(Sorry for the long-windedness! Lots has happened in the past week or so, and I keep forgetting to update the blog! I’ll have to start making more regular and shorter entries after this…)
O.k., so the past few days lots of not so good things have been happening, and lots of good things. First of all, I am in Liuyang!! I got here this morning at about 6h30am. The bad few things that happened started on Saturday…first my rental bike got stolen in Yangshuo, second I woke up on Sunday with a raging stomach sickness and flu-fever, only the kind you can get in China (mom, you know all about those) right before an 11 hour train ride….third I got to Liuyang and feverishly wobbled to the bank and found out that no banks in the city change traveler’s checks, so I am broke until I can get a ride to Changsha. Strangely enough, as testing all these things are to my sanity, I’m still fairly indifferent. After all, this is China and this kind of stuff just makes the character of the place all the more interesting.
Anyway, all that negative stuff aside, I had training last week in Yangshuo with 23 other teachers, mostly from the States and Australia and Canada. It was pretty informative, and good to be able to get to know all the teachers that will be teaching in China at the same time as me. I’ve made some friends in the group and we all intend to visit each other in order to get some real local knowledge of these backwater towns around China. At the end of the week we had to do teaching practice after learning how to make a lesson plan. Basically we were given a lesson plan template and had to formulate something interesting around that. I didn’t have too much trouble coming up with things, and I figured I had enough material to last about a half an hour. When it was time to give the lesson I got a little nervous, but soon realized that teaching is much much different from public speaking, and much easier. I think I gave a boring lesson because I was still so nervous, but it was a good thing they had us practice before I have to do it for real next week.
After the training was done on Friday night Owen, the head honcho of Buckland, brought all the teachers out to eat a good Chinese dinner on the edge of the Li River. There is a strong tradition in Chinese culture of drinking yourself into the ground with the famed ‘Bai-Jiu’ or rice alcohol. It is 56% alcohol, and the more one can drink, the more they are considered a hero. Owen is truly a hero when it comes to Bai-jiu. He brought four bottles to the dinner and kept pouring everyone more and more into there cups, laughing and having the grandest time ever. I took one sip of the stuff and vowed never to drink it again. It burns all the way down, and the rate at which it gets people drunk will keep me clear away. During dinner one of the older ladies fainted and we thought it was because she had had one too many bai-jiu’s, so Owen quickly stashed all the Bai-jiu under the table. When she had woken up and left the restaurant, we all learned it was just because she was sleep deprived and too hot, and she hadn’t drunk a sip. Owen got the bai-jiu out again as quickly as it had been hid, and promptly poured everyone more to cheers to Nancy (the fainting lady)’s health.
After dinner we all went to KTV, which is basically a place where you can rent a room with couches lining the walls and a TV and wireless microphones where you can sing along with the karaoke song of your choice. I had been to a few in Taiwan, but this one was way more fun, maybe it’s because I was with a bunch of teachers and my boss, who had all had one bai-jiu toast too many. Towards the end of the night everyone started leaving and then I left with some of the teachers, Craig, Grace and James. We got separated from Grace and James and then ran into another teacher Laura on the street and paid an electric bus driver to bring us home.
On Saturday I took the chance to go around Yangshuo again before I left, because Ping had told me and Craig that we will be leaving for Liuyang on Sunday night at 8pm. I took a bike ride with a bunch of teachers back to the Yulong river to go swimming. We all jumped off the ‘Dragon Bridge’ that goes across it, dodging the tourists on their bamboo rafts, and we met a few British dudes who were just around visiting and wanted to know about how to teach in China. Later on that night we all went out to get Western food, since it would be the last chance for a while. Yangshuo is known for it being a tiny microcosm of western things and a zillion tourists. I decided to order lasagna, and when it came it was absolutely the weirdest interpretation of lasagna I’ve ever had. It was basically cut up vegetables put in between layers of wonton wrappers with splotches of cheese here and there. I ate half and gave the rest to some friends that had finished their pizza (which was real pizza). I was feeling a little like I had a cold later that night but I wanted to go say bye to some friends I had made around the town, so I went back to that place ‘rooftop bar’ and said by to them, then bike home.
On my way home I saw some other teachers walking by and so I stopped and said hello to them and decided to lock my bike near a restaurant that was still open and go with them to the park. When we came back from the park, lo and behold my bike was nowhere to be found. I figured the next day I had to go tell the rental place what happened and pay them the deposit on the bike that they had waved when I first rented it. These things happen I suppose!
So the next morning I woke up with a horrible stomach flu and for the rest of the morning laid in bed, alternating that with packing up my stuff since me and Craig had to leave to go to Liuyang at 5pm that night. After I was packed I had to bring all my stuff to the school, but I couldn’t walk very well without getting all feverish and sweaty and shaky so I asked Craig to ask Yuan to bring his electric bus around and pick up my stuff. Yuan came around and I was shipped off to the school to wait a few hours till it was time to go. One of the other teachers, Jason, had had this same stomach flu a few days before and so he went to get all the leftover medicine he had and all the Chinese Gatorade people had given him. I sucked that down and felt a tiny bit better.
Our van came to bring me and Craig to the train station to catch our overnight hard-sleeper train to Changsha, and to bring two other teachers Megan and Eric to the airport because they are going to that school in Sichuan! I held down my nausea the whole weave-y jolt-y ride there, and then me and Craig got dropped off at the station, and were told to wait by the entrance to the public bathrooms for the ‘travel agent’ that was supposed to come give us our tickets. While we were waiting a kid came over to us, plopped down his shoe-shine kit about 6 inches away and stated squeaking at us and grabbing Craig’s feet and pouring water on our stuff. We tried to get him away but he wouldn’t move, so we asked these people who were next us from Xi’an to help, and they tried, and the these other people came over to help/watch the spectacle and laugh. Finally the kid got up and went away after about 20 minutes of squeaking and grabbing stuff. Craig then went up to go into the bathroom, which was followed by a discovery that perhaps the Guilin trainstation public bathrooms serve a strata of society that isn’t just looking to pee in there. For more details you can go read Craig’s blog, which I’ll post a link to in the link section soon.
Soon this guy came up to us waving some tickets and asking for 200 yuan from each of us, when the ticket only said 130 yuan. I asked him to recite his phone number because I didn’t believe it was the guy we were meeting, but indeed it was and indeed we had to pay the guy 200 yuan for going 10 feet away to buy a ticket we could have bought ourselves. So silly! But after that was sorted out, we only had 10 minutes to run to the train. So, ready to hurl at any minute, I ran with Craig towards the train platform, and we got on the train safe and sound. Our bunks were right near the door, with a family that was also going to Changsha. I almost threw up all over everyone, but then Craig helped me take care of my bags while I curled up in a ball on my bunk and tried to feel better. I’m so glad he was there or it would have been a gross disaster!!
When that was all taken care of, and everyone on the train had settled into their bunks, we started off the Changsha. Me and Craig chatted for a bit on my bunk then we both decided sleep would make the time pass faster, so I went to sleep and he went up to his bunk and did the same. Since he is so tall, half his legs hung off the end, and people kept walking by and exclaiming at the foreigner with long hairy legs. I was woken up many hours later by a lady collecting tickets and saying we had just arrived in Changsha and we need to get off the train. I still felt nauseous, but a ok enough to grab my things off the train. Me and Craig got off and went the way everyone else was going and were greeted by two people with our names on a sign.
One was our foreign affairs officer, who doesn’t speak any English, and was driving the car. The other, Monica, is an English teacher at the Liuyang Xinwen School where we will be living and teaching. She is young (24) and very nice and talkative, and I think she is going to be functioning more as our foreign affairs officer instead of the other guy. Maybe he got the title because he did a favor for a higher-up or something.
On our way back to the school, we stopped at a noodle place for breakfast as it was only about 8am. I was feeling a tiny bit better at that point so I ate a half a bowl of noodles, and I wish I had been able to eat all of it because they were so tasty. After that we made a stop at China Mobile because it was apparently very urgent that we get cellphones. We stopped by there and I said, ok I will have the cheapest one possible please, so I got one for about 350 yuan include the phone number and some minutes. I think that’s about 40 U.S dollars. The rest of the phones there were over 1200 yuan. I don’t know how anyone here can afford that, but they all seem to be carrying one around.
Next we were brought to the police station to register ourselves as new residents of Liuyang, and we will have to register as teachers as soon as we get our work permits. I have a business visa, and everyone keeps telling me it is ok, that it is a different kind of business visa that allows me to teach. We’ll see if that’s true as time wears on.
Anyway, we finally got to the school, which is a ways from town in the ‘new district’ of Liuyang. Basically where all the government buildings are scattered some distance from each other. We are off a main road up a small dirt road and on the other side of a giant dirt pile. Although the school is a little off the beaten path, its very nice looking, and is apparently the best elementary school in Liuyang and only going into it’s 3rd year of being open. We were driven up to where our apartments are, and we brought out stuff inside.
Craig is on a first floor apartment and I am on the second floor, right above his. The apartments are really nice and really big. Mine is about the size of my old Papineau apartment, except now it is only me living in it. I closed off the doors to three of the rooms to make it seem smaller, since they are all empty. In one of the rooms there is a weight bench and a bike. One room is locked and the other I put my empty suitcases in. Another room is my bedroom, and the bed is huge, but with a very hard mattress and no sheets (i’ll have to get some of those…). And across from that room there is an office with a computer, a big desk and something to fold and hang my clothes in. At the front of the apartment there is a living room with two couches, a small fridge that doesn’t work, a water cooler, and a tv with a dvd player next to it. At the back of the apartment there is the kitchen with long bars on the ceiling to hang my clothes to dry and open but barred windows on all sides. Off the kitchen there is a bathroom, that kind of looks like a public bathroom since there are two stalls, one with a western toilet and one with a squat toilet. There are two sinks along the wall as well, and a Chinese washing machine and a big faucet for filling up buckets of water. There are two shower heads in each bathroom stall, because the Chinese shower on their toilets. Well, not on, but around. You have to be careful not to drop anything in the shower or step in the wrong spot because either you or your shampoo will fall directly in the hole in the ground!
I was still feeling a little sick so I took a nap all afternoon and when I woke up Monica was calling me to see if me and Craig wanted to go shopping to find things we might need, and also go eat some good Liuyang food. I was feeling better after the nap so I agreed and Monica and two of her friends who are also teachers at this school came to pick us up at the school gate. We drove around the city and they showed us different spots, and I went to change some money at the Bank of China and the people there looked at my travelers checks and had never seen them before and that if they were really legitimate then I could go to Changsha to change them. No amount of talking could change there mind. I even filled out all the paperwork necessary exactly as I had done in Yangshuo, but that wouldn’t change there mind either. I tried the main branch and they said no as well. So this week I am going to have to grab a ride into Changsha and change all of my checks at once, and then stash the cash somewhere safe (and yes mom, in separate places).
After that we went to a giant department store and Chinese Walmart-esque store. I bought tp and scissors and two cups, but then ran out of money, so I’ll have to get the other things I need next week. It’s good to know that Liuyang has places like this, and that although they are a little expensive by Chinese standards, there are a lot of good things in them and its very convenient.
After the shopping trip we went to a special lotus restaurant that had little pathways built all throughout a lotus pond and tables on platforms in the pond and lotus plants. We had really really really good food, and after I got some rice in me I was able to eat my first actual meal in two days. The best food there was some kind of spicy pulled pork. I asked how it was made, but none of the teachers knew. Before I leave here I definitely want to learn how to make some of this food because Hunan food is really tasty!!
After that, they dropped me and Craig off back at our apartments and I went to sleep and slept all night. Today I am no longer sick, and went to have lunch at the cafeteria where there are lots of students milling around and clambering for some food. The food in the cafeteria is pretty good, and I think it won’t be any problem to eat this a few times a day for the next year. It’s also free for staff, which is great!
After lunch me and Craig went for a walk down that dirt road to the main road to see if there is any sort of corner store around to get something to drink or a snack or something. Way down the extremely wide concrete road that banks off of our little dirt road, there was one, with two pool tables randomly in the front with some laughing smoking dark Chinese men sat out front, and referred to me as Craig’s laopo (old wife), which I am not. They offered Craig a cigarette which he was obliged to take, otherwise we would not be considered as very friendly if we come back around. I am apparently a ‘lady’ so I needn’t accept that offer. We got some juice, tea and hangers and went back out onto the roasting hot wide concrete road. The walk was basically just to find our bearings in the area, even though we are far from town. It kind of worked, but I think I’m going to have to go on a bike ride soon to really get to know they area and find my way into the city from here.
That’s about it up till now. But oh yeah!! I forgot to mention. Liuyang is indeed the city of fireworks!!! All afternoon yesterday, and all evening I could hear and see fireworks going off in a zillion different directions. A bunch would go off in the north, then in the east, then the west. And then they would start up again, all different kinds in another spot. This morning I could hear them too, but after lunch which is nap time for everyone in china, I couldn’t hear a single boom.
On Thursday me and Craig are going to be doing a class for all the 1st graders, and then for all the 7th graders. We get to do it together and each one only lasts about a half hour. They said we can do anything we want, just make sure it is fun and that its something that will make the kids interested in English. I think it’ll be fun figuring out what to do, and I’m glad we can do it together, since there are going to be so man little kids all at once.
After that happens, we’ll take a trip to Changsha to check it out, and for me to change all my money. I’ll write again soon!!!!