A Travellerspoint blog

Xichien...

overcast 8 °C

The last couple of weeks of working at the school were probably some of the most stressful as all of a sudden there were lots of assessments and work to be graded. Even up until yesterday my brain was still ticking and my pen writing hard. Then all of a sudden it was over. I breathed a huge sigh and suddenly realized I had done it. Five months as a high school teacher, actually something I’m pretty sure I swore I’d never do! My class of boys in all their sleeping glory actually worked so hard in the last few weeks and ended up becoming some of my favourite people. When it came to my last lesson (and I told them for the sixth time that I would not be giving them my phone number or allowing them to come to England and stay on my floor) they all took photos with me and my other class gave me a huge sad wave as I walked out of their classroom for the last time. It was strange but I feel I will miss them more once I have left. Kat and I then went to celebrate with wine and beer and street food on sticks.

Today was a long morning of packing and cleaning and yet again I had to try and figure out a way to try and fit my life into a backpack whilst remaining calm when realizing that what I wanted to wear was actually right at the bottom. I somehow managed to fit everything in and do up the zip however, but I did sadly have to say goodbye to homemade lion ears, a bag and even a couple of dresses. Sad times.

In true Chinese style, we were informed at 1pm that in four hours time there will be a ‘surprise’ leaving dinner for us. Good job we were told just then otherwise we would have probably already made our way to the bar… I think I may compare this leaving dinner with our awkward arrival dinner all that time ago in August and score myself on chopstick using ability, fish with small bones eating and sitting around a round, moving table etiquette.

I will be leaving for Shanghai and some traveling adventures tomorrow. Although working at the school has had its moments, overall it has been an amazing experience. I have met some friends who I hope to keep in touch with for many years to come and I will forever hold lovely memories of working with and teaching all the students. It will be strange to return to England and not have this life anymore and I hope that one day I can return to Beilun and visit some old haunts.

Posted by hannahinchina 22:15 Archived in China Comments (0)

A Chinese Christmas

overcast 7 °C

Christmas in China was very different. Of course. The week before, Kat and I did manage to do some festive things like spending a night baking Christmas treats for the people we work with, making our own wrapping out of ribbon and Christmas paper for said treats and even watching Love Actually whilst sharing a bottle of wine that was the colour of apple juice and tasted like cleaning product. N.B. Do not get excited by cheap Chinese supermarket wine, and next time, do not buy three bottles without tasting it first.

The last day of school before the Christmas weekend was odd although it did turn out to be quite fun. In the morning, Kat and I put our Santa hats on and went round the offices handing out our Christmas presents. Everyone seemed very happy about them and were even impressed with our packaging that looked like it had been made by five year olds. We had a relatively lazy morning with no classes and then after lunch it was time for the dreaded parents observation lesson. As I sat at my desk with my stomach feeling like jelly, Sabrina, one of the girls we work with, said “Hannah, you always look so calm when you’re nervous”. Ha. I didn’t feel it. The lesson however, seemed to go smoothly enough. I tried to impress the staring, stony faced parents by saying ‘Hello, welcome to my class’ in Chinese which gained a huge round of applause from my students, definitely a confidence boost. The only awkward part of the lesson was when I asked the students to write and, as usual, they began to work in complete silence with their parents sitting by them, also in complete silence. This lasted for an awfully long ten minutes and I grew more eager to break the silence with awkward and unnecessary comments that would not be understood, but I managed to hold it in.

With the lesson over I breathed a huge sigh of relief and to celebrate, we were then treated to a party. I say party but it was the strangest party I have ever been to. Various students performed songs and played musical instruments on a stage whilst everyone watched in between which, what appeared to be very complicated to explain party games were played with Christmas cards still in their wrappers handed out as gifts. We also received a party bag containing bananas and sweetcorn flavour crisps. As Kat and I were in the middle of speaking to each other over the noise, we suddenly heard our names announced and the music to ‘Hey Jude’, the song we had decided to sing two hours previously, began to play. Completely unprepared and dazed, we ran onto the stage where, once again microphones were thrust into our hands and we had to begin to sing. Due to our delay at choosing the song, and thus not practicing, we had to bring a piece of paper with the words on stage and unfortunately as the song went on, we found ourselves at different lines on the page and so therefore singing different words. When I say singing what I really mean is shouting into the microphone and by the stunned looks on my students’ faces in the audience, they were beginning to realize why I always refuse to sing for them in class. With a failed attempt at audience participation for ‘Na na na, na na na nah…’ the song was finally over and everyone was free to uncover their ears.

After this amusing party, there was a special dinner for us and the other English teachers. This was the traditional Chinese dinner party way of eating around a big round table with glass on the middle that moves, making everything easier to share. As the food was put down on the table, I got very excited to see potato salad but like everything that looks like something in particular in China, it never is, and as the plate came spinning round to my end of the table and I eagerly put the first piece of potato in my mouth, it was clearly melon. Served in a creamy sauce with cucumber. Obviously. Still, it is surprising how well fruit and yogurt goes with roast duck and spicy seafood soup all on the same plate, helped along by 14.8% red wine. Yes. After dinner, Mr Jing handed out Christmas presents to us all and I received a pretty bracelet, a very generous gift.

With the wine going to our heads and the happy feeling that the week was over and it was finally Christmas, Kat and I persuaded the other teachers to come to the bar with us. Although they didn’t stay too long, me, Kat and a new teacher, Violy, managed to stay out until 3, dancing to the live band and eating abnormal amounts of peanuts with our beer.

The three o’clock bedtime seemed like a good idea at the time but when my alarm went off four hours later it was not so fun. However, no school and a trip to Shanghai was enough to have me rolling out of bed and we were soon on the bus sleeping off our hangovers.

We got off the bus in Shanghai and went straight for lunch, to a noodle shop just next to the bus station where we watched the chef make our noodles from fresh dough, stretching them out in his fingers like cat’s cradle and banging them hard on a steal surface to flatten them before throwing them in the pot of steaming water. Delicious.

After this we spent a good two hours of our Christmas Eve trying to find a hostel that neither of us had printed off any directions or address for. When we finally found it, it wasn’t really the most homely of places and so we left to explore the Shanghai evening. We headed straight to the French Concession where lots of cafes and restaurants were lit up with Christmas lights and festive music played whilst we strolled through the little streets. We went to a posh bar for a drink but suddenly the realization hit that it was Christmas and although we tried to force excitable feelings, it didn’t feel quite right. I did have a very nice glass of wine though. We decided to cheer ourselves up and go to a carol service but, on arriving at the church it seemed that this was a tourist destination for the Chinese on this day. The church was packed, people jammed around the door taking photos and the grounds were full of people too. Feeling a bit annoyed, we listened to one carol shown on a big screen outside and then headed to the only bar we could find, most of the clientele being really drunk sixty year old English men who spent the night saying things like “You can pull my cracker…hahaha”. No thanks.

Christmas morning was very strange. Kat had got up early to speak to her family on skype and so I woke up in a dormitory with no one I knew, pitch black because three of the girls were still sleeping. The girl who was awake said hello and so I replied with a ‘Merry Christmas’ to which she looked at me as if another head had just grown from my shoulder. Things got a little better after this as we bought bread and cakes from a bakery and went for coffee. It was a beautiful sunny day and so we walked along the Bund with roast chestnuts that we bought from a street seller and enjoyed the morning taking pictures of each other next to various different Christmas trees.

We then had a trippy experience in the ‘Sightseeing Tunnel’ that goes under the river to the other side of the city where you travel in a little glass train as lights flash and sparkle and huge inflatable people wave at you. After this we were on the Pudong side of Shanghai, a much more quiet and calm area of the city but one that is much more expensive. We decided as it was Christmas day to treat ourselves to a ticket to go up the financial tower, the second tallest building in the world, where from the 100th floor you can see out across the whole city, or at least try to through the smog. The view was amazing and definitely a cool thing to say I have done on Christmas day.

After this, Annah, Lindsay and Lucy arrived from Ningbo and we went for a late lunch at an Italian restaurant. The food was delicious, probably mostly due to the fact that I have not had cheese for so long. We spent some time catching up and then in the evening went on a ridiculous quest to find a bar (apparently a difficult thing to come by in Shanghai) involving taxis dropping us off in different areas and a taxi taking me and Kat for a twenty minute journey to the middle of nowhere when all we wanted to be was two minutes down the road from where we had got in. We finally all met back up again and, finding a dark, shady bar, decided we had to go in for at least one drink and so we sat in a dingy corner and all managed to see the funny side of what a strange Christmas day it had been.

Kat and I had been given boxing day off too but before I knew it I was back at work in the cold office spending my day doing revision lessons and talking about indirect speech. Never before have I wanted my pyjamas and a turkey sandwich more. Really not long to go before we finish now though. Today there will be another ‘party’ at the school, this time for celebrating New Years. For some reason Kat and I have been asked to perform again and so to prove the point that we do not enjoy being forced into public singing, we are going to give ‘Hey Jude’ another bash….

Posted by hannahinchina 20:45 Archived in China Comments (0)

China's Got Talent

overcast 6 °C

I feel I can now say that me and Simon Cowell have something in common. Unfortunately I have not started wearing my trousers up near my chest (although it is pretty cold, this would probably warm me up a bit) but I have now been a talent show judge. On Friday evening, Kat and I were asked to go to another school to judge an English speaking contest. After meeting the other English judge outside, a man named Mark who promptly spent five minutes exclaiming at me about how I couldn’t possibly be a teacher as I only looked fifteen, my ego was soon picked up again as we walked into the hall and about 200 students burst into a huge applause and roar of excitement. We took our seats at the front on the panel. Yes. With my name on a sign and everything, and after being told what we had to do we were each introduced and we took it in turns to face our audience and give a little celebrity wave as more applauding ensued. Then it was time for the competition. There were eighteen students who had to give a speech, many of which seemed to come from Britney Spears song lyrics, and then each student had to pick a random topic and speak about it for three minutes. My favourite contestants were by far the obvious cool kid of the school whose speech began in a shouting on a podium kind of way, “Why do we need to learn English? To get a good job?! To get a better education?! To learn new things?!.... No!.....To get a hot foreign girlfriend!” and a really cute girl in a ladybird print jacket who said, picking the topic ‘Healthy Lifestyles’, “Some people like to exercise to become healthy and to keep fit, but I prefer to stay in bed and eat food”. I scored her very wise opinions the highest.

In between the speaking we were treated to some musical interludes of students singing songs such as Living on a Prayer and My Heart Will Go On. It was one of those life moments where you really feel like you are in a dream or at any moment, a hidden camera will suddenly appear with Jeremy Beadle shortly following.

After the contest was over, the results were counted and we were suddenly told to get on stage and a microphone was forced into my hand. If this happened back home I would have probably weed myself with nerves but it is amazing how many things I just embrace here, although probably mostly due to the fact that there is never a chance or the option to say no. I gave a spontaneous speech about how honoured I was to be there and how talented everyone was which again received more clapping. The most celebrity like moment came at the end however as, as we were getting ready to leave, we were suddenly mobbed by students forcing pieces of paper in our faces and asking for autographs. One girl even asked “Can I hug with you?” and when I obliged she turned around squealing hysterically to her friends who were all jumping around excitedly in a circle. Crazy. It will be such a disappointment to return to the streets of England as such a nobody.

Following this excitable, dream like evening the rest of the weekend was quite relaxing, involving finding carrot cake again and strolling the streets of Beilun. We did have a rather wild night on Saturday though where we drank free shots and I volunteered myself to partake in a worm dancing competition which was more like me just laying on the floor for a few seconds…

Unfortunately for us it would seem that the week leading up to Christmas will actually be one of the busiest with us only just having been informed of a huge assessment that will be taking place which unless there is a Christmas miracle, the boys will never be at a high enough level to pass although apparently they “have to”, and all the parents from my other class (of 25 students making at least this many parents and probably more) will be coming in on Friday to watch my lesson. There is a strange notion here that if you are a foreign teacher you enjoy being made to perform and so after this Friday performance number one, there will be a Christmas ‘party’ in which Kat and I will be performing a song and dance. Usually for me this kind of performance at a party only takes place when it is at least 2am and so it will be interesting to see what happens. Still, when in China, embrace….

In other news, I received a parcel of Christmas cards from my lovely family yesterday which made me feel very happy and loved and are now making the desk in my room look very festive. Big up homies.  xx

Posted by hannahinchina 01:02 Archived in China Comments (0)

Festive Feelings

overcast 2 °C

I can’t believe its only two weeks until Christmas. This year, Christmas has literally sprung upon me without me really realizing. Many of the shops have decorations up and there are a few sad looking miniature Christmas trees and tinsel to buy from the local supermarket but nothing on the ‘Let’s start celebrating in October’ scale of back home. In a way this is nice as it is much more laid back but I do feel sad to be missing out on hearing Christmas music everywhere and eating mince pies. I have tried to get my students excited but sadly all they know is that Christmas is on December 25th and presents are delivered by ‘Father Santa’ so I’m going to have to change this appalling lack of knowledge. At this point, surprisingly I don’t feel homesick at all although I am missing everyone back home and very much looking forward to my delayed Christmas dinner in February.

This week has been getting colder and colder and I have gradually developed an inner annoyance of the other teachers in our office storming in and leaving the door open for all the cold air to come back in as I sit and glare at the door, hoping I can make it close using the power of my mind. I’m pretty sure the students are all robots as they sit at their desks with the windows and doors open, not seeming to notice the cold one bit. Not the class of boys though. Walking into their classroom is like walking into a little warm cave as they never open the windows or curtains and they sit at their desks wrapped in blankets which really does not help with the whole sleeping during class issue.

This weekend the school successfully managed to take up an entire day of our weekend as Kat was forced into administering an exam and I apparently became a make-up artist for some of the girls who were putting on a performance. By the afternoon we thought we were free but Mr Jing appeared on the scene and wanted to take us for lunch. Lunch was an interesting experience of Kat and I being taken to KFC only to find it was closed so going to a Chinese fast food restaurant instead. Here, Jing made jolly comments and chuckled and pointed at things whilst Kat and I laughed along in a manner resembling actors in a really bad soap opera because we could not understand anything he was saying as it was all in Chinese. Meanwhile, his English speaking friend was very keen to talk to me about the Royal Family and began asking me intense questions such as “So are the current family all of Normandy descent?” to which I tried my best to come up with intelligent lies as answers whilst making a mental note to research the Royal Family so as to be better prepared for any similar moments like this in the future.

After lunch, Mr Jing insisted on driving us to Ningbo as we had told him that’s where we planned to go, however this ended up being a long trip as he had to make various bank, petrol and dropping off friends stops along the way and so we didn’t actually arrive until 6pm. Still, it was nice of him to take us and saved us from an overcrowded bus.

A night out and a shopping trip the next day and it was time to return to school again, ready to begin another week.

Posted by hannahinchina 16:47 Archived in China Comments (0)

Chinese Musings

rain 5 °C

The book of learning this week:

- Do not. I repeat, do not get sick in China. This is a miserable experience, particularly when you have to run along school corridors trying not to hurl over the exercise books, lay in your bed and watch the same four programmes repeated over and over again on the only English tv channel which happens to be a news channel (ask me about the eurozone crisis, I know it all now) and have only vegetables and fruit to not stay in your body when all you want is some dry toast and some heinz tomato soup. There was also a trip to the school doctor which involved me laying on a bed in what appeared to be a hospital room from the 1920s and being told I had a cold. Hmmm....

- How to deal with a student who is in love with you. Her name is Bella and she is a very sweet girl but when she starts coming into your office everyday to ask questions you can't answer such as "Why can we say the crop was gathered and not the crop was picked?", starts writing you letters in her homework book, sends you emails, and gets her mother to write to you about how sad she is that you're leaving, how I should stay in China in order to make her happy and that she wants to 'see me off' at the airport, it's time to get worried. I might also add that she said I was like God. Clearly this is a true statement though...

- Having 2.5% beer as your only source of alcohol makes for a seriously lightweighted person and so when given just two glasses of vodka and orange for the first time in a long while, you will experience head spinning, be home by 9pm and wake up at 2am with all your lights on, still dressed in all your clothes, laying on top of your bed. Shameful. This is a pre-warning for all those home coming drinks.

- China is cold in winter. Particularly when your office and all the classrooms are practically outside and everytime someone opens the door, a gust of freezing air swirls into the room. Living in coats is now the norm and blue fingers are my new accessory. Building yourself up to going to the toilet is like getting out of bed in the morning, there is a countdown and it takes a lot of effort from within.

Posted by hannahinchina 17:05 Archived in China Comments (0)

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