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Beijing, 4 days in (July 18th-22)

8 Aug

My first day teaching was exhausting and I had doubts as to why I had wanted to do this. But that night the teachers in my group held a meeting to discuss how to better split up teaching loads and now one of the other teachers help every day. I was exhausted and was in bed by 9 that night, much needed as the 13 hour time change and 13 hour flight had caught up with me! I’m teaching Level 2, or intermediate English skills to 11-15 year old boys and girls. They range from very sweet and earnest 11 year olds to teenage boys that are a bit too cool for school.

I teach 4 classes in a row of 40 minutes each. My subjects are Writing and “Topic”. No, I don’t know what Topic is either but one of the British girls told me she had it in primary school. They’d work on a project for a unit or two. I’m teaching it as if its a conversation class because we’ve been told to do whatever we want to get them talking. They also apparently need the most practice speaking and listening as they do learn grammar, vocab, etc in school.

 It has been VERY unorganized with a massive dose of chaotic lack of planning. The English teacher for the school has been organizing the classes but he is actually an Economist. Yet not very good at managing/organizing. We (the teachers) got it sorted out though as much as we can with little warning on
 meetings and schedule changes.
The Chinese TA told me I talk to fast — imagine that!
Yesterday I did different games starting with a word association game, where you say a word and toss the ball to someone else who says the first word they think of — it went pretty well. Next was a question game. I found questions online such as: do you like spicy food? in your opinion, what is the unhealthiest food? What is your favorite western food? etc. (theme of the lessons that day was food). They asked another person then switched questions and went on to ask someone else. It went well! Then I split them into groups and had them come up with their own TV show which most of them liked. Some groups even acted out their shows!
Today in Writing I used an assignment from the textbook, they wrote letters to their friends, giving them advice for what to pack and do for when they come to visit in their hometown. Next, in small groups, I had them plan a party, requiring them to speak in English (wish I had empasized this for the previous day’s TV project). This worked pretty well and I hope they’re getting more willing to speak. I also asked them questions such as where in the world would you like to go and which celebrity would you like to have dinner with, specifically calling on the students that don’t ususally talk. They really are quite smart but very shy about speaking. If they write it out first they are much more comfortable speaking. Their writing is quite good.
Yesterday after teaching, a big group of us went into the city. It was a big, unwieldy group and after we took the bus for 45 mins or more we got on the subway. However, I couldn’t get the ticket machine to work so asked one of the highschool girls we’ve befriended, Claire, to help me. It just so happened that once we got my ticket, everyone had gone. So we dashed through the crowds, ran up to the train that everyone else was in aaaaaaand the doors closed. Luckily, Sudevi, one of the other Fairfield girls, saw us there on the plattform and half of the group waited for us at the stop. Unfortunately, Claire didn’t know what stop to get off on and none of the other people’s cell numbers. So we took the train for 5-6 stops as she was calling people at the school for the numbers and then got off. After about 10 minutes she got the right number and we were only 1 stop away from the right one. We got outside and there was half our group! Claire was really nervous but I was enjoying being in a new place.
We went to dinner at a touristy/fancy restaurant in a beautiful old park which I believe was Ritton Park. There was someone singing nearby at a stage outside. SO beautiful. The restaurant was really gorgeous, decorated in a mixture of modern/traditional and the food was delicious but the Chinese people with us said it was a little westernized. We’ll explore more in the future.
It gets dark here around 8pm. Very odd to me, I feel that since its summer it should be light ’til almost 10.
The school I’m working for, Camford Royal School, is opening up a new branch 2 hrs south of Beijing and the teachers are splitting up and each spending one of the 2 upcoming 10-day camp sessions up there. Its a brand new building which will be a very welcome change. We’re currently in the old dorm which I joke about being 3rd world+running water. And hot water is available only from 8-10pm. So at the end of this session we’ll either move to the newer dorms (which I jokingly call the 2nd world dorms) or go up to the other school. Almost makes sense to just go up to the new school if I have to move anyway. 🙂
Its odd how normal it feels to be here. I kinda forget I’m in CHINA. But then I’ll see a beautiful temple, or a string of red lanterns, ancient city gates and architecture and it hits me. Still unbelievable.
Now off to dinner where I’ll say one of about 3 phrases I’ve learned, wo bu che ro, or,  I do not eat meat, at the dining hall.

Travelling to China

26 Jul
I left Iowa early on July 17th. I made it to Cedar Rapids airport right around 5am and I have never seen a ticket desk at that tiny airport as crowded! The woman behind me said she had better service in Beijing. Little did I know what this meant.
I still made it in plenty of time for my flight, it was just the previous flights that were back-logged. My Chicago friend, Erin, brought me breakfast in O’Hare. I went out through Security and we had a picnic on a beach towel in baggage claim. It was so much fun, passed the time quickly and good to see her. When I went back in through security with 45 minutes before boarding and the line was SO long. I started to panic that I would miss by flight but I did eventually make it through and had time to buy a neck pillow for the plane. Finally got on the plane around 12:30 and fortunately the plane was half empty so I had 2 seats to “stretch out” in. Still only was able to sleep in short bursts though but the other girls got quite a good amount of sleep. I heard Angry Birds’ sound effects from different directions throughout which made me laugh.
It was a 13 hour flight and a 13 hour time difference, enough to confuse almost anyone. By the time we made it to the Beijing airport, through security then customs I barely knew what day it was and amost fell asleep on a bench waiting for the other girls to get through the passport check. Once we left Customs there were 2 highschool girls, Claire and Pam, and a teacher, Mai-ee to pick us up and they were all very sweet and excited to meet us.  Sophie, the 4th girl from our group was coming in on a flight an hour later so we hung out at a Starbucks ’til she came in and fortunately got coffee, my 4th cup since leaving Iowa.
The drive from the airport was very interesting. Took maybe 45 minutes. Everything was very green around the airport but the girls said it was the greenest section of the city. For a mile or two there was a stretch of a lot of trees but they said the park was planted as a green belt to impress officials to bring the Olympics to Beijing before the final decision in 2001.
There are 6 rings in the city with a highway in each one. One of the girls explained to me that on certain days, depending on the last number on your license plate, you could only drive so far towards the center of the city. She said they were half an hour late getting to the airport (although they still beat us to the exit) because they had to take the long way around in only the outer rings to get there. I read today that the 2nd Ring road was built in the place of the ancient city wall that was torn down in the early 80’s (?).
There was a severe rain and wind storm here a few days ago so they said thats why its hazy here but maybe its smog too? Not certain.
We went to a restaurant and they ordered many different dishes, a starchy white sweet potato-type sticks with blueberry sauce, spicy squash shoots/tendrils, a couple tofu dishes, spicy noodles, clear rice noodles, baby bamboo shoots that you peel off the outer layer before eating like a panda, small pumpkin cakes and many other delicious things. We asked the high school girls what each of the things were and many of the things they just called “traditional Chinese snack” which we laughed about but they didn’t know the English name for many of the foods. However, overall their English is very good. We sat in a private room at a large round table with a lazy-susan in the center and the waitress kept bringing more and more dishes, so much food! I was starting to get really sleepy by the end of dinner, I couldn’t wait to get to the dorms. Of course, by the time we got there I had a 2nd wind (more like 4th) and it took me a while to get to get ready for bed and finally sleep. I woke up at 4am for about half an hour but then slept til 7:30.