Portuguese SAGAS – Trip to the south

P_20171123_133317.jpgPortuguese SAGAS – trip to the south

24.11.2017

Yesterday I drove 200 kilometres to the south.

I wanted to see the pine woods, or what was left of them.

I also wanted to listen to the sound of the sea and experience my beach without all the tourists and sunburned people.

I was going to Viera de Leiria and Nazaré.

Few days ago I went north and had already seen the devastation there.

Now it was to see the south.

I drove for 8 minutes from home, and there it began. The devastation is endless.

There were burned houses, burned woods and I dreaded to see my favourite pine wood.

I have gone to the beach every year, to Viera de Leiria, and on my way there stopped in the pine wood to collect pines for the winter. I don´t like too much to sunbathe but it is nice to be able to pick up several bags of pines, fresh ones, just from the trees, and think about the cold winter days when they will light up my fire. There were always lots of pines so it took about one hour or even less to fill up the car. Then I went to the beach to have lunch in a restaurant where my friends grill fresh fish, just coming from the see in the morning, and have a wonderful reunion. After lunch I usually spent some hours at the beach, listening to the waves whispering their poems, and I even sometimes did lie down to let the sun warm my skin and produce vitamin D for the winter.

Those were the days where I left home in the morning and came back in the evening. I sometimes stopped on my way back home to pick up berries, the white ones that look like the black crowberries we have in Iceland.

I loved the smell of the pines. The beauty of the huge trees never stopped to amaze me.

Yesterday was different.

I drove through the pine woods. They were no longer green. Nor they were black. Kilometre after kilometre there was just black and blacker as far as I could see.

I could not stop to take the photos, so they are taken from my car while driving.

I just wanted to show you what happens when the terrorists decide to attack a tiny country and destroy the livelihood completely.

Somewhere the men had begun to cut the burned trees. There were holes, huge holes in the landscape. While driving through the wood I contemplated about how it would be next summer? No wood, no trees, just the vast nothing, like a huge hole in the heart of the land.

After driving through the pine wood I entered Viera de Leiria beach. The village is unharmed but standing there looking all around at the black trees I thought about the tourists who last summer were just enjoying their holiday with the family and all they could see was fire, fire all around the village and no way out.

How did they feel?

Will they ever be the same?

Will they come back to Portugal?

I parked my car and took a long walk around my favourite beach. Not many people around. Maybe one who looked like a tourist but the others are just people who live in the village and have their livelihood from the work during the summer.

I came across a sailor who was preparing his net for next summer’s fishing. He sat there, outside his coffee shop, relaxed and talking to his friends. A peaceful moment and not far away there was a man grilling fish for his customers.

The cats and dogs were enjoying the pleasant warm day, sitting in their road waiting for something or just living the moment.

Some shops were open; they are the ones that never close. The Chinese one and a shoe shop never close.

The supermarket was closed. Perhaps the people who live in the village go to Viera and buy their goods there during the winter.

The fish market was closed and this time I could go inside! Usually I am the outsider there and just looking at the strange faces the seamen have brought to land. There are many ugly fish faces during the summer but after grilling they taste like heaven.

After strolling around and enjoying my visit I left and headed to Nazaré. There was nothing but destruction most of the way. I drove through Nazaré and kilometre after kilometre the same, burned trees as far as I could see.

I just drove by the national road. I did not have the courage to drive into the villages on my way; I could not bear to see the devastation there.

We lost 90 people, at least in this area, during the early summer terrorism. We have lost many more during the rest of the summer.

We have lost houses, we have lost the woods, and we have lost the joy and the happiness. We have lost the climate. It will never be the same and after the land has been cleaned there will be nothing but weed. The weed will grow but that is not what our beautiful little land needs.

When I headed for home it was raining heavily. We need the rain. I drove through Pombal on my way back and there was the black horror again, even though the rain and the dark night had taken over the destruction stuck out.

I have not been to Lousa or Gois. Not yet. I will go there soon. I want to share with the world the terror we went through this year in my little land.

We can never forget that there are humans whose greed has no limits and they don´t care what they destroy as long as they profit.

What kind of world is this becoming?

We have to join hands and change the horror into something better. The power is in our hands, it is not in the hands of the terrorists.

Today it is raining again. That is good. We need the rain but it will not last many days. That is probably not too bad. Many trees around the roads are not straight anymore. The drought has defeated them and they lean over the road in many places.

The electric vires are among the trees. In many places they have melted in the fires and the people don´t have electricity or phones.

I saw in the news today that the drought has moved north and reached southern Europe. The climate change is a reality. There is no way around it, but we can change the evolution. Let´s join hands and stop using at least one chemical in every home. Have you ever thought about the cloths softener you use when washing your clothes? Do you know how harmful they are? Did you know that some people have difficulty breathing when you are handing your laundry outside their apartments?

Hulda Björnsdóttir

 

Portuguese SAGAS – Tondela – fires

22nd of November 2017

Last Monday I went north. I have not been able to travel a lot the last 2 years but now I am well again and my habit, just hopping into my car and driving towards the adventures, can flourish again. What a relive.

After driving for about 8 minutes towards Condeixa from Penela, the sadness grips your soul. Everything is black on one side of the national road and the other side is green and beautiful.

Driving continues and when I left Coimbra I drove into the vast area where everything, every tree and even some houses were black.

I arrived in Tondela and sat down with my friends, my Portuguese family, who has in a way adopted me here in my new land.

We talked about the fires and the people who had been trapped in the little village, and could not get away. There was no way out. The fires were everywhere on both sided of the road.

I sat at the kitchen table with my friends and looked out through the window. What I saw was just destruction and so close. I could almost touch the burned wood with my hands.

The fires in this area erupted when the hurricane tossed the wind and with it the flames from a fire who most likely had been made by man.

Everything was thick by smoke, the air black and difficult to breath.

Some people left the little village by foot. They headed to Tondela. They were lucky. A car came and picked them up. Had they been on foot a bit longer the flames might have caught them.

When a fireman called the police and asked them to close the roads he was told there was no one available. Everyone was out trying to control the mess. No one came to help in this village. The fires roared on both sides of the road to Tondela.

This was the night when my family went to bed and woke up to the horror. This was the night when they thought they would not survive.

This was the night when the fire tried to destroy the little church but someone managed to save the church.

This was the night when the companies, the garage, the company with all the new cars burned down.

This was the night when the family lost its house but the insurance will compensate and they can build the house again. The family did not just loose the house. They lost all the memories. All the little drawings and things the children and grandchildren had made for them during decades. They lost all the photos. Everything. These are things that no insurance can compensate. They are lost forever.

People don´t want to talk about what happened. It is too painful. They have searched the ruins, trying to find something but there was nothing. Now the ground has been cleaned and the new house will rise but the sorrow will last for a long time. New memories will be made and eventually the people will learn to live with what happened but they will never forget.

The little village and many others are in morning. The Christmas is coming. There won’t be celebrations like before. This year will be quiet and contemplation around the holidays.

I drove for 2 hours and the horror was everywhere. Yes, one day everything will be green again, but that is not next year.

Those who have not experienced the horror of driving through the fires can not comprehend the feeling. I was on my way home 5 years ago and the fires had closed the road. The police took us through. I have never in my whole life been as scared. I can still feel the hand around my heart. The hand of horror. It is not like I am thinking about it all the time, but when I see the smoke and fire every time I enter my balcony it creeps into the mind again.

This summer I did not travel. I did not dare. I was at home as much as possible. I was a prisoner in my home. It was difficult breathing and the smell was inside the apartment, even though the fires were not at my doorstep.

Now it’s winter in my little land. The danger is almost over for the time being. There might even be some rain during the next days. We need the rain.

Traveling now is easier than during this summer. Now I can travel to places where the woods have already caught the fire . There is something very wrong. Something needs to be done. This can not happen again next summer. Now the government has to do instead of talk.

I don´t know how to solve the problem. It is said that the helicopter companies get a lot of money for helping and there is corruption there. I don´t know about it but there are videos on You Tube that show what happened.

Corruption is a ruthless enemy.

What can I do to help?

Can I do anything?

P_20171120_161644

Yes I can.

I can plant trees. I have got permission and on Monday I saw where we might plant the new ones. The people need to see something happen. They need hope. Hope comes with action. I am going to give 72 trees this year and 73 next year and so on. One tree for every year I live. This will be my contribution and I hope I can lift the spirit of the little village just showing them I care.

Everyone can do something like this. I would like to appeal to those who live outside my country, all around the world, to donate something to help build the woods again.

Next year the climate in my little land will be different. It will be warmer and likely more windy. My country needs help.

If you have any ideas how to help please let me know. Although, I ask you not to give money to the government. We don´t know how or when or even ever they would use the money to plant new trees. There have been donations for those who were caught in the fires during the summer and they have not been distributed.

I am not giving the money for my 72 trees to the government. I am going to buy the trees and plant them with my friends. That’s the only way I can be absolutely sure where my contribution will end up.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

Chinese SAGAS – a private tutor in Min Hou

Chinese SAGAS – My life in China – private teacher in Min Hou

After finishing my job in Hwa Nan I began to tutor a young boy, He was just 6 years old and came to my house every morning. I think I was more as a baby sitter than a teacher but the family wanted him to know the customs of foreigners. They wanted me to have him tidy up, to clean and so on, the usual housekeeping. This was not easy and he was just a tiny boy.

They paid me well and I needed the money.

When I began my job in Quanzhou I thought the little boy would not come anymore. I was not in Min Hou every day, but could be there during the weekends. The family wanted me to teach him during weekends and I agreed. I would come back on Friday evenings and go again on Sunday evenings. It would be fine to come home. Someone needed to take care of the house.

The mother, who is in fact not the mother, her brother is the father, took me to their hometown during the spring festival. She wanted to introduce me to the Chinese tradition and show me the house they are building.

I have never seen anything like it. Several thousand square meters on 5 floors, with a huge garden and a handmade flower fountain made from jade. It took the workers half a year to cut it out. Another fountain with a different statue beside it. Tea table made of jade is in the garden and at the top floor, which is going to be a playground; there were 2 peacocks in a cage up there, in the shadow.

In the basement there is going to be a wine cellar.

On the ground floor living room and kitchen.

On the first flor would be the parents’ bedroom, a huge space.

On the second floor they would put the guestrooms and on the third floor also guestrooms.

On the 4th floor the playground and there would also be some animals in the area. I did not quite understand if it was inside the house or in the garden.

The couple have 6 children and some grandchildren.

The gate was closed when we arrived and someone, a relative, I think, came and opened for us. He also took us on the tour around the house. Everything was just concrete and dust, No decoration yet.

This family has a stone factory and they export statues, tiles and all kinds of stones to Europe, Asia and Amerika.

The mother of my student often goes abroad on business and for leisure. She is 27 years old and is going to stop working after 2 years. Her dream is to come to sales in Paris. Her father is 62 and the mother a bit younger. I have also seen the grandmother and one sister. In fact I was teaching one in the university but have not got a clue who she was. You don´t see it on the surface which student is from the extremely rich and who is not.

When the little boy came to my home he always came by a company car. He came in black cars with private chauffeurs. Black cars are the rich people’s signature!

The city where they are from is somewhere close to the airport, I don´t remember the name but it is famous for textile production. When we walked around I saw some beautiful houses, huge ones, but most of the houses were rather shabby. I wondered why the extremely rich and the poor ones lived together in this area.

My face fell to the ground when I realised that those who lived in the shabby houses were the rich ones too. They just live like the poor ones and collect their money. They don´t want to leave their friends and their city and prefer the simple life, was explained to me. It is difficult to comprehend. The public gardens are huge, grand temples and then the tiny houses almost falling apart.

I did wonder if some of my neighbours in Min Hou were in fact the rich ones, even though they lived like the poor oens.

Everyone in the village was curious. Not many foreigners visiting and now my friend was becoming famous in the area. She was not very pleased and said it was enough to have a father who was famous. No matter if people are rich or poor, they are shy. Shyness is cultural in China, especially among the girls. Although I thought that the ones who had travelled abroad would have more confidence, but this day in the village I discovered how unsecure they are. It is important to keep face and a foreigner who takes a lot of pictures is not good, if you want to lay low.

I saw some little kids and they liked being photographed in the park. We were even invited to someone’s house but did not go in. It was not proper for my friend and she was already becoming too famous and did not want to add a visit to the fame!

I enjoyed the day with my friend and my little student. On our way home we stopped and got something to eat. The Chinese are always hungry. We got some traditional cakes with vegetables, very good, but perhaps not that healthy. I ate one, while my friend had 3, but I liked it a lot. There are small trailers all around where the people sell their hot food, the street food. Some foreigners’ don´t like them and say the food is not clean. I don´t agree. I love this food, it is hoot and different from the restaurants. After walking or spending a time outside it is nice to stop by these trailers and have a chat and something different to chew on.

Tutoring the little boy during my stay in Quanzhou did not happen. The family never contacted me again about that. I called and they told me he had decided he wanted to do something else and a 6 year old who is supposed to have everything in his live had of course the final say in the matter.

Learning English was not at the top of his list.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

Just a thought on a Sunday morning

12th of November 2017

I want to share with you a thought, just a thought.

Pausing and enjoying the moment feels good. It is just this moment and nothing else. Enjoying the sunshine or the shower, whichever it is. Today is a wonderful sunny but cold day.

Sometimes we don´t savour the moment, we are occupied thinking about the past and wondering why we did not make it different. We are wondering about the future, exciting and hopeful.

We forget that the moment is all we have. The past is gone and nothing can be changed there. The future is not here yet, the next moment is the future and this moment shapes what comes.

Living in the now is an art. It makes us pause, and enjoy what is, regardless what was.

Blaming me for not being good enough is useless. I have to remember I always did the best I could and so did we all. Sometimes it was a success and sometimes not.

Being able to look at the past in honesty is a freedom. Blaming is a prison.

Hate eats the soul of the one who hates. It does nothing to the one who the person hates, she or he don´t even know about it.

All our lives experiences shape our tomorrow. Some experiences are wonderful and we should savour them. Some are not wonderful but they are great lessons. They help us to understand and sometimes they even help us to help others.

 

I have always admired the seamen and the fishermen. They have been my heroes. My cousins were seamen and one of my brothers also. Many of my friends during my live have been fishermen. There is always something special about them. They are strong and wonderful. You can smell the sea in their movement, they walk the wave. Their eyes are sharp and dreamy. They look towards the horizon and when they come to shore they are still seamen.

When I moved to China, many years ago, I met one of my friends on the plane. He was on his way to fetch a new boat and I was on my way to a new country. We talked and he was among the few who really understood my desire and need to follow my dream. This was our last talk. He died suddenly. I savour this last conversation like a diamond. He was looking forward to his new life but it was not quite where he expected it to be. I had my new life in China and it also did not turn out to be quite what I had thought it would be.

Everything can change but that’s ok. We just change and adjust.

Now I am in Portugal, a tiny country which is just a slice from Spain when you look at the map, a long and narrow slice.

My new land is a young democracy and going through many labour pains.

The oldest generation, or at least many of them, don´t know how to read and write. They never attended school. When they tell me about their desire to read and there are tears in their eyes and count my blessings and feel their pain.

Many of them are quite fit. They don´t go to modern gyms. They climb the trees and they work the land. Those who continue to be active live long. There are also those who just sit down and wait. They wait for the unknown but forget to enjoy the now.

Those who keep fit are the happy ones. They cut the trees for the fireplaces and during the cold winters they sit in the kitchen with their families and enjoy the heat. The kitchens are small in the old houses but the fire keeps one room warm.

The houses in my little land are without insolation. They are cold during the winter and hot during the summer. There is no need for insolation, people tell me. All around the country there are old houses, ruins, and often next to them new ones. It is too difficult to rebuild the walls, someone told me. Although I have seen some renovated houses, but they are mostly owned by foreigners from UK or Netherland and few from Scandinavia.

In my road, they are building a house, a big one. Portuguese owners I suppose. I have been following the process. They put polypropylene around the outside. It’s embraced all around with this white stuff, several centimetres thick. On top of it there is a concrete, I don´t know how thick it is, but it covers everything. This is insolation and should keep the house warm, or will it?

I am not sure about the breathing, but I am just an ordinary woman and don´t know anything about housebuilding. At least that was the feeling I got when I asked the builder. He was not happy with my prying.

Living among the Portuguese makes my life exiting. I learn about the history and I learn about the now. A huge difference but both are interesting.

I am happy about my freedom. Every day brings something new, something exciting and something to treasure.

My new land has taught me to value the now. It has taught me to enjoy the moment and not to fret the past or the future.

I am grateful for my friends, my Portuguese friends, in my little land. They make me laugh and they make me happy. I share their happiness and their sorrow.

I am grateful for my freedom from the past.

I can look at the past and laugh about it. I can write about it and laugh even more. There is always something to be happy about, I just have to look and grab the moment.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

Chines SAGAS – my new job in Quanzhou – part 6

Chinese SAGAS part 6 my new job in Quanzhou

I am a genius! No doubt about it!

After arriving in Quanzhou and going to the school, the first day with Jeanne, I had to find my way, on my own.

As you know, those of you who have been following me, I have a huge problem, and have had it for a very long time. The problem is finding my way. I get lost all the time. I got lost in Iceland, I got lost in London, I got lost in China and I get lost wherever I am, no matter how straight forward my road is. I get lost.

Now I was in Quanzhou. I did have an idea that my dorm was about 15 minutes’ walk from the school, or there about. I also knew that some of the teachers went to work by their scooters.

Jeanne had showed me how to get home, as well as how to walk to the school.

There was a problem. She had showed me 2 routes.

That confused my brain, a lot.

When, on my own for the first time, home from the school, I took a left turn instead of a right one.

Where was I? I had no idea.

On my way, trying to let the confusion make some sense in my poor brain, I met some students from my school. I knew they were from my school. I recognised the uniform! They tried to explain to me how I should get home! They really tried, but I was not quite sure. Maybe they were making fun of me and showing me the wrong way. At least they were laughing a lot.

Suddenly there came a boy, one I knew and I was sure I could trust. He was riding a bike. He told me to follow him because he also lived in my dorm. He took me to a spot where I could not get lost, left me there and told me not to take any turns. No turns, neither to left or right, just ahead.

I think he was a tiny bit worried about this teacher and his neighbour!

I always have a plan, to make sure I won’t get lost. I find a landmark, a house or a statue or something, which I will recognise and know I am not lost forever. The problem was, in Quanzhou, on my school route, that the houses all looked alike. I tried to make the landmarks stick to my brain, but there were so many possibilities. I could take many, and I mean many, turns and end up completely losing it.

I could not be the laughing stock every day. I was going to stay in my school at least four months and there had to be something else my students could find to amuse themselves.

Although devastating this being lost ability of mine there is an upside. I connect with several people, people that would not dream of approaching me, but did not hesitate to help me. That is what’s so amazing about the Chinese people. They are always willing to help. Soon everyone in my neighbourhood knew me. They knew I was the one who got lost and the one who needed help. They also knew that I was kind and friendly.

Eventually I just took photos along the way and could follow them! The best way for you if you are like me and losing your way; take photos, but of course just if you are walking, driving is different and more complicated.

It was amazing, when going to work in the morning, meeting all the ones who were selling their fruits and veggies and sometimes the butchers arrived. They tried to sell me and sometimes I bought some fruits. They had chickens, alive and many of them really beautiful. No, I did not eat meat and eventually they understood. Yes, this one was strange, even stranger than the other foreigners, but she was ok and they did talk to her.

Sometimes when I was on my way, that was after I learned not to turn, the teachers on their scooters came and asked if I wanted a lift. Oh no, I was not going on a scooter. I would rather dye walking. Scooters were horrifying. They drove too fast and I was not taking any chances. Walking was my way.

During my stay in China I went only once by a scooter and I think I have never been as afraid in my life. One of the teachers invited me to lunch, I thought he would pick me up by car but he came by his scooter. I told him we could take my car. No, he was going to drive me. He put me on the seat behind him, put a helmet on my head and I put my arms around him. I did not die but when we arrived at the restaurant I thought about how to get back without having to be hanging behind my friend while he was enjoying the ride.

I walked back! 50 minutes, told my friend I needed the exercise and it was necessary for my digestion!

When I was at home in Min Hou, walking around and exploring the neighbourhood, outside the gate, the security gate, I often got lost. One day I met some of the caddies; they lived in the village, but worked in my neighbourhood. They invited me to have dinner with them but I told them I wanted to get home before dark. Did I know how to get home? They asked. Of course! It was not that far.

Well, after walking for about 50 minutes I arrived again at the same house. This was a wonderful evening and everyone eating outside. They looked up. What happened? Why was I back?

I could not find my way, was my lame reply.

Oh, sit down and have dinner with us and my daughter will take you back, the mother told me.

I had a wonderful Chinese dinner, lots of laughter and fun, not understanding everything but at least some and afterwards the daughter took me to the highway and it was impossible, even for me the genius, to get lost. There were no turns, but the wonderful young woman waited to make sure I crossed the highway and did enter the gate, the correct one so the security guards would make sure I got home. It was by the way already dark, and the caddie had called the guards!

Let’s go back to the story in Quanzhou. Sometimes it was raining. Sometimes it was sunshine in the morning but raining in the afternoon. I did not use umbrella for sun protection and usually I did not expect the rain, although it came. What to do then? It was raining like hell. Not a dry spot on anyone. Along my road there were many tiny shops. In those shops is also the owners’ home. Of course I had spoken with many of them and they knew who I was. When the rain suddenly decided to make my life miserable on my road back from work I went into one of the shops waiting for it to stop. The rain did not stop. The shopkeeper went backdoors to fetch an umbrella. She gave me the umbrella, I could continue walking home and just returned the umbrella next day.

How great was that!

It was just an ordinary gesture from the Chinese in Quanzhou. Helping is and was the motto.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

Ps:

For the time being I think this is the last one about Quanzhou but there will be more. Next time I am going to write about something in Min Hou, my home.

 

 

Chinese SAGAS – my new job in Quanzhou – part 5

Chinese SAGAS – My new job in Quanzhou – part 5

Now I had a job, at least for the next 4 months.

In Quanzhou it was more convenient to walk to the school than taking my car. Finding a parking spot could be an adventure. I was told I could park my car inside the parking lot at the school but there were places reserved for the dignitaries and this would be complicated. I decided I would walk from the dorm. A good exercise and I would meet different people on my way. I would get to know more about my new city. Great!

Jeanne took me by foot. She showed me the way. It was not that difficult, or was it? This was my first day and I was excited, new students, new school, new road and new people.

The dean asked me if I needed a Chinese teacher to sit in on my classes. What! That was a strange question and I said thank you but no thank you. Why would I need to have a body guard in my class? These were just children and I was a grown up. They told me that usually there was one Chinese teacher with the foreigners, for support. I could not understand why.

My first class was with the 14 year old. They were nice and just as excited as I. They even did understand some English which was very good. We could have a civilized conversation. Everyone was happy, or at least I was.

My first day, I did not have classes with the youngest ones, but nothing to worry about there. They were children and Chinese children are nice. They are obedient and polite. I had met many of them during my years in China so I knew what to expect. Oh no, the youngest ones would not be a problem and I looked forward to the afternoon.

In they came. They sat down and looked at me. I smiled and introduced myself. One of the girls, sitting at the front row, replied and was very polite. She spoke some English, also very well. After a while I noticed there, at the back, was something going on. They did definitely not look like well-behaved Chinese children. Talking and throwing balls, standing up and shouting, was their way in learning spoken English. The little one in front of me, in the front row, told me they did not like spoken English, and they did not like English at all. She was the grown up in my class, always sweet and trying to help.

It was beginning to make sense to me why the foreign teachers wanted a Chinese one in their classroom.

If the students don´t behave the Chinese teachers tell the parents and that is not good.

I had my pride and was not going to give in. I had to find a way to keep discipline in my classroom. Anyway, how bad could it get? This was just a normal boys behaviour in any country. Some of them had no boundaries, a challenge but not a problem.

One of the older classes was another challenge. I could not manage to get them to talk to me. During the brakes we talked. They came to me and we had a conversation. Then after the brake we went back to the class room and everyone got quiet. They were just quiet. I knew they could speak to me, we had done it just few minutes ago in the hallway. Why did they not speak in the class room?

Since I lived with the teachers in the dorm, the Chinese ones, I went over to one of them and told her and her husband about my problem with my silent class. The teacher told me they never spoke. They were not too bright and there was no pressure on getting them talking. I should not worry, this was the situation and I would best accept it.

I was not going to. There had to be a way.

In the Chinese schools there are always some competitions, there are singing competitions and debating competitions.

Not long after I began teaching in Quanzhou there was going to be a singing competition. Every class had to learn an English song, and sing in English. I was supposed to teach my students proper pronunciation. It went well, even with the youngest ones, who did not always behave. Everyone enjoyed singing, except my silent class. They did not sing, they kind of whispered. Something had to be done. What? I thought about it. I contemplated about it. I tried to talk to the other teachers. They told me not to worry. I worried. I was seriously worried. There had to be way.

One day when I came into the classroom and looked at my students, the silent class, I noticed that they were all standing at the back of the class room. On the spot I decided what to do! When they began to move to their seats I told them we would not sit down during this class. This time we would be standing up. We would practice our song, not in our seats, but in the back of the room, standing up. They looked at me, perhaps thinking the foreigner had lost her mind. I loved this class and I was going to help them.

We stood, and they sang. They had beautiful voices and perfect pronunciation. One or 2 sung the solo part and there was perfection in every note.

I was in seventh heaven. I had found a way to reach my silent class. They left this class with smiles on their faces.

They did not win the song contest and that was ok. They sung beautifully and when they left the stage I gave each and every one a hug and told them how proud I was. I cried. The miracle had happened. I cry when I am happy and my dear class had made me the happiest teacher in the campus.

In our next class I got a card from them.

NO ONE HAS EVER CRIED FOR US, they had written. NO ONE HAS EVER STOOD UP FOR US, they also said.

Each and every one came to me and thanked me. There were not just tears in my eyes. There were many tears shed that day, tears of happiness.

This was a beginning of something wonderful. I told the other teachers about my attempt and asked them to try to help my class. They did. They changed their attitude to the class and even discovered how bright the students were. Even though this would be my only accomplishment in my new school I was happy. This could be my legacy as far as I was concerned.

To be continued/

Hulda Björnsdóttir

Chinese SAGAS – My new job in Quanzhou – part 4

myndirkeppnijuniorssongur11042010 017.jpgChinese SAGAS – My new job – Part 4

I had found my new city; I had also found the school and the dormitory.

The apartment had been cleaned and now it was time to meet with the dignitaries again about my new job. The same dignitaries as before plus some new ones.

I had already met them once but now was the 2nd meeting to take care of my contract and figure out if I was ok!

In a school like this, and probably in every school in China that hires foreign teachers, there is someone who takes care of the foreigner. In my new school there were 2 of them. One was Ana and the other one was Jeanne. They were both nice girls and really making an effort to do their job properly. Ana was new and did not know how to handle huge problems, which I was, but Jeanne knew.

So, there I was sitting in front of the dignitaries and something wrong, really wrong. They had found the information from the company in Beijing that hired me, the one I had made a written contract with, you remember.

The news! I did not have a job! The school had not signed the contract and I was lost.

What was happening? I was not happy. I was furious. I had gone through the highway, twice, lost my way, found my way again, entered a filthy disgusting apartment, and I was more than 300 km away from my house in Min Hou. 300 km away from my beautiful house in Min Hou where everything was clean and even my own bed.

Now I was sitting in the conference room in a new school, in a new city, where I thought I had at least 4 months future, without having to go to Hong Kong to get new visa. This was not good. Not at all!

Jeanne who was used to deal with the foreigners and had been longer in the job than Ana took the matters in her hands. She seemed to have the situation under control.

One of the things the company in Beijing had told me I needed to do when arriving in Quanzhou was to register at the police station. I found this bizarre. I was registered in Min Hou. Min Hou was my home. There was my house and everything. My own house in my own name, the house I had bought to live in until I died. Why would I have to register in another city?

Eventually the school contacted the police station in Quanzhou, after a long and thorough discussion of course, explained the situation and of course I was not supposed to register there. Idiots!

Jeanne suggested that I came again in the afternoon to meet with all the deans and the presidents of the English section and there they would be able to make a decision if I would be hired or not.

I was supposed to teach a class, like a proof of my ability to teach or something like that. This was complicated. There were no students. They were on holiday and they would not be back until next week. Could they get some children from the neighbourhood to come? No, they were all on holiday!

Well, the meeting went on in the afternoon. I introduced myself AGAIN and gave them some insight into what kind of a teacher I would be. The head master, who I had met the day before, was late. She told the meeting she had already interviewed me and there was no need to have me demonstrate how I would teach. She told them it was obvious that I knew what I was doing. Great! I was not some idiot from Iceland trying to cheat on the school, although I had no contract signed by the school and no job, at that moment.

It was interesting how this meeting went on. It is always interesting to attend a meeting with the Chinese. Everything is discussed, again and again, no decisions made in haste, no, there are no hasty decisions made and no way to be in a hurry.

I was supposed to attend a meeting every Monday in the new school where the plan for the week would be discussed. Interesting and useful, I would say. Every Monday morning, before the meeting, there was a gathering outside the school; the flag was taken down and put up again. The students made a speech, someone was picked out beforehand. The speech was about dedication and something like that. Study hard, wake up early, was the word of the day. Then one of the teachers made a speech and eventually everyone went to their classroom. Each department had their place in the foreground and I was told to be among the English teachers.

At the meeting I had been asked how long I would stay in Quanzhou, if I would stay more than 4 months. I told them I would. It would be madness to stay one semester and leave. I would just be getting to know the teachers and the students and getting used to everything. The school was a private school and the students aged from 10 to 17. Staying in this school was perfect for my plan; to begin to teach English to the Chinese, proper English, before they entered the university.

I explained that my home, my final destiny, was China and I would not be going anywhere.

When the Chinese students come to the universities they have been studying English for many years but they hardly speak a word, or most of them don´t. Of course there are exceptions.

I was also supposed to teach English to the Chinese teachers, who taught English! That was interesting. They taught grammar but the foreigners spoken English. When teaching in Min Hou, in the university, I had often contemplated about why my students there could not say ROSE, they all said LOSE. Now, when listening to the Chinese teachers, it came to me. I asked them why the said LOSE and was told that was how they had been taught to pronounce the word. Generation after generation this had went on. Now there was a time to change. The teachers could say ROSE, and I was going to make my wonderful students pronunciation perfect. Another word was THE, they all said LE. The same problem, which could easily be solved!

The foreigner was in town, ready to change what was changeable!

In my new school, after all the confusion had been settled, I have to say that everyone made a huge effort to make me feel good there. I was happy and would gladly have stayed on. The contract had been found and the school signed. There was just one problem! I was too old! I was 65 years old but that did not bother me because I knew about some teachers over 70 teaching in the city.

Little did I know about how they managed! But eventually I learned and that story is for another day.

To be continued/

Hulda Björnsdóttir