[PHOTO: Primary Sector building of Country Garden School)
I’m writing this on Saturday afternoon, from the dining table of my new apartment. No I haven’t actually signed the rental agreement contract yet, I’m not too sure what’s going on there… No I don’t have internet installed, and yes I have got 4 new air-conditioning units just chilling in my spare bedroom (check me out with a whole extra room!) But it’s mine, mine for the next academic year. I moved in on Wednesday with nothing but clothes, a bed sheet and a towel to settle in with.
The past few days have been such a crazy whirlwind of information, emotions and just general chaos. 2.40pm on Tuesday 30th August I conducted a phone/video call interview with Jane from Guangdong Country Garden School – Primary sector. To say I was nervous was an understatement. That whole morning I’d been going over everything I may need to say or answer in my head, but nothing seemed to stick, and when David sat me down with the phone in front of me, and pressed the big green flashing Accept Call button, I was completely blank. I had no idea what was going to come out of my mouth or what I was going to be asked of me. I’d vaguely been asked to lie. Lie about my teaching experience and the age range I’ve dealt with. That I was NOT ok with… I said this to David before he answered the call, and he simply sighed, looked worried, and said; “Just go with your gut.”
So I did, and after a 10 minute chat, with a few technical issues along the way, I was asked to pass the phone over to David, and she said she looked forward to seeing me on Wednesday. I GOT THE JOB! As you may have guessed by the fact I now have somewhere to live… But yeah, so David came back to confirm that they wanted me to start right away, and I needed to go in the following day to register with the school. David briefly set out a plan for the next day with me, and off I went to finally see some of the city I’d been held up in for the past 5 days. I was finally able to lay eyes on the multi-coloured tower of Guangzhou, and many of the other crazy buildings around that area. I decided to treat myself to a pizza and a beer, celebrating my successful interview.
Wednesday came and I met Issac (another Worlda staff member) at Hanxichanglong Metro Stop exit C. I had 2 or 3 changes and because it was morning rush time, I actually couldn’t fit onto a couple of the trains, so I had to patiently wait in amongst the crowds for a 2nd one. When I finally arrived at Exit C, Issac showed me to the bus station and we took the bus all the way to the end of the line for only 2rmb… (Roughly 20p). We were dropped off, seemingly, in the middle of nowhere at the entrance gates to Country Garden. This is when that old fateful voice started up in my head: “What have you done Parker. What have you got yourself into?!” This was definitely not going to be like my luscious easy life in Suzhou. Ah Suzhou, I miss you and your polluted air…
Into the compound, sorry, “community” we went, and we headed straight to the school where I was welcomed by Jane and introduced to her team. I was also told, quite nicely, that during my interview there were 5 other people out of view and within the first few minutes they had given her the thumbs-up and wanted me to join them. A nice little confidence boost that I very much needed. Now just to live up to their expectations ey… no pressure Parker… After a quick wander around the school and being introduced to my co-teacher, Vivian (each class has a homeroom teacher, a local English teacher, and an international English teacher), we headed off to find me somewhere to live!
I was told living inside the community would be best for ease of getting to and from work, so that’s where I was shown. I was shown two apartments in the Dong Yuan area (East Garden), the first was fine. Not great, not that light, but fine. Where I expected to see a sofa, there were some traditional very dark wooden solid low chairs, and the bedrooms were also very dark with a mattress only an inch and a half thick on a wooden base. I quickly asked to view the 2nd apartment. As soon as I walked in I knew I was going to take it. First of all, this one was one floor up, unlike the previous one, which was on the ground floor. Alarm bells were going off in my head as soon as I was told about its location, even though, yes it had a patio garden, being on the bottom floor of a building somewhere new, did not seem like the wise, or safe choice. This 2nd place also lacked a sofa with big plush cushions, but it did have a much nicer and lighter set of wooden seating, and all the furniture was brand-new. With tags still on and everything! Also, another bonus, proper sized mattresses, yes they’re still the Chinese rock solid ones, but, at least they have a bit of give on them.
So my new place, apartment 101, has a small kitchen (no rice cooker to be seen!), a large living/dining area, a small balcony, a bathroom with a shower above a very small bath, and two bedrooms. From my closest bus stop (less than a 5 minute walk away) it only takes about 5/10 minutes on the free bus to school each day. That is, when the bus comes, and when I get on the right one. You see, you know how China is, doesn’t like to make things simple of easy for us Westerners who haven’t learnt their language, and rightfully so, why should they? But boy would it make my life easier if they did. The busses are not numbered, and they are not named in anything but Chinese Characters. I learnt which bus I was supposedly to take to school in the morning, hopped on it at 6.55am Thursday morning, and unbeknown to me, there are two types of this bus, the long route, and the short. I had stupidly, ignorantly taken the short, which took me directly to the Traffic Centre at one of the exit gates of the compound. So on my first day of a new job, my first morning in a new place, and the morning of the grand opening of the school for this academic year, I had left the compound on the bus with no idea how to get back in. I thankfully know the word for teacher in Mandarin, so I walked over to one of the bus workers and tried to explain myself in no words other than “teacher” and a bunch of hand signals. She thankfully pointed me towards a bus and I went with blind faith. Amazingly, I made it to school on time to meet Vivian and walk over to the sports track where the ceremony was being held.
It was, boiling, like, scorching hot to put it mildly. But, it’s obviously not that ok dry heat which allowed me to enjoy the sun deck in 40`C heat while cruising down The Nile. No, it’s that, step outside = you’ve just come out of a shower kind of heat. All around me were Asians who seemed to not even notice, but thankfully, the more I looked (fanning myself with my Bali fan all the while) I started to spot a number of International staff members struggling just like me. The poor guys, I mean, poor fellas, having to wear a shirt and tie in that heat, at least the women can wear dresses, skirts, loose fitting cool things etc. The ceremony lasted about 20 minutes, and then we were all dismissed to our classrooms ready to start the first day of school. As I said earlier, myself and Vivian share a class, well, we actually share two. We have both 502 and 512, each with roughly 23 students, give or take a few.
As soon as the students arrived, they were eager to introduce themselves and say hello to me. I was a new face, and a western one at that, they were full of intrigue… Later that day (after my almost 3 hour lunch break where I had to collect my boxes from a neighbour) I had my first lesson with 512, and right after, with 502. My first job was to introduce myself to the kids. I did this with the help of a few PowerPoint slides, (altered from the one I showed you on a previous blog post). After telling them my name, I was then shown a warm welcome in the form of a chant. “Hello Miss Charlie. Hello Miss Charlie. Hello Miss Charlie.” Repetition really does seem to be the best way for these kids! So yes, that’s me now, Miss Charlie. I introduced them to Sam, using the picture of me and her on the bench at the bottom of the garden (- me with arm in cast), and then my fluffy faced friends; Brain, Bryn and little Miss Pip. And the next slide, was forcing my Welsh pride on them all! I bombarded them with our flag, our beautiful mountains, our historical castles, the great game of rugby, and even the daffodil. (I don’t think I’m supposed to have on show tattoos here, so I decided it best not to make the connection between our national flower and the one on my arm…) Anyway, I won’t take you step-by-step through my first day and my lessons, but it went fine. Vivian is great and really happy to help me wherever she can, even buying me dinner at the school canteen when my card didn’t work.
While I teach, Vivian is the assistant, and vice-versa. I must admit I quite enjoyed going around the class helping with (believe it or not) spelling, getting the kids working and helping them through the activities. I think that once I’ve got into the swing of it, I know the units, the structure, and I’m into a routine, I’ll really enjoy each day, even if it will be challenging at times. I’m worried and apprehensive at the moment about next week, mainly because Meghan (the head of Grade 5 Curriculum), once she was actually informed of my presence, she sat me down yesterday and threw a hell of a lot of information at me, even asking me “So you have your teaching degree right?”. That was a firm solid, sheepish no. But hey, she seems eager to help and support where I need it too. They’re starting a new system and using a new unit package, so everyone is a little all over the place, which helps me I guess. But yeah, she gave me a flash drive full of links to follow, read, and things to research ready for Monday, however, as I mentioned at the beginning of this (surprisingly long winded) blog post, I still do not have WiFi at my place! And seen as there is no Starbucks to pop into, buy a cuppa and piggyback off their Free WiFi, I’m kind of screwed. Another reason why it seems pointless me writing this post today, Saturday, when I will have to wait until Monday when I get into school (in time for flag raising) and upload it from there. So, I’m going to have to try and plan lessons, which I’m not 100% sure of the structure of, without WiFi, and without sitting down with Vivian to discuss it. But, that’s tomorrows problem, today is a day of rest in my apartment, a whole disk of New Girl, maybe a little cleaning, listening to music, generally getting used to my new home, and then later, going out for an Italian with Kim, a fellow Worlda employee who just added me on WeChat. Kim also has two rescue dogs, Bella and Chance, and they look cute as hell, so I’m pretty excited to meet them and get my dog fix sorted!
Let me tell you a little more about my apartment. It really is quite a nice little place; it makes such a difference that the furniture is clean, new and light in colour. I have my green Bali throw over the back of the larger “sofa” chair, a green and white scarf from Yu Yuan (Gardens in Shanghai) over one of the armchairs, my brightly coloured rug/throw from the guy in the metro station in Beijing on the floor in front of my very large, very old, not working box TV. I have an array of cards from family and friends along the TV stand as well as my print from Basel “Smile J” with a bunny and a camera, my tin sign from the HD clan (Shona mainly), my little Welsh flag from Sophie by the door and all my little knickknack hanging bits and bobs around the place on door handles, draw handles, and anywhere else they would hang. I even made a little bunting type thing from the postcards I sent to myself while in Suzhou (that weren’t supposed to arrive until 2017) which I have hanging from a useless light fitting in my bedroom. I also currently have a lot of washing hanging over the backs of chairs drying after my first run of the washing machine yesterday, so that’s adding some colour to the place too! In the corner of my living room on the side table, is a little, unintentional, Dulwich Shrine. On there I have the calendar given to me by a visitor to the AMC department, a papercutting gift of the crest, a card of that bloody painting of the school which me and Leah are so very over the sight of, a boxed up scroll hanging of the same painting, a little Dulwich uniform teddy, and even my green Alpaca from the World Scholars Cup event. Anyone would think I missed that place…. Maybe not the place as much as the people and the ease of living, and my lovely incredible breakfast man!
So yes, as the title of this post states, things are on the up. After a rocky start, which I must admit, almost had me in breakdown mode (quick shout-out to family and friends who kept me grounded and shouted words of encouragement and faith across the globe! I love you all!), I now have somewhere to call home, where I can retreat to when things get tough, which I can settle into, make my own, and a job which I think is going to surprise me. It will definitely challenge me, and I’m under no false pretences that this will be easy, especially the first month or two, but I do think I’m going to be okay here, and I’m sure that’s a relief for my family to hear. This has been my first, and biggest solo step into the world, and I’m determined to make it work. Watch this space people!
Side note: Check out the amazing meal I had from my new Muslim place last night thanks to the help from Kim. It’s pronounced TudoNewro Fan – Potatoe, beef rice. And it was incredible. I’m sure there will be many more to come…