It's now late September already and I'm writing this in Word after my latest two hour long epic got blown away.
Suzhou is 21st century China, a million miles away from the rural poverty ofthe remoter areas of Yunnan. We have everything here, from the Irish bar next door, Jane's pub up the road and Aussie Pulp Fiction bar a couple of blocks away, plus KFC on virtually every corner. In Shiquan Jie where I live I never hear people shouting 'lao wai' and staring open mouthed at me as there are just too many of us, tourists, business people, foreign teachers, party animals… There's athriving ex-pat community if you want it, western clubs everywhere and plenty of opportunities for foreigners to earn extra cash teaching English in the various Language colleges around the city. Money certainly doesn't go as far here and my 3000 yuan salary here seems less than the 2200 in Yunnan so I'm supplementing it with extra work so I can enjoy my travels. For the young and dynamic, like my flat-mate, there's filming, hosting nights in the clubs and maybe some more dubiousways of earning cash. I also featured as a 'cover girl'! My 'photoshoot' the other week was for some course materials we're supposed to use - with me looking teacher-ish and learned on the front with smiling students. Think they went for 'gravitas' before beauty.
I'm still plugging away with the language, with the same highs and lows. For a linguist I'm shameful, unable to understand a word sometimes but at others I'm pleased to have albeit limited conversations. My speaking ability lulls some people (those that understand me) into thinking that I understand morethan I actually do and they yabber away with me left to answer questions they probably didn't ask. They speak Suzhou dialect here which I'm told is nothing like Mandarin, or Cantonese for that matter.
Life is pretty good here. As far as cities go, and I'm not a fan, this is OK. There are a lot of gardens that you can visit - at a price. £0 to 80 yuan a throw is the norm. I went the 'Humble Administrator's Garden'. How can you resist gardens with names like that and 'Lingeringgarden', 'Master of the Nets' etc. However, I chose to go at the weekend and the supposedly tranquil pavilions buzzed to the sound of Tour Guides with their megaphones shouting the facts to their huge followings of noisy Chinese tourists in their red baseball caps. And there were numerous 'lao wai' too, more than I saw in a year last time.
We've been exploring the local area at the weekends, using public transport to get to Mudu, Tai Hu lake, seeing pagodas, having boat rides and have plans to go to Hangzhou and some other 'scenic spots' (that means you pay) but the next thing to look forward to is the National Holiday. We have a week off and I queued up for nearly2 hours to get my train ticket (single - there is more fun to come to get the return ticket) with the rest of the 1.3 billion who are travelling the same week. I am now the proud possessor of a 'soft sleeper' to Xi'an on the day I wanted. No mean feat. I'm teaming up again with my old VSO travelling partner and am really looking forward to it. Terracotta warriors here I come. We also have a bit of time off in early November when our students do mid-term exams but finding out exactly when is a little trickier. This is China. I will be able to go somewhere with Tim when he arrives, either for the whole week or just a few days. The 'young'uns' are learning that you don't always get told things here until the last minute. Welcome to China.
A colleague back in blighty tells me that work is 'as mad as a box of frogs' and I'm not missing that aspect one jot. I'll have decisions to make when I get back but full-time teaching in the UK is not on the list. Far too manic. My students here are a mixed bag, not necessarily high flyers, as we're employed by the government to work in schools that couldn't otherwise afford a foreign teacher, though this doesn't seem to be matched by reality in one of the schools. Working for the government has its compensations. After a previous lunch at TGI Fridays tomorrow we're invited for dinner in our own private suite at the Sheraton Hotel, business dress required. I'll have a 'mini performance' ready, just in case. Jade, my flat-mate and I did a decent double-act when at a Teachers'Day dinner with one of our schools. We got away with a bit of a speech, an English poem and a few words of Chinese. Enough to get a round of applause without the embarrassment of singing. Maybe that'll come on Sunday when I'm hosting an 'English party (aka English corner?) for a fee to earn some money to eke out the resources for Xi'an. It'll be fine!