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.

The Salmonella Incident

As I stated in my previous vlog post, we had an unexpected week off school just before the week we had scheduled off for China National Day, and my holiday with my parents. This was not explained to us when we first found out about it. On Sunday night we were told that we would have Monday and Tuesday off work because the school was closed. There were sick kids with a fever and vomiting. None of us were ill, so we wished them all the best, wished we had known earlier so we could have travelled and got on with relaxing and enjoying the extra time off.

On Tuesday evening, Hannah (the head of English) told us that the school was closed indefinitely and we would be told when it would open again. As she had told us this late in the evening, we assumed that we’d be told at the same time when the school would be opened. We were also still not told what was going on. On Wednesday night, the agency contacted us and asked us if we were “safe.” Our response was “yes, why?”

At this point we were very confused and starting to think that we wouldn’t be at school until after the week long holiday, but we couldn’t be sure. The only extra information that we knew was that there were children in the hospital.

Honestly, I wasn’t too worried about this. I had had two days off school the precious semester with a very bad cold and Hannah had asked me if I was going to go to the hospital. The way that the Chinese react to any illness seems to be to take medicine and go to a doctor.

On the Friday, the school released a statement over their WeChat (China’s answer to WhatsApp, Apple Pay and other stuff) account and we found out that there had been an outbreak of Salmonella at the school. Please see below the poorly translated screenshot I took of this statement.

We were, understandably shocked, surprised, and thankful that none of us had caught it and we hoped that the kids would be alright. We also knew that we wouldn’t be at school at least until after the holiday.

Over the course of my week’s holiday, I kept an eye on the school’s statements as they showed the entire school being decontaminated but we didn’t find out anything more until we got back to school on the 8th October and found out the rest of the details in a meeting with Hannah.

That day at school was in and of itself a very strange day. It was a propaganda day to show how great and safe the school is, even if we didn’t know why. The kids didn’t have to come in until later than usual as they weren’t eating breakfast there. but otherwise everything at the school was back to normal. Except we ate at the nearby hotel. It was a huge operation, getting all those children 100m down the road in a safe way.

And then we had the meeting after school.

Two hundred children got sick. Ninety odd ended up in hospital. The teachers got sick too. It was caused by contaminated egg in the sandwiches that the children had as their afternoon snack. The sandwiches that I’d declined because I was full of Pringles (thank the Pringles god). I was very close to having Salmonella myself.

The parents had been angry at the school for not releasing any details until the midway through the week, when the school found out the details. A lot of parents pulled their children from the school. They protested outside of the school gates. The school ended up offering compensation and to pay for the hospital fees for all the children and teachers. and once the school was up and running, they hired some workmen, with some very interesting health and safety practices to add a foot of fencing on top of what they already had around the school. By interesting health and safety practices, the magnesium soldering was done with the main soldering guy wearing a pair of cheap sunglasses, while hanging off a ladder.

The kitchen staff were all fired. There would be no food cooked in the kitchen until November. There were very few kids back at school. No more children could be invited to attend the school until next year.

The effects of this were felt for weeks. In a way they are still being felt, although we are back to a new normal. We teach multiple classes again, in separate classrooms, when we had taught multiple classes in one room for that first couple of weeks. My KB3 class had had 1 student, Jonas, the first day, and 2, the second. It didn’t creep back up for a couple of weeks. Now there are sixteen kids. And in KB4 there are 22. Before the Salmonella Incident, I had had 28 in each class. BB went from 18 to 9 (although each and every one of those nine kids are the most adorable).

For a month we had to ferry them back and forth to the hotel twice a day. For a month we had to eat truly shitty take away Chinese food. There wasn’t a crispy duck pancake in sight. It was so bad that when the new kitchen staff arrived, they were applauded as they walked through the throng of teachers out to greet them.

Now, the food is decent, (as decent as mass produced canteen food can be) and we are back to teaching our classes as before, if slightly smaller. We may not have any new kids for a while, but things are a little more normal than they could be.

Here is a link to a local news article. It has as much information as we know.