3 Mar 2014
Last Wednesday, it was all lesson plans in and feet up around ten p.m.
After school on Thursday I had to teach the Chinese English teachers some English. We discussed the difference in UK working/study hours compared to China. I can safely say they were shocked. I also explained on my old school, Reddish Vale, we had a a farm, and no animals were ever slaughtered for food. They did not understand. I did stress on the whole in the UK we have a cuddly attitude to animals in general. I avoided the badger debate.
Later that day, we joined a group of foreign teachers to play (and I use this word loosely) basketball and football. Suddenly, our status in the community went from being strange western folk to rock and roll stars. The locals at the quaint square showed us how to play basketball – and we in turn played piggy-in-the-middle with a football. Some badminton occured but on the whole not much to pass comment upon.
Friday night arrived and we had some grub at the local market with Briony, Becky and Birgetta. Esben, James, Simon and Liam weren’t allowed as their names do not begin with the letter b. I’m unsure how we managed to get an invite on that basis. They did stop by briefly before getting a taxi elsewhere. The food was akin to Chinese meets Tapas. We each grabbed some grub (around 50 Yuan, enough for 5 people) and added our own beers (6 Yuan per 600ml bottle).
On the Sat’day, we popped over to Guangzhou by bus (38 Yuan) with Esben and Birgetta. It took just over 1.5 hours from Houjie bus station (via Dongguan). The journey wasn’t too bad, with plenty to see, including Baiyun‘s cable car. We then popped on the busiest underground railway I have experienced to Shamian Island. Here there is a pretty green gardens full of statues showing old and modern life in the this once colonial settlement. Oh and birdsong throughout! This is something I have noticed in Guangzhou and Dongguan so far, there is so little nature! The whole region has many river basins, tributaries and streams. You will not see any ducks. You’ll barely see any birds.
After the little island hop, we wandered though the main market area and eyed the varied spices, dried dead things, funghi, caged birds and plants (loads of Bonsai trees and cacti etc) before settling down for a late lunch at… Pizza Hut. Think UK Pizza Hut but smaller portion pizzas, regular is tiny. Oh and they do rice, noodles, Chinese teas, Chinese food too. Compared to other places, cost wise this equated to 330 Yuan for 4 people. Massive difference to any local foods.
Once the bill had been paid we headed to the banks of the Pearl River, strolled along and enjoyed the bright lights, hid our distaste of the hook-a-duck style game for bunny rabbits, turtles and little caged birds… delighted at seeing a wild terrapin swimming, only for someone to scoop it up and put it in a box (food or pet?). In the distance we could see the Canton Tower, very far away. It is massive, China’s 2nd tallest building – and globally number 5 on the freestanding structure front. This is one place we shall explore soon!
Our feet grew heavy, so we departed via bus (30 Yuan each) – changing at Dongguan for a taxi (60 Yuan between 4 of us). The last bus from Guangzhou to Houjie departs at 1830hrs – and we left at 2120hrs.
And last night I watched Manchester City win the League Cup on Chinese TV, on a sofa. Armchair fan.
4 Mar 2014
So, today I asked what time do the buses run to Guangzhou and where can I find a bus timetable. The response gained was simply, “They run diffferently every day and change often, even on the day.” So if you travel by bus, pray one is there to be journeyed upon. On Thursday we both have to travel to Guangzhou, to arrive by 1430hrs, by bus. We leave our workplaces at 1130hrs. The journey can take anywhere between one to two hours.
Oh and as to timetables, today I had not one, not two but three massive school lesson timetable changes. Life here is so fast. People here work hard, things filter through bit by bit. But on the whole, you’ll not hear me rumbling, life is good here.
Nikki has just wandered in off the streets having been out drinking with foreigners from another school.
Now I shall pop on some Morecambe and Wise* before bed (it is 2210hrs now). Feel free to email me videos to download etc – and anything you think I can share with my students. There is a great website here called Tudou which has reasonable streams of recent movies.
(*something to get the locals into)
7 Mar 2014
Well I finally got the link and password for the blog, so now you get to hear some bits from me. Well week 3 is over can;t wait for the lie in tomorrow. It’s not just me but all the teachers feel tired once we get to Friday. I’m fine teaching the kids as they keep me on my toes, but as soon as I get home thats it I shut down. Really enjoying it here its a great community there isn;t a day that goes by without someone saying hello. I’ve not done any running as yet, but do have trainers for when I start just been busy preparing for the 15 lessons I teach each week. Now I know what I’m doing (kinda) I can start Nikki’s Chinese Bootcamp in the next week or so.
Really enjoying teaching the kids always make me smile. I teach K3 (5-6years old), K1 (3-4) and baby (2-3). K3 is fun as they are really smart and can understand most of what I’m saying/teaching. There are a few kids that constantly speak to me in Chinese so I just keep smiling and saying yes, but I love that they want me to be part of their class. K1 is hard work as they are very playful, but they are my favourite class as I get lots of hugs from these kids (plus I know all of their names as only 12 kids), just need to think of ways of controlling them. Baby they are cute they have no idea of English so its down to me. Now they know my name everytime I walk by their classroom they say ‘Teacher Nikki’, this always makes me smile. I even stay and have lunch at the school with one of my K3 classes, food is better than the free food in the canteen where John eats. They even celebrate birthdays of the kids during the month by having all classes together, we all sing Happy Birthday,play games and then we all get cake! I have already helped redecorate the school with kids crafts/drawings, craft is defo my favourite lesson the kids love it,and during it they are quiet and well behaved.
We hope to explore the area over the coming weeks/months just need to get an idea of how to get to some of these places.
I have chatted to some of you on skype however if you are on skype and have not got my address it is firstname.lastname@example.org would love to hear from you all.
Take care and I’ll write again soon 🙂
We’ve just sponsored Family of Ivy Freeman. You can help them raise money for Dr. Kershaw’s Hospice too by donating at www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/IVYFREEMANFAMILY
John & Nikki x
9 Mar 2014
On Wednesday, one of my colleagues, Birgitta had her bag snatched on the way to school. The culprits sped away on scooters with a bag containing Birgitta’s passport, laptop and purse. Since then the school community, the local Police and foreign teachers community has really pulled toghether. Thankfully she wasn’t hurt and has responded positively, despite what was clearly a tough ordeal.
On Thursday we went to Guangzhou to apply for residency, a process pretty painless, save for a reasonable sized queue and the local government office taking our passport/foreign expert certificates off us for about 2-3 weeks. we have photocopies until they are returned.
Today we went for a wander, looking at some shops and the town centre of Houjie, where we found the first DVD shop I have seen in China (that isn’t found on the back of a wheelbarrow). We got Muse live at Wembley and an Elbow DVD for 15 Yuan each (about £1.50). There are recent releases for similar figures too. There were around 20 shelves of DVDs from the west, but one was wholly set aside for Cliff Richard! Afterwards we spotted some impressive cacti for sale, alongside goldfish, rabbots and terrapins. Nothing in China surprises me anymore.
This weekend has been grey and rainy, alike to that of Manchester. The forecast is to quote the locals very poor (http://www.bbc.com/weather/1809858) – just hitting 20-24C next week.
Nikki wants some plimsole shoe things. In Houjie, where we live, you cannot move for shoeshops. Every second shop sells belts, sunglasses or accessories in some form. Every building, be that shop or house seems to sell shoes. This place caters for millipedes, with tiny feet.
This past week has been all about preparing lessons for the coming week – and activities for my Grade 5 (10-12 years old), Grade 7 (12/13/14) and Grade 8 (13/14/15) classes. I have regular classes (around 40 students), VIP classes (8 to 14 students) and classes for PE teachers or English teachers to learn English better.
Tonight, we met several more foreign teachers, a Russian called Ginny, a lad from Cambridge called Adam and his partner Nicky from That London way. They came with several Chinese teachers for grub at the market. Nikki seemed to be enjoying hersefl, having shaken off a mild form of man flu manifested in a cough and general aches/pains. Nowt serious thankfully.
Right time to watch Uncle, downloaded from BBC3 recently.
14 Mar 2014
Wǎnshàng hǎo! Good evening!
“Teacher, you have spelled kilometre wrong!” Back off American spellings? No, I had to explain the difference between USA American English and proper English from proper England. I even avoided a debate on oven bottoms, muffins and barmcakes (cobs etc) – I think here, just calling a bread roll, a bread roll is enough food for though (pun intended).
This week I have succumbed to using a VPN service (roughly £5.70/month) as access to a proper search engine is needed. BBC iPlayer, Facebook and Twitter is a bonus, that said I won’t spend too much time on them. A bigger bonus being that I can change the Internet Protocol address to other countries and watch their TV online… good bye free time, hello TV. Scrap that, TV is not something I am missing that much. It is good to watch some comedy on every now and then, but it is not essential. Tonight, a group of us foreigners are off to a Korean BBQ place. It doesn’t specify if the food is of south of north decent, I assume Korea is unifed it’s love for grub and hate of ostrich meat (topical… but where?).
This week has flown by, work is busy but very, very laid back. Today, in one class a Chinese English teacher was asleep, in her custom made deck chair. I wanted to take a photograph but didn’t want the students to notice… oh and no phones are allowed in class… so I didn’t. It isn’t the first class this teacher has kipped in. On a sidenote all students sleep from 1245hrs to 1330hrs daily in their classrooms, and most teachers follow suit. Not me, too much to do. I have to practice my ping-pong skills (or lack of).
Oh and the PE teachers thought I was scared of a giant spider in my office. I was trying to catch it to take photos!!! It was as big as my hand, grey (or gray, sicne 1825 AD in US of A) and quite flat looking, but immensely fast.
This May I have my eyes set on a trip to Hong Kong FC to see MCFC Under-21’s. Fancy going?
Have a good weekend!
Gàobié / Goodbye!
John & Nikki
19 Mar 2014
So many people, left, right, centre, behind, infront, all over. 1,363,370,000… and rising by 0.46% per year (ranked globally as 155th on the CIA World Factbook. The U.K. is growing faster percentage-wise and ranks at 147. China has 19.1% of the Earth’s people. China’s official government bureau dedicated to statistics even has its own clock to show the ups and downs. China has around 141 people per square kilometre, compared to the UK’s 262 people per square kilometre. So why does it alway feel busy?
Welcome to MegaCity One (one for the graphic novel geeks). 711,820,000 people in China live in large towns, conurbations and cities. In the U.K., 79.6% of people live in an urban environment. In China, it equates to around 50% (and rising). The percentage of arable land set free for farming here is much higher than the UK, as such, 943 people are sustained on each km squares of arable land to the U.K.’s 1077. China has lots of ghost cities, towns, shopping centres and sparse unpopulated built up areas. Of the 16 gargantuan apartment blocks I live in, the vast majority stand dormant, dust-ridden and bidding for new occupiers. One such example was on TV recently here (and after searching online via a very colourful search engine), I have read more into Ordos. Have a gander, loads of opportunities there.
Anyway, last night I joined Nikki, Bryony, Becky and Bri with the lads (Liam, James, Esben) at the square. Life here never seems to stop. At 5pm the roads and public areas are busy, the same at 7pm, 8pm, 9pm etc. The girls danced in a local version of China’s Got Talent (a big square full of couples and kids, cheap disco lights provided by rollerskate-clad kids zooming by and Chinese music of the disco kind). Meanwhile us lads (less Esben who fell over in a recent shower accident and gashed his feet – this is his second such fall in as many months) played football with the local children. I say football, I mean, I’ll pass, James’ll half-pass, Liam will pass, then the local kid smashes the ball at… a) a fellow local kid; b) an innocent passer by; c) in the mush of one of our group’s face. Proper good clean fun. Last night we even had a local man join us and show us his silky skills. There is always a real sense of community and welcoming here. And dust…
Dust, more dust and dirt. There is no three second rule. Chinese people squat to talk or sit somewhere clean. The floor has no seat, bags are held onto and not placed down, and anything dropped is pretty much discarded. Streets have order on the whole, litter is few and far between, there is always a hand road-sweeper to erm… hand. There is more dust than I care to imagine. Houjie is under the process of building a major shopping area, new hotel area and railway line. On top of that every second block has some form of minor re-construction or other building work. Esben, Liam, James, Bri, Becky and Bryony all live in a block for interns. On Saturday, they were kept hostage by building work. The 7-storey building adjacent was occupied last Thursday. By Friday it was empty. The top floor relocated to the floor below. On Saturday morning, the builders blocked the interns into their apartment. Gravity and physics brought all remaining blocks to the road – blocking the interns’ front door (until around 6pm). Things just happen here. No warning signs, no roadblocks, nothing to indicate health and safety. If Rosie (Health and Safety) at Aviva could see this, she’d be flabbergasted!
That night we went to KTV (Karaoke). The Chinese love it. We met the interns, Randy, Armstrong, Vanetia, another Nikki and Mike from a different school at the market for food, crossed the road around 9pm, paid 98 Yuan [around £9.80] (for all 13 of us, including snacks, and 6 drinks to be shared) – it being about 4 Yuan a drink thereafter (about 40p). In KTV you get a booth/private room (with ensuite Chinese toilet, nowt to shout about), a TV and Karaoke computer ad 2 microphones. You then murder every song possible. The selection methods are odd but many western classics are on there. Each is butchered accordingly. 13 people, 13 lots of differing tastes and a considerable mess later we head home. For marriage reasons I cannot mention Nikki as being on the porcelain blower to God that night, but to be fair, she had been on the local brandy, and had lager. Cider and rum being nowhere to be seen. Ford the record, I sang a couple of songs, badly. Your rain is on me.
Yesterday, I was bitten on my left cheek (face not bottom) by a mosquito. Bite number 3 of the Chinese adventure. I’m fairly certain Nikki has not been preyed upon by the airborne biting fraternity.
Thought of t’ day: 0.83% of Chinese people speak English. Welcome to job security and demand to all English Teachers.
Who’ve we got out here then?
- Becky, early 20s, from Birmingham/Sutton Coldfield area. Softly spoken, mean sense of humour when her partner in crime Bryony allows her chance to speak. You never see Becky or Bryony separately. They are not Siamese. Becky is often seen in dresses, she suits them a lot. Becky teachers in a Kindergarten linked to the school but approximately 10 minutes away by bicycle. I believe Becky is from the mental health profession originally. How admirable.
- Birgitte, AKA Bri, Bree etc, mid-to-early 20s, Norwegian. Her accent is American. She looks American. There is an apple tattooed on one of her wrists, she lived in New York for a while. Norwegians appear blonder and certainly more fair-skinned. Bree is going on to teaching at University after this TEFL placement.
- Bryony, early 20s, from Scarborough/Whitby way, British. At first I thought Bryony was mouthy, loud and possibly obnoxious. I could not have been more wrong. She is just loud. Brighter than she makes out, a good conversationalist and passionate about teaching the wee ones in Kindergarten. Her eyes are steel-willed and intense, I will not pick an argument with her at any stage soon. I think Bryony is pretty down to Earth, a proper Yorkshire type.
- Esben, from Denmark, around 21. Dippy, clumsy, accident prone, naive but generally very friendly. His sense of humour is different. Still a puppy that is well travelled and needs to relax and stop trying hard to be popular. Esben loves his hair and beard too much. Vanity issues. I think he is the youngest of a few brothers. He seems to like drinking and living up to a Viking stereotype. I’ll keep him away from the villages…
- James, below 20, from Ramsbottom or Rawtenstall, East Lancashire way. If James was any more laid back he would devolve or become Mork from Mork & Mindy. He is very giddy over things like dinosaurs and politics but means well. He can sleep in the average nightclub, with all speakers blazing Justin Bieber or some god awful racket about the fox’s choice of speech.
- Liam, acts 12, is 18, from Weymouth, Dorset, U.K. A little boy, but bright, competitive but non-threatening. He’s different because he is from Southern England, Bath is Barrrtttthhhhfff. He isn’t one of them hoity-toity types. He seems to be like peas in a pod with James, they’ll miss each other after China. They may even get married to each other.
- Simon, early 20s, Swedish. Stereotype lived up to. Rarely seen with other foreign teachers, he regards himself as a “token white person.” He does openly admit to being here for inter-racial relations with the locals.
Not a bad bunch here, very little character clashes so far and certainly no backstabbing or bitching – unless I’m the topic of conversation (unlikely as I am boring). If you are one of the above and you feel my descriptions have been less than satisfactory, you know where you can recycle the letters and write your own prose or elegy.
That’s all folks!
Dear diary… dear friend… dear John… etc
Sat’day afternoon I was feeling groggy, but nowt major. Sunday, I seemed to perk up but occasionally had a bout of dizziness. Monday, my voice, came and went several times over. I had three classes, it was a managable day. Tuesday, three classes later and I felt awful. Along popped Wednesday and cold sweats, hot flushes and every part of me ached. For two days I have been to bed early. Today, I feel worse, yet yesterday I seemed to get better as the day went on. Today, I ache. Have I been to the gym? This morning, Bright, the head of department informed us foreign teachers, the sudden change from cool to hot temperatures brings a seasonal flu. That may explain the numbers of sneezing, coughing and spluttering students that are in classes. There is the odd empty seat as students are off for vaccinations etc too.
Oh and spitting is massively normal and accepted in China. Hock one up, the bigger the better and gob it out, walls and floors are acceptable. I won’t be joining this habit! Yuck. Great way to control flu…
In the U.K., I pretty much would not have gone to work like this. Here it is expected, deathbed or doctors before you consider a day off. It hasn’t been an easy day. I have not finished my powerpoint presentations or games & activities for next week. I have done my lesson plans for the 18 classes. Maybe tonight I will finish, if I stay awake. Today’s classes have felt like a strain, a burst of enthusiasm seems out of reach. My Grade 5 students bounced around happily and I just managed to keep them on the right side of anarchy. Meanwhile my Grade 8 students were half asleep, tired by a combination of hot weather, P.E. classes and flu symptoms. A half-inert teacher did not inspire them greatly! The four-in-a-row and racing car games got their attention, mind you!
For lunch we had an option of beef (mostly fat), seaweed and chillis (do not eat when ill or dehydrated) or fishheads (whole) in chilli with green leaves or finally soup. There is always lots of white rice. Always. So rice and beef was today’s lunch time choice for me. Nikki can eat in my school canteen but opts to eat at her school (they get way more choice, noodles, dumplings etc). Most foreign teachers avoid “fish-head Thursday.” I have tried it, but there isn’t much meat on a noggin of any fish. The eyes taste horrid too. The brain isn’t that bad. I’d recommend that.
Anyway off for dinner (evening meal or tea) now.
John (Nikki will write soon!)
Yesterday, we fancied a wander. In this neck of Houjie, there is the odd park, a river and some sports parks to explore but nowt major to shout about. So, we set off around noon, the temperature a mild 23C, from our gaff to Nancheng (between here and Dongguan centre). Two and a smidgen hours later (via a food place that was playing Christmas songs in English) we arrived in Dongguan city centre. Along the S256 Guantai Road, we deiced we’d head for Dongguan city centre. 13.7km later we arrived at a welcoming park with a half-drained pond, some sort of Chinese talent show stage and a concrete screen of animals you can no longer see as they have been eaten.
Dongguan is massive, but not as big as Guangzhou or London. It does have some pretty big open spaces in the centre. The parklands stretch up through the cityscape like a snake descending a tree. Dongguan markets itself on being green, it isn’t far off. With our Here Dongguan map and monthly magazine we wandered around aimlessly. The odd English poster was to be found adorned the odd shop window about ex-pat activities. Dongguan appeared very new, international but lacking of old buildings and traditional Chinese decor.
The park wasn’t bad, then we had a gander in a shop and Nikki now has some more minions… and I have a bottle of Captain Morgan’s spiced rum for 元91. Yey! We had a wrap with something carrot and bread based in, very light indeed
On the way back we grabbed a taxi (after walking from Dongguan centre to Nancheng bus station – nowhere near the city centre! It is worth noting the other bus station by the South China Mall is much further away too!) and it cost a massive 元23 (or £2.30) for a 20 minute ride back. Taxi rides, coach journeys and other trips along the road are interesting. There appears to be very few rules on the road. Generally cars switch lanes like some wild version of roulette and lanes are optional at the best of times. Cycles, mopeds, scooters, or three wheeled taxi bike efforts can use pavements, roads (regardless of direction of the lane) head on, alongside, through red lights – with no hint of regulation, and if the Police are present, there is again no rules. Maybe I should get them to consider cycle helmets.
This week I am mostly trying to learn numbers in Mandarin… and they have a smidgen of logic… but are damn hard to understand.
〇 líng 0
一 yī 1
二 èr 2
三 sān 3
四 sì 4
五 wǔ 5
六 lìu 6
七 qī 7
八 bā 8
九 jiǔ 9
十 shí 10
十一 shíyī 11
十九 shíjiǔ 19
二十 èrshí 20
二十一 èrshíyī 21
二十八 èrshíbā 28
三十 sānshí 30
三十二 sānshíèr 32
四十 sìshí 40
五十 wǔshí 50
六十 lìushí 60
七十 qīshí 70
八十 bāshí 80
九十 jiǔshí 90
一百 yībǎi 100
And, to close please visit http://acton28.wix.com/a28 to see photographs on the tab marked Spring In China.
30 Mar 2014
Tuesday came, Tuesday went – and with it high humidity for the best part of the day. Somewhere between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning my body had become an all-you-eat buffet for mosquitoes. My left arm has gained two prize winning bites; my right hand was not spared a nibble; the left forearm had a bite; my lower back had two lumps of feeding frenzy and my ankle (right on the sockline) copped for one too. So yesterday, I was a tad itchy but resisted – and still each bite falred up like a dod displaying it’s breeding lipstick (too graphic? Tough, my bites are bigger than the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral). Today (Friday), I find another additional chomp mark by my left eye. So, how do you avoid mosquitoes? Nuclear war seems the only viable option. That, and tonight I shall stock up on coils of mosquito repellent at tesco (or our other local supermarket). The mosquito net (in our otherwise mosquito free apartment shall be put up, just in case). Deet and the alternatives are at hand. Not so I can avoid being bitten, moreso to avoid canine penial metaphors. It could be worse Briony has a massive 28 bites from one evening. From nowehere came the winged terrors.
Good news is here. On Thursday, I invested in a bicycle (the seat stem had Giant Butted written on it, a selling point of ever there was one). Bad news is equally here. Last night I suffered my first punctured tyre. The roads here are littered with bits of metal, glass and shards of the wastes of life. I have a pump. I own a helmet (practically the only bike helmet in China – and one that fits too). I also have a rear bike light. Bikes here (scooters and motorbikes too) rarely have lights. Cars often never use them too. I’ve seen artics travelling poorly lit streets in our area with what i can only describe as two Tesco value torches fastened to the front. Anyway, tonight I shall buy lubricant and a puncture repair kit for my bike. Nikki hasn’t got a bike yet. That is something we shall sort this week.
This weekend, starting Friday, I intend to go to the pub ran by the wife of Marcus (a Maori bloke). We had a pub quiz there last Wednesday night. Our team came second but with the team name “Liam’s Mum’s Tribute” as the least imaginative team name going, we didn’t deserve first place. The team that came first had and average age of 55. Our team’s mean average age was closer to 25. The round on US aircraft threw us out a bit but we still came 2nd that round but we lost many points in the music introduction round. It turns out Otis Redding and Elvis Presley are not our collective strong point. Next time we’ll win!
On Tuesday, we wandered to a local temple, (see the map for our location by Liosha Road/Liaoxia). It was very pretty, and had some good views. Photos will follow at some point.
At school this week I have had two very quiet days, Wednesday and Thursday being month end exams for my grade 7 and 8 students. So with that, 8 classes were cancelled. Feet up? I think not. I was asked if I’d like to teach kindergarten (Nikki teaches them). It turns out the two kindergarten schools located next to my school are linked with my school and another. Nikki’s kindergarten shares facilities but not graduating students. So, James, Birgitte (referred to as Bri), Briony (known as Amy due to kindergarten students not being able to say Briony), Kelly (another foreign teacher from a local kindergarten) joined forces to prepare for Friday’s demo/recruitment class.
This morning started with weather (sunny, cloudy, rainy, and windy – complete with actions), the days of the week, a body parts song (heads, shoulders… knees and toes) before moving onto a song based on fingers and clapping. Twenty minutes later, a bucket of sweat (we were outdoors in 28C) we sat down and watched the entire school (less grade 1, 7 and 8) perform a dance routine. Not as bad day, but not something I am keen to repeat. As great and as enthusiastic as nursery/kindergarten schoolm children are, they’re too tiny.
**written on Friday, published Sunday early hours**
30 Mar 2014
…to my mum, mother-in-law, all the wonderful mothers around the world, and the mothers no longer with us. You make us, you shape us, you support us x