I can't believe it's March already. Where's the year going? I'm going to back-track for a moment and think about the hectic end to last term before my two months of travel. During the last week I managed to conduct speaking exams with over three hundred students, practise 'White Christmas' several times with the English teachers for the Christmas performance, teach Christmas carols to the students .... and even to sleep and eat occasionally.
I decided to do the exams in my flat as they had to be done at odd times of the day to fit in with their other classes and various hazards like Chinese exams that the students were told about at the last minute, which meant some re-scheduling problems for me. I'm learning to become very stoical about such things. Re-scedule fifty individually -timed oral exams, organised by me a month ago. Very annoying, yes, but it had to be done. The students were great, arriving promptly and chattering nervously outside the block of flats, and, apart from the cold, the exams there, at all times of the day, went well. I was glad I'd avoided conducting them in the teaching block where you are not only cold but also get the extremely loud tannoyed music at all breaktimes, the lack of lighting in the evenings (unless you can find 'the man who can turn them on'), the locked classrooms at lunch-times (unless you can find 'the man with the key'), the interruptions from students and staff and so on. After three hundred versions of 'My hometown', 'Festivals' and various other topics I was shattered each night. Their enthusiasm kept me going though. I'd like to say the same about the staff 'White Christmas' rehearsals but many of them had their arms twisted to come with some reluctance and I think I expended a lot more energy than they did to get things a little more animated. Nevertheless, it was all right (ish) on the night. Well, it got enthusiastic applause anyway.
The 'new tradition' is to wrap apples beautifully and to give them as presents on Christmas Eve and the photo shows my flat with some of my many apples that I tried to eat before I left for my travels on 28th. The College president came round with the flowers for me and a present for Peter. We 'had to' reciprocate with a bottle of whisky and then we all went out for a meal where everybody toasted everybody else many times until we were all 'gan bei'd out.
After being so busy at Christmas and then having two months of travel, coming back 'home' gave me mixed feelings. After Vietnam, where a lot of people speak English, I'd forgotten how challenging it can be here. I'd forgotten the not-so- pleasant aspects of life here. It hit me. Hawking, spitting, pushing into 'queues', smoking, shouting into mobile phones, lack of toilet privacy.... I could only see the bad things. My language skills seemed to be getting worse by the day, I couldn't understand a word of the 'conversation' I had with the photographer as he developed my photos but he kept talking anyway. Then I had to explain what I wanted to three different people before I was finally understood when I made my usual telephone call to order water.
Now, though, I've got the fighting spirit again. I'm still enjoying my work but for the first week I just did what I had to and relaxed for the rest of the time. I now feel ready to tackle the language again and arrange extra activities as I did last term. It was good to hear that other VSOers had similar feelings of frustrations with the language, negative feelings about China etc and that they're now over that, or beginning to get over it.
It was nice to have a fellow VSOer in Wenshan for that first weekend to share experiences and show her round the town. She had the gift of 'sounding' Chinese and had a good range of typical noises and expressions that seemed to work well. I'll have to try 'ah yor', to show surprise and 'dui, dui' to agree. It sounded impressive. Jacq works in Guizhou province, in Xingyi, and it seems that Wenshan is a cleaner place and that our Campus is much nicer with its lovely gardens and places where you can simply sit and read. I hope our food didn't poison my first VSO guest, though, as she had a stomach ache after the three kuai take-away and struggled to eat after that. If you're there, Jacq, I hope you're better now. As for me, I was introduced to the home-made fruit wine in a local restaurant -delicious - and staggered back after four or five of them hoping not to be spotted by too many students. We also watched a DVD with amazing English sub-titles which were in wonderful Chinglish. At times they seemed to bear no relation at all to the film. Our favourites were 'Don't exceed the gram'. And 'they wased the Dutch'. Ideas on a postcard please!
So I am now fully recovered from the culture shock of arrival back in China and am enjoying life here as I was before. My time-table is lighter, due to some of my students being on teaching practice, but I'll be doing English Corner at a Middle school, conversation with staff plus my usuals which have started already. I even rooted out the Linguaphone language course. Tim's planning his next visit in April and term will finish at the end of June, I hear. As I said before, where IS the time going?