There is little to write about this week of work: a typical first week back after a lovely break spent in wonderful Shanghai (twice) and thus being relatively broke. It’s made for a quiet week (we’ve only spent one evening in World Beer!) Therefore, I am sorry to disappoint but there are not many glorious descriptions of restaurants this week (though note I didn’t say none).
The teaching this week has been a bit like swimming through custard: we’ve both been tired after spending our weekends jet-setting instead of relaxing…. though there is no question that there’s no regret there. Therefore, the teaching has been a little of a drag, silly things have been going wrong – like the forgetting of USB keys, and the odd mistake on a lesson plan that makes one feel like a fish out of water. There’s been a little thinking-on-our-feet this week and it seems that planning in advance can be just as detrimental as planning last minute. A tip for new teachers here would be to find your rhythm – I prefer to plan in advance which means that you don’t have to stress before lessons (though you’re at risk here of not having/losing relevant materials), whereas Callum prefers to plan on the day meaning that he knows what he is going into the class to do; it is fresh in his brain (which on the other hand means that sometimes he has a mad rush before a lesson to try and plan activities). Neither is better than the other, just different. Like I said, try both and find your style. It will help in the long run for sure; you know your limits and you can work the rest of your workload accordingly.
The rest of the workload is as one would imagine: there’s a little of homework marking (although most of this is done during lessons, sometimes the higher classes have writing assignments that need more careful consideration), a little of resource making (making worksheets for yourself and other teachers to use at various intervals), and this week we have been introduced to the fruitful world of promotions.
One would imagine that promotions are easy. Just standing around for an hour and giving leaflets selling the school to parents and kids alike. However (there’s always a however) I think it depends on the kind of person you are. We have all done some kind of selling in our lives, right down to writing a CV, and fortunately this helps when trying to sell a business. The first time we took mini-whiteboards, colourful pens, expecting that we could sit in one place, maybe on a stand or a stall, and give out leaflets, run little language activities, etc. That unfortunately wasn’t the case. Outside a school we were stood, being stared at because we were foreign, and our biggest selling point was the stickers. We gave out a lot of stickers. Luckily we had a couple of Chinese National Teaching Assistants and Sales Staff with us which meant that we could converse with the parents into whose hands we were thrusting all sorts of paraphernalia. If swarms of children, being stared at, and a lot of language -both positive and negative- that you don’t understand, usually accompanied with a point in your direction, doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then you’re probably in the wrong game. However, if you can stare at those points and offer a “hello” and a wave, if you have the stickering ability to give each of those swarming children a Disney sticker, and if you are enough of a people person to offer a “Ni Hao” and a smile to parents, then your two hours will go a lot quicker. Luckily we fall into the latter category.
Needless to say I ran out of stickers; probably because I was giving them to parents and children alike. It helps to enjoy people and especially children, when trying to promote your company. So another tip for future teachers: make sure you understand and believe the morals and business behind your company before you agree to work with them. You may one day be asked to promote your business in a tongue you don’t know: will you be able to do this with a smile on your face? or will you be grimacing? Luckily we’re with a company that we agree with, and therefore it makes promoting it, and you, a lot easier.
After said (second) promotional event, the TA and Sales Staff invited us for an evening out. Three Chinese women, Callum, and I. We started in China’s equivalent to a greasy-spoon; a family run hole in the wall with coathanger-chairs and fold down tables. We sipped on hot bowls of sweet peanut soup alongside creamed purple yam mash with sesame seeds. It wasn’t greasy at all.
From here we wandered to a cafe selling waffles (directly translating as egg cake). Here we shared a couple and played number counting games (that were actually quite hard, even for the Chinese accountant with us) under the watchful eyes of a Bruce Li poster on the wall. Actually, there were several movie posters, behind the tall tables and heavy mugs of coffee. The waffles were delicious, and left us craving a good old Yorkshire Pudding and gravy. By now, it had gotten dark and the streetlights were lit, the air had a chill in it, and the sky was pretty clear. We wandered on, through a bookshop that sold English books (yay! Okay, so we only bought one), talking with our Chinese friends about their lives, their families, and the differences between China and England.Turns out that The Firework Maker’s Daughter is a Chinese tale, yet its not that famous here.
Walking around FuZhou is like a maze. Once you leave the main streets, you really are in a jungle; an urban jungle known only by the locals. We followed our Chinese friends, who by now were whittering on in their own language, through this maze to another little cafe that specialised in noodles. Here we tried a local noodle soup, flavoured only with coriander, spring onions, and chilli oil, which was bland but delicious in that it was warm and didn’t taste too dissimilar to the broth of back home. We were attracting a lot of attention: I don’t think many foreigners go to the places we had been that night. We left, squeezing between the rows of tables, yet on the street a woman was screaming, shouting and making all the fuss a drunk teenager would if someone stole his drink. This woman, however, was sober. Apparently, someone had sold her the wrong sized fish.
From here, we wandered through Wu Yi Square; the park we have spoken about in previous blogs. People here were dancing, skateboarding, flying their kites, it was the usual hub of activity. We joined in a flash-mob type dance for a little, though we turned down the kareoke, before stopping finally in a well-lit cafe with green-walls (moss and small plants growing on the walls) and clean tables. We ordered our respective drinks (one milk tea and one caffe-latte – you can take the kids out of England…) Here we realised how much our Chinese counterparts actually eat. Although we had only had one MEAL (the noodles in the last place), we had eaten three times in about 4 hours, and they were ready to further order a salad the size of of a football. Ordered, and eaten, it was though Callum and I were full, even too much so for dessert. If you want to win an eating competition, get a Chinese person on your team.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not calling them greedy, or fat, or any of the derogatory terms associated with eating in Western culture. Quite the opposite. I was in awe of how much they ca eat – albeit healthily – and still retain so little fat. We have marvelled before at their exercise habits, and although the girls we were eating with played badminton with us (and won) the next day, we had had a first hand experience of the Chinese metabolism. Aren’t humans amazing!
Our weekend therefore was an exciting one. I should now be off to work, and so will write soon! For those of you who would like our postal address, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org