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Aunty in China
I'm new to this so do bear with me. Not sure whether I will be able to make it but am sure enough going to have a try. China is my home for now, a land you can't really know until you live there and experience the life first hand. Teaching English is my job. Being appreciated by students makes up for many difficulties and so life has its wonderful pleasures. No there aren't any milkbars and the ice cream has a queer taste, but being told that your lessons are our favourite of the week, gives a lot of compensation.
There is snow on the ground. Australians don't see snow often, and even here in central China, it is one of the colder winters on their records. Actually, we even had a white Christmas. That was a thrill. I had been looking at the wonderful pines visible from the third floor classroom, and musing about a white Christmas. So all the students were delighted when I received it. The down side was the temperature; top for the day below zero. I am not really used to that. At home it is usually in the thirty's when we celebrate Christmas Day.
2003 is three days old. How are the New Year's resolutions going? Well, I just know that I did not make any so I am clear of that problem. How many failures I have experienced. It is not very encouraging and I have put an end to it. I want to see success. Now I will monitor what I do this year and look at my success in December. It will make me feel good and I will encourage others to do the same to improve problem self image situations. I will enjoy life and pass that attitude onto my students.
Buying a Printer.
This is the Laser printer I want to buy. What are the requirements? I am told that Windows98 is sufficient. "Pay before you try" is the rule. My new treasure. Especially bought so that my Chinese characters will be complete and look good.
Unpacked and connected; the moment of use. It prints all the roman alphabet but no characters! Back to the company. To the repair center. To my flat to see what can be done. Four months later it is time to give up. It only operates with Chinese Windows, will not operate with English Windows.
How do you think of China?
Do you like Chinese food?
Do you like China?
After answering the above mentioned questions for several hundred times one begins to wonder whether there is any initiative in China at all. If you speak two words of Chinese you will also be congratulated on your good Chinese and if you show any proficiency at all with chopsticks there will be gasps of wonder.
These are some of the things that foreign teachers get to hear from their English Major students and it is our job to make the conversation a little more interesting.
Learning to fly was a dream from high school on. The reality was different. There was the logging up of the hours, the technical theory to learn as well as navigation and the Aviation Alphabet for radio communications. Some parts were scary, like being told that you are now going to fly solo, no instructor next to you to be your help. There were the exciting parts like finding the distant airport all on your own. There were the exams to pass and the flights to complete across the country. But the best part was seeing a dream come true.
This completes my first week. I have gotten that far. Must say that I am enjoying the challenge and the time I sit down to write my words. Sometimes it is necessary to use eiter memory or imagination, other times something will have happened and it is easy to put it down for all of you to read. I keep in mind that people will read this and that I will read what others are now writing. This will become a precious bond between us and I will belong to a new group, even though it is in cyber space.
The writing exams today. I have 122 students doing the exam. I will have a lot of papers to correct. The first part is short answers, mainly theory. The second part has two questions. The first is to either write reading note on a given passage and the other is to write a precis of the same passage. Last question, worth 50% of the exam, is a one page essay. The American teacher and I made the exam together as our students have studied the same course. We chose a fun passage for the exam, entitled "The Advantages of Stupidity".
TV is a wonderful aid to language learning. It allows the ear to tune in to the rhythm of the new language. This does not need any concentration, casual listening is all the is really necessary. For the beginner, children's shows are very helpful because the speech is somewhat slower and the language rather simple. Great help. For me sports have been a particular help. Knowing the rules of the sports in English and then noting what the new language commentators say in a given situation teaches many helpful phrases. This is how I have improved my Chinese a lot.
Friday is always a good day. I only have two hours writing class early in the morning and can then concentrate on either the weekend or prepare classes for the following week. There does not seem to be any stress what-so-ever at this stage and it is a time that is really enjoyed.
Friday afternoon can also be used to get off campus. It is a good time to get on the bicycle and ride off to see the rural activities. In summer and in winter the weather is extreme, but the other two seasons are usually promising.
Extreme weather is not necessarily a hinderance to cycling now that the new mode is out. Bicycles powered by batteries. Yes, you go about 50K at about 18K and there is no exertion in the heat.
Now here is the problem. In China there are laws about bicycles and motorbikes because they existed when the law was written. There weren't any electric bicycles so they aren't mentioned. Several cities have solved this problem simply, ban the electric bikes off the roads. I am one of the millions who will have wasted my 3000 yuan if this is introduced nation wide.
Waiting for a phone call. The time is getting late and I wonder whether I should go to bed. The call would let me know what I am supposed to do in the morning, so I would like to know before I go to sleep.
I could ring and then I would bear the cost. That is not the worst. How will it be perceived if I ring; impatience? I have decided not to ring, to wait. This also needs a decision; what time will I give up? Sitting up all night is not going to benefit anyone, including myself.
Just take a look at a world map and realize how far central China is from any western area of the globe. I am in central China, writing for you (or myself). On my desk there is a computer and by using the keyboard I can send this to the list and you will read it. I hit some other keys and I find out the weather in your city and the news in your newspaper. Some other keys will give me entertainment; the radio or games or whatever I feel like. With a computer we are no longer isolated!
You first decide where to go. Actually that is the easiest part. Now to get a ticket.
At the train station you cannot help notice the crowd; don't even try to estimate it. Which window? There are only 26 and the Chinese characters don't give much information. Join the shortest line. 35 minutes later you are at the window only to find out that it should be window 4. You join the window 4 queque. Another half hour later you get to the window and find out you should have your passport. Back tomorrow, but now you know which window.
Back to the station today. It has to be window 4. Passport is in the bag.
Today the crowd is even bigger. The queques are longer. Join window 4. Eventually you get to the window. There is a three inch hole at chest height, to speak through. You hand over your passport and piece of paper with date, destination and requirements on it. You hear the dreaded words, "Mei you". No more tickets available! There are many others waiting. Quickly change the date, pay your money and go home to change your plans. Nothing is just straight forward in China.
No, not now. No, no, no. Yes, it happened. Oh no! How embarrassing. Yesterday would have been ok, I still had all the papers yesterday, but today? You need to ask the office for access to the papers. Will it be granted? Will I be humiliated or..? Permission granted. Paper checked. I made a bad error and she got fifteen extra marks. Even teachers make mistakes ........... correcting exams! Never fear to ask, the result you see need not be final, but ensure that you have good reason or permission will not be granted. A good teacher will always be ready to correct her error, you're happy.
The last day of the semester. The last exam this morning. Students who have finished are already on their way. Most will leave tomorrow. All the little eating places on campus will close and then the shops and laundry too. After that it will only be the teachers' dining room where you will be able to eat. The larger shop will stay open for any dialy items that may be needed. Those students who will remain all have to move into one building which will remain serviced. All other dormitories will close down. That's a Chinese college during the holidays.
We all have one thing in common. It is for each of us. From the day that we are born we will become a day older each time the sun rises. Some make it for only a few years and others for very many years. We envy those who are older because they have seen so much, they probably have many people that they relate to.
Today mother is 89 and I am half a world away. She does not use a computer and has memory problems, so there is no meaningful communication possible. Today the distance is very long.
The sun is shining through the thin cloud cover (or is it pollution?). The temperature is in the low teens and it is a beautiful winter's day. The nights are still cold, but the days are really nice. If you rug up well then it is pleasant to be outside and walk around the campus. It is empty now and has more in common with a morgue than with a tertiary campus.
There are still the administration staff working. They do not finish work until next Friday, 24th, but compared to thousands of students, these few hardly make an impression.
This is addictive. You would think I had nothing to do. I leave for my holidays on Thursday and had planned to do a lot of cleaning, reading essays and tidying work today. Tomorrow is into town to do last minute shopping. That will take all day including travelling time. Wednesday is washing and packing and Thursday is off. And what am I doing now? Yes telling you all this, which is not getting it done and I don't want to miss that train. I have paid for the ticket and I am determined to be in HK on Friday.
March 1976 it was time to return home. I left my American friends in Germany and spent the next years in Australia. 1992 I went to China to work. We kept in touch, by letter and sometimes phone. Then e.mail and now also MSN Messenger. Our lives moved on, as all of us do. Twice a year the schools in China close to give us a break. This month I am going to Hong Kong for the break. To celebrate Chinese New Year with their daughter in Hong Kong, my friends are also coming. We'll meet again after 27 years!
Spent the day running around town looking for the right gift for my friend. After 27 years it has to be special. I know exactly what I want, but even the right words do not give the correct picture to a Chinese mind. So there I was, from one place to another. Cycling so many kilometers. So the whole day went into looking for that one gift. People ran around for me too, tried to help, but I could not explain adequately. I am exhausted but I did come home with my gift.
Why at the last minute?
Smoothly it rolls throught the countryside. It only took a few minutes to leave the city. Now there's only fields and villages, some with industry to employ excess farm labour. We'll stop in Wuhan on the mighty Yangtze river which threathened to engulf the city in the 1998 floods. Then there's Changsha, capital of the province where Chairman Mao grew up. The bustling, modern city of Guangzhou is the last stop before Dongguang where we go through Chinese customs. Finally we arrive in Kowloon. That's the 20 hours overnight trip in the express sleeper train from Zhengzhou to Hong Kong.
My travelling companions!
There's an older couple. She has the bunk above me, he's in the next compartment. They're off to visit their daughter's family in Hong Kong. The lady in the bunk opposite is returning to Taiwan after visiting her daughter. Above her is a lady going to visit her husband who works in Hong Kong. Her son studies in Australia. One top bunk has a young lady who spends most of her time in another compartment. The other has a Tiawanese Chinese who has a business in Zhengzhou. He's also going home.
Typical! Families uniting for Chinese New Year.
Sometimes you find treasures, things you weren't looking for.
I went onto the streets of Hong Kong to send flowers to my friends. Next I looked for shoes which were much more expensive than anything I could afford, so that purchase made a big hole in my spending money. Then I walked past a framing shop that also sells prints. Prints made from 150 years old etchings, all of early China, and mounted with mounting board on foam backing. In black and white they are absolutely brilliant and will be admired by many who see them on my walls.
Sunday, so no way I can visit the Australian consulate. I celebrate watching the Men's Finals of the Australian Open Tennis Tournament, on the TV in my hotel room.
Noon I must check out but the tennis isn't finished. Downstairs there's Murphy's bar. Had breakfast there yesterday. Great atmosphere. They have a set lunch menu. I walk in and notice they're watching the tennis too.
The lunch is enormous, really Irish. Soup, sirloin steak, mashed potatoes, mixed vegies, souffle and tea. I take my time to eat and watch the tennis. We all finish together.
My Australia Day!
Hong Kong – Real Newspapers.
The only English language newspaper in China is "China Daily", a government publication published in Beijing. In Beijing it is available on the date of publication. The further you live from Beijing, the older it is before you get it; the transport delay.
"China Daily" news is not English news, it is Chinese news in the English language and thus heavily censored like all other news. Without foreign TV broadcasts or newspapers, most English teachers have to rely on shortwave radio which is not always clear. Reception varies enormously.
A break in Hong Kong – Real Newspapers
For many westerners working in China, Hong Kong is a return to sanity; a return to modernity.
Traffic stops at stop lights.
Pedestrians have right of way on pedestrian crossings.
Busses are clean; brakes don’t squeal.
Busses are full; they don’t overload.
Escalators go down as well as up.
And the list goes on!
Today’s newspaper is on sale in English or Chinese.
The newspaper has comic strips.
Readers’ Digest is available in shops.
There are shops with books, books, books, in English.
You’re back in the modern world in Hong Kong. Why am I homesick for China?
There’s more to Hong Kong than the crowded island with skyscrapers trying to reach higher than the next. Hong Kong has a number of smaller islands which include Cheng Chau. Fifty minutes ferry ride from Hong Kong, this island is free from motor traffic. People walk! Up the hills and down the hills, people walk. Trolleys are pushed to move goods and heavier items have motorized hand trolleys. There are a couple of tractors for the construction industry, but people walk.
An ambulance is the exception. Three feet wide to fit through the narrow streets and lanes.
(continued) It looks more like a fun park vehicle. In recent years a fire truck has been added for the village and businesses and schools there.
The shape of a figure 8, the island is less than 200 metres across in the middle with the harbour on one side and the beach on the other. Up the hill to the right is Bethany, holiday accommodation for teachers from China and others doing similar work in Asia.
At Bethany you can rest, read, go walking, do jigsaws and in summer, go swimming. Your meals are provided and there are many people to meet.
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