Thursday, 28 May 2015

100 Days in China

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Robert Meek

The most notable change since my last update has been the weather. The average temperature has risen from about -20°C to 25°C. As predicted, Shenyang has become considerably more lively. Zhong Shan Park - opposite my home - is filled with people of all ages at all times; stretching, jogging, working out, roller-blading, dancing or singing. Bars have finally started to get busy, kick-starting my involvement in the expat community. The countless themed parties, picnics, day trips and pub crawls are very welcome interruptions to the teach-sleep-repeat cycle which would otherwise drive me up the wall.
Today marks 100 days since leaving Australia.


A few weekends ago was the May-Day public holiday, which I took full advantage of to visit Inner Mongolia. I flew into Hohhot and was delighted to meet up with friends from the month in Beijing. We spent a night in the Mongolian grasslands, riding dune buggies, eating strange Mongolian milk sweets and sleeping in surprisingly luxurious yurts. The day after was spent visiting a finger of the Gobi desert and enjoying the company of what few foreigners we could find in the city. The scenery, food, activities and people to share it with made it an absolutely fantastic weekend. I would recommend a cheap, rough tour of the Inner Mongolian countryside to anyone.

I recently started a little hobby project to keep busy (like I need to) when I bought two baby Red Eared Slider Terrapins (cross between a turtle and a tortoise). I've only needed to invest about 150 kuai into them and have learned plenty about the little reptiles in the process. They are having a hard time getting comfortable enough in their new environment to start feeding, but I'm confident they'll get hungry soon. Mao and Pittyboo have a decent sized tank with a filter, plenty of space to swim and dry off and a balanced diet. Unfortunately the Chinese approach to pets is a more heartless matter. The stall that I bought the terrapins from was a dismal sight. Filthy kittens shared tiny cages with distraught looking puppies, and a good 2 thirds of everything in the water was dead. The worst was a small box with two mice. Hopefully I can show these two a better life than they'd have otherwise.

Just today, I arrived back from a wonderfully refreshing hike up and over the Qian Shan Mountains. I and a dozen other expats from Shenyang hired a bus to take us about 2 hours out of the city to a rainforest covered mountain range where the air was fresh and the peaks loomed ominously through the mist. After visiting the surrounding temples, we began the grueling but gorgeous four hour hike up to the very summit. There was a constant drizzle and the air was chilly, making the walk so much more comfortable than if we had attempted it in the hot sun. At the top sits five stone Buddhas, giving it the name "Five Buddha Peak". We ate our packed lunches and drank beer, enjoying the view which was barely visible through the fog. Eventually we descended by cable car. My weekend-less weeks helped me appreciate today's outing so much more than I normally would, and I hope to sleep well tonight.

One perk of being such a blatant minority in China is that making friends is a walk in the park. Literally. My neighbour and I decided to explore the enormous Zhong Shan park a little more thoroughly and to our delight stumbled across an American pub, right smack in the middle. The owner was American and there were plenty of English speaking customers; my WeChat contact list has grown considerably since. Foreigners in China are brought together by our mutual struggle against for survival among the Chinese people.

As my routines improve and become more efficient, I'm finding myself with more time and more money. Realising this, I hosted a small barbecue for the other interns in my room, and used the leftovers the next day for a stir fry. However, there is always room to improve (hint: bed times). This trip is not always fun and rarely easy, but I'm so thankful that I did it. The experience of working, budgeting and managing time is going to make life so much easier in the future, and I will always have fond memories of the people I met and the things I did in 中国.

Six weeks of teaching left, then traveling through July to arrive home just before August.

From Mao, Pittyboo and Rob

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