Life has recently been filled with a hectic schedule. So much so that I have found very little time to write about my activities. I am trying my best to catch up on events and will do so with a brief (as brief as I can be) summary of each day in this week.
My current location is Liupanshui, Guizhou. It is here that I will spend a large proportion of my trip during a summer camp. The Rough Guide to China described Liupanshui as ‘the poorest city in China’ in 2002. However, from my experience during my time here it is clear that Liupanshui has been heavily influenced by the new capitalist generation of Chinese people. There are extreme contrasts between rich and poor here. I, however, have slotted straight in with the cities ‘elite’ and dined lavishly every night. This is a rather new experience for me and provoked many thoughts (none of which consisted of hunger).
I also thought it appropriate to mention that in the midst of numerous new experiences, including several nights filled with Moutai (Chinese wine), I have once again become fluent in Chinglish. It is the easiest language to learn and involves abandoning any grammar in your speech. For this reason I apologise if this spreads to my writing.
Since I had arrived n Liupanshui the previous night I was now required to meet with the leaders of the school that I will be working at and discuss the timetable and the ins-and-outs of the summer camp.
My first impressions of the city were a little mixed. Liupanshui is by far the coolest place I have been in China, which made a change from the intense humidity and heat of Guangdong and Guangxi. It is also quite dirty due to the coal industry that formed the foundations of the modern city. However, the city also appears to be very friendly and I have been welcomed everywhere I have been.
Following a meeting with the staff at the school I went for lunch with some of the senior members of the school and the school’s permanent foreign teacher, Ruddy. He is a nice Belgian man but reminded me a little of David from my first spell in Guangzhou. He informed me that there are no more than 9 foreigners in the city of more than 1 million residence. This explains the fascination with me wherever I go.
In fact, the desire to be in my company has been evident throughout the week and my second night in Liupanshui gave me a taster of what was to come. Dina invited me to join her for dinner with a student of hers and the student’s family. We went to an expensive restaurant and shared a luxiourious Chinese meal together. The father was so happy to have a foreigner dine with him that he shared a bottle of red wine he had imported from France with me. Perhaps more importantly (to him) was the bottle of Moutai he also shared with me. This is extra strong Chinese wine at between £100 and £200 a bottle, yet the bottle looks like a bleach bottle. It was an exciting evening and an opportunity to get to know Dina a little more (since she will be my colleague for the next 3 weeks).
We then had to wait until about 1am for the arrival of the other foreign teachers, who I have been asked to lead, to arrive from England for the summer camp. The 3 girls will have their first experience of China in Liupanshui.
When the girls eventually arrived they appeared to be a little disorientated and tired. I was happy to hear some familiar sounding voices. It was almost time to start the summer camp.
So the summer camp began with an early morning opening ceremony. My initial thoughts were that the girls were probably in a bit of a daze as they had slept very little and were positioned onstage in-front of about 100 Chinese faces in a new and unfamiliar country. Still, they coped with it very well.
As part of my role in the camp I had to give a speech to the children and their parents. It was rather cheesey and focused on us building the bond between China and the UK. I felt like a bit of a politician.
The girls were given time to rest in the afternoon. This was just-as-well because the people of Liupanshui really know how to welcome their guests. We were taken in the evening to a traditional Guizhou restaurant serving Lougou. This is a speciality where you cook your own food on a giant frying pan. It’s fair to say all the food was delicious, if not very unhealthy.
There is a strong drinking culture in Liupanshui and this was evident in the amount we were toasted to during the night. It resulted in Oliver, a Chinese man who has become one of my favourite people in the world, drastically improving his spoken English after a beer. Another feature of the night was the anticipation of the arrival of a man they referred to as Number One Bad Boy. This sounded a little scary until a geeky looking man named Steven turned up carrying a turtle. From then on the night was rather unpredictable except for the predictable climax in KTV.
So a very random night ended in KTV. To my surprise Juliette, one of the foreign teachers, had never heard of the Carpenters. She has to learn quickly because no foreigner can go a night in KTV without butchering Yesterday Once More.
Despite the official start of the camp being on the previous day now was the time that we were united with our classes (except I had two classes to teach simultaneously as we were one teacher short at this point). It was then that I found out the contrast between the classes that I would be teaching; one of which were confident English speakers who wanted to know more about culture and the other were little children with basic words mixed with teenage boys who had been forced to be there. It made for an interesting mix.
The nights in Liupanshui were becoming increasingly unpredictable when a local ‘celebrity’ invited us for dinner at a posh restaurant with some ladies that I don’t think he knew. He has a great beard for a chinese man and a rather large gut. We sat around a large table together and he instructed the foreign girls to sit either side of him before taking off his shirt to reveal a tight vest. I couldn’t work out the man. He was clearly very rich as he distributed Chinese Moutai to everyone and performed several toasts before serenading our English friend, Cat, with a Chinese love song. To this day we don’t know the name of the man we spent a large part of the evening with, so we affectionaltely refer to him as beardy man.
Happy Birthday Mum!
The next day as school focused on a singing competition where the children sang a class song in English and introduced themselves. I sympathised a little with the boys in my class but they got on with it.
Naturally the evening wasn’t dull, although it started so. We initially went out for some tea at a local bar. We have an excellent driver whom we have named Simon. He seems to know every place in Liupanshui despite not being able to communicate in any common language. He has become a cult hero in our group.
I, the girls, Dina, Karen and Oliver were joined by the schools principals daughter, Gwen, for tea. Whilst we drank on a balcony we received a phone call from Steven (the Number One Bad Boy) inviting us to KTV. The girls cant get enough of KTV so they jumped at the chance. KTV never disappoints and the beers were back out. Steven loves to test out his drinking opponent, but he has more than met his match with these hardened English people.
As with every plan in China, the timetable for the summer camp changes on a minute-by-minute basis. For this reason we took it upon ourselves to change it before it could be changed. I asked the girls to teach their classes basic instructions for relay races (as the Olympics is closing in on us) and take their class to the square outside of the school. Here all 5 classes met and I explained the rules. The 5 classes performed several relay races against each other in various different methods of transit hop, skip, jump etc.). They children seemed to really enjoy this and even if my classes didn’t win, I did too. We decided to do more activities outside of the classroom timetable to get the children outside and smiling.
We later began to teach them our camp song and dance, Reach for the Stars, which I was not much better than the children at.
In the evening we went to a hot pot restaurant. Hot pots are always popular options in China and consist of putting anything you can find in a pot of boiling water, waiting a few minutes before eating it and repeating the process. I really wish we had a similar food culture.
Later in the evening we went to the people’s square of Liupanshui. I have mentioned on previous trips to China the woman who dance in squares to random songs in sync. However, tonight was the first time that I tried it for myself. We drew a very large crowd and I don’t think the dancing ladies were too happy about it. I left the girls to dance together whilst I found my own spot to make a fool of myself infront of lots of stares. I was joined by Dina, who is fast becoming a close friend, and she took to the dancing naturally. This made me even more conscious of my own two left feet. Still, it was another thing to tick off the list.
We had a great time on the Saturday morning. We gathered all 60 children and began to climb one of the beautiful limestone peaks that dominate the area surrounding the school. In fact, the school view is spectacular when the clouds allow the peaks to be visible.
We climbed the mountain together and spent a lot of time at the top playing games in English and taking lots of photos. The 13 and 14 year old boys in my class had smuggled some beer to the top of the peak and insisted I shared it with them. This is not something I will be doing in England but it provided a nice sense of communion between teacher and students.
In addition the boys had also brought some octopus to the top of the mountain for me to eat. This was followed by a flurry of food from a number of children who gave me food they had brought especially for me and the other foreign teachers.
Following a lot of fun and games we descended the mountain for lunch in the school. Every day we have been provided for and each of us have been enjoying the food. I have been so happy that all the girls have embraced the Chinese culture, food and mentality. It makes life so much easier when people are open to new things.
Following a rather relaxed afternoon at school with some very tired children we had time to freshen up before meeting our final team member, Kayleigh. She had the great task of coming to China alone but was picked up in Guiyang for the journey to Liupanshui. Her arrival was quite momentous as she is the only Blonde member of the group, making her the most visible of all the foreign teachers.
What better way to begin your time in China than dancing with lots of Chinese people to SClub7 in a darkening Guizhou square? ……when you follow it with some beef hot pot. Could life get any better?
So that was it. We now had me, Bethan, Cat, Juliette and Kayliegh to complete a teaching team. Each one of us is incredible different which makes for a wonderful mix of people.
Sunday was scheduled as our rest day, but it was far from it. I don’t blame the schools of Liupanshui taking advantage of 5 foreign faces to promote their school. For this reason we went to a local junor school to help interview children in spoken English. Once again I had to perform a speech, this time a little shorter.
Our reward for using our day off to work came later that day when we were invited to a wedding. This was also a great way for Juliette to spend her birthday. The girls took the opportunity to go shopping for clothes suitable for a wedding (although it later turned out that Guizhou weddings don’t require formal dress from guests).
Once the girls had made themselves even more beautiful we arrived at the wedding to the pleasant surprise of both Groom and Bride. They informed us that they were so pleased for us to come to their wedding as it is unheard of for foreigners to go to a wedding in Liupanshui. There was one condition; we were to dance infront of the guests and I had to say a speech to the bride and groom. Each one was more experiences to add to the collection. We had become celebrities at a Chinese wedding.
The ceremony was a little different from a reception at a British wedding, but the bride and groom dressed in familiar attire. We were seated near the front of the room in full view of the whole event. We were then greeted with some amazing food and welcomed by everyone around. There were many peple waiting in the background for us to finish our food so they could replace us with their meal. The whole event made for a lovely evening and something unforgettable.
It was then time to focus on the birthday girl. Juliettes favourite pastime is fast becoming square dancing, so we did a little more of that. Then, inevitably we ended up in KTV with some more random people and even stranger drinking games. It made for an even better night.
Later, Oliver (what a man!) invited us to a bar with Steven and Simon to end our night without losing our voices singing. Somehow the night escalated in my wearing Simon’s shirt and Cat break dancing on the floor. It was a good end to the week and a great way for Juliette to celebrate her birthday.