Friday, November 26, 2004

First snow and feather eggs

Its really cold!

A couple of days ago the weather was really nasty. Cold and windy, and raining, and the sky looked even dirtier than usual. We were so glad that the power didn't go off for very long at a time - we had a few short cuts. Then during the night I got up for the toilet at 3am and noticed that it was snowing quite heavily. By morning there was a thick blanket of snow. (Its only November yet!) Peter was so excited, running around taking photos and wanting to play with it - it was really hard to get him going in time for his 8am lesson!

My first lesson was 10am, and by then it had started to snow again, very heavily. The road was thick snow and very icy, and my usual 2 minute bike ride, or five minute walk, to the college took a lot longer. I got there with snow all over me, and on my present curls it forms quite a halo! One of the Chinese men teachers was quite excited by the sight of me, muttering "so beautiful ...". They love brown curly hair, even if it does have a few strands of grey now.

At recess time, which is usually time for their "Yi, er, san, si..." (1,2,3,4...) physical jerks, they all played in the snow instead. Kids (even the older ones) love playing with snow, even when they see lots of it every year! Peter was right in there, of course. There is a small courtyard in the middle of the college, and groups were on the roof-top and balconies on opposite sides throwing snow back and forth. One boy had a huge ball he made, about 2 feet across, and was carrying it around for ages until he found his opportune moment to get behind Peter and dump it on his head! Peter was glad he has taken to wearing a thick felt hat! My students were bringing snowballs into the classroom. No one seemed to mind. I saw the fairly elderly, usually very decorous, Chinese male deputy running down the hall with a student (carrying a snowball) in hot pursuit! One of the older female teachers was chucking snowballs too.

Today it is bright and clear - the sky is blue and the air is crisp and very cold. There is still a lot of snow lying around, and you have to be very careful of icy patches. The front steps of our building don't get any sun, and the top step is just smooth ice. But I have actually finished my lessons for today and I'm planning to get stuck into some crocheting and get my jumper finished. I'm not sure that it will be wearable in public, I'm just putting it together bit by bit out of a pattern idea in my head, but it will be warm. I'll wear it to bed if nothing else! I'm also half-way through a nice bright blanket to put on the sofa (and cover our/my knees in the evening).

When the power is on and the satellite is right we get a TV channel called CCTV 9 (China Central TV) - "world news from a Chinese perspective", and its all in English (or at least with English subtitles when they are speaking Chinese). Its very interesting, lots of documentaries about different parts of China and stuff like that as well as news. They did a thing about World Public Toilet Day - but they only went into some of the ones in big cities like Beijing where it was a bit stinky ... they haven't been where we've been!

Our Canadian colleague has been having problems with her toilet. After nine years in China she still hasn't caught on to how poor the plumbing system is. You are not supposed to put paper down it - so we are really careful and flush frequently and use the thin stuff etc. But she has been putting vegetable peelings and things in hers! "Its not like I put a whole carrot down there or something," she said. She had the work men up in her apartment putting the long thing down the pipe and making a big mess - which she was left to clean up later. Hopefully she will learn.

On the Sunday "they did it to us again". When we woke up, the power was already off. When they do that, it’s not an accident, "they" are using it elsewhere, and it doesn't come back on ‘til after dark. And the water disappears too, it all drains back down the pipes. Once again we weren't ready for it. Next Sunday I'll be ready - and it probably won't happen! What really annoyed us too was that we have a little gas stove in the apartments' shared kitchen area, and (if we had caught the water before it went off) we could at least have had a hot drink. But there has recently been a suspicion of a gas leak, so they took away the gas bottle to "fix" it and never returned it. We spent most of the day down in the local village where they cook with gas and there is plenty of cheap food. But by 6pm we were home huddled around our candle waiting for the power (it gets dark about 5), which came back about half past six.

We had an interesting meal down in the village lately. Everyone was queuing up for some yummy looking potatoes on a stick, deep-fried, three on a stick for 1 "kwai" (Chinese dollar, worth about 16c). Or maybe they were dumplings - we thought we might try some because they were obviously very popular. There are always lots of things on sticks, and that day there were even kidneys on a stick and other interesting delicacies. (At one market you can get about 10 cicadas on a stick, or ten tiny hearts - never seen anyone buy them though). So we got stuck into the crispy outside of these ... mmm, maybe they are eggs. There was something rather crunchy in mine. It was dark, because it was an "evening snacks" market. Peter noticed his was dark inside, but then they always soak their eggs in tea and stuff and make them look weird. Then Peter thought maybe they had inserted one of those kidneys we had seen on the other stall. We wandered over to where there was a bit more light.

You've guessed?? When Peter saw the tiny wing with pin feathers we realized. People call them "feather eggs". Eggs with a partly grown chick inside. Bleh! We dropped them into the gutter where they throw all their rubbish ...

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Trip to Dalian

I am so glad of these mits with the fingers missing - its so hard to type in regular gloves.

It’s SO cold! And it’s only the middle of November ... Last night we had our first snow.

It’s only just over a week ago that George (our Canadian co-worker who lives upstairs in our apartment), Peter and I set off to visit Dalian. We had no college "minder" with us because the whole college had been grounded (teachers and students) because of misbehaviour and low standards. Well, that’s what they told us.

Anyway, It’s a long way, and we only had 4 1/2 days. We set off on Wednesday afternoon on a sleeper bus. There are floor level and top level beds along each window - five along each side - and another row down the middle. As you get on, they hand you a plastic bag for your shoes. And the rest of the time you are pretty much confined to your bunk which is about 18" wide (narrower than George and Peter's shoulders) and probably a bit less than 6' long (George's feet were hanging over). Each bunk has a mattress (Chinese rock-hard style) and a thing that you can lie on or under (sort of a heavy quilt) and a pillow.

Contrary to what we were told, there were no toilet stops. There was a toilet on the bus - not western style! - it was a bit of a nightmare. There were a pair of oversize shower-slippers outside the toilet door so you could slip them on and not get your feet wet. Inside the toilet room there was the customary squat arrangement with a bar to hold onto so you don't fall. And an open window, with freezing cold air blasting in ... it was quite an experience. Once again, poor old George couldn't stand up straight in there, and the window was at a very embarrassing height for him.

So there weren't any food stops either - despite what we had been told. Not being therefore prepared we only had a few nibblies with us for the whole 20 hours. George felt that was a good thing, less food less trips to the toilet!

Then, in the early hours of the morning, we were staring blearily out the window of this high-speed bus roaring along the expressway at around 150km/hr, and we noticed patches of white in the fields - yep, snow. We started reading the road-signs and worked out we were only an hour or two from Dalian, and the bus stopped briefly here and there to let people off. Then they stopped in the middle of nowhere, nothing except a few taxis waiting to pick people up ... and someone poked their head in the door and said "Hullo! Hullo!" So "Hullo!" we replied cheerfully, but then gradually realized we were being told to get off the bus. Finally, reluctantly, we slipped our shoes back on and staggered off the bus in great disarray. Then we found there was a little bus behind our big one, that would take us into Dalian.

We stayed in a magnificent hotel in Dalian. We were on the 16th floor with amazing views which Peter had to keep taking pictures of. After our first night there we went to see the school where George will be teaching in February - we might (or might not) go there later. We really like Dalian, it’s where we originally wanted to go - so clean, and there are hills and the ocean. But it doesn't feel so Chinese as it does here. Henan province is one of the poorer ones (I think down south is poorest) and we are in a poor semi-rural area - which is kind of nice in its own way. But George will be teaching kids, and we don't want to do that any more - even though they got all excited at the prospect of a music teacher (when they heard that’s what I used to do) because they are planning to begin a music program. It would be nice to go to Dalian, and to see George again, we get on really well with him.

Then we had a couple of days to enjoy the sights of Dalian before heading back. We took the train coming back (we were told there were no seats on the way over but had no trouble booking a fare back).

The train was sooo much better. The bunks were a smidge wider, and longer, and you could actually walk between them ... and sit up! And you could buy food at some stations on the way (but this time we were prepared!) The toilet was much more bearable, frequently washed down, and there were sinks to wash at (and a mirror) and hot water on tap...a corridor to walk up and down. All in all, quite pleasant. We did not have a private berth (called "soft sleeper"), we took berths in a "hard sleeper", which doesn't mean that they are any harder than usual, only that there are six to a cabin - 3 levels. We only had one Chinese room-mate. We nicknamed him "'Nora", and he kept George awake most of the night!

Its funny sharing a cabin or bus with a bunch of people you have never met and can't communicate with - it still has a very family feel, totally non-threatening. They all wear thick full-body warm underwear. They take off their fancy business suits and flop down in their knitted woolen trousers and jumpers. But in the morning the men particularly continued to strut around in their underwear (well, it was warm on the train), looking a little bit ridiculous.

The staff takes good care of you. They come and take your ticket off you and give you a plastic card-token with your bed number, and your ticket goes in the appropriate slot in their file. Shortly before your stop they bring back your ticket, and tell you when you will arrive, giving you time to get packed up and organized. Then just before the station they gather all the disembarkees in a special section at the end of the carriage, and lock the doors on both sides so no one gets lost or misplaced. And they help you off in an orderly fashion.