In response to the request for more pictures, I went into overload….
So my third week in China began, and I had the opportunity to explore Guangzhou.
Following Arsenals defeat to Chelsea late on Sunday night I put myself to bed in a bit of a strop. That’s two arsenal games I have been able to watch here, and they have lost them both. I am starting to blame myself.
Anyway, Monday was another day and another chance to experience the city. For some reason I got it into my head that I should visit museums. So I was a bit of a culture vulture on Monday. The internet was down so I was a little lost for researching places to go. Luckily I had a magazine that had a list of museums (I would probably never volunteer to go to a museum in Torquay or Brighton so I don’t know why I have here). I went to two, and as it turned out they were quite interesting (well one of them was).
The first, the Chen Clang Academy is a Folk Art Museum. I had to queue to get in, which is quite rare because they don’t like queuing here. In fact, I am often not forceful enough with my position in the supermarket and allow people to force their way in front of me (I don’t know the Chinese for ‘get back you inconsiderate little man’). However, once I was in I could appreciate the art but it didn’t really fascinate me, I was more intrigued about the history. Anyway, as I walked around I started taking pictures of various exhibits, and then took more and more pictures. It wasn’t until I left the museum that I realised that I had taken about a dozen pictures of vases. I deleted most of them.
I had probably been in the museum an hour and seen everything, so I moved on a little disappointed. Someone recommended a different place which was a bit more interesting. It was a tomb featuring one of the kings of the province in one of the ancient Chinese dynasties (I think he died in 111bc or something, so pretty old). It was fascinating to see what they found in the tomb and spent quite a lot of time wondering around trying to get my head round how old China is.
As I left this museum I noticed a lot of young people coming out of a building over the road. I was curious about what might be going on, so popped over. I was directed towards the entrance of the building and paid to get in (still unaware of what I was paying for). As I walked in I became immediately confused. There were hundreds of young people (post-pubescent) wondering around clearly quite excited about the Anime comic books and action figures all around. I know that Asian people are generally into their comic books but these people are really fanatical. At the time, I was not aware of what I had stepped into as I had no knowledge of Anime or any of its characters; I actually could have been on a different planet. What was especially strange was that many people were dressed up (which I later found out is known as Cosplay). Many of the people dressed up were incredibly beautiful Chinese women, but I just couldn’t get my head round why they were dressed as dolls/children. Dressing attractive women as children messes with your morals. As I walked around in wonder, and confusion, I noticed that a lot of men were positioning these women into poses that were reminiscent of a comic book picture in order to take photographs. I found this all a little uncomfortable, particularly when one man made a girl dressed in a blue French maids outfit lie on a table with a lollypop in her mouth (she loved it though).
Anyway, I left still confused, but very intrigued about what was going on. As I got back to school I bumped into Iain. I told him about the Anime convention and he got all excited about it as I think he is a big fan (am I missing something?). I offered to take him the next day, so I told him to meet me at 11, and also recruited my friend Benny as he was free the next day.
Later that night I got a text from Zoey asking if I could help her get her stuff up the stairs. As I walked down I noticed she was already waiting outside her room with a fruit, which she called ‘pomelo’. It turns out she didn’t need help at all. Confused once again. I gratefully took the fruit, which is one of the specialities of her home town. Thankfully I took it to my room before eating it because it tasted like very bitter lemon and I only managed one segment.
As Tuesday began I was preparing for the day ahead when someone violently knocked on my door and did so several times. The knocking got harder and faster but the person wasn’t going anywhere (I was on the toilet if you must ask). I eventually got to the door to be greeted by Angel, one of the teachers (I had no idea how she knew where I live, particularly as she doesn’t live in school). She stood with a bag of badminton rackets and repeatedly shouted ‘badminton! , since when was I someone everyone wants to play badminton with?. Anyway, she wouldn’t take no for an answer so I had to let Iain know that I would be late.
I eventually did meet up with Iain and Benny and we went back to the Anime freakshow I was at the day before. Iain in particular was very familiar with all the characters and fascinated by what was going on. As most of the people there were young and in possession of cameras I was subjected to a lot of photographs. At one point there were a number of people waiting to be photographed with me; of course I lapped up the attention and Benny kept saying ‘you’re a star here’, to which I replied ‘yep’ (going to my head much?). I was introduced to many different Anime characters but it all went over my head and I ended up buying Sesame Street DVDs for the school (an Englishman at a Japanese comic festival in China buying American DVDs….global). However, being provided with information about what was going on did mean I became a little less ignorant to the people dressed up, and understand that it probably is still fun when you are 25, even if society says it isn’t.
As we left I was quite keen to see the 5 Goats, the famous landmark of Guangzhou, which is probably the equivalent of the pier in Brighton. We had to climb a ‘mountain’ (just a hill) to get there and it actually was a really good sight. I have learned that it comes from the belief that 5 angels came to Guangzhou on goats many years ago to relieve the city of famine and then the goats turned into stone (something I don’t necessarily believe, but will go along with). I don’t think Iain was too impressed and looked slightly hungry. We were discussing getting some food and I was quite keen to try more Chinese food, especially as we had Benny to help us, but Iain was up for a pizza so we went to Pizza Hut. I think Benny was happy with that as he rarely eats pizza and it is quite new to him. Thankfully this gave me the opportunity to return the favour and pay for his meal. After dinner we had a stroll down the commercial street of the city, Beijing Road, it was very busy…’no I don’t want an Armani Handbag Mr. Streetseller! ‘
The week seemed to be whizzing by, and there didn’t seem to be long time before returning to school. I didn’t really know what to do on the Wednesday, but ended up going into Guangzhou with Zoey. We met at the bus top after lunch and headed about 20 minutes into the city. Her English is not that great so we had a lot of awkward silences, but she has a little translator device to point to when she needs to say something, so we were effectively communicating through pointing at words. We had planned to visit another museum (yes another one), but it looked a little too busy so decided against it. Instead we had a tour around the Opera House, this was spectacular inside but I did not understand a word of the tour guide, just nodding knowingly every now and again. Once we got into the centre of the Opera House I thought that the tour was over. However, out popped a little opera man and his sidekick. Together they sang an opera song in Chinese to us, a very strange experience. I thought I was then to follow Zoey to her old house to help her move some of her belongings back to the school. This was wrong. I got to her old house and was immediately presented with food (which later turned out to be my starter). This was chicken and ducks feet. I have eaten the chicken feet before, but I now know that I was eating them wrong. Before I just chewed on the palms, much like you would do with a drumstick. But this time I was told to put each finger in my mouth individually and bite down on the finger joint. This way I could use my mouth to get all the meet and flavour from every bone (nothing is wasted here). Although they don’t sound like it they were actually really tasty (especially the ducks). What was not so appealing was watching tiny Chinese women crunch on chicken bones and then spitting them out. Anyway, I sat with Zoey and 6 of her friends eating food traditional to her home town, a great experience. Everyone was very keen to practise their English, except one man, who seemed a bit off with me. After dinner he brought a bottle into the room containing something his dad had brewed. He challenged me to have a shot of it but wouldn’t drink it himself (poison?). Anyway I got caught up in the moment and tried it. After that he was nice to me and said I could visit anytime, very confusing. After dinner we returned home, knackered.
Thursday was a bit of a write-off. I woke up with a very swollen ankle; to the point where I couldn’t see my ankle bone. I think I had an allergic reaction to one my many mosquito bites and the walking I did the day before didn’t help much. I spent much of the day trying to reduce the swelling, even going back to Beijing road where I knew there would be a chemist. Thankfully it wasn’t painful enough to stop me playing badminton in the evening. After badminton I was told to meet in the sports hall early the next morning for more badminton (have you ever had the feeling you have played too much badminton in one week?). I ended up emailing TalkSport to tell them I hadn’t seen a UFO in China, they were fascinated.
Following badminton in the morning I met up with two of my friends from the kindergarten, Sally and Claire. These are their English names, several of the children have yet to be given their English names so I hope to name them after who they resemble at home (if I’m allowed). Together we went to a park in the centre of Guangzhou, and close to the 5 goats statue I went to earlier in the week. The two of them are great company and really interesting (Claire is now trying to learn French as well as English). We spent a few hours walking around the park, and they got a bit too enthusiastic about taking pictures; as you can see in the slideshow. After doing quite a bit of walking through the woods, and being destroyed by mosquitoes, we went back to Wonderland. The girls introduced me to one of the restaurants on site, and we were all starving. Sally paid for everything and wouldn’t let me contribute; this seems to happen quite often. Anyway, this was a really good day.
My holiday was over and it was now time to return to school. I must admit that waking up on the Saturday was not fun and I wasn’t happy to be greeted with rain when walking across the square to school. Once I was in and the lessons started it was all ok, and the children had remembered what I taught them the week before (however my lesson plans were scripted with the presumption that they would have forgotten, perhaps I needed a plan B). The day went quite smoothly despite slightly losing my voice as I have discovered that pretending to be a tiger is a good way of making children sit down and listen (yes, I am paid to humiliate myself in front of children). I waved off each child once again; I am not as scary to these children as I was 3 weeks ago. Every day the same little girl is carried out of the school crying by a teacher. Today I asked why she is always upset. It turns out she boards at the school (she’s 2 years old!) as her parents are expecting another child and apparently would prefer a boy (I refuse to believe the last part).
After dinner I was preparing to go home when one of the teachers said I must stay for a meeting. I was a bit nervous about what this would be. As it turned out all of the teachers in the kindergarten were gathered in a classroom waiting for the principals’ arrival. I stood out like a sore thumb (the only white person, the tallest, and the only male). Everyone had a notepad ready so I was tempted to join them, but I knew I was not going to understand what the meeting was about and was surrounded by people so wouldn’t have been able to do ‘pretend writing’ . Thankfully I sat next to a girl who translated some of what was being said. It turns out I am going to karaoke with 40 Chinese women on Friday, I’ll let you know how that turns out. I was grateful that the principal pointed out that the teachers had told her that they are impressed with me, but believe some of the children are a little shocked by the volume and pitch of my voice. The volume I can decrease, but I am not becoming Elmo.
Today, Sunday, has been my hardest day at school so far. I have been teaching on Friday’s timetable (they have some major scheduling issues here) and this means it is all K1 children; that’s one and two year olds to you. When I signed up I was told I would be teaching primary to high school aged children, so this is defiantly a shock. Anyway I have spent the whole day with children who can hardly speak Chinese. In fact, I had to teach one of the girls to say hello in Chinese before I told her what it is in English…I’m sure she went home baffled. As cute as they are, they are also very stressful; many of the children take to me really well and laugh at my face but others are a nightmare. For example, one girl wet herself because she got too excited, and another cried when she saw me, which made several other members of the class cry as well…brilliant. One of the Chinese teachers needed to tell the class that I am human despite the way I look. As a write I have the smell of baby wafting from my hands…time for a shower. However, I was glad the day was over and I can now rest, unless I get a knock asking to play badminton again.
So all-in-all a great week; exploring the sights, meeting new people, eating new food and most importantly no-one sneezed in my face. Have a look at the pictures.