Friday, 27 February 2009

Thursday, 26 February 2009

My students!

Rather pleasantly surprised hitherto I am with the attitude of the students in my classes. Children are often fairly eager to learn despite the enormous burden of their classes (on average about ten a day, twelve days in a row). One would think that matters such as concentration would marginally decrease with an increase in classes per day but students appear lively and at the same time obedient when I demand so. Very much to my liking!. The three girls depicted above came to my room recently to ask if we could become friends and since then they have paid me visits twice! Very sweet and I feel very much appreciated. :)


As you can see, winter is ruthlessly sweeping away the few Goa images I still cherished in my mind as the weather could not be in bigger contrast. Snow is daily practice now and my hopes for a sunny weekend have little ground. But sun I need because the next trip is already planned, coming Sunday I will honour the ‘Ten thousand Buddha Cave in Longmen Caves’ in Luoyang with a visit! Soon more on that!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Cooking with Jack and Jao


Picture and video displayed visualise the recent happening of Jack and Jao cooking at my place, preparing some tasty Chinese food. My endeavours of the night preceding that Friday of making something that should resemble an Italian pasta were, given the very limited ingredients I had at my disposal, not a total fiasco and hence Jack was eager to make me something tasty as well. Contrary to the food which is served at lunch in the canteen, which is of superb quality as I get to eat with the ‘leaders’, the meals served for supper are less tasty and hence I intend to utilize my kitchen more regularly during the evenings. This is also a great way to spend some good time with Jack and Jao, with whom I get along really well! The video also shows those sections of my 'apartment' that I have not displayed yet.
video

Monday, 23 February 2009

Qingdao!

The trip from Sanmenxia to Qingdao was forced on me by the threat of being illegally employed in China, not something many people would fancy, without having the requested employment or business visa in my possession. Endeavours of obtaining one of these items locally sprouted the scenario of doom that my Chinese adventure may come to a soon and sudden end as I was bluntly and decisively told that there was no way of acquiring the requested legal items. The organization which had linked me to the school had been promising from the very beginning on that they would take care of the visa process but their vague answers and sporadic replies by email suggested that they had as little notion about the crucial visa procedures as about the best way to grow eco-friendly strawberries on the North pole. Hence the hazy reference I eventually got to a certain ‘Miss Zhang’ did little to rouse my conviction of total incompetence of the bureaucratic mess I found myself in. Yet China keeps surprising you, and this time the surprise was as pleasant as much as the previous ones had been less favoured. The lady who was referred to as Miss Zhang called herself Linda, and besides her lovely looks she was more than competent of dealing with the visa mess. (insight that I gained later that she was working for a different organisation whose services mine had profited from temporarily shed a clarifying light on the initial paradox of skewed efficiency) Hence I took an overnight bus to Qingdao (big struggle, too long a story for now) and was well received by Linda the next morning. I utilised the Sunday to visit the city and on Monday I was led by Linda to various bureaucratic strongholds which were surprisingly easily dealt with and thus in no-time a valid 6-month F visa showed proudly on my passport.

The city of Qingdao is famous for its German heritage and, interrelated to the German occupation, for its tasty beer. The old town displays a variety of architecture and churches which would lure one into the feeling of finding himself in a cozy German provincial town, though a look at the skyscrapers which line the coast underlines the very fact that Qingdao is a well established Chinese city. Strolling around Qingdao made my first weekend trip, and plans are to continue the sequence in five days by visiting nearby Luoyang. Soon more on that!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Off to Qingdao!

in about five minutes I'll head for the bus station where a sleeper bus will take me to Qingdao, all the way at the coast. I'll have to settle my visa dispute there, but since the place is worth visiting I've taken an extra day to do some sightseeing.. So time and money are not utterly wasted ;)
When I've returned more on the visa experience and about Qingdao!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Teaching and living at ‘Sanmenxia foreign language middle school’

Of course the cliché feelings of being here for only a few days but having the feeling that it has been weeks are applicable to my situation in Sanmenxia. The last days have been ones of integrating, getting settled, buying the necessary clothes / sport shoes / apartment utilities, and meeting new (Chinese) people. And of course my first days as a teacher here! Monday and today I have spent as my first official working days and as of now I am happy to have started! Classes of sixty kids each, twenty different classes a week.. you do the math, that’s 1200 new faces.. Fortunately order is more of a virtue here than in India where even the smallest classes were in turmoil from time to time and hence I am confident that my ‘oral English classes’ will run as smooth as I intend. Yes.. oral classes. Since it’s a foreign language school there’s loads of Chinese English teachers here but their oral skills are as limited as the flexibility of the bureaucracy here. They do a good job in general though, as I was positively surprised by the English skills of my 2nd grade kids. However, the job as an oral teacher is far more intensive than a regular teacher’s job as during the whole class it’s either me talking or having a student talk. But well.. just another challenge eh :)

I am definitely more positive about my apartment than I was at first glance.. the concrete cold rooms with scarce furniture have been transformed into a new home for me during the last days. I’ve bought a big mirror, some carpet to cover the floor next to my bed with, have had twelve big pictures printed and spread them out over the walls.. The air conditioner is fortunately also capable to share warm air so that my room is warm and cozy compared to the rest of the dorm buildings, be it with the exception of my kitchen and bathroom. And it is in my bedroom, under the heater, that I write this story now.. Soon more and better!

the video below shows you my bedroom.. the other rooms are too cold for me to enter now ;)
video

Monday, 16 February 2009

And yesss I have internet in my room! Since I have a class to teach in 15 minutes I will just quickly upload two pictures; one is with Jack, the guy who's helping me out here, and the other one is of the school grounds. Soon more!

Saturday, 14 February 2009

getting settled in Sanmenxia

yeah finally I got here.. Sanmenxia! As of now I do not have internet in my room, I have been promised that it will be arranged as soon as possible but of course those words are subject to a whole range of different cultural interpretations.
From the first second I set foot on Sanmenxian soil I was accompanied by Jack. The name Jack may spur an imagine of an American bloke in his late twenties, with short black hair, a motor jacket and a cool smile, but in China 'Jack' is the nickname chosen by my 'buddy' who's been chosen to help me out during my stay here. He's 24 and an English teacher here at the secondary school where I will be teaching and I am really happy for his company and help. Since I'm the only non-chinese person in the whole area it's nice to meet Chinese people with whom you get along well, and this certainly holds for Jack.
Bit of a bugbear however is my visa, as I am here on a one-month tourist visa I need to get an appropriate one that lasts for four months asap and up till now there's been little action regarding that matter. Anyway, we'll see how that works out!
In my next post I hope I'll be able to post the pictures I have taken so far, if the promised internet access has been realised by then you'll be supplied with a visual image of the scenario on the ground here!
As for now, all the best from China!

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

China!

Last Friday I departed for what would become a 24 hour journey from the door of my Kalkaji flat in New Delhi to the very hotel I am still residing in now. Saying goodbye to the very good friends I have made in Delhi was not easy but I knew I’d see them back in Europe so all in all I was mainly excited to go to a new country! Plan is to teach in China for four months, starting coming Monday. Since my arrival Saturday evening in Jinan I have spent my time in a hotel and it is only from tomorrow on that I will move on to the town of my school. More details about that will follow later!

China itself is truly a new experience; the people, the food, the cities, the infrastructure, everything is so very different than India! I love it though, and the lays days I’ve spent at least two hours each day just roaming around the city, buying random food from the street without having a clue what I’m eating, drinking tea in various teahouses, and especially looking around and being excited to be in China. The city of Jinan itself would by most Western people be regarded as very ugly and grey, as it depicts much of what communism does to architecture and such, but .. it intrigues me. Like at the time I studied in Poland, I can wander around the concrete flats and square blocks and be fascinated about the people who live here and what it must be like to live in such a culture.

Chinese people are very kind and although hardly anyone speaks a word of English here they are willing to help you out. My first encounter was the taxi driver at the airport of Beijing.. think of it, the capital of China where the Olympics had just been held, you’d think the guy spoke some English. But no, he had no clue whatsoever what I meant by ‘train station’, nor had the guy in the yellow outfit who directed people to the respective taxis. Anyway, I decided to draw a train on a piece of paper and name the name of the city I had to go to. The yellow outfit guy shot a glance at the paper, made a sound that slightly resembled the whistle of a locomotive from the 30’s, and we were on the same line again. :D And well.. that’s how I deal with people here. ;)

More news about my new city will follow shortly! As for now, all the best from Jinan!

Monday, 9 February 2009

Last night in Delhi!

Last Thursday was my last night in Delhi.. after a nice small scale goodbye drink the night before Wojtek, Johan, Karin and I made the last night on to remember by going out to Urban Pind. In itself nothing special, actually fairly random on a Thursday eve, but plenty of 'Romanov' made the mood exceptionally suitable for a great night out. This time the pictures do a better job than words, so please take a look ...





Small remark here.. depicted are one of the guards in front of our house and Johan who wants to borrow the guy's stick.. He didn't let him ;)

Thursday, 5 February 2009

part five of 'Mumbai, Goa, and Kerala'

(continued from part four)


The next day we took on the famous ‘elephant shower’ that had been our main motivation to make the journey all the way to the East, or I should say, my main motivation which dragged Marieke along. ‘Washing an elephant’ had been the metaphor for my main impetus to make the whole journey down south in the first place. Hence we sat on the back of one of those units the next day while the guy guiding the animal maximally exploited the capacity of our camera by constantly taking the most random pictures, initially appreciated but later slightly scrutinized by us as during later stages (the actual shower) the device had almost run out of battery. After the ride we took the elephant to a basin where it lied down to be washed. Along with its caretakers we used pieces of coconut shell to scrub off dirt and dung from its body (we actually paid a whole lot for this :P ) while cooling it down with water from a tube. After washing the elephant it was time to take turns, as I got to sit on its back once more but now to be given a shower! Taking water from a bucket with its trunk in order to subsequently splash it all over me the elephant returned the favour of a good cold midday bath! Truly an exceptional experience that was worth all the money we overpaid for it.

The last day of our trip was spent in Fort Kochi, a lovely Portuguese town with picturesque streets, charming cafes and houses, pretty white churches and view on the harbour. The Dutch palace we visited was Dutch nor worth visiting but the two rupee entrance fee was not a big loss. On the airplane several hours later (after the usual rush within too tight a schedule and the slight touch of excitement that goes along with it) neither of us felt like going back to Delhi (to express it decently) but inevitably we ended up back home. Sitting in a cab Sunday night with my backpack full of dirty clothing next to me thoughts drifted back to the scene depicted below..

(the end)

video

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Part four of 'Mumbai, Goa, and Kerala'

(continued from part three)
The next day we took a two and a half hour boat to this village from where a five hour bus would take us to this place all the way to the East, deep in Jungle covered mountain area Kerala, where a Tiger Preservation park was located. That night be booked our full day tour for the next day, starting off with a safari tour by jeep, followed up by a trek through the jungle and some peddling over the lake by boat. We actually happened to see some fairly interesting animals but nothing spectacular, none of the 48 tigers currently inhabiting the vast park was spotted (which was to be expected) but neither did we see any of the wild elephants. Witnessing from big heaps of elephant dung and the unmistaken tracks these massive mammals leave behind their presence was badly concealed but the actual animals remained surprisingly well hidden, given their size. What we did see were giant buffalos, a whole bunch of uninteresting birds, a wide variety of monkeys, and a squirrel the size of a small dog. The latter still managed to swoop from branch to branch as if it was not restricted by the law of gravity that usually keeps creatures of such size closer to the ground, be it with the exception of the previously mentioned monkeys who spend more time floating in midair than actually sitting in a tree. All in all the beautiful flora and fauna was something to appreciate as well; the combination of mountains and jungle provides a beautiful landscape to roam around.




(to be continued in part five)

part three 'Mumbai, Goa, and Kerala'

(continued from part two)

Since we had only two days to spend in Goa, partially due to our previous delay and partially because we had a train booked that departed Monday evening, we decided that another full day at the beach would be a bit of a waste since Goa has so much more to offer. Hence we rented a scooter, grabbed a map of the state, and took off down south. Goa is a little paradise, as all you encounter on your way is beautiful and cozy and brings along an overwhelming feeling of holidays. As an ex-colony of Portugal it’s flooded with churches and Mediterranean looking houses, fortresses, and other features that the North of India so desperately misses. We followed the road down to an old Portuguese fortress which name I could not even remember every time we had to ask for directions and thus have no clue about now but which was certainly worth visiting. The fort itself was nothing special, just some remnants of the old walls and a church in the middle, but the view from one of the towers was breathtaking. The picture I attached does the scenery no justice but it is the closest thing I can supply you with.


The train to Kerala was two hours delayed, two hours which we could have spent on the beach that we had left behind with so much regret, but that’s India. Come to think of it, the train had departed in Amritsar (from the Golden temple, remember?) and had thus already covered quite some kilometers since Punjab finds itself totally in the North of India. This time we actually spent some time on the train planning our journey ahead and after repeatedly consulting our hope and salvation on the road – the Lonely Planet – we had decided on a plan: the backwaters! It took us another bus ride of two hours but eventually we had a houseboat arranged to cover the famous backwaters with, departing the next morning. Quite an expensive 22 hours, but the presence of three men with the sole devotion of making our journey as pleasant as possible, a great bedroom, welcome coconut drink and flower necklace, great lunch, even better dinner, and fantastic views on the way made it all worth it. The backwaters are waterways that function as roads in an area covered mainly by rice fields and jungle, and on the way we saw various houses, schools, villages, and plantations. Children go to school by school bus / boat, people go to church by boat, and selling fresh fish has become the profession of more than a few families.

(to be continued in part four)


video

Monday, 2 February 2009

Part Two of 'Mumbai, Goa, and Kerala'

(continued from part 1)

Getting on the bus that night was quite a struggle again, with a far too tight time schedule that later ended up being totally superfluous as our bus was about three hours late. But in the very end we found ourselves in a comfy sleeper bus with a nice double cabin and an annoying air conditioner that we could not switch off. Being totally unaware of where to go, despite having waited for three hours with the lonely planet in our hands without looking in it and another, say, twelve on the bus, we got off in Goa with no clue what to do or where to go. A slightly lonely planet guided gamble brought us to a nice affordable guesthouse about five minutes from the beach. Spending the first day lying in the sun, drinking cocktails on the beach, swimming in the warm and rather clean sea.. Goa treats its guests well. Moment supreme was dinner that night. During the day we had already witnessed two men with fishing nets entering the sea, and when I went inside the restaurant in front of which we had stationed ourselves to pay for our cocktails I saw various fish hanging from hooks. ‘Hammer shark’ the guy whom I handed over the money to said, pointing at the biggest fish the size of my lower arm. Unconsciously I knew it already, but it took me some time to decide that that would be my dinner for the night. And there we sat at half past nine in the evening.. looking out on the sea and an ink dark sky, dotted with stars. Light came from nicely decorated slightly dimmed lamps and various candles, the Eagles were playing softly from the speakers.. and in front of me, on a giant plate, my hammer shark. It was deliciously prepared and truly one of the very best meals I have ever had, with finger chips and salad artistically cut and arranged accordingly on the sides and a candle shining from within a tomato. The cocktails we took as a dessert as well as the imported cold beer made the whole dinner complete, as we had already had enjoyed a great starter to warm up for the ‘big fish’ ;)


(to be continued in part three)

Part One of 'Mumbai, Goa, and Kerala'

It all started off rather impulsively, asking a co-trainee of mine whether she was in for some travelling. Sure, where do you want to go? Goa and Kerala? Sounds good. With that set of mind Marieke and I got on the airplane to Mumbai.

The plan, insofar one could call this a plan, was to catch a night bus to Goa once we got off the plane. However, these buses tend to leave around eight p.m. if on time and up to eleven o’clock if late and thus our endeavours of finding one at 1 a.m. proved to be rather fruitless. Almost equally difficult to realise was Plan B; finding a room to spend the night. It took around seven negative responses of hotels in the area before we got admitted to a very shady place with grumpy employees who did not appreciate being woken up in the middle of the night by two random backpackers. They money we paid for the few hours of sleep could have gotten us a week in a guesthouse in Goa but once necessity arises these arguments are pushed back and the prospect of a shower and a bed are stronger than any monetarily dominated reasoning.

Mumbai by day treated us far better and I have to admit that it has everything that Delhi lacks; pubs and bars, the sea, a (modest) skyline, nice looking buildings, churches, efficient buses.. and apparently even nightlife (!). Things are definitely expensive though, as a city as such requires Westerners to live there for a while to know how to get around. But all in all a big plus for India’s biggest city, and it seems we’re in the wrong metropolis of India.

(to be continued in part two)

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Back in Delhi..

Back in Delhi, after an amazing journey through the South of India. This deserves better treatment than the regular superficial coverage that most stories here reflect. However, few of you will be willing to spend an hour reading about my recent experiences, however interesting those may be. Therefore I will divide the story I am about to write in five different parts and post one each respective day of this week, to be started this afternoon. Of course I will brighten up my words with pictures and videos, although the wonders of the South cannot be done justice with those, one has to go there physically to enjoy all that it has to offer. But I will make an effort that, or so I hope, will give you a hint of what’s all there.


You may wonder, doesn’t the guy have to work? All I write about is partying and travelling. Well, I finished my work as a teacher at the slum school just before Christmas. All in all it was a great experience and I got to become really close with the people but I really felt like taking on a new challenge. And that is why I disclose hereby my next stage in life.. China! Coming Friday I will fly via Honk Kong to Beijing where I will take a train to Jinan. More information on this will follow once I’m on the ground, for now a coverage of the previous two weeks will dominate my posts!