Monday, 11 June 2012

The Gap Year Never Ends....

A year has passed since my gap year and I can't say I think about it any less. I met up with one of my fellow China volunteers this weekend and we dined on jiaozi (dumplings) in China Town. I still talk to my Chinese friends and sent over a chocolate good luck package in time for the infamous Gao Kao exams and they sent me this picture for my birthday from the classroom:

I'm meeting a relative of one my friends in Fiji who now lives in England next week and I still exchange letters with my host family back on Ovalau. I've loved studying Anthropology this year and being swept up in the stresses of moving city, new friends, new jobs and starting Uni has meant volunteering has taken a back seat! But next year I've already found a Guide unit to start as a leader again and I've been offered a position as a volunteer English teacher at Kalayaan, a charity in London.

It's hard to convey just how great the whole year was. The number of opportunities, great friends and good experiences I had was unreal and I can't wait to visit the places again, Eshan in China and Viro and Fiji weren't holiday destinations, but my home in other countries. China 2013 is definitely happening!

On that note... it's also incredibly important that these placements continue receiving volunteers to fill these roles. Lattitude Global Volunteering (former "Gap Activity Projects") are a charity who have been running since 1972 and place volunteers in long term placements and are a member of BOND (British Overseas NGOs for Development). It isn't just for UK volunteers, but volunteers from host countries also come to the UK.

More volunteers are needed and it's the hardest thing for leaving volunteers to see their projects going on hiatus simply because no one can fill the role.

So.... of you'd like to volunteer in China or volunteer in Fiji, give Lattitude Global Volunteering a shout and send me pictures! There are placements in other countries and for other skills, but of course I'm biased about getting vols back in my home territories!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Chengdu Celebrity Spotting.... Landslide in to Travel Plans

I went to see the stars of the South West - Chengdu's famous pandas! Very cute, a little sleepy and as always - very hungry. I especially liked the panda who sat in a pile of bamboo munching away. They were actually a lot less lazy than I expected! There was a nice Attenborough DVD in the museum and so his dulcit tones really set the tone for the trip.

Did you know, pandas are only on heat for 72 hours a year?
Or that they are very picky eaters and throw away 75% of the bamboo they're given?

We went outside of the city to an ancient town called Pingle (say  Ping-leh, not Pingle as in Pringles!) with some beautiful  architecture, riverside teahouses and a bamboo boat trip down the  river. Chrysantaneum, rose and berry tea by the waterwheel is a  cooling remedy to the heat (30C+!) and humidity (100%!!!) here in the Sichuan basin!

Near Pingle is the longest chain suspension bridge in China - not  longest suspension bridge, nor longest chain bridge, the  longest-chain-suspension bridge. Out in the countryside people speak  harder Sichuan dialect which isn't like the Beijing standard Chinese -  I couldn't understand anything old ladies said!

Anyway... just yesterday a real spanner was thrown into my travel  plans. The Grand Plan was a ring trip from Sichuan Province into Yunnan Province via the Tibet border through high altitude border  towns in the  mountains full of Tibetan monasteries and really rural,  unspoilt beauty. I knew the road was iffy and very dangerous... but  just yesterday the whole west Sichuan (i.e EVERY ROAD I was meant to  travel on) has been closed off to foreigners due to dangerous road  conditions (landslides, flooding etc. from the rains). So dissapointed! But at least it wasn't the reason I came to China and  I'm now able to chill out in the best hostel ever with a lot of  friends :)

So, now the plan is to wing it! Getting back to Yunnan and heading to  the Nujiang Valley, home to one of only two undammed rivers in China,  scunched next to the Burma border and home to half of China's endangered plant species. Can't wait!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Tears and Trekking

I finished teaching at the school last week and it was one of the hardest goodbyes I've ever had to do. I spent the weekend with my  (now my ex-students) best friends in China and giving letters to the people who'v been so kind to me whilst I've been here. I received so many gifts in the last week - one class even wrote a Chinese song/poem book for me! I also received some beautiful letters from students which were so moving and really set me on the edge of tears. I cried the whole of Monday when I left the school and as I sat on my 20 hour train to Chengdu, I realised I miss The National Minorities High School more than England! A crowd of my favourite students and my Link Teacher came to see me off and I was literally crying for hours...

My first long distance solo journey on China's trains was a good one as I had a great (i,e NOT SMELLY!) carriage. I went hard sleeper which was actually very comfortable. The journey was 20 hours and in the morning I woke to an amazing change of scenery, travelling along the Yangtze river looking into stunning gorges. Everyone in the neighbouring berths shared snacks until we arrived at 1pm. Chengdu in Sichuan feels so different to Yunnan province. In Yunnnan I could see mountains on every horizon everywhere I went and the weather is permanently Spring like. Here, I got out of the train and a wave of humidity smacked me in the face. Chengdu is a major city and the crowds felt like they'd never end, the taxi driver chatted to me about the weather (just like England aye?) and said it's always much hotter here.

I've met up with some friends and after exploring Chengdu's tea houses for one day whilst catching up, went to Emei Mountain. Emei is one of China Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains and we made a pilgrimage to the summit to see the sunrise, sleeping in a monastery and a peasant house on the way. I've been able to practice my Chinese a lot since finishing my work as an English teacher and managed to make Chinese friends on the way!

Emei was full of amazing views and also.... wild monkeys! They have no fear and one jumped on my friend's back, grabbed her ice tea before downing it.

I'm still in Chengdu for a couple of days travelling around but soon I'll be journeying to the west of Sichuan into the Tibetan plateaus. Monasteries, monks, prayer flags, yaks, mountains, crystal blue skies..... I can't wait to get out of this city!!

Friday, 1 July 2011

Last Week of Lessons

Who knew 4 months of teaching could fly by so, so fast?

I still remember all my lesson plans and it's surreal thinking I've now taught my last lesson of the gap year. Going back to England is going to feel very strange. I think I'm going to have to pick up a TEFL certificate on the way....

For this last week, I've asked my students to teach me something Chinese. I've had a BRILLIANT time and learnt so much!! Every class has shown me something different. About half of my students are from ethnic minorities (most are Hui, Hani, Dai, Yi) who've taught me songs, dances and language which has been so interesting and completely new. It's been great to jump into culture and learn everything from fire dances from Yi students, raps in local dialect, children's songs and famous Chinese karaoke hits! I've also had a crash course in Tai Chi, had calligraphy written for me and had classes recite & translate classical poetry about friendship to me:

"Wherever you go and whatever you do, we will always be friends and we will always miss you"
Hearing a class of 60 say this together is really very moving.

It's not all Chinese though, I also had an AMAZING popping & locking display to Michael Jackson from a group of boys!!

.... But I have to say, I really, really am sad. I love this school so much and am finding it really hard to say goodbye to the best job I think I'll ever have. My colleagues all tell me this is my second home and  never to worry about accommodation when I come to SW China. I've been fighting back tears all today and when students ask if they'll ever see me again, I can't bring myself to say no. So, I think it's a new job, saving money and an airfare back to China when I get back to England :)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

China: Fun and Games

Word Parade- THE game of intense and competitive speed spelling.

It's my penultimate week of teaching so I've just been playing games!

Classes are HILARIOUS so I had share some stories.... People think classes of 60 would be a nightmare but it's actually really good as there's a huge crowd mentality, in fact, it's much easier playing games in class of 60 in China than a class of 9 in Fiji.

Guess the Word

  • Teacher writes a word on the board, one student stands at the front and has to guess the word some help from everyone else.
  • Speak English! (No Chinese.... or Japanese, Korean, French, Spanish etc.)
  • No spelling
  • No objects
My favourites...

Hu Jintao 

"Wen Jiabao's friend!!"
Students with the family name "Hu" : "ME! My Father! My Uncle!!"

"dislike dislike!" Student guessing: "....Teachers?"
"We love *English teacher's name* but we really ______ *history teacher's name*

Lady Gaga

"Oh my .......!" ("Oh my Lady Gaga!" is a catchphrase in China)
"Him him him!!" (everyone points at a student who loves Gaga)
*class starts to sing Poker Face*



"English" Whispers

  • Each column is a team. 10 teams of 6.
  • Teacher tells the back row the sentence, they must whisper till it gets to the front where the front row have to write what they've heard on the blackboard.
  • Most accurate team wins!
They're all MASSIVE (+hilarious) cheaters. By the last round, they're literally screaming across the room to the front row or passing a written note along, It's pretty much anarchy and they're pushing each other off the blackboard.... doing victory dances after finishing writing first and generally a massive laugh!!

Chinese whispers in China.... is definitely not a whisper.

Having so much fun! :) Love love love love love China.

p.s I'm nowhere near the floods in China, but it's still raining a lot!!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Loving Life

  • Woke up with a sore throat/cold.
  • Taught 2 lessons at 7:40am in the morning to cover for another sick teacher.
  • Crashed out after eating lunch.
  • 2 timetabled lessons in the afternoon.
  • 2 extra lessons this evening and have just got back to my dorm at 11pm.... AND I LOVE LIFE!!!!
I love my classes, I love my school, I love my colleagues... China is the absolute bomb and I can't get enough of everyone and everything. 

You'd think I'd be stressed or antisocial after 7am-11pm day, but all I can think about is how much fun I'm having. Standing in front of my classes is the best feeling! I love teaching them so much! I know my classes well and can tell them funny stories and they can confide in me. 

After teaching in the evening, my class asked me to stay and watch TV with them (they watch the news in their classrooms on Friday evenings) and a couple of students translated for me. I sat there for a while just thinking all I want to do is stay! If I could, I'd stay another term and just travel the expanses of SW China during the school holidays. I don't even want to go back to England inbetween the 2 terms! I absolutely love China and can't believe how quickly time has gone. I feel like I'm only just scratching the surface of life. I know I'll be back though!! I just hope it's as soon as possible!!

I've been showing photos and talking about Fiji/volunteering to my classes, most of them have never even left the province before so travel is such a big idea to them. It's felt pretty immense to have a few students come and tell me that before meeting a foreigner they never cared about learning English and never wanted to travel... but now they want to work abroad and learn more languages!

I love how relaxed everything is now... students showing me pet cicadas in the break time, not being scared to try out new English words in conversation with me and me.... finally having the confidence to speak Chinese with them!

I know I have to go back to England and go to University. Here's a video of my friend's first Anthropology lecture. Anthropology is probably the only degree that could reign me back in from all these travels, but I have a feeling nothing will ever match to this super, super amazing year. (My classes have just learnt the word "super" from their textbook this week, it now precedes EVERY word possible :) )

Only 26 days left of teaching :( ....but the best days EVER!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

生日快乐! Shengri Kuaile! (Happy Birthday)

Last weekend I celebrated my 19th birthday in China with the other volunteers in the city... reminding me of how overdue a new blogpost is!

My actual birthday is the 23rd May and China made it a very memorable one indeed! My birthday fell  just over the 3 month mark of living here, so it was great reminder of just how settled I was in China.

At midnight I started getting texts from students who were still up in their dorms playing with their phones and my absolute favourite birthday message of the day goes to a fabulous student called Gin. He loves Lady Gaga and his message was…

Amazing guy, tons of personality, he makes me laugh every day!

I then went to class the next day after a breakfast of “dan ta” (egg custard tarts!) where my class started to sing to me – first in English, then in Chinese! They drew a cake for me on the board hidden behind some paper and I couldn’t bring myself to rub it off, so I just drew around it the whole lesson! 

My volunteer partner Zoe had taken the liberty of writing this sign up the evening before whilst I was in our flat…

“Tomorrow is JiaoJiao (nickname from my Chinese name, Xiao Yunjiao) (Natalie’s) birthday. Please wish her a happy birthday!”

During English corner, some students came round our flat and I opened a parcel sent from my lovely friend Victoria from England. I shared out some of the chocolate, but the main present was this:

Possibly, the BEST present to have sent to a person in China! My students translated the message for me after laughing at my attempt at reading the characters and were very impressed with the present.
Then, Mona / Zhang Zhemei (one my students) pulled out a beautiful present!! Polka-dot wrapping paper with a big blue bow on top, the prettiest present I’ve ever received and the most suprising at that! I didn’t think any of my students would give me anything like this! It now sits on my bedside table here and I’ll definitely be bringing it back to England for my University desk.

A pencil holder with “My Neighbour Totoro” characters, a Japanese movie Mona and I both love.

In the evening, the English department changed their meetings around so that they could take me out on my birthday. After a banquet dinner, we went to KTV / Karaoke and where we had cake (and lots of singing!). Some of my foreign friends came too and I was lucky enough to hear happy birthday in Spanish (as well as Chinese / English!) from an Argentine friend who’s another English Teacher. We were back after midnight (where I found a bundle of birthday cards pushed under the door!) and I definitely feel I celebrated my 19th in plenty of style (and thankfully, without too much 35% rice wine and Chinese beer).

Last but not least… Zoe’s present to me was an amazing book full of photos and messages from all my friends at Minzhong 民中 (National Minorities High School) and photos of all our little backpacker weekends away. The best present ever!!!!!!!!!

But there’s an amusing twist… the book she bought is hilariously a notebook for people learning a style of kung-fu that helps men become women. The first student who signed the book explained this to her and it was apparently of much amusement to everyone thereafter. Even after 3 months in China, you can definitely keep finding out new things!

A card from all the volunteers :)

We had a birthday celebration in the big city... people trekked 16 hour hard seat train journeys to get there!