Fun with English Corner…
English corner, a well-established concept here in South China, is where like-minded individuals meet to share and discuss topics in English. Unlike in an official class, there is no minimum entry level requirement, and the topic can be anything of current interest, ranging from food to discussing national gossip.
Or at least, that’s the hypothetical concept put forward when it is being promoted.
Having religiously parted with a sizeable chunk of my pay check over the past few months in return for warm, earthy coffees to the café underneath my school since my arrival, I’ve become well acquainted with the staff of Cafe the Good. So, when the chef eagerly invited me, and any of my fellow English speaking colleagues, I politely declined. Knowing how much I had spent there already, did I want to part with even more money for little return? Not really. As expected, he countered my refusal with the offer of free coffee and dinner. At this point, how could we refuse?!
The first encounter was questionable. Turning up a little less than sober, my colleague and I enjoyed an average dinner and countless beers (which were in turn, extended to the entire group) in return for conversation about food. Naturally, the topic turned very quickly to hotpot. Whilst it wasn’t the most interesting conversation I’ve ever been engaged in, neither my colleague nor myself had any qualms, and we agreed to return.
The second however, was utterly shambolic. Only one other Chinese person was in attendance, and his presence was extremely unpleasant. Almost instantly, he expressed disgust for the school we worked for, and began to list other schools in the local area that were ‘better’.
Apparently IELTs tutoring in the region pays an extortionate 2000RMB a day!! (Any qualified ESL readers, take note).
Normally, when approached by someone with alternative intentions, they will politely respect our wishes should we decline. However, this well-seasoned recruiter wasn’t willing to give in, so we swiftly departed. Almost running to our bikes, to get away from him, we frantically drove away, not even wishing farewell to the organiser. Whilst I have no doubt there were good intentions behind the corner, I won’t be returning.
Public School Teaching Outreach…
Whilst I understand why a local citizen is not too keen on my private language institute, I personally don’t know how much I agree with his reservations. Whilst, on an average day, we hold 1 or 2 lessons of up to 16 children, this is contrasted heavily by the Chinese middle schools, where there are roughly around 60 children per lesson.
Something I’m very fond of, is once a month, each branch of my school will send a group of teachers to visit local schools, holding two free 40 minute lessons per teacher. Teaching a classroom of 60 children (with only a TA to help with basic translation), we teach children who rarely attend schools like mine, due to the expensive and elitist nature of them. Whilst I love the children I teach, I don’t personally subscribe to the concept that the highest quality of education here is available only to those who can afford it. This is one of the reasons I chose to sign onto my school, as it offers an opportunity to do more than that, giving our time to everyone, even if only a little. Furthermore, my personal little branch teaches our own Chinese staff English in a spare hour of our day, and it has been confirmed that the teaching staff of our local middle school will start to attend these classes. It may be a small return, but it’s something we get to give back to the community that so kindly takes us in and helps us to integrate.
Communication can often be lost in translation though, and this opportunity does not come without its challenges. The last time we arrived at our partner school, the teacher in charge of coordinating us had not been informed of which classrooms were ours. Short for time, and not wanting to skip anything, he pointed at, what in hindsight was a random classroom, and told me to run in! Not one to shy away, I ran in, yelling a loud hello! (Yelling / talking with a very loud voice is pretty much compulsory with that many students in one classroom). The students looked a little dazed, however I assumed they were just shy.
I was in a geography class.
These students had expected a lesson on the geography of their own country, not a random foreigner running in and yelling random words in a foreign language.
I continued teaching these students that seemed so unacquainted with English, a little confused, for a solid 5 minutes, before my TA tapped me on the shoulder, and asked that we leave. I smiled and waved, still partially oblivious, until outside, she explained what had happened. It was a struggle starting again with the new class without giggling, but we got through. At least 60 odd students had a good laugh that day. That’s the most a teacher can ask for, right?
Fuzhou is getting much colder these days, something I wouldn’t have thought possible from when I first arrived, in the scolding heat of the end of summer. How do you combat this, oh wise Ces, I hear you ask? A great way, in my opinion, is to frequent local coffee shops and drinking establishments. It’d be rude not to try them out, after all. The larger establishments are a glorious culture shock, so different and yet similar the UK that they deserve their own blog (to be continued) but the smaller ones, are wonderful enough to deserve a short but sweet mention.
Always toasty and a complete refuge from the cold, these bars deliver the most aesthetically pleasing beverages at reasonable (western) prices. A great excuse to dress up and hang out with the girls, to go on a date, or even just a quiet drink with friends, there isn’t a place you can’t find, if you seek it. A great new discovery is La Moda. Verging more towards the expensive side of the scale, La Moda offers any cocktail your heart desires, in ways you wouldn’t have imagined possible! Photos don’t do these beverages justice, so I’m afraid dear reader, you’ll simply have to come visit to experience the beauty…