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Christmas trip to Hangzhou

*shoutout to Seán for posting this for me. I’m having trouble accessing WordPress at the moment*

Hello!

I am way overdue for a blog update, I’m sorry to say. I haven’t been in the mood to update so I’m behind on three trips now! I’ll try to catch up as soon as possible.

With regard to the Coronavirus; I’ve decided to wait it out and stay in China until (hopefully) the situation improves. I haven’t been near Wuhan (where the outbreak originated) and haven’t been in contact with anyone who has been there. I’m taking precautions – if I go out I wear a mask, keep my hands clean and avoid touching my face – and we are also being checked for temperature every time we enter our housing complex. So if I come up in a fever I’ll probably be immediately taken for medical attention. It’s very unlikely that I’ll contract the virus, and even if I do it’s likely that my immune system is strong enough to fight it off. So please don’t worry too much! We’ve been told that school has been postponed to March at the earliest (due to the virus) so I have an extra month of holiday time. Thankfully we are also going to continue to be paid during that time. (If anyone is curious, my salary is 7500RMB a month, with free accommodation and utilities)

So back to the blog!

I rearranged one of my classes so that I had a string of days off at Christmas (we were given the 25th and 26th off, I moved my single class on the 27th) and I booked a holiday to Hangzhou! This time I was going on my own so I had no idea what I would get up to, but I knew I had to see Hangzhou.

I stayed in another pedestrianised area like in Nanjing, in a hostel. I had some trouble finding the place; be aware that the maps available on Hostelworld.com don’t ever seem to be accurate in China. I took a taxi to the area indicated on the map, then had to wander around asking directions until finally I found the place.

The area was lovely. Lots of shops and market stalls selling all sorts of knick-knacks, jewellery, cups, toys etc. Peppa pig was there right alongside the Monkey King (Sun Wu Kong).

Peppa is everywhere

These sugary treats are available too. I haven’t tried them but they look cavity-inducing!

I feel like my boyfriend probably would have loved them

Disney has capitalised on 2020 being the Year of the Mouse. This is a play on the word for mouse ‘Shu’.

The next day I wandered the area, checking out shops, then followed signs to Chenghuang (City God) Pavillion Scenic Area. It’s up on top of a hill just beside the area I was staying. For a small fee (sorry I don’t remember!) you get access to the Pavillion itself. As they’ll inform you at the ticket booth the 1st and 2nd (I think) floors are out of commission at the moment, due to refurbishment, but you can take the elevator to the 3rd and 4th. What a view! The pavillion is definitely worth it. You can get a 360degree view of Hangzhou.

So beautiful

There’s a function room which was set up for a wedding when I arrived. I ordered Long Jing (Dragon Well) Tea and sat with a book overlooking the city. It was a very peaceful few hours. I started and later finished Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Read it! It’s so good! Even better than the TV show. After a while I even caught a glimpse of the Bride and Groom.

After coming down from the pavillion I wandered around the scenic area for a while. There are multiple temples and buildings to see.

When I finally wandered down from the hill I came out just a few doors down from my hostel! Now that’s good fortune.

What else did I do in Hangzhou? I had my hair dyed!

I walked to West Lake and explored there. It’s a gorgeous area with plenty of places to walk and take pictures. You can see the famous pagoda in the distance. I stopped for tea at a restaurant and was introduced to someone who studied abroad in the UK. After tea I decided to see if I could make it to the pagoda before dark. With some jogging I managed it – only to find that they’d already stopped selling tickets for the day!

I went back to a vegetarian (!) restaurant I passed on the way to the pagoda. I had a lovely meal of Eggplant (called Qiezi), spring rolls and vegetables done with black pepper.

A great sight to see is the West Lake Musical Fountain show which plays each night at 7pm and 8pm. It’s free, but very busy. I took the subway from near my area and arrived around 6.45pm. I had to stand behind a few rows of people. After the first show (about 15 mins of water, lights and music) I went and got an ice cream (in the cold! I know) and came back immediately so as to get a seat for the 8pm show. The music used was different the second time so it is worth seeing both shows if you have the time and patience. There are about 3 rows of seating and then it’s standing only. Get there early to get a seat.

I had a wonderful time in Hangzhou. It might be my favourite city so far. Definitely worth a visit if you ever get the opportunity.

I always love these neon signs at the train station

Bye!

Hello Nanjing!

The weekend before last I took the opportunity to spend a night away in Nanjing. I booked a bed at Laomendong International Hostel in Laomendong (Old East Gate) and travelled by train on the Saturday.

https://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Laomendong-International-Hostel/Nanjing/266543

Laomendong was a fantastic spot to be in. It’s a pedestrianised area of scenic old buildings with shops and restaurants. I arrived late on the Saturday so I got to see the place lit up with beautiful coloured lights.

Laomendong at night

I had some delicious spicy tofu from a restaurant outside Laomendong. The tofu is laid out on a stove top and they reheat it with added water when you order. Then they offer sauce which I, of course, accepted.

Spicy tofu

The next morning I headed to a burger restaurant in Laomendong which had a Veggie Burger on the menu. I was really excited to find a Veggie Burger in China and it didn’t disappoint! Motu Burger is a New Zealand burger place with plenty of seating upstairs and on a balcony overlooking the street. This burger came with all the trimmings and dripping in sauce. So much so that they give you disposable gloves to wear while you eat! I’ve seen gloves given out in other restaurants in China too so it’s quite common.

The best burger
Motu Burger balcony

On the Sunday I also got to see Laomendong in the daylight.

An alley in Laomendong
Old-fashioned fun in Laomendong
Laomendong

After brunch I took the subway to meet up with some other English teachers at Xuanwumen 玄武门 a gate on Nanjing’s Ming dynasty era wall.

Outside Xuanwumen
Inside Xuanwumen

Once inside the wall you’re greeted with a wide lake-view, a bridge ahead and Nanjing’s skyline in the distance. There are many boats for rental to take out on the lake.

After a while walking in the wrong direction trying to find my colleagues I finally met up with one of them. We rented an electric boat and went out on the lake. It’s worth mentioning that the cheaper boats (120yuan per hour) were ‘unavailable’ so we had to rent the slightly more expensive ones (130per hour). Whether this was true or a slight scam is unclear. Being out on the water on a beautiful day was definitely worth it.

After boating we met up with another colleague and went to Nanjing Museum. As it’s a large museum we picked a few areas on the map that we wanted to see and headed there.

Nanjing Museum

The first rooms we went into housed traditional Chinese paintings and drawings.

The next room hosted an exhibition of works by the artist Feng Jianqin. They were really impressive.

Playing the Guqin
“A great forty years”

Finally we headed downstairs to find an amazing replica of a traditional street featuring real shops. Unless you looked up at the ceiling it really felt as though you’d stumbled onto an old street.

Overall Nanjing was a blast, it definitely warrants a longer trip in the future.

Goodbye for now!

A Lampeter reunion in Shanghai

Hello again!

Recently I had the pleasure of reuniting with another of UWTSD Lampeter’s alumni. Almost exactly three years to the day that we first met! Myself and Elan met at Halloween 2016, while she was an international student and I was in my second year at Lampeter. You can see us both in this photo 🙂

Great costume Elan!

Cut to the present – we reconnected on Instagram to discover that she was currently working in Shanghai, only 20 minutes away by train. So on November 3rd we met up for dinner at a vegan restaurant called If Vegan.

https://www.happycow.net/reviews/if-vegan-shanghai-80831

The restaurant is a lovely spot and definitely special on this side of the world. Unfortunately for me, while we ordered I forgot to mention that I don’t like mushrooms! A fatal error when dealing with vegan cuisine. Sure enough most of the dishes we ordered consisted of mushrooms. A true Gryffindor; I persevered, and found the mushrooms were very tasty. I had a fair few before the icky texture defeated me.

Tasty mushrooms
Not mushrooms

Despite my childish palate we had a lovely time.

Hello from China!

Being on this side of the world, it’s incredibly special to be able to meet up with someone that shares the unique background that is; Lampeter. I won’t be able to make it to Old Boys / Reunion Weekend this year, but that is where my heart will certainly be.

Belated October Update

Hello again!

It’s been too long since I posted. This is partially because a post that I drafted on my phone at the beginning of October was mysteriously ‘moved or deleted’ and thus lost. Out of frustration (as well as laziness) I’ve avoided the blog since. But let’s get back to it!

In September we had the 13th off for the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节). A very important Chinese holiday where families get together, eat mooncakes (月饼) and look at the moon. I had plans to welcome my friend, who works in Beijing, down to Kunshan for the weekend. However out of the blue on the 11th of September myself and other ELAs that missed the TEFL training camp (that was held in August) were told; ‘Tomorrow you are going to Beijing!’ Train tickets were quickly booked and myself and others made the hasty journey for a condensed 3 day course. It was intense! We had 2 days of classes and then on the third day we took the exam and did a demo lesson. Thankfully we all passed. Luckily, as my friend is based in Beijing I was able to meet up with her in the evenings.

After the weekend in Beijing it was back to class again. I have to be honest and say that I don’t love teaching. It is really difficult to get the students engaged and to keep their attention. I have all of Grade 1 (8 classes), all of Grade 2 (8 classes) and 2 classes of Grade 6. I’m often finding that my lessons are too difficult for my Grade 1 students, and too easy for my Grade 2 students. For Grade 6 myself and another ELA have been sharing lesson plans which has made my job much easier. Teaching the same lesson repeatedly is both dull and draining, and I often feel my voice going from trying to be heard over the chatter of 45 children. The kids are adorable of course, but hearing “Hello Teacher!!!” called at you 100 times a day, in every hallway and every classroom starts to grind on you after a while.

A typical classroom in our school
A typical lunch at our school (missing a meat dish)

October 1st is National Day in China, a very important patriotic holiday. This year marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic (in 1939) so this year was a big celebration. From October 1st most people here have a week off work, what might be called Chinese Golden Week. For this holiday I planned to go to Tianjin to visit my friend. As all of the trains were booked up well in advance I had decided to book a bus all the way from Shanghai to Tianjin! Fast forward to the day in question; I was at the bus station in Shanghai, having waited a couple of hours, and it was finally time for my bus to depart. However upon seeing my ticket the woman at the gate had asked me to wait and she got on her radio to inquire with someone about it. Shortly after she informed us that there was no bus! Apparently due to the bad weather (she told us there was a typhoon) a road somewhere along the way was unpassable so the bus wouldn’t be going. We were simply told to get a refund for our tickets. Unfortunately the only other way I could have made it to Tianjin was by plane, and because I was in the process of applying for my residence permit I didn’t have my passport so wouldn’t be able to fly. My friend and I had to resign ourselves to her coming to visit on a weekend later in the year.

So I returned to Kunshan for a couple of days and went to Zhouzhuang, ‘China’s Number 1 Water Town’. It took 3 buses to get there. A highly popular tourist attraction that charges 100 yuan entry, Zhouzhuang is a labyrinth of alleys and rivers full of shops and restaurants. You can take a boat ride around it. I don’t know whether they charge for the boat ride, by the time I found the place to board the boats the crowd was so huge I didn’t even try to wait.

One of the attractions at Zhouzhuang is the ‘Strange House’. A typical house of oddities it features furniture on the ceiling, a room that slopes sideways, a mirror maze and creepy murals. Upstairs is a recorded ghostly experience that’s worth a go, although of course the voices are in Chinese. Entry to the strange house will set you back another 30 yuan.

For the rest of the October holiday I went to Shanghai and stayed in a hostel. Myself and my roommates met up with other ELAs and went out. We went to KTV, a club called Mint and went for coffee up in one of the skyscrapers overlooking Shanghai (the Park Hyatt in the Shanghai World Financial Centre). The streets were so crowded that police were holding up the crowds from crossing the street in order to let traffic pass. We of course also went to see The Bund. On The Bund there is a light-show that plays every half hour or so. It is spectacular. All of the buildings are lit up and music plays, it feels like you’re at Disney.

The Bund
Our view from the Hyatt bar/cafe

Recently I went back to Suzhou International Foundation School for a ‘cultural activity’. We had the option of doing oil painting, learning about Chinese tea ceremony or doing seal cutting (carving a marble signature stamp). I opted for oil painting and was thoroughly unimpressed with the result, although the teacher tried her best!

In more recent news, I played in a Gaelic Football tournament in Suzhou! Through another Irish ELA I was added to the Suzhou Eire Og group and agreed to join them for the second Tom Cuyle Invitational. After just one training session I joined the other ladies to play against 2 teams from Shanghai and 1 from Beijing. I volunteered to go in goals where I had a great view of each game and happily didn’t have to do any running. To our delight and surprise we won all of our matches, including the final! It was a fantastic day out and it was great to see such a lively Irish community in China. I’m hoping to join the team for more matches. The men and women train every Tuesday from 6.30pm at Suzhou Singapore International School. You can find them on Facebook and Instagram.

That’s all for now! Thanks for reading 🙂

Orientation in Suzhou

Hi!

I just got back from 4 days of orientation in nearby Suzhou. Although the school myself and flatmates will be teaching at is in Kunshan, the programme we are part of is run by Suzhou International Foundation School. So we spent Monday to Thursday there.

A streetview in Suzhou. E-Bikes are everywhere in this area of China!

Early Monday morning a driver picked us up and brought us to Suzhou. We were immediately brought to the international health centre for our Physical Check. It’s a requirement with all long-term Chinese visas and includes not just measuring height, weight and blood pressure; but blood test, urine test, chest x-ray, ultrasound, electrocardiogram and an eye test! We can’t quite figure out why all these tests are deemed necessary, and aren’t sure what would happen if something was flagged in them. Since the last time I came to China I’ve apparently shrunk a few centimetres :O

The orientation talks were varied, with some sending me to sleep (Laws and Regulations of PRC, Moral Education…) and others being more useful, such as talks by previous English Assistants who are still in China. We had one talk that introduced a textbook, leading us to believe we would be able to base lessons off of it, only for the textbooks to be taken away as we were told No, they aren’t being provided! Why we were advertised material that we won’t have access to is beyond me.

On Monday night some of us went to KTV and had a ball. If you haven’t heard of it; KTV is a karaoke venue where you pay a certain amount per hour and have access to a private room equipped for karaoke. You can order drinks and food and have them brought to the room. It’s one of the best things about living in China.

We also had a lovely meal at a local restaurant. One of the cool things in China is that many restaurants have small private rooms which they use to seat larger groups, so we had our own room to eat in.

Delicious Aubergine (Eggplant)
Mushrooms with green veg (No I don’t know my veg very well)
Glass noodles with meat and other stuff
土豆丝 Julienned Potatoes
Beef or pork with green peppers

On Tuesday we took the subway to 东方之门 Dong fang zhi men (The Gate to the East) a famous landmark in Suzhou. It’s known informally (in Chinese and English) as the Trouser Building.

On the Subway in Suzhou
东方之门 The Gate to the East

We went to Suzhou Centre, a big mall just beside (or underneath) 东方之门 and ate at the food court on the 6th floor. Myself and another vegetarian paired up to have 麻辣香锅 Ma La Xiang Guo (Numb and Spicy Delicious Pot). We handpicked a selection of tofu and veg, paid by weight and ordered it Medium Spicy. It was incredibly hot! (It’s worth noting here that the peanuts were added after we ordered. Anyone with a peanut allergy would have to be incredibly cautious of eating in China.)

Afterwards we went to a Haagen Dazs store for ice cream to cool off.

麻辣香锅 Malaxiangguo

After eating we went to a bar called Naughty Beer which had a huge selection of beer and cider. I had a beer flavoured with honey. Following this three of us took the subway again and went to a bar called Ellen’s where bottled Budweiser was only 15RMB (unusually cheap for an import).

Ellen’s Bar
An obvious mistranslation outside Ellen’s

We also went walking around a public park near the school where I noticed signs that China is well prepared for instances of natural disasters.

Signs for emergency services

On Thursday (our last day) the three of us from Kunshan had to do a lesson defense with the topic “Renting an Apartment”. We prepared a detailed lesson plan and presented it, thankfully we received very good feedback on it. Teachers based in Suzhou had to do an actual demo class with real students. After our defense we went out for Bubble Tea at a place which offered ground level seating.

Ground level seating

That’s all for now! I will start teaching on Monday. After talking about it for so long I am eager to get started. I have 18 classes of Grade 1, 2 and 6 so I will only see each class once a week, which does mean I won’t need as many lesson plans as I had thought. See you on the other side!

Welcome to China!

My arrival in China

Hi! Welcome to my blog.

My name is Frances and from September 2019 – July 2020 I will be working as an English language assistant in China. My Chinese name is Anni. 认识您很高兴!

Back in late 2018 I applied for the British Council English Language Assistants program. Although I am not British (I’m Irish/American), I qualify for the program as I graduated from a British university (UWTSD Lampeter!).

So, for the next year or so I will be working as an English assistant at Kunshan International School near Suzhou. I will be teaching in their primary school. This will be my first experience teaching, so I am both nervous and excited.

I arrived in China on August 27th following two flights with Hainan Airlines. I got a great deal on my flights by going through skyscanner.ie; they cost only 310euros. The first flight was nearly 12 hours long! It was the longest flight I’ve ever been on. I flew from Dublin to Shenzhen, then from Shenzhen to Shanghai. On the first flight I managed to watch 5 whole movies and still had plenty of time to spare. Our second flight was delayed over an hour leaving Shenzhen, we were then told on the plane that this was due to “military activity” (?).

The school had a driver pick me up at Shanghai Pudong Airport, so thankfully I did not have to drag my luggage onto a train. I had some lovely conversations in Mandarin with the driver which helped to boost my confidence in my ability (I studied Chinese). Finally we arrived in Kunshan, a city halfway between Shanghai and Suzhou.

Myself and two other ELAs will be sharing a flat just 5 minutes walk from our school. (We live in 宝岛花园) It’s a lovely big apartment with a kitchen, living and dining room, balcony, three large bedrooms and three bathrooms. Our contract includes free accommodation so I was really thrilled with the quality of the flat.

So far we’ve explored a little bit of the local area. Just across from our apartment campus is a side street with many restaurants that I’ve been trying one by one. I hope to share photos of the food I’ve been having soon!

That’s all for now. Thank you for visiting my blog and I hope that you enjoy it!

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