Last week in Yihuang and unpleasant times in Nanchang
So, I'm back from travelling and my October holiday now but I'm going to cast my mind back to a couple of weeks ago and continue from when the girls left. Not much happened in the week after their visit, just teaching and stuff. Oh, I did manage to break the sink, oops, but that was the about the highlight of the week. All I did was lean on it and it came away from the wall! Luckily it still works perfectly so we've just balanced it back on and it can be added to the list of things in the bathroom that should never be touched. This list now includes pretty much everything after the shelf came away from the wall, Rob broke the towel rail (and cat broke it again after we fixed it), I broke the pipe lever thing (again, cat broke that one twice as well) and I also broke the sink. For these reasons we do our best to not touch a thing in the bathroom and make it through the year without breaking anything else (to be honest, I'm fairly sure that everything that was bound to break has now done it of it's own accord so we should be fairly safe). That week also saw me lock rob in the house again one afternoon and so had to leave one lesson ten minutes early to let him out so we could both get back for our final lessons. It's around this time as well that one of the other English teachers started calling me 'ladykiller' after one of her classes told her I was exactly that. The classes go through dictionaries or look online to find an English word to tell their Chinese teachers and that has been the best one yet haha. Class 13 come second best (64 kids but only 10 boys - they tire me out) after discovering the word 'sexy' on google so shout 'you are so sexy' everytime I tried to write on the blackboard... after I tried and failed to explain they shouldn't be shouting that in class they resorted to 'you are so cute' and after the lesson when I staggered to my desk to recover I was followed and spent the 20 minutes of break with 12 very loud Chinese girls explaining my entire lesson in painful detail to ivy. All of my classes have other English lessons (I teach spoken English and the other teachers do reading and writing) which means that I'm constantly regaled with the classes latest thoughts on my lessons/appearance which has the senior two office laughing. Unfortunately most of it's related in Chinese and they often refuse to translate it for me - ever so slightly paranoid... Ivy bought some uno cards so I taught another teacher how to play and they say they'll teach me Chinese games when I return. We then spent the last couple of days packing and on Friday we left school at midday to begin our epic journey.
Our epic journey started in the rain, in the most rickety tuc tuc thing I've ever seen, it was literally falling to pieces. We needed it though to get us and our kit to the bus station and this meant my bergen hanging out the door with me hanging onto one strap and a bit too close for comfort with rob. Somehow he made it up the slight incline to the bridge without the engine burning out and then we went into the bus station where our attempts to buy a ticket in Chinese weren't understood (I think they were understood but just ignored) by a grumpy man so we resorted to pointing at buses and saying 'chongren' to an excitable old woman that worked there who helped us out. She got us onto one bus where we'd just stowed our kit and got comfy where she jumped back on with amazing vitality for her age shouting at us to follow her. Full of hopeful trust we did and she took us to the other chongren bus that was just leaving. This bus seemed alright... we got seats at the back, for china it wasn't bad quality and there were even a couple of spare seats. Apparently leaving the bus station meant nothing because as the bus jerked it's way down the street plenty of people crammed their way on until the bus doors had to be pushed shut. We were just glad to have seats. The hour and a half journey was greatly improved by the woman in front of us who whiled away the time by vigorously throwing up out of the window, the wretching sounds were almost musical. We then discovered that this bus was the bumpiest bus on the entire planet. On a number of occasions rob and I actually gained air and spent a split second in packed suspension before being smashed down on the hard seats; what's not to enjoy? The roads were of a quality where the driver had to slow almost to a standstill before throwing the bus into another pothole. If you shut your eyes and let your mind wander it was like being on a rush hour tube train (but with more interesting smells and sounds) then thrown off a cliff. Needless to say, I kept my eyes open. The bus drivers here must be trained to an extremely high standard though; they manage to traverse this terrain of bouncy fun while on their phone, smoking a cigarette, talking to the woman behind them and staring for unnervingly long amounts of time at the white people in the rear-view mirror. We're even more interesting than watching out for the next crevasse to throw a bus full of people down. Anyway, we arrived safely in chongren, slightly bruised but pleased to see beth and cat again (it has been 4 whole days after all).
We were shown around Beth and Cat's apartment which, at first sight does look better than ours. Admittedly having a bigger kitchen with more stuff, a flat screen tv, a study each and an en suite each with two showers and two western toilets plus wi-fi does have a slight edge. However, we decided that their's was a nice house BUT ours was a home. We were also pretty smug when we found that Cat's bedroom doesn't even get wi-fi and has since leaked in a thunderstorm haha. Also, when we returned from our travels it was to discover that their precious wi-fi wasn't working, both of their western toilets had broken and that small bit of damp in the corner of the living room had spread across the pristine white wall and down the back of the sofa leaving a pleasant smell to return to after tiring travels... what a shame! We might have been more sympathetic had they not tried to rub their house in our faces a matter of weeks ago. Mrs Mung then arrived to bring some life to the party, she walked in, said 'hi rob' then demanded where I was and when I walked through the door gave me a hug. Slight favouritism here and I wish she had chosen rob instead. It turns out that in my absence, between visits, beth and cat had been absolutely hilarious and told mrs mung how much I liked her. When I tried to explain the concept of their joke to the poor, deluded Chinese teacher she responded with 'they weren't joking, I know these things.' Wow. Thanks girls. After visiting her house to eat a dragon fruit each we visited two of her classes where an adorable Chinese girl serenaded beth and I with 'I will love you for a thousand years.' Then, we were taken for a banquet in their school where mrs mung was disappointed with our lack of enthusiasm and wanted us to drink more and go to KTV. She took a lot of dissuading and seemed to have forgotten that we were catching a train at stupid o' clock in the morning. Anyway, we managed to escape her clutches and rob and I went back to our hotel (we can't stay in their house because it's on school grounds and in a girl's dormitory section). It was here that I had my second hot shower since I arrived in china (I'm not counting my very first one because after 30 seconds it cut to freezing again which, if anything, was worse than your normal cold shower.) Then we set alarms for 04:30 and got some sleep. We emerged into the blackness of a Chinese morning then got a lift to the train station. We grabbed breakfast and beth, rob and I really fancied bowzas. However, in her infinite wisdom cat ordered four bowls of noodles which we partially ate while moaning through mouthfuls of something which shouldn't be eaten for breakfast. After purchasing tickets to Nanchang (our provincial capital) we barged our way onto a proper old fashioned carriage which seems to be standard for local trains here and managed to get 4 seats around a table. It was here that we passed 4 hours staring out the window at dreary rain soaked fields and it was also here that beth and I found a Chinese child that we've unofficially adopted! She kept poking her head over the back of the seat and giggling at us so we named her cheeky. Cheeky took a shine to beth and wasn't impressed with cat or rob's attempts to play with her but for some reason she appeared to like me. After getting some photos we arrived in Nanchang, we hauled our bags off the train and said goodbye to cheeky.
We dumped our bags in a deposit place in the station and it was here that one of my more unpleasant experiences of china occurred. We all decided to use the loos in the station (squat toilets of course) and without going into too much detail, I irritated a cleaner by bleeding all over her newly cleaned floor (let's be honest here, it was half heartedly mopped and wasn't remotely clean but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt). Anyway due to the size of the cubicle I was pretty much jammed in when I got a random nose bleed, it was properly streaming with no sign of stopping and I reckon it was actually caused by the smell. Anyway, since I literally couldn't move my arms as they were jammed in I had to battle with not falling into the squat toilet. After I'd finally sorted myself out I found that the cleaner had returned and blocked me in with her wheelie bucket. When I was finally able to emerge the cleaner and I exchanged a look that was apologetic on my side and full of despair on hers. She looked at the blood filled, just been cleaned cubicle, rolled her eyes and picked up her mop with an air of resignation while I went to find a better place to bleed. This was how I came to be hunched over a sink when beth came to find me (for the record, she immediately screamed and ran shouting at cat for tissues). After a while, under beth's expert sympathy/laughing at me routine, the nosebleed started to end just as the cleaner returned... She seemed to have perked up a bit and started running her hands under the cold tap and slapping me on the back of the neck. Assuming she was taking revenge at me messing up her cubicle and due to the fact I was extremely bored of staring at a filthy Chinese sink filled with my blood I let her get on with it. She told beth it would stop the nose bleed and because beth is such a caring person she joined in with much enthusiasm. You might remember that the cleaner returned just as my nosebleed was stopping anyway and when it did she looked delighted and clapped a few times. Arriving at the right time now means the poor woman now thinks slapping someone on the back of the neck will stop a nosebleed! I feel sorry for the next poor soul that falls victim in her presence.
So, it would appear Nanchang didn't begin too well - it was about to get far worse... We needed to get train tickets from Lanzhou to Xi'an and in China you need to book tickets at a station which Yihuang doesn't have and you must also wait until 10 days in advance. Feeling drained of all my blood, Beth and I went off in search of Rob and Cat who had gone to get in line for train tickets. We found them in a reasonably long queue and began waiting. After quite a while the line stopped moving and we assumed some annoying person was taking their time. Then we noticed that the female worker had actually vanished. We stood, and stood, and stood, along with a line of Chinese people who didn't appear too bothered. We were getting pretty restless when she finally reappeared and it turned out she'd casually taken a half hour break. None of were too pleased when we finally reached the front of the queue and she didn't improve our moods by just saying no and pointing to her left. She continued to stare at her computer screen and refused to acknowledge our presence so we left cursing the grumpy woman. After going and asking for Xi'an tickets at the queues on either side to find out where we should actually be queuing we walked outside in despair. It was here that we found another ticket office queue and this was one made the last one look like sheer luxury. The one we'd just emerged grumpily from was comparatively roomy with only three almost spaced out queues and a half decent building. This place was the train station hub, by which I mean it was a warehouse filled with a huge crowd of people supposedly organised into over 20 ticket queues. The temperature and humidity was like being crammed into a warehouse with a few thousand other people...oh wait that is exactly what was happening. We found the correct queue and after checking with the people on either side of us began to wait. Beth and cat ended up on the floor and after some time we started to take shifts in the warehouse queue with two staying, the other two going to replenish their oxygen supply. On the upside, when we arrived they grabbed an English speaking worker and we finally had our tickets, in hindsight Xi'an was worth queuing for over three hours but at the time we weren't particularly thrilled.
This is only up to midday on the 22nd of september and my next blog will be more cheerful because the afternoon went well and then we got the train to Lanzhou for the language course!