A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Pre-departure

omg what have I done

So the next adventure is on the very close horizon. Next stop, Beijing. I have secured a teaching position in a school in fairly central Beijing for the next 10 months and during my time in China, I intend to travel as far and wide as possible (within reason). I have some definite destinations in mind, including Shanghai, Harbin, for the winter ice festival and Chengdu, to see the pandas, and many others that I am also going to try and squeeze in. Obviously being situated in Beijing there will be plenty to keep me occupied there too and all going well, during Spring Festival (January time) I would like to grab a summer holiday in Australia.

Teaching will take up most of my time so you can expect posts about life in school as well as my voyaging. Honestly, I have no idea what to expect. It's going to be an enormous adventure and probably quite testing, but I'm incredibly excited and it's finally starting to sink in that in two days I'll be on my way. I'm more or less packed, although trying to fit a years supply of clothes into a suitcase has proved rather challenging in itself. What with temperatures in Beijing varying between -10 and +30 Celcius, I have everything from wooly jumpers to flip flops in my luggage.

Otherwise, my preparation has been minimal, for example I can speak about 5 words of Mandarin and I am not proficient at using chopsticks. I am therefore anticipating a few very tricky months as I adjust to life in Asia. Finally, websites such as Facebook and apps like Whatsapp or Snapchat are not accessible in China so my social media presence will be nil, which it is anyway but now I have a genuine reason. For that reason, I will be documenting some of my travels in this blog, primarily for my future self to look back on, but also for anyone else that is curious about my 12 months in China.

:)

Posted by amysblog 10:19 Comments (1)

My first week in China

Learning how to teach in Pinggu

30 °C
View Teaching in China on amysblog's travel map.

So I’ve been in China for 7 days now, however it already feels like much, much longer. Not for any bad reason but just because I have not stopped since I got here. I literally stepped off the plane, was confronted with a hole in the floor, whizzed through customs and next thing I knew was in a taxi on the way to the training summer camp… cue terrifying 45 minute motorway experience in a car without seat belts.

On arrival, though I could barely keep my eyes open, I dumped my bags in my room and then went straight to lunch. I couldn’t cope with the thought of using chopsticks at that point so I settled for the strategically-placed western cutlery that was just next to the electric neon chopstick dispensing machine. I met some of the other ESL teachers over lunch, but I was not really capable of conversation, and then went to have a look around the school, trying to stay awake to combat the jet lag.

I went to the teachers’ lounge where I met my teaching partner Otess and from there on in, I haven’t really stopped. Before I knew it, I was stood in front of a class of 25 smiling faces, introducing myself and giving a two and a half hour lesson on British Manners. I spent the night lesson planning ready for my second day and got to bed about 10pm. By this point I was in a stage of near delirium. The next morning I was up at 6.30. If there’s one thing that was good about my mental 24 hours, it’s that the jet lag has been minimal. Teaching has been from 8.30-11.30 in the morning and then 2-5 in the afternoons. We then tend to spend the evenings in the teachers’ lounge working on our lessons for the next day, using the wifi and chilling.

Some Hardworking Students

Some Hardworking Students

The lessons have been good every day and I now know all the kids by [English] name in my class, which is impressive, considering they didn’t even know their own names at first. Some of them I have really good friendships with and others are kind of still in the stalker stage, i.e. taking 400 photos of me every day. It has also been amazing to see their progression and I have grown really attached to the class. At the beginning of the week they could barely string a sentence together and today they were presenting their summer camp projects to me and chatting away at break time in English.

Class 3 getting active

Class 3 getting active

I had a day off on Monday which was a nice break, although a physically demanding day because we went to The Great Wall for the day. I really enjoyed getting out and about and seeing a bit more of China. We went to the Mutianyu section of The Wall. It took about 2 hours to get there but we arrived at 9am, so it was still relatively cool (about 28 degrees). We walked up to the top which took around 30 minutes, which wasn’t too bad really and I enjoyed doing some physical exercise and talking to the others about something other than lesson plans. By the time we got to the top I was drenched in sweat but it really was phenomenal. I wasn’t expecting to be so impressed by a wall, but I could not get over the immense scale of it. Every time we went through a watch tower, there was a new breathtaking view and it just blew my mind.

Mutianyu, The Great Wall of China

Mutianyu, The Great Wall of China

Tomorrow is our last day teaching in Pinggu before we go to Central Beijing for our TEFL exam and then it’s off to my placement where I will be for the next 10 months. It’s a daunting prospect, especially as I have made a lot of friends here and had great students. I am looking forward to knowing more about my job and meeting my new students. I have been looking for Mandarin classes in the area to try and help me make some friends.. I’m feeling ready to settle into life in China.

Posted by amysblog 06:53 Archived in China Comments (0)

TEFL Training and First Impressions of Beijing

Welcome to Beijing!

overcast 27 °C

After an emotional departure from Pinggu (for students and teachers alike) our next stop was South-West Beijing to complete our TEFL courses. We took the first afternoon to visit Tian'anmen Square, which was colossal, and the famous Wangfujing Street, off which there is a very narrow and busy street where they sell snacks, such as live scorpions on sticks...

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Tian'anmen Square

The TEFL course ran from 9am to 8.30pm for three days and on the third day we had to give a demo lesson and take a theory exam and then, for a few short hours we had freedom!! For the first time since I arrived I had nothing to do. So Will popped over from where he was staying in Beijing and I repacked all my cases, ready for my big move to my school.

On Tuesday, I was delivered to a roadside in Beijing somewhere and promptly collected by my Waiban, the lady who looks after me and acts as my chief interpreter at school. I had some serious sleep to catch up on so had a wander round the area down to the big supermarket and then headed back for an early night. I was completely free on Wednesday too, so I headed to Behai Park on the subway. It was my first lone adventure and it was kind of a strange day. I realised for the first time just how far from home I am and how much I need to learn Mandarin. Turns out the only people in Beijing who speak English want to sell you something or give you a ride in their Tuk-Tuk.

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Behai Park

The school I will be working at has two campuses, North and South. I live on the South Campus and my room is lovely. It's very big and airy with an ensuite and there is a communal lounge area with sofas, a coffee machine, microwave and mini-fridge, despite all the meals being included. The lounge is beautifully decorated with Chinese light shades and wooden panel walls. Which leads me to the North Campus. It is possibly the most beautiful school imaginable. The entrance hall is white marble with a grand piano that is frequently played by incredibly talented students. It backs onto a garden area with a water feature and fish swimming in little rivers. There is a traditional Chinese tea room that is open to teachers and students to relax during breaks and out the back there is a Pagoda next to the state of the art sport facilities.

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My New Office

The whole thing has blown my mind. I cannot believe the facilities and the beauty of the school. I haven't taught yet, my first lesson is on Monday. Now I'm starting to get settled, I'm looking forward to having a routine and working in that beautiful building. There's still a lot of things to be sorted, such as bank accounts etc but I'm slowly getting there and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thrilled with the school so far... watch this space...

Posted by amysblog 04:13 Archived in China Tagged city china beijing tefl efl Comments (0)

396 students, 12 classes, 2 Campuses, 1 Grade

Teaching Grade 8

sunny 30 °C

So I am halfway through my second week of teaching Grade 8 at school. Each week I take 12 classes, and so each week I teach 396 students... yep, the classes are pretty big. My smallest class has 27 students in it and my largest has 39. The students are aged 13 or 14 in Chinese years, which is 12 or 13 for us. The variation in the ability of the classes is quite interesting. In some classes the students can hardly understand simple sentences, and in others I am able to have a joke with them. Sometimes this difference is evident even within a single class, which initially caused me to completely overestimate the ability of my first ever class.

For my first lesson, I did an introductory lesson about me, the students, and my expectations for classes. I tried to get a seating plan for every class, although it transpired this week that most of the students move seats each week. So, I'm wondering how on earth I am going to learn 396 names. And the names themselves come with their own challenges. Most students have an 'English name' that they use in English class because... well actually I'm not sure why... but generally it has made my life easier than if I were incorrectly pronouncing their names. However, there are some interesting choices of English names, my personal favourite being Bling Bing and others such as Fairy, Dipper, Paper Box and Watermelon Three Years Old, which I absolutely could not condone and so Watermelon is now known as Chris.

I'm also very much aware that I am learning on the job. This has come to light this week especially, when I was just generally unhappy with how my first lessons went on Monday. They just didn't flow and there was no progression. So after a bit of tweaking, my two lessons today seemed to go a lot smoother. I'm hoping that this is the sort of thing I will just one day know how to change... but for the time being, my poor Monday morning class will be the guinea pigs for the week.

Last weekend I had a first real taste of Beijing's nightlife. I had previously ventured to a few bars on a couple of occasions, one where the triple G&Ts cost £2.50 and another that we realised too late was full of old western men and young Chinese ladies... And so, so far my experiences had been quite variable.

Anyway, I was exhausted on Friday and so decided to meet some other teachers for "one drink". Famous last words. After some pre-drinks at the university teachers' accommodation, we headed to an area called Wudaokou (Woo.dao.koh) which is quite lively and cosmopolitan. We managed to get free entry to Global Club and free drinks virtually all night. Next thing I knew, it was 5am and I was in a taxi back to my friend's apartment where I got some much needed sleep. Let's just say that Saturday was a challenge.

On Sunday I met my friend Lauren, in an area called Dongzhimen, where we had some incredible lunch. We then headed to Sanlitun, which is another area known for its nightlife. However, this was a daytime adventure so there was only 1 G&T involved (though it was rather strong) and it was a great opportunity to have a look round the district which is absolutely buzzing and full of young people.

I'm really looking forward to this weekend. I have booked train tickets to Shanghai to visit Will. Getting my hands on the tickets was a stressful experience that I could write an entire post on alone, so I will just say that I was directed here, there and all around the huge station in broken English and it was almost impossible to pay with anything other than a Chinese bank card. But I managed! And even just buying train tickets is something that I am really proud of myself for doing haha! So I will be travelling via High Speed Rail on Friday afternoon and arriving in the evening. I'm excited to see another city and how it compares to Beijing.

Posted by amysblog 06:31 Archived in China Tagged city china beijing nightlife teaching tefl efl Comments (0)

Shanghai Shenanigans

sunny 30 °C

I'm currently sat on the China's high speed rail service between Beijing and Shanghai, travelling at approximately 200km/h, speeding home towards Beijing in time for classes tomorrow. I've had a wonderful weekend in Shanghai with Will, which started with a Friday evening spent on this same service. The journey took about 5 hours but was incredibly comfortable, much like being on an aeroplane.

On Saturday we got up and went in search of breakfast. After strolling next to the Bund for a while, we headed into the more urban areas of the city and stumbled across a busy dumpling shop calls Yang's Dumplings. Yang's speciality is 'soup filled dumplings' which were a delicious but messy start to the day. We decided to try and find Shanghai Old Town and slowly but surely, the sky scrapers gave way to much smaller, traditional buildings, the streets became narrower and completely by accident we found ourself bang in the middle of a busy little maze of shops and food stalls. The atmosphere was completely different to the part of Shanghai we had just come from, there was so much noise, so many smells and so much going on it was impossible to know where to look.

We wandered around the streets and found our way to a central area which was absolutely stunning. The older buildings surrounded a lake filled with fish which had a tea house in the middle of it. But in the distance, towering over the rooftops of these buildings, we could see the modern skyscrapers of The Bund. What with the blue skies it was quite a backdrop.

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Shanghai Old Town

By chance we found our way to the entrance to Yu Gardens, an old and tranquil walled garden filled with small buildings, lakes and rockeries. We strolled along the winding paths for a while before returning to the busy streets and went then in search of some lunch. That night I got to see The Bund in all its glory. The bright lights lit up the sky above it and the river below it and the view was mesmerising. The walkway was a hive of activity and so for dinner we headed away from the crowds to a place called Shanghai Grandmother Restaurant... which sounds interesting but Grandmother served us up some incredible traditional Chinese dishes! We were about to head back to the hotel when we suddenly heard some Jazz coming from a building a little way down the street. It was a 'why not?!' moment and we walked into into a Jazz and Blues night which was buzzing, so naturally, we had a few drinks to soak up the atmosphere.

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The Bund at night

Today we have had a less busy day, but still managed to see an awful lot! We walked back along The Bund this morning on our way to brunch. It is beautiful during the day too! This afternoon we took the Sightseeing Tunnel under the river to actually look around the Finance District. The tunnel was a weird psychedelic-light-show-underground-cable-car-thing that crossed the river in about 5 minutes. Both of us were a bit confused by the whole experience but the confusion was forgotten immediately by the Finance District which is just incredible. First and foremost, the sheer size of it is breathtaking. It is also completely pristine and you can walk on a pedestrian roundabout above the roads which is a great way to see the different skyscrapers from every angle.

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Yu Gardens

We decided also to pop to People's Park. When we got there it was just chaos. There were so many people and we had no idea what was going on. As we pushed into the crowds, it became clear to Will that we had walked right into a marriage market... So it turns out that parents advertise their offspring who are still single in their late 20s to try and find a compatible spouse. They do it in secret and then the two singletons will "coincidentally" meet at some point and, in theory, will be none the wiser about their parents' meddling. It was quite an event to find ourselves in the middle of!

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The Bund by day

The weekend has been amazing, it was really cool to just be wandering around the city and to keep finding ourselves in the middle of such varied and vibrant goings on. For the time being it's back to Beijing, but Shanghai, I'll see you soon!

Posted by amysblog 16:42 Archived in China Tagged skylines travel city china shanghai tefl Comments (0)

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