Goodness Gracious, Great Wall of China! – a short story from China.

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After a happy, prolonged period of stabilisation and life-altering romance, I finally bid farewell to Belgium in the summer of 2009. Uninspired by life in grey, uneventful Brussels, my girl and I headed off to China for an unforgettable year of teaching and travelling.

“Put your cookies in the bag!” I cried, addressing the group of pint-sized chefs gathered before me. Peering up at their towering teacher, their collective eyes shot to the assembled ingredients and they burst into action. “Put your cookies in the bag!” repeated Nini, performing the task herself for good measure.

It was the last week of February and another Saturday English zone at Enlightener. Somehow, we’d broken the attendance record set by last year’s Halloween event, with mums, dads, toddlers, aunties, uncles and confused looking grandmothers stuffed into every available crevice.

“Beat the cookies!!!” I ordered, swinging my rolling pin. “Beat the cookies!!!” followed up Nini and the place exploded into a cacophonous orgy of legitimised violence, until each child’s bag had been reduced to a grisly battlefield of crushed crumbs.

“Pour the crumbs onto the big plate!”

“Peel your bananas!”

“Cut your bananas in half!”

“Dip your bananas in the yoghurt!”

“Roll your bananas over the crumbs!”

The table was an unholy mess by the time we’d finished. There were crumbs in Tina’s hair, bits of banana squished into the floor and globs of yoghurt splattered all over Harley’s sweater. But it all had been worth it because the parents seemed happy and the kids were delighted with their so-called Banana Lollies, which Nini collected and loaded into the kitchen freezer to set.

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Sub Zero Adventures – a short story from China.

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After a happy, prolonged period of stabilization and life-altering romance, I finally bid farewell to Belgium in the summer of 2009. Uninspired by life in grey, uneventful Brussels, my girl and I headed off to China for an unforgettable year of teaching and travelling.

Waiting for the hangman’s noose to be tied around our necks was driving S and I crazy. After our showdown with Tracy, all we could do was get on with our classes and wait for EE to make contact. We had no idea what Maggie was gonna do. Would she summon us all for a god-awful meeting? Would we perhaps be relocated to another school? Or maybe we’d just get straight out fired!? I had no idea in which direction the pendulum would swing and the suspense was killing me. We hadn’t seen much of Tracy in the week since the shitstorm. Keeping a low profile, she seemed to be consciously minimizing her dealings with us. If only Water, the school Judas, had followed suit. I was so disgusted with her I could hardly make eye contact, but of course she continued to sit in on my lessons, stinking the place out with the stench of betrayal. 

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Bad Moon Rising – a short story from China.

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After a happy, prolonged period of stabilization and life-altering romance, I finally bid farewell to Belgium in the summer of 2009. Uninspired by life in grey, uneventful Brussels, my girl and I headed off to China for an unforgettable year of teaching and travelling.

I can pinpoint the exact moment our seemingly idyllic teaching jobs began to unravel. It wasn’t an earth-shattering incident, but it did represent the tumbling of the first domino, setting in motion a string of bizarre events that would ultimately sour our Beijing dream. “I need to speak to you guys,” said Lily one afternoon. We were gathered round the kitchen counter at school in the prep hour before lessons. “Today is my last day, I’m leaving!”

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The Children and the Witch – a short story from China.

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After a happy, prolonged period of stabilisation and life-altering romance, I finally bid farewell to Belgium in the summer of 2009. Uninspired by life in grey, uneventful Brussels, my girl and I headed off to China for an unforgettable year of teaching and travelling.

“You wanna Jeans?” shrieked a faceless woman as we sauntered down the aisle. “Hello T-shirt!” barked another, as an anxious looking man abandoned his shoe stall to expertly step in front of me. “You like shoe, many shoe, hot brand cheap shoe best price”, he said, barely even looking at me. “No thank you” I smiled, moving around him.

“This place is huge!” cooed S, the two of us stopping to get our bearings. Nearby a doddery old German couple, the dictionary definition of Born Yesterday, handed over 800 RMB for a woollen jumper. The seller, hardly able to keep a straight face, literally snatched the cash out of the man’s hands.

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The Good, the Bad and the Naughty – a short story from China.

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After a happy, prolonged period of stabilization and life-altering romance, I finally bid farewell to Belgium in the summer of 2009. Uninspired by life in grey, uneventful Brussels, my girl and I headed off to China for an unforgettable year of teaching and travelling.

“Good afternoon Krista, how are you?” I chirped, bouncing into the classroom. “I’M FINE THANK YOU, AND YOU?” came her robotic reply, a standard response so ingrained she hadn’t even looked up from the hairband she was twiddling with. For Krista the conversation was now over; her duty done; any answer I might have to how I was actually doing completely inconsequential.

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Enlightening! – a short story from China.

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After a happy, prolonged period of stabilisation and life-altering romance, I finally bid farewell to Belgium in the summer of 2009. Uninspired by life in grey, uneventful Brussels, my girl and I headed off to China for an unforgettable year of teaching and travelling.

“So what do you think?” grinned Candy as we shuffled inside the apartment. There was an engulfing silence as S and I undertook a brief inspection. I looked at S. S looked at me. We both looked at Candy. Candy grinned back cluelessly. Dear, oh dear.

There were no words to describe what we thought of the flat. A conventional dictionary-sourced option may have been something along the lines of filthy or disgusting; but in reality this joint was a whole new level of skank that required a yet to be invented adjective. “Um… is a little dirty,” giggled Candy nervously. But I just glared back at her, which instantaneously wiped the silly smile off her face.

“Um… Maggie told us this place was brand new?” I managed with a bleak shake of my head. But now Candy was stuttering incomprehensibly and making a pig’s ear of trying to get Maggie on speed dial. Looking utterly depressed, S sighed, arms folded, bottom lip pushed out as I stood there picturing a local vagrant rejecting this hole with a patronising laugh before returning to his cardboard box back in the alley.

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Camp America – a short story from China.

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After a happy, prolonged period of stabilisation and life-altering romance, I finally bid farewell to Belgium in the summer of 2009. Uninspired by life in grey, uneventful Brussels, my girl and I headed off to China for an unforgettable year of teaching and travelling.

It was a warm, smoggy Beijing morning as we boarded the bus at Dongzhimen, taking our place among the throng of fidgety hopefuls. There were about fifty of us in total and even at that early stage I got the distinct feeling that as Europeans, S and I were heavily outnumbered. Zac from Oregon had packed a sweater in case it got cold at night. Steve from Philadelphia was wearing a new pair of sneakers fresh from a Beijing market. And Sandy from San Diego was flashing a picture of her nephew around, a chubby little thing wearing nothing but a diaper. Everyone agreed the photo was awesome.

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