End of Term – Reflections on a Year

After being wiped out by the long series of holidays, the end of term was coming up fast. So fast in fact, that we didn’t have long to rehearse for the end of term production. This time around it was Robin Hood, but not as you know it. Robin was flamboyant, while Maid Marian had hairy legs and an attitude problem (I was Maid Marian). Robin chased the Sherriff of Nottingham around the theatre while Benny Hill played, and the Village People were followers of Marian, who danced about her money problems to the tune of Abba. It was gloriously awful and as such the children loved it.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only English production we had to do. I was coerced into re-writing “The Three Little Pigs” – as in, the version that Lulu the teacher found was so awful that I just had to re-write it for the sake of my sanity. It was still awful, but at least I wasn’t going to go insane due to the bad English and inconsistent plot. It was just the simplicity of the English and conversely its difficulty that caused me headaches.

The first order of service was to write the scripts and have us very experienced copy-editors check it for good English (spoiler: it wasn’t very good English even after we had at it). Then we had to have the children record the pieces. This caused me many a headache, mostly because you can only repeat a sentence so many times, for the kid to get it wrong the same way each time (no matter how many times you say it, Annie, “baby” is not pronounced “Beebee”!).

The kids cried. The teacher nearly cried. I cried laughing. While writing this, I have just re-listened to the recording of “The Three Little Pigs” and my kids are fantastic at English, but while recording, during the first couple of takes, “sticks” became “dicks” and “bricks” became “pricks”. And I have the maturity of a thirteen-year-old boy. I caught those however, and was able to coach the children through the pronunciation. However, I did not catch that I, the narrator, on at least one occasion, said, “The three little bigs…”. Yes, I’m embarrassed. And once I’d heard it once, I couldn’t unhear it. And I couldn’t re-record it, because putting the whole thing together had been many nights of unpaid overtime for the Chinese teachers. Re-inserting a bit of my speech would have been too much effort for them.

My other KB class had a confusing Aesop’s fables style story about a tiger and a fox. The fox convinced the tiger that he was the King of the Forest, because all the other animals were scared of the tiger, so the tiger ran away. There was also a weird subplot about an enormous radish that the fox, the rabbits and the horses were obsessed with. It was very confusing.

My BB class teamed up with KC5 for their performance, which meant Matt was roped into playing a very sad lion. I was the narrator again, which meant I didn’t have to go on stage in a lion costume. I just got to see two-year-olds be very cute in little lion costumes.

All the other classes did English play-type things to fairy tales. One class clearly ripped us off from last semester as they did Snow White, but I wasn’t involved in any of the other classes, so I just got to watch them at the end of year show.

And then in a flurry, it was the end of term. It was different to the last time, in that none of the kids (as far as I know) are leaving. There was no crying as I left, because they would all be back next term. It was just a goodbye and see you soon. Of course, if I had known that the coronavirus was lurking, I might have behaved differently, but I am no psychic and there was not even a hint of it yet in Shenzhen. It had barely left Wuhan at the time, and certainly wasn’t public knowledge.

But the end of term did signal the end of the year for me. But, as I have already stated in my previous posts, I have decided to stay another year. I have fallen in love with the children, and although the school leaves a little to be desired in the way of communication, it is a good place to work, and I couldn’t bear to leave yet. As my parents said in August “You’re not done with China yet.” And I’m not. It’s a beautiful country (current viruses (Viri? Virodes? Viruseseseses?) aside) and there is so much left to explore. Not to mention the proximity of other countries on my bucket list; Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, etc. why not explore them while I’m here. I’m a lot closer and so it’s a lot cheaper to travel from China to each of these places.

I currently plan on staying until July 2021 (once I get back to the country after the virus has wrought its destruction) and seeing my current KB classes graduate before I come back to the UK to start my PGCE. China has taught me many things, and I have learned much culturally and personally about myself. And it has finally found me a career I want to pursue. I want to work with young children as a teacher. I will have my fill of the East then I will return to the UK and its glorious western food, and go back into education to become an educator myself.

But first, bring on another crazy adventure filled year in China! I’d say throw your worst at me, but as that is currently the coronavirus and I am currently in quarantine over it, you’ve already done that, so let’s try throwing your best at me instead!

Schooldiering 101

A couple of weeks after the wedding, with actually no warning whatsoever -as in some of us who planned ahead had planned our lessons for the week – we arrived at school on Monday morning along with the kids, and we noticed that those who had them were wearing cute little army togs. This did in no way prepare us for the sight that then came through the gate. Actual army men. In actual combats. Of course, still nothing was said to us about it. No one told us why they were there, what they were doing, how it was going to impact us.

We tried to go to our lessons as normal, which for me, meant going to BB class, and revelling in their cuteness. I then went on to try and find my class, and found both of them on the playground, properly dressed up in soldierly uniform, and watching a demonstration from the soldiers who were there. there was goose-stepping, there was martial arts and there were orders being barked and thrown about the place.

We were a little nonplussed by the show, and by the enthusiasm shown by the kids, who were UP. FOR. IT. But I was personally relieved that I wasn’t going to be teaching them today, even though we were supposed to be starting a new unit, and we didn’t have much time to teach it. Later in the day, when I found out that we weren’t teaching the KB or KA classes for the whole week, I was a little more concerned. That would mean that the unit we were teaching would have to be taught in two weeks in order to have enough time to teach the other units in the amount of term we had left.

The rest of the morning and the day were spent with the kids doing drill. I can confirm that doing drill is not fun when you have an attention span of more than five minutes. It turns out that watching drill is even less scintillating. At least I had a nice view though.

And I was very impressed with how the kids were acting. Other than one or two, who got yelled at as their attention was brought swiftly back to the present and the soldier in their face, they all were very keen to become miniature soldiers.

It didn’t take me veru long to see what this whole exercise was. It’s the same as the CCF, ACF and ATC in the UK, except less overt. When I was in the CCF, it was quite amusing to see active soldiers telling us that they weren’t here to recruit us, before telling us about all the interesting parts of their life as a soldier. So they weren’t actively recruiting us, but they were making sure that we knew that the army was a viable option and that it would be a lot of fun if we joined. By the time I got to university, proper recruitment was in place.

This was somewhere in between the two. China is well known for its displays of martial might. The recent 70th anniversary celebrations that caused Beijing airport to be completely dead for my parents, and grounded all planes for the military fly-by is a perfect example. To have these displays, and to quell any protests that may occur, they need many many people in the army. And how do you recruit? Well, show small impressionable boys how much fun it is to be in the army (and girls too, they were not excluded from this week of activity, but they were noticeably less excited by the prospect).

Drilling is not the way to do this, although you couldn’t tell with Harley and Enzo, who could well end up in the army in the future, but the next few days’ other activities certainly were. They had a display on how to attack a building from other soldiers, and they were allowed to handle the rifles they had brought with them. We curious English teachers were allowed to as well, and they were plastic. All the parts were functional, but they could not be used for actual firing. Or so I thought.

After I impressed the soldiers with my handling of the weapons, and laughing about how I was really bad with a pistol because I was having too much fun being an action hero (true story), we went to the other playground, and the children were allowed to shoot water gel pellet thingies (technical term) at little targets using the modified rifles.

Honestly their weapons handling and weapons’ safety was awful. I know they weren’t firing anything that could cause any harm, but those pellet could probably still sting, and as someone who has been in the army, your weapons’ safety is drilled into you so much that it becomes automatic. Even with a plastic rifle that can’t be fired, I still have to tell myself multiple times that it’s alright to point it at someone. The ones with water gel pellets in? absolutely not. They were not going to be pointed at anyone at any time, except the target, which, when I had a go, I shredded.

The kids also got an opportunity to put up a tent. It was a popup tent, and honestly, we should have them in the UK. Truthfully it wasn’t quite popup, but instead of having the poles separate, they were attached to the canvas in a sort of spider formation at the top, and folded in on themselves.

I’m pretty experienced at the camping thing. I can put up my tent in 10-15 minutes, depending on how much help I get, and who the help is. The way this tent is constructed would reduce that time so much. And when you’re putting it away it’s much easier to fit back into the bag. It’s a miracle and I want one.

At the end of the week, the kids had a presentation for their parents which was boring until it got weird. The children all did their little performances where they turned left, right, open order, dressings and all other simple military stuff. Then the parents were asked to make a very big circle, and they were all handed a rope. They spread backwards so the rope was tight, pulling it and leaning off it. THEN THE SOLDIERS MADE THE CHILDREN TIGHTROPE WALK THIS ROPE. I was confused and speechless and these are small children who are walking along a rope that’s five feet in the air and I know you’re strong and can probably catch them but why? They also made the teachers do it too, which was hilarious. I mean, also maybe unsafe. And hilarious. The teacher of my KB3 class, who had been flirting with the soldier commonly known as the fit one all week got to cling to his arm as she teetered along the rope. It was all very bizarre.

It was an interesting yet boring week, as we had nothing to do but watch, and I had a feeling like they were recruiting way too young. But I did make a new friend. Who I still speak to occasionally. Yep, it was the fit soldier. They wanted pictures with us, because they don’t get to see or interact with many white people. The fit soldier was proud to show me that he had been to Thailand and Vietnam as he still had money from those places in his phone case. I still had a fiver on me from the wedding, which I showed to him and it took a while to work out how much it was worth in yuan. I tried to give it to him, but he wouldn’t take it, so I guess at some point, he’ll have to come to England. The Chinese really don’t travel that much outside of China, and with its size and variety I don’t blame them. But that really would be a coup for him.

Feeling the Love

Landing in Hong Kong did not mean that I was home and dry. I landed at about seven in the morning. I didn’t get back to my flat until around eleven. Everything that happened in Hong Kong was fine, despite the niggling fear that I’d had that the airport would be shut due to the protests and so on. But that all passed very smoothly, and I got to the train station to go back to China without any issues. The border into China was more stringent than the last time I’d come through. The guard told me that my passport was old and I don’t look like it anymore. To prove that I was who I said I was, I took my hair down, and my glasses off. And tried to imitate the half dead look that I have in my passport photo. This was not as difficult as you’d imagine, since I’d just come from a fourteen hour flight and had not slept much, and after the facial recognition software, along with my fingerprints, and my telling him that I was working as an English teacher in Dongguan, he finally conceded to let me into China. Yippee. Only two hours of travel to go. I finally made it to the flat, after running to and from a very helpful taxi man as my phone had no credit and so I had no way to pay him, while I had money in the flat, and I collapsed onto my as yet unmade bed. I shot off a message that I was at the flat and so could let the new people in, should they need it, before I spent the rest of the afternoon alternating between sleep and more sleep, with my phone right by my ear, just in case the new people needed to be let in.

No one arrived, and it was fairly late in the evening, when I had finally woken enough to make my bed, when I was told that their arrival had not been smooth and so they would be staying in Shenzhen for the night. With that I went straight to proper sleep and effed myself over for the next week.

The next morning was genuinely the latest I’ve ever slept in, while in China; about 10.30am and I was shocked, but it didn’t matter, because other than sweeping up the bits of ceiling that had relocated to the floor, not living in the flat for six weeks meant that it was still pretty tidy. And the new people didn’t arrive until later in the afternoon anyway, giving us just enough time to have a long chat in the living room, about the fact that their luggage had been left behind in Moscow, among other issues they’d had on their arrival, that I was privately thanking my lucky stars that I hadn’t had, before we went to dinner and I was closely grilled about all aspects of China over the exquisite sweet and sour pork.

Matt and James were so tired that although their luggage was arriving later that night, by crunch time, they were both asleep and I was suffering the side effect of jetlag where I couldn’t sleep, so I kindly stayed up to accept it. I hadn’t needed to as Matt snored on the sofa up until Richard’s arrival at 2am, but it was safer that I stayed up because if Matt hadn’t woken, there may have been problems. Imagine waking in the morning and finding out your luggage was back in Shenzhen because you’d got lost in the land of Nod.

A couple of days later, I was at school, getting paid to do Arts and Crafts as I put together the first two morning conversation boards of the school year. I was really looking forward to seeing my kids again. I hadn’t realised how much I missed them, until I was at the school and they weren’t.

Although the afternoon held some love for me. My KA kids, my graduating class, some of them were at the school to do something. I’m not sure what; maybe pick up some artwork, or see their teachers, or something. I didn’t know and I didn’t care. Nothing makes you feel loved like a child’s voice yelling “Kiki” before you get a head pressed into your stomach of a child that you weren’t sure you would ever see them again. I might have teared up slightly, even though Kevin still hadn’t learned my name after six months. And it wasn’t just him. Seven or eight of my kids were there, and I just had to hug them all, even the ones who didn’t want to hug me.

Before I knew it, Sean had arrived to take our teacher total up to four, and it was the first day of school again, and I had the sweetest surprise on the way into school, as Sophy saw me on the way into her first day at big school, and she also gave me a hug, and a little conversation, before she went off, looking so grown up and smart in her school uniform. Matt thought it was incredibly sweet and it made my heart swell up too.

My first day back at school was something like that all day. The kids that recognised my white mug greeted me enthusiastically and I was attacked when I walked into the now KB3 classroom by the children. George, darling inappropriate child, had clearly done something while he was on holiday as his hair, that has a life of its own and sticks up regardless of length (I swear at one point it was nearly six inches long, and stuck straight up at the back still, like a Chinese Harry Potter), had a shaved head, and shiny pink skin across about half his forehead. Cookie and Lily were tragically absent, although I had known they would be, and in their place were five new boys, vastly skewing the boy/girl ratio in the classroom, which had favoured the boys in the first place. But such is life.

I also was tasked with looking after the babies. This was the BB class, the two-year-olds, and a KC class that were also new as they had not been BB the semester before and so had been callously abandoned for the first time at this scary and unfamiliar place. I had the most experience, so they were put under my charge to teach, which I did not do the entire first week in any case, as I spent the entire time hugging the crying ones and feeling like crying myself.

There was much crying. That little girl in my arms still hasn’t made it through an entire day without crying.

The whole week was both gratifying and frustrating. After six months of living in China, I can understand when a crying child tells me they want their mother, but that doesn’t mean I can conjure a mother out of thin air for them. It also doesn’t help then when you’ve just about rocked them into calmness, the other teachers decide it’s time for a new activity and this sets them off again (dragonfruit has never been so upsetting). There are some that just won’t be consoled either. And those that kept trying to escape the classroom. Those that are traumatised by drinking water. And those that are actual delights who couldn’t care less that their parental units have left them here and are just happy to be playing with all the shiny new toys that they have.

The last thing that happened during this rollercoaster of a first week was that after 2 days of school, James decided that he couldn’t take it and scarpered during one lunch break. He didn’t tell anyone he was leaving, just packed his suitcase and took off. while Matt and I napped, as I was still suffering jetlag and unable to sleep at night which meant I was at lunchtime instead. We only found out that his suitcase was gone when we got back from school with him having not turned up for afternoon lessons. It was completely unexpected and a fun surprise to wrap up the week.

And then my first week was over and except for the mildly excessive affections of my old class, it was like I’d never left, except for having a large number of children’s names to learn again. Despite the officiousness of the border control man, I have felt truly welcomed back to the school and it’s helping to cement some of the more difficult decisions that I have to make over the next few months.

Tweet twoo

TSo this post is going to be slightly different. It may not be as long as usual. It may not work. But, I had the idea that since I don’t use Twitter, but have experienced a series of comment worthy unusual events, during which tweeting may have been the perfect way to express them, I should put them on here instead. So here follows is the full title of this post: Things I would have tweeted since arriving in China if I actually used Twitter. (I’m using the phrase “used Twitter” on purpose – I have a Twitter account, but I don’t use it).

While I have not mastered the way to insert the tweet box thingies that you see when reading articles that involve tweets (if anyone wants to show/tell me how to do this let me know!), they will still be fewer than 280 characters, as is the real case.

 So here you have it: a round up of various interesting things that have happened since arriving in China:

I have been in China for two weeks now, and I appear to have lost all ability to use chopsticks.

“The most enjoy is a person to travel” is the motto on Grace’s shirt today. A philosophy to live by, me thinks.

After the dancing we did with my class this morning, I feel like I’m in an *insert Chinese martial art here* movie training montage.

A man just cycled past with speakers duct-taped to his handlebars, blaring Chinese opera, because why the heck not?

There is a 50ish year old man casually walking backwards on the treadmill. This is not the first time I have seen this. Life goals.

I am become a stereotypical kindergarten teacher. I have googly eyes and pipe cleaners in my art supply patterned tunic pockets along with safety scissors and double-sided tape. I’m wondering how much I can steal.

The class is supposed to be making pipe cleaner ducks. I’ve made a flamingo and called him Jeffrey.

I would have emergency beef jerky in my pocket too but I already ate it. There was an emergency – I was hungry.

According to the general consensus (aka the blissed expressions on the children’s face when I wave my makeshift fan (board game board) in their faces), it is too humid to function. The teachers disagree so on with the sticky show.

I’ve been handed more snotty tissues this week than I have in my entire life before.

It’s so humid, my hair has gone curly. Anyone who knows me knows that my hair detests curly. It stages a protest every time I try. That’s how humid it is.

One of my chores today is pick up caterpillar poo. I’m pretty sure that’s not in my job description.

I’ve transcended my earthly form and entered an entirely new state of being. I’m calling it: the sweat monster.

You know it’s hot and you’re climbing a mountain when sweat is dripping off your chin, and you get to the top and there’s salt deposits on your face.

Electric bikes are death traps on wheels. Electric is good. They run fine. They are silent. I guarantee that at some point I’m going to get hit by one. Probably at night. They don’t always have lights/don’t always use their lights.

George inappropriate action of the day: another kiss on the lips and Rachel headbutted my bum again.

If you’re broody, don’t come to Shenzhen. Children are everywhere. Since the one child policy ended a couple of years ago, folks have gone crazy and started popping out sproglets like it’s nobody’s business.

When it rains in Dongguan, the streets turn into rivers/lakes/ponds and it sheets down like a monsoon. Maybe I could start a new trend – the drowned rat look.

The movie wet in ten seconds vertical rain trope? Turns out to be a real thing. English rain is more commonly horizontal so I am shook.

Clearly my anti-rain song from yesterday didn’t work, so let’s try again today.

George inappropriate action of the day: coughed directly into my face and pulled my top down to look at my boobs. If I die from the plague it’s his fault.

Wheezing is the new breathing.

George inappropriate action of the day: hug attack from behind which meant his face was pressed directly against my bum.

Mosquitos can die in the fiery pits of hell. Brb just going to chop my legs off. That should stop the itching, right?

Apparently having a flabby tummy is hilarious to kids, especially when they slap it. Sometimes however, they tell me I’m pregnant instead. I just need to work out how to explain to my mother that I’m carrying the second coming of Christ.

Reading a story about a family of bears, who are all furry. I read a line and the kids parrot it. Except, they add the occasional ‘a’, so mama bear, instead of being “furry”, is “a furry” which changes the meaning only slightly.

The kids have given me a sticker that is no longer sticky. Not a problem, I’ll use my sweat to adhere it to my skin.

Sometimes, life is like a movie. Sometimes, it’s like a cartoon where Wily Coyote runs of a cliff and keeps running, or I step in a hole and try to keep walking. Moral of the story, even if you’re doing it to order a taxi: don’t walk and phone, folks.

The biggest disappointment of my life so far: I found a bottle of cider. I bought it because cider is rare here. It’s non-alcoholic. I’m just going to go and cry over it.

It turns out it is a bad idea to keep walking 10k steps a day when you have a blister. Instead of the blister healing, it gets worse. Who knew?

While the kids are learning to write in Chinese, I’m learning Chinese.

Sometimes, I get disheartened by the fact that I understand basically 0 Chinese. Then I remember that I’ve only been here 2 months and 2 months ago I understood actually 0 Chinese and I feel a little better.

There was a food festival today. I may have got a little overexcited by the fact that there was beef jerky and it tasted like home, and bought enough to feed a small army. There was also a small army of panda bears.

The food at this festival was very Chinese, and by that, I mean entire animals, oysters (traditional dish of Shenzhen, in their museum there is an entire wall of oyster shells), and unidentifiable things, that I’m reluctant to call meat, as it might not be…

I am now the proud mummy of a cluster of cacti, called the Arnolds. I have taken this big step in adopting them, since I cannot adopt the children…

When the wind whistles through this building during a storm, it’s easy to believe I’m in a horror movie.

Thunderstorms have been really common in the last few days – to the point that I’m no longer sure if the noise I just heard was thunder again, or someone banging something really loudly. Both are equally likely.

I’m incredibly proud of this rubbish photo. I got an actual lightning strike on film!

And that’s all folks, for now. These are not entirely in order, although some follow directly after others. I hope you enjoyed them.