A big catch up!!

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ok, I know, it's been a while! Life continues to whizz by at an alarming rate, and very little time these days sat at a computer!

I'm sat outside a café at the moment during my lunch break, having woken up to a grotty smoggy day, cycling to work feeling grey, big winds have swept in and blown it all away, so the sky is blue again and it's pretty warm, around 23 degrees. We've just had 2 holidays, mid autumn festival and National day, so it's quite predictable that the weather will change now and get noticeably cooler. Can't complain though, 10th October sitting in the sun!!

School has been great, tiring but in a nice way (I think!) although I got up this morning feeling like an old woman, at 6.30am wondering if I'm built for this more energetic life!! This is my 7th week now, and things are settling down a bit more now and I'm getting to know the children more and more.
A typical day starts at 6.30am when I get up, then I cycle to work (around 15 mins) and I arrive at school by 8am and start with cleaning some of the classroom, my English corner. At 8.30am we go downstairs to greet the parents and children. When the children arrive, they do morning exercise, led by other teachers - basically 3 different songs & dances, all of them join in as & when they arrive. At 8.50am, we take them up to the classroom, for us a long climb up to the 4th floor, quite tough on the little ones (and me.... my legs become quite weary by the end of the day!). There is a quiet time when they first arrive, then they have snacks & water and begin their work. It's a Montessori school, so the children choose what to play with, and everything in the classroom is Montessori based, so they learn by playing with certain things. During the first 90 minutes I sit in my English corner, and the children can choose to come and work with me in small groups, or some 1:1 if need be. A lot of them are keen to come over, however there are some that need some encouragement and some won't come over at all which is being addressed. There is still one girl who has barely said anything to me yet!

After that, snack & water time before going outside to play (weather / smog permitting, today it was too windy, not quite sure how that affects things but hey...!). We have more exercises to music, then half an hour play time, some days they just play on the playground stuff, alternate days there is a themed activity. I lead it one week, then the Chinese teacher the other week. This month it's balance, so walking along a balance beam for example. Back upstairs for Chinese circle time, where they all sit with the Chinese teacher before lunch. After lunch, a 2 hour nap, that's when I escape - escape the chaos of lunch!! I help put the beds out in the classroom before I go. I then have an hour lunch, then an hour prep time when I come back & the children are (supposedly!) sleeping. More time in the classroom when they get up, and then I have an English circle every day at 3.45pm for half an hour, alternate days with either a music programme or a book reading, which also included activities such as art or drama. We exhausted the very hungry caterpillar last month, this month it's 'should I share my ice cream' with Elephant & Piggie! All good fun,. Then it's hometime, some of them stay for dinner, and finally peace & quiet around 4.45, hometime for teacher Tracy at 5pm.

I'm still finding my feet with it all and trying to find ways of developing all the children as they are at vastly different levels of English, but it's fun and there are worse ways to spend a day! Some days I think I've got it, and have a really good English circle where they are all interested and attentative, then days like yesterday where I wanted to throw the towel in as half of them were badly behaved yesterday...... Good days make up for it though when we have fun making mooncakes for example for the mid autumn festival, or getting cake & flowers on teachers day!

Finally my visa paperwork is ready from the school, it's taken so long - so I can now book my trip to Hong Kong to change my current visa to what I need.

I'm revisiting this blog a week later, and will probably take me a while to finish! Same café, but chillier - my morning rides to work now involve 2 layers (no coat yet, just fleeces) and gloves as it's around 4 degrees first thing but still pleasant during the day.

Last Saturday I experienced my first field trip with the school, literally.... to a field....!!! We went to pick peanuts and sweet potatoes which was fun, and chaotic!! 5 classes on buses, about an hour out of the city to the fields, and first stop was to pick peanuts, growing in the ground, by pulling out the plant then picking the nuts off them, like a monkey nut really. Bought loads home not realising that they needed roasting, and we don't have an oven.... (they don't come out of the ground roasted & salty, dowh!!) One attempt in a wok, we gave up!!! More success with the sweet potatoes in the microwave! The kids loved it, searching, pulling & digging for things, we all got filthy dirty and dusty, luckily it was a pleasant warm & sunny day, with a picnic lunch thrown in for good measure. Most of the kids and us teachers fell asleep on the bus on the way home! A full day out, and a great way to spend a working Saturday (still paying back for the week off we had, that's done now, back to a normal week / weekend now). The next event is Halloween, where it's quite a big thing, so we are planning to decorate the classrooms and we have a Halloween party during the evening which should be good fun.

So onto other stuff, staying partly with the education theme, I have been put onto the board of Directors for the Migrant Children's Foundation charity that we volunteer with, so I'm really proud to have been asked by Helen the founder, and good friend. Andy has been made marketing and events manager which is great too and is busy launching a new website platform to advertise on, and planning some events for before the end of the year. It's nice helping in different ways at the moment, as to be honest, the last thing I feel like doing on a Saturday morning is getting up early to go & volunteer at a Migrant school! I will again though when things settle down a bit. I did my first presentation this weekend on behalf of MCF, only 10 minutes, with 9 other charities explaining what they do, what they need etc, it went well but a bit nervewracking!

Sadly we've seen more friends leave, Alec & Ainhoa to Switzerland, and Craig (my twin, born on exactly the same day!) back to the US. It's horrible having to say goodbye all the time. But it is an excuse for leaving do's, these two were on 2 extremes, one a Azerbaijanin BBQ with all you could drink outside on a lovely terrace, and the other wine tasting at Carrefour, followed by bread, cheese & olives at our local 'Bob's wines', basically a small off licence where you can buy cheap wine and then sit outside and drink it, and eat anything you bring!!!

Another fine Beijing Beatles performance lured us out into the Hutongs, for pre-gig dumplings and beer. Andy organised another paintballing trip out to the countryside, I declined this time as it's not really my thing, and I had lots of school work I wanted to do and prepare for. We headed to the Shunyi suburbs for an Aussie BBQ, the Aussie's played cricket against the Brits and won....! Lots of good food & beer, and a perfect sunny blue sky day made it very enjoyable.

During the first holiday, for Autumn festival we had 3 days off, and went to Tianjin for the day with friends Robert & Myra from Australia, a really lovely couple who we've got to know over the last few months. Now, I have my real parents of course, then Lou & I also had our 'local parents' whilst living in Southsea, the lovely Roswhita & Steve who looked out for us (and led us astray at times........!!!!) so I guess it's only right that Andy & I found some 'Beijing parents'. Coming back from the Aussie BBQ with them, we were talking to an Aussie woman, who later on said 'oh, you've got your parents with you' referring to Robert and Myra....!!!! They were less than impressed!!! It was a classic moment, now Robert is the same age as my Dad, Myra is younger. The funniest thing was, a week later watching the Aussie rules football final, an Aussie guy we were chatting to made the same mistake!! Robert & Myra thought we had set it up, but honestly hadn't - hilarious!! So now, they are of course..... our Beijing parents!! Mum & Dad, Rosie & Steve - you'd love them & all get on well over a few drinks!!

Anyway, back to Tianjin, you'll remember we went over Christmas where the river was all frozen, and we enjoyed the more European feel about the place, the river, the architecture so we thought a return visit in the milder weather in order. An enjoyable day wandering around, and relaxing outside in the Italian concession, finished off with dinner at Brasserie Flo with friends Chris & Jing who live in Tianjin, it was great to catch up with them. Whilst heading for the train home, by the station people were letting off beautiful red paper lanterns into the sky, we hadn't seen it here in Beijing before, later we found out they are banned, as it's too densely populated with lots of trees which in years gone by caught fire easily is a lantern landed on them. Anyway, in Tianjin they were letting them off above the river, we managed to buy one and with some help, lit it - a red heart, and let it off high into the sky, one of those romantic unforgettable moments, with something so simple.

The following 2 days, our good friend Matthew invited us to go away with him & his girlfriend to Cuandixia, she has a car and offered to drive, it was a couple of hours out of the city (around 90 kms), once we got out of the city the scenery was stunning, mountains and greenery. Cuandixia is set deep into the mountains, and is a village dating from the Ming Dynasty (1403-1424) and consists of 76 courtyard houses, mostly built with stones. Most of these houses have been turned into simple courtyard B&B's, serving as restaurants too. We arrived and had a great lunch overlooking the mountains and the village, then found a courtyard to stay in. The weather was great, and we enjoyed just wandering around, looking inside all the old houses and admiring the view, as well as plenty of food & drink over the 2 days. Our courtyard had a great roof terrace sit at, perfect for the evening and the following morning, and in the morning we got up early and climbed the mountain which the village is at the foot of, a clear sunny day made for great views and the hike was well worth it. A well deserved coffee / beer once we climbed back down, watching all the tourists arrive. The nice thing about staying overnight was that it was a lot quieter, and a chance to see village life. Before setting off we had an amazing lunch, Andy & Matthew literally devoured a whole leg of lamb, that had been slow cooked in a massive drum for hours, Min Min & I stuck to other stuff, not being a lamb lover! Andy was VERY happy and lots of caveman style photos were taken!

Our week off for National day was a mixture of chilling and exploring. I headed with 2 friends, one of which, Chrissie, has a driver, so makes getting out much easier! There was me and Chrissie from New Zealand, and Mel from Australia. We went to Jinshanling, a part of the Great Wall in Hebei province, a couple of hours drive away. It was stunning, and I know I keep mentioning blue sky days but they really are special, and a day like this - the views were incredible. It was by far the best part of the Great Wall I've seen. We hiked for just over 4 hours along the wall, up & down, up & down, the final hour or so was an unrestored section, so interesting to see, and some steep scary climbs! We had a good girlie gossip along the way too. Andy, having an aversion to the Great Wall (see Karl Pilkington, an Idiot Abroad!!!) preferred the option of staying in the city to go to one of the breweries for an all you can drink offer! We both enjoyed ourselves, that's the main thing!

Now you know we do well for free things, this week was no exception, the magazines have been a little void of competitions for a while, but on Tuesday lunchtime of this week, a friend messaged us who had to go away suddenly, and offered us his 2 tickets to go & see The Killers in concert that night, oh yes please!!!! With nothing planned, we gratefully met him and got the tickets, and saw them that night - fantastic band to see live, and we loved it, great views too being in the 12th row. Thank you very much Alistair! One day we cycled to a couple of markets for a wander around, and re-stock of Converse baseball boots, my favourite knock off here, my boots were the equivalent of £8, Andy's £6 - bargain! We ended up at the main shopping street of Wangfujing, where the snack markets are, where you can eat scorpion on a snake etc. and is near Tiananmen square and the Forbidden city. It was full of tourists, mostly Asian and a few westerners, we parked ourselves in our favourite outdoor bar, enjoying a few beers after our cycle ride, and in time became a tourist attraction ourselves!! We were sat by another western couple, and everyone wanted their photo's taken with us! Not uncommon here, but mostly in the touristy areas like here, so it was great fun posing with them and the little kids!!

Another freebie on the Friday, a friend who works at the Fairmont Hotel, gave us tickets to the LPGA, the Ladies Professional Golf Association competition at a Golf & Country Club just outside the city, so a few of us went to see that. It was really good, now some of you may think that watching live golf is like watching paint dry, but during my travel career days I worked for Longshot Golf and sold golf holidays, as well as went on the odd educational, learnt to play golf with some pro's, and played on courses such as La Manga in Spain, and some in the Algarve too. I actually really enjoyed watching the tournament, and so did Andy too. We followed the leaders for a while, and then some less popular players, as you could get closer and see more. The club put on a Polo match too, so we watched some of that, again something I've never seen before, which Andy loves - so a great day out and all for free!!

All mixed in with the usual networking events, wine tastings, lunches here & there, football & F1 watching, the norm really for our lives in Beijing! Can't believe we've been here 18 months now, time has gone so quickly.

One more week gone by, and I'm determined to finish & post the blog this time!!! Just wanted to tell you about an amazing day that we had last weekend at the British Polo match in Beijing. We'd seen the event in one of the magazines and enquired how much tickets were, we were told that it was a free event sponsored by the Chinese government. How many people did we want to bring?! Ok, so we looked at the timetable of events, noticing a champagne reception, polo match and afternoon tea... Andy did a great job of asking a few friends and arranging a minibus, and before we knew it - 17 of us met for breakfast at the Big Smoke for scrambled eggs on toast, bacon, mushrooms and a bloody Mary before getting on the bus for the Polo! It took us about 90 minutes to get there (more drinking on the bus!), we went past the Badeling section of the great wall which is the busiest part, and it was beyond that in the grasslands. Stunning location surrounded by mountains, and a clear bright day - it was beautiful. Even better on arrival, there was cold champagne waiting for us! It was a big marquee looking out onto the Polo field, and free flow Tattinger champagne, along with beer, wine etc. and plenty of food (yes, of course there were cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and scones and jam!). There were lots of Brits there having flown over for the event, lots of Chinese who stormed the marquee even though they didn't have the wristbands for the food & drink, and camped out on the tables!! They were soon moved on! The match was a mixture of teams, British, Chinese, Spanish and Argentinian, the Chinese team won. It was brilliant to watch, never having seen a live Polo match before it was great. We got so much attention from the media there, 17 of us all dressed up smart and getting involved! We all had such a good day, and headed back into the city afterwards for some food, although I was a little worse for wear after such a long day drinking, Andy had to take me home!!!

Anyway, that's where I'm going to end this epic blog, otherwise it will go on forever!!!

Thanks for reading, hope you haven't fallen asleep!!!

Tracy & Andy
xx
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Comments

tracy-andy-pez
tracy-andy-pez on

God some much I had forgotten about and what an amazing time we have here. The British Polo has to be the best event I've been to even if I was stressed out making sure everyone was happy. I think I could be an events manager in the future. Watch this space. Thank you 10p for writing this once again. Pez xx

Sal on

Wow you're right Andy, that does seem a very full fun packed life! Loved reading this blog, Tracy, the picture just give us a glimmer of what you get up to but you are such a talented writer, I really feel like I have been to those places with you! Keep up the excellent work with the blog.
Thoroughly loving your accounts of your time at the school, very rewarding I would imagine (not just the apple!) but yes, exhausting too. That's a lonnngg day for you. Are you still managing to cycle? The weather here is still unseasonally mild but the evenings are darker, dark even before I leave work now, hate it! Count down to Xmas now, sales on every week it seems and Xmas jumpers with snowflakes, fluff and sparkles come in daily!
Reminds me....must get your Xmas card in the post!!!!
Love to you both xxxxxx :-D

Lou (sis) on

Great catching up on this, so jealous that you got to see The Killers live! Plus golf, polo, posh balls - really living the high life, "what what!". Nice to hear how your day as a teacher goes and what its like too, congrats on being official now honey xxxx

Dave and Ellie on

Wow great reading,Love shots of the Great Wall.Lovely to experience your time there.Good action at the polo fields also.
We are all ok here Oscar and Snowdrop both now on the move!! We had a mini bonfire and sparkler evening here on Thursday,Had supper beforehand. We had to sit indoors for that as a little cold and damp out in garden but the bonfire warmed us all and we all acted like big kids with the sparklers .Oscar and Snowdrop most impressed !!
Yes Sal good idea to get that Christmas card off soon.Where has the year gone?
Your little school children look so cute Tracy.Glad you are enjoying the work.Exercise at 8.30!!Sleep at 2---Yippee.Could do with latter where I work!!
Take care and love to you both

Steve & Roswihta on

Great blog Tracy, the children really looked cute but I bet they have you running around! Really pleased that it is working out for you. We never know what you two are up to next - now joining the Polo set, looked like a great day. Loved the picture of the Great Wall & the stunning scenery, it brings back a lot memory's. What's this about local parents? Hope they are keeping you in check. Are they as bossy as us? Well done with the charity work - very proud of you. Take care, love Steve & Roswihta xx

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