A Travellerspoint blog

Happy Hangzhou

sunny 25 °C

Thankfully last week went much quicker than the week before and involved much less stress. I gave a presentation on “British Culture” to all the students in the International Department on Tuesday which was a bit daunting but seemed to go well, the students appearing much more excited to see photos of me however rather than any photos about Britain itself. Half way through the presentation, a man suddenly appeared on stage with me and began playing with buttons on the desk in front of me before climbing underneath it, which I hoped was only for more button pressing. It turned out he was trying to fix the microphone that was on the desk but as he was unsuccessful in his mission, I was presented with a headset microphone (think 90s boyband) which I promptly had to put on and continue speaking with. Possibly one of the more humiliating experiences of teaching in China…

Presentation over however and I could relax again, rewarding myself with noodles and beer.

On Thursday it was Kat’s birthday and also Thanksgiving and so I went to the office early and decorated her desk with some red, white and blue balloons as well as a birthday present. I also used Thanksgiving as an excuse to skive off teaching one of my lessons and gave a special Thanksgiving lesson instead, however I learnt that when using someone else’s powerpoint, you should really do your research on American celebrations so that you have answers prepared for when students ask you questions such as “What’s a pilgrim?” and you’ve forgotten so you have to make it up…I also asked the students to come up with some of their own ideas for celebrations which prompted some interesting ideas involving food eating competitions and letting poor people come into your house to watch t.v.

After school was over, we went out for dinner with some of the other teachers to a hotpot restaurant which basically involves cooking your own food in a big bowl of soup in the middle of the table. All the food we put in it was delicious apart from the order of cow intestine which I wasn’t informed of the truth about until after I had confidently put it in my mouth, chewed it for five minutes and then eaten it. Definitely a dish I would not recommend!

After the meal we went to a bar where we gave the well behaved Chinese teachers a glimpse of what we like to do in our free time. As we have got to know the band that plays there, I asked them to sing a rendition of Happy Birthday for Kat, by which point everyone knew we were celebrating and so the shots (of many different varieties) began to arrive on our table, followed by lots of dancing and singing.

It is always the times when you really don’t want to get drunk that you do and I accidentally ended up being very drunk. I think I now know where the common phrase “Not on a school night” comes from. Yet one positive that came out of this situation is that the cow intestine did not stay in my intestine for too long, however getting myself up and into school for 8am to be tutoring students for their speaking examinations at 8.30 was certainly a struggle.

Somehow I managed it and by lunchtime I was beginning to feel human again. I have come to the sad realization that now I have a responsible job, I can no longer get away with feeling ill the next day as there is no more hiding behind boxes in the stock room or taking position on the bar, as close to the coffee machine as possible. Rubbish.

A couple of hours after lunch, we were free to leave school. Kat and I had been planning a trip to Hangzhou, a city just a few hours north of Ningbo, for some time and when we told the headteacher this, she informed us that some of the students would be going there to take an exam and so we could just come along. At first this seemed like a trap to get us teaching over the weekend but it actually turned out to be perfect and our transport and hotel were also kindly paid for.

We took the school mini bus and traveled for quite a few hours as we had to take a detour to get petrol from one of the student’s father’s personal oil drums and then we got stuck in traffic. However, I used this time wisely to take a well needed recovery nap.

When we arrived at the hotel, we put our bags in our room and then went for dinner with the headteacher, Grace, and the other two teachers that came with us, Kitty and Genice. After choosing dinner from a selection of pictures, pans, fish tanks and chicken cages, we had a delicious feast, including frog soup – frog tasting quite a lot like fish. After dinner, Kat and I took a taxi to a night market we had heard about. The market itself was not as good as we expected and was very overcrowded so we walked off in another direction and ended up discovering a whole area of little streets with shops and restaurants scattered along it. It was very pretty and almost felt like we were in a fairy tale with a stream running all the way along the middle of where we were walking and little lights in the trees.

The next morning we got up bright and early and had breakfast in the hotel. This featured toast and jam which is quite a novelty in China so this set us up well for the rest of the day. After breakfast we went to find the West Lake; a very famous lake in China and described as ‘a heaven on earth’, actually a very realistic statement as it was absolutely beautiful. We bought coffee and sat right next to the water as the sun began to shine on it and we watched as groups of people danced and did tai chi and old men painted Chinese characters on the ground with water.

Hangzhou felt like a Chinese Paris and there were bikes everywhere so we rented some and began to cycle around the lake. We stopped in many places along the way; parks, gardens and temples, and took many rests, just sitting and admiring the view. Halfway round, we found a seven story pagoda which we were able to climb up to the top of and look out across the whole lake and surrounding area – an amazing sight.

Around 3 o’clock, we stopped and ordered lunch in a little restaurant by pointing and pictures and hoping for the best. After this we went and bought some fruit and sat by the lake again where we had the perfect view of the sun setting over the water and behind the mountains. As the sun got lower and lower in the sky, Kat and I decided to see if we could start off a round of applause when the sun finally disappeared. This became more and more of an amusing idea to us and as it disappeared we began to clap. Sadly it wasn’t the movie moment we had hoped for and apart from some very strange looks from the people around us only one man joined in. This quickly became an awkward moment as the man seemed to feel a bit embarrassed and as a spontaneous reaction Kat suddenly omitted a very American, “Woo! Yeah!” as we continued to clap. This is probably one of those moments in which you had to be there to appreciate it but it was so funny. So funny in fact that I am still laughing out loud now as I write this.

The sunset over and the sky growing darker, after a quick ice-cream indulge, Kat and I decided we needed to complete the full circle of the lake so we began to cycle back to where we had started. However, as it turned out this was only five minutes up the road. Feeling like we hadn’t quite finished, we then cycled further on to reach a bar we had read about in the guidebook. We returned our bikes near to the bar and, feeling proud of negotiating our way through Chinese rush hour traffic (I rang my bell like a person who has never seen a bell before) we went to drink some beer.

The next day was another early start and after tutoring some of the students for an hour, Kat and I returned to the lake, this time going for coffee at a Starbucks with an outside, upstairs balcony. Every time I prepare for winter in China, the weather seems to change and this Sunday was no exception, with bright blue sky, sunshine and 25 degree heat, it was literally like a summer day. After coffee, we returned to the streets we had found on the first night which were much busier and tourist populated in the day time. We wandered round some of the shops before discovering a mountain side which led up to some temples and a huge open area with people sitting around big tables, eating and playing cards. We explored this area and then walked back down to the streets below to get some lunch.

We found a little street with lots of food stalls on and decided to try a famous Hangzhou dish – Beggar’s Chicken. This is chicken, roasted inside clay and is delicious. We sat on the street and once the crowds of Chinese people had got over the excitement of two white girls eating and had moved on from standing in front of us and staring, I rediscovered why I am not a vegetarian. The chicken fell off the bone and melted in our mouths and aside from having to pick our way around the head (beak and all) and some clawed feet, it was a very delightful experience. As well as this, we also tried pineapple rice and some pumpkin cakes. Slurp.

Just a couple of hours later and our weekend in Hangzhou had come to an end. Before we knew it we were leaving the peace and calm of the lake behind and were sitting for an hour in a taxi trying to make our way through traffic to the bus station. The bus on the way back took only half the time as the way there and after two hours we were back in Beilun. A quick dinner and then I returned to my room, falling into bed and sleeping very well.

Posted by hannahinchina 16:45 Archived in China Comments (0)

A Long Week

sunny 14 °C

Here is a brief selection of a few things that happened last week:

- Being asked to allow and mark the cheating of a writing exam of my class of boys over which I deliberated and thoughtfully spent half an hour of my day wondering what to do before sticking to some good and honest principles and refusing to do it.
- Joking (or so I thought) with my assistant teacher about how sad I would feel if my students preferred Kat to me, subsequently leading to her going to inform the whole class of this small comment made in the comfort of the office, causing sad students to enter the office and tell me this is not the case and how sorry they were if I ever thought this, leading on to me having to deal with at least half an hour of the other assistant teacher saying “Please don’t be sad Hannah” to which the reply of “I’m not sad, there’s been a misunderstanding” was not quite grasped despite varying tones of anger and sarcasm.
- Finding out that the reason why our private tutoring with certain students has stopped is because the headteacher was not receiving a cut of the money which she had asked for.
- Coming to the realization that despite every possible method of trying, my class of boys cannot learn or remember any English whatsoever apart from the not always useful words such as ‘she-man’, ‘gay’ and ‘viginy’ which I informed them that if they really wanted to use in every day situations they should learn the correct pronunciation of ‘virginity’.

The week was half way through…Here is a brief selection of things that were said to me last week:

- “Please don’t be sad” – See above. I.was.not.sad.
- “Your hair always looks messy in the morning”.
- “Is having wet hair a bad habit of yours or is it something all English people do?” (Said about half an hour before previous comment).
- “You look like that bear” *Points to small white teddy bear with a blue nose*
- “Nothing you can do can help these boys learn English. If they were going to learn English, they would know it by now”.
- “I can hear my name and lots of Chinese…” “Yes we’re talking about you”. – End of conversation.
- “Look at my huge box of English chocolate, still in its wrapping and a gift from a special friend. I guess I could open it if you want?” “No that’s ok…” – Comment has been exaggerated for empathetic purposes.

So it was a rough week and it seemed to last for an unusually long time. I was very ready for the weekend when it finally rolled by which was spent mostly relaxing as well as drinking my first wine in fourteen whole weeks, a very welcome taste!! Hopefully this week will be a little less stressful. We will be celebrating Kat’s birthday and thanksgiving on Thursday before what may be an interesting trip to Hangzou at the weekend….

Posted by hannahinchina 16:50 Archived in China Comments (0)

Climbing Slowly

semi-overcast 14 °C

Friday was performance day as I had to give one of my classes in front of ten other members of staff from the International department. Quite what the purpose of observing someone who has been teaching for two and a half months is, I’m still not sure, other than to give her unnecessary nerves and remind her that Friday is not slacking off day, despite it being the end of the week. After trying to convince my students that we would all be able to pretend the other teachers weren’t there, and with a little movie watching on Monday bribery, it has to be said, they were amazing. I never usually have any problems with this class anyway, but on Friday I feel that we went into the lesson as a team going into a sports match. Most days when I ask them “Is everyone ready?” the response is a few mumbled yeses as the rest of the class takes this as the cue to open their books, however on Friday their books were already open and when I asked the same question, the whole class answered “Yes!” with eager smiles on their faces, proving that when I told them we were going to be amazing, they had really listened. I actually love them all and want to bring them all back with me. They literally are the loveliest people.

The lesson went as well as can be expected, however the feedback afterwards was rather blunt, as are many comments in China e.g. “You have a big nose” “Thanks…” and “You look like Barbie” “Thanks…”. Without beginning a rant, the school seems to tell me to do something one way and pulls me up when I try to do things my own way and then changes its mind every now and then, which seems to be the result of them not having actually decided how they want to run things yet. It is also a bit of a clash between the way they learn and Western learning. I’ll leave it there as this could go on for a while. I also realized in the feedback moment that I do not take constructive criticism very well, although I think I managed to defend myself whilst remaining professional. There were some nice and positive things said too but of course these were afterwards once I was already frustrated and their faces had turned into bottles of wine…

On Saturday, we had agreed to go on a school trip. Once the initial shock of getting up at 6am at the weekend had subsided, it was actually really nice to be up this early. As we waited for the bus to leave, we watched people doing tai chi next to the river and as the bus began its journey, it was lovely to sit and listen to my music as we passed by the sun rising above the mountains, and the sky turning from a misty pink to bright blue.

The first stop on the trip was an ancient Chinese town where, as well as the old wooden buildings and tiny, winding cobbled lanes, the people who lived there also looked like they had been there for many hundreds of years. In true Chinese tour group style, we were all given hats to wear and began to follow a woman with a microphone and a tall stick, however we didn’t really keep up with her after the first five minutes. The town was very pretty and we saw many old buildings whilst passing by women washing their clothes in the river that ran by next to all the houses. It was nice to see the students outside of their classrooms too although I think they all felt they would have preferred a different kind of trip.

The next part of our journey was a visit to a power station, apparently known as ‘electric tigers’ in China. As severe signs of pollution are starkly evident everywhere we have been so far in China, it was ironic that this power station was the cleanest and most modern place I have seen so far. We took a bus ride around the site and that was the extent of our visit as well as lunch before we had to get back on the bus and return to school.

In the afternoon there was a parents meeting which we had been told we could attend ‘if we want’. We have learnt that that’s not really what this sentence means, but we decided to take it as that and on returning to school, we left campus and took a walk instead. We discovered a hilly forest trail and walked by a river to the other side of town by which time it was getting dark and so therefore time to quench our thirst.

On Sunday, we got up very impressively early and took the overcrowded bus to Ningbo, this time delighted by a little boy who had to wee in the stairwell. After some very successful winter wear shopping, we went to a sports centre where there was a climbing wall. As Kat has a climbing trip planned with her dad in the new year, she wanted to practice and so roped (haha) me into coming with her. To begin with, we climbed on a wall freestyle which, as expected, I was pretty terrible at. However, when it came to the serious stuff and the harness and ropes, my confidence grew slightly as I was no longer afraid of falling. It was very frustrating though as every time I got to a high point, my arm strength and my little weak small veins would fail me and I would have to come down. It was also very tiring and so after three attempts each we could climb no more. Still, it was a fun way to spend the afternoon and we have plans to go back.

We got the even more overcrowded bus back to Beilun as it was getting dark where holding on the bars in order to stand and not lose balance was painful after the climbing. We went to our favouite noodle lady when we got off and I had a big huge bowl of soup filled with all the things I had chosen to put in it, something I will really miss when back in England.

Before we knew it, another weekend was over. This week we are beginning Mandarin lessons so hopefully I will be able to pick up a few more words alongside ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘thank you’, ‘noodles’ and ‘ok’. I also have to prepare for a daunting 45 minute presentation on ‘British culture’, whatever that is, which I will apparently be giving up my next Sunday afternoon to give in front of sixty plus people. Oh China…you really have challenged me.

Posted by hannahinchina 20:09 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Great Gate

rain 20 °C

Picture the scene if you will: the two young, well-respected, foreign teachers at Beilun High School; looked up to by the students and thought of as doing no wrong by the staff, arriving back at the school at 2am after at least more than one alcoholic beverage, to find the security guard, whose job it is to make sure nothing or nobody suspicious enters the school at night time, fast asleep in his hut, clearly fully invested in his responsibilities. However, I would be a hypocrite if I judged. We were faced with two choices: wake the security guard by loudly banging on the window and have to live with the guilt of potentially disturbing an amazing dream, plus have him feel annoyance and resentment towards us for the rest of our time here and have him hate us for returning four hours after the curfew, or... attempt to silently scale the electronically powered school gate. Obviously we chose the latter and succeeded in true intoxicated guerilla style. I just hope the guards never watch the security camera tapes back...

This test of our climbing strength was what happened after we went out for 'a few quiet drinks' and found ourselves meeting a group of Italians who were all on a night out in order to secure some business (what a great job by the way). As it was clearly professional drinking only, all drinks were on the company and so we enjoyed most of our night out care of their hospitality. It was lots of fun and a good chance to meet some new people. I also learnt that when an Italian hands you a shot, the correct way to drink it is to sip it gracefully and thoughtfully like a true European, not to bang it on the table and shoot it back in a couple of seconds flat. Sadly, I learnt this the embarrassing way, still I'm proud to be English and loutish.

So it doesn't sound like all I do in China is drink, I must add that I also spent my weekend (a lovely Thursday to Sunday one) sitting in students' exams and marking their papers, visiting a temple that was deserted and almost a little bit eerie, climbing a big hill with a pagoda on top, sampling some more delicious Chinese food and visiting an English book store where I managed to find plenty to entertain me for my long evenings in. Also today, we discovered a Greek takeaway and I caved and had a delicious chicken kebab. As those who know me very well will know this is my filthy food of choice, I have to say, it was the best one I have ever tasted.

Back to work tomorrow and a normal week, sadly featuring no halloween games or Thursday lie-ins.

Posted by hannahinchina 04:08 Archived in China Comments (0)


rain 20 °C

Sadly it seems impossible for me to lie in anymore - a combination of being used to waking up early and the school bell sounding at 6am, even at the weekends, followed by classical music and then a song by Blue, of all bands, which plays at 6.10am every. Single. Day. So my long awaited Saturday lie-in didn't quite go to plan, however it was nice to know I was free to bum around my room for a while, drinking tea and more tea (or at least my Chinese version of this).

Around midday, Kat and I made our regular trip to Ningbo, taking the hour long bumpy, sweaty bus, where we each have our listening to music, zoning out and reflecting on life in China regime, which possibly makes people wonder if we really know each other at all.

Arriving in Ningbo, we went for our sneaky Starbucks 'I've been a teacher all week I totally deserve this' reward and then wandered around the market, picking up some last minute essentials for our Halloween costumes - the reason why we were there.

After a noodle dinner (this time a success!) it was time to crack open the beers and start getting ready. Initially Kat and I had planned to be Simba and Scar from the well-known classic, The Lion King, however due to a lack of Home Bargains and Primark in China and not much to work with, this slowly just became lions. I was glad of the pre-beers as my costume mostly involved me wearing a nude coloured pyjama suit. I managed to add a few jungle accessories though to lion it up a little more, and I must say, I was very impressed with mine and Kat's effort. With Annah returning from work and transforming into a panda, bamboo leaf and all, we headed outside to find a taxi, singing a wonderful rendition of the lion sleeps tonight as we went.

The short taxi ride to the bar street was possibly one of the most hilarious taxi journeys I have ever taken. The driver was exceptionally excited to have three Westerners dressed as animals in his car, however due to the little issue of a language barrier, he could only communicate this by going round each of us in turn and making the appropriate noise to go with our character whilst making clawing actions with his hands. Naturally, we responded with similar noises and gestures and this growling and chomping conversation went on for at least five minutes, along with him beeping his horn at other cars, winding down the windows and encouraging us to growl at other drivers too, most of whom found it highly amusing and even gave little lion clawing waves in return. As the conversation began to get repetitive, the taxi driver then put on his most favourite Chinese dance song and began demonstrating his wonderful moves, which we did our very best to copy, all the way until we arrived at the bar street.

The bar where the party was at was very crowded although it soon seemed apparent that most of the people standing outside on the street were actually just Chinese tourists taking photos of all the crazy foreigners. There were many of the usual Halloween characters in attendance inside but I would like to think Kat and I won the prize for the most effort. We began the night by entering a drinking out of a pumpkin competition and then danced and talked the night away before it was soon 3am and time for vegetables on sticks...

I awoke the next morning in my usual position on Annah and Lindsay's couch, still in my lion suit, which handily doubles up as its original purpose of pyjamas. I had also successfully taken my make-up off yet I had clearly decided I liked my lion nose too much and that still remained, an excellent addition to my hungover face. Kat went to the shop to buy supplies for cooking scrambled eggs, however sadly it didn't taste quite the same without butter and milk and didn't really work with bread that tastes like cake.

Monday was officially Halloween and so I decided to use this as an excuse to give my classes the bit of fun they deserve. I had told the class of boys about Paranormal Activity last week and they had seemed excited to watch it, however only five minites in and no scary opening moment in sight and they decided they didn't like it and chose to watch the Grudge instead - poor them and their terrible movie taste.

As my other class are much more enthusiastic, I had them doing plays dressed as ghosts with their jackets pulled up over their heads for effect, snaking round the classroom as zombies for zombie musical statues and doing crazy things just to receive sweets. It was lots of fun, apart from now they tell me they want to do this every lesson.

I am now officially half way through my time here and I can't believe it is November already. It is slowly beginning to turn cold here now with the leaves turning a pretty orange and I have had to say hello to my good friends tights and boots...

Posted by hannahinchina 01:47 Archived in China Comments (2)

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