So on Wednesday we were told we were going to leave for Changsha at 8 in the morning. This Changsha trip happened so soon because Craig needed to get an official medical check for his work permit issuance, so I lucked out! I stuffed most of my traveller’s checks into my wallet, grabbed my passport, and met Monica, Cindy and another girl who was driving at the school’s gate.
Changsha is the capital of Hunan, with a population of about 7 million or so i think? and is only about 45 minutes to an hour away from Liuyang. Liuyang is right in the middle of a bunch of high mountains, and in order to get out of the mountains you have to go through a series of three extremely long tunnels that just go right under the mountains. Once you are on the other side, it’s pretty much flat land all the way to Changsha.
Once we got to Changsha, the girl who was driving us stopped at this really dilapidated building that looked like it’s hayday had been a zillion years ago. They started getting out of the car and we followed, and it turned out that that was the ‘hospital’ where Craig had to get his medical check. I thought it was gonna be a grand ol’ time, probably because I wasn’t the one who had to be poked and prodded by telltale instruments all morning. After a bunch of paperwork and waiting for Craig outside a million different rooms with really strange names, the medical check was done and we were told we had to come back at 15h30 to get the results. Monica suggested we go to the bank, then go shopping and walking around, eat, then go back and get the results.
We stopped at a Bank of China that was right near the ‘hospital’, and I went in, and sure enough they had no idea what travellers checks were either. They suggested we go to the head branch in Changsha, so off we went. I was getting pretty nervous, envisioning months with zero cash, all my travellers checks gone to waste.
The main branch was in a really impressive building, clean and modern. We went inside and finally someone recognized my travellers checks. I took a number and sat down, waiting for about a half an hour for my number to be called. I went up to the window and they guy there had no idea what to do. He called a manager over, and they did it step by step together. Finally after about an hour all together, my checks were changed into cash, and we left. Even in banks everything works on China-time! Patience is really a necessity here….
After the bank we went to this giant mall because Monica had to exchange an mp3 player she had, so while we waited for her, me Craig and Cindy walked around the mall. It was super-modern and super-shiny in there. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many shiny surfaces in one place. Everything was as expensive as stuff in the states, if not more, so just looking around was all I did.
After lunch, we went back into the mall and Monica went to get some sunglasses and the girls were all looking at some make-up stuff for quite a while. It’s obviously not up Craigs alley, nevermind mine, so we circled the floor about 10 times waiting for them, and looking at Chinese capitalism at is best…millions of people selling things and zillions buying those things. After that we just went back to the medical check place, picked up the results and drove back to Liuyang.
The next day in the morning me and Craig were both told we were going to be doing a class for all the first graders and 4-8th grade at once in the auditorium. We got together and made a lesson plan. For the first graders we made a powerpoint that had the alphabet song on it and each letter individually with a picture (like M for Monkey, A for apple). For the older kids we were going to read a story that was only a few lines long, but had a lot of action words in it. I was going to read it and Craig would act it out, then we would read it again and have the kids act out what they heard in the story. After that we put some tongue twisters on a powerpoint to finish up with.
The next morning we went to the auditorium and in filed 250 loud, squirmy first graders. The teachers had to spend about 10 minutes quieting them down and trying to get them to stop climbing on their chairs. Finally we went up there and sang the alphabet song with them, then went through each letter. It kind of worked, getting the kids to scream the name of the picture they saw. Some of them knew the name in English, while others would just yell it out in Chinese, and some would just stare blankly. All in all, I guess it was ok, considering it was the first time ever doing this, and the kids were super squirmy.
We had to come back at 9h00 to talk to the 4-8th graders. When we got there at 9, an English teacher met us and said ‘oh, all you need to say is Hi, I’m__’. So we dropped all that stuff we prepared, introduced ourselves to a bunch of oohing and aahing middle-schoolers, taught them the tongue twisters only, then sat back down again. They said we could leave the auditorium because they were just going to be teaching in Chinese for the rest of the time. We left and that was the start of the weekend.
That evening we went into town to that same mall where Monica took us before to check it out completely and to get some snacks and juice and stuff. We also found a market with stalls that sell everything, from shampoo to watermelons to telephones. I had been looking for a pair of cheap speakers to play my music over, because my laptop speakers don’t quite cut it. I found some for 75 yuan, and bargained down to 50 yuan (about 6 USD). I also needed some lotion, but for some reason it is incredibly hard to find, if you just want a big bottle of some cheap stuff. All i could find was in the department store, in the beauty section, in tiny bottles with whitening stuff in it. Maybe people don’t use body lotion here? After finding everything we needed, we taxied back to school. I hooked up my speakers right away and adjusted them so they sound o.k., but my office room is big and empty, so the sound still sounds a little wonky. But I can finally listen to my music, so I’m not complaining!
The next few days were spent not going outside except for meals, because it was at least 98F (37C ) and really humid. I’m turning farmer brown just from my walk between my apartment and the cafeteria. It gets a little boring sitting inside all day, waiting for each meal to come, but it’s nice to have a rest. The reason why I couldn’t go to town is partly because of the heat, partly because the afternoon is nap-time for all the Chinese so few people are out, and shopkeepers are snoozing at their registers. In the evenings though, after dinner around 6 or 7, everyone emerges from their homes and there are people all over the streets, shopping, sitting, looking, walking, and dancing or singing in the park. Also good street food vendors come out as well.
On Friday night me and Craig decided to locate a place to go out. So I looked a bunch of places up on Google, and we went into town and walked around looking for them. We came accross one place that said ‘It’s Party’ in big neon letters, so we went up inside and it turns out it is was some kind of Chinese disco place. We walked in, not sure where to go, then all these people came over to us and ushered us to a table in the middle of the room. There weren’t many people there, and they were all off to the side. They brought over a menu and told us we could either pay 30 yuan for a bottle of beer or 300 yuan for a bottle of vodka, and that was it. 30 yuan is a little steep for a small bottle of beer, since you can get a giant one from a store for 3 yuan. 300 yuan isn’t a lot for vodka so we went with that.
The waiter brought over all this stuff, like grape juice, cups, a pitcher, a fruit tray, peanuts, meat with toothpicks and finally the actual bottle of vodka. I went to pour some in a glass then he grabbed it and said no no wait! And proceeded to do all this stuff that finally resulted in three glasses of tastiness. The third glass was for a guy that worked there who was not dressed in the waiter’s uniform, but I think was some sort of manager or something that was assigned to sit at our table with us and keep us entertained since we were apparently the only foreigners who had ventured in in a few months. I talked to him a bit and he said that there had been many foreigners during the last school year that would come to this place, because it is the only bar in the city, and they had all been teachers at the number one middle school or elsewhere in Liuyang. I showed him the list of bars I had found on Google and he told me none of them exist. I have yet to verify that….
Anyway, as the night wore on, lots more people came in and started dancing as they got more intoxicated (as it usually happens…) Then everyone got off the dancefloor and someone in some skimpy clothing came out with a chair and started to do a burlesque pole/chair dance. Only half way through did I realise it was a man. He sure was a good dancer though. It kind of brought me back to that time in Taiwan when Rotary brought all the exchange students to see a native dancing show, and half way through we realised all the men were women and all the women were men. Oh China…
Saturday was another lay around day, waiting for the next meal, being lazy in between. It was really hot until a massive thunderstorm came rolling in. It was super windy and since everything is open, my clothes went whipping off their drying hangers in the kitchen, and you could hear doors opening and slamming all over campus, along with everything rattling. The sky opened up and there were huge raindrops that soaked everything in a few seconds. After that passed, I went to dinner and me and Craig decided to go into town again to do more exploring. We walked around a lot, found some alley ways and some other stuff then went home around 10.
Today I woke up and the weather was really nice. It was cloudy and almost chilly outside. After lunch, I decided I would go into town early in the afternoon because it wasn’t hot so it would be plausible to walk around without getting soaked with sweat and burned. I asked Craig if he wanted to come, so we took a taxi from the school into town and walked around for at least 4 hours. I finally found some stuff I had been needing, all for very cheap. I got a bag (got tired of carrying everything in my pockets and hands every time I went out), USB key and an E-1 string for my bouzouki, and a bunch of juice. I keep thinking I’m spending a lot here, but then I do the calculations and find out it’s almost nothing.
Anyhow, that brings everything up to right now…..
I start classes this week, though I have still heard nothing. I’m starting a few intro class lesson plans. We’ll see how that goes….Also I might be going back to Changsha in the next few weekends since Katie, one of the teachers is going to be there.
I’ll write about my first few classes as soon as they happen!!
Oh! and P.S. I wanted to thank everyone who came to my going away party. There are postcards in the mail to you, but the post office said they would take a month at least….I didn’t forget about you!!