First Experience of a Korean BBQ

If you’re a meat lovin’ foodie and you love your BBQ, put the Korean BBQ experience on your bucket list. If you’re a vegetarian, this is one to pass.

Honestly, we had no idea where we were going.

Our coworkers in Zhongshan seem super excited to go out for the evening to a local restaurant, and it was only when I opened the menu did I notice that there were a lot of Korean words under the Chinese.

“Go on, pick something!” My coworkers said cheerfully, and then went back to talking in marathon speed Mandarin over the circular table. There was a giant overhanging vacuum just above a small pit in the centre of the table. I looked blankly at the menu.

It was a menu full of raw meat.

Without knowing any Korean, and with very limited Chinese, I honestly had no idea what kind of meat was what, and living in Guangdong province, you really want to know what you’re ordering in advance. (or at least, what you’re supposed to be receiving.)

It was a little odd for me, to look at and order the meat before it was cooked, especially in a restaurant scenario. I handed back the menu.

“You pick.” I said back, cheerfully but also knowing that one of my coworkers had a particular love for snake and dearly hoped that it was not going to be the day to experience it.

They ordered several items with ease, calling over the waiter and demanded snacks and appetisers to be supplied asap.

There was a short ten minutes of awkward conversation, where we spoke a mix of English and Chinese together which somehow reached the topic on boyfriends/girlfriends and the family, but never about oneself. Then… The meat arrived. Raw and ready for the grill.

In this restaurant the servers cooked the meat in front of you. That is, in-between serving guests and managing their demands. It was a real multi-task operation and you had to admire them for that. I know now that a lot of BBQ restaurants will require you to cook the food yourself, so extra stars to the staff.

And the result?

Yeah, the food was pretty good. There were a variety of meats, but all of them were meat I would potentially eat in the UK to my personal relief. Korean pizza even popped up and while it was… Not how a westerner might understand pizza, it was still enjoyable and spicy. There were plenty of sauce and appetisers to go around and it was pleasant to sit together round the table. Oh, and you could spin around the appetisers too if that’s… Appealing to you…?

Since my first experience, I have been to a few of these places in China and I really recommend them. Often they are good value for money, although it is a little overwhelming trying to order the food if you are not literate in Chinese. (Or Korean) I think it’s a shame there aren’t many vegetarian options on the menu, but vegetarianism is not so popular in China at the moment, compared to how it is in the West.

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Moved to Suzhou!

And to think, I still have Zhongshan posts to finish…!

It’s been crazy busy over these recent few months. Near the end of the school year, there were quite a few plays and school events the children (and therefore, the teachers) were heavily involved in, then there was the case of… finding a new job, packing and returning home for the summer month.

I miss my Zhongshan students tremendously.

I really got to know them, and I was able to bring in a lot of good behavioural traits and routines. Now, I have to start all over again, with a new 3-4 year class, but this time all the way in Suzhou. I moved not because of the school, but because of the agency that was assisting the school (and has since been replaced by the school!). I think it’s really important to share my experiences on that agency at some point in the future, so that’ll be a blog post – But I also have a lot of other Zhongshan posts I want to include. It’s actually quite hard to find information on Zhongshan, so maybe it’ll be helpful to a few people?

And of course, gotta write about Suzhou! What a city! It’s much bigger than Suzhou, and has a really different feel to it. While I like both cities, I can say that life in Suzhou has been a little easier as a foreigner and I feel safer on the walkways as there are small roads that are dedicated to scooters and bikes. I haven’t been able to find Char Sui Bao yet, and that might not be surprising as Guangdong province is supposed to be the capital of good bao. But with a city this big, this diverse, I’m sure to find some, somewhere!

Where to find cheap food in Xiaolan, Zhongshan!

And we’re talking about cheap food that tastes good too!

What happens when you first enter a country with a culture (or cultures!) completely foreign to your own? Do you head straight to the food cart round the corner and point to the foreign menu pinned on the side that you can’t read? Or do you do the opposite, panic and freak out, and head to your local Starbucks or McDonalds?

I ended up doing a bit of both at my first time, mainly the latter not due to freaking out, but due to exhaustion. Experimenting can be fun and adventurous, but after a hard days of work, not knowing what kind of meat is going to appear on your plate and in what condition is not the most fun way to spend an evening. Especially when the aftermath may be greeting you in the morning the next day!

The problem with western food is that there is not a lot of it and it can be very expensive. (It’s also not always cooked properly if you live in Xiaolan!) But if you happen to be in Zhongshan, here’s some cheap and cheerful places to eat that won’t leave you feeling hungry or sick. (Probably.)

Thank You

Thank You can be found on the ground floor of Seaport City – you know, the largest building in Xiaolan that acts as your ‘North star’ if you happen to get lost. I love Thank You, as it offers a wide choice at a cheap price, and you can see the food that you are purchasing, just grab a tray, point to the food and say zhège. If you order at least two items you will probably qualify to receive a free cup, if not, just point to it and say zhège. You cannot pay by card at Thank You, you can only pay through cash or WeChat (Weixin.) Then, just zhège zhège to your table and chī chī your food.

The only bad side is that very occasionally there’s a couple of flies dancing around, and it can be a bit crowded during rush times. Avoid the rush and you’ll be fine. Also, it is difficult to understand the exact prices of the dishes you are ordering, but the prices are generally pretty good especially if you work out that you only need to order one ‘main dish’ and one side. But also beware, if you’re sensitive to caffeine, the cola is very strong.

Finally, you can ask them to cook you an egg or two, you can ask for just plain rice (which is very cheap) and you can ask them to pack up your food for takeaway if you are in hurry.

Korean Take Away

Takeaways come and go, but so could any of the restaurants I mention on this post to be honest. It’s incredible to see things suddenly disappear and be replaced by a shining new restaurant. I’ve already written about the Korean takeaway, and I definitely recommend checking it out if you happen to be local.

Café De Coral

Café De Coral is a very cheerful restaurant chain that has a nice outlet in the local Daixin in Xiaolan Town, Zhongshan. (Find it in the building after the main one, if you pass through an array of knock off handbags you’re on the right path). They have giant menus right by the door with pictures, and all you need to memorize is their code ‘A3, B6’ etc. If not, just take a camera phone, take a picture of what you want and say zhège. (Honestly, the first word you need to learn when you get into China.)

The prices are incredibly good and the quality of the food is also very good. The only negative is that I recommend you to try to avoid going to the bathroom and all costs, but if you do go, realise that you probably did go right the way, keep going forward, mind where you step, and straight on is the ladies, somewhere to the right is either the kitchen or the mens. Also when you go, brace yourself, do your business and get outta there!

Venice Restaurant

No matter where you go, there’s always a Venice somewhere in Zhongshan. The chain is pretty decent with an incredibly large and thorough menu that is translated to a readable quality. The quality of the food you get is fantastic but you will need to expect long waiting times. Unless you’re ordering steak, eating at Venice is very cheap and if you are in the need to cool down during the 8-9 months of summer, the drinks and desserts  are very fun.

Leaving your first school as a TEFL Teacher

Leaving China is complicated, as well as finishing your teaching contract. 

After a great deal of thought and reluctance, I have decided to leave my current kindergarten in China due to my terrible agency. It was difficult at first to find another genuine agency that could offer a legal visa, but eventually I was able to find a good recruiter and will be moving to Suzhou in the late summer. My advice: Make friends with locals and expats and someone will always known someone who can help!

But lo and behold, agencies don’t like it when you leave them. You need something called a ‘cancellation letter’ if you want to transfer your visa to another school, which is your legal right to receive if you ask. But agencies have been known to try and prevent you leaving by ignoring the law. You also need a release letter, which is again your legal right to receive and again, can be ignored by your agency. Well, to be honest, agencies like to ignore the law in general, so that really should be no big surprise.

It’s also recommended to get a criminal record check at the police – And you will definitely need one if you plan to leave China for good. Before my contract was officially ended my agency specialists were like “Sure, sure! We’ll help you!” but now the contract has ended it’s more like “Ok, 200 yuan for our time please.”

Ending your contract with your landlord is also a pain, so try to do that as early as possible. If you plan to stay for another year in the same place, do not tell your landlord that you will be away from a couple of months. And make sure your agency doesn’t either – Because guess what, they told ours, and now wanting to evict us early! Another good idea is to change your lock without telling them, because the likelihood is your landlord will try to rent your apartment when you are away, or at least ‘take a look’. This is a widely known thing, for landlords to charge double event and for expats to come back to find someone else living in their apartment!!

You also need to contact your SIM company and end your contract with them if you are leaving China for good. Otherwise, they will continue to bill you and well… It just makes me uncomfortable.

But what about the emotional side of leaving the kindergarten for good?

Actually, it was okay for me. I expected to be more sad than I actually felt. I was likely enough to have complete control of the day so I designed lessons that I knew they’d behave in and would have the most fun in. We went through what we did in the year, and I even got to play guitar in front of them, being able to play through a goodbye song that I made up myself – And have them sing a long! It was great.

Should you offer to keep in touch with the parents? Since I’m interested in online teaching, I offered some parents my email address, (unfortunately my WeChat broke!) Some parents absolutely did not want to keep in touch and that hurt a little, but it shouldn’t – It’s not against your character, it’s against needing to be in contact with an old teacher. But some parents were delighted to keep in touch, and while I didn’t expect ANYONE to send an email, I did actually receive one from a parent I got along rather well with, so that was fantastic.

And then there is dealing with the external school events that the school really wants you to ‘volunteer’ for. Once your contract ends, that’s entirely up to you. It’s awful if the school is depending on you to turn up even though you’re not being paid for it.

And finally, one needs to clean up and move on! Time to get rid of all those school projects (though take photos of your work, you can use them as part of your portfolio to get into a new school!) and start a fresh new leaf. And that in itself can be very exciting. Sometimes its good to reflect, but not for too long. What is done is done, now move on!

How to make and use effective flashcards as a Kindergarten TEFL Teacher

Flashcards serve as an effective learning tool for kindergarten students when used appropriately. While some schools in China may provide TEFL teachers with resources, others don’t, and committed TEFL teachers will need to spend some office hours into making colourful flashcards for their lesson plans. Feeling daunted? Help is at hand, here’s some useful tips on making a super pack of flashcards!

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Use very clear images

‘What’s that supposed to be?’ You may ask yourself when you inevitably come across a bad flashcard floating around the ‘English resources’ department. Unfortunately, it’s a given that as a TEFL teacher you will come across some terrible flashcards, and the bad ones are usually those who use people and are trying to describe emotion or action. Some flashcards also hold cultural context that may difficult for children to understand, for example my students do not wear aprons during class so were confused to see an apron on a flashcard.

Hand drawn flashcards are difficult and time consuming to make, so it is often best to find images on the Internet. Be wary of copyright, especially as the school may end up promoting your hand-made flashcards along with your name, to parents and other would-be teachers. (More about that later)

High quality and free for commercial use photos can be found at Pexels.com and Pixabay.com respectfully. You could also take your own photos, especially as children love to see images of their local area which brings in wonderful prompts for free-flow conversation in class.

Another quick note – If you are using text, be sure to make it as clear and easy to read as possible and use a large font. Some parents may not realise their child is short sighted, and some may not be able to afford glasses for their students.

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Use colour

Flashcards should be bright, eyecatching and colourful, don’t accept anything less. Consider how colourful children’s cartoons are, and the outer-packets of sweets (to catch the children’s eye, so they beg their parents to buy them!). Children use many resources in their brains to recognise flashcards, and this will include certainly include colour.

Laminate them

Protect your cards from the elements and your students. Your school is very likely to be able to help you with this, and should be pleased that you are creating your own resources for class. Laminated cards can be used over and over again without the need to worry and also look great. (You may also be able to take them with you to your next TEFL opportunity!)

Alphabet cards

For young kindergarten children, letters might appear boring, especially on flashcards. I recommend using bold and easy to recognise objects on alphabet flashcards. For example, for ‘Aa’ you can use a bright apple. Some of your students will be more advantaged than others, and by also including the written word ‘Apple’ underneath you may be helping students maintain their lead and gain confidence in recognising the shape of words. This will also help students learn how to pronounce ‘Aa’.

Most of the professional flashcards I have come across will use capital and lowercase letters for their alphabet packs. I recommend doing so, as your students are likely receiving extra classes outside of school and the teachers may only use lowercase or capital letters in their classes. It also will help students link the letters together appropriately.

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Appropriate subjects

Make sure your flashcards are relevant to your curriculum. You get bonus points if your flashcards are relevant for multiple lessons, which will make your time more efficient as a professional TEFL teacher. My flashcards are sometimes double sided, which helps when you are learning about opposites (cold and hot) or comparisons (apple and ant both begin with A). Sometimes, students will be very eager to try and look at the other side of your flashcard, so consider the nature of your class. On the plus side, curiosity increases focus!

Explore different teaching methods

Consider other uses of flashcards instead of just reciting them. Use them as prompts for conversation and questions, ask them if they could demonstrate the flashcard, make the appropriate noise or ask them if they like what they see. You can use arts and crafts, for example you could ask students to copy what they see with pen and paper, this works especially well if you wish to show student the alphabet. You can also use multimedia in class, for example you could show students the flashcards, ask them to identify them, and what animal they would like to see and show a video of the requested animal as a reward.

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Don’t overuse them

No matter how amazing your flashcards are, if you use them too often in your classes students will become bored. What’s worse, they will associate your use of flashcards with boring lessons, and this is a hard bias to break once it’s developed. I use my flashcards on average around once a week, but may use them twice in a row if we are learning some complex key words and phrases. This routine helps keep flashcards exciting and students look forward to seeing them. Students gain joy when they recognise flashcards they have seen and gone through before – but only if they haven’t seen them in a while.

Reward system

What benefit does a student gain from announcing the correct word from the flashcard? At my current kindergarten, we have a token system which allows students to purchase a prize every week. It works well, but rest assured you don’t need to be so fancy. You could use praise students when they give you a correct answer and talk a little about the flashcard, asking questions to students about their thoughts. You could use fun actions alongside them such as ‘snapping your hands’ like a crocodile on the relevant flashcard, or asking students to make the relevant noise. When my students are confident, I also let my students guess what might be coming next, and we often like to have a competition to see who can say the flashcard prompt the fastest.

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Make your flashcards appealing

Finally, learn about your students. For example, if you are a kindergarten TEFL teacher in China, learning about Ultraman is absolutely essential. Students become delighted when their favourite things are woven into flashcards. Think: Superheroes, animals, food. If you theme your classes, you can encourage students to develop new favourites. My students loved desert week and loved memorising my desert themed cards. I have very short video clips of all the animals in my handmade desert flashcard pack, and we have also done various arts and crafts classes using the animals too. This allows the students to have several connections to link up their experiences with correctly recalling the flashcard, making the flashcard more effective in the long run!

Is Jimmy Hornet the best western restaurant in Zhongshan?

Listed number #2 on Tripadvisor, Jimmy Hornet is a well loved pub, restaurant and club that serves western food alongside oldies rock and jazz music with a funky atmosphere. Jimmy Hornet has a couple of chains dotted around central Zhongshan, but I visited the one by Fuwan South Road Shop.

The food menu may feel small compared to other restaurants in Zhongshan, but the quality of the food was good, though westerners will certainly notice the adaptations to their cult classics. Bangers and mash for example didn’t quite include what we Brits call ‘gravy’. The burritos were open ended, but still held good flavour. And the nachos were some of the best I’ve ever had, hands down.

Unfortunately, the menu may not suit Chinese friends and colleagues who might find the menu intimidating, as it does not seem to have any traditional Chinese food options or any seafood. Although there were a few Chinese ethnic people who were eating at Jimmy Hornet, we did see majority foreigner clientele, and our own Chinese friends did find it difficult to choose from the menu.

There are plenty of drinks on offer which meant finally, after several months I’ve been able to enjoy a good Captain Morgan’s rum. Cheers Jimmy Hornet!

Jimmy Hornet hosts special jazz events on Thursdays, and often invite guests for performances on certain days. But what I loved most about the place was that the music was very decent yet of a perfect volume. I could hear my friends and didn’t have to shout or even raise my voice to be heard. The tables were spaced out and the seating was comfortable. The lighting was also fantastic – It lit up everyone’s faces well yet still gave a nice shadowery/night feel away from the table. I plan to revisit Jimmy Hornet just for the atmosphere alone.

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Jimmy Hornet is the best western restaurant I’ve been to so far. The service we received was absolutely incredible. Very polite waitering staff who knew English, we received our food in good time, and it was an excellent venue.

The toilets were weird though. That’s all I’m saying.

Foreigners wearing Chinese Dresses – My Personal Views

A young American woman was publicly criticized for wearing a Chinese dress for her prom, despite not having a Chinese ethnicity. Here are my thoughts on the matter, from the perspective of a British teacher living in China.

A teen’s special day

The American tradition of prom has gradually influenced British culture, and we now have prom for our own end of year highschool students in the UK. As I understand it, many girls from both America and the UK feel under pressure to find the right dress and an impressive entrance to the prom which is a chance to express themselves and release some of the pressure brought on from exams.

The Chinese Dress

The young American woman chose to wear a beautiful red Chinese dress known as a qipao or cheongsam, in Mandarin and Cantonese respectfully. She commented on how she loved the beauty of the dress and it’s reserved nature, likely commenting on its high collar. This dress is a traditional dress, yet does not have any religious or cultural boundaries – You can wear this dress at any time of the year, though many women like to wear this dress on special occasions. For example, some of the Chinese teachers at my school wore beautiful qipao on the first day of work, others will wear this when celebrating birthdays or the 100th day of a newborn child. I have seen a few Chinese women wear the dress style daily, yet others won’t wear the dress at all, as some have told me, it’s a bit of a bother to wear.

Cultural Appropriation

Twitter user Jeremy Lam criticized the young American, with his comments suggesting she was culturally appropriating the Chinese culture. His words can be summarized “My culture is NOT your prom dress. I’m proud of my culture, for it to simply be subject to American consumerism and cater to a white audience, is parallel to colonial ideology.” Many online media websites have interpreted Jeremy Lam’s comments as accusing the young American of cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is often used by sociologists to describe a majority culture deliberately profiting from a minority culture, by taking important aspects of the minority culture and changing their original meaning to appeal to a consumer market.

Examples of cultural appropriation include the Native American feather headdresses which are worn strictly by leaders of a certain rank. These hold highly spiritual and political importance. Yet these headdresses were coveted as a fashion item, and have been remade and sold by markets to consumers. The meaning of the headdress was forcibly changed to vague meanings such as “peace” and “love”, which made it a popular item to purchase in events like music festivals even to this day.

Other cultural appropriation against Native American culture include vision quests, which are sacred trials undergone by Native American tribe members at a point in life to learn about what their role may be in local society. Vision quests heavily emphasizes togetherness. Yet vision quests have been sold as ‘experiences’ for tourists. These tourists then go forth to learn more about themselves and their own identity. This is different to the vision quest’s original meaning and it was never meant to be a commercial enterprise.

When sociologists describes cultural appropriation as making profit from minority cultures, it does not always allude directly to financial and economical gain. For example, traditional clothing and cultures have often been radically sexualised, such as the Japanese kimono or even used for comedic effect such as the traditional wear of a Catholic Nun, a Mexican sombrero or a Japanese Geisha used, and culturally appropriated for Halloween.

Cultural appropriation is a hot topic and various modern societies across the world are still exploring where it draws the line on what is morally acceptable. My perspective is to consider the nature of the ‘profit’ someone may be gaining from wearing or using an item from another culture and to check whether it fits the definition of cultural appropriation. On my own personal understanding, I feel it is more likely that an institution is guilty from cultural appropriation than an individual. Here are a few questions I would ask to myself, on considering whether an individual is involved in culturally appropriation.

  • Has this person changed the original meaning of the culture?
  • Does this person profit from the minority culture? Financially or socially? And was this done deliberately?
  • Will this have long lasting consequences for the minority culture?
  • How has the minority culture responded?

Chinese Culture

Chinese culture is tremendously vast, from one town to another you may experience a completely different language, cuisine, way of life, music, religion and perspective. A qipao is something than many Chinese cultures share, yet there are also many other traditional forms of Chinese dress that some regions have and others don’t. The qipao is not sacred and many Chinese people living in China have expressed support and delight of a foreigner wearing the qipao at a special event – both online and through television interviews. I have also asked fellow Chinese colleagues at my school who first could not understand why there was a problem, and the most common comment I received was “red is the best colour for this dress.”

American and American-Chinese Culture

I do not know much about American culture, but from what I understand, wearing a qipao can make you stand out quite a lot. My last thoughts for this blog post is if an American-Chinese person was to wear a qipao for their prom, what kind of reaction would they receive, compared to this young American woman? Would an American-Chinese person receive positive feedback, or would they be seen as ‘exotic’ or ‘not American’?

Many online critiques of the young American have stated that the two latter points are the case, which suggests a huge, societal issue that must be addressed through responsible organisations and social policy. It is known that many minority cultures and people feel they have to work much harder than others in order to receive the same opportunities and social status, and issues regarding successful social integration regularly hit the tabloids both in America and Britain. But don’t mistake this blog post for suggesting this is a new or recent issue,  minorities having to receive ‘majority approval’ has been examined by sociologists and historians alike.

However, I do not think it is the fault of the young American woman that American-Chinese individuals feel they cannot embrace their heritage due to bullying and pressure from majority cultures, nor do I think this particular issue proves that the young American is culturally appropriating Chinese culture. The thoughts and feelings on both sides of this particular debate both contain reasonable arguments and while I personally do not think this young woman was culturally appropriating Chinese culture, it does not invalidate those who think that she was.

Yet I think instead of examining the actions of a young individual, perhaps we should look at the bigger issue at hand? Let’s ask ourselves what can America do as a society to allow minority cultures to express themselves without the need to force them to dress, act, speak in the manner in order for the majority to feel safe, secure, non-threatening and part of ‘regular society’? AKA, American. I can appreciate how someone who identifies as American-Chinese may feel frustrated that the majority culture in American can appreciate other cultures without issue, while perhaps they themselves feel they cannot.

There is a similar problem in Britain with cultural integration and I’d like to end this post with a link to a Facebook page of someone I look up to. Naziyah Mahmood is a wonderful scientist, activist and martial artist among many other things, and she made a fantastic point about the absurd demands that some people in society make against minority faiths and cultures. Her choice to wear a hijab as part of her Muslim faith has been met with some terrible criticism yet she responds that Muslims should not have to “drape their national colours over their heads”. I feel the debate on cultural appropriation in regards to wearing the qipao in America is due to a much wider social issue at hand on social and cultural integration and solidarity.