Wednesday, November 5, 2014

New Plan

So, remember my rant about the Vogon-inspired visa process? The sands ran out of the hourglass on that front; there was just no way the whole process (which takes roughly a month) could be completed in time. The current teacher leaves at the end of term - which is around November 21 - and, naturally, the school wanted a time cushion to make the transition easier. With the mailman continuing to hold my police check hostage and the Chinese embassy still having no idea what I'm talking about when I ask about medical checks, it was looking like it wouldn't be sorted until sometime in mid-December. Needless to say, not an optimal outlook.

And so Plan B was born. Instead of going with a Z visa (which is the work visa), I'll be travelling to China on an L visa (which is a tourist visa). The process for the L visa was fairly simple; I just had to go to the visa centre (in my case, handily located right here in Montreal) and hand in the following:

  • the complete visa application (which included a complete itinerary for my planned visit to China, including all the where, what, and when of travels)

  • printed confirmation of hotel reservations

  • printed receipt for airline tickets

  • a passport sized picture of myself set against a white background

  • my passport

On October 29th, I had my appointment and "fairly" simple turned out to be "ridiculously" simple. My mom drove me downtown and, honestly, I think finding a place to park may have been the hard part. Finding the office with little difficulty, we went and I pressed a button on a touch screen asking the reason for my visit. In customary waiting-room style, a small piece of paper popped out of the nearby printer with a number on it. Miracle of miracles, however, I'd barely sat down when it called. I went up to the window and handed the girl my paperwork. She looked it over and told me that since I'd requested such a lengthy stay - I'd figured I'd be optimisitic and asked for about three months - she'd need to check with the consulate and get approval before moving ahead. As such she had to TBD the time for pick up and - bam! - done. I could leave. 

Like I said, ridiculously simple.

A few hours later, the girl called me on my mom's cell phone (I was at the veterans' hospital painting a pumpkin with my grandfather) and let me know the consulate had already gotten back to them, approving a visa valid for forty days. All I had to do then was write a letter accepting the offered terms and agreeing to amend my trip accordingly. My sister went and picked up the visa yesterday. It cost $96CAD. 

I am now officially leaving for Beijing on Monday, November 10 - just five days away (*gulp*)!

Accordingly, I've moved to include Buffy in my denial binge watching. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Vogons. Stupid, stupid Vogons.

So, Chinese visa. Pretty straight forward process:

  • Step 1: The Chinese employes applies for a work permit license.  It takes 15 working days to process after submitting all the documents, including an original copy of a non-criminal record and a copy of a medical check issued by a medical center and accepted by the Chinese embassy. 
  • Step 2: After getting work permit license, the Chinese employer needs to apply for an authorized invitation letter. The work permit license is necessary in this step. It takes 7 days to get it.
  • Step 3: The Chinese employer delivers the work permit license and authorized invitation letter by express to you once we get them. You can receive both in 3-7 days.
  • Step 4: You apply for a class Z visa at the nearest Chinese Embassy/Consulate, taking along the two certificates sent by the school. It will take one week to get Z visa.
The end. Easy as pie.

Turns out pie is a lot harder to pull off than you'd think.

The first hiccup came with the police check. I got it, no problem - had had it, in fact, for a few weeks so popping it in the mail was no big. Now, I couldn't afford to send it express (the cheapest was $79+tx) so I sent it regular post. On September 25. Last Tuesday (October 14), when it still proved MIA in the mail system, I sent a second one. The mailman hates me. Both are still somewhere in the system, holding the whole delightful process up. Grrr...

The second hiccup came with the medical check. The school says I need the medical check to be a particular form provided by the embassy and filled out by a pre-approved medical centre. No problem. Call the embassy. They tell me I don't need a medical check and thus can provide neither form nor doctor info.  So, I relay this to the school. The school responds by explaining the whole process in detail, telling me the why and how of each step, and reiterate that, yup, they need a medical check carried out with a specific form by a specific medical centre and that the embassy should provide both. So I email the embassy because, hey, maybe I explained it wrong and at least if it's in black-on-white type they can, I dunno, group think the answer or Google translate or something. The embassy emails me back two lines: "You do not need to provide your medical check. Ask your employer for more details." I forwarded this delightful thread to the school's HR chief and screamed into a pillow. *AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!*

So, in exactly one month I need to be standing in my new classroom teaching my batch of munchkins. And my visa process is still stalled on Step 1 thanks to Mr Mailman holding the police check hostage and the medical check being stuck in a bureaucratic logic circle.

Pie. What a bitch.

If you need me, I'll be binge watching Supernatural and ignoring the queasy knot in my stomach.

Monday, October 6, 2014


So, I accepted the offer. I signed the contract. I mailed in the original version of the pain-in-the-butt-to-acquire police check (which, as I stuck it in the envelope, I realized wasn't for the vulnerable sector which worries me but I've stressed that I was mailing the same one I'd scanned and emailed so...we'll see - fingers crossed!). Now, now I wait.

I wait for the national holiday in China to be over. I wait for the school signed version of the contract to be emailed to me. I wait for the principal to get back to me with some more details about what will be my class so I get some more solid plans going. I wait for the school to receive the mailed police check. I wait for them to complete the process that will have the Chinese government sending me an invitation letter I'll need to submit with the other paperwork for my visa. I wait...I wait for things to become real, for it to seem like this is really going to happen.

The start date on the contract is November 10, but of course it's dependent on the visa being processed which in turn depends on the invitation letter being offered. *sigh* Bureaucracy. In the meantime, I've got three avenues of preparation to distract myself with:

AVENUE ONE: Packing!

It's a fun filled juggle between things I need to replace and things that won't be available in China, while keeping in mind airline checked baggage luggage limits and fees. *sigh* Teleportation, when it comes along, is going to be a huge success, guaranteed.

My shopping list so far includes:

  • Three pairs of sneakers
  • Two pairs of jeans
  • Four deodorants
  • Two average sized jars of peanut butter
  • One cheap leather purse
  • Three tubes of curl cream
  • Two canisters of mousse
  • One bottle of shampoo
  • One bottle of conditioner
  • One battery-operated alarm clock
  • One tooth brush
  • One carry-on sized suitcase

My bank account weeps just thinking about it. It comforts me to know my airfare, at least, will be refunded. Eventually.

AVENUE TWO: Lesson Planning

Last week I sent the BC curriculum for kindergarten to Bureau en Gros to print and have coil-bound. It came in just the other day and I plan to go through it with post-its at the ready to make what notes come to mind. My planning generally tends to start with a topic or a theme, something I can use as a connecting thread that will also stimulate and engage the students. Use the topic as a starting point to find books, storybooks usually, I can read to the kiddies and then look to see how I can bring in other learning expectations from the curriculum. It's a process, what can I say?

Unfortunately, before I can really get into the planning, I need to first get a sense of where I'll be starting, which means knowing what's already been covered and how. I've sent an email to the principal asking for that information, and if possible the corresponding plans, but the national holiday currently happening in China means it'll be a bit before I get a response.

AVENUE THREE: Getting to know Beijing

Do you know what moving to London taught me? Getting to know your city is important. It takes time and first-hand experience, but going in lacking the common language and minus anything overtly familiar...yup, it's time to hit the Google.

Which, incidentally, isn't something you can do in China. The Great Firewall of China is the name given to China's internet censorship which blocks access to oodles of North American sites including (and probably not limited to): Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, Blogger, Google, Gmail, and Google Drive. This means no more watching General Hospital on YouTube, no more Facebook chats, no more Pinterest idea pillaging. I'll have to forward my Gmail accounts to my Hotmail, blog via Livejournal instead of Blogger (you might've noticed), chat via Skype, Google via Bing (I refuse to use "Bing" as a verb), and...I have no idea what to do about YouTube but I'm sure I'll figure something out. Fingers crossed.

I've looked into options for home delivery, which has taught me that English interface isn't a priority for Chinese sites. That seems totally unfair for a country that's a global buisness power (nevermind that it was over a billion people speaking and reading Mandarin). I've looked into banking options, which has taught me that transferring money home to my Canadian account will be something of a challenge as China is a little on the paranoid side regarding possible laundering. I've looked into what to expect of an apartment, how to pay for utilities, and what to know about internet service. I even looked into animal rescue options, laws regarding both cat and dog ownership, the price of pet supplies, pet boarding options, and Canadian pet import requirements. Just in case. 

...and, small point, but seeing as how there are 3000 human deaths a year in China caused by rabies, I should probably seriously think about getting vaccinated. *shudder*

On the brighter side, did I mention that chances are high that the school will be finding me an apartment and providing a housing allowance up to ¥6000? They'll also be picking me up at the airport so at least that's two less things to worry about.

Cue sigh of relief here.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Beijing, Round 2

I've had another interview with the Beijing school.The first was with the principal and your usual fare: 
  • What experience do I have teaching kindergarten? 
  • How would I organize a kindergarten classroom?
  • How are my classroom management skills?
  • Why would I be a good addition to their school?
  • What has made me want to work and live in China?
  • What are some of my strengths?
  • What are are some of my weaknesses?
  • How do I feel about parent communication? What would I do to facilitate open dialogue?
  • How do I assess learning? What documentation would I keep?
  • How do I go about planning lessons? 
  • What do I feel is important regarding kindergarten learning?
As the principal explained it, the interview was mean to determine if I had the technical qualifications for the position. If, in her opinion, I did, she'd then pass her notes along to HR and the school's director. 

Well, I had my second interview, this time with both the principal and the director of operations, both of whom are very friendly and personable. It was more about ensuring I had a clear idea of the school and its expectations than anything else. It's a Canadian school that's only in its third year of operation, its student body, currently just over six hundred, kept purposely low. Most of its students are affluent Chinese nationals, looking to learn English and prepare themselves for eventually continuing their education in North America. They're still awaiting licensing from British Columbia and, though they borrow heavily from the B.C. curriculum, they also take elements from Ontario and Nova Scotia and tend towards generalized learning expectations. Like many schools, their goal is to be a part of the community 

In regards to responsibilities, in addition to planning, teaching, and assessment, I'd be expected to volunteer for an hour after school while the kids are participating in various activities waiting for their parents to pick them up.  There's no special needs focus at the school, but they're flexible in terms of differention. Their focus is getting the knowledge downloaded into the kiddies' brains; how I'd go about achieving that goal is open to discussion so long as it's based on the individual needs of the student in question. 

With regards to the students, the two main issues students present are in regards to ESL and discipline. Spoiler Alert: Chinese children speak Mandarin. I know, I know, total surprise, LOL. However, it could prove a challenge when the only English speaking person in the room is the adult trying to teach them. Discipline-wise, most of the kids are only children coming from homes where they're the centre of attention for seven adults (parents, both sets of grandparents, and a nanny). Sharing anything with other children - never mind an adult's attention - is something they have virtually no experience with. Challenging, but not the worst to deal with.

All in all, it sounds very promising.  The school's still growing, still forming itself and finding its own identity. Getting in on something like this while it's still in its infancy, being able to have a hand in influencing its about your once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

Even if it is in Beijing, LOL.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Montreal Comic Con

Comic Con was AMAZING. Pure and simple. On Friday morning, Daddy drove me down to Verdun for 9.30AM and Paula and I got ourselves organized as volunteers. I spent almost the full six hours working at the Photo Ops booth, sitting down while doing the cash. Fifteen hours of volunteering would get me a full refund of my 3-Day Pass so I wanted to get as many hours down as possible right off since none of my OMG MUST SEE events were on Friday. Uncle Peter picked us up at the metro afterward and we returned to the house for hamburgers, chatting, and bed.

On Saturday, in between more volunteer hours and perusing the dealers' room, I went to the Billy Boyd  Q&A at 11.00AM. Big shocker: Billy Boyd is not a tall man. Sadly, whoever had set up the table and stools on stage apparently missed the memo; Billy Boyd literally had to CLIMB his stool to take a seat and then had that delightful facepalm moment when he realized he was too far from the table for it to do him any good. And, also? The organizers had forgotten to provide him with water. Expecting Billy Boyd to talk for nearly an hour sans aqua is not a good idea - there could be no Pippin singing! *snibble* He was hilarious, though, telling about his angst over the remodeled Hobbit feet coming too late to spare him the horror of the LotR model.

I haunted the autograph area afterward, catching glimpses of Danny Glover, Hulk Hogan, Robert Edlund, Karl Urban, and the cast of Star Trek TNG. *sigh* So, so, so cool!

At 13.30PM, I went to the Patrick Stewart Q&A.  He was pure hilarity, right down to his facial expressions. He explained the proper way to address a knight (Sir + FIRST name, not last) and the origin of the Picard Maneuver (Gene Roddenberry loathed seeing the fabric bulge when actors sat and stood and, after Stewart's chiropractor vetoed the original super-tight uniforms, the Picard Maneuver was born as the compromise).

At 16.00PM, I attended the Stephen Amell Q&A which was awesome. More so than the others, it was really fan driven and he was really personable in all his answers.

And then...then came Sunday, the best of the days. Thanks to Mr. Hip, I was second in line for my photo op with Stephen Amell. His rep had requested no handshakes, on account of his hand being strained from training, but he nonetheless offered me his hand to help into the photo area while Paula held my cane. Which, naturally, led to this:

Afterward, Paula and I were first in line to have our picture taken with LeVar Burton. As my cousin put it, the librarian, the teacher, and the Reading Rainbow host...and damn but it made a good photo.

See? What I tell you.

Also, SPOILER ALERT, we then had the pictures autographed. Shocking, I know.

We concluded Comic Con with Karl Urban's Q&A. Now, THERE is a celebrity who knows how to connect with his fans, even shooing off the coordinators reminding him of his time limits. He had a good mix of Lord of the Rings, Almost Human, and Star Trek questions and tried his best to answer them all. He told a hilarious story about pranks (Neutron radiation, ha!) on the set of Star Trek into Darkness When one girl asked for his opinion on rank not being shown on the female uniforms in the new Star Trek franchise, something he'd never noticed, he not only promised to look into it and even request the rank be removed from Bones' uniform if it persisted in the third film, he asked the girl come meet him at his booth following the Q&A for a photo and autograph.

The weekend ended with pizza back at Auntie Eileen and Uncle Peter's with my dad.

Best. Weekend. EVER.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Job Hunting

Blah. Just...blah. Have I mentioned lately (okay, yeah, probably not) how totally, absolutely, completely I loathe the whole job hunting process? I saw this movie the other night - Reading, Writing & Romance with Eric Mabius who, incidentally, I'm really loving in Signed, Sealed, Delivered, probably because he reminds me of The Middleman. But I digress. My point was in Reading, Writing & Romance, Mabius plays this out-of-work actor who agrees to be a substitute English teacher at his old high school while awaiting his big break. He landed the gig because his old high school teacher had become principal and had kept in touch with his parents since his graduation. Needless to say that by the end of the movie he's realized his true passion is teaching, not acting, has been offered (and of course accepted) a permanent position with the school, has thoroughly inspired his students who will all no doubt go on to great success, and, of course, has won the girl and is all set for his happily ever after. He didn't even WANT to be a teacher, for crying out loud!

So, clearly, I'm at that stage where the ease of career success for FICTIONAL CHARACTERS offends me. I'm sure that will bode well.

I've had a couple of interviews. A school board in Alberta interviewed me twice, but ultimately decided to go with another candidate. I signed up for an agency - Seek Teachers - that's basically headhunters for international teaching positions. The process was fairly straight forward:

  • STAGE 1: Submit your CV, build your online profile, submit necessary documents
    This is beyond easy since the website is set up lead you through the step-by-step process, one document at a time
  • STAGE 2: Have interview with assigned consultant
    A little tougher for obvious reasons - it was done literally the day before I flew home via Skype. Basically it was your general interview (What has your experience been like? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your classroom management skills like? etc.) with a getting-to-know-you slant. My consultant, Winney, was friendly, engaging, understanding, informative, honest - everything you could hope for, given the intention. It went very well.
  • STAGE 3: Documents are vetted by the Compliance Team
    Quote: "Your documents have now been sent to our Compliance Team who will ensure you meet our vetting standards.  If there are any documents or information that is still required the Compliance Team or your consultant may be in touch"
  • STAGE 4: Interviews
I had an interview not long afterwards with Eton House Shanghai but...I just don't think they're for me. They were very keen on specific teaching methods and philosophies and, honestly, I could barely keep track of which is which and who is who, let alone all the what and why, while I was in teacher's college, let alone two years down the road.

I have another interview tomorrow night with a school in Beijing. After that, I'll be spending the weekend at Auntie Eileen and Uncle Peter's because, yup, that's right...COMIC CON! *happy dance*

Friday, August 1, 2014

Why I'm Not Flying Air Transat Again

I admit, my second year in London, which featured trips to Madrid and Dublin, a return home for Christmas, and a visit to Warner Brothers' Harry Potter Studios, was beyond sparse on the blog updates.

I came back home to Canada in July, flying into Ottawa where my mom picked me up. I was NOT a fan of the return flight - I flew with Air Transat. Remember Mr Hip? On his account, when I fly, I need to request the seats with more leg room and usually the airlines go out of their way to accommodate this. Air Transat not so much. Let me explain...

On July 4, 2014 I booked my flight from London Gatwick to Dorval Pierre Elliot Trudeau for July 15, 2014 and immediately after booking called to arrange my seat. I explained to the attendant I spoke to about Mr Hip and how it was imperative that I have extra legroom for the almost eight hour flight. (FYI: If my hip spends too long in one position (like, say, sitting) it has a tendency to lock and standing up or walking becomes not only painful but difficult later on. I was given seat 14A as a result and, unlike with any of the other airlines, actually had to pay the extra fees.

On July 14, 2014 - the day before my flight - I followed the email instructions for online booking and found that my seat had changed to 19G. When I called to learn what had happened, the attendant I spoke with couldn't find any reason for the change and the best he could do was change it to a two-seater window seat instead (26K).

During my flight, Mr Hip predictably locked, keeping me in my seat for most of the flight and complicating disembarking on landing. What is more, adding insult to injury, I learned from a friend sitting nearer the front that the person who had ended up with my original seat of 14A switched to be nearer her children.

When I emailed Air Transat, they responded to let me know 14A, as an emergency exit, had to be given to someone physically fit, hence the initial change. They also made sure I understood the blame lay with that first attendant I'd spoken with. They then went ahead with refunding the extra I'd paid, sending it back to the account I'd paid through. Which was not good because, hey, I'd closed that bank account what with coming home and all. I called the airline, got the run around as they transferred me to one department after another, and was finally told to email again. So I emailed.

Two days later the bank called to tell me my closing bank account had funds in it and asking me what to do. Grrrrr.

Air Transat? So not cool. Last - LAST - time I ever fly with them.