Merry Christmas and a Chinese New Year

Happy Year of the Snake everyone! Sorry I’ve been neglecting this blog. I’ve been here over two months now so I guess I’d better make another post.

School Days

Having got myself a job as an English conversation teacher (seeing as I’ve now got my work visa, I can finally talk about this), the majority of my time so far has been spent getting used to life in a Chinese primary school. This has involved doing a lot of things that I thought I’d left behind after leaving school myself: colouring in, writing with chalk, attending a school sports day, using a disconcertingly short urinal. It’s been a great experience so far, if not a little strange. I get my own office cubicle and a two hour lunch, but I’m also tasked with trying to control and teach English to classes of 45 8-12 year olds, who struggle with my accent (and pronounce my name ‘Alice’), at least 3 times a day; and as much as I like Chinese food, Chinese school dinners suck arse.

The sports day was great; brilliant weather (I don’t think it’s dropped below 15C since my second week and hardly a drop of rain, hope the snow hasn’t been too bad), the kids were really excited and into it, and two days of no teaching. However, no egg and spoon or sack races for the children of the People’s Republic; it seems that the 2008 Olympics has had a serious impact on China, with the primary schoolers competing in athletic events such as long jump, high jump, and recording 100m and 400m lap times that would frankly put me to shame (too many dim sums).

DSCN0183     DSCN0207

Christmas in China

One downside to being out here was missing Christmas back home. This wouldn’t have been so bad had I not been in a country that doesn’t recognise Christmas as a public holiday. Whilst they buy into the novelties and commercial side of it (i.e. the parts I hate), they don’t however take any time off for it (the part that I enjoy). So here’s a round up of how Christmas day 2012 went for me in China: 7:30am I woke up and tucked into a breakfast of noodles and bread at the school canteen. I then went to my office and change into the Santa Claus outfit that I was given by the school and told that I would have to wear all day. At 8:30am I stood at the school gates, dressed in an ill fitting Santa Claus, and welcome the kids as they arrive at the school. I then proceed to teach all of my classes in this suit, occasionally giving out small gifts from the school to the children. At lunch, I had a very festive plate of rice, sweet and sour pork and steamed vegetables. After lunch I was mobbed by a group of about 30 fourth graders and nearly brought to the ground as they fought to steal the sack of presents I had been handed to give out to the well behaved kids (the irony) – a Christmas mugging. The evening got a lot better as a group of teachers took me out for a meal followed by karaoke and lots of beer. If you haven’t experienced karaoke in Asia, then its quite a sight. You get a private room with plush furniture, plasma TVs, table service, and access to a buffet – a far cry from picking up a mic at the back of a pub. Safe to say my rendition of ‘Suspicious Minds’ went down a storm.  DSCN0247   IMG_1072   DSCN0245

New year’s eve sort of came and went. Surprisingly I had some time off for it, but no real plans. I ended up eating duck necks and getting drunk off 50p pints of Tsing Dao in this little cafe with a friend. I’ve had worst NYE nights.

IMG_0028

El Tsing Dao did flow…

Despite finding beer for 23p in my local supermarket, drinking alone in my flat on weekends got depressing very quickly. So I soon took to the streets of Shenzhen to see what this uber-modern city had to offer a thirsty Welshman, with mixed results. At night, basically every building here is lit up with garish LED lighting, making it look like a really shitty Vegas. But after a bit of exploring I found some pretty decent ex pat watering holes.

IMG_0016

My new ‘local’ – 7 subway stops away from my flat

So obviously there’s some stories. Going drinking with some Irish guys, and ending up waking in a massage chair of a hotel lobby with no memory of getting there was a highlight. One night in particular stands out though. Just before Christmas I went out for a few quiet ones at my local Irish bar (ran by a South African, staffed exclusively by Chinese), when the fairly empty bar suddenly gets swarmed by a huge group of drunk westerners and Chinese dressed in blue santa costumes and took over the bar with drinking games and general high-jinks. Somehow, this very drunk guy from Swansea picked up my accent and on discovering that I was a fellow Welshman threw me a spare santa costume (blue because it was sponsored by Tiger beer, a very fine Asian lager) and told me to join them; seeing that my night had so far consisted of talking to two middle aged American sales consultants (who I’m pretty sure, in hindsight, were out cruising), it didn’t take much convincing. Turns out they had a double-decker bus taking them around to different bars all over the city. Turned out to be a very messy night. As I read over this section, I realise that these stories sound far more boring than they actually were; seems I’ve lost my descriptive powers, but its getting late so fuck you.

IMG_0021

The only pieces of evidence I have from a truly incredible night

IMG_0022

No idea who this is

No idea who this is

IMG_0024

IMG_0025

Hong Kong and Chinese New Year

DSCN0326

After a brief visit back to the UK to get my work visa sorted, I decided to stop off in Hong Kong before heading back to Shenzhen. This proved more problematic than I hoped. I lost my wallet, like the mong that I am, at Doha airport (shithole) and the unhelpful slugs working for Qatar airways simply gave me an email address to contact lost and found. I’m still waiting for a reply. So a penniless 7 hour connection at Doha airport made for a very grumpy Welshman arriving at Hong Kong (I’d like to thank Joey and Simon Chan for helping me out when I arrived at HK, and most of all to Mam for wiring me some cash, saint), and to top it off neither my UK nor Chinese SIM cards worked in Hong Kong.

Nevertheless I set about making the most of the 4 days I spent there seeing the ‘real’ Hong Kong, taking the star ferry and walking through the market districts of Mong Kok, seeing live fish getting hacked to bits. Having some authentic dim sum in a sky high restaurant with great views of the City was brilliant. I enjoyed Hong Kong, not just because I like visiting places we used to own, but it had an exciting atmosphere to it, and its a good example of what China could, or is trying to, become – heavy Chinese/Cantonese influences paired with lots of modern expansion.

DSCN0348

A particular highlight was a mini Bristol Law reunion night out last Wednesday with Heather Argile and Wallis Rushforth. I’m sure Wallis’ blog (http://gfyhongkong.wordpress.com/) will give a more comprehensive account of the night, but from my point of view, 80p vodka mixers in a Wan Chai bar called Carnegie’s is definitely going to make a messy night. So much so that I have a vague memory of having roughly £20 pick-pocketed by some of ladies of the night who were trying to gain my custom as I was looking for a taxi back to my hotel. Safe to say my taxi driver wasn’t too pleased when I had nothing to give him on arrival to the hotel.

I arrived in Hong Kong on the eve of Chinese New Year. This was good in respect that I would be spending the major Chinese holiday in one of China’s biggest and most vibrant cities, but it also meant that everything was closed. I had a pretty good Chinese New Year though, and I think it’s a good holiday. I had some Chinese friends in Hong Kong, which meant that I got to see a traditional New Year’s celebration in a Chinese home. My favourite thing about CNY is that people who don’t know you give you money in little red pockets, you don’t get that at Christmas. This also helped out with the no wallet situation.

DSCN0314

That’s about all I can be bothered to do now. Well done for making it to the end. Its a pretty slapdash account of my last 3 months, and sorry its so awfully written, but I’ve learnt my lesson about neglecting my blog now, so I promise to be more diligent with it from now on. I’ve got a post coming up which deals with my general opinion on Asians which should be a cracker. Take it easy, enjoy the shit weather (it was 24C here yesterday), I’ll leave you with a picture of Jackie Chan’s palm prints. x

DSCN0372

P.S. If anyone is interested in having a Chinese adventure of their own, get in touch with me. My school is looking for another foreign English teacher. Good money, free accommodation, great way of traveling in Asia sustainably and even learn some of the language. Minimum requirements are a bachelor’s degree in any subject and having English as your native language (but if you’ve got any TEFL or TESL qualifications then that is even better!).

Advertisements

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao-tzu

So here I am. Four weeks weeks after receiving the news that I would be going to China for eight months, my journey has began, and I am writing my first post from the shining example of Chinese expansionism that is Shenzhen.

Apologies that it has taken so long for me to post anything, but I didn’t think that my battle with jet lag in the first week would make for very entertaining reading (or live up to the tag line: “Funny, compelling, and no holes barred…”). But as today marks two weeks since my arrival, I feel that I have something to write about.

Stepping off a plane full of Russians (all of whom seemed to know each other – on a BA flight, who’d have thought?) at Hong Kong airport, the drizzly conditions that met me didn’t fill me with the sort of excitement I hoped to have when starting my Asian adventure. Neither did crossing the border into the Mainland. If you want a good crossfit workout, I highly recommend carrying a 23kg rucksack and a 11kg holdall through Chinese border control. Safe to say I was glad to get into a taxi once I got into the People’s Republic.

Make of this what you will.

Make of this what you will.

The weather remained cloudy with outbreaks of cloud for much of my first two weeks in Shenzhen, and it was about 10 days until I got a glimpse of the sky. On my first weekend I got invited on a trip to the city He Yuan with my hosts, so I shook off the jet lag and packed my bags and headed for the home of Asia’s Tallest Fountain.

Aside from the fountain, there is very little in Heyuan, however we did visit the beautiful Wan Lu lake and it’s islands, which are genuinely stunning and worth seeing. A serene boat ride, spectacular scenery, and naturally beautiful islands. This is probably the highlight of the trip so far, and highly recommended for anyone visiting Guangdong Province.

 

DSCN0020DSCN0083DSCN0078

This was followed in the evening by a big Chinese dinner with a LOT of brandy and me being introduced to the concept of ‘Gan Bei’ – which, as every Chinese language student knows, means to literally empty your glass. So after downing more brandies than I care to mention, and still suffering from a bit of jet lag, I decided not to embarrass myself in front of my hosts in my first week with my karaoke skills (I have 8 months to do that), and had an early night, sorry everyone. This did however prove to be the first of many interesting dining experiences in China.

Now I was hoping to dispel some myths during my time in China, and admittedly I wasn’t greeted into the country by the sound of a crashing gong followed by pentatonic scales. But…well…I was served dog for lunch on the second day of the trip – or ‘traditional Chinese sheep’, as my hosts hilariously described it. I like Chinese food, especially out here; it’s so much nicer, all the ingredients are fresh and you get none of the crap they put into it in your average chow mein from the ‘Golden Dragon’ or ‘China Kitchen’ back home, so I’ve developed quite a taste for it and am keen to try more of the local grub. But apart from the thought of eating dog, the fact that it looks like fried turd when cooked, really doesn’t make it any more appealing. So I’ve had chicken’s feet (really popular out here, but nothing special really), I’ve had cow’s stomach, and I’ve had sun-dried fish, but I passed on the dog.

Right, that's lunch

Right, that’s lunch

Other than that, there isn’t much else to report really. It’s slowly becoming apparent that my Chinese wasn’t as good as I thought it was before coming out here. ‘Useful phrases’ aren’t actually of much use when you can’t understand the replies to them. I’ve been taking a look at some of the local points of interests, such as hiking Wu Tong mountain, and seeing Lian Hua Park, where I discovered that the Chinese are into kite flying in a big way, and are not particularly deterred by the lack of wind.

Wu Tong Mountain - 2 hours to get halfway, but the views were incredible.

   Wu Tong Mountain – 2 hours to get halfway, but the views were incredible.

DSCN0164

 

 

I’ll end this post with one of the most interesting discoveries of my time in Shenzhen, that a bottle of China’s finest lager, Tsingtao Beer, can be bought in a supermarket for the princely sum 29 pence. On that happy note, I’m going to bring this inaugural entry of the Dim Sum Diaries to an end. It will get better I promise, I just need to do more interesting things. Thanks for reading and enjoy the snow.

2.90 RMB = 29p. How is that even possible?

2.90 RMB = 29p. How is that even possible?