Chinese TEFL Teacher

The Weirdest Things That Happened to Me in China

China. You either love or hate it.

That’s what I had been told before I left. I’d been fed horror stories of scams and rudeness, unshakable culture shock and homesickness. And sure, people tried (and luckily failed) to scam me, some people were rude and the culture shock was pretty intense, but that doesn’t define China.

China is a mental country of ups and downs. I was only there for a month, teaching English and travelling but experienced both the best and the worst that the country has to offer. There’s a reason why expats and long-term travellers have coined the phrase ‘Only in China’.

China is a bloggers dream. Weird experiences are an everyday occurrence and after only a month away I gained enough anecdotes to last me a lifetime. Here’s the best of the bunch.

Critter-crunching in Beijing

Street Food BeijingA trip to one of Beijing’s many food markets is a must. You are greeted by overwhelming crowds, smells, sights – and if you’re up for it – tastes.

Take your pick from grilled lizard, crunchy tarantula or roasted snakes. Mmm…

I opted for a crispy stick of scorpion which was surprisingly tasty. Just like having a packet of crisps, kind of.

Head to Donghuamen Night Market or Wangfujing Food Market for some fast food like nothing else you’ve tried before!

Street Food Beijing Bugs

The poo-in-bag incident

Forbidden City BeijingAfter being in China for nearly a month, I thought I had been acquainted with all of the… different hygienic practices. From spitting and weeing in the street to the infamous squatting toilets I had learnt to dodge suspicious puddles and gained some fabulous thigh muscles.

But I never, NEVER, expected to witness this.

We were enjoying an amble around the Forbidden City, immersing ourselves in culture, history and politics when our eyes were drawn to a father holding up his son. Over a bag. Surrounded by hundreds of tourists. The child was pooing in the bag. When you gotta go, you gotta go.

Being ‘papped’ in Shanghai

Chinese TEFL TeacherThe Chinese love their photos. They make the teenagers of Britain pale in comparison with their selfie addiction and cutesy staged group pics are the norm. (See above picture – I mean, what even is that?!)

Any non-Chinese visitor is met with open mouths and curious stares, even in the cosmopolitan city of Shanghai where I’d expected western tourists and businesspeople to be in abundance. Not so.

Even in tourist hot-spots like the Bund, Shanghai locals and Chinese tourists alike descended on me, finding it hilarious when I joined in with peace signs and smiles. Some of them would never have met a white person before – how strange is that in this multi-cultural world?

Keep your eyes peeled for people taking sly snaps of you on the metro or in the street. Rather than being intimidating it’s quite sweet and a major confidence boost!

Find out more about my time in Shanghai here.

Tobogganing down the Great Wall of China

toboggan great wall of chinaWhen your whizzing down the Great Wall of China on a toboggan it’s almost impossible not to have a ‘pinch me’ moment.

Zipping down the mountainside with one of the wonders of the world fading behind you is oh, so China,

Read more here.

Feeding monkeys at the Zoo

Chinese ZooAnimal welfare isn’t on the top of the list here it seems. A visit to Zibo Zoo was heartbreaking. Lions in concrete cages, deer with no grass to graze on and monkeys being fed whatever the kids had in their pockets.

Here, the kids were encouraged to choose a stick, pop on a bit of fruit/chocolate/paper and squeeze it through the bars for the monkeys.

Sometimes China can make you really angry.

Getting drunk at a KTV

Beer KTVWhy oh why is this not a standard night out in the UK?! Most towns in China are blessed with KTVs and they are a must if you’re heading out here. Hire a private room, order crate-loads of beer, maybe a fruit platter or two, and sing along to your favourite tunes until you’re hoarse.

It’s probably best to go with a Chinese speaking friend/guide or at least make sure you are going to a reputable joint. Sometimes a dodgy KTV can offer you prostitutes alongside your fruit platters and that’s not something I’d like on the menu.

Watching Saw with 6-year olds

china childrenHaving an ’18’ rating on a film usually means that it’s not suitable for a class of 6-year olds. Not so in China! I got quite a shock sitting down to what I’d expected to be a cartoon and being greeted by dismembered bodies and splattering blood and guts. The 6 years olds, however, loved it!

Have you been to China? Do you have any weird experiences to share? Let me know in the comments below or via my social media pages!

Brisbane GOMA

Top 5 Modern Art Museums for £1 or Less

Whenever I travel, I love to track down the local modern art museum and inject a bit of culture into my trip.

I usually end up getting as far as the foyer and leaving in a huff at extortionate admission fees, what about art being for the people, huh?!

Luckily these 5 gems are all either free or below £1 to enter- so suitable for us budget student travellers! They are a great place to walk around and learn more about the creative culture of your chosen destination.

So here goes, my Top 5 Modern Art Museums for a £1 or Less:

The Tate Modern: London, England

In my humble opinion, London is the best city in the world for free entrance to museums and galleries- from the Science Museum to the National Portrait Gallery. But my favorite of the lot has to be the mighty Tate Modern.

Situated on London’s bustling South Bank, the Tate Modern is a great place for a wander and to view some of the best art in the world.

When you’ve had your culture fix, head to the rooftop bar for stunning views of the capital.

Tate Modern London Cafe

MOCA: Shanghai, China

I’ve written about the MOCA on the blog before (check it out here) and can’t seem to stop banging on about it. At only £2 for adults and £1 for students, this gallery is a bargain.

Living in the western world, we often neglect the rising Chinese contemporary art scene when these artists probably have the most to say about the world we live in. Their work is brave, shocking, often illegal. They risk everything for their art.

It’s not just Ai Weiwei who is speaking out.

MOCA Shanghai

Photo Credit

GOMA: Brisbane, Australia

Australian culture used to be something that people joked was non-existent. But with an emerging popular art scene, more and more Ozzies are embracing places like the GOMA in Brisbane.

It’s a great place to check out the latest Australian artists and a couple of golden-oldies too.

Brisbane GOMA

Turner Contemporary: Margate, England

Small yet perfectly formed, the Turner Contemporary is one of my favorites. Named after the legendary JMW Turner, this pocket sized gallery has hosted some of the most famous artists in the world, from Tracey Emin to Turner himself.

Situated on Margate’s seafront, the Turner Contemporary could be the saving grace of the town bringing back the visitors Margate so desperately needs and transforming this corner of Kent into the new art Mecca.

Turner Contemporary

Photo Credit

MOCA: Bangkok, Thailand

A beautifully refreshing collection of art is housed here. I had never seen any South East Asian art before so was enthralled by how contemporary and interesting the pieces were.

The museum is often quiet so it’s like a cultural oasis in the heart of this throbbing city. Entry is £3.50 for adults and £1.50 for students.

moca BangkokPhoto Credit

What is your favorite Modern Art Museum? Have I left it off my list? Let me know via my social media links or in the comments below.

Mutianyu Wall

Visiting the Great Wall of China

Stretching over 5,000 miles, the Great Wall of China is darn impressive. Although it’s rumoured that 70% of the wall has fallen into disrepair- there’s still a lot to explore.

Beijing is the generic starting point for trips to the Great Wall. Here you can easily book day trips to varying sections of the Wall which often include a hearty lunch and return transport.

Shop around in order to find the best price, prices can vary dramatically. Keep in mind that this trip is a bit of a budget buster but you simply can’t miss out on a visit.

Mutianyu Wall

Personally I would visit the Mutianyu Wall over the crowded Badaling section. In an ideal world I would have loved to check out Jinshanling or Simatai but money, time and transport wouldn’t allow it.

I was perfectly happy with Mutianyu though as, along with being a stunning testament to mankind’s perseverance and vision, there was also a SLIDE.

Yes, you can toboggan down the Great Wall of China.

But I’ll get to that…

First, let’s just admire how stunning this place is.

Mutianyu Great Wall of ChinaIt really does take your breath away.

At Muntianyu there are a lot less crowds which means that you can really enjoy soaking up the views. Just remember to bring plenty of water, as the uneven steps can be quite a challenge.

Great Wall of China

But now for the slide. Our tour guide had tried to put us off by telling us that it wasn’t safe, which to be fair is probably accurate. With her advice ringing in our ears, we set off down the mountain.

Toboggan Great Wall of China Queue

It was incredible.

Mutianyu SlideIf it’s good enough for Beyonce it’s good enough for me.

If you are popping by Beijing, I would definitely recommend a trip to Muntianyu. Admission and a go on the toboggan is £14 and all transport and meals are extra.

Shanghai Crowds

Shanghai in 72 hours

Shanghai is everything China wants to be. It’s sleek, rich, modern and called home by many of China’s, and the world’s, elite.

Shanghai is becoming a major transport hub and many international flights are introducing layovers in the city. With relaxed visa regulations, it is easier than ever to slip in a cheeky 3 day visit to the city.

Here’s my list of things to do with your 72 hours in Shanghai:

Maglev Train

Maglev train ShanghaiThe quickest/most terrifying way to get into the city from the airport.

The super speedy Maglev train rushes you to the centre in just 8 minutes, shaving an hour off a humble car journey.

How does it do this, I hear you ask? Well, it levitates obviously. YES LEVITATES AT 300KM/H!

Apparently magnets allow this witchcraft but it is still unnerving as the train appears to tilt quite violently when tackling corners.

I am assured that it is perfectly safe, and it is quite an experience to say the least!

Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)

Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai

Hidden in the centre of the People’s Park (an interesting spot in its own right) is the MOCA.

Portraying the best of Chinese contemporary art, the MOCA may not be the best curated gallery in the world but the art it houses is fascinating.

To a Western art-lover, Eastern art offers a fresh perspective on our world and a fascinating insight to everyday Chinese life.

Beware of groups of Chinese ‘students’ who gather in the park. They may attempt to lure you into tea-houses or theatres and abandon you with a hefty bill.

Shopping

Shanghai Shopping Mall Shanghai is famed for its shopping. Every street corner is dominated by a shopping mall. Head to the basements for bargain bites and cheaper shops. The designer and western shops can be found on the higher levels.

Many of the malls are beautiful in themselves, well worth a wander.

Jade Buddha Temple

Jade Buddha Temple ShanghaiStep into this spiritual oasis, hidden down the rusting alleys of Shanghai’s back streets. The welcoming smell of incense wafts throughout the temple which is studded with impressive jade Buddhas and populated by orange-robed monks.

A real find in this buzzing metropolis. Apparently the additional restaurant is a cheap treat too, just make sure you arrive early before it closes!

Sight-Seeing Tunnel

Shanghai Sightseeing TunnelI’m not ashamed to admit that I loved the sight-seeing tunnel! An obvious tourist fad, a pod whizzes you under the Huangpu River from the Bund to Padong.

Described by a guidebook as ‘psychedelic’ and ‘garish’, it delivers on both counts. Surrounded by gaggles of Chinese tourists you will have to suppress hysterical laughter as your little capsule hurtles through ever changing light displays, accompanied by booming voice-overs declaring that you are entering ‘meteor showers’ and ‘heaven and hell’. So tacky yet so entertaining.

Padong

Shanghai PudongIt is almost impossible to imagine that this site had been home to prostitutes, murderers and rice paddies as recently as the 90s. Now a glitzy, high-rise paradise, Padong reminded me of Hong Kong with its garish lights and towering architecture.

Marvel at China at its most sophisticated. This place really comes alive at night when the riverside bars and restaurants spill onto the streets and roof-top bars welcome their wealthy clientèle.

The Bund

Shanghai The BundThe most frequently visited and photographed location in Shanghai. With breathtaking views across to Pudong, it’s the photo opportunity everyone wants to squeeze in.

If you’re not of Chinese descent then you will feel like a celebrity here. Chinese tourists become like paparazzi, asking you for pictures or engaging you in broken conversation. Many of these Chinese tourists may have never seen another nationality in the flesh before and having your photo taken with them seems to make their day! (The ego boost doesn’t hurt either!)

Shanghai is a fascinating city with infinite opportunity for exploration. What do you think should be included on this list? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

china children

A Day in the Life of a Chinese Summer Camp Teacher

7.30am: WAKE UP! You may have been out socialising with the other English teachers until 4am last night and you may have consumed one beer too many but hey, the kids have been up since 6am and you can hear their little feet scampering on the floor above you. RISE AND SHINE!

7.35am: Take a rinse in the ice cold shower (warm water doesn’t start flowing until 9am) and squat over the hole-in-the-ground toilet, only the best for us prized English teachers!

China English Teacher Accommodation

China English Teacher Accommodation Bathroom

8am: You have to skip breakfast as there is no way you’re going to want to force down noodles at 7am. So it’s straight to the office for you. Here you will meet up with the other English teachers and see what the plan for the day is. The mornings are usually the same but there is often different activities going on in the afternoon. It’s Camp Night tonight with a Cowboys and Indian theme.

China English Teacher Accommodation Dorms

9.00-11.15am: The morning sessions begin. Two 45 minute classes with a 15 minute break. It is exhausting. You’ve taught the same lesson to almost 10 different classes and now you can do it in your sleep, which is handy as you might just have to.

Some of the kids are great and quick learners but today you are in with the ‘feral’ children. They have descended from a rival school and aren’t used to the rules in this establishment. Many teachers have tried to tackle them (sometimes literally) and failed. I learn that the key is plenty of breaks filled with cartoons. One child manages to cut their hair off with a rogue pair of scissors. Another eats glue. You have gotten away lightly.

TEFL

Half way through the second session, the hangover kicks in. The translators say you look pale, you say it must be food poisoning. They are not convinced. You make a mad dash to the toilets. You would not recommend being sick in a squatting toilet. You soldier on.

11.30am: Lunchtime! As a Westerner, Chinese meal times are very strange. Breakfast is at the crack of dawn, lunch very early and dinner pretty early, at 5pm, as well. The cooks here are great though and prepare you vats of fried rice if your stomach start to rumble late at night.

As a teacher you have your own queue and wait with American style trays for mute dinner ladies to slop anonymous concoctions onto your plate. There is a mix of vegetable and mystery meat dishes and you like to try them all. Just don’t be asking what they are, you probably won’t like the answer… These are washed down with warm water (they don’t do refrigerated drinks) and handfuls of steamed buns.

Chinese Food

Chinese Food School Dinner

11.30-2pm: There is a heavenly two and a half hour break here. The kids (and usually you) choose to nap during this time and some of the fussy teachers sneak to McDonalds for a replacement lunch. At half 1 you hear the children begin to stir. It’s time to start all over again.

Chinese School Children

2pm-5pm: The afternoon sessions are a bit all over the place. As it is Cowboy and Indian night tonight, this afternoon there is the challenge of painting headdresses and masks. The misappropriation of archaic Native American stereotypes niggles you all day. You have to leave your morals at the door. It’s all just a bit of fun.

Chinese School Children Working

5pm: Covered in paint and glue and feathers and god knows what, you head to dinner. Dinner is usually identical to lunch, so you pick extra sized portions of the things you’d like best. It is a very repetitive way of eating! The vegetarians are starting to fade and bloat from their diet of white rice and steamed buns.

7pm: The evening activities begin. By now the kids have been up for 12 hours but do not seem to be tiring anytime soon! Dismissing health and safety regulations, a big bonfire has been erected in the central quad and classes decked out in fancy dress parade around the flames. Songs are sung and numerous highly inappropriate renditions of Gangnam Style are performed. You have never seen so many gyrating ten year olds!

Chinese School Children Cowboys and Indians

10pm: Just when you can’t take another class performance and you have done the Gangnam dance probably around a million times, it’s time for the kids to go to bed. Breathing a sigh of relief you head back to the dorms with the other teachers. Cracking open a bottle of warm beer, you decide where you are going to be heading that evening. The expat bar ‘la bang’ usually wins and before you know it, the day starts all over again…