Monday, 11 June 2007

More from China - The Summer Palace

A big bronze cow overlooking the ornamental pond.<
Bugger! My camera screen is broken! And there is no viewfinder...

This one came out alright, though....

And this one....

Perhaps I could have managed to do all my photography for the trip without a viewfinder / screen but in the end I went to get it repaired at one of these stands that they have that say, "we'll fix your camera, quick." Well they did, so I went out for some duck as a celebration.

The serious nature of teaching English

Some of you budding English teachers out there might be wondering how to teach the word "freak" in a context that the students can understand. Wonder no longer - James has eliminated that source of worry.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

China day 4 - The forbidden city

No time to waffle - here are some photos with brief labels. Enjoy!

This is what the Emperor would have been carried up. It has clouds to signify his ascent to heaven. The emperor used to do this every day, prompting no end of jealousy from some other holy personages I could name, who only did it once...

There were lots of these odd minimalist mural-type things. I thought that they were really nice.

If the emperor ever got the munchies, this is the phone he used to call Domino's.

The sign says, "please do not climb on the cultural relic," or something equally pompous.

Graceful birds were a treasured part of Chinese society.

While elephants were habitually hamstrung because they smell funny.

Behind the Forbidden City there was a park with a hill and a view of what I always thought Chinese architecture was like.

When in China or Japan, there is no such concept as "too many photos taken through doorway / arch / gate".

All of my hilarious banter aside, this really was quite interesting. In the park they had a display of stills and music from various Chinese films throughout history. The photo above is just one panel. On others there was musical score which the old guys were diligently copying it down so that they could learn to play the tunes. I'm all for it. It was the first thing in China that I had seen that actually gave me a positive impression of anything the Chinese government had done.

In the evening we headed out to the night market, where you can buy more or less any living creature on a stick.

The grasshoppers were deep-fried and, whilst they weren't delicious, I have definitely had worse elsewhere.

Yours truly noshing on deep-fried insects.

The night market: It sells stuff, at night.

Friday, 8 June 2007

China day 3 - These tombs aren't that bad...

Day number three was a bit of a gamble - the youth hostel where I stayed had signs up for tours in the reception. 100 Yuan was to get me to the Ming tombs, the Great Wall and back again, lunch included. That's about seven pounds in English money, so it seemed a bit good to be true. One of the problems was that I had been on similar tours in Thailand and been given a runaround the shops and craft factories of Bangkok. Not what I was hoping for.

Beeeeepp! The phone rang at 6am to get me up in time to leave. I stumbled into the shower, onto the toilet, in front of the sink and finally down the stairs with my gear. I was greeted in the foyer by my guide for the day, who introduced me to my fellow tourer, Rachel. She had also just finished five years in Japan, teaching. I was quite pleased to have someone to talk to and something to talk about. I'd have hated to end up with a big bunch of lager boys in England shirts.

Alas, my worries had proven all too close to the bone. On the way to the Ming tombs, we had to stop at the Jade factory. It was moderately interesting, and as we had lied and said we were American (at the urging of our guide, I should add) we were graciously allowed to leave and carry on to the the Ming tomb.

That's Ming tomb in the singular. All the others were closed for renovation, pre-Olympics. I think that we were in there for about twenty minutes. Here's a picture with a story behind it:

Red-flecked Pillar Potted History
The red-flecked pillar was there for the Chinese emperors to write their lives and thoughts on. Chinese emperors being what they are, they never got round to the writing bit and so the pillar was left blank. When the glorious day came, the soldiers came to destroy it along with anything else of cultural or religious worth. The squad came, huffed, puffed, pulled on ropes and couldn't budge it. "Right then," said the squad leader, "I'll come back with more men tomorrow."

The whole thing had been seen by Mao's mentor, who knew that this was one of China's national treasures. He stealthily took a pot of red paint and daubed the column red. He wrote the words Long Live Mao Tsi Tung on there for good measure. The next day the soldiers came back and they couldn't pull down the pillar because of the colour and words written there. Thus the national treasure was preserved. Feel free to moralise at your own leisure.

Next on the list was the Jade factory. "What the fuck?" The guide said, "Ah, but this one also does Cloisonné. Totally different."

After that we went for our free lunch. That was also in a Jade factory. We were feeling pretty jaded by this point, so I pointed out to the guide that jade was also another word for prostitute and wondered if this had had any influence on the behaviour of the tour company.

The dinner was plentiful and palatable. We lit out for the great wall. the guide went into a great ramble about setting targets and if you achieve that target then you can be a hero. This refers back to a famous Mao quote; "No man can be a hero until he has climbed the great wall." I came up with my own on the way up, in the 30 degree heat and direct sunlight. "No man may be a hero until he has sweat a pint and dodged thousands of tourists on a reconstruction of the wall."

I got to the top, by the way.

Next was the silk factory. We had a few choice words for the guide at this point. He said that there was nothing that he could do. If he changed the plan he would get fired. We had a tour for ten minutes. We sat in the silk factory for a further thirty until we were allowed to leave.

After this we went to the State Sponsored Tea House where they had a novel way of checking the water temperature. They fill the little terracotta feller with cold water, and if the water you tip on him is over 80 degrees C, water squirts out of his warrior.

Outside there was a Chinese garden with a lady playing the dulcimer. It was nice and atmospheric.

The day was, well, at least a little disappointing. I spent half of one of only four days in China being plagued by salespeople and hanging around hard-sellers. My advice to anyone who might go to China is this:
Be prepared to pay to get the better tours. You will get round the program in half of the time if you do. Before paying for / booking a tour, make sure that you ask them to confirm that there will be no shopping detours.
On the positive side, the tea, wall and view therefrom were excellent.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, 4 June 2007

ALKA CELTA - for stomach cramps

Though pain in the neck is nearer the mark. I'm just close to finishing week two, which starts on a Wednesday and ends on a Tuesday. Welcome to the strange, introverted world of CELTA.

I'm writing this at 8.30 in the morning, which alone could account for the lack of style and panache in this missive. The fact is, I haven't had any time to think about writing. Any writer will surely agree that this is the major part of the battle where writing is the order of the day.

I haven't even really had the chance to get out and look at the city beyond the main square and the side-street bars where cheap beer and cheaper meat is on the menu. Though my impressions are good, they are merely first ones. Not a pretty state of affairs after two weeks.

And in the zany world of TEFL? Well, I have focussed on the learner, analysed her needs and decided she needs to work on her pronunciation. I've planned a few lessons in huge detail. That means about eight sides of A4 each, typed. I've had a ton of input sessions (that means lecture to you and I, but they don't want to call them that because it implies passive learning) which have been very interesting. I have spent about four hours watching Experienced Teachers, which really has been a burden to me.

The main issue for me is the scheduling. Start at 10.45, two two hour input seshes, an hour and a half for lunch, an hour and a half of pointless sitting around while other people have their lessons analysed, ten minutes for my own, up to three hours of teaching / watching others' lessons. Of course, my main bone to pick is with the four dead hours in the middle of the day. I'd like that back please.

After teaching / watching teaching there are usually feedback sessions which drag on past 7pm usually. They have also, incidentally, dragged all your will to be out of you with their huge time wasting format and pernickerty marking. Then you get home and fed by, say, nine pm and one can finally start ones homework.

Two and a half weeks left and my trip from China to England is definitely taking on a kind of mythical feel.

Friday, 1 June 2007

What are you doing? Helter CELTA

Work piled on work is all that I am up to at the moment. The the first week of the CELTA course has been always busy, usually straightforward, sometimes entertaining and rarely relaxing. I've virtually never had ten minutes spare to upload photos / update my blog / tidy-up / think of any more vers using "up".

The highlights of the week have been mostly linked to the guys I am studying with. They are a fairly intelligent and amusing bunch:

James has the daze award for style in class. He found a picture of a caravan and a bunch of cows being blown away to illustrate a hurricane.

James: Do you see this often in Poand?
Looks around, tries to get an answer from the students.
James: Do you see this in Poland, Student A?
Student A: Well, we have cows in Poland.
James: Yes, but they usually stay on the ground in Poland, don't they?

He had a few moments like this, and in a class where one is an observer it is not polite to laugh, so I had about five minutes of trying to stifle myself each time.

That's all from me for now. Eyes peeled for the rest of China some time this weekend if I can drag myself away from the City aniversary celebrations!

Friday, 25 May 2007

Day #2 China - first impressions

I hit the floor limping in China. My preparation was piss poor and led to pathetic performance as the saying goes. It took me the best part of five hours to get from the airport to my youth hostel. This included the privilege of paying a taxi driver to take me round an Authentic Veijing block. Quite pricey it was, too.

I very nearly went into McDonald's on the evening but I managed to swerve into a Chinese place at the last minute. I did manage to drink some Soya Milk and was pleasantly surprised by how nice it was. Maybe these Vegans do know what they are talking about, after all. The noodle soup was good, the rice-tube-with-deep-fried-stuff-in-the-middle was less appetising.

The evening ended with Chinese whiskey, which comes in a green bottle like Night Nurse, the cough medicine. The similarity does not stop there; it continues through taste and smell, too. Likewise, drinking even a small bottle to yourself can put you under for a good while. I had a small portion of a bottle to myself. "Nice," I thought, as choked down it's 55% of alkiness. Head hits pillow.

The next day I had but one main agenda. Pay for my train ticket and see a little of Beijing. I headed out early to the offices of Monkey Business, my travel company. Apart from a little difficulty changing travelers cheques*, everything was hunky dory and they even gave me a polo-shirt and a guide book for on my way around the places that I would be stopping.

I had a quick look around on my way back. I had a quick look into the Forbidden city and the gate with Mao on it. Here are what I think are the photo highlights for that day. Enjoy!

Oh, those kooky Chinese government-types with their family planning condom pictures. There was another one with the family treasuring their only child and thanking their lucky stars that they didn't have more.

I'm quite interested in graffiti, and this example caught my eye just outside the Monkey Business office.

Amidst the dust and detritus, the hurtling trucks and busses, this off down a little side-street.