Stories from China: Mafia

Don’t get too excited, this isn’t an epic tale of my clashes with the Chinese Mafia! It’s actually a teaching story – this week and in the past I’ve dedicated an entire lesson to playing the game Mafia with my students.

In case you don’t know the game, in its most basic form, every round students who are Mafia kill someone in secret, and the students have to try and guess who is the Mafia. Once they get the hang of it I add in a doctor who can secretly save someone (usually themselves), and then a sheriff who can accuse someone each round and learn from the narrator if they are the Mafia. We played it A LOT at camp, and had more roles and multiple Mafia member and conspiracies flying around the place – it’s a really fun game.

Although it’s a fun game to play, it’s also educational and useful for the students (I promise!) My senior specials are advanced enough now that they can take charge of their own games, begin to have debates and arguments (meaning that they’re thinking in English), and one game can involves 11 people and last 30 minutes! Considering that all the preparation I need to do is to bring a deck of cards with me (to assign roles), it’s such a simple and fun lesson. I can incorporate the idea of forfeits for when they speak Chinese, see their debating skills improve, and one person is the narrator and runs the game, developing their leadership skills too.

It’s also fun with the senior 1 specials. Their English isn’t as advanced as the senior 2’s, and they’re 3x as many of them, so I split them into 3 groups and let them use Chinese if they need to. My rule is: if I know what you’re saying in Chinese, you know the English! Again, the students love playing it, mainly because it’s fun and doesn’t feel like a real lesson. The first time they played it they got so involved they actually ripped my cards!! I played it yesterday with 1 class and some of the accusations flying around were hilarious! One Mafia girl managed to win by shouting (in English) that the others looked too happy/too sad and therefore they were clearly the Mafia. I was in stitches watching them realise it was her all along!

Mafia is a fun game to play with anyone, helps develop my students’ English skills, and means all I do in the lesson is referee them, make sure they don’t get too noisy, and that they use English correctly!


Also how much does this photo look like it belongs in a brochure!


Why I love teaching in China

Last week I lost my voice and had to teach 5 lessons still. A week later I’m still not 100% but my students are welcoming me back with open arms. Some literally: one girl flung herself on me and kissed my cheek, much to my surprise! All of the welcome backs I got had me thinking about why I love my job here, so I thought I’d write a list of reasons. This way next time I’m feeling down I can look at this list, and hopefully it’s mildly entertaining too!

  1. Most of my students like me. By this I mean they give me things with my name on, run over to say hello when they see me and even share their food. Whilst it’s always nice to be liked, it helps with classroom management too, multiple exit notes have confirmed that they don’t like it when I shout at them. Coming back from sickness this week has reminded me of this, especially when class 5 busted out a Chinese song at the start of class, all 70 of them!
  2. I’ve got my own space. Not my own office or classroom sadly, but the school pays for my apartment and utilities, which means that when I don’t feel like being around people, I can retreat into my flat and don’t have to be social.
  3. Equally however, I love that most of my friends live in the same building as me, so that if I do feel like being social it’s not too much of an effort to find someone to hang out with.
  4. My students don’t mind that I’m a weirdo. I flail in lessons, I dance, I hum and the students laugh along and start dancing too. More than one lesson has descended into chaos as I stumble over my words or my students say something unexpected that tickles me. This week in particular I’ve had the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack in my head, so mu special classes ended up whistling along with me!
  5. Food is so cheap and accessible here. Places like the Dumpling Shop and street food are visible from my window, and whilst my waistline doesn’t like it quite as much, I enjoy being able to eat out regularly.
  6. The feeling of teaching students something and have them really understand it is something I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of. Whether its hearing that my old students know the Cheese Rolling Festival, or hearing my current ones self-correct their pronunciation using the gestures I taught them, it’s an amazing feeling knowing that I’m the reason they know something.
  7. I never stop learning. I’m a little homesick for university and the environment around that, but in China every day I learn something new. I usually have to teach myself the grammar/pronunciation point I’m teaching beforehand, I complete Future Learn courses in my spare time, and I absolutely love it.
  8. I’m constantly challenged. Whether it’s finding out what word they want me to tell them through gestures (I had an epic fail with ‘status’ and ended up translating), or more often finding a more fun way to present what I want them to learn, I’m challenged teaching in China. That’s not even counting the amount I’m challenged by not taking Chinese lessons and trying to get around.
  9. Travel is so easy here. Luckily my schedule pretty much gives me a long weekend every weekend, but when the school has holidays it is so simple to hop on a train or plane and be in a different part of China. Next stop is Nanjing!
  10. Finally, I simply love teaching in China.

If you read them all well done!! Enjoy a collage of me teaching and loving China!

Stories from China: Karaoke

Catching up with an old friend last week got me thinking about the culture here in China, specifically the role of karaoke, known here as KTV.

Now everyone who’s ever met me knows that singing isn’t my strong suit, and as much as I wanted to be a good singer when I was little, I now fully accept that being the next greatest pop sensation just isn’t in my future. However, when my friends and I are in the KTV room, there is absolutely nothing stopping me from going for it! Although alcohol is playing a factor in that, KTV here is different from any karaoke I’ve ever experienced before. My karaoke past isn’t a great one, yelling down the microphone at discos and birthday parties when I was in primary school, becoming the new Spice Girls at a bar in Melbourne, and doing my best not to kill those who bring karaoke to the club at home. In China though, karaoke is a private affair. You rent a room with microphones, maracas and other percussion instruments, beer, fruit, and light settings you can adjust. The staff then leave, they’re close by in case something goes wrong, but they don’t witness the abomination of us singing. Then we’re let loose, and from Robbie Williams to Akon, every English language song they have is probably sung!

I’ve spent hours in a KTV room with my friends, stumbling home when the free beer became too much for me, going to the next door Mcdonalds at 2AM on the way in for fuel, and at 6AM for breakfast when we got kicked out. I’ve played games with Chinese people including probable prostitutes, sung more songs than I can count, and thankfully taken very few pictures! But KTV in China is more than the singing. I can think of very few children back home who would happily come with their father to karaoke and watch him butcher a classic song. That happens here though. In January we took our boss, Mayor Gao and their daughters for dinner and wanted to go to KTV afterwards. The children couldn’t stay late so John only stayed for one song which he sang. He sang it terribly, but the passion was undeniable, and his young daughter was happy as anything playing the maracas. It seems that if you try, even if you don’t succeed as long as you’ve tried hard that’s fine. KTV is a fun thing to do in China, and one of very few entertainment opportunities in Shijiazhuang, but its place in Chinese culture has no British comparison.

Teaching with no voice!

So after the whirlwind of Hawaii and escaping Shijiazhuang, far too quickly it was time for me to teach again. It’s been 4 weeks and I’ve fully settled back in, been reminded of the classes who need me to explain things more visually, and actually had a brief flurry of snow!

So for me and my regular grade 10 classes, a new lesson plan starts on Wednesday. This lesson I decided to focus on British idols: Sherlock Holmes, Queen Victoria and Doctor Who, something a little more interesting since I’ve been using the textbook for the first few weeks back. Wednesday’s are my busiest day, 4 grade 10 classes and one grade 11. However I woke up feeling a little under the weather. There’s a cold going around the foreign teachers and although it’s spring now and warm, the heating is still on and despite the humidifier in my room, it’s just so dry! As a result, the my voice just wasn’t happening. I had a strepsil for breakfast (diet is going badly!),but realised   I was in trouble when I walked into school, bumped into Sam, and croaked out a hello. Helpfully my first class is also my smartest, but also my biggest with 69 kids. After whispering hello the students realised straight away that something was wrong and leapt into action, reading notes on the board, using the brightest kids as translators, and giving me lots of smiles! At the end of this first class I was handed a cute note from a students telling me to drink more hot water – the classic Chinese remedy to everything!

As well as writing my instructions on the board, I also taught through gesture. Way back in training camp Michael Knapp told us it was useful to have a routine every lesson. I have my routine which I stick to and the students know. As well as using the same language each week, I also use the same gestures. This meant that on Wednesday I could use just the gestures, and especially in one very enthusiastic class who shouted out my instructions in English, and the students knew what I wanted them to do.

Every lesson I open with a chant reminding them to speak English. Lots of classes just shout it at me when I walk in the room now, so they know what to do! Next is a slide with questions on the previous lesson which they work through in groups. The word “groups” has a circling hand gesture associated with it, a flat palm towards the board means do everything, and rapping my knuckles against the board where I write “ENGLISH” means speak English!

For the lessons content, I used a mix of writing on the board (there are not enough gestures in the world to explain code breaking!) and my usual gestures: holding my ear and pointing at a sentence means I want them to say it out loud, putting my teeth on my lip means that they’re not pronouncing their ‘v’ properly, miming a pen and paper means write down, and so on. I was actually surprised at how quickly they caught on to just learning through my usual gestures and writing, although some classes needed reminding that I could still hear them even if I couldn’t speak!

My board at the end of class!

After successfully not fainting (by the afternoon no voice had turned into feeling faint), by the evening I had to teach my grade 11 special class which I usually love but was apprehensive thinking about teaching it with no voice. So much so that I’d tried to find Sarah to take time to the doctors so I could call in sick for it, but she wasn’t at school so i sucked it up and went to class. This class is shrinking, this lesson had 13 students in it, and I had to try and lead a discussion about culture. I ended up writing instructions to one of the students and having her read them to the others, I really felt ill by this point and just wanted to be in bed!

Even though my lovely mother called me at 6am, today has been a better day because I can speak! I can’t shout yet and had a little trouble with feeling faint and projecting my voice enough, but at the end of the day I’ve officially trained my students to understand not only my voice and weird accent, but also my flailing arms!

Bonus picture of my crowded class 3 where they have decided to sit in the aisles.

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.



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.


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.

Video time!

For some baffling reason I’m suddenly able to post videos from my phone onto here. May I now introduce random videos I found on my phone and can now delete for the memory!

Beijing martial arts training


Featherball with Chicken Shop Tony


Izzie firing an arrow in Mongolia

Happy Birthday Dad from my students

Mr Umar and Gabz teach introduce the concept of ‘small talk’