February 18, 2012
Right now, I’m teaching in Li Xian for a couple more days. It wasn’t a good placement, fortunately, the original plan was only for me to be here 2 weeks. They have since cut that by a week because I’m generally exhausted and I’m working more days than the contract allows. I really appreciated that Owen was concerned about my feelings towards Buckland. Considering it took them less than 24 hours to get back to me, I think it reflects well on them, I don’t think they would have asked me to come here if they had known how bad the chemistry would be.
Teaching here was unusually grueling. I have 19 hours at one of the local trade schools and a few lessons over the weekend, but the hardest part was probably not having detailed information about either the size or the level of the classes. Well, that and the 8 period day I had on Thursday. I have been learning a lot, but I’m really glad that I’m not stuck here all year because it would not be pretty. By Thursday things were going more or less smoothly, but I had to revert to TPR on an impromptu basis midway through the day. It does help out a lot with the discipline and inclusion problems I had bee having.
Food in the cafeteria is extremely grey, but I’ve found the food elsewhere to be fairly good if too salty for my taste. Housing isn’t bad, I’ve got a fairly large suite with kitchen, office, bedroom, bathroom and a common area. The big thing though is that like in other parts of China, the shower is just attached to the wall, making it somewhat awkward to use the toilet after taking a shower before the floor dries.
February 20, 2012
Unfortunately, we did not take any pictures during orientation, but here are two links to a video from our group’s graduation dinner which was a couple of nights ago and, by the way, it was so much fun. Here are the links, http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMzUyNjY1OTA0.html and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJZrN_ZeZ20. We had an incredible time with Owen, Ping, and the rest of the Buckland group. Throughout our orientation, I remember that the Buckland group took pictures of us while we were going through the process here so, Owen probably has access to a lot of pictures from the first group, as well as from our group.
Now, to get caught up with what Samantha and I have learned from this process, I would like to go over what our orientation consisted of and also, I would like to make some suggestions and give some advice to fellow future teachers. Please be aware that although there were some small things that could have been done more effeciently by the group and there are some things out of their control, they are always so helpful and truly strive to better this process for all the foreign teachers that go through the program. They really are a tight knit family and as more students and teachers continue to come to their company to take advantage of this opportunity, the family grows with every orientation group that goes through Buckland.
First of all, to arrive in Yangshuo, a bus or car must be taken from Guilin to Yangshuo. We couldn’t be picked up by Buckland Group in Guilin, so we had to take a bus. (Just a word of advice, there are many buses that go to Yangshuo, but we happened to stay at a hostel which is right across the street from a bus stop that has a bus come by every 30 minutes. The buses to Yangshuo don’t have any numbers and they only have the Chinese characters that say, “Yangshuo.” So, it would be very helpful to have these characters written down on a piece of paper if you can’t read them.) The bus ride takes about an hour and a half and should be between 18-22 RMB per person. It is a private bus, but it picks up people from a city bus stop. (The difference between private buses and city buses are that city buses usually have the number of the route clearly displayed as a numerical symbol, not a character.) For us, the person that received our money and advertised the bus route said the bus ride was 20 RMB as we were loading our things into the bottom compartment of the bus, but when she came around to charge us, she charged us 30 RMB. (Remember, people do try to rip foreigners off here, but it’s not a matter of if you will get ripped off, it’s when. We learned our lesson from the first night we arrived here in China with a taxi ride between the Beijing International Airport and the area near the Forbidden City. So, this time, we were sticklers and the woman understood that that day wasn’t our first in China.) We paid her 20 RMB each and we were off to Yangshuo.
The ride from Guilin was fantastic. The closer we got to Yangshuo, gradually, more and more ancient mountains surrounded us until eventually, we arrived in Yangshuo and we were amongst the mountains. As we got off the bus, we were bum-rushed by the typical taxi driver, but instead, we called Ping from a nearby business, and were asked to wait about five minutes for someone to come by and pick us up. Five minutes later, two young men showed up in a trolley. The passenger came down and introduced himself as “Greg,” and he welcomed us to Yangshuo. (I was quite surprised that he spoke English so well. After traveling for two weeks and hardly speaking to any English speaking Chinese, I remember feeling a slight case of some sort of reverse culture shock.) But anyways, we arrived at our hotel and Greg helped us with our luggage and with getting situated in our hotel room.
Our hotel room has a queen-sized bed, a desk, T.V with over 40 Chinese channels (no English); a mirror, a closet, an A/C and heater unit, and a huge window with a great view of the mountains surrounding us. The floors are wood floors and the room is very spacious. Our bathroom has a western toilet, a shower equipped with a water heater for hot water, a sink, and a mirror. The hotel also supplied us with towels and toilet paper. We have to clean the place, but the trash gets picked up outside of our door every day. There is also one laundry machine which we have to share and like almost everywhere else in China we have visited, everything must be air dried. This hotel is very comfortable, but the other hotel which is down the street and one which we didn’t get a chance to stay at, has been said to be ok, but not as great as this one. The incoming foreign teachers overflow into that hotel if there is no vacancy in this one.
- After we dropped our things off, we went to the Buckland office which is a couple of feet from the hotel. While we were there, we met Ping and the rest of the group. At the office, we received our orientation packets, filled out some visa paperwork, and had our passports scanned.
In our orientation packets, we have a schedule for the week, a contact list, and a book which has helpful tips, games, FAQs, and certain suggestions for every foreign teacher. The schedule changed throughout the week, but for the most part, it was quite accurate. Before the first day of orientation, we had to pay for accommodation, food, a room key deposit, and a TEFL certificate fee (if applicable). Basically, the rates are as such; for a single room, it is 60 RMB a night each; for a room with other people (either 2 or 3 to a room), it is 40 RMB a night each; food is 20 RMB per day each (they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner); and the key deposit turns out to be 100 RMB each and it will be returned to each person once they check out. We were not charged the certificate fee because Samantha and I don’t have any experience in teaching English as a foreign language so, we can pay 500 RMB for the certificate once we have experience and go through the proper procedure. So, without the certificate fee and for five nights stay including food, Samantha and I paid 500 RMB each.
After situating our paperwork and payments for our stay, we were invited to celebrate the rest of our Seattle group’s graduation at a luxurious dinner. (Samantha and I were the only ones who were seperated from the Seattle group.) I was amazed at how nice the dinner was, but this dinner was not on the schedule and so, I won’t spoil any surprises. The whole Buckland group, including Owen himself, demonstrated how the Chinese treat their guests and let’s just say, they definitely did not disappoint.
The food that they served at the graduation dinner was awesome and personally, I thought it was very much like the food served in the cafeteria. The schedule for the cafeteria is breakfast from 8:30am-8:55am, lunch from 12:00pm-12:50pm, and dinner from 17:30pm-18:20pm. In the morning, the cooks usually had the same thing available which was noodles, soy milk, bread, peanut butter, jelly, bananas, and pears. For lunch and dinner, there was always white rice with a variety of different plates and we thought it was all good. They did offer vegetables with every meal and the food accommodation is optional, but since during orientation, all the teachers are on a fixed schedule, it’s more convenient then going out to a restaurant.
So, to reiterate, the dinner, the singing at KTV, and the clubbing down West Street on graduation night were all not part of the schedule. Samantha and I were introduced to nightlife in Yangshuo on our first night, and we liked it. The KTV we went to was on, what the locals call, “Old West Street,” and it had a stage with microphones, a bar, lounging chairs, lights, T.V.’s, and also private rooms for groups. KTV is a very common business throughout all of Middle and Eastern China. The Chinese love their karaoke bars and we enjoyed having fun with them. After KTV, we headed to the, “New West Street,” which throughout the day is a huge market with clothes, food, and several shops with unique Chinese things. It is the place to shop at here in Yangshuo. It has several local restaurants, but it also has a KFC which is open 24 hours and a McDonald’s which closes sometime before midnight. At night, the street is lit up by the different colored lights from the clubs, restaurants, and bars and that is what we were there for that night. We ended up in one of the several rooftop bars that overlook the river. After our night was over, walking home was about a 30 minute walk from New West Street.
A few days later, the day before our first orientation day, we met with the rest of our group early in the morning and we were all transported over to a hospital in Guilin for our health check. The health check is a mandatory health check for all foreigners coming into the country and staying for a long period of time. It consisted of five sections which cover blood, urine, sight, reflexes, and internal organs and we were instructed not to eat anything that morning. It’s quite a different experience compared to going to an American hospital. I really don’t know if I am at liberty to say what goes on, but anyone who experiences it will have a different appreciation for American doctors. It’s not bad though. It’s something that has to be done and it is also something else that has to be paid out of pocket. The total per person for the health check is 242.5 RMB.
After the health check, Ryan, one of the instructors, took us on a tour of Yangshuo. (Any vegetarians or anyone who is squeamish should not go into the meat market. They do have dogs in there.) The next day, day one, consisted of a briefing done by Owen and he explained how the company works, what is expected of each foreign teacher, and a couple of cultural implications foreigners run into when they are in China. That evening, Ashlee, who is one of the personnel in the Buckland office, taught a Chinese crash course which Samantha and I weren’t able to attend. The next morning, day two, Ping taught a class on TEFL in China and she answered any questions we had about the TEFL training. That evening, Ryan showed us examples of different teaching styles, he shared his expertise with us, and he helped us develop our individual lesson plans for teaching practice. The next morning, Ryan taught us about simple medications and ways of staying healthy while in China. The rest of the day consisted of practicing our lesson plans and perfecting our presentations. The last two days consisted of teaching demonstrations at a nearby school. The teaching presentations took two days because each teacher was expected to take 30-35 minutes per lesson and we had about 20 teacher presentations to go through. All of the presentations were evaluated by Ping and Ryan. The evaluations were used to pick a placement for each teacher as some teachers might not have the patience or skill to deal with younger children or beginning English students. Later that evening, each teacher was told what assignment they would have. On the last day of presentations, at night, we had our graduation dinner and by the end of the night, everyone was singing and dancing together. Everyone was happy that we were all placed in areas of the country we were hoping to get.
Samantha and I originally were going to a high school in Li Xian, Hunan province but it looks like we are going ot Zhengzhou, also in Hunan province instead. A principal from a school in Zhengzhou came to visit Owen and discuss signing a contract to become a Buckland member school and we were asked to go to dinner with them as a promotional event. We had a big, lovely dinner with the principal and the school’s foreign affairs officer (FAO) and they agreed to sign on to Buckland and accepted us as their first foreign teacher from Buckland. It’s a brand new contract so we are the guinea pigs, but they seem very eager and excited to have us. Unfortunately, we are still waiting on Samantha’s visa to clear up. The process for a foreign teacher with a bachelor’s degree to be placed is for the health check to be reviewed and cleared which takes about 3 days, (for Samantha it took longer because of a mistake,) then the teacher, visa paperwork, and health check are taken to a police station in Guilin. At the police station, the foreign teacher is interviewed and if everything is ok, it takes a week to issue a visa and work permit. This is the process for anyone with a Z-visa. Anyone with a F-visa can leave immediately after the health check and orientation are over.
Therefore, we are still in Yangshuo and going on different adventures everyday. We have done some shopping and a lot of walking around the town. We went to Moon Hill which is a 40 minute bike ride out of town and about a 40 minute hike up the hill. It has a gorgeous scenery and the very top of the hill is breathtaking. The passage from the plateau where the moon hill hole is to the top of the mountain is a lot of fun. It is just a forest of different plants and bamboo. The path is made of mud and rocks. (*Hint, hint, there is one specific rock that says, “No passage,” so, no one should pass this if they don’t want to get to the top of the mountain for a spectacular view.) There is a lot to do here, but we are ready to work and can’t wait until we get to Zhengzhou.
Here is a link of all the pictures from the various cities we have stopped at during our stay here in China.
I attached some pictures from Guilin and Yangshuo, but not from the other cities we have visited. We will send another blog entry once we are in Li Xian!