China: Week 5

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I am once again late with my post. I believe this may become more frequent as I now have a residence permit and plan to use it as much as possible. For example, I am currently planning to pop to Hong Kong for the weekend (couldn’t believe I said that earlier).

Anyway, Week 5 has been as eventful and eye-opening as the rest. However, I do feel I have become more familiar with the Chinese way since I have been here. The mistakes that I made in the first week seem laughable now, but good experiences nonetheless.

I am very much in the routine of school now, 5 days a week just as you would expect. In fact, time has flown by since we have got back into a normal routine, the odd 7 day stints meant time seemed to stand still. I actually cannot believe I have only been here 5 weeks.

Monday was a strange day. As I mentioned before I woke up with a very red and sore bite on my wrist. To tell the truth I was a little worried about it as I was incredibly lethargic and under the weather. I didn’t want the school to know this though as I need to save my sick days for the inevitable winter man-flu. However, the school doctor was a bit concerned about how the bite had risen up my arm so sent me to the GP. This doctor gave me some drugs and sent me away. There was definitely a possibility for a comedy sketch from my meeting with the doctor. I could only speak english and she only chinese so to describe what was wrong involved me impersonating various animals…namely snakes and mosquitos.

Aside from thinking about my imminent death, I was required to teach. Thankfully on Mondays I only have 3 lessons and these went very well. I have been given some books to read the children as my english pronunciation is better than the teachers but I have avoided using this as yet as my method of controlling toddlers is by playing games and I am not so sure I can do that at storytime. Next week….

After rubbing various lotions into my wrist(basically making a big deal out of it to get some attention), I put myself to bed. I am required to lead the English mornings on Tuesdays so set my alarm earlier so I could organise it. I was feeling much better by the end of the day and now believe my lethargy could have been put down to the oodles of alcohol consumed on the friday night or the lack of water over the following two days.

In fact, the english morning went very well. How Much is that Doggy in the Window is proving a big Hit even if they don’t know what it means (wafting behind my bum at ‘the one with the waggly tail’ gets some odd looks from the teachers). As I’ve got to know many of the children now and through understanding, their personality, their temperament and their ability in English I am able to build good relationships with them.

The rest of the day went well and at the end I was approached by Zoey in to office with her nifty translator device. She passed it to me and it asked if she could ‘entertain’ me. At the time I wasn’t sure what this meant but took her up on the offer. As it turned out she had just got a bonus from the school and wanted to treat me to dinner. As a result we went to the local restaurant, which I love!. As we sat down and ordered our food I was greeted with one of the children that I taught that day. He sat with us for a while and I was really impressed with his commitment to speaking English away from school (he’s only 4!). Also, I have found myself quite offended when offered a knife and fork and really want to master chopsticks. Anyway the food was really nice as per usual.

In addition to Zoey I am also in close quarters to the P.E teacher in the office. She has bee attending some of my lessons in her free periods to try to learn some english and is taking it very seriously. Each day we exchange homework, english for her, chinese for me. She’s succeeding a lot better than me. Most people her have English names so I felt it is only right that I get a chinese name. The P.E teacher has named me Táo Tāo, which some people call me instead of Todd (as its easier to say) and others know me exclusively as Táo Tāo.

As you can probably tell, weekdays are very much a routine; wake up, english morning, teach, say goodbye, eat, play badminton/socialise, plan lessons and go to bed.

In fact Wednesday began in much the same way. I enjoy Wednesdays because the children are my favourite (is that allowed?). Anyway the school day ended and I arranged to meet one of my friends from the very first week in Guangzhou, Panadol (I don’t know where she got this ‘English’ name). Anyway, I met her at a Metro Station that I was unfamiliar with, but it turned out that it was te very place that I first stepped in Guangzhou, and now it seemed so different. We went to her local fruitdrink bar where we sat with the manager and one of his barstaff. These people were the best chinese english speakers I have met and were actually able to understand english and not just speak english (I realise that makes no sense, but if you can imagine no one getting any of your jokes for 5 weeks it is a relief when someone finally responds with an emotion other than confusion). It was a nice night and I will defiantly be returning for another Kiwi drink. (I do realise I write a lot about food and drink, but everything involves food here).

I didn’t have any plans for Thursday so when Claire asked me to help her with her English homework I was more than happy to help. What I didn’t know is that it was on linguistics (hardly a topic I am familiar with). She had to know about morphology, phonetics, syntax and semantics (don’t ask) as well as the sociological, psychological and historical implications of each. I did my best and actually found it interesting but don’t think she really understood what it was all about. Claire is a great english speaker but not fluent and I felt a little sorry for her. This book was for a native english speaker.

I stayed in her classroom for a couple of hours and it turned out she needed to go to Hunan Province to take her test and would be going with Sally, who coincidently had a driving test in the same city the following day. They invited me along. I had no plans for the weekend and having the opportunity to see more of China was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I jumped at the chance.

So friday came quickly and I was very excited about my weekend trip. In fact I spent my lunchtime looking for a suitable backpack. As it turns out the one I bought now has a broken zip (that will teach me for buying a £3 bag). After school had finished Sally and Claire told me to meet them at their dorm at 8pm…so I went back to mine with the view of getting some much-needed sleep.

As 8pm approached I packed my bag, worried I hadn’t packed enough and headed to their dorm. Once I had knocked on their door I was greeted by Sisi (one of the other young teachers). She told me wait as the girls had gone out briefly. The chinese really do have issues when it comes to time keeping and schedule changes. I didn’t have to wait long though and was force-fed fed grapes as I did. There are several aspects of the chinese culture that I have yet to get my head round, and their fear of illness is one of them. This is evident in the way they eat grapes. I just shove them in my mouth but they peel the skin with their hands before eating them (which I consider to be more of a health risk, but I’m not a doctor).

Eventually we left for Hunan. I was aware that it would be 9 hours but considered it a little adventure. Once we did get to the train station the trains were lined up and I thought I was in 1940’s England. The trains are not dissimilar from the once I imagine evacuees were taken on in the war, but they are extremely fast. We found our seats and I was loving the train. It was jammed full of people of all ages with lots of smoking, eating, singing and card games etc. It was just as you imagine. I was getting stared at a lot, which I think had something to do with the class of people on the coach. These tickets cost the equivalent of £5 and takes 9 hours, but a superfast subway train costs £30 and takes 2.5 hours. So I guessed that these people had not had much contact with foreigners before (not that I am stereotyping at all).

To begin with the train was fantastic but as the time moved on and tiredness set in it got a bit frustrating. The three of us were taking it in turns to sit in the comfortable seats and sleep, whilst the other two slept on each other. At about 1.30am one of the ticket inspectors started shouting up and down the carriage on a megaphone trying to sell some chinese medicine. In truth I didn’t like this but people were laying up the lotion, maybe I should have bought some.

We eventually did get to Changsha in Hunan and the difference was immediately evident. The first thing I noticed was the climate as it was much colder than Guangzhou. On a map of China this trip looks insignificant but it’s about the equivalent of driving to Germany so you can imagine the difference in culture, diet, language and tradition. I was, however, quite pleased that we had travelled through the night as we did not need to find a hotel.

The first thins the girls wanted to do was find something to eat. “do you like noodles for Breakfast?” I was asked. I did not want to respond “not particularly” as I am trying my best to be open-minded so I acted as if I always eat noodles for breakfast. As we sat down Claire and Sally warned me that Hunan is famous for its spice and everything is hot (I was defiantly going to lose man points this weekend). This included my breakfast; noodles, beef and jalapeno…great.

Once we had finished we took a short bus journey to Sally’s old university campus (where Claires test was taking place). Here we booked into a hotel and got a couple of hours sleep before lunch. We then met up with Sally’s old classmates at the university dorms. They were aware that we were coming and had cooked us a feast (with lots of chilli). I had previously made the mistake of telling the girls I am not good with hot food so I now found myself being challenged to eat various chillies, to their delight. </a

There was one lad in the group who was a bit wary of me to begin with, I was told he was ‘pursuing’ Sally. But we later hit it off really well, even though he spoke no english. He only knows me as Táo Tāo. In fact, he didnt even have an English name. Once we allowed Claire to go to her exam I took a bus with the lad, Sally and another friend. During this time I was asked to give him an English name. I was trying to match him up with someone at home, and it was easy. He was childish, attention seeking and loveable…so I named him Jamie. He loved it and became even more childish and attention seeking. I was suddenly his best friend.

The four of us had a really good day in the city and spent a brief time in a boat on a lake. I get on really well with Sally and she’s very laid back (but also a poser). Every where I have been so far I have been welcomed so I always feel safe. There is a big difference in the generations here. China seems to be producing English speakers from universities, but people over 30 have little or no knowledge of english. It is defiantly developing into an important language here.

All in all it had been a great day. But what was a little strange is that constant food I was given. There seems to be several local delicacies there and I wanted to try them all but my stomach has a limit. First there was milk with coconut bean (or something) then tofu (basically what I ate in Guangzhou but dipped in Chilli powder), the chestnuts and even popcorn (i don’t think that was a local delicacy). All of this lead me to reluctantly tell them “Wo bow la” meaning “I am full”. But we inevitably ended up at a restaurant to eat more spice and rice.

Having got a full nights sleep it was now Claires turn to play host as Sally had her exam. She was intent on showing me her university. I guess i may have been the same if foreigner came to Brighton but I wasnt too impressed by a building containing 300 piano (not that I am ungrateful :P). We then headed to the Old town and met up with Claires old friend. This girl, Linda had the brightest eyes I have seen on a Chinese person. I was a little fascinated by them, to the point where it may have been percieved as flirtatious. It was a great choice of location as it was full of tradition and history, but in a different way to that of Guangzhou.

One of our tasks for the day was to buy the train tickets home. As we had work the next day we planned to pay a little bit extra for beds on the night train. However it turned out there were no beds or seats on the long train so we had to consider the fast subway as an option.Secretly this was my preference as I knew that I would then be home for the Arsenal game and was willing to pay the extra £20 for it. I left Claire in charge of this as she could talk the lingo. But she returned with 3 standing tickets on the slow train for double to price of a seated ticket (I have no idea how she managed that). Not one to complain I went along with it. As it turns out my desire for the subway was very selfish. During quite a deep conversation Claire told me that her father had left her at a young age and that her mother had to raise her and her brother alone. She is from a farming family and her mother now looks after the farm. She also told me that she gives half of her wages to her brother. So I can really sympathise with her reluctance to spend extra money on a train journey.

The day went really well, but I was once again force-fed, to the point where it was frustrating. Straight after lunch I was bought some tofu despite removing myself from the queue in te hope I would be forgotten about. I was soon greeted by Linda with ‘This is for you’….brilliant. We then went and got some sweet dough balls, which would have been delicious had I not eaten twice my body weight already. But I couldn’t really turn down eating food I would never have the option to eat again.

A really good weekend was drawing to a close and tiredness was also creeping up on me. Over the two days I had done a lot of walking, which was made harder by trying to be a gentleman; most of the sunday I carried Claire and Sally’s luggage as well as food bought for the trip back (which included a french stick that we both knew would never get eaten).

The train back was quite eventful. Firstly, we were split up in order to fit on the train. Never has the phrase ‘packed in like sardines’ been so apt. I found myself in the smoking area of the train next to a drunk man. unfortunately I only had the girls luggage and a duck (yes you read that right). After a couple of stops there was enough room to move and we found each other. As it got late into the night I was getting tired and wanted to rest. I sat on the floor and Claire looked at me in horror: “it is not our custom” she said. I then noticed that no one was sitting on the floor of the train. What!?!?. After a while I slyly crawled under some sleeping passengers and slept on the floor underneath their seats…a bit dirty but dirt never hurt anyone did it? After 9 very long hours we got back to Guangzhou and I really got a feeling of being at home, which I never expected. It was 4.30am and school was at 7. It was time for bed.

The weeks defiantly focus around the weekends, but all in all a very exciting week.

ps. this song is huge here, bit slow but thought you might want to listen to some chinese pop (I love it :P)…

* also I am aware that only a few people are aware I write this. During my weekend I discovered this painting, which looks unnervingly like sean. Could somebody facebook inbox him as I told him I would stay in contact and havent since, and also want him to see this picture (James, Sophie or Fran?). If a link could also be sent to people who may be interested at uni i’d be greatful…housemates etc (I have noticed that some people who showed an interest in my trip before I left have not been made aware of this. Cheers


  1. Tao Tao, am loving your weekly blog. Hope that the ‘snake bite’ has caused you no lasting disability and that you won’t be force fed until you pop. Take care of you. Debra x

  2. Hi Todd!! Another good blogg, highlight of my week,, I hope you are looking after yourself,, It seems that you are now settling, how on earth am I going to get you back!! lol.. Has your arm got better now!! Its all fine this end, although I think I know how you feel about being tired!! Im working long hours with little time for me, but lovin the job!! Will tell you more on Skype!! Say Hi to all and I have not seen anyone called Christine yet!! Take Care my lovely!! Mum x

  3. Hey Todd, a very good english friend of mine lives on the mainland by HK. If you look on my flist on facebook, she’s Caroline Wong. Feel free to ‘poke’ or message her as I’m sure she’d be happy to show you around HK a bit from a now local’s perspective 9(she’s been there for about 10 yrs now).

  4. Forgot to say also, Caroline is a teacher and originally went over for a short stint of teaching English (sound familiar?!).


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