Nín hǎo (if you’re old) / Nǐ hǎo (to everyone else),
“Why worry? Each of us is carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.” There’s something strange in this neighbourhood.
This morning after receiving a confusing message from Cherry about a timetable change for primary school, I was accosted by several female members of class 701. It turns out, I was late. Late for what? Late for a changed class from 14:50-15:30hrs that somehow was changed to 09:00 to 09:40hrs. Honestly, a slight morsel of communication in middle school would fashion a substantial and constructive difference. Instead a half-sleepy teacher rushed up the stairs, laptop in hand, and eventually woke up after 5 minutes of a frantic and condensed class. 40 minutes of substance into 30 minutes seldom slinks into status. Afterwards, I double checked the new two day temporary timetable. It shall heavily impact classes tomorrow, essentially pulling them forward by an hour or so. The reason for the mass upheaval of studies is to allow students to have their health check. One conducted at various stations around the school grounds by a team of scary looking health professionals. Nurses wear pink, presumably, they washed colours with their whites. Doctors wear white, and get to smoke like troopers on the school grounds, barking orders to conduct strange looking muscle movement assessments.
In the two weeks since I last wrote those words that I last wrote, Eric Morecambe’s had his legs stolen, the Dachau gate has gone walkabouts, a space mission went up and down rather fast, and more locally I deflected a moped bike with four people on board. It has been a strange period indeed. Pull up a chair, gather round the campfire and let me tell you more…
The most upsetting thing, in a week or so of strangeness, for our clan of foreign teachers has been the denial of entry to P.R. China to our colleague Becky. She went to Hong Kong knowing that an application for a visa would result in a 7, 14 or 30 day extension at best. Sadly, the at worst scenario occurred. Here ended her teaching experience in Houjie, only one week after her and Bryony’s housewarming party! Last Friday, Bryony asked Nikki and I to call by the kindergarten office. A plan of action soon fell into place, in amongst a dozen or so teachers and senior staff drawing up their own ideas but not showing or revealing them until much later on. After a commotion it was determined someone who have to take Becky’s luggage and final salary to Hong Kong. Only Nikki and I had the relevant multi-entry visa to allow for this. So, after signing for her wages, as my responsibility (no pressure!) and agreeing to drop Becky’s luggage, we went to Bryony’s (and formerly Becky’s) apartment, packed her things, ate and then went to Irene’s Bar. All of this fell on Hallowe’en and at the end of a very hectic and tiring week. Being physically tired, mentally fatigued and emotionally drained during a sub-tropical autumn spell is not good. Yesterday, we all gathered in a coffee shop and group video-called Becky via Skype to say goodbye and wish her a pleasant journey back (she flew this morning).
I had previously said goodbye to Becky in Hong Kong, having taken a stroll for pizza and a coffee with her, passing the protest site in Wan Chai and taking the Star Ferry just to get some sea air.
Back to Sunday, and with this day, most of us helped carry Bryony (now detached from her contract at the apartment) and Bryony’s belongings to school accommodation (where she’ll share an apartment with Joe). On the way over, I crossed between cars, waited at the halfway markings, looked left, a motorbike-scooter was 100 metres away tucked behind a car, looked right, could cross after a car passed me in 5…4… 3… 2… 1. I stepped forward. Whallop. The bike had hit me. The wheel was on my foot and four people fell off it. Hard bloody luck. The handlebars caught my waist area. Shocked as I was, I looked at the two adults and two teenagers gathering themselves at the floor, scowled and walked away. Thankfully, I was not injured and not too annoyed.
On Tuesday the task of setting up the outdoor Hallowe’en area started. Originally we had been told, “make it ready for Thursday morning.” That changed to Wednesday morning late on Tuesday. What with it being my 32nd birthday, I thought after the Mandarin class we’d go for food. Prior to Mandarin class was a manic rush to mark out the Hallowe’en area and convey to Micaela, Kira, Joe and Emily of my plans for said grotto. Whilst the day started brightly, an autumnal glow of sunshine reflecting off everything in sight soon faded away to greyer skies. Classes passed with pleasure, two classes, 703 (fast becoming my favourites, something I don’t usually agree with) and 701 performing the traditional birthday song very well. The school flag raising ceremony conductor even led class 703. During the day I forgot my aches from the previous night’s football (a massive 10-1 defeat to Murray’s F.C. Smoggies to a Brazilian team featuring the brilliantly skilled Mateus; our other team Murray’s F.C. Owls beat Italiano F.C. to keep our collective unbeaten record against their teams).
That evening our foreign teacher clan went to Al Pozo’s Italian Kitchen on Houjie Dadao. Here I had gorgonzola gnocchi and a Bombay pizza, followed by a complimentary dessert and several house spirits. I enjoyed it, despite feeling like I wanted to sleep all day.
Wednesday arrived, we worked our socks off, and cobbled together the Hallowe’en area. Particular credit to Emily for her artwork and Kira for assisting throughout. Micaela and Joe worked hard too. During that day, my classes had all been cancelled to allow me to assist with our four games (Pin the bone on the skeleton; witches’ hat hoopla; a ten pin bowling alley; and a blindfold game where the aim is to pop a balloon within the shape of a pumpkin. Over the three days, the students enjoyed the games, gave great cheer and the feedback from the teachers matched this. It may have been fastened together and bodged a fair bit, but it worked well. All the foreign teachers felt shattered from manning the posts for the three days. My respite coming in the form of 7 classes I had to attend on the Thursday and Friday. Even so, I sweated a fair bit, was bitten a lot by mosquitoes and students alike, and felt like a zombie afterwards,
Irene’s Bar on Friday was fantastic, even if I arrived late and departed soon after. Marcus and Irene had decorated the place to resemble a haunted grunge bar. Black-curtain-clad walls lined with spooks and spectres topped off with freaky looking effigies and fantastic make-up special effects for the staff (it looked professional and wouldn’t have been ill-fitting on the cast of The Walking Dead). Local school students, children, adults alike from the neighbouring area lifted the curtain entrance flap up and gazed in wonder at a brilliant display. Fair play to those who helped create this horrifying wonder.
The week before Friday morning I’ve been teaching the P.E. Teachers words useful for their coaching of basketball. Slam dunk is one phrase they really wanted to learn. I’m not sure the basketball teams here have a player who can jump half the height of a basketball net. Still, at least when they do, they’ll know the correct locution for the instance. Mr Hu and the other P.E. teachers, joined most of us foreign teachers for food at Liaoxia Market and drinks at Snow Bar. In an evening, where he chatted up Becky, little did I know he’d call me the night after Becky was denied her visa, and cry about how much he wanted to get to know her and how much the opportunity for love had been missed by Mr Hu. This sounds crazy enough, but for the detail that his English is not so good and my Chinese far poorer. Thankfully, Shirley, was on the other end of the phone too, so acted as fānyì (translator).
Last night’s football game against Fred F.C. (another all-Brazilian outfit) ended in a 7-5 defeat. Their Messi-aged-40-lookalike proving to be a handful bagging most of their goals from long range. Afterwards, I, like the team felt, deflated – but on reflection that we competed against a team heavily graded as being superior to our own. We were without our star keeper Eduardo (a Brazilian) and Ken stepped into goal, and gave his all, but alas it was not to be. Afterwards, I agreed to teach English to another Brazilian (Rogerio, who is Marcelo’s uncle) from next week. I’m sure with this many Brazilian expats in Dongguan, the area is technically and enclave of Brazil – and with many contracts locally going to the production of the Rio 2018 Olympics, they should just raise their flag and call it a good old fashioned invasion, and not a peaceful one, I demand samba music and street parties galore. Unless of course a street party contravenes regional laws and could be mistaken for a protest. Did you know in China it is only legal to protest against Japan? I didn’t, I’m not even sure this is true, it sounds like an urban myth.
Temperature-wise and weather wise, Autumn has arrived, the high today is 25°C. Tomorrow’s high is 28°C. The lows are pretty much 19°C all week. The air feels cooler and humidty has dropped off. The air is a little fresher but I’ve yet to feel anything tantamount to cold.
Here Dongguan send a weekly email with a brief weather forecast. Last week it read as follows:
Under the dominance of anticyclone aloft, the weather will be generally fine over the region in the next couple of days.
From the Dongguan Meteorological Bureau:
Friday, October 31: Mainly fine, 23-30°C (73-86°F)
Saturday, November 1: Mainly fine, 24-31°C (75-88°F)
Sunday, November 2: Mainly cloudy, chance of showers, 22-30°C (72-86°F)
Monday, November 3: Mainly cloudy, chance of showers, 21-27°C (70-81°F)
Well, there won’t be any snowmen around these parts for a long while.
Their voices can no longer be heard, their words no longer spoken. The souls have carried away lives that never were lived. They had an hour, a minute and a day, so little time when a month or year was needed to live long and happy. They stood for pride, for their country, their friends, their family. Some were conflicted, some battled hard, others deserted, many of whom suffered before, during and after. You cannot experience anything someone else can feel, not precisely. Fight or flight. The battles, conflicts and wars of yesteryear gave rise to needless deaths. Some heroic and many tragic. Some deserters survived and changed names, some faced gaol, a bullet or other such tragic ends. The Shot at Dawn Memorial is a British Monument (National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire). 306 soldiers faced this in The Great War. Of them 25 Canadians, 22 Irishmen, and 5 New Zealanders. 3000 had been ordered to be executed. The unfair trials of cowardice and the stigma that surrounds this remains a stain on history, a blot that should not be swept away or looked upon in shame. Embrace it, and remember, attitudes and times were different in darker and more desperate days. The firing squads also suffered the emotional pain of executing their own when fighting the enemy. Those shot for such offences deserve pardon, in a way that does not insult those who died honourably on the battlefield. Nobody truly wants a war or battle. You fight for freedom or belief when words cannot fix something. But to be shot for fear, when some lied to enter the battlefield is wrong.
Whatever your belief, I think it is too late for the lost voices.
1 day ago
For Tuesday night, following Mandarin class, I finally sat down and watched Dawn of the Planet of The Apes. It was very good indeed and full of geeky links to all the predecessor films and T.V. series. In some ways it was a temporary escape from everything around me. Beyond that a tough game of football was had on Wednesday with victory over a local Chinese outfit, containing a lad who is prolific at scoring goals and has a mean right foot – it broke Marcelo’s fingers with a shot recently. We triumphed 15-10, with a comfortable ten goal lead until the final 15 minutes, when we can safely say, no substitutes or energy assisted the opposition. Thursday and Friday petered by, a restlessness ahead of the following week’s midterm exams crept in, lowering the usually happy mood of the classrooms. On Thursday evening I met Jonlin and Sofia from the Summer kindergarten I worked at. We talked schools, Becky’s sad departure, the variety of foods locally and other such small talk that assists one with relaxing. All this was over a delicious, yet spicy hotpot. For Friday night and Saturday, I designed my powerpoint presentations and class lesson plans. A cycle ride, many spicy dishes for lunch with teacher Shirley and another teacher I don’t know their name filled up a very lazy day.
Sunday resembled Saturday, save for going to have pizza with Liam and enquire about how to repair and clean my laptop. I met another teacher from Liam’s school, Cherry (Cherry Number 2 – is her username on wechat, honestly there are so many girls her called Cherry, Coco, Yoyo, etc), she is tiny. This is very common here, most people are small but every now and then, someone more petite than tiny is introduced to me. It does make me self-conscious about my stature, even if still confident! China really can resemble the Land Of The Giants at times. Bizarrely, there are some really tall Chinese folk, just few and far between.
So, today, three successful classes have passed, one on key vocabulary moulded around the African Hunting Dog and one class based on Hotel vocabulary. A student said today he has learned so much about UK culture, Manchester and football from me today. For this, I am content. But, I don’t want to rest on any Laurel and Hardy’s. It is easy to spot a badger in a zebra convention held at a zebra crossing. You must strive to be better, always. Always, better.
Tonight, I play football for Murray’s FC Smoggies, which is something I have enjoyed in freedom because of others in the years that have passed by.
Today is sandwiched between Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance Day, something I value ahead of my own birthday and Christmas or any other holiday. In China few people understand the significance ofthe 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Tomorrow, I have no class at this time, so I shall find a quiet area and pay my respects.
I found some interesting material on the forgotten army of World War One. BBC’s Dan Snow didn’t have to deliver it to me either. The Chinese Labour Corp are little known. Britain and France both recruited soldiers from China. 140,000 Chinese soldiers experienced the language barrier without the aid of google, Bing or other such search engines, without MP3s, or Rosetta Stone (aside from a profit making language course, look this name up). China declared war upon Germany on the 14th August 1917. Prior to this the soldiers serving were not allowed to fight, purely to assist with logistics and all round labour. Most of the Chinese who served travelled the long way round, via the Pacific and Canada… then the Atlantic. The three month journey favouring safer passages than the horn of Africa and eastern Europe. They even repatriated later on via the same routes. Many hundreds of students accompanied the 40,000 troops under French control and 100,000 under British control. Unlike modern days, back then the Chinese could only be identified by a personal reference number, not a name. It was estimated around 5000 or so remained in France. Following the conclusion of the war, the British government sent a bronze War Medal to every member of the CLC. The medal was identical save for material to the silver British War Medal. Very few soldiers saw combat yet 2000 souls perished during and after the battles. Spanish Flu claimed the majority of these men in an alien land. There are several distinct tombs and burial sites in Belgium, Northern France and the U.K, each engraved with Chinese characters guarded by two stone lions, gifts from China.
“Faithful unto death (至死忠誠)”
“A good reputation endures forever (流芳百世)”
“A noble duty bravely done (勇往直前)”
“Though dead he still liveth (雖死猶生)”
Today, is considered cold by the locals. It is 20°C now with highs of 25-26°C and lows of 16-17°C expected most of the week. It is damp, drizzly fine rain (the kind that soaks you right through). Whilst others don jumpers, sweaters and jackets, I bask in the cooler air. It is always shorts weather. Autumn is considerably cooler and there is little to no humidity.
Here I stand, against the flow of traffic, free from the usual 9-5 rigmarole of regimented retirement aiming British cultural work life. On departing Blighty, a mixture of excitement, sense of a new opportunity and a nervousness or apprehension about not knowing what awaits filled my already cluttered mind. Here I sit, stand and wander, 275 days after leaving my native lands. How do I feel? 49 days of this year remain, I need to make my mind up.
With respect to the occupation, a profession revered highly here, I still feel more highs than lows. The ups outweigh the downs. Each class, each student, individual in their responses, often swayed by the passions or lack of passions by others. I totally understand attention needs amusement. There is more pressure than a Bayern Munich goalkeeper having to save a last minute penalty from Sergio Leonel “Kun” Agüero Del Castillo to deny Manchester City a victory (I can pray for such moments). Each day is different. Some days I feel I have achieved much, others not so much. One class can make you feel like an asset, another like a snag in the school hierarchy. You can be the most positive, passionate, prepared and determined teacher with all the transferable skills in your arsenal but one or two class hijackers can change anything.
Class 704 are in this respect, kitted up with every possible form of I.E.D. or anti-tank bazooka. They don’t intentionally want to bring you down. They aren’t feral naturally. They just happen to have a pocket of eight to ten boys hell-bent on swabbing the decks with you. It isn’t that they aren’t bright, their grades are above average. They are too active, too determined to be heard above the rest. As such the forbearing girls and the more imperturbable boys get no voice. So, as the bad boys demanded games, more games and only games in my last class yesterday, I held back. No games. Just words, just sentences, just repetition, just repetition, just recurrence, replication, reiteration, reappearance, reverberation, repeat, repeat, repeat… Did it work? Not really. I even had to rig the scoring system to quieten the boys. I removed the prospect of lollipops as a reward. The golden goose was there and then the golden goose was not. I hope that the next class is far better. It is vocabulary tied to many games and activities. I’d love to show them how well class 703 perform alongside them. 703 are saintly, angelic, beatific, and virtuous.
This morning I’ve taught class 604 and 605. 605 are very noisy but easy to control due to their heavily competitive nature. They are also quite witty. There is however one boy who likes to dictate the pace of the class and answer every question. He is far brighter than his age – and even two of his peers who have a Western parent in their family. The local word is hùnxuè’ér, which means half-blood or half-breed. It is a term I’d expect to find in Harry Potter, propaganda from hard-line fractions of Israel and all-in-all not something I’d expect to be heard in the 21st century. In a very traditional society, mixed races are rare to be seen, unless you hang out with foreigners – and then they are still few and far between.
That said, am I model pupil at Mandarin classes? No. I turn up Tuesday at 6pm, tired. Barely able to think and after having class 704 a matter of a few hours before, with headache and drowsiness to hand. Even my throat was sore. And then Wednesday night, I play football so don’t even turn up. I do have a plan of action to learn Chinese, I’m working on it. I need to be confident, fast flowing and speak street talk, not textbook. Until then textbook, multimedia and one to one conversational exchange is the way forward.
Below is some text I created from our simple lessons. I am trying to recite this without error.
Nǐhǎo, nǐhǎo ma? Wǒ hěn hǎo. Wǒ jiào John. Wǒ xìng Acton-Brown. Nǐ jiào shénme míngzi? Nǐde diànhuà hàomǎ shì duōshǎo? Wǒ sānshíèr suì. Nǐ duōshǎo suì? Nǐ huìbúhuì shuō zhōngwén? Wǒ xǐhuān tīzúqiú. Wǒ shì Màn Chéng mí. Wǒ xǐhuān tīngyīnyuè. Wǒ xǐhuān kànshū. Wǒ xǐhuān kàndiànyǐn. Wǒ xǐhuān lǚxíng. Wǒ zuìxǐhuān de huódòng shì tīzúqiú. Nǐ yǒu shénme àihào？Nǐzuìxǐhuān zuò shénme?
Hello, how are you? I’m fine. My name is John. My surname is Acton-Brown. What’s your name? What’s your phone number? I am 32 year’s old. How old are you? Do you speak Chinese? I like playing football. I’m a fan of Manchester City. I like listening to music. I like reading. I like watching movies. I like travelling. My favourite activity is playing football. What are your hobbies? What do you like doing best?
Thank you very much.
For further, and frank, reading on teaching abroad, I recommend Teaching With Chopsticks (TEFL from the frontline) by Jonathan Last (ISBN: 9781780690353).
The smell of drains doesn’t just waft through the air today. It pierces the air, penetrating all around like a cloak of dark rancid twice-rotten flowers. If flowers make for pleasantry then this stab of air marks tragedy. The tide of a thousand homes, an old and battered sewerage system coupled with no doubt the carcass of a decaying rodent or two lay impugn. Today, air-fresheners, odour eaters, friendly flowery fragrances or a breeze of fresh air are poor weapons against this whiff. Any feeling of unease is exasperated. Stomachs clench, each breath of air tense, the head dizzy with intoxication of vile odours.
And he can see no reasons, ‘Cause there are no reasons. What reason do you need to be shown? Tell me why? I don’t like Mondays. This is probably the first Monday where the morning has undergone as an arduous task for me. Perhaps I am perturbed by the news I am centred upon in a rumour (one which is laughable, but nevertheless flattering that someone can spend time creating such nonsensical fiction and then furthermore spreading the slander thereafter); perhaps it is a slight groin strain and ankle injury from Saturday’s 6-2 win over FC Italiano by Murray’s F.C. (which I like to think of as my best game for Murray’s to date – having lasted the full two hours playing time; and ran around for the ten minute break too); perhaps it is my indecision over, “what next?” (Should I renew the contract? Look elsewhere in China? Try to travel? Look at another country? Settle down here? Return to Blighty? Etc); perhaps I am more homesick than I care to admit (missing my parents, siblings and not so close friends); perhaps I did not sleep so well? (The air conditioner makes it too cold, the room feels stuffy with no air movement and it is too loud to open the window – plus the mosquito numbers are high, my legs having been fed on in a dozen very itchy locations); perhaps I am mentally fatigued? (I need a break, but then so does the vast majority of China!)
So three classes today have gone by, 603 was okay – mostly amazed how I can wear just a T-shirt in 20°C heat. The high today is 25°C, the low 13°C at night. The lack of humidity certainly makes for a much more British-like climate. If I could wear shorts to school, I would. That would seriously bemuse my students in their woollen jumpers, gloves, hats and padded jackets. I explained Manchester’s high temperature was 11°C today – cries of “Game over” rang around the classroom. “Game over” is kind of a gentrified euphemism for death here. I explained even at that temperature I’d happily wear shorts. “You are crazy!” Straight to the point.
Class 803 did their utmost to maximise the trading of TF Boys postcards and play Chinese Chequers in their notepads. Honestly, TF Boys are nothing short of shit. Yet, these little pubescent types attract each and every girl – and most boys with their whiny singing, prancing around like unfinished dancers and pouting. Yes, I am clearly not a teenager and have no desire for pop music or the worst kind of manufactured type, current Chinese climatic communist-clicked kiddy creations. They’re too nice and lack character. Anyway 803 are quiet at the best of times, and today they reverted to type, lacked focus and generally left me standing at the front trying and failing miserably. I told them at the end I was not happy and I may have to go away and sulk. They understood. Resumption of trading TF Boys cards followed immediately.
Class 804 have Ann sat at the front. She is a childhood genius and will happily interrupt every aspect of the class to ask her own, sometimes unrelated, questions. If the scenario falls outside of the concrete box painted by textbooks then it can be a little time-consuming but she does ask some good questions. If anarchy happens this way, I’d point the finger firmly her way. Her partner in crime is a giddy, but clearly learning off her lad. His name is Taobao, after a major Chinese online retailer. He is now equally committed to questioning everything. I like their passion. Their team comprises of a block of ten students, who never do homework in my class, listen attentively and always want to answer first – and win everything, even if chance games make the balance of classroom power harder to control. One game I use frequently involves choosing a new vocabulary word from a MS Powerpoint (other presentation software is available) screen and simply making a sentence. On completion of a correct sentence the word disappears revealing 2 points, 1 point, 2 points for another team or their team loses 2 points. I like this game because it breaks down boundaries, the smarter students can lose points. Other teams can conspire and use their own tactical knowledge to win. Camaraderie and collaboration fall hand in hand. Today, team 2 were racing away with points prior to the review game, and then team 3 gave help to team 1 – a last minute victory.
As I was waffling on with the above, a momentary pause was had, as I sprinted alongside 500 or so Middle School students to the playground/running track. The wailing fire alarm test reminiscent of World War II air raid sirens shattered any notion of hearing for a few minutes. Alongside this every student held their faces like I did a big smelly fart. I guess to prevent fumes or gases etc entering their craw and gullet.
Tonight, I resume playing football for Murray’s F.C. After last night’s near relaxation of watching Interstellar at Xingx International Cinema for 25RMB, tonight will be more physically enduring. The cinema experience last night involved the usual amount of nattering on phones, a crèche formed at the front of the screen with a half dozen toddlers going for all intense purposes, ape-shit bonkers. I’d recommend the film greatly, but don’t watch it in a noisy Chinese Cinema! The cinema here reminds me of Spike Milligan’s poem:
On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the Cows go Bong!
and the monkeys all say BOO!
There’s a Nong Nang Ning
Where the trees go Ping!
And the tea pots jibber jabber joo.
On the Nong Ning Nang
All the mice go Clang
And you just can’t catch ’em when they do!
So its Ning Nang Nong
Cows go Bong!
Nong Nang Ning
Trees go ping
Nong Ning Nang
The mice go Clang
What a noisy place to belong
is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!!
Today marks a date I remember well, a date I lost my best friend in life. It has been 15 years and I remember it like yesterday, I wanted the world to swell up at the time and swallow me whole. It was as far from pleasure in losing him, my closest companion, my dearest acquaintance and comrade on many walks across many fields of time. I knew it would come. I’d felt loss before for my Nana – it was long and painful for her, and painful for our family to experience but I was still young and still trying to understand cancers and disease and the effect on those around you. Throughout that tough time, my one hope and saviour and support was him, the ever reliable. Without him, I can’t have imagined an alternative. He was the rock I could talk to, could cuddle and feel life, coursing through my veins. He was pure, harmless and never ever judged me, or if he did he kept it to himself. My Dad called me that day and told me he was going to the RSPCA in Eccles and would return without him. Inside I was hollow, empty, devoid but glad for him, glad he would not have to suffer any longer. Right now, I want to cry, such is my love and yearn for the moments we had together. To quote Dr Seuss, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” I like to think out there the spirit of Pup is alive and kicking. My lost family and I can walk with Pup one day. I miss you my friend.
“Keep warm or you’ll catch the flu” came the message at school today. Almost denying that typical influenza is transmitted through the air by coughs or sneezes, creating an aerosol containing the virus. Nasal secretions and contact with contaminated surfaces also cause flu. It is worth noting in this school for over 1950 students, each bathroom does not come with soap. Cold water is the only tool for washing your hands. This is something reflected in the vast majority of public water closet facilities and something western establishments go for the opposite approach: soap. As clean as hand gel is, and as clean as you want to be, germs always find a way. Yesterday, I started off with a mildly sore throat, ended with a bothersome cough. By the time kip arrived, I had a temperature, some mild fever and a groggy, gooey, fluid nose. Couple with my narrow left nostril, this was painful and almost acidic in its burning nature. Following last night’s football (Murray’s FC Smoggies lost 7-1 to FC Italiano – a side we have dominated for months, I saved a penalty having played in goal for the second half, where we found ourself 6-0 down – without an subs and a totally mismatched starting 5); I also had a puncture on my bike and ahd to mend it, cycle back bit by bit, pumping up the tyre every 5km or so), I had the usual aches and pains – this time augmented by this viral cold or flu. This morning’s headache has assuaged slightly, without aid of Paracetamol, for I have ran out of said aid. Ibuprofin is numerous but not advisable on the basis Dengue Fever etc symptoms can worsen and cause liver damage by using such a remedy.
So, today, I have weakness and fatigue, the general discomforts, a trickling nose and chills. I’m confident that whatever it is shall pass within a day or so. I just need rest and good food.
After a nap this morning in my office, rudely awoken by a foreign teacher meeting and two litres of orange squash, I am looking forward to a lunchtime nap. Every sinew of me demands energy, energy I haven’t got. The meeting was a chore, a laboured and arduous task. Emily, Joe, Cherry, Micaela and I contrived to talk about this week’s school trips. Cherry made known to me that a Communication Outing has been pencilled in for a trip to another school, here I must deliver a lecture on cultural differences. Shall I hold back or be fair? I never hold back. Parents will also be attending various classes next week as part of the Open Days. I’m hoping I have some good classes then! The best news was the news that Christmas Day, all us foreigners can have the day off. China is rapidly accepting western holidays, be they for promotion purposes in the many shops or simply an excuse to dine, like next week’s Thanksgiving Dinner for the teachers. We also have to arrange a song and/or dance for the Art Festival in mid-late December…
And now, class 703 fast approaches, at 1120 my four in a row class schedule starts (separated by lunch). If I make it through today’s four grade 7 classes, I can beat the world.
I think this was a Tommy Cooper gag: A Post Office employee in Bournemouth is retiring after 41 years without using any of her sick days. Friends describe her as “dedicated”. Co-workers remember her as, “That daft bat who kept giving me the flu.”
“My dear doctor, I’m surprised to hear you say that I am coughing very badly, because I have been practising all night.” John Philpot Curran
Yes, the title is a Sir Winston Churchill quote.
Day eight of working with man-flu, which I acknowledge is totally incomparable to influenza or the Ebola Virus, or other such serious strains of disease. I can only convey my thoughts on my experiences. The students on Tuesday last week were angelic, even my nightmare class 704 performed brilliantly and calmly. I don’t know whether they subdued due to my croaky voice or because I selected half of the naughty boys earlier on. Their form teacher, Sharon, was equally shocked by their change in moods. I doubt feigning illness in the next class shall be of any benefit.
Class 703 began last Tuesday’s teaching with a spirit and sympathy tantamount to being the idyllic class that every teacher strives to get on day one. After class several students gave me sweets (candy). One student gave me a flower and another a little post it note, which she would not explain. I asked the passing teacher Cherry Lee what was on the note. The post it note translates as, “I want to be more intelligent than a tortoise – ha ha.” If some moments in life are just meant to perk you up, these are those said moments.
Middle school teacher Sharon later asked me to import Nutrilon baby milk powder from the UK or the Netherlands for her teacher friend Cherry Lee. This is a common request by teachers – and highlights how hard it is to find good quality milk powder or milk in this country. I could not find any regulations until I returned through customs, later in the week, at one of Hong Kong and China’s border-crossing. It turns out taking anything above 1.5KG is a criminal offence. So, I won’t be taking big orders in future.
Last Tuesday after lunch, I had the option to cancel one class but decided to plough on through. Class 702 started the ball rolling and it was fun, if not very hard to speak. Class 701 followed, we played some games. One student said aloud, “This game is boring.” At the end of the round of games, he was begging to play the game again. The trick with games is to make them interesting, simple and to teach language and words via their means. You can’t play the same games too often and you cannot play too many games. Students learn, they adapt, they are very much like the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park, don’t trust them for too long. They will capture you and eat you alive.
After class 704 ended that day, I felt mentally exultant that I had completed the day’s teaching. I returned back to my lair after school, kicked back and watched Homeland’s latest two episodes. I decided going to learn Mandarin at the class was too strenuous a task. I was half way through my second episode of Homeland when absolute nausea kicked in. I slept from around 6.30pm until 8am the following day, waking only to eat bacon, egg and tomato on bread around 9pm.
Last Wednesday I somehow cruised through the day, and eventually cruised home, going to bed early once again and finding the next day arriving sooner than imagined.
On Thursday, I awoke feeling brighter, the prospect of a day without classes and a school trip to the theme park in Changlu was a great motivator. In the morning grades 4, 6, 7 through to 9 and numerous teachers assembled on the playground-cum-running track-cum-parade square-cum-queuing zone. Here we were divided into coaches. I was placed into class 602 alongside several grade 7 students too numerous to have their own coach. The coach set off promptly as arrived at 8.30am – we were told to arrive for 7.30am. Our journey stopped after 15 minutes. It transpired that students were sitting three abreast on seats for two over several rows. As the convoy of 20 or so coaches whistled by, one stopped to collect our excess five students. The maths teacher from my office, Mr Yang Wenbo, was fuming. He isn’t the happiest man at the best of times, but his anger resulted in fierce stares and much more angry tones than usual. I would never like to upset him. Later that day, he smiled for a photo. I almost keeled over in shock at his smile.
Our journey circumnavigated the River Pearl crossing the massive Hǔmén Dàqiáo (Tiger Gate Huge Bridge) with magnificent views of the river below and the Weiyuan Fort (now housing the totally biased Opium War Museum). Onwards the road hugged a railway line for some time. The line rising like a long straight ridge high above our already raised roadway. Super high-speed intercity trains bulleted past with passengers unable to focus on the nearby landscapes along their fast journeys. The coach journey featured a comedy war film involving many Chinese children humiliating their Japanese oppressors. It was like Home Alone meets Saving Private Ryan.
On arrival at the Changlu Farm theme park, it appeared to me, to be the busiest theme park I have ever seen. At least two hundred empty coaches sat outside waiting to occupied once again. Huge groups of school students from kindergarten to college ages. It looked too busy to resemble being comfortable. After being given a swipe card with 100RMB credit to go and “play” (the Chinese-English word for having fun and doing what you want), I legged it with a group of students to play a kind of game involving a cannon firing solid globes at moving targets. Sadly, the sight on the weaponry had been worn down to the point of inoperable décor by many a visitor. I still hit the target a few times more than my students. Boom.
Seconds passed before I fired a few arrows at the archery and then wandered to the dodgems/bumper cars… and hereon I moved from group of students to group of students. All keen to have me as company for a few minutes and take photos of their fun day out.
I met some of my cool grade 8 students queuing for the biggest rollercoaster. I queued up alongside them for the better part of 30 minutes only to be told the height limit is 180cm. Not to worry, I wandered off, found teachers Cherry, Regina, Mr Wan Hei Fae, Emily and a few other teachers. Here I beat the two males teachers –and four other Chinese students – at go-karting over five laps. Then lunch arrived, we ate in a banquet hall. The dòufu (tofu) was very good but the rest of the food was mass-produced and barely palatable. Even my fellow native teachers winced at the lack of flavour.
Teachers Emma and Doris commandeered me to go on a ghost ship, which was okay, but by U.K. standards not scary in the least. For the entire 200 metre walk around the dark, the biggest grade 8 student clung to the back of my jacket for dear life. He grade 6 peers were too scared to notice. The Chinese have a learned fear of everything occult and dislike tombstones very much so. Death is not something that features in television shows or movies, unless they are fighting the Japanese.
A ride on a water-based tricycle around a lake, a wander around the park and a quick stroll around the zoo followed. The sorry looking zoo, looked very well designed but lacked space for enclosures and had some odd combinations. Wolf and Sheep read the sign, very much in the same way of the Chinese cartoon The Pleasant Goat and Big Bad Wolf. Sure enough two big sheep stood upright with Wolves snoozing overhead, prey and predators in total disharmony and close proximity. Beyond this enclosure the Tigers (possibly Tigons and Liger hybrids) mixed in with their natural wild counterparts the Lions… and… some wild boar. The most chilled out of the inhabitants in an enclosure only described as a theatre stage with three tiers and a moat, complete with audience seating. On the whole the zoo, as expected, was grim. Only the Red Pandas looked reasonably happy. For the sake of the elephant enclosed in a tony paddock resembling a tennis court, at least it had the luxury of passing away a few months back.
The fun of the theme park, like many in the U.K., ends with an exit via the gift shop option. The other options, never visible, nor known to any living soul. Unlike U.K. theme parks, this park had a massive emphasis on buying food from each province of China, as well as a smattering of the usual tacky gifts and novelty items. Here was an arcade, where any remaining credit on your entry swipe card became converted to tokens. I had a fair stack of tokens, so I gave them to my students to enjoy the claw-grabbing machines and other such opportunities to win prizes. Soon after, on finding our coach in the gargantuan coach and car park, we boarded and returned – slowly – rush hour traffic combined with heavy roadworks by the Hǔmén Dàqiáo (Tiger Gate Huge Bridge) allowed several, now tired, students to get some shut eye. One student prevented me from moving by using my right side as a pillow. The cheek!
Friday came and went. Classes in grade 7 were all cancelled due to parent’s day. This is like parent’s evening in the U.K., only during the day – and students get to go home once their parent has been spoken with by a teacher. I taught my P.E. and Science teachers and then tried to rest, whilst preparing the next week’s work. Having flu does not inspire, as I would soon find out.
On the Saturday, I headed to Hong Kong with every intention of exploring new places. I did. I made an effort to visit the Mong Kok, North Point, Wan Chai and Central protest sites. The emotions I felt here were incomparable to anywhere else I have ever visited. The passion, the cause, the artwork, the belief, the fury, the anger, the worry, the message and the need never to give in was clear to all. The Hong Kong democracy debate is certainly very interesting. People in China now very little as to what is going on there; people in Hong Kong don’t want to have less freedom. Back in 1984, China agreed to govern Hong Kong under the principle of one country, two systems, where the city and surrounding areas would enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs for 50 years. The Chinese government had previously promised direct elections for a new chief executive by 2017. So in 2014, anger arose when China’s top brass committee ruled that voters will only have a choice from a list of two or three candidates selected by a nominating committee on the mainland. The scale of the protests is hard to fathom until you reach the ground. The Wan Chai and Central/Admiralty site is up there with a Glastonbury campsite. Littered with tents, art installations, a gym, a running track, a café, homework and study areas, lecture areas and other well-thought conveniences. It is polite too. Everywhere you look there are apologies for any inconveniences caused to commuters. The people are welcoming and engage in conversation, they all smack of Mark Thomas without the swearing.
The Saturday evening (and Sunday early hours) was spent in the company of the Hong Kong Manchester City Supporters Club. As always they were welcoming and this time made me sign up and in return they gave me two scarves in a place where a scarf has no function.
Sunday, involved a wander and some uncharacteristic shopping. I hate shopping. It must have been the flu telling me to keep busy. Monday swiftly plonked itself on the radar. I finished my lecture for the following day’s cultural exchange activity at another school. Monday, my muscles really ached. I clambered five flights of stairs to class 603 only to be told the class was cancelled due to a Chinese class being observed. I plodded down slowly and without enthusiasm. After a small lunch, my appetite long lost and subdued, I had class 803 and 804. The former being a nightmare. The latter being the absolute opposite. It was the first time I felt I did not care how good or bad the job was. The flu seemed to be coming on stronger. So, in a sensible rush of blood to the head, I decided I was fit enough to play football at 9pm that evening. Murray’s F.C. Smoggies faced Murray’s F.C. Owls. Our team. Smoggies, only had 6 players compared to our revitalised opposition. Many new players had moved into their unit, mainly Max, Brian, and two fellow Nigerians. This caused some upset the week prior, so we received Rossi in return with Nicolas and Rogerio. None of whom could get on with the Nigerian contingent. Kenmicel, Eddy, and I made up the remainder of the six players. We were pretty well matched, despite me sweating and drinking epic amounts of fluid and feeling utterly abysmal. My logic was to sweat it out. Beat the flu by working hard. In theory it may have worked, in practice, it felt worse. Our game was the first draw in the Dongguan Foreigners’ Football League after 17 games played by all of the teams to date. Forfar five, East Fife five would have been a good scoreline to read out had our teams changed names. The opposition Owls looked rattled and upset afterwards, and yes, Max and his Nigerian comrades were having a right go at Olli (Israel), Terence (Hong Kong) and Marcelo (Brazil). The team spirit in that unit is low.
The Owls have a form sheet of: LLLWLD. 4 points. Massive goal difference against.
Smoggies form is WWLLLD in the league. 7 points. Actually, the worst goal difference against in the league.
Although, following an altercation with the very polite referees by Fred F.C. it looks like the league will lose another team. The all-Brazilian teams are very sore losers, but thankfully for them, they only struggle against each other – and the referees!
So, I returned back, a lift by car off Rogerio saving my efforts. I collected my bike from Marcelo’s who lives nearby, headed for Pizza, went home and slept. I woke up weighted down, with a building sat on my head and dizzy. I have learnt here, in China, and punctiliously at this school, how not to worry. The Tuesday meant I had the presentation at Lakeview Middle School in Houjie, in front of 100-200 English teachers, each autochthonous of China. I was told a week prior to this the talk or lecture would be in at least two weeks. That changed suddenly, with me finding out the exact date on the previous Thursday evening. Soon after that, I asked many questions, and received fewer answers. I was told it would be one hour long, followed by thirty minutes questions. So, Thursday and Friday night I prepared this talk, and Monday I completed the task, refining it on Tuesday morning. As I boarded the school bus, Cherry cheerily conveyed that the presentation will be one and a half hours followed by thirty minutes interrogation. Thankfully, on arrival, I was still not nervous. Until I entered the room. The lecture theatre was very modern, with at least 400 seats. The lectern and desk at the front as broad as a bus. The powerpoint screen double the usual standard classroom standard. No pressure. I set up the laptop, stood by a tall upright airconditioner and let the cool air slide down my shoulders. The room started to fill.
Teachers, like students, head for the back rows initially, and fill forward. Nobody wants to be asked a question or made an example of. On the whole, Chinese people have bad eyesight and require glasses. So, by going backwards they make the task of reading harder. Some teachers even brought students. So, the room’s English ability ranged markedly. I began after an introduction by the hostess, Miss Liu. I stopped the presentation midway through for ten minutes break, toilet and water opportunities. In this break, I was commandeered by a local journalist who asked me many questions. The second string of my presentation lecture, padded out well, showing off a few games and ideas I use to capture student imagination and creativity. I could only see three or four from at least 120 teachers sleeping. Most looked interested and smiling. Some did wear the usual poker face of no emotion. I felt overall I did okay. Not great, not bad. Afterwards every single teacher had photos with me. This lasted far longer than the questions and answers. Since the lecture many teachers have added me to QQ (a Chinese message and contact system) and asked me numerous questions. It was a tough but enjoyable experience. I felt drained physically before it, during it, but afterwards I felt slightly more energetic.
Yesterday’s grade 6 classes passed well, a new game, called who am I The game is based on riddles and clues worked well. In the evening, a large group of us foreign teachers went to Al Pozo’s Italian Kitchen to celebrate Emily’s birthday. Liam and I had a good catch up, and I met a new colleague from my company Worlda assigned to Liam’s school (Oxford Kingdom International School).
The last two days have involved intense sweating, accompanied by the added warm spell of weather (today’s highs are 28°C/82.4°F) and massive muscle discomfort. But today, I have flu in my head still and mostly my muscles. Otherwise the coughing has abated, the snotty runny nose (why do we have feet than smell and noses that run?) has dwindled away, and my eyes feel less dry. The classes today seemed to drag. Happy Thanksgiving has been the message from many students, some making flowers and some giving lollipops. I return the Happy Thanksgiving message and occasionally explain, when prompted, why we don’t have such a day in the U.K. This evening our teachers are all going to a Happy Thanksgiving meal – following on from the Happy Thanksgiving teacher exchange to other schools – which nobody knows much about. Still, we might find out afterwards!
This week I need to make a decision. Here are the options, I must decide on by no later than next week:
- My company have offered me a 6 or 12 month contract. The latter has slightly better pay. Both involve a pay rise of more than 10%. If I choose the 12 months, I’d fly back to the U.K. and catch up with family and friends for at least 2 weeks in February. If I choose the former, I’d travel around China in Summer, return to the U.K. and then decide the next step. The school really want me to stay, and yesterday, despite feeling utterly bobbins and having little confidence (I’ll explain why later) they said how much they want “the best foreign leader we have met” to stay. Better than Obama and Cameron.
- I travel and work short-term contracts, which are often unstable and not the best way to relax, enjoy yourself or further yourself career-wise. Not my favourite choice, for I don’t want a career anymore, I want to live!
- I return to the U.K. and look for a job, which in all probability, I won’t enjoy.
- I look for a new job, opportunity or company willing to throw money at me in order to remain located here, there or anywhere.
Is 2 years or 18 months too long to be away from the nest?