Category: Teaching in China

Finally, an Assignment and Train Adventure! or, And The Chinese Man Kept on Snoring

Finally, an Assignment and Train Adventure! or, And The Chinese Man Kept on Snoring

So long before we ever came to China, we requested to go to Yangzhou, a prefect on the Hunan/Guangxi boarder and only three hours from Guilin. During the school assignments, though, we found out that for some reason Yangzhou was not taking and new foreign teachers. We were hearing rumors from problems with the government to the schools ran out of money. So, instead, we were supposed to go to Huai Hua, a smaller city but in a beautiful location and with brand new apartments. We even met the assistant Foreign Affair Officer who came all the way to Yangshuo to accompany his English teachers back to the school. We were all excited and were going to be the last to go on the following Wednesday. We had not gotten much of a chance to sight-see in Yangshuo, so we were happy for the delay. We found out we would be going with Shaun and Ross, to very nice and fun boys from England.

On Sunday morning, though, we were called into Ping’s office and told things had changed again. Huai Hua had a new principle and they were unsure if they were even going to keep their English program. CIMG2818So, instead were were going to Li Xian, small city in the very north of Hunan that had a more stable English program and had an opening immediately, like now. So we agreed and found ourself in a van that afternoon on the way to Guilin to catch a train to Changsha, the capital of Hunan, with Colin and Haraun (Aaron). Colin and Haraun would not be at our school, but in the same town. They would be at the middle school, and we would be at the Tech school. I was excited to go, though, I had never been on a train before. The only thing I was sad about was we were traveling at night, so I wouldn’t get to see the country. Oh well, I would probably get motion sick anyway (which I did).

So anyway, Seth and I have a ton of luggage. We have found that taking all the luggage allowed by aviation standards falls under the can but shouldn’t category. Taking 4+ bags apiece has been a traveling nightmare. We got to the station and even with both of us, the boys, and our translator Beyond, we could not carry all the luggage. We finally found a very helpful “porter” (a guy who just hangs outside of the train station offering to carry luggage for money) who carried two of our bags for 10 Kuai a piece. He was totally worth it. When the train arrives, you have 5 minutes to board. He helped us take our luggage to the terminal and then came back later and carried them onto the train. I almost wanted to tip him he was so awesome, but tipping is an insult in China (one reason I love it).

There are several classes of Chinese trains, standing, hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper, and soft sleeper. We ended up in a soft sleeper. But there is no place for luggage. There is a small rack above the walking aisle and some room under the lowest bed, and that is it. Between the four of us, we took up an entire bed and under it, so Seth and I were now down to 1 bed. At first we thought we would just snuggle real close in one bed, but no. They are just too small. The cabin shuts the lights down for sleeping at 10 pm. It is really dark in there too. Seth and I were on the top bunk, a Chinese man was in the middle, and our luggage was on the bottom. Haraun and Colin were on the middle and top bunks opposite us, and a German fellow was on the bottom. Seth and I tried sleeping on the top bunk, but it was too crowded, too hot, and I started getting really dizzy really quick. I decided to climb down and let him sleep. I tried sitting in one of the fold down chairs in the aisle, but train employees kept walking by and I would have to move. CIMG2816The German fellow wasn’t in his bunk, he was down visiting with a bunch of other foreigners at the end of the car, so I sat on his bunk. I got out my ipod and just listened to it for a long time, waiting for my tummy to calm down. At one point, the German came back and he found me in his bunk, but he just said “Oh, that is OK, I don’t want to sleep, I just need something from my bag.” So I was able to comandeer his bed for the night, score! But, there was not to be much sleeping, at least for us Americans. The German and his friends started playing drinking games and shouted “Gan Bei!” (empty glass) all night among other loud things. They were so noisy! Somehow, the Chinese man was able to sleep very soundly, and also loudly, all night. He snored so loud we could hear him above the drunker foreigners! I amanaged to doze off a couple of times, but hardly got any restful sleep.

The train arrived about 5:30 am at the station. We loaded up our luggage by the door so we would be able to escape the train quickly. Once off, we were unsure of what to do with so much luggage, but again, a helpful porter came to our rescue. NOTE! If you ever come to China, don’t automatically trust the train porters! If you do not even have basic Chinese skills to ask how much they cost, don’t use them. They will take advantage of you and possibly will steal from you. We waited for our FAO to meet us outside the train station. She arrive around 6:00 am. She took one look at our luggage and said “we may need to rent a truck.” CIMG2814Thankfully, Colin and Haraun’s FAO had rented a van for them. So since we were going to the same city just different schools, we were able to put our luggage in the van and ride with Cindy and her husband to Li Xian. The ride was about 5 hours,. We stopped and had a very nice lunch at Colin and Haraun’s school and then, finally, headed to our apartment. All I wanted to do was find our new home and take a nap! But, alas, the apartment was horrid! I was so exhausted and in such shock at the awfulness that when Cindy left, I just burst into tears.


Orientation/Training at Buckland College (with a side trip to the government hospital)

Orientation/Training at Buckland College (with a side trip to the government hospital)


Seth and I both had to take the TESOL training at Buckland to be qualified to teach English as a second/foreign language in a Chinese school. Only makes sense. The only problem is that usual TESOL training is 120 hours. Buckland has managed to pull enough strings to condense the traning down into 40 hours (five 8-hour days). This is extremely skeleton training as it is. But add on top of that, two days is the practice teaching where you do nothing for two days except for a 45 minutes teaching demonstration. Also the whole first day is Buckland Orientation and Introduction to Chinese culture and the first part of day two is a health check. So there is only about a day and a half of learning. While this seems like a great deal (it was free for us, after our class people will have to pay 1200 Kuai for it) and it seemed like good training at the time, once we went into our assignment, we realized just how ill-prepared we were (but more on that in a future post).

So for the first day, Owen Buckland, the principle of the Owen College and the president of the Buckland agency, gave us our orientation.

Owen Buckland
Owen Buckland

He gave a history of the Buckland association and an overview of what to expect in our assignments with regards to culture. He talked a lot about food and drinking. Much of Chinese history has been partnered with famine and starvation, so food is a very important part of Chinese culture. Also, they really love to drink. If they do not push you to drink with them or have enough alcohol to go around, they are not being a good host. This can be difficult for light drinkers or people who don’t drink at all. But by continually politely refusing or making up white lies as to why you cannot drink, everyone can save face. He talked about making sure to be familiar with our contracts so that the schools will be sure to live up to it. He also talked about personal security and to be careful with our money and passports, especially around monkeys.

The next day was the health check. OMG, it was pretty bad. We had to go to Guilin about an hour and a half away even though there are hospitals in Yangshuo because for the visas we had to get official government health checks. Now, you would think that a government hospital, that specializes in foreigner examinations would have higher standards of cleanliness than say…a McDonalds. But you would be wrong! It was disgusting. One woman, Kate, who spent a couple of years in Thailand and basically travelling all over Asia said the bathroom of the hospital was the worst she had seen in her entire life (on the flip-side, the McDonalds in Yangshuo has the best bathroom I have yet seen in China. Period.).

They divided us up, boys and girls, and then into groups of 3. The exam was divided into 4 parts: physical exam, x-rays, ultrasound/EKG, and blood test/urine test. The physical exam for me and Tara and Kate was done by this little old mean Chinese lady who did not speak a lick of English (again, in a hospital that specializes in foreigner service). She weighed us. She checked our vision (and made Kate take off her glasses for it which was weird because she obviously needed them). She made us lay on a table and felt our tummies and our boobs. No idea why. They did chest x-rays where they had us take off our tops and bras and put on a white shirt, but we all had to wear the same white shirt! It was so bizarre! We went in one at a time and had to each put on the same shirt (who knows how many people before us had worn it) and in the same size. We are all different sizes! Some of us bigger girls could barely get the thing on. Oh well, at least the x-ray doctor was friendly.

The ultrasound/EKGs were odd. Not sure what they were looking for. They did the ultrasound of our abdomens. I was a little worried they would see my cycts or endometreosis, but I guess they didn’t find anything. The EKGs were annoying because she did each of us, there were like 5 girls together by this time, and printed them all out and then tried to put them with the rest of our paper work. THey, naturally, got out of order, and Kate had to try to tell the lady who also did not speak any English that the papers were out of order. She finally was able to show her the time-stamps were out of order and then she understood.

But the pee test, that was the worst. Up to this point in the trip I had managed to avoid using a squat toilet. So now, not only did I have to use a squat toilet, I had to pee in a cup. Oh, and did I also mention that it was the most disgusting bathroom ever? So, no need to go into details, but it was quite an interesting feat. At least I had the basics of peeing in a cup down since they are quite routine in America. Another girl in the group was from Australia and was worried since she had never even peed in a cup before, let along use a squat seat. Ah China, so many firsts!

Ping Wang
Ping Wang

Anyway, I am sure that is far more information about peeing than you wanted to know, so I will move on. That afternoon, we had our only TESOL training. It was taught by Ping Wang (our main contact before coming to China) who studied in America for three years and has a master’s in TESOL. She talked about some of the basics of teaching English in China. What is unique about teaching in China is that from very young, the Chinese are taught English in school, but only to read and write it. They could probaby leave every American child in the dust when it comes to grammar and linguistics. However, the problem is that they are not taught to speak it. Ask a Chinese person “what is your name?” and you will get blank looks. But write down “what is your name?” and they will gladly write their name for you. Communicating with the Chinese in English is like communicating with a deaf person. They can read and understand, but they cannot hear you or speak to you. Knowing this definately helps the teaching process. If at any time, the students do not understand you, you can always write what you are saying on the board so they will understand.

Wednesday we spent the whole day with Patrick. Patrick was just like us two years ago, coming over to teach English with Buckland. But now he is an assistant director under Ping and is a teacher trainer. His focus was on lesson planning. This was a good class because as any teacher knows, you have to have a plan. The only problem is that his ideal lesson plan has 5 parts: warm-up (usually an easy game), bridge, input (teaching), activity, review. This works great in a class of 30 or less, but not in a class of 70-80. The more students you have, the longer it takes to do anything, especially explain the rules of a game. Seth and I have found that in 45 minutes, we really only have time for input and a short activity if we are lucky.

Thursday and Friday were the practice teaching days. We went to Omieda School, a private English school owned by one of Owen’s brothers. The pictures can be seen on Facebook here, so I’m not going to repost any here. It was fun and a good experience. I got to talk about animals and Seth did monsters. But it was not the most practical experience. There were only 15 students in the class and their English was excellent. We teach classes of 60-80 where their English is minimal and they don’t like to speak up. It was good to get in at least a little practice, but didn’t really give an accurate representation of what we would be facing.

Overall, the training/orientation was good and we did get TESOL certified, but I think that people who got actual TESOL certification or degrees in their home countries probably had far better training. I am still thinking of taking some TESOL classes online just because I personally don’t really feel qualified to do this job.


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