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After two months of idleness, the past fortnight has been a shock to the system. I received my timetable one sunny Friday afternoon, and spent the rest of the weekend trying to devise an 8-week course with exam, which would begin the following Monday. This semester, I’m teaching four groups of sophomore (2nd year) students (between 40-52 students each), and a small group of faculty members from the International Cooperation department (4-5 students). The first class of students was easy – I did the standard ‘Hi guys, my name is Heather, I am your teacher’ lesson. We played Two Truths and a Lie – my lie was that I hadn’t won 6 gold medals for my singing – and, as I can’t read Chinese, I helped them to choose English names instead. I’m blessed to hail from a country where freedom is speech is encouraged, and so when some students chose names like Eiffel, Billups and Delicious, who was I to argue? Names are more than just words; they’re expressions, representations and extensions of ourselves. However, I had to intervene when a boy insisted on being called Gangsta. Yes, it is a noun my friend. But it’s not really a name. Instead, I asked him if he’d heard of Al Capone? He quickly began searching for him on his phone and, after what might have been the most thrilling ten minutes of his day, decided that Al Capone was a worthy namesake. To make it easier though, I asked, would it be okay if I drop the Capone, and just call you Al in class? Er… yes, that’s ok, he conceded. Did I make a small victory in shaping this young boy’s path for the whole of his future, or did I stifle his hopes and dreams? Who knows.

In other news, Harbin is finally thawing out. This is amazing. One sunny day last week I was walking along the river, my feet crunching along the iced snow underfoot, when I heard a bird singing. This has been such a rare sound these past months that I stopped in my tracks and listened. As my ears became more attuned to my surroundings, I could hear something else. Trickling water. No, not a momentary lapse of bladder control but the sound of a large body of water slowly creeping back to life. Like a mother hearing the cries of her lost child I ran (started walking again) around the bend and saw the most beautiful sight – a small pool of water had broken the edge of the frozen river, and water was gently running downstream. That day felt like the beginning of something. I got a feel for the world as a living and breathing thing. It’s been hovering around the 0c mark for a weke or so now. During the day, the carpets of compacted ice thaw into black slushy lakes, and at night as the temperature plummets again, it freezes back over. For days now, Harbin’s surface layer of earth has been awakening with the sunrise, changing shape and texture and colour, making a bid for freedom, before the sun sets and, with it, the chance of escape for another day, as it returns to solid.

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In other news still, I am looking to buy an oven so I can make some delicious grilled cheese on toast. I could also go for marmite on that butty but I wouldn’t implore anyone to send me any – two parcels from home have never arrived. I still ask the building manager hopefully if there’s anything for me, and each time when he shakes his head, the devastation is just as fresh. I’m a little concerned especially because I think Liana included a lock of hair in hers and this might have aroused suspicion in the customs office… What happened to the parcels?? Answers on a postcard.

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