February 2014’s posts

The opening of the blog

27 Jan 2014

Today, we have created this blog.  I say created, I mean, we fiddled with the settings, spliced open the internet and slapped some colours all over the show.  We have argued, battled and bid upon purples and blues.  It will change eventually, in line with our domestic disagreements.  But, now we are unemployed, soon to be homeless hobos and travel the land of Great Britain until stepping foot on an aeroplane bound for China (via Doha, Qatar).  Farewell Aviva, farewell Colchester Zoo, farewell Essex Boot Camp, farewell Merida T3 Speeder… and so on.  Over and out, Nikki & John. x

We’re not really here…

2 Feb 2014

…oh yes we are, oh no we are not, is this Punch & Judy?  The title on the main webpage is updated and running.  The links about to be passed around our family, friends and public domain (Base in the place London…).  We’ve spent today watching Wales beat Italy in Rugby Union Six Nations.  Now England are on against France, and we have a house party/rave in Cornwall.  The last week has been fastpaced with fairwell drinks in Norwich, Colchester, meeting our kid Asa and Steph down sunny Cam, Gloucestershire… bumping into Jen and Kerry around Brizzle, then meeting Nikki’s cousins for Chinese in Gloucester.  Nikki’s car just about got us to Cornwall, and I never broken the handbrake.  Honest.  Now let’s upload the blog and website – and publish.  Live.

Granny Ivy Freeman 1925-2014.

8 Feb 2014

Rest in peace.

Yawns, planes and automobiles

12 Feb 2014

How do,

So, on Monday we flew from Manchester.  We arrived in Doha around 7 hours later, before a swift changeover flight to Guangzhou.  7 hours later we arrived.  Our luggage appeared to take an extra hour on Generation Game-style carousel.  A water bottle, a ripped up pouch and a cellophane-wrapped box went round and round.  Several British folk from the original Manc flight enquired as to the whereabouts of our cargo.  We advised simply of our waiting of said gear.  Eventually our two rucksacks appeared.  Much joy broke out.  Fireworks, party poppers… are prohibited so a sky high fist did the job.

Prior to departure the check in desk staff spotted that I am of the bandy-legged persuasion.  Within 5 minutes, the outbound flight and connective flight bookings now had extra legroom (previously not available online).

In flight, Nikki watched Pacific Rim (on my recommendation), Gravity and Elysium (Matt Damon…).  I gave a look in to The Wolverine and World’s End on the basis, I could not concentrate.  The inflight grub was plentiful and very good indeed, like a posh Meals-On-Wheels.  It did the job.  Aside from the release of a thousand guffs, and a lack of sleep (the man to my left snored and I was sandwiched between him and Nikki).  I think Nikki managed a couple of hours, I’m unsure if I did, it did not feel like it.

With our luggage we proceeded beyond “Nowt to Declare” and Passport Control.  This was very efficient.  Onwards we pushed our trolley full of luggage, passing a plethora of cards with names, mostly of the local tongue and “Welcome home” before arriving at the end of the swarmed masses.  Nobody had our name.  Where was Jane from Worlda?  Before, we had chance to ask one another this question, out popped Jane in a yellow bubble jacket holding a post-it note with our names.  A friendly welcome followed before we were bundled into a bus to the city centre.  At the city centre we changed into a Taxi (not like Transformers, mind you).  From here, we were dropped at a hotel, Hua Cheng Inn.  We have looked this hotel up on Bing Google is restricted here.  The room is spacious, well ventilated and has a lovely (low) shower.  There is a TV showing hundreds and thousands (there is about 30, really) channels in Chinese.  No BBC.  No repeats.  Yey.  Overall, the room is more than functional.  Especially, with jet-lag which hit immediately at 6pm (local time), and today at 6pm (we have napped until around 10pm local time now).  Last night, we had something akin to Pot Noodles.  They were very tangy indeed.

Be careful crossing the road.

Today… well in a moment, I’ll type about today.

Ta’ra chucks!

John (&Nikki)

“And why do we fall, Bruce?”

14 Feb 2014

Nǐmén hǎo!  (rough pronunciation as: nee-mehn haOW)

Yes, we’re going with Mandarin, apparently Cantonese is similar but regarded a tad like Welsh is to the English.  However, it is the original local regional dialect.  Mandarin is dominant.  As for learning written words, there are around 106,230 Chinese characters.  New characters are invented often, these logograms or Hanzi look grand and pretty mind.

For me, today, has been a mentally tough day.  I started off feeling very pessimistic.  Things just didn’t seem to be clicking the way the moulds seemed to be fixing for other folk.  That and my tummy felt a tad off after lunch.  However, positive mental thinking, a supportive Wife-i, clear training and guidance from Casey at Worlda has assisted.  So, from 2pm today, with feelings of, “Why am I here?” / “What have I done wrong?” / “Can I meet the challenge?” to this evening with thoughts of “I can do this” / “Stand back, freight train of effort en route“, etc, my mind is more determined.  Hence, the Batman Begins quote.

So, since last time I wrote (Nikki has not written yet, despite my asking) jet lag kicked in, a lot.  Today, I feel 80% in line with local sleeping hours.  Water (bottled, distilled, clean) is being drank at an alarming rate.  Tea is pretty much the norm here, no Earl Grey or Tetley folk in sight.

Temperature wise, we arrived, it was on a par with Blighty, mild, chilly at times.  Then it got chillier, then damper, like we’d brought the rain with us.  I thought we left that at Uncle Ed’s and Aunty Chris’s.  The hotel we are living in, for the moment, is chilly.  The cleaner keeps leaving the windows open.  We keep closing them and whacking the air-conditioner/heater combo on to full blast.  Today’s high was 12°C, but night temperatures have been pretty much 0°C.  That is preferable to the 4°C on our first day here.  Monday is expected to hit 19°C.  Sub-tropical Spring is on the way.

The usual fast food chains are dotted around and most deliver by bicycle, even the golden-M sort and Jabba-the-Pizza Hutt.  Whilst useful, there is a superabundance of local restaurants and eating establishments.  However, few and far between where you can enter, point and self serve.  An intern at Worlda, Alec assisted with our medical examination for immigration purposes and the opening of a bank account with SPD.  Alec took us for a meal at a local restaurant-cum-café.  It wasn’t bad at all.  Our trainer/colleague, Casey, introduced us to a similar eating place yesterday – and we returned today.  Rice served at first instance.  Point at meat.  Dish.  Point at vegetables.  Laugh at baked beans as you pass them.  Buy. ~ 18 RMB per person.  NB: Casey is Chinese and does not eat rice.  This should be passed by no judgement.  It is the Chinese way not to bat an eyelid at anything us foreigners consider unusual or against the norm.  I like that attitude.

Meals ate with chopsticks (where supplied):  100% success rate.  Nikki, has managed a 66% rate.  It isn’t all that bad.  Not easy, but not difficult.  I have impressed myself.

That said, Crocs are okay.  Any footwear that has no back is frowned upon and considered dirty, unhygienic and you may be labelled a hobo.  No tomb-stoning chopsticks by the way, lay them flat across the dish and not stood up!

RMB, ¥CNY; also CN¥, and CNis very odd.  It resembles the worst features of using money in an Eastern European state, playing Monopoly and listening to parent’s talk of schillings and halfpennies.  110 yuan to 100 yuan notes, and the odd lower denomination coin, lighter than air.

Anyway, time to dash, so much to type, write and relay… but I have homework.  Lesson Plan 1 (J1 and J2 levels) need tweeking.  Lesson Plan 2 needs creating!  Today is also Valentine’s Day, I wish to track down chicken feet to feed to the Wife-i.

I hope all is well.

Zài jiàn.

John (& Nikki)

A difficult day

15 Feb 2014


To be told, you cannot do something only to later to be told you can (but you need more and more practice, where time does not permit) is a tad confusing.  Oh, and by the way, you shall be a team leader.  So you can lead, but not teach.  To be fair, I have had three tiring days (and long hours by UK standards) to prepare.  Lesson plans have been written for Junior 1 and Junior 2, as well as Primary grade 4… Nikki gets Kindergarten (in British, Nursery school and Reception).  Anyway, today from 9am to 7.30pm has been a tad stressful.  At one stage, around noon, Nikki and I had the option of switching school years.  Oh, and we have to relocate from Guangzhou to Dong Guan, still in the Guangzhou province, but slightly south of here, and north of Hong Kong.  The Pearl River flows to the west and ferries float every which way necessary.

We may have to visit the world’s largest shopping centre/mall, New South China Mall.  I’m told it is mostly empty.  Bit like the average UK high street then.  Dong Guan means smiling east.  So, we best smile.  Dongguan is just south of the Tropic of Cancer.  Best take my shorts!

Anyway, we have to check out before 9am, go to training and prepare 4 lesson plans tomorrow… then travel in the afternoon to temporary lodgings before starting work on Monday morning in Dong Guan.  So, I best stop putting off the packing of the rucksacks that is being put off by me typing the word put off in an effort to put it off further.  Am I put off by today?  No.  Until next time.

Oh, and to put things off further, we haven’t taken any photographs because we’ve only wandered around the city of Guangzhou briefly at night!



John (& Nikki)

Last Sunday

22 Feb 2014

Saturday night:  “You’re both going to a school in Dongguan.”

Sunday morning:  Pack.  Check out.  Practice a lesson plan?  No time, we spend most of our time resolving admin matters in Worlda’s headquarters, yey!  We set off to the coach station via taxi.  Casey, our co-worker gets us to the railway station.  A lengthy stroll with around 50 kilograms of luggage later, and we’re at Guangzhou’s bus station.  It doesn’t look much, like a throwback to Eastern European bus trips, but as long as a ship.  We join a queue for Hòujiē Zhèn, next to the queue for Dongguan.  At this stage, I have serious doubts about Casey’s navigation skills.  Ditzy is the word I shall use.  Casey is very clever, very well-intentioned and helpful, but she is to directions as ships are to falling off the planet’s edge.  She is an ex-Teacher and works something closer to 70 hours a week!!!

Sunday afternoon:  We boarded a coach, one with just 3 empty seats left.  The coach conductor moved a man (who didn’t seem too happy) from the front seat after I sat next to him.  Next thing, Nikki was plonked next to me.  We did not mind sitting apart!  Casey sat somewhere to the back of the coach.  The journey went quickly, a very straight forward journey down the 3 lane motorway where indicating is rare and undertaking could easily have two meanings.  As we left the city of Guangzhou the landscape of the Pearl River delta appeared flat as skyscrapers shrunk away and smaller buildings, farmland and regular river tributaries drew closer into view.

The coach passed a Tesco, we got excited.  We arrived in a square and grabbed our stowed luggage before popping into a taxi.  The taxi dropped us outside a school, at that stage we did not know if the school was Nikki’s or mine.  After a short wait, Casey introduced us to Bright, the head of foreign languages at the school, Dao Ming.  We had food in the school canteen before being shown around the school briefly.

My contracted hours are 35 per week, at present I am in line to do roughly 18-22 hours of teaching.  I shall not complain, we get paid 35 regardless.  So if one week, I do more, it makes very little difference.  I have to stay in the office (my own office) to assist PE Teachers as they learn English.

Not long after we had a short stroll to our temporary apartment provided by our school.  The room was one of three on the fourth floor.  It was very basic with a small double bed, fridge, wardrobe and desk in one cold room.  Outside is a tiny balcony with a washing machine and tiny bathroom outside.  The bathroom has a Chinese toilet (like a Turkish toilet, but Chinese).  We met our neighbours and the landlady.  Casey left us to go to her hotel.  To be continued…

Blue Monday

23 Feb 2014

Nín hǎo!



The Sunday night previous, we had also located the nearest supermarket, oddly a Tesco.  Not quite what you see in the UK, but close enough to recognise.  We have a VIP card (Tesco points).  The supermarket has a live food section (fish) and shedloads of Western foods.

Up and ready after a warm shower in a cold room, a quick snack and a small deposit into a Chinese toilet later…

Nikki popped off to her kindergarten class in the neighbouring school.

I was invited to attend the opening of the school ceremony.  The vibrant school colours of red and grey (or gray) covered an athletics track’s inner green full of children, from nursery (kindergarten) age to mid-teens.  The kids marched on the spot, keeping warm as much as keeping order.  Music thundered over the tannoy, not quite Boys In Blue, but equally full of trombones and heavily-priced instruments.  I felt privileged to be able to experience this.  The flag and national anthem followed, before several awards for star students.  And then as soon as it began, they scattered.

My first lesson was at 11:20 with Junior 2, level 2 (aged 13-14).  I had a few hours to run through my plan, powerpoint presentation and calm my heavy nerves.  Had the students not depended on me, and had I been in the UK, my nerves were so strong, I would have legged it.  I was proper uncomfortable.  Anyway the introduction was okay, the kids’ passion for studying and curiosity carried me through the first ten minutes.  Then my laptop and the school’s projector fell out.  I wished the ground would swallow me.  I wanted to bolt.  A rabbit in headlights.  Normal service resumed, well it seemed like a lifetime later, and the condensed lesson (with a very sweaty and panicky teacher) closed at noon.  Sink before you swim.

Lunch at the canteen was rice, something, summat and other bits.  Pak choi (Chinese cabbage), peppers and bits of meat were recognisable.

My second class (students of the same age and level) was a polar opposite to the first, sadly, I only had the Chinese teacher in the room and no head of department, principal or Casey from Worlda to see how well it went.  And then the third class (students of the same age and level), with exactly the same outcome.  Positive ending.

In the evening, we met several interns James (Manchester), Esben (Denmark), Liam (Weymouth), Bridgette (Stavanger, Norway) and others who work with Nikki.

As part of the job, breakfast (breads, light rice dish), lunch (rice, two mains, and vegetables) and dinner (like lunch) are included for both of us.  It is greasy but adequate.  All teachers eat together, so whilst our lack of Chinese is a hindrance, the local teachers lack of English is made up for by their desire to try even just a basic phrase or two.

My role includes teaching PE Teachers a spot of English and western culture/sport.  Football is not big here.  Basketball is huge.  Surprisingly, very few people here have heard of Manchester, let alone my football team (or even the dirty red lot from outside Manc).

Oh, and we cannot see comments on here.

Today, there are a few photographs added to the main website.

Until next time… zài jiàn!

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday…

23 Feb 2014

Late Monday night was spent looking at apartments.  On arrival to Guangzhou we had the option of a set pay with apartments included or a slightly higher payband with no apartment included.  We figured out that based on local prices we’d be better off paying for this out of our own pocket (we’d get a better take home pay).

Two places in one block later and we decided the 2000 Yuan/month apartment, a massive 200 metres from the school gates was perfect.  It has cable TV (with 1 or 2 English language channels), a fridge/freezer.

For Tuesday, one lesson scheduled, Junior 2, level 1.  So, 12-13 year olds.  Lots of time to lesson plan and internet access at work.  Or rather no access, as the wireless router was down.  Grrrr.  The lesson went reasonably well.

PE Teacher training was scheduled for every Wednesday as of next week.  A meeting with foreign teachers and Bright was pencilled in weekly from this Thursday.  After work we went looking for HSBC and thankfully Dongguan has a branch in our area of Houjiezhen.  Admittedly, I walked a fair while there and back in my Dr. Martens and blistered my feet up pretty badly.  We needed the money for a deposit, pay the first month’s rent and to get bedding for a larger bed the landlady had agreed to fit (the following Tuesday).  Later that evening, we moved into our new apartment.  Esben and Bridgette kindly helped us carry our bags – thanks to both!

The next day, I had 2 lessons, both went reasonably well, although Chinese kids on the whole are damn bright, hardworking and focused, there is 10% of the class switched off, hard to interest and generally sat like naughty kids.  Their Chinese teachers sit in my lessons, and aren’t impartial to a good ear clobbering to get their focus.  However, on the whole, manners and obedience is present mostly.

The Wednesday evening Nikki and I joined all the foreign teachers we know (there are around a half dozen in the two schools) and watched some local opera and music on the square opposite the school.

By Thursday our apartment (at a cost of 1100 yuan per year) had internet and wi-fi installed.  My first team meeting with fellow foreign language teachers took place.  Worlda, had given me the role of Team Leader to help the interns, review and offer feedback whilst at the school, Dongguan Daoming Foreign Language School (often referred to as Oxford Kingdom).

Then Friday arrived and a release of energy in the evening.  That day, I was unaware that Friday operates on a different timetable than Monday to Thursday.  Easy mistake, which will be sorted.  4 lessons done.  Lesson plans for the following week all submitted.  Time for a well deserved beer.

Friday night lights

23 Feb 2014

Friday evening, we joined teachers from another part of the city.  Nikki’s colleagues Briony and Becky had met another group.  So we joined Peter from Birmingham, Robert from India, Peter from Denmark, Randy from China, and someone nicknamed Stretch Armstrong from China.  We did try to go to a Korean BBQ buffet, but surprisingly there wasn’t space for 14 folk.  So, Randy shouted that he knew somewhere else.  We crossed 10 lanes of traffic on foot (like you do), popped down a side road where Robert explained that the local entertainment industry (KTV, Kareoke bars etc) had all been shut down due to corruption and police raids on brothels and the like.  Someone piped up that Dongguan is seedier than Thailand and Amsterdam.  Not that it mattered, I just wanted good grub and a beer.

Within minutes we passed the first Western-style public house (it looked more like a holiday resort bar).  After our meal, we had a drink there, at 40 yuan a drink!  Most bars serving Tsing Tao were much, much cheaper!  The meal we had at “Rough-looking street eatery of the year” was cracking.  It would not be a place I would choose to eat.  Ever.  Randy and Stretch (I’m sorry, I never got his actual name) ordered us beef hotpot, some fish meal with fisheggs and noodles, and some rib based meal.  Alongside this we had shots of Budweiser (the glasses being big enough to gulp one and a half times).

Now, hygiene in food eateries is different to the UK, but every place gives you clean and sealed bowls, cups, chopsticks and there is no such thing a a three second rule here.  Food drops.  It never gets back on the bowl (plates are very rare), it should never pass your mouth!  So far, no ill effects.  We have eaten at the market twice this weekend, the food is fresh, cooked before your eyes and served well.  It isn’t quite perfect but it is authentic and the locals eat here often.  As a rule, if it is busy, there should be no need for extra loo rolls.  You do adapt pretty fast to the Chinese mentally of, eat anything.  We saw a pig being chopped up on a street corner.  Live food has mostly been restricted to fish so far.

So after that grub, we wandered some miles looking for a KTV Kareoke bar.  To our surprise, it was closed.  Police enforced.  So, we drank and played dice in a local bar, where the locals took photos with the girls and Simon (from Sweden) who dressed in a suit.  We snacked on some deep-fried fish and some other bits of meat.  Then half the group went by rickshaw and three of us by taxi to Robert’s humble abode.  His place, it turned out, was only a mile or so from our digs.  Robert made us most welcome and his balcony has a fantastic night sky view.  There is a temple in the distance we shall have to explore.  Some time later, we went home and Saturday was our first lay in since arriving.

The people of Dongguan are being influenced by the west and have more and more pets.  Mainly tiny yappy dogs.  Roosters on rooftops is normal.  The odd chirpy Myna bird on a balcony adds to the urban ambience.  In the evenings, fluttering bats add to the surreal sense that dusk and relaxed family walks is the norm.

Last night, we gathered several westerners at our digs to watch The Life of Brian and natter away.  Drink responsibly.

Today, we have looked at the neighbouring 14 apartment blocks (all secured by entry gates manned by guards) and grounds.  There is a swimming pool, basketball court and outdoor gym area.


Boomtown Rats got it right

24 Feb 2014

Lesson one, 75% okay.  Lesson two: pants.  Lesson three:  better, but still a car crash.

After work we handed over passport photographs for the local Police registration, but there is still no sign of our actual passports, sent by courier by Worlda from Guangzhou on Friday.  Arghhhhh!  Panic.  And in other news, Nikki is helping me loads and that is why I married her.  It will get better.


News travels at a different pace

25 Feb 2014

So, some news was on the TV today from the west, and I am glad to see it is something I can relate to.  John Shepherd-Barron invented the ATM, and here in China they sometimes work, but often decline you due to their internet connections to the western servers.  HSBC is very far to walk.  Bank of China is everywhere but equally useless.  I will praise the banks here for having booths that you may enter and exit, keeping your transaction and safety in hand.  Then I looked at the date of the passing of the ATM inventor, it was some 4 years ago… news?  Also, this morning they were showing City v Barca on CCTV5.  Only a few days late.

Lesson one today had 10 observers, 6 Chinese teachers and 4 foreign teachers.  That kept the class well-behaved, too well-behaved.  They were too quiet and less reactive to questions.  I can’t wait for the feedback from Bright, the head of foreign languages.  I have great admiration for him and his management skills.  As for the lesson itself, it ran smoothly.

After lesson one I observed Esben in his lesson to 9/10 year olds.  There is a huge difference in ability and what you can teach, and how!  Older kids have more face and want respect, but don’t generally show off.

Nikki seems to be settling well with her Kindergarten Crew.  Her click of Chinese and foreign teachers always seem to be first at lunch.  Lunch is from noon until 1340hrs and involves grub, a blast of energy (basketball or running around) followed by a nap.  It really is bizarre for us westerners to see.  That said students are here early and away later than any UK 9-5 job!

So, the second piece of televised news was the passing of Egon Spengler.  Harold Ramis, director of the great Groundhog Day (a film that seems to never be off UK television during winter), star of Ghostbusters and the sequel, writer of Caddyshack and Animal House died of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis at 69 years old.  Having in recent years been tested for a form of inflammatory vasculitis of the nose, I wouldn’t want to be diganosed with that.  Grimness aside, I hope to introduce a few kids here to the joys of Ghostbusters!  Now can someone get me a copy with Chinese subtitles?

There is so little censorship as to what kids watch here, I entered a class as they ended watching some horror effort with Sean Bean, Silent Hill: Revelation.  In the UK, this was an 18 on release.  In the US, R-rated.  There were a few grimaces and downtrodden reactions by the class watching this, but on the whole, it was accepted as not being real.  Compared with the next set of 13/14 year olds watching Shrek, this was not expected.

Oh, and internet search engines annoy me.  I miss google (Google.hk is bobbins here).  I really do.  Baidu (in Chinese), Bing China is odd (see suggested subjects, I was looking for a photo of dancing), Ask (didn’t even know it still existed), toudou is like youtube but damn hard to fathom out, but is littered with piracy.

So, today, I say farewell, but wish Nikki and I luck for our first Mandarin class!

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