First Taste of Vietnamese Cuisune

Who knows if this is ‘genuine’ Vietnamese food, but it tastes good and that’s all that matters, right?

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There are so many nice places to eat in Xiaolan Town, Zhongshan, but this Vietnamese Restaurant is definitely one to visit. Situated on the third floor of Seaport city this lovely Vietnamese restaurant sells affordable and tasty food.  The restaurant has a lovely ascetic and they serve quickly during lunch hours when it is relatively quiet. Come at the evening for a lively atmosphere and be sure to grab a table by the window where the city skyline lights up.

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Hands down the best dish is the curry with beef which holds a medium heat. There is plenty for the table to share and it is advised that you order this curry with a couple of sides and share the meal as a group. The menu has recently changed and now has less English translations, especially during the food section. However there are enough photos to manage your way and they highlight their best dishes with clear images.

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Be cautious though, restaurants in Zhongshan open and close over night, and it’s always without warning. So if you fancy a taste of the best curry in Xiaolan you’ll have to visit quick!

 

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The Magic Of Dot to Dot

Dot to Dot helps students increase focus, pen control and character recognition. It’s a wonderful tool for TEFL teachers.

I am a kindergarten teacher in China. But instead of working through textbooks and exercises I am lucky enough to teach my kindergarten students through creative subjects such as arts & crafts and kitchen class. When students are particularly young, they excel at learning through language immersion. What better way to make language learning fun and exciting than by doing something they naturally love and enjoy?

However, my students range from 3 to 4 years old. At the beginning of their first semester most of the class could not hold a pair of scissors. In fact, during their second semester they’re still not quite there yet with pen control. Whilst I am foremost an English language teacher, in order for them to use arts and crafts as a viable method of learning English they need to also practice their creative skills.

Dot to dot is easy to teach because it can be taught directly by doing a live example. Students enjoy focusing their pens along the dotted line and there are several opportunities to encourage them to use spoken English.

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For example, for one class I created several dot to dots of animals that we have been learning. Students would be instructed to ask “I want a camel” or “I want a crocodile.” Advanced students would be instructed to ask “I want a camel dot to dot, please.” English could then be used by students to request a certain colour pen to use for their dot to dot.  For example, “I want a red pen, please.” I also encourage my students to say thank you when they receive the pen.

Another benefit of dot to dot is that it is an opportunity for students to learn to recognise the English alphabet, key words, and key properties of animals, such as four legs and a tail for a camel. This in turn will help their writing and drawing skills.

In fact, I used to write the student’s names on their art and craft work on a daily basis, but a few weeks ago I created a dot to dot of their name. Students had already become used to dot to dots, as we started with simple designs and then moved on to more complex patterns. The work with their own handwritten name looks great for displaying on classroom walls, and students have started to make their own “dot to dot” names without intervention. They have simply remembered the pattern of their name by repetition of a few weeks, that around 30% could do it by themselves.

This is around the same percentage of the 4-5 year old classes who have been at the school for an additional year. By the end of the semester, the 3-4 year old class should all be able to write their name, which would be a significant improvement for the year.

I have also noticed that students who find concentration difficult develop focus during dot to dot which has improved their behaviour and attitude during arts and craft lessons in general. The effect works best if the class remains quiet during the six minutes it takes for them to complete the dot to dot and everyone has received their pens and work.

Dot to dot exercises cannot last for an entire lesson, however they are an excellent TEFL tool to work alongside a creative English class.

 

Solo Express Cafe Review

They do a very… ‘European’ all day brunch too.

The Solo Express Cafe is a very funky minimalist-esque restaurant in Xiaolan Town that offers interpretations of western food that are of great quality. While it may be a pricey restaurant and it is situated away from the big malls, the atmosphere is much more relaxed than most restaurants I have been in during lunch. They also have plug sockets to charge your electronics and most importantly their menu has been translated to English.

And the English is mostly good.

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The burgers in particular are fantastic and I recommend trying the burger with pineapple. The meat was cooked to perfection and the bun was very soft, but as you can imagine those seeds went everywhere.

For some reason or another, in Xiaolan it is common to be offered non-reusable gloves to eat your burger, fried chicken and pizza. Clearly, the Solo Express Cafe is no exception. Their regular customers will appreciate this, however if you don’t wish to use them you can simply return them to staff.

The restaurant is special as not only does it have a great food menu, the drinks menu is fantastic too. Be prepared for tasty smoothies and fruit teas.

The dining area of the restaurant is very charismatic and the staff are friendly.  They did seem excited to receive foreigners but kindly apologised when they realised we weren’t photo-friendly.

The bathroom is an epic disappointment though, once you find it via a secret section of the wall that you push. (You think I’m kidding?) A standard for many restaurants, no soap, no toilet paper. So be sure to bring your own. It is a shame as it seemed the restaurant was trying hard to build a modern and impressive ascetic. Alas.

Inspiration for Lesson Plans: TEFL teachers

Pro tip: Never let the student’s parents see your lesson plans. Just trust me on this one.

As a TEFL teacher you will find that there are many schools which will give you pre-made lesson plans and a strict curriculum. If you’re looking for a job as a TEFL teacher, take this as a bad sign, as these students in China become very stressed as they find themselves being rigorously tested for competency at as young as three years old.

Luckily, my kindergarten does not test students at all and offers no curriculum. Instead, they teach students English proficiency by using an immersion method without the need for textbooks. This method of teaching is becoming increasingly popular and although it allows the teacher a great deal of freedom, it will demand more work and planning.

At the beginning I found it difficult creating lesson plans for my students. I had no experience at teaching such a young age group and I had no idea on their personalities and interests. But now I have four methods of finding inspiration for my lesson plans that I can share.

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Theme

Each week I decide on a new theme which my lesson plans are built upon. They vary from ‘Desert Animals’ to ‘Culture Week’ to ‘Superheroes’. Themes are very useful because they provide a consistent context for students. So for example, in desert week we looked for ‘buried treasure’ in the sand and found a camel, as you do. Later on, we learnt about other animals in the desert, building upon previous knowledge. Students find it easier to recognise key words and phrases when they have been relevant for a while. So by the end of the week, students knew all about camels, meerkats and snakes. But not only that, we could talk about which animals we liked, which we didn’t like and use other words and phrases we learnt previously along side the new vocabulary.

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Student’s Interests

Students learn better when they are interested in the subject matter. At first, I wasn’t aware of their likes and dislikes. But now, I know which students prefer banana over apples, I know their favourite superhero and their favourite animal. All essential requirements for befriending any 3 or 4 year old.

I allow their interests to inspire my lessons, which is why last semester we made masks – because the students would poke holes in their work and cover their faces with the paper anyway. One of my groups particularly love acting so I often dramatise the class and give them particularly expressive phrases which they pick up more easily than the other classes who prefer arts and crafts or other activities.

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Online Resources

In my current work I also have to teach ‘kitchen lessons’ and these are a bit more difficult. Admittedly, sometimes it’s a little like the UK hit ‘Ready Steady Cook’ where I select some ingredients affordable for the school and consider what I can make with them. But there are loads of child friendly recipes on the internet and I think it is a great idea to look for online resources to help inspire your lesson plans.

Multi Sense

Multi-sensory

Some students learn best through watching, others through listening, and many students – especially young students – learn very well through touch and crafting. I try to vary which senses may be more dominant in class and allow for different kinds of learning to take place. Young students love to play with sand, water and use crafting materials such as child-safe clay or play-dough.

There is also a lot of singing, dancing, Planet Earth watching and running away from lions involved in my lesson plans. Something for everyone, right?

Daixin Mall – Best in Xiaolan Town?

Daixin is technically a brand of shopping malls, but there seems to be only one in Xiaolan Town

Well it certainly is local.

Daixin Mall is one of the largest malls in Xiaolan Town and possibly the most famous. It features a huge supermarket, hundreds of clothing stalls ranging in price ranges, a large food court with perhaps around 15 food options, several restaurants from fish to Chinese – Pseudo Italian, a cinema with decent popcorn and many other shops and stalls selling your every day necessities and more. Daixin Mall truly offers something for everyone.

It certainly isn’t without competition however, as there are many malls in Xiaolan Town alone, and it is certainly not too difficult to travel outside Xiaolan to other districts in Zhongshan. However many other malls tend to have a theme around them. Parkway Plaza for example holds several upmarket restaurants and clothing chains and has a newly built gym with a swimming pool. Seaport City features many stylish and upcoming shopping brands and has shops that have an artistic and colourful repertoire you simply won’t find anywhere else.

In many ways I prefer Seaport City as I can purchase high quality arts and crafts supplies, but Parkway Plaza does have my favourite restaurant. Yet, for reasons of practicality and for my weekly shop, Daixin Mall has to be the most useful. Other than the supermarket and a particular stand in the food court, no one shop or brand stands out for me. Yet there is something about Daixin Mall I can trust. There’s always something there that’s gonna persuade to part with my yuan.

Highlights

Korean Take Away

Tasty!

To the find the food court, head to the forth floor through the glass lifts or the escalators, then head towards the jewellery counters and find the next set of escalators. This particular stand is my ultimate favourite, the Korean Take Away stand. Turn left, round the corner and it’ll be at the back. This particular stand in the food court offers a high quality and affordable meal. The staff are very hygiene conscious and ah, the food is so, so good. Everything is well cooked and tastes as good as it smells.

The food court in Daixin has plenty of other options and there are at least two stalls that specialise in drinks, so if you eat here you don’t go thirsty either.

Venice Restaurant

Venice is a chain restaurant, and this one is pretty good with very comfortable and stylish seating as long as they don’t take you to the dreaded Spongebob room. (Since they did that we have yet to return!) This restaurant has a very varied menu which allows you try something very new to your palette or stick to flavours that you are comfortable with. For a special treat, the Venice chain is not too expensive and the quality is well above what you’d expect to pay outside of China.

Jinyi Cinemas

Jinyi is yet another chain – But a good one that offers a wide array of film screenings and comfortable seats – Especially if you end up in a VIP screening. You can ask for a membership card for around 30 yuan (and 200 yuan deposit at the time of writing) that will give you a huge discount on cinema tickets. (Around 70% if I recall correctly) This means that luxury seating on a 3D film could cost the UK equivalent of £3.70. The popcorn is good too.

Clothing choices: Cheap, mid-range or a year’s wage

I feel we don’t quite have this in the UK, or at least not the parts I’ve been to. In a few shopping stalls by the supermarket and upstairs I can find a nice looking clothing item for around 20 yuan, that’s roughly £2 or Primark’s discount rail for British readers. Elsewhere, I can find rows of very, very small shops that have low to mid-range prices, from 40 to 350 yuan, roughly £4 – £35. Then, on the ground level there are very stunning yet incredibly expensive clothing from 300 to 9000 yuan. Yeah, that’s £30 – £900.

I like how there’s something for everyone – There’s so many different styles from hoodies and jeans to lacy, modern Chinese style dresses and “Engrish” shirts.

One of my favourite stores in Daixin is ‘Instore’, which has beautiful clothing of fair quality at great prices. The staff weren’t too pushy and were trying their best to be helpful. They also used translator apps and really went the extra mile to help with communication. Sometimes, communicating can be rather difficult with shop keepers, especially in very small shops, but I really like Instore and recommend it if you are small and a fan of fancy sleeves/dresses.

Useful phone shops

If you need a new phone, Daixin is a good place to go. On the ground floor there are various official phone stores selling the latest Chinese models. I recently purchased a new phone and the staff were able to make it a “British version” for me. Experienced westerners living in China will know what I mean by this.

Tombs, Agencies and Cinema Tickets

No raiding involved however!

At the time of writing it is Tomb Sweeping Festival, a festival acknowledged by many people in China where relatives travel huge distances to meet each other and sweep their ancestor’s tombs. Sometimes it is not just remembered relatives whose tombs are swept. Some people will be busy sweeping the tombs of relatives such as their great-great-great grandfather’s cousin’s. In the Guangdong district this is particularly recognised as a time of importance, which means school is closed and I finally have time to update my blog.

However, despite this appreciated time off, it does mean I will be working on this Sunday to make up for the festival. Yes, because the festival begins on the Thursday, we also get Friday off work. But to make up for this, we have to work on Sunday this week. It seems it is preferred to get days off work in a row and make up for the days off later. My guess would be to help people travel to their relatives and back.

And yes, this means students will be coming back into the kindergarten on the Sunday too.

During the time off I will be refreshing my CV and looking for new work. Currently, there is an… interesting situation where my agency may no longer be employed to work with the current school I am with. If that’s the case… And if this new agency the school ends up hiring instead cannot offer a good (or legal!) deal then I will probably try to find work somewhere else.

After all, there is good reason for the school to drop the current agency. They failed to meet the school’s demand for teachers, and have continuously let down the teachers on several occasions including visas, missing documents and failing to correctly insure the teachers. They nearly cancelled Christmas. We do get paid on time however. I hear that some teacher agencies in China fail to do that, too.

The whole situation makes me wonder if I want to stay and work another year in the country. Many teachers get better contracts if they can negotiate directly with the school, but this often requires fluency in Mandarin and understanding of Chinese law. If I want to continue to work in China, I will have to work with a teaching agency for now.

But there is so much about China that I enjoy and I feel I have made some nice progress in learning Chinese Mandarin, despite never being good at languages. (And even a couple of Cantonese words!) There is also char sui bao here and interesting things to explore and to learn about – finding out about Tomb Sweeping Festival is certainly one of them.

And there are many benefits to staying at the school. Although some feel… Rather uncomfortable. Now and then the teachers will get invited to parties or offered gifts. I received a starbucks card for about 300 yuan and my partner was given a cinema voucher a few days ago. In the UK we do not accept bribes and these almost feel like them. But on the other hand, free cake is free cake… And we’re often given cake.

Alas, lots to think about and lots to do.

To think

My Commonly Used Phrases in Mandarin

Totally fluent. Mum will be so proud.

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I am in China and I can’t speak Chinese.

It’s an interesting conundrum, being in a country where you can’t speak the native language. It gives you a couple of perspectives on life, certainly. Have you ever had a passing thought about someone moving into your country without being able to speak a word of the native language? Have you ever wondered why some of our words and phrases exist as they are, like going cold turkey or being on the ball? But moving life philosophy and sociological ponders aside, there is a practical aspect one is missing when one can’t converse the common tongue. Ordering the right kind of ice-cream for example.

Below are a few phrases that I have happened to learn during my relatively short time in China.

Shénme – 什么

Meaning: What.

I feel this one is more useful to know for listening rather that speaking. Often I might hear ‘shénme’ after my attempts at engaging a fellow Chinese person in Mandarin.

Wǒ bù míngbái – 我不明白

Meaning: I don’t understand.

This is a common expression for I don’t understand. Sometimes when I forget this phrase I’ll use wǒ bù dǒng which roughly means the same thing. Very useful for disappointing curious neighbours, passersby and your local Didi driver.

Nǐ hǎo – 你好

Meaning: Hello

We all know this phrase but do we know it’s literal meaning? It turns out this literally means ‘you good’ without the question mark. (add ma to actually make it a question) Also, I don’t hear this often. Doesn’t stop me from trying to use it with fellow neighbours though.

Wǒ xǐ huān /  Wǒ bù xǐ huān – 我喜欢 / 我不喜欢

Meaning: I like / I don’t like

I am lucky enough to get along very well with my fellow Chinese colleagues, or so I thought. I would sometimes try to use the limited Chinese I knew to socialise with them during break times, for example using ‘Wǒ xǐ huān’ to compliment a nice shirt or jacket. But then they offered me what I thought was mango cake. It was odd, at the same time a strong stench struck my face and I told the teachers I thought I smelt a gas leak. They laughed and didn’t seemed concerned. Alright then… I scooped up some cake and… Ah.

Do not underestimate the power of durian.

And the usefulness of ‘Wǒ bù xǐ huān’ which I use in a hurry anytime I’m offered suspicious smelling foods.

Duì / Bù Duì – 对 / 不对

Meaning: Correct / Incorrect

When you are in a foreign country, you may come to realise that sometimes it’s most convenient for you and your fellow Chinese local to pretend you know what’s going on. Sometimes, you have to leave the desire to understand everything in front of you and go with the flow. And once you’ve mastered that, then you can play this fun lottery game called duì or bù duì. This is when you aim to either keep the conversation going or finish it, interchanging between the two phrases depending on your end goal.

Téng – 疼

Meaning: Pain

Injuries happen, and for inexperienced humans it could be quite a big shock when you fall on your face or when you drop a plate on your little toe. While I try to always use English for my students, when injuries occur I need to know if there’s a potential for them to be serious and require a school doctor. Téng is useful for this, because it’s a common word for pain and I hear my students use this a lot. We’ll get to learn about the use of ‘ouch’ and ‘my head hurts’ soon, but I don’t want to give upset (and sometimes very shy) students an English lesson before getting seen to!

Char sui bao – 叉烧包

Meaning: BBQ Pork (Steamed) Dumpling

Famous in the Guangdong district, if you enjoy eating BBQ flavoured pork encased with the fluffy delight of a perfectly steamed dumpling for 3 yuan… Then this phrase is essential. I use it often.

Miànbāo – 面包

Meaning: Bread

Useful if you like toast in the morning.

Shuǐguǒ – 水果

Meaning: Fruit

Useful if you like to pretend to be healthy in the morning.

Duìbùqǐ – 对不起

Meaning: I am sorry

It was not mentioned earlier that during ‘Nǐ hǎo ma’ you could accidentally say “You good horse” if you use the wrong tones. But don’t worry, help is at hand. If your minimal Chinese may have inadvertently caused offence or you are receiving a call from a Didi driver who you cannot understand just use duìbùqǐ. For extra points, tell them what country you’re from, so they know in advance to be disappointed when meeting other ignorant foreigners.

Cǎoméi chá – 草莓茶

Meaning: Strawberry Tea

I love this stuff and you can find funky fruit teas all over the Guangdong district of China. They are often very different to western fruit teas and are full of flavour and fruit. It’s also one of the few drinks I can successfully order…

Kwai / Kuai / Quai

Meaning: Quid / Unit of money

Many Chinese people refer to money as ‘yuan’, but others use ‘kwai / kuai / quai’ depending on their location and depending on how it’s actually meant to be spelled. (Because I have no idea) It’s useful to know so when someone goes up to you demanding money you can understand.

So now you know my commonly used phrases. Do you travel? What are your favourite phrases for abroad?