On the 3rd August 2014 we made the leap of faith and took the plunge and made our way to Suzhou for our new adventure. On the 3rd August 2015 I was sitting in a classroom type environment introducing myself to my new colleagues at Dulwich International High School, Suzhou.
What a difference a year makes.
Last year we arrived with 4 full to the brim suitcases from the UK into Pudong airport filled with trepidation after an 11 ish hour flight. It was a grey day, (like most days here), hot, there was a long queue for immigration and then a very uninspiring journey. This year we arrived back at night, fresh-faced from our 7 hour flight from Australia with 3 suitcases. (Filled with goodies from Australia and winter clothes!). We landed at 9.30pm from Hong Kong which meant that there were only a few non Chinese Nationals in the immigration queue, and Pudong was quite quiet meaning we were in and out of Pudong with luggage in about 30 minutes. And because it was at night it was dark – you can’t see pollution in the dark nor the expanse of buildings between Pudong and Suzhou! The heat however at 10pm was still stifling hot.
At midnight we arrived back to our apartment and immediately switched on the air conditioning. Outside it was still 30 degrees celsius, in our flat it must have been more as the air con had not been on for a month. It took a good day and a bit for the apartment to feel cool.
Martin made the trip to the new Aeon Mall in Suzhou on Saturday morning for bread and milk. The Aeon Mall was opened on the 29th May 2015 and is on our school run. It is at least 4 stories high with cinema, supermarket, clothes shops and more restaurants than you could possibly imagine. Apparently it is the largest mall in Suzhou (at the moment!) And whilst we had the essentials, we ate dinner there on Saturday and Sunday night and Monday night… Tuesday I cooked for the first time since May. Martin went out with two new members of his department and Eleanor got to sample my very basic cooking. – chicken, pasta and broccoli. I have a feeling we will be eating there regularly. I have now done more shopping but still lack the flair for making my cooking a bit more inspirational. Currently we are eating a lot of salads, not least because since our holiday, our waistlines have expanded!
The most cooking I did whilst away for two months was put a very yummy Duck a l’Orange from Leith Marks and Spencers in the oven in June. And that was only because I wanted a “ready meal” (that I could understand the instructions for!)
Eleanor is very pleased with the first purchase of the new year in China – a paddling pool. It is just big enough for her to swim in a circle, and is solar heated between the hours of 9am and midday. It fits nicely on our balcony.
On the first day of orientation new staff were greeted at Element Fresh for brunch but also informal introductions. I chose to get to the restaurant by Metro. On the way to the metro I saw – a man working with a man hole cover in the middle of a crossroads – with only 1 cone to warn people of the hole and “man at work” and people sleeping at the entrance to the metro on Nanshi Jie, on the metal cover beneath the air conditioning unit. I got on the metro, even got a seat, as we neared Xinghai Square I got up and stood in front of the metro doors ready to get off. Now in my mind I forgot about my exploits in London when I nearly totalled people getting on the tube before people got off it…but I was not prepared for the double assault.
The doors of the metro opened. I was standing in the middle of said doors. 2 women both with their heads down barged at me from either side, so much so that they swept me back onto the train. I grumbled at them and managed to make my way out of the carriage – how full was the train? – It was empty. How many people got on the carriage that I was getting off at? – Just the two women. Was the train making a hasty departure? – No. Welcome back.
On the 4th August I sprained my ankle and on the 5th August with my passport retrieved from school ( they have to register me with the police) and my new medical card (our old one expired on the 31st July) I limped my way to the doctors surgery at Xinghai Square (Sing Health). I registered, I waited 5 minutes, I saw an English speaking Dr, I had an x-ray and was given an ankle support and Diclonfenac cream for the swelling and 30 minutes later I was back on the metro. You can’t fault our medical health insurance. My ankle is fine (or at least it will be once I have movement back in it).
The 17th August will be the first day of school (with students) for Martin and I and it will also be Eleanor’s first day of school in Year 2. DUCKS (Eleanor’s school) requires that children have black leather shoes but China doesn’t really do black leather shoes – or if it does I haven’t got the ability to find out where they are sold. So in Australia when we were in Sydney at the end of July we went to Clarks at Westfield. But of course because August/September is not the start of their new school term, choices of school shoes were limited. I would have liked Eleanor to be in a shoe that has a buckle or velcro, but the only shoe in her size was a lace up shoe. Eleanor demonstrated that she can tie her own shoe laces, and hopefully she will continue to be able to do so in a timely and neat fashion without tying herself up in knots!
Our Chinaversary also sees the start of my new job. I have now completed my 3 days of orientation. Seeing the other members of new staff reminds me of us a year ago; finding an apartment, getting to know where the local supermarkets are, getting internet sorted, living in a hotel not knowing how to get places. One new member of staff saw 22 apartments over 2 days. Crazy! Next week is staff training and ensuring the new school is ready to have students and then it all starts properly. The only downside is that now we have to get childcare for Eleanor for after school. I know that it is good that she has had me around for the first year of China, and it is now appropriate that she sees me working but it will be different for her in that I can’t come and pick her up at 3.30pm.
However, I am so excited, with excellent teaching staff we will be able to collaborate to ensure that the students go the best university for them. The Head of Maths will help me in the background I am sure!
And finally…having an August birthday meant that I have NEVER had to go to school. I also tried to have the day off at Battens too when I was there…but next Wednesday I will be at school. And I am not sure how I feel about that.