Personal stuff

Life is like a bullet train journey. When it’s stopped, enjoy the peace, ’cause nothing you do can force the train to move until the time is right, and once it fires up and starts down that track, there’s no stopping it until it reaches the next station. Well, many of you will have noticed my relative inactivity on the blog of recent months, so I figured I’d share a little of what’s behind my online absence, as it felt like life’s bullet train would never stop and give me some time to update the blog…

Firstly, I was preparing for my wife’s first trip with me to Australia. Vietnamese have to work harder to get an Australian visa than more developed countries, so the process involved a lot of running around organising a bunch of paperwork, but we finally got it done.

Then the trip.

This was of special significance to both of us as: 1. It was my wife’s first time to visit my country, while I’d been to Vietnam three or four times already, and 2. It was the first time we could celebrate Christmas with my family at home.

Of course I couldn’t help snapping one or two candids of passengers on the flight from Guangzhou to Sydney…

We’d no sooner arrived than we dropped off our bags at our accommodation and jumped on a bus for the city. It was our only chance to check out some of the Christmas projections – moving video was projected onto some of Sydney’s most famous buildings. We only had time to check out St Mary’s Cathedral before they turned the lights off.

This is where the imagery came from – a series of projectors a few hundred metres from the cathedral.

The next day we picked up our hire car and headed to my hometown – Inverell – about seven hours’ drive north of Sydney. We spent about 4 days there over Christmas…

This is where my girl saw her first (live) kangaroos in the wild (we’d seen plenty of roadkill on the way, but that wasn’t quite as exciting). We wandered around the bush surrounding Copeton Dam near Inverell and eventually ran into this pair.

After that, we headed back to Sydney for a few days to do a bunch of touristy things…

Jade by the Christmas tree in the Queen Victoria Building…

…Jade jumping on Manly Beach…

…Jade in front of the Opera House…

…and Jade with the Sydney Harbour Bridge

I was so busy being a tourist and making sure my girl had a nice time that I had no time for taking “my kinda photos” (you know, the serious ones), but it was fun capturing images of my girl enjoying the trip.

We’d no sooner arrived back in China when I got a call asking if I was interested in teaching a new program running with my company in collaboration with Monash University. Turned out they had agreed to run a Foundation Year program here in China, and I was just the teacher they wanted. A few days later, I was on a plane to Shanghai for a week’s training.

Got out one night to explore the city a little. Here, a tourist cruise boat drifts past the business district of Pudong in Shanghai.

This is the Monash Foundation Year (China) team – I’m the guy at the back to the far right looking awkward. I’m always better behind the camera rather than in front of it!

Once the training was complete, I had three days to prepare for the first lessons. With no textbook or rough lesson plans to go by, it was a busy time searching for resources online and planning classes. As the class ground into gear a bunch of problems quickly arose – such as the fact that in true New Oriental-style professionalism, the students had not been placement tested as they had meant to be, and many of them were well below the minimum level of proficiency. The company denied this, but some of the students seemed surprised there was any kind of test to get in, as they had not done one or been told one even existed. There was also a clear lack of concern for the long-term future of the program with the local branch, who seemed to favour the increased revenue more than the actual success of the program in this initial stage that would lead to the successful promotion of the next round.

So frustration was building due to the complete lack of professionalism of what is a textbook Chinese company (despite its being listed on the NYSE – my advice: steer clear of those stocks!). And in the meantime, my mother’s health back home was waning, and my wife was also suffering some ill-effects of being back in China.

In the two weeks we were in Australia, the better environment saw conditions that had plagued her for months here (sore throat, poor complexion) virtually disappear. As soon as we arrived back, they returned with a vengeance! We started monitoring the pollution levels in Guangzhou and became painfully aware of the harmful nature of the air we had been breathing for years. This, combined with the fact that we eat fruit that even the locals don’t trust and wash it in water that is unsafe to drink, made us realise that the extra cash we can save by living here a little longer is not worth the long-term potential health effects, nor is it worth the continual frustration of dealing with a culture that in so many ways clashes with our own in ways we just can’t seem to get over. Tired of the struggle with negativity that arises from seeing things that make us mad each day, tired of the fear of future cancer and other health risks (we both have family histories of such things), tired of being tired of everything, we decided to leave earlier than originally planned.

So the next wave of frantic preparation ensued – getting ready to get out of the country!

Next stop: Vietnam (my wife is Vietnamese, and I’m so glad, because Vietnamese culture is so much more in line with Aussie thinking and culture than Chinese)!

So finally I had some time to update and let y’all know what’s been happening on a personal level. Things are complicated when you have to do another job to fund doing what you really love. Maybe one day I’ll be able to make my sole income source photography, but that’s not something I can see in the immediate future, so it will be a continued balance between things I’ve gotta do to keep a roof over our heads, and the things I love to do.

But for now, the next thirty days will be spent either teaching my last classes in China, or getting out to make the most of the time I have left in this country, trying to recapture the spark of what I loved about the place when I first arrived in 2001, and then getting it in images!