So, we (not the Royal we but the Alex, Gregor and I we) finally got to Tianshui. First impressions ranged from ‘Interesting’ when we got off the train, then ‘Where do we go now?’, a little bit of ‘Phew, they must be are guys’ and finally ‘Where the fuck are they taking Gregor…!’. Gregor, our partner for the next 11 months was kidnapped on arrival, and thrust into a mini-bus… THAT WASN’T OURS! More on this later.
Anyway, me and Alex are put into our mini-bus, this is where we meet our deputy head Mr. Gou (that’s Chinese for dog by the way… weird) and the superb Mama Yang, also a driver for our school… we won’t talk about him.
Mama Yang – she is a damn useful and hard-working woman, funny at times, who has promised to come visit everyone in England about 5,000,000 times. (Just a heads up their! If you see a 4-foot-something 60 year old Chinese lady coming up at your door with limited English feel happy, she hath arrived!) She would become our mother of sorts over the next year (it’s always hard mothering two nineteen year old boys).
Mr. Gou – he isn’t too bad as far as Chinese head-masters go. He spoke good, although not that fluent, English. He was never too bad and would actually listen to us (acting on what we said was a different matter a lot of the time. See the issue of the key in a later issue) and made most of the school decisions about us. He was pretty accessible which was quite useful, and he coulda been much worst.
~Listening to; Jay Z vs DJ Dangermouse – The Grey Album – Yea the hole album!~
So after we make our introductions a few times we go for… NOODLES! Huzzah. We’re in the mini-bus for about 30 minutes driving before we get to the restaurant where we ate (I don’t think we ever went there again) and had, what were at the time, Tianshui Noodles (what those are I don’t know, especially as about 10 other types of noodle also bare this name…). Sadly this was in my food infancy, still a little picky when it came to eating weird and/or exotic foods. Well, let’s just say, all those funny bits in the noodles didn’t get eaten. But worry not, music too our (remember, Alex!) ears was soon too come; “Do you like beer?” Ho, ho, ho! Our faces peaked and I assume we said something along the lines of; “Why dear sir, we are English gentleman, and in our schooling in the arts of a gentleman we may have par-taken in a bottle or two of fine ale. And we were rather good at it to!” Well, after that fine speech, we’d have to drink a lot of beer, BaiJiou (that’s THE Chinese spirit, it’s considered weak and sophisticated if it is less than 50% alcohol and more than 20 Yuan (less than 2 pounds) for a pint of it, we would prove our selves men by Chinese standards thanks to this drink!) and god knows what else during the years banquets. But it started out with just a few beers that day which we polished off well.
After lunch off to our school/flats, our flats were inside the school. (by the by, we were still wandering where Gregor was, was he still alive? Did they send him back for being Scottish? Was he a bit too much of AGAY for them? Who knew.) The compound we lived in was arranged like the picture below:
Sep 18, 2006 - 1 Photo
The ground floor (Chinese say first floor incase I start saying that around you) has “Flat 1” and “Kitchen” on it, the first floor is “Flat Two” and “Flat Three”. Pink areas are the bathrooms (One each), blue areas are the bedrooms, the red area is the balcony, purple area is the stair-case (it’s outside) and the grey bit is the ground. The others are self-explanatory. For most of the year it was like this; I lived in flat three, Alex in flat two and Gregor in flat one (the kitchen was inhabited by god knows what deadly bacteria). I choose flat three for my-self and Alex was like-wise. (And come the summer bug-invasion of the ground floor it would seem like a very wise decision.) All the rooms were more or less identical, although flat one had white ‘marble’ floor and flats two and three had ‘wooden’ floors. We had a TV, sofa, bed, shower etc. in every room. Bathroom wise I had the best as everything worked well and it was moderately well designed. (e.g. the water from the shower actually drained.) And the kitchen… huh? We had a kitchen! I didn’t really use it in between October and May really, I did a bit in September (mostly cause the world out-side was scary and different and we were made to by other people) and in the May – July period we had Annie (an American friend who can actually cook in China) over a lot, a few parties and Florence and Paper Face (two Chinese girls I knew well for a while) came as well, they wanted to cook for Alex and I (we’ll get to that at a later date.)
~Listening to; Rocky Votaloto – Prison is Private Property~
And what about out-side our humble (the word has never been used more appropriately) home? First was my old school; Tianshui Vocational College a.k.a. The school where the bad kids go. It wasn’t a big school at all, although it did have about 1,000 students (well, apparently it did). Not much to say about it except that when you stand in the central yard (which is a must if you ever want to leave) everyone can see you. That was annoying. Out-side the school was a road which sold basically everything that was basic or could be made. You could go to one of the many average restaurants, by exactly the same every day things from about 15 small shops, get coal in about 20 different shops, wash your clothes, by noodles, get a metal thing made or go to one of the many hair-dressers. There were some other things to I’m sure, like seasonally people just started putting chili’s on the pavement for some reason, and did I mention the coal shops by the way? There were a lot of them. The road was about 10 minutes walk from the high-street and could connect to a lot of other places by side-roads. It was a pretty convenient place to live, although not the most attractive and desired.
OK! Back to the year (we got off that point quite a while ago!). So we got to the compound, we picked our flats and we sat expectantly waiting for Gregor’s inevitable arrival! To cut an even longer story short, he never bloody came! Instead we met Colin a.k.a. Kang Liang, the most useful person in Tianshui by a mile! He spoke almost fluent English, was funny, cool and interesting (his dad was arrested for propaganda during the Cultural Revolution and imprisoned for 7 years… ! Am I even aloud to say that?). Well Colin showed us the ropes, taught us how things worked and took us around the town a lot in the first few days. We also had a nice letter from the previous volunteers in Tianshui which was cool to read. But no Gregor! In fact we didn’t get Gregor for about 10 days.
Gregor had in fact been kidnapped by his school and forcefully imprisoned in a flat conveniently located near his school! Well, this couldn’t stand. We saw him again about 2 days later, oddly we met him half way to his school as he was doing exactly the same to come and meet us so we went back home and bitched (something that we’re rather amazing at!). Well, much phone-calling etc. later and we had Gregor living with us. I think that was on September the 10th. Huzzah. The trio were reunited and the start of many things began (things picked up more in the second 5 months in China really, the first 5 months is pretty bare on fun things!).
~Listening to; Bright Eyes – The Calendar Hung Its Self~
I’m now going to try and write about the (kinda) interesting things that happened up until Christmas:
Teachers Day: This is the day on the 10th of September, it’s a day to honor what teachers do! And bloody hell, I think drinking BaiJiou must mean you are very honorable. But earlier in the day was THE concert! This was the time we were given about 2 days notice that we’d be performing something for Teachers Day (which we though would be small). In the end Alex ended up playing a Dabussy piece on the piano and I was… the mighty page-turner! This small event was in front of over 1,000 people and TV cameras in Tianshui Theater! I was a rather brilliant page-turner I must say, and although Alex began to crack under the huge-audience at times he held tight, we got a standing ovation and were on the TV. Huzzah. After this was the banquet I mentioned. Pretty much every current and former teacher of our school was there, then add a lot of food and beer, then times the number of people by 3 and you have how much BaiJiou there was… yea… nice! After that we went to KTV (apparently, not that I remember) which is karaoke.
My Birthday (Sept 23rd): We first had Da Pan Ji that day, which would become our staple food for about 8 months. Basically this is a big plate (Da Pan) with; potato noodles, boiled potato, chicken (Ji) and a lot of spiced sauce.
Alex’s Birthday (Sept 26th): We ate lots of cake!
October 1st – 7th – National Week Holiday: This was our real time off, it’s a national vacation for something which means schools have the time. We went to Xi’an for it (our first time in my current home!). We being; Gregor, Alex, Maeve, Zoe, Richard, Jen, Jen and I. This time we went to the Terracotta Warriors (Yawn!) and just felt over-awed by the size of the city after being in our small cities for a month. We hung in the hotel we stayed at too much, had a lot of fun in there but didn’t have a great time in general (our next time there would be much better). This is where we all got our tattoo’s, well all except Gregor. We all got the same Chinese character done in different ways and different styles at some place on our bodies. Richard, Mormon, got tattoo’s done in a pretty obvious place on his forearms. Yes arms! On one arm he had our symbol, on the other he got another symbol which ended up meaning fuck in slang… hohoho. He got caught up in the moment I think and he was regretting pretty soon after. Jen and Jen from Guangdong came up to see us as well (Guangdong is 40 hours away by train) and were greeted by me in nothing by boxer shorts and cling-film all over my body. Sexy!
Sometime in October – Xifeng, home of Zoe and Maeve – We all decided to go up and see them in October and had a cool time. The highlights of which were pancakes and meeting Jon and Louisa who were really cool (Peace Crop. teachers in Xifeng). We also went on… a zip-line! It was a nice time but a tad tense.
November 12th – JingNing, John Fraser visit – John Fraser was a representative from Project Trust who came to check we were all ok. We (the Gansu teachers, that’s my old province) all met up in JingNing where two teachers lived and had a pretty crap time. BUTTTT after that we went to ZhwangLang (where Tom and Noz who we got on well with a lot after March) and it was quite fun, a lot of nice food, too much BaiJiou (again!) and we met Mr. Huh who was helluva funny. After that the three of us and John Fraser went back to Tianshui, Gregor and Alex were shitting bricks, but it went fine and we had a laugh.
November again – PingLiang, Richard’s home city – This time we went to Richard’s home, it was the three of us, Maeve, Zoe, John, Louisa and Colin (a British VSO guy from Xifeng). We had a good time there although we only went for a few days. The highlight was climbing a sacred mountain (although I think every mountain in China may be sacred to someone). We all climbed it on a Saturday morning, the night before it had started snowing so it was a bit chilly but it looked beautiful as there was snow every where! It took us about 6 hours to climb it at our rambling pace, we had a good look around the temples there and loved the views. By the time I got to the top my water (inside my coat!!) had frozen. So yea, a bit cold, but definitely worth it.
On a side note, at this time I was on a whirl-wind romance with Maeve, an extremely clever and opinionated girl from London (read that how you want to, good or bad). We met in Beijing and this lasted until about January the 10th (picking a date out of the hat here). It was interesting whilst it lasted. During the time it filled me with mixed feelings of annoyance, jealousy, lust, a bit more annoyance and then eventually meh-feeling, we never really clicked in my opinion no matter how much I tried and how much time I spent on the 12 hour bus ride to her city and I ended it after a really fun New Year’s when I realized it was just not worth it. At one point it caused a mini-rift between Alex and I, at others different things happened. It was rather hectic. It was nice that it happened and good for me but I felt awkward through-out the relationship, can’t really say why though. It was more a month apart, a few days together, which never would work for me being the cute lovey person I am who wants to be with someone a lot and for along time.
Next time I go back to Tianshui stuff will be from Christmas until after Spring Festival, dunno when that will be though!
~Listening to; Bright Eyes – When the Curious Girl Realizes […]~