a rigmarole

Usually a post office is one of the first things you notice when you are traveling in a different country. Usually they are quite noticeable and are as numerous as a McDonald’s family restaurant.

It occurred to me about two weeks ago that I had not yet seen one in China and had no idea what it would look like if I were to need to visit one. Of course, that reminded me. I did need one! I needed to send something back to Australia!

I looked for 郵局 on Baidu Maps and a few options came up. The next day, I went on a walk to visit one and ended up in a bank! Not a post card nor envelope to be seen. It turns out, China Post is also a bank and I would need to find the actual China Post post office.

Well, I needed an envelope to send the document anyhow, so I went home and decided to make the next day my day for finding envelopes. Thinking it would be rather easy to find, I headed out and visited my nearest department store. In the stationary department, there were pens, pads of paper and everything else one would need to write a letter – all except for envelopes! I went into shop after shop after shop, looking for envelopes but had no success.

I asked my colleagues and they said the Miniso may have them, and if they didn’t, I should just order some on Taobao and have some delivered to my door. Miniso had no envelopes and I didn’t want to have to order them online. Surely someone sells envelopes somewhere!

This morning, I looked at my Baidu maps again and noticed there was a post office closer to my apartment that I hadn’t visited yet. Surely they would have envelopes, postage stamps and postcards! I ventured out, with my letter in hand, and when I arrived at the post office, it was beside a China Post bank but the section I was in was definitely a proper post office! A woman was having her enormous parcel weight at the counter, so I was sure that I was in the right place.

When I went up to the counter, I asked if she had any envelopes. The lady said no and said something in Chinese, pointing to the street. So, a bit perplexed as to why an actual post office wouldn’t sell envelopes, I walked down the street, wondering to myself what I should do. There was nothing else I could do except to go into each little local shop that I could find and ask if they sold envelopes.

After three or four shops, I had nearly lost hope, but then I went into a shop that had a photocopier service. I asked the lady and finally she said yes! I bought two envelopes for 2 元. I popped my letter in one and headed back to the post office.

Presenting the letter, I said I wanted to send this and if I could buy a postage stamp to Australia. She lady shook her head and threw an enormously long-winded sentence my way about what I needed to do. Shazui…. something, something, shazui. I repeated – Shazui? She nodded. I asked her to write it down, which she did. I send a photo of the words to my colleagues and they told me that it read “Shazui Post Office”. One of my colleagues kindly sent me a map and it wasn’t too far.

So, despite feeling a little frustrated that I hadn’t made much progress and already an hour had passed, I walked to Shazui Post Office which was hidden away in a very industrial area, with shops selling doors, toilet bowls, windows and light fittings. There was Shazui Post Office – the biggest post office I had seen as of yet.

I went up to the counter and asked the lady if I could get a postage stamp. She shook her head and said I didn’t need to worry and that she would take care of it for me. She spoke a little English and directed me in where I needed to write the address and return address. Then, she asked if I wanted it sent by ship or plane, weighed my letter and finally asked for 7元. Then she said it was all done and that I could go! Hurray!

I felt exhilarated! I had posted something and two or three weeks of confusion and running around not knowing what I needed to do was over!

I rushed to 85度C, bought myself a croissant and a 美式咖啡 (Americano coffee), and spent an hour or so reading Madame Bovary. The poor woman has just been financially ruined and, if I have understood the French correctly, has just given her a dose of arsenic and perhaps died! I will read the rest tomorrow on my way to work.

To add to the excitement of my day, I also bought myself a mini toaster oven. I love toast – especially hot, buttered toast – and I am rather sick of “toasting” it in a fry pan and ending up with fried bread or bread drenched in burnt butter. (My gas cooker is very hot and the low setting is not so low…)

I found one for 118元 – which I thought was an OK price for a fairly well-known Chinese brand – but there didn’t seem to be any stock left under the display model. I asked the shop assistant if she knew if they had any. She replied that they did and asked me to wait. After about one hour of waiting and listening to them squawk loudly into their phones to send and receive WeChat voice messages, finally a man appeared with a box. It was all very amusing.

To top it off, when I got it home, the cord is too short to read the powerpoint, so I will need to buy an extension. But, it does look handsome in my kitchen and I can’t wait to use it!


trains, boats and motorbikes

~~ Happy 1 month blog-aversary, Shenzhen Koala! ~~

Today Shenzhen Koala finally visited the south-west of Shenzhen – Chiwan, Shekou Port and Sea World!

I had planned to visit during Spring Festival but never got around to it, and since then, the days when I had thought it might be nice to go there on a day trip ended up being quite gloomy days weather-wise.

Today was sunny so I got dressed, threw my book into my shoulder bag, and headed to the subway. When I got there, I realised I had left my Shenzhen Tong metro card in the pocket of my work trousers! I luckily had a few yuan in my bag so I bought myself a trip to Shekou Port. If you buy a trip without a Shenzhen Tong card, you will receive a jeton or a chip from the ticket machine which you scan as you go through the boom gates. This little jeton totally confused me on my very first day in Shenzhen as I had no idea what it was or what I was supposed to do with it! (A nightmare when you are carrying two enormously large and heavy suitcases)

So, I hopped on the train and headed to Shekou Port, reading a good many pages of Madame Bovary on the way. I had expected Shekou Port would be a beautiful area with sea views, nice walkways and shops. When I left the subway station, it was very bare. There were a few construction sites, bus bays and the old Shekou ferry terminal. I opened my phone to see if I could find a department store nearby, or something of interest to do there. Nothing. In fact, my phone refused to connect as I had run out of phone credit (or something like that – I don’t really understand how my China Mobile account works).

So, I had no more money, no internet and no Shenzhen Tong. I wandered around Shekou Port hoping that I might find a cafe which might have wifi. That way, I could access the internet, pay for more phone credit, and be back in business. No dice.

Just before I had given up hope, I remembered I had seen an ATM at either end of the subway station. I was able to withdraw 100 yuan!

I had done a little research on the net a few months ago to see what was worth doing in this part of Shenzhen. Chiwan Temple looked really interesting, so I bought myself a trip to Chiwan for 2 yuan. I left the subway station and found myself surrounded by more construction sites. I walked on a little, passing and trying to ignore all of the men on motorbikes who were yelling out to me and offering me a lift. I am not a fan of motorbikes – otherwise I might have taken one of them up on their offer.

Looking at the map, it seemed like it would be easy to find the temple, but there were hills and busy roads on either side, as well as the motorbike men scattered all over the place. I didn’t feel like trekking up a hill and walking on the side of the busy roads, and there wasn’t a taxi to be seen, so I headed back into the subway station and bought a trip to Sea World. A rather wasted journey, but I will go back sometime when I have more patience. I want to see the temple!


Sea World was quite pretty when I exited from the subway station. Although the sunny day that had initially tempted me to go venturing around Shenzhen had been replaced by grey, cloudy skies, I continued on and wandered around, checking out all of the little cafes, restaurants and bars there were on offer.

I found a nice area where I could walk along a path along side the water and overlook fishermen as they waited for a catch. The sun was setting and colouring the atmosphere with a pleasant, orange glow. Ladies were sitting on the grass watching their poodles bounce joyfully from left and right with their doggy friends. A man played the erhu in the distance, flavouring the atmosphere further with a touch of nostalgia.

I sat for a moment and watched the people pass by, and waited for the sun to set. Then I walked back towards the dancing lights of the bar and restaurant district, taking a few photos as I went.

After an hour or so, I decided to head back, but felt like I should explore Shenzhen a little more. I looked at my metro app on my phone and saw that I could make a transfer at Window to the World rather than Antuo Hill. I knew that there was a theme park there, but that’s about all I knew. I imagined there would be a lot of shops and decided I would go and have a look.

There were many exits – Exit A to K or so. Shenzhen subway stations have signs indicating what you can access as you leave by a particular exit, so after having a look at the options, I decided to head toward Exit J which would take me to the Pyramid! I didn’t know quite what to expect, but it sounded exciting.


I travelled up the escalator and found that I was emerging from the subway through what looked like the Louvre Pyramid, all lit up in blue! I exited the station and was welcomed by lights, colours and an amazing plaza with a view of the Window to the World theme park entrance as well as the Eiffel Tower! I took a few photos and walked along the road, past a group of european-style buildings that were also lit up. I found a strange little area where there were restaurants and bars – a very nice outdoor jazz bar which I will have to visit in the future. It was almost as though I was walking around Strasbourg in the Alsace.

So, overall, I had a great day exploring Shenzhen! I wish I had visited those places earlier and can’t wait to go back!

my goals for 2017

This weekend has shown me that I really need to work out my goals. I feel rather aimless at the moment. Each morning, I find myself asking the same questions over and over. Why should I get up? What am I doing here? I’ve never been good at getting up in the morning, and am constantly fighting against a part of me that just wants to hide in bed all day. I’m not tired as such. I am lying in my bed, in a semi-sleepy state, with my mind thinking, considering, questioning, analysing and debating. I could quite happily do this for hours if it weren’t for the guilt of being in bed at 1 p.m.

I really don’t know if it’s normal or if I’m suffering from a mild form of depression – or maybe it’s homesickness. I have no idea. I just know that I wish I had the get-up-and-go like other people do.

So, I wrote myself a list of goals. At one point today, I realised that I needed some plan to focus on (or distract myself with).

  1. write your book and finish the 1st draft
  2. list grammar points that students need for each lesson
  3. study Chinese
  4. pay off debts
  5. read books
  6. watch films

1) I have been writing my book since 2012 and am currently up to about 45,000 words. I’ve been writing it on and off, but I’m finally nearing the en and should be finished writing it in a few months How exciting! My first book! It may not be such a good read, but nevertheless, I look forward to the feeling of having written my character’s story, which has been cooped up in my head for so many years.

2) As the teaching material I have to work with in my job jumps from one place to another, there have been times in my classes when I have felt unprepared. Although I have a lot of experience teaching English grammar, in my other positions as an ESL teacher, I have always had sufficient preparation time to look at the grammar point and determine what the students need to know and what they don’t. In my current position, I don’t have sufficient preparation time as most of that time is used up decoding the lesson plans and trying to convert them into something that can actually be taught in a classroom. I am also lost as to what level corresponds to the ESL levels that I have been familiar with. I often have students who are clearly upper elementary level students in upper intermediate classes and visa versa. This makes it very hard to know how far to go when clarifying grammar points. In actual fact, I’m not supposed to be presenting any grammar to my students as the focus is on using the language that they have learnt in a conversational situation. Well, that’s all very well, except when the students actually do not know the grammar to begin with and really need the extra help. Anyway, I am going to list the grammar points for each lesson that I come across so I can use it the next time the lesson comes up.

3) My third goal is to put more effort into studying Chinese. When I get home, I am busy with other things and tend to put my Chinese studies off. When I do get inspired, I make lists of a few useful words, but forget to actually study them. I want to see more progress – I have probably come further than I would have ever thought possible in the past, but I still feel like an ignoramus when I speak to people at the shops.

4) Debts, debts and more debts. I was confident I would be able to do this quite easily until I realised how hard it is to transfer money back home from China. Hopefully I will work out a way.

5) My fourth goal is to read the books I had hoped to read last year. I am already near to finishing Madame Bovary and will then move on to Don Quixote. I have a rather large list, but I think it’s doable on my commute to work each day.

6) My sixth goal is to watch lots of classic films that have shaped cinema. I started by watching Citizen Kane last night. I had tried to watch it in the past but became a little overwhelmed by all of the dialogue in the beginning. I’m happy to say that I very much enjoyed it the second time and can see why it was such an important film for the history of cinema. I found it interesting to see the similarities between Citizen Kane and Donald Trump as well… A very pertinent film still (and especially) in today’s world. After watching Citizen Kane, I watched Spring in a Small Town which was a most lovely story and so very beautifully made. I have also started watching Victor Sjöström’s Körkarlen but ended up pausing it as I needed to sleep!

I hope these goals will help me to feel a lot less lost. I feel dread at the thought of going back to work tomorrow. I like the people and my students, but honestly don’t feel as though the position is working out for me – mostly due to the shoddy teaching material. I will keep trying.


Oh, by the way! I had the most delicious meal at a Xinjiang style restaurant yesterday! I ate lengmen which is a stir fried noodle dish with cumin, sesame seeds, chilli and the nicest noodles I have eaten as of yet here in Shenzhen! I went in feeling quite nervous as I had no idea what would be on the menu. I was also receiving lots of inquisitive looks, which made me feel even more out-of-place. This noodle dish was the cheapest item on the menu – around 33元 and as it was so tasty that I would have been happy to pay even more for it than I did!

what am I doing wrong?

WARNING: Koala rant loading…

(this is mostly for my future self, for when I am reflecting on my teaching experience here)

After eating a delicious ‘Streusel’ bun laden with artificial butter cream, a packet of fruit mentos, and a large cheese milk foam pearl milk tea*, I feel like I will either explode or receive a nasty letter from my body telling me that I really need to stop eating crap all the time.

Today was a yucky day and I needed to indulge in all of that in order to feel ‘in control’ and to feel like there was some sort of reason why I am going to work each day.

I opened up my staff page today to see what lessons I had to teach and was rudely welcomed by my ‘teacher score’ which had sunk to 2 out of 10! I have no idea what the score is based on – I think the students are able to rate my class out of five stars at the end of each lesson, and that it is from this that the score is calculated. However, all my students seem very satisfied at the end of most of my classes. I feel I am observant enough to be able to gauge this. Furthermore, only two days earlier, I received my overall monthly score which was around 95/100. I’m so confused…

I’m not saying that I am the best teacher in the world, but I try to be, and as I have mentioned previously, I take a lot of pride in what I do. My aim is to teach the students as best as I can. The resources I am expected to use have not been helping, but since realising that there was no other option other than to adapt these strange lesson plans, I have felt that my classes have been much stronger.

After seeing my score, I spoke to one of my colleagues and she said I was perhaps not ‘hot correcting’ the students enough during the lessons. I had received a comment last month from one student who felt this, so I have spent the last few weeks using all kinds of error correction techniques including hot correction.

I have also received feedback that I come across as incredibly nervous and quiet during my lessons. Apparently my voice is so ‘low,’ whatever that means. I am a quiet, gentle person by nature, and I don’t have a booming, controlling voice like many of the American teachers I have come across, however when I am in the classroom I transform into a loud, confident extrovert. In fact, I very rarely feel nervous or shy in my classes. I have never understood this — how I can be so confident and outgoing in front of a class, when, in normal social situations, I am a tiny little mouse. Oh, and by the way, I am actually very able to project my ‘low’ voice after having had a good ten years of experience acting on the stage.

I have never had this kind of feedback before in any of my other jobs as an ESL teacher. I love feedback, but I am a little perplexed as to what I am doing wrong. I can only imagine that the problem lies in that I have a different ‘way’ to other teachers in China – local or otherwise. Perhaps it’s my accent? Perhaps it’s because I am quite a patient teacher, and other teachers show less patience and are more direct. I am tempted to write to my CELTA tutors and ask them what their thoughts are on this. After all, they analysed every teeny tiny little movement I made during my practical.

So, after stuffing my face with all that junk food, I have been surfing the net for effective error correction techniques, to see if there is some technique that I have been neglecting to use in my classes. I was quite happy to see that I actually use most of the techniques that I found. Despite having spent my day asking myself if being an ESL teacher is really a career that I want to stay with, while I was reading about ESL teaching techniques, I felt a strange buzz of excitement. I do enjoy it.

I will keep trying. My colleague shrugged it off, saying it was “because I am new and have a lot to learn”. A little patronising maybe… I know that I do have a lot to learn in the ESL industry — as there is a lot to learn in any occupation. But with the years of experience and training behind me, I know that the skills I already possess are very effective in the ESL classroom. Well, I thought that before, and now I am doubting it and am slightly worried that if I continue to doubt my abilities, I will become too insecure to continue in my role. Oh life…

mantras and congee

This morning, I grumbled and groaned as I tore myself from my bed after having indulged in an hour and a half of a sleep-in. I headed to the bathroom, turned on the shower and looked at myself in the mirror for a few seconds. As you do. ‘How miserable you look,’ I said to myself. I looked so down and lacking in energy. I never have been a morning person, and envy those who can just jump out of bed and leap into the day like bambi on drugs.

But this morning, while the water in my shower heated up, I thought to myself how I really should try and start my days off in more of a positive fashion. Why not start saying a positive mantra about how great my day will be!  ‘It’s going to be a good day,’ I muttered to myself, reflecting on the likelihood of me actually making this a habit every morning.

I hopped in the shower, washed my hair, and clunk! The water stopped.

Actually, no. That didn’t happen. My attempt at comedy. No, the water continued, and I just had a normal shower.

On my commute to work, I have finally found myself a little more engrossed in Madame Bovary which I found so awfully hard to get into originally. She has just received the letter in which her lover calls the whole thing off and has thrown herself into religion to cope with the pain. It only took half a book for me to realise what was happening.

When I arrived at work, I checked my class schedule and then saw my teacher rating for the previous week. I felt like all of my classes went pretty well last week. I gave out some really good comments to my students and only had one class in which I felt like an inexperienced clown balancing on a ball. It was a business English class which was focusing on presentation skills. I had barely twenty minutes to read and decode the lesson plan before I had to teach it, and unfortunately I am no expert when it comes to making presentations. I wasn’t even aware that there were six specific presentation styles – neither was the internet to be honest!

Anyhow, my score had dropped by three points! After thinking I had been doing so well the previous week, with a score that was soaring way above the average, my heart just sunk when I saw the new figures. I am so proud of my work and do my very best with the experience and knowledge that I have – albeit dealing with utterly cryptic lesson plans.

So, my mantra didn’t work and my day was tarnished. Thank heavens that the big pot of congee that I made myself when I came home was absofuckinglutely delicious.

Slightly Korean Congee

2 cups rice
1/2 cup eggplant, thinly sliced
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 or 2 rehydrated cloud-ear mushrooms (雲耳)
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp korean gochujang chilli paste
1 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil

Throw all ingredients into a rice cooker with plenty of water. Switch rice cooker on. Cook and stir so it doesn’t stick on the bottom. Then add more water, and more water, and cook and cook until it is a big, delicious bowl of mushy, soupy rice!

I might add a picture later on.