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!


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.



ikea and fruit

This morning I headed to Ikea! I have always loved Ikea – despite having been a little disappointed in the quality and durability of some Ikea furniture that I have purchased in the past. I still love wandering around and imagining what my future house may look like.

Apparently, I wasn’t taking it far enough. Some people were really chilling out and pretending they lived in the display rooms. I saw one guy enjoying a cup of coffee on a couch, and in another area there were two women sitting at a kitchen table, seemingly having a proper catch-up. Well, they all looked very relaxed.

So, I wasn’t sure at first how to get to Ikea. I checked out the map and unfortunately it is not right beside any subway stations. I decided to take the subway to Longjing 龙井 and then, as a friend had previously recommended, take a taxi from the subway station to Ikea. It took just under 20 minutes to get to Longjing from my station. I used Exit B and found that Longjing was a really lovely area! There were mountains and so much greenery. I’m still getting used to how many well-established trees and gardens there are all over Shenzhen.

As the weather was quite pleasant, I decided against taking a taxi. Following the Maps APP on my phone, I wandered the streets toward Ikea. At one point, I thought I needed to cross the highway, so I used the footbridge and walked on a little. Luckily, before it was too late, I checked the map and saw that I was in fact on the wrong side! I walked back over the foot bridge, down a different street and saw the blue of the Ikea building in the distance.

I walked under a few very dark and scary tunnels – one particularly dark tunnel had a dozen or so very old, dusty, graffiti-covered cars on either side of the tunnel. I hesitated as I walked down it, expecting someone to jump me from behind. Thinking back, I think it was pretty stupid to walk through it… Anyway, on the other side of the tunnel was the Ikea car park! So, all in all, I’m sure it wasn’t that dangerous.

So, it took about 20 minutes to walk from Longjing subway station to Ikea, and despite that hairy tunnel, it was quite a pleasant walk.

I grabbed a coffee and a croissant at the cafeteria before I went shopping. One would think buying a coffee would no longer be a challenge for me here in China, especially at Ikea, however I cleverly lined up in the VIP checkout line. The checkout lady muttered something to me and waited for a response. I wracked my brains as to what she would be asking me. Was there something I’d forgotten? Perhaps she was reminding me to pick up cutlery. A friendly guy nearby told me that she was asking if I could show her my VIP card. 沒有! I don’t have one! She looked a little peeved, but let me buy my croissant and coffee nevertheless.

I found a few cool things in Ikea. I wanted to buy a plant or two for my apartment, and a table mat to make things a little more homely. After about an hour or so, I found myself at the checkout with more items than I had intended to bring home. I think this is a given when one goes to Ikea. Surprisingly, it cost me much less than I had expected. I paid only 177元 for quite a few fairly nice decorations!

On -L1 of the carpark, there is a taxi rank, so I hopped in a taxi and headed back to Longjing subway. There were quite a few other shops near the Ikea that looked interesting, but I decided to save them for another day.

When I got back to my lovely neighbourhood, I headed to the fruit shop to buy some fruit for my new fruit bowl. I ended up buying three pretty, white apples, some longans, a bunch of bananas and three, very expensive oranges! There were two types of oranges, and naturally the ones that looked super nice and really fresh were the ones from America. I hadn’t realised this at the time, but it turns out they were 11元 a kilo.


I also found some Loquats 枇杷 which I haven’t eaten since I used to climb the loquat tree in my back garden in Australia. That would have been almost 20 years ago… They also had some mini mangoes. I had seen them several times at the grocer but I was never sure if they actually were mini mangoes or some other mysterious fruit. This time, I picked one up and smelled it. It smelled so sweet, and yes, it was definitely a mango. I bought a bag and have just eaten a few. They’re very nice, but very fiddly and messy to eat.


I love the fruit shop down below my building. The people there have been so friendly to me. Once, I went in and smiling, they yelled out to me, telling me to come back. They knew that I had come for bananas and a pomelo – my usual – and they had none left in the shop! It was so nice that they had remembered what I usually buy. It made me smile.


a coconut candy porridge kinda day

Sleepy day today. I had a yummy breakfast of porridge, sweetened with Chinese coconut candy which I dissolved in some boiling water before adding my oats. It honestly turned out very well! I like my porridge to have a little sweetness to it, and as I had run out of sugar, I thought I’d try to use the coconut candy instead. I’m tempted to make another bowl because it was so good! Mm…


Since breakfast, I’ve been trying to find some energy to go outside but it’s been a couple of hours and I feel like I’m in a daze. I read the news online, messaged some people back home, put on a load of washing, but the lovely weather outside has been beckoning me to go and enjoy the day. I want to go out but I’m not sure where I want to go and don’t really feel like jumping on and off the subway and fighting my way through crowds of people.

I had intended to make a trip to Ikea this weekend, but I know how tired I will be when I get back. I often have days like these. I believe my post from last Sunday was similar. I pushed myself to head out to a cafe and ended up having a nice little adventure. I don’t know if I can do that today. Even the thought of buying food doesn’t tempt me enough.

Earlier, I was imagining how I would feel if it were raining outside. I would be cosy and warm in my apartment and would have an excuse to stay indoors and read a book, with my feet snugly wrapped up in a blanket. I would rather like it to be raining, as I wouldn’t be guilt-tripping myself as I am now, for being so lazy when the weather is so perfect outside.

Others can’t stand being couped up inside, and have to move, go for a walk and achieve something in their day. I don’t feel that need very often. I’m quite happy just being in my own company, reading, writing and letting my mind do what it is good at – thinking about things, over and over again. I catch myself staring into space sometimes. I imagine how I must look like a crazy person, but then I think that most people probably do the same when they are alone and immersed in deep thoughts.

I sit here, looking outside my window, feeling the time pass by and seeing the daylight transform into dusk. It will be a work day tomorrow. I must do something, but what?