I have made it safely to China and started teaching this week. I arrived on the overnight train from Vietnam (Leaving everyone drunk in the hostel celebrating St Patricks day after having eaten snake....) and by a stroke of luck shared my cabin on the train with an American girl who spoke fluent Mandarin! She dealt with all the stuff on the train for me which left me to sleep through everything!
I arrived in Guilin (The capital of the Guangxi province) and the staring began! I was the only Westerner on the train, a woman and I smoke, so there were many Chinese people looking and pointing! Anyway, I made it on to the bus and safely arrived in Yangshuo where I met some of the teachers I'd be working with for the next month and a half. Thankfully they were all great, 2 Danish couples and an English couple (Who have since left unfortunately). They made me feel very welcome and made the whole idea of being in a new, VERY different country much easier.
Yangshuo is a very beautiful place, relatively small but surrounded by limestone karst peaks (Like Halong Bay) and along the Li River. It's fairly geared up to tourists but is a nice way to ease myself into life in China. (By that I mean I can get Western food if I want it!) A few shopkeepers speak English and I've been able to get by quite easily so far.
I spent the first evening meeting the college students and drinking beer! A great start to my time in China! The programme I am volunteering for is called VET (Volunteer English Teachers) China and we are provided with free accomodation and food by the local English language college. In return, the volunteers lead a discussion with the students twice a week and once a week we sit with them and talk! It's called English Corner, we get free beer and get to talk to lovely people! No hardship really. The guy who runs the programme is an 83 year old Canadian war veteran and is an absolute legend! He smokes about a million cigs a day (There's no way I'll be quitting in China) uses a walking stick and has a whole host of anecdotes about China. He really looks after us as volunteers and is totally relaxed about everything which is great.
The first couple of days I chilled out (I was put up in a nice hotel until a student room became available) and observed the Danes teaching in a village vocational school before I started my own teaching the following week. The first weekend was great, went rock climbing which was a first for me and I really felt the pain the next morning! I've got quite a taate for it now though and think I'll give it another go before I leave Yangshuo.
I took my first classes on Monday afternoon which was quite an experience! It was a tiny village school with classes from grade 1 to grade 6. We teach grades 3-6 in this school. The school itself was a plain brick building with 3 floors and looked out onto a depresing "playground". Before I went into the classroom I saw a kid who had captured a MASSIVE lizard and was keeping it in a bottle (Thankfully he wasn't in my classes!). Now, you may think that Chinese schoolchildren are little angels. That's certainly what I expected before I got here but it's NOT TRUE! They are very excitable, talk constantly (Even when the Chinese teacher is taking them) and playfight whenever there's a spare minute! It's actually incomparable to teaching in England! The Chinese style of teaching is VERY strict, they work from a book and the kids don't really get a chance to let off steam. So when a foreign teacher comes in and starts teaching them songs and getting them moving around they go nuts! It's excellent though! The kids (For the most part) are very enthusiastic and want to learn. They're also very scared of being sent out of the class (Because it'sa likely that they'll get a beating from the Principal!) so they will settle and cooperate after a while! The first afternoon was great, I got them chanting the names of animals, singing Old McDonald and drawing pictures!
The teachers in the school don't speak English (Even the English teachers....) but what they DO do is smoke...constantly....all over the school! Great for them but perhaps not so good for the kids! Anyway my first day was pretty successful and I was looking forward to getting stuck in for the next couple of months.
The following morning we received our first Mandarin lesson, SO hard it's ridiculous, but I can order beer (ee pin pi jo) and ask for fags (ee bow chien yen) so I've got the essentials sorted! We'll be having a couple of hours each week until we leave which is great (And it's free!)
Now, something about China I haven't told you yet is that it's NUTS. Things happen in bizarre ways and people just roll with the punches as I discovered after my Chinese lesson! I was asked to go and take part in a PR exercise for the college who provided our accomodation in a city called Heng Yeng in the Hunan province. What followed was a bizarre, interesting, hilarious and enjoyable few days! Will blog that later as it's nearly time for food!
Hope you're all well,