I’m Amanda Sinclair, a 24 year old born and raised in England. Since finishing my law degree I decided to take a break and teach English in China. I have never taught or travelled to Asia before, and even after reading about China and what to expect, I still felt woefully unprepared. Here is a quick run-down of my very first week in China.
The journey from England to China
The first part of my flight seemed like any other flight I had taken – international. Walking into the transit lounge at Hong Kong, waiting to board the plane that would take me to Fuzhou I was very aware of people looking at me. Children were laughing at me. Even though the area was packed with people, I sat with an empty chair either side of me.
I was the only obvious foreigner.
Stepping off of the plane in Fuzhou I could only see flashing lights and lights in the building. I was surprised by how cold it actually was. Hadn’t I read somewhere that Fuzhou had a subtropical climate?
Walking through to the arrivals gate it wasn’t hard to spot my employer in the crowd, and he really didn’t need my name on a card, as I was the only other obvious foreigner in the crowd.
During the car ride in to Fuzhou, and to my home for the next year, I was given a mobile phone, some basic amenities, and a key to my apartment. I couldn’t see much out of the window, apart from speeding lights. Even that though thrilled me. I had arrived.
My new home in China
I was driven to my apartment down an inconspicuous alley, in a nondescript building, on the seventh floor, which made walking home in the dark for the first week very interesting as I at first missed the alley entrance, then the building, and then couldn’t remember which floor I was on. Also, there isn’t a lift. That made carrying my bags up the first night very interesting.
I was nervous about meeting my flatmate. I was told she was an American teacher, around the same age working at the school, but I was still nervous, envisioning a harpy dictator or an ogre.
Walking into the apartment I was nicely surprised by how fresh and modern it looked in comparison to the outside of the building. It had all the basic amenities, and because other teachers had previously lived in the apartment, it had collected a rather mix’n’match assortment of decorations and kitchenware.
Having been shown around the apartment, dumping my bags in my room, freshening up and meeting my flatmate (she wasn’t an ogre but instead a genuinely friendly person) I was taken out to dinner to meet some other teachers.
Time for some dinner
Dinner on the first night was in a restaurant, down some street I can’t remember, in a restaurant that looked like the one next to it. We were shown into a private room, and we sat down and we proceeded to order food. By we, I don’t mean me. I informed everyone I was vegetarian, which elicited a few ‘ooohs’ and pursed lips in response as to what to order.
Lots of tofu, cooked in a variety of ways, and lots of vegetables. This was accompanied by a lot of beer. It is here that I am introduced to the Chinese tradition of ‘Gumbei’. This ritual starts by someone pouring a rather large shot glass full of beer, and raising it to a person, who in turn has to raise their filled shot glass and both say ‘Gumbei’. It is rude to not respond to a Gumbei.
It left me rather full on beer, with a slightly spinning room. This is surprising as the alcohol content listed on the bottles is minimal. The food is marvellous though, and I am ecstatic that I at least know how to use chopsticks!
Day one at school
The day after my arrival I started work. The first week was all about inductions and introductions. You are given so much information, it feels like it goes in one ear and out the other, but they give it to you all written down as well.
Learning all the teacher’s names as well was a challenge, let alone the students. There was so much to take in, that I constantly walked around with a bewildered look on my face. That didn’t go by the end of the first week either. I don’t think it was expected to.
Exploring the city
Before work I explored some of the city. I was lucky that my flatmate had been here for two weeks before me, so she showed me the supermarket, and where to go. I spent my mornings exploring West Lake Park, and my first day off visiting the Forest Park with a group of other teachers, then the Bird and Flower Market.
It was on my days off, or during my little explorations of the parks that made me very aware that I was in a foreign country, and I didn’t know the language. I would attempt to say “hello” and “how are you?” but could never understand the answer. Also I couldn’t get used to how few foreigners there were. I was treated like a celebrity on my first trip out, with people staring at me, my photograph being taken, and even being followed, that my first outing only lasted about an hour.