28.11.2011 25 °C
Thankfully last week went much quicker than the week before and involved much less stress. I gave a presentation on “British Culture” to all the students in the International Department on Tuesday which was a bit daunting but seemed to go well, the students appearing much more excited to see photos of me however rather than any photos about Britain itself. Half way through the presentation, a man suddenly appeared on stage with me and began playing with buttons on the desk in front of me before climbing underneath it, which I hoped was only for more button pressing. It turned out he was trying to fix the microphone that was on the desk but as he was unsuccessful in his mission, I was presented with a headset microphone (think 90s boyband) which I promptly had to put on and continue speaking with. Possibly one of the more humiliating experiences of teaching in China…
Presentation over however and I could relax again, rewarding myself with noodles and beer.
On Thursday it was Kat’s birthday and also Thanksgiving and so I went to the office early and decorated her desk with some red, white and blue balloons as well as a birthday present. I also used Thanksgiving as an excuse to skive off teaching one of my lessons and gave a special Thanksgiving lesson instead, however I learnt that when using someone else’s powerpoint, you should really do your research on American celebrations so that you have answers prepared for when students ask you questions such as “What’s a pilgrim?” and you’ve forgotten so you have to make it up…I also asked the students to come up with some of their own ideas for celebrations which prompted some interesting ideas involving food eating competitions and letting poor people come into your house to watch t.v.
After school was over, we went out for dinner with some of the other teachers to a hotpot restaurant which basically involves cooking your own food in a big bowl of soup in the middle of the table. All the food we put in it was delicious apart from the order of cow intestine which I wasn’t informed of the truth about until after I had confidently put it in my mouth, chewed it for five minutes and then eaten it. Definitely a dish I would not recommend!
After the meal we went to a bar where we gave the well behaved Chinese teachers a glimpse of what we like to do in our free time. As we have got to know the band that plays there, I asked them to sing a rendition of Happy Birthday for Kat, by which point everyone knew we were celebrating and so the shots (of many different varieties) began to arrive on our table, followed by lots of dancing and singing.
It is always the times when you really don’t want to get drunk that you do and I accidentally ended up being very drunk. I think I now know where the common phrase “Not on a school night” comes from. Yet one positive that came out of this situation is that the cow intestine did not stay in my intestine for too long, however getting myself up and into school for 8am to be tutoring students for their speaking examinations at 8.30 was certainly a struggle.
Somehow I managed it and by lunchtime I was beginning to feel human again. I have come to the sad realization that now I have a responsible job, I can no longer get away with feeling ill the next day as there is no more hiding behind boxes in the stock room or taking position on the bar, as close to the coffee machine as possible. Rubbish.
A couple of hours after lunch, we were free to leave school. Kat and I had been planning a trip to Hangzhou, a city just a few hours north of Ningbo, for some time and when we told the headteacher this, she informed us that some of the students would be going there to take an exam and so we could just come along. At first this seemed like a trap to get us teaching over the weekend but it actually turned out to be perfect and our transport and hotel were also kindly paid for.
We took the school mini bus and traveled for quite a few hours as we had to take a detour to get petrol from one of the student’s father’s personal oil drums and then we got stuck in traffic. However, I used this time wisely to take a well needed recovery nap.
When we arrived at the hotel, we put our bags in our room and then went for dinner with the headteacher, Grace, and the other two teachers that came with us, Kitty and Genice. After choosing dinner from a selection of pictures, pans, fish tanks and chicken cages, we had a delicious feast, including frog soup – frog tasting quite a lot like fish. After dinner, Kat and I took a taxi to a night market we had heard about. The market itself was not as good as we expected and was very overcrowded so we walked off in another direction and ended up discovering a whole area of little streets with shops and restaurants scattered along it. It was very pretty and almost felt like we were in a fairy tale with a stream running all the way along the middle of where we were walking and little lights in the trees.
The next morning we got up bright and early and had breakfast in the hotel. This featured toast and jam which is quite a novelty in China so this set us up well for the rest of the day. After breakfast we went to find the West Lake; a very famous lake in China and described as ‘a heaven on earth’, actually a very realistic statement as it was absolutely beautiful. We bought coffee and sat right next to the water as the sun began to shine on it and we watched as groups of people danced and did tai chi and old men painted Chinese characters on the ground with water.
Hangzhou felt like a Chinese Paris and there were bikes everywhere so we rented some and began to cycle around the lake. We stopped in many places along the way; parks, gardens and temples, and took many rests, just sitting and admiring the view. Halfway round, we found a seven story pagoda which we were able to climb up to the top of and look out across the whole lake and surrounding area – an amazing sight.
Around 3 o’clock, we stopped and ordered lunch in a little restaurant by pointing and pictures and hoping for the best. After this we went and bought some fruit and sat by the lake again where we had the perfect view of the sun setting over the water and behind the mountains. As the sun got lower and lower in the sky, Kat and I decided to see if we could start off a round of applause when the sun finally disappeared. This became more and more of an amusing idea to us and as it disappeared we began to clap. Sadly it wasn’t the movie moment we had hoped for and apart from some very strange looks from the people around us only one man joined in. This quickly became an awkward moment as the man seemed to feel a bit embarrassed and as a spontaneous reaction Kat suddenly omitted a very American, “Woo! Yeah!” as we continued to clap. This is probably one of those moments in which you had to be there to appreciate it but it was so funny. So funny in fact that I am still laughing out loud now as I write this.
The sunset over and the sky growing darker, after a quick ice-cream indulge, Kat and I decided we needed to complete the full circle of the lake so we began to cycle back to where we had started. However, as it turned out this was only five minutes up the road. Feeling like we hadn’t quite finished, we then cycled further on to reach a bar we had read about in the guidebook. We returned our bikes near to the bar and, feeling proud of negotiating our way through Chinese rush hour traffic (I rang my bell like a person who has never seen a bell before) we went to drink some beer.
The next day was another early start and after tutoring some of the students for an hour, Kat and I returned to the lake, this time going for coffee at a Starbucks with an outside, upstairs balcony. Every time I prepare for winter in China, the weather seems to change and this Sunday was no exception, with bright blue sky, sunshine and 25 degree heat, it was literally like a summer day. After coffee, we returned to the streets we had found on the first night which were much busier and tourist populated in the day time. We wandered round some of the shops before discovering a mountain side which led up to some temples and a huge open area with people sitting around big tables, eating and playing cards. We explored this area and then walked back down to the streets below to get some lunch.
We found a little street with lots of food stalls on and decided to try a famous Hangzhou dish – Beggar’s Chicken. This is chicken, roasted inside clay and is delicious. We sat on the street and once the crowds of Chinese people had got over the excitement of two white girls eating and had moved on from standing in front of us and staring, I rediscovered why I am not a vegetarian. The chicken fell off the bone and melted in our mouths and aside from having to pick our way around the head (beak and all) and some clawed feet, it was a very delightful experience. As well as this, we also tried pineapple rice and some pumpkin cakes. Slurp.
Just a couple of hours later and our weekend in Hangzhou had come to an end. Before we knew it we were leaving the peace and calm of the lake behind and were sitting for an hour in a taxi trying to make our way through traffic to the bus station. The bus on the way back took only half the time as the way there and after two hours we were back in Beilun. A quick dinner and then I returned to my room, falling into bed and sleeping very well.