Thursday, 30 April 2009
Wednesday, 29 April 2009
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
I found it hard to believe that I was only forty minutes away from my own noisy and crowded part of the city. It was so quiet that when you were away from the one main road, you couldn’t hear traffic. Everyone seemed for mellow and friendly, and we even saw goats being herded down one of the larger roads.
Thanks to Janie and Eleanor for pointing out that what I thought were sheep were in fact goats. Oops.
Dafo temple is the main draw, but despite being a sunny Saturday, there were very few people there. Still more unusual was that it actually still had the atmosphere of an active place of worship, and we found ourselves instinctively lowering our voices to whispers.
A little background info: the temple was originally built in AD 586, and has been in a state of continuous restoration ever since!
This is the gilded statue of Sakyamuni, which stands in the entrance to Manichaean Hall. This Hall would be worth the entrance fee alone. The statue has a kind of presence that I don't think translates to photographs that meant that, irreligious as we all are, we all just stopped and contemplated for a moment. And then took a photo. And then had a Chinese guy come up and ask us if we would pose for photos with his son.
These are frescoes in the Hall, and again, a photo doesn't do them justice. Amazingly you could walk right up and touch them if you wanted to.
A close up view of her 'thousand arms', used to help reach out to those asking for mercy. Guanyin is a fascinating figure, and since my visit to the temple I'm trying to find out more about her.
There was a collection of old statues missing heads and arms at the back of the temple gardens. I had the odd feeling of thinking that I was at an ancient site in Greece or Italy! I'm not sure if they lost bits through age, vandalism during the Cultural Revolution or if the heads were taken for museums or private collectors.
Take a day trip with My World Tuesday.
I am also repeating my plea for English language books that I made yesterday. For many of my students, purchasing a book in English, necessitating as it does a trip to a foreign language bookstore in Beijing, is a proposition as far fetched as flying to London or New York. (An average price for an English paperback is about 100 kuai.) If anyone reading this would be willing to send me an unwanted English language book, please leave a comment and I will be in touch with how to send it to me.
It would mean so much to the person who receives it, and will be a much treasured resource. I am distributing the small collection of books that I have built up here amongst my students, and their joy and gratitude is beyond what can be expressed in words. If you are generous enough to send a book, please make it one without graphic sex or violence. Thank you so much to the people that have already expressed an interest.
Monday, 27 April 2009
Rosa is one of my most engaging students, and is an interesting, talented, tenacious and kind hearted young woman. She lives in a town on the outskirts of the city, in an area classed as rural. Although only eighty minutes away from our school by bus, being born in this area means that her life is considerably harder than those of her urban classmates, even the less well off ones. Her previous schools were badly resourced and poorly staffed, as countryside schools end up with teachers that city schools won’t employ.
She knows that to keep her place at the school and to obtain a much coveted place at university that will allow her to train as an English teacher, she must get higher grades than her urban friends need to. She normally studies from 6am to 10pm, and in her rare holidays (students normally only have Sunday afternoon off school) she is responsible for looking after her young nephew. In this she is more fortunate than some, who have to find paid employment.
The wealthiest of my students don’t even care about the fiendishly hard and stressful college entrance exams, knowing that their parents can afford to send them to a private college or abroad to study, and that their contacts will land them a well paid job later on. If Rosa fails in these exams she in unlikely to be able to break her way out of poverty.
During one of our frequent, but short conversations, between classes she told me that her brother and cousin’s husband are both migrant workers in an oil field in Gansu province. As it is so far away, it has been a more than year since they have come home. They aren’t sure if her three year old nephew will recognize his father when he next sees him.
Rosa told me that the salary is so good that the men feel the sacrifice is worth it. When I asked what it was she told me it was 600 kuai (88 USD) a month plus overtime, more than they can earn here. Despite her scholarship, it must be a considerable economic sacrifice for her family to keep her in school.
Meanwhile, some of her classmates father’s will splurge the equivalent of my very comfortable monthly salary on a single dinner, whilst their wives (and mistresses) shop in designer stores.
The ever widening gap between the rich and everyone else, never mind the poor is simply mind boggling, and surely not conducive to long term social stability. I’ll be interested to see how, and if, the Chinese government tackles it.
This brings me to something I could kick myself for not asking earlier. For many of my students, purchasing a book in English, necessitating as it does a trip to a foreign language bookstore in Beijing, is a proposition as far fetched as flying to London or New York. (An average price for an English paperback is about 100 kuai.) If anyone reading this would be willing to send me an unwanted English language book, please leave a comment and I will be in touch with how to send it to me.
It would mean so much to the person who receives it, and will be a much treasured resource. I am distributing the small collection of books that I have built up here amongst my students, and their joy and gratitude is beyond what can be expressed in words. If you are generous enough to send a book, please make it one without graphic sex or violence.
Friday, 24 April 2009
However, after this photo was taken, he behaved in a truly spaniel like fashion. He barked, and then ran inside to his owner's shop/house where he peered at me from the behind the safety of the door curtain, attempting and sadly failing, to look fierce and protective, and instead looking as if he might run and hide behind his mummy at any moment. Perhaps he knew I'd been thinking about stealing him - look at those cute curly furred little legs!
I was glad that I had my camera on me so that I could capture a very rare cloud behind the typically Shizzy skyscape. And as per usual when I've got my camera out in non-stereotypical photo locations, my crazy laowai antics occasioned the locals much amusement!
Wednesday, 22 April 2009
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
Saturday, 18 April 2009
Friday, 17 April 2009
This is what I find so frustrating about China: how little things just end up being made so difficult. And something that, in various guises, has kept cropping up this week. Some of them are too long winded to go into, but a good example is getting paid. Now, when I have a job in the UK, my money gets paid into my bank account on the same day each month/week and I get an itemised pay slip so I can see if there are any mistakes. Here, I don't even know what day I'll get paid on for the month. When I do, I have to go and pick up my entire monthly wage in cash, from the accounts office. After waiting for fifteen minutes, being eyed by the other people there, I get handed my wage slip which I have to sign off (although I don't keep a copy and there's no explanation of how they work out how much I should be paid, it varies by about 200 yuan each month). Then I get handed my wodge of cash in front of everyone else there, much to their interest, and people blatantly peer to see how much I get paid and jabber about it amongst themselves.
Or the times when I just wish I could go to the supermarket, a local restaurant, or the gym without the continual staring, pointing and shouting...*sigh*
Oh well, at least I'm getting paid! I think I need to have a few Friday beers to relax....so that's what I'm off to do.
Wednesday, 15 April 2009
Mao statue at People's Park
This is an incredibly belated abc wednesday post! I woke up on Wednesday to find that my internet was cut off because of some of the student's were having exams. Obviously letting me know about this beforehand is an impossibility in China. Although I don't even see why it is necessary to cut off the internet for the staff's apartments anyway. But, at last it's been turned back on, so..........
Mao and the Cultural Revolution are topics that I’ve avoided with even Chinese people I’ve gotten to know quite well, and it seems to have been written out of many of the accounts of Chinese history I’ve seen. One constant reminder is that there seem to be people up to their late forties and then people in their seventies. When I’ve been introduced to people in their fifties, I would have easily thought them twenty or even thirty years older than they really are. I can’t even imagine what hardships these people must’ve endured to prematurely age them so radically.
Another strange side effect of this traumatic period of Chinese history is the popularity of modelling classes at the gym with older women. They are taught to walk like catwalk models, and there is something quite poignant about watching them engaged in such a typical teenage activity, the kind of frippery one assumes that teenage girls were denied in Maoist China.
When I asked my students to tell me about a person they admired, Mao was chosen by a few students in each class, although they all focused on his early achievements uniting the Chinese nation after the Japanese invasion and civil war. Only one student mentioned what happened after this, saying that Mao ‘made some mistakes later in his life.’ Quite an understatement in my opinion! More students picked Zhou Enlai, who tried to restore diplomatic and trade relations with the rest of the world during the 1970s.
The only heard one anti-Mao statement from a Chinese person here. It came from a friend as a group of us were waiting in McDonalds after going out clubbing. Holding a hundred yuan note in his hand he declared in English how much he despised Mao, then proceeded to rub Mao’s face against his crotch. Ironically, one reason why this young man enjoys a comfortable lifestyle is that both his parents are very high up in the Communist Party. Although from what I have gathered from my Chinese friends, now membership of the Communist Party is more to do with ambition, as membership is a de facto necessity for progressing your career. All the wealthiest people are card carrying members of the Party.
Visit other abc wednesdays.
Monday, 13 April 2009
During the our break for the National Day holiday, we hiked along the Great Wall, choosing the most section described by Lonely Planet as 'invigorating', presumably because you feel lucky to be alive at the end of it! It is the least touristy and least renovated section of the Wall. We hiked for about 10km, although I swear that with the about of up-and-downing we were doing it felt like twice the distance!
At this point, I had only been in China for a little over a week, and my friends had been here for a month. When I look back on that first trip to Beijing, it's strange to remember how timid we all were, and how strange and confusing the city was to us, when now we think nothing about skedadling around it by ourselves. The rest of the post is adapted from my journal.
It's a strange feeling (like the Pyramids at Giza) of amazement at being there, rather than looking at a photo and being overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time (one is still one's quotidian self after all).
We'd stop to rest in the watchtowers. The one's that were more restored gave welcome shade too, although we'd have to fight off the vendors trying to sell us water or beer. (Beer?! Are some of the people walking this thing suicidal?)
The lake at the end of our hike, and guess who didn't enjoy the suspension bridge! My friends took a zip line across the water, but I walked down because I think that otherwise I might have actually passed out from fear.
I took advantage of a particularly pleasant day last week to go and photo the splendid displays of blossom on this tree in the school.
Whilst I was snapping away, I got talking with some of my senior 2 students who were on duty at the front entrance. They are now seriously thinking about which universities they want to apply to, and which subjects they want to study, and I had an interesting chat with them about it. The girl on the left wants to work in a bank, but her parents and teacher want her to become a teacher. The girl in the middle wants to be a Chinese, English or history teacher, and is hoping to get into a prestigious teacher training university in Beijing. The girl on the left wants to study international business. This is a reasonable reflection of the ambitions of my senior students. The two most popular career choices seem to be business and teaching, followed by the army, medicine, and law.
Sunday, 12 April 2009
I had my last day teaching at Ai Hua, the private English school I’ve been a cover teacher for this week. The classes were pretty uneventful, not very stretching or interesting to teach, but the kids are OK and it’s easy money. Two of the little girls in my last class were excited to find a resemblance between me and the Disney princesses on their pencil cases, which was quite cool. Although sometimes I curse the fact that in China I’m a size XL, (and M at the very very best), it’s also surely one of the few countries where anyone would seriously think I look like a cartoon princess.
I had a two and a half hour break between my morning and afternoon classes, and so I entertained myself by wandering around the local market and housing estate. It’s a very pleasant area, quiet but with lots of shops and market vendors, a primary school and a private art school.
These are the best baozi (large steamed bread dumplings) that I’ve ever had. So good that I might consider taking the bus there again just to eat them. And amazingly good value at 2 kuai (20p) for six.
I checked out the fruit and vegetable market, and bought some delicious strawberries that I ate from the bag as I walked, and finished off sitting underneath the beautiful flowering trees that lined one street, which is the best smelling part of China I’ve visited! Perching on the wall of the primary school, watching the people walking by, (and being discreetly watched by the Chinese street vendors), enjoying the relative peace and quiet and mingled smells of ripe, sweet strawberries and heady yet delicate flowers is a China memory I know I’ll cherish.
On a slightly more mundane level, in the same neighbourhood I also fond what seems to be the only shop in the city that sells shorts, which is a relief as my cosy jogging bottoms are now becoming rather torturous to actually work out in.
a map of the housing estate; the numbered orange blocks are apartment buildings, some of which have shops or businesses on the ground (or first) floor