It’s only been a week, but I feel that I need to start posting more than one blog every week; we’ve simply done SO much. I’ve since been doing my teacher training here in Kunming (For anyone who’s heard about the incident of last night on the 1st, don’t worry, we’re all fine) with 20 or so other volunteers, and in our free time have experienced the most amazing things: from visiting da Temples to buying da noodles!
After a total of 11 hours flight, it was rewarding as we were greeted by the hills of Hong Kong that I’d seen in travel guides, and after a further 3 hours flight, the hustle and bustle of Kunming streets. We had finally arrived. Since then, I have grown fond of this place, because of the fact that each street is different when you turn into it. Whether it’s lined with kiosks of street food: kebabs, omelettes, sticks of freshly cut half pineapple, spicy tofu, or varieties of busy commercial shops.
The street food, and ‘off the beaten track’ restaurants have been amazing, because of such surprisingly tasty stuff, and is one of the things I’ll remember from here. Our first meal was spent at ‘Across the Bridge Noodles’, in which the main dish was a huge bowl of broth, to which you add heaps of raw veg, meat, and noodles, later followed by (a bit too much on my part) spice. It was colossal. My roommate Alexi, with the largest appetite of us all, was the only one who impressively polished it all off. Dumplings have also been a favourite for us all. There is a tiny place that sells them, 2 minutes walk from the school, where you can sit in the sun, on tiny kindergarten-like chairs and tables, eating dumplings, that I’ll miss when I leave Kunming in 3 days time.
Having experienced the (non-existant) road safety in Saudi Arabia, I thought I had seen the worst. How wrong I was, as China is a place where stopping at zebra crossings, seat belts, slowing down for pedestrians, or giving way to anything at all, have clearly never been heard of. The roads are also lined with hundreds of silent and deadly motorcyclists and scooterists, all but 5 of them I’ve seen wearing helmets whilst I’ve been here. Chinese roads are ridiculous.
Learning Mandarin is challenging, but immensely satisfying when put into action, and you successfully buy you a kebab or two from the local lady’s kiosk. Surivival phrases such as ” zhu ge, duo shao qian?” (how much is this), and “wo yao mai?” (I would like to buy) and learning numbers have been helpful, and I want to learn more. But make sure you know the pronunciation for hamburger correctly, because if not, you could just end up asking for ‘an idiot’ with extra cheese. Seeing a white person speaking Mandarin is something that fascinates the Chinese, they seem to really love seeing us try. After thanking a woman for a bowl of tofu that I brought, I turned around to find a small crowd staring in wonder with huge smiles on their faces, hopefully for the correct pronunciations. It’s a funny, although I think I should be prepared for more, as the next place I will be spending the next 5 months in, Pizhou, is apparently where foreigners are extremely rare. That’ll be interesting!
Staying and living with the other volunteers has been fantastic, making some close friends, but will be hard when we all depart for our different placements.
We recently visited the Golden Temple, and Huangtong Temple, where my camera remained glued to my face for most of the time, but even just standing lens-less and taking in the phenomenal, intricate rooves, gardens, stone dragons, makes you feel so so privileged to be here. Plenty of photos of these following. It is also mesmerising and a privilege to listen to people praying within these temples, even if you are completely ignorant of their religion. Our hotel is 5 minutes from Green Lake Park, a small but stunning place to be. The park is filled with willows and miniature temple-restaurants with bridges leading over the water. I also discovered, whilst early-morning running with Honor Main, the hundreds of locals who go there to practice martial arts, basketball, and badminton. Lots of badminton. Word on the grapevine is that Tai Chi is practiced on Mondays, so I’ll try to have my next blog feature us attempting this; most likely accompanied by middle aged women, as they seem to be the only ones who practice this too. However, don’t try finding your way back through this park in almost pitch black at night. Not nice.
Experiencing Chinese markets are fascinating, almost like a Chinese version of Camden in London. The variety of things being sold was huge, from swords, to creatures of all shapes and sizes. It’s quite weird and disturbing to see animals locked up in such claustrophobic spaces in an open market, I was not expecting to see turtles. Nor tarantulas. These I was particularly keen to avoid. (shudder).
Although in the future we will teach our lessons alone, our trial double-teacher lesson that Alexi and I planned was great. We were meant to structure it around a couple of pages in their chinese textbook, all about what things we would put into a time capsule for the future. We created a vocab list, made it practical and had lots of interesting ideas for the students. Planning this lesson was almost like writing a story, and as I love writing, this was great. Putting it into action was also great fun; unlike a performance in a play, you very much depend on the students as well to make it work. It was the first time they and been taught by us, so they were fairly shy, but as I’ll be teaching a different class for 4 months soon, I’m hoping the new students will become more confident and comfortable around me. I’m positive about how all this teaching malarky is going to work out, glad I’ve got this going.
The orientation here in Kunming has been great but has felt more like a holiday than the start of 5 months teaching. When I arrive in Jiangsu in 3 days time, I think it will all sink in just what I’ve got ahead of me. Bring it on! Photos will follow.