Sunday, 30 March 2008

Hard workers

We often comment at the old men and women who work in the gardens of the college. Many of them do regular maintenance and pruning of the hedges and other plants, and they are forever doing things. Many of them are well beyond retirement age - but choose to keep working doing what they love doing. Gardening, odd jobs, carting small items. Retirement for them means boredom!

They have a small plot next to our apartment block, where they cultivate plants especially the many pots that decorate the college. They display the pots near the main entrance, near the West Gate, and in strategic places around the college. I've mentioned the pansies and cinerarias.

As well some of them help clear away the rubbish, (and there is plenty of that when you have so many students and staff) and one elderly gentleman carries our heavy water bottles up to our rooms - for a fee of 1 Yuan. (about 15 cents), and we marvel at him. He's quite a character. Doesn't speak English but always greets us.

We see other men with small carts operating in the college grounds, and some pull carts that look like a horse should be pulling them. There is a constant flow of workers - pulling or pushing one cart or another.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Computer, Cold, and Classroom!

Well, it didn't help that I came down with a rotten cold at the same time my computer crashed. And then I had challenges with the classroom!

Many of the teachers had suffered from a cold, and despite all my antiseptic hand wiping, avoiding as much as possible those with the affliction, I ended up with a terrible sore throat and cough. If I spoke with my raspy voice, I coughed! Not easy to teach when cannot speak.

So I used my copy of "King Arthur" to "amuse" the students while I recovered. But the classroom could not be darkened enough and the screen was difficult to see. It is a movie with a lot of dark scenes anyway, so in the end I was embarrassed by it. On a good day I could get English dialogue and English subtitles (actually for the hard of hearing but it worked in the context of English lessons), but on one day the computer would stop and start and I who had seen the movie more than once knew that the movie was jumping all over the place and the story was impossible to follow. I am not sure that my students followed it anyway, it was so hard to see.

At times the dialogue would change into Chinese! Adding much mirth to the class.

As well, I had asked for the classroom to be "cleaned" - I was assured that it was - but as I watched the movie for the third and fourth time, I did some cleaning myself and found that the black splodges all over the floor actually disappeared with a wet mop. Was it my task to do it all? I complained again, and still was told that the room was cleaned.

Meanwhile back at the apartment I struggled with the laptop that refused to do anything. Despite having Norton Antivirus, I suspect I have a virus which is not being picked up. All efforts to use the computer were fruitless, so I was not happy at all.

Meanwhile I have been offered another classroom - I insisted on inspecting it first - and I have refused to use it. It is slightly darker, with an a/v system that is so damaged I'd need a weeks lessons to learn how to drive it, and the classroom is dirtier than my original. I can't see any point in moving.

I gave up on the movie, but Friday's students had heard about the movie, so didn't bring any books, and were disappointed that I refused to show it. In any case only about 25% of students bothered to watch it - the rest slept through it. So I'm not having great success! Very frustrating.

Meanwhile, Saturday has come and for the fourth weekend in a row it is raining. I'm feeling better, and surprisingly so is the computer though it is far from fixed.

And the classroom - oh, I'll worry about that on Monday.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Gardens in China

The gardens here are so important - a major part of the culture of this country. The gardens in schools, in parks, and lining the streets are amazing. The gardens around tourist places too have to be seen to be believed. I know of nothing in Australia that comes close!

Here at the college there are quite a few gardeners - I have no idea how many. The seem to be mainly older folk who take their gardening very seriously. They are forever pruning, weeding and keeping things clean and tidy.

Right beside the foreign teachers' apartment block is a small area - again no much space is wasted here - with a number of small green houses (plastic covered domes - a little more primitive that at our gerbera farm), and many pots.

The gardens are always being "updated" - the colourful cabbage type plants that were planted in garden beds, or in displays in pots, when we arrived just on four weeks ago, have been replaced - they eventually went to seed.

Now there are colourful pansies and cineraria everywhere. They put them out just as they are about to flower so within a day or so there are spectacular displays.

When talking with students recently they wished that the gardens here would be better. That is one of the suggestions for improving their college.

Yesterday we went to a Peach Blossom display at Loushen - not far from Shaoxing. The peach blossom was just coming out - in a week or so it will be more spectacular. There were many flowering plants and trees and the magnolia that are in full bloom everywhere were quite a sight to see. I will write about the day out later, when I can put the photos up too.

They are developing a new part of the tourist attraction and the work that has already been done is quite amazing to see. After the day out we were taken to a Chinese banquet which in itself was amazing, but it was at a restaurant in beautiful gardens beside one of the large canals here.

After our lunch we walked around the gardens to see the spectacular plantings and blooms. Everywhere, everywhere there are wonderful gardens. It is one of the overwhelming spectacular sights here. Hard to believe.

Of course few people have gardens - most living in high rise, and while some have good gardens around them, you can see why great streetscape is important.

As well with defined seasons here too, the gardens are an ever changing landscape.

The Easter Bunny came

It has been quite odd here - with no mention of Easter except by the English teachers of course, and naturally no public holiday for Good Friday or tomorrow. (Easter Monday) We will be working as usual.

I had a visit from one of the other teachers needing some printing done (I have a small printer) and he pointed out a little hand made rabbit - complete with some chocolates.

So, I can say, Easter Bunny did not forget me! He found me in China! Happy Easter to all.

Swan Lake Chinese Style

Many of us who know and love Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" will be interested to know there is a new version of this famous ballet - performed by the Chinese.

I watch the only English television station in China and his has many news items, information on touring China, and very much about culture in the country. I find it interesting and informative.

On Friday I was surprised to see footage of the Chinese version of "Swan Lake" which is being, or has been performed recently in Europe.

It certainly is spectacular with quite a lot of acrobatics through it. One snippet that they did show was to the music of the familiar "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" - which I well recall being done by some fathers of the students at a ballet school.

I now have two three visions of this dance in my memory - the "real" one, the one by the fathers and one which is hilarious if you know the dance and the music, performed by the amazing Chinese acrobats.

If it comes to a place near you - don't miss it. Spectacular, wonderful, and for the lovers of classical ballet - you too will enjoy it.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

The Gerberas on the tricycle

As I was on the bus approaching the city square at Shaoxing, a man peddled past on his tricycle. It had several flower arrangements that I could clearly see were Gerberas. I was in a packed bus, so couldn't take a photo, but as it turns out I met up with the spectacle in the square.

These sort of arrangements appear at the doorways of stores - especially new stores, or when there is a big sale on, or some other important occasion.
Someone was telling me that a young man opened a new shop and he had 40 of these sent to him by his friends and family. The more you have the better apparently.
The Gerberas were a little worse for wear - perhaps half an hour on the back of a bike through crowded streets did affect them, but I think the quality of the flower was not as good as we would have had in our flower arrangements back home.
I'm not sure what one would do with the cane contraptions later - perhaps returned to florist, or recycled in some other way. Everything is recycled here.

Shaoxing's Sydney Opera House.

The Opera House at Shaoxing

The Opera House from the front.

I have several classes working with me on a project to (a) improve their English and (b) provide English information for the foreign teachers and any tourists. There is very little English information here, which frustrates me. A lot.

I asked one class if they could explain to a non Chinese speaker, how to get to the Shaoxing Opera. I knew it was a famous opera company. I haven't been able to find any information. Oh, one said. Just catch No 2 bus.

The conversation went a little like this.

Me: Oh, so where do I get off? What do I tell the conductor? (who speaks only Chinese and now I know 5 Chinese words!)

Student: Get off at city quare.

Me: There are several city squares. Which one?

Student: The big one.

Me: So, perhaps I get to city square. Where next?

Student: Look up. You will see Sydney Opera House.

Me: So what time is the opera on, how much, when?

Student: Just go. They will tell you.

So yesterday, armed with this great information I went in search of the Shaoxing Opera/Sydney Opera House. And sure, I found it overlooking a city square. Finding any entrance was my next challenge - but in the end, after walking around and under the building I found a door and entered.

Two beautiful young ladies were on the other side of the glass.

The conversation was like many I have had. "Does anyone speak English?"

Reply "No English".

In the end I negotiated a copy of an A4 printed page full of Chinese writing, and photos of Chinese opera stars. Nothing was of help to me.

I showed my class today. One student always goes to Chinese opera. She is a singer and will take me. She supplied the information that I needed, but the class agreed, there was inadequate information for English speakers.

The students are amused at the stories I tell them, about my language challenges. I tell the stories to emphasise the potential for them as English speakers. I would pay a good guide.

Begone the choking bullock.

When we arrived we found our apartments bleak and not everything worked.

In fact last week - after my new cleaning lady had been - and done a wonderful job really, I found the toilet didn't flush. It couldn't be fixed until Monday, so I "flushed with success" with a plastic bucket. I added a number of things to my list for repairs. The stove hadn't worked since I arrived, the cold water tap in the bathroom didn't work, and the water sterilizer sounded like a choking bullock going through the death throes when it heated so I added them all to the list.

On Monday afternoon two men (Chinese of course - cannot speak English) arrived. I don't know whether it was an axe or a hammer that they attacked the stove with, but it could have been either from the sound. Within seconds a smiling Chinaman was beckoning me to come and try the stove. It now worked.

They then "attacked" the toilet. More clanging and banging and the smiling Chinaman appeared to show me the toilet now flushed, and the cold water worked. Then they were gone. Within half an hour I discovered why the cold water tap had been previously turned off. I had a bathroom full of cold water. (OK, I exaggerated a bit, a big bit.) I phoned to get the men back.

Meanwhile two other men appeared - one carrying my new water sterilizer. By the time they had dragged out the old one, put the bottle on the new one, I had water all through the "living" area and the stairs. At least they've taken the choking bullock, and I was able to clean up all the water. At least in the living room - while water flowed in the bathroom.

Another man soon appeared with some silicone, and after a few bangs, a squirt or two of silicone, I have cold water and no leaks. Just muddy footprints all over the tiled floor. So I am flushed with success again - I can flush and cook!

Meanwhile I have been told that I will be moving down to the third floor - so I went to inspect the facilities there. Everything works - except the stove. So that is being fixed up. The challenge of climbing to the fifth floor every time I wish to go to the apartment was daunting initially, but I've become fitter with all the stair climbing, but I am looking forward to moving in to the third floor. When? Who knows.

This is China.

Monday, 17 March 2008

More photos taken at Hangzhou

The magnolia in bloom at Hangzhou near the West Lake.

Boats on the West Lake - in the centre is some sort of statue.

The fish in the lake on the island in West Lake.

Tourists at the West Lake

The boats above - and their interior below.

The tourists sit on the chairs inside the boats.

A boat on the West Lake

Lost in Hangzhou

OK, I'm not lost, and really wasn't. But let me explain. Two of us decided to go to Hangzhou for the day yesterday.

Hangzhou is a city just an hour from here - I think was the original capital of China many years ago. It has a population of 6.9 million people.

It is famous for its West Lake and Silk Museum among many places of interest. M2 and I had been through the outskirts of the city on our way to Shaoxing, so we hadn't really been there. This was going to be an experience. And it didn't disappoint.

Island in the West Lake - Hangzhou

Island in the West Lake (above)

We had our destination, what tickets we had to buy, what bus we had to catch, all written in Chinese characters. We did very well and arrived - at a different bus station to what we had been told. No matter, we were safely there.

We were set upon by touts - wanting us to catch their minibus and eventually we haggled and got a fair price (bit expensive - but we were OK with it.)

We arrived safely at the famed West Lake. We walked around to see the shopping, and the people. Thousands of people were out walking.

We had our first drama in a restaurant. No English. We left hungry because everything we ordered they didn't have any left. So we got on one of the quaintest boats we have seen! Photos below.

We disembarked onto pretty islands and walked around. It wasn't a good day weather wise - a bit cold and smoggy - but all was fine. We met some Danish people and had lunch with them. Despite having a Chinese interpreter things didn't work out there. They messed our order up. But in the end we did get a meal which was quite tasty.

From there we caught a taxi to where we thought our bus went from. "No bus. No bus." No English either, so we did not know what to do. The information desk was our next stop. No English. But we were "saved" by a young Chinese man, who had also been given the wrong information about the bus. We caught a taxi to another bus terminal and managed to find a seat on the late bus. We sat around in a very crowded waiting room until our bus departed. Without him we would really have been in a pickle. In the end all was well.

We were safely transported back to Shaoxing by the bus (really a coach), and then we had trouble finding our own bus back to the college.

Four taxi rides, two restaurant meals, one boat ride, two coach trips, for little more than $25!

What a day. We certainly thanked our Chinese saviour. A wonderful young man whose help saved us from disaster I think. :)

Boats on the Westlake

Boats on the Westlake.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Vegetable growing in the suburbs


Rocky vegetable garden.

The farmers or vegetable growers are resourceful here in China. The above photo shows part of the gardens near here where men tend their vegetable patches. It looks to be an old construction site - perhaps there was an old factory, or old dwellings on the site in the past. It is full of stones, but midst the reclaimed bits and pieces there is a thriving vegetable garden. The product is probably sold at a local market.

Beside our apartment is a canal. Filled with water. On the edges, gardeners have brought in rubble - old bricks, stones etc and built it up so that they can grow small vegetables here. I have seen an old man in a wooden boat, laiden with rubble, come and create a vegetable patch, where there was none before.

There is a special benefit to the gardens along the edge of the canal. There is plenty of water, and I've seen one of the women gardeners use her paddle/oar from her boat to push water up onto the growing plants.

There is a downside to this style of gardening. Once or twice a year the government workers empty the canal to clean it. And all the gardens are removed. Hardly a week or so after the canal is again flowing with water, the resilient gardeners are back with their rubble to rebuild.

Below is another view of the vegetable gardens - you might note people doing their washing in the canal.


Vegetables growing beside the canal.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Washing Day - Smallsville

The rack from the ceiling of the balcony.

The rack and the hanging circle of pegs at an adjoining apartment.

My balcony before I hang all my washing.

Some of my washing hanging out to dry.

The sight of people's washing hanging on the balcony of their home, hanging from trees, hanging anywhere seems unsightly to we Aussies, but we are getting used to it - and of course doing some of it ourselves. There is no other way.

Most homes have a washing machine - and we have one here in the flat. All Chinese instructions so we don't mess with it's settings. We just turn it on - and let it do it's thing.

But when you have a pile of washing to dry - the balcony is the only place! There are no Hills Hoists - for there are no back yards. (Now I have looked at roof space - and considered the roof a possibility if you could get there - but I think the balcony is more protective from the pollution!)

I have a little rack - plastic coated - that I generally use for my smalls - and I can with the aid of the wrecked chair that the maintenance man won't take away - I can drape other clothes in the sun to dry. I have remarked that in the three weeks or so we have been here, I've not seen a breeze or a wind. The air is always still!

Each balcony has a roof - and there is a rack from which you can hang coat hangers, or a contraption that I have not yet purchased, with a ring that hangs pegs off - which you can suspend from the rack.

Today I am washing - it is Saturday and a fine warm day - and I have my clothes in a net bag - as the washing machine is pretty vicious on clothes - and I'll drape them on my balcony - just like the Chinese people do.

However, I do not intend to drape my clothes over the hedges in the school, or hang my undies from a tree in the street! Yesterday when M2 and I went to the Tesco supermarket we were dodging ladies undies dangling from the trees in the street!!! We called it "Smallsville!"

The woman taxi driver and the wild ride.

I've said before that you have to experience the traffic to believe it. Yesterday M2 and I walked to the Tesco supermarket at the HyMall. It is a good three km walk - on level ground, and quite a pleasant walk really.

We did our shopping and with our bags of goodies set out to find a way back to the college. There is a bus - but it is infrequent, which is why we choose to walk one way and find a taxi for the return trip.

We easily found a taxi - and for the first time I experienced a female taxi driver. I think she was a little nervous about having foreigners in the car. For the first time I sat in the front seat and M2 was in the back.

She took us on a wild ride home! Tooting as she weaved in and out of cars (two of which were police cars) and buses, pedestrians, cyclists and all. As she approached the West Gate of the college, we could all see the traffic stopped at the pedestrian crossing which has lights to control the traffic, and we looked in horror as she set out to beat the lights and get in to the college entrance before the traffic moved.

She drove wildly onto the wrong side of the road, over the double line (which doesn't seem to make sense here to anyone who drives), and as the traffic was facing the green light and headed in our direction, she weaved and tooted, as traffic went in all directions in an effort not to hit her, and she swung into the drive way near the gate and stopped.

I could hear M2 gasping in the back seat, and I don't think I took a breath for several minutes. The taxi ride cost 6 Yuan - you can do a calculation on - and as we gathered our bags and walked through the college gates, M2 said. "I've tried to explain that to my friends back home, but you just can't!"

After all, we keep saying, this is China. You do have to experience it.


I was walking with a student in the college yesterday, and a man road past in his tricyle with his card loaded with assorted items, and on the top were 30 or so plastic bottles which had come from the canteen - cooking oil bottles. They were all held together by string and sat precariously on the top of the load. He rode over a bump and the bottles fell to the ground. He stopped and picked them up and placed them again on top of his load.

The students said. "He is making a lot of money, collecting things to recycle. Do you have men doing this in the west?"

I explained to her that certainly in Australia we have a very industrious recycling program - but we don't have men going around collecting things on tricycles. I explained to her that the local council came once a week to our homes to collect our rubbish, and that we had two big bins. One for recycling. I explained how the big trucks take it to a recycling station where it was all sorted.

Here in this city - men and women on tricycles, with a small tray on the back do the recycling. They come into housing complexes, businesses, and this college and go through the rubbish and sort it out. Sometimes you will see on the side of the road a big pile of rubbish and several "recyclers" going through it.

A common sight is a man riding with a huge load - perhaps it is cardboard, perhaps it is bottles, perhaps it is just paper. They take it somewhere - we know not where at this stage - and get paid. Hard working recyclers make good money apparently, but I see it is mainly older folk that do it.

Each country has its own way of dealing with the piles of excess material. And I am fascinated and impressed by the way it is dealt with here. Mind you, one of the sad realities is that the stuff that no one wants - is then left somewhere, in a pile, perhaps on a deserted plot of land, or on the side of the road.

(ps. Thank you for your comment, Kloggers.)

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

My apartment

The television in the loungeroom. I have a faded couch.

The bedroom.

I have had few emails asking about the apartment. So I took a few photos. As I have said the bedrooms are rather large - but they also double as our "office" although we are provided with an office in the college. (No one seems to use the office though - except between some classes rather than walk back to the apartments)

The two bedrooms are almost identical - though different furniture perhaps. In each room there is a rather large double bed, two bedside tables and a cupboard/wardrobe and desk. One of the bedrooms has the computer - but there is a cable in the other bedroom to attach to the internet if you have a laptop.

The lounge/dining area is quite large really - and most apartments have a table and a few chairs, and the television on an entertainment unit in the corner.

The only television we watch is a government run program - the only English television station in China. Some of the programs are very interesting - and they repeat them frequently so if you miss out, just hang about.

The beds are interesting. One cannot tuck in the bottom sheet - or any sheet for that matter. The mattress is rock hard - no give at all. It is said that the hard mattresses are the expensive ones, but we doubt that is true. I have what looks like a padded electric blanket, though it is not attached to power, on my bed that has made it softer - at least comfortable enough for me.

And the sheets? No need to tuck them in. With a rock hard mattress, the sheet does not move. It is just placed over the mattress with the sides just hanging loosely. In the morning it looks just the same - with a few little wrinkles where one has been sleeping. Easy. No need to tuck or learn to do "hospital corners."

(Incidently the college hospital has very hard mattresses - I guess that helps people get well and get out of hospital quicker!)

Tips for ESL Teachers.

Today I was with another teacher - a Canadian fellow who has been here for several years with his wife. He's really good to have around as he knows so much about the college and China. He has an electric motor scooter and in his spare times travels around on his own to explore and his Chinese language skills are very good too.

We were in the canteen and one of the students came up behind me and said "Hello Lady Di" which is a name that the students are using more and more with me and started talking with us. He was very quick to ask her name. She replied with her English name.

When the young lady had gone, he explained that he and his wife have this arrangement, which could, he said, work when any two or more teachers are together and one or more students approaches them to talk. One of them always asks for the Chinese student's "English name" - it is impossible to remember every student's name - so having someone ask all the time is very helpful. Then it is possible to have a conversation referring to them by name - which is of course more polite, and does help one remember the student's name anyway.

I thought it was a good tip for newer ESL teachers.


Here in this area are many beautiful tourist places and they are popular with Chinese who like to drive around and visit the historical and beautiful places in their area.

But it is very frustrating for English speakers as they appear not to cater for them much at all. There is a good website about Shaoxing, which I found very helpful, but it is frustrating me. On the site it talks about some of the historical and beautiful places, it even has a page of details of the cost of entering these places, but I can't seem to find out where they are.

And the students don't seem to know either.

In this area there is a museum featuring the late Chinese premier Zhou Enlai's life. He was a native of Shaoxing. But I can't find where it is. There is an East Lake Scenic Spot - and I can't find the East Lake. There are two special historic places - the former homes of Xu Xilin and Qiu Jin - both writers or poets I believe, and there is a famous Orchid Pavilion. No one can tell me where it is.

The area in their brochure claims that 18 million tourists visited the area in 2006, and that 280,00 of those were international tourists. There are 81 hotels including three 5-star hotels, five 4-star ones, and thirty two 3-star ones.

Perhaps that is something I can do with my students. Get them to help me prepare information for English speaking tourists. And perhaps translate some of the menus in the various canteens too!

I'll have to check on the protocol for that!

From my window I can see the statue of Yu the great - but we have been unable to find how to get there. It is high on the mountain and for me beyond walking. Is there a bus? Can a taxi go? Who knows.

My new slippers.

My new slippers

Aren't they just the cutest? In our apartment the floors are tiled - cold and slippery when wet. Not that they get wet, but the bathroom floods - there is only a shower curtain to stop the water, and it flows all over the floor. (One always has to use the squeegee to clear the water after a shower as it takes a long time to dry without!)

I needed a pair of slip ons or slippers to protect my feet from the very cold floor - especially when getting up at 6 am! It is freezing, though I lean out of bed and grab the remote for the heater and turn it on for 15 minutes or so before I venture out from under two doonas. (I said it was cold!!!)

We were out shopping and I was looking for something simple as a slipper and found these. They are so cute and I laugh when I have them on!

The dust in the air from all the factories is a problem here. It gets into everything. Here we don't was the tops of our shoes, but wash the soles to rid ourselves of the constant dust.

As the area is known as a textile manufacturing area, I am sure that there are many particles of fabric flying around in the air - as we need to dust things every couple of days. Our Chinese students think we Australians are obsessed by cleaning.

I learned today how to use the a/v system in my class room. I'm looking forward to using it now. Should make life easier.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Some frustrations

I appreciate the comments from any readers of this blog - I am able to read the comments as I have changed it so that I need to "moderate" them. This enables me to read them, but not reply to the comment. Blogspot is not accessable in China. Wikepedia is not accessible from China.

That's just the way it is. I certainly thank you for commenting, and Lei, I have read your comments. Thank you.

It is interesting that students here feel the pressure of competition in education, and some seem to work hard while others just complain. I tend to feel that students throughout the world think that they are under much pressure. That may be.

More work to do...........

Not that I mind. In fact it could be very interesting. We have been asked to teach English one night a week in a textile factory. This is part of the college's adult education program, and I will start next week.

The factory is just out of town and I will go with a Chinese teacher from the college. The level of English is not as high as in the college, but that is OK. Every day I learn something new.

And one of my students told me that she saw me dancing on television. Ooops. I had hoped no one would see me! She was quite thrilled and showed her parents the English teacher from college. It was at the International Women's Day event and some of us were at the front being shown how to do traditional Chinese dance. I'm told my effort looked more like disco dancing - but how you can dance with heavy shoes, and five layers of clothes to keep you warm I don't know.

Only one of my students has said anything, so with any luck no one else has seen it.

I met with one of the students today to help her practice English for a speaking competition. She has transcribed some information from BBC news - about a terrorist involved in shooting Israelis. My goodness what a thing to choose to speak about. We sat in the school canteen with canteen staff sitting around listening as the student read her piece and I corrected her pronunciation. She was quite good - but spoke too fast. She will have to try to learn her speech and speak slower. Her mother is a policewoman and her father is a fireman. They work 6 1/2 days a week, and as she is an only child, she has been brought up by her grandmother.

Her parents want her to marry a man from her hometown - no one in mind at the moment, but she wants to get a good grade in college and a good job so that she can travel and have good things.

The students are around 21 - 23 years of age and live spartan existence in the college dormitories where there are six to a room. Winter and summer they have no hot water in the dormitories, and have to go to other buildings for a shower. We see them carrying a plastic bowl (I haven't worked out what that is for - other than carrying clean clothing into the shower) and all their soap, shampoo etc. They come out of the shower with cold wet hair, into the cold, cold air of winter.

As one of the class exercises today the students talked about education in China. It is very competitive and very hard, but I have explained that students all around the world say that about their college/schools.

We had to consider what we would build in a school if we had to build a new school. Surprising that the first thing was a swimming pool. Few Chinese swim - as there are few pools here. I told them that many schools in Australia have whiteboards - not the blackboard as this school has - and I explained how they work. It is very hard being a student here - as their parents pay a high fee and have high expectations. And I told them that in Australia there are paid cleaners. Here the students have to clean the classrooms - and they don't do a good job at it! The students want paid cleaners for their school.

They would love to have more access to computers for study, and to go on school excursions. This is something they do not do here.

An interesting lesson.

Monday, 10 March 2008

New foods

Late in the afternoon I had a phone call from one of the other English Teachers, J, - inviting me and M1 and M2 for a drink. She had prepared some foods, and we had a beer or in my case a glass or two of Chinese wine.

One of the boys came with a packet of preserved fruit. They were labeled waxberry. It seems there are fruit - that grow in Australia too - that is called waxberry. But they grow a lot here, and preserve them with sugar, salt, and a whole lot of additives. They are very tasty but the pip/stone is very big - there's not much fruit.

J had a packet of olives that students had given her, so we tasted them too. They were similar in colour to the green olives we get, but had a different taste and texture. They seemed plumper, with a different shaped seed, and they were served sweet. I've since learned that there is a Chinese Olive, which differs from the olives grown around the Mediterranean. The ones that we know.

There are so many things to discover here.

A visit to the supermarket

The weekend was pretty cold really. Saturday I think the maximum temperature was 7 degrees. Cold. Damned cold. I stayed indoors with my heater on for most of the day. But on Sunday I wanted to go somewhere instead of being cooped up in the apartment.

As it turned out, there were three of us that wanted to explore. M1 and M2, and a Chinese teacher by the name of Lily, who met us at the West Gate.

The HyMall is about 3 kms from the college - and it is a pleasant walk. Apparently it is a problem getting the bus - so walking is the best option. It is a good walk through much of the built up area and industrial sites. Just prior to reaching a big canal which had a huge barge travelling in it, we found a walled area that is farmed. There were elderly men tending the garden there.

We noticed too that along the walk the wonderful streetscape plants were all in bud - magnolia buds about to burst forth, and camellias every where.

When we reached the HyMall we entered an amazing supermarket. One that I will put right on top of my list of preferences. It is a TESCO supermarket - I think TESCO is an English chain.

It was huge - and what a surprise, much of the product has English labelling. Whoo Hoo. I can at last tell what is in the packages!

And as we were walking around one of our students from the college who works there as a promo girl for a dairy company spoke with us. There are a few staff there that speak some English.

The bakery section was wonderful - with a whole lot of baked items that we recognised, and a whole lot of very interesting items. There was hot chickens!!!! M2 and I bought one. Very small chicken - would never have made it to our supermarkets, but for us it was a pleasant change. They also had wonderful looking meat balls in sauce, duck and chicken in sauce for take way. The array of meats in the butchery was excellent.

I have no means of cooking at this point, so it was a matter of looking and planning! The items in the freezer section were well labeled and very enticing, and they had a great range of fresh fruit and vegetables.

On and on we walked - trying NOT to buy anything - as we somehow had to carry it back with us. And we weren't sure how we would get home!

It was a great adventure - we were so pleased to see so many foods with labelling that made some sense to us. Much of the product was of course Chinese, but the English labelling was excellent.

In the end we did have a few bags of goodies to carry and luckily we found a taxi that took us right home to the college. The taxi fare was less than $2!

I think that supermarket will be a very popular haunt for us Aussies!

Now I must buy a wok and work out how the stove works.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

How to be a teacher of English in China.

There's no doubt that the teaching of English by "native speakers" of the language is a growing market. I wish I had discovered it a while ago. In fact I had vague information about it - but the timing wasn't right for me.

I would encourage anyone with a good understanding of English grammar, writing and speaking, to consider this option - especially if they are over 50 years of age and looking for a sea change. One that they will get paid to do!

There are many courses in Australia and they vary in length, cost and quality. You need to do some research to see what works for you - in terms of cost, time required to do the course, and what is really offered. You have organisations like Australia City College that offers a good basic course and can find you employment in China very quickly. They are very keen to get more teachers especially for this college. (We have two new ones coming at the end of this week,and another two weeks later, but they do need more!)

There are organisations like Seek Learning and Teach International with courses in Brisbane and other capitals and larger provincial areas. Many courses, or parts of, can be done online. Research.

It is easy to get workin Asia - and not all countries require that you have a university degree. Some do - so do your research. Actually the college you do your Tesol training with will give you information on this.

What a way to see the world! Travel and get paid!

Once you have your qualifications and some experience - you can negotiate directly with some colleges for more money too.

I have a contract of four and a half months, with accomodation and food provided, and I paid a small fee to cover Visa, and airfare. (Good deal really!)

It has only been two weeks - but just like some of the other teachers, they wish they had discovered it earlier. I certainly do.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Celebration of International Women's Day in Shaoxing

To celebrate International Women’s Day some of us were invited to an event in Shaoxing. It was hosted by the Shaoxing People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, The Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of Shaoxing Municipal People’s Government, The Information Office of Shaoxing Municipal People’s Government, Shaoxing Municipal Bureau of Culture, Media, News and Publishing, Shaoxing Women’s Federation, Shaoxing Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, and sponsored by the Xilinmen Group.

We were collected at the College by bus and taken to the Shaoxing International Friendship Hall where we had to register and were taken around the Hall – there are displays from the many sister Cities/Friendship alliances from around the world. From Australia there were two – Melbourne cities – City of Whitehorse and Wyndham, I think. There was scant information about these places as it had been a recent friendship formation.

The Hall was quite amazing. The TV cameras etc were everywhere! There were teachers from other colleges, business women from the city, and other women.

We boarded the bus again to go to the Xilinmen factory – it was described to me initially as a match factory, and later a mattress factory! We entered this huge complex on the other side of Shaoxing, and were ushered into the most amazing showroom complex I have ever seen.

We were all overwhelmed. We were shown around the showroom that had hotel rooms made up with the most wonderful furniture – we were gasping with astonishment. What luxury! What an amazing showroom. Room after room was on display. We were asked not to take photos – so I didn’t!

Apparently they sell to major luxury hotel chains around the world, and you can see why. It is the third largest mattress factory in the world, and one of the world's largest furniture manufacturers.

Some of the rooms were actual suites with full dining/conference facilities and then an open showroom with dozens of beds in all shapes, sizes, all beautifully made up.

Then we went into the conference room of the Xilinmen Group. That was overwhelming too! A large room with circular conference set up, and seating around the “inner circle”. In the inner circle sat the distinguished guests and speakers. All the inner circle had microphones in front of the speakers.

There was a name plate in Chinese and English of all attendees – and I now have my name written in Chinese as we were able to take the paper insert. Each place had a bottle of water, a cup for tea which they kept filling, and a plate of cocktail tomatoes, watermelon sliced, and pieces of sugar cane, as well as peppermints.

The conference was a series of speakers, from the Chairman of the Xilinman Group, and other important people from the government. One of our teachers also spoke. As well there was a video presentation on a large screen about the Xilinmen operation and an extraordinary presentation about Shaoxing - which I am hoping I can get a copy to take home with me.

Afterward there were 8 performances including local opera singers, a dancer and musicians. After that we were lead over to the Xilinman restaurant for a banquet. There were a number of rooms set up and each had a round table where up to 10 guests sat and ate an amazing array (probably 18 – 20 different dishes), which included crab, shrimp (really small prawns) lobster, chicken soup, vegetables, many vegetable dishes, and some sweat dishes as well as Shaoxing wine. I had not tried the wine before – but it is served in small (shot size) glasses, and one has a toast and the locals drink it quickly. And another toast, and so it went.

Very informal – and just wonderful!

At 6.30 pm it was over, and before we let the room, we were all presented with a gift bag – which included a Pierre Cardin silk scarf, a fabulous souvenir package for the Beijing Olympics, material about Shaoxing, and a packet of stamps in a New Year Package.

We traipsed back to our bus which transported us back home to the college. What a night.

Packaging and Pizza

Packaging in China is amazing. So many products come with exquisite packaging. For example, a packet of tea bags (Liptons) - looks just like the packet we get in Australia - where the bags are inside the box - here in China they have another silverfoil package inside the box. Biscuits will have extra packaging - everything seems to have extra packaging. And this country struggles with the amount of waste it has.

I was pleased to hear on CCTV (The only English language television station in China) that there is a move to reduce packaging - as part of the program to reduce pollution.

A government deputy is giving out cane baskets to shoppers to encourage them to use the baskets and reduce plastic bags. Older people remember taking baskets with them to do shopping! Here and in Australia I am sure!

The deputy is also giving out handerchiefs - as everyone uses tissues here. So we are going back for the future. In the restaurant the other evening we asked for serviettes. They did not understand, but eventually they gave us (actually threw onto the table) a small pack of tissues.

I've not had pizza takeaway yet - it does exist - but last night 4 Aussie teachers went into the city and dined at the Pizza Hut there. Somewhat different to Pizza Hut at home - but it was good. It is expensive eating Pizza Hut meals here though.

Funny sign in restaurant

Potato potential

There are quite a few funny signs here, and we had a chuckle at this one in a restaurant that we visited recently.

The food in some restaurants - certainly on campus - differs greatly from what is on the advertising hoardings.

This one (on the sign on the left) says "We understand the potential of the average potato."

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

The Resort

This is a view of the park. The mountain/hill in the back ground is the one with the statue of Yu the Great. If you look carefully you may see it.

Yesterday M2 and I went for a walk to see how close we could get to the statue of Yu the Great. It is an imposing figure high on a hill near here – he stands in full dress, many metres high and we have been unable to find any photo of this great statue. We have been told it is 1000 steps up to see the statue, so we are not ready for that yet…..

We went out the West Gate of the college and walked up to the intersection and bravely traversed the road, and walked towards the hill. There were gardens and great rocks with Chinese characters on them in the garden.

Eventually we came to a grand group of buildings including shops, gateway, restaurant, and information centre (in Chinese) but it is a great “resort” and tourist attraction. We wandered around and took a few photos – there was a lake, and apparently yachts can be hired there, but we could see no sign of any boating activity. Sounds like it is the sort of place that an English speaking guide would be helpful for.

The whole park is a national park - with a sign saving natirve speacies of tress were being conserved here.

One guy in a tricycle wanted to take us through – for money of course, and there was an entrance fee as well, but as we thought it would be of little value unless someone could explain to us, we decided to give it a miss.

Another time may be. (And we still don’t know if this is the entrance to see the statue of Yu the Great.)

Stones in park

Chinese language lessons

Today we had our first Chinese lessons. The class went for nearly an hour and we learned several words, but in the main learned the “initial” letters and the “final” letters and sounds of the Chinese language. Hard stuff.

Our class had 5 students – 3 Australians, one from America and one from Korea.

At the end of the class one of the staff came in to tell M2 and I that we are to be taken to the police station tomorrow afternoon, to check that we are indeed the persons on our passports.

(I wonder what they will make of me with my blonde hair – when my passport shows me with darker hair.)

Bit by bit we are settling in. I have had an email from another Aussie who is to join us in a couple of weeks.

Chinese Gardens about to burst forth in Spring bloom

This is the rose garden - with a few taller spikes of rose branches.

It is obvious that Spring is in the air. Only 3 days into the new season, the plants are sprouting buds. The garden here is tended with great care, and is quite amazing for a school. The gardeners appear to be older gentlemen who spend hours in the gardens, and at this time they would be anxiously looking at their handiwork.

I find some quite strange things that I have not been able to understand. Why, for example do some of the trees have rope neatly wound around their trunks?

In one garden – photo here – looks like a garden of rocks – in an undulating pattern. At first glance it looks like just rocks, but closer inspection shows rows and rows of rose bushes. They may well be miniature roses, but they are pruned so that few are more than two or three inches above the soil. I can see the thorns.

In the last couple of days I’ve seen the reddish brown of new shoots on the roses – and I anticipate a spectacular display in the next month or so. Other plants that I don’t recognize are also starting to sprout new buds.

Along one of the canals in the school grounds are weeping trees, looking a little like the weeping willows that I knew as a child in Adelaide. These too are sprouting and when in full leaf will make a beautiful framing of the canal.

Everywhere there is new growth on plants, and I look forward to taking photos of the blooms that result.

The view of the weeping trees beside the canal.

Busy City

The city of Shaoxing is a very busy city - with more than 4 million people. Downtown is always busy with cars, trucks, bicyles, scooters, tricycles and pedestrians all mixed in together.

I am sure there are road rules, but it is hard to tell if anyone knows them or takes them seriously. It is not uncommon to find a car driving on the wrong side of the road. (I must check and see if there is any licence requirements!)

When we cross a busy road we walk right out into the traffic and just hope everything goes around us. It is quite daunting!

In front of the shops and buildings are rows of bicycles and scooters, and some people take their scooters, bikes, right inside the office or shop!

At the college students go back and forth on bikes, or scooters - back and forth all the time.

I asked the students (and they are about 22 yrs old) if they drive a car. No, no. Only rich people have cars. Some of their parents do - but not young people here.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

English Names

The students in the college choose their own English names - so that their English teachers can write/understand their names. I'm not sure at which stage they choose their names, but suspect it is when they first start learning English.

They choose names for all sorts of reasons - some you'd hardly guess.

And they change them if they don't like them - or perhaps an English teacher has said that the name is not appropriate. Most of my classes have English names that I recognise, but it is not uncommon to find a name that is truly quite creative. I won't write them here - that is not fair, but I will say that some have named themselves after a vegetable, (you can guess who I call Spud), and numbers.

One young lady says her name with a slight French accent, and expects us to do the same as it is a French name.

On the first day I met the students, several of them announced their new English name. "Yesterday I was called ........... but from today I want to be called ............." which must be confusing for all their friends.

Why English teachers are needed.

There are many reasons why English teachers are needed in China - Chinese businesses need to do business with the West, and the language difference is a challenge, so many Chinese students wish to study in English speaking universities, and the west needs good translations! In Australia we've all had equipment that comes with instructions that are curious - with translation that is confusing.

Let me explain what happened today. I wished to purchase a bottle of wine from the supermarket opposite the gates of the college. Most of the wine has Chinese characters all over it, but I found one that had some English. It is called "Exquisite Manor Redwine". I chose to purchase it.

In smaller printing the label says

"The wine was made of best grapes in the
world and with internal advanced technics.
Tasting best and delicious production.
Tlaborate brewing and classical making.

This is exactly what was on the label. Now it would mean little to a Chinese person with little or no English skills, and it is a mystery to an English speaker. I doubt if it was clear for any English speaker. The "T" on last line of writing clearly should have been an "E" and the claim that it is made of the best grapes in the world would be challenged by other grape growers I am sure.

I've yet to try it - but is bound to be a good drop!

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Map showing Shaoxing

View Larger Map

This map will show you where Shaoxing is. We flew into Shanghai, which is to the right of the map, and drive through outskirts of the the city of Hangzhou, down to Shaoxing. It was good quality road/freeway all the way.

Many of the students come from Ningbo - apparently famous for seafood. One day I will visit there, I am sure.

Visit to restaurant in Shaoxing

On Friday nights it is a common occurrence that some of the foreign teachers meet and have dinner together. Last night a group of 9 of us ventured into the city for dinner at a restaurant that is known by our group as the Smiling Buddha - perhaps because of the gold Buddha with shiny tummy that sits in the foyer of this restaurant.

We caught the bus into the city, and followed our "leader" along narrow lane ways for quite some distance from the main street to the restaurant. It was quite dark in the lane ways except for the occasional electric light. It was of course the very old part of the city, and along the way we could look in to the little shops - some still with workers, or customers. We saw one man making what looked like a kapok mattress, and others were full of mechanical tools. Our group was walking very quickly, dodging cyclists and tricycles as we went. It would be good to walk through more slowly at some time.

The restaurant was on a main road - but our route was the short cut. (I might add that some of our group have been in China for a while - one of the men, a Canadian, has his own motor scooter and takes off on his own and has done for a couple of years and knows the streets well. His Chinese language skills are impressive too!)

This restaurant has been a favourite of the group - but they were surprised to see it full. There was no table for us. Eventually we were taken upstairs to tables to wait for a private room. Some of us were "selected" to go and order the food and I went along for the experience. There were some 60 dishes - all set on plates covered with cling wrap - all with Chinese characters of description and a price, and the idea is that you choose from the array. As well there were many boxes/aquariums with the live fish. Crabs, stingrays, prawns, and a whole array of fish that I could not identify.

Our team ordered after spending quite a lot of time trying to identify some of the foods on the plates. Some was quite obvious but others not - especially as this is a traditional Chinese restaurant.

We had not long returned to our waiting place when our room became available. A small room but we all squeezed in around the table, and as we arrived so did the food. There was no doubt that the restaurant was struggling to cope with its popularity - and the staff were obviously stressed.

However, the food kept coming and I tried all but a plate of egg (I don't eat eggs). We had plenty to eat, it was tasty and we could identify much of what we ate. When we finished we asked for the bill, and we all had to put in 40 Yuan - which works out to just over 6 dollars Australian. We also had enough left in kitty to get 3 taxi's back to the college.

Even at night the traffic in the city was chaotic - few vehicles have lights, and they seem to travel at the same chaotic pace as during the day. We saw our first "accident" - a taxi and a car had come together - there appeared to be little damage, but lots of abuse from both sides as they sorted it out. One of the fellows remarked that in all the time he had been in China that was the first accident he had seen. Which is surprising really.