I hosted a Eurovision Song Contest evening at our flat once again, last night. This was the third year running, using a recorded DVD sent out by a kind UK friend. Four folk showed, after some late drop-outs, and we had a fun three hours marking our favourite entries and trying to predict the winner and the politics of the voting. Not a classic Contest this year - not enough eccentricity for my liking - but I did particularly enjoy the falsetto, Dracula impersonator with the expanding cloak from Romania [who came 13th]. Fellow teacher Chloe [centre left] correctly predicted that Denmark would win. The other teacher, Della [right] went for Azerbaijan who came second. Joanna [between them] chose Spain - second last! - while JD tapped his foot to the Irish song which came in last. UK were disappointing, as ever, in 19th.
We decided to take Ma-in-law to the hospital yesterday afternoon as a friend of ours highly recommended a doctor in a hospital some dictance away. Ma-in-law has had a poorly shoulder for a week which she blames on all the "baby-holding" she imagines she does (and strangely not on the dance performances she took part in last week!?). At the hospital, we walked past the "Otorhinolaryngological Dept" in order to find the "Ache Dept" where our doctor works (I kid you not!). He examined ma-in-law and gave her an injection. Ava then mentioned the sore elbow I've had for three months now. Another examination and he diagnosed "tennis elbow", presumably from all the badminton I've been playing over the last year. Another injection for me. I assumed it would be a pain-killer or an anti-inflammatory, but it turned out to be ozone(!) and quite painful. Back home, I Googled it and found that ozone injections are a "Traditional Chinese" remedy for everything from arthritis to cancer, and not recommended by many mainstream doctors! We'll see how it goes.
On leaving the hospital we spotted a traffic policeman giving us a parking ticket despite there being no visible "No Parking" sign in sight. I asked him how we were supposed to know and he said we were two minutes late returning and there was a sign explaining it all some 500m down the road. Cheers mate!!
My Ozzie friend Gemma left China for good last week, heading for her second home in Spain. She was a student studying Chinese at our school, but has become a close friend of our family over the last year or two. I've a feeling she'll be back again soon though - China has a way of getting under your skin! Plus we still have a couple of boxes of her stuff in storage in the garage, as hostage material! Before she left she had to pop into the Bank of China and, while I waited for her, I spotted this sign outside. One obvious mistake (the sends?) and another more subtle one. Even top Chinese banks can't manage the simplest of English! Enjoy.
Our full-time, live-in nanny "abandoned" us yesterday (well, technically she took her first few days off work for 3 months to visit her own family!). And so, for three days, JD is being looked after by just Ava and I (aided/hindered by the mother-in-law). Jiajia was pretty nervous beforehand but I was fairly confident that we would not only cope, but actually enjoy the increased contact time with our son. And so it is turning out. Bath-time yesterday was more relaxed and joyful than usual and JD got through it all without a pout, let alone a cry. And we took him for a vaccination today where, despite the size of the needle, he only cried for a few seconds before starting to coo again, to the delight of the nurses and queueing parents!
Last night was my turn to sleep in JD's bedroom. I only managed three hours of sleep - not because he kept me awake, but because he wouldn't stay awake long enough to drink his milk! He was too hungry to settle, and too sleepy to feed - like Father, like son! This morning he was bright and cheery (unlike his sleepy Dad) and even managed to land an unexpected punch on my nose, the little rascal!
Jiajia and I flew back from Shenzhen yesterday. She has bought as much stock as time allowed and now has a day or so to rest up before all the boxes arrive at her store and she (and her shop assistants) unpack, check and sell it. The flight back was delayed by an hour (as usual) and we nearly missed it even then. We had paid a little extra to have VIP treatment at the airport, which means electric carts carrying you around, no queues for check-in, free food and drink in a comfy lounge, etc. Unfortunately, the staff weren't keeping an eye on our flight and it was only when I spotted that it was "Now Boarding" and asked them if we shouldn't be going that they spotted our details and whisked us off. And just in time - the gate was closing as we arrived!
Shenzhen is a huge and modern city [see photo above], increasingly indistinguishable from Hong Kong which it borders in the south. It's hard to believe Shenzhen was just a tiny fishing village 30 years ago. It owes it's astonishing growth to Deng XiaoPing [photo, right] who declared it to be a Special Economic Zone, with meant lots of investment and tax breaks. His 6m (20ft) tall statue strides confidently through Lotus Mountain Park, from where the panoramic views of Shenzhen above can also be seen.
The Chinese lay claim to many of the world's great inventions (gun powder, paper, the compass, table tennis, etc) but I was impressed to see them proudly explaining why graffiti started in China. Apparently hip-hop and rap can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty. Who knew?
I saw this sign (alongside some very tasteful and uplifting examples of said graffiti) at the top of the mountain where I often go running while visiting Shezhen. It's a taxing 45-minute run up a paved pathway, overlooking a reservoir, and then a 30 minute jog back down again. But yesterday I decided to try and continue running over the mountain and on to wherever the pathway led. I took 100RMB (£10) with me and a handwritten note with my address on it, planning to catch a taxi back "home" once I got to the end, or got too exhausted to continue. After 45 minutes running to the top, the pathway started to go downhill. Then uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill... no signs of any exit off the mountain. I finally had to quit after a further hour of running and managed to scramble down the hill. But no taxis - I was walking along a motorway. Finally, I found an underground station but had no idea in which direction I should take, or which station was nearest my flat. I finally spotted "North Railway Station" a few stops away and, sure enough, there was a taxi there which got me home after 2½ hours out and about in the 34ºC heat and humidity.
Last Saturday was "Children's Day" in China. Many of the state schools "rewarded" their students by dragging them into school to make up for a day of schooling they will miss later in the term when the College Entrance Exams take place. How kind of them!
At Robert's School, however, we marked the day by launching a charity appeal based around the British "Red Nose Day" theme.
Our teachers were required to wear red noses through the weekend and our school was decorated with posters of various celebrities wearing digital red noses. I particularly enjoyed the rather irreverent (in China, at least) one of Kim Jong-Un, leader of North Korea. Our students are being encouraged to raise money in various ways and donate books to upgrade a rural school library. We'll see how they take up the challenge in the coming weeks.
Another in my occasional series of "Flashbacks" looking back at blog entries made before this Weebly version started.
Today was “Children’s Day” and I was invited to visit the oddly named “Groundnut Primary School” in the countryside. No English is taught there due a county-wide lack of English teachers, but there were plenty of “Hello”s from the students, aged 5-12, as I arrived. The morning ceremony was held in the playground under a very hot sun. It started with a salute to the Chinese flag [see photo below] as the National Anthem played. Then the school leaders, top students, a parent and I all gave short speeches. Some of the children were inducted into the “Young Pioneers” (the Communist Party's Youth Organisation) and given their red neckties to wear. Finally, the best students received prizes (pens, certificates, pencil-boxes, etc) and then all the children were given sweets, and a “take a photo with the foreigner” marathon began.
Afterwards, I was given a tour of the school. Only 140 students and 9 teachers – so, classes of about 20 (a ratio any English school would be delighted with). But it was very noticeable how spartan the classrooms were - little or nothing on the walls, and formal rows of desks all facing the backboard - a far cry from the primary schools I have worked in. And yet, the more investigating I did, the more I realised that the school’s problems were as much due to the Chinese mindset as to poverty or lack of resources.
I asked why none of the students’ paintings were displayed anywhere and was told that “none of the teachers were Art specialists”!? But why couldn’t the children just draw anything colourful to be displayed? I was told “Last year two students could draw well, but there are none this year”!? I was shown a library with quite a few books (though none in colour or with pictures) and was told that students borrowed books every week - but a layer of dust told another story. The “Materials Room” was locked at first but, once we got in, I was amazed by shelf upon shelf of globes, test-tubes, weather measuring machines, stopclocks, etc. But, as most of it was still wrapped in plastic bags, I asked how often teachers used these resources. “Never - they are too busy” was the perplexing reply. I spied a shelf full of beautiful posters, covered in dust. I asked why these couldn’t be put up in the classrooms to liven the rooms up. “No. Impossible. We have exams”!? I pointed out these were pictures of rabbits and flowers - hardly any use for cheating in exams. Blank looks from the teachers – brightening up the classroom seemed to be a totally foreign concept! In the playground, I asked how come all the basketball hoops had been broken off. I was told they had actually been deliberately removed to stop the students playing basketball, as the balls were damaging the hedges!? I was gobsmacked.
So, such is the teaching culture here that almost anything is seen as more important than the students and their education. Beautiful hedges are more important than exercise and fun, colourful posters rot in dark rooms whilst classrooms remain bare, libraries stay locked for fear of books actually being used, and children’s art cannot be displayed unless it is prize-winning. Schools here certainly have their problems, but some also have ready solutions and there seems to be a complete inability to connect the two!
Past blog entries