I’m dreaming of a smoggy Christmas….


Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you had a fantastic day and Santa was generous to you all! As was to be expected, Christmas in Shijiazhuang was a unique experience and very different to my Christmases in the UK and Australia. To start with, the Chinese don’t really celebrate Christmas at all, it’s not a public holiday, students still go to school (mine even had exams!) and to most people here it’s just another day. Christmas Eve however has its own tradition: Apple giving. A few weeks ago I noticed that a lot of my students were writing ‘apples’ on the board when I asked them to write what they knew about Christmas. After some questioning and explanation, it turns out that on Christmas Eve, many students give apples to their teachers to convey peace and good fortune. I got 3 myself,not bad at all!


Yep, under all that wrapping is an apple!

So instead of having a typical Christmas Eve of wrapping presents I worked until almost 7pm. After that a few of us went out for dinner (tradition of Chinese food on Christmas Eve still intact) which was paid for by some Chinese friends of ours which we ran into. That was much appreciated and began the feeling of happiness and merriment which continued into the early hours of the morning, (I eventually kicked Sam and Izzie out around 3). I also finally replaced my phone with Sean’s iPhone so spent the evening practicing panoramas – expect to see many in the future. With a countdown to Christmas Day at midnight,  it turned into a great evening.

Christmas Day I woke up early and immediately put on Muppets Christmas Carol and made a  cup of Yorkshire tea with asda milk. After watching Love Actually, it was time to swap secret Santa gifts. I ended up getting some Japanese tea from Marta, and Sam brought me down a much appreciated M&S mince pie! Then it was time to get dressed up and head to the Hilton for a dinner.


  
We were at the Hilton from the minute it opened to when they asked us to leave. There was so much food, and such good wine. Because there were so many of us we had our own private room which meant we could laugh and talk loudly, just like a regular Christmas meal. We were even able to have turkey, although with a side of potato wedges or hash browns; I had 5 plates of food!!

        

After a nightmare getting a taxi home, I was eventually able to crawl into bed , watch the Grinch and skype family.

Boxing Day dawned bright and early, and me Izzie and Sam ventured to Sarahs house for gift giving and movie watching. We had all eaten so much the day before that we weren’t hungry in the slightest, and we were going out for dinner that night with Mr Johns mayor friend, so we wanted to save our appetite. The late night had got to those of us who had gone out the night before, so whilst me and Sam watched Harry Potter, the others slept.

      

Once we’d woken them up it was time to go to a fancy Chinese restaurant and have a Pingyao reunion. We quickly found our appetites, and had some lovely Peking duck and more good wine. By the end of this meal I was exhausted, and not looking forward to lesson planning the next day!



  
All in all, it was a very different Christmas compared to what I’m used to, but I enjoyed every second of it. 圣诞 快乐!

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Quirky Shiz

There are many aspects of living in China which take some getting used to. Rather than rant and complain about them, I thought I would just dedicate an entire post to the little quirks that make China what it is. I don’t hate all of them, I’m used to them, and I just thought it would be interesting to note a few of them down.

  1. Cold water

China doesn’t have running hot water. To shower, I have to plug my water heater in beforehand, wait for it to warm up, and then shower. The main problem with not having hot water on tap is washing up. The washing-up liquid is formulated to work in cold water, but when the temperature plunges below freezing I have no desire to put my hands under cold water. Solution: heat up a pan of water to wash up with. Similar to the shower, it’s not a huge inconvenience, just a little quirk of living in China that takes some getting used to!

  1. Buying milk

China doesn’t have fresh milk; the only milk on offer is long life milk. Yay! Very recently (i.e. yesterday) I found ASDA long life milk in Walmart, and I am legitimately so excited to have some tea with Yorkshire teabags and ASDA milk. That’s not the only problem with buying milk – compared to other groceries it’s surprisingly expensive. For comparison, the milk at my local supermarket is £1.60 a litre (but sometimes on offer for 90p). ASDA milk from Walmart is £1.10 for 1 litre. Not too pricey, until you consider the fact that a big bottle of coke is 40p. Again, it’s not something getting angry over, especially since I’m almost positive I’m lactose intolerant anyway; it’s just a quirk of China.

  1. State heating

One of the great things about living in Northern China is that the government controls heating. On the 15th November, the government turned the heating on, so my school saves on the bill of paying for my own heating unit and I get to be toasty warm at home. What’s the problem with that I hear you ask! I have zero control over the temperature and the timing. The heating is on all the time whether I like it or not. Mainly this is an issue because I don’t like sleeping with the heating on; it dries the air out and makes me cough. Consequently every day for the past couple of weeks I’ve woken up feeling ill and not wanted to get up. But hey, I’d rather be warm than cold!!

  1. Toilets (May be too much information here…)

There are several issues with toilets here. I do have a Western toilet in my flat (thank god!) but most of the toilets out and about are squat toilets. Something which I never thought would be an issue in my life is trying to use a squat toilet whilst in many layers and after drinking. It’s quite an experience… Thankfully I didn’t bring heels with me! The other issue with the toilets here is that you can’t flush the toilet paper. Takes a bit of getting used to but at first it was certainly very weird.

  1. It’s electrifying!

I’m sure many people will agree with my hatred of rain and wet weather. Living in the North and going to university in Wales however, I’m pretty used to it. Shijiazhuang on the other hand, is very dry in comparison. As a result, static electricity is everywhere. My hair looks fabulous when I take my scarf off in school! Oh China!

Life in China is definitely an experience, and above are just a few examples of what makes Shijiazhuang such a quirky place.

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Wonderous milk!

Hippy Holidays!

One of the hardest aspects of living abroad is undoubtedly missing out on traditions at home. This feeling is intensified around holidays, and whilst I am fully in the Christmas spirit with constant Christmas music playing and doing Christmassy activities in school,  I can’t help but think about how different it is to back home.

Halloween was the first big thing to happen after I got to China. Luckily I’m not one for celebrating it at home, and some friends threw a party for it across the city. Thus I didn’t feel like I was really missing out. I dressed in a simple costume (hippy), was cold outside because of the weather and socialised. Pretty British really.

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Christmas will be different though I think. Although I’ve spent a Christmas in Australia, I was still with family and whilst it was strange to be too hot on Christmas day, it was still a Christmas dinner with family (and the Alex’s)! But in China only the foreigners have Christmas day off and I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to find a copy Muppets Christmas Carol to watch after dinner. Not that I have a tv to watch it on anyway!

It shouldn’t be too bad, because Shijiazhuang has become my home, and we have begun the irresponsible spending of money which is so typical of Christmas in the UK! Last night a whole bunch of people went to a cocktail bar, there were Christmas jumpers, good friends and alcohol all together. And that’s what Christmas is about really, spending time with friends. Preferably friends with good cameras like Jonathan!

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Pppingyao!

Subtitled: trying not to freeze to death in Pingyao.

A couple of weekends ago I was again awake bright and early for a trip away from Shijiazhuang. This time the school had decided to pay for us to go away to the UNESCO World Heritage city Pingyao. About a 4 hour train journey away, in order to make the most of our time there the foreign teachers, our boss John,  John’s wife and child, John’s friend the Mayor and his wife and child all made it to the city. When we first arrived, me and Julian were slightly confused. We had exited the train expecting to see heritagey type things but were in what appeared to be an ordinary city. For a second I thought we were in the wrong place! But then John shepherded us onto a bus type tuk tuk thing and we set off to find the ancient city. Once we saw the giant wall we were reassured that we were, in fact, in the right place.

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Photo of the wall from inside the city.

Once our transport had wound its way in and out of the ancient narrow streets, we arrived at our hotel. Decked out in the traditional Chinese style, there were lanterns strung up and painted decorations everywhere. Once we entered the room however, we were pleasantly surprised to see the room was modern, with a tv, Western toilet and proper beds. There was only the slight problem of Sam’s height meaning that she only just fit!

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After we dropped our stuff off, we set off to explore the ancient city. With John and his Mayor friend translating the signs for us when the Chinglish made no sense, we were able to learn quite a lot about Pingyao’s central place in Chinese history. It was one of the first sites of government, the site of the first bank as well as having many martial arts training centre. It seemed as though every 100 metres there was a new museum, and after a while they all started to blend together. They all had similar architecture and a similar layout with courtyards and small rooms. A couple had extra features, one of the banks had an underground vault that you could explore, another had an archery section, and some had a place you could try out your kung fu skills.

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Kung Fu training

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Rooftop selfie

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Because its now heading into winter, its the offseason for travelling and the streets and museums were really quiet. Of course,  there were still some people who tried to get photos with us, but we had John on our side, chasing away the people who grabbed us!

After kidnapping Julian for a drink that evening, we had a relatively early night in preparation for the early start the following day. What we were not prepared for however was the weather. The temperature had dropped several degrees overnight and the wind had picked up. I was freezing when we looked at the wall, especially because I’d left my flat in such a hurry that I’d left my earmuffs and gloves behind. With the wives helping us, Izzie and I bought some handwarmers which helped, and of course were super fashionable!

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The photos with my school on the bottom are from the website. Whilst John guarded us from random Chinese photos, he made us pose for far too many over 2 days!

After buying the life saving warmers we got on a bus and slightly warmed up for the ride to the Qiao family compound, about an hour away from Pingyao. But alas, all good things must come to an end, and when we got off the bus the cold took our breaths away. The compound was a famous old families estate and is divided into 4 sections. The English translations were much better than those in Pingyao so were actually able to learn about the history of the family.

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An excellent Pingyao translation!

After walking around for a while something came over us, I can’t fully explain it, but I think we were so cold that we became hyper and spent a good half hour running around taking photos of us all wrapped up. Naturally John, in his 2 layers, found this hilarious. We also continued the tradition of the day before of trying to photobomb everyone’s pictures.

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Me and John!

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Photobomb from the first day. Notice the hair down and no gloves.

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Photo from the next day. Notice the lack of skin showing!

After not being hassled by Chinese vendors (it was too cold even for them), we headed to Taiyuan and caught the train home. Pingyao might have made my teeth chatter, but it was definitely a good trip!

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