union. Both parties insisted that they saw no attempted charge for the alleged day and made suggestions as to how I should approach the fee-takers. I called back and explained the way I saw the situation, and after two awkwardly long and silent transfers, I got put through to a supervisor who very straightforwardly told me that I had a right to see my money refunded THIS TIME. It was very reliant on the fact that it was the first time anything like this had happened, but I'm assuming it helped that it was probably not my fault in the first place. I'd been sitting in the stairwell at work while this all took place just to avoid making any scenes in front of lunching co-workers, but every once in a while, someone would have to use the stairs, and I just felt awkward having this petty financial dispute on my cell phone in there. But in any case, I fought the Man and won, so what up.

When I picked up the library mail this morning, I was delighted to find my arms just full of stuff. But also, among all that stuff, was a list of labels that I ordered last week, meaning that I could finally complete an odyssey of book-cataloging that I had begun and left incomplete my first day on the job (because I had to wait for the labels). Also, I had two other jobs to keep me busy. So I was fairly busy all day, wrapping and labeling books and other time-consuming things. When the day was almost out, I decided to take a look at the steps in cataloging that involved importing and whatnot with this outrageously stand-offish system that we utilize, and ended up in a battle of wills against that until after the library officially closed. I left about half an hour later tonight, so I figured I might as well stay for the remainder of the lecture going on downstairs, which was a little... random. It was funny cuz I wrote a lot of the planted questions that got asked and was feeling bashful because of it. But also, my questions were not eliciting the interesting answers I thought they would. But whatever

Then I left, had some company on my way to the BART, and after some inexplicable delays in East Bay, got home, ate, and showered. And now I'm here.

So, I actually had something worthy of being tagged "Advice" in this ridiculous blog, but I've forgotten what it was, and now I doubt that I'll even be able to benefit from whatever incredible piece of knowledge it was. Sigh.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Where am I?

So, there have been a few developments recently. While there is still a bit of existential angst in my life, I've decided to grab pretty much everything by the balls and see where that leaves me (hopefully not trampled to death in a gutter somewhere, fingers crossed). Next Monday I start in my new position as library assistant at the WAC. Now, why the title is "assistant" I'm not really sure, since I would basically be the be-all-end-all in terms of who's in charge of the library, if you don't count my superiors, who really just approve stuff and don't have anything to do with the library's day to day functions. Of course, it is only a 20-hr a week gig, and apparently I won't have enough actual library work to keep me occupied all of those hours. So... But anyways, I get paid! And that gives me legitimate impetus to begin searching for an apartment. I was trying to put it off until at least Monday, when I have full use of the library's internet, but I inadvertently started yesterday. Yeah, it's as overwhelming as I thought it would be. I decided to try to get in with a bunch of housemates, since that brings rent down to my level of affordability, but it all depends on how likable I actually am. I e-mailed my two top choices so far, and I'm going to think about the others a little bit. The issue is that I want to wait a week to see where I stand for this job I just applied for and really really want. And also, I'm not interested in moving IMMEDIATELY. Late-feb/early-mar is about the time-frame I'm looking at. And also... dude... it's just a commitment. I mean, DUDE.

So that's where I am right now. gawd that was uninteresting.

While I'm here...

So, I started an entry the week before last to talk about that eventful weekend, and then just let it rot like carrion because I was to lazy to relive the whole thing. Then last weekend occurred, which was also eventful, as far as my weekends go, and you might notice that I haven't written about that one either. Let me just enumerate, for posterity's sake.

--Friday: Was angry at the cleaning lady for placing my shoes on top of my backpack and getting crap all over it. Got over it. Explored San Francisco near the eastern wall of the Presidio. Wandered the Lucasfilm campus, walked along the coast, found the wave organ. Drank champagne at Alice's and slept over. Developed scratchy throat.

--Saturday: Woke up, went to sports basement, went climbing, went back to sports basement, went back to Alice's, went to the sunset, went into a korean restaurant, escaped said restaurant when we discovered that there were no free side dishes, found San Tung, had noodles, headed towards beach, waylaid by Great Stuff store, did not make it to the beach. Scratchier throat.

--Sunday: Climbing at the Pinnacles (only not really for me cuz I'm physically and mentally weak), dinner at eNoodle: real guotie, vinegar at the tables, but beef noodle soup was really weird. Aaand I'm officially sick.

The week passes.

--Saturday: Met Alice after lunch, got on the bus, arrived at Exploratorium, met Yash and Adam, a day Exploring the wonders of our world, got herded out at closing time, balance beam jousting, driving to dinner, looking for parking, Adam's ipod, B44, got tipsy, perhaps I behaved strangely, Muni to Alice's, got my climbing stuff, went home.

--Sunday: Old Navy and Borders. Yeah.

And it's Friday again! I really meant to flesh out a lot of those experiences, but I know myself well enough to admit that that's probably just not going to happen at this point. It's sad because I don't know how to tag this entry now...

For foreign teachers series: The School System

How about I introduce the context and see how it goes?

Go outside around lunch time, and you'll see for yourself just how many students attend the Baotou public school system. If you have a good eye, you'll be able to to tell the Baogang #1 students from the Baotou #5 students by the different track suits each school chooses as their uniform. In some cases, you'll also be able to tell which students are boys and which are girls, and in others, whether they are 3rd years or 1st years. It's a very strictly organized system. However, since Baotou has a lot of schools, it took me a little while to figure that system out.

First of all, there's the nomenclature. Nearly every school in Baotou is referred to by an affiliation, followed by a number, followed by it's level. Schools are numbered in the order that they were founded. For example, Baogang #1 Zhong is the first high school founded in affiliation with the Baogang Steel Corporation. I originally thought that the affiliations were district designations, but that is not the case. I am still not entirely sure how the affiliations came about, though at one point I heard that the Baogang #1 school was originally founded for the children of Baogang employees. If that was ever really the case, it no longer holds-- BG1 accepts students from all walks and all over the country. Meanwhile, there is no specific locus point for schools with the same affiliation-- that is, you could leave one Baogang school and come to a Baotou city school before you see another Baogang school; they are interspersed. In the end though, when you're talking about high schools, locations and affiliations and numerations really don't mean a whole lot.

From my observations, what really runs the system are the schools' rankings. These rankings determine the "quality" of the students at any given school, the amount of tuition the school can demand, and, frankly, the degree of cooperation an extra-curricular teacher might expect from his or her classes, among other things. The rankings, in turn, are determined annually, and are based on the collective gaokao scores of each school's graduating class. Now is as good a time as any to state that the Baotou school system has evolved almost entirely in response to the nationwide college entrance exams, or gaokao. More on those later, but while BG1, BT9, and YJ1 have all been known to claim the title of best in the city, the true distinction goes to whichever one of those schools turned out the best scores on the exam.

Once there is the notion that one school is better than the rest and some schools are better than others, there is also the prestige of having attended one of the elite schools, or "key schools," as they're often called. There is clever saying among parents that I am sorry I can't remember word for word. The gist of it is that once a student has made it into BG1, a good university isn't far away. Not only does the name mean something, but the school is presumed to better equip students to score high on the single most daunting exam that any of them will face in their entire lives.

Therefore, admittance to the key schools is highly selective. In fact, a student's prospective high schools are not determined by anything-- not location, not what schools they've attended in the past-- but their previous academic performance. While it is illegal for schools to exclude students who wish to attend, only high-scoring students are eligible for reduced tuition, and elite educations do not come cheap. Those willing to pay a higher tuition for a better education also understand that they are submitting themselves to a more rigorous curriculum. Meanwhile, low-scoring students find that their choices are rather limited. Though I expect that one could find intelligent and hard-working students throughout the school system, the campuses of Baotou's key schools is where you'll supposedly find the best students in the city.

Ok... that's sort of messy, but I guess that's what a "first draft" is all about.

Next time: School Life

Blast to the Past

On this quiet Friday evening, which I am spending alone and indoors, I'm going to take the cosmic hint and work on that foreign teacher's report I've been putting off for... well, an embarrassing amount of time. Let's revisit the Baotou public schools, shall we?

For the fall semester of 2006, I taught at the Baogang #1 Senior High School, or Baogang Yizhong. Someone at some time attributed to this school the honor of being not only the best in the city, but one of the best in Inner Mongolia and the whole region. It had an acclaimed math and science program, and was working on improving its English program. On the walls near the listening rooms were photographs of smiling foreign teachers from an earlier time.

Spring semester, I taught at Baotou #9 Senior High, or Bao Jiuzhong. This school also claimed to be best in the city, as the students would proudly assert. It's possible that their claim was legitimated with the results of that year's college entrance exam, but I can't be sure. In any case, this school was well-known for its English program and focus on the humanities in general.

In both cases, my class was something of an extracurricular-- students freely signed away their recesses to take part in our non-graded courses, which met once a week. The powers that be recommended that the other teachers and I teach on a rotating schedule, which meant that it could be two to three weeks before I saw any given class again. Classes tended to start out large before exams and other commitments pared them down to a few handfuls of dedicated students.

Ok, so maybe I'll work out the introduction last. In any case, so begins a series on English and the Baotou public schools.