Ever cycled in the absolutely pouring rain on a bike with no lights on the other side of the road for about 20 minutes on a bike with dodgy brakes in what seems like the busiest city in the world……welcome to my Saturday night!

The other English teacher arrived at School No 3 so the four teachers and Tony’s girlfriend went out for dinner.  Getting to the restaurant was scary enough, there are cycle lanes in Jingbian but being China no one pays the slightest bit of attention, so I’m cycling along (wobbling really!) and suddenly a car would pull out in front of you, or just randomly open it’s door.  Roundabouts are fun…..3 lanes of traffic hurtling towards you and you have to get round and not die trying.  I was actually so worried about this I told Tony where to find my medical documentation in case something happened to me!  I made it to the store to get the router, then we headed to dinner.  Dinner was good, lovely food and chat, and then we had HAD to cycle back.

I hadn’t really thought about the fact there are no lights on bikes…. at one stage I had to go all the way around a roundabout on the outside with a 40 foot flatbed on the inside lane – I’m sure at one point I really did shut my eyes and hope for the best!  And it was absolutely pouring down, I felt like ET flying along the road as I’d tied my scarf around my head in the vain hope of keeping my hair dry – it also somewhat impaired my vision.  Added to that the sandstorm that was also blowing in the wind – my face was literally red raw by the time I got home – a free exfoliation session you might say!

Yesterday morning I ventured out to the supermarket and bank.  I made the mistake of leaving the apartment (remember it’s right opposite the school) at 11.10, the same time the kids kicked out for lunch.  Walking along the street to get a taxi into town (5 yuan/50p) all I could hear was “hello teacher” and at one point “hello Jennifer” (no idea who that was!) proving at least that someone has remembered my name.

Taking cash out was fun – 20/30 people all huddled around me at the ATM because as soon as you press English the machine starts giving you the instructions in English.  They were totally fascinated by both me and the voice.  I was actually trying to concentrate really hard as I was terrified the machine wasn’t going to give me any cash, due to Santander’s reluctance to believe that I am actually in China (this despite numerous calls to them before I left and my mum calling them to tell them) but it worked 🙂

Another visit to the supermarket, another run of the guantlet of the girls at the toilletries bit, I swear to god these girls are on commission, all I wanted was facewash this time, but I had again about another 10 girls randomly shoving bottles into my face – I’m learning fast though and do try and walk away, only to be accosted by another one at the end of an aisle.  However I managed to get chicken, some deli stuff, tuc biscuits, little French bread things and jam and lots of really nice fruit. 

A skype call with Jemma, one of the other Buckland teachers was a really nice end to the evening, we’re both feeling a bit isolated at times, being the only women in our respective cities, so it’s really nice to compare notes on how we’re getting on, to have a moan, and a laugh. 

Today was a quiet day – laundry, sweeping the floors (the sand gets everywhere, honestly, I swept the whole place yesterday!) and just reading – the internet and VPN connection was so dodgy and when that happens it is unbelievably frustrating, you spend half your day just refreshing and refreshing in the vain hope someone in the apartment block will stop playing their computer game and let you online!

But the highlight of today was a skype call to my mum and dad.  Jemma and I worked out last night that if we have the cameras on then it really slows down the connection, so I couldn’t see them but the sound quality was brilliant – I could imagine my mum sitting at her desk and my dad leaving on the back of the office chair!  I still can’t remember where I am going on Wednesday with my FAO to give up my passport for my residency permit but my mum was googling whilst we were on the call – so she was able to tell me the two places that were really important to go and see – unfortunately I hadn’t put the living room light on so it was too dark for me to write them down (sorry mum!).  But it was really just like speaking to them as I used to do every Sunday, just chatting about skip runs and family stuff, and I didn’t cry when I came off the call!

Tomorrow is my birthday – I’m not sure whether that’s a good or bad thing, nor how I will feel in the morning.  I’ve only got one class, at 2pm, and Mark my FAO texted me yesterday saying he’s going to take me out for dinner tomorrow night.  43, hey, I never thought I’d be spending my birthday in China in the desert, but then if I was in Scotland chances are I wouldn’t be doing anything anyway. 

Sometimes I do really have to pinch myself that I’m here – after I finished the skype call I went out onto the balcony (posh word for drying area!) and there was a massive firework display out the back – it was so lovely to stand and watch that, with the stars overhead (and some Chinese bloke trying to kick-start his moped and shouting at his girlfriend!).  Very few people have this opportunity that I have, so I try and savour small moments like that 🙂