Saturday, June 24, 2006

Kindy Graduation

Oh, I feel old. In my day you didn't "graduate" until you were at least leaving high school. We certainly didn't "graduate" from kindergarten - um, I don't think I even went to kindergarten.

kindy graduation

But today I got to go and be a judge for the English competition at the kindy graduation. It was kinda fun.

Every time I arrived at kindy to teach I saw the tiny tots practising their moves for this show. They have such short little arms and legs, but they can really wiggle those little hips of theirs!

aerobic display

Of course, the little Apples were just the cutest, they sang and the kids in the back row shook their little maraccas.

little apples

And then there was a class play about Miss Mouse whose parents wanted her to get married, and she wanted to marry the strongest man - she tried the sun, but the cloud was stronger, and the wind was stronger than the cloud, and the wall (a cute, sturdy boy!) was stronger than the wind, and it turned out that the boy next door was stronger than the wall ...

class play mr sun mr cloud

Then some amazing little kids did nursery rhymes, told stories, and sang songs, and I was one of the five judges. Here is one of the story-tellers - somebodies' mothers stayed up many late nights making costumes...

butterfly storyteller

Two little girls came out to perform the "ABC Song" - I had seen them practising this at the kindy and they were pretty good. But one of them suffered from costume failure - her tinsel head-dress came off half way through the act. She picked it up and stood there holding it with her lip stuck out, refusing to do any more. She and her partner were not the winners.

And then they all got back into their little tartan school uniforms to do some songs and poems and to graduate.


It was hard to be a judge, because - despite the microphones the children were using - there was so much noise from the peanut gallery at the back of the hall we could hardly hear the kids who were performing. That was a bit sad.

I hope the rest of their education goes well for them, I've done my bit.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Last of the Little Emperors

A school principal told me in my early days of teaching that I would burn out in five years ... After fifteen years of exuberant teaching I was well past burnt out - crispy. So a sight like this could be enough to seriously mess with what's left of my mind.

kindy kids

They are four years old, and kind of cute, definitely clever, and they love "Lucy Laoshi", their visiting foreign teacher.

These lucky kids attend the "Duke English and Art Kindergarten" which certainly is a cut above any other Chinese schools I've seen. Talk about a "print rich environment" to bombard the little sweeties with important learning from every possible angle.

classroom door and stairs

If that was your classroom door, would you be afraid to enter? And for the little tikes who just need to be excused, there is a sign (on the back of the piano) to make sure they ask right.

toilet signs

They have books and toys and learning aids, and tiny tables and chairs to sit on. And upstairs there is a place to sleep.

tables upstairs bedroom

Duke Kindy is a delightful and amazing place, and the kids are the cutest. But yesterday was my last lesson there. (Except for the English competition on Saturday which I am going to help judge ...)


Good bye kiddies ...

We are going to Turkey.

Are you even listening? We have been offered a job in


Love Wuxi. Looking forward to Turkey.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Gas Day and Mrs Nosey is back

Do you remember reel-to-reel tape recorders?

And did you ever manage to play a tape backwards?

There are days (here in China) when I am convinced that Chinese is really English played backwards. Maybe its just the strange sound of the local Wuxi-nese dialect. Or maybe its because Chinese has so many "ch-" words and English has a lot of words that end in "-ch", and that combined with the tones that sound unnatural to the English ear gives it that weird backwards feeling ...

In any case, just as the blind become good at hearing, smelling and feeling, so those of us who suddenly find ourselves deaf, dumb and illiterate have to develop unusually keen skills of being observant.

I noticed that we needed more shampoo ... so when I was in the shop I picked up a new bottle:

not shampoo

Now to the untrained eye (mine, obviously) it looks like a perfectly normal bottle of shampoo from a familiar brand. But I had forgotten ... shampoo has four characters and then three

shampoo and

whereas conditioner has four characters and then five. Who says I can't read? (Shampoo on the left ...)

The point is, for the last couple of weeks there have been signs and stickers and all sorts of stuff telling us that something was going to happen. We always pay attention to those bright pink stickers and signs, and if we find one with our apartment number on it then we take it and scan it and email it to our contact person in the office. There were no apartment numbers on any of these notices, but they just looked important.

There was a lady who knocked on our door one evening and gave us a very official-looking manilla envelope with a window in it and a whole lot of papers inside - she pointed to the gas stove, something to do with the gas, and we phoned our liaison person and she spoke to her ... then we took the mysterious envelope to the office and the landlady came in and collected it.

We also noticed that there are suddenly impromptu cook-top shops all over our local neighbourhood. On every corner, every spare bit of pavement, and even in our apartment complex, people have laid out a display of stove-tops, and people are crowding around and buying them. There was even a man with an old grotty-looking one on the back of his bike riding around calling something out - either he lost his dog or he was selling the stove ...

On Friday our contact person told us the time had come. On Saturday "they" would come and change our gas over to Natural Gas, and (so as not to miss the man arriving) the landlord would be in our apartment from '6 or 7am' to wait for him. Yeah, right! They just want to have a third go at catching me in the shower!

I couldn't help it, I was up at 5am on Saturday. It had been daylight for an hour already, and the noise had started - doors banging, people shouting, machinery noise, setting up the cook-top shop just next to our building etc. It was about 7 when 'the man' arrived - but no landlord yet. The man read our gas meter, which is in a most extraordinary place.

gas meter

Its right around behind that little cupboard - the poor little man had to get a kitchen chair, and climb right up on the kitchen bench to get back there and see it - it took several goes before he would believe me that was where to find it.

He read the meter, handed us one of those tiny tissue-thin bits of paper that serve as receipts in China, and stuck a whacking great sticker (with Chinese words on it) across our stove.

The landlord's son arrived - he knows a little English, and when we told him the man had been already that put the wind up him and he raced off to sort things out.

After that the coming and going started - workmen, landlord, landlord's son ... and Mrs Nosey.

Not being madly interested in all the carry-on, I had settled in front of the computer to do some work, and suddenly realised there was someone looking over my shoulder. Just then Peter came into our office too.

"What's Mrs Nosey doing here?" I asked.

"Workmen left the door open, and she just sidled in! She's amazingly good at sidling!" he replied.

I looked at Mrs Nosey from next door. Her mouth was hanging open and her face was all screwed up with the effort of trying to make some sense of what was on the screen.

What on earth was going on in her mind ???

I can't work it out. Is this considered rude in China, or not? People here are ultra-paranoid about being robbed. Most people live in their own little jail cells with barred windows and doors no matter what floor they are on. So - do they think its okay to just wander into someone else's place? Or is it just that we are foreign so it doesn't matter?

I asked a student about it in English Corner. He told me that when he moved into a new apartment someone had just walked in one day ... he seemed pretty indignant about it too.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Weird Wednesday

I'd like to think I would be able to just get used to being stared at.

At least no one pulls my hair and tweaks my skin like African kids used to.

But mostly its just a bland inscrutable stare, and I've been practising my own blank look in return.

For those brave, clever individuals who feel the need to show off the fact that they have noticed the presence of a foreigner (like we are hard to see in the crowd), and who have "learnt English" in school to the extent that they announce their discovery with a "Hellooow" over their shoulder, I try to always respond with a cheery "Hellooo!" back again. I know I probably shouldn't 'encourage' them, but at least I can walk away feeling reasonably good about myself and not grouchy.

So, yesterday (Wednesday), standing at the bus stop ...

Everyone who passed me - walking or bike or scooter - looked at me and smiled!

It was just so weird. I checked my clothing, over and over - everything was done up, no spills, stains or tears ... I tried to tame my hair - rather a wild half-grown-out perm at present. Still, they kept coming past smiling at me.

Another young chap went past, a smile on his face, and I could swear as he went on his way I could see his shoulders trembling with laughter.

I checked my clothes again, patted my hair, rubbed my face to make sure I wasn't smiling, then took my back-pack off and held it in front of me just in case there was something that needed hiding still.

If you are reading this and waiting for the punch line - there isn't one. I still have no idea.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Teaching Gibberish

I remember one of my very early attempts at babysitting. I didn't know much about kids or how to talk to them, and I was minding a toddler who kept falling over - and every time he did I would say, somewhat inanely, "Oops a daisy!" It was no big deal, except that by the end of the session the child had learnt his own version of the expression, much to his parents' puzzlement when he continued to repeat it over the next few days.

After that I realised that it could be quite amusing to teach strange and wonderful sayings to small children for them to repeat back to their unsuspecting parents ...

But what about when my students are already adults. Would it be too naughty - ?

We were doing some work on idioms today, always a difficult topic. My students learnt, amongst other things, the expression "deep pockets" as in: "Ask Tom for the money, he has deep pockets." So they understood that the expression meant "wealthy, able to afford it."

But then they were talking about a boy at university, studying hard to get a good job so that in the end he would have deep pockets ...

no, no. no

Not only do I not feel inclined to go back over it all again to correct it, but I am suddenly tempted to teach them lots of other fun stuff.

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Oh Wise Ones

You know how much I value your opinions and your knowledge of this great country and its culture ...

So this evening about 9pm we had another one of those mysterious visitations at our door. More gifts:

red gifts

Someone we didn't know, they had a whole lot of little red bags and seemed to be giving one to each apartment.

So is this still to do with Dragon Boat day?

Or is this something to do with the gongs and Buddhist ceremony I think I can hear somewhere in the building?

Or is it just that we are such nice people and they really really like us?

Whichever - my hamster will be pleased about the nuts, and the apple core, and even the seed of the other fruity thing. Oh, yes, and I'll let her chew through the cardboard box too.

Oh yes, I forgot. There was also a red sausage (which got missed in the photo), included doubtless for its colour rather than its shape or taste.

Saturday, June 3, 2006

There's the rub

An old woman on the bus today wouldn't stop rubbing me. And its not as if I was wearing my soft old "scrubbed denim" jeans that (I thought) made the old men want to rub my thighs.

I was just crossing the road when I saw the bus approaching - it would be nice not to have to wait around in the oppressive heat for a bus this morning. But, of course, ten o'clock on a Saturday morning is a busy time, and the bus that lurched to a halt in front of me was packed to the doors. Even though it was a 'K' bus (air-conditioned, supposedly) the warm breath of the multitude aboard nearly forced me back down the steep stairs as I pressed my plastic IC card against the reader and reached for a handhold. The driver revved the engine and jerked the bus into motion once more over the uneven surface of Jiang Kang Lu. I tried to smile back at the staring faces, though I hardly know why I bother.

A lady and her small daughter sharing one of the high inward-facing seats near the front slid down off their perch, preparing to exit by the front door at the next stop, and an elderly woman and a middle-aged one indicated the spare seat between them to me. As smoothly and gracefully as I could muster on the bouncing bus (ie, not very) I dragged myself over, slid my backpack onto my lap, and clambered up onto the seat.

The old woman on my left was obviously extremely pleased to see ... touch ... rub me. She chattered happily - I didn't understand a word - all the time rubbing her gnarled old hands up and down my arm and side. She paid no attention to my repeated "ting bu dong" -ing. ("I don't understand", for those of you in places where you know what people are saying to you ...). I'm not even entirely sure she was speaking Mandarin, a lot of local people like to carry on in their own "Wuxi Hua" local dialect.

I gently patted her on the leg, and told her I am from "Ao da li ya" (Oz), and the woman on my right was concerned that maybe the old woman or the rest of the bus hadn't heard it, so she announced in a loud coarse voice that I was from Oz. They then proceeded to loudly discuss me. I set my face in a bland smile and stared out the window ... The old woman got off at the next stop. Maybe that was what she was trying to tell me.

Breaking all the rules

Last week I was on a bus ...

The driver was crazier and angrier than any I've seen for a while. Usually I am amazed at the lack of road rage, at what these drivers just put up with from other motorists - overseas he would at least be yelling and using finger gestures. But this driver had really had enough, and he started yelling at some idiot woman in a little green car who was stuck at an angle between two lanes, fiddling with her mobile phone. It was so dramatic and unusual, and he looked a little embarrassed after, I almost burst out laughing.

The bus stopped at the next stop, the one before mine, and a frail-looking elderly lady staggered on, aided by her middle-aged son. Seeing there were no other empty seats, and knowing I was about to get off, I stood up and went to the back door, indicating to the old lady she could have my seat. Well! I must have put a wrinkle in the space-time continuum and upset the laws of nature, because there was such a fuss. The driver actually got up out of his seat and came back and started shifting people around. He wanted the old lady in a seat occupied by a younger person - I guess I was the wrong person to give her my seat - and the son to be seated very close to her. Meanwhile a loud discussion broke out among the people toward the back of the bus, who (as far as I could tell) were trying to explain that I really only got up because I wanted to get off the bus ... OK Time to use that bland facial expression again.