Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Summer Is Over, Typhoon Is Coming

It's officially Autumn now. Over night a few days ago the temperature fell considerably, and for the first time in three months I didn't need my fan or air conditioning on last night. I actually found it quite uncomfortable and couldn't get to sleep straight away because of it. I've become so accustomed to the drone of the fan at night, I just couldn't relax in the silence, it felt like there was something missing.

Not only has it cooled down a little, but a typhoon is also apparently approaching. Typhoons are fairly common occurrences here, since I moved to Wenzhou in late March I think we have had four. Depending on how they hit, they can be very hazardous. I remember one in early August shut down most of the city for an afternoon. We were even sent home early from work (bonus). With them, they bring incredibly powerful wind and torrential rain. Yesterday the mild effects could be seen and felt with an umbrella-breaking wind and a spattering of rain. I don't know if it will be getting worse or not, it all depends on the direction it takes today (we can look here to check it's progress). Typhoons do have one good effect on the city: they blow away all of the air pollution. Yesterday and today may be one of the clearest days I have ever seen in China. From my balcony I can see the mountains that surround Wenzhou in magnificent detail, it's slightly grey and cloudy but I'm quite sure I've never seen them like this before.

View of the mountains in the distance from my balcony

Today is the begining of my holiday, which is a great relief. I exchanged my days off with Ryan at work because he wanted to go to Shanghai over the weekend. Now I am cashing in on these days and getting an extended holiday which will certainly give me enough time to recharge my batteries. My colleagues, Kimi, and I are all going to Xiamen tomorrow (if the weather doesn't force us to cancel that is), apart from the long bus journey (7-8 hours) I'm quite looking forward to it. I will post an account of the trip when we return.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Butter Me Up

This morning I received a call from my manager, Grace. Since I worked in Hangzhou the sight of a colleague calling panics me because I think I am about to hear some bad news -- I've been conditioned well. The truth is, since I joined Web I haven't had any phone calls like this, and today was proof in point. I was told that my boss, Charles, wanted to have lunch with me today. Again, my mind was asking "Why?" I could only think there was an ulterior motive. Grace even remembered that I don't eat meat and let me choose the restaurant. I politely accepted the invitation and made my way to the hotel --where Web is located -- for 11:30. I met Grace first and then the boss and his wife joined us. We walked together to my chosen destination, the Hong Kong restaurant, which has the baffling title of "TFT Chamber". Things seemed ok, not awkward at all, in fact the bosses wife was speaking to me in very good English and asking many questions. Too much food was ordered -- a display of generosity for sure -- most of the dishes were even suitable for me to eat. And....that was it. No unveiling of an all-new contract, no sticky situations, not even a favour was asked, it was just lunch. Which was nice.

An example of the Hong Kong food served at "TFT Chamber" (the sandwiches make a welcome change from the norm)

All good gestures aside, I'm glad the holiday is coming up next week because I'm actually starting to feel tired at work. Some classes are beginning to completely drain me. I think it has something to do with the students. Some can give me energy and make me feel good, but others have the special ability of draining the life and soul out of me. This is why I would be so grateful to go back to four classes a day, it makes such a difference. National Day can't come soon enough.

Oh, I also saw the girl, who yesterday, asked where I get my haircut. I immediately noticed she was sporting a new hair-style....just like mine.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

YouTube, Web and Indian Food

I posted the Nan Xi River video on YouTube yesterday, but found that once it was uploaded, the quality was terrible. It seems that YouTube compressed the video considerably, which is of great frustration considering I accidentally deleted the project file for Sony Vegas. This means I can't go back and render the video as a different file-type which may or may not be more compatible with YouTube. So that's it, I'm stuck with this horribly pixelated, compressed video. I hope it is semi-watchable at least.

Web is still busy for me, five classes a day and English Corner twice this week. Things should be different now the summer holiday is over, but we lost Ed --from Wakefield, who has gone to Beijing -- and Gary -- who has gone home for two months -- so our staff of seven teachers is down to five. By now our workload should be about four classes a day, which would be a great relief compared to the current schedule.

I had another English Corner today which was actually quite pleasurable for once. We talked about giving advice, I gave them some problems of mine to answer and asked if they had any to share. I didn't think I would get anything, but straight away one student began telling us of her desire to have cosmetic surgery on her nose (for some reason it seems to be a good thing to have big nose in China, especially one with a high bridge). At the end of the class a student came up to me to ask where I get my haircut, I knew the place, just not the name. I asked "Why?" She replied, "Because I want to get my haircut like yours." I think that's my cue to have a trim....

Last night Kimi and I went to an Indian restaurant, the only one in Wenzhou. It is very good, although quite different from British-Indian food. I wonder which is more genuine? I will have to find out one day. However tasty my potato curry was, I couldn't help but be slightly annoyed that there were only two small potatoes in the whole thing. If it wasn't for the deep-fried vegetables and the naan bread filling me up, I would have complained for sure (or asked Kimi to do it for me).

A Chinese-Indian

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Nan Xi River Part II

Last month I wrote an entry about my trip to the Nan Xi River, here in Wenzhou.  Today I finally edited together the videos I took on my camcorder of that day.  Here is the end result:

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Another Rude Awakening

I was woken up again this morning, not by an air-raid siren, but the police....

The first time this happened, Kimi was with me to translate, it was simple, they just wanted to look at my passport to register me onto their database. This time I had no Kimi, so it was down to me to make use of my very limited Chinese. I opened the door to find two young officers who looked like they were just out of high school (I guess this type of work must be one step up from making coffee -- or tea in China). One was short and wielding a cigarette, and the other, a tall bean-pole in sneakers who probably wanted to be the next Yao Ming before joining the force. The shorter one began speaking to me and I was instantly confused by his use of "ni men" meaning "you" (plural), who else was he talking to? That had me confused, but then I discovered he was once again after my passport. I fetched it and he seemed to copy a lot of it onto another piece of paper. I'm not sure the reason why he was doing all of this, but it might have something to do with the Olympics being over and the visa laws reverting back to the way they were before the games. As all of this was happening the taller officer just stood around looking at me for five minutes. They were surprised there was no chinese writing in my British passport, didn't know of my hometown (even though that was printed in Chinese on my visa), asked if I lived with anyone else, and left.

Rick and I, with the nearest example of a Chinese policeman I could find in my pictures (although he was actually a Filipino singer/dancer -- apparently called "Eagle" -- at "Banana Leaf", a Thai restaurant in Shanghai)

Just like the policemen today, I have noticed that a majority of Chinese people I have randomly met, won't slow down their speech to aid us in our understanding of them. They just fire out word after word as they would to anybody else. At least in the UK we shout at foreigners to make sure they understand.

Yesterday I had "English Corner" at school again. This is a-class we have to teach to a large group of students, anyone can come, and they don't have to prepare anything. In all honesty, it can be a nightmare, some students just don't want to talk -- ever. However, I completely underestimated them yesterday. It seems that their written grammar is actually very good, they do not make the same mistakes that many native speakers do at home. I was very surprised. They can write, they just can't speak.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Bad Eggs

A common recurrence I have seen while living in China is that hordes of people think that I am made of money. Why? Because I'm a foreigner. It's true that I get paid above the average wage for a Chinese person in this city, but I'm certainly not earning a fortune like so many of the millionaire Wenzhounese who drive around in their huge 4x4 Porsche cars all day.

Usually this way of thinking isn't a worry, but other times it can be tiresome. Shopping for many items can be very different here, mainly because some goods don't have fixed prices -- they can be bargained down. For something like a bottle of water, you would expect the shop assistant to sell it at a reasonable price that should need no energy for haggling. Sometimes, things can be different if you are a "wai guo ren" (the more polite way to say "foreigner" in Chinese). A drink that was once 3 RMB will now suddenly cost 4 RMB, or a pair of shoes that should be 150 RMB will be sold for 250 RMB. This kind of practice is even more common in tourist hot spots, they will rip you off left, right, and centre. I will not forget the time I bought a small statue of one of the terracotta army figures in Xi'an for 80 RMB (haggled down from 200 RMB) thinking I'd got a bargain. Soon after, I found the Dutch guy -- who was in our group -- had bought two larger statues at a total of 40 RMB from the shop next door. To add insult to injury, my terracotta emperor was beheaded in my bag on the way back to Hangzhou from Xi'an.

The reason I'm writing this is because I was once again hit by the rip-off yesterday. Kimi and I were on "Wu Ma Jie" (translates as "Five Horse Street"), a high street in Wenzhou where many of the major shops reside. After eating our dinner we were ready to go home, but too lazy to walk all the way, so we decided to get one of the many rickshaws -- cycled not pulled -- that plague this city. As soon as we walked up to the group of them huddled together at the end of the pedestrian street, the drivers were charging 10 RMB when usually it is 5 RMB. Just out of principle we would not accept being charged double the standard fare. We tried to get the price down but to no avail. We were about to leave when one of the drivers commented that it was 10 RMB because I'm a foreigner ("lao wai")*. This angered me slightly, so I called him a "bad egg" (ben dan) -- quite right too I thought. The stroll home was probably better for us anyway.

A lone rickshaw cycling near my home

I have just finished putting up on the wall some various photographs that I had printed yesterday (2 RMB per photo) of family, cats, home and sightseeing. Kimi and I also hung up the two hand-made-kind-of-Indian-looking fabric pictures I bought from Wuzhen last weekend. My room actually feels more like a bedroom and less like a prison cell now.

The two hand-made pictures from Wuzhen (the lady is in the living room, and the elephant in the bedroom) and my small wall of photographs

Friday, 19 September 2008

Bars and Free Holidays

I must apologise for my rant about the air raid siren yesterday. It seems that it wasn't a random blasting of the alarm after all. At work I found that others had been disturbed by it also, so I asked what the point of it all was. Many didn't know, but a couple told me the real reason: September 18th is the anniversary of when Japan attacked and began an invasion of China in 1931. Every year the sirens go off all over the country to remember the people who died in the war, similar to our Rememberance Day -- although wearing a poppy is much more subtle than blasting an air raid siren.
Last night I went for a few drinks with Johan from work. I've not been to any bars or nightclubs for a while because I really don't like them here in Wenzhou. They are over-priced, play horrible-deafening music, and accommodate the kind of "foreigner" I wouldn't usually choose to be around. Not that these people are bad or anything, but for me, some of them can be a little....weird. I believe that a lot of people who are teaching in China have come for an adventure, escape, or are completely lost. In any case, I find that quite a few of these "lao wai" just aren't on the same wave length as me (I can't even describe what wave-length some of them are on). That's not to say I haven't met any great people, because I have, and many of them too.

A typical scene in a Chinese night club, it's a shame you can't hear the deafening (and terrible) music and taste the dense cigarette smog that fills the building. Also notice the welcoming stare from a local regular.

Anyway, back to last night. The place that Johan took me too wasn't a bar at all, it was a restaurant; but inside it was reminiscent of a semi-classy bar from home. Dim-lighting, fashionable furniture and décor, music being played at a sensible volume (God, am I middle-aged?), and most importantly of all, cheap beer. Finally, I have found a great place to relax, talk and have a drink. We had a good conversation about many things last night, it was interesting to find that somebody who seems so different than me can have so many things in common. I look forward to going back to this restaurant/bar soon (it's only a couple of minutes away from my home too).

I also found out yesterday that Web is going to pay for it's teaching staff to go on holiday for three days in October (October 1st is National Day in China, another public holiday). Luckily for me they have decided to go to Xiamen, the same place Kimi and I were planning to travel to. Of course I didn't forget about Kimi in all of this, I can bring her too, but she will have to pay the full cost. This is not a problem because we will still be getting the holiday at half the price really. The only drawback to Xiamen is the bus ride. It's going to be at least seven hours, and after my experience of travelling to Wuzhen and Xitang, I would much rather spend more time at the destination than on a bouncy bus.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Rude Awakenings

I was woken up this morning, not by people shouting outside, nor a random knock at the door by policeman, not even the sound of construction work (these are all things that have woken me up before by the way). I was woken up today by an air raid siren. Why? I don't know, and probably will never know.

I was dragged out of sleep and still a bit disorientated so my first thoughts were instantly war related, "Was China finally invading Taiwan and they're retaliating with a bomb attack by plane?". As I stood on my balcony being deafened by the noise, I scanned around the street-level below, "phew", there were people walking around as usual, and the workmen next door were still laying the foundations for a new apartment block (six months it's taken them so far, I don't know what they're doing, barely any progress has been made). There was no panic at all in fact, I saw nobody running to fetch their precious belongings before they escape the city. No planes, no bombs, no biochemical disaster, so why was an air-raid siren going off for almost one hour?

I wouldn't be surprised if nobody knows the reason for this, but probably not many will question it at all. It seems that the way things are here means that civilians just have to sit back and take whatever anybody throws at them, no complaining, no questioning. For example, one day a few weeks ago the government-controlled electric company (The State Grid -- also who Kimi works for) decided to turn off power to the whole area where I live for most of a day. Apparently this was printed in the local paper, but a lot of my neighbours and I obviously didn't have a clue (I could tell by the shouting outside, I didn't need to understand Chinese to get that). The excuse for this was that the company wanted to save electricity in the city (this coming from the highest polluting country in the world). Thanks for the personal letter of warning for that -- we got nothing. But this isn't the way things work in China, "they" say it, you do it.

The State Grid building opposite my home. Their motto: "If we decide to randomly switch off your electricity, deal with it".

Sometimes it really does feel like I'm in a completely foreign country, thousands of miles away from my own.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Mid-Autumn Festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival has come and gone for another year. I fulfilled both of the requirements of the holiday by seeing the full moon and eating a moon cake (well, part of one because it weighed as much as a brick and I wasn't very hungry at the time). Fortunately that wasn't the highlight of the holiday because Kimi and I actually managed to go travelling somewhere for a couple of days. The places in question were Wuzhen and Xitang.

It was an early start for us on Saturday morning as the bus was leaving at 6.30 am. We awoke at 5:30 and took a taxi to the meeting place, ready to leave ASAP. Forty-five minutes later and the bus arrived. It was packed full of people from a neighbouring town so we ended up getting the seats at the back. This wouldn't usually be a bad thing, but the suspension on this particular bus was terrible and we were right above one of the back wheels. Every bump in the road felt like taking a dive on a roller-coaster. Because we had prepaid for the whole trip -- including return journey, hotel, food and entrance tickets -- this group on the bus would be the people we'd be spending a lot of time with. The young woman appointed to look after our group continually shouted down the microphone at the front of the bus at incredible volumes which have probably left some with permanent ear damage. She also tried to play group-bonding games which was not ideal when I wanted to go back to sleep. I was quickly labelled their "foreign friend", and at one point she was persistent that I come to the front and sing an English song for everyone. I politely declined saying I was too embarrassed and didn't like it (that's as far as my Chinese could take me). Shortly after the games were over, a Chinese war movie came on the TV which meant I could finally close my eyes for a second.

After six hours of travelling -- some of which was over one of the longest bridges in the world -- we finally arrived at Wuzhen. The weather wasn't very good considering that for almost the whole journey we had sun and blue skies. Here, it was grey, raining, and we didn't have an umbrella. First of all we were lead into a restaurant where lunch was quickly served. Our group was in a frenzy to get to the table and dig into the food, so much so that one of my "safe" dishes on the table was almost gone by the time we sat down. One rule to remember in China is that it's 'every man for himself'. Whether it is waiting to get into a lift (they usually don't wait for you to get out first) or getting onto a bus (the old ladies will break your ribs with their elbows), people will do anything to get there first, the concept of the queue doesn't exist.

We left the restaurant -- after what seemed like ten minutes -- and made our way to the main tourist spot. We got our tickets and walked through the entrance of the small protected town. I can only describe this place as "real-China". I'm sure that if most people were asked to close their eyes and imagine a Chinese town, it would be like this. It is of no surprise that the producers of Mission Impossible 3 decided to use the two places we visited as scenes in the film.

We walked around the first corner only to see a man hanging off the end of a tree with the Chinese flag pinned to the top. He did some admirable acrobatics on it for a few minutes and then slid off. According to a sign, local villagers used to do such a thing to thank the river for fish (or something like that).

By this point of the trip we had completely lost the rest of our group. I couldn't stand to be around them with a guide screaming down a microphone for the whole day. It was much more pleasurable to do things the way we wanted. I noticed as we walked down the narrow street that people really did live in these old houses. My first thought was that this whole area was void of life, the buildings only remaining here for the tourists, but I was wrong. Sure, the place thrives and most probably survives off tourism, but it was nice to see genuine residents living here still. I don't know if the locals are told to keep their doors open, but we could see every day life occurring in each home: old women playing Majiang, a man in his underwear hanging up his washing, and a puppy coming out to play.

After walking a little further we found a small cafe where green bean soup and nothing more was on the menu. However disgusting it may sound, it is actually very nice, usually served cold and quite sweet.

Me thinking about the green been soup I'd just eaten

We had a good few hours in Wuzhen which were very pleasurable, but time was up. We all got back onto the bus and headed off to Xitang. 30 minutes later we arrived at restaurant number two, and a re-run of lunch was played out. Of course my favourites, the "tu dou si" (sliced stir-fried potato) was gone within a minute.

Dinner was over and we were guided to our included-in-the-price-of-the-ticket two star hotel. I was a little scared after my previous experiences of very cheap accommodation in China, but was pleasantly surprised to see a clean room with a good tv -- no windows mind you. We quickly dropped off our belongings and made our way to the next traditional scenic area. The modern part of Xitang is just like any other Chinese city, and not a very good one either. The stares from the locals at the 'lao wai' walking around did not make me feel any more comfortable. We were starting to give up our hunt for the old area and go back to the hotel when we finally stumbled down a dark alley. It was like something from Harry Potter, we kept on walking and the walls seemed to be ageing, and then all of a sudden we arrived in a living breathing traditional China. Such a contrast of environment was incredible to see, this was the Xitang I'd been hoping for.

There were lanterns hanging everywhere giving the town a calming red glow through the pitch dark. I felt a real buzz in the air because of all of the tourists and people walking around looking at the many gift and food shops dotted around the tiny streets. This part of Xitang was quite like Wuzhen, but just more of everything.

A girl lighting some "wishing" candles that float on the water

We walked around, bought some strange but tasty alcoholic rice, and headed back to the hotel. I didn't have the best sleep that night; after uncovering the bed sheets and seeing a couple of small bugs crawling around, I had recurring dreams that things were crawling all over me.

At 7:15 the phone rang to tell us breakfast would be at 8. We missed breakfast by fifteen minutes which of course meant that it was over, so the guide handed us our tickets and we walked back to the ancient town. It was completely different seeing the place in daylight, and I was quite surprised by the actual size of it. I could even make out the area where Tom Cruise ran in the film Mission Impossible 3. They had put up some pictures of him near to each filming location for help identifying them. Again, there are residents living in these homes (some of them will even let you stay over for a price) which is brilliant to see. I think most of them make their living from home because there is shop after shop for the tourist where you can buy food, fans, art and clothes.

This is where Tom Cruise was filmed in Mission Impossible 3

Apparently the roofs of each house used to represent how rich the residents were

Only after looking at this picture later did I notice that unfortunately these birds are tied to the boat (another ploy for the tourists)

Sleeping on the job

The canal that runs through the town

Hours after walking around the town and into the many ancient houses of Xitang, we were finally called to come back to last night's restaurant for lunch. We arrived five minutes early only to see the whole group sitting there waiting for the food to arrive. Lunch was eaten rapidly, we piled back onto the bus, and began our journey back to Wenzhou -- another bumpy six hours. I had a few more minutes sleep on the way back thanks to a minimum of shouting down the microphone and team-building games.

Apart from the minor setbacks I really think the holiday was an absolute bargain for 450 RMB (about £35). Although next time I'm going for three stars....

Thursday, 11 September 2008


Kimi bought an iPhone 3G today (see left, picture taken on my now very crappy-looking Sony Ericsson). For someone who usually analysis every aspect of any kind of decision, she quickly came to the conclusion that she had to have an iPhone -- and a white one too. The only way for people in mainland China to get hold of one of these things is to buy it from one of the many "phone markets". Here, they mainly deal with imported handsets that aren't currently, or will never be available in the country. The phones are then unlocked to accept a Chinese SIM card. All of this is completely illegal and ignored by the authorities (just business as usual in China).

The only drawback for the customer is that the phones come with an over-inflated price tag -- the iPhone being no exception to this rule. Why China Mobile haven't done everything they can to launch this must-have product here is beyond me. Apparently an agreement was in talks but things went sour and Apple pulled out.

I can show you how much money these people are making off each phone by looking at Kimi's transaction today. First of all, I'm sure most people would gasp at the £399 o2 are selling the 16GB iPhone for on a "pay as you go" tariff. But wait, today Kimi got hers for an eye-watering 5,500 RMB (about £460) -- no Apple warranty or guarantee included of course. This is in a place where dinner costs £2 and taxi fares are 75p. It's insane, but she doesn't seem to mind the ripping-off that has taken place.

Another drawback with the phone is that it is from America, so when Kimi came to synchronise it to iTunes, it requested that her AT&T card needed to be registered first....there is no AT&T card. She's going to have to go back to the market and get it dealt with tomorrow, she's not happy about it. Another annoyance is that the 3G capabilities of the phone are of no use here because there's no 3G coverage yet.

I will stop my moaning now and express my jealousy of not owning such a beautifully designed piece of equipment myself. It's no surprise it's been such a hit around the world. Sure, the battery-life may be terrible, but I imagine it's only because everybody can't take their hands off the thing all day.

Back of the white iPhone 3G

Speaking of illegal activity, copyright infringement is everywhere in China, from Adidos to Nokir they've thought of it all. I'm sure my local "Brioche Doree" bakery (see below) does not belong to this Brioche Doree. Although it seems the parent company have recently reinvented their logo, a quick look on google brings up the older, more familiar one.

Copyright infringement is everywhere

Hopefully we will be going to Wu Zhen and Xi Tang for the Mid-Autumn festival holiday. They are two traditional Chinese towns that were also filming locations for Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 3 (the parts where he is running around a very stereotypical Chinese scene which is supposed to be Shanghai in the movie).

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Happy Teacher's Day

Today is "Teacher's Day" in China. Unfortunately it isn't a national holiday -- so no day off for me -- but a chance to admire, respect and adore the teachers of this country. My boss, Charles, apparently wanted to treat his teaching staff to a new pen. Luckily an intervention by two of the tutors made him change his mind to more generous offerings. Instead we were presented with 70RMB (about £6) worth of coupons for GXC bakery. Surprisingly the bakeries are very nice here, you can buy cakes, buns, pastry-type things, biscuits and loaves of bread. The bread is quite sweet compared to at home, and butter is at a shortage too (when you find some in one of the handful of shops that sell it in the city, it's also relatively expensive).

Some of the female teachers received flowers from a student. Erin -- one of the "tutors" (as we have to say at Web) -- shared some of hers with me which was very kind.

I also received a real gift: two boxes of "Gel Bait for Killing Cockroaches" from a student, Rachel. In our last class together I told her of my previous horror stories, she was kind enough to offer me a helping hand (and possibly be my new Chinese teacher).

And if that wasn't enough gifts for one day, I have also been given a complementary box of sweets from a couple who are getting married in my apartment building. Maybe I have bumped into them in the lift a couple of times, but I have no idea who they are (they didn't show their faces today either, just left the box hanging on my front door). It's customary to give a box of something sweet to your colleagues and neighbours when you get engaged, but I would have thought that giving a box to everybody in a twenty-two storey building is taking the tradition a little too far.

Kimi and I are going away for the Mid-Autumn festival but can't decide exactly where to go because of the endless list of options. Kimi said she can't make a decision because she's desperate for a white iPhone 3G -- which will be illegally winging it's way to her any day -- and can't keep her mind on anything else.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Employee Of The Month

For my two days off there was rain, thunder and lightening. First day back at work, sun, clear unpolluted blue sky (it can really happen sometimes, see left and below) and a warm breeze -- brilliant. This weekend is the Mid-Autumn Festival, a Chinese National Holiday (one of many) where the moon is celebrated and everybody eats them. Well, not pieces of the moon, but moon cakes. Although it may soon be "Mid-Autumn" it certainly doesn't feel like it.

When I arrived at work I found out that I had won the "Super Teacher" award which was very flattering. I didn't expect it, as I had won last month and thought they would rotate it around all of the teachers. The bonus money will certainly come in handy for my impending trip to Xiamen in a couple of weeks. When I came to China I didn't think I had anything to offer with this English teaching lark, I could never imagine taking any classes with adults. That's why I was more than happy to teach Kindergarten children, at least they'd be too young to know about incompetence when they see it. Since starting at Web I feel I have gained a huge amount of confidence when talking to large groups of people, and individuals too. After receiving these awards I also feel that I must be doing something right after all. Maybe I can be a "real" teacher.

Proof that blue skies do exist in China (sometimes)

Actually, I should have found out about winning the prize yesterday, but my phone ran out of credit and I didn't realise until 6pm. In China they have two main mobile phone operators: China Mobile, the biggest and most popular with the best network coverage; and China Unicom, cheaper and less popular with a not-so good network coverage. I am with China Mobile, and the service they offer is quite ridiculous. It's pay and go which is not a problem for me, when I'm low on credit it's more than easy to top up here. Problems arise when you actually have no credit, because once you're out you will not even be able to receive calls or text messages. It's understandable if you can't make a call or send a text, but what are they gaining by not allowing you to even receive a message? Yesterday I assumed nobody was texting or calling me all day, I only found out later when I tried to make a call and the lovely Chinese woman blah blah blahed into my ear to tell me that I have no cash.

All in all, it's been a great day. I had a fun class with two Business Intermediate students in the morning, we ended up discussing marriage, religion, university and careers. That's the kind of class I really enjoy. I also had another class with a new student called Yankey, a young guy with a big smile who liked to tell me about Stephen Hawking, Mark Twain and President Nixon. Later he mentioned that he has two thousand books at home, he's going to lend me some about ancient Chinese history (not that I will be able to even understand a word of it). I certainly enjoy meeting a complete spectrum of people at Web, just the other day I had a class with a gynaecologist and a doctor of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine).

I do seem to have one problem that is recurring at the moment though....

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Big Mama

My worst nightmare was unfolded in front of my eyes on Thursday night. It seems that my sightings of baby cockroaches in the kitchen was the calm before the storm. The baby's mother made her appearance on the night in question and she was a BIG mama. I have only had one sighting of such a beast before -- when I stayed in the beautiful* Chunking Mansions in Hong Kong. I remember being awoken by cries from the Canadian girl who was in the shower, only to find this animal climb out of the bathroom (if you could even call it a bathroom) after her. It was enormous! Luckily for me the Swiss girl sharing my bunk bed got her shoe and whacked it....a lot.

My room in Chunking Mansions, Hong Kong (not quite five star, but getting there)

This time I was also in luck as Kimi was staying at my apartment. She took the initiative and sprayed it to death (and even then it came back from the dead) using what seemed like the whole can of insect killer (I didn't want it to die really, but this thing was something else. Have you seen the Alien films?).

The 9RMB an hour cleaner was called in and she cleaned the cupboards where the cockroaches must have been hiding. She found a smaller relative inside, picked it up by the tentacles and tossed it into a bin bag. I envy her.

The situation seems to be back to normal now, no sightings in the kitchen and no more tiny ones running around. I pray that they are all gone forever, surely another family won't want to climb sixteen floors again, will they?

Other than that it's been a fairly uneventful two days off, mainly because of the weather. Kimi and I had planned to go to the originally named "Water World" but too much water falling from the sky put us off.


Wednesday, 3 September 2008

They Can Climb!

I just came home to find three baby cockroaches scurrying around my kitchen floor. Whenever I turn the light on after coming back from work, I wait a few seconds to see any movement and then decide whether it's safe or not to come in. Today was unsafe.

One of the many reasons for choosing my current apartment is that it can be found on the sixteenth floor. Surely the cockroach wouldn't bother to climb to such extensive heights, just to terrorise me? Well, they do. I guess they come up through the pipes, in elevators, on shoes etc. Luckily they've never made it to my bedroom and only once or twice to the bathroom. Under the kitchen sink seems to be the current hang out right now. I think it's time to invite the 9RMB an hour cleaner to come back to the apartment again.

(Above) He Hua Lu (Lotus Flower Road) (Left) He Hua Da Sha (Lotus Flower Building), my home. Don't be fooled by the sweet name, the "roaches" are still there.

For the first time in a couple of months I had an easy day at Web today. I only had two classes and two English Corners (I taught them to play card games). For any who don't know, the English Corner, or "Social Club", is a class where any amount of students can attend. It consists of the "foreign" teacher standing at the front of the classroom talking and talking and talking about any chosen subject for one hour. The aim is to get the students speaking to the teacher and to each other in English -- the reality is very different. I don't know exactly what it comes down to: shyness, embarrassment, boredom or misunderstanding, but some students will not speak to save their lives. They have spent a small fortune to study at Web so it strikes me as completely insane that they don't want to make the most out of every opportunity to speak English.

Although the EC can be a killer, today was a good one: there were less people attending, most of them were my favourite students....and we were playing cards. I wish I could get away with doing this every week.

Kimi had her hair cut today, "Ta de tou fa hen piao liang".

Monday, 1 September 2008

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some questions that I get asked by students on an almost daily basis (sometimes in this order too):
  • Where do you come from? "Great Britain" (usually they've only learnt England)
  • Which city? "Manchester" (football fans know this one)
  • Do you have any brothers and sisters? "Yes, a sister"
  • How old is she? "The same age as me, we're twins"
  • Where is she? "In England"
  • Does she live at home? "No, she lives with her boyfriend" (unheard of in China, usually they must be married first)
  • What does she do? "She is working in an office, saving up to go to theatre school"
  • Why do you smile so much? "Because I'm not depressed, why are you smiling?"
  • Do you like China? "Yes, of course"
  • Which cities have you been to? "Not many, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Xi'an, Beijing, Hong Kong, Taizhou and Wenzhou of course"
  • Why did you come to China? (you can find this, and the next few answers in my first post)
  • Why did you come to Wenzhou?
  • How long have you been in China?
  • Do you have a girlfriend?
  • Is she in England?
  • Is she Chinese?
  • Where [in China] does she come from?
  • What is your [university] major?
  • Why did you want to be an English teacher?
  • Do you like Chinese food? "I love it"
  • What is your favourite? "Sichuan food, especially Mapo Doufu"
  • Where do you live? "He Hua Building, He Hua Road"
  • How much do you have to pay to live there? "Too much"
  • How much is your salary? "Not much"
I have found that many people feel no problem asking a taboo question such as the one above; even taxi drivers have asked me about my salary (usually right after guessing if I'm German or Russian).

On a side-note, I failed my first student today. At school we teach two types of classes: a private class with up to four students, and a salon class with up to ten. Today I had a private lesson where the topic was travelling abroad. I had one girl, Sharon, and one boy, Zero (this name is completely normal in China). I've seen Sharon many times in salon classes and have complained to her tutor about the lack of willingness she has. Today was no exception, she wasn't interested in the slightest and knew nothing of the related vocabulary. I would even explain words to them on the board and she would point and ask, "what does that word mean?" one minute later. She also stays glued to her electronic dictionary (which usually yield incredibly inaccurate results) because she has to have every single English word translated into Chinese. From what I've seen since working at Web, this is a terrible way to study a language. I can picture the way she must have to communicate: Hear English; translate English into Chinese; think of what to reply in Chinese; translate Chinese into English; speak in English.

The failing had to be done!

The International Hotel, my place of work (the school is on the third floor!) on an unusually pollution-free day.

Still no news from the pair of bankers....