I’ve no idea who follows or reads this blog – I know my mum does, but I write it really for myself, as a sort of diary to remind myself in 20 years time how on earth I survived this!  However this morning I received a wonderful  and really helpful message from a facebook friend in America.  Kathy Degner and I met goodness knows how many years ago totally random whilst both watching a webcam of Snooty, the oldest manatee’s birthday in captivity’s birthday (the person operating the webcam got Snooty to say hello to me!).  Kathy and I became friends on facebook and despite the fact she’s in California we chat sometimes and swap pictures – she  loves otters I can’t see one without thinking of Kathy and she is also a fantastic photographer and I love seeing her wildlife pictures.

Anyway, unknown to me, Kathy is also a speech and language thatherapist…..and she suggested that to help me teach my difficult classes, I should use music as a means of communicating with the students.  This is such a fantastic idea and I’m do grateful to her for suggesting it – especially as I know have the means to do this.

Another surprise this morning was my FAO turning up with a brand new laptop for me 🙂  I do remember Tony mentioning to him a few weeks ago that we didn’t have decent ones – well now we do.  Tony very kindly this afternoon came round and set it up for me, so I’ve now got my little netbook and a huge big laptop and he even set up my VPN so I can get all my emails and facebook and everything on it.  It’s strange typing on it but a huge bonus is that it has word and powerpoint which my netbook doesn’t have, so it will be so much easier to do presentations for teaching now.

I went at lunchtime to see Class 4, apparently to help three students with their English competition stuff but really I think for them to have a moan at me!  I don’t know how the students survive…..their normal day is, with the change in timetable now, from 0750 to 2120 – ten classes a day.  This weekend they have TEN exams for each subject, some of which are over two hours long.  In the evening they will then have three of their normal classes.  One of the boys in particular was extremely distressed, worried that he was going to fail and that he was too tired to study.  All I can do is reassure them, tell them to eat and drink properly, if I say it’s not the end of the world and they can re-sit that’s pointless to them – I couldn’t really work out what will happen if they fail, I think they may get one more chance to resit, but the pressure on them is absolutely relentless.

However, and this made me feel terrible, one of the girls gave me quite a big box of mixed dried fruit as a thank you for helping her.  All I do is correct their English, but still she took the time to buy me something, something that I really like as well.  I really will be thinking of them this weekend, and I told them that if they wanted help to contact Mark the FAO and I would come over and see them in their class.

Today, unfortunately, was shopping day……..after the anonymity of Xi’an, it was a total shock to go back to my little supermarket, the stares, the people crowding around me as I tried to pay.  Food prices seem to be rising as well – my dad did say that perhaps because I am so far north as the weather changes the prices may increase, and it’s true, my chicken seems to be rising like mad each week.  I also took it badly trying to find food to eat, after the huge range of stuff in Walmart.  However, there are three Carrefours in Yulin and I think next month once I’ve eaten through my supplies I may get a bus up there for the day.  I read a really good article today about how westerners cheat when they live in China, sneaking in their tins of tuna (yup that’s me, three tins from Walmart!) but truly I cannot eat things like offal and chicken’s feet.

The journey home was……eventful!  I can now understand more Chinese than both I and other people think I do……so I jumped into a taxi without thinking.  It’s maybe 2 or kilometers from the supermarket to my apartment and it costs 50p.  I had the usual conversation with the driver, no I don’t speak Chinese, I’m a teacher, I’m from Scotland and he got terribly excited and spent the whole of the journey home driving alongside other taxis and cars shouting to the other drivers that he had an American in his taxi…….to the extent which he got to the bus station which is 5 minutes walk from the apartment, he slowed down and I had the indignity of him shouting this to all the people hanging around the bus station.  The final indignity was when he drove alongside his friend (I hope he knew the guy!) so that his friend could take a picture of me…….as usual I smiled, what else can you do!  I’m happy here but I do miss the anonymity of just wandering down the street.

A friend who I met in Xi’an suggested exercise is a good method of getting rid of frustrations from teaching, and is probably no bad thing given me age!  So this afternoon I ventured out on the pink rickety thing that passes for my bike.  There is no way I’m going to be able to cycle very far on this thing before it dies a painful death but I managed to cycle around the area that I can see from my apartment and I’m going to try and walk that every day.  I don’t have an ipod, it’s the one thing I never thought of buying, but the sheer effort of walking fast should burn off any frustrations…and it will keep me warm!  However, one other piece of good news is that even though we are only given a 200 yuan allowance a month for all utilities, that doesn’t apply here because it is sooooooo cold during the winter.  I won’t be blasting out the AC constantly, but as Tony said if we had to pay extra for the heating here we wouldn’t actually receive any salary!

In the weirdness that is always China as well, when Tony and I were talking this afternoon, it turns out that the girl that I met in Xi’an who had just completed the Study China Programme that I did two years ago had met another Buckland teacher totally randomly in Beijing….this girl teaches in Chengdu and we have a couple of mutual facebook friends and I actually met her here a couple of weeks ago when she came to visit Tony…..who said China was a large country!