Well, it's certainly been a year of ups and downs. Pity it's ended on quite a lot of downs but that's how life goes sometimes.
So let's begin at the beginning back in January when I had a holiday in Beijing which feels like a lifetime ago. It was a great holiday and even though I've visited the place half a dozen times now it never fails to be interesting. This time the highlights were seeing a deserted section of the Great Wall covered in snow, finding a few excellent beers and some amazing pizza, wandering round the Summer Palace – again covered in snow, finding an English Language bookshop and filling my suitcase with cheese to take back to Baiyin.
After that things chugged on like the Grand Old Duke Of York's Men – neither up nor down – until May when I was introduced to Teresa and life started looking up. Soon my western friends were saying what a great couple we make and my Chinese friends, as Chinese friends are prone to do, were asking when (not even "if") we would get married. This is the first question on most Chinese people's mind apparently. Say “hi” to a woman once and everyone wants to set a wedding date.
Well sorry to disappoint but we are happy keeping things on the boyfriend-girlfriend track right now.
Summer saw me teaching summer school and visiting Yangshuo, where the school was located, was a high though discovering that a mix up meant I would only be paid half what I thought and would end up losing money dampened the end a bit. Of course Teresa came down to stay for a week which was another high but our only serious argument to date marred the end of that a little.
We sorted it out though and life in Baiyin resumed it's normal course with the addition of some new teachers to the City – Kelly and Anthony. That brought it up to five with me, Carol and Megan – Ben and Jess having already left.
A dark undercurrent started to flow in around mid October with rumours that next year the number of teachers would be cutback to two. As always in China getting hard information was – and still is – difficult. No one here will ever come right out and tell you bad news. They hint, they suggest, they offer tantalising clues. What they never do is tell you anything straight. It's cultural and to us seems a very odd – and extremely frustrating – way of going about things. They are completely direct with personal remarks – like my student telling me I'm too fat – but with something important it can be like pulling teeth to get the necessary answers.
The end of October had an up that turned into a down with Carol's Hallowe'en party. This was an event that she organised at a cafe where the kids paid a small fee and had an evening of English games, fun and dressing up. It was fun but afterwards, when planning a similar Christmas party it was made clear to us in no uncertain terms that this is something we cannot do. We can organise no events – and especially no paid events – without the express permission of the school. Permission that we would be unable to get, so no point in asking.
The dark rumblings continued. Our administrator had a “secret” meeting with me and Carol indicating that we would be staying next term but all the other teachers were likely to be gone. This was secret until ten minutes later when I called the other teachers and told them everything that had been said. We do things differently in the west and I don't like keeping secrets that affect people's lives. The trouble with this new plan was that it involved a fifty percent increase in workload, one of us living on campus in the west of the city and no pay rise.
No one was happy.
Two teachers were officially told they would be leaving – and given that one of them, like me, now had a Chinese partner, this was not welcome news.
A little rise in fortunes came when I was asked to go back to Yangshuo during Spring Break to do some teacher training – an area I have long been interested in.
Then I slipped and broke my knee.
Then my girlfriend was put into a new post at work which means we hardly ever see each other.
Then my gout returned.
As lovely a string of “downs” as you could hope to end the year on.
The resulting plaster cast will however be off in time for me to still to the teacher training.
Now the third teacher's departure has been confirmed but with the slight good news that both Carol and I will be staying and the workload won't increase because another school has decided to do without. That's lucky because if it had I would be put in the impossible position of choosing between an intolerable job in the city with Teresa or a tolerable one in a city without her.
And that is how everything stands as the new year races towards us.
As I said, a year of ups and downs.
But the ups were good enough to make the downs seem unimportant, and you can't really ask for more.