Asian Impressions

Don’t get too excited, this isn’t what you think. Below, you won’t find a video highlight real of my best impressions of Asian celebrities. Instead what you’ll find is where my head is at after a few months living in China, and more specifically Shanghai.

  
First off it’s  worth mentioning, if only briefly, the comedy inherent in translation. Shanghai in its nature is a very international city, catering to many cultures and languages. Most signs, for example, are presented in both Chinese and English. Leading to moments such as this one:

  
Something that makes me chuckle from time to time.

Now about the people. It’s become apparent that the Chinese are very blunt, very direct and often don’t mean any offence when they approach you just to tell you your hair looks weird today, or that you are too tall. I am often treated with complete indifference, intensely started at, or if I travel to an area with fewer foreigners, I am treated almost like a celebrity. An interesting experience in and of itself!

The longer I am here the more the country grows on me, although it is hard to place a specific reason. The Country itself is beautiful, and I’m starting to aclimatise. The initial heat gave way to the plum rains (a brief rainy season that signals the start of summer). But now the average temperature is hitting around 33 degrees I’m starting to suffer slightly. I’ll say this at least, I’ve never experienced sweat or humidity like I have over here.

I’m fully settled into my school and the job. Although each day can through up all kinds of challenges, it certainly keeps you on your toes. I’ve been observed a few times by varying degrees of people in charge of me and parents, and I’m safe in th knowledge that at the very least I won’t be fired. For the most part the kids are great, although they can have their days. But don’t we all. 

  
Most of the things that initially stuck out as different or odd have now all but sank into the background. Except of course the language, I have a few words but really need to commit to learning it. I’ve been told I have an ear for it, but I’ve never had the head for language, other than my own.

I’m looking forward to the future and the rest of my time in China!

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Market Day

A short hop, skip and a jump from the flat/apartment, is a smallish local market, nestled along one stretch of an intersection. Strolling up and down its length was my first experience of such a market in Shanghai. The mission was simple, yet dangerous … gather food for dinner! (Dun dun dun! Insert film clichés here).

  

The open air and alive fish section caught me a little off guard. Sure I’ve seen pet shops and fish markets, but nothing quite like this. In each bubbling basin lay an array of different sea food, all alive and kicking. A good few making a mad dash for freedom during my short visit alone. The stall itself was sharply decorated by one gut ridden chopping board, on which the seller executed and gutted his goods there and then. Fortunately me and my Aunt purchased a number of shrimp, which didn’t require such special treatment. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging the practice, I’m merely describing how this new and interesting experience unraveled before me. Take for instance the carrying of the purchased shrimp. My Aunt handed me the bag they were contained in, I think their jumping and kicking freaked her out a little, I know it freaked me out a little, but I wasn’t about to let that show.

   
 

Moving on through the market came the less alive produce, vegetables. This part of the market was altogether a little less remarkable. Not too dissimilar from market days back in England, just a large selection of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers etc. One clear contrast however, was the lack of catchy slogans and deals bombarding the ears. At least not in the manner I am used to. There is every chance the vendors were advertising such deals, but I couldn’t understand them if they were. No £1 fish songs or get your potatoes 50p for a pound.

But alas, market day was a good day, a window into the everyday lives of some of the locals. It’s funny how some aspects of life seem so universal, don’t you think? 

My New School

So, the next step. The first week at my new school, the school I’ll be teaching at for the next year. My first impression were mixed, the school occupies two floors, the first and second (not the ground), of a building which also hosts a hotel. A little hidden, but not impossible to find. The other teachers and staff have been nothing but kind and hospitable, showing me the ropes and where to find what I need to find.

The content of the week itself was a little disorganized, although I’m not sure the severity of the word is justified; muddled perhaps. I wasn’t always sure if I was supposed to be teaching, and once I was thrown into a lesson a few minutes before it started. Which turned out to be a little less daunting than I had imagined it would be. If you have classroom management sorted, it seems, the pauses between activities are often overlooked or forgiven by the kids. The breathing room was almost definitely a necessity.

I ended up teaching more than I was promised. But that’s certainly not a bad thing, just a little more experience to calm the nerves. On the topic of nerves, the most I have experienced so far in my new role definitely gravitated around the Open House I took. For anyone wondering, in this case an Open House is a demonstration lesson, in which you are expected to perform a routine to children and their parents, in the hope they’ll sign up to the curriculum. Mine went fairly well, it was perhaps a little rushed, but all the content was covered and the kids had a good time. In the end, all you need to do is play the fool a little, if the kids are laughing and the parents are laughing, well … full steam ahead. A little more practice and it’ll all be under my belt.

To the next week then, I’ll be taking a few classes and shadowing the man I’ll be replacing. From then on out the classes will be mine. A prospect that scares me less and less as I progress.

To the next week then.

Training is Over

That’s it, all done, no more training; at least not for the time being. Shortly I will be heading to my new school to begin sculpting the minds of my students.

The last week has flown by. After dipping my toe in (running half a lesson). I took the plunge, planning and presenting every lesson I could before my time ran out with my trainer. It’s fair to say I enjoyed every minute of it, even the classes that were a little trickier to manage. What really struck me was just how quickly a hour and a half lesson can pass. It’s truely daunting at first, imagining how you’ll  fill the time. But after presenting a few vocab words, playing a game or two and some concept checks, you find yourself asking just where has the time gone?

A few more observations I’ve made are as follows:

Projecting confidence is key, even if you feel the weight of those crushing nerves looming over you. Don’t let them smell your fear! If these kids sense a whisper of a weakness they’ll walk all over you! Althought it’s not all as dramatic as it sounds. There is definitely a sense of respect for teachers, but at the end of the day you are dealing with kids, who just want to have fun after a long day at school.

The pressure these kids face is immense, especially when compared to what I experienced back home. Sure my parents wanted and still want me to do well. But that pales in comparison to the expectations these kids face. In an environment in which passing a test with the score of 99/100 isn’t enough, the pressure can manifest itself in all kinds of ways. Not just for the kids, but you can certainly feel it yourself if you let it creep in.

Fun is vital if you want to keep the kids engaged, especially during the less interesting activities like drills and phonics practice, in which you can really see the enthusiasm drain from the kids. And fun is just one of the three corner stones of teaching.

The second is classroom management, simple enough once you’ve developed a system. And of course teaching the material itself. There’s no point being a teacher if you don’t impart any kind of knowledge!

So there it is, an unedited and unplanned rambling of what training taught me.

My First Week of Training 

Teaching is like nothing I have ever experienced before. This simple statement became the over-riding theme of my first week of training.

The initial couple of days were simple enough. Arrive at the Head Office by this time, we will be talking about cultural differences and looking at the broad strokes of lesson planning, etc.  And to be fair, the first couple of days at my training school were also pretty simple, observing lessons and taking notes.

  
The building housing said Head Office

Towards the end of the week however, my nerves began to build. I would be standing in front a pack of kids, ready and eagerly awaiting their chance to drag me to my knees. Or so I thought. As it turns out I actually quite enjoyed it. Although I’m not 100% comfortable with it all just yet, running the warm-ups and later the presentation portions wasn’t half bad. In fact it might not be so inappropriate to say I took to it pretty well! Like a duck to some very murky water.

The kids responded to me, they do seem to enjoy watching the Laowai dancing around and making a fool of himself in the hope they’ll pick up a word or two. They played the games I ran, they remembered the words I taught. (A very proud moment)  I managed to prevent the classes from descending into complete chaos, just about. Which suffice to say was an added bonus. Classroom management it seems, and indeed lessons/ lesson planning are one thing on paper, but are completely different in practice. 

So to sum up, so far so good. The real test(s) will come in the next day(s) or so, in which I will be handed the reins for a half and then a full class. Total and unbridled control. That’s a little terrifying. There’s so much that could go wrong and it would be all my fault! PMA! PMA, keep those positive vibes. Don’t let them smell your fear.

But yes, it’s been a positive experience, which I am awfully glad about, the idea of working in a job you despise or detest for a year would be abhorrent. (Pretty strong words I know, but they just role off the tongue so exquisitely) 

Roll on this week!

 

From a Long Goodbye to a Warm Welcome

Reality struck home on the eve of my flight; one of those holy crap moments, I am actually doing this! Although, to be fair, the emotional farewell I received from my Aunt had certainly pushed me in that direction. That farewell belonged to a series of such goodbyes. The first was a family BBQ, a rather small affair. The next was orchestrated by my Father. A few pints, a pub lunch later and he had excitedly wished me on my way. This was followed swiftly by drinks with my oldest friend (and one much newer), then came my Aunt’s, accompanied by my Uncle and Cousin. Finally this dramatic series reached it’s crescendo with a teary goodbye at the airport; waving farewell to my Mother and Step-Father.
There was plenty of time on the 11-hour flight to contemplate everything it meant to be sat in my seat. All the excitement and fear that was bubbling up to the surface. Or the fact I’d soon be half-way across the world in a foreign land, unable to speak the language. It seems almost strange someone would put themselves in such a situation, far outside the boundaries of what is comfortable. But alas, there I was either a brave man or a fool! Although I know I’d like to believe I am more brave than foolish. What was abundantly clear to me was that I was about to experience a lot of firsts, and to do so I was going to have to throw myself into it all.
After an uneventful and uninteresting flight of deep contemplation and films I had finally arrived, a weary eyed traveler. Here I was, in Shanghai! My life has always fluctuated between a strong direction and none at all. But at no point unt my recent history had I ever imagined I’d be in a place like this. On the other side of immigration, waiting for me at arrivals, were my Aunt and Uncle, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They had kindly offered to house me for the duration of my stay in China, something I am most certainly grateful for. Something, it seems, that has put me in a rather unique position from other people my age setting off on an adventure largely/loosely based on a teaching role. I am lucky enough to have the safety net of family. Of course that is just an assumption based on what I’ve read; my circumstance could be a lot more common place than I know. But that’s neither here nor there.
What is important is that I here, I made it, and it is all about to begin!

Warp Speed!

This is possibly the coolest/most exciting thing I have read in a while, time to geek out. Some scientists believe they may be knocking of the door of creating something akin to the warp drives (or hyperdrives, depending on your taste) of science fiction.

As described by IFLScience (Link is here) the invention turning so many heads is the EM Drive (Electromagnetic Drive), invented by the British Aerospace Engineer Roger J. Shawyer. Now, what usually follows is an explanation of how the new technology functions, but I really don’t have much of an idea. I can tell you however, its purpose is to create thrust without the use of fuel, requiring only electricity to produce the desired effect. But more importantly, the name EM Drive sounds pretty bad ass and entirely becoming of a potential interstellar propulsion device.

NASA found that when laser beams were fired into the drive, some were recorded to have moved faster than the speed of light (which is: 299 792 458 metres per second or 186 282.4 metres per second, well … ish). One explanation, owing to the fact the Theory of Relativity states nothing can move faster than the speed of light, could be that space-time itself was moving around the lasers, propelling them faster than Einstein ever thought possible. Whilst I am no scientist myself, the mere thought of bending space-time, warp drives and space travel just cradles my curiosity. Imagine, in the not too distant future, mankind could set about exploring out galaxy and perhaps more! The next step in this bold quest will require careful research, thought and ingenuity, but I believe somewhere out there the perfect theme tune for humanity’s first deeps space mission is calling. Sorry Star Trek, for copyright reasons, it won’t be yours.