The Curious Incident of the Dog in Běihǎi
Forget standing in a line. Why congregate in a formation of structure? Spread out. Dot the odd scooter in for fun. Hide a three-wheeled rickshaw in for good measures. Make it a challenge. We all line up behind a police officer, armed with a whistle. A stray female lurches forward but is beaten back by a blast of sound. The Policeman’s whistle is something you feel. Impatience is defeated, bodies flicker forwards and back ready to charge. Nobody can go. Eyes are left on the adjacent traffic lights. Eyes look forward at the little red man. When will he go? He stands firm. Traffic spins from all angles, left, right and centre. Eventually our time will come.
Without warning the red man is replaced by a jolly skipping green man. The feet are moving forward. Rickshaws and moped rev and zip across every possible angle. The crowd surge forward from each opposing side. From above, a bird’s eye view could be reminiscent of battle scenes from Braveheart, or Lord of The Rings. Eventaully the first wave of scooters and rickshaws meet in the middle, foot passengers converge further and eventually everyone vies for inches of space. Space to the left, space to the right, it all remains scarce. The whistling law enforcement officers at either end of the melee look on. The commotion has to end. With confusion, each soul edges through, the free-for-all tactics and tussles die down. A skirmish has been avoided as each destination is reached. The struggle to cross the manic road is over. Not a word has been spoken by any user. A silent battle of Xiàngqí (Chinese Chequers) has been won by all. There are no casualties.
Aside from crossing roads in Běihǎi, some sun was soaked up, albeit passively. The city of Běihǎi is one of the world’s fastest growing cities. To be there, is to understand why. In all directions loiters construction after construction after, you guessed it, construction. On a bike ride south and east of the city, the apparent reclamation of massive belts of the Fengjia river floodplains into desert-like plains of aridness could be seen as far as the eye could see, and beyond. Alongside this a new road structure meanders the coastline, often slicing through areas of beauty like a knife through butter. The smaller streams of Xiacun have disappeared, buried and now running underground. Haijing Dàjiē banks south as the main construction site of a road banks north. Here you pay to enter the obviously named Beihai Mangrove Ecological Tourism Natural Nature Reserve (it seems every sign had a different name for this place). Mudskippers, Horseshoe Crabs, Fiddler Crabs and other such strange crabs could be seen with ease.
Other means of transport taken on the excursion included buses (for a massive 1.5¥ and 2¥ per journey) and the obligatory taxi journey resembling something found at a funfair. One such journey by bus arrived us at the old street of town. After the 1876 Sino-British Treaty of Yantai, several Western nations (including the U.K.) set up consulates, hospitals, churches, schools, and maritime customs in Běihǎi. There is a heavily damaged and aging western style area. The remains of old buildings are mostly inhabited but under severe attrition. The area could easily feature in a remake of Oliver Twist, or equally a more modern western story. These colonial buildings are often being repaired but the vast majority shall, without quick protection, rot away. Not too far from here is a poor man’s Sea Life Centre. The Underwater World was in all honesty, a little bit shit. There is apparently a better place called Oceanorama, which was poorly advertised locally.
At the western end of Haijing Dàjiē, the Guantouling National Forest Park rises up above the sea and city coating the headland in perfect layers of green foliage. The number 6 bus ended here, in an uninviting looking carpark. A few steps to the left and around a scooter park and perfect golden sand wrapped around your toes. The 26°C heat helping to add a touch of summer to winter in this humid subtropical climatic region. The first sunburn of the year was encountered. That, and many different wedding photos being stumbled upon. Here was a photographers’ paradise, with great swathing beaches and crumbling rock-pools to aim the viewfinder towards.
So from arriving into a sleepy Běihǎi on New Year’s Eve at 11pm to departing around 8pm yesterday, a quick refreshing winter break was had. Today, in Houjie it is 22°C and sunny but it feels mild.
Christmas in Houjie
Christmas Eve marked the final 5 classes relating to Christmas. The problem of using the same material for 5 classes, is that, when you have back-to-back classes in can tear you apart mentally and tire you very fast. As the fatigue sapped energy, the students’ competitive spirit and happy responses abated any feelings of nausea. I found that for every class, I could twist and vary the structure enough to squeeze a little extra out of it. The cookies and sweets (candy) given out as presents or prizes helped things.
In the evening our collective foreign group scattered for Dongcheng to eat western food. Kira (from Germany) and Micaela (from Sweden) celebrate Christmas with their family more so on Christmas Eve. The bus journey involved a stop at a petrol station for the drover to refuel our chariot. Half the bus alighted and then lighted. Smoking in a petrol station isn’t just wrong, it is damn stupid. Without creating our own version of the Christmas caper Die Hard, we departed again. On switching buses from the L1 to the C1, we diverted our journey to the bus depot to drop off the driver’s cash. After the added ten minutes, we arrived and all legged it to the English themed bar One For the Road. The bar is excellent with a fine range of western and eastern foods. The interior and exterior could be any public house in the U.K. On arrival, Jason, the owner of the establishment, advised it would be 45 minutes before the kitchens reopened as it was so busy. We all agreed to have a few drinks and bide out that time. Hunger could wait after the longer than usual bus journeys. Sadly, after one hour, Jason apologised. The kitchen would not reopen, he handed us a 100RMB voucher each as way of apology. By which time, Rossi had arrived. So Rossi and I tottled up the road as an advanced scout group. Roadhouse, American owned, had spaces at the inn. Everyone arrived, we had some luxury grub and drank BrewDog IPA, all the way from Dundee. Santa called by the bar, gave us all a free hat, spoke something merry with an Australian twang before departing for what I’d assume was a busy night ahead and behind.
On Christmas Day, a grim smoggy white skied Christmas, I arose, eventually. To Irene’s Bar I departed. Here I helped prepare food alongside Icy, Irene, Marcus Nikki, and Kira. It was most relaxing. Over time, more folk turned up and the game of Scattergories was played, often with a competitive edge tantamount to aggression. Lunch was fantastic and many a drink was wassailed. Family was clearly missed by all expats and emotions seemed penned back by many. Christmas truly is a time for families to come together. The experience was a testing one but thankfully Marcus and Irene were very welcoming and accommodating. Thank you!
Boxing Day meant a return to school. The scheduled Arts Festval moved to the following Tuesday. A threat of rain that never came being good cause to shuffle the date backwards.
For Saturday evening, Snowy and Crystal from Nikki’s school joined Kira, Micaela, Emily, Nikki and I for food at One For The Road. The 100RMB vouchers being put to good use.
On Sunday, Rossi and I met to go bike shopping. His assistance helped me to purchase new wheels. We ate lunch in a Hongkongnese restaurant instructing a recipe for a Sichuan style spicy dish or two. Later than evening Rossi insisted I joined him and his friends for lamb. So, we had a leg and some ribs of a lamb on a spit. It was delicious. I cycled back, well aware that the evening air had cooled to around 8°C with a slight cool breeze in tow.
Aside from the Art Festival, more shall follow later on this… most of this week, yesterday, was a simple day, rounding off the oral English exams for grade 6 and typing up the necessary results. With only 3 students (all off ill) from 275 exams remaining, the lowest percentage has been 68% and the highest 100%. The overall average is 99%. Considering the tasks are a little harder than the previous year’s missions, this is far from bad. I personally think it is too easy but the teachers all agree it is much harder than a standard grade 6 paper and closer to that of a grade 7 oral exam paper.
By the end of the day my textbooks were handed back, my staples and pens removed from my draws, and a few quiet goodbyes were said. I’ll be back…
The word rickshaw originates from the Japanese word jinrikisha (人力車, 人 jin = human, 力 riki = power or force, 車 sha = vehicle), which literally means “human-powered vehicle”.
Post #95: The Arts Festival
One thing Chinese schools do well is confidence boosting school shows. They happen at the end of each semester, sandwiched between in lesser forms on a frequent basis. Students here get chances to shine, be seen for their talents and often receive a wide audience. Most parents arrive in their hundreds and often bring close family members. On stage the student will face an audience of thousands. Do the students shy away? No, they get on with the job in hand. They embrace the challenge. I personally hate to stand in front of big rooms full of people and detest the idea of standing before a crowd, yet deep down, I do crave an audience a little, just an insignificant amount, enough to take the chances presented before me. With a team, I think everyone had more confidence in their collective effort than my lack of art skills. It did feel like I was the deadweight being pulled along…
Image: The middle one is a teacher.
For many a week, and many an hour, Kira, Joe, Micaela and I had been rehearsing a Disney Medley of songs accompanied by simple actions. After many shy showings to the principal, Miss Jiang and the other school directors, we were as ready as could be.
Image: An adaptation of The Star Money or The Star Talers (or Die Sterntaler) by The Brothers Grimm (or Die Brüder Grimm), Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786–1859).
The DaoMing Foreign Language School 5th Technology & Art Festival had been moved to the 30th of December 2014. The weather was fantastic, sunny warm and not a spot of air movement. Sunburn was a possibility. The entire school’s students, parents and teachers alike sought shade under umbrellas, school newspapers and other improvised visors. The theme tune for the occasion rumbled over several speakers. Performers on the day dotted close to stage, behind stage in grade 3’s classrooms, now converted to dressing rooms. Our foreign teacher contingent stood close to stage in anticipation of the acts ahead. The principal, the president of the Oxford Education Group and other parties made speeches. Students gave messages of aspiration, hope and a great future ahead. Then the principal gathered leaders of the local education authority with him, hit a button and blew up the school. It was loud, ear-shattering, BANG! Smoke lifted up the walls of the school exterior, colours blended in like an advert for a leading high definition T.V. company, and a cloud formed high above. A formation of helium balloons drifted overhead, released seconds earlier by the students. Music billowed out, a second stream of fireworks discarded left, right and centre.
Image: Mr Wan Hei Fae, a Chinese teacher from my office, leads his school choir. A dance teacher dances infront, because behind the choir would serve no use to anyone.
After a few fabulous acts, some a little strange, including Kung Fu, dancing and singing, up we stepped. It is safe to say, after seeing so many well-tailored costumes, so many refined songs and so many choreographed dances that we were Vanarama Football Conference to the student’s UEFA Champions League. It was all a bit of fun, and it felt fun, just about! Any nerves disappeared as I tried to fathom out the functioning and non-functioning of the microphone, it went on and off frequently early on, and later on. The five minutes or so, seemed too short, yet in practice they seemed too long. It is funny how the mind experiences the same thing in varying ways.
Image: The executives, directors and special guests.
Afterwards, we could observe the remaining performances (some were very eye-opening, asn I suspect totally unacceptable in the U.K.) and relax. It truly felt a privilege to be involved with, to witness and to enjoy such a wonderful day. I’d also like to have it on record that more sky blue has started to appear recently. I think the battle against all things red is gaining momentum. The blue and white colour scheme is invading…
Mysterious Murder In Snowy Cream.
Walking back from a well-known British named supermarket (Lègòu or Tèyìgòu) in soggy conditions isn’t the best way to spend an afternoon. The walk back to my digs usually takes 15 minutes. Not today, today curiosity and a relaxed demeanour controlled the amble back. The routes that can be taken differ in very little difference. The main route is down Liaoxia Dàdào (main street/avenue), turning right at Cǎiyún xīlù (West Road) and arriving after 250metres on the left side. However, a massive block (as the Americans would say) of apartments and very small shops is sited in the square kilometre block between my apartment and Lègòu.
I’ve often wandered these meandering streets, alleyways, ginnels and passages full of inquisitiveness, nosing in on every nook and cranny like an old-fashioned headmaster wanting to know each and everything. To the locals, they don’t regard me as prying (I hope), but you see the counter-curiosity darting back from their eyes. The rarity of a westerner breaching these off-the-beaten-track trails adds to the novelty factor of my presence. As I marvel at the diversity of life and living, I feel calm and a guest, welcomed not by open arms but received without concern.
Amongst this block, there is one small road called Liaoxia Cūnlù (village road). It runs dōng běi (north east) to xī nán (south west), parallel to Cǎiyún xīlù. Hetian Police Station lies at the most southern point alongside a public square. Houjiezhen Liaoxia Community Elderly Activity Centre is next door. A very old looking gate sits inside a shabby wall. The dilapidated area around it, suggests a renovation is long overdue. Across the road is a pavilion in the traditional style surrounding a basketball court and public toilets. Beyond this is a huge excavation, as much as 25% of this entire area has been rebuilt since I arrived in February of last year. Buildings have risen from 5-storeys to 8-storeys and beyond. Alleyways and open space has been reduced.
Lex Luthor: “Miss Teschmacher, when I was six years old my father said to me…”
Miss Teschmacher: ““Get out. “”
Lex Luthor: “Ha ha. Before that. He said, “Son, stocks may rise and fall, utilities and transportation systems may collapse. People are no damn good, but they will always need land and they’ll pay through the nose to get it! Remember,” my father said…”
Amid the micro-factories sit shop after shop, wholesale, retail, internet based or not. The vast majority sell handbags and footwear with local, global and possibly even Mars as their customer targets. Often here, fake merchandise mingles with the real deal. Branded sports companies and high street high end brands are victims to this crime of selling for survival.
Regionally, there is an attempt to shed the “Made In China” label. Businesses often favour using “Made in PRC.” The endeavour supposedly discards the perception of meagre quality goods, purely by a lost in translation method. Here on these alleyways, and inside the rooms off them, it is easy to spot glue, staples and other simplistic crimping tools forming items such as jewellery, watches, shoes, accessories, handbags, earphones and other such small articles. What doesn’t fit the street-side micro-factory standards, is discarded ready for the elderly patrols of road hand-sweepers.
Last Wednesday football resumed after a winter break. We lost against a well-organised Chinese team who loved to call offside for anything everything. When you play on a half-pitch width with no linesmen, how can you play the offside trap? Not to worry. Win some, lose some. With only one substitute available and no goalkeeper, it was a good test of fitness. The second game we played fell on Sunday, a 6-3 victory over Italians FC, with Werner Wertz netting 4, Erick Dreyer bagging a tap-in and Alain finding the goal.
On Friday, Emily, Kira, Joe, Micaela and I joined the school Principal, Cherry, Regina, and Sherilyn for lunch. The previous evening we presented a thank you cake to the English teachers and shared thank you messages all round. It was a very touching experience.
During Saturday evening Irene’s Bar laid on a steak sandwiches, it was rude not to go. Coupled with the previous night’s farewell dinner at Munchalot’s (Ray’s Indian/Mexican restaurant) it was far too much western food in a small space of time. That and the tequila, Jaeger, etc…
In this last few days, fellow foreign teachers Emily, Joe, Kira and Micaela have departed. Bryony is leaving her school digs to live with a teacher called May. Kim is settled in kindergarten’s accommodation but now starting to look at more private digs, without a curfew. Liam is remaining at Oxford Kingdom International School in Tingshan for next semester.
Did you know the UK-filmed movie The Full Monty translates as Six Naked Pigs in Mandarin?
Knocked Up (Seth Rogan) became One Night Big Belly.
As Good As It Gets (Jack Nicholson) became Mr Cat Poop.
Junior (Danny DeVito and Arnie) became Son Of Devil.
Leon became The Hitman Is Not As Cold As He Thought.
Sixth Sense (Bruce Willis) kind of had a spolier. It became He’s A Ghost!
The Shawshank Redemption became Excitement 1995.
Fargo somehow became Mysterious Murder In Snowy Cream.
Nixon (Sir Antony Hopkins) became Big Liar.
Risky Business (Tom Cruise) became Just Send Him To University Unqualified.
G.I. Jane (Demi Moore) says a fair bit about gender inequality as it became Satan Female Soldier.
Twister became Run! Run! Cloud-zilla!
Pretty Woman somehow ended up as I Will Marry a Prostitute to Save Money.
Boogie Nights evolved into His Great Device Makes Him Famous.
Lost in Translation (Bill Murray) became Mi Shi Dong Jing (or Lost In Tokyo) essentially living up to the English title’s meaning…
Tonight, I head to play football again.
#97: Is Winter over? Not yet…
“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”
AA Milne quote from a poem Daffodowndilly.
Image: The planned Spring Festival holiday involves around 10000Km of travelling, amonst the 4 weeks away.
Image: Police raids shake down pavement hogging noisy speaker blasting mobile phone stores, causing scuffles and tension – and traffic jams from nearby crowds enchanted by the activities.
Image: One from sometime ago, a Thanksgiving Day evening meal for all the English teachers in primary (so not middle school).
Strange Loves (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Teaching)
January 23rd 2015
Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello,
On January the 24th 2014 (it’ll be a year tomorrow, but I write today), I signed off from Aviva, departing on an air of uncertainty (either the future or the bus journey from Aviva’s Broadland Business Park site to Norwich City centre, you can decide).
It has been almost a year on, since arriving in China. This week I have been preparing for an impromptu schooling experience. Next week, I shall teach at Dàlǐngshān (大岭山) Lianping Primary School. That’ll be the fifth school I’ll have taught at in a year (Admittedly I taught at one school for one day; and two kindergartens for around a month). Dà (大) is big. Lǐng (岭) is something akin to range or mountain range. Shān (山) is mountain. This satellite town is clustered with industries including some international names like Toyota, Fuji Xerox etc. Snake soup, Roast Goose and Hakka Dog Meat feature often on the menu, so I have to be a tad careful as to what I shall eat. On the entertainment front the Cultural Square has frequent events and themes as per an old guarantee set about to highlight local talent. Anyway, my role at the school involves ten days of teaching. There shall be 4 classes a day split between grades 4, 5 and 6. The material shall focus on:
Day One: Class rules, self-introduction, greeting words, western manners, (interrupting someone, asking permission, saying sorry, making requests, appreciate parents and teachers), help students with pronunciations, group activities. Monkey protection to be discussed in brief.
Day Two: Review previous day, functional English- traveling in English, asking ways, seeing a doctor, ordering foods, talking on the phone, shopping. Group practice (students pretend to be patients and doctors, shoppers and sellers). Elephant and Rhino protection to be discussed in brief.
Day Three: Read some small articles or biographies, make a short speech, talk about your idols (sport starts, movie stars etc.), describe someone you love (Mum, Dad, teacher, best friend), talk about your dream, what are you going to do in the future, why, play some games, test students’ vocabularies. Wildlife protection to be discussed in brief.
Day Four: Famous places, scenery spots, foods, talk about your favourite place to travel, make a travel plan, how much is your budget, how can you make that money. How to protect our environment, pollutions in China, how to be a good citizen. Wildlife protection to be discussed in depth.
Day Five: Describe Chinese new year in English, traditions, eating dumplings, making new year wishes, wearing new clothes, lucky red colour, lucky money, fireworks, family dinners, visiting relatives and friends. Chinese animal zodiac protection to be discussed in brief.
In total 90 PowerPoint slides have been prepared, games and supportive material sit side by side. I think I am prepared and have a good plan, but until that first class, I have no idea of the student ability and depth of ability for each class of 40 students. So, by Monday evening after that first day, plans may twist, change, resolve, modify, trade, switch, alter and vary drastically from the base strategy and design currently to hand. That’s the beauty of creation, you either repair, adapt or destroy the plan – and nothing should be simply the same as the initial idea or proposal. Best laid plans…
This week has involved a trip to the cinema to see Kung Fu Hustle in 3D. With Stephen Chow as the lead role and director, this film could not fail. Shaolin Soccer is still the better flick for me, but in 3D this film is pretty darn good. Eva Huáng Shèngyī doesn’t speak in this film but her words are loud and clear as do the full ensemble of this Hong Kong cinema epic deep-rooted with Chinese stars and references. In some ways the action comedy martial arts film is a spaghetti-western Neo-noir epic. The music is captivating and the choreography engrossing, bringing you into a comic reflection of 1930’s Shanghai. Liáng Xiǎolóng as The Beast may have made his name in the Bruceploitation that followed the death of Bruce Lee, but in this film he is a worthy adversary of any good guy. I have no idea why a 3D release has been shown in China and Hong Kong, around 11 years after the original release… kerching (I expect it will head west soon: http://variety.com/…/kung-fu-hustle-to-be-re-released-in-3…/ ) The best thing about this cinema trip was Kimmie, Nikki, Liam and I were the only people in the cinema.
Last weekend Murray’s FC with only 8 players beat Italians FC 5-2 [ERICK, MARCELO, ROGERO, WERNER, (all from Brazil), TIM (New Zealand), MAX (Nigeria), ALAIN (Sheffield) & I played] and in midweek we lost 7-5 [MAX, MARCELO, DANISH (India), ROSSI (China), ERLIN (China), ANDREW (South Africa), BARRY (Nigeria) and I] to a very good Brazilian side. In the five games I managed, we won three. A 60% winning rate isn’t bad and amongst the games, the last two made me proud to play football with such a hard-working team. With that, due to teaching and the travel plans of Spring Festival, I’ll hang up the boots for a few weeks/maybe just over a month!
More shall follow on the travel plans…
Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye.
#99: Xīn nián kuàilè
Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello,
Chūnyùn grows ever closer, it sits around the corner, waiting to pounce. If you blink, you won’t miss it, it’ll go on for some time. My only real comparison from experience was cramming on a train from the University of Aberystwyth (Wales) to Shrewsbury or following a visit to Wembley with Manchester City. Passenger journeys here however shall far exceed the national population. Two billion plus journeys. I’ll start counting and it’ll take more than two years to get to two billion… Students, migrant workers, locals, commuters, everybody, all moving at once. If we all jump at once, will it cause the ground to shake?
Businesses here will halt, many have already drawn their shutters. Families, friends, distant friends, people without friends, prisoners and so on… for people here, this is the most important period of the year. Community and togetherness are brushed aside, now is the time for family.
Chūnyùn, is essentially a race for life, if you don’t get the train, coach, or air tickets, you’ll be stranded. As migrations go, it is more impressive than witnessing an undersea, unexplained mass sponge migration. Kick off this year is set for around the 4th of February but signs are already showing of the impending stampede. Houjie has no train station. It does have a ticket booth and having passed it earlier on this week twice, the queues stretched 500 strong. It was as if One Direction had arrived in town, but the screaming teenagers had been replaced by people as old as alleged victims of Cliff Richard.
Soon enough, tickets available on sale 61 days prior to national residents (or 21 days prior to journey if you’re a foreigner), will be in hand. That is, assuming you have your Identity Card or passport to hand, the relevant train number and an idea of whether you want first class sitting/sleeping (hard or soft bed), second class sitting/sleeping (hard or soft bed), or to stand for journeys longer in distance than anything I care to imagine.
The average person may take more than their bodyweight by way of bags, suitcases, foods, gifts, snacks for the journey, etc. At each station, or coach terminus, all must be scanned under an X-Ray machine, sniffed by the odd sniffer dog and sometimes inspected by hand.
The Ministry of Railways, the coach companies and to a lesser extent air travel are The Fat Controller. Thomas and friends are everybody else within the realms of Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó (People’s Republic of China). Railway travel is cheap, far cheaper than air travel. Coaches can also be very cheap. Easing travel and queue times seems to be a nightmare for all involved. So the extra few days of being able to buy tickets (it used to be 21 days in advance for all passengers) filled every train to major and lesser cities. Teachers at my school panicked and cancelled classes in order to book journeys sooner. Some journeys depart at early or late uncomfortable hours. The main thing is, they’re going home. To climb a mountain’s summit you must put in the effort that the scramble requires.
I haven’t experienced the joys of Nián Jié (Chinese New Year/農曆新年) or the cāidēngmí (lantern festival/猜燈謎) 15 days later yet [March the 5th this year]. The entire Spring Festival promises to be very interesting.
I’ve read reports that say around 80% of people from Běijīng (meaning Northern Capital), Shànghǎi (the name means above the sea), Guǎngzhōu, and Shēnzhèn (the name means deep drains: 深圳) will migrate with one aim: to get home for Chúxī (除夕). The equivalent to Chinese New Year’s Eve, which involves families congregating for a huge reunion dinner, named as Nian Ye Fan/Evening of the Passing.
I still can’t get how populated or how big China is. This link shows a list of cities.
So with this intended last post of the lunar year… Xīn nián kuàilè (Happy New Year)
Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye.