Zhangzhou: Tea and Teaching

I’ve been a bit lax with an update recently but my excuse is that I’ve been busy with work and busy getting fit in the gym. Combine this altogether and I’m very tired.

With work, Phil and Rachel went to Vietnam for a holiday, leaving me in charge of the school whilst they were away. They left the day the man came to install the air conditioners, so I had to stay at home to let him in. This was all fine, although Ruby being the racist dog that she is wouldn’t stop barking at the poor man. I did placate her in the end by rubbing her tummy continuously… So all this was going well, and I was about to head to school when I got a message from them on Skype. “There’s a girl who needs a teacher interview” it said. I wasn’t sure whether they mean she was a potential student, or wanted to be a teacher so I got them to clarify. The girl wanted to apply for the Chinese teacher role. I told them I’d be along shortly (in the pouring rain) but was a little scared as I’ve never interviewed anyone for a job before!

I rocked up to school to find Sophie waiting for me. I interviewed her and found her English to be OK and she’d done a bit of teaching before, but she could only stay for a month or so. I couldn’t make a decision without asking Rachel first so I explained the situation and that we’d be in touch. No sooner had I done one interview, another girl had turned up wanting to be a Chinese teacher. It never rains but it pours, eh? This was a much quicker interview because frankly, she didn’t understand what I was saying. Her English was too poor to teach the students but again I had to play the “we’ll get in touch card” as I had to pass on the information to Rachel, which I did via email. I’m sure I’ve dashed someone’s dreams of being a teacher, but isn’t that life sometimes? Finally, once the interviews had been done, I was able to do English Corner. That week I was getting my students to fill in basic penpal forms which I’m going to send to my old primary school, with pictures, and hopefully we’ll get something back in return, it’s very exciting! Here’s the message to the parents about it, obviously you can’t read it, but thought you’d enjoy it anyway.

After last weekend’s May Day holiday which resulted in no teaching, it was back to normal this week which was nice. My adult students are a whole lot more unreliable than my kids, but sometimes that’s a good thing as I get to go home earlier than usual. Saturday was a good example as it meant that I could listen to all the football build up and not miss any of it.

But now to more of my adventures in China! Tuesday before last (24th April) I was invited to my friend Candy’s hometown, Jiufeng. It was an hour and a half’s drive from Zhangzhou, which was a really beautiful drive through some lush green countryside and mountainous terrain. We left fairly early so arrived well before lunch. I met her boyfriend’s parents, and her parents and at each house I went to was offered tea. Now I can’t turn that down, can I?!

I met so many different neighbours, relatives and even old teachers, as Candy took me on a stroll around her hometown. I didn’t know what to expect of it but again, just like when I went to Daisy’s in February, it was gorgeous. We had a lucky day with the weather too, with what turned out to be the only dry day of the week! We saw a Fujian traditional roundhouse,

Back of the roundhouse

which is like a farm courtyard, only completely round, which was really interesting. How have I managed to go from Inner Mongolia where traditional yurts are common and round, to another province with traditional round houses?! Anyway, we had some fun messing around by taking photos of each other

and I also found some massive gardens (thought Dad would like that!) and plenty of banana trees.

Banana trees!

There were plenty of temples to gaze at too. They all have a similar design but it’s lovely to see how each one differs depending on the town. This one had great pictures of Jiufeng and the roundhouse, which sat at a bend in the river. I could only describe it a little like some of the towns in the Moselle valley in Germany, where the Moselle river bends through towns.

A Jiufeng street

See the hills from the town

In the afternoon, after a wonderful lunch at Candy’s boyfriend’s house, (including more tea and more rice than I could ever eat) we all drove to a local mountain which is apparently a local tourist spot. What I had not expected was all the tea plants everywhere.


I know it sounds exaggerated, but believe me I was genuinely awed at all the tea plants I saw, just like they’ve been shown in pictures and documentaries I’ve seen.

Picking the tea

At every bend there was a new view, a beautiful view. We passed through tiny hamlets of about 3 houses to get to the top of the mountain, where there is actually a 5 star hotel looking down at all the valleys of tea below. We had some fun taking more photos (I’m beautiful here goddamnit so may as well make the most of it!)

One of the lads called the light a ‘UFO’!

and I got more and more excited about the tea, maybe ridiculously so but I want to enjoy every minute of being out here and not be cynical or bored. I revel in anything that I get shown, and the hospitality that I have experienced from any family that I meet is second to none. They are truly welcoming and I feel truly blessed to have been invited into their home.

I continued to enjoy the scenery for the rest of the day.


More tea…

Even more tea!

We were all treated to sunshine and beautiful blue sky so I managed to get some stunning photos and I saw rice paddies, however I have still yet to work out how they get rice from them. I just can’t get my head around it!. I even met a gold Buddha, who definitely made me feel better about my weight, although Cate’s suggestion of me putting on a Princess Leia outfit and pretending he was Jabba the Hut may have offended the Buddhists if I’d tried it, but I thought it was a funny suggesting nonetheless!

In the evening we ended up going to a KTV where Candy’s mum worked. We had the most fantastic meal, which consisted mostly of fish dishes but hands down THE best fish I have had in China. One of them was a whole fish in some kind of ginger and soy sauce, I’ve no idea but it was heaven, another was a fish soup, which had been flavoured with parsley which reminded me of Dad’s fish (to be honest I just drank the soup part, it took me home!) and finally there was a dish of fried fish which is the closest I’ve had to fish and chips (minus the chips of course) in China. I could have eaten the whole plateful of that, which would have set my healthy eating and exercise plan back a few weeks but fortunately I resisted. As we were saying goodbye to everyone after such a wonderful day, I was given tea, a tea set and a massive bag of noodles from all areas of Candy’s family. It was so generous and they would not let me thank them enough. As I’ve mentioned before, the hospitality here is second to none and I feel really humbled every time I meet a new family.

I love days like those where you head off the beaten track. There’s a good chance I’m one of the only foreigners ever to have been to Jiufeng, just like Wuyuan. It’s experiences like these that really make my time out here so special. I don’t have to go gallivanting off to big cities at every chance, I can do that anytime. But invitations to people’s homes are a little more special and have given me memories and photos that I will treasure for a lifetime.

Saying this though, I am planning to gallivant somewhere for the Dragon Boat festival in June. I’m deciding between Shanghai and Chongqing at the moment, as I’ve been to neither. I’ve got a friend from uni in Chongqing though, so that might just swing it, but watch this space!

We’ve had some crazy weather recently, but what I do know is that it’s constantly humid. I have not worn my hair down for about a month and a half now, and I have to always pin my fringe off my face because it is far too hot to have it on my face! I had to grow my blunt fringe out, otherwise that would have been a pain to pin back, but I know I can get it cut again like that when I leave China. It’s not like I’m trying to impress anyone here anyway, there is literally no-one to try and impress!

Onto my healthy Sarah campaign, I’m pleased to say I’ve lost a little weight so far which is nice and I generally feel better for going to the gym 4 times a week. I have a treat every now and again, but have you ever seen Cornettos that are this small before?!

How small are they?!

However, labels like this do not make me feel good:

Yes, unfortunately I have to adhere to Chinese sizes, so although my new Aston t-shirt is lovely and new and everything, it is a size XXXL (which is a nice kind of baggy on me and I reckon would be an L in normal UK size). Also, Chinese people, I’m tall. Please get over it! It’s a pet hate in the UK being called tall and it’s an even worse one in China. However the girls from work and I spent a good few minutes the other day laughing about my height and men and the idea of making me dance with shorter men. Which leads me onto my last point, if I’ve not already told you. I’ve changed my Chinese name from gōng zhǔ (princess) to bái xuě (Snow White – although technically I can say bái xuě gōng zhǔand join it all together!), mostly because I’ve been told it’s a nice name, but also it fits me perfectly. I am the tallest person at work, with everyone else I work with being really short (and yes, I am calling them dwarves!).

Do you think this is an accurate representation of me in China?

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Author: Bennett

2 years as an expat in China and now doing the same in New Zealand, Bennett sure likes to experience "slow travel!"

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