Yellow Tulips

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doodles 

Last weekend in Edinburgh, on the round curve of Victoria Street up in a high annex window above the sixth floor, I spied a very lovely old gentleman tending to vaseful of fresh yellow tulips. He was so contentedly framed by the blue wood frame — and utterly oblivious to our cold-noses and wind-swept faces as we craned up at him. Quentin Blake could have done something perfect about it.

Old Man 2

 

… But I gave it a dab hand anyway.

Charlotte xx

 

 

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Year Abroad: Tianjin Travels

TO TIANJIN!

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Off the HSR at Tianjin Railway Station

Off the High Speed Rail and into the bustle at Tianjin Railway Station.
Beijing – Tianjin: 54.50¥
Shanghai  – Beijing: 550¥

It’s autumn in China, and I recently made a trip out of the bustle of Shanghai up to Tianjin, where over the course of four days I managed to amass a large amount of photos of the journey, the city, and very few of myself and my friend Peter.
(Sorry, Pete.)

In comparison with Big Ol’ Shanghai, Tianjin is pretty chilled and quiet city, and I’ve spent a lovely four days wandering some of it’s least tourist-trekked streets, thanks to my trusty guide, as well as some of it’s Lonely Planet-style tourist attractions. Despite the fact that Tianjin covers an area some six times larger than Shanghai, it’s population is only half that of the shiny southern city – and it shows. The streets are chilled, the metros are only quietly bustling, and the people are friendly (what a shock to the system).

Take note Shanghai.

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REAL CHINA

We start off the trip with an excellent 6¥ bowl of noodles at what Pete has dubbed ‘Man and Wife Pull Noodles’, a tiny, tiny, tiny restaurant that sits in a rickety road alley just by Tianjin Experimental High School. If you haven’t tried eating where the locals eat, you’re missing out on a real and genuine experience of China. This street is lined with lots of similarly miniature restaurants, all of which have been dubbed with fabulous English names by the local, non-Chinese speaking foreigners, and are flocked with tracksuited schoolkids at lunch (beware).

I keep accidentally calling the restaurant ‘Man on Wife Pull Noodles’, much to everyone’s delight.
Well, it is a bit of a mouthful.

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By Necessity, Alley Restaurant, Tianjin

These pretty bottles are filled with Chinese vinegar, and are perfectly lined up on our table (one of only three, in a space smaller than my tiny dormitory bedroom at Fudan University). The decor has definitely happened by necessity, and not because they’ve popped down to the local Ikea.

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Cat in Basket, Waiting

Oh, and here’s a Cat in Basket outside the shop.
Why are you so grumpy, kitty!

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I’M A TOURIST!

Next, I get the grand tour! Try the Tianjin Radio Tower, 1 Weijin South Rd, Hexi, Tianjin in summer for a great view of the surrounding city. On a smog-free day take the cheeky elevator up with a 50¥ Adult ticket (20¥ Consession/Student), and check out the span of the sprawling city. Afterwards, the nearby Lake Park 水上公园  is perfect for a relaxed stroll and watermelon on a stick! The attractions themselves are all a little worn out and dusty, with lots of attendants that seem to be there mostly for show – but worth visiting for the strangeness of it all. Other tourist spots worth a visit are the shiny, new Museum District, the Italian Quarter, the Old Town and the Tianjin Eye.

Radio Tower in winter  is an absolutely amazing sight.
Tianjin is b-e-a-utiful in winter, if not horrifically cold.

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 Tianijn Radio Tower

Tianijn Radio Tower.

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If you get a chance, go for a stroll around the local areas (or a bike ride if you can find one and are savvy enough not to get killed on raod that have a fairly relaxed attitude to general traffic laws). Out by Wujiaoyao the two story houses and residential streets are slow paced, and filled with wandering elderly people in faded floral packs; the wide, dry streets are sparsely tree-lined and seemingly under constant renovation, with building dust churning now and then under our shoes. Card playing old men in dark jackets shout in tense, tight circles around makeshift tables.

We were very alternative, and took a stroll in the dark.

A NIGHTTIME STROLL IN TIANJIN

One lovely evening after a long day at the nearby Italian Quarter and Old Town, we take a stroll down along the HaiHe 海河 Riverside to soak up some more of Tianjin’s relaxed atmosphere, take some photos, and a look at night-time life.

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Tianjin Father and Daughter, Nighttime Radisson Building

A man and his daughter sitting in the glow of the Radisson Building.

Tianjin, Nightshift Nap

This man is taking the night shift on Tianjin Old Street very seriously.

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Over the Bridge, Tianjin

Over the Bridge.

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Three Men Fishing, Tianjin China

Three men fishing under an over pass; the man on the very left is wearing what’s left of his daytime, smart suit, while the older gentleman in the middle has the look of an old-timer to the trade.

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Tianjin Little Eats Street 天津小吃街

Little Eats Street, Tianjin is busy and bustling.

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Last Man Working, Nightshift Tianjin

Last man working the nightshift.

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The Clock, Tianjin

Tianjin Clock in some pretty cool looking light pollution.

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HEADING BACK


 “Home, James!” My family say this when we’re going home after a day out, but I don’t know why, or who this mysterious ‘James’ is. Peter made a face and sounded fairly insulted that I was calling him James… Does anyone else say this? Support would be greatly appreciated.

Anyway, after a long day out, we nip on the last metro of the evening on line three and head home!
Tianjin’s metro is wonderfully efficient, and much less overcrowded that Shanghai’s rush hour. English everywhere and friendly staff makes it a super easy tourist city.

Wujiaoyao Metro

I love how symmetrical everything is in the station, and as a treat, they’ve opened the backs of all the metro coin machines –  pretty neat.

From the White Lights, Lamps in the Dark, Tianjin

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AWAY I GO

View from the Window, China High Speed Train

At on my window seat back down to Shanghai as the High Speed Train hits 400km/h!

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It’s a long journey home when you’re leaving an old friend and heading back to a city that you can barely call home yet. It’s a seven hours door to door, and I do nothing more than doze, read and listen to music.

It’s been great to take a step back from Shanghai and chill out for four days from the stress of university level Chinese and watch Pete make all our transactions, translate, tour guide and generally be an excellent host. On the creative side of things, one of the great joys of touristing with a friend is you don’t have to feel nearly so ashamed of spending five minutes trying to get the shot that you want. So cheers to the large album dedicated to one of China’s five national central cities.

Hope I can come back soon,PhotoVogue Shelled Light, Charlotte Black

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.Charlotte xx

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PhotoVogue Shelled Light, Charlotte Black

Oh, hey there Vogue, this is the Tianjin Railway station.

😝

China: The Everyday Life

The Rickety Bus Lottery

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I love Chinese buses.

The rickety thrill of not knowing where you are, or if you’re going to end up where you think you’re going.

There’s something to be said for doing things the way the Chinese do. All the way across the world, the thing that gets me the most is the chance to experience how other people live their daily lives. I love the terrifying, ramshackle confusion of indecipherable bus timetables, of minuscule print stop names, the hurly-burly locals bustle for seats.

The lurch and groan of the buses in Chengdu screech of ancient machinery, and the rattle of tin-trap assures me the metal contraption has never seen a safe test, let alone heard of one.

Who knows where I’ll end up.
I’m sure it’ll be exciting.

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The Chengdu Noodle Man.

Time for lunch and I’m sitting in a Xingjiang Muslim noodle restaurant that’s at most the size of a small bedroom. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a mattress hiding somewhere amongst the cupboards at the back.

I manage to smile politely enough to let the suspicious young chef kindly allow me video him literally pulling the noodles for my lunch, even though he clearly thought I was batty.

 He’s got serious skills, and is extremely polite.

You sure don’t get noodles like this in your ramen-pack folks.

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Thanks Noodle Man!

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Chengdu:

Buses
The Noodle Man

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

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China: Pingyao, A World Away

Pingyao, The Last Walled City

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As I leave Beijing, I’m travelling by sleeper train to whats known as the last functioning walled city in China.

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It’s overcast in the last functioning city of its kind in China.

Walled.

And the walls are impressive. Worth scaling, worth cycling, and worth soaking up the strange time-capsuled quiet in this local town. Most of the industry left here is touristy, but it’s of a resigned kind that seems to be more subdued about its ancient, and now-unpracticed culture.

The walls have been restored recently; they’re only a testament to their original glory. The daily performances of walled city rituals loud and cast in lurid neon costumes.

A glance from the various scenic walls, temples and watchtowers in the city confirms that the grey overcast of the sky only extends into the leeched dry land outside the walls; ain’t nothing growing around here.

 

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GREY, BUT NOT THE RIGHT KIND

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I’m missing home.

I guess the greyness of the barren, but quietly bustling Pingyao city reminds me of the overcast grey skies in Ireland autumns. I spend a day rummaging through the various tourist-trap trinket shops until I find some restaurants containing the locals, where an order of knife shorn beef noodles (刀削牛肉面) almost makes Taiwanese standard, and I phone my mum despite international charges.

Mainland China is so vast, I’m disappointed in my own surprise in its difference from Taiwan, the only Asia I know. There’s no breakfast here I recognise, and certainly no soya milk. The language is heavily accented and the bargaining rough and unfamiliar. Even my soupy bowl of Beef Noodles, the famous Asian kind, is spiced with earthy, unfamiliar flavours.

China is vast.

A little shop, from which a bleary elderly man peers out, has it’s front windows plastered with a plastic red sign in English. It cheers me up a little, and I return to my hostel for a much restoring nap.

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The Band that Won’t Stop.

 

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The traditional band at the afternoon (17:00) performance in the walled city of Pingyao get a little carried away with their own music.

The lead band-man has just given a cool look of derision to the flustered gentleman on a PA system trying, somewhat in vain, to get them to stop so the main theatre performance can go on.

Well, the band’s not having any of it.

On another note, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single instrument that they’re play that funky tune with. I’m not a traditional Chinese music specialist, but if you are let me know…

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Falling Into Spirited Away

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Pingyao City

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I’ve fallen into Spirited Away.

For those of you who haven’t seen this world-wide, award-winning piece of animation by Director Hayao Miyazaki, it’s one of my favourite films. They say the original bath house setting was inspired by a small, traditional alleyway that’s a tourist hot-spot in Taiwan: 九份 (jiǔfèn).

Nevertheless, whether you’ve seen it or not, the walled city at night is magical, dark and mysterious, echoing of a childhood long in the past running through eerily-red light cobbled streets.

One of the most beautiful moments in China.

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Pingyao:

The Last Walled City

Missing Home

The Band

By Night

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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: 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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