Monday, June 18, 2012

The Final Countdown

"We're leaving together, but still it's farewell", as Joey Tempest sang shortly before one of the most bombastic keyboard riffs in Euro-rock history was unleashed to the delight of poodle-perm dudes everywhere. This actually has nothing to do with what I wanted to write about, so apparently I have digressed before I even got started... which must be impossible if I haven't started anything from which to digress. Now I am confused.


On thursday  I "taught" my final lesson and on Friday helped invigilate the English exam which will determine the future (immediately at least) for my students. Less of a grand finals and more a fade to black really. Still, it was a relief to have made it to the end.

Friday also was the day of the school "riot" which took a little explaining to me, but was essentially a big end of year party for the students culminating with cream-pieing the teacher of your choice and a water balloon fight. The sterner elements of the school administration apparently tried some passive-aggressive sabotage tactics including locking the places we needed to get into to prepare, and performing some intense scowling at the proceedings. Lina managed to hold the whole thing together with the help of our Canadian principal who was sympathetic to the cause. I was charged with preparing a motivating playlist of music that might appeal to Chinese teenagers. This intimidating task came off fairly well, though I don't know if they know who AC/DC or Primal Scream are...

Riot over, Lina and I scurried off for the bus station and our last trip to Chengdu to spend the weekend with the Chengdu Panda Hash.

We got to the meeting place in good time on Saturday morning and snoozed our way out to the scenic area which had been chosen for the weekends hashing activities.  There were some faces we recognised, and even a few who remembered us. I love the eclectic crowd at these things, including a surprising majority of Chinese. The foreigners this time included a representative of the US consulate, a pilot, a German nuclear power engineer, plus the usual compliment of oil-industry big wigs and financial types. After lunch (and some warm, weak, Chinese beer) we set out in the rain on the first hash run of the weekend. The inclement weather made things slippery and washed away the flour markings of the trail, but we had a great time splashing and sliding our way through the forest for an hour or two. More beer, some organic farm food, and a short bus ride later, we were back at our hotel for the night.

Beware the false trail

"On on!"

Organic shoe-washing
Sunday was started with typical Chinese breakfast (mostly the same as dinner, but with some strange pickled things and soy milk). We were then back out running I the the damp forest again, with some atmospheric mists swirling around us... though none of the spectacular views were available for viewing. Lunch, beer, bus, beer, and beer brought us to the railway station where have successfully managed to buy sleeper tickets on the train back to Yongchuan. We'll arrive in YC at three in the morning and then hopefully get ourselves into work on time for some invigilation of the final exams.

Warm "Snow". The beer of champions at a robust 3% alcohol.

CPH3 - an institution we will miss

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The End Is Nigh

With just three days left in my teaching career, there have been various items of business to take care of. One item of business not requiring much input from me was the inaugural graduation ceremony of the school, which for reasons I expect to never understand took place yesterday... before the final exams. Despite my current students being the juniorest of the juniors, they seem to be appearing all over the place in school events. It's great to see them so keen to get involved with singing, music, drama, and generally doing their own thing. The school singing club features a good handful of my students and opened the ceremony with a musical number. I think it was some kind of Chinese high-school romance story. Though of course I couldn't understand any of it, they put on a great performance. 

Jeff about to launch into Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love"
(no, not really)
Fresh graduates
Being a working Saturday, the usual suspects had concocted a plan to celebrate the end of the work day with the First Annual International Soju Saturday. Soju turns out to be one of the least offensive (and cost effective) drinks available in Yonchuan. The escape from Chinese beer was most welcome. Soju combined well with Tyler's selection of country music classic, howling at the moon, watching The Song Remains The Same, and finally adjourning to YC's old town for barbecue was a great success.

A long time ago I promised our friend Tracy in Vancouver that I would make a "Day in the Life" video of our activities here in YC. With time running short, I finally got around to getting some stuff filmed using the GoPro camera. Sifting through the inevitable pile of mostly unwatchable footage has yielded the following story of a day teaching. There's a load more of "extra curricular" activity that I didn't include. I'll figure out something to do with that later. So, for now here's Part 1 of a day in our lives. Thanks for the inspiration Tracy! This one works much better with sound.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


A bit of price-stalking a few moths ago scored us some really cheap 'plane tickets to Shanghai for the weekend. The Chinese granted the Shanghai Concession to the French in 1849, and in 2012 I conceded yet more of my environmental conscience to getting on an aeroplane for a weekend away. With our days in China drawing to a close, it did seem like we should make a final effort to see a little more of the country's culture before we're back in Vancouver and will have to cope with only 28% of the people being Chinese, rather than pretty much all of them.

Ironically (or not, I'm never sure what irony actually is after that Alanis Morissette song) we ended up enjoying a free exhibition of Ian Rankin photos, which was really entertaining. To restore the cultural balance, there was a band of four Chinese guys playing covers of British rock songs. It's been a long time since I watched live music (Erhu twanging excluded) to I enjoyed these guys reinterpretation of Yellow Submarine (apparently in the style of "Knees Up Mother Brown"), some reggae Pink-Floyd, and Radiohead's High and Dry with the words changed to a load of nonsense. that last one may not have been an intentional reworking, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

The in-flight magazine had one of those whiffly "things I saw whilst enjoying my mornings perambulation" articles written by a French Artist living in Shanghai. Unusually, the article gave the address of the tennament building complex that he had visited and found a community of artists and hip cafes crammed among the skyscrapers. We set off for a long walk to find this spot, and were rewarded with some real hole-in-the-wall hipsterish stuff. We could have almost been back in East Vancouver.

No. 87, Lane 1025, West Nanjing Road

GZ Cafe, designed for tiny hipsters

This picture tells the story
We also did the obligatory look at the big/old/significant buildings walk, which was very scenic. I've also just started reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, which I had no idea was about architects until I started reading it. Maybe it won't really be about architects in the end... but this part certainly fitted with a weekend surrounded by Gothic and Romanesque buildings. All of these impressive facades were an unfortunate reminder of how ugly Yongchuan is, but YC's charms lie in its cheerful inhabitants rather that its architecture, climate, or municipal sewage system.

The Bund's bizarre psychedelic tunnel. Made in France.
French Concession Lanes
Towers of glittering delight