[PHOTO: The coolest pencil sharpeners I’ve ever seen, property of class 512]
So yesterday morning, while listening to Slaves (a British Punk-ish band) on my iPod waiting for the bus in the rain, I was trying to think of what I could write in my next blog post. My plan was to simply focus on the small “wins” I’ve had throughout the week, the small wins definitely make up for the other crap we have to deal with in China. So…My list of small victories this week:
- I now have WiFi in my apartment!
- I bought an actual bowl, not a plastic tub
- I had my first warm shower (after being told for a third time how to use it)
- I hadn’t been late for work once
- I was prepared for all my lessons
- I’ve finally remembered some of my kids names
- Yesterday it was finally an ok temperature so I was able to wear my hair down
- I had taken the correct bus all week
- I had used my dining hall food card for the first time
This changed slightly yesterday morning. While I was thinking up this list, and listening to some angry punks in my ears, I hopped on the bus and ended up, not at school, but at the Traffic Centre on the outside of the Country Garden Community (as I did on my very first day at CGS). I got cocky, I got confident, and China wanted me to snap out of that right away. So, I had to wait for a while longer, and shamelessly show the driver my phone which I had previously got a friend to send me the Chinese for: “Does this go to the school?” He nodded, I got on, and at 7.25am I arrived at school.
Yesterday I was determined to try and minimise the amount of work I had to do on the weekend by taking full advantage of my office time between 2.30pm & 5pm. I got all my lesson plans written up for the previous and current week, and I arranged a time to sit down with another Grade 5 International teacher to go through exactly what is expected of us and how to use the many many documents I had been given. Sadly, Meghan, the head of Grade 5 International teachers is having to go back to America for roughly a week due to a family emergency. So myself and the other 6 international teachers of Grade 5 are having to scramble together and try and work it out on the job. We’ve been left without a leader for our first week of curriculum teaching… we’ll manage!
Kim and I went to lunch together at one of the very few restaurants between our homes and work, where we had a plate of dumplings each and shared a noodle dish (which we struggled to separate onto our 2 plates until the waitress came over with scissors to cut it up for us… bless). Kim introduced me to Kyle (who I really had to make a conscious effort to remember his name) who was also hired by Worlda, and only arrived on Saturday, so literally, a week ago. This is his first time in China, so I think Kim will be taking him under her knowledgeable wing… He’s British, so she thought we’d get along. The first thing he said to me was “I have a big bad of Yorkshire Tea with me. There was no kettle in my apartment. I got one.” My response? – “OH MY GOOD LORD!! We are now friends! I have not had a cuppa since I left the UK!!” Kim looked shocked and said I sounded more British in that sentence than she’s heard me sound since she’s known me… Hey, I found this out while travelling, when you’re finally reunited with people from your home country (let’s keep it vague here and just say Britain) you instantly become 100% more British. It’s a subconscious habit I have formed… So yes, hopefully, soon, I will have a cup of tea and have new friend!
[I’ll tell you how I made the connection in my brain to make his name stick… We spoke about cuppas, and when’s one of the best times to have a cuppa? When you’re watching useless mind numbing crap on TV, like the Jeremy Kyle show… BOOM that’s how my brain works…]
At lunch time I was also told that I had to attend an hour long standing ceremony to celebrate Teachers Day (September 10th) and watch while a very large number of Chinese staff received various awards. This took place between 5 & 6pm, after which, I was whisked away in a car with Vivian (my co-teacher), Mr Chen (512’s homeroom teacher), the 2nd teacher for class 512, and 3 other Chinese members of staff to a restaurant outside of the Country Garden gates. I knew I had been invited to enjoy dinner with them, but to my knowledge, it was going to just be food in the dining hall. Oh how wrong I was. This meal turned out to be a very important celebratory meal for Mr Chen, who has just started his 20th year at Country Garden School, and I was honoured enough to make it on the guest list. One thing I will say about the Chinese is that if they like you, they really do make you feel appreciated and they treat you as their own family and are very thankful for your presence. We sat in a private room just for the 7 of us, and Mr Chen ordered a load of dishes for us to enjoy, proper Chinese Family Style, my favourite. Some of my favourite dishes form last night included: a smoked shredded pork type thing that was an amazing mix between jerky and bacon, a mushroom dish with garlic, Chinese spaghetti with veg, and I even didn’t mind the tofu skin dish. There were a hell of a lot of chilli’s on the plates, so I struggled with a few, but god it was a good meal. Going out with locals is always great, but sometimes you go home hungry, unable to eat the unusual dishes they order (example: duck tongue, jelly fish, tripe mixed with tofu etc.) But last night was great, and I really did eat my fill.
I also drank my fill. I had a couple of beers, continually encouraged to “toast” and finish my (very small) glass as a sign of respect and celebration for Mr Chen. And speaking of Mr Chen; he pulled out a bottle which I can only describe as looking dodgy as hell, and kind of like a chemical cleaning bottle (with an damaged wax seal…) It looked like it had been sitting on a shelf for a while, and rightfully so, Mr Chen had bought it in his first year of working at CGS, and if you’re keeping up with all this information, you will remember that last night’s meal was to celebrate his 20th year… Yep, I was given a very full shot glass of (very very expensive) Baiju. The guys drank a fair amount of this, and not very surprisingly, they got merry pretty quick. I respectfully (as I could) declined another shot of the strong stuff, and stuck to beer and tea. The one shot I did have, took me about 5 attempts to finish… but, like I said, when the Chinese like you, they treat you well, and I was not pressured into drinking more, they just wanted to show me their ways and how they show respect to new guests. This also included making me have the first bowlful of Chinese Style Spaghetti…
It was a really enjoyable, unexpected night. My face ached from smiling so much (a mixture of laughing and trying to look as respectful and cheerful as I could), but poor Vivian, (and sometimes Sam; another 2nd language English speaker) spent a lot of her night having to translate for me. I lost count of the amount of times she had to tell me “They say we are very lucky to have such a beautiful and kind souled international teacher!” I was handed Mr Chen’s phone, and when I took it, I ended up speaking to his wife, whose English name is Penny. I was then invited to their home for a traditional Chinese meal sometime in the future.
Vivian relayed to me that Mr Chen and his co teacher wanted to express their appreciation of me and how I am with the class. They said that the children love me and they hope I stay for the whole academic year. I was also told that I am now their friend and they treat friends like family, so even though I am “brave and strong” coming to China on my own, I now have family here. Like I said, they truly are wonderful people when you spend time with them and find the right ones…
Mr Chen paid for all our drinks and food, and even purchased us all either a jar of honey or pickled chilli radish as a gift. I didn’t get home until gone 11pm.
Today is Teachers Day, so yesterday I was given a rose and a card from the school. Vivian, 502’s homeroom and 2nd teacher however, were given a lot. And they fully deserve it, the amount of hours and effort they put into the school and kids is mind-blowing. They were given huge bouquets of flowers, fruit baskets, and of course, Moon-Cakes (it is nearing the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival after all…), and they kindly shared them out with me too. So I came home with a rose, a card, 3 apples with sparkly bows on, 2 large oranges, 2 kiwi’s, 2 “normal” mooncakes, and 2 frozen mooncakes… Phew! The respect and generosity here is incredible, I feel very fortunate to have been paired with these teachers and look forward to a year together teaching classes 502 and 512. I’ve also felt very ashamed over the past week. The Chinese staff that I work with daily have been trying so hard to use their very limited English, and I’m ashamed to admit that despite not being a China Baby (as Kim calls them), I know little/no conversational Mandarin. They keep apologising to me that their English is so poor, and all I can do is apologise back and say; “No I’m the one who should be sorry. I need to make more of an effort to speak Chinese; I am in China after all!”
So today I met Kim at the small gate leading to the outside world where every Saturday morning there is a huge market taking over the whole street. I had no idea what I wanted or needed so I pretty much just wandered around and was led by Kim. She then took me to the big indoor wet-market where I now know I can get cheap fresh veg and cheap meat for future reference when I get back into cooking. I did buy an amazing garlic crusher though… (Sam, if you’re reading this, I may buy you one… it’s even better than Dads… sorry father.) I also bought a GIANT wedge of watermelon, and I mean giant, it’s the length of my elbow to the tip of my fingers, and it was only about 70p! So I’m pretty excited about that. But, then the rain came, as it ALWAYS DOES HERE. So we took refuge in the Muslim place, obviously, and had some food (no it wasn’t even 10am yet). We sat, ate and talked for a good while, an hour or two, and then we headed back out into what was now thankfully only a light drizzle. I was on the lookout for a cleaver, a tray, and maybe a big tub (to store my watermelon in). I found a stall that sold a lot of very shiny kitchen utensils, and even a kettle, but, it was sat in a puddle so thought, best not… China electricity is dodgy as hell normally let alone trying to plug in a kettle that has been sat in the rain for god knows how long…
Tonight is the big “International Teachers of GCS Welcome back Party” at a place called Moment Bar; where I will be paying 120rmb for an all you can eat buffet and a free bar (on selected drinks of course). So, this time tomorrow I may have more friends in work, or at least I’ll know more people! So fingers crossed it’s a good night.
And tomorrow night, I have to be in work for a few hours for the Chinese staff to introduce me to my student’s parents… not too sure how that’s going to go, but we’ll see!
Let’s hope that next week is another week filled with more mini-wins for Charlie! Here is a photo of something I found/did through Facebook, suposedly this shoudl be my life quote, and I don’t exactly disagree…