China II: Week 1

Here I go again…what is China’s appeal? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I am back. What I did not expect though was such a challenging reintroduction to the country. This time I have no money, no job and no accommodation. The combination of these three has made this week incredibly differcult…but thats what I set myself up for…or did I?

So after a tiring flight, which included a cheeky visit to Mumbai, I arrived in Hong Kong airport. This means that I had to pass Hong Kong immigration for the 6th time in as many months (hence my passport being littered with HK stamps). It was a strange feeling arriving back in Hong Kong as it was an almost identical process to that of when i arrived in September last year. For some reason I remembered where to go to get my coach to Guangzhou and this time managed to haggle for a cheaper price. As I approached the desk for mainland China a couple of the cashiers giggled and said the word ‘American’ in their chatter. This meant I was immediately forced to refresh my Mandarin: ‘I am not American, I am British’. I smugly sat and waited for my coach.

Once I was on my coach I closed my eyes trying to think of where I was to go once I reached GZ, of course no one but Tony knew I was coming. I was awoken from my sleep/trance/meditation by a woman who had chosen to sit next to me just to be sick…great. Little did I know but just opening my eyes and looking at her was confirmation that we were friends, I seem to attract these weirdos. She continued to talk to me for the remainder of the 2 hour journey…joy!

I ended up texting Andrew to inform him of my arrival and he seemed very pleased and said I could crash at his. Once again I’d got lucky. I got to Andrews by Metro quite easily as he lives where Patty used to. obviously this has brought back some recent but very poignant memories….as has the rest of the week.

Later that night Andrew suggested we have a few drinks on him, which I gratefully obliged to. Naturally I invited Zoey to join us as I began to slip into the old routine…she was as surprised as Andrew to hear of my return.

Naturally the next day I returned to Wonderland to see the kindergarten girls and Iain. I received a great reaction from Claire as she opened the door (of course I called on Claire and Sally first). I then visited Iain much to his surprise before Sunny then Colleen and Aling. Disappointingly Colleen lay in bed and the first thing she said to me was ‘where is your sister?’ As I had promised to bring Chloe with me this time….she then concluded that she was still dreaming and that I wasn’t really back. All the reactions were not over the top but were warming nonetheless.

Then I bumped into the person I desperately wanted to avoid…Cristle. She spotted me on the stairs and nearly dropped her rice. She screamed ‘why didn’t you tell me!!!!’ before telling me she would have waited for me before employing the two new teachers…’o well’ I thought.

We then went for a meal with Zoey, Claire and Iain in the spicy restaurant….oh I have missed proper Chinese food in my month away. I couldn’t stay long though as I planned to visit Tony for some useful advice on what to do next, and he didn’t disappoint. It feels good to have Tony here as some sort of security, although I don’t want to rely on him too much.

Over the course of the next few days I was a very busy boy. From Monday to Friday I was arranging interviews in Guangzhou and Foshan, attending interviews, performing demo lessons, handing out C.V’s, getting over my jet lag (which a sleepless night in Heathrow didnt help), and generally trying to keep out of Andrews way as much as possible without eating too far into my already dwindling budget.

It seems as though there are no shortage of jobs for Westerners, as I already suspected, but given my short stint here employers are a little concerned that parents of children will question the schools effectiveness if foreign teachers leave after only a few months…kind of logical i suppose.

I did set aside one afternoon to visit the children in the old school. I arrived just before the children woke from their afternoon nap and sat amongst them until they woke up (not in a weird way….I don’t think anyway). The reaction I received when they woke up was overwhelming, the children went crazy. It was an amazing feeling to think that they not only remembered me but missed me. But these were the responsibility of 2 other foreign teachers now and I didn’t want to step on their feet (metaphorically speaking). I briefly visited each and every classroom (except K3C out of fear of being beaten up) and then got on my merry way.

Other than that much of the week surrounded finding a job, which was an adventure. It was also about reminiscing and I found that everywhere I went had a great memory behind it, such as walking along the Pearl River. As the week went on I came to realise that I would prefer to keep the memories of Guangzhou for my last visit, they are too special. This is a new adventure and should be treated as such. Of course I want to keep in touch and spend time with my friends here, but this time I want to experience life in another city.

Luckily for me two of the schools that had offered me contracts were in Foshan. One was a full-time contract in a kindergarten and another a part-time contract in a new school for 4-14 year olds. This, an a couple of others, meant I was a little spoilt for choice. However I narrowed to these two but decided to reluctantly take the kindergarten as it offered me an apartment and a full-time contract. There was still a small doubt though as this school has 17 foreign teachers and I was afraid I would fall into a home-from-home trap. I told the other school that I could not accept a part-time contract so rejected the contract offer.

About 15 minutes after I thought I had a job and apartment secured the kindergarten called to say that the apartment currently contains only females and they do not want to share with a male…understandable but frustrating. I thought I had lost both jobs until the man at the other school called back to say that they will offer me a full-time contract instead….jackpot! Again, things seem to fall into place in the end.

He later met me during rush our in a lay by and made me sit in the passenger seat of his black Mercedes with tinted windows to sign the contract before leaving me in the same spot…I felt like I was in the mafia and kinda wanted people to think I was. This leaves me where I am now, one week in; Job: secured, apartment: unsecured, finances: all-but-null.

So once I arrived in Guangzhou I had the equivalent of £80 to my name. And since I have used this week to travel to several interviews and survive it means I have £20 to last me til pay day…in 6 weeks time. Desperate times call for desperate measures so I am now a fully fledged member of the online couch surfing community. In the coming week I will find out if that as exciting or demoralising as it could be.

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