Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Who's great idea was it to visit China anyway?

Wednesday 16th February 2011

MP3 track of the day: Big trouble in little China

Weather: Hot and sticky ... again. There was quite a lot of cloud cover which did help with the heat.

My alarm clock, sounding at 6:30am again, was starting to get annoying. I turned it off and blundered my way into the shower. I decided to opt for yesterday's t-shirt as I could see no logical reason in wearing a fresh one just so it too could be ruined by sweat. Tomorrow I'll mainly be sitting within an cafe revising my English notes; I shall change to a clean t-shirt then.

The day started off a reasonable temperature, however it wasn't long before the heat started to build. I went for my usual 'hot chocolate and two donuts' at my local petrol stations coffee shop. The lady behind the counter, who recgonised me instantly, got my order ready without me needing to tell her. The hot chocolate was as good as yesterday. Instead of heading south, from the coffee shop, I had to head west and soon enough I was facing this huge wall with barbwire running along the top. Over the wall I could just see the Chinese flag flying and I knew I had arrived at the embassy. Due to building work a temporary entrance had been created on the east side of the embassy, or so a sign told me. I followed the arrow, on the sign, but I could not find an entrance. I had gone all the way around the embassy and was back where I had started. I asked a guard and he pointed to the west side of the building to which I found a door. I hoped the fact that it was difficult to even find the entrance to the Chinese embassy wasn't an omen for how difficult my visit was going to be. It was.

At the entrance stood a guard; I inquired if this was the correct entrance to apply for a Chinese visa? He nodded and I proceeded through the gate; first off I had stand on a step while the guard ran a metal detector over my body (it looked like said metal detector had been purchased from 'toys 'r' us'). I had a few bleeps and I showed the guard my phone, MP3 player and my camera within my bag. The guard said 'no photo within embassy'. I replied 'okay' as I hadn't traveled thirteen different countries to get a photograph album full of 'Chinese embassies of the world'. Not really understanding what the guard meant he blocked my path and said that I had to leave my camera with him. Not on your life pal! In the end I got my camera, showed it to the guard, and removed it's battery. I handed the battery over to the guard and he allowed me to proceed. This had already put me in a bad mood (and, to the people within the Chinese embassy at Phnom Penh, I carry a spare battery which the guard didn't confiscate).

The room was pretty bland with a big glass screen in front of me. I decided that it wouldn't make a good photo anyway. As I had already filled in my application form I made my way to the glass screened reception desk. The glass was so dark that, even with my face pressed against it, I still couldn't see if there was anyone to serve me. It wasn't until this mysterious hand knocked on the glass did I start to pass through my documents. All went well until the receptionist looked at the 'number of days' I had requested; he said that I could only apply for a thirty day visa to which I showed him my form where it said that I can apply for a 'three to six month visa'. He countered by saying that this was only if I held a letter of invitation from China (which I didn't). With no choice I made the necessary amendments and handed back the form with my passport. I was told to come back on Monday morning, which was a little annoying as my voluntary work would have started by then. The cost of all this ... $45.00.

As I went back to the main gate the guard handed me back my battery. I got out my camera, inserted said battery and took some photos to make sure the battery was okay. I knew it would be fine, I was just being childish; I wanted to show the guard that I didn't trust him at all, just like the Chinese embassy hadn't trusted me to be able to go in, with my camera, without taking a photo.

I continued walking west, before heading north and ending up at Phnom Penh's main market. A huge yellow shaped dome building held most of the market with a few stalls sprawling along the edges; I went in to have a look around. The market sold the usual South East Asian tat however, due to the high roof, it was quite cool. I purchased another souvenir whilst within the area. For 20p I got one of those shuttlecock things that I saw the locals kicking within Siem Reap (do you remember me mentioning it within my blogs about Siem Reap?). I decided that, once home, I would give the game a whirl as it looked pretty skillful.

It was now 10:30am; it was hot and sticky. I went into the 'National Museum' to cool down and hopefully look around for two hours taking me up to lunch. I wasn't really in a museum mood; added to that the museum itself was rubbish. Four square rooms, connected by four corridors to make a square with a courtyard in the center, was the entire space awarded for Cambodian's national museum. Whats more most of the stuff on exhibition was from the Angkor period which:

a) I had seen before

b) made more sense at Angkor as they were in their natural surroundings.

I breezed through the museum not really taking anything in. I got back to the entrance and tried to see if there was another floor. There wasn't. There had been no information on 20th Century history, Pol Pot, or anything else. I left the museum thinking that my $3.00 entrance fee could have been better spent ... on ice cream perhaps. To make matters worse it was only 11:00am; I was tired and hungry and so I headed back to my guesthouse, dropped my bag off, and went for an early lunch. Just like yesterday I went to the sandwich shop and, again just like yesterday, I had the same meal. I ordered an ice cream which was lovely. The meal itself was good and filling however the drink was small and 80% of the cup was filled with ice (I always ask 'without ice' for my drinks however, on this occasion, I had forgotten).

I left the sandwich shop – feeling quite full – and went back to my guesthouse to look at my diary. If my Chinese visa starts on the 2nd April then it will expire on the 1st of May, which is a Sunday. This is extremely annoying as it means I will have to extend my visa, at the latest, on Friday 29th April. My thirty day extension would expire on the 29th May and guess what, my flight home was booked for the 31st of May. This would mean that I would have to extend – if I could – my Chinese visa twice. Other options included amending my flight so I come home on the 1st May (meaning that I wouldn't have to extend my Chinese visa or extend my travel insurance that runs out on the 5th May) however that doesn't leave me that long to explore China, considering I'll be in Shanghai for a week for the F1. I could extend once and bring my flight forward a couple of days however that means that I'll have to pay for an extension to my visa, fees for changing my flight and extend my insurance cover. This was probably the most expensive option out of the lot however I can't really see any viable alternative. I haven't put a foot in the country and already China is annoying me.

I decided not to worry about it and instead I headed to a local restaurant to spend the afternoon / evening drinking drinks and reading my English notes. My TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) notes are split up into twelve modules. I decided that it would be a good idea to go through them in order, and so I started with module one: Student motivation, teacher's roles and TEFL methods.

Module one was basically a nine page document saying that all students learn differently. Students learn using different senses (visual, touch and sound) which requires a teacher to make sure that each and every lesson has tasks which use the above three senses. Some students might prefer to take an active role in any exercise chosen, whereas other students might need a little time to build confidence before joining in. A teacher needs to identify which students prefer what and design the lesson to meet every students needs. What's more it's also important to work out at what level your students are at pretty quickly. This will allow the teacher to adapt the lesson to meet current abilities.

Module two was all about classroom management and student levels. Classroom management was not just about keeping discipline but more on setting up the classroom depending on the type of activity you are planning on doing. For example setting up the classroom so that students are in pairs will help if the exercise chosen is for a student to find out about their pairs holiday plans. Once the information has been gathered the design of the classroom could change again to, for example, a horse-shoe shape seating arrangement where the students explain to the class what they found out about their partner. The module goes on and explains how to use a blackboard effectively, the use of pictures and using different colours, if possible, to underline grammar. Finally the module deals with assessing each students English level.

The third module was about grammar. I lost the will to live after four pages as TEFL (which is probably written by an American) has so many sub groups for nouns, adverbs, verbs and adjectives. I'm the first to put my hand up and say that I'm not the best at English, however it is my native language and I haven't got a clue what the module is blabbering on about. To make matters worse I then moved onto tense where, apparently, there are twelve tenses (including present simple, past continuous, future perfect continuous and the list rolls on). Well there aren't twelve tense in my classroom pal! Past, present and future is what I'll be sticking to as basically that's all you need to know. I may just try to skip intense grammar classes … or bunk off school.

The forth module concentrated on teaching said grammar. Most of it was as useful as module three however, using concept questions, to see if a student understood what was being said, could be applied to most teaching. For example if I was to say 'last night I decided to drive to work today. I managed it, but there was a lot of traffic' I could ask concept questions like:

  • Was driving to work a planned?

  • Did I drive to work today?

  • Where there any problems?

The module went on and covered how to bring grammar into a lesson, how to identify a sentences 'form', 'function' and 'phonology' … All exciting stuff like that. It was at this point I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

Module five concentrated on teaching vocabulary. This for me seems the most fun, and useful, module out of the whole course. There are so many games, exercises and group activities that you can do to help students with their vocabulary. My favorite two ideas are:

  • drawing pictures (or using picture cards) and getting the students to shout out what it is I'm drawing.

  • Playing hangman but instead of drawing a man hanging, maybe having a clock and counting down to midnight.

After module five I sat back in my chair, quite exhausted. I decided to give the TEFL revision a rest and I ordered something to eat before retiring to my room to read more of my book. Tomorrow is going to be a lazy day getting up late and continuing with my revision. It's going to be quite nice just to sit and read.

Toodle Pip

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