After two years in Shenzhen, China, it’s time to move on. So, Thailand here we come. Or at least Thailand here we come as soon as we have visas in the passports (three different varieties for our family), Covid tests (multiple), Certificates of Entry, Fit to Fly Certificates, and once there, government quarantine where we get to slob around in scrubs (compulsory) for two weeks. What could be easier than changing jobs and moving to a new country during the midst of a global pandemic!!!!
The decision to move wasn’t made lightly. After returning to China and getting back to relative normality, it just wasn’t that normal anymore. Where was the harm in looking at TES to see what other teaching jobs were out there? Where was the harm indeed? After updating my CV and firing off a few applications, I got lucky and interviewed for Head of English at an international school in Bangkok. As luck would further have it, I got the job after a Skype interview (my least favourite way of self-promotion.) So here we are…
After a few tense weeks of nothing happening in regard to visa applications (the Embassy and other relevant agencies being closed due to the pesky virus) things are now happening, documents have been DHL-ed to China and we are on the way to Guangzhou to process all the important pieces of paperwork. Literally. I am typing this in the back of a Didi to pass the two-and-a-half-hour journey. A nice big comfy Didi, with a driver who fortunately isn’t a mentalist- a good thing in the pouring rain. We’re travelling with two other teachers from school, as we’re all heading to the same place in Thailand. The international circuit really is a small one.
We have been through the whole downsizing process once more. When leaving The UK to come to China, we squeezed our belongings into 17 boxes, or was it 16? Not bad from a large four bed detached house. Unfortunately, my husband, daughter and I are compulsive spenders and after the two years here, we managed to accumulate and fill approximately 60 boxes as well as collecting various bits of furniture (comfy chairs, mattresses, computer desks, wheelie computer chairs, and book cases – so many book cases.) After aggressively bombarding the staff WeChat group over the past month of so, most of it has gone, and we are now down to 6 large boxes, 4 small ones and our suitcases. Lesson learned. Stop buying crap!
The boxes went last Tuesday, and we left our apartment on Friday, moving to the more upmarket area of Shekou – time to posh it out for the remaining 12 days. And it really is a step in a more civilised direction. Not that Hongshan was bad at all, just Shekou is an easier place to be if you’re illiterate and unable to speak Chinese (our fault entirely.)
Have you seen the episode of Friends where Joey learns to speak French? Well that’s me learning to speak Chinese. I sincerely believed that what I was saying mimicked exactly what I was listening to. Apparently not. So, I stopped. Relying instead on various translate apps, the goodwill of my daughter who speaks reasonable Mandarin after 2 years (though she would have you believe otherwise) and a lot of gesticulation. How much easier everything is in Seaworld. Even the Deliveroo app is in English, so instead of guessing what we were having for takeout, we now know.
“What do you think that says?”
“Does it look like it has meat in it?”
“What’s that strange looking pinky thingy on the picture- do you eat that?”
“Just order it, and hope for the best.”
The delivery App here was far more westernised. We could read the English next to the pretty pictures and actually know for certain what it was we were going to be eating. Last nights Indian takeaway was a real treat. Really it was. This was the first Indian takeaway we’d had in two years and boy did we indulge. Just under two weeks and we’ll be having all manner of culinary delights in Thailand— can’t wait!
After our return to China, we got used to the change in attitudes. Almost. We got used to people getting out of lifts when we got in. Almost. We got used to the guards at our community stopping us each time we went home. Almost. We bit out tongue when told that each time we needed to see a doctor we had to have another Covid test at 480rmb (approximately 50 quid) because that was the policy for non-Chinese nationals. We changed gyms when the one next to Walmart stopped allowing foreigners to use it.
Fortunately, the school provided a little bubble of security. Opening up after lockdown, it followed strict social distancing rules, distances between school desks were measured, masks were provided and changed throughout the course of the day, and hand sanitiser was placed in every classroom, corridor, canteen, and thoroughfare. Yellow footprints indicated where we could stand in the lifts (lifts that had been de-carpeted), and the dining area sported funny little partitions on each table adorned with a dainty little hook to hang your mask whilst eating.
The kids were glad to be back- so were the teachers! Gradually, these measures were relaxed as China had a good firm grasp of the pandemic that was wreaking havoc in other parts of the world. Chinese government says – people do. None of this nonsense about the right not to wear a mask, or a government sending out mixed messages and giving too much choice to the hands of the people. Here – lockdown was complete, masks were absolute, temperature checks on entry to every building, and QR codes to verify your status- compulsory.
Slowly, slowly, we were all back to normal, to the point that lessons were being conducted normally, desks got gradually closer together, and pockets of students could socialise in small groups once again. The day it was announced that we no longer needed to wear masks in school was the day where everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief. Its not easy listening to small voices further hampered by a layer of mask. Masks are still compulsory in crowded public places and on transport
Unfortunately, a lot of teachers were and are still stuck abroad. They had not made it back before the borders closed. Messages would pop up on the staff chat about colleagues being turned away from their flights as the borders to Hong Kong and China became inaccessible. One teacher made it to Hong Kong, and the China border closed mid-point of quarantining in Asia’s World City. Four months later and she’s still there with her two delightful children, whilst her husband is so close yet so far away on this side of the border. The founding team at this start up school has dwindled to a fraction of the whole, and it was a very very sad day when we found out that the founding head was leaving with immediate effect. Where did that leave us in terms of education? Classes were rearranged and reassigned, teachers back in China were redeployed around the school, and lessons continued as (almost) normal. We are lucky that the owner of the school has deep pockets and we continued to be paid in full throughout. Granted, we did start online learning immediately, worked through the Easter Holiday, and had two weeks tacked on to the end of the summer term, but for this we had job security and guaranteed pay. There are plenty of horror stories about teachers in other international schools who did not have it so good, and dropped to a much lower wage, or in some cases ceased to be paid at all.
The school that I was employed at to start my teaching career abroad is a very different environment now. That’s not to say bad – just different. Even so, it’s time to move on to pastures new. Half an hour till the Didi reaches Guangzhou, and ever closer to making the Thailand dream a reality.