3 of us who will be working in Dulwich High School, Suzhou, need to obtain our working visa. Because we aren’t teachers in our previous life we have had to take a crash course in TEFL. A government approved course. We are staying at and having our course at the Beijing Foreign Experts Hotel. It is close to line 10 and line 2 and just next door to the Olympic Park – the Bird’s Nest and the Cube.
The course consists mostly of having lectures but we do have to team teach a micro 35 minute lesson. My partner and I have already done our icebreaker. Technology failed us, so we had to implement Plan B!
In the room that I am sharing with Leigh (will be my colleague next year) our air conditioning is feeble, but our curtains are amazing, sun rise is very early and our curtains are blackout. Our wifi is not automatic and after a day of having wifi in our room, it stopped working. A man came up to help, entered our room, and turned on the switch labelled table. Bingo – wifi.
The classroom is full of Americans who are all going to work at Disney English and whilst I have been typing this I have been subjected to a rendition of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”. One thing though is that they are very enthusiastic and can get us into Disney Shanghai for free when it eventually opens next year!
There are tests throughout the course and we have a final exam on Monday, so I am engaging in most of it! As part of the visa application process you need to do an online test containing psychological testing, multiple choice answers on questions on Chinese culture and language knowledge , an essay about the difference between old and young Chinese when thinking about money, relationships and work. Thankfully I have passed the test. I scored appropriately in the psychological testing (I am not mad, depressed, or wild), scored 67 on the Chinese culture questions and 91 on the essay!
When not couped up in the classroom we have had to find our own lunch and dinner. Whilst we have had quite a long lunch break we can’t venture too far. The three of us have found a small restaurant at the back of the hotel compound, which so far has not been frequented by any of our classmates. So far we have spent between 5 and 8 pounds on lunch for 3 people.
Dinner has been an adventure each night. The first night, we went searching for a micro brewery. We didn’t find it, but we ended up in a Hutong and ate Chinese dishes at a rooftop restaurant. A Hutong is an alley of 30 feet wide with shops, houses, restaurants co-existing in these neighbourhoods often kilometres long.
As some of you know I hate beer. I have not had a conversion. So I asked for something other than beer and was duly offered whisky, gin or ginger beer. I took the gin – but there was no tonic. So I had a measure of a 10 year Aran Malt with ginger beer. Very refreshing but to the whisky coniseurs probably a ruination. But there was no food.
Leigh and I had spotted on the main alley of the hutong an Italian restaurant, Mecante. There were a couple of westerners on the veranda and it looked inviting and decent. We ate inside a rusticly decorated small restaurant. Rich and I had imported Mongolian Beef which was tender, succulent and well worth it. On paying, we have been conditioned to ask for a Fapiao (tax receipt). Disaster struck though, the man’s Fapiao machine was not working. The Italian owner was very apologetic and has agreed to send the Fapiao onto school for us. We stumbled on the restaurant, but as we were leaving some Italians arrived. A mark of an excellent eatery.
You can’t come to Beijing and not have Beijing Duck. Research told us to go Da Dong. We arrived by taxi at an office block. Somewhere it was written on a website that it was on the 5th floor. So up we go, only to find closed offices. We asked at the shop, Seven 11, and were duly directed to the back of the building.
After entering, we had a drink at the bar and then waited for a table infront of the 5 fires that were roasting the many, many ducks. The glass fronted kitchen allowed us a view of the log fires with the ducks being put in, and taken out. Rich and I ordered our duck titled VIP duck. We weren’t sure what made it VIP, but for 20 RMB more we didn’t think it would break the bank!
Da Dong is “the” place to go, we waited approximately 30 minutes for our table which allowed us to peruse a fairly comprehensive menu which was the length of my elbow to the tip of my fingers, and about an inch and half thick, we had plenty to choose from. At 288RMB a duck, and 12RMB each for condiments I thought it was fairly priced. We stayed away from the Lobster Soup “Cross Bridge” Humphead Wrasse at 2180 RMB or the bottle of 2009 Chateau Lafite Rothschild Pauillac Grand Cru Classe 1er Cru at 22800RMB.
Our duck arrived complete with Chef. (Remember that additional 20RMB). It was carved at the table, the waitress showed us how to make up the duck pancakes by dipping the duck in the sauce, smearing the duck over the pancake to coat it in sauce, putting onion on it and folding the pancake all with the use of chopsticks.
We were also told to dip the duck skin in sugar. Delicious. It was melt in the mouth.
Finally we were given a sesame bun to fill with duck, sauce, garlic, honeydew melon and cucumber. Unusual but lovely. It was a lovely dinner at a place renowned for its duck!
Having had such great meals for 2 nights we didn’t think we could replicate it. One of my friends suggested Sanlitun and a Vietnamese and Mexican Restaurant. We found a bar down a back alley and then a man selling mohitos on the street. In Britain you would not think of drinking on the street, certainly not with a Police Station a couple of buidlings down. The measures were generous. We also found the Mexican and Vietnamese restaurant. The restaurant served both foods. Certainly not expected but the rooftop restaurant was in a nice bustling part of town. Embassies, high end shopping and lots of restaurants and bars.
Having had a relatiively late night on Thursday, on Friday we decided to eat at a close restaurant. We had spied an interesting building that looked Morrocan, sandstone that looked old. We walked to it, but saw no one inside at the tables. We walked in, the three “waitresses” looked at us, we said 3 people. n They looked at us, we looked at them. I said fandian (restaurant) they made an eating gesture, then said no (in Chinese) . We made a hasty retreat. We think it was either a Spa or a hotel. We ended up walking to the tube, going to Line 10 and going to the Hutong that we had gone to the first evening. We ordered Pizzas, salads, prawn rolls, spicy wedges. We were in bed by 10pm.
On Saturday the pollution was high, nearly 200. We started the week with blue skies and low pollution. The pollution was even lower than Suzhou. Now on Sunday the pollution AQI Is 276. Yesterday despite the heat and pollution the 3 of us ventured to Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City. From the tube stop, Tianamen East, we went into an underpass and into a queue to have our bags x-rayed , water tested and bodies scanned for metal. With only one scanner at our point of entry we were frustrated.
From the Square we went into the Forbidden City which was immense. We paid our 60 RMB entrance fee. We only had 90 minutes before they closed it. At 4.30pm they closed the shops and at 5pm they played music over the tannoy. We were in the Imperial Garden when this happened and they began closing the gates. We were shepherded out of an exit a long way from the metro station that we had originally exited. We tried to get a taxi and failed. Best foot forward and with the help of an ebike taxi (he directed rather than gave us a lift) we got to a more convenient station.
The Forbidden City was quieter than we expected, probably due in part to going at the end of the day. It was large and the heat oppressive so it was never going to be an in depth tour. The buildings you can only peer into so that they are protected, but you can get a feel for the place as to how it would have been in the 1400’s.
After this adventure we went to the Olympic Park. Took some photos and left.
For our micro teaching session we needed to print work sheets. We had been told that there was a print shop nearby. No specific directions. Last night Rich and I ventured out in the general direction of where we had been told to go. We went into a shop that had a printer, but they couldn’t help us, perhaps because it was a photographic print shop. However, next door was an estate agent who took pity on us and so 30 copies later and for free we left.
Finally Rich and I taught our session in 34 degree heat. We were the last session of the day. During the day we were immersed in lessons as 3 year olds, 10 year olds, as students learning microeconomics to the 4 seasons and pieces of clothing.
I challenged the pronunciation of ZEBRA, the word pants for trousers, but equally someone picked me up for my spelling of centre.
Tomorrow is the exam.