Wednesday, September 14, 2005

New Home - Wuxi

We’ve been back in China and “hard at work” (yeah, right!) for over a week now.

When we arrived at Shanghai we were picked up and taken directly to our apartment in Wuxi (say “woo – shee”), which we had never seen and weren’t too sure just where in the city it was. As we drove past landmarks that we recognized from our previous two visits to the city, our hopes rose and fell several times! Finally we stopped in a rough-looking street in an area we were not at all familiar with. As we entered the dark, grubby stair-well and dragged our cases up the 64 steps to our fourth-floor apartment, we felt a great sense of dread!

But our apartment is lovely inside. Two bedrooms, very spacious, all wood-panel walls, wood-grain (tiles??) floor, lovely big, bright kitchen, bath, enclosed balcony. We just love it. And we are getting used to the stairs.

The neighbourhood? Well, we are in a complex called Kang Xing Yuan – “Kang” means wealth and happiness, not sure about “Xing”, “Yuan” is enclosed place and usually part of the name of these huge complexes. There are gardens – well-kept – and guards, and many of the people are sufficiently well-off to own cars, and little dogs (Pekinese) which they take out for a daily play on the grass. Hey, grass! – we did not see any real grass in Zhengzhou!

The street outside the complex is a big main street – Jian (strength) Kang (wealth etc) Lu (street) – but not terribly well maintained. We counted 8 of the little shops that display a pink light in the evening just in the first few metres down the street. We have a little “Kedi” store, a 24hour deli-type shop, very close by, and we have discovered a market area and supermarket in some nearby back-streets.

When we were exploring a bit, after discovering the supermarket, we thought we could find a shorter way back to our apartment … ha ha! We discovered the real China, the endless little back alleys. We completely lost our sense of direction and could not find our way out – a maze has nothing on this place! They have no form or pattern to the way they wind and turn. Finally we came across a bored looking group of people sitting around and watching us curiously – maybe we were the first foreigners to ever enter those parts! We showed them the name of our apartment block and one lovely lady got up and led us all the way home – when we saw which way she went we knew we never would have discovered it ourselves.

The first morning we awoke in our new apartment, we discovered that the neighbours upstairs were renovating their apartment! Apparently 7am is quite an acceptable time to commence hammering, sawing and drilling. Fortunately now, after a week, they seem to have finished at least with the heavy work!

Then on Sunday morning (a work day for us) is was 6.20am with a brass band, or someone learning trombone (they could certainly use the practice!) or some such. Peter wandered out to take a look, and it was a funeral with a band just outside out complex wall. But another foreigner we met who lives in the same complex and works at a different English school in Wuxi said there is often poorly played band music on a Sunday morning – they were playing tunes like “What a friend we have in Jesus”, so we wondered if they had some religious affiliation or just liked the tunes without knowing what they were – brass bands, after all, are not terribly cultural.

Our friends here in Wuxi had been looking after our stuff – including Happy the Hamster – in our absence. So they helped us move in … dragged everything up these dreadful stairs! And Happy is Happily installed in her new home. I bought her a hamster wheel in Rockingham – even though you can’t get hamsters in Australia, it really is a hamster wheel, and it was made in China and exported to Australia …! Her first night in the wheel she wasn’t used to the action, and it had quite a squeak. Didn’t bother me – after all those stairs ‘n all I went out like a light. But when I woke up in the morning someone had stuck a spoon in it so it wouldn’t turn! The next night I oiled it and now she’s as quiet as a mouse as she does her nightly 8km run.

Our office is in the central business district, about 25mins walk from the apartment – or we can catch a bus, or a taxi. Theoretically we have two days off each per week, one day of which we have together. Our lessons are usually two hours long, with a break in the middle. On week days our lessons are mostly in the evenings, although there is a client who has a morning lesson every day and we take it in turns to teach him. On weekends we have morning and afternoon lessons, but so far no evenings. Some clients have classes at their premises – like the company that takes me for a 45minute drive each way out to their factory twice a week. Travel time counts as work time, so I can’t complain.

Our students are delightful. We have met so many lovely people in the lessons we have done so far. No discipline problems! No misbehaviour. Teaching is fun!

At the moment there is only one other teacher at our training school. All of last year’s teachers have left – gone to jobs in Shanghai – and the director is busy trying to hire new staff, so the timetable has been just a little chaotic. One way and another, my lessons all ended up being cancelled for the last three days, and today, Peter ended up having to be in two places at the same time. I guess these wrinkles will be ironed out in the next few days!

The weather here, at present, is hot (around 30 deg each day) and humid, but the apartment is air-conditioned and comfortable, as is the office etc. It’s only on the walk to work that things can get a little uncomfortable. There was a typhoon on Monday – so we hear. The primary schools and middle schools were all closed. Our friends said everything was under water around their apartment block. All we noticed was some wind, and my women’s class was cancelled because the ladies all had kids at home.

Talking of kids, I have one kids’ class – “Early learners pre-beginners”, bunch of five-year-olds! Its interesting trying to teach with no language interface and kids who are not totally motivated or clear on what to do! Oh, they know their colours and numbers and names of animals like “dog”, “cat”, “elephant”, but verbs and commands seem to have been missed out in their training so far. Their mothers were waiting in the office – but they don’t speak English! Their previous teachers had some knowledge of Chinese which would have been very useful in this situation – but the little darlings couldn’t catch on that I didn’t know what they were telling me, especially the little boy that was busting to go to the loo! And when they felt the need to run around and scream and hide under the desks, or fight over a book (the mums burst in and separated them!) there wasn’t a lot I could do about the situation! Sunday afternoon is the one lesson I do not look forward too. Then again, maybe I scared them enough and they won’t turn up this week - ??

So, we are feeling remarkably settled, and we are enjoying our new jobs.