Friday, 30 October 2009


Date: Fri, 13 Jul 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: wanting

On the off chance I can get a flight out of China before Uni starts, and assuming I do decide to come home now, I don't suppose anyone knows of anyone in Melbourne who wants a housemate (me) for next semester?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: unwanted

Yesterday the newspaper made me redundant. The other part time guy just moved closer to the paper, so he can work full time now so my services are not required.

They made me redundant!! Apart from it being a crushing blow to my ego, they've known about this for weeks, so if they had just told me last week instead of last night, I wouldn't have re-signed my contract on Friday.

So now I am stuck in China for another six months.

Monday, 26 October 2009

you’re always tease tease tease

Date: Thu, 5 Jul 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: you’re always tease tease tease.

The weather is just superb. The air has been clear for two days, the humidity has dropped and the sky is just too blue for words.

They are moving right along with the construction. Today the trench in front of the supermarket had changed into a pit, guarded by a snarling toothful beast. The flames roared and little men with shining eyes brandished weapons of destruction. All looked grim in my quest for Snickers. I studied the situation. Sauntered past, attempting an air of disinterest. With swinging across out of the question and the bridge gone, the situation seemed bleak. Suddenly I noticed one of the beast's foul minions precariously balanced on a trail half a mile off. I ducked behind some passing natives and managed to gain the trail unobserved. Stones slid from beneath my sandals and my dry breath caught in my throat. With gazelle like agility I leapt to the other side as the path swept out from beneath my feet in a mini avalanche.
Quietly, calmly, casually I slipped behind the fierce warriors guarding the entrance to their lair, and into the underground cool of the supermarket.
And met with disappointment.
Someone had beaten me to the snickers and there were none to be had.

Did you know that no one in Tibet has a surname? I have a Tibetan name now. The first part is the name of a Tibetan goddess and the second part is 'moon'. I feel like I don't really have my own name in China. I will answer to my name, my Chinese name, lao shi, teacher. One of the reporters at the paper has my name wrong and calls me 'xixi'. I get called 'Katrina' once or twice a week and I have even been called 'James'. (And here I thought only my mother called me that). In the street people expect me to answer to 'hello'. And I have learnt the negative word for 'foreigner' and the word for 'big nose' through repetition. No one here calls me ceels. Apart from anything else it is too hard to say.

with all my love
who ever I am

Saturday, 24 October 2009

a wilting china rose

Date: Sun, 1 Jul 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: a wilting china rose

'Just answer your damn phone mister, before I do something irreversible with it.'

Stupid phones.

'Scuse me. The man over there won't answer his phone. It has the most irritating ring tone.

Living in Beijing is very interesting. You are as likely to be run down in the street by a front-end loader as a bus (they move at about the same speed) and even going to the supermarket has become an adventure. There is a saying in Beijing about their roads being like zippers. Apparently this time they have opened up the road to put in a new subway line, but it looks suspiciously to me like they are just digging big holes and filling them in again. There is a deep trench in front of the supermarket that you cross by means of three muddy planks tacked together. They bounce. And I am much larger than your average Beijinger. I have a good imagination.

Actually my imagination is getting out of hand lately. I keep thinking of doing things and imagine so strongly that I have done them, that I don't. And then the other night when I was having dinner with Aiyi (one of the reporters at the paper) I made a remark about wanting to learn Chinese better and he said something along the lines of 'well, when you have been living and working here for four or five years...' and suddenly I had a very clear vision of myself married to Aiyi, with six or seven Chinese babies. (Well, one Chinese baby of course, but while the Chinese government can stop up a girl's loins, they can do nothing about her imagination)

Maybe it IS time to come home.

I saw some foreigners near the school today, but they were Russian, so I couldn't talk to them. I can spot a foreigner a mile off. It is even getting so that I can pick people who are not from Beijing, sometimes.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

I have seventeen mosquito bites

Date: Wed, 27 Jun 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: I have seventeen mosquito bites

I’ve read a lot about having your pockets picked, every one from Prince Kheldar to Sherlock Holmes. But now I feel I have the authority to write about it.

Didn’t feel or see a thing.

I have heard that members of the 'Jedifaith' want to have the 'Jedi Faith' listed as an official religion on the national census. I think I might have to come home, as Australia seems to be falling apart.

Yesterday on my way to work at the newspaper I saw a couple of dozen police hats neatly lined up in a grid pattern on the foot path. Because nothing in China surprises me anymore, I was not surprised. And when I got around the corner I discovered that a couple of dozen policemen were being made to run around the block in forty degree heat with no hats.

When I left the paper I ran into a bunch of army guys marching in time and I felt a little intimidated. Then I noticed that, just like in my classes, the ones up the back were stuffing around and generally behaving like fools, knocking each other’s hats off and tripping each other up, and I felt reassured.


Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Date: Mon, 25 Jun 2001
From: Ceels

Also, on Friday I ate clotted pig's blood. It is supposed to clean out your lungs, and at this stage, I’d give anything a go.

On Wednesday I learnt a valuable lesson about squat toilets and leaving your keys in you pocket.

Date: Mon, 25 Jun 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: On Wednesday I learnt a valuable lesson about squat toilets and leaving your keys in you pocket.

Beijing is a very interesting place to live. It is full of noise and people and music and construction. The other night someone was playing the violin down on the driveway and I went down to investigate and ended up singing a rousing Chinese/English duet of 'Click Go the Shears'. And the immersion technique of learning language is very interesting. As each new fruit comes into season I learn its name and last week when the mosquitoes started biting me I learnt 'wen zi' the Chinese word for mosquito (and entirely more appropriate). And yesterday I learnt the Chinese words for 'your wallet', 'stole' and 'little boy'.

By the way, the lambs are still alive (by what miracle I do not know)

Sunday, 18 October 2009

sunburn and speed wobbles

Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: sunburn and speed wobbles

Yesterday, when I was sitting on the Great Wall watching a thunderstorm come over the mountains from Mongolia, I was thinking that...

Actually I don't know what I was thinking, I just wanted to start my email that way because yesterday I was sitting on the great wall and I was watching a thunderstorm. But I wasn't thinking much. I was exhausted from having climbed so far. I actually made it to the end of the section we were on (si ma tai). When I was nearly there I sat down on a rock and was really comfy and thought 'ehh, I’ll just wait here for the others to come back’. But then I figured I’d got that far, a little further probably wouldn't kill me.

And it didn't. And I met a man from London who was in Port Fairy when I was in Dorset and there was a stunning view and it was all good and I was happy. Then on the way home on the bus with the super-cold air conditioner my cold got worse. Then when I got home I was all misery-guts and hopeless. And now today I am really sick and I’ve got the speed wobbles and I want to go home.

So, reasons to stay in Beijing: good job(s) (most of the time).

I am just starting to get the hang of the language.

With fewer hours working, I might make some friends.

The kids are really cool.

And to return: I might shake this cold I’ve had for four months now, it's back for the seventh round.

I can do fun uni stuff.

Less smog.

I’ll be home before they decide about the Olympics.

In the balance it seems I should stay here. Mum thinks I am just being stubborn about staying. She has been known to be right about me before.

The school is foolish. They should have made me sign the second contract when I changed my mind the first time.

Thank you for all the lamb-milk recipes.

love you

Friday, 16 October 2009

happy as a pig in mud (more apt than you might expect)

Date: Fri, 15 Jun 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: happy as a pig in mud (more apt than you might expect)

Today in a serious error of judgement I became a mother, a saviour and a science project.

I was teaching junior one (year seven) class 2 when one of the little girls came up to me and asked me if I knew how to feed sheep
'I guess so,' I replied carefully (as you would)
'Do you know how to feed baby sheep?'
'Ye-es' (I did grow up on a hobby farm)
'That’s wonderful'
'Ah.... why?'.

It turns out that on the very top floor of the school they have a little room and in the little room are two nearly dead lambs. They have been there for three days and the children have been feeding them lettuce leaves. I tried to tell them that they need to be fed milk and was met with 'but where would we find that, that is not a good idea.' so I made up some runny porridge and they picked at it, but really weren't interested. And now I am stuck. What do you feed lambs if you don't have sheep’s milk and you are living in china and wouldn't have the first clue where to find formula.

Not only that but because it has rained for the last two days it is now quite cold. Which I like but it is not so good for lambs living in a concrete room with only a sheet of newspaper to sleep-on. Which they have been trying to eat.

There have been three thunderstorms in a row. Every time lightning struck last night I woke up with a faint buzzing feeling and all my hair standing on end. Very strange feeling. The rain has been simply bucketing down. The streets are awash with mud and 'other', and all the plants are clean.

Last week I went with the American (Ginny) who is staying in the school and her Chinese friends to the western hills. We climbed Xiang Shen in 37degree heat and then had lunch in a temple with no Buddha. I didn't take to Ginny immediately. Probably because her first reaction to me was one of pity. Apparently I am young and I should be going out and making friends. I felt like telling her that I am practicing for when I am an eccentric old biddy living in the mountains with my ducks and horses. Anyway, I quite like her now and have forgiven her magnanimously.

I guess you can't get a group of friendly Canadians every time.

Oh, and here's something to give you a bit of a laugh. My job at the newspaper? I am proof reading the finance and business pages. You could start quite a successful company on what I don't know about finance and business. So between my lack of knowledge of how that sort of article should read and the Chinese propensity for making everything sound like a murder mystery novel, I am not cutting a very impressive figure, but they have not fired me yet, so...

I have just realised that I haven't eaten. I forgot to eat breakfast and spent all lunchtime trying to feed baby lambs. And, as today is my day from hell (back to back classes from 8am to 3.15), I haven't had any other time.

I go to satisfy my hunter gather urges

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

I’m only happy when it rains

Date: Fri, 8 Jun 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: I’m only happy when it rains

This hot has melted all my brains and I don't make cents.

I waaas going two rite a letter four youse all, but their is no words allowed in my hed.

I tink I be work too much and all the lessons and mistaks are mudled in my mind. Sometime I tink if they were not paying me so much monkey then I would just nik orf. But insted I rite my name at the bottom of another contrat and say I will stay for seven other months than this one.

Many many norty kiddlets have addled all my egg, and I have no choice but to flour the chooses and reddadle.

If mine terrible grad fa then it not really a problem, but if that sun gets anny hota then I ravveled sleve never.

If a skippy stinky lad sees one more word I will say to it that snorky blatts are formididibble in the shunker.

So with a brain like a stepped on tomato, I leave you with this thort.

ha ha ha I trikkked you.

there is no thorts here.

Monday, 12 October 2009

the cows burp every two or three minutes, each cow producing up to 200 litres of methane gas

Date: Wed, 30 May 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: the cows burp every two or three minutes, each cow producing up to 200 litres of methane gas

Well the Coke and Snickers diet is working and I have started putting on some weight. Actually it may even be working a little too well, but that doesn't matter. According to Melinda, Chinese men are attracted to big bottoms. They also like pale skin, but they don't fancy stubbornness or independence. Apparently Melinda wishes she looked more like me (mainly because of my bottom), which is funny because I’ve always wished I looked more like her (kinda petite and graceful).

I asked her the other day about her childhood and she seemed kinda reluctant to tell me. She was astonished to discover that there was no MacDonald’s or KFC where I grew up and that we only had two television channels, too. Actually, my most bestest memories have nothing to do with the telly but with playing games, like four run away kids and a dog, cops and robbers, secret valley. Or playing in the sheep shed or haystack or the old cypresses, or riding a sheep or catching frogspawn or collecting mushrooms. I used to nearly believe that there were fairies and elves and that my teddy had feelings and came alive at night time. I sometimes wish that there was someone I could play ‘just pretend’ with. It is easier to believe in magic stuff in china. That the hills are sleeping dragons, that the seedpods from the stuff (that I thought was marijuana but isn't) are little itty bitty fairies on the wind (of course then it rained and they were little itty bitty flat fairies on the ground).

I did an exercise with junior two last week where they had to think about ways they could help look after the environment. Unfortunately I combined it with an article about cows in Australia contributing to the green house effect because they burp up so much methane. So there were loads of answers like 'Kill ten million of the cows' 'Eat the cows' 'Change the diet of the cows so they don't burp'. I also mistranslated burp into Chinese as hiccough. 'Scare the cows' 'Cut off the cows’ tails, the pain will stop them hiccoughing', 'Play the cows eminem music to scare them'.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

why are you looking at me?

Date: Sat, 26 May 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: why are you looking at me?

What a week

When there was a wasp the size of Texas in the classroom did I panic? No, I got a broom and brushed it out the window. (The kids thought I was a total rockstar).

When the train was delayed and I was going to be late to the first day of my new job at the newspaper, did I panic? No, I jumped in a taxi.

When the fan fell off the wall, nearly decapitating a child, did I panic? No, I went and switched the power off at the wall.

When one of the boys jumping to touch the roof beams slipped and landed at my feet and broke his arm just above his wrist so that when one part was pointing at the roof the other part was pointing at the door and none of the students would go and get the nurse, did I panic? You bet your arse I panicked. I was just a huge enormous panic inside, and Charles (the boy) was going green and then four of the others picked him up to take him to the school's clinic and I was thinking 'aahhgg, what if something happened to his back' and they got him down two flights of stairs and couldn't carry him anymore, but he managed to get up and walk and already his arm had swollen about three times its size.

The last touch to my week was when in my second last class on Friday one student tried to kill another student and there was blood everywhere and I got hit when I stepped between them.

Maybe I will come home and pull pints at the Stump.

And my advice to the world is that you should try not to teach twenty-six classes a week and go and work two nights at a newspaper. At least I said no to the Saturday teaching job, now if only I could get out of the recording on Friday. It turns out I have an excellent recording voice. Easy to understand for the second language listener. I have caught the knack of speaking slowly without sounding like I am speaking slowly.

The only other thing to report is that it rained and everything has cooled down and I got my first night's sleep in two weeks last night.

love you

Quote for the week:
'Pop music is characterized by a simple tune and slightly mental lyrics'

Thursday, 8 October 2009

tai re

Date: Mon, 21 May 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: tai re

I am just not accustomed to perspiration. I am not what you would describe as an active person. I don't play sport, and on the two or three days each summer that it gets this hot I respond by staying very very still. For example, I did not know that the dip down the middle of your back makes a perfect funnel for perspiration, and leaves you looking like you've wet your pants.

This is ridiculous, and it's not going to stop just because I want it to (I’m outraged). No bloody wonder they never went to war in the summer. It had nothing to do with getting the crops in, who'd want to fight in this heat? There are a bunch of army guys just by the internet cafe, all standing in line, swinging their guns about. Poor buggers, they're in full uniform.

oh well, in three months it will get cooler again, maybe I will be used to it by then (yeah ahuh).

love you

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

she stood on the balcony, inexplicably mimicking him, hiccoughing and amicably waving him in

Date: Fri, 18 May 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: she stood on the balcony, inexplicably mimicking him, hiccoughing and amicably waving him in.

Dear all,

Quote for the week:
“What did you do last week?”
“I went to visit grandma.”
“What did you do while you were there?”
“We looked at grandma.”

I ate fish head soup on Monday, so I can add it to the list of weird things I’ve eaten (which so far only includes stinky tofu and haggis (don't eat stinky tofu))

I learned how to say 'my nose is bigger than your nose' in Chinese (my most useful sentence so far, after 'I don't speak Chinese')

Last Saturday night at 1am every light in every classroom was on, and all the tellies were tuned to what looked like surveillance camera footage of the room in question. Last night at midnight all the lights in the rooms on the third and forth floors were on and the tellies had the blue screens again. Please somebody tell me I am being paranoid. I would go and investigate, but it always happens after they have locked my building, and besides...

Yesterday was a gritty teeth day in Beijing. The wind brings the dust and it gets all in your mouth and slides around against your teeth. I don't like it (okay, so I maybe ate a bit of dirt when I was little, or was it chook pellets? I can't remember) anyway, it gets in your ears and in your nose and in your eyes. And you can tell which kids use gel in their hair, they look kinda... dusty.

Today was 34 degrees Celsius. Tomorrow will 37 and it is only may. At home it is moving along well towards winter and, even in the equivalent season, which is, what, November? it doesn't dare top 27. This will mean less email. Trek to the internet cafe at -12 I will, trek to the internet cafe at +37 I will not.

Oh well, according to Zest, perspiration is good for you.

love and kisses on all your pink bits

Sunday, 4 October 2009

maisy doats and dozy doats

Date: Fri, 11 May 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: maisy doats and dozy doats

I am not in the mood for emails. I was when I left the school, but now I am hot, dusty, and full of cigarette smoke.

So here are a few notes

*If you work on a platform, make sure all four legs of the chair are on the platform before you sit down.

*Never sit on the duster

*Never lean on the blackboard

*The highest art of teaching is not wiggling your bottom while writing on the blackboard.

I am having an internal dilemma (it's my indecisivitis again). It turns out that finding an apartment is a nightmare. You can live in a foreigner's apartment block (costs more than my monthly salary will be), or you can live illegally in a Chinese apartment block (and the PSB are cracking down on this, and I don't want to get kicked out of China, because I want to come back and teach in Tibet one day).

And then there are my students. I love them. How am I going to leave them? In the first two weeks they were just a 920 person strong, faceless form of torture. In the third and fourth weeks, I began to notice a difference between classes. Then I started to remember names and the classes had individuals. Now, (apart from two classes I choose not to think about) there are 920 littlepeople I love to distraction.

Still, there is something fishy about this school. There is this big satellite dish, but it's not for picking up TV. And last night at 11pm all the lights were on in all the classrooms on the third floor, and all the tellies were tuned in to the same thing (a blue screen with a swoosh) and there were no people (I watched). There is also what looks to be marijuana growing outside the refectory at the boarding school. And there is a little microphone, top and centre, of every blackboard (I only just noticed, I don't like to ask) and there's other stuff too.

*They have the same grass in Beijing as they do in Grasmere.

I found out that the reason the students think that I am beautiful is because I am so pale. But I think that with people telling me I am beautiful every day, I am actually getting prettier.

Well I have to go now, I have to go and buy a Snickers (the Snickers here are made in Ballarat and so taste 'normal', along with soda crackers they form a staple part of my diet).

Oh, and, I have fallen in love. The man selling spicy kebabs at the night market at Wangfujing told me I have a face like an angel from heaven, at least I think so, he might have been saying I am ugly enough to make birds fall from the sky. I just gazed at him in adoration as he whispered sweet nothings in a language I don't understand.

love you

Friday, 2 October 2009

normal smells in odd places

Date: Fri, 4 May 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: normal smells in odd places

On the way here I saw a man selling hedgehogs on the side of the road. A man selling hedgehogs on the side of the road. I opened the bus window and leaned out to get a better look. There were six hedgehogs in a string bag on the footpath. 'What called?' the man yelled. 'Hedgehogs’ I yelled back as the bus pulled away. A man selling hedgehogs on the side of the road.

The other day I smelled horse, and lo, there was a donkey and cart gunning it down the fast lane of the second ring road. As I left school about a week ago I smelt poultry. There was a man cycling past with a coop of ducks and chooks on the back of his bike. Occasionally I smell cow poo, and look sharp for where I’m putting my feet. But it turns out it is just the wafting fragrance of stinky tofu. (Don’t eat the stinky tofu; it tastes just exactly like it smells, with perhaps a hint of horse pee).

All the smells in China are smells I’m familiar with, but they are in unfamiliar places. Fresh popcorn in a shoe shop. Pancake smell in the middle of nowhere. The tantalising smell of toasted cheese sandwiches (that one might just be wishful thinking combined with an over active imagination). Stagnant water smell in lots of weird places. Urinal smell in the corridors of the school.

Old books smell like old books though.

I just blew my nose and the girl next to me nearly leapt out of her seat in fright, or it might have been disgust, I don't think using a tissue to blow your nose is socially acceptable, but what was I going to do? Sniff?

I am getting more excited about working at a newspaper, after all Andy Lau is coming to Beijing, what if I get to meet him? And maybe if I work at a newspaper I might hear more news. I heard about bloody protests in Sydney and dingoes eating babies on Fraser island, but it came as a complete surprise to hear about Australia sailing around Taiwan, and to hear that things are hotting up ‘in China’, as far as I can tell, nobody here cares all that much. About Australia or America, but particularly not Australia.

well, my love
must run