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As a note to my beloved friends and family back in Canada: If it's bright out in Canada, likely it's dark out in China. As much as I love hearing from you, please don't forget that China is 15 hours ahead of Edmonton, and 16 hours ahead of Vancouver.

Not that I don't love hearing from my dad, but it might have been nicer if I had been awake when he called!

That being said, I'm awake now. He picked a good time to do it, all things considered. I forced myself to go to bed before midnight for the first time in a while, so I actually got about as much sleep as I usually do anyway.

I've been reading the forums over at Living in China, most specifically the thread on "Do you have a Chinese Name?" Since I've just started my Chinese lessons, I've had more thoughts on this question. I've been told by Lily that my full first name (which is Joanna) is transliterated to mean "Bridge - Peace - That", which instantly makes her giggle. I've thought about telling people here to just call me Anna, since it's easier for them to say, but I'm not really sure of the etiquette of nicknames here. The thread addresses that to some extent, but I'm always so uncomfortable with it. Plus, there's the whole thing where I got rather used to be called by my full name at work, with just my friends calling me various nicknames.

Since I've gone by the nick "Trouble" for... god... almost ten years online now, I thought about taking that as a name. (Considering I have kids whose English names are Ball, Partisan, Orange and Fish, I'm thinking this wouldn't be as odd as it sounds.) However, I don't like the sound of it as much. "Ma Fan." Plus, the characters confuse the heck outta me.

Ah well. The kids call me "Teacher", except the senior students who can actually say my name. I have this one kid who insists on calling me "Miss JoAnNa" (that's how he says it), and I find that rather endearing.

I've also considered trying to find something that has a similar meaning to my given name. It means "Gracious Gift from God". However, having heard the Chinese word for gift many many times in the past two weeks, I don't think I could handle that as a name.

What I find most intimidating is when someone from China asks me to give them an English name. I'm always caught flat footed. First, I don't think there's anything wrong with their Chinese name. (There is something wrong with my tongue that I can't say it.) Second, I'm lacking creativity there. I once ran a game where every female NPC had a variation of the name "Elizabeth", and I didn't notice. So, really, asking me to give you an English name is a very bad idea.

Ah well. I might change my mind sometime in the future, but for now I'm content.

Paul went to a Christmas "meeting" in Nantong on Wednesday, and was climbing the walls from boredom. However, the food was good, or so he tells me.

The reason I'm mentioning this is because he ran into a bunch of people who came over with the same recruiting company he and I both did, and had the same impression: It sucked.

Everything turned out okay in the end, but I found the experience really frustrating. The person who met me at the airport didn't speak a word of English, and I'll tell you that was quite frightening. I kept having visions of being sold on the black market, and trying to explain to my parents several years later what had happened. "Well, I trusted someone who had my name on a piece of paper. Yes, I know that was silly, but the Canadian government saved me, everything's okay now!" The fact that Kris insisted on telling me horror stories of what could happen in China every night before I fell asleep really didn't help with things.

(On the other hand, it also put things in perspective. Could be worse. I could end up as the next Manchurian Candidate.)

My "warm welcome meal" was me, so tired I could barely keep my head up, Donny, and the guy in charge. Guy in charge spent the entire "meal" wandering around the restaurant yelling at the staff. Donny kept me sane, told me what everything was, and assured me that this was all normal. A few jokes about having to sign three year contracts were cracked at my expense, which I might have been able to handle better if I hadn't just spent upteen hours on an uncomfortable airplane. Note to my friends back home who are taller than me: Fly AirCanada.

My promised tourist stops in Beijing never materialized. They weren't even acknowledged by the head of the company, and I was ultimately told by one of the other recruits that their tour guide had "quit recently", so there wasn't going to be any tours. I find it very frustrating because the first thing anyone ever asks me if I mention I was in Beijing was if I saw the Forbidden City. So I've stopped mentioning I've been to Beijing, because all I saw was the hotel.

Third, the school I was supposedly being sent to kept changing every time I talked with the guy. First I was going to a college. Then I was going to an elementary school. Then Paul and I were going to be in the same town, but at different schools. Then Paul was going to be teaching elementary, and I was going to be back in college. *sigh* I thought I was going to go mad, since I hated not knowing what was going to happen.

When trying to get my expert's certificate, I got asked by Lily for my resume. I had spent weeks on the thing, trying to rewrite everything on it to make me look like a great candidate. I had spent another week writing my cover letter, calling up random people I knew to read the thing outloud to them. But the school never got any of this stuff. They didn't get my transcripts, my letters of recommendation, or my passport information. All they got was a photo. It was like they were told, "Eh, she's got a pretty face, hire her."

{Editor's note: I was going to write "She's got great tits and a nice ass, hire her!", after a comment I once got at a bar I was working at, but then I remembered that my parents read this blog.}

So, I hastily rewrote my resume and thanked whatever gods were watching over me that I had brought along copies of my transcripts.

Paul had equally nasty problems, having been told that he didn't need to have gone to college, and not to worry about bringing over any of his stuff from high school. (I guess high school is much different in New Zealand. He didn't get a school leaving certificate, and can't get his transcripts.) The school is having a bitch of a time getting him a visa, I guess. Luckily his initial visa was for three months. Mine was for only a month.

Donny, another guy we met up with in Beijing, was told it was no problem that he wanted to be at a school where he could play soccer all the time. But he was also told he was being "too difficult" when he said he didn't want to go up north.

Well, Paul ran into people in Nantong who had had similar problems. One guy who wanted to go up north was told he was "too difficult" and the company wasn't going to pay for his lodgings in Beijing if he kept up with it, which is why he's in Jiangsu. Another girl was told everything was all lined up, to come on over, and then waited in Beijing for days while she was told the same stories I was.

I wonder how much money he's charging the schools for this "service". It didn't cost us anything except the plane ticket over, and it's not like he saw any of that. *shrug*

Ah well, it all turned out alright in the end. I'm happy with my school, Paul's good with his, and I get Donny's doing quite well for himself in Wuxi. I just wish the beginning had been more related to what I had been promised.

Unrelated to anything, I finally went to the KFC here in town. I've mentioned before that I used to work at KFC, and the smell of the cooking chicken still makes me want to go back to Bubbles in Vegreville and buy more alcohol. I liked Tom before we worked together, but I think getting drunk three or four nights a week to handle working with surly teenagers was what really made our friendship as good as it is.

That all being said, the initial "everyone wants to be here!" thing had finally worn off, so I was able to get served pretty quick. The girl behind the counter got quite flustered and called over one of her coworkers who could speak enough English to tell me what my total cost was, but since it was nicely displayed on the till, I wasn't concerned. They also kept assuring me it would be "very quick". They made the fries fresh, and it all tasted good.

I find ketchup here strange. Not enough spices in it.

But now I have more things for my collection of "gum wrappers, ketchup containers, labels and other weird things from China" that one of my coworkers in Edmonton asked for. So far I've just mailed her the labels from coke bottles and and a few gum wrappers. I'm sure she's regretting this now.

I'm leaving for Shanghai in a few hours, so I should probably get some other things done. I'm determined to have a good time, and there are all sorts of people and groups I intend to hook up with in Shanghai. Besides the Shanghai Bloggers, there's also a group of ex-pats who meet every Saturday morning (or is it Sunday morning? I have to check that out) at a Starbucks there. And I have to tell you all, I'm missing coffee from Starbucks almost as much as I miss Casey's ice cream floats.


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