Hawai’i Part One: The benefits of being British

It’s currently Chinese New Year, which for me means that I have a 3 week holiday known as Spring Festival.Last year I ventured to Thailand  with Charlotte and Elijah (and struggled to blog about it afterwards) but this year I am determined to document my trip to Hawaii, specifically to Oahu and my reunion with Theresa, a friend I met in Australia 3 years ago.

I’m going to start with the beginning if my trip. After arriving in Beijing the day before and stocking up on gifts, I set off for the airport at 6 a.m. to journey on what became the longest Thursday of my life. There’s an 18 hour time difference between China and Hawaii which means that even though I was travelling for a long time, I actually  arrived before I set off. Incidentally that’s my favorite fact ever and I’m telling everyone who is anyone, which now includes all of the internet but anyway…

So at 6 a.m. I left the hostel to the travel to the airport. I arrived at about 10 past 7 which was right on time, as check-in didn’t open until close to 8 o’clock, but I wanted to be there early. Once it became obvious where the line would be people began to queue. However they were doing wrong! Being British I’ve been taught how to queue, so whilst everyone in front of me stood directly in front of the desks and not behind the sign, I stood in the correct place. Everyone looked at me very strangely and the Chinese family  behind me were very annoyed because of the huge gap between me and those in front. However about 10 minutes later I was vindicated when the check-in staff appeared and made everyone else move behind me, so I was the first person in the queue. This turned out to be a good thing because the woman had an issue checking me in due to my lack of visa. Because I’m British I don’t need a visa to enter the US at the moment, just an ESTA. This confused the check-in agent who was very concerned, so she checked with pretty much everyone in the airport to make sure that I was legally allowed to enter the States. Once that was sorted out it was time to find food and wait for my flight to Korea, and then wait some more since the snow delayed it.


As I expected my flight was delayed, but soon I was on my way. Once I got to Korea I had a nice 5 hour wait during which I tried to organise things for my extended stay on my return journey. After discovering that I couldn’t afford the transit Hotel I instead booked one nearby. I also managed to have an amazing shower for free in the airport! Because I was there for a while I found a comfortable place to sit, got stuck into my book, and people watched a Chinese family filling two cases with duty free purchases.

After boarding my plane, flying across the ocean and not really sleeping I was so excited to land! However first of all I had to clear immigration which took more than an hour. I kept being shuffled from line to line, the automatic system didn’t work for me, and all the people on my plane who couldn’t speak English (most of them) were even more confused than me. All of this was accompanied by a video of Santa Claus going through customs, and another one of an annoyingly chirpy man assuring me that the system was designed to be fast. I begged to differ.

Eventually I talked to the immigration person and after being fingerprinted I was allowed into the country! By this point the baggage carousel had stopped moving and everyones luggage was on the floor, so I grabbed my backpack, waved and cheered at the officials on the door and began my Hawaiian adventure. Oh, and after all that, it was still Thursday morning.


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Donald Trump in China

Time for a more serious and topical post than usual. Donald Trump is  famous world wide, and since he comes to power in a week I thought it’d be interesting to tell you all some anecdotes about him from some of the students and staff members here in China.

For starters, everyone was shocked that he won the election in the first place. It became clear he would at lunchtime, and my boss John really couldn’t believe it. Following the election through the news, it appeared as though Clinton would win, and people were genuinely surprised that he didn’t.

The evening of results day I taught my senior 2 special class. These students are exceptional and are going to study at foreign universities, so they are hyper-aware of the changing political climate. As the students were discussing their future plans and the countries they planned to study in, one student remarked that she was thinking of going to America, but didn’t want to now because of Trump. She was laughing as she said it but it did make me think.

Even more heartbreaking was one of the exam answers I marked around that time. The first question was what is your biggest concern about studying abroad. The Korean girl in class, Olivia, wrote that her biggest concern was dealing with racism in America because she is Asian and Trump will be president. After making corrections to her answer I genuinely had to take a moment to think about her future. She should be feeling so excited to live in the States and be nervous about understanding her lecturers and the work like last years students were, but thanks to Trump and his rhetoric she’s most worried about facing racism amongst her peers.

On a lighter note, his influence is also obvious in the regular senior 1 classes. When playing the game who am I, where students have to guess the name on their forehead, one group started with Hitler then swiftly moved on to Donald Trump and asked me to spell check the name!

Moving forward in time, this weeks lesson is on hypothetical situations. Most classes are surprisingly into it and like discussing various would you rathers and moral dilemmas. What prompted this post was a response to: would you rather live in the USA or the U.K.? 2 separate students in separate classes answered with the U.K., because it is safer and in America it is not safe to walk around at night, you will be shot and die. This is the perception of America that Donald Trump’s campaign has created, and it will be interesting to see what will happen once he actually has control.

Reflecting the serious nature of this post, have a video of exam papers being counted.

 

 

Sh*t my kids say…Desert Island edition!

Recently with my students I’ve been doing a ‘critical thinking exercise’, basically what would they do in hypothetical situations on a desert island. It’s turned out to be surprisingly hilarious and I thought I’d write some particular gems down and share them with everyone.

The first task: what item do you take to the island and why?

“I will take poison, because I want to die”

“I can’t swim so I will be dead anyway”

“I will take the umbrella. I can use it as a weapon, I can catch fish with it and I can use the top of it to stay warm”

“I want the shoes because I don’t like mine”

“I want an axe, because I like the pronunciation”

“I will get the rope, tie it to the box and pull the box to the island so we have all the items!” – this from Rose (a boy previously known as Volcano in my senior 2 special class)

The second task: cannibals are attacking, what do you do?

I can’t remember the quotes exactly so I’m just going to write a summary.

One special group planned an elaborate series of traps using rope around their house.

One group decided to teach the cannibals language and befriend them.

One group went for diplomacy which began a classroom discussion on the exact nature of the cannibals and whether or not they had the capacity to learn and understand language.

One group showed the cannibals the radio and they had a party.

Many groups became the God of the the cannibals.

One boy gave up completely and ran into the sea.

Many groups either sacrificed themselves by drinking poison so the cannibals would eat them and die or made someone in the group drink poison for the same effect. One group sacrificed the far kid in their group because he’d be the most delicious!!

And umbrella boy snapped his umbrella in half and took them all down singlehanded. 

The third task: zombie time! (This was only done a few classes)

One group gave up entirely and were just eaten by zombies and started a zombie haven on the island.

One group had become the God of the cannibals and made the cannibals fight the zombies.

The group with the traps just waited it out in their house since they didn’t remove the traps.

One group built a ring of fire because zombies are scared of fire.

One group forgot the box concept entirely and blew them up with explosives.

Rose decisions that he had a pet Chihuahua that went around biting the zombies and turning them into zombie dogs.

And finally, one irritating group said that because zombies move slowly they could just move constantly around the island and be safe.

The fourth task: a helicopter has come and only half of the group can be saved!

Without a doubt this was was my favourite task because some groups took it so seriously.

The group which had sacrificed to fat kid tied the two girls in their group to the outside so all five could escape. This was a common solution, as was making a boat from the trees and attaching that to the helicopter too.

Several groups killed the policy to get the extra seat. They all reassured me that they can in fact fly a helicopter!

A few groups refused to split up because “we are family” and decided to stay on the island forever.

Lots of chivalrous groups saved the girls.

One hero saved the 2 girls in his group and the boy next to him “because he is smart”

One girl killed her entire group and flew away happily. That one made me laugh.

And Nathan in class 7 changed my drawing of a helicopter to an Apache and declared that he would use the radio to call the U.S Air Force to come and blow up the island.

The final task: Pirates are on the island, do you stay or go?

Most went with them because pirates are cool.

To sum up this was a fun lesson and I loved hearing the solutions to the problems. The students are so creative and it’s nice to exploit that part of them rather than the repetition of teaching vocab and grammar.


This is a picture from class 7, where the wall where the blackboard is ran out of electricity (because China) so I had to improvise and draw an excellent helicopter!

Stories from China: The Re-teach

The weather has been slightly warmer this winter, but unfortunately the pollution has been much worse. It’s been on the news in the States, the Foreign Office emailed out a warning and one of my classes have bought an air purifier for the classroom. Unfortunately nothing’s made a blind bit of difference, and it has been hideous to go outside, to the point where I’ve cancelled plans because I can’t shake a cold because I haven’t breathed fresh air in months. I have however, figured out how to wear a pollution mask and glasses!

As well as ruining my social life, the pollution has had a great impact on travel. The buses have been free, which since I’m the only one of the Squad without a bike makes me much happier. It did however, impact Gabz’ trip to Shanghai quite a lot, which in turn doubled my workload for a day.

This paragraph is all written before actually chatting to Gabz so this is what I’ve got from WeChat. See the pollution was terrible as usual on Saturday, which meant the motorway to the airport was closed and his flight out was delayed for at least 6 hours. But he eventually got there so we didn’t have an irate Gabz joining us on New Years Eve. Coming home was the main issue. The first time we hear of an issue is the middle of the day on Monday, which was a day off for everyone. Turns out all flights to Shijiazhuang had been cancelled for the previous 2 days, and Gabz was getting a little anxious that his might also be cancelled. Fast forward a few hours and it turns out that yes, they did cancel his flight and there was no way he was going to be home before class the next day. After messaging back and forth for a while we settle on a plan. Gabz would get the train up (and as I type is currently on said train), and me, Izzie and Umar would cover his 5 classes.

That was all background information, the main part of this post is the story of how I taught some of my old classes. Gabz is the senior 2 teacher, so his classes are my old ones. Originally the plan was to whack a movie on, but in the morning the school messaged us saying we couldn’t do that! Desert Island is always my backup plan so I went in with a rather fun lesson planned, but also strangely nervous to see the students again. So much so that I was actually shaking for part of the first lesson!

After pushing my nerves aside I soon fell into the old routine, and so did the students. It was so strange to see the old faces again though, some had clearly gone through puberty a bit more and has shot up! Others were not so happy to see me, one class were completely silent when I walked in until I explained why I was there – I’m pretty sure that they thought I was lost or they were going insane. It was also remarkable how much some of the students had progressed since I’d last taught them. Class 10 I’d nicknamed my ‘Zen Class’ because they always did exactly what I asked, talked at a normal level and were just chill. They were also my last class of the week so probably reflected my own tiredness. Desert Island is a discussion heavy lesson, which they would have probably struggled with last year, but they handled with ease and seemed to enjoy it. It was fun teaching my old students again, but when I finished and went to my regular lessons I realised that I don’t regret asking to teach grade 10 again. I was able to get a fresh start with new students, learn from my mistakes and have a backlog of lesson plans in case I need help!

To sum up, I still love teaching grade 10 specifically, but it’s always nice to see the old faces again, especially when they’re so happy to see you.

Have a video of the weird tigers that took over the city one time!

 

Also for the first time ever I’m actually ahead in blog posts! I still haven’t written the narration of my trip to Mongolia in October but hey-ho I’m actually scheduling posts! I’m writing this on Tuesday but it won’t be posted until Thursday! Maybe this makes up for not writing anything for 2 months….

Christmas time, Pollution and Flu

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Unless you’ve got a killer cold and the pollution is off the scale, in which case it’s Christmas in Shijiazhuang!

This festive season, I was, as previously stated, full of cold. Mainly affecting my throat, it meant that I sounded sterner in class which was nice, but the slight fever meant that I could not control my temperature and therefore didn’t wear enough clothes in class (according to the kids. I assure you all, I was well covered!). While it made me short-tempered, I was able to enjoy my Christmas classes with the students and the Christmas party with the foreign students. (Cultural Exchanges).

The annual Christmas gift from the government this year was a kettle. Sounds underwhelming, but it has the ability to keep water hot! This has been very useful lately. After the handshake, we had to go for lunch with some of the officials, which was bizarre, but had good food! Plus the restaurant had fish everywhere which I kept staring at 😀

Last year on Christmas Day, we had a lovely buffet meal at the Hilton, but this year with the day being a weekend, we had to settle for Christmas Eve Eve! After faffing last year with expensive wine we brought our own in, and proceeded to have an excellent night chatting, eating and being merry. Unfortunately, the combination of wine and flu meant that I woke up on Saturday with a migraine which immobilised me all day, and I missed out on the Christmas Eve get together.

By Christmas Day I’d recovered enough to have brunch and secret Santa with the squad downstairs before trekking across the city, cooked goose in tow, for more celebrations and food at Sarah’s apartment. I’m still not sure how we all crammed into her living room and cooked more than enough food for all of us in her tiny kitchen and oven.Eventually everything had been cooked and we sat down to a meal which included goose fat roast potatoes, YORKSHIRE PUDDINGS, gravy and mash. It was spectacular!! Afterwards a couple of people slightly died and we all just chatted and played games.

All in all it was a good Christmas, even if it was ridiculously polluted and I was sick!

Stories from China: The Dumpling Shop

Fair play, this isn’t actually one story, but I took some funny footage in the dumpling shop and really wanted to share it with the world.

Many times in my blog i’m sure i’ve made reference to the Dumpling Shop. It’s a local restaurant about 2 minutes from my flat which has become our regular spot for cheap and easy meals when we want to be social or don’t feel like cooking. It was the first place me, Izzie and Sam ate when we arrived here and it will probably be one of the last places I eat at too. It’s speciality, shockingly enough, is dumplings, but it also sells lots of other dishes.

Like I said, we go there often, probably at least every 2 weeks in winter and more in summer when it’s less polluted. The staff know us, we have nicknames for them, they keep beer cold for us sometimes and they know I hate spice in my food. Being foreign and usually in a big group means that the other patrons like to stare at us, and after they’ve had enough to drink, they come and chat. Sometimes we’re not in the mood and leave early, but if we’ve had enough to drink and its late enough, hilarious encounters ensue, the latest one of which I managed to film some of. Rather than write anymore, I’m just going to put 2 videos here of when a Chinese man we’d previously met came for a chat the other week.

Cheers!

Discussing Rap…

Discussing Languages (my favourite video)…

Cultural Exchanges

In December the foreign teachers and I were lucky enough to be invited to 2 separate parties celebrating the festive season. At the first, the foreign students had prepared several small performances and the foreign teachers had prepared nothing, so hastily assembled and wowed everyone with a rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’. The Christmas party was much less formal that what I expected, and once the performances were over we were able to just chat and mess about (mainly with the wig we’d bought for the New Years party).

As part of the New Years celebrations at the school, we sacrificed one of our lunchtimes to attend a party with the foreign students, the senior special classes, everyone in the foreign affairs office and small children and their parents. I’m still not entirely sure who the small children and parents were but they seemed to enjoy themselves. Now, like the party I attended in class 4 last year (新年快乐!) this was less of a social affair and more of a talent show. After much complaining, we were informed that we had to put on some form of performance for everyone, and after a quick accidental brainstorming session on the staircase one evening, we decided to stage a traditional English pantomime, complete with a panto dame, audience participation and free sweets.

Putting my A-level in drama to good use, I became a minor character (although I received good feedback from the students!). The basic story was that after skipping school, naughty students opened up a rift in space-time and fell into a strange world where an evil cat witch was turning everyone into cats. Poor Sean was tasked with narrating in Chinese, and everyone else got to prance about on stage. Although we were worried they wouldn’t understand what was happening, the students laughed at the jokes as well as at the panto dame and the physical comedy and it was a right laugh.

After our spectacular performance, it was the turn of the foreign affairs office who had also been forced to do something on stage and then the special students and the foreign students. I was genuinely impressed by what the students were doing, including playing traditional instruments, painting, rapping and dancing. One class performed an extract from Merchant of Venice (which included a spectacular mustachioed student) and as well as remembering their lines, they actually added emotion into the dialogue too. I had to leave early to teach (even though I begged Sarah to move my class) and was gutted to miss the students performance of King Lear.

However, as luck would have it, I taught both special classes that afternoon. I’d quickly realised that my lesson plan on animal synonyms would kill the adrenaline and happiness from the party so decided to play games with them instead. It also meant that I got to see an encore of King Lear after asking nicely.

I was really apprehensive about the performance and the party in general but it ended up being a great lunch and I enjoyed myself.