A Travellerspoint blog

Mangosteen's and snowflakes

Oddities of daily life in China

overcast 17 °C

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Hong Kong from the Peak

I can't believe my second year in China is almost half way through all ready. Times are really flying by; every week, I struggle through Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with a challenging schedule that leaves me extremely tired and with a sore throat from so much talking by the end of Wednesday night, and then comes along Thursday when I feel the weekend has arrived because I have the morning free.

My days here are far from boring, though. I had a funny sight the other day when, for some reason, the canteen was open out of lunch hours and students were enjoying an extra feast. Across the courtyard, students were emerging from the gymnasium, all pinching their arms over their heads with big bandages, as if they've just returned from war. They were ecstatic to show me the pin prick they got from having a blood test. Needless to say, the rest of my day's lessons were near impossible to teach due to the students fascination with the pin prick in their arm. Many used this excuse to need to go to the bathroom because of the 'pain' they were in, while others flaunted their bandages with pride, making sure to keep it pin prick up on their desk and to only use their un-injured arm to write and lift books.

This particular lesson, which was about good excuses, was made more interesting when I'd give the students a scenario where I found a dog on the street that was hungry so I brought him inside and my mom didn't know I had him and then the dog went to the WC everywhere. Whenever I got to this point in the scenario, the students all yell 'kill it!' or 'eat it!'.... not exactly the reaction I'm looking for.

It's doesn't just stop at dogs, either. When given the scenario of one of their fellow students stealing some things from a store, when I asked what they would do with him when they caught him, their reaction was the same, 'kill him!'. I then ask them how the student might possibly be found innocent if he went to court. I was looking for 'no evidence' or that he has a 'good excuse', but their first answer is always 'money!'.

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A mangosteen fruit- something I'd never come across before coming here. Tasty!

Roger and I both taught Thanksgiving lessons, around the time of Thanksgiving. When Roger's colleagues asked what his lesson was on this week, and he replied Thanksgiving, their response was, 'but the students don't know much about Thanksgiving?'.
'Yes, that is why I am teaching them about it,'
'but.... but.... they don't know about Thanksgiving'.
And it carried on in circles like so. After the 'English Weekly' teaching magazine came out the following day with a Thanksgiving article in it, the teachers couldn't be more interested in Thanksgiving. It's like their saying, 'the first bird out of the nest gets shot'.

This Thanksgiving lesson was in absolute dire need. As I was sitting in my office, I had class loads of students asking permission to come into the teachers office to walk around in bunches of 50 students to their teachers desks yelling 'THANKYOU!'; next desk, 'THANKYOU' again, and so on until all the teachers looked absolutely chuffed with themselves. Confused, I asked what was happening, 'Oh, don't you know, it's Thanks-giving today, Anna'. Of course it is.....

I had a brilliant film clip from the Friends TV series for my Thanksgiving lesson. Film clips are a great way to show the cultural meaning of holidays. So after 20 minutes discussing Thanksgiving and the meaning, I put the film clip on the projector screen to show the students. The problem with our classrooms is that two of the 4 walls are all windows; one wall has curtains, but the other doesn't so it can be tough in the early afternoon to see the projector screen at all. So of course, I turned off all the lights to show it as best as possible. Soon after, a colleague knocked on the door, called me over, and said 'Anna, it would be best for you to turn the lights on so you do not damage the students eyes'. Please keep in mind this was by no means a dark-movie theatre experience, instead it was full-midday light within the classroom. How can they explain starring at laptops for 15 hours a day, and through entire weekends?

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Coffee with a great view at the Peak, Hong Kong

After Thanksgiving, I always know Christmas is just around the corner when Starbucks starts their christmas drinks and brings out their red cups. In China, Starbucks (xin bu ke, in Chinese) got confused this year with 'Lets gather' and 'Be Merry' because their slogan this year was 'LET's MERRY'.

Roger and I thought it'd be a brilliant idea to teach the students Christmas carol's in our classes, and then have a short christmas caroling school assembly one evening. We asked our mentor to contact the head of the school to see if this would be possible. We were confused that we had to do this at all as they frequently have full-school gatherings in the auditorium (such as the art/talent show I'm going to see tonight), and every morning at 10:30 am when they do their morning exercises and having announcements. Any ways, fully confident we'd be able to do this, we started planning our christmas decorations. A few days later, we were questioned whether we had done this last year at the Guangzhou campus- which we hadn't done. Quickly, we had the response; 'With your christmas songs, The school says that such a big assembly is illegal here. It is even illegal at universities here. Guangzhou haven't done this before so it is not allowed for us to do it'. Sooo our christmas sing-a-long was banned. I'm convinced that one forward thinking school somewhere in China will allow it, and it will make headlines and probably also make the school very popular for parents, as they always want to be involved in cultural/western activities, and then schools will be dying for us to do this sing-a-long! Again, the first bird out of the nest gets shot.

So, china really doesn't do christmas... at all. Like they kind of sort of have an idea of what it is, but by no means actually understand what happens or how big of a holiday it is. Anyways, so, as iI'm hired as a sort of cultural ambassador, I decorated my desk with two handmade white paper cutout snowflakes to bring in some of the cultural aspect of christmas.

Very soon after, a colleague of mine, who is pretty high up in the communist party of the school (51% of the school is run by communist party, and 49% privately), came over to my desk to ask about Christmas. As I was explaining what the traditions are, O pointed out the snowflakes as a means of bringing in some of the culture I miss from home. The snowflakes were shot down- pretty strictly- apparently they should be red. Why? because the communist party is red, and white is 'against the communist party' and it means death to the people.... I was advised to take my two handmade snowflakes down... even after i explained that they are not the red paper cut outs they make at spring festival (like pictures of rabbits for the rabbit year, etc), but they are snowflakes (dont think he understood at all what snowflakes were even after i tried my best). So... my christmas joy is back to square one. im back to no christmas carols or peppermint mochas.... or snow... or 'merry christmas's' from people... or any christmas spirit!!!!

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The tram going back down from the Peak, Hong Kong

The last class I had with my Senior 1 students (the second to last class I had with them before the Spring Festival), they approached me at the end of the class saying 'Anna, do we have an exam next class', 'No, no exams for my class this semester', 'Oh, but our teacher told us you were giving us an exam next week'. So I went to talk to their teacher to inquire why the students were told I was giving them an exam without me even knowing I was meant to be giving an exam. Keep in mind that in the start of the year I asked about 10 times whether I would need to record grades for the students, as I was caught in a similar dilemma last year, and they replied 'no no not here you don't have to'. So I went to see the senior 1 teacher, who had time to tell me that I need to give them all a grade, 'But I only have one 40 minute lesson with each class left now!' I said. That's about as far as our conversation got before the teacher's eyes rolled back in her head, her head hit her desk and she fell of her chair crumpled onto the floor. Oh my god. It was just me and her, and then a few chinese teachers at the other side of the office. If only I could remember how to say 'help!' in Chinese, this was the point I really needed it. I think my desperate 'HELP HELP HELP!' came across as people looked over and took over from me, calling the nurses. She was out cold for another 10 minutes, but I think she is fine now. I really need to learn how to say 'help!' in chinese...

So my exam issue was left unressolved. I spoke to my mentor about it, who said 'oh, don't worry, you can just give them each a few minutes of talking and give them a grade on that' 'But I only have 40 minutes with each class left and there are 50 students in each class! I don't have time to do this now.' I was really frustrated that I had only found out from the students, and that the teachers couldn't have told me previously I needed to do this. So I needed to produce immediate grades for 250 students who I would only see one more time before the Spring Festival (end of semester). I have resorted in giving them a written exam, as giving them a speaking exam which would inevitably be 4-5 minutes per student which is 21 hours of giving exams, and frankly, I don't have that time. Though I do have to be grateful that they didn't ask the same for my Junior 1 students because an Oral English exam of 4 minutes each would add up to 64 hours (with no breaks).

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Outside Madamme Tussauds, Hong Kong

Another funny logic story to leave you with: Roger's friend from England came to visit China and unfortunately lost his passport while he was in Hunan province. After a registering it with the police department and getting emergency travel documents he had a long trip down to Guangzhou to attempt to replace his passport and make his flight out 5 days later from Hong Kong. Roger accompanied him in Guangzhou to try and sort it out. He should have, apparently, registered it lost at a different police station 300 KM north from where he was in Hunan, so there was a point where there was a big possibility he would have to travel back to re-register the loss of the passport. Meanwhile, the staff in Guangzhou told them 'come back at 1 o'clock', Roger checked with them that they would be there at 1 o'clock, and when they came back they said 'No, come back at 2.' So his friend also needed a hotel to stay in. As his passport was lost he had his emergency travel documents with him, and the ladie behind the desk says 'but we need your passport'
'But he doesn't have his passport, it is lost, that's why he has these papers'
'But where is his visa? we need visa.'
'It is in his passport'
'so we need his passport'
'But his passport is lost that is why we are here'... and so on and so on. Good news is that after a few very frustrating days, his friend has sorted out the passport, and I think he is leaving China with some very frustrating memories.

Similar story- for my Christmas lesson this week I have a short film clip, again, that I wanted to show with the subtitles in English so they can read and listen to it. I asked a colleague for help as I was really struggling to sort it out 'I need the subtitles for the movie I have for my class'
'After school you mean you want to show them a movie on thursday?'
'No, a short movie in the class. I need the writing so they can read the words while they watch the movie'
'Oh it's a christmas movie? maybe the movie is called 'Christmas' '
'I have the movie already. I know the name of the movie, but I need the words for under it. Can you help me find them online because I cannot read the Chinese on the website to download the words?'
'Oh, so whats the name of the movie?'
'ELF'
'oh, we don't have that word in Chinese.'
'It's the name of the movie, I just need the words so they can read it'
'Oh you can look at this website..'
'oh great, can you show me?'
'It's blocked in the teachers office'
'Oh ok, how about in our apartments?'
'It's fine there, you can find it there. But I think it will be very difficult for you to do this because you can't read Chinese'

And so that was that! Resolution-less. I did manage to sort it out eventually myself though :)

I've also included some photos of our weekend trips over to Hong kong. We've been a handful of times to set up banking to transfer our money back home because after 1 1/2 years of trying to solve this problem in China, we've found that every means possible of moving our money abroad is blocked for us. But we've had a really clear one day so we went up the Peak and had a great view.

Merry Christmas Everyone!
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Me, at the top of the peak in Hong Kong

Posted by Anna1289 02:05 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Bund, traditional massages, and coffee in Shanghai

rain 23 °C

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Since I last wrote, we've been on a five day trip to Shanghai. It's a city I wanted to make sure I saw before leaving China, and we had a good opportunity to go when the students had midterm exams (no classes for foreign teachers- yay!). Before I went, I was expecting another Guangzhou; Guangzhou is the third biggest city in China after Beijing and Shanghai so I figured that they would all be pretty similar. I was so wrong! For any expats who are reading this and living in Shanghai- please know, you have it easy!! Shanghai is such a lovely, easy city. For one, the language was much easier to understand (the mandarin dialect is clearer, and they don't speak Cantonese like they do in Guangzhou), and expats and local people are much more mixed together, whereas in Guangzhou there is a clear divide between expat life and local people (sometimes there is also a sort of tension between the two as well).

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On the bund: A very friendly guard that walked me to find a much needed coffee (it was this moment when I was desperate for a warm cup of coffee that I was so grateful I could speak Chinese)

One thing I never expected to find was a city that dwarfed Guangzhou in size. On the first day I was looking at the map in the hostel and found the Bund. I thought it'd be maybe an hour walk maximum. When I asked how long it'd take the receptionist looked at me in disbelief that I was even asking 'maybe 5 or 6 hours walking to the bund from here' she said. So we quickly learned Shanghai is not a city that's easy to walk around. Even when you take the metro, there is often a 20 minute walk to get to the nearest station. Guangzhou is more similar to London where there is a metro stop close to you where ever you are.

We are also very used to the very hot, humid climate of Guangzhou. It didn't even occur to either of us that Shanghai would be and different for some reason. So I made sure I packed all my tropical clothes. Immediately after stepping off the plane in Shanghai I suddenly realised it felt freezing and I didn't have anything warm to wear! I had to layer every t-shirt and tank top on just to go out to find some sort of sweater to wear (it was a great excuse to convince Roger to go shopping though). After living in such a hot climate for so long, you kind of forget that it is anything but hot anywhere else.

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One of my favourite places in the city was Dongtai Lu antiques street. It was lots of little alley's filled with 'antiques', old suitcases, and lots of Mao memorabilia. Needless to say, I found a good reason to go back more than once! It was also very close to a vegetarian buddhist restaurant that my parents raved about after their trip to Shanghai. Roger and I were reluctant to miss out on an opportunity to eat western food, but we tried out the vegetarian buddhist because of its recommendation, and we were so happy we did! We ate there another two times before we left. Best food ever. Any one who thinks vegetarian buddhist food can't possibly be that tasty- you must try this place.

It was also in this area that we got our first traditional Chinese massage. When we had the option of a western massage, or the traditional Chinese massage, they explained to us that the traditional Chinese massage is painful. They were right. I left perhaps more sore than when I went in, but it definitely got all the knots out.

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Shanghai also his this really beautiful French Quarter. It's a great place to walk around and find little cafe's. You'd think you were in Paris if there were less plastic Panda's and more French people walking around.

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Lane 210, and the surrounding lanes, are another beautiful place to wander around. Again, it's another very artistic area with lots of photography shops, and western restaurants and cafes. I was in my dream land when we stopped for a bowl (see picture above) of coffee. It was at this point that I was set on moving to Shanghai next year. I could easily live Shanghai.

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The Lonely planet describes the Bund as a place where farmers from the countryside come in their green jumpsuits to admire the fashionable Shanghainese people. We found this to be a great description (see above picture)

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Taking wedding photos on the Bund.

In China, they take their wedding photos up to months before the actual wedding, so they can change into lots of different dresses and outfits and have the photos at the wedding ceremony. To me, it defeats the point of having 'wedding photos', but it's something that gives endless amusement when people watching in some prime wedding photo locations.

For the first few days, we were couldn't see past the 20th floors of most buildings due to the fog and rain. But as soon as the clouds cleared up on our last morning, the first thing we did was jump in a taxi down to the Bund to hope to see the skyline in its full glory.

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Posted by Anna1289 21:05 Archived in China Tagged shanghai Comments (0)

The land of limestone karsts: Yangshuo

A weekend in Yangshuo, Guangxi

sunny 30 °C

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After a 3 weeks of intensely practising sports events, school had a 3 day sports meeting (Thursday - Saturday). At these events, each class competes against each other throughout the day, while each class has their own class tent outside on the field. It reminds me of a sort of relay for life event, like back home in Hudson. The funny thing is, instead of having organised sports throughout the year, as they would in the west, what they do here is do this intensive period of a certain subject, like sports, and once its completed, they move onto the next field for the entire school to focus on, such as science and preparing for a science day in 3 weeks, and sports are once again forgotten about until their PE exams come around.

Anyways, as Roger and I have both witnessed the festivities of sports day before, we took this class-free opportunity to see some more of China. From Guangzhou, we took a 7 hour bus ride to Yangshuo, Guangxi province. The bus ride was actually fine, apart from the horrific food stop. Both our outwards and return journey, we pulled off at this village where they had a little glass cabin on wheels and different Chinese dishes to choose from. Once everyone grabs their plate from the *delicious* looking food (that's sarcastic, by the way), they go find a seat in a wooden covered shelter full of plastic chairs and tables, and months of spitten out chickens toe nails and bones all over the floor. On our outwards journey I made the mistake of joining in on the tables, but even with trying to block the sound of the 'slurrrrrrrrrrp' 'burrrrrrrrp' and throat hacking from all around me, I could not actually block the images of the man sitting next to me effortless piling in a load of unknown meats into his mouth- moments later having have the contents spit out onto the floor. When I say spit, I don't mean turn their head, cover their mouth, and as politely as possible discharge the remains in their mouth. Instead, they simply lower their bottom lip and let the contents spill out onto the table and floor below, while the next mouthful is waiting closeby on the chopsticks. It's a scene they does not do my gag reflexes any good. Needless to say, I went to the opposite side of the bus on our return journey so as not to feel sick for the rest of the journey.

By the way- I won't even start to describe the bathrooms at this stop.

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Anyways, so we arrived in the beautiful Yangshuo, which is famous for its magnificent limestone karsts along the Li River. Its the scenery that you see in paintings all over the world; the idealised China that you imagine before you come (well, it would be without the mass-chinese tourists). We stayed in the hostel that Roger stayed in during the summer when he travelled with Nadine. It was 1.5 miles out of the centre of Yangshuo in a little village with a really peaceful atmosphere (and great margaritas), run by a Dutch guy, called Trippers Carpe Diem. Both days, we rented bikes from our hostel and cycled around the area.

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Our first day, we cycled 14 KM (return) to Moon Hill, which is named for the wide, semicircular hole through the hill. It's 800 Chinese steps to the top. I say Chinese steps because in western countries, they generally would zig zag up the side of a mountain- but here, they go straight up. Its a really good workout for your leg muscles! As always, I'm amazed at how many elderly Chinese people over take me en route. The view at the top is really worthwhile, and in a lot of ways reminds me of Ninh Binh, Vietnam.

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The second day we did a 24 KM bike ride up to Yulong Bridge, along a small river, where I got my first sunburn since being in China. For the first 3km, it was packed full of Chinese tourists in big crowds following the leader holding a red triangular flag for them to follow. But once we passed the first bridge, where they all stopped, we hardly saw any other tourists. We left the comfort of the cemented road, and followed a very bumpy road through small villages and rice paddies, alongside the limestone karsts, all the way to Yulong Bridge. The plan was to get a bamboo raft back from Yulong Bridge with our bikes, but, because its aimed really at tourists, and especially foreign tourists, the cost was huge. I don't think it really would be if you came from abroad, but it is when you live here and you know how much is reasonable. So after our bargaining skills failed miserably with the boats, we watched a cormorant fisherman on the river on a bamboo raft with his cormorants. It was really nice to see before the boats arrived from the river and it became a chinese tourist haven.

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I have heard that the Chinese government pays these cormorant fishermen to continue using the cormorants to fish, despite the fisherman having access to much more convenient and efficient ways of fishing. Its their effort to keep the chinese culture 'show' happening. I don't doubt that this fisherman was being paid to 'show' because of his miraculous timing- starting just before the heap loads of bamboo rafts arrived, and stopping after the 10 minute show to take a nap in time for the next tour group. Nonetheless, it was cool to see.

I was really pleased that we didn't take the raft back because the journey back from Yulong bridge, along the west side of the river, was really picturesque and peaceful (and a much flatter bike ride!). Although, there was the odd occasion when a group of 30-40 Chinese tourists had parked their bamboo rafts to walk through the rice paddies with their music speakers blasting chinese music, on the bike trail. In typical chinese fashion they don't budge when you need to get by - a few people almost got hit. But once we past them, it was once again peaceful.

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When we stopped on a bridge to admire the scenery, a group was just passing under the bridge. Normally its a long bamboo raft with two wooden chairs and an umbrella to shield from the sun and the man stands up at the back with his pole. To get under this bridge they have to take down the umbrella. From 500 yards away we heard this screaching- and both wondered what it was. We stuck around to find that one of the chinese passengers on a raft was 'singing' her heart out, at the tops of her lungs. Obviously, someone forgot to bring their music speakers and needed to improv (instead of enjoying the peacefulness of nature- which doesn't seem to exist). When the driver approached the bridge, instead of taking the umbrella off, he simply lowered it down completely covering this woman and her partner sat next to her, with only her feet sticking out. This didn't deter her from her singing- she kept going!!!! The last we saw (or heard of her) she was another 200 meters down the river- still screeching away.

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After a lovely ride, we returned to town and enjoyed our last evening of western food and english-speaking company. For us, it was a really nice western retreat before heading back to our little village. I bought a t-shirt that says in chinese on the front 'Foreigner is coming' and on the back 'Foreigner is going' so I can wear it next time I go into town... I can't wait!!! I'm sure it'll actually cause MORE starring issues and an audience, but I'm adding a little humour into it.

Zai Jian everyone :)

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Posted by Anna1289 19:47 Archived in China Comments (0)

Duck chasing, anyone?

Relay races and 400 metre runs seem boring in comparison

sunny 29 °C

Hello all! Everything is chugging along like normal over here in Guangzhou. Though I don't think normal is actually a good word to describe the every day happenings here. All the teachers just finished a stretch of 7 days in a row teaching, because we had to work Saturday and Sunday to make up for the 'holiday' that the government kindly gave us. I never quite see the logic in that.

I taught quite a hard lesson this past week. It went a little bit over the students heads, but when they actually understood it- it was worth it! I decided that they should learn some popular slang phrases that we use in the west, such as 'Your in the doghouse' 'Go bananas' and 'Hit the road!'. 'Hit the road' is a great one to teach because you can really pick on the students and ask them 'were you just sleeping in my class' (although they obviously weren't) and they say 'no!' and I look at the rest of the class 'Class- was he just sleeping?' (and I nod my head for them to say yes!), this takes a second until they pick up on the fact I'm joking around, and then I insist that the sleeper stands up and 'Hits the road!'. It gets the class to pay attention, and they think its hilarious, I guess because they aren't used to interaction in the classroom.

'An arm and a leg' is also fun to teach because you ask a students how much his pen costs, and whisper to him that its 100 Yuan, and then I yell 'WHAT!!! 100 YUAN! I don't have 100 Yuan!' and I pretend to cut off my arm and my leg to give to him because its so expensive.

Trust me, when you teach the same lesson 22 times, you really start to get a routine for exactly what you say and when!!!

At the end of the class they use the slang to write sentences. My favourite so far has been 'My mother is an arm and a leg : My mother is expensive'. I have a feeling they must have meant that their mother has a lot of money. But they didn't quite get there...

As this was a pretty demanding lesson on our voices, we (Roger and I, because we both teach English Corner together) decided that for English corner we'd make a scavenger hunt. Best idea ever. All 70 or so students turned up, we got them in pairs, and off they went in all directions. We told them there was a candy prize for the winner, so all we could see were students sprinting everywhere. We made sure to mix up the clues so they really had run around. Quite funny actually. Meanwhile, we sat and relaxed and acted as the human dictionaries.

At the end of the week we had the annual Morning Exercise dance competition. Well- we started to, until the rain came. They have been practicing all free hours of every day in preparation for this event. The "class teachers", or home room teachers, really take it very seriously as they believe the class' ranking totally reflects on their management skills here. I always feel sorry for the teachers who get given the 'lower level' classes- surely they can't compete fairly in a maths competition against the 'key classes'! (The students are all streamed according to ability here, by the way).

Although they stream by ability, they take no consideration into mental health here. In one of my classes, there is a boy who doesn't respond to me at all. I asked a teacher about this, thinking he might have a mental disability, and sure enough she tries to explain that he has an absolutely brilliant IQ, but he does not have any social skills. 'A freak' she calls him, laughing a little bit. These are examples of the ways I find China extremely difficult. There is not ANY awareness when it comes to learning difficulties or any sort of mental handicaps. Instead, the teachers will be part of the 'bullying' side, pushing for them to change. This specific student, I'm sure, has aspergers or some form of autism. It's just a shame he's not in a community that came be supporting of this.

I also have the same problem with the culture when it comes to bullying. Last year, in my private tuitions, I'd ask my fellow teachers how they would choose to deal with a students bullying another student. They laugh and say 'of course! we'd make fun of him too!'. I was actually shocked when I first heard this, I thought they were joking. But they aren't. 'We need the other students to like us so they will behave in class' is their reason.

I'm sure these aspects of the culture will change over time, but it doesn't seem to be changing very fast at the moment! I had some clothes from last year from my house mate that are way too small on me, so I was giving them to a chinese girl friend here. Her boyfriend is also a close friend here, and when he saw them he says 'Oh but I dont think these will be suitable because they will be a large'. If you can't laugh at this- then never come to China!!! I met a Russian girl this weekend, whose nickname is pixy because she is SO tiny. Even she gets these comments that she is 'so big' and an 'XL' size. It's crazy ridiculous. This causes some problems within the society though, because many many Chinese girls here starve themselves to be stick thin. They think its the only way to be. Even when they are super super tiny, they still think they are fat and need to lose weight. This happens, also, in western countries. But it really is very extreme here. For example, I got handed a magazine in Xiaohuangpu the other day. It's all in Chinese, but you don't need to know too much to understand that it was an entire magazine on promoting cosmetic surgery- Flatter stomachs is a popular surgery, but more popular is a nose job to make their noses 'higher', like what they see on western people, and eye lid jobs to make their eyes rounder.

This week we are teaching a Halloween lesson. We've spent ages preparing a handout for the students. We don't normally do this because we do have kinda 1,500 students each and that is a lot of paper, but sometimes it needs to be done for the sake of the lesson. So we've never ever had any problems printing sets of 50 papers, so we thought printing 100 would be no issue at all. When we explain that we need 100 printed now (because the class started in 40 minutes) and then 500 printed for this afternoon and tomorrow's lessons, they freaked. 'Not ok' 'can't do it'.

So it IS ok to print two sets of 50 copies, but it is NOT ok to print one set of 100. I'm absolutely positively sure that if we had went in an said we need 99 copies now, it would have been no issue at all. Or instead of saying '500 copies' for this afternoon. We should have said we need 5 sets of 100 copies. Then they'd do it no problem. To resolve the situation, we had to get two different teachers in to help, and eventually my supervisor had to come and sign off the printing. This is not a normal procedure. It's never been done before. I'm just dreading having to go in next week and ask for another 800!!! Wish me luck...

Anyways... sometimes the cultural differences aren't just frustrating. They are also hilarious. Apparently at the annual 3 day school sports competitions last year, along with the normal relay races and badminton competitions, the teachers had a 'very special event'. They put two teachers in the middle of a circle of ducks (yes, real ducks) and they compete to see who can catch the most ducks. That would really be an experience to watch!!

Thankfully, we had a nice weekend in Guangzhou where we went for our second Hash run (to clarify, this isn't a drug run! It's an international running club called 'hash house harriers' where you meet on a weekly bases to do sort of hare and hound type run, and you follow different symbols, laid by the hares with flour, through countryside and mountains). This time it was about 15 KM (including the two mile detour we did around a village when we thought we were finished but we actually still had another 2 mountains and 4 miles to go). It was more difficult to navigate, and I've been left with scratches all over my arms and my legs because a section of the run was through 6 foot tall thick undergrowth. The run ended in this really quaint village. It was like we were running in a town from 400 years ago. After we had finished, and we managed to locate all the lost people in the dark, we all went to the local restaurant. Of course, this means I had rice because the 15 dishes that came out before were all meat. Expect I was smart to order my favourite cucumber dish to sneak in with all the meat dishes... it's crushed fresh cucumber with chopped up garlic, soy sauce, a little sugar, coriander/cilantro, vinegar and sometimes chillies. Yummm

Zai Jian!

Posted by Anna1289 19:48 Archived in China Comments (0)

Typhoons and strikes, turtles and Stingrays

We found paradise

rain 29 °C

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A year ago I wrote a blog titled 'My bad luck, very good, holiday'. We've just got back from another holiday that could also claim this title. If anyone ever thinks they have bad travel luck- I challenge them!! Maybe it's just our luck in National Holiday week (the first week of October).

We started the journey from our school in Shunde. Unfortunately there was no school bus running on a Wednesday night, so we decided to get a taxi into Guangzhou instead. Normally it takes about 40 minutes and costs 140 Yuan (maximum), however this time we decided that we'd put the taxi on a metre rather than negotiate a price. Of course, the driver thought he was really lucky to have two foreigners in the back of his metered cab, so instead of going the direct route to the city, we took quite a detour in order to get to a far out gas station... the meter, and the time, ticked away, until we were far above the maximum cost and time this trip should be!!!

We arrived in Kengkou metro station, and took the, surprisingly uneventful 40 minute metro over to the train station. The next train was scheduled to leave at 7:15. China is known for loading people on the train just minutes before it departs- so we thought nothing of it when 7:10 passed by without any movement from the staff. Then 7:30.... then 7:45.... and eventually 8 o'clock arrives and passes. Finally, an hour late, we depart on a different from normal train (as our train had broken down), and arrive in Hong Kong where we spend another hour going through the three metro changes that should really only take 20 minutes maximum because we were at the doors of the train when they were closing every single time! Making us wait 10 minutes until the next train.

Exhausted, we get a good night sleep- all ready to leave for our 11 AM flight the next morning.

8 AM comes around and we leave our hostel to walk down the street to catch the airport bus. We're old pro's at this, having done it so many times, so there were no worries. I point out the windy weather to Rog, and we're both surprised by the lack of traffic on the road considering it should be rush hour on a Thursday morning. Half an hour passes without our bus showing up- so we start to wonder where this regular bus could be. I ask a taxi that passes by where the bus is and my response is 'Don't you know- the city is shut down! the Typhoon is coming!' I say, 'Oh right, but we have a flight- how can we get to the airport? Can you drive us', his reply 'No way! You couldn't pay me $5000 to drive you out there today! Way too dangerous' (If you've never been to Hong Kong- there are lots of suspended bridges in between the main island and where the airport is). Oh Great!!!

So we managed to flag down the next taxi to drive us to a train station so we could attempt to get the train to the airport instead. What should have been a 20 HKD trip cost us 100 HKD because the taxi's were refusing to drive anywhere on meter, and they were also being smart because noone was on the road and they knew they could massive increase the price! but we had no choice... we couldn't miss our flight!!

We arrive at the train station, where they conveniently have airport check-in desks. The lady at the desks informs us that our plane hasn't even left Manila, Philippines yet, despite the fact it's meant to be taking off from Hong Kong in an hour. Unfortunately this meant there was no way we'd make our connecting flight, so she kindly booked us onto the flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa the next morning. Knowing that we wouldn't be leaving for a while, we had a nice coffee in Starbucks before we decided to depart for the airport on the train.

Getting to the airport, they miraculously had moved our flight to 1:30PM- meaning we should have just enough time to catch our 4PM connection flight in Manila. So we inquire about our flight that had been changed to the next morning, and the man behind the counter tells us that although we will be in time for our connection flight, we won't actually be getting that flight. 'Why?' we ask, very confused at this point. 'Haven't you heard, AirPhilippines staff are all on strike. It's the third day. there are two more days.'

Of course they are.

We board the plane, thinking we'd be taking off in time for our connection, but we sat on the runway for an hour waiting to be cleared. Honestly, I was more than happy to spend another night in Hong Kong if it didn't mean we'd be taking off in the middle of a typhoon (I kid you not- if you saw BBC headlines for this day, it was 'Hong Kong shut down in typhoon'). But, being here, that doesn't mean they'd cancel any flights. They were getting as many flights out as possible. For the hour sitting on the runway, our plane was being thrown side to side in the wind. And this is on the ground!! Finally, we get the clearance for take off and oooooh was that a take off. If you didn't have a fear of flying before, I'm sure you would have after this flight. More than once it felt as though the plane was just dropping from the sky. And of course it would! WE WERE IN THE MIDDLE OF A TYPHOON!!

After a sweaty palmed flight, we land in Manila, where we see the after effects from the typhoon that had passed through days before. This airport was not at all equipped for any sort of international flights, and we manged to be the first to arrive at a 'connections' desk with 3 ladies, in normal clothes, sat behind. One lady immediately starts to try and figure out our travel (at this point, every flight out of the airport with AirPhillippines had been cancelled). An hour later, and we are still there... with a very large queue of people behind us who are one by one giving up and just leaving the airport. Miraculously, 1 1/2 hours later they present Roger and I, and another German man, with coupons for a hotel and dinner for the night, and tell us that we'd be on a 8AM flight the next morning. When we inquired about whether we really would be on this flight, or another day's flights will be cancelled due to the strike, we never got a clear answer. We were expecting to spend our week long tropical holiday in the typhoon hit, disaster zone, that is Manila.

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Flooded Manila, from above

As frustrated as we were at our travels, we cannot complain about the accomodation we were given. On our way in the cab, our German cab-mate, who is familiar with Manila, tells us that this hotel hit the history books 4 years ago when there was a coup in the Philippines and the rebel group raided the hotel with armoured trucks, driving them through the glass windows. Today, the leader of this rebel group is a senator in the Philippines. We pull up to the hotel, and have our private car completely bomb checked by two security men, followed by a dog. And before we are allowed inside we are patted down, and go through other various security measures, including more dogs. At this point I wasn't sure what to expect! But my jaw dropped when we entered the open reception hall with a string quartet there to welcome us, palm trees and elaborate stair cases. Have you heard of the Peninsula Hotels? If you haven't... check out their website. http://www.peninsula.com/Manila/en/default.aspx . It was the poshest hotel I've ever stayed in! And the beds were amazingly soft after our year long stay in China where beds are, quite literally, planks of wood. The dinner was just as breath taking.

All in all, I think I deffinately could've stayed longer but we were up before dawn to make our flight. Enroute to the airport the driver kept getting updates as to where our flight might possibly take off from (apparently there are more than 2 airports in Manila...). Our route was also changed due to police presence and safety warnings at some points on the road (I think due to the strikes?). Finally, we made it, and this leg of the journey was surprisingly uneventful!!

Landing after the hour long flight to Puerto Princesa, Palawan, we walked off the plane to a tiny little airport surrounded by palm trees. As we had our diving course scheduled to start the next day, we needed to get to El Nido that day! We were told that transportation doesn't leave for El Nido past 9AM, but we were very lucky to find a shared bus leaving at 11AM. That was after we were incredibly ripped off- paying 300 Peso for what should have cost us 40 Peso. Warning out there to anyone going to Puerto Princesa!!! We think of ourselves as being really travel smart, but it goes to show that if you're a little tired or off your guard and not paying absolute attention after a long journey, it's really easily done.

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So we board our minivan, and happily set out on our 7 hour journey. Finally, we are on the last leg of our journey!

And then we go round a corner and POP... our back tyre blows out.

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Half an hour later, we are on the road, again, and enjoy a very scenic drive up north through untouched nature and the occasional village which reminds me of images you'd see in a national geographic magazine. Eventually we pull to a stop in the 'Fort Wally' bus terminal, El Nido, where we catch a tricycle to our accomodation.

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Cashew nuts

Looking around at this point, we realise the journey, however unlucky it was, was 100% worth it. Our accomodation is right on the beach front over looking a bay that is reminds me of Halong Bay in Vietnam, but with much more inviting clear-aqua waters and pristine white sand beaches.

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The view from our bedroom window, and our room (behind Roger)

We started our PADI open water dive course the next day, where we watched 5 hours of videos, following 2 inch thick book. After taking our theory test (and passing with only one mistake!) we were free the next day to start our diving. Our first dive was in a sheltered lagoon, aptly named 'Small Lagoon', where cliffs dropped into the crystal clear sea, with a small gap in the cliffs with a small, white sand beach and a little beach hut. No other civilisation in sight. It was paradise!!

If you don't know already- I have quite a fear of open water. Actually any water. I'm really not a swimmer at all, although I can if I have to. But never ever have I jumped into water from a boat that isn't right next to the beach! But with my scuba gear on, and everyone else in the water I stood on the edge, held my mask and my BCD with one hand, and my weight belt with the other, and took a big step into the water. Looking back to the boat I put my hand on my head, making a 'O' with my hand, signalling to the boat that I am 'OK'. Then, our dive master, Windal, showed us how to deflate our BCD jacked and exhale so we sink to the bottom. At this point it's only 5 metres deep, and the water was clear, so no problemo. Although we were meant to stay on our knees on the sand at the bottom so Windal can show us some exercises but I think my rear-end is far too buoyant to do this as I could not stop myself from tipping forward. Windal makes it look easy!!

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After some exercises we head off, following Windal along the luminous green/blue/purple/red coral, with tons of fish. I don't think a 'boring'' looking fish even exists in these waters! My favourite part of this dive was seeing a 6 inch brightly coloured puffer fish, with a face that looked like a puppy, aswell in some coral. Windal kept tickling him under his chin and the puffer fish only smiled, eyes still closed, fast aswell. Soo cute!

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One of our dive sites. The sights are just as amazing above water as below

Our next dive was more of a struggle as we went into open waters and had some pretty strong current. But the coral is still just as stunning. Sadly, our last dive of the day had to be cancelled due to worsening weather conditions. The journey back, which should only have taken 15 minutes, took us 45. The ocean here, which normally is as flat as a sheet of glass, was instead covered with 10 foot rolling waves. All the crew members were not hiding how concerned they were. Especially after a loud crack came from the mast... we thought we'd be swimming ashore! When the captain rounded the corner to the sheltered bay of El Nido, he immediately stopped the engine and pulled out a cigarette. We forgot to warn the crew that Roger and I have the worst travel luck in the world!!

Did I mention that typhoon number two was coming at this point? As if we hadn't had enough bad luck already!!!

Every day, we'd stop after our second dive and go ashore to one of the secluded white sand beaches that are hidden under the cliffs in the various islands of the Bacuit Archipelago, off the coast of El Nido, where we were diving, to have a lunch of bananas, rice, vegetables and salad (and fish and meat for those non-vegetarians). Especially after diving in currants and surges, with rough waves at the surface, you feel really hungry. No wonder our dive instructors all told us how they lost tons of weight when they started diving! We originally only signed up for a 3 day course, but we were hoping for better weather and we both found a new passion for diving, so we opted for a third day diving. Luckily on our last day, the rain had stopped, and although it was cloudly, it was all around much nicer conditions. I was also so happy because we saw two turtles! And I braved 'North Rock'.

North Rock is a famous diving site, just on the edge of the archipelago and the open ocean, where black and white tip reef sharks are common. We pulled up to the rock, with choppy waters and they announced our group were going in first. Inevitably, as I'm the only girl diving alongside Roger, our dive master, and the occasional other person who joins in with us, I'm always the first one in the water. This dive, I made sure that I would not be! The visibility here for the first 5 metres was pretty bad as well, but once we descended to 15 metres it cleared up a lot more. I couldn't get the soundtrack 'dun dun, dun dun, dun dun dun dun' of Jaws out of my head. We saw a turtle, but after 45 minutes in the water, no shark!! Maybe they saw us, but apparently they are very skiddish and swim off quickly. Oh well no sharks this time!

The dive before this, at Helicopter Island, there were lots of 'shark sucker fish' around. Apparently this means there are sharks nearby. I didn't know that until I was out of the water, though. Phew!

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After a long day diving, we'd hang out here with drinks and good food

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Go away typhoon! + Pina Coladas by the beach

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Our dive boat and tanks

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Beaches where we'd stop to have lunch

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Our last day of diving, and after I saw my first turtle! and Andy trying to balance the boat

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El Nido, from the boat, and after our last day of diving

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Here are some photos from our diving:
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Blue spotted stingray + clown fish

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Two crocodile fish

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a lion fish

The camera we had was not equipped at all for the underwater colours, but the fish were amazing! Here are some photos (not taken by me, but from www.oceanlight.com), that we saw on our dives

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Back in Hong Kong in our favourite Vietnamese restaurant

Posted by Anna1289 04:50 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

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