Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Ich bin ein Tianjiner

I cannot quite believe that two months have passed since we first stepped foot in China and completed our induction course in Beijing. We have been living in Tianjin for nearly 7 weeks now. Time has flown by really! Tianjin is very big and the city goes on for miles. We have done a little exploring and visited some of the attractions that the city has to offer. We have been up to the top of the TV Tower which is 368m high. Luckily it was a beautiful day and we could see the whole city. Tianjin has some beautiful parks but you are never allowed to sit on the grass!

Tianjin is home to a beautiful house made out of pottery….my favourite part of the house being the porcelain cats neatly placed around the door frames.

The city has some interesting themed areas dotted around including the Italian Style Town (containing Italian and German Restaurants, and of course a Starbucks) and Ancient Culture Street which is full of market stalls and beautiful traditional Chinese buildings bursting with colour. However it is also the most touristy area of the city and we are often papped by Chinese tour groups while we are there.
Painted shop front in Italian Style Town
Being papped by a Chinese tour group in Ancient Culture Steet
There is a lot of street food to choose from and they prepare it for you as you wait.
The street stalls are perfect for any meat lover!
Hot Pot restaurants are also very popular and it makes for a ‘fun and interactive’ dining experience (especially when the dancing noodle man makes an appearance!).
Our Tianjin family in a Korean hot pot restaurant...complete with stylish red aprons
If you want to baggsie yourself a bargain then the best place to head for is Da Hutong – it’s a crazy mish mash of shops and market stalls in what looks like a disused multi-storey car park. You can buy almost anything there but you have to get your bartering head on as well as have the patience to navigate yourself through the maze. But, if we need some home comforts then there is always Tescos....

It is quite nice wondering around the centre of Tianjin in the evening as you see all sorts going on. People often sit around with their pets in the middle of the street which is a little odd but great when you get to cuddle the cutest dog in the world….I was so close to taking him home!
There are also outside gyms in a lot of the parks in Tianjin, which may be the secret as to why I never see any fat Chinese people…
There are not really a lot of places to hang out in Tianjin and the nightlife is not fantastic but we have found a few expat bars including Helen’s (good western food, old school music, lots of random notes and messages written all over the walls), AJOs (a sports bar, but on the plus side it does have a dart board and amazing apple pie so I’m happy!) and Alibaba’s (an entire wall is painted to replicate the entrance to No. 10 Downing Street).

Out and about in Scarlet Bar (conveniently situated above a KFC)
We still have a lot of Tianjin to explore but now we have some wheels (only 299 Yuan/£30 courtesy of Tescos), it has made it a lot easier to get around (I must admit though, I am very proud of myself every time I get home in one peace!).

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Teacher Sarah

Jake and I teach a variety of ages. We have six year 7 classes who are cute/little terrors. They can be very hyper and very difficult to get quiet but all in all they are good kids. They are especially cute when they stand on the other side of the door and constantly poke their head around to look at you but won’t come out of the room, and you know they are there because their arm is half way out the door. But they are even cuter when they pronounce Dumbledore’s name as “Dumbleedore”! The year 7s are also the classes with the best English names: Harry Potter, Tiger, Rainness, a girl called Jason, Cinderella, and in some of the other ELA’s classes we have: Fish, Eminem, Lucifer, No, Cupid, Shiner, Tiger Woods, AK 47, Chinese and Rice.  
Some of our Year 7s working away
We also teach Senior I classes in preparation for the American SAT exam and they are around year 10 age. (I have a boy called Lazy and a girl called Coocy in that class). Their English is a lot better so you can talk to them quite easily and organise debates in class which is quite interesting. We also take two Senior II classes (Year 11/12). We were told that our objective with this class was to “force them to speak English and broaden their horizons” because they are the slightly “geeky” classes. But, even though most of them wear glasses, they are not geeky and are actually pretty good/confident at speaking English. We can teach/do whatever we like with them as long as it is ‘English themed’, so in a few weeks we are hoping to teach them rounders and netball!
Some Year 7 blackboard artwork
Taking the various classes for the first time was great but a little overwhelming as they liked to clap as you walked in and as you left but that has kind of stopped now as the novelty of us being here has worn off slightly! We were told by our mentor that the Grade 7s like our classes which is great and we were also told that male teachers cannot touch the female students at all (pretty normal we thought), but he went on to say that with the boys it’s can slap them or kick them, “whatever you like!”. It did make us chuckle a little!

There are a couple of things that we find rather extraordinary while wondering around our new Chinese high school. The first is when our students greet us in the corridor. They will say “hello teacher” and either do, what I can only describe as, a Nazi type salute and raise their arm in the air, or they will bow very low whilst walking and look like they are about to topple over. It is a sign of respect but rather strange and amusing at the same time. Some also do the old fashioned wave accompanied by a giggle. Secondly, we often wonder around the school and see the students standing in rows and columns moving to the sound of a man over a megaphone.  At school the students must attend morning and afternoon exercise classes. I think this is to wake them up as they are at school from 8am every morning and sometimes do not go home until 8pm at night. Naturally some are not as enthusiastic about this as others!

And most of the students were also not so thrilled about being sent off to military training last week either! On the plus side, us teachers did get a nice few days off!

All ready for 9 days of military fun...

Teacher’s Day – Happy Everyday!

So, before we had even really had the chance to get used to being a teacher, it was Teacher’s Day! Traditionally teachers are given flowers or a pressie and they also get to finish the day early which is lovely. Jake and I got a couple of lovely pressies from our classes and some beautiful lilies from our mentor. Teacher’s Day is a chance for every budding performer amongst the staff to get on stage and participate in the Teacher’s Day show. Now, we were asked on the day we arrived at the school whether we could perform and we even had a Chinese song ready to practise. However fate intervened, and due to lack of time and how busy the organisers were, we were unable to perform / we got out of it! Now this was most certainly a blessing because the teachers who did brave the stage were amazing and apparently very funny (it was all in Chinese but we giggled along at appropriate moments). There was everything from a group playing giant drums on stage, to comedy sketches and opera style renditions of Chinese songs to round it all off. As is everything in China, it was most definitely an experience!
Teacher's Day card and trinket teddy bear teachers from Class 5

Dinner with all the teachers followed the performances. I ate a crab for the first time (I had to break it all up/destroy it because it looked like it did when it was alive which is never my ideal starter, but again, when in China).  It is tradition to go around the tables and clink glasses with everyone else and wish them a “Happy Teacher’s Day”. Funny enough most of the teachers knew the word for “cheers” but when in China: “gān bēi”. I did not understand the Headmaster’s speech that started the feast off but I was told that he mentioned that everyone should drink a lot and enjoy the evening… people did not disappoint.
Teacher's Day feast, complete with karaoke screen
And then, because we are in China, it was karaoke time. We were told that “Auld Lang Syne” was a Chinese favourite (they even have a Chinese language version). Apparently this is due to the film “Waterloo Bridge”.  Now I have never sung this song in its entirety and we discovered that it’s actually pretty long. After we agreed, about a week before Teacher’s Day, to participate in the karaoke we were told that we had better be good as we had been scheduled to sing last and that many of the teachers go to KTV to practise…great we thought! On the day, when the nerves started setting in, we were told not to worry as it is the taking part that counts! Sigh of relief. So we were about to go on stage, when we were informed that we were the last contestants in the karaoke competition! Hmmm. So if a Chinese person tells you it’s the taking part in the karaoke that counts they’re lying! J But it was good fun and when we were singing, lots of couples came up to the front of the stage and started waltzing which was ever so sweet. The best part about it…we came third in the competition! I think that may have been because we were foreigners but I’ll take that third place win nonetheless!