So I've started a new blog - a few months ago now actually, and it seems to be going ok. So if you'd like to read it, please click here.
Rachel's blog about living in China for 3 years
So I've started a new blog - a few months ago now actually, and it seems to be going ok. So if you'd like to read it, please click here.
I can’t believe how quickly two years have passed.
15.08.2011 - 10.08.2013 30 °C
So here’s a summary (kind of) of the last two years of living in China...
Moving to China was one of the (if not the) best decision I’ve ever made. I’ve met so many amazing and interesting people, a lot of whom have become good friends, I’ve travelled a great deal as well as experiencing life in another country and culture. Of course, there are pros and cons – missing my family and friends being the biggest con – but the pros definitely come out on top. In the last two years I’ve travelled to Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Macau, (England twice), California and Hawaii, as well as various trips to parts of China – Beijing, Xi’An, Shanghai, Kunming, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu and Jiuzhaigou. I’ve ridden an elephant and stroked tigers in Thailand; a baby whale shark swam up to my boat in the Philippines and I stroked it’s nose; I held a 10 month old panda in Chengdu; I climbed the Great Wall, walked through the Forbidden City and saw the Terracotta Warriors; I’ve been 4650 metres up Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and seen the glacier there; I’ve seen an active volcano, watched sunset from the summit of the tallest mountain in the world and sunrise from above the clouds in Hawaii; I’ve had cocktails on the 70th floor overlooking Singapore all lit up at night; I’ve been snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef and walked through a small part of the Australian rainforest; I’ve seen numerous waterfalls, beaches, mountains and lakes, all of which are stunning; I’ve stayed on tiny islands and in huge cities, in twenty-bed dorms and four-star hotels, as well as everything in between. And of course none of those trips would have been as good without the people that either came with me or I met on my travels.
I could never have done even a fraction of this if I had stayed teaching in England.
In addition to all the travelling, it’s also been quite an experience living, working and teaching in another country. Yes, we use the British National Curriculum for most subjects, but at times it is a very different world. Resources, or the lack of, can often be a problem. It is frequently difficult to get books written in English sent to China because they are often stopped at customs and sometimes never make it to the school, or arrive months later. This makes it difficult to get one class set of books, let alone enough for the entire school. One way around this problem is that people will buy one copy of a book, either in Hong Kong, when they go home or ask friends and relatives to bring things with them when visiting, and this book will then be cloned at the local printers and as many copies produced as are needed.
Then of course, there is the problem of politics – as is the case in any workplace. However, here we have the added element of being in China! We’re not allowed to teach anything about religion or sex education, which I have found difficult on occasion when a child asks a specific question on one of those topics. We also have to be careful about teaching History, as us foreigners often have quite a different view of events to that of the Chinese government. Then there is working with Chinese staff. Don’t get me wrong, most of the Chinese staff that I work with are lovely, but those that are teachers have been trained in a very different way, which can sometimes conflict with either the way we (foreigners) teach or how we deal with certain children (i.e. those with behaviour problems, special educational needs or different ability levels). And of course, you never know who is a full member of the Communist party, which means you sometimes have to be careful either about what you say or who you say it to.
There are so many things that make China a fascinating country. It is so diverse; an amazing mix of huge cities full of skyscrapers and untouched countryside. The people are usually very friendly, especially if you can speak a bit of Chinese (which is essential to get around, especially in rural areas), and will often go out of their way to help a foreigner. One example, which has happened to me a few times, is that if no one in a shop you go into can speak English, one of the staff will run out to find their friend’s neighbour’s uncle (or someone!) who can speak a little English and bring them back to the shop to translate for you.
Of course, there are some customs/habits in China that most visitors are unprepared for and are not particularly pleasant. Toilets probably being the main one! Public toilets in China are usually squat toilets, they rarely have toilet paper or soap and in more rural areas they may just be a trough in the floor with low partitions to divide it into ‘stalls’ and no doors. Most hotels and larger restaurants often have Western toilets, complete with toilet paper and soap, so if you come to China look out for those ones. I would also advise that you always carry tissue with you, and hand sanitizer if possible. The two other unsavoury (for foreigners) things you will probably come across are people hawking up and spitting in the street (never a pleasant sound or sight, particularly first thing in the morning or when done by the taxi driver when you’re in the back of the cab), and small children peeing pretty much anywhere they want to (in the street is most common, but I’ve also seen it on buses – they have a ‘pee bucket’ – and in shops). I saw a mum holding her small child over a rubbish bin to pee in Ikea once.
Although those things aren’t particularly pleasant, I think they are a small price to pay for living in a country where the cost of living is so much cheaper than the UK or America, you can buy almost anything at almost any time of day or night (although there are some Western things that are difficult or expensive to get), public transport is really cheap and efficient, people are friendly and helpful, the climate is sub-tropical, Hong Kong is less than an hour away (depending on the queue at the border), the rest of South-East Asia is a short flight away, the food is delicious and cheap (if you eat locally) and there is so much to see and do. Plus I get paid about the same as I did in England but I work less hours and actually have most evenings and weekends free!
In short, living in China is definitely worth it, and to anyone who is thinking about living abroad I would say, ‘Do it!’.
Trying to catch up on the whole blogging thing!
25.01.2012 - 31.01.2012 30 °C
Ok, ok, I know I've been rubbish at this recently. Well, for quite a while in fact.
So now I have a week off work (Chinese Labour Day holiday), & I'm not going off travelling anywhere this time, I fully intend to catch up with this properly...
Chinese New Year last year was cold, wet & miserable - very similar to Autumn in the UK. I had planned to just chill out in Shenzhen & explore the city a bit, but I decided I wanted to go somewhere warmer & drier. After looking through the available flights for the cheapest & most convenient on the Tuesday of the holidays, I booked a flight to Singapore for the following day. I say day; the flight left at around 11:50pm on the Wednesday night & arrived in Singapore at 4am Thursday! So the first thing I did upon arriving at the Five Stones Hostel, after figuring out how to get in, which my room was & which my bed was, was to sleep for a few hours.
Once I was fully alive & awake again, around 11am, I went for a wander around: Boat Quay, the Fullerton Hotel, Merlion Quay, the Esplanade, the Chinese New Year display & stalls, Helix Bridge & the Marina Bay Sands Shopping Centre. Where I discovered that ‘Wicked’ (one of my favourite musicals) was on at the theatre there. Upon which I promptly bought tickets to see it that evening. The second time I’d seen it, & it was just as fantastic as the first. I also managed to get a photo with David Harris, who played Fiyero, after the show.
I had a lovely stroll around the other side of Marina Bay back to the hostel; I felt very safe walking around & one of my first thoughts about Singapore (apart from how much more expensive it is than the rest of Asia) was how clean & tidy it is.
Having gone to Singapore to escape from the miserable weather, of course the second day I was there it rained. A lot. So for the first half of the day I just chilled out at the hostel, enjoyed the free breakfast & chatted to people who were also staying there. One of the people I met, Emma, & I decided to go for a wander around Chinatown once the rain had eased off, where we had some traditional Singaporean noodles (which were really good, and cheap). It was interesting looking at the similarities & differences between Chinatown in Singapore & China itself. After a visit back to the hostel, we then went for a (rather expensive) drink at a pub on Clarke Quay called The Penny Black, which proudly sported many English memorabilia.
Saturday I had a bit of a lie in (I was on holiday after all!), then after breakfast Emma & I walked up to the famous Raffles Hotel where we sampled the equally famous Singapore Sling along with some dim sum for lunch.
After wandering to Marina Bay, we went our separate ways for a while & I caught the MTR to Orchard Road, known for being a prime shopping area. And when I say prime, I mean really expensive! Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything except a cup of tea. Having said that, on the walk back I found a lovely little Italian restaurant where I had dinner; you could design your own pasta dish: pick the type of pasta, pick the sauce & pick the meat, seafood or vegetables you wanted in it. Yummy! Once I got back to the hostel, I bumped into Emma again & met Adam & Robert, & as it was Saturday night (& we were all on holiday) we decided to go out for a few drinks... We went to a cool bar, saw one of the women who work at the hostel & had a drink with her, then got some bottles & sat on the quayside chatting until about 5.30am.
Having only got to bed (finally) around 7am, I slept until about 3pm on Sunday! Sunday I had the day to myself, so I spent it wandering around Chinatown again, trying hokkien prawn noodles & sugar cane juice at a cheap & cheerful food market, looking at the Al-Abrar Mosque, Thian Hook Keng Temple, the Indian Heritage Centre, Far East Square & Fuk Tak Chi Museum & Temple (built in 1824). Back at the hostel, there were a few people in the living room area & we all watched ‘Catch Me If You Can’ before going to bed at a reasonable hour.
At breakfast on Monday, I had a chat with another girl staying at the hostel, Luisa. We decided to go out for lunch on Clarke Quay & found a proper British fish & chip shop. I was so excited! They were really good fish & chips, served in fake newspaper too. I had a look around the Culture Museum in the afternoon when Luisa went back to the hostel, which was very interesting. In the evening I met up with Cindy, Jamie & Jeff, all residents of Singapore, who’d I’d met previously on my wanderings. We had dinner at a local hotspot, then met up with Luisa, Robert & Moritz to go for a drink. Cindy & Jeff took us to the New Asia bar which is on the 70th floor of the Swissotel – we had one expensive cocktail each & looked at the amazing view of Singapore spread out below us & all lit up. It was wonderful.
On my last day in Singapore, I managed to miss the bus to Sentosa, so decided to have a bit of a lazy day instead. I went to the Muslim & Arabic Quarter & wandered around the streets for a while, when I discovered a Swedish cafe! I decided to have lunch there (Swedish meatballs & mash) as a change from all the noodles I’d been eating. Of course, when I left the cafe, the heavens opened & I had to buy an umbrella in order to not get completely drenched! This then meant it was difficult to get a taxi, so by the time I got back to the hostel I didn’t have much time before I had to leave to catch my flight. Luckily, someone else was getting a shuttle to the airport & the very kind staff at the hostel phoned them & came out to the shuttle to get me on it so I wouldn’t miss my flight! I made it to the airport in time & flew back to Shenzhen, & spent the rest of the Chinese New Year holiday doing very little (apart from boring things like washing & lesson planning!).
As a summary, I enjoyed going to Singapore, but I’m not fussed about going there again. There are many other places I’d rather go first. It was clean, easy to get around & a fair amount to see & do in 6 days, but it was also quite expensive. I’m glad I’ve been there & it was (mostly) better weather than Shenzhen at the time. Singapore is a lovely city & the people are so friendly. The other great thing about it was that because I went by myself, I could go at my own pace, see the things I wanted to see, do the things I wanted to do & I met lots of great people.
Next update to follow soon!
Catch up time!
18.12.2011 - 09.01.2012 30 °C
So I've been really rubbish at updating this... I could come up with a load of excuses, & I have been really busy with work, exploring Shenzhen, travelling when I can & socialising, but to be quite honest I've just been lazy!
I will (at some point!) add proper entries, at least about my trips (which are half written), but for now here's a summary...
For the Christmas holidays I ended up making a reasonably last minute decision to spend Christmas in Thailand with Caroline& Emma (who I work with) & Pablo (Emma's boyfriend). Definitely the right decision, & much better than spending Christmas by myself in chilly Shenzhen! We were in Bangkok for 8 days, & in that time we rode in a tuk tuk, went to the Grand Palace, went to quite a few temples, saw a giant lying down Buddha, saw a giant standing up Buddha, saw lots of Wats, had a massage on Khao San Road (& accidentally slid down the stairs afterwards!), went to Ayutthaya, rode elephants, did lots of shopping at street markets, went to a floating market, saw a snake show at a snake farm, stroked tigers, took a tiger cub for a walk, walked over the bridge over the River Kwai, went to the enormous Chaduchak market for more shopping, had Christmas dinner buffet at Anantara resort accompanied by lots of mai tais, did more shopping at Patpong night market where we admired the ladyboy parade & ate lots of pad thai. It was brilliant!
I then spent a wonderfully boring 10 hours overnight in Hong Kong airport, the only highlight of which was Skyping my family (this was on Boxing Day), before flying to the Philippines to go to Rhoda's wedding & meet up with Sam (my good friend & the maid of honour). We had an action packed itinerary for the 12 days there... We started in Manilla, where we met Andy (Rhoda's now husband) & Alisdair (the best man) & stayed in the Mandarin Oriental hotel where I enjoyed the luxury of a bath (not many apartments in China have baths, most just have showers, including mine). The next day we flew to Dumaguete where we were met at the tiny airport by Rhoda & Enting (a good friend of Rhoda's), after which we went to Rhoda's house for tea & met her family, then went to Thalatta Resort where we were staying for dinner, drinks & a chill out by the salt water pool overlooking the ocean. Bliss! The following few days were filled with swimming, manicures, lots of food & drink, some shopping, meeting more new people (the Kilty family & Stephen), going to Cebu to see/dive with/go out on a boat with whale sharks, lying in a hammock & looking at the stars, New Year in Dumaguete city at a Mexican restaurant with a scary Tina Turner wannabe & lots of great fireworks & great company followed by Grand Marnier & dancing on the balcony, walks along the seafront & around the city, looking at a half-sunken ship, a feast at Rhoda's house including a whole pig & Magic Sing.
This was followed by two days on Danjugan Island (a private tropical island) where we wandered around, watched bats in their cave & flying at dusk, gazed at the stars, saw tabons, starfish, hermit crabs, clown fish, anemones & many other sea creatures, watched the sun set over the ocean, swam in crystal clear lagoons, slept in cabanas, played the Roxanne drinking game, got taken around Danjugan & Turtle islands on a yacht, ate very fresh fish & got very wet on the trip back to the mainland.
The wedding details started in earnest then, with a dress fitting for the bridesmaid & maid of honour on the way to our next destination, Antulang Resort, where the wedding was held. That evening we had dinner & cocktails with everyone followed by Rhoda's hen do with me & Sam, during which a fair amount of Glenfiddich & Grand Marnier were drunk & a few drunken phone were calls made by the bride! The next 2 days were chill out days for those not in the wedding party; I spent the first morning playing card games with Rosy & little Alisdair while their mum Anne was ill with a migraine, then chilled out in the afternoon & had a nice relaxing massage in the evening, followed by a day of manicures & pedicures, lots of reading & watching the wedding rehearsal.
The climax of this holiday was of course the wedding - the whole thing was absolutely stunning. I had the very important job of tying the groomsmen's ties!
The following day was time to head home - or so I thought. When I got to the airport my flight was not only overbooked but also delayed for 2 hours, which would have meant getting back to Hong Kong at around midnight & home probably around 2am - with work in the morning. The airline offered to put me up in a hotel for the night if I took a flight the next day instead, so after checking with my headteacher that they could cope without me for one more day, I accepted. I ended up in a 5 star hotel with a suite all to myself & dinner & breakfast included plus a free return flight to Manilla valid for a year! It's just a shame I didn't have more time to enjoy my suite or the hotel facilities, as it was 10.30pm by the time I got there & I was picked up at 7am by the airport shuttle to catch my new flight. After finally arriving home around 4pm, I then had to go straight to the bank to get my card unblocked - I hadn't been able to use it the whole time I was in the Philippines, but lucky for me Sam is a very good friend & she paid for everything for me (I did of course pay her back as soon as I got back! & the grand total for 12 nights in the Philippines including internal flights, all food & drink, shopping, 2 nights on a private island & all accommodation was just over £500!).
I absolutely loved the Philippines & can't wait to go back there again, although it'll probably be in the October half term holiday now as my summer is completely booked up.
Ok, so this has turned into a rather long summary, so I think I'm going to stop there for now & do another summary for the rest of it another day!
(I made it!)
27.11.2011 - 17.12.2011 19 °C
Well, the Christmas Holidays are finally here! This has been such a long term for me – much longer than in the UK because we started school earlier and October half term was three weeks earlier, which meant this half term has been 10 weeks long! However, we all made it to the end & I now have a fab holiday to look forward to – 8 days in Thailand followed by 12 days in the Philippines!
The strange thing is that, even though it has felt like a really long term it has also gone really quickly – I can’t believe it’s nearly Christmas! I think that’s partly because it doesn’t quite feel like Christmas, mostly because of the weather. It feels more like early Autumn in the UK, and the leaves are all still on the trees, so it can’t possibly be late enough in the year to be December!
The last three weeks have been really busy at school – writing reports has taken up a lot of time, and we’ve had our Christmas Performance of ‘Chinese Cinderella’, performed by Years 2, 4 and 5. Years 1, 3 and 6 will be doing the Chinese New Year performance, which is two weeks after the Christmas holidays. So it’ll be back to school for two weeks, then off for another two weeks, oh what a shame! Having said that, it’s then almost straight through until June, with only a long weekend in April and the first week of May off to break up the term a bit.
One of the highlights of the last three weeks was our work Christmas do last Saturday. We went to the Sheraton Hotel for the all you can eat buffet (paid for by school) & if we wanted the free-flow champagne or wine we had to pay ¥100 (£10) – not bad really! Lots of fantastic food, including lobster, lots of different types of seafood, steak, pizza, pasta, salad, sushi, tex-mex, dim sum, various different mains & lots of different deserts! After all the speeches were done at midday, we tucked in & had three hours of eating & drinking until they kicked us out. At which point, a fair few of us decided it was too early to go home & headed to McCawleys Irish pub for a couple of drinks, followed by a visit to Rapscallions round the corner for a few more drinks & a bit of a dance. It was a fab day & I had a great time! (Photos on FB!)
Now I’m really looking forward to my holiday(s) – really feel like I need a break. Which means I had probably better go and pack…