Diary 2013/10/14 Muddle, muddle, muddle through

My brain has been on overload for a few weeks now. I’m not really sure when it started, but it seems like it was back when Chinese-style holidays started dictating the strangest work-weeks ever. Yes, some shapes are emerging through the haze; that’s when the confusion began…

The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated in mid-September, and heralds the harvest moon. It is a time for togetherness, family, and getting fat on mooncakes, although when I asked my students how many mooncakes they ate, no one seemed to have consumed more than one or two. My flatmates and I must have been doing it wrong: with no family to share with and no salary to speak of, mooncakes pretty much became our mainstay for the last few weeks of September.

Now I have to check my calendar to remind myself how wonky my work-weeks became at this stage. It seems so distant now, but it wasn’t quite a month ago.  Ah yes, we worked for three days on the 16th, and then took a three-day weekend, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Wait. Yep, that’s right, back to work on Sunday. It only got worse from there. I escaped the city on Friday to Qingcheng Mtn. for a caver-led escapade up the side of some other mountain. We discovered a disused showcave and some pretty neat ruins, as well as a LOT of spiders. Eurgh. “We” was me and a Chengdu caver, and it was a fun little trip.

Now the “weeks” started turning weird. In practice we (Steph and I) worked Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, a three-day “week” to counter the three-day “weekend”. Then, despite the fact that the rest of the office was to work Sun-Mon-Tues-Weds-Thurs-Fri-[not Sat]-Sun-Mon, Steph and I took Wednesday off, due to a business-themed event that got our college kids off the hook for Weds/Thurs classes. It’s confusing, I know. I’m still confused. From then, we worked a normal five-day week. Except that it started on Thursday. Two days of office followed by a day at the college, just like normal. Only that was Saturday. Then two more days of work until Friday. I mean Monday. Which was effectively a Friday, and the start of the National Day Golden Week holiday. At some point in there I found time to pack my stuff for caving. Whew.

So on Monday night after work I hoofed it over to my caver friend Duncan’s place, where we all slept a few hours (me and Evan on the floor, which is surprisingly comfortable for me now thanks to the “mattress”  I’ve been sleeping on for the past two months) and then at “sparrow’s-fart” in the morning, we set off in attempt to beat the holiday traffic. Glad I wasn’t stuck in this jam. We were largely successful, only slowing down on the way out for a crash that involved an orange truck. The collapsed truck was a sight to behold. “Hey, toss us a couple, will ya?” shouted my friend in Chinese from the car. It was also 5am at the time.

We made excellent time and arrived in Wulong just in time for lunch at Wulong’s best Guilin-style beef noodle shop (Wulong is part of Chongqing, nowhere near Guilin for those needing a refresher on Chinese geography). Food out in the “countryside” (Wulong does not quite qualify as countryside anymore, but it’s no city) is always better: more meat, more vegetables, higher quality, and dirt cheap. I’d say this was the highlight meal of the trip, but the breakfast of cai doufu hua 菜豆腐花 (silky tofu mixed with green vegetables eaten like porridge seasoned however you like from a selection of over a dozen different spices, sauces, and condiments) would give the noodles a run for their money in my opinion. It’s impossible to get doufu hua like that in Chengdu; instead of fresh and vegetable-laden, it’s just doused in oil and chilli to mask the blandness of the tofu.

But the point of the trip wasn’t eating! It was caving.  And showing tourist-friends around. Duncan brought his girlfriend, colleague, girlfriend’s friend, colleague’s girlfriend and colleague’s girlfriend’s parents along for the trip, so part of our time had to be spent catering to them. The parents had a cheerful doggy that seemed to enjoy dashing about and making friends with the village dogs. I hadn’t known how much contact we’d be having with “family members”, so the constant questions of non-cavers and parental-types got slightly irksome. Mostly I was grumpy from the long car ride and lack of shower. I had sort of been assuming caving-weekend hygiene standards, not tourist-trip hygiene standards, and hated feeling so scruffy in front of guests (the HMG centre in Tongzi totally feels like home! My club caving hut~) Anyway, I got over it, put on a happy face, and did my best.

Evan and I escaped Team Tourist’s incessant questions (“how do you know where to go in a cave?” “are you afraid of getting lost?” “what’s this thing for?” “how many caves have you been to?”) by slipping away to a small unexplored cave a few hundred meters from the Centre. We wanted to hone our survey skills and it was nice to have some time and space to do that without a pro like Duncan breathing down our necks. Not that he does that. But there was really no pressure. We both learned a lot, and got our “caving fix”. The next day Team Tourist minus the colleague went to explore a nearby gorge, while Team Caver hopped over to Er Wang Dong for a survey trip. We spent the night in the new farmhouse, although the key to the floor belonging to Erin (HMG leader-extraordinaire in case you forgot) was mysteriously unable to be found. We slept on sofas on the first floor, no biggy. It was a super awesome trip, amazing cave, a real “caver’s cave” as Duncan kept saying. Duncan’s colleague was a real trooper, and most definitely a convert to caving.

We left a day earlier than planned, but it couldn’t have been better timed. We seemed to somehow avoid nearly all the traffic once again. It was like all of China shared a hive-mind, from which we, as foreigners, were exempt. We were out-thinking the swarm! We did hit some traffic returning to the city, and once again grumpy Anni made an appearance. I was sitting in the middle, and unable to sleep. When we got in at midnight (a 10.5 hour drive from Tongzi), I excused myself from dinner for a nap so I could have some Anni Time. Well worth it—when the others returned I was ready to share a drink with them.

The holiday wasn’t quite over, but I just spent those last couple days at home practicing my potato impression. Don’t have a couch though, so I suppose I was doing variations on the wooden-chair potato and the I’m-not-really-a-mattress potato. Now, what day is it? Holy crap, we’re up to last week. The holiday only ended a week ago? My. And what a week it was.

We get back to work on Tuesday, whence the GM calls me and my boss in to discuss the fact that I’m going to become his assistant. Promotion, yay! Seemed alright. Until our admin girl quits on Wednesday. The department manager had left in September, and my boss was supposed to be taking over her role, but the admin girl leaving put everything in the express lane. I had to spend Thursday learning her role, Friday figuring stuff out, and Saturday clearing desks so we could arrange things for a new person to come join us. Oh wait, I was hired to be a teacher. Better do something about those upcoming lessons… We’ve hired a new guy to help out, but I’m still currently doing two jobs. Working from two computers. I wish I was a computer myself and could partition my hard-drive—sorry that got a bit nerdy—I wish I could split the parts of my brain needed for each job so that the thoughts didn’t bleed into each other.

So here I am, and it’s the 14th, and we’ve finally been paid, 4 days late, and my head is a muddle of muddly metaphors that I’ve been coming up with to try and explain how I feel. I am a cat landing on its feet, I am a ship weathering a storm, I am tending irons in the fire… I AM A CAT-BLACKSMITH ON A BOAT YEAH! But mostly I am just confused and waiting for my role and the department’s development direction to become more clear.  At least we’re back to normal Monday to Friday, five-day work-weeks. Until…let me just check my calendar…Oh. Until January. No holidays until January. No wait, we get…let’s see… one day for Christmas. Oh. Yay.

Oh yeah—I’m also trying to get some translation work. Not that I’ll ever find time to do it with two jobs to do… And I place more iron in the fire with my salty paw.

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