Petty Annoyances and Retail Therapy

I started last week’s post saying how I’d been a bit down lately having gone through two of the worst “China days” I’ve had so far. As I’ve still been pretty down over the past week I tried to work out what the cause is. I realised that I don’t so much have “China days” as “school days.”
I’m a very organised person and I’m always looking for the most efficient way of accomplishing tasks. While in my previous job in London for a UK Government Department a new role opened handling only complaint letters from members of the public. No one wanted the job and my boss at the time had to choose between four people. We all had to give reasons why we shouldn’t have to do the job and as I’d been wanting to find a new job for some time my reason was that I’d leave if I was given the role. My boss decided to give me the role anyway in the hope that with my organisational skills and meticulous attention to detail I would at least put into place all the required procedures in the time before I left. I did, and as an added bonus the new job gave me the impetus I needed to quit and go off and do my CELTA and become an English teacher.

Anyway, I find it very frustrating when things don’t work or are done inefficiently with no apparent proper procedure. My current gloom seems to stem from how the administration and IT systems at school work, or rather, just doesn’t work. Every contact I have with admin or IT seems to be unnecessary tiresome hassle, and everything I do takes about twice as long and requires twice as much effort as it really should.

On Monday I nearly reached breaking point. I’ll leave the details, but even though it was just a minor annoyance, with all the other minor annoyances it felt like the second to last straw before the proverbial camel’s back broke. So on Monday evening I went for a chat with my boss and he reassured me that everything that annoys me annoys him too, but that this is China and that none of the foreign staff are in a position to influence the Chinese run side of the school. Knowing that made me feel much better until the next day when I had to battle against the next bit of unnecessary tiresome hassle.

One thing that did cheer me up slightly on Monday was having a meaningful conversation with a five year old student for the first time. I noticed that one of my Sunday students was at the school and that she has a family resemblance to one of my students from Monday evening. I realised that in class we’ve now done names, family members, ages, and importantly, third person forms of all of those. I asked her “do you have a sister?” and she replied yes. So I asked “what’s her name?” and she said Ella. I then asked “how old is she?” and she said she’s nine. I said that “I teach your sister” and she looked so happy. As well as cheering me up it must have done wonders for her motivation to learn English, to finally put together all that language into a conversation with someone instead of learning it in isolation.

Anyway, on to yesterday. I needed a day without any thought at all of school or work, just hanging out with a friend having a good chat and some retail therapy. So that’s exactly what I did. As the weather has now got much warmer I needed to buy some shorts and my friend Canny took me to H&M. We took a taxi so I have no idea where in Xi’an it is, but it’s just like H&M everywhere in the world. Even the prices are the same. I found the shorts I wanted and paid the, by Chinese standards, exorbitant price. ¥250 sounds like a big number, but actually it’s about £25, which actually is a lot in China for a pair of shorts. Canny said another day we’ll go to the clothes market where we could buy loads of clothes for the price I paid for a pair of shorts.

After H&M we went to Sa Ga, a huge electronics market. I’d heard it described like a department store for electronics and it kind of is. It’s the same kind of physical space as a Department store, with polished stone floors and lots of windows making it light and airy, and all the stalls are arranged like the cosmetics section in a typical Department store with individual branding, except that every stall is an individual retailer so there’s no central cash desk, and most stalls sell more than one brand of products. I wanted to check out the price of external hard drives as my backup disk is filling up. In Sa Ga the components and accessories are on the third floor, so we went up there and found dozens of stalls all selling exactly the same collection of products including external hard drives. All the stall holders want your business and promise the best price, but as they all buy their merchandise from the same wholesalers for the same price and have the same fixed costs for running the stall, the lowest price you can bargain down to is exactly the same at every stall. In the end I didn’t buy anything – I don’t need a new external hard disk just yet.

From Sa Ga we went to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. I hadn’t been there yet and actually as we didn’t go in to the pagoda itself I still haven’t been – Canny just wanted to find a touristy stall that does caricature portraits. But the area around the pagoda is nicely landscaped with fountains and trees making nice shady areas on the grass and it felt like a nice calm oasis to escape to from the frenetic activity of the city. We found the caricature stand and all the passers by, upon seeing a foreigner sitting at the stand, had to stop to take a look. They all seemed a bit disappointed to see that it was Canny being drawn and not me, but I was having fun trying to get Canny to laugh when she was supposed to be posing for a portrait.

After the portrait I was standing around waiting for Canny to go to the bathroom when a tour guide came up to me and asked “photo?”. Thinking that she wanted to take my photo and sell it back to me I said no thanks, but she was actually asking on behalf of her two Chinese clients who wanted their photo taken with me. Quite why I’m not sure, but feeling like a celebrity I – just a random foreigner – posed for photos with two random Chinese people. Canny had a good laugh at my bemusement of the whole situation, then suggested I go for a haircut in case the same thing happens again.

My hair had been getting pretty long and messy again, so Canny took me to her family friends who are hair dressers. They did both mine and her’s for ¥20, and going with someone who speaks Chinese meant that I had the opportunity to tell them what I wanted. Not that it mattered of course as Canny decided what hairstyle I should have. Fortunately it’s turned out pretty good!

Finally, we went to Xiao Zhai to look for cheap DVDs and shoes. I think we quite annoyed the shoe shop assistant though. We waltzed in, tried on a load of shoes and decided on what to buy. For the shop assistant to go to the effort of going to get the boxed shoes in the right size we had to pay in advance. So we paid for our choice, had them delivered, then both changed our minds and demanded our money back. I think they were quite pleased to see us leave.

Later on in the evening I went out to a bar called Vice Versa where my friend George was playing a gig. He plays guitar in a heavy metal band, so not exactly my kind of music, but it was a good evening all the same.

Finally, as we have a six day holiday from school coming up I think I’m going to take the train to Shanghai and see my friend Neil. Hopefully then I’ll have a load of photos to put on flickr and some travel things to write about instead of the tedium of my posts at the moment.

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