Sunday, 30 November 2008

Photos - approaching Shanghai by rail from Shaoxing

Just a few of the photos I took from the window of the train.

To Shanghai

Rice fields after harvest.

I was so proud of myself venturing from Shaoxing to Shanghai on my own. I managed to buy the tickets on my own at Shaoxing Train Station - easy really as quite surprisingly there was an English speaker behind the window in the Ticket Office!

After completing class on Friday last, I went to my apartment, collected my already packed luggage (backpack) and set off on foot to the bus stop at the West Gate. When I arrived there were many students and I reasoned that I would struggle to manage my backpack in the packed bus, so I hailed a taxi instead.

At the station in the waiting hall, several Yuexiu students were there and I chatted with them while we waited for the train. In China one waits in a very busy waiting hall - and about five minutes before the train is due to arrive at the platform, we file through the now open gate, have our tickets checked and then line up where we think the carriage will stop. Each ticket has the carriage number, and if you have paid for a seat, the seat number.

Usually, despite the orderly way everyone queues to get into their carriage, the train usually arrives and one discovers that the carriage they must enter is further along the platform, so there is a mad scramble!

On the train there was a lady asleep in my seat - the train had come from Ningbo, so she reasoned that for some of the trip anyway she would sit in someone else's seat. She did not pay for a seat. I woke her, and she got up and moved when I showed her my ticket. There were other students on the train too, and we chatted until they got off.

The activities on the train are always amusing. People wandering up and down the aisle, railway staff back and forth selling food and drinks, and hot water for the tea. Most Chinese people carry a small container of tea of some sort, and the boiling water top up is most popular. Mobile phones going off all the time, loud conversations between travellers, loud music.

I had my MP3 player going, and I was reading and enjoying the views from the train window as we passed through villages, cities, farmland, and fish farms. The scenery is ever changing. It is harvest time in the rice fields, and many of them are laid bare and the workers are burning the stubble left on the fields. In front of many of the houses you can see the rice laid out on the ground - sometimes just on the cement and other times on bamboo mats or in flat cane baskets. The rice must be continually turned over so that it all dries out properly.

Beside the houses are bags of rice. This drying of the rice continues for several weeks and someone is always "on duty" to continually rake the rice to keep the air circulating around it.

In the fields there are many green vegetables growing - it is quite a sight - neat rows of vegetables as far as the eye can see. In some places new plastic domes (or hot houses as we would call them) are being erected to protect the plants from the cold. It is down to 1 and 2 degrees at the moment and will get colder, and maybe even snow.

The scenery is ever changing. In the nearly three hour trip between Shaoxing and Shanghai the train only makes a few stops - Hangzhou and Haining. The landscape is every changing though - there are so many rivers, streams, canals, farms, cities, parks, factories, housing estates, villages, fields. So hard to describe it all - even such a short trip really.

I would love to take more photos - but taking photos through the window of a fast moving train does not guarantee success, but I managed a few!

When the train arrived at Shanghai there was a mad scramble as everyone tries to be the first off the train. It will never be me! People with all sorts of luggage from plastic sheets tied up holding all the precious "cargo", suitcases, backpacks, computer bags, shopping bags, and the ever popular red, white and blue carry bag that even we in Australia are familiar with!

Shanghai Station Sth is very modern, and it is easy to get off the train, up the escalator and in my case along the walkway to the underground railway (subway). I had to catch a train on Line 1, for two stations,get off and get the subway on line 4 to my destination. Managed it with one small hiccup, but arrived safely.

My host was at the station to meet me and we wandered back to her apartment. Now I had been there just 2 months before, but the landscape had changed dramatically. Soem buildings had been completely demolished, and were being replaced by modern housing. In her own apartment block it was surrounded by bamboo scaffolding, as the apartment was being refurbished.

It was quite cold and good to get inside. We chatted for ages before enjoying a good meal which included tender pork pieces with a special port seasoning, steamed carrot, broccoli, and boiled potatoes. And some good Australian red wine!

Friday, 28 November 2008

Is this the writing breakthrough I am looking for?

My adventure continues. At 4 am this morning one of my two mobile phones - the Aussie one - started playing the music advising me that a message had arrived. I always fear those, but this one was not to be feared.

I have been trying to create a career as a writer and as anyone would know it is not easy, but I am on the cusp of some great advances in my career and hopefully some will be "cash advances."

A story I wrote some time ago has been considered by a movie producer in big town Hollywood. I signed a contract several months ago. The message this morning was that things are advancing rather positively - and the producer has asked me to provide some more information.

So,that put an end to any sleep! The mind has been racing. Is this the big breakthrough that every writer dreams of?

Additionally I am about to put a proposal for an idea, which is considered rather exciting by those who know what I am writing, which is for the Chinese market. I will make contact with the Chinese publishers next week - and my weekend trip to Shanghai is part of my planning process.

Even though I have not seen a cent or a Yuan at this point, I am hopeful, and very thankful for the opportunities that are before me.

Almost Green Hair.

Oh, well, I'm just lucky I don't have green hair!

I went to the hairdresser today. The one I went to last time ignored me - and after standing in the salon being treated as if I wasn't there, I went to another one. A new one.

No one spoke English and my Chinese hairdressing vocabulary is zilch. A girl who knew a little Chinese tried to help. We did hand signals for cut and shampoo, and I pointed to the colour chart. Hair cut? My hair is already short and the fellow didn't think I needed it cut. But cut he did eventually - taking a miserable 1/4inch from my straggly locks. Colour? Well, I am a blonde and I wanted to stay that way, so with the chart I pointed out the blonde hair strand in the example.

Why not black he said, then you'd look like us. He was serious! I tried to hide my mirth!

Eventually it was agreed. A little lightening of the colour of my hair. So his fancy lad went and came back with the tube of something in a packet and he duly mixed it and carefully strand by strand applied green paste. Much to my consternation.

After a while it was shampooed off and there I was - not lighter but many shades darker and with a purple tinge. Lots of handsignals, and worried looks, and laughing on my part.

So, I'm not a blonde any more. May be, just maybe the Chinese won't stare at me so much.

Oh, I forgot. There are some 10,000 students who knew me as a blonde and the looks of horror or excitement I am getting are worth bottling. If only I could.

Oh, well. Just another Chinese adventure to report. At least my hair is not green, which looked a distinct possibility at one stage.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Gone with the Whind

You only have to spend a short time in China to see that the English language here is a bit of a mishmash. There are many websites featuring Chinglish and I have submitted photos to them. I found a new source today of funny English.

I was in the big Trust Mart Supermarket, which since I was there about 10 days ago has had a complete refit - and is dramatically different to what I saw last time. An amazing job to have completed such a change in a short time, but short of staff they are not!

I was browsing the record/CD shelves wondering if I could find something to add to my MP3 Player for the trip to Shanghai this weekend.

I ended up buying two - at 4 RMB/Yuan each I thought it didn't matter if I didn't like them. One is called "Movies Music" Doubbed in with classical background. On the list of music on the CD is "Beverly hill cop, Eyes of tiger, I Just call to say I love you, and Gone with the Whind"

A copy you think? Is it likely to be legit? Oh, well, it sounds nice. But with the writing mostly in Chinese characters, I have no idea of its origin. Can only guess.

Dressmaker Number One

These are photos at my dressmaker's shop. It is not much bigger than a large bedroom, and from here this lady has a "roaring" business. It is in a fabric market which has many stalls all with some form of fabric item. Many make bedsheets, and quilts and quilt covers, and many are dressmakers or tailors.

In this little shop Jing measures the customer cuts, the fabric, and does the fittings. It's rather odd, because when you are trying things on, it is not uncommon to have half a dozen Chinese women looking at the foreigners. There's little privacy, but then it is pretty hard to see anything in the back corner of the shop.

We are teaching Jing to speak English - and she is getting better all the time, but we have managed with a little Chinese, a little English, a lot of hand signals and drawings. And a lot of laughs too I might add.

I found Jing all by myself last semester - I walked all along the fabric market and latched on to her as she was younger, and more friendly. So many Chinese are afraid of us - afraid that they will make a mistake which will cost them money! Jing was immediately friendly!

Bring out the Red Carpet

Red is the most popular colour in China. It is the colour of the Chinese flag, and all the ceremonial lanterns, knot items, are red. I found a cheong sam dress shop with most of the garments in stunning red.

It is no surprise that when a new business opens that they bring out lots of red, and yes, red carpets especially for ceremonial purposes are every where. Just of the main street in Shaoxing, near my main dressmakers little shop, the laneway was covered in red felt "carpet" and as you can see there was much decoration. Guards were on duty - perhaps waiting for the crowd rush, I don't know.

The "carpets" are not always safe - they are not firm on the roadway, and walking over steps or gutters is done with caution. The Chinese love a celebration and there would be flowers, firecrackers and drums and other entertainment to draw the locals to the new business.

Daggy lane

We visited a popular dressmaker in the back lanes of Shaoxing. These women work under appalling conditions compared to what we know. The little shop was a wreck and in Australia would have been condemned.

The walls and ceiling were pitted with holes - a huge slab of the ceiling had previously fallen, and from the outside it looked pretty daggy. The lady was the sweetest lady and she had a small dog NiNi which greeted us with tail wagging.

Inside all neatly stacked were an assortment of fabrics. The summer fabrics were no longer visible and the winter ones were piled neatly - great bolts of fabric. This is the fabric city - so they always have plenty to choose from. I had a t-shirt made at another dressmaker in Shaoxing, but the lady in the lane charges 50% less - so I thought I'd get two "for the price of one" with her.

Mind you, I'll need a tour guide to get back there again, but we will wait and see. Several of us use the same dressmakers now.

We went back into the city via some extra ordinary laneways. It is incredible to see how resourceful the wonderful Chinese people are. Little stores or stalls in all sorts of nooks and crannies. Obviously they must do well - and some which would only be known to locals and the few strangers who accidentally discover these places. There were open air fruit markets, barrows with nuts - walnuts are in season, piles of sweet potato, and much much more. It is impossible to record all the things we see.

We accidentally came across a shop that sells woollen garments - jumpers, cardigans, - in fact any woollen item could be found here. Sitting on little stools on the footpath of the shop were ladies knitting children's jumpers, and inside we discovered we could have a jumper made to fit. Sounds good to me - with my long arms I usually find my jumpers a bit on the short side. The cost of a cashmere jumper is around 900 Yuan (divide roughly by 5 to calculate the Aussie dollar value - so less than $A200.) They had piles of pattern books and fashion magazines, so you can choose your style.

We didn't order - we just kept walking. Our great find for the day was a shop that sold exquisite Chinese 2009 Calendars. Wonderful.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

The Butcher, the Baker.......

I've written about the Village. This is one of many thousands here in China.This particular one is opposite the West Gate of the college. There is a lane - just big enough for cars to get through, and they often do despite the squeeze and the constant pedestrian and other wheeled traffic. It meanders around on mostly cement pathways - cement that is mostly cracked, crazed with holes here and there. Definitely no maintenance here! On either side of the lane are little shops - some not much bigger than a single garage, and in these shops almost anything if for sale.

There are many food shops and small cafes, many with slot machines and other games, there are several computer shops, many clothes shops, and so many hair dressers. There are shops that sell a myriad of plastic items for the home, another one with bedding, another one with nuts, shoes, a wine shop, several cake shops, several beauty shops. You could buy almost anything here.

Out on the footpath there are usually one or more ladies with an old treadle sewing machine, and they will do running repairs, or stitch simple garments for a pittance. There are three little shops that create wonderful down filled coat to keep the cold of winter at bay.

At the end of the lane, and across the road is where the vegetable market is - photos of this are in a previous post.

In the village there are also cake shops and butcher shops. The latter really is the topic for this post.

Now I confess, I've looked but never bought here. In the photo you can probably see how the meat is presented. There is no refrigeration - the meat is on trays in the open with the door open which would allow the dust from the traffic in the street to enter. There are few flies, but in summer there is a strange piece of equipment that dangles from the ceiling and has a ribbon like attachment that twirls and perhaps discourages the odd fly or two.

The smell? Well there is one. A meaty smell - but not offensive really.

In any case this is where the locals buy their meat.

It is enough to put you off roast chicken and pork. Not for me!!!!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Pass the Parcel

Some students were already familiar with this game - but when I was asked to create a game or activity for a party a couple of weeks ago, found a box of chocolates, wrapped the parcel and on each sheet was a new challenge for the person who was holding the parcel when the music stopped.

Last night we attended another party - and the games had been organised by the students and pass the parcel was on the agenda. I was asked to "host" it. Apparently one of the teachers created the challenges and they were very good.

One student was asked to sing - and she took to the "stage" and microphone and sang a traditional Chinese song. One of the boys opened his parcel to find he had to go out into the street and tell two people that he loved them. I found this particularly amusing as this very same boy, on the previous Tuesday had blurted out to me that he had fallen in love - at first sight - with another student.

He read his challenge, and raced out of the function into the street. What surprised me was that everyone in the room - probably 60 students evacuated the party room and went to witness the event. They were back shortly all laughing. He had told three girls he loved them!

And the pass the parcel continued. One girl had to "write her name with her buttocks" - something that was quite unusual but very funny.

And we taught a student to do the Hokie Kokie as her challenge was to dance and she did not know how. Another girl had to kiss someone - and she was terrified, so I offered my face for her to kiss my cheek which she did and announced that it was her "first kiss."

More surprises

The student dormitories here are cold in winter and hot in summer. They are pretty spartan rooms with room for three double bunks (6 people to a dorm) and desk space for all. Always pretty tight squeeze, but overall adequate. The students often complain to us - which is a waste of time I guess. There is certainly nothing we can do about it. Just act as sounding board, that's all.

At present it is very cold. When I was looking at electric blankets for me in the supermarket I found some cute little "hot water bags." They were small - flower shaped with 5 "flower petals" with pretty fabric cover, which I am sure was rubber lined. I took little notice of them in the store - concentrating my "research" on the electric blankets. In the end I didn't have to buy one - I had one loaned to me.

The weather is cold - in fact we have had about three nights when it was down to 1 degree. In the past couple of days I noticed the girls with these little hot water bags, and last night I saw a number of students with them at a party.

One girls stated that hers was cold, and we offered to get hot water for it. Then she showed us how it operates. It is operated by electricity. In the centre of the "petals" is a plastic spot for the power to be plugged in. So all they need to do to heat it up - and quickly too - is to plug into a power point.

Not surprisingly these little things can be used in the classroom and it takes a short time to plug them in and heat them up again.

So this is the way the students can keep warm in the cold classroom, and in their dormitory.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Where is your passport?

One of the rules here is that you travel with your passport at all times. Locally I do not, but I do have a photocopy of the important pages in the that I take when I am leaving the campus. So far I have not forgotten to take the "real" passport when I leave.

We have also just been issued with "identity cards" - no instructions, but again, I think we must carry them with us.

Yesterday being Friday was our usual night for dining out, but we had been out the night before, so I was less inclined to go again. So I decided to go to Carrefour Supermarket in the afternoon, do a little shopping and come home and stay home. Alone.

I had not heard my cellphone ring while in Carrefour but just after I climbed into the bus with my bag of goodies, I heard it ring. It was one of the teachers who had gone to Suzhou for the weekend. Two of them had gone together and surprisingly they had both forgotten their passports. As they were approaching their destination city, they knew that they could not book into their hotel without their passport. Suzhou is around 3 hours bus trip from Shaoxing, so they were quite panicked.

There was not much I could do on the bus, but I agreed to see what I could arrange - when I arrived back at the campus, which was at least 30 minutes away. While I was talking I must have dropped my good leather glove - I had one with me, but had taken the other off to answer the phone, and when the call finished I hunted everywhere for it. In my bags, on the seat, it was nowhere to be seen. I was a little annoyed.

As I was getting off the bus, I found it near the stairs. It must have fallen, or been brushed off my lap by a passenger going past me, and fallen. Anyway, I was pleased to pick it up!

I had to buy bananas on the way near the West Gate, so did so, and was soon in the apartment. I rang the teachers and got more details and then tried to contact the Director of International Exchange. By this time it was well after 5.30 pm, and I knew she would not be in her office, so I phoned her at home and related the story.

Fortunately her apartment is not far from her office and she was able to go to the office, find the copies of the passports and fax them to the hotel in Suzhou. But there were more phone calls. One of the passports did not come through clearly, so I had to recall her from her apartment again. Luckily I was just the "go-between" so she has no reason to be annoyed with me!

And so it appears that the teachers will be able to enjoy their weekend.

Here it is necessary to take one's passport with them to show the hotel. The PBS like to know where aliens/foreigners are. It can be quite a hassle if one loses their passport here. Always a good idea to have several photocopies of it.

I reasoned I was not "meant" to have gone out with the other three teachers - as I would not have been able to assist the ladies in Suzhou.

Friday, 21 November 2008

The Performance

The Chinese people love performances - and it is a common event at regular "parties" and other occasions at the university. We get frequent requests but more likely we are 'advised' as we arrive at an event.

The event that occurred last night was not quite like that. We had warning. One week! An email just on a week ago asked me to organise the foreign teachers' performance at the "Opening Ceremony of the Cultural Festival and Welcome to New Students." This event was to be held on the sports field at 6.30 pm on Thursday night. Actually I was just given the date - not the time and venue.

So I sent an email to the director asking for more information, and then an email to the foreign teachers asking for Heeeelp!

A day or so later, we had a suggestion that we should do the "Hokey Kokey" or "Hokey Pokey" as most Aussies knew it. Amidst much mirth it was decided to go ahead. Anything else suggested just didn't make it!

In the end we had a couple of rehearsals - again laughing all the way. What were the Chinese to make of all this?

Then we were asked to provide our music. Try as I might we couldn't find anything to download other than a short piece of "Hokey" Music, so it was decided that we would walk on stage to this music clicking our fingers and get into formation while the music played.

Rehearsals would be on Wednesday night at 6.30 pm. By Tuesday night we had a request for rehearsal at the stage area on Tuesday just after midday. As it turned out only two of our group of 9 could attend, so we went - checked out the venue,and left as we both had classes and in typical chaos style no one could work out what was going on.

By Thursday morning (yesterday) we had another request for a rehearsal (dress rehearsal!!!) - again only a few of us went, but we went on the stage, stood like a row of penguins and talked our way through the routine. I did a few fancy classical ballet moves, much to the amusement of my students and others who had gathered. I wonder what they think we were going to do?

Costume? Well, as you can imagine, we had none. So chose to just wear black pants and colourful shirts. We learned that we were number 3 on the program. (I must find one - have not seen it!)

We were asked to be stage ready by 6.20 pm, so decided that we would have our final rehearsal in the Leisure Bar with a few drinks first. And we learned we could get double alcohol in our drinks without any extra money. So funny!

At the bar, two other people had joined us. The UK couple had friends, - one as it turns out was a nurse and had been the "boss" of one of our Aussie teachers who is also a nurse, in the UK. Small world??? Anyway, after a drink or two they joined in the singing and dancing troupe. We went through the routine once in the bar and headed to the Sports Field in temperatures that were almost at freezing point.

The stage area was crowded with students - but we managed to get through. We had a student and a non-dancing teacher to hold our bags and coats as we prepared for our performance.

Then to the strains of Hokey Pokey we clicked onto the stage. The music lasted longer than we had prepared so we gyrated around the stage as the students shrieked and laughed. Then we "performed" as the students cheered, clapped and shouted. Throughout the routine a few mistakes were made (left foot or right foot???) but in the end all was done, we climaxed with a shout, a bow and headed off stage, glad that it was all over.

Students shouted at us from the sides. "Great, wonderful." And the student reporters were there to interview us. "That was so interesting, how long did you have to practice?" I started to say a week, but after a nod from one of the teachers, I changed my story. "It was a very difficult traditional dance, and we have been practicing for weeks." The reporters wrote their notes.

Can you tell us about the dance? Mmmm. An old English traditional dance that has been done for hundreds of years."

Can't wait to see the newspaper - but, ah, I won't be able to read it anyway. Photos! Shouts!

We watched a few more performances over the heads of the crowd - there were seats for us, but we could not get to them.

So off to the Ba Boru for an Indian dinner and more laughs about our wonderful performance.

When I arrived "home" I checked my cellphone as I had left it behind.

"Your performance is very good! We love you and your friends. That is amazing!"

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Yum - toffee on a stick!

I am familiar with "toffee apples" but it has been many years since I have had one. When I was in China earlier this year I discovered these delicacies - "Candied fruit." There are often street stalls selling these type of delicacies. The one above is "Candied haws" according to my students and I learn that it is a delicacy of Beijing. Click here to see a photo.

Other fruits are put on skewers and coated with toffee - I have seen strawberries, Chinese Gooseberry, mandarin pieces etc. Here is another photo.

I think the fruit in my photo are actually called "hawthorns" and I suspect the name "haws" may be the shortened version of the name.

The hawthorns are small apple-like fruit, and that have a pip in the centre, not unlike a seed you might find in an apple.

Until today I did not know much about them, but a student in a speech to the class explained about the "candied haws" and presented me with one. Maybe a way to get a higher mark from the teacher?

In any case I ejoyed eating it - and yes, she did get a good mark for her story about the "candied haws."

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

A visit to the village market

I went for a walk in the village today. No real reason and I didn't buy anything. It was a cool day, but the sun was shining and it was a pleasant walk. Mostly. On one side of the road are apartments which could be described as luxurious. On the other side is the village and you can probably see how these people live. I was intrigued to see some government type officials with maps of the houses etc wandering through and looking at the buildings. Some are certainly needing demolition, but I have no idea what plans their might be for this place. Not only do people live here, but their businesses and source of income is in the village.

This man is selling his crop of red beans. I don't know much about them, but red beans appear in a range of foods, and there are dumplings which are a delicacy with red bean paste.

This man has a strange contraption on the back of his cart which bakes sweet potato. These sort of carts are everywhere and the sweet potato is plentiful at the moment.

The vegetables are not familiar to me. They could be a type of turnip or carrot, along with the familiar carrot that we know and love.

These little stalls are set up alongside a footpath. The folk have buckets of water and wash them and stack them ready for sale.

Now if you are a pet lover, don't look close. This is dog meat which is a local delicacy and is popular during winter. Whether it is true or not I do not know, but they say the dog meat is very warming and the locals like it as a winter dish to keep warm. Pretty gruesome to me, and I must say I was shocked when I saw it.

Fresh Fish? You choose your fish, and they will prepare it for you for a fee, or you can take the live fish home in a plastic bag and deal with it yourself.

Chicken? Here in the open air market, with no refrigeration are all sorts of pieces of chicken and duck meat - the feet of the chicken are a very popular food here, as well as chicken gizzards, and a whole lot of food that we do not eat in the west. It is very confronting to stir a bowl of broth and have the chicken's head appear and look at you. There's not much waste here. At least not at this end of the food chain.

How many Charlie Chans are there?

Students studying English are usually requested to choose an English name. One reason is that if they have an English speaking/non Chinese speaking teacher, it is easier for them.

The names chosen are chosen for a reason. Sometimes they just "like" the name, or it could be a famous person, or anything they know or like. They don't necessarily look at familiar English names. Hence there are all sorts of strange names, e.g. Moonshine, Winter, Rain, Eleven, Kingki, and so forth. There is always a reason they have chosen their name - even though it might be rather obscure to their English teachers.

Charlie Chan is of course very popular and it is surprising how many young fans have chosen Charlie Chan as their English name. I find it quite amusing. We have one very confident young man on campus who is first to any microphone handy and announces his name, to much cheering by the girls.

Last week I was on a crowded bus in Shaoxing, and another student and I were talking in English, and the young man in front of me introduced himself in perfect English. Could be speak with me? OK.

He said his name was Charlie. I asked. "Is it by any chance Charlie Chan?" His smile widened and he asked me how I guessed. Duh!

We had quite a chat on the short bus trip. He had graduated from another college and he was now a businessman.

I wonder, just how many Charlie Chans are there in China? And does the owenr of the real Charlie Chan name mind this type of adoration? Is there a real Charlie Chan - I thought he was fictional.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Morning exercises Chinese style

I knew before we came that students are required to attend exercises every morning - at least Monday to Friday and for the past 9 months or so at 6.20 am exactly familiar music is sounded out on the parade ground.

From my first apartment on the fifth floor I could see the students running towards the sportsfield across the little bridge over the canal, but I never saw anything of the exercise class itself. Some time later I would hear the hundreds of students returning to their dormitories, or their class rooms or the canteens.

I promised myself that one day I would go and see for myself. And today was the day! I'd almost forgotten my commitment to myself until I heard the first strains of the music, so quickly donned sneakers, and coat and went to see.

One student was on her way - via the canteen - and I said, "Don't you need to hurry?" "Oh, no. I'm early."

As it turns out the music that I had heard and thought was the beginning of the exercise program was only the "call to action."

At 6.30 am the exercises start. Rows of students - all in their class rows with a sign at the front of the line with their class number - await the instructions. Teachers are there also, I guess to make sure the students turn up as they appeared to do little else but watch the students.

The whole sports field was wall to wall students, and the basketball courts as well. I tried to calculate the number of students - no idea, but more than 1000 I guess.

A voice came over the loud speaker - "E, er, san" etc. One, two, three.

En masse all students followed what to them would be a familiar routine. Arms and legs in unison.

I was surprised that it lasted no longer than 5 minutes. Then I was engulfed in a wall of students on a mission. Most to the canteen!

Beside the basketball court were two elderly gentlemen going through their own paces in an exercise arena near the Student Centre. One - who must have been at least 70 was walking backwards on some elevated horizontal poles. Doing some Tai Chi movements as he walked confidently along the poles.

Another man, who also seemed to be in his 70's was doing other Tai Chi type exercises which were astounding. One thing that you often see here with older people is the massaging of their face, neck and head. Very strong movements to stimulate circulation.

He did this as well as other actions like pounding his chest, and thigh. I only watched him for a short period, but his exercise regime took much longer than did the students'.

Altogether fascinating. Another part of Chinese culture experienced that I can tick off my list.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Mobile Phones in the classroom

I am doing some research on this topic as our next lesson for the Newspaper Reading classes is on this topic. The story the students will have to study is from this site and relates the story of some 13 year olds that filmed a teacher with their mobile phone when he was yelling at students. There was an indiction that the teacher was deliberately provoked.

It is an interesting issue as here in China the students live long hours on their mobile phones and they are permitted to have them in class, and they do use them in class despite class rules. When I have privoulsly complained ot the hierarcy about this, I am met with giggles and the story that since many have their English dictionaries in their mobile phone, they must be permitted to use them.

I have in the past confiscated cell phones/mobile phones until the end of the lesson, and spoken sternly to the offending student/s, but it really makes little difference. They love taking photos of the teacher "performing" in class, so I have no idea what film there is of me.

In some American schools they have been banned in classrooms - and I think that is appropriate.

Some time students tell me that they are using their dictionary, but I can tell if that is so! I also tell them that if they have a dictionary in their phone to leave it on the desk in front of them, and any use of a phone under the desk is obviously not allowed!

It is common for a student to run from the classroom with her phone going in here ear, or to excuse himself during an exam because mother is phoning.

I do think there will be some issues in the future if there is evedence that constant mobile phone usage will cause health problems. What I think is rather amusing is that they can chastise me for going to KFC once in three months, but continually use the mobile phone. In class, in the bus, in the hair dresser, in bed!

I wonder what the future holds for them?


Lanting will forever hold great memories for me. There are two parts to the famous Lanting - the area where hundreds of students and families meet each weekend for barbeques, and the famous place that has a very long history, although I understand it has been recreated here, and may not be the original place.

According to Planetware

"The Orchid Pavilion, set in impressive natural scenery with bamboo woods and winding streams, is situated 14km/9mi to the southwest of the city. A stele with an inscription by the Emperor Kangxi (reigned: 1662-1723) is housed in the pavilion. Outside the pavilion a picturesque little lake extends for some 30m/32yd. In the center of this lake is a stone tablet with two ideograms which, roughly translated, mean ''goose pond''. They are attributed to Wang Zizhi, who in the year 335 wrote the famous ''Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Poetry Collection''. The pavilion was therefore already in existence in the 4th C."

I understand that in woods near a stream a number of poets gathered. They were sitting beside a stream and drinking wine, and the bowls of wine were floated in the little stream and when the bowl reached one of the poets or writers he was obliged to write something. This was all done writing Chinese characters or calligraphy, and is believed to be one of the oldest pieces of calligraphy in existence.

Another website Yoyo says:

"The garden nestles against green hills covered with luxuriant trees and dense bamboo groves. Around Lanting are murmuring crystal-clear streams . In the garden the five architectures-the Geese Pond Pavilion, the Wine -cup Floating Pavilion, the Lanting Tablet, the Imperial Stone Tablet Pavilion and the Right Wine-cup Floating Pavilion, the Lanting Tablet, the Imperial Stone Tablet Pavilion and the Right Wing Army General Temple are fine works of art.

As you can guess it is a very famous place. My photo above is of the bigger lake that is near the barbeque area, but I do enjoy seeing the place where the poetry was written, with little cane seats around the meandering stream, and it is a wonderful experience to sit and imagine what it was like all those hundreds of years ago when the poetry was written.

Computer Madness

Here our computers are our lifeline to the outside world. Television (if it works, and in my case doesn't) can give you some news about what is going on outside China, but generally only if it is bad news and they don't focus on it unless it puts China in a good light.

But the Internet connection is awful. When were returned after summer break there was a lot of drama as they had introduced a new system. We had been so easily able to get on to the Internet before - even though it then was slow and unreliable - but now we have to log in to the system. A rather irritating log in system - which often doesn't want to work.

Also we find from time to time that Internet Explorer doesn't like the system here, so we have to use Firefox. I had been having good results from IE and did not have to download Firefox. That is until last week.

There was a computer examination coming up when many students were on line at the same time to do their exams in the computer salons. (I haven't seen them yet.)

So it was real go slow. I tried to download Firefox but could not get enough strength to do that even. So I took my computer to the new Green Cafe where I could log on for free. Only for reasons we do not know, my computer refused to work there. Oh, it worked, but I could not log on. So it was back to the apartment to try again.

The following day, things were better and I downloaded Firefox. So now I can alternate between IE and Firefox. But all the foreign teachers are finding challenges with the Internet connection at the moment. I want to re book my return flight to Australia, but I can't get onto the site. In part I think that their site is undergoing maintenaince.

It is so frustrating. Annoying.

Even getting on to the Courier Mail has been impossible today. Grrrrrrr.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

The continuing wine story

This is a wine bottle. I found it in the supermarket in the wine section and as it was only 5 RMB and I like the bottle, I bought it. I had no idea what was in it. As students appeared at my aparment I asked them to decipher the Chinese writing. It seems that almost everyone has a different translation.

One said it was a medicine. That's a good story!!! Others thought it was wine of some sort. It comes from Sichuan - the area that was so devastated by the earthquake in May this year. Still it didn't really help, so I bravely opened it and took a sip.

Wow! It is powerful. But still it was with some fear and trepidation that I pondered the wisdom of drinking more. Today my friend the doctor (actually he is a surgeon at a local hospital) came and he considered the Chinese characters before announcing that it was indeed a wine, which is good for health.

It would be a good idea to drink a little every night before one went to bed! I find it hard to comprehend it is actually a wine - it looks more like a spirit. It is clear - like crystal clear water.

Anyway if I want to take the bottle home with me - which I do, I will have to drink it anyway.
I must do some research though. It looks like a gourd, and there is some suggetion that the wine is made with gourds. I wonder............ maybe it is medicinal.

The Cultural Festival

The request came in an email. "Can you organise the foreign teachers to perform at the cultural festival?" The fear rose immediately within me!

What? Me? Cultural? I forwarded the email to the other teachers and before I met up with them, some had already had discussion. And another followed as we tried to determine what we could arrange given just one week's notice. I replied with a promise "to do my best" which is common Chinese speak, and asked a few questions about time, place, etc. Which, as it turns out went unanswered.

We have no music, no costumes, no... well, nothing. The only suggestion midst great hilarity was to consider doing the Hokey Kokey.

So having laughingly agreed that this could be our only option, we agreed to discuss it further, even though we knew that few of us would be available at the weekend. Oh, well.

On Friday afternoon I received a phone call from the director if International Exchange Office. Could I tell her the detail of the performance. Trying to keep a straight face on my end of the phone, I bravely announced that we would be performing a traditional English dance called the Hokey Kokey, and it would require audience participation. And by the way could she tell me more about the event. I agreed to send an email with the strange spelling to her, and request further information.

Shortly after I sent the email, the phone rang again. Another staff member of the Exchange Office telling me the time, where we were to perform, and wanting to have our music. Oh, heck! (well, I censored my comment which I said quietly to myself.)

I have been trying to download some music from the Internet, which only works spasmodically at present, so makes life difficult.

So we had another "meeting" to discuss it. Much hilarity! Costume?? Well, you are going to just wait and see dear reader. I just can't imagine what rehearsals will be like - and the performance? Thursday night next! Heeelp!!!!!

Friday Night

Most Friday nights a group of foreign teachers go out for dinner, but this week we had already been because one of our number is leaving the college and two others were away for the weekend. As it turns two other teachers were taken to Xinchang for some event, so I found myself all alone on the Friday evening.

I had worked all afternoon on a variety of things, so decided to go to English Corner at Dio Coffee. Dio is a chain of coffee lounge/restaurants around China and we have several in Shaoxing, but one has an "English Salon" or English Corner on a Friday night.

As English teachers we know that the best way to learn a language is to practice and these events are held every Friday night in Dio. Many Chinese business people, teachers and students appear to talk English and they welcome "foreigners" for practice.

I had been the previous week, and have been on other occasions too. So I knew a few people. So around 6.30 pm I left my apartment and headed for the bus station. Students stopped me to chat on the way. They always ask "Have you had supper yet?", "Where are you going?" "What are you going to do?"

One group I told that I was going to KFC. Horror!!! "Junk Food" I was told. I explained that if you only ate at KFC occasionally there was little problem. We all nodded and I went on my way.

I love the city at night - I should go more often really. It is of course crowded and very noisy. Most of the big stores have loud thumping music on their pa systems, the traffic chaos continues, and the air is full of mist as the clouds and pollution dance together giving an eerie feeling.

The many peddlers have set up shop on any space that is not taken up by the thousands of bikes of all shapes, sizes and propelling power. Around the city square the air is thick with the smell of what we call "stinky tofu" a local delicacy that does little to impress us - with either its aroma or taste. Junks of tofu cooked in oil on a cart in the street.

I made my way to KFC and ordered just a small serve of nuggets. Enough to "fill the gap". It is a big KFC and very busy on a Friday night, but I managed to ignore the stares and find a little table and eat my small meal in peace.

Then it was to Dio. These places are quite luxurious by Chinese standards. A curved elaborate stone staircase sweeps up to the next floor from a foyer lined with wine bottles in cellar like racks. There is usually staff to greet you - in Chinese of course at the door - and I noticed before I entered the sign on the footpath "English Salon".

The main restaurant is quite ostentatious. Booths with comfortable lounge seating, and tables, many of which overlook the crazy traffic below, and others in glassed cubicles. The staff is always very attentive - and few speak any English, which always causes great mirth when we come here for coffee and cake (actually there is none of the latter), or a meal. Some meals are OK, but others are - well, strange.

There is a special room at Dio where English Corner or English Salon is held, and as it was fine weather, many people came. Some I remembered from previous visits. Last night there were only 3 foreigners, myself and another English Teacher from Shaoxing University, an English lady whom I have met many times before. Her mother was visiting from the UK - and they looked just like sisters.

And so it is fast and furious as the many Chinese try and get as much opportunity to talk as possible. There were several students too - and some from our college and I came home with one later. I like to leave early as the last bus goes at 9.20 pm, so if I am on my own it is best to leave with students as they must be in their dormitory by 10 pm, and that gives me (a) company on the bus and (b) an early night.

The student I travelled with not only paid my fare home, but bought a huge "orange" in the supermarket and gave some to me. These huge fruit that are the size of small watermelons, are in season at the moment - they are like big grapefruit, with very thick skin, which the fruitman will peel off for you, and put the peeled fruit in a bag to take home.

I made my way safely to my apartment, with my gift.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Students killed in Shanghai College Fire this morning.

I read on China Daily this morning that at least four students were killed in a college fire in Shanghai this morning. How tragic! They sadly died after jumping or falling from the balcony of their dormitory, 6 stories up.

Fire preparation is one thing that we do not see here. One of the fears I have with working here in China, is the, well, lack of fire planning. When we asked about it some time ago, we were told that fire isn't such a big problem here, because so many buildings are made of brick or stone, with stone/tiled floors etc and there is little combustible material. I guess if I look around my apartment that is true, except that the cupboards, chairs, tables etc are made of timber, or timber with "plastic" covers. There are curtains, bed linen, cupboard contents etc. It is not hard to find things that might well fuel a blaze or even start one.

But with somewhere between 7000 and 10000 students on the campus in dormitories I do ponder what would happen should a fire break out there.

A few weeks ago I saw a pall of smoke coming from the college about the same time I saw red fire engines, working their way through the narrow street that is near our apartment. Even I could tell that their route to the fire was the longest, and most difficult. If someone had told them to enter via the main gate, they would have got to the fire much quicker.

Today there were two ambulances sirens blaring that attended the college. I may never know why - but it raises the point again. Unlike our classes in Australia where we as teachers have to know the fire drill, and the exit plan, and emergency procedures, here we are told nothing. I doubt if there is a plan. When I ask students they do not understand how much importance we put on things like workplace health and safety.

Certainly it is not yet on the agenda in China.

Mystery Solved

Yesterday I was with the class who had invited me to the "bake" on Saturday, and I started by apologising to them all for being late and nearly missing the bus. I thought I had misread the text message I had received on the Friday night telling me that the event had been postponed, when in fact it hadn't.

It seems that one of the students had been in a discussion with the other students and they had considered changing the date, but they realised that the bus had been booked and they would have to pay for the bus for the Saturday even if they didn't go.

By the time she realised that her message would cause some chaos, "it was too late" to let me know. So she just "forgot about it". Typical.

I any case I was glad to learn her side of the story, as I had been quite confused about the strange message and wondering what it meant if it was not to cancel the "bake."

Yesterday I received a text message pleading for forgiveness as she only understood the chaos she had created when I explained my lateness to the students in class. I sent her a message of forgiveness and that I thought it was a funny story, and that I was so pleased that I could go to the bake. She sent a message back thanking me and wishing me sweet dreams last night.

One thing we have learned is that the Chinese live for the moment. Planning does not rate highly n their culture. Don't we know it!

Pea souper Fog

The weather is getting cooler and twice this week I have worn fur lined gloves to classes. I don't need them on for very long and of course one can't work well in them. Just using chalk on the blackboard would be impossible with the thick gloves. But my hands do get cold and the fur lined gloves that I bought in Haining last semester will be put to good use.

This morning I woke to a thick fog. A really thick fog. It is hard to see the bridge that is over the canal just near the foreign teachers' apartment block. I wonder if they will have exercises this morning as I think it would be impossible to see the instructor.

It is Friday and I have two classes this morning. A strange subject - "Newspaper Reading" - my focus is on English language, and I start each lesson with news from around the world. Today's focus is on the former President of Taiwan who has been arrested on suspicion of money laundering and embezzlement I think. In any case, it doesn't appear much in the news here, but everyone seems to know about it.

Another story is about a baby born here in China with 8 toes on each foot, and five fingers and no thumb on each hand. I thought it rather odd the way it was reported on the China Daily website,
as it refers to the lack of "thumbs."

The Chinese do not refer to "thumbs" - they just have five fingers on each hand and they are numbered from 1 to 5, not with the names that we give them. Like the days of the week - numbered from 1 to 7, and the months of the year - numbered from 1 to 12.

The pea souper fog is so thick you'd have difficulty seeing your hands in front of your face today!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Something strange in China

I was out with one of my students and she was uncomfortable about it. "People just STARE at you." she said with an emphasis on the word STARE.

It doesn't matter what I do outside the college campus I am always watched or stared at. I'm used to it. It does unnerve my students however, but I can laugh it off. Initially it was a bit hard to take.

"Foreigners" are rare in some parts of China, and some people have never seen a foreigner. Not up close. Some are quite clearly scared of us. Especially little children (but not the ones I saw this morning, but I'll explain that later.)

Sure, I am tall, fair skinned, and blonde! Any one of these attributes is likely to get me stared at. All three? I come in for quite a bit of attention, and much of it is quite funny.

If I am at the supermarket, people look into my trolley to see what I have bought. Sometimes they will pick up things to see what is underneath or just get a better look.

At a restaurant with an outside window, often that I will look up and see up to six people watching me eat. Always people stare - and I am waiting for someone to fall of his bike (it is usually a he), as he rides by and takes his eyes of the busy road while he "gawks" at the blonde! They have got the wobbles, but no one has fallen yet.

When I went to the hospital for some minor treatment some months ago - I attracted a small audience that followed me everywhere. And watched as I consulted with the doctor. (That goodness it wasn't anything tooo personal!)

Once in a bus a woman kept feeling my arms and commenting to her friends. I think it was because Chinese arms are very skinny, and mine are not. It will take a while for the Chinese to get familiar with foreigners in their country, but bit by bit they are learning about us.

(Today there was a conga line of little children from the kindergarten walking past the college coffee bar, and I went to the door and waved to them. How I wish I had my camera with me, but as I had just come from class I did not. They all waved back and called out "hello". I blew a kiss, and all ten of them blew me back a kiss!!!!)

Electric Blanket Bliss

I saw them in the Tesco Supermarket some weeks ago, and pondered getting one for the cold winter that I would experience in my last few months here in China. Earlier this year I had managed to keep warm in bed with my "rice bag" which I made - handstitched handtowel full of rice. It worked a treat but the smell of near burning rice each time I heated it in the microwave oven was something I had to get used to, and anyway it only warmed that part of my body that was in close contact with the bag. And if I woke during the night I had to rush it out for another "burst" in the microwave.

An electric blanket did have some appeal. As well they were only 58 RMB - around $A10. The weather has been getting colder - so yesterday I decided to go to Tesco and get one. But on chatting with another foreign teacher who has been here for some time, she said that she had a single bed one that was not being used and offered it to me.

In no time I had stripped the bed, placed the electric blanket on the bed, and looked forward to bed time with great anticipation.

It was cold yesterday - bitterly cold with a wind that seemed to come straight from the North Pole, so a warm bed was enticing.

About half an hour before I bedtime, I turned the blanket on. I slipped into bed and felt the warmth immediatly. Oh, bliss.

I lay there for a while enjoying the warmth, and turned it off before I fell asleep. Otherwise I could imagine that I would awake in some half cooked state.

I slept all night in wonderful warmth. Oh, bliss.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The challenges of teaching in China

"The devil you know is better than the devil you do not know" was something that I said quite often over the last few months. People had asked me why I had decided to return for a second semester at the college, when I had some challenges with teaching here. "Why not go to another college.?" I had been asked.

The reason simply is that by and large this facility is good to foreign teachers. There are many stories about the difficulties teachers have experienced in other colleges.

"They pay more" I have heard.

In the last few weeks several English teachers that I know have had problems.

One lass who was in the class with me at Teach International went to a college not far from Shanghai. She was so full of excitement about her first posting. She did not tell me the details, but she lasted there less than two weeks. She had no money and could not get another teaching post quickly, so retreated to Australia.

A lady I know had been teaching north of Beijing, and enjoying her life there until other teachers came at the beginning of the semester. Her life was changed around dramatically as one of the male teachers took an unhealthy liking to her, and did not appreciate being rejected. The story is quite sordid and she sought help from the college - who despite knowing what he was doing (the email messages to here were enough to make one's hair curl!!), but the college refused to help her. Often this is because of contracts, and the funds the college has already expended to get the foreign teacher to the school. She had sought all sorts of help, including legal assistance, but has had no choice but to just avoid the man at all opportunities and change her way of life.

Another lady went to northern China, and discovered that they place was rather unsavoury. The places she was teaching were very primitive, and the rosy picture painted before she signed the contract in Australia, certainly did not live up to expectations.

Today I have had a phone call from another English teacher I know who has just been put off - it is a long story and I don't intend to explain it here, but essentially the new "training centre" cannot afford to keep him, and he is suddenly unemployed and finding it difficult to get work for the last part of the semester. As well, despite the fact that the training centre has decided he is not wanted, they are demanding a high fee, because if the fees incurred by them to get him into the school in the first place.

He is in quite a bind - urgently looking for work and very concerned about the pressure he is under and the intimidation.

So, having spent one semester here - I knew what I was dealing with, and I probably would return here again if I have the opportunity. The "devil you know....."

The spartan life of a student

There are between 7 and 10 thousand students at the university, although only the students who started in September are doing university courses. Students are required to live in the dormitories although there are some students who live at home with their families, but they must live very close by. There are only a handful who do not live on campus.

The students mostly live in small rooms with bunk beds. 6 students to a room. There is no heating, no air conditioner for use in summer. So with bitterly cold winter - where it sometimes snows, to the very high heat and humidity of summer the students must endure it without the facilities that most families would have in their own homes.

The students must sleep, and study in their dormitories. There is little room to move.

They must be up early in the morning - in fact the first year students must be on the parade ground for exercises EVERY morning by 6.15 am. The only escape from that is rain or snow! After half an hour of exercise they can go for breakfast.

(Every morning from 6.15 am to 6.45 am we can hear the marching music from our apartment. The students march in formation, and then do star jumps and other basic exercises. The same music every day!)

The students rush back to get something to eat for their classes start at 7.30 am I think. They do have a 2 hour break from 11.30 am to 1.30 pm and many will rush to their dormitories for a sleep. They must be in their dormitories by 10 pm.

They have someone check on them every night too.

I think each dormitory has access to a toilet - a squat one no doubt, but there are no showers. To shower the students take a plastic bowl with their toiletries and a small towel to one of various shower rooms and they can shower there. Boys and girls shower together. Let me rephrase that. The boys and girls go to the same shower room, but I am not sure that they actually 'shower together' although that would not surprise me.

The students do their own washing and must of course keep their dormitories clean and tidy.

The pressure to do well at studies is enormous and it is not unknown for students to have breakdowns or worse. There have been suicides.

The pressure is put on by everyone - their dormitory "mates" put pressure on if they are not working hard, the teacher will put a lot of pressure on, as will the college. And of course their parents, many of whom make a huge sacrifice to pay the fees for their son or daughter to go to college or university. Many students have leadership roles within the class or within the dormitory, and the pressure there is immense too.

One student who is well known to me was "class monitor" which is a highly rated position in the class. She came to me yesterday to tell me she was no longer monitor, as Candy was now the leader. Candy is a highly spirited cheeky girl, but somehow managed to get the support of the rest of the class for a "take over." Some students are stewing over it. Not a nice feeling in the class right now.

There are no cooking facilities in the dormitories - but there are several huge canteens on campus. Some are very basic rice and traditional food. One cooks every meal when ordered by the students (or teachers, as we frequent that one a lot too.)

Can you imagine feeding 10,000 hungry students in half an hour. It is amazing, but they do it day in day out. The students collect their food on an orange tray, collect their chopsticks and a metal spoon, and sit at tables and chairs which are bigger versions of the plastic toy tables and chairs that kiddies play with.

In each canteen there are quite a few staff who clean tables, and clean the trays and organise the cleaning of the plates, chopsticks etc. It is all very efficient and clean.

The students have a lot of choice with their food - if they have the funds. We have a card with credit on it and each time you order food, your card goes on the card reader and funds are deducted in payment. Some students have much more money each month than others.

Some students are on scholarships, and I think some of these come via the Communist Party - so these students seem to have more funds than others.

There is no doubt that some students come from more wealthy families, and I have no doubt that this wealth is used for various privileges on the campus.

They have two big libraries, but Internet access is a challenge here. It is for the teachers, but for us it is free. The students must pay. Some have their own laptops, but many have to queue to use the college computers.

There are many social clubs here - from dance, music, language, photography and other interest groups, so the students have access to many social activities. Most report campus life as a lot of fun, and they certainly make life long friendships with their dormitory mates, or class mates.

Many do not get home often, as their home might be many hours away from Shaoxing.

Publish Post

Sunday, 9 November 2008

What do you make of this????

On the day I visited the park with the students for the bake we walked past this huge piece of "rock" to one side of the path. I looked once, twice - shook my head and looked again. Did I really see this huge phallic symbol in a park?

I asked one of the students (a girl) if she knew what the rock was about - and she glanced at it, seemed to have no reaction and said she had no idea.

On the way back I couldn't resist and had to take a photo of it. It was pouring with rain, and I only went close enough to get the photo. One of the students volunteered to take a photo of me with it - which I have to show on some other occasion, but she did not get all the "rock" in, so I might say "missed the point."

Later that evening I was with some other teachers and I told the story. All bar two of the group were incredulous and looked at my photo in awe!

The two others laughed. Apparently it is not uncommon to find such strange things in parks. One of the teachers has been closer than I and reports that it is hollow and is man-made from cement. It fact it has two other parts to it, on either side down at ground level. Do you get the picture? There is another park not far away that has a forest of them.