A Travellerspoint blog

Silent students shout loudest!!

Stereotypes of Chinese students blown out the water.

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Extrovert, confident and creative, with a huge showcase of individual talent. Not the usual impression that Chinese students present to western eyes. At first glance, the stereotype of hard-working and devoted students rings true in many experiences I have had at the school. Slowly but surely, however, the blinkers are being removed and the truth is being revealed, complete with its full Technicolor dream coat.

Working long hours at school, followed by longer hours of homework after, it is easy to see why many of the students may appear to lack the outgoing, ‘in your face’ personality you would find in the majority of English schools. A lack of academic importance put on the more expressive subjects (music/drama/art), coupled with a huge pressure to achieve academically, means that many students are forced to stifle their artistic talent for ‘core-subjects’. Along with the hugely tiring schedule that runs from 7.30am – 10pm, and a Monday to Friday existence in the closely controlled atmosphere of a boarding school, it is not hard to appreciate why many accuse the students of lacking personality and being highly introvert.

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It was after the first couple of weeks that this assumption was first challenged; after the standard introductory lessons, I ran an English slang lesson and it was the perfect opportunity for the students to express a deeper personality. The mix of a fun and relaxed atmosphere, along with a lack of grammar rules and patterns, meant that I got a real insight into the creative possibilities of the students. After the initial awakening, the notion of introverted students who lacked individualism quickly vanished and, ever since, many examples have proven my initial judgement (along with that of most in the west) to be based on preconceptions and shallow observations and experiences.

Sports day brought an array of colour and posters from each class. The canteen is a hub of publications ranging from the serious student union magazine, to more ‘off the radar’ publications displaying wit and verve, all produced and run by the students. Both inside and outside the uninspiring walls of the classrooms, the students' creative individualism bubbles fervently just below the surface.

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December rolls around and as I am waiting for my English corner to begin after school, I am approached by a group of my students from class 11. They are desperate for a favour and, as ever I agree. Nothing new there. As they walk away, I contemplate what I have just agreed to, throwing aside my hatred and fear of anything that comes with the tag ‘public performance’, I realise that I have just committed to playing a part in a student play … oops.

A long and deep fear of public entertainment has built up a mountain of dread in me and, even in the rehearsals that followed for the next week, I was consumed by butterflies. It transpired that every class from grade 1 has 7 minutes to run a ‘play/sketch’ and I was needed to fulfil the part of culturally blinkered, British businessman in a kung-fu drama. I only had to blurt out a couple of offensive lines at the ‘Japanese soldiers’, and I was home and dry!

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Having scraped through the performance I was left to enjoy the rest of the shows and it left a lasting impression on me. Not only did it confirm my already forming ideas that the students are indeed bubbling with personality, individual talent and ideas; but it also impressed upon me the extent to which the West’s perception of Chinese personalities is limited to the few foreign students you see still working away at 12am in the library, or plying what is often their third language in the local take-out.

The following week, one of my tutor students told me she was taking part in the school's singing contest and did I want to come and watch after school on Wednesday? I accepted, and after class on the following Wednesday I went to the school gym prepared to meet what I figured would be an hour of nervous kids wailing away into a mic with 50 people watching. WRONG! Around half of the school (2000ish students) were there to support and cheer on their class mates or to simply enjoy the show. And what a show it was…

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A professional company had been brought in for the lighting, sound and pyrotechnics. I kid you not, indoor fireworks and flares were regularly let off. The singing and the choreography was sublime, rarely a note missed and rarely a chance to let your attention drop for a second. Most surprisingly not one sign of nerves once the signer (often alone) stepped on stage; many appeared born to do it. Surprisingly, it was many of my quiet students that produced the most outrageously confident and expressive performances of the show.

It was on this fateful evening that the inevitable happened and it went something like this….

(Teacher/boss) “Roger, you know it is customary for the foreign teachers and students to sign a song at the New Year’s performance?”

(Me) “No I wasn’t, sorry.” (end of or so I thought)

“Oh, well, every year it is tradition, so this year you will sing a Chinese song in the show with the other foreigners at the school.” (What? It wasn’t meant to go like that!!)

“Chinese? Are you sure?” (Come on, say English will be OK.)

“Yes, it will be (here comes the best part...) fun.” (Crap, crap, crap, crap!)

“When is it?”

“Next Thursday.”

Pure dread is the only way to describe the feeling that hit me… I would be singing in Chinese to the whole school (4000 people) with no one to hide behind, and only a week to practice… Grand.

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So the week passed (Christmas weekend in the middle) and, come Tuesday, we practiced for the first time as a quartet. The poor Chinese teacher dispatched to make sure we didn’t totally humiliate the school (local press in attendance) was at her wits end; far from knowing it as she expected, we stumbled and fell through the first verse before admitting we were hopeless (her words not mine).

Firmly put in our place, the next 24 hours was spent doing a rescue job and, come the final rehearsals on Wednesday, we did enough to actually impress her, something distinctly beyond our band of merry men just 24 hours before.

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Wednesday

6.30pm (1 hour to Showtime) – Feeling sick. Consider making a break for the front gate of the school.

6.45pm (45 mins to go) – Still sick. Final rehearsal goes well. Quietly confident.

7.25pm (5 mins to go) – Auditorium is crammed with close to 4000 students, teachers and officials. Huge mistake – check; shaking – check; words of the song – ...

7.30pm - 7.40pm – Slowly get into the song after a dire start, even harmonise on the final note – students couldn’t care less. They loved it, start to finish! A flamboyant wave to finish...


Rest of the night – The brilliance of the rest of the show (seriously of a stunning quality) is overshadowed by a huge adrenaline rush bettered by few things. Think I am actually quite good at this and consider a repeat showing. Come to my senses early in the morning when I watch the evidence back – shockingly good, bad and strange all rolled into one.
(See for yourself when I finally figure out the video...!)

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Throughout these experiences, several stereotypes and assumptions about Chinese students have been blown away, giving a timely reminder that one of the great lessons in life still holds true: never judge a book by its cover. The moment anyone takes the time to scratch beneath the surface of a Chinese school, they will find as much passion for the extroverted and creative as they would in any school in England. In many cases, the quality and assured nature of the performance takes on a much more mature and professional aspect than that found in England.
It is very easy to dismiss the quiet and the hard-working as introvert and without artistic worth, but remember this: for these children to flourish as they do so spectacularly, given the nature of their environment, is quite an achievement in itself. Let’s not forget that often those who shout loudest have the least to say.

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Posted by Nomadlife 08:52 Archived in China Tagged art sport china school show students teaching guangzhou Comments (1)

It's Christmastime, there's no need to be afraid

Christmas hits China

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Christmas abroad, something that if you travel long enough is inevitable yet is still strangely surreal and intangible no matter how much you are aware of its presence looming on the horizon. While Christmas was still a few weeks off I could happily play the Grinch, pretending it wasn’t coming and being more than content to let the building excitement dissipate and slide by into the abyss. The basic reasoning being that in China I was about as far removed from the traditions I had come to cherish as it is possible to be in this increasingly integrated cultural sphere.

China you let me down!! Much to my surprise, and once again challenging previously solid preconceptions, China it turns out is slowly embracing the Christmas spirit that had previously failed to penetrate the minds of its citizens. In both the cultural and commercial spheres in the past two weeks Christmas has hit China, forcing me to face the reality that yes this year for the first time ever I will be spending Christmas without the rest of the Golding clan.

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Traditionally the Chinese population has been impervious to the Christmas extravaganza that grips the rest of the world every year. Cultural isolation during the middle of the century meant that China missed the commercialisation of Christmas experienced by the rest of the world. Coupled with a limited Christian community, (around 5% of the population) that until recently found it hard to practice even in private, it is little surprise that the holiday that dominates the rest of the world has failed to catch on here.

On top of this there is still a very mixed reaction to western cultural influences within China; in my classes my brief is to expose the children I teach to British culture and western influences, not through a commanding approach, but rather to broaden their cultural understanding in order to supplement China’s wider emergence and integration with the globalised culture. As I have broached topics such as Christmas, travel, Halloween and other distinctly ‘western’ topics the response has been largely of interest and intrigue. However, in many classes it is impossible to escape a distinctly perceptible rebellion against these cultural traditions of the west, as a fierce pride of traditional Chinese culture mixed with false perceptions of the west combine to produce an undercurrent of negativity towards’ western’ culture. Bearing in mind that on the whole the age group of 15-25 is the most open to new ideas and cultural diversity, there is little surprise that until now China has paid little attention to Christmas.

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But this is beginning to change, and this change is tangible in all aspects of my Chinese Christmas! Until two weeks ago I was spared the hype that had been surrounding Christmas back home, and was safe in my comfort blanket of cultural immersion safe in the knowledge Christmas wouldn’t creep into Chinese culture too much past the buffer zone of the expat community.

Then it began, I was away for the weekend with other teachers from my school (more on that later) and when I returned to Guangzhou a mere 48 hours later I was confronted with the first signs of the coming holiday season. Shops and businesses had begun to hang Christmas decorations in their windows to entice the public to take a look. First this phenomenon was largely restricted to the western style shopping areas and western businesses; all of a sudden Starbucks was playing Christmas music and serving its Christmas specials, McDonalds was sporting a bizarre ‘Christmas Hello Kitty’ display all over its premises and playing the obligatory cheesy Christmas music that back home I had always taken for granted and often an annoyance as well.

After a few days the decorations, Christmas trees and fake now had found their way out of the western malls and into the majority of streets and shops (Chinese or otherwise) in one form or another. Whether the tribute to the commercial aspects of Christmas stopped at a welcome banner over the door, or in some cases extended as far as whole Christmas trees and grottos inside the shops, it is impossible to ignore that
China is increasingly embracing the commercial advantages Christmas can bring to a business.

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This expansion commercially must be seen in line with an expansion culturally. During my lessons over the past two weeks (Christmas themed of course) despite a general undertone of cultural confrontation considered earlier in the blog, the overriding attitude from the majority of my students has been of curiosity and desire to find out more. Activities such as a class secret Santa, a Christmas around the world section, and a traditional English Christmas carol have sparked the imaginations of many in the classroom and a flood of cultural questions has been heard.

Off their own motivation students have come up with Christmas plans and ideas and have actively begun to introduce them to their own culture. One example of this that sticks in the mind is a student who asked me for some Christmas music and Christmas films. She wanted to have a Christmas party with some friends at school as she lived too far away from home to return and spend Christmas with her family. It is people like this who are advancing the integration of Christmas into the Chinese culture, and also drawing wider aspects of globalised culture into China’s previously impermeable cultural skin.

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It is a hugely interesting position to be in you feel as each day passes, and Christmas draws nearer that you are witnessing first hand a change in culture regarding Christmas. On this evidence it would be impossible to argue that in the next couple of decades Christmas will not come to be gripped by the same excitement that we all feel as late December draws near. I would argue that a strong cultural identity combined with previous cultural isolation and a resistance amongst some to accept ‘western culture’ will mean that Christmas will never fully take hold on China as it has elsewhere around the globe; however it is certain Christmas is coming to China this year and many many more to come!

(As an aside to end this blog I have also hit upon the most obvious of clichés, that having had the commercialisation stripped away to a greater extent than previously experienced it does leave a rather indelible conclusion that the most important part of Christmas is without doubt family!)

MERRY CHRISTMAS to you all!!

Posted by Nomadlife 23:33 Archived in China Tagged culture china christmas students teaching guangzhou globalisation Comments (2)

Hong Kong, 'World City' or overhyped mediocrity?

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There is a basic principle that denotes a ‘world city’ from just any other and for me it is that most mythical of beasts, the much vaunted ’X-factor’. The skyscrapers and the ‘buzz’ gives it to New York, the poise and class that oozes around the streets of Paris ensure the French capital has it and the sheer weight of history mixed with avant garde culture means Berlin has it. Each of these cities also have one thing in common, from the first moment I set foot within their city limits I was hooked and incurred the strongest addiction for more.

For years Hong Kong has been in that bracket for me, the moment someone mentions Asia my mind flies to Hong Kong in an instant, there is a special excitement, and a longing to go, present every time it is mentioned. No surprises then that come last Monday as our coach cruised down the length of the Kowloon district towards the city centre that I was on the edge of my seat.

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Picking up my jaw was expected, what wasn’t, was the fact that it had been placed on the floor was a feeling of disappointment and horror. In the most spectacular way the first few miles into the city had destroyed all the hype and visions I had of the city. The skyscrapers were there, the hectic bustle I expected was there, so why the disappointment? It transpires I had been sold a false dream…

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In the place of inspiring apartment blocks full of unique expression and life that in my mind had made HK so special, I was met with drab soulless blocks of concrete reaching into the peaceful abyss above, searching for an escape from the wretched existence below. It was the most graphic illustration of the ‘rat race’ that I have ever incurred, as each faceless structure stood next to another similarly bleak structure with each apparently given up on the dream of freedom from their servitude of practicality.

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This first impression I had was very much closely linked to the feelings that immediately followed, mild panic and insecurity. Before you go to HK you expect it to be busy and packed but nothing prepares you for the crush on space that greets you once you arrive. Walking is done at a hundred miles an hour, and as I stepped off the bus I found myself immediately surround with the bustle and noise akin to that of New York but packed into an area a quarter of the size. High buildings dominate the streets on both sides only increasing the feeling of claustrophobia and insignificance.

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The hostel room offered no reprieve, as I sat on one of two beds in the tiny room the walls almost visibly moved in to consume its occupants leaving me with a feeling of dread and capture.

Having built up Hong Kong to such a height (if you pardon the pun), the last thing I expected to be feeling come 7pm on the first evening was despondency and disappointment. As far as first impressions go, Hong Kong’s lack of joie de vive and totally dehumanising pragmatism put it down there with the worst I had experienced.

Luckily I had my bible at hand, and in true Lonely Planet fashion disaster was averted through a simple tip. ‘Try some of the amazing cuisine HK has to offer at a local Singaporean restaurant close to the waterfront.’ It proved the most delightful tonic to the day’s events.

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Hidden in yet another towering erm … tower, the restaurant served up a treat of chicken curry and rice, served with a beer the meal has lived long in the memory and has crept into the top 5 best meals I have consumed.

After this timely boost, another tip, this time from a local, paid great dividend, “Head to the waterfront at 8pm, you won’t be disappointed.” We weren’t, it was unbelievable!! We arrived just as a light and music spectacular was commencing, but to me that wasn’t the amazing thing, I had found my Hong Kong.

The harbour provides one of the most iconic images in the world and it was this I had been placing on such a pedestal earlier in the day. With the clouds above illuminated by the city lights, the buildings take on an almost ghost like aura and the sheer size and scale of the building rising up across the water draw an involuntary gasp.

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For the rest of my stay (total 36hrs) I was left to poke around and explore HK as much as I could and also had time to ponder my overall ideas of the city beyond the initial first impression. It is impossible to escape the huge western, particularly British, influences on the city. Unsurprisingly given its history, colonial culture pervades every aspect of the city. Even so to see trams, M and S and British pubs was certainly a reverse culture shock having been in China for the past 3 months and drew great pangs of longing for British shores. Mix in a thoroughly chaotic, fun, and vibrant Chinese backbone to the culture in the city and you truly see how this city got the billing of ‘east meets west’ and ‘the world’s porthole to Asia.’

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But does this make it a world city? I stated earlier that a world city for me had to have a certain special vibe, an intangible hand that grasps your soul and doesn’t let go. To dismiss HK as an irrelevance on a par with say … Manchester (insert own crap English city here) would be hugely incorrect. There is a delightfully unique aspect and culture to the city and it is this uniqueness that draws in so many travellers and businessmen alike. However, on a very personal level HK is missing that X factor, and however much I try to convince myself otherwise I cannot invent that excitement and travel lust to return immediately. I will certainly return and I will certainly enjoy myself immensely when I do, but I will do so from a much more realistic position than I was in when the coach rolled into Kowloon for the first time. It has just occurred that Hong Kong may be Hong Kong’s undoing, when you think about the hype it had to live up to wasn’t it always bound to struggle?

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Posted by Nomadlife 07:29 Archived in China Tagged travel china hong_kong Comments (1)

Usain who?

A very Chinese sportsday

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If there was one day I used to circle on the school calendar each year it was without doubt sports day. Just the mention of the hallowed event was enough to spark the feeling of frenzied excitement and the felling that anything yes anything could happen.

A week before, the class would get together to pick the team, everyone was down to participate in something usually, with fate being the horrible mistress we all know it to be, the slowest kid would be put through the ringer in the 1500m as the class desperately tried to pick up all the points it could.

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To my huge disappointment the days of sports days had long since been put behind me, or so I thought. About a month ago, come 5.15pm, the football pitches and basketball courts were surrounded by hordes of screaming students willing on their respective teams. A week later brightly coloured t-shirts appeared with slogans and designs urging on specific classes to greater efforts. What had begun as a minor ripple of activity once or twice a week had overnight become a surge of excitement and emotional exhaustion every evening. Slightly confused, and in hindsight hugely slow, I ran into a student of mine and asked what was going on. With his class having just won their first basketball match the student, beaming with excitement, said, “Don’t you know? It’s Sports Festival this month!!”

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Wow! Now I don’t know about you but there sounded nothing greater to me, sports festival for a month, what could be better. Forget sports day this was how it should be done. The set up is pretty easy to understand; every class in the grade competes throughout October in Badminton, Football, Basketball and Table Tennis with the festival culminating in an athletics meeting a month later, all in a battle royal to be crowned the champions of their grade!!

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By late October each classroom came complete with score board, and students disregarded school uniform in favour of the much more colourful class t-shirts! Now this is where the story develops, following the ‘class dancing’ I spoke of in a previous blog (incidentally also contributing to the overall placing for the sports month) the head of Grade 1 (a certain Mr Figo) approached me and mentioned there would be a staff relay and would I like to run? It took all of 3 milliseconds for me to bite his hand off and it was set, for one day only my dreams of sportsday would be reignited.

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Come the first weekend in November and the excitement had reached fever pitch every class had t-shirts, posters, and graffiti all over the school urging their class mates on. The other sports had been concluded and all that was left was the athletics meeting itself. Each class knew what they had to do to secure victory; some (class 4 and class 7) needed a minor miracle or bout of food poisoning to sweep the school, whereas others (class 1 and class 15) were to go head to head to be crowned champions.

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In all this time I had been swept up with the student’s excitement and had put my part in proceedings to the back of my mind. The Thursday before, I was brought back down to Earth with a jolt. Foigo called me over and explained that the relay was a 4x100m jobby with the 4 teachers from each grade in each team, so far so good. Then the bomb, “Roger, listen to me, this is very important for the grade and we are all counting on you. You must fly Roger!” Ok so no pressure then. To make matters worse he produced a pair of running spikes (stupid me for assuming it was a bit of a laugh and trainers were fine), and said that we would be first race up after the opening ceremony…oh and the principle and the parents would be watching too…….

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Friday, the day of the race, I woke up at 7am, my heart pounding, and with the magic of sportsday momentarily forgotten as I headed to the track to practice with the others in my team. We were surprisingly smooth and minus a split lip for our third leg runner following a collision in warm up we were set.

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Come 9 am I took my position at the first changeover ready to run the second leg, as my name was announced in pigeon English the students (all camped down the back straight and finishing straight with their gazebos) realised I was running and the butterflies, along with noise, increased a fair bit. The race itself was eventful, a collision between two teachers from grade 3 put paid to their hopes, a dropped baton did for grade 2, leaving a straight out fight between the PE teachers and us down the finish straight. Luckily for us Usain Bolt has a Chinese brother and it was no contest, our team streaked away down the home straight much to the delight of the skinny white guy who was on the second leg, and much of the crowd.

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As with any ‘big race’ there was a victory ceremony and photo shoot afterwards with the principle and other leaders in the school clamouring to get their pictures taken with us….

The rest of the two days belonged to the students with a party atmosphere taking over the school. Each class had decorated their camps with posters, balloons and anything that gave that extra splash of colour. Class teachers donned the class shirts and joined the students in vociferously cheering their teammates every step of the way. The athletics track was awash with colour, the class t-shirts and the flags brought a carnival feel to the event, as did the line of posters that greeted you as you walked into the stadium area.

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It was a deeply refreshing sight as everywhere there were students kicking back, relaxing, and taking full advantage of the chance to focus on something other than school work; an all too rare occurrence.

There is no point comparing the sportsdays I loved as a child and the one I found in China, because they just don’t compare. Things were just on a totally different scale here to those back home. However, there were two aspects I found to be present at both. The camaraderie and support that is generated in the classes (even for just the shortest of moments) is priceless, as is the unrestrained excitement you feel every time sportsday roles around.

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Aside from doing a very good impersonation of a sprinter, over the past few weeks I have taken opportunity to explore Guangzhou a bit more. Having talked of it for a long time this meant finally doing the Pearl River night cruise, visiting Yuexiu Park, and the orchid garden.

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For anyone not familiar with Guangzhou, or indeed China, it is important to note that the Pearl River runs through the centre of the Guangzhou and, like most cities, many of Guangzhou’s highlight’s are to be found along its shore. Now China has a way with night time illumination that makes Las Vegas seem understated, however, it seems to avoid the many pitfalls of garishness and trash by the skin of its teeth and pulls off quite a spectacular show along the river, for the many cruises that run each night. At just £10 (100RMB) for an hour and a half on an old wooden galleon it is a must do any time you are in Guangzhou.

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As for the parks and garden both are pretty and relaxing in their own way, although I could have done without the hour and a half walk around the orchid garden looking for orchids before realising the reason no one else was there was down to the lack of flowering orchids in November! It is easy to see how it could be stunning in the summer, just not in the barren winter months, ey genius!

That’s pretty much it for now; I am off to HK on Monday with only a guide book and crossed fingers to help me find my hostel…wish me luck!!

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Posted by Nomadlife 21:27 Archived in China Tagged sport china guangzhou south_china Comments (0)

Short City Break

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There truly is no better feeling than being able to start a Friday knowing that come the end of the day nothing but a stretch of free time lies ahead of you. There is nothing more frustrating than reaching Sunday evening knowing that you have wasted the previous 48 hours and done little to nothing with your time. Luckily for me the past few weekends have been full of adventures as a couple of opportunities to explore outside of the city have popped up. Sitting in my office following a hard first lesson of the day it is a perfect time to let my mind wander back a few weeks and fill you in on my goings on.

Xiqiao, an hour and a half south of Gaungzhou but bizarrely still considered part of the city, is the perfect distance for a weekend break. Close enough to have no problems getting there and back and far away enough to feel like you’re really striking out of the city.

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As the clock drew into Saturday afternoon three weeks ago I got a call from a good friend living in Xiqiao who, upon hearing I had nothing planned for the weekend, suggested that I hop on a bus to go visit the ‘big Buddha’ in Xiqiao. Slightly confused but highly intrigued I quickly grabbed a fresh pair of boxers out my draw, grabbed my toothbrush shoved it all in a bag and in 10 minutes flat I was on my way to the bus station at the end of my road. Meeting Anna there we hopped on a bus we hoped was going in the right direction and crossed our fingers…

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Having arrived in the right place in the right city (a minor miracle in this part of the world) we met our friends Luke and Amy and were anxious to set out to explore the city. That was until we were informed that the extent of ‘downtown’ Xiqiao was made up of the bus station and the shopping plaza just across the way. Instead matters of the stomach took control and the group split up to go grab some food. Anna went with Amy, and I with Luke.

Lake at Xiqiao Mountain

Lake at Xiqiao Mountain

Following an adrenaline filled ride on the back of what was in reality a glorified tricycle we arrived at Luke’s school in a very small rural town called Chateau. Don’t ask me how a town in southern China came to be named after the French for manor, but I do hope the story is as intriguing as I have made it out in my head. After some fantastic food at the local eatery I hunkered down to do battle with the mosquitoes for the night…needless to say I came off second best.

Still with no real idea about what was meant by the ‘big Buddha’ I was woken up at stupid o’clock, and bleary eyed found myself stumbling out of the door half an hour later into the soft and cold colours of the first of the morning light. Worryingly on the bus back to central Xiqiao Luke left an offhand comment in the air suggesting that we got up so early to avoid the heat whilst we climbed! Oh!

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As it turned out we met the girls at the bottom of Xiqiao Shan, literally Xiqiao Mountain, just by the centre of the town. For the first half hour we struggled to shake the fatigue and tiredness that clung like a blanket, but as soon as we got above the first ridge of the mountain the view was more than enough to wake us out of our coma. Below, the town stretched off into the smog of the plane below, whilst up on the plateau we had reached a lake with its crystal clear water reflecting the stunning scenery that surrounded it.

After walking for a further 10 minutes we grabbed our first sight of the Buddha, there she sat unmistakeable on the skyline and dominating the hill upon which she perched. Still a good distance away we ploughed on in the forever increasing heat (suddenly I understood the early rise). As we rounded the corner up ahead a pleasant sound hit us, a slow methodical chant rolled down the mountain from what we soon discovered to be a large temple entrenched in the side of the hill. I couldn’t tell you how long we walked in silence, deep in thought, as we were lost to the surrounds of the temple with its colourful flags fluttering silently in the slight breeze. The stunning views along with the unmistakeable smell of incense, and the beautifully musical chants provided a strong and heady cocktail that was highly conducive to providing a path to a peaceful and hugely relaxing place in my thoughts.

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At the far side of the temple lay the statue on the top of a mammoth set of stairs that seemed to go on forever to the clouds that circled above. Stupidly I gave way to my competitive streak and challenged Luke to a ‘loser buys ice cream’ race to the summit! Despite winning, the ice cream seemed scant reward for the pain caused through winning it. However, the reward of standing at the base of ‘Asia’s biggest bronze Buddha’ was worth it as the views, mixed with the wonderful glint of the morning sun hitting the statue, proved remarkable.

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On our way down a teacher from Amy’s school told us of a hidden lake so, not wanting to miss the opportunity to sit down some more, we set out to the water’s edge. With the lake as tranquil and serene as the first and surrounded by charming pagodas and benches to sit it was not long before I lost myself in my book. Morning had surely turned into afternoon before we left and made our decent.

As we left Xiqiao that evening it was impossible to ignore the statue, still perched on top of the mountain continuing to overlook the town that has been built around her.

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The following weekend (two weekends ago) the tedium of a real job had once again set in and escape was required once more. This time the destination was to be the small city of Chonghua located two hours north of Guangzhou. The region has been made famous by ‘the ring of fire’; a series of natural hot springs that occur throughout the area. Unsurprisingly it was for this very reason we were here.

Buddha on Xiqiao Mountain

Buddha on Xiqiao Mountain

Staying with some friends half an hour out of Chonghua right in the middle of hot spring country, we arrived Saturday afternoon. After getting some food and dumping our stuff we headed straight for the resort of Bischuan. Located 10 minutes down the road in what can only be described as ‘very rural China’ the Bischuan Spa Resort is the must go place for hot springs. Using the water from the springs, the resort has been set up as a series of around 25 Jacuzzis. Into each pool something different had been added to aid the natural ‘healing’ effect of the pools.

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From mid-afternoon we hopped from the wine pool to the coffee pool, from the tea pool to the rose pool, from the jasmine pool to the fragrance pool. The 113 degrees east award for the best pool is shared this year. The winners are … ‘the fish pool’ where thousands of tiny Japanese fish eat the dead skin off you feet in an unbearably ticklish manor. And… ‘the ying and yang pool’ where you experience the very strange but refreshing sensation of being on fire as you literally hop from the freezing cold water of the ying into the searing heat of the yang! Unbeatable.

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Still being students at heart we felt it our duty to ensure we got maximum value for our money, and thus stayed moving from pool to sauna to swimming pool and back again until around 1am, taking full advantage of the free food along the way. For only £10 for a whole day (we were there from 3pm to 1am) it was a steal and the deep sleep achieved afterwards was worth the entry fee alone!

Through being settled into a job properly for the first time in my life I now can now understand the desperation to escape the unrelenting city life once in a while…as such our next planned trip is the quiet seaside town of Hong Kong….catch you all on the flip side!!!

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Posted by Nomadlife 22:43 Archived in China Tagged lakes teaching south_china xiqiao Comments (0)

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