Week 6 (&7): Xiliang, Zhenyuan, Guiyang, Changsha, Shaoshan & Guangzhou

All good things come to an end, and my last week in China for 2012 proved that the good things just keep coming. This week was about travel and making it back to Hong Kong in time for my flight. It meant a lot of goodbye’s and a lot of ground to cover, but naturally contributed to another memorable week in China.

06/08/2012

Myself, Dina and William had agreed to climb the mountain on the other side of the town this morning. Firstly, this was because it would lead us off the tourist trail, and secondly because the village chief lives at the highest point.

However, William, my 13-year-old roommate, is not an early riser. I am also aware that Dina does not like to be unnaturally woken from her sleep. For this reason, having given them time to wake up, I decided to venture out alone.

I took my bag from yesterday, which happened to contain 5 different umbrellas but no camera (not that I knew until it was too late).

I managed to find the gap in the main street which led me away from the growing hustle in the village. I then began to climb the steps further from the view of everyone. After 5 minutes walking it was clear that I had entered non-tourist territory, but the local people didn’t seem to mind too much. I carried on walking up the steep walkways and admired people working on their own unique crafts outside or stared at the pigs and chickens. I got a little lost in the moment. I kept climbing until I could climb no more. At this point I entered the old dancing square. I believe this has since moved to a lower level so performances can be admired by tourists. This saddened me a little but I can understand why it was required.

I looked at and enjoyed the surrounding paddy fields and took in the fresher air. I walked up to many houses and assumed one must be the chiefs. I was put off from entering any of them because it was early and trespassing is rude.

A combination of meeting the top of the mountain and a barrage of calls from people asking for their umbrellas meant I began my descent. As I was walking down a narrow path a horse carrying 2 pouches of grass came up the other way. The horse was clearly in an unforgiving mood as it impolitely nudged me out-of-the-way and into a stone wall. Still, this was not my territory. I carried on walking as if I was unfazed by the moody horse.

Once I reached the bottom I planned to go back to the home to deliver the umbrellas and collect my camera but I found Dina sitting alone outside a cafe as I did. Naturally I joined her and together with William and Sherry we ate some traditional Miao breakfast noodles. My stomach wasn’t quite capable of taking it all despite its flavoursome taste.

It was not really a wise decision to eat breakfast since we soon headed off to lunch at a local house. They had laid on a spread ready for us to arrive. Dougie was more interested in taking pictures with the Miao girls, and encouraged me to join him. We are not allowed to touch any part of a Miao girl so there are several pictures of me standing awkwardly as I didn’t know where to put my hands.

Following the hearty meal we got on the bus to the town of Zhenyuan. Immediately Sherry pointed out its similarity to Fenghuang. I couldn’t argue with her as it is very similar. My first impressions of Zhenyuan told me that its beauty had yet to be exploited by tourists, like Fenghuang, but that part of Fenghuang’s beauty is in the atmosphere the tourists bring. I guess that aside from the architecture they aren’t too similar.

After dinner (yes eating again) we instructed to join a tour of the old houses in the city. Dina decided to climb a nearby mountain with an old wall. I was tempted to join her but I also felt that she probably wanted some time alone to speak some Chinese. it must be hard to speak a second language all day. So her and William went separate. Once again it appeared that Dina made a wise decision. Myself and the girls decided that Dina is always right in these situations.

Naturally we ended up dressed in Miao costumes by the river side, much like I had ended up doing in Fenghuang last year. This time it was a very enjoyable experience since the girls were there with me and together we all looked ridiculous.

I joined Beth, Dina, Sherry and William to put flowers in the river and make a wish. The wish remains a secret.

I finished the night with Cat, Bethan and Juliette where we drank beer with the locals and ate crickets.

07/08/2012

The next day featured a lot of walking, which I always enjoy.

We were required to meet early at the foot of the hotel. Myself and William made sure we stocked up on food for the day, in the knowledge that we weren’t going to have much access to food on our walk…wherever our walk may be.

Once we had all congregated we walked towards the bus and took a 10 minute bus journey to the start point of our walk. Despite going to bed quite late Juliette and Cat seemed in as high spirits as the rest of us. We were all taking some rather strange photographs and also took time to enjoy the magnificent Guizhou landscape. We were still not really sure where we were heading, but everyone (nearly everyone) was enjoying the walk. I think Cat enjoyed it most as she was asked some very personal questions from Vicky, the type of questions that Cat loves to answer.

After about an hour of walking Dina revealed that the walk was about to begin. Their were definitely some groans at this news (mainly from the teenagers that were tagging along). I had a desperate need for the toilet, so I went.

From this point onwards the walk was great. We talked closely to a river and had the opportunity to cross it and spent some time cleaning our feet and socialising in the river. I must admit that I was really enjoying walking with a group of people, even if Dougie is on a different planet.

After walking about an hour Angry Lady pointed out that 2 of the girls were not following. After numerous attempts to call them we were not able to find them. This panicked the unpanicable Dina a little and we took off back to the start to find them. Myself and Dina walked all the way to the start of the walk whilst the others continued at a slower pace. It was there that we found the two teenagers, Amber and New, sulking and complaining about being tired. Amber then approached me and said ‘are you angry?’ to which my automatic response was ‘I’m not angry, just disappointed’….I never thought I’d say such a cliché to a Chinese teenager. Still, I was disappointed as these girls had disregarded everyone else and walked alone along a walk that could have endangered them. However, after we convinced them to walk back t join the others, I got to convince Amber about her lust for John (another boy with us). She managed to use my friendship with Dina as ammunition for her counter-attack…all in good humour.

Eventually we caught up with the rest of the group at the destination, where Dougie was excited by lunch, and John ate everything. What was most impressive about our destination was the pristine lake/spring. The water was turquoise and looked very inviting. No swimming today though.

As we began to trek our way back the rain began to lash down. This definitely sped up the slow-coaches and got us back in no time, if not a little wet.

We met up for dinner that evening, after waving goodbye to Sherry, but I had the unfortunate experience of thinking I was going to die after chewing a rather strong chilli. I don’t think anyone had much sympathy for me though.

It eventually turned into a great evening though as all of us, teenagers included, ended up sharing street food at a river side bar and drinking beer. Dougie and Dina put in a good rendition of my favourite Cantonese song, by Beyond. William, my little sidekick, had a whole beer to himself and eventually lost control of his pubescent limbs. The drunk William is one of the many highlights of this trip (rightly or wrongly). However, Cat and Juliette murdering Hey Jude is not. We ended the night after a failed attempt at finding a KTV. It also gave us a chance to catch up on the days Olympic events. However, my eyes became too heavy for badminton.

08/08/2012

Despite nursing his first hangover William joined myself and Dina on a shopping trip in Zhenyuan. The aim was to buy souvenirs and gifts for everyone as today was the day we would say goodbye to the majority of the group. However, our limited time meant the souvenirs were quite impulsive.

We all then gathered for our coach trip back to Guiyang, where the girls are due to fly from. Myself and William snuck away to get some noodles, which delayed the coach a little but I think it cured the young man’s head a little.

Nothing really of note happened during the trip back to Guiyang, except eating more noodles with Dougie and co.

However, when we eventually did arrive back in Guiyang the gang began to disperse. Firstly Dougie got a bus to his home (where he claims multicoloured mini Zebras live in trees….a claim that sums the man up). Then we all jumped in taxis and headed for the train station to say good bye to all other chinese people, aside from Dina.

After successfully buying my own onward train ticket under the watchful eye of Juliette and Cat we headed back to the hostel. My third spell at said hostel on this trip. Here we decided to chill out watching the Olympics since the girls had an early flight to Shanghai.Cat collapsed in the communal area after her daily beer and was helped to bed by Juliette. This left myself and Dina to make sure all the photos were on USB sticks. Once that was done it was time for bed and to wake up Usain Bolt’s biggest fan, Bethan, so she could go downstairs to watch his 200m heat.

09/08/2012

I woke early to the sound of frantic packing and preparation amongst the girls. Today was the day that they were to leave me. My family was about to be taken away.

All of the girls had prepared a memory booklet for me containing some lovely heartfelt messages from all of them. It was a nice touch.

Dina asked me to accompany them to the airport to help with their luggage.I was quite happy about this as it meant delaying the goodbye a little more. In truth they didn’t really need me.

Still, we arrived at the airport just in time as their check-in desk was about to close. It was then that I had to say another goodbye. Goodbye’s have become a fixture of the last few days, but these are the people that I have become most close to over the last few weeks. For this reason it was quite a difficult goodbye, particularly as they are remaining together. Still, we will have lots of opportunities to see each other again in England. Even Dina plans to visit England soon.

The team…plus some children

Despite saying goodbye to ‘my girls’I was not back alone. I must admit that I still enjoy my own company when travelling. However, I was in the airport at 7:30am with no idea about how to get back to the hostel (I hadn’t brought my notepad with me). Instead I fashioned a way of getting to the train station and got a public bus from there. It was a longer route but I had the rest of the day to rest and recuperate before my train to Changsha. In fact, I bought some hot milk and went back to bed until I had to leave the room at 11:30.

Once again I was not able to get a sleeper train over night, so once again I mixed it with the masses. Once again I was the train’s major attraction. Only this time I was distracted by The Hunger Games. People were fascinated by the romanised print in my book. It was a long and uncomfortable night on the train resulting in a tired young man when I arrived in Changsha.

10/09/2012

Despite not sleeping on the previous night I decided to freshen up and explore before I had access to my dorm.

I purchased a map and set out on a rather aimless walk towards a local attraction, The Martyrs Park. After 20 minutes of walking in the furnace-like humidity of Changsha I arrived at the park. As soon as I walked through the entrance I was greeted by a feeling of deja-vu. I felt like a recognised the place. And then I realised….I had been there before.

As I walked around it brought back memories of my first visit to Changsha with Sally and Claire in 2010. It was so strange to think I had been in this random place before.

This experience inspired me to contact Sally, who I knew now lived in Changsha. She text back to inform me that she would like to meet me in the evening. This meant that I had the rest of the day to enjoy Changsha by myself.

On my way back to the hostel I walked into a hairdressers where I had a 10 minutes haircut and head massage. Despite the hasty hairdresser I believed the haircut to be the best I’ve had in China.

Naturally, as she always was in Guangzhou, Sally was late for our meeting in the evening. This was partly due to the torrential rain (which soaked me). In fact, the umbrella I bought before I left for China has proven to be a fantastic acquisition time and time again.

Sally eventually turned up with her friend, Anna. I was quite happy when Sally, who I met in my first couple of days in China, recognised an improvement in my understanding of Mandarin chinese. I could see her become cautious about what she said to Anna even though I still didn’t understand much of what she was saying.

We went for a nice meal together. I was a little worried as I had promised Sally that I would treat her to dinner tonight, but the restaurant they chose wasn’t quite the street food I was expecting. I was quite happy to pay for all 3 meals as it wasn’t that expensive, but Sally and Anna refused to let me play, as is typical of Chinese hosts.

After dinner they walked with me back to my hostel. I am always surprised when Chinese people tell me that they don’t know about the numerous hostels in China offering beds very cheaply. Anyway, Sally really wants to use hostels now.

Whilst we were there Anna and Sally told me that they had not visited Shaoshan before (after seeing that it was my plan for tomorrow) so asked if they could join me. Naturally it would be nice to spend the day travelling with them. Anna then phoned a lady who said we could join her trip. I had planned to get the public bus as it gives me more freedom than a normal Chinese tour and works out cheaper but I trusted Anna and guessed that their company would compensate for a structured day in a tour group.

My final act of the day was to talk to Claire having found out about my presence in China from Sally. Claire’s life has changed a lot since I was last in China. She has since met a man, married him and is now 7 months pregnant with his baby. This is a lot to happen in a year, but she will be a great mother. Gong xi gong xi.

11/09/2012

After getting an early night in a room with 3 rather smelly old men I woke up in time to meet Sally and Anna for our trip to Shaoshan.

Shaoshan is the hometown of Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao). It is a very significant place in China’s history and arguably the birthplace of Chinese Communism, and thus Mordern Day China. As a result, today was my very own Communist Pilgrimage to Mao Zedongs childhood home.

We obtained the back seat of the coach and once again I was the only foreigner. In fact, I didn’t see another foreigner all day and actually felt like a bigger attraction in Shaoshan that Chairman Mao himself (I understand that is a big statement).

We visited many buildings of Mao Zedongs associates and got a history lesson based on the Communist Revolution. It is a topic that I struggle to grasp in English, so listening to it in Chinese meant almost all of it went over my head.

At around lunch time we went to a random restaurant in Shaoshan and were joined by an elderly couple who clearly adore Mao Zedong. Together we ordered Mao Zedong’s favourite foods and ate them with delight. It was so surreal to be sitting close to the home of one of the most influential people ever to exist and eating his favourite foods with some of his most avid supporters. This is something only a handful of foreigners must have experienced. I felt, I feel, so lucky to have experienced this.

Our next stop was to attend a hall commemorating the life and struggles of Mao. At the end of the hall I was given a gold card and positioned it between my hands as I paid my respect by bowing three times in front of a giant image of Mao Zedong. I was not making any political statement, but instead adhering to the custom here. I was then taken through a door and asked to pay £3 to have my card engraved. It was then that I realised that the communist principles of Mao Zedong were not necessarily being followed right under his nose. I was fascinated by this, but Sally didn’t know why.

We then had a short walk to Mao Zedong’s childhood home. On our way Sally decided that we should walk through a garden full of flowers that I didn’t recognise. It was soon clear that the mischievous streak that I saw in her in Guangzhou has not left her. She crawled through the high plants until she found a ripe plant. At this point she broke it and brought it back to us to eat. There were numerous stands selling these plants and she was quick to tell me that she saved ourselves 10rmb by stealing it. We ate the flower with 3 people who were impressed with her bravery, and who happened to be from Foshan (my old stomping ground).

We eventually did reach the house, but first had to join and hour-long queue. It was clear that the heat in the queue were making people slightly restless. As we tried to queue in a civilised manner, many people were pushing their way forward and squashing anyone weak enough to be pushed into the person in front. I kept thinking about Chairman Mao, and his Maoist princibles (which I am not going to pretend to fully understand), and the irony of the behaviour of these people right outside his house. An eye-opening Communist Pilgrimage.

As it turned out, we only got to spend 2 minutes inside his house anyway. However, the whole experience of the day made it worthwhile and unforgettable.

On the way back we stopped off at a warehouse where we were all locked in a room and given a demonstration by a woman who showed us how a flannel works and what silk knickers look like. She then asked us all to buy them or visit the supermarket. I have been on tours before and these irrelevant sup-visits are common place. Never in Britain would we accept being taken somewhere we don’t want to go to buy things we don’t want to buy. But the Chinese love a demo! I looked around to see if everyone was humoring the girl by looking interested…but they genuinely were. Many of them bought backscratchers at hugely inflated prices….there are some aspects of Chinese culture I will never grasp.

After arriving back I left Sally and Anna to take the bus as I had another engagement to meet Sherry. Thankfully, I didn’t have to walk far in this vast city to meet her.

Myself and Sherry went to a traditional Hunan restaurant for dinner and a catch up. We were waiting for the arrival of Dina from Shanghai as she had been called back by her boss back to Changsha. I was quite glad about this as it meant that I would get to see her again before going back to England.

However, Dina called to say that she had gone to the wrong airport in Shanghai for her flight and consequently missed it. This was so out of character as she is usually so careful about everything. I think she felt quite frustrated about it. Instead I told her that I would stay around tomorrow to meet her before I leave Changsha. Myself and Sherry walked around central Changsha and discussed the summer camp. It worked out that I was able to get the bus back to the hostel in time to watch the Olympic football final with 4 new chinese friends, whom remain nameless to me.

12/09/2012

My original plan was to wake up at sunrise and make my way by bus to the train station in order to get to Guangzhou in time to see one or two friends (most likely Zoey or Benny). However, since Dina was now arriving at 12pm I decided to have a lie in, and this turned out to be something my body was craving.

At 10am I checked out of the hostel and made my way to the first of 2 public buses. There is nothing more satisfying that reaching a location by bus and saving myself £3. It took over an hour, but I eventually arrived at the fast train station.

I thought, given the regularity and speed of the trains to Guangzhou, that I would walk onto any train. However, the demand for the high-speed trains seems to be as high as all over China. As a result I was only able to get a train at 5pm, giving me 5 hours in the train station.

Dina arrived not long after I did and together we got some lunch. It was good that she was there as we were able to catch up and talk about her time in Shanghai for all 5 hours. This meant that I did not feel like I was waiting at all.

As my train approached I needed to go to the gate. Dina came with me and left her bag on her seat. I asked her why she left her bag and she told me that she trusted people not to take it. This reminded me of what I told James last year when I left my bag somewhere or exposed my wallet. Perhaps neither me or Dina have not had any misfortune to have things stolen yet. When we do we will probably think twice before trusting people. Byebye Dina!

The high-speed train covered 700km in about 2.5 hours and meant I arrived in Guangzhou in no time. I had arranged to meet with Tony this evening so went by metro to his house. I spotted him through a restaurant window and he had already prepared a cold beer for my arrival. We had a little to eat and then walked back to his house. After a brief catch up and being reunited with his new wife, Debby, he allowed me to stay the night. I am fortunate to have many friends in Guangzhou.

13/09/2012

Today became a long and busy day.

I woke up at 5:30am to shower and get out for an early bus to the east of Guangzhou where I had arranged to meet Emily for breakfast before she started work. Emily had been a good friend to me during my second spell in China. She had since ‘broken her ass’ when someone tried to mug her and pushed her over and has spent the last 3 months in bed. She is also not allowed out after 8pm because her parents are worried she will ‘break her ass’ again. She is 24 years old.

Anyway, it was nice to see her, although she seemed a little unhappy. However, we weren’t able to talk for long as she had work to go to.

I then intended to visit Wonderland. Since Wonderland is on the very west of Guangzhou it took about an hour on a packed rush hour bus and another 10 minutes on the metro before getting a final 20 minute bus. When I arrived it turned out Zoey was in Hong Kong and the school was shut for repairs. I convinced the security guard of the estate to let me in to the housing estate. In which I saw many of the children that I taught 2 years ago, they have grown so much in that time.

Knowing some of the families here meant I was able to meet with one mother (who I will refer to as Kerry). She took me into Foshan by car (a car she had only driven 5 times in 5 years…making for a terrifically terrifying journey). Here we stopped for some noodles before I got a bus the rest of the way to my old home. It was nice to meet someone familiar from Wonderland.

At my old home again I met with Danny, who had already bought both of our tickets to Shenzhen. I had enough time to change and pack the items that I had left at hers during my travel before we left together for out coach to Hong Kong.

We had some great discussions about developments in her family and personal life over the last few months. Her and Momo have different ideas about Momo’s future, which has put a rift in their relationship. It is hard to believe considering how close and similar they were last year.

Still, when the coach stopped in Shenzhen where we parted since I had to cross the border but Danny had met her destination. I hope that it is not the last time I have met my Chinese mother.

After a bit of an error in getting off the coach on the wrong side of Hong Kong I made hard work of getting to the airport, but I got there eventually. There was no rush anyway as my flight was at 8am and I was trying to adjust my body clock by staying awake all night. My eyes gave in around 4am and I laid out my blanket on the airport floor and got a small sleep. When I woke about 6am I was getting some strange looks as at this time the airport was busy and some of the chairs were free to sleep on. I freshen up and checked in.

14/09/2012

There is very little to report about a plane journey back to England, except for a stop over in Beijing aiprort, so I won’t go into detail.

Instead this signified the end of my latest travel. I have been able to reflect on the travel and really appreciate how incredibly good it has been. Starting with a break in the Philippines was an experience in more ways that one. I have had the opportunity to see some of my favourite people, and meet people who have become favourites. I have travelled alone, and learned to love travelling with others. I have gained more experience in and endlessly surprising country and been able to re-experience the things I had began to take for granted by the freshness of the other English girls. Most of all I have had over 6 weeks where date and time didn’t matter and I was just able to enjoy myself. For these reasons my love affair with China continues…

Week 5: Liupanshui, Huanggoushu and Xijiang (Guizhou)

Once again the week was fruitful for new experiences. We completed the third and final week of the Summer Camp and prepared for a new adventure. I have to be honest and admit that the Summer Camp exceeded my expectations not only because of the special time I had, but also because of the special people I met and spent it with. I have a lot of people to thank for that, and they all know who they are.

30/07/2012
After the excitement of our homestays we once again returned to the camp. This is where I was reunited with Happy class and Dougie (fast becoming a cult hero to everyone else). I have got to know my class very well over the last couple of weeks and have grown to love everyone of them in their own little way (especially the little ones). Juliette has developed a special affection for my 14-year-old class leader and sidekick, Tony. He certainly has a way with the ladies.

Following school we had the unique opportunity of meeting a new born baby. The last time I met a new baby the other girls went a bit crazy over the fertility soup but thankfully this was a more civil affair. Myself, Dina and Kay managed to get to the correct hospital where we waited for the others to arrive having gone to the heart specialist hospital, or some other random place, rather than the maternity hospital. This gave us an opportunity to buy and eat some street potato (secretly Kay’s favourite).

When the others did arrive we went to the ward and were greeted by Simon, our driver and another cult hero. He lead us to a private room where his girlfriend/wife lay with their newborn. We presented her with a postcard with a note to be read by the child when he’s 18 and a children’s book supplied by Beth. The book contained stories about a baby named Jamie. Therefore we had the honour of naming the baby Jamie. Not only were we the first foreign people this baby had ever seen, but we gave him his English name. It remains to be seen if he keeps it. He’s been invited to England for a pint when he’s old enough (and he can bring his playboy dad).

As has been common throughout our evenings in Liupanshui, we now had to quickly make our way accross town as a meal was waiting for us. This time it was upon the invitation of Vicky, our oldest student. Vicky is the niece of one of the teachers of a local junior school so we were met by many other teachers. Naturally Dougie also managed to get a seat at the table.

The meal was pleasant enough and we shared some toasts of Maotai with the hosts and a large variety of food. It appeared Vicky was so concerned about counting how much we ate that she forgot to eat herself. Unfortunately Kay once again became ill from the food and ended up in the toilet for about half an hour (in these posh Chinese restaurants there is always a toilet in the private rooms beside the table). It is unfortunate that the Chinese food does not seem to sit well with Kayleigh’s stomach, not least because the majority of it tastes beautiful. Still, we decided to call it a night there and get an early one.

31/07/2012
The following day was just as eventful, the highlight being the Tai-Chi lessons that we were able to participate in. Unfortunately Kayleigh did not recover from the previous night so we shuffled between the 5 classes.

However, the the process of getting to the school was a bit of an adventure today. I quite cockily told the girls that I knew which bus went to the school so we decided to use it. However, after jumping on the bus it soon became clear that we were going in completely the wrong direction. Within 5 minutes we took the decision to get off and get a taxi (much to my embarrassment). It took us a while to get a taxi during this rush hour, but we eventually arrived in time for noodles before school. Thank God for noodles.

Dougie had been desperate to play host to us since the first day we met him. Despite our pleas to have a night off from being showed off we did not want to disappoint him. By the time we arrived it was a good job we hadn’t rejected his offer since their were 24 people awaiting our arrival.

We were introduced to most upon arrival and then asked to play Mahjong. There was a notable improvement in our performance.

When we eventually began to eat it was clear that the many men around the table saw our growing reputation as the best Maotai drinkers in Liupanshui as a bit of a challenge. Initially I had decided, after a conversation with Dina, to limit the amount of Moutai drunk during the evening. However, given everyone’s current love for everything Olympic, the challenge was raised: Great Britain vs China. Dina was fully aware that this meant I would accept the challenge nd end up drinking too much Maotai, but given her own patriotism she almost supported it. The challenge was set, 4 British people against about 12 Chinese businessmen. They smelt blood.

Initially the Chinese men challenged the girls, who were holding there own. One man came unstuck when he challenged Cat to 3shots of Maotai at once. She, rather confidently, decided to raise him to 4 shots, which was greeted with jubilation amongst the others. The man did not want to lose face in front of his mates so challenged her to 5. She responded with 6! The man couldn’t raise anymore, clearly knowing his limits. Instead they went head to head to do 6 shots at once. Cat took each no problem whilst the man, probably in his 50s, clearly became distressed and began to sweat over his reddening face. From this point onward the man remained silent and Cat was not challenged again. I performed a similar challenge but it was not such a spectical since I am a man…I think. Against all the odds we had beaten China with our reputation in tact, but it was now time for us to leave and deal with the inevitable consequences of the competition.

Cat managed to say her goodbyes and save face, but when the fresh air hit her, so did the Maotai. After delivering some left over food to Kayleigh the rest of us decided to end the night in a local bar. Whilst myself, Dina, Sherry and Bethan enjoyed our cold beers Cat and Juliette were breakdancing to ballads on the stage and stealing the beer of performers to the amazement of locals who are unlikely to have ever met foreigners before. It is at this point when I realised that the British stereotype was really being lived out. Dina and Sherry found the whole episode very amusing, and, to be fair, it was. It was certainly a night to remember (although I am not sure Cat did).

01/08/2012
The next day featured the Juliette’s ingenious idea to have the classes compete in a blackboard competition. Not only did this mean we could give our voices a rest, but it meant the children could enjoy being at the front of the class. Unfortunately my youngsters are not an arty bunch and put on quite a poor show. However, since Kay remained ill, we were able to beat the cocky advanced class as they were ‘too cool’ for the blackboard competition and didn’t have a foreign teacher for guidance. Not that I am competitive.

In the evening we requested that Dina rejected all invitations from people asking to host Liupanshui’s hottest celebrities, and have an intimate hot-pot meal together. This turned out to be an excellent idea as we all really needed a rest to let our hair-down and be ourselves for the evening.

As a result we joined up with the teaching assitants and walked to a local hot-pot restaurant. Worried for Kayliegh’s health, and wanting some Todd time, I walked back to the hotel to pick her up and invite her for dinner. I sensed that she was probably more in need of ‘fresh’ air than food, and she obliged to join us for dinner. The team was complete once more. We enjoyed a lovely meal.

Following the meal we were able to return to the hotel with no further engagement to attend. This gave us the freedom to watch some of the early afternoon action in the Olympics. The Olympics has been on constantly in my room since the opening ceremony and I have made an effort to leave it on as I sleep so that if I wake in the night i can catch any important bits (so far it seems that the sight of Micheal Phelps wakes me up whatever time). Furthermore, whilst Dina and Sherry were cheering on the Chinese badminton team we were able to enjoy a bit of poker. Cat, Beth and Kay picked it up quite quickly from the teaching of Juliette and myself and we enjoyed playing with pebbles for chips. It was a pleasant evening of Olympics and poker that provided us with a much needed rest night. Still, Cat and Juliette still found time for their ‘daily beer’…so British.

02/08/2012
There is a definite winding down feel about the camp and we all sense that the children are becoming a little restless. This partly lead to another decision to abandon the timetable and set up an Olympic themed sports day. The children seemed to really embrace the competition of battling against each other in a variety of sports and being awarded gold, silver or bronze for their efforts. Unfortunately my class was once again physically challenged, but we held our own to finish in third place overall.

Since this was the last day of actual teaching we felt as though the whole thing was coming to an end. We requested that we eat in the old town for our penultimate meal in Liupanshui. It was here that people were most shocked to see us, with cries of ‘Laowai’ coming from all areas as we entered the old town. Dougie once again joined us and looked very smart in the apron required for the massive frying pan we would cook our own food on. As is normal with Dougie, he ordered obscure food despite certainly knowing Kayleigh’s likes and dislikes by now. Still, we all had a go at the wonderful animal organs frying away in front of us. I was a little concerned, however, when raw chicken was placed on-top of my beloved cooked beef. Still, I am still alive to tell the tale.

Not wanting to end there, and having Simon keen to see us again we headed to a bar to see him. At the bar we drank tea and a couple of beers whilst exchanging British and Chinese card games between us and Dina and Simon. By the sounds that Simon was making during our card games I can only assume he has never had so much fun. We all love him but none of us could probably say why…until we heard his laugh.

03/08/2012
The day had come, the day that I never had thoughts about beforehand as the summer camp never really reached the forefront of my mind until it actually started. But today was the day it finished, and I didn’t expect it to be so emotional.

Initially we spent the morning practicing for our closing ceremony with a variety of performances. However, the children were more interested in providing us with a variety of gifts (some of them special, some of them very random) and asking us to write personalised messages to them in their books or on their t-shirts.

However after lunch, where Tony from my class bought me a western burger, we began the final show (to a disappointing turn out of parents). The show kicked off with our rendition and dance of Reach For the Stars, a song I will be happy never to hear again. We then ran through a list of acts showcasing the talent of the camp. The show ended with my awful voice belting out God Save the Queen in true patriotic style. I may not be in the country for the Olympics, but I still represent it :p.

We then closed the camp with a short speech, which sent the emotions running high. However, Dina then put on the most emotional music imaginable on the loudspeaker (such as You Raise Me Up) and the children rushed to the stage to say goodbye, some of them crying uncontrollably.

Naturally I was drawn to my own class, featuring the little ones. Sarah, one of my little girls, was particularly distraught but I managed to comfort her and her sidekick, Linda, without breaking down myself. There was one person, however, that I really wanted to say goodbye to, Sea.

Sea had just received my star student award for his development from a shy and reclusive character into Todd’s best friend. I spotted him walking aimlessly around the audience and invited him on the stage. He initially appeared quite subdued but as soon as he reached me he buckled and fell into me (Sea isn’t really the type who likes to be hugged). I picked him up as he quivered into a little baby and cried uncontrollably. It was at this point that I had to turn and take some deep breaths to maintain my ‘hardman’ persona. Everyone loves Sea!

Still, after about 15 minutes of watching children and teenage boys cry their eyes out, the torture was almost over. I still blame Dina for the emotional music. However, it proved how attached the children had become to us, and us to them, over the past 3 weeks. Emotional.

That was to signal the start of our final night in Liupanshui, followed next by a meal with Rudy and the gang at a Beijing Jaozi restaurant. Obviously our final night was celebrated with Chinese wine. Yet, not the expensive Maotai wine, the cheaper, more lethal stuff.

Inevitably, this meant Cat was a bit of a handful during our trip to KTV, but we had learnt that the hard way before. We let her dance on the tables all night to the delight of numerous Chinese men. Rudy seemed to enjoy the occasion too. However, ruining my rendition of Please Mr Postman is unforgivable.

The night ended at an outdoor BBQ discussing Chinese children’s reluctance to play in the rain. This itself was a signal that the night was over

It was a good night to end our final day in Liupanshui. On reflection, it really has been a fantastic and unique experience.

04/08/2012
The day had arrived for our complimentary travel around Guizhou kicking off with a trip to the Huanggoushu waterful close to Anshun City.

we set off very early in our normal minibus. I was sat next to one of the students who decided to join us, William. He was named by Cat because of how his mouth resembles that of Prince William. Perhaps that is not such a compliment, but William is a very pleasant boy with a huge smile. I was glad he had chosen to join us on the trip over some of the other students that could have joined us.

Once we arrived at the area surrounding the waterfall myself, Dina and Sherry went to the booking office to obtain tickets whilst the others (obviously including the omnipresent Dougie) waited for lunch to arrive. It was as we walked to the ticket office that i realised I was out of the cool city and back into the humidity and heat that I have come to know and, oddly, love about central China. It was a very pleasant heat today.

After lunch we all made our way to the national park for our walk to the waterfall. Immediately after we walked through the ticket gate (which I don’t necessarily agree with for an area of natural beauty) we were greeted with hundreds, if not thousands, of chinese tourists. There were far too many people here and we had to leapfrong over rocks to get through a cave but with thousands of people in the way, many wielding umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun (I won’t get started on that again).

However, despite the number of people around it was very hard to find it frustrating since Dougie was a constant source of my own entertainment, even if he didn’t know it.

After about half an hour we finally began to become free and walk around the park nicely. However, despite the natural beauty all around us, we had yet to reach the waterfall we had come to see.

In order to get to the waterfall we needed to hop on a bus to the sight. In England this would be a simple enough task, however, here it means war. There was probably 100 people waiting for the next 30 man bus. However, this being China, there were no thoughts of starting a queue. Instead getting on the bus is a survival-of-the-fittest task.

This was a shock when the first bus arrived as many people, including old ladies, fought their way to the door by making their voices heard and fists felt. Of course, I shouldn’t have been shocked as I had seen it all before, only not on this scale. The most intelligent people on the planet acting like hungry ferrel animals being teased with a carrot (that simile may be too far).

Indeed, we were prepared for the next one and, believe it or not, had the physical advantage over our competitors. However, they had home advantage. It was a real battle.

The next bus arrived and we all joined the scramble. Juliette was one of the first on, having been swung from the bus and narrowly missing the wing-mirror with her head. I was next after stupidly allowing a child to stand in-front of me. One by one we squeezed on with only a few of our 17 strong team remaining in the car park to battle it out again. We sat in our air conditioned bus with a mixture of satisfaction about winning and disgust about participating. Still, civilization isn’t for everyone. And where else would we have an experience like that, we are the lucky ones!

Eventually we were able to walk towards the waterfall from our next point. There were fewer people now and we were more free. I walked with Dina and William at a very good pace. I sometimes find it hard to believe that Dina is Chinese, especially as she is more than capable to walk at what we call ‘British pace’. In no time the three of us had arrived at the spectacular waterfall and began to take pictures. We managed to get close to the majestic falls and felt a great and welcome spray of water from it. It really felt good.

I couldn’t help but compare the falls to the Detian Pubu I visited the year before. It did not quite match the beauty of the Guangxi falls, nor were we able to swim here, but the company and adventure that it took to get her meant this was just as spectacular.

We were all joined by the others for some great group photos before heading back in time for night fall. Once again the three of us took off together and decided to make another competition out of it. William was very keen to race to the end and I think myself and Dina both intended him to win whatever competition we had, even if we didn’t say it. It was great to spend the day with William and discover a lot about his English that 3 weeks of camp had not revealed. The three of us arrived at the exit long before everyone else and were able to rest with water whilst we waited.

It was then a job of a 2 hour drive to Guiyang, and back to the hostel that I stayed in previously (Dina booked it on my recommendation of cheap accommodation, which was a risk as I didn’t know the girl’s preference of accommodation). It was handy enough and we were able to catch up on the days Olympic action and wait in anticipation for Jessica Ennis, Gregg Rutherford and Mo Farah to win their gold medals.

05/08/2012

The next day featured my return to Xijiang, a Miao village that I last visited 13 months ago. I felt privileged to visit such a place for a second time, a place that many people will never have the opportunity to even hear of. It also meant that I could experience a lot more that I did on my previous visit.

It should have been a simple journey via Kaili to Xijiang but there was a small hitch along the way. As we approached Kaili the bus driver pulled onto the hard shoulder to pick up our guide. She was running slightly late so we waited a while. Unfortunately the traffic police spotted the bus and called the driver out onto the hard shoulder. Here they fined him £28, gave him 6 points on his licence and removed his licence from him. They then drove away. This left the driver quite angry at our late guide. It also delayed us as we now had to drive a detour to the police station so he could be reunited with his licence.

Other people may have panicked in this situation, but not Dina. She found this almost as exciting as I did and we decided not to reveal it to the girls until we were approaching the police station as she felt they would be worried about us missing lunch. Still, since Beth and Juliette were awake I told them the good news.

We eventually arrived in the early afternoon and struggled with the girls suitcases to our homestay hostel. I felt a bit smug with my backpack and feel the girls will avoid suitcases next time (naturally I didn’t let them struggle without my help, I’m not evil).

When we arrived we were greeted with pre-prepared food and were presented with a necklace containing a pink chickens egg and some sweet wine. We were briefed on the local custom of being fed the wine by local girls and not touching the cup with our own hands. If we do touch with our own hands we would be asked to down the whole thing.

Our next stop was at the local museum, which Dina tactfully avoided. We then attended a Miao village performance. Although it was very impressive I could not help but feel as though these people were being exploited for their culture. This was especially evident when 20 old villagers sung for the entertainment of the audience, the audience that I was a part of. Juliette looked at me during this performance with an expression that confirmed that she was thinking the same thing that we were. Still, the morality of the performance improved when 3 of the audience came up to dance in a competition later.

The night ended with us climbing a small mountain to look over the 1000 houses in this village and wait for the sun to set ant the lights of the houses to be revealed. This was a really lovely sight and a pleasant venue to spend an evening.


The girls expressed a desire to be free in the town and I felt they would benefit from some girl time alone. For this reason I stayed in with William, Dina and Sherry and watched much of the Olympics, including Louis Smith’s medal, throughout the night with some noodles, chickens feet and spicy stuff. I think the girls enjoyed their ‘girls only’ night.

My night ended with a being soaked by a burst pip as I prepared to shower. I am in China, and I want to experience things like Miao village plumbing. This is it!

Week 4: Liupanshui, Guizhou

And so a month has flown by since I completed my PGCE, yet for the first time in over a year I have no care for the time, day or month. It is only on reflection that I have realised this. This is the reason why I love travel!

Anyway, this week continued in the same unpredictable way that the last ended. We continued to be treated like the local celebrities that we are, have regular visits to KTV, drink lots of chinese wine and eat so much Chinese food. Life.

 

23/07/2012
The first day brought about a long-awaited meeting with the principal of Liupanshui No.3 Middle School, the most influential man in the school. However, we first had to complete another day back at the summer camp.

Naturally I woke up in time to get to a street restaurant selling Pork Baozi and Jaozi. I have been so impressed that all of the girls have grown to love my favourite chinese foods. I have also made friends with one of the local fruit sellers. She is more than happy to give me her best bananas in the mornings.

I have now permanently acquired class 1, the most loveable yet disruptively energetic of all of the classes. A few of the younger children have adopted me as their favourite friend, which I secretly enjoy. I am enjoying teaching these children, despite the few little emperors that make themselves known with demands only a spoilt child can make regularly during the day.

The principal invited us to another round table dinner and insisted that myself and the other foreign teachers sit around his table to drink with him. We have learnt lots of new customs in Guizhou, such as the 3 shots of Maotai before commencing a meal out of respect for the host and being willing to drink upon request to whoever decides to toast to you next. The taste of Maotai is similar to what I imagine a liquid designed to kill taste-buds tastes like. However, after the first few the mouth becomes numb to the rest and you begin to feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Despite this, it is still not my drink of choice, but the people of Liupanshui LOVE it.

As per usual we ended up in KTV with the Number One Bad Boy (Steven). He invited us to join the KTV manager (who I suspected was another hired lady, a suspicion that was unfair). Steven became the highlight of the evening as he began dancing with the hall whilst the girls sang Westlife ballads and left me to the Carpenters.

24/07/2012.
The following day at the camp featured a dodgeball tournament (justified by providing the rules in english). We had decided to do this for two reasons; the first because it is fun and the second because it is funny to watch the children lob the ball at each other. However, there was very little competitive spirit amongst the children. Despite the very successful athletes in China it appears that competition is not in the forefront of the children’s minds, not like it is in England anyway. My theory was backed up when the boys were given a football to play with. My experience with British boys is that they would find a way to make a competitive game with the ball but Chinese boys are quite happy to kick it to each other with no particular end product. This is something that interests me, but I also found quite frustrating. Competition is healthy.

Later that evening Oliver decided to take us to a Western Restaurant. Kaylieghs allergy to nuts means we now have to be extra careful with what we choose to eat considering lots of chinese food is often cooked in nut if not served with them. However, this decision backfired as Kayleigh felt ill after eating a Baozi. Oliver and Dina were clearly worried about how to help Kayleigh through her time in China. She pulled through though and we managed to get some much-needed shopping.

During the shopping I was able to by ample WangWang milk for my own personal pleasure. I have become so in love with the stuff that I have genuinely considered getting a tattoo of its logo, a boy with a heart-shaped tounge, on my torso. Thankfully I am capable of thinking twice. The taste of this milk will never be forgotten once it reaches your mouth. Heavenly sweet milk.

25/07/2012
Throughout the whole stay in Liupanshui I have famously never been hungry, but it shouldn’t be such a surprise as we eat so much and so often. What is more surprising is my continuing weight lose. If I do have a tape worm he likes chinese cuisine.

After school today we went out for two meals. The first of which was to celebrate Alan’s 13th birthday (a student from the camp). Alan is a rather excentric young man with an effeminate manner but massive hands. He is a very likeable character and we were initially honoured to be the distinguished guests at his birthday party.

Fortunately for him his parents own a very successful restaurant and were able to offer us a lot of food in a posh round table. The restaurant specialised in fish, much to the displeasure of some of the girls. We were quite happy to have a break from the Maotai tonight but were not so sure about its replacement: singing songs for Alan’s pleasure. Fortunately this was a little light hearted and it was great to see Dina get involved in singing English songs.

Once we had stuffed our faces full of the best food Alan’s parents could offer we were ready to call it a night. Yet Dina received a call from Summer (the girl who’s wedding we attended). She invited us to join her husband for a walk and some BBQ food…why not?
Note: Summer married a man named Mr vegetable, thus making her Summer vegetable.

We met with Summer, her sister, Mr vegetable and his friend at a rather romantic bridge over the river running through Liupanshui. It was here that I was really able to chat with Summer and get to know her a little bit more. She is really interesting and it’s a shame we havent had the opportunity to work with her.

As it began to rain we decided to head towards a place selling chinese BBQ (not to be confused with out BBQs). These are one of my favourite places to go as it means you can sit outside with cheap beer and order lots of food to be cooked there and then (ignoring the odd slaughter of an animal, but at least it’s fresh).

Mr vegetable and his mate introduced us to a very odd drinking game (which Oliver made comical). In fact, I have decided that I want to write a sitcom on Oliver as he has the best mannerisms of any chinese person I’ve ever met. Juliette introduced her own game formally known as bakarrrkaaa.

26/07/2012
The next installment of the camp featured the school talent show. Throughout the week we had been preparing a performance in each class to demonstrate individual or group talents in the class. Despite the lack of talent in my class I had the ‘cute factor’ on my side because of the 2 little girls everyone adored. For this reason one of them was asked to sing ‘you are my sunshine’ at the talent show. (Since it was a inter-class competition I saw this as a dead cert for a winner).

Additionally my class had put together a dance to a rather childish song about opposites. Still, it demonstrated their new english skills and provided entertainment for everyone in the audience. I did sense, however, that the teenage boys in my class felt a little old for a children’s song. Yet they did me proud. As per usual, Happy class came second in the overall competition.

Later that evening we had another birthday meal to attend to. Initially I suspected New (the girls name) had made up it was her birthday to get the same Olympic wristband I had given Alan the previous day. It turned out she wasn’t that desperate to put a cheap bit of plastic around her wrist .

Once again we were treated to a swanky meal at a nice restaurant. Unfortunately having 4 others in the group means that one of us has to sit out during Mahjong. I once again decided to leave the girls to it as the teenagers we were dining with seemed reluctant to leave them to play by themselves. This meant that I was able to sit with Dina and have a great conversation. Everyday we are becoming closer friends and both of us are a little confused about our similarities. We come from different worlds but appear to have the same views, likes and dislikes on most things. It’s quite scary.

Inevitably being at a 13 year olds birthday party we ended up in a cake fight. I managed to steer clear of becoming caked, but Cat and Juliette had a personal battle with each other, and neither of them won.

27/07/2012

This friday’s highlight was meant to be performing Kung-Fu with the children, but I had an unexpected meeting during this point in the day which made for a very different and uncomfortable experience.

Dina asked me to the office after one of our classes where I was met by what she refers to as ‘the big boss’. He was slumped in his chair and smoking a cigarette. He immediately appeared provocative and intimidating. After asking me to sit down he asked Dina to translate his message for me. He told me that he needed a foreign face to represent his company in England. He then asked me, based on my experience of teaching in China and England, to be his general manager. He told me that he would be willing to offer me a substantial amount of money to do much less work than I would be doing in teaching if I gave up my teaching job. It seemed like a very good offer but I couldn’t possibly give up my job on the basis of one man’s random offer. He then offered me a cigarette, which I refused. He offered it again in a rather forceful and aggressive manner so I obliged and began to smoke it, reluctantly. I was later told that this may have been a test of my resilience, a test I failed. Despite this, it seems that there are many opportunities for me in China if I want them, and they won’t take much seeking. Bt for now I am happy to do what I am trained to do and teach in England.

I left the office quite shaken and Dina could sense it. She found the whole scenario quite funny and was quite amused at how scared I and Oliver seemed of the ‘big boss’. The boss didn’t seem so big when I found out his english name was Kevin.

Later that evening we went out for a meal with another of Dina’s students, Tristan. He had a rather good British accent because of his time at Worthing College and referred to Liupanshui as ‘bloody dirty’, much the amusement of all of us.

After a small meal, by recent standards, we went for a massage and a haircut. The girls had a lovely time having their heads played with whilst I had my hair cut like a chinese man. Still, they seemed to enjoy cutting a foreigners hair. Kayleigh had unfortunately made her hair up beautifully before we left the hotel. So she didn’t get a massage but remained elegantly coiffed.

We had decided to stay up for the Olympic Opening Ceremony this evening so went for a drink or two with our new hairdos. We eventually decided to have a beer outdoors with some BBQ food. As with everything Juliette and Beth are like me in their desire to try everything. So we got some Chicken kidney and snails to go with our chicken’s feet. Dina is a Hunan girl and people who know Hunan girls know that Hunan girls like their food spicey! Dina was the first to suck one of the snails out of their shell and her reaction indicated her body didn’t enjoy the chilli it exhaled. Still, Dina is addicted to spice and carried on through the pain. This lead us to ‘have a go’ at the snails. First I tried to eat one using Dina’s suck method. As soon as I sucked my throat reacted with a rejecting cough, my eyes filled with tears and I wasn’t sure if my lips were bleeding. The snails were spices and I’d lost a lot of man-points (especially as Dina was still munching away). Next were Juliette and Cat, both of whom enjoy some spice and both of whom struggled with the snails.

After that little episode (the chickens kidney was nice too), we headed back to the hotel. Dina and Sherry decided to stay in the hotel with us for our Olympic Party. The beers that we had drunk had opposite effects on Juliette and Cat to the rest of us. We all decided to get a few hours sleep before the 4am ceremony but they decided to go out and stay up. They later described the night to be ‘the best night of their lives’ but I am still not sure what I missed out on. There night ended, sitting in my shower with wet bums (from which liquid we will never know) trying not to wake Dina or Sherry. I decided my rooms won’t be hosting any parties from this point onwards. Old man?

When 4am eventually came we tuned in to the opening ceremony. Juliette tuned out after Jerusalem and Cat eventually fell asleep in a star shape on my bed, leaving me with the chair. I came in the evening with 2 double beds to myself and ended up in a chair whilst 2 drunk girls slept in my bed and another 2 chinese girls slept in the other. Still, I was able to enjoy the Olympic opening ceremony with national pride. I was so happy that this event had started.

28/07/2012
The next morning was a kind of repeat of the night before, without the drunk ladies. We gathered all the children in one room and tuned into the opening ceremony of the Olympic games. Initially it was hard to gather their attention but once the meaning of each performance was explained to them they were engrossed, and so was I again.

Following that easy few hours and the afternoon it came to the point of the camp that we were most uneasy about, the homestay.

I was allocated to stay with Alan (who I’d already spent a lot of time with during the week). I would stay at his house and shadow him over the next day and a half.

We met at the hotel and then went with his mother to his restaurant. I was greeted there by his father and a few other rich men. They invited me to a game of Mahjong, which I obliged to and appeared to hold my own.

During dinner I had the customary 3 shots of Moutai (despite being forbidden from it) and a rather luxurious meal filled with the expected ‘eat more!’ from my hosts. Alan liked to put food on my plate rather than his, which I found quite frustrating but I already know this is part of their hosting.

Later in the evening Alan asked to take me to KTV. This is not something a British man does sober but I sat with him and his family and sang love songs upon request. I was already feeling like a bit of a puppet. Later his friends arrived to sing and watch me sing. Thankfully a girl called Mary joined us and helped me out with some of the English songs. When we got back to the house I was thankful the family put themselves to bed. It meant I could relax and watch some of the olympics without being asked to perform.

29/07/2012

The previous evening was only a sign of things to come during the homestay. I was woken by Alan and greeted with some fabulous egg noodles cooked by his dad. They really were some of the best noodles I’ve had in China.

Myself and the other men in the house then went for a morning walk to stretch our limbs and work off the breakfast. I like this aspect of Chinese culture. Alan wanted me to do some kung-fu in the park so he could take pictures of me, I some how managed to avoid that performance.

However, the next part of the day was almost comical, if not very degrading. Alan asked me to meet and play with his friends (a 7 year old boy on a pushbike and a 10 year old girl). Together we were gong to play “a very exciting game”. I followed the ‘gang’ to an elevator where Alan pressed every button. The elevator then rose to the next floor where Alan got out and banged on a random door before running back to the lift. We then went to the next floor where Alan instructed me to do the same. I told him I didn’t want to but then he looked so disappointed. I reluctantly left the lift and taped on a random door before scurrying back to the lift. That was it, I was playing ‘knock-knock-ginger’ with Chinese children against my will. My life had hit a new low. I told Alan that it isn’t a nice thing to do to people on a sunday morning and I think he sensed my dis pleasure and cancelled the game. I felt like a 23 year old puppet and was beginning to wonder what the next 12 hours had in store for me.

I was so relieved when I came to our next stop and Beth appeared with her Chinese homestay partner. I wa snow not alone in the world of puppetry. Whilst Alan and the 7 other children played on small bicycle things I was able to chill out with Beth driving a rickshaw. Beth had been ill the previous night so was only just warming up into her homestay adventure.

We were then taken for lunch at the old town where we ate some lovely fried food. Again Alan was filling my bowl and not eating from his. I was stuffed within 5 minutes. The sight of Dina and the other teachers gave fresh hope that we would have some sane and adult company throughout the day, but they soon left to go shopping (as if to rub it in).

Our next stop, still with Beth at close call, was to dress up in traditional Chinese costume for the children to take pictures of us (at one point Alan actually used my arms as if I actually were a puppet). Secretly I actually enjoyed the dressing up. I did not, however, enjoy the themepark we went to afterwards. This was especially true when a ride that would not pass any safety tests at home took us upside-down upon Alan’s requests. Only 5 hours remained.

Eventually we ended up back at Alan’s restaurant where he asked us to perform a game in the car park. Fortunately we managed to stay inside as the food arrived. Again Alan hardly ate anything and made me eat double. I was close to bursting.

Thankfully we managed to get back to the hotel alive. The homestay may not have been enjoyable but it was certainly memorable and an experience I am glad I have.

The night ended by saying goodbye to Oliver, my one true male companion, as he was going to Japan in the morning. We relaxed with a couple of beers and some BBQ lotus root. I’m going to miss that man!

Week 3: Liupanshui, Guizhou

Life has recently been filled with a hectic schedule. So much so that I have found very little time to write about my activities. I am trying my best to catch up on events and will do so with a brief (as brief as I can be) summary of each day in this week.

My current location is Liupanshui, Guizhou. It is here that I will spend a large proportion of my trip during a summer camp. The Rough Guide to China described Liupanshui as ‘the poorest city in China’ in 2002. However, from my experience during my time here it is clear that Liupanshui has been heavily influenced by the new capitalist generation of Chinese people. There are extreme contrasts between rich and poor here. I, however, have slotted straight in with the cities ‘elite’ and dined lavishly every night. This is a rather new experience for me and provoked many thoughts (none of which consisted of hunger).

I also thought it appropriate to mention that in the midst of numerous new experiences, including several nights filled with Moutai (Chinese wine), I have once again become fluent in Chinglish. It is the easiest language to learn and involves abandoning any grammar in your speech. For this reason I apologise if this spreads to my writing.

16/07/2012.
Since I had arrived n Liupanshui the previous night I was now required to meet with the leaders of the school that I will be working at and discuss the timetable and the ins-and-outs of the summer camp.

My first impressions of the city were a little mixed. Liupanshui is by far the coolest place I have been in China, which made a change from the intense humidity and heat of Guangdong and Guangxi. It is also quite dirty due to the coal industry that formed the foundations of the modern city. However, the city also appears to be very friendly and I have been welcomed everywhere I have been.

Following a meeting with the staff at the school I went for lunch with some of the senior members of the school and the school’s permanent foreign teacher, Ruddy. He is a nice Belgian man but reminded me a little of David from my first spell in Guangzhou. He informed me that there are no more than 9 foreigners in the city of more than 1 million residence. This explains the fascination with me wherever I go.

In fact, the desire to be in my company has been evident throughout the week and my second night in Liupanshui gave me a taster of what was to come. Dina invited me to join her for dinner with a student of hers and the student’s family. We went to an expensive restaurant and shared a luxiourious Chinese meal together. The father was so happy to have a foreigner dine with him that he shared a bottle of red wine he had imported from France with me. Perhaps more importantly (to him) was the bottle of Moutai he also shared with me. This is extra strong Chinese wine at between £100 and £200 a bottle, yet the bottle looks like a bleach bottle. It was an exciting evening and an opportunity to get to know Dina a little more (since she will be my colleague for the next 3 weeks).

We then had to wait until about 1am for the arrival of the other foreign teachers, who I have been asked to lead, to arrive from England for the summer camp. The 3 girls will have their first experience of China in Liupanshui.
When the girls eventually arrived they appeared to be a little disorientated and tired. I was happy to hear some familiar sounding voices. It was almost time to start the summer camp.

17/07/2012
So the summer camp began with an early morning opening ceremony. My initial thoughts were that the girls were probably in a bit of a daze as they had slept very little and were positioned onstage in-front of about 100 Chinese faces in a new and unfamiliar country. Still, they coped with it very well.

As part of my role in the camp I had to give a speech to the children and their parents. It was rather cheesey and focused on us building the bond between China and the UK. I felt like a bit of a politician.

The girls were given time to rest in the afternoon. This was just-as-well because the people of Liupanshui really know how to welcome their guests. We were taken in the evening to a traditional Guizhou restaurant serving Lougou. This is a speciality where you cook your own food on a giant frying pan. It’s fair to say all the food was delicious, if not very unhealthy.

Lougou Night

There is a strong drinking culture in Liupanshui and this was evident in the amount we were toasted to during the night. It resulted in Oliver, a Chinese man who has become one of my favourite people in the world, drastically improving his spoken English after a beer. Another feature of the night was the anticipation of the arrival of a man they referred to as Number One Bad Boy. This sounded a little scary until a geeky looking man named Steven turned up carrying a turtle. From then on the night was rather unpredictable except for the predictable climax in KTV.
So a very random night ended in KTV. To my surprise Juliette, one of the foreign teachers, had never heard of the Carpenters. She has to learn quickly because no foreigner can go a night in KTV without butchering Yesterday Once More.

18/07/2012
Despite the official start of the camp being on the previous day now was the time that we were united with our classes (except I had two classes to teach simultaneously as we were one teacher short at this point). It was then that I found out the contrast between the classes that I would be teaching; one of which were confident English speakers who wanted to know more about culture and the other were little children with basic words mixed with teenage boys who had been forced to be there. It made for an interesting mix.

The nights in Liupanshui were becoming increasingly unpredictable when a local ‘celebrity’ invited us for dinner at a posh restaurant with some ladies that I don’t think he knew. He has a great beard for a chinese man and a rather large gut. We sat around a large table together and he instructed the foreign girls to sit either side of him before taking off his shirt to reveal a tight vest. I couldn’t work out the man. He was clearly very rich as he distributed Chinese Moutai to everyone and performed several toasts before serenading our English friend, Cat, with a Chinese love song. To this day we don’t know the name of the man we spent a large part of the evening with, so we affectionaltely refer to him as beardy man.

Happy Birthday Mum!

19/07/2012
The next day as school focused on a singing competition where the children sang a class song in English and introduced themselves. I sympathised a little with the boys in my class but they got on with it.

Naturally the evening wasn’t dull, although it started so. We initially went out for some tea at a local bar. We have an excellent driver whom we have named Simon. He seems to know every place in Liupanshui despite not being able to communicate in any common language. He has become a cult hero in our group.

I, the girls, Dina, Karen and Oliver were joined by the schools principals daughter, Gwen, for tea. Whilst we drank on a balcony we received a phone call from Steven (the Number One Bad Boy) inviting us to KTV. The girls cant get enough of KTV so they jumped at the chance. KTV never disappoints and the beers were back out. Steven loves to test out his drinking opponent, but he has more than met his match with these hardened English people.

20/07/2012
As with every plan in China, the timetable for the summer camp changes on a minute-by-minute basis. For this reason we took it upon ourselves to change it before it could be changed. I asked the girls to teach their classes basic instructions for relay races (as the Olympics is closing in on us) and take their class to the square outside of the school. Here all 5 classes met and I explained the rules. The 5 classes performed several relay races against each other in various different methods of transit hop, skip, jump etc.). They children seemed to really enjoy this and even if my classes didn’t win, I did too. We decided to do more activities outside of the classroom timetable to get the children outside and smiling.

We later began to teach them our camp song and dance, Reach for the Stars, which I was not much better than the children at.

In the evening we went to a hot pot restaurant. Hot pots are always popular options in China and consist of putting anything you can find in a pot of boiling water, waiting a few minutes before eating it and repeating the process. I really wish we had a similar food culture.

Later in the evening we went to the people’s square of Liupanshui. I have mentioned on previous trips to China the woman who dance in squares to random songs in sync. However, tonight was the first time that I tried it for myself. We drew a very large crowd and I don’t think the dancing ladies were too happy about it. I left the girls to dance together whilst I found my own spot to make a fool of myself infront of lots of stares. I was joined by Dina, who is fast becoming a close friend, and she took to the dancing naturally. This made me even more conscious of my own two left feet. Still, it was another thing to tick off the list.

21/07/2012
We had a great time on the Saturday morning. We gathered all 60 children and began to climb one of the beautiful limestone peaks that dominate the area surrounding the school. In fact, the school view is spectacular when the clouds allow the peaks to be visible.

We climbed the mountain together and spent a lot of time at the top playing games in English and taking lots of photos. The 13 and 14 year old boys in my class had smuggled some beer to the top of the peak and insisted I shared it with them. This is not something I will be doing in England but it provided a nice sense of communion between teacher and students.

In addition the boys had also brought some octopus to the top of the mountain for me to eat. This was followed by a flurry of food from a number of children who gave me food they had brought especially for me and the other foreign teachers.

Following a lot of fun and games we descended the mountain for lunch in the school. Every day we have been provided for and each of us have been enjoying the food. I have been so happy that all the girls have embraced the Chinese culture, food and mentality. It makes life so much easier when people are open to new things.

Following a rather relaxed afternoon at school with some very tired children we had time to freshen up before meeting our final team member, Kayleigh. She had the great task of coming to China alone but was picked up in Guiyang for the journey to Liupanshui. Her arrival was quite momentous as she is the only Blonde member of the group, making her the most visible of all the foreign teachers.

What better way to begin your time in China than dancing with lots of Chinese people to SClub7 in a darkening Guizhou square? ……when you follow it with some beef hot pot. Could life get any better?

So that was it. We now had me, Bethan, Cat, Juliette and Kayliegh to complete a teaching team. Each one of us is incredible different which makes for a wonderful mix of people.

22/07/2012
Sunday was scheduled as our rest day, but it was far from it. I don’t blame the schools of Liupanshui taking advantage of 5 foreign faces to promote their school. For this reason we went to a local junor school to help interview children in spoken English. Once again I had to perform a speech, this time a little shorter.

Our reward for using our day off to work came later that day when we were invited to a wedding. This was also a great way for Juliette to spend her birthday. The girls took the opportunity to go shopping for clothes suitable for a wedding (although it later turned out that Guizhou weddings don’t require formal dress from guests).

Once the girls had made themselves even more beautiful we arrived at the wedding to the pleasant surprise of both Groom and Bride. They informed us that they were so pleased for us to come to their wedding as it is unheard of for foreigners to go to a wedding in Liupanshui. There was one condition; we were to dance infront of the guests and I had to say a speech to the bride and groom. Each one was more experiences to add to the collection. We had become celebrities at a Chinese wedding.

The ceremony was a little different from a reception at a British wedding, but the bride and groom dressed in familiar attire. We were seated near the front of the room in full view of the whole event. We were then greeted with some amazing food and welcomed by everyone around. There were many peple waiting in the background for us to finish our food so they could replace us with their meal. The whole event made for a lovely evening and something unforgettable.

It was then time to focus on the birthday girl. Juliettes favourite pastime is fast becoming square dancing, so we did a little more of that. Then, inevitably we ended up in KTV with some more random people and even stranger drinking games. It made for an even better night.

Later, Oliver (what a man!) invited us to a bar with Steven and Simon to end our night without losing our voices singing. Somehow the night escalated in my wearing Simon’s shirt and Cat break dancing on the floor. It was a good end to the week and a great way for Juliette to celebrate her birthday.