Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Fwd: China

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Bob Hale <>
Date: 11 September 2011 14:24
Subject: China
To: SFTR <>

I've been teaching in China for less than a week and we already have a holiday. Monday is the Mid-Autumn Festival but Friday was also Teachers' Day which they celebrate. In the case of our school, Baiyin Middle School 10, there was a very big celebration because it was also the dedication ceremony for the school's new building. My flatmate and I were asked to be there at 8 in the morning so that's when we turned up. The students were already there - all 3000 of them - sitting in their allotted places in the schoolyard in their track-suit style blue and white uniforms. They were all well-behaved in a way that would be utterly impossible with the same number of British kids. 
We had been given the option of sitting with the dignitaries on stage but had opted to sit with the teachers in the audience. Even so we were given the place of honour, the two front row centre seats where we sat as other teachers gradually filled up the space around us. At eight forty the event began. For the dedication ceremony there were speeches from the school principal, various former headmasters and various local big-wigs. All, of course in Chinese. Occasionally one of the Chinese teachers would whisper an explanation of what was going on but largely it was meaningless to me. That phase of the day lasted about an hour and then, with incredible speed and efficiency the people from the stage were moved to a row of chairs (rather more comfortable than our stools) to watch the Teachers' Day show. And what a show it was. I had expected something akin to British school performances. I could hardly have been more wrong. Group after group of children came onto the stage - 21 acts altogether - and performed. There were musical groups, traditional and modern dance troupes (and a flamenco troupe), orchestral displays, acoustic guitarists, a fashion show (including a dress made out of celery!) martial arts displays, and even a performance of "Doe a deer" that featured my flatmate as well as a fully choreographed class and their teacher.
Even the changeovers were slick and professional without a single wasted moment.
Mike and I were presented with gifts from the school - large presentation boxes of the traditional mooncake (think of it as like a large fig biscuit) and silk quilts. Afterwards we were invited to join the school principal, various important officials and heads of department for lunch. It was at the best hotel in the city and the restaurant was fabulous. It was a very high class affair with dish after dish of amazing food. Our glasses were kept topped up with tea, wine and bai-jo. Bai-jo is the local evil hard liquor. I took a single sip and felt it stripping the lining from my throat and burning a hole in my stomach. After that I stuck to the wine. Toast after toast was drunk. Literally everyone in the room came to greet us and welcome us to the school. 
There was only one small problem.
We had also been invited that evening to the teachers meal. It was at the same hotel and it seemed very likely that there would be similar gargantuan feasts to be devoured. At about two thirty we left to take a rest before round two.
Round two was in another restaurant on another floor of the hotel and while it was a little less fancy than lunch had been it was still a very impressive place. Every teacher in the school was there and the room was filled to capacity. I sat on a table with people from the English department as, once more, the table was loaded with dishes until it seemed certain to collapse. Some were the same as lunch but there were others - frogs legs which were too small to reward the effort of picking the meat from the bones, a giant bowl of snake soup (which I tried but couldn't force down - it looked so bad with lumps of blackened snake skin floating in the bowl), more mooncake.
That's actually the most difficult thing about Chinese meals - the insistence on including all the dishes - sweet, salty, sour - right there together at the table rather than our way of having separate courses.
As before our glasses were kept well filled and we were introduced to what felt like hundreds of people. It was all far less formal and far more friendly and intimate (if such an event can be called intimate) than lunch had been. 
And then it was over. 
Or was it?
A large group of teachers were going on to KTV. Now for anyone who hasn't been to China KTV is a very odd concept. You hire a room which comes complete with tables and comfortable chairs and a crate of beer - and a karaoke! Then you all pile in drink, make friends and sing badly. We were roped in - there was no way that they would take no for an answer and spent the next four hours or so drinking, making friends and occasionally singing one of the very small selection of English songs. I was dragged to it four times for two Beatles, Hotel California and Streets of London. My voice was pretty bad but some of therirs were worse and nobody seemed to mind.
At around midnight we left to go home and accompanied by two Chinese teachers - Valerie who lives in an nearby apartment and Burton who I think had gone considerably out of his way to stay with us.

And then I collapsed into bed and slept through for twelve hours.