Year Abroad: Thoughts on Being Squashed

TOP MUSEUMS 

China Art Museum: Free ✌️

ROCKBUND, Misdemeanours Exhibition: 25¥

MOMA, Dior Exhibition: 50¥ (Student 25¥) FINISHED

Shanghai Propaganda Museum: 20¥

Urban Planning Museum: 50¥ (Student 15¥)

MOMA, Yayoi Kusama Exhibition: 50¥ (Student 25¥) FINISHED

“WHY ARE THERE SO. MANY.  PEOPLE.”

This startlingly familiar, and inevitably rhetorical, question is one that often drifts into mind when I find myself splayed and squashed, chest-to-back, in a confused cross between queuing and crowd-mobbing in China. National Holidays, rush hours, and anything Public Transport – the sheer mass of people is terrifying.

I’M IN A MUSEUM

 Now I don’t know what comes to mind when you think about heading to a museum, but a small scale battle is probably not the first image, what with with the elbow-vying for the perfect shot, the walking-speed race to reach the exhibit, and the split-second warning of a frantically wiggling flag that leads the dreaded tour guide of locals to descend upon your moment with Picasso.

In a brash, flap of tangled camera straps, and hot jackets, knees and elbows, the Chinese tour descends suddenly with its 120 decibel, robot-like tour guide, and sweeps itself off just as suddenly.

Reminiscent of a drilled march, the pit-stops allow tour groups to furiously snap photos at head-height (and by that, I mean my 5″8 head), with barely a glimpse of the attraction that isn’t through a small 3×4, pixellated viewer screen.

It’s not quite the quiet afternoon I usually have in mind when I leave my room for an exhibition.

THE MUSEUM

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Trip to the Museum

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YOU THINK IT’S JUST CHINA?

Well, obviously, it’s not.
From concerts, to the barely civilised mob before the rather smug-looking Mona Lisa
Louvre, you gotta love crowds.

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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: Class Blue G Chillaxin’

After hours chilling with Class Blue G!

It’s sometimes a hard slog in the classroom, but after-class gives Stefan and I a chance to get to know our students in a more chilled out environment – around food and basketball!

Between the enthusiasm of the students and the silly amount of money on our lunch cards, we treat our students to ice-creams, dinner, and lunches where we can, and it’s a great way to help them out with some real-time English and have some genuine down-time with the students.

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After-class Basketball - these guys are awesome!
After-class Basketball – these guys are awesome!
The girls get in on the action...
The girls get in on the action…

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You Pay, I Pay

 On a cultural note, it’s really difficult to get the class to accept our paying for things; the local custom means not only do they want to be the ones ‘treating’ us as visitors/tourists, but that they drive a hard job of resisting us. It’s a push and pull battle as we do our best to explain that we’ve simply got too much money from the University on our food cards, but the bill certainly causes a lot more social hassle than back home…

 Class Lunch with Blue G
Class Lunch with Blue G

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Not long after these events, class assistant Echo and one of our students, Joe announce that the class are planning a trip for us and we’re torn between being excitement and a niggling feeling that they’re trying to return the favour. It’s hard to escape this distinctly Asian sense of social debt, or 人情 (rénqíng) even in our English Summer Camp environment.

As much as the actual learning of grammar and spoken English is integral to the Camp experience, it’s the cultural exchange that’s, for me at least, feeling like the biggest hurdle between our teacher volunteer groups and the students – as essentially, we’re the same age and at similar stages in life. I honestly think that getting to know the other students outside the social restrictions of the classroom has been the best team-building, and friend-ship building (cheesy, I know) experience I’ve had yet.

Blue G, you guys are the best.

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Beijing, TUESC: Food Time Cacophony

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FOOD TIME

Everyone’s rushing to get lunch in a technicolour of student cycling madness. Driven by hunger. Ruthless in traffic.

It’s lunch-time at Tsinghua University Summer Camp and we can barely keep our students in their seats till the last minute.
And with good reason.

There are at least six canteens over campus, best travelled by bicycle, each serving variations of Chinese food in building ranging from high-class, lazy-suzan and lace rooms to three floor mess halls of university appropriate din – and you want to get there fast (it’s blood-curdlingly hot), chain up your bike, bag a table and enjoy a hot plate of Asian food goodness. With students coming to Tsinghua from all over the continent, there are dishes to cater for every province and taste and with the excessive RMB on our dinner cards courtesy of Tsinghua Camp organisers, I’m aiming to try everything.

Having been in Taiwan a lot over my lifetime, I was expecting food to be a walk in the park, but even for me it was at times a frustrating trial of experimentation and error, and at others, absolute delight.

It’s saltier here than I’m used to, some dishes are particularly oily and the service is entirely English-speaking free. Forget the lack of English, the canteen staff barely have time to speak in Chinese.

It’s a nippy task of tense queue waiting (with much spectator curiosity from your Chinese queue-buddies), and random pointing at  dishes with an internal monologue that mostly consists of tense exclamation (at the contents of previously tame looking vats) , prayer (that the dish you choose is edible and non-spicy), expletives (when they refuse to ladle from the dish you want) and resignation (when you get your finished tray of food).

It’s a swift in-out of the ol’ meal card – it’s never more than around 5-6RMB per meal out here, including drinks – and you can get back to your table and heave a relieved sigh with your fellow volunteers.

Oh, and of course, it’s chopsticks and spoons only.

chopsticks.

“Everyone goes to Qing Qing Burger.”

I never went to Qing Qing Burger.

But then again, I was able to stick out the vast array of dazzling (and sometimes disarming) food on offer. For some of the volunteers, it had to be Western food, and that is on offer here too. Although word of warning – it’s easily four times the price of the chinese meal equivalent, and lots of Qing Qing Burger-goers soon ran out of their Tsinghua given cash.

My solid favourites remained the aubergine and mince, egg fried tomato and rice combo dipping in and out of various meat and veg sides, with an iced black tea.

Meal-times with an element of risk makes every good choice taste better.

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