Thursday, January 14, 2010

China 'blog entry

Hey Folks - so our time in the Zhong Dimension of China has been quite "an experience" - it's been 6 months already - with a some new lovely friends, a bit of time on the bikes, a touch of employment, a drizzle of travel and an absolute bumload of pollution.

On the beach in Beidaihe, Hebei - 300km or so ENE of Beijing

First off there was the Teach & Travel China (TTC) course in August - a one-month course ELC put on for a hundred or so mostly-European 20-somethings spending a gap-year type thang teaching English in the Middle Kingdom. Despite the politically-charged house-arrest / quarantine in a hotel well away from the centre of the city for the first week, (then a uni campus) it was pretty good, and Gaby and I made some good new friends. While I was working as a trainer, Gaby spent her time sitting in on the course and did her best – sometimes frustratingly so - what with the flat being tiny and her being quite the perfectionist on the course assignments.

Then off we toddled round Hebei province on the bikes - 750km or so, over two weeks, via Tianjin to Xingtai, where we left the bikes to get dusty with friends while we were subsequently off travelling. We had considered a short jaunt to UB in Mongolia but the flights there were extortionate. Gaby also found a heavily discounted flight to Athens but nothing came of that after all.

In TianTan Park, Beijing

In October both of our mums came to visit, which was lovely - together we saw Chengdu & the abso-f@#in'lutely ginormous carved stone Buddha in Leshan, in Sichuan Province; the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an; the reconstructed seaward end of the Great Wall at Shanhaiguan; and the regular same ol' sights of smoggy Beijing.

In the Summer Palace, Beijing

Over Nov & Dec I put up with 6 weeks of seat-warming in the poorly-constructed newly-minted abject facsimile of a 'school' start-up. One might imagine that the school's MasterCard styled advertisement runs something like this:

5 4th floor classrooms
the boss
1 Suit always on the phone
2 university placement officers
3 computer guys
1 Chinese Engrish Teacher
1 receptionist
1 driver
1 maintenance guy
1 random old woman
3 Foreign English Teachers
2 water machines
a broken copier
and only TWO students - priceless!!

Despite the rather decent pay and provided accommodation, however dubious, I should mention that the teaching staff had no business experience and the business staff had no experience of education – the perfect situation really. The first three weeks were a thorough waste of time (9am: "Hi David – take a rest !" until 6pm's "Hi David – let's go home !" ) whereas* the second half (with all two of the school's vapidly dull, bland & vacuous students) didn't measure even half as highly.

'Michael' - a pic from the school's dodgy and dishonest website...

Special mention really has to made of Chinese "Teacher Kuang" aka Michael ("you know Michael Jackson!?") who would meander aimlessly into my office once a day, urally* around 11am, to make the most banal and clueless small-talk before eventually launching into some poorly-formed & equally clueless question-statement on teaching strategies and syllabus design. When presented with an idea he'd never heard of, much less understood, his standard face-saving reply was invariably "I know that!" As an example of dumb, blatant, small-time Machiavellianism I cannot think of a better example than Michael's shonky shennanigans. I have abso-fu*#in'lutely no confidence whatsoever that what he presented to me as from the boss was an accurate translation/ representation, nor, moreover* that what I asked to be passed on to the boss in return was without Michael's ulterior-motive-laden dodgy manipulation & distortion, and so on*...

[* required vocab in any piece of writing it seems...]

Oops – almost forgot to add that he's prolly off to the Sudan in Feb to teach English to the local oil-workers. Ha ! When first we met he proudly told me that he'd previously been there to teach – but found that the students didn't understand much of what he had to say... And they didn't even properly appreciate his teaching them the popular English idiom "i'cosanarnanaleg" which is apparently commonly used to express that an item was rather a bit pricey...

Gaby found well paid teaching work with the school downstairs from my own – and they even have students – where she did a bit of one-on-one IELTS speaking practice. The bloke was apparently rather sweet, but lazy and well short of his desired IELTS 6.5 goal...

Anyway, our flubulous new-found winter-fat is getting a bit much, and Gaby has been sick for the last 2 ½ months, and hasn't the tolerance for any more of China's smog, (and it's way too damn cold to hit the road through Mongolia & Kazakhstan just yet), so here we are off to the more pleasant climes of Mexico.

Cuernavaca to Quebec via Atlanta.
Any route advice / ideas / suggestions etc readily accepted...

But first it's a month or so in Germany to fix the bikes, see friends, and get a bit more fit & healthy again – and shower with my mouth open even ...