China II: Week 10

Another week in China is another week in preparation for a summer of Asia. In fact, it has come to the point where I spend a lot of my time planning (dreaming) antics for the next few months. It’s fair to say that I am a little bit excited about the prospect of travelling over the summer, but I also feel like I am being greedy as I have already had a great travel experience in 2011…pahh…I am greedy.

The original plan was to meet James Bate in Guangzhou on 28th July but I have since realised that this would mean the best part of a month in Guangdong with no income. So I drew up two possibilities; 1. follow Arsenal on their preseason tour of China or 2. go to Tibet by train and travel in a landcruiser. Although more expensive, I have come to the conclusion that it’s a no-brainer…Tibet doesn’t play in London every other week and Arsenal don’t hang out at Everest Base Camp or have Monastrys…..its my dream. We shall see if I have the bottle to follow through with it…57 hours on a train to the Rooftop of the World? Sure.

Anyway, all that dreaming felt like something very distant when I started my week, because I started it on Iains sofa. To me the word ‘sofa’ is synonymous with comfort so I will call it; Iains sticky, fruit fly attracting seating area (not that I am ungrateful that he put me up). It was 4am and I woke up for the umpteenth time with a fresh mosquito bite. Being the grumpy sleeper I am known to be I decided enough was enough and that this time, and this time only, the mosquitos had won the battle. I left his house just before 5am and had 4 hours to kill before work. So, at 5am I found myself alone in the middle of Guangzhou, in a KFC restaurant, covered in mosquito bites and with a cup of hot milk. For the first time in the night I was content. Just like a baby, that perhaps I am, the hot milk sent me to sleep on the table with no mosquitos in sight….peace.

Thankfully I was able to wake up in good time to freshen up and get to class. I decided the children wanted to play outside so invented a few games involving a basketball. 10 minutes teaching outside is the perfect way to have a good lesson in kindergarten; the kids enjoy it and are too tired, or coughing their guts up, to be naughty for the rest of the class. After the first classes I was told, in typical Chinese fashion, that my afternoon classes would be cancelled because of Children’s Day. Children’s Day? I still don’t know.

This week was the first that my new hours have been put into place, and my life has become far more free. For instance, Tuesday allowed me to have my first full day off since I visited Hainan Island…nearly one month ago. Since my shoes were falling apart I made it my mission to find another cheap pair, and knew just the place. However, as I was leaving the apartment Danny asked where I was going. She assured me that she knew a place that sold cheap shoes so I agreed to go with her. After about a 10 minute walk we came to a plaza and she showed me into a shop. The cheapest shoes were 150rmb (£15) and she was very happy with herself….until I told her that I didn’t want to pay more than 30…’impossible’ she said…’not for Mr Todd’ I replied (in my head). I took her to the place that I knew sold cheap shoes and I was able to pick up two decent pairs for 25rmb each. I was a little smug but I was more surprised that Danny did not know such cheap shops existed when they are actually everywhere in China. I get the impression that both her and Momo have lived such a privileged life that they have never needed to shop down the side streets or markets…its alright for some I suppose.

So these new working hours meant that I worked 27 hours a week instead of 40 in my main job. This gave me the opportunity to have a nap between my two jobs on Wednesday afternoon. This seems to have come at the perfect time as China is becoming ‘hotter than the sun’. There is something about China that almost forces you to feel tired at lunchtime, and I loved this routine at Wonderland. I find a nap gives you two days in one.

To ‘keep me happy’ and out of the office I now do some work for the marketing department, which involves me going to different schools, waiting outside the gate and saying ‘hello’ to all the children as they come out…make me sound a little bit creepy? I feel creepy. It seems to work though as I have managed to recruit 6 students this month (giving me the £90 bonus to pay for my Tibet trainfare. See, always dreaming).

That evening I managed to find the time to meet a few people at Peasants for a cheeky beer or two and the opportunity to speak english at a normal pace for a couple of hours. I didn’t stay too long though as I had to be up for work at 6am (sad?). In fact, I have found that many of the Westerners here are here on a longterm or permanent basis. As a result there is a lot of effort into building a social network. However, personally I know that my stay in Foshan is only temporary so have kind of gone with the flow in terms of meeting with new Westerners and put very little effort into it. Foshan is definitely more of a clique vibe than Guangzhou as there are far fewer Westerners here.

The thursday brought about a real act of God…the arrival of Michael (not my dad). Michael is a buddhist, a Russian, a lover of Arshavin and a weightlifter all rolled into one very interesting man. He had flown to Hong Kong from St Petersburg and hitchhiked for 2 days to get to Foshan. He told me that he planned to hitchhike all the way back to St Petersburg. I was completely amazed and slighty envious of his courage and imagination. That night we went out and bought a watermelon…I’m not sure why but he insisted. I took him to the Muslim restaurant that I regularly eat at only to discover that he had never used chopsticks before. I must admit that I was a little bit embarrassed about teaching him as I knew everyone in the restaurant would scrutiny my every word (if they could understand) and that they would already judge me for being left-handed :P. I called over the waiter to help…Michael ate with a fork.

I did wonder why Michael had headed to Foshan instead of the many other, more glamorous, places in Guangdong, and it would later appear that there was more to his story. He had been chatting to a Chinese girl on the internet and she happened to be from Foshan. He then flew here to surprise her and sent her an email announcing his arrival. In this email he told her that he would meet her by the TV tower in the evening. So, on the friday evening he went to meet her but came back 2 hours later disappointed. She sent him an email to say she could not find him (he is a big bald russian man who would stand out in any crowd, especially a park full of old chinese woman dancing to Micheal Jackson). This immediately raised eyebrows. Seemingly Micheal is not one to dwell so he decided to show me his prized possession…a big steel chain designed to ‘attack and protect’. I caught a glimpse of Danny’s eyes whilst he demonstrated how to attack someone and all I could see was fear, and understandably so.

The next day I returned home from work to find Michael with the biggest smile I have ever seen. He had managed to find the girl and have lunch with her. He described it as the perfect day and was even talking about marriage. I was surprised that it had worked out but happy for him nonetheless. After all, he seems like a nice bloke.

However, I was to become a middle man for information as Michael told me what he felt whereas Danny told me what the girl had been messaging her in secret. As it turned out, the girl has a boyfriend and was just having some fun with Michael on the internet, never expecting the man from St Petersburg to appear on her doorstep. She told Danny, who was not really warming to him anyway, to ask him to move on from Foshan. But Michael’s plan is to pay the girl a surprise visit whilst she’s on holiday in Hainan next week…the plot thickens.

After work on Sunday I attended a birthday party for Kiran (my work mate). I didn’t buy her a present, but i brought Michael along and he was a sufficient substitute. People seemed to really warm to him as he always introduced himself as ‘Michael from Russia’ in a very Bond villan-esqe accent. I spent most of the night with Michael and Carol (my assistant who I have become good friends with). Since the beer was £4.50 a pint, Michael doesn’t drink, Carol was tired and the Americans kept saying ‘duuude’ we called it a night quite early…with the Dragon Boat festival preparing for us in the morning.

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