China: Week 2

Week 2.

Having found my feet in the first week, the second week was a lot different.  

Monday morning began with ‘English morning’ at the school. This means we had to get the children ready for a day of school by singing and doing silly dances to famous English songs (wheels on the bus etc). They focus a lot on being active and also encourage the children to do morning exercises to the Chinese National Anthem. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have to organise and lead the English mornings, so any suggestions of nursery songs I may have forgotten are welcome. Some children are really keen to dance with me in particular; others just slap me on the bum and run away which I don’t understand.

However, 8am came and I was whisked away with Ian for a medical check. The journey seemed to take longer than I thought, especially as we first had to stop off at the police station to be registered as humans. Once we did arrive at the medical centre all of the doctors looked very angry and blood thirsty. All this and the ‘they’ll put a finger up your bum’ idea from dad meant I was dreading what was to come.

There was nothing quite so drastic, but the experience was one that will defiantly live with me. First they took a blood sample, not ideal but standard. Then a woman (obviously a part-time shot-putter) took my blood pressure, which was probably high considering the scenario. I was then taken to another room to check I have a heart, a liver and two lungs. So far so good. However, the next room required me to lie on a bed and reveal my chest. The doctor then got 4 clamps and attached them to my ankles and wrists, and then attached electrode things to my chest. When I asked what she was doing she replied ‘I don’t know’ (having obviously misheard or failed to understand the question). This didn’t help my anxiety. It turned out she was measuring my heart beat and heart rate. I am guessing that these measurements may have been somewhat influenced by being shackled by a strange lady in a strange and uncomfortable environment.  The next step was an ultrasound, which was actually a laugh. Anyway, the health check was done.

The rest of the day, and the following day, were spent teaching. The children seem to like it when I walk into their classroom which is nice. Spending half an hour entertaining children through a foreign language is actually quite difficult, I need to be loud, energetic and fun at all times, which makes me sweat a lot. I was teaching all day on Tuesday, but mostly the same year group so my lesson plans were more or less the same. I chose to teach ‘what can you do?’ this week. So whenever a child responded ‘I can run’ I have ended up chasing them around the classroom (I promise it’s a game, not chaos). Doing this all day takes its toll on my body.

At the end of each day I am required to say goodbye to each child individually as they leave school. I think the school think it is important that the parents are aware of my presence. Although I am only meant to do this for the first half hour following the end of school I have ended up staying up to an hour as I am usually working alongside another teacher who has a story to tell or is keen to practise their English with me. I also like to remain in the school as the teachers are good fun to be around (we stay for dinner in the school and eat in the classrooms…rebels). In fact, this week has made me realise that I am not a tourist here, I am a resident. Many of the teachers are keen to talk to me and ask ‘can we be friends?’ which is always nice if not a little awkward (particularly when you haven’t spoken to them before).  I was approached at dinner by a woman in her 40s who asked if I would join her and a few of the girls for badminton (I am the only male teacher in Kindergarten, lucky me). I was excited about this prospect and actually enjoyed it, even though I was soaked in sweat after about 3 minutes.  I was able to communicate through the international language of ‘oh’ for a nearly miss and ‘ah’ for a good shot. So social networking is going well! One of the teachers, Zoey, speaks very little English but has been practising this week. Whenever I see her she has a question to ask which has obviously taken her a while to prepare and perfect. For this reason I have to over elaborate on my answer as to not disappoint her. I gave her a stick of rock, and she painted me a picture of a leaf (no euphemism intended)…they say romance is dead? She is also one of the badminton girls. Another, Claire, has also just graduated from University and is the best English speaker in the kindergarten, she wants to go to England because it is ‘leisurely and peaceful like the books’…I wasn’t willing to break her heart.

However, I spend most of my time speaking broken English. This is why I was relieved when one man arrived at the school and he wasn’t Chinese, he was English. I recognised him instantly as ‘Tony’ from photos in the school. He was a foreign teacher like me last year. It was great to have a conversation with him (not only because he totally understood what I was saying). Tony must be in his late 40s and has set up his own kindergarten since leaving the school. I was pleased to know that he doesn’t live far away and said he would be happy to help…phew. During my exchange with him I raised my concern that no one seems to be able to say ‘Todd’ (I now respond to Toff). Apparently this is normal. I learned that one way to be successful in the school is to get to know the parents; they are very influential in how their child reacts to you. Bloody nice bloke.

Just as school was finishing on Thursday I was called out of class by another teacher. She told me that school would be shut on the Friday as it was Chinas national day (everybody assumed I would know, and perhaps I should have done). I was quite disappointed as I like being in school, but life goes on. We return to school next Saturday, which gives me a week to truly discover the city that I live in. She also said that the principal has been impressed with my work ethic and the way the children have responded to me. What the principal doesn’t know is that I have been drawing pictures of strange men walking strange dogs when in the office, and not solely planning lessons (1-0 to Todd) *see picture.  At the end of this day I once again waved off the children. Naturally some parents work late so we are often left with a few stragglers. On this day there was a five year old with a Mohican who seems to think I’m Superman. I was trying to entertain him while he waited for his mother, and as I bent down to talk to him he sneezed in my face…that was the end of our friendship.  

I had originally told most people that I was going to use Friday to catch up on my sleep, which was my genuine intention. However, when I woke up in the morning I was not so keen on wasting the day in bed; it was the National Day of China so I thought things might be happening outside. I researched on the internet and saw that a festival was happening in a small village outside of the city (a celebration of Chinese art and tradition, not Glastonbury). I set off with a set of directions and my phrasebook, fully aware that my destination was about 2-3 hours travel away. After taking a bus, then the metro, then another bus I arrived in a very rural location (fruit sellers on the street and stray dogs walking about). I wondered through the streets for quite a while unable to find what I imagined was going to be similar to the Cockington Proms (don’t ask why). However, when I arrived it was basically a traditional Chinese village, but one of the nicest places I could have been (do people still say quaint?). The festival consisted of the villagers opening their houses to the public to show off the art and history that they hold. This was the real China! Although there were many tourists in the village taking pictures, I was once again the only Westerner. In fact, I caught two Chinese girls taking pictures of me on their camera phones (they thought I didn’t see but they couldn’t have been more obvious).

As I was walking around feeling like I’d discovered a new world a Chinese man approached asking if I would take a picture of him with his friend. He also suggested that I tag along with them as they had just arrived…why not? So myself, Benny and Evan explored the history of the village, through temples, paintings, goats etc. They were suspiciously nice, even buying me a traditional Chinese snack which I would never have tried had they not suggested it (they translated it as Bean Curd, but it was basically cold runny custard). After walking around the village and taking in the sights they suggested I join them in the University City, I was intrigued about this, and was enjoying the company. A short bus journey over the river took us to the City. One of the lads explained that this was an island which features only university students as 5 universities were based there (over 200,000 students apparently).  He took me around his university; everything about it was impressive, including a sports stadium. 

Anyway, they both continued to show me the area, clearly very proud of it. They then asked if I would have “supper” with them…again, why not? They took me to a restaurant close by and introduced me to some eating customs that I wasn’t familiar with; like sterilising their bowls and chopsticks with tea before eating out of them. Again I was the only westerner in the restaurant and getting a lot of stares, particularly when using chopsticks (I am cack handed at the best of times).  We ate pork and mushroom soup, chicken, fish and squid.  They are not afraid to eat anything here, and most of it still looked alive, but tasted amazing. The two boys refused to let me pay for anything, which made me feel a bit awkward but grateful nonetheless.

It was beginning to get a bit late and I was worried I may miss the last bus (as I thought I would have another 3 hour journey ahead of me). However, after telling them where I was going it seemed the metro would take me close by and I had taken the long way round in the morning. I was back in no time. Good lads.  We have been in contact since, and one of the lads has offered to be my guide to the city whenever I want as he is free during the holiday. I seem to be picking up a few handy contacts.

Saturday came, and I again couldn’t resist exploring the city. Today I didn’t have a destination in mind, just wanted to be one of the tourists (one of the purposes of the national holiday is that Chinese people can travel within China so a lot of people in the city are tourists this week). I walked around a lot and spent a lot of time familiarising myself with the metro. At one stop I found myself watching a wedding dress fashion show, I walked away when I couldn’t think of a reason why I was watching.

I am quite used to people discreetly taking pictures of me, but on the metro on Saturday someone actually asked. To my left were 2 twin boys dressed identically and copying my every move (again why do they think I won’t notice this?), and to my right were 3 teenage girls blatantly staring. As usual I chose to ignore both but one of the girls tapped me on the shoulder…’can I take a picture of you?’ she asked, I was so happy that I don’t think I could have pulled a cheesier grin for the photo.

As it was still relatively early I returned to the place I mentioned before to get some pictures. I don’t think the pictures make it look as impressive as it actually is but you get the gist. I asked a Chinese person to take a picture of me in front of the Tower of Guangzhou, unfortunately he forgot the tower (but I thought it would be rude to ask him to take it again). After that I bought some plums and went home.

Out of the blue Cristle text me saying “oct3 there is a school travel. If you want to go you should arrive at the school gate at 6:30, only the transport is free”. Of course this didn’t give me much information what so ever, but seemed like a bit of fail-safe adventure. She suggested I go with Ian, but I don’t think he was keen.

So on the Sunday morning I got up early and waited for the coach. When it arrived I realised that I would be the only English speaking passenger…brilliant. Still unsure where I was heading I spent most of the 3 hour journey with my head at the window, imagining that I was on the Chinese version of Coach Trip. However we did eventually arrive at our destination. It was called ‘Seven-Star Crags Scenic Area’ and described itself as “the No.1 Natural Wonderland in South China”. Once I paid for entry I was immediately impressed. There was a large lake with several islands, each island displaying something unique. One island had loads of birds, one loads of caves, and one loads of Buddha stones (it gave me the idea that I would like a stone carving of myself instead of a tombstone when I die, I’ll see how that idea develops). What was more impressive though, was the sights. Again the pictures don’t seem to do it justice (I think I need to update my camera), but you are going to have to take my word for it. I was so glad I went, and the other people on the trip seemed to look out for me and stopped me wandering off.

I think now that I am more relaxed here I seem more approachable, because it appeared that everywhere I went people were asking either to take a picture of me, or be in a picture with me. I must admit that I relish it and now say ‘hello’ to the people who stare instead of pretending I don’t see them; sometimes they giggle and run, but most of the time they say ‘hello’ back.

Once we had walked around the islands and taken many boat trips around the lake we assembled back at the entrance where we started our journey back. As I wasn’t able to communicate with anyone, other than pointing at my phrasebook, I didn’t know if there was another s

top or if we were going back to school. As it turned out we stopped off for lunch at a random place. As we all sat around a circular table I was a little nervous about being judged on my chopstick skills (thank god I’d met Benny and Evan a couple of days ago). Thankfully I successfully sterilised my crockery and got through the meal without dropping anything or accidently eating anything that would make my mouth explode. What was most impressive about the meal was the view from the window, I don’t think I could of seen anything like it in England.

Anyway, a longer than long journey back saw me at school in time to eat and get prepared for the late night football. This week’s been really good and I’m starting to think I will have to keep busy in order to see everything in the area before February. Sorry I wrote so much again.

Ps. here are some more photos.

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  1. Todd, I loved reading this…got to say it is very well written as well…made me laugh a few times….so keep them coming.
    Looks like the kids are keeping you entertained, loved the one who sneezed on you hahah. Seems like you are having a very good time, hope it gets even better…take lots more picci’s too
    Love Franny xxx

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