Anjanie tells us about her mamouth journey from Zhejiang to Shanghai (and back again!) whilst on her Teach and Travel China expedition!
Journey to Zhejiang
September 4, 2010
After four wondrous weeks in Beijing, socialising with 75 other trainees from all over the world (mostly Scandinavians), rushing to do each assignment for the TEFL course whilst fighting off mosquito bites and stomach issues, trying to see as many ancient sights and drink as many cups of honey pomelo tea as possible, I found myself on the minibus with 4 other girls, all of us hopeful and excited for our placement in Zhejiang province, a magical land of mountains and shoe factories, so the Lonely Planet guide assured us.
Our optimism and laughter still continued when our TTC guide to the airport asked us if we had our tickets. No. Does she know who our contact in Zhejiang is? No. We then lost her in the airport lifts. She reappeared soon enough to help us pay the overweight baggage charges. As I had an allowance of 40kg coming to China, I couldn’t pretend that my suitcase weighed under 20.
About half an hour into the flight the guy next to me gestures to take a picture of me, and then asks me where I’m from in English, the guy on the other side of me asks him something in Chinese, and the conversation goes from me to Wang Chen Wun on my right who then translates everything for the guy on my left. Every 20 minutes or so he nudges me with a question to practise his English.
“When I say sex you say?”
” When I say sex you say?”
“You know what I mean when I say sex?”
“When I say thanks you say?”
” Oh thanks! …. you’re welcome.”
So after some slight conversational and literal turbulence we touched down in Zhejiang. We were met by the boiling heat and blinded by the sun walking down the stairs. Anna received a mosquito bite to the forehead not 30 seconds after exiting the plane. We got into the car of the first guy we saw holding up a sign. We had arrived.
Your Face is the Canteen Card
September 14, 2010
It had been one week since our arrival in Yueqing, Zhejiang. Time however did not fly, it seemed to stand completely still for at least 72 hours. After a deep set sense of abandonment, total misinformation and communication, Kevin, a lack of water and internet, trips to the canteen in the hope of being given free food, a trip to the police station, much desperate laughter and chance meetings with the President of the Junior English Club and an American called Joe, Anna and I found ourselves all of a sudden in our new home for the next four and a half months, Yueqing Middle School.
As we drove up to the school, our contact Henry pointed to a compound – ” Here is the local prison.” Not a three minute walk away from the school. We were to start teaching the next day, so after unpacking and eating the best canteen food yet Anna and I got straight down to planning our first lesson: Introduction, live listening, true or false, done.
I teach eleven Grade One classes a week, meaning 15-17 year olds. I’ve been very lucky in that all my students are fantastic. They are quite chirpy and bright and already have a good level of English. There are some rowdy boys who try to misbehave, but I just pick on them, which seems to get them to settle down! I was surprised by how quickly I took to teaching, it came quite easily during teaching practice in Beijing and still feels almost natural. I suppose eighteen years in education must give you an idea of what it is a teacher does. A year or two ago when I was wondering what to do with my life I asked my friends what they thought I should do- about four of them said teach. And I thought “hell no!” However they must have planted the seed of the idea in my mind so by the time I came across the Teach and Travel China programme I thought “What a great idea!”
Most of the students have a Chinese name and an English name, some of the more outstanding examples are: Panda, Sorbet, Dream, Kid, Playboy, Sunny, Rocket, Soul, Empty, Bloom, Zero, Light, Rando, Linkier, Skywalker, Android, Lollipop and Peterpan. I know this from getting them to write down their names in an attempt for me to learn them all. Not all of them had English names, but some wanted one, so now there are some new adolescent Aisha’s, Sonya’s and a new Seraphina! And possibly a Merlin, too.
On the second night I spied a cockroach in my room. I immediately ran to Anna for moral support. She chased it away but that night I slept in fear. The next day we finally got the internet and the first thing I said to my Dad on Skype was send me the plug that repels insects. Now. Please. The package is on its way.
September 20, 2010
I did not find settling in Yueqing to be an easy process. I missed Beijing. The contrast between city and rural life was stark. I was scared and anxious about living here. I feared being lonely and having nothing to do, the cockroaches, what would happen if I got sick, how to leave the school if the guards seem incapable of calling for a taxi, and once in town, after the supermarket what do I do there?
At first sight Yueqing is not a must-see destination. It doesn’t feature in any guidebook and mention of it on the internet is elusive. I think Evelina summed up the general sentiment in her email “Well, I like it here, if we just could get internet and hot water and maybe some liberty..”
However after that first week of melancholy the good points to our placement began to reveal themelves. Friday 10th of September was Teacher’s Day. An email from TTC stated that here in China teachers are highly respected and we were likely to receive gifts. Upon receiving these gifts we should take them with both hands and look at them with interest to show our appreciation. One student in my class handed me a present but scampered off before I could look appreciative.
Among my gifts were a teddy bear, an ornament and a mobile phone decoration. I also received some handwritten notes telling me to have a Good Time in teacher’s day and an invitation to sit with Class 3 during the School Opening ceremony that afternoon. The part I loved most was the chorus of ‘Happy Teacher’s Day!’ from students in class and walking to the canteen. Nothing like this would happen at home.
The School Opening ceremony was huge, literally. 3000 students plus teachers were sat in a mammoth sports hall. The ceremony was completely in Manadarin, and featured songs, an emotional reading of a poem, a student sauntering through the crowd playing a saxophone off-key and the presentation of certificates. The only words I managed to catch with my limited Chinese were: today, teacher, student, learning, China, manager and happy.
Anna and I are not made a fuss of at all at our school, and I’m not complaining. We’re here just to teach. There are other foreign interns who were made to give a speech in front of their whole school without notice, or who have to sit in an office when not teaching so as to ‘be seen.’ The girls at the school nearby are constantly being taken out for meals with businessmen and ‘leaders’, the heads of local banks or at one time the leader of the Yueqing Communist Party. We were invited to join them on one such occasion and found ourselves at a ridiculously glitzy KTV- the omnipresent karaoke chain popular throughout China. A crazy evening of singing, jumping around to terrible dance music and speculation over the chicly dressed girl who ‘came with the room’ then ensued.
The next day, with the help of Kevin, the ‘total live saver’ and ever-cheerful and knowledgeable school buddy at the other girl’s school ( who’d much rather be back in Beijing), we bought bus tickets for a day trip to Wenzhou, a neighbouring city. On the bus we befriended Chen. Chen is amazing. She is bright, sweet and speaks perfect English. She lives and works in Yueqing and offered to be our guide to the mountains the following weekend. We swapped numbers and said goodbye with a hug.
Downtown Wenzhou is almost Oxford street-like, which is a compliment. The people there seem to be affluent and enjoying their lives. Armed with Kevin’s notes in Chinese characters of the attractions we should visit, we took in the high street, discovered a Pizza Hut and took the ferry to Jiangxin Island.
The ferry swerved from the Wenzhou bank to the island in a matter of minutes, and we spent at least three sun-filled, blissful hours exploring the green island, walking through paths and trees over ornate bridge and rivers, gazing up at ancient pagodas and going on rides in the amusement park. The island is like the Greenwich Park of Wenzhou. That’s about the highest compliment I can give. For us the island was the main attraction, however for some of the Chinese tourists it was the group of foreigners, which meant we gathered quite a crowd waiting for the return ferry and had photocalls with trendy boys and babies.
We had a tasty dinner before heading back. At one point during the meal two workers hurriedly pushed a huge crate filled with fish and ice past us through the restaurant. A waiter came out with a writhing crab on a tray in one hand, and a clear plastic bag filled with a dead fish marinating in it’s own blood in the other.
Back in Yueqing ( after dealing with a an irate taxi driver who tried to steal Nanna’s plant), I felt much happier than before. The teaching will always be the highlight of life here; The students are all stars, soon we will start English Corner and we’re planning a Drama Club. However trips like the one to Wenzhou and befriending locals out have led us to discover the hidden gems in and around Yueqing. We are planning on going to Shanghai for the National Day holidays in October. I feel much better about living here, now I know we can escape.
The Fairy, the Sun, the Moon and the Cake.
September 28, 2010
At the start of term when Henry gave us a copy of the school calendar we noticed that we had two days off in September for the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as Mooncake Festival. We asked some of our students what its all about. They told us a story abut a fairy who lived in the moon, back when there were ten suns in the sky that the people found too hot and bright to bear, and the warrior that the fairy was in love with shot down nine of the suns… and they all ate mooncake and lived happily ever after.
Like eating pan de muerte during Day of the Dead in Mexico I found it imperative that I eat some mooncake so as to fully absorb and appreciate the cultural experience. So I bought one after lunch at Pizza hut. It was the last one in the bakery so I was lucky to get it.
Mooncakes come in a variety of fillings and I had no idea what mine was. I’d been warned that some mooncakes contained meat so I broke it in two and examined it well first before taking a bite. It looked whitish and was soft to bite into. It tasted vaguely of coconut and pineapple. After investigating on Wikipedia I believe it was taro paste and pineapple. A cup of tea and gazing at the moon would have made the moment complete.
The moon is supposed to be at its fullest and brightest on this night. Like a pomelo (big grapefruit). After the holiday I asked my classes:
‘Did you have a good holiday?’
‘Did you eat mooncake?’
‘Did you look at the moon?’
The heavy rain, thunder and lightening rocketing from the storm clouds that night put a stop to any intended stargazing. Chen told us that this festival is when loved ones who are far apart come together, so I will be celebrating properly in January.
A weekend in the city!
October 12, 2010
We fell in love with Shanghai on first sight. Anna and Nanna were instantly drawn to the McDonalds outside the train station. We took a taxi (from a taxi rank, with a meter and not about to fall to pieces) to our hostel and ooh’ed and ah’ed at the sights of the city: the shiny skyscrapers, the shops, motorways and not a dirt road in sight. I exclaimed at every foreigner I caught a glimpse of. The first sight of the Pearl Tower drew a collective wow from the three of us. We were really there. I’m sure the taxi driver was tutting at us tourists. As a London girl, the excitement and relief at being in a city again was immense. Not even twenty minutes since stepping off the train I felt comfortable there. I could totally get by in Shanghai.
The first thing we did after checking into our hostel was fall asleep. Our room was cosy and clean. I got a bottom bunk with Nanna on the top. I had such a deep sleep. Then I went down to the hostel restaurant and had a lemonade. The hostel staff were the best, so friendly and helpful and made amazing flagons of ginger honey tea. In the evening we went for a walk along the Bund. The Bund is the equivalent of South Bank but the view trumps it any day. Put the Gherkin, Big Ben the London eye, Piccadilly Circus and some fairy dust all together and multiply it by one hundred and you might get something close. The Bund is the viewpoint for the Shanghai skyline. What with the Pearl Tower, the ‘bottle opener’ Shanghai World Financial Centre, the Golden Lotus building, the Monument to the People’s Heroes lit up and gleaming, and the flashy rainbow river cruises jazzing up the river, the cityscape is a glittering bauble on a Christmas tree from the future.
The next morning, more friends from the TTC course who had been placed all over China arrived at our hostel. It was so great to see them again. I joined up with the Danish collective, Christian, Mikkel and Lasse, and brought my own, Nanna, to the party and together we set off to explore. We walked down Nanjing Road (past Uniqlo!) all the way down to People’s Square, which seemed quite round. The streets were packed with people (we could see over the heads of most of them) and there were Chinese flags everywhere, due to it being Shanghai and a national holiday. Life size figures of Haibao, the chirpy blue Expo 2010 mascot ( modelled on the Chinese character for person ) popped up at every corner. We meant to go to the museum, though we saw the line for the free tickets and went to the park instead. And then to an underground shopping centre. We watched a terrible talent show. Nanna and I got pictures taken in a Japanese photo sticker booth, because we’re cool like that.
That night we had dinner at the hostel (I saw a huge rat climbing up the air con into a hole in the ceiling) and played card games until even more TTC friends joined us. We chatted and swapped school stories until the hostel turned off all the lights on us. The next day, fortified by an egg pancake breakfast (only three kuai!) sold by the nice man and his portable kitchen outside the hostel, we set off early to the museum. We saw collections of pottery, jade and calligraphy, and froze in the air-conditioning. Next stop was the old quarter which was heaving with tourists, Chinese and foreign alike. Chinese tourists love to take pictures of foreigners. So for every two steps forward we had to stop and pose for the public paparazzi. Nanna especially, being the most blonde and beautiful was asked to hold people’s babies and smile for countless photos with people running up to pose with her. When we finally escaped we took the tube (sorry, metro) to the other side of the river to climb to the top of the ‘bottle opener’ building, the second tallest building in the world at 492m. We queued for a short while for tickets, then led to a waiting room from a sci-fi movie from the Seventies, complete with a digital countdown clock in the ceiling and Logan‘s Run/ Clangers sound effects. The lift beamed us up to the top. My ears popped. The view was of what a city should be, stunning, ablaze with light and movement and alive. Fireworks were blooming in the night sky. Mikkel and Lasse tried to devour it all with their cameras. I found it to be a good spot for some contemplation. Here I was in China… I don’t fully realise it sometimes.
The next day was shopping day. Nanna and I hopped from shopping centre to market (tights for ten kuai/a pound!), to underground shoe market and back to the old quarter. We searched for and found (asking various people and the Shanghai tourist helpline) H&M and Marks and Spencer’s. Oh the joy. Up until that day I was surprised how little money I’d spent during the holiday. I bought a dress in M&S and they gave me 300 kuai worth of clothes free and a bag full of savoury snacks. My material cravings are now satisfied and my brand loyalty to M&S forever assured.
On the last morning in Shanghai I took a walk to the Bund to see it in the daytime. It felt so good to be out and free, just like at home. The time in the city seemed much too little and it was sad to say goodbye to people. However, I felt happy coming back to Yueqing. I couldn’t explain it, but I felt content on the train ride back (minus the ear-splitting noise and nose-wrinkling food smells coming from the other passengers). We had to teach the next day. I already began to think of the next trip. Hangzhou/Fuzhou/Ningbo/ Putuoshan, anyone?
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