First Week Down and Nearly Black Hawk Down
Well… What can I say? It’s been interesting, extremely interesting and not what I really expected. I suppose I better start with the good so we are all happy chappys. The first couple of days were spent exploring this city of 8 million …Xian! There really are people, people everywhere! It also doesn’t help that it is Golden Week. The line to the local museum or in China Communist speak ‘The Most Harmonious Ancient Friend People Museum’ (by the way it isn’t actually called that, that’s just an example of what you find) has duel lines about 4 abreast that stretch for over 400m.
I decided to give it a miss and see some other free sites. The Bell Tower and Goose Pagoda truly are impressive sites. If you held up your hands and blocked out the buildings you get a sense of what a structure it would have been hundreds of years ago. Although it cost money to get in it was still enough seeing both of them from the outside. Our little crew then just walked around soaking up the vibe. The main drag of Xi’an features huge sculptures of sages, monks and fierce warriors on horse back all along the road. I’m talking seriously big and of epic proportions and all just for decoration. The other day was spent exploring the Muslim quarter, basically the tourist trap marketed as being different and ethnic. You can buy The Little Red Book, cashmere scarves and Russian winter hats all for about 10 aussie bucks each after some hard sales work with a calculator.
It seems I might be in need of the scarf and hat. Mumma our Chinese grandmother/cleaner/cook/slash and all round source of laughs shrieked in fear when I mentioned that I wanted to go to Harbin. She grabbed my fingers and mimed them breaking off one by one from the cold then she rolled into a ball and demonstrated how cold it can really get. Mumma comes from Inner Mongolia and reckons Harbin is colder.
One of the great experiences I had while walking the streets was ending up in a street game of cards. I was soon welcomed into the crew of gents and we all squatted by the side of the road and had a game of cards on a flattened cigarette packet. It was pretty fun time and I came away 3 yuan richer (50 cents)! Another awesome night out was Monday. We decided (Des, Q and I) that seeing it was a holiday it was time to party! There is a bar round the corner so we made a beeline to it to check it out. Well that was short lived. A bottle of spirits (pretty much the only choice) set you back about $70 Australian. No way were we blowing that kinda money, although they had a hookah for 30 yuan a pop (no not that kinda hooker). We then preceded to sit back and smoke our giant strawberry flavoured hookah and see who could blow the biggest smoke ring. We all failed. From there we went to street restaurant that sold the local firewater for 5 yuan a 100ml bottle. Now we had a ourselves a merry time with as much pickled cucumber, beef and sweet and sour pork as we could eat. So that basically wraps up our pre teaching holiday break. Now to the real stuff … the teaching! Kinda.
Somehow we were roped into volunteering at the local community school. It was open during the holiday and caters to kids who have nothing to do. You would think the place was empty but it was full of kids ready to say such things as ‘I can kick in my shoes’ and ‘this is a hat.’ You couldn’t help being a little bit excited by how eager and happy they were. I had them greeting me with a G’day each time I came in the room and had read over their exercise book with them. That was the extent of what I did for three mind numbingly, arse killing days. The rest of the time was spent sitting down the back on a shoddy wooden stool while the teacher got them to repeat phrase after phrase and going to lunch. Going out to lunch was actually the good bit; I was beginning to see what it must be like to be Uncle Ian. On the first day we were taken to a more up market restaurant and told we could order what ever we wanted. Diligently everyone in our group made a polite pick, choosing the less expensive dishes then handing the menu back. No we weren’t finished. We eventually got through three rounds of menu picking before our host, Principle Wong (not very many people get it right) was happy that we had enough food. Food was served then it was toast time. Toast after toast after toast, all up I counted 15 toasts with smiles all round and much clinking of Coke glasses. Day two and three was spent in much the same manner but on a lower scale until we were all eating at the street food restaurant. Unluckily for us that all meant an acute attack of gastro and a end to the day, although I enjoyed it more than the ‘teaching’. Tomorrow I start my placement at the school I am with for the next 7 weeks. Hopefully it is going to be a fair bit better than what I’ve already sat through. Read on to hear about the people I am sharing an apartment with in mystical, oriental Xi’an.
In the room next to mine there is a retired Scottish couple who go all right. I am called old boy regularly and now am an expert on old model Jags and what childhood was like in the 60’s. Only problem is Dave likes a bit or a fair bit of a yarn. If you believe what he says all of Scotland’s youth is either drunk, pregnant, wagging school or on drugs. His motto that he proudly told the lunch table is a busy child is a happy child when he found at that the 11yr old Chinese kids do 3 hours of home work each night. I and all the younger crew tended to disagree on that but we wisely kept our mouths shut.
Moving on there is Q a grumpy 34yr old Singaporean. On asking about anything to do with China you are met with a ‘YOU ARE ASKING THE WRONG PERSON! in very loud high pitched Canton. Ok, sorry for asking then. She likes to sit at home all day and eat pomegranates and Chinese biscuits.
Finally at the present moment there are 3 American girls. They are all really nice but not super talkative and prefer to converse with themselves which I can understand.
Basically I’m a bit of a lonely boy, the girls might all go upstairs to watch a movie at night, the Scottish couple to their room to be Scottish which leaves me sitting up late typing this. I am in real need of a mate to do some blokey things with. For now I am just hanging in my 6 bed dorm room.
Two things I would like to mention is that the group as a whole is very nice. I’ve just highlighted a few character quirks for something to write about. Secondly, don’t worry about me not having a mate, I’m sure someone will rock in. (This paragraph was mainly aimed at Mum and Dad)
Also I am having uber trouble with the internet. It is nigh impossible to get on and half the web is blocked by the Great Firewall, something I visit on a daily basis. So I don’t know when this will be up but there is plenty more coming. This was only a blog to tell ya’ll what I am doing. Keep your eyes peeled for my short blog entry on food!
Love and miss you all,