09.09.2011 - 19.09.2011 30 °C
My first three weeks (it's only been 3 weeks?! what!) has been really good. We've had a few up small dramas that I need to catch everyone up on.
First is the dreaded cave room in Guangzhou. Finally it got cleaned, and it is more acceptable now. Although I really can't get a good night sleep there after knowing all those bed bugs were in the bed! eek! We came thinking that we'd be in Guangzhou every weekend... but I think we've come to a decision that Guangzhou will be more of a monthly trip. I also completely understand how visitors felt when they came into Guangzhou last year. Everyone always said how overwhelming it is, and stressful! I feel the same now when I'm in Guangzhou. It's just much more of a highly strung atmosphere... like there is always noise, and honking, and tons of people, and smog, and pushing and shoving. When I lived there, I was in my bubble though and you get used to it. But now I'm a villager!! (Yes, they actually call people who live out here villagers, so I'm usurping that name for myself). We have a nice river and we can hear crickets in the evening, and not ONE car. Roger and I keep relating Xiaohuangpu, Shunde to Alabama. The weather isn't that different (very hot and humid- night and day), its peaceful, and the people are very laid back.
Another point to be made about the Cave Room in Guangzhou is that we have a fridge- but nothing else. Only a bed and the whole in the ground that serves as a toilet and shower. This is totally ok, if you have money. Last weekend we found ourselves absolutely stuck. Unfortunately it was Mid-Autumn Festival (the second biggest festival of the year). I had an invite to go back to a teachers house from last year and spend it with her family, but unfortunately there wasn't enough room in the car for both Roger and I. So, we decided to spend Mid Autumn Festival in Guangzhou. On the Moon Festival Night, we met up with some ELA's from this year and took the cable cars to the top of Baiyun Mountain in Guangzhou. It's the most famous mountain here, yet I've never gone up it before. We had really beautiful views out over the city, and enjoyed the company of 20,000 other Chinese people crammed into the cemented area at the top of the mountain. They still think its a good idea to bring a picnic to the top (i.e. Durian, moon cakes, and grapes set down on newspaper), even if there is no space to move.
We went out on Friday, so spent most of the money we brought with us. And then treated ourselves to our favourite 'Fine Foods' restaurant. It's the best equivalent we found for just a normal, low key, sandwich-pizza-salad type restaurant, run by a South African. Then we went to withdraw money....
Long story short, it turned out that neither Roger's Bank of China ATM card, or mine, was working. We had a few stressful phone calls to Chinese mentors, who didn't quite understand that, yes, we did try the ATM machine with our cards, and no we cannot go into the banks to withdraw money because the banks are closed until Wednesday because of Mid Autumn Festival (keeping in mind that this was Saturday), and that no we couldn't wait until tomorrow to borrow some money from our mentor because thats more than 24 hours away and we had absolutely no money and no water, and no food and we can't cook in our flat, and NO we cannot ask the new ELA's that have just arrived to China because for one, we don't even know them! just because they are from the same country as us doesn't mean we know them, and two, they wouldn't have any money either because noone has been paid yet this year! So we were stuck in a bad situation, and I admittedly had a small meltdown on the side of the road when I was left with a mentor saying 'ok good luck trying to find someone'... argh!... Luckily, our friend Alec from last year pulled through and lent us some money to get us by. So we survived! Although, we really couldn't spend the 4 day holiday exploring and doing day trips like we had hoped.
So... I am still left wondering about this amazingly bad Chinese logic that persists all around us daily. Bank of China needed to upgrade their card systems. Ok, fine. So they know that by doing this they will have to freeze all of the Bank of China ATM cards for at least 5 days while they are upgrading. OK... annoying. But then they decide to do this over the second biggest holiday of the year when EVERYONE is travelling and spending money.... What the F! (excuse my language...) But seriously? It's their way of avoiding a mad dash into the banks with people trying to get money out at the desk. But to solve this problem they literally just shut down the entire system AND close all the banks. Their problem is sorted! Oh China... I will never understand this country.
Speaking of Chinese logic, I heard a great example from a friend. Joel has been teaching economics and business for over 10 years around the world, and he's just arrived with his wife in China. The school he is teaching at is using an old version of the economics book- so he asks the school why they aren't using the new, up to date version, to prepare these kids for this international-exam. The school answers that the new version of the book is too hard for the students. Frustrated, Joel tries to explain that the exam is 75% economics, and 25% business- economics is the most important part of the exam. He wants to know why his time schedule is actually broken down with 25% of classes being economics and 75% being business (i.e. the wrong way round). The school explain that they have chosen the old version of the book because the new version of the book is really too big. And the old version of the book is only 1/4 of the width of the business book. Therefore, in their logic, they should spent 3 times the amount of classes on the business book, and only 25% of the classes on economics. No matter how hard Joel tried to explain that they can't just give the students a smaller book, so they have less classes, and don't have to focus on that subject as long because the exam is still 75% economics and 25% business. They really cannot get their heads around it! And to top it off, they insist that Joel should only focus on the multiple choice section of the exam. Joel points out that this is only 30% of the entire grade and that if he told the students to fill in 'A' on every single answer they'd have just as good chance. The other 70% is short answer, essay questions- where they need to know their stuff. 'Nope' the school says 'use the small book and only focus on multiple choice questions'..... Oh China.
We've also had our teacher's day celebrations. Teachers day is a day invented by the Chinese government where students bring teachers gifts, and teachers go out for a meal. In Shunde, we went across the road to the hotel for a really big, fancy meal with all the teachers. It started at 7:30pm, to the sounds of the music teacher playing 'Cotton Eyed Joe' on the violin. It was so different from where I associate Cotton Eyed Joe with (that is, Middle School dances). Cotton Eyed Joe was followed by a Chinese opera style, glass shattering, live song. Then the food was served!
After meat dish after fish dish after more meat dishes, I was thrilled when Binli pointed to a new dish that was just set down on the table, and says 'this is a very special dish, just for you Anna'. Looking at this mushroom salad type dish I start to fill up my bowl. A few mouthfulls in, I'm thinking its not exactly the best mushroom I've had but at least its vegetarian. Satisfied that I had at least one dish that I could eat (different from last years teachers meal where the only thing I could eat was the rice that came at the end of the meal), I laid back to enjoy the hilarious atmosphere of teachers 'gam bei-ing' ('cheers-ing') glasses of red wine, with all the high up school management going table to table cheers-ing everyone, with their own entourage of waitresses carrying little bottle of red wine and topping up people's glasses sip-by-sip (I wanted a full top up of my wine, because good wine is a very rare thing to come by in China and I was enjoying it, but each time I'd only get the tinniest of sips added ontop). I really needed more wine when a teacher lent over, showing me her phone. I read 'Jelly Fish Blubber', thinking she was just curious how to say this in English. 'This dish, you mean?' Roger says, pointing to my mushroom dish. The whole table nod their heads eagerly.... and then I realised that the full bowl of mushrooms I ate was not actually mushrooms. It was, infact, Jelly fish. So my 20 year streak of being vegetarian was immediately destroyed- not by chicken or beef or anything... but by Jellyfish.
At 8:40 precisely, just when we feel like the party is getting started, and the teachers are stumbling around with 'red faces' that they love to point out, Roger and I were in hysterics when everyone just stood up and started stumbling back to the school. I asked a friend, 'what exactly have the students been doing, since all the staff are in the hotel across the road', 'Oh we told them that they have to work very hard in evening class because we all have a very important meeting' (They don't like to tell students when they are all going out for a meal). I can't help but giggle as I think, ya right are the students going to believe that story when their teachers come stumbling back in at 8:50 pm, with 'red faces', trying to conduct evening class!!!!!
We were invited to another teachers day meal in Guangzhou, with our old school and all the new ELA's. This meal had much the same atmosphere with Chinese teachers downing glasses of nice wine, and within 20 minutes everyone is drunk off their faces with the ELA's (who have a much higher tolerance and also actually enjoy the taste of wine so we don't tend to down the whole glass!) watching on with amusement. Roger and I had a really great time at this meal because we caught up with all our past colleagues. We finally really felt like one of the crew. 'You guys are like a real Chinese teacher!' one of the new ELA's said.
And one last story to add in. When we were crossing a bridge in Guangzhou the next day, there were 6-7 different street sellers in a line all selling Tiger's paws. It was really sad. They sell them for Chinese medicine I think. Tigers paws don't belong on bridges in Guangzhou... they belong on the tiger!