The twisted metal and shrapnel surrounding the tunnel entrance didn’t do anything to allay my fears. I was already convinced the coach driver had decided to end it all and take us with him such was the nature of his ‘driving’ (think how you drive playing GTA after you’ve come home from the pub drunk) and the remnants of so many other accidents passed was playing on my mind while the rest of the school staff slept.
I’ve been in China for 72 hours at this point and I’m exhausted. The flight over (well, 4 flights over) coupled with jetlag have taken their toll and to top it off for the last 3 days I’ve been sleeping on a bare piece of wood while I wait for a mattress to be delivered. On the plus side I’m being taken, with all of the other foreign and Chinese staff of Kings English & Up Street Kids school, on a free two-day trip to a hotel on the outskirts of the city of Ningbo for a day of ‘teambuilding’ exercises followed by a day at the China Heritage theme park. I find out later that the coach drivers style is very much par for the course in China and despite a few near misses we arrive at our destination 4 hours later in one piece.
The hotel is a gorgeous circular building modelled on the Haka houses of New Zealand and atop a huge hill overlooking the surrounding countryside and a lake. It would be idyllic if not for the bloody great power station on the far lake shore. Still, this is China (a turn of phrase which is used to explain all of the weird, wonderful and ridiculous which you regularly encounter here) I’m brilliantly reminded of this when the group meets up at 5 that evening for the team building events. As we approach the semi-circle of little plastic stools it starts to rain, at which point half of the Chinese staff turn and heard straight back for the hotel. Those of us that remain are treated to one of the most bizarre and inadvertently funny things I’ve seen in a ages. The compare takes for 4-5 minutes on the mic, building up to what I assume is the evening’s ‘main event’ (the 60-odd person conga line took longer to set up than it lasts before everyone breaks away and wanders off again) A table is carried out on which a single glass of water is placed, and a middle-aged man in a purple crushed-velvet shirt who I assume is a magician bounds out to polite but disinterested applause.
He picks up the water, takes a sip, and proceeds to squirt said water from his eye. Then he takes a bow and fucks off. Everybody claps, I watch in stunned silence for a moment trying to process what just happened and then burst out laughing. This is China.
The following day at the theme park proves much more successful. the place is like Alton Towers on steroids, designed for tens of thousands of people who, as it was a weekday, were all at work. The group of us have the run of the place and we take advantage to the fullest, walking straight up to queue-less rides and sometimes staying on to go round a second time just because we can. The personal highlights for me were the log flume (two goes) and the Temple showdown show which mixed live action, video, boats, kung-fu, water and special effects to create a 20 minute show that I can’t even begin to explain adequately with words. A great day all round, bar the 6-hour coach drive home.
Since we returned from the trip 5 days ago my mattress has been delivered (yay!) so I’ve recovered from my jet-lag / fatigue / temperature shock combo (it’s bloody hot here, averaging 22-30 degrees with upwards of 80% humidity) and I’ve started teaching at the school. Shifts are 1-9 daily with an hour for lunch and 2 days off a week and the beauty is that all the lesson plans and materials are provided. You can make your own adjustments to fine tune (which I’ve done with all of the lessons so far) but once I get up to 4-5 lessons a day from tomorrow then I may not have so much time to do so.
What’s weird is that, despite being a completely new to me as a job, teaching doesn’t feel weird. I’m not nervous going into classes, the lessons are flowing really freely and the students (young and old) have so far been engaged and eager to learn. I think after all those years of dodging the results of vocational / personality tests telling me I should be doing this that maybe teaching may be for me after all. I wonder if I’ll still feel the same a few months in? 🙂