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 Confused.com. 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.