I’m sitting in the Riverside Hostel in Guangzhou, trying to reflect on my time here in Guangzhou while listening to the peaceful sound of jackhammers blasting apart the street outside. Ahh, China – everything constantly being built and nothing ever fully finished.
This final week in Guangzhou was eventful, to say the least. Monday was our final time practice teaching at GETCH; for the rest of the week we had our afternoons off. Or sort of off – “off” is a misnomer, as there was so much stuff to do this week that it felt like we were running around even faster than before trying to get everything done. Buying presents for waibans, arranging airplane and train tickets, and working out visa situations occupied a large chunk of the week. Not to mention the celebrations that marked the end of our time here in Guangzhou. It all started Wednesday, when we took our Chinese teacher out to lunch and then went to GETCH for a final afternoon with our language partners. The students took us on a tour of the surrounding neighborhood – a tour they were now leading commercially, as they had won some type of entrepreneurial competition to develop some walking tours of the surrounding area. Then we came back and played badminton for a while (I need to get a lot better QUICK if I’m going to win any games while I’m in China) and said goodbye – the first of many endings for the week.
Thursday morning was our final Chinese class, during which we watched a movie about some ancient Chinese beauty who dressed as a man, then had a relationship with a man who finally killed himself for her (after which she did the same). They tried to make light of the situation – it was a cartoon after all – but it’s hard to make light of suicide in a kid’s movie. Then we had the Graduation Ceremony: Mr Dai, the Dean of the International Culture school at SCNU, came and gave a couple of impressive speeches in Chinese. Then he presented Patrick with a commemorative SCNU plate and asked him to make a speech – which he did, to much applause. Then we were each presented with certificates (diplomas?) which were impressive enough to make it look as if we had just recieved Ph.D.’s from SCNU. After the diplomas, it was time to go outside for pictures.
After lots of pictures, we finally parted to calls of 一日不见，如三秋 – I haven’t seen you for a day, but it already feels like three autumns have passed by. Lots of melodrama, appropriate to any Chinese parting. That evening, we had our final dinner (as Patrick and Kailah were leaving the next day). We went to a fancy French-Vietnamese place which had REAL bread and REAL wine and dishes with pesto in them! Then Caroline pulled out a package of fake mustaches, which we all put on for the next stage of the evening: a boat cruise along the Zhu Jiang.
As a foreigner in China, you already attract a lot of attention. Here’s a friendly tip: if you want to attract a lot MORE attention, wear fake mustaches. You will be noticed – make that stared at – continuously. It only gets better if you play it off as something typically American – say, a national holiday or a typical American custom. And if you really want to get noticed, you could set up a fake proposal situation on a cruise boat in the middle of the Zhu Jiang: have the mustachioed girl wander into a crowd of people, then have the guy find her, get down on one knee, present a ring, embrace to cheering and clapping and the snapping of camera shutters all around. If you want to be the rock star of the moment, this is the best way to do it (or so Caroline and I found out).
On Friday, people started leaving; Patrick in the morning to return to the US, and Kailah in the afternoon to Zhongdian. I came with Kailah to the Guangzhou main train station (described by Lonely Planet as “a chaotic and seething mass of humanity”) to help her get on and to buy a ticket to Xining. After getting her safely on the train (her new rolling duffle broke in the process), I spent about 45 minutes searching for a bank to withdraw cash before spending another hour in line to buy tickets. The line moved quickly, but people would continually cut the line and push their way to the ticket window – which held up the line for a long time. Finally, I got to the window – only to learn that the train to Xining only runs twice a week (NOT every day) and that all the tickets for the next week were sold out. I left the train station pretty pissed; now I would have to buy a plane ticket to Xining, which was much more expensive. At least I’ll be able to get there earlier than I would have if I had taken the train.
I booked me, Caroline and Daniel in the Riverside hostel (a very nice place if you ever come to GZ) and went to Carrefour to buy some essentials that cannot be found in Xining: namely cheese and wine. If anyone ever comes to visit me, those are the top two things that I would appreciate as gifts. Thank you all in advance.
Finally, we had one last dinner with Sarah, Devin, Brooke, Natalie and Ingrid – who were all leaving the following morning. By mid-morning Saturday, Daniel, Caroline and I were the only first-year volunteers left in Guangzhou. Since everyone else left, we’ve been relaxing in the hostel and exploring the surrounding neighborhood – which has some HUGE and frightening street markets filled with all sorts of creatures and smells and sights – and pretty much just waiting to move on. I’m going to Hong Kong this afternoon to get my Z (work) visa before I travel to Xining on Tuesday. I’m excited about going to Xining (if not about leaving all of the other volunteers) but I’m still in the dark about a lot of the details surrounding my post. Where am I living? What (and who) am I teaching? I’d love to get more details about my living and working situation (especially about teaching, as I’d like to prepare a bit before school starts on the 2nd) but it looks like I won’t hear much until I get there. So mixed in with the excitement of going to Xining is a bit of apprehension due to the number of question marks surrounding my post. At the same time, I think I’ll be able to iron these things out pretty quickly when I get to Xining, especially with the help of Maria and my school’s own waiban; nonetheless I’d still like to get more time to prepare for the upcoming school year!
Regardless, I think everything will turn out fine; I’m just excited to finally live somewhere for an extended period of time. The Kyrgyzstan Brigade hotel was nice, and living in McCarthy was awesome – but I’m ready to actually unpack my suitcase and be somewhere more permanently.
That’s all for now – I’ll try and update again after HK.