Six Months in Japan – An Update

So, I’ve been in Japan for six months and I haven’t written a single blog post.
Why? Well, I’ve been having such a good time and been so busy making new friends and exploring this amazing country that I hadn’t even thought about the blog until my web-hosting renewal email dropped into my inbox.

I only have time for two quick notes:

First: I suspect I won’t be resuming regular blogging service while living in Japan. I’m enjoying life here so much and have so much going on that I don’t feel the need to moan onto the internet every week anymore. I also don’t have anything to moan about. Though I will say this to anyone thinking of teaching English in China: don’t, it’s not worth the hassle, Japan is far better. And to the “Japan is really expensive” whiners: I’m saving more in Japan than I was earning in China.

Second: I know the site looks a mess at the moment. When I looked at renewing my web-hosting I realised I could be saving a bit of money, so I’ve moved hosts. But it’s a hassle getting the site back up and running properly. I’ll work at it over time.

Moving Forward

It’s been a few months since I blogged. Why? Well, I was half way through a four part series on teaching – why, how, where and what. I wrote the first two, but then to write about where and what I realised I’d have to go into some detail about Xi’an and the school I was working at. At the time I thought that if I have nothing nice to say, I should say nothing at all, and so I said nothing.
Also at that time I was applying for new jobs. I didn’t think it would look good if a potential future employer googled me and found a long diatribe against my then current employer.

Anyway, I’ve now finished my contract in Xi’an and been back in the UK for two weeks. I’ve also secured a job in Japan, in Tokyo, for next year, so I’m preparing to fly out to Tokyo in just over three weeks. All the signs so far suggest that the school in Tokyo is far more organised than my old school in China, which will be a nice change.

I don’t know if I’ll continue the blog in Japan, or if I’ll ever finish the four part series I started in September. While the blog helped me organise my myriad thoughts and to vent and to some extent stay sane, it served as a distraction to getting out and getting to know the city in which I was living. It never took less than half a day to write each week, and I eventually gained a (deserved) reputation for spending most of my spare time in Starbucks on my laptop.

Keep checking for updates just in case I start blogging regularly again, but at the moment I don’t know what the future holds for my blog.

One Year On – How I Became a Teacher

There are many website and blogs giving lots of advice on all the different ways you can become an EFL teacher. I’m not going to try to replicate the wealth of information already out there, but rather, give my own experience.
There are so many acronyms in TEFL that I didn’t know where to begin. Fortunately, my flatmate for two years was a TEFL teacher, so he gave me the insider knowledge. To get a good job I needed to get a qualification, either the Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) accredited by the University of Cambridge, or the Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CertTESOL) accredited by Trinity College London. Doing either is much of a muchness, but apparently the CELTA is a little more practical than the CertTESOL which is more theoretical, so I chose the CELTA. I also had to pick a school where to study and gain the qualification.

I knew nothing about the reputations of individual schools in the TEFL industry, so I once again relied on the wisdom of my flatmate. He said to do it either at the school he worked at, or at an International House school. I wanted to get out of the UK and needed a clean break, and I thought doing the CELTA in the place where I wanted to eventually find a job would be a good idea. I checked the IH websites, and found that IH Barcelona offered a CELTA every month.

To get on the course I had to fill in the application form, which meant learning some English grammar for the first time since I was at school 10 years ago, and pass an interview so the tutors could asses my commitment to the course and so my likelihood of completing what is a very intensive month of training. I was accepted onto the course, so told my boss at the Department of Health my leaving date and booked a train ticket from London to Barcelona.

I arrived in Barcelona late in the evening and went to the apartment organised by IH. I was staying with a Spanish teacher from IH, and the apartment overlooked the Parc de Joan Miro, next to Place Espanya.

The course tutors aren’t kidding when they say it’s intensive. Five days a week in the classroom, with hours of homework every night and assignments to write at the weekends. They also had us teaching on the first day. In hindsight it was “only” 20 minutes, but with no experience at all 20 minutes seemed like an eternity. I am glad they did that on the first day though, to get the initial fear of standing at the head of classroom out of the system as early as possible meant by the second day we were all relaxed.

There were 12 people on the course, and the first day consisted of getting to know each other through six different activities. We were then split into two groups of six for our teaching practice groups. Six activities, six people in a group. The tutors said they hoped we were paying attention, as our 20 minute “lessons” were going to be those activities so the students we were practising on could get to know each other.

Overall the course was really good, and when I’m planning lessons I still think to myself “what would Rosa or Andrea (the course tutors) do”.

After the course came the task of finding a job. We were told that by chance there was one job available at IH. Me and Ed, another trainee, both applied. I went in search of IH’s DoS and, finding her office empty, left my CV and covering letter on her desk. Ed found Andrea and dragged her to the DoS’s office to give an instant recommendation. Ed got the job.

I quickly realised that Ed basically got the last teaching job in Barcelona for that academic year, and I broadened my search. After a week I had three job offers in Spain, Russia and China.

The job in Spain was from a school that contacted me after seeing my CV online. The job offer came after a phone conversation in which nary a question was asked of me. The school was very small, just two classrooms, and most of the phone “interview” consisted of the owner telling me how it’s a really nice town of around 10,000 people, and it’s only half an hour on the bus to the big local city of 70,000 people, and that’s only two hours from Benidorm. It all just sounded a bit small for me. In my first job I want to have proper support and I wasn’t convinced a two-teacher school could adequately provide that.

The job in Russia was for a large school in Moscow. The interview was conducted by an American and actually had proper interview questions. There was also a section in the interview for grammar questions. I must have done ok because I received the job offer. But, on researching the school online, I found a lot of negative comments from ex-teachers.

The job in China was recommended to me by another EFL teacher friend who had worked there. He said I should email the DoS. I did, and then I had another phone interview. This one with proper interview questions, but without a grammar section. I got offered the job and, not being able to find anything negative about the school online, I accepted the offer and started applying for visas and doing everything that needs to be done to move to a different country for at least a year.

It seems in TEFL that the less attractive the place to work is, the lower the pay but the higher the benefits. For my job in Xi’an, as a first year teacher I’m paid ¥6,000 a month, but the school also organises and pays for my apartment, and also the return airfare to my home airport.

They don’t, however, take into account the fact that where my parents live, the closest thing I have to a “home” and where I was living for six weeks preparing to go to China, is in the middle of nowhere and it costs a lot on public transport to get anywhere useful. My train from Carlisle to London was £100, but the flight from London to Xi’an was only £500, and the return ticket to Manchester to apply for my visa was about £60.

As I would come to learn, it’s the little oversights in detail such as this that cause such frustration in the job.

More to follow next week when I’ll write about where I’m teaching, and what it’s like being a teacher.

One Year On – Why I Became a Teacher

Four years ago when I finished university I needed a job pretty much straight away. A committed procrastinator, I went to a few temp agencies and was eventually sent for a job in the Correspondence Unit at the Department of Health, the UK Government Department that oversees the NHS in England. I had to commit to stay at least three months, and there was the chance of promotion after six months. My initial job was on the admin team, opening the hundreds of letters received every day from members of the public, Members of Parliament, the Royal Family and health industry executives, scanning those letters and logging the details of the correspondents into the system. It was dull work but I made it interesting by gradually reforming the processes and procedures to be much more efficient and sensible. As my boss would eventually admit four years later, I’m very good at “managing upwards”. After six months I got the promotion from the admin team to a drafting team, actually writing replies to some of those letters. I had to use my real name, and occasionally disgruntled correspondents would write about my replies on their own blogs, hence why only now, a year on, do I feel comfortable disclosing on my blog where I used to work and ‘linking’ these two parts of my public life.

Every year the Department recruited around ten permanent staff members to work in the Correspondence Unit, and while the jobs had to be offered externally and the recruitment process couldn’t favour the temp staff already in the Department, most of the jobs ended up going to internal candidates. The first year I didn’t apply because I was planning on leaving in the summer to go and cycle around the world for a few years. As you can read elsewhere on my blog, that didn’t work out as planned, and three months later I was back at the Department of Health writing letters.

I was reasonably content working there for a while. By that point, most of my friends were people I’d met through work. The commute, for London, was brilliant. It took only a quarter of an hour from door to door using the tube (I once got from my front door to my desk in 12 minutes!). The slight social cache of working in the “machinery of Government” was nice, and there were frequent opportunities to locum for a few days in senior officials’ or Ministers’ private offices. How many people can say they’ve accompanied a Government Minister to a Parliamentary debate, or watched a World Cup football game in the Secretary of State for Health’s office? (The Secretary of State had to attend a, erm, meeting, with all the other Ministers down the road at party headquarters. Honest.)

Soon after I returned from my failed attempt to cycle around the world, the Department held another recruitment round. This time I applied, but I missed out because I didn’t put enough effort into my application.

A year after that there was yet another recruitment round. This time, I put loads of effort into my application and I had a great interview. But at the last minute, the number of available posts was cut and I just missed out. Then there was a general election, a change of Government, and all civil service recruitment was frozen immediately and indefinitely.

I’d worked at the same place for almost four years, on a temporary contract, without any of the usual civil service benefits like pensions and holiday allowances, for less money than most of my colleagues.

I knew I wanted to leave, but it was always so easy to stay. Then I was given a new role that I really didn’t want. A few years back there was a scandal at a hospital in the midlands called Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. The hospital was badly managed and as a result between 2005 and 2008 anywhere between 400 and 1200 patients died that shouldn’t have. The Department of Health was involved, as it oversees the NHS in England. The Correspondence Unit was involved, as a lot of the correspondence received is from people complaining about NHS services and we had received some letters about Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. The Department of Health isn’t the correct place to complain to about NHS services, so we would answer the letters giving the official NHS complaints procedure and contact details. At the time, no logging was done of the complaints received, so no analysis could be conducted to see if there were many serious complaints about individual hospitals. That obviously had to change.

At first, the system was updated so details of the complaint could be entered, but it was surprising how few of the drafters on permanent contracts and who only had to write replies to seven letters a day managed to to correctly enter these details, so then a dedicated complaints team of two people was created. The team would scan read every letter received, pick out the complaints, log the details of the complaint including its severity, then allocate the letters out to be replied to by drafters. The most serious complaints would be kept to be answered by the complaints team itself. The head of the Unit had to pick the second team member. As no one wanted the job of reading serious healthcare complaints all day, a short list of four was created and we all had to give reasons why we shouldn’t have to do the job. My reason was that if I was given the job, I’d quit.

Guess who the job went to. Yup. Me.

When my boss told me, even she said it was good opportunity to go and do something that I really wanted to do. I had to stay another three months while I worked out my exit plan, which turned out to be just enough time to establish and refine all the procedures needed for the complaints team to do its job properly.

I had some requirements for my exit strategy. I no longer wanted to live in the UK, I wanted to be able to travel and find work abroad relatively easily, I wanted a job I could explain in a few words rather than a few sentences, and I wanted a job that would be relatively safe even in the economic downturn that was, and still is, dragging on.

The obvious choice seemed to be Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).

Next: how I became an EFL teacher.

One Year On – Overview

A year ago I left my job in London to become a teacher of English as a foreign language. An awful lot has happened since then, so first I’ll fill you in with a broad overview. I left London to go to Barcelona to study for the Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA). This is the basic qualification needed to properly enter the world of TEFL. The course took the whole month of September and was very rewarding. The plan at the time was to stay in Barcelona to teach, but unfortunately I misjudged the timing of my course. Most of the jobs in Barcelona – and all over Europe – start in September. By the time I finished at the beginning of October there were only scraps of part time jobs left.

Instead of staying in Barcelona, I started to look elsewhere and a friend tentatively recommended a school in Xi’an in China that he had worked at. In early October I returned to the UK to start applying for my visa and shutting down my life there. At the end of November I was finally ready to fly out to China and begin my first teaching job.

Nine and a half months on and I think I’ve made good progress as a teacher and I’ve grown and developed a great deal as a person.

Now, a more detailed review of the past year: why, how, where and what.

Explaining the Absence of Blogs

When did I last blog? Almost a month ago? I admit that it’s a pretty poor effort, but in truth I’ve wanted to blog and I’ve written the blog posts, but recently they’ve been too private to put online on a blog, especially one that I know my bosses read. Maybe one day bits and bobs from the past month will end up in a book. But, as it’s just over a year since I left my job in London to go to Barcelona and train to be an English as a second language teacher, it seems like the perfect time to reflect on the past year, more to come

No Why!

This is the third time I’ve tried to write this post, and hopefully it’ll come out right this time. Both times I’ve gone horribly off topic, writing basically whatever nonsense came out of my stream of conscious at the time. The second time I had writer’s block and forced out a thousand words anyway. It was terribly convoluted and I ended up talking as much about the intention of design as I did about “no why!”.
Anyway, to the topic at hand.

One of the things I find particularly frustrating about living in China is the response “no why!” to lots of questions I ask. I consider myself a fairly curious person. I like to know about and understand the world around me, especially when I’m in a new place with a different culture and way of life. Consequently, I used to ask “why?” questions a lot. “Used to” being the operative words.

When planning on coming to China, I started thinking of “why” questions, and when I finally arrived everything was new and interesting so my number of “why” questions went up dramatically. But then I’d so often get the response “no why” that I sort of gave up and my “why” question count has gone down a lot. I’m still a curious person, I still want to find out about the world around me, but it’s just so frustrating trying to do so here that I’ve temporarily put “why” on hold. At work a while ago I drew a version of the chart below to illustrate the point.

“No why” is used whenever a person a) doesn’t know the answer, b) doesn’t have the inclination or ability to explain the answer, or c) when there simply is no answer. Without generalising too much, I think a) and c) and the predominant reasons.

Remember that China is still a communist country where access to knowledge is highly controlled. The education system here is very much geared to learning approved facts. There is much less emphasis on applying that knowledge to form original thoughts. Some of my students boast that the education system in China is better because students learn more. I retort that the value of facts without the ability to use them is greatly reduced. This approach to education is understandable in an undemocratic country with an undercurrent of private disgruntlement at the Government – you don’t want the citizenry to figure out too much about the Government.

This is all to say that the Chinese I have encountered seem less able to piece together the knowledge they do have to answer a “why” question about something they haven’t been explicitly told the answer to.

Often I think there really is no answer. Because China is developing so fast and cities are being built so quickly, sometimes there literally is “no why”. When I ask about urban design, the reality is that a lot of it has been haphazardly cobbled together at such breakneck speed that there wasn’t time for any thought about “why” in the first place.

I expect I would find the same answers and so frustration living in any country where I don’t speak the language, and I know that I’ve been guilty of this back home, sometimes fobbing off questions from curious foreigners with the answer “because it just is”, but I still find it frustrating to be on the other end of it. It’s also a little bit annoying that the Chinglish phrase is so much clearer than what we might use in the English speaking world. “No why!” sounds far better than “because it just is” or one of its variants.

Anyway, on to other things I’ve done this week. At school my Chinese lesson yesterday was cancelled due to staff training. Of course, I only found out after arriving at school expecting a lesson. In the 37 weeks I’ve been here, I’m supposed to have had 37 Chinese lessons. Alas, I’ve only managed to have five even with a lot of pestering of the powers that be.

But on a brighter note, yesterday me and Sarah went out for another photo safari. This time we went to Da Yanta, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, and managed to walk over five miles in the course of the day. The grounds are splendid, with fountains and sculptures, and a very nice relaxing park to the east. We stayed long enough to practice our night photography, with everyone looking very curiously at my super mini tripod. I’ll definitely be going there again when I want to escape the rigours of life.

At work we’ve all been following the olympics as best we can with 8,000km and seven time zones in the way. I gather that Team GB (and Northern Ireland) is doing rather well, and with the things I’m reading on Facebook and Twitter, I quite wish I was in London right now. It’s typical, I was cycling across Europe four years ago so didn’t see any of the Beijing olympics, and now I’m in China during the London olympics. I managed to download the opening ceremony, and a few of us watched it with the Brits explaining the weird quirks to the Americans.

With 37 weeks gone, I’ve only got 15 weeks remaining. I’ve still got six days of annual leave that I haven’t used, plus there’s a week long national holiday in October, and, touch wood, now the summer classes have died down we’ll have three quieter weeks before we resume our normal busy schedule. That means I only have around ten proper weeks left.

I’ll miss Xi’an when I leave, especially the friends I’ve made here and how, after nine months, it genuinely feels as much like home as anywhere else in the world. I never thought I’d say this, especially with how much I complain about it, but I actually think that I’ll even miss my school when I go. But I know I won’t be signing a second year contract. One of the main reasons I got into TEFL is to see more of the world, so my next job will be somewhere else, hopefully starting in January. Plus, I already have my flight booked. I’ll be landing back at London Heathrow at 5:40pm on Tuesday the 27th of November. If anyone has a couch available for a night or two, that’d be grand…

Am I Cursed?

I last blogged a week and a half ago on Sunday. It’s been a busy week and a half since then.
On Sunday night I went out to Park Qin with friends. Since I’d given up on giving up drinking, and I’d warmed up my liver a few days before at Fantasy, I started off drinking the same as everyone else.

In Park Qin, we were all sitting around when I coughed. Then Angelo coughed. And then Dave. Soon everyone was coughing and wheezing and had itchy eyes. We pretty quickly moved to another park of the bar and told Cathy, one of the bar staff who we know quite well. The bar manager closed off the area and reviewed the CCTV footage to find out what had happened. Joking about the poison gas attack we were more disgruntled at having to move than anything else. But the video didn’t show what caused it and there was no one else in the area, and even when we bumped into Cathy a few days later the cause still remained a mystery.

After three “Zombies”, which are apparently filled with rum, I’d reverted to my usual quiet and shy drunk self. The “not wanting to make a fool of myself” part of my brain was still on full alert and preventing me from saying anything foolish, but with having drunk quite a bit it wasn’t able to keep up with censoring the input from the “banter” part of my brain, and so I couldn’t keep up with the conversation.

It was pretty awkward actually. Me and another ex-pat in Xi’an, Karolina, had contacted each other through WarmShowers, the cycling hospitality site, as the two of us are the only people on the site living in Xi’an. We didn’t know it at first, but after a few emails we realised we worked for different branches of the same school. We’d been texting back and forth for a few weeks promising to meet up and swap cycling stories, and that night we finally both found ourselves in the same bar. We’ve both cycled across Europe, me from NorthWest to SouthEast, her from NorthEast to SouthWest, and while there was so much potential for good banter about cycling and travelling and our different experiences, due to my slightly drunken censorship brain module most of what I said was short factual statements. “Four thousand kilometres.” “Six weeks.” “France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece and Turkey.”

After Park Qin me, Dave and Colin headed off to a bar called Three as Four where some other teachers were. Eventually we left at about 3am and I went home.

Monday was taken up with a hangover. My first in six months. I honestly think I much prefer not drinking. I seem to be a much more sociable person when sober and I just don’t enjoy it either at the time or afterwards.

On Wednesday I finally had a Chinese lesson. Only eight months late, but better late than never. I’m in a class with Colin and Brittany, with Daisy, one of the Chinese PAs teaching. I’m the weakest student in the class, but the choice was to join that class or continue to battle to have any lessons at all. Daisy’s a really good teacher and I even picked up some ideas for when I’m teaching very small groups of students.

After the lesson I moved into my ADoS’s apartment. I was pretty pleased with how little I’ve accumulated. I arrived in Xi’an with a 23kg suitcase packed very tightly, and eight months later I moved apartment with the same suitcase and a backpack in just two trips. On the face of it that sounds like I’ve at least tripled my possessions, but in reality since my new apartment is only a five minute walk away I didn’t bother packing my suitcase properly and just shoved stuff in, and most of what I’ve accumulated are things like coat-hangers, a cheap electric heater and cheap bedding that I’ll happily leave behind when I leave Xi’an, but which I may as well take with me for a short apartment move.

After a lightning fast move I met Sarah and we had an afternoon and evening out taking lots of photographs around the south gate and then eating in the Village Cafe.

Friday turned into another frustrating “China” day. For the past three weeks I’ve been teaching a class to older teenagers as part of the summer courses. It’s a really good opportunity to keep up to date with my skills teaching to older students, and as I’d mentioned to the Director of Studies that I hope to teach at a university next year, he decided to observe and give feedback on one of these lessons as it will be more relevant to my future career than my classes to very young students.

There are eight students in the class and usually six or seven turn up with a range of abilities. The stronger students sit with the weaker students and help them out and we find a nice balance. Due to the off-site activities after Friday’s lesson, the lesson on Friday starts at 1:30 instead of 3:30. For the previous two weeks all of the students had managed to come at the correct time. But on Friday, the day when my DoS was observing and I wanted it to go well or at least be a completely ‘ordinary’ lesson, only three students turned up at 1:30, the rest turned up at 3:30. Two of the three who were on time are the weakest in the class and the other is the strongest. My carefully crafted lesson plan for six to eight students and taking into account a range of abilities suddenly didn’t seem so carefully crafted after all. The lesson was… difficult… but the feedback was largely positive given the circumstances and I’ve got some useful pointers for areas to work on.

In the previous two weeks for the activities we’d been to Pizza Hut and then Starbucks, and this week we went to laser quest. Laser quest is in the south of city, about 45 minutes away by taxi. The plan was to finish class at 3:15 and leave straight away to get taxis there by 4pm, then leave laser quest at 5pm to get taxis back to school by 6pm. Easier said than done.

By the time everyone was rounded up in the school and went downstairs to get taxis, it was 3:30. With another class sharing the outings and a few staff members along as well, there were 19 of us, so we’d need five taxis. Except taxis change shift between 3pm and 5pm and it’s really difficult to flag a taxi down. Eventually we gave up and went to get the metro as far as it could take us. At about 4:15 we got to Wei Yi Jie metro station and tried to get taxis for the shorter journey to laser quest. At about 4:30 we realised it wasn’t going to happen and one of the Chinese staff, Jennifer, went in search of a bus we could take. By 4:45 we were still standing around in the blazing sun, which isn’t my idea of fun, so I went off to find some cold drinks in a local shop. While I was gone for two minutes the bus came, and I returned to find Colin and Jennifer looking a bit grumpy at having to wait behind for me. Fortunately I bought a few extra drinks for them. Eventually another bus came and we arrived at laser quest at 5pm, an hour late and the time we were supposed to be leaving to go back to school.

Why no one thought “hey, we need to get 20 people from the north to the south of city, the metro can’t take us the whole way and at that time of day taxis are changing shift… let’s book some taxis in advance or, I know, let’s book a minibus” I don’t know.

Anyway, we stayed around in laser quest for an hour before heading back to school. The return journey was similarly farcical. By then it was rush hour so no taxis were available, and we again went to find a bus to get back to the metro. We waited for half an hour for the bus to come, and then discovered we could get another, more frequent bus from the other side of the road. As soon as we crossed over our original bus came the other way. Then we saw the school’s minibus (hey, that might have been handy a couple of hours ago!) in the distance and Jennifer phoned the driver to try to pick us up. Nope, he’s finished work for the day. Eventually, at 6:45, we got to a metro station. It would only take another 45 minutes to get back to school, but Colin had a class at 7pm. Lo and behold, the first train to arrive was stuffed so full we couldn’t fit on, and we eventually got back to school after 7:30.

On Sunday I started to wonder if I’m cursed. I moved out of my old apartment due to the mains water supply being unreliable. On Sunday morning, in my new apartment, I woke up and went for a shower. Except there was no water. Fortunately I was in a good mood and managed to laugh about it. Apparently a pipe had burst, and by Monday morning it was fixed again. It did give everyone at school a nice topic for the day’s mocking, saying how repelling water is a pretty weird superpower to have.

Anyway, that’ll do for this week, I’ve already written far too much!

Highs and Lows

While I wrote on Wednesday about wanting to move apartments, I never thought things would move so quickly. On Thursday at around mid-day my DoS asked if I wanted to move apartments, and I said yes of course, and he said ok, they’ll probably have a new apartment for me in about a week. Excellent!

That same day at around 6pm the admin assistant came to me and said that I’d be moving apartments the next day, and moving in with my ADoS. I told her “no no, no, no no, no, no, no” (yes, that quote’s accurate) for a number of reasons. Two of which are that you can’t give me half a day’s notice to move apartments on a day when I have classes and that living with my boss would be weird.

I eventually won a reprieve, being in the odd situation of defending my apartment, saying that actually it’s fine and I quite like it. But I still have to move this week because I think they’ve already cancelled the lease.

Things in China can go so ridiculously slowly when they should go quickly, and far too fast when some thought and consideration needs to be applied. A case in point of things moving slowly is the air-conditioning in my classroom, which I’m told won’t be fixed until September, by which time I won’t need it anyway.

With various other things, the news felt like several final straws all at once. So when me and some friends went out to Fantasy on Thursday night to see DJ Run, I gave up giving up drinking. Yes, my job here literally drove me to drink. I didn’t drink much – I knew I’d be the lightest of lightweights, but we all had a really good time even if it turned out DJ Run had cancelled.

On Friday while still angry I was wondering whether to a) walk away, b) give 30 days notice, c) ask to transfer to a different branch of the school, or d) stick it out. While I’d like to say the odds were about 25/25/25/25, my tendency to be all talk and no action and err on the side of the devil you know rather than the devil you don’t seems to have won the day. Also, now I’ve had a couple more days to calm down, I’ll almost certainly end up going with option d. I only have 124 days remaining on my contract – on Tuesday I’ll be two thirds of the way through – so the most sensible option is to see it through to the end.

Beijing to Xi’an

At the end of a lazy holiday, I planned on lazily heading to the airport. My flight was at 3pm, so I had a very lazy morning checking out of the hostel and doing some writing in the hostel bar. I think I spent about 75 per cent of my time in Beijing in the hostel. I don’t mind though, it’s a really nice hostel, perfect for meeting cool people or just relaxing and reading or writing. Plus the air-conditioning is great. At about 11am I went to Starbucks by the Qianmen. Behind me in the queue were two Australian sisters, travelling together now they’ve retired. I helped them with their order, and then we sat together and talked. After they headed off, I got my Kindle out to do some reading, and then Greg and Australian guy I met at the hostel says hello. We sit and talk for an hour or so, neither of us seeming particularly interested in getting contact details to keep in touch, but both of us quite happy with the transient type of friendship so common among backpackers.

At about 1pm I headed off to the airport. Beijing has an airport express train. But, just like the Stansted “Express” in London, there was nothing “express” about it. In fact, just like the Stansted “Express”, it was old, slow, rickety, and a bit smelly. The only difference was the price. The ticket was ¥70, which is about 70p, whereas the last time I took the Stansted “Express” it cost me something like £25.

As I had an e-ticket for my flight and no checked baggage, I used the electronic check-in machines and headed straight to security. Despite having two hours to spare, I “accidentally” chose the express lane for people who’s flights are departing very soon. It had nothing to do with not wanting to stand around for ages of course, honest. The security personal with the metal detector wands were all pretty young women. I “accidentally” left my phone in my pocket and had to get a pat down. Oops.

I wandered around the terminal for a bit, wondering what to do with the two hours before my flight. I picked up a copy of China Daily, the state’s English newspaper, to see what’s officially going on in China. On the front page was a story about how the Chinese Yuan Renminbi is going to outperform all other world currencies in the coming years. On page three there was a full length column about a FOREIGN English teacher who was playing in a swimming pool and used his FOREIGN culture to throw a five year old girl into the pool. The girl was traumatised by this FOREIGNER’S actions and so now he has to go back to his FOREIGN land of New Zealand. Did I mention that the article said the teacher was a FOREIGNER. Finally, I read two short paragraphs on page four about six workers who died in an industrial accident. I decided to take the entire paper as a sarcastically written comment and analysis piece on priorities and China, and didn’t bother reading the rest of the paper.

As soon as I boarded the plane I realised I had quite a major problem. I had to pee really quite urgently. Must have been that bottle of water I drank about half an hour earlier. Not to worry, I thought, we’ll soon be in the air cruising and then I can go to the bathroom. We pushed back from the gate about 20 minutes behind schedule and started taxiing towards the runway. But we must have lost our take-off slot, as we then waited on the taxi-way for a little while. After five minutes I thought that we had to take off soon. But then half an hour came and went. I was in physical pain. The term “bursting” almost became a literal reality, and still we waited. After an hour of sitting around on the taxi-way, waiting to take off, we finally approached the run way and powered into the air. I was looking around for any sign that we were levelling out and seat belt sign was going to be turned off, but I couldn’t wait much longer. Eventually, despite the seatbelt light, another passenger got up to walk to the bathroom and I hastily followed to the other bathroom. Ahh relief. Crisis averted.

From Xi’an airport I took the airport bus to the Bell Tower, and then the metro back home. I’ve been in Xi’an long enough now that it actually felt like home after having been on holiday.