December's been pretty eventful. It kicked off with returning from Jiujiang to have our Desk Officer visit a couple of days later. Our Desk Officer is the guy back on Coll who looks after us (or as I explained to my kids; my boss) and everyone has a Desk Officer visit at some point to check out how you're doing. At first we had Jonny to cover all of China but since we've been here David has taken over South of China so we were looking forward to meeting him for the first time. When he turned up we were all taken for another tour of the school which once again means wandering aimlessly round the back before being taken for a meeting. David was even taller than me and Rob which the Chinese found pretty unbelievable. After an 'informal meeting' which meant sitting in a room and chatting we were taken for a meal where we showed off our chopstick skills to David. He also pointed out things that we'd become accustomed to, like just throwing stuff on the floor if we didn't need it which is apparently just a Jiangxi thing from what he'd seen in the Northern provinces. I barely noticed I'd been doing it but looking down I did have a pile of sunflower seed shells around my chair. After the meal the Chinese came and checked out our flat and David was left alone with the two of us to go over any problems there might be. There weren't any so we just drank coffee and talked. The afternoon brought our watched lessons and we were both ready to do some serious teaching. That is until we arrived at school to learn there was a powercut. We often lose power at home but this is the first time it has ever gone at school - and it went on the afternoon that our lessons were being watched by another British person. The lessons that were entirely on my memory stick. So David never got to see my beautiful powerpoints unfortunately. Instead I had about 10 seconds to think on my feet how to fill a 45 minute lesson and went with basically covering the description lesson I had planned then filling in time with bingo and hangman to remember vocab from the past couple of weeks. Thankfully David was more interested in classroom manner and understood the bloody typical circumstances. He was impressed by both our lessons (I came and sat in the back of Rob's - it was good!) and we're even lucky enough to have a permanent reminder in the form of films of our entire lessons. A man set up a massive video camera and filmed the entire lesson and I watched about 10 seconds of mine before turning it off and putting the disc out of the way because I sound so weird.
Following the lessons we had a big formal meeting which involved the headmaster, lots of officials and lots of boring stuff being translated back and forth. Once they'd told David of our every move of the past 3 months and we'd established once again that there were no problems we were whisked off to a very impressive looking restaurant to have another banquet. The camera man was present for the meeting as well and this caught me out a couple of times when I forgot he was there and got very distracted. I think he may have filmed my unfolding an orange into a line of segments and eating it all in one go; what can I say, the meeting was boring. I noticed halfway through eating and it took a lot of effort not to start laughing and spit orange everywhere. I might look on the other disc we have to see if he actually did film that… There were lots of important looking people at the banquet and before we sat down I changed my Chinese name for the final time. The man in Lanzhou had only called me 'xiao long' which means 'little dragon' but Chinese names should have three characters, a family name followed by a first name. So I didn't have a family name much to the horror of the Chinese people. With this in mind I asked my Chinese teacher to give me one and he gave me 'Si.' This was no good at all, I get si and shi (4 and 10) mixed up already and si also means death. Not sure what my family name meant but I was more likely to be calling myself death or a number so I decided to change it. After going through family names pretty fast for a few days I settled on 'Wang' at the beginning of the banquet. I decided this was cool because it's literal translation into English is 'King.' We had a really nice meal though - we had duck tongue to start with which is nice but a bit too crispy. Everyone wanted to honour David by toasting him and we were often included in this as well. David taught me a Scottish tongue twister which (to his amazement) I nailed after a few tries and spent the rest of the evening practising it much to the annoyance of Ivy. David threw a cigarette at me wanting me to catch it in my mouth and after a few tries of this it appeared there was no hope. Then Rob and I tried and we did it almost straight away which the Chinese loved. No, I didn't smoke it of course… But it's a cool party trick and we're going to practise it with various objects.
Things took a stranger turn after the meal, we were all a little drunk - a sign of sheer respect from the Chinese people who were all worse than us due to them being so much smaller. Everyone left apart from the headmaster who took David, his translator, Rob and I to a shady looking backstreet and into an upstairs room. Here we were all shown to comfy chairs, in a row, in a room and told to take off our shoes. We weren't quite sure what was going on and then a load of woman came in and put out feet into buckets of hot water. They spent the next hour or so (I lost track of time but it was long) massaging our legs and feet. Then they cleaned out ears and started to do pedicure stuff to us. My bemused woman had to stop because I was too ticklish… David went back to his hotel and we went to sleep ready to be up early the next morning to join David and the headmaster for breakfast the next morning in the hotel. We were there bang on time and ate with his lovely translator while we waited for the others to turn up. I hung around for a bit in the lobby when Rob went to have his first lesson of the day and when David left he gave us a chocolate orange to share which was heavenly.
The rest of the month has been advent period, I have a calendar on my wall (no chocolate, just pictures though…) and I swear the countdown to Christmas has gone really fast as well. It always goes fast for me because I assume Christmas is ages away and I have plenty of time to sort stuff out. Then suddenly it's Christmas Eve and I haven't done anything. Even in a different continent advent sped by fast! To make up for no chocolate I devised another advent calendar. I went and bought 4 crates, 60 bottles, of our favourite milk drink and emptied everything from the fridge. Then I stacked the milk from top to bottom until it was filled then numbered each bottles lid with a number from 1 - 25 for each of us. Home-made advent calendar! And the fun is never ending because it's a bit like a giant game of jenga everytime you want to drink one; as Rob found out pretty quickly by smashing a bottle of beer under an avalanche of falling milk bottles. We've also decorated the flat, we've stuck all of our Christmas cards to the wall between our bedroom doors and the tinsel and paper chains from Beth and Cat are still up from Rob's birthday. I've also received a couple of hanging baubles and a fat snowman which sits on top of the TV. We even have a Christmas tree! Ok so it's about 6 inches high but it's the best we can do. I got it with the other decorations from Mum and it's made from wood. It's evidently designed for children but it still took me 45 minutes to assemble and carefully decorate - glitter glue was included. I know I'm 18 but it kept me quiet for a very long time and I finished up with glitter glue everywhere. My hands, my face, the floor, my clothes, the table etc. My clothes all washed fine although I think it'll just take some time for my crotch to stop sparkling completely. My slight OCD tendencies meant the tree had to be carefully decorated in colour co-ordinated neatness and I spent a lot of time making this happen. Until I dropped the tree and my glitter art became glitter splodge. After that it was a case of salvaging anything I could and now I like to think of the tree as abstract art. It sits on the TV beside the snowman.
We also spent another weekend in Chongren where we achieved pretty much nothing. For the first two weeks of December I showed 'Elf' to my classes which they loved. Some classes with more enthusiasm than others and thankfully I got the subtitles to work for the majority of them. Some things are definitely lost in translation though, I can read a little bit and some of the Chinese is not the same as the English. Also, the kids laugh in some strange places. Every class laughs at the same bits every time and some parts I just can't see a joke and they're laughing and other parts I think are hilarious and there's nothing from anyone. Needless to say they all found certain predictable parts hilarious. I've got to say watching Elf 17 times in a row does kill the humour a little bit. I started playing some games with myself to pass the time. These included only watching the support actors which I did for about 3 lessons, listening but not watching, only watching for continuity errors and reciting the script word for word for the entire film. By the end of the second week when I showed the second half I could recite the script in its entirety, word for word, in time with the actors on screen. A pretty useless skill to have but after 17 times there's not much you can do apart from jump out the window or stab your eyes out with a pen. I only wish I could learn Chinese as fast as that.
Last weekend the Jiangxi volunteers, minus Ned and Matt who couldn't come, met up in Nanchang. The girls went for Christmas shopping, me and Rob went because there's a cinema and the internet said it'd be showing the hobbit. Turns out it wasn't which we weren't happy about. We weren't really feeling shopping, at least not the girls kind of shopping anyway so we left them to go and 'browse' or whatever and wandered aimlessly for a bit. We sorted Christmas presents out for the rest of the volunteers; being guys this didn't take long at all then we decided we wanted to play pool. We got into a taxi, mimed pool at him and were taken to a pool place where we paid the equivalent of £1.60 each for an hour on a snooker table. Bargain for an hour's entertainment. I lost every single game and played extremely badly. Although I'm not just blaming it on me being crap that weekend, Rob was insanely lucky whereas I just wasn't. At one point I had him snookered and he just hit the ball and accidentally potted two of his own. Flukey, not skill. When we were done we went to get a table at the Papa John's (the pizzeria we found in Nanchang last time) and waited for the girls. They rocked up laden with bags which countered their much lighter purses and launched into enthusiastic descriptions of everything they'd bought I listened for a short time then tucked into my giant pizza - I was starving and knew ordering would take a while, especially if we were waiting for 6 people. So Rob and I ordered as soon as we arrived to be ahead of the game. It was beautiful although expensive for China, but all we normally eat is rice and it's so nice to have Western food for a change.
The girls went off to do more shopping after this (you can't fault their stamina) and Rob and I retired back to the hotel where we headed straight to the football and snooker tables in the lobby. We were still battling it out when the girls returned and continued long after they left to go and try on clothes, gossip and whatever else girls do in the rooms. Eventually we packed it in and went to join them, Beth and Rob went to sleep pretty early and the rest of us stayed up pretty late talking and watching a thunderstorm out the window (despite very bright lightning we couldn't actually see it, disappointing).
Not much else from the past couple of weeks… I finally found a big army coat! I'd been wanting one to wear in winter and I finally found one that fits me properly in Yihuang market of all places. I need to move the buttons a bit but other than that it's fine. I wore it to school along with my matching hat for a few kids and got stared at a lot. My classes told me I looked like 'lei fen' - a Chinese hero and I felt pretty badass. Ivy told me the coat wasn't of good quality though and suddenly the headmaster was insisting that the school would pay for winter coats for us! So we've been shopping with Ivy and now I have a giant police coat to wear as well. It's huge and black with fur around the collar and very warm. Ivy and Rob don't like it though and Rob settled for a normal looking winter coat. I figured I get stared at anyway so I might as well get the over the top coat. The school has also bought us both a new phone! We bought cheap phones when we arrived but I lost mine on a mountain so Ivy gave me a smartphone - the most high tech I've ever owned. But for some unknown reason all the teacher's in the school have received new phones this week so now I have an even more high tech smartphone! I'm not sure why this is happening; Yihuang's a poor rural area. But our school is good and it appears that the local authorities are investing a lot of money into it because it caters for a lot of the local children from the rural towns and villages in the county. The school building is newly built and they've just installed projectors and smartboards and last month all the teacher's got laptops - Rob and I weren't included in that… So our poor rural school isn't quite what we thought! Either way, I'm not complaining if they want to give me a free phone… and now I can give the other one back to Ivy.
I've also discovered that the place I buy peanuts from also sells jelly beans, it has a long row of sacks with various nuts and seeds and I found them in the end one. They've been this week's addiction because Chinese sweets really aren't good and these are proper jelly beans! Starting to eat less now though, it was just sheer excitement at finding them. Did some good deeds last week as well, marked Ivy's books for her and typed up an English paper for a teacher because my typing is so much faster than there's and I can do it myself without looking at the keyboard. I also fixed a little girls bike when her chain came off by the side of the road which was my good deed for the day!
Not much more to add here to be honest. I'm off school today, we have Tuesday and Wednesday off school while the kids all have exams so I thought I'd catch up with this. I'm teaching my kids about Christmas this week, I'll teach them a Christmas song and we'll make snowflakes as well. On Saturday we're going to Jiujiang and we'll spend Christmas there with the rest of the Jiangxi volunteers.
If I don't speak to you beforehand have a very Merry Christmas!