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November 09 first thoughs of Tongchuan

BULGARIA | Thursday, 17 December 2009 | Views [396]

First thoughts after about a week here. mid November 2009

The window of my apartment in Tongchuan overlooks a large square with
small shops on two levels around 3 sides. Every morning I wake to the
sound of gentle traditional Chinese music and if I sit up and look out
of the window, I can see three of four groups of people doing
different exercises – there’s a large group doing some kind of
aerobics, there’s two groups doing Tai Chi, another group doing
something similar with swords and another group doing what looks like
a dance with a bat and a ball. But they are not batting the ball –
they put the bll on the bat and then wave it around so gracefully
that the ball never falls off – I didnt even realise it was a ball
until I watched them begin one day.

I’m in China and for those who thought I was hibernating again in
Voditsa, I’m not. I’m hibernating in central China for a change. Its
not snowing and actually its not even cold here but I’m told it will
be cold pretty soon so maybe I was right to bring my fur coat. I have
a job teaching English – more of that later – but as I only do that at
the weekend, I have loads of time to catch up on stuff like writing my
book(s) and getting my website stuff together and eating.

It appears that I am the only foreigner in this town – how does that keep happening to me?

It took me two days to get here – bus to Istanbul (I still love the
fact that it goes by the end of my road), flight to Abu Dabi, flight
to Beijing and another flight to Xian (terracotta warrior land) then a
long taxi ride to Tongchuan. My street here is called Limim Lu if you
want to look on google earth. The best thing about the journey, which
was quite hassle free, was that I got to see the latest Star Trek
movie on the flight to Beijing – I agree with all my trekkie friends –
its great.

Its a bit hard sitting down for two days – Saturday evening to Monday
evening – it was bits of sleep with airline food in between. As soon
as I arrived, in typical Chinese style, my hosts took me out to a
banquet. Great food of course but I could hardly keep my eyes open and sadly didn't appreciate it.I then slept for 10 hours.

I love China in the same way that I love India – its huge,
fascinating, constantly surprising and totally focused on food. Every other shop is about food and in one street I counted 15
restaurants all in a row … and they were all full. There’s great
markets selling everything you can imagine but I wonder who cooks
because everyone seems to be eating out. I think I probably wont use
my kitchen here because right outside my door is a buzzing little street
with restaurants and things that can only be described as eating
places plus loads of stalls selling strange things on sticks – skinned
frogs and stuff like that. I’m not very good with heads and eyes so
I’ll pass on the frogs but I’m working my way through everything else.
I’m going to learn how to make steamed bread and dumplings and I’ll
introduce them into St James Park next year! And of course its really
cheap – a big bowl of noodles and other things is about 4 Yuan – under

I was ready to give up coffee (a waste of time here) black tea (tea is
made form all sorts of flowers and different leaves) and smoking
(failed on the tobacco) but I forgot that China is devoid of chocolate
and of course I haven’t seen anything remotely like cheese. But the
local supermarket sells everything from weird eggs coated in strange
mud (I tried one and made the mistake of smelling first!) to live
turtles – I might pass on those too. I’m probably going to get really
fat here but it’ll be fun. Of course I dont read chinese so ordering
things is interesting. Last night I randomly picked something off the
menu and I had to laugh when it came – I’m a bit out of practice with
chopsticks and what I got was a big plate of tiny diced bits of tofu
with peanuts in a rather lethal sauce. Eating peanuts and small diced
things with chopsticks took ages!

Breakfast is now is Dou Jiang – warm sweet soya milk and a sweet fried
bread roll with sesame (sorry but this is going to be all about food).
I’m going to have some Chinese lessons and we’re starting with menus.
I’m practicing the four tones first – its a bit like Bulgarian where
you have the put the emphasis on the right syllable or nobody
understands. But also like Voditsa, people here haven’t met anyone who
doesn’t speak Chinese so they just talk to me – there are people like
Baba Penka here!

Back to my comparison with India – there is a wonderful sense of a
huge place with a cultural history much longer than anything in Europe
and sense of personal pride in that history but little knowledge of
the outside world. But its also a massive emerging economy – actually
its big enough to have a massive internal economy that in one sense
doesn’t need the outside world. But I guess the differences are that
there is no sense of spirituality here and there is a lack of colour –
clothes are many variations of black and although it has wonderful
aromas (for want of a better word) your sense are not blasted by
colour and smell like they are in India. The other thing of course is
democracy – imagine all these people and they dont vote…......and dont
mention Tibet!

I was surprised to be able to get Radio 4 on the internet but Facebook
is a blocked site. That doesn't make much sense.

Clothes are totally western – they dont do bling here – not much
glitter around but they do pink and girly girly. But I also dont think
that anything I see will be in a size to fit me – i’m head and
shoulders taller than anyone and as for shoes, no chance.

I miss the clear blue skies of Bulgaria – I cant decide if its
actually pollution or just permanent fog. I mentioned it to my work
colleagues and they were surprised – of course you can see the sky!
But not much in the way of blue.

I’m looking for a Tai Chi teacher – maybe in exchange for English
lessons – I want to join the group in the square in the morning but I
need to practice first. Also in the square in the morning are a load
of old guys with huge calligraphy brushes – they write poetry on the
paving stones with water. Beautifully done and then they evaporate and
they’re gone.

I’ve kept the thoughts about my work till last as anyone who knows
will know that I have managed all my life to travel whilst avoiding
teaching English. Now I spend all (literally) of saturday and sunday
teaching children aged 5 -18– I guess i’ll survive -its only 4 months and there's plenty of food to explore.

Tags: blue skies, bulgaria, china, food, teaching english, tongchuan, voditsa


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