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!