Leaving everything behind at Manchester airport (along with my horrendous hangover) was much more emotional and overwhelming than I had expected. There were a lot of tears and far too many goodbyes during the week leading up to the 14th, but now I am here, life at home already seems like the distant past. Two weeks have gone by and I am only just getting the chance to start blogging; what an intense two weeks they have been! I landed bleary-eyed at PEK airport mid-morning on Monday the 15th and have been whisked from one event to another ever since. This 10 hour train journey is the most free time I have had since I stepped off the plane. I am currently hurtling over 1000 miles down this colossal country at 300km/h on the way to my new home.
The so-called training camp in the outer suburbs of Beijing has been a whirlwind of first-time experiences, awkward moments, highs and lows, hilarity, and utter exhaustion. 30 lessons (as teacher), 20 lessons (as student), and many many late-nights lesson planning sessions later, I can now claim my title as ‘foreign expert’ in the field of English language teaching!
It has been a brutal imitation into life in China that started with being thrown in-front of a class of thirty 16 year-old Chinese kids less than 24 hours after I had landed. I had no warning, no plan, no resources, and no idea what to do for the next 3 hours. It was certainly an effective way of hammering home the necessity of being prepared! The next 10 days went something like this:
7:30 Breakfast (Chinese-style)
8:00 -11:30 ‘Teaching’ at a local middle school (with no supervision, observation, or help in any form)
11:30 -12:30 Banquet-style lunch at the school ft. being force-fed frog, chicken feet, pig’s ear, cow’s hoof and many other bizarre and often unappetising ‘delicacies’
12:30 -1:30 the chance for a quick nap if we were lucky
14:00 – 19:00!!! TEFL classes with a delightful pair of American teachers called Kenneth and Kasey (during which you had to hold your eyelids open), followed by ‘Survival Chinese’ taught by a the cutest – but most crazy – Chinese lady who mainly just taught us how to sing and dance to popular Chinese songs
19:00 – 20:00 Dinner roulette at the hotel ft. dishes translated as ‘As closely linked as flesh and blood’ and ‘Fried loofah’. Interesting to say the least (I have mainly subsisted off plain rice and water melon)
20:00 – passing out from exhaustion: panicked lesson planning/ beer drinking your troubles away/ screaming in frustration at the appallingly slow wifi and restricting Chinese firewall
All that said, I did get chance to head into Beijing proper (a 1.5 hour subway journey away) on a couple of evenings when I decided that films and games would be a sufficient lesson plan for the next day. We visited Bai Hai Lake for some awesome street food and people watching, went to say Hi to Chairman Mao at Tiananmen Square, visited the shopping district, and saw every insect/ sea creature you can imagine for sale on the infamous snack streets. Even in Beijing, being a Westerner is a bit like being a celebrity, or maybe an alien – you get photographed everywhere you go, everyone points and stares, you have fans on every corner, and people fall over themselves to open doors for you.
Our last day at school was one of the most surreal and wonderful experiences I have had so far. The students put on a Farewell Party for the 8 English ‘teachers’ at our school. We spent the morning watching them sing and dance, playing games (actual Chinese whispers), taking millions of selfies, and receiving many gifts. Their generosity, enthusiasm, and the amount of effort they had put in was so overwhelming – and so different from their counterparts in the UK! I had a lovely morning and I left feeling very appreciated.
As our reward for the two weeks hard work we got to go on a trip to the Great Wall yesterday. It was a perfect blue-sky day for it and we arrived early to avoid the heat and the crowds. We trekked up the many steps to appreciate the stunning views from the top, and opted for the slide down again! You could see the wall snaking through the mountains for miles as we clambered up and down the uneven steps between gates; the picture-perfect scenery did not disappoint.
I have met some lovely people (28 of whom are heading down to Guangdong with me) and now feel slightly more prepared for the start of the school year on Thursday. I have no idea what to expect but I am so excited to see what my new job/ home/ life will be like and to share my first week in Foshan with my little sis who arrives from Bangkok tonight!
Tiananmen Square security
Snack Street, Beijing shopping district
Great Wall pano
Chairman Mao portrait at Tiananmen Square
Squad t-shirt goals
Hotel dinner options
A very fast train
All the lovely students and teachers at Shunyi no. 1 middle school