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1: A panda enjoying some bamboo 21 secs
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Since my last blog entry my “real” life in Chengdu has finally started. After two months of mainly chilling out and getting my head round the idea of working again, I have landed myself a beautiful job. I was originally working for a primary/middle private English school, where I was teaching children between 7 and 12 years of age. This school couldn’t offer me any more than a few hours a week, which was annoying at the time as I was in need of money. It turns out (as is so often the case), that this was a blessing in disguise. It meant I could get used to teaching by starting off with a few hours a week, while at the same time not working anywhere near enough hours for it to be a drastic shock to my system. It also meant that I was getting paid, even if it was next to nothing due to the lack of hours. The best thing about working this job was that I could tell other employers I was already teaching.
While teaching at that school I was obviously still looking for other employment, preferrably teaching adults. I tried a few leads which led to nothing before I went for a promising sounding interview with a private English school. They teach students of all ages, and I felt the interview went very well. The guy that runs the school told me he definitely wanted me for the job, but he wasn’t sure if my Dutch passport would be a problem for getting a visa. Basically, he didn’t know if the Chinese government recognised a Dutch passport holder as being someone who could teach English. He didn’t call me when he said he would, so when I rang him back after a few days I had already looked into the situation somewhat and provided a possible solution. His reply was that he hadn’t spoken to HR yet but that he definitely wanted me for the job, and he would call me back a few days later. He never called and I haven’t wasted any more of my precious time on him.
In the meantime I had been to another interview with a school called Web International English, a school I instantly liked. I had already met the guy I had the interview with in a bar a few weeks earlier, and we had a very laid back chat. As I was already teaching, my lack of experience wasn’t a problem. I signed the contract a few days later and I started writing this blog entry from behind my desk while waiting for my next class to start. The job is almost perfect, pretty much exactly what I wanted. I’m now teaching adults of all ages, 5 hours a day, 5 days a week. Each class usually has about 3 – 6 sudents. The bigger “salon” classes can have around 10 students, and the even bigger “social clubs” have up to about 30 students. All the lessons apart from the social clubs are prepared already, so all I have to do to teach the classes is read through the lesson plan, add anything extra that I think would be interesting and relevant to the class, and make the necessary photocopies. Depending on the type of lesson the preparation takes between 10 – 15 minutes. The pay is also extremely good at this school, and I’m earning just under double what the other schools were offering. The only downside is that I have to work each and every weekend as it’s a private English school, but that’s not really a big problem. Also, as it isn’t a unviersity, I can’t take advantage of the massive university holidays. In January – February the universities have over a month off to celebrate the Chinese new year. This would be an ideal time to do some travelling around China, but unfortunately I will be working for all but one week of it. Still, all in all this job is really cool and the whole vibe of the school is overwhelmingly positive. My students are really good fun, my colleagues are chilled out and my working visa wasn’t a problem at all. In fact, all it took was a 15 minute visit to the PSB. My visa and residence permit were ready on the 6th of November, so I’m now an official resident of China! Cool 😊.
My last blog entry finished with me leaving Yangshuo and heading for the Longji rice terraces with Zack and Liu Li. To get there we had to backtrack a little in the direction of the minority villages we visited when we were still traveling with Scott. We had spent two nights in Guilin to check it out before leaving the area, realised it was just another city and got on the bus to Longsheng looking forward to a new adventure.
After arriving in Longsheng we had to change buses, and as soon as we got off the bus there were two women following us and trying to persuade us to stay at their guest house in the rice terraces. We tried to shake them off but unfortunately they were very persistent, and ended up getting on the same bus as us. We had never said we wanted to stay with them, but they seemed to ignore this as they argued with each other over which one saw us first and would get our trade etc. This was amusing until they started getting violent with each other on the bus, screaming and pulling each other’s hair and the sort. At this point it was beginning to get a little less amusing. Then some seemingly random dude stepped in and decided it was acceptable for him to just grab one of the women by the throat to make her shut up. The situation was starting to get out of hand and we were seriously contemplating getting off the bus and leaving them to it, when a new character entered the story. A different woman came onto the bus and was acting like she was important and was going to settle the matter. I took the opportunity to repeat what we had been saying all along – that we didn’t want to stay anywhere in the rice terraces. Not with either of the two fighting women, not with the self-impressed new one, not with anyone. Of course we would have to stay somewhere, but only when we had walked until dark, and then we would just walk into the nearest place.
Everyone seemed most surprised when confronted with this “new” information, but when they realised we seriously didn’t want to book anything everybody seemed to calm down. The two crazy women who were fighting before both got off the bus to harrass the next poor tourists arriving in Longsheng, and the rest of the passengers were happy to be able to continue on their way in peace.
Another bus change and a few hours later, we arrived at our destination, near Dazhai. Here we were once again met by the local guest house cartel, some of whom tried to convince us of their sound morals by wearing minority clothing. We kept taking different turns than them and kept trying to lose them by walking faster, but as soon as we put some distance between us, they just whipped out a mobile phone and called their friends to let them know where to intercept us. This was quite entertaining really, thinking of what they would be saying on the phone and how we were constantly trying to take unpredicatable turns. “Calling base camp calling base camp, three tourists heading in a north-westerly direction up mud lane at approximately 5km/h, intercept at the T-junction by the waterwell, estimated time of arrival is 2,5 minutes”. That’s how I reckon it must’ve gone anyway…
After shaking off these touts too, we finally got into the slightly more remote parts of the terraces. This is where the views started to get really rewarding. We only walked about two or three hours as we had arrived in the late afternoon, but we had reached some of the highest parts of the terraces by the time it started to get dark. There was no actual sunset, but instead there was a very atmospheric blue haze which hung over the terraces and created quite a spooky feel.
We found a place to stay just before it got dark and ordered a “whole” chicken cooked in bamboo and some other dishes. The food was pretty tasty, especially when mixed with the other vital ingredient after a good bit of walking (it starts with a B). We did however have the same problem as in Lugu Hu (near Lijiang, northern Yunnan province). Often, when ordering a whole chicken that the restaurant owners kill for you, you don’t actually get the whole chicken. In Lugu Hu we had a chicken hotpot, and although it was very tasty, none of us can recall eating any reasonable sized bits of breast. After that we got a little suspicious of this kind of thing, and the whole chicken we got served in bamboo would have had to be a pretty small specimen. We had already said this to each other when the host’s dirty little secret was betrayed by their 5 year old. The small boy was walking around eating a chicken drumstick, that is to say, our chicken drumstick… We had enough to eat though and it was pretty funny that he gave them away, so we didn’t make a big deal out of it.
The next day was one of much more walking through endless, beautiful rice terraces, and fortunately we managed to largely avoid the touts in minority garb. We walked for about seven or eight hours before we reached Ping’An, the other ‘main’ village. We found a place to stay which didn’t have running water, so they said that instead of 60 kuai for a three person room we would only have to pay 40 (just over 4 euros at todays exchange rate). Between three of us this was extremely reasonable, and it was actually quite good fun washing using a bucket of hot water and a smaller pan to throw it onto yourself. Unfortunately the next day the hotel tried to rip us off by saying they meant 40 kuai each, which was way higher than anywhere else around the terraces and totally ridiculous for a place without running water. We refused, paid them what we had originally agreed and left on unfriendly terms. If you’re ever in Ping’An, don’t stay at the Longji Hotel, they’re con artists and will try to rip you off. There, got that off my chest. At least we dissuaded some other tourists from going there after we left the guest house, they asked us where to stay so we just told them where not to stay haha.
On our way to get the bus back to Guilin on our third day at the terraces, we walked past a huge pig which had very recently had the contents of its neck spilled onto the ground by its owners, and was now getting the blowtorch treatment. I’m guessing the blowtorch was used to remove the hair from the skin, so it could just be diced and thrown straight into the nearest pan to cook up a delicious meal for some tourists. As we walked by this slightly gruesome sight, we saw another pig being led out. We decided not to stick around for the slaughter and just get our bus out of there.
I had met Zack in Yangshuo, and he was going to visit the minority villages we had already done on the way to Yangshuo. Zack got a different bus to us at Longsheng, and Liu Li and I carried on to Guilin to get our train to Chengdu. After we got our train later that evening, I got a text from Zack saying the road towards the villages was closed because of a landslide. This prompted us to go check the train route, and as luck would have it, it passed a village not too far from where Zack was stranded. We told him our carriage number and to get a ticket pronto! A few hours later Zack arrived and the trio was reunited, and on our way to my now favourite city in China, Chengdu.
The first night we obviously had to go for a hotpot, as Sichuan is known for its spicy food and is the home of the phenomenon known as hotpot, or “huo guo” (fire pot) in Chinese. See the photos for details, but I can tell you now that we got the hottest soup (obviously), and got some random other body parts that we hadn’t eaten before. Pig’s brain for example. It looks a little too much like a brain at first, but then why wouldn’t you be able to eat brain? At least in China they’re honest about what they eat, if it’s lung, you can see it’s lung, if it’s a brain, you just get the brain. In Europe I’m sure we eat lots of random organs too, it’s just nobody wants to know so it gets put into a kroket or made into sausages or something. Anyway, getting back to brain, it’s absolutely delicious 😊. You have to leave it cooking in the hotpot for a loooong time so it can be cooked thoroughly and absorb all the flavours, and then it’s so good. I usually order brain nowadays when eating hotpot. Also, the Chinese say it makes you smarter, which is an added bonus. Most of the benefits are pretty straight forward, like eating skin is good for your skin, eating feet enables you to walk further, eating tongue makes you more chatty, that kind of thing…
I was staying in The Loft hostel, which doesn’t actually have a loft. They’re turning it into an art studio, which might be great for local artists but which removes the main chill area for the guests. If you want an art studio, don’t run a hostel. Anyway, it is still a cool place, mainly because the staff are really friendly, and I ended up staying there for many many weeks.
One of the first things we did after arriving in Chengdu was to go see the pandas of course. They are such cool animals, all they do all day is just chill out and stuff their faces with bamboo. They almost made it look tasty. You could get reasonably close to the pandas themselves, and as the animals are so photogenic I ended up taking lots and lots of photos 😊.
That’s all for this blog entry, I’ll try not to make it another month before I publish my next one. As I finish this entry, I’m looking out over a reasonably clear Chengdu from behind my desk on the 25th floor. My key ring has doubled in size since I bought a cheap second hand bike the day before yesterday, and I’m looking forward to flying past all the slow electric bikes on my way home in an hour and a half or so. I better get started on preparing my last lesson of the day and sorting myself out a fresh bottle of water, so I’ll leave you with my photos:
Lots of rice, some hotpot and a cool panda