5th May 2015
Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello,
Last Wednesday was a reasonably tiring day. That last week had seen earlier than usual rises on each and every day. Sleep has been disturbed during the night sporadically by the warm night time air. The night time temperatures have not dropped below 24°C. They’ve hovered above that more and more frequently – and the day temperatures have been closer to 30°C. The air conditioner is on for longer bouts in the night than Floyd Mayweather can jog for.
The morning of Wednesday meant Mikkel and I, joined our grade 5 and 6 classes respectively on a school trip. The 24 classes and a coach each departed in a column towards the busy nearby G4 Jinggang’ao Expressway towards Shenzhen. I had been commandeered by class 604 and teacher Nancy. The other classes had all asked me to join them. I just figured I’d join the first class that asked and then flit between classes during the day. The journey itself flew by. The students insisting on feeding me a thousand E-numbers and many grams of sugar. I refused the vast majority of it out of politeness and the fact a proper breakfast was sat in my stomach already.
The coach eventually jolted off several bustling roads into a side track consisting of dirt and potholes. The strained suspension of the coach jolting all aboard sidewards and backwards. Eventually the brakes anchored us down and all departed the coach, smiles beaming and excitement bubbling like a pan of scorching water. Off we trotted with our tour guide, Nancy and one other teacher. We had a standard photograph taken with the entire class, then rolled on through one park gate of the short-named ShanShuiTianYuan Tourism Culture Garden… seemingly the wrong way, then we doubled back, and entered another gate. The gate should be named The Gate of Grim and Soul-deadening Bleakness. Beyond here lay pain, suffering and stenches. Animals ranging from goats, hamsters, pigs to ducks, dogs and porcupines filled enclosures not fit to store shit in them. Even faecaes needs space. The odd animal lay dead amongst despondent peers amongst the lifeless paddocks and pens. A large pond supporting very little pleasant life resembled a colour of water only ever seen after sewage spills. The students grimaced and plugged their noses. Teachers alike looked displeased. Nancy, an English teacher, asked how zoos and farms ran in the U.K. compared to this monstrosity. I explained the hefty and significant attitudes towards animals in the U.K. throughout the brief walk in and out. Even the students looked uninspired and unimpressed by this farm of suffering.
Later Nancy and I discussed terrapins, a pest in the U.K. when wild, and in China likewise. However, their disease-curing nature here is widely known and believed. We debated the various beliefs and on the whole I think I persuaded one more person that bullshit medicines are just that. From there we wandered to the main theme park next door, saddled alongside a closed waterpark. Here the rides ranged from poor to just abit above poor to dire. There was a large pool in the park for wading and the participation of goldfish genocide. Mikkel and I later estimated each class had around 80% of their students possessing goldfish. The entire lot of them having at least five fish. Across 24 classes of approximately 35 students, that’s around 3300 fish that would have had to be flushed inside a week. And that was just half our school on the trip!!!
After a gentle pedal boat ride (I had to sit on one side, counterbalanced by two teachers) around the large lake, lunch at a restaurant nearby was needed. Here a middle school teacher called Cathy and her kindergarten daughter chatted to me. Her daughter Sunny opting to lob a cuddly toy at my face, scream and then cry just before boarding the coach. I think I scared her. After the ten minute journey we arrived and wee Sunny was my best friend suddenly. Sometime later we returned to the lacklustre ShanShuiTianYuan Tourism Culture Garden. Here a wander and an ice-cream alongside talking with students was all that could be done. The arcade was rammed solid with bored students wasting their remaining school trip’s time away.
This coming week, I’ll be booking a flight back to Blighty for July. I’m returning to China in late August or early September (To be confirmed). It was with interest to read that expats may suffer shock on returning westwards recently. That and an article on manners – remember you manners when around Chinese people. Manners and customs are massively important.
More to follow…
Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye.
4 seconds ago
Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello,
School and teaching can be a nightmare because I don’t find performing or being the centre of attention a particullary natural habitat. To say I get very nervous is an understatement. I think about the worst case scenario or being found out or other such things a lot. To me teaching is terrifying and nerve-wracking. When you start, you have to ask yourself what is scarier, “To do it, or not to do it?” But for me it was scarier not to do it, because that means going back to an office or finding a job I’ll never enjoy. Here in teaching, I am inspired and fed the desire to further myself. If a class goes mammary-glands up, then I kick it in the dick and punch on like a boxer with a shoulder injury fighting in the supposed bout of the century.
Some time has passed since I last wrote. This last week has seen the Children’s Day performance script with music and actions come into fruition. Life has to be ejected from paper into stage and drama with sound. My passion for stagework is absent as always. That said, I don’t want to let the students or school down, so I’ll give it some welly with my team.
The monsoon storm season has started. Thunder has rumbled like an angry Labour party supporter at a Conservative Gentlemen’s Toffington Branch of Upperclass Humbledom as sponsored by a tax-evading multinational whilst sipping coffee that has profited only a business and not its staff or point of sale country. It has been pretty intense. And damp. Well, not just damp, but down right soggy. A midweek game for Murray’s FC (B team) was called off, with us firmly leading 12-2 against the local team Hello Kitty (Dongguan) FC. Some parts of the pitch having up to three inches of rain prevented us kicking the ball. Every bounce met with a splash and boots were firmly immersed. The moniker of all-weather pitch being a tad redundant. The opposition agreed the result should stand, which is just as well as we had to wade off the pitch at the end. Following that game we faced Chelsea (Dongguan) FC on Sunday and thrashed them 8-0. My first clean sheet since I took over the reigns of Murray’s FC (B team). Both the A and B teams are on level pegging, it just allows us to play two games at the same time and select players from our forty-plus available playing squad. Registration of players is relaxed and thankfully not an issue! Tomorrow night we will have a full training session following two defeats suffered by Murray’s FC (A team).
Back at school and my Grade 8’s seem to be falling off the tracks in two crazier than crazy classes. Classes 801 and 803 are firmly in the realm of damnation. Even their form tutor cannot handle them. If they didn’t have so much homework (to the point it gets done in classes), I’d have a chance at winning them over. Class 804 are equally testing but at least I can control them – even when they plough through mountains of homework. Class 802 now have a new old student, in that a student previously known as Mike, is taking the handle Price MacTavish. That’s a character from a computer game called Call of Duty. His class also have students called Two Things, Lelmon Young Ply, Pheidina (I don’t know how to say that!), Excalibur, G-D, Top and Frank. Class 803 is like walking into a phone store. iPhone, Oppo, Vivo, Samsung, Xiaomi, Coolpad, Nokia and Xing are just some of the names. Otherwise most names are sensible. The students here have been changing names a lot lately. In class 804, Harry Potter sits by Jason Statham. When a student asks, “Do you know my name?” I usually think, “Do you know your names?” This can also extend to birth names here, students change these every now and then, as is their right. There is one teacher, Swinly, who has had three Chinese names in the last five years. Bewilderment, perplexity, and a muddle make up half the class time in grade 8 trying to remember my students’ names. The other half of the class is usually spent begging them to discard their homework and pay attention. Or in class 802, trying to resolve an overheated projector, whilst retaining the collective class concentration.
In grade 7, things are going swimmingly. The same can be said for grade 6 – less class 603 (they’re a Monday morning class and are barely awake). I’ve had teachers, at this school, and from nearby schools offer me summerwork but I won’t be taking that up – even with the promise of school trips. There’s only so many goldfish I can see murdered.
Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye.
15th May 2015
Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello,
The bombshell that is the end date for the semester changing from July the 10th to June the 26th was dropped today. Confirmation will be given to my company Worlda tomorrow by Dao Ming Foreign Language School. I may have to take up some hard graft in Blighty to survive the summer period in the U.K. That or live off cold baken beans and rice. Easy!
I haven’t been able to book flights due to the vagueness of the end of semester date. Flights have escalated from around £500 return to nearer to the £1000 mark. I’m not happy by this. But, this is nothing unusual. Next week there are two sports days. In Grade 5, teacher Kate says they’re on the 20th and 21st (Wednesday and Thursday); in grade 6 teacher Nancy says they are Wednesday and Friday; in grade 7 teachers Cathy and Cindy say Tuesday and Wednesday… my leader at school has mentioned all of the above. I can see it happening on a Sunday night at this rate… in September… of the year 2042.
Yesterday, many hours were spent taking school photographs in grade 6. As such three classes fell on the sword and later the VIP class was cancelled too.
Last night Murray’s FC held a training session for 13 of us. It went on for two hours. When spliced between 27km of cycling each way (I went extra far to get Crystal’s birthday present), I can safely say that is why today I feel burned out, empty of energy and immensely dehydrated. The cramp episodes in both legs last night were excruciating – I think I’d rather have given birth to triplets [that is not a fact, but it was piercing to the point of waterworks and sniffles with the odd whimper of sorrow].
So, I decided, I’m back after Summer. I am really looking forward to time in the U.K and seeing my friends and family. It won’t be cheap, it won’t be easy to leave again – but here I feel I can belong and make a difference, and be wanted. There is a community in the school, in Liaoxia and Houjie, within the domain of football (mainly Murray’s FC) and at HubHao magazine. It is good to be in demand.
Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye.
21st May 2015
Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello,
If the X-Files return series needs to cast the Chinese equivalent to the cigarette smoking man, Mr Yang Wenbo (Maths Teacher) is that man. I walked into the office this morning at 8am. The door opened and a cloud of smoke hit men, headbutted me and dropped me to the floor. This man is impervious to hints from myself and the other two teachers in the office. The principal of our school has warned him, yet he seems immortal to threats or admonitions. If China’s entire naval power sailed up the Pearl River from the South China Sea, directing their entire arsenal at his head should he smoke one more stick of death, he’d simply light up a cigratte and carry on regardless. This is the kind of man who hits 100 cigarettes a day and worries about the next one. He’ll never die of a smoking related disease, he’s immune to the lot on the level of toxins he’s had. All this and he tells me to drink less Ribena or tea and to drink more water… a beautiful yet dirtily contradictive request.
Last Thursday evening last night was a celebration of Crystal’s 21st birthday. Her parents fed us up on vast bowls of noodles, dumplings, sweet-and-tasty pork, prawns [Roy Keane would have been proud] and then the customary birthday cake – with what seems like a local touch, of cherry tomatoes on top of chocolate, strawberries and cream. Crystal’s family have an apartment in deepest darkest Liaoxia. It is pretty much a penthouse, double floored roof luxury condo studio abode with a two tiered roof gardens and fantastic views of the locality and beyond. I can’t imagine the price of such a place would be an inexpensive one! Only hundreds of metres away an area I walked through on Friday evening has the most homemade and bodged shanty like dwellings imaginable.
After school on Friday was chilled out, after tottering around the alleyways of Liaoxia with just my mind as company, I settled down for a night of Lee Evans on comedy DVDs accompanied by good food. Saturday started with a taxi journey to Murray’s Bar at 8am. Mikkel and Chris accompanied, the latter causing us to do an about turn to grab his forgotten passport. After the delayed arrival a breakfast was finished in double quick time before our minibus departed to Guangzhou. Eddy as captain had selected Aaron (Preston, U.K.), Calum (London, U.K.), Weng (China), Rossi (China), debutant Chris (Hartlepool, U.K.), Mikkel (Denmark), myself and Juan (Columbia) in a squad of nine for five-a-side against a strong Chinese team in Guangzhou. Juan didn’t make it, he got lost looking for the less than obvious venue in a giant of a city!
The plan initially was to arrive and sample the thrills of Chimelong water park. However, heavy torrents of the sub-tropical deluge and a swim to the park entrance through fast-flowing entrance way river rapids into a park likely to be mostly closed due to the rainfall did not sound like amusement. Initaillay exuberance and merriment might have captured all but soon after the harder-than-drizzle rains would shrink out any delight. With that the minibus driver was instructed to drop us at an Irish bar for lunch.
The lunch, like the dinner (at Tekila Mexican restaurant) and every place along the way seemed western. The game was against a very good Chinese team where we lost 12-5, conceding 6 inside the opening 20 minutes and never really taking control until after the half-time whistle. In the evening after dinner we headed for Hooley’s Irish Bar, Revolucion Cocktail Bar and around midnight headed to Wave night club at Guangzhou’s trendy Party Pier complex. A taxi back and a hunt for a lost shāo kǎo (barbecue) the cheap and cheerful bed at 7 Days Inn (A Chinese version of Holiday Inn) was met with a thud of the head.
Going to bed at 5.30am and waking up at 9am surprised me but soon after 12pm brunch was had at the swanky 13 Factories restaurant. After crowing Calum the weekend Points Champion, we departed via coach back to a less than sunny Houjie. Rather than go to sleep early, I went to have sushi and a soft drink at Irene’s whilst watching Manchester City trounce Swansea City 4-2.
On Tuesday evening I felt weird. Firstly, at school a feral looking and mange infested dog was spotted in school by other teachers. My first experience of this was grim. Whilst talking to middle school’s teacher Amy I heard a high-pitched squealing followed by a very scared growl. As I popped my head out of the door I saw a school groundskeeper smashing the dog head first into the ground. The walls decorated in teeth and blood. I quickly went back into my office and vomited a little. The groundskeeper carried the limp but fighting to survive dog past the door, blood and body tissues flicking all over. Class 601 and 602 all exited their classes to watch what was going on. By the time the groundskeeper had stepped down the four stairs onto the playground below, the dog had managed to bite him. He threw it to the ground and lifted a rock. I’ve never seen this level of inhumane treatment up close. It sicked me and made me feel a traitor to nature and humanity to be incapable of assisting with stopping the suffering in a more humane well. My colleague Amy could see my sadness and waffled on about it being China or something. Anyway, I write this on a Thursday and nobody has cleaned the walls. The playground has been washed by recent rain thankfully.
Secondly, my phone overheated in my hand to the point where it could burn skin. I removed the battery and have since taken it to the XiaoMi service centre for assessment.
Wednesday’s planned school sports meet met with a foul ending. The heavy rains fell on Houjie like a waterfall had been installed overhead. The subtropical effects of Typhoon Dolphin being felt far and wide. The two hour opening ceremony pretty much washed out and no events actually took place. Classes returned to the schedule. My two scheduled morning classes had been during the opening ceremony. Mikkel, Andreas, Liane, Catherine and I spent the morning building a submarine. The yellow submarine construction wasn’t in preparation for the impending storm – moreso for the looming Children’s Day performance demanded of our team.
The Children’s Day performance starts with “5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Thunderbirds are go!” After a short blast of Fatboy Slim’s clichéd Right Here, Right Now, Mikkel and Liane shall perform a short segment of The Real Slim Shady. The next track up is Everything Is Awesome, as heard in The Lego Movie. We all live in a yellow submarine follows before blending into another Beatles classic, Hey Jude. The outro mix is There Goes The Fear’s classic cowbell carnival feeling piece as perfomed by Manc band Doves before We’re Not Really Here – a chant by Manchester City’s superb fans. There’s dance moves and comedy motions coupled inside the music and props including the 8RMB confetti canons. Oh yes, everything shall be awesome indeed!
During Wednesday’s lunchtime a trip to a local Xīnjiāng restaurant. The owners are Islamic and the food combines the best of Afghani-Kazakh cuisine with that of Chinese food. The owner and his family are extremely welcoming. The food is delicious. Mikkel and I often go for lunch there. On this occasion Andreas joined us because of the prospect of ròujīamó (a meat sandwich, reportedly the world’s oldest form of sandwich). Catherine was tempted and that leaving just Liane on her lonesome, they both joined the band. We set off from school in rain, not heavy and not light. On arriving we ordered a selection of dishes. With my back to the door Liane commented on how heavy the rain was. The sound of rain appeared to be dying down so I thought nothing of it. Almost moments later Andreas said the road was flooding. Then the pavement disappeared. Just as we finished our food, the first waves of water pushed in through the door. Soon after our feet became submerged. So, rather than head 700 metres back to school we opted for the 75 metre hop, barefooted in deepening rainwater to Coffee 85. The coffee shop has the slogan, “I love 85 coffee because top.” The ground level was submerged to ankle height, the road outside being just about okay to wade through. We called Cherry at school to advise we might be late back…
The first classes after lunch had all been covered by other teachers. We managed to get back after an hour and the floods receded in part. Some areas were waist deep, others had severe mud and water damage. One swelling in a road was a good two foot high, with something underground obviously trying to push out, like a giant blister of tarmac [bizarrely it never burst]. Other areas had to be pumped, or bucketed dry. Pavements and trees locally fragmented and uprooted adding to the chaos. Sirens could be heard all afternoon as the last of the storm passed by. Today’s storm is expected to be bigger. Yet, in the afternoon it still hadn’t hit. It is 26°C though – it hasn’t been cool at all this week. The humidity has made teaching uncomfortable.
Want to read more about teaching? A month later than planned, my first teaching column is online at http://www.hubhao.com/author/john/ under the link Tips for the Classroom. The second one shall follow shortly. The review of local Indian/Mexican fusion restaurant Munchalots is still online and my edited piece on Badasses of Chinese History: Zhūgě Liàng also sits online. Articles on Atlantic Attraction (a Dutch band), Brown Sugar Jar (a venue for music), How to Survive going to the Cinema (self-explanatory) and other bits shall follow at HubHao.
Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye.
29th May 2015
Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello,
I’ve just this second been taught the phrasal words Ní sī hú shuǐ guài (尼斯湖水怪). What is that? I hear you ask. Well, I’m glad you’ve asked. This is the most essential phrase in Chinese you shall ever require. Hú shuǐ guài means lake monster. Ní sī is Ness. Why are you talking about the Loch Ness Monster? Well, it all started out many moons ago. The wind was howling before a warm spring breeze cast over Liaoxia. The harsh hot air became cooler and the storms built up. With the necessary desire to eat some quality scran I went for a good old fahsioned mosey around Liaoxia. As I drifted past a t-shirt shop, I spotted her. That slender neck, those long curves and that delicious back. There she was. Nessie. On a t-shirt. In China. I asked how much the T-shirt would cost. 200RMB – £20 for a t-shirt in China is far too lavish. We parted ways.
Several weeks later and I’ve been tasked with grabbing matching t-shirts for our Children’s Day performance. On trying one place, I was quoted 150RMB to 200RMB. Native folk shopping there had prices far lower. I walked away from a dozen shops before walking back to the Nessie t-shirt shop once visited weeks ago. So, yesterday he wanted 150RMB a t-shirt. I said that this was too expensive – and I required five t-shirts in various sizes. Emerging from the shop with five t-shirts for 200RMB in total gave me a feeling of satisfaction. My bargaining skills either flounder or give rise to a great victory. There is no middle ground.
Today has seen the Children’s Day show come and go, in intense heat of 32°C and humidity of 75-85%. The heat index places the temperature feeling as close to 42-45°C. The air can make breathing seem like swallowing steam. The last three days have seen no storms but prior to that localised flooding and storm damage was very much normal. I’ve seen the Chinese equivalent of Superman wade into two foot deep water in the middle of a cross road, duck under the water and then emerge with two manhole covers allowing the water to drain away far quicker. These guardians of the mahole plugs are local heroes. There should be a national celebration for such folk.
Monday is Children’s Day so the primary school get the day off, as do the teachers. Grade 7 to 9 in middle school must work, as must I. I can’t complain, I enjoy working more than ever before. Sure it has low days, challenges and moments of terror – but when it all clicks into place, it feels brilliant – on a par with reading a great novel and discovering a fantastic ending. The performances today were vivid, fantastically choregraphed and the students within each segment had chances to showcase their talents. They are an asset to their parents, the school and society in general. The celebration of childhood and youth gives those watching and the classes today something to enjoy – and switch their focus from homework and learning, to jamboree and merriment. During our performance the 8RMB confetti cannons fired off well, the microphones seemed to fail but the show seemed to be received well with smiles and laughter. That’s what it is all about – laughter and smiles. I feel proud to have worked with Liane, Catherine, Andreas and Mikkel on this performance. They gave their all, had lots of input and worked effectively as a team. Soon we have another song performance, and Eric and Ern’s Bring Me Sunshine is the number of that day.
Beyond school this week has seen me writing articles on the legendary Huā Mùlán; a sports shopping street review; a piece about Winners Bar in Hengli; and a restaurant-bar called Gigg Club. Tonight, I am interviewing some darts players at a tournament in Dongcheng. In the middle of the week Murray’s FC fielded two teams beating the Houjie Dragons 7-5 at Soccerworld. Last weekend we won 6-3 at Hengli Buffalos FC (They have an amazing clubhouse bar where we had a buffet and lots of drinks) in Hengli, a game played following a great and powerful storm.
BOOKED IT. PACKED IT. …
I’m not really here!
The countdown begins. Tick, tock…
Want to read more about teaching? A tad later than planned, the second teaching column is online at http://www.hubhao.com/author/john/ under the link Tips for the Classroom. Articles on Atlantic Attraction (a Dutch band) and How to Survive going to the Cinema are also live now. Other bits shall follow at HubHao.
Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye.