Sunday, 8 November 2009

Halloween Hechuan Style

Halloween – Hechuan Style

Last night was Halloween, and I admit, I was reluctant to go. The party has been off and on for the last few weeks, firstly because of swine flu, and then because we think the local government realised that there was a risk of somewhere in the region of 2000 students descending on a small nightclub.

I also objected to us as westerners being used as advertising tools. The reason that the nightclub agreed to the party was that it was agreed that we would sing and dance...well, the others would sing and dance. Our side of the deal was that there was free beer all night (hmmm....i don't drink beer...see why I wasn't going to make a fool of myself!).

We left here at about 7 and went to Haisi, the other college in Hechuan to meet up with Catherine and Phil, two american teachers who are there. We all dressed up, I was in lots of black and makeup. I eventually decided that I was Little Miss Suicide (A History of Guns character), Catherine was pregnant white trash (i'm not sure that the Chinese really got the white trash part, but the pregnant bump was surprisingly realistic!!), Alison was a panda, Carolina was a Zombie, Pete was Superman, Lily was a witch, Phil was an american aerobics coach, and Phoenix and Mat were pirates.

Halloween group
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

We had been advertising the party to our students, and some of them made a real effort,

Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

others were quite last minute.

Halloween - FBI
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

We got the Manhattans at about 9ish, and were deluged by students, I had two literally hanging off me!

They were really sweet, but they all had to be back at their dorms by 11. Students here are treated like children sometimes, they have to be back at the dorm ready for lights out at 11, and they're not allowed kitchens, or even kettles...

There was lots of free beer, and I had a bottle of coke that I brought with me. There was no more cola appearing at any time, which I found a little annoying. I've got toothache, so i've been taking the antibiotics that the dentist prescribed before I left to try and ward off a trip to a chinese dentist (I think I need a deep filling changing for a root canal...), and so there was no way I could drink alcohol (the tablets say in big letters DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL, when you pick them up, the pharmacist insists that you understand that you cannot drink alcohol when taking them, and all over the literature, it says 'DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL, so I wasn't about to try it). So far, they seem to be working, so hopefully, I won't be blogging about the Chinese dentist experience just yet!!

Unforunately, the others didn't perform until about 10 to 11, buy which time all the students had left, which was disappointing for me, because I wanted the students to see what they had come for.

However...before us was a Chinese drag was surprisingly good!

Halloween - drag act
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

There were debates between us as to whether the performer was male or female, and so we asked the students, who told us that I was definitely a lady. Then, some other students said 'no, its a man' and it carried on until the Man/Woman revealed that yes, he was a man. I wish I had been quick enough to have my camera out when my students found this out...their faces were so funny!

The nightclub closed at 12:30, which was really odd for me, i'm used to going to nightclubs that don't close until 3am!! After the club, we were invited by two gentlemen to go to a fish barbecue. The food was really really nice! There was fish, and chicken wings, and squid, all marinaded and then barbecued.

Alison and I left a bit earlier than the others, she was tired and I had decided that it was probably time to go home when there was a drunken Englishman arguing with a drunken American over whether the Monarchy was any good, along with a drunken Irish girl agreeing with whoever spoke next...she'd be more interesting if she could actually have an opinion of her own someday...

It was really odd being home at 2am knowing that the nightclub was closed and the night was over, but then Halloween Chinese style was never going to be the same as Halloween English style!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Long Time No See!!

Well...long time no update! I know my mum's been worried because i've not updated, and there are others who are expressing concern too!

Its very nice to know i'm loved!

Anyway...let me think what i've been up to...

Firstly there was the National Day trip to Chengdu. National Day is held on the 1st October here. I'm still not sure what it actually commemorates, but it is a 3 day national holiday. Then, on the 3rd was Autumn Festival, which seems to mean that everyone eats Mooncakes and floats boats with candles in them in the river.

We went to Chengdu to see pandas, and see pandas we did!

Panda 1
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

panda 2
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

Chengdu was really good, it was helpful because we could get Panda Cards – they are subsidised by the Government. After the Earthquake, the Government gave Chengdu a lot of money to rebuild, but they didn't need it all, so the decision was made to give back to the people by creating the Panda card. The Panda card costs 1Y (10p) and allows you free entry into the places showing the symbol. We got Panda cards on the first night we were there.

We got there on the Friday night, and stayed at a place called the Traffic Inn. We booked the place online, believing it was a Hostel, but when we got there, it turned out that we were actually in a hotel. It was very nice!

On the Saturday, we were originally planning to go to the Panda Sanctuary, but we got there too late to book it for the next day.

So, on Saturday we wandered about a bit, and then went to do some cultural things. Firstly, we went to a place called the Jengshu Archaelogical Site. This is where they found remains from centuries ago and they've created a whole visitors centre and tourist site out of it. It is very beautiful, the surrounding scenery was so pretty .

Jengshu Scenery
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

jengshu stream
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

There was the main visitors centre, where the remains and the location of important objects was shown

and there was the museum, where they had recreated a village, it looked very very much like a Saxon village from England,.

Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

It was really hard to work out the timescale of the place because time isn't measured in years in history, its measured in Dynasties, so if you don't know Chinese history, then time is really hard to fathom!

We also went to Dufu's Thatched Cottage, which is a place where the Chinese poet Dufu took himself to live away from civilisation.

Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

He built a thatched cottage and stayed there and wrote. He also cultivated a medicinal garden and beautiful scenery.

Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

And what are these you may ask!

Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

That's right...Fish...lots and lots of fish...Don't show Sharkie and Mickey Finn, they might start getting ideas of sizes to grow to...

Giant fish!
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

Like this one...This size of goldfish (and Koi Carp) seems to be the norm here. There is a difference, this is a Koi Carp, not a goldfish, but still, I don't want mine getting any ideas about outgrowing their tank!!

During the visit to Dufu's Cottage, it started to rain...really, properly rain! So we decided to try to get back to the hotel. By the time we got there, we were absolutely soaked to the skin! It was the first real rain we'd seen, so the first few minutes were quite refreshing, but after that, it didn't stop. It was like a heavy thunderstorm, but without the thunder and lightning!

Saturday night, we met up with some of Alison's friends from her previous time in China. They were interesting people, one of them was Korean and kept talking about how learning to speak Mandarin had completely ruined her intonation in Korean. If Korean's anything like Mandarin, the intonation can mean the difference between understanding and gibberish.

Very early Sunday morning, we went to the Panda Sanctuary. It was wonderful! There were real Pandas!! They were gorgeous animals, and not as big as I thought they were, and a lot more lazy! There were the 'Pandas Asleep' ,

panda asleep
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

and the 'Pandas in Heaven'.

panda in heaven
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

This panda literally had a blanket of bamboo!

I really really loved my video camera that day, it has a 60x optical zoom, so I was getting telephoto shots without having a massive lens. I love my video camera!

panda closeup
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

The Panda Sanctuary was really interesting, but I did feel that we were rushed around a lot of it. Sadly because of its tourist potential, it did suffer from the money grabbing side of China. We looked around a lot of the adult Panda enclosures quite quickly, but when it got to the bit where we could pay to hold a baby panda, or have photos taken with them, we were kept there for ages! Presumably, it was to tempt us into paying (400y, or £40 for a picture with adult pandas, and 1000Y, or £100 for a picture with a baby). I don't believe in that kind of thing, I don't like seeing wild animals being used for tourist entertainment, so I carried on wandering around. As well as black and white, or traditional pandas, there were also red pandas. These are really cute and they're about the same size as Finlay (small-medium dog), and they had a lot of character. When we were looking at them, their enclosures were being cleaned, and they were sticking their noses in the baskets of cloths and cleaning materials, chasing the brooms and making nuisances of themselves.

red panda
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

red panda basket
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

Sadly, I can't get the videos from my video camera on here, I think I need to burn them to DVD first, and then convert that to something that can be used.

After the Panda Sanctuary, we went back to the Hotel. I went to get something to eat, whilst some of the others went to a western restaurant, and others went to nap. In the afternoon, we visited the SongXianChuanDong (I think) Ancient Craft Market Town. It was more like a large antiques market, complete with Antique prices!! I did buy a bracelet with a dragon and phoenix on it, and I managed to get him down to 40% of the original price. Alison wasn't impressed because I learn from Dad how to deal with these situations, and people, and I did a better job then her...

After that, we went to the Burial Place of Liung Bei, a former emperor of China. It was basically a large mound of earth that everyone walked around...There was a beautiful Bonsai tree garden there though, which was nice.

We also visited a temple (I forget which one), and it was as decorated and attractive as every other temple. This one was a Daoist Temple. I've not yet worked out the difference, the Daoist temples still have statues of Buddha in various positions.

It is rare that I take pictures in temples, I don't like doing it, it just feels wrong somehow.

Chengdu was an interesting trip from start to finish, We went there on the bus, which took 3 hours, and then we came back by train, which took 4 hours. This seems the UK, a bus is never faster than a train, but here, it is the other way round, the train stops at each station for about 15 minutes, if not longer and then seems to randomly stop between stations for 10-30 minutes at a time. The train is definitely an experience that an traveller should have! It was like a travelling buffet! We got on the train, and we had tickets for seats, so we got to our seats t find that a family was sitting there. We turfed them out and got comfortable. I got my book out, MP3 player in, and I was set to go. The family shuffled over and sat on 3 seats (about 8 of them...) and then proceeded to unpack...i am sure that for the whole 4 hours journey, they didn't stop eating!! we had some snacks, but they had instant noodles, and sunflower seeds, and peanuts and cakes...

Eventually, we got back to Hechuan, and I went to bed. I'd managed to pick up a nice cold! I stayed in bed for 2 days, and had 4 people tell me that I should go to the doctor and get medicine...they have the belief here that if you have a cold for 3 days, you need to go to hospital to get a drip fitted. I don't know what's in the drip, and I didn't want to find out either...i stayed in bed and drank whisky and felt a lot better!

After the National Day holiday, it was back to work as normal. I teach 7 classes a week, some of them are 2 hours, some are 3 hours. Each period is 40 minutes long, and then there is a 10 minute break, and then the next period starts. My speaking classes are 2 periods long, and the listening ones are 3 periods long.

Last weekend, we went to Chongqing City. We stayed at Tina's Hostel again. I met a girl called Margot there, she's Dutch and works on cruise ships. We went out for the evening and went to The Outside Bar again, where I met up with people from CQExpat. It was a good evening, and we trawled a few bars.

The others went to a football match, but I had other plans: The Knitting Supplies Market. I was wool heaven!! There were hundred of different types of yarn. I think i got overcharged on one of the wools that I bought, but I bought 10 skeins (which I think means that its about 1500m), and its a thick/thin orange, pink and red yarn that I think is silk. I'm not sure because the only way to test is to burn a piece and it burns like wool (no flame, no melting), but it doesn't smell like burning wool (burning hair), so I think its silk. It cost me 200Y (£20) which is cheap in the UK, but I think it was expensive here. I got some other skeins of bulky wool which cost me £1 per skein, and I think there's about 120m in each skein, so that price more than made up for the expensive wool! It was interesting shopping at the Knitting Market, but it was so difficult too!! Not speaking very much Chinese, I couldn't find out how long the skeins were, so it was all guesswork to buy the right amount!! The only length they could give me was to show me scarves knitted using one skein, and I had to guess from there. I bought some super chunky cotton yarn, and I bought twice as much as I needed for the top that I wanted to make out of it, because I guessed wrong... I do have a wool supplier in Hechuan as well now. I saw the shop a couple of weeks ago, but I couldn't work out how much the wool was, or even whether they sold wool, because although there was loads on the shelf, they kept showing me completed articles and pointing to a knitting machine at the back. Eventually, I took Sawyer with me and we worked out that I can buy wool there, but no-one seems to know the length. I did find it amusing because when I tested the yarn at home, it turns out to be pure wool, but there were telling me that its not good enough quality to make gloves out of...Again, I got about 120m/skein, but this place is only 5Y (50p) per skein. I've got lots of skeins to ball now...I've made a top (from the super chunky), and i'm waiting for my shopping buddy to get back so that I can go and get a zip and some material for it!

I never told you all about the mobile phone shopping experience!!

When I got here, I decided that it was going to be easier to get a Chinese mobile phone rather than get mine unlocked and start playing with sim cards. So, Sawyer took me to the mobile phone shop and it was an experience!! I chose the phone I wanted ( a very girl Hello Kitty phone in purple...) and then we registered it to Sawyer's ID card (they couldn't use my passport because i'm not a Chinese national). Then, we paid for it, and had a choice of free gifts....washing powder or a tea flask...the most random things to go with a mobile! I went for the tea flask because I wanted something to put milk in in the fridge...

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Being a Celebrity!

Well...its been a long week, and there's been a lot happening!

The most exciting thing is that we became Chinese TV stars, and we're saving a town!

Mark, the head of English here took us to his home town, Tonkgnan for the day. He told half of us that we were going for dinner with the mayor, and the other half that we were going to see a temple. We did both...and a bit more.

We left at 9:30 in the morning and some people fell asleep in the car with their shoes on...this is a silly thing to do, it makes you fair game!

Mat asleep
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

Bad luck Mat!

Then, we went for dinner with the mayor, and what seemed like the whole council for the town. Mark's got it into his head that i don't drink now, so i was safe on coke, while the others were forced into drinking games. They were drunk by midday...

The dinner was in a small place that had the most beautiful tree in the middle of the courtyard

chongqing tree
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

Apparently this is the Tree of Chongqing and is over 300 years old. It is beautiful and has lots of twisted roots spiralling up the trunk.

After lunch, we had a look around Tonkgnan

tonkgnan st
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

old buildings
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

tonkgnan street
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

After the tour around Tonkgnan, in which i had to walk around holding the hands of the mayoress and another top ranking woman...(the chinese girls really like holding hands or linking arms...), we were taken to Mark's Middle School. We were told it was to speak to the headmaster, and to meet some of the teachers and children...UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR!!

We went to a short meeting where they told us the history of the school and a bit about it, then we went to 'meet some children'...I went to the toilet and then the mayoress walked me down a small road bit to meet the children. Mat and Carolina had already arrived there. As I turned the corner, there was a massive cheer and round of applause...and a podium covered with red material, with big seats for us to sit in...and microphones...and this greeted me:

children - front
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

oh yes...what seemed like thousands of children, all sat in neat lines...they all cheered and applauded as i sat down, waiting for Alison and Pete to arrive...
Then...i looked behind me and saw:

children - balconies
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

There were hundreds of them..all hanging off the balconies to see us. I waved and got a massive round of applause and cheering from the balconies too.

It was absolute madness, especially as we were followed around the streets and through the schools by a TV camera - we had become celebrities.

There was a speech from Mark to the children about learning English and how useful it was, and the best ways to practice, then it was over to us, so we gave short introductions and then Mark took over again.

After about an hour of Mark talking, he got up and left and we were mobbed...literally mobbed by children wanting autographs! They were coming from all angles giving us books, pieces of paper and body parts to sign! I was being hit in the back of the head by books, squashed by children and getting them shoved under my nose as well. Poor Mat was on the end of the table, so he had them coming from 3 sides! In the end, it looked like they were going to kill him, so being the tallest and most outspoken i stood up and motioned for the children to move back. They got the idea and then a teacher came over to move them back and things were a little better.

Being mobbed by a school of children wanting autographs, whilst being videoed for TV has to be one of the most surreal experiences i've ever had, and i have the feeling that China has a few more ready for me...

So, after the madness of the school, we finally got to go to the temple. It is the Temple of the Golden Buddha. Sadly, the day we went, the Buddha wasn't quite so golden - he's being re-gilded.

The Golden Buddha
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

The temple was gorgeous, so attractive. I seriously contemplated giving up being a hedgewitch and becoming a buddhist!

the surrounding scenery:

Pagoda at Tonkgnan
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

Dog Statue
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

We saw the largest Chinese symbol in the world - it says Buddha

buddha symbol
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

and the Man and Lady of the temple - these are natural formations caused by erosion and water, an excellent example of simulacra that is so appropriate - the man is on the left, the lady on the right. The man looks very typically Chinese. It couldn't be better!

We went to the Singing Steps - they're supposed to make a different sound on each 7th step. I stamped as hard as i could, but really didn't hear anything...

From the bottom:

from the top:

and the statues around were beautiful. I love Chinese art, especially the stone carvings.

Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

After all that, a bit of R&R was in order, so we got taken to a karaoke bar, where the owner not only fed us copious amounts of popcorn, but gave us packets to take away too!

I asked Phoenix to write my favourite foods in chinese, so i'm sorted for ordering food now:
Potato pancake
tomato and Egg thing
Sweet pork (i know i know...but they don't do chicken. I have been suffering...).

Now i'm busy trying to arrange for us to go on the Yangtze cruise for National Day. We can either get the cruise from here to Yichang, or we can go upstream (i'd prefer that) by flying to Yichang first and then catching the boat first.

I've found lots of tours that i want to go on as well, including a Kung Fu tour (anything to get back to the Shaolin temples!), and some classic tours. There's one going to Tibet - you can only go to Tibet on a group visa, and i would prefer to go on an organised tour rather then getting a group visa for us and then going just us... Another tour goes to the grasslands of Mongolia...and we get to meet local farmers and talk and eat with them. I want to do that one, but to do it on my own is twice the price of managing to convince everyone else to go as well...we'll see...

Monday, 14 September 2009

An Update

Well, its been a busy week here in China!

Firstly, we went out for dinner with Mark (The Head of English), and what seemed like half the local police force! There was good food

Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

there was good company
there were many drinking games played

The drinking games were interesting, they were based on Rock, Paper, Scissors. Then, there was the added element of numbers – you had to uncover a number of fingers with your partner, and it could either be 0, 5, 10, 15 or 20. The one who guessed the total number of fingers for both partners won, and the loser had to drink.

I didn't play the drinking games – it was all based on shots of lager, and I really don't like lager!
I think i'm becoming something of an outcast I the group – i'm older than the rest of them, and I don't drink to get drunk, so I think that i'm not within the group dynamic. They have a big 'team' or 'family' thing going on, they're all very pally pally, and I don't feel that close to any of them really.

Ho Hum.

So, this weekend, we took a trip to Chongqing City Centre

Over the Bridge
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

Chongqing Street
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

We stayed at a place called Tina's Hostel. It was great, really clean, really nice.

Tina's Hostel Walls
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

The best thing about it was that it was in the middle of what I can only describe as a typically chinese living area.

China Living
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

The surrounding views were beautiful.

Chongqing Views
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

Chongqing Views
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

We went out on Saturday night to The Outside Bar, which was great. I really loved the Outdoor Bar, it was so relaxed and easy going. I also met some people from CQExpat, which has been my aim for the past week!

CQExpat Crew
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

I met Cherry and Rob, and they were really lovely. Cherry is fantastic, such an energetic, sweet girl.

Cherry and Helena
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

Rob's a great Canadian, and we were talking about schools, and teaching, and what seemed like everything else under the sun. At about half one, I joined the rest of te group at The Cotton Club. There was a rock covers band playing, and I sat down at the table, only to be nearly bowled over by a drunken Mat, who, it appears had missed me...

Later that night, Mat and Lilly disappeared, so we went back to the hostel without them. I think was the point that I realised how different the maturity levels are between us, I couldn't sleep knowing that two of our number were out in CQ all alone, in a big city in the middle of China – an unknown land!! I stayed up until about 6 that night – Mat and Lilly came back at about half 4, and then I spent the rest of the time keeping Mat alive. He stumbled into the room and took 4 attempts to take his trousers off, and then went to purge the alcohol (how polite was that?!). He was looking pretty rough, so I kept filling him with water in an attempt to dilute the alcohol in his system. I have told him that next time, i'll leave him to die...One chance...

Mat Suffers
Originally uploaded by the.fee.fairy

So, on Sunday, we went to the CQExpat CAFE (Chinese and Foreign Exchange) Club. It was great to meet so many people that I have been 'talking' to online for so long. I did forget to take musicman his mustard though! I'll keep it for next time.

Phoenix came to the CAFE club with me, and she had a great time too, despite suffering a hagover from hell! She made sure that I got home safely, she took me on the bus from CQ to Hechuan, and then we got a local bus from Hechuan bus station to the College. The local bus was a fantastic experience, and i'm going to ask Phoenix to write 'To Chongqing', 'To Hechuan', and 'To Hili' on a piece of paper in Mandarin so that I can travel on my own soon. That's exciting!
I think I got bitten by something a bit nasty on Thursday night, I had an itchy foot on Friday and I thought i'd been got by another mosquito and ignored it. Saturday it started to swell and itch, and by the time I got home yesterday my foot was swollen and bright red and itchy. I've had something for infection, and double dosed the antihistamines and it appears to be working. The rash has travelled up my leg a bit, and my foot and ankle are still swollen, but its like a nasty attack of Urticaria (another one...), so i'm not really sure what's going on! It appears to be getting better – my foot's gone back to flesh colour today. When I see Susan again, i'll ask her whether she thinks I should see a doctor.

Went back to teaching today. I love my Monday Morning class, they are really interactive, they speak to me, and they get my sense of humour, which is nice. The class today was working from the workbook, and the subjects were starting a conversation, introducing yourself, introducing another and interrupting a conversation. The students in the first class were really into the subjects and really responded. We went through the words Compliment and Offensive in relation to speaking to other people. The second class are a different kettle of fish! They are really quiet. I have two rules I my classroom, the first is that No-one is shy, and the second is that No-one laughs at English. The rules seem to work, the chinese students are known as being shy, so i'm hoping that these two rules will give them the confidence to speak up more. The first class have grasped this concept. There are a few in the second class who have understood, and they are willing to speak up, but the majority are very quiet. I gave them some exercises to do and went round the class talking to each couple and explaining things to them.

I meet my third class tomorrow. The class was cancelled last week because it was too hot.

It was lovely this morning! It had rained overnight, so the temperature has cooled and the humidity has lifted somewhat, which makes everything a lot more comfortable!

So, that's the update finished...more soon!

Ooh...while I think about it – if you're reading this and clicking on what looks like a link (eg [pic]), its probably that I haven't put a photo or a video in yet. To get to Blogger, I have to go though a proxy server, so i'm writing this separately and then copying and pasting while the server's working. So, if you look and think that there are links missing, then please come back later and check again, and I might have fixed it!

O the same subject, if a post is just a picture, or just a video, ignore it...i'm working on fixing things...