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.

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!

The Countdown

So it begins, the real countdown. Although I have known for a good while now of my own intentions to work abroad, only now does it feel truly tangible. Whilst specific events along the way have really nailed home the resounding fact of my impending departure from the rolling countryside of Good Old Blighty, such as booking my flight. It is with the fast approaching deadline of my flight date that has encouraged the butterflies to take up permanent residence in the pit of my stomach.

As this date draws ever closer, the swirling cocktail of trepidation and unbridled excitement grows ever stronger, progressing from a gentle Sunday afternoon mock-tail to a dizzying 48-hour shot filled binge. But there remains a lot to do. Ranging from packing, and finding something to pack in, to informing Her Majesty’s finest Tax Agents I will be leaving the country. (Whilst maintaining my National Insurance payments, something I would largely recommend.) The list of jobs seems almost never ending. Not to mention I have to gut my room, as my parents are already planning to transform it into God knows what. Which arguably you could say they are more than entitled to. But you do get the feeling they want to ship you off asap.

Now, back on point, how would most logical people attempt to tackle this unruly list of requirements? A to-do list I here you say, a fine choice! But what is that? I hear others screaming flow charts, calendars and reminders on your phones. All prime examples of a profound sense of organisation. Me on the other hand, leaving everything to the last minute and hoping all goes to plan seems to spring to mind. A fool proof method that has always got me where I need to go, with everything I have always needed-ish. Time for a change perhaps? Luckily, due to the duration of my travels I will be able to pick up anything I have missed, so in some sense I can breathe a sigh of relief, assuming I don’t forget my visa of course. If I were to create a to-do list what would it consist of? Lets have a think:

  1. Purchase, or otherwise acquire a suitcase or two.
  2. Place items in said suitcase(s): a toothbrush, pyjamas, Mr.Teddy and an assortment of reading materials.
  3. Inform HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) of my intention to leave, as well as letting the Student Finance Company know the same thing.
  4. Remove any sign I lived in my parents house.
  5. Convert my savings into Yuan.
  6. Go to the Airport.

A pretty comprehensive list I do believe. Although I have no doubt I am missing something of the up most importance … damn you brain!

My Next Adventure!

It is official! This May I will be flying halfway around the world to China, more specifically Shanghai, to teach English for a year. To say that I am both nervous and excited is just a bit of an understatement. After all there is only so much reading can prepare you for, and it is a fair old distance from home.

But enough of all that, how did I get to this point I hear you ask? The process (so far) has been fairly straightforward and uncomplicated. After graduating from university I decided I would embark upon a year (or more) abroad, you know to expand my horizons, find myself, discover what I want to do with the rest of my life and experience the world etc. Shanghai was always pretty up there on my shortlist of places to go, aided, of course, by the current residency of my aunt and uncle. It’s a pretty nifty way to visit some family, wouldn’t you agree? Locale settled, next I simply applied to Eastland Recruiting, who put me in touch with Kid Castle in Shanghai, a few interviews here and there and what do you know, I had a job offer. Oh and there was the small matter of doing a 120 hour TEFL course, we must not forget about that.

Now the teaching part, why teaching? Well that decision was a little less straightforward, although it hardly constituted the need for words like complicated, perplexing or perhaps difficult, if difficult could indeed apply at all. I was faced with that aged old question: What am I going to do next/with my life? Depending upon how dramatic you feel. The answer to which, is never a simple or an easy one. I had, once or twice before, considered the noble profession of teaching, shaping the young minds of the future. But I could never bring myself to commit. Now I am presented with the perfect opportunity to test myself and test whether teaching is for me, or more accurately, if I’ll be any good at it. Other than that I have always been more academically minded and I have, more often than not, assisted or tried to assist anyone who has asked me with English and essays and all such wonderful things. It is just in my nature to try to help (maybe a little too much at times).

So here I am, convinced my future, no, my destiny lies in wait in the East …. watch this space!