What the duck?

This blog is going to be a quick one.

I was just about to set off for my run, when I heard Spite open her door, step out onto the corridor… and scream. We haven’t seen mice or rats in our apartments for months (thank goodness), but that was my first reaction. But no, I was wrong. Guess what it was instead.

Actually, you can most likely guess what was there on the corridor, judging by the title.

A duck. A living duck.

It was just lying on the floor, its legs tied together tightly with a plastic bag. Although I’ve seen countless cases of animal cruelty here in Ningyuan (recent examples were in a mini fairground, where animals were used as prizes; fish and turtles were kept in flimsy plastic cups with barely any water, mice were kept in tiny containers and one rabbit was in a container where there was literally no room to move at all – the rabbit took up all the container’s space), it still shocks me now. We stroked it and untied its legs, which looked broken… and then came the family from upstairs.

I suppose we knew it had been bought to be eaten (although we still don’t know why it had been dumped where the two foreign teachers lived… was it really too much hassle, or too much common sense, to go up one more flight of stairs to put the duck onto their own corridor? ), but it was still a shock when the man just grabbed the duck by its legs and swung it upside down as he went up the stairs as the bird flapped its wings in terror.

Within a few minutes, we’d calmed down a duck found on our corridor, only for it to be scared again and treated roughly when in the ‘care’ of the Chinese family.

I’d been a pesco-vegetarian before coming to China (but I found out soon enough this was just ignored and I had meat placed in my bowl regardless), but I’ve never tried persuading a meat-eater to ‘change their ways’ or anything like that… but is a bit of care and respect for animals before you kill them really too much to ask for?

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Why I (sometimes) can’t stand China

Well, it turns out that the blog on the stereotypes lessons wasn’t my last blog entry after all. I’m not even going to say ‘BUT THIS ONE MIGHT BE MY LAST THOUGH’ because chances are, I’d just find something else to blog about.

Anyway.

Sometimes I really can’t stand it here, just with what goes on. Not just Ningyuan, but just China in general. I sometimes can’t stand Britain either. I will miss China when I’m gone, but that doesn’t mean I’ll miss every little bit of it.

One example – a Brit posted on Facebook page for TESOL/TEFL in China how he’d had a Skype interview for a teaching job. After experiencing a few technical difficulties with sound, the interviewer didn’t accept his Skype call invitation, and instead just messaged him that he doesn’t ‘seem from UK or USA.’ He clarified he was from Scotland. Her response was ‘I mean your appearance’ (the guy wasn’t White, so therefore can’t be British or American apparently… I wonder if she’d say the same thing to the majority of Native Americans?). She then said that he was a good teacher with experience but his appearance didn’t meet the ‘recruitment requirement’ (funny, because she’d never mentioned such ‘requirements’ before). The poor guy didn’t know what to say. Before the interview, she’d told him he had the perfect CV. It all changed when she saw his face. I suppose you could just say, “Hey, it’s China! They don’t know much about the world and other cultures, and are years behind more civilised countries.” But that doesn’t make excuses for the complete lack of professionalism, seeing as he’d sent her his documents, passport included, but she’d obviously not bothered looking at them. Mind you, I suppose you could still say, “Hey, it’s China!” to low standards in professionalism anyway…

Now, a personal story of why I can’t stand China at times – months ago, we were given a list of holidays and exams that we’d have off. We were amazed! Maybe this meant that the school were actually pulling their act together and – dare I say such an outlandish claim? – being organised? However, following a meeting last week with our lying, horrible, vile, pervert of a contact, apparently the school hasn’t decided what the holidays for next week will be yet… and now they’re expecting us to work on days we’d previously been told were holidays. Hell no.

Finally, something that doesn’t actually affect me, but it’s still a personal story – over the last few months, Spite has been sorting out a teaching job in Changsha! We visited the school, she had an interview, it all seemed ace. Sure, the school were expecting her to start work pretty much straight away, making a visit home extremely short (she’d booked her non-refundable return flight), but hey, it was all coming together… and then, BOOM, China happened. She received a call from her then-future boss, saying that their new boss-boss (the guy who’d interviewed Spite has quit, and has now been replaced) was refusing to get them on a working visa, and expected them to work on a tourist visa.

Let me explain just how messed up that is. By working on a tourist visa, the employers could get away with so much – keeping hold of your passport, overworking, not having a fixed wage (that’s if they even give wages at all). By working on a tourist visa, they’d be staying in China illegally. By working on a tourist visa, they’d be working illegally. By working on a tourist visa, you could get fired, fined and deported, especially with China toughening up on visas and foreigners. There’d be no consequences for the school, of course – not even a fine.

And all of this could have happened just because the school couldn’t be bothered contributing to the working visa.

Spite’s now looking for work at another school.

So what was my response when I heard this news? I’d just come back from my run (I’m getting quite good again, yay. Won’t be going running tonight though – the heat and humidity just knocked all my energy out of me)… quite simply, I’d had enough of hearing this kind of stuff – all 3 of these things happened in 3 days. I opened my window and (warning for expletives) screamed, “I FUCKING HATE YOU, CHINA, YOU FUCKING CORRUPT BASTADS! FUCK YOU CHINA! RAWRRRRRRRR!”

With times like last night, I’m glad people don’t tend to understand what I say :’)

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A lesson on stereotypes in a Chinese school

Well, it’s certainly been an interesting week of teaching. I knew it might be a bit risky, doing lessons on stereotypes, considering I might become infuriated at their ignorance and arrogance (several times, students have insisted that false stereotypes about Britain, where they’ve never visited, are indeed true, and so they know more about own country than I do… apparently) and that they might not accept that there are false and/or cruel stereotypes about their own country. But if anything, that was just another reason to do the lesson – to encourage them to consider a) how China is viewed by the rest of the world, b) how it might make them feel if they heard unfair stereotypes about their people and c) how countries have different cultures than in China. It prompted discussion.

…That was one reason why I decided to do go ahead with the lesson. Another reason is simply because it’s not too long until I finish, so I no longer fear getting into trouble with the school!

The lesson went like this – my PPT had the Chinese translation for ‘stereotype’ and I wrote a stereotype for men and women on the board, with their own contributions (if any were offered). I then encouraged them to shout out stereotypes for Britain and America (likes, food, sports and appearance) with a video for each country.

Here are the most common stereotypes that ‘all’ British people fit into –

  • Blue eyes, blond(e) hair and White skin. Hmm
  • Cold, grey and wet weather. OK, that one is fair enough
  • Football lovers
  • Fat. Myself included, the UK size 12 woman with a healthy BMI, who goes running when she’s not asthmatic (oh yeah, I’ve got asthma again. How nice of it to return in a country where smog can be terrible and everyone ignores no smoking signs… HAPPY FACE!) and whom NHS Blood Donation once refused because they didn’t think she weighed enough, who has friends who are naturally very skinny and maybe have even had eating disorders… all British people are fat. It doesn’t matter that we just tend to have different body types, and even different opinions on what IS fat, or if it matters… all British people are fat, and our opinions are wrong because they’re not Chinese opinions.

Here are the most common stereotypes that ‘all’ American people fit into –

  • Junk food
  • White. Oh dear. Because history never happened
  • Guns
  • Fat. Again. Every single American, apparently.

It’s got to be said, compared to other women in Ningyuan, I do feel like a giant. Quite a few men in Ningyuan are pretty tubby though, but I don’t know if they get as much stick for it as I do.

Anyway, I then said that there are stereotypes for China, and that some are true, some are just plain silly and that some are cruel. I emphasised that I wasn’t attacking them or their country, and that THEY would be the ones who would decide which were true and which were false. They giggled at the ‘chopsticks in hair’ stereotype, because let’s face it, it’s pretty daft.

They couldn’t believe the one about ‘all’ Chinese people loving Maths.
“So if I said to you,” I’d say, pointing to a student who might not have been paying much attention, “’you must love Maths… you are Chinese!’ [so, pretty much what students have done to me], would that be good or bad?”
“Bad!” they would say.

Whether or not they’ll take it in, who knows, but at least I got a response from them, when the stereotypes became personal.

Who knows, this might be my final blog in China. It’s about 5 weeks until I leave Ningyuan, and just over 6 weeks until I fly back home. So, will I miss my students? Yes, even when they say not-so-nice-or-even-true things to me. Will I miss the chaos that is China? Yes, which surprises me. Will I miss Ningyuan…? No way.

So if this is my final blog entry in China, so long and thanks for all the views.

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Tips for future EFL/ESOL teachers in China

It’s crazy to think that this time last year, I had already applied to teach in China. Since then, I’ve learnt a lot that I wished I knew before, so I thought it might be helpful to people who’ve applied (or are considering to apply) to be foreign teachers in China to write this blog. This blog entry will probably be edited a lot, with new things added in, and other points being expanded on.

Here’s what you should expect:

1) Expect a complete lack of organisation. Imagine no organisation, and the chaos, the confusion (and if you’re anything like me, the irritation) you’d feel. And then multiply it by, say, 58. Maybe then you’ll get an idea of how bad it is sometimes. Don’t even expect things to make sense a lot of the time. There’s a reason why the words “Oh, China” are such a big thing for foreigners visiting the country. Just roll with it.

2) If you’re obviously a foreigner, expect stares. And lots of them. Being a White foreigner in China is the closest I’ll ever be to living in a Lynx advert. I’m surprised I haven’t caused a road accident yet, from all the stares I get from people supposedly meant to concentrate on driving, which leads me onto…

3) Chinese roads. They be crazy! A student told me a few days ago that Chinese drivers ignore traffic lights and pedestrian crossings so much is because they’re in a rush. Oh please. You’re just making excuses there. The truth is, China hasn’t had motor vehicles for a long time. They get away with crazy driving, and so crazy driving is just a regular thing. Yesterday, a woman was riding her motorbike on the pavement and was pomping at me to move, and I didn’t even flinch. I didn’t move out of her way either – after all, I was the pedestrian on the pavement. She was the naughty one. Tut tut. That, and I’m following the golden rule to survive and get around in China – be what Westerners might consider to be selfish (but in China, it’s not viewed as that – just a cultural difference here). Push your way in. Stand your ground. Unless it looks like they’re going to run you over, regardless of what the traffic light says… maybe you should move then.

4) Expect ‘No Smoking’ signs to be ignored. It sucks to be a non-smoker in China. ‘Nuf said.

5) Expect people to tell you exactly what they think. And so if by Chinese beauty standards, you’re considered ‘fat,’ they’ll tell you that you’re fat. If your hair isn’t super straight and fine like typical Chinese hair, prepare to be told that it’s messy. And they get even more bizarre – if they think you have a small head, or that your tongue is too long (SERIOUSLY, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT ME TO DO ABOUT THOSE TWO?!), they’ll tell you so. And yes, all of those have been said to me.

6) Fireworks. All the time. Everywhere.

Here’s what not to expect:

1) Don’t expect foreigners to always be treated with respect. Yes, you get respect to some extent, but prepare for people to stare at you eat for 10 solid minutes, be referred to only as ‘foreigner,*’ be laughed at if you try to speak Chinese, and be laughed at if you don’t understand them when they’re speaking at a hundred miles an hour, which leads me to my next point…

2) Don’t expect the locals of wherever you’re staying to speak slow and clear Standard Mandarin to you. I have a Lancashire accent, but it’s not like I’d say something like ‘Ey up, mi cocker. Y’alreet? Ye fancy a chippy tea?’ to anyone who’s not a native speaker of English… but my experience with a lot of Chinese people is that they’ll just talk at you super fast in their local dialect.

3) Don’t expect people to queue. Don’t even expect to be served first when you put your items on the till first. People still push in. It only took me moving to China for a year to realise just how British I am… and how wonderful queues are.

4) China Post. Just don’t expect anything sent to or from you to arrive quickly (if it arrives at all…), and here’s examples why not – Spite received a Christmas card over 2 months since it had been sent, and the same goes for a postcard I sent to my Grandma. A Christmas package sent before the guaranteed delivery date only arrived on 30th December. A letter sent after a batch of other letters has arrived, and the addressees of the former letters still haven’t received those. And finally, 3 things haven’t arrived at all so far this year.

5) Don’t expect your school to actually stick to their side of the contract. If there’s something wrong with, say, your apartment (and you were promised in your contract that you’d have suitable accommodation), you’ve got to really fight for it. Be stubborn. Chances are, they won’t sort it out the first time you tell them about it, and just say something like ‘We’ll do it later’ but do nothing. Be persistent until it’s sorted, no matter how much pestering you need to do from their lack of action. Don’t let them make you feel as if you’re the bad guy.

And here’s a few tips I wish I’d been told before applying:

1) Ask to be placed in a large city. That way, you’ll be less of a freak to the locals, and they’ll be more used to seeing foreigners and (from when I’ve visisted bigger cities), they’ll probably treat you with more respect. There might be a bit of a foreigner community there, too.

2) If you’re considering asking to be placed alone (or not giving any preference whether or not you’ll be teaching with any other foreigners), give this a lot of thought. Teaching in China won’t be easy as it is, never mind if you’re on your own. I’d have gone crazy if it weren’t for Spite and Lee.

3) This was kind of brought up, but I wish I’d paid more attention, instead of just brushing it aside and hoping it wouldn’t happen – if you have a sick family member/friend, and there’s a strong likelihood of them passing away during the year, honestly consider how this might affect your time in China. Teaching in China is a huge sacrifice as it is, and there’ll be times that you’ll struggle whatever the case. Bereavement, too, is also a process that isn’t easy, isn’t pleasant, no matter where you are. It’s a horrible thought, but imagine it happening. Imagine you hearing the news during that Skype call, you not being able to go to the funeral, you not being able to visit their grave, you not being able to properly say goodbye and you not being able to receive comfort you would otherwise be able to receive from other people who knew and loved them. It’s tough. Could you do it?

4) Have some sort of back-up plan, in case it turns out teaching in China just isn’t for you, or something happens that you need to go home, or even that your school kicks you out (this has happened to at least 2 people who applied through the same programme as me, because – shock, horror! – the school wasn’t happy with their expectation for them to stick to their side of the contract). If possible, get an open return so you can change the date of your flight back home.

5) If you’re in a smaller city, bring as much Western comfort food from back home as possible, because you might not be able to find it! In the bigger cities, you’ll probably have places like McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, etc., and supermarkets will stock foods like pasta and cheese. Also (girl talk here, discussing feminine hygiene, so anyone of a weak disposition should just skip to point 6 NOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!), I’ve looked in the bigger cities, and I haven’t been able to find any feminine hygiene products other than sanitary towels anywhere. Plan ahead!

6) Try to be patient. Many Chinese people won’t ever even leave their town, never mind the country, and so their awareness of other cultures is pretty low. Prepare to be told that anything other than noodles or rice for every meal is ‘wrong,’ and that any food that isn’t Chinese is ‘junk food.’ In fact, prepare to be told that your culture is flat out wrong, because it’s not the Chinese way. Prepare to hear just downright misinformed ‘facts’ about your own country, and for people to not accept that YOU know more about your country than they do. Be prepared for even the Chinese English teachers to interrupt your lesson, and challenge what you said, and insist that when asked, “Why?,” anglophones do say “No why,” and that ‘bus’ is pronounced ‘bass,’ ‘brother’ is pronounced ‘brather’ and ‘funny’ is pronounced… work it out yourselves. Just… try not to kill anybody, OK?

If you have any questions, or if you want to share your own experience, feel free to do so in the comments.

*To be fair, some words for ‘foreigner’ aren’t rude. However, a lot of the locals and even my students use words to mean ‘foreigner’ that do have a negative and insulting connotation.

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There’s no such thing as ‘no’ – PART TWO

A few months ago, I posted the first part of this blog, looking at how the word ‘no’ isn’t always respected by Chinese children, which you can find here.

Something happened last night that’s the perfect example of how the word ‘no’ isn’t always respected by Chinese adults, either. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but we’re both OK.

Throughout a few hours, I’d drunk an entire bottle of red wine, an alcopop and a JD and coke. I was drunkenly writing a letter to send back home, chuckling at the word ‘bucket’ (hey, drunk logic) and watching films with Spite, who had drunk slightly more than I had. We decided to head to the local nightclub, and knocked on Lee’s door to see if he wanted to come. He didn’t, but when I fell on my arse laughing hysterically on the floor, with faces painted on my cheeks in eye-liner (because why not?) he did say, “You’re taking that to the club?”

Hell yes.

At the club, I was mainly drinking ice tea and water, but with occasional sips of wine and beer. When some guys were getting a bit touchy-feely though, we decided to head out. The club was becoming emptier by the minute, anyway.

By this time, I was sobered up a bit. Craving post-alochol food, we began to head to a little café that we knew wouldn’t scam us… and the inevitable happened – a ‘sisterly squat’ was needed. We found an alleyway, did our business but as we were standing up, we noticed that two of the touchy-feely men from the club were near and were walking towards us.

I regret it now, but I ran away from them for a few metres, and when I turned around, I saw one of the men had Spite grasped around the neck with one arm, and around her stomach with the other. He was beginning to drag her to his car. The other man was just standing there. I ran back to them, and began prizing him off her. He kept saying, “Come in, come in, come in!” and he was ignoring my insistent, “No, thank you’s.” Every time I removed one arm, he would just replace it with the other arm. Spite was choking slightly (it’s a wonder she doesn’t have a bruise there now).

It was when the second guy started grabbing hold of Spite (I was moving them away from the car, as I was continually trying to pry him away) that I was getting panicky. Self-defense moves flashed through my mind, and I knew I could neck-chop them, knee them in the balls and stab them in the eye with my keys, if I needed to. One knee started to lift up, but I opted not to, deciding it might risk them getting more aggressive. I put it back down. I have never needed to slap anyone in the face in my whole life before, but right then, realising they’d ignored my verbal rejections, as well as me physically trying to get them away from us, I gave the lightest of slaps on one of their faces (something I hope not to need to do again). That somehow got the message across, and they let go. I was relieved that a) the light slap hadn’t backfired and b) I hadn’t needed to be more aggressive, and we quickly made our way to the café.

Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the first time we’ve been treated like ‘White trash’ (it’s just how we’re viewed over here – assumptions are made, and certain things are expected), and I doubt it’ll be the last time either. One sad thing about it all, is that now we don’t feel comfortable going for a night out, just the two of us, and that now Lee would have to come with us. We shouldn’t need to limit ourselves like that, but because of what we’ve experienced out here, we just wouldn’t feel safe otherwise.

But this is what I mean when I tell people that the word ‘no’ isn’t always respected over here – I’d told them far too many times NO, verbally, and also physically by trying to get away, and still they were persistent, when it was (surely?) clear that we didn’t want to go with them.

The word ‘no’ hasn’t always been respected when it’s come to alcohol either – despite me saying ‘NO!” several times to wine, they’ve already refilled my wine glass to the top, and they’re now pressuring me to down it in one.  Put it this way – I am now pleasantly surprised if my wishes to not drink more alcohol are respected.

Another example is having motorbike taxi drivers stop by us, and say to get on. When we’ve said no, they insist (Oh really? I want to give you money for you to take me somewhere that’s easily within walking distance?), and we’ve had to tell them that we’re playing pool across the road. We shouldn’t need to do that – obviously, if we wanted a taxi, we’d just hail one ourselves.

The word ‘no’ being ignored can be interpreted as politeness in culture – it’s considered polite to say ‘no’ to alochol, gifts, etc. a few times, even if you want it, and then pretend to be swayed and agree to it. With this in mind, it’s kind of forgivable when the Chinese genuinely believe that ‘yes means no,’ because according to their culture, this might actually be the case. Children pick this up from their parents, and so it continues, on and on.

Another explanation is from a linguistic point of view – the pronunciation and tone of ‘Yào’ can mean ‘want,’ and it can also mean ‘need.’ Yep – in Mandarin Chinese, ‘want’ and ‘need’ are actually synonymous. If you want it, you need it, and so you expect it… even if the other person says no.

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Fear of fire(works) in China

Happy Valentine’s Day/Lantern Day everyone!

It’s been quite a while I’ve blogged (naughty me), and during this time, I visited home for 2 weeks which was a generally positive experience for me. I was able to see friends and family again and have very important, albeit difficult, conversations. Getting back on the plane to China wasn’t easy in the slightest, but we did it. After 2 days of travelling and waiting (we lingered in McDonalds for about 4 hours, where we brushed and flossed our teeth in front of everyone), we returned to Ningyuan. Neither of us have done much since getting back, unless you consider drinking tea and watching various films and episodes of ‘Scrubs’ hard work (and I certainly don’t).

Valentine’s Day 2014 has been extremely unromantic for me, and I was in bed (…alone) moping until 15:40, but don’t judge me! I’m jetlagged and it is INCREDIBLY COLD (not helped by single glazed windows that don’t close properly, cold tiled floors and lack of heating… and by the way, I don’t feel the cold much, so when I’m cold, then it is absolutely freezing), which made getting out of bed all the more difficult. When I finally grew a pair of ovaries and found the strength to leave my beautiful, comfy and warm bed, the rest of the day was spent drinking MORE tea, and watching MORE episodes of Scrubs. The only thing particularly different about today was that we ate pizza and some precious Western chocolate, and I had Spite writhing on the floor and screaming… with a head massager.

head massager

I was apparently making exorcist sounds when Spite had a go on me!

But hey, enough about my Singles Awareness Day and more on the focus of this blog’s topic.

It sucks if you have pyrophobia (fear of fire) or pyrotechnophobia (fear of fireworks) in China. I’m the former.

I’ve had a fear of fire since I was little, due to a series of bad experiences of smoke and fire. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I used a lighter or match for the first time, and that was only when I had to, and it was a big deal (as was doing a sponsored barefoot firewalk on red hot embers). I was super proud of myself afterwards, on both occasions. Fire and smoke still make me nervous to this day though.

Regarding pyrophobia in China, it’s not rare that I come down the steps of my apartment and find candles burning with large flames, just left unattended. It’s also not rare for street vendors to be cooking food by fire, and there’s always a lot of smoke. That, and so many Chinese folk smoke, so I’m constantly surrounded by fire of some sort. At least my gas oven doesn’t make me jump anymore.

I used to be scared of fireworks too – you try NOT being freaked out by loud noises when you’ve recently stopped being partially deaf and then suddenly BOOM! It’s Bonfire Night!

This afternoon (the morning didn’t exist, remember?), Spite and I were watching ‘Silent Hill’ (weird as hell) when the film was suddenly interrupted by an attack on our ear drums. Fireworks had been set off, and incredibly close too. We’re now used to hearing fireworks at any time of night or day (yes, daytime too), and seeing as today is Lantern Day, and so the last day of Chinese New Year, of course there’s going to be a lot… but we hadn’t heard them that loud before. We then decided to go out, and Spite opened the door… and we found out where the fireworks had come from – THE FLOOR BELOW US HAD SET THEM OFF INSIDE. Inside!

The corridor was full of smoke and although we were only in it for less than three seconds, and didn’t breathe in much, we were still both coughing for a while. I was relieved I hadn’t been close when they were set off, otherwise I’d probably have had a panic attack. But yes – inside. One floor down from us. No warning. Nothing. The debris from the fireworks (and there was a lot of it) was still there when we returned to the apartment about an hour later. Goodness knows if it’s still there now. Probably is.

But one thing’s for sure – I would hate to be scared of fireworks (or just loud noises in general) in China, where it’s perfectly normal for people to set off fireworks on the side of the road, as cars and motorbikes drive past. Fear of fireworks in China would suck.

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A few notes on Chinese education

Looking through my class lists today, I saw that my smallest class was 44 senior students, and my largest class was 75 junior students. It was another reminder of just how different education is between the UK and China.

I remember, before I came to China, how I used to think that a class of 30 pupils was too big – how are teachers supposed to organise and monitor group work? How can you possibly go around the class and check that everyone understands? Marking homework, writing reports, monitoring who’s paying attention and who isn’t, ensuring everyone takes part in lessons – it’s simply not possible for such a large number of pupils.

But here in China, I now consider any classes of 50 or less students to be small. My lessons are shorter, so time is limited. My job as a foreign teacher is, officially, teaching them a bit of vocab and grammar, and working on their pronunciation, but unofficially, my job is to be a dancing monkey with an endless supply of games, songs and film clips. They’re not lessons, as such, but rather lectures when I encourage them to repeat words, answer questions, maybe read a passage, and with animal impressions (question – what does the fox say?) and songs about bananas and chippy teas in-between. There’s no time for group work – it’s just not doable.

I personally consider my lessons as a pleasant break from the rest of their lessons, where it’s not actually learning, but rote memorisation instead, repeating facts over and over until it’s engrained in their minds – sure, they might not understand it, but they remember it for the exam, so that’s OK!

Students asked me what English exams in England consisted of. When I told them, they said that would be too hard in Chinese lessons. They won’t know how to analyse texts, discuss character development, form arguments or write for different audiences and purposes. For exams, it’s multiple choice. I’ve seen, written on the blackboard, the answers before they’ve even had the exam. I’ve heard, passing class rooms, them all chorusing, “A, B, D, C, A, A, B, D, C,” learning the sequence of answers off by heart. Again, they don’t need to understand, but just so long as they remember that the answer to 1 is b, the answer to 2 is d, the answer to 3 is c, etc., everything’s OK, because that way, school results are good.

There is so much pressure for students to succeed in China. If I were to receive an A at school, I would be congratulated. I felt, and still do, that my parents loved and supported me, and that they knew that I’d tried my best… and hey, look at me now – I would consider myself generally optimistic and happy, I’ve been to uni, got a job, got plenty of voluntary experience, and experiences that make me look back and smile, and I’ve applied for teacher training, helping me improve my career. I AM SUCH A FAILURE BECAUSE I ONLY GOT 7 B’s, 2 A’s AND 1 A* FOR MY GCSE’s, AND 2 B’s AND 1 C FOR MY A LEVELS! But if a Chinese student receives an A, they are questioned why they didn’t get an A+, or an A*. Perhaps if they weren’t put under such stress, having lessons from around 08:00 to 22:00 from Monday to Saturday, and 08:00-12:00 on Sunday, with only a few decent breaks in-between, the suicide rate in China wouldn’t be so high. It’s not rare to see students falling asleep in my lessons, but I just leave them to it. They don’t need another thing to worry about in their lives, which is also why I don’t give them homework.

With all of this being said, it’s no surprise that I personally favour the British education system to China’s. For a start, all of compulsory state education is free (unlike in China, when they need to pay from senior school and onwards). We have Citizenship lessons too, where we learn about the world, and that just because a culture is different from ours, that doesn’t mean that it’s ‘wrong’ (which is, sadly, the attitude in China – any food that isn’t Chinese is junk food and unhealthy, sarcasm is because British people don’t have pride, a man having facial hair is messy, as is curly hair, being fat is shameful, and I, a UK size 10-12, am fat, by the way… ). That, and pupils actually learn to think for themselves, aren’t under as much stress… and hey, class sizes are smaller too.

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