All's normal in funland
Trip Start May 24, 2004
70Trip End Jun 2005
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Brightening up the flat here at the moment is a tiny fake Xmas tree. Weren't sure if we could find one but it appears China does do the Xmas a bit. Pretty much any western tradition is fashionable here - they even celebrate Thanksgiving for God's sake. Of course, with the natural tackiness of Xmas, China is really in their element with it. Not as big as in Western countries though - I can't believe it, but I sort of miss the incessant advertising that comes with Xmas. Not enough to actually want it of course, but it doesn't seem like Xmas without "Warehouse open 'til midnight" ads. But we're happy with our bit of Xmas cheer at least. Maybe we'll even get a white Xmas.
The previous few weeks with our job have been pretty busy. We showed the sitcoms. They laughed themselves silly over "Friends", but sat kind of perplexed throughout "The Simpsons". I tend to think that's a pretty harsh indictment on "Friends". That was pretty slack for us, but in the meantime we had the school inspections and marking essays. For the school inspection they tried to get us to rote-teach the students 5 pages of model answers to "surprise" questions the inspectors would ask to test their english. This was coincidently just after we had got them to give presentations on corruption in China, which sort of shot our moral superiority to shit.
The marking of essays was a depressing affair. Apart from it being a huge amount of work (last time I ever do that), their written english was a bit terrible, but not as bad as the quality of their cheating. Quite a few just downloaded essays from the web. Sometimes not on the actual essay topic. And when we handed them back, they were staggered at our amazing ability to have discovered what they had done. Clever Westerners. When people who still can't turn "person" in the plural form come up with sentences such as "the growing acuteness of the sectional struggle between the North and the South", it kind of gives the ghost away. And, god, if I ever have to read another essay on "Freedom" again.... 95% of my essays that weren't downloaded were on the subject. Lovely soliloquies about how they wanted to be free as birds in the sky or fish in the river. They also marveled about the freedom and rights they have now. This is in a country where you can't actually search for "freedom" on Google... Of course, very few actually discussed the topic in relation to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but beggars can't be choosers.
So after all of that we are now hoping to wind down with only a few more weeks of teaching to go here. Possibly. In fine form last week we were told that someone had said we might have to start teaching something to some people from some department, at some point for some period. Then we heard it would be starting that afternoon. We said this wasn't really a goer and then proceeded to not answer the phone for a few days. This worked surprisingly well due to the department secretary's reluctance to move from her office, but finally she caught a passing teacher who passed on the message...
A few more days and we found out it was actually doubling our teaching load, we should immediately finish some of our existing courses to accommodate, and it would go on until the end of term. Then we would carry on the following semester. Us:"Um. Do you know we finish our contract at the end of this semester?" Them:"Gosh, no. When did you tell the school this?" Us:"In August". Us: "What objectives do the school want us to achieve in 5 weeks?" Them: "What's an objective?". Uh-huh. Ever get the feeling you might be just a white face to chuck in a classroom so the college can say "comphrehensive english courses taught by foreign experts"? Them: "You're starting on Monday". Us: "So you've had 10 weeks to plan this and you're giving us 2 days notice?". Them: "Yes". I think they might have been trying to pull a shifty while the dean of our school was away on a business trip.
So we turned up this afternoon after refusing to teach the morning (come on, Monday morning people!) and they mentioned the classes were cancelled. "Didn't the school ring you?" Ho ho ho. Turned out they hadn't mentioned it to the students either, so I thought I may as well carry on with the lesson for that class at least. So at the moment the whole thing's off again, but I'm sure things will be different by tomorrow.
Got damn cold here. Even had snow the other day. Even so, we dutifully headed off to English corner in the driving sleet. Its like we're the postal service or something.
In the middle of the freeziness we headed to Jinan, the capital of Shandong province where we live. Wasn't perhaps the luckiest trip ever. We left on a nice and early bus so as to get there in time for a walk around. However, after a short trip down the highway we stopped, and proceeded to stay stopped for quite a while. No clue why the highway was closed, but after 3 hrs the driver decided to try another route and after 9 very boring hours we eventually got to Jinan. We gave the hotel address to the taxi driver who looked rather surprised and said "er qian yuan". Well, we have since found out that qian means "1000", and the taxi driver was suggesting 2000 RMB. It seems we accidentally booked a hotel in Beijing instead of Jinan. About 500km away. That would explain the surprised look.
We decided that probably wasn't practical in terms of location, so hauled out the Lonely Planet and that baby actually came thru for once. Yay! Probably quite an opportune time for it to come thru, and it didn't do too badly - nothing special but cheap and close to stuff. Next day we headed out to the famous Baotu Springs - what Jinan is famous for you know. Was actually quite a nice little area. The springs aren't exactly the "huge water-wheels" once claimed, but, once again, the Chinese certainly know how to make a good garden. So instead of springs we saw lots of little lakes with various bubbling bits. But there were some of the old-style residences that I'm getting to quite enjoy wandering around. There was also seals swimming around in some of the streams, which was something new. It was foggy as hell, but that may have been good as Jinan is supposedly a bit of a industrial cesspit, so the fog meant that anything outside the park wasn't visible.
Boy it was cold tho. Decided to do some inside stuff so we headed to the Museum, drawn there by the LP's promise of a 6-legged calf. It was pretty deserted. Imagine a huge school-like building, where they couldn't be bothered to turn on most of the lights or heating, and random rooms had displays in them. You just sort of wandered up stairs and down corridors and occasionally found an exhibition. Usually we just found a dead-end. Did find the 6-legged calf though, along with vampire bambie, a big dinosaur and 2000-yr old inscriptions that we could actually read some of the Chinese characters on, which was kind of cool.
That was pretty much it for the day. Not exactly full, but it was just too cold to do stuff outside for too long. Looked around various exciting malls just for some heat. Had hoped to find a movie theatre with english subtitles, but no such luck. Had dinner at Pizza Hutt as Jinan doesn't seem to be much of a cultural mecca on the restaurant front. Pizza Hutt's always a bit of a westerner hang-out. Even in a place like Jinan with a comparatively high proportion of westerners, we're still infrequent enough that you can't help doing the old head-nod acknowledgement to every westie you see. We feel a bit crowded by seeing any now. Here in our little hometown of Huangdao, if you exclude the foreign teachers at our school we have spotted a total of 5 other foreign faces in 4 months.
The following day we went to book a sleeper train for Qingdao that night. We had originally planned on going on to Taishan after Jinan. It's a big famous mountain a bit down the road. However, the blanket fog, and the fact that it was soon to be blow away by a snow-storm meant that we decided to put it on the back-burner for a while longer. However, every train to Qingdao was fully booked for the next few days so that sort of screwed that plan as well. We headed off to the bus station, and found that the final bus to Huangdao left in about an hour. So that pretty much killed the touristy plans for that day. On a roll. Very cultural bus-station KFC for lunch and we joined the throngs waiting for the bus. And waited a bit more. Of course it was late. This in the magical bus station with no seats. And then we stopped on the way home to change the shredded tyre - I guess the reason for it being late. Still, at a total of 7hrs it was marginally quicker that the ride there. Kind of terrifying at times though. It was pissing with rain and even for the China the drive seemed a bit erratic. 50-seater buses are not built for slalom I reckon. Did you know that China has 60 times the road deaths per vehicle of NZ? Don't think I've ever been thankful to get back to Huangdao.
So, two days traveling for 1/2 a day of touristing. Hum-dinger of a ratio. Spent the following day in Qingdao to try to make up for it. Similarly wonderful experiences on the transport (first time we've being screwed by a taxi driver in China. Yay!), but a good day there. Finally made it to the famous pier that everyone talks about (Huilan). Its sort of like Brighton Pier - a big long walkway to reach nothing. Except here, people actually walk down it. So we walked down it. Saw some fishies in the aquarium. Tick it off the list. More fame and fortune as M posed in random photographs for random Chinese tourists. Nobody seems interested in me anymore. I remember the days when they wanted me in the photo too.
But it was a clear day so we headed to ZhongShan Park for a view of Qingdao. Wandered over to the Cable-car which usefully headed sideways across the mountain, so we still ended up having to walk up after all. Wasn't a bad view though and first chance we'd got to look at Qingdao. Quite big, nice harbour, buildings go on for miles. Literally. Got to put 7million people somewhere I guess.
Now back at home trying to work out what to do at the end of this teaching contract. Don't really fancy the idea of back-packing around China in the middle of the winter, especially after the Jinan experience. Was trying to pick up a job down south for just a few months until spring, but it seems no-one is interested in short-termers. Which kind of surprises us but never mind. So if no joy there not really sure what we'll do.