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Entries about tefl

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...

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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)

Golden Week

Shanghai, Jaiding, Suzhou, Nanxiang

semi-overcast 25 °C

This week was Golden Week, a week in which two Chinese national holidays are celebrated and so I am coming to the end of a week off school. I spent the holiday in Jiading, a northern region of Shanghai where Will lives and works. The week got off to a rather “western” start, during which we visited Decathlon and IKEA to get some flat pack furnishings and a mattress for Will’s flat. (We may or may not have indulged in Swedish meatballs, curried sausage and lamb chops for dinner while we were there…) Our western bubble was popped, however, by the uncomfortable and bumpy ride home in the back of a questionable taxi-van, which smelled strongly of petrol fumes and trundled along Shanghai’s highways at an alarmingly slow rate. Only in China.

The next day we went back to central Shanghai and walked around the area near People’s Park which is very modern with a lot of interesting architecture and we visited the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition which tells the story of Shanghai’s development, with photos and a model of the city which was all lit up. In the evening, we found a bar doing half price mojitos for happy hour and then found ourselves in a heaving shopping street, as many Chinese people also travel during this time. We were looking around a strange shop that sold various food delicacies, including vacuum packed pig heads, when we spotted an exit into a back street that was much quieter and seemed to be full of restaurants. We took the plunge and picked Li Hong’s Restaurant, based on the food we could see people eating inside. Despite some dodgy translations on the menu (Old Vinegar Jellyfish Head, Sixi baked Cardiff, Characteristics of Pork, Halogen Chicken Meat… the list goes on) we ended up with a huge and delicious meal that came to around £13 AND provided lunch for three the next day.


Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition

Later in the week we did a little bit more exploring and first stop was Jiading Town. Will lives in Jiading and so introduced me to the town’s charming old quarter, which has a pagoda tower, a lively snack street and a pretty canal running through it. We ate a weird but enjoyable ‘spiced chicken drumstick rice roll’ as we took a stroll down the street and then headed towards the newer part of the town which has a busy high street and large shopping mall. We had an amazing dinner at a teppanyaki restaurant where we watched our food being freshly made.


Jiading Pagoda

We also spent an action packed eight hours in Suzhou, a city which is often described as ‘The Venice of the East’ and is also famous for its gardens. Starting at Tiger Hilll, a historic monument site, whose base is filled with street vendors, food stalls and canals, we then taxi-ed across the city to The Humble Administrator’s Garden, which really was not humble in any way shape or form, but rather one of the most extravagant gardens imaginable… however, it was a beautiful place to walk around. Finally we visited the old pedestrianised shopping and snack streets which run alongside one of Suzhou’s many canals. By this time it was dark and so the streets, bridges and canals were lit up which made the place seem really magical. As we headed back towards the train station, we crossed a road and the atmosphere changed in an instant. Suddenly, the small buildings disappeared and modern multi-storey buildings replaced them; bright UV shop signs filled the space above the street and we could see brands such as Tiffany & Co. on street corners - what a contrast!


Night time in Suzhou

Finally, we spent an afternoon in Nanxiang, a small ancient town in Jiading Distric, which is supposedly the birthplace of China’s xiaolongbao: steamed, soup-filled dumplings which are very tasty and often very messy. Nanxiang resembled a smaller Suzhou and absolutely packed, however we found Tan Gardens in a peaceful side street which were unexpectedly beautiful. They were much humbler than the Humble Administrator’s (!), but they also had a very different feel, with many restored buildings you could look around. We obviously had to try some xiaolongbao, and decided the best place to do so was the restaurant attached to the xiaolongbao museum. We also tried various other street delicacies as and when we spotted them along the narrow streets, before returning to Jiading Town for dinner and drinks with some of the other teachers in the area.


Tan Gardens, Nanxiang

Despite the week being fairly slow paced, we did manage to experience a fair amount of Shanghai’s surrounding areas, which I really enjoyed. The break also gave us a chance to think ahead to what we want to do during the long Spring Festival holiday at the beginning of next year, which is exciting. I am kind of looking forward to getting back to school but I’m also apprehensive because between now and Spring Festival there is no more time off… so let’s see what 15 weeks of solid teaching does to me!

Posted by amysblog 20:22 Archived in China Tagged history travel china shanghai suzhou tefl jiading tiger_hill Comments (0)

Beijing Blog

Part 1

10 °C

Over the last few weeks I have begun to live a ‘normal’ life here in the capital. Whilst the temperature has dropped dramatically, I've been braving the cold and to discover some of Beijing's different neighbourhoods. The first thing I’ve realised is that Beijing is HUGE. I’m not sure that there will ever be a point when I can say that I really know this city, but I do feel like I'm getting to know parts of it.

Recent weeks have been especially interesting because of the Communist Party meeting that took place here. Beijing was in near lockdown for just over a week, with increased security everywhere, bars closing early and shops around subway stations shutting to stop crowding…

Despite this, I’ve still managed to have quite a lot of FUN. My most exciting discovery has been that of The Hutongs. The Hutongs are a network of charming pedestrianised streets not far from Tian’anmen Square. Originally dwellings of poorer Beijingers, some of them have now been converted into snack streets and shopping streets where there are many independent coffee shops, bars and craft shops. There’s an amazing atmosphere - day and night - and it’s a great place to wander around.

Entrance to Wudaoying Hutong

Not far from The Hutongs, stand Beijing’s Bell and Drum towers. I spent a [hungover] afternoon climbing the extremely narrow, extremely steep staircases of these two buildings, whose purpose was city-wide timekeeping before the invention of clocks. There was a lot of information about the old Chinese calendar which was interesting to read, but the highlight was the view of the city from the top. Although it was a bit smoggy, it was the first time I was really able to gain any kind of insight into Beijing as a whole and work out where things were in relation to each other.


Beijing Bell Tower

I’ve been getting to grips with Chinese culture too. I’ve been taking Mandarin lessons twice a week, and I’m starting to use it - albeit irregularly - in my daily life. I’ve still got a long way to go, especially when it comes to characters, of which I know around twenty out of several thousand... Still, twenty is better than none, right? Put it this way, my students were amazed when I wrote the characters ‘big’, ‘small’, ‘up’, and ‘down’ on the board! I also partook in a two hour long Chinese paper cutting class. My initial reaction was probably the same as yours; how can you cut paper for two hours? The answer is that Chinese paper cutting is addictive, challenging and surprisingly rewarding.


Some of my creations

Finally, normal life has taken a turn for the better. I’ve managed to find a really nice group of people who are doing the same thing as me, teaching English in schools and universities, which means I have been much busier during the week and have enjoyed having company to sample some of the food that Beijing has to offer outside of my school canteen, including the local curry house(!), Korean BBQ and various noodle joints. I’ve also started using the sharing bikes, which has changed my life. I’m not exaggerating. Being able to cycle has halved my morning commute and meant that I can see the city as I move around it, rather than being underground on the subway the whole time.

Whilst there are still challenges everyday, like restaurants without English menus, not being able to find a bike when you’re in a rush and then there being several at your destination, and general communication, Beijing has so much to offer, and I still have so much more to see.

Posted by amysblog 07:09 Archived in China Tagged travel city china beijing asia mandarin hutongs tefl Comments (0)

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