Saturday, 31 July 2010

I'm in Adelaide

and will update after I return to Brisbane next week.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

My E-Bike

In 2008 I had a bicycle in China.  I had gone alone to a bicycle shop near the small Trust Mart in Jiefung Lu (there are two Trust Marts and they are both on Jiefung Lu - one in the centre of the city which is big - and this one, further along near a canal which was smaller and generally easier to access!)

 I'd looked at the bikes in the supermarkets, but chose to go to a shop, where I did a bit of haggling with the Chinese shop owner, much to the amusement of the locals.  I duly paid him the cash, he fixed the seat to make it comfortable and when we were both happy, I rode the bike back to the university.  It was quite alarming as it was late afternoon and the traffic was building up, but I managed to ride without any dramas!

The bike and I went on many adventures over the following months, and when I left, I gave the keys to the locks to one of the other teachers and left it behind to have its own adventures with whoever wanted to ride it.

It was a sad and rusted machine when I returned in 2010, but by then I'd become fascinated with e-bikes, which were in all shapes and sizes.  I wanted one that looked a little like a bicycle rather than a scooter, and I set off on a hilarious adventure to find the bike that suited me.

Other teachers advised me, and I went to several shops.  Most wanted to sell me something bigger and more expensive than I had planned, so I just kept looking.  I had been told about a shop not far from the campus and one rainy day I caught No 2 bus expecting to reach my destination.  There had been road words at one end of Jiefung Lu, and the bus route for weeks had gone via another road, the one the bike shop was on. It was a Sunday, and I was shocked when the bus did not take the expected route, and went  another direction as the Jiefung Lu intersection was suitable for traffic.

I walked back from the city in the pouring ran trying to find my way back to the road where the bike shop was, but in the rain, somehow I missed the turn off, and ended up back at campus without a bike.

The following day I set off again after classes.  By then another place had been suggested, so I set off on foot and did quite a bit of research as I walked from shop to shop looking at their wares.  Eventually I reached the shop I'd been seeking the day before and found exactly what I was looking for.  My students are in awe at times as I happily manage to negotiate without any English.  It is surprising what one can do with hand signals, facial expressions, and a sense of humour.  In the end I happily negotiated a price, and was soon practicing riding it on the footpath in front of the shop.  I handed over my money and with not a lot of confidence road it back to the campus.  I had asked for a purple one.  "Mayo" No.  So it was a pink one!

How I loved my e-bike.  The e-bike and I had many adventures.  It was perfect.  Never did I have a problem with it.  I could power up the battery through my kitchen window, and ride off to where ever I needed to go.  I wished I had bought it earlier instead of procrastinating the way I did.  

I didn't need to ride into the city - it was safer to go by bus, but I managed to ride along the canals, around the near suburb, certainly around the campus, to TESCO supermarket and other destinations nearby.

The road traffic is chaotic nearer the centre of the city - I didn't need to  take any risks.  I managed to dodge the strange traffic on the Ring Road, and I enjoyed my travels.  In the end I sold it.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Jinhu Lake

The day after we went to Houshan I went on a trip with the school - to Jinhu Lakes.  I was to learn that his area has been undergoing some transformation because "they are moving the city to this place."  Now this might seem a little challenging, but there is a habit of doing this sort of thing in China.  However, I think what is meant is that gradually they will be moving some major city enterprises or offices to this area, which clearly used to be old villages, but now raised.  Clearly there is rubble in many places, but it is also a very picturesque area surrounded by lakes and canals.  I'd not been there before, and clearly did not know it existed, and no one could explain to me what "was" there.

I have learned that I ask too many questions.  I'm curious, interested, and like some explanations for what I see before me, but in China, their culture has "taught" them that asking questions can get you into trouble.  I might be a spy, or if I was Chinese I might be someone reporting on what I say.  It is why no one will give you any explanation to what seems to be a simple question. If it is none of one's business why does anyone need to know. 

When we arrived there were few people around and one could hear traditional music being played as if some lone musician was playing in one of the pavilions in the garden.  Later I found the speakers hidden in the bushes, and deduced that it was recorded music. A nice touch - and not intrusive and certainly adds to the theatre of the tourist spots.

This bridge is 2500 years old, so I was told.
The boats are extra ordinary!
I love reading the notice boards - English wise, this one wasn't too bad!
Me.  I do get to have my photo taken sometimes!  Proof that I was there!

After our walk around the lake and up to the top of the hill, we were driven to another area which is famous too.  It was a sort of fishing village where there were many pens for the fish, and a long bridge that connected two areas.  I did go on the bridge a little but it was a stone bridge with nothing to hold onto - no rails, so after a few steps and a feeling that a fall might occur I retreated and had to satisfy myself just with photographs.

We had a lovely lunch at this area and plenty of time to explore the gardens and the surrounding area before the trip back to campus.  It was a little weird - I was the only English speaking foreign teacher to attend, so left to my own devices quite a bit.

However, I did spend time with the Vice Proncipal,  (NOT MY spelling error - that is what it says out the front of his office!!!) whose English was very good actually.  He was very good to me. 

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Getting to Houshan Was an Adventure.

I've posted about the Toffee Man at Houshan, but the story of how we got there deserves some space.  Another Aussie teacher and I were invited by a group of high school students to go on their outing one Sunday, not long after I arrived in China, and we duly met them at the West Gate and caught a bus into town.  I thought I knew the right bus out to Houshan as I had been before, but one of the students spoke to the bus driver (why, I don't know!) and for some reason that I  will never know the bus driver told him it was the wrong bus.  So we walked through the city streets to another bus stop, and again there were conversations with bus drivers and other on how to get to Houshan.  We eventually got on a bus - that clearly was the wrong bus so we got off after travelling some kilometers, and waited by the side of a busy road as they phoned another student who they thought could help.

Eventually taking long strides and panting for breath this student arrived and we followed him through a village, through the drying vegetables on the side of the road to another bus stop and there we waited.  No bus came, but Large (yes, that was the student with long legs!) raced off in another direction.  More phone calls were made.  Then a tiny van appeared and Large leapt out of the vehicle and herded us in.  There were two little wooden seats for the Aussie teachers, but the other students crouched and sat squatting in the back of the van.  It appears it was Large's uncle, a government official, and this was a government van.  

It was quite a hair raising ride as every time we went around the corner, the students all fell over into one laughing heap as we two teachers looked on in amazement wondering what our safety officers in Australia would make of this.

Eventually we reached the roadway entrance to the park, and we all climbed out the of the vehicle and walked into the park.

I had been in the park some two years earlier, but in that time it had taken on a new life.  There were more new gardens and it was now very commercial with the weirdest things.  There was a freak show with two headed children, and other strange mistakes of nature.  It was a very busy park, and we followed the students through the park like a small flock of sheep.

We wandered through the park exploring different places, and we saw the entertainers.  We climbed the mountain - I'd done it before, cement steps taking us higher and higher up the mountain towards the inevitable Buddhist temple.

The views back over the farms was worth the trip with the yellow flowers of the rapeseed visible for miles.

On and on we went until we reached the temple.  We spent some time atop the mountain taking photos before we made our way back down, this time coming a lot closer to the peach blossom.
We had lunch in a tiny room which was part of a very strange restaurant.  It was just so small, and so, well crappy I suppose.  No one in their right mind would enter such a place to eat, but we did.  Food was OK - just.  Filled us as we were all hungry from our running around all day and climbing the mountain.

The boys wanted to play on with some of the strange sideshows, but the girls had had enough so we caught the bus home.  Yes, it was THE bus that should have taken us on a very quick trip earlier in the day to Houshan.  Still, it wouldn't have been near as much fun as our journey there turned out to be.

The Toffee Man in Houshan

It was a Sunday and I'd been invited by a group of my students to go to Houshan. It is a popular tourist spot that I had been to some 2 years previously. It is famous for the peach blossom, as peach trees grown in abundance in the park. The last time I had been there it had been busy with tourists, but not much commercialism. What a change in two years! There were stalls and circus acts and on this occasion it was much more crowded than I could recall from the last time.

One of the features of this place is the landscape - not only the peach blossom, but lots of other trees, and some extra ordinary stone features left over I think from a stone quarry, and as one climbs high to the top of the mountain, the view back over the farms is wonderful, and at the top are tea plantations, as well as an amazing Buddhist temple.

On this occasion there were other things of interest too - a small group of touring artists performed in a pavilion. One of the things that I really enjoy in China is the opportunity to see traditional entertainment, and sadly there is little.

At the base of one of the areas, was a remarkable sight. A man making toffee in the most extra ordinary way. He had a little burner with a pot with toffee and using the back of a spoon, he crafted most amazing designs and then the set toffee was put on a stick and children went away delighted to eat the toffee. It seems a shame to eat it - the craftwork was so good.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

I'm a Little Nostalgic

I would love to have been there, but it was never going to be.  Perhaps I can share some of the magic of the World Choir Games in Shaoxing, but introducing some videos.

World Choir Games in Shaoxing

We didn't learn about this until early in the school semester, when students were auditioning to be volunteers at the 6th World Choir Games in Shaoxing.  They started on July 15th, '10.  Now I'm not sure that I would have extended my stay in China by 3 weeks JUST to include the Games, but I would have considered it.

It is surely a spectacular event, as China does not do anything by halves.  I've not had any reports from students, but I see this story made it to CNN.  You will enjoy the video - click on the link.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

How Time Flies

I've been back just over two weeks so far and still trying to get my life back into "normal" whatever that is, but I doubt that will happen any time soon.

I have applied to do my Master of Arts at Swinburne University, so will wait to hear if I am accepted, and next week I fly to Adelaide to see my parents, and then come back to meet up with two students from China who are going to stay in Australia for a few weeks, and I will be one of their "tour guides."  Shall be interesting.  I've started a blog to document their visit.  

Today I had a pedicure.  Oh, bliss. 

Tomorrow I will attend a business lunch and be the "official photographer."

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Seeking more teachers

One of the things I would like to do now I am back in Australia is help find good teachers for China. Good? What do I mean?

I'd love to see a program in Australia where quality teachers were registered, so that foreign schools (China, Japan, South Korea, etc) can check that the people who apply for work in those countries do in fact have the right qualifications. Especially that they are not fake. Fake?

It is not surprising to learn that on the Internet you can buy a degree for a relatively small sum, and no, there is no need to study. I know, because I know of one Australian who is working in China on one of these false documents.

The degree is supposedly from the same university that I worked hard to get my degree, and the paperwork looks very much like my certificate. I know it is false. I know it is a common thing in China, as no one actually checks that the documents are legitimate.

Not only that, it is common for males to go to China or other parts of Asia, with more on their minds than teaching. Sadly many of the young girls are enamoured of the foreign male teacher and to some degree they are putty in their hands. True, there are guys that are in search of a life partner, and who wil treat the girsl with dignity and respect, but there are some who are not interested in life long partners and they break hearts as the move from one girl to another.

In Australia, teachers having a relationship with a student (other than a teacher student professional relationship) is unacceptable, and often the male or female teacher involved in an unprofessional relationship with a student in China gets away with it without any repercussions.

Sadly in many schools, universities or other education facilities in China are managed by males, who seem to turn a blind eye to this behaviour - perhaps in part because they too are indulging in some unprofessional activities with students.

So, who do I think are good teachers? It is impossible to tell really. Though a mature aged female teacher may not be indulging in sexual or other exploits with their students, it doesn't mean that are good teachers.

I am not looking for mature aged women to teach, though I do encourage them to explore teaching in the Middle Kingdom. Young people are fine, but I tend to be a little suspicious of some young men.

Married couples are welcome - and they generally work well in foreign countries. I have worked with quite a few married couples. They work different hours, but have free time together, and most socialise with others as well as with their own partners.

It is hard to find god teachers - I will continue my search, as I do think the opportunity to teach and live in places like China is very helpful for us all.

Anyone one interested??? Let me know and I will help you find a good place to go.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Women Writers

I was pleased to be able to attend the meeting - having been out of the country for the last four months I've missed the regular monthly meeting. Only a small number turned up - apparently many folk have the flu at the moment, so not as many were able to attend. I'm glad I was one.

A few members read their works, and we talked about a number of issues, and then a senior member talked about book reviews. Something that really does not interest me, but I may have a closer look at reviewing - it should be helpful in my own writing.

Then the president asked me to talk about my China adventures. Which I did. I spoke about some of the challenges of living in the Middle Kingdom, about the one child policy of China, and the realities as I have learned from my own experiences and Xinran's books. I've read one book, half way through another and I've been advised that there is another one waiting for me at the library.

I could speak for hours about my experiences - but in just over 10 minutes I raised some issues and some interest in what I was doing. Had a few chats with members later. One had taught for a year near Shanghai so we swapped stories.

Also today I had an email from a lady in the US - she had seen my blog and wanted to know about teaching in China. I have put her in touch with Joanna at Yuexiu - so just maybe she will end up there. Who knows?

We had lunch in town - some great restaurants near the Casino in the heart of Brisbane. Must go again and have a wander around. It is ages since I've had a look around the city.

I've been back for a week now

I'm still trying to resettle. I am mostly over the fatigue - and am now trying to make some plans for my immediate future.

Yesterday I looked after two grand children on the Gold Coast, today I have a writers meeting, and I have a couple of other commitments during this week. Though by the weekend I should have some other plans clearer. I have to apply to do my Masters this week too.

It is an odd feeling getting back into home life again. Even in four months some things have changed.

I will go back over some of my adventures and post stories and photographs here. I have had several emails from students in China and one who went to America for work. One student in China is distressed - I'd had a long talk with him before the end of term. He was finding English classes a challenge, even though he was doing very well. He felt the pressure of study and wanted to opt out. I had hoped he'd stay - he was a good student, but he's decided to give up his education. He's worried about his head teacher - who is a friend of mine. He know she will be disappointed in him.

He is currently working in a factory - working long hours on very boring mechanical activities. He doesn't like it - but he doesn't know what to do. I can't help him much.

The boy in the US has not enjoyed his stay there - almost four weeks. He pushed the fire alarm out of curiosity and the fire bells went off, and everyone had to evacuate and the police and fire brigades came. He was terrified and hid under his bed.

Yesterday I received an email. Three black men had stolen his laptop - he called the police, but he says they are doing nothing about it. He's very upset. He's a good kid, but way out of his depth. Maybe he will grow up quickly.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Hong Kong

I arrived here late yesterday afternoon. The shuttle bus delivered me to the Metropark Hotel Mongkok after 5 pm, and after checking in, I walked around a little. I like to get my bearings, though my short walk has given me little insight to where I am. Plenty of shops around, though I'm not keen on shopping.

I found some street markets which were rather fun - though much of the merchandise was not of interest to me.

There was some great fruit and I bought some cherries, which I ate in my room later. They were fat, juicy and delicious.

The hotel is good - Mongkok is a big shopping area.

I'm off on a day tour today.

I'm back out of the great Firewall of China

This will be just a short post - I'm in Hong Kong and travelling today so not a lot of time, but this is the first time I have been able to get into this blogging site. It is blocked via the Great Firewall of China that tries to eliminate all blog sites. I did manage to use it in my previous visits to China, but this time, not a chance!

It is annoying as Blogger can be so useful when working with students - but it is no use as they cannot access it.

I will try and catch up with all the messages that I have received in the last four months, and update as I go.