Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Leaving Zhengzhou

Here we are in Wuxi, (that's like "Woo-shee") on our way to Shanghai, on our way home to Oz for a bit of a holiday.

Of course these things are never as simple as they could be! Not the least of our problems being, when we were finally installed on the sleeper bus with our 26 pieces of luggage safely stowed in the luggage hold underneath - not the kind of bus we had asked them to buy a ticket for, we wanted one with 20 wide beds and one aisle and they had bought us tickets for one of these horrible ones with 30 skinny beds and 2 aisles and no toilet ... but we were ready to cope with that anyway ... well the engine was running and we were just about to farewell our minder who had seen us onto the bus when she informs us casually that this bus doesn't actually go to Wuxi as such. It was a bus to Shanghai and we would be dropped by the roadside somewhere out of Wuxi!! In the early hours, with our luggage.

"Just tell the driver when you want to get off," she said brightly. They seem to forget so readily that we are deaf, dumb and illiterate in these situations.

So anyway, after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing on mobile phones we managed to get a Chinese friend of our Australian friends in Wuxi to talk to the driver and arrangements were made ...

Then they drove to a bus garage, and we sat in the (hot!) bus for an hour while they put it over the pit, presumably for a service. Then they went to a petrol station and we once again waited while they filled up ...

We stopped a couple of times during the night so everyone could go to the toilet. Around midnight we drove down an alley beside a shop into a backyard full of tall grass. The bus turned around and then parked in the alley. Everyone was woken up and told to get off and move around, and they locked the bus. There was hot food available, and an outdoor sink where everyone went to freshen up. Out the back through the tall grass I headed for the toilet – a small roofless brick building. Most of the men from the bus were standing around in the tall grass, all facing different directions; only ladies need a building!

And finally they did drop us somewhere out of town ... the bus driver was great, he stayed with us to make sure we were ok - after a few anxious moments our friends turned up with a minivan.

Friday, July 8, 2005


I am sitting in a huge office chair in a room full of about 150 computers - a brand new internet cafe/bar/whatever in our area. This is a new experience for us ... after the huge thunderstorm last weekend. We did the right thing, unplugged everything and watched the show from our bedroom windows in two directions - it was really spectacular and right overhead for ages. The power was off, not surprisingly, maybe a local substation was hit. Our "her upstairs" was with us because she is terrified of the dark - comes down whenever the power is off - as well as of thunder. She switched off her computer at the power-board ... and it ended up getting "fried" anyway. She spent 1100 yuan yesterday buying a new motherboard and other parts - which have turned out to be complete duds ... good old China! But our problem is that the school computer room was not switched off or unplugged, and we've lost the server. The poor computer guy, says its never happened before since he bought it in '99.

So then he replaced the main board on the server computer (special, expensive computer), and got the college computers running, and was all set to get our apartments linked up again ... and China Telecom contacted him to ask how come so many computers are running off one server! Apparently there is only license for one computer! So now the college has no internet at all.

There are a great many little internet bars, tiny little hot-boxes where you book a cubicle for an hour at a time. But this place has just opened, and I’s air-conditioned, all brand new gear. Only 1.5 yuan for an hour. Last time we came it was only half full - but at that stage they only had fans and no air conditioning. Today it’s packed, but they still found us two computers next to each other.

The college is really struggling. Only 14 students have come to summer camp, instead of the 60 they hoped for. So, 14 students and 6 teachers! We do two lessons a day each. I have finished for the day at 10.15 am.

I have the "elementary" class - an experience I am finding fascinating. They really have no English. I have a Chinese teacher who sits in with me, and the first day she wanted to translate everything I said - very wearing, and not terribly useful educationally. Forewarned, the second day I told her not to translate, this is an "English only" classroom.

Its really nice teaching a little class (7 students!) of young people who are keen to learn and not full of teenage habits like my college class - who had been at college together for over 12 months and knew the ropes and ways to push the envelope. Their ages vary from "Sunny", a bright little 12 year-old girl who wants to be an actor when she grows up and certainly has a "presence" about her, to an 18 year-old girl called "Julie" who wouldn't speak at all during the interview when I was trying to assess her skill level! Another thing that is rather fun is giving them names. We listen to their Chinese name and try to give them something that sounds a little similar. Some of them pick names for themselves, after someone famous or often an object. One girl called herself "Sheep" because she is quiet and shy - we encouraged her to change that! We get names like "Apple" and "Dew" and "Jet" ... one girl called "Bi" something now proudly bears the name "Beatrice"!

Peter has the higher class - and they are all much more capable than my crew. Its amazing the gap between the two. They are all nice kids too - all 9 of them!

I am so looking forward to Western food again! Especially bread. Plain un-anything-bread. No brown bean-paste in the middle, no funny sweet taste, no walnuts sprinkled though. Bread, and toast. And roast meat. They never roast meat here - except the "meat-on-a-stick" they roast over a little fire before they hand it to you. Almost everything is boiled. With chilies.

Happy the fat hamster (!) will wait for us in Wuxi. I was going to either giver her to a gentle student if I could find a suitable one or let her free in the wild down by Long Hu (the lake) - don't know how long she'd last either way. But our friends in Wuxi who will mind our stuff while we are away are keen to hamster-sit. They are really pleased because this way they get a pet for free no strings attached.

The bit I am dreading is the trip from here to there and getting our stuff to their place. We are hoping to go by sleeper bus, on of the big ones like Beatrice went on to Beijing. They have quite a big luggage hold, and most people bring only a small bag - they often seem to carry extra cargo for people. We know that going on the train with extra baggage is possible but a real nightmare ... hopefully on a bus with only 20 passengers and a couple of drivers we would be looked after better. Then in Wuxi the bus station is only two bus stops by city bus from our friends' apartment, so we could take a taxi (or two). We don't have heaps of stuff, about 5 suitcases and maybe 5 boxes of stuff.

Well, I must get on and answer my emails before my hour runs out. The chap next to me is smoking, which is really irritating!