all sorts of reasons and even trickier if you are a teacher. Schools
tend to make up their schedules as they go along. When things change
they tend to do so at zero notice. I have been rung up at eight thirty
in the morning to tell me about a previously unscheduled class that is
beginning at nine and I have, on other occasions turned up for a
scheduled class only to find that the school have decided that they
will do exams instead but neglected to inform any of the teachers of
Take this week for example. There are supposed to be a couple of days
holiday coming up on Monday and Tuesday. I asked what days I would be
off and was told that from tomorrow, Wednesday, to Tuesday I wouldn't
have to teach as there are exams this week and the holiday next week.
This was, I was assured, the situation in all the Baiyin schools.
The four of us foreign teachers made plans to take a visit to the
Labrang monastery in Xia-he from Saturday to Monday.
The first thing that went wrong was that one of the schools in Xia-he
isn't sticking to the timetable. They are doing exams AFTER the
holiday next week and to make sure the students get enough lesson want
their teacher to go to school on Saturday. So only three of us could
Still, plans were made.
Today, as I was leaving, I asked casually for confirmation that I'm
off tomorrow. I was told that I am not off tomorrow. I have to teach.
The exams are now due to be on Thursday, Friday and SATURDAY. This
wouldn't affect the trip but was rather annoying. I had been due to do
Monday and Tuesday this week and Wednesday to Friday next week. Now,
as I have to do both Wednesdays I have to prepare a complete set of
lessons which would normally last a week simply to teach one day.
Ah well. Not a disaster.
What was a disaster was the teacher I know who is from Xia-he. She
informed me that the local police have "requested" that no foreigners
travel in the area because they are expecting "terrorist" activity.
This probably means that they are expecting protests by Tibetan
separatist groups and, frankly, Buddhist "terrorists" aren't all that
terrifying. The trouble is that when the police here ask me not to go
somewhere I find it sensible not to go. There is a very good chance
that they will simply send me straight back and not allow me to stay.
The threat doesn't bother me but the inconvenience of spending all day
getting to a place and not being allowed to stay does. Also there is
always the chance that it might earn me a black mark. While I'm
working here I keep my nose clean and do as I'm told.
So all plans are now off.
We may instead get a day out in the country at the Yellow River (which
I've done before) or a day out in Lanzhou (which is just another city,
which I've also done before). Or we may not. It's difficult to tell
because that would involve making plans and making plans in China is a