Monday, January 31, 2005

Semester End

We are going up to Xi'an again today - that's where we visited this time last year! We had a train ticket booked, for the three of us and George and his Chinese girlfriend, to go yesterday afternoon. We thought Lucy (George's girl) would be an asset in translating stuff for us ... but she was so slow and indecisive when we were trying to get to the station that we missed the train!! So we are trying again today. We will (hopefully!) be leaving soon to catch the bus(es) to the Zhengzhou railway station.

My students have all left. They went about 3 days earlier than anyone expected. We suspect that burst water pipes in the students apartments and the general discomfort there may have had something to do with it. (They reckon we are having a colder winter here than usual.) They have gone off to have their medicals and all the rest before they leave. And I have just been hearing about the fires and stuff in SA! I have no idea what will be expected of me for the next 10 days of lessons before the semester actually ends.

Peter is very excited because the students in his class (many of whom are also about to leave) have just given his a Chinese name ... but I have no idea how to spell it. Its something like "Wei Da Zhi". Wei is an old dynasty name - so no one can complain that he stole their name. If/when I get a Chinese name I would not have the same family name. The two given names mean "intelligent" and ... I can't remember what the other one is.

My hamster has become very tame. We have so much fun watching himj stuff his pouches. We give him peanuts and sunflower seeds and count how many he can get in each pouch! The other day he picked up a whole burnt match-stick and put it in his pouch - he's only a baby yet!

For reasons they have not told us about - probably the burst water-pipes that we aren't supposed to know about, but the students told us about (despite being told not to) because we kept nagging them about why they all suddenly became extra tired in class - the semester is going to end earlier than expected. So we get 4 weeks holiday instead of 3 over the winter. We haven't yet decided what to do with it all!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Blood Test

Just bought some eggs and fruit and ready-cooked sweet potatoes, and devoured one of those! Went down there and back in a "bam-bam cart" - little covered cart drawn by a motorbike. Most of the time we walk, but we wanted to be quick this time.

The weather has been remarkably kind the last few days, in the positive range, even up to 6 briefly during the day. But there is a forecast for snow for the next four days. The last lot (from a few days before Christmas) is still lying around in many places, though the roads are pretty clear now. Still piles of dirty ice along the streets - which melts into a puddle then re-freezes into a slippery patch!

I had a coat tailor made. It’s big and long (below my knees) and padded, with a padded, fur-lined hood. I feel quite invincible wearing it - and often too hot! The padding is actually down - feathers - I know because every now and then one slides out through a seam. Peter persuaded me to go bright, and so I got it made in red. It looks even brighter in the photos, kind of glows! Peter has bought one of the "Chinese Russian hats", with fur lined flaps that come down over his ears, and a Chinese army-style coat, so he is quite warm now too!

They keep extending our holidays more and more. My students left earlier than expected, and then they brought forward final exams and holidays, so we actually finish up this Sunday, 23rd, instead of the end of January as originally in the plan. They decided not to give me more lessons when my class finished up. I have been asked to work on a book about Australian Expressions to be used in the school Suits me!

And we start back at work on Feb 28th I think, so a longer break than we were originally told.

I decided it was time to get my haemachromatosis tested. Our liason person took me to the number one hospital for blood tests .(.. I really don't want to ever get sick in China!!) First they said the machine was broken -! Then we called in some "guanxi", family/relationship favours. The mother of one of my students is a doctor at the hospital. So she pulled some strings, and we were to return the next day with all the necessary paperwork in my hand to have the test done. I lined up, took my place on the little stool in front of the window, with my arm through the hole resting on the little cushion ... and they started making a fuss. We don't do this test, etc etc. So she got on her mobile phone and called our special doctor from the other end of the hospital to come and sort them out. So then they consented to take the blood. No results yet ... But I was told that the one and only doctor who does these tests has a dying husband, and therefore is finding it hard to be motivated to work. I guess that was the "broken machine". I am not sure how things will go when I have to start having venesection here (i.e. having blood taken to reduce my iron).

Happy continues to delight us. He is growing quite fast, looking a bit fat ( ... I keep wondering whether he is an already-pregnant female instead of a male). He is very tame, stays happily on a shoulder or in a pocket while you walk around, loves to share the sofa in front of the TV. I can't help wondering what happened to his brothers and sisters.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Watered Down Electricity

I would normally have lessons right now ... but I have just attended a very tearful goodbye meeting with my class and now they are all gone. Its amazing to look at that bunch that seemed like such "sweat-hogs" a few months ago, and now they are such fine young men and women about to leave for Australia. I feel a bit weird about it ...sort of sad and sort of happy - for them at least. Its so different from kids graduating from year 7 at primary school. I have only known them since September and yet I am very fond of them. It was quite a wrench to say good-bye to them.

I had one lesson this morning with the class that (I assume) will be my next class, the group that goes to Australia this time next year. Now there's a bunch of sweat-hogs! George (our Canadian colleague) teaches them at the moment, and they are really giving him a bad time. They were awkward and restless this morning for me too, especially a bunch of the bigger boys. (George is counting down the days til he leaves at the end of January.) Somehow I never saw myself teaching high school, especially the older kids. But it has very special rewards, I am discovering.

In between sentences here I am having a second go at breakfast. I tried to cook myself some porridge this morning but the microwave just wouldn't heat it. So I tried cooking toast but the toaster was only luke-warm. On a morning when the temp is about 5 below, somehow a cold banana for breakfast just doesn't cut it! It seems that besides the trick of turning off our electricity periodically to share it around, sometimes they just kind of water it down. I don't know if that makes sense scientifically, but it sure happens. We really do put things in the fridge to stop them freezing. We have found that it is not good to buy fruit in the street markets after a few very cold days because the fruits are frozen inside. Now I finally have a bowl of steaming-hot porridge.

Bea is still here. She is a bit limp these days, just getting over a cold. I know she is lonely and a bit bored - she is finding it hard to know how to fit in and what to do. They have offered to let her work here, but its hard to teach people your own age and older when you are only 17 and inexperienced. There is an offer of a job teaching younger kids, classes of 60 or so, at a nearby school - but she is understandably apprehensive about that because she has no idea whether she is capable of it or not. She also has an offer of work in Beijing teaching younger kids - we may go with her during our winter break (soon) to investigate that. And there is a job teaching English to pre-schoolers at a school about three hours from here. She wants to return to Australia in early May before her 18th birthday.

So this morning I woke her up as I usually do to ask if she wanted to come to class with me - sometimes she does, sometimes she'd rather lie around at home and watch videos - at least its warm inside. But this morning I handed her a 100yuan note and told her to go "fly solo" and spend some money, after all it’s a fine day although its still cold. So it looks like I gave her $100, and she can buy about $100 worth of stuff with it, but in "real" (Australian) terms it is only about $16! There are some lovely little shops full of Chinese trinkets she's been itching to have a better look at. She is quite familiar with how to get a motorbike taxi-ride, how to ask in Chinese, she knows her Chinese numbers and hand-signs, and how to get home again - it’s walking distance to the nearest little shops anyway, and she has her mobile if she gets into strife. I saw a bit of her old spark return to her eyes when I handed her the money, so maybe it will give her the motivation she needs to get out and about a bit. And once she starts to really enjoy spending money she may get more of an urge to get adventurous and earn some too.