The life and times of Kunming

We are now settled in Kunming, China. It’s been a bit crazy since we arrived as starting all over again requires a lot of work – new country, new job, new language, new people, new apartment, new visas etc… it’s almost never-ending. We’ve spent the last three weeks or so in a kind of haze where we get up go into work and do lots of training during the day and then teach classes in the evenings and all day teaching at the weekends. It’s been exhausting.

We’ve finally finished the training element which means I now have a bit of time today to update my blog. I wanted to update with what happened in Vietnam first but figured most will want to know what’s actually happening now, right? I’ll have to update with Vietnam later.

So, we got picked up from the airport by the school’s welfare officers Carina and Swindy and after dropping off our bags at a hotel we were immediately taken to the school to meet our new boss, Will and find out our training schedules. No one seemed to have expected us to show up and it was lunch time so we were quickly told that we’d be starting the next day (Saturday) which is the beginning of their busy weekend period where we arrive for about 8.30 and leave around 18.00 or 20.40 if you’re on a late and the earlier shift again on a Sunday. We would be watching other teacher’s classes all weekend and were told to take notes so we could gather ideas before training began the following Wednesday.

We then spent our days off, Monday and Tuesday, looking for an apartment. It was an epic search around all of south Kunming and by Monday 9pm we had found the flat we wanted and by Tuesday 11pm we were able to move in. However, our Chinese landlord basically just walked out the door not only without cleaning about 5 years worth of grime in the kitchen but also didn’t take any of his stuff – right down to his toothbrush. So over the next week or so we began a tug of war via our welfare officer Carina to get him to come back and take away all of his junk – we think he was a bit of a hoarder for example he had left two crates of Budweiser beer in the cupboards but it turned out they expired in 2009! He also had a bit of a jungle going on in terms of plants and we had to fight hard to get him to take them given how cluttered they made our apartment and with the very little amount of stuff we have with us it should be practically spartan.

Three weeks into living in Kunming and our flat is finally a habitable space where we can sleep, cook and wash. Amazing!

Here are some photos of our new (clean) apartment and the view from the 27th floor of Kunming by night and day.

50/50 Teaching.

After we had secured our apartment it was back to work for a gruelling 5 days of training, meetings, observations and at the weekend 50/50 classes where we would take the first 50 mins and another teacher would take the second half. This wouldn’t have been so bad except everyone has a different style and approach to teaching and we found it difficult to adjust to 7 different teaching styles and trying to teach a syllabus we were unfamiliar with. It was a baptism of fire.

It’s also very weird having another teacher in the room. When we were in Loei we were just given an A4 bit of paper that had a list or topics such as colours or weather written on it and this was our syllabus and we were let loose among 50 students per class and told to just do our best. Shane is very different, in a good way, but it’s incredibly weird to be sat with a bunch of kids you don’t know and they don’t know what’s going on either only that this random white person is teaching them when their real teacher is sat in the corner making notes.

The feedback we received was actually very positive and aside from one class I had with some surly looking 13 year olds who just didn’t want to be in a classroom on a Sunday morning, I’d say the 50/50’s went reasonably well.

That said we’re both very happy to no longer be doing 50/50’s and we now have a mixture of our own brand new classes, some cover classes to cover teacher holidays and some take over classes from the guy who left.

Overall, we’re still enjoying teaching and my favourite classes are the ones that are brand new to Shane as they haven’t been molded into one teacher’s way of doing things yet so they’re a nice clean slate for us. Before we started I especially was worried about teaching formal grammar to teenagers and adults but I was dropped init from day one with an adult class and two teenage classes so I’ve actually surprised myself with my own knowledge and been able to remember linguistic terminology and give examples when teaching so not too shabby after all!

We’re now in a phase where we’re beginning to find our feet with the course materials and get to know our students names and the CT (Chinese Teachers who act as classroom assistants) for each class. The first couple of weeks were quite rocky but we got through it and now I’ve started thinking about what to do for my birthday next weekend 😀

The Tibetan Restaurant.

We were invited to a Tibetan restaurant as one of our colleagues was leaving and it was another’s birthday. The food featured all sorts of interesting things such as yak meat and yak butter/cheese, lotus leaf and thankfully potatoes, mushrooms, and broccoli too.

The meal (although very heavy) was delicious and the yak meat had been slow roasted so it was very tender. After our meal some of the other teachers were pulled up to dance around the tables to some interesting Tibetan singing. See the video below for a quick clip. (NB all the white people you see are the people we work with.)

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