So, here I am, settled into my new home and my new job in Dongguan (province of Guangdong), where I will be for just over 4 months. We are in a town called Houjie, about 20 minutes from the center of Dongguan, and I love it here! I’m beginning to realise that what everyone was saying about Beijing is true – ‘Beijing’ and ‘China’ are two very different things. Now I’m in real China, right in the south, where everything is green and humid, there is cheap street food everywhere, cars often drive on the wrong side of the road for no reason, and it is noisy ALL the time.
Anyway, back to my last week in Beijing (it feels so long ago now). We had another week of lessons after teaching practice, but we had handed in all our assignments and everyone was a bit more chilled out – there was time to just enjoy each other’s company for a bit, and go for drinks in the evenings. On the last night (also my birthday) we had the graduation dinner, where we were presented with our TEFL certificates. It was a really nice evening, followed by a night out at this insanely fancy club where we got free drinks all night, seemingly because we were Westerners?! So it was also a very cheap night out! It wasn’t fun getting up really early the next morning for our 22-hour train to Guangdong though.
The train was actually fine, I slept for most of the way because I could feel myself getting ill after a non-stop month. It was a bit cramped and the food was expensive and not good, but I chatted a bit to the Chinese people in my cabin (with great help from my Mandarin phrasebook) and saw lots of fireworks and Chinese lanterns out the window (because it was the Lantern Festival that night) which were really pretty. We also went through some really nice cities all lit up in the dark. As the sun started to come up and we were nearly there, you could immediately tell the difference between the north and the south – suddenly everything was green, people were working in the fields, there were banana trees and many of the houses were like little sheds – it definitely felt a lot more rural. Exciting!
It really baffles me that you can go on a 22-hour train and still be in the same country. After arriving and a 1.5 hour bus journey, we arrived at our apartment and met some of the Chinese English teachers. I think at first we weren’t too impressed with our apartment; it was very basic and quite dirty too, and we seemed to have a park bench instead of a sofa! But it didn’t take long for us to be happy with it. We’re in a perfect area, right near a massive food market with awesome street food and fruit, and also a Tesco’s, bizarrely. We have a balcony that looks out over some trees and a square where people play basketball, and the building even has a roof garden! Now we’ve unpacked the apartment looks a lot more homely and we’ve become the ‘host apartment’ for everyone in Houjie, there’s quite a few of us! I live with Catherine, and Andreas and Mikkel are just across the hall. These 3 are also at the same school as me, and others are in nearby schools. There are some others living in the same building and a few more people about 20 mins away.
We also went to visit the school on our arrival day, and it was quite overwhelming – we had a lot of information thrown at us about what we’re supposed to do etc., it would take some getting used to. We all loved the school as soon as we saw it though. There are 3000 people in the primary school, which is small for China! Our classes have 45 pupils each, and I teach 10 different classes – 450 names to remember! Not happening. There is a running track and basketball court, also palm trees in the grounds. The walkways between classes are all outdoors too which is really nice, it feels very open.The school is called Dao Ming Foreign Language School, and the thing I love most is that along all the hallways and the stairs are inspirational quotes in both Chinese and English… things like ‘Do everything in love’. It’s really sweet and I love reading them as I walk to my classes, there are so many that I can see new ones every day. Also our school is 5 minutes walk from our apartment which is wonderful, and they have piano practise rooms which I’m excited to make use of.
We were shown to our office which we share with other English teachers (Chinese English teachers). So us foreign teachers teach mainly speaking, and the Chinese teachers will teach the English grammar, vocabulary and writing. It’s nice to share an office, the teachers are all really friendly and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better. We have assistants in our classes, not sure if they will always be there but for the first few weeks at least. All of mine are great and it’s good to have someone to help translate sometimes!
After being shown around the school, and grabbing some dinner at the canteen (the food is so much better than from the canteen in Beijing, luckily!), we had a lot of lesson planning to do that weekend so we made a start. We had been invited on a school trip on the Sunday so we had to get it done quickly! On Sunday we made our way to the school, the plan being a bike ride around a nearby lake (I can’t remember the name). We squeezed into one of the little school buses and headed there, then hired bikes. It was a super-warm day and the sun was shining, we had a few hours to cycle round and it was great being outside, being warm, and being in such a pretty area with actual flowers and green trees! The park was really busy and apparently it’s always like that… Chinese people are just as crazy on bikes as they are on cars, ringing their bell at everyone and zooming around. I got into the spirit and did the same. Had quite a few near misses in terms of bike collisions, it was that busy! So much fun though and nice to meet some other people who work at the school, most don’t speak English though so it’s hard to communicate.
After the bike ride we had a quick trip to the centre square of Dongguan, just to have a stroll. It was so pretty there! They had lots of decorations up presumably for Spring Festival, palm trees and lanterns were everywhere, and it was a really massive square and so clean (very different from Houjie!). Everywhere people were wandering around with their kids and playing games of badminton. I’ve noticed around here that Chinese people love to get out, walking or biking, with the whole family – including babies and children. It’s really nice! They don’t just stay in at the weekends and watch TV or go for a drink, they are always out doing things in parks or in the town. Whenever I see kids around though, they are always younger children. Once they get to middle school they are always, always working; every day until late, even at weekends. No wonder they’re all so clever! It’s nice to see the younger kids just being kids – playing on the streets, being out and about, making the most of their childhood before the hard work starts.
Early night that night, because of an early start on Monday and the beginning of our first week at Dao Ming. Exciting and nervewreaking… the first week felt like the ‘make or break’, and I really wanted the children to like me. I would be teaching Grade 1 and Grade 4 – a really good mix of ages (grade 1s are cute and you can play loads of games with them, and grade 4 you can have conversations with and do a bit more teaching with). I’ll talk about my first full week in my next post.
I really need to take more photos of my area and of the school, these are the few I’ve taken so far. Sorry for the bad quality… most are just off my phone.