Wednesday, June 29, 2005


So I had a lovely birthday.

We went into town, wandered around a bit - bought a couple of shirts at the market, decided against frogs and snakey things for tea!

Then we went to the Crowne Plaza - 5-star hotel, bit like stepping back into our western world. Beautiful air conditioning, delightful food, huge bed and beautiful room - nothing like other Chinese hotels we have been in!
And a swimming pool!

Peter mentioned to the lady showing us to our room that it was my birthday. Next thing we knew a bunch of them showed up at the door with a cake. They came in and sang to me and took Polaroid pictures, and gave me a birthday card with my name printed on it by computer ... and later they called again with a complementary fruit basket.

It was all very pleasant and mentally refreshing.

Now we are back "home" and getting ready to teach holiday camp - not that we feel we have much getting ready to do. Its hard to prepare when you don't know how many kids and their abilities or ages. All we know is that Peter has the top group - oldest and/or best English - I have the bottom group - youngest and/ or least English. A challenge, as they say.

Computer is being cantankerous today, I have had several goes at attaching files ... once I almost got there and my whole email thing just disappeared and it went back to the desktop. Periodically it just freezes and/or turns off - despite the pedestal fan at my feet blowing full blast onto the processor.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Hot weather

You know, you'd love it here. The little people are so ... I don't even know why I think of them as "little" people. A lot of them are very slight, but there are lots of big ones too! I think it’s because they are so poor and their lives are so small. They live in this tiny little world in this massive country. There are still many who plant their feet, drop their jaw, and just stare at us. Some will even come from down the street to stand by and stare. When we walk through a market place, if we see a stall that looks like it could use some custom - all deserted, no interest shown - we just go stand near it and in a few seconds the whole world gathers.

Hot! You have no idea! We are so shocked by the extremes, we were not expecting this. This is supposed to be when they get all their rain, and it hasn't shown up yet. Peter has just gone on his bike into Xiao Qiao, the local village to try to get us some veges, or at least potatoes and onions ... I hope he doesn't expire on the way. I just couldn't face it. There is a little shop quite close to the college where we buy eggs. (Actually we often buy them on the way home from our evening walk, the family is all sitting around outside on the pavement watching TV and we stop by to buy eggs...) We buy them by weight. We select them and put them into the flimsiest of gossamer plastic bags. About 15 makes a pound, and costs 6 Yuan ($1). Then they put the bag inside another and you carry them home ... carefully. We are glad its close by, because it’s quite tricky.

We find we eat a lot of eggs because there is often not much other (acceptable) protein available around here. We can buy very cheap very lean pork - really yummy - in the big shops in Zhengzhou, but it has to then be brought home via the stinking hot bus for an hour. They do sell meat in the village but it’s either killed in front of you - chickens - or sitting around as anonymous lumps out in the open on a chopping board...

We used to buy them (eggs) in the village and bring them home on the bike, but never managed to get them all home safely, even when we tried packing them into a plastic container and stuff. But the people travel around with 2, 3, 4 or more milk-crates full of eggs on the back of a bike - eggs just piled up loose in a milk-crate. We have no idea how they do it, on these bumpy roads too. So when we noticed this little shop close by with their crate of eggs sitting outside the front door ... remarkably, we have never had a bad one!

This morning Peter got up and turned on the pedestal fan that we have lying next to the computer, and the computer, and got the BSOD (blue screen of death). Oh no! Computer's "dead as a maggot" ... don't know why people say that because maggots aren't necessarily dead until you squash them ... but anyway. We turned the fan up to FULL speed and waited a while, and it all seems to be working again. Every moment is a victory!

Ok, so now Peter has just come home ... with hot bananas, hot tomatoes, hot apricots, hot potatoes, hot onions ... all of them raw! These things are so cheap, it’s just the hassle of getting them home.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Hot Summer Evenings

It’s done. I've had my last lesson with this crowd ... now we wait for summer camp.

The people came from the college in S.A., where my kiddies are preparing to go. The deal is that in order to get a student visa to enter Australia they have to pass an English test. Normally they have to get a score of '5' in an IELTS test (International English Language Testing System) - quite a difficult achievement, Peter teaches 'IELTS' classes and is familiar with what it takes. But for some reason the Oz government allows this college to set its own little test, and they can get a visa if they get 75% in that. My class last semester apparently all passed, despite many of them not having enough English to hold a conversation with me. So obviously there is more to it than that! So the other day when they had the test with this class I fully expected to find out what goes on and work out how it all happens. But something has obviously changed between last year's crowd and this year's. Of the 18 in the class, only 6 passed. And we had tears and stuff to deal with. I am not surprised about the ones that failed - I would have failed them too. Just curious about what can have happened last time!

So, college is about to shut down for another year. The kids are still writing internal exams today though, and tomorrow I have to mark them. I can't fathom that - those that have passed get to go regardless, and those that have failed should be off home with their tails between their legs re-thinking what they will do with their lives because they don't get a second bite at this particular bikkie. So why are they sitting there writing these exams? Just to give me something to mark?

We worked out what's wrong with our computer. It has no fan! Our computer in Oz would come on with a whirr, and we sometimes used to put a little fan up next to it as well in very hot weather because it was in that corner of the office with very little circulation. The temperature here has been over 40deg by day and over 35deg by night for at least a couple of weeks - and this promises to continue until September or so (yes, this place really goes to extremes weather-wise!!) Even with our air-conditioner working its little heart out, the old Chinese computer wasn't coping. It kept giving us all sorts of weird messages, and sometimes it would even start typing in random words all by itself.

When George left, he left behind a pedestal fan. So we now have that lying on its side at my feet blasting air into the computer. We have it tied to the computer desk with a bit of wire - it's a very Chinese solution ... only the sticky tape is missing! We turn on the computer, and turn on the fan. Occasionally, if you try asking the computer to do too many things in quick succession - like working with a large file - we still get the BSOD (blue screen of death) and it shuts down. But mostly it’s usable at least for the next few weeks.

Ooh, I remember the beach! Looking forward to seeing the big blue wobbly again soon - we get to really missing it here! Every day on the weather forecast (we get on the net) along with the 40 - 46deg temperature forecasts, we read that we are going to have "T-storms" or "severe T-storms" ... and it doesn't happen. I know that Beijing had a lot of hailstorms that ruined crops and cars. And north of here a lot of people drowned including, a school-full of little kids when there was a mud-slide (bet you didn't get that in Australian news), and in the south the usual few hundred have died so far due to flooding. But we only had a bit of a sprinkle a couple of days ago, a bit of a downpour once last week, and some dry thunder rumbling in the distance. It is SO hot here.

Most evenings we go for a walk down to "ShengDa", the area around the nearby big university - there are about 15 000 students there. The local restaurants have all their tables and chairs out on the pavement, and everyone is there. There are fruit stalls, and "meat-on-a-stick", and various other disgusting delicacies available. The little kids are dressed in the front-only type clothing - naked except for an aprony thing covering their chest. The men all have their shirts off, and many of them wear long trousers but roll up one or both legs to the knee or thigh. It’s all very culturey, if you know what I mean. Very relaxed, no sense of crime or danger - not like it would be in Australia.

There are lots of little fridges or freezers out on the pavement, with the most amazing drinks and ice-creams. We haven't seen any rice-pudding ones for a while, but there is a pea one that Peter is particularly fond of. I like the one that goes all bendy as it thaws, its like frozen Turkish delight. Everything is so cheap too. About 20c for an icecream. And there are crowds of people all over the road. And buses and motor-bike-taxis trying to honk their way through the crowds. Its quite weird, with so many young people - 15 000 of them, and its dark and hot and everyone is just meandering and chatting quietly.

There is a park with really fancy poles that have lights inside them, changing colours up and down all the time. People set up blow-up swimming pools with magnetic fish, and kids pay to have a go at catching them on little fishing lines - no prize, just fun. And some people blow up lots of little coloured balloons and stick them on a board, and you can pay to have a shot at them with a little air-rifle that makes a little "pop" noise. Again, no prize, just the pop. And sometimes people have their TVs out on the pavement, and the family sits there on tiny little wooden stools, eating noodles out of a bowl and yelling "Hello!" as we pass.

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Kung Fu Fighting

I gather Peter is on a bus on the way back from PuYang where he has been doing "promotions" - like deputation, drumming up support for the college. They don't have any foreign teachers there, so they wanted to use him as much as possible, made him do lots of lessons. As far as I can tell from his short phone text messages his first class was a mere 1400 students, and they wanted him to sing a song! So he chose "Incy Wincy", that being the only one he is confident of! I suggested various others, but no, he wanted something really short! Then he found his 'act' was sandwiched into an all-costumed all-singing all-dancing extravaganza. I think he might have put China-Australia relations back a couple of hundred years!!

Anyway, they then had him doing 6 lessons a day, all big classes, and even this morning as he was due to be returning they managed to slot him into a 2-hour primary school presentation teaching classes of 100 ...

Meanwhile, back at the ranch here, the school has been experiencing a bit of a problem. Some boys in my class offended a girl in the high school class. Then they or her (I still can't work out who) called friends (parents, relatives, older people). Someone stole the front gate key (they've been locking the students in at all times lately) opened the gate and let in a mob of about 20. They fought - "Kung Fu" fighting, I'm told, and trashed my classroom - knocked over the TV, broke windows, chucked stuff about, beat some of the boys in my class...

Two of the boys in my class walked away, wanted no trouble, and apparently the other boys are still sore at them and threatening them...

None of this really affected me - I was alone in our apartment, Peter was away the first night - I only heard some rowdiness outside and was glad to be on the third floor.

But then the students all disappeared - catching up on sleep, nursing injuries, talking to the police, or just scared and went home. I have had a class of 3 for the last three days - which is actually very difficult to teach when it’s not your regular class! The principal who was traveling with Peter's promotional team had to return to help sort things, so now Peter and our minder are on the bus home because he took the car and the driver.