Tuesday, 20 September 2011

A medical exam like no other and becoming a ‘Foreign Expert’.

So in order to proceed to the next part of the immigration stage in China you must go for a medical exam. I won’t go into it in too much detail but it was pretty odd. I was hooked up to a machine that I thought was going to shock me, my blood was taken by a slightly mean looking woman whilst everyone was watching over my shoulder, people were walking around the corridors with their urine samples in flimsy little plastic cups (minus any sort of container lid of course),  the x-ray machine was in a warehouse room full of boxes and having just had some of my organs ultra-sounded (imagine that’s a real word) my mentor was called  in…I honestly thought that something was wrong with me. So, waiting patiently for some horrible news, I stood there for a whole 2 minutes until my mentor came out of the room…only to find out that the ultra-sound lady’s son went to our school…how lovely.

All this was ultimately so that we could get our residence permits in China. There are a lot of hurdles to get over and a lot of paperwork, but our mentors have been on the case for months now. Last week we got our passports back from the police station and we are legally Chinese residents so we’re in!!
Jake with our mentors, Joe, Alex and Shawn
But what is even more exciting is that we have now officially become ‘Foreign Experts’ in China with a certificate to prove it and everything (well until we have to give it back to the Ministry of Education when we leave the country). But we can enjoy the ‘prestige’ of the title while it lasts!

Crossing the road...Chinese style

All I can say is just go for it…(and watch your toes).
The juncion outside our school..believe it or not, the best thing to do to get to
the other side, is to walk straight through the middle of the chaos..

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Tianjin No. 1 High School

So I have never seen anything like it…we normally have Mondays off but for the first day of school we were asked whether we would like to attend the flag raising ceremony at 8am on Monday morning. “Cool” we said…why not. We walk out of our building through the school and what do we see…groups of students in military formation lightly jogging to a chorus of “left, right, left”. Turns out they were all making their way to the sports field to form an even bigger military style formation. Once all 3000 students were assembled nicely, someone shouted a few things over the loud speaker in a deafening cry, shortly followed by the raising of the flag and the national anthem. It was definitely a sight to see! (We have often joked with other ELAs about coming back to the school slightly under the influence and 'borrowing' the flag…but I am in no doubt that they would most definitely hunt you down!) So yes it was very interesting and so unlike anything you would expect at home but unfortunately we will probably not experience this again as we are fast asleep on Monday mornings!

Our living quarters

Our school is not pretty. It’s grey, a bit dull and the sunflowers (the school flower) that grow in the middle of the school are all dying, but I like it! It’s not beautiful but it’s in an awesome location, has everything you need (including a swimming pool..perfect for me!), and it takes us two minutes to get from our rooms to work! The students’ uniforms are quite nice too if you like lilac - more of a tracksuit than a traditional school uniform as one would expect at home. Our mentor is going to get hold of a couple for us to look cool (Chinese style) when we get home!

There are some very cute little streets around our school and the best place to buy flowers in the whole city is just down the road. I often see beautiful bouquets being prepared and people walking around with lovely flower arrangements bigger than themselves. Naturally they are extremely busy on Teachers Day and Valentine’s Day! There is also a little street that sells animals such as tiny kittens, guinea pig looking animals, fish and turtles. I nearly bought a puppy along this street…he was blonde and so small, the cutest thing I have ever seen! A lot of people seem to have pet dogs in China but they are all so tiny! Jake says they are not proper dogs. He seems to think that they all have rabies and he wants to kick them all but they are real dogs, they don’t have rabies and most of them are adorable. Just the other day I saw a tiny white poodle, complete with red slippers, strut past followed by a wonderful display by a Chihuahua attempting to climb up an escalator that had just decided to stop working (I still don’t know whether he made it or not).

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Tianjin Living

Tianjin apparently does not get much rain so naturally it was chucking it down when we arrived, so it felt like home already! We got a taxi to the school and passed a house that was completely made out of pottery, like vases, plates and the odd ceramic cat…we are yet to visit said house but it looked pretty interesting! We had such a warm welcome when we got to the school and before we even dropped off our luggage we were taken to the international office and given a whole load of information on just about everything!

The view of our school from my room, complete with mini
Eiffel Tower on top of the 'Relax Hotel'
We were taken to our rooms on the fourteenth floor, which is apparently reserved for foreign teachers but we are the only ones here so far. We feel a little spoilt as the Chinese teachers have to share a room and we get a room to ourselves with 2 beds in it! The view is amazing and at night the city is all lit up. There is one building that I just stare at for ages as it lights up then disappears in numerous different sequences. 

The best thing about our rooms…finding out we had the luxury of a western toilet! The worst thing….our 10pm curfew. We live on the school campus so unfortunately no late nights if we want to come back to our rooms. However if you work on the guanxi (relationship) with the security guards, apparently you can be a dirty stop out now and again! So they will be getting a nice Christmas present from me! Or, as carried out a number of times by fellow ELAs, there is always the option of jumping the school fence (not the ones with barbed wire however!). Luckily a couple of our friends do not have curfews so they don’t mind us crashing there if we want to stay out at the weekends. But in all honesty I think we are going to have a slightly different way of life here. Things start and end a lot earlier and after teaching my juniors a few times in one day I am ready for bed anyway!
My room for the next year
On our arrival in Tinajin we were taken for lunch by Shawn and Alex. The city is known for its sweet tooth and so I tried a lovely cake/pastry for the first time. But little did I know that I was to become slightly addicted...the bakery along the road now gets a lot of business from us and, being only 20p a cake, I just have no reason to resist…well except the calories! I may be a little bit of a fatty on my return to the UK! They are too good to describe but if I was to give it a go I would have to say that they are like a warm pastry cup, filled with a kind of custardy goodness….

Our school is located right in the centre of town, which means right in the middle of all the shops, which means I have to work very hard to control my slight shopping habit. Although I have only hit H&M once since our arrival so I am very proud of myself. There are four Starbucks within 500m of our dorms, a costa coffee, a Zara, umpteen McDonalds and a Haagen-Dazs restaurant. Oh and how could I forget, a long lost favourite from the British high street…C&A. So we basically live right in the middle of Tianjin’s Oxford Street.  I love it!
China's favourite...Pizza Hut and H&M

Moving Day!!

I think everyone was just about ready to move on when it came to the end of our induction course in Beijing as we hadn’t really been able to unpack properly in the hotel or get settled. In fact we barely even knew what time of day it was when we were in our room due to the lack of windows. I know us Tianjiners were very curious about our schools and our new home for the next year, especially as the first thing we were told about Tianjin at the London Briefing Day was that Tianjin is a “shithole!”.  Nevertheless we were in good spirits despite discovering that the wheel on my very heavy suitcase was in fact broken and that we had to check out at 6:30am (or so we thought).

I have discovered that the best thing to do when you’re in China and faced with something that you know would not happen at home (like people jumping the queue) is to chill and just go with the flow or you will go slightly mad. Most people made it down to check out by 6:45am as our bus was leaving for the station at 7:30am. But Jake and I probably did not check out until 7:45. The reason for this was probably the vast number of us that needed to check out, the fact that there was only one person on the desk and that every room had to be checked before you got your deposit back…and yes I believe arguments ensued for things like a missing cup as well as a bit of make up on a towel which meant that it was ‘ruined’. But Doris (our ever amazing CEAIE adopted parent) remained calm and got us all checked out, deposit in hand. It was then time to say our goodbyes and head to Beijing South Railway Station (which is rather modern and has a very ‘airporty’ feel…your bags even have to go through a scanner). And as we were about to go through the gates to board the train, guess what song we heard coming through the speakers at the station…yes ‘Tian Mi Mi’of course (our wonderful closing ceremony performance song) just to see us off!

The bullet train was great and travelling at 291 km/hr, we arrived in Tianjin in just over 30 minutes! Now Beijing South was great and included escalators to get down to the train with our massive suitcase…not so at the other end in Tianjin! But the boys did well and lugged all the suitcases down the stairs! We hung out in Tianjin station for about 10 minutes not quite knowing what to do then Katy was the first to leave us as her mentor teacher arrived. Then slowly but surely the teachers started to pick us up…including our lovely mentors, Shawn and Alex. Our Tianjin adventure was about to begin….

Zàijiàn Beijing…

So our last couple of days in Beijing were great, especially without the worry of teaching practice on our minds. On the Thursday we all went out in Beijing and it pays to be a girl on Thursday nights in Beijing as it was Ladies Night which meant that cocktails were free for ladies before midnight.  We had a lovely lie in the Friday which we felt we all deserved as we had had a long two weeks. Then it was time for the closing ceremony in the afternoon!

It was very sweet and it started with a picture slide show to music that CAEIE had made us. We had seen them snapping away over the two weeks that we had been in Beijing and it was a lovely gesture. It was then our group’s performance of our expertly executed Chinese role play along with a marvellous rendition of “Tian Mi Mi” (which is all about seeing someone in your dreams, sweet smiles and all things beautiful). This was then followed by 3 more renditions of the same song by the other language classes and then the upper language class came along with their rendition of a Chinese song that is still permanently ingrained in my brain…

Performance time....

We were then treated to a lovely dinner in the CEAIE offices. A few of us then went to Hou Hai which is another bar street but a little quieter than San Le Tun and it’s ever so pretty as all the bars and restaurants surround a beautiful lake. We treated ourselves to some Italian ice cream and a drink and then made our way back to the hotel for our last sleep in Beijing!

It was a little sad that we were leaving Beijing and the comfort of being looked after by CAEIE. Being told by one of the speakers at the closing ceremony that they “loved us all” was very sweet! People are very ‘to the point in China’ but they wear their hearts on their sleeve. Chinese people are lovely and warm hearted in the way they speak and express themselves. I think I am going to come back home all soppy! Even on the notebooks I have bought in the stationary shop, nearly all of them have something cute written on the front. For example: “Funny: That my heart has been captured by your funny little smile” or “My Life: Endless Thousand Words: my heart will always be the most pure blessing”. So yes that’s how I now choose my stationary…the ones with the cutest/cheesiest sayings on them! I would love to be the person whose job it is to come up with these things…
Hou Hai all lit up

Friday, 9 September 2011

Acrobats, Warrior Monks and Hutongs

Excursions in the two weeks included an acrobat show which was great and at times pretty crazy! I think my favourite act was a group of acrobats who wore a lot of hats and simply just exchanged them with each other in funny ways…..

It ended with a motorbike driving around inside a spherical metal casing (including upside down!) Then another bike was added and then another one…and each time a new one entered the sphere of doom the audience gasped!  They managed to get five motorbikes in there by the end and I thought someone might have actually fallen off and got seriously injured but they all got out without a scratch on them!

We also went to see a Kungfu show which was pretty amazing. It was a story following a young boy on his journey to become a warrior monk.  I guess I would describe it as a cross between kungfu and dance. Every now and then the monks would enter from different doors dotted around the audience and that made me a little jumpy…you would never want to cross one of these warrior monk dudes! About half way through the performance came the monk who liked to break things using his head. He then also became part of a monk/bed of nails/another monk/another bed of nails sandwich. Not content with that, the third monk would get involved and hit the uppermost bed of nails with a giant hammer just to round it off!…I wasn’t so much a fan of this part! The Kungfu theatre is definitely worth a mention though as it looked like something out of the Crystal Maze…the whole front of the building was about 3 feet deep in a type of red scaffolding that one would most definitely want to attempt to climb!

We also had the opportunity to visit a ‘Hutong’ which is in the older part of Beijing and where a lot of Beijingers live. We were taken around in a rickshaw and the best things I saw included the cutest little Chinese girl in her Dad’s very big shoes as well as a ‘dog’ who looked like and was the size of a mini bear (apologies no pictures for these two but I will leave it up to your imagination). We were also taken to see a kungfu master who had lived in the hutong all his life. There were pictures on the wall of him with Jackie Chan and he had a lot of swords on display in his house! We were also all given business cards for his son who now trains in America (I think this plug for his son was mainly aimed at the girls! But I am not sure if he quite realised that the UK is a rather long way from the United States!) This guy was very sweet but you knew deep down he was pretty badass!
Jake and me in our rickshaw about to be shown around the hutong

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

I’m a real teacher now!

It was then time to take my first English class! I was very nervous but as soon as we walked in the students were so welcoming and we felt at ease straight away. I did my lesson on family and friends and used a lot of lovely pictures from home! I also played a Beatles song at the end which they didn’t know so listening to The Beatles was their homework! But they were so good at family vocab that I even introduced them to my “Great Uncle” and my “first cousin once removed”.  Their English was very good and I was surprised at how much they knew! We didn’t really have any idea of their English before we rocked up on the Monday except the fact that they knew 2000 words…which I couldn’t judge as being good or bad! I mean how many words do we know? It is very different in China because they quantify everything and if you know 2000 Chinese characters that’s pretty good and you can get by in China. The most famous westerner in China, when it comes to the language, is a Canadian man called ‘Dàshān’ and apparently he knows 6000 characters and is the best western Chinese speaker around! I believe he works on Chinese TV now.  

Our lovely Beijing Senior 1 class

Also as a reward for completing our first Chinese class, on the Monday night, Hayley, Charlotte and I treated ourselves to what I can only describe as a most interesting ice cream sundae…it was going well with the cream and the chocolate and strawberry ice cream, then as we started demolishing the top layers there appeared something rather unusual that I had assumed were lumps of chocolate….unfortunately this was not the case. It turns out that we had some sort of bean in the bottom of our ice cream as well as other assorted vegetables like peas. It was definitely very interesting but perhaps one to avoid in the future, I am still yet to pluck up enough courage to try the pea flavoured ice lollies that I see lurking in the freezers at the supermarket.

Hayley with the ominous looking ice cream!

On the second day of our placement the students all had English name cards and the array of names was intriguing…they ranged from the very old school like ‘Gerald’ and ‘Sherry’ to the slightly bizzare name of…’Prowl’ and ‘Lax’. My second lesson plan was on Food and we did a ‘Come Dine with Me’ style activity which was great and also a quiz to see how much they knew about British Cuisine. They thought that fish and chips was the nation’s favourite dish and that if you ask for a ‘99’ you would like a timetable for the no. 99 bus. But they did know that haggis came from Scotland but not what it was!

On our last day we got a few little pressies which was ever so sweet and a lovely note from one of the girls. A couple of the students email me about what they are up too! I did think one girl called Sherry might cry when we left but they are great kids and we will miss them! We learnt a lot over the two weeks in Beijing and now we are ‘proper’ teachers which is rather daunting! I have decided I also need a complete new teacher wardrobe although I am on a Chinese wage now so have to be very careful! I am not a fan of the lesson planning but I do love working with the students and introducing our culture to them. They are so interested in us and where we come from, especially as a lot of them have not been outside China.

One of the best things about being a teacher in China is ‘Teachers Day”. We discovered that this year it is on 10th Sept and apparently teachers are given flowers and pressies which is rather nice! Although the downside to this is that teachers normally have to perform something or another on stage…on our very first day here in Tianjin we were asked if we could perform something although I think due to unforeseen circumstances we do not have enough time to organise the music etc as the teachers are all so busy! We have been asked to sing at karaoke and apparently the Chinese all love the song “Auld Land Syne” because of the film “Waterloo Bridge”.  So we may be singing this sad song in the middle of September which will be a little surreal! They go crazy for karaoke here and there is a KTV on every corner! This could be a big step towards building up our ‘rep’ within the school so wish us luck!

Turning Chinese

So on the Monday we started our survival Chinese classes. I was given the Chinese name of ‘Luo Sha’ which I was later told by our students is a pretty name. However apparently ‘Sarah’ is normally translated into the Chinese word for ‘salad’ (sha la))…so I kind of like my pretty name better! It was interesting being a part of a Chinese learning environment and getting an understanding of their teaching practices. A lot of our language classes involved repeating after our teacher (who was actually younger than us but we were told we had to respect him because he was our teacher! We knew he was kind of joking but all in all teachers are well respected in China).

So yeah…Mandarin is not easy! Take away the reading and writing part? Yes, it’s still an impossible language!! But it is very interesting to study and I hope to continue with it while we are in Tianjin. There are four different tones in Chinese and if you do not say a word in the right way then you will receive a blank stare (as we have found out so many times!), even though you swear you are saying it right! When it finally clicks with the person you are talking to he or she will be like oh “blah blah” and you will be thinking “YES THAT’S WHAT I SAID!”. This is especially so when attempting to convey to a taxi driver where you want to go and you haven’t written down the place or address in Chinese characters (quite important for a quick and easy transfer from one place to another!).

In Chinese there are words that look the same and are spelt the same but because they have a slightly different tone (i.e. pronounced in a slightly different way) they mean completely different things…like the word “ma” which I think can mean the following – horse, curse, mother or it can denote a question. It is very unnatural for us but I am hoping to at least get a grip of it at some point soon so I can at least buy things properly in the shop instead of pointing at stuff!! We even struggle in McDonalds because I think we pronounce the food names in too much of an English way (we can’t win really!). I would like to learn a few symbols too so that our surroundings become less foreign. The only two I know at the moment are the ones for “forest” and the one for “person” which hasn’t come in too useful so far.

Oh one last thing I should probably mention is that in our first language class we were informed that we were required to do a class performance of a Chinese song at the TEFL closing ceremony! The song was called “Tian mi mi” (it is about smiling and dreaming and all things lovely). And not only that but during class our teacher decided to choose people randomly to sing a solo of the song in front of everyone in our language group…I luckily managed to avoid this terrible ordeal but everyone who was forced to stand up and perform, did very well!! (I was going to post the link below but I won’t subject you to it…the song will be stuck in your head for weeks to come, whether you know the words or not!).

This is a new symbol I learnt while teaching our Beijing class a lesson on family and friends and it means 'friendship'

'Snap happy’ and a bit of shopping (Chinese style)

I haven’t mentioned the photo taking yet but we have had this a lot throughout our time in Beijing and even more so when visiting the Great Wall (we were even pulled into a family shot there). I think I was also covertly videoed as we climbed back down the wall to the exit! We do get stared at a lot and sometimes I find it a bit strange because we really can’t be that interesting! Even people on bikes and motorbikes tend to stare causing a little bit of a hazard when they forget that they need to keep their eyes on the road. But I suppose it is rather nice being told that you’re beautiful by complete strangers! I am not sure I will ever get used to it but because we are now trying to settle in Tianjin I hope people will get used to seeing us! Maybe when I get home I will find it strange that people aren’t staring!
A photo of a lady taking a photo of us on the Great Wall

They look after you in China!

Food Shopping definitely deserves a mention as it is so interesting wondering around a Chinese supermarket not knowing what anything is! Although this backfired the other day when I really wanted shortbread and I bought something that looked like shortbread and felt like shortbread, but it most definitely was not shortbread! You can kind of guess what most things are although sometimes you just have to go for it! Some of my favourite discoveries so far have been cucumber crisps (and they really are what they say on the packet…”cool and refreshing”), peach Fanta (very tasty), giant pot noodles for like 30p (we have been living on these and they are way better than home) and every single flavour of Oreos you can find (including mint ice cream flavour and strawberries and cream flavour).

This photo was taken in Tescos in Tianjin!!

So now we are up to the middle Sunday of our two week TEFL training in Beijing (21st August). Hayley, Fiona and I decided to head to the local shopping centre for a bit of shopping….we first discovered the Costa Coffee outside and headed in there for our caffeine fix. I had a lychee ice tea which was really good! I like how they take western brands and add a bit of their own flavours as I have never seen that before in the UK. We found a cute shop that had lots of nice things but it was western prices so we decided to leave it for now and try and nab some bargains later on! I must mention Chinese fashion here as do kind of love it! It’s very cutesy and sometimes a little too twee but all in all I am a big fan! The girls all dress up nicely and make an effort whether they are going to the supermarket, the park or to work etc. Kitten heels are massive here…one old lady was even climbing the Great Wall in them! There are a lot of lovely dresses in the shops and they seem to go in for very cute and slightly vintage looking collars and a lot of lace trimming. The patterns are nice too ranging from floral to polka dot. I have decided that I am going to take my camera out with me from now on and snap all the fab outfits that I like! Even though I won’t be able to understand it, I have decided to purchase Chinese Vogue and it comes with a cute free bag and I thought it would be fun to look at the pics anyway!

That Sunday night we were debating whether to go for pizza but Steph was really in the mood for dumplings so we went for Chinese. The waiter had to get a relative on the phone to talk to us to find out whether we could all eat pork which I found rather funny. So Steph definitely got what she asked for and we ended up with more dumplings than we knew what to do with. They eventually made it to Steph’s freezer (I am not sure if they made it to Tianjin or not!). When we got back that night it was time to do a little more prep for the following day as it was our chance to take our first English class with real Chinese students!!

Back to School!

So we were all still a bit jet lagged at this point but it was all go from the first Monday and we started the TEFL lectures (but of course not before an initial opening ceremony at 8:15am). All three of our TEFL teachers were American and had been living and teaching in China for years so it was great to get some first-hand information and experiences about what it would be like to teach Chinese students. All our teachers were very different but all very nice and they definitely knew their stuff! It was also great to hear some of the funny stories, from students rocking up to class with swords in hand, to finding out about phrases that are commonly used in China by the students. (To explain: The students had swords in English class as their following lesson was ‘sword tai chi’ and apparently a commonly used phrase in China is “Oh my Lady GaGa”…so far I have not heard this being used but when I do it will definitely have a place in my Facebook status!) So all in all it was a good first week but very tiring with 6 hours of lectures every day and the TEFL exam at the end of the week.
The day of our TEFL test was a long one and we had lectures all morning and a talk beforehand by Gerald from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I quite liked him but the talk was a little ill-timed on the Friday afternoon before our test. Information he chose to pass on included…”please do not bring any strong poison or heroin into the country”, “no preaching about religion or you may be forced out” (of the country) and we should make sure we have been given days off in December as he would like us to have a merry Christmas.

After the TEFL test we decided that we would treat ourselves and a group of us went to indulge in Pizza Hut which, I must say, is either on a par with home / even better because they do Oreo milkshakes! I had been craving lasagne all week so it was a welcome treat! Chinese food is lovely but for the first week it was a bit of a shock to the system so it was great to have a taste of home! So, stuffed with more carbs than we could really manage, we headed back to the hotel for a few beers on the stalls outside then out into Beijing to meet the other ELAs who had gone out a bit earlier. We thought it would be easy to find a massive group of Westerners but not so in San Le Tun (one of the big bar streets in Beijing). It is where all the westerners go so it was a bit like home and not a case of spotting some blonde hair in amongst the crowd. However we did bump into some of the others and had a great night! And we did not get ripped off in the taxi on the way home which is always a bonus!

So after about 4 hours sleep it was time to climb the Great Wall on Saturday! Sensibly I had said I wouldn’t drink on the Fri night as I knew the Great Wall would be a little tough to climb as I had done the same thing when I was at summer school in China a few years ago! I never thought I would actually stick to it but I did and the next day I was just a little sleepy. Jake and most of the other ELAs on the other hand were most likely sweating alcohol as they climbed the umpteen steps and near to 90 degree slopes in 33 degree heat…still was a fab morning and the views of the wall were incredible! Apparently there is a Great Wall Marathon which it would be epic to do, although I can imagine it being even harder than a normal one with all those steps to climb! Better start training!

A bit of a catch up….one manic weekend in August!

So….this is how rubbish I have been about starting my blog…It is about 3 weeks and 3 days since we arrived and I am actually now in Tianjin! But I did make lots of notes about what I have done since we arrived and about our two weeks in Beijing so I shall begin (whilst listening to Stornoway…I have not managed to get into any Chinese music really except one very catchy song because Jake had to perform it at our TEFL closing ceremony. My group’s song however was slightly annoying and is now permanently ingrained into my brain – will explain more later!)
I have been saying to people that it feels like I have been here forever and it is so true! Even though it has only been just over 3 weeks! Time moves at half speed in China and so much has been crammed in to such a short space of time…I have now moved to a new country, completed a TEFL course, taken 11 English lessons with real Chinese students and am now some sort of ‘real’ English teacher which is rather daunting. But anyway I shall start from the beginning and remember as much as possible as I do love to waffle…..!
It was all a bit manic before jetting off to China as I had an amazing month travelling around Indonesia with Anna then it was off to the mud fest that is Glastonbury, followed closely by summer school. Everyone kept asking what I was doing next and I would casually mention that I was moving to China (not quite realising that I was actually going!)
During the week leading up to China I was excited but also thinking “don’t make me go!” Before that week I hadn’t really had a chance to properly think about it as I had been so busy with other things. It was a week of goodbyes and this was slightly emotional….I only cried a few times! But everyone was so excited for Jake and me which was lovely to hear! I remember that as the time to depart for the Middle Kingdom was rapidly approaching I kept calling it “stupid China” as I didn’t want to say goodbye to everyone but really China is wonderful and I am very lucky to be here! So I found myself organising everything from currency to making sure I had purchased all the toiletries not available in China (tampons, spray on deodorant and make-up) to the last 5 days (forgetting the tea bags, which I regret rather a lot now…it has been 3 weeks and 5 days since my last cuppa!). And, as expected, my packing was also left to the night before my flight (following a five hour lunch with my favourite girlies). My Mum deserves a huge thank you as I never would have got everything into my suitcase without her expert packing skills! Naturally the scales decided to break that evening so we only had a rough idea of what my bag weighed! Dad poured the Asti and Steph made a wonderful lemon crunch pie for my last night at home which was lovely.
The flight was great and I got through with 30.5kg and luckily Emirates did not weigh my hand luggage as they would have found another 15kg in there! Some people did get their bags weighed so I must have been one of the lucky ones! I did not do any of the reading on EFL teaching that I was supposed to but I did watch about 5 films and slept for approximately 6ish hours.
Arriving in Beijing was slightly surreal as we bumped into a lot of other ELAs which was nice and this eased us in gently to the hustle and bustle of Beijing airport. Annoyingly we queued up for about 25 minutes at passport control only to find we had to go back and fill out an arrival form to then queue up again. Then Doris came to meet us (she was to look after us for the two week induction course while we were in Beijing, along with Nancy and Penny who were all amazing and stayed calm through everything!
Our hotel was very interesting and the name translated to something like ‘Shiny Expensive International Business Conference Hotel’ which is rather nice. Our room was fine, however we were severely lacking in windows and the one window we did have, gave us a lovely view of a corridor. So we never knew what time it was which was slightly surreal! Waking up thinking it’s the middle of the night when in fact it’s actually time to get up is rather disorientating! Oh and the ‘do not disturb’ sign doesn’t really mean much here as the cleaners will knock for a bit, shout for a bit then come in just to make sure…locking your room there was a must if you were to have any chance of sleeping in (not that we got much of a chance for that!)

For the first weekend we were left to our own devices and on our first night a few of us rocked up at a little restaurant with orange tables and chairs not far from our hotel and we randomly pointed to pictures we thought we liked the look of…although I think at that point we had the Mandarin word for ‘beer’ down (pijiu) so we got those at least! My chop sticks skills were not as bad as I had expected and I managed eat a nice amount and at least not look too much like ‘I’ve just rocked up here and have no idea what I’m doing.’ On the Sunday we spent about 20 minutes with the waitress at another restaurant  attempting to order something we could all eat. She spoke a bit of English so we were like “great!”. Then another waiter came out with, what I would describe as, a large ‘table charcoal pit’ full of hot coals for the large hole in our table. Turns out that somehow we had ordered about half a lamb that you cook yourself on a table rotisserie. But it ended well because it was very tasty and everyone loved it!
Everyone was a bit worried about internet access before we left so I was thrilled when the VPN that we had downloaded at home worked in China and I could get on Facebook! Then I thought what if they somehow track you down and I get in trouble before I have even spent one night in the country! But my worries were soon eased later in the week when we were told by one of our TEFL teachers that apparently the guy who is in charge of all the internet censorship in China actually admitted to using 5 VPNs so I think we are ok! It is not really as bad as everyone thinks regarding online censorship in China and most people here know about the different ways to get around things…it is only really a couple of the obvious things that the Government don’t want people to see. We did also find out that Google China has an agreement with a whole load of record labels so music can be downloaded for free if you are in the country! Great news! Although Jake looked for ‘Everything Everything’ and no luck…so in order to use that, I reckon we will have to stick to Chinese music, pop or chart stuff….still, what a great resource! Although come to think about it, I did recently find the Mystery Jets’ first album on there which was rather impressive!
Soooo to sum up….we left London on the Friday evening, flew about 5070ish miles and by the end of Sunday it felt like a whole week had gone past! Our Chinese transformation had begun!