Or, The Start-of-Term Conference.
Yes, it’s that time of the year again when we get sent off to some exotic location and then have to sit around being professionally developed. This year we were sent off to the Crowne Plaza Hotel near the panda place north of Chengdu. The hotel was seriously posh. This was not one of those hotels where the lobby looks nice and the rooms are in a lower tax bracket. My bed was so wide that it was wider than a normal bed is long. The pillows were so soft that they ate my head. This was a bit of a nuisance.
From the window I could see a small village in the distance, but it all looked a little fake to me. The ridge of a hill came down from the left. Nearer to the hotel there was a fake church and down below me a swimming pool with a fake beach and a pavilion. The place was being advertised as a location for weddings. Part way down the hill was the word “Starkey” in large letters. This seemed to have something to do with some sort of charity event which was concurrent with our gathering. To the left were some housing units and to the right some blocks of flats, both of which seem to have been completed on the outside, but were lacking anything on the inside. Other buildings in the area were occupied.
Getting to the hotel provided some entertainment. The coach headed eastwards around the 3rd Ring Road from the airport and hit the turn-off to the 4th Ring Road where there are extensive roadworks. We already knew by this time that the driver wasn’t really sure where he was going, and we went slightly past the intersection before reversing into traffic to turn right. We went up the road and eventually found a big sign saying 保利198园 where we turned left and went into a car park which was clearly unused, drove around it, and went back out. Then we turned left again, but the driver decided sooner rather than later that he’d made another mistake, and we went back to the main road. We then saw a sign which indicated the hotel, and from the third turn, the hotel was visible.
The following evening as we came back from the conference dinner, another coach driver went quite a way down the second turn-off before deciding he’d taken a wrong turn. There was a second coach following him, too.
But it doesn’t stop there. The hotel ran a shuttle bus service to the city. When we came back the night before last, the driver seems to have headed up the other side of the roadworks I mentioned above only to get us stuck among a convoy of trucks carrying tonnes of soil to the site. They were all doing a dance, driving into some side lane to reverse to go into the site while the trucks which had already entered attempted to exit. The lane was too narrow, the entrance was too narrow (and probably should’ve been in a different place), and it was around midnight by the time we got back to the hotel. It was another instance of imperial efficiency.
However, it’s possible that the driver had found that there were delays on the other side of the site when he was heading to town and was trying an alternative route to speed things up. Didn’t work, but he probably didn’t know that.
The branch of the school out there, 石室北湖, is in the middle of nowhere. I feel sorry for any foreign teachers who might be sent there one day. Unlike the school in Tongzhou, the place isn’t in a proper town. There’s a small village on one side and some blocks of flats under construction a few hundred metres away, but apart from that, there seems to be little or nothing.
The only reason I could see for holding the conference in the middle of nowhere was the size of the auditorium. There were 280 of us this time, and there will be more next year. 石室 wouldn’t have the capacity to seat everyone, I think.
As I implied above, I did manage to get into town and see Linda, which was good. We were going to try meeting at the airport, but we would have had much less time than I would’ve liked.
Departing was a little bumpy. When I went to Chengdu, the woman at check-in here seemed to have problems with my passport, but said nothing about it and issued my boarding pass. The one at the airport in Chengdu revealed that my old passport number had been listed and I had to go to some other desk to get it changed to the new one. The question remains why the woman here allowed me through when the one in Chengdu didn’t.
There are now twenty-five of us here and we’re going to grow a bit more next year. Where we’re going to grow, I don’t know, but we barely have enough space now. I’m now officially schizophrenic being both A-level and IB, but not actually the latter, except I’m treated as if I am. Sort of.