China: Week One

I have decided to write a blog for my time in China.  However, this may be just a fad and you might never see another article like this one.

So, this time last week I had just left for my long journey. I was actually quite excited about the coach trip, flights, transfers and finding my accommodation. I later realised that this was probably because my random trips around Europe had been quick and simple. This, however, was a different story. ..

I left Torquay, and transferred coach in Exeter, then took a coach with limited leg room to London, where I quickly transferred to a train for Brighton. It was there that I picked up my visa, work permit and passport. Following a short walk into Brighton I began to realise that I actually was going to go to China, what was I getting myself into? A quick dash to Gatwick and rush through departures meant I was in time for the Arsenal game, yet Gatwick apparently don’t show ESPN. So I just ate things.

Anyway, I got on the plane to Dubai. The flight lasted 7 hours which was ok considering it was overnight and despite the constant offering of food, drink, blankets, and duty free from the attendants…JUST LET ME SLEEP!! It seemed that people were rewarded for staying awake; I was offered a biscuit when I was half asleep just because my eyes were open (but then no one turns down a biscuit, although I later wished I had because the crumbs got everywhere).  So the plane journey was smooth and normal, as was the next one, of similar length. By the time I arrived in Hong Kong I was tired and a little disorientated.

My next task was to find a late night coach that would take me to Guangzhou, mainland China. Thankfully such a thing existed, despite not looking the way I had expected: it was more like a shared taxi.  I had to share with 2 Russian girls. I think we immediately got off on the wrong foot when she sat on my seat belt clipper and I used my hands to try and fish it from beneath her, something got lost in translation.  It was all going smoothly until just after we passed through customs. The ‘coach’ driver parked up and told us to get out. Apparently this was meant to happen, but I could have done with some guidance as to what happens next. Luckily I used a bit of common sense and headed to the sign that said ‘aliens’ (we are not foreigners, travellers or visitors here).  Again I was taken through customs on foot, and greeted with a proper coach on the other side.

This coach meant I was approaching the end of my journey. It was due to take 2 hours, but there was a hitch. About half an hour in we hit traffic. I am of course used to this, but I am not used to sitting in the same spot for over an hour whilst all the drivers get out of their cars to look at the potential accident. I was slightly intrigued about what the holdup was, but not curious enough to get out of my comfy, air-conditioned seat. However, when we did eventually start moving again we passed the hold up: a car seemed to have gone into the back of a lorry and exploded…drama. What shocked me more was that my first thought was to locate my camera. Thankfully I decided against taking a picture: 1. Out of respect for the obvious fatality of the driver, and 2. because I am not a nutter (or didn’t want my fellow coachers to think I was one).

Anyway I made it in the end and was picked up by a Chinese woman called Cristle. She is the primary English speaker on site, and a handy contact. I was introduced to my accommodation and told to get some sleep (it was 3.30am and I think she was also tired). Despite this, I was required to meet in the school at 10am to meet some of the teachers and be introduced to the children.

The school seemed very good and the children pleasant. Everyone I walked past was keen to say ‘Hello’ and show off their English, which is good. However, it did not take long to realise that I was also greeted with sniggers and giggles, as well as people staring at me longer than is socially acceptable.  I was welcomed, but also a freak.  I am yet to decide whether I like being a freak or if I like the attention a freak gets….I’ll let you know.

Anyway, at lunch I was told that I would have the afternoon (and rest of the week) off. This wasn’t a generous decision to let me get over my jet lag, it was because China is celebrating their Mid-Autumn festival, and school would be shut until the weekend. However, because the children miss a few days of school over the festival they are required to catch up on Saturday and Sunday (defeats the purpose of a holiday to me, but ho hum). Therefore I decided to jump on the bus and explore, I decided to stay on the bus until ‘the majority of people get off’ (that being my thought process), as I assumed that would be the best place to be. After about 45 minutes this didn’t happen so I jumped off when the man I was next to did. I ended up in a market area, very interesting but I knew it wasn’t the hub of the city. Before it got dark I wanted to return to base. So I got on the same bus as before, except going the other direction obviously. My biggest mistake was falling asleep on this bus (the jet lag seemed to insist that I sleep at any given opportunity). I believe that I missed my stop and went round my circuit again, ending up further away than I was before. Of course, had I not fallen asleep I would have been aware of this, but I wasn’t and continued on the bus once I woke up. When it started to get dark I realised I had gone wrong somewhere, so got off the bus.  Luckily the next bus I got on had a handy bus driver. When I got to the depot I think he must of told me to ‘stay there while I go to the toilet’, but I did not understand so I followed him. Why would I follow a strange man to the toilet even if he told me to?…blame the jet lag.  Eventually I got back, 4 hours after intended, but I was back.

Cristle had gone away with her family for the holiday, so I didn’t really know what to do next, or who to speak to. I focused on unpacking and drinking water the next day. I have also found that I sleep a lot. I think it’s a combination of the strange food, the jet lag (such a cop out) and the air. I was aware that the air in China is not as clean as England, but it is more extreme than I thought. It is almost like breathing in a sauna, perhaps that makes me tired. Anyway, having had a whole day without a conversation I decided to find out where the other British lad lived the next day.

I chose a convenient time to knock on Ian’s door, I think around 2pm. When he opened and began to speak I realised that he wasn’t English at all….we was Scottish. He had not been into the town yet so I offered to show him how it’s done (without revealing my previous failing). Together we got off at a different stop on the route. It was soon clear that he is more of a freak than me. We both attracted attention for looking and talking differently. But he is about 4 inches taller, which means he gets ‘wows’ instead of giggles. I think I may have been a little jealous of my reduction in fame. The stop we chose to get off at was less than fascinating so our adventure didn’t last long. Once we arrived back at the accommodation we discussed which brand of water tasted nicer. In hindsight I wish this wasn’t the last English conversation I had with another human for 3 days (myself excluded).

On the first of these days I was happy to continue acclimatising, but I think I am very needy when it comes to being active. Therefore, I woke up bright and early on the Friday, determined not to get lost, but with the ambition of finding somewhere interesting by accident; these two objectives are difficult to fulfil together.  I got on my trusty bus and stayed on until I could go no further (so long as I was on the bus route I would be ok?). To my luck the bus stopped at the metro station…interesting. I saw the tube map and decided on a destination. I knew that if it was anything like London I could end up in the Chinese equivalent of Hackney, but I didn’t. The stop was called ‘ Zhujiang New Town’ and as soon as I got off I realised I made the right choice. Here featured the new Guangzhou Opera House, new Guangdong museum,  a large tower to commemorate the 16th Asian Games next month and the first stand of a new sports stadium. Now I am not one for architecture, but it was all amazing, and the one time I did not take my camera or anybody else to share the sights with.  I am guessing that many of the new buildings here had some influence from those behind the Beijing Olympic stadiums, but I will get pictures next time I return. Anyway, I found my way back easily enough and considered my day out alone a success (I am very aware that I am beginning to sound like my dad).

Every time I eat I wonder if mum would eat the food I am having, and most of the time I conclude that she would probably have to (there is no porridge or fat free milkshake for dinner here).  However, this particular night made me reconsider. I was served with the normal fried cabbage and meat from an unknown source, but on top was 6 hands/paws. Initially I ate around the hands/paws, trying to work out what animal they came from.  They were smaller than humans, but larger than dogs. They also had long thin fingers and clipped nails. I have always said that I am willing to try anything, and I stand by that claim. On this occasion I felt no desire to consume all 6 hands/paws though, probably because I was eating alone with no one daring me to eat a fingernail or egging me to fit a whole one in my mouth.  Again I wish I had taken a photo (perhaps they will be on next Friday’s menu).

Along came Saturday, and the children back to make up for their absence over the holiday. Being thrown into the deep end on my first day seemed a little harsh to me; I had prepared no lesson plans, observed no classes and had no idea what their standard of English was like. Thankfully I blagged my way through the day, I don’t think too impressively but I don’t know what they expected. I returned to my dorm in the evening wondering what I had got myself into, at least having the Arsenal game on TV will help me relax…oh wait.

So that brings me to today, Sunday, and my second day of employment. My first class today was a K4 class (5 year olds), the year group that were a nightmare yesterday. However, this class were really responsive, polite about the Queen and singing along with me (I would hate singing ‘Old MacDonald had a Farm’ by myself in front of 30 gormless Chinese 5 year olds).  The following two lessons were with K2 (3 year olds). The first started terribly, with one child bursting into tears at the shear sight of me, charming.  The second was a lot better, with several members of the class far too enthusiastic about the number 10, like it had some hidden meaning. However the last class were my favourite so far because the children seemed to genuinely enjoy learning English, and for some reason has an obsession with handshakes…I have a lot to learn.

As you can tell I have written quite a lot without doing very much, which gives you an indication about the amount of time I have had spare. However, from my first weeks experience I have begun to adjust to the Chinese way, and hope that it will continue. January does seem a very long way off, but I hope that I can focus more on what I am doing than what I am missing (which includes football commentary with an element of emotion and suprise).

I am off for the famous Chinese health check tomorrow, which I am sure will be worthy of another paragraph (providing I decide to continue writing)….



  2. Toddmeister, I love your blog! Pls keep writing – it’s so funny! What happened with the health check????

    I’m definitely out there in January, ao see you in China!

  3. Abit late on reading these but sounds good all the same! I like the bit where you ‘just ate stuff’! Top writing! I will get reading the next few installments x

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