1 Aug 2014
Hello to all!
Well it’s the summer holidays for schools in China! However we decided to continue teaching, to save up more money and get more experience! But before I talk about that I’ll tell you about my last few weeks at Oxford Kingdom.
The last 2 weeks of the semester were fun, basically everyone was very relaxed and we pretty much did very little teaching, more singing songs and watching disney DVD’s (in English so still good for an English lesson). My K3 classes got smaller and smaller as children left to move back to Taiwan with their parents. For the last few days I had one class of about 10 and another of 8, big difference to the 46 I used to teach. Both my K3 classes watched the Lion King, I’ve not seen it for ages so good to watch and sing too multiple times. We also watched Frozen on loan from Briony, as she borrowed Lion King, which the children absolutely love, and tbh it is a great disney film! The last week consisted of many picnics with different classes, there was alot of cake and candy so the kids were full of sugar. My K1 class also merged with the other K1 class (rabbit), due to the Chinese/English teacher and my good friend Amy leaving, so myself and Briony had alot of fun teaching together. We had the best ever song lesson! It was good to get to know the other K1 class as they all know me, but I don’t know many of their names. My favourite and smartest student in K1, Sunny, was also leaving the school at the end of the semester, due to living far from the school and being bullied by the kids from the big school, who get on his bus. So with him leaving if I do get to teach my K1 class as K2 I will have only 6 children, I had at least double that at the beginning of term.
Well the last day arrived pretty fast and to my delight we went swimming (at the pool in our apartment complex). This time I brought my bikini and a t-shirt and dived straight in, kids loved having me in the water and I had a wonderful time. A rain shower did cut our time short. The end of the day was sad I made sure to spent lots of time with each of my classes, especially K3 as this would be the last time I may see them (I hope to go to the big school and see who is there). I had lots of hugs and a few sad faces as we said goodbye. That evening I went out with a few of the teachers to KTV, as pretty much nearly all the teachers are leaving as well, school politics and many want better pay.
So moving onto summer school, after being so used to my school I wasn’t very excited to go elsewhere. I went to my school for 8am, I was then picked up by a school bus and taken to my new school. On route we picked up a little boy. The school is not far from the international big school and is set in an apartment complex. Come to find out it is newly taken over by Oxford Kingdom. I was greeted by Maggie and Anna the teachers who will be working with me. It was very strange as it was different to my school so I didn’t know where anything was. Teaching is relaxed I teach fewer lessons and they only last for 20mins. Thursdays and Fridays I teach just 1 lesson. The first day I found hard, as after doing an introduction lesson, a few of the children could not answer ‘What is your name?’ because either they did not understand or didn’t have an English name. I was originally told I would teach 14 children at K3 level, but once there I had a mixture of ages 3-6 years, thus making lesson plans that little more difficult to plan. The rest of my first day I taught the first part of the ‘Three little pigs’ story book (with DVD) and the first song in the book too! The kids and the teachers really enjoyed this, guessing they don’t use story tree like I do at my normal school. After feeling a bit down from my first day, I hoped things would get better, and they did. Even though I teach stuff the older children know, I made sure there was lots of games, and they love it! I’ve got used to the kids not speaking alot of English compared to the kids I teach, but the older kids do learn and remember words very well.The first Thursday was when everything really changed for the best and I got to know the kids more, as we had a school trip to the mountian park nearby, which I have been to a couple of times. One girl didn’t bring any water so I bought her a bottle and now she’s my best friend. She is new to the school so its good to get her talking and enjoying school, as that day she arrived crying. Lots of photos were taken by me and the teachers, and we went into the butterfly/animal park where I bought food to feed the budgies again. Kids were scared of them, but the teachers and aunties loved it! Thursday 31st Auguest another school trip and we went to Dongguan Botanical garden, kids loved being able to go on the playground and my best friend would not let me out of her sight. I get hugs from the kids now and they even teach me chinese.
Craft lessons they really enjoy, I’ve got them to make an octopus using their hands, they coloured in a toucan pre drawn and made an owl out of paper plates. The best lesson has been about ‘My head’ same thing I taught my K1, I’ve got them to point to the parts of their head e.g. eyes, nose and got faster; I got them to point to the parts on my head (they found this hilarious), they also got to make a head on the board by sticking on the parts I made out of paper. The teachers even asked me to stay and teacher next semester, so must be doing something right! I can’t as I explained about my contract with Worlda, but you never know I may of helped get another Worlda member their.
So all in all really enjoying summer school. Well next week is our holiday, really looking forward to some time away and seeing somewhere else in China. Everyone who we tell we are going to Guilin, tell us we will love it and how beautiful it is.
9th August 2014
For Monday night we went shopping to Tesco’s via a restaurant that does a cracking omelette-type dish. Here some noodles accompanied a beef-based dish – and Nikki ordered some sweet roll/dumpling-type thing. It looks like rubber in a sesame seed coating. It tastes like sweet rubber, I neither liked or disliked this dish. As food goes it was so bland it was neutral. If you added this indistinct, drab, pale, wishy-washy, indefinite effort of food to any meal, you wouldn’t notice. It defies the odds to be a polar reverse to every opulent, delicate, balanced and incredible dish China has to proffer. I wouldn’t recommend it. I wouldn’t advise against it.
Tuesday through to Thursday met with the usual school bus run at 8am, morning exercise for 8.30am, breakfast in a classroom at 09:00hrs, the first class at 09:30hrs, the second class at 10:10hrs, and the third class at 10:50hrs. Lunchtime starts slap on 11:20hrs, with an afternoon nap for all but me at noon. The wake up torments start at 14:30hrs. Here high-pitched blared screams of sorrow can be found, as children rise angry and sleepy from the slumber. It can resemble scenes from the TV series The Walking Dead. Biting happens, but thankfully on an irregular basis. Snack time, fruit followed by rice pudding of sorts, porridge, or dumplings ends by 14:50hrs. Class four of the day runs from 15:00hrs to 15:20hrs, distorting away from the usual 30 minute segments. The final class runs from 15:40hrs to 16:10hrs. Children, teachers and I depart around 16:10hrs to 16:30hrs. The school bus is always prompt. The journey back is erratic, confrontational and comparable to Rally Driving in the western world. In the western world we have rally driving, in China, it is simply called driving.
In the UK we officially drive on the left hand side of the road. In China, the right side is designated the right side. The unofficial and habitually observed manner appears somewhat atypical. On roads other than motorways, directions seem to count for little. On motorways all lanes lack function. On the pavement rickshaws, mopeds, electric bikes and bicycles generally overlap people.
Guǎngxī – Part 1: Yáng shuò; Dàzhài; Guìlín; Lóngshèng.
8th August 2014
Last Saturday morning we departed by early taxi (300RMB) to the amazingly designed Shenzhen Airport. Here we checked in, boarded the China Southern airplane and flew to the beautiful city of Guilin. On touchdown at Guilin Liangjiang International Airport. The airport shows no signs of its airfield use by the U.S. Army Air Force usage up to the end of World War II. We grabbed our bags, shot into the centre by bus (around 28km/17 miles away). On jumping off the bus we walked around the wrong block (or two), doubled back and eventually found our way from the bus/railway station to Wada Hostel.
Check-in happened twice. Half asleep and half exited we paid the deposit of 100RMB, the requested fee for the room and took the key. We headed to the room, opened it, sat down… hmmm…. a double room. Well that was a surprise, they told me expressively that there was no chance of such a room. I second glanced the payslip. We’d only paid for one night – hmmm… a mistake? I headed back and it turned out there were two people with the name Nicola – and that confused them. So, on second check-in we paid the proper 840RMB for the week – and headed to the mixed dorm with 4 beds. In the hostel there is a lovely reading room, a DVD/games room, a lounge area, a pool table/dart board/stacks of boardgames, an outdoor seating area, bicycle hire (40RMB per day), dumpling making (free on Mondays), and an all you eat barbecue on Friday for 50RMB.
A Swiss-American, a Mexican, a Japanese, and a Hungarian, sounds like a bad attempt to joke complete with racial slurs. These were the nationalities of the people occupying the beds alongside ours during the course of the week. Two spare beds for many interesting people. The Swiss-American lady worked for National Geographic and films footage for documentaries. She had previously worked in conflict zones and only called by Guilin due to a diverted flight. The Hungarian man has trekked most countries ending in –stan. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Laurel&Hardystan, and Turkmenistan – his accounts of all sound amazing.
The bedrooms/dorms are basic, ensuite with a shower/western toilet combo. Bunkbeds are nostalgic to me, somewhere to peer down from, and somewhere to examine the nearby ceiling in its every minute detail.
Guilin and Yángshuò are fêted globally for their karst landscapes. The whole region has featured in films such as Avatar and Star Wars Episode 3. Historically the region features in many Chinese paintings, poetry and songs. The landscape is rousing, motivating and stirring. So with this in our heart we settled on a Sunday trip to the Lóngshèng Rice Terraces (costing around 240RMB each – including a 3 hour journey in a people carrier; entrance to the park, usually 100RMB). We set off early, joining a Frenchman (resident of Shanghai), two English lads (from Portsmouth and Southampton) and Gerrado from Mexico (our room mate for a few days). The journey there started off via the industrial outskirts, open fields before an ascent up several valleys and crevices. On being dropped at a car park in DaZhai, a mad dash for the toilets was succeeded by a slow trek up the JinKeng terrace fields. Here the Yao minority inhabit the sparse buildings. The rectangular timber buildings having three storeys, the lower for livestock, the middle one for harvesting and the upper for living. Each home is very basic, essentially a very antediluvian farmhouse.
On the climb, you could gradually see forest-fringed fields fade away and tier after tier of rice paddies, dense with rice growing. The mountains and fields looked like some ancient Inca temples, but green. The shapes and patterns flowing like an convoluted giant’s version of Spirograph. The view is certainly one for lovers of hypotrochoids and epitrochoids. At the peak, after enduring, some tough hill-walking battling heat, humidity and jagged path terrains we kicked back, enjoying a chilled mountain cucumber followed by a light bamboo cooked rice dish. All along the peak’s brow, Yao women stood expectantly, worked hard selling embroidered clothing, photographs with them and their legendary hair lengths (they never ever cut their hair). The hair is bundled on their heads resembling glossy jet black Indian turbans. The long descent downwards involved a spot of near skinny-dipping, much to the surprise of passers-by. Shattered and tired we all soon boarded the people carrier back to Guilin. Sleep set in rapidly. That evening we ate the local delicacy Beer Duck, a full plate of spicy cucumber and a dish of aubergine with minced pork. The meal was most rewarding.
The following day we purchased a multi-park ticket for 200RMB. This would give us access to Seven Star Park, Cave & Mountain (which we knew could be reached on the number 10 bus); Elephant Trunk Hill (sits at the convergence of Taohua River and the Lí Jiāng River – also reachable on the number 6 bus) and DieCai Hill (which we’d save for another day). Initially we explored Elephant Trunk Hill (Xiàngbí Shān). The landmark and shape is fantastic to look at but the surrounding shops, cluttered models of lovers and in river restaurants give it a rather scruffy and non-directional appearance. From here we walked to the Seven Star Park (named so, because the seven peaks resemble a constellation). Our immediate aim was the Seven Star Cave. Caves are a luxury. Cool air is better than gold. The outside temperature hovered around 34°C (93.2 fahrenheit; 307.15 kelvin). Inside the cave it sat below 20°C. Oh, and the rock formations were beautiful, even if at times, artificially altered to form waterfalls (activated by switch) or overly tarted-up by illuminations. That said the calcite accretions at Seven Stars Cave are probably the best calcite accretions I have ever seen. Afterwards, Nikki and I walked up one of the peaks and wandered amongst a troupe of wild monkeys. (More on the monkeys later).
Tuesday morning demanded an early rise. The card was marked for bamboo rafting to Yángshuò on the Lí Jiāng river (it cost 230RMB). First we boarded a coach with a Canadian lass and an American girl, and around 50 or so Chinese tourists – they tend to get everywhere, within China. Domestic tourism is massive here. Sometimes, just sometimes, nature grabs you by the throat and kidnaps you. It steals you away, it rips apart your critical inners and sends you to a dreamy land far away, long off and lonesome. There may be many bodies around you, there may be trouble downstream but onboard a bamboo raft, life passes you by like the currents surrounding you. Here serenity helps you find equanimity. The journey gave rise to tranquillity, quietude, equanimity, mellowness, and bliss. After disembarking we had photos in the famous scene pictured on the rear of the 20RMB banknote. After wandering through Xìng píng we headed by coach to Yáng shuò for lunch. We chose a Hongkongnese restaurant which was pretty bland and had awful service.
Early that day on the bus the guide mentioned an additional trip that can follow for 120RMB, taking in the Yulong Bridge built around 1412AD. The supplementary part of the trip included actual genuine bamboo rafting (not the harder wearing plastic imitation-jobs we were due to set off on. They are used due to the heavy demands of mass tourism), seeing fishermen catch fish using cormorants, a wander around the village of Yulong, and the chance to feed water buffalo. Needless to say the afternoon heat went near unnoticed as we enjoyed the busy programme of activities. In addition, the evening was to be spent watching the Yángshuò Impression Sanjie Liu. The evening show was excellent. The audience chattered in excitement, mobile phones and cameras glowed like a nuclear powerplant of energy – but nothing could distract from the stage. Naturally blended stages, river props, boats, lighting glowing far afield, bright beams on the stage centre combined with 600 talented cast members, and hidden stagehands galore made for a fantastic show. The world-famous director, Zhang Yimo, directed the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. The story encompasses a legendary story about a girl named Liu Sanjie (Tang Dynasty) who was known far and wide for her great singing voice, and would later be honoured as the title ‘Song Fairy.’ The show wraps nature with the groups of Zhuang, Miao and Yao ethnic people and costume styles alongside modern techniques and lighting. The evening was perfect. With the show over we boarded our coaches for the journey back. Here we met a family of seven or so tourists from near Shanghai who asked as many questions as possible from the strange foreigners at the back of the bus. The two hour coach journey bounced back slowly, as the roads that way barely resemble infrastructure.
To be continued…
20 hours ago
Yesterday (Saturday), we left Guilin airport at 07:50hrs. We departed by a speedy taxi (120RMB), pre-arranged by the wonderful Wada Hostel staff. The night watchman wished us farewell and helped with our bags. At 6am, this was not expected – but nonetheless pleasant. On the whole, the staff are wonderful. They help everyone, equally – and go out of their way to make you feel welcome with warmth. Great people make great places and Wada Hostel has great people in abundance. Sneaking out of the shared dormitary was easy, pre-packing the night before and then stuffing any remaining items (damp towels and toiletries) into the limited space of my rucksack. It also didn’t help that we went to bed around 01:00hrs too!
Friday’s delights and irritations came with a wander to the flower and bird market. Inside my thoughts could be both conflicting, contradictory and contrary. On one hand the plants were stunning, utterly beautiful and striking in appearance. Cactis, flowers, trees and bushes arranged in oriental displays of elemental proportions. On the other hand, hamsters by the dozens crawled over bodies of other hamsters; koi and goldfish plugged dilapidated trench drains; dogs ruffled around cold concrete crates with faces painted of sorrow; scores of sparrows squabbled in cages for space; the stench and scents moved from aromatic flowers to a reek associated with death and malady in an the twinkling of a forlorn kitten’s eye. We exited almost as soon as we arrived. Here was not a place to remain.
Off we set to the shore of the Lí Jiāng river. Immediately, I spied a lady washing her moped in the shallows. Across the river a man fished by way of net. Upstream, several water buffalo lived up to their name. Our trail followed downstream, here we eyed derelict tourist centres, long closed down. No real reason could be seen, but thankfully “Cock fighting at 7.30pm” did not have an audience. Beyond this we crossed the river, flanked by boats and swimmers, entered a snaking alleyway, grabbed my natural choice of jīn jú níng méng chá (lemon tea with kumquat), and wandered some more. It was then decided we shall cross the weir that every day we passed through the town, we could see people crossing. So we did. Nikki took an hour. I was over in 10 minutes. It was slippery. The pleasant wander soon ended and after crossing the river again, by bridge this time, we arrived back at Wada Hostel.
The evening and week ended with an all you can eat barbecue. The staff did not hang around, piles of lamb skewers, beef slices, spiced (là) chicken, broccoli coated in magma (very spicy, jí là), spring onions tainted with heat etc… it just came and came… and we ate… and ate. At our table we sat with a British couple, Stephanie from Birmingham and her partner Bastian from Dresden. Two French people, Louix and Davide joined us several times over. The evening was merry and capped off with two t-shirts (Nikki’s in L and mine in XXXXL – Chinese size, and still too small), earned by plying the bar with funds for beers/cocktails.
Thursday’s choice of activity was to hire two bicycles for 40RMB each. On looping back we cycled over a bridge to Lúdí Yán (Reed Flute Cave). Inside the caves, multicoloured lighting covers sections that with the aid of the imagination or the handily placed labels resemble such things as a lion in a rainforest. The cave acquired its name from the sort of reed growing on the exterior, which can be made into melodious flutes. You cannot get reed flutes in the giftshops but little old ladies will try to sell you plastic ones for 1RMB. They will chase you too. “Post-ee-cards.” Inside there are unusual rock shapes, stalactites, stalagmites, and a 3D video show. There is mention of ink inscriptions from 792 AD (Tang Dynasty) but I did not see these, they are not highlighted or promoted.
…to be continued.
10th August 2014
Peace, love, great memories, exceptional company and happiness should follow. Failing that we can swap wives (not like that!). Live long, live happy, live for each other and one another and yourself. Have a smashing day.
Nikki & John x
1 hour ago
From the writer who brought you… Guǎngxī – Part 1: Yáng shuò; Dàzhài; Guìlín; Lóngshèng…
and followed it up badly with… Guǎngxī – Part 2: Guìlín; Weir not really here…
Here is an excuse to add more full stop-type dots.
Thursday evening we boarded a river cruise along the Lí Jiāng river and the neighbouring Taohua river. The cruise included integrated the rivers with four lakes all set within the City’s realm. Initially it left one of the inner lakes with two great pagodas towering their bright lights on the near still water. Within minutes the roof was drawn as a barrage of heavy drizzle swept over the still landscape. This later died down to what Peter Kay has banked a fair bit of currency on, “It’s spitting…” I braved the light precipitation and low bridges to go above deck. Each time our craft went under an overpass, the stern boatman at the rear would tell me to duck, substantiation that China never planned ahead. The vessel finally arrived at a double width lock, we entered after a short wait. A sudden eagerness of the onboard Chinese tourists leapt a notch. The anticipation of dropping several metres in height to the lower river channel from the lake to the Taohua river almost bubbled over into unrestrained exhilaration. This was the biggest mass display of emotion I have witnessed by anyone born of the country to which I am guest within. To blow their minds even further, the Taohua River passing into the Lí Jiāng River at the Elephant Trunk Hill featured a boat lift. That said the floodlights onto the adjacent landmark did distract the moths aboard our small boat. The pleasure cruiser emerged into the river beyond the bright lights of the Elephant Trunk Hill and its Moon Cave, rounded and was soon swallowed by absolute darkness – not an easy feat in the city of Guilin. On the return the dramatic rays and beams of luminosity radiated into the darkness from the Moon Cave, making the imagination behind the simplistic name easy to relate to. Our boat continued further upstream before deploying its cargo of passengers onshore by the Liberation Bridge. Our short boat journey had taken us past some marvellous sights indeed – traditional cormorant fishing, an old style village, the City walls, an old tea clipper to name but a few points. The cost of 190¥ more than justified. At this stage, around 23:00hrs, we hunted food in the city centre, and it soon became apparent that everything in the City stops. The buses were no longer in view, the glowing neon signs dulled and the aromas of a plethora of fodder faded away. Taxis and rickshaws appeared for the remaining revellers, with homes, clubs, out of town restaurants and other darkness dwellings the only destinations. We appropriated a rickshaw for 30¥ and fled to our hostel. On departure we called by a night market and paid a 19¥ for a tasty spicy noodle dish, aubergine and some extra meats. Being spontaneous and planning little has its benefits.
Wednesday was fundamentally a respite day. We surveyed the inopportunely overpriced Die Cai Hill after exiting the number 1 bus. We probably would not have gone, had it not been included in the 200¥ ticket bundle earlier that week. We walked through a dated bird enclosure, vast in size but empty of inhabitants. Outside many birds sat in sorry looking cages no bigger than a laptop bag. After walking up one peak, we aimed for another peak, sweating and thirsty having drank several litres, we reached the top. The view was very good, probably the second best view of the City (after a peak in the Seven Stars Park). The lower steps bizarrely had a string of powerful fans mounted alongside them. The occasional waft and puff of cool air enough to percolate my drenched shirt and hat. Today, was easily 37°C with a very strong sun burning all beneath it. Half way down, Die Cai Hill was good for one thing. For 40¥, we did get to slide the large marble lucky slide in gloves and a cape to prevent friction burns. At the top a sign read, “No bad poses.” Midway I committed a bad pose, a near-square hair pin bend lodged this much longer than usual customer. Soon after we returned to the hostel, did near enough nothing – eating Shǔtiáo (French Fries, homemade and more like wedges), a sweet and sour pork dish alongside rice and another dish.
I said formerly that I ought to cite the walk among the monkeys. I shall now try my best to convey my emotions at said occasion. In Staffordshire (U.K.), I once wandered amongst a large troupe of mostly tame monkeys – none shown any signs of trepidation and exhibited very little interest in my being. That being an area of captivity, I’m not surprised. Seven Star Park (Qīxīnggōngyuán), sits on the eastern bank of the Lí Jiāng river. It is 40 hectare of land and some additional areas for a small zoo. The zoo has no links to some wild inhabitants of the park. The park essentially has two hills, Putuo Hill with four peaks and Crescent Hill with three peaks. We entered the park via the southern gateway over the olden (Song Dynasty) Floral Bridge (over the Xiaodong river). Later that evening we exited via the same bridge, walking via Dragon Retreat Cave and its many stone tablets (ancient stone tablets arranged like a forest, called Guihai beilin). The park also is home to Tuofeng shan (Camel Hill, it looks like a…). The main attraction for locals is a cave opening allowing cool air to funnel up from deep into a sheltered passageway. Here, seemingly half of Guilin’s senior inhabitants materialise to sit down. Just prior to this a small group of monkeys passed within metres of the pathway we walked down. Two bold males walked amongst tree-trunks searching for food. The group then appeared to budge along the low trees and up a rocky face. Gone.
Minutes later we encountered another brash male, foraging on the verge of a pathway. We walked on after he disappeared. Not long after two castigated males wandered amongst the more populated boating lake and hutted shopping area of the park centre. We watched amongst the many onlookers. The monkeys eyes spying their own kind high amongst the trees far off. This pair clearly unwelcome amongst the other scampering clambering monkeys. At this stage, I was mildly fascinated, thinking of the animals as only partially wild, restricted by lack of peaceful uninterrupted habitat. That soon changed.
Nikki and I decided we would scale the largest peak of the park around dusk. The view at the top surely would make the best vantage point of Guilin and its surrounds. One brief patch of aggression by a male monkey almost made us turn around. Instead we routed a loop around the monkey and it’s close at hand troupe. In fact we could make out one female and a juvenile. We managed to pass without cause for concern. On trotting a pathway upwards we approached a T-junction, a big group of monkeys to our left blocked the trail. The right course led up much sharper to the hill’s stone walls on our left and rolling forestry to our right. Up we went. After ten minutes we hit another fork in the track. Just as we were about to proceed left I noticed it. First leaves started to shake from above, then an occasional flash of fur. The monkeys were heading our way. Onwards rumbled the trees. We backed away around a corner, observing every motion possible. Nikki and I agreed my estimates of twenty or so individuals up in the canopy. On the ground several female monkeys foraged. Juveniles swayed from branch to branch, many younger than a year old. A female passed with a youngster clinging to her underbelly. The head, tail, and clutching limbs appearing like a massive furry growth. Most passed by slowly, others stopped to strip fruit from nearby trees. None paid much attention to us.
The sensations that filled my head were exhilaration, pleasure and joy. At the back of my mind was a doubt, a partial agitation and deep tension of unrest. How would we get away from a group this big, if they did not like our presence? I gripped my water bottle for comfort and false defence. I could squirt an aggressive monkey – or at worst use it to bat anything away. I did not and never want to do such a thing. Instinct had set in. Fight or flight? Flight no longer was an option, beneath us several small males scaled the steps and walls. Above us the pathway was cut off completely. The group of monkeys now easily totalled 50, mostly females and juveniles – now with one colossal and aggressive looking male. We decided to stay put. The joy turned to worry soon after, the males had spotted us and were curious. Just as we were ready to march on through the troupe, a cough echoed up the stairways. Within seconds a bare-chested primate launched himself up the stairs. His short hair soaked to the brow with sweat. His eyes quizzical as to why two outsiders stood blocking his pathway. We skirted aside to allow him to pass. We followed the local man immediately upwards. He was confident. It was as if he did not see the monkeys. With this we followed his footsteps, “one step, two step, three steps forward…” through a breaking, not fleeing, group of monkeys bound for higher ground. As this happened, our unaware elected leader and guide headed off the path, far too much for us to follow. We steamed through beyond the dominion of the monkeys.
On enjoying the sunset at the peak, we could see the monkeys at the top of several peaks, settling in for the night and enjoying their freedoms. Long may it continue.
I can now count the days at Kindergarten on half a person from Norfolk’s hand [you can change this to any other region you consider genetically indiverse]. Yes, a whopping three days remain.
Returning to work after a week off is often tough. This time was no exception. That said, since starting work on 13th February, we have had a three day weekend (we had to work an extra day at the weekend) and a three day weekend before our holiday. That’s a massive 7 working days off since we started. I’m used to 28 days and 13 flexible hour days off. The change has actually been very easy. As it stands Nikki has to work next week – but I may not. When Dao Ming re-opens is anyone’s guess! Next week, the week after… pass.
On returning to Oxford Flying Kindergarten and my K1 class, I had a new pupil Jessica – who replaced Justin (who returned to his family’s native Taiwan for two weeks holiday). Immediately on entering the school bus from the neighbouring kindergarten to Dao Ming, all the kids’ energy levels shot up a notch. I’d clearly been missed. Whilst my temporary replacement (Taniesha) seems to have gone down well and been respected by the teachers, I doubt she allowed the students to be so boisterous. Punches and cuddles sprinkled down with affection and vim.
Arrival meant a quick dash to the office, styled as a fish tank, to print off flashcards and material for the week ahead. A quick dash to the nearly unused and possibly secret western toilet on the 2nd floor – and then classes began… the teachers Silence and Zhou Tian Qin had gone on two weeks leave. In place were many newer teachers with no real English skills. In the nursery class Kiso who speaks a slight sum. A new teacher, Sofia, arrived from teaching in Malaysia and Singapore. She has to be the most fluent English speaking Chinese national I have ever met. I’d later discuss subjects such as Buddhism, working in foreign countries teaching English, why western men marry Chinese women, why Chinese women tend to want western men, and the height of Mount Everest. All this was discussed before lunchtime. It turned out Sofia would assist me and Jonlin in class. For three days we were also observed by the head teacher/principal. Four teachers in one room will always make five students quiet. It was an awakward week.
The Monday morning’s arrival, like most kindergarten mornings, was met with Tommy dragging me to the playroom to select a football, a hula-ring and a running baton – before a mad dash outside, ten minutes of kids of varying shapes, sizes and degrees of enthusiasm straining unawake mind. Outwardly I’m all, happy, smiley and bubbly. Hidden away in the interior are imaginings of that extra hour in bed. Not that I feel tired or want to get up late often. I don’t know what it is, but something here is better and much more relaxing than the U.K. working world where expectation and targets grasp you like a rabid monkey carrying a sack of peanuts up an oak tree. I was advised by Jonlin, that the new student, in K1 class, I thought was called Timmy had no name – and was promptly named Ben by Taniesha.
The week at Oxford Flying Kindergarten flew by. By way of leisure Nikki and I joined the pub quiz in a team alongside two Aussies and Tim from New Zealand. We drew the quiz. A tiebreaker was used. We undervalued the requested quantity of the total weight of the four bar staff (one of which is Icy, she is very tiny indeed; April doesn’t have much to her by way of mass; and the other two I don’t know them, but I am confident I could bench press them), Irene and Marcus.
A light 20km bike ride for Nikki and I on Thursday was followed by a night in on Friday. Saturday, we went for a walk, mostly into Houjie (for series 7 and 8 of Dexter). In the evening we watched the New Zealand versus Australia draw in rugby union. Irene’s Bar had a lovely barbecue – which was a fantastic way to relax, drink and enjoy the passing storm. The bottle of rum we invested in seemed to vanish. Global warming. T.J. (Trevor) thinks I should get my name down for a hip replacement as soon as possible, or maybe even have it done in China (it’s only 28,000RMB!). I didn’t at any stage indicate I had any hip problems. T.J. from Australia, his wife from Vietnam and two others left around 10pm for a show in the hotel over the road. They returned 15 minutes later. There was a semi-good band on. There wasn’t anyone watching. Marcus and Irene invited us out for Sunday Lunch, Chinese style. We obliged.
After meeting Marcus, Rock (a big American bloke, I nicknamed Mustard Man the Nemesis sometime ago – who turns out to be okay), Craig and Bronny (a couple who infrequently frequent Irene’s Bar), a mate of Marcus, several bar staff, Irene and some of her family we made the short journey near to Shuilian Mountain Park. Here we had food at a massive wooden banquet hall complete with air-conditining. Our group split into two – utilising two huge tables with the glass rotatable sharing mixing decks. Irene, and her family, decided the food for us. Knowing that most westerners dislike chicken feet, eating bones and questionable animals organs they ordered at least two dozen dishes. The food was incredible. Sichuan dishes added spice, Hunan food richness and other more local tastes gave great variation.
After a good meal, a pleasurable walk is often ideal. Our group wandered through the neighbouring funfair with rides such as the Chafing Saucers and one ride based on chariots crossbred with laser tag. In the hour that followed, I tried my best to pay Irene for the meal. It is customary for those who invite you out for food to pay. Irene and Marcus would not let me pay. We’ll have to invite them out for food soon! We soon returned to our apartment, put our feet up and capitalised on our air conditioning for some time. This was followed by a short bike ride out of Houjie towards Daojiao, curtailed by fading light – and growing hunger.
This week I am joining a football team in Dongguan for training at Soccerworld (former training ground site of the now defunct Dongguan Lanwa Football Club), next door to 22,000 empty seats that could earn the nickname, The Chinese Old Trafford. First of all I just need to get to the address of 东莞市南城区体育路3号 523011.
26th August 2014
As always the weather here has been hot. The highs have usually been around 35°C and the lows 30°C. The weather is too consistent. Something I never thought I could ever say being British. This sub-tropical heat is something I have stuggled to get used to. I am just about starting to push my body more without feeling like I am going to pass out. Meanwhile, Nikki is complaining it is cold inside with the airconditioning unit on. There are two doors Nikki. Take a walk in the heat!
I’ve left writing for a while. It isn’t down to writer’s block or any such thing. It was purely a choice to add quality not quantity. That said, I can’t guarantee any quality this time round. Maybe it will miraculously appear next time. Only time can tell. I found the football last Wednesday night without a hiccup. It was a simple ride from the apartment by Liaoxia Avenue to the main S256 (Guantai Road) – a massive 50 metres away. Here on was a grind, monitoring every inch of traffic, every speeding motorbike, every weaving scooter, and anything that decided to head against the flow of traffic. At the junction with Houjie’s North Ring Road (a misdemeanour if ever there was one – it doesn’t really form a ring around the town) the lanes are busiest. Buses favour stopping on the corner blocking the traffic lights rather than the bus stops 100 metres in either direction. Also, here can be found big groups of people awaiting taxis, motorbikes or coaches. Immediately after crossing the road, signs of the new underground railway tube line are apparent. The middle two lanes are a building site with a vast industrial crane sat upon a wide rail system. Beyond this the road is reasonably straight, save for a minor diversion into the opposing road lanes.
My journey into Dongguan passes major junctions like Chenwu East Road, G4 Expressway entrances, Huanglin Road, Chezhen Road, and then the gargantuan Sanyuan Road. Here the road splits into three. An overpass single lane (narrow enough for a coach or lorry) but with no room for cycles. No thanks. The second road has two lanes crossing about 8 lanes of traffic at lights. The third goes underground connecting to the imaginatively named Side Road of Sanyuan Road. Simple enough name, but awful system of tight underground roundabouts and poorly maintained traffic lights. Having passed this I am in Dongguan’s city centre. Here bike lanes and pavements appear in tandem, mostly littered with quickly discarded cars for the lazy commuter. Two large junctions later and I bank right down Tiyu Road. The football stadium, though mostly derelict, and Sports Centre buildings are in sight. A sign reads “Dongguan Sports Centre Natatorium” – I think to myself I wonder what that last word means.
Here the regions basketball centre, tennis and squash centres and Liehu Outdoor Club sit together. After a few minutes cycling I find a switched off outside football area. The floodlights off to save money and electricity. Football does have an environmental side. 14km of riding is followed by a mad dash for the toilet.
After waiting a wee while (I budgeted an hour and half bike ride – it took 40 minutes), people start to trickle in. Eddy, from Middlesbrough, runs the team at Murray’s F.C. (named after a local western-themed bar). He introduced himself, two Indian chaps (Danish and Sidhant), two Brazilians (Marcelo and Fabiano), an American (Dav, in a City shirt, but not an actual fan of watching games), a Chinese lad (Terence Ng), a Parisian (Nicolas), a Spanish man (Rogerio), Peppe, Werner Wentz, and Eduardo Maria. Of the 13 of us, 12 would play in a 5-a-side game, with rolling substitutes. It panned out I only had 5 minutes on the sidelines as everybody wanted more and more rests. We played for 2 hours and 15 minutes straight. I was warmed up from the bike ride. I didn’t do bad, but not great and certainly not awful. They use these sessions to play irregular games locally, saving the commitment of entering a league – here, where there are so few leagues.
From this game I was asked to play on the Sunday evening in a 7-a-side game against a local team. I said, “Why not?” Off I tootled on my bicycle ride home. The only cyclist on the road that night with either lights and a helmet was me. I raced scooters back. The 14km journey back wore out the muscles in and tired me out so much that during the night I awoke with double calf cramp.
My final week of Oxford Kingdom Flying Kindergarten (also known as Xiaoniujin Fulaiyin Kindergarten) shot by like a jet. On the final day the students, reduced to three, as Tommy was not in and Doris had gone home early had a mini party. The students from the baby class joined them. Profuse amounts of sugary candy, bitter cold meats, and chilli-infused crisps disappear by ravenous children fought fiercely over tiny tenures by way of wrapped packaging control. A few goodbye photos had been taken, but sadly deleted whilst I was playing with my phone Friday evening. Sofia and Jonlin, my co-workers for the weeks I spent there will be missed. I do hope to keep in touch.
The Thursday evening Kiso/Chenwanna, Jonlin, Sofia… and the other teachers treated me to a barbecue meal in the streets of Chenjiafang (just behind the school). Sat under a big old tree, lit by bright lights and relaxing on old plastic seats with two dogs wandering amongst my feet scavenging for leftovers was more fun than I ever thought it could be. Listening to the teachers (all female) talk in Chinese about fashion, make-up and putting questions to me over anything and everything was most amusing.
During the week Nikki had gone to the quiz. I had not due to football. We went to Irene’s Bar Saturday evening and drank an entire bottle of rum. Why not? During the day we spent it in Dongguan at the largely named 6th China International Animation Copyright Fair. This featured a cartoon procession, Cosplay competitions, a pen spinning league competition and other performances. In the main atrium of the Dongguan International Conference & Exhibition Center sat around 2500 booths. Businesses to do with tourism, sat alongside education outlets, science fiction bookstalls and graphic novel retailers. Computer gaming was present but not as prominent as I expected. With regards to creations seen in the western world, little characters would be recognised. Frozen, The Smurfs, Despicable Me, Iron Man and the Transformers are doing well in China. The rest, I have barely heard of. Two Zhuai Mao superheroes have made it onto our shelf, for only 50RMB. Oh and I had to get a wind-up bird that flies like a kite on the way in (another 20RMB gone). Masks? “Yes, please I’ll have 4” (“25RMB please.”) The fair was fun, if not a little zany. My highlight was seeing a bamboo/porcelain bicycle. For 17,600RMB it can stay in my dreams.
On Sunday, I cycled the 14km to play football, again at Soccerworld in Dongguan. I’ve not played much, barely had any kickarounds since leaving Norwich in January – and certainly nothing to get the blood pumping and feet sliding. Two games in one week would be a big test. It was. However, it was surprisingly good. Our team only had 7 players. The opposition had two substitutes. We played a team made up of one Chinese person and 8 Africans. We won. We conceded a few late on, but the final score was 13-4. Afterwards, I was asked to play again on Wednesday at a rooftop 5-a-side pitch somewhere in Jiu Xibian (a suburb of Dongguan). We’ll see how the legs are come tomorrow after the 14km return cycle ride in scorching evening heat…
Why do I love the English language? This sentence says it all: All the faith he had had had had no effect on the outcome of his life. Grammatically it is correct. Structurally it is perfect. Yet it does sound stuttered and cluttered. Whilst I may have friends (Jon Porter-Hughes – the namedrop is to test something out) who can strip a sentence, re-jig it and spit it out in many meanings, the science of English and physics of the mind dictate, if you got the message, then it was clear.
This semester I aim to teach a few odd phrases. Not to confuse, simply to infuse life into the content. The phrases include:
- I chopped a tree down, and then I chopped it up.
- When I tell you pick up the left rock, it will be the right one, and then only the right rock will be left.
- Groucho Marx, “One morning, I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got into my pyjamas, I’ll never know.”
Chinglish is a made-up word I hear banded around by many foreign nationals. I certainly see bad English translations, mistakes and phrases meaning good knows what on signs, shirts, television etc but I think it is pretty negative to draw on mistakes. If you asked me to write a sentence in Mandarin characters or even in pinyin I would be jittery, baffled, bewildered and undoubtedly would jot down gobbledygook. That said some mistakes, lost in translation or other, can be especially funny.
The body language of most Chinese is generally not relaxed, slightly coiled and ready to go. During my time here, I’ve been introduced and applauded. I believe it is customary to clap back. I did anyway. Age and rank are highly respected but judging who is older or most senior in a rankings is hard, so with my western ways I simply be polite and treat all equal, whether the cleaner or a head of a section within the school. I know the Chinese dislike to be touched by strangers. You never see hugs, locked arms, back slapping or handshakes.
When people walk here there is never any whistling or finger clicking – tapping away to tunes plugged into earphones hidden away. This is considered rude. As are handerkerchiefs. Disposable tissues are always to hand. The oddest one for me in that the Chinese point with an open hand. They never point with their index finger. This confuses me, and I certainly try not to point, but for me, this is too instinctive.
Well, I start back at Dao Ming Foreign Language School on Sunday at 0830hrs. Liam arrives back from the U.K. tomorrow and is off to Oxford International Language School (about 5km away in Tingshan. Bryony and Becky also arrive back from the U.K. to rejoin their kindergartens. A new colleague from Worlda is expected shortly for Nikki’s school. There are many interns expected too. Shortly, all systems will be set to go, go, go.
Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.
29th August 2014
So, Aunty Susan nominated me for something that seems to have hit the globe like a massive meteor. The Ice Bucket Challenge.
I don’t normally forward these sort of things or go into it. Often when you read into it, there is good reason to scrutinise.
That and I hate popular phases and fads. Nike Air Max, never had any. Gangnam Style, couldn’t give a damn. Trolls and Tamagotchis, grow up. Furbies, how do they barbecue? Anyway, slap charity with it or a good cause, and my interest is captured. Not that I’ll give up pennies, yuan or Hong Kong Dollars easily. I like to question.
On reading further that ALS (USA) /MND (UK) had problems allocating their recent surge in funding, I started to question. Then you see how much is spent on admin etc, and not research, treatment or support. They do fantastic work, but there is too much lost here. I can’t waste water in China, it is wrong on too many levels. People in this region have families in far off provinces suffering major droughts and water quality problems. The water here cannot be drank from the tap, it is often contaminated with good knows what. This week alone, our tap water has stank fishy, had a chlorine scent or come with many added bits of dirt. So I had a gander at alternative charities and challenges. Matt Damon used toilet water, and did it to promote water.org. Matt Damon, “Now for those of you like my wife who think this is truly disgusting, keep in mind that our water in our toilets in the west is actually cleaner than the water that most people in the developing world have access to.” I agree. However, the toilet cistern refills with clean water. I needed proper waste water. This is easy to find in South China. That said the concept of charity and chucking gunk over yourself is not, risk management and disease control should always play a part.
The 72 year old inspirational Professor Steven Hawking’s challenge was accepted for him by his family. Mine are too far for me to duck the challenge. I’m also thankfully not at high risk of pneumonia, not in 35°C heat.
So here is the challenge. With waste water.
Production notes: I also managed to cause a small burst to the 20L XL waterproof bag and had to empty it into the 15L Large waterproof bag.
And here is my donation to Dr Kershaw’s Hospice. To quote their website is too easy – and too clinical, but for me and from experience they looked after my Granny Ivy and the family around her in her last days. Thank you to all involved there.
In memory of Granny Ivy 1925-2014.