Drive me crazy: getting a driving licence in Shanghai

I started learning to drive when I was 18, just before I moved to London, and after a little break I passed my test when I was 19, driving around the North Circular and pointing out Pat Sharp’s house to my examiner. Amazingly, I passed first time. Then I didn’t drive for many years, because London.

Now I live in another enormous metropolis, one with an even better public transport system, so I thought why not get a driving licence here too? I have no plans to drive, but I thought it would be a useful thing to have.

As I already have a British driving licence, I can apply for a conversion to a Chinese one, rather than having to “learn to drive” from scratch in China. A friend sent me a super useful link, with step by step instructions on what to do. I basically just followed that!

Here’s my experience of applying for my licence!

Firstly, you have to be resident in China with a visa valid for at least 90 days. No problem for me, I have a residence permit currently valid until January 2019.

Secondly, make sure you have a copy of your temporary residence permit (the bit of paper from the police when you move house). I was a bit worried that I didn’t re-register when I came back from Taiwan, but it was fine. If in doubt just go and get another form, it only takes a minute.

Thirdly, get your driving licence officially translated. I went to the Shanghai Interpreters Association on Beijing West Road (上海市外事翻译工作者协会,北京西路1277号(国旅大厦)1607室). It cost 50 RMB, and I first had to write down my Chinese name on a piece of paper (they liked my handwriting), so I don’t know what you’d do if you didn’t have a Chinese name. Or couldn’t write it. They translated my driving licence both with “Miss” as part of my actual name and without.

Yesterday I made photocopies of all the important documents, namely:

  • passport
  • residence permit/visa (in passport)
  • temporary residence permit
  • driving licence (front and back)
  • translation of driving licence

Then today, armed with all those photocopies, and my real life passport, driving licence and certified translation, I went to the Shanghai Vehicle Management Bureau. This is on Hami Road, out by Shanghai Zoo (哈密路1330号).

  • Note to anyone else going! It’s not the place where you get your residence permit health check although it is on the same road! Don’t be like me and go to the wrong place! It’s fairly obvious when you’re in the right place because there are a million cars.

Top tip! Take a plastic wallet to keep your papers/passport/licence in as you have to keep whipping them out and you don’t want to have to keep getting them out of your bag. Or lose anything, heaven forbid.

At the Shanghai Vehicle Management Bureau

Walk in the front gate, try not to get run over.

First up is Building 10. Go to the counter and hand over passport and translated driving licence, then 25 RMB. Then go to the small door by the entrance, where there’s a little photo studio. Give the receipt and your passport to the photographer. I was made to take off my earrings and put on a (giant, grubby) jacket as I was wearing a camisole. As a result I have the exact same look on my face that my brother has in his Year 1 school photo.

Next go to Building 9 to pick up the photos, when they’re ready they’ll be on the counter (it took about a minute). Take three forms from the counter by the door, and if you can write in Chinese then fill it in – if not then I guess get someone to help you. The chap handing out the forms cut out one of the photos for me and stuck it onto one form, then told me which bits to fill in. Keep the rest of the photos safe. Once your forms are filled in, go to the counter and pay 60 RMB.

Next go out of the door and turn left, looking for the sign saying “medical check”. Go in this door and up the stairs. Turn right and then go into each of the rooms to do the medical checks. Give the doctors your papers when you go in and they’ll point you towards whatever apparatus they want you to use. Medical checks today: height, weight, hand strength, squats, basic eyesight, hearing, blood pressure, ECG, colour blindness. Once you’ve been into every room, go to the counter at the end and they’ll make up a certificate. I had a little chat with these guys as they were the friendliest people of the day – they were intrigued as to whether Ireland is a real country and also wanted to know about my Chinese name.

Finally, go to Building 1. Go to the first desk you see and they may send you around the corner to another lady, they did for me but it has the vibe of being a free-for-all. Show this lady your paperwork and she’ll give you a ticket for the queue. Go upstairs (the stairs are to the left) and walk through to the final room. When your number gets called, they’ll go through allllllll the paperwork (and freak out at my driving licence and passport being issued in different countries) and take the photocopies you helpfully provided. Finally, everything gets stapled together and you get asked to choose when you want to take your test. It was booked up for the next 3 weeks but I got a date at the end of the month that works for me. And with that, the appointment slip and all my paperwork was handed back to me and see ya!

What’s this date for? For a theory test. Everything I know is from the link I posted above – it’s a computerised test. I have literally no clue what’s in the test but I guess I have a few weeks to find out.

Tune in later this month to find out if I pass!

Two half marathons

This spring I ran two half marathons, and I meant to write about them but I was busy and lazy and didn’t. However, I was just thinking about how very different the two races were.

Pre-race:

  • Wuxi: Wuxi is 200km from Shanghai, so I had to take the high speed train after work, then a taxi across the city to a sports centre, to pick up my race number the day before (the organisers refused to allow same-day pick up or a friend to pick it up – really disappointing). I stayed with a friend that night, so had to take another taxi across town to this sports centre (very inconvenient location to start a race). Dropping off bags etc was fine and then I queued for 45 minutes to use the filthy toilets. Really unimpressive.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: I took the metro to a random stop in Minhang, then walked to a cafe on a dusty street. There were only 250 people doing the race, so it was all very low key and easy. I hung out with my friends and chatted, then stashed my bag in a cardboard box.

Route:

  • Wuxi: Getting over the start line took about 20 minutes as there were about 30,000 runners doing the full and half marathons. Once underway, it always felt crowded. The route itself was on closed roads, and there were quite a few spectators out, plus old people dancing and playing drums etc. Running alongside the lake was quite nice, although the pollution was very high. The final bit was through the university and the students were very enthusiastic cheerers – when I made the effort to wave, or high five, they went absolutely nuts and it gave me quite a boost.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: The race started down an alley beside a restaurant, and the first 8km was on the roads, dodging cars and old people, although after that it was mainly along the river path. When we hit the river things got a bit easier to follow, although some of the route markers had been removed by over-zealous security guards. No cheerers. Lots of annoying people also using the riverside path, how dare they. Got stopped 500m from the end by a film crew, then decided to be a dick and just ran through their set.

Water:

  • Wuxi: Water stops every 2km, after the first 5km, with water, energy drinks, sponges and toilets. There were also some random food stops, like a burger stall at 18km.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: Water at 9km, 15km and 20km. Nowhere near enough. Nearly died.

Weather:

  • Wuxi: It was warm but not too crazy. Shitty air.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: It was incredibly hot, and I contemplated throwing my dessicated corpse into the Huangpu. High pollution.

My performance:

  • Wuxi: I stopped at 8km to use the loo, then from 12km I walked through the water stops as I am rubbish at running while drinking. At about 18km I gave up and did a lot more walking. Finished in 2hr32.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: After the first water stop I couldn’t start running for nearly 1km, and that was kind of the story for the rest of the race. At one point I sent messages to my friend saying how awful I felt and he told me to get a fucking move on. Really had to have words with myself on several occasions but it did very little. Dragged myself to the finish line (a friend standing in the road with a can of coconut water) in 2hr34.

Post-race:

  • Wuxi: I sat on the grass for a while, then went to collect my belongings. Lots of random stuff in the goody bag. I called a taxi and then spent 20 minutes arguing with the driver because he didn’t know about the road closures. Finally got back to my friend’s house and went to eat churros, before getting the train back to SH and going for a curry with my boyfriend.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: Chatted to friends, went to the bar just as other friends had opened a bottle of prosecco, downed a glass, immediately felt my insides liquefy and had to run to the bathroom. Drank beer and heckled my friend who won, then got the metro home, feeling sweaty and slightly drunk.

How was your week? (the child edition)

(Names have been changed but the student has chosen his own name, but got confused about which letters to use and given himself a very feminine name. This is his second name, he used to be called Car (because he likes cars). He is 11 and weighs significantly more than me).

Me: How was your week?

Anny: I got in a fight at school. One of the students is taller than me and stronger than me, and he attacked me for no reason at all. Once he attacked a teacher with a chair leg and broke the teacher’s leg a little bit. He attacked me for no reason at all, we fought all the way across the classroom, from the front to the back. He hit my head and I picked him up and threw him against the wall. He is strong but he only fights with his arms and legs, not his head. I have a bruise on my arm and my head is a bit sore.

Me: Did you win?

Anny: No one won because the teacher arrived.

Me: That sounds like a good thing, the teacher must have been very angry.

Anny: The teachers are scared of him. Once Jerry brought a knife to class and he held it to my friend’s face. My friend told his mum and his mum came to the school. The fighting student, Jerry, his mum came to the school too and the two mums fought and my friend’s mum got hurt and now we don’t complain any more. The headmaster doesn’t want to help and we can’t report Jerry because if he knows it’s us then he’ll fight us.

Me: That sounds terrible for everyone.

Anny: His dad is a soldier but I don’t want him to grow up to be a soldier because then he could fight the whole country.

Me: So do you remember that we have been thinking about good decision making skills and poor decision making skills? What would you say were good decisions and what were poor decisions?

Anny: I shouldn’t have attacked him back. My mum said it’s okay to hit people if they hit you first but I should have gone to get the teacher. So I think no one made good decisions.

 

Anny for president!

HSK 4 – nerves, regrets and a surprise

Last month I took a Chinese exam, level 4 of the HSK. HSK stands for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (“chinese level test”, Chinese naming conventions being very imaginative) and there are six levels in total. I took level 2 in February 2017 and level 3 in September 2017, and did fairly well in both, being well prepared for both exams. The jump between levels is quite big – the amount of vocabulary doubles each time – but I knew that if I didn’t sign up for the exam, I wouldn’t force myself to learn the vocab (instead I would focus on “fun” vocab – so it’s not like I’d completely neglect learning).

I did a mock exam a fortnight beforehand and scored 160/300. The pass mark is 180. I’d not done well (though hadn’t failed…) in the mock exams for both the previous levels, as the format takes a little getting used to, so I tried not to be too worried. However, I was aware that there were major gaps in my knowledge. Over the next week or so I carried on doing mock exams, practising the bits I found difficult. I also kept trying to cram in new vocabulary, spending my commute drilling new words and trying to read and review on lunchbreaks and quiet moments.

The week before the exam I did more mock exams, getting colleagues to mark the writing sections for me. In one I scored 200 but generally I was getting between 150 and 190. I grew increasingly worried.

I’d bought the textbooks for HSK 4 but only worked my way through 6 of the 20 chapters and I wondered what I’d been doing with my time instead of studying or revising.

The day before the exam I was working until nearly 9pm and decided to go home and try to get a decent night’s sleep instead of doing any lastminute cramming. I woke up at 6am and read over some sentences, while drinking a cup of coffee.

I felt really stupid as I felt like I’d had plenty of time to study for the exam. And I felt like the exam really shouldn’t be this hard – after all, I live in China, I’m around Chinese all the time, this isn’t even that hard an exam (children in first grade at school will learn all of this). I started to cry, and once I started, I couldn’t stop.

At about 8am I managed to get myself together a little bit and took a taxi to the exam centre. The taxi driver asked if I was Russian. I went to McDonalds and bought a coffee. I felt sick as I walked down the street, trying to find the entrance to the building. How ironic would it be if I couldn’t even find it?

The exam room itself was reasonably sized, computers at individual desks, most already with the candidate sat patiently behind. My desk was the one nearest the door. I logged in using the log in details taped to the desk for me (although I had to ask where these were, as I didn’t spot them). I checked the headset. I looked about. Then I waited, watching the countdown timer, feeling worse and worse, although not crying any more (small mercies).

The exam started. Listening first. I tried to read the questions before the listening extract each time, to give me an idea about what to listen out for. Some questions were very straightforward and others I felt like I had no clue – I guess this is to be expected when you simply don’t know big chunks of the vocab. I tried to keep calm although it was hard to stay positive. By the end of the listening section I felt pretty tired (I normally give myself a break when doing mock exams at home!).

In the reading section, my teacher had advised I do part 1, then part 3 and finally part 2. Part 1 I normally find very straightforward but I knew I hadn’t got this right, which made my spirits sink yet further. Part 3 is very very long and I felt exhausted by the end, but tried to remain focused on part 2, which is really hard (my teacher had said that it’s possible to spend the whole time on section 2 and still not get it all right, as it’s so tricky).

Finally on to the writing section! The first part is rearranging words into sentences, making sure that the order is correct. Some of these seemed quite easy, others I wasn’t so sure about, others I knew that I thought were easy but were no doubt wrong. The second part is writing a sentence using a picture and prompt word. I spent ages trying to work out whether a particular word that I’m semi-familiar with is a noun or a verb. I settled on it being a noun. I checked all my sentences. I rechecked them. I made some adjustments. I changed them back. I checked it all again. I had 30 seconds left, and rather than click submit and actively commit to finishing the exam, I let it time out and submit on my behalf.

I put on my coat, packed away my passport and headed downstairs. I stumbled out into the street and looked up the word from the writing section (it was a verb, not a noun) and decided not to look up anything else.

I posted on wechat about how I thought the exam had gone and messaged a few friends who’d wished me luck, telling them how awful it was. My teacher suggested I go and get a hot drink and I thought that was an excellent idea so went to buy a hot chocolate. I was totally sure I’d failed and only after going to the gym and sweating out some of the self-hate, then spending the afternoon drinking coffee with a good friend, was I able to put it out of my mind and decide to wait and see what the results were.

Normally the results only take a fortnight, but Chinese New Year meant that it took 3 weeks for the results to come out. By then I’d reconciled myself to the idea of retaking the exam. I almost didn’t bother checking the results online until I went to work, but decided that would be silly and I’d rather just know.

I entered my name. I entered my candidate number. The page opened. What?!?

Listening: 87
Reading: 80
Writing: 77
TOTAL: 244

Surely some mistake?

I immediately sent a screenshot of the page to my teacher, my classmate and Liam, then I just stared at the page for a little while. Then I posted it on wechat, partly for the head pats but also because I’d promised myself that I’d post the results regardless of what they were, full transparency and all that. People have been taking the piss a little, saying that they knew I’d be fine, that I was worried for nothing, that I should have believed in myself more, etc. I hate those kind of people who come out of exams and say they’ve done badly when they know they haven’t, but I genuinely thought I’d tanked it.

No exams for a while for me!

Moscow morning

7am. Moscow. Midday at home and 4am at my other home, the home I’m going back to. Another hour until my connecting flight, a long hour stretching ahead staring at planes taxiing about in the darkness.

No internet because my Chinese SIM only works in China and my UK SIM hasn’t worked for 11 months (although I am hoping that it will work when I land) and you need to enter a phone number to access the wifi. Just me, the darkness outside and the overbright light inside. People keep talking to me in Russian, and I don’t even look that Russian anymore. I don’t think it’s a compliment.

I managed a few short sleeps on the ten hour flight between Shanghai and Moscow, mainly when I was watching films. Aeroflot’s film selection is pretty good but I went for films I’ve seen before – first Interstellar, which made me cry (and then sleep), and The Dark Knight – because I didn’t want to be challenged. I wish planes still showed Glee. I used to love spending 11 hours watching Glee.

During The Dark Knight, in the scene where Harvey Dent has his face half burnt off, a stewardess dropped a jug of coffee on my leg, so we had a surreal moment where I watched someone’s face on fire while my leg steamed itself, a woman dabbing at my leg with a wad of tissues, apologising in Russian. Welcome to Russia, have some third degree burns.

I hate aisle seats, and my hatred was magnified by the couple beside me each getting up four times in the flight. At one point they must have been trying to wake me up and I must have been fighting it because I realised I was saying “nooooo, no more, sit down, I hate you”, to which they paid absolutely no mind and continued their hourly climbs over my reluctant lap.

About halfway through the flight I woke up feeling like I might throw up everywhere – that’ll be chips and a hot chocolate for dinner I suppose – and went to the bathroom. I thought about a short story I’d been working on with one of my writing students, a story about a girl on a flight who suddenly felt awful, went to the bathroom and shed several kilograms, then looked in the mirror and realised she’d gone back in time and spent the rest of the flight in a silent scream. Please no please no. I couldn’t brave looking in the mirror just in case, the story and Interstellar and feeling sick were too much for me and I eventually dragged myself back to my seat, where I for some reason stripped out of most of my clothes and attempted to get as foetal as possible – which is not all that comfortable when you’re in the aisle seat of economy class, you’re half naked and you have a middle aged chinese couple keen to use your sweating body as steeplejump practice.

I packed two days early and spent some time worrying that I’d forgotten something, then realised it was probably remembering to order vegetarian food for the flight. In the end I had a Cornetto and a bread roll. I can’t wait to get to Heathrow and spend my emergency tenner at M&S.

If that ain’t love…

It’s Wednesday 14th February, which can mean only one thing. It’s the day after Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and the day after Pancake Day? Well yes, but that passed me by. It’s the day before Chinese New Year’s Eve? That certainly hasn’t passed me by, but that’s something to write about some other time. No, silly, it’s Valentine’s Day.

As a History teacher, I could tell you the genealogy of the Roman god we use as an emblem for this day (who didn’t have his own festival during the Roman era). I could tell you that in China we have several Valentine’s Days, because (massive generalisation alert) Chinese people love romance. Oh yeah, and commercialism.

I could tell some stories about dating in China, but I won’t, because I’m a paragon of discretion, and also some of the stories aren’t mine to tell and I’ll get in trouble if I spill the beans. And I need to hold something back for the book I’m one day going to write and make millions from (teaser: a former colleague once wept as he clutched at a woman he’d met online, sobbing “I don’t care how old you are, can’t you see I really NEED this?”).

There are many types of love. Eros, agape, philia, storge.

But let me tell you about love in the workplace.

  • There’s my boss, who’s exactly my age and half my height. She invited me out for dinner, grabbed my boobs and bit my arm so hard she left a perfect ring of tiny teeth marks for a week.
  • There’s my line manager, who gives me brutally honest – both good and bad – feedback on my looks (“if you’d looked like your passport photo when you came for the interview I would have kicked you out” along with “you have a hot body”). She is super sweet and buys me little treats, although I suspect she has nefarious intentions in trying to up my caffeine intake. After the triple-espresso incident I don’t let her make me coffee anymore.
  • There’s Liam, my oracle and twin. Maybe he’ll get his own blog entry someday.
  • There’s my little family, my colleagues. Most of the company work on a different floor to us and we accept this daily snub with glee, caught up in buying ever-more extravagant gifts of fruit for each other.

And then there are the students. They’re generally bright kids, rich beyond my dreams and somehow also beyond their own as they’re singularly lacking in the awareness to understand their incredible good fortune. Some work hard. Some don’t. We teach them one-to-one, for blocks of two hours at a time, leading to the sort of situations where I can spend 10 hours a week in a tiny room with one kid, more time than I spend with any of my friends. This often ends up in a Stockholm Syndrome where despite me shouting at them (“do you have a brain? is there something wrong with you? how can you have forgotten this?”) they profess their love, telling me they hope they can spend MORE time with me, telling me about their secrets and their friends and their friends’ secrets.

Exhibit 1: E

E was 12, with arms and legs slightly too long for him. He wore a retainer on his teeth that he liked to take out in class. He thought I didn’t realise that he was playing computer games in the loo for 25 minutes at break time. E believed firmly that the Great Fire of London was in 1966, that a thousand and a million are the same thing, and that the KKK is a one of the three monotheistic Middle Eastern religions (turns out he had confused it with Judaism, as you do). He tried to tell me that the Holocaust didn’t happen, so I made him look at so many pictures and read so many accounts of it that he cried, “teacher, why does history have to be so disgusting?”

I bought him some Christmas candy (yes I speak American English now, yes I hate myself for it) and his eyes welled up. He took selfies of us together (with the rabbit ear filter on), telling me he’d never forget me – which I have to say I’m sceptical about, given that after three months of intensive lessons he could still only sporadically remember which decade either of the World Wars took place in.

Exhibit 2: C

C was 17, at school in the UK because neither his school in China nor his parents understood how to deal with his Aspergers Syndrome (his dad left, his mum complained “I beat C but he doesn’t get better!”). He told me he was studying A-levels in History, ICT and Shipping Logistics, which is certainly an unexpected addition to the A-level offering. Over Christmas we met every day to revise what he’d been studying in History lessons.

C would come to class every day and open his rucksack. Out of it, he’d take a toy car, his notebook (where, on every page, he’d write his name in English and Chinese) and two bottles of water, one for him and one for me. He would pass one over to me and when I’d thank him, he’d say that it was 2-for-1, and I’d tell him once again that it’s usually best to just smile and nod in this situation.

C likes to ask the same questions over and over. Every day regulars include: which do you prefer, Airbus or Boeing? which do you prefer, British Airways or Delta? which do you prefer, Jaguar or BMW? what do you think about Donald Trump? why can’t I use ‘swearing language’ in my history essays?

C doesn’t talk to people he doesn’t like, which is most people. He called my manager a prostitute once. Being a 17 year old boy with poor social skills, he doesn’t have a great deal of interaction with girls. Once he identified that I was someone who would answer his questions (or at least try to give some sort of answer, even if that answer was to say that it wasn’t an appropriate question), the questions came in thick and fast: do you prefer to drive or have your husbnd drive you? do you prefer to look after yourself or have your husband look after you? why don’t you have a husband? do you have a boyfriend? could a man and a woman of different ages get married?

I think you can see where this is heading.

At the beginning of January I asked C if he had any new year’s resolutions. He nodded enthusiastically. “This year I’m going to be an adult!” he told me. Yes, 18 years old, are you going to learn to drive (C believes that the UK age of driving (17) is irresponsible and that China has chosen a better age (18))? He looked straight at me. “I’m going to be an adult. We can get married!” He reached out to stroke my arm as I edged away.

If you open my desk drawer you’ll still find unopened bottles of water (come on, you think I drink anything other than hot water?).

Things my Chinese teacher has asked me…

Why did people vote for Brexit?

Is it true that everyone in Europe has double eyelids?

Are there different dialects of English?

How can you tell different English accents apart? Can you hear the difference?

Which is the bad one, north or south Korea?

Do you like Koreans?

Why are you here?

Do your legs get especially cold, because they’re so long?

Please can you draw a chart of your love life on the board?

Christmas in China

On the one hand, Christmas is a big deal here – every shopping mall is decked out with fancy decorations – but on the other hand, it’s not really a holiday. And so I worked on Christmas Day. And not work like work in the UK at Christmas time (no sitting about eating mince pies and definitely no dressing up as Cliff Richard with all my colleagues and swaying for an awkward three minute song), this was 8 hours of teaching.

On Christmas Eve I went to the sorting office to pick up one of my christmas presents, then went to the gym before going out for an amazing meal on the Bund. It was a super magical evening and I felt both incredibly lucky and very festive. So much so that when I got home, I started leaving emotional voicemail messages for my friends and then skyped my friends.

I woke up on Christmas Day and opened my two presents, listening to Christmas music and drinking my customary imported instant coffee. Then I carried on listening to Christmas tunes all the way to work, having a little dance on the metro. At work, the tunes were on, the hats were on, the festive snacks were out.

At lunch I went for noodles with my boys, before heading back for eight hours of teaching. By the end, I was exhausted. During the last hour, my boss dropped a glass of champagne off in my classroom so the room smelled of booze. Sorry, kiddo. Finally over, I hung out with some colleagues and then headed for dinner with Liam and some friends.

I’d got changed into some sequinned shorts (merry christmas…) and it turned out the restaurant was a michelin-starred place. It was delicious. Afterwards we went to find a bar, first of all going to Perry’s, that Shanghai stalwart. It was smoky as hell and it got right in my throat. We left and wandered a bit, but I decided to head home as I had arranged to skype my family.

An hour chatting on skype, and I finally headed to bed for a terrible night’s sleep. I woke up every hour or so feeling like I’d swallowed razorblades.

On Boxing Day I woke up feeling like actual death, ploughed through another 8 hours of teaching and finally got thrown out of the building by my colleague who told me that if only I’d told him in the morning that I wasn’t well, he would have sent me home. Too late!

Finally on the 27th, I went to pick up the parcel my mum sent me a month ago that’s been languishing in customs all this time. I’d had to get an agent involved to help retrieve it, but still had to go out to the customs office near the airport to show my passport. After sitting about for a while I finally got my parcel and could go back home, open my presents, make a dent in my advent calendar and go back to sleep for a lazy afternoon.

圣诞快乐 everyone!

Wuxi Trail Race

Back in the UK, I used to do a lot of races – there was a period where my boss would ask me what I was doing at the weekend and would groan when I’d tell him another half marathon. But in China I’ve not done nearly as many – partly because there are fewer races, but also because at my old job I worked every weekend. I did one race in September, but that was it.

On the day of the Shanghai Marathon, I met up with friends running it for celebratory drinks. One of the people there said that she was the organiser of the Wuxi Marathon, and a bunch of us ended up saying that we’d do it. She mentioned a trail race coming up in a few weeks, and a little while later, posted it in the WeChat group.

The trail race had a few options – 50km, 29km and 8km. I tried to talk a friend into the 8km but she wasn’t convinced. I asked another friend and he managed to talk me into agreeing to run 29km. Quite honestly, I was easily persuaded but that didn’t stop me from worrying about it quite a lot as the day got closer.

As I tried to get to sleep the night before the race, I was really quite worried. 29km is a long way, I haven’t run that distance since training for the Halstead Marathon, so not since April 2016. In fact, in 2017 I’ve probably only twice run more than 10km. I hadn’t eaten enough, wasn’t sure that I’d packed the right clothes and was all round questioning my life decisions.

The alarm went off at 6am and there was a flurry of activity – showers, coffee, soup, bananas, cereal, last-minute extra layers and then a taxi to Wuxi scenic area. The taxi dropped us off at the entrance and we waited for the shuttle bus to take us to the start line. It was cold. Did I mention I was worried? We did a group warm up and were soon on our way, with the start coinciding with my garmin going into sleep mode (a watch after my own heart).c8i48q1fmrp8o3q1hhmsm

The course seemed busy at first and I wondered if it would be congested all the way, though of course it thinned out without me really realising. We walked up the hills and ran down, trying to keep moving. I actually felt really bad. After 2km I wouldn’t have put money on me finishing. It wasn’t that I was tired but more that I felt that my head would give out. I started apologising to Alex, I was sick of the sound of my voice and sick of the voice in my head too.

run

After 8km we came to the first feed station and we ate bananas, orange slices and raisins. A man took photos of me eating a slice of orange but thankfully I am yet to see these photos anywhere.

Around this point we went through a large stretch of forest, where we had to go single file in a large group of people. Going step by step by step through the trees started to make me feel better. I’d been worried I was so slow, too slow, but here I was going at the same speed as everyone else, and I didn’t have to look where I was going because I could just follow the people ahead. I started feeling better, a lot better. Every step took us closer to the halfway point at the very least, and Alex had pointed out that we really only needed to do 15km because after that we’d have to finish or else never get home.

I normally hate running downhill, especially on trails, but was trying a new tactic of not being such a coward and giving it a go (though I had tried this in the Ashridge Forest trail race and ended up covered in blood). Maybe it was the moral support but I couldn’t stop laughing, even if I didn’t look quite as elegant as I felt.hu010ra63yvje0hxbavgnmcpcakqa5y02z9m8u47

We came out of the woods onto a road heading downhill and I felt like I was flying. Alex was flagging a little bit and I waited for him at the second feed station. I had some more raisins and he had some noodles, and then we were on our way again. We went through a village and then back out into the countryside, along paths through tea fields and then just pushing our way through dense tea plants.1s1c4agahdm3ek2u146vz2

tea

We headed up and up to the top of the mountain, high above the city. There was no one else around and we scrambled across rocks. It felt a little sketchy. Alex wanted to pick up every discarded water bottle that we saw (who drops litter in a place like this?!) so we ended up with lots of empty bottles tucked into our rucksacks. It was quite slow going but every step got us closer.

After about 21km we left the top of the mountain and went through another village, depositing all our water bottles in a bin. A man sauntered past eating a steamed bun and Alex asked him if he had a spare. The man thought he was joking but he wasn’t. We got a little lost just after this but eventually found ourselves on a road and by the edge of the lake, with a pleasant jaunt along the lakeside walkway.

Alex told me to go on ahead and wait at the final feed station, and I headed off, immediately regretting what I’d done as I should have waited for him. I took a wrong turning – that’s karma for you – but finally found my way back to the course, just in time for a long uphill road. Near the top of the road was a large white dog (a samoyed or similar), pulling his owners along. I went to pet the dog and the owners were amazed that I wasn’t scared, and then started laughing when the dog jumped up to cuddle me and we ended up rolling around in the road, one fluffy dog and one sweaty human. Such a nice dog, happy days.

From here it was a short run down to the final feed station, and I waited for Alex, who wolfed down orange slice after orange slice when he arrived. I wanted us to run the final bit together but couldn’t convince him to run with me, so (yet again – and I do feel bad about this) I headed off.

There was one final hill, and I tried to run up and down (by whatever definition of running), ideally without tripping over and breaking any bones. A man past me and gave me a vaguely patronising cheer, then when I passed him back I returned the favour, so he ran with me for a while, asking what I thought of Wuxi etc. I realised we were really close to the end and said I wanted to finish – I wanted it done and I was genuinely worried my watch was about to run out of battery! I tried my best attempt at a sprint finish and crossed the line. 5hr49!

About ten minutes later I saw Alex coming around the corner. Was he… walking? I shouted at him and he ran to the finish. We then made some significant inroads into the food available at the finish line, ginger tea being my favourite thing. We were given finisher hoodies – some pretty good swag at this race, all in all.

I can’t believe how this race went from one where I was so down and then so up. I felt great for days afterwards and I’m still grinning about it.

I suspect I may actually be Chinese

I read an article about a style of parenting popular here in China, called setback parenting. In this, you’re basically really awful to your kid so they don’t get too high an opinion of themselves and this will apparently make them stronger. I think you can guess how it turns out.

Here’s the article: http://www.sixthtone.com/news/1001083/setback-education-the-parenting-fad-harming-chinas-kids

As I read it, I did a LOL (as the kids might say, but probably wouldn’t, because I have no idea what the kids actually say), as there are so many parallels with my childhood. My dad believed (possibly still believes) that you shouldn’t compliment (or be nice to) your kids and is surprised that we now do not have a very close relationship.

Anyway, there are lots of other reasons why I think I had a Chinese upbringing:

  1. I got glasses when I was 4 years old.
  2. I play the violin.
  3. And the piano!
  4. I was a total nerd in school, until that day that I suddenly wasn’t.
  5. I went to LSE.
  6. My parents were pretty strict.
  7. I still think less than 90% in a test doesn’t really count as a pass.

That’s only my childhood. There’s further evidence that I’m a Chinese adult, for example: my love of WeChat stickers, going hiking with an umbrella, drinking hot water, shouting in restaurants, pushing on the metro and a whole host of other things that I’ll write about another time.