IT’S FINALLY HERE!!! 😀 😀
WHAT DID I DO?! Went to a rural area in Guandong Province in China for a week, on a cultural exchange with the Yao Tribe, an ethnic minority in China. I was so lucky to get chosen for this trip, as it has the perfect blend of volunteering and cultural stuff. We got to volunteer in five different schools in total- a rural primary, two town primary’s, a high school, and a rural kindergarten over 3 days. The remaining days we were having fun with our cultural exchange.
Before I tell you anymore, the plan for the week was a follows:
Day 1: Arrive early afternoon, Yao Muesum, city primary exchange, explore town square by night.
Day 2: Cutural exchange with high school students in school, 1000 years village
Day 3: School exchange in morning, school exchange in afternoon, Kung Fu in late afternoon, High School by evening.
Day 4: School exchange in morning, school exchange in afternoon, Kung Fu in late afternoon, High School by evening.
Day 5: Final School exchange in morning, school exchange in afternoon, Kung Fu in dojo in late afternoon, packing by evening.
Day 6: Travel to Guangzhou in the morning, spend afternoon exploring and museum (also trip to library with Karen), dinner out in own choice, Travel to Dongguan
Day 7: Play lock in game, visit traditional garden, travel to border.
DAY 1: So we left the school at about 8am, and drove to the Chinese border at Futian- (cue a repeat of Elise’s “Oh my gosh that’s China” incident from the first journey to Hong Kong… Some things never change 😛 ). Crossing the border was surprisingly easy, except for Ebisan getting mysteriously (not) being held back at the border because of his Nigerian passport. It was so funny! My initial impression of China was that it was busy. And it smelt different. We got onto our coach on the other side, and sped away to Liaonning, where we would be spending the majority of our week. It was amazing watching the cities melt away into huge mountains through the bus windows. The Chinese landscape was just so… different to anything I’ve ever seen before. It was mountainous, yet flat at the same time. It was strange, but so beautiful.
We arrived in the early afternoon, after stopping off for lunch in this deserted shopping centre. The food was amazing though, even if I could only just eat it with the chopsticks! The rest of the day was devoted to us learning more about the culture we’d travelled so fr to work with- the Yao Tribe! (Quick note: Yao is just a Chinese term used for ethnic minorities.. in total there are about 55 minority groups.) We visited this massive, new museum that talked all about the Yao culture. It was so interesting… If you can read Mandarin! The majority of signs were in Chinese, so I had to rely (mainly on Monica) to translate for me. The art work and cloths they make are so pretty though, and their costumes are stunning. After we returned to our hotel that evening for dinner, we headed out a city school that we wouldn’t be teaching at, just to show them where we are from and sing some songs for them. I’ll write about the songs we preformed later, because we used the same songs to teach the kids in the other schools. It felt a bit strange wandering into a room and having about 200 tiny pairs of eyes staring at you like you were an alien, but that was a feeling we had to get used to very quickly! We’d prepared a presentation about our countries, and also some different dances. In the presentation I spoke about Wales and the language, and the Queen and our nationwide obsession with tea, and it felt a bit silly because I felt like I was reducing our entire culture to tea and the Queen, but I guess they were really young kids, and everything I said had to be translated (except the fact that I was British… they guessed that!). I was involved with a few dances too, surprisingly, such as Latin American Dance, Pakistani Dance, Country Dance, and Willem and I lead the entire group in the Cha Cha Slide to finish, so it was very successful!
Afterwards, we headed out into the main town square to explore, and had a hysterical time. Everywhere we went, people wanted photos with a group of diverse people- Nuno, Willem and Ebisan were especially popular with the girls 😉 People would literally stop and film you in the street, or just take your photo like you were a wild animal… it took me by surprise at first, and I got pretty creeped out at first, but eventually, you get over it and just go with it. We ended up go-karting around this square, and gatecrashing a huge dance class in the middle of the square, which was a lot of fun, because I can’t dance for love nor money, but neither could anyone else! Thus concluded our first day in China- random dancing, selfies with strangers, and crazy go-karts with flashing lights!
Day 2: Was another day of cultural exchange! We visited the local high school, and got to do our presentation and dances all over again, but this time they preformed for us as well! We got to see the Yao Tribe Drum dance, hear some Yao singing, and also listen to some of the english work they’d been doing. They also took us on a tour around the school, and we got to just chat and hang out which was wonderful. They live in their school, and their timetable was crazy- they’re up at 6, classes by 8, and they don’t usually finish until around 10. They also lived 7 to a room, and were so happy, I never once heard them complain. They took their studies very, very seriously, and all told us about how tough it was to get into a good university. It made me think a lot about my future, and how much more… stable? I don’t think that’s quite the right word because obviously nothing’s certain, but for these guys it’s just so much harder. I really loved working with my group, even if they did beat me in ping pong so many times it was embarrassing. After lunch in their canteen, we said goodbye and headed to the 1000 years village, which is a 1000 year old Yao village that they let you tour around. At it’s peak, there were 7000 people living there, but now there are only about 200 left. The village was beautiful, but a haunting kind of beauty, because so much of it was empty. It was really sad to see, but never the less, I am so glad I saw it. It was on this massive hill too, so once you climbed through (after being welcomed by some ladies who gave you rice wine to drink as part of a traditional greeting, and listening to another lady sing to us) you reached incredible panoramic views at the top. The village itself was so interesting, so full of weird, dried rodents and small animals like mice hung up to dry, and different herbs in massive pots, and women squatting trying to sell you their vegetables that they’d just picked from their gardens (totally legit, they were still covered in dirt). You had to dodge some chickens occasionally, and a few dogs, but it was worth it. We even got to see inside of the King’s house. It was utterly fascinating. Afterwards, we saw a show depicting a love story between two Yao people, and about some of the traditions they have regarding love- it was so funny to watch, as they chose a girl from the audience and had her take part in the challenges- one of them was to listen to 1 man sing and guess which one was singing out of the three actors… it was so hard! If you lost a challenge on stage, you had to drink a penalty cup of rice wine, or you could defer it to an audience member, so a few LPCers had the honour of trying the rice wine 😉 When we got back to the hotel, there was just enough time for a quick trip into the town, where we stocked up on essentials- okay, oreo’s and chinese sweets- and hunted for some street food to try, but sadly, we ran out of time!
DAY 3: Was our first day in our schools! We had to drive about an hour out of town every day to get to this really rural school (it was so rural they had chickens wandering around their yard…). We were swarmed by kids when we arrived, it was a little scary, but they soon calmed down. We had to go through the whole rigmarole of doing the welcome presentation and dances, so we finally broke down into our teaching groups and headed for the classroom, we were knackered! We’d also been given the youngest class, who were just bouncing with energy. When it came to planning the lessons, we didn’t know what to expect, and were a bit confused, so we just stuck with the basics. Today was facial expressions and emotions which sounded challenging enough. We wrote the list of prescribed emotions on the board, sang a few rounds of “happy and you know it” and that was that. They were done- they’d learned everything we’d planned for them to learn for the day in about 40 minutes. Crap. Never underestimate the terror in realsing your teaching plan is rubbish when you’re faced with a class of 40 6 year olds. The plan had gone out the window, we had to react quickly… do we teach them something else? Do we play games with them outside? Do we risk setting them free in the yard? What on earth were we going to do?! Then it occurred to me that this is the kind of thing my mother does every day… Mum, I don’t know how you do it, but you must be a saint! In the end, we took them outside for games for the rest of the day, which they loved, and we seriously had to re think our plan for the next day. There were minor disputes within the group too, but those were ironed out pretty quickly, and soon we were working well together.
We stopped off for lunch in this great little chinese café, and had the most amazing dumplings I have ever had. The great thing about food in China is that it’s all communal- so you can just have what you feel like. They literally just give you a bowl and chopsticks and then lay out different dishes in the middle of the table, and then your free to choose as much or as little as you want of whatever’s on the table. It’s so much more social than western dining! Also, whoever decided you can eat fried egg with noodles is insane! It’s impossible!
The trip broke into two groups for the second school of the day, and visited two different city primary schools. We were straight away SWARMED and I mean SWARMED by children- they were everywhere! It was terrifying, like a child tsunami- and they literally had no respect for personal space. They kept pulling at my jeans, or tugging at my hands, and even pulling at Arthur’s hair (he has an afro)! If that’s what a celebrity feels like, I don’t ever want to be famous. It was our job to teach these kids about concepts that had been given to us by the Chinese government- Balance, Adaptability and Determination. How on earth do you teach a 9 year old about determination in a foreign language?! The answer is, apparently, with a good translator, a guitarist and a repetitive song. We were tasked with determination for the three days we were with the school, as the classes rotated, so we saw new people every day. We had to tell them a story about a baby bird learning to fly and mama bird kicking her out of the nest (baby bird was Ferna, I was mama bird :3 ), and tell them stories about when we’ve had to be determined- like learning to eat properly with chopsticks! It was pretty hard to get the kids excited for determination, but it was a lot of fun when it did take off. The next time you see me, ask me to sing the determined song- I bet you in 80 years time I’ll still be able to sing it.
Next up, we had Kung Fu by the river near sunset, which sounds so poetic, except it wasn’t. We got eaten alive by mosquitos and glared at by passers by, but it was so much fun. I’ve never felt so ninja in all my life, even if I was doing half of it wrong. All those years of karate, gone to waste… It was so peaceful, but also blooming hard, and he kept making us repeat the same move hundreds of times, reminding us that this is more dancy Kung Fu than actual gritty Kung Fu. Plus it was all in mandarin, so I had to rely on a translator to help me. Thank you, Monica 😉
After dinner, we headed back to the high school we’d spent the morning with, in order to learn the Yao Tribe Drum Dance. IT WAS SO HARD. I never knew how unco-ordinated I was until they put this drum on me and tried to get me to bang it and move at the same time. Honestly, I was appalling, but that didn’t stop me from having a whale of a time, and signing up for the harder dance ready to preform in November when the Yao people came to Hong Kong (more on that later). It was fantasticly fun, and I have never felt so clumsy or rhythmically useless.
When we got back to the hotel, we literally planned our lessons for the next day, and collapsed into bed, ready to do it all again the next day.
DAY 4: Okay so day 4-5 are basically repeats of day 3, but there are some differences! Today, we taught the first school colours, which went down quite well. They picked it up really quickly, despite us really planning out the lessons, but thank god we’d anticipated that, and brought the ultimate distraction- LOOM BANDS! They also picked that up very quickly because they must be tiny geniuses, but it was great because it took a long time to do it properly. They picked it up even quicker than I did, but I can now say I’m a loom band pro 😛 Then we played some games again, because they really enjoyed it last time, AND THE DAY WAS A SUCCESS!!! Finally! Then, we headed out for lunch in the same place again, and I bought a milk flavoured ice lolly for 2 yen and it was delicious. I think I had them whenever I saw them after that, because they were so delicious. Thank you Hayley for recommending them! Then we went out to the next school, where we repeated what we did yesterday (including being swarmed- and someone asked for my email address!) , and did Kung Fu, where they recapped all the moves we learnt yesterday, and did some more movements. Overall, it was an exhausting day, but when we returned to the hotel rooms, we stilld had to prepare our lessons fo the next day, meaning that we had to spend hours making different coloured playdough.
Day 5: Today was our final day in all the schools, which was bittersweet. It’s really, really hard work being a teacher, especially when you can’t speak the language and rely on a translator for everything. We taught animals today, and we had the children break into small groups and make play dough animals, which was a huge success. We thought it would be a cool way to link together what we’d been learning about over the past few days, so that you could choose your colour dough, choose your animal, and then fit it’s expression as to what you wanted it to be. It went down really well, and we were so relieved! We were getting a bit desperate with the lesson ideas, and decided to keep the messiest lesson until last, so we could clean up before we left. I had such a great time with this school, even if the kids got progressively cheekier as the week drew on! We also had our final session in the town primary school that day too, and that was really tough. We’d been given the oldest kids in the school, who thought that they were far too cool to be singing songs about determination, so it took a long time for them to take it seriously. Eventually, they were singing along loudly, and laughing and having a good time though which was so good to see. The Kung Fu session that day was so much fun- we were taken into the town and into our teachers dojo so that we could watch his students preform the moves as they should be done! We also got the chance to spar with some of students, but after I watched Ebisan loose, I knew there was no way I could win! Two of my very good Hong Kong friends, Hester and Tiffany had a go on the youngest of the boys we could spar, who was about 14, and lost within seconds. Before long, Hester was on the floor with a bleeding nose, and Tiffany had been knocked in the eye! It was an accident though, but it was pretty gritty even so. We were all completely put to shame by his youngest class though- they’re movements were excellent, even if they were only 6-7 years old! There’s a hilarious video of me trying to do the movements with some of the kids in front of me, and there’s just no comparison. Looks like my ninja days are over L It was a great end to wonderful three days in Lianning. Oh, and we also got up super early to go and spend time in the local kindergarten, where we played simple games with the kids like tag. That was fun too!
DAY 6: It was up and out early on day 6, with a 2 hour drive to Guangzhou, the provincial capital of Guangdong. It was such a change from the rural landscape we’d come from, everywhere around us were glittering skyscrapers, and new shiny offices. It felt a world away from the cramped, dusty classrooms we’d just been in. The teachers gave us 30 yuan and told us we could find our own lunch on the streets, which was so exciting! Elise, Hayley and I wandered around for a while, and ended up stopping off in this tiny noodle stall on the streets, where we had some delicious dumplings and a bowl full of noodles to share. I had no idea what was in the food we were eating, but it was lovely! We were basically set free in the Gunagzhou museum for a few hours in the afternoon to kill time, which was huge and basically covered a lot of different aspects of Chinese culture, such as ink stones, calligraphy, even the kinds of animals you can find in different parts of rural China. After a while, Karen and I headed over to the Guangzhou Library, which was a massive building across the street. It was so interesting to wander around, and see all of the different Chinese texts they had, even if we couldn’t understand any of them. The library was so light, and covered so many floors, and it was so quiet! After a 3 days of screaming and screeching kids, it was amazing to hear quiet! After our stint to the library, we drove to Dongguan, to our hotel for the night, where another China Week group was staying- I got to bump itnot Maisha, Chien, Emma and lots of other people and catch up, which was so lovely! We also went out for some really good food that night too, in a noodle shop that didn’t understand English, and we had to point to the signs on the walls to say what we wanted. I must have managed to order the only spicy dish in the entire shop, and I had to trade with Elise! We also stopped off in a ‘Hong Kong’ style restaurant for dessert, and I ended up having a red bean smoothie, which is way nicer than it sounds! No one can understand how I like red bean, but it’s so nice! Maybe an entire milkshake was a bit much, but never mind. I had a really great night that night, because I finally got to relax for a bit, and have a bit of fun with my friends. Plus, the hotel we were staying in was really, really nice, with soft beds and great showers, so when I got back to my room, I knew I could just sleep with no problems.
DAY 7: Our final day! I couldn’t believe how quickly our entire week had gone. We were travelling back to campus today, but not until we’d had a go at the lock-in-game. The idea is simple: You’re locked in a room for an hour, and you have to break out using the clues around you to fix the problems to unlock the keys. I could have chosen to do a really scary one, like a Saw inspired one, but there was no way- I couldn’t even watch The Woman in Black, let alone Saw!! So I ended up doing an Egyptian themed one, where we started off chained to a coffin… it was fine though, if a bit stressful. We ended up escaping through a hatch in the wall, and all we could hear were the screams of other groups, which was a bit creepy! It was a lot of fun, but I don’t think I’d do that again! Afterwards, we wandered around a traditional Chinese garden, which was so beautiful, before getting back on the bus to head back to school. I ended up carrying a Yao Tribe drum back over the Chinese border over my shoulder, because we were taking a few back to school. Once we’d passed the border, we were set free on the mtr lines to head back to school. It was a bit of an anti-climatic end, which was pretty sad, but we were a huge group, and really couldn’t stand the sight of another coach!
SO WHAT DID YOU LEARN? I could probably bang on for hours about how I learnt about myself in this trip, because we really all did, but I already submitted a really long China Week reflection to my project leaders. One thing I definitely learnt though? How to use a squat toilet, and how to eat with chopsticks- vital, if you spend any time in China!
Sorry this post is way overdue, and sorry about it being so darn long! A massive thanks to Elise, Arthur, Viivi, Karen, Willem and his GoPro, and everyone in groups 1 and 2 for China week, I had an absolute blast!! Also a huge thank you to Ester and her baozi every morning, and Beta and his alarm clock for waking us up *gently * on the bus. Much love guys ❤ Let’s do it again sometime? 😀
P.S- Here are a few links I think you’d like-
Willem videoed parts of the trip on his GoPro- Spot me! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFj7BzDJQR4
Max is a youtube vlogger, who also videoed and then vlogged about our trips-
China Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4l1Ih6Ott0
China Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9Mypy1Leok
P.P.S- Sorry about there not being more photos, I left the memory on campus when I came home, and I’ve had to use photos off facebook! Maybe I’ll add more later…