China: Park Life, Chengdu

Chengdu, We’ve Arrived!

“Dǎdì! Dǎdì! Dǎdì! Dǎdì!”

(打的! 打的! 打的! 打的!)

Repeatedly shouted at, around, and across me throughout my first twenty minutes in Chengdu.

Standing in the 11PM pitch black outside the Chengdu train station, I’m assailed by a mob of cheery, but intimidating, taxi drivers. I’ve never heard this expression for calling a taxi, and am suitably baffled to near tears at the awkwardness of not understanding these two syllables, and, probably more pressing, the pressure to stay awake after nearly twenty hours worth of Chinese long-distance slow train.

Moments in which I wish I wasn’t a tourist.

Needless to say, a quick call to our lovely proprietor at Mr. Panda Hostel, we get English instructions, a laughing translation, and arrive in less than 15mins in a warm, softly-lit hostel reception.
Top Marks.

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Shake It!

The next morning we hit the local park.

I, personally, love seeing and (sometimes under pressure) doing what the locals do in their day-to-day lives – even if its just strolling in the park, taking the wild rickety buses across town, or getting hawked at at the local food markets.

In a large clearing of a park in Chengdu, the local geriatrics congregate for jazz dancing, couples dancing, line dancing and fashion catwalks in the afternoons. They’re mostly pensioners with not much else to do; their sons and daughters work and their grandchildren have school. So they meet in this small open square and enjoy each other’s company with just a strip of worn red carpet to serve as a catwalk, a garage junk-jumble collection of instruments, and a fuzzy (but loud) PA system.

Boy do they shake it, though.

This man can do things with his belly I never thought possible…

“The Old Man Dancing (Vigorously)”

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We have a cheeky go at line dancing (although I admit it took a shed-load of convincing to show the elderly population of complete lack of co-ordination), but with Jakob showing off his dance moves and charming up the local grandchildren, how could I refuse?

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The Dating Classifieds, Chinese-style.

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Outdoor in Chengdu central park there’s lots going on, and finding a life partner is one of the activities.

We walk around the (intently) milling crowds of 40+ classified readers, who feign nonchalance as they scan the simple paper profiles pegged to make-shift display racks of cheap string. The matchmakers give some good promotional chats and I cheekily listen in to their happy conversation; it’s a communal get-together of mild flirting, show-casing and giggling, jet-permed ladies hide behind shades as they walk in pairs between many Chinese men.

It’s a great way to find love.
I think I’d prefer this to match.com…

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[A Musical Interlude]

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In the afternoon sun, a stroll around the maze of pagodas reveals groups of elderly musicians with an amazing variety of instruments – including the Erhu, the Chinese answer to the violin.

I’ve wanted to do this all my life, and I work up to courage to approach a group of old men playing Erhu under the quiet shade of the dark wooden pagodas; a terrifying feat.

This quiet gentleman lent me his, and told me a little about his daughter in the UK. I was a little too embarrassed to try in front of them all, but it was incredible.

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Park Trip Checklists:

  • Find two or more couples getting wedding photography
    (+10 points for cosplay photography)
  • Achieve terrified laughter from the local children, minus points for crying
  • Do all the activities signposted for children
  • Do all the activities signposted for the elderly
  • Join in on the local classes: painting, dancing, and ESPECIALLY the asian-special: stained glass picture making
  • Get a boat trip on the lakes and chase the locals
  • Try all the sticky sweets and lollies on sale
  • Go home and nap before dinner

What a pleasant day’s touristing!

To top it all off, our park day ends with a goodby from this happy lad with his Spongebob Squarepants (海绵宝宝 ) Balloon.

Over and out from Chengdu!

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Original post on

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Chengdu:
Taxis
Dancing
Dating
[A Musical Interlude]
Spongebob Squarepants

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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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