just writing a quick test blog 🙂

Having unblocked my blog whilst in Scotland, it’s taken me an hour to log back into it in china….god bless the Chinese firewall!  Short blog, just in case it doesn’t work…..!

In Beijing, hostel great as always, the heat and humidity is fairly horrific, and jetlag hit me about five pm, unfortunately I was out at the time and only a Starbucks coffee gave me the strength to get back and I had to lie down for a couple of hours and nap.  Thankfully the hostel serves white wine, so I’m feeling slightly better now.  Tomorrow is a walk to the forbidden city – Again, I adore the place, then up to wangfujing to the English bookstore to stock up on books for the next five months.  Monday is a visit to the zoo, it seems rude not to visit a panda for the first time in a year, they were the reason for coming to china after all, and hopefully get the boat up to the Summer Palace.  Tuesday is hopefully the Temple of Heaven, having negotiated the subway for a whole two stops today to get my train ticket, I’m feeling confident enough to attempt to change lines, then it’s off to jingbian on Wednesday night.  My boss emailed me tonight to say my kids are on military training for two weeks and my first class is 5th September.  Having checked that’s a Friday!

In the same way I never anticipated singing a rainbow song to kindergarten children last weekend, I didn’t anticipate singing and dancing to the Proclamimers’ 500 Miles tonight…..good old English Corner!

English Corner to be honest is torture.  Every week Tony and I have to do SOMETHING to entertain and educate 30 students for an hour and it’s getting harder to come up with ideas.  Last week the students said they liked music and computer games, so after the two of spending an hour last night trying to find a suitable video and catchy song, I came up with the Proclaimers….

(as an aside, 99% of the music and videos that we looked at were totally unsuitable to show teenagers – I’m aware I’m going to sound like a grumpy old woman but seriously looking at lyrics many were about sex or violence, and even the most innocuous song such as a Taylor Swift ballad showed men romping around topless – not really what you want to show naive teenagers who’ve had no exposure to this before!)

Anyway, the good old Proclaimers got them moving around – a bit – but they really got into the song and by the end of the house we were all singing and clapping along 🙂  So a result for English Corner this week and a massive result for my different approach to teaching today – having told the students that they were to do their English homework and that I would come around and speak to them, the difference was truly out of this world.  My first two classes are 21 and 22, the bottom of the stream and the ones with whom I’ve had major problems.  However the classroom literally echoed to the sounds of “teacher, teacher” as they were desperate to get help with their actually quite hard homework, and I had to really think on my feet the whole day as students wanted words explained such as the difference between whom and who, this and that, and you realise that the students are only really learning English words, not what the actually meaning of the word is – again it reiterates the different methods in teaching, in that the students can read and write English but to many of them they’ve no idea what they are actually really and writing so long as they pass their exams.

There was also a lot of questions – did I have children, a husband(nope to both and a lot of female students were shocked by that), was I lonely or homesick, why was I in China.  I also realised that many of the students can speak good English, what they won’t do is speak in front of their classmates for fear of losing “face” and that if you give some of the really shy students a few minutes of your time they really do appreciate it.

However the 2nd class of the morning ended up with me rushing a female student to the doctor as she suddenly ended up with stomach pains and the 4th class of the day with a really keenie girl who wanted me to explain lots of words to the whole class.  This unfortunately didn’t really work as only about a third of the class had the new English book and many in the class wanted a bit of one-to-one help.

So, now I need to try and incorporate this change of teaching into my lessons – somehow I need to do a mix of both teaching and going around helping the students.  I’m not sure how to do that, but today proved to me that the students are not stupid nor really uninterested in my class, they don’t just want to be “spoken to” and given a boring written task to do.

So today’s been a good day 🙂  The English speaking competition I’m supposed to be judging seems to have disappeared off the radar, or in terms of Chinese communication I’ve not been told anything and will get a call at some point this week telling me to be at No 2 school in an hour!  As I’ve got Thursday off (I have every second Thursday off due to my schedule) I’m really hoping it’s not then as my food supplies are dwindling and I want to attempt to go to the big supermarket which is on 3 levels but is the one I get the most attention when I go there.

Sometimes China feels like the other side of the world, sometimes I could be lying at home in Murthly (or not my home any more!).  My schedule here has totally changed.  The internet slows down really badly from about 8.30pm so quite soon after getting here I started going to bed early, around 8.30 – 9pm is very late for me.  So I’m normally up by 6am, and as it’s minus 6/7 now I settle back into bed with a coffee and my ipad and catch up on news and Facebook (the time difference is 8 hours so it’s 10pm in the UK).  This morning I was greeted with innumerable Facebook status updates about I’m a Celebrity! 

As I’ve said before, the world really isn’t that big a place…..!

It’s now three months since I arrived in China – to  new life, a new career and a whole new perspective on things.  Following my last blog two weeks ago regarding the problems of teaching and the isolation up here I received so many wonderful emails of support, encouragement and advice and I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two weeks reading and researching about teaching, but also going out (thanks to Matt and Max, the two English teachers from the other high school).  Last weekend we went out for dinner and then on the Sunday a wander around Jingbian including some market where I think we terrified the locals – three westerners together caused huge scenes of photography, staring and general amazement.  The boys don’t get this attention when they go out on their own so they’re always really surprised at how many people stare and point at me.

Teaching – I’m not a teacher, a degree in history and a TEFL course does not make one qualified to stand up and teach English in a foreign country no matter what anyone or any company says.  I had the idea that I could stand up and the students would hold onto my every breath and love my lessons.  In reality, my lessons are an excuse for them to sleep, catch up on homework or chat to their friends.  So I was given some fantastic advice by teachers with regards to changing both my methods and my outlook on life here.  Never in anyone’s blog have I read about the difficulties faced with teaching in China – I mean the reality of standing up and students ignoring you, and I’ve read many blogs, perhaps not the right ones.  I have to stop caring what they think – I’m not here to make friends with my students, I’m here because the Chinese government decrees that each school should have an native English speaker, unfortunately the Chinese government haven’t told my students how important this job is to me!

Last week was Tony’s girlfriend’s birthday and she invited me for dinner – together with two Chinese English speaking students who work at her private school.  One of them said that she had had an native English speaker at her school and that she had enjoyed the classes but that most of her fellow students had just used the opportunity to do other things (mainly talk it seemed!)  – as in the case of my students.  It was actually really refreshing to hear this from a Chinese person.  There are some things it’s just not possible to teach my students specifically due to the location of JIngbian.  In English Corner last week Tony and I tried to find out from the students what they knew about western culture – the answer was nothing, out of 25 students only 4 had PCs of their own, although they do receive computer classes as school, so whereas in larger cities students may see foreigners, read English in newspapers or see it on tv, up here they really can’t even use google to find out information about anything other than China.  So that was an eyeopener for me, as I had assumed that they could research perhaps something I told them.

The students learn English because it’s forced on them – written and reading of English.  When it comes to oral most of them can barely speak it, and whilst it’s my job  to help them speak it I can’t force them to do it.  All I can do is encourage them and help those that want to learn.  So there is no point in teaching them grammar, as they know it but 90% of them will never ever speak English so have no need for my lessons – hence their lack of interest in me.

So this week I’m taking a different approach – I think I scared my one class today!  I also suspect my FAO has instructed the class heads to speak to their students about behaving and being quiet – in one class last week the students literally seemed terrified to speak.  This week, because it’s my difficult teaching week, I’m not going to stand up and teach anything….today I told my class that they could do their (English) homework and I would come round and speak to them.  I’ve not seen this class for 5 weeks because of holidays and I’d actually forgotten that their command of English wasn’t too bad.  It worked 🙂  Some students did their homework and asked for help, those students who were doing other homework I got to explain to me – in English – what they were doing, a group of about four girls were doing some sort of crafting/paperfolding thing so I asked them to explain – again in English – what they were doing.

Some students were reading comic/teenage magazine sort of books – so I took them off the student, held them up to the class and got them to tell me what the magazine was and what sort of stories it had.  Again that worked 🙂  I can’t do this for every lesson, next week’s good speaking English classes I’ve prepared lessons for already, but the fact that not having to speak in front of their classmates seems to encourage the students to speak to me – even a couple of very very quiet girls spoke to me.  So I’m going to continue doing this this week – it gives me a break, stops me getting upset and frustrated and shows the students that I’m not some evil person forcing them to speak English.

Wednesday is another public speaking gig – at an English speaking competition at NO 2 school.  Goodness knows how many people I’ll be speaking in front of this time, but I’ve prepared a speech as I’ve had advance notice this time!  Because I’m the only female westerner I’m conscious that wherever I go people are going to see me, I might not see them but they’re not going to forget me so I’ve done a nice speech thanking the school for making me feel welcome, etc.

Talking of public speaking, I’m now teaching in a private school on a Saturday morning…..courtesy of Max one of the other English teachers.  It’s good experience – if a little out of my comfort zone as I’m teaching 35 under 10s……!!!  Last weekend I had to go on the Sunday morning (9am!) to their prizegiving sort of ceremony, meeting all the parents, generally sitting smiling and I had to give another speech (and decline their invitation to sing in front of everyone – all about 80 of them!).  But it gets me out, it pays, and it’s certainly a challenge teaching kindergarten children, singing “I can sing a rainbow” at 9am last Saturday morning was painful as I’m as good at singing as I am at drawing and trying to stop small children from rifling through your handbag or drawing all over your/their own hands whilst encouraging them to introduce themselves (I have visions of these kids going up to strangers and saying “My name is Jenni” as they can’t get the concept of saying their own name) is good fun – I laugh a lot more at these classes than I do at my own school.

Yesterday was a very special day for me.  I’d totally forgotten about this, but the boys had said they’d arrange a driver for us to go to Tongwancheng – it’s an old 2000 year old ruined city and I’d wanted to go there since I found out it was only an hour away but of course the logistics of trying to arrange a driver are a nightmare.  But thanks to the boys their FAO together with another teacher called Jason drove us up there – through the most amazing scenery, animals working in the fields, pigs and goats been moved along the road.  Tongwancheng was absolutely amazing, it’s known as the White City because of the stone used to build up and the ruins were awesome, literally they take your breath away and we were the only people there (until the very end where a fleet of very expensive black cars and 4 wheel drives together with a bus of schoolchildren and a camera crew appeared…..goodness knows what was going on!).

It’s also totally unspoiled – apart from a fence and a few portacabins, there was no sign of commercialism – the area only started to be investigated by archaeologists about 15 years ago.  You could wander and even climb (as the boys did) on the ruins, and you could see for miles – nothing for miles and miles and miles, as we were in the Gobi desert wastelands so it was sandy but an amazingly sunny and warm day.  We were able to walk right around the ruined city on the walls, investigate old caves and just to imagine the mongols and invaders seeing this white city as they tried to invade northern China really did make me quite emotional.  It’s a million times better than the Terracotta Warriors, I read last night that the government are trying to make the site a UNESCO World Heritage Site and we were lucky enough to come across a bit where people had started to escavate but then stopped and we could pick up old bones and splints of (I hope) animals.  To be able to walk around something that hadn’t been ruined or spoilt, that was in a totally natural state from its original form was just breathtaking and it’s reasons like that that remind me why I’m here in China, able to see parts of the world that 99% of people won’t ever have the chance to see, like my weird Mao caves a couple of months ago.

So hopefully a quiet week – I’ve caught up on all emails and all the such helpful advice and links that I was sent for advice on teaching and they’ve been really helpful with regards to me changing my mindset with regards to teaching.  I’ve no curriculum that I work from, it’s totally up to me and that’s perhaps more difficult than teaching from a book as teachers do in the UK – I’ve somehow to engage students who don’t want to engage and at the same time improve their spoken English.

As I’ve said before, if I can make a difference in SOME students’ lives then I’ll feel as if my reason for coming out here was worth it.  In the meantime the heating is on in the apartment block for a bit longer each evening, in fact when I got home last night about 8.30 the apartment was roasting hot despite it being about minus 6.  I’m going to try and investigate a bit more of JIngbian as well – on the way to Tongwancheng we stopped at the most amazing and total random block of temples, they were absolutely beautiful and apparently there are two different temples around here somewhere, together with the massive church in the centre of the city.

Another find last night was another sort of western restaurant that the boys hadn’t even been to before…..same idea as the one we’ve been to before (albeit this one is decorated like a brothel, lots of red walls and lace curtains!) but with pizza/curries and sandwiches.  At this rate I’m going to find somewhere that does decent coffee and then my life will be complete 🙂

I’ve thought long and hard about posting this blog, but then the blog is supposed to be a record of all of my time in China – not just the exciting travelling bits, but the issues that go with being out here on my own in an isolated place.

I’ve had the teaching week from hell 😦  Perhaps because I’d had such a lovely time in Xi’an, bought lots of nice food, to come back to Jingbian with the isolation and the cold has been really hard.  I’d prepared my lesson plan before I went away – animals, nice and easy for the classes this week whose command of English is – negligible to say the least.  I had it all worked out – students interacting, me teaching new words, students writing on the board, I actually spend a lot of time on it and had 3 pages of activities as well.

It has been an utter disaster – to the extent that I cried in the staff canteen at lunchtime sitting with my Chinese English-teacher friend.  Tuesday’s classes are always a bit hit or miss – last week the classes that are normally bad were good, and the other way around.  Because the students had had four days off, they obviously had a lot of catching up to do – with their friends.  There was no way any of these students were going to talk/listen or engage with me.  Yesterday morning I went to lunch thinking “whew, 2 down 6 to go”.  Yesterday afternoon I was sort of thinking “yes in desperation I got them to draw me animal pictures, but at least that’s 4 classes down”.  After the first class today I was truly ready to come back to the apartment and pack my bags, especially as I confiscated a note from a female student who had written “teacher is a bitch”. 

She was absolutely mortified, especially when I asked her to write down her name, but the class still continued to talk, in fact every class did.  They refused to come up and write on the board my animal task, they refused to put my animal list in order of fast-slow (this is an elementary class lesson, something you would teach kindergarden, but I have to base my lessons so slow because this weeks’ students literally did not know what fast/slow meant – as I found out).  After Class 1 and the note I was just horrified and so upset, and Jack who is one of the lovely English teachers was outside the class – just randomly – when I finished so I explained to him what had happened – and could see six lots of classes all staring at the two of us (around 400 students watching!) so they knew that something was going on.

Second class – even worse….chatting/reading/doing other homework – in the end I gave up and for the last 15 minutes just told them to read their English books.  Whether it was just utter frustration, the fact that I hadn’t slept properly last night – it was so cold I kept waking up all night, or the fact that I’m going to be here on my own for the next two months, when I got into the canteen which is like an ice bucket and looked at my mound of rice with the spicy cabbage, unidentifiable meat, or the thought of having another two classes of exactly the same I just couldn’t stop crying.  Thankfully Natasha, who is a Chinese English teacher and is almost bilingual was sitting with me, and she was so kind – it wasn’t helped that three of my students were sitting at the table next to us so immediately came to see what was wrong. 

It’s been over two months since I cried – I sobbed my heart out for about 12 hours in Yangshou when I found out I was coming here, and once I started I really couldn’t stop.  It’s the isolation more than anything – I’m the only western woman in a city of 340,000 people so the hassle I get is unreal (more on that later).  But I plan and plan and plan for every eventuality in my teaching, but if the students’ wont interact there is nothing I can do.  I also am a total idiot when it comes to technology – Tony the other teacher sometimes shows videos – I’ve no idea how to even put something onto a USB on this netbook, let alone use the school technology to show something to the students.  Again, because I don’t want to bother Tony because he has how own life/girlfriend, it’s down to me to try and work it out.

This afternoon was slightly better – helped by the fact that it’s still almost warm enough to sit on the balcony at lunchtime desperately trying to catch some warmth from the sun.  Third class went ok, Fourth class is Jack’s form class so he sat in on my lesson – which was almost worse as the students were too scared to say or do anything, no one would come and write on the board, Jack gently woke up those students sleeping but by the end of it I was totally shattered.

Not being able to buy shower gel from any of the local shops, I had to venture into town to the supermarkets.  I got my cooked chicken, battered away the toilletry tarts who are getting braver and two of them even put expensive shower gel into my basket this time…..it was removed.  Whoever said China was cheap was lying – a basic shower gel up here is 15 yuan (£1.50) and the cheapest shampoo is 20 yuan. 

A pit stop at the cake shop for my raisin bread, and the girl in there was so lovely and tried to speak in English – I know this is China and I should be speaking mandarin, I do try (for the first time even when I got the taxi back to school, the driver understood my Jin Zhong (No 1 School) without me having to resort to showing him the address in Chinese – so some things are working!) but I also caused the very first car crash I’ve seen in China.  As anyone who has been here will know, crossing a road here means you take your life in your hands……so I crossed over and was waiting at the middle bit to the other side, when I sort of clocked this guy in a dark car driving along almost outside of the car he was staring at me so hard…..cue he then smacked right into the side of a white Lexus that was doing a dodgy u-turn from the side of the road I’d just crossed. 

I didn’t actually know what to do – should I stay in case the police were called?  I sort of stood on the side of the road (having crossed behind the accident!) for a couple of minutes…..there were no raised voices, but lots of people were crowding around (this was 5.30 on the main intersection crossing of JIngbian) so I just continued to the other supermarket.  Let’s face it, I am the only westerner in the city, it’s not going to be hard for the police to find me if they need a witness statement.

Tomorrow I have a day off –  I get every second Thursday off because of my teaching timetable.  I don’t know what to do – with regards to the teaching issues.  Speak to my FAO – I tried that before and he just said to teach the students that were listening.  I’ve been here for 10 weeks – this issue of the students not interacting isn’t going to go away – and of course I can’t ask them what they want out of the lessons because they don’t understand me.  I’ve already posted on teaching internet forums asking for advice and have tried everything – stopping speaking until the students realise, waking up the sleeping students, confiscating books/games/rubic cubes.  It’s not the students’ fault – they don’t understand what I want them to do, and I can’t explain it to them.  However, I’ve read from a lot of other teachers’ experiences that they struggle to make the students understand new teaching regimes because of what they had with their previous teacher – and in hindsight I think that is the issue I have, certainly with the “lower” end of my classes. So perhaps I need to learn how to upload things like Blackadder or comedy stuff and let the students watch that – no one ever ever queries what I do in my classes, I’ve not seen my FAO for at least three weeks, but it’s a personal thing – I didn’t come here to let students watch things, I came here to help them learn better English and hopefully inspire them.

Next week is easier – all ten classes love English and really interact – and I’ll plan a really good lesson for then, not just an animal one which I thought would work but which was a disaster.  But next week is a step into the further minus……already it minus four at night – not an issue in Scotland normally, you come home, flick on a switch and the heating comes one.

Here my morning routine is this – alarm goes off at 6am.  Jump out of bed, flick on kettle, check to see whether the windows are frozen up yet.  Pee – not easy as the toilet seat is so cold you can’t sit down.  Get back into bed with coffee to warm hands and check emails on ipad.  Get out of bed at 6.30 – body is still sort of warm.  Come through to living room, huddle in front of halogen heater and eat a banana.  Go into bedroom – put on AC unit – soooooooo expensive to run.  Whip off clothes, run into bathroom and huddle under shower, slowly turning it up hotter and hotter until your body is (a) finally warm and (b) burning.  Run into bedroom huddled under two bath sheets where bedroom is only slightly warm because AC unit isn’t great.  Thrown back on the warm jammies, straight hair.  Eat a yogurt huddled next to the halogen heater, checking Daily Mail website and BBC for desperate updates that there is a world outside. 

Go back into bedroom, which is now freezing cold as you can’t have the AC on for too long, trying to juggle taking off jammie top with putting on the first of four layers of clothing – now I sort of understand why you can’t buy deodrant up here – sweating doesn’t exist!  Another coffee huddled in front of AC unit with two boiled eggs – you don’t burn your hands touching the eggs to break them as your hands are so raw you can’t actually feel anything. 

Throw on another two layers of clothing, open the apartment door to leave for school and the blast of cold air takes your breath away (oh don’t forget that you have to put your mascara in a cup of hot water because it’s frozen solid).  Today in my first class I couldn’t even take my gloves off to write on the board – and everything I bought was black – chalk dust gets everywhere. 

Repeat when you get home at night – although if you are lucky and it’s been a sunny day, the bedroom is slightly warm because of the sun, so you can almost manage to take off down to two layers before you juggle putting on your jammie top.

Heating is switched on….in 2 weeks – for 3 hours a day. 

I know I signed up for this – I came to China to experience ALL of China, the good and the bad.  What I didn’t expect was the utter disrespect from students, the lack of engagement from them, the coldness (it’s cold in China – I knew that, what I didn’t expect was to be this far north in total and utter isolation from the rest of the world).  However any teaching experience blog that I read and believe me I read HUNDREDS, didn’t talk about what the actual teaching was like.  Perhaps it’s different because I’m in a state school, where the students have to learn English.  What they learn is reading and writing, what they don’t learn is oral skills – nor have the confidence in which to speak.  I’ve mentioned in previous blogs about how when talking one-to-one with a student they turn out to be able to converse really well – one male student today kept saying ” I am shy” but I seem to remember from my own school reports them saying I could not shut up! 

That’s what is frustrating – and I’ve no idea how the hell I can get past the lack of confidence in the students, my own mindset as to how to cope with this for the next six months.  My company provide 6 and 11 month contracts – in theory I can ask to move somewhere else at the end of this semester.  But to me that is failing – like giving up.  I’m not (hopefully!) going to die from the cold – my bank balance tells me that I’ve bought enough fleecy tops to be able to walk to the north pole. 

A lot of it is to do with mental attitude – if there was someone that I could unwind with – chat to, compare teaching experiences/moans/groans/swap food.  But there is no one up here, Xi’an is SIX hours away – that’s a helluva long way to hear a western voice in Starbucks.  I’m not giving up, but I think I need to somehow change my attitude and look on this as a “fun” (if that’s the right word”) experience, rather than something that is bad.  It’s not bad, there are probably only maybe 50/100 western people who have worked or been up here, judging by what I’ve seen and read, as was noted on the Xi’an facebook page, even Chinese people won’t come up here.  So I’ve got a really good chance to experience something that so few western people ever can.

But is is bloody hard.  Even with an electric blanket and McVities biscuits and pepsi and coffee, I still get homesick and lonely and frustrated.  And I’ve spent about two hours typing this up in between replying to emails and I’m feeling upset again.  It’s very hard at times when  you log into facebook and see pictures of things like the fireworks in Perth, or birthday pictures – people are going about their normal everyday lives – I stepped so far out of both my own and other people’s comfort zones that very few people reading this will understand how upsetting it can be up/out here.  That’s why stupid things like Starbucks and Subway and western food are so important – it’s sort of a link back to a life that I once had. 

Think how easy it is for you to go shopping – my parents tell me when I skype them, just off to Morrisons/Asda.  When I come back to Scotland I will CRY when I see things like pies and sausage rolls, irn bru and quavers.  I was bad enough when I was the digestive biscuits! 

Hopefully tomorrow I can sleep/rest/keep warm/  Friday I have two afternoon classes then the weekend off.  Monday I have one class and the it’s the start of my nice teaching week.  I hope that by trying to expresss what it’s like here that whoever reads this understands that I followed my dream and I achieved it – but at times that’s only the start, you need to live that dream too and living it is almost harder than getting to the point where you achieved what you had to do to get to that dream!




I’m back from three wonderful days in Xi’an, where I shopped, met lovely random people, was able to go out without being prodded or stared at (sort of!) and had my beloved Starbucks and Subway…..but it’s nice to be back in the country.  Xi’an has a population of eight million people, at times I felt as thought I saw every one of those people, but there’s also the added difficulty of finding places, or getting around.

Bus down was fine, I slept most of the way which was annoying as I’ve have to listen to two episodes of Desert Island Discs again that I’d downloaded for the journey!  However for only the second time in China I did this, without really realising….I got into an unlicensed taxi to take me to the hostel.  The bus station that I get into is waaaaay in the north of Xi’an and a lot of taxi drivers don’t like driving into the centre of the city – this guy started out fine, he seemed to know where he was going from my hostel-map directions, but then we hit the centre of Xi’an at about 4.30 and it was heaving – like central London.  The guy, who was only young and obviously didn’t come from Xi’an started to get really agitated and gesticulating for me to get out and get a bus.  So I had to call Frank, who is the sort of company main guy in Xi’an, to speak to the driver to tell him to take me to the hostel.

It was a little un-nerving, I knew that nothing bad was going to happen to me, but I had visions of me being tipped out onto the side of the road and being stuck forever.  I’ve not had any contact with Frank since the first time I went to Xi’an, although I know other teachers have used him quite a lot for issues they’ve had and I am eternally grateful to him as straight away he was able to talk to the driver.

So arrived at the hostel, check in then straight out to Walmart via Starbucks for a coffee and Subway for a sandwich.

Again I’d forgotten just how bad the humidity and smog is in Xi’an – walking back from Walmart which is about 2/3 kms from the hostel, I was dying, my eyes were red raw and all you could breathe were the fumes from the traffic.  But Walmart was a hit – I got pasta/Hunts pasta sauce which I think is from America/chocolate/tuna and digestive biscuits – real McVities ones – in English so imported in 🙂

I also got a bottle of white wine.  Rather worryingly as I went to walk to the wine section, an assistant came over and showed me to the bottle of white wine – either word has gone out throughout Walmart that I like white wine, or I’m not the only westerner who knows that Walmart sells white wine, which is literally impossible to find anywhere in China.  But it’s nicely chilling in my fridge for a night when I want to kill a student!

Socks/gloves and a massive thick scarf were also bought – costing £1 each, I did look at the clothes but they are really expensive in Walmart in China, not like in the UK where you can buy a tshirt for £3 – I guess everything is exported.

Friday was a frustrating day – there are so many things that I want to see, like the  Natural History Museum.  However only 2000 free tickets are issued each day, and the last time I went the queue was horrendous.  Apparently you can buy a ticket for 20 yuan – but it wasn’t clear from there website where you went to buy this golden ticket, and I was told by the girls in the hostel that it closed at lunchtime (wrongly as it turned out) so I gave up and tried to find the Stele Museum (which is a museum of caligraphy and Chinese writing).

I eventually found the building, but it was either closed or I couldn’t find the entrance!  I even took a picture of the entrance and when I checked when I got back to the hostel I definately had the right place, so another place I can tick off my list of things I want to do but cannot!

So I walked on the city wall for a couple of hours – which was actually really good, Xi’an city wall is very old and has been restored beautifully, and there were so many things to see as you were quite high up – unfortunately the tops of the tall buildings weren’t one of them because of the smog!

Lunch was Subway just along from the hostel, where I got talking to an Irish woman (Martina, I will love you forever!) as you do who was on a tour but had sneaked off from the regimented “it’s 2pm, now we do this”! and she took me to a shopping mall that had literally opened that morning……and which had the most amazing food hall which sold WESTERN FOOD 🙂  So we wandered around with me almost in tears at things like baked beans and hot chocolate and amost even better there was a Costa Coffee 🙂

Dinner tonight with was two Chinese people.  For years I’ve been doing work for TravelChinaGuide – basically they send me articles for their website and I correct them into proper grammatical English.  I love doing it, I get perhaps one a week and I’ve learnt so much about China from them – I email Nina the girl all the time but had missed her the last time I was in Xi’an.

I’d arranged to meet her at 5pm at her office.  Now rush hour in Xi’an is ten times worse than you can ever imagine……For half an hour I stood at a main intersection trying to get a taxi, swatting away the tuktuk drivers as I’m not going to go in one of those on my own.

However, I was getting desperate, so encouraged by the random female street sweeper, I got on a motorbike 🙂  So I went on a half hour journey from north to south Xi’an, on the back of a quite powerful motorbike, no helmet as they’re not obligatory in China, weaving in and out of buses clinging for dear life onto the driver, breathing in smog and fumes and giving the residents of Xi’an waiting for buses much amusement (I’m guessing only really desperate people do this!).  It was actually really cool, I think the guy was more scared of me as I was holding onto him and occasionally laughing like an idiot, but in fairness he got me to the building I needed to get to 🙂  All for 20 yuan – £2!

I’m not entirely sure I would do it again – on the plus side it was a good way to see Xi’an – and I’m not entirely sure my medical insurance would have paid out if anything had actually happened but it had to be done!

Dinner was fantastic – both girls’ English was perfect, the food was wonderful and it was so nice to meet people I’d been in email contact for so long.  A wander around a shopping mall afterwards was really good was as well, this being China it was about 9pm and everything was still open.

Saturday morning was quiet – a leisurely breakfast in the hostel.  I swear they change the menu every time I go there – last time I was able to get a sort of American breakfast, this time they’d changed it so I ordered bacon/eggs/hash brown and something that was supposed to be fried eggs but turned out to be a really runny fried egg on what purports to be toast in China – it is shown the grill for 5 seconds I think.  But it was so lovely, a real surprise.

On route to the Muslim Quarter as I wanted to see that when it wasn’t as packed as the National Holiday I picked up a Starbucks and got randomly talking, as you do, to a couple from Columbia – I thought it was just me who saw a western-sort of person and got talking to them, obviously not!  But they were so nice and showed me pictures of their trip to Sichuan, including the panda reserve and the Giant Budha which I’ve been so close to but never actually visited.

I found the Muslim Mosque 🙂  Again totally randomly, I wandered down what an alleyway that said antiques market – some stalls full of fake goods, some full of utter tat and some stalls of the most amazing artwork and calligraphy – I bought my name written in Chinese on a beautiful piece of paper (15 yuan!) from a stallholder called Helen who had perfect English – the artwork and painting were so pretty and I’m definately going to go back there.  And she also told me how to find the Mosque – keep heading down the antiques alleyway – no wonder everyone says they cannot find it!

I was so tranquil and so peaceful, you couldn’t hear any traffic or noise and the old buildings were amazing.

Back out to meet Ryan, at Starbucks a Buckland teacher who teaches in Xi’an – via an impromtu what I thought was bag snatching but turned out to be someone putting their arm around me so their partner/boyfriend could video us walking down the street……

It was really good to sit and just talk in english, albeit the fact we were sitting outside of Starbucks so were stared at/pictures taken of us/babies handed to us to hold for pictures…..Ryan says that never happens to him – it has got to be me – blonde/middle-aged and round draws the crowds wherever I go!  It was also good to just sit and talk about teaching in China, the good and the bad, as comparing stories and experiences means that you can improve or take back ideas to your own school.

Back to the hostel and in bed by 8pm – via a dodgy stall where I bought fake Ugg boots for 80 yuan!  They’re probably made of dog fur, but I had to get warm boots for the winter here and a quick stop at my new western supermarket to buy beans/pasta and hot chocolate with marshmallows 🙂  Bed in 8pm for two reasons – (a) I was tired and (b) the sheer pleasure of being able to lie in bed without 3 layers of furry blankets, just reading under a normal duvet in normal jammies is heaven.

So back to JIngbian today – via the train station, as the taxi driver seemed to have issues with the Chinese address the girl at the hostel had written down – cue much shouting on my part of “Bus to Jingbian” and frantically pointing out the English address in the vain hope he might suddenly have gained the powers of reading English…..but we got there…..

to be greeted by one of my students at the gate to get on the bus!  I think I’m becoming infamous in Jingbian, she wasn’t specifically one of my students, I teach Senior 1 and she is Senior 3 but for whatever reason she knew who I was – so I was introduced to her mother and grandmother and it was all really rather sweet.  Amazingly the bus wasn’t totally packed out so I was able to get two seats at the back, whereupon she decided to join me…..for the six hour bus journey!  In fairness it was actually really rather nice, her English was brilliant, she wants to be an engineer and study in London so I was able to show her things on my ipad to do with London.

Unfortunately she caught me having a cigarette when we stopped for a break during the journey…..I’m horrendously careful that no one should find out that I smoke – I don’t buy cigarettes anywhere near the school and never ever EVER smoke anywhere apart from the on the balcony – busted by a student for the first time in nearly 3 months……hopefully she will keep it a secret!

So it’s back to the cold – minus 2 tonight.  Its wonderful to be able to go outside and see the stars and moon – I got a picture of a vague bit of sunshine in Xi’an yesterday abut 4pm.  And it’s been great in the fact that this unexpected holiday means that I’ve been able to stock up on food, and chances are I’ll get another holiday at some point before Chinese New Year, given the past experience.  I love Xi’an, it’s full of history but it’s also so busy and so hard to get to see or do anything, that you get frustrated at times.  Here in Jingbian I know where things are, I go to school, I teach, I come home and read.  I try to keep as warm as I can, and I love the teaching.

If Jingbian could only be the same temperature as Xi’an, I’d give up the Starbucks and Subway and (almost!) the Western food.  But it’s so lovely and quiet here, I can jump in a cab and the driver knows where to go (the supermarket, even I can say that in Mandarin now!).  It’s quite a hard balance to find, city vs the countryside……however this week I have my food and my biscuits and I am now totally stocked up on winter clothing 🙂

It’s been a quiet few days – literally, I’ve not left the apartment since I returned from shopping on Saturday and it’s now Tuesday night (I have showered and got dressed every day!).  Sometimes I get a little overwhelmed with everything that goes on, from the random pawing and photographs at the supermarket, to the constantly asking classes to be quiet, so I’ve read, literally for hours and hours, caught up with random news stories and just relaxed. 

The good news (apart from the soup I made on Monday, amazing leek & potato with some rice thrown in – must not make such a massive pot next time, four meals down and I can still have lunch and supper from it tomorrow!) is that I have four days off after classes tomorrow.  My FAO Mark came round last night – with the missing winter clothing from Hong Kong brilliant fleecy tops, but the coat just isn’t warm enough for minus 20 despite being fur lined) and the happy news, and I think he was a little surprised when straight away I said I would head down to Xi’an.  It is a little extravagant, a hostel for three nights and the 12 hour return bus journey, but winter is setting in and it’s starting to get REALLLLLLLY cold now – I was excited to see at about 11am this morning the temperature thing on my ipad pinged that it was above zero! 

So Xi’an – I’ll head down early Thursday morning – if I was more organised I would go tomorrow afternoon as my classes finish at 11.40 but I’ve no idea of the bus timetable and I can spend the afternoon doing my new lesson plan for next week and get a bus about 8am on Thursday.  No public holiday this time, so it should only take the normal six hours.  As long as I am organised this time and make sure I have the right bus station written down for coming back on Sunday!

I don’t actually need anything – although it never hurts to check out Walmart and there is a sort of market place I remember near the Drum Tower that was selling Goretex/thick ski type jackets last time so if they’re a reasonable price I might buy one.  It’s more the fact of being away from here – the apartment is right opposite the school and I literally cannot go to get so much as a bottle of pepsi without banging into my students.  In Xi’an I can sit and have a coffee, walk about, and not be stared at.  And I work on the theory that I should take the opportunity to get away from here as often as I can, because who knows when I might get another 3/4 days off – I still can’t work out why I have Thursday and Friday off, but I’m not going to ask any questions!

It’s also, having checked today, ten degrees warmer in Xi’an than it is here.  Once the sun comes round onto the balcony at about 9.30 it’s not too cold, or at least at the back of the apartment where the bedroom and balcony are.  By 3.30 now when the sun goes down even the bedroom is freezing, and because the living room and kitchen face the front and don’t get any sun at all, they are permanently freezing now.  Even with a t-shirt/fleecy lined jumper/massive cardigan and body warmer on today, by 5pm I had to go and have a shower to warm up – which then has the effect of drying out your skin, so I’m going through a ton of moisturiser.  As the kitchen doesn’t have any hot water it’s not fun trying to wash any dishes, so again my hands get very cold and dry. 

This is only minus 2……another twenty degrees to go – below!

I’ve not got about 10 fleecy tops, a body warmer and a furry coat and the infamous furry leggings to see me through the next few months.  My dad asked me what I was going to do with this stuff when I come back – the honest answer is that the chances are most of the clothes will be wrecked – my washing machine has one setting – go – and it’s already mangled up two cardigans, a t shirt and a pair of trousers.  I’m not sure whether it’s the quality of the clothing or the actual washing machine, but it’s a bit worrying that with 9 months to go I’m running out of what I’d classed as summer clothing.  However I’m figuring for the next 4/5 months I’m going to be standing teaching in a hat/gloves and goodness knows how many layers!

The electric blanket is a godsend, truly.  The worse part is going for a shower, the psyching yourself up to take off your jammies and then running across the white tiled and very cold floor to the even colder bathroom.  I’m going to have to start using the AC unit in the morning, but I’m still worried about the heating costs as if I’m struggling now what is it going to be like in January 😦 

So an hour and a half to teach tomorrow morning and then off to the land of Starbucks 🙂  One final thing to do is to try and put some credit into the Chinese mobile – last time a Chinese English teacher did it for me, and I don’t want to end up like the last time in Xi’an with no credit getting texts from people asking where I was – I never did work out who texted me saying did i want to meet up for dinner – it wasn’t a saved mobile number so not someone that knows me – I could have missed out on a nice dinner! 

I tried to do a blog on Wednesday, and typed up a big massive one and it didn’t save 😦 so this is the condensed version of a busy week…..

Today is Saturday – and I’ve been working.  In the nature that is the way of life in China, I found out from my students yesterday that they have exams Sun/Mon/Tues so I was doing classes today – I found this out at 3.30 yesterday and had to quickly check with the Chinese English teachers.  As far as I can gather, and this is still not clear, I’m working next Wednesday and then off to the following Monday but the school don’t seem to have decided what’s happening yet!  So today’s classes were just gentle ones, reading out the assignment for the English exam (and getting a round of applause each time!) and randomly answering the students’ questions – do I have QQ (like MSN), do Iike tofu, what music do I like.  I find that in informal situations the students’ english is so much better than in formal teaching classes, and there is always some little student that you’ve never really noticed before who suddenly sparks up a conversation in perfect English!

Tuesdays/Wednesdays are the bad classes.  Confiscations included a rubic cube, a pingpong ball, a basketball, numerous magazines, a mobile phone……I feel bad doing this but the students have to realise that I’m not a pushover and that they WILL have to partake in my classes.  Weirdly the classes I was dreading turned out to be good, and Class 14 who are normally amazing and always are keen to learn I lost the plot with them as they would not be quiet and shouted at them so much I think I put the fear or god into them.  However, in hindsight Wednesday is the day the students found out about these exams, hence the chatting and panicking.  The language barrier comes into play again.  However I did have one lovely male student who has a habit of appearing and shouting in my face “nice to meet you” run up after the class and say that I was a good teacher…..

Thursday – day off and shopping with the two Chinese English teachers.  Jingbian has a population of 339,000 with 2 high schools – mine (No1 ) has I think 4500 students and No 3 school has about 3000.  There is a middle school with students aged 11-14 which has about……god only knows, thousands and thousands of students as they feed to both high schools.  Myself and one of the teachers were standing at the intersection of Jingbian’s main roads waiting for the other teacher when all the middle school students piled out for lunch…….

So imagine thousands of teenagers all pointing/taking pictures/shouting hello at you for half an hour.  Girls came up and shyly spoke to me and Natasha the Chinese English teacher was able to translate for me and the students.  I had vaguely remembered this, No 2 school has an English speaking competition I think next week, I know I’ve got to go and judge that as well (better prepare a speech this time!)  and one tiny little girl eventually plucked up the courage to come and speak to me, surrounded by her friends, and asked me to check over her English speech for this competition.  And, guess what, it was perfect 🙂  Not ideal conditions, her standing in the middle of the street reading her speech, but that’s why I came to China – to make a difference, to help, and I was so proud of this little girl for being brave enough to ask me for help.

The ongoing issue of my eating continues, but in a good way 🙂  There is a Chinese English teacher that lives in my apartment block, he has a really cute little baby and I see him quite a lot walking back and forward to school.  Somehow he knows that I’m struggling to eat (there is no privacy around here!) and suggested I make soup!!!  So after lunch with the girls, we went shopping for clothes as the minus 25 is due soon and I’m now the proud owner of what look like fishing waders, lined with fur!  I’ve since worked out that all the Chinese girls up here wear them as leggings with boots and a short skirt – today I was so hungry I went to KFC and was able to just sit observing (and smiling, and having my picture taken!)  I’ve no idea where on earth I will wear these but they’re actually really warm so probably under trousers for teaching.  I also got, to my shame, a long furry jumper with some awful logo on it, something like “I love New York”….I don’t care, it fits which is always a bonus with clothes here, it’s warm and it was cheap.

The main purchases were an electric blanket and the thickest duvet you can ever find from the supermarket – and stock cubes for my soup-making!  I can’t tell you what a difference the electric blanket makes, seriously, I now have that and three massive blankets and duvets on the bed and it’s amazing. 

After classes today, having totally forgotten it was Saturday, I went to the supermarket – again – to get vegetables for my soup.  The owner, the woman who brought her daughter to meet me the first time I ever went there, was working again, and she was so kind and gave me a hug – and her mobile number (that’s standard in China, I’ve pages of mobile numbers!).  Through a variation of my bad Chinese and her decent English I was able to tell her I shopped there all the time and that I loved the place……..so she escorted me to the checkout and I seem to have got a load of my veggies for free! 

It being the weekend the place was busy, so I had the random calling of hello, how are you, and everyone taking pictures of me – some even asked this time!  Oh and walking to the supermarket from the bread BREAD shop (I now have three loaves of my precious fruity bread stuff in my freezer!) I passed what I assumed was a shop but must have been some sort of bar, and me a load of drunk – but very nice – Chinese men……so lots of photos/hugs/kissing of my hand and everyone in the street looking at what was going on (you wonder why I don’t leave my apartment very often!).

So tomorrow is making soup with the stock cubes and the ton of potatoes/onions/carrots/leeks I bought – I’ll run around to the local shops to get some little freezer boxes as I think I sort of overdid it on the vegetables and could make enough soup for the apartment block!  I also went to the little shop outside the apartment where I always go and buy my pepsi at about 5pm tonight, and came back with four MASSIVE chinese cabbage/celery sort of things for free – literally these things are abut four foot long!  I took two to Tony next door and his girlfriend says that I can add them to soup, so I’m figuring with my bread and soup and the seafood dumplings Natasha recommended for me to eat which are actually really nice, I may just survive the winter……

And my clothing from Hong Kong has arrived…….or at least they were signed for and delivered to the school two days ago!  God only knows where they are, I’ll call Mark my FAO tomorrow as he will be able to track them down for me, but that’s a massive load off my mind as all I need to get now are boots.  The deposit from Douglasfield finally made it back into my bank account last week, and after a call to Santander I was able to take money out today…..the limit is £300 a day – I ask for 3000 yuan but because with the exchange rate the amount came to £305, so thanks Santander for blocking my card on Monday, it cost me £18 to call you to unblock it and be told that! 

The weather is forecast to be mild for the next five days……so tonight I’m frantically washing everything I own!  At the beginning of the week it was down to minus 2/3 from 6pm until about 9.30am.  Tuesday night I did a washing and hung it up on my balcony…….thinking it would take days to dry.  90% of it was dry by the morning, despite the cold!  So I might as well wash towels and large jumpers and jeans as I’ve got three days to slob about 🙂  However if we are only working Wednesday and have the next four days off, I’m going to head down to Xi’an again – the lure of a warm hostel, a soft bed and Starbucks/Subway and Walmart are too much to resist!  I bet now I’ve planned that we will be working Thursday and Friday! 

Short update – not!

“and now we have our foreign teacher Jenni to say a few words”…….hence my introduction to speaking in front of around 1300 students/teachers and assorted dogs!

It was the English-speaking competition on Saturday, the day all my poor students had sweated blood and a few tears for.  I hadn’t actually anticipated how big this thing was, I sort of assumed it would be me and a few randoms sitting listening to the students in a classroom – nope it was every student from Senior 1s plus teachers sitting out in rows in front of the school main building – in a blowing gale and fairly cold temperatures.  It was actually totally surreal, there was a DJ set up at the top of the steps, and a man really did go 1,2,1 in Chinese to tests the microphone!

So me, Tony, Matt from No 3 School and two random females and males sat and judged all 20 students in their speaking….scoring was…….difficult, as we had to grade out of 10 but no less than 8.5 and judge in three different categories, speaking, content and another one I can’t actually remember!  As soon as the student had finished speaking, another student would be ready to whisk away out tiny pieces of papers with our scoring….. mental arithmetic is not my strong point, I had 3 pages of adding up when I’d finished, and Matt cheated and used his mobile!

There were also singers in between the speakers……some good, one of my male students murdered some Chinese song (I really mean that, I was wincing at the high notes) but there were two lots of female duets and they were fantastic, as well as looking beautiful in what were like prom dresses.  I tried to take a note of each student’s score as it was read out, not easy and it wasn’t actually entirely clear to anyone who won…….I think it was student 4 but I may have been wrong, we as judges had to present books with certificates to students standing in front of us, and then the obligatory photos.  The whole thing was also videoed as well, so unfortunately my random and totally off the cuff speech about being so happy to be in Jingbian, everyone’s made me feel so welcome will probably end up on Yuko or Youtube.But there is photographic evidence to prove that I did it, courtesy of Matt who had the insight to take pictures of me standing at the top of the steps looking very small and cold in a massive scarf!  I didn’t even have time to be nervous, I had to literally run up about the 15 steps and then look down on the sea of people and frantically think what to say.  It wasn’t fun, but I did it, and I still smile when I think of it, I’m soooooooo proud of myself 🙂

Me, Matt and Tony were invited out to dinner on Saturday night.  Again it’s not entirely clear why or who indeed the 7 or 8 men were who we were dining with (thankfully one of the Chinese English male teachers was there, and then in the middle of the meal a female Chinese English teacher and the two Chinese female judges turned up, otherwise we could have just been gatecrashing a dinner!).  The food was amazing, the staff just kept bringing out dish after dish, again I’ve no idea half of what I was eating, pigs ears made an appearance again and I ate a few (I’m not having anyone say I’m not adventurous!) and then the special dish for us at the end was sweet and sour pork 🙂  It was really really good, just a shame that I’d stuffed myself with so much other food (I was so grateful to be eating food!) I couldn’t eat too much of it and it was left on the table…..I remember looking longing at it as we were leaving thinking “I could eat that for breakfast tomorrow”!.

It’s been a weekend of food as well – Friday night me, Matt and Max, the two teachers from No 3 school went out for dinner – to a western restaurant 🙂  We had salad, sort of BLT sandwiches and fries and PIZZA – with REAL CHEESE!  I’ll probably never find the place again, but it was so lovely to sit and relax and eat identifiable food and just chat.

Weather-wise it’s damn cold now – with still no sign of my clothing from Hong Kong nor my food parcel from my mum – which contains hot chocolate apparently!  The halogen heater is right next to my desk, and I’m now in four layers of clothing at night.  Today I went shopping, I seem to spend half my life in supermarkets here, and bought a kettle (apparently white goods are expensive here, so my kettle was a bargain at £6.50) and a rather unattractive chinese patterned but very thick body warmer for £2.80 – no one seems what I look like, and I’m past caring as long as I’m warm!  Thursday I need to go back out to buy a duvet and an electric blanket, but I’m not doing that on my own, I need to rope in one of the Chinese-English teachers for that!

This is my week of teaching the classes at the lower end of the classes, those that can barely string two words together in English.  I spent ages yesterday writing up a lesson plan on movies and trialled it on Class 20 today.  Class 20 is full of some fairly large chinese teenage boys so it’s a little intimidating at times….however I’m learning and just told them that if they chatted I would stop speaking until they did.  It sort of worked, some people were saying shush to them, and I worked through the lesson but it’s not easy even talking about movies.  Whilst researching yesterday I found out that there are only around 20 Western films given certification in China each year – god knows what those movies are as half of my students had never heard of James Bond, Star Wars or Titanic….Superman and Spiderman were hits!

But I’m not giving in to these classes, I’ll try the same method tomorrow, as long as I can stand my ground and hope that they stop talking…..otherwise it’s back to the shouting at them!  I’m going to try charades about movies, I can see that being as successful as hangman (!) but I’ll give it a go.

The electricity has also been a bit hit of miss over the last day or so.  It’s like the signal at times isn’t strong enough, so the laptop hasn’t really been working properly, my ipad is fine for some reason – I managed to spend yesterday afternoon curled up under a furry blanket eating pea crisps and Walmart smart price maltesers (strangely not as bad as they sound) and watched three hours of Come Dine With Me!  The skype call to my parents wasn’t great last night, I really really look forward to that each week just to hear about the normal things in life, like skip runs or catch up on family news, as sometimes (and I am!) it feels that I’m on the other side of the world and totally isolated away from real life – there are no dramas (even my two taxis to and from the supermarket today were totally uneventful, for the first time in two months!) and apart from class management, nothing to worry me here.

However at 8.30 I am going to bed…..bed is warm, bed has a heater above it……if the bed doesn’t have another two layers on it and an electric blanket on Thursday night I will cry – temperatures are forecast to be minus seven from this weekend 😦