Jordanne Chalmers

Jordanne is in China with Project Trust. She is linked with Stirling High School in Stirling.

These are the views of the individual and not those of SCILT or Project Trust.

From Xinjiang to Heilongjiang

Ahhh! So much has happened in the last couple of months. Firstly we had to move project due to new restrictions on visas in Xinjiang, so now we are in Jiamusi, a county level city in Heilongjiang which is in the North East of China. We are so close to Russia and the province Jilin is between us and Korea.

Weather: 

Xinjiang was getting cold but Heilongjiang is ridiculous, I didn’t know it could get so cold. The second day we were here it snowed for 2 days straight and we ended up with a good 2 to 3 feet of snow. But as Chinese people here are pros at dealing with snow it was quickly cleared away by tractors and hard working students with shovels. The coldest experience I had was waking up at 4am to look at the temperature and it was -34 degrees Celsius and the walk to school was about -27 and my nose stuck together and my eyelashes froze. I have a huge love and appreciation for thermals as they have helped keep me alive during the cold and harsh winter.

Food: 

The food in Xinjiang was spicy to levels I had never experienced, and I like spicy food. Our favourite meal became Shou La Mian, 手拉面. This was a Uyghur dish of noodles with stir fried meat and vegetable. The boys in other projects found a love for Polu, 抓饭. Polu is also a Uyghur dish but it was rice, vegetables and lamb, I tried it when we visited Yining and it was good but I enjoyed Shou La Mian better. We also enjoyed eating kebab and Nan at this Uyghur restaurant that knew our order and started to give us free food. At home we would cook mostly rice with stir fried vegetables but we were successful in making really delicious egg fried rice that became our go to meal when we didn’t have a lot of money left. On Rebecca’s Birthday, LB and I bought a cake and made our first western dish, it was pasta and a homemade tomato sauce with vegetable and chicken, we were really proud of the achievement and it became something we made more than once. We also ate at the school canteen as they fed us for free there it was steamed buns and rice that was served with something different every night but our favourite dish was definitely spicy beans.

After moving from the west to the east food became very different and to this day we still miss the Uyghur cuisine. In Heilongjiang we have found ourselves eating a lot of dumplings and rice. We eat at a restaurant we have nicknamed the running dumpling as we don’t understand the Chinese name. We also got lucky again and our school canteen feed us. Fortunately there is more choice here with our favourite dished being calamari, garlic shoots and this little orange tub with rice, lamb and vegetables. We don’t cook much here as we get fed for free but the girls did bake me a cake for my birthday.

While travelling we did try local cuisine but we did find ourselves eating a lot of western food as we hadn’t had it in so long but in Xi’an, LB, Kieran and I frequently went to the Muslim quarter where they sold the Uyghur cuisine that we so greatly miss. We ate a lot of squid kebabs over the space of 4 days.

Teaching: 

Teaching is something I have surprisingly come to love. In our first project I taught 7th graders at Kuitun No.1 Middle School, so that is the equivalent to 1st or 2nd year in Scotland. They were super cute but because they were so young the language barrier was huge so body language and acting (making a fool of myself) became a large part of my class. I taught 12 classes a week as they have 12 grade 7 classes who all varied in levels. I found that teaching them was mostly learning vocabulary and playing games but none the less I formed an attachment with them and it was very sad to leave and I had to deal with a lot of crying 12 year olds. In Jiamusi we teach at Heilongjiang Linye College of Health professions, so already it’s a huge difference from Kuitun No.1 Middle School. The students we teach are all majoring in English and Nursing. The three of us each took a different year with me taking the freshmen. There are 4 classes of about 45 students each, their ages range on average from 15 to 21. But I have a couple 21+ with my oldest being a girl called April in class 4, who is 23 and my youngest being Tony in class 2 who is 13. Luckily in this school they have English names and I only have 4 classes (that are all right next to each other) I know my students much better and can now remember almost all the names. I teach 16 classes a week but it is split into 8 double periods (45 minutes each with a 10 minute break in between). So, much more teaching here than in Kuitun. The teaching is also very different: my students are good with vocabulary, they just need to learn to utilise the vocabulary they know. My class is giving them an opportunity to speak freely in English. We do a lot of scenarios and questions, class debates and role plays. One of my favourite tasks was definitely the morality game when 10 students were picked to play a role of a person on a sinking boat and they had to plead their case as only 8 could be saved. My class 4 were very funny with this one with students getting into character for example putting a pillow up their top to look pregnant, wearing their nurse coat to be a doctor and tying a jacket like an apron to be a housewife. Students at this school are more eager to learn English as it is a part of their degree and a lot of them have the dream to be a nurse in an English speaking country so they all try to talk to the foreign teachers to improve both their confidence and fluency.

Travelling: 

Recently we went to Hong Kong and home for our visas, which was very nice as I had never been to Hong Kong before and I got to see my family and friends who I had missed very much. When I got back to China we visited Shanghai, Huanshang and Xi’an. Xi’an was my favourite and we got to visit the terracotta warriors. The trains between them weren’t too bad, we had a standing ticket for 15 hours from Beijing to Shanghai but we lucked out and paid 30rmb to sit in the dining cart. We sat from Shanghai to Huanshang, Huanshang to Hefei and Hefei to Xi’an. But from Xi’an to Beijing we had a standing for 12 hours and it was awful we sat on our bags in the bit between the carriages and it was so cold and the toilet clogged so overall the experience was not the best. It was redeemed though by the last train that was a sleeper for 26 hours from Beijing to Jiamusi which was very comfortable and all the Chinese people were very nice and we had a lovely old Chinese couple in our room.

Mandarin: 

In Heilongjiang we get 5 lessons of Mandarin a week, so 10 45minute periods. I can get by in life by answering the basics, such my name, age, where I come from, what I’m doing here, if I speak Chinese. Our Chinese teachers have taught us classroom sayings as some of the freshmen didn’t understand what ‘discuss’ meant. They are also teaching us how to write, starting off very basic with hello, how are you, how are your parents or siblings, are you busy, are you hot, are you cold and the answers. For fun our teachers are also teaching us a song. In English it’s called ‘Little apple’ but in Chinese it Xiao ping guo, 小苹果. The song is super famous in China and was played everywhere for the last 4 months of 2015, there is even a dance to it that my students very enthusiastically taught me. But after all the travelling I know I now have to make a conscious effort to revise all the vocabulary my teachers have taught me. I also have to be confident enough to say something other than “Ting bu dong”, which means “I don’t understand”, when a Chinese person talks to me at the supermarket, on a train or in the street. I have found I sometimes say it just because I panic, even if I understand that they just asked where I was from and I know how to answer that but I naturally start freaking out and quickly blurt out “Ting bu dong, dui bu qi” which is just “I don’t understand, sorry.”

Teaching starts again on Monday and it will be back to everyday life here in China!

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