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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hong Kong and Chinese New Year
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.
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.
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
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!).