I had a hangover on my first day of work at IRI in Bracknell. This is a trend I seem keen to continue: I was collected from the airport in Shenyang feeling dehydrated and dishevelled and taken directly to Langston English Center (yes, it's American) to be introduced to about a billion people. I think I managed to maintain the smiley smiley facade. Eventually, I was taken to the apartment which the school organised (and pays for). It's ok. A large bedroom with kitchenette and bathroom. TV, Fridge and washing machine (a godsend given my limited wardrobe!).
Where to begin???
The city is sometimes described as the 'left armpit' of China. The Rough Guide says, "...the most remarkable thing about Shenyang is that it isn't remarkable at all". My home and workplace for six weeks. Yeeeeha! Come back Brackers, all is forgiven.
I am one of eight foreign teachers: four of us are there just for the summer, the other four are more permanent fixtures. There are 4 chinese teachers as well. It is a really smart place with good facilities - including a coffee shop with a TV which plays BBC World most of the time [no Huw Edwards though :-( ]
The school is at the premium end of the market, which means we get students whose parents are pretty wealthy. Having private english lessons is the thing to be seen doing, so alot of the time the students are there because their parents want them to be, rather than any real motivation on their part.
We have different lessons - one to ones, 4 students or 12 students. Once or twice a week, the foreign teachers have to do a 'Culture Class' talking about a subject for an hour, while trying to encourage 25 students of different levels of english to get involved. Nasty. Especially with no power point slides to hide behind. I have covered topics such as endangered animals, natural disasters, health and nutrition, formal and informal invitations (??!) and British Weddings. I am now married to a Chinese guy called Frank. I did the asking (Frank's a bit shy), down on one knee and everything. The class was the congregation and another colleague was the vicar. It was beautiful.
Although some of the students are pretentious little / big sods, some of them have been lovely. One older lady was refreshing her english because she wanted to help her son learn it - she came to school straight from working at a bank. We had some great chats in her one to one lessons.
A 20 year old girl who was really quiet and reserved in group lessons suddenly opened up in a one to one and took the opportunity to ask me all kinds of questions about life, love and family in the UK. I suddenly found myself giving her Just Seventeen Agony Aunt advice. I sounded so wise! Little does she know...
One lad - he's only 12- was so happy to be going to Middle School. He was going to board there during the week and was really excited by the idea. Naturally I taught him Midnight Feasts and mentioned Harry Potter.
For the first three weeks, I had a summer class for 3 hours every afternoon. 3 15 year olds, a 12 year old and a 20 year old. They were a gigglesome bunch. I found myself saying teachery things like "I cannot hear what Nancy is saying if you are all talking" "And in English??!" "Go careful swinging on that chair". Yikes. Teaching brings out the square in me.
I've been a bit disappointed with myself on the teaching front: I haven't put in the effort I did on the CELTA course, but I guess it is easier to do when you're only teaching one lesson a day rather than 5-6 lessons! And when I have tried to implement some of what I learnt, the students often just sit and look at me as if I have gone crazy: Get up and mingle with eachother?? You mean you're not going to spoon feed us?? I think it would be easier (eventually) if I was doing it for longer.
Organisation at the school is sometimes not great. A few times I have been asked to do a lesson with 10 minutes notice, armed only with a board marker and rubber.
So, all in all not completely convinced about this teaching malarkey: Think you can only judge it on a school by school, job by job basis. I think it can be a completely different job depending on school, timetable and colleagues...
Talking of which.... what a bunch of interesting people.
Most of them have lived in China for a while - and they love complaining about the country and its inhabitants. I wish they would spare a thought for the chinese teachers in the office who can probably understand every word they are saying. What they are saying may be true to some extent, but they should remember that the countries they have come from have their own problems and there is nothing to stop them leaving China. But for the guys, there are some very lovely Chinese girls / ladies who are easily flattered by the attentions of a western guys.
I have seen this happen on various levels. In a couple of cases, I think (hope) the guys treat the girls well. However, one guy, who has been living in Southern China for a couple of years, seems to be, well, screwing his way round the country. He insists on trying to compare notes with the other western guys in the office. My live and let live attitude has found its limits.
He is one of the top complainers. I suspect he is scared of returning home where he won't be revered as a good looking foreign man and found out to be the argumentative, arrogant, immature eejit that he actually is. That's if he ever managed to pull his head out of his own backside. Whooo. rant over. Sorry.
There is a british girl here: although we probably wouldn't consider eachother to be buddy material at home, we at least have someone to sound off with. Or we have since drinking too much, fighting over the toilet in a bar and flinging water over eachother ... classy.
We work four days on, one day off which has made it difficult to escape Shenyang. I did manage to make a return trip to Beijing and catch up with Celia when she was there - we didn't see the sights but did have a good catch up- spending most of the day comparing notes on our China experiences so far.
The lack of anything exciting to do and getting into a routine means that I have experienced homesickness more in the last 6 weeks than at any time in the previous four months. Thankyou Facebook, e-mail and blog writing!! I have become a bit of a hermit - especially since getting hold of the final Harry Potter book. Read it twice, so far...
My lack of chinese language skills has been so frustrating (but it is so difficult - give me european languages any day!!). Not only does it mean that I can't do anything quickly or simply, but also I find it sad that i cant talk to people I encounter when I drag myself away from spending time with Harry. Although I have learned loads from the students - I am only finding out about their priviliged way of life. I would love to have a cuppa with an older lady, they seem to have real spirit: one tried to strike up a conversation with me on he bus into work the other day. All I could do was say I'm english and I'm a teacher (at least that's what I hoped I said!) and that was it.
Another source of frustration / delightful communication is Shenyang's taxi drivers. None of them speak english. I had one who made me cry (I didn't give a clear address, he told me off, I didn't have enough cash to pay...). But many more have been friendly. I had one trip where we spoke about how us westerners are tall with big noses, debated whether I should wear a seat belt or not, discussed the weather and laughed at my lack of brolly (it was raining outside). All of this without a word of english.
Sometimes I catch a cab into work as a treat - it costs less than a quid. The bus costs less than 10p. One morning the taxi driver asked me where I was from (in Chinese). I told him I was British, then he started asking / telling me something else. Didn't have a clue. He said it again - louder. Classic. Then he started 'writing' chinese symbols on the dashboard as if that was going to help! I started laughing. alot. Nearly in tears. He was laughing too. Fab guy. Then he asked me if I drove. He showed me his driving licence. I showed him mine. I had to take his photo - not least because he had a wicked moustache and eyebrows (he had to twiddle the moustache before I could get the shot). He's in the Shenyang Album.
Went for a walk in Beiling Park - there's a former emporor buried there. Got acosted by a group of drunk people - they had drunk a billion beers by the look / smell of them and were having a grand time dancing and singing.
Under a pagoda in the same park, there were some older folk also having a bit of a dance and sing. Old people seem generally more active here than at home. Near my appartment, there's a flyover with a paved area underneath it. There's usually something going on when I get home from work: Badminton, singing, or a game of keepie uppie with a shuttle c*** kind of thing. There's also fan dancing - rock n roll it ain't. See the video section!
Also near my appartment is a great little restaurant / cafe. They serve great Jiao zi (Steamed Dumplings) - a bit like ravioli. Yum. The people in there are very friendly and have been very tolerant of our rubbish language skills. It's a family run business. From what we can work out, they sleep on a sofa bed set up in the restaurant too. Nice bunch. I was helping them with their ABCs last week.
All of these positive encounters help overcome the image of the man on the street (literally, he is fat, greasy, possibly drunk and wearing a 'white' vest with beer stains. He has pulled the vest up to rest on the top of his belly in an attempt to cool down). The western manners to which I have been adhering for nearly 30 years means that it is easy to be a bit grossed out by alot of what I see / hear on the streets. The spitting, the pushing to get on the bus, the pushing on the bus, the pushing off the bus, the slurping of noodles, the noisy mastication of all food, the spitting of bones, did I mention the spitting? I try to remember it's a cultural thing. They're not being rude. But sometimes, just sometimes, I do feel a bit of agression cursing through my elbow as I try to get off the bus...
The guy who invested shed loads of money into the school has a TV hostess girlfriend. One day I had to accompany Luke, the Headmaster, to a filming session. I was told it would probably be a chat show and they wanted some white faces in the audience. It turns out that we were going to the Expo centre which has an exhibition of World Heritage Sites from around the world, recounstruced from plaster of paris and MDF. We had to pretend to look around the exhibition. I had to introduce the one British mention there "This is the UK and Northern Ireland's Fountain Abbey" I think. It was shocking.
I was told we had to go back for a follow up a week or two later. When we arrived there was loads of people there - looked like there was some kind of parade going on. Yes there was, and we were part of it. Of chinese television, the rough guide says, "... song and dance extravaganzas [are common], the most entertaining of which feature dancers performing in fetishistic, tight fitting military gear while party officials watch with rigor-mortis faces." That's exactly what this was. Luckily there was no need for me to wear the military outfits or the pink frilly dresses. I did, however, have to learn how to say, in Chinese, "I love Shenyang's World Heritage Exhibition" or something: "Wo ai Shenyang shi yi hui". I could say it fine. Off the stage. Then we went on. It was hilarious. Because of the whole language thing, I felt really detatched from it all. But still nervous. When the microphone was shoved in my face I'm not really sure what I said. But I didn't get arrested so that was good. We had to join the stage for the finale but that was just for waving as the confetti fell. I had a mouthful of biscuit at the time! Very funny experience (ha ha and peculiar).
I was reminded the other day that this is a 'once in a lifetime' experience. At various times over the last 6 weeks, I have been pleased about that fact! I now only have two weeks to see more of China. Part of me feels like I am not giving it enough time. Another part thinks I will have given it plenty. Lady Bowles' photos of white sanded beaches in Malaysia have sometimes not helped my attitude!
My China plan is to go to a couple of seaside places (including the one where they make the nations favourite beer), back to Beijing to finally see the wall, then down South to see a much recommended part of the country...
After 6 weeks of work, routine and ex-pat life I am looking forward to hitting the road again.
China, bring it on...