Once again I’m going to dedicate the first few lines of this post to pathetic wimpy excuses as to why it’s taken me a month to post anything. I’d like to say this is reflective of my slow but steady assimilation to Asian life: that I’m accustomed to the quirks and contraries of my new home, and so there’s nothing left to share. This is untrue. The excuse is even more pathetic so brace yourself. I’ve been so busy planning lessons (blah blah) that I’ve simply not had the time. It turns out that TEFLing takes quite a bit of effort if you want to do it properly. When you hear about kids who go off to teach English in some exotic paradise for a year after uni in order to swerve real life a little longer, it’s easy to be cynical. Spend a few hours a day reciting the alphabet and making animal noises, and the rest of the time is yours to sunbathe, sample exotic delicacies, take selfies etc. I can’t speak for people in other countries or teaching other age groups, but for me, this semester has been hard work. When faced with a class of fifty 19 year olds you quickly realise that a printed off lesson plan from courtesy of Dave’s Esl Café can lead to a very painful two hour period if you that’s all you rely on. *Queue motivational music, maybe footage of me running along a beach with wind in my hair or holding some deprived kid’s hand* A good teacher needs to spend that that two-hour period teaching, entertaining, motivating, encouraging and inspiring their kids. Achieving all of this with every single student in every single class takes a lot of prep. And even then things can fall flat on their face. So I’ve spent a lot of time planning lessons.
Also, I’m cracking out the candles for my laptop, which is 7 years old this month. Whilst this is an incredible milestone for any electrical item, even with its made in Germany vorsprung durch technology, it’s showing its age. I have to turn it on a solid 1hr before I can actually click any buttons or get it to do anything. Once it’s up and running, internet browsers are quite choosy about which pages they’ll load, and which they’ll just pretend to load then give up after five minutes and present a white screen. Then other times they’ll just decide they’ve had enough and close down, gone without a trace. This is the most annoying one. In light of this, that I’ve not missed a single episode of Eastenders since I’ve been here is no small feat. It’s about knowing what time of day to get the internet to stream on youtube, and finding 3 hours to watch, pause, load, browser close, browser open, load, watch, pause, load. I usually try to fit it between a sequence of showering, eating breakfast, brushing and mopping my floor, putting on make up then cutting up various bits of paper for the day’s lessons.
So, what I’m trying to say is that by the time I’ve finished my work and watched Eastenders, me and my laptop are so exhausted from fighting that we have to call it a night and go our separate ways. So no blog posts for a while. Again, a poor excuse.
So the weather has completely thawed out. Everything is back to life. The trees are green, the river is green, old people are planting their shrubs and flowers and vegetables in every square inch of non-paved earth. The birds are singing, the dogs are out without their doggy shoes on. The basketball courts ring with laughter and competition, and the air is warm and sweet. It’s week 8 in the semester calendar, and my last week with 3 of my classes. I gave them oral exams today, and swear I was more nervous than they were. I’m not a logistics person, preferring to see the world as a blurry haze and trusting that the finer points of life will work themselves out, so I was getting a little worried that my timings were going to fail and I’d have a massive pile-on of students rushing to perform their TV news report roleplays. But all went fine, and after the first couple of groups, the world was returned to its natural order and they were more scared than I was again. Most of them were fairly entertaining, which made it easier, and I was even amused by the melodramatic keeling over the desk of one student who ‘felt so sick’ and thus wildly underperformed. Dude, you came to 3 classes all semester, I know you’re looking for sympathy sickness points to boost your grade. Either get to the hospital or suck it up and present your news headline, but keep it out of my exam room. I have some more exams to give, and then I’ll be waiving byebye to these students and getting a fresh crop for the last 8 weeks. It doesn’t seem like a long time, but it’s 4 hours a week so they start to feel like your babies.
I went out for dinner with some of said babies (too weird…?) last weekend. Student dining etiquette is so different here. We went to a restaurant and ate ate ate, and afterwards, we stayed in our private dining room. One girl had brought a guitar, and she sang some songs whilst we sat around and listened. Then a boy started singing, with no backing music, and other joined in. Then we did a group singalong to some Chinese song whose chorus I know from every single KTV karaoke session I’ve ever attended. Then I was obliged to contribute to the entertainment. Despite my best protestations I was guilted into it, and so I hid behind a language barrier by serenading them with the Welsh national anthem. By the time I reached Gwlad! Gwlad! I was well into my stride and demonstrating to them all how they should have their right hand passionately clenched over their heart. It went down a storm. We also played parlour games which involved a lot of clapping and number sequences. Since most students don’t drink, these occasions are usually late-afternoon affairs and I was back home by 9pm. The next day I was perilously ill, and had the same students for an 8am lesson. I clutched at the desk as I tried to enthuse them on the topic of animals in a similar vain to my whimpering examinee, not wanting to offend them as they’d paid for the meal and all seemed to be in fine spirits. My head was splitting and my stomach churning, so by 10.15am I was back at my apartment, wishing I was at home so my mum or sister could bring me a cup of tea whilst I sombrely lay in bed wallowing away the day (how I’d often waste away my Sundays. It’s those small acts of kindness when you’re least deserving that make your loved ones so amazing).
In other news:
– Last week, we won the pub quiz for a second time in a row. In a row meaning, we won once, didn’t return for fear of being publicly dethroned, then braved it again three weeks later and by sheer fluke, won again. There’s a little group of guys from late 20’s to late 60’s, and one of them usually runs the quiz, so they make the questions ridiculously hard and we don’t stand a chance. That makes it a little boring and very bad for the soul as you usually feel too stupid to exist.
– I’d been thinking for a long time about getting some fish. Relaxing, companionable and low maintenance (I thought), they’re the perfect pet for a busy gal about town who just wants someone to come home to at night. After my neighbours kindly offered to give me some from their ever multiplying fish farm, I excitedly got kitted out with a bowl, some pebbles, one of those real water plants, and about 1kg of fish flakes. That proved to be more temptation than fate would allow. I washed everything out, let it air dry. Arranged the pebbles neatly at the bottom, and filled it with water. Allowed it to acclimatise for 24 hours, so the fish would be comfortable when they reached their new home. After a somewhat traumatic moving experience (involving one fish flopping out and round the back of my neighbour’s TV cabinet), I got them – 4 girls and a boy – settled into their new home. They were swimming about and clearly having a great time. Now, something you should know about the climate in Harbin, which I hope will help to serve in my defence, is that the air is very dry. Everything is dusty all the time, and I have to sweep my room about 3 times a day to keep it clean (don’t have to, but it fits in well with my Eastenders viewing if you recall). The last thing I want is my poor fishies suffocating under a layer of dust. I was only thinking of them when I crafted a lid out of a clear plastic egg carton and rested it delicately over the bowl. I bade them goodnight and sweet dreams in their new bed, and turned off the light. The next day, I awoke with a spring in my step – the sun was shining and I was clearly the perfect mum to my new fish as they contentedly slept. I hadn’t known that fish followed human sleeping patterns, and the sun had been up for a few hours. I guessed we were just so intrinsically in tuned that they just followed their new master. I took a shower, tried my hair, and returned to them. Well, ok, I’ll let them have a lie in, just this once, seeing as yesterday had been such a big moving day for them. They looked so cute, all tucked up and nestled into the plant. But just to be sure, I gave the plant a little wiggle. Up floated one, two, three and four. Straight to the top. Unblinking. Their souls had left their bodies long before. I was devastated. I wondered if they had eaten the fifth fish and thus died of cannibalism, when it too rose to the top. I don’t know if I was in a state of shock or denial, but I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye that soon. So I went to my classes as though nothing was wrong. I guess a part of me was hoping that I had been mistaken, that I’d get back and find them happily zipping about, not starved of oxygen, not smothered to death by an excess of love. But no, upon my return they were still dead. One of the hardest things I’ve had to do as a single woman living alone is tip those poor dead fish down the toilet and flush it (it took three flushes). But that’s life, and this is the price you pay for independence.
That’s quite enough for now. Well done if you’re still reading. During the time it took me to google how to spell ‘vorsprung durch’ (which I couldn’t find because I was spelling it ‘dorschbrung’), my internet browser has closed three times of its own volition, and frustration is the only reason this post isn’t twice the length.
p.s tomorrow is 6 months since I left home. How has that happened??