China II: Week 5

So I’ve just finished my fifth week back in China and I am not really sure if it has gone incredibly quickly or felt like an age, I guess it feel like it’s been about 5 weeks.

Despite much of this week being an anticipation for the next (I am writing this from a train on the way to that particular adventure), there have been several highlights and moments to savour. Most important, in relation to my finances, was commencing my new job. However, I also had a strange experience whilst having a haircut, became a stalker, nearly got killed by someone trying to protect me and became a martial artist.

Initially my week kicked off with a visit to Tonys as he offered me extra work. Basically Tony has set up his own training school and it has become incredibly successful over a short period of time. As a result Tony does not have the time to continue working for the numerous schools he currently works in. He asked if I wanted to take one of these roles, which I of course jumped at (being skint ‘n all). I made my way to Tonys apartment where his girlfriend, Debby, met me and cooked us lunch with a mix of both Chinese and Western influences (Pizza and rice). I and Tony then made our way to the kindergarten. As it turned out, the new school was not too far from my old school, which is actually quite surprising given the size of Guangzhou. Once we were inside Tony introduced me by showing me how it’s done (a form of training I suppose) and then I was left to my own devices; teaching 3 classes of 40 children in one hour using material provided as each lesson commenced. It was a bit of a workout but in the future I will be teaching solidly for two hours at a time…and its high energy stuff. I must admit that being re-introduced to the kindergarten environment did make me realise how much I enjoyed it the last time and how much I miss the hyperactivity of it all. As a result, and drowned in sweat, I decided to take the job requiring me to go to the school twice a week. The only downside is that I will now be working every day, although my earliest weekday start is 1pm. Money has never been a primary objective to me and I will never put it before experience but at this moment it is welcome, and the draw of weekly cash certainly played a role in my acceptance of the job.

But that was the Monday. The rest of the week was at risk of becoming ordinary…but as usual things tend to happen. Thankfully Tuesday meant the ‘devil cat’ could be picked up by her owner. Little had I known that Danny and Momo had got through a whole bag of litter in 4 days (the bag was massive). There are little things that these two do which I find slightly confusing and a little frustrating. One of them is their refusal to take any risks…almost everything appears to be ‘too dangerous’ or ‘bad for your health’ (I’m not talking about smoking or drinking, more brushing your teeth with Colgate or walking on pavement). But to get through what was essentially a sack of litter in 4 days made me use the word ‘flabbergasted’ for possibly the first time in my life.

In fact, I can tell that I am becoming perhaps a little too comfortable in their house, and I am now starting to become a little devious. I can now understand why teenagers (of which I was not so long ago) become a rebellious when living under their parents rules. This week it got to the point where I smuggled a Snickers into the house and ate it! Ha, if Danny found out she would have gone ballistic…I ate it with a smirk. Later in the week I bought some beers for the train journey but I could not hide it from Momo so placed it in Iains bag, when she saw it Iain was labelled a ‘bad man’ and I told myself I was a maverick. However, Danny’s motherly instincts nearly killed me this week; as we walked along the street I began to cross the road having done the very quick mathematics that told me the approaching car was not going at a sufficient enough speed to hit me before I crossed the road. However as I began to cross Danny reached out her hand and placed it on my shoulder, thus stopping me in my tracks. This meant I was stood in the middle of the road whilst the car approached and beeped its horn. As a result of her overprotectiveness I not only nearly got killed but I ended up looking like a stupid Westerner who can’t cross a road. I thanked her for saving me.

Despite her over protectiveness and their ‘set-in-their-waysness’, both Danny and Momo have become great friends. We often have good conversations and I enjoy their company (I just need somewhere to write about their quirkiness).

On another day I decided I was in need of a haircut, particularly as I would be going away at the end of the week. As my second job is close to Wonderland I decided to pop in to the hairdressers I was familiar with (and get a free head massage). As I lay on the bed with shampoo in my hair I got a phone call. Without looking at the contact I answered and was asked ‘where are you?’ by a woman in a very demanding manner. It was clear who it was…Judy. She was one of the parents of one of the children from the old school, one who I felt had taken a slightly disturbing liking towards me. I assumed that she had seen me as I arrived in Wonderland but did not want to tell her my location….so I didn’t. However, less than 5 minutes later (I think I had conditioner in my hair this time) I heard a cry from downstairs…’Is Todd Thornback here!?!?’…amazingly she had discovered my secret location. Once my hair was clean and ready for a good trimming I asked how she knew where I was, to which she responded ‘a woman’s intuition’ (an incredibly surprising response from someone not quite fluent in English). I accepted that she was going to stay for the duration of the haircut so left her to it. She’s a nice woman and means well but she does come out with some odd remarks. Anyway, I ended up going to dinner with Iain that night and he is as confused as me about Judy’s’ behaviour and intentions.

That night I made my way home by metro. This journey is about 2 hours long and features 3 different Metro lines and a bus journey. As with most journeys I sat minding my own business as soon as I got on the first train, I maybe even got my book out (little details are irrelevant). At this early point in the journey I had not noticed the girl sitting next to me with ill-fitting hair extensions and slightly overdone makeup (a ‘Lady Ga-Ga’, as they are referred to here). As I exited the train she did too, but at this point two people getting off the same train at the same stop is normal, if not a little coincidental. Having still not really acknowledged the existence of the Lady Ga-Ga I found my way to the next train. Once I got on I realised that I recognised the girl in my carriage from the train before…again a coincidence. I had to take this train to the end of the line in order to take the new metro link…so did she. At this point I was aware that I had taken two separate changes with the girl so kept my distance….aware that things could get awkward (if indeed she had even noticed that we had been on the same train twice). However, this must have made me look like the perfect stalker as I suddenly entered my third and final train where I was horrified to see Lady Ga-Ga sitting down with one spare seat beside her. Dilemma, this train journey is 30 minutes long, do I stand up because she may or may not think I am a stalker? Or do I sit down because she doesn’t even know I exist? After a little thought I decided to sit down, which was another mistake. At every stop I hoped and prayed that that she would get off….but she never did. I knew what was about to happen…we both stood up as we approached my stop and I definitely felt a bit of awkwardness in the air. Should I stay on for another stop then get the train back? No! I am not a stalker…innocent until proven guilty. So…keeping 5 feet behind I followed the girl out the exit. At which point I guess she was pretty scared of me. But once we got outside I overtook her (this was my way of reassuring her that I am safe to be around). I then sat at my bus stop and immediately flagged my bus down. I stepped on and was closely followed by the same girl….she is stalking ME?!? Now the atmosphere was so strange that I was even tempted to whistle. But the nightmare ended when she got off two stops before I did, confirming that neither of us are stalkers (or that her fear of me had gotten too great).

As Saturday came I was looking forward to the end of the working week when one of the sons of an old colleague came in to my work (I think his name is John but I can no longer ask). When he came in I introduced him to Sophie (a good friend from work) in the hope they would exchange English names…they didn’t. He had previously invited me for Japanese in a local restaurant. I jumped at the offer and walked with him the restaurant after work. He ordered loads of weird and wonderful stuff and I tried it but was a little concerned about the prices in the menu as he hadn’t confirmed if he was paying or not . In fact John, as he will be known, offered to ‘go Dutch’ on the meal, at which point I broke into cold sweat…my internal monologue stated ‘what about your £1 a day budget!’. Wiping my brow and smiling I actually said ‘of course, I’ll pay my way’. In the end I ended up paying the equivalent of £5.80. In all fairness this was a cheap price for a nice meal but was nearly whole weeks’ worth of budgeting. However, I left quite smug in that I had compensated for such anomalies and had a few spare notes as a result…dweeb?

Under the impression that our night was over I prepared to leave, but he then told me that I was going to his martial arts class…not to watch, but to perform….like some kind of lanky Western bear. We arrived at a temple where there were scores of people of all ages practising a variety of martial arts. I was introduced to a man who I am only allowed to refer to as Mr Pun (my Mr Miagi). Mr Pun was to be my instructor and he did not care much for me wearing a shirt and jeans to martial arts class…I HAD come straight from work! I got a very lengthy workout and ended up drowned in sweat with my legs shaking…but it felt great…I even got to try a bit of Tekken…I’ll find out what that actually means soon. On the walk home John told me that I needed to practise every day for 3 months and that I should buy the t-shirt from the temple. This meant that in the space of two hours I had gone from happily digesting boiled Globe Fish to a committed martial arts student…and all against my will. I am interested though as it was fun.

John was quite interesting on the way home because he opened up to me about how he felt about Chairman Mao. He said things that were intriguing to me but surprising to hear. Interesting stuff!

Anyway, the week in a nutshell…next week…Sanya…woopwoop.

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