Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The End of 2008

Time has certainly been slipping away from me since I returned home. Already one week has passed, Christmas is over, and New Year's Day is rapidly approaching. It was only this time last week that I was stepping off the plane at Manchester airport.

My return home was an incredibly long one, part of it being my own doing for wanting to save a few £'s -- the price between direct flights and connecting flights is outrageous. All in all, the travelling from Wenzhou to Manchester cost me over 33 hours; three plane journeys; and five hours in a hotel.

My flight from Wenzhou was a breeze apart from having to say goodbye to Kimi which I hated. It was very quick too, we barely ascended as the captain announced that we were about to descend. In one piece we arrived at Shanghai Pudong airport. Everything was going just as planned, which also meant that I had a wait of nine hours until my 6:30am flight to Dubai (because I flew with Emirates). While walking around the unusually quiet airport I bumped into a man -- I presumed he worked for the airport -- who was asking if I wanted to stay in a cheap hotel until my flight left in the morning. I didn't really want to, but his broken English and my broken Chinese was so bad that all I could do was tell him that I wanted to check the time of departure for my flight. Unperturbed, he escorted me to another terminal and helped me to check the time. I saw there was a bus heading to the hotel with other people inside. Before I could properly make a decision he had put my suitcase in the back and I was on my way to the hotel. It was only when the door slammed shut that I realised there was a small chance that this bus was going to park in the middle of nowhere at which point the £2100 that was stashed in my wallet would forcibly be removed from me. Fortunately the bus did indeed stop at a hotel where I paid a reasonable amount for a few hours sleep. Apart from a call from Kimi which brought all my fears of robbery back to the surface, I managed to have a few hours of sleep. The front desk woke me at 3:30 and I was taken to the airport for check in at 4 am. Worth every penny of the £18 I paid for it.

As I waited in the hotel foyer for my lift back to Shanghai Airport at 3:50am

The rest of the journey home was pleasant enough, although I was very disappointed with the Airbus plane that took off from Shanghai. I have become accustomed to Emirates' usual in-flight entertainment system, but this one was quite archaic in comparison. I actually had to change channels to choose what to watch, just like a television. Thankfully the flight from Dubai to the UK was back to excellence on a Boeing 777 plane -- even the food was nicer. Every time I have taken these flights to China I always have the pleasure of getting my meals before everybody else. It's great, there is always someone around my vicinity who I can hear impatiently muttering under their breath about the location of their meal, or why I've been given mine first. If you would like to have this luxury without having to pay any extra money, all you need to do is tell the travel agent you have a dietary requirement. There is a huge list to choose from, I go for the "Lacto-ovo vegetarian" option (that means I am a vegetarian who eats milk and eggs).

During my trip home I had the pleasure of staying in four airports. They are generally horrible and depressing places which could act as a kind of open-plan prison if one were to ever be decommissioned as an airport. I apply this rule to every airport I have been to apart from one: Dubai. If I have to be locked up anywhere for a day or two in between flights, I would choose there.


The gates at Wenzhou (top left), Shanghai (top right), and Dubai (middle) airports

Why I am rambling on about my trip home last week I have no idea. A whole week has gone by since then. Maybe another reason for the lack of posts here is because nothing too eventful has happened. Christmas was not ideal this year, mainly due to my mum being sick in bed with a flu-type illness. It seems to be slowly clearing up now, just a few days too late. On Sunday I also visited Dave (one of my friends from school). In February he and his girlfriend had a baby boy which they called Joel. I held him when he was just under one week old, he didn't even open his eyes then. Now he is completely changed, he laughs, climbs, crawls incredibly fast, and puts everything in his mouth. I am quite amazed by it all really.

It is brilliant to be home with my family and friends, although I feel like a huge gap is missing without Kimi being here with me. At least we have the incredibly bad quality of Skype to keep our lack of contact to a minimum. I forgot to mention that she bought me a fantastic camera for Christmas (this one), so there will hopefully be much higher quality pictures on here from now on. I had a go at using the macro mode and took this picture of a flower on some ivy in the garden (all of the colourful flowers are dead at this time of year). I am very impressed with it as no skill was involved and it managed to look like this:

So far the camera lives up to all of the reviews I read about it

Anyway, I have no idea where this post is heading so I should stop now. Happy last day of 2008 in the western world, and happy new year in China.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Merry Christmas

....or should I say Boxing Day? This post is a little later than I had hoped, but yesterday just slipped away. I hope everybody had a fantastic day. I was lucky enough to arrive home in time, although after more than 30 hours of travelling I felt a little phased out. I think I will write more about my trip home and Christmas Day tomorrow as I am currently extremely full and my eyelids are uncontrollably closing.

Here is a picture of our Vodka-soaked Christmas Pudding from yesterday:

A traditional Christmas ball of flame -- delicious

Monday, 22 December 2008

Going Home

For over one week I have completely negleted my blog. This is mainly due to having a seven day working week -- and nothing else of interest happening. I ended up with this workload due to Chuck leaving Web for a new job. We decided to exchange days off which meant I had a very enjoyable four day weekend last week, but had to endure seven days of non-stop work this week. As the week progressed, it seemed the nearer I got to my final lessons, the slower the minutes were ticking. I also slipped into "holiday mode" far too early, which meant that instead of having the motivation to teach five classes on Sunday, all I really wanted to do was lie in bed and watch a terrible Christmas film.

Today I came to the end of my seven day run. It was also my final day at Web for over one month. Tomorrow I will begin my long journey back home to England. It is going to be tiring. At 6 o'clock tomorrow I leave Wenzhou for Shanghai Pudong Airport. I will then be whisked to Dubai where I will leave one plane and board another. Finally, I should arrive in Manchester by 7pm on Christmas Eve. Altogether it will be around 30 hours of travelling -- brilliant.

I received my first Christmas present of the year this week. It was given to me by a student at Web -- Paul. I was very touched at this, and also realised that I really have made a few good friends at work, not just in the teaching staff. I will open it on Christmas day.

My first present -- at the base of my incredibly tiny Christmas tree

I also had a Christmas class with the children I usually teach on Saturday. Because I was working all day we had to arrange it for the evening. I thought I wouldn't be able to handle it because I was so tired, but I actually had a very enjoyable time. Crystal -- the lady who I work with -- also gave me a Christmas bonus which was extremely kind. At the end of the lesson we had a few pictures taken. I took a couple with Crystal's baby, and realised I have no idea how to hold one properly.

Me (looking sleepy) with my Saturday class

With the oldest student in the class (I've uploaded this one because my eyes are open)

The boys

Me and Crystal

I am very excited about going home, the only negative is that Kimi couldn't come with me. I will miss her very much, but at least we have Skype to make things easier.

Next time I write, I will be in England. Here's hoping for a smooth journey.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Cinema, Decorations....and a Feet Warmer?

On Saturday night Kimi and I went to the cinema -- the first time for me in China.  The nearest I have got to doing such a thing before was in Hong Kong. My friends and I saw a collection of three short films which were both disgusting and horrifying, but all with English subtitles. This time I wasn't so lucky, there was no English, although I was surprised to see Chinese. I am quite sure they are not doing this just for the hard of hearing audience, and I doubt many natives who cannot understand Mandarin would even think about visiting a cinema. Television is the same, every show has subtitles. I must find out the reason why.

The film we saw was called "Mei Lanfang", a biographical story of a famous Beijing opera actor. Watching the film was difficult as my Chinese is not quite up to the standard I would have hoped it would be by now. I found I could understand very little, although the general meaning of the story was quite easy to grasp. I felt a little better afterwards when Kimi told me that some of the words they used are not even generally spoken today. It was an interesting experience, I hope we can go back to the cinema again soon.

Last night we went shopping to one of the big supermarkets, Trust-Mart. They had an array of Christmas decorations and English Christmas songs were playing on the speaker system -- it is quite clear that the chain is owned my Wal-Mart. I bought a small decorated Christmas tree, some tinsel, and a set of Christmas lights. Even with the economic downturn, all of this still cost less than £9. My bedroom is suitably fit for the Christmas season now.

My 40 RMB Christmas tree

While browsing for decorations we also spotted a "Feet Warmer". I couldn't stop laughing at them, all designed as animals such as dogs, pandas, and monkeys. Kimi picked one up and thought it felt so comfortable she kept hold of it. I thought it was hilarious, it just had to be bought. True to its name, it really does warm the feet very well.  I just can't help but think it looks like a giant's slipper.

I don't need to worry about Christmas gift ideas now

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Time is Money

On Friday night I was invited to talk with two children -- a brother and sister -- who will be moving to England next year to study. You may be confused that I am in the country of the one child policy and was visiting a brother and sister, but apparently a lot of money can literally buy you another child. Most cannot afford it as the fee can reach the millions for a second child. Anyway, back on topic. I didn't want to go to their home on my own, so asked Kimi to accompany me -- I never would have found their apartment on my own anyway. We took a taxi to the building, made our way to the twenty fourth floor, and knocked on the door. A large teenage boy opened the door and didn't say a word. We were guided into what I thought would be an expensively decorated apartment. In reality it was considerably worse than my own apartment, but with much more space.

We sat on the white sofa, Kimi and I looking at each other with a sense of bewilderment -- nothing was happening. A second later, a young girl ran into the living room and dashed into her bedroom. Their ai yi (housekeeper/nanny) brought us a cup of green tea each, at which point Kimi asked where the mother was. Apparently she had just left the apartment to find me a suitable drink: coffee. Why tea wasn't good enough for me, I don't know.

Minutes later the mother returned with a box of instant Nescafe in hand. Immediately the ai yi was summoned to make it for me, although she wasn't quite sure exactly what to do with it. We were guided to the dining table and the teenager and the girl sat down. A pile of English text books were thrown on the table and the mother brought a stack of paper and some pens. "Was this a lesson now?" I was very confused about this whole meeting. I decided it would be best to talk to them and see exactly how good their English was. After a few minutes I found the boy to be very pleasant with a good grasp of spoken English. His sister on the other hand was a complete nightmare. I have witnessed spoilt children before, and she fitted the category perfectly. It was painful trying to talk to her, she wasn't willing to even attempt to speak English. As I sat there trying to get her to ask questions, I could only think of my private class of similar aged children that I teach on Saturday morning. Those children are the polar opposite of that girl, sometimes I can't get a word in because they are so keen to talk.

After ninety minutes I wrapped up our talk and made sure if there was a next time, I would speak to the brother and sister separately. I was putting my shoes on when I saw the mother talking to Kimi and handing over some money. It seems that Kimi has worked out my going rate for English classes, and it's not cheap by the look of the 300 RMB we came out with.

We went to D & L square today to eat at the newly opened Papa John's. It felt very much like Christmas inside with the decorations and music playing. I can't quite believe I will be home in such a short time, all I have to do is get through this upcoming 7 day working week.....help!

Papa John's: the newest American franchise to make it to Wenzhou. Subway is comming next

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Christmas in Wenzhou

Although it doesn't really feel like it, Christmas has actually arrived in Wenzhou. The hotel -- in which Web is located -- is now filled with an array of tasteful, and not so tasteful Christmas decorations. Of course, the Web centre itself has been fitted out for Christmas also, but beneath all of the decorations, I can't feel that Christmas is happening at all.. It is just business as usual here, no party spirit, and no anticipation that a major holiday is approaching. Still, I have an excuse to start being excited: I will be going back to the UK in less than two weeks, home in time for Christmas day. I have started shopping for gifts, and don't think anything will be left until the last minute this year -- which makes a pleasant change. The only problem I face when shopping for gifts in China is that I can't buy anything that is too heavy due to the luggage allowance of 20kg that is imposed by the airline I am flying with.

Christmas tree in the foyer of the International Hotel

At Web we are also holding a party for Christmas which was planned to be held on the 21st so that Chuck (who is leaving before the 25th) and I could attend. This afternoon I came into work and found that the day of the party has changed to Christmas day itself. As usual there was no prior communication about this, someone had stuck a new poster to the wall, and it was actually one of the students who told me about it. Obviously neither me or Chuck will be able to go. Jane and Nancy in human resources decided to bypass all forms of common sense by asking me to delay my flight so that I could stay for the party. I couldn't comprehend what they were saying to me, why on Earth would I want to stay for a party at Web instead of going home (which I have been away from for nine months) to have Christmas with my family?

In all truth I am quite relieved I don't have to go to the party. All of the teaching staff had been asked to do a performance, something like a song, dance, or any kind of talent. Kristian and I were planning on singing and playing a kind of folk-esque version of Jingle Bells on the guitar. I am still completely unprepared for it and we haven't practised together yet. I feel guilty that Kristian is going to have to do it on his own, but after talking to him yesterday he told me that he knows a student who plays the guitar who he can ask to join him on stage.

I have four days off starting from today because Chuck -- who I mentioned earlier -- would like my days off next week to prepare for his new job before he officially leaves Web. It is certainly a bonus for me now, but it means that next week I will work for seven days without a break. It won't be as bad as it could be, because when that week is over I will take one day off and then head to Shanghai Pudong Airport to go home. The excitement should keep me going I hope.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

How to Add an E-mail Address to Your Blog

Recently I added a picture and a link to my e-mail address onto the blog (see right, underneath "About Me"). I am very happy with the end result, especially as I had managed to do it using free software and barely any knowledge of how to make such a thing.

Initially I searched on Google for information on how to create an "e-mail me" link, but found very little help. Therefore, I felt it was appropriate to publish my own guide so that other bloggers may find a solution to this problem. I should point out that the final stage of this guide is for use with the blogger/blogspot website. I have no idea if the same functions are available on other blog sites.

Why go to all this trouble just to add an e-mail address to a blog?
It would be easy to simply type an address and publish it, but writing an address on a blog -- or any website for that matter -- can cause a much higher chance of receiving junk mail in your inbox. Adding an e-mail address in the form of an image -- like mine -- makes it much more difficult for it to be taken by the "spambots".

Below is my basic 10-step guide for making and adding an e-mail link to your blog:

1. Download Picasa from here. Picasa is a Google-owned image manager and editor. It is completely free to download and use.

2. I thought it would look smart to use my e-mail's logo within my address. Simply do an image search for your e-mail provider's logo. I typed in "Gmail logo". Click on the image, then click "see full size", and save the image to your desktop.

3. Open the image in Picasa, and click "Edit in Picasa", or if you are on the main screen, double click on the image.

As you can see, I need some space before and after the logo so I can add the rest of the e-mail address. Picasa is not designed to be a full-on image editor like Photoshop, so I had to improvise....

4. Find "Create" on the top tool bar, and click "Picture Collage..." (on a side-note, the collage function is a fun tool to use for its original purpose, I created my blogger header with it from this original collage).


5.
As long as there were no other images saved on the desktop, the logo should appear on its own on top of a white background (if there are other images with the logo you will need to move the image into a folder where it is the only picture file, and repeat step 4 again).

6. Untick the box on the left which says "Draw Shadows". Move the image into the centre of the page by clicking and dragging. It is also possible that the logo is on an angle. If so, straighten it out by clicking once on the image and turning the wheel around until it says, "Angle 0". It is a good idea to make the image smaller. Again, click once on the logo, but this time move your mouse to the left to change the size -- I re-sized mine down to 50% scale. Make sure the angle remains at 0 before you take your finger off the mouse. Next, click "Create Collage".

Click on the image for a full-size version

7. Now you should have an image file which you can edit using Picasa. First we will add the text. Click on "Text". Write out your e-mail address in the text box, leaving out your e-mail provider's name. Using the same method for resizing images, click and drag the text box to bring the font size level with the image's text. Point the cursor to the centre of the box to move the text box. Play around with this for a minute, find a nice font, and make sure the text fits in with the logo.

8. I decided to change the colours of the font to match the Gmail logo. If you want to use more than one colour for the text, you need to use separate text boxes for each colour -- a bit of a chore I know. I chose the colours directly from the logo by using the pipette tool.

9. Next, crop the image to a suitable size and apply changes. Voila, your e-mail logo is finished.

10. Finally, to add the image to your blog, click "Layout", "Add Gadget", and choose "Picture". The "Configure Image" window should now pop-up. In the "Link" box, write this:


mailto:(enter your e-mail address here with no spaces and no brackets)


Upload the image and tick the box that says, "Shrink to fit". Using "Layout" in Blogger, move the picture to your desired location, and save changes. If everything has gone to plan, your e-mail logo should now appear on your blog. When the image is clicked it will open an e-mail form where visitors can conveniently write to you.

If you have any problems or questions with this guide, feel free to e-mail me.

....normal service will resume tomorrow.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Sweet Potato and an English Contest

Today has been a tough day at Web, six classes has not been an ideal start to my working week. Apparently one student was determined to have a class, and who was the only teacher free at her desired time?  Me. It wasn't so bad in the end, but I find I am completely drained from having that extra lesson. At this time of year I was really hoping that the schedule would be much lighter than it is, but we are working almost the same workload as in summer. I am becoming increasingly tired of it too, I think I need this upcoming holiday.

After Web today, I was treated to a pleasant evening with Kimi, Johann, Michelle, and Elwin (two students from Web). We went to a Korean restaurant, and even met a Korean man with a big beard who advertised that he owns factories in Wenzhou (we can thank him for days like this). We ate a sweet potato dish which brought memories of Hangzhou flooding right back to me. Richard (my friend from the UK who lived in Hangzhou) and I would regularly visit a restaurant each week that served this special type of sweet potato.  It is sticky, red-hot inside, but very delicious.

The dongbei (north eastern) Chinese restaurant in Hangzhou, in some ways very similar to the Korean restaurant we visited tonight, especially with its sweet potato dish

Before today I had just had a very relaxing three days off -- one more than usual -- due to me doing another favour for Web last week. I was asked to judge for the English competition that some Wenzhou university students took part in. I think they asked me because I had already spoken to a few of the students who took part a week earlier (I wrote about that here).

It was an interesting few hours indeed. The contestants had previously passed the first round that had taken place at the university, and would this time be coming to the Web centre itself. The winners of the second round will be entering the final which is taking place on December 11th. I guess if I am going to be asked to do this one too, I will be asked an hour before the event takes place.

The group of 40 or so students were split up into two groups: professional, meaning they were majoring in English; and non-professional, meaning they majored in something else. I judged the professional group with one of Web's tutors, Chrissy, and a university lecturer. We made our way to the "Web cafe", an odd place to hold the contest, but they had moved all of the tables and chairs out making it semi-acceptable. We sat behind our desks, and were handed the criteria for marking. All we had to do was give each contestant points, we didn't even have to say anything. There were two rounds for this process: the first was a performance, or talent show, and the second: improvised hosting.

I was surprised by two things in the competition: the lack of male contestants, and the fact that most of the students who chose singing as their talent couldn't actually sing at all. Hats off to them, they have the kind of confidence I am lacking in.

At the end of the judging, our papers were collected and the students returned to their campus. It seemed to be the university's job to count the scores and tell the winners, they did it a day or two later, so I have no idea who got through. If Web has nothing to do with the final, I wouldn't be surprised if nothing more is said of the matter.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Thanks For Coming

Just over a month ago I added a counter onto my blog -- completely out of curiosity -- to see if anybody apart from me and Kimi were actually visiting the site. It came as a pleasant surprise to see that within this time there have been nearly 1,200 page visits and 3,095 page views. Obviously a fair share of those numbers are from me, but it is very interesting to know that there are others reading my blog. The counter can also show me the area of people who have visited (although no invasion of privacy can become of this). Here are the locations of some recent visitors (the red dot being me):

I can't imagine how some of these visitors stumbled across my blog

I have mentioned this before, but my intention for writing a blog was simply to keep a written and pictorial account of my time in China. I spent one year here with so many events and occasions being a long lost memory to me now. Keeping a record of these times will hopefully be something to look back on in the future. It has just taken me by complete surprise that other people are actually reading this instead of my girlfriend and I. Through my blog I have even come into contact with some genuinely brilliant people, that otherwise I never would have met in a lifetime.

Thank you for reading!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Ganbei

Last night Johann, Kristian -- a new teacher from Canada -- and I were invited out for dinner by a few students. I had expected that we would visit a small cheap restaurant, the kind of which I have become accustomed to. The end result however, wasn't quite what I had in mind.

The students took us to a new restaurant a short taxi ride away from Web. We walked up the stairs, past all of the food laid out on tables for customers to pick (no menus in these places), and entered a private room. This was not going to be cheap. The food was ordered and in no time we were eating. Everything was going smoothly -- until the boss came in.

The man walked in with cigarettes in hand and sat himself down at our table. The students translated what he was saying to us. Apparently, because the restaurant is new, he wanted to celebrate this fact with us. Immediately, our three bottles of Tsingtao beer were replaced with Heineken. From this point onwards the eating stopped and the "ganbei" began (in Chinese "ganbei" means bottoms up, or down in one). The beer was flowing like water, the second I finished a bottle, the waitress immediately replaced it and refilled my glass.

The boss seemed very happy with the proceedings, and invited his friend's son into the room. He sat between Johann and Kristian, and spoke to us in English for a while, of course he had to down some drinks with us too. Next, a couple of the managers came in, and they drank a few more glasses of beer with us. After this, the boss decided to order something a little stronger than beer: cognac -- and two bottles of it. My glass was filled three quarters of the way up with the stuff, and once again we had to down it in one. More managers flocked in and also drank with us individually. Business cards were flying all over the room, each member of staff giving us their card (not that I could understand a word of Chinese on them). I have no idea how much we drank, but it was enough to send the room spinning.

A bottle of Remy Martin that Kimi's mother gave to me, similar to the stuff we were drinking last night

As soon as I arrived home I passed out on my bed. I was even too drunk to speak to my mum and dad who call me on Sunday night. Instead I wrote a message to them saying I couldn't talk due to the cognac. When I awoke at 7am this morning my head was killing me. I took three painkillers, but they didn't seem to work for at least thirty minutes when on the front of the packaging it quite clearly said "instant relief".

My day at Web was a very slow one, I was grateful that my final class of the day was with some of my favourite students. I think I would have died if I had been stuck with a beginner salon (salons are the bigger classes with up to ten students).

Also, today was Ryan's final day at Web, and in Wenzhou. He comes from Australia, is only one year younger than me, and has been in China since January. He joined the training centre about seven months ago, but recently things hadn't been working out. Unfortunately he will be leaving for Hangzhou tomorrow, and then to Shanghai. I just hope he can find happiness wherever it is he decides to stay.

Finally, Kimi gave me her old phone today. She took it to one of the mobile phone stores and managed to get the software changed from Chinese into English. I am now in possession of a considerably better phone than the one that was stolen from me. I just have to keep this one safe.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Stolen Phone

Today my mobile phone (see right) was stolen without my knowledge, a pickpocket for sure. They are apparently everywhere in this city, students tell me on an almost daily basis how they witness or have been victim of a petty crime. It seems that today was my turn.

I am not that bothered about it really, it is only a phone (not an iPhone at least), and it has lasted me almost one year, which in the world of mobiles is not too bad. My phone was a Sony K810i, its selling point being the 3.2 megapixel camera -- most of my blog photographs have been taken using it. A sturdy little phone, its only drawback being the odd little joystick used to navigate the menu. Recently the joystick had begun to stop functioning properly too, so again, it's not a big deal that I lost it. I am only annoyed that somebody managed to steal it from me.

Precious memories of my phone and I

I have only ever had one thing stolen before in my life: my very first mobile phone, a Philips C12 if I remember correctly. I was about 14 or 15, and was playing the trumpet with an orchestra at a fair outside. I placed the phone in a plastic bag under my chair, looked at it 15 minutes later, and saw a great big hole in the bag and no phone inside.

Today, I spent a great deal of time with Kimi outside. I was carrying two bags, and had my phone in my coat pocket. First, we had lunch at Papa John's, I received a text while I was there; next I had my hair cut, I also recall reading a text message there too; afterwards we went to an extremely busy Watsons -- known as Superdrug in the UK -- walked outside for a few minutes, and came home. At this point my phone was no where to be seen. I rang my number to see if I could hear it ring, a message came on telling me that the phone was either switched off or busy. This is surely enough proof that indeed, the phone has been stolen.

It is Saturday night tonight, meaning that down town Wenzhou is at full capacity. People were brushing past me everywhere, and the unfortunate truth is, because I am a "foreigner" I am a visible target. Also, I have been reading a fair amount of information about the health implications of keeping a device that it emits radiation near to the southern provinces, so I have recently been trying to keep my phone away from my -- thief-proof -- trouser pockets. Unfortunately, while taking care of my health, I have not taken care of my personal security.

On the bright side, Kimi has kindly called up my service provider, China Mobile, and has frozen the SIM card. Luckily the thief had no time to drain the 50 RMB remaining on it, so I will get to keep this credit. Tomorrow I can retrieve a new card and my number will not change. Also, Kimi has offered to give me her old mobile phone (this one). It is ironic that she bought this phone after her previous one was stolen while we were in Hangzhou together one year ago, and now I will receive it after my phone being stolen too.

I think I will have to try keeping the mobile phone in my bag from now on....

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Supermarket Shopping

Last night I decided to visit my local supermarket to buy some essentials I had run out of (shower gel, hand soap, jam etc). When visiting the Wal-Mart-owned, Trust-Mart (see above), it is quite clear that there is barely any Chinese influence remaining in the building. Walking around the isles I can sometimes forget I am almost 6,000 miles away from home. Occasionally I am brought back to reality, especially when I hear the same advertisement repeat and repeat and repeat on the speaker system (a common trait in shopping centres here, a form of audio torture I'm sure). I am also reminded that I am slap-bang in China when -- browsing for my favourite coconut soap -- I see a sign like this:

I am on a roll for bad English translations at the moment

The mundanity of the westernised supermarket has not completely taken over Wenzhou just yet. There are still many small fruit and vegetable shops all over the city, sometimes there are even trucks parked on the side of the road which have mountains of water melons or tangerines for the cheapest price imaginable. A few days ago I was waiting for Kimi on a small bridge overlooking one of the many canals in Wenzhou, when I saw a boat selling an assortment of fruit, vegetables, and eggs. It felt like I was watching a genuine part of a Chinese way of life which is all but forgotten in 2008.

This is the kind of China National Geographic told me about

Monday, 24 November 2008

Wenzhou University

This evening I was taken to Wenzhou University where I had to give a class about "How to improve English in a short time". The reason: to advertise my workplace, Web.

In the morning I still had relatively no idea what I was going to say to the students, some of whom were taking part in an English competition at the end of the week. I was also told that a lot of them would be English majors. I had no time to prepare anything yesterday due to having 6 classes, and today I noticed that my schedule had me down for three in the afternoon, preparation time would be strictly limited.

I completed my first two classes as usual, and my manager, Grace, came to have a few words with me. It was after 3 o'clock -- just over two hours until we would be leaving -- that she told me there would be about 150 students attending the class. Last week I was told it would be considerably less, this was news indeed. My heart skipped a beat and I began panicking, I had never spoken in front of so many people before.

I had no time for dinner, or to see Kimi, because I still had preparation to do. Charles, my boss, bought me a couple of pies from McDonald's to fill the gap. At 5:30 me and one of the course consultants, Cucu (pronounced Cuckoo) climbed into Charles' Audi, and we started the fairly long trip to the university.

Unlike in the UK it seems most universities in China are well outside of the city centre. They are also huge in size, almost like a small town. After a 30 minute drive, we entered the campus area. It seemed that every student owned a bike. Walking must be out of the question due to the sheer size of place. We went past a KFC, and finally entered the car park to one of the buildings.

Together, we all walked inside the complex and found the classroom where I would be giving my class. I stepped into the room, took a quick glance, "Yes, there are about 150 people here," I thought in my mind. I was suddenly jolted into confusion when everybody started to give me a round of applause. I hadn't done anything, all I did was walk through the door. It was a very odd experience, I kept asking "What did I do?" The clapping seemed to continue for quite a long time, when it stopped I felt like all eyes were on me. The nerves were certainly kicking in, which was made even worse when I saw a lot of the students taking pictures of me.

I had to play a short DVD to introduce Web to the students, it was very corny and of course made the training centre look like a brilliant environment to study English. After the video ended it was my turn to speak. I told the students I was a little nervous as I had never spoken to so many people at one time before, they responded by laughing as if I had just told the best joke ever written. They were very inviting and seemed extremely happy that I was there talking to them.

Before I began the class I was actually quite worried that the students would be very shy and wouldn't speak back to me. This is a common problem at Web, so I didn't expect it to be different at the university. I was wrong. Although there were a few shy people in the audience who didn't want to speak, most of them were extremely talkative and responded to me incredibly well. When I asked them a question I got a resounding response from a large majority of them, in unison too. I had also completely underestimated their level of English. Some of the items I had prepared would have been too easy, so I managed to change my plan and go off one of the many English corners I have done before.

In many ways I felt like a minor celebrity visiting the school for charity purposes -- or something along those lines. As I stood at the front of the classroom talking, I could see camera flashes and mobile phones pointing at me for the duration of the class. It was surreal, why was I getting all of this attention? I know the reality, the reason was just because I am a 'laowai'. One girl even told me that I was the first foreign person she had ever met, so she was quite excited. I felt flattered that someone could be excited to meet just me. I was in for another surprise at the end of the class when mayhem broke out. There were immediately dozens of people surrounding me, taking pictures of and with me, asking for my mobile number, email address, and QQ number. I was quite embarrassed really, I felt like it was all completely undeserved. My head shouldn't have been able to fit through the door on the way out.

As my boss drove us back home, I sat in the Audi feeling exhausted, relieved, and rather bemused, "What had just happened in that place?"

When we arrived back at the four star International Hotel, we entered the foyer and walked to the lifts which take us to the training centre. Near to them are some toilets. A few days ago I noticed this sign on the door of the disabled toilet:

Designed by PoliticallyCorrectSigns.com

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Buffet Blowout

I have just come home from a birthday party of an ex-Web employee's daughter. She was one today, or should I say two today, seeing as I am in China. For those who aren't aware, as soon as a baby is born in China (in many parts anyway) they are immediately one year of age, there is no counting of days and months, they are just one for the whole year. It is just like how we count the years: we say it is 2008 now, but if we use the Western way of counting age, we are only in our 2007th year and 11th month.

We arrived at the party more than one hour late because of work finishing at 7pm today. This meant that the buffet dinner was almost eaten by the time we stepped into the function room at the hotel. It was free, so I can't complain. I wasn't very hungry anyway, Kimi had bought me Papa John's as she was so excited that it had opened in Wenzhou today (although it was paid for with my money). I hope the baby likes the gift we bought -- it is a big telephone that can speak English and Chinese.

We had a much more pleasant night tonight than last night. We had planned to go on a night out for our new teacher, Kristian from Canada. Unfortunately the planning had been left to the wrong person and nobody had a clue what we were doing. Most of the others were working so Kimi and I waited until 7pm for them to finish -- I was still only semi-conscious after the trauma of shoe shopping in the afternoon. Eventually we decided to go The Victoria Hotel for the buffet. When we got there -- just like tonight -- it was too late, and most of the food had been obliterated. I couldn't be bothered going anywhere else and would have been satisfied to sit down and start eating, but Kimi wasn't having any of it (she was right, it was not worth the expense). After some talking, we decided to go elsewhere, left the hotel and caught a cycle-rickshaw.

It was Saturday night, so things were extremely busy in Wenzhou. The rickshaw driver decided the pavement was a better option than the road for driving on. As we rushed past a crowd of people, I felt us hit something on the right hand side. I looked and saw that we had collided with a man's leg. The driver stopped, got off the bike and began apologising. The man was furious, shouting and pointing at his leg all of the time. I didn't know what I was supposed to do in the middle of this, people were crowding around and starring right at us. Eventually the driver said "sorry" for the 100th time and we drove off.

A few minutes later, we pulled up outside the restaurant of Kimi's choosing, but it looked different. My worst fear came to fruition: they had changed the restaurant into a hot pot restaurant. After eating the hot pot here, I have not had any appetite for it again. The waiters had set the table and were ready to take our order. With a little embarrassment we got up, apologised, and left. We had no clue where to go next.

After strolling around for a few minutes we ended up near a cheap noodle shop, a place we regularly frequent. They serve brilliant fried rice, so in defeat we went in. I felt terrible that we had ended up in this place and weren't with Kristian having fun. Fortunately I spoke to him and found out that he was so tired he didn't even want to come out and went home not long after arriving at the hotel. We have planned to do something after work this week which should be much less of a hassle I hope.

Kimi and I were on our way home when we decided to buy a dessert from a dessert shop inside the large Intime department store. These shops specialize in fruit desserts, especially ones containing a lot of mango and coconut. We made our order, but unbeknown to Kimi, she had made a mistake: Instead of ordering mango with coconut ice, she had ordered mango with coconut yoghurt. "Just as the night couldn't get any worse" she said with complete sincerity. I ate the yoghurt and she ordered the ice. I do hope we never have any real problems to deal with in the future.

Mango, black sticky rice, and the disaster: coconut yoghurt

Tomorrow I have been asked to go to Wenzhou university to talk to the students about how to improve their English in a short time. In all honesty, I haven't a clue what I am going to talk about. I don't even know the kind of level I should be aiming for. The only reason they are sending me is to advertise the training centre, unfortunately my sales pitch is not going to be up to scratch.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Here's My Card

After just eight months of working for Web, I have finally been given my business cards. I also seem to have an e-mail address -- wzchris@webi.com.cn -- which I didn't even know about. Business cards seem to play a big part when meeting new people here in China. I guess I can join in with the tradition now. Other than that, the cards are quite useless, unless I use them for advertising private tutoring (which is completely against the rules of my contract).

Talking of private tutoring, I had my fourth class with the primary school students today -- I wrote about my first class here. Again, I had a very pleasurable time, and also learnt that they love competing with each other. For some reason they weren't really in the mood for concentrating, and the questions weren't flowing very well. Crystal -- their main teacher, and the person's home I go to for the class -- mentioned that we could turn the questions into a competition. It was amazing, as soon as I drew a table on the board with "boys" and "girls" on each side, they started going crazy trying to trying to score points by asking and answering questions as well as possible.

After the class was over I was invited for lunch by a couple of the parents. We all went together to the same Sichuan restaurant as last time. It was delicious, one of the best I have been too. One of the boys, Philip, requested an interesting item from the menu: Goose feet. Believe it or not, chicken, goose, and duck feet are all fairly popular with some people in China. I can't imagine why, where is the meat on such a thing?

Goose foot: not for the faint-hearted

Crystal and the children's parents were very kind for paying for the dinner and giving me a lift back to my apartment. The mother who drove me home even tried to have a conversation in Chinese with me. I was quite happy that I understood most of what she was saying, although my answers were full of mistakes. I had better back to reading the vocabulary in my green notebook.

I have been invited by an ex-employee of Web to his duaghter's one year birthday party tomorrow. Kimi is meeting me in a few minutes and we are going to visit the local toyshop to see what we can buy. It is tradition in China to give money in a red envelope for this kind of thing, but considering I am a foreigner and he is a foreigner, I think a gift for the baby is quite suitable. I have also promised Kimi that I will go shoe shopping with her after buying the gift....(snore).

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

My Aircon Plant

A plant (or weed) has been growing on my balcony for three or four months now. I noticed it in the middle of summer when I was hanging clothes out to dry. I saw a big green leaf sprouting from the base of a pipe. It has received its water supply from one of the air conditioning tubes that releases small amounts of water when the machine is switched on.

I don't know if it is dying now that I am not using my air conditioner, but it has certainly grown in height since I last took note of it. It is amazing how life can flourish in such strange places and conditions.

Aircon plant 
(unfortunately I can't take credit for this picture, Kimi took it on her iPhone)

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Future Plans

As I have mentioned before, I am going home for Christmas for one month, I can't wait, I am very excited about it. I know that this time spent at home will also be time spent planning on what I will do when I come back to China. Right now, I am quite sure I will not be continuing at Web once my contract has expired in April next year. Recently, things have been much better, and I have been enjoying many of my classes again. But I think English Corner and the terrible hours are two things that won't keep me staying at the company for too long. My big problem is: I don't know what else I can do.

I desperately want to go back to university or college to study something different from my music degree, but I am still unsure exactly what (although I know the field), and also how it can be done considering my position and finances. Also, I don't want to leave Wenzhou just yet, because of my main reason for being here in the first place: Kimi. I hope that in the not too distant future we will be able to leave Wenzhou together, maybe even leave China, but I don't want to put that on Kimi or her mother just yet. I feel that a little more time spent here is the right thing to do. Don't get me wrong, I have never been happier living here, it has been one of the most rewarding times of my life, I just feel like I cannot stay in Wenzhou forever. So, I just need to think about what I can do with my time next year. Do I stay at Web, or do I go?

I had a rare quiet minute in the office this evening. I started playing around with the panoramic function on my phone, and took this picture of my workstation (unfortunately it doesn't quite fit together):

My daily view at Web, with the slowest computer I have ever used

P.S. Wow, I have seven followers on my blog now! Thank you for reading everybody.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

A Day in the Life of a Wenzhou Web Teacher

Today -- being the first day of my working week -- began on a bad note. I was almost run over by a motorbike while I walked to work. The road was clear, so I crossed. Then, out of nowhere a bike came directly at me. There was probably a horn used, but considering so many drivers use their horns all of the time, it serves no function anymore. I have completely stopped listening to it. The bike braked right at my leg making a minor impact. It hurts a little as I sit down now, but it is almost nothing. The whole event was like hitting your leg against a cupboard as you walk out of a room. I was standing in the middle of the road with the bike directly to my left, the driver -- a man -- just starred at me with no emotion. I was waiting for him to say "dui bu qi" (sorry), but nothing came. A lack of common decency is one of the few things that can really get to me. I spoke a couple of expletives (in English), and walked onwards to the hotel.

The road in question, with a similar looking bike making its way towards me again

When I arrieved at Web I was shown my timetable for the day. It displayed six classes, with one of those being the "demo class" for students of Wenzhou University. Again, I wasn't happy. I could not believe they were giving me the responsibility of this demo, and then giving me five classes on top of it. How could they expect me to do a good job when they don't give me any time to prepare anything?

I started to think that the day could not get anyworse, when somehow my luck began to change. My first two classes were really enjoyable and we had a good chat, my mood was totally reversed. When I finished my second class I was told that the time of the demo was wrong on my timeteble, so another teacher would have to take my class. Even better (not for poor Johann though). Afterwards, I had a nice lunch with Kimi, and returned to the hotel to prepare my demo class. They had given me a topic that I had to talk about: "How to improve English". I found some websites and made a simple power point presentation. Just as I finished the lot, it was time to go into the English Corner room to start.

I expected the level of the students in this class to be generally better than what I am used to. Also, because they were all university students I hoped that they would be much more talkative as a group. I stood on the small stage in the English Corner room, introduced myself, and after ten minutes found out that they were just the same kind of audience I have become accustomed to. It was me talking a lot while I tried to retrieve a conversation from them, the words 'blood' and 'stone' came to mind. Thankfully three students in the room were asking questions and joining in. The rest just didn't understand a thing I was saying or were too embarrassed to say anything. It was tough, but after forty minutes we got something going and they started to relax with me a bit. I wrapped up the class, said goodbye, and continued to my next one, an "Ice Breaker", the lowest level at Web.

An example of what it is like teaching in the English Corner room -- with me and Johann

Somehow a class about "Time" became quite enjoyable, well I had fun anyway. We practised saying the "th" sound as in "three" for about ten minutes. One woman just couldn't get it and kept pronouncing it as an "s" sound, so "thank you" turns into "sank you" -- a common mispronunciation in China. Also, in my final class we had a nice conversation about travelling too.

I walked home feeling that I had actually had an enjoyable working day at Web. Recently I have become to tire of the routine of each class, the topics coming around again and again and again (if I get the planets one more time I am going to go insane). The working day starting at 1pm and finishing at 9pm is starting to grate, and the fact that so many students have no desire whatsoever to learn English is wasting my time. Thankfully, today was a good one, I hope tomorrow is too.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Quality Control

The pictures below are of the lights found, directly above the keypads, on two Construction Bank of China ATM's:



They couldn't look more suspicious to me, especially because of how poorly they have been fitted into the lights.  But according to the bank, they are all completly legitimate. Kimi and I went inside one of the branches to ask what was going on (well, Kimi did all of the asking). The answer we were given was that the cameras are there to see money coming out of the machine -- I am still trying to think of a reason for such a need. The fact is, the cameras must be able to see the keypad too.  Only a couple of weeks ago did the Wenzhou newspaper warn its readers about the dangers of using hijacked ATM's in the city. Now, how are we supposed to distinguish the difference between official bank changes and the work of thieves?  

Talking about amateur work, I wrote an entry about the construction going on next to my apartment, here. Last night, Kimi found out from the local authorities that the workers have been given the right to work throughout the nights to get an apartment block built. There is a law that prohibits noisy construction continuing past 8 or 9pm. In this case, the local authorities gave them permission so the building can be knocked up as quickly as possible. They obviously didn't feel the need to ask anybody who has to live with the noise if it would be OK. I have said this before, but this is one of the negatives of living in China: The government does what it wants and the civilians just have to put up with it.

To change the subject (but probably still keeping with amatuer work), I am supposed to be doing a big "demo class" at Web tomorrow. The demo classes are a kind of sales pitch to get new students to join. Tomorrow there will be a whole lot of Wenzhou University students, I have no clue at all what I am going to talk about for an hour with/to them. I can only hope they will talk back to me, it would make a pleasent change.

Sorry to moan, I should be happy, my cold has completely gone thanks to Kimi --who took care of me -- and Chinese medicine -- who took care of it.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Cold

The temperature dropped quite dramatically in Wenzhou a few days ago (at last). Not long after, I began to see a few students sneezing and moping around the training centre. As soon as I saw this I thought, "Oh great, it's going to be me next". Lo and behold, yesterday I caught a cold. I took my first class with no problems, then the second came. As I was talking to a student I began to feel dizzy and quite spaced out. This feeling lasted all day until I sank in bed and slept for ten hours. When I woke up this morning I still felt pretty hazy.  Working from 1pm - 9pm today hasn't improved matters either.

My saviour in this time of high temperature, blocked nose, and general drowsiness is Chinese medicine. The one I am taking is a herbal powder that you mix with hot water and drink like a tea. It smells quite aromatic and tastes sweet, not at all unpleasant. In fact, I enjoy drinking it very much. I have almost finished a whole box of sachets now, and find that the symptoms of a cold haven't even properly come to surface yet. I feel like they are waiting in the wings, ready to come out soon. I just hope my Chinese medicine is keeping them locked up until I am recovered. The only thing I am really suffering from is a complete lack of energy.

The medicine I am currently taking

I am so happy I have a day off tomorrow, I will try and make the most of it by spending as much time as I can in bed.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Food Cravings

A few days ago Kimi and I visited D&L square (see left, not to be confused with Paris).  The area houses new and expensive shops and a variety of non-Chinese restaurants.  Sometimes the square is also referred to as "European City". We have been there many times before, the food is certainly its forte -- unlike the time we tried a Macau restaurant there a couple of months ago.

Our primary aim for going to D&L was to see how the construction of the first Papa Johns restaurant in Wenzhou was going. Now, I love Chinese food, and I don't think I could live without Mapo Toufu. But occasionally I do have a craving for food that contains a lot of bread, cheese, and calories -- a food type that is almost non existent here. Pizza Hut does have a presence in the city, but it pales into significance compared to Papa Johns -- the king of American export Pizzas. All we need next is a Subway and I will be happy.

I feel like I should point out that at home in England I would feel quite guilty about frequenting such huge corporate establishments on a regular basis. But here, considering they are the only remnants of western food on offer, I gladly take complete advantage of them all.

After briefly looking at the construction of the new restaurant, we visited the small supermarket underground the D&L building that specializes in imported goods. Usually the products are overpriced and choice is limited. This time there was a big change. They actually had real cheese, not just the cheap stuff made from plastic. This was very exciting for me, I could probably over dose on cheese if I was given the opportunity. Luckily the cost is very high for a small block, so it will keep me away from addiction (and fatness). I ended up buying some Dutch smoked cheese and also a tub of spreadable butter (another first for me in China).

The next morning I made some toast and added my new purchases. It was possibly one of the nicest meals I have ever had. Unfortunately, after one week the cheese and butter are almost gone. I shouldn't be allowed near the stuff.

Butter and Cheese, I have missed you

Friday, 7 November 2008

The Sound of Progress (and Christmas)

If I had to use a sound to embody my short stay here in China, it would probably be the sound of building and construction work. As I am writing this I can hear a sledgehammer striking something that must be very hard, because they keep going at it again and again and again -- and again. Yesterday I was woken up by the sound of a wall being demolished next door (at 6am), and this morning by the sound of many metal pipes being dropped onto the ground. Unfortunately for me, next door to my apartment building they are constructing a new block of flats. For six months I have certainly heard the sounds of progress, but I haven't seen anything yet.

For over 6 months this has been the noisy "construction" site next to my apartment -- not that much visible construction actually takes place

Noise pollution must be a common annoyance in a large part of China, mainly because everything is developing so fast that it has caused cities to be in a constant state of change. Everywhere you walk in Wenzhou there are large buildings being constructed while old ones are being demolished. It is a fact of life here -- for the moment anyway.

In other news, I found out I will be able to return home to England for Christmas. My dad managed to change my flight date, so now I will be leaving Shanghai Pudong airport at 6:15am on the 24th December (I can't change the flight date myself because I am unable to call the airline company from China, so my father has pretended to be me each time he called). I will arrive back home at 6:30pm on the same day. Although it may seem like a relatively short journey considering I will be flying half way around the world, if I take into account the time-zone changes, the time spent travelling will still take more than 20 hours. Still, I am very excited to be able to come home for Christmas, last year I vividly remember teaching over forty 3-6 year old children while their parents watched and took pictures -- not a pleasant time.

I wish Kimi could travel with me for the holiday, but just as with so many other things at the moment, money has got in the way. To get the visa, take time off from her work, and buy a plane ticket is just completely unfeasible now. We will be planning a trip to the UK together next year hopefully. I will miss her for the month I have planned to be away, and feel terrible that I won't be with her for the holiday, and also her birthday (sorry Kimi!!). Before you think I am a bad person, I did offer to stay for her birthday and then go home for a month, but because I would then miss Chinese New Year (a holiday that is just as important as Christmas for Chinese people), she allowed me to go home earlier.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

New Look

I have decided to try a new look for my blog. I was becoming tired of using the "dots" template, although I did find it much neater than all of the others on offer. I also felt something was missing from my blog -- a picture or logo placed at the top of the page to reflect what I am writing about. When I have read other people's blogs they usually have a nice professional-looking design as their header. I'm not a designer, nor do I know any designers, so how I could I get one of them?

Suddenly I remembered an interesting feature on Picasa -- a free program from Google which lets you organize and edit your pictures. You can select a folder of pictures and make various different collages of them. I copied and pasted a few of my "China" photos into a single folder and clicked the "create collage" button.  Here is what I got:


After this, I made some space in the centre of the collage by manually moving the pictures around with my mouse. In this space I added my blog name and saved it as an image file. All of this could still be done using the Picasa software -- easy.

This was only the first try, when I have time after work I will play around with it a little more. Let me know what you think about the new look.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Teaching Children....Again

On Saturday morning I started my first private tutoring job. A prospective student had visited one of my English Corners at Web, and recommended me to her friend, Crystal, an English teacher. She emailed me asking if I would be interested in helping a group of eight primary school children practise what she has been teaching them in class. It would be one hour a week on Saturdays at 10:15 am.

I thought about how much I really didn't want to work on my days off as we are sometimes worked to the bone at Web. I was considering turning down the offer when I thought about the experience, the possibility of getting my name out there for more work, and the fact it was only one hour. I sent a reply to her email telling her I'd give it a go.

On the day, I arrived at the meeting place -- outside a restaurant -- a little tired from the Halloween party the night before. I received a call from Crystal telling me that "she had sent two girls to get me". This sounded a bit ominous, I thought we might be going inside the restaurant. Seconds later two young girls came running up to me shouting hello. "This could be them" I thought.

We walked away from the restaurant, turned a corner, and entered an apartment building. After climbing a few floors we came to Crystals home. She welcomed us in with a big smile, and even said I could keep my shoes on -- usually they're off at the door in China.  I was directed to a chair positioned in front of a whiteboard in her living room. As she had mentioned there were eight children (5 girls and 3 boys). Also, a few of the parents had decided to stay for the class. I was a little nervous by this point, everything was new and nobody knew me.

I sat down and she told me, "you can just pretend it is like an English corner". At that very moment I realised I had not planned a thing to say to these students. I panicked for about a second, but then somehow my autopilot kicked in. I introduced myself, and started talking and writing on the board. Then I had a shock, they started talking back to me too.

I have become so accustomed to students of a certain age who are not willing to speak English, that to be sitting in a room with 10-14 year olds who actually want to speak English was quite refreshing. All of them answered questions and understood the vocabulary and grammar I was using. I was impressed, these children were better than half of my fully grown students at Web. It was genuinely a joy to be with them for an hour, and in no time the class was over. I didn't look at the clock once.

Crystal invited me, with the children, to go to a Sichuan restaurant, this was a good sign, they didn't want to say goodbye and good riddance. As we were walking out she told me that I was just the teacher they had been looking for. I felt very flattered and relieved that they thought the class was a success. I could not have done a class like that a year ago with such comfort and ease.  I feel that I really have learnt a set of important skills in my time here in China, none of it has been a waste.

The last time I taught children was in Hangzhou (from August 2007 to January 2008). They were a few years younger than the children I am teaching now -- and much more difficult to handle. When I worked in the kindergarten it was quite exhausting, and I could never agree with teaching 5 year old children up to 7 o'clock at night. The kids were mainly brilliant, but very often me and Bobby -- an American anaesthesiologist who came to China with his wife and three children -- had no idea what we should be doing for classes. There was no guidance or help from anybody, we were just thrown in at the deep end.

I remember going on an outing with my classes to pick oranges in a farm just outside of Hangzhou. I am in complete disbelief that this was almost one year ago to the day (I remember being incredibly ill a couple of days right after this).

Don't forget the peace signs