A Travellerspoint blog

A photographic look at my life in Shunde, China

And some short stories

sunny 25 °C

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Our cute neighbour 'Ai yi' and her mother- she's getting so big! & Teachers kids playing outside our building

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Roger and Will have started coaching a school football team

This is one of those random blog entries, with a few stories and a few pictures I'd like to remember.

First, Roger and I were very surprised the other day when we called our friend at 5:15 to see where he was, and he said 'Oh I will be a little bit late... I just got married'. They ran off between classes to go get married! Neither of them seemed particularly excited when they returned. They went to go sign the papers and get their photos at the police station. They will have an engagement party with their friends at a later date, and then have the wedding ceremony after that in the next year or so. Things work a little different here. We're always shocked at how quickly things happen!

I've had some frustrating moments with dealing with Chinese culture. For example, during group work in my class, I noticed one boy crying. After class I asked what was wrong and he pointed to another boy he was working with, so I asked them to help me bring my things back to the classroom (as an excuse to talk to them without the rest of the class being nosey). When I got back, I wanted to have a word with both of them- as it was obvious the bigger boy was bullying the smaller boy. I asked their class teacher to come and translate for me to make it a bit easier. After listening to them, I told them it's really important to be kind to eachother and to be friends. I want to see them happy, not sad. And I had them shake on it.

Then, after Shelley told me that she knows of this problem and the small boy is a 'wimp' (direct quote) and that he needs to toughen up, she said she'd deal with it, and took the two boys to the side and started yelling at them- and I mean yelling! When I asked the teacher behind me what she was saying, her response was 'it is none of your business' (I'd like to think this was just a lost in translation answer- rather than what I would presume it meant coming from an English person), but I still said 'Well to be honest, if it wasn't my business then I'd be a bad teacher. They are only 12 years old and they are living away from home. They need the support of teachers here'. I left, 10 minutes later, with the boys still being yelled at, to go to my next class. It really bothered me how instead of listening to the boys and acting as an intermediate person so they can resolve whatever issues they have, and be there to support the small boy who is having obvious difficulties living at this school, they resort to yelling and screaming at them. It was really heartbreaking.

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Chamomile and goji berry tea- I love it!

On the lines of bullying, I had a senior 2 girl (16 years old), look really upset after I had the class get into groups. I tried to get her to go for a walk outside, but she was trying to be strong and looked as though she was on the verge of breaking into tears. Once I had all the other students focused on the task, I asked her to come outside to talk with her. Luckily, her English is flawless- so there weren't any communication problems. She told me about how she's always being alone- since primary school- she eats alone, and walks around the school alone. And how she was in a group, but two of the girls kicked her out because they wanted a boy to join their group (harsh, me thinks!). She told me about how she watches CSI all the time, because she has no friends- hence why her English is so good. I did my best to console her, and show her that every girl in the whole world has a tough time in Highschool. I thought it was a hard enough time just going 8 hours a day- I cant even imagine how tough it would be to live at the school, and share a room with the same girls. She seemed pretty confident with being by herself, and was pointing out the positives to me for this, but she also told me she's very sad all the time because her mother tells her that she should care what other people think and that she should try harder to make them like her. After our talk, I hope she understands that bullying isn't anything to do with her- its the insecurities of the other people. I'm glad I could be there to talk to her, because its not something a Chinese teacher would do. I assume they would ignore the problem, or even take the side of the bully to befriend other students. She left saying she thinks I'm the best teacher... a few words of encouragement I needed when I've had a hard time with these cultural differences.

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Views from our building

I had another China moment when I asked the class teacher of one of my (bad) senior classes to come to watch the next class- as they were so bad the class before. I asked them 3 different times, and every time they said yes, they will definitely have a teacher come to the next class. I showed up to the office 10 minutes before the class to ask the teacher to come 'but... but... we have a meeting now' they said. 'I've asked 3 times for a teacher to come and there hasn't been any problem with this. I need a teacher there' 'Oh ok. But we have a meeting now'. Now this is where the Chines-afied Anna comes in... I have learnt you have to put your foot down here... 'I need a teacher in the class or I won't teach them' 'Oh ok then...'. Sorted. (This example is an extreme example of my tactics, as this particular class is renowned to be an extremely difficult class to handle)

In retrospect, it wasn't too much help having their class teacher there because he acted as one of the students himself. I actually had to ask him to stop talking and distracting the students because I am teaching...

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Horrible humidity- the not so good part about living in the tropics (by the way, the humidity is on the inside of the door, but if you can't air out the flat because its even more humid outside! I've never seen anything like it) & the pink piece of paper is on a wall!

Roger and I went for a trip down to a little, very artificial plot of land in the middle of loads of cranes and construction, which they call a park. We went with Will and Dasha, and they could not get enough of the 'nature' there... 'wow look at this nature. So beautiful, nature!'. It was all very ironic because of the location. The thing is, everything in China is built up, in a very artificial way. Parks are covered with plastic rabbits and big paper fruit (see my last blog), and there is no such thing as a dirt path or exploring- it is always cemented over.

Something I've found very ironic is the gate of the hotel across the road (See photos below). It's a very wealthy area, and 100 metres at either side of the gate, there are always ten's of gardeners squatting on the grass picking out every tiny bit of weed; slowly filling up the big grass woven baskets they carry around. Just 100 meters down the road, the same company dumps all of their unused cement and garbage right next to the road. So when China says they have full employment- keep in mind that much of it is this type of employment where you have ten's of people doing a completely unnecessary job. Or 10 waitresses working in a restaurant with 5 tables... that sort of thing.

The idea of tidying up after yourself doesn't exist here- if you go the market and try and orange, you just drop the peels on the ground. You finish up your drink? Just drop your cup as you walk. No problem!

School Charity Sale

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The students had a charity sale. Each class bought things in to sell, and all of the proceeds went to 'the poor family's'

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Instructions in the school for how the students should wear their uniforms. If a girl's hair is touching their shoulders they are sent out of school immediately to get a haircut, or they have to put it in a tight pony tail

Walking in the little village next to our school
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That's our block of flats

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A little garden, and papaya and banana trees

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More gardens, and one of many doors that I love to take pictures of!

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These two photos are a great image of old meets new: Fishing with the high speed rail line in the background & At the other side of the river you see the new block of flat's that the company (who took this land) are building, with the village people burning offerings for their ancestors on this side

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The old school, before our school was built

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A very happy sign carver who was really proud to show off his beautiful signs to us

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Follow the path to our flat

And now a look at Xiaohuangpu, the bigger village that's a 10 minute bus ride from our school

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A new sign for our school & Looking across the road at the Dong Yi Wan development- a very very wealthy area

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Waiting for our bus to come & a view back towards the school at the new apartment blocks the company is building

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The market, where we get our fruit and veg and stuff. From where this picture is taken, it's the roundabout in the centre of the town [i]

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[i]Dim Sum- local cantonese food. Little cakes and bread type things (baozi) are steamed through from underneath & Bamboo holding up the building

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A round house- to me, it looks like an old Hakka round house that should be conserved! But this little house is left to fend for itself now I think & a typical little restaurant

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In our favourite Hunan restaurant. Each different province of China has their own style of cooking. When you're looking to see what type of food a restaurant serves, it is easy to tell by its decorations. Hunan food always has lots of Mao photos because Mao was from Hunan province. The second photo is a colourful front to a Dongbei Restaurant (North East China)

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My favourite dish- a Hunan Dish with long bean (dou jiao) egg plant (qiezi) garlic (suan) and pepper (la jiao) ... YUM
Qian ye dofu (Thousand page tofu)... another of our favourites

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Cutest, smallest little puppy. They tried to sell him to me for 20 RMB- about 2GBP or $3.5. I was strong and didn't give in! Instead, I tried to get them to give him a name in the hopes that they won't eat him :/ it's the tough life of living out here... as horrible as it is

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These photos are from Gongyuan- the 'public park' of Xiaohuang pu, and the little temple next to it. Roger and I went in to the temple- the first room is full of the incense coils hanging from the ceiling that resemble Vietnamese hats, and you walk back further into a small room with a shrine to the Budhist goddess, with status of the other gods around the side of the room. There was a very elderly couple, who I presume were in charge of the temple, and we showed our respect, as is tradition, by lighting 3 incense sticks and bowing three times, and putting the incense in the pot infront of the goddess- or wherever we wanted

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Some of the little back streets. We thought it was a really cute area (the rare sunny day helped with that aswell), but an old man who spoke really clear mandarin (unusual here as they all speak cantonese) insisted that he thought it wasn't pretty at all! We had one of those great moments that we couldn't of had 2 years ago- we could have a whole conversation in Mandarin. I think one of my life's biggest successes!!

Posted by Anna1289 22:52 Archived in China Tagged china school photos pictures teaching expat shunde Comments (1)

Womans day, as the Chinese do

rain 20 °C

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Since my last blog, I have experienced my second ever woman's day. China celebrates this day with everything it has- every woman gets half a day off of work (though I don't think it really counts because they have to make up the work the next day), and many companies take women on 'field trips' to scenic areas, or spas, and out to dinner.

Our activities were preceded by an Junior 1 teachers party. All the woman were serenaded by the male members of staff- they even danced! The male teachers drew names out of a box to decide who they gave a rose to. I feel bad for the poor guy who drew my name; I could see him in the corner practice how to say 'happy woman's day', which, when it came down to the crucial moment, he stuttered 'woman day happy'. The principal came to join us, and was greeted with a standing ovation. Following her speech, she did the ceremonial cutting of the cake.

All the women from my school then loaded onto a a procession of buses; Roger and one other male teacher were the only non-female members on the excursion. We were told that they were there to 'take care of the women'. After driving for over an hour in awful rain and impromptu Karaoke, we stumbled out of the bus (which was full of women being sick!) and into the middle of a cloud on top of Lotus Mountain in Panyu. Apparently when they say we are going to 'hike up a mountain' they actually mean that the bus will drive us to the top and we will ponder around for a few minutes. Unlucky for us, we had really no view at all!

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Gabriella on the left, and Shelly with a pineapple on the right

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Roger and Jason, and a wishing tree (you can buy a red ribbon and throw it over the tree for good luck)

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Roger and I found the artificial "beauty" of this mountain pretty ridiculous. Rather than enjoying nature, they have concreted over much of the mountain, and lined the paths with cardboard cut outs of rabbits, and giant styrofoam apples, strawberries and bananas, covered in plastic flowers that quickly fade from the humidity. It's a beauty that only Chinese people can truly appreciate I think.

Alongside a couple of English teachers from my office, we wandered down the mountain until we reached the bottom of cliff faces. Carved into the sides were big Chinese characters filled in with red paint. To us, they were rather obvious recent additions to the mountain, and we jokingly said they were there to look like 'ancient Chinese cave writing'... but our friends reactions were 'Oh wow! look at the ancient writing!!!', and hundreds of photos were taken.

After only walking downhill for 50 minutes, it occurred to the teachers we'd probably need to start walking uphill if we want to make it to the before it left in 20 minutes. When we met an intersection of a few paths, everyone panicked. Stepping back, Roger and I could easily see that 2 of the paths led directly into the side of a cliff, and another led down the mountain; as we needed to be going up, there was only one path that would be an option. It took the other teachers five minutes of debating to figure this out- and even then, half of them decided to walk on the path that would literally hit the side of a cliff 100 meters further. A sense of direction is something that is severely lacked over here. I can only guess that it's because they rarely leave the confines of the school, and when they do, they are normally accompanied by a tour guide and a large group of other tourists.

We made it back to the bus, albeit 20 minutes late, then we drove for another hour in the opposite direction from our school to get to a 'very famous' and 'very special' restaurant. When things are very famous here- they mean they are massive, huge open rooms full of thousands of people. And on this day it was thousands of women. It was a buffet style restaurant, and you have to hunt out your own food. This would normally be a good option for me, as I can see what dish I'm committing myself to, but in this case there is no other word to describe it other than hell. Chinese crowds, pushing and shoving are bad enough- let alone when there are 10 women fighting over one pancake that takes 5 minutes to make! We spent more time just trying to get the food than actually sitting at the table. Although there was probably a lot of good food there (NOT the Shark Fin soup section though!), my plate with 'Italian style spaghetti' did me just fine.

I always find it interesting how Chinese people really seem to enjoy themselves when they are in these incredibly crowded situations; at times I wonder whether there will actually be a crush and I hope there are no small children cramped in there somewhere. Where I get anxious, uncomfortable and incredibly annoyed... they smile, laugh, and look like they are really enjoying themselves!! This is a method I've tried to adapt to my own life, but I can only do it for so long before I have an elbow in my back and my mood swiftly changes, or when I'm standing patiently in a queue and someone walks to the front, ignoring the people behind.

Regardless, it's an experience like no other in the world.

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A typical Pearl River Delta Town, next to the mountain; an incense room next to a little buddhist temple. They look like Vietnamese hats, but they are actually coils of incense

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Unfortunately the weather wasn't clearer- otherwise we might see my school in the far distance!
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Posted by Anna1289 18:04 Archived in China Comments (0)

Fake eggs, anyone?

& Internal guilt vs. Shame

overcast 20 °C

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At the Guangzhou Brigth Filial Piety Temple

Hello All,

Apparently over the holiday season over 3,000 eggs were removed from supermarkets in Guangzhou because they were fake. When this news broke to me, I wasn't surprised. But it definitely took China's 'fake market' to a whole new level. Have I been eaten these fake eggs? Apparently the yolks bounce 'two or three times', and were abnormally large... so surely I'd know, right? I'm not sure I understand how this can even be profitable, but I can say that eggs have permanently been removed from my shopping list.

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One of our colourful stir-fry's we eat for lunch- no eggs!

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Ingenious way to hold his umbrella over his food stall (check out the rope)

Apart from fake eggs, I've had a decent few weeks. I was sad and surprised to go into the office last Monday to find that Zhan, a colleague, had put his resignation in that morning to return to Hunan province the next day to be with his family. I was more surprised when he told me he had found a job that same day back in Hunan and he was starting on Wednesday. I was even MORE surprised to find on Tuesday morning that they had two teachers interviewing and doing demo classes for Zhan's job, and that one was hired the same day and they started on Wednesday. Things move FAST here. What would've taken at least a few weeks, if not months, in other countries, is accomplished within hours or days here.

Another colleague also put her resignation in over the Spring Festival. Apparently she was set up on a blind date (I'm not sure if arranged marriage is the right term) and after meeting the man for the first time, she put her resignation in that same evening to the school because she found the 'love of her life'. I am very happy for Dolphin, and also very shocked at how quickly she made her decision!

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Tropical fruit! Papaya, mini mangoes, normal sized mango, and some sort of Guava (I think)

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Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, Guangzhou

Aside from new colleagues, I had a pretty successful lesson. Well, I thought it was successful until I had the students standing up and telling the class something fun/exciting/happy they did over their holiday (I have to point this out to them and ban them from saying 'I sleep all day' 'I eat food' 'I did my homework'). Most had something to say, more often than not it was 'This holiday I played computer games' or 'This holiday I watched TV', but I had one of those unimaginable, nightmare teacher moments when one student stood up and her eyes filled up with tears as she said 'This holiday I had something very very bad happen....' I tried to rescue the situation and have her sit down or go to the bathroom to freshen up, but she was caught up in the moment... bad times!

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XinHua bookstore, Tiyuxilu. Why buy the books when you can sit-in and read. Now I realise why there is no 'atmosphere' to book shops here other than massive fluorescent lighting. Also an interesting note: Xinhua bookstores are the only stores that schools can buy their textbooks from, and it's run by the government. Any textbooks sold outside of this bookstore are highly taxed and far too expensive for anyone to buy.

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A street in Guangzhou

Coming back from Spring Festival has also signalled the start of the ritual 'Open Classes' within the school. Every teacher has one class where all the other teachers, from the department, are invited to come and watch. It's pretty mandatory to go to for teachers that don't have classes in that lesson, and they're apparently meant to 'give teachers ideas about their own teaching' and help them to learn from others. I do see the point, and it makes total sense. The part that escapes me is the fact that they spend weeks before preparing for that specific lesson. Although they have two lessons a day- the open class lesson is always specially designed and is the only lesson taught all year that is not reciting from the book and a power point directly from the CD that comes with their textbook. Infact, the whole department gets involved planning this lesson.

When open lesson day comes, the teachers all pile in to the classroom, with as many as 30 teachers sitting on stools around the students. I always think that surely this will change the nature of the classroom any ways with so many teachers eyes on the students! The 'teacher on display' presents a well thought out, and Western style lesson than their other 9 lessons that week.

Surely, they should just have every class an opportunity for an 'open class' so teachers can be more dispersed and see real lessons, not the manufactured ones they point on for this single class, and everyone knows its manufactured, but still leaving with comments like 'Wow! Zhan Wei is such a good teacher! His students are very lucky' or 'Jiang is so creative! She has many ideas!' (ideas that ironically came from the same people when they helped plan it). Although everyone seems to recognise the difference between every day classes and open classes, they still put on a front that suggests the open class is the norm rather than the exception, and would never openly admit otherwise.

I also see it relating back to the imperial examinations, when in an effort to get Chinese citizens motivated to join the imperial system, they had massive three day long tests in order to select the best officials for the states bureaucracy. Here, it's not wrong to cheat. But it is wrong and shameful to get caught cheating, not just for you but your entire family and village. This highly competitive system, with massive pressure on the individual, encourages cheating.

While China has shame from getting caught cheating, in the west, we have internal guilt to prevent us from cheating. I often encounter this cultural difference in the classroom when I catch students cheating, passing notes, or doing homework; they will actively deny any offence and look at me like I am crazy- or just refuse to look at me or react to anything I am saying. In Chinese classes with Chinese teachers, the teachers will not stand their ground and say 'Yes- I saw you cheating' and punish them- they more than often get away with it because it will also bring shame to the class teacher that their students aren't 'performing well'. In comparison, in the west, if you are caught, you kinda have to man up to it- and it brings big consequences! (In University, if we were caught plagiarising, we'd be immediately expelled)

Such is the system that when we grade each class from 1-5 on their overall performance that period, Roger and I use this as leverage to get the students to behave and work had- and it is not uncommon for us to give below 4.5 scores. When looking back in their record books at their grades from all their classes- we are literally the only teachers who give any less than a 5! This is for the same reason- it looks bad on the teacher, not the students.

These cultural differences, deep rooted in society, make it a challenge as the society we live in has such different 'norms' than what we are used to.

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At the Guangzhou Brigth Filial Piety Temple

Posted by Anna1289 19:46 Archived in China Comments (0)

When in Rome...

My adventure to Xiaozhoucun & pancake day in China

overcast 24 °C

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Xiaozhoucun

On our first weekend back in the orient, Rog and I decided to go to a village that I found randomly online (and I had troubles finding anything more about it after that). It's described as:

Lying in the southeast part of Haizhu District and covering an area of 4.5 square kilometers, Xiaozhou Village is a village in the Guangzhou Wan-Mu Orchard Conservation Zone (One mu equals approximately 666.7 square meters - Wan in Chinese means ten thousand.).

Dating back to the Yuan Dynasty, Xiaozhou Village boasts a history of some 1,000 years. As one of the earliest group of historical and cultural conservation zones of Guangzhou, the village is a cultural heritage. What is most worth noting is that the cultural relics and historic sites inside the village are well preserved against the backdrop of breakneck urban development. Thanks to its unique landscape and profound historical significance, the village has attracted an endless stream of artists who are eager to draw inspiration from this time-honored place. (http://www.gz.gov.cn/publicfiles/business/htmlfiles/gzgoven/s9138/201104/788887.html)

We were intrigued by this description, and wanted to find out whether it really was a well preserved historical village. The vast majority of towns in China that claim this description prove to be a mixture of newly built 'ancient' buildings that are claimed to be original and mass tourists cycling in matching hats and t-shirts following a leader holding a big flag over their head a blasting noise pollution from their boom boxes they carry around. Needless to say, we didn't hold out much hope for for this village.

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We managed to locate it on a map of Guangzhou and found the nearest metro station. In Guangzhou, it seems that there is normally a metro station within 800 meters wherever you are, however this metro station looked to far to walk. So we came up the stairs from the metro and were faced by a 8 lane highway and spent the next 10 minutes flagging down taxi's. Every time we were excited that we managed to flag one down, and every time just as I'd be opening the door there would be a Chinese person who had appeared from nowhere, bumping me out of the way to get into my taxi. When I first arrived in China, I'd think 'Oh well, we'll just get the next taxi, it's not worth the fight'... but there's only so many taxi's that you can have stolen from you... 'When in Rome....'

We spent the next 25 minutes navigating off the highway and into a town that resembled my local village, Xiaohuangpu. That's not much of a claim because most town's here do look the same. At this point I was sort of thinking 'Oh my god... all this effort and we could've walked down the road', but I was surprised when we kept driving- the area started looking greener- we passed over numerous one lane bridges that looked as though they'd been thrown up in a day and were somehow managing two busses, our taxi and various bicycles piled high with good weaving between the buses.. and we stopped in front of a traditional Chinese gateway where there was a handful of food vendors selling freshly cut pineapples, dried fruit and some other things that I don't recognise.

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Again, I started to wonder where all the mass tourism was as this seemed a prime location, and day, for this sort of activity in China. But, to my delight, it never appeared! Turns out if you venture far enough away from a metro station, you don't get the huge crowds.

So Roger and I wandered through the village, along the stream (that could have been a bit cleaner, to put it kindly) and enjoyed the peaceful surroundings...something that we had yet to find in Guangzhou.

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Chinese couples like to wear matching outfits & Old architecture, surrounding by the concrete/tile modern Chinese houses

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Yumm... Papayas & We found a coffee shop!

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A Ming dynasty well

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One of the three oyster shell houses left

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Here, even in the most beautiful places, you are never far from a mother using the path as a toilet for her child (check out the background)

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I'd like to think this peace will continue here, but after doing a quick google search I've found this:

'Described as "the most characteristic ancient village of the Lingnan waterside countryside", Xiaozhou Village will be developed into a thriving tourist resort. At a meeting held by the City Planning Committee of Guangzhou on 12th August, the Plan on the Protection of the Xiaozhou Village Historical and Cultural Conservation Zone was adopted unanimously.' (http://www.gz2010.cn/09/0814/16/5GMLFI150078003T.html)

Uhoh.... Thriving tourist restort... I'm glad I beat the crowd!

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A temple

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After Xiaozhoucun, we also visited Red Tory. Red Tory is an old abandoned factory complex that has been restored as art galleries. It was really nice to wander around and see a different, modern, artistic vibe to Guangzhou. We really had an artsy weekend! Below is my favourite piece, placed next to the Marilyn Monroe version.

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Pancake Day

We spent a few hours on Sunday searching out the ingredients for pancakes to use for pancake day. Amazingly, we found almost everything, apart from butter... which is a rarity in China outside of posh western restaurants. We used peanut oil instead. Surprisingly, peanut oil pancakes taste OK (or maybe that's just me missing western food!). After awkwardly trying to ask Wei whether it would be OK for Rog and I to bring one of our private tutorees up to our flat to show him how to cook pancakes for pancake day.

In response it was 'Oh so you want to bring food to your class?'... 'No, just bring one student to our flat to teach him... you know... the student we see to help his English' (I'm trying to be discrete because it's not technically allowed). 'Oh ok, so you want to help the students learn English and bring them pancakes'... 'No no, just one student to our apartment after school' .... 'Ooh you want to have an extra class after school? I'm not sure of the timetable'..... and so it continued until eventually another teacher who understood came over to translate. When she realised it what we were planning to do, she got excited and wanted to join in. 'So you are teaching them at 5 o'clock?'. Now I was in a dilemma because it is really a lesson with a student, but I couldn't say no! So I suggested Wei and her come round after the lesson at 7pm with her twin girls.

Roger and I did a test run of pancakes at lunch- just to perfect our technique (or actually Rog's technique because I was in charge of the hosting). 7 O'clock came round and we had Wei, the other teacher from my office and her two girls. They were amazed by the pancakes and couldn't figure out exactly how to eat them (we provided forks and knives as I think it'd be a bit difficult with chopsticks, and eating with hands here is not an option- they think its rude). When Roger demonstrated with his hands, they were quick to shout 'but that is rude!'... lesson learned.

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They also thought it was hilarious that Roger wasn't wearing slippers, and was only in his socks. Cherry and Shelly, from my office, also came around to join the festivities. They adored the pancakes! So much so that Roger made another batch so he could teach them how to make it. Who would've thought that the most exciting thing was sifting the flour?! So exciting, actually, that I'm pretty sure there are a handful of videos of Roger sifting flour out there in Chinese cyber space somewhere.

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In all the commotion, our neighbours across the hall with their 1 1/2 year old little cute girl (see pictures), the mother, and the grandmother. So now we had a house full of 9 people, which may not sound too much but putting it into perspective: our flat is pretty tiny, and we only own two plates and a few forks, and the majority of people didn't speak a word of English but were excited to talk to us in Chinese (I was left with a headache from thinking so much).

But we had a great time and Roger thoroughly enjoyed showing off his pancake flipping skills. The twins kept yelling 'Hei yah'... Higher? we thought, wow their English is great!... but we soon found out it means 'Again! Again!'. So Rog was kept busy!

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An old mural in Xiaozhoucun

Posted by Anna1289 19:40 Archived in China Comments (0)

Adaptability and flexibility

Keys to success as an expat in China

overcast 25 °C

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View from our apartment in thick fog: Do you see the two boats on the river? They are there, I promise!

After a massively long break that both Roger and I were very thankful to get so we can make it home to see our family and friends, we have returned to China. I have to say that once back in my home comforts, I was totally dreading the thought of coming back and at moments I briefly contemplated why I had even signed up to stay another year. I think it's really easy to fear coming back because you are leaving everything 'normal' that you know behind... nothing is normal here. And most of this 'unnormalness' can seem really uncomfortable and unfamiliar when you've had your chance at westernisation again. But it's something I'm so glad I've done because it's a challenge- you have to be super adaptable, flexible, open minded, and be able to relax.

Adaptable because you change your lifestyle so much- coming from having hot water whenever you need to lying in bed at 7:40am and suddenly realising that you only have 20 minutes until the water gets turned off and you badly need a shower.

Flexible because things change last moment. We were told we had to be back for the opening ceremony for February 10th, but on our return to the school on the 10th, it was ghost-like with absolutely no students and only a small handful of teachers. Turns out we didn't start until the 12th and even that morning it was unknown what anyone's schedule was- whether it was different from last semester or if we had regular classes that day.

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Our Valentines Day meal at a Hunan/Sezchuan restaurant in Xiaohuangpu. A delicious tofu dish with peppers and spring onion

Open mindedness is something you cannot go without here. In my motivational (or what I think is a motivation- the sleepy students might think otherwise!!) New Years Resolution lesson, when asked what they would want in their lives to make them happy when they are 80 years old, I had answers such as 'having communism in every country in the world'. This would, perhaps, not be on top of my list!!

And being able to relax. You can't do anything about it- so there's no point in worrying! When Roger and I got the bus (which routes had changed, unbeknownst to us) and it had passed the high speed rail station that we both know, we thought it would continue onto 'Lucky City' in Roggui (where there is a Tesco- don't get excited, its a chinese tesco. AKA Chickens feet, noodles, and rice, and the 'international' section has some weird chinese brands that they've tried badly to translate into English). But the bus never passed Lucky City. Instead it winded into smaller and smaller villages, along a river lined by traditional houses, farmers selling vegetables on the street, babies in little baskets on their grandmother's backs and people squatting on the side of the road shovelling rice into their mouths. Eventually we ended up at a bus station where we thought we'd take our chances and get off in search for another bus that we know goes back to the school, where we could get off and start the journey over. But our plan was stopped shortly after as, after asking the policeman where bus 329 was, he answered 'mei you' (don't have). hmmmm...

So we ventured out onto the road insearch for the taxi's. It was only a matter of second before people who were going about their daily lives stopped dead in their tracks and did a U-turn to come gawk at the two weigoren's (foreigners). Everyone was so happy to see foreign faces. I don't think anyone was more happy than the 20 some taxi drivers who simutaneously piled out of their cars and begging us in chinese to get in their taxi's and laughing away saying that we don't understand what they're saying. They were surprised when we answered them back! Things got confusing when neither Roger or I could remember how to say 'Lucky City' in Chinese. The best we could do was to say 'the middle of Ronggui', which to help my point I made a cross with my arms. Quickly the crowd of taxi's drivers all shouted '10 kuai 10 kuai!' (kuai=renminbi, about 1 GBP). I was getting a little frustrated with why they kept yelling prices out when I hadn't explained to them where I was going when Roger pointed out to me that crossing my arms means 10 here so they all thought I was saying 10. After keeping my arms to my side, we were thankful when our chosen taxi driver took us to the right place!

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Funny printed on apples (I don't know how they did this and I'm not sure I really want to know. It's put me off eating those apples for while!

It's not so easy to relax, though, when you are going 100kph down a 6 lane highway and you come to an intersection which does, thankfully, have traffic lights (something that is not common in my area) but instead of lighting up EITHER red, amber or green... all 3 lights were lit up for all lanes of traffic, going in every direction. In times like these we found it's best to close your eyes, hope for the best and try to loosen your tight grip on your seat, whilst pretending that the car does have seatbelts. Oh, and relax!

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Our HIGH humidity problem. This is a paper on the wall, and a photo of the WALL... dampness everywhere! Our windows and mirrors are permanently fogged

China does not come without its comedic moments. After we returned from lucky city, we go to the teachers block to get in the elevator, the doors open and there is a man squished to the side with his motorbike being brought down from his flat. Not a small motorbike- a real, life size, motorcycle! Of course they would be a motorcycle in the lift.

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And I have one side note to add to everyone out there reading this: You do not need to save loads of money or be paid for by your parents or family to do what I'm doing. I only say this because I didn't realise until this Christmas at home that many people think that

A) You need to save a lot of money to be able to do what I'm doing. In fact, that's no excuse, anyone can do this if they want to, you don't need to have a big savings account. I came out here with just 100 GBP and, being here, I am 100% financially independent from any bank accounts back home

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B) That I am here on a voluntary basis and that I eating into my bank account (or other family members). I am not here on a voluntary basis! And, again, being here I am completely independent from all my bank accounts at home.

In addition I had a some comments along the lines of 'next year I should return to the UK/USA because I need to get a real job at some point'.

I realise that my blog's mostly talk about my travel experiences, and I leave out the daily ongoings of work. To be honest, work is work no matter where you are and, quite frankly, its a little bit bland to be talking about it in blogs so I tend to focus on the exciting trips and experiences we have because Roger and I try to make the most out of every weekend and holiday when we aren't working to get out and see new things while we are here.

To all those people who still think this isn't a 'real job' ... I challenge you to come out to China, teach classes of 60 students who don't speak any English, have 2,400+ students, live in a community without ANY home comforts or anybody that speaks English, not being able to escape and go out to restaurants and order food you want because the menus aren't in English. Don't be fooled by other international experiences- China is the only country I have ever been where you are truly in a 100% non-English environment. You cannot get by without understanding Chinese outside of the tourist trail. I personally think this is more than just a 'real job' - on top of the normal work pressures that you would get in any country with any job, there is also massive, inescapable cultural factors that you have to deal with.

On that note it's an experience that I will always look back on as a time in my life that I have learnt an awful lot and I encourage any one out there who is thinking of doing this to go for it!

Posted by Anna1289 19:36 Archived in China Comments (0)

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