Parklife

We returned to the water park, which was pretty much empty this time around. The wave pool didn’t look like China-man soup this time, it looked like a wave pool. There were no queues whatsoever so we could whoosh down slides and run back to the top for another go. I was pretty much in heaven. Today, in Luxun park I watched the locals enjoy their own version of aqua bliss, as a number of blokes braved the filthy man-made lake to swim laps. When you’re in China and there’s a load of signs saying you shouldn’t go in the water, it’s probably a good idea not to go in the water. Yet there these heroes were, weaving in between pedalos and floating packets of instant noodles (among other things). We decided to play it safe and chuck a ball around on the grass. I took my flip-flops off and promptly stood in dog crap. That’s two species of poo I’ve stood in this week. Really bad.

On a more sophisticated note (difficult) I got talking to my banker student about democracy. He reckoned China was a long way off democratic elections although he was very keen on the idea. The problems he argued, are that people in the countryside don’t care who’s in charge, just as long as their standard of living keeps improving (fair enough). Also, China has a long history of corruption and this would explode as soon as a chance of power was offered to the masses. He said that right now the average Chinese person doesn’t have a choice in life. They work, the eat, they die. They need more choices in their everyday existence before a choice in who governs them is up for grabs. I listened to him intently (it’s often a sin that he pays me at the end of these lessons as I’m pretty sure I’m learning more than he is), and in most regards I had to agree. The country in it’s current form is basically thirty years old. The Cultural Revolution pretty much hit the reset button on the whole nation as knowledge was replaced with ignorance and indeed the old Chinese culture was largely eradicated from the national psyche. To expect a western appreciation of democracy to suddenly spring forth is ridiculous, especially as for the first time in centuries the Chinese are experiencing a rapid improvement in their lives. Of course there are problems, but so there were with the United States in it’s infancy, or indeed any European power. China may be in a rush to the top, but it needs time to iron out it’s creases. (Some of which are admittedly fairly massive).

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Visas and Poo-Pits.

It’s plum rain season, which means that when it rains, the drops are quite fittingly, the size of plums. Often the drops fall in such intensity that they merge into one cascading wall of liquid misery. It’s not even refreshing rain, as it’s so hot it just feels like the sky is sweating. In between the downpours (which have caused rather severe floods elsewhere) it’s about as humid as a Turkish bath house. Or just a bath.

It’s in this comfortable climate that I stood in an actual pool of shite today. I was going for a quick pee behind an advertising hoarding after some victorious pool playing, when I lost my footing and plonked my foot right into a small pit of human excrement. It was obviously the spot where the nearby tuk-tuk drivers go to relieve themselves. And it was now the spot that I placed my pristine white trainer. It went right up to the ankle. Aussie Ben heard me swear repeatedly and then got the laugh of the day as I staggered out from behind the hoarding with one white shoe and one sloppy brown shoe. Truly disappointing.

Also disappointing me this week was the Indian Consulate who informed me (after two days of searching for the bloody place) that in order to obtain a visa for their country I needed a plane ticket INTO the country. I told them I was entering overland from Nepal. They shrugged and told me I needed an air ticket. I told them I wasn’t taking a plane as I was entering overland from Nepal. They shrugged and told me I needed an air ticket. I murmured that this would be perhaps pointless as I was crossing the border from Nepal in a bus and not in a plane. They shrugged. So I left. That afternoon I received an e-mail from a friend telling me Indian visas can now be obtained at Katmandu (with no air ticket). So that will have to do. James Bond never had to bother with this pish.

TEETH!

All was well with my newly implemented crowns until last week when random bursts of pain started to emanate through my mouth. On the Wednesday I was woken up by the pain at 5am. It’s not very pleasant being woken up by your teeth, especially when they feel like they’re trying to bore through your skull. The pain subsided however. I had to go to the police station to register my new passport (a big improvement on the previous one’s picture actually; from a big, sad head to a big, surprised head). On the way, the teeth started complaining again. Passers-by were greeted with the image of a foreigner on his bike, clutching a railing with his face screwed up like a reef knot, punching a lamppost and growling. It was time to go back to the dentist. She put a root cavity in the offending incisor. All was well, although to get the emergency appointment I had to take thursday off work. The boss phoned and asked if I could make up for the missed classes by working on the weekend. Bugger off. No. This isn’t The Great Leap Forward. We’re not smelting iron in our back yards here. I’m not working for the Party, I’m working for a school called Wala Wala. She wasn’t very impressed.

The next day Aussie Ben was sick. This time the boss managed to get a replacement teacher. I’d met him before, but time had faded his ridiculousness in my memory. The bloke is about 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide. He is an albino black man and an orthodox muslim. He talks like Ali G – and I’m not being racist here, he actually said “Aw man, the bitches in Shanghai are bouncing brudda and i’m not fronting.” To top it off he wears glasses with both lenses sporting huge vertical cracks down the middle of them. When he walked into Ben’s class the kids started screaming and one of them could be heard chanting “Monster! Monster!” Got to love the honesty.

An Air Piano!

This is exactly what one of my teaching assistants bought me the other day. It looks like a recorder with about two octaves worth of piano keys stuck on the top of it. I have no idea what this instrument is called. It sounds slightly Parisian, or maybe like something you’d hear on a pirate ship. Either way it’s awesome and I’m pretty sure Teacher Thurlow was harvested his first Teaching Assistant crush. Am I right? Do girls buy guys musical instruments normally? No they don’t. I’m James Bond.

I’ve been using ‘The Instrument’ in class a lot recently. (I appreciate that if you’ve jumped to this paragraph first you may want to read the previous one beforehand as that sounded wrong). Getting kids to act out miserable vignettes while I play sombre harmonies and then notching up to positivity as I harp away on the high ones = teaching gold. Well, procrastination gold. Which reminds me, it’s time for The Teachers Handbook, Volume 2!

Apart from the aforementioned Air Piano Acting Game, I can also recommend the Air Piano Movement Game. In this sound-based classic, the kids can only move every time a note is played on The Instrument. During silence they remain still. During this silence I can move, cornering kids (for they cannot touch me) or at least getting very close so that their next move is vital. I will then play another note. The kids can only move once. Maybe I’ll move again, maybe I’ll play a few more notes. They don’t know, they’re at the mercy of The Instrument. The last kid to be tagged by me wins.

English used – ehhhhhh. none.

Game 2) The Chicken Game. I have a hand puppet that looks like a chicken. A kid must stand in the middle of the room in total silence. The class looks on in a similar hush. The chicken is revealed, first eyeing up the victim, then moving closer, before pecking at the neck and face. If the kid flinches, twitches or indeed smiles, they lose. If (and this is very rarely the case) they remain stoney-faced then the chicken loses. It’s a battle of wits at it’s purest and yes, most basic level.

English used – eeehhhhh. none.

3)” What happened.” I get the kids to shut their eyes and then select a couple of volunteers. I then lay them about the class with numerous bits of furniture on top of them. Maybe one of them has chalk on their face, Maybe the other is covered in sticky balls. The rest of the class then open their eyes and take wild guesses at what happened. Only I have the right answers and they are deeply subject to change, depending on the kid with the funniest answer.

English used – actually a lot! Only to be used if they can use the past tense. Other wise it’s ‘What Is Happening’ and that’s a tad easier to guess. ie- “Jimmy is under three chairs. He is sad.”

And that concludes Part 2 of The Teachers Handbook. There will be a short test to follow.

The Trip

I’ve now been out of uni for as long as I was in.

Gulp.

Anyway,to bookend my foreign sojourn (that’s not to say I’ll start another shelf) I’ve organized (or at least talked about) a trip homewards with Spinks and G, who are flying out to Shanghai on the 4th August. From here I plan for us to move north to Qingdao for some beer, then on to a ferry to Dalian for some beaches before scooting further north to Changbai Shan to scale a volcano and peak into North Korea. It’s all west after this, taking in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia and the Baidan Jaran desert (highest sand dunes in the world apparently) before jutting south through rural Qinghai and western Sichuan in order to reach Chengdu. That last stretch should be very rural indeed actually. Like hitching lifts between monasteries rural. Excellent.

Now in Chengdu, we’re scheduled to meet a fourth intrepid explorer by the name of Marcus Barrows. G and I drove mopeds with him in Vietnam and he’s very, very funny. The four of us are penciled in for the train to Tibet on the 3rd of September and a one week tour through China’s naughty-corner, taking in temples, lakes and Everest. At this point we’ll probably lose Spinks as he has A) joined an expedition to climb Everest or B) made fun of the Chinese military.

Anyway, all hitches considered we should be dipping into Nepal for around mid-September where the plans are still fairly loose. Considering the Annapurna Track is on the way out due to over development and the opening of a new road I think it might be a good idea to take it in before it’s gone forever. With traveling you can’t be the first to do anything anymore, so you might as well be the last.

Post-Nepal it’s India where all I have written down is that I want to be an extra in a Bollywood musical, I want to go surfing in Goa and I want to ride trains to rural backwaters and throw paint in amongst tea fields. We’ll see.

There is no proper end destination as such, although considering the poetry I’d quite like to take a cheap flight to Egypt and capture Spinks at the Sphinx. That is if he’s made it that far.

Back to Stoney for Christmas. Nae bother.

I thought I’d write this down so when we actually get going the inevitable contrast between my intentions and the painful reality could be quite funny. Just under two months to go! Let the countdown begin…

Wizards of Suzhou

“Wizards of Suzhou…Wizards of Suzhou…” A haunting lament as Magnus Pole called it, especially when you sing it to the tune of ‘Hallelujah’ and in tone of Jeff Buckley. So American Matt and I fired through to Suzhou for a wizard-based day of drinking to kind of celebrate both our respective birthdays. Magnus Pole was a wondrous host. We had a remote-controlled car race (I lost), a duel on some giant concrete balls (I lost) and some beautiful impromptu singing sessions with the locals (everyone won). The aim of the game was to build a wizarding staff with the completed cans of beer taped end-to-end as you go. The wizard with the longest staff could command much wizard-based respect and honour, while the wizard with the stumpiest staff (inevitably me) was scorned and mocked. I had to wear a ladies wicker hat for the whole day and after dropping my staff was named ‘Thurlow the Clumsy.’ All in all, one of the geekiest and greatest days I’ve had in China.

Capital Punishment

Joking around with our teaching assistants I asked if any of them could place Scotland on a map of the world. The estimates were varied and interesting. Lucy reckoned I was from northern Russia while according to Lily I am from Iraq. None of them guessed correctly. Broadening the chance for success I asked them to point out Africa. After a level of deliberation you wouldn’t see on the final question of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, three out of the six hesitantly motioned to the appropriate continent. I was pretty shocked. Worse was to come. For the final question I asked them to show me where Beijing is. As in their national capital. None of them knew. Some guessed Tibet, others pretty much in Mongolia, but seriously none of them even got close. Now these are all smart girls with university degrees. I don’t want to sound patronizing but if I knew someone from my hometown who couldn’t point out London or Edinburgh I would, quite rightly, laugh at them. What’s going on here? Something has gone seriously awry if people with twenty years of education can’t situate their own capital. And I mean twenty years of properly demanding education, none of this getting pissed at uni and not doing your homework rubbish. I’m talking heads down, no breaks until bedtime, five hours of homework when you’re five years old education. The joking around quickly dissipated after the Beijing debacle. I had to pretend it was OK so they didn’t get too embarrassed but I could tell it was too late. I’d just uncovered the ignorant underbelly of their multi-lingual facade. The next day we talked about shoes.

PS – worst title pun yet.