On the 3rd June Eleanor and I set foot on British soil. Her last day of Year 1 at Dulwich was Tuesday 2nd. Escaping early has had its advantages in a selfish way to me in that we have not had to say goodbyes and go to other people’s leaving parties. I know that is terribly selfish view but goodbyes are hard enough and what we have learnt from leaving the UK is that people do keep in touch. The people who have left this year who I am friendly with are on facebook, and the little girl who Eleanor will miss desperately, Zoe, well her parents are on e-mail and no doubt we will skype her as Eleanor was close to Zoe.
The other advantage was that I got out of organising the last class party. I have been a pretty bad Class Rep this year. I have sent out the e-mails to the parents on time and I organised the Christmas party with Katie, and then ducked out for both the Chinese New Year and the end of year party. Next year I definitely won’t be class rep!
Katie, my “token” American friend (just like I am her token English friend who talks proper English) is moving to Shanghai. And whilst we are both sad that we won’t see each other as often, it has hapened quite well given that I start work in August and wouldn’t have had time to do coffee during the day anyway. We will just have to do shopping trips in Shanghai instead – and Martin can breathe a sigh of relief that come August I will be self finanancing those outings.
As our UK sojourn comes to an end, I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of my friends willing to arrange their diaries to come and meet me. I have also been staggered by the life changing news that I have been told. 1 marriage which hasn’t been made common knowledge, 2 pregnancies, also not common knowledge, 1 house purchase and a resignation of a job as she relocates to South Africa in September with her partner.
I am also eternally grateful to my friends who have put Eleanor and I up at the weekends, and to our friends who have had Eleanor during the weeks and taken her to school. Leweston took Eleanor back, and she settled right back into the Reception/Year 1 class. Almost as if she hadn’t been away. She took part in the Sports Day (then complained that she had come 4th and hadn’t got a medal), has been on a school trip to Weymouth, and gone to Rainbows in Yetminster.
In the meantime I have clocked up 10 visits to Universities from Bath to Edinburgh, a 2 1/2 day course at the Hotel Russell, only 5 hotels, the rest of the nights with friends, and from the 3rd June to the 28th June I will have been on 35 trains. To date, only one of those trains has been delayed and because of my amazing train ticket I was able to get a different train, change onto another line and still get into London before my original delayed train!
When I looked at doing my University tour of the UK, I calcuated that if I didn’t prebook any tickets, travelled both at peak and off peak times and travelled every day for 25 days I was looking at paying in excess of £1000. Martin did a bit of research and was able to find a rail pass for 574 Euros. Only available to people resident outside of the UK. Reactions have been different depending on what part of the country I am. The guards in London have barely looked at it. The Guard on the train from Peterborough to York checked my passport, took the ticket away and checked the serial number as “there had been a speight of forgeries”. The Guard from Castle Cary to Bath asked me where I was going and then told me there was a tourist information centre at Bath Station. The Guard on the Templecombe/London line told me they are really common.
The weather in the UK has been VERY kind. It rained briefly in York, it has on occasions been a little cold (mainly in York and Durham) (and today in London) but I have only needed a cardigan rather than a coat. Blue skies and fluffy blue clouds have dominated the sky. Footwear has been flipflops or sandals. Had Eleanor and I stayed in Suzhou (like Martin) we would have been subjected to at least 4 days of non-stop torrential rain.
Living in China has its frustrations, but it’s public transport, certainly in Suzhou, is something to be grateful for. Suzhou to Shanghai at just over 100kms away can be done by train in 23 or so minutes. Suzhou to Beijing can be done in 5 hours 30 mins by train, covering a distance of at least 1,187kms (as the crow flies – the train probably covers a greater distance). London to Sherborne at 2 hours 12 minutes is a distance of approx 200kms. London to Edinburgh is taking 4 hours 22 mins and is approximately 666kms. The trains in China are smooth, the trains in the UK are anything but smooth. The fast trains are all equipped with plug sockets, whereas only a few trains here are. WIFI, however, is available on some trains here but not in China. And let’s talk aboutair-conditioning – on the London Undergoround it is definitely not standard. In China, certainly in Suzhou (which I appreciate is much newer) air conditioning is a welcome aid to making travel comfortable. And yes I did push my way onto the tube before letting people off…I have not done it since.
It has been refreshing to not be in fear of your life when taking a car, in fact everyone I have been in a car with has not felt the need to honk horns, change lanes continuously or turn left into traffic without a) looking and b) indicating. I have been able to talk to taxi drivers in English and to tell them where I am going rather than get the address in Chinese and show it to them on the phone.
I have been to ciites that I have always wanted to go to – York in particular. But size has been put in perspective when I talk about Suzhou being a SMALL city of 12 million in comparison to the City of York at 200,000!
I hopefully get my work visa on Thursday. The Dragon Boat Festival on Saturday 20th, makes Monday a public holiday in China and therefore makes it a public holiday at the Embassy and Visa office. So instead of having 5 days to get the visa I now have 4 days, with it being a 3 day turnaround. Getting the visa can only happen because the work permit and invitation letters only arrived in the UK last Friday and express service can only happen between 9 and 9.30am. Thus making Tuesday the only available day to submit the application. Fingers crossed that I can fly to Australia and back into Shanghai without a hitch.
The Crozier Girls have of course missed Martin, but he spent his public holiday in Hangzhou watching some of the dragon boat racing and picking tea leaves. When not there he is busy marking, teaching and packing his classroom ready for the school move in July.