How to befriend complete strangers 20 August 2014

The past two days have taken me completely out of my comfort zone – but to be honest since I handed in my notice I have been out of my comfort zone (Original blog said since middle of July), so my zone of comfort must be expanding.

Where to start… well Eleanor got the school bus yesterday to and from school and has settled in well. She likes her teachers and so far so good. Yesterday on collecting her fom the bus drop off, she wanted to be independent and not have me collect her at all, preferring instead to walk with a new friend into the compound, leaving me about 10 steps behind her. To give her the freedom she wants I let her take out the rubbish, which she seems pleased and happy to do. This involves getting the lift down and up and walking through the building foyer. She has had more homework of taking in photos of family and as everything is on cameras or phones, my task for tomorrow is going to Kodak to print them out.

Back to yesterday… I went to the market in Hudong in the morning and bought vegetables, including purple peas, then as I was heading back to the compound (in the rain) I saw from a distance a girl from behind with gingerish/blonde hair, and whiteish arms…aha I though a westerner. Disappointment happened as I managed to pass her when crossing the road. She was Chinese with dyed hair. As I approached the gate of the compound , the guard opened the gate and spoke to me in Chinese. I looked blankly, fighting the desire to say “’Je ne comprends pas” which is now apparently my default language. He repeats it, and I continue to look blank and shrug my shoulders. Then I hear a voice saying “ he wants to know where you are from”… I turn around and there is my western looking Chinese girl.  A 3 way conversation ensues and then I remember I can ask her all sorts of questions about the compound including how I get post delivered and where the nearest post office is. She then says that she could take me to the post office. I can’t go there and then because I have water coming so we agree to meet at the gate at 1.30pm. I hastily wrote a letter, but I have no envelopes. I meet Bella anyway at 1.30pm and go off with a complete stranger to an unknown destination.  Hmmm what do I tell Eleanor – don’t talk to strangers and don’t go off with one. Ah well sometimes you have to.


Post office found, it is a simple affair. A counter, nothing else being sold. No envelopes. So my new Chinese friend who leaves the country to go back to  a US university 3 hours outside Chicago on Monday explains my plight to the person behind the desk and suddenly an envelope appears – for FREE! Address written, I attempt to lick the gum. But nothing to lick. Bella sees what I am doing and from behind me on another counter she produces something that resembles an ink well and quill. What is actually contained in the well is glue and a paint brush. I apply too much glue and it leaks out when I close the envelope. I wipe most of it away, but of course the envelope is now damp with glue. Does this mean that the letter will be stuck to another letter and never arrive? Will the receiver of my letter get the letter and have another one attached? Only time will tell.


(Back to the water – water from taps is not drinkable in China, mainly because of the lead in the pipes. So we now have water from tanks, you know the type that you find in doctors or solicitors offices – the water that is filtered and lovely). They come in 20L bottles and we have a water dispenser that does room temperature and hot. We can ring up and order water, but I wasn’t brave for the first couple of months, so I just go to the dispenser place in the neighbourhood centre, show my address, pay money and the water is delivered by a man on an electric scooter (ebike). The water was 14 kuai it is now 18 kuai as of June 2018.)


Back to Bella – sorry for jumping around. Bella asks me if I am a Christian. Well yes, but how did she know/why was this a question you would ask? It appears all westerners she meets are Christian and she offers to show me the church. I then tell her that not all westerners are Christian and then I changed the subject before I had to explain atheism and all other belief systems.

She then takes me back to the market. I had asked her to as I had nothing to go with the vegetables I bought that morning. However – she is a student and I got the feeling that she doesn’t do that much cooking. But between us I got meat and fruit, found a padlocked tennis court (in the compound and by the neighbourhood centre). I have until the shipping arrives to a)find someone to play with and b)find out how the gate opens and for how much. She also showed me where to find the nearest gym. All in all a productive afternoon.

I met Bella by chance, and if you like – she approached me. On Monday evening I arranged, through Facebook, to meet a stranger outside a metro station at 11.30am on Wednesday morning. Why? Because he posted on the Suzhou Expats facebook page about learning Mandarin. So today at 11.30 (with another Mum I have inveigled to come along with me) we met Anwar and the three of us have formed our own international class to start at New Concept Mandarin. We start “Survival 1” class on Tuesday 26th August for 2 hours a session, 2 sessions a week for 8 weeks. They have a total of 9 modules on offer. 3 for survival, 3 modules for social mandarin and then if so inclined 3 modules of business/professional Mandarin. I did all 3 survival modules.

The other mum I got to come along with is Katie. I met her on Eleanor’s first day, her youngest son is Reed. Anwar’s wife is also a teacher but not at Dulwich. We all agreed on morning classes, thankfully only Tuesday and Thursday were available, and then the discussion happened over timing. Early, but not too early as we wanted the rest of the day to do things, but we also had to take into account travelling and getting kids on buses etc. It was easier to organise this than it was to organise advocates meetings when I was a lawyer with many other parties! Our classes will be 9-11am.

Martin has been talking about a flipped classroom in his new school. And now having had it explained to me, it is what I did in Utrecht when I studied there. It is also how I will be learning Mandarin. Watching videos, doing worksheets and then using it and developing it in our 2 hour sessions. Am quite excited.

Just as we were talking about timings, my phone rings. It is not one of the seven Chinese numbers saved. Tentatively I answer it. It is the school nurse. Eleanor is unwell having complained of a tummy ache for the past hour. I had sent her to school with a cough which I think has been caused by the air conditioning and the dry air, but there had definitely been no tummy ache. I say I will be there in about an hour. Dulwich is on the far side of the lake. Jinji lake which divides Suzhou. The lady in the mandarin place calls me a taxi, that arrives and she takes me down – but the taxi driver is new to Suzhou and wants to look at a map. Helpfully I show him my map. We start the journey. The taxi was yellow so it is 1.8kuai per km. The meter is always 12 to start with. We had literally done a U-turn on a zebra crossing (commonplace) when my phone rings again (no more than 10 minutes after the first call). It is the nurse. “Eleanor is much better, you don’t need to come.” “Hi Mum, I had trapped wind. I don’t need you”. “You sure? Will see you at the bus stop.” Thankfully as I look up, thinking how do I tell the driver I don’t want to go to school, I see the metro stop. I gesture to pull over. He does. The fee? 12 Yuan. A pointless taxi journey.