Socialising Part Two: New Year

After two days of work, as stated before, I had a chance to cash in my overtime for some time off. I’d accrued two days’ worth of time off, combined with the fact that New Year’s Day is a national holiday in China, despite it not really being their New Year, and the fact that it fell on a Friday so I had the weekend as well, I had a grand total of five days off. Although, by the time it was over, it didn’t really feel like that.

The first day, New Year’s Eve eve, I relaxed, and caught up on the household tasks that I had previously neglected for Christmas festivities.

However, I spent much of New Year’s Eve in a state of confusion due to their being a great deal of communication issues about who was going to the Villa that had been rented for our party and when, and also because a number of people dropped out of going to the party. I had a quick catch up with my parents, since I didn’t know what would happen later that night, and ended up getting a very costly taxi by myself to get there, and the party itself ended up being a lot quieter than I initially anticipated. I actually thought that I wouldn’t have a very good time due to the lack of people there, but I misjudged the social lubrication of alcohol on proceedings. And it actually ended up being a better party for me, I think in the grand scheme of things, as it allowed for a more personally satisfying experience.

On arrival at the party, I was greeted by Sergei, the Russian, holding a bow and arrow (not pointed at me, fortunately), so, of course, I had to have a go. My first shot, I knocked the coke can they were shooting at over, and accidentally gave myself a reputation of being a crack shot, because I’d also commented that I had done archery back in the UK and had my own bow and arrow. Jocelyn, a Chinese woman, then asked me to teach her, so I gave her a few pointers, about stance, but I’m really not qualified to teach archery, so I felt a bit uncomfortable about it. Luckily for me, and the poor coke can, it was freezing outside, too cold to hang around for too long, and inside was far too opulent to even entertain the idea when drunk of practicing indoors.

Seriously, this place was obscene. I don’t even know practicing how to explain the grand tackiness of the main room. It was done up like an 18th century French royal palace. The word Baroque definitely applies, but it was all in plaster, because the building itself was probably constructed in the last ten years. Whoever owned this villa had some serious money to spend and questionable taste. But it was also kind of amusing.

After spending around an hour or so hanging around feeling somewhat awkward and bemoaning the lack of other guests, Jocelyn said she had found a Mahjong table, and did we want to learn how to play. I said, of course, because to be honest an evening of board games is absolutely my jam. Eduardo the Brazilian and Sergei the Russian made up the table of four. I had a slight upper hand to them, as I had spent many hours on plane flights trying to work out how to play the digital version, and it turns out that the analogue version is pretty much the same. There are a few variations that I learned later that night, after being shouted at (playfully in a competitive kind of a way, not a nasty kind of a way) in Chinese, when I played with some folks who couldn’t speak any English. Remember what I said about the social lubrication of alcohol?

Anyway, we played until nearly midnight and I won a lot, and then, when Eduardo and Sergei got the hang of it, I didn’t so much anymore. As it got closer to the dawning of 2021, we went outside and had a barbecue and watched the fireworks that one of the lads had bought for the party. It was very nice, even if my kebabs were ridiculously spicy. I called Lauren and spent some time on the phone with her talking silliness about how the future looked better, and just having a little catch up.

Once I’d had my UK catch up time, I went to the Mahjong room again, and the Chinese cohort of guests had taken over, but one of them wanted to leave so I took over their seat and learned when I tried to win, that I wasn’t allowed to do what I did with these new rules, but I did win frequently enough anyway, which I was very pleased with, considering I had only properly learned earlier that night. The times that I didn’t win, I was close to it. I had a great time.

At this point, my sense of time was getting somewhat fuzzy because I was a bottle of red wine into the night, not to mention at least two cups of mulled wine that had been brewed but around 3am I think, I got wind of my other UK friends starting their New Year’s virtual party, and I was getting a little tired of the Mahjong for now. There’s only so much you can play in one night, so I virtually moseyed on over to that for an hour or so, finding a secluded spot to chat to my other friends for a bit.

On finishing that, things were starting to wind down. People were getting tired and starting to retire to bedrooms. I was very lucky at this point, because, due to other people dropping out there was a room going spare so I wouldn’t have to venture out to try and find a hotel nearby.

This is a part of the night that I am not proud of, if I’m being honest. I claimed that it was a British tradition to kiss someone on New Year’s. My hope had been that one of the good looking young Chinese men would take me up on the offer, but instead it was Sergei the Russian. Now everything was completely consensual; it was what I found out later that tainted this a little for me.  But yes, Sergei and I kissed, and then I had a little moan about how I couldn’t find my second bottle of wine – not that I wanted any more to drink at that time, I just like to keep tabs on things, but then I retired to my room, to call my parents, drop in on another zoom party held by friends, and then try to sleep. I was still awake around 5am when Sergei knocked on my door, having found my wine and wanting to come. I said thanks for the wine, but didn’t let him enter. I’m not quite that naive, plus I was really ready to sleep.

I woke just before 8am with a stinking headache but I was just about awake enough to video call my parents to welcome them into the new year, before I mucked about on my phone for a few hours, and then had a long hot shower to try and wash off the feeling that you get the morning after the night before. My hangover was not dispelled by this and actually got worse throughout the day.

Around eleven-ish I ventured out into the sun and regretted all of my life choices leading up to this moment. I then sociably played on my phone. I was sociable because there were people around and I wasn’t holed up in my room. At midday to one o’clock ish, when Eduardo had told me the day before that he would be leaving (he had offered me a lift in his car when he had heard about the price of the taxi) because we needed to be out of the villa, he finally emerged from his room, and told us we could stay for a while, so we played a few games of Mahjong. However, I found it to be a bit too taxing on my poor dehydrated brain, so instead I vented my pain by shooting arrows at coke cans and plastic bottles with Sergei and Jocelyn.

I was starting to get a little peeved with Eduardo, because I hadn’t eaten all morning, and I had my heart set on a McDonald’s to try and wipe up my hangover with all that oil and grease and fatty foods, and he still didn’t show any sign of leaving. Maybe this is my uptight Britishness coming out, but when someone asks that you “check out” at a certain time, even if they say it’s okay for you to stay longer, I think it’s only polite to try and leave as soon after that time as you can. The others, did not seem to share this opinion.

Eventually we left, and after some argument, where Jocelyn and I were for going straight home and Sergei and Eduardo were for spending the rest of the day (what was left of it) on the beach, I thought we compromised by driving the scenic route home. We ended up at Dameisha Beach, where I had been with my parents, more than a year previously, although I could hardly believe it had been that long, because Covid had affected my perception of time in 2020. Then the others got out of the car and decided to go to the beach.

This is where I once again did things that I actually regret, looking back on it. I will say that by this point any humour I had had left was gone. My head hurt like crazy, my stomach was unsettled and all I wanted to do was go to my apartment and sleep.  So, I insisted on staying in the car and trying to sleep there instead. The others tried to get me to come with them, but I can be a really stubborn ass when I want to be. They went off to the beach and left me with a bottle of water. I watched the cars go by feeling very sorry for myself and kept thinking that I would just flag one down and go home by myself anyway, never mind the cost.

But right before I committed to this idea, the others came back. They were feeling really bad about how they had ignored my wishes to go home and they now wanted to get food and go shopping at the outlets, so they were going to get a taxi for me. I felt deep shame at this point, but I still just wanted to go home, so I accepted and thanked them as profusely as I could muster. I tried to pay for the taxi but they rejected my money.

I slept in the taxi on the way back, and when I got back, I got my McDonald’s, at last, went to my apartment and only just finished eating it before I slept on my sofa for several hours.

I needed the entire next day to continue to recover and I had a heart to heart with Jocelyn where I apologised profusely for my behaviour and for being such a grumpy guts in general, and then I found I was apologising for something out. See, it turns out that Sergei had asked Jocelyn out before Christmas but she hadn’t exactly been sure about it, up until she found out that he had kissed me and tried to come into my room New Year’s Eve. She turned him down at that point and I felt awful. If I had known about that, I would have turned Sergei down and not gone through with the silly New Year’s kiss thing. But I hadn’t known. I just accidentally caused drama.

It was February, I think by the time I got to speak to Eduardo again, properly. We had seen each other a few times at various socials, but hadn’t had a chance for a heart to heart. When we finally did, he also apologised for New Year’s Day but he had been trying to play cupid for Sergei and Jocelyn to get them together. Which was why he had wanted to go to the beach and do everything there, so they could spend time together.

I’m sorry but when did I manage to step into a Rom-com? And why do I get the role of the hapless obstacle the two protagonists have to work past?

At least we are in the happily ever after now. I heard through the grapevine that after a few weeks of grovelling, Jocelyn finally forgave Sergei and they are now very happy together.

The rest of my time off was a complete write off. It has been a long time since I was that overtired and hungover, that’s for sure. But luckily, I didn’t have to work too hard the next week. Because the kids were once again being indoctrinated into a cult.

Socialising in a Post Pandemic Society

It seems appropriate that on the eve of the biggest event in the Chinese calendar; Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, I should write about the biggest events in the Christian and Western calendar; Christmas and New Year. Or should that be Western New Year? When I wish people a Happy New Year here at the moment, I don’t specify it as Chinese New Year, it’s just New Year. I am in China after all, and, well, we all know the saying.

Tangents aside, Christmas this year was weird. Weird as in, I was 6000 miles from my family. Weird as in, none of them were together for the first time in forever, I think. While my family, on the whole isn’t particularly religious, Christmas is the big event of the year where we all get together. Of course, over the years, there have been people missing. I distinctly remember running around the house with my phone on a Facebook call from my cousin who was in deepest South America. This same cousin was in India the year of the Boxing Day tsunami. I have also had to leave the festivities early due to working on Christmas Day or Boxing Day or both. My aunt, before retirement worked at the hospital and so couldn’t always get Christmas off. But in general, there was a core of people who gathered for Christmas wherever it was being hosted that year.

This year, surprising no one, it didn’t happen. And, to make it weirder, I actually worked on Christmas Day. Kind of.

Whether it’s in my contract or not, I can’t remember, but what I do know is, that foreign teachers don’t have to work on Christmas Day. School goes on as normal, but I do not have to be there, because it is recognised as the biggest holiday of the year. T

his year, however, the school, in its infinite wisdom, decided to hold its “English Language Show” on Christmas Day. And guess who was the lynchpin for this whole thing? Yup, the only native English speaker in the school.

But it was only in the afternoon, so I did not have to work in the morning. I was also offered Christmas Eve off as compensation, but I felt that I needed to be at school for the final rehearsals, as to be honest, the technical side of stuff still sucked, and the kids who were my co-hosts still couldn’t remember their lines, or come on at the right time.

Anyway, that’s for later. With Christmas Day morning off, I felt that it would be alright for me to go to a party on Christmas Eve. Icy wanted to come along with me. And this proved hilarious. It was a fairly low-key party at a friend’s house, although there were a lot of people there. Because there are next to no cases of Covid in the city, so it is safe. We sat and chilled and had a good time. It was something that I greatly appreciated I could do, as I was acutely aware that my parents wouldn’t be able to see the family this year, and that Christmas would be strange and quiet for everyone this year, due to the pandemic.

This was the first time I got to see Icy drunk and it was so cute. She is normally bubbly, but when she has had a couple of drinks, she gets even more so. And the funny part was that I’d probably drunk twice as much as she had, although I was possibly more hungover the next morning. It was the curse of red wine, which I’d bought a few cases of earlier in December, either for gift giving purposes or for purposes. Four months later, as I finish writing this, it was mostly for drinking purposes and I still have a case or so to drink.

Icy was flirting with a guy named Carlos, and he was flirting right back and I was encouraging it as much as possible, inviting him to come with us when the party disbanded, so that a number of people, including the host could go on to a club. Icy wanted to get a lift from her friends, so we wandered off down the street, and went to her friend’s shop. She made us tea and I drank a lot of it, in the hope that my hangover wouldn’t be so bad in the morning. It was a fruitless endeavor, but the thought had to count for something. But it was getting later and later, I was getting more noticeably drunk and trying to speak the little Chinese I knew (this is a feature for me in foreign countries) and I was also getting really sleepy, so eventually, after much tea was consumed by all, we piled into a different friend of Icy’s minivan type thing and they drove us home. I was just brushing my teeth and generally ablutioning, when Icy called me. She had been locked out of her apartment and could she crash at mine. I quickly tidied up as much as I could, hunted out the paracetamol and a glass of water to lay out for her in the morning as she still had to go to school in the morning, and then waited for her to arrive. I set her up for bed, and then went to bed myself, apologising for the permanently on light, that after multiple people hunting around the entire apartment cannot find an off switch for. It has been on ever since I moved in, as there does not seem to be an off switch. The only time it went off was during a power cut.

I slept poorly, and was awake before Icy. I shooed her off to school, late because I was hungover and thus not timekeeping well, and then opened my few presents, which was strange yet lovely. After a nap myself on the sofa and some general feeling sorry for myself, due to aforementioned hangover, I started cooking. I promised Zoey that I would cook for her, as we all had to provide some food at the Christmas party we were attending that evening. I cooked that most famous of traditional Christmas dishes: Mac’n’cheese. Luckily, I have practiced doing this before, and I had prepared by purchasing all the ingredients earlier. Unluckily I cannot make Mac’n’cheese without making a mess of the kitchen. It’s a biological imperative for me. I did not manage to cook for Zoey so we had to come back after school to finish up.

My Christmas presents slightly dwarfed my tree this year

But before that, I had to go and act not hungover at school in front of all the parents. I even got myself together enough to put make up to go to school and do my best host work.

Now, getting to this point had not been easy, and it had involved a helluva lot of arguing on my part. I had had to write the hosting script and help record every line so the children could learn it. They had put in a lot of work to learn it. Even if they didn’t understand what they were saying they had learned the sounds. And then the head of school decided that the order of the plays to be performed needed to be changed, and she did it a week before the final performance. And so gubbins here, who had worked very hard to put in a little subplot within the hosting script about trying to find their way home, then had to rewrite the whole script but in a way that would a) still make sense, both with the English and with the actual thread of the little story I had written, and b) not require the kids to learn any more lines. It was not easy, but by giving myself a whole lot more lines, I managed it. The kids would have to recite their lines in a different order but they didn’t have to learn any more.

I finished this on the Friday afternoon and on Monday morning, when I had spent the whole practice coaching the kids on what lines to say when, when we weren’t on stage of course, the head had the nerve to be upset that I hadn’t yet learned my lines. This was a low move, because I had promised that my lines would be learned by the performance, which they were, by the way, I didn’t have to learn only my lines, but also the kids’ and I had to be prepared to ad-lib should something go wrong, and the Chinese teacher didn’t even learn her lines but read them off a little cue card! In Chinese, her native language! And yet, admittedly also in my native language, I had learned 5 full pages of script, and where I could change it, should I need to!

As it happened, I needed this, as Cheryl wasn’t ready on time and I had to adlib a bit. Otherwise, the whole production went surprisingly smoothly, considering how disastrous the previous day’s rehearsals had been. But I vaguely remember from somewhere that a bad dress rehearsal was good luck or something, and that was how it normally went.

After a brief pit stop back at mine for cooking and wrapping presents purposes, we set off.

This party was even better than the night before, for one simple reason: there was a kitten! Charlie, the host, had given it to her friend for Christmas, and he had just received it. Its name was Chairman Miao, Cherry for short, and I was in love with her immediately. I spent a lot of the evening playing with her and letting her sleep in my arms, and generally fussing over this tiny little fluffball. I also drank cider and we played a strange game when it came to the Secret Santa stuff which gave me a vegetarian buffet voucher. Basically, names were drawn out of a hat, and you could choose a new gift, or steal a gift from someone else. That person could then choose a new gift or steal from a different person. And so on, until everyone had a gift. I made a mistake and chose the new gift rather than stealing a better gift from someone else, and so I was a little disappointed with mine, and I still haven’t cashed it in.

Zoey, Icy and I were all quite tired, and the party was winding down around midnight, so we went home. I messaged my mum happy Christmas and called her, and she said they were about to start the family quiz with my parents, my brother, his girlfriend, and her parents and I, being only mildly tipsy, but suddenly wide awake and aware that I didn’t have anything to do tomorrow, I asked to join in. It was great and I even won, while ridiculously tired. Also, my compiled quiz questions that I’d accumulated over lockdown in the UK came in useful, because I could use them on this new audience (many had been asked in other quizzes I did).

Because of all this excitement, and fortuitous placing of dates, Boxing Day and the day after were quiet and involved a lot of napping, as I think it was about 4am for me by the time the quiz finished. And I was back at school on Monday, because there is no rest for either the wicked or those who live in a country where Christmas isn’t traditionally celebrated.

I wasn’t too wicked though, as I only had to work Monday and Tuesday, and had Wednesday and Thursday off in lieu of the overtime I’d worked in the past.

Those five days (one day and recovery) will be chronicled in my next blog post.

Open Days

Being now the only foreign teacher in Montai, the buck has fallen upon me to pick up a lot of the slack that can only be fulfilled by being a foreign teacher. I am their dancing pony, their trump card, their ace up their sleeve, and as such, I am trotted out on all occasions that they deem necessary, even doing the dreaded overtime.

In fact, I accrued so much overtime that I got two whole days off just before New Year’s; they couldn’t pay me for the overtime, so I got time off in lieu instead. And here’s how I did it, although it is just a short episode this time.

First, I was told that I had to work on a Sunday morning in November as an open day. The school’s year of not being able to recruit new students, because of The Salmonella Incident was finally over and they were going into overdrive to make up for lost time. It was only when I was told about this, that I realised that this was the reason for the smaller and fewer classes. There is only one KC class when last year at the beginning on the year, pre-Salmonella Incident, there were four KC classes and a BB class. And I’m their shiny toy that shows that this school is better than the other schools, so I had to be there and do a demo class for the prospective new students.

This meant an entire day of planning the class and making sure it would be really good. I then was asked to do a trial run with our single KC class, which was never going to be an accurate representation of the demo class at the open day, as these children have had 3 months of classes with Zoey and so were a) better at English than any of the prospective new children would be and b) would not be afraid to get involved in class, as they’d been doing this for three months already. I was convinced that this whole thing would be a failure and yet there was nothing I could do to stop it, as my concerns, like many other times this year, were ignored.

But anyway, I did the practice class with KC, and it went relatively well. They knew the words I was teaching them, and they were confident enough to get involved in it. Connie, the head teacher, sat at the back of the class and looked stony faced for the entire time. After it was over, we went upstairs and she ripped into it. She thought it was too difficult, primarily, and we disagreed. We must have spent half an hour arguing back and forth as to whether it was too difficult or not. She also said some other stuff. I think. It was all in Chinese and apparently, she kept telling Zoey and Icy to translate but they didn’t because they didn’t agree with what she was saying. So, I sat there in blissful ignorance. In the end, we came to a compromise. We would do this lesson plan for the first demo lesson on Sunday, and if it seemed too difficult, we would have an easier backup lesson to teach.

We didn’t. Instead, we just plowed ahead with the original lesson, and it wasn’t too difficult, because the parents got involved.

I have to admit, I was pretty nervous about the demo lessons, and dressing as a princess on the day didn’t really help, except give me neck ache because my tiara was hefty (apparently it was also a cake decoration, but it looked like a crown so I rolled with it). I wasn’t worried about the difficulty of the lesson. I was confident that we could unroll the words in a way that meant the kids would understand enough. I didn’t have to worry about it though, because the parents sat behind the children and spoke for them, and I was able to get enough response that there weren’t any awkward silences.

In the end, the lesson wasn’t perfect but we made our own notes from it, and then in the second lesson of the day, improved upon it. Once that was done, I cleaned up the magic trick (yes, I did magic and Connie wasn’t even impressed. I mean, can she turn water multiple colours with no apparent source – hiding the blob of paint on the lid of course?), changed into my normal clothes and headed out to buy myself salt and vinegar crisps and cider.

We then had a two-week break, before we had any more demo lessons, and I, making an ass out of u and me, assumed that the next one would also be on a Sunday. I was a fool. Icy had said Saturday at least once, and on the Friday before said tomorrow, and I, being an ass, thought she’d got her English wrong, I was still in bed at 8.15am on Saturday, fifteen minutes after I should have already been at school when she called and asked me where I was.

I have moved that quickly very rarely in my life. But now I can tell you with absolute certainty, that I can get ready within 5 minutes, and the walk to school takes a mere eight minutes. I got off the phone at 8.17 and I was clocking in at 8.32. I’d arrived with time to prepare the magic trick and make sure everything was ready to go, and even quickly run through the lesson as well, before it even started.

Once again, I had two lessons, and they went better than the last time, even though I wasn’t a princess (it was too cold).

I had one more go at this and this time, I had three special guests. One was Zoey’s daughter, Jasmine, who couldn’t sit still and started crying a little bit in the middle of the lesson so Grandma took her out, and I also had a kid with the most impressive bump and bruise on his head I have ever seen. It literally looked like there was a golf ball stuck under the skin on his forehead and it was an impressive mottling of purple blue and black. What’s more, the kid didn’t even seem bothered by it, although I took efforts when I was gently bopping their heads as part of the headbutting to say hello part of my lesson, to bop him on the top of his head and not the forehead. And the last one was what I can only assume was an albino child, but I cannot be sure. He had blond hair, but his eyes were still brown. Admittedly, they were lighter than a standard very dark brown pair of eyes that are typical for Chinese people, but I was under the impression that albinism was an entire lack of pigmentation, so I’m not certain.

There were also a pair of parents, who may have been basketballers, or should have been. They were well matched too. The mother was at least a foot taller than me, and her husband topped her by a couple of inches. If you think that normal sized people sitting on child sized chairs is funny, this was even more humourous. Their knees were by their ears. It was a very exciting third open day.

Just before this, we were told that we only needed to attract a few more children and if we were able to, we wouldn’t have to have another open day. As it happened, we didn’t need another open day, so I guess we succeeded. I doubt it was me, although there are fewer actual foreign teachers in China at the moment, due to, ah, the, er, current pandemical circumstances. In the UK. China is fine and safe and very rigorous about making sure that it stays that way. So, they’re not letting UKish folks in anymore. Apparently, there was a 2-month window, and I squeaked in. If I’d try to come 2 weeks later, I wouldn’t have been able to. Yay me.

The entire time this was happening, there was some concern about whether or not I would get paid for it. I wanted to be paid for it. This was my precious weekend I was giving up. It finally turned out that I wouldn’t be paid, but I took take the time off in lieu later, which was fine. I ended up banking a whole day and a half, and combining that with the half day I worked on Christmas Day, I banked 2 days off. But that’s for my next post, where I depress you with the amount of socialisation I did with strangers over the holiday period.

Team Building?

So, after a successful week of making friends who spoke my language, I levelled up and decided to try my hand at making friends with people who didn’t speak my language, and even worse, who I worked with.

And it just so happened that a week later, they were doing a team building trip away and they invited me along. I agreed, even as Icy and Zoey weren’t going. They’re the only people on the staff who even remotely speak any English, so I was somewhat nervous about going. But I was also excited as I did want to get to know the people with whom I work every day. Plus, someone said something about a theme park and I am all over the rollercoasters. The more upside downs and the faster the better.

I was told to pack for all weather, because the temperatures could be getting as low as *gasp* 17˚C, if you can believe. It would be so cold! So, I put an extra hoody in my suitcase, just in case. Because you know, it might get a bit nippy.

The only other information I had was that we had to be at the school for 8am on Saturday morning as we would have a coach to take us there. Someone had said the word Chimelong as well, which I remembered being the theme park complex in Guangzhou that included a water park and would be a long journey by bus to get there, so I stocked up on boredom busting activities for me.

Some were unnecessary and it turned that they were also on suitable for me. Three kids joined us on this weekend, and while I love little kids, having worked with them for over a year now, I know how destructive they can be and they were not getting their sticky little paws on my Nintendo, and I was not going to be held responsible for anyone stabbing themselves with a needle, except for myself, and that was because I’m not quite silly enough to sue myself for damages, even if I most definitely am silly enough to accidentally stab myself, multiple times.

As predicted the journey was a long one. What wasn’t predicted was the karaoke they did for the first hour or so. The person to sing was picked by sending a Red Packet on WeChat with a small amount of money in it and whoever got the most money had to sing. I was most unfortunate for this to happen to me, and I had to sing to the whole bus.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I don’t, in general sing in public. This is because while my voice is okay, I don’t exactly have a wide range and it is only passable. Beyonce I am not. Heck, I’m barely Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia! Not to mention I have chronic shyness when it comes to something like this. But it was the rules, and while Connie wanted me to sing a Chinese song, then another fairly recently out pop song (which was at least in English) that I did not know at all, in the end I was coerced into doing a song I only barely knew. It also had rapping in it. I can tell you right now that rapping is not an area that I have any natural talent in. The only rap I will willingly do is the bit in the song “You’re Welcome” from Moana. And that’s only because I’ve practiced it half to death. But with this song (by the way I’m not being purposely vague – I’ve just blocked the memory to the point that I can’t remember what it was and I’m not watching the video I have of it for fear of shame-induced-self-combustion), I decided, in for a penny, in for a pound and tried. It went about as badly as I expected. But then I was done and I could sit back down. The next person who sang did fucking Chinese opera. She was fantastic and I was glad to have got the whole mortifying experience over and done with.

After a mere four hours of driving, with one service stop and one lunch stop, we finally arrived and I was It was called Chimelong Ocean Park, but it wasn’t the same place I had seen eighteen months earlier, even if it had the same name. However, it was a pretty cool place. I did spend some time wrestling with my morals though, because there were a lot of beautiful and highly intelligent sea creatures in small tanks, and I have read about how they aren’t always treated the best.

But it was still fascinating and of course I still got pictures. The best part for me was absolutely the whale sharks as they were freaking huge and absolutely awe inspiring. The tank they are in has a load of Guinness World Records for size and size of viewing dome and so on.

There were also roller-coaster, including a water ride. We were given ponchos to wear, but unfortunately, once we were sitting in the coaster, the poncho didn’t quite cover me properly

There were also shows and my babysitter -one of only two people on the trip who spoke enough English to even have a hope of communicating with me – and I caught one with Beluga whales. Again, I was wrestling a little with whether this was moral, but I just hope that the show in fact gives them some form of enrichment, as they practice and spend time with their trainers to get to do the show. I was once told this by a trainer at a safari park in the UK, even though she said it about sea lions, rather than beluga whales.

By the time all this was over it was getting to the end of the day and we were getting pretty tired, especially the kids (I think – I hadn’t seen them since we arrived), but we couldn’t leave yet, as we had the grand finale to watch. This was absolutely incredible, as it was a light show in the dark night using fire, fireworks, and drones. Basically, everything that China is known for doing really well and to be honest it was spectacular.

By this time, it really was getting late, so once we all met up again, it was off to the bus to be ferried to the hotel. I shared a room with a teacher called Nancy, and it was massively eye opening. She spent an incredible amount of time in the bathroom, and it was just a good job that I don’t spend much time in the bathroom, either in the morning or the evening. As long as I have the chance to shower and brush my teeth, I’m otherwise pretty much good.

Nancy also coughed and spluttered most of the night which was rather unfortunate, but it couldn’t really be helped.

We were up early the next morning as we had team buildingto do. It was done on the beach and we also had to get some official photos, with me in the teacher’s red hoodie. Connie had told me that she would pack one for me, but when we got there, there weren’t any left, or something. There may have been a bit of a translation error there. So, Da Ge (the photography and technology guy loaned me his hoodie so that I looked like everyone else. We had the photos and then did some pretty traditional team building exercises; getting the hoop from one end of the line to the other while holding hands, the sitting down chain, something to do with making shapes from a rope and tug of war. My team won the hoop game and tug of war and the other team won the other two games, so we were actually pretty evenly matched.

Then we had some free time. Everyone else headed down to the shore line to get some pics for their Chinese version of Instagram, but I, being the weird British girl who has spent nearly her entire life living about as far away from the sea as you can get, and who never goes to the beach without paddling (yes, even in February in the UK), pulled my shoes off, ran into the surf and got my jeans wet again. Everyone thought a) that I was mad and b) that the water would be freezing. But, being the weird girl who has paddled in the sea in the UK in February, this was positively balmy. In fact, after I left because folks also wanted pics with me, I went back into the sea to warm my toes back up again, as the water was warmer than the air.

Once we’d had our fill of this, and the birthday girls of that month had received their gifts and the obligatory singalong that goes along with it, we were all given a blue neckerchief which is actually pretty cute, even if I have nothing to wear it with.

Then we were on the bus and headed to what appeared to be a smaller version of the Forbidden City in Beijing. This was Zhuhai however, and so they offered the opportunity to dress up like a Chinese Empress. Everyone was egging me on to do it, so I did. I loved it. I am a nerd and I love dress up and I will no longer be ashamed by that. I was given the full works, including false eyelashes and I needed to be helped to my seat because a Ming Empress couldn’t be wearing glasses, so I had to leave them behind and I couldn’t then see anything. I also couldn’t really see because of the fake eyelashes which weren’t exactly applied very well. But it was fun and today my babysitter was Connie, aka the big boss. She was like a paparazzo or something because she really wanted me to do it and she took photos of every step of the operation. She then took me on a super speedy tour of the rest of the palace, and we found a place that would do a poem to my Chinese name in gorgeous calligraphy on rice paper. The only problem was that I didn’t have a Chinese name, and they couldn’t do it with my English name. So, Connie and I consulted, and I now have a Chinese name, that is 戴凯蒂 which kind of sounds like my name but also reflects the original meaning of the name Katie, or Catherine, since that is where it’s derived from, aka, pure. It’s pronounced dai kai jie, since the surname comes first in Chinese culture.

Then there was just enough time for a mediocre lunch before we set off on our long drive home. I was okay because I was still equipped with my boredom busters, but most people slept on the bus. Chronic overtiredness is not just a Western thing, especially when you spend the whole day working with energetic excitable young children. But at least this time, we were spared the rigours of karaoke, and it was an uneventful ride home.

And I’d done it. I’d survived my weekend with the teaching staff and while I had been pretty quiet a lot of the time, such is what happens when there is a language barrier such as what there is between us. I just hoped they could see my personality within my actions instead.

A Feast for Mosquitoes

Now that I had the basics down pat, and a room full of laundry bags that I wouldn’t be opening unless I had the proper motivation, it was time to find the other expats. It is something that I have noticed in my time here in China, if you live here and aren’t Chinese, anyone who is in the same boat is automatically your best friend. It’s natural. We like to hang out with people who have a shared experience, and what is more share-able than moving halfway round the world to live in a country whose language is so different to yours. I say it that way because a significant number of them are far more accomplished than I am and can actually speak Chinese, and a significant majority don’t even speak English as their first language. Half way round the world isn’t entirely accurate either. Of all the people I have met recently, I can count the countries of Iran, Bahrain, UK, Brazil, USA, Australia, Russia, and Ghana to name a few. And these were only the people that I talked to.
I will admit that this time around I did have help from Icy. She added me to a couple of social groups that really helped me. There is one group that multiple times a week, get together and play Uno, before going to a nearby bar. And, even, better they are all in my general vicinity. By that, I mean within an hour and a half’s walk from my place.

It took me a few weeks to get there, as I still needed to get settled, but once I was in my flat, I felt like I needed a social night, so Friday night, I gussied up and wearing a skirt and tights, (this is important later), walked to the usual meet up place. It wasn’t the most pleasant walk as my tights were slightly too efficient, and didn’t go all the way up my leg, causing a little chafage. But I got there, and met some lovely people, whose names I won’t bore you with. What I can say is that they were certainly a number of nationalities.

After a few rounds of lively Uno, we headed out to the bar, and due to one of them knowing someone, (or something; I’m not entirely sure of the details) we each got two free drinks, which included large glasses of wine. This was certainly a pleasant turn of events, and helped me out with what happened later.

We ended up playing dice, and it turns out it was basically the same game as what was played 800 years ago in the UK. Apparently simple games stand the test of time well. Every time someone lost, they had to choose truth or dare. This went exactly as expected. The group of people who didn’t all know each other that well, asked each other semi sexual questions.

It wasn’t the most fun. No one was choosing Dare. Which, if you ask me, is the fun part of truth or dare. So, I chose dare. Due to this, I got the WeChat contact of a very sexy model, and a dude who was out with his boss, and whose boss bought me a beer. Which was very nice of him. I even drank some of so I had the gumption to do another of the dares: get down by myself in an open area near where our table was and not near where the dance floor was.

Was I a little embarrassed? Yes. But I was also enjoying having fun with these new people who I’d only met that night.

I did have an ulterior motive for turning up that night – I was hoping to have my house warming on Sunday, and I didn’t want an empty house. Even though I’d only just met these people, I really hoped they would turn up.

I’d also secured my invite to Thanksgiving later the next week as well, as this would be soon and would also be my first ever Thanksgiving celebrated.

I eventually called it a night at about 2.30am which for me meant it was a very successful night. I got a taxi home and had a lovely chat with Lauren for my safety and because I was slightly drunk and so wanted to talk to her. Sometimes having an eight-hour time difference can be a good thing!
My ulterior motive worked as well. Come Sunday and my housewarming, although it was a slow start with Zoey and her two-year-old daughter Jasmine, and her friend being the only people in attendance to start, mostly due to Jazzy’s age, once it got a bit later, my new friends arrived and a lot of wine was drunk. We even played Uno around my coffee table, and what do you know, it was the perfect motivator for me to get the majority of the flat in order. No one was allowed to look in the second bedroom, as all my old colleagues’ stuff had been unceremoniously stuffed in there.
But it was all in all a successful night, even if the fact that the majority of them turning up late caused me to worry that they weren’t going to come at all, and I would have a dud house warming party. This was also exacerbated by Zoey’s friend and a friend of Icy’s leaving early, before the most of the others had arrived. But all in all, I had a good time, and I had significant cleaning up duties to do later, which to me, means a successful party. I had also tried sugarcane for the first time. While I normally like sweet things, this was not a good experience for me. You don’t actually eat sugar cane. You bite a chunk of it off the cane and chew it so that the sweet liquid comes out, and when there’s no more sweetness left, you spit out the carcass and go again. So, you don’t actually consume the cane. It was not pleasant. While I have enthusiastically taken up some Chinese snacks, (hello spicy beef and sunflower seeds), sugar cane is one I will not partake in again, much like the chicken feet.
Sunday wasn’t wholly pleasant for me. It turns out, that tights and white woman O+ tasty blood is a veritable feast for mosquitoes. Plus, this was the time of the year when it was still warm. I am writing this encased in a down jacket and bobble hat, because while it isn’t exactly freezing, at approximately 15˚C during the day and 10˚C in the morning, it’s that temperature constantly. In the house and out of it. Due to excessive heat during the majority of the year, houses and flats in this part of the country are designed to get the heat out of the house. And the air conditioning doesn’t have a heating setting (trust me, I’ve tried) so if it is ten outside, it’s ten inside. And the constancy of the cold gets to you more than it actually being cold. Admittedly, this is unusually cold. Normally you’re looking at over 15 overnight and getting up to above 20 during the day, but still, getting out of bed in the morning at the moment is not fun.

Zoey and Icy’s friends came along

But anyway, I digress. Massively. The end of November was still warm enough to go out overnight without a jumper, and I was only wearing tights as a precaution that I didn’t need. Not that they helped. I was covered in mosquito bites. I’d only had a couple since I’d arrived back in China this second time around, so I hadn’t bothered with bug repellent which was a huge mistake apparently. While I’d gorged on new friendships, the mosquitoes had gorged on me. The little buggers. I had to look out my itch relief cream and scratch as little as possible.

Apologies for the poor quality; I do not have a great camera on my phone

And then within a week of this it was Thanksgiving, and I’d had to make a dish for it. Having practised making chocolate brownies the week before for Zoey and Icy, I went for the same thing again, which was useful in using up all the leftover ingredients. They also were better this time around, thanks to the practice. So, I baked them at lunchtime and then headed off in the evening, armed with them and some alcohol. As usual, I got a little lost trying to find the right place, but I had time to do so as I’d left my flat with enough time to walk should I have to, but I was lucky enough to be able to flag down a taxi, since Didi still isn’t working for me.

But it did mean that I was super early to the party. In the end I didn’t mind too much as I had to leave early too, due to having to work the next day and my promptness meant that I got to take part in the turkey game, won before anyone else arrived (pretty much) and got a bottle of wine for me efforts on leaving. It was all very lovely.

The rest of the evening itself was good too. There was a point when I was three glasses of wine down and hadn’t eaten any food, which was a little concerning and we were all started to get really hungry. The issue was that Charlie, the host had promised to wait for some people to arrive before we ate and they didn’t get there until gone 9pm so everyone was drinking on an empty stomach. But when we did get to eat, the food was all fantastic. It was a great mix of both Western and Chinese food and it all tasted delicious.

I had some really interesting conversations as well, even if I can’t remember the final points of the later conversations. Charlie was an excellent host in that she kept plying me with wine even when I told her I needed to switch to water since I didn’t really want to be hungover the next day at work. (Spoiler alert: I was. Very. hungover at work the next day). but the gist of the conversations were race relations in China, and did I want to be on someone’s podcast. I did. I still do, if you happen to be reading this, new friend.

Gotta Get Back to Montai

Now that my enforced quarantine was over, I had a measly 7-hour train ride back to Shenzhen. I was due in at half eight or thereabouts in the evening, so although the tentative plan had been to get my stuff from storage and move me into a flat within a couple of days, that was not what happened at all. Due to the lateness of the hour, I just got a Didi (Chinese Uber) to a hotel that Jennifer had booked for me, which was a small box room without any windows. It was fine. Small but perfectly functional. It was only booked for a couple of days. It also turned out that getting a Didi was difficult for me at the moment, because people were just not accepting my calls for a ride. Which was a full pain in the rear end. I hadn’t actually ended up using the app to get to the hotel, even though the driver and I were both on Didi, because it didn’t seem to be working that well. Although it was a bit sketchy, nothing happened to me and I was fine, but it wasn’t something that I really wanted to repeat.

The next day, I met up with Icy, the Chinese English teacher at school who was there to replace Hannah who had left the school to move closer to her hometown. She told me that she had asked the parents if it was okay for me to be there and teach the children, and that they were waiting for the response and hopefully I would be able to teach by the Friday, which would be the day before Halloween and would be the day of the school’s Halloween party. I wanted to be back at school by then. I had wanted to be back at school by the 1st of September so I was nearly two months late already.

On Friday, I wasn’t able to go back to school either. Apparently, some of the parents were still nervous that I had coronavirus, despite my multiple tests, that I had given Icy, and all the medical records from my quarantine in Zhengzhou. On that Friday, I had waited for Icy to help me get a taxi, as I had tried at least twice to get a Didi and no one had been taking the requests, but she told me just to ask the hotel staff to get me a normal blue taxi instead. I had waited all day for her response which meant that my Friday had felt entirely wasted.

I won’t say that it was exclusively because of this feeling of having wasted a day that I got up at 4 in the morning to join in with various’ friends Halloween parties on England time, but it might have been a consideration. It was slightly hellish especially as there was quizzing and drinking involved. But I did engage in this foolhardiness, and only after I was done, did I brush my teeth and head out to get another coronavirus test in Shenzhen, because, obviously, anything done outside of Shenzhen cannot be trusted at all.

It was a highly stressful day. It was not helped by the fact that I managed to forget my portable charger, so I had no way to charge my battery poor phone. My phone’s battery is a pile of shite, and I am not exaggerating. I need to charge it at lunchtime veery day and if I want to use it in the evening, I need to be charging it then as well.

I couldn’t get around in China without my phone. I need it for translation purposes, for paying for things. Pretty much for everything. People talk about how we’re addicted to our phones nowadays, and that is no different here in China, if not worse. So, I already started the day stressed, because I realized on the taxi ride to the hospital that I didn’t have my charger.

On arrival at the hospital, I asked multiple people where I needed to go for a Covid-19 test, and no one actually knew. I ended up asking someone, who may not even have been a nurse, because she knew as much about the hospital as I did, to talk to Icy over the phone (my phone), so she could explain what was going on. They had a conversation and this lovely lady then took me around the hospital, trying to find the right place.

Mysterious temple that was shut, and a fisherman

Eventually we did find it, and they were shutting for lunch. A two-hour lunch break. Which was great. All I needed to do was fritter away two hours of my time. Except that I had no way to do so, as my book, my podcasts, any way of entertaining myself was on my phone and it was already getting low and wouldn’t last two hours of entertainment. I went and found a cheap restaurant, which did a very nice soup and did something I haven’t done in literal years. I entertained myself, with my. own. mind.

Time traveled very slowly. I’d turned my phone off as soon as I figured out what food I was ordering and I wasn’t going to turn it on until I had to pay. So, I took one of my book ideas and noodled with it in my head. I wrote several scenes, except I had nothing to write with so now they are most likely all forgotten with very little staying in my head, and I watched my watch tick by so very slowly.

You had to use the stepping stones to get across

By some miracle I actually managed it, and not only that but when I got back to the testing site, my lovely lady from before had arranged for a nurse to look after me here and take me through all the steps as my own personal assistant, which I sorely needed. Finally, one gagging incident later, it was all over. After I called Icy and she spoke to the nurse, and determined I had to come back the next day for my results, which was a bit of a pain, but I could at least bring my charger this time and not be so panicked about the whole thing. If I had been Chinese, I could have got the result on my phone, but no such luck, of course. Being a foreigner always makes things more difficult.

Then came the exciting part of my day, that also probably would have terrified my mother if she’d have known about it. Outside the hospital they had electric bike taxis. It was the first time I’d seen them, and since my Didi wasn’t working, I couldn’t get a car taxi to take me. It took the guy who got my custom a long time to work out where it was that I wanted to go, but eventually, he and about three of his bike taxi buddies worked it out, told me it was free and off we went. It was a lot of fun and now I want an e-bike, much to Mother’s chagrin. She thinks I will be killed if I have one. I think I’m more likely to die after being hit by one while I’m walking around. Regardless of our little disagreement, I got back to my hotel room in just over half an hour rather than the 2 hours plus it would have taken me to walk back which was my only other option at that point.

I wasn’t entirely comfortable on the back of the bike, as evidenced by the stiffness my fingers from hanging on to the seat in front of me, but I was able to look around while the driver was pootling through the city. I saw a lovely park and even better, I saw an actual bank for my bank – Bank of Communications. This is very exciting as these are the people that I need to talk to so that I can transfer money to my English bank account and pay my bills that are still ongoing while I am out here.

The next day I got another taxi to the hospital and picked up my results within about half an hour. It was super easy, which I was not prepared for, judging by everything else that I have done since arriving here and living here the second time.

My negative. Blue marks are my pertinent information that I don’t think should be on the interwebs

This time, because I had my charger and an abundance of time, and a windowless hotel room waiting for me, I decided to walk back and take the two hours to get back to said hotel room. It was a lovely warm day, and I wanted to explore the park and the river that I had seen the day before on the back of the e-bike.

It was fantastic, and I really enjoyed it, although I did get a tiny bit sunburned, just on my face. It was warm and sunny, and while I got really tired from it, because I was not yet used to walking so much each day, I truly enjoyed my day. I found another cheap little restaurant for lunch and generally had a lovely time. The photos interspersed throughout this piece are from that day.

With all that done, I was finally allowed back to school on Monday which was great, although it wasn’t the last of it. It was strange though, my first day back at school. When I saw the students I had taught, they just looked at me in confusion. There was only one class that recognized me, and it wasn’t even my class! It was a class that Sean had taught last year, but hadn’t graduated because they were too young to go to school yet. After a few days though, all the kids warmed up and began to remember me, which was so lovely, and I really began to remember why I wanted to come back to China, despite all the difficulty getting here. This was what made it worth it.

The next weekend, I had to go to hospital with Icy for no reason – the school doctor had told us we needed to do some sort of test, but then the doctor who did that sort of test wasn’t there at the weekend.

I was still in the hotel room which was ridiculously humid, to the point that it broke my phone. I couldn’t charge my phone for 2 days and then the only way that I could charge it was through a wireless charger, which was very slow. I thought my phone was permanently broken, but once I finally got into my flat, which took three viewings and several missed school meals, I finally got a nice one, with a western toilet, no random holes in windows or walls, and a table to dine at, and type up blog posts at (literally my only criteria), and my stuff was finally delivered to me from storage, my phone started working again. The battery is still rubbish, but it does at least charge with a cable again, which to be honest is all I need. I still have nearly a year left on contract with this phone, and I don’t want to have to fork out for another one yet.

It’s a cone shop! Where they make cones! I might have got a little too excited by this

Icy and I also went to yet another hospital to get this random health test and this time around, they took blood from the back of my right hand. It didn’t go all that well, as my vein started blowing up in a very disturbing way. It looked like I had a pea in the back of my hand, and when I pointed this out to the nurse, she told me off and told me to put pressure on it. It still bruised massively and hurt quite a lot, but by this point the Chinese government have taken so much of my blood, I’m starting to wonder if they are actually vampires and just use needing medical tests as an excuse. It would also explain their aversion to the sun, and Icy’s need to constantly check that I’m not going to burn when I go out in the sun. I may be pale, but I’m not actually a ginger!

Bridge from the stepping stones

At the hospital (the 4th I’ve been to since October, and my 5th hospital trip), I was able to correct someone’s stereotype for the first time. The blood sucking nurse didn’t think I could be British, because I wasn’t blonde. and while blondes may have more fun (yes, I see the hypocrisy and I don’t care), I would not look good as a blonde.

So yeah, my first few weeks outside of quarantine weren’t exactly easy or fun, but they were eventful. and now I just have to make friends, because, while I was doing the flat viewings, I was told that there won’t be any more English teachers coming to this part of town. So that’s going to be fun.

The Hospital

As i said in the last blog post, surely the arrival in China signalled the end of my woes, right? This was not the case, not the case at all. In fact, this was when the stress really began.

I’d already been told that on landing, officials would board the plane and check everything was as it should be before they would escort us off the plane and into the airport. This is, in fact, exactly what happened. But what nobody had told and what I hadn’t thought about was that having a hundred plus people on a thin metal tube was that things would get warm. Very warm. I started doing the one thing that you really don’t want to do when one of the main indicators for a worldwide pandemic is a temperature: I started to overheat. I could feel it happening, and fanning myself with the “What to do in an emergency” card didn’t help at all. Nor did taking off my hoodie.

I felt a little better when we were finally allowed off the plan and escorted through the airport, and I even managed to pass at least two infrared thermal imaging temperature check things that I passed through.

However, it also turns out that I have a physical reaction to stress, and that reaction is to get warm and having many well meaning but not understanding fully people trying to help me get an app and fill in a form that I already had and had already filled in, made me more stressed because of the not entirely understanding part, and the fact that all of the officials were in hazmat suits, multiple pairs of gloves, with a hairnet over the suit hood, and old style goggles that I last saw in my school chemistry class, a mask and visor. If they weren’t hot in all that get up themselves, then I’m a goose.

Finally, after an age of waiting I got to the official health check where I presented my phone to give proof of having the app as it had a required QR code on it, and I was given an old style mercury thermometer for my armpit. There were a couple of what were considered to be irregularities with my form, because I hadn’t included Finland, the stopover and in the interests of being entirely honest, I had included Exeter, the city, because I didn’t particularly fancy the $1000 fine. But, since these officials didn’t speak a lick of English, and in my stressed tired etc state, all Chinese I knew completely abandoned me, they didn’t understand Exeter, and after some back and forth with the help of a translator (device, not a person) in a bag, about whether it was a country or whether I had left England at all , other than Finland en route to China, it was removed.

My temperature on the mercury thermometer turned out to be 37.5˚C. The Chinese limit is 37.3˚C. I have no proof of this other than anecdotal – that I saw the temperatures of approximately 70 Chinese people every day twice a day for two weeks – , but it seems that the Chinese run at a lower temperature than Western people, as they would consistently record temperatures at 36.something low, and I couldn’t get my mercury thermometer below 37.9˚C (I therefore used my gun zapper thermometer) which I think is partially why they have a lower threshold compared to the British 37.8˚C.

This 37.5˚C didn’t budge, so I was taken away. Literally, I was walked down an arm where you’d normally board the plane and then down the fire escape to a concrete bunker, whereas everyone with a temperature below the beloved 37.3˚C went further into the bowels of the airport.

In the bunker, my passport was taken from me and I was doused in disinfectant. I will admit that by this point, I was crying. I wasn’t hysterical but I was incredibly scared and confused. I didn’t know what was going on and honestly, it was my worst nightmare. In all the planning and preparing to come back to China, this hadn’t really crossed my mind. My temperature had never been high enough for it to be an issue. Now I was thousands of miles from home, with no way to contact my family, not that they would answer anyway, since it was 3am UK time. I was tired, starving, overwhelmed and my release happened to be crying.

After disinfection, I was interrogated, for want of a better term. The officials asked me what date I’d left China, and although I initially gave it confidently, I then lost confidence in it. It didn’t help that when I tried to tell them that I’d gone from Shenzhen to Heathrow via Frankfurt, they didn’t seem to get the via Frankfurt part. From what I could tell, from the screen in Chinese, they seemed to be trying to find the passenger manifest, so they could corroborate my story, which they wouldn’t if I’d accidentally given them the wrong departure date, or if they were looking for a direct flight to Heathrow. They kept checking the date and city with me over and over and over and over and over again as if they were trying to find a hole in my story, but they didn’t exactly seem all that interested in my answers either, especially when I tried to clarify that I might have got the wrong date and that I went to Frankfurt, then London. This wasn’t exactly helping with the crying thing, either.

They did, in their own inimitable Chinese way, try to comfort me once. They told me I didn’t need to be scared, that China was the safest country in the world, and that I’d be welcomed and surrounded by my Chinese family and Chinese family values (paraphrased).  This was, of course, not at all helpful, but I did appreciate their attempt. They took a break from the interrogation to give me a Covid test, which was a nasal swab that tickled my throat and triggered my cough response in an attempt to dislodge the intrusion. This was in both nostrils, because just the one was clearly not sadistic enough for them. I then got a face full of disinfectant and tissue, before they moved onto the throat swab which just so happened to trigger my gag reflex. They were lucky I hadn’t eaten in a few hours or they would have had to clean up my vomit. Yum. Next up, they told me not to be afraid, but they also needed to take my blood, which was honestly the easiest part. So long as I don’t have to look at the needle puncturing my skin, I’m good.

They tried a little more interrogation, but it didn’t really work as I had literally told them everything I could, so I was finally given my passport back with my entry stamp, and told to wait outside for the ambulance to take us to the hospital. I was with one other girl, a Chinese national whose temperature had been 37.4˚C. If they’d taken my temperature then, as I was sitting outside in 15˚C and a light drizzle with just a t-shirt on, I probably would have passed with flying colours, but it was clearly too late at this point.

Inside the ambulance
This is the look of an overwrought Englishwoman

We got lights and standard horn to the hospital, rather than the sirens, but it still seemed to work quite nicely to get us there. At the hospital we had to wait in the ambulance, presumably so that they had time to prepare our rooms and a crowd full on gathered while we waited. Some of them even had their phones out. I actually wondered if this was what it was like to be a celebrity. I also took a couple of pics myself. It was an experience, and I wanted to document it. On the ride, I’d also spent all of my phone credit on my English sim card to let my parents know what was going on, and I was still confused as to why my Chinese sim card didn’t work.

A curious crowd

When we were finally shown to our rooms, I told the nurse through the Chinese girl who had a very good grasp of English, that i had no internet and they made their phone a mobile hot spot for me for the afternoon. My room consisted of a hospital bed, bedside monitoring machine thing, a squatty potty and a sink. This was not idea, because the stress had also had a negative impact on my bowels, but I guess that’s just another Chinese experience to cross off my shower list (opposite of bucket list – the list of things you really don’t want to have to do in your life). they had also not provided loo roll, so I had to carefully ration my tissues and wet wipes. I did have a jug of boiling water and the promise to refill it whenever I needed.

Using the mobile hot spot, I was now able to talk to my mum – cue more tears, of course – and the company to tell them what was going on and the situation with my phone. It turns out, that if you don’t top up your phone for 6 months, the number gets cancelled so that was fun.

In the evening I had, of all things, a CT scan. It was focused (I think – I’ve never had a CT scan before and I got distracted by the pretty colours on the inside of the machine) on my lungs. Understandable, I suppose, given the nature of the virus. I also asked about my suitcase, as I had no idea where it was and I only had the clothes i was standing I and had been wearing for well over 24 hours by now.

At 8pm my Wi-Fi went off as the nurse whose phone it was had to go home, and at midnight, my suitcase was delivered. I had been trying to sleep as I’d also not done that in about 24 hours either. I’d managed to sleep a little on the London-Helsinki flight but hadn’t on the longer leg from Helsinki-Zhengzhou. But once the suitcase turned up, my jet lag kicked in and I couldn’t get back to sleep. So I ended up listening to several hours of Harry Potter.

The next morning, bright and early, I had another blood test and throat swab. This nurse decided that my best veins were in my wrist, and so took the blood from there, which hurt way more than the crook of my elbow and left me with a massive bruise.

I got an ouchie!

The rest of the day was spent in a haze of boredom and napping. I was afraid to sleep for too long or get too much out since, as far as I was concerned, I could be told at any time that I was leaving. My temperature had been back to normal since I had arrived at the hospital the day before and as far as I was concerned, I was Covid free. In the evening, I asked the nurse who came to take my temperature, when I would be leaving and she said that it would be the next day, as long as my morning test came back fine.

I nearly overslept the next morning, and had to rush dressing before the test when I asked again when I would be leaving. I was told the afternoon. By noon I had pretty much packed everything, and could be ready to go within a couple of minutes. At around 3.30pm, I was told to get ready to leave and I was allowed Wi-Fi for about another half an hour. I rushed to pack my last few bits and then lay on the bed reading on my phone, checking the door every few minutes to make sure that I wasn’t left behind (as if Chinese efficiency would allow such a thing).

At about 5.30pm the nurses all came to my room and asked for photos with me. Given that Zhengzhou isn’t exactly a tourist destination, I was the only white person that they had treated. So i was an anomaly to their usual work day that they wanted to record. It has made me wonder over the last few weeks, in a way that I never have before, how often I’m mentioned to a spouse or a roommate as a weird or unusual thing that happened that day. Its rather unsettling to think about. But anyway, I dutifully posed for my new fans and snapped a couple of my own cheeky pictures, then got my things. Oh nope, not yet; I had to wait for the bus.

Welp, it wasn’t a bus but an ambulance and this time we were treated to the lights and sirens. But in fairness it was half an hour to the hotel through rush hour, so I hate to think how long it would have taken without them.

At the hotel I finally had permanent Wi-Fi and wasted no time in reporting on my new confinement chambers that had both a shower (I hadn’t been able to wash since England) and a Western style toilet. Now all I had to do was choose a bed and wait out the rest of my quarantine.

I’ve gained a story, and experienced a Chinese hospital (I’ve now had a few more, but that’s next week’s story) and all it cost me was a mere 3000¥ I didn’t have and my 482 day streak on Duolingo, which to be honest, I’m most annoyed about.

Top Tips on Making it Through Lockdown

As the UK goes back into lockdown, I’ve realised that I’ve got a bit good at this quarantine thing. And I specify quarantine and self isolation as I’ve done both of those a couple of times whereas I’ve done lockdown the same number of times as you have: precisely once.

Snow leopard at Dudley Zoo.

But, having quarantined twice now; once on returning from China with Lauren and once on returning to China, by myself, in a hotel room, I didn’t find it the worst thing in the world.

Lauren and I on a socially distanced walk on the Malverns

However I will admit that I am an introvert who in the before times would occasionally fantasize about having time home alone with no reason to go out and no interruptions. So I understand that the more gregarious of people who read this may find it a lot harder.

Baby giraffe at Dudley Zoo

But I can say that I managed to survive with my sanity (mostly) intact, so I thought I’d share what helped me get through my quarantines in the hope that it may help someone else.

The best selfie I’ve taken with my Dad, ever.

Disclaimer: I’m not all knowing and this helped me. Please approach with caution. Not proven to get anyone mentally well. You know your mind better than I do. I hope.

Domino, my baby, being a babay

->Keep busy. This may seem like common sense but it is really helpful. Write yourself a To Do list and try to cross off at least one thing a day. Include jobs that you’ve been meaning to get round to for years but never quite had the time for. Include jobs that will probably take hours or even days to complete. always include write to do list at the top of your to do list as it really helps me to see that first little tick at the top of the page. Include your hobbies because there’s nothing like feeling productive when you’re reading a book. I found that an utterly unproductive day was bad for my mental health but a single solitary tick turned that mood upside down, especially if it was a project that I’ve been meaning to complete for the last eighteen months. I frequently include my cross-stitching on my list, because I can then be productive while watching TV.

My pandemic cross stitch

-> Keep a routine. Again, this seems obvious, but the quickest way to an unproductive day, at least for me, is to wake up later than normal, and then not wanting to go to bed until much later than normal and realising that you actually have to be up at 8am the next morning, while also realising that the majority of the day is gone without actually having done anything because you were asleep/in bed/thinking about moving and doing something soon, and then realising what’s the point because it’s already the evening.

Arctic fox with summer coat at Dudley Zoo

Of course, if a nocturnal cycle is one that works best for you, then go for it, but I find that unless I have something due the next morning, I am functionally useless after about 7pm regardless of what that thing I should be doing is, or what time I actually go to bed. I work better in general if I keep to a routine. During my Chinese quarantine (as opposed to the British one), I knew that food would be delivered to my room three times a day, and I had to submit my temperature twice a day, during a specific time frame. Now, I was still suffering from jetlag, so I’ll admit that my 8.30 alarms were occasionally ignored, but I was able to build my own structure around that which I was given.

Being functionally incapable in the evening is a family thing

-> Nap. Now, this may seem counterproductive to the last two of my points, but I argue that it should be built into your schedule and routine, the way that Chinese schools do. In fact, I am writing this while my Chinese colleagues are napping, and I haven’t joined them, because honestly, their napping location isn’t the greatest (however, since I wrote this I have napped twice at school, during our lunch break), doesn’t look comfortable (I napped at my desk, which was also uncomfortable), and I tend to get home and become about as useful as a dried up marker pen (I am only typing this up in the evening due to today’s nap).

I made some things, that I then had to model, obviously.

But the reason I advocate naps is, as well as them being refreshing, that they eat up time. You may have found that you are one of these weird, uber-productive people who isn’t adding to-dos faster than she can tick them off (Hi!) and so you have ploughed through your to do list and can’t add anything more until the 3 socks and single pair of pants has finished in the washing machine and you’ve eaten a meal to create washing up (if you are, please tell me how you do it. i really want to know!), how about taking a nap? You’ll be surprised at how much time can pass (it’s not wasted, honest) while having a little snooze, and when you wake up, you can make washing up while you cook and you can hang the socks to dry, while searching for the missing of the pair.

Socially distance walking with the famalam

Plus, if you wake up befuddled, as I often do, you can lose track of what day it is and that really helps time slip by.

A friend’s kittens, napping. They know what’s up.

-> Make use of technology. And no, I don’t just mean Netflix. I mean, Zoom, Google meets, or hangouts, or whichever is your preferred platform. I know, trust me, I know it’s not the same as a real person – as my new besties, the English speaking folks who emerged from quarantine at the same time as me can attest to (I’m sorry that a- I talked your ears off and b- started a load of anecdotes without finishing them), but it does help keep the loneliness away. And if my severely technophobic aunt can do it, so can you. I believe in you.

Another cross stitch I did, in about a week. Honestly, I credit cross stitch with my continued good mental health

-> Be forgiving, especially towards yourself. Look, humans are naturally social creatures, so locking yourself away is against that nature and is going to have an effect on you, and the people that you cohabit with. I’m sure that in quarantine with Lauren, we squabbled a bit. And I definitely had a couple of spats with my mum during lockdown, but we forgave one another and moved on, which was honestly the only way we could deal with it healthily, even if there were a couple of hours or more of avoidance beforehand, if only so our tempers could cool.

Cross stitch I designed and made in honour of the NHS and Pride

And due to our social natures, isolation means that some days it is hard even to get out of bed. I didn’t, a couple of days of quarantine, or if i did, it was to fetch my laptop, my food, and to pee. but i forgave myself and tried again the next day. it helped that something like “taking a shower” was on my to do list.

Lynx, at Dudley Zoo. He also knows the importance of self-care

And also, please remember that the world is a dumpster fire, and we are in (I’m shuddering as i write this overused cliché) unprecedented (ugh. so much ugh) times. nothing is normal and so if all you can manage everyday is feeding yourself, I’m proud of you, because I even struggled with that for a couple of days in quarantine and I didn’t even have to cook for myself. it was only when I felt dizzy from standing too quickly that I realised I needed to eat more than two yoghurts and a satsuma each day.

Peacock my mother and I found on one of our government permitted walks.

-> Hobbies. We all saw on the news how everyone started baking during the first lockdown, and honestly, kudos. i couldn’t have come out the other side relatively unscathed if it hadn’t have been for my cross-stitching. if there is something that you have always wanted to try, now is a great time to start. i also did a free psychology course, much to my parents’ chagrin as they became my test subjects and a friend of mine started to teach herself programming. there are so many resources online, and a lot of them are free. so go, master that language, learn to write in calligraphy, or knit a scarf that rivals Tom Baker’s.

Even more cross stitching

Look I can’t pretend that self-isolation is easy, and I have a naturally optimistic outlook which is something I am very grateful for, and yet I still had anxiety and depressive episodes. I’m just sharing what I found to help me, having had to endure it twice now. It’s okay to struggle as long as you keep fighting.

Teeny tiny, randy marmoset from Dudley Zoo

Now go forth. Except don’t. Stay at home. Go forth mentally. I know you can do this. I believe in you.

Domino also believes in you

P.S. I hope you like some pictures from the summer (since it won’t get its own post anytime soon).

You’re Doing What, Now?

“You’re crazy.”

“It’s not going to happen.”

“But what about Covid?”

“What happens if something happens to you and you’re all that way away?”

“It’s not going to happen.”

“Is it worth it?”

“It’s not going to happen.”

“But what about your PGCE?”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go.”

“I really don’t think it’s going to happen.”

These are just a few of the things that I’ve said to myself and others have said to me in the last three months or so. Because that has been how long my return to China has been “in progress.” Perhaps even longer.

I was expecting to leave for China in the middle of august. I knew I had a two-week quarantine to complete, and I wanted to have that finished before the school term started on the 1st September. So, I handed in my notice at the caring job I’d managed to get in the middle of July. That was my first step, and honestly, it was the easiest one.

At this stage, I wasn’t certain that we would make it out to China, again. I knew that I wanted to go back, although I couldn’t explain why to anyone who asked. And believe me, many people asked. I just felt, deep within my soul, that I hadn’t finished in China yet, that I was meant to go back. And as someone who believes science above all other things, and who has been flirting with atheism for many years, how could I explain something that has felt like the closest thing to fate that I could get to?

Especially as the process to get back has been so frustrating, so difficult, so bureaucratic, that it sometimes felt like it wasn’t meant to be. I have been through the whole range of emotions to end up back in this country that I can’t help but love.

I would say, my mum, and my newest friend, Jo, were the two biggest voices of caution. And I don’t blame either of them. In fact, I thank the both of them, from the bottom of my heart, because if it hadn’t had been for their concerns, I wouldn’t be so certain in my decision now.

In fact, my mum was so unsure of my actual ability to return, (as was I, if I’m being truly honest), that she encouraged me to apply to do my PGCE, starting this September, as that was to be my final aim, come September 2021 anyway. It took a few weeks of encouragement and some fights, but in the end, I had a personal statement I was happy with. Now all I had to do was somehow retrieve my degree certificate from a storage locker in China, and decide which universities I wanted to apply to.

This was not as easy as it sounds. I picked three universities, and by the time I had come to hit send on the application, except for the personal statement, two of them were full. So, I picked a couple more. They maybe weren’t as prestigious but they still had places available. And they weren’t bad universities. I would be very happy to attend them.

Except, when it came to filling in the personal statement part and actually hitting send, one of them was full. At this point, I was willing to put in any university that still had a place. I think I searched nearly every university whose name I had heard of for an early years PGCE. And I finally hit on one, and sent off my application.

The interviews came in very quick succession after that, and, of course, they happened during the two hottest days of the year, meaning, I near melted while trying to remember how to do maths, after nearly ten years of the most basic maths if it was ever required of me, and trying to remember how to structure an essay style question.

Luckily the heat didn’t seem to affect me too much, and I got offers. Which meant that I then had one of the most difficult decisions of my life. Do I give up on my dream of going back to China in favour of pressing forward with finally achieving a career or do I potentially submit myself to doing the same thing again in a year’s time, with all the stress and anxiety that goes with it?

It turned out that I didn’t need to do either, as Winchester University, my first choice, said that I could defer my entry by a year. Which, with the deepest and greatest joy in my heart, I did. I could still go back to China, and even better, I had a place at Winchester university lined up for me when I got home. Talk about having my cake and eating it too!

This came at just the right time for me, as by now, TeachTEFLinChina, the company that I work for in China, were badgering me to fill in the online portion of my new visa application. Despite still having a valid visa, until January 2021, I was required to apply for a new visa. This caused stress in and of itself, as it was one of the most in-depth applications I have ever filled out. They asked everything, including what I had for breakfast and for my first born.

As soon as I was finished, I told the company, and they told me that I would probably be going to London on 14th September to the visa office and to hand in my passport. I told the Care company, as I had indefinitely extended my notice, because I needed the monies, and gave my last day. This was on a Saturday in early September. On the Thursday the company contacted me and asked me how I was doing with my visa. I very nearly head-desked and sent them the same information I had sent them at the weekend, and then I asked them when I would definitely be going to London. A week later; the 21st. I wasn’t exactly happy but, in the end, it couldn’t be changed, even though I had wanted to have been in China for a month by this point. But this is how things work. Apparently. I contacted the caring company and got a week’s more work. of course, by the time I’d gone to London twice, once to drop off the passport and once to pick it up, I was told that I didn’t need to have done that, as the new regulations meant I could have got in on my old passport. So all that stress of finding the cheapest and easiest way to get to London, making sure I got there and got on the various trains on time, trying to eat and drink while wearing a mask (the second trip I had half a bottle of Fanta and two Pringles all day), desperately hoping that I had the right paperwork as the three people in front of me were turned away for not having it, not to mention the added stress of travel during Covid Times, was for nothing. Gotta love bureaucracy.

Then comes the most frustrating part of the whole experience. The booking of the plane tickets.

It was a nightmare. Literally, figuratively and metaphorically. I couldn’t escape by sleeping, because I was also having nightmares about it.

I looked for flights that were a) less than £1000, b) didn’t criss-cross the entire world, and c) didn’t involve “self-transfer”. The worst hyphenated word in existence. If you’ve never come across it, you’re lucky. Now, surely, these criteria are not too difficult to apply, right?

You’d think. What actually happened was that I found flights that would go to Hong Kong, have you hanging around in the airport for a mere 18 hours before going on to Shanghai. I booked the tickets twice, spending nearly £1000 each time, through one of these intermediary sites that supposedly finds the best flights and prices for you. A few hours later, I’d get an email telling me that they’d been unable to book the tickets for that price, but if I gave them another £1500, they might be able to do it. Or I could request a refund that would take up to five days to process.

I requested the refund. I got a loan from my parents. I tried again. I cried. I got the same message. I cried a little more. After all this effort that I’d gone through to get this far, would I really be denied at the last hurdle?

I’d been trying for a flight in the first week in October, and it seemed impossible. Spoiler alert: it was.

I contacted the company to tell them the trouble I’d been having. They got back to me to tell me that someone else had found a flight to a city called Zhengzhou, via Helsinki on 12th October. And even better? The layover was only five hours. Small fry compared to the prospective 18 I’d been gearing myself up for.

And, success, at last. I booked the tickets. Not that I could relax though. Relax? Don’t know her.

I still had to get a negative test result within 3 days of my second flight, which wasn’t as bad as it had been at first with the whole 18 hours thing. Both my flights were at least on the same day. But guess what had been in the news for the whole month of September?

Don’t be silly; I know you know. Who hasn’t been aware of the news for the past 8 months? It was the lack of tests and delays in the results, of course! So, I stressed about when to get the test, my mum stressed about when to get the test, the company stressed about when to get the test.

I had to get it in enough time to get the results to email to the Embassy and get their reply (oh, you didn’t think it was just about the result, did you? My sweet summer child!), but also have it within 3 days of the flight. And the Embassy “work at the weekends, but don’t expect any answer from them during Saturday or Sunday”. My flight, was predictably Monday morning. My results could take anything from 24 to 48 hours to come back. I would have to contact them at the weekend.

Honestly, I don’t think my heart is ever going to recover. This process may well have cost me years of my life.

I took the test late on Thursday evening. Trying to book it through signal gaps while deep in Devon didn’t help, but I got it eventually. I got the result about midday Saturday. The Embassy sent me the Certificate of Health around midday on Sunday. And sigh.

All my ducks were finally in a row. My suitcase was a little heavy, full of food that I couldn’t get in China. I was ready.

The flights themselves were fine. Fun fact: I was on the inaugural first flight between Helsinki and Zhengzhou, which was exciting. Another fun fact: all the crew, except for the pilots wore hazmat suits. I had my temperature checked four times before getting on the flight. Once again when we were on the descent.

The crew in the background, chilling in their hazmat suits…

And finally, we touched down. I was in China. I had made it. This was it. I could relax, right?

Oh, if only that had been the case…

Post coronavirus – lesser adventures in China

The massage was the last thing we did that wasn’t affected by the coronavirus, despite there being nearly a week left of our holiday. The hotel had BBC news 24 and CNN news and we had either one or the other on whenever we weren’t out for visits.

Saturday 26th January, we were due to go to Beijing Zoo. We had been told the day before that we wouldn’t be able to go to the Panda Enclosure, but the rest of it would be fine. This was not the case and the entire zoo had shut. But Tracy was a gem and she had arranged for us to go to the Summer Palace. It was the winter and therefore a contradiction of terms, but it was one of the only couple of places in the city left open, because it was all open air. Anywhere that had any sort of enclosed area was shut, because that was the more likely places for the coronavirus to spread. At this point the masks were now compulsory and we were weirdly getting used to them, as well as drying our hands out massively with the amount of alcohol gel and spray that we were using.

The Summer Palace is actually also beautiful in the Winter and we didn’t even get to explore all of it. The lake was frozen and, in the sun, I could see why the Emperors and Empresses liked it. It was also a great place to see the traditional pottery that always gets broken in the cheesy rom-coms where a normal girl ends up in a rich guy’s house and breaks some ancient Chinese pottery, and how it was made. Because we, not being rich guys, couldn’t afford pottery, we instead bought ourselves bracelets made in the same way.

However this was only a morning activity, so in the afternoon we explored the Hutongs, which were very similar to the Old Town in Huangshan, if busier, and the shopping mall next to the hotel, where I lost my hat, and we got very lost trying to find a specific restaurant that Tracy told us about that sold Peking Duck.

I was very disappointed in the duck as it was delicious for about three mouthfuls and then was very oily and greasy. I persevered but much preferred the duck from a couple of days previously. Never mind; at least we had a million sunflower seeds back in the hotel room.


The next day was far and away the worst day of the trip. Tracy assured us that while we couldn’t see the Terracotta Warriors, the rest of our time in Xi’an would be fine, and there wouldn’t be anything else cancelled. So, we hopped on another 5-hour train to arrive and be told by Milly, the Xi’an guide, that literally nothing was open and we wouldn’t be able to do anything. This was the scary part of the virus that we hadn’t really seen in Beijing. The region that Xi’an is in, Shaanxi, is next to the Hubei province. When we got in the car, we and our suitcases were disinfected. We were given more masks and told that we needed to change them every four hours. We were very worried that we wouldn’t be allowed to check in to the hotel, and indeed it felt like the hotel tried very hard not to let us check in. we had a temperature check, we had to sign a form saying we had not been to Hubei, we had to provide our train tickets to prove this.

Eventually we were able to check in, but had to eat in the hotel restaurant as it was the only restaurant open. Milly tried to persuade us to only stay in the hotel room, but we rebelled at that. While we wanted to be safe, Lauren would never be coming back to China, so we wanted to do as much as possible. The problem was that there was literally nothing to do. So, Milly booked our train back to Beijing for the next day, the Monday, rather than the Wednesday. And we had cocktails after dinner, because what else could we do, plus we needed to relax as best we could.

As the train was in the afternoon and against her better wishes, once we’d checked out, we got as close as we were allowed to the Wild Goose Pagoda, and got told off more than once for taking pictures. The streets were deserted and it honestly looked like those scenes that you see in apocalypse movies. It was surreal and something I know I will remember for the rest of my life, simply because it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I know the quiet of a deserted street at three in the morning, and it’s kind of peaceful. This was at midday and it was a frightened quiet. You could sense the fear in the air. You could see it in the half of people’s faces that weren’t covered by masks. You could hear it in the hurried exchanges between restaurant chefs and those who were buying their produce from them, as there was only one supermarket in the entire city of 12 million people, and the restaurants had stocked up for a Chinese New Year that basically hadn’t happened, and so needed to shift the produce. It was visceral. It was fright inducing. It was something that I never want to experience ever again.

We went back to Beijing and were met by a very apologetic Tracy, but she had only known what we had known. We didn’t blame her at all, and made her aware of that. We were very appreciative of what she was doing for us. She got us back into the same hotel, although that was a very stressful experience too, not to mention all the train travel, which is almost guaranteed to be a hotbed of infection, especially for Lauren. For some reason, she was running a little warmer than usual. Stress, layers of clothes, and having gone from a warm car to a warm hotel meant that the temperature was running above 37°C and while that is a perfectly standard temperature for a human to run, they wouldn’t let us check in until it was below 37°C. even 37.1 was too high. We finally managed it, but it took a good half an hour, and we bought out the shop next door’s entire stock of masks, even if they were fashion masks and not medical ones because there weren’t masks for sale anywhere else. And it was essentially law to wear them in public places now.

Beijing was less scary than Xi’an. It still felt somewhat normal. They were fewer people in the streets and the malls were still empty, except for the supermarkets which were heaving, but it didn’t have the air of fear that Xi’an had. And restaurants were shut for Chinese New Year, and not for the virus in many cases.

On Tuesday, Tracy picked us up in the afternoon, after I had purchased myself a new suitcase. I’d been literally dragging the old one around for the past few days, but it was unmanageable and I was worried it would break further. Plus, it was at least fifteen years old so it had had a very good run. And I got a fancy new one with four wheels rather than two, and a solid shell, rather than fabric. It was very nice. And cheaper than I had feared too, thanks to the shops’ desperation to make any sales at all.

We went to the art district of Beijing, which like the rest of the city, was nigh on deserted, but the shops that were open were our kind of shops. Tracy told us that it was where all the young people hung out, and it was true that it had that vibe and Lauren and I would have been very comfortable hanging out there too, you know, if there had been more people. This was where we could truly shop for souvenirs too, in a way that we had desperately been hoping to do in Xi’an. I got my parents’ requested tea set, and a miniature set for myself, and Lauren was able to get gifts for her whole family, something she was getting slightly concerned she would not be able to do.

My virtual pocket very much lightened, we then were whisked off to the Olympic Stadium and the famous Bird’s Nest. It was a stupendous piece of architecture, as was the bubble-esque water park, which excitingly is being repurposed for the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022. They’re turning one of the pools into the curling rink and possibly also an ice-skating rink will be in there as well.

On the way back to the hotel, we drove past tomorrow’s attractions; the Temple of Earth, and the Lama Temple (yes, I did spell that right. Think Dalai Lama but not as awesome) where we wouldn’t be able to go in, but we would be able to look at from outside, and at the hotel, we started packing everything up as we would be moving to an airport hotel for our final night before we headed home.

Or at least, that was the plan. Lauren says, no calls that wake you up are good calls. we were woken up at 7.30am by her company contact. The Foreign Commonwealth Office had advised against any unnecessary travel to China, and so they were bringing her home a day early. Tracy would pick us up and we would go to the airport pronto. I would have to change my flight and bring it forward a day if possible, with Tracy’s help. All systems were a go, and we were both a little panicky.

It wasn’t as frightening as Xi’an but I would be lying if I didn’t shed a few tears, as we were on the phone to our parents to tell them the news after we’d got it ourselves, and again as I said goodbye to Lauren at her security check. I was able to get a flight that day, and for only an hour after Lauren’s took off but it wasn’t a great way to end my holiday.

That said, I saw some amazing things and after we’d had a few days in quarantine to calm down, Lauren and I did agree that we had done a lot even if hadn’t quite been the holiday we wanted or planned. And hey, it’ll be one heck of a story to tell our kids and grandkids.

Quarantine and Return

I was in Shenzhen for four more days before I decided it was time to come back to the UK. I was concerned; Guangdong region was the second most affected after Hubei, and quite honestly, I wanted to see my family for real rather than over the phone. I had planned on staying out there for much longer without coming back to the UK, but this was something beyond our ken and I wanted the security of being in my home country, where, if I did contract the coronavirus, I would not be hindered by a language barrier.

I flew home on a very expensive flight, and I want to thank everyone who donated to help get me home. I appreciate each and every penny donated.

Lauren welcomed me into her home for two weeks, where we served out our self-imposed quarantine as, if in the worst-case scenario, we had contracted the virus, we didn’t want to pass it on to anyone. Lauren happened to have a friend who was a journalist and who wanted to talk to us about it. We decided to do that interview, and it spiralled. We ended up on different local radio stations multiple times and even made it onto BBC Midlands Today to talk about the fact that we decided to self-quarantine. We didn’t want this fame, if you can call it that, but we did want to stress that we were doing it to be better safe than sorry.

Towards the end of the quarantine, we did get tested for the coronavirus, and it increased my agitation and need to leave Lauren’s house more than ever since as soon as we had negative results, we would have been free to leave. Eventually we did get the results. Officially, neither of us have the coronavirus, or Covid-19 as it is now being called. And while quarantine was boring in a way and claustrophobic in others, Lauren and I are still best friends, and are grateful to our families for helping us out during, and after.

This is my last post now until I go back to China. This blog is primarily about China and my experiences there, and while I am back in the UK, nothing too much of note is happening.

This is also my 25th post, being posted on the anniversary of my arrival in China, so it feels fitting that for now, it goes on hiatus.