Saturday, 20 February 2016

Exciting First Weeks in China!

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Georgina Griffiths

What a way to start the trip, hopping on the plane in 40 degree heat, and arriving in sub zero temperatures with snow! Walking out onto the tarmac wrapped up in 4 layers of clothing, we knew we were in for a change as we were told it was going to be the coldest week in Beijing in 10 years! 

Driving through the morning Beijing traffic we could already notice the remarkable differences between here and Sydney; driving on the other side of the road, no sign of indicators on cars and tiny little rickshaw type vehicles which look like they will tip over at any minute!

Settling into Beijing has been very easy as everyone is so friendly. People in the program come from all over the world; the UK, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, America and Brazil. It is so easy to find anyone to talk to and head out for an adventure with. The in-country partners are also very helpful, giving advice on travel locations and restaurant recommendations. We have found that the language barrier isn’t too bad so far; basic phrases and gestures get you by just fine.

Our daily classes have proved to be very interesting and entertaining. In the morning they range from pronunciation to language awareness to speaking and listening. Mandarin classes have been a highlight, struggling through the pronunciation and learning basic phrases which we have tried to use when we’re out and about. Calligraphy and Tai Chi have also been great experiences. The old Chinese teacher always lent a smile and nod of encouragement as we drew various characters or tried different Tai Chi poses.

Quick trips to the shops, or subway rides into the city have immersed us into life in Beijing. Both on the subway and into the supermarket you can get an idea of just how many people there are in Beijing. On one particular trip to Carrefour, the supermarket where you can find absolutely everything, we found ourselves waiting in line for almost an hour! The food here is insanely cheap, you can pick up a delicious dinner for around 25 yuan ($5.40) each. Each subway ride is an adventure, seeing more and more people each time. Rush hour is absolutely crazy.

We decided that we would make a game out of it and run in as soon as the doors open to grab a seat. Little did we know that the Chinese have this down to an art. As soon as the doors open, they fly in, some sliding along the seats and pushing each other out of the way. One particular night, we had taken a trip into Sanlitun and on the way home had forgotten to check the subway stations. We ended up missing our stop going one too far. For the next hour we walked back and forth up the same street until we decided on the right way home using the tiny maps on our key chains. Also on the subway, you can see many people taking sneaky photos of us. Some are also not so subtle, pretending to be talking on their phones when they are really taking a snap of us. We’ve also had a woman drag her 90-year-old mother up a flight of stairs to have a photo with us at the Forbidden City!

Tour days have been great opportunities to see Beijing. Our first tour destination was to the Juyangguan section of the Great Wall of China. The trail of the wall through the mountains was an incredible sight, like nothing we had ever seen before. We were lucky to have a fairly clear day with little fog hovering over the mountains giving the place a mysterious look about it. The wall itself is unbelievable; the steps vary so much in size making it tricky to climb up. Once we reached the top of the section we had to climb over a gate to get on top of the guard tower. The views on top were spectacular, you could follow the line of the wall far into the distance. This was followed by a walk around the Olympic Park seeing the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube. The Houhai hutongs were also a great visit, some taking to the frozen lake to ice skate and other browsed the shops surrounding it. Another highlight so far has been the Summer Palace. The intricate paintings on each of the roof panels and buildings amazed us all.

We had a chance to wander round the entire area exploring the lakes, bridges, caves and temples. The view from Longevity Hill enabled us to see the entire area with the back drop of the frozen lake and mountains. The afternoon was filled with a visit to the Pearl Markets where many tested our their bargaining skills. The day was topped off with an acrobatic show, with each act getting more and more dangerous as it went on. The final act consisted of 8 motorbikes riding in an enclosed mesh ball. KTV, the Chinese equivalent of a karaoke bar, always prove to be a great night. You can spot about 3 in every street! The visit to the Wangfujing night markets was a great night spent tasting an array of Chinese delicacies. Many crunched on scorpions and centipedes, and some even dared to try starfish and sea horses!

We will shortly be finding out our placements which is both exciting and nerve racking as we can be place all over the country. Teacher practice is also coming up, a chance for us to put what we have learnt in class to the test. As it is leading up to Chinese New Year, more and more fireworks are being let off each night. Our time in Beijing is flying by, with so much happening each day. So far China has been fantastic, and we can’t wait to see what else we get up to!

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