I never gave celebrities any credit before but it is damn hard work. Every time we leave the apartment it's like stepping into a glaring spotlight where everyone stares at you all the time. The novelty hasn't worn off yet though and I manage to conjure a smile (if a little pained by Friday afternoon) for every student and cheerfully say something in Chinese to everyone I meet, they absolutely love it. It's also fun to just walk around and say hello to anyone that walks past and watch them either be amazed and shout 'HELLO' back, blush and look very embarrassed, or (if in a group of students) fall apart in fits of giggles. The odd person has completely ignored me and I've since found out that one had mental problems, one was deaf and the others are old so don't understand Mandarin only the local dialect which we're not even going to start trying to learn...
I have some free time to write this because I'm off school ill for the day. Woke up feeling awful and was ill 4 times so Rob left for school and I rang to say I was sick. Within an hour I had Mrs Huang (a school leader who is an English teacher so often looks after us and translates), Mrs Tong (the school secretary), Mr Luo (the headmaster?!) and a driver round my apartment with bags of fruit and a billion questions. They look after us so so well and they're really nice but Chinese people can get slightly annoying. It takes an awful lot of patience to continue to smile and politely decline the various things they think you need but you really don't want (like food, they think food is the answer to everything and constantly try to feed us). All i wanted to do was go to bed and take some tablets from my first aid kit but eventually I was practically manhandled out of the flat and driven to the hospital. Chinese hospitals are slightly different to ones in Britain... It was very dark and crowded with various people who were either worse for wear or very busy. They took me into a room which had a big table around which 8-10 doctors were sat either doing paperwork or treating a patient. As with everywhere else in China it appears to be perfectly acceptable to smoke in a hospital and I don't think the haze in the room was helping the old man in the corner's cough. Anyway, they asked me a billion more questions then left a thermometer up my rectum for ages while they jabbered in Chinese and for some reason also checked the headmaster's and Mrs. huang's blood pressure just because they asked for it. They sat there with smiles like it was a massive treat and they couldn't think of anything they'd rather be doing than smiling at my vulnerable figure with a blood pressure thing wrapped around their arm. Then they took me to a rickety bed and checked my throat, listened to my heart and lungs then a fat doctor prodded me everywhere while two nurses arrived at either side trying to stick another thermometer in my rectum and use my other arm for blood pressure again. It took a lot to explain the doctor had already done it which everyone else in the room seemed to have forgotten. Eventually the doctor concluded that it was 'nothing serious' and I should 'rest and drink water' which is the exact conclusion I'd come to two hours earlier. Every student I've met is studying day and night to be a doctor but to be honest I reckon I've got this Chinese doctor thing nailed already. I forgot to mention but of course all the doors down the corridor were left open for everyone to see (they actually shut one door when a Chinese woman went in so I guess privacy is sometimes needed). This meant various patients and nurses came to stare at me and when I walked out an open fronted room of about 20 nurses went silent and one dropped her cup when I sauntered through before hushed giggles resumed as I left - I don't think a 6 foot plus alien has visited Yihuang hospital before.
My first week of teaching went really well though although doing 17 lessons the same gets slightly tedious by Friday. I basically did an introduction lesson with basic questions and answers so they knew who I was, where I was from and my hobbies then picked on a few students to answer the same questions for me. Then I let them ask me questions about me and England and the inevitable questions in every class were 'how high are you,' do you have girlfriend,' do you like Chinese food' and 'can you sing song.' They all absolutely loved seeing pictures of friends and family on my tablet and I got cheers for every song I sang, they're fairly easily pleased! Every time I turned away they all tried to take photos of me subtly but they weren't actually subtle at all so to stop them doing it in class I let them take photos with me at the end which, of course, they loved. This week the proper lessons have started and Rob and I have both kicked off with sports to tie in with the Olympics. I teach them vocabulary and pronunciation with a charades style conversation of 'what's your favourite sport' (it takes some effort to get something other than basketball or ping pong out of them). Then depending on the class' level I do nouns and verbs and different tenses for saying different sentences then lighten it up at the end with hangman to see how many sports they remember and if they can spell it; so far it's going well!
Last weekend was pretty good, on the Saturday me and Rob did a couple of hours of housework in the morning (our apartment was spotless!) then went for a bike ride to a student's house for a meal (this is perfectly normal in china by the way). He asked us for an an English name and I wanted to call him Kermit because he sound a bit like Kermit the frog when he speaks English but it emerged his English name is actually peter. Anyway, peter took us to his tiny, tiny village with his friend (his friend's English name is 'money' because if you have money you can do so much haha) to eat with his family and we had a lush meal with plenty of meat. Then he showed us his middle school about 2 miles away and on the way picked another Chinese girl (jane) who then took us further from yihuang to see a bridge and the river. The scenery here was beautiful and we had a pretty good time biking round in the sun before heading home. We made it back for 8 and we left at just before 3!
Sunday was just as good and after going shopping and realising just how hot it was me and Rob decided to return to the mountain lake we found while on our bike ride. It was further than we remembered for our burning leg muscles and up a hill but it was worth it. Yesterday it had been filled with Chinese families but today everyone was at school or work so we had the place to ourselves and it was pretty surreal to float and stare at green mountains in the sunlight, the water was almost bath temperature! We returned home just as it started raining (we're in the monsoon season here which means the beautiful weather is regularly punctuated by epic storms) and we spent a good half an hour sitting by the window watching the street below flash flood. The storm was mental and rolling off the mountains so fast. The lightning tore up the sky and the thunder crashed through the mountains to make the windows shake against our heads and the wind howl through the gaps in the windows; Chinese windows rarely seal properly. Our electricity went, as did the rest of the town's, so we went out to get some food and then planned our lessons for the week.
Pretty excited for this weekend as Beth and Cat are coming to stay, their project is at Chongren which is only 40 minutes away! Rob and I have learnt some valuable lessons this week... Firstly, if someone locks the door it can't be opened from the inside (I may have locked Rob in the house for an entire afternoon when I went to school, I got some abusive texts which I found after my lessons so cycled home to let him out haha. We also found that the lever in the bathroom should NEVER be touched. I put a new roll of loo roll on the little shelf in bathroom wall and suddenly got hit by a very forceful jet of water. I started shouting because it was propelling across the bathroom, soaking everything and I had no way of stopping it. Rob found that behind the pipe which had seemingly burst for no reason was a lever, I'd knocked it out so we crammed it back it. It isn't too stable so we just don't touch it all now, I'm fairly sure it's not supposed to do that but we'll leave it for the minute. We also discovered how to make our water hot and I enjoyed my first hot shower since I arrived in China. Unfortunately the heat only lasted for about 30 minutes and I was back to freezing which was worse than before because it came as more of a shock. We have a gas heater and bottles of gas in the kitchen and we hadn't figured out the mandarin instructions on the wall heater before ivy came round and read it for us. Turns out we'd done everything right in the kitchen but had just been using the cold tap and not the hot tap... To be fair our cold tap is labelled 'hot' and the hot tap is labelled 'cold' so that's not as stupid as it sounds!
I thought I was done with Chinese wellwishers while I was ill but rob brought home a small entourage of teachers. I had managed an entire day alone and had coped perfectly well and I was even getting better! They then told me a billion things I should and shouldn't do (most of them I'd already done anyway but I nodded and smiled). Apparently cold water is bad for your health and we must only ever drink warm water (I don't know either...). I was then told not to eat grapes, banana or milk but apples were ok (just before they came I'd eaten a banana, some grapes and drank milk but once again I smiled through a mouthful of apple and sipped my warm water). They turned up my air conditioning (it was too cold apparently and would make 'your cold much much worse' although they knew I didn't have a cold). They were very kind in a slightly annoying kind of way and were trying their best to look after me in a kind of Chinese way. Even more annoying was the arrival of one of the school's Chinese teachers, one of the most annoying women we have ever met. She is very large with a horribly high pitched, screechy voice. She doesn't speak English but has made it her duty to teach us Chinese which basically means pointing at things and screaming Chinese words whenever she sees us - she makes my head hurt. Unfortunately, she hasn't yet realised that we can't remember 20 words in quick succession so we resort to playing dumb. Anyway, she walked into our apartment, told me I should be wearing shoes so I went to put my 'slippers' on (the Chinese wear flipflops indoors) then came back to find her minging feet out and her mopping our floor with a dirty mop. Our apartment wasn't even dirty!! She 'cleaned' our clean floor with a dirty mop and made it dirtier then swept up all the dirt off the mop and just swept it under the sofa and into every corner. Then she tried to wash up and washed up all the stuff on the side, all the clean stuff on the side that we'd already washed up that morning and left to dry. Then she poured away the water and managed to spill it all over my first aid kit. I thought someone would get the hint when we told our translator that in England it was extremely rude to clean someone else's house. The hint wasn't taken though and we were left with more jobs than when she came and a faint ringing in our ears from being told how to say various useless objects in mandarin in a pitch only understood by dogs.
There's probably loads more but my lunch break is over so I'm off to teach some more sport vocabulary!
Love to you all, Dan x x