Pandemic Adventures Part 2: Stuck in Limbo

My last post ended with my stay at a hotel near Bangkok airport, waiting for my flight back to Shenzhen (well, back to Guangzhou, as there weren’t any flights to Shenzhen and Guangzhou is the next closest city). The night before my flight I had messages from several of my friends in Shenzhen telling me that the Chinese government had just announced they would be closing the border to foreigners as of 00:00 on Saturday 28th March (link to article here). My flight was due to land at 11.20pm on 27th March. I thought I would arrive just in time to scrape through passport control and get back home to China.

Unfortunately, this was not to be.

When queuing to check in for my flight, I and other non-Chinese in the line were approached by other foreigners who told us that they’d been turned away when they got to the check-in desk. There was no official announcement, nothing from the staff of the airline. So I continued to queue in the vain hope that I would be allowed on the flight or at least be given some useful information. Instead, I got to the front of the queue and was just told no, please go over there out of the way.

I kept asking people to try and get some official information and eventually was directed to a member of staff around whom was a growing group of foreigners. We were told that even though the plane was due to land at 11.20pm, by the time the plane got to the gate and everyone had their temperature checked it would take about two hours, and so we wouldn’t get through immigration until after midnight and therefore wouldn’t be let in the country.

And so I became stuck in Thailand.

That was on 27th March. Two months, one week and three days later and I’m still in Thailand. And there’s no news about when the Chinese border will reopen to foreigners.

Thankfully, I have two amazing friends – James and Nat – who took me in, for which I am eternally grateful.

I felt at the time that the whole situation completely sucked, and the feeling of being stuck in limbo was horrible; however, I tried to look on the bright side and be grateful that I’m healthy, I have wonderful friends, I’m safe and I have a place to stay.

Since then I’ve had many, many ups and downs.

My work informed me that as I wasn’t able to return to China, once my students returned to school I would no longer be able to teach them. My students returned to school on 11th May, so after 12 weeks of teaching online I had to stop teaching.

In the run up to this point, as well as at many times since being stuck in limbo, I was an absolute wreck. I find it really difficult to talk about such things, but writing about it is – for some reason – a little easier. I’ve had many days where I’ve just been in floods of tears. I’ve been angry, I’ve been sad, I’ve been heartbroken, I’ve been grateful, I’ve been stressed, I’ve been anxious, I’ve been depressed. I’ve pretty much been a roller coaster of emotions over the last four months.

Basically the only things getting me through all this have been my friends, my partner and my family. I honestly don’t know what I would have done, how much worse my situation would be, if it wasn’t for them. They have kept me sane, they’ve given me a place to live, they’ve called me, they’ve made me laugh, they’ve kept me company, they’ve comforted me, they’ve helped me in so so many ways I can’t even count.

I have to give a special mention here to Hela, my flatmate who I’ve never lived with because she moved into my flat after I became stuck in Thailand (which had been planned months earlier). She has spent hours on video calls with me, helping me to sort through all my things, organising and re-organising everything, selling things I wasn’t keeping, coordinating with other friends to sort out and pack my belongings, and generally being just an amazing friend. I really don’t know how I would have got all my stuff in Shenzhen sorted out and shipped if it wasn’t for her.

At this point, it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to go back to Shenzhen before starting my new job in Myanmar. I’m really upset that after nearly nine years I’m not going to have the chance to say a proper goodbye to my friends, colleagues and the kids I’ve taught. Yes, I’m hoping to go back and visit once everything reopens, but it isn’t – it won’t be – the same. I loved living in Shenzhen; I had an amazing time there, met so many great people, did so many brilliant things and visited so many fantastic places. It’s such a shame it’s all ending like this. And I’m truly heartbroken.

Despite all the emotional turmoil I’ve been experiencing, there have been good things that have come out of all this. Here’s a few of the positives I’ve been trying to keep in mind during this whole thing:

I’ve started walking on a semi-regular basis, and I’ve walked a total of 182km since 13th April. Looking at this I’ve just realised if I walk another 18km in the next seven days that’ll make it 200km I’ll have walked in two months. Not bad going for someone who hates exercise, even if I do say so myself!

I’ve gotten back in touch with and had video chats with several friends who I hadn’t spoken to in years – one of whom I think it was nearly 20 years since we had an actual conversation rather than a Facebook chat! It’s been really lovely to catch up with people and have regular chats with people who I live thousands of miles away from.

Since I’ve stopped working, I’ve been using my time to study. I’m doing a Masters in Educational Leadership and Management through the University of Bath via distance learning, and I just have my dissertation left to complete. This has actually given me the time to concentrate on this and (hopefully) I can get most of it completed before I start my new job.

Other ups and downs have included the anniversary of the passing of both my maternal grandparents, the death of a close family friend, the nine year anniversary of announcing I was moving to China, and getting a new job in Myanmar as KS2 Coordinator (overseeing classes in years 3 to 6/ages 7 to 11 for non-teachers!). I’m very much looking forward to my new job and settling into my new home; I just hope the borders open in time for me to get there and finish any quarantine that’s required before I’m due to start at the beginning of August.

Rainbow after a thunderstorm.

Pandemic Adventures

I haven’t been on social media much recently, simply because everything has been so crazy and I’ve been trying to get my head around a whole load of things. Now I’ve been in one place for a few days, here’s what’s been happening with me.

My school’s Chinese New Year holiday began on Saturday 18th January, and I flew to India on 21st January for a fantastic tour around loads of places with great friends. At the time the novel coronavirus was just starting to be a news item, but as it was a two hour flight away in Wuhan, we initially didn’t think it would affect us at all. I had a fantastic time in India; however, it was gradually overshadowed by the increasing number of cases spreading throughout China. In the third and final week of our holiday, our flights back to Shenzhen were cancelled and we were informed that our school would not be reopening on 10th February as planned.

At this point we all had to make decisions about what to do and where to go, which ended up being all different places. I continued with my original plan of visiting one of my good friends in Goa while I figured out what to do next. Autum suggested I go to stay with her in Kazakhstan, as then I wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel, so I booked a flight to Dubai and then on to Atyrau as it was about £200 cheaper to do it that way. Plus it meant I got to visit Dubai for a couple of days and go up the tallest building in the world.

However, things are never that straight forward of course. Autum’s work were concerned about me coming to visit as I live in China, even though by the time I would have arrived I would have been out of the country for nearly three weeks, and suggested I don’t come immediately. This was quite upsetting as it seemed really unreasonable at the time and left me slightly stranded. My flights then got cancelled as there was a time change which meant the connection didn’t work, but at least it meant I could get a full refund. However, I’d already booked a hotel in Dubai and tickets to watch the sunset from the 155th floor of the Burj Khalifa.

I booked a new flight to Dubai, and bid farewell to my friend in Goa. After lots of discussion and looking at options, I then flew to Bahrain for a few days. This gave me a base to work out of for a week of remote teaching which wasn’t too far from Dubai and so wasn’t too expensive to get to or stay in.

At this point we found out that school wasn’t going to reopen on 17th February, as per the first update we received, but was being pushed back again to 24th February due to requirements from the local government in Shenzhen. I had been wondering about this and hadn’t yet booked my outward flight from Bahrain, as I wasn’t sure if I would have to go straight back to China or if it would be better for me to stay out of the country for now. As it seemed that this whole situation wasn’t going to get better overnight, I booked a flight from Bahrain to Kazakhstan for the Friday of that week.

Bahrain seems like a lovely country, although I didn’t really get to see very much of it. The whole time I was there was the first week of remote teaching, and I had to do this using only my phone. When packing for India I had decided not to bring my laptop as I was fairly certain I wouldn’t be doing any work (school work or masters) during my travels. This meant that from the moment we found out that school wasn’t going to open on 10th Feb, halfway through the last week of our CNY holiday, we had to start planning for online teaching and learning. And I had to do all my planning, finding and making resources, recording and editing videos, uploading videos and resources, communicating with my year group colleagues, and checking and marking children’s work just using my phone.

All the things you have to do as a teacher take long enough as it is. Add to that: adapting everything for online learning, adapting teaching input to a series of under-5-minute videos to make sure they will actually upload, a constant stream of messages and emails about what we’re doing and how to do it, more messages about the changes happening in China, even more messages from parents concerned about their children’s education and what we’re doing about it, making lesson plans in word, making PowerPoints and pdfs for lessons and work for the children – and having to do it all using only a phone. As you may imagine, it all took rather a long time.

At this point in time many members of staff were in parts of the world and therefore time zones other than China, so staff were asked by school to be available from 2pm-8pm China time instead of the usual school day times. Bahrain is 5 hours behind China, which made it 9am-3pm for me; pretty reasonable times. However, as most of my colleagues were in China at this point I was waking up to around 200 messages every morning that first week. Once we started lessons and the children were uploading their work, I also had around 150 pieces of work to mark. Every day. Needless to say, I was working long after the time we were supposed to be available. Especially in the first couple of weeks, teaching online is so much more work than teaching in class. Everyone I have spoken to agrees with this. It’s so much easier actually being in school. On top of this some of the parents didn’t like the way we were teaching or the fact that school was closed, and started demanding that either they had a refund of the fees for semester 2 or the semester should be extended into the summer holiday. Of course, the teachers weren’t happy with this suggestion as we were all putting in more hours than we normally would be.

I managed to do a short tour of Bahrain on one day, by making my lesson videos and preparing everything the day before, and in between being constantly on my phone for work. Luckily, I was the only person on the tour so I could ask my tour guide, Ludmila, to repeat information if I missed anything she said! She was very accommodating, which was great. I saw the Tree of Life, the first oil well, Bahrain fort, the king’s camel farm, Al Fateh Grand Mosque, Bahrain National Museum, Bahrain Formula 1 track and Manama souq. It was a busy but interesting day!

On Friday 14th February, four days after school was supposed to open, I flew from Bahrain to Dubai to Almaty to Atyrau, finally arriving about 1am the next morning. Autum met me at the tiny airport with a borrowed winter coat, as I had gone from a balmy 20C to a slightly colder -5C. Atyrau in February is so cold that the river freezes over. When I visited last year we walked across the frozen Ural River and I stood on the line where Europe and Asia meet.

Week two of online teaching was considerably easier as I was able to borrow Autum’s laptop, and as the time difference was only 3 hours behind China I didn’t have quite as many work messages to wake up to. However, we had new requirements for online teaching from the Chinese Education Bureau and so had to change our timetable for that week to ensure we were meeting those requirements. This still meant making videos for every lesson, planning what we were doing, rewriting the planning into child-friendly instructions, having our Chinese Teaching Partners translate all the instructions into Chinese so the parents could read them too, making the resources and uploading everything to an online server for the parents to access. The first day of online teaching my TP had tried to email all the instructions and resources to all the parents – and her email had crashed. The school IT guy set up the online server as a solution, and that’s what we’ve been using ever since.

I felt much less stressed about the whole situation once I was staying with Autum. I’d been there before, so knew a few people as well as the place, and having a laptop to use for work made such a difference. Of course, the situation wasn’t done changing. The third week of online teaching we had another new timetable, still with video lessons as there were many staff and students still out of the country and so in different timezones.

At the end of the third week, we found out that we would be starting live online lessons the following Monday, 2nd March. This meant that I would begin teaching at 5am every day due to the time difference. The Education Bureau sent out information that the children should have a maximum of 2 hours online teaching per day in primary, with offline work also provided to follow on from the online lesson. This whole time I’d been in constant contact with my colleagues in Year 6 via WeChat, organising everything we had to do between us. (And I will say at this point that my colleagues have been awesome.) With the live lessons we were given the choice of using either a WeChat video platform or Zoom. As WeChat was only available in Chinese, we opted for Zoom!

Starting this whole process of teaching online was a complete baptism of fire. None of us had ever taken part in an online meeting system, let alone had any training. A lot of it was trial and error, at the same time as researching the best ways to do things, adapting our lessons, and trying to ensure that the students and parents were as happy as they could be, considering the difficult situation. What made the whole thing more difficult was the constant changes. Every week we were given different expectations for what and when we had to teach, and so a different timetable of lessons.

Once we started the online live lessons, it was really nice to see the kids again, have a chat with them and find out how they were doing. We got positive feedback from the parents as well, as they preferred the live lessons to video lessons, and the complaints and demands for a refund of fees stopped. For the second week of live online teaching, the number of lessons for the children increased to three per day, but as we were still limited to two hours online by the Education Bureau they had to be three 40 minute lessons back to back. Any offline work we set for the children had to then be completed after all the online lessons had finished.

On the Friday of week 4 of online teaching, and after we’d done all our planning for week 5, we were told there were more changes coming from the Education Bureau. These were supposed to start the following Monday, but as it was such short notice my school decided to keep with our then current plan of changing to three lessons each day for week 5 and start the new plan the week after on Monday 16th March. Previously, this date had been the proposed reopening date for school and all staff were encouraged to return before that date just in case. However, with the new information from the bureau it seemed that this was not to be.

Just to add to all the stress of teaching online, the constantly changing timetable, and the state of the world in general, I was only allowed to stay in Kazakhstan for 30 days and there was no way to extend my stay. This meant I had to leave by 14th March. Of course, this wasn’t going to be as straight forward as it should have been. 14th March was also the beginning of Autum’s spring break holiday, but due to the spreading virus her plans were cancelled as well. My original plan had been to fly to Thailand and stay with friends near Pattaya, so that I was closer to Shenzhen to make it easier to get back and the time difference was only an hour to make it easier for live online teaching. However, the day before I was due to fly, Thailand was added to the list of countries that meant a 14 day mandatory government quarantine upon arrival in China. So I had to decide whether to stick to my original plan and fly to Thailand regardless, fly somewhere else like Turkey or Uzbekistan that I could get a cheap or direct flight to from Atyrau and then return to Atyrau (although by many people would be there then due to the holiday) and start my 30 days again, or go from there back to China but with no guarantee that that country wouldn’t be added to the list before my return to China and therefore I’d still have to quarantine. Plus somehow making sure that I still had access to wifi and enough technology that I could teach my lessons (hence the original plan of going to stay with friends who could lend me a laptop).

After visiting a travel agent who contacted the immigration office for me to check I definitely couldn’t stay longer than 30 days in Kazakhstan, and the airline office to see if I could change or cancel my flight (I couldn’t without a fee and/or losing ask the money I’d paid for the flight), and having conversations with Autum and other friends about what to do, I decided to keep to my original plan of going to Thailand as I figured that wherever I went at that point is probably have to quarantine when I got back to China anyway, and at least that way I’d be with friends, the time difference would only be an hour and I could borrow a laptop for my lessons.

About an hour before my taxi to the airport for my flight to Bangkok, Autum decided she would come with me. Her dog was already being looked after as she was originally supposed to be away for two weeks, and she decided she didn’t want to just stay in Atyrau for the whole two weeks with very few people around. She quickly packed her backpack and we headed to the airport for the first flight to Almaty. When we arrived there and went through to the departure lounge, there was quite a while when we were the only passengers in the whole departure area – the only other people were staff. Then just to freak us out even more, the hands on the main clock on the wall started whizzing around!

The second flight and our arrival in Bangkok went without any further drama. We simply had a temperature check once in the airport and were asked to download the app for the airport to keep up to date with changes. The car I’d organised was waiting for us and a little over an hour later we arrived at my friends James and Nat’s place just outside Pattaya. Unfortunately, the laptop I was going to borrow died but as Autum had come with me I could continue borrowing hers for the time being.

The day after we arrived there was an announcement by the Kazakhstan government that they were going to close the country’s borders the next day at 8am, meaning people could leave but no-one could enter until at least 15th April. This meant Autum couldn’t go back at the end of her spring break. James and Nat had kindly said we could stay as long as we needed to; however, neither of us wanted to impose on them for longer than necessary. We just needed to figure out what to do.

My family suggested I go back to the UK, but at this point there were restrictions in place for people arriving from abroad and I’d have nowhere to quarantine. Plus my parents and sister are all in the high risk group, so I wouldn’t want to put them at risk by staying with them, and with live online teaching I’d have to teach from midnight until 8am every day, which would be horrendous. I decided I would go back to Shenzhen as now things were starting to open up again as the only cases were imported. However, it turns out that getting back to China is not as easy as I had hoped.

I wanted a direct flight to Shenzhen as it’s only about 3 hours and usually not very expensive, and this would save me the hassle of going through Hong Kong when all but one border is closed. When I looked at flights the earliest direct ones weren’t until the last couple of days of March, and the prices and times were ridiculous. The first flight which was a reasonable price and was at a time that ensured I didn’t miss any of my online classes was on 1st April, so I booked it and let my work know what I was planning on doing. A couple of days later I was checking that everything was still ok with my flight; I found out that my flight no longer existed. As I’d booked through an intermediary, it took them a couple of days to catch up, but I had already decided not to wait and looked for a new flight to Shenzhen. There weren’t any.

At the same time, Hong Kong had just announced that they would only be letting in Hong Kong residents, meaning I couldn’t fly into HK either. That left me with one option – to fly into Guangzhou, the next city to Shenzhen. I booked a flight for Friday 27th March, again so it wouldn’t affect my online teaching time.

While I was dealing with this, Autum decided she would go to Hawaii to stay with her parents until she could go back to Kazakhstan. Initially there was no rush to get back by a particular date, as she was still on holiday, but then Hawaii announced a mandatory 14 day quarantine for everyone on arrival from Thursday 26th March. In order to get back before that so she could self quarantine instead, she booked a flight for Wednesday. Just to add to the stress of flying under the circumstances, when she got to the airport the majority of flights were being cancelled. Luckily, hers was not, and she successfully boarded the plane from Bangkok to Hawaii via Tokyo.

In the meantime, the Thai government started introducing various restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. Whilst Autum was in the air, I found out that if I waited until Friday to go to Bangkok I might not make it there at all as starting Thursday people would not be allowed to travel between provinces. Thinking it wouldn’t be a good idea to get stuck and miss my flight, I booked a hotel near the airport for two nights, and a car to get me there. I finished my lessons for the day, packed, and hung out with James and Nat for a little while before getting the car to my home for the next couple of days.

So this is where I am now, watching the occasional plane land and take off as I eat a late dinner, hoping my flight on Friday will go ahead and enable me to get back to China, and wondering what awaits me when I arrive there.

No Shopping Challenge Week 2

Today (Monday) started out really well. I walked to work, got stuff done at work and was all set to stay late and write reports when I found out my lodger in my apartment in the UK has moved out. Yes, moved out. Apparently she emailed me noticed on 1st December but I haven’t received anything. This is the first I’ve heard about it, and only because I texted her asking where the rent was. Gah!

My first instinct was to go out for food and drinks with friends in order to complain and bitch about the whole situation and what an awful lodger she’s been the entire time she’s lived there. However, I remembered my challenge and that I have a couple (or five) bottles of wine at home. Instead, I posted an ad for my apartment (which cost 324.6rmb), got a taxi home (much too cold and wet to walk, even from the bus station), then poured myself a nice large glass of merlot. It was tempting to just say ‘sod it’ and order pizza, as I really wasn’t in the mood for cooking, but instead I raided the cupboard, chucked out a few things that were way out of date (best before 2015!), and went for the good old classic tomato soup (from M&S in HK). 

A nice glass of wine and bowl of soup (with added cheese) soon warmed me up, and a few messages to my sister and a video call to my parents made me feel much better. 

It’s amazing how quickly we turn to material things to comfort us when angry, stressed or upset. I wonder where that comes from originally?

~~~

It’s now Sunday and this has turned out to be a very expensive week compared to last week! I still haven’t bought any ‘stuff’, so that’s good at least, but I have eaten out four times (twice today), and for some reason had to top my phone up again (200rmb).

The other two times were for my flatmate’s birthday: one on Thursday which was her actual birthday (144.4rmb), and one on Saturday which was the official night out with a group of us (237.7rmb). This was followed by a few drinks at one of the regular places we go to (120rmb) and of course a taxi home (23rmb).

I spent today in Hong Kong meeting two different friends, one for lunch and the other for dinner. My usual thing when I go to HK is to buy lots of lovely food from M&S. However, this time I didn’t buy anything, even though I went in the store not just once, but twice! Once with each friend – the first is American and hadn’t heard of M&S but is now a convert; the second is British and was trying to persuade me to buy something, but I managed to resist. 

The first expense of the day, other than getting to HK was lunch. After a bit of a detour to a restaurant that turned out to not have much choice of veggie food, we went to a really good Mexican in Wan Chai for lunch (Agave, not Coyote, which is almost opposite). Eating out at Western restaurants in HK is always expensive, and this was no exception at a total of HK$551 (about £51) for 2 main meals, 2 soft drinks and chips with salsa. I ended up paying only HK$190 though as my friend insisted she’d eaten all the chips and salsa so I had to pay less. 

After lunch we took a short metro ride to Admiralty station where we went to Hong Kong Park and the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware (free admission), which actually had some really interesting information about Chinese tea and the tea ware to go with it dating back to about 1100BC. We then had a wander around the park, which is really lovely if you haven’t been, then went and found a cafe in the nearby shopping mall for a short sit down and a cuppa (HK$38).

After this my friend headed to her hostel for an early night as she’d just flown in this morning ridiculously early, and is only in HK for two days. I went in the opposite direction to meet my other friend who lives in HK. As neither of us were particularly hungry we ended up deciding to have dessert for dinner at a place called ‘Sweetish’ by Honeymoon Cafe, a well-known dessert cafe in Asia. My friend recommended I try a specialty of the place, and I’m always willing to try new things (within reason!), so I had mango pomelo sago soup (which is cold). Strange sounding to us foreigners, I know, but it was actually really good. I’d never had a sweet soup before. It was kind of like eating melted mango ice cream. I would definitely have it again, and try other dessert soups. 

We wandered around the shopping mall chatting some more before I had to head back to the metro to catch the last-but-one train back to the border. My final spend of this week was for the taxi home, the reasonable sum of 19.5rmb.

The final total for this week is 1163.5rmb plus HK$536.1 (some of which I already had in cash left over from my last HK trip, the rest I got out of my HK account), which is a total of about £181 – almost six times what I spent last week! On the plus side, I didn’t buy any ‘stuff’ and I resisted the urge to buy really tasty but unnecessary food from M&S, which probably made it my cheapest trip to HK ever. Next week will hopefully be cheaper!

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…

Blocked

writers-block

I’ve been trying to finish my blog about Cape Town for three weeks now.  I’ve written about half of it so far, with notes for the second half, but every time I sit down at it I can’t seem to come up with anything to write.

Today I decided to write about not being able to write because then at least I’m writing something.  My New Year’s resolution to write a little every day, or at least twice a week, has been harder to keep than I thought it would be.

5ab4982b3ef2b82c5a5921f2e1039b95Part of this ‘writer’s block’, if that’s the appropriate name, is that I’ve been feeling quite stressed and down recently.  I’ve suffered from depression on and off for years, and it’s a subject I find really hard to talk about.  Although some of my close friends and family know that about me, there are still many people that don’t know, and at the moment I’d quite like to keep it that way.  2fFnkx9The stigma surrounding mental illness has improved greatly, however there’s still lots of prejudice and many misconceptions out there.  I don’t want people’s opinions of me to change because of something I can’t control (which I know I shouldn’t care about, but I do).  I also don’t want the inevitable comments from people: “But you’re always so cheerful and positive,”, “You’re never in a bad mood,”, “I’m sure you’ll feel better in a few days,”, “You just need to pull yourself together,”, “But you have such a good life/so much,”, “There’s so many other people worse off than you,”, etc, etc, etc. Having said that, this is (apparently – and it’s a surprise to me too) my attempt to talk about it. Feel free to weigh in with your opinion.

I think part of the reason I’m wary of telling people here and at work is that I live in China, where mental illness is even more of a taboo subject than in the Western world.  This makes it uphill3_ldifficult even to go to the doctor, especially as there are so few clinics or hospitals where the doctors speak English (and this is not something I want to have to have translated by a colleague) and the medical insurance I have from work covers only certain places. (There’s no NHS in China!  While I’m on the subject, if you’re in/from the UK and you haven’t signed the petition to stop the privatisation of the NHS please click here or here.)

In addition, we were just told at work (I’m a teacher in an international school) that our week’s holiday in May has been cancelled by the Education Bureau and we’re only allowed to have one day off in line with Chinese public schools (even though we’re not a Chinese public school).  I know there’s nothing the school can do about it, and they’re going to try and arrange for us to finish a week earlier for the summer holiday, but it means that we now have a ridiculously long stretch (15 or 16 weeks) Holiday-Cancellationswith only two 3 day weekends as a break – and it’s not me I’m concerned about as much as the kids who won’t be getting a break, especially when some of them have exams in May (I also feel for the people who had booked holidays for that week and may now lose their money). I’m so glad I hadn’t got around to booking anything for that week yet. I’m trying to stay positive about it as there’s nothing that can be done, so what’s the use in complaining?  It’s difficult though, when all you see is work stretching into the future with no break in sight to look forward to (again, I know we’ll have the summer holiday, but that’s loooong way off and at the moment feels like it’s almost unachievable).

Anyway, if anyone has any hints or tips on how to finish the blog entry I’m halfway through, or anything to do with dealing with depression, please let me know.  Or should I just publish what I’ve written so far and write the rest as a separate entry?