China: Week 6

Week 6…week 6! It sounds a long time but seems a lot longer. However, this week flew by! It featured pumpkin soup, fits of rage, my first school trip and a casual trip to Hong Kong for the weekend.

Before I go into what has happened in the previous week I must mention Alex Song. I spent over a year putting a bet on him to score first for Arsenal and then he waits until I go to China to decide to get that first goal. What I hope is that someone realised that I wasn’t able to place a bet and has been doing it for me? Whoever it is, feel free to keep 50%.

As for this week, it started with me as a very tired young man (as is becoming a routine for mondays). I had arrived in the early hours on monday morning and was required to attend school by 7.30. After my morning lessons, which i got through without nodding off, I went for a little sleep before the afternoon. I could afford to miss lunch after being stuffed full of food over the previous weekend.

After school I usually stay around to eat dinner with the teachers and some of the left-over children. On monday I was invited into a classroom with one of the older teachers and the other teacher in her class. This woman is part of the furniture here, both feared and respected by the other teachers. I think shes lovely. The three of us sat down for dinner in the classroom at 6pm and didnt leave the classroom until 9pm. I had intended to go straight to bed after school but the coversation in the classroom was far too interesting to pass-up on. Mrs Li (or Stacey) knows everything about China and Chinese culture, both of which I am incredibly interested in. What she doesnt know about is anything outside of China. so, via translation from the third teacher, we exchanged knowledge. She told me about everything she had been through as China has been delveloping and her views, some of which we would deem controversial, on politics and race. In return I told her what language they speak in Spain and that Diana was not the Queen. I was amazed that such an intelligent and socially aware woman could be so ignorant about happenings outside of China. The conversation was definatly worth sacrificing the early night I craved though.

Despite this, I woke up overly energetic on the tuesday morning and really enjoyed my english morning, perhaps more than the children. Everytime I perform an english morning there is one child (you may recall from the sneeze in face incident) who continuisly hits me on the backside, which can get fustrating during ‘I am the Music Man’ as I am not a piano. I have attached a photo of this boy, James, and I think you can tell he is a naughty boy just from the picture.

I continued to feel engergetic as school was drawing to a close so asked the P.E teacher if I could borrow a football. She gave me one and I was a little excited about kicking a football, perhaps a little too excited. I quickly rushed down my dinner and called for Iain as he said he would be up for a kick about. It was important that we got going quickly as darkness comes early and suddenly now. We soon realised that football isnt the same with 2 people so actively seeked children to play with. We ended up playing against a class of primary school children, who basically play like drunk midgets. I was so relieved to finally kick a ball, it was a welcome bit of escapism from chinese culture.

However, wednesday I plunged back into being a Chinaman. After school I was invited by Angel (who refers to herself as my Chinese mother) to her house. For some reason she does not live in the school, but her house is beautiful. I did not really know why I was invited to her house (and was no wiser after leaving) but it was nice of her nonetheless. Of course I took my trusty sidekick Zoey with me. We spent the evening drinking chinese tea (honestly litres of it) and eating pumpkin soup and moon cake. Halloween is only just becoming popular here so the timing of pumpkin soup was nothing but a coincidence. Angel put her television on in the background, trying to be a good host. Since she couldnt find the english channel (which I was quite glad about as its just about the stock exchange) she left it on the football; China U16s vs UAE u16s, I had to look interested.

After a pleasant evening with Angel, myself and Zoey went back to our dorms. The weather is quite a lot colder now and long trousers are need. On the short walk back I noticed that I felt cold for the first time, quite an alien feeling.

Thursday morning was even colder than the previous night and many of the children wore gloves and scarves (bit extreme but I guess this is realy cold to them). Once again it was my english morning which I am genuinely beginning to enjoy. In the first few weeks I was dreading the english mornings but now it fits nicely into the routine and I dont really have to plan much as the children know the songs. It was this morning that I went on my first school trip (albeit over the road to collect leaves). Myself and another teacher took the children over the road to collect leaves, presumably to draw. It was good, although I had to keep my eye on James as he probably would throw himself into the road for some attention. The trip was good fun, even if it did run into one of my precious free periods.

At lunch I have two options: either to eat in the kindegarten with the teachers or go to the other school canteen and hope to bump into one of the other foreign teachers. This week I seemed to bump into Iain quite a lot at lunch. We discussed a possible trip to Hong Kong and decided there was nothing to hold us back. However, one of these lunchs revealed a part of his charector that I didnt expect, anger. I sat with him over lunch discussing our morning lessons when he suddenly got all flustered and started shouting ‘I hate them! I hate them!’ (in reference to the school children), he then preceeded to thump the table. I was a little embaressed as there were several chinese teachers on the tables around us. So embaressed that I raised my hand in apology, which may have made it look like I was the one who thumped the table or the one who made him angry. Anyway this side to his charector was suprising, but made him an interesting subject (still a nice bloke though).

Friday has often been the day that I least enjoy as the children are so young, but this week was totally different. In fact only one child in the whole year cried during my lesson. When she began to cry her teacher suggested I should hug the girl. I wanted to say ‘thats just going to make her cry more considering she is terrified of me’ but didnt and gave her a bear hug. she then screamed and tantrumed…thanks teacher. Other than that the lessons went very well, seeing if they can decide if they are a boy or a girl. Generally the children understood and could respond ‘i am a boy’ or ‘I am a girl’ correctly. However, one girl was so insistant that she was a boy that she refused to even point to the picture of a girl. It got to the point where I guessed she would discover herself one day.

In the evening I planned for an early night as I would be leaving early for Hong Kong. But instead I decided to clean my apartment. It hadnt been cleaned for years and there was definatly something living in the mop. But it was a pretty uneventful friday night as the last few go. I was very excited about Hong Kong.

Myself and Iain got up very early for the train. In comparison to the train that I took the previous week it was like travelling first class.In fact it was very much like an airplane in terms of seats and leg room. To think only a week before I was trying to sleep under wooden seats I couldn’t believe I was in the same country. As a result the journey went very quickly and smoothly.

Once we arrived in Hong Kong it seems that customs desire to fill up everyones passports with stamps. I have 2 pages of stamps from my two trips to Hong Kong which look impressive but take up a lot of passport room. However, that is the only bad thing about Hong Kong (other than its prices).

Once we were out of the train station it became clear that the two of us were in Hong Kong for very different reasons. Iain was intent on taking advantage of the many electronic stores whereas I was intending to be a shameless tourist. It was clear that comprimise was needed, which I was more than happy with. However I decided that it would be wise to find accomadation before we do anything else.

As we walked about I popped into random hostels asking for rooms, but they all seemed to be out of our price range. When I asked each one for directions to a cheaper hostel they always sent me to a place more expensive than theirs (business I suppose). As we sat for lunch I asked a waitress where we should go and she directed us to a place quite close. It was called Lucky House and featured 7 stories of beds. It was dirty, run down and slightly out of town; which must mean it was cheap. As it turned out it was (by Hong Kong standards anyway). We dropped our stuff off and began exploring Hong Kong.

I soon realised that I would have to be assertive if we were to get anything done so got a map and planned our weekend. I was quite keen to see the victoria peak, and since darkness would soon be coming I guessed it would be the perfect time to go there. I was quite suprised that I was able to follow the map and get to he right location, to the point of smugness. We queued for about an hour and then got a tram to the top of the peak. We then got a view of Hong Kong in the darkness from the top. The view was actually breathtaking (once again my camera doesnt live up). I actually couldnt take it all in, and still cant believe it.

Once we had been there a while we were getting hungry we decided to head down and get some food. As we passed an American diner I hoped Iain wouldnt see it…he did. I didnt want to object to eating there as he had come with me to a destination that I intended to visit. It wasn’t quite a Hong Kong delicacy but it was quite tasty nonetheless. we then retreated to Nathan Road (one of the long streets on the over side of the river) and looked in a few shops. On this road was a nice Irish bar, it was suggested that we have a beer, which I accepted (knowing full well that the Arsenal game was about to kick off…lucky me :p).

Once the game finished we made our way back to the apartment and put our heads down, knowing that the sunday will be a busy one.

That morning I woke up very early and started planning our day on the map (hoping/assuming Iain would agree with it). Fortunatly it seemed to include various tourist attractions with ample time for shopping, perfect. The first task was to walk to the waterfront, which is very much like what I imagine the view of the Sydney Opera House looks like. It was another jaw dropping sight and seemed a perfect day for it. We were also able to see the Avenue of the Stars (hand prints of Bruce Lee, Jet Li and Jackie Chan were all I recognised).

The next stop was my main request for the weekend (and also the one that was the hardest to get to). This was the giant Buddha. In order to get there we had to get a ferry to Hong Kong Island and then another ferry to take us 45 minutes to Lantau island. Once we arrived it soon became apparent that the Buddha wasn’t the first thing that greeted us on the island (as I ignorantly expected). Instead we had to get a bus to the Buddha location at a cost of $27 (about £2.50). As we sat on the bus Iain realised that niether of us had brought enough money for the bus or ferry back. I told him theres always a way back but I sensed from the atmosphere that Iain was getting a little stressed to stayed relatively quiet for the majority of the 30 mintue bus ride.

Once we arrived the Buddha dominated the view, which was again a spectatular sight. I decided to worry about the money issue later, but I knew it was playing on Iains mind (particularly when he suggested that he would ‘squash the bus drivers head’ if he refused to let him back on the bus; scary but also very funny).

I just found it amazing how such a large bronze statue could be put at such a height on such a romote island. I was amazed and baffled. But there is only so long you can stare at a buddha so we decided to head back. We pieced together the money we had and I then approached the bus driver asking if we could hop on a few dollers short, ‘of course’ was the response…of course it was.

After the bus journey we then had to get the ferry (with no money?). We got dropped off at 14:01 only to discover the ferry had left at 14:00; cue Iains next bout of rage, I love this guy! In fact I cant believe God could have created two such different people and put them on a romote island just outside Hong Kong together. As it turned out there was an ATM close by and we didnt have to wait too long for the next ferry. why panic?

The plan that I had made in the morning saw the next stop as another tourist destination, which, as it was getting late, seemed a bit unfair as we had done very little shopping. For this reason we then went around several stores looking for games and books. I have become a little bit obsessed with China and found myself reading many of the books on culture. I’m a bit wierd. What was most impressive about our shopping trip was that one store sold deoderant! at last!

We planned to get the last train to Guangzhou so made our way accross the river and walked along the promenade. At sunset this view was even better than the morning. I had had a really interesting time in Hong Kong but two days is not nearly enough to see it all. I shall be returning in the near future (providing they don’t keep stamping my passport).

As for the journey home, it was as smooth as the first. The weekend was a success and even featured a little bit of a problem on Lantau Island to create a real ‘adventure’.

ps. thanks for all your advice and comments, I have been reading even though I seem to be too rude to reply.
Thanks for the information on a contact Suse, unfortuatly I can’t access facebook though.

China: Week 5

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I am once again late with my post. I believe this may become more frequent as I now have a residence permit and plan to use it as much as possible. For example, I am currently planning to pop to Hong Kong for the weekend (couldn’t believe I said that earlier).

Anyway, Week 5 has been as eventful and eye-opening as the rest. However, I do feel I have become more familiar with the Chinese way since I have been here. The mistakes that I made in the first week seem laughable now, but good experiences nonetheless.

I am very much in the routine of school now, 5 days a week just as you would expect. In fact, time has flown by since we have got back into a normal routine, the odd 7 day stints meant time seemed to stand still. I actually cannot believe I have only been here 5 weeks.

Monday was a strange day. As I mentioned before I woke up with a very red and sore bite on my wrist. To tell the truth I was a little worried about it as I was incredibly lethargic and under the weather. I didn’t want the school to know this though as I need to save my sick days for the inevitable winter man-flu. However, the school doctor was a bit concerned about how the bite had risen up my arm so sent me to the GP. This doctor gave me some drugs and sent me away. There was definitely a possibility for a comedy sketch from my meeting with the doctor. I could only speak english and she only chinese so to describe what was wrong involved me impersonating various animals…namely snakes and mosquitos.

Aside from thinking about my imminent death, I was required to teach. Thankfully on Mondays I only have 3 lessons and these went very well. I have been given some books to read the children as my english pronunciation is better than the teachers but I have avoided using this as yet as my method of controlling toddlers is by playing games and I am not so sure I can do that at storytime. Next week….

After rubbing various lotions into my wrist(basically making a big deal out of it to get some attention), I put myself to bed. I am required to lead the English mornings on Tuesdays so set my alarm earlier so I could organise it. I was feeling much better by the end of the day and now believe my lethargy could have been put down to the oodles of alcohol consumed on the friday night or the lack of water over the following two days.

In fact, the english morning went very well. How Much is that Doggy in the Window is proving a big Hit even if they don’t know what it means (wafting behind my bum at ‘the one with the waggly tail’ gets some odd looks from the teachers). As I’ve got to know many of the children now and through understanding, their personality, their temperament and their ability in English I am able to build good relationships with them.

The rest of the day went well and at the end I was approached by Zoey in to office with her nifty translator device. She passed it to me and it asked if she could ‘entertain’ me. At the time I wasn’t sure what this meant but took her up on the offer. As it turned out she had just got a bonus from the school and wanted to treat me to dinner. As a result we went to the local restaurant, which I love!. As we sat down and ordered our food I was greeted with one of the children that I taught that day. He sat with us for a while and I was really impressed with his commitment to speaking English away from school (he’s only 4!). Also, I have found myself quite offended when offered a knife and fork and really want to master chopsticks. Anyway the food was really nice as per usual.

In addition to Zoey I am also in close quarters to the P.E teacher in the office. She has bee attending some of my lessons in her free periods to try to learn some english and is taking it very seriously. Each day we exchange homework, english for her, chinese for me. She’s succeeding a lot better than me. Most people her have English names so I felt it is only right that I get a chinese name. The P.E teacher has named me Táo Tāo, which some people call me instead of Todd (as its easier to say) and others know me exclusively as Táo Tāo.

As you can probably tell, weekdays are very much a routine; wake up, english morning, teach, say goodbye, eat, play badminton/socialise, plan lessons and go to bed.

In fact Wednesday began in much the same way. I enjoy Wednesdays because the children are my favourite (is that allowed?). Anyway the school day ended and I arranged to meet one of my friends from the very first week in Guangzhou, Panadol (I don’t know where she got this ‘English’ name). Anyway, I met her at a Metro Station that I was unfamiliar with, but it turned out that it was te very place that I first stepped in Guangzhou, and now it seemed so different. We went to her local fruitdrink bar where we sat with the manager and one of his barstaff. These people were the best chinese english speakers I have met and were actually able to understand english and not just speak english (I realise that makes no sense, but if you can imagine no one getting any of your jokes for 5 weeks it is a relief when someone finally responds with an emotion other than confusion). It was a nice night and I will defiantly be returning for another Kiwi drink. (I do realise I write a lot about food and drink, but everything involves food here).

I didn’t have any plans for Thursday so when Claire asked me to help her with her English homework I was more than happy to help. What I didn’t know is that it was on linguistics (hardly a topic I am familiar with). She had to know about morphology, phonetics, syntax and semantics (don’t ask) as well as the sociological, psychological and historical implications of each. I did my best and actually found it interesting but don’t think she really understood what it was all about. Claire is a great english speaker but not fluent and I felt a little sorry for her. This book was for a native english speaker.

I stayed in her classroom for a couple of hours and it turned out she needed to go to Hunan Province to take her test and would be going with Sally, who coincidently had a driving test in the same city the following day. They invited me along. I had no plans for the weekend and having the opportunity to see more of China was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I jumped at the chance.

So friday came quickly and I was very excited about my weekend trip. In fact I spent my lunchtime looking for a suitable backpack. As it turns out the one I bought now has a broken zip (that will teach me for buying a £3 bag). After school had finished Sally and Claire told me to meet them at their dorm at 8pm…so I went back to mine with the view of getting some much-needed sleep.

As 8pm approached I packed my bag, worried I hadn’t packed enough and headed to their dorm. Once I had knocked on their door I was greeted by Sisi (one of the other young teachers). She told me wait as the girls had gone out briefly. The chinese really do have issues when it comes to time keeping and schedule changes. I didn’t have to wait long though and was force-fed fed grapes as I did. There are several aspects of the chinese culture that I have yet to get my head round, and their fear of illness is one of them. This is evident in the way they eat grapes. I just shove them in my mouth but they peel the skin with their hands before eating them (which I consider to be more of a health risk, but I’m not a doctor).

Eventually we left for Hunan. I was aware that it would be 9 hours but considered it a little adventure. Once we did get to the train station the trains were lined up and I thought I was in 1940’s England. The trains are not dissimilar from the once I imagine evacuees were taken on in the war, but they are extremely fast. We found our seats and I was loving the train. It was jammed full of people of all ages with lots of smoking, eating, singing and card games etc. It was just as you imagine. I was getting stared at a lot, which I think had something to do with the class of people on the coach. These tickets cost the equivalent of £5 and takes 9 hours, but a superfast subway train costs £30 and takes 2.5 hours. So I guessed that these people had not had much contact with foreigners before (not that I am stereotyping at all).

To begin with the train was fantastic but as the time moved on and tiredness set in it got a bit frustrating. The three of us were taking it in turns to sit in the comfortable seats and sleep, whilst the other two slept on each other. At about 1.30am one of the ticket inspectors started shouting up and down the carriage on a megaphone trying to sell some chinese medicine. In truth I didn’t like this but people were laying up the lotion, maybe I should have bought some.

We eventually did get to Changsha in Hunan and the difference was immediately evident. The first thing I noticed was the climate as it was much colder than Guangzhou. On a map of China this trip looks insignificant but it’s about the equivalent of driving to Germany so you can imagine the difference in culture, diet, language and tradition. I was, however, quite pleased that we had travelled through the night as we did not need to find a hotel.

The first thins the girls wanted to do was find something to eat. “do you like noodles for Breakfast?” I was asked. I did not want to respond “not particularly” as I am trying my best to be open-minded so I acted as if I always eat noodles for breakfast. As we sat down Claire and Sally warned me that Hunan is famous for its spice and everything is hot (I was defiantly going to lose man points this weekend). This included my breakfast; noodles, beef and jalapeno…great.

Once we had finished we took a short bus journey to Sally’s old university campus (where Claires test was taking place). Here we booked into a hotel and got a couple of hours sleep before lunch. We then met up with Sally’s old classmates at the university dorms. They were aware that we were coming and had cooked us a feast (with lots of chilli). I had previously made the mistake of telling the girls I am not good with hot food so I now found myself being challenged to eat various chillies, to their delight. </a

There was one lad in the group who was a bit wary of me to begin with, I was told he was ‘pursuing’ Sally. But we later hit it off really well, even though he spoke no english. He only knows me as Táo Tāo. In fact, he didnt even have an English name. Once we allowed Claire to go to her exam I took a bus with the lad, Sally and another friend. During this time I was asked to give him an English name. I was trying to match him up with someone at home, and it was easy. He was childish, attention seeking and loveable…so I named him Jamie. He loved it and became even more childish and attention seeking. I was suddenly his best friend.

The four of us had a really good day in the city and spent a brief time in a boat on a lake. I get on really well with Sally and she’s very laid back (but also a poser). Every where I have been so far I have been welcomed so I always feel safe. There is a big difference in the generations here. China seems to be producing English speakers from universities, but people over 30 have little or no knowledge of english. It is defiantly developing into an important language here.

All in all it had been a great day. But what was a little strange is that constant food I was given. There seems to be several local delicacies there and I wanted to try them all but my stomach has a limit. First there was milk with coconut bean (or something) then tofu (basically what I ate in Guangzhou but dipped in Chilli powder), the chestnuts and even popcorn (i don’t think that was a local delicacy). All of this lead me to reluctantly tell them “Wo bow la” meaning “I am full”. But we inevitably ended up at a restaurant to eat more spice and rice.

Having got a full nights sleep it was now Claires turn to play host as Sally had her exam. She was intent on showing me her university. I guess i may have been the same if foreigner came to Brighton but I wasnt too impressed by a building containing 300 piano (not that I am ungrateful :P). We then headed to the Old town and met up with Claires old friend. This girl, Linda had the brightest eyes I have seen on a Chinese person. I was a little fascinated by them, to the point where it may have been percieved as flirtatious. It was a great choice of location as it was full of tradition and history, but in a different way to that of Guangzhou.

One of our tasks for the day was to buy the train tickets home. As we had work the next day we planned to pay a little bit extra for beds on the night train. However it turned out there were no beds or seats on the long train so we had to consider the fast subway as an option.Secretly this was my preference as I knew that I would then be home for the Arsenal game and was willing to pay the extra £20 for it. I left Claire in charge of this as she could talk the lingo. But she returned with 3 standing tickets on the slow train for double to price of a seated ticket (I have no idea how she managed that). Not one to complain I went along with it. As it turns out my desire for the subway was very selfish. During quite a deep conversation Claire told me that her father had left her at a young age and that her mother had to raise her and her brother alone. She is from a farming family and her mother now looks after the farm. She also told me that she gives half of her wages to her brother. So I can really sympathise with her reluctance to spend extra money on a train journey.

The day went really well, but I was once again force-fed, to the point where it was frustrating. Straight after lunch I was bought some tofu despite removing myself from the queue in te hope I would be forgotten about. I was soon greeted by Linda with ‘This is for you’….brilliant. We then went and got some sweet dough balls, which would have been delicious had I not eaten twice my body weight already. But I couldn’t really turn down eating food I would never have the option to eat again.

A really good weekend was drawing to a close and tiredness was also creeping up on me. Over the two days I had done a lot of walking, which was made harder by trying to be a gentleman; most of the sunday I carried Claire and Sally’s luggage as well as food bought for the trip back (which included a french stick that we both knew would never get eaten).

The train back was quite eventful. Firstly, we were split up in order to fit on the train. Never has the phrase ‘packed in like sardines’ been so apt. I found myself in the smoking area of the train next to a drunk man. unfortunately I only had the girls luggage and a duck (yes you read that right). After a couple of stops there was enough room to move and we found each other. As it got late into the night I was getting tired and wanted to rest. I sat on the floor and Claire looked at me in horror: “it is not our custom” she said. I then noticed that no one was sitting on the floor of the train. What!?!?. After a while I slyly crawled under some sleeping passengers and slept on the floor underneath their seats…a bit dirty but dirt never hurt anyone did it? After 9 very long hours we got back to Guangzhou and I really got a feeling of being at home, which I never expected. It was 4.30am and school was at 7. It was time for bed.

The weeks defiantly focus around the weekends, but all in all a very exciting week.

ps. this song is huge here, bit slow but thought you might want to listen to some chinese pop (I love it :P)…

* also I am aware that only a few people are aware I write this. During my weekend I discovered this painting, which looks unnervingly like sean. Could somebody facebook inbox him as I told him I would stay in contact and havent since, and also want him to see this picture (James, Sophie or Fran?). If a link could also be sent to people who may be interested at uni i’d be greatful…housemates etc (I have noticed that some people who showed an interest in my trip before I left have not been made aware of this. Cheers

China: Week 4

Apologies for not sticking to the Sunday routine, I was too tired to post anything last night.

Anyway, I have now been in China a month now and I am getting used to eating a bowl of rice twice a day and everything else that is different here. In fact, I love that nothing is the same here.

I had to work quite hard this week as it was a 7 day school week once again. A lot of the week was geared towards Friday; Parents Day.  All of the teachers were dreading this day and in preparation they were training their children how to act on the day (basically cheating). Unfortunately for me, I do not stay within one particular class so I couldn’t practice my parents’ lessons beforehand. Instead I decided to observe some of the classes that I would be teaching on the Friday, but this made me more scared.

Thankfully many of the little children are warming to me. There is one particular little girl who will run 40mph towards me when she sees me, so I try not to make eye-contact first thing in the morning. However, my lessons seem to be relentlessly energetic and I end the day extremely tired (there’s lots of boys who want flying lessons in the class room).  Therefore when Tuesday night came I was prepared to go home and have an early night. But up pops Angel (badminton lady) and asks me to join some of the girls for dinner (I had already eaten and they knew it).  They wouldn’t take no for an answer so I took a short walk with no money to a restaurant. Despite being full I wasn’t rude enough to turn down free food, plus everything here is delicious even if I don’t know where the meat comes from. At one point one of the girls told me that there were conversations in 3 different languages happening at the table and that she only understood two of them.  People are teaching me bits and pieces of a language, but I am still unsure which language I am being taught as everyone speaks Mandarin but the language of Guangzhou is Cantonese. I have been told my Cantonese pronunciation is better than my Mandarin, but I can’t really tell the difference.

I was glad that I went for the meal in the end. However, it can be very frustrating when I know that people around the table are talking about me in a language I don’t understand. I am thinking about filing a sexual harassment claim (does that count as sexual harassment?).

Wednesday came, and the lessons went very well. I am teaching the older children body parts, which they find really enjoyable I think. Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes works well. To my surprise one of my lessons was filmed. Apparently the school website uploads one video per month to show the parents. I will try to get hold of the video so I can post it on here. The school seem to make sure parents know that foriegn teachers exist in the school. I think the school is quite expensive to attend so it is important the school shows the parents they are doing their best. I have never been used as a marketing tool before.

After school had finished and as I was waving off the children Tony appeared. He admitted that he only came to the school because he was in need of an English conversation. Therefore, after a brief game of badminton with several of the teachers in the playground (they are mad for it) we recruited David, bloke from New Zealand, and went for a pint. David is another foreign teacher but keeps himself to himself. I think he must be in his late 40’s and has a Chinese girlfriend. We didn’t go very far to get to the bar but I have never loved the taste of a cold beer so much. As nice as it was to have a beer and talk real English, the conversation got a bit cringe and I kept out of most of it. It appears that Tony has been very successful in setting up his own business in China, which means he has achieved what David wants to do. As a result David got a bit too excited about ‘tapping into the olive oil market’.

As Friday loomed I was very afraid of the classes I would have to teach in front of the parents. Unfortunately I have two year olds all day on Fridays, many of whom are capable of crying at any moment. For this reason I decided to go shopping in one of my free periods to get a hand-puppet (surely it would be less intimidating than a white man?). I ended up buying a puppet and named it ‘Chloe’.

In the Friday morning I had to perform the English morning in front of many of the parents, clearly watching their child closer than me, but I was still very nervous. However, when it came to my first lesson I was not really prepared for what I was greeted with. At 9am I arrived at my first class with the parents standing outside. The door had to be unlocked before I could get in and inside were children screaming in tantrum and many sitting at the window crying whilst trying to find mum. It was chaos! There was one boy who was unfazed by everything and walking around with a smile on his face, to the point where he looked a little odd.


Once the parents were finally inside and the children had calmed down I was able to start my lesson; on colours. Many of the children were still restless but it went a lot smoother than I thought it would be.  In fact, Chloe the puppet was quite a big hit. However, some children decide to punch her in the face instead of saying “hello”. In all, the classes went more of less the same but I hope the parents are aware that the children don’t always get locked in a classroom until they can’t cry any longer.

Thankfully most of the children went home after lunch so it was relatively peaceful in the afternoon. Aside from the teaching the high-point of the day was being approached by one of the more attractive teachers and being asked “what shall we do tomorrow?” (a bit forward but nice nonetheless). However I had to tell her that I had already planned to go to an art gallery with the art teacher, Zoey. Joy!

This was not the end of the day though. It was now time for the kindergarten social/principals birthday. As I was getting ready I decided to do a little bit of research on the place we were going, KTV. The internet informed me that these are often brothels disguised as karaoke bars. Therefore, as I was going with 20 women, I was apprehensive about what lay ahead of me that night. We departed in a school bus from the school at 8pm. At this point I was the only male, but Tony and the principal’s husband’s friends would meet us there (thankfully).

When we arrived I was a little overwhelmed. The girls immediately started eating fruit and singing karaoke and egging me to join them.  Then, by my surprise, they suddenly started drinking far too much alcohol for their little bodies. So now they were eating fruit, singing, playing a weird little dice game and drinking. No-one seemed to be embarrassed about singing so I was forced up quite early on and made to sing many Westlife songs (big here apparently). As the night wore on the men began to behave a bit manly. The owner of the club came into our booth for a while and asked me to down a jug of the drink people had been having shots of. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of my workmates so declined. However he managed to get everyone to clap and pressure me so I had to down it. I was quite pleased with myself afterwards but my biggest mistake was downing it faster than him…now all the other men wanted to beat me (o no!). Thankfully I made it through the night though.  As it got to 3am I was ready to go home and hopped back onto the school bus. However we ended up going to a late night restaurant for more rice, meat and wine. It was a fitting end to a truly great night.

As promised I got up early to go to the other side of the city with Zoey. She seems to be picking up English very quickly and she is also trying to teach me vocabulary (I set her and another teacher english homework each night which they take very seriously). We eventually arrived at the Art Exhibition. She was really into all of the paintings of grapes and rabbits but I struggled to be enthusiastic about it (but acted as if I loved it). What I preferred was the Tibetan art on one of the floors. The original artist was there and approached me speaking English. After a brief discussion he gave me his business card and told me to contact him if I want to go to Tibet (he said they are always looking to work with foreigners). I have been considering venturing to Tibet but I think he presumed I was some kind of artist. I’ll keep hold of his number though.

Once we got back I intended to sleep for a few hours as I had got up early. But I received a text. It told me to meet at the bus stop at 6.20 for some badminton…again? What was different about this one is that I would be playing some of the parents of the children I teach. Anyone left to play with? Anyway, I decided to play, with the intention of getting back for the 10pm (3pm UK time) football kick offs. We drove out of the city for about half an hour and arrived at a sports centre containing about 20 badminton courts. Here we played for about 2 and a half hours, I was literally dripping with sweat. This also meant I was pushing it in terms of time.

Badminton was finished, and we got back into the car. However, this time we drove in the opposite direction to the school (‘Am I being kidnapped?’ was my initial thought). As it turned out we went for a meal with many of the people on the other badminton courts. Of course I once again got the sniggers for being left handed but I have got over that now. Despite being in a very awkward situation, the food was incredible. The restaurant was clearly very posh and I think the meal may have ranked in my all-time top 10 (I am unable to recall the other nine though). If Chinese takeaways cooked real Chinese food they would make a fortune…cookie :P.

I eventually made it back, with all the football matches about to finish. Thankfully the Arsenal highlights were on straight after the games finished.

It has been a while since I have been able to sleep my required 8 hours and Sunday was no exception. I, Iain, Benny and Kevin went to the Waterpark.  Sunday was the last day of the season so it was our only opportunity to go.  When I woke up I was greeted with a text from Zoey asking to join us. So we had 5 people for the trip. I don’t think Zoey entirely knew where we were going because she initially forgot a towel and then had to buy a swimming costume once we arrived.

Anyway, the Waterpark was really good; basically a generic Waterpark. Unfortunately for Iain some of the rides had height limits that he exceeded. He also refused to take his t-shirt off in the beginning so missed out on some of the rides. However later in the day we were able to go on all of the rides together. Thankfully I was with a great bunch of people, which made the day even more enjoyable. I also think it was the first time Zoey had been swimming because she was quite afraid of the water and struggled to stay afloat (probably quite funny to a bystander).

We returned home and ate some food at the nearby restaurant, but we were all knackered and ready for bed as it had been a long week/weekend. I noticed that I had a bite on my wrist that didn’t look like a mosquito bite.

In fact, today (Monday) I woke up with a red mark that stretched up my arm. For this reason I was told by the school doctor to visit the local GP and get some medicine. I have been informed by one of the school teachers that the Waterpark may have contained some sort of snake (don’t panic Mum I don’t think its life threatening :P). As people don’t seem to be too worried here I kind of hope it was a snake that has bitten me, and will now tell people that I was once bitten by a snake.

I have written this very quickly so sorry if some of it doesn’t make sense.

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China: Week 3

In response to the request for more pictures, I went into overload….

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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.

China: Week 2

Week 2.

Having found my feet in the first week, the second week was a lot different.  

Monday morning began with ‘English morning’ at the school. This means we had to get the children ready for a day of school by singing and doing silly dances to famous English songs (wheels on the bus etc). They focus a lot on being active and also encourage the children to do morning exercises to the Chinese National Anthem. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have to organise and lead the English mornings, so any suggestions of nursery songs I may have forgotten are welcome. Some children are really keen to dance with me in particular; others just slap me on the bum and run away which I don’t understand.

However, 8am came and I was whisked away with Ian for a medical check. The journey seemed to take longer than I thought, especially as we first had to stop off at the police station to be registered as humans. Once we did arrive at the medical centre all of the doctors looked very angry and blood thirsty. All this and the ‘they’ll put a finger up your bum’ idea from dad meant I was dreading what was to come.

There was nothing quite so drastic, but the experience was one that will defiantly live with me. First they took a blood sample, not ideal but standard. Then a woman (obviously a part-time shot-putter) took my blood pressure, which was probably high considering the scenario. I was then taken to another room to check I have a heart, a liver and two lungs. So far so good. However, the next room required me to lie on a bed and reveal my chest. The doctor then got 4 clamps and attached them to my ankles and wrists, and then attached electrode things to my chest. When I asked what she was doing she replied ‘I don’t know’ (having obviously misheard or failed to understand the question). This didn’t help my anxiety. It turned out she was measuring my heart beat and heart rate. I am guessing that these measurements may have been somewhat influenced by being shackled by a strange lady in a strange and uncomfortable environment.  The next step was an ultrasound, which was actually a laugh. Anyway, the health check was done.

The rest of the day, and the following day, were spent teaching. The children seem to like it when I walk into their classroom which is nice. Spending half an hour entertaining children through a foreign language is actually quite difficult, I need to be loud, energetic and fun at all times, which makes me sweat a lot. I was teaching all day on Tuesday, but mostly the same year group so my lesson plans were more or less the same. I chose to teach ‘what can you do?’ this week. So whenever a child responded ‘I can run’ I have ended up chasing them around the classroom (I promise it’s a game, not chaos). Doing this all day takes its toll on my body.

At the end of each day I am required to say goodbye to each child individually as they leave school. I think the school think it is important that the parents are aware of my presence. Although I am only meant to do this for the first half hour following the end of school I have ended up staying up to an hour as I am usually working alongside another teacher who has a story to tell or is keen to practise their English with me. I also like to remain in the school as the teachers are good fun to be around (we stay for dinner in the school and eat in the classrooms…rebels). In fact, this week has made me realise that I am not a tourist here, I am a resident. Many of the teachers are keen to talk to me and ask ‘can we be friends?’ which is always nice if not a little awkward (particularly when you haven’t spoken to them before).  I was approached at dinner by a woman in her 40s who asked if I would join her and a few of the girls for badminton (I am the only male teacher in Kindergarten, lucky me). I was excited about this prospect and actually enjoyed it, even though I was soaked in sweat after about 3 minutes.  I was able to communicate through the international language of ‘oh’ for a nearly miss and ‘ah’ for a good shot. So social networking is going well! One of the teachers, Zoey, speaks very little English but has been practising this week. Whenever I see her she has a question to ask which has obviously taken her a while to prepare and perfect. For this reason I have to over elaborate on my answer as to not disappoint her. I gave her a stick of rock, and she painted me a picture of a leaf (no euphemism intended)…they say romance is dead? She is also one of the badminton girls. Another, Claire, has also just graduated from University and is the best English speaker in the kindergarten, she wants to go to England because it is ‘leisurely and peaceful like the books’…I wasn’t willing to break her heart.

However, I spend most of my time speaking broken English. This is why I was relieved when one man arrived at the school and he wasn’t Chinese, he was English. I recognised him instantly as ‘Tony’ from photos in the school. He was a foreign teacher like me last year. It was great to have a conversation with him (not only because he totally understood what I was saying). Tony must be in his late 40s and has set up his own kindergarten since leaving the school. I was pleased to know that he doesn’t live far away and said he would be happy to help…phew. During my exchange with him I raised my concern that no one seems to be able to say ‘Todd’ (I now respond to Toff). Apparently this is normal. I learned that one way to be successful in the school is to get to know the parents; they are very influential in how their child reacts to you. Bloody nice bloke.

Just as school was finishing on Thursday I was called out of class by another teacher. She told me that school would be shut on the Friday as it was Chinas national day (everybody assumed I would know, and perhaps I should have done). I was quite disappointed as I like being in school, but life goes on. We return to school next Saturday, which gives me a week to truly discover the city that I live in. She also said that the principal has been impressed with my work ethic and the way the children have responded to me. What the principal doesn’t know is that I have been drawing pictures of strange men walking strange dogs when in the office, and not solely planning lessons (1-0 to Todd) *see picture.  At the end of this day I once again waved off the children. Naturally some parents work late so we are often left with a few stragglers. On this day there was a five year old with a Mohican who seems to think I’m Superman. I was trying to entertain him while he waited for his mother, and as I bent down to talk to him he sneezed in my face…that was the end of our friendship.  

I had originally told most people that I was going to use Friday to catch up on my sleep, which was my genuine intention. However, when I woke up in the morning I was not so keen on wasting the day in bed; it was the National Day of China so I thought things might be happening outside. I researched on the internet and saw that a festival was happening in a small village outside of the city (a celebration of Chinese art and tradition, not Glastonbury). I set off with a set of directions and my phrasebook, fully aware that my destination was about 2-3 hours travel away. After taking a bus, then the metro, then another bus I arrived in a very rural location (fruit sellers on the street and stray dogs walking about). I wondered through the streets for quite a while unable to find what I imagined was going to be similar to the Cockington Proms (don’t ask why). However, when I arrived it was basically a traditional Chinese village, but one of the nicest places I could have been (do people still say quaint?). The festival consisted of the villagers opening their houses to the public to show off the art and history that they hold. This was the real China! Although there were many tourists in the village taking pictures, I was once again the only Westerner. In fact, I caught two Chinese girls taking pictures of me on their camera phones (they thought I didn’t see but they couldn’t have been more obvious).

As I was walking around feeling like I’d discovered a new world a Chinese man approached asking if I would take a picture of him with his friend. He also suggested that I tag along with them as they had just arrived…why not? So myself, Benny and Evan explored the history of the village, through temples, paintings, goats etc. They were suspiciously nice, even buying me a traditional Chinese snack which I would never have tried had they not suggested it (they translated it as Bean Curd, but it was basically cold runny custard). After walking around the village and taking in the sights they suggested I join them in the University City, I was intrigued about this, and was enjoying the company. A short bus journey over the river took us to the City. One of the lads explained that this was an island which features only university students as 5 universities were based there (over 200,000 students apparently).  He took me around his university; everything about it was impressive, including a sports stadium. 

Anyway, they both continued to show me the area, clearly very proud of it. They then asked if I would have “supper” with them…again, why not? They took me to a restaurant close by and introduced me to some eating customs that I wasn’t familiar with; like sterilising their bowls and chopsticks with tea before eating out of them. Again I was the only westerner in the restaurant and getting a lot of stares, particularly when using chopsticks (I am cack handed at the best of times).  We ate pork and mushroom soup, chicken, fish and squid.  They are not afraid to eat anything here, and most of it still looked alive, but tasted amazing. The two boys refused to let me pay for anything, which made me feel a bit awkward but grateful nonetheless.

It was beginning to get a bit late and I was worried I may miss the last bus (as I thought I would have another 3 hour journey ahead of me). However, after telling them where I was going it seemed the metro would take me close by and I had taken the long way round in the morning. I was back in no time. Good lads.  We have been in contact since, and one of the lads has offered to be my guide to the city whenever I want as he is free during the holiday. I seem to be picking up a few handy contacts.

Saturday came, and I again couldn’t resist exploring the city. Today I didn’t have a destination in mind, just wanted to be one of the tourists (one of the purposes of the national holiday is that Chinese people can travel within China so a lot of people in the city are tourists this week). I walked around a lot and spent a lot of time familiarising myself with the metro. At one stop I found myself watching a wedding dress fashion show, I walked away when I couldn’t think of a reason why I was watching.

I am quite used to people discreetly taking pictures of me, but on the metro on Saturday someone actually asked. To my left were 2 twin boys dressed identically and copying my every move (again why do they think I won’t notice this?), and to my right were 3 teenage girls blatantly staring. As usual I chose to ignore both but one of the girls tapped me on the shoulder…’can I take a picture of you?’ she asked, I was so happy that I don’t think I could have pulled a cheesier grin for the photo.

As it was still relatively early I returned to the place I mentioned before to get some pictures. I don’t think the pictures make it look as impressive as it actually is but you get the gist. I asked a Chinese person to take a picture of me in front of the Tower of Guangzhou, unfortunately he forgot the tower (but I thought it would be rude to ask him to take it again). After that I bought some plums and went home.

Out of the blue Cristle text me saying “oct3 there is a school travel. If you want to go you should arrive at the school gate at 6:30, only the transport is free”. Of course this didn’t give me much information what so ever, but seemed like a bit of fail-safe adventure. She suggested I go with Ian, but I don’t think he was keen.

So on the Sunday morning I got up early and waited for the coach. When it arrived I realised that I would be the only English speaking passenger…brilliant. Still unsure where I was heading I spent most of the 3 hour journey with my head at the window, imagining that I was on the Chinese version of Coach Trip. However we did eventually arrive at our destination. It was called ‘Seven-Star Crags Scenic Area’ and described itself as “the No.1 Natural Wonderland in South China”. Once I paid for entry I was immediately impressed. There was a large lake with several islands, each island displaying something unique. One island had loads of birds, one loads of caves, and one loads of Buddha stones (it gave me the idea that I would like a stone carving of myself instead of a tombstone when I die, I’ll see how that idea develops). What was more impressive though, was the sights. Again the pictures don’t seem to do it justice (I think I need to update my camera), but you are going to have to take my word for it. I was so glad I went, and the other people on the trip seemed to look out for me and stopped me wandering off.

I think now that I am more relaxed here I seem more approachable, because it appeared that everywhere I went people were asking either to take a picture of me, or be in a picture with me. I must admit that I relish it and now say ‘hello’ to the people who stare instead of pretending I don’t see them; sometimes they giggle and run, but most of the time they say ‘hello’ back.

Once we had walked around the islands and taken many boat trips around the lake we assembled back at the entrance where we started our journey back. As I wasn’t able to communicate with anyone, other than pointing at my phrasebook, I didn’t know if there was another s

top or if we were going back to school. As it turned out we stopped off for lunch at a random place. As we all sat around a circular table I was a little nervous about being judged on my chopstick skills (thank god I’d met Benny and Evan a couple of days ago). Thankfully I successfully sterilised my crockery and got through the meal without dropping anything or accidently eating anything that would make my mouth explode. What was most impressive about the meal was the view from the window, I don’t think I could of seen anything like it in England.

Anyway, a longer than long journey back saw me at school in time to eat and get prepared for the late night football. This week’s been really good and I’m starting to think I will have to keep busy in order to see everything in the area before February. Sorry I wrote so much again.

Ps. here are some more photos.

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China: Week One

I have decided to write a blog for my time in China.  However, this may be just a fad and you might never see another article like this one.

So, this time last week I had just left for my long journey. I was actually quite excited about the coach trip, flights, transfers and finding my accommodation. I later realised that this was probably because my random trips around Europe had been quick and simple. This, however, was a different story. ..

I left Torquay, and transferred coach in Exeter, then took a coach with limited leg room to London, where I quickly transferred to a train for Brighton. It was there that I picked up my visa, work permit and passport. Following a short walk into Brighton I began to realise that I actually was going to go to China, what was I getting myself into? A quick dash to Gatwick and rush through departures meant I was in time for the Arsenal game, yet Gatwick apparently don’t show ESPN. So I just ate things.

Anyway, I got on the plane to Dubai. The flight lasted 7 hours which was ok considering it was overnight and despite the constant offering of food, drink, blankets, and duty free from the attendants…JUST LET ME SLEEP!! It seemed that people were rewarded for staying awake; I was offered a biscuit when I was half asleep just because my eyes were open (but then no one turns down a biscuit, although I later wished I had because the crumbs got everywhere).  So the plane journey was smooth and normal, as was the next one, of similar length. By the time I arrived in Hong Kong I was tired and a little disorientated.

My next task was to find a late night coach that would take me to Guangzhou, mainland China. Thankfully such a thing existed, despite not looking the way I had expected: it was more like a shared taxi.  I had to share with 2 Russian girls. I think we immediately got off on the wrong foot when she sat on my seat belt clipper and I used my hands to try and fish it from beneath her, something got lost in translation.  It was all going smoothly until just after we passed through customs. The ‘coach’ driver parked up and told us to get out. Apparently this was meant to happen, but I could have done with some guidance as to what happens next. Luckily I used a bit of common sense and headed to the sign that said ‘aliens’ (we are not foreigners, travellers or visitors here).  Again I was taken through customs on foot, and greeted with a proper coach on the other side.

This coach meant I was approaching the end of my journey. It was due to take 2 hours, but there was a hitch. About half an hour in we hit traffic. I am of course used to this, but I am not used to sitting in the same spot for over an hour whilst all the drivers get out of their cars to look at the potential accident. I was slightly intrigued about what the holdup was, but not curious enough to get out of my comfy, air-conditioned seat. However, when we did eventually start moving again we passed the hold up: a car seemed to have gone into the back of a lorry and exploded…drama. What shocked me more was that my first thought was to locate my camera. Thankfully I decided against taking a picture: 1. Out of respect for the obvious fatality of the driver, and 2. because I am not a nutter (or didn’t want my fellow coachers to think I was one).

Anyway I made it in the end and was picked up by a Chinese woman called Cristle. She is the primary English speaker on site, and a handy contact. I was introduced to my accommodation and told to get some sleep (it was 3.30am and I think she was also tired). Despite this, I was required to meet in the school at 10am to meet some of the teachers and be introduced to the children.

The school seemed very good and the children pleasant. Everyone I walked past was keen to say ‘Hello’ and show off their English, which is good. However, it did not take long to realise that I was also greeted with sniggers and giggles, as well as people staring at me longer than is socially acceptable.  I was welcomed, but also a freak.  I am yet to decide whether I like being a freak or if I like the attention a freak gets….I’ll let you know.

Anyway, at lunch I was told that I would have the afternoon (and rest of the week) off. This wasn’t a generous decision to let me get over my jet lag, it was because China is celebrating their Mid-Autumn festival, and school would be shut until the weekend. However, because the children miss a few days of school over the festival they are required to catch up on Saturday and Sunday (defeats the purpose of a holiday to me, but ho hum). Therefore I decided to jump on the bus and explore, I decided to stay on the bus until ‘the majority of people get off’ (that being my thought process), as I assumed that would be the best place to be. After about 45 minutes this didn’t happen so I jumped off when the man I was next to did. I ended up in a market area, very interesting but I knew it wasn’t the hub of the city. Before it got dark I wanted to return to base. So I got on the same bus as before, except going the other direction obviously. My biggest mistake was falling asleep on this bus (the jet lag seemed to insist that I sleep at any given opportunity). I believe that I missed my stop and went round my circuit again, ending up further away than I was before. Of course, had I not fallen asleep I would have been aware of this, but I wasn’t and continued on the bus once I woke up. When it started to get dark I realised I had gone wrong somewhere, so got off the bus.  Luckily the next bus I got on had a handy bus driver. When I got to the depot I think he must of told me to ‘stay there while I go to the toilet’, but I did not understand so I followed him. Why would I follow a strange man to the toilet even if he told me to?…blame the jet lag.  Eventually I got back, 4 hours after intended, but I was back.

Cristle had gone away with her family for the holiday, so I didn’t really know what to do next, or who to speak to. I focused on unpacking and drinking water the next day. I have also found that I sleep a lot. I think it’s a combination of the strange food, the jet lag (such a cop out) and the air. I was aware that the air in China is not as clean as England, but it is more extreme than I thought. It is almost like breathing in a sauna, perhaps that makes me tired. Anyway, having had a whole day without a conversation I decided to find out where the other British lad lived the next day.

I chose a convenient time to knock on Ian’s door, I think around 2pm. When he opened and began to speak I realised that he wasn’t English at all….we was Scottish. He had not been into the town yet so I offered to show him how it’s done (without revealing my previous failing). Together we got off at a different stop on the route. It was soon clear that he is more of a freak than me. We both attracted attention for looking and talking differently. But he is about 4 inches taller, which means he gets ‘wows’ instead of giggles. I think I may have been a little jealous of my reduction in fame. The stop we chose to get off at was less than fascinating so our adventure didn’t last long. Once we arrived back at the accommodation we discussed which brand of water tasted nicer. In hindsight I wish this wasn’t the last English conversation I had with another human for 3 days (myself excluded).

On the first of these days I was happy to continue acclimatising, but I think I am very needy when it comes to being active. Therefore, I woke up bright and early on the Friday, determined not to get lost, but with the ambition of finding somewhere interesting by accident; these two objectives are difficult to fulfil together.  I got on my trusty bus and stayed on until I could go no further (so long as I was on the bus route I would be ok?). To my luck the bus stopped at the metro station…interesting. I saw the tube map and decided on a destination. I knew that if it was anything like London I could end up in the Chinese equivalent of Hackney, but I didn’t. The stop was called ‘ Zhujiang New Town’ and as soon as I got off I realised I made the right choice. Here featured the new Guangzhou Opera House, new Guangdong museum,  a large tower to commemorate the 16th Asian Games next month and the first stand of a new sports stadium. Now I am not one for architecture, but it was all amazing, and the one time I did not take my camera or anybody else to share the sights with.  I am guessing that many of the new buildings here had some influence from those behind the Beijing Olympic stadiums, but I will get pictures next time I return. Anyway, I found my way back easily enough and considered my day out alone a success (I am very aware that I am beginning to sound like my dad).

Every time I eat I wonder if mum would eat the food I am having, and most of the time I conclude that she would probably have to (there is no porridge or fat free milkshake for dinner here).  However, this particular night made me reconsider. I was served with the normal fried cabbage and meat from an unknown source, but on top was 6 hands/paws. Initially I ate around the hands/paws, trying to work out what animal they came from.  They were smaller than humans, but larger than dogs. They also had long thin fingers and clipped nails. I have always said that I am willing to try anything, and I stand by that claim. On this occasion I felt no desire to consume all 6 hands/paws though, probably because I was eating alone with no one daring me to eat a fingernail or egging me to fit a whole one in my mouth.  Again I wish I had taken a photo (perhaps they will be on next Friday’s menu).

Along came Saturday, and the children back to make up for their absence over the holiday. Being thrown into the deep end on my first day seemed a little harsh to me; I had prepared no lesson plans, observed no classes and had no idea what their standard of English was like. Thankfully I blagged my way through the day, I don’t think too impressively but I don’t know what they expected. I returned to my dorm in the evening wondering what I had got myself into, at least having the Arsenal game on TV will help me relax…oh wait.

So that brings me to today, Sunday, and my second day of employment. My first class today was a K4 class (5 year olds), the year group that were a nightmare yesterday. However, this class were really responsive, polite about the Queen and singing along with me (I would hate singing ‘Old MacDonald had a Farm’ by myself in front of 30 gormless Chinese 5 year olds).  The following two lessons were with K2 (3 year olds). The first started terribly, with one child bursting into tears at the shear sight of me, charming.  The second was a lot better, with several members of the class far too enthusiastic about the number 10, like it had some hidden meaning. However the last class were my favourite so far because the children seemed to genuinely enjoy learning English, and for some reason has an obsession with handshakes…I have a lot to learn.

As you can tell I have written quite a lot without doing very much, which gives you an indication about the amount of time I have had spare. However, from my first weeks experience I have begun to adjust to the Chinese way, and hope that it will continue. January does seem a very long way off, but I hope that I can focus more on what I am doing than what I am missing (which includes football commentary with an element of emotion and suprise).

I am off for the famous Chinese health check tomorrow, which I am sure will be worthy of another paragraph (providing I decide to continue writing)….