So what has been happening in my strange new life in Jiujiang?
First off i must admit that when i pictured moving to China I definitely did not envision a Chinese city such as Jiujiang. In my musings back in England, before the adventure commenced, I had pictured a place more like Beijing or Shanghai (places i had previously visited). A city that is part of the 21st century, a city where animal carcass or fish guts dont regularly block my path, a city where foreigners do exist and the English language can at least be sighted. Instead I have ended up in the arse end of nowhere where the language barrier makes isolation inevitable and escape is difficult and tedious.
I did not foresee living in a flat with no heating, no functioning toilet, a shower that likes to play temperature roulette with me and a front door that no will not even close properly never mind actually locking. I had expected to be welcomed by my school, to make friends with colleagues. I naively believed students would be well behaved and listen to me, i did not expect to have a class where 30/60 students are fast asleep. I also did not realise my timetable would be changed, lessons cancelled, knowledge about dates withheld and salary to be dished out when and if the school fancy it and only after i have asked numerous times. Oh i also assumed it would be put into the Chinese bank account they made me get. How silly of me!? NEVER ASSUME. WHEN YOU ASSUME YOU MAKE AN ASS OUT OF ME AND……ME, just me, I am the ass.
However, life here is turning out to be one hell of an experience. Sometimes it is infuriating, sometimes it is exhausting. Sometimes it makes me so angry and frustrated I find myself ranting and raving. At other times the bizareness is hilarious and has me in stitches. It is when I find myself off on one of my solo adventures, attempting to order food in a restaurant or being stared at by the entire bus as I commute to work, or merely weaving a path through the chaotic streets that I realise that this is my life. I actually live here. I am in China and this strange and surreal dream is actually my reality. Now while that thought can bring on a slight moistening of the underarms in a spell of dread and panic it can also fill me with a sense of what may be described as joy, excitement and fascination. On the other hand that feeling may just be the complete and utter loss of my sanity. Who knows. Not I.
Put it this way, I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of the year someone jumped out at me and said ‘hahahah you’ve been punked!’ And this whole madness turned out to be a very long winded joke.
My best friend
Since my last blog a rather wonderful development has occurred. I am no longer living alone. I now have a cat. In keeping with the random and confusing manner in which events unfold in my world the acquiring of my new kitty happened in exactly that way. A few days previously I had met a woman who invited me to her kids birthday party, i spent the evening cooing over the kitty. Two days later i received this message, i might add this wasn’t a private message but a message sent in a group chat with the other people who had attended this party.
At first I had thought she was making a joke, a remark about the fact I had spent the entire evening paying more attention to the cat than anyone else, including the host. So I told her I would pop round to discuss the matter further. As soon as I arrived all of the cats stuff was being assembled ready for departure. As she greeted me she said ‘ok, so you take him now, yes?’ Startled and somewhat confused, as per, i found myself saying yes. roughly ten minutes later i found myself walking home with the cat. So now Felix the cat (they had already names him) is my new housemate. I am already in love with him, but like every relationship there are difficulties. For instance he has not been trained in the slightest and has a tendency to bite when its play time. It is play time whenever he decides. He also likes to eat whatever i am eating, and drink whatever I am drinking. He climbs curtains and has succeeded breaking them. Bins, plastic bags, pens, paper, tissues and my knitting have all become his toys. Oh but when he is calm and he sits on my lap and has a cuddle the stone cold heart of mine melts and i fall back in love again, and again, and again. He has me wrapped around his broken tail (I suspect the children from his former life broke it but i have not succeeded in finding answers to this problem, it appears not to cause him any pains or problems though).
Navigating the train
At the start of October there was a holiday, national week. So i decided to make the trek to Shanghai to visit the BC bunch residing there. While the trip itself was great I can’t deny it didn’t leave me with a sense of jealousy and a wish that I could be in that position! But let’s not dwell on delusions and dreams. Back to reality. I am very proud of myself for navigating the sleeper train on my own. Admittedly I did have a little chunder when I opened the toilet door to find someone had emptied the contents of their bowels in a very sloppy and messy way, in fact the contents was so vast and the colour a disturbing grey I suspect the pooper themselves was feeling a tad under the weather.
So from the train experience I have 2 tips for travellers.
1. Try very very hard to book your bunk in the middle of the carriage. Sleeping by the toilet is so grim words are useless to express the emotions I felt, the smells I inhaled and noises I heard. The smells of piss and turds alone are enough of a deterrent but the constant noise of people spitting and hacking up a lung in the process is beyond abhorrent. So please dear god don’t be as unfortunate as me and find yourself next to the spitting and shitting for a 13 hour journey.
2. Now it is the bottom bunk is the most roomy, you can actually sit up without banging your head, and the most easily accessible as you do not need to climb over other people or beds to have a snooze. However, the bottom bunk also seems to be the social bunk, so without warning you may find a random man on your bed. Or you may go to the toilet and come back to find his entire family has joined him on your little bed. Stand your ground people!
Goats and Gates on the mountain.
One of the best things about Jiujiang is its prime location at the foothills of Mt Lushan. A quickish bus ride takes you up the mountain where, after paying an extortionate entrance fee, you can spend the day dawdling around the village or hiking to various waterfalls.
Somehow, even in a touristy area with a map to hand we still manage to encounter stranger things. After posing for an old man whose sly attempt to take photos were less subtle than a charging rhino we decided to head towards site no.13 Donglin Valley Gorge. Due to an utter lack of sign posts we managed to miss the footpath but eventually found our way through people’s back yards, past some family’s laundry, and found the steps leading down. Ah so naive and innocent we were as we looked down the path, how unsuspecting we were of the voyage to come. We did have a couple of hints that perhaps we had picked a long trek, we bumped into a group of sweaty people who had clearly just come back up from what lay beyond. The group had a selfie stick and seemed more interested in getting a group photo than anything else. So we posed politely. I believe our friends were trying to communicate that its a three hour walk down, at least they kept holding up three fingers.
So we waved farewell and tootled along the path. The path was littered with animal droppings, before we could even form the question as to what sort of bottom produced this poop our answer appeared in the path. Old Billy Goat was chilling in the path in front of us, casually blocking our way. Now, my experience with goats is rather limited but i do remember a rather vicious goat who used to charge at the gates and try to headbutt any passers by. Luckily this mountain boy was chilling to the max and let us by, hardly even bothering to acknowledge our existence.
We soon encountered a gate. It was locked. Perplexed, we gave it a rattle and started having a nose around the hut next to the gate. An old man came out, shouting something in Chinese. We attempted to explain we wanted to go through but he laughed a lot of shook his head. We even got a Chinese pal on the phone to talk to this man. That didn’t actually help much. Soon a group of Chinese people, roughly our age, turned up. The old man got out his keys and proceeded to unlock the gate. Feeling rather outraged I took a strange risk and snuck through the gate with my new pals. Why should we be treated any differently to these people. This man wouldn’t let us through but would let these people through? Why? One of my new pals tried to explain, in his limited English and aided by my limited Chinese, that the man thought we were tourists staying on the mountain, that if we walk down we won’t have time to walk back up. He didn’t believe that we were teachers living in Jiujiang and that we wanted to walk down this path which takes us past the Gorge and down the mountain, where we can then get a taxi home. Basically, the old man assumed we were stupid foreigners who would die on the mountain. Maybe, he had a point but it gets very very tiring when people continuously make assumptions merely based on your waiguo ren status (chinese word for foreigner which is inescapable in my day to day life in China).
Anyway we eventually all got through the gate and commenced the very long and rather tricky journey down. It was pretty much steps the entire way, but these steps, which more often than not were just rocks, were perilous, very uneven, not very stable and very very slippery. Our new pals seemed to have found a sense of responsibility and didn’t leave us the entire way, despite telling them numerous times they can leave us. They repeatedly told us to hurry up before the sun sets. Anyway we made it down in one piece. The pain in my legs the next few days was intense, hobbling round school was slightly embarrassing. This experience taught me that trying to use a squat toilet when you have very very stiff legs is extremely difficult. I pay have lost my balance and taken a tumble, I may also have failed to concentrate on my aim and peed in my shoe. That may have happened.
Potty for Pottery
Jingdezhen is the pottery capital of China, on the weekend of the 2nd October it was host to the international ceramic fair. It also happens to be in the same Province as dear old jiujiang and less than a 2 hour bus journey away.
So Friday after school we hopped on a bus and rocked up to Jingdezhen. Hailing a taxi is always somewhat challenging in this country, they often decide the journey isn’t worth their time or they just don’t fancy dealing with the foreigner. For whatever reason it’s often a challenge. Anyway we managed to find a ride only to end up driving round in circles with the driver getting more and more confused. The inability to communicate properly definitely wasn’t aiding the chaos, the gist of the situation was that the location for the hotel was wrong or the hotel was not there. So the taxi dropped us off at some random other hotel where the woman behind the desk spoke a little English so helped us figure out what on earth was happening.
It turns out the hotel had closed down. We were homeless for the night. The hotel we were currently sat in was way too much for our budget so we sat in the lobby attempting to search for a new place on our phones. While we searched a drunk man vomited next to us. A beautiful metaphor for the mess our night had turned into.
After a lot more faff and confusion and failed attempts at communication we succeeded in finding beds for the night.
The next day we managed to spend a pleasant day pottering about the fair (pun most certainly intended), purchasing some knick knacks here and there. Chaos managed to stay at bay until that evening where our attempts to have a delicious meal at a restaurant that had been recommended to us were completely thrashed. Awww China you persistent omnipotent presence you win again. So after driving miles out of the city and heading up into a mountainous area we eventually got to a very deserted area that looked more akin to a Zombie Apocalypse. Eventually we arrived at the supposed restaurant. It is not at all reassuring when the taxi driver is looking confused and stressed. He hops out of his taxi and runs inside, he returns attempting to express something to us. We whip out a phone and proceed to have a bizarre conversation entirely through google translate. It turns out the restaurant is by reservation only, at least we think that’s what the problem was, we still aren’t sure because the driver was then trying to say he can wait for us in the taxi while we eat. In the end we got him to drive us back towards civilisation. Well actually it was a street which had a couple shops and a restaurant or two dotted along it, but by this point we were hungry and in need of feeding. Luckily we managed to have a good dinner and were fortunate to hail a taxi home, despite the restaurant owner offering to drive us back to the city.
Well, there is so much more i could write about, but my dear friends why divulge all my juicy news in one fell swoop. Better to keep you crawling back for more. Allow me to wet your whistle and mention that the next instalment may even shed some light on the delights of Chinese tinder aka tantan. For now let us merely ponder and wonder together. What else does China have in store for me? What other weird and wonderful encounters will stumble across my path? Will I survive the year or will I roll over and admit defeat……Nahhhh, there are far too many adventures and tears to be discovered.. This crazy cat lady has some conquering to do and a man to look after. A little furry man who likes to sleep on my chest and nibble my toes, just like all men do.
Toodle pip and cheerio.
p.s. have you ever been to the toilet and seen your dinner in there?