So, after coming home from Belize, I spent a couple more years at the airport. You can read all about that when I get to H. I was working at Budget Car rental and had just taken a Supervisor’s position when it finally hit me that I needed to do something more with my life. I needed a career and teaching seemed the thing to do. You can read more about that when I get to T.
I had to come up with a plan. It was autumn and I was too late to get onto a PGCE course, which is what I settled upon doing. I would have to apply for the next year. That would be starting in September 2002, and that would leave me with almost a year to fill before I could start. I knew I couldn’t spend it at Budget rent a car so I decided to get a TEFL qualification and go overseas somewhere in the meantime. I had, after all, spent time doing just that in Belize and so I figured I could do it again. This time, I would just get a paid job.
I completed my CELTA course over four weeks at International House in London and set about finding a job on TEFL.com. looking back at the course, I can’t help but laugh at how stressed I was getting over preparing ten minute lessons that I had to deliver as part of the assessment process. 10 minutes and I could barely fill it. Every lesson I did, I would run out of things to do before the end. Nowadays, I’m the complete opposite. I would get home from London around 9pm and plan my next lesson until about 1am. Hours spent on 10 minutes of teaching time. I managed to pass so I can’t have been that bad. I let slip to one of the tutors that I was doing a PGCE the next year and she instantly took a bit of a dislike to me, thinking I was just using TEFL as a stepping stone. Alright, so that’s exactly what I was doing but, hey! Nothing was definite in my plan at that stage.
Back then, there were literally hundreds of jobs on TEFL.com in all corners of the globe. I toyed with the idea of Moscow, Mongolia, the USA, Greece and France. Eventually, I saw an offer in China. Tyndale Education group were offering to pay return flights, lodgings and food in return for my services. After a brief telephone interview, I found myself with the offer of a job in Dalian.
I’d never heard of Dalian. Funny as it’s a city of over 5 million people. I had no idea where it was in China or what it was like. I had absolutely no idea what China was like. Turns out Dalian is a very nice place: it’s where Chinese people go on their holidays as it has beaches.
That was that. My plane ticket was sorted and I was off. My outbound journey was not pleasant because of the send off my friends had given me the previous night. There was a long delay in Amsterdam, I felt too ill to read and I had no money to eat so I just sat there, waiting, looking up at the Departure boards with destinations like Boston, Newcastle and back home to London. I thought about jacking it in; getting on a plane home and forgetting the whole silly idea. Why was I going to China. In the end, though, waiting out the day and getting on the plane to Beijing was the best thing I could have done.
After a connection in Beijing, I found myself in Shenyang, another city to the North of Dalian, where I was to have my ‘orientation.’ This, I had imagined would be some training on Chinese education practises. In fact, it involved a week long holiday where my hosts attempted to judge my stamina and what kind of person I was.
I was greeted at the airport by an elderly American named Clyde and the man who was to be my teaching partner in Dalian, Chris Stevens. Turns out they were a bit wary of what kind of person I would be. The last person they had had out there was called Sandy and, apparently had been a complete headcase, throwing things around in the classroom and shouting at people. they were pleased to discover I was vaguely normal. Chris and I were taken in a van to our hotel (Clyde had an apartment in the city) and I had an hour to freshen up before we began a week of ‘orientation’ involving such wonderful bars as “Star Hollywood” and “Sophie’s”. The first morning, when I awoke extremely jet-lagged, I looked out of the hotel room window to see the lights on the street, crowds of people gathered around firecrackers (it was the middle of New Year’s) I had a great feeling about what my time here was going to be like. It was a rough-looking place, in need of cleaning and some love, but it felt good to be here. I had lots of rum and learned a little about Chinese culture over the week before Chris and I got the bus to Dalian.
Our school was just off the bottom left hand corner of the map along Zhongshan Road.
I should say at this point that Chris was the absolute best partner to have in this place. Apart from being a fantastic guy, he also spoke fluent Chinese. Dude was an Oxford graduate in Chinese History. That probably had a detrimental effect on my acquisition of the language while I was out there but it sure did make things easier.
We got a cab to the school, Liaoning Pro Tourism School, where we were also staying. This was a school running HND level courses in various subjects that were useful to the tourism industry, hence the need for English teachers. The top floor of the school had rooms that were made up like a hotel and that was where I was going to be staying.
It was a lovely place. I had my own balcony, bathroom and access to a kitchen down the hall. Chris had the room next door and we would spend the evenings watching counterfeit VCDs from the market in town. There was a large dining hall where we all ate together. The food, for the most part, was good (not the ‘spitting meat and tofu’) and the squid was exceptional. The school was right on the sea and there was a wonderful seafood restaurant just down the road. Every morning, I would be brought a large flask of boiled water for making tea. I drank so much Jasmine tea during my stay that I really have a taste for it to this day.
I started with my class the day after I arrived. They were a group of forty 15-18 year olds. More cringing here as I admit that pretty much every lesson I taught was straight out of a textbook and I rarely planned anything. I would just take a page of the textbook and make a lesson out of it, usually as I entered the classroom. There was chalk and blackboard. I’m glad that I can say I taught with a blackboard and didn’t go straight to whiteboards and pens. It lends a touch of retro-chic to my teaching career.
My efforts earned me around £350 per month. Given the low cost of living in mainland China and the fact that I had no overheads, this allowed me to live in very fine style during my stay. We ate in the best restaurants, some of the best Chinese food that I have even had. It’s so different to what we’re used to in Britain. I did about three hours of teaching per day and was finished by about 3 in the afternoon (the only time in my paid teaching career that this has actually been the case) so I had plenty of time to explore. I would walk into town or get the bus or a cab (still only about £3).
The school staff were not the most trusting bunch. We learned, for example, that they were going to lock us on the top floor overnight to keep us away from the students (it was a boarding school). When we pointed out the lack of egress in case of fire and threatened to leave, we were granted a key to the building.
Every morning, the students would go out on the ‘playground’ at 6am for drill, marching up and down. they would also stop at 10:30ish for a meditation period. The speakers in the classroom would flicker to life and there would be a voice, counting to ten over and over as the students massaged their temples and their eyes. I was amazed how they were conditioned into doing this. They just stopped mid-sentence and went straight into a sort of trance until it was over.
My class were a lovely bunch. Here they are:
That’s me in the middle and Chris is next to me. they got me one of their T-shirts when I left but I sadly lost it.
Here’s a picture of the two of us with Susan, the Chinese teacher who taught my class the rest of the day.
I did manage to begin to develop a teaching style of my own while I was there. I started moving the furniture around so we could do more role play in class and I put something on display. It was taken down about a day later but hey, at least I tried. They didn’t go in for displays at this school. There was nothing but a list on the wall of the students (in order of performance, motivating, eh?)
I also did a small play with my class for the rest of the school. They weren’t going to involve me in it. I just found out about a couple of days before it was due to be on. The other staff had obviously tried to do something in English and not been able to, so they told me that ‘they had decided I was going to do a play with the children’.
I was short on ideas so I took a short story I had written in University called Jasper and the Flying Death. It was about a man being terrorised by a giant wasp in his house. By the time the students had finished with, the ‘wasp’ had turned into a bee and it was a girl in a very cute bee outfit. It kind of took the ‘horror’ out of my original source material but it seemed to go down well with the audience.
I spent a few months in this place (and a week’s holiday in Beijing) before heading home to start my PGCE. It was a wonderful time. I did a lot of reading and thinking, explored the city. I also have fond memories of watching the World Cup, held in Korea and Japan, in various bars in the city.
I wish I had better photographs from that time. I was using a rubbish APS camera and the pictures have deteriorated over the years.
My experience in Dalian was a great one. I found the people to be very friendly and it was a great place to explore. One of the highlights was a vast underground marketplace in the centre of town where there were hundreds of stalls and mini shops. That’s where I used to get my VCDs. I tried to get a copy of the Tobey Maguire Spiderman about three times before I got hold of it properly. The first two I bought actually turned out to be different films: Attack of the Spiders with Dan Ackroyd being one.
I was sad to leave at the end but excited to get home and start my PGCE.
That’s it for this one. That’s four letters in the bag. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, please check out my other posts in the BloggingAtoZ Challenge here:
Thanks for reading,