It's a beautiful day in Hebei
The winds were a-howling last night in Xingtai, and it seems they have blown the usual haze / clouds out of the skies of Hebei Province - the sun is shining, the weather is noticably warmer, and a smile is on my face.
I think it's been nearly two weeks since my last blog post, and lots has been happening to make me smile:
In my last blog post you saw me one day into teaching, where I'd just delivered an introductory lesson to a class of about fourty 13-14 year olds at a local middle school. Well, 12 days on from then I've done quite a few more of those, plus a cluster of lessons for primary school kids, some teaching in the private language school I'm based at, and a grand total of FOUR of the dreaded lessons with 100+ students (aged 14-15)… I never thought I would say this but these are fast becoming my favourite lessons, theyre at a boarding school on the outskirts of the City and most of the kids are fantastic! Really enthusiastic and keen to learn. In general I would say the teaching is going very well so far - some lessons are harder than others (especially the ones with noisy boys at the back) but that's life! Most of the lessons i've taught so far have just been general introductory lessons, so I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into some other content and thinking of creative ways to get the students speaking and enjoying learning English.
The Manadarin lessons are now in full swing - we have one two-hour lesson per week, lead by Grace, one of the Chinese English teachers at our school. We now have a comprehensive(ish) knowledge of food vocabulary, as well as names for colours and items of clothing. And we have put in a request for next week's lesson to learn some chinese jokes, haha!
Language fact of the week - the phrase "ta dai zhe lv se mao zi" (he is wearing a green hat) has a double meaning in China - if you describe a man as wearing a green hat it infers that he has a mistress / is being unfaithful! So i must be careful not to say that to or about anyone, even if they are wearing a green hat!
Back to the mandarin lessons - I'm really really enjoying learning the language, but there is one pretty MASSIVE problem. In China, more so than in any country I have ever visited, the natives really have trouble understanding foreigners speaking their language. I think its perhaps a combination of the tones being so difficult to master, and the fact that outside of Beijing and Shanghai the locals arent really used to anyone but Chinese people speaking Chinese, so while in England for example we are constantly exposed to English being spoken by people of all nationalities - and so get used to trying to guess what theyre trying to say when their pronunciation is off - here it is a lot harder to be understood. Even for simple things like getting in a taxi and asking to be driven to a certain place, we have to get someone to write down the Chinese characters for us in case of the likely eventuality that the Taxi driver wont understand when we try to explain in Chinese. Kind of frustrating, but we will persevere!
I don't think I can overstate how much of a massively positive impact the kindness of the Chinese English teachers at our language school has made to my time here in China. I've been partnered with Cathy (that's her English name) who comes along to all my lessons and acts as an assistant - to be used only if the kids really don't understand (!). She has been so lovely, and is fast becoming a friend. She's helpful in the lessons as well as out of them - she showed me a street stall near the school that does the most amazing 15p pancakes last week, took me to her favourite noodle bar for lunch on Friday, bought me and Sarah chinese date cake, invited me to meet her Fiance… the list goes on. On top of this, all of the Chinese English teachers at our school (Cathy, Olina, Grace and Janet) came round to our apartment on Thursday and we had a bit of a housewarming party with food and pi jiu (beer). They cooked us lots of yummy things, some of which we are definitely going to try to make ourselves soon - I think my favourite was a spicy potato, carrot and green pepper dish; and there was also a delicious apple and cucumber salad (sounds strange but tasted great). I am determined to acquire some chinese culinary skills before returning home!!
We've been here almost a month now, which means less than four months left…and there is so much we want to do in that time. So much that we have started making lists. We like lists. So far we have planned:
- A trip to Beijing next weekend (there's so much we didn't have time to see when we were there last month, and we are also meeting up with some fellow English teacher types who we met at the teaching orientation for karaoke bar fun and western food - haha).
- Lots more trips to Beijing
- A visit to the mountains near Xingtai
- Hopefully a trip to the seaside - we get a five day holiday in early May so are currently looking at flying to somewhere beachy and relaxing!
- A trip to Xi'an. It's about 9-10 hours on the train from Xingtai but we're planning on getting a night train one weekend so we can go and see the Terracotta Warriors and stuff
- And lastly (but not least) my parents have booked to come out to China at the end of May, so I am so looking forward to having lots of fun times with them!
I'm not going to lie, when the parcel from my parents arrived this morning it made my week! Books, DVDs, Chocolate, Tea, a painting done by Mya, and various other treats have provided me with a nice dose of home even when thousands of miles away. So please feel free to take my parents' lead and send me stuff!
Just want to end this with a massive thanks to you all for the emails / blog comments / skype chats. Please keep them coming, they really make my day.
Loads of Love,