Landing in Hong Kong did not mean that I was home and dry. I landed at about seven in the morning. I didn’t get back to my flat until around eleven. Everything that happened in Hong Kong was fine, despite the niggling fear that I’d had that the airport would be shut due to the protests and so on. But that all passed very smoothly, and I got to the train station to go back to China without any issues. The border into China was more stringent than the last time I’d come through. The guard told me that my passport was old and I don’t look like it anymore. To prove that I was who I said I was, I took my hair down, and my glasses off. And tried to imitate the half dead look that I have in my passport photo. This was not as difficult as you’d imagine, since I’d just come from a fourteen hour flight and had not slept much, and after the facial recognition software, along with my fingerprints, and my telling him that I was working as an English teacher in Dongguan, he finally conceded to let me into China. Yippee. Only two hours of travel to go. I finally made it to the flat, after running to and from a very helpful taxi man as my phone had no credit and so I had no way to pay him, while I had money in the flat, and I collapsed onto my as yet unmade bed. I shot off a message that I was at the flat and so could let the new people in, should they need it, before I spent the rest of the afternoon alternating between sleep and more sleep, with my phone right by my ear, just in case the new people needed to be let in.
No one arrived, and it was fairly late in the evening, when I had finally woken enough to make my bed, when I was told that their arrival had not been smooth and so they would be staying in Shenzhen for the night. With that I went straight to proper sleep and effed myself over for the next week.
The next morning was genuinely the latest I’ve ever slept in, while in China; about 10.30am and I was shocked, but it didn’t matter, because other than sweeping up the bits of ceiling that had relocated to the floor, not living in the flat for six weeks meant that it was still pretty tidy. And the new people didn’t arrive until later in the afternoon anyway, giving us just enough time to have a long chat in the living room, about the fact that their luggage had been left behind in Moscow, among other issues they’d had on their arrival, that I was privately thanking my lucky stars that I hadn’t had, before we went to dinner and I was closely grilled about all aspects of China over the exquisite sweet and sour pork.
Matt and James were so tired that although their luggage was arriving later that night, by crunch time, they were both asleep and I was suffering the side effect of jetlag where I couldn’t sleep, so I kindly stayed up to accept it. I hadn’t needed to as Matt snored on the sofa up until Richard’s arrival at 2am, but it was safer that I stayed up because if Matt hadn’t woken, there may have been problems. Imagine waking in the morning and finding out your luggage was back in Shenzhen because you’d got lost in the land of Nod.
A couple of days later, I was at school, getting paid to do Arts and Crafts as I put together the first two morning conversation boards of the school year. I was really looking forward to seeing my kids again. I hadn’t realised how much I missed them, until I was at the school and they weren’t.
Although the afternoon held some love for me. My KA kids, my graduating class, some of them were at the school to do something. I’m not sure what; maybe pick up some artwork, or see their teachers, or something. I didn’t know and I didn’t care. Nothing makes you feel loved like a child’s voice yelling “Kiki” before you get a head pressed into your stomach of a child that you weren’t sure you would ever see them again. I might have teared up slightly, even though Kevin still hadn’t learned my name after six months. And it wasn’t just him. Seven or eight of my kids were there, and I just had to hug them all, even the ones who didn’t want to hug me.
Before I knew it, Sean had arrived to take our teacher total up to four, and it was the first day of school again, and I had the sweetest surprise on the way into school, as Sophy saw me on the way into her first day at big school, and she also gave me a hug, and a little conversation, before she went off, looking so grown up and smart in her school uniform. Matt thought it was incredibly sweet and it made my heart swell up too.
My first day back at school was something like that all day. The kids that recognised my white mug greeted me enthusiastically and I was attacked when I walked into the now KB3 classroom by the children. George, darling inappropriate child, had clearly done something while he was on holiday as his hair, that has a life of its own and sticks up regardless of length (I swear at one point it was nearly six inches long, and stuck straight up at the back still, like a Chinese Harry Potter), had a shaved head, and shiny pink skin across about half his forehead. Cookie and Lily were tragically absent, although I had known they would be, and in their place were five new boys, vastly skewing the boy/girl ratio in the classroom, which had favoured the boys in the first place. But such is life.
I also was tasked with looking after the babies. This was the BB class, the two-year-olds, and a KC class that were also new as they had not been BB the semester before and so had been callously abandoned for the first time at this scary and unfamiliar place. I had the most experience, so they were put under my charge to teach, which I did not do the entire first week in any case, as I spent the entire time hugging the crying ones and feeling like crying myself.
The whole week was both gratifying and frustrating. After six months of living in China, I can understand when a crying child tells me they want their mother, but that doesn’t mean I can conjure a mother out of thin air for them. It also doesn’t help then when you’ve just about rocked them into calmness, the other teachers decide it’s time for a new activity and this sets them off again (dragonfruit has never been so upsetting). There are some that just won’t be consoled either. And those that kept trying to escape the classroom. Those that are traumatised by drinking water. And those that are actual delights who couldn’t care less that their parental units have left them here and are just happy to be playing with all the shiny new toys that they have.
The last thing that happened during this rollercoaster of a first week was that after 2 days of school, James decided that he couldn’t take it and scarpered during one lunch break. He didn’t tell anyone he was leaving, just packed his suitcase and took off. while Matt and I napped, as I was still suffering jetlag and unable to sleep at night which meant I was at lunchtime instead. We only found out that his suitcase was gone when we got back from school with him having not turned up for afternoon lessons. It was completely unexpected and a fun surprise to wrap up the week.
And then my first week was over and except for the mildly excessive affections of my old class, it was like I’d never left, except for having a large number of children’s names to learn again. Despite the officiousness of the border control man, I have felt truly welcomed back to the school and it’s helping to cement some of the more difficult decisions that I have to make over the next few months.