So we finally made it! And in one piece too. Sorry for the radio silence, the Wi-Fi here is broken for now but it shouldn’t be too long getting fixed we hope (fingers crossed). We have sorted our Chinese sims out but we had limited data until September came around. I’ll try and catch you all up day by day starting with the train.
The train itself was pretty standard, we had a bit more legroom than normal and a foldy-down table. In fact it felt very much like being on an aeroplane what with the aeroplane meals that were carted up and down the train every so often, even the nose of the train looked pointy like a plane. It was a very long 14 hours (I read three books to keep busy), the train had hot water stations in between every second carriage so luckily I could eat the noodle pot I brought, everyone seemed to have them so we totally assimilated by accident. Although the pot did have a lovely picture of whole chillies and chunks of beef mixed with thin rice noodles and I got thick spaghetti looking things with chilli flakes and some dried brown flake things so we can be sure that advertising standards don’t exist in China. There was some beautiful scenery on the way as we sped through mountains at 300km an hour.
We finally arrived at around half ten at night and found Iris waiting for us on the platform. Iris is the lady we’ve been talking to online for the past few months trying to sort out visas and things. She’s super bubbly and very sweet, she took us back to our apartments in the school car; on the way though we were asked a tense question. Iris told us that there is one position available with the Junior students and one with the Senior students; whilst the school is classed as one it actually has several campus’ so one of us could work at the high school and the other at the junior school. Effectively, one of us gets the 16 yo’s and one of us get 12 yo’s. Guess which mug got the little kiddies? That’s right, I’ve went from teaching about cannibalism to 16 year olds in Beijing to teaching ABC’s and 123’s to kiddies in Xindu. Ah well, another string to the bow I suppose. They’re pretty cute kids anyways.
The next day Iris took us into town and we got Chinese bank accounts and sim cards and snazzy new phones. They’re like Samsung knock offs we got for £70 (score). That night we scrubbed our apartment; despite the fact they had been given a once over their were cockroaches living in a soggy box of teabags at the back of the cupboard so everything got doused in Dettol and I spent the next hour trying to not to freak out at all the creepy crawlies and lighting copious amounts of incense to deal with the Dettol smell which has only just disappeared three days later.
The day after that we went to have our medicals done. To live in China on a working permit as a resident you must undergo a full medical examination. We had ECG’s, chest X-rays, blood pressure, heart rate, ultra sound, eyes checks, urine samples and bloods taken. It was a pretty long day. And very thorough. But the day after this we got to attend our schools opening ceremonies. At first the kids all lined up alongside the teachers, I got into a queue full of teachers but was soon dragged out of it to stand on the stage in front of around 4000 students and teachers. From up on the stage I watched some of the students march across the track and raise the Chinese flag to a marching band; it was quite the Nationalist exhibition. To make matters even more exciting they handed me the mic and had me introduce myself too. Luckily I have learned one useful phrase “Daja hao” (cannot find the keys to add the accents and tones to that phrase but it reads dah jah how), which means “hello everyone” they liked that a lot. Unfortunately I introduced myself after Adrian who is an old hand having already taught there a year before, a tough act to follow but I got a clap so it must have went ok. I hope that I will find some photos of this somewhere because it was an impressive spectacle. Next, they took us to a little room with a big mahogany table so that we could meet the head of school and some other English teachers; they welcomed us (with a LOT of fruit) and gave us a beautiful bouquet of flowers.
Again, I was expected to make a little speech to those who had welcomed us, I managed a few sentences thanking them for the honour of teaching at the school and for their warm welcome but I mustn’t have spoken long enough because there was quite a pause before they clapped and smiled. Chinese etiquette may not yet be my strong point. We went for lunch after this and luckily school lunches at my school are delicious; they’re always spicy and there’s always a new vegetable I can’t identify that tastes amazing. The little green apple looking things that they served us before dinner are my new favourite thing (I’ll make sure to get a photo as soon as I can procure more). For breakfast one day this week I got to have “nut milk” which tastes delicious and, for some reason, makes me feel very at home.
Adrian then walked me round the campus and I found the building I would be teaching in; I have 17 classes so 17 hours a week of teaching plus 2 hours of English corner (1 hour at my school and 1 hour at the big school where our apartments are and where Sean teaches with André). English corner sounds like fun; students who are interested in English will come and ask us questions about the UK – it’s like a cultural workshop or swap-shop I suppose since I would like to learn something from the students too. In Beijing my students taught me some fun facts; for example, you aren’t allowed to write with your left hand here (luckily I’m a foreigner so I can get away with it). So hopefully, I’ll learn a lot more from these students.
The day after this I got to have a little wander around where we live. Sean and I ambled through town, stumbled across a beautiful park and had some pretty wholesome tea which Sean grumbled about because he felt like he was drinking his breakfast (it was pretty much like drinking Weetabix).
We live in a pretty remote town by Chinese standards but there are shops and food stalls everywhere. The food is like nothing I’ve ever tasted before, I never ever thought I would find somewhere where I thought the food rivalled that of India but if ever there was a place, it is Sichuan. Everything is perfectly spiced with peanuts and noodles normally present; even the dumpling here (which Sichuan is not known for) are delicious. This will definitely be the Year of the Foodie.
Finally, I spent yesterday observing a lesson of Adrian’s (he will be teaching Grade 2, whilst I teach Grade 1) and a lesson by May (a Chinese English teacher at my school). Adrian’s lesson was super helpful for picking up a few tips and reminding myself that these kids are nowhere near the standard that I have been teaching in Beijing. Most interesting though, from a Western point of view, was the lesson by May; I watched her lead the kids through introductions (Hello, how are you? Etc) and their alphabet and whilst she gave a lot of the lesson in English a lot of the instructions were in Chinese as well so the kids didn’t really have to absorb the English. This is why I am here, I am to saturate these kids in English so that they can’t escape learning new vocabulary. Unfortunately, they are children so this will involve lots of singing and “jazz chants” which I always swore I wouldn’t so. But hey ho, singing it is. The same song. 17 times per week. Get in.
Today we will be adventuring further across town to the “Village” as Adrian and André call it. I love the village. There’s food stalls EVERYWHERE. Last time we went we had pork and cabbage dumplings in chilli oil. God they were good. This time we’ll go for some food but I also need to go to the Carrefour so I can pick up some flash cards for my vocabulary lesson and find Sean some caramel latte sachets so he doesn’t lose his shit over the next few weeks due to the 6.30am wake up calls. The school here blasts music at 6:30am Monday – Saturday, this morning it was One Direction and Miley Cyrus (they’re trying to torture us I’m sure) although normally its strange upbeat music in Chinese. They wake the kids up at half 6 for their morning jog around the track before lessons start, unfortunately we live beside the track. It’s very loud. And very shouty.
So I think that’s pretty much us up to date! I start teaching on Monday so I’ll let you all know how it goes.