The excitement of being back in China took over swiftly after arriving, and finally after a month of being back in the Middle Kingdom, I find the time to write. The thrill of being in a new place has kept me occupied and this year, I’ve found myself some thousand kilometres South of my last home in Jiaxing. Our adventure begins in the Jiangxi Province, in the rural location of Wanzai.
Although my time to write may be scarce, this is nothing compared to the lack of free time the students have. These poor chaps arise close to 6am each morning and shortly after shouts of “Attention! One,two, one, one, two, one!” fill the campus. They break for lunch about 11.30am, dinner around 5pm and after roughly an hour and a half rest after each meal, they are back to work. After dark they work away, reading and doing homework from the day’s lessons- all the way till almost 8pm (for the primary schoolers) and 9pm (for the middle schools). Then off to their dorms for bedtime, and rise, shine, repeat.
In the most populous country in the world, even a rural school like ours is full to the gills with messers, with over 3000 students on campus to act the maggot. No wonder the Chinese teachers arm themselves with whistles and microphones. A gaggle of students can easily drown out the sorry voice of a lone teacher.
The majority of people here have never seen a Foreigner before, and for some children, the excitement is too much. As we walk to classes and eat our meals in the canteen, the students gather around us, excitedly firing questions at us in a mix of English, Chinese and the local dialect, Wanzai hua- the latter of which I have no chance understanding.
Amongst the questions my curious students have asked:
“Why are your arms so hairy?” “Why do you have curly hair?” “Is that a wig?” “Is your hair real?” “Why do you wear perfume?” “Why are your eyes blue?” “What’s that writing on your shoulder?” “How come you can speak Chinese?”
And finally… “Are you a Foreigner?” to which I replied, “What do you think?”…
“I think you probably are…..”
We once agreed to eat lunch with my overzealous students. A friendly lunch time chat speedily snowballed into an ambush, as more students (and some canteen workers) shoved in to make their enquiries.
My male counterpart got lost amongst the sea of excited youngsters, their flailing limbs dunking into our food as we tried to commandeer some much needed elbow room to finish our meals .
The other time consuming task as an English teacher is assigning English names to our students. This is an interesting phenomenon in China, as many people adopt an English name to aid them in their English speaking career. I too have a Chinese name, and have gotten used to being called it in China. After years in school desperately trying to acquire a nickname for myself, it only took moving to China to finally get one. Naming the 800 children I must impart knowledge upon each week was no easy task. Some of the them already had names. Some names- like Eleven, Jelly, Lemon and Justin Bieber had to be changed. Other chaps had adopted girls names, which were changed, apart from one 9th Grade student who said he was quite happy to hang on to his English girl’s name- Lucy.
Although the naming workload may be heavy, as Foreign Teachers there are a lot of duties we manage to avoid; like supervising the children at mealtimes, sleep times and exercise times. The children’s morning exercises are a sight to behold, as teachers with microphones lead a mass of students in twenty minute stretches and warm ups.
The school’s rigorous schedule unfolds to a soundtrack each day, as music is played to indicate different breaks in the day. The ten song soundtrack is not as extensive as one would hope, and often we end up hearing ‘Happy Birthday’ everyday for two weeks. Other gems on the playlist include ‘You Raise Me Up’ and a Chinese song which sounds just like a generic English Christmas song. Despite it’s Christmassy feel, hearing it hammering a bowl of rice in 37 degrees each doesn’t make me feel too festive.
The students and teachers (including us) get all our meals at the school canteen. The selection includes pumpkin, beans, fish, chicken leg, pork, eggs, tomato, tofu and many other unidentifiables. We’ve been praised on many occasions for eating the spicy food, which in this region, is particularly hot. Our school cooks are particularly friendly, and they delight in having an aul chinwag.
These particular chappos were enjoying a chat and a smoke inside the canteen after literally feeding the five thousand, when they happily obliged to be photographed.
Believe it or not, these lads cook up an absolute storm and while I may claim to be busy with lessons, much of our time has been spent consuming the delicious, free delicacies we are lucky enough to avail of.
My palette is delighted, my food baby is growing at a healthy rate and my day centres around hearing that sweet music which means there is food ready for consumption…
China, it is good to be back.