Tag Archives: work and travel

English Grading and Chinese Reading

This weekend is Duanwu Jie, better known as the Dragon Boat Festival. We got Thursday off and they moved Friday’s workday to Sunday in order to give people a long weekend (oh China!). Luckily I don’t work on Fridays anyway and so I have a four-day weekend. I couldn’t find any up-to-date information on where the dragon boat races were to be held so I ended up grading essays instead. Yey me. While I was reading through these “Chinglish” papers (though, I’ll admit that by now they are getting much better), one of my students messaged me asking if I had gone on vacation since I’d finished her class’s essays. I politely informed her of the other stacks of essays I had to grade and the upcoming portfolios and exams I had to go through before my vacation truly began. She didn’t seem too concerned about that for some reason. “Poor Steve,” she wrote.

And that got me thinking: I haven’t been reading many normal books as of late. A few months ago I posted that I wanted to read some 24 books this year. Well, I’ve kinda strayed from that goal as my average per month has dropped to about a book a month, if that. On the other hand, as a writing teacher, I have managed to keep up the number of words that I’ve actually read. That is to say, I read some 264 500-word “journals” and 198 800-1200-word essays over the course of the entire semester. Doing the math, that’s 132,000 + 158,400-237,600 words = 290,400-369,600 words every semester. Divide that by 250 words (the average number of words on a page in a printed book) and you get 1161.6 to 1478.1 and then divide that by 250 pages (the average number of pages in a published book) and you get 4.65 to 5.91.

All that is to say that I’ve read an additional 5 or 6 books worth of words each semester that I am a writing teacher. It’s actually larger than that since I teach a couple more writing courses than that but you get the idea. But these aren’t masterpiece books, nono, they’re all “Chinglish” books that I have a honour of reading and correcting and grading. So, I guess, in a manner of speaking, I have or will reach that 24-book number, just not the type of books that I want to read. Oh well, getting paid to read could be worse I guess. (Right?)

But what have I been reading? Currently two other books, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future by Martin Ford and Mary Beard’s SPQR. The first was a rather easy read and enjoyable, though I found some of the parts stretching what seemed reasonable. I often tell my students that they need to support their arguments with hard facts and I know Martin Ford is an expert in his field, but he seemed to be making some large jumps about the idea of a jobless future.

I’ll confess I don’t know much about robotics but the idea that they’ll take over our jobs seems overhyped. What will more likely happen, in my humble opinion, is that humans and robots will work together making us (humans) much more efficient than now, the same way we now work more hours per day but it doesn’t seem like it because technology has made our lives much simpler than even 20 years ago. Moreover, with the rise of robots I’d argue that one of the more important skills we could learn now is how to program robots to work for us. (Though, judging by my attempts to program my Otto on my MacBook, I have a long way to go.) China Daily just published an article about how Chinese companies are looking for people with skills in robotics. Surprisingly, when I showed the article to a few students, none of them pointed back at me and declared that by playing video games in class they are, in fact, building another set of work skills in addition to their multitasking skills. I’ll wait for them to figure that out on their own.

The other, Mary Beard’s SPQR, is also a rather easy read and I garner that it is supposed to be so, given that it’s aimed at the general audience and not the academic audience. The book covers the history of Rome and how it grew over time and held onto to its dominant position for such a long time, starting roughly at 500 BC and going up until the early third century AD. I can say it sure makes it easier than trying to read all of the source materials in their originals (all of the notes and citations are placed at the end for those who are interested) though it does make me think that maybe I should keep up my Latin and ancient Greek reading (yeha… when? After my Chinese lessons?!)

Speaking of Chinese lessons…

You might recall my “brilliant” idea of reading the Chinese newspaper. Well, let’s just that that idea has run its course. My idea to “Jack Bauer” or “James Bond” the Chinese language (that is, pick it up simply by scanning a newspaper or listening to a few spoken sentences) has basically run its course.

I mentioned my idea to another foreign teacher and he kinda looked at me with one of those faces that you give to a student who’s brought a really ambitious essay topic to you or perhaps made a conclusion that, though you can’t argue with at the moment, you just know isn’t going to work out, before he started with that hesitating voice that says “you’re not going to like my answer, but… .” He went on to make the comparison that, in China, newspapers are one of the most advanced types of reading you could do, given that many of the Chinese characters are actually shortened from their originals (of which I cannot provide any examples because, well, I can’t read the newspaper) whereas in much of the Western world the newspaper is one of the more base forms of reading/writing. In contrast, Chinese novels can be rather easy to read while Western novels seem to be a little more difficult.

Not to be daunted, I took my newspaper and my bold idea to my Chinese teacher and she pretty much had the same reaction. Point blank she said it’d be too difficult and “a waste of time.” Like Chinese newspapers, Chinese teachers don’t mince words, I guess. She explained how some of the words are “mashed” together (my explanation, not hers) and so it’s often difficult to tell what they really mean given that they may not show up in the dictionary. In regard to novels, however, she said it depended on what type of novels I read. Fiction would be easier, but anything classical or historical and it would probably be tough.

So what to do? Well, undaunted, though concerned, about what I could actually read, I trumpled down to the language bookstore and lo and behold, found some graded readers that have both the pinyin and the hanzi and a few definitions written in the margins. What’s more, it came with a separate “line reader” that I can use to cover up either the pinyin or hanzi and practice reading. Neat. The book says it contains the first 500 words of whatever but it is part of a series of books that stretches from 500 to 2500 words. So this is my summer challenge.

Reading the pinyin isn't so difficult. It's reading the hanzi and trying to understand the meaning of the passage that is a bit more tough.
Reading the pinyin isn’t so difficult. It’s reading the hanzi and trying to understand the meaning of the passage that is a bit more tough.

All of this takes me back to those days in university where I’d spend hours basically reading the dictionary in an attempt to understand whatever Latin or Greek passage I was working on at the time. What’s more, I realized that I don’t think I’ve ever gone a year without trying to learn some other language. It got me thinking, when does this all end?!

Anyway, the weather’s much hotter and more humid now, low 30Cs and, in my opinion, it seems to be raining more this year than it did last year, which is nice. It’s also been a lot less polluted than last year, making this spring and summer pretty nice so far. Gets me wondering why I’d want to go back to Canada where I know the mosquitos are waiting to eat me alive.

 

An Update on the Progress of Me Learning Chinese

So some of you may be wondering how my Chinese lessons are going. Well, I have yet to start them this semester. It’s hard to believe that it’s already nearing the end of April and I haven’t taken a class yet. Whether it was sickness or meetings, we just haven’t arranged to get together yet. But it’s not like I haven’t been studying and slowly chipping away at the language.

First, however, I believe I will cut down the number of tutoring hours I take from three hours to one and a half hours. One of the reasons for the reduction is that both of my teachers increased their hourly rates. Last semester I paid 70 RMB to one teacher and 100 to another. Well those are now 80 and 120 RMB, respectively. That’s about $15 to $23 CAD an hour for Chinese lessons.  The second reason is that my increased workload this semester doesn’t leave very much flexibility in my and my teachers’ schedules. The third reason, I hope, is that I’ve been picking away at the characters by way of an electronic dictionary I have on my phone. My writing ability has increased substantially so now it’s not so difficult to use a finger to write in a character. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries but usually I’m able to get it. So this has helped me a little bit.

I remember debating with another teacher (who is fluent in Chinese) that there was no way to actually figure out the sound of a Chinese character without being told first. That is to say, unlike English where you can piece together the sound and pronunciation of a word based on your knowledge of the alphabet, there is no real way to do that with Chinese. There are, however, a few different types of Chinese characters (which I’d love to explain but I don’t think I’d do a very good job of it at the moment) and, recently, I’ve begun to recognize one set of them. The set I’ve begun to recognize is known as the character with another “tone character” beside it. So, since I know 会 is hui, “will”, I can figure out that this character, , is also hui. So too with ma, I can also figure out that is also ma. But again, no idea about the tone or its meaning.

(*会 huì means “meeting” but is also used to denote something in the future, such as “I will go”, 我会去 wǒ huì qù. The character uses the fourth/ falling tone. The second character, 绘, means “painting” and also uses the fourth / falling tone, huì. So, their meaning often depends on context. Next, 马 mǎ “horse”, has a third / dipping tone while 玛  is a transliteration of the English sound “ma”, as in “Mary”.)

But those are relatively easy to pick out. Reading Chinese gets tricky, however, when the tonal character changes the tone and the meaning completely, such as 里, 理, 厘, 哩, and, just to make things fun, 童. Those characters, respectively, are  “inside”,  “principle, reason”,  “a fraction of something”,  (the sound value of “lee”), and… tóng “child”. All of them have the same base character but each has a different radical beside it thus changing the tone of the word. Further, the last one I would probably read as li and get it wrong because, as you can see, although the character has the same base character, the radical above it has changed the pronunciation completely.

So this is a very small step in the right direction for reading Chinese, but I understand I still have quite a bit more to go.

Ah, and in a classic example of knowing the sound of a word but not knowing its character, I managed to call that Japanese girl I met in Hong Kong a “hungry foolish person” instead of what I wanted to say, “Japanese person”. The reason for this mistake is because I thought the word for “Japan person” was ri which a lot of times sounds like e “hungry”. Meanwhile, ben “original, native” sounds similar to ben “fool”, but the characters are different: běn is “original, native” but běn is fool. Put them together and I called this girl 饿苯 “hungry fool” and not 日本 “Japanese”. Oh ha ha, chortle chortle ell oh ell. Well, her English was good enough to tell me where to go before she corrected my mistake.

Finally, I mentioned I have been picking away at the language. I recently purchased a copy of William McNaughton’s Reading and Writing Chinese 3rd edition and also loaded Baidu’s dictionary APP “Fanyi” onto my phone. The book is a lengthy tome with about 6,000 characters listed in it, including their tones, stroke order, meanings and other similar words. The dictionary APP is quite neat because it also has a picture and text translator, so I can take a picture, circle an object, and it will give me a translation for it. However, it doesn’t do well with “busy” photos as sometimes it will give some pretty bad translations.

Overall, I can carry on a basic conversation. I can say that my speaking is better than my listening/understanding. I can say what I want but I hope that my fellow interlocutor doesn’t stray from the simple, textbook scripts for if they do… then I’m lost. I should be starting Chinese lessons in May and so that should keep me busy until the summer.

Reading and Writing Chinese

Inside Reading and Writing

Tips for those who want to go backpacking

A lot of folks wonder how I’m able to travel around the world for so long and seemingly “not work.” Full confession: I work. Next full confession, I’ve been known to return to my hometown and live with my parents. Anyway, below are some tips for those who want to go backpacking, take a career break or a gap year, travel long term or simply GTFO. After this, take a look at my Resources for the Working Traveller to get an idea of where you can earn money on the road (hint: just about anywhere.)

Get a job

But no one said it has to be in your hometown, province/state, country or continent. Pumping gas is an abysmal occupation… unless you’re new to the country. Same with driving a taxi… unless you’re new to the country. And then all of a sudden, everything becomes an adventure. A lot of counties have begun offering working holiday visas in an effort to attract cheap labour, er, the money-spending kids, er, I mean, adventurous folks. Whatever the case, Wikipedia has a list of countries that offer the visa. Teach ESL, translate online (or in person), teach scuba diving, or sell your sperm, but if you keep bringing in an income you can keep going. Take surveys online (scam!) or freelance (get ready for months of no income!), just keep the money a comin’ in. I’ve written about working and travelling before.

Save

This is probably the most popular and most boring way to fund your travels. Geez, imagine that, cut your spending and put the money into a savings account (which will accumulate interest until you take it out). The more you save, the less you have to work and/or worry about money while travelling. Of course, once you run out money, if you’re from North America or any developed country, don’t worry, the banking system has created a spectacular device called a credit card…

Credit cards are your frenemies

Use them wisely and you’re rewarded with all kinds of stuff. Abuse them and, well, 20% interest adds up over time. Pick a card that offers points. In Canada, we use Air Miles or Aeroplan, but Choice Rewards also offers some travel perks. Mastercard is generally accepted in most places but you’ll need a Visa card or three in parts of Africa. If you’re savvy, pick one of those low or no-interest rate cards and balance transfer some cashish into your accountish and then set up your checking account or whatever to pay off the balance over the next few months. Hey, it’s how big businesses finance many of their operations, why can’t you?

Pick a cheap destination

If you have an open-ended ticket, you might want to include regions such as South America, SE Asia or Eastern Europe on your itinerary. CHEAP accommodation + CHEAP food = living long time no expensy wensy. If you really want to party in France or dive the Great Barrier Reefer in Australia, then you’ll have to get a fucking job (see above). Or work online.

Travel light

You really don’t need have of the shit you plan on taking. Seriously. A few pairs of gitch, two pairs of shorts (one doubles as a bathing suit), maybe a pair of enclosed shoes (you’ll buy sandals when you’re in a hotter region), hygiene products and maybe a few condoms. Bring a comfortable backpack. I’ve been using the same simply, two piece backpack for the last five years and it’s served me well. Like, really simple, basically a day pack and a larger, two pocket bag. What more do you need? The more you spend, the more pockets you get. Yey.

Some electronics

If you don’t have a big “steal me” camera like the moneyed folk, all the better, you’re less of a target. A simple point-and-shoot camera will capture a lot of the places you’ve been in addition to not costing a lot to replace when you drop it in a Thai bucket. Get a generic mp3 player, cheap headphones, a small laptop, an external harddrive or two, a small camera and you’re set. You’ll probably be able to find adapters as you go. If you can’t, chances are the country doesn’t have the electrical supply to support your wants anyway. You do not need your curling iron and you don’t need all that many books, especially if you have a laptop.

Travel insurance

Yea, some say it’s a scam but it’s good for “just in case.” I got bit by a dog (luckily not a “crazy dog”) in Vietnam. My insurance ended up paying about 75% of my expenses. Granted, I had to pay up front, but I got most of that money back. I suppose it heavily depends on what you’ll be doing. Oh, and insurance doesn’t cover STDs, so do be careful.

Keep a journal

Whether it’s a small notebook or a larger sketch book or even a blog, whatever you do, keep track of what you’ve done, where you’ve been, who you met and what you’ve seen or experience. The temptation with starting a blog is often to try to monetize it which then leads to failure and then complete discouragement. You do not need to keep a blog nor, if you do, do you need to monetize it. You can do the same if not better offline with a pen and paper and maybe a few photos.

That’s all I can think of right now but it should be a pretty good start.

Resources for the Working Traveller

There are plenty of other resources out there, both in print and online, that will help you in your research before you go and on the road as you’re making your way around the world. Further, with the advent of travel blogs, there is even more information out there than before. In just a few years there has been an explosion of research (re: travel blog writing) completed on budget travel and working around the world.

A final note, just because I list something below doesn’t mean I endorse it.

Travel Guides

The Practical Nomad – Written by a travel agent, this sizeable book assembles a plethora of information about working and travelling abroad. The only problem is that the author relies on his sources to tell him about what could happen instead of having done it himself.

What Color is Your Parachute? – Always good to do some career research before you go, or maybe after you return, just to see how you see yourself and what opportunities are there that you might not have thought of just yet.

Work Your Way Around the World – A thorough resource aimed at the general audience. Full of good resources and updated every few years. Also has a companion Teach ESL Around the World.

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to Long Term Travel – Not so much a practical guide as it is a philosophical discussion on travelling. Working is done simply to keep the travels going.

Guide BooksLonely Planet, Let’s Go, Frommer’s, Bradt, and a whole lot more. Although these guides are often dated once they are published, they still provide a good offline resource that can also be used in self-defence.

If you’re looking for some inspiration on travelling and writing about it, I highly recommend you check out my post on travelogues.

If they’re not available at your local library, check Amazon. (Affiliate link!)

Websites

Travel blogs are a great way to research a destination before going. Many are first-hand accounts though some, in an effort to fund their own travels, accept sponsored posts which means they receive payment for writing up a local restaurant, hotel or whatever. Many have affiliate links too.

Expats Blog – probably the most comprehensive directory of travel blogs on the net. Organized by country.
The Working Traveller – An excellent resource for those who want to work and travel abroad.
Teaching Travelling – Hosts interviews and other useful tips for those who want to teach abroad.
The Professional Hobo – Contains a helpful series of interviews with travellers both long-term and short-term.
Art of Adventuring – Aimed at the backpacking crowd, a good resource for
Ytravel Blog – For families that want to know what it’s like to travel the world.
Nomadic Matt – Long-term traveller has written a lot about where he has gone and how he made it happen.
Twenty Something Travel – For female travellers.
Transitions Abroad – What started off as a book of resources is now only a website because it’s become just so immense. One of the best sites out there.
Road Junky – A rather cheeky yet matter-of-fact resource for the modern nomad.
Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum – A good place to research your hopeful destination from the discussion threads.
SEA Backpacker – specific to the southeast Asian region. Also available in print.
Gum Tree – International job listings, house rentals, used goods for sale, etc.
Dave’s ESL – For those wanting to teach ESL abroad. The forum has posts going back quite a few years already.
Doctors Without Borders – For the medical professionals who want to work abroad either for a stipend or volunteer.

Job Resources

Recruiters will be your friend in securing work since they make it easy to arrange a job before you’re even on the ground. By doing so you’ll have the peace of mind of having a pay cheque within a few weeks of arriving. That doesn’t mean you have to get a job right away, but it pays to know your choices as many of the recruiters will help you get your in-country paper work ready (Tax File Number or Social Insurance, etc.)

Australian Harvest Trail Website – Publishes as annual guide on the types of Australian harvest work available year-round.

The Job Shop – Job placement in Australia, mainly in West Australia.
Kelly Services – Office work and other placements around the world.
Talentcor – Ongoing work, manual and administrative in Canada.
Teach Away, Inc. – Places ESL teachers all over the world.
Footprints – Another ESL teacher-placement service.

Visas

If you decided to go abroad and find work you’re going to need the proper papers or else, technically, you’re working illegally. If that doesn’t bother you then you can skip this section, but beware that some countries require you to have an onward ticket before they let you into the country.

Visa HQ – A good first-stop to check whether or not you need a visa for your target country.
Government Websites – The British, USA, Canadian and Australian websites are pretty thorough in their advisories for travellers. However, most governments host their own site advising their citizens of the dangers abroad.
Wikipedia Working Holiday Visa – Due to the communal nature of this online resource there is a page dedicated to the working holiday visa that is regularly updated.

Transportation

cheapoair.com – online discount airfare and hotel.

skyscanner.com – same same as cheapoair.com, but has more international websites.

greyhound.com – North America’s primary bus operator

megabus.com – cheap bus fare for eastern North America

viarail.ca – Canada’s rail network.

Accommodation

trivago.com – for hotels mostly in North America

airbnb.com – the new way to find cheap, local accommodation

hostelworld.com – dorms, single beds, private rooms in hostels around the world. I use this all the time to at least find the places, though I often don’t book ahead simply because I have a hard time finding some of these places.

hotwire.com – find cheap deals on hotels around the world, but you won’t know where the place is until you make the booking.

Resources for the Working Traveller

There are plenty of other resources out there, both in print and online, that will help you in your research before you go and on the road as you’re making your way around the world. Further, with the advent of travel blogs, there is even more information out there than before. In just a few years there has been an explosion of research (re: travel blog writing) completed on budget travel and working around the world.

A final note, just because I list something below doesn’t mean I endorse it.

Travel Guides

The Practical Nomad – Written by a travel agent, this sizeable book assembles a plethora of information about working and travelling abroad. The only problem is that the author relies on his sources to tell him about what could happen instead of having done it himself.

What Color is Your Parachute? – Always good to do some career research before you go, or maybe after you return, just to see how you see yourself and what opportunities are there that you might not have thought of just yet.

Work Your Way Around the World – A thorough resource aimed at the general audience. Full of good resources and updated every few years. Also has a companion Teach ESL Around the World.

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to Long Term Travel – Not so much a practical guide as it is a philosophical discussion on travelling. Working is done simply to keep the travels going.

Guide BooksLonely Planet, Let’s Go, Frommer’s, Bradt, and a whole lot more. Although these guides are often dated once they are published, they still provide a good offline resource that can also be used in self-defence.

If you’re looking for some inspiration on travelling and writing about it, I highly recommend you check out my post on travelogues.

If they’re not available at your local library, check Amazon. (Affiliate link!)

Websites

Travel blogs are a great way to research a destination before going. Many are first-hand accounts though some, in an effort to fund their own travels, accept sponsored posts which means they receive payment for writing up a local restaurant, hotel or whatever. Many have affiliate links too.

Expats Blog – probably the most comprehensive directory of travel blogs on the net. Organized by country.
The Working Traveller – An excellent resource for those who want to work and travel abroad.
Teaching Travelling – Hosts interviews and other useful tips for those who want to teach abroad.
The Professional Hobo – Contains a helpful series of interviews with travellers both long-term and short-term.
Art of Adventuring – Aimed at the backpacking crowd, a good resource for
Ytravel Blog – For families that want to know what it’s like to travel the world.
Nomadic Matt – Long-term traveller has written a lot about where he has gone and how he made it happen.
Twenty Something Travel – For female travellers.
Transitions Abroad – What started off as a book of resources is now only a website because it’s become just so immense. One of the best sites out there.
Road Junky – A rather cheeky yet matter-of-fact resource for the modern nomad.
Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum – A good place to research your hopeful destination from the discussion threads.
SEA Backpacker – specific to the southeast Asian region. Also available in print.
Gum Tree – International job listings, house rentals, used goods for sale, etc.
Dave’s ESL – For those wanting to teach ESL abroad. The forum has posts going back quite a few years already.
Doctors Without Borders – For the medical professionals who want to work abroad either for a stipend or volunteer.

Job Resources

Recruiters will be your friend in securing work since they make it easy to arrange a job before you’re even on the ground. By doing so you’ll have the peace of mind of having a pay cheque within a few weeks of arriving. That doesn’t mean you have to get a job right away, but it pays to know your choices as many of the recruiters will help you get your in-country paper work ready (Tax File Number or Social Insurance, etc.)

Australian Harvest Trail Website – Publishes as annual guide on the types of Australian harvest work available year-round.

The Job Shop – Job placement in Australia, mainly in West Australia.
Kelly Services – Office work and other placements around the world.
Talentcor – Ongoing work, manual and administrative in Canada.
Teach Away, Inc. – Places ESL teachers all over the world.
Footprints – Another ESL teacher-placement service.

Visas

If you decided to go abroad and find work you’re going to need the proper papers or else, technically, you’re working illegally. If that doesn’t bother you then you can skip this section, but beware that some countries require you to have an onward ticket before they let you into the country.

Visa HQ – A good first-stop to check whether or not you need a visa for your target country.
Government Websites – The British, USA, Canadian and Australian websites are pretty thorough in their advisories for travellers. However, most governments host their own site advising their citizens of the dangers abroad.
Wikipedia Working Holiday Visa – Due to the communal nature of this online resource there is a page dedicated to the working holiday visa that is regularly updated.