Well here goes. I've already spent 2 hours writing my longest postcard yet only for it to disappear into e-space when or just before I clicked 'send'. My hatred for computers re-surfaced temporarily but by the time I'd counted to 10, in Chinese, I'd decided throwing my lap- top out of the window was not such a good idea. Maybe I'll keep this one shorter.
Things are still going well here and I'm now really looking forward to the Autumn holiday next week. We work this Saturday and next Sunday to compensate but I'm off travelling with a group of English and Dutch VSO teachers. As we're spread throughout Yunnan and the adjacent provinces we're, some of us, meeting up in Kunming, the province capital of Yunnan, and moving on to Dali which is said to be beautiful and then, possibly, to Lijiang and Tiger Leaping Gorge - consult your Lonely Planet if you have one handy. So I'm ready with bus ticket for the 7 hour solo trip to Kunming (student help enlisted for its purchase - why do they always sound like they're arguing? They were, apparently just talking about the price and the included free lunch). All I have to do is get on the right bus, which could be tricky but they've written Kunming for me in Chinese characters and told me what to say so , theoretically ...I should be fine.
My language -learning is very slow and my experiments with the language usually are greeted with laughter or complete incomprehension. 'Bai cai' is the Chinese for cabbage in pinyin. It looks easy enough so I say it nearly the same way they do, I think, and they repeat it correctly for me, many times. So I repeat it again (wrongly). It all sounds the same to me - I understand my English students difficulties in French and Spanish now. I eventually ask whether people would understand what I said. The answer is 'maybe'. I think that's Chinese for 'no'.
I did have some limited success though. I have a water- dispensing machine in my flat and when it runs out you have to phone up and they deliver more. Peter, my co-volunteer wrote me out a little speech that he uses. Easy! I phoned, went through the whole speech beautifully(?) and then .... she started talking to me. Help, that's not in the script. I painfully started repeating myself. Then I rang off in a panic and waited. The water arrived an hour later. Success.
Apart from that I've been having Chinese cookery 'lessons' from groups of students. Six students in my tiny kitchen = several delicious dishes, as maybe you can see in the photos. They write down the recipe for me in broken English so I can try cooking it myself. We have had steamed rice, various spicy vegetable dishes and soups (usually eaten at the end of the meal), pork with mushrooms that look a bit like flowers, hot dips made with soy sauce, vinegar, salt and plenty of chilli etc. They were surprised I had no MSG as this is a definite requirement for all dishes, as is half a bottle of cooking oil so I dutifully obliged and it did all taste delicious.
Apart from going round the shops and markets with students they're keen to take me on outings and maybe show me their hometowns but most only go back once or twice a year as it's very expensive for them. Meals here cost around 3 kuai. The bus ticket to Kunming cost 85 - not a lot for me, about £7, but a fortune for most of them. They are mostly from farming families and money is scarce but it's hard to stop them being generous. They want to buy some food to share when I'm with them, like roasted chestnuts, sweet potatoes or fruit. They don't cost much, to me, but I have to be careful not to say I like something as then they'll want to buy it for me. I usually treat them to an ice cream or sweetened, flavoured milk, which they love. Six of those set me back less than 50 pence.
I did my first 'performance' last week. I was 'invited' perform at the English Dept freshers party. 'Invited' is roughly translatable, (but very politely) , as ' expected from you and don't expect us to help you if you don't do it'. You have to earn your 'guanxi' (Rough translation= brownie points/ you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours). I was told I could sing, dance, organise a game, whatever I wanted. It was no contest - well have you heard me singing or seen me dancing? I decided on the old English silly game 'Chocolate- eating relay using knife and fork and wearing washing up gloves', which were all I could find. When it was my turn, after all the lovely dances, songs etc I was given a microphone, explained the game and asked for 30 volunteers to play in 3 teams . And I got them! It was such a relief -they joined in very enthusiastically and one team won, without too much cheating. Whew! My first performance over but I've learned to always have something up my sleeve as Peter was 'invited' at the very end of the evening to do a turn. He'd come armed as he's been here long enough to expect the un-expected.
I'm sure there's more I could tell you but you've probably fallen asleep by now so I'll leave it until next time. Must get ready for my holiday! Keep the messages and other contact coming. It's much appreciated.