Planes, Trains and Rollercoasters

The first time I stepped out of an airport in China it was below zero degrees, but the dry Beijing air meant it seemed quite a bit warmer than this compared to Britain. Later that day I stepped out of an airport in southern China and the air was almost unbearably thick, wet and hot.

So it was this time. Even standing in the queue for visa checks at Xiamen airport, I was uncomfortably warm in my t-shirt and shorts. It was even warmer as I sucked down a cigarette near the taxi rank outside. My back felt sticky and my forehead was damp within seconds. I never would have imagined myself, a fan of cold places, moving to a subtropical place. But here I was.

We got a cab to the train station and enjoyed the cooler air inside as we ate youtiao – kind of a long doughnut – and baozi – doughy dumplings filled with pork and bamboo.

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Mingxing was in good form on the train. She shifted a young man from our seat, then got him to put his seat back up after he occupied the one right in front of us and reclined it to its fullest extent. Later, she got one of the staff to tell someone to turn the volume down on their tablet. The journey north was a pleasant one through a landscape of pointy, forested hills, watery fields of rice and buffalo, and tired-looking industrial towns.

We got to Nanchang in the early afternoon. Mingxing was taking part in a teaching competition here this weekend, so I had to stay here for a few days before I could finally go to Ganzhou, my new home. Nanchang is the capital of Jiangxi province, a city of a few million, I should imagine. However, its metropolitan credentials were called into question when the hotel we’d booked into turned us away because I’m foreign. We soon found another place up the road though.

That night we found a little Sichuan restaurant and I happily wolfed down boiled fish in spicy oil with chillies, beef with celery and chillies, and cabbage with chillies. Advantage of moving to China #1 – when you want spicy food, you get spicy food. It cost 77 yuan – nine British pounds – and we couldn’t eat more than half of what they gave us.

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Friday was a free day for us, so we got a taxi across the city to go to Wanda theme park. I regularly feel the urge to ride rollercoasters, but I hadn’t been on one for years. Thankfully, the park had three good ones. The first was a steel rollercoaster with a big first drop (apparently it’s the tallest ‘coaster in China). The second was the longest wooden rollercoaster in China, a rough, wild ride with lots of drops. The third was an inverted rollercoaster with loops and corkscrews. Best of all, I don’t think we queued for longer than ten minutes for anything.

On Saturday Mingxing gave her presentation in front of students and judges. Considering she’d had little chance to prepare, what with having had to collect me from Xiamen, she did well to place seventh out of 36 competitors, meaning she was through to the second round the next day. That afternoon we headed downtown and rode what a taxi driver later told us is the second-biggest ferris wheel in Asia, and later that night we went to the riverside to watch the nightly light show – the skyscrapers on either side of the river come to life in a display of pinks, blues, greens, reds, yellows, as an animated story plays on the side of them. To be honest, I have no idea what the story was about but the display was great.

The next day Mingxing had 30 minutes in which to improvise a 10-minute analysis of a text and a teaching plan to go with it. Not so much a test of teaching ability as a test of speech writing under pressure. But anyway, her final placing of 8th, out of a province-wide competition of 36, was good. The 90-minute award ceremony afterwards, complete with bafflingly inappropriate songs and interminable speeches in Mandarin from university staff, was less so.

There was just time for us to have a quick dinner with some of her colleagues and other assorted university types before heading to the train station for the sleeper train down to Ganzhou. Finally I was going “home”.

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