China II: Week 14

Upon reflection it seemed as though my last few weeks of work were in danger of stagnating into waiting game where the waiting consisted of drinking beer or just generally wasting some of the money that I had worked so hard to save. So, this week I decided to do something about it. As a result, this week was a little more active than the previous two.

The monday kicked off with a stroke of luck. It seems whenever I do anything in China I become lucky no matter how unlucky I feel. This has happened ever since things just seemed to fall into place on the Spring Festival trip, to finding permanent couch surfing accommodation, to being able to live off next to nothing for 6 weeks. In fact, I feel like my run of luck is making me complacent, almost as if I expect things to turn out ok…perhaps I need a wake up call. Anyway, the point is that I applied for my Vietnam visa on Monday. The reason I am so lucky if because there are only 3 Vietnam consulates in the whole of China, and I happen to live just a metro ride away from one of them. This may have saved me days worth of travel, stress and admin. Lucky boy. Thankfully they were willing to offer the visa to British passport holders in China and I was told to wait 3 days for it to be issued (leaving my passport with some Vietnamese people whilst I stayed passportless in China seemed a bit risky, but I needn’t have worried).

After I left the consulate I went to a Chinese restaurant called ‘Do & Me’. I regularly go there on a Monday as I have 3 hours between my work in the two kindergartens and the waitresses don’t mind if I take a cheeky nap. What’s more, I had been told that I had an extra hour to sleep as they did not need me until 3pm. I finished my rice dish, made myself comfortable on my bag, removed my shoes, put my phone on silent and took a nice little nap. After a while I woke up in a daze to find oodles of missed calls (exact amount unknown and unimportant). I picked up the next call from Debby who was slightly panicked and told me the school needed me at 2pm and the principal had told me the wrong time (it was 2:15 and I was 15 minutes away from the school). What made things worse was that I was slightly grumpy from my sleep and the school was having a parents day, so the teachers, parents and children were all expecting me). This type of scheduling issue is almost expected in China now, so I was not surprised or shaken by it. I left the restaurant and rushed towards the school. When I arrived I was greeted by the headteacher (which never happens). Instead of saying ‘sorry for telling you the wrong time’ she said ‘hurry, you’re late…quickly, quickly’, and it was this greeting that almost angered me, she certainly won’t be on my Christmas card list. In fact, she had almost certainly told the waiting parents that it was my fault that I was late. Saving face is incredibly important to most Chinese people and if they get the opportunity to drop someone else in it to save themselves then they will (of course this does not apply to all, so no accusations of stereotyping please). Despite this cock-up the classes seemed to go ok and children and parents alike seemed to enjoy themselves.

Tuesday saw me have the morning off, which I felt would give me an excuse to have a rest. Instead Judy asked if I wanted some lunch in Guangzhou. Who am I to refuse? I made my way to Martyrs Park where I had arranged to meet her at 10am. Stupidly I turned up on time (being British) and failed to learn my lesson from the previous day and countless meetings with Chinese people. When I text her to inform her of my arrival she told me she was leaving her house….an hour away. This meant I had an hour to kill in she soaring heat, so I walked through the park and found the Guangzhou History Museum. As it was free entry and air conditioned I decided to have a look around, and found it moderately interesting. Thankfully, Judy arrived before I melted in the heat and we headed for some lunch. Naturally, she wanted western food. Naturally, this was expensive. Naturally, I was expected to pay. I left for work soon after.

Quite ironically my Chinese lesson that evening featured times and timekeeping…

On the Wednesday I met with Aline at her new work. Once I arrived I found out that she had changed her name to Celine, just because she could. It couldn’t help but imagine how confusing the world would become if everyone changed their name now and again….Today I am Todd, but I am Gary on Tuesdays. We had a very brief lunch with her colleague before I had to return to work for another load of open parents day classes.

My thursday was an incredibly busy day. As usual I had my 6am start to travel to Guangzhou. It seems that when I wake up at 6am on my days off I am glad for the extra hours of life but when I have to for work I don’t have the same zest for life. Anyway, as soon as I start teaching I seem to forget my tiredness. After school I travelled by metro to pick up my Vietnam visa and then made my way to Yangji where I had arranged to meet Tony’s girlfriend as she was going to help me with a bank transfer. As I got off the station I felt hunger strike and decided to find some food. At this point I felt quite awake and ‘with it’ so I decided to head to a traditional chinese diner and order some food. I was over the moon when I successfully ordered fried egg noodles with a little chilli (perhaps I was lucky). I was so smug that I ordered a beer that I felt I deserved.

After lunch I made my way to Tonys apartment where I met with Debby. From there we went to the bank and spent about an hour trying to transfer money from my pocket into her account and from her account into my english internet account…a needlessly lengthy process. From there I must wait and hope to see if the money goes in. If it doesn’t then I certainly won’t be able to afford any travel. I am sure it will….please.

The evening was quite poignant. It was Andrews last day in China and I wanted to have one more drink with him before he left. Despite being very different characters Andrew has been a great friend, spending both Christmas and New Year with him, and even put me up for my first week back in China. I owe him a lot. Nostalgically we decided to gather with Iain in the same place that we met (but without Patty or Castle)….the Hill Bar.We had few drinks here before following the original route to the Elephant and Castle, and then returned to the Hill Bar. Naturally we reflected on our times in China, and despite not seeing him for 2 months it is clear we have shared some amazing experiences. On our second visit to the Hill Bar we were approached by two good-looking Chinese women…a little suspicious looking. We sat enjoying our beer when one sat on the seat beside me and the other beside Iain. The one beside me whispered ‘come massage and sexy me’, with my almost instinctive and naive response being ‘how much?’. Obviously we weren’t that interested, Iain especially was actually crying out for help. It made a very interesting end to the night though as they were incredible persistent and definately prostitutes (chickens as the are colloquially known). Andrew was loving the predicament of myself and Iain. In the end we decided to call it a night and head towards a 24 hour KFC where I intended to stay until the first metro. Of course, the prostitutes followed us until they realised we were not staying in the 5 star Garden Hotel near by…at which point they cheekily asked us for their taxi fare home. Perhaps we were unkind in refusing and leaving them stranded…but I don’t know what they were expecting (well, I do but they clearly weren’t going to get it). With that nights highlight out-of-the-way we all found a couch in KFC to camp for a few hours before being woken by the breakfast staff.

I managed to get home in Foshan for about 8:30 and had a quick nap before beginning my day. Once again Judy, a mother of one of my children, insisted on coming to Foshan to see a temple. She is great company so I didn’t mind joining her. It was a nice relaxing day despite the heat and a good way to unwind from a hectic few days. Once Judy left I met up with Cameron and Kat for an end of week chat and drink. Myself and Cameron ended up cycling home together on one bike after a few drinks and I was a little overconfident on the bike. As a result I crashed my knee into a tree at high-speed and sent myself, Cameron and the bike flying. I suspected that my knee would never be the same again (but it was only bruised), and Cameron had a small cut on his head that produced enough blood to make him look like a gladiator. We both walked home with the bike feeling rather sorry for ourselves.

So the weekend had begun and I was free from work for another two days….with only one more week of work remaining. My saturday began by meeting my friend, Jenny, for lunch near her work. I was quite disappointed when she suggested we eat pizza as I was quite in he mood for a Chinese dish. Jenny has as much English as I do Chinese, so the conversation was a little basic and challenging. Who doesn’t want a challenge though!

The saturday was also Emily’s birthday and I had promised to meet her at university after her exam if she was not doing something with her family. She told me early in the day that she was meeting with her visiting brother so I made plans in Foshan. Whilst I was eating out with some Westerners I got a phone call from Emily asking me to go to Guangzhou to meet her. It was getting pretty late in the day but I agreed to go and see her after I finished my dinner. I went home and changed and then waited for the Guangzhou bus…which never came. I felt bad that I could not join her on her birthday but it turns out she met with a few of her friends anyway, so I didn’t feel too bad.

Sunday was the day that I had been waiting for! Rafting! We were required to meet in Guangzhou for 8:30, which meant another early morning. Thankfully I had already arranged for an early wake up because of the boxing (Haye…disappointing). I met with Tony, Benny and Iain before heading by coach to the city of Qingyuan. Before we had the opportunity to raft we were taken onto a boat trip on one of the estuaries of the Pearl River. We sat around a table full of Chinese people for our river lunch (consisting of several types of fish, tofu and chicken). On our table were a couple that intrigued me because they didn’t say a word to each other (and nor did they for the rest of the day). I drew up two possibilities; one of them actually could not speak, or they had had an argument. I’ll admit one is more likely than the other. The scenery around the boat was breathtaking. I feel it is important that I allow such views to ‘take my breath away’ as I do not want to take anything for granted, especially as the best view I can get in Torquay is from a giant balloon.

Once we were finished eating on the boat we were removed from the boat as another crowd of were moved onto the boat…creating chaotic scenes both on and off the boat. We took another short trip to tha rafting base where we were told to get changed and put or bags in lockers. Tony quite sensibly got changed on the bus and left his bag there. Benny, however insisted on putting his bag in a £4 locker. Since I had stupidly brought my passport along I decided to join him. Iain decided to do neither, and frustrated himself as a result. Eventually we were all changed and ready to go. I had never been rafting before and this was billed as the most ‘extreme’ in Qingyuan. I was being thrown into the deep end and I was a little nervous about it. Once we got to the top of the mountain we waited in line for our turn at the rapids. The boat before ours had a giant, probably killer :p, centipede inside that was quickly destroyed by the staff. We paired off and got into our boat. Straight away we were thrown into colossal rapids that almost made me beg for mercy, but I was loving it all the same. We were all in agreement that the health and safety officials in England would have a fit if they saw the rafting here…which kind of made it all the more exciting…and I have health insurance.

Every now and again there was a pool were we were able to lower our heart rates and breath for a minute or two. Slightly excited, I decided this was the opportunity to splash as many people as possible (being China there were plenty of targets). My excitableness appeared to make me a target as well. At one point a woman spotted that I was a foreigner and held out her hand for me to shake it. In an attempt to play the fool I stretched out my hand and fell out of the boat and into the river. I think I acted this a little too well as everyone seemed to think I had actually fallen in…the chinese love a bit of slap-stick. It was only when I returned to the boat that I realised I had banged my other knee on the river bed. Which meant I had bruised both knees in one weekend. Successful weekend no?

The rapids lasted about an hour and we all left with a smile on our face. It was definately worth the £12 the whole day had cost us. After a few bites of food and a couple of ice creams we re-boarded the bus, worn out. I think everyone slept the whole way home. Rafting=recommended.

So it had been quite an eventful week. Especially with the rafting to end it…one of my highlights of my return to China.

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