Staff Outing to the Park and Half-Way

Although I blogged last week, what with filing reports about Shanghai (another one to come!) and missing a week’s blog a few weeks ago, I now have enough for a bit of a bumper update. Just over a week ago, on Tuesday, the school organised an outing to a local park where we had pedalo races on the lake and barbecued a lot of food. The outing had been talked up for about three weeks, and I did wonder if it would go the same way as the ski trip we were told about several times in January but which never happened. It didn’t look hopeful when we were told it would be delayed by a week so the new Director of Studies could come along too, and then the forecast for heavy rain and the rumour that if it was raining on the day it would be cancelled, but along came Tuesday last week, the rain abated, a coach turned up at school and off we went to the park. The park, the Xi’an Weiyang Lake Recreation Garden, was about an hour away by bus, and felt like I imagine Tivoli in Copenhagen would if no maintenance was done for several years. I’m currently in a battle with Dave, another teacher at the school over who has the most interesting life. One of the categories on the survey where we could both collect a few more points is ‘dangerous sports’. The park had a bungee jumping tower, but looking at the rust on the structure and being generally distrustful of Chinese health and safety regulations, we both decided to give it a miss.

For the pedalo race we had two heats. Western and Chinese staff and men and women were paired together, and my partner was Vanessa, the HR person who pays our wages every month. It seemed prudent to try my hardest not to lose, and on the coach on the way to the park Martin and Brittany, who would be judging our heat, were trying to extract wage increases as a bribe for winning. We all donned our bright and bulky orange life vests and clambered aboard our catamaran crafts. As a seasoned cyclist who has cycled across a continent and from London to Paris in around 30 hours, I thought I should have no problem being very competitive in this race.

The whistle was blown and off we went. Me and Vanessa powered away neck and neck with another two teams. As we approached the other end of the lake where we had to turn to go back, another team turned before us and into our path. My side of the catamaran hit their boat and in return I received a torrent of verbal abuse. After the shortest inquiry in pedalo-racing history, the stewards on the shore blamed me and Vanessa for the incident, but with a quick appeal (“we were going straight and didn’t have permission to turn yet, they turned into our path!”) we were exonerated and the crash declared blameless. The return leg was tough. My side of the catamaran had its prow below the waterline which meant constantly steering to starboard. I decided that as I’d only noticed this after the crash, it must have been the crash and nothing to do with me getting a bit fat. But it turns out that not cycling for six months has destroyed my fitness. The lactic acid building up in my legs burned like hell and after limping to the finish line we came in third. Not a bad showing.

I could barely stand up after clambering out of the boat. I seriously thought I was going to faint. So I gulped down a bottle of water and just sat with the world spinning for a few minutes. After that it was time to go and barbecue. Albert had gone to his local butcher’s and bought meat. It was literally a plastic supermarket carrier bag filled with meat. I can’t stress enough the literalness of that that sentence. A plastic carrier bag. Filled with meat. No other packaging. Martin had brought baguettes and cheese and as a complete cheese addict I did get a little bit excited.

Unfortunately I had class later in the afternoon so had to leave early along with Nick and Steven. For ¥1 we caught the bus back to school, and as it was the start of the route we even got seats. In the afternoon I had my kindergarten class and then my class to 4 year olds in the evening. My legs were still pretty wobbly and I wondered if it was possible to teach them entirely sitting down. While it turns out you can’t teach classes to very young children completely sitting down, I did give it a good shot.

In other news, a couple of weeks ago I passed the half-way point of my contract here. It’s been a tough six months and I don’t actually see it getting any easier for the next six months. It’s taken me half a year, but I’ve finally become aware enough of what to expect of things and comfortable enough to ask for them to start making a minor fuss about certain things that are annoying me. Most of these things are to do with my apartment.

When I moved in the school had just signed the lease on the apartment, and it was still filthy from the previous tenants. It took a week for the school to arrange for a cleaner. It took four weeks to get the internet installed. It took six weeks for the school to provide a filtered drinking water dispenser. Rob and Alistair moved in a week after me. After winning the internet and drinking water battle, and losing the battled to have the shower head moved to be head height and the heating fixed, we sort of gave up. We didn’t complain about having a manual washing machine, or the sofas too uncomfortable to sit in for more than a few minutes. We also didn’t complain about the water going off a couple of times a week, sometimes on a Saturday or Sunday morning when all we wanted was a shower before work. I’d forgotten how annoying all this was until Colin moved in on Monday as he felt like a change of apartment. On tuesday, just 18 hours later, he moved moved back. I mentioned to my boss that, while I can’t speak for Rob (who left in January) or Alistair (who handed in his notice in April and left this week), it doesn’t surprise me that of the three new staff members who arrived at the same time and shared that apartment, two have now left and I’m probably the most disgruntled of anyone at the school.

Anyway, the school’s admin assistant is telling the landlord to fix the water, and asking if maybe I can get new sofas, a new washing machine, and the shower head fixed to the wall at head height. My experience of the word ‘maybe’ over the past 27 years has been that it means ‘no’ so we’ll see what happens.

With only six months to go, I’ve started thinking about what to do at the end of my contract, which finishes on the 24th of November – 170 days away. I’m fairly certain that I’ll fly back to the UK soon after that and stay with my dad. With a month to Christmas it seems like an ideal time to eBay most of my possessions that are stored at my dad’s house and that I’ve realised I no longer need or want. Lots of jobs start in January, so I’ll try to find a job somewhere starting then, the only question is where. My thoughts on where are in many cases contradictory:

  • I’ve learnt a bit of Chinese so I’d like to stay in China.
  • There’s a whole world to explore so I’d like to go somewhere that isn’t China.
  • I now have a few friends in Xi’an, and on my good days there are times when I could see myself staying here longer.
  • The prospect of starting again, again, doesn’t seem appealing, but if I’m going to stay in China I’d like to find a job in Shanghai, but I only have a couple of friends there, one of whom may be moving on before next year.
  • I’ve come to the conclusion that I am, at heart, a European, and that European languages are so much easier to learn, so I’d like to work in Europe for a year.
  • But I’ve already explored a lot of Europe, and there’s the rest of the world to explore.
  • South East Asia would be interesting, but to start again with another symbol based and tonal language and building new friendships seems like a lot of effort.
  • I’d like to live in Australia or New Zealand at some point. The easiest way of doing that is the working holiday visa, but to get that I have to be under 30 and have a certain level of savings. So I only have a couple of years to save a significant amount of money.
  • Jobs in the middle east usually pay very well, but also usually require 2-3 years teaching experience and I’m not sure how well I’d survive in such a socially restrictive society.

It’s not so much that any of those options have negatives, just that I want to maximise the number of concurrent positives while leaving as many options open for the future. Still, I’ve got six months to work it out!

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