Published: February 6th 2009February 6th 2009
Happy Chinese new year. Welcome to the year of the Ox. Apparently anyone born under the influence of the Ox will achieve prosperity through fortitude and hard work. Or, according to Moger (our manager) you can buy and wear red underwear (!?).
We've been in Zibo for over a month now and everything's going great. The time's flown by and we can already tell that this experience is going to be just what we wanted. The weather's cold and very dry. We haven't seen any rain since Moscow. It's hard to tell the temperature because there's no frost but I don't think it usually gets much above 0 degrees during the day. It's pretty nippy. We're trying to enjoy it because we've been told that it gets unbearably hot here in the summer.
The teaching's good fun but hard work. The weekends (when we do most of our teaching) are hardcore. Lessons last for two hours and the first one starts at 8am! It's a real challenge to be sprightly at that time.
The lessons can be split into two types. There's the ones with kids that are about fourteen and younger. They
involve playing lots of games to stop them from switching off. The young children are incredibly cute and fun but lessons are tiring! I prefer teaching the older kids who have a fairly good grasp of English and who you can sit and chat to for a couple of hours! Tristan's very happy to have given two kids English names- a girl, 'Magic' and a boy 'Johnson'!
For the last couple of weeks, Tristan's been teaching a lot of lessons that are part of the Winter Camp program. The kids come to school all day every day for a week and learn things like 'Western' foods and table manners. Shockingly this involves an afternoon trip to McDonalds where the kids get to make 'hamburgers'. I've also taught my first tiny kid's lesson- three and four year olds with their parents. This involved singing 'Hello hello how are you? I am fine thanks, how are you?' to the tune of Twinkle twinkle little star! Can you imagine it?
We were gutted to hear, a few weeks ago that our Dutch/Canadian friends are leaving China earlier than expected. They're only going to be here for another
month because they're moving to Newfoundland now that Frauke has permanent residence in Canada. It's a massive shame that they can't stay longer but it is a positive thing for us work-wise. We'll be much more valued at school as the only full-time foreign teachers and we can have more hours. Also, we've found out that we're going to have two consecutive days off per week together so we'll be able to do loads of little trips around and even outside our province.
We've done all sorts of things in our month here. We've been to Ji'nan (the provincial capital), Tristan's started going to the gym, we had a brill few days with Erik and Eva (who we met in Mongolia), attended the Wal Mart Zibo grand opening, met the family that lives next door to us and unofficially taught their kids some English in exchange for a bag of oranges....
Earlier in January, before we started properly teaching we followed in the footsteps of Confucious, Chairman Mao and Michael Palin (Full Circle) and scaled the 6660 steps of Tai Shan, a sacred mountain a few hours on the bus southwest of Zibo. The
bus journey freaked us out a bit because it made us realise that our province (the second most populous in China!) is really one ginormous never ending city. We travelled for over three hours and didn't see any countryside!. It made us fell a bit claustrophobic. Even the mountain itself (1545m) has the city of Tai'an at it's foot and is littered with temples, shrines, paths and steps.
The climb was really tough. So many steps! But we managed to get up really quickly because the weather was so cold we didn't get too hot. We practically had the mountain to ourselves which is unheard of because masses of Chinese people climb it (just not in January!) but the weather was perfect. There was a clear line in the sky where the pollution from Tai'an city ended and the clear blue sky began (and we were glad to pass it). We slept in a hotel on the summit (having bargained the room rate down from 660RMB to 100RMB!!!) and got up early for the famous sunrise.
Tai Shan was really beautiful in the morning. The so-called 'sea of clouds' surpassed our expectations as the mist crashed
in to the rocks below us and was blown upwards. The only downside was that it was absolutely freezing at 6am on the top of that mountain. Really not the conditions to be standing still. We were just about to head back when everybody else watching the clouds suddenly cheered and a tiny bright bit of orangey-pink sun appeared on top of the clouds and rose to light up the sky. It was really fantastic and clear to see why the Chinese think Tai Shan is very special.
We spent Chinese New Year's eve in Zibo. We went to the family home of one of the lady's (Millie) who works on reception at our school. We couldn't communicate very much but it was great to see how Chinese people spend their most important festival. Basically they're celebration involves eating masses of dumplings, setting off bazillions of fireworks and watching a five-hour live TV program that looks like a cross between Children in need, Eurovision and the Royal Variety Performance. Very odd indeed. As we couldn't understand a word (and it was weird) we left Millie's before midnight and went and set off loads of fireworks near Brad
and Frauke's flat. We had 300RMB worth of fireworks which is a heck of a lot. They ranged form a huge roll of big firecrackers to ones that you hold and they shoot out sparks and bangs, to little paper bids that you light then throw and flowers that you light on the floor then they spin around and up ion the air. The fireworks at midnight were crazy. Oddly, after midnight everyone goes to bed then gets up again at about 5am to set more fireworks off. The they continue to set them off at all hours of the day for about a week when the new years holiday ends and then (as is happening now) all the shops and restaurants set them off to celebrate their re-opening after the New year's holiday! Talk about any excuse!
All the street food, restaurants and shops closed for the holiday because everyone in China goes back to their family home. One of the CT's went all the way to Harbin- way way up in the North East of China to be with her family for new year. The holiday meant that we didn't have to work on my
Our festive front door
Protecting the door gods or scaring away evil spirits or something.
birthday. We had a really fun day. I got a kite, badminton set (it's never very windy here so we can play outside), lots of DVDs and a fantastic over-the top-cake that Tristan designed, ordered and collected all by himself. He also discovered a bowling alley in one of the posh hotels and arranged for us to go with our friends and some of the Chinese teachers.
So all's good, we're now looking forwards to our first pay-day on the 10th. Brad and Frauke have assured us that we'll be able to save half of our wages every month. So now we just have to work out what we're going to spend it all on on our days off!!
Enjoy the snow.
x x x x
There are more photos below