A Travellerspoint blog

My Birthday, Halloween & Hong Kong Pride

(Sorry it's taken me a while!)


I can’t believe it’s November already! And it’s been four weeks (make that five, as I had a bit of a break from writing during the week!) since my last blog update – where does the time go?! It really doesn’t feel like November here – more like late summer or early autumn, as a coat or jacket of any sort is still only necessary occasionally, and the middle of the day is still quite hot (I’m in imminent danger of getting sunburnt whenever I’m on duty at lunch time!). I’ve been living in China for 3 months now – in some ways it still seems as though I’ve only just arrived, in other ways it feels like I’ve been here for ages.

So on my birthday (Friday 28th October), we had a Halloween day at school. It was decided that Friday would be a better day to do it, rather than Monday, even though Halloween was on Monday, purely because of getting the kids all excited! Everyone (well, almost everyone) dressed up & there were prizes for the children for the two best costumes in each year group. We had a costume parade on the school field where the prizes were presented. Of course, I dressed up too & got some funny looks as I was walking to Starbucks in the morning! I think this was mostly due to my green face… I was a Witches’ Brew – dressed as a witch with a giant teabag that I made hanging round my neck, stripy socks & everything! The morning at school was full of activities organised by the Year 11 students to raise money to buy computers for a local school for migrant workers – children had to pay ¥20 to come to school in costume & take part in the activities, then there was a small bazaar selling various things – the most popular stall was the candy floss stall. Guess what I had for breakfast?! The children all loved it & had great fun, and in the afternoon, after clubs, we had a class party for my birthday. I brought in some drinks & cakes, & some of the children brought in crisps & other nibbles, so we ate those & watched ‘Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit’ while we ate, followed by games until the end of the day. After school, a few of us went out for dinner & margaritas to a great Mexican restaurant in Coco Park, and everyone insisted that I wasn’t allowed to pay. All in all, it was a really good birthday, and even though I had to go to work it didn’t feel like a proper work day because I was in fancy dress & taught no lessons!

The next day, a few of us (mostly the girls because most of the lads had arranged to go to Hong Kong for the weekend to watch the cricket) went out for Halloween & my birthday (again in fancy dress, but different fancy dress to the costumes worn at school!). We met up at Jen & Alex’s (although Alex was off with the lads in Hong Kong) to have some food & drinks & get ready to go out together. It took much longer for us all to get ready than we’d all thought it would! My costume this time was Charlie Chaplin, complete with moustache, walking stick & bowler hat. I had quite a few compliments on my costume that evening, which I was very pleased about! Eventually we made it out & met up with a few other people at McCawley’s. After a few drinks there, and a small incident with Janine’s false nails, we decided to move on to Rapscallion’s, round the corner, which turned out to be much more lively with more ‘get-up-&-dance’ kinds of music playing. It was a great night, lots of alcohol was consumed (it got to the point at the end of the night when I asked for my last vodka & cranberry juice that they had run out of cranberry juice!), some dancing was to be had, various comments about the numerous costumes were made & new people were met.

Some of the new people were a few Americans who are over here teaching English. We met up again the following week & they mentioned they were going to Hong Kong Pride. I didn’t even know it was on, so of course I invited myself along! Various other normal things happened in the week in between, but I won’t bore you with that! We met up the following Saturday (5th November), horribly early in the morning. The funniest thing at that time was that Sarah, who had organised the whole trip, was the last person to arrive! Which meant I had time to pop to McDonald’s & get a couple of hash browns for breakfast – yum! So we eventually made it to the hostel we were all staying at (there were 8 of us), dumped our stuff & went out for lunch in Hong Kong. We found quite a nice Italian American diner, which had a great deal on for lunch – 3 people get the deal, the fourth meal is free – so we order four meals & split it between the six of us (the other two had opted for Burger King). Near our hostel (which was just round the corner from the parade route) we found a stall selling merchandise, so me, Sarah, Nina & Alex bought HK Pride t-shirts & various other bits like flags, bracelets & pin badges. After chilling for a bit back at the apartment (we had an apartment almost to ourselves, owned by the hostel & rented out by the room) we went to find the parade. Suddenly millions of people were crowding the streets! We ended up walking in the parade, because the security people wouldn’t let us stand by the side (apparently we were blocking the way for other people). The parade walked along one of the main streets in central Hong Kong; it was quite amusing whenever one of the double-decker trams went past on the other side of the road – the people inside were either giving us evil looks or leaning out & waving at us! It took probably about 45 minutes to walk to our destination – a playground area in Wan Chai district, where a small stage & a few stalls had been set up. Hong Kong Pride only started in 2008, which means it’s still a relatively new thing, so it was really great to see so many people there & such a positive atmosphere. There were lots of speeches (mostly in Chinese), which we would generally cheer at whenever everyone else was cheering! This was followed by a few acts – some singing, some dancing, most really good, & of course topped off with a drag queen performing.

Once the whole thing had finished, and we’d got a couple of photos with one of the dance acts & the drag queen (has to be done!), we headed back to the hostel (via a 7-11 to pick up some drinks & Cadbury’s chocolate!) to chill out for a bit & get changed ready for the evening’s festivities. We headed to Lan Kwai Fong (an area in Central Hong Kong) for food & a few drinks. When we got there we discovered there was a carnival on there! The streets are pedestrianized in the evenings Friday to Sunday & lined with bars & restaurants; when we arrived they were also lined with various stalls selling everything from alcohol to sewing machines & millions of people! We went to an American diner for dinner (really good food, huge portions & not too expensive for Hong Kong), during which we spotted a carnival procession walking past – people in costumes & masks, feathers everywhere & stilt-walkers walking impressively down the rather steep street. After this we ploughed our way through the crowd to one of the many bars, had a couple of shots, found another bar to dance in & have a drink & did a fair amount of wandering around, seeing the sights (there were small stages set up at random points with various entertainments, plus all the people dressed up & random drunk people!) & getting the odd drink here & there. Eventually, at about 2am, there was only me, Nina (whose birthday it was) & Alex left, so we decided to call it a night. We attempted to get a taxi back to the hostel (after a small detour to McDonald’s), but the ones driving past wouldn’t stop to pick us up, which then meant we had to wait in the really long taxi queue. So we decided it would be a better idea to walk back (a distance of about 5km or 3.125miles)! We had a few mini adventures along the way, but we eventually (due to my superb map reading skills) made it back to the hostel in one piece at about 4am.

The following day some people left early because they had to get back to Shenzhen, which left me, Ammon, Lindsay, Chastity & Sarah to go for lunch. We headed to Times Square (no, not the same as the one in New York! It’s a huge shopping centre with a giant Christmas display outside) to look in Page One, a fab book store with a good choice of English language books. We then found an amazing Italian steak restaurant (not that any of us had steak) which had a great deal on for a buffet lunch (including dessert) – the food was fantastic, & the choice on the buffet seemingly never-ending (every time someone went to get something, they came back with a different dessert!). I would thoroughly recommend it. We then found our way to Starbucks for a bit of a rest, where Emma (my friend from work) joined us. The Americans departed shortly after, as they had a dinner date with Chastity’s cousin who lives in Hong Kong. Me & Emma wandered off to do a bit of shopping, which turned out to be very successful on my part – Emma persuaded me to buy a new phone (probably because I’d been complaining about the rubbish phone I’ve had since I moved here every day!) - & it’s fab! (Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro, just in case you wanted to know!) I can finally change people’s names in my contact list, take photos & access the internet on my phone! I then took Emma to City’Super – a great supermarket that sells loads of Western food – she thought it was great & we ended up having to drag each other out of the place! I stocked up on squash, cheese & crumpets, plus odd bits like risotto rice & mixed herbs (none of which you can get in Shenzhen, apart from a small selection of cheese at a few places).

At this point it was getting quite late, so we thought we’d better head back so that we didn’t miss the last train to the border… We made the train, but managed to get on the wrong one! Which meant we ended up at the other border; halfway across Shenzhen from where we live, instead of 10 minutes down the road. Doh! We made it home with all our many purchases, which we sorted out on the street corner. Really could have done with another day off before going back to work the next day!

Other things I’ve done in the last few weeks: a trip to Ikea with lots of successful purchases (duvet, clock, fern, cushions), another visit to the Arts & Crafts fair in OCT (where I bought a lush purple bag) & a quick look at Splendid China Folk Village (must go back another time & spend a day looking round), quite a few meals out with various people, a few evenings out having a drink & a laugh with various people, the usual work stuff (including overseeing APP as part of my new role as Assessment Coordinator & running a staff meeting on moderation [I really don’t like doing staff meetings!]), & attempting to learn Chinese (I’ve had 5 lessons now & it’s still really hard!).

One other thing I will tell you about is the school fire drill. Completely different from a fire drill in the UK! Children are supposed to run, bent over double, one hand covering their mouths & the other hand over their head, down the stairs & out of the building onto the football pitch when the alarm sounds. There are four staircases & about 350 primary children & I think about the same number of secondary children all trying to run down the stairs at once, hunched over with their hands over their heads – quite a sight to see! We also had ‘Fit Friday’ today – all the primary children outside at the start of school doing aerobics – with the teachers joining in of course!

On Wednesday a few of us went to the stationery market – 3 large buildings of 3 or 4 floors each filled with stalls selling every kind of stationery plus everything else you could possibly think of! The reason we went on Wednesday was to stock up on Christmas decorations (the same place I got my Halloween decorations & witch’s hat from) – so much stuff it’s hard to choose! I bought a small Christmas tree, loads of tinsel (about 13 strings), two sets of lights, two packs of baubles & a pack of mini silver fir cones, loads of stickers for school, a pack of Christmas cards & some light-up snowmen badges for the kids – all for the grand total of about £25!

There’s probably millions of other things I could write about, but a lot of it is just becoming part of everyday life here in Shenzhen & working at Green Oasis School, so I can’t really think of anything else significant enough to add! Generally I am really glad I made the decision to come here, even though I miss everyone at home. Getting packages from people at home is so exciting! And we’re all starting to count down the days until the Christmas holidays – 3 weeks to go!

Posted by Persephoned 11:29 Archived in China Comments (4)

Mini Update

semi-overcast 30 °C

I'm just doing a quick mini update, as it's 10pm here & I've got work in the morning!

So, the last three (nearly four!) weeks have been rather busy, but in a good way.

We had a typhoon day on Thursday 29th September, which meant all the kids got sent home from school & we had the rest of the day off! Not as good as a snow day though, as it was really windy & raining loads, so couldn't really go out to play in it!

The week after that was half term - earlier than the UK because it's a National Holiday in China - like the UK bank holidays but for a whole week. I did lots of shopping, including visiting Dong Men (an area of Shenzhen) which is a complete maze of a place full or shops & markets that all meld together. It also has the first McDonald's in China, which was opened in 1990! I also went to OCT (another area of Shenzhen) with people, where we eventually (after walking in the wrong direction for quite a while!) found a cool place called The Loft, full of arty furntiure shops, cafes & restaurants. There was also an arts & crafts fair on which was fab, at which they had loads of handmade stuff & lots of random stuff, like pet snails with hand painted shells - pick your favourite colour!

On the Wednesday of half term I went to Hong Kong & stayed in a hotel there to make the most of it (the hotel was called Mingle on the Wing - great name!). Did more shopping there with Laura & Dan, who work at my school & had been in Hong Kong since the Tuesday. On the Thursday we went up the Peak in Hong Kong - they walked up, I got the tram! Fab views from the top - although it was a bit misty/smoggy, you could still see pretty much all of Hong Kong city. (Photos are on Facebook, but I'll add them on here later when I have more time.) Didn't really want to come back from Hong Kong, but had to as I had to go into work on the Friday to meet up with Laura & sort out staff training on APP (Assessment stuff).

Various other things like going out for drinks, Emma's birthday, Mexican food (fab restaurant) & frozen margaritas, more shopping, watching lots of DVDs, actually managing to sort out banking stuff, eating out on a fairly regular basis, dumplings for lunch (30p for a portion & they're really good, can't go far wrong!) & normal day to day school stuff.

The other main thing to note is that due to the work I (& Laura) did to sort out the assessment stuff at work, I got offered the role of Assessment Coordinator, which also includes a pay rise! So I now have even more to do, as I'm leading the staff meeting on Thursday & training everyone on assessing writing!

I'm sure there's a million more things to write about, & I will write about everything in detail soon, but right now I need to go to bed!
Busy busy!

Posted by Persephoned 22:02 Archived in China Comments (0)

Hong Kong and Lots of Food!

semi-overcast 28 °C
View Hong Kong day trip on Persephoned's travel map.

Before I tell you about Hong Kong, I will just fill you in on the last couple of weeks. Nothing majorly exciting has happened (hence no blog update last week), but a couple of really nice social events did take place. The Friday before last I played netball with the girls after school for the first time. I actually quite enjoyed it, although by the end it was hard work! Melissa suggested going for pizza afterwards, which me & Caroline thought was a great idea. After heading home to shower & change, we met at Starbucks (the standard meeting place) at 7pm & walked to Coco Park. We were originally going to go to Papa John’s, but Melissa thought she’d take us to this wonderful Italian restaurant she knows instead. It’s not particularly cheap, but it’s really, really good. It’s upstairs from the other bars in Coco Park, so it’s slightly quieter, with ivy-covered trellises surrounding the outdoors area. The atmosphere is lovely & the staff are very good – most of them speak English & they know the menu well enough to be able to recommend dishes. It was very difficult to choose what to have, but I opted for the sea bass with mussels, clams & prawns in a tomato & basil sauce with pesto linguine on the side. It was delicious. Melissa had king prawns with linguine in garlic butter, & Caroline had the seafood risotto – so much for us having pizza! We all had dessert too (I had crème brulee),
Creme Brulee!

Creme Brulee!

as well as a really good bottle of Chianti, all followed by teas & coffees. The grand total was 400rmb each (about £40), but it was definitely worth it.

The next day, Caroline, Melissa, Emma & myself went round to Jenny & Alex’s. Alex escaped to watch the football, leaving us girls in to watch a movie. After a bit of discussion about what to watch, we watched Hanna, as nobody had seen it except me, & I didn’t mind seeing it again. It’s very good, I’d recommend it. Afterwards, I got to raid Jenny’s dvd collection, & ended up borrowing quite a few – Grey’s Anatomy series 7, The Mentalist series 1, Castle series 2, The Vampire Diaries complete collection, The Karate Kid (the new one with Jackie Chan), Unthinkable, Due Date & The Men Who Stare At Goats. Should keep me going for a while! I’ve not really missed having tv, as I’ve got so many dvds to watch. I would like to get a dvd player though (I’ve got a tv, there’s just no channels as you have to pay for them & I haven’t yet), so I can watch things while I’m doing my planning, as at the moment I’m watching everything on my laptop.

School has been fine, if busy, the last couple of weeks. Nothing much to report there, other than I was asked to share all the interactive resources I brought with me with the rest of the staff in Key Stage 2 (years 3-6) at the staff meeting last Thursday, which was a little daunting. I’ve also been asked, along with Laura, to sort out some training on APP (Assessing Pupils Progress) for all the other staff, as we’ve both had training on it & used it in the UK. I think that’ll be even more daunting when we do it! We’ve got until after October half term (the first week of October) to prepare though, so I’m sure it’ll be fine.

On Friday I played netball again with the girls, & this time a few Year 10 girls from the school joined us, which made the match a little more interesting! I enjoyed it again & wasn’t quite so worn out afterwards this time, so maybe my fitness level is increasing slightly! This time we really did go for pizza afterwards – me, Jenny, Alex, Melissa, Caroline & Emma went to Papa John’s in Coco Park, followed by a trip to the Haagen Dazs café, where we had some delicious, if slightly expensive, ice cream.

So to Hong Kong!
Yesterday I went to Hong Kong for the first time. It was fantastic! There’s so much there to see and do – one day is not nearly enough. I had to get up horribly early for a Saturday – we met at 8am by Starbucks (me, Jenny, Alex, Melissa & Caroline). Apparently, if you get to the border much later, the queues are horrendous – it once took Melissa 3 hours to get across! It only took us about an hour and a half in total to get from Starbucks into Hong Kong, including queuing at the Chinese border (of course we were in the queue with the slowest guard ever!), walking over the long foot bridge to Hong Kong, queuing at passport control on the Hong Kong border & getting the train into the city.

As most of the shops don’t open until 10am, we headed to Starbucks (surprise!) for a bit of breakfast & a nice cup of tea. The metro exited straight into Festival Walk, a huge shopping mall in Kowloon Tong, with 6 floors & lots of recognisable shops, banks & restaurants, as well as others that aren’t China, such as M&S, H&M, HSBC, Accessorize, The Body Shop, Tie Rack, Toys’R’Us & Pizza Express, & a lot of high-end shops, like Chanel, Estee Lauder, Calvin Klein, Vivienne Westwood & Ralph Lauren.
Festival Walk shopping mall

Festival Walk shopping mall

Alex & Jenny had to do their banking, so I thought I’d ask about opening an account. I’ve been told it’s much easier to transfer money home from a Hong Kong HSBC account than it is from a Chinese bank account. With HSBC, you have to go to Hong Kong to pay the money into the account, but once you’ve done that, you can use online banking to transfer money overseas. With a Chinese bank account you can’t use online banking unless you can read Chinese characters, so you have to go into the branch with your passport, housing contract, tax forms from school, pay slips & bank details & it takes about 2 hours (at least) to sort out. I think transferring from the Chinese bank account is slightly cheaper, because you’re only converting your money once, from rmb to pounds, whereas transferring it from Hong Kong means converting it twice, once from rmb to Hong Kong dollars, and then to pounds. However, it’s a lot quicker & easier to transfer it from a Hong Kong bank account - & it gives you an excuse for a trip to Hong Kong once a month!

It was really easy to open the bank account at HSBC – all I needed was my passport & UK driving licence (as proof of my address) & then I wrote down my Chinese address for my correspondence address. I was given an ATM card & PIN straight away, which I then changed at the ATM, got out HKD1,000 (about 800rmb or £80) & paid it into my new account through the cash deposit machine. Quickest I’ve ever opened a bank account! By the time I’d finished, Caroline had gone to meet her friend who lives in Hong Kong, & Melissa & Jenny had gone shopping , but Alex kindly waited for me (as I don’t think he was that interested in clothes shopping!) & we met up with the girls in H&M. The clothes there are really cheap – I bought 4 tops & 2 pairs of leggings for about HKD500 (400rmb or £40). Clothes are cheaper in Hong Kong quite often, because they are the same price but in HKD, which because of the exchange rate makes them cheaper. There is also a lot more choice of clothes shops with sizes to fit average (Western) people – most Chinese women are very slim & petit, which means it can be quite difficult to get clothes any larger than about a UK size 10 in China.

Alex & Jenny had to head back after that, but Melissa had a few other things to do so I stayed with her in Hong Kong for a while longer. Once we’d finished in H&M, we headed back to the metro, caught the light blue line to Hung Hom, then one stop on the pink line to East Tsim Sha Tsui, walked to the adjoining Tsuim Sha Tsui station (a bit like walking from one line to another at Kings Cross), went one stop on the red line to Admiralty on Hong Kong island & one stop on the dark blue line to Wan Chai. It sounds long & complicated, but actually it was really straightforward & only took about 20 minutes. I used my new Octopus card – very similar to the London Oyster card, except you can also use it in a lot of shops as well as on the buses & metro. We then hunted for Western Union so Melissa could send money home to Canada & on the way I spotted a M&S Food shop – so guess where we went next?! I was so excited! It was quite a small shop, but they had all the same food they have in M&S at home, but of course more expensive because it’s imported. I spent a small fortune on food in there! Although I did get a lot – real teabags (Everyday & Earl Grey), blackcurrant squash, pink grapefruit squash, tinned mackerel, tinned red salmon, pesto, pasta sauce, sea salt & balsamic vinegar crisps, super berry smoothie, pink lemonade, roulade, spinach & ricotta cannelloni, wafer curl biscuits, a chocolate brownie & a nice bottle of Italian wine – which cost about HKD600 (about 480rmb or £48). I figured that I haven’t been many places yet (mostly because of my foot & cold) & I haven’t spent much money this month, plus it’s a treat which I won’t do that often, & I get paid on Friday, so why not! It’s amazing the things you miss & get excited about when you’re away from home for a while.

Once Melissa had managed to drag me away from M&S, we got on the metro back to Tsim Sha Tsui station & the nearby Harbour City shopping mall, where they have a great supermarket called City Super – a bit like their version of Waitrose. I had another field day in there, because they had a huge counter with more cheese than I’ve seen since I arrived in China! (The Chinese don’t eat much cheese, so again it’s not that easy to get – most supermarkets just have the plastic cheese we put on burgers & very little proper cheese, if any.) I then spent a small fortune on cheese, thinking I’d better stock up while I have the chance – cheddar, Edam, smoked gouda, double Gloucester, parmesan, feta & mini babybels. I also found Nutella & Marmite, which of course I had to buy. Thank goodness I brought a rucksack with me to carry everything back! Melissa advised me to put the cheese in my handbag, because it wasn’t pre-packaged & sealed & they were less likely to look in my handbag than my rucksack. As it was, the security staff at customs didn’t look in any bags – we didn’t even have to put them through the x-ray machine.

Before we left City Super, we picked up a couple of bits to eat on the bus on the way back, being 2.50pm by this point & we hadn’t stopped for lunch. We had to leave then because Melissa had to be back for a friend’s birthday, otherwise I’d have been happy to stay a lot longer. We walked about 15 minutes from the shops to the bus station, where we got a bus ticket for HKD35 (about 28rmb or £2.80) to take us from Tsim Sha Tsui across the border at the Futian Checkpoint, which is about 10 minutes from where we both live. It took about half an hour on the bus to get to the border, where we had to get off the bus, go through the Hong Kong passport control, get back on the bus for about 2 minutes, then get off again to go through Chinese passport control & customs. We got a taxi home from there & got back about 4pm. I needed a nap at that point, as I’d had a headache all day & was shattered from too many late nights & early mornings!
Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong

Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong

Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong

Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong

Hong Kong from the bus

Hong Kong from the bus

Hong Kong from the bus 2

Hong Kong from the bus 2

Hong Kong from the bus 3

Hong Kong from the bus 3

Hong Kong from the bus 4

Hong Kong from the bus 4

Hong Kong from the bus 5

Hong Kong from the bus 5

Hong Kong from the bus 6

Hong Kong from the bus 6

Hong Kong from the bus 7

Hong Kong from the bus 7

Hong Kong from the bus 8

Hong Kong from the bus 8

The footbridge I walked over from Shenzhen to Hong Kong

The footbridge I walked over from Shenzhen to Hong Kong

Saturday evening, after Skyping my sister, I met up with Emma to watch a dvd & have a drink at hers. As it turned out, we didn’t watch a movie at all, but stayed up chatting until about 3.30am! It was really nice getting to know her. Another good thing about Shenzhen is that it always feels really safe. No matter what time you walk home, there are always people around, cars on the street & security guards outside shops & apartment complexes.
The Shenzhen skyline at night

The Shenzhen skyline at night

Today (after a nice lie in) I’ve spent most of the day planning, apart from a break to eat my M&S spinach & ricotta cannelloni, followed by my M&S chocolate brownie, while watching Doctor Who.

I can’t wait to go back to Hong Kong again & do some more exploring, plus all the other places I want to visit. But in the meantime, back to work tomorrow!

Posted by Persephoned 23:04 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (4)

Another week, another washing machine…

Week four in China

sunny 32 °C

So another week has passed & I’m still in China! Every now & then, when I’m not busy with school, shopping or socialising, I stop & look around me with the sudden realisation that I’m in China. It’s kind of odd; even though I’ve been here for four weeks now, it’s still sinking in that I live in China now. It’s a very strange feeling. The rest of the time, everything feels kind of normal – work is work, my apartment is my apartment, going out for drinks with people is almost the same as anywhere in the world.

Last week was the first proper week of school for me, as the first week I spent half the time at the hospital. My foot stopped being swollen, I did all my duties (everyone has three, break time & lunch time, 20 minutes each) & we did proper lessons. For some reason I still didn’t manage to do all my planning for this week, despite having at least one hour each day when my class was being taught by a specialist teacher! The kids in my class are really nice, generally well behaved, apart from the odd bit of chatter, but no major behaviour problems, which is nice. One boy that’s supposed to be in my class still hasn’t been to school yet, but apparently he’s currently in America & is coming back this week or next week. There are still some things at school that don’t seem as organised as I would expect, but I think that’s at least partly because of the turbulent time the school has had in the last couple of years, with lots of changes of staff & senior management (not all good, from what I hear).

On Tuesday we had a ‘Meet the Teachers’ session for the parents – they came to school from 4pm til 5pm & we (me, the other year 4 teacher Laird & our teaching partners, Susan & Joy) went through what kinds of things we’ll be doing with the kids, explained about uniform & streaming for Maths & English. Apparently the parents can get quite funny about their child being in the ‘bottom set’ for anything, so the way we (well, Laird) told it is that we’re splitting the children into groups that need support in different areas, e.g. one English group will focus more on reading comprehension, the other more on grammar & writing. The parents seemed to be quite happy about that, so that was fine! We did have some parents asking pernickety questions; one set of parents asked me, Laird, Susan & Joy the same thing – maybe to see if we gave the same answer? – about the differences between the Cambridge education system, the British National Curriculum & the International Primary Curriculum, & whether our education system at school was better than other Chinese schools. Of course we all said that there’s very little difference between the three systems, mostly different topics & we take the best of each & make sure we are always teaching to a high standard. To be quite honest, I thought it was a bit of a waste of time, as we’d already met the majority of the parents on registration day, before school started, and any other information had been sent home via letter or email.

There are two other things we have to do every week. One is a newsletter to the parents telling what we’ve done in school each week, including the learning objectives for each subject, any particular events or activities & any school news. The other is a tracking sheet which we have to complete for every child in the class every week, which is then emailed to the parents every Friday. You have to fill in an academic comment & a pastoral comment for English, Maths, PSHE, PE, Music, Chinese, ICT & Art, although the specialist teachers are supposed to complete their subjects.
Pupil Tracking Sheet

Pupil Tracking Sheet

Thankfully, Laird did the newsletter for our year group last week, but we’re going to either complete it together or take it in turns to do from now on.

On a different subject from school stuff, I was supposed to be playing netball (for the first time since secondary school!) after school on Friday with people from work (thought I should make a bit of effort to do some exercise after all the great food I keep eating!). I ended up not playing for two reasons – the first was that my foot started to swell up a little again & I thought it best not to aggravate it, the second was that Mandy told me that my new washing machine was going to be delivered between 5 & 6pm, so I had to get home for that. Of course, the minute I walked in the door, Mandy texted me to say it was now going to be between 6 & 8pm, so I could have stayed for netball! A group of us were going out about 7pm ish for food & drinks for Laura’s birthday (one of the other new teachers), so I got ready straight away, hoping that they’d come at 6pm & then I could go more or less straight after. 6pm came & went, then 6.30, so I phoned Melissa & Caroline, who I was supposed to be meeting at 6.45pm to share a taxi to the pub with, to let them know I may be late. Melissa told me that they were probably working on Chinese time, which meant it was probably more likely to be 9pm - & she was nearly right! 8.20pm the delivery people turned up with my washing machine. They put it on the balcony (which is where the washing machine lives – quite common here) & took off most of the packaging, & then left, without plumbing it in or moving the old one out of the way. I phoned Mandy & she said that she’d arrange for someone to take away the old machine, like we did with the old fridge freezer, but I should try & plumb in the new one myself! If I couldn’t do it, she’d ask the landlady to send someone round to do it. By this point I was already quite late to meet people, so I decided to leave it until the next day. On Saturday afternoon, I decided to have a look at it & see if I could figure it out. Luckily the washing machines here all seem to be quite light, so I was able to move the old one out of the way & the new one into place fairly easier. Also luckily, some of the instructions had pictures! It was quite straightforward to connect it, especially as there’s only one tap, & after an empty wash to check it worked & didn’t leak, I was actually able to wash some clothes! So I now have another skill to add to my CV – plumbing in a washing machine!

Friday night (when I finally got there!) was really good. We went to a pub called Macawley’s, which is a regular haunt of a lot of people at work. They do really good food there, quite a choice, including things like spaghetti bolognaise, pizza & fish & chips, for a fairly reasonable price. There were probably about 15 or so of us altogether; most people had food (which I wasn’t too late for, thankfully) & everyone had drinks, some more than others! It was really good chatting to people & getting to know them a bit better. We also had some end-of-the-evening entertainment, in the form of a very drunk Chinese bloke who decided he wanted to join our group, leaning over the barrier & talking very loudly at people in Chinese (& deafening Melissa in the process) & when a couple of the lads went over to try & pacify him, he kissed one of them on the forehead! He then tried climbing over the barrier, got pushed back, so went around, at which point all the lads went over to try & get him to leave – without any injury to anyone. He was taken off the premises & down the road a little by a couple of the lads as the rest of us were wondering where security was & most of the bar staff (admittedly all female) were leaving, as the bar had closed. We decided it was time to leave at that point, but someone needed the loo, & as the bar was closed two of the girls went into the club next door to use the facilities. While the rest of us were waiting outside, another very drunk guy came outside & promptly threw up right in front of us! At which point, me & Melissa backed off quite a lot, although some of the lads decided it would be a good idea to talk to him! All of this very much reminded me of being out in England, although the main difference was that no fighting kicked off, which I’m sure would have happened in England with either of those incidents. As soon as the girls returned, we left, some people for home & the rest of us round the corner to Rapscallions, a really nice bar that also does food & is owned by some of the local ex-pat rugby lads. A few more drinks were had by all (I managed to avoid the tequila that appeared in front of me at one point!) & I met a couple of other ex-pats that don’t work at the school, but know some of the people there because they play Gaelic football together. I’ve been invited to join them on Tuesday evening! I might go along & see what it’s like… I ended up getting home just before 4am, not too drunk & having had a really good night (apart from the slightly annoying drunk people!).

Saturday I decided not to go out (people were going out for Paul at work’s birthday), partly because my foot was swollen again & partly because I just fancied a night in. I’m getting too old to do two nights out in a row! Instead (after plumbing in my washing machine & doing two loads of washing) I caught up on Doctor Who & Torchwood. I can’t watch anything on BBC iplayer here, unfortunately, but Judi at work told me about a great website called www.pptv.com, on which you can watch quite a lot of different TV programs & some films for free!

Sunday I was invited to a barbeque at Alex & Jenny’s apartment (more people from work) – they had a mini barbeque on their balcony & they have a table top electric oven (which I’m considering getting – apparently they cost about £60) & there was loads of really nice food, particularly the corn on the cob, edamame beans, barbequed tiger prawns (which me & Caroline bought) & home-made potato wedges. We (me & Caroline) managed to find some really nice Australian wine in Vanguard supermarket for about £8.80, which we shared at the party – although it went fairly quickly so then Alex kindly gave us some of his wine to drink! It was a really nice evening; I met some more people, chatted to lots of different people, saw some people that I’ve met before & heard some interesting (& not always pleasant!) stories from the ex-firefighter who now tutors English privately. I think we were all really glad that we didn’t have to work on Monday. This weekend was the Mid-Autumn Festival & a public holiday for China (a bit like our bank holidays), which meant that we got Monday off work. Saturday was also Teacher’s Day (a bit like Mother’s or Father’s Day, only for teachers!)! I got a couple of nice cards & a flower from some of the kids in my class on Friday, which was lovely.
Email card from a girl in my class

Email card from a girl in my class

It also gave me an extra day to get my planning done for this week! & of course it means we only have a four day week this week, which is great. I know I haven’t been at work that long, but I really feel like I need a holiday, probably because I haven’t really had one this summer, everything has just been non-stop since before I got here & once I arrived. I’m really looking forward to October half term, which is the first week of October here. I’m thinking about going somewhere nice & relaxing for it, not sure where yet. The only down side of halving half term early, is that there’s 10 weeks with no break between half term & the Christmas holiday, which will be tough. The other thing that makes me think I need a holiday is that I seem to be coming down with a cold. Rubbish.

Anyway, that’s another week done, I’m off to bed!

Posted by Persephoned 23:06 Archived in China Comments (2)

The First Week of School (with the kids this time!)

...plus a few more medical adventures & some more food!

semi-overcast 30 °C

Monday had an interesting beginning. We all had to line up on the school grounds in our classes, before going to our classrooms, for the flag raising ceremony. A girl introduced it, 4 older children then raised the flag & the national anthem was played. A few people sang, but not many. We then had a bit of a speech from the principal (translated by the vice-principal) & a short presentation to children that had achieved a special award for their work in school last year. Once that was done, we could go to class. The rest of that first day was a bit of a muddle – there was some confusion over the timetables, as various versions had been put on the server & no-one was really sure which was correct! I sent the children down for PE at the time I’d been given, but they were sent back a few minutes later saying that I have PE on Wednesday now instead. At which point, we had a nice discussion about what the children did for their summer holidays. It ranged from staying at home & playing computer games all summer, to visiting family in India for 2 months, and a lot of variation in between.

I spent some time getting to know the children – they all seem very nice & (generally) well behaved, although there are of course a few lively ones (all boys, the girls are all lovely). I have 20 children in my class, although one child hasn’t been to school yet, with almost twice as many boys as girls – 7 girls & 13 boys. Most classes seem to be top-heavy with boys. Although I have previously said about the amount of non-teaching time I have, I do have to explain that the days are a lot longer in school here. We start school at 8.10am, when we register the kids, followed by two hour-long lessons then break from 10.20-10.40am. We then have two 50 minute lessons, and lunch at 12.20pm for an hour, which is followed by the afternoon register & 20 minutes of reading time (DEAR – Drop Everything And Read). The afternoon consists of two more hour-long lessons after reading, finishing at 3.40pm, with 10 minutes at the end of the day to finish off, give out letters & get the kids ready to go home at 3.50pm. Staff are allowed to leave from 4pm, which makes it a 40 hour week. Luckily, this school has lots of specialist teachers, which means that I don’t teach PE, ICT, Art, Music, Performing Arts, Extra-Curricular Activities (which are during school on a Friday afternoon) or Chinese (good job to on the last one!). This gives me 12 hours non-teaching time a week, four of which are designated personal hours, which means we can use that time to do things like go to the bank, pay bills & anything else that needs to be done during normal working hours. This means that (hopefully) I’ll be able to get most if not all of my planning, preparation & assessment done during school hours & I’ll have very little to take home with me. Yay!

Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to do any of that today (Wednesday), even though I only taught 2 lessons (my best day!) first thing this morning, plus reading in the afternoon. I went back to the hospital with Jessica as soon as my last lesson was over at 10.20am, because although my foot & ankle are a bit better, they’re still swollen & slightly painful to walk on, so I (& everyone else at work) thought it would be best to get it looked at again. Jessica, bless her, she’s great, went ahead to get my place in the queue so that I wouldn’t have to wait too long once I got there. I had to wait a while to see the doctor even so, but this one spoke a little English, which helped. He sent me to get another blood test to compare it to the first one. This one was even faster – walked straight in, took the sample to the processing dept. & then only had to wait about 10 minutes for the results! We took said results back to the doctor, who gave me a long prescription for about 4 different things. The end result was that it is an infection caused by bacteria & probably due to a low immune system, and it could have been bacteria from anything, including me. The doctor said it often happens around the toenails, but mine is around my ankle & the top of my foot.

We went back downstairs to pay for & collect the prescriptions, only to find that the pharmacy didn’t have one of the items. Back upstairs we trekked (thank goodness they have a lift!) to the doctor, who gave me a different prescription, & downstairs to the pharmacy we went again, via the registration/cash desk where you have to pay for the prescriptions. The good thing was that the new prescription was cheaper than the first one, so I got a bit of a refund. I came away with a bag full of drugs! I have one tablet to take once a day, one to take two of three times a day, some liquid stuff I have to soak a flannel in & place over my foot which I have to change every 10 minutes for an hour, four times a day (which isn’t going to happen! Maybe twice) & the grand finale is the antibiotics – which I have to have administered via a drip. Apparently this is a very common thing to happen here – as the antibiotics didn’t really work the first time around, they then prefer to use a drip as they can give a stronger dose & it is absorbed more quickly. I had one dose done today, for which I had to go back to the hospital this afternoon. It only took about an hour (one thing I will say for the Chinese medical system is that they seem to be very efficient), but I have to go back tomorrow (Thursday) & Friday for my other two doses.

It was really interesting – they had a whole room of people just sitting attached to drips, like a very strange waiting room. People were processed in a very factory-like fashion: bring your medicine & instructions from the doctor, get a number, wait your turn, have the drip attached, go & sit down in the same waiting area, hanging your bag from the pole joined to your chair, wait for it to empty, call a nurse over to remove the drip, go home. I found a ‘Sudoku for Kids’ book in my classroom, so I brought that with me to do while I was waiting. Jessica had to go to a meeting, but she only left once I was all sorted & settled with my drip, & she told me what to say when it was done. The girl opposite me was kind of chatting to me (kind of, because she was speaking Chinese) – she wanted to see what I was doing so I showed her the Sudoku book, then when my drip was done she got the nurse for me. People are so friendly here, even though you don’t speak the same language. It’s great. The nurse spoke some English & told me about coming back the next two days & what I have to bring with me, after removing my drip. I felt exhausted after that, so I went home. I wasn’t expected back at school anyway.

Now I need to sort out something for my Teaching Partner, Susan, to do with my class tomorrow & Friday afternoon while I go to the hospital. Anne (the head) said that’s what I need to do, as there are no spare teachers, but at least it’s ok to leave my class with Susan. Laird (the other year 4 teacher) said he’d help me sort something out for them to do, which is a relief, because currently my brain doesn’t work (as well as my foot) & I have no idea what to leave them to do. Thankfully, I have two free sessions tomorrow morning to sort it out.

I’m not sure when I’ll have time to upload this, as I’m probably not going to make it to Starbucks any evening this week now, & I can’t really do it at work, especially not when half of my time this week is going to be spent at the hospital instead of in school. I just hope all this works!!

On a completely different matter, I cooked at home for the first time last night – proper cooking, not just beans on toast. One of the odd things that came with the apartment is a large shallow saucepan with a dividing section down the centre. Useful for cooking two different things at once, you might think. And you’d be right – if it didn’t let water through underneath! Anyway, I boiled some noodles in one side & veg in the other & added a chicken stock thing (not a cube, one of those jelly pot things) to the noodles for flavour. It was very nice, even if I do say so myself! I really need to get a proper saucepan though – it’d be much easier.

That’ll do for now. I want to go & eat. I’ll write more tomorrow…

Now it’s Saturday, & I’m so relieved it’s the weekend! This week has been really odd & very tiring – partly because it’s been the first week of school proper, with the kids, and partly because I’ve spent half my time at the hospital. Wednesday, Thursday & Friday afternoons I had to go & sit in the drip waiting room for my antibiotic drip. It didn’t take too long – only about an hour each time – but it made me really drowsy afterwards. Wednesday & Friday I was able to go straight home afterwards, but on Thursday I had to go back to school for a staff meeting. A couple of other members of staff said I should go home & they’d fill me in on the meeting, but the head (when I told her I was feeling really drowsy) said that I could fall asleep in the meeting & they’d poke me when something interesting came up – essentially saying that I had to be there. And of course there was nothing really that interesting or useful in the meeting! My TP, Susan, has been great, as she’s looked after my class Thursday & Friday afternoons. Laird (the other Year 4 teacher) has also been great – he did my duty for me on Wednesday & Friday, sorted out some things for my class to do on Thursday afternoon & had the whole year group for an hour on Friday to show them a video (Planet Earth) to do with our Humanities topic on deserts.

My foot now seems a lot better; it’s still slightly pink & a little swollen, but much better than it was & I can almost walk normally (as long as I don’t walk too fast, because then it twinges). I’ve still got a couple of doses of the other tablets to take – corticosteroids & antihistamines – so hopefully by the time I’ve finished those it’ll be completely better & back to normal. It’s become quite frustrating that I haven’t been able to do much or go places. I was invited to a champagne brunch at the Sheriton Hotel this morning – 368rmb (£36.80) for as much food & champagne as you can manage from 11.30am until 2.30pm – but the antibiotics I’ve been taking via drip (having looked them up on the internet at school in my lunch hour, as all the instructions were in Chinese) say that I have to avoid alcohol completely while I’m taking them & for three days after. So there wouldn’t be much point going to a champagne brunch if I can’t drink! Also, I thought it was probably best if I took it easy this weekend; although I really want to go out & do things, taking it slowly is probably the sensible thing to do, as I really don’t want the infection to come back again.

Hopefully next week me & Caroline are going to find a gym to join (I really need to, as all I’ve been doing is sitting every evening for the last two weeks, so I’m sure I’ve put on weight – plus all the food is so nice & there’s so much choice!). We’ve been told about a couple of different ones that aren’t too far from where we live, and the price is around 1200rmb for the year (£120), which isn’t too bad. Hopefully on Monday (as that’s pay day) I can start getting the internet sorted out too! That costs around 1600rmb (£160) for the year; you can pay monthly but it makes it a lot more expensive (about an extra 800rmb or £80 over the year), so paying yearly is definitely the better option. For now, Starbucks will just have to do!

Yesterday (Friday) I went with Caroline, Janine & Cathy (all teachers at school) for a head massage at a spa not very far from where we all live. It was quite different from head massages I’ve had previously. We went through a hair salon area & lay down on what looked like massage tables with a sink at one end. We had to lie with our heads over the sink, propped up on a small headrest in the middle. Our hair was then washed (which was very nice) & massaged through the washing. This was repeated several times – shampoo, massage, rinse, repeat – and the neck was massaged a little too, which was quite nice & got some of my knots out. We then went back through to the salon part, where our hair was blow dried & styled. The guy who did my hair spoke a little English, and tried to have a bit of a conversation with me, asking if it was my first time here, was I working here, & telling me I should come back & get my hair cut & when I did I should ask for him – number 6! The others all had their hair straightened, but mine was finished with a bit of a curl, and we all looked really good. This all took about an hour, and cost the grand price of 25rmb (£2.50)! Definitely worth it. I felt nice & relaxed afterwards. I think it’d be a good thing to have done before a night out; Janine & Cathy told us they’d done exactly that before the staff Christmas do last year.

After this, we went our separate ways home, Cathy & Janine one way, me & Caroline another. I thought I’d try the walk back as it wasn’t too far (we’d got a taxi there) & as long as we didn’t walk too fast. Caroline had the bright idea of popping into VanGuard (supermarket) on our way home to get food – they have quite a large takeaway section, where all the food is ready prepared & you just have to reheat it at home, or they can heat it there for you. We got a selection of things, most of which we had no idea what they were – various dumplings, wraps & bread-looking products. As Caroline’s microwave needs a good clean before she can use it, & her kitchen is still not finished, I invited her back to mine to eat. We tried all the different things we’d bought: there was a seaweed wrap filled with pork & sweetcorn & with a crabstick in the middle, a dumpling filled with some kind of onion mix, some kind of savoury naan bread, a dumpling filled with chestnut puree, a steamed bread roll, a small pork open-topped dumpling, a sweet thick pancake-like flat bread with a sesame puree filling, and Caroline had some sushi, half of which had ham pieces instead of fish. Apart from the sushi, which I didn’t try, it was all really tasty. I shall have to go back to VanGuard & try all the other things they have there – there’s a huge range of foods available, so it might take me a while!

Whilst in VanGuard I also picked up some more random food products to try: Seaweed Pringles, mint ice cream Oreo cookies, barbeque Copico crisps (they look like Pringles) & some weird looking square crisp/rice cracker things that have no flavour on the packet – I tried them & can’t figure it out, other than they taste a little like paprika flavour but different! I also got some giant black grapes from a barrow outside my apartment complex. 20rmb (£2) for three reasonable sized bunches isn’t a bad price, although I’m sure she overcharged me because I’m foreign – apparently most people on markets, etc. do! They’re good grapes, although the skin is a little bitter & they have lots of seeds in them, so I don’t know if I’ll get them again. I still prefer my papples! There are still so many food types to try, that I don’t know if my planned diet is actually going to work…

Later today (& tomorrow!) I’m meeting people for coffee in Starbucks, which’ll be nice. I think it’s becoming our regular haunt already. One of the girls who works there already remembers my order of black tea when I go there! Mind you, I have got a cup every morning before school this week. It is expensive (20rmb or £2 for a cup of tea) but they have reusable teabags, which means I can just get it topped up with hot water when I’ve finished my first cuppa, so I get two cups for the price of one. Obviously this doesn’t work with the takeaway ones I get on my way to work, but still. And you get free internet use while you’re there. I should probably try & get the rest of my planning done before I go so I can email it to Laird. He’s planning English & Humanities, I’m planning Maths & Science. It doesn’t seem like much when you put it like that, but it suddenly seems like I have loads to do before Monday, especially as most of my non-contact sessions last week were spent at the hospital instead of planning & preparing. I also need to mark the reading & writing tests we did with the children this week to get their levels for English, so I think I’ll make a start on that as soon as I’ve finished this. Speaking of which, I think I’ll stop there so I can get some work done!

Now I'm in Starbucks, having marked the reading tests & levelled the writing. They're almost all below where I would expect Year 4 children in England to be, but then that's to be expected really, as English is their second language. My Chinese isn't anywhere near as good as their English! Hopefully I'll be able to start having lessons soon though, which will be very useful. I think that's enough writing for now. I need more tea!

Posted by Persephoned 19:48 Archived in China Comments (2)

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