Day 110 (13th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China
This morning, unlike most Monday mornings, I woke up at a reasonable hour. I headed home early after spending the previous evening at Fusion Bar.
The conversations at the bar were incredibly entertaining. Most of my night was spent talking with “Old Tony”, who’s a 50/60-something seasoned traveller. After falling out of a difficult family situation in London, Tony began travelling in his youth and never stopped. He has spent his life moving between countries finding odd jobs, mostly as an English teacher. The conversation started when I mentioned that I was going to Iran, Turkey, Israel and Jordan, all of which he’d visited. Not only had he visited them, but he’d worked in all of them bar Iran.
He told me stories of hitchhiking rides with truckers around Turkey’s border, only to end up in Istanbul in what would later prove to be his last night in the country. After looking for somewhere to have a drink for the night, he followed the lead of some people he’d met to a bar in the downtown area. He said it was a great night – the drinks were flowing, and about half a dozen girls were unusually interested in him. At the end of the night, he paid his share and tried to leave. The bouncers stopped him.
“All those girls’ drinks were on you, buddy.”
After claiming that he had no money, Tony was led by the collar to an ATM, where he was forced to withdraw all of the travelling money he had. When he reported it to the police and they went to investigate the next day, the bar was no longer there.
Among other stories, Tony also told me about all of the ten-odd stray dogs he’s adopted along his travels, only to leave them at borders as he crosses into his next country.
I wouldn’t ever want to be like Tony, but he certainly makes for a good conversation.
While at the bar, I also had a conversation with a North Korean. This was the fourth North Korean I have met, with the other three being official representatives during the Chinese Bridge Competition in Kunming. This guy was completely different – he wasn’t scripted or supervised when speaking to me. The conversation didn’t go too in depth because he was more captivated by his South Korean friends, but all I could figure out was that he was a genuine escapee into China. I thought the chances of successfully doing that were extraordinarily slim and so I doubted him at first, especially given the fact that he was laughing about it, but other people seem to be sure that he’s being genuine. Quite amazing to meet someone in that situation. If he is telling the truth and he spoke up, he would gain a lot of media attention and influence for revealing what it’s really like to live in the DPRK.
To add to the list of interesting conversations, a very conservative American was busy defending his 2nd Amendment to me when news of the Orlando Shooting started to break. Realising that the biggest mass shooting in American history was underway, he made the not-so-compelling argument that “it wouldn’t have happened if everyone in the club had guns”. I guess there being enough guns in the U.S. for every man, woman and child isn’t enough to stop these all-to-frequent shootings. I made sure not to express my true opinion to the man out of fear that he himself probably had a concealed weapon.
As the night drew to a close, I got my first glance of the ‘chopstick thief’. The chopstick thief is a well-known figure at the bar, but I had never been able to spot him. He is named so because of his habit of turning up to your table when you’re in the bathroom or have left for the night, and stealing all of your belongings with his 30cm long chopsticks. I witnessed him take plates of food, whole packets of cigarettes and unfinished cigarette butts with these chopsticks. After filling his lunch box, he would go around to the empty drinks and fill his flask with their remaining contents. It was pretty sad to see, but at least he isn’t shooed away like other homeless people around here.
Today was relatively mundane. After tutoring and class, I called a friend from back home and we talked into the night.
By the time I left my dorm to get dinner in the evening, it was already 8:30pm and the city had closed down. This is what one of the food streets looks like at this time.
Day 111 (14th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China
Between classes and tutoring, I finished the first draft of one of my bigger applications for College. I’m quite proud of it and have sent it off for feedback to a number of people.
While moving back and forth between different areas of the campus, I indulged in one of my favourite snacks as of late.
Since watermelons are in season here, it’s not uncommon to see sights like this.
Watermelons would have to be the most popular fruit in this part of China during Summer. It’s not uncommon to see whole groups of people walking down the streets holding half watermelons and chopsticks.
I ate dinner on the go while heading towards one of my favourite cafés to begin planning my exam preparation. Exams are on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of next week. The pressure has only just started to rise with the exams becoming a main topic of most of my classes, and so I thought that it was time to figure out my battle plan.
Day 112 (15th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China
Today I was given more Korean face masks by the Chinese friend who doesn’t like my skin. This time, though, the face mask was black. It made me look an awful lot like Hannibal Lecter.
During the day I headed out with Taff to a different district to get some errands done. We ate at a restaurant there and I had a beautiful dish which was very similar to the 把子肉 (fatty pork) which I’ve blogged about before, only that it was diced into pieces.
Dinner was just as exciting. I ate a two-noodle and peanut mix with China’s famous dark plum juice.
Day 113 (16th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China
Today represented my most shocking insight yet into the Chinese education system and style of learning.
From 8am, I sat in a lecture where they walked us through every one of the questions in an upcoming exam.
Then, from 9:45am, I sat in another class where we were told all of the questions and their answers.
And from that point, the pattern sank in. We were having classes for every subject to tell us what would be in the exam. Not what topics or areas to review, but literally what questions to memorise.
I struggled to believe what I was hearing when I walked out of the class and all of the Koreans were freaking out about how hard the exam was.
“They’ve literally just told us every question and their answers, how is it hard?” I challenged one of them.
“The questions were so difficult!” they all retorted.
It was at this point that I asked a Chinese friend what was going on, and they told me that for every exam throughout high school and university they get stepped through the questions before the test. The challenge, apparently, is in memorising such a ridiculous quantity of content.
This frustrates me to no end. 50% of what you learn in Chinese classes in both high school and university are about the country’s infamously demanding education system. Sure, it’s demanding. You’re required to rote learn whole books of content. But mentally stimulating? I think not.
Even their end of school exams, the GaoKao, are made up of three purely multiple-choice exams. The excuse is that “population constraints” don’t allow for more sophisticated testing, and yet I’d assume that a bigger population also brings with it more teachers and markers.
It’s ridiculous. Not a single student coming out of this system can think for themselves. As I said in my last blog about GaoKao preparation, I don’t see the next Steve Jobs coming out of that room.
And yet, the funny thing is, I see every future scientist and mathematician coming out of that room. This learning style suits some areas, but certainly not all subjects. Their education lacks the creativity and free thought which subjects like English offer in Australia.
In the evening, I decided to go out for ice cream to rid of my pent up frustration. Thinking that I’d treat myself, I asked for a triple scoop of vanilla.
This is what I was handed.
I also made sure to pull out a few moves on the communal dance floor on the way back to the dorm.
Day 114 (17th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China
This morning, I woke up to the very sad news of the passing of my Great Pop. I have many vivid memories from my youth of Pop – most notably of him talking about his passion for the NRL. I always found him an incredibly upbeat and entertaining person, especially given his age. It’s devastating to see him move on, but I know that he’s in a better place. The best people in this world, like Bobby, live with no regrets. As a result, we can be comfortable knowing that whenever they pass, they have lived a life which is full.
Today was excruciatingly hot. Chinese men have a habit of rolling their shirts up to above their stomachs in an effort to brave the heat. I would have taken a picture of this for you were it not considered a creepy thing to do, so unfortunately you’ll have to cope without one.
One thing I don’t understand over here is just how few people wear shorts. In fact, on any given Summer day, I struggle to spot any shorts at all. I’m told that a lot of it is to do with not wanting to get tanned, since in Asia pale skin is considered more desirable and attractive.
I particularly felt the heat when I was squashed into a packed oven of a bus on the way to work to collect my class timetable. It’s incredibly frustrating that this can’t just be messaged to me, but I’m not going to complain when I only have two weeks left.
After a few hours of tutoring in the evening, I claimed a table in a café for a good night of study. Despite some effective procrastination, I still got a healthy amount of work done. While I was there, I ran into a big group of Koreans who were all wishing their friends well before they head home to Korea on the weekend. After asking why they were heading home before the end of the semester, I was simply told: “they don’t like exams”.
At this rate I don’t think I’ll have any competition.
Day 115 (18th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China
There was a traffic jam on the way to work this morning. I sprinted from the bus stop to my first class in what was borderline unbearable heat to make it on time.
Today’s classes were loud and certainly not for the easily annoyed. I was once again put in a class with the Western-phobic girl as well as the young boy who kicks and squeals whenever he’s separated from his Mother. Both were very difficult classes to get through, but I managed it in the end.
I also had a number of classes with Cici whose enthusiasm continued in the same unusually sporadic pattern as it did last week. One of the more successful games for captivating the students’ attention today was basketball. I bought a soft inflatable basketball from a shop nearby and the kids went crazy if I bounced it on their heads for each correct answer. It worked surprisingly well.
An already long day of work was extended at the end when I was double booked with Marcus, but I thought that it was right of me if I let him take the first class and I stayed at the school later. After all, he’s been working there for much longer than I and has a family to get home to.
Back at the university, I detoured through some more shaded paths to get to a café for some exam study.
It was only upon my arrival that I loaded up a news website to realise that Australia vs England had started. So, I proceeded to destroy the cafés internet allowance by streaming the match on my laptop. At half time, I jogged to the other side of campus to watch the other half in my room.
On the way, I bought a half watermelon to fit in with the locals. It made for a good snack during the game.
The result was a shame, though. I don’t know if I subscribe to this Wallaby tactic of always kicking for touch when given a penalty, especially when that penalty is directly in front of the posts.
Day 116 (19th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China
The walk to work was much more relaxed this morning since I left with some time to spare. I thought I’d snap a picture of one of the fruit carts which I walk alongside when heading towards the school.
The morning’s classes were the regular slog. Four classes in a row seems to be my limit before I need to take a break. I always find the fifth to be quite difficult to push through. Luckily, when I arrived at my fifth class, a different teacher walked out of the classroom to who I expected and tried to tell me something incomprehensible in English. After telling her that I didn’t understand, she held up her hands and formed a cross with her index fingers.
“Oh, it’s cancelled?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s right,” she muttered as she walked away.
‘You beauty’, I thought, as I skipped off to lunch for my regular chilli chicken.
It was upon returning to the staff room a few hours later that the teacher who I was supposed to join in that class approached me with a very angry expression.
“Where were you? I was waiting for you in classroom ten.” she said, angrily.
I think that it’s etiquette to reply in the language which you’re spoken to in, so I replied in English, “What? Lisa told me it was cancelled, I’m so sorry.”
Now, for some context, this particular teacher ‘Jenny’ has quite poor English. She’s the one who taught her class the phrase “Where do you live in? I live in Xuzhou”, and didn’t change it after I pointed out the error because it was “too late”. She also doesn’t have the ability to pronounce ‘th’, which I think is a problem which can be fixed quite easily early in someone’s English education. But unfortunately, her class is the only one in the school who has an embedded problem of saying “thank you” as “sank you”.
Needless to say, she couldn’t understand my reply. She continued to shake her head and stormed off to the boss.
I chased after her, fearing that a tarnished reputation with the boss would wreck my chances at the corner office.
“No, I don’t think you understand. Lisa told me it was cancelled. Cancelled! 取消！停止一次！”
Finally she understood, but she disagreed.
“Lisa told me that she said I was in room 10,” Jenny replied.
The boss had arrived to sort out the dispute. I knew I had to pull out my compensation and persuasion skills here. Lisa was dragged into the debate.
“Eddy!” (remember, that’s my name), “I told you it was in room ten!” She raised her fingers into the cross sign which she had made before.
Suddenly it clicked. Ten in Chinese is written as ‘十’, and she was making that sign with her hand. I had mistaken it for a cross meaning cancelled.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I misunderstood.” I conceded.
Eventually they understood, but I don’t think Jenny will ever forgive me. At least I know that my help was missed.
In the final class of the day, I had Cici again. I kid you not, she hit on me much more directly this time. I can’t say it doesn’t help the ego out a little. It’s good to know I still have a bit of charm to me.
She asked me if I could record my voice into her WeChat (Chinese Facebook), to which I obliged. This is a common request, since teachers will send my pronunciation to the parents of their students for the kids’ homework.
Cici asked me to say “Hello, my name is Eddy” twice. I did so, but looking down at the screen realised that she was sending it to herself. I didn’t think much of it, until she looked up and giggled.
“Your voice is so sexy Eddy,” she sneered.
My face when she said that:
I proceeded to teach for the most awkward half an hour of my life.
I also found out today that my Topdeck Tour to Jordan and Israel was cancelled due to a lack of numbers. I’m devastated. Unfortunately switching to a trip with a guaranteed departure would mean that I couldn’t join my friend on a tour in Turkey, and I’m not willing to give that up. So, to save big losses in cancelling flights, I’m going to continue into the territory on my own. I might do a few smaller tours here and there while I’m there.
What’s most frustrating is that neither Topdeck nor Flight Centre notified me that it was cancelled. I found out myself when browsing the Topdeck site.
Before moving on to English tutoring, I picked up a nice noodle meal at one of the canteens.
I had a good time with the students trying out some of the filters on Snapchat (contingent on them correctly saying the English word, of course).
My mind is rapidly shifting towards leaving Xuzhou and continuing on my travels. I can’t wait – that’s what a gap year is all about, after all.
Until next time,