How’s the food here?

                                                  大家好!  

Hi all!

It’s been a while since my last post. I do apologise, I’ve been busy with my students as they prepare for their exams. Lots of things have happened since my last update, our Waiban Judy got engaged, then very shortly after got married. One of our Chinese teachers announced she is having a baby, Sharon and Larry visited from Scotland and then my parents came!

The senior 3 students are due to sit the GaoKao examination next week. This exam is also known as the university entrance exam. You may have heard of it, as occasionally some of the “unanswerable questions” do the rounds on Western social media. Chinese students are told this vigorous exam is the most important event in their life from the very start of their school career. Large red banners coat the school with Chinese sayings that translate to things like “GaoKao will determine the rest of your life”, ” Failure is for the weak” and “GaoKao is the gateway to your dreams”. As you can imagine all of the senior 3 students are feeling very nervous.

Onto the main focus of my blog…food!

To begin, Chinese food in the U.K is absolutely nothing like food in mainland China, it’s also true that the Chinese eat all meals with chopsticks. Chopsticks are very difficult to get to grips with initially, but when you have to eat every meal with a pair you have no choice but to quickly pick up how to use them. We had chopstick lessons when we first arrived in China which was a great help. 

Food is a massive part of Chinese culture. As such, every area in China is famous for something to do with food. Jiangxi, the province where I live is famous for spicy food. At first this was a challenge but I’d say I’m fairly used to spicy food now. I just have to remember to ask for yì diǎn diǎn (a little spice)

Even after 9 months here I still can’t stomach a full Chinese breakfast. Breakfast is usually the largest meal, with noodles, dumplings, baozi, jiaozi and steamed bread (keeping in mind this is served in the canteen at 7am). I am happier with some fruit. 

The school’s canteen is next door to our apartment which could not be more convenient. Meals cost just 3.5 Yuan and consist of a bowl of stir fried Chinese vegetables (lotus root being a common occurrence) and a bowl of rice. We normally go to the canteen for lunch and dinner as it’s so easy and cheap. It also gives us to chance to socialise with our students. Some days the selection of vegetables and meat is a little too adventurous for us but the canteen chefs are great – if you go through the back to the kitchen they have lots of veg out that you can choose from, and for just 2.5 Yuan more they will cook you a dish of your choosing.

Recently we have ventured out to eat at lunch, the food is the same price as the canteen and the rice tends to be softer as it’s not cooked on coals. The only issue is we have to battle through the dense crowds of students…on bikes.

 

Chinese festivals and celebrations are similar to the U.K in that they are also very food based. We have so far celebrated two festivals in Chon gren, the first being Mid-Autumn Festival(中秋). For this we went with to our Waibans family home. Just this week we celebrated Dragon Boat festival (忠孝節). Dragon Boat festival is a celebration that commentates the famous poet Qu Yuan.

Mostly every river in China will have a Dragon Boat competition. The traditional food for Dragon Boat festival is Zongzi (pictured below), it is very sticky rice with meat on the inside wrapped in bamboo.

 

My Waiban told me that it’s not correct to wish someone a happy Dragon Boat Festival, instead you are to wish them safety.

No part of the animal goes to waste here, which results in some challenging dishes and lots and lots and lots of chicken feet.

Most dishes are fried, in fact mostly everything is fried. Ovens don’t exist, Chinese food is quick to make, usually veg, special fungus and meat fried on an open fire with coals or a hot plate. Although my diet has changed greatly and I used to badly crave Western food, I really enjoy the food here and every day I look forward to lunch at the canteen.

I started learning piano at the local music school and in exchange I offer help with English homework to the music students. I go three times a week and after I’ll usually have a meal with my Chinese teacher, her friends and students from the music school.

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Chong ren is my home now, I’m used to the food, the people, the weather, the square dancing, and I have made friends I will never forget. As this term begins to wind down, I’m faced with the quickly approaching departure date. It’s hard to think about leaving but I’m trying not to think about that, I’m just making the most of my last couple of months here.

Next week we will travel to coastal Fuzhou for a few days, I’ll be sure to fill you in.

Until next time,

Lisa

 

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Winter Travel

 

                                                       大家好!

Hope you are all well and enjoying the Year of the Rooster. This is a blog about my recent travels in China.

To keep this blog post short I am going to split the blog into sections. Hope you enjoy!

Winter travel or Spring Festival holiday is the largest holiday in China, school students and teachers have from the middle of January until the middle of February off. As cliché as it sounds, it was one of the best months of my life, from camel trekking through the Tengger Desert to watching the huge office blocks light up the sky in Shanghai. I really did get to see so many contrasting parts of China. I just want to thank every one of you again for your continued support and interest in my year.

Throughout my holiday I travelled by car, bus, taxi and train (both fast and slow) covering a distance of over 8,600 kilometres.

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Harbin 哈尔滨 (Heilongjiang)

Harbin, China’s “Ice City” is the capital and largest city of Heilongjiang province. Harbin is also in the most northeastern part of China with an interesting European feel. This was our first destination, here the whole country group was meeting to go to the annual Harbin Ice Festival (the biggest ice festival in the world). Getting to Harbin from Chong ren was quite the journey, to get out of Jiangxi you need to travel to Nanchang for long distance trains. As Chong ren doesn’t have a train station we had to get the bus to Fuzhou then the train from Fuzhou to Nanchang. From Nanchang we got a 12 hour train to Beijing, and then after a couple of hours wait and change of train station we got the train from Beijing to Harbin. All in all we were traveling for 30 hours,I will remind you that this was all done on hard seat…

Nothing could of prepared us for the temperature in Harbin, on arrival it was -24 degrees, apparently “good weather” for that time of year. It was great to see all of the other volunteers, some of which we hadn’t seen since training as unfortunately there was a delay with their visas. The first night was spent catching up and just enjoying each others company.

The next day armed with some Scottish courage and some very very thick thermals we took to the streets of Harbin to explore, going to underground markets and visiting St Sofia cathedral. St Sofia cathedral is a former Russian Orthodox church in the Daoli district of Harbin.

On our last day, we went to the ice festival, after reluctantly paying the FULL price as our students visas weren’t a valid form of ID. We entered the ice festival. It was truly amazing  with full size building ice sculptures, we decided to go at night too, so we got the full effect with all of the intricate sculptures brightly lit in array of colours. It even allowed me to forgot how cold I was.

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Hohhot Oburmonggul.svg  (Inner Mongolia)

The prosperous and gridlocked capital of Inner Mongolia. Apart from the huge Museum, tourist activities are few in winter, but the main purpose in coming was to reach Ordos.

Hohhot was just as cold as Harbin, the train journey  from Harbin to Hohhot was around 25 hours… yes I was hard seating it again. However we managed to meet the other volunteers in the dining cart, we played cards, ate our gourmet pot noodles and admired the beautiful grasslands that seemed to infinitely expand into the distance. I must admit the journey went in quite quickly. I had looked forward to exploring Inner Mongolia for a while as it’s the only province that uses Mongolian scripture, it sounds completely different from Mandarin and many of the residents speak Mongolian as their first language instead of Mandarin.

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We went to the Inner Mongolia Museum, which really interesting and also free! It allowed us to find out more about Inner Mongolia, Mongolian scripture and of course the infamous Genghis Khan.

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Ordos – China’s “Ghost City “(Inner Mongolia)

Ordos first became known to the outside world due to an Al Jazeera report (which can easily be found on YouTube) and the short story is that the city was built with billions of dollars of profit from natural gas, and was supposed to provide a modern home for 1 million people. However, no one moved to the new city: at least not in significant numbers. The result is a whole city that is virtually empty: eerily quiet except for the odd tourist marvelling at its weirdness. The residency of Ordos is a 20,000, just 2 % of it’s full capacity. Tower blocks, up to 40 stories high, are extravagantly designed and never occupied. One particular complex we visited consisted of an above and below ground shopping centre, a man made lake, two 40 storey towers and four 28 storey towers. One furnished tower aside, it was entirely empty apart from two ATMs and some barking dogs. The one tower with a receptionist amazingly had a working lift, allowing us to get an aerial view of perhaps the most bizarre city on earth. Definitely the most bizarre city I have visited.

 

Baotou ᠪᠤᠭᠤᠲᠤ ᠬᠣᠲᠠ ( Inner Mongolia)

Baotou is located in western Inner Mongolia and the famous Yellow river flows through the south of the city. Due to trains selling out we only got to spend the evening here as we were off early the next day. We explored the area around our hotel and got a good nights sleep before getting the train to Zhongwei.

We found the area immediately outside of the hotel to be very nice, with lots of decorations in preparation for Chinese new year.

Zhongwei 中卫 (Ningxia)

We got the train to Zhongwei, however the aim was to travel to Shapotou from there to see the Yellow River and explore the Tengger Desert. Shapotou is often referred to as a “desert playground” with lots of different activities to take part in on the desert such as sand boarding, camel trekking and sand surfing. We all decided to go on a camel trek which was slightly terrifying but great fun!

We found Zhongwei to be really pleasant with lots of old traditional Chinese streets and Temples within walking distance.

We took a day trip to Shapotou to explore the Tengger Desert. We went off season so luckily we had the place to ourselves apart from another couple of brave Chinese tourists, no queues or long waits which we were all really pleased about.

 

Zhangye 张掖 (Gansu)

We visited Zhangye as it was originally to be where two of the  PT volunteers were to be placed, however due to visa problems they had to be moved to Heilogjiang. The main aim was to visit the famous “Rainbow Mountains” which I found to really really impressive. You can see for yourself in the pictures below. We had a spare day as our train wasn’t until late so we also managed to visit “Zhangye Giant Buddha Temple and got to see China’s largest sleeping Buddha.

 

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Dunhaung 敦煌 (Gansu)

Dunhaung was where we spent Chinese New Year, we stayed in a family run inn at the foot of the Gobi desert. The family were extremely friendly and hospitable. As the inn was in a kind of complex there were lots of bars and restaurants however we were there off season so everything was shut, not to mention that Chinese New Year was also the next day so the family at the inn took us to the only open supermarket to stock up. They also cooked us dinner that night! The advantage to going to the Gobi off season is that again no queues, we had the whole place to ourselves, and the ticket prices were also cheaper!

We got the chance to  visit the ancient Mogao Grottoes on the second day, it gave us the opportunity to find out more about Dunhaung and it’s involvement in the Silk Road. The famous Mogao Grottoes are ab ancient site renowned for their famous Buddhist artwork in the form of caves. I found it to be one of the most interesting things so far and highly recommend you read a little more about it. You can read more here.

 

Lanzhou (Gansu)

Lanzhou the capital  of Gansu, we were only here for around 5 hours as we were getting the evening train to Xi’an. Unfortuanly we couldn’t find anywhere to store our luggage so we had to take it around with us. As we didn’t have  much time we didn’t stary too far from the train station and found a really nice restaurant selling cheap local food. We headed back to the station and said our goodbyes to the Heilongjiang boys and boared our train to Xi’an and gues what… I wasn’t hard seating it.

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Xi’an 西安 (Shaanxi)

Xian, home to the Terra cotta warious and the largest Mosque in China. We were in Xi’an for 4 nights. Arriving off the night train we got the bus to our hostel. Our hostel was really central just at the foot of the city wall. We loved Xi’an and could of stayed for longer, there was just so much to do.  Travelling allows you to meet so many different people, it was in Xi’an that we became good friends with a group of Australians, it was really interesting to share our experiences from China and also from school and life in the U.K.

The Xi’an Muslim quarter has some of the best street food I have ever tasted, it is also one of the busiest places I have ever been to, hundreds of stalls selling all different kinds of food both sweet and savoury. The grand Mosque is also in the Muslim quarter, we wandered there on the second day, we found this really interesting as it was the first time we had seen anything related to a minority religion in China. We also went to the drum and bell tower during the day and went back at night to see them lit up. I didn’t go to the Terra cotta warriors as I am going back to Xi’an with my parents in April and will go with them.

 

 

Back in Chongren for Candy’s wedding

We came back to our project during winter travel to attend our friend’s wedding. It was fun observing the differences between weddings in the U.K and weddings here, the wedding took the form of a game show with cash prizes and soft toys up for grabs-which sadly none of us won. The actual ceremony was surprisingly short too, lasting maybe just over an hour. I must admit the food was also slightly challenging with fungus and intestines on offer. Our friend Candy was really happy we made the effort and we even performed a song for her and her friends. Our waiban Judy was also there with our host family, so we got to catch up with them and let them know how our travelling was going!

 

Shanghai 上海

From the wedding we all travelled to the very familiar train station of Nanchang. From there we got the high speed train to Shanghai and then travelled to our hostel. Our hostel was great and we got to go to a different Chinese culture event every night, from making dumplings to watching Beijing opera and trying our hardest to try and learn the most impossible Chinese game Mah Jong. It was good to stay for somewhere longer than a couple of nights, and as Shanghai would be our last destination we took the opportunity to relax. We hired bikes and cycled the length of the bund both during the day and at night when the tower blocks lit up the sky. We became regulars on Nanjing road and became very familer with the French Concession. I really do love Shanghai it’s the third time we’ve managed to go, and I am really looking forward to showing my parents around.

I am now 7 months in and time just seems to be racing by. I am settling back into teaching and have even been invited to another wedding, I had the best month travelling and can’t express enough how thankful I am for all of your support and help. Thanks for reading!

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Christmas comes to Chon gren

Image result for flasg of scotland 大家好

 

Hello all! I hope you had a great Christmas and New Year.  Chinese New Year is quickly approaching and 2017 will be the year of the rooster! Image result for 2017 year of the rooster

 

 

 

Christmas lessons

We started the festive season with Christmas lessons, as China is sensitive towards Christianity we focussed on other aspects of Christmas that did not directly link to Jesus or The Story of The Nativity. The students loved seeing how Christmas is celebrated in the west and when I showed them a picture of a traditional  Christmas dinner they all shouted “turkey!”  After a short PowerPoint with lots of pictures of elves, santas and reindeer we spent the rest of the lesson listening to Christmas music and making Christmas cards. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey  was a clear favourite!

I seen that some of my PT friends in different countries were making reindeer hats and snowman hats with their students, but unfortunately as sturdy paper and colouring pens are literally impossible to come by, I had to sick with notebook paper Christmas card making. Some of the kids really put their all into perfecting their Christmas cards and they looked really good. Some of my students had also found out that the 23rd of December was my Birthday, so I got some birthday cards, some Christmas cards, and also some “birthmas” cards?

 

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We decided we would fill our plain walls with all of the bright Christmas cards our students had made…we kind of forgot that between us we literally teach thousands of students, at least now we will have interesting walls…in every single room! It was a good start to the festive season and the kids really seemed to enjoy the lessons, many laughs were shared watching each other dress up as Santa!

On the lead up to Christmas we received lots of apples in little boxes from our students, in China giving apples on Christmas eve is a common practise. This is because Christmas Eve 平安夜 (Píng’ān yè ) in Chinese sounds similar to the word apple 苹果 (píng guǒ) and as the literal meaning of Christmas Eve means safety, they think that giving an apple is giving you safety and good wishes.

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During the festive period I have also made an effort to keep up with my Chinese. I have two lessons a week each lesson lasting around 2 hours. This week me and my Chinese teacher made dumplings. I have grown very close with Eva and most weeks we go out for meals or I go to her home and play with her little sons. She told me my Chinese is getting good, and now we can have quite long conversations completely in Chinese, even if I don’t know how to reply I can usually understand what she is saying to me. I will really miss my Chinese lessons when I go on winter travel.

 

Art festival

The day of the art festival finally arrived. It was to be held in the sports field but in true Chinese style we didn’t find out until the day before.

I was really impressed with how nice they made the outdoor stage look. They had gone all out with confetti and smoke machines. I was also impressed with how organised things seemed to be. There was a strict set list with 25 performances for the senior art show and 23 for the junior art show. The senior art show was in the morning and the junior art show in the afternoon. Lynsey and I were performing 14th in the senior art show.

I was slightly nervous, however my nerves were calmed after hearing some of the performances….

I was also relived to hear that my partner Lynsey and  Judy (our waiban) were performing first. They were singing “I’m yours” by Jason Mraz. Many weeks of practise had gone into this song and our waiban was excited to show off to the other English teachers.

We watched all of the performances which was a bitter-sweet experience, as I loved watching all of my students perform however didn’t enjoy standing in the freezing cold for hours.

 The moment you have all been waiting for…

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Armed with our Saltire flags and Scottish courage we debuted a beautiful rendition of “500 miles”, one that I’m sure The Proclaimers would be proud of. Mr Zhu, the vice principle of the school got the whole crowd clapping to the beat and our students were frantically jumping up and down. I’m sure it’s a moment I’ll never forget… even if I want to.

I am also told that there was a professional cameraman that filmed our performance. Mr Zhu has assured us that we will get copy. So this may be available to you upon request.

 

Christmas in China

Our school was extremely kind as they gave us the Friday and Monday off so we could travel to Jiujiang for Christmas. Jiujiang is around 5 hours away from Chong ren and we need to get 3 busses a train and a taxi there. Although it isn’t the capital city in Jiangxi, I think it’s the nicest one. The previous volunteers have also found Nanchang (the capital) to be too big, too industrial and very dirty. There are also many train stations and bus stations in Nanchang so getting lost is very easy. We headed to Jiujiang on Friday mid-day and arrived in Jiujiang Friday evening. Our friends were at a Christmas party organised by the education bureau, however as Chong ren isn’t within Jiujiang we weren’t invited.

When our friends came back  from the party we went out for a late dinner and a catch up. As it was also my 18th birthday we had some drinks and the other volunteers sang me happy birthday and gave me some gifts-which was really kind of them. The next day we went shopping for some last-minute Christmas presents. A couple of months ago we decided to do secret Santa, so all of the volunteers were each to buy a gift for the person they had drawn.

The following day was Christmas day, we were all contributing to the Christmas dinner one way or another, and my contribution was the mashed potato. I felt very privileged and I was taking my role very seriously, the potatoes were definitely in good hands. We all arrived at  Oliva’s house for 10am, and began Christmas dinner preparation. Jiujiang  is a big city with quite a few foreigners so the volunteers living there had made good friends with a couple of other foreign English teachers. They were in Jiujiang teaching  with the British Council, they were also coming to our Christmas dinner.  At around noon we all began to cook our dishes-each partnership cooking at least one dish with the idea of having a big Christmas dinner that everyone contributed to.  Everybody was in high spirits, singing and dancing away, and then…power cut. All of the hot plates we were using to cook cut out, the steamer for the broccoli… everything! We just ate what we had already cooked, wrapped in blankets as it was freezing cold. We managed to cook most of the dishes before the power cut so everything turned out okay in the end. I certainly won’t forget that Christmas dinner!

The house was freezing by the time we all sat down to relax so we decided to go to a nearby café for warmth and Wi-Fi,  everyone quickly video called their families. Then we played cards and drank milk tea until everyone called it a night and headed home.

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New Year in Shanghai

New Years fell on our long weekend, so we had the Saturday, Sunday and Monday off. Us and three other volunteers in our province decided that we would go to Shanghai as it is relatively close to us. The train from Nanchang to Shanghai was a fast train, every single train journey I had been on in China before going to Shanghai was a slow train. So experiencing the fast train was a luxury, the average speed was 300 kph! We made it to Shanghai in just 3 hours. We spent the first day  wandering around and looking at all of the huge intricate sky scrapers. As it began to get dark all of the buildings started to light up, and I was truly in awe.  We looked around all of the expensive shops imagining what it would be like to actually have enough money to buy things from them. Then we enjoyed a Domino’s pizza! I really love how modern and clean Shanghai is, the underground is also fantastic and if you are within a 2 min walk from an underground you are practically connected to the whole city. We found a really nice hostel in Pudong with an underground at the end of the road-which was really convenient. For the actual New Years count down we heard that there was going to be fireworks at the Bund, however our hostel was on the other side of the river so we decided to head back. I later found out from my friend that lives in Shanghai that the fireworks were cancelled as there were fears of a stampede.

We welcomed the New Year with our PT group and the guy that worked at the hostel. He was playing ukulele and our friend Joe was on the guitar. We were later joined by lots of curious Chinese girls that were in our dorm room, We sang Scottish songs with them and all linked up to sing “Auld Lang Syne”. It wasn’t the New Years I was expecting, but I think it was actually better than I imagined.

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Sleep deprived and bursting with excitement we headed to Disneyland on the 1st of January – the best way to spend the first day of 2017! We arrived just in time for the Disney parade and I honestly felt like a child again. I loved every moment of it! I waited 2 hours to go on the new TRON ride which was worth the wait, I assure you. Just before we left we managed to get on the ride again with only a 10 minute wait because everyone was watching the fire works.

As it was New Years Day Disneyland had extended its opening hours meaning we got to spend a solid 15 hours there. Honestly I would have stayed for longer. Highlights of the day were definitely meeting Baloo from The Jungle Book and getting to go on the TRON ride.

 

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This festive season was certainly different from last years, although I may have had a half completed, cold Christmas dinner in the dark, I must say celebrating with my new friends in a new city full of enthusiasm and excitement has made it one of the most memorable Christmases to date! Of course I missed my family,  and thanks to FaceTime I got to speak and catch up with all of them on Christmas day. It definitely wasn’t the same as celebrating with them in person, but I think they will forgive me for missing this one Christmas!

I want to wish you all good luck for 2017! And may the year of the rooster be everything you hope it to be!

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Lots of love

Lisa

 

 

 

 

Activities in Chong ren and St Andrew’s Day celebrations

Image result for scotland flag大家好 Image result for china flag

 Lynsey and I have had a relatively full and sociable calendar, from dinner dates with our new friends, playing Ping-Pong with our students to exploring new areas of Chong ren that we didn’t even know existed!

A couple of weeks ago one of our friends “Ronald” took us to a scenic spot here in Chong ren. It was truly breathtaking and I had to remind myself that I was still in Chong ren- only 20mins away from our house. We sat and admired the view while our Chinese friends handed us different weird and wonderful kinds of yogurt and the only English magazine they could find. It was a magazine all about Obama and the Paris agreement, we really appreciated the efforts they went to finding this. It was also our first experience on a moped…mum stop reading here. When we asked about helmets we were told not to worry, that nobody wears helmets. Being super keen to see the scenic spot we proceeded to get onto the moped, Lynsey and I have had no experience with mopeds before. However as Lynsey has her driver’s license we decided she was probably our best bet at surviving the journey. After one small blip at the start involving Lynsey and a tree stump, the journey went smoothly and was actually really fun. We were lucky that the weather was good because the couple of days before it had heavily rained.

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I can now say that I have experienced the wonders of a Chinese roller disco, some of our students took us to one in Chong ren. The entrance looked like a tattoo studio (which we later found out it doubled up as) and appeared to be a normal looking apartment until you walked through the door, it was a reasonably size room with a wooden floor and colourful bunting hanging all over the room. We collected our roller skates in exchange for a small fee of 15 ¥ and approached the wooden floor. I expected the floor to be shiny and varnished so we could skate easily. However it just seemed to be  a plastic  bumpy laminated floor, and skating wasn’t as effortless as I thought it would be, instead I had to drag myself around. The owner could see us struggling so he put on some Chinese rap to add to our experience. Many laughs were shared and I’m proud to say not once did I fall over! All in all we had a great day and I enjoyed spending time with my students out of the classroom.

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The last couple of weeks we have been eating out with our friends at local restaurants. When I say restaurants you are probably imagining lots of tables, a waiter and a chef, but here in chong ren anyone that has a kitchen and an extra table can have a “restaurant”. You just sit at a table in their kitchen and they cook you food, sometimes it’s just the Husband cooking, sometimes the wife too and sometimes if we go after school hours the whole family is chipping in. The food is good, cheap and fills us up.

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 St Andrews Day

We started the day teaching all of our senior classes about Scotland, including Scottish traditions like Burns supper and showing them Scottish songs. I also managed to show my classes a short clip of “Brave” the Disney film set in Scotland. All of my students were engaged throughout the lesson and had many questions at the end about food and schools in Scotland -which I happily answered. I am involved in a “Language Linking Global Thinking” programme, this means my students are linked with a school back in Scotland. It has been really great for my students to ask questions and answer questions with the students at Loanhead. The students in Scotland are also learning Mandarin so my students are very keen to help them learn. We are continuing to think of creative ways to share our cultures with each other, just recently my class 20 swapped their top 5 songs with the students in Scotland and they can’t wait to listen to them.

For St Andrew’s day we planned to cook Sheperd’s pie for our waiban, little did we know how difficult finding cheese, butter and minced meat would be? We had to travel to Fuzhou the closest city to Chong ren to find a super market. An hour and a half bus ride later we were there. We did our shopping and headed home again on the bus. The next day we cooked Sheperd’s pie and served it to our waiban. Much to our surprise the shepherd’s pie actually resembled a shepherd’s pie. Our waiban told us she really enjoyed it and it was clear she was really happy we had made an effort for her. After our food we all snuggled on the sofa with our heater (which we have named Hamish) and watched “Sunshine on Leith”IMG_6888[1].JPG

The art show which I will be performing at has been postponed due to school examinations, giving us extra much needed practise time. Everything is going great here, the weather is getting colder and some nights I have to sleep with my hat and gloves on, but I have Hamish our heater to keep me warm in the evenings. Teaching is going great and my students are getting more and more confident speaking English which is so rewarding to see.

 Winter travel is also quickly approaching and we have been told we will have from the middle of January until the middle of February off. We have started planning our route and I’m starting to get really excited. The first destination for us will be Harbin up in Heilongjiang province to see the annual ice festival. I have seen pictures and it looks truly amazing. We then plan to take a train to Hohhot and follow a train line that takes us around inner Mongolia. Planning trains and hostels completely by ourselves is really fun and I will admit can sometimes be a bit stressful.

I really can’t wait for our travel plans to come to life, and of course I will keep you all updated!

You can follow my flikr here My flickr

 

Until next time

Lisa

Sports day and Halloween

I have now been in China for 3 months! The weeks are certainly flying by!

This week we were asked if we would perform at the Chong ren art show later in the month, of course me and Lynsey both said yes! Being Scottish we decided we would sing a Proclaimers number. We settled on “500 miles”, and much to our surprise the KTV(Karaoke) in Chong ren actually has “500 miles” so we can go there to practise.  Practise begins next week, we can’t wait to perform and show our students and the Chong ren locals some Scottish music. The Scotland flags will definitely be out.

Sports day

Last week Lynsey and I were off timetable for sports day-which consisted of thousands of kids running about a field. All the junior classes were competing and all of the senior classes were competing against each other for the highest overall score. I was happy to find out that my senior class 18 were the overall winners and came first place out of all of the other classes. Also to remind you that my Junior class at summer camp were the overall winners for sports day/English day… can anyone notice a common theme here?

There was a strict schedule of races, the school has a full 400 metre track and as soon as one race had finished the next race was already beginning. All of the kids that weren’t competing were supporting their class, hundreds of kids were surrounding the track, chanting and singing in an effort to encourage their classmates. Many of the children also had the China flag painted on their face , because would it really have been sports day in China without a China flag. Sports day was paused for a couple of hours because it started to rain, however was resumed and the schedule was promptly raced through so all the kids got a chance to compete.

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It was great to see all of the children enjoying themselves and laughing with their friends. I know how hard every single one of my students studies so they definitely deserved a break. My Junior one students have already started preparing for Gaokao-the university entrance exam((高考)…they won’t take this exam for at least another 5 years.

Halloween

Many of my students are familiar with Halloween so I decided that I would play some Halloween themed games, and let them design their own pumpkins. We played pin the bow tie on the skeleton and we shared many laughs watching people struggle to find the board.

It’s great to see how much the student’s confidence has increased since he first day of teaching. To think that only just a couple of months ago many of them were scared to speak out, now they are playing games and speaking in front of the whole class!

We were showered with sweets and notes at the end of the school day, I think the students make a bigger deal out of Halloween than most people in the U.K!img_6625

After a long week of sports day and Halloween celebrations I decided I would show my class Tom and Jerry, I can safely say I have never seen so much concentration in one classroom.

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We have made quite a lot of friends here, and we have made it our mission to make plans every  weekend. This weekend we went to a big market, the market moves around different towns each week, so that fact that it was here was quite a big deal. We also went to the art school , one of our friend’s brothers owns the art school so we have been told we can go whenever we want. Everyone there is really friendly. Many of the high school students go there so it’s another opportunity to meet new people and practise our Mandarin.

The market was huge and sold everything from rice cookers to Rabbits in small boxes. The bright colours of fruits and spices were so satisfying to look at. It was really interesting and lots of people came to get pictures with us.

Here are some pictures of the art school, I’ve already had my first  sketching lesson and finished my first sketch.

The art school is on the top floor of an apartment block, you can see all of Chong ren when there isn’t too much pollution.

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My first sketch

Me and Lynsey are both feeling really settled in and we are trying our best to learn and speak Mandarin as much as we can. Everyday we are given gifts and pictures from our students and we already know how hard it’s going to be next year when we have to say goodbye to our new home.  We are looking forward to performing at the art show and putting our own Chon gren twist on 500 miles.

Until next time

Lisa

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Back in Beijing!

Time seems to be flying by and I have now been in China for over 2 months!

We were delighted to find out we would have one week off for the national holiday. We decided that we would travel to Beijing with the rest of the volunteers in the same province as us, we wanted to explore the tourist attractions  we never got a chance to when we were at teaching training. When we were there at the start of the year we spent most of our time at the university campus and didn’t manage to explore Beijing. Going to Beijing also meant that we could meet the volunteers from Heilongjiang province.

We set off for Nanchang from Chong ren bus station on the Saturday, our waiban warned us not to travel then as it was national day. Looking back, we should of taken her advice, I have NEVER seen so many people in a train station before. We had to take the bus from Chong ren to Nanchang, then a bus from Nanchang bus station to Nanchang train station. Then we got the train to Beijing from Nanchang station. The train was only 13 hours long, anything below 14 hours isn’t too bad for us. However we had never experienced the joys of traveling on hard seat. Travelling on hard seat for 13 hours was how I imagine sitting on a park bench for a day to be. Our favourite new game to play is “I wonder what part of my body will go numb next”, I think I won, as I started to lose sensation of my gums by hour 5.

Below is a picture of Nanchang train station…

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It took us 1 hour to queue for our tickets. We got the overnight train so we arrived early morning in Beijing, we were staying in a Hostel recommended by the lonely planet book.

 

The hostel was great and so central, we were less than 2 minuets walk from the subway station.

The first thing we noticed when we got to Beijing was how many foreigners there were. It was actually really strange seeing foreigners, me and my partner had gone nearly 2 months without seeing any in Chong ren.

Our week was filled with day trips and visits to different parts of Beijing, we all got the hang of the Beijing subway, and we can all agree it is one of the nicest and most straight forward subways we have ever been on.

The first day we got the subway to Beihai Park to visit the Dagoda built in honour of the 5th Dalai Lama. After exploring the park we took a peddle boat out on the lake to relax and enjoy the beautiful views of the park.

 

We used the lonely planet book for almost everything, it recommends loads, one of my favourites was a walk that takes you around the bustling back streets of Beijing. One of the things we enjoyed the most was planning our days, and working out the best way to get there, I think we all feel much more confident travelling now. We are getting good with our Mandarin too, and we had lots of fun asking for train tickets, bartering in shops at the silk market and striking up conversations with people on the subway.

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At the silk market we bumped into former world number 1 Jelena Jankovic, and Douglas and Lynsey who are keen tennis fans got their picture taken with her.img_5955

On the way back to the hostel I found a hotel with my name!

 

 

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Tea tasting

We got to go to a tea tasting session which was so much fun. The women that took the session was really good, we had tea that was supposed to help with our kidneys, iron levels, liver, heart, skin and we also got to try “sexy tea” which was supposed to make us feel and look sexy…

Below is a collage of pictures taken on my trip to Beijing, we visited so many sites and temples that were truly amazing. We also managed to get tickets to the China Open and got to watch Louis Pouille and Agnieska Radwanska play.

 

Here is a list of the touritst attractions we managed to visit during our 6 days in Beijing: The Forbidden City, The Llama Temple,  Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, Big bell temple, Dongyue Temple, Drum tower, 798 art zone, The Silk Market, The Olympic park , Liulichang Cultural street and temple of Heaven.

 

On the last night of our holiday we got invited by our country rep Mike to a Jazz bar. The jazz bar was on the 80th floor of The China Word Summit Centre. We got to watch live jazz music by a band from Washington D.C. They were incredible and the lead singer also claimed she was neighbours with Barack Obama. All in all it was a great last night and it was good to let our country rep know how we were all settling into our projects.

 

Me and Lynsey are now safely back in Chong ren after getting slightly lost on the way home in Nanchang. Winter is coming so we invested in some new furry pyjamas.

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I had an amazing time in Beijing and I can’t wait to travel next year, we are planning to go to Sichwan province to see the pandas then maybe go north for the ice festival. Being away was great but it was also nice to come back home and see all of my students again.

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until next time,

Lisa img_5865

Teaching in Chong ren

I have been teaching at Chong ren no.1 middle school for around one month now. I am still learning and meeting new friendly faces everyday. The school is huge so navigating my way to all my classes isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I think I have just about mastered the senior classrooms but I still have to ask to be shown to the junior ones. On average I have 70 pupils per class but some of my senior classes have up to 76 or 78.

One of my senior classes playing a spelling game:IMG_5752.PNG

One of my energetic junior classes:

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I am so glad that I got the opportunity to teach at summer school before coming to my project, my confidence increased so much at summer camp and I feel I can control and teach my huge classes with ease and confidence.

Having so many students in one classroom can make teaching and keeping the kids engaged difficult sometimes. The resources at the school also aren’t very good, and I quickly noticed that good quality paper was virtually non-existent in China. I can’t use the computer or PowerPoint which means I’m stuck with chalk and board,but I make it work! I really like to have my students up and moving during lessons, I really want my lessons to be fun and imaginative. I’m aware that my pupils have very long days starting at around 7am and finishing around 10pm. I want my students to know that my class is a fun class where they can relax, learn and speak English in a comfortable environment. I’m still at the stage of creating that environment, at the very beginning none of my students wanted to speak aloud, but slowly through encouragement and praise each week more and more students were willing to read and speak in English. This was so so rewarding to watch. Many of my students have very good written English but very poor pronunciation and spoken English. So this is mainly what my lessons focus on. When I am teaching the later classes that start at around 5pm I can see some of my students struggling to keep their eyes open. This is another reason I have to keep my pupils engaged-they will fall asleep if I don’t!

I play music, use pictures and videos from my phone and have them get in groups and play spelling or maths games. I’ve also realised that if I make anything into a competition the students are 10 times more likely to stay engaged.

The age range in my classes can differ by a good couple of years, I think they are based more on ability than age. In senior classes the age usually ranges from 14-17 years old, and for my junior classes 9-13 years old. It is really strange teaching  pupils the same age as me, it is even stranger having to tell them off, but there is something mildly stratifying about it.  The ability of my classes is also really mixed, I have two senior sets that are extremely good both ability and behaviour wise. Then the others are at a lower level of English and unfortunately I’ve found that the sets with a lower level of English  are usually the classes with the behaviour issues. Although these issues aren’t serious, it becomes a bit annoying when I’m trying to teach 78 students. If a pupil is constantly talking I will make them stand and apologize, this usually works. I have had many people tell me before I came to china that the students I will teach will sit and listen and only speak when they are spoken to, and when I seen my students on their military training I was kind of expecting that.

Students taking part in military training:

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However the reality is that I’ve found my students to be just like any other chatty teenager. They like to laugh and joke during lessons just like all other teenagers. I do have the occasional student with a really intense worth ethic, and I cater to these students as much as I can, suggesting books and poems for them to study in their free time. I really enjoy teaching both junior and senior , each bring different opportunities and ways of teaching.

I am really enjoying life in Chong ren and everyday is filled with new exciting experiences. We have started learning Mandarin and we have a really lovely Mandarin teacher called Candy. We get around 4hrs of lessons a week and being in Chong ren where virtually no English is spoken makes it really easy for us to practise with the locals. We are also  planning on joining some clubs to make more friends.

My Chinese name:

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I actually really enjoy teaching , much more than I thought I would. I have seen not only  my confidence grow but also the students around me. Although it can sometimes be frustrating, the majority of my students are so enthusiastic and willing to learn. Many of my student’s parents work on the fields behind the school, and many wrote to me about how hard their parents work for them to study here. One girl wrote about how privileged she felt to have a foreign teacher. I found this really touching, that a 17 year old girl from Glasgow can mean so much , because it really is my privilege to be able to teach and learn from them.

Weekend trip to Jiujiang

The way our school schedule works allows us to have every second Monday off, this allows us to travel to nearby cities and also allows us to visit other volunteers in neighbouring provinces. We used our first long weekend to visit Jiujiang, this is where four other girls are volunteering in a primary school. We were also told that as it was “Teacher’s Day” on the Sunday there was an event on at a theme park in Jiujiang that we would be allowed to attend. We got the 7 am bus from Chong ren bus station to Fuzhou bus station where we then got a bus from Fuzhou to Jiujiang. The bus journey was surprising nice, it was nice to see some green for a change. We passed the Lushan mountains which guided us practically all the way to Jiujinag.

When we arrived we got a taxi from the bus station to the school(well this was our intention) as we didn’t know what the school looked like we couldn’t really be sure of where we were going, so when the taxi driver dropped us off at a school we weren’t in a position to question if it was the right one. When we arrived at the school we asked our friend (fellow pt. volunteer who we were staying with) to come down and collect us. After 30 minuets she failed to appear. We called her again and she said she was waiting at the gate, the gate we were supposedly standing at. We realised that the language barrier between us and the taxi driver resulted in us at the wrong place. In a huge city, clueless as to where we were, we collected our things and tried to ask for directions (this language barrier was still there so I’m not really sure what we were hoping for).

After around 20 minuets of standing at the side of a main road looking lost our friend’s waiban called us, she told us to find a young looking person(more chance of them speaking English) and to hand them the phone so she could speak to them. We crossed the road to a bus stop and we handed this extremely confused looking Chinese girl the phone. Our friend’s waiban was then able to explain the situation to her, the Chinese girl was able to flag us down a taxi and she gestured for us to get in. When we got in the taxi she was still on the phone, she then passed the phone to the taxi driver, the taxi driver passed the phone back to us so her waiban could translate, then we passed the phone back to the Chinese girl. This cycle went round about 5 times until we were handed back the phone and the taxi moved off. Me and my partner Lynsey were a bit confused and flustered. However our taxi driver found it hilarious and for the whole journey he was in hysterics. We finally made it to the correct school where we had caused the Chinese teacher there a bit of a heart attack. She was extremely happy we had finally arrived safe and well.

We dropped off our bags and headed on a bus to the centre, Jiujiang is absolutely huge and this simple trip took around 50 minutes. We can cycle around all of Chong ren in about 15 minutes.

We looked around all of the different shops and restaurants then found somewhere to eat and catch up with our fellow volunteers before getting the bus back to the school. The next day we went to the theme park for teacher’s day and I genuinely can’t remember the last time I was that excited. We started off tame, with the log flume and then built up to the biggest roller coaster there. The theme park was really good, and kind of reminded me of a grimmer Disneyland. Greyness aside we had a really fun weekend, and our sprits were lifted giving us more motivation to take on our huge classes back in Chong ren.

 

Life in Chong ren so far

We got the 11am train from Beijing to Nanchang, for that whole morning we were under the impression that the train journey was 12hrs, nothing compared to the boys and their 24hr train to Heilongjiang on hard seats! This was until we caught up with our country rep Mike approximately 1hr before we were to board the train. He happily announced that our train was actually 23hrs…we were not impressed.

Our first challenge was trying to put everyone’s luggage in the overhead storage, as you can imagine, trying to squash our huge bags into this tiny confined overhead was quite the challenge. We managed to recruit a team of Chinese men in the bunks below to help us. I must admit they coordinated beautifully and finally our bags were tucked away. Our next challenge was working out which beds were ours. Everyone tries their luck and sits on a bed, even when it is reserved. We had to break it to the people on some of the bunks that they were actually in our beds. When we were all settled in our bunks we checked the time and realised we only had 22hrs to go! Looking back I don’t know how everyone managed to fill the time. Luckily I was exhausted from summer camp and climbing the thousands of steps up The Great Wall, so I slept all in all a total of 16hrs! 16hrs out of 23, not bad.

Joe helping coordinate the task of storing the luggage, and me 1 hour into our 23hours…

When we arrived in Nanchang our host(Mr Zhu) picked us up. We then travelled to Chong ren, a 2hr journey by car. When we arrived we were shown our accommodation, which we are pretty chuffed with. We both have our own room, bathroom and study area. We also have a sitting room and kitchen.

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Arriving in Nanchang

 

We arrived on the Monday and had Tuesday and Wednesday to rest and sort out visas until we started teaching.

We took this time to check out the school we are teaching in. The school is huge and is a real pillar for the community here with over 7,000 students attending and literally hundreds of teachers. The school has a 400m running track, ping-pong tables , basketball and tennis courts. It definitely sounds better than it is, all of these facilities have without a doubt seen better days, nevertheless they are still a great asset to the school.

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Chong ren no.1 middle school running track

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Ping-pong tables

After we checked out the sports facilities we got a tour of the school buildings. We were also told we will be teaching 8 junior classes and 10 senior classes, each class with around 70 pupils.

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Chong ren no.1 middle school

 

 

Below are pictures of the junior building. The junior building has 18 classrooms arranged in a square shape with grass on the inside of the square. Me and my partner Lynsey are quite confused by this patch of grass as it doesn’t appear to have any particular function or purpose, it is also littered with bottles and empty packets so nobody sits there.

 

The next couple of days were spent exploring Chong ren by bike, which was terrifying(sorry mum) The roads are crazy, seas of mopeds and bikes,any type of carts you can think of, not to mention trucks and cars. There are two bridges in Chong ren that go over Chong ren river. One of the first things we noticed is the contrast between the two sides. The side we are on houses the school and a small village. The village is very basic and most houses are small and cramped.

While the other side has three huge towering apartment blocks that light up, a mall, endless shops, shoe shops, beauty shops, a cinema, gaming centres, karaoke, supermarkets, a huge square and market.

The side that houses Chong ren no.1 middle school

 

 

The 2 sides separated by Chong ren river.

 

This is the street immediately outside of the school gate, there are many restaurants cafes and shops, all of which we took sometime to come around to. Although they might not look the most appetizing the food is truly delicious, and cheap! We can have dinner for around 20p!

Here are some photos of the village directly behind the school:

 

Although the village is very basic, everyone makes the most of what they have. I can honestly say, here in Chong ren I have met some of the most friendly welcoming people in my life.

I am really enjoying life in Chong ren and can’t wait to begin making it my home

Lisa

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