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A little late, but finally some news from China!

CHINA | Sunday, 11 October 2009 | Views [538] | Comments [1]

We started off in Beijing, I won't say too much about it because it is too long ago now and I can't remeber everything and it's not all that important. Suffice to say that we had an absolutely incredible time, went to see the Summer Palace, The Great Wall, and spent a considerable amount of time wandering around the Hutong and fumbling with bad Chinese. Had many an amazing meal; there was much clubbing at the Mix and getting drunk on the terrace of the Hostel together. We taught the Macarena to a bunch of Chinese people in this random little bar/club thing, which must have been a hilarious sight. It certainly was hilarious doing it.

Anyway, about four or five days after arrival and after saying goodbye to the volunteers going to Gansu and Xinjiang provinces, my partner Katherine, two other volunteers going to another part of Jiangxi province and I caught a train to Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi. The train journey took about 12 hours, but as it was an overnight train and it was already dark when we set off, it didn't really sink in where we were going until I looked out the window the next morning.

The landscape is very different to that around Beijing; the earth is a scorched red and the many hills are covered in lush, soft green vegetation. Numerous tiny, earth red villages are squeezed between huge stretches of nothing but rice paddies and muddy waterholes. It's a scene fom your typical image of China: the peasants wear stereotypical straw hats and push water buffalos steadily through the muddy fields, and fish in the little lakes.

It wasn't until arrival in Nanchang that the difference in temperature hit us, which piled on top of a 12 hour train journey was to say the very least uncomfortable. Our host and waiban were there to meet us as we got off the train, but after just a very brief introduction we got whisked off to the Nanchang Health Clinic for the most extensive health check - something we had dearly hope to avoid - I have ever had in my life, complete with a full body scan, blood and urine tests, ultrasound, and a number of bizarre procedures, the purpose of which I still remain clueless. We then set off on a three and a half hour car journey to Jingdezhen.

In most guidebooks Jingdezhen is not exactly described as much of a scenic city. The beautiful surrounding countryside and iconic porcelain streetlamps and numerous porcelain shops make it seem as though it should be. Admittedly, our first impressions of the city were not entirely pleasant. It is right to call it scruffy and dirty; traffic is ubiquitous - which from my experiences in Beijing and Nanchang seems standard for China - stray dogs nibble at the rubbish carelessly thrown onto the streets and hens peck between the cracks of the broken pavement.

We were taken straight to our new home. Our accommodation is incredible: black leather couches, a tv larger than the one I have at home, two seperate bedrooms with double beds, a study with a huge desk and the most amazing spinny chair thing, a bathroom (with a wstern toilet!) and a tiny, dodgey kitchen complete a greasy wok and cockroaches. They even bought us a Christmas tree!

Everyone was extremely helpful and kind and welcoming, but this did not hinder the inevitable feeling of loneliness and homesickness that overcame the both of us for the first couple of days. We felt rather forlorn in our empty, whitewashed flat.

The first night we were invited out to a banquet at the school canteen with the headmaster of the school, where the food was delicious, but although we were given beer, we were only toasted about three or four times. This resulted in us becoming a little bewildered, seeing as much of the time on our training course was speant talking about how much we were going to have to drink. Even for lightweights like us, that first banquet left me rather confused and disappointed.

My first lesson was by no means a nightmare. It went surprisingly well, and I say surprisingly because from what I have understood from the other volunteers first lesson nightmares are standard. The kids were keen and active, and seemed genuinely excited and happy to have a foreign English teacher.

One of our more amusing stories of our China experience so far is of our first attempt to cook. We had been eating out at little restaurants for a couple of days, but since the only thing we could order was noodles, 'mian tiao,' we were getting rather sick of them. We started off by taking a deep breath and with our trusty bug spray at hand, stepping slowly into the miniscule cockroach den, and quickly killing all the roaches in sight. When we had decided on how the rice cooker was supposed to work (all the instructions were in Chinese), we popped the rice in and started chopping up all the vegetables. After not too long we realised that the rice cooker was doing absolutely nothing, so we decided to go old school and cook it in a pot. I turned on the stove, and, inevitably, nothing happened. It was at this point that we heard an odd hissing sound issuing from the sink. I opened up the cabinets beneath the sink to see water squirting frantically out of the pipes and all over the floor. After successfully turning off the water supply we agreed on continuing to cook and worrying about not having any water the next day. To get the stove working however we had to go downstairs and ask the lovely little old lady who lives beneath us to help. We soon had rice cooking steadily. I then thought it would be a good idea to make sure that the other stove worked properly before the little old lady left, so I turned the knob, just in time to realise that the stove was only precariously balanced upon the kitchen counter - it tipped - rice, boiling water everywhere, open flame dangling off the table... The little old lady then went off on a rant about how we were too young to take care of ourselves and how dare the school not give us water, although all of this was in rapid Chinese, and as we have later discovered, dialect, so for quite a while we thought she was screaming mad at us for not being more careful...

We went out for noodles again.

Despite warnings about how people would be extremely overprotective of us, given that we are at a new project and are girls, we had been given surprisingly loose reins ever since we arrived. We regularly go out into the city on our own and have also begun to explore more and more of the city center by night. Our freedom came to an abrupt end as soon as we decided to go and visit the two volunteers in Xinyu, another city in Jiangxi, some three weeks after arrival at our project. We simply wanted to inform the school that we would be leaving for the weekend, and ask them how we could obtain bus tickets. This resulted in a phone call from the head English teacher telling us that we couldn't go to Xinyu this weekend because they were 'concerned for our safety', but that the President was going on a business trip there sometime in November, and he could take us then if we wanted. We attempted to explain that it was Katherine's birthday and we really wanted to be with our friends for that, and then that we had to go to go to Lanzhou for our language course on our own the week after anyway, and that we didn't need anyone to escort us. 'Yes, but we are concerned for your safety.' We then told them that Kathereine had to go to Shanghai in November on her own as well, and that we were planning to go travelling a lot in our holidays, and that we didn't think that they would be able to escort us all around China. 'Yes, but we are concerned for your safety.'Finally, after a call to our rep Alicia (thank you again!) we were given 'permission' to go to Xinyu.

Xinyu is a smaller and much sleepier city than Jingdezhen. There is no rubbish on the streets and the air is clearer. Katherine and I were surprised to see how tame the traffic was compared to that of most of the other cities we had seen. Famous for it's many parks, it's all in all quite picturesque.

We left Friday afternoon and five six hours later arrived in Xinyu. Not much is needed to be said about the first night. Suffice to say that baijiu was involved and Saturday morning unpleasant. Saturday was Katherine's birthday and we celebrated with an incredible banquet and our long awaited, first night of KTV.

KTV is by far the strangest experience I've had in China so far, and that is saying a lot! A private room with a big screen tv, a small monitor for choosing songs, and a group of elderly Chinese men dancing to 'Uptown Girl' and singing at the tops of their uncomfortably shrill voices. Watching Katherine ballroom dance with the school headmaster to disco music is all that is needed to give you severe culture shock. It hits you when and where you least suspect it.

And ever since arriving in China, I apparantly love Michael Jackson, Avril Lavigne and Westlife.




Wow, I hope that last bit about loving Michael Jackson, Avril Lavigne and Westlife isn't true! xD

Sounds like you're having loads of fun, and can't wait to see you and Jingdezhen in Easter!!

  Sigrid Oct 29, 2009 1:31 AM

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