Well...its been a long week, and there's been a lot happening!
The most exciting thing is that we became Chinese TV stars, and we're saving a town!
Mark, the head of English here took us to his home town, Tonkgnan for the day. He told half of us that we were going for dinner with the mayor, and the other half that we were going to see a temple. We did both...and a bit more.
Then, we went for dinner with the mayor, and what seemed like the whole council for the town. Mark's got it into his head that i don't drink now, so i was safe on coke, while the others were forced into drinking games. They were drunk by midday...
The dinner was in a small place that had the most beautiful tree in the middle of the courtyard
Apparently this is the Tree of Chongqing and is over 300 years old. It is beautiful and has lots of twisted roots spiralling up the trunk.
After lunch, we had a look around Tonkgnan
After the tour around Tonkgnan, in which i had to walk around holding the hands of the mayoress and another top ranking woman...(the chinese girls really like holding hands or linking arms...), we were taken to Mark's Middle School. We were told it was to speak to the headmaster, and to meet some of the teachers and children...UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR!!
We went to a short meeting where they told us the history of the school and a bit about it, then we went to 'meet some children'...I went to the toilet and then the mayoress walked me down a small road bit to meet the children. Mat and Carolina had already arrived there. As I turned the corner, there was a massive cheer and round of applause...and a podium covered with red material, with big seats for us to sit in...and microphones...and this greeted me:
oh yes...what seemed like thousands of children, all sat in neat lines...they all cheered and applauded as i sat down, waiting for Alison and Pete to arrive...
Then...i looked behind me and saw:
There were hundreds of them..all hanging off the balconies to see us. I waved and got a massive round of applause and cheering from the balconies too.
It was absolute madness, especially as we were followed around the streets and through the schools by a TV camera - we had become celebrities.
There was a speech from Mark to the children about learning English and how useful it was, and the best ways to practice, then it was over to us, so we gave short introductions and then Mark took over again.
After about an hour of Mark talking, he got up and left and we were mobbed...literally mobbed by children wanting autographs! They were coming from all angles giving us books, pieces of paper and body parts to sign! I was being hit in the back of the head by books, squashed by children and getting them shoved under my nose as well. Poor Mat was on the end of the table, so he had them coming from 3 sides! In the end, it looked like they were going to kill him, so being the tallest and most outspoken i stood up and motioned for the children to move back. They got the idea and then a teacher came over to move them back and things were a little better.
Being mobbed by a school of children wanting autographs, whilst being videoed for TV has to be one of the most surreal experiences i've ever had, and i have the feeling that China has a few more ready for me...
So, after the madness of the school, we finally got to go to the temple. It is the Temple of the Golden Buddha. Sadly, the day we went, the Buddha wasn't quite so golden - he's being re-gilded.
The temple was gorgeous, so attractive. I seriously contemplated giving up being a hedgewitch and becoming a buddhist!
the surrounding scenery:
We saw the largest Chinese symbol in the world - it says Buddha
and the Man and Lady of the temple - these are natural formations caused by erosion and water, an excellent example of simulacra that is so appropriate - the man is on the left, the lady on the right. The man looks very typically Chinese. It couldn't be better!
We went to the Singing Steps - they're supposed to make a different sound on each 7th step. I stamped as hard as i could, but really didn't hear anything...
From the bottom:
From the top:
and the statues around were beautiful. I love Chinese art, especially the stone carvings.
After all that, a bit of R&R was in order, so we got taken to a karaoke bar, where the owner not only fed us copious amounts of popcorn, but gave us packets to take away too!
I asked Phoenix to write my favourite foods in chinese, so i'm sorted for ordering food now:
tomato and Egg thing
Sweet pork (i know i know...but they don't do chicken. I have been suffering...).
Now i'm busy trying to arrange for us to go on the Yangtze cruise for National Day. We can either get the cruise from here to Yichang, or we can go upstream (i'd prefer that) by flying to Yichang first and then catching the boat first.
I've found lots of tours that i want to go on as well, including a Kung Fu tour (anything to get back to the Shaolin temples!), and some classic tours. There's one going to Tibet - you can only go to Tibet on a group visa, and i would prefer to go on an organised tour rather then getting a group visa for us and then going just us... Another tour goes to the grasslands of Mongolia...and we get to meet local farmers and talk and eat with them. I want to do that one, but to do it on my own is twice the price of managing to convince everyone else to go as well...we'll see...
Well, its been a busy week here in China!
Firstly, we went out for dinner with Mark (The Head of English), and what seemed like half the local police force! There was good food, there was good company and there were many drinking games played
The drinking games were interesting, they were based on Rock, Paper, Scissors. Then, there was the added element of numbers – you had to uncover a number of fingers with your partner, and it could either be 0, 5, 10, 15 or 20. The one who guessed the total number of fingers for both partners won, and the loser had to drink.
I didn't play the drinking games – it was all based on shots of lager, and I really don't like lager!
I think i'm becoming something of an outcast I the group – i'm older than the rest of them, and I don't drink to get drunk, so I think that i'm not within the group dynamic. They have a big 'team' or 'family' thing going on, they're all very pally pally, and I don't feel that close to any of them really.
So, this weekend, we took a trip to Chongqing City Centre.
We stayed at a place called Tina's Hostel. It was really clean and really nice.
The best thing about it was that it was in what i can only describe as a typically Chinese living area.
The surrounding views were beautiful
We went out on Saturday night to The Outside Bar, which was great. I really loved the Outdoor Bar, it was so relaxed and easy going. I also met some people from CQExpat, which has been my aim for the past week!
I met Cherry and Rob, and they were really lovely. Cherry is fantastic, such an energetic, sweet girl.
Rob's a great Canadian, and we were talking about schools, and teaching, and what seemed like everything else under the sun. At about half one, I joined the rest of te group at The Cotton Club. There was a rock covers band playing, and I sat down at the table, only to be nearly bowled over by a drunken Mat, who, it appears had missed me...
Later that night, Mat and Lilly disappeared, so we went back to the hostel without them. I think was the point that I realised how different the maturity levels are between us, I couldn't sleep knowing that two of our number were out in CQ all alone, in a big city in the middle of China – an unknown land!! I stayed up until about 6 that night – Mat and Lilly came back at about half 4, and then I spent the rest of the time keeping Mat alive. He stumbled into the room and took 4 attempts to take his trousers off, and then went to purge the alcohol (how polite was that?!). He was looking pretty rough, so I kept filling him with water in an attempt to dilute the alcohol in his system. I have told him that next time, i'll leave him to die...One chance...
So, on Sunday, we went to the CQExpat CAFE (Chinese and Foreign Exchange) Club. It was great to meet so many people that I have been 'talking' to online for so long. I did forget to take musicman his mustard though! I'll keep it for next time.
Phoenix came to the CAFE club with me, and she had a great time too, despite suffering a hagover from hell! She made sure that I got home safely, she took me on the bus from CQ to Hechuan, and then we got a local bus from Hechuan bus station to the College. The local bus was a fantastic experience, and i'm going to ask Phoenix to write 'To Chongqing', 'To Hechuan', and 'To Hili' on a piece of paper in Mandarin so that I can travel on my own soon. That's exciting!
I think I got bitten by something a bit nasty on Thursday night, I had an itchy foot on Friday and I thought i'd been got by another mosquito and ignored it. Saturday it started to swell and itch, and by the time I got home yesterday my foot was swollen and bright red and itchy. I've had something for infection, and double dosed the antihistamines and it appears to be working. The rash has travelled up my leg a bit, and my foot and ankle are still swollen, but its like a nasty attack of Urticaria (another one...), so i'm not really sure what's going on! It appears to be getting better – my foot's gone back to flesh colour today. When I see Susan again, i'll ask her whether she thinks I should see a doctor.
Went back to teaching today. I love my Monday Morning class, they are really interactive, they speak to me, and they get my sense of humour, which is nice. The class today was working from the workbook, and the subjects were starting a conversation, introducing yourself, introducing another and interrupting a conversation. The students in the first class were really into the subjects and really responded. We went through the words Compliment and Offensive in relation to speaking to other people. The second class are a different kettle of fish! They are really quiet. I have two rules I my classroom, the first is that No-one is shy, and the second is that No-one laughs at English. The rules seem to work, the chinese students are known as being shy, so i'm hoping that these two rules will give them the confidence to speak up more. The first class have grasped this concept. There are a few in the second class who have understood, and they are willing to speak up, but the majority are very quiet. I gave them some exercises to do and went round the class talking to each couple and explaining things to them.
I meet my third class tomorrow. The class was cancelled last week because it was too hot.
It was lovely this morning! It had rained overnight, so the temperature has cooled and the humidity has lifted somewhat, which makes everything a lot more comfortable!
So, that's the update finished...more soon!
Its been interesting. Saturday night we went to a western restaurant, and to a karaoke bar (where the boys did a stunning rendition of Backstreet Boys' As Long As You Love Me)
The western restaurant had the strangest ceremony for irish coffee – they had a special stand with the coffee on it, and another one for the glass, which had a gas burner underneath. The whisky (Johnnie Walker Red) was poured into the glass with a lump of sugar, this was then heated by the gas burner, while the glass was spun in the stand, until the sugar melted. After that, the hot whisky and sugar were poured into the cup, and the coffee poured on top. Then cream was piped on the top of the cup, and it was all sprinkled with hundreds and thousands! I've had Irish coffee in a few places, but this is the first with hundreds and thousands! As Irish coffee goes, it was not good, but the sprinkles made up for it.
After the karaoke bar, we went to a nightclub, where there were people performing. We are not sure whether they were regular clubbers doing a turn on the podium, or whether they were paid performers. Must remember next time we go out to take toilet paper with me, I was desperate to go in the club, but there is no toilet paper in the cubicles, so I couldn't.
Felt a bit rough on Sunday, i'd eaten something that didn't agree with my digestive system at all. I felt rather sick all day. Went for dinner Sunday night and had some gorgeous chicken dish that was a bit like a dry curry, and some rice and some spinach and tofu soup. Lilly seems obsessed with vitamin and protein counts though – I could get bored with that quite quickly. I did tell her today that I didn't care how much carbohydrate was in a drink...
Last night wasn't a good night's sleep. I eventually got to sleep about half midnight, after my digestive system had purged itself completely. Feel much better today.
Today was the first teaching day, and it was successful. I started with an introduction about myself, with pictures, I told them my name, my parents' names and about my pets. The students liked the picture of Finlay and there was a lot of 'aaah's coming from around the room. I had two classes, one starting at 8:45 and finishing at 10:15, and then another starting at 2:30 and ending at 4:00. The 8:45 class had a better grasp of English, but there were a couple of students in the later class who were really good. The first class were worried that I wasn't married...one of them asked my age, and then another asked whether I had a boyfriend. When I said that I didn't, they then asked whether I was worried that I wouldn't get married...
I'm beginning to get the hang of things here. I'm not eating a huge amount, I think this is because it is so hot that I have no appetite. Being unwell yesterday didn't help as my systems still feels a bit delicate. I am drinking a huge amount of soft drinks. We have water in the apartment, but it is so bitter that I am buying coke and orange juice a lot. I had an ice lolly today, which was absolute heaven!
The National Day is on the 1st October, so we are going to get 8 days off. Phoenix (one of the students) has offered to take us to Chengdu for the week. I am really interested in going, there are some lovely looking places there. We're going to Chongqing city at the weekend, so hopefully, i'll be able to meet up wih some people from Cqexpat. That'll be good, i'm looking forward to it very much. I've been told there's also some good shoe shopping to be done there too...and my flip flops did break..
My internet connection is erratic again. It was connected, and now it has decided to not connect for some reason. Not sure why, I think i'll get Sawyer to come and have a look at it for me and try to fix it. It is connected to the internet, but then won't go any further. Not sure why this is, as my firewall is off at the moment, so I can't be that. I had to turn the firewall off because it was stopping the proxy software working. Dammit.
Ok...so the internet connection didn't work because...some idiot unplugged the router to plug in her hair straighteners...i have dead straight hair...
(written on 1st Sept)
Well, my first impressions this time are very similar to last time – the people are wonderful. There is nothing that they will not do for you. I only had to think about what I wanted at Hong Kong Airport, and someone appeared to show me the way.
The plane journeys were long. London to Hong Kong was 10hrs. That one went by quite quickly – I watched a few films, a but of comedy and played a few computer games.
The wait at Hong Kong was made bearable by the people that I talked to, and the coffee shop with free internet access...Hong Kong to Chongqing was a short flight, and I tried to sleep for most of it. However, every time I started to drift of properly, the air hostess came over and started asking questions 'you want pillow?' 'you want newspaper?'. Then lunch was served, and then it seemed to be time to land.
Travelling alone is always a bit worrying for me. I get a bit paranoid that a single female traveller looks suspicious. I got stopped at Hong Kong and they asked to see my make up bag (apparently something in there looked like an arrow head), and to see my first aid kit (they picked up tablets on the X-ray), but thankfully, once they had had a good look, they were quite happy that I wasn't planning to killing anyone and I was let on my way with smiles.
Coming in to Chongqing was interesting. Susan was late, having been stuck behind a truck on fire, so was a bit stranded for 20 minutes...and a bit worried that maybe I had told her the wrong date, or the wrong time or something. Went outside to smell China, and she pulled up and yelled 'Fiona' out of the window at me. We packed my bags into the car and started driving for the 50 minute drive to the college. Wish i'd known beforehand that it was 50 minutes. I needed to go to the toilet as we started to descend to land...
Susan and I spent the journey talking and laughing and making plans. She wants me to teach her English (she speaks more English than I do Mandarin...), she wants to refine her English and learn to pronounce some of the harder sounds better. She said that she has troube wth my name because of the 'n' in it, she has a tendency to call me Fiola to get round the problem. I told her that Fee would be fine. She also wants to cook for us, and to take me shopping. She loves shopping! We talked about our families. Surprisingly, for a Chinese family, there are 4 children. She explained that her parents are both teachers and they love children, so paying for the 3 extra wasn't a problem for them.
We arrived in the college and went straight to the flat. I'm in quarantine with the other two British teachers that have arrived for 5 days. We have to be in quarantine in case we have swine flu. This will mean 5 days in the flat. We might be able to go out in th evening when there are not so many people around, but we are not allowed to have free reign yet. Every day we have to take our temperature and report the findings. I'm not sure that I want to know what happens if our temperatures are high...
The flat's ok. If you ever think of coming here, don't expect a palace! The walls need repainting, and furniture needs cushions (and so does the bed...i'll come to that later), and there are cockroaches the size of my thumb! I don't have a problem with insects, or spiders, but these cockroaches are mean! They start scuttling towards you, like they're going to attack! I killed the biggest one last night, and when I get some cleaning stuff, i'll get rid of the body, but at the moment, its there as a warning to the other one that's hiding in the bathroom.
The flat has 2 bedrooms, a larger one wit a window shelf (mine) and a smaller one (apparently, i'll be living with an Irish girl). It has a living room that has a wooden sofa (that looks like it folds out to be a bed...but there are no cushions), some wooden chairs, a TV, a fridge, a table and an air conditioning unit in it. It has the decorations left by the previous tenants – fairy lights and a painting of a roaring fire, as do the rooms.
My room is ok, it has a wardrobe, two cupboards, a shelf unit, a desk and a bed in it. The bed is possibly the most uncomfortable thing I have ever slept on! It is a wooden block with a thin mattress and a couple of thin quilts on top, and then a thin quilt on top of that. I think I might need to go and invest in a thicker quilt come winter time.
At the moment, it is 5am. I went to bed at about 11pm, and got woken up at 1 by my mum ringing to see if I had got here ok. I rang my parents from Hong Kong, but had no phone service here...until 1am it seems. I was then woken again at 3 by a friend from home sending me a text... I woke up at 4 on my own, convinced it was about 10am. I wish it was. I'm writing this now because i'm too awake to sleep. This is quite ridiculous, I did 30 hours on an hours sleep. I should be fast asleep now! I think the bed hasn't helped. My hips hurt and feel bruised, and the stress and sweat of yesterday has given me a nice attack of Urticaria too, so I have a swollen itchy hand, and itchy patches on my hips and thighs. I've had some anti histamines, so hopefully, it should go down soon. I want to have a shower, but the big cockroach's brother is hiding in there somewhere. I might have to get the boys to come in on a roach hunt!
I also want to clean. It is not very clean. I understand that CQ is dusty because there is a lot of building work going on, but some of this is dirt that has been left by the previous tenants. Sadly, it appears that although they left us green tea (now inhabited by the cockroach's little brother and what looks like 6 different types of mould, and some spices, they didn't leave any cleaning materials, or anything to clean with.
The problem is that i'm not allowed to leave for 5 days, so i've written a list of things that are needed here. I need to add coke and orange juice to it too. There is no food and drink. We have a water bottle, but as with most of the purified water here, the water is bitter. I asked for a bottle of coke last night, but I am dependent on the college for food at the moment. Susan and Sawyer (our Chinese friends) went out last night and got food and some coathangers for me! I think I need to send them out today for stuff. I also need to get internet access soon so that I can get the thing for my boxes that are waiting for me at the airport, then I can send Susan to pick them up. I'm hoping that I don't need to pay any import duties on them because they are personal effects, but i'll give her some money just in case. I do need to go to the bank and get some cash out, I have enough to last me, but probably not that long once i've bought cleaning supplies and food and drink.
I could do with a cup of tea...but there is no kettle, and I have no milk or sugar. The quarantine thing could really get me down after a while I think.
I'll be teaching 16 classes a week, each at 45 minutes a session. The classes start at 8:45, and go through to 12, then they stop until 14:30 and carry on until 18:00. I teach 16 classes a week, and have to go to English Corner twice a week. English Corner is where the students go to practice their English, and have conversations with each other, and with the teacher. Susan says that it is boring – they ask the same questions every week. That's ok though, I can always ask questions back.
She seemed a little surprised that I have my first lesson planned already. I spoke to someone I know who I teaching in Korea and asked them what their first lessons were. She said that she talked about herself and showed pictures of where she grew up, and English money, and then she threw a paper ball around the class and started with 'My name is...and my favourite colour is...'. I plan to do the same. It will be a good class for me to get to know the students a bit, and I think they will be interested in pictures of England, and things like my house, and my school, and the surroudning areas.
I really wish I could either shower or sleep now...I'm lucky because I took precautions and haven't been bitten by mosquitoes yet. I also spent about half an hour before I went to bed killing all the ones that I could see in the room...I've added an electric mosquito repellent to the list of stuff that I need. I have insect repellents for my skin, but I want one for the flat. I slept in a long sleeve teeshirt and pyjama bottoms – I'm sure that long arms and long trousers are what you need to stop the bugs getting at your bare skin. I also covered my feet in insect repellent (for some reason, whenever I get bitten, its always on the feet. Not the legs or the back like everyone else...nope, the feet!).
I don't know what time Susan and Sawyer are coming back today. I hope its fairly early so that I can ask them to get my boxes, and the stuff that I need. Then the quarantine won't be so bad, i've got lots of books in my boxes and cleaning should take a day or so to do.
So...just got a knock on the door from one of the lads. Apparently it is not 6am as i'd thought, it is in fact 6pm! That means that I slept for well over 12 hours! Excellent. I'm not surprised that i've got a headache now though...i haven't had anything to drink because i've been sleeping. It also explains the urticaria – it always happens if my kidneys are not happy, so the dehydration has caused it. This is good to know, it means that i'm not allergic to something in my surroundings.
I can also forgive my back and hips for hurting as well, knowing that i've slept for well over 12 hours!
My flat has been invaded by Susan and Sawyer who are doing traditional chinese cooking for Mat's birthday. She's making Beijing Duck and Dumplings. I did think that this was rather strange for breakfast...
Looks like my boxes probably won't be got until tomorrow now though. I really need them – I only have one clean pair of trousers and I want my comfy jeans that are in the box!