Beijing, TUESC: Class Party & Last Goodbyes

First Days, Last Days

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After weeks with my trusty, temperamental bike, of hitching rides off Stefan in the morning – and doing my fair share of return journeys – the three and a half weeks at Tsinghua University, Beijing are drawing to a close.

I am going to sorely miss my Floridian teaching partner, my right-hand man and my back-covering classroom bud. I am going to miss making up Greek Chants with my students are we learn about American University life, going to miss cramp inducing hilarity at their interpretations of Shakespeare drama and their proud presentations in English. Onward and homeward journeys are being planned by students and volunteers alike. Closing drinks, letters, address exchanges and travel tickets. But, before all that,  Blue G plan a proper send-off:

Class Party!

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I didn’t write nearly enough, or photograph enough and I wish I had the time to take the whole experience again from start to finish, but sadly the end is finally here… To celebrate our time together, class Blue G decorate our lecture room, and we volunteers pile it full of edible treats.

For the last class of Tsinghua English Summer Camp 2013 we play 60-student strong games, sign T-Shirts and finally, chorus a deafening Westlife ‘My Love’ through twice, teary and stubborn to make the most of our last few hours as Students and Teachers.

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Origami Messages
Origami Messages

Thank you Blue G!

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 The class presents items to each of us, and I am incredibly touched by the glass jar of hand-folded origami hearts with my students names, as well as a folder of fabulous letters from my students thanking my for our time here. I can’t read it with them as my inability to control my tear-ducts is embarrassing. We give out our photo that we’ve printed out for the class to remember us by.

Blue G, we will miss you!

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Find out more about the Tsinghua English Summer Camp, including volunteer application details and deadline by following the link!

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Beijing, TUESC: COMPETITION TIME

Tsinghua English Summer Camp.

IT’S SINGING COMPETITION TIME!!

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Jennifer waving our class flag!!

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IRISH BACK AT ME

The Camp-wide competition of Tsinghua University English Summer Camp 2012 is this biggest event of Beijing so far with over three thousand students packed into the university’s auditorium.

Blue G’s five piece boy band (shamelessly and fearlessly) made it through the preliminaries and semi-finals with Westlife’s My Love, a tribute to my ten-year-old Westlife cowboy-hat wearing self which nearly had me in tears –  and boy, did we roar their way onto the finals stage. Nothing could make me prouder than having some of the shyest male members of Blue G feel brave enough to take on this classic tune in front of thousands of their first-year compatriots.

Old hands at the camp, prepared for the vastness of the auditorium stage may have wowed the crowd with costumes and dance routines, but with our class’s front row section to auditorium, we were banner-waving, foot-stomping, and crowd-screamingly raucous; we were the loudest faction (by our count at least) and we sang every note fit to burst along with our lad’s Westlife tribute.

As My Love became the official anthem of Blue G 2012, Stefan and I nearly passed out with exhilaration.

What a great night!

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Beijing, TUESC: Fashion Show!

CATWALK, BABY

In a slightly less important note this week, although entirely mortifying on my part as this post reminds me, Annie and I took part in the Fashion Competition at camp – and yours truly won the Camp T-Shirt Customising Competition in the Volunteers section for Blue G!
Cringe.

I definitely don’t have the same pizazz as the Blue G Boy Band (who received many paper origami flowers from their female classmates, I didn’t fail to notice), and without Annie twirling me down the make-shift catwalk I certainly wouldn’t have looked quite as graceful. But the early morning rushed sewing (of course, I don’t travel anywhere without a kit) paid off with improvised polystyrene and cardboard flowers with a braided hem going to show you don’t need much to make something cute, if not dubiously weather-proof.

Just don’t look too close at the quality of the stitching.

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STYLE NOTES

Personally I like Annie’s decoration better, but as many of the volunteers have noted in our travels around Beijing, Chinese fashion has something against showing the shoulders, let alone the chest area.

I’m not particularly keen on showing skin myself, and part of me (literally) reckons it’s the Asian in me, if not the Asian mother upbringing.

Rather unnervingly, another volunteer commented that Chinese girls wear clothes like… “Charlotte,” pointing at my loose T-shirt and short combo. Sans cleavage (not that there’s much to show), shoulders covered, and typical cute design logo. Sigh…

Unlike my Western volunteer counterparts, I’m too conscious of the hubbub of curious looks and comments to want to make more ripples than a group of 老外 (lǎowài) already do; it’s hard not to feel influenced by my surroundings, especially when I can understand them. The style here for women definitely has an emphasis on femininity displayed as “girly” and delicate, rather than as accentuated sensuality. And the results of the Camp fashion show seems to act as a demonstration of this hypothesis anyway…

On the other hand, there’s no problem with short shorts, although by comparison to the Taiwanese style I’m used to, these barely count as short at all. Certainly high-heels are worn all round. We’ve even seen high-heels, bizarrely, on mountain trails where we foreigners are decked in hiking gear…

Though, I don’t think that’s something I’m about to be influenced by.

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Beijing, TUESC: Camp does the Great Wall

The Great Wall

Mu Tian Yu

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Hot. Misty. Muggy.

The wall is a restored section.

We decided to walk up.

These are all bad things.

However there’s a donkey on the wall! He’s not looking particularly happy with his Great Wall of China experience, and to be honest, neither am I. Probably not the best day for it, but I’m paradoxically enjoying being mildly grumpy and too hot to be comfortable. Grateful, none the less, that the Summer Camp has organised our trip to the world-renowned Great Wall! The entire camp of volunteers and teachers, split up into several luxury coaches have been schlepped up to the base camp of the Wall and left to wander for three hours.

We decide to walk up, for the full experience –  one which I don’t regret in hindsight, but relished little on the uphill. I’m not that unfit, but have a tendency to turn a spectacular colour of scarlet in heat.

And it was hot.

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The weather, and by weather I mean perpetual overcast with cloud, means that we can’t see very far from the Wall itself. But it does give – the less tourist crowed areas of the wall –  a touch of the mysterious. And certainly this section, restored to its full glory is nothing short of stunningly impressive; our climb up proves what a powerful and seemingly impregnable boarder the wall provided. Even more so in it’s contextual era. I’ve heard great stories of climbing unrestored sections and camping on the wall (all of course, not strictly allowed) and would definitely recommend second-hand to other adventurous travellers with more time to spare.

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I’m pretty happy to get this muggy wall experience checked off, and clamber back in the air-conditioned coaches.

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Beijing, TUESC: Forbidden City

Forbidden City

It’s a predictably hot day when Emma, Ellie and I chose to visit one of Beijing’s most coveted set of historical buildings: The Forbidden City.

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Rivulets of sweat run happily down my back, my umbrella is up, Chinese-style, and my back-pack of water feels a lot heavier than a litre of water duly should, but nothing can overshadow the sheer scale of the endless courtyards, alleys and royal buildings in the elaborate 15th century complex of beautiful, painted-wood roofing. As we file in under a huge portrait of President Mao, we’re battling with the people towards a small dark tunnel: the entrance to the city itself. It’s hard to believe, given the addition of thousands of tourists, whistles, tour-group speakers and jiggling flags, that this entire area was once a secluded, palace of secrecy and royalty.

Instead of talking the main bee-line up the middle of the complex, we soon veer off to shaded side roads, back alleys of the servants and noticeably less crowded; from these bubbles of quiet. we observing the vast cobbled courtyard space into which the bottleneck of tourists tumble ant-like, and sweating, admiring their hundreds in a space once reserved for ceremonial events and special dignitaries.

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The contents of the exhibitions here are definitely undermined by the misty glass-cum-plastic that divides the sticky fingers and foreheads from what is possibly antique furniture – though it’s hard to tell in the dim rooms, a stark contrast from the blinding sun outside.

Having visited the National Palace Museum in Taipei, which houses many of the original artefacts from the Forbidden City, evacuated after a long trek across the country of China over to the small Formosan Island by Chiang Kai Chek and his followers following the Civil War in China, it is not hard to see that the two heritage sites offer very different experiences. In my opinion, The Forbidden City demonstrates the sheer vastness of the architecture and demonstrates the immense power of space and place in politics and society, whereas for the contents and details of the internal wealth, art and culture, it is best to look to the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

However the souvenir shops and exhibitions in the Forbidden City offer excellent air-conned relief from the scorching morning sun.

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Chinese Chat

As a last anecdote of the day, a man in his late fifties, thin as a bean pole and wearing heavily clothes as sun-bleached as his skin is tanned, calls out to me with a flash of white teeth and astoundingly well-accented English.

It’s hard to displace the shock of the apparent incongruity of his appearance and his Oxford-style English within the wall of the Forbidden City, and his alarming tendency to peer very closely into my face when speaking knocks me straight out of my historical reverie. But while his enthusiasm to converse with us definitely straddles the border with frightening, it’s an excellent example of the curiosity of being a tourist in China; the people may stare without prejudice, and converse with mild prejudice (rightly assuming the majority of us cannot speak Mandarin), but they for the most part, are purely curious: being foreign in China is certainly an oddity in a way that is no longer common in England.

Considering the vast scale of the country, its tendency to umbrella its many ethnic diversities as a community of one country (in contrast to the emphasised individualism of the West) and it’s relative youth in terms of international tourism and wide-spread immigration it is hardly surprising that two English girls, and one half Northern Irish, half Taiwanese Mandarin-speaking girl (to be precise) can cause a small amount of fuss.

Interestingly, once most people discover I can speak Mandarin, they are suitably unnerved and back off.

It’s the real foreigners that they want photos with.

😉

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Beijing, TUESC: Camp Life

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So between the rainbow array of t-shirts, thousands of asian students, hundreds of volunteers and wormhole vortex of identical corridors in the teaching building, the first week of teaching can get a little hectic. So here’s a quick run down of the teaching day as I grapple with painstakingly attempting to remember my students, fellow volunteers and amidst it all – my own name.

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Class Time!

In Province G of T-S-I-N-G-H-U-A, I teach (in a white t-shirt) the level Blue class (a sea of blue shirts).
IE. The best class.

We’re second from the bottom in English speaking ability, scaling from purple (lowest), blue, green, yellow, to red (highest) but as Stefan, Jennifer and I quickly learn, the students English capability says nothing for their swift intelligence, eagerness to contribute, and need for intellectually challenging English-speaking tasks.

The day starts for them at 9am where they listen to a lecture from a professor other than Jennifer, who is Blue G’s lecturer (blue collared t-shirt) – so on a rotating basis they hear about everything from American Civil War History, to Marriage Traditions in the West first thing up.

This week’s  been pretty daunting as my teaching partner, Stefan has been out for the count with a throat infection, so I’ve been listening in with my students in the lectures or nervously prepping the classroom –  as after the lecture, the class of 60 splits into two groups of 30 – and I’m faced with teaching the whole class myself

One comes to my classroom and Jennifer keeps the other for 1hr 30mins until we rotate and use the same lesson plans again. Thank goodness we have Jeff and Lauren, our class assistants, dropping in to help us out and even taking some lessons for us next week!

We’ve got the nuclear physists, scientists and lawyers, and in a group of 60, there are only around 15 girls. It’s a daunting mix, not only for myself, but the female students and I’m keen to keep them on equal footing with their classmates; I’ve not to worry as much as I’d though though as the male students are polite in a way none of my Western male students are as a whole (sorry guys) – certainly no ‘lad culture’ here.

But regardless of pre-teaching nerves, I am quickly falling in love with my routine. I love teaching my students, they’re brilliant.

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Lesson Plans

There are positives and downfalls to having to trial-and-error test my lesson plans

the downfall is that one class will have a slightly better lesson, improved on by my experience with the previous group, the positives is that each class’s reaction to different activities is completely subjective – I’ve found that the second class is slightly more receptive, but this is only because they’ve had time to warm up/wake up from lectures that sometimes aren’t tailored enough to Blue level’s listening capabilities.

This weeks winning activities have been ice-breaking (they really enjoying chorusing “Hello!” to their fellow classmates’ English self-introductions) and creating English jingles, music and dances for a tailored-to-an-audience advert competition; top-tips are to make sure they have to present their work – with each student needing to speak – at the end of class (they need this incentive to ensure they actually work! Once they know it’s fine!), set clear time limits for activities, walk around and engage the quieter students and work them in groups, as it helps them get used to actually speaking together in English and makes them less intimidated by presenting in English, which is something some are particularly shy about. Hopefully, the weeks lessons have been getting gradually smoother as we all get used to each other!

My favourite part is saying good morning to my students as they file in in the morning; my students say they’re not used to looking teachers in the eye – eye-contact is very different culturally here – and they have a really fab, shy smile when they reply. There’s nothing these guys need but a bit of confidence to gabble away in English and make mistakes with the teachers. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that some of the quieter students will feel more comfortable with speaking up soon!

The afternoon classes rotate, then come together again for either Shakespeare, Movie-Dubbing exercises, Speech Making and games.

Freedom rings at Four!

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Afterschool

Afterschool is when the volunteer/student mixing fun begins! Throughout the day teachers award good students camp currency, Shells, which they can use towards purchasing anything from a whole shops’ worth of gifts that the volunteers have brought from their home countries, universities and even made themselves. Known as the Camp’s ‘Treasure Island’ I’ve had a sneaky peek at the goodies myself and there’s everything from English fine bone crockery to signed basketball shirts – which have created quite the hubbub amongst the Basketball loving students.

Alternatively, Camp Leader (Blue with White Collared Polo) Bennett leads a hugely popular dancing class afterschool where students, volunteer teachers, and lecturers alike get together to shake some co-ordinated butt! I’m easily embarressed by my shocking lack of co-ordination, but Stefan my teaching partner is awesome. Check him out!

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Once the day’s done, we volunteers eat late, sometimes making quick tourist trips or planning lessons before dinner. Most nights there’s some group going out somewhere, and there’s great fun cycling down to Wudaokou where our local Westerners pub/bar is for some sweet mojitos before woozily cycling back to dorms for a stone-dead sleep eight hours sleep!

I’m a horrifically light sleeper, but I’ve never slept better in my entire life.

Up fresh for the next day!

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Beijing, TUESC: The Summer Palace

A Note On Pollution

I’m getting blasé about the sheer level of smog/overcast/pollution here in Beijing and even looking at the U.S. State Air Quality Guide – constantly assuring me the concoction of chemicals in the air I’m breathing in is a big fat red ‘Unhealthy’ – is something that I’ve resigned myself to as being consistently depressing. Most of my fellow Brit volunteers have a mild cough, with one insisting he’s snot is black with pollution.

Not really feeling like checking the medical accuracy of this fact myself, I’ll just report it here and leave it to your readerly decision on its possible validity.

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Summer Palace

However, this weekend the girls have braved the sweltering Beijing summer heat on a rare, what sort-of could be classified as clear, day to explore the city’s Summer Palace!

From the elderly gentlemen practicing water calligraphy that evaporates almost instantly from the stone grey paving round the lake (which I half-expect to be steaming in this Saharan temperature), to the Chinese hawkers selling hats (with remarkable English speaking skills) and actors in full traditional regalia including beard, it’s a cultural paradise enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

Even in the smouldering heat, the boats on the lakes make small circles loaded with barely shaded tourists and the heat burdened ant-lines of marching tourists make their way to the steps of the Palace itself, located a 15-20min walk up steep steps – depending on your relative fitness and willingness to swim with sweat.

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Thank goodness I was in excellent company, Emma and Ellie ♥ Exeter travel companions!

Suggestions:
Pick a non-weekend, and go in winter.

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Light relief!

Three wide-eyed girls and the cutest, chubby Chinese triplets known to man. I’ve actually never seen triplets before. We were innocently ‘Aww-ing’ and ‘Ahh-ing’ watching these little guys being attacked by a hoard of snap-happy Chinese tourists when suddenly we found ourselves being shepherded into centre-shot – in what must have been our five minutes of Chinese fame we were trapped sitting against the back-drop of a sandy-stoned, ancient Chinese temple, being blinded by the sun and flashes of cameras that did not need to have the flash on (Chinese-tourist speciality).

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Three exhausted foreigners and their new favourite way to eat cucumbers! This lovely lady saved us from melting completely when we bought three shaved, cooled cucumbers in a stick 小黃瓜 (xiǎo huángguā) for great refreshment; brought down from near-heat stroke by the absurdity of these salad fruit, served only in slices of course, (we’re Brits, after all) on a stick was enough to warrant a snap.

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Definitely worth the trip!

…But I can’t even remember how we got home.

Too hot.

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Beijing, TUESC: Post-Orchestral Torrents

A Night with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra

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For a wonderful night in, the University treated us with complimentary tickets to the Beijing Symphony Orchestra in the Tsinghua campus. They played all the good ones, and it was frankly, one of most exhilarating and wonderful experiences of my life.

Thank you, TUESC.

On the way home, the heavens open with a torrential downpour, the thunder rumbling hungrily and promising lightening  – which I can’t see, as I’m being blinded by rain on my trusty bike.

It’s really something else, coming down with monsoon thickness and great painful gusts as I have not yet seen in China. Dressed for the summer heat that was appropriate until three minutes ago, and on my rickety Chinese bike pedalling furiously into darkness – my chain comes off.
Obviously.

After calling the cavalry – who have made it back to the forms already sans mechanical problems – and several well-practised attempts to fix my chain, I embrace the rain and saunter back the mile to my dorms in the orange-lit dark through warm Beijing downpour, to be met by a huge group of soaked friends, about to dash out and find me.

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The Attendees - pre-downpour!
The Attendees – pre-downpour!
The after-rain shot!

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Smiles all round. It’s been a great, fantastic, wonderful evening.

Goodnight.

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