A Travellerspoint blog

March 2009

A school day in Lishui, China

A long, long day for the Chinese teenagers

semi-overcast 13 °C

To be a student at a boarding school in China is, it seems, not an easy task. Going by Western standards, in fact, their daily schedule is little short of eye watering.

They rise at around 6am, and breakfast is served at 7.10am. First class starts before eight, and the morning lessons are only punctured by little five-minute breaks in between and the collective morning exercises performed en masse in the school yard at 9.40am.

Lunch is served super-early at 11.35am - I imagine it's sorely needed though after all that. They do get two hours off for lunch, but it seems a lot of people take the opportunity to snooze. Then before they know it, they're back on again at 1.30pm, with only their compulsory eye exercises at 3.15pm to look forward to before classes finish at 4.10pm.

Their what? I know - at first glance, it's very weird to see them all rub their eyes in rhythmic unison, but soon enough you realise they'd probably be half blind without doing them given their workload.


Dinner is served right after the end of lessons, and then the students have about two hours to run around - this mostly consisting of basketball, the sport of choice around here - before they're whistled back into class at 6pm for three hours of 'self-study', which is actually supervised study in the classroom.

After that, if they have any energy left, they get to go mad for 25 minutes before they have to get into their rooms, and then it's ten minutes before lights out at 9.40pm. Then Exeunt, with no exceptions. From myself and Megan's perch on the hill, we can hear the teenage madness for a short time every evening, then like clockwork all is dark and perfectly quiet until the next day. It's like how I picture military school.

For us though, living on campus is an advantage in this place I think because you get a proper sense of the students' daily grind and you can aim for a realistic mid-tempo in the lessons. Unfortunately, it also means we're within earshot of the bells, which ring around campus 26 times a day by the schedule, if not more. There is a two-minute warning bell as well as a start- and end-bell for every lesson - there's even a bell marking half-way through lunch! Granted we don't hear them all, but the pa-rum-pum-pum marching music for the morning exercises in particular is hard to miss.

As for the weekends, well they're a bit of a wash for the students. Some or all of them appear to have classes on a Saturday, and self-study is back on from 6-9pm on Sunday. This coming weekend is a holiday weekend for Qing Ming Festival (comparable to All Souls Day) - one of the Chinese teachers told me she had no confirmation of the Monday off but was looking forward to her 'two holiday days', otherwise known as Saturday and Sunday.

For us, meanwhile, it's a bit of a life of privilege as a foreign experts. We're contracted to do 18 teaching hours a week plus five extra-curricular hours per month, and so far we're only doing about three-quarters of that. However our grandly titled boss Mr Chen, the school's head of Foreign Affairs, is wont to call us at any hour and summon us to his office straight away. More about that and the life of a teacher at Xueyuan Fuzhong next time, dear readers. Until then, thank God you're not a Chinese boarder!

Posted by BillLehane 20:03 Archived in China Tagged educational Comments (0)

Hustle and bustle in Hangzhou

Easy on the eye, the lungs not so much

sunny 25 °C
View Hangzhou on BillLehane's travel map.

Week two: Cue the first stop of what will be a whole series of trips for us around China, and in time further afield - Hangzhou, above. It's much bigger than Lishui, with a population of somewhere over two million. The mission - visit the famous West Lake area, nab some hard-to-get Western goods and crash with Meshell, Megan's friend from her last posting here.

The city itself has several nice wide avenues, and comes off in general as fairly well put together. On the bad side, I noticed it was getting progressively harder to breathe over the weekend - we did do lots of walking out in the traffic and Meshell's boyfriend Dave is a bit of a heavy smoker but still, God help me when I visit Beijing!

The West Lake area - famed for its natural beauty and praised to the hilt by Marco Polo - is particularly nice it must be said. Wispy, willowy trees invoke a relaxing mood in us as we watch Chinese women right around the park all stop to take identical photos of themselves partly enveloped by pink blossom branches. Must be a local thing.

In the welcoming heat of the morning sun, we took a nice boat ride out to one of the partly man-made islands on the lake, one called Lesser Yingzhou or Fairy Island that also graces the 1 yuan note. Heavy people traffic here (and it's only March), with some unsightly construction work, but the prettiness of the island was certainly palpable.

As for the Western goods, well, we stocked up good. Coffee does not exist as a commodity in Lishui - you can buy it by cup here and there, but there are no beans or bags of ground anywhere to be found; indeed, I had to bring a coffee pot in my luggage. So I got a few bags of Lavazza plus some Carrefour own-brand to tide me over until our next trip. Similarly we picked up cheddar cheese, Tack-It blue tack and a few other small things. All are made appreciably better by the challenge of getting them!


Without doubt the finest city in the world

- Marco Polo

Megan's friend Meshell kindly put us up in her apartment and accompanied us to a Mexican bar, where I just couldn't resist a 'draught' can of Guinness. Here, the challenge/appreciation rule does not apply :-) Luckily, Chinese beer is actually nice, nicer indeed than any among the narrow selection of Western beers you tend to find. Although the Hangzhou bar scene such as it is is inescapably less, well, special when chock-full of young Brits abroad and other wide-eyed gap year students from various places. So we were happy enough to head back to lush Lishui and our own place.

Transport-wise, the trip was quite a mixed bag - three hours up there on the motorway on a coach with comfy seats but a stir-crazy driver (the schedule said four hours). And that was the good half. The way back took six hours on a un-express local train with only a sink to sit on for the first four hours. I kid you not. I mean, those little trolley cart beers only take you so far and then they're sold out. We were told we didn't need to book ahead, but needless to say, next time, we'll trust our own judgement first.

Before you go, dear readers, you must have a read of Megan's really hilarious post on the experience. Until next time...

Posted by BillLehane 22:20 Archived in China Tagged postcards Comments (0)

Starting out in Lishui, China

The first few weeks - Putting cross-cultural adaptation theory in to practice!

sunny 23 °C
View Hangzhou on BillLehane's travel map.

Since I arrived, China has been getting smaller. Not literally of course, but the well-peddled image of a behemoth with scary ways of life acts like a barrier that you can only really break down by coming here. Because in lush green Lishui, a small city by Chinese standards of a mere 250,000 people, locals scarcely know or care about things like Tibet, organ dealers, the death penalty and the rest. More down to earth than downtrodden, in fact.


Our huge apartment is a palace with a view fit for a king, above (as seen from the kitchen). It's easily two to three times the size of our old flat in Rathmines, and we've now flipped from having too many things in too small a space to having too many potential spots to place rather fewer possessions. But it's a pleasant problem to have, and the top floor pad is feeling more like home every day.

The city, too, has been becoming ours gradually. Here I have to credit Megan's well advanced spoken Mandarin, because I'm sure I would not be too far past McDonalds without her. As it is, we've dined out in all sorts of places, the street food being the stand out highlight of the bunch. More about that another time.

We've been exploring the streets shopping, sight seeing and even working on an original translation of the map. And laughing at the stares we get from locals in shock and awe at the Westerners - did I mention there's a total of seven in Lishui, ourselves included? No better way to get immersed in a culture.

So speaking of immersion, and now that we've been duly introduced, please check out the photos herewithin dear readers, and I'll be back with more in a few days. Zai jian

Posted by BillLehane 18:48 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

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