After Christmas in Jiujiang we were pretty much straight back into things - we started teaching again on Boxing Day after our two days off. A few of the classes held 'parties' for us which basically consisted of moving all the desks to the walls to create a space in the middle where people of varying abilities would perform karaoke. Inevitably every invitation we received requested that we either bring Dan or Rob along with us as well as my guitar. They were all very same-y and dragged on for a while but it was nice to do something different. The classes were all decorated and we were constantly force fed with various snack foods. The headmaster also took us for a Christmas meal just before we left for Jiujiang and presented us with a Christmas tree that lights up. The meal was a pretty standard banquet although we learnt a new Chinese drinking game where you have to guess how many fingers the other person is holding out. We have to play in Chinese and I found I'm exceptionally good at it, barely drinking once and beating every single person that challenged me (everyone wanted to try their luck with me haha!)
For New Year we had the Chongren girls over and we spent it playing poker (me and Rob joint won) and drinking and chatting. At midnight we got a counter up on the laptop then linked hands and sang a very loud rendition of auld lang syne before heading out for an 'adventure.' We weren't really sure what this adventure should consist of but we were all conscious that we wanted more food and drink so we ambitiously headed out into a deserted Yihuang. Nobody was out at all so we took a little walk to the park by the river. Well, me and Beth ran and Beth face planted on the floor. One minute she was laughing and racing next to me the next she was lying stretched out on the pavement. Luckily she wasn't hurt so it was ok to laugh and we set our sights on the canvas pyramids at the park entrance. They form the roof of some underground building and they're shaped like a circus top made of thick, stretchy canvas. We'd seen kids bounce on them before so we gave it a shot and spent the first part of 2013 bouncing about like little kids.
As I write this I've finished school for the Chinese Winter holiday - the one we've all been counting down for! On the 25th of Jan I finished classes for about a month for Chinese Spring Festival and New Year so pretty excited now! Since Christmas I've taught a lesson on English food and table etiquette which ended with me teaching them how to use a knife and fork and inviting volunteers up to try and use them to eat a sliced up apple. They found it difficult and a few struggled to use the knife and fork but for the most part they did alright and seemed to enjoy it. I also taught a lesson on English school and explained how our exams work and the average school day. They were all exceptionally jealous; they only get Saturday afternoons off and for the rest of the time they're constantly studying with classes from 07:30 - 12, 14:10 - 17:00 and 18:30 - 21:30 plus shedloads of homework! Most recently I taught them how English terms for basketball and ping-pong - all Chinese people love these sports and then I showed them 'Where's Wally' to see how fast they could find him. Finally, in the run up to their winter holiday I did 'Dan's Big Quiz' which is actually Beth's creation but has also been called 'Rob's Big Quiz' and a variety of other names. In teams of 4-6 they answer questions in English that are on the powerpoint and the winning team gets lollies. Cue 16 classes of very excited kids…
Although it wasn't all fun and games, the last afternoon of teaching was dramatic. I really dislike Fridays - I have 5 classes in a row and it is draining. Plus one of the classes is Class 10 who I hate. Probably a good job I'm on holiday for a while now because in the last two classes I threw a kid's phone out of the window and then made a girl cry. Firstly, the phone… they're against school rules as are listening to music in class, eating and reading comic books etc. My classes are pretty laid back - I teach oral English so there needs to be a bit more leeway. Plus my students are almost the same age as me and I'm the foreign teacher, it's not my job to lecture from a book at the front to prepare for an exam. So I let some things fly but I don't allow phones or ipods etc. If I see them I take them and give them back at the end of the lesson; that can serve as a warning. If it happens again they get it the next day but they have to get it from the class teacher who will probably punish them himself. Again and the same but for about 4 days. Only one class has been stupid enough to take it further and that is class 10, the very bottom of my first set so English is very poor and a non-existent school attitude. Most of the girls and a smattering of boys are nice but there's a group of lads at the back that I cannot stand. Well they had plenty of warning so I kept 4 mobiles in my room for 2 weeks and Ivy told me if it happens again just throw it out the window. Can I really do that?! Apparently I can - Ivy said the school rules say no phones so if they use them then they can't complain what happens to them. Well the class teacher warned them that's what would happen next time and for 3 weeks not a single phone until 2 days ago. I took it then remembered my threat, if I didn't carry it out they could walk all over me and I did really like the idea of teaching a lesson he'd remember. So I held it out the window and asked if I could, obviously the answer was no. So I walked a few steps back then turned and launched it out of the third storey window. Unfortunately I missed the concrete road I was aiming for and it landed at the base of a tree. Surprisingly no-one seemed that bothered although the kid was the quietest I'd ever seen him for the rest of the class.
Here's something really ironic for you though. At the end of the class he scurried off to retrieve the pieces and put them back together and I asked to see it - somehow it still worked and didn't look broken at all! Ok so maybe I was a little disappointed… But then 10 minutes later my phone slid off a desk from under my coat and the screen cracked. Where's the logic?! I throw a phone as far as I can out of a third storey window and nothing, MY phone slides off a thigh high desk and the screen cracks?! Somebody up there has got to be having a laugh…
As for the crying girl I did feel bad because she's really nice and in one of my favourite classes. But I saw her on her phone so I tapped her and said put it away. Then she did it again so I told her to give it to me and she hid it in her bag. So I said give me the bag and she kept saying 'no'. Obviously my Chinese only goes so far so, as the foreigner, actions speak louder than words. If they don't give me a phone I take the books and papers from their desk and decorate the room with them, usually after 3 or 4 books they relent. Instead she cried. Dammit, now what do I do, I'd taken a boy's phone from him at the back and I couldn't change my rules just because she turned on the waterworks. I went for taking some books which she'd need to retrieve from the class teacher (the books because Chinese names are hard to remember!) and just let him deal with her not doing as I said. It didn't come to that in the end because her friends helped her write a really nice Chinglish letter apologising and saying there was something personal in the bag she didn't want me to see. Thinking back I think she may have a personal issue of some kind because I always saw her looking really sad. At first I assumed she just hated my classes but eventually she did get into them. Of course that only makes me feel worse but at least I have a month to get over it.
Now it's Sunday and in two days time we leave for our Spring Festival travels! I'll outline what we're doing… On Tuesday we're going to Chongren to meet the girls and after a day in Nanchang on Weds we're getting a night train South to Hong Kong. Arrive on Thurs (31st) morning to meet Jeremy and Callum, the only volunteers in Hong Kong who are very kindly putting us up for a few days. By a stroke of luck I'm already friends with Callum as we were on selection together on Coll! On the 4th we leave Hong Kong for Shen Zheng - very close to HK and you kind of have to travel through it if you're going between China and HK. Here Beth and Cat are getting the train back to Nanchang and going home to change their clothes for the different weather and stuff and me and Rob are staying as proper travellers and not bothering. We're spending a few days in Shen Zheng then getting a train to Hangzhou. The train to Hangzhou leaves at 13:15 on the afternoon of the 8th and arrives at 05:45 the next morning. And we only have standing tickets… Should be fun. We're in Hangzhou for about 45 mins then we catch a connecting train to Shanghai and meet the rest of our travelling group from the North who will have come with Beth and Cat from Jiujiang. Chinese New Year is on the 10th so we'll be partying in Shanghai for that before flying from Shanghai to Qingdao on the 12th. After Qingdao we're heading very far North, almost to the Russian border, to Ha'arbin to experience the tail end of the International Ice Festival. An annual festival on the frozen Hailongjiang (black dragon river) with fantastic sculptures and buildings created from ice. Sounds epic! Although we're all a little daunted by the weather. According to Ivy Harbin is currently -40 in the day and -55 at night. If you take off your gloves you can get frostbite within 2 minutes, you can throw a mug of boiling water in the air and it'll freeze before it hits the ground and you can watch an entire bucket of water freeze in under a minute. Oh. Dear. Lord.
Needless to say we're all pretty excited. Even I'm getting a bit excited now and also getting a little organised! Yesterday I spent about 5 hours straight sitting in bed with the laptop researching everywhere we're going. I have details of everything I want to see in HK and Sheng Zheng along with transport information, cost, opening hours and the Chinese characters to show taxi drivers as a last resort. I've planned a rough itinerary of 3 full days in HK and if we pull it off we're going to cover an awful lot in our whistle stop tour of China! I've also enlisted the help of Rob's Lonely Planet China guide which I didn't realise he even had and it has been a brilliant resource. Last night we even sketchily outlined the travelling we want to do in the week May holiday and the summer just before we fly home. We'll have pretty comprehensively covered China as best we can with the time we have if we manage it. I'd like to do the Yangtze river cruise in the May holiday and we were thinking in summer we might head West. First to Chengdu to see the panda's and the world's tallest Buddha then to tiger leaping gorge and continue West to Tibet and the base of the Himalayas. Then we'd make our way slowly back to Beijing maybe stopping off to see Qinghai lake or experience some of the far North West lifestyle before fitting in the last few sights around Beijing just before we fly home.
Sorry for rambling about all that, most of you probably won't know where things are or what I'm talking about! But I really am excited now. I'm going to keep a little diary when I'm travelling so when I return home I can backdate my blogs throughout my travels - that won't be until the beginning of March by the way!
Just another little update, it's now midday Tuesday and we're leaving for our epic journey this afternoon. We went to a wedding party yesterday which is just shedloads of food and the weather's been beautiful - I snoozed topless on a bench in a very secluded part of the park after having a little picnic! Woke up early this morning and now everything's is packed and ready to go. Very excited! Won't be back in Yihuang until the last week of February so no communication until then. It'll fly by though!