The Transience of Expat Life- A Musing

When you live abroad (wherever that is) you find that things are constantly shifting.People are constantly coming and going.Many people come here for a short while and they move on.We came to China 3 years ago and we have moved to another city,leaving behind people we met,had a great time with and then said goodbye to.In Lin’an we made some great friends,but at the end of the year we had to say goodbye to them as we moved on to Xiamen, not knowing if we would see them again.Some we have managed to stay in contact with,some we have seen – one colleague came to live here, our “Chinese daughter” Ting and her boyfriend Computer Boy came down here last year in May for the holiday , and we chat a lot on Skype,but staying in contact is hard, and it’s certainly not the same as when she dropped by our apartment for supper most days.

Ting and Computer Boy on their visit to Xiamen University

When we arrived in Xiamen we made a wonderful friend called Ivy who helped us out many times reading stuff in Chinese and showing us around town.But she got another job up in Tianjin and went there.I can chat to her on WeChat but it’s not the same as hanging out together in a new coffee bar in Xiamen or going together to a party…I can’t blame her.She got a great job and she said that “Northern boys are better than the ones here”.. so bye bye Ivy.

Lovely Ivy at one of our favourite Xiamen Coffee bars.

So all the time we meet people,have a great time with them and then say goodbye.Many expats actually prefer this lifestyle.They want the casualness of life here,the lack of obligation,the “no strings attached” side to it.And it does have its appeal.WE always know that new people will be coming.There is a 5 year rule in China that after 5 years you are supposed to move to a new school.It is sometimes enforced and sometimes not.In some areas you cannot teach after 60 or 65 (retirement age for Chinese is 50 for women and 55 for men) so every year we are wondering who will not be invited back.Of course there are always people looking to move to a new area or to return home too.Last year we said goodbye to Renee and Barry our dear friends from Hawaii.James and his wife Wenxia went back to Canada,Karen and Lazar and their daughters back to Australia,Jonathan and Allie and their daughters to El Paso, and so it goes on.You meet people you have fun you move on.WE even have people who “do a runner” and disappear into the night for various reasons.No goodbyes there!

Friends from Lin’an Diana,Barry,Renee and Patrick

At this time of year the situation is pretty complicated.The universities are looking to renew contracts with some teachers and fire others.Many teachers have not given the school a reply whether they intend to stay or not.Some are undecided whether to move schools.Others are going home.They school may wish to fire some teachers but don’t know yet how many they will need as other teachers have not replied about renewing the contract.So of course we know we are going to be saying goodbye again this summer to many people,and that is all part of the nomadic life we have been leading.It’s great to meet lots of new people but sometimes it’s hard knowing that our paths may not cross again.But then, we kind of like the dynamic aspect of it too.It’s all par for the course when you move around a lot.What do you think? Would that kind of lifestyle flummox you? Or are you up for meeting people,getting friendly and then letting go?Feel free to comment!

Wonderful colleagues from Lin’an-Ted,Ding,Teresa and “Chinese Mark”

The North Wind Doth Blow…

So in case you are all wondering where we disappeared to… it’s like the poem says” The North wind doth blow, and we shall have snow, and what will the Robin do then,poor thing? He’ll sleep in the barn,and keep himself warm,and hide his head under his wing,poor thing”.

so we have been in hibernation for the last two weeks or so. We wanted to go to Hangzhou a couple of weekends mainly to get our computer fixed,and also to meet up with Yoan and Mango again, but it’s just too nasty outside to bother,So we stay iin over the weekends,watch movies on the computer and thank god for the internet. We have either nipped across the way to the Camphor tree restaurant to eat,or to Weekend Sunny ,or just made soups at home. IT is not really that cold,around 7 by day,but very wet and overcast and generally not pleasant. And then today there was snow in Jerusalem too! We also spoke to friends in Nanjing and Hangzhou and it’s much the same there too. So meanwhile we have made a few tentative plans for the summer. Assuming we finish up here around first week of June that means we have a month before we fly home,since our ticket is booked for July 10th so we are considering various options. The first,which I think we have pretty much abandoned,was to nip over to Australia and drive around there. However we really would prefer to do a more in-depth trip there and maybe take in New Zealand,plus it will be winter there so ’nuff said. Then we thought about touring somewhere in the China area such as Tibet,but having read up a bit it is very expensive and you can only do it on an organized tour so I am not keen on that. Then we suddenly thought of South Korea,which is currently the winning contestant. We could even take a train up to Qingdao,a city I have long wanted to see,and then take a ferry boat from there to Korea.Then we would fly back to Shanghai from Seoul.But more of this anon,breakfast beckons….


P.S Prize for best student excuse ever goes to Bruce Kim my student who came late to class on Thursday. He told me in the break that he had saved two newborn puppies from the garbage,taken them out, washed and dried them,wrapped them in a blanket and fed them milk. His story was corroborated by the fact that he brought them to class in a cardboard box. Sorry I didn’t have the foresight to photograph them! Well done Bruce!

The “Renee and Barry weekend”

So after months of chatting on skype and by email we finally got to meet Renee and Barry who lived here in our apartment before us last year and told us so much about life in Lin’an. They are returning to China after some months back in the US meeting their family and travelling,and Renee will be working at Shanghai Normal University.So they arrived by bus in LIn’an on Friday afternoon and came over. The first evening we had a dinner for them and invited some old friends, Mark and Diana and Patrick. IT turned out to be Patrick’s birthday on Saturday so he brought a massive cake from the renowned 85 bakery and  we had a lovely relaxed evening together. Then on Saturday we arranged a meeting for Renee with a lot of her former students who came to the recreation area in the library to catch up -they told her what they have been doing and she told them about her travels. Following this was much hugging and taking of photos.. We had dinner at Renee’s favourite campus restaurant the Camphor Tree along with Mark and Diana and Becky.Then the four of us (Renee,Barry ,Danny and I)  talked a lot into the night and now of course we are old friends and feel as though we have known each other for years.

Next day Renee and Barry had intended to get the afternoon bus back to Shanghai but as there were no tickets left they got tickets for this morning (Monday) and so we had another day together which fortunately was lovely and sunny so we got to walk around the campus lake and drink tea in the tea house and look at all the city kids flying kites,roller blading and racing remote controlled boats on the lake.In the evening we had soup and jaozi and were joined by Zhou Ting the art student who teaches me Chinese.IT was such a lovely memorable weekend.


The four of us at the lake
The four of us at the lake

Lin’an-Shanghai-Zurich-Tel Aviv-Jerusalem-Munich-Shanghai-Lin’an

Do you remember that sixties song “There’s a kind of hush…all over the world”? Well it seems to have struck here in Lin’an. We got back from our whirlwind trip last Saturday and started teaching on Monday. It was great to be back. We had lunch out with a bunch of  the teachers on Saturday at what is called the Glass Restaurant (surrounded by glass windows) and at the Pink Restaurant the next day (pink walls) and are now back into the routine. IT was great to see all the students again and it all feels comfortable (except for the biting cold,that is). But I suddenly realized yesterday the campus is quiet! Where are all the little electric bikes that whizzed around? The bicycles are all standing still! I think there must be a new law or something because nobody is biking to school! I will ask a student next week. My new schedule is amazing- I work Monday Tuesday and Wednesday – and that’s it! So when the weather warms up a bit we will be off on our travels again, Meanwhile Danny is also teaching 16 hours and was also offered some teaching at the High school in town. I did some editing work which took me a few hours but paid handsomely, so all is good. This weekend we will be hosting Renee and Barry,the couple from Hawaii who lived in this apartment before us and who are returning to China to teach in  Shanghai. So having only spoken online it will be great to meet them,and we have invited some people over to be with them too.

Then there is the wonderful Ting who is teaching me Chinese as many times a week as I like. She marched in bearing cookies from her hometown and a peculiar something wrapped in clingfilm which she described as “special mutton”. Don’t tell anyone but I was a bit loathe to taste it so I chucked it out. But it’s the thought that counts,right?

Ting in Artistic pose next to our lake

Making Jiaozi with Danny’s class

Today was Danny’s last teaching day of the semester (I already finished mine) and his students invited him to a session of jiaozi (Chinese dumpling) making at a party they organized. He of course asked if I could come too,and fortunately they agreed. So we went off to a very weird sort of empty apartment which the students hired for this event. It is traditional to eat dumplings at New Year in China,and the students (about 40 of them) had brought all the ingredients over to this apartment ,together with various other things, a drink called Huangjio and a sound system. Daniel,the class monitor came to fetch us and take us to the apartment,where we were showered with  a large quantity of said dumplings. Then they asked us if we would like to learn how to make them-and I am sure you can guess what we answered. There were various different fillings and very soon we were rolling and filling along with the best of them,It was a lot of fun!

Xmas Dinner at the Wonderland Hotel

This was an event of such epic proportions that it gets a post all of its own. Our Irish friend Patrick, who teaches at another campus of our University downtown got 8 invitations for foreigners to come to a FREE Xmas Dinner at the five star Wonderland Hotel in Lin’an. This hotel is about 10 minutes by car from our University but located on the Lake front and is apparently where the very rich of the town go to spend Xmas. The hotel sent its own private bus to pick us up and return us safely home. For this we were required to each sing a Christmas song. Danny and I rehearsed Halleluia by Gali Atari all week,as Patrick,who has been to this event 3 times before, assured us that the guests would not be aware if we were singing in Hebrew or in English. On arrival at the hotel at about 4.30pm we were shepherded past a large model snowman and various decorations,and a guard of honour composed of liveried waiters and waitresses with Santa hats,to a huge dining area full of every possible kind of food. There was a Chinese food buffet, a Western main course buffet, salad bar and Dessert buffet. Another table had soft drinks and tea and coffee and yet another with alcohol, the only item which was NOT free of charge.We immediately loaded our plates and tucked in. The manager came up and shook us warmly by the hand and thanked us for obliging. We listened to two Chinese girls dressed in white robes playing Xmas songs on the White grand piano.Then a choir of white robed maidens lip synced to Xmas carols.Finally it was our turn to sing our songs which went off reasonably well. After that there was a raffle- the lucky rich winners got an Ipad 2 and a 5 day holiday in Korea (we speculated as to whether it was to attend the Funeral of Kim Jong il or the Other Korea).

WE were then presented with gifts -some kind of plastic toy that whirrs around and lights up,and Chocolate Santa Claus figures.At around 8.30 pm we were escorted back home in the Hotel Bus full and very amused.

View of the Lake from the Hotel

angelic "choir"Chinese Santa

End of the Semester-Exams and Parties

As I wrote in the last post, we are busy with final exams,grading and preparing for the Spring Festival break( which is in the Winter,go figure!)

.My 6 Literature classes have a written exam that I have to mark , and my 2 Freshmen oral classes have been tested in a small interview,much like the Bagrut oral exam.Some of them told me it was the first time they have ever been tested orally in English and were very nervous. The English majors have been busily preparing for the exam,and seem (for the most part) to take it all pretty seriously.So tomorrow I will give an exam to around 120 students in a huge auditorium (freezing cold-no heating) and students take the exam with their gloves,coats and hats on! But of course, NO extra time, no LD dispensations (ignoring spelling mistakes,oral test or any of THAT stuff ,fellow EFL teachers!) And,also by the way,many students thanked me and gave me a big smile as they handed in their tests.

Then my loyal assistant Livia will help me put all the grades into the University computer system (in Chinese). After all the exams and parties are over,everyone will leave for the long Spring break,the students going home and the foreign teachers off traveling. We will be going to Xiamen,Hong Kong and then a brief visit back home to Israel,before we return for the second semester on February 13th.

Last night we were invited to Autumn’s house (the head of the English department) for a Christmas Party and farewell as she is off to study in Manchester,and she introduced us to Teresa, her replacement.

There were 7 foreign teachers and our respective student assistants there,and everyone brought potluck dishes to eat. We then exchanged gifts in something Ryan described as a :Yankee Swap” in which each person opens his present but if he doesn’t like it he can exchange it (once only ) with another guest. I was most satisfied with my electric foot warmer!

Then Autumn presented us with a little gift each and handed over “baton” to Teresa who promised to help us with all our problems in the coming semester

The Lovely Autumn
The Lovely Autumn

.It was a lovely evening and made me realize again what a great welcome we have received from everyone here,both staff and students.

Fran,one of my lovely students
Fran one of my lovely students
my footwarmer
My electric Footwarmer

Visit to Leifeng Pagoda,Hangzhou

Yesterday was another beautiful sunny day so we decided to go off to Hagnzhou and explore again. Since it is warmer outside our apartment than in it we tend to do this at the weekend. Also we are trying to figure out how to get around Hangzhou by bus instead of taxi as we want to feel less touristy.(joke) Anyhow we got to the bus station and after one attempt at getting the no. 8 bus in the wrong direction(driver did not let anyone get o ) we got the correct no. 8 and reached the Pagoda which is reconstructed as the original one from the 10th century got destroyed.The view from the top was magnificent and we had the usual “Please take our picture with you” from curious locals.We are now used to feeling like Robert Redford and Julia Roberts. We then walked a bit around the stunningly beautiful West Lake and then went to Omar’s Indian Restaurant for  lunch. (Real Indian food but sadly no Nans or Chapatis till evening )As we were going into the restaurant we ran into my student Chris and Miles,the Canadian who used to teach at ZAFU but because of the 5 year maximum rule had to leave and is now teaching at another university in Hangzhou.

We then got the number 8 back to the bus station to go home but unfortunately got stuck in the rush hour and the journey back home was otherwise uneventful.This morning it is Danny’s 65th Birthday and we are feeling more and more as if we are on a second honeymoon. I was going to write about Danny’s experience as a judge of a speaking competition but since this is my blog I will leave that until I join him in the next round.

Leifeng Pagoda

View of Hangzhou from top of Pagoda

Chinese tummy strikes

Well I guess it was too good to last.We have been here a month and I have been eating all kinds of things all over the place and finally my tummy decided to rebel.This is hardly surprising since all the other teachers bar one have already been sick,and also many students sent me messages that they were ill and not coming to class on Wednesday and Thursday.

So instead of rushing off to Hangzhou this weekend as we had planned I stayed in bed with tea and immodium to keep me company.On Friday we went into Lin’an city to scout around for various desirables for the house such as chair cushions and mattresses,since Chinese furniture is notoriously hard. We did get cushions,and we located some lovely covers to put on our couch and chairs in the sitting room,but want to measure before we buy.

This week I start to teach 2 new classes,of Freshmen,who have now finished their 10 days of military training. Then next week we have a week’s holiday for National Day. We are planning to go travelling but more of this anon,as my herb tea beckons.

The Tea Culture Academy

Today being the mid-autumn festival the Tea Culture academy of ZAFU invited us (along with lots of freshmen and just regular people from the city) to attend a tea party which was more like a traditional tea ceremony and tasting.This took place on the sports field right next to our house.The students set up little tables with different kinds of tea and invited people to taste them. This was followed by various speeches and competitions with prizes none of which we understood of course.But it was lots of fun and we became very popular with students wishing to practice their English and take photos of us.One girl,Since,an English major,was particularly friendly. Then we even taught a group of Forestry freshmen to say “shalom” after managing to explain where Israel is.It was altogether charming and enjoyable.