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Anna’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 30 Dec 2006

Location: Huaxian (and a bit of Xian), China

MapAnother long wait between entries.

Well winter has most definately set in now. The temperature is an average 1 degree C. Pretty cold - but thanks to our central heating and two air cons we are much MUCH warmer than last year.

The start of winter was marked with the appearance of old women setting up road side stalls selling minature clothes made out of paper, fake paper money, incense and other funeral wares. We assumed there was a holiday (to remember the dead) approaching - hence all of the 'funeral stuff' on sale. But nope, it was because winter had arrived and they wanted to make sure that their dead relatives would be warm enough in the cold weather. Every evening we saw people out on the streets - they would draw a small circle on the floor with chalk, place the paper clothes and paper money inside the circle and then burn it all.

Another thing that marked the beginning of winter, confused us a bit to begin with. We started seeing increasing amounts of people wearing face-masks (like the surgical kind). We thought maybe it was because of the pollution, or maybe there was an epidemic that we hadn't yet heard about!!! We were wrong, they just wear them to protect their face from the cold. They are quite effective and we have both bought some. Looking forward to the anonymity they will provide when we are completely covered up apart from our eyes.

Even though Christmas is not really celebrated in out town, it definately arrived with full force in our flat. We used the fake tree, loads of decorations and strings of fairy lights to set up a proper little grotto in our lounge.

On the Friday before Chirstmas we (well, Neill did most of the cooking) prepared a Christmas Dinner for James (our Foreign Affairs Officer), Grass and Ellen (our Chinese Teachers) plus Grass's son. We had the full works; chicken, lots of veg, mashed potato, sautéed potato, stuffing wrapped in bacon, gravy and mulled wine to wash it all down. It was delicious and impressive as we don't have an oven, so it was all steamed or fried.

On the Saturday the headmaster and some school leaders (bosses) took us out for a banquet (another delicious meal). We were given a fancy Chinese tea set, to make proper Chinese tea with we just need to learn how to now. After the meal we were treated to a foot, arm and back massage - it was so relaxing and a great way to begin our short but hectic Christmas holiday.

On Christmas Eve we caught the bus to Xian and checked into our hostel slap bang in the centre of the city.
For some reason, even though China does not generally celebrate Christmas, Xian has adopted Christmas Eve as a big festival and uses it as an excuse for a massive street party and I mean MASSSSSSSSSSIVE!!!! The city was pretty busy when we arrived in the afternoon, but by early evening it was packed. They closed all the gates in the city wall to traffic and people poured out onto the streets. There must have been 10's of 1,000's of people, if not much, much more. The pavements and roads were crammed, everyone was celebrating, wearing Santa hats, Halloween masks (?), spraying snow spray and silly string, setting of fireworks, selling snacks, selling tourist tat, and generally having a brilliant time! We spent a few hours walking around with the crowds before joining a party in the Hostel. I took part in a competition (eating race), which I lost terribly, but it was good fun and we met some other British people who live in Xian.
We went out to the streets for more 'shang jie' (walking the streets) to enjoy the street party for a while longer before heading to the hostel where we joined the others to welcome in Christmas Day. It was an amazing night and such a great way to spend Christmas Eve I think it was the biggest crowd of people I have ever seen in one place.

Christmas Day; we woke up early-ish and decided to head back to Huaxian (our town) early so that we would arrive home at about midday giving us enough time to open pressies, cook a Christmas meal, speak to family on skype and watch a few movies. Unfortunately it wasn't to be!
A thick thick fog had descended on the whole area and the expressway was closed. We had persuaded a taxi driver to take us (I'm sure he regretted it after), and the journey that should have taken one hour ended up taking four hours, most of it spent in a traffic jam in the fog.
To make it worse, after spending about an hour struggling to find a way onto the expressway, our driver, stupidly joined on the wrong side of the road and we started driving back towards Xian!!!
We spent the last half hour of the journey parked/crawling in a traffic jam leading up to our exit. In end I got out of the car and walked the last few kilometers to the toll gate in search of a toilet!
So, while most of you were waking up to your stockings, I was walking/running along a Chinese motorway in the fog in search of a toilet!! Ha!

When we finally made it home we got straight into Christmas Mode; put the Christmas music on loud, started opening our stockings and pressies and ended up having a great afternoon/evening.
As it was too late to make a Christmas Dinner we dined on Xiao Bing and other Chinese street food, along with lots and lots of Chocolate. Mmmmmmmm nice but not quite a Turkey Roast!

We were lucky to have had Christmas Day off school, but I had to work on Boxing Day. Which was fine, the kids were all in good spirit. Neill didn't work because he never works on a Tuesday (good schedule), but he did get roped into (excuse the pun) joining the male senior two teachers team for the Tug-of-War. After three rounds they lost 2-1, it was good fun to watch and I was invited to join the female senior one teacher's team for the next day - we won, Ha ha!!!

Because we are having Mon, Tues and Wed off next week for the New Years Holiday, we had to teach today (Saturday). The kids were all in great moods though and so excited. Tomorrow there is a big party/show to be held for the whole school (more about that later) and tonight (Sat) each class held a party in their classrooms. Throughout the day our students were all inviting us to come to their parties. We agreed to stick our heads into some of them for a few mins. So just before 7pm we set off to look into the parties. We didn't expect much from the parties, we thought maybe they would be similar to lunch time and breaks between classes. The students spend all day of everyday together in the same room we didn't see how calling it a party would change the athmosphere all that much, but how wrong were we!?
They had gone all out with the decorating, moved all the tables and benches to the edges of the rooms, had balloons, snowspray, sweets, sunflower seeds, oranges, hot water and some even had the multimedia screens pulled down and had rigged up a Karaoke machine (some with mic's, some without).
All the kids were so excited and were all in great moods. Each party we went into (we visited about 7 in 3 hours) the kids had planned a programme of entertainment for the evening; students singing songs, dancing, party games with prizes, in one class a group of students even put on a short version on Snow White (in Chinese) it was fantastic!! In most of the classes we were forced into the centre of the room and urged to sing. In the first class we refused, but after seeing all the students having a go (not always successfully!!), I agreed to attempt a song with some of my students. The only song I knew a bit of from their suggestions was 'My Heart Will Go On' (I am cringing as I write this!!), so, I'm embarrased to say that that was the song I attempted (and ruined) on more than one occasion. Believe it or not, Neill joined me after a few classes (I guess he felt sorry for my poor solo attempts) so we sang that song together a few times (with the students too) we also sang an Irish rugby song and attempted a Chinese song (which was probably the most successful, note-reaching wise!!). It was a great laugh, it all sounded awful, but the kids loved us having a go and they all sang along too (they love the cheesy songs out here).

Tomorrow for New Years Eve we have the School Show, which will include an act from every class in Senior One and Two (all of our students). We are half looking forward to the show and half dreading it. We are looking forward to it because it'll be great to see all of our kids dancing, singing and acting. But we are dreading it for two reasons. The first is because it will be held in the school playground (outdoors) and as there are so many acts it will go on for hours and hours and hours. The average temp here at the moment is 1 Degrees C. and for the past two days it has snowed, so I think we are going to be bloody freezing!! The second reason is that there is a 95% chance that we will be dragged up on stage to perform we have been warned numerous times over the past week to have something prepared and everyone seems to be ignoring our protests.
After our unexpected practice run tonight we have decided to learn the words for one of the Chinese songs and try that out. If we fail at least we can use the excuse that it's in a different language!
Oh and I forgot to mention that we will be singing in front of an audience of between 3,000 and 4,000 people!!! Quite a bit of pressure! Probably our biggest crowd yet I think last year it was about 2,500.

So I will finish this super long entry now and try to upload some photos (we've got so many). I will let you know how embarrassing the show is as soon as I have recovered from it.

Happy New Year to you all.