August and September are are recruitment season at York, both for students and teachers., so we (as a company) have had an influx of new teachers, some branches of our school housing more new teachers than old. Feeling like old hands now (unlike before when every new teacher surprised us) we were confident in our decision that taking 8 of them to Shanghai was a good idea.
Lucky for us, one of our good friends is both organised and excitable, and booked all our train tickets there and back in plenty of time. After meeting everyone at the train station, and having a quick introduction with those we hadn’t met before, we jumped on the train and fell promptly asleep.
Alighting in Shanghai we headed towards a ticket machine to buy a subway ticket. Our highest priority was breakfast, and so after informing everyone during the train journey that it would be best to buy a reusable 3-day ticket, we were unable to find it on the computers and so ended up ordering 10 single tickets. Old hands, right?
One of our companions had in mind a burger place they wanted to try out on Foreigner Street, a row of very English shops and restaurants built around an old train station. We redeemed ourselves by directing everyone here without a hitch, getting them all sat and ordered, with a milkshake and a burger in hand. How delicious it was! An actual beef burger and actual milkshake, a small taste of home.
From here we made our way to our hostel to drop everything off and set out along the Bund to see the sights. As it turns out, travelling with 10 offers plenty more opportunity for highjinks, jokes, and all together silliness, so spending the day walking round Shanghai, laying on the floor, trying to push each other in the river, and just getting to know everyone was really rather pleasant.
Night one we spent eating at a rather odd restaurant, serving chicken sandwiches that came chicken-salad-chicken, and tuna-egg sandwiches that came exactly half and half tuna mayo and egg mayo, before heading up to the top of our hostel to see the Bund at night.
Captains Bar and Hostel offers an incredible view of the waterside at night (as I am sure we have said before) which surpassed the expectations of our travelling buddies. We spent a good few hours here playing silly drinking games before going to bed and leaving the kids to it.
Although a great hostel, our room was a magnet for mosquitoes. Waking at six to the sound of a drunk (obviously it had bitten one of us already) mosquito buzzing around our heads (by our heads, I mean my head) and waking Callum in the process to
help me kill it afforded me a couple of hours extra sleep, but Callum none. He woke early and went for a walk to find some breakfast.
And I am glad that he did – though I did feel bad at first. A few roads back from the waterfront is a cafe called Equilibrium, serving all kinds of Western delicacies, from Earl Grey tea to lasagna, and a delicious Eggs Benedict. Here we heard about the night before, where the ones we had left in the bar had then found a club and drank the night away in free shots and loud music.
Dragging us off we went to the French Quarter and spent our day exploring small streets, cat cafes, and the Propaganda Museum.
This is in a strange location, found with great difficulty under a highrise of flats. There are no signs for it until you get to the building entrance which is (in)conveniently found at the back of the gated and guarded community. It houses hundreds of posters and statues from China’s Cultural Revolution and the end of WWII encouraging people to empower others, to support their neighbouring countries like Russia and Korea, and showing them how and why the English and Americans are bad. All the English-Americans have green-grey skin and large hooked noses, whilst the Chinese stay smooth skinned and chubby-cheeked. Although we weren’t supposed to take photos, I have a few for you here (haha sneaky)
Hundreds of Mao statues, all lined up looking somewhat like the terracotta soldiers
Propaganda to defend neighbouring countries, and also how happy families will be after the revolution.
China showing the US in a bad light due to racist tendencies, alongside their invasion of Vietnam.
The Red Detachment of Women – this was one of only 8 performances allowed on stage during the Cultural Revolution.
After the Propaganda Museum, we headed out to meet some old friends who now live in Shanghai. They had recommended a pie shop called Pie Society that was small enough to only house the 14 of us, though the waitress told us they had a second, larger restaurant opening soon. If anyone reading this (and isn’t bored by the recounting of meals already) should go to Shanghai, we thoroughly recommend Pie Society. A large hand-made pie resting on a large pile of (flavoured if you wish) mash, covered in gravy was just what the doctor ordered. It was great to catch up with our old friends and see how life in Shanghai was treating them over life in Fuzhou. They enjoy it more there, mostly because of the coolness of the weather over sub-tropical Fuzhou, and because there is more to do and see of an afternoon and evening.
And so Shanghai comes to an end, but coming back we were met with Halloween…..
Four times a year, York does extra activities, which interrupt the usual lessons to teach the students about a western holiday. Autumn is Halloween, a great excuse for students and teachers to get dressed up and dance around like idiots for 90 minutes.
The lessons are pre planned, so we get a break from thinking about what we are teaching, although following someone elses idea of a great class can be just as much trouble. All the classes start with an intro, “What is Halloween?”, before learning some spooky vocabulary, playing some games, singing a song (Who ya gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS!), and finally making a craft project, which vary from origami bats to glowing paper lanterns. There is a competition for the best dressed student, and some of them really go the extra mile with great costumes, although the mishmash of styles leads to some zombie princesses and spidermen with a lightsabre.
Teaching western festivals in China has been a slightly controversial topic lately, with many older generations seeing it as an invasion of western culture, when the children should be focusing on Chinese traditional festivals. Halloween is the most prevalent example of this, because of its commercialisation, and because parents are worried it is too scary and encourages violence, with several cities banning it outright. We didn’t see any negativity in Fuzhou thankfully, and the students all had a great time. I think it’s largely due to how the school presents the event, and York does a great job of selling the holidays to parents and getting them involved. The kids come away with a loose understanding of a western tradition, a photo of them dressed as vampire batman with reindeer antlers, and no candy.