I downloaded a new app this week that claims to pay you for meeting a certain amount of steps each day. Whilst I have my doubts about the legitimacy, it doesn’t take any money, so nothing is lost from trying it! As a result, to mark the end of a long working week, with a couple of colleagues I planned to visit Gushan Mountain (also known as Drum mountain) at the weekend. A great plan for the weekend, but impatient as ever, I visited my beloved Xihu park post sunset on the Sunday evening to walk around and collect my steps. I have visited more times than I can count, yet continue to get lost in the park after dark, often finding new areas for the first time. Walking past all the locals dancing in the evening and losing myself in China is always a perfect way to end the working week though, and as I’m currently saving all of my extra pennies up for my trip to Tibet in June, the free entry is a solid bonus.
After two walks around the entire perimeter of the park (and just about meeting my step goal for the day), I drove home, pulling up by an elderly woman who stared at me. The most important thing ive come to realise during my time here is that curiosity is not rudeness. Whilst her unsmiling stares could have left me feeling uncomfortable, I chose to say hello and smile. Perhaps a little too friendly, she walked over and stood right next to my bike, and starting to stroke my face. I politely told her I didn’t speak too much Chinese – a little confused but also intrigued by where the conversation was going – and she told me she thought I was pretty as she continued to stroke my face. The elderly woman explained she hadn’t seen a foreigner before, and although not something I’d usually consider entertaining, I politely just waited for the lights to turn green before bidding her adieu and driving off. Regardless of the expat community in your area (especially if you prefer to avoid immersing yourself in it), living abroad can get a little lonely, so sometimes you just need a moment to make you smile.
Teaching has continued to be my biggest challenge and the biggest source of the constant smile on my face. My students vary – I have a class where I have a different handshake every single student (which is always to be exhibited at the beginning and end of each lesson), and these children are the sweetest little monsters I’ve ever met. Equally though, as soon as the weather is too hot/ they are too tired, they will repeatedly tell me that they hate me and stubbornly roll on the floor making snow angels and yelling over everyone (albeit, in English, which is still a bonus right?). These challenges sometimes leave me questioning why I bother, but fortunately I am surrounded by great colleagues who repeatedly remind me that a lesson is nothing to read too much into – we all have good ones and bad ones! And the good ones are truly worth sticking out the bad lessons for. Having opened up a ‘nursery’ level class in the past 3 months, I ‘teach’ 3 year olds basic English ranging from classroom commands, to most recently, coming up one by one and presenting photos of their families using phrases such as ‘I love my mum/dad/grandma’. These little cherubs who are still learning to speak Chinese and often can’t be understood by me nor my Chinese teaching assistant, and will usually cry instead of just asking to go to the bathroom because, it could be argued, they’re too young to be in the classroom, will truly make my week when they achieve something as impressive as presenting their families. Their abilities astound my entire branch, and, my favourite activity has got to be when washing the hands after craft making. Making a long line by linking hands, we walk one by one, singing a ‘wash our hands song’ which keeps student output up whilst doing something as trivial as walking to the bathroom. Our little concert is often followed by the parents/ staff members around to witness it, and usually filmed too. Teaching isn’t for those without a thick skin, but my goodness, it can really be worth it some days.
My little ol’ city of Fuzhou continues to beat my expectations daily too, with its beautiful surroundings and easily accessible methods of transport. Discovering recently that as long as I know the pinyin OR the official English name for Chinese attractions here in F town, I realised I can find the public transport that will get me there in seconds! Buses here only cost 1kuai (less than 10p) for every journey, so I jumped onto this with the aforementioned trip to Gushan. Having been before at night, I decided it was finally time to go in the day time! Hiking up at midday during the strongest heat of the day with colleagues, my entire outfit had changed colour by the time we reached the top. We further climbed up way past the peak, where the beautiful temple was hidden away, and ended up at a quaint little restaurant which served us delicious food and drink for an unfortunately extortionate price. The one bonus of this though had to be the other customer who very generously kept returning to the table every 20 minutes to ply our party with free cigarettes. On his last trip over, he actually seemed a little reluctant to say goodbye, actually placing the cigarettes in my friends mouth. If he was hoping to leave an impression, he succeeded. But his generosity was enjoyed, and reminisced upon on route to finally entering the temple.
The last couple of weeks, the temperature has continued to soar, and the humidity is bringing out the cockroaches, mosquitoes and all other nasties it’s much easier to avoid in wet old England but alas, with all good comes the bad.
Francesa has been teaching in Fuzhou since September 2017, as part of the Teach China Graduate Program, and over the past 8 weeks she has reflected on her experiences teaching in China. If you’d like to contact her, please get in touch and we can introduce you!
To read more Teacher Experiences here.