Sunday, 20 October 2013

Hairdressing is a universal language...

Having short hair is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it takes me all of five minutes to wash it, dry it and style it (if I'm in a rush that is – takes me slightly longer than that on a school day when I haven't woken up properly and I'm banging round my room trying to find my hairdryer...), but on the downside, that also means that it needs cut fairly frequently.

The last time I got my hair cut was the day before I left for China. And although I did my best to ignore the dark roots that were starting to creep in, and the fact that instead of sticking out in all directions when I sprayed it, my hair hung limply down and refused to be coaxed into any kind of style, in the end I had to admit it to myself – I was going to have to have a Chinese haircut.

I don't know why I was so nervous – I think I was just scared in case I walked into the hairdressers, mimed getting a haircut, and ended up having it all shaved off and the stubble dyed pink or something (because trust me, with my luck, something like that is perfectly possible). But armed with my trusty Mandarin phrasebook and a photo of the hair style I wanted, I decided just to go for it.

I went to a new hairdressers that had literally only been open a few days – when we first arrived in China, I remember seeing the blank shop and a few days later, it had been transformed into a shiny, glittery hairdressers. I was slightly put off by the fact that there are always two or three members of staff hanging round the door waiting to jump up and eagerly usher people inside, but I simply took out my phrasebook, pointed to the phrase 'I want a haircut' and I was shown indoors, trying my best to ignore all the stares I was attracting from staff and customers alike. I was sat down in a chair and luckily, there was a woman who spoke basic English – I told her I wanted my hair shorter and showed her the photo I had. She nodded and told me to wait and, while I was waiting, a young guy with blonde-y/orangey hair gave me a copy of the Chinese version of 'Now!' magazine and a carton of pear juice.

Soon afterwards, I was whisked to a back room where the same guy washed my hair for me (poor bloke – he kept asking me questions, which I assumed was something to do with the water temperature, but all I could do was nod and smile at him). I was then led back out to the front of the shop – the man who was going to cut my hair attempted to ask me some questions in Chinese, but to my shame, all I could do was smile and pray the woman who could speak English would reappear soon. Luckily she did, and it turns out the man was asking me whether I wanted my hair dyed too (in the photo I brought with me, the model's hair was blonde) – I said no, and the woman said 'Oh, but this is a very beautiful colour' – and although it would be cheaper to get my hair dyed here instead of at home (£28 to get your hair dyed here!), at this point in time I was quite poor, so I had to decline.

The man who cut my hair did a very good job. A couple of times he asked to see the photo I had again, and I noticed that quite a few members of staff kept walking slowly past and staring (or stopping altogether and staring). In fact, one guy told me my hair was 'very cool' and another woman said I looked beautiful! Once the man had finished cutting my hair, he mimed taking a photo of me - I had no problem with that, so he got the guy with the orange/blonde hair (bless him, he was so embarrassed! I don't know why though, it wasn't like he was the one who was having his photo taken!) to take photos of me on his iPhone, while the man mimed cutting my hair from different angles! It really was very surreal....

Anyway, once the impromptu photo shoot was over, the woman who could speak a bit of English and my hairdresser took me over to the till so I could pay. The woman then walked me out of the shop, asking me if I liked it, and then (almost pleading) she said 'you come here again, yes?!' I said I would, definitely, and I meant it. It only cost me 38 yuan (£3.80) to get my hair cut, and I was treated like a star! I think hairdressers in England have a lot to live up to – if only more of them would proclaim that their customers were beautiful and cool and take photos of them – I'm sure they'd get a lot more trade! The best thing though is that now whenever I walk past, everyone inside the shop smiles and waves at me, and if they're outside, they say hello (or 'ni hao') too!

This incident occurred a few weeks ago now and, once again, I'm starting to notice my hair is getting floppier everyday, which can only mean one thing – I'm going to have to go and get my hair cut again. I'm going to try and hold out for a couple more weeks, and then I was thinking of surprising my new best friends by going in and not only asking for a haircut, but asking them to dye it as well!! Watch this space, no doubt getting your hair dyed in China will be a bit of an adventure too...

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Golden days for a Golden Week...

Ok, very cheesy title, I know, but I'm a tad sleep deprived at the moment and that combined with the maple syrup I consumed earlier today (not straight from the bottle, just so you know...), means my brain feels a bit fried right now.

So from 1st October to the 7th October, we had a whole seven glorious days off work - Whoop! Unfortunately, due to the fact that TTC are simply stupid, we don't get paid til 15th October, which means I had no money at all to go and explore China. I don't know who's bright idea it was to say that interns shouldn't get paid til the 15th, and only then get paid for four weeks work instead of the six weeks we've already done, but I was not a happy bunny when I found out (there's also a whole other load of issues as to why TTC aren't in my good books right now, but I'll save that for another time!).

Anyway, due to my financial situation, it meant I had to sit tight in Beijing for the week. Luckily, Kristen (my fellow intern that I met in Shanghai before the internship began) decided to come up to Beijing to see me – plus, Alan was due to fly out to Beijing on the 4th October – so at least I wouldn't be completely alone for the whole holiday!

Kristen arrived at 12.30am on the 3rd (which meant we had a very interesting taxi ride back to my flat at 2.30am...) - we were planning to go to the Beijing Police Museum that day, but due to a combination of oversleeping, having a late lunch at McDonalds and then the loooong journey from my district to the centre of town, we made it to the museum just in time to see them closing the doors! So instead, we walked up to Tiananmen Square, which was heaving with crowds because of the holiday, and we managed to see the flag parade – every day at sunrise and sunset they raise/lower the flag that's at the top of the square. It was quite cool to see – especially seeing all the soldiers marching in perfect time!

The next day, Kristen went to the hostel where she'd be staying for the rest of the holiday, and I went to meet Alan at the airport. We got a taxi to the hotel we were staying at for the weekend (again, a very interesting taxi ride, as the taxi driver wasn't entirely, sure where to go) but we managed to get there in one piece. We didn't venture far for the rest of the day, as Alan was feeling a bit tired from jet-lag. The next day however, we met up with Kristen and we went to explore the Forbidden City. Me and Al were approached twice by different people who offered to be our guide and take us round the Forbidden City (for a small sum, of course), but we declined their offers – then a PhD student asked me to fill in a questionnaire about tourism in Beijing and gave me a good luck charm to say thank you! We were supposed to be meeting James as well, but the Forbidden City is just so huge, we couldn't find him! Luckily we found him by the exit and we went out for a meal together – it was only when we'd finished our meal that we discovered we'd been to a Tibetan restaurant! The food was amazing!

Unfortunately, I came down with a horrible flu-like thing the next day, so again, me and Alan couldn't venture very far! So for the next few days, we just took it easy, and managed to make it back to my flat – as I live in a fairly new development, taxi drivers have real trouble finding it – luckily for us, this taxi driver managed to get us to my nearest subway station, and I managed to direct him to my flat in a mixture of English/Chinese. He didn't seem to mind – he started laughing whenever I tried to say 'straight on' in Chinese, but he did try to teach me some directions in Chinese! He also stopped his meter when it got to 70 yuan, bless him!

So that was pretty much it for Golden Week – not quite as crazy as some of the intern stories I've heard since, but it was lovely to see Kristen and Alan again, and to be honest, it was nice to take a break and do everything at my own pace! On the downside, that's the last long holiday we get until the Chinese New Year now – we get a day off for Christmas and three days off at New Year, but no doubt we'll have to make up those days off somewhere! Still, I've worked out that I've been in China for about 9 weeks now (where has the time gone?!) and there's only another 13 weeks left til I finish the internship!! Time really does fly!

Happy (very belated) Mid-Autumn Day!

I can't believe that Mid-Autumn day was a whole month ago – I swear time goes quicker in China than it does anywhere else! So anyway, here's a little belated post about this mini-holiday.

Mid-Autumn day (held on 19th September this year) celebrates, well, mid-autumn, and it's a day where everyone eats moon cakes (which by the way, I am not impressed with...sorry China!) and gets together to celebrate. But there's also a legend behind Mid-Autumn day – this is the story, nearly word for word, that I was told by my friend Holly (who is Chinese by the way...), prepare to be utterly amazed by this Chinese tale...

There once was a woman who lived on the moon with a load of rabbits. A man from earth looked up at the moon and fell in love with her. Mid-Autumn day is the only day of the year when he can travel up to the moon and see his love, and to celebrate, the Chinese eat moon cakes and give moon cakes to their lovers. The end.

So, despite the fact I wasn't given all the specifics, it's still a very sweet story! Though, if my love gave me a box of moon cakes now, I'd probably be more likely to throw the box out than eat them....

Anyway, we all got two days off work to celebrate this festival (although, in the end, it turned out we didn't really get two days off at all, as we had to work two Sundays in a row to make up for it...). So on the day itself, me and Holly went to the Yonghe Lama Temple, which was quite impressive – it would have been a great place to relax and be at peace and whatnot, if there hadn't been a load of tourists milling around the temple, on account of the holiday. Ah well, I enjoyed seeing a Buddhist temple at any rate! We went out for a meal with James at night, and although the food was very spicy, it was ok!
The next day, I didn't do much during the day, but I met up with Holly and Matt at night and we went out to a bar in Wudaokou, called Windows. I think it was mainly an ex-pat kind of bar, but the food was good and they gave you free big bottles of beer, so no complaints there!
On the Saturday, me and James went to Yuyuantan Park – we finally found it after getting lost for a good hour or so, but it was worth it in the end. Although the park was so huge, I don't know how we missed it in the first place! The park has over 3,000 cherry trees, and it holds a Cherry Blossom festival every Spring – if I'm still here when the weather warms up, I'll definitely be going to check it out!

So that's it! It was nice to get a bit of a break from work, and I enjoyed seeing a few more sights that Beijing has to offer – it's just a shame that in China, you have to make up any days you have off by working at the weekends! But ah well, that's China for you!

Until next time,

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Crazy days and even crazier nights...

I really can't believe how fast the time is going here! I keep thinking, 'oh, I better write a super quick blog post so I don't forget what's been happening', but then the days just all seem to blend together and I never get round to it!

Anyway, enough of that. I've been at my school for nearly three weeks now, and it's been a bit of a learning curve to say the least. Firstly, you know that one assistant I said could speak English? Well, she's quit. So communication in the classroom is...interesting to say the least. Whenever a child starts gabbling away to me in Chinese, I simply say 'yes' and then walk away...hopefully they're not asking me anything too important...on the plus side, the other teachers seem to be warming up to us more now - one of them threw a ball at me today (not deliberately trying to knock me out or anything btw, we were playing a game with the students) and there's another teacher who does her best to speak English to me to explain things, which I'm so grateful for. So there may be hope yet that I might get to make friends with them! Although one of them keeps asking me while I smile all the time...even when I'm not looking at her...and I'm like, but I don't, do I?! It's very odd...I don't know how smiling would offend anyone!

We had an 'open house' day today, where all the parents came in just to watch our english lessons being taught - great. On the plus side though, the lessons were only 20 minutes instead of an hour, and strangely, even though I despise giving presentations and would do anything to get out of doing them at uni/work, being at the front of a classroom with 25 kids and god know how many parents filming me, it really didn't bother me that much. Who would have thought it! On the downside, that meant that for the rest of the day, the Chinese teachers had to put up with masses of crying/screaming children when the parents went home - I didn't envy them one bit! We had to do a normal lesson in the afternoon, but as only half the class was there (the others had gone home early with their parents), we just played games and got to know them all a bit better, and it was actually kinda nice!

Oh yeah, and one of my kids is now proudly called Frodo. Whoops.

I've also been on my first night out in Beijing! Let me tell you something - Chinese clubs are simply mental. When we walked in, we saw a guy in a robe (which covered his face btw) doing a dance on a stage with lasers...and every hour after that, a different act would pop up somewhere randomly in the club (mainly by our table though, come to think of it!) - we had rappers, and singers, and a dance group that were dressed entirely in black, but had neon stripes on their outfits, and the lights would flash as they danced. In this particular club, you got shown to a table, and you'd get a huge bowl of free fruit! And that's as well as free whiskey - well, I say whiskey, it wasn't really whiskey - it was a really weak/fake whiskey mixed with apple juice....and you drank it in so random! But it was a really good night, and that weird whiskey stuff can get you nicely tipsy if you drink enough of it! Oh yeah, and on a minor note - a Chinese girl kinda came on to me...y'know, as you other Chinese friends can't agreed on whether it was because I'm foreign and she simply wanted to be friends (though there is a VERY fine line between over-friendliness and just being plain creepy), or if she actually was a lesbian....

Think that's all my news for now - we have tomorrow and Friday off, hooray! But it does mean that we have to work Sunday to make up for it :(. Hopefully I'll be going to check out some more Beijing sights, though I might give the nightclubs a miss for now  - I'll keep you posted!


Saturday, 7 September 2013

First week impressions...

It's strange to think I've already been in Beijing for a week (well, technically just over if you count the couple of days we all spent at the Open University before we all got shipped out to our placements) - I really don't know where the time has gone!!

The first half of this week was spent observing the other English teachers at our kindergarten, to see how we should construct our own lessons. On Tuesday, me and Drew (the guy I'm living with and who is at the same school as me) taught a lesson together, and on Wednesday I taught a lesson by myself for the first time!! Not gonna lie, it was's a mental note to all other TEFL teachers out there - do not attempt to teach a class of 30 6 year olds the game 'fruit salad' will not end well...

Me and Drew started teaching properly on Thursday with our own classes, that we will be teaching from now on. However, one of my classes had to be stopped until next week - the students in my class are 2 years old and have just started kindergarten - we went in to meet them on Tuesday, but as soon as they saw us, half of them burst into tears and started screaming, and the other half just gaped at when I said 'hello'....the next few weeks are going to be interesting! Luckily, the other class I'm teaching, I will be teaching with Drew, and as they're a bit older, they should be easier to manage!

The school is nice, and now that the students are getting used to seeing us everyday, they're becoming friendlier and even shouting 'hello' to us in the corridors. The only slightly frustrating thing I find is that only one out of all the Chinese teachers at the school speaks a little whenever we try to introduce the kids to a new activity, we either need our English contact (Rita) there with us, or we need to type the instructions into a translator so the assistants can understand what we are saying and can tell the students what to do. Ah well, hopefully by the end of the five months, the kids will understand enough English to know what we are saying!

I'm a bit annoyed at myself this weekend - I was supposed to going to see the Summer Palace yesterday with James, and meeting up with Holly after she finished work in the evening - but all week I've come down with a horrible cold, which meant I've been stuck inside the flat all weekend! Feeling a bit better today, so hopefully I'll be feeling well enough to get out and explore a bit more of Beijing next week instead - I guess there's no rush - I am here for five months after all!

Now that we have wifi in the flat, I'll hopefully be able to upload some photos of my time in China so far to Facebook :) - watch this space!

Until next time, zaijian!


Saturday, 31 August 2013

Beijing, baby!

Hello all,

I haven't had much chance to update this blog in a while, because we've been so busy! This post will just be a quick summary of what we've all been up to this past week (assuming I can remember everything that is...):

We spent the last week in Harbin, which is in the north of China - it is a lovely city and the weather was good - not too hot and not too cold (although apparently it's so cold in winter, people have to wear face masks!!). We finished off our TEFL course - passed with no problems which I'm very happy about :) - although it is still very weird that I could walk out of the door right now and teach English!...which actually, if you think about it, is exactly what I will be doing....hmm...

Our program was split up so we did our TEFL course for two days, had a day off, and then had two days of culture classes, while the other half of us did their TEFL course. The culture classes were good - I really enjoyed doing calligraphy (dunno if the teacher was very impressed with our efforts though...but apparently it does take a lifetime to master, so I guess we shouldn't feel too bad :P), tai chi was good although we did get stared at a lot by the Chinese university students, and learning Mandarin was ok - it was hard, but at least I guess it'll come in handy (providing of course, all I want to buy is a mango - that's the only word I can remember right now....)

We got back to Beijing on Thursday night - we couldn't wait to get back as it turned out we were finding out our placements that night instead of the next day! And it turns out that I've been placed in Beijing!

I'm pretty happy because I asked for the North, so the weather here shouldn't be too bad (not as cold as Harbin at least). I know I'll never lack for things to do, and if I don't have wifi in my accommodation, at least I can just find a cafe and use the wifi there instead! Plus, Beijing has amazing transport links to the rest of the country, so it'll be easy for me to go and visit people and vice versa. The only downsides are that I haven't been placed with anyone I've become really close to over the past few weeks - I am looking forward to meeting more new people, but at the same time, I am going to miss everyone I've met so far! The other big thing I'm not too sure about is the pollution - we've been lucky the last few days with blue skies and sunshine, but the smog here can be appalling. I already feel like I have a scratchy throat and I've only been here a few days! Ah well, at least I'll never complain about pollution/traffic/people whenever I visit London again....

So that's all for now. Going to go and check out now, and wait downstairs for my school contact to come and pick me up - exciting times! I just hope they're not expecting me to start teaching tomorrow morning - I have NO idea what I should do for a first lesson, so I'd like some time to prepare!

Until next time - zaijian!


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Zaijian Shanghai, Ni hao Beijing!

Today I have to say goodbye to Shanghai, as we make our way up to Beijing to meet up with the rest of the TTC interns. We'll only be there for today, before travelling up to Harbin tomorrow, to complete the rest of our TEFL course. Not looking forward to the trip there though - we're flying up to Beijing, but I know I'm going to have to pay excess baggage fees...let's hope it's not too expensive! (Although it probably will be...)

Thoughts on Shanghai? It is a lovely city and I've really enjoyed my time here, but tbh, I'm ready to move on. It's far FAR to hot and humid (although apparently Beijing had 94% humidity yesterday! Eek!) and being a simple country girl from the north of England where it's sunny about 3 days of the year, it's just too much for me to handle. Plus, I have a sneaking suspicion that Shanghai is quite an expensive's hoping I'm right and Beijing/Harbin will be cheaper!

Will update you all soon, once I get wifi again :)