Month: November 2009

Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Thank You H1N1!

Hello everyone!! I haven’t made any posts in a while because time has been going so fast….November is already over! I had one half written on my computer, but as I was writing, the power shut off for the third time that day, and so I gave up for the time being. Anyway, this time around I’ve made two posts. So this is my most recent post, the older one is under this one.
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Last Monday I taught two of my third grade classes in the morning and then went to lunch. About half way through lunch there was an announcement and all the students started jumping up and down and screaming. I tried to ask them what it was all about, but they were too excited to talk slowly. It took me about an hour to find out what all the happiness was about: school had been canceled for 8 days due to some students potentially having swine flu. The week before there had already been about 3 quarantined classes, but they would eat first in the cafeteria, spreading their germs all over everything for the healthy kids to slurp up when they come eat afterward. As soon as I heard that we had a week off, I started thinking of places to go…
Anyway, by the time all the students had been sent home, I was ready to hop on the bus to Changsha to catch a train to Shenzhen, which borders on Hong Kong. My Mongolian friend (Byambaa) who I met in Beijing during the October holiday was down in Hong Kong with a friend of his (Gankhulug) from Ulaanbaatar. He was renewing his Chinese visa in Hong Kong, and said they would come meet me in Shenzhen when I got there. When I got to Changsha round 7pm I ran to the ticket office and bought the first train out of there, which would arrive in Shenzhen at 7 the next morning. It was a sleeper train, so I just slept the whole way, nothing too exciting.
The train was about an hour late coming into the station, and I was supposed to meet Byambaa around noon, so it was fine. I got out of the train and wandered around for a while, trying to figure out where exactly we were supposed to meet. My cell phone doesn’t work outside of Hunan, so I went to China Mobile to try to fix that, with no luck, so I bought a phone card and used the payphone to call and find out where I was supposed to be. I had a few hours to kill before I was going to meet them, so I went to find a bank, and ended up walking all around part of the downtown.
Around 1pm, Byambaa and Gankhulug arrived from Hong Kong and we met at a McDonald’s behind the giant ‘Shangri-La Hotel’ next to the train station. After that we went to find a place to stay, which isn’t to hard because there are high rises behind the Shangri-La Hotel that are full of independent hotels with about 15 rooms each, two hotels to a floor. They are all in competition with each other so they are pretty clean and cheap. We found a room with a few beds for about 120rmb a night, and put our stuff down and went to find some noodles for lunch.
People and had told me that Shenzhen was dangerous and dirty, but when I went there I found out it was clean and modern, with police around making sure nothing bad was going on. Actually later that evening when we were walking around, there were a group of police that came up to me and Byambaa and Gankhulug, asking them if they were Chinese, and where my passport was. Apparently we are supposed to carry our passport on us at all times. None of us had ours with us at the time, and the police were looking all menacing till I Chinesed our way out of the situation. Byambaa and Gankhulug speak a little Chinese, so I did most of the talking. I think the police were a little weirded out that the white girl was doing the talking, but it worked and they softened up and didn’t fine us for having no passports on us and we could barely remember the name of our hotel!
I was in Shenzhen from Tuesday until Thursday morning, and just spend it walking around a lot and eating food and sleeping. On Wednesday night we went to meet some of Byambaa’s Mongolian friends who live in Shenzhen (or HK, not sure..). We met them outside our hotel and I was scared of them at first because they seemed like some hardcore, big gruff Mongolian gangsters, but after hanging around with them for a bit, they turned out to be not that scary. We went down into a playground below the hotel and had some beers and chatted for a while. Well, I can’t speak Mongolian, so I did more listening than talking. The two gangster guys ended up not being so scary to me, mainly because they asked me with wide, eager eyes, what was my advice on how to get a foreign girlfriend. I said, be yourself, smile, learn some vital English words and don’t act scary.
The next morning Byambaa and Gankhulug had to go back to Hong Kong to arrange some business, so I decided to hang around the train station and decided where to go next. Eventually I decided I would go to Guangzhou which is right near-by. I could have taken the train, but I decided to take the bus so I could see more of the scenery at a slower pace and also to save some money. I caught the bus for 60RMB, passed tons and tons of banana farms and smoke stacks, finally arriving at Guangzhou’s train station bus terminal about two hours later. I had nowhere to stay, so I decided to go to Shamian island, where I had stayed during Em and Han’s adoption trips. I wasn’t going to stay at the White Swan hotel, obviously since it is 5 star, and way too fancy, but there is a small youth hostel right across the street that I heard had a few dorm beds for cheap. When I got there, they said they had plenty of beds to my relief, so I paid for two nights and went and put my stuff down. I was starving, so I went off the island to go see if I could find a noodle place, or the place where I had eaten with some friends in Guangzhou in 2006. The streets were all still the same looking, but they were all so twisty and turny and covered in grime and fish and medicine vendor’s, I got a little lost. Finally I just grabbed a taxi to get to the Shangxiajiu walking street to see what I could find. In a little alley I finally found a noodle place and devoured that, while being stared at and commented on by the staff. I quickly left there and went to find some jeans. (impossible to find ones that fit me in Liuyang). Since Guangzhou is a major wholesale clothing hub, and lots of clothing manufacturing plants are based in Guangdong province, everything is amazingly cheap. I found some jeans, and by then I was pretty tired from a day of traveling and walking, so I went back to the hostel.
I stopped by 7-11 and got a Pearl River Beer, which I went to drink it by the Pearl River, and had a conversation with an old man who was there promoting audio equipment for a company in Zhengzhou. I couldn’t really understand what the audio equipment was that he was talking about, some kind of box. He tried to get me to go back to where he was staying and take a look, but something told me I probably shouldn’t follow him into the dark streets. As soon as I finished my beer I went to walk back to the hostel and outside the 7-11 there were some foreigners and Chinese sitting around a table. One of them called out for me to come sit down and have a beer with them, so I figured I would since it was still a little early to go to sleep. I ended up talking with them for a while, found out the foreigners were Polish wholesalers who came and stayed in Guangzhou going to the big markets to find products to bring back to Poland. One was a clothing and shoe buyer and one was a jewelry and stone buyer. The other guy I’m not really sure what he did, just that he lives in Guangzhou and Beijing. One of the Chinese there was named ‘Tony Macaroni’ and works for a shipment company, and he often helps the Polish guys ship their stuff back to Poland. The other Chinese guy was hanging around to learn English, but I don’t know how good that was for him because they were all speaking Polish mostly, or English with an extremely strong accent.
The next day I went to the train station to buy a train ticket for Saturday morning to go back to Changsha, and hung around the train station for a while and went to check out the wholesale markets. They were jam packed with big buyers, and people just shopping for single items. There were hundreds and hundreds of tiny booths, some selling a lot of the exact same things. It was pretty overwhelming, but cool to see where a lot of the things in western stores come from, and how cheap they are here in comparison to the west!
After that I had heard there was a park down the street, so I walked for a while to go check it out. It was a nice park with lakes, koi fish and flowers and bamboo everywhere, and it was refreshing to be able to walk around somewhere nice and green in warm weather. When I got to the opposite gate of the park, I looked across the street and saw a huge crowd of Chinese Muslims and tons of vendors and steam rising from the booths all the way up a long street. I went to go walk around there, and had some really good kebab and sweet potato dumplings. I almost bought what I thought was a nice wall hanging, but then I realized it was a prayer mat, not a wall hanging. A super-white, bare-headed, blue-eyed girl in a low-cut shirt buying a prayer mat might not have been such a good idea.
After that I rode the subway back to Shamian island and took a short nap and went on the computer. The night before the Polish people had invited me to go to the fish market with them for dinner around 7pm that day, so I met them out front of the hostel to go get some food. We went to the fish market, which was a giant wet place with zillions of small booths full of every kind of sea-food you can imagine, as well as some sliced-up crocodiles and giant clams. The guy named Artur had done this many times before, so he bargained and got about four bags of live fish and prawns and shellfish. We took the bags into this tall building full of restaurants in the market where you can bring your freshly bought food and have them cook it for you. There was a wedding on the first floor so they brought us to the roof to sit at a table and eat.
The food was amazingly good and I had crab for the first time and all sorts of other strange dishes, and the biggest shrimp I’ve ever eaten. I was pretty full after that, and lucked out because the guy Artur said he would treat us all to the dinner. Free, amazing tasty food! Nothing beats that….
After that the old pot-bellied Polish guy went to get a giant bottle of vodka which they went outside of 7-11 to drink again, so I joined them, but stuck with beer since vodka is a little to strong for me…
In the hostel I met some more people in my dorm room at the hostel from France and Belgium, who I invited outside to the 7-11 table, and then after that we all decided to go to a ‘Chinese-Disco’. I had found one on the internet that I wanted to go look at, but it turned out to be very small and empty, so the big pot-bellied man said ‘Za big disco, we go!’, so we went. It turned out to be enormous and completely full of people from the middle east, Pakistan, India, and all over Africa. There were almost no Chinese in the entire crowd, and all the music was Arabic music, and everyone doing that shoulder shaking dance. There were belly dancers that came out and danced around as well. It was actually really fun, and the whole group of us left the place around 5am.
I guess I had been awfully tired when I got back to the hostel, because when I woke up the next morning and I saw my clock, it said 11am. My train had left two hours before! I jumped out of bed and grabbed my bags, and woke up Thomas, the Belgian guy across the room, who also had to go to the train station, and ran to catch a cab to the train station to see if I could catch the next train. When I got there, I could only get a ticket for 14h35pm, and I was not able to get a refund on my previous ticket. 116RMB down the drain!! Needless to say…next time I have to catch a train and I plan on going out at night, I will set my alarm before I leave…..
When I finally got back to Changsha, I went to Freedom House because my friend Gaofeng had told me there was some good music playing that night, and there was a cheap hotel across the street. I got in at 11pm and went over there. The place was empty, but the music was good and there is a girl named Little 7 who made us some hot milk tea, and some guys who were having a drawing jam, or basically taking turns drawing on the same piece of paper, adding a little each time and then trading off. I added a little too, and in the end it was a really neat drawing!
The next day I just went to eat lunch, then hopped on the bus home. I was exhausted by the time I got back and went to sleep really early.
School won’t open for classes until Wednesday, so I have one more day to relax and plan lessons. An unexpected vacation is a great thing!!! I am totally refreshed and ready to teach like crazy until Spring Festival in February!!

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Halloween, Bike, Music in Changsha

The few days before Halloween were going to be exam days, which if I was teaching in a high school, I would get almost a whole week off. Since I teach primary, the kids only have exams in the morning, lucky for them but not for me! After my last class of first grade that Friday, I went downtown with Craig to translate for him while he bought a motorcycle. When that was done with, he rode back, and I rode home on the back of the salesman’s bike. That was pretty fun, sitting on a tiny stool on the street with some tobacco-chewing, grease covered old guys trying to figure out a deal, and get the motorcycle ready to go.
The next day was Halloween, and some friends in Changsha had invited me and Craig to go to a party at their apartment. I threw together a pirate costume with some stuff I somehow had laying around, then went downtown to go catch the bus to Changsha. Craig had to pick up some costume stuff so we walked around for a while. On the walking street this toothless guy came up to me, saying something really excitedly and laughing his head off. I kept saying ‘what, what? What are you talking about?’ because I thought he said someone had died. I looked to where he was pointing and realized that it was indeed true….there was someone laying on the side of the street under some dirty blankets and newspapers who was indeed stone cold dead. There were a lot of people just standing around, smoking, watching and pointing, and there was a stoic old guy with a paunch and a white t-shirt tucked into his dress pants guarding the body. I kind of stared in horror then got away as fast as I could. I’ve never really seen a dead person before, so it was a little unsettling.
After that, while walking to the bus station, there were three monkeys on a rope with a guy telling them to do things, like throw a ball in a hoop or do flips. The monkey’s weren’t having it, and I didn’t stick around to see if it was part of the act or not. I was a little worried about the monkeys since they looked pretty mangy, but the guy did too.
When we got to Changsha we went to find Michaela’s house, where the Halloween party was. We got a little lost and there was a Chinese Muslim guy selling bbq on the street cornere, so I asked him where to go. He said he wasn’t sure where the school was, but ‘there sure where a bunch of people that looked like you going that way’ he said, pointing across the street. I thought it was hilarious the way he said it, and usually I might be a little uncomfortable about the statement, but since he looks different too I thought it was pretty funny.
Michaela is part of the group of World Teach teachers in Changsha, so a lot of them were there. It was a fun time, and so strange at first to be in a house full of foreigners. I forgot I was in China for a bit and thought I was back in Montreal! After a while we all decided to go out to a bar in the city called 4698. ‘98’ in Chinese sounds like ‘jiu ba’ which is also the word for ‘bar’. While there I ran into my bosses, Patrick and Ping! It was a huge coincidence because Yangshuo is 10 hours away and the bar we were in was a tiny place in a back alley. They were just in town because Ping’s father was sick and they decided to go out for Halloween! I made some Chinese friends that night, and one of them named Jinbao invited me to come back in a few weekends to go to an electronic music show that was happening at another place called ‘Freedom House’.
When I got home on Sunday that weekend, I decided to finally go get the bike fixed that has been sitting in one of my empty rooms since I got here. It was missing a pedal, the tires were flat and the seat was way too high. There is a motorcycle repair shop down the road next to the little store I go to a lot. I decided I would bring the bike down there and the guy could do something to fix the it. The shop is completely covered floor to ceiling in black grease, as well as everything in the store and the guy who works there. When I brought it down, he pumped up the tires and lowered the seat successfully, while I held onto the bike. Then he took a look at the pedal and went to get a sledge hammer….I was a little nervous about that, since a sledge hammer didn’t really seem like appropriate tool. But he put the pedal where it was supposed to go, whacked it a few times, and sent me on my way. About 10 minutes later, after I decided to take a small countryside road back, the pedal loosened and fell completely off. I tried to use the same trick as the guy, with a big rock, and 10 minutes later it fell off again. After that I figured I just had to get back to the school and forget about a bike ride that day.. Since then I haven’t gotten the bike fixed, since its gotten really cold, but maybe there is a real bike repair shop in town!
The next weekend I didn’t do anything except go into town a few times, and those past two weeks went pretty smoothly and normally. The first week my bad classes were exceptionally good. The next week, however, the classes were just as crazy again. I think it was because that week from Sunday on, I started feeling feverish and sick, but I didn’t realize that having chills meant I had a fever, so I kept going to class and putting more layers on, and tiring myself out. By Wednesday I had a full blown fever, and luckily all my classes finished by lunch time, so I had the whole afternoon off. That night I went to the nurse’s office at the school and ask for some medicine. She gave me tons and tons, all of which I was supposed to take within the two days. Four pills and one vial of brown liquid, three times a day. I wasn’t sure what any of the medicine did, but it helped me feel a little better and made my headache go away so I was able to teach. By Friday night I was feeling a little better, and Craig had gone to Changsha. I had decided to stay home and rest a little more before the next day. On Saturday night was that show at Freedom house that Jinbao was telling me about. It was a Chinese ambient music artist from Beijing named Me:mo, who is apparently renowned in the Chinese music scene. I got there a little late because I was debating whether or not to go since I had no place to stay that night. I decided to just wing it and see if I could meet someone that had a couch, or maybe find Craig and the group of World Teach teachers. Their phones were off when I got there, so I went to this place called Folk Bar where they are a lot, and the bartender Jimmy knows a lot of them. He helped me out and gave them a call, and I went to meet them for dinner not too far away. Later I went to Freedom house and listened to the tail end of Me:mo’s show, then Jinbao invited me to go with him, his girlfriend, Me:mo and Gaofeng and the boss of Freedom house. We went to get really tasty noodles, and I learned some stuff about Beijing from Memo, which is exciting since I’m going to live there next year. After that I saw the group of world teach teachers again on the street and they were going somewhere else downtown, so I followed them. We went into a club and stayed for a while, then after about an hour, I turned around from talking to someone and they were all gone. I panicked a little since I had no where to stay that night, and the next bus back to Liuyang was at 6am, but I made a few phone calls and finally found a place to stay on a teacher’s couch. The next morning I met up with Craig and we went to eat some tasty, real pizza with real cheese and everything, then he went back to Liuyang and I went to have another lunch at my Turkish friend’s house, who I met on Halloween. He had made homemade bread and a homey-tasting soup that kind of had a Memere-soup flavor, and I had Turkish coffee and some olives. I almost forgot I was in China!!
Earlier in that day Gaofeng had called me to see what I was doing, and if I wanted to come eat dinner with the group of them again, so I said yes even though I was getting to be extremely full from my two lunches. We went to have some food at a restaurant that looks like a tiny door in the wall, but when you go in, the boss leads you through a maze of small rooms full of tables, to a free one. Our table was in the back of the restaurant and we must have gone around fifteen corners and passageways to get there, and this restaurant was jam packed! It was famous for its frog dishes, so we got some and it was wonderfully tasty. I ate some even though I had no room left.
I had to catch the last bus to Liuyang at 8pm, but then Gaofeng told me there was a Uyghur (western Chinese minority group from Xinjiang) folk music show at Freedom House that night, and he said I could stay in his family’s house if I had no where to stay, so I agreed. Also, there was no school that Monday because of a teacher’s meeting.
The music was great, and the instruments where really cool and not like anything I had ever seen. It turns out that a few people there could do throat-singing, including Gaofeng. He was trying to explain to me how to do it, but it seems pretty difficult! Throat singing is from Tibet, Xinjiang and Mongolia, and they are all slightly different.
Anyway, it was a great night and the next day I just went home to rest up and plan my week’s lessons.
That week was normal for teaching as well. I wish I could say more about teaching, but it’s really monotonous and doesn’t change much. I have to teach from the books, but the books aren’t so interesting. I try to include interesting pictures so I can talk about American culture a little bit, and some songs for the young grades. I guess I’m still learning but I’ve officially decided next year I will be teaching high school!!
That weekend I stayed at home then taught for one day on Monday. That pretty much brings everything up to the next entry!!