Monday, January 29, 2007

So Long Shijiazhuang!

For my last "official" night in the Shiz we organised a little shindig just for the no.42 teachers. We ate out at our favourite Lamb restuarant down the street and then had a house party in Brocks apartment.

The evening got a little messsy. No Trip to the Lamb Restuarant is complete without countless complimentary shots of Bijou from the locals and this occaisiona was no different. The only change was that Brock and I also ordered a small carraffe of the foul smelling dirt liquour for ourselves as well. Couple this with the crate of beer we polished off and the bottle of gin and tonic that was passed around and you'll start to understand why Dave and Meredith decided it was a wise idea to have a wrestling contest- and also why I'm helplessly slurring my words and dropping R's all over the place, a lot more than usual I mean!

The Next morning I had to get up early to go and buy my flight ticket from Shanghai to Chengdu, so there was no chance of sleeping off the hangover. Once again Nancy was a great help. After saying good bye to all my friends and the chinese teachers that I had become friendly with it was finally time to say goodbye to Shijiazhaung!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Students Lunch!

After telling my classes that I planned to leave China I recieved many requests to go and have lunch with the students- as well as farewell letters and presents. I tried to accomodate as many as possible but it wasn't that easy having 0ver 700 students it was quite hard to fit them all in.

One day I went with 3 girls from class 20; Rowland, Ketty and Rose. We ordered a lot of food and thought we would have plenty to spare but they ate a surprising amount for 3 (young) girls and almost all of it was eaten. It was a nice way to say goodbye to some of my favourite students.

One of Many last Nights!

For My last Weekend in Shijazhaung we all decided to have a celebration. We got all the teachers together and went for a Beijing Duck meal in our town. Always a delicious and quite an experience with the chef bringing the bird to your table to be cut and specially slicing off the most tender part of the duck for you to eat first before getting down to business with the rest of it! Afterwards we ended up in YYBB and then Mazzo club once more.

The Sunday after we went to the house of one of the school teachers, called Violet. She has been applying to go to American as a foreign teacher and so needs help and advice practicing her spoken english and also for the interview-which she ensures us will be very tough. So she invited us all over for dinner and said that she would teach us how to make the traditional chinese dish of dumplings!

I love eating dumplings so I jumped at the chance to learn how to make them. I thought I could add it to my expanding repoirtoire of chinese dishes- currently stands at 3 (gongbao ji ding, suan la todou si and rice). I was a little dissappointed when I arrived as everything had already been prepared, all we had to do was physically make the dumplings. But looking back this was a good thing as the dumplings take a long time to make and cook and if we had had to prepare everything as well I think it may have been an even more late evening

Violet and her husband Michael have a lovely home set in a communist compound. Michael is also a teacher but he is currently placed at a country side school as he wanted to go and help some of the less fortunate children. We were joined for the evening by Violet's Sister and her mother who were both visitng and both thrilled to meet some genuine "laowai"!

Making the dumplings was quite tricky. Violet's mum was a real pro and could make the things prefectly in a matter of seconds, we took considerably longer and our attempts were possibly as far off from looking like the real thing as they could be but at the end of the day they all still tasted the same, so who cares! We all made so many that I think Violet and Michael must have had enough left over to last them until New Years Eve!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Serve the Servants....Teach the Teachers

So after the school told me that I wasn't teaching the Kids for the final week of Classes they dropped the bombshell that instead we would be teaching the teachers. While we were only told about this a few days in advance Kristina, the older lady from America who th school hold only just slightly below Chairman Mao in their opinions, was told about it over a month ago and had prepared power point slide shows and full lesson plans.

We were told that we would work in pairs and would each teach two 45 minute lessons. We thought that this sounded very easy and that we could probably get away with preparring a 30 minute lesson and just field questions for the remainder. This, China Being China and Sandy being Sandy, was of course wrong. It turned out that we all would teach just 2 lessons each- but each lesson was 90 minutes long. Dave do not even find this out until he thought his first lesson was over the teachers refused to leave. Typical.

Topics of the week have been:
Dave- How I spend my Holidays and Weekends
Meredith - Educational Pressure
Brock - US Government
Becky - Family

Kristina taught every day in the schools auditorium using the full facilities of a slide projector and lights and sound. The rest of us just had to use Dave's class room and I had to make do with my laptop resting on top of a chair on the table.

I taught about the Education in England. First I spoke about the 4 different stages of school ; primary, secondary, higher and further. Then I broke them all down and spoke about each in detail-what they entailed, how difficult they were and what exams the students are expected to take. After that I spoke for a long time about how students go about training as a Teacher and how foreigners can become teachers in England - many eyes lit up at this point, and I was bombarded with questions of "How easy is it for me to get a job in England, where Can I get a Job?" I then spoke about my Education and showed photos of my secondary school, university and college days. The lesson side lasted just over an hour and then I took questions on any topic for half an hour. Questions included "Do you like David Beckham" and "How much was your laptop" so I'm glad I gave a clearly thought provoking talk.

Job Done

My time as a teacher has nearly come to an end. Last week was my final week of teaching kids and this afternoon I will give my lesson to the the teachers.

I was upset that the school decided that we would give classes to teachers in the final week as I had planned a party for the children but they told me the friday before the monday of the final week that instead I only had one more week left. This annoyed me as well as I had completed writing an exam for the kids to see how much they had learnt over the year. They sat the exam in their final lesson and then I had to go to their class rooms in my spare time to give them back their grades and prizes for the best attempts.

The kids took the exams quite seriously and most of them produced good papers. Some of the classes had lazy kids who didn't even bother writing their names, but I suppose you have that in every school.

Most of the papers were good- obviously the grade A sets were better than the B sets- but there were a few choice quotes ;
"I very like listen to Gay Sing Music"
"I like to drink Cock"
"My Father is My Mother"
"You wank to know about me"

and personal favourite

"my father is a cock. he cocks me."

But I probaly shouldn't be laughing at my failings as a teacher.

Saying goodbye to the students was quite sad, a few cried and since then i've had a steady stream of emails repeatedly asking "why? Why you leave China?" Rather more pleasing was is the collection of toys and presents I have amassed in the last week.

I have enjoyed teaching but I cannot wait to get back to England.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Exploring Shijiazhuang

After spending nearly 5 months in Shijiazhuang I still havn't really seen much of the city apart from the shopping malls and bars and have not been to any of the recommended sites around the area. One night after moaning about this to Nancy we decided that enough was enough and we'd finally go and see the places recommended by the guide books before my time ran out.

First was Zhaozhou Bridge 安濟橋. This is probably the most famous site in Hebei. Made world famous by its appearance in the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (I think). We got up quite early and made our way across town to the bus station. Nancy had planned every thing to a "T" and all the buses linked together perfectly without any waiting around. The bus we had to catch to the bridge left a little to be desired though!

The bridge itself was very beautiful, it looked especially scenic in the winter as the water below it had frozen and we could walk around underneath it. Zhaozhou bridge is the oldest segmental stone bridge in the world. Also known as "safe crossing bridge" it was constructed in 595 AD during the Sui Dynasty. Despite everyones scepticism, including my own, the original bridge is still what is standing in place today, having survived 10 floods and a 7.2 richter earthquake. For once in China something was genuine!

After the bridge we made the short trip to Ba Lin Chan temple. One of the Most famous buddhist temples in the region and one that most Chinese will try to visit at least once during their life times. The temple was the first one of it's sort that I had seen (believe me there were plenty more to come) and that coupled with Nancy's enthusiam and excitment to be there made it quite interesting. The Monks were cool to see and there was plenty to look around. But it was so cold that we didn't spend any more than an hour or so there and were soon back on the train to the shiz.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Not just my general laziness for once

Not just my general laziness for once

Whilst most people assume that I’ve got bored with the routine of keeping a blog or that I’m too caught up in the West Wing to bother updating, there is actually a good reason why this page has been rather uncared for in the past week. There was some sort of Tsunami off the coast of Taiwan that managed to damage the wires that deal with international Internet pages.

Not all the wires were destroyed, but 3 out of 4 were, so whilst we can access the Internet, there are 3 times that amount of people trying to access the information on the same wire at the same time, so it runs unbelievably slow. I wasn’t going to update until this sorted itself out but it’s been a while now and it doesn’t seem as if the problem will be resolved soon, so I thought I’d post without pictures of videos and try to upload them at a later stage.


Happy New Year!

Happy New Year

After Christmas day we had to work all week through to Sunday- New Years Eve. We finished at Noon and soon 9 of us found ourselves on the train destined (once again) for a big night out in Beijing. The eventual group that we amassed there was 14 in total as Wallace and Renée, Brock’s friends from home, brought some friends of their town from their town as well-so we had built up quite a decent little crowd.

Because of having to teach we couldn’t catch a train until 2.30pm and didn’t arrive in Beijing until 5pm and not at the hostel until 6pm. After a few problems checking in- I’ll let you read Dave’s account of it but the moral of the story is you must always remember to take your passport and visa with you to any hotel you want to check in at, and if you don’t just try and make up a name that might have stayed there before, do not bother with photocopy’s of your passport as they are only ever used as evidence against you- we set out for a meal at an American Diner called “Steak & Eggs” and got back to the hostel for about 10pm.

After a few hours drinking and playing table football New Years was looming so we decided it was time to go up to the roof. Brock and his friends had done it before, said it was easily accessible and gave superb views of Beijing- we were hoping for hundreds upon hundreds of fireworks. Well the roof was locked and we despite our best efforts we couldn’t get up, so we sprinted downstairs to the courtyard and had our rendition of ‘auld lang syn’ out there, all shook hands and wished each other the best.

After that we headed to Brown’s nightclub and welcomed the New Year in, in style. The rest left about 3/4am but Anthony and I stayed on and were later taken to a 24-hour bar called “the Den” by a fellow English man for a few late beers as well.

Now the part of the checking in problem from before that I hadn’t mentioned was that Anthony wasn’t allowed to check in-despite arguing for about the best part of an hour. So he officially had nowhere to stay. With Dave sharing a room with Hilary, the 3 girls and Zack in one room and then Brock and I in a twin room there was only really one place for him to stay. So he and I tried to go top to toe in my tiny single bed- but I woke up and found him sleeping on the floor- apparently I stole all the covers!

The next morning we woke up said our goodbyes and Dave and I went to check into our 5 Star Hotel for a day of relaxation and recovery! Money very well spent! We hung out in the steam room and hot spa and ate and drank for free the whole day. In the evening we ventured out – after free wine and gin & tonic- to Club Football to watch the Liverpool game and then back to the hotel with the idea of watching the Newcastle match at 1am. But after the exploits of the day before we were fast asleep before it started!

CS and Snow!

One of David and My favourite pastimes of late has been going to player Counter Strike at the 24 hour Internet Bar at the end of the street. Yes instead of exploring China, trying new cultures and experiencing what it really is like to live in a foriegn country, we lock ourselves in an internet bar for hours on end playing computer games.

It's actually not quite as Geeky as it might sound and we have made quite a few new friends whilst being there. It's also quite funny watching Dave's students squirm, as they see their teacher walk in. The Kids are not allowed out in the evenings but they sneek out and spend all night - 6pm to 6am- in the Net Bar before going to school the following day. If the school found out then I think they would be almost definitely be expelled.

Anyhow, one night after a long session on the computers and a few beers Dave and I left the Net Bar expecting to find the same dirty old street that always awaited us. Not So. In the 4 or 5 hours we had been in there the whole street had been completely covered in about a foot of snow. We couldn't believe it. It was quite a strange feeling walking down the deserted street at 3am with no one else around in crisp fresh snow.

Boxing Day football!

One of the best things about Christmas in England- apart spending time with your family and loved ones etc - is the obscene amount of football that is on around the festive period. Dave and I not wanting to miss out on this important English Tradition therefore organised a game for Boxing day- however unlike the games that were taking place in England we would be expected to play!

Dave's could couldn't wait for the match and put up posters around the school informing people of a Foreigner's team v No.42 Elect. Stretching the truth a little as there was only Dave and I playing for the Foreigner's team. It turned out to be one of Dave's Classes v another of Dave's class + him and I.

We turned up a little hung over and bloated from the day before and walked out onto the glorious mud pitch. We saw the other team all in their matching Portugal kits- what more encouragment did we need to try and win- and went about finding our team mates who had either forgotten or like us eaten too much the day before.

We managed to scramble together 6 players to accompany Dave and I and so we started 1 player down-2 if you include Dave! The game was quite good fun and ended up 5-5. We had gone 1-0 down within about 20 seconds of kick off and I was beggining to wonder what Dave and I had gotten ourselves into. Our team rallied however and I managed to bag 3 goals without reply to give us a 2 goal league. I probably shouldn't have enjoyed scoring against a bunch of 17 year olds quite as much as I did, but after my third goal I was tempted to do some sort of sommersault celebration but resisted.

That wasn't the end of the game however and the other team soon fought back to 3-3 and things were looking tough as they were camped out in our end and our lack of a proper 'keeper was seriously costing us everytime they came forward. However against the run of play we managed to nudge ourselves in front again when one of the our team who played the whole match in a huge puffa jacket, two pairs of trousers, gloves and scarf managed to take the ball around 3 players and finish beautifully. We then somehow found ourselves 5-3 up as Hunter- one of Dave's students that we went for dinner with earlier on in the year- unleashed a pearler of a shot from outside the area.

With what seemed to be a unasailable two goal lead with 5 minutes to go we sat back a bit- mistake I hear you cry and the other team worked their way back into it with a scrappy goal. It was back to the wall's stuff for the last few minutes but we just couldn't hold out and in the dying seconds the pretend portuguese got an equaliser.

THe game was very enjoyable and we have now made it a weekly fixture. Hopefully in the future fixtures all our team will turn up and we can find a proper goal keeper!

Water Colour Challenge!

A while back we were asked by Sandy if we wanted to have a few lessons in traditional Chinese painting. We thought that this was a strange offer-especially seeing as we had yet to receive one single chinese language lesson in the time we'd been here- but seeing as we had nothing better to do we thought we'd go along with it.

The lessons were quite good fun. The teacher assigned to us a famous chinese drawing out of his book and then we set about copying them. Dave was given the task of drawing a peice of cabbage with some chili's - quite apt as that is actually one of Dave's favourite chinese dishes - and I was alloted a basket of peaches. We quite happily spent our weeks wasting time drawing.

After two weeks of lessons we finally learnt the reason for us having these lessons.The school had entered us into a province wide talent contest-where foreigners had to demonstrate any skills that they had learnt in China. Our performance would be Kristina singing a traditional Chinese song whilst Becky, Meredith, Dave and I did our painting in the back ground. Fine, I hear you saym but what you don't understand is that usually Dave and I had spent about 15-20 minutes on each of our little masterpieces; Kristina's performance of two songs was scheduled to last about 8 minutes!

Still nervous on the day and not sure how we were going to manage it, we went on stage and managed quite admirably, and I'm sure it must have been fixed as somehow we managed to come 2nd out of about 40 Entries-some of them were pretty terrible but I think Kristina's excellent singing- she was a professional singer in America- carried us all through!

The next day we were supposed to repeat our performance at a special christmas meal that was attended by all of Shijiazhuang's big wigs- but Sandy who had managed quite amazingly the day before sent us along to a event where we would be painting without any paint brushes or paper. So it was up to Kristina to sing by herself whilst the rest of us sat by watching, enjoying the excellent food and getting drunk!