Apparently there was a fair bit of snow in China this winter, but you wouldn’t think it living in Beijing. Though the temperature ranged from nippy to sub-zero there wasn’t any more than the briefest of light dustings. It was so dry that I got little static electric shocks from everything metal I touched, so dry that my hands and face went red and started flaking. It’s a wonder that people ever moved here at all. That it’s the capital city for a quarter of the people on the earth just beggars belief. There are no animals, no birds and barely any plantlife. There’s not even a river of any note. Maybe this all sounds terrible, and maybe it is, but despite (or maybe because of) this I somehow love it here. My last week in Beijing saw the first rain since the week I arrived in September, so perhaps my experience is tainted by the time of year I was there. Still, cold, dry and windy really seems to suit the place.
As for the blizzards and related chaos of the Chinese New Year, the first I heard of them was from the UK, such is the bubble that we keep ourselves in. A fair few e-mails arrived that week asking how I was coping. Only this (and also probably common sense or something) explained why I had been unable to buy any train tickets the week before. The videos I’ve seen of Guangzhou train station, never exactly my favorite place, look like something from another continent or another world. For the record day-to-day China is a pretty tame and inoffensive place, especially the middle class towerblocks and English schools of Chowyang.
Back in England talking about the weather usually means there’s not much else going on in your life. I wouldn’t say that’s true – it’s just hard to get a little perspective on the last few months. With 29 hours of teaching every week I got into the kind of steady routine that blurs the memory – up until 3 or 4 on the computer or watching downloaded sitcoms with John and Aaron, waking at 11, cycling into work, teaching all afternoon, dinner at the Xi’an restaurant, teaching again until 9, cycling home, etc, etc.
To be fair there was the occasional shake-up that added a little spice. The most exciting thing to happen was in January, when a new manager informed all the teachers (via an e-mail from the next room) that in order to “improve our standards” ten of us would be arbitrarily fired at the end of the month, based on our student evaluation results. Fortunately this new policy proved to be so disastrous that the resultant backlash produced a quiet, pleasant work environment – for the teachers at least (this kind of treatment is normal for Chinese employees). It can’t last, but since I’m out of the place it’s no longer my problem. The classes themselves were bearable, somewhere between a chore and a pleasure. In the evenings and on Saturdays I got to teach the highest level, which is a lot more enjoyable than either the lower level grammar-and-vocabulary stuff I’m used to or the higher level business classes, which I find very very dull.
Perhaps the best thing about living in Beijing was meeting Veronique. The biggest regret is certainly leaving her behind. I know we’ll meet again someday. It’s just a shame there were so many reasons for me to leave Beijing. At least it will make for more interesting pictures and writing.
This lake was definitively not frozen when we came back a few days later.