Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Settling Into Suzhou – The Venice of the East
WRITTEN BY: Georgina Griffiths
The week of Chinese New Year was filled with the constant bang of fireworks and firecrackers being let off. They were a shock at first, but became a part of the craze of the city very quickly. On New Years Eve, we ventured back out to Houhai Lake where we enjoyed dinner in a family restaurant and then walked around the lake the streets, dodging the fireworks going off in all directions. Up on the rooftop bars, we were able to see the fireworks and crackers exploding over the lake and in the sky. Never have I heard so many firecrackers at once and seen so many colourful fireworks (that may even be more spectacular than the fireworks on the Harbour Bridge)! After New Years, lessons got busier and busier with the ever-looming teacher practice (TP) where our groups would meet up regularly to decide on lesson plans and various activities. Each day we would sleepily hop onto the bus at 7am. My group had a class of 15 8 year olds with limited English. We taught a range of topics during the week including animals, sports, clothing, countries and a variety of songs. It was a great experience and got us excited to get to our placements and teaching!
The final days in Beijing were spent crossing off the last of the things on our ‘must see’ lists. Highlights included the Temple of Heaven, the Lama Temple, watching the sun set on the Forbidden City from Jiangshan Park, the 798 Art District and Beihai Park. We tried to travel and visit somewhere each day to make the most of our time in Beijing, and by the end of the month, I think we did pretty well having ventured across most of Beijing, and mastering the subway system! On our last night, the ImmerQi team organised a graduation dinner at one of the local restaurants. It was a communist themed restaurant where the staff were dressed in uniforms and we ate and drank out of metal bowls and cups. We were handed our certificates from the TEFL course and a few speeches were made. The next day was departure day which was very emotional, as I had never thought I would become so close to the group in just a month!
Before arriving in Suzhou, we took a 16-hour overnight train to Hangzhou. The train had triple bunk bed compartments which were quite small but a lot more comfortable than they looked. It was a lot of fun and a great chance to meet the new people I was placed with, as well as trying to speak with the Chinese families sharing our compartments. Once we arrived in Hangzhou, we had another orientation where we met the other interns and were taken to the local hospital for a medical check. It was such a strange experience being taken around a Chinese hospital into various rooms with many people peering in to see what was happening! Our in country partner then took us out to West Lake for the afternoon, a famous area of Hangzhou. West Lake is 6.5 kilometres squared and takes 4 hours to walk around.
Once we arrived in Suzhou, we were all taken to a school for a welcome ceremony where all the principals and head English teachers of our schools met us. We were introduced to the education bureau and asked to introduce ourselves through an impromptu speech! Afterwards, we were whisked away to our schools where we were given a brief tour and shown our offices. My school is called the Su Yuan Experimental Primary School and has 2600 students. It still amazes me how big the schools in China are and how many of them there are! We have been told that there are to be 50-55 students in each class, which is double the size of any class I have ever been a part of. I have been placed with an English girl named Amy, who I am also living with. Our apartment is a quick 10-minute walk from the school, and is also very close to the subway station and bus stop, making it very easy to go out and explore the area. The teachers at our school speak very good English and have been very helpful in showing us around the area and lending us a hand in organising ourselves. Amy and I are very lucky in that there is a fresh fruit and vegetable market in the street of our school making it easy to pick up ingredients for dinner and very cheap!
As we were given the first week of school off teaching, we were able to explore the area a bit. Afternoon adventures included strolling down the traditional streets of Shan Tang Street and Ping Jiang Road which were lined by beautiful canals, making the area live up to its name, ‘Venice of the East’. We were also able to visit gardens such as the Lingering Gardens and immerse ourselves in the history of the area in the Suzhou Museum.
The first week of teaching has been a lot of fun! With many timetable changes, its been tricky to know what I am teaching and when! I have been assigned to teach Grades 1 and 2, and have 15 classes per week. It was at first a shock to see 50 tiny faces staring up at me, but as the days have gone on, I have become more used to such large class sizes. I have figured out that the students love to sing songs, so each lesson I’ve taught and practiced songs with them. It’s so rewarding to see them so excited and eager to learn. We have settled into our school and area rather quickly, getting used to the routine of the city and all the crazy ‘Classic China’ moments!