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.

Time Zone Shenanigans (and a Wedding)

Early in the month of November, I took three days of emergency leave. There wasn’t an emergency; there was a wedding. But I didn’t have wedding leave. So, it was emergency leave that I took.

It was a crazy five days (the three days bracketed the weekend). I flew home, taking off at around one on Thursday afternoon. I had had the good fortune to be able to book direct flights to and from Heathrow from Shenzhen International Airport. Due to time zone shenanigans, after a fourteen-hour flight, I landed on Thursday evening. The flight had been normal-ish but Shenzhen air has a grand total of six films available. Five of them are Chinese, and on of them was Dutch. They did have four episodes of a David Attenborough documentary (my diary is annoyingly sparse on the details) and four episodes of Spy-Cam. I’d finished them all by half way through the flight.

By the time I made it across London, I had no idea whether I should be awake or asleep, and my nagging suspicion I’d had since I’d woken up that morning that I was getting a cold seemed to be confirmed.

So of course, I had approximately, not enough sleep. Because by the time I went to bed, my brain thought it was time to get up, I slept poorly. Plus, I’d forgotten how cold England was, (it still being around 25-30 degrees daily in China) and had had to forage around in the middle of the night for a pair of socks.

The next morning, my cold did seem to have abated slightly and I was hopeful that it would be a mere sniffle rather than the full-blown craziness I’d already experienced twice since the beginning of September.

Sean and I made our way to deepest darkest Dartmoor, with a quick stop in Exeter to say hi-bye to my brother (in case I didn’t see him that weekend at any other time, and since I wouldn’t be back in the UK for nearly two years if all went well), and pick up Lewis and Heather’s wedding present.

That night was great. I drank Strongbow Dark Fruits cider and played games with my closest friends, some of whom I’d not seen for a long time, and by the time I went to bed, my brain was so exhausted, I was completely befuddled. I had a few jokes with Alex, who had flown in from Philadelphia and was experiencing jetlag in the other direction, as to what day/time/country we were in, over the course of those few days.

I slept beautifully, right up until about 5am. Then I woke up with a raw throat, and a dripping nose. And I knew that on the day of the wedding, my cold had fully arrived.

I made an emergency trip to the village shop that stocked essentially very little, although there was just about enough to supply me with Lemsip and we all got ready for the wedding, dolling up in our Saturday afternoon best.

The wedding itself was beautiful and I may have shed a tear or two. It may have also been my eye watering from the fact that I felt like I was dying, but who can say? We stepped outside for a very chilly couple of photos, and I was pleased and gratified that the Hobbit House pictures were the first on the list. Plus, it meant I could get inside and to the mulled wine more quickly.

I spent so much of the day feeling so ill, that I mostly drank J2O rather than alcohol and I think I drank my weight in it. I also confused many people with my Lemsip as they thought it was a funky cocktail. If only. I did have a wonderful day, even if I couldn’t fully enjoy the beautiful English food, having lost my appetite. But at least at this wedding, I can remember the best man’s speech better than the one in August!

I’d spent the morning talking about how I could curl up in a corner and have a nap if needed because jetlag, but what actually happened was that the playlist was chock full of Certified Bang-gers™ so despite the cold, I danced the night away and had an excellent time

Carriages were at one, and once we got back, I would have headed to bed, except for the fact that for the wedding I’d got talons, and I couldn’t remove my contact lenses with them. Matt was my hero, and helped me out, and then I cried as I said maybe goodbye to everyone. I was being picked up earlyish in the morning by my parents as I was flying out the next day and I wasn’t going to see them in the flesh possibly for a very long time, and I wasn’t sure if they’d be awake in the morning, as the party seemed to be ongoing in the garden.

The next morning, I was once again awake nice and early, and it turned out I had very little voice. I felt better, but I’d spent all night singing along to the Certified Bang-gers™ which had left me with a croak. I had enough time to pack up my belongings and sort out what I was leaving with my parents when they deposited me at the airport, especially as they were to be giving me plenty of stuff to take back with me.

My parents got lost picking me up and typically there was also no signal in the village that we were next to so it was a bit of an ordeal to get them to the right place, but eventually we managed it. I had no time to get upset as I said goodbye as their being lost had delayed them and we were on somewhat of a limited timeline, if I wanted to see Benedict (brother) and Becci (his girlfriend) before they had a llama experience.

We linked up with them and headed up Dartmoor for a romp around the Tors, and although Benedict and Becci weren’t geocaching at the time, we found a number of caches, which was exciting and we explored the remains of a medieval village that had survived up there when they were all but cut off from the world.

After a quick hot chocolate, and a quick lunch for the B’s, they set off for their llama experience, and we set off in search of a roast lunch. We didn’t have to go far, and it was delicious. And my last real English meal for a long time. I can get Western food here, but it is rather limited and won’t ever compare to real English food until I get back to England.

Then it was time to go to Heathrow. My adventure was over. I had yet another long flight, with a suitcase fully stuffed with my mum’s added extras and I still managed to forget things, as it was a little manic getting everything ready at the airport.

On Tuesday, five days after I’d left, I was back at work, and it was like I’d never left, except that the dry air of the plane had left me with actually no voice, and I couldn’t teach at all that day, as I could not speak above a whisper. I was also completely confused as to time it was and what time-zone/country I was in.

Two Holidays in One Week

My whirlwind first week back at school was over quicker than I anticipated, and all of a sudden it was our second week. Anya, yet another new teacher had arrived and we knew that we had a day off at the end of the week. And Tuesday was Teacher’s Day. I didn’t know anything more than this but I thought Teacher’s Day would be interesting, you know, seeing as I’m a teacher and all. Hannah told us we would have a dinner in the evening.

So we came in in the morning of Teacher’s Day, the same as usual. We go through our usual routine, and when the kids start coming in, they are carrying bunches of flowers and so on. This was cute. what was cuter was when they started giving them to us, and saying “Happy Teacher’s Day.” This continued throughout the day, except that it wasn’t only flowers. There were also chocolates (yum) and inappropriate George got me Hello Kitty soap. Is he trying to tell me something? And the notes that came with the flowers were all very cute as well. Ridiculously so, in fact.

In the evening, there was a dinner in our honour, where we were told we could go home early and pretty ourselves up, as we would be eating dinner and then performing for the other teachers there. Any excuse to show off their performing monkeys. I wore the same dress as at the wedding because I’m nothing if not frugal and that dress is too pretty to only wear once, although this time, I forewent the Spanx. I wanted to be able to move for my dance, as it was pretty active. We were also thoroughly coached on how to say Happy Teacher’s Day in Chinese, which we only learned because we broke it down into syllables that we could remember. The fun thing is that as I’m writing this piece, almost two months later, I have independently learned the word for happy and I know the word for teacher and while happy is in there, teacher is not. And I absolutely cannot remember the phrase. I learned it for long enough to pronounce it on the stage, and then promptly forgot it. As I do with most of the Chinese I learn. Some of it is sinking in, but not very quickly. Although apparently Chinese is one of the most difficult languages to learn, even if that is mostly the writing aspect of it.

Language tangent aside, we ended up being bored out of our minds, as some bloke we didn’t know decided to give an hour-long lecture, without any props and because we don’t understand Chinese, we couldn’t even count his tics. Not that anyone cared that we all ended up on our phones, as even half the Chinese teachers were on their phones. And we hadn’t even been fed properly yet. We were fed at the precise moment when we were called to perform, of course.

We danced to “I like to move it.” We’d practised for all of twenty minutes the week before, with about ten minutes practice that afternoon, to make sure we hadn’t forgotten it. The thing is, we hadn’t prepared this song for the Teacher’s Day Dinner, as we’d only been told the day before that it was happening. This was a dance that we’d found on YouTube and simplified so the kids could dance to it for their morning exercise. That was it. It was an incredibly easy dance to a catchy song. Pro-tip: it would seem that Chinese people like that sort of thing, as they all clapped and cheered for us in a way that they did not for the other teacher’s who did a beautiful and complicated dance using fans and umbrellas that they’d been practising for days. But what really took the roof off? Us stumbling through the Chinese that we’d been coaxed to learn earlier that day. All the teachers loved it, and we were able to bask in the adulation for the thirty seconds it went on. And suddenly always making friends on the Metro when I’m doing my Chinese lessons makes sense. They appreciate that I’m trying. In this far flung part of the world, where English is finding its way in, and becoming universal here as well, where parents spend a fortune on their two-year-olds learning English because they can see it’s a solid financial investment, people see you trying to integrate into their way of life and they appreciate it.

The rest of the week was the new normal of far too many lessons to teach, but we were getting used to it. And then for the Moon Festival, we had the Friday off. On Thursday afternoon, my KB3 class had a moon feast that primarily consisted of fruit and Moon Cakes. It’s worth trying a moon cake, just to say that you’ve had it, you’ve tried it. Kind of like everything else I’ve tried in China. But I wouldn’t have it if I could choose it. In fact, despite being given several as a gift on Teacher’s Day, they ended up in the bin. They are, an acquired taste, I believe, given how much the Chinese seem to like them. The kids kept trying to give me more moon cake. And all I wanted was grapes and a yoghurt. I couldn’t even have the yoghurt as there weren’t enough to go around the kids, and they always have priority.

They also all wore their traditional clothing, in one form or another. Which was adorable. Tiny people in traditional costume is never not crazy cute.

Anyway, because we had the day off on Friday, we decided to visit Window of the World, which happens to be a theme park type place in Shenzhen that I hadn’t yet managed to visit. It was a lot of fun, meeting up with folks and visiting miniature versions of all the world’s most famous monuments, even if we were all melting like the unaccustomed-to-the-ridiculous-humidity-expats we were.

And that was it. Two holidays in one week. How spoiled we are. And don’t let us get used to this.