End of the Year, Beginning of an Adventure

I can’t believe the end of the (academic) year is finally here. After a sixteen week semester with no break, numerous crises both emotional and political, a graduation ceremony to arrange, SATs exams to do and work towards, and many, many other things, I’ve finally made it to the end of the year.  This semester has probably been the most stressful and difficult since I moved to China. (At work, not at home.) There has been so much drama going on, most of which is completely unnecessary, along with management politics, rumours and whatnot – and that’s just the staff!

It really doesn’t feel like I’ve had a last day with my kids. Usually there’s much more of a feel of ‘now we’re on holiday’, but today just feels a bit ‘meh’. This afternoon felt really rushed at the end; I forgot to give the kids some of their work that had been on display, and then my last three kids were helping me take down things from the walls and didn’t want to leave! Also – and I’m not saying this because I expect anything, more because of the difference in culture between China and the UK – I didn’t get any presents from my class. Nothing.

I’m assuming that their parents thought putting on a show for us year 6 teachers and buying us dinner was enough of a present. Which is absolutely fine – they went all out for us, singing, dancing, even a magic show! So please don’t take this as a complaint – it was lovely. It’s just that this is the first class I’ve had absolutely no presents from at the end of the year, and I like to have something to remember them by, whether it’s a mug, a photo or a handmade card. Anyway.

A couple of days ago I finally booked the last few details for my epic summer adventure.  Only in the last couple of days have I allowed myself to become excited about the trip. Although it still doesn’t seem real.

So here’s the plan…

On Sunday I fly to Beijing with two of my friends, E & L. We then have two full days to sightsee (although I’ve been there before so may do different things to my friends who have never been) before getting on the Trans-Mongolian Express train to Ulan-Bator in Mongolia. We have a few days there which includes a city tour and a homestay in a ger for two nights, before getting back on the train to Irkutsk, Russia. Again a few days there before getting on the Trans-Siberian Express, crossing the Siberian wilderness, stopping in Yekaterinburg for a couple of days before arriving in Moscow. All of this, including excursions, we booked through Real Russia; the representative who booked everything for us has been fantastic.

We decided that we’ll go straight to St Petersburg from Moscow so as to catch the last weekend of the White Nights Festival – that time of year when they have 24 hours of daylight and many events happening. We’ve already booked tickets to see Madam Butterfly and the Atrium string quartet performing Beethoven, and I’m sure there will a lot more going on besides. We will then return to Moscow to see the sights and spend a few days there before L leaves us to fly back to the UK. Myself and E are going to continue on by train across Europe – Moscow to Kiev, Lviv, Krakow, Prague, Vienna, Munich, Paris, London. That will then give me about ten days at home in the UK to see my family and friends and catch up with people.

As I said, an epic adventure!

I just hope everything goes according to plan and we don’t have any major fallings out on our trip. Having said that, I have all the tickets as I booked all the trains, so they have to stay on my good side! 😉

Tomorrow is my last day at school this year – without the kids this time.  This gives us chance to say goodbye to those staff who are leaving and we have a nice buffet lunch together, which is nice as the last day with the kids is usually manic.

Now I just need to pack…

Feeling a Fool

I’ve lived in China for almost four years. At times I think I’ve got the hang of how this country works, what the people are like and generally how to get by. However, there are still occasional days that make me feel like a complete idiot who has been here four minutes rather than four years.

This week I had one of those days. Luckily for me, my friends are lovely and didn’t take the piss out of me at all (which I was slightly worried about, although that speaks more to my state of mind than what my friends are like).

I’ve been wanting to get a tablet with a keyboard for a while now, particularly before I go travelling in the summer, as it’ll be much easier to write on than my phone (as I’m doing now… It just takes so long!). I’d done a bit of research and decided what I wanted from looking at various online reviews and descriptions as well as talking to people. I was happy with my decision and ordered it (in case you’re interested, Lenovo Miix 2 8 with Windows 8) from Amazon China.

There were problems from the beginning. Again, luckily for me I have a Chinese Teaching Partner (TP) who is amazing and will often go above and beyond to help me out with things. She spoke to the seller about everything on my behalf. The first issue was that they didn’t have any in stock (private seller via amazon) and I had to wait two weeks until they got the next order in from the factory. Two weeks passed and nothing. My TP contacted the seller again. They still didn’t know when they would get more in, although they had a better model they could send straight away if I paid more. Ha! Nice try! My TP is good at holding her own so she told him that he shouldn’t have put on the website it was available if it wasn’t and he should send the model they have with no extra payment as it was his fault not ours.

It worked. My tablet arrived two days later. I was very excited. Until I turned it on…

When I discovered it was the Chinese language version of Windows.

You may think that’s not a problem, all electronic devices these days have the capacity to change the language. You’d be wrong.

Yes, there was an option for English (if you could read Chinese in the first place) but only a very few things were translated. The main menus and functions were all still in Chinese. My work IT department even looked at it and phoned Lenovo to find out if a language pack could be installed – to no avail. I cannot fault the Chinese staff who tried to help me with this.

Feeling like more and more of an idiot (I live in China, of course it’s in Chinese!) I asked my ever-suffering TP to find out from the seller if he had an English language version (no) or if I could send it back.

You may well be wondering why I hadn’t thought of that. When I was looking at all the descriptions of the various tablets on Amazon, the majority either had hardly any description or specs, or they had details which included ‘Chinese language version’. The one I ordered had details but didn’t say anything about the language. Foolishly, I assumed that that meant it was an English language version. This really drove home the adage: Never assume; it makes an ass out of u and me.

Although this whole situation was annoying (I was annoyed at myself) and a bit embarrassing, I was also lucky as the seller agreed to let me return it (although he offered me a free USB if I didn’t!). If he hadn’t, there’s no way I would be able to afford to buy another tablet before the summer. I was also lucky that I had some great people to help me sort it all out and friends that sympathised rather than making my embarrassment worse.

As it is, I will have to go to Hong Kong to get my tablet now as I don’t think I’ll be able to get an English language one here in China.

You live and learn, I guess…

People are strange…

The strangest thing happened a couple of days go.  It was nothing to do with living in China and everything to do with people being really strange creatures.

Myself and my flatmate had stopped to get some New York fries (a fairly new place that sells cheesy chips with gravy!) on the way home from work.  We were sitting inside, quite near the back, happily munching away.  I was sitting with my back to the window and door, my flatmate E was opposite me.  Suddenly an arm reached past me and picked up E’s chips.  My first thought was that it was a member of staff and there was some problem, then I noticed that the colour of the sleeve was different to the uniform.

The next thought, which we both had, was that it was someone we knew playing a joke.  I turned around as the man started to walk off with E’s chips, which was when I got a good look at him and realised he was a complete stranger (E is notorious for having awful facial recognition, so she was looking to me for confirmation).  E called out ‘Excuse me’ quite loudly a couple of times but the man just kept walking – right out of the shop!

She got up and ran after him, asked him what he thought he was doing and forcibly took her chips back off him.  He said that he’d just been robbed on the subway – could he have some fries?  She, of course, said no!  But as he was quite a bit taller and bigger than her and she wasn’t sure how he would react if she said anything more, she left it at that and came back in.

It was the most bizarre thing ever.

Just to add a bit more context, the man was American and had to walk past all the Chinese men and women in the shop to get to us.  There was another man at the counter (who E thought was American but turned out to be Canadian) and as she came back in he asked if she’d known him, so he obviously thought the same as us at first.

We wondered if maybe he had something to do with it, maybe it was some kind of dare?  However, we found out later that he didn’t, completely by chance.  That evening we went out for food and a drink with a few other friends.  As we were chatting an arm reached past us all and picked up E’s wine…

As we’d just relayed the story from that afternoon, the whole table of us were ready to leap out of our seats at this guy!  He must have seen the looks on our faces, as he quickly gave the wine back and explained that he was the man that had been stood at the counter and seen the whole thing.  He also thought it was a really strange thing to happen and had told his friends about it too.  E was slightly traumatised by the whole thing – especially it happening twice in one day! – and became very protective over all her things from then on, for which I don’t blame her at all!

My other thought to try and explain this bizarre behaviour was that if E had been alone it could have been a ruse to get her away from her bag, but she was quite clearly sitting with me and it wouldn’t have been easy to get to her bag as the table was in between her seat and anyone walking past.

Neither of us have ever heard of someone walking into a place, picking up someone else’s food and walking out again, in any country we’ve been in!

Any ideas or thoughts fellow bloggers?