Our Glorious Return

Trip Start May 05, 2012
Trip End Mar 01, 2013

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Flag of China  , Tianjin,
Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Xin nian kuai le! [shin knee en quai leh]- Happy New Year everyone!

After our amazing and fantastic month long jaunt around Europe returning to China was pretty hard-to say the least.

In London the weather had been cold, maybe 3 or 4 degrees but when we got into Beijing we were greeted with a clear sky day of -6 degrees! The flight over Mongolia form Moscow had been spectacular as we could see the snow on the mountain tops steadily decrease as we came further south towards Beijing. It was clear it was going to be cold but we had no idea what to expect once we got on the ground. Going form the airport to our taxi cab we were totally shocked by just how dry and freezing a -6 day feels like. Even though the sun is shining bright, the cold is ferocious.

When we got back to our apartment we were both quite excited to see how warm it would be. When we left for Europe, the temperatures were dropping but the central heating had not been switched on yet in any of the buildings. In China the government sets regulations for when central heating can be switched on and for when it must be switched off. They don't start the heating until mid-November; even though it may be below zero; and they turn it off in mid-March. Again regardless of the temperature. So we were hoping to come home to a nice warm apartment and be toasty-pie warm. We had no such luck. We have four heaters in our apartment: a small one each in the kitchen and bathroom and two larger ones in the living area. Of our four heaters the two tiny ones worked and the big ones heated up for a moment then lost all heat and stayed cold. We were horrified! In the end it took two days of waiting and us threatening that we wouldn't re-sign with the school if the heating was not sorted out. In the end a man from the building maintenance company came and fixed them in 5min by bleeding the cold air out of them - we have radiator heaters that I assume run on hot water. What a nightmare! Even now that we do have them running they are far from perfect and we still need to rug-up if we are inside for any long period of time.

Aside from getting the heaters sorted and beating the jet lag we spent our first week getting our contracts sorted. When we came to China we only signed a 6 month contract as we were definitely going to Europe after that time and we were not sure if we would be returning to China and the same school when we were done with our trip. So we had to go through the motions of renegotiation. This was, thankfully, really easy and we walked away from the meeting with much better terms than we had anticipated and a pay rise! Hooray!

We arrived "home" on the Sunday and started teaching again that Wednesday. The classes all seemed to go well and it was actually surprisingly nice to see all the kids again. It was especially nice to see the kid's reactions to us walking in the door to begin classes. Some greeted us with a shocked expression and "Ni hui lai ma?!" [Nee hooey lie mah?] (You came back!?). The little kids were cute but the older ones, having more of a sense of what is happening around them, were especially pleased to see us again. Getting back into teaching and seeing the kids was the easy part. Beginning lesson planning from scratch again has been nasty. The foreign teachers that took over our classes were super happy to see us back as they could palm off the extra work load that they had been landed with.

Not long after getting back into the swing of things Christmas was upon us. For Christmas we did an activity at the school for the kids, much like the Halloween activity but with a Chinese Santa and candy canes. Christmas is not really celebrated here in China the way we celebrate it in the West. For the Chinese, Christmas is a shopping holiday and you only get the day off if you are a catholic. Luckily, Christmas day being on a Tuesday meant that we had Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off work. Since my Mum is in Xi'an, also teaching English, she flew over on Christmas Day and spent a short week with us. We were both quite homesick on Christmas Day and I spent my morning Skyping family back home while Steph tried to keep her mind off what we were missing out on by going for coffee with one of the other foreign teachers. We then picked Mum up from the airport at midday and had a quasi-Christmas afternoon tea with her in her hotel room. We then managed to find a hotel that had a nice buffet dinner which included Turkey, Ham and an interesting interpretation on Christmas Pudding. All in all it was probably the worst Christmas day we will ever have but at least we got to spend it together.

New Year’s Eve was a lot more fun. We went to an all you can eat/drink teppan-yaki restaurant for dinner then went to a local bar with a group of the other foreign teachers. It was a fun way to ring in the New Year but nothing like spending it on a beach back home!

This first month back since Europe has certainly been the hardest we have had in China. Since we returned and had no heating and no contracts - i.e. no obligation to stay - we looked up cheap last minute airfares back home a number of times. It has been very tempting to; especially with Christmas and New Year’s Eve thrown into the mix too.

Tianjin is also a terribly cold place to be in the winter months. Since we have been back the temperature has never been above zero and we even get excited when it reaches that! The river, all the large man-made lakes and the many streams have frozen over, and it has snowed twice. I think the average temperature has been around -4 degrees and we had one weekend where with wind chill it dropped as low as -20! There is certainly a difference between a -12 day and a -2 day and I never thought I would be happy to look at a thermometer and be relieved to see a temperature of ONLY -2! As Tianjin is south of Siberia and Mongolia we get the ferociously strong winds that carry the ice and cold straight down to us. However all the wind does mean that there is very little pollution sitting in the sky and we quite often get beautiful clear sky days; which mum was quite jealous of coming from heavily polluted Xi'an.

It hasn't been all gloom and icicles since we returned. We have now both joined the gym and are back playing Badminton a couple of times a week. Also the gym we have found is very luxurious and the hours that we go the place is practically empty! Further, and more important, the showers are great and you don't have to worry about running out of hot water after 3 min like we do in our apartment!

We have also rearranged the apartment to make it feel a bit more like our own and it is much more comfortable. We are steadily getting back into the rhythm of life here and learning how to cope with the cold. We began our Chinese classes again yesterday so having a bit more structure to our weeks will also make the time fly by.

We now only have 9 more weekends in Tianjin and thanks to a two week holiday we get from Spring Festival/Chinese New Year, and we only have to teach for 7 of them! After we finish in Tianjin, Amy and Ben (my siblings), will fly over to meet us. We will then fly across to Xi'an to spend a week with Mum before leaving China and coming home. The time will fly by so fast and we will be off in no time.

We can't wait!

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Gramz on

Only comment is Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! ( Tomorrow will be 32 here! )

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