A Travellerspoint blog

April 2009

Teaching the world in Lishui, China

'My favourite country is Africa. I love New York.'

sunny 21 °C


The assignment, on the face of it, should have been simple. Choose your favourite foreign country, write seven sentences about it and then read your work out to the class the following week.

I had given all the Senior One students a 45-minute lesson on Major Countries of the World (a bit of a misnomer, I know) which included six or seven examples of countries they could talk about. They also got ten or 11 suggested categories such as population, location, language, leaders etc. All they had to do was copy one of my descriptions or write one of their own in the suggested simple style.

The results were, well, pretty bad. Many of them obviously hadn't bothered to do the homework at all, and were just bluffing their way through about 2.5 sentences in the hope they would get away with it. And many couldn't even do that much - at least one stood up and said: 'USA. I like NBA. Thank you'. And promptly sat down. X is for fail, mister!

The most popular country was Canada, but only because loads of students had found a stodgy piece about it in their English textbook. The result of this was that I must have heard the same spiel - 'My favourite country is Canada. It is north of the United States. It is the second largest country in the world. It has a population of only slightly over 30 million people' - about 40 or 50 times over the course of the week.

Out of the some 350-odd students a few, to be fair, were quite good. One girl gave a presentation on Switzerland that could have doubled as a Wikipedia entry. One boy said his favourite country was South Africa because it had lots of gold, and that when he found it he would be very rich. A few chose Ireland but seemed not to know what to say about it except to ply me with compliments. They all passed!

Many more in the middle ground had perfectly acceptable mini-speeches primarily about the US, Canada (genuine ones this time), France and Japan. Even where they just regurgitated what I had said in my introduction, I felt that they had done their job for what was an Oral English assignment.

Culturally, the exercise was instructive despite the flawed results. Boys liking basketball while girls like romance (or clothes!) seems to be the benchmark of Chinese teenagerdom. Some of the wider-eyed ones like neighbouring Japan while the boorish boys at the back hoot in derision, though I'm sure they know little about contemporary geopolitical relations or their roots. And nobody seems to be able to pronounce 'cheese'.

In the end then, my first foray into assigning homework was a bit of a mixed bag. But addling, lazy assholes aside, it's mostly a pleasant job being a foreign teacher in China I reckon. You draw up a simple lesson on PowerPoint and just run with it for a week, improvising and fine-tuning as you go along. And once you're plugged in to it, the work goes by really quickly, leaving plenty of time for fun.

So until next time, dear readers, check out the new photos of myself and Megan's trip to Xiandu Scenic Area and assorted other ones, and remember - French is not a country and neither is Paris!

Posted by BillLehane 23:16 Archived in China Tagged educational Comments (0)

Steel in the sky in Shanghai

Towering views in tiny shoes

sunny 20 °C
View Shanghai on BillLehane's travel map.

First things first, Shangai is big. It might sound obvious, but when you get there you really feel it too. Although myself and Megan had a more gentle introduction to millions on the move because we arrived off the night train on the main day of the Qing Ming festival. For the Chinese on this day, as on of my students put it: 'We visit graves. And eat a lot.'


Threading a little line around some of the principal areas using the metro is otherwise heavy and harried, as we discovered the next day. People move in packs of hundreds between platforms, like any other metro system I guess, but on a much bigger scale. Spotting the laowai (foreigners) in this case is rather amusing, as a white man tends to stride a foot or more taller than the 300 Chinese heading the same way.

Our top destination was the Jin Mao Tower, both because Megan had been to the Pearl TV Tower and because we could get a great view of same by visiting the taller one. Off we go 88 floors up - eights are lucky in Chinese, hence the Olympic start date of 08.08.2008. Here you don't feel the ascent at all in the 45-second lift, which makes it a bit more comfortable to oggle the view at the top.


Elegant, enormous and impressive it certainly is, but the Jin Mao is no longer the tallest building in Shanghai - the World Financial Center, otherwise known as the bottle opener - has that distinction at least until another, the Shanghai Tower, is built right next to both of them at a gargantuan 128 stories.

Elsewhere in the city, it's still all about eye-catching buildings. The Bund is an amazing spot for this, but it's oppressively crowded even in a downpour. The savant's way of, eh, drinking in the view to its full extent is to get up high nearby. The Captain hostel bar (below) is surprisingly quiet considering its considerable visual asset, but then it's really somewhere you have to know to go. Who needs a boat ride!


Tall tales aside, Shanghai also yielded much great food and drink, if you can ignore the price tags. Baozi (below), steamed buns with yummy fillings, are quite delicious, especially when you walk away from the shops outside the rather boring Yuyuan Gardens and get fresher ones quick and cheap.


Cosmopolitan delights also abound, especially for us small city dwellers - Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and a German brewery were all enjoyed, the latter especially for the pork knuckle. (Takes me back to Bavaria's Andechs Abbey and the sunny, swilling feast on the hill for Oktoberfest 2004.)


So while I'm not one to shirk from big city lights, you quickly get the impression that Shanghai is really too big and several million over a healthy population. The one time it felt small was on a walk through Nanjing Road, the city's main shopping street. Bright lights yes, but gaudy, hawker-filled and ultimately pretty tame in comparison to teeny 12-million Tokyo. It was strangely comforting then, dear readers, to remind myself - as I retreated to lean, green Lishui - that biggest and boldest does not always mean best. Until next time, zai jian.

Posted by BillLehane 19:33 Archived in China Tagged postcards Comments (0)

The Funny Side of Life in China 1

For those moments lost in translation...

sunny 18 °C

Sometimes, you feel sorry for Chinese people when they make dodgy attempts at English, especially given this writer's meagre stock of Mandarin. But most of the time these moments are what-on-earth-is-this, laugh-out-loud funny. So without further ado, dear readers, here is the first of what I hope will become a series of entries on those times where you just have to stop and laugh. When you're done, head over to 'The Funny Side of Life in China 2'.


Many ways to spell this word, but none spell fashion - except in China of course.


So the only bar we've yet to find in Lishui - La Rive Gauche, or the Left Bank - has a quite bizarre take on what a Western-theme bar should have. Sharks that make a noise and lamps that, well, you just don't want to turn off!


Fire! Fire! So the sign screams as we enter the school gate at about 11pm, although with no obvious sign of disaster present.


It turns out the same sign also warns you of children crossing - again, at 11pm at night. All depends on your perspective, I guess.


So in neighbouring Hangzhou, a city of untold millions, you'll find a reassuring outlet close to the train station. Phew, some Chinese food.


This one really was a case of 'What were they even trying to say?' A flute of sparkling wine was all I could think of. And check out that crysal punch too - mmm, dreamy.


What flavour? And are you an ethnican or ethnican't?


Where are we going again?


Ah, I see.


This last one could really have you stumped, especially without the context to give it away. So while I build up my next batch of funny Chinese moments, dear readers, try to guess what it is! Zai jian

Posted by BillLehane 20:58 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

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