Miyun - the first few days

Miyun Travel Blog

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The teaching building

The drive to the school took about 1.5 hours, and we were first taken to the local police station to register before heading to our apartment.

My first impressions....Mr Guo seemed like an ok kinda guy and Miyun reminded me of a soulless town in the US, perhaps the outskirts of Tampa, Florida - big main roads for the through traffic, lined with large square hotels running at ≤15% occupancy and office blocks, and seemingly little entertainment.  Inga and I were clearly the only foreigners in town, which meant we would be excessively stared at.  I was just quite glad that I wasn’t blond like Inga, so could blend more into the background.

My new home for next 5 months was pretty spacious, but roasting hot.

Me in the computer hot box
  There was no air con, which wouldn’t be fun given it was still searingly hot outside.  Inga managed to grab the best bedroom as she was first in, but I wasn’t fussed as the difference definitely wasn’t worth getting in a state about.

We were literally given the time to drop our bags in our rooms before being whisked off to the school.... We briefly met some of the Chinese English teachers and had a chat with Mr Guo about some aspects to do with our placement.  There would be no opportunity to settle into Miyun life...the school term was starting on September 1st, which was in 2 days time.  Therefore, we were required at school first thing in the morning, despite our contracts not officially starting until this date, and were then given about 30 mins to go back to the apartment to get ready for dinner!

Mr Guo and some of the teachers took us to a local restaurant to welcome us to the school.

The teaching building again
  The dinner was very tasty, which was good, but Mr Guo had us ganbeiing rice wine - I really thought I would die given my severe hangover and tiredness from the graduation party.  I thought it was interesting that the female Chinese English teachers didn’t join in with the ‘fun’, but it was also apparent that we weren’t able to refuse.

It was pretty funny that Mr Guo spent the entire meal staring at Inga and her assets.  The teachers were also talking about us in Chinese - Mr Guo would translate occasionally.... Perhaps the funniest moment was when he announced to Inga that the teachers thought she was very beautiful and then he just looked at me and smiled!  The teachers then made some reference about my big nose.  Clearly my placement at this school was going to do my ego the world of good!! 

The school headmaster, also named Mr Guo, joined us briefly.

View from the apartment living room
  His higher status was very much evident in the way others behaved towards him, plus his stature oozed his authoritative position - he was very teacher-esque.

He was unable to speak English, but through Mr Guo’s translation, I was alarmed when he asked me what religion I was.  We had been told at UIBE that this was a no-go subject area in China.  I obviously answered his question, which then led to him saying that he wanted the teachers and students to learn more about the stories from the bible.  I certainly hadn’t been expecting my teaching placement to involve religious education, plus I knew there would be boundaries to teaching this subject and I really wasn’t sure where they lay.

Anyhow, the dinner was quite fun and didn’t last long, fortunately.

View from the apartment kitchen
  I would later learn that this is quite typical in China.  Dinners are not lengthy affairs - they start early and finish as quickly as the kitchen can get the food out on to the table.  There is no sitting around after the meal for coffee - you leave as soon as you’ve finished eating.

Mr Guo, Linda (head English teacher) and Angela (head of grade 3 English) accompanied Inga and I back to our apartment to explain about a few maintenance things.  We then finally got the opportunity to unpack and settle in... I would definitely be needing to get a few things for the walls to make my room more homely.  I did have the feeling I’d moved into a bedroom in halls of residence....something to do with the marks on the walls from the previous occupants and the cheap wooden furniture.

The living room complete with Inga on the uncomfortable sofa

After a pretty poor night’s sleep due to the excessive heat in my room (it was like being on the Trans Sib again), Inga and I headed over to the school at 9am for a meeting with Mr Guo.  He informed us that I would be teaching Grade 1, the 15/16 year olds, and Inga would be teaching Grade 2, the 16/17 year olds.  I would give 14 lessons a week plus 2 evening classes.  There would also be teacher activities each week for which we would need to prepare subjects to discuss.  Half way through the term, Inga and I would swap schedules as hers was lighter than mine.

We had to be in school Monday to Friday from 9am until 5.30pm, whether we had lessons or not.  This seemed ok at first, but once we discovered the other Beijingers (those from UIBE placed in schools around the Beijing area) didn’t have the same restrictions, we were a little miffed.

I then went to the Grade 1 teachers office and chatted with them a little.  There were 7 teachers in total - Linda, the head of English, Wendy, Phoenix, Michelle, Mary, Claire and Alexa.  They all seemed friendly enough, but perhaps a little wary of the new foreigners!

At lunchtime, we headed to our local supermarket to get some much needed supplies for the apartment.  It wasn’t a great experience as there didn’t appear to be a huge choice and we perhaps just needed to explore the town a little bit more...

We had been given a dirty old computer room at the school to get internet access etc, which was also a mini sweat box as broken air con. So, I spent my first glorious afternoon at Miyun Experimental School attached to Beijing Normal University (full name of school) melting away whilst working on my first lesson plan in preparation for the start of the term on Saturday.

At around 5pm I headed to the Grade 1 teachers office and found Inga sitting in there chatting to Wendy’s daughter, a sweet 9 year old called Sella who spoke pretty good English.  I ended up talking with her and Claire’s daughter, Jessica, for a bit before heading home.

Back at the apartment, we watched a film and got an early night.

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that my voice had yet to return since losing it a couple of weeks ago at UIBE, so I woke up feeling like I’d been knocked over by a steam roller.  I clearly could have done with a couple of days to get over the excesses of UIBE life.

Inga and I headed into school and had a meeting with Linda.  We were given instructions about the dress code and told that we shouldn’t make too much noise in classes... no raucous EFL games at this school!

Wendy then kindly took me to the pharmacy on her bike to get something for my voice - fingers crossed this lot of Chinese potions works better than the last!

I spent the rest of the day finishing off teaching prep... I was starting to feel a little nervous about the impending first day of term.  I’d be giving 4 lessons back to back the following afternoon and the teachers could give me no real idea of what the students’ standard of English would be, which wasn’t very helpful.

Although it was still early days, I have to confess to being quite concerned about how I would survive the next 5 months... Life at the school looked like it would be a little too restrictive for me - for someone who absolutely hated school first time round, teaching for 5 months is not necessarily the most obvious choice for a gap year.

What's more, once the schedule for the evening classes was confirmed, it was apparant there would be no opportunity for Inga and I to immerse ourselves in Miyun life together during the week.  I would be teaching on Monday and Wednesday evenings from 7pm to 9pm and Inga on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I didn't really relish the idea of heading out for dinner each evening by myself.

Anyhow, I felt determined that I would make the most of my time here and was looking forward to getting stuck in to school life.

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The teaching building
The teaching building
Me in the computer hot box
Me in the computer hot box
The teaching building again
The teaching building again
View from the apartment living room
View from the apartment living room
View from the apartment kitchen
View from the apartment kitchen
The living room complete with Inga…
The living room complete with Ing…
photo by: lizharvey79