Beijing, TUESC: Tienanmen Square Tourists

Thanks Mr. Hu!

There’s no cutting corners with the volunteer’s first trip outside the safe confines of the Tsinghua University campus.

We’ve get ourselves kitted out with bikes, locks and keys from Mr. Hu (Mr. Who?) the local tough-bargaining student-bike specialist (150RMB for three weeks all-inclusive hire) and we set off to the scene of the 1989 Tianamen Square Protests.

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Tiananmen Square

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It’s a typically over cast day, and though I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever see the sun, I’m fairly glad that I’m out of its rays given the current sticky heat.

We chain up the bikes at the gates of the campus (I’m feeling pretty attached to my transportation already…) and navigate the Beijing Metro to unearth ourselves by the quiet of the square. It’s literally just across the dual carriageway, but it’s a five minute roundabout way to the square’s entrance past politely round-topped fences, and when we get there, we share the space with several other Chinese tourists taking happy photos of the surroundings.

We’re the only foreigners here, and cause some hubbub by sitting wearily in a circle, resting our sagging jet-lagged backpacks in a pile on the ground. And it’s not long before our presence begins to draw attention.

We’re firstly bombarded (although mostly the English looking girls in the group) by Chinese, accents belying their own status as non-Beijing Chinese, and tourists in their own right. We are bemusedly frogmarched into photographs with their children – and them – until a blank-faced khaki guard steps down off his half meter square carpeted block and makes motions for us to move on.

Besides our careful tourist chatter of the revolts in 1989, there’s nothing of the area which would which suggest the murders of peaceful student protesters by military police, but the heavy surveillance, strictly marked walking lines and the relative inaccessibility of the square itself, make me feel like we should take the guards direction and move on.

Luckily, we bypass President Mao’s body entombed in his mausoleum by the square – and in hindsight I think I’m just as happy with the imagined knowledge of the iconography of Mao himself; certainly the other volunteers relish telling us about it.

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The City Gates

The City Gates by the square are a jarring palette of red, blue, green on a back drop of grey; flashes of bright colour in a concrete city. We traispe rather tiredly around the gates, somewhat stunned by their looming structures around which blaring taxis and bicycles and motorbikes fight on the dual lane road. In and out of the market streets, taking many breaks on huge two meter square stone blocks that have been in Beijing over four times our live span, and deciphering dubiously translated English information leaflets.

I had my first green tea flavoured ice cream today.
Ah-mazing.

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Beijing, TUESC: Tsinghua Get-In

‘Get-In‘: [theatre speak] the theatre term for the precious few hours a company have to get into a theatre, get their props and costumes in, actors prepped with routine and ready for the rehearsals and big show.
[everyday slang] get stuck in, wa-hoo!

Cue Tsinghua Get-In.

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We’ve made it to China, we’ve been picked up by four lovely first year students who shepherd our post-nausea wracked bodies (ok, well that only applies to me) into a Tsinghua levied little bus, 小巴士 (xiǎo bāshì), for the journey to the University.

There were several of us student-teachers on the KLM flight into Beijing, and it’s with not just a little curiosity that we survey each other from across the aisles of the plane seats; for the most part I succeed in having some introductory chat with students from London, Nottingham and even little Exeter and for the latter part I’m focusing on keeping the contents of my stomach from the interior of the plane.

UNPACK

The University bundles us into our dorms, and it’s not till the next day that we get assigned to our teaching groups and classes.

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The camp is split up to mirror the political structure of China’s provinces; pretty neat the camp functions as a state TSINGHUA, where each of the letters represent a province  T to A in which the student are split into classes according to English ability top class red to bottom purple.

I’m teaching Blue G with my fellow teacher Stefan from University of Florida (Go Gators!) and Jennifer, an Applied Lingistics Major from University of Georgia, with helpers Lauren an Alpha Chi Omega from Baylor and Jeff from University of Chicago.

I’m over-run with Americans and I forsee dustbin/trashcan-esque problems.

But all jokes aside, I can’t wait to get teaching with the team!

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DORM LIFE

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Here’s a sneaky peek at my relatively luxurious room at Tsinghua University Summer Camp. Tiled floor? Check. Hard Chinese-style bed? Check. TV with only Chinese channels? Check. Washing hung up in the window already? Double-check. I am so acclimatised to Asia you’d think I was half Asian… (I am.)

I am not however, Asian enough to fathom sharing a dorm with six to eight other students, with a curfew of 1030PM as the local students here at Tsinghua do.

The British half of me recoils at the thought of lack of privacy; I was never a boarding school student, never a stay-at-summer-camp kind of girl. I like the relative freedom British student Dorms have, and certainly by comparison, the Chinese University style seems both foreign, militant and daunting. However, the students here say that there are upsides to sharing: the community spirit, the group mentality and the quick bonding of friendships. I don’t think I’m ready for China-style dorms just yet…

Some of the Western volunteers complain at the sparseness of the rooms.
I’m silently thinking we’re being seriously spoilt.

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Can’t wait for teaching to commence!

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Beijing, TUESC: The Adventure Begins

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On my way over the curvature of the earth.

So it’s June, my second year of university has finished, and I’m currently on a flight.
But it’s not a flight home.

I’m headed on an open ticket some 7,000 miles to Beijing, Mainland China for the first time. Yes, I feel nauseated (I’m a terrible flyer, despite frequently travelling 12hr flights since I was three). Yes, I’m nervous. But, boy am I excited. I’m heading to the Eastern World’s renowned Tsinghua University to teach at their immersive English Summer Camp for three weeks to their first year students – to live in their dorms with English speaking internationals from around the world and explore the sights, food and night-life of Beijing and beyond!

Tsinghua University English Summer Camp

If you’ve never ventured Eastwards, or had an Asian mother, you may not have heard of the University at all; certainly every Chinese-university bound child has heard of Oxford 牛津 (Niújīn) or Cambridge 剑桥 (Jiànqiáo) and yet the world-ranking Chinese universities remain a mystery to most Brit students.

One of the three top Chinese universities – the others being Peking University, Beijing (with whom they have a Oxford-Cambridge style rivalry), and Fudan University, Shanghai in the South, Tsinghua was founded in 1911 and has a long history of being strong in the technical sciences. So being paid teach their first years to speak English? Representing my home University? Flying on a University Scholarship paid flight? Entering as a politically awkward, half-Northern Irish, half-Taiwanese, student.

Yeah, I’m nervous.
This is going to be exciting.

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