The Cereal Heist

Day 20 (14th of March, 2016) – 徐州,江苏省,中国

I felt an enormous amount of confidence when I turned up to class at 8am this morning to find my teacher waiting to begin. Our writing lesson had been moved to Monday morning from Thursday afternoon just for this week, and I was one of the ten-odd people in the thirty student class who’d understood this being explained to us last lesson.

My confidence was abruptly stripped away, however, when opening up our new textbook. Printed colourfully on the back cover is an apt illustration of my progress in mastering Chinese. My level is represented by the black running man, and a year’s worth of full time university study will move me up one step.

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It’s incredibly hard to win the mental battle over how hopeless of a pursuit it is learning such a difficult language. However, I do take solace in the fact that my education this year is purely a manifestation of my curiosity and that there are no expectations as to my results. Further, if I truly try my best and I can’t quite climb that staircase, then I can’t feel disappointed in myself.

But I can climb that staircase.

In classes here, they emphasise the importance of learning content before the class so that lectures act as revision rather than your first introduction to a concept. That’s something which I mentioned in my dux speech, and I thought was a unique idea. However, it’s so significant in China that their language actually dedicates a word to it: 预习 “yuxi”. In fact, “yuxi” (learning ahead) is considered to be of greater importance than the opposite: 复习 fuxi (revision). I think it’s a really beneficial cultural attitude which goes a long way in improving results.

Then again, I don’t commend the rote-learned style of study and the culture of plagiarism. I think it saps peoples’ ability to think for themselves.

Although today mostly revolved around class, I managed to get out to shop for some sporting gear so that I can start working off my rice-heavy diet. The Wilson rackets here are only AU$14.

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I was a little more adventurous with my food today. I opted for Sichuan-style scorching hot chilli noodles for lunch, and a rice soup for dinner. One of the drinks I’ve been enjoying here recently is iced-tea, only that in China there’s milk iced-tea (I may be wrong, but I haven’t seen this in Australia).

I decided against the wang-seasoned seaweed.

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Day 21 (15th of March, 2016) – 徐州,江苏省,中国

This morning I woke up sick – a bad cold with a sore throat and headache. Probably the level of sickness I would’ve pushed through with at school, but taking the day off was a reminder of the liberties of being in university.

Since arriving, I’ve noticed many centres nearby offering the service of hooking you up to a drip to get fluids into your bloodstream. It seems that Chinese people will go here every other day – they shops are always full to the brim. People will go in, pay a few dollars, and watch passers-by while they’re tethered to a hospital trolley. An Asian version of European-style people-watching, I guess.

Today was a very dark day on multiple fronts. For one, it was literally very dark. This was taken at around midday (sorry again for the poor photo quality – I should invest in a proper camera).

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But the day was also dark for another, very sad reason. It all started when I was cleaning Joof the Turtle’s bowl. I pulled the little bugger out and put him on my desk while I went to the sink to refill the water. Upon returning, I was mortified to realise that Joof had attempted suicide. He lay shell-down on the floor a metre below. I’m not sure if the jump was accidental or if it was a testament to the hell I must put him through as an unskilled turtle-raiser, but I certainly hope it was the former. Nonetheless, Joof survived, and I’ll never take my eyes off him again when he’s outside of the bowl.

 

Day 22 (16th of March, 2016) – 徐州,江苏省,中国

I felt slightly better today, and I decided to return to class to avoid having to catch up on any more work. Much of the day was spent on WeChat, however, negotiating the conditions of a new job I’ve scored. One of my teachers messaged me asking if I’d be willing to help grade 5-6’s practice their English conversational skills, and I jumped at the opportunity. All of the organisation was done in Chinese (finally all my job/salary vocab has come in handy), and my first shift has been organised for this Sunday evening.

While scrolling through WeChat, I also stumbled across one other lone Australian who lives in Xuzhou. She’s from the Gold Coast but has also lived in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. She’s teaching at a university over here. I haven’t yet worked out why she would voluntarily migrate to this city, but I’m sure I will when I meet up with her soon. I’m very excited to be able to see someone from home. She also tells me that there’s a shop in the CBD which imports coffee from Melbourne, which is great news.

I met up with my Chinese friend for lunch. We ate at the cafeteria near my dorm.

Her name is Dong HuanCheng (I think… I’m bad enough at remembering English names, let alone Chinese ones). I really enjoy catching up with her for a few reasons. For one, her English is good enough that conversations are never too awkward if I can’t say something in Chinese, but bad enough that it doesn’t dominate conversation. Her Chinese accent is really easy to understand, which is a big bonus. Accents around this part of China can get a bit weird, so it’s refreshing to hear one I’m used to. She’s also my age (most people at this campus are in their early to mid 20’s, since most of the undergraduate courses are based on the other side of the city). And by coincidence, I found out today that her younger sister goes to UTS, so she’s got closer links to home than any other student here.

HuanCheng showed me around parts of the campus which I hadn’t been to, including this gem on the north-side:

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Big, big news everyone. This is a late addition to today’s blog. As some context, I’ve had to put up with corn soup for breakfast over the past few days because my local supermarket has been out of stock of cereal (I’ve been eating it at a faster pace than they import it). Devastated, desperate and starving, I decided to roam the streets tonight to find another shop with cereal for tomorrow’s breakfast. I had visited three supermarkets, and I’d exited each one of them empty handed. My head hung low, but I was not defeated. I decided to try just one more supermarket. Low and behold, it was stocked with an abundance of cereal. Choco chex, frosties, corn flakes, nutri grain. You name it, they had it. I couldn’t help but pump my fist in delight right there and then. I even asked the shop assistant if they had any more stock in storage, and I was brought two more boxes. Needless to say, I’ll be having good breakfasts for the next few weeks.

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Day 23 (17th of March, 2016) – 徐州,江苏省,中国

This morning, Xuzhou was blanketed in a thick fog. I was woken up by the blaring horns of cars who simply used this as a signal to warn any cars beyond the mist of their approach.

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There was a meeting for all of the international students today. Conveniently, it was translated into Korean and Russian, but not into English. I really am the odd one out here.

Here is one slide of our class roll. I thought that the last name was so unbelievably long that I had to take a photo of it.

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The meeting went unnecessarily overtime. Much of the latter part was regarding the university forbidding students from working on student visa’s. Unfortunately, and with much irony, I had to leave the meeting early to go to work.

It was at work that I came across this beast:

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Today, I also booked my accommodation for Hong Kong, since I’m arriving two days before the rest of the family. I decided to book a backpacker’s hostel so that I can at least get some experience before I go properly backpacking at the end of the year. I’m staying in a 10-bed dorm here: http://rainbowlodgehk.com/ . It was cheap… very cheap. The iron and ironing board I bought today were more than double the price.

I also began investigating some other domestic trips I want to do in the coming months. Before coming to China, I hadn’t comprehended the size of the country. I’ve since realised that “weekend” trips are not all that viable when many of the places I want to visit are further from Xuzhou than the distance from Sydney to Perth. I made a map with a number of destinations I’ve been recommended. I think I’ll go to Zhangjiajie in June or so. This is the place where Avatar was filmed – it’s home to the iconic “floating mountains” seen in the film. It also has the world’s tallest outdoor elevator. It looks incredible.

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Day 24 (18th of March, 2016) – 徐州,江苏省,中国

Today very much marked the beginning of the transition into Summer. It was a warm enough day that I didn’t have to wear a thermal base-layer, and much of the time I wasn’t even wearing my coat. The weather forecast says that the temperature should remain this way, which is a pleasant change.

Besides class, very little happened today. I was actually feeling quite lonely, to be frank. I often find that when I’m not busy, homesickness quickly creeps up on me. I finished a book and a Chinese movie (金陵十三钗, The Flowers of Wa– you may have seen it, it has Christian Bale), but I was still feeling very isolated. By complete chance, when I was putting on my shoes to go and find some dinner, a Korean came into my room to see my roommate. He had decent English, and had once lived in Melbourne. He explain that he was going out with my roommate and some other Koreans to a restaurant. I asked if I could join, and it was the best decision I’ve made all week.

We visited an incredible restaurant which my roommate had found while he was exploring the area. It was a unique restaurant in that the kitchen was scattered throughout the room, so chefs would be walking between the tables with their ingredients and meals. Although I will never understand the indoor smoking and incessant spitting (even in restaurants), it was an incredible experience. The restaurant specialised in goat, and the food was incredible. I will definitely be returning.

Like most restaurants, I was assured that my plate, bowl, cup and spoon were clean since they had been vacuum-wrapped in plastic.

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Our stronger common language was Chinese, and so through the other Koreans, my roommate and I were able to talk extensively for the first time. He’s a really nice bloke, and we get along well despite the language barrier.

On the way home, I was confronted with a very weird and genuinely troubling situation which is apparently quite common in this part of the world. We were walking back to our dorm, and we saw a young couple fighting. After they hurled verbal abuse at each other, both of them started swinging punches at each other. I thought it was a joke until I saw that a few of the punches actually landed. People just continued to walk by as if it was completely normal. The girl was actually the better fighter, which was good to see, but part of me wanted to jump in and try break it up. I was pulled away by my Korean friends though, probably for the better.

 

Day 25 (19th of March, 2016) – 徐州,江苏省,中国

This day is about faeces. Not only does a crude alternative to the word aptly describe the events of the day, but frankly, much of the day revolved around this topic. Skip the next two paragraphs if this isn’t your cup of tea.

While walking back to work during my lunch break, I witnessed something truly shocking. I would have taken a photo were it not to have been perceived as perverted, but unfortunately I’ll just have to explain the situation. I had just finished eating my lunch in a restaurant, and when I exited I noticed a young boy with his mother and aunty just a few metres from the entrance. He was squatting on the footpath, defecating while his mother held his hand. By the time I got to the end of the street, I turned around to see the family walk off, leaving a ripe turd outside of the restaurant. Once again, people walked past as if there was no issue. I have no idea who’s now going to pick that up.

Then, to make matters worse, I suddenly felt the urge to go to the bathroom myself. I had been avoiding this situation since my arrival. Squat toilets are my enemy. But, I had no choice. Nature called. Of course, I came prepared with a roll of toilet paper in my bag. I can see how they’re more hygienic than Western toilets, but I will never understand the appeal of having to physically strain to stay upright and balanced while doing your business. I find it incredibly uncomfortable and off-putting, and I hope I never have to go through it again.

While I was out and about, I also explored some of the surrounding streets. I came across this scene, which was a pleasant touch of more traditional Chinese architecture amidst the concrete jungle beyond.

I was also able to keep up to date with Caelan Kippen’s robotics tournament (attended by the Turnbulls and Julie Bishop) via 3G, where he made the international level and is competing in St. Louis, Missouri. Like Elijah’s cricketing prowess, this made my day. Few people are as committed to their passions. Every ounce of success is deserved.

I ate dinner this evening at the canteen. I’m really liking the free soup which you get with every meal. I definitely wish this was offered in Chinese restaurants in Australia.

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Day 25 (20th of March, 2016) – 徐州,江苏省,中国

Today was a long day of work. I worked from 7:15am through to 6pm with a lunch break. I find the work that I’m doing to be really satisfying when I bring a positive attitude to it. I don’t know if I’d ever consider teaching when I’m older (maybe… who knows), but I do find it incredibly rewarding to see students deliver tangible signs of improvement.

For my lunch break, I returned to the construction site restaurant. The food there is superb. I have no idea what I’m eating, and frankly I don’t really want to know, but it’s delicious. Some of the flavours and textures are unlike anything conjured up in your typical Australian Chinese restaurant. Each province over here truly has their own cuisine which is very much distinguishable from the food of nearby areas.

I decided to risk buying a milkshake after my meal. I say ‘risk’, because every experience I’ve had with buying a milky drink in this part of the world has resulted in unexpectedly slurping some sort of funky solidified sediment from the bottom of the cup. I turned up to the shop, and as per usual, I couldn’t understand a thing on the menu. “香草奶昔” (vanilla milkshake) I ask, to the standard stunned and clueless response. I scan the menu, and quite literally wave my finger over it and order whatever it falls on. Today’s choice was a pleasant drink, until once again, I hit the surprise at the bottom of the cup. I have no idea what it was, but it was some sort of Chinese jelly. Each block was the length of the straw, so you abruptly switched from drinking flavoured milk to a long vegetable. The jelly-like food is the black part of the straw.

The cup proudly professed “I drink”, which contrary to my Year 9 promises, is very true.

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Finally, after accumulating hours of watching choatic traffic, I witnessed my first Xuzhou car crash. I’m very surprised they don’t happen more often. It’s as if the drivers here cannot see the lane dividers. The crash happened while I was waiting for the bus, and it was a typical case of a driver not checking their blind spot.

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My first English tutoring session was today. I’ve been provided with a classroom on campus, so it’s incredibly convenient. I taught three young children aged between ten and thirteen years old. Their parents sat in on the first class to determine if they wanted to continue, and all of them agreed following the session to book in the next five lessons. In the first lesson, I gauged their English abilities in the areas of likes and dislikes, jobs and food. In each area, I extended their vocabulary and sentences, then practiced having conversations with them. It was genuinely a lot of fun, and the parents enjoyed themselves too.

That is, except when one of them angrily commented that I was teaching them British English, and that I ought to switch to “the more useful version”. Needless to say, I promptly erased the ‘u’ from the word ‘favourite’.

I bought the students exercise books to write their new words in. Buying exercise books here is a particularly entertaining experience. All of the books have inspirational English quotes written on the front cover. I’m hoping that the slogans initiate the sort of hollow enthusiasm displayed by a teenage girl upon buying herself a new leather-bound notebook.

This book had a quote which I thought was particularly sweet:

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“A friend is someone who can lift your
spirits with just their smile.
if i had only one friend left.
i ~ d whant it to be you.”

The manufacturer likely produced tens of thousands of copies of this book. It astounds me that not even one interpreter is paid a few dollars to correct spelling on the front page.

Following tutoring, I headed towards the East Gate to meet Taff Gao for a hot pot dinner. I passed this frozen lake in the campus on the way there:

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Dinner was superb. Hot pot, for those that don’t know, is a traditional Chinese meal where you boil your own meat and vegetables. We ordered cucumber, bok choy, bamboo roots, beef with raw egg, octopus stomach and quail eggs.

Only after eating it did Taff tell me that also on our table was a plate of ‘duck blood’. It was an odd texture, but I quite liked it.

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Over the meal, Taff told me that until he had access to a VPN, he never knew that the Tianenmen Square Massacre even happened. After finding out about it he told his mum, only for her to say that she believed the story to be a rumour. He had also always been taught that Tibet and Taiwan were regular provinces of China. China still doesn’t recognise Taiwan as being a sovereign state, despite the fact that they have a completely independent democratic government. Seems a bit odd that for such a normal province I can’t travel there on my Chinese visa. Nor can I travel to Tibet without supervision.

The evening ended in classic fashion back at the dorm. My Korean roommate, Il Kwon (or ‘dad’, as my friends have nicknamed him due to his age), has recently started copying my habit of bringing a bluetooth speaker into the bathroom for some accompaniment for shower singing. All week, a subtle tension has been building over who has the guts to play louder music in the shower. It’s funny how a friendship can form despite no common language. We both chuckle after each person comes out of the shower having played their music at a new, ridiculous volume. My Foals will always be better than his K-Pop stars, though.

Nineteen days until the family arrives. I can’t wait.

Until next time,

Xavier.

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10 thoughts on “The Cereal Heist

  1. Xave,
    Thanks once again for the great update on your Journey. De & I are very familiar with ” YUKI” we do it every Friday night and especially Saturday mornings before going to the races. It may work better for you but not me always.
    Pleased to hear JOOF survived the jump from the table. He just trying to get your attention and make you feel like you were watching a yacht race back home on Sydney harbour, hence the saying
    “Turning Turtle”.
    With your comments on the culture of the Chinese I am beginning to understand them more.
    The Mother with her son defecating outside the restaurant, was probably their way of saying what they thought of the food, or just leaving a Tip.
    The couple you thought were fighting are you sure they weren’t just dancing to Carl Douglas’ song” Kung Fo Fighting”
    As for the Duck blood We will never look the same again at our Edgell sliced beetroot.
    Once again Xave we look forward to your Blog every Monday morning and hope you keep well and safe until we see you again soon.
    xx
    G & P

    Like

    1. So great to hear from you! Joof succeeded in getting my attention, that’s for sure. And you’re right with the child defecating being a message to the restaurant. My only question was whether it was a compliment or an insult.

      And we’ll all pretend the couple were dancing to Kung Fu Fighting!

      I’ll find some duck blood and make you try it next time I’m on the Coast.

      Like

  2. Xave,
    The pub rock scene with the music I am sure will be different, but stay clear of the Baijiu. Just buy a bottle and bring home for us to try especially T. I would love to see the result.
    P

    Like

  3. Currently sitting in a microeconomics tutorial, incredibly boring and this got me through. Keep up the good work. If Joof continues his suicidal ways I would recommend some nurturing techniques. Like the real Joof, he loves his ego being stroked.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As always, this blog is a pleasure to read. The Koreans’ Easter message was a major cack, and I’m so proud of you now being a busy bee socialite in Xuzhou 🙂 hope ‘dad’ doesn’t snore too loudly, and enjoy the next few weeks with your family and the Viewboys.
    Take Care,
    Vidya xxx

    Liked by 1 person

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