Monthly Archives

November 2017


Cycling in Chengdu

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Cycling Chengdu

They have the best bike hire system that I have ever seen here in Chengdu, I am assuming it is in most Chinese cities as the owner of the company Mobike was recently on the news talking about shares in the company, I didn’t understand what they were saying because it was in Chinese, lol, I am watching in the hope that some of it sticks while I am learning Chinese.


Anyway having done some research, Mobike is the largest bike sharing company in the world with its bikes in over 160 cities in China and head office in Beijing.  In December 2016 Mobike made Shanghai the world’s largest bike share city and it has just launched in Manchester, Florence and Milan with a September start planned for London.


Basically it works in Chengdu through the wechat app, now WeChat is the social media app to end all social media.  In China, it is used for everything and I mean everything, it is linked to your bank account so you can pay for goods and services just by clicking on the QR code and don’t go thinking that there aren’t many people using QR codes because there are in China.  They are huge, even the most rustic of backstreet food traders has a QR code which you scan when ordering food and your money goes straight into his account, simple!


Well, how it works with the bikes is that there is a locking system on the bike with a QR code attached you scan the code into your WeChat and you can unlock the bike and cycle off wherever you want, whenever you want.  The beauty of this system is the fact that you can pick one up anywhere and drop it off anywhere, no more fussing with bike hire shops, no more taking it back to a familiar bank of bikes, you can literally leave it anywhere you need to, consequently they are all over the city, on grass verges, near the station, by the river, at every road junction, at the bus depot, I even saw one in a field on its own near the Panda centre, they are scattered far and wide across the city and everyone uses them from students to business people.


Once my bank account is sorted I intend using them regularly, apparently you can register online through the app and get even better deals, my friend signed up for a monthly agreement of something like £1 and she had the first month free to use as many times as she liked, anywhere she liked.


What a fantastic innovative idea and it seems to work so well, however I should imagine that in some countries it is more open to abuse.  From what I can see of China so far there is not much vandalism, whether that is true or not I don’t know but most people tend to look after the city so it’s not the same as some cities back home where they might get stolen or vandalised, but I suppose I shouldn’t jump the gun, it’s early days, only just been launched in the UK and I sincerely hope it works because it’s a brilliant idea and can save people so much time and money.


So I have just read more information on the Mobikes and it seems my friend might be with another company as because to register to use Mobikes you have to pay a registration fee of 299 yuan which remains in your account and you have to put money in your WeChat wallet to enable you to use the bike for 1 yuan per 30 minutes, if you have no money in your wallet there will be a prompt on the screen to put more money in your wallet before you can use the bike.


The other companies operating bikes that I have seen so far are Ofobikes which are yellow and there are blue bikes as well operated by Youon, the Mobikes are orange.  There is talk of the Ofobikes and Mobikes merging which will have a global effect on the company.    After having done a little more research it looks like you don’t need to download the app to operate Ofobikes, you can just use them as a one off, linked to your WeChat which is what I will be doing once, my bank account is set up!!  I just hope that the seats are adjustable as I have just found out that they are not on Mobikes! And there are lots of problems with the size of equipment here which I will talk about in another post, for now I’m looking forward to cycling to work every day and exploring the area where I live by bike!!



Schools In Chengdu

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Schools in China

I’m not sure if the schools are the same all over China or just in this area which is Chengdu, but I suspect they are the same. mekids4


Children start in kindergarten at a very young age and for the first two weeks they stay for the morning only and then after their initiation they stay all day till about 5pm.  They start at two and half years old when they can barely speak their native language never mind English but the schools here in China are very different from home.



It turns out that I am teaching at the best Montessori Kindergarten in Shuangliu, I was offered this school but had to do a demo class in front of many teachers and the headmistress, thankfully they liked me and offered me the job right away.



For those reading that don’t know, Montessori is a method of education developed by Dr Maria Montessori, it is a child centred method of approach and has been used for over 100 years in many parts of the world.  Montessori teaching is based on the development of the whole child, physical, social, emotional and cognitive.  Students are usually in mixed age classes from 2.5 to 6 years old, they learn concepts from working with materials rather than direct instruction, and they work with the environment and very often use natural materials.   The students lead their own education and have freedom of movement within the class.


In our school they arrive at about 8.30am every day, they go to get their health check on the way in to the school, which the teachers do, by taking their temperature and looking at their tongue for any signs of illness, they then proceed to their class, throughout the morning they will have lessons and colour and maybe make things. At around about 11am they have lunch having had a milk drink about 9.30 to 10 am.  The lunch is delicious and freshly cooked by chefs who make wonderful recipes from scratch with fresh ingredients arriving at the school daily.



The children have their lunch about 11.30 to 12 noon then they have a sleep, there are small stackable beds in the school which the teachers lay out in the large hall like rooms attached to the main classroom, once they have eaten their lunch they are put to bed for their sleep which will be for about 2 hours.



When they wake up they are given a drink of water and taken to the toilet etc. before being taken back to their class for more lessons.  As an English teacher I have to teach every class in the school once a week.



There are 500 children in the school and another200 which I teach at another school within walking distance of my kindergarten.  I go to the other school every Tuesday and teach full classes every day except Friday when I will be just mixing with the children talking to them in English and also observing their studies and encouraging them.



The school is a huge gated complex incorporating the main school which is built over 6 floors with each class having two rooms to work in, one for the main bulk of the lessons and the other for quiet time or sleep time or whatever is needed any particular time in the day.  Also on the school grounds are offices opposite the school and a play area in between with proper, child friendly surfacing and play equipment like slides and climbing frames.  There is a covered play area set underneath the school like an open basement, it rains a lot in Shuangliu but is also hot most days so the covered area suits in all weathers There are guards on every gate into the school, no one is allowed inside the gate if they are not a parent or approved guardian of the child.  At the entrance you have a credit card style card to scan on entry, which recognises each individual identity.  Once inside the school has 5 floors with huge class rooms on each floor, in all there are 13 main classes and 2 baby classes where some are as young as 2.




As I have already mentioned lunch is prepared freshly every day and consists of fresh local grown produce and local farmed meat and the menu varies every day but always with rice or noodles, plenty of vegetables and meat, there is no sugar or dessert for lunch just proper food.



There is a canteen for all the teachers to eat their lunch, which is provided free by the school, we have to go next door to the primary school for our lunch, which is a short walk across the school yard.  Every teacher gets their own food then cleans their utensils after use and replaces the steel serving trays used, ready for the next people in line; the teachers from both schools eat at this same place.  The food is so nutritious, but nothing like you would imagine Chinese food to be like, basically the food sold in Chinese takeaways in the UK is not the food you find here.  I have not seen any dishes that are sold in the UK actually sold here at all, everything is so very different, also as we are in Sichuan province where there tends to be a colloquial way of cooking which for Sichuan involves lots of oil and lots of spices especially Sichuan peppercorn.


This week I sat in on a class which is what I do every Friday, this week was class 3 and I enjoyed every minute, first they all walk in a circle observing concentration at keeping your feet following the line around the room while also being very quiet, then they all sit in a circle and address each other to say good morning and also to the teacher.  After that they have a break of water or milk, whatever they prefer, with a small piece of fruit.



There are 40 children in each class usually with about 3 teachers so after they have had their snack they are split into 3 groups depending on what they each prefer to do and one teacher goes with each, the group I was with did Origami which is the Chinese art of paper folding, we all made a boat, this is done to help the children’s concentration and it really did the job, they were all completely focused and enjoying making their boats.  While we made boats, one of the other groups went off to colour and the other group was learning about balance and poise by carrying a tray with objects on it, around the room on the line I mentioned earlier.  This teaches them concentration again and balance and helps their memory, as they have to remember where they put their trays down and what was on them.



After the crafts we all went in to the basement play area and danced to music with hand movements and dance movements, which was obviously well known to the children; I tried to keep up at the back.  Then they moved onto climbing frames and they had to walk across the plank without anyone holding them, learning all about balance again and concentration.

trays2I have to say as well, that hardly any of the children I have taught so far have had any behavioural problems apart from the odd couple and that is out of 700 children.  They don’t eat junk food at all in school and any sweets or desserts; they live a far healthier school life and eat healthier food than we do at home.  I am enjoying learning about the Montessori Method of teaching and learning, I think it’s making for more confident, healthy children.



City life (A Westerner in the East)

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City Life (A Westerner in the East)

You are probably thinking, what could be different? City life is city life, right?  Wrong, city life is similar in many ways to the West, but in China the cities are all bigger and not just a little bigger, hugely bigger, the skyline is completely awash with high rise blocks of apartments which-ever way you turn.  There is no escaping the high rise blocks that blot the landscape for mile after mile on whatever road you decide to take.  I live in a suburb of Chengdu called Shuangliu, it takes an hour and a half to get back in the city, although I say get back, but really I’m still in the city, I live near the airport and every now and then, through the summer haze I catch sight of a plane flying off to some foreign land or bringing more people to Chengdu.



The enormity of China is evident in everything you do here, the amount of people everywhere is just immense, it is just like a beehive full of millions of buzzing, busy bees, coming and going, living their lives in the best way they can.


I am from a small village in a tiny country called Wales and most of the Chinese people have no idea where that is, in fact most of the people see a Westerner and think they are from America, I am pointed out many times by children to their parents or sometimes even adults and sometimes I hear them say “Meiguo ren” which even with my limited knowledge of Chinese, I know means “American person”.


But to get back to city life, the noise is unrelenting, which I know it is in most cities but the road traffic is just on another level in Chengdu, and everyone beeps their horn constantly, there is not a minute of any day or night while staying in the city that you won’t hear the horns beeping by many, many motorists, no matter if you close windows or even put in your earplugs.  Over here if you want to get somewhere, you beep to get someone slower out of your way.  They have cycle lanes which every manner of bike inhabits, from the simple pushbike to three wheeled motorised vehicles carrying all sorts of wonderful stuff, to tuk tuks and silent but deadly electric scooters, that if in a hurry think nothing of mounting the pavement and beeping you out of the way.


The amount of people who travel on these vehicles varies from just the rider to the whole family and I mean the whole family, I have seen a motorbike carrying the rider with wife holding baby on the back with two smaller children standing on the kickboards, either side of the handlebars, none with helmets or restraints of any kind!


The stuff you see carried by one of these vehicles is also eye-popping, large piles of cardboard stacked and bundled ready for recycling, where the bundle is taller than the bus riding alongside and wider than that same bus, but somehow the 70 year old gent seems to manage to balance it all while zipping about like a little ant in and out of the traffic, like Shane Williams on the rugby pitch, dodging each vehicle as he goes.


The age of each vehicle also varies greatly from seemingly 100 year old three wheel carts to modern day racing bikes!  On the motorised front, all manner of vehicle you can ever imagine I have seen cross my path on the roads of Chengdu, but none are more deadly than the electric bikes which apparently are the law now, no motorised bike is allowed to run off petrol or diesel so they are all electric, but at least that makes for a quieter commute.  Unfortunately when I say deadly, I mean they are the ones to watch for because you can’t hear them coming, if you don’t see them either, you are a goner.


While walking the roads of Chengdu you must and I mean must, always be looking all around you at all times because they can creep up on you when you least expect it, like when you are strolling along the path by the river admiring the city skyline as the sun dips below the horizon, creating a warm glow all over the city, when suddenly BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, another one wants you out of their way, there is no place these bikes won’t go, so beware at all times.


And don’t be fooled by the dual carriageway system, oh no, you look at the road and think “ok, so this is for the traffic heading West and the opposite side is for the traffic heading East” makes sense right?  But oh no, the traffic could be heading in any direction on any side of the road, don’t get me wrong, most of the vehicles like cars and buses and trucks do follow the rules most of the time, but no one else does.  On one of my walks back to Mrs Pandas hostel one night, which is pretty central and within the busier roads in the city, I saw a young girl of about 18 cycling in the middle of the road on a dual lane one way road, which was jam packed with cars at peak time, these two lanes were not as wide as some of the other roads, as it ran alongside the river, but she was trying to balance in between the cars and she was going in the OPPOSITE direction.  Astounding!!  Yet I only ever saw one accident, which was pretty minor, a slight bump when the cars were in one of the many traffic jams.



They have traffic lights at most junctions and when the green man starts flashing, again, don’t be fooled into thinking you are safe to cross the road, not always.  Just like in America vehicles can still turn right on a red light but unlike America, where, if there is someone on the crossing, on the right, they have right of way, NOT IN CHINA, in China the car is king, so you need to be aware at all times that you could get knocked down unless you seriously watch what you are doing.  No iPod while walking the streets of Chengdu.  If you come across a normal zebra crossing, don’t think that if you wait on the edge of the pavement that anyone will stop for you, because they won’t, if you want to cross it is up to you to dodge the traffic and go for it when you find a space, which could similarly apply to crossing anywhere on the road, even if no crossing is present, however I like to try and find a crossing, therefore if I do get knocked down then at least I have something in my favour!! LOL!!


Even though this city life is mad, I love it, it makes me smile every time I am at a junction just watching the clamour for space, when the lights change and the masses begin to move again, it is a fascinating sight to behold and can keep me mesmerised as I try and capture this hubbub with my iPhone camera!!! And bang, I miss my cue to vehicle dodge, dicing with death, yet again on another crossing; alas I will wait for the next light change!!



China Life!

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So far, so good, or not good, whichever way you look at it, I love the idea of living in China and starting my new life but I miss my children so very much, so much more than when I was traveling for fun.  It is all really exciting but there are also many teething problems, from the course itself to Wi-Fi, vpn’s, hostel accommodation, translation problems, bank accounts, phone sims etc. etc.


There are so many differences between the Western world and China that I think I will have to re learn everything from a Chinese perspective.  Everything and I mean everything is difficult, there is no familiarity in anything you do or anywhere you go.  Usually when you visit any country you always find some kind of comfort in some things which are similar to your own country, like when in a country that speaks another language you can at least decipher some words by comparing them to an English similar word, like toilet and toilette in France but in China that is impossible, because everything is written in symbols.  The Chinese have developed a way of writing their symbols in letter form which is called Pinyin which helps people decipher the symbols and it also does make it easier to learn the language BUT it is still hard to translate because Pinyin is not used by natives it’s the symbols that are are used all the time, everywhere, on shop signs, on menus, on street signs, receipts, just everywhere!  (not sure why I seem surprised by this)


It is surprising how we subconsciously are able to translate in other countries that have alphabets similar to ours, but we just can’t in China at all and this makes it so much harder to do anything!!  The food is very different, none of it looks familiar apart from the rice and noodles, but all the stuff they put in with the rice and noodles is unfamiliar.  They have weird liquid with all sorts of stuff floating in it, such as a brown liquid resembling coke with chunks of jelly and brown bits, with cream colour bits sprinkled on the top, it is supposed to be nice but how can we try these things when we have no idea what is in there, it’s so hard to find out, because even when a native who speaks our language, explains the ingredients, we’re still none the wiser because we,ve have never heard of them.



I am a pretty fussy eater so I just have to learn the language in order to eat better, so far I have just been pointing to food which looks familiar, I pointed to something I thought looked like green beans, it turned out to be some kind of melon, which had been pickled and tasted very bitter, I didn’t like it but I’m sure it would have been really good for me.


I need to experiment more and I do intend to when I know more of the Chinese language.  I literally can’t learn fast enough.


Today I went to a Chinese supermarket, I bought some apples, crisps, and some sausage things, all the rest of the stuff I had no idea what it was!! I am so lost here, there is so much to learn but it is a huge challenge that I intend to conquer.


Hardly anyone speaks English, not that I think they should,  but it just makes things more difficult, they are very helpful and try their best and it is surprising how you can be understood by using some Chinese and mostly hand signals but the language barrier is so, so frustrating, I wish I had learned more before I came.


We have Chinese people helping us to sort everything out but because the Chinese government are so strict on every little thing, it all takes a very long time, there are so many hoops to jump through for everything.


In order to get a visa there is so much you have to do before you even get to the country.  I am here on an X1 visa which is a study visa which means I can study and do some work while here, but if I wanted to work full time I would need a Z visa and these are mostly only available to those with degrees and lots more information including DBS checks, Health Certificates etc etc!!


My visa has not been stamped with the amount of days I am allowed to stay, even though I have been granted a visa for a year and this means I cannot open a bank account with the preferred bank because they will not allow me to open it without the number of days displayed on the visa, the only way around it is to get my residents permit which I need to get within 24 hours of moving into my apartment.  I am not moving into my apartment till next week.


I tried to get an account with a different bank which was allowed, only because of my circumstances, but for that account I need to have a China phone number, they took my details, filled out the forms then they phone the United Nations to check up on me, if all is ok they then ring me to come back to the bank to open the account.


I need to get a Chinese sim card but even that is complicated and we end up spending hours at China mobile with an interpreter helping us.  There are queues everywhere you go and you just have to wait in line.  I want to buy a phone over here but everything is in Chinese and you can’t change the settings so I’ll have to give that a miss.



The difficulties settling into a new country are many, but the new culture has many interesting positives, the bike hire system is wonderful, you set up an account on your wechat to scan the QR code of the bike and you just jump on, ride wherever you want, leave the bike there and you get charged for how long you use it, which is usually very little for a whole day.  You can find a bike practically anywhere you go, they are left all over the city, there are so many, and you will never have a problem finding one.


Wechat which I already mentioned is similar to WhatsApp, but over here everyone and I mean everyone uses it, not just to communicate but to pay for goods, advertise or market any products, group chats, business group, get togethers, you name it you can do it on WeChat.  Even the most rustic trader in the backstreets of Chengdu will accept payment with QR code which means you scan the code into your already set up WeChat bank account and the money goes straight to the vendor.




They seem so advanced technologically but so behind in every other way.  They still use squatty toilets, now the last time I was in China we stayed in fancy hotels, such as the Sheraton in Nanjing and the International at Beijing which had proper Western toilets and I naturally assumed that most places did, obviously during my time here we came across the squatties but I stupidly thought that over time they would gradually be replaced with Western toilets.  It was 2009 I was here last so you would think that in 8 years they would have caught up right???? Wrong!! How ignorant of me to assume they wanted to, of course they don’t, because they like using their squatties as they find them more hygienic than Western toilets, so there was no intention of “catching up” Stupid me!!!!!


By squatty toilet I mean a hole in the floor with a china toilet bowl inlaid into the hole with ridged areas either side which are supposed to be non-slip, for you to place your feet while you squat over the hole? Apparently this is more hygienic? Hygienic my arse!!! I am petrified of falling in, the non-slip pads are not always non slip and you almost always splash pee on your feet!! Especially if you are out having few drinks!!  These toilets are everywhere; you might be lucky and find one single Western toilet at the end of a row of squatties but most often not!!  I have stipulated that I don’t mind immersing myself in everything Chinese but I must have a Western toilet in my apartment please, please, please!!!!!


The joys of living in China are many, watching the Tai Chi and Qi gung along the riverbank every morning, hoping one day to join in, the beautiful gardens and parks, the amazing Bonsai gardens.  And the people are so friendly, mostly anyway.  My first impressions of China this time are mixed, but this time I will be working and studying here for a longer time, whereas the last time I was only here for a month.  I’m sure that once I start work the time will go quickly and I will be home with my darling children in no time.  Thankfully there is Facebook messenger and Whatsapp so I can contact them whenever, although not too often, don’t want to get on their nerves!!!

shipThere is so much to say about China and I’m sure this will give me so much to write about for the next year!  Hope you enjoy learning about this wonderful yet daunting country, through my blog!