Put simply – I miss England. I can’t even put my finger on what it is. It’s everything and nothing. I’m not sure what it was I was expecting in signing up to move to an unknown part of China at the tail-end of winter. This is possibly exactly what it should be and somehow not what I expected.
the remote control was in Mandarin
You may remember from the TEFL: Culture Shock, Shell Shock – moving to Wuxi post that we were thrown in the deep end by being in work the very next morning to teach Year 10. What we wanted was the long weekend to get ourselves sorted. Especially as on the Thursday night we arrived ‘home’ to a freezing cold apartment only to find we had no idea how to turn the heating on as the remote control was in Mandarin. I had no reason or right to be irritated by our inability to get the heating working as of course the controls would be in Chinese. Yet I still didn’t want to hear this very obvious fact as wearing my hat, scarf and gloves we made up our bed with two duvets to sleep under. We were just glad that our director Susan had brought us two sets of new bedding and happy to be wrapped up and able to sleep after what felt like the longest day ever!
unable to communicate with him
The next morning we got up in the freezing cold, managed to get the hot water working for a shower (again instructions in Mandarin but we got a lucky break here) and headed out of our apartment. Having only a rough idea of where we were in location to the school we hailed a tricycle (a local form of transport) and thrust the sheet of paper Susan had given us for such occasions into the driver’s hand. Somehow it worked (thankfully as we literally were unable to communicate with him) and we were deposited at the entrance to our school.
unable to feel our extremities
Our first day was a blur and all I can remember is the freezing cold on account of the heating being broken at the school the previous week. We sat there in coats, hats, scarves and gloves (the other teachers included) unable to feel our extremities. We had been given a huge workload including two weeks worth of lessons plans in advance (impossible), the equivalent of a medium term plan and we had a Year 10 lesson to prepare and deliver in the afternoon. The most positive thing to come out of the day was that we found someone to look at the picture we had taken of our heating remote control who could tell us how to turn the heating on. At least we wouldn’t freeze over the weekend – we hoped! After work a colleague kindly gave us the orientation we so desperately needed showing us how to catch a bus downtown, where to purchase Western products and the main Bank of China. Maybe it was just a rough first day – things were looking up!
For this level of sanitisation we needed to go shopping for cleaning products
The weekend followed and the previous evenings optimism melted away – not that anything had any chance of melting on account of how cold it was! Our first point of order was to get our apartment cleaned up as it seemed like the person before us had been given an hour to clear out and had taken only the bare essentials – there were half used toiletries, receipts in shopping bags and unemptied bins left over. For this level of sanitisation we needed to go shopping for cleaning products. We also had nothing to eat so we decided to try and make our way to Tesco (pointed our by Tony the night before). Naively I assumed that shopping in Tesco in China wouldn’t be much different from in England. Once again I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was like when you visit a new superstore that’s just opened and it’s huge, everything is in a different place and it takes a while to go around. That multiplied by about a 1000. Not only were there many new products but surprise surprise (note my sarcasm) everything was in Chinese (though some Tesco Value products had English on them too). We also had a tight budget to stick to so were constantly trying to convert between the two currencies to see if we were on track or paying way too much. I’m not the most patient shopper at the best of times but this pushed me right over the edge.
everything is a mission!
Returning back to the safety of our apartment I thought finally nothing can go wrong. We knew how to turn on the hot water for showers, the bed was warm and we had cleaning products to complete the deep clean. We even had food in the house, new pots and pans as well as a brand new microwave. We exchanged looks and knew we needed to be positive. The cleaning passed without incident, it wasn’t that dirty – just not to the standard we wanted. Once finished we were proud of all that we had achieved and decided in our famished state to put some washing on and prepare some food. That’s when it happened again. What happened? You’ve probably guess it by now…all the instructions were in Chinese. The microwave, the washing machine, even the instructions on the back of the washing power/conditioner telling you how much to include. As my sister later said when we spoke – everything is a mission! We realised that even the most simple of tasks were unachievable without the ability to read Mandarin. After becoming thoroughly depressed again about whether we’ll ever be able to complete the smallest of tasks, we opted for noodles and stir fry (no microwave needed). Just putting our clothes in with half a drawer full of washing power/conditioner, switching it to 40 (assuming this was degrees) and pushing every button in turn until it erupted into life. I must say that the food didn’t taste bad nor did it give us food poisoning and the clothes came out wet and smelling floral so we must have succeeded in some small way.
I take it we can’t put toilet paper down the toilet then?
The final disaster (as this was how I was now viewing them) of the weekend was the toilet blocking. Not a major incident on its own I will admit as I have had to deal with this in a flat I had in England before. However, after what I felt was the weekend from hell (I know I am being a bit dramatic but there you have it) this became yet another major problem. Once again it was due to an assumption made that if we had a Western toilet it would like being in the West. However, it blocked and the water rose! I remember turning to Anthony and asking: “I take it we can’t put toilet paper down the toilet then?” Being the gentleman that he is, he kindly unblocked it – having to boil water in a pan (remember no kettle!) and pouring it down the toilet as we had no plunger/toilet brush. It then dawned on me that the small bin we had would be needed for toilet paper throughout the duration of our time here – now that’s going to take some getting used to!
I don’t care if it’s only week one, I’m not going to work
The working week began once more and we were still so cold. Within a day I actually had a cold which by day two had turned into a full blown chest infection. I was knocking back the ‘cold and flu’ capsules we had brought from England and feeling like death warmed up. Only I wasn’t warm and felt there was no way I could get warm. It actually felt warmer outside than it did inside! By the middle of the week I awoke one morning and told Anthony: “ I don’t care if it’s only week one, I’m not going to work.” I felt bad for him having to walk to work on his own especially as I had been sent home early the day before too and left him alone. Yet at the same time I was too cold/ill to do anything but sleep. Sleep and cough!
are we just going to eat rice with the occasional KFC for the next six months?
The guiltiness of leaving Anthony alone and having to cover my lessons was too much and I dragged myself into work the next day. We had already worried all the way to work about our budget – seriously what can we actually get for ¥5 (~ 50p) each per day? – and were sitting at lunch eating yet another mountain of rice. It was at this moment I thought … are we just going to eat rice with the occasional KFC for the next six months? On telling Anthony my fear he laughed and then stopped suddenly as if he too thought that this might be a possibility. Dissatisfied with lunch we headed to the shop before heading back to the office but once again wandering aimlessly round the aisles trying to work out what the items were, if you could eat them straight out of the packet and assuming if it only costs ¥1 (~ 10p) it is unlikely to be very nutritious. We couldn’t even ask anyone what it was, what to eat it with and how to cook it. It was at this point we decided on KFC for tea. One more night can’t hurt surely?
After a week of bickering, crying, feeling thoroughly depressed and getting a chest infection each it does get better. Read our next blog to see how we overcome the difficulties of living in Wuxi, China and come to consider whether we might even stay on.