Leaving Bagang

So its officially over. Last week was my final week of teaching the students and I will be leaving BaGang and the flat in a few days. Before I get to all that I will try and recap the last two months. The further on in the year I get, the faster everything goes so the last few months have been a bit of a blur.

A week or two after the colour run we met up with Laura who was one of the girls living in Urumqi that we first became friends with back in October. She was back from Beijing for a night so us three and Gina (the other girl we met in October) went to a bar. It was a laugh to meet up just the four of us again because we hadn’t done that in a while. We also went to a Maltese restaurant the next day to get some Pizza which was weird to eat while in China. Seeing as we were going to be seeing Laura just before flying out in Beijing I asked her to take some of my stuff so I wouldn’t have to lug it around China while travelling. Packing that first bag was a bit of a jarring experience because it was definitely the beginning of the end of my time in China, I had to think about what I definitely wouldn’t need in my last few months.

In typical annoying fashion I feel like over the last few months has been when I have finally found my rhythm in China and I am just about to leave it all behind. I have became much better friends with my students, organising games of football in and outside of school and even going to the local arcade with a few of them. They still aren’t the most attentive of students but at least the atmosphere in the classroom is a lot more friendly and interactive than before. We have our various routines throughout the week e.g. Game of thrones and kebabs on Mondays and eating out at a local restaurant on Thursdays. And I (Mac not so much) am confident with navigating my way around Bagang and Urumqi.

So the last few weeks have been where it has really hit us that we don’t have much time left. We started to let everyone know when we would be leaving and started the process of saying our goodbyes to everyone.

One of the weeks ended up being a holiday so we invited Joe (another Project Trust volunteer) over from Gansu to stay with us for a few days which was good fun because I hadn’t seen him since October. We just hung out for most of it, watched various movies and played cards in the apartment. We spent one of the nights in Urumqi with Gina and ended up getting a midnight meal of kebabs out under the stars with a Chinese policeman paying for the food and German beer. Another night we got invited out to the Cinema/Arcade with some of my students so we spent a few hours with our competing masculinities seeing which of us could punch the hardest and shoot the most baskets in 5 minutes (Joe can technically punch harder but the machine gave me a coke for being more consistent so who is the real winner?).

Joe left and we only had two weeks left of teaching. This was the last week for the younger years (grades 1-6) and I actually ended up being ill and missing my last lessons with my youngest two years which was a shame. I did end up seeing a fair few of them on the day of their exams though so it wasn’t too bad. I did manage to make it in for my last lesson with my grades 6’s who are aged 10-12 and that was a fun (if slightly tedious) lesson. Most of the students have these personality quiz sheet things that are to help them stay in contact with each other if they go to different schools and a lot of them wanted me to fill out one for them. They were all very similar so I had to copy down my star sign, blood type, dream job, favourite food/drink/movie/book/actor etc. for every student that wanted one so that took up most of the lesson. I then got them all to sign my shirt which I don’t think any of them had done before because of how excited they got. I am fairly sure I got away with no swear words on it but it is all in Chinese so I can never really be sure.

At the weekend we were invited out for our final farewell with the senior staff at the school. We were picked up in a minibus and driven to a nearby city, Changji, and taken up near the top of a very tall building to have a Chinese/Western buffet. It was a lovely send off where we talked with the headmistress and other teachers about what opinions and aspects of ourselves had changed over the year and what our plans for the future were.
And then we were in our final week. Having to say goodbye to all my students has been way way harder than I had expected it to be. At the start of the year when you are faced with ~500 new faces that speak a different language to you and have grown up in a completely different society from your own it seemed like an impossible task to get to know all of them. But I have. Although I still have trouble pronouncing and remember their Chinese names I can recognise almost all of my students and I know the ones with the best english, the ones that are best at football and the ones where I need to check my pockets and hood after I have walked past to make sure they haven’t slipped something in there. Being a foreign teacher comes with its pros and cons but one of the great things about it is that it allows you to develop a much closer relationship with your students as they see you as a mix between a peer and a teacher (the con is trying to balance that mix when you are getting them to shut up). I spent my last lessons with all my students just having a laugh so that they remember me as the fun teacher and to de-stress them a bit in preparation for their end of year exams. We listened to some music, played some games, watched some funny clips they had brought in and then ended it with me giving out my QQ (kinda like Facebook messenger) and taking photos with all of them. I have promised to give them updates on what I end up doing next and they have agreed to fill me in on any gossip that happens over the summer holidays. Some of my lessons got stolen by Chinese teachers to cram in some extra preparation for exams but I spent my final lunch trying to talk to and take photos with all the students who missed their final lesson with me.

And here we are. At the end of my time in 八钢 its been a long year but an incredibly interesting and enlightening one. Gonna say my final goodbyes to my friends in the next two days and then it is off travelling for just over a month and then I am back in Britain. Its crazy how quickly time flies. I hope you have enjoyed reading these blogs, I am probably going to post a travel summary when I am finished with that and then possibly another blog post or two just reflecting on the year as a whole. I am not going to be posting my travel to instagram this time because I have been having trouble with the app but I am going to be trying out videos through Beme so if you have that you can follow me @calmorley.

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Back in Bagang

Ok we have officially settled back into teaching life after the excitement of the holiday. It was quite a strange experience coming back to the flat after being gone for over a month because it is now just starting to feel like home. And then we are going to leave never to see it again in a few months time.

The kids were quite excited to see us again when we got back into teaching, I think they might have had to work on actual lessons when we were away and they were glad to be back to our styles of teaching. Since coming back we have definitely taught some lessons that were different from their normal schedules. The first set of lessons I did were focused on seeing if they could do any singing in english. It always surprises me which songs the kids in the classes know. It seems that in China they get the crazy popular songs fairly quickly e.g. Lean on and See you again, and then all other music takes about 5-10 years to get here. So its kinda nostalgic hearing the music that they are wanting to play, and then occasionally I get really surprised when they start playing a song like G.D.F.R in class and asking if I know it. After giving them a brief history of popular songs from Britain and America they decided they didn’t like any of my suggestions and picked the songs themselves. So we had several classes doing Sugar by Maroon 5 and a couple doing One Direction and Meghan Trainor.

At first they were a bit shy about doing the singing out loud, even after we had just gone over the lyrics but as soon as I made it into a competition between the boys and girls they were a bit more enthusiastic. The threat of jumping jacks for the losing side also did its bit to encourage them and made the whole class much more entertaining for me. From what I saw the girls normally had the edge on getting the words correctly but were much more shy than the boys who would belt out anything that sounded similar. I am now also able to catch some of the chinese swear words that my students had started singing instead of the english if they sounded similar. Tip for anyone coming to China and interacting with students: Call it a memory stick and not a USB because SB is the shortened form of a pretty bad swear word and I have had several classes shout back “No you are an SB” when I was trying to get the computer to work. (I also managed to name a character in one of my lessons SB after a students suggestion at the start of the year before I had learned this…I wondered why they were laughing so much).

When the classes started to get bored of the singing I decided to switch to acting. Although I was tempted to get them doing some Shakespeare I decided it was probably best to find some famous movies scenes. So I downloaded a few of them onto my memory stick and wrote down the scripts for them. The amount of enthusiasm varied quite a bit for these lessons with it being much harder to pull off in some of my rowdier classes but when it worked everyone in the class had a great time. Some of the memorable moments were: recreating the “I am your father” star wars scene after a brief lightsaber (brush) battle, seeing the faces of the boy and girl that had volunteered after I started playing the “I’m flying Jack” scene from Titanic and having one of the male Rose actors getting sparta kicked off of the boat after they had completed their scene because we had been doing that scene beforehand.

The more you teach the better an understanding of the students you get and one of the things that I have come to realise is that although the students always enjoy the lessons when they are paying attention and participating, the main reason that they are not doing the work/listening to me is because they are trying to complete their homework. And after seeing the amount of homework they get and the punishments that they get if they don’t complete it e.g. having their chair taken away so they have to stand for the lessons, having to copy it out 100 times, its hard to fault them for prioritising that over a more fun class that they aren’t going to be examined on.

In non school related news the weather is incredibly nice at the moment. We had been told that they don’t really have Spring/Autumn in Xinjiang and we hadn’t quite believed them until it went from piles of snow and winter coats to clear skies and t shirt weather within two weeks. I am actually starting to get a tan and it seems way to early in the year for that. Our Waiban has warned us that it will only be nice for a few more weeks and then it apparently gets too hot to do anything so thats not so great but at the moment it is fantastic. We have spent most of our free time in BaGang since coming back but one of the highlights was when we took the 5hr train up to Karamay (kelemayi) for the weekend to take part in a 5km colour run with the other guys from Xinjiang. It was a great weekend and the run incredibly fun. We made a few friends as we ran and it was quite funny seeing everyones faces as a group of foreigners run past blaring chariots of fire out of the speaker that I carried for the whole day. I quickly realised that running is not for me but we managed it in ok time anyway. After completing the run we got the same weird celebrity treatment that we had gotten in beijing by the fact that we stood around the finish line and posed for pictures for about two hours. We all enjoyed the experience but after hour 2 we were trying to get away because you can only pose for so many pictures before you start losing your mind. Its going to be strange going back to Britain and not being accosted by people wanting pictures and telling you how handsome you are. Probably going to be good for my ego but nowhere near as much fun.

We know have another two months of teaching before we are off on some final travelling around China and then back to Britain, the year has gone by much faster than I expected.

The Holiday Recap

Hello again! I am just assuming that everyone is used to the blogs being slightly (very) delayed but apologies anyway. I have settled back into life at my project now so it seems like a good time to recount the rest of the holiday. This will be a overview of the holiday and if you go on my instagram (calum_morley) I was uploading daily photos + descriptions of the days. Anyway last time I updated this I was sitting on a train from Wuhai to Baotou in the early hours of the morning. We went to quite a few cities so I’ll write something for each one.

Baotou

Baotou ended up being a slightly disappointing start to the holiday. It is a very industrial town and quite a lot of people had headed south to visit their families over the holidays so the nightlife was a bit lacklustre. Although the city itself wasn’t the coolest place we went to it did give us access to Ordos which was definitely up there. On our second day in Baotou we took an early train to the “abandoned” city of Ordos which was about 3 hours away. Ordos was designed to be a modern city that hosted over 1 million people but there are nowhere close to that many people living there now. It was a really cool experience being able to explore this city and see these huge roads and squares with barely anyone in them. It also provided a pretty great place to play “Get down Mr President” without attracting too many stares from chinese people. We did get to sample some Mongolian cuisine (various meats cooked with onions and spices on a grill) while we were in Baotou which ended up being a highlight of our stay there.

Hohhot

Hohhot was where we ended up joining the rest of our travel group. I hadn’t seen Ava or Rachael since I was in Beijing in August so it was a laugh hanging out with them again. We had slightly longer in Hohhot so we managed to cram a few more trips into our stay there. Hohhot was also a bit more of interactive city so we there was more to do. There was a big shopping street on the way to the big park that we had decided to visit so the trip took slightly longer than we had anticipated (e.g. the girls disappeared into a H&M that was the only one they had seen in China, which resulted in me and Julian trying to embarrass the girls enough so that we could leave the shop and get on with our day). The park itself was a good laugh. It had a massive frozen lake in the middle of it so we just walked around it and entertained ourselves with games of ice curling and “whats the heaviest bit of ice you can pick up and smash). We visited two other tourist spots while we were in Hohhot, one was the Inner Mongolia Museum which gave us more insight into the province that we would be exploring for the next few weeks. The other was 大召 or Da Zhao Temple which was a buddhist temple that was one of the most interesting places we went to. There were more statues than you could count and the most impressive ones were over 10ft tall and studded with diamonds and other precious stones. I had never been too any religious site that was quite like it, and I’m pretty sure the group smelled like incense for the next few days. After that it was a 17hr train ride to Tongliao on hard seats which wasn’t the most pleasant of trips.

Tongliao

It was when we arrived at the hostel and yet again they didn’t seem to have our reservation that people started throwing accusations at the person that booked our accommodation…which just so happened to be me. In my defence, I am pretty sure its just because we booked the cheapest hostels that we could find, which probably meant that they didn’t even realise that they were registered on booking.com. Tongliao ended up being a pretty chilled out visit because we only had a couple of days there. We explored the local parks and coffee shops and spent most of our time in the hostel playing various card games. We were then off on a shorter, much more pleasant train journey to Chifeng.

Chifeng

Chifeng was the biggest city we had visited thus far and so we had decided to stay for longer to take advantage of that. When we first arrived we got in contact with english speaking Chinese girl called Chloe who had a mutual friend with Beth. She was very helpful with organising activities and showing us around Chifeng. After some slightly dodgy kebabs when we first arrived (the problem with translating Chinese menus when you have nearly finished eating is that you don’t realise you have just eaten 10 sheep eyes until its too late) we sorted out our hostel and started planning our stay. We did some exploring of the city and its sights in the first two days, during which Julian and I went to the cinema to kill some time and picked a random movie from the listing in Chinese. Turns out that the film we had chosen was Kung Fu Panda 3 which was a fun movie to see while in China. The next few days were pretty packed. We were taken skiing by some friendly people that we met at the club, we took a day trip to a hot springs a couple of hours out of the city (easily one of the best days of the holiday) and we celebrated Chinese New Year’s Eve. On CNYE all the shops were shut which we hadn’t quite prepared for but we didn’t mind too much because the fireworks in the evening were pretty spectacular. We went out to a bar/club to celebrate with the Chinese friends that we had made that week and had a great night. Unfortunately after that the holiday went downhill quite drastically. The whole group caught some bug/illness and were bedridden for the entirety of CNY. The one day everyone asked me about happened to be the worst day I’ve spent in China so far. To make everything worse we couldn’t even get a night to sleep it off because we had to wake up in the early hours of the morning to get on another train that lasted for the whole day. When we finally got to our hostel we found that they didn’t accept foreigners so we had to spend another couple of hours trying to find somewhere to sleep. We immediately fell asleep in our rooms and spent the next day in recovery. It was pretty bad but we were pretty sure that we had reached our nadir and that the rest of the holiday could only get better.

Harbin

We had been told by the previous volunteers that Harbin was a must see for travelling and it certainly lived up to my expectations. The main ice event was closed for the first few days because the weather was “too warm” so we took this time to explore the city. One of the coolest parts of the city was the Russian sector. There was a long street that stretched for several km and was lined with interesting shops and ice sculptures. It only featured some slightly more western shops with a walmart and a subway that we enjoyed eating from. At the end of the street was the “Stalin Park” and frozen river that was next to it. We headed there just because we were entertained by the name but the frozen river ended up being brilliant. It was solid ice so you spent the whole time making sure you didn’t slip over, you could even rent little “chair sleds” to slide about on if you didn’t feel steady on your feet. Lots of people had set up shop on the river with vendors selling hot kebabs and frozen fruit and others offering skates to go ice skating, inflatable donuts to get pulled around by a quad bike and horses to go for a ride on. Ava’s main goal for the holiday was to ride a horse so she was pretty thrilled when she was riding one around the frozen river. The rest of us didn’t end up paying for any of the attractions but still enjoyed watching everyone else. We ended the day by going to the Saint Sophia’s Cathedral which was a very pretty sight if slightly out of place compared to the rest of city. The next day was Shiv’s birthday so we had a bit more of a chilled day. We unsuccessfully tried to find a massage parlour so she could try fire cupping but we did manage to find a nice western restaurant for her to have her birthday dinner.

After that we managed to get to the main event, The Ice and Snow festival. We spent the day preparing for the outing and then got picked up from our hostel at 5. We were dropped at the festival and it was ridiculously cold, you could only stay outside for 10-15 minutes before you had to go into one of the tents. After the bus journey we only had about two hours before the park closed but it was probably too cold to stay for much longer. The whole thing was absolutely incredible. We just stuck to exploring all the sections but you could go skiing, sledging and even get pulled around on sleighs by reindeer. But the main attraction was the ice sculptures. There were so many of them and they were all huge. Some were sponsored and were shaped like cars and bottles of cooking oil but the majority of them were just big towers and Chinese buildings. It was like stepping into some kind of magical land. There were fireworks displays above the buildings, more vendors selling candied frozen fruits and kids with sledges sliding all over the place. This might be a bit redundant but if you are ever visiting China in the winter this is a must see. Its hard to describe because the best thing about it is the sights and the atmosphere but I am very glad that I went and nearly froze to death exploring the place.
Beijing

The trip to Beijing on the train was horrendous. 16 hours on a train with no seats so we just had to stand in the aisles of the train. I had brought a camping stool but that buckled out from under me after an hour much to the amusement of everyone else. Beijing was a very short stop but also provided the biggest screw up of the holiday. We only had one night but we met with one of my friends who used to live in Urumqi and we went to an american bar. They happened to be having a pub quiz in english that night so we entered and managed to come in joint third (out of 5 teams) which we were proud of regardless as one round consisted of references to movies that were out before we were born and had never seen. That was a fun night. In the morning we went and explored some markets and the girls fawned over the makeup stalls for what felt like an eternity. We eventually dragged them away the cheap rip offs of expensive brands and headed back to the hostel to grab our bags. So we get there and the girls want to get in a taxi rather than take the subway. seeing as there was 5 of us (shiv had left us the day before to head back by herself) and 4 spaces in the taxi I gallantly offered to get the subway back by myself. So we left the hostel and we had nearly two hours before our train left. At this point the whole group had assumed that we were getting the train out from the same station that we had gotten into. The rest of the group realised in the taxi that we were actually leaving from Beijing West…I had no such luck. They tried to find me in the taxi but it was too late so they headed to the station and hoped I would make it (My phone plan only works in Urumqi so no internet or calls). When I get into the subway station I am immediately accosted at the security desk. I was carrying all my luggage with me. Because neither side could communicate with words it took a while before they conveyed that the problem was with my multitool in my rucksack. I managed to pass it off as a set of pliers and they let me go, just didn’t show them the several blades that are also attached to the pliers. So feeling slightly ruffled I carry on the trip to the main station. Its only when I am in the queue with the ticket that I look at it and realise that the station doesn’t match the one I am currently at. I start panicking now because I have 50 minutes to get onto my train on the other side of Beijing. I managed to find a Chinese man who agrees to take me to the other station that I don’t know how to get too. We agreed on a price that I didn’t mind too much given the circumstances and we set off. This man ended up being a machine, he sprinted off and I did my best to keep up with him with my rucksacks on my front and back. We then spent the next 40 minutes all out sprinting between subway stations and trains. It was stressful but also kinda hilarious sprinting after this small Chinese man with all my bags and him just charging through these packed crowds. He ends up taking me through several shortcuts and I manage to make it to my train the second before the close the gates. I walked into our carriage pouring with sweat to the cheers of the others who, save Julian, had all given up on me making it onto the train. I hadn’t sat down for 2 minutes before the train pulls away from the station. Travelling Tip: Triple check your ticket before you leave, especially if your phone isn’t working.

Xian

Xian was another one of our quieter and shorter stops but was one of my favourite places all the same. We only had a couple days there but we happened to overlap with some of the other volunteers so its was nice seeing some other familiar faces. We were there during the lantern festival so the city was completely lit up at night. It was quite warm weather too so you could just walk around in the dark and admire the city. We spent the first night at the other volunteers hostel catching up and playing card games. The next day we headed off to see the Terracotta Army. It was an hours bus journey and then a bit of a walk past all the stores and shops selling merchandise including small figurines, knifes and cloths made from different animal hides. There are three pits that they have/are still still excavating and we decided to work our way up from smallest to biggest. The smaller pits were cool because you could get a closer look at the statues and they had some of the better preserved ones in display cases. But when you get to the main pit you are slightly blown away by the sheer scale of it. There are thousands of soldiers and horses all organised into sections with a commanding officer to each one. You can understand how someone could feel safer knowing their grave was to be guarded by all the rows of soldiers. There is also a museum section where they go into detail about the history behind the different dynasties and especially the First Emperor who’s tomb is the one being guarded. I am very glad to have gotten the opportunity to visit and its an experience I don’t think I am going to forget.

It was then back to the hostel to pack up and then I was off on my last train ride going back to Urumqi (Another awful one, 32 hours). I had one day to recover from the train and then it was straight back to teaching. It was quite the adventure but its been nice to get back into the regular routine again and I am going to be teaching up until July solid so no more holidays for a while. I hope you have enjoyed reading and if you want to contact me please use my email calmorley@mac.com.

Until next time

Q&A

Hey guys, I am currently in Harbin enjoying my holiday even though the whole group is slightly under the weather. I will do a big post when I get back about all the stuff we got up to but this one is going to answer some questions. I am paired with a school in Edinburgh through the Language Linking Global Thinking program and that class have sent me some questions through email that they would like answered.

1. Would you live there for more years?

I think that would depend on how well my Chinese got during the rest of the year. Being able to communicate with all the people around you is pretty key when picking somewhere to live. So I think if I was going to live here I would either need to find a decent amount of people that spoke English or really improve my Chinese ability.

2. What is the weirdest food you’ve had yet?

Possibly Cocoons that were fried in spices. They were surprisingly good once you got over what they actually were.

3. What do you do for fun? Nightclubs? Pubs?

There aren’t really many Pubs in China but there are a lot of nightclubs and bars. Karaoke bars are incredibly popular here with one on nearly every street so lots of people go to them on a night out. There are also lots of billiards halls and back in Bagang where I live they are very into their sport with basketball being the most popular.

4. What is the biggest difference from the UK and China?

Probably the Education and style of teaching. The ways that Chinese kids learn and react to the grades and their success is very different from the UK. They are much more focused on rote learning and memorising the information until they get it right. They are also much more disciplined when they are being taught by their Chinese teachers. Thats why it is so interesting to teach them in a way that I would say is much more western in nature.

5. What’s your favourite thing about being China?

Probably the food, it really is fantastic and travelling across China and getting to try all the different cuisines is one of the best bits of travelling. It was one of my favourite kinds of food back in Britain and its much nicer when it is the authentic stuff.

6. Do pupils get a lot of homework there? Are they responsible or not?

Students seem to have much higher workloads in China than back in Britain. They have hours of homework every single night and if they don’t complete it they get in a lot of trouble. They don’t enjoy it any more than British students do though. They were also pretty mad when we first compared the amount of homework that I remember doing back in school but maybe I am a bad representative of how much we should do.

7. Where do you think is better? In the UK or in China?

I think they are way to different of places to compare them like that. It can be quite easy on both sides of the world to assume that the way it is done in your country is inherently better, but living in China really helps you see the reasoning behind how things are done. Both the countries have pros and cons.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! Bit late I know but I wanted to do a few interesting things before I updated my blog. I am also writing this at 5am on a train so apologies if it doesn’t make much sense/is full of spelling errors.

So last time I signed of in the early hours of my birthday which ended up being a blast. All the Xinjiang guys came down during the day and we went out for my birthday banquet which was very good. It was partially a Christmas banquet as well so we had a few Santas coming into the room and carving turkey at various points during the night which was very entertaining.

On Christmas day we split into two groups and half of us went into Urumqi to spend some time with the previous volunteers who live there that we are friends with. They made a valiant effort at a christmas dinner using the closest Chinese substitutes that they could find but we didn’t mind too much because Chinese street food had also been bought to supplement the meal. We then headed into a bar with most of the foreigners that live in Urumqi (might have been 15 of us ranging from 17-35 years old) and spent the rest of the night dancing away to an Australian DJ that just happened to be passing through Urumqi. It definitely wasn’t a conventional Christmas by any means and it was strange spending it without my family but it was great fun nonetheless.

After a long lie in on boxing day we headed over to Fukang to rejoin the rest of the group and spent the rest of the weekend chilling and watching some Christmas movies (mostly repeats of Love Actually because Joel really really likes that movie haha).

It was then straight back to school on Monday and we were greeted by a great pile of Christmas cards that had been posted through our office door by the younger years while we were off school. The next two weeks consisted of lessons on New Year’s Resolutions and Travelling because we wanted to see if the kids could teach us about anything we needed to visit during our holiday. These were some of the more entertaining lessons that I had taught, most of them could grasp the idea of NY Resolutions but I did have to try and explain to several of them that “Grow Taller” wasn’t really a New Years Resolution.

We got another day off for NYE which we also spent with the girls in Urumqi. We had some slight traffic issues which resulted in us being in a taxi when midnight struck but that didn’t stop me and the Scottish past volunteer from belting out Auld Lang Syne.

After we had finished our teaching, and gotten our minor visa troubles out of the way, we were off on our first train journey. For me Urumqi – Lanzhou and for Mac Urumqi – Zhangye. The train journey was 16hrs which is one of the longer ones. I had booked a sleeper instead of a hard seat which I thought would make the journey much more pleasant, and although it is definitely better than sitting for 16 hours, having your feet stick out into the corridor and having an incredibly loud old Chinese man snoring two feet from you isn’t the most pleasant experience.

I met up with Beth and Siobhan, who are part of my travelling group, while I was there and we spent the next 8 days seeing what Lanzhou had to offer. Which included several very nice restaurants, a buddhist temple and lots of street food. When we visited the temple we were accompanied by one of Beth’s students who taught us the proper ways to show respect when walking around the various buildings. As a man I was supposed to enter each new sector on my left foot, and all of us were supposed to bow three times before placing incense in the middle of the square. Part of the temple consisted of a tunnel that is supposed to make girls pregnant if they touch the walls. It was quite entertaining watching the Chinese girls push their friends and how they took it fairly seriously. Of course Beth and Shiv both touched it so now we will all know the reason if they have to come back to Britain in a few months.

Julian arrived in Lanzhou on the 19th and the four of us left Lanzhou on the 20th to head to our first new city – Wuhai. After a comparatively pleasant 12 hour train we arrived late in Wuhai and managed to get everything sorted with our hostel. The next day we did a bit of exploring around the city, we didn’t really have an agenda but it was nice to explore a new place that was foreign to all of us. We had a lot of fun on the frozen lake in a nearby park on which you can rent sleds and race across. We were fairly tired from our train so we decided to just spent the night relaxing in our hostel room. At around 12pm we get a knock on the door and 5 policemen are outside. After a decent length of time going back and forth on our various translator apps we established that the “International Hostel” that we were staying in didn’t have their foreigners license. This was understandably a bit stressful but we managed to find another hostel nearby which was twice as expensive but was still a big step up from the -20C temperatures outside.

The next day/yesterday from when I am writing this we managed to find out way to the Wuhai science museum which we are pleasantly surprised by. It contained everything from free racing arcade machines to an earthquake simulator (the latter being the highlight of the trip especially when we tried to get a game of cards going at a level 8 on the scale). After the museum we went out to a local bar in order to try and find some people to socialise with. It turns out that Wuhai is a fairly small city so we were the only people in the bar but we still managed to have a good time, mostly due to the fact that the kebabs that they sold were amazing.

When we got back back to the hostel we had a couple hours before we had to pack up all of our stuff and head out to the 4am train that I am currently on.

It can be quite easy when you are travelling to just get wrapped up in spending time with your friends that you haven’t seen in ages but it is nice when things happen that remind you how crazy but exciting being in a completely foreign country can be. My reminder today was this train journey, I got seated in a separate carriage from the others and was seated next to a youngish Chinese man. After a few of his attempts to speak to me in Chinese it became clear that neither of us quite possessed the language ability to hold a decent conversation, but undeterred we took to the translator apps on our phones and tried to communicate. We spent the next 20 minutes figuring out what each other worked as, me the volunteer and him the Chef that cooks Szechuan food (which I really like and I told him so). We talked about how long I was staying in China and which cities I was visiting during my holiday. He then showed me the English music that he had on his phone which included “the song from titanic”, “Beat it” by Michael Jackson and a bit of Rhianna. After giving me some recommendations for Chinese music he asked for some in return. After figuring out that he like Chinese rap I introduced him to Eminem and Kanye which he found very entertaining. And then he had to get off the train so we said goodbye in both languages, toasted our soft drinks and said goodbye. It was quite bizarre but also very friendly and is one of those memories that I will remember when I get back to Britain.

Anyway thats all for now, I am going to try and keep uploading to this blog but this is it for now!

Why is it so cold?!?!

Ok heres the blog for December and the ones catching me up until now. I know I am awful at this but 2016 will be a new year where hopefully I can actually stay up to date. Anyway on to December:

So winter officially hit Bagang this month, at the start of the month we could feel it starting to get colder and then literally over one night it when from a bit of ice to several feet of snow and recording lows of -17C. We were shocked at how quickly it had all come down and how much it lay on the ground. We were having to walk through snow up to our knees just to get the bus and then once we got on we found that it had been rerouted away from the school. Thankfully we got off in time to still make it to school. The entire town was filled with people shovelling snow away from the outsides of their businesses and into piles nearly the size of Me and Mac. We get to school and see all the students equipped with shovels clearing out the pathways for everyone to walk on which was a nice example of how the Chinese kids are responsible for taking care of their own school. Some things like that are very different from school back in the UK but others are much more similar: like the first person to see that its snowing will shout SNOW! and the whole class will run to the window to go and have a look.

We are now having to be properly wrapped up for the trip to and from school, pretty much wearing all of the clothes that we brought as well as the big winter coats that the school provided for us. The scary thing is that its meant to get even colder than that here in Ba Gang and then even colder up in Inner Mongolia and Harbin which is where I am planning to travel during our winter break.

This months lessons have been suitably Christmas themed (we make the most out of British festivals here in Ba Gang). We first explained Advent to the students and had them all design and build their own advent calendars. Then next lesson we taught the students the 12 days of christmas song which was very entertaining for us as well as the students. Me and Mac had several mid lesson competitions to see which one of us could recite it the fastest which the students found very impressive (that is one of the nice things about China, with no other english people to compare to, everything me and Mac do seems really cool to the students). For the next week I had several of my students belting out their parts to the song as I passed them in the corridors. 

For the last week of lessons we decided to have some small Christmas parties in all our classes. The students seemed to enjoy the break as they are studying for exams at the moment and it was nice to see them let go for a bit and play some tinsel limbo and pin the carrot on the snowman. I got a few happy birthday wishes from the students who had remember it was just before Christmas, I also got a few Merry Christmases and even a happy new year.

We get Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off school so we have invited them to come stay with us in Ba Gang and they will all be arriving in about 10 hours. We have been invited to a Banquet by the teachers at the school to celebrate Christmas and my Birthday which should be good fun. On Christmas day we are planning on heading into Urumqi and spending the day with the other Foreigners from the previous years before heading over to Fukang to spend the rest of the weekend with all the other Project Trust volunteers. Ok I am going to go sleep for a bit so I can enjoy the rest of my birthday but I am officially caught up in blogs now and will hopefully stay on top of them now. If you want to contact me directly you can send me an email at calmorley@mac.com and if you want to have a look at any of my friends blogs visit http://www.projectchina.co.uk to see all of their blogs and where all of us are based.

Sickness, Singles Day and Sorry Attempts at Dancing

November started off with me getting ill for the first time since coming to China. Every night I would send a message to my Waiban and every day she would suggest that I go to hospital to get it sorted out. This although a bit extreme was a nice thought because it showed that they are pretty set on keeping us happy for the year. I also got a surprise visit on the Friday from my Waiban and some of the teachers from the school to try and make me feel better. I only got about 15 minutes notice that this was happening so I had to jump out of bed and put some proper clothes on. Although it was the kind of this that I doubt would happen in Britain it was a really nice gesture and they came bringing gifts of oil, bread, eggs and milk which are all the things that people buy in bulk here. I joked with Mac that I just had to get ill once a month for the rest of the year and we wouldn’t need to do any shopping.
After I had pretty much recovered we invited everyone in Xinjiang round for a weekend so they could have a look round Ba Gang. We showed them everything in an afternoon because its a fairly small place but they all were jealous of our apartment so they didn’t mind spending time there. We all decided to spend our Christmas break in Ba Gang because of the apartment and the fact that one of the previous years had left us a Christmas tree and a few decorations to put up. We even got an offer to switch apartments and have a 3 hour commute but we politely refused.

We planned a weeks worth of lessons surrounding remembrance day which proved to be slightly harder to teach than expected. We did get some interesting discussions going about why it is good to remember people that have fought in wars and what the Chinese equivalent of it is, but 11/11 also happens to be a special day in China that we were not prepared for. It turns out that it is known in China as “Singles Day” or “Single dogs day” which is a Chinese alternative to Valentines day but celebrating being single instead of in a relationship. This day was chose because of the 1’s in the date and is a cause for much hilarity among the students. As soon as we mentioned the day we were bombarded with questions about our relationship status and if we had a girlfriend/wife. They seemed very surprised by our answers which we are assuming is related to them thinking all British boys have girlfriends rather than specifically complimenting us. Asking them what they did on this day was a very entertaining exercise. With answers ranging from online shopping (it has been completely commercialised and is a bigger shopping day than black friday in america) to going on dates to sitting in their room feeling sad, eating ice cream and looking at pictures of happy couples on WeChat.

Later on in the month we had our Desk Officer from Project Trust visit us in order to check up on everything and make sure that we were living somewhere habitable and behaving appropriately. We then had a big meeting with the principal and sorted out any small issues or misunderstandings. After that meeting we had sorted out a time for some Chinese lessons and some extra teaching slots for us because according to PT 12 lessons a week was not enough…we weren’t too bitter about it though because for some of them we are teaching together which is a laugh. The school pulled out all the stops for Dave when he arrived and we had an amazing banquet with the teachers. The best dish translated to “Land, Sea and Air” and consisted of Mutton, Chicken and Fish coated in spices on a bed of roasted potatoes.

After Dave left we got in contact with some of the previous volunteers from Project Trust who had come back to live in Urumqi after their volunteering year was over. They invited us to their birthday party in Urumqi and so we went to a great Kazakh restaurant and got to see some traditional dancing from a range of different cultures including Uighur, Kazakh, Russian and a brief shoutout to American with “Cotten Eye Joe”. They would come into the audience and grab people for every third dance which led to some very entertaining scene of the three of us sitting back and laughing our heads off at Macs attempts to follow the dancers.

The temperature had started to fall this month so we made sure to stock up on all forms of warm clothes before the real cold hit. We were having trouble at -4C so we weren’t sure how we were going to cope with it dropping by another 20 degrees.