Monday, December 25, 2006

So This is Christmas, In Shi Jia Zhung!

Merry Christmas Everybody!

I hope you all have a great day and enjoy yourselves very much.Thingsdon't feel too Christmas-esque here at the moment but that will improve once everyone else is up and we start to undo our few presents.

Christmas fever has hit Shijiazhuang with a bang though. The Kids either love it or hate it. Some have been going out their way to make things christmassy for me-bringing in tinsel, fat santa decorations and giving me cards- others just sit there and say "I don't like Christmas, I prefer Spring Festival."

We have a small christmas tree assembled and a meagre offering of presents underneath so Dave and I will work our ways through them in time, this afternoon I think we will watch Borat the movie, some West Wing and then go for a Christmas Dinner at a hotel in town. Hopefully this evening, about the time when we are phoning our parents and friends, we should be a little drunk; not too bad as we have to teach tomorrow. YES! We have to teach tomorrow, on Boxing Day, what a disgrace. Seeing as the American Contingent don't even know what Boxing day is, I don't think it was ever likely the Chinese would have an idea.

To enchance your Christmas Spirit and your love for the season I leave you with a video of my Class singing a festive Favourite:

Take Care One and All!


Monday, December 18, 2006

The Emperor's Silent Warriors

Mum and Dad did not want to leave China and not be able to say that they had seen the Terra Cotta Armies of Xian. They kindly offered to take Dave and I with them on their trip and so on Thursday 16th we caught our first internal flight from Shijiazhuang to Xian. The flight was relatively painless-less so than booking the tickets let me assure you- and we touched down in Xian after only 1hour 20 minutes. Whilst the cost of internal flights was surprisingly expensive when compared to train travel (£60 return when compared to about £9 on the train) it was certain worth the price in order to avoid spending 12 hours cooped up in a train cabin with the Parents! I think we all would have gone mental! Especially poor David.

Xian is about 1000Km SW of Shijiazhuang so we were expected very cold, hostile weather when we arrived- Hiliary even knitted a scarf for Dave to keep him warm. So imagine our surprise when we landed and it was bright sunshine and it stayed that way for the whole weeked. We flew on the thursday,spent thursday afternoon, friday and saturday until mid day there and the weather was superb! Hardly saw a cloud all weeked!

Xian used to be the capital city of many of the old Chinese dynasty's and so the walled city centre is full of many acient artifacts. On our first day there we explored the city inside the walls and found the Bell and Drum towers situated smack bang in the middle of the city where the four main roads convereged. Built orignally in 1384 and then relocated in 1582 the Bell tower was beautifully and intricately decorated with some fantastic artwork and also home to some quite interesting history, we paid 15Yuan for a audio guide to get the full story but got fed up after the first 4 minutes and decided not to use it again so we just made our ways around ourselves-always the best way. The view from the top was quite interesting and Dave and I spent a few minutes watching the lunancy that is Chinese Lane Discipline and general driving skills. At 5 'o' Clock there was a performance of the bells being rung inside the tower, accompanied by traditional instruments from the time, which we enjoyed listening to for some while.

We stayed at the Shangri La Golden Flower as even though it was slightly outside of the town walls it was the closest decent hotel to the Terra Cotta's and on the main road for easy access. The hotel was great and got even better when we realised that we had been upgraded to 'Horizon Club' members. I didn't have a clue what this meant, but due to Geeky Dave spending an innordinate amount of time on the internet researching such things he knew that this meant we were entitled to something. Boy was he right. Between 5.30pm - 7.30pm each day we had free food and alcoholic drinks and soft drinks and tea,coffee and hot chocolates were free all day. They even served breakfast in the morning. Superb and, rest assured, that they free alcohol was well and truley abused by all 4 of us on the saturday night!

Remember what I said about the hotel being the closest to the Terra Cotta's? Well we got in our taxi saturday morning, that we had ordered the day before, the concierge had pulled him over and given him instructions so we felt we didn't have to. We started what we believed would be the very quick-30 minutes max-journey to the museum. However,some way along the line we started to realise where we were going and didn't want to admit that it was the wrong way, but sure enough it was and we ended up at the airport:on the other side of town completely. This lead to a few irate phone calls and the driver shouting into his phone and then driving at break neck speeds, but we got there eventually.

The Terra Cotta Warriors were bult some 2,200 years ago in order to guard the tomb of despotic ruler Qin Shui Huangdi-the ruler who had unified China. They were only discovered in 1974 when some farmers were digging a well and accidentally dug brought up one of the heads with one of their bucket loads. Since then excavations have found three pits of soilders and found a total of 7,000 Soilders, but work is still on going and it is believed that they will find many more. Though I may not agree with the sentiment that the warriors are the '8th Wonder of the World' , they certainly were damn impressive and the sheer amount of detail that had gone into each warrior and the huge number of warriors were breathtaking. The warriors were origianlly coloured Blue and Yellow-the colours of the Emperor's Army Uniform-but when the Armies were destroyed by fire the paint melted away.

Of the three pits I think we all agreed that the first pit was the most impressive purely because of the scale and the amount of Soilders. Pit 2 was good but very dark and Pit 3 was only very small and not yet excavated fully. The museum was a little bit of a let down. Its main purpose is to serve as a home to the 2 Horse and Charriots that they unearthed. These were impressive but also quite confusing as they were said to be in 1:2 scale. We looked at the size of the men, and whilst I know the Chinese have a reputation for being on the small side, this would have made them rediculously tiny! The rest of the museum was a museum to the museum which was boring. With the warriors only being 30 years old to the public they still havn't really capitalised on them quite as much as they could, but China is addressing that problem as it is currently building a huge shopping plaza that you must walk through in order to reach the pits- all the chinese tat and imitation warriors you could ever wish for!

After our visit toe Terra Cotta's we went to a Hot Spring that was just down the road from the site. Mum and Dad had visited a few hot springs in New Zealand and so Dave and I were keen to go and see what they were like for ourselves. We turned up fully prepared with swimming trunks, towells and Dave even had his arm bands. However our face dropped when we got there and we discoverd that it was more of a museum to the hot springs, and the closest you could actually get to any water was to pay to take a shower. The museum itself was quite beautfiul and set picturesquely in the valley of the mountains so we enjoyed walking around for an hour or so, but we were annoyed as neither Lonely Planet or DK China had said that they were not bathing springs-GUTTED!

Saturday night we made the most of the free alcohol and Dave and I ended up in a English Themed pub at the hotel, complete with snooker table and darts board-SUPERB! On Sunday we had time to have a decent fried breakfast, a dip in the pool and then caught a taxi to the Airport to catch the train to return us back to the Shiz-thankfully it didn't try taking us to the Terra Cotta's again!

A Busy Weekend...

On Friday the 8th of December my Parents flew into Beijing from Hong Kong. After 2 weeks in relative paradise (New Zealand) I hoped that I could show them as good a time here in China as they had had there. We met them at the airport and made our way back to the hotel- which was the Novotel Peace, superbly located right in the centre of the city and the breakfast buffet was top notch: Dave and I feasted on Pancakes,Waffles, Bacon, Sauasages and Eggs for two days and it was Paradise!

On the Saturday we had a taxi take us to the Great Wall. I didn't think my parents would be able to manage the Jinshanglin to Simitai trek that Dave and I had been on previously so took them to the Badaling section. Badaling is the most Touristy area of the Wall. There was coffee shops, fair ground rides and even a roller coaster to save you walking up and down the wall. The taxi driver obviously thought it was important to save Mum and Dads old legs for the walk ahead and purchased us two tickets for the coaster. The slow ride up at a ridiculously steep angle was quite un-nerving but the the trip down was surprisingly good fun and faster than expected. Mum's fears that it would turn into a "mini nemisis" proved unfounded though. Here is a video from the ride, mum's manic laughing is probably scarier than the ride itself:

The walk up the wall was nice but very cold. I have seen friends pictures from high season and you can barely move at Badaling for all the people but on a day like it was it was (unsurprisingly perhaps) empty. We walked up and down the wall to the next section and back. We couldn't organise with the driver to pick us up somewhere else so we just did a big loop the loop. The steps were a lot easier to climb than on our previous trip but there were still some areas that were very steep and very hard work. Upon reaching the top Mum announced that she was "Knackered"-which made us all smile.

After the Wall we visited the Ming Tombs of Ding Ling (yes, I know you probably won't believe me). These were quite interesting and it was good to see where the old kings and queens had been buried but I think we were all just disappointed as everything was a reconstruction (once again).

Next we took the cab all the way to the Summer Palace where we spent about 2 and a Half hours just walking around. The Summer Palace was exaclty as described- a palace where the kings went duiring the summer; i.e. the Chinese version of Sandringham. I think the Summer Palace was my Parent's favourite part of the trip. It look splendid and was a great place to whiile away a few hours. With the huge lake frozen the pictures that could be taken were superb as well, and as always Dave and I are never ones to dissappoint.

In the evening Dave and I treated them to a meal at Fuku. Being our favourite restuarant in Beijing so far (we have visited each and every time we've been there) we thought it was a good way of getting them some decent Chinese food and also an excuse for us to go there again. Despite the Taxi dropping us off in the wrong place again (and this was despite having a map of Houhai with it drawn on) we got to the restuarant and had an enjoyable meal. Mum and Dad made some mistakes for further on in the week though. They both ate with Knife and Forks and complained that there was only 1 English menu. I just told them to wait for what my city had in store for them- there would be no such luxuries there.

We left on the Sunday to Bring my Parents back to Shijiazhuang, but the train was not leaving until 5.30pm so we had a whole day to do things. In the morning we visited an art gallery that had some amazing paintings on display - some of them were being sold for 400,000RMB- and also had an exhibition of the world's largest man made scrolled. That some fella had spent 18 years or so carving the pieces and printing. After that we went to Tian'eman Square and the parents posed for the usual Tourist Photos.

We then went to the Forbidden City. It turns out that Forbidden City is the largest Museum in the world. I felt slightly stupid upon realising this as I had spent about 20 minutes moaning that "I don't want to go to the Museum, I just want to walk around the Bloody Place". So thats what we did, we walked around the outside and then realised that we had to go into the 'museum' to see anything of interest. Once inside we were all shocked. The place was huge. We spent about 3.5 Hours there and could have done with much longer, we just about managed half of it. We were amazed at how quiet the place was the further you ventured in and explored and could not believe that we were smack in the centre of one of the World's biggest and busiest cities. The Whole place really was fascinating, and we even managed to find the 'mythical' Forbidden City Starbucks-which we had to visit, if only or the sake to prove it existed.

Dave and I left Beijing that weekend feeling overfed and exhausted but also happy that we had managed to see more of the city's 'highlights' in these 2 days there than we had previously managed all together in our past 3 attempts.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


To make up for that fact that Dave and I have recieved precisely no chinese speaking or writing lessons since we have been here I thought that I would ask if we could have a cooking lesson. I asked Nancy, one of the teachers in No.42 who I share an office with and quite a good friend. She said that whilst she was no cook she was happy to come along and have a friend show us how to cook whilst she ate the results!

The couple's house we went to was fantastic (again). They were both English teachers and the husband had spent a year in America, and the western influence was there to be seen. They both spoke near perfect English and made us feel very, very welcome.

We were taught how to make Gong Bao Ji Ding, which is a chicken dish with cashew nuts, carrots and cucumber in a slightly spicy sauce. It is one of our favourites in China, I think we must eat it almost every other day, and now I have the recipie I will be sure to cook it for any one who is lucky enough to be invited to one of my Chinese Banquets!

It was a great experience, and together with going to Shirly's for Hotpot, will be one of the best memories I take home from our trip here



Shirly,a student at school, invited me around to her new home for a hot pot dinner. I asked if Dave could come along as well and that was fine, "the more the merrier" she might have said. Shirly's parents had just moved into their new appartment the day before so Dave and I felt a little bad for going when they were not fully settled in, but they didn't seem to mind,

The appartment was a little distance away nearby to where Dave and I had done our ECO Effort the week previous. The area was very clean and the apartment was lovely. It was more akin to a western home than a Chinese one. Shirly's parents must be very well off as they had Flat Screen TV's, DVD Players and lovely furniture. The toilet was even westernised!

Shirley's family were lovely. Her Younger Brother is 4 years old and has started learning a few words of English. He was active throughout the evening and obviously very excited to meet Dave and I. Shirly's parents were also lovely. They had been at work all day but they were still amazing hosts.

The Hot Pot is something of a Chinese Tradition. The idea is to have a huge bowl of boiling water into which you put various meats and vegetables. Once they have cooked you remove said items from the boiling water and then dip in a sauce and eat. We used Lamb, Beef, Chicken, Pork, Shrimp, Fish and many different vegetables.The sauce was a little salty at first but once we had added some water to it it was delicious. There was so much food and Shirly's parents, being as kind as they are, kept on trying to feed Dave and I more but in the end we had to resign ourselves to being unable to clear the table of its entire contents!

There is always a next time though!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Eco Warriors

Dave told me he has been asked to go and hand out flyers outside the school on friday lunch time and that there was no chance we was doing it without me. Hand out flyers? I didn't like the sound of handing out something I couldn't read but how dangerous could a students flyer be anyway?

Apparently some of the students have set up an environmental society and wanted our help with a campaign, So we went down at 12.30 as agreed. Apparently we were some sort of attraction, I like to think that we added some sort of authenticity to their campaign! Anyhow, we got down there and were told that the teacher had yet to turn up and that we would be leaving in a moment. "Leaving?" I asked of Dave. We were then told that the TV would be coming and that we were going somewhere to picket people and hand out flyers to help a teacher with his hopeful election to the green party. At this point I turned round to Dave and said in an Oliver -Hard- esque manner "well this is another fine mess you have got me into".

They took us to a housing estate near the supermarket we used to go to. It was far cleaner than where we lived and seemed to be deserted. The kids then proceeded to hassle the few members of the public they could find and (instead of picking up the rubbish) clearing up leaves. Then came our moment of fame. Kristina was first to be interviewed and then Dave. Both had been asked fairly simple questions about the environment in China and at Home, whether they thought the Kids were doing a good thing and whether they like Shijiazhaung.Both answered well and not in the jokey manner that Dave and I had planned to earlier. I listened attentively picking up a few hints as to what i was going to say and thinking this will be easy.

When it came to my turn they decided to pull out the big hitters. I 'm not going to say that I have never spoken so much rubbish in my entire life-because I often spout utter crap- but this was ridiculous. One rememberable quote was "although i cannot understand what is written on the leaflets, I definitely agree with the sentiment" and I may have used the word "toxicants" at another moment.

Anyhow they are apparently sending us a copy og our appearance, so our humilation may soon be up on You Tube for you all to enjoy!

Jesus only spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness...

This saturday marked our centinary of being in China. 100 Days and 100 Nights since we arrived on August 25th. Three and a half months without a single chinese lesson and we have survived. I have only been sick once and only once have I been rushed to a hospital. Victory is so far mine!

To celebrate our "achievement" we had a special weekend planned. First of all we ate in a new restuarant down town. Had a decent meal and a little to drink. We then went back to Anthony's house for dessert. Anthony is our French Friend and he is so similar to my other (half) French friend Will it makes me laugh. I could not help but chuckle to myself as Ant complained about the quality of chinese chocolate, jam, butter and the complete lack of nutella! Whilst both quite similar in the taste departments, Anthony's pancakes put Mr Towell's to shame. They were superb and nicely finished off a enjoyable meal.

After the pancakes we headed to a new Club; Mezzo Club. We had been told that this club sees Westerners as a sort of Celebrity and so they ply you with free drinks whenever you go, and even pay you for going (£15 for 10 Appearances). Dave and I were a little sceptical that this would occur but to our delight within minutes of arriving free shots of Vodka were handed out and this carried on till 4am in the morning. Vodka, Bijou, Beer and Whisky and not a single penny or yi jao spent on any of it! Superb. The club itself was cool and played a decent mix of English music (i seem to remember "I Love you Baaaaby!" and "killing in the Name of") and the usual Chinese fare. The staff were cool and were up for a laugh-did not even mind me beating them in the dice game- look at the photo- two 6's and two 4's! Followed that up with a third 6! Result! We stayed at the club till 4am and then got a taxi to the all night cafe where we ate and drank a little more. Found myself getting to bed about 6am after a thoroughly good night!

100 days has past quite easily really-surprising seeing as you probably serve less time for burglary back home now. Dave and I are still enjoying ourselves but we are really looking forward to seeing my parents for the weekend so we can escape the Shiz and get a change of scenary. Things get a little boring here to say the least as we have nothing to do in the evenings but watch TV or go on the internet. Wish we had more chance to travel about. Teaching is still fine, it's just a job now. Don't think either Dave and I let it bother us anymore. We hardly talk about it, sometimes something funny happens- i.e one of the shites gives you an excuse to want to kill him- and we share it but otherwise we just let it pass by. I still dread getting up in the mornings every day though and I'm sure he does too!

We both think the school should organise things for us to do in the evening. But, as the lack of any chinese tuition may demonstrate, I don't think the school cares about us that much. We find stff to keep us busy though- usually the west wing! This week however we are having a cooking lesson on thursday and before that, on wedneday, we are going to a student's house for dinner. Both of which should be fun!

As I mentioned above the parents are in town from friday. So we are going to Beijing this weekend and then next week we are hopefully off to Xian to see the Terra Cotta army. Should be fun. Parents have had a great time in New Zealand so I just hope they enjoy their time here quite as much! Here are some photos from their trip! It looks amazing, kind of makes me wish that I was there with them!