On Saturday 10th December, I set out on a bus, to visit Luoding, which is about 2 and a half hours by bus, from Zhaoqing. I was going to visit Doug McClure, who is teaching at a privately owned school on the outskirts of Luoding. We left Zhaoqing at 12.30, but hadn't gone more than about 15 minutes, when we hit a massive traffic jam. That is so funny, because there is none of the western way, of staying in your lane, and getting impatient. No, they just wait for the smallest gap, to nose the vehicle into, and then push their way in, or get pushed in on, and where there would be three lanes, it becomes more like five or six!! Aussie drivers would have an awful time of it!
Eventually arrived at Luoding at about 3.30. Doug met me, and took me to the hotel he had arranged for me, and of course, my room was on the fifth floor!! I think the Chinese think it is an honour to be up high. They don't seem aware of the steps you have to climb!
After I had settled in, Doug came back, collected me, and we walked down to the school. It is about a 20 minute walk from the hotel, which is near the city centre. Luoding is a much smaller city than Zhaoqing, and a lot less affluent, judging by the dress of the local population, and the standard of cleanliness in the streets. There is litter everywhere, admittedly it is usually swept into piles, but there seems to be no system for collection and disposal.
The school where Doug teaches, is a nearly new one. They started (I think) 7 years ago, with only one class, and as those children have gone up in grades, they have added further classes, until today there are about 700 enrolled students, which is still a very small school by Chinese standards. The students are all boarders, and they range from kindy kids, who look so very young, to about 14 - 15 year olds. Most come from homes within the city of Luoding, but still they live at the school, during the school week. Even the little kindy kids!!
Doug showed me around the school, and then we adjourned to his accommodation, which is very small, just a bed sitter, with a bathroom and laundry attached. But, the upside is, that it is brand new. Never been used, before Doug moved in. While Doug was waiting for my bus to arrive, he made an amazing discovery in the city shops, and he managed to buy coffee, and sugar, and even milk!! So, we had a decent cup of coffee, while I unpacked his bundle of goodies, that I had managed to bring from Zhaoqing, including butter, cheese slices (which are a luxury here) and some decent Xmas cards. The Xmas cards were a laugh, as I had told him that I had not been able to find any either, then just a day or so before travelling to Luoding, I found a good range, or quite nice cards, in a florist shop, of all places!!
We had arranged to go for tea, with the other foreign teacher, a guy from Brisbane called Ricardo. So we walked back to town, and had a chicken fillet burger, chips, and coke, at a generic brand of fast food, western style. It was not too bad, quite tasty in fact. From there we went for a wander around the town, the markets and streets were very busy, with people everywhere, and lots of children wanting to say hello to the 'foreigners'
I had called one of my ex-students, who is doing her nursing practice in Luoding, and we met up with her later in the evening. By then, we were sat at a lovely little outdoor place, where we could get a beer. Earlier we had investigated a bar, but gave that idea a miss, as they had loud music, and we would not have been able to have a conversation! (Signs of old age??) Anyway Annie joined us, and was very pleased to see me, and also to meet two more foreigners!! We ended up eating again, from the many stalls, cooking various kinds of foods, real local tucker. It was lovely, and it was quite a pleasant evening, as the chill had retreated from the air, and sitting outdoors was lovely, watching the Chinese world go by.
On Sunday morning Doug collected me at about 9am, and we went back to the school, to collect his bike and a borrowed bike for me! I didn't really know if I would still be able to ride, but to my amazement and pleasure, after a few wobbles, off I went. We headed out of town, because I was nowhere near confident enough to tackle the city roads! We travelled maybe five kilometres, with me dismounting every time a vehicle came by, as I was worried about getting a big wobble up, at the wrong moment. But I surprised myself, by doing pretty well, even though I did wonder what I had done to my rear regions, by the time we got back!!
What picturesque countryside. The rice has been harvested fairly recently, so there are still fields of stubble, although some have been re-ploughed, ready for planting. Ploughing is done with a hand guided, single furrow plough, which is pulled by a single water buffalo. It is as if time has not managed to encroach on their way of life at all. We passed through a number of small villages, too, where I saw for the first time, people living in single level, detached homes. Well, I guess homes, is a bit of a misnomer, as we would probably call them hovels, but to the locals they are their homes, and they take a pride in where they live.
In the afternoon, I found my way back to the school, to watch the beginning of the Open day, which is an annual event. There were busloads of people up from Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, some of them members of the foundation who owns the school, and the others were potential investors. So the school had been scrubbed and tidied to the nth degree, and in the afternoon the show began. Doug and I hung around at the back of the seating area, hoping to be able to sneak off, as it gets very boring, very quickly, listening to long drawn out speeches in a language that we can't understand. But we got seen by one of the visitors from HK, and he came up, introduced himself, and made sure that we both had seats amidst the dignitaries. So there went our plan, to escape! But, in fact, the speeches went past amazingly quickly, and the show that the students put on, was delightful. Mostly singing, or dancing, but with one little play, which was a little misty in meaning in parts, but we managed to get the general drift.
We had planned to go to a restaurant in town for tea, but once again got collared by the school, and ended up at a banquet to honour the 'important' visitors. And we were seated at a table with the dignitaries, all of whom can speak good English, so it actually was not as bad as we might have imagined!! Don't we sound ungrateful!! But, sometimes it is very therapeutic to escape the Chinese, and just to be able to be Aussies, having a simple conversation, and not having to make an effort with the conversation, choosing words carefully, and simply.
That afternoon, we had all (Doug, Ricardo, and ) been invited to dinner on Monday night, by two of the teachers from the school. They were very disappointed to hear that I was returning to Zhaoqing on Monday. So, under duress, I decided that I could stay for another night, and everyone was happy.
On Monday morning, I headed off to the school, to watch English lessons in action, in a more junior environment, than I am used to. So Doug used the opportunity to show the DVD about Albany, which I had lent him. The children were a little young to grasp a lot, but they all seemed to have aspects that they were impressed by.
And that evening, we all met up at my hotel, and walked up the town, to the restaurant that Stella and Sheila had decided we would eat at. It was a pretty grubby little place, but they assured us that the food would be good. It is in a building that is owned by Stella's sister-in-law, and the restaurant is run by people from Sichuan province, which automatically means the food will be pretty hot, with lashings of chilli. I did ask for 'not too spicy', and there was only one dish that I did not enjoy, the rest was lovely. And the girls are so happy to be able to show us some hospitality.
I got back to the hotel to find my ex-student (Anny) waiting for me, to take me to her friend's birthday party. I did not really want to go, as a good book seemed like a better option, so told her I would only go for a little while. The party was all young people in a Karaoke room with the music way too loud for me, but Anny convinced me that I should sing a couple of songs before I went. So they found me some English songs, and were very impressed that a foreigner knew what to do with Karaoke!! About 10pm, I insisted that she get me a taxi for home. Which meant that I still had a bit of time for my bed, and a book too.
Next morning (Tuesday) I got the bus out of Luoding, for Zhaoqing, at 10.10, and was back in Zhaoqing by about 12.30. On the way back, there is about an hour of travel where there must be literally thousands of workshops and storage for slabs of beautiful stone, which would be used in building, and for bench tops. Some of the most gorgeous colours and patterns, which were cut from huge block of stone. How the people work there, though, I don't know, but they must have severely shortened life expectancy I would think, as there is no Occupational Health and Safety here, and no face masks, no safety equipment of any kind!! But that is the way here!!