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.



rice balls and salty coffee

Although a little delayed, I finally got to try 汤圆 or 元宵 (yuanxiao or tangyuan) which is eaten to celebrate 元宵节 or Lantern Festival. They are delicious, glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame paste, and sometimes other fillings.

As I missed out on buying fresh yuanxiao on Lantern Festival, one of my colleagues took me to the supermarket to buy a pack. I thought they were a little expensive at first – 28元 for a packet of like 20 or 25 – however, after trying them, I have a feeling they will last me quite a while!

I love black sesame and go just a little bit crazy for it until – after having gorged myself on it – I realise just how incredibly rich it is. So rich that I think I will have to leave the rest in my freezer for another time. That night, I had decided to cook eight and ended up forcing the last few down. I think four would have been more than sufficient.

My week at work passed quite quickly compared to the week before which seemed to drag – probably mostly due to a dreadful sore throat which made it hard to speak in class. This week, I felt much better. My classes ran more smoothly, despite the bizarre lesson plans I had to work with.

Most evenings after work, I ended up eating something simple at home. I have been making congee quite a lot, as it is cheap, tasty, filling and fairly healthy. I’m trying my best to save money this month. My next payday falls on a Sunday and I am still not quite sure whether my company will pay me in advance or on the Monday. If they end up processing the payment on the Monday, I will be unable to pay my rent on time.

If I could go back in time, I would have saved up much more money prior to my departure for China. Set up costs have been much more than I had expected and unfortunately this has somewhat tainted my first few months in China. For my apartment, I had to pay one month rent plus three months deposit.

I really don’t know how I survived in January. I had hoped that this month would have been a little more financially sound compared to January, but the housing allowance I received in February was not as much as what was written in my contract. Perhaps this is because it was my first month and next month will be the correct amount. Yes. I hope that is how it will be. Then, I will be able to relax and breathe a little easier!

Despite my attempts to save, it is hard. I had breakfast today with a new friend I had made a few weeks back, and ended up spending a rather hefty sum on a very nice but small serving of muesli and yoghurt.


I also ordered a coffee which was one of the more unusual coffees I have ever consumed. The coffee itself was nice and, to my surprise, quite strong.  Sitting on top of the coffee was a thick layer of creamy milk foam, the same as the milk foam that comes with a milk tea from Gong Cha, except that this milk foam was prepared with a generous sprinkle of sea salt.

If I had the chance, I would be able to eat the milk foam from Gong Cha by the bucket-load, but this milk foam was too salty. I stirred it in to my coffee and ended up with a most peculiar cup of salty coffee. I somehow don’t think I will be ordering it again in the future.

sunny day

I am a snack-a-holic! I have no self-control when it comes to food. When I buy snacks, I swear I don’t intend to eat them all in one sitting. I like to think I can make them last. Biscuits! I buy biscuits so that I can maybe have one or two to accompany my morning coffee. But no. I end up eating the whole packet.

I bought these puffed rice snacks which I have had before in Australia. You get about a dozen cakes in the pack. They’re oblong cakes made of puffed rice glued together with some sort of honey-like toffee. I bought two packets for my cupboard, in hope that they would fill my cupboard which has been so incredibly empty for the last month and a bit. At present, there are so many pieces of empty packaging right in front of me. Along with sticky crumbs on my coffee table, on the floor and stuck to the bottom of my socks.

So, before I clean all that mess up, I thought I’d write a little about my day. Today was a beautifully sunny day in Shenzhen. It was so warm outside, and there was a positive vibe in the street. Everyone seemed happy. As I walked to work, a huge group of primary school kids were hanging around, laughing and shouting, eating snacks and checking out the toys at the small side street stalls.


I wasn’t looking forward to going to work today. Yesterday, I was feeling a little down, so despite the weather, it was hard to leave my apartment. It turned out that my classes today went quite well! Well, they felt as if they did. Students were happy and although I was quite busy, my plans and preparation all seemed to pay off.

I had the most delicious lunch of 炒饭 (fried rice) from the supermarket deli on the bottom floor of my building. It was so full of flavour, a tad spicy and only 10 yuan! 10 yuan for a box that was packed with scrumptious rice and veg!

On my way home, I stopped by 王子拉茶 and ordered a rose flavoured teh tarik. I was a little frustrated as it turns out I had been saying the wrong word to order something for take away. For the last three or four weeks, I thought it was 投保. Someone had muttered those words to me at one stage, and looking them up in the dictionary, the closest thing I could find was 投保 toubao -take out.

Well, today, the lady serving me my milk tea gave me such a confused look that I knew I must have it terribly wrong… The girl behind her muttered ‘da bao’ which I repeated back to her. She nodded, so I must have pronounced it O.K.  I left the shop and opened the dictionary on my phone. Typing in the words, it came up with 打包 – ‘to put left overs in a doggy bag’. Well, that makes sense. So where did I go wrong, I wondered. I decided to look up the word I originally thought could be used to ask for ‘take away’. Apparently I should have read the definition more clearly. 投保 ‘tou bao’ was indeed ‘take out’ – but not ‘take-out‘. It means ‘to take out INSURANCE’! Oh my heavens…

Well, I now feel enlightened! I can’t wait to order something tomorrow and use the correct word when I want it to-go. What a way to end a pretty cool day.