On the road again…

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve been on a computer long enopugh to write a peroper blog entry and I fear that this will be but a brief sketch of what we’ve been upto in our travels. I’m writing this from a korean internet cafe in Beijing after having met three English people at church this morning, all of whom knew some of my friends from England… Amazing how you seem to have mutual friends with people almost wherever you go.

Anyway, we left Hainan on the morning of the 20th. For a start, the bus to take us to the airport was 30 min late, and the flight wa s30 min earlier than we were expecting so we were in quite a rush. The driver got us to the airport in 20 minutes whereas it would typically take about an hour from our luxurious hotel to get to the airport. Incidentally, Miss World was once held at this hotel.

Upon arrival at the airport, we were confronted with the problem that although we all had tickets, James hadn’t been assigned a seat on the aircraft due to some sillyness on the travel agent’s behalf. Why anyone would think yuou wanted an air ticket without a seat I’m not sure but in ther end for about 30ukp he managed to purchase a seat on the aircraft. We then discovered that of the 9 of us travelling, 5 were in first class whichwas really nice. Because of the bad weather (another typhoonoon had struck ShenZhen) we grounded at the airport at the top of Hainan Island for an hour or two, before finally arriving at SZ a few hours late.

We stayed in ShenZhen on the evening of the 20th with James; brother, Max in a really sweet appartment in the middle of shenZhen. His Chinese girlfriend, Sindy and himself treated us to a really supurb mid-afternoon lunch at the local hotpot resturant. After that we wandered about the shops for a bit – he lives rigfht next to the main shopping district of ShenZhen, specializing in gadgets so I went and drooled over various pieces of electronic equipment whilst Annas and Ruth drooled over bags or hats or whatever it is that they admire. In the evening we said good bye to Anna Oxford and then we all went out and met Daniel Kwong, a friend from 2 years back in Cambridge who came over to SZ from HK specially to see us. It was good to see him again, although getting up at 5am had made us all quite tired so we were not in the most talkative of moods and just went to a KFC. We then went to bed about midnight witht the monsoon rain carrying on through the night (As usual, it seems that whenever we travel with Ben, the day is a total wash-out).

The next day, the weather was fine and the three of us set off on our first proper solo journey – catching a taxi to take us the the airport so we could get to Shanghai. We did this successfully after flying around the pavement and finally resorting to looking the words up in my Chinese dictionary – the cab driver must have been having quite a laugh or been seriously dumb not to realize that we were wanthing togo to the airport when we were standing by the side of the road with our passports, airline tickets and big bags though… The flight was very smooth, although it was very cloudy so we could see nothing of China as we flew the thousand miles up to Shanghai in two hours. There was however, a reallyfunny comedy program on the TVs which we watched as we travelled.

We then went to see Yang’s family in Shnaghai, and what can I say – they were so nice and kind and generous. Yang and Weng live in one two-bedroom appartment and his eldest son, John, and his wife and son live in a neighbouring apartment, also with two bedrooms. The apartments were very plushly decorated. We stayed with John and his son went to live with Yang. On several nights, Weng cooked the most amazing dinners and the whole family was there – it was a really awesome time. However, I will write more about Shanghai and our experiences there later.

On the day when I was ill (I had eaten some dodgie food in centeral Shanghai, I suppose, and vomited several times), Ruth and Anna successfully managed to purchase three sleeper train tickets to get us to Beijing on the morning of the 27th. It was a really good journey; for 35ukp we travelled for 12 hours, arriving at Beijing at about 7am. We then had some breakfast and I had a little explore before we got in the taxi to go to the the place where we are currently staying. There is quite a long story behind this, but basically whilst Ruth and I were in Cambridge last year, we made good friends with a Korean girl called Borah. Her aunt happens to be living in Beijing, and the Korean church which she attends owns two seriously nice appartments for visitors to stay in. We were very shocked by the generosity in letting us have one of these and even more shocked when we arrived.

We arrived by taxi and were met by Borah’s 15 yearold cousin who is fluent in 4 languages, one of which is English. She and her father took us to the appartment which is in part of Beijing unofficially called Korean town, for somewhat obvious reasons. We opened the door to the appartment,and what a sight met our eyes! It is really difficult to explain, you need to see pictures, but the only wors to describe it is ‘pad’ and that does not do it justice. It’s probably larger than my house, having a large sitting room/dining room with several large leather chairs and a sofa. There is one double-bedroom with en-suite and two other bedrooms with two single beds in and a lot of floor space. There are two additional wash-rooms and a large kitchen, and then several other large rooms which seem to have no real purpose. The place could easily hold 20 people sleeping. However, it’s not just a large house, it is exquisitly decorated with wood finishings and in the korean style – it’s simply amazing.

We unpacked and then went into town to meet Jenny, a girl from one of the camps we did. She took us to Tiananmen square to see the flag lowering ceremony (which we missed as we were reading the paper – I thought there would at least be a trumpet fanfare or something of that sort, but apparently they just silently lower the flag. We then walked about Beijing, ate at a fast-dumpling place for 26rmb (1.60ukp) for 4 people – seriously cheap by Chinese standards and then looked at someof the shops. I acquired a set of 10 postcards (at last!) from a street vendor who originally asked for 45rmb. When I offered her 5rmb (about 0.35ukp) she laughed so I tried to walk away, however she clung to my arm lowering the price until it reached the 5 I originally offered. I;’m sure the going rate is about 3rmb anyway.

Haggling is becomign increasingly addictive; I find myself haggling for things which I don’t evenwant just to get the adrenaline kick from getting somethi ng seriously cheap. I bought a set of 10 small kites from a street seller in tiananmen square yesterday for 2rmb, not even wanting them, but for 13pence, how can you loose? I have bought a lot of traditional Chinese stuff like fans and materials and also a few clothes – hopefully more to follow soon.

As we were wandering around Beijing, we were invited to a very random art exhibition by the artist himself and then went down a souviner street with various watches and clocks with Mao’s waving and swastikers and all that stuff. There were also lots of other things to be bought there. Getting the subway back at 9pm was fun althouygh we didn’t realize that one of the lines closed at 9:30 and we only just made this train. The nearest station is about 10 min by taxi from our pad, so we had to get a taxi back which was really difficult because none of the taxi drivers seemed to know any roads or even be awear we were in Beijing. In England, if you get a taxi you expect them to be vaguely awear of the roads around the area but apparently it doesnt matter in China (the same is true of Shnaghai and Shenzhen). There were also a number of locals with cars offering their services and the ubiquitous cycle-taxi holding two people. After asking about 10 taxi drivers if they knew where this road was we finally managed to get home. We waited up a while for Borah to arrive but when it turned out she wouldnt arrive for a while longer, we went to sleep.

I was awoken at 7:30 in the morning by 2 elderly Korean ladies, a middle-aged couple and a 2 year-old baby at the foot of my bed and trying to communicate with my in Korean and Chinese. When that failed they finally realized that I could probably speak English and so explained that they were expecting to live in this house. We spoke to the people who look after the house, and they were not expecting these people either. We’ve been out since then and met up with Borah at Korean church and then the international serive, so I wonder what the situation is like now…

Anyway, I really out to go and I will update more about Shanghai at another time. Hopefully Ellie will be arriving at 5:30am tomorrow morning, and then we’ll spend some time togeather before the three of us come back to England on the evening of the 1st.

Quick update

Hello there, sorry for the absence of bloggidge for the past few days, there was a typhon warning on the night of the 12th so we stayed up all night phoning parents and cleaning the classrooms. The camp was meant to finish on the 14th but the ShenZhen government ordered that all children at summer camps must be evacuated home to their parents. More about the typhoon to follow with some pictures as well but it was very exciting.

We spent a day in Shen Zhen after the typhoon hit and went shopping in the center, it’s amazing to see the shops there, almost like the middle of London or some other big city but with lots of indoor electronics markets where you could but any electronic device in the world. I bought a tripod for my camera (70rmb, 5ukp), a 128mb usb memory card for the same price and some memory for my camera for 10ukp – all very good deals compared to the prices in the UK.

The day after, we spent the day with the American team, catching up on old friends and had a Meeting which was really good. We then went to the airport and flew to Hainan which is a tropical island on the south of China with wonderfully sandy beaches where we have spent an eventful few days and had much fun on the beaches and in the city nearby. I will write more about this when time permits. Tomorrow we fly back to Shen Zhen (only 9 of us remain here, the other 20 or so left at 6am this morning). Myself, Ruth and Anna will then be staying in Shen Zhen for a night with our friend James’ brother and then flying to Shanghai to meet Yang and family on the 21st. There is much more to write but right now I need to go and pack before our wakeup call at 5:30 am tomorrow morning.

Another day in China

We had a “day off” today which means that we didn’t teach but took the children to the same water park aswe did just over 2 weeks ago. It was good fun and everyone got a little sunburnt and very wet. The day was not particularly relaxing, however we spent some time having fun with the children. We’re just generally tired at the moment, however this camp finishes on the 14th and then on the 15th we’re meant to be jetting off as a team to Hainan island for debriefing. This is some tropical island on the south of China which is a popular resort for tourists from all over the world. We’ll be going there with the American team for 4 days and then back to Shenzhen to go off to Shanghai and start our tour of China. We’ve met several people from Beijing at this camp and they’re very keen to meet up with us when we go there. We watched the Bourne Supremacy tonight, which was as brilliant as I remember it to be.

The hour-long bus journey to the water world, which is in the same district of Shenzhen as the school is, reminded me about the pace at which China is developing. I recall the same bus ride about 17 days ago and several areas had been totally changed in the process. This district of shenzhen was non-existant as little as 8 years ago, and yet it is probably 10 times the size of Cambridge. Everywhere you go, you see builders, although like most builders you never actually see them do any work; they just sit there but somehow the work progresses at a tremendous rate. The school which we are now teaching at houses 7000 pupils and has all the facilities they would require including a full indoor basketball stadium seating maybe 1000. The first student arrived in 2002 and yet this is classed as a relatively old school by Shenzhen standards. The 20 year old school we were at before was considered ancient. A similar rate of development is occuring all over China, fueled, I susspect by the cheap labour which is caused by the vast labour market avaliable here. It really is impossible to describe – perhaps China should be labeled “Under Construction”.

Because China is one vast building site, it has quite a bad reputation amongst those people living close to it, specifically those from Hong Kong. Ask anyone from Hong Kong what they think of China, and in a word most will say “dirty”. This is true to some extent, beauty is seldom given much consideration compared to speed of construction, at least in the suburbs of Shenzhen, and also there are many muddy building sites which tend to spill dirt onto the roads leaving quite a few muddy puddles around. It doesn’t really give China the nicest look, however it is not as bad as most people from Hong Kong, would make it out to be.

Should have another Meeting tomorrow although Books are quite hard to come by – hopefully have another two dozen arriving in a few days, as those we got before were already taken by people on this camp. There is great hunger here and not just because the canteen is not very good.

The past few days

Hey there, not much of note has been happening the past few days. Had another Meeting which had many people come and were again very interested in the things we are talking about.We’ve found a wonderful western-style restruant about 3 min walk from the school which we’ve been frequenting due to its wonderful chicken burgers and ice cream. Anyway, western style party in a minute so I’ve got to go and prepare for it.

You only die twice… again!

So last night we did the murder mystery night again, although this time I was killed by the camp director, Ben. The story for our murder went that we were in a boy band togeather and I was much more popular than he was so he suffocated me. As before, we had to act this out twice so I’ve now died four times on this camp – perhaps getting close to what Paul called “dying to myself each day”. Got rather confused about lessons this morning so need to sort that out. I’ve prepared them all, but somehow my schedule has become rather messed up. This afternoon we’re just watching a film I think, which will be a welcome rest. Lots of the parents of the HK kids came yesterday which was quite scary, although they seemed generally satisfied with the camp so far and what their children had learnt. Apparently we’re having the 5 days of debriefing on Hainan island – a tropical resort near to HK before we fly back to HK and then on to Shanghai. Can’t wait… 🙂

the last few days

Not really much to note in the last two days; just teaching more English and having troubles with my rowdy class – I have the 5 main trouble-makers all in my class and so it’s really quite hard to keep control. Yesterday I did badminton and party games rather than the art afternoon activity, and it was good to get some more practice at badminton. I used to like it a lot as a child and I was quite good, I managed to beat everybody yesterday and remembered a lot that I had last practiced when I was 14. Unfortunately, at the end as I was playing my last match I lost my balence slightly and slid along the floor. In most gyms this would not be a problem, however in this gym there are random metal bars covering some of the joins in the floor, some of which have slightly jagged metal bits coming out of them. I was playing bare-foot as sports shoes are far too hot when playing in weather which is already 35ish, and sandles don’t work well, so I skinned quite a large area of my right foot. Fortunately there was no blood drawn but it was very very painful and is still painful to walk on today. Oh well!

Today we had a Meeting, this being a special day and invited many people, perhaps 15 coming with only one teacher. They seemed to really like the western style of meeting and I gave a short presentation about John’s way, truth and life. Many people are very inteterested and keep asking us many questions, the teacher said that it was a time of peace in the midst of the chaos that is the school day here and begged that we have this meeting each day.

Just a quick note

Have stayed in bed all day today with flu whilst the others have gone to a “cultural diversity theme park” which apparently means lots of stands documenting the 500+ different Chinese people-groups. Uploaded some more recent photos to the gallery, so check them out if you want!

Chinese driving

In many nations, the style of driving quite accurately reflects the stereotypical temprement of the people. For example, in Italy the general style is probably best described as ‘hot-headed’, in Germany it is done with precision and speed. However, there really is no experiance quite like going for a drive in China.

The roads themselves are quite nice – few pot holes and other nasties, but part of the problem seems to be that anywhere that is paved is permissable for driving – it is generally safer to walk in the middle of the road than on the pavement as there are less cars there. Cars are only a small problem though when compared with the uncountable number of scooters and motorbikes around, however these are less dangerous as they can swerve quite easily. The worst has to be the busses and trucks which drive round everywhere and will stop for nothing.

The expreience of crossing a road is one which is to be avoided wherever possible, as one team-member remarked the other day as we were stranded in between 6 lanes of heavy, fast-moving traffic “the only safe way to cross a Chinese road is to take a plane”. Not only do you have to look to the direction you expect the cars to be coming from (ie the left and the right) but you also have to check in front for scooters or cars coming at you, and behind for scooters and other traffic which is trying to cross the road as well. It is quite ok for a bus to do a screaching U-turn which blocks off 5 lanes of traffic as long as there are a few inches of space for the rest of the traffic to keep moving by.

In addition to this, unlike in England where the presence of police seems to calm the traffic and make people watch the speed limit, the police themselves are catalysts in the general chaos that is the Chinese road. It seems to be the Chinese policy of actively encouraging dangerous driving – perhaps as an alternative means of population control.

Anyway, I’m off to go shopping now which entails crossing a mere 4-5 lanes of traffic (the lanes themselves are fluid – it’s simply as many cars as you can fit abreast), so if there are no more updates here you know what’s happened!

Teaching again

Ah back to teaching again today but these kids are much better behaved and much more eager to learn than the previous school’s children, which is a very good thing. Ruth’s class, which I also teach are better at english but much more apathetic. I was drafted to the arts and crafts group this afternoon to help with the origami, which suited me much more than playing football outside.

Last night we all went out to a Pizza Hut – the first time we’ve had proper american style food over here (MacDonalds didn’t really count as it didn’t really have any food at all). We had a wonderful time and we also had a waitress come up and entertain us with magic tricks; so much better than the UK branches. After that we went to a massage parlour which was very good fun again. Anyway, am really tired at the moment, so I ought to go to bed now.