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

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 -- -- 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


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

Saturday, 1 November 2008


My second Halloween in China was largely spent standing on a tiny stage in a bar introducing games to a rather large audience of students and strangers.

I arrived at Web in the afternoon to meet my co-host for the evening, Candy, to plan the lines we would be saying at the party. It took ten minutes to get everything sorted out, and we were confident that the night should go off without a hitch. In the back of my mind I was still worrying about my Joker costume (see left). I was waiting for Johann to bring the face paint, Kimi -- who would be applying my make-up -- was still at work, and Michelle -- who very kindly offered to take out the sewn in t-shirt that was inside the purple jacket I bought -- would be bringing the jacket and a tie just before the beginning of the party.

By 4 o'clock Johann came with paint in hand. There was the problem -- it wasn't face paint, but poster paint. Considering this stuff would be covering all of my face, I decided not to risk using it. I called Kimi and we went back to plan A (because I think we were on plan B by that point). Previously she had found a costume shop that was specifically aimed at Beijing Opera. The actors wear white face paint in all of the plays, it was perfect. Time was running out very rapidly so we took a taxi directly to the shop and back. One tube of face paint cost just 6 yuan, the taxi fare was 20.

After we got back home Kimi began her work. Out of nowhere she suddenly became a professional make-up artist, a completely hidden skill. I sat in my chair as my hair was pinned back and sprayed, the paint was applied, black eye shadow smudged all around my eyes, and finally the lipstick. I looked in the mirror, "wow", it was brilliant.

Kimi decided to accompany me to the party because she was worried I wouldn't be able to get a taxi to the bar with my face as it was. The minute I exited my apartment building it was like I had just turned into a human beacon. Everybody was starring at me in disbelief, a few children were scared also. We had to wait a while for a taxi, they all seemed to be full at the very moment one was desperately needed (we were rushing at this point). Finally a vacant one turned the corner, we flagged it down, and sped to the bar.

Once I entered the "161 Bar" all of the staff went hysterical when they saw my face, just what I wanted. It was a few minutes before show time, and with perfect timing, Michelle came with my jacket and tie. Finally, the costume was complete -- and it looked great (thank you Kimi and thank you Michelle).

I'm sure none of the students were aware of the character I was dressing as, which was of no consequence because the outfit was certainly causing the right kind of reaction I had hoped for.

Me with Michelle

The party started promptly, and it was time for Candy and I to make our way to the incredibly small stage. We were handed a microphone each and began introducing some information about the holiday, I spoke English and Candy translated into Chinese. Once the formalities were over it was time for the games. Each foreign teacher with accompanying tutors took it in turns to play the games, I didn't have to take part due to being on hosting duties.

Candy and I doing what we do best

The bar filled up to bursting point and the games became quite hectic, but things were running smoothly, and everybody seemed to be having fun. I just had to keep running back to the stage at the end of every game to introduce the next one. We played "Magic Box", "Mummy Wrapping", "Balloon Popping", "Best Costume", and "Bobbing for Apples" -- I will let you guess what some of these entailed.

The students had to pay to enter the party, but they were given one bottle of beer and a mask to join in with the fancy dress (not many students were au faux with the concept of a fancy dress party and didn't have a clue what to dress as). I was talking to another student, Jessy who was holding her free bottle of beer. She told me that she was thirsty and didn't like to drink beer. I asked why she didn't get a bottle of water instead, she replied saying that they would only give her beer at the bar. Interesting to see that water is now more valuable than beer in Wenzhou.

The crowded bar, with Johann and Paul trapped at the back

Jolin on the left, with two other students I can't recognise, holding their free beers

Chuck, Candy, me, and a student who seems to be having whale of a time

I was genuinely surprised that a second flash came from the camera (Kimi made me upload this one)

The final game of the night was bobbing for apples. The only traditional game of the lot, and also the most fun too. There was water everywhere, and the students were really getting into the spirit of things. Once there was enough water to cover most of the floor of the bar, it was time to wrap up the night. For the final time, Candy and I jumped on stage and we said our goodbyes. Within a minute the bar was practically empty, no hanging around here.

Bobbing for apples (perfect timing)

Me and my fabulous make-up artist, Kimi

Happy Halloween -- if there is even supposed to be such a thing.