I am at home now, sleeping in my own bed in my own room, eating with knife and fork.

A lot of things are different between Shanghai life and my life at home. But I notice that stronger now than when I came to Shanghai. The most impressive  moment is the first morning when I take a walk with my dog without seeing anyone. But what happened from November to February in Shanghai? After I wrote my last report I started with the exams. I had to do an English and a German exam with my classes. The students did not like this idea. Till this moment my lessons were much more fun. But we had to do it and the results were better than I expected before. Some of them remember all the vocabulary and grammar but the correction was a lot of work. I had to think about my mark system again and Elaine helped me to improve it. It's not so easy to correct exams in a fair way. The next week I gave it back and one student surprised me with the question: “Teacher, who is the best student in these exams? My mother wants to know that.” I was not able to give her the answer and I also I did not want to. I wanted less of this ambitious competition in my lessons but I fear that makes them also less interesting for the students. November was a very good month. We were a nice group of volunteers. Dutch, Irish, French, Norwegian and German and had a lot of fun by doing karaoke, bowling and even dragon boat together. The dragon boat day started early in the morning and we nearly missed the bus who brought us to the “military playground” where you learn how to do dragon boat. We were a big group and first we tried to catch the bus by metro. But we didn't make it and so we had to catch to cabs. I was in the front car. A modern one with a crazy driver who did not like to stop or slow down. The second driver wanted to follow us but his car was to slow and so they called us several times and asked us to slow down. The dragon boat itself was also a lot of fun. Between eight and twelve people sat in a boat and in the back there is a drummer who gives you the rhythm in which everybody has to move. If you move all together and exactly you can drive a dragon boat very fast. But in the end we lost the race against the other group. It was a funny day though.After this period of funny volunteer time it became quieter in Shanghai. In December and January there were only few volunteers in town because of Christmas and New Year. In the beginning of December I think of Christmas for the first time. Someone told me this would be the hardest time. In China Christmas is not important. Of course there are lights, trees and decoration. But it is not an important family-festival like in Germany. Elaine – my roommate- told me it's more an opportunity for friends to meet and have fun. But we were four Germans in Tongji School and so we decided to celebrate it together. We even tried to go to church but that was not a good idea. The church was too crowded and you need a ticket to go inside. If you wanted you had the opportunity to watch the service on a screen in the garden around the church but it was too cold and so we decided to go to Christmas dinner directly. We had it in a typical Chinese restaurant and we ordered around 20 dishes – like a real Chinese family ;).

We even had a little bit snow before and after Christmas. Snow is really special in Shanghai and the students in school were crazy about it. But the whole school was also crazy about the New Year's festival celebrated on the 31st of December. Therefore all of the more than 1000 students had to transfer from school to a close theatre place where all the students and teachers together performed a brilliant show. Students and teachers are both - the audience and the actors, singers and dancers. And they were really professional. Tim and I were also part of this event. We got the opportunity to perform a short play with our theatre group and it was a lot of fun. We like the idea of “Alice Adventures in Wonderland” and so in our play we tried to connect the world of fantasy with the exhausting daily school life of a typical Chinese student. The students liked the play and our Alice – a really shy and silent girl – did a fantastic job.  
Nancy and Elaine – our supervisors and bosses from our school- invited us to celebrate the Sylvester evening together with them in a hotel from where you can see the fantastic skyline of PuDong. While we were eating, the floor of the restaurant in the skyscraper turned around very slowly so that you can see the skyline from different points. Also the food was good. We had a typical New Years dinner with Fish, Chicken feet soup and everything what is good for luck and wealth in the New Year. It was a good but only a small celebration and so I was curious about the celebration for Chinese New Year. The last 6 weeks went by very fast. In December, January and February it was extremely cold and the bad thing about Shanghai is that they do not use real heaters there. In the northern part of China it is colder and thus there most of the houses have central heating systems. But not in Shanghai. The city is kind of a heating system border in China… Outside it is around 0 degrees and inside (behind the thin glasses) there is only a small air conditioner which blows warm air. Some days I did not become warm the whole day. But the Chinese have tricks to survive the cold winter comfortably. First of all it is weird to drink cold drinks. Water, tea, beer… everything should be warm or hot. Further more you need a really warm pyjama. I bought one with my roommate Elaine – the Chinese teacher. And I also slept in long trousers, woolen socks a T-shirt and a big sweater and of course with my heating pillow. These heating pillows are a great invention. Nearly every teacher and also many students had one because there are no heaters and even no air conditioner in the school building. You can heat them in ten minutes with electricity and they stay warm for several hours. I loved this heating pillow and brought it back home. But when I came here I noticed that I do not need it. 
 In January I also had the opportunity to go to Hong Kong. It was a price of XuBo, the Chinese organization. All volunteers of 2010 had to vote for the volunteer who should get this price. I was so happy to go there and had three crazy, exciting but fantastic days. I was there completely on my own and though Hong Kong seems to be a part of China everything is different. Dollar instead of Yuan, Cantonese instead of Mandarin and even my Chinese phone card didn't work there. I was able to enjoy sunny 20 degrees while they had a lot of snow in Shanghai and my trip included three nights in a 5 Star hotel. That was a really weird experience eating alone in an elegant restaurant of an expensive hotel while watching all the business men and families for whom this life seems to be normal. While I was in Hong Kong I visited the harbor, the luxury Shopping streets and malls, the Victoria Park and took a train to Victoria Peek from where you can see the whole city and I also took a ferry between Hong Kong Island and the mainland. All in all I would say that it was very different to my experiences in Shanghai because everything is so organized and everywhere you can see signs who tell you what is permitted and what is prohibited. Very different to the creative but efficient chaos in Shanghai. 

At the same time in the beginning of January I had to leave the Tongji School because they close the whole school for the big New Years holidays for three weeks. In my last days there I had to do exams with them. The students didn't like that but they liked that I brought German chocolate and other sweets for them. We did some last pictures and I had to pack my stuff to spend the last month in XuBo volunteers flat where we also spent the first week in Shanghai. But different to the first week in august the flat was nearly empty now. With Hazel our new supervisor and one other volunteer I visited different projects in the disabled center “Sunshine home” and a kindergarten. We were even invited to a competition between different disabled centers of the district where the tasks were taking pictures, mashing garlic and baking cookies. The members of “Sunshine home” were really friendly and ambitious and we had to cheer for them loudly. In the kindergarten Tim did the regular English lessons and another volunteer and I did some painting and music lessons in English with them or just played some easy games. 

On the second of February and the following two weeks I experienced what Chinese New Year really means. The city is crowded and the nights are full of fireworks – but here the acoustic shock is much more important than the light.

Then the last week was very emotional. Many new volunteers arrived and the flat was crowded. Some of them asked me a lot of questions were homesick or just nervous and excited about living in such a big city and very different culture. I remembered how I felt when I came to Shanghai. But now I would have liked to stay longer. Saying goodbye to everyone, having some last good Chinese dinners with friends and a last time karaoke filled my last week. I had some troubles to put all my stuff in my suitcase but together with Tim's help it worked out and so we started our way back home. Coming back home was also very exciting. Different hair colors, no characters, nobody staring at me, suddenly I was able to read and understand everything… And seeing all the people I have missed was of course a fantastic feeling. I am really happy and thankful that I had the opportunity to go to Shanghai and to get to know this place I hardly thought about two years before.