Class trip

Just got back from the class trip we had today. It was to a place called a ‘national forest’, well at least buy the broken English on the signs. It basically comprised of some temples, a “zoo”, a small amusement park, some shops and a tobogan track.

For the morning, we split into our classes and went on the amusement park rides. There were about 7 in all, most not particularly scary and all designed for Chinese children, meaning that I had to leave my legs hanging outside the capsule whilst being hurled around near bare machinary. The children bought many toy guns and animals and so on from the shops. As the animals (mostly budgeries and hamsters) are not allowed to love in their dorms and we were not about to look after them, we forced them to take them back to the shops.

The zoo was rather small and depressing as most small, foreign zoos tend to be. Most of the animals seemed to be trying to kill themselves, some appearing to have succeeded but for their twitching on the uncleaned floors of their small cages. One noteable difference however was that they had what I would consider to be common animals there as well. Several dogs and cats which roam the streets here in abundence, and also pigeons which upon reflection I don’t recall having seen yet in China, certainly not with the abundence with which they pollute Cambridge. Indeed, I asked one of the Chinese teachers that we were with and he said that although there were some pigeons in China they were not generally found in this area… Interesting…

But the highlight of the day had to be the tobogan ride – it was about 1km of track down the side of a hill and was covered blisteringly fast – several people approaching the 1 minute mark. Andrew managed to take his camera down in video mode so we have several videos of the track. It’s really fun going so fast with your bottom about 2 inches from the ground around banked corners where you have to lean to stop yourself from going over the edge.. unless you want to use the brake.

Tonight, I think we are plonking the kids in front of a film whilst we have some time to recuperate, and I will have to plan my lessons for tomorrow. Subject matter is no problem, it is more how to present it in such a way that they might have a chance of learning something and also making it interesting enough that I do not have to resort to sweet bribary.

Have just looked at my arm while tryping – about half way through the day I was told my neck was getting a little burnt, so I put some sumcream on my neck and face and just rubbed the residue off on my arm. I can now quite clearly see where upon my arm I rubbed as it is noticably whiter than the area surrounding it. Maybe I should spend more time in the sun; which I doubtless will with the swimming activity tomorrow afternoon (as with all other afternoons. This place does have times of good fun even with ll of the hard work.. Speaking of good fun; it’s about dinner time so we’ll have our thrice-daily feast served to us!

Teaching in China

Wow! It’s been a manic few days of teaching the children. The day before we were due to start, we were told that we had to write an hour-long test for all of the children to do to test their English. The purpose of this test was not clear; they are not meant to see the result, and we are meant to give them another test at the end of the camp to see how they have improved. The fact that they will be tested on totally different subject matter didn’t seem to occur to the Chinese. Anyway, we wrote the tests and were then told that they were way too hard – apparently Chinese children are not taught about tenses until they are 12, rendering virtually everyone’s teaching material useless (there are about 200 kids less than 12 and 40 above, the majority of whom are 13-15 years old and even they don’t seem to have been taught about tenses.

So, the pattern of each day is to get up at 6:30 and then meet for 20 min of prayer 7-7:20. We then have aa quick breakfast and teach 3*50 minute classes between 8 and 11:45. Then a quick lunch, some book study with the team 1:30-2:30 and then 1 hour of supervisions with the children – groups of 2 or 3 for 15 minutes each. Yesterday this time was quite strange – in China apparently the way they learn English is by memorizing role-plays, so I had to phrase the question just right for them to understand and they replied with the memorized answer. For example I said “do you like animals” and the kid just looked blankly into space the same way I do when accosted by over-friendly supermarket staff here. When I said “What is your favourite animal” the response came straight away “My favourite animal is a pig”. Apparenly one child has a pet pig which is blue. There wa sone child who is quite talkative in class, even speaking in English, but during the supervision time he did not want to say a word – he used the other kid as a translator. I wrote down “I have no brothers or sisters” but he refused to say it and just stared blankly into space. Then we have afternoon activities. Because so many of the children wanted to go swimming, I have been assigned to pool duty, which basically means 1h30 swimming around the pool in the hot sun. They have a 50 meter pool and the kids seem to get on fine by themselves – whenever I went down the shallow end they splashed and tried to jump on me but when I practiced diving up the deep end or just doing lengths they let me alone and were still having fun amongst themselves. Sooo lucky not to be supervising the basketball or football activities.

After all this, we have an hour or so for dinner and then the evening activity until 9. Last night, this was ice-breakers etc and so we did some dancing and hokey cokey etc. I was told to lead the king kong dance and the children seemed to enjoy it. After this I just want to go to bed but most nights I have been staying up until the midnight region trying to think of something to teach the children the next day.

Today I have a break the the morning as one class was off doing a music lesson. I walked into town the the aforementioned department store to buy some stuff for the team – big packs of white rabbit (sweets, perhaps a bit like chewits but all the same flavour) and some shampoo and shower gel. This was quite an expreience beucase all the bottles were in chinese. Eventually, I managed to communicate what I wanted but I think the several assistants probabloy gave me stuff for women. Doesn’t seem to be any sanitary stuff for men here, apart from razors which are everywhere in abundence.

On the subject of sweets, it seems that the Chinese have got it sorted. Not so much in terms of the content of the sweets – most are some sort of dried plumb and chocolate is virtually unheard of, but in the packaging. I remember many times as a child in hot weather trying to peel the wrapping away from the sweet, made even worse in hot weather. Eventually, I tended to give up and just eat both and perhaps pick the paper out of my mouth afterwards. However some genius came up with putting a layer of rice paper in between the sweet and the wrappign – the wrapping just peals away and then you eat the rice-paper and the sweet. Certainly someone in England should invent such a wrapping!

Two of the teachers I have been working with have been intwerested to find out more about my subject of study – I would like to talk to them further about it.

Rural China

Wow what can I say… Apparently “Rural China” means we stay in a top hotel in a city of a bit under half a million people. We spentthe mornings teaching teachers from across a few counties who teach in poorer rural schools and also some of their students. In the afternoons we went travelling around the various tourist attractions in the local area. We visited the largest lake in southern china and had a boat ride to a tropical island there where we spent a few hours swimming in the lake and exploring the island.

Another day we went to a model rural village – a few years back it was subsistance farming only but now thanks to quite a large investment it has been turned into a community producing perhaps as much as 1m yuan (70k gbp) each year – a lot in China where the average teaching wage is perhaps 25k yuan/year. We then visited some old houses which are now converted to be ancestor worship temples with various things to stop the evil sprits getting in.

We also went to a dinosaur egg exhibition – they recently uncovered 10000 odddinosaureggs and put them, on display. HOwever one egg looks pretty much any other. Outside this there wasa very tall old building which we climbed up to the top of and could see the whole of Heyuan from. There was a small room on top in which we sang some songs etc. Had a little wander around the small village nearby after, which was quite run down and probably more like the average chinese village. The people there were all very nice though, but quite a few didn’t really want their photos taken.

The young communists were very amicable and we had several outings with the teachers on which we could get to know them better and chat about deep issues. Towards the end of the week we held a Q&A session at the hotel which was very well attended. On the sunday we went to the local three-self church and were very warmly received. We sang some English Christian songs but the language barrier was quite considerable. Amazed by the men-women ratio begin about 1:10 – a common problem in Chinese churches apparently.

On the last day we wereinvited to a retreet place about 2h drive along mountain roads. About half the group went and with several other teachers and communist party members. It was all for free and we were asked to advertise it amongst our friends. Usually very dubious about such things but this was actually really good. It was run by a chinese former Engish-teacher named Jason and some british investment. Also involves the local community so prospers them and Jason seems very caring as well. THough we were only there for 15 hours in was amazing. It was ina dip surrounded by mountains, the only thing other than green forest being the village itself. Upon arrival we went white-water rafting along the river and then had a wonderful dinner/kareoki session and then spent the rest of the evening playing mafia in the hot springs which the place in famour for. Went to bed about midnight and then a few of us got up at 4 at my instigation and climbedto the top of one of the mountains to see in the sunrise. It was amazing but after the half-way point the pathbecame disused so we had to cut our way through what was pretty much jungle to recover the trail. Was amazing seeing the first bits of sunrise and took many photos but alas the fog closed in just before 6 and we did not get to see the true sun-rise as we had to pack and have breakfast by 7:30.

All-in-all an excellent week! Now back in Shen Zhen for the next two and a half weeks teaching English-the firstkids arrive on Saturday sewe have 2 days of peace and quite to prepare before then.

2 updates in one day…

Tomorrow we head off to northern Guandong curtosy of the young communists party – they’re taking us up there to do some travelling and teach English to English teachers. Not really done much today – rehursing a pantomime and sorting lessons out. About to go swimming and maybe watch a film later… Been quite hot today at perhaps 33ish

Adapting to a foreign country

Not much having happened since yesterday I tought I would write about some of the main differences between England and China. The first one that springs to mind is that of the weather. It has been boiling hot so far and even the torrential rain we had while travelling from HK to China was a nice 26 degrees or so… The hardest thing to get straight in your mind about this is not that it is hot but that when you are inside it is actually colder than it is outside. I still can’t shake the habit of wanting to put on some extra clothes before braving the outside weather conditions and then feeling shocked when the temperature rises by 10-15 degrees when I step out of the door!

Another difference is in the shops. The same as happened the other day in the department store seems to be common practice. I went into a shop to buy a pack of playing cards (costing $2.50 which is something like 16 pence) and took it to counter 1 whereby the woman filled out the order form in triplicate and gave me a slip to take the the cashier. After I had paid, I had to go back and sign a copy of the form and could then collect my pack of playing cards. This needless bureaucracy seems to be China’s answer to unemployment.

The food is very very good although horribly fattening. As we are VIPs here we eat seperately (although that will change when the children come) so is is probably the equivalent of a formal hall every day, if not better. We usually get served perhaps 7 food dishes plus soup and rice and also one or two pudding dishes – usually watermellon or mango, althought we have, on occasion, had dishes such as toffie-fried bananas and deep-fried apple. Mmmmmmmm! The rest of the food has been quite interesting although we’ve not yet been presented with noted dishes local dishes such as those containing dog or cat. In HK some of us had turtle-shell jelly. Tasty… Ruth’s guidebook had a traditional saying about the food of this region which goes “They eat anything with legs except a table, anything which flies except an airoplane and anything in the sea except a submarine.” From what the locals tell me this is very accurate. I eagerly await…

Chinaaa!!

Greetings from China!

Just in a school outside Shen Zhen and it’s really nice and hot. We were in HK for a few days getting toi know each other. Lots of photos from there and I will put them up on the internet if I am able however the internet connection we ahve at the school here seems quite slow. Ah well!

HK was wonderful although when we all went into the middle of the city I was very tired from jetlag and so on. We were liing in quite a remote HK island in a sort of youth hostel in a forest. There were lots of fun creatures everywhere. All of the creatures seem to be very much bigger than in England – butterflys about 3* the size, and massie spiders all over the place. Also tonnes of lizards everywhere. In the past few days as we were leavuing HK and today in China there were some massive storms – really very fun and much bigger and hotter than English storms. The thunder and lightening was also very impressive.

Went shopping in Shen Zhen for the first tiem today. We all went to a local department store and I tried to buy some shorts. I took the shorts off the rail and took them the the checkout. The women there laughed at me and lead me back to where I had picked them up. She then tried to work out my size and then put the shorts back and filled out a form specifying which shorts and the cost. I went back to the till and paid the 68 yuan for them. She just gave me a reciept and said some things in mandarin, which of course I didn’;t understand. I then looked a bit lost and went down the escallators and had a wander around the lower floor. I went back up the escallarots and there was the woman with two (!) pa\irs of shorts in a plastic bag… Apparently this is not particularly normal even by Chinese standards.

On the way back, a girl got her bag stolen by some people on a motorbike. The police were quick to arrive – probably because we were distinguished visitors, however they held her and several others in the local police station for a few hours and then told us that because we were resident in the school (though only for a week until we go travelling in north guandong) we should have registered with the police. We all had to hand in our passports and several went back to the police station to register officially, which went though without any problems. Pfew!

Pimms, films and overnight punting

Ahh I love may week its just such a wonderful opportunity to catch up with people you’ve missed for the past few weeks. I’ve also been madly panicing to try to finish off my lessons before we fly off to China in 4 days time (wooooo!!!). Tuesday was very much a day of recovery – got up about 2pm after emma ball, did some work and then went to see Ruth and Ed at Emmanuel (Nat was, alas, still sleeping). Got back about 10 and Dave, Zish and myself watched Back to the Future 2 – the first time I’ve seen it. I can imagine it being an awesome film when you’re 12 but for someone who’s thought a lot about time travel, the paradoxes involved and the special and general relativistic aspects of it all it’s kind of predictable. The problems with a Cambridge degree…

Thursday I woke up quite late, roasted a chicken, did some work for China then went into college to do my washing and some shopping around the town – all good fun. Met up with Esther for the first time in ages which was really good and then headed to the Emmanuel/Caius CU picnic and then overnight punting. It was good to spend more time with the Emma CU people – especially as the few that I know really quite well were not there so I could get to know some of the others better. Overnight punting really is the thing to do.. it was lovely and warm and a clear sky so we did a lot of star gazing. The moon was very large, full and quite orange as it skimmed around the horizon lighting our way on the misty water. We got to Grantchester about midnight and headed back between about 2 and 4. Got to sleep about 5 and then woke up about 11:30. Perhaps this weird sleep pattern during mayweek will help me better adjust to the -7h we will experience upon arrival in HK.

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