Clarabella Speaks.

"It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves" - Shakespeare

Saturday, 25 October 2014

7 reasons living in China doesn't suck.

Culture shock comes in different waves: the excitement phase; the homesickness phase and the I-hate-this-place phase. When you move to somewhere like China the severity of the I-hate-this-place phase is likely to be quite high (see post one in Clarabella speaks Mandarin). Luckily for me, ever since the first couple of weeks, mine now comes in daily, easy-to-handle, bite-size chunks and I barely even notice myself getting annoyed (who'd have thunk it eh?). I'm actually quite enjoying life in China, so, in the spirit of all non negative things comes today's post: 7 reasons living in China doesn't suck.

1. Everyone thinks you're beautiful. 
Of course I know the uglier truth, but it doesn't hurt your self esteem to hear "ni hen piao liang"(you are very beautiful) a few times a week. I am going to feel so unloved when I get home.

2. Cheap takes on a whole other meaning.
Where else in the world could I do my weekly fruit and veg shop for £7, travel for an hour on a bus for 20p, or get a taxi home from the other side of the city for less than a fiver? Saving on the big things (like pomegranates and sweet potatoes) leaves more reminbi for the majorly overpriced western necessities like cheese and Zara clothes. 

3. You can talk about people without them knowing.
"That woman looks so rare with that pink scarf over her head", "these people just walk so damn slowly", "this country is RIDICULOUS". Those are just some of my favourite insults, and the best bit is, nobody understands when I say them, so I can say them as often and as loudly as I like. I'm going to have to learn to control myself again next year. 

4. You don't have to talk to anyone you don't want to.
Annoying street sellers, cold callers, taxi drivers when you just are not in the mood - language barriers really can be wonderful things. And even if I do understand them (about 2 percent of the time), I can feign ignorance and continue on my way.

5. Free things.
On my first night out in Tianjin, the Club Manager gave us a free bottle of whiskey just for being white. The first time I got on a bus, the bus driver let us ride for free because he couldn't be bothered/didn't know how to explain to us how we had to pay. Okay so it only saved us 20p, but that's 2 red peppers in China.

6. Keeping fit is inevitable.
This place is so huge, that even if you use public transport you're walking enough per trip to burn off at least half of that gong bao ji ding (thats kung pao chicken for all you non-Mandarin speakers) that you really didn't need.

7. Tomato chili flatbreads.
Seriously. Its like pizza bread, but better, and it only costs 25p. Just don't eat it before putting on your pollution mask - spring onions don't make for pleasant breath. 

It couldn't get much better, right?

Viva China.


Monday, 13 October 2014

Inner Mongolilol

People say traveling broadens your horizons; it enriches your life and it opens your eyes to the ways of new and fascinating cultures. If you are feeling lost and you want to find yourself, you should travel. So that's what I did. Last week I went to Inner Mongolia, and I found myself. I found myself in a freezing cold wooden hut, peeing into a hole in the ground while chickens roamed around outside and I thought, 'WT actual F'.

Life in China is an experience to say the least, but traveling in the country is just a whole new kettle of surreal and ridiculous fish. Where else can you see Russia, yurts, log cabins, horses and pictures of semi-naked foreign girls from the one spot? Where else can you watch violent action movies on a bus that is driving on 'roads' that are still being built? And where else would you willingly get in a taxi to the middle of nowhere with a driver who you cannot communicate with?

Incidentally it is also the only place that I would venture out in leggings, a woolly coat, trainers and a fluorescent blue and yellow Nike rucksack all at the same time. Needless to say such a fetching combination did nothing to tone down my blonde haired, blue eyed Ying-guo-ren-look, and all da boyz came running. Literally. I was just sat in Shiwei, minding my own business waiting for the bus when a car pulled up, a man got out and went over to his guy palz who, obviously, pointed at me and started laughing. Next thing I know this middle-aged Mongolian/Chinese dude is invading my personal space with his arms around me and touching my face while all his friends get snap-happy with their cameras. After a cry for help, Emma got roped in too, and 5 minutes and several requests later (#popular) the bus came and saved us. Unfortunately not everyone had satisfied their white girl curiosity and some moron behind me on the bus was lucky I was quite simply not ballsy enough to turn around and punch him (feisty one I am), firstly for continuously and not so sneakily peeping his head round the side of my chair and staring at me, and then for sleeping with his hands precariously placed above my head so that every time we went over a bump (i.e about 5 times a minute) he 'accidentally' whacked me.

Thankfully though, I didn't end up in jail and I could enjoy the rest of the trip. That did, however, involve eating deep fried kidney so I do wonder if jail food would have been preferable. Either way, I saw some fabulous grasslands, got in an army tanker (SO COOL), increased my 'selfie with a chinese person' tally quite substantially and just generally survived, which let's face it is no mean feat in this crazy country. Go to Inner Mongolia, you might just find yourself peeing with some chickens.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Clarabella speaks Mandarin: 老师好!

Tonight's post (and all future China posts) come to you, not from plain old Clare Saunders, rather from Teacher Clare, or Miss Saunders as my kids now know me. Exciting eh?! Since last week I have moved to Tianjin and started life as a real life lao shi (teacher), which as it happens has involved several midday naps. China life is on the up!

Kids here (and therefore teachers too unforts) start at 7.35 AM and can go all the way until 4/5.00pm depending on the timetable. Today I was in 7.35-3.05 (my life is so much harder than yours) and at 12.30 I asked my class if they were tired (I was). Their reply? "Nooooooo", and one bright little button chirped up "all the classes, they are just so interesting". Not sure any teacher in all of the UK has, or will ever hear those words. My first four days (is that all?!) have been pretty much all good, except for the little rats in my classes who, when I ask them to guess who Rose is in a get-to-know-you game, pipe up "your daughter?". ER NO. And rest assured my reaction is enough to tell them not to make that mistake again. I have however been told that I am "just so beautiful" by many of them (not that I'm boasting or anything), so I still like them for now. I also have a pupil called Yoyo (they pick their own English names in primary school). I'm not sure I am going to manage to keep a straight face for the entire year when I have to call her by name.

Things on the Mandarin front are still pretty dire (I think maybe I should change the name of these blogs). Emma (my fellow ELA) and I went for dinner on Tuesday night, alone and unsheltered in the big bad world of chinese restaurants. We came across a stumbling block (not the first, nor the last) when we tried to order cold water. The word for water we know, we've had that baby down from the first week, but the Chinese think cold drinks do bad things to your stomach, so water, or 水, is served hot. Unfortunately we did not know the word for cold, so we resorted to pretending shiver, or acting if you will, to get our point across. He then brought us hot water so I don't think you'll be seeing us in any theatrical productions anytime soon. We are however beginning Mandarin lessons on Monday, so watch this space.

Finally, the culture shock seems to be wearing off, but then there is always something to bring you back to reality with a bang. For example seeing a child peeing into a shopping mall bin, or one-toothed Chinese grandpas getting all up in your face speaking an assortment of words I don't think I will ever understand. And people like to laugh at us, a lot. Ahhh ying guo ren, hahahahahaha. (Oh English people (which we aren't even), let's laugh at them). And if it's not laughing it's quite often staring. BOTH OF WHICH WE UNDERSTAND PERFECTLY.  Someone almost crashed his electric bike yesterday because he couldn't quite believe the two white things he saw walking down the street. To be quite honest he would have deserved to have fallen off (un-injured of course).

I know I sound resentful but actually I'm not. I'm really quite enjoying Tianjin, and the welcome we have received from our school has been fabulous. They even humoured us today with a badminton game - obviously we smashed them all the way to Timbuktu (LOL jk we were about as good as the Spanish World Cup team) - and the security guard is now our BFF. This blog has never seen such positivity! And so not wanting to ruin a good thing, I will love and leave you with the few photos I have managed to take since last time. Enjoy your wintery weather UK peeps, it's 30 degrees here.


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Clarabella speaks Mandarin: 你 好

Ni hao! When I left Paris almost a year ago I may have mentioned a couple of times how I was ready to take on the world. Well I took those words quite literally and ended up in China. Uh oh. If you thought me adding random Spanish and French words into the mix before was bad, just imagine how much you are going to love the chinese characters!

So far I have been here a grand total of 11 days, I pretty much skipped the honeymoon period altogether (supposed to last 2-3 months) and hit the irritability phase within 24 hours (totally unexpected as you would never imagine I was easily irritated, LOL). With this, and much to your delight I'm sure, came a list of rare (i.e weird for all those unfortunate non-Northern Irish peeps among ya)  and annoying things about this country that I just do not understand. Problem is, however, this is China, so I'm not sure what is okay or not to write. I'm going to proceed with what I perceive as harmless and if you think something I say might get me deported sure send me a wee message with a heads up.

Number one. Not only do they not wear nappies, many kids wear bum-less and crotch-less pants (so fetch), or there are some who just don't even bother with bottom-half clothing at all. Aside from the obvious environmental and economical benefits of this rather endearing habit, the big plus is that they can just pee and poo in the street as and when they need. Sure who cares about hygiene, why did we Westerners not think of this sooner? 

Number two. Imagine hearing someone with a cold hocking and clearing their throat in the bathroom, behind closed doors. Gross right? Now imagine hearing that several times a day, IN THE STREET, and wondering whether their spit landed on your leg. Definitely not on my top ten list of my all time favourite foreign habits. Then again, apparently blowing your nose in public is considered dirty and rude, so maybe we are the ones in the wrong. 

Number three. The food. I mean HOW MUCH RICE CAN ONE PERSON EAT?! Let alone oil, sugar, salt and MSG. Yummy. I have to admit that I have had some nice meals, but the stray dogs running around one restaurant, and the big fat 0 they had for food hygiene (I found out after I'd eaten there twice) have put me off chinese cuisine for a while. Unfortunately my chopstick skills will now badly suffer from lack of practice - I've never appreciated the good old knife and fork so much in my life. I suppose at least they don't eat with their hands.  

Not being one to complain, I'm going to end this blog with some not so negative thoughts. A lot of the local people I have met have been very nice and even though they laugh and take pictures of us, they are more likely to help us practise our (non-existent) Mandarin on them than we would be if they were to come to the UK, AND they let me take photos of them. I suppose it's the culture, not the actual people that have bothered me, I mean if they came to N.I I reckon they might have a thing or two to say about our national food, the good oul' spud. And anyway, as of the weekend and our trip to the Great Wall, Angry Clare has not been seen and instead snap-happy me is out in force (photos below). The thousand odd steps we climbed to get to the top must have released some sort of endorphins. Roll on the Great Wall half-marathon training (yes I probably am crazy)!

Actually OMG somebody has just walked past me projectile vomiting the whole way to the bathroom. There are actual puddles of sick on the floor, and someone else just walked in them. I'm a Westerner, get me out of here!


Friday, 13 June 2014

"Clare this is so ratchet"

Guess who's back, back again. Owen's back, and feeling vain. What better way to celebrate post exams than another photo shoot - "Clare I want a new profile picture". Ha. Pretty sure he got one thanks to my not awful camera skills. We are however still waiting for that call from Karl Lagerfeld, if anyone knows him give him a nudge in the right direction.

Bisous de nous