It’s been a week since my last blog post – I hadn’t actually realised that until someone emailed me today about it.  There is a reason for that that I will touch on briefly, and that is the sudden attack of “the blues” that hit me last week.  It was Moon Festival, a 3 day holiday period which means most people go home to their families – apart from me and the migrant workers – or as someone pointed out, I am a migrant worker!  So for three days I was on my own, and that was very hard,  I’m used to being on my own, I’ve lived on my own for five years, but at least in Scotland I could always go to the shops, or read a newspaper in English,  Here even the sheer effort of going to buy pepsi can be a struggle, if I don’t go to the local shop then they don’t understand me and I don’t understand how much they want me to pay.

So it was a long three days on my own, worrying about things – what is my future – what on earth am I going to do when I return to Scotland, being homeless and jobless.  Class on Sunday was okay, but the classes on Monday and Tuesday were impossible, to the extent I reported to my boss Monday’s class and walked out of yesterday afternoon’s class.  A lot of this is frustration – on my part and the students.  I try to give them instructions, they don’t understand,  My class is not important to them, so they view it as a 45 minute period in which to chat, do other homework, sleep (more of that in a minute). 

You cannot believe how frustrating that is.  You go in prepared with your lesson that you’ve spent hours working on, only to find some – in fairness not all – students will talk over you or ignore you.  I thank god that mobiles are banned in my classrooms!  It doesn’t matter how often you say quiet, or shhhh, they will just continue to talk. I’ve spoken to my FAO about this – the suggestion was to teach to the students that want to learn.  Because there is no exam for oral English,, only written, my class is viewed as an extra break.

Thanks to the help of some very good friends I managed to chat on line and via email, and kept myself going.  But I am still feeling horribly isolated.  I have no one to speak to in English – the other teacher being Russian and with his girlfriend.  When I have a bad class, there is no one sound off to, or chat to, and even when i eat in the school canteen I eat on my own – the other Chinese English teachers being married so go home for their meals.  And as I’ve mentioned before, just going out to the supermarket can take years off my life with the attention and pulling of my hair!

But, I have to deal with this – even in the depths of my despair over the weekend I never thought of giving up – some students are fantastic, and want to learn so much, it’s just the don’t get a chance because of the other students.  As an example, I had two classes this morning which were brilliant, literally, I had the students writing on the board, helping each other to spell words, and when you have a good class you feel as if you’re doing the right thing.  Third class at 3pm was weird – I got there, perhaps 20 of the students were asleep – literally, heads on desks.  I started my spiel about holidays, hot and cold places, and it was apparently that those at the back were not going to either wake up nor join in.  The class was stifling, no windows were open and remember my students had been in that class since 7.20. 

So the only thing to do in this situation (I’m learning fast!) is to let them sleep – that way they don’t disrupt the other students, and this is a fairly decent class with a load of kids with a good command of English, so for the remaining half hour of the class I sat on a stool and chatted with perhaps 30 students about holidays, countries, very quietly without waking the others up (I did explain to the students what I was going to do) and it worked well – those who were awake had the confidence to speak more.  I probably wouldn’t go it again with a class, but it’s just an example of how you have to make a judgement call on each class and each situation.  In one class yesterday, I somehow got into a conversation with a student about whether Nike or Adidas were better and another student today when asked which country he would like to visit said “the moon….”

But there have been good things this week.  There is an English speaking competition going on – as usual I don’t know exactly what the details are, all I know is that in nearly every class this week I’ve been thrust a piece of paper and asked to read it and check it over – which I’ve happily done.  Today I was asked to be a judge, so at 4.30 I went to my office to be greeted by about 300 students, all clutching said pieces of paper.  Thankfully some sort of order was made and me and one of the Chinese English teachers took 20 students into a room and they had to read out there pieces and we were to mark.

This is where the insightment into life in China comes into play,  The Topic was either “My China Dream” or “Our China Dream” (it was never clear exactly what it was!).  I actually got very emotional at some of the essays.  Almost every single person (and these are 17 year olds) talked about how they could better themselves for the good of the “motherland” and only by working hard could they improve the lives of their families.  I know this is a rural area, but it was hugely sad to see the pressure that these kids not only put themselves under, but I’m guessing that their families put them under.  I didn’t actually know many of the students, thankfully few of them were in my classes (there are Senior 1, 2 and 3 and I teach Senior 1) and some of their English was perfect, two in particular were amazing.  However, again, this is where the politics comes into play.  Me and the teacher only agreed on the same two “perfect” speakers and he wanted to put through students who were from particular classes,  Nothing I can do but agree with him, losing face is a huge thing in China and I’m always careful not to rock the boat.  What was terribly poignant was that as I was walking back to the apartment students were coming rushing up to me asking whether they had made it through to the next round.  I truthfully couldn’t answer them as I don’t know their names and had no idea who had actually been put forward.  Round Two is apparently on Friday!

On the other plus side, I got my passport back on MOnday 🙂  So I’ve booked 5 nights in a hostel in Xi’an from next Tuesday.  I’m not sure of the wisdom of travelling on National Day, if you’ve ever seen the news coverage of Chinese train and bus stations with 10 million people trying to squish onto a bus that will be me next Tuesday morning – although I think I can book a ticket, I’ll get one of the FAOs to do that this weekend for me.  For £20 a night I have a double ensuite private room 🙂  I stayed in this hostel the last time I was in Xi’an, and I can’t wait to get into the double bed with a mattress and real pillows (I should mention that my bed here has no mattress, only a hard board, and my pillows are full of beans – like you get in a bean bag….. you get used to it!).

Xi’an has a Walmart, a Subway, three Starbucks (a friend checked for me!), McDonalds coming out of your ears, and the hostel serves stuff like pizza and cooked breakfasts 🙂  I know it sounds like a tourist but I need western stuff, I need to sit and have a latte and a sandwich, and just to not be the only blonde western person in the universe.  It also solves my problem of being able to buy deodrants and shampoo (Watsons is the equivalent of Boots or Walgreens) and I’m taking a day trip to see the Terracotta Warriors.  At the moment I can’t even face the trek to go and see the pandas in Xi’an. 

When I get back to the desert that is when it starts to get really tough – even now it’s freezing – literally – outside, and all everyone talks about is the cold.  However, I’ve been told that the supermarket sells electric blankets, and the heating is switched on in the apartment block on 15th November (for 3 hours a day…….).  It’s going to be real survival I think.  It gets cold in Scotland for sure, but you can go and press a switch and get warm.  However, I didn’t come here to give up at the first hurdle…..the Dorothy Perkins order of jumpers and jeans is somewhere on it’s way to me, and my lovely Hong Kong ebay seller is going to mail my coat and fleecy tops after the National Day holiday. 

So, a long blog but an update.  I don’t want to moan too much, but I really did get so low last week, so thank you to those who emailed and skyped me.  It’s all about attitude at the end of the day…..I came here for experience and an adventure, if a class doesn’t work, move on and forget about it, don’t take it personally.  I’m maybe 70% prepared for the cold winter ahead, and I have a really lovely break to look forward to next week…. just as well as the next holiday I get is at the end of January for Chinese New Year – no Chistmas break as it’s not celebrated here, as far as I know it’s just a normal teaching day.