A mini break away to Chinese paradise
Just recently I was given a week's holiday from the school because it is time for the College Entrance examinations. This is a very tense and important time for young people all over China. It's comparative with A Level exams. The results from these exams determine their future of whether they can go to college or not, end of. It is pass or fail, no exceptions and certainly no allowances if you are very good at sport, for example. In my school the percentage of students from Senior 3 that can go to university or college is very small my school is classed as an excellent school. This year the results showed that around 80 students out of 800 were very successful enough this year, with a few coming back to repeat the year. The students are under a huge amount of pressure. Please remember that school is their lives from the age of 4 until 18. The kids in my town have never left this area, they do not have "skills", and they do not have anything else but their school, math, English, sciences, history, politics and Chinese. They are under so much pressure from their peers, their parents and their teachers. Basically everyone they know. So it may not come as a surprise that suicide can be prone among teenagers around this time. The police are present all over the school and in the exams and everyone apart from the students sitting the exams is banned from school.
So I feel glad and lucky to leave the school for a holiday at this time. My destination with my American friend, Rebecca, is Hainan!! Hainan is a tropical island at the South of China. Our trip starts in Changsha, which is the nearest airport city. Changsha is a huge and upcoming city in Hunan, the give away is the presence of McDonalds, pizza hut and night clubs! You can get everything in Changsha…including cheese!!! (Which I have forgotten the taste of) So arriving at 10pm after quick refreshment and a big mac with fries, its time for some serious partying! The following day in Changsha is the day that the Olympic torch will visit Hunan Province. Unfortunately due to lack of time and flight availability we were not able to stay for it. Some serious partying later, we find ourselves at 4am being bought drinks left right and centre by our new friends! Around 5am in MacDonalds, amongst many sleeping Chinese young people sporting "Beijing 2008" clothing attire we consume our breakfast of Mac Chicken. (It probably wasn't Chicken but didn't really care!) With a mere one hour snooze we head to the airport and arrive in Haikou, Hainan later that morning.
Haikou is in the north of the island and it is roasting hot!!! Haikou is enormous and sports many KFC's, Pizza hut, hotels, beaches and a distinct lack of tradition! We are exhausted so its friends on the DVD payer in the hostel and an early night to make up for the missed nights sleep! The next day we head down to Sanya on the bus. Sanya is in the South of Hainan and is stunning. Sanya consists of white sandy beaches, palm trees, coconuts, exotic fruits, barbequed seafood and icy cold beers. What more could you want?! So after lunch we are straight into the sea squealing with delight! We meet up with two friends, Jenn and Jesse who are teachers in Hainan and had many gan bei's including another hamburger! Hainan is becoming a tourist hotspot. It is the place for the Chinese to take vacation, and is becoming even more popular with the western world (and Russia). There seems to be two main languages and sights in Sanya which is Chinese and Russian.
A major tourist attraction in Sanya is "Monkey Island". With an enormous hangover we traipse around the island to confirm that the Chinese have no regard whatsoever for animals general well being. Luckily we were too hungover to even care. Some monkeys were free to roam and many others were tied up with chains, pacing up and down, fur missing and trying to escape. We saw two shows of monkeys demonstrating the usual cycling on bikes, wearing clothes and balancing on beams. The shows really weren't that amusing to me at all, especially when the badly behaved ones were thrown across the stage and beaten. However, that's China for you. My friend Jesse did seem to laugh a great deal but I am positive this was due to the previous night's alcoholic intake.
Our time in Hainan was short but sweet and great to get into the sea and enjoy some chill out time. I have heard there are many other things to do, not involving animals and so Hainan has been added onto my ever growing list of places to visit.
Back in Xintian, I went fruit picking with my friend on her parent's farm. It was so wonderful! Afterwards we stood eating the peaches we had picked with her parents as they sorted through various fruits. It was wonderful to see some real China again and discover some real daily, countryside life. I noticed that every space of land in the surrounding areas was caked with trees and crops. Farming is a huge industry here.
Now the bit you've been waiting for (Lord Essex) onto my latest culinary discoveries.
After the fruit picking we head to a local restaurant for dinner and of course…much beer. The most random array of food was presented at dinner. It consisted of snake, crab, blood duck, seafood soup, some dried beef (which quite frankly looked about 6 days old!) and pig intestines which I tried, didn't like much and then avoided. This time I just couldn't get the "intestines" image out of my head. However, I just had to try the snake!!! And it was the toughest meat I have ever had! Not that tasty, exhausting and difficult to eat and had so many bones!! Much to my surprise! I was informed that it is indeed also a general Chinese "illness remedy" and is so incredibly good for you. Whatever! Also another recently tasted animal part is pig's ear… salty, incredibly chewy and nothing really to it!!! Infact it goes into the category with the chicken feet, the "What is the point in eating this" category.
My friend Elizabeth recently gave me a Chinese cooking lesson! On the menu were shrimps, tofu, fish head and Blood duck! As we are shopping she informs me she must go purchase the "duck" luckily it was killed and its blood already contained in a little bag!!! The man from the moon may want to skip this part!! So back to her kitchen which quite frankly is filthy! For those of you who may not remember, Blood duck is a local speciality dish in Xintian and is basically duck parts cooked in its own blood. And it is so tasty!!! Anyone for a dinner party when im home? I look forward to enquiring for ½ a duck and the blood separately at the butchers in Cardiff market. "You want what boyo?!" Anyway, yet again having crossed another of my comfort zones I witness this amazing dish being put together and then enjoy it with 20 or so ganbei's!!
Recently I have been out and about to some local "places of interest!" First being a gorgeous stunning lake about 30 minutes from Xintian, in a small town called Jingling. Jingling was beautiful and represented real China. We arrived on market day which was kaos, but a wonderful, insight into real China. Jingling was so busy; the market stalls are simple wooden trestles with meat strewn over them and flies everywhere. The place is crammed with animals, live and dead, bowls of snakes, frogs and eels, leaves and various interesting looking random vegetables. The town is crammed people walking aimlessly around, chattering away with their old friends, bartering left right and centre about the cost of the pigs feet. Its great!
On a recent day trip into the countryside I visited some castle ruins on top of a hill just outside of Xintian with my friend Li ying ying and her family and a local policeman. We weren't the only ones there however; we were joined by a local tour group sporting the most inappropriate clothing attire for walking up a mountain!!! But that's China for you. After the castle visit we head into the countryside to a local home for lunch. Their house is quite large but so dark and dirty. The kitchen looks like there was once a fire, as its pitch black and there is grease and soot all over the place! The cooking stove, is literally some coal bricks and one wok. However the food was delicious. Especially the dog! Yum! Sorry lassie. The house is traditional with 2 bedrooms each holding 3 or 4 beds, people literally live on top of each other here! Its filthy, paint and plaster peeling off the walls, floor has never been cleaned, the sofa is ripped to shreds and the TV is balancing on a mound of rubbish. Wonderful! This is real China! There is food scattered everywhere outside as the left overs just get chucked out to the dogs and the chickens. I have to admit too, once I had finished gnawing the dog meat I gave the bone to the pet dog! However, this family is incredibly happy and kept apologizing about their house to me. I feel so awkward and tell them it's wonderful to see which cheers them up no end. Gan bei!
My most proud moment finally came in China at a KTV (karaoke) of all places. After some Tsingtao Dutch courage the mic was mine again. This time no cat screeching titanic songs, however three popular Chinese songs I have recently learnt! Much to the surprise of my friends there was huge applause! (Followed by another case of Tsingtao!)
Chinese people just love to compete. Along with the 500 English competitions I have had to judge, there have been about 4 "talent competitions" in my school alone. There was also recently a sports competition at the school, for no apparent reason! They just love to show their talents and compare each other. Same goes for my lessons when I make a game and have two teams. They go crazy and get really involved!
Before I left for China, I heard many people say that the Chinese are generally a rude nation. However, it is only considered rude when compared to the West. There are many major differences I have come across between the West and China during my time here. The language is one thing and the way things are said. For example, the everyday language consists generally of "orders". In a taxi, to make it stop at your requested destination, you should shout "Stop Car" (in Chinese obviously). Try that one with a London cabbie or maybe this is said at early hours in the morning anyway Roberts?!
There is a general shopping rule here in the small towns China, bargain everything. I visited the local clothes market recently which was literally a free for all. The whole room was laden with clothes and women were grabbing clothes, bags, shoes, shouting, complaining and chucking them everywhere. Much like Primark on a Saturday morning I suppose?! The funny thing being, my friend was bargaining for a Chinese designer suitcase, where the original price was about 800 RMB, she was offering the lady 200 RMB. The lady wouldn't budge and in the end my friend had clearly had enough and shoved 150 RMB into the woman's hand and we just left! The shop owner just had no choice! Try that one in Topshop! When I asked her if that was in anyway shape or form an illegal move, she replied with no, it was only worth 150RMB I wouldn't pay more. Fair enough!
The way people communicate with each other here is very interesting. It would be considered as incredibly rude in the Western countries. Many orders are shouted, the word "please" doesn't really exist and thank you is rarely said. The price is argued about everywhere! Chinese people just will not pay the asking price anywhere. Most conversations I have witnessed are said without looking the person in the eye or even spoken when their backs are turned. In a restaurant to get the attention of someone, you shout "waitress!" or "boss". In some way it makes sense, why should you say please and thank you? And not say exactly what you want? Now I have learnt to speak like the Chinese and I just hope I haven't forgotten all my polite manners for when I arrive in my next destination.
Keep the messages coming and love to you all.