A Travellerspoint blog

A Very Wuhan Christmas

It feels like Wuhan has been getting ready for Christmas since I got to China, and in a way, it has. The musical street cleaners have been blasting Jingle Bells constantly and every time my washing machine finishes a load I am treated to a rendition of the same mechanical musical tune. Wuhans Christmas spirit is year long, but it's fixated on the trappings of Christmas, the tinsel and the glitter. China loves to shop and as Christmas in China is the shopping day of the year, China loves Christmas. On Christmas day at midnight, I’m told that the streets will be filled by the consumer conscious masses barging forward to get the newly discounted Christmas merchandise. At which point I imagine that the carefully painted snowflakes in the windows of the stores and the illuminated Christmas trees will be pretty unimportant next to getting discounted handbags and electricals.

While the Wuhan-ese have adopted this glitz and trappings of the holiday I’m still feeling homesick. Although jingle bells is pounding and my ears, all the shop windows are bedecked with tinsel and fake snow,the hotel next to my school has a gingerbread house which is essentially a shed covered in cake, I am still missing home. The little things that make a British Christmas; Baileys with my housemates, warm mince pies with cream and the smell when you just took the lid off of a box of Quality Street. I want next-day turkey sandwiches, Christmas crackers, cheesy jokes, paper hats and my family quarreling merrily, a little drunk all around me.

I’ve decorated my little room, and tried to make it as festive as possible, my little Christmas tree, while tacky and minute, cheered me up significantly.
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And I was so happy to receive, in time for Christmas, a parcel from home. This is why Mums are the best, my little box of Christmas made me ecstatic and sparked my Christmas spirit. I don’t think I could of ever imagined how excited I could be by Heinz tomato soup.
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Whatever I say about my students, they can be loud and obnoxious and there are days that I would gladly never ever see them again but then there are days, like today, when I actually love the little beasts. My naughtiest class, who never stop talking and can drive me crazy, today presented me with a beautiful Christmas cake. They sang Jingle Bells and danced to Gangnam style for me. It renewed my faith a little bit, my students are good, sweet kids. They were quiet all lesson as well, I didn't even have to shout, my own little Christmas miracle.
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Tomorrow I’ll be going to celebrate Christmas day in Hong Kong. Where I’ll have myself a very Hong Kong Christmas. You'll hear all about it asap.

Until I get a chance to write again, have a brilliant Christmas.

Posted by Jessica_l_ball 05:21 Comments (0)

Wuhan University International Culture Festival

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Wuhan has several large university campuses, this weekend we visited one of these campuses to have a look at the annual Wuhan University International Culture Festival, an event we had heard about through some of our American friends who would be helping out grilling chicken for the USA stall. The festival is held to celebrate the cultural diversity of the university's student body and allow the students to share information about their country and cultures. The atmosphere was amazing, the feel of universities the world over even though now I find myself slightly tinged with bitterness next to the carefree student teenagers who don't have a stack of marking for tomorrow weighing on their mind and can just get drunk.

On arrival at the festival you could buy a fake passport in which you were encouraged to take to each 'country' and get a visa and short message written by the students at that stand.
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The festival was huge and varied with each country sharing a little of their individual culture India had bhangra, The African stalls had bass heavy music and tantalising scents wafting from open barbecues, Korea were rocking Gangnam style, Mongolia had a yurt and the French were handing out delicate little pastries. England, had nothing. Not represented by any English students the English stall stood empty and boring with little interest or care in a country that usually fascination in Chinese students. We have castles, tea parties, fish and chips, the royal family and Harry Potter! After seeing how our great nation had fallen we decided unanimously to come back the next day and sort England out.

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The evening was spent making bunting and posters and the next day we returned and did what the English do best, we took over and sorted people into orderly queues. To a soundtrack of The Clash, Blur, Pulp and The Sex Pistols as well as other British artists, we signed passports and had our photo's taken steadily for the next few hours. We were asked to sign our love to people, write our phone numbers and take photo's with children, this was the closest we were likely to get to being famous and we milked it for all it was worth. I was asked to sign a text book from Sir Isaac Newton, I was confused but I did it.
Hours later we left with inflated ego's, blistered hands and temporary blindness from excessive photograph taking.
It was though an awesome weekend, the carnival atmosphere of the festival was so much fun.It gave me so many ideas for countries that I want to visit and gave us the opportunity to meet some of the students from the university, with whom we had dinner and are going to be keeping in touch with.
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Posted by Jessica_l_ball 21:38 Archived in China Tagged culture china teacher festival teaching wuhan tefl wuchang www.theroadjesstravelled.com wuhan_university Comments (0)

An American Thanksgiving in China

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One of the best things about living in Wuhan compared to other Chinese cities is the large amount of foreigners. I’m really enjoying the chance to find out about not only Chinese culture but also spend some time with people from other English speaking countries such as Canada and America. This week as, it held the fourth Thursday in November, I celebrated my very first American thanksgiving.

Shannon, one of the American teachers at my school organised a huge outing to Aloha in Hanyang, an American owned diner-style restaurant which prides itself on home-cooked classic American food. There was a full thanksgiving menu including canapés, wine, turkey dinner and the holiday favourite pumpkin pie. I have to say that it wasn’t a patch on my Dads Christmas dinner, but it was also one of the most nostalgically delicious things I have ever eaten. Mashed potato! Broccoli! Homemade stuffing! All the familiar favourites as well as more eccentric American additions such as cranberry sauce with chopped up marshmallows, all drowned, in a stereotypically Northern manner, in lashings of thick gravy.
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The biggest cultural difference came when I had to explain to the present Americans that “its just like Marks and Sparks” about the canapés is the highest compliment. Where they questioned how it could be that much of a compliment, saying it resembled supermarket food, I found myself saying that it “wasn’t just supermarket food, it was Marks & Spencer supermarket food . . .”
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It worked out as actually the most expensive thing I have had to eat since I got to China, working out at 188kwai (around £18.80) compared to the 3kwai noodles I often eat for dinner. Apart from the price though it really was good food and I will definitely be going back to Aloha when I next get homesick food cravings.

Posted by Jessica_l_ball 05:04 Archived in China Tagged food thanksgiving american wuhan wuchang hanyang pumpkin_pie Comments (0)

Bonfire night in China

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Bonfire night, the cold nipping at your nose while flecks of ash burn through your autumnal finery. There’s nothing like bonfire night in the UK, but in China, while there is a lack of bonfire toffee, parkin and chilli con carne, the fireworks are far far superior.

Where fireworks are used throughout the day here to celebrate momentous occasions such as weddings and . . . *ahem restaurant openings, somehow we didn’t anticipate how unhappy the Chinese would be with a large group of westerners setting fireworks off from the penthouse balcony in a residential block of flats, our bad. So after giving up on fireworks from the roof we retired to an abandoned car park and carried on there.

Never having been irresponsible enough a child to play with fireworks, constantly terrified by television advertisements of kids with no hands crying, it was surprising how quickly I took to throwing fireworks around with childlike abandon and running from fire crackers thrown at my feet.

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Bumble bees have to be my favourite firework here, a handheld firework that once lit you have around 3 seconds to throw, at which point it will do one of two things, shoot up into the sky twirling as it goes, or erratically start flying all over the place around head height. Suffice to say much squealing was done as well as frenzied running around. Happily though we all survived and I went from being a girl who wouldn’t contemplate holding a sparkler in an un-gloved hand to someone who can’t wait til new Year and the chance to throw fireworks it’ll bring.

I tried to spread the joy of bonfire night to the classroom as well. I got the kids to recite ‘Remember, remember’ and explained the history of bonfire night and why we celebrate it. I did though have serious issues explaining the words gunpowder and explosion to my grade 7’s, to the extent that to my 240 students understanding, Guy Fawkes tries to assassinate King James using acme style sticks of dynamite and cartoon black ball bombs, but I think they got the overall idea. We played a couple of games of Guy Fawkes hangman, which unlike the traditional game, has the added levels of being hung, drawn and quartered. You lose when finally a picture of a bonfire engulfs the chalkboard Guy.


For more stories about what I'm getting up to in China, photos and teaching activities please look at www.theroadjesstravelled.com

Posted by Jessica_l_ball 06:26 Archived in China Tagged children night china teacher fireworks guy teaching wuhan lessons bonfire tefl wuchang fawkes Comments (0)

Halloween in China

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Seeing as my classes have to finish a test this week, as added incentive to do well, I had promised that if I was impressed they would get a Halloween lesson. Who was I kidding? I wanted to deliver a Halloween lesson so desperately, they knew they were getting one, even if all they did was scribble ‘hello my name is pencil’ all over the test.

Fortunately my kids performed excellently on the test so I didn’t have to demonstrate my weak will and lack of follow through and got to celebrate Halloween properly.

I LOVE Halloween. So much. I love the orange and black, dressing up and the sensation of pumpkins squidging into my nailbeds as I scrape out their insides. It’s probably my favourite holiday and whereas last year I spent Halloween drunk dressed as the murderous and sexually non-discriminatory transvestite Frank-N-Furter, this year will have to be a bit more family friendly. I am planning on revisiting the Halloweens of my childhood to teach the Chinese youth about the joy of wandering around in the half dark with the smell of fireworks in the air, cajoling your neighbours into giving you sweets and loudly demanding that you know THEY ARE home because you can see them moving even though they’ve turned their lights off and not to be so stingy with their sweets.

Halloween was the time for me and my cousins to don bin bags made into capes, wear facepaint and fake blood that would invariably give us some sort of rash the next day and wander the streets feeling like the night was OURS. Pie and peas with the family with the monster mash and Micheal Jacksons thriller playing in the background. The taste of bonfire toffee peeled from a sticky tart case and the fight over who got the biggest haul and would anyone swap an apple for a snickers.

Halloween has always been a favourite, quitting Brownies when an over ambitious vicar asked me to choose between church and my favourite holiday. I haven’t been back to church, whereas I celebrate Halloween every year. Because he was wrong, it isn’t unholy or blasphemous, it let me celebrate with my family, I felt free and glad to be alive, also I got to wear those awesome plastic witch fingers.

So this Halloween I found myself in China, the night before I had planned to give my halloween themed lessons I found myself questioning the point of trying to conjure enthusiasm about halloween in my students, that was round about the time the 80th of 120 cardboard pumpkins was sticking to my hand rather than to the correct bits of paper. Though the day was worth it. Halloween in China was awesome.

After explaining about the origins and customs of Halloween I got my students to name different kinds of costume they might see at Halloween, it took a while but one of them finally volunteered mummy. I had been counting on this and at that point whipped four toilet rolls out of my bag. The game was simple, there would be four teams and the first to create a fully covered mummy would win.

After the chaos of mummy wrapping I got the students to sit and decorate the pumpkin cards I had painstakingly been making for the last three evenings. As they were finishing off I drew the curtains and waited for the attention to fall on me. This is one of my favourite parts of Halloween, the scaring. I wanted the students to practise their public speaking and try making their own Halloween story, to get them started I told a couple of my own first. The first story about the murder of a pet dog by a devilish unknown monster got me some horrified looks but it was the telling of ‘Johnny, I want my liver back’ that got the best reaction. If anyone remembers, ‘Johnny’ is the tale of a little boy who is fed by his penniless mother, the liver of a recently hung criminal. At night little Johnny is haunted by the murderer on the first, second, third step and on until the audience is silent and rapt listening to the story teller whisper “Johnny, I’m on the tenth step, I want my liver back.” Then finally the storyteller grabs a member of the audience and shouts “I’M IN YOUR BEDROOM!” This without fail sent each of my classes squealing but the best reaction by far was Henry and Milly who between them fell from a chair and burst into tears, though it was quickly followed by hysterical laughter.

So I got to wear a witches hat, traumatise some kids and eat enough sweets to make my teeth hurt. All in all, how could it of been a bad day? Halloween wins every other day once again.

Posted by Jessica_l_ball 08:00 Comments (0)

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