Well where do I start?
I’ve been here for an intense, fast moving and unbelievable first month.
I apologize in for the delay in updating but truly, in writing this this is my first time to stop,to process what I’ve seen and what I’ve done.
How to sum up a month?
Well to start with, Beijing.
This city is intense and fast moving, from the people to the subway to food. Everything moves fast here. I’m relieved I’m such a fast walker to start with as I fell into the pace relatively quickly. What I didn’t anticipate is how quickly I fell into the rhythm here. When I first arrived a lot of things shocked me, but as I fell right into work I have had no time to truly question or have any culture shock or many wtf China moments. I have to always remind myself to take pictures and remind myself that these things are not common, and that China has some interesting ways of doing things. One thing that has helped me to get acclimatise to the city and the country is when I feel myself questioning what goes on around me, when people spit on the street or random strangers practice their basic english with me, or I have photos taken of me on the subway I respond to myself with another question “Why not”. Anyway I’m rambling!
So what has happened in a month?
I arrived anticipating to do one type of job only to be offered the chance to transfer to another area in the company which was more challenging and more in tune with my degree and my experience so I took the offer and am very relieved I did!
From my first week I have been in charge of a production and am directing a group of students in a public school! My company has classes in centers around Beijing but also is hired by public schools to go in and give them a full production. So that means I not only have to Direct a full production of 9-11 year olds in English, but I design the set, props, costume etc. While I do not have creative control over the script, it was given to me based on the student’s english levels. I have complete creative control. When I sit at work, deciding warm up games for my lesson plans, and design rat puppets I can’t help pinching myself that I have actually found a job that pays me for my degree, it’s a very surreal and exciting process.
I am enjoying work thus far and meeting people from around the world is very eye opening and I am keen to learn and work with them as much as I can. My company employs both Chinese teachers to translate and to work on the productions but also foreign teachers such as myself. I am excited to learn from them and get an understanding of their processes and how their theatre backgrounds have shaped them. I find myself missing the dividing and company based aspect of New Zealand theatre but I know that being there that doesn’t adhere with the Chinese Students educational upbringing, which I learnt doing my Tefl course, which brings me to my next adventure Tefl.
My Second week here was spent at a TEFL course, which coming into it I only saw it as a necessary means to to my visa.Teaching has never been a goal of mine and while everyone always tells me I should become a teacher I shudder at the thought and the thought of teaching as a career would be torture to me. I didn’t anticipate enjoying the course load which was geared to teaching in China, so I learnt valuable lessons about Chinese learners and Chinese culture but also was surprised about how much I could apply into my Directing style and how I can adapt that to teaching theatre skills. I also learnt that If I i’m going to be doing theatre with Chinese children I am going to have to spend a heck of a lot of time with ensemble exercises and bring them out of their competitive, “I, Me, “ Natures and bring them out of their shells.Overall, I was pleasantly surprised how much I learnt about my style as a director, and the preparedness I felt going back to work.
My third week was very difficult and intense emotionally. I have a massive drama, ( Drama is what I’m going to call it because I had nothing but trouble that week) My issue was this, my company had set up me in a hotel for the first two weeks with the intention that I search for accommodation in those two weeks and move onto an apartment. My problem was that I had my TEFL course for the second week. It was not only a TEFL course but an intensive course. It said clearly in the instructions to not expect to do any Visa searches, apartment viewings etc because you won’t have time. They were not kidding when they said this and suddenly I found myself without a place to live. I won’t go into details about the emotional day as I had much rather forget about it. With help from a family friend I managed to find a hostel and stayed there for 5 hellish days. While the hostel wasn’t that bad, I had stayed in worse in Europe it was difficult staying in a hostel with tourists whilst I was going to work. The schedules of me and my roommates was never on the same page, but I met some cool people and had an interesting time socialising which was nice. I however really needed to find an apartment fast.
The biggest problem was that in Beijing, when you search for an apartment you have to pay a lot of money up front. It’s the normal done thing, and I wish I had done deeper research about this before I arrived. Landlords expect you to pay three months in advance, a deposit ( one months rent) and an agency fee ( half rent). I however was incredibly fortunate and found a Landlord who catered to foreigners and operated on a monthly rent basis. I found a room and could describe the relief there was in doing a something simple such as Laundry, or the emotional mess I was when I went into the supermarket and was able to buy olive oil and cook pasta. For the first time I felt at home and was not stressed about my living situation.
Anyway venting over,
I was lucky I had people to help and found the type of room I did. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise. I wish to thank Spencer, Adrian and my family for their assistance, it really would have been a huge struggle with you all!
My fourth week was full of routine and work so I was excited to finally get out there and use my day off to do some tourist things and explore. My first stop was the 798 art district, a section of Beijing full of art galleries, art installations, design shops and became within 5 minutes my favourite area of the city. The weather was clear, a rare sunny day and I had the whole day to myself. I wandered through a contemporary art gallery for most of the morning before window shopping through unique and interesting design shops full of jewelry and art pieces. While I was finding a place to find lunch I could barely believe my eyes as I found a coffee shop called flat white, which you guessed was a New Zealand themed coffee shop. Full of tui designs and New Zealand branded coffee. As I sat in in the Window seat facing one of the streets in the art district I could almost swear I was in Europe and was truly the first moment being in this crazy fast paced city that I felt at peace.
To answer questions you may have, the pollution can get bad, you know immediately walking outside when you need to wear your face mask. Your eyes feel like they have a film on them and breathing doesn’t feel right, almost as if theres a pressure on your lungs. I am getting used to it however and probably don’t wear it as often as I should, but I am a firm believer in do as the locals do or ‘when you are in Rome’ so most of the time I only wear it if most of the Beijingers do!. It seems to be working so far. I will let you know if the strategy pays of!
Cost of Living is incredibly cheap here, you can get a huge amount of food for 50 rmb and in general everything is cheaper here. I have quickly stopped converting back into NZD to stop myself from unnecessary spending but it gets really hard sometimes!
You won’t get by without basic Chinese. I’m lucky being a theatre student, as I can get by with gesture and facial expression but I really needed to have learnt Chinese before I arrived!
I am picking up basic phrases, from hearing my Chinese coworkers talk in Chinese I ask the meaning of words I hear quite frequently, and go from there!
Well if you have any further questions please go ahead and leave a comment!
To all my friends in NZ this blog, my email and WeChat are the best ways to get in contact with me as I am taking a break from Facebook!
Did not expect this to be as long as it was, next time will be shorter and I will make sure to update more frequently!!
All my love,