My colleague went on holiday for 3 weeks so I was asked to cover his classes. Sure, I said. Then I remembered that one day a week he goes to a town outside Shanghai to teach, setting off from our school just after 7am, but by then it was too late to say no.
On my first week I woke up at 6, showered and dressed and left by 6.30am. Matt had bought me an iced coffee so I grabbed this from the fridge on the way out and took the metro to work.
Outside the school was a grey KIA, and I got in. One of my colleagues was inside and the other turned up a few minutes later. We sat in silence and the driver set off. Both my colleagues were soon asleep but I was full of coffee and rage at driving almost directly past our flat.
An hour and a half later, we arrived in the town of Haiyan. According to the font of knowledge that is Wikipedia, 300,000 people live in Haiyan. That makes it basically a village.
We pulled into a complex and drove to a large, empty building. This is the community centre and is where things like English language lessons, pensions and sterilisations are carried out.
We had two classrooms on the 2nd floor. The whole place reminded me of the Huntingdon Regional College, where I had music lessons on a Saturday morning as a child. Just like here, classrooms were requisitioned at the weekend for teaching children, pretty child-unfriendly places really. I remember being fascinated by the endless corridors with darkened classrooms housing strange machines. As a child with a vivid but unhappy imagination, I saw death and danger behind every door as I wandered up and down, frequently lost and often in the dark. And now here I was in a bone fide nuclear facility.
Haiyan is (again, thank you Wikipedia) known as “nuclear city” thanks to the nuclear plant. The company knows that it needs to entice people to work out here, miles from Shanghai, so English classes have been arranged for the kids – so they have the same opportunities as the kids in Shanghai – and so here we were.
Except it wasn’t the same as Shanghai. In my classes in Shanghai I use a touchscreen to access all the online resources for my lessons. Here: no internet and no touchscreen. I had a whiteboard! How retro!
That first day I taught three two-hour classes. 5 year olds, 13 year olds and 10 year olds. The kids were nice, not as confident as their Shanghai peers but I had a good time with the teens especially.
At the end of the day we got back in the car and drove for two hours back to Shanghai, the traffic slowing is down a little. We arrived back at my school at 7.30pm, and then it was half an hour to get home.By lunchtime I was hungry, and we got back in the car and drove 200 metres to the nuclear plant’s restaurant. A table of food was laid out for us – Chinese dishes, three veg and three meat, plus soup and tea and rice, of course. The food was actually pretty good but it was totally surreal as I was the only foreigner in the place and we were the only people who didn’t work for the nuclear plant. We ate in silence, if Chinese food can ever be silent (slurp).
The final journey back was the most eventful, clearly the driver was in a rush to get back but we came far too close to many moving and inanimate objects. At one point I messaged Matt and told him how to contact my insurers in case of an accident. Then, because it’s China, I went to sleep.The second and third weeks were similar except I woke up later, didn’t shower and took taxis to school. On the third week some of the youngest students followed me to the bathroom and I heard them shouting in Chinese “the foreign teacher is having a wee!”.
I’m so glad I don’t have to go again.