Thoughts on TEFL as a job and lifestyle

I know, I know, it’s been a year since I last updated here and you’re wondering what happened or more likely you lost interest about 11.5 months ago and are trying to remember who I am.

Well, this post is going to be half update and half tying up loose ends. My domain name subscription of dreamingofmore.com ends on August 1st and I’m not renewing it.

This essentially means that you can’t type in http://www.dreamingofmore.com after this date and land here because I will no longer own the domain name. However, this place will still exist at its previous address; which unfortunately doesn’t have quite the same ring to it but here it is:

www.nomadictravelandwork.wordpress.com

Secondly, where have we been??? Well, after our trip to Dali to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary we then spent July ‘till December working our butts off to save every last penny we made and so we didn’t do any more travelling during that time. On December 13th we left Kunming, China and flew home via Hong Kong back to the UK.

Shane last day

Our last day at Shane English School

We then spent 3 days in London acclimatising to the time zone change and getting Jack an updated passport as it was due to expire. The first thing I brought was a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate. Sadly there isn’t any in China.

After this, we then travelled down via coach to the south-west to spend a week with my parents and then a week with Jack’s over Christmas and New Year whilst also stocking up on much-needed necessities.

Come January 4th 2016 we then made our way to Bristol airport and were flying out again to get some winter sun in Morocco. We spent about 2.5 weeks split between Marrakech, Essaouira and Casablanca.

It was during our time in Morocco that we finally had a chance to think clearly about what we wanted to do next and so after over 2 years of going on about it, we got the next flight out of Casablanca to Vienna, Austria via Madrid.

Luckily, we were able to buy some thermal coats in Casablanca (although we did get some funny looks) and so we were prepared for the arctic weather in Vienna and found a nice place to stay for a week whilst we did a bit of sightseeing. After a week I was convinced I had been right all along and I was actually an Austrian trapped in an English girl’s body and wanted to make Wien my new home. We decided to take a week in Graz (close to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s home town) and we enjoyed the laid back life whilst I planned an extended stay for us both in Vienna as we decided to look for TEFL work there.

Job Hunting

We stayed in a nice guesthouse I found via AirBnB for about a month whilst looking for TEFL work. Unfortunately, we soon realised that as we didn’t speak German and jobs were very thin on the ground it just didn’t seem like things were going to work out.

So with the aid of TEFL.com we broadened our search to the whole of Europe, which in February effectively left us with Italy and Spain and the odd under-paid freelance positions dotted around Prague and Bratislava. We both simultaneously applied for singular and joint jobs as we were running out of funds and getting desperate with all of our earthly belongings still at my parent’s house in Devon which complicated matters and had me cursing all the travel bloggers that talk about the benefits of travelling light as we were now facing having to do Skype interviews through an IPad and recording demo classes in a guesthouse bedroom.

Eventually, we were in a position where we had several options open to us (though none of them spectacular) and we chose the job with the best salary to hours ratio. Unfortunately, there was only one position though and it was a 4-month gig in Spain with no promises of work through July to September before we could both be taken on.

And that was the best of the bunch believe me!

Spain

So with the job in the bag, we made a quick dash back to the UK and did a 48hr turn around whilst sorting through all of our long-term things as well. Then got on a flight to Madrid, Spain stayed one night and saw nothing before getting up at the crack of dawn for a 3hr train ride down to the desert town of Albacete.

We were met by Jack’s new boss and deposited into a shared house with no Internet for five days whilst we looked for an apartment by night and Jack trained by day. It was exhausting; to say the least.

(I’ll take this opportunity to mention that we had both spent the previous year learning German as we had hoped to end up in either Austria or Germany and so I had no Spanish whatsoever at this point and Jack was beginning to remember his GCSE Spanish from school.)

So, that’s where we’ve been and Albacete is where we are. We’ve been here since the end of February and I’ve just secured a job with the same school starting in mid-September and Jack has been lucky enough to land summer school work with the same company throughout July and he’s got some part time hours over August to keep our heads above water financially.

As we’ve said before, we never do anything by halves and the last year has been pretty crazy. I don’t feel like I’ve had “time off” at all and despite a bit of sightseeing in Vienna and Morocco we spent the majority of our time plotting our next moves and job hunting.

I needed to go to Vienna to get it out of my system and what it made me realise is that it was never about “Vienna” the place; it was about the idea of it. A modern, western city with all that it has to offer. After living through some truly interesting times we both now just want some stability and what I realised I wanted was to relocate somewhere that was a big western city but still held the charm of being somewhere new to explore.

I’ve kept myself busy over the last few months in Spain by working on a variety of projects including starting my own online English business (www.armadaenglish.com), working on improving my health, learning computer coding via codecademy.com and participating in a 9-week job audition for September (yes, really).

We’ve both learnt a lot over the past few years and have decided that this will be our last TEFL job before returning to the UK where Jack intends to start a PGCE and I’m interested in finding work outside of education perhaps in the Tech industry.

Here are my thoughts on TEFL and advice for those considering working abroad.

1. Everyone else doing this has a safety net.

Most of the people that we’ve met doing TEFL seem to have a lot of money and are single or otherwise unattached and in a lot of cases have families that are willing to put them up in their old bedroom upon their return. They even have their friends and families fly half-way across the world just to spend time with them! We have none of that. My personal motto is to only rely on yourself.

So, basically if you don’t have the above it’s still achievable but it’s a lot harder and you may find it difficult to relate to some of the westerners you meet.

2. Teaching English abroad is still a job; it’s not a holiday. Trust me.

When I first told people that we were off to Thailand to teach English I had a lot of people tell me how lucky I was because aside from ignoring the fact that I had worked my ass off for the TEFL certification (whilst planning a wedding and working full time) and been successful in multiple interviews, they seemed to think that I was going on some sort of extended holiday. Ha! If only they knew. I never even walked on a beach until after we left Thailand and we worked from 7:30am to 5:30pm in 30degree heat Monday to Friday teaching kids packed in 50 to a room. It was a real challenge.

3. Your time is not your own

If you’re considering TEFL because you think it will pay your way whilst you travel then think again. For starters you’ll be working all week and expected to make lesson plans, show up to meetings, talk to parents, help out other teachers, organise Christmas, Halloween, Easter and various other holiday-related shows, games, parties, performances and arts and crafts etc. It is a full-time commitment even if your contract says you are “only” teaching 10 classes. You’ll be in all week, if not teaching then your time will be filled with paperwork, training or even just homework monitoring.

If you want to be a teacher it’s a great experience with the opportunity to travel in-country maybe three times a year if you are good at saving money. If you don’t want to be a teacher, or you don’t care about the students then you have no place in the job and would be better off just going on an extended holiday somewhere.

4. Don’t expect to get rich.

TEFL doesn’t pay very well (especially in Europe) and we only managed to save the money we did in China because of having the both of us work full-time and then we saved one salary whilst essentially living like monks all but for a few trips in our second year there.

5. TEFL will awaken you to what the world is really like and you may not like what you see.

We’ve had people scam us, rip us off, tell us that because we’re white we’re rich and so have to pay the “white price”, we’ve had people tell us that the reason why we are treated differently is because of our race or that we should just “get used to it” because “it’s their culture” when someone acts inappropriately or unprofessional towards us. We’ve had a lot of good and a lot of bad experiences during our time abroad and as a result, I’ve learned to like my own country a lot more.

6. You need to plan for the future.

If you do decide to be a TEFL teacher for more than a year, but then decided to return home, then you need to think about your exit strategy. It’s not always as simple as booking a return flight and you may not be eligible for things that you may otherwise take for granted such as access to a GP, benefits like JSA or you may find it difficult to rent an apartment without any recent credit history.

7. Be prepared for the TEFL-lifers

One thing that we have noticed is that despite the opportunities that TEFL can afford someone who is interested in teaching and travel, most teachers seem to stay in one place or one country. We’ve lived in three countries now and on different continents. If you’re able to apply for jobs using Skype then you can relocate at the end of one contract and transition into another country with your new job. You don’t have to stay in China for the rest of your life just because that’s the first country you’ve lived in since leaving home. A lot of people we met made one move and then settled down, it’s not a bad thing of course but there are probably better ways to make money than through TEFL if you just want to emigrate somewhere.

8. TEFL has given us so many stories.

TEFL has enabled us to explore seven countries, see some amazing sights and meet many interesting people. Without TEFL we probably never would have travelled as extensively and we certainly wouldn’t have got to know people from Thailand, China, Vietnam and Spain not to mention the many westerners we’ve made friends with from Australia, England, America, New Zealand and Ireland. For all the bad times there are good times but as with everything in TEFL it’s a life of extremes.

Final thoughts

My final thoughts on TEFL are that it was totally worth it and I recommend it to young 20 something’s who are single and rich or teaching couples (like us) who can make ends meet in Asia quite well by saving one salary. We’ve grown up a lot since 2013 and it’s opened up so many new doors for us. The experiences we’ve had will stay with us forever and this blog is a small window into that.

 

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Dali Old Town

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For our 2nd wedding anniversary we left the city for a few days to visit the mountain village of Dali.

It took approximately 5 hours by bus each way to Dali and aside from the odd settlement, most of the scenery is that of rural farmland. Dali is a city and just a short drive from the city is the ‘Old Town.’ Dali is perhaps the closest place to get away to from Kunming given Yunnan’s huge distances between locations, it’s also the beginning of many backpacker’s journeys to Tibet.

We stayed at a quiet inn just outside the old town’s walls and we enjoyed absolute peace and quiet in our room with it’s mountain view. When we first arrived the temperature read 33 degrees! It was so hot we hid in a cafe with air-con until the evening before perusing the many tourist shops.

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Dali is essentially a Chinese tourist destination and it’s brimming with people walking along with their selfie sticks and occasionally photographing the few Laowai they meet as though they were baby pandas. At one point we were sat in a window seat of a restaurant and Chinese girls were taking it in turns to pose in-front of the window so that they appeared in the shot with us!

Aside from plenty of cheap tourist shops there was also a good selection of places to eat with lots of Western food options. On our final night we found an Italian called Dolce Vita Dali, and the food there was the best Italian we’ve had outside of Europe. It was delicious.

Aside from mountains, Dali also boasts a rather large lake which normally we would have liked to cycle around or at least explore but after the first day the weather turned grim and heavy rain set in for the duration.

We did visit a small museum though and for 10RMB it was a steal.

Overall, Dali was originally described to us as a haven of western food and an escape from the city that many of the expats here continually return to over and over again. Personally, although I enjoyed getting out of Kunming and having some nice food and relaxation, it’s not somewhere I would personally visit more than once – it just isn’t big enough, and given it’s the rainy season, going up a mountain or round a lake isn’t that appealing either. I’ve found that I like looking at the countryside but I prefer living in a big city, and unfortunately Kunming just doesn’t have enough going on for me.

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We’re looking forward to our next spot of travelling around Europe after Christmas and deciding where to call home based on those travels. I know this much – it’ll have to be a city with lots going on!

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The Great Wall

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall

The Great Wall

We’ve just returned from a trip to Beijing in which we visited the Great Wall, Tianamen Square and The Forbidden City, Hutongs, and The Temple of Heaven.

After much reading online and looking into various tours with our Hostel in Beijing we decided to go against what everyone else told us to do and go it alone without a tour and also to go to the most popular spot, Badaling.

Now, I’ve seen photos of the Badaling wall and to be honest it put me off and I was expecting smog-filled skies, dead land (no greenery) and hundreds of people to the point we wouldn’t be able to get a photo of us next to the wall without several other people in it as well. We were pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful green, mountain landscape, blue skies and although there were a lot of people on the wall, we did manage to get photos of just ourselves.

We also managed to navigate from our hostel using the subway system (which is excellent and has English signs) to the bus station and then get all the way to Badaling (and back again) with no problems! Tour Shmour, who needs a tour!? :p

One of the towers

One of the towers

 

We were very lucky with the weather as when we first arrived in Beijing the air quality wasn’t very good and the sky was grey. But for our day on the wall we had beautiful blue sky and it was also rather hot, as you can see from how red I am in the pictures.

I was surprised by how steep the wall is in places, I had to take a run up at some parts just to get up them and then cling to the wall to get down again. I don’t quite understand why the wall was built over such steep mountains constantly going up and down in such a remote area!? But it made for terrific scenery and our trip to Beijing was totally worth it because of the wall. It meant I got to tick off something that’s been on my to do list for many years now.

I highly recommend going without a tour and going to Badaling, as the weather and the scenery were perfect, and as it is a popular spot you can take a public bus which was roughly 1hr 30mins from the centre of town for just 12RMB each 1-way.

Once you arrive at Badaling you can choose to either walk or take the toboggan ride up and back down to the highest part before beginning your hike – we took the toboggan as it was already midday when we arrived and very hot before we started hiking the wall and this seemed to be what nearly everyone was choosing to do. The entrance fee was 40RMB per adult plus 100RMB for the toboggan up and back again.

The hostel we stayed at was offering tours that would have cost between 700-900RMB for us both and were 3.5hrs away (each way) so we were happy that we decided to save money and yet still have ultimately the same experience.

Below are some photos of us on the wall:

 

Us on the wall

Us on the wall

 

Here is a short video of our first view of the wall:

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Daguan Park

One of my adult students, Amy, recommended that we check out a park in the south of the city near the lake called Daguan Park. So on Tuesday we decided to go for a wander and I’m glad we did.

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Daguan park is very Chinese, in the sense that if you think about the kind of parks we have in cities in England then this is at the opposite end of the spectrum. First of all you have to pay to enter but I think this is a good thing because aside from the money going toward the upkeep of the park it means that it’s not full of teenagers or people causing trouble like you might find back in England. The cost is also low at only 3 rmb each (30p) so it’s still affordable for most people.

Secondly, the park isn’t just an open green space with a swing set and people walking their dogs everywhere. The parks in China are mostly full of older people singing, playing instruments, dancing, doing tai-chi and generally being sociable with other elderly people. It’s very different to England, it would be a much nicer thing to know that the elderly are looked after in that they still have places outside in the city that they can congregate and have fun like they can here in China.

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Thirdly, as it’s China there’s no namby-pamby stuff like guard rails, hand rails and warning signs. We crossed a small bridge where you had to walk along some rectangular stepping stones as the only means of getting from one side of the pond to the other. If this were England there’d be netting, a hand rail, a warning sign and an alternate route. I don’t think this is a bad thing – don’t get me wrong, I don’t particularly like the idea of potentially falling into the lake if I lose my balance but it’s nice how you can just be an adult and not be led by the hand by the nanny-state we have back in the UK. Not to mention it’s a much more interesting stone design without the guard and hand rails.

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Daguan Park, much like other parks we’ve visited in China such as Green Lake, makes you feel like you’ve left the city completely and on a day like we had where the weather’s 25 degrees, blue sky and there’s blossom floating in the air all around you it can feel quite magical.

The park isn’t just for the elderly there were plenty of little kids running around too but it’s nice to see some sense of community and inclusion.

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Chongqing

Chongqing is situated in South-West China approximately 1hr 25min by plane from Kunming. It was once the provisional capital of China during 1937-1945 and it is nowadays home to almost 30 million people. Chongqing has been classed as one of the most polluted cities in the world by the World Bank and is the starting point for many scenic Yangtze river boat tours. We decided to visit Chongqing during the Chinese New Year as it was nearby and not only would it give us the chance to see the Yangtze, but also giant pandas at the zoo and the experience of being in one of the largest cities in China and the world.

Yangtze River

The Yangtze river is one of the main reasons we wanted to visit Chongqing. It is one of the main places where one can take a cruise along the river through China, but we didn’t have quite enough time for that so we settled for visiting the spit of land where the Yangtze converges with the Jialing river, this area is called Chaotianmen.

Chongqing has some interesting bridges and, despite the smog, an impressive skyline of tower blocks on both sides of the river.

 

Arhat Temple

We visited the Arhat Temple whilst in Chongqing, it’s 1000 years old and still has the original stone carvings along the approach. What was interesting about this temple for us is that it had a large room with life-sized painted models of all the previous monks who had lived at the temple but had since died. Each one had something personal that resembled the man such as an animal or interesting clothing and/or expression on his face.

 

The temple was full of Chinese people lighting incense and praying to various deities due to the New Year. I liked the colourful cloth that was hanging inside and looking at all the melted wax outside on the altars.

Ancient Town

There is an ancient town within the boundaries of Chongqing, nestled down by the river in ShaPingBa district, a place called Ciqikou (磁器口) which is supposedly over 1000 years old and (despite the tourism) relatively untouched in terms of architecture. We wandered the heavily crowded streets for a while, taking in the sights and I brought a few miniature Chinese paintings as souvenirs. We happened across two Indian men selling Indian Roti (where they flip the light pastry in the air and spin it) which were delicious and then Jack found a coffee shop up on a terrace looking down at the street where we just people-watched for a bit. Although the area was very busy (no doubt because it was a national holiday) it was really nice just taking in the scenery, having a look at the interesting foods and buying a few souvenirs.

Within the ancient town was a small courtyard which you could pay 10RMB to enter and have a look at the various old photographs from the era and the family that used to live there. We were looking at some interesting pictures about foot-binding when a Chinese family asked to have their photo with us. This had happened before as well whilst we were visiting the pandas and I realised that instead of filming the pandas, I was being filmed with a camera two inches from the side of my face. We don’t mind, it’s actually quite funny, but I’ll never get over how people can be more interested in taking photos of us   rather than the interesting thing that they’ve paid money to come and see.

New Year

On the night of New Year’s Eve we found ourselves lost in one of the biggest cities on the planet. We had been told the day before that there was a western food place that was within a mall and this mall was one of the only places that would be open due to the celebrations taking place. So, at around 7pm we got in a taxi and showed him the business card we had been handed and off we went… about 30 minutes later we’re dropped off but we have no idea where we are in relation to our hotel (we crossed multiple bridges) and worst of all the mall is closed and there’s nothing open or anywhere to eat. The stretch of road where we’ve been dumped is deserted and the taxi is long gone. So we make our way to the nearest bus stop and then hopped on the first bus heading in the direction we just came from. We had no idea where the bus was headed but I hoped we’d be taken to a place where there were more people around. Eventually we got off near an open KTV and it wasn’t long before a taxi approached. After pleading with the guy to take us because he refused at first he finally relented and after another 10 minutes we get back to the hotel.

Lesson learnt – don’t go out during Chinese New Year unless you’re with Chinese friends. Basically, it’s like Christmas day – everyone is at home with their families and everything is shut.

 Verdict

Overall, we enjoyed our trip to Chongqing as we had two main things that we wanted to see/do whilst we were there (see pandas and the Yangtze river) and we managed to achieve them both easily and still have plenty to see and do the rest of the time. If we were to go again we wouldn’t visit during a Chinese holiday due to the amount of places that were closed and the confusion of where to eat on New Year’s Eve. We went for five nights but we could have done everything in five days and four nights. We were quite put off by the amount of smog and pollution and we should have worn face masks really, but we were impressed by the transport options (especially compared to Kunming) such as the metro and it was interesting being in one of the biggest cities on the planet.

Chongqing is definitely worth a visit but pack a face mask and you only need about five days maximum within the city, a few more days if you venture out to Dazu or Fengdu or take a trip down the Yangtze.

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Pandas

It’s Spring festival in China right now, otherwise known as Chinese New Year. This meant that we had last week off work so we were able to jet off to a Chinese city called Chongqing.

Whilst we were in Chongqing one of the main reasons for going was to see the giant pandas. The Chongqing zoo has five giant pandas on loan to them from the nearby Chengdu research facility. When we first arrived at the zoo the pandas were hiding at the back of their enclosures and not wanting to come out, but after persevering we were lucky enough to be there for feeding time which is when they really put on a show.

There are four females and one male panda at the zoo and each had their own enclosure with a decent amount of space and a platform for them to climb and enjoy some food on. One of the pandas was quite playful and was enjoying a game of peek-a-boo with another through a mesh fence and the male panda was lazily scratching himself whilst posing on his feeding platform.

All in all we were very lucky timing wise as I had heard that pandas like to sleep for the most part of the day and aren’t very active otherwise. I managed to get what I wanted photography wise and enjoyed seeing the national animal of China.

 

A little history:

Today, these mostly vegetarian, black and white bears are among the most famous animals in the world (what scientists call “charismatic megafauna”). However, they were practically unknown for centuries, even in China! Indeed, although Chinese artists have constantly depicted black bears and bamboo forests since ancient times, the giant panda was never depicted until the 20th century! Rumors and reports of a strange “white bear” found in Chinese mountains were regarded as myths until 1869, when French missionary Armand David sent the skin of a hunted specimen to Europe. It was only then that pandas were finally accepted by scientists as a real animal. 

Giant pandas were finally seen alive by a European in 1916, when German zoologist Hugo Weigold got to see and buy a cub. (Don’t get excited, they don’t sell baby pandas anymore). As an interesting side note, giant pandas are known in China as the Great Bear-Cat; this is because pandas have vertical pupils, just like cats, but unlike other bears. They were once thought to be giant, aberrant relatives to the raccoon, but DNA testing has proved what seemed obvious from the beginning; that they are a true, if unusual member of the bear family.

Ref: List Verse

Below are some videos of the pandas. More on the rest of our trip to Chongqing in my next post.

Panda eating off belly:

Two pandas playing:

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Store

Today I’ve taken my first step towards monetizing my photography and I wanted to share with everyone how you can now own a unique print from some of the most interesting places we’ve visited around the world.

If you’re on the main website then you can now visit the Store page – this currently has a link to the website that I’m using to sell my photography and in the future I hope to also have other products for sell there as well. In the meantime there are six photographs available and I will be adding more over time.

If you’re reading this via e-mail then here’s the link to the new Store page which links to the site where you can buy my photography in various formats.

PS) Let me know via email or in the comments if there are any particular photos you want from the galleries and I will upload those as a priority 😉

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Seagulls

As yesterday was a nice day we decided to go for a walk by Dianchi Lake in the south of Kunming. However, we were a bit surprised to find the lakeside busy with locals posing for photos whilst feeding seagulls of all things!

 

Feeding the gulls

Feeding the gulls

As it turns out this isn’t so unusual after all as despite my own personal view on seagulls as vermin that steal ice-cream cones and wake you up at 5am when the old lady next door has been out feeding them again – to the people of Kunming they are an annual attraction. Each year in Winter the gulls migrate south from Siberia to settle on Dianchi lake and Green lake for a few months due to the warmer weather. The locals then buy bread to try to entice them to feed from their hand whilst camera toting vendors rush to take a photo of the moment before selling it to them.

It was quite a sight to witness all of these birds squawking and flapping overhead as numerous Chinese tourists gathered for photos of them. Meanwhile, we witnessed a bit of comedy when a woman tried to sell us some bread to feed the birds (to which we declined) and was then immediately chased by three officers on e-bikes for being an un-licenced bread seller. The woman ran away but was quickly stopped due to the large crowds and generally not really giving it her all with the running. The officers took her bag of bread away and gave her a stern telling off before slowly driving away again.

Below are some photos of the seagull madness and one of what we had come to see – the lake with Xishan in the distance.

 

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Terracotta Warriors

For New Year we decided to go away for a few days as we had over a week off work. We decided on Xi’an in central China as we’ve both always wanted to see the Terracotta Warriors and the city of Xi’an has plenty of other interesting things to see and do as well.

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Seeing the Terracotta Warriors is one of those things that’s listed on every must-see when in China lists. Sometimes these things can be over-hyped and a bit of a let down but the Terracotta Warriors were well and truly worth the journey and very cool to see.

The site was originally found by farmers digging in their fields in 1974 and was later sold to the state and more recently became a UNESCO world heritage site and internationally famous tourist hotspot. The warriors depict the army of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. The warriors, horses and chariots were buried with the Emperor when he died 210-209 BCE to protect him in the afterlife.

The statues vary in height but were life-size and the faces were different using a blend of the real soldier’s face and a bit of artistic license. Originally they were also individually painted and there are estimates that between the three pits that are still being excavated there were roughly 8000 soldiers with weapons.

Here’s an image of how they would have looked when originally painted:

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Muslim street.

Aside from visiting the warriors we also spent some time finding out more about the history of Xi’an, exploring it’s many side-streets and visiting other touristy places. One such place is Muslim Street where there are actually quite a few very narrow streets that entwine to form a large market with lots of interesting foods to buy and things to look at. We took a wander down these streets and tried to capture some of it on film, which you can watch below:

Xi’an is also famous for it’s city wall that encompasses the heart of the city (and makes it very east to navigate.) You can actually walk or cycle along the top of the wall but we didn’t have time (and it was freezing cold) but we got to admire it from the taxi ride in and out of the fortification and at night it’s very pretty when it’s all lit up.

Da Yanta or Big (wild) Goose Pagoda.

Da Yanta, as it’s known locally, is a large pagoda surrounded by a complex showcasing Buddhist and Taoist architecture, statues and stories. The most interesting was the story of monk master Xuanzang who journeyed from Xi’an to India.

Courtesy of Wikipedia:

Xuanzang (Chinese: 玄奘; c. 602 – 664), born Chen Hui or Chen Yi, was a Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveller, and translator who described the interaction between China and India in the early Tang dynasty…

…he later travelled throughout China in search of sacred books of Buddhism. At length, he came to Chang’an (Xi’an), then …Xuanzang developed the desire to visit India. He … was concerned about the incomplete and misinterpreted nature of the Buddhist texts that had reached China.

He became famous for his seventeen-year overland journey to India, which is recorded in detail in the classic Chinese text Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, which in turn provided the inspiration for the novel Journey to the West written by Wu Cheng’en during the Ming dynasty, around nine centuries after Xuanzang’s death.

You can pay extra to go inside the pagoda itself but entrance prices were pretty steep and you also have to pay just to walk around the complex so we just admired the view from the complex below.

Delicious Food.

We ate very well in Xi’an and had many feasts of good tasting Western food. We found an Indian restaurant called, Delhi Darbar near the pagoda that served delicious, authentic Indian food and it was very reasonably priced so we went there twice. We also found another restaurant called Caprice that served Western and Italian dishes where I had the poshest mash I’ve ever seen – I thought it was a dessert when it came out, but it was very scrummy. We also found a Pizza Hut and unlike the one here it tasted like Pizza Hut back home and had some really nice black forest gateau dessert too. It was a tad expensive though especially when it’s the first place you go after a flight and checking into your hotel when you’re starving.

 Verdict:

Overall, we had a great time in Xi’an and despite it being the low season we found it was a very good time of year to go as there was no pollution, clear sunny blue skies (although it was rather cold) and not too many other tourists at all of the attractions. We spent New Year’s Eve at the Indian restaurant and then went for a coffee and some green tea cake across the road where we talked about our plans for next year. We weren’t aware of any New Year festivities that may have been taking place and when we tried to ask at the tourist information they were confused as to what we meant. However, we had a lovely hotel that even had heating (Kunming, heating *hint hint*) and some staff who spoke English. The Warriors are about an hour drive out of town and as long as you keep saying no to everyone trying to sell you stuff including guided tours then once  you’re inside you can walk around by yourself and there’s plenty of English everywhere so you don’t need a guide. The pagoda was interesting and definitely worth a look but expensive especially if you’ve just spent 150 each getting into the warriors the day before. That said, Xian is a modern city with plenty to see and do and lots of tasty food. Worth every penny.

 

Music.

On our taxi ride back to the airport our driver put on some music and as I don’t normally get to listen to Chinese music I recorded some using my camera. The video doesn’t have much to look at just the bit between Xi’an city and the airport but the music is cool.

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Christmas

Merry Christmas!

As part of the festivities we had a school Christmas party where we had to perform a short pantomime of Cinderella and oddly a catwalk show. Over 300 families were invited so it was a big crowd and the owner of the school had organised a sit down meal whilst some sort of christmas themed dance, song or skit was performed every 10 minutes or so.

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Jack played the step-mother

It wasn’t the best organised event and the food left a lot to be desired but we had fun performing Cinderella and watching the other acts. I only saw one of my own students that evening but I managed to get some photos with him for his parents so they were very happy.

On Christmas day we went with 30 other laowai to the Australian Bite which was hosting a Christmas dinner. The food was scrummy but the service was awful in that Jack and I had our starter and mains two hours before some others had their main and we had to wait until 9pm for our dessert (we started at 6pm). There just wasn’t enough staff to cope despite the whole thing being pre-arranged but anyway we had some nice turkey and met some Americans that we got on with so that’s the main thing.

Xmas Dinner '14

Christmas Dinner

We’re back to work for the weekend but after that we have holiday until the 6th of January (which is much needed after the past month) and on Monday we are jetting off to Xi’an for 3 nights to check out the city and see the Terracotta Warriors which we’re both really excited about. Expect lots of pics.

Until then: Happy New Year!

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