Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Down is the new Up

I should have known last Tuesday: the clapping girl outside the fashion shop had lost her mojo, and I was half-way to losing mine. She had been paid to clap all day long to create an atmosphere conducive to sales, but her listless, arrhythmic beat would only be able to scare away the pigeons, if there had been pigeons. Me? I'd sustained a packed working week before launching myself headlong to Fuzhou and back in a busy three days off to see a friend, and then I was back at work, bleary-eyed staring at the clapping girl staring at me. I marched on to get a hot chocolate at a rather neat cafe, but the writing was on the wall: My immune system had sustained a hit; I had a cold, sniffle; and I was going to be out of order for a wee while. I struggled through Tuesday, slept through Wednesday on my first sick leave; and the was launched down to Shenzhen for training, heavily drugged, for Thursday and Friday. That all didn't mean that I didn't ace the test at the end of the training but by the end of it all I was as sick as when I had started and back at work, without a semblance of working order. In such situations, the body is great; it secretes adrenalin; I act nuts; the students smile; class dismissed; let me collapse on my desk.
Now, I'm back on the verge of health and ahead of me is a nice period: Despite the sickness and the medication, the bootcamp in Shenzhen was rather inspiring: I've been given a boot (in the arse) forward. I think my teaching is already exhibiting a sharpness it didn't have before the training. Ahead of me is Chinese New Year, where not only will I have a chance to taste the sweet nectar of travel, but also do what I want to do: study! Since finishing my first novel in Chinese since arriving, I have got a third of the way through another. I have a colleague who is rather dedicated to teaching me Cantonese. (She plopped herself down to be last week and declared we were going to speak Cantonese and used the same methods she'd use to teacher her super-beginner students; for the first two students it was painful listening and then sudddenly I could understand, intuitively everything she said. Cantonese is fun.) Ah, sickness sucks, but life can be nice too.
All this should not miss what happened before the cold struck: I landed in the city of Fuzhou, home to a high school friend of mine. The nature of China, Chinese culture and the vicissitudes of life abroad came floating to the surface. It is interesting where your thoughts lead you. I'm yet to understand what I think of all that I heard and felt.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Not a way to die

You know when someone abroad is busy: silence prevails in most of their correspondence; blogs are not updated; e-mails cease. With the ray of sunshine that temporary Facebook access has given, a general busyness has consumed me. I've been rather in my stride at work. I've been on top of things, rollicking in my task but it is tiring me too. I've been slowly developing cold symptoms.
It has been wet and cold for a while now, but it is about the same as mild coldness we have in NZ in late Autumn. I'm thankful for my big umbrella. Christmas did go better after the last blog was sent. I had a nice Christmas Eve party (where a lot of institutional gossip was spilt) and the Christmas party wasn't bad either. I spent most of Christmas day at home calling home and when I bought myself some shoes as a gift.
New Year was quite well spent too with a rough and ready New Year party that doubled as a farewell for the fellow I'm replacing. I reverted back to my role as a teacher for a moment there when some "students" (from another school) started asking me questions that I couldn't refuse. They rewarded me with the Chinese phrase: "To receive a day of teaching, you must treat the person as your father for life." When I heard the phrase come up (I hadn't heard it before) I cringed. I was desperately thinking what the "fu" at the end could mean, other than father, but nothing came and then they clumsily translated it in its glory, with innocent smiles. Apparently as part of treating me as a father, I'm going to be treated to the divine korean cooking of one of them. That can't be all that bad.
Not everything has gone smoothly though, and last night's happening really took the (expensive) cake. Many of my friends have suggested I'm paying too much for my apartment; and though I find it comfortable, it has to be conceded that it is not the best. Late last night, for example, it tried to kill me. I entered my bathroom in the all together after midnight and shut the door, only to have the whole metal handle disintegrate in my hand. I was incredulous for a moment until it dawned on me that I'd arrived in a peculiar situation: apart from a narrow window, the door is the only way in; the remains of the handle provided no way to open the door; I was thus effectively locked, naked, in my own bathroom. The bathroom window only lead to my laundry and then out into the outside air, eleven floors above the ground. I tried to see if I could fit through the window, and without a reorientation of my skeleton it wasn't going to happen. I had few implements to work on screws and joints with and while evaluating and testing a few options, I was starting to consider the rather horrid situation I'd be in if I couldn't get myself out. It was cold. The only heat would be the shower and then as soon as the shower ended I'd be freezing without a towel; no-one was coming; no-one at work knew my landlord so without getting the attention of anyone in the building; I could yell out the window, but I'd never heard voices, ever, in my apartment. The sound pollution is pretty bad outside I could be yelling out the window for ever; but vibrations travel well within the building: I could bash the ceiling until someone who happens to be taking a midnight pee is motivated enough to notify the front desk staff of the noisy neighbour below, who'd have to figure out who it is, contact my landlord sometime to get into my apartment with a key sometime and set me free. Or, perhaps with a few tools I could bore my way through the door with a pair of nail scissors - at least the action would keep me warm. The remaining stub of the door handle had a square rut that if turned could set me free: I plugged a pen into the hole and turned it, only to have the unfortunate pen dismantle itself under the pressure. My next victim were the nail scissors: I put them into the rut, opened them as wide as I could and turned; the blades twisted inside, and though the inner axel turned a little it wasn't enough. I sat back down and thought through it again. There really wasn't anything else I could do; I was cold, tired and had been stuck in the bathroom for between ten and twenty minutes. I returned to nail scissors, the only technique that had shown any promise, and after a few more moments of twisting at different angles, I pulled and the door popped open. This strangely mirrors another bathroom experience I had about twelve years agoin Japan.
I've been in this kind of queer dilemma situation before. It is weird: you aren't in imminent danger; there is no charging bull; but you are required to somehow "do something" to resolve it, because there is no going forward and no going back.
I'm on the verge of my second escapade outside of Guangzhou, heading up to see my high school friend in Fuzhou. My first trip out, to Shenzhen before Christmas, went like clockwork and I hope this one likewise is a piece of (quite expensive) cake. I'm looking forward to stepping into another world again; a place devoid of the Cantonese tongue.