Day 5 (28th of February, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
This morning began with 2 hours of tutoring via Skype. I’m maintaining some of my students so that I can at least have some sort of income while I’m over here, and it also serves as my refreshing dose of English for the day. I eat on the job with breakfast coming in the form of imported nutri-grain. (I’ve embraced all foods here, but the convenience of a cereal breakfast is unbeatable).
I decided to study through the afternoon by reviewing the placement test which we sat on Friday. Funnily enough, hitting the books is one of the best ways I’ve found to feel more at home. I really enjoy studying something which I’ve voluntarily elected to do rather than being forced to do it by a curriculum.
My only break from study was for lunch, where I ran into the coordinator of the international residence. As some context, I greatly fear this guy. He speaks at 100mph in his local dialect, and shouts “哎哟！” (literally pronounced ‘AI YO’, a sound of frustration in Chinese) whenever I embarrassingly explain “我不懂” (‘I don’t understand’). He notices that I’m trying to buy lunch, and walks over to take over the job. He promptly orders me something and leaves just in time for me to cop the bill. The dish was fairly nice – a wonton soup with special ‘Xuzhou boiled egg’.
As daylight started fading, I decided to venture out to ‘Lotus’, a nearby shopping centre. Here, I bought myself a new jumper (AU$12.50).
The girl who sold me the jumper seemed quite excited that a Westerner was buying from her store. I took the opportunity to get her Wechat (Chinese Facebook) profile so that I can message her if I want to know any local information about Xuzhou. She offered to have dinner with me tomorrow night, which I will take up.
I also resisted the temptation to buy any new shoes from ‘New Barlun’.
I then caught another bus to the Xuzhou city-centre, which looks like most Chinese tier-2/3 city CBD’s (big empty squares, neon lights, Western food chains, big shopping malls). One thing which impressed me was the street crossing tunnels had all been transformed into shopping centres, meaning that a large proportion of foot traffic was actually underground. Being a Sunday night, there wasn’t too much happening. I will definitely return another night when there’s more life in the area.
Day 6 (29th of February, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
This morning started off as usual – missing home and questioning why I’m putting myself through this. I’m very eager for class to get started, I can only entertain myself for so long! I went for a stroll to clear my mind and came across this incredible view.
Back in my room, I began to organise my calendar with my uni timetable. This is what it now looks like:
After a few hours of slow-paced study and listening to music, I left to find the visa centre on the other side of town. In a country where Google Maps is blocked and Apple Maps isn’t updated, this was a difficult task. I was given a slip of paper with instructions on what buses to catch. I got most of the way there using ‘百度地图’ (China’s maps app), until I had to ask a few locals to walk me there.
Whilst on the bus, a very special greeting lightened up my morning. Not just any Merry Christmas, “The Merry Christmas”.
At the Visa Centre, I enquired about getting another entry on my visa and extending it for 2-3 months to account for Shanghai. After some deliberation, I was told that I should return next week to apply for another of the same visa, and that I must get a new visa again when I go to Shanghai. I was also told to rush to my local police station to register my accommodation since I was supposed to do that within 24 hours of arrival. The next 2 hours were spent fearing deportation or a hefty fine, before the university told me that they had in fact registered my accommodation on my behalf.
Between the visa centre and dinner with my new friend, a quick snack of ‘puff balls’ went down well (apologies for the blurry photo). These things are everywhere in China. AU$1 for the bag.
On the way to 矿大 to have dinner with the girl from the clothes store, I suddenly become suspicious that this might be more than just a friendly dinner. Surely not. After all, I’m just a filthy 老外 (pronounced lao why, slang for ‘foreigner’).
My suspicions were confirmed when upon arriving at the clothing store, I was quickly ushered to a nearby food joint with my food already paid for. Yes, I was on a date. Before me was a romantic dinner of mucus-textured beef noodle slop, and I must say, I enjoyed it. But I begin panicking – I’m looking for an out. I’m not the blonde-haired Western bachelor this 女人 was looking for. I steer the conversation towards my own personal life, and the fact that waiting for me at home, I do in fact have a partner. It was at precisely this moment that the following picture was taken:
“It’s not you, it’s me.” I plead, in desperation.
I can’t blame her, really. Who wouldn’t fall in love with me?
The narrative of the date was well reflected by the gradual decline in price of the food we shouted each other over the course of the night. Nonetheless, 莫纳 (or Maddy, as I named her) will definitely remain a close friend.
Whilst at KFC eating desert, I looked up from my conversation with Maddy upon noticing the pale complexion of a fellow 老外 on the other side of the fine establishment. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Excusing myself, I walked over. “Tony” is from England, and he’s the first Westerner I’ve seen at this place bar my ex-roommate. I have not been more happy and relieved since arriving – it brings me so much comfort to know that this place has at least a little bit of home in it. Tony is an English teacher at KuangDa University, and he tells me that there is a very small but tightly-knit group of Westerners living in Xuzhou who go out most weekends. I’m joining them to celebrate one of their birthdays on Thursday night, which I’m very excited for. I can’t believe my luck. I feel much more comfortable with native English speakers living nearby, but they don’t live so close that it inhibits my ability to practice Chinese all day every day.
Maddy and I’s night ended well. We laughed lots following the realisation of our conflicting interests, and she has agreed to help me negotiate with China Unicom to upgrade my SIM to be nationwide. I’ll buy Maddy a gift to thank her for everything. This photo was taken at the end of the night:
You’ll notice a few habits with photos of Chinese people my age. For one, they often put their phone in a position that makes it exceedingly obvious as to what type it is. For what reason, I don’t know. As a rule of thumb, you rarely see a picture where the whole face is shown too. They will often either cover part of their face with their hands (peace sign optional) or have it obstructed by the cropping.
I’m learning more about this great culture every day.
Day 7 (1st of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
Today was the last full day before class begins, and I wasn’t really sure how to occupy myself. For the most part, I took the chance to relax by reading a book. I went to nearby streets for lunch, where I employed my normal technique of spotting people eating something which looks good and asking them what it’s called. I managed to get myself a good meal.
The food on the right is “蛋卷”, they’re like an ice-cream cone, but they taste much more like sponge cake.
I find it fascinating that there are police stations like this one on every other corner in Xuzhou, normally with a big TV displaying instructions on how to call them if you’re in trouble.
For the last week, I’ve been woken up early in the morning by the deafening sound of a fighter jet doing a fly-over of the city. This continues through the mid-morning, with about one every fifteen minutes. I’ve been trying to get one on camera for a number of days for you, but it’s difficult because of how fast they are. I finally snapped one.
In the evening, I picked up my favourite desert snack: 冰糖葫芦. Haws are a fruit which is really common in China, and these are sold everywhere on the street.
Day 8 (2nd of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
Class started at 8am this morning. I was particularly nervous for this since I was sure that I would be among the least experienced at Chinese in the International School. After all, if I’d been failing to understand all the Chinese thrown at me in the past week. Surely everyone else was having an easier time than me. I received a big confidence boost when I realised that I was in fact a fair bit better than the rest of Class 3. By period 2, I’d been moved up to Class 4 (equivalent HSK 4, or B2 by European measurement). It was certainly a challenge, since my actual level is perfectly between the two classes. But, I figured that if I was going to be in China for 6 months, I may as well push myself.
What’s hard to get your head around is that they’re teaching you Chinese IN CHINESE. Think about that. You are asked the meaning of Chinese words, and you have to explain their meaning in the language. Here are some photos from one of my textbooks, a slide from class and the timetable:
Class was one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip so far. I look forward to more of it.
Day 9 (3rd of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
Today’s classes were considerably more difficult. So much so that I considered dropping back down to Class 3, but I’ve decided to push through in the hope that I slowly begin to understand more of what’s being said to me. I also started recording my classes so that I can go home and work out what I was taught, testing it against what I thought I understood.
I have 1.5 – 4 hours of class per day. I’ve been experimenting with different snacks to have in class breaks, and I’ve discovered my favourite one. These things are sold everywhere in China:
While tutoring some Sydneysiders over Skype, my new roommate arrived unannounced. He’s a 43 year old man from Korea (the good one, not the hungry one). He’s a nice bloke, albeit his English is extremely basic and he has only just had his first Chinese lesson. Communication is certainly a challenge, but Baidu Translate helps us out. Nonetheless, the fact that I know we get along well is an amazing testament to the human ability to just form relationships without needing a common language. His snoring threatens to put a bit of a strain on the relationship.
Annoyingly, my access to Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and even this site (WordPress) have been strained due to most VPN’s being shut down. I was given the message below earlier today. It’s confusing that the Chinese government is so strict on internet censorship, and yet the fact that they can stop those trying to get around it on a whim shows their their tacit approval that people should be able to avoid regulation if they’re determined enough.
Tonight was the night I was joining the Westerners to celebrate a birthday. I arrive at a restaurant called “The Western Regions”, and the waiting staff immediately know which table I’m at by the colour of my skin. I’m dragged to a room in the back corner, and I’m greeted by a table of people from almost every continent. On the most polluted day since my arrival, I was looking forward to entering a restaurant with a fresh, air-conditioned atmosphere. But no, these guys sat with a thick haze of cigarette smoke wafting above them. For the rest of the night, I sit and observe the poor, vulgar American humour play out in front of me. To top it all off, two of the guys’ started having an argument over their countries’ border disputes, only for it to begin escalating into an actual physical fight until the rest of the room jumped in to separate them. Australia should just take hold of Kashmir to put the issue to bed. Only the Brit was decent company – I’ll be sure to keep hanging out with him. At least the food was good.
Spot the chicken head.
After the dinner, a Brit, Nigerian, American, Canadian, two Indians, a Nepalese bloke and an Aussie (me) walk into a bar. Only this time it wasn’t the setup to a joke. I was ready to leave almost as soon as I walked in – I had just come to see the location for future weekends out. Upon sitting at a table, I entered into a conversation with a 60 year old man from London who had been teaching English in Xuzhou for the past few years. He has spent his life hopping between countries (he’s now lived in over 20 nations) teaching English. He offered me his job teaching English since he’s leaving on the weekend which I initially refused due to being a full-time student, but he indicated that it may be available as a weekend casual position. I’m going into his school on Saturday to talk to the boss and work out whether I can do any work.
Day 10 (4th of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
This morning started with a routine glance at ‘Find My Friends’ to see where everyone is. Surely families don’t get more mobile than this.
Class was easier than yesterday. My Chinese has never improved at such a fast pace. I’m finding myself having to think less before I speak – preparing sentences in advance is no longer a necessity. I’m a long way off thinking or dreaming in the language (my vocab simply isn’t big enough), but I feel like I’m quite close to blending into the society here like a Chinese immigrant would in Australia.
Tonight was spent exploring nearby streets of the University. For dinner I ate 脆皮年糕, which is undoubtedly the best snack I’ve tasted so far. It’s doughy mooncake on a stick, BBQ’ed to a crisp on the outside and doused in street spices. As a second course, I bought a bucket of mini steamed pork buns (I think… they tasted like that anyway).
The neon-lit streets are an incredible sight.
This area is littered with pet markets. Only a fool would buy an animal for their dorm. If you look closely, you can see that those bunnies are only 20RMB ($4.10). Bargain.
Day 11 (5th of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
Today I went into the Badi International English School for my job interview. After much searching, I found the school buried deep within this building in the Hubushan/Baida district. It’s a 20 minute bus away from where I live.
Needless to say, I got the job. I’m now employed as a Saturday/Sunday English teacher for 4-6 year olds. They don’t exactly have many Westerners to choose from so I was able to negotiate a decent Australian-level income (low supply high demand, thanks economics). I even got my own desk. Shooting for the corner office next month.
I’ve had to change my name to “Eddy” so that the students can pronounce it, since “Xavier” was too difficult (Chinese people can’t pronounce the letter ‘v’).
Eddy Eales. I like it.
As a celebration I lashed out on lunch, spending a whole AU$10 on 包子 and 西瓜子. Watermelon seeds are my new favourite snack.
The evening was spent exploring the 万达 (Wanda) shopping mall. I found out about it by asking a Chinese friend about where to find a big bargaining market. Once again, a mistranslation meant that this place ended up being a Louis Vuitton and Gucci-filled shopping district.
It’s really hard to get your head around how everyone lives in identical apartment buildings here. This is what a typical Xuzhou street looks like:
Day 12 (6th of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
Today I met up with a friend who I met on reddit.com/r/sydney (a forum for Sydneysiders). I made a post last year asking if anyone in Sydney had been to Xuzhou so that I could meet them and talk to them about what the city was like. Only one person replied, saying that they were actually a junior student of Jiangsu Normal University. I thought it was a troll (why would they be on a local Sydney forum?). Nonetheless, since I literally have no mates here, I decided to message the person again. Turns out he’s real. His name is Taff Gao (don’t worry, I’m giving him a new name), a computer programming student who was coding his new Twitter/Reddit Bot. To test it, he searched ‘Xuzhou’ since it was the first thing he could think of, and my post (which had been made that day) appeared. What a remarkable coincidence.
Needless to say, he’s an absolute legend, and he is a gun at English. Definitely watch out for this guy on Silicon Valley in the next decade.
And yes, he found me a place with spaghetti (I’ve been desperate for some foreign food).
Other than that, today was remarkably uneventful. In the interests of keeping an entertaining blog, I bought a turtle.
It’s a beautiful creature. No, that’s not its faeces, it’s its dinner.
He/she makes a nice addition to my desk. Notice that I’ve also invested in a mobile stand for my tutoring business.
So, as a tribute to all my loyal subscribers out there, you get to pick the name.
Suggest your picks in the comments below. Don’t forget to like, favourite and subscribe (it helps me out a lot).
Until next time,