Wednesday, August 29, 2007

first week in china

Well we are finally here. I have been wanting to come and do this for many years now and its an amazing feeling to finally be here. Shortly before leaving Melanie had fainted in the doctors office and smashed her nose on a counter. She had a big gash and two black eyes. She was patched up quickly and told she would be alright. Melanie and I left Vancouver on the 24th of August flying to San Fransisco. We arrived there after two hours and left two hours later for beijing. This flight was 12 hours. After arriving in beijing in the middle of the afternoon what was in our time zone the middle of the night we then had to wait ten hours till our next flight. We were already exausted but could find nowhere to sleep because the airport was packed wall to wall with people. so we ate in the airport restaurant and than went to the airport tea house. The whole time we were in the airport we were trying to keep Melanie's cut clean which is a challenge in beijing. Another two hours on the plane and we had finally arrived. A total of 15 or so hours flying. We arrived at midnight and had not slept for longer than 24 hours. We arrived at the small airport in Wenzhou and quickly realized we were not a common sight. Everyone we passed looked at as with a slightly confused expression.

We were picked up at the airport by our assistant Leo. We lugged all our stuff into the back of his old small toyota and hit the streets. If you have ever heard any horror stories about the streets of china than you have an idea about what came next. Even at 1230 at night the streets of wenzhou are very busy. We pulled out of the airport as fast as our little car could carry us and sped up the streets. China has traffic laws and they also have traffic lights and lines to show you where you are supposed to be on the road. What it doesnt have are people who care even in the slightest about the road rules. Flying up the street in the center of the two lanes on a four lane highway we are passed on either side by cars... two lanes three cars. I thought it was a myth that you could fit that many. Many times I thought we were going to have a head on collision as a car would swerve from the opposite side of the road and pass a car pulling back into there lane just in time to miss us. If this wasnt bad enough tons of motorcycles were flying inbetween us squeezing through any crack they can fit and often just pulling off the road and makin use of the side walks and medians. We even saw a couple of cars going up the side walks honking at people to get out of the way. The further we went into Wenzhou the crazier it got. We often came to red lights but only twice did I see someone actually stop. People just accelerated and went straight through. We were honked at for stopping as though we were out of our minds. People also looked at us with more confused expressions the further we got from the airport, which added to the craziness because people would turn and stare for about 15 seconds while flying at 100 down the highway. After we passed through the mayhem of downtown we were on our way out of Wenzhou. The school is actually in a smaller city nearby... small chinese cities are not small by North American Standards. We left the city into the mountain roads heading towards Shangtang, our final destination. The mountain roads at some points were actually scarier than the city streets. At one point we passed a car on a dark mountain road as the road was turning sharply, I thought we didnt have much room untill a car actually passed us while we were passing. On a small two lane mountain highway!! I was terrified. Finally we reached Shangtang. We pulled into the school and dragged all our stuff up to the apartment. We tried to unpack but became tired very quickly. We woke early on the first day and in the dark room tried to remember where the hell we were. It didnt take long for the plane and car rides to come back to us. Leo, our assistant (mel: more like our saviour) showed up again in the morning and asked us if we would be ok to find food, he pointed us in the direction of the market and said he would be around soon.

The second we hit the streets we realized we might be the only white people who have ever set foot in this town. Entire families stopped in the streets staring and pointing. Every now and then a couple of young kids who must take english in school would yell "hello how are you". We tried our best to strike up a conversation but that was about all they knew. After searching for the market we found a couple of small fruit stands bought some fruit. Even the simple things are difficult when you dont know the language. Luckily I understood enough to buy some food. We soon met all of our fellow teachers who lived in the same building as us. It is a small apartment building and it seems only the english teachers live here. We have a nice bedroom bathroom livingroom and kitchen which are all more then big enough. Soon after arriving we went to a big dinner at a hotel with all the other english teachers and the Head Master. We experienced a full on traditional chinese meal which was pretty crazy. All anyone wanted to do was offer a toast over and over and over. One would stand and attempt to fill anothers glass with beer, the other would knock it away as he attempt to fill the others cup. They were not even drunk it was like this from the start. many beers were knocked to the floor but no matter cause they just called for more. I drank just enough as to not be insulting but not too much for fear of losing my wits in the madness. At some point all of them were on their feet screaming at each other and laughing as they built themselves up to some massive toast and then drained their glasses quickly only to do it again. After three or four hours of screeming toasts and gambei gambei (which means drain your glass and is taken quite seriously and no one stops staring at you until you have done so) we finally got up to head back to the school. We have been here 4 or 5 days now and are totally settled in. Melanie's cut almost totally healed and her black eyes are fading quickly. We are both doing well and are excited to start teaching on monday.

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