*Angry Dinosaur Sounds*

*Angry Dinosaur Sounds*

Hello and good evening esteemed guests. I’m here to discuss a low key stress point in my life. I’m still enjoying my time in China, more now that the weather is warmer. Although last week there were a couple days it was cold enough I slept in my hoody with an extra blanket.

Now, I know I’ve mentioned English Corner before. It’s the promotional class I have to do on Wednesdays. So it’s a “class” but not a class. The focus is fun and it’s not supposed to be done like a normal class. It’s just an hour of games with a couple of vocabulary words and a sentence thrown in. When the semester started I was resigned to English Corner as one of those things I had to do.

No more.

I have come to loathe the very idea of English Corner. I hate Wednesdays for no other reason that English Corner happens to fall on that day.

Let me back up.

Up until January 21st of this year—2016—I worked in the food industry. I’ve worked in restaurant kitchens pretty much since I started working. Starting in January I made a massive career move to become a teacher. I took a month intensive to get my TEFL and before coming to China I had a grand total of nine hours in front of children floundering to teach them something. I started teaching in Yan’an at the beginning of March.

So my teaching experience is pretty much nonexistent. I am still at the stage of throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. Google is a gift from the gods as are those out there who share their games and teaching strategies. Bless all of you, and I promise to add my experiences so that others like me have an easier go of things.

As I learned from that first English Corner, my school expects me to run this gods forsaken class with little to no input from them. And so I have. I scour the internet for fun games with large groups of small children and adapt them to fit the vocabulary. And every single goddamn Wednesday in the twenty minutes before English Corner starts my CT tells me I must be “more perfect” whatever the fuck that means.

By my count, if the kids leave laughing and smiling it’s been a good class. Hell, I’m repeating a game this week because two of the kids cried at the end of class because they wanted to play the game longer. Still I must be “more perfect” or “do better” and What The Fuck Does That Mean? I asked my CT what it is she wants to do with the class and she was quick to point out it’s Line Manager telling her these things and she is simply the messenger.

They don’t like my warm-up activities. Okay. What do you want to do?

Ohhhh Nooo. I’m the FT I’m the one who needs to come up with the warm-up. Well okay, then we’re going to do the warm-up I have planned.

But it needs to be a song and dance. How about a song.

Fine. What songs do you know?

Ohhhh Nooo, I’m the FT I need to think of a song. They are merely assistants. And don’t forget, she is only Line Manager’s messenger. Line Manager who wants us to be “more perfect”.

Okay. So what the hell does she mean by “more perfect.”

Ah, well, it took them damn near twelve classes but they finally gave me a hint as to what they want. There are, of course, other English schools in Yan’an and my CT showed me a video of their version of English Corner. There was a foreign teacher in a top hat with a goddamn cape doing fucking magic tricks teaching the kids colors.

Well that’s all well and fucking good. It’s impressive and I applaud them for their creativity.

And that is apparently what my school wants from me.

First off, clearly, to pull something like that off, there was a meeting of sort between the FT and the CTs. There was planning, forethought, and a decent amount of communication involved to make something like that happen. Half the time I can’t get my CTs to talk to me until ten minutes before the class actually starts and even then one of them spends five minutes telling me that I must be “more perfect” and if I finish telling them my plans for the class it’s as kids are watching us waiting for class to start. Usually I just go with the two games I managed to outline and hope we can stretch them long enough to fill an hour because my CTs cannot think on their feet. I’ve tried that before and it was such an unholy train wreck by the end not even I knew what was going on.

So they want some big theatrical production, but not one person in that school could be fucked to tell me that we are now on “summer time” which means English Corner and all school meetings are now starting an hour later. An annoyance at the moment since I was an hour early for everything last week, but I am quite concerned when we go back to “winter time” I will also be uninformed and then I’ll be an hour late for everything. And of course I will be reprimanded because gods forbid I be late for anything—I’ll tell you The Bank Story later—when they can’t start manage to start a 2pm meeting before 230.

Basically, they want me to build them the goddamn Great Wall with half a box of matchsticks and when I fail to deliver it’s my fault because I’m the Foreign Teacher. It is pissing me off and stressing me out because if they think I’m incompetent they can cancel my contract. Since this is my first teaching job that wouldn’t look great on a resume. And I just cannot make any of them understand that what they’re seeing in that accursed video isn’t the magic of One foreign teacher, it’s a concerted effort by everyone at that school to make their English Corner special. Aside from her Not Even A Little Bit (you thought I forgot about that bullshit) and “more perfect” comments Line Manager hasn’t asked me how to make English Corner “more perfect”. They think if we add in a song and dance at the beginning that suddenly it will be “more perfect” and I just want to slam my head against a wall. It’s not that the kids aren’t having fun, it’s that the parents don’t think it looks engaging enough. I can’t even begin to process that ass-backwards line of thinking but that’s where we are.

The only good news coming out of this is that Line Manager has volunteered me for additional training in June. So I just have to dig in and hold on until I go back to Xi’an. I’m hoping there I’ll meet one or two of the people I shared initial training with and others and they can help me work this out, because while I’ve always been quite content to forge my own path this feels more and more like it’s leading me to a cliff.


Adventures Abroad: Team Building Day

Adventures Abroad: Team Building Day

Friday we had “Team Building” day and I will preface by saying I was not particularly looking forward to it. It’s become abundantly clear that what my fellow Chinese teachers consider fun is radically different from what I consider fun. And I had to be at the school at 8am which irritated me because I knew it would be 9am before we actually started the day. But if I was late I’d never hear the end of it. So I got there on time and proceeded to wait around for everyone else to show up. At 830 I was told I had to do a demo class.


A high level demo class, so, at least an hour.


And I knew it was going to be a special kind of day when after my demo the line manager told me she had a near religious experience while doing one of the activities. I split them into groups and told them to make a machine. Any machine, a machine that can do whatever they want, and then they had to tell the class about it. This made her think some deep thoughts apparently and she was quite moved.

But once that was over we were on our way to starting our day for real! I got to ride in the car with the other teachers while the line manager and front desk lady took the bus to meet us there. In my exploration of Yan’an I’ve mostly gone east and west and not so much north and south. So I got to see another part of the city as we drove to the countryside.

I am and always will be a country girl at heart. Cityscapes are not my thing. Give me hills and fields and birds and coyotes. So when we finally left the hustle and bustle of Yan’an behind and got into the country where the mountains and hills where bright green and there wasn’t a building in sight; bliss.

We pulled into a small town, which I’m guessing still had a population larger than my hometown, and they finally told me what exactly this team building day was going to consist of. Up to this point the only thing I knew was that I had to be at the school at 8am and we were going to the country. We are at Wanhua Mountain! This is a place I’ve mentioned before, way back when I was still researching cities. It has the largest concentration of wild tree peonies in china. And they were everywhere. Unfortunately, we were a little early for most of the blooms. Anyone who heads over there on Monday though is in for a show because those buds were just about ready to pop. There were enough open though that the air smelled fabulous. For the first time since we went to Sihanoukville I could smell trees and flowers and not diesel and people.

‘Twas glorious. The trees were cypress as well so we had the pungent peony scent with that sharp pine smell and I about swooned.


But I couldn’t go frolicking through the hills as soon as we got there. We had to wait for Line Manager and Front Desk Lady. While we waited the other teachers picked up a quick snack, which for me would have been a complete meal. Chinese people can pack away the food y’all.

When the rest of our group arrived I was almost at sprint for the entrance when Line Manager and Front Desk Lady said they wanted to get a snack too. So I wound up getting a little biscuit/roll thing—stuffed with meat and vegetables and deep fried—from a street vendor while they sat down to cold noodles.

And then, finally, FINALLY! We were off!

I’m having fun exploring the city of Yan’an. There are a lot of small alleys and side streets hiding great food and cool things all over the place. But you put me in with trees and flowers and winding dirt paths and I cannot resist. I have to know. I have to know where it goes, what’s on the other side of that hill, and where does the path lead? So while the city has done a magnificent job of creating a wide safe stone walkway with easy to navigate stairs and handrails that winds you around the peonies about ten minutes into this hike I was gone.

I did try at first to weave between staying on the official trail and wandering off on the smaller footpaths. I really did try to stick with the group. But it seemed their goal was to get to the top of the mountain whilst mine was to enjoy the climb. I was taking pictures left and right and just reveling in hearing birdsong for the first time in months that didn’t come from birds locked up in cages.

I gave up about halfway up and set off to follow a promising path and found a big cluster of peonies in full bloom right on the edge of a drop off. What. A. View. You can’t capture these vistas on a phone, you just have to take my word that it was straight drop off the edge and those hills stretched for miles.


My path got me to the plateau first which I thought was funny because the whole time I was off on my great adventure I could hear them telling me I was going to get left behind.

And at the top we found a whole stretch of peonies in bloom with a clear view of the hills again.


A little further down there was a huge statue and one of my CTs told me it was Mulan.


Holy Hells, THE Mulan? Yes! Apparently Wanhua—where the peonies are—has some kind of claim to Mulan. I don’t know how true that is since it seems when exactly and where exactly Mulan was born is a little fuzzy, but that’s what she told me. Whether it’s true or not, who cares, the statue was freaking awesome.

At this point, only a live Phoenix landing on her shoulder could make this better.

If you don’t know, yes, it is the same Mulan from the Disney movie. She took her father’s place in the army, with a little less fumbling than the movie portrays, her father taught her warfare and how to use weapons. She was a general in the army for something like ten years and at the end of it she refused any and all rewards and instead married one of her generals and retired to her hometown. There is a myth/legend that she gave birth on the battlefield to a son, but the only one who knows if that’s true is long dead.

I was trying to think of any badass lady statues we have in the US and Liberty is all I could think of and she’s not even a real lady. She’s just an icon. We need more Mulan-esque statues.

After we took a couple pictures with the statue the rest of the group was ready to go back down the mountain. I, on the other hand, spied a small side path. I told them I’d meet them at the bottom and took off before anyone could say otherwise. The path I started on was paved and it just led to a bathroom.

But, just past that were a tiny foot path and trees and glimpses of a view that could rival what was on the other side. Boom. Gone.

If they came looking for me there wasn’t a trace to be found. I was in the bushes and ducking through trees without breaking stride. Found a steep drop half hidden by long grasses and weeds.

And I popped out not too far from where I’d gone in and I was about to head back when off to the right I spied a well word track going further up the mountain.


Nothing bad has ever happened from following a forest trail, right

This is what I needed. This right here. Solitude and silence with a warm breeze and the only evidence of people was the path I was walking. They’ve done a couple studies on peoples’ brains and discovered that even if you were born and raised in the city seeing natural landscapes relaxes your brain. We may have come quite a long way from Lucy, but it still puts subtle stress on our brains to constantly see manmade objects. This is why greenspaces in cities are such a big deal. People need nature. The quantities vary, but we all need to see a flower every now and then to stay sane.

Pictured: Sanity

I’m so glad I can take a bus to Wanhua because I didn’t find the end of that trail and I want to know where it goes.