Author Archives: Clare

Terracota Warriors and other stories

After a quick shower and rather strange breakfast in our Xi’an hotel, we were taken by our guide (Nigh – pronounced “nee”, as in “I’ve got nee money left to buy any more tatt”) and driver (Mr Hoo) to see the terracotta warriors. This has been something of an ambition of mine to see, so after the long journey to get there, I was getting really quite excited. However, as I’ve come to expect, there was more important business to attend to first: a trip to the ‘official’ ‘fake’ terracotta warriors factory.

This is apparently the only factory officially licensed to reproduce the statues as souvenirs and also produces reproduction life-size ones for displays, exhibitions, etc. After a 2 minute tour by one of their own ‘artists’, we were taken to the obligatory showroom where he did his best to try to sell us a life-sized warrior, shipped directly to the UK, including all insurances and fees, for approx £2000. Tempting, but we resisted. Instead we settled on two 30cm high statues for a lot less. Suckers, I know.

Then, we went to see the real thing. We arrived in the South Gate car park, where the tickets are purchased. The first thing I noticed was a stall selling fur: row after row of pelts in various colours. Nice. The museum itself however, is inside the North gate, a 10 minute walk away. So, off we went, passing stall after stall of souvenir vendors, selling warriors (I didn’t dare check prices, but at least I knew mine were genuine fakes), jade and, bizarrely, the occasional German Shepherd dog statue. Strange.

Eventually, we reached the North Gate. WOW. There are three pits in all, each within a large building. The first, and probably the most well known, is like being inside an aircraft hangar, with rows and rows of these amazing soldiers in formation. We stood and stared for ages, it is utterly mesmerising. Towards the rear of the pit is an area which is still being excavated (all this work takes place during the night), with heads, limbs and armour poking out of piles of earth. There is also a collection of ‘jigsaw’ soldiers, which are being painstakingly pieced together. It must be an archaeologist’s dream job.

Pits 2 and 3 are equally fascinating, if less jaw-dropping. Pit 2 is still largely un-excavated, but with small sections exposed to reveal more of the same piles of broken statues, this time with the odd horse poking out here and there. Pit 3 is much smaller but exposed in amazing detail, showing horses and generals and the original tiled floor on which they were all set out.

We finished with a look around the 4th building, a museum containing other relics found on the site, including bronze horses and chariots, and some of the weapons which the soldiers would have been carrying. Unfortunately due to being made of wood, these have not survived. Our guide, Nigh, was of course very knowledgeable and happy to wait whilst we just stood and stared (and Paul took photo after photo).

After lunch on the way back down to the South Gate, we passed more fur vendors, this time noticing much larger pelts. “Bear” I suggested? Apparently not. Only when I saw the ears and nose did I realise the relevance of the “Sascha” statues. All of a sudden Nigh seemed at a loss for answers to my questions. Perhaps I’m lucky that I’ve now spent so long here and not been challenged by such things, but it was rather an upsetting end to an otherwise amazing day.

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Posted by on Friday 17 August 2012 in China


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A Girls’ Night Out

I make it sound like it’s just another holiday: the girls going out, night after night, for drinks and food. I promise that really isn’t the case. (Well, maybe my fingers are ‘slightly’ crossed…)

After a couple of hours preparing for tomorrow’s lessons and after-school activities (forensics and finger-printing with 47 kids in STEM club!), we went to our favourite corner bar for well-deserved refreshments. It was a far more civilised affair tonight; I think the locals have already grown blasé about their English invasion. Still, the sight of seven girls out drinking on their own is an unusual sight here, regardless of the nationality.

We really have got the knack of this pointing and ordering lark, receiving exactly what we thought we had ordered: “meat on sticks” (lamb, we think), toasted bread buns and vegetables. We gave what looked like chicken’s heads a miss, along with the kebabs made just from fat. Perhaps another night. Washed down with a couple of pints of local brew from the roadside bar, we had a delightful evening for £2.50 each.

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Posted by on Friday 27 July 2012 in China



A Girl Called Arthur

I love the first day of Summer School: as hard work as it is, I am suddenly reminded why I have come back.

We arrived in Qinhuangdao yesterday. It is a coastal city, a little over 4hrs coach ride from Beijing. The route along the way starts to give way to the ‘real’ China, right down to the wrinkly old farmers in coolie hats. Qinhuangdao has little exposure to Westerners, and so wherever we go, we are met by bemusement. A group of 30+ of us sitting at a roadside bar last night became a local attraction. Traffic slowed and beeped at us as they passed, groups of giggling girls came over to practise their English and take photos with us, whilst the ‘cooler’ boys used us as a background whist their mates took their photo. Countless people stood nearby talking on their phones as if to say “you’ll never guess what I’m standing next to!”.

A small group of us headed off for food afterwards, returning to a table-top BBQ restaurant which was a previous favourite. Once again we caused such a stir that no one seemed to think we were being rude as we walked around, pointing at tables asking for “nage” (“that” – unfortunately their menu contains no pictures!). We ended up with a leg of lamb, corn on the cob, courgette salad, fried dumplings and sesame bread. And beer, though somehow we know how to order that ourselves! The lamb comes cooked ‘pink’, and is finished on a spit over hot coals in the middle of the table. Diners receive what can only be described as a knife and fork on stilts, to hack away at the meat from a ‘safe’ distance. A top notch dinner, assuming you are neither a vegetarian or Health and Safety Officer!

Alas, we are here for another purpose other than drinking, eating and entertaining the locals, and so off we went to school this morning to do our thing. As it is an English language summer school (and as correct pronunciation of Chinese names is so difficult), the children use English names in camp. We’ve had some crackers in the past: who can forget Bumble Bee (a boy), Harry Potter, Shark or Kate (also a boy, though he was gently encouraged to change his name last year). Today I met Arthur, a 13 year old girl. To be fair, she had already sussed it was a boy’s name and asked if I could pick a new one for her. I tried to match it to the sound of her Chinese name as often happens (though not always: see above), but she thought both Joanne and Jane sounded too boyish and she wanted “something prettier” (her words – my apologies!) . After several more suggestions from me and her class mates, she settled on……yup, Arthur. Oh well.

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Posted by on Friday 27 July 2012 in China


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A Slight Change of Plan

It was inevitable really, it had to happen sooner or later. Sure enough we didn’t have to wait long before we were met with the first “slight change of plan”. Change of plans I can accept, indeed have come to expect. The use of the word ‘slight’ however is, from my point of view, a little questionable.

Some time ago, myself and two other teachers had been asked to deliver a Maths and Science programme during the summer school. This was a new addition to the original programme, which up to now had been solely for English language. The three of us had met up in the UK on several occasions before the trip, to discuss what we would teach, make lists of what we would need, decide how we would split the groups etc, and had obviously spent a lot of time preparing resources (not to mention the baggage space taken up bringing these resources over!).

You can probably see where this is heading….

“Slight Change of Plan No. 1” (From herein referred to as SCoP1) occurred just before breakfast on Day 2, not 24hrs after arrival. The Maths and Science programme had been cancelled. The reasons are purely political and for this reason I won’t go into them here. Nevertheless, the decision has put a bit of a downer on the first few days as we are now rather in the lurch and unprepared for what is to come. OK, so I’ve done the English programme before, but of course I didn’t bring copies of previous work with me, did I?! So much for the relaxing evenings I was aiming for this year. Last minute lesson planning it is then!

SCoP1: ongoing
SCoP2: pending (any day now…)

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Posted by on Wednesday 25 July 2012 in China


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Day 1 – Is it better to travel or arrive?

It must be those rose-tinted glasses in duty free that make me forget on the flight home about all the irritations and annoyances of the preceding few weeks of Chinese summer camp. Instead, by the time I land, I seem only to remember the amazing time I have had and the fantastic experience I have been a part of. And so when January comes around and we are asked to apply for the next year’s programme, I can’t resist. The result? Here I am again in Beijing, about to embark on another English Language summer school.

How quickly it all came flooding back to me.

To be fair, my troubles started before I even got through security at Newcastle, where I found myself in an altercation at security about contact lens solution: he won, I lost my (less than half full) bottle of solution. The 9 hour flight from Paris was a particularly hot and sweaty affair and I managed only about 15 minutes sleep. My mood was not helped by being penned in by two strangers who slept the entire journey, meaning I couldn’t even get up to wander. Note to self: why insist on a window seat on a night flight?

Arrival was typically chaotic. Not the airport – that as you can imagine runs very efficiently – but the chaos of collecting 40 people from two flights coming into two different terminals, and transporting them and approximately 80 pieces of luggage (we need lots of resources…) to the hotel. Entertainment was provided watching our cases being squeezed into the “luggage bus” (essentially a people carrier without the seats). We waved goodbye to our luggage, wondering if we would ever see it again. Thankfully we were all reunited at the hotel: current condition of luggage bus unknown, but the prognosis can’t be good.

Transfer time between landing and check in to hotel: three and a half hours. Oh, it’s good to be back!


Posted by on Wednesday 25 July 2012 in China


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Desperate for an adventure or a glutton for punishment, I’m not sure which. Either way, I’m off to China for the third summer in a row. Despite the heat, humidity and the fact that I have to work to earn my keep, I seem to enjoy my ‘holidays’ in the Middle Kingdom, though after trip number two, felt I needed a year off to enjoy a ‘proper’ holiday.

This year however there is a twist. A little difference that made me want to go again. I will be joined part way through by hubby who, despite enjoying three weeks of freedom during the past two summers, has finally decided to see for himself what all the fuss is about. Between you and me I think it’s the idea of bottle of beer for 27p that was the real draw, though I will continue to flatter myself with the idea that he actually wants to experience all this with his beloved wife.

The other difference this year is that instead of teaching English, I will be teaching Maths, preparing Chinese students about to embark on British GCSE courses. This of course means less singing, dancing and role play, and more functional tasks, investigations and exam practice. Hmm, starting to sound much more like hard work than I was intending it to be…

So, after months of planning, reading travel guides, making lists, buying ridiculous amounts of toiletries, learning to speak Mandarin and collecting resources, I am almost ready to go.

See you in a little over 4 weeks! xx

An Oriental Summer

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Posted by on Friday 20 July 2012 in China