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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China: Flowers, TUESC

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This wouldn’t be my photoblog if I didn’t stick in some photos of flowers.

How beautiful are these pink beauties?

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of taking photographs of them.

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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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