I love the first day of Summer School: as hard work as it is, I am suddenly reminded why I have come back.
We arrived in Qinhuangdao yesterday. It is a coastal city, a little over 4hrs coach ride from Beijing. The route along the way starts to give way to the ‘real’ China, right down to the wrinkly old farmers in coolie hats. Qinhuangdao has little exposure to Westerners, and so wherever we go, we are met by bemusement. A group of 30+ of us sitting at a roadside bar last night became a local attraction. Traffic slowed and beeped at us as they passed, groups of giggling girls came over to practise their English and take photos with us, whilst the ‘cooler’ boys used us as a background whist their mates took their photo. Countless people stood nearby talking on their phones as if to say “you’ll never guess what I’m standing next to!”.
A small group of us headed off for food afterwards, returning to a table-top BBQ restaurant which was a previous favourite. Once again we caused such a stir that no one seemed to think we were being rude as we walked around, pointing at tables asking for “nage” (“that” – unfortunately their menu contains no pictures!). We ended up with a leg of lamb, corn on the cob, courgette salad, fried dumplings and sesame bread. And beer, though somehow we know how to order that ourselves! The lamb comes cooked ‘pink’, and is finished on a spit over hot coals in the middle of the table. Diners receive what can only be described as a knife and fork on stilts, to hack away at the meat from a ‘safe’ distance. A top notch dinner, assuming you are neither a vegetarian or Health and Safety Officer!
Alas, we are here for another purpose other than drinking, eating and entertaining the locals, and so off we went to school this morning to do our thing. As it is an English language summer school (and as correct pronunciation of Chinese names is so difficult), the children use English names in camp. We’ve had some crackers in the past: who can forget Bumble Bee (a boy), Harry Potter, Shark or Kate (also a boy, though he was gently encouraged to change his name last year). Today I met Arthur, a 13 year old girl. To be fair, she had already sussed it was a boy’s name and asked if I could pick a new one for her. I tried to match it to the sound of her Chinese name as often happens (though not always: see above), but she thought both Joanne and Jane sounded too boyish and she wanted “something prettier” (her words – my apologies!) . After several more suggestions from me and her class mates, she settled on……yup, Arthur. Oh well.