School shows

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was asked to play the piano in front of several parents. Well that moment’s been and gone! I thought that I would be performing a couple of pieces of my choice to the parent’s of each year in turn and this was at the request of the head teacher. But the practicalities of shifting around a piano for the events proved insurmountable. Still, it was not beyond the capabilities of the school to provide a piano for one of the school shows. I have no idea how often but, every now and then, each year in the school (roughly 500 per year) puts on a show for their parents. These shows allow the parents to brim with pride at their children’s brief moment of fame. They also provide an opportunity for the school to showcase its assets of which genuinely English English teachers are one. So far I have been asked to make an appearance in grade 2, 3, 5 and 1’s shows (1’s was today). At these shows it is our job to leave behind on the stage every bit of dignity or integrity we might have had beforehand!

The shows are composed of a number of short pieces each performed by around 20 children. I’m not sure how many performers there are in total – a large proportion of the year simply makes up part of the audience. The performances can involve intricately choreographed group dances, singing or even the odd bit of acting. The first show we had to take part in was the grade 2 show. In this show we were asked (about 5 minutes before going on stage for the practice run!) to do our ‘English day’ skit, which is fast becoming legendary (I jest)! We settled for our acting-out-and-making-the-children-call-out-the-names-of-the-animals routine, which always goes down a treat. This meant that I had to act out a monkey and an elephant in front of near on 1000 people!

Grade 3’s was the one in which I played the piano. It took place outside the gym with the audience on chairs set up on the running track. I was apprehensive about this one because we had only run through it twice, the first time I had only received the music that day. I had played it over and over almost obsessively, but it’s not the same playing on your own. It was only ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’, but it would have been nice to have one decent run-through. I was also put off by the wrong lyrics. Here, they sing it: ‘good tidings we bring to you and your king, good tidings for Christmas and a happy New Year’. When it came to the brief performance it turned out I needn’t have worried. It was the children who got it wrong! There was supposed to be half a verse of clapping in between the two verses which didn’t happen. I receded to the fringes of the stage content that at least I had got it right. That was when one of the teachers indicated the pedals of the piano – I instantly realised I had played the whole thing with the mute pedal on! I thought it sounded quiet! And it’s no wonder the children felt a bit unsure! I was so concerned with getting the notes it hadn’t occurred to me to check that the piano wasn’t still on mute, as I had left it when I wanted to doodle while I was waiting around during the rehearsal. Oh, well! Hopefully they’ll ask me again!

The grade 5 show was a ‘catwalk’ that, like the grade 2 show, took place in the enormous gym. The grade 5 teachers told us to put a hat on or something for our walk along the platform. I didn’t have a hat or anything unusual. I settled for my leather jacket and my hoodie – the closest thing I had to headwear (I had considered a tie bandana, but there are limits!). The embarrassing result is among the pictures below! Even before we got up onto the stage, Amy spotted one of the parents shamelessly following us every step of the way with his camera, disregarding the children on the stage. I felt so awkward as we gave our ridiculous poses at the end of the platform!

The grade 1 show was over very quickly for us, that is except for Simon, who had to dress up as Santa Claus. We were told that we were to sing a song with the kids. You’ll never guess which carol they went for…! We hoped to no avail that we wouldn’t be given microphones. I longed for the piano the piano to be there so I wouldn’t need to sing. It wasn’t too bad really and, as I say, it was over very quickly. I’m not sure if this applies to all shows but, after the shows, the children would take part in games like tug-of-war or piggy back races.

The last week of shows has got us out of a lot of lessons. We were told categorically that these shows take precedent over lessons. We weren’t complaining. This week I have taught only 10 lessons – less than half a normal week. I say ‘normal’, but we have yet to teach a full week. Talking of time off, we’ve just found out exactly how much time we get off for Christmas. We were worried that the school would stick rigidly to the contract that states we miss 24th,25th and 26th for Christmas of which two days fall on the weekend, giving us all of half a day off. In fact we have the 27th and 28th off as well. Yay! The plan for Christmas is to spend it in Hong Kong. Amy and I have splashed out on a lavish beachside hotel for a couple of nights that, most important of all, offers a traditional Christmas lunch. Hopefully we can use the extra days to explore Hong Kong and Macau, which is just across the Pearl river estuary. Hong Kong should be far more festive than anywhere in China, with its huge expat communities.

In the following pictures you’ll be able to see two of the grade three English teachers I work with. Nikki is the one wearing jeans in the tug-of-war photo and there is a photo of her encouraging the children. Beryl is in the same photo – she is the further back of the teachers that are wearing glasses.

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If you hadn’t worked out from the quality of these photos you might have worked from my appearance in three of them that they are not my photos. These were taken by a proper photographer and were put up on the school website. You might want to try and navigate the website with the aid of google translate: smsx.org

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Weather,etc.

I’m sure I missed several things about what it’s like in the classroom (the last post), but there is something in particular that I have since thought about that I want to include. I talked about the dramatically varying levels of discipline in the classroom. I think one of the main factors in this is the allocation of leading roles to certain members of the class. For example in grade one, if there is some delay at the start of the lesson, it is someone’s job to get up in front and read out English phrases in the textbook to be repeated obediently by the whole class. Another example: most of the  classes in the school are divided into tables each of which is assigned a leader who is responsible for controlling their table thereby accruing table points throughout the week. I think it is the strength of these individuals’ character as much as anything that affects the class’ behaviour as a whole.

I’m putting this oversight down to the state I was in when I was writing that post. I was suffering from a terrible cold that I have now all but recovered from. I think I fell victim to a massive change in temperature we experienced last week. When we arrived it was consistently hot and humid. At its peak, the temperature reached at least 36*C (the buses are equipped with thermometers). This was the temperature on the cramped bus as we made our way to Guangzhou zoo. Thankfully it was air conditioned – to some extent.  Today is no less uncomfortable than that day. But that has more to do with the extreme humidity that precedes rainfall than the high temperature. There were two days of heavy rainfall that shortly followed the zoo trip. And with the rain came the drop in temperature that probably brought about my cold. It went from mid-30s to round about 20*C, and the nights were cooler still. I know, anyone reading this, suffering from the interminable cold in England will be spitting at my suggestion that 20*C is cool! But the same temperature here feels very different because of the very close air. Suffice it to say I have since worn every one of the jumpers I thought were a clear indication that I had over packed.

I think this cycle will repeat itself many times throughout the year here. That is, a build up of humidity over a couple of weeks until buckets of rain come along to relieve us. We’re still awaiting our first proper thunderstorm. Apparently they’re something to behold. An inevitable downside to all this humidity is mosquitos. Their most active feeding time is while we are sleeping. Luckily the previous occupants of my flat left me a mosquito net which I have been using. Unluckily, I have twice been locked in with a mosquito with unbearably itchy consequences! They seem to be particularly fond of my hands. My hands (particularly my left) are dotted with red marks and small scabs. When I do get attacked by a mosquito I invariably struggle to suppress my discomfort and get to sleep. We’re hoping there exists an ‘off-season’ for mosquitos here, but we’re approaching the end of November and they are showing no signs of relenting.

Today we got our passports back after a week without them. The visas that we waited so long for only permitted us to stay in China for a month. It was up to the school to organise for us a residency permit each. Our now updated passports will be invaluable to us as continue to try and discover more about China. Until now we have been unable to book youth hostels, travel by train, or leave China. You might ask why we would want to leave China so early on in this year, but a visit to Hong Kong would require ‘reentry’ into China. Despite being technically part of China, Hong Kong needs to have different border laws if it is to continue being the economic powerhouse that it is. Another exciting offshoot of the return of our passports is that Amy and I can now start seriously planning our tour of southeast Asia during the Chinese New Year break. We’re planning on using our 6-week (paid!) holiday carving an ‘s’ shape through mainland southeast Asia. We will start off by getting the train to Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. We will then leisurely make our way down to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). From there we will cross the border into Cambodia and hopefully explore the Angkor temples and see some wild gibbons! From there we plan to head north into Laos. Our journey will end in Thailand where we intend to visit a tiger sanctuary and see the sights of Bangkok (hopefully there’ll be no sign of flooding by the time we get there). We will (again) catch a plane from Bangkok back to Guangzhou. Let me know what you think of this plan. Nothing is set in stone yet, so we would welcome any suggestions if you think there’s anything that must not be missed!

The classroom

I have been asked to say more about the children I am teaching. I was aware that this was a subject I hadn’t tackled properly yet. A perceived insufficiency of photos was my excuse for procrastination, so that request was just the kick up the backside I needed! Further ‘kicks’ will be more than welcome! For the record, posts talking about the food and the weather are on the way.

If there’s one key difference worth pointing out about the children here and the children at home, it’s the noise levels. At this point I imagine many of you are picturing the straight lines that we see at morning exercise every day and are thinking that children with such discipline couldn’t possibly be as loud as the squealing, misbehaving lot you find in our schools. But discipline and noise aren’t so closely linked here as they are at home. There is a completely different attitude to noise here altogether. It just doesn’t seem to bother anyone here. Even as I type there is someone (probably a teacher) blowing a whistle extremely loudly outside. Whether it’s a car horn or a drill or just very loud and piercing voices, the people who live here are just not bothered by it. And almost all voices here seem to have a piercing quality to them, always audible regardless of the surrounding sound. And so it is with the children at our school. They are practically encouraged to bawl at the tops of their voices when required to respond in unison. This is a less redeeming aspect of teaching at this school and one that is very hard on the vocal chords. I should be able to project like the finest of actors after a year teaching here! Occasionally the teacher sitting in the classroom has to step in and set them straight (the teachers who would be teaching the lesson if we weren’t there sit in on the lessons. Usually it’s just an opportunity for them to get some marking done).

The youngest are certainly the loudest. I teach three grade 1 (aged around 5-6) classes every Tuesday. Simon teaches the rest of the grade one classes.  The approach to these lessons is not for the faint hearted. The children grab at us outside their classrooms asking questions like ‘what is your name?’ or ‘how are you?’, not in the least bit bothered about whether we answer or not. Simon provides me with the powerpoint presentation and for those three lessons it is left to me to hold their attention for as long as possible. This is a great challenge, especially in the 40 minute lesson in the morning. The lesson mostly consists of  me eliciting from them a limited range of words at the right time using pictures, whether it be the name of an animal or body parts or anything else. And then there’s thrown in the odd game, which usually requires no less shouting! I realise my impression of the grade 1 children has been strongly influenced by my experience with them today. After my first lesson, I naively supposed they were no trouble. Little did I realise they were merely sizing me up! Their not that bad really. At their best they can be very cute!

Besides grade 1, I have two grades all to myself: grades 3 and 6. I think if I had to teach just one for the rest of the year it would be grade 3. They are young enough that I don’t have too much of a headache wondering how I can keep them entertained, and old enough that they are not so completely out of control! I am also most familiar with the grade 3 teachers as the grade 3 office is where my desk is. – Incidentally, far worse than someone blowing a whistle loudly, somewhere in the school someone is now pumping out a thumping disco beat. It’s 9:30! I want to sleep now, let alone the little 5-year-olds! – Grade three are able to write in English (I imagine it’s a doddle compared to chinese!), and they can read and say very basic sentences. The classes are strongly dictated by the content of the syllabus. They can manage anything on the syllabus with little or no trouble, but you tread a step outside of it and they don’t have a clue. As always seems to be the way, the concern is about passing exams rather than acquiring functional skills. Unfortunately, with only one lesson a week with each class, there’s little can do to change this.

The most notable thing about the grade 6 lessons is the range of ability and discipline. 13 classes, which have all been through exactly the same education process for 5 years have come out of it very differently. In terms of discipline, my favourite class (613) couldn’t be better behaved. They do everything I ask straight away without question. The result is a much more enjoyable lesson for everyone. 613 are an exception though, as they are a new addition this year. I reckon it’s be because they are less bold on account of their new surroundings. There is no such excuse for the worst grade 6 class (609). They are uncontrollable and largely uninterested by the lessons that I prepare. The range in terms of ability isn’t quite so vast but notable nonetheless. We have to keep on our toes because, although we only prepare two lessons a week, we seldom teach the same lesson twice because each class reacts differently to the material.

The first and last pictures in this post are from one afternoon after school when everyone in grades 1 and 3 made masks and chalk drawings respectively. Some of the collaborative drawing from the grade 3s was particularly impressive.

It would be fanciful to consider this subject ‘covered’, but I hope I’ve at least given an idea our classes and the children within!

There’s still hope…

One of my main concerns since arriving in China has been how little of the language I have been picking up. I made an effort to learn the basics before I left and my knowledge now after three weeks living here is still decidedly basic. One of the difficulties is that most of the language we hear when out and about is not Mandarin, but a dialect of Cantonese. Most of the Mandarin we hear will be in the classrooms between teacher and child.

Last night presented an opportunity that might just salvage what hope I had of leaving the country with proficient Chinese. After school Beryl, one of the teachers (I know. With that name, it sounds like she should be long retired by now. But don’t be fooled! She can’t be much over 30 and has a 4-year-old son called Ryan), took me into Shishan (the local town) to show me around the shops near where she lives. Just as I said goodbye to her a Chinese man with notably good English introduced himself to me as ‘Jimmy’. Jimmy has lived in Britain for 5 years, sharing his time between learning English at Southgate college and studying at Queen’s university, Belfast. Since then it seems he has decided to dedicate his life to encouraging as many people in China as possible to speak English as well as he does. He has set up a sort of English learning college in Shishan. He was well aware that Shimen primary and middle schools had native English speakers in their employment.

I shall digress at this point in order to introduce Sophie, who works at the middle school. We met Sophie during our first week in China in an interesting evening that I seemed to witness rather than be involved in due to my jet-lagged state. After a meal in Shishan Sophie took us to ‘the German bar’ and introduced us to Scott, whom she had met only a couple of hours earlier. Scott was in the middle of a solo music tour around the ‘Aloft’ hotels in China (I can’t remember if I mentioned that ‘Aloft’ is the name of that absurd hotel in Shishan). Incidently, his music can be found at armsandlegs.org. Scott, if I remember rightly, is from New York state, and he lives and breathes the indy music scene. He splits his time between New York and Beijing as he endeavours to forge a musical career. We have met with Sophie a few times since. It’s a real relief to meet someone living close by, who’s in a similar position to us.

Anyway, Sophie had only a few days before been telling us of the evening job she had found in Shishan. This place offered her employment, teaching or ‘tutoring’ (sitting at the school dossing about on the free wireless and answering the occasional question about English). And they offered her Chinese language teaching . This Jimmy was one of the people who ran her school. And so yesterday I had my first structured Chinese lesson. We will now be having 1 1/2 hours of Chinese twice a week for the rest of the year. I now have no excuse. I am going to be speaking Mandarin by the time I’m back in England! Yay! I might have a little extra money too! We finished the day with our favourite meal in China so far: Tomatoes and eggs. It doesn’t sound like much, but the way they make it it tastes soooo good. Anyone who’s tried it will testify to that!

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Guangzoo!

On Saturday, Amy and I visited the zoo in Guangzhou. These large and impressive ‘zoological gardens’ are inexplicably located right in the centre of Guangzhou. You would have thought this was perfectly explicable to a Londoner, well-adapted to the concept of a zoo situated in the middle of a metropolis, but this is not the same thing. London zoo is the lesser part of the expanse of grassy space that is Regent’s Park; Guangzhou is boxed in on all sides by vast buildings and sky scrapers. And this zoo is no trifling matter, as you are about to learn…

We arrived at the metro station imaginatively named ‘zoo’ after the long and cramped bus/metro journey to Guangzhou that is fast becoming routine. Just before we got off the metro train we decided that a station so named would be well equipped to deal with foreign tourists, but we saw not a single sign indicating which direction the zoo was in until we were above ground. Admittedly, it was pretty clear once we got out the station where we wanted to be going – still, it’s a far cry from a Londoner’s utter dependence on signage. Another respect in which Guanzhou falls short of London expectations is the extent of the prices. To see the wonders of Guangzhou zoo, you are required to pay £3 rather than the £17 in London (We payed £7 on top of this for tickets to Ocean world, which afforded us entry to the dolphin show!).

The striking thing about the approach to the zoo is the foliage beyond that looks so out of place. Just beyond the entrance were a few flamingos. A colourful aperitif to whet the appetite or a first impression intended to mask the failings further within? You would have sworn the latter would be the case given what came next: a tacky amusement park and the only animal activity around was the squealing of several children. But it turned the flamingos were a better indication of what was to come (though, come to think of it, squealing children did figure prominently!); from there on in it was chock-a-block animals.

We started with the birds, the highlights of which were the toucan and the ostriches, which were all too keep for a photo opportunity. The child in me was delighted to see the animals interacting with their gawping audience, but the cynic was sure that the animals’ forwardness was because of the irresponsible visitors that throw food into the enclosures. This was confirmed later in the day when we saw someone throwing their crisps one by one to an obliging brown bear. The crowd that had gathered to see this particular bear  was grateful to get a closer look, none disapproved of the man’s actions. I like to think that that couldn’t happen in London zoo. This inner conflict between child and cynic played out throughout the day.

As well as visitors feeding the animals we saw one shirtless visitor, who had brought along his children, light up a cigarette inside a bird enclosure. Throughout the day it became clear that the paying customer took precedence over consideration to the animals. It was the merchandise especially that led me to this conclusion. Children harassed their parents into buying them plastic trumpets and balloons, one of which we saw being chewed on by a porcupine (I wonder if the balloon was inflated when it was dropped into the enclosure. If it was, it wouldn’t have been for very long!). Few resisted the temptation to call at the animals for their attention. It seems there is simply a very different attitude here to the treatment of animals here in China. Keep in mind, though, that I have picked out the very worst of what we saw and, by and large, I didn’t have a problem with the conduct of the other visitors.

After the birds, we saw a hippo, or, at least, we saw its back poking out of the water. We noted the 4:30 feeding time – a detail that shaped our day. Next were the elephants. We marveled at the size of the elephant that emerged from the elephant house and proceeded to scoop dust over its back to cool down. That was until we saw the male elephant follow shortly afterwards. The thing was huge! These were African elephants, which dwarf the Asian variety that once inhabited London zoo. Then we saw Zebras and Camels, Giraffes and a Rhinoceros.

After that came the main attraction; the one animal we were most excited about seeing: The panda. We arrived at an enclosure disproportionately large for one animal and saw at a distance the Panda sitting doing nothing much in particular. We soaked in as much excitement as we could at this first ever sight of such a universally loved species and prepared to move on. It was then the panda got up and headed purposefully to the spot from where we had just been watching. For unknown reasons the Panda proceeded to roll about on the floor and adopt many peculiar positions. This was the show we had been waiting for (but was the Panda trained to entertain?). After that highlight, we saw some particularly mischievous monkeys, in an enclosure separate from and much larger than those of the other monkeys. We watched one of the babies fall victim to bullying – it was repeatedly pushed into a small pool by the bigger monkeys. Next were the red pandas (referred to as lesser pandas in the translation of the Chinese). One particularly curious red panda slinked up towards our vantage point much like an attention seeking cat looking for a stroke (although I’m sure food was nearer the front of its mind).

Thoroughly satisfied with the afternoon so far, we wondered what to do next. A casual enquiry about the time revealed that it was already time for the dolphin show. We arrived at ‘Ocean world’ in time to hear the fanfare that marked the entry of the seal, whose most impressive trick was to catch rings around its neck. It also stood up on its tail. Next came a pair of white dolphins, which I later learnt were actually called Chinese white dolphins. These dolphins took the stage with aplomb, jumping, squeaking on cue and carrying their trainers across the pool whenever it was required. The finale was a series of unreally high jumps and other tricks involving a volunteer from three smaller, more conventional looking dolphins. The funny thing watching these dolphins jump out of water the way they fly through the air. They don’t so much jump as toss themselves into the air, hardly looking as elegant as I imagine they look underwater.

We wondered through the rest of ‘Ocean world’ fairly quickly – Amy has a strong aversion to fish! Dolphins and sharks are not a problem for Amy, it’s the boggly-eyed fish face that gets to her. I should know by now, being probably the only person to have taken her through two aquariums (While in Italy, we visited Genova aquarium – the biggest in Europe)! That said, Amy sportingly let me study any of the creatures that caught my eye. The best part of ‘Ocean world’ was not any fish but the turtle tank that freely allowed a touch of the shells of the turtles within. This was grossly exploited by a man next to me who, for reasons unknown, thought it was a good idea to shove down one of the turtles heads that poked out of the water. ‘Ocean world’ promised penguins and penguins it delivered. But there were only a couple of penguins at the very end in a tiny enclosure that suggested the only reason for them being there was so that the zoo was able to say that it had penguins. Thus the water-section of our zoo visit ended with a damp squib (forgive the pun!).

We left ‘Ocean world’ and headed to the hippo enclosure, for it was nearly feeding time! We made our way via (the rest of) the monkeys and apes. We saw a very amusing baby chimpanzee nervously swipe at one of the keepers. We saw the porcupines and some raccoons that looked bored out of their minds (probably because they didn’t have a torn up balloon to play with like the porcupines). Also on the way were the overfed bears. When we got to the hippo enclosure we saw that a crowd had gathered in eager anticipation of the feeding. We could see a hippo on the far side. It took us a while to realise that it was being fed already well away from public view. Nothing like what the pictures said! We swallowed our despondency and went to see some big cats instead.

The big cats were at once majestic and slightly pathetic. The fallen kings of the jungle occupied what appeared to be the smallest enclosures relative to their size (I wonder if this has anything to do with their languid nature. i.e. They’re not going to put on a show like the panda did). It’s true there was a larger, leafier area for tigers that was being cleaned at the time. But that couldn’t have been for all of the big cats of which there were many. There were leopards, panthers, lions, white lions, jaguars and lynxes. But two species of big cat deserve a special mention for their rarity. The first was the white tiger we saw. The white tiger is merely, to quote wikipedia, ‘a recessive mutant of the Bengal tiger’. That doesn’t detract from its impressiveness. I think it’s the fact that this ‘mutation’ has no purpose whatsoever in the wild, as if it were just ‘for show’. The second of these cats I had thought was no more than an invention of Napoleon Dynamite (anyone who has seen the film will get the reference). This was a liger (my mac is telling me the word doesn’t exist but I assure you it does!). There were in fact two of these crossbreeds. They looked like enormous tigers whose stripes had faded in the wash! These ligers were both female but apparently male ligers do have a mane of sorts. We more or less finished there. And it was somehow fitting to finish with an animal we had no idea existed. As if we couldn’t go home satisfied until we had learnt something new.

 

 

The School (contd.)

So, during ‘exercise’ the children stream out into their rows and they march on the spot as they wait for the rest of the school to assemble. Once they are ready the music changes and there’s a recorded voice counting in time to eight in Chinese. This is accompanied by a series of actions which are the same every single day. To help them, there are two girls standing on the platform in front of the whole school who could do these actions in their sleep. What wasn’t mentioned in our contract was that we are expected to make fools of ourselves in front of the whole school once a week at the exercise. Every Tuesday is ‘English day’. It is different from any other day because we are made to take the stage and feign wild enthusiasm for ‘English day’ shortly after our 8 o’clock lessons. On the last ‘English day’ (which was on Wednesday – the school happily switches around days when it suits its purposes, so Wednesday was Tuesday and Tuesday was Wednesday. Apparently the weekend can turn into week days to make up for school days lost. Not even the sanctity of the weekend is safe!), Simon acted like different animals getting the children to shout out the names of the animals – basically a scaled up version of the lessons we teach to the lower years! We have got so tired recently, the ‘exercise’ is just an opportunity to nip up to ‘morning tea’ and knock back a couple of coffees! The rest of the morning we slog through until lunchtime.

Thankfully, lunch comes much sooner than it should do at 11:30. We’re usually hungry enough by then because our breakfasts tend to be light and I think we use more energy than we realise giving the lessons. The canteen sits conveniently between our apartments and the school – a stop gap en route back to the apartments for our desperately needed midday naps! The canteen consists of two vast halls, the kitchen and the teachers’ eating area, which is adjacent to the upstairs hall. We pick up our metal trays which have compartments for the different dishes. There is usually a couple of meat dishes, tofu, some sort of vegetable and a broth, which I now steer clear of, as it tastes like dish water! The food isn’t great, but there’s usually something I’m happy to eat like chicken legs, eggs, or ribs and failing all else there’s an enormous vat of rice sat on the floor, which, like the broth, is served using a novelty sized ladle!

We spend most of the three hour break recovering from the morning. The afternoon is made up of just three half hour lessons, but with the breaks it takes more like 2 hours. A recent discovery of mine is the ‘pianoroom’, which consists of multiple piano roomlets. I knew the ‘piano room’ existed, but I didn’t realise how easy it would be to just saunter in and sit at a piano. This might well become a daily activity for me. I’ll need to practise because, on hearing that I was able to play the piano, the principal (whom we have never really met) asked if I would play at some sort of parents’ evening. There’s a separate event for each grade which means 6 separate performances. I’m more than happy for the opportunity to keep my fingers from rusting! Since then I have also been asked to play at some Christmas event. My piano playing ability has never been so in demand, and they haven’t even heard me play yet!

The evening is a decision between eating at the canteen or eating out. We usually opt for the latter. The school dinner tends to be all too similar to lunch and is served at 5:30. Eating out means a 20-30 minute walk along busy roads to the nearest town Shishan. The food tends to be pretty good, though we’re not always sure what we’re ordering and there isn’t a great deal of variety. Chinese, Chinese, or Chinese! That said, there is a puzzlingly large international hotel in Shishan which serves western food for not much less than western prices. This hotel, which goes by the name ‘Aloft’ has clearly been built in anticipation of business rather than to fill an existing market. It is an almost empty, fully-staffed hotel and a fully-stocked restaurant. It’s truly bizarre!

Talking of buildings that look out of place...

We are usually knackered by the end of the day, despite the nap, and very grateful for our hard, unforgiving mattresses. The children seem to go pretty late. Even as I have been writing this post I have been distracted by shouting children. It’s only just died down and it’s now twenty to ten. There are many things that I haven’t said about daily life in our school, because there is so much to say. Hopefully, I’ve at least given an idea of day to day life here.

p.s. I realise my photo taking so far hasn’t quite been up to scratch. I’ll try to use my camera more often. Also, don’t forget you can receive e-mail updates if you just click on ‘follow’ in the bottom right hand corner and enter your e-mail address. Comments, as always, are welcome.