31 March 2019

Teaching English: Springtime Renewal...

February was a quiet month at my kindergarten, even after my holiday the children were still enjoying their family reunions and foreign holidays. So far the Spring/Summer semester has been full of surprises, twists and turns but all of those have shaped the here and now. From flower arranging to Cadbury Creme Eggs, my International kindergarten duties give me life! 

So Bei, frankly speaking my Chinese capital city dream was challenged as soon as I landed, with time and a campus change, life has stabilised for certain. Moving up to Houshayu in November was something that needed to happen, I wanted to be closer to my new campus and the drama with my first Beijing apartment was no joke, queue another complete farce! In the here and now I am on apartment three and things couldn't be better, being in a less international environment has its moments but in the next breathe I am able to communicate better, maybe that's not a good thing sometimes but that's life as a foreigner in an area that serves more social disparity than a 'all you can eat' buffet serves food! Captured to the left is one view of my commute, biking it for the win I have made it more of a thing because early 2019 has brought a straight up harsh winter! Getting it together I had done my work before the new semester. 

Chinese New Year had been taught in January to ensure the children were schooled properly before their annual holidays. We learned about the family preparations and even incorporated maths into our work by counting money from a red envelope. I found some great Cbeebies videos from YouTube that followed the preparations of two Liverpudlian Chinese children, going about their business it gave the children the chance to see Chinese children of a British kind, children who shared certain elements of the Chinese New Year holiday. For me it was great to open their minds, they only see things from a certain angle within their China lives so it was something to see them conferring with each other whether the children on the video could be British and Chinese at the same time? With their hometowns and some heading for more exotic shores, the children gradually took their CNY breaks. I was about to set off for North Korea, it was all about getting things ready for the kids! Yes!

Material making could stop for a few weeks at least but little did the children know that the English Corner had many new things for them to learn with. My main focus for Rainbow's English has become 'culture' from a 'Montessori' perspective, taking the knowledge acquired from my time studying that learning approach has allowed me to apply to my new English corner area. With everything colour coded for the seven continents, I had big plans for the forthcoming semester. The new semester allowed me to work with 'Weather' and 'Body Parts' as the main English department theme, going out of the box allowed me to create some works that have really caught the children's attention and interest. Purchasing a wooden rain stick has allowed the children to learn about different forms of rain, it's a weather that we don't get much in Beijing. Skeletons and internal organs set the theme for the 'body parts' works. 

Writing has been the main focus, feedback from the parents has spurred me on to create a writing station with its own chalkboard. I found the original set up didn't interest the children, with a book stand to rest the language card has encouraged the children to get writing in English. I made seven continents worth of language cards that ranged from transportation to fun and festivities. Spanning the seven continents we have been able to look at vivid images of foods from Europe and indigenous cultures and customs from Australasia. I have an obligation to plan what works each child uses but with the confidence that the children have now, it's amazing to see where their own interest takes them and I am there to guide them so, it's all good. My second semester at my new-ish campus has been fruitful with the aspect the children are speaking in full sentences and have the confidence to express their feelings to me. The kids genuinely enjoy English, we can definitely try more things! Yes!

Since joining Rainbow Class in August 2018, the teaching team has had a few changes over time. With the motions of life, it has meant we said goodbye to the previous lead teacher as she was about to have her baby boy. The Spring/Summer semester has taken many twists and turns but the those magical moments keep me going through all of those mad times. The flower arranging morning gave the children and their parents or guardians the chance to get into the Springtime theme with all of those flowers. As March turned into April, I broke down the barriers with some English curriculum regarding Easter and St. George's Day because the children deserve to understand about my country's festivities and history. I keep things away from religion because China works in its own way, I respect that wholeheartedly with the knowledge the parents might not be hot on religion. Things are good, I don't want to change that! No!

With a new visa being renewed right now, I can breathe a sigh of relief that I will be able to toast my fourth year in China soon! It's been a journey since departing from the training school in Wuhan to finding my current kindergarten company. I feel like I am in a place that suits me right now and for the next few years, in actual fact I would like to say I will be here for a long time! I look forward to the summer months as the curriculum rolls round again, being my fourth year with the company I remember the themes as if they were a familiar dream. Getting ill cannot be helped but in the time I have been at my new-ish campus I have tried my best to keep my attendance to 99% with one day abnormal. I genuinely look forward to continuing my journey in China, wherever it will take me within its vast border I will continue to work hard. The children have developed so much, its been an absolute pleasure to see them grow! Shunyi has its moments but somehow it works itself out in the end! 

8 till 6? Work! 

Joseph Harrison 


27 March 2019

On The Borderline... Dandong, China!

Dandong had been a city that I had wanted to see before I found out travel to North Korea would be viable, the mysterious views from the Broken Bridge intrigued me to know more. Leaving the overnight train from Beijing to Pyongyang for the return leg gave me the opportunity to extend my 2019 Chinese Spring Festival trip. Liaoning's borderline city with the DPRK served it!

Crossing back over the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge on the train from Sinuiju to Dandong felt bizarre that I had just spent six days in North Korea, after running for the immigration desks to be stamped back into China I said goodbye to Yuan, she was flying onto Shanghai and I was going to be meeting my Dandong tour guide, Jack that evening. The evening was brief with  some surprises but I was exhausted from the hectic itinerary that had been in Pyongyang, Dongrim & Sinuiju. Known for its borderline with the DPRK, Dandong shares its border with Sinuiju as the Yalu River separates the two nations and city's. I had seen on many documentaries that the contrast between Dandong and Sinuiju would certainly provide contrasting views for certain. The next morning I would get to see those striking views for myself, my Dandong extension would be the last day of my holiday. The first night back in China was sobering! 

Bright and early the next morning I met my tour guide and the driver, leaving the city limits we had arrived at the Hushan Great Wall. Climbing just a short way from the entrance allowed me to see the crisp and near desolate views of the North Korean perimeter with China. The lack of life stunned me, the freezing cold temperatures definitely added to the eeriness of the view. My tour guide explained to me that it was forbidden for any objects to be passed from the Chinese side over to the DPRK border, he went on to say that the Chinese tourists have to be monitored because they don't respect the rules, from the corner of my eye I saw a small guards hut that was used during the busier summer months to monitor those homeland tourists. I just don't get how people can't behave? Being a fractious border it really made no sense! To think that I had seen some rustic scenery between Dongrim and Sinuiju that painted the picture that stood in real-time right before me. Yes, it was deserted!

Jinjiangshan Park was the random mid-section to my day, after visiting the desolated views of the border from the Hushan Great Wall, it was time for short steep walk around that Dandong park. Being back in a real life scenic area felt nice, things had been staged managed for the group from the very beginning so those normal views within the park felt correct. I didn't take much in regarding the history of the park because to sight people going about their daily business seemed more interesting, the feel of my previous location didn't have a natural feel to it, so getting back to something that felt like everyday impressed me more than historical facts. Getting back onto the road allowed me to find more out about Dandong, previously a very simple city on the banks of the Yalu River, it had prospered in recent years and with the shenanigans from its DPRK it had become quite the tourism honey pot. Yes, Dandong's grown!  

Lunch took us to the Dandong North Korean Restaurant, the decor and costumes reminded me of those camp and colourful establishments back in Pyongyang. The stage was set for a show but during that freezing February afternoon it looked like there wasn't going to be any performance. Yes, the food that was served us sure tasted really good and I was able drink one more bottle of North Korean beer! Even though it was the early afternoon the restaurant had a steady flow of patrons, the smartly dressed servers who were either wearing business dress or in the case of the door host who wore a traditional Korean Hanbok, they were all flawlessly presented and undeniable beautiful! The group of ladies on the train back to Dandong the previous day were knock-out gorgeous and that's something out of character for me to notice. The day so far was going like clockwork but I patiently waited to see the Yalu River and the Broken Bridge in all of their glory! Sure, that beer revived me!

The previous day whilst on the North Korean side I saw the skyline and bridges that made up Dandong's showcase borderline that meets the Yalu River. Taking a river cruise from Dandong's tourist pier gave me the chance to see the Broken Bridge for myself, with an up-close and personal view it was a sight for sure! The Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge looked tired, the new bridge needs to be completed in-order to give the Japanese repaired bridge museum status, or at least a damn good makeover! Dandong's waterfront was pint-sized but it was booming with business and many new tall buildings, whereas the Sinuiju side stood looking rather quiet and docile. My tour guide gave me the scoop about the shipyard that faces Dandong on the Sinuiju side, something told me by the quiet movements it looked mysterious enough. Looking back over at the view of the mild construction was bizarre from the Chinese side.

News from the DPRK suggests that Sinuiju is poised to be transformed into a modern border city, complete with a new railway that will make the current six hour journey down to Pyongyang into a speedy sixty minutes? Regardless, the experience along the Yalu River impressed me much! Back onto dry land it was time to have a walk along the Broken Bridge for myself, I had just enough time before heading back to the train station. The bridge itself came to an abrupt ending, complete with the concrete pillars in-view from the lookout point upon the bridge gave me a Birdseye view of the park that I had visited the previous day on the Sinuiju side. Stopping at a Sino-Korean gift shop had to be done, I wanted to see if I could get some more trinkets for my DPRK themed language materials. Boarding a god-awful night train to Beijing had to be done but why on earth had I not questioned the bunk type before the trip? Leaving Dandong, I could close the final chapter to my DPRK/China trip!

Thanks D!

Joseph Harrison 

23 March 2019

Sinuiju: DPRK's Pint-sized City!

My time in Pyongyang had concluded, with my bags packed and my hungover self back on the coach it was time for my train to Dongrim to begin my Sinuiju extension with Young Pioneer Tours. Enjoying a few beers on the train was the one, spending the last hours with the group was nice, the PY City tour had been so good! I wanted to experience more during that CNY holiday! 

The scenery changed pretty quickly, from the pint-sized cityscape of Pyongyang, the frozen countryside fronted us with a stark realness. Pulling into Dongrim Station allowed us to be greeted by our two new guides, onto the bumpy roads it was like driving into a world unfamiliar in the past, so quiet and underdeveloped. Arriving at the Dongrim Hotel presented a modern looking hotel, equipped with its own swimming pool I was open to the idea of having a swim later on that day. Settling into the hotel it was nice to relax, walking out to a waterfall that was completely frozen proved to be the days sightseeing. The fresh air and quiet surroundings felt good, the hotel was in a very secluded area, it was peaceful. Being DPRK the quietness wasn't no surprise to us, making the best of the amenities I went for a swim and had a massage, that spot of me-time was really nice and was so cheap as well! Dongrim served us! 

The rooms were modern, freshly designed with slightly firmer mattresses compared with the hotel that we stayed in Pyongyang, not a complaint but it didn't make any difference because a little Soju was consumed that evening. Resting in the room for a little bit gave me the chance to watch a bit of state run North Korean television, meeting my tour friend Yuan Yuan for dinner gave us the chance to experience a rather bizarre evening. I wasn't stunned by the quality of the rooms during my stay in the DPRK, the Dongrim Hotel impressed me. The food throughout the whole trip had been questionable because I hadn't indulged in any Korean during my Seoul trip, that evening in Dongrim challenged my taste tolerance for sure! Taking the to the mic, I found my voice in front of the whole banqueting hall, I loved the limelight, I really did! Going to the bar for a little while, the guests made their own party in their rooms, how I wanted to join but not when in the DPRK! Dongrim, done! 

Getting back onto the road the next morning, it didn't take us long before our phones pinged back into action! Myself and Yuan Yuan couldn't believe it, we could see the New Yalu River Bridge in the near distance so the close proximity with China gave us a connection with the wider world. Our first stop was at the Sinuiju Cosmetics Factory, it gave us the chance to see the factory that has a co-operation with LancĂ´me Cosmetics. Being a Sunday it wasn't so busy on the production line, people were still working and we saw some products sail down the production line. I usually don't bother with face creams but when in North Korea or the DPRK it has to be done! I bought two bottles of anti-ageing cream because even at 28 years old, it's always time to preserve those youthful looks I have. Let me get back with those reviews, yes I can say the moisturiser really keeps my skin soft and fresh. Silky soft Sinuiju!

Our guide told us that the cosmetics factory works with a lot of foreign companies, exporting their Korean made products to far-flung markets overseas. Being located close to China, their seemed to be more leverage with trade even though tight U.S sanctions are still currently in place. Sinuiju served itself as a small yet developing city, the cosmetics factory gave us an insight as to how the Hermit Kingdom is bucking a new beauty conscious trend. Getting more out of my DPRK experience had to be done, opting for a second extension in Dandong as well as Sinuiju because I didn't want to end my experience so quickly since the whole trip took so long to plan and pay for. Onto the next place, Sinuiju led the way to the North Phyongan Province Revolutionary History Museum. I got told off for chewing gum as another guide informed us about the different museum exhibits, the Korean War had become so familiar to us throughout our trip, I was exam ready! Did someone say Ginseng soap?

Sinuiju's skyline wasn't up to the standard compared with Pyongyang but word on the street was that Kim Jong Un announced a major expansion plan for the Yalu River City! Glancing at some rather vivid paintings gave me the only chance to freely take photos of the leaders without having the pressure of taking them at the wrong angle, it definitely wasn't stressful like it was in Pyongyang. Taking pint-sized to a new level, Sinuiju's central square could be seen in its entirety within a few seconds! Going for lunch gave us the chance to eat at the restaurant that was connected to a live power source that was fed from Dandong, China. Walking around a penned in park gave us an uninterrupted view of Dandong's skyline and the Broken Bridge. The park literally had its own perimeter fence, designed for Chinese shopping half day trips across the bridge made that small park extremely lucrative indeed. It was a lesson!

Having been a teacher at a kindergarten chain in China over the last three years has allowed me to see things aren't so different over in the DPRK. Before taking our train back over the border into China we visited one of Sinuiju's most famous kindergartens, seeing for ourselves that some of todays bright hopefuls were schooled at that colourful and kind looking DPRK early years centre of education. Some Chinese kindergartens like to put on a show to their parents, well I need to be careful what I am saying! The children were so cute, like really cute! Their clearly choreographed showcase gave me flashbacks to my first Children's Day performance, those kids smiled like their lives depended on it! The brightly coloured hallways and showroom like classes reminded me of my working life in China, but let us kept certain details vague. Sinuiju may have been small but it showed us more than we previously had expected to see! Onboard the train, China called us back to normality!

Singing Sinuiju!

Joseph Harrison 

21 March 2019

Pyongyang's Little Secret...

Every city beholds a secret or two, Pyongyang had some belters kept up its sleeve for our final day of sightseeing capital of the DPRK. Seeing a Mass Dance was a sight for sure, going underground showed us more and a certain department gave us a closer insight to DPRK everyday life. Rewriting the book, Pyongyang had more to show us on that final day! No, Soju! No, P-Y!

Breakfast was brief, we revisited Kim Il Sung Square to find a more lively version compared with the visit after myself and the flight-takers arrived in Pyongyang. It was still quite quiet compared to South Korean standards but there was a little bit more traffic and people going about their business compared with the first time. The ice cold breeze bite like crazy, finding the Pyongyang Foreign Language Bookshop was a blessing to find a spot of warmth. Yes, the previous night had been fuelled with copious amounts of drink as we stayed in the hotel once again after dark. I wasn't crazy about buying any books, posters or any kind of literature but the amount of languages that were on offer impressed me much. The other members of the tour bought what they wanted, being only a short stop it was back out into the freezing cold. Having no Internet for almost four days was something else, I had actually forgotten all about it! Oh no!

The visit to the bookshop wasn't one of the highlights of the day but things would improve as the day progressed. The last official day of our Pyongyang schedule had arrived, it had been such an amazing experience with many unexpected twists and turns. I was starting to get used to Pyongyang, it didn't seem like such an alien place when I compared PY with its southern sister capital. The many bicycles hoodwinked me into thinking it was normal not to see so many cars on the streets. The Soju might not had been as fruity as the South Korean brands but we made our own palatable versions, the nightlife itself gave us a sense the all singing and all dancing waitresses played a large part in our trips evening schedule. Things weren't normal compared with our daily lives but being within that environment gave us a sense that all eyes were upon us, it wasn't ever intended to be a normal holiday. Most of all the importance to ask if photos could be taken became such a normal thing. Yes!

Getting myself together still hadn't happened but the morning still had to be. Pushing through my state thrusted me back into the nail bitingly chilly temperatures outside the Fatherland Liberation War Museum. No photographs were permitted inside the museum, it was however fine to take photos of the captured United States vessel, U.S.S Pueblo and of the artillery and vehicles that were left behind since the end of the Fatherland Liberation War. I had seen on countless documentaries that the former US vessel strayed into North Korean waters on the 23rd of January 1968. Going inside the once operational boat gave us a true insight. Seeing the bullet holes on the interior walls painted a vision as to how the Pueblo was seen to be a threat to the North Koreans, well to the authorities who were managing the North Korean waters that day. I was glad to have some background information before visiting. P, just Pueblo?

Inside the museum it gave us untold amounts of grandeur, adorned with opulent designs and dripping with chandeliers from the ceilings, it was one of the most lavishly decorated war museums I had ever seen before! Kim Jong Un and his ruling relatives were painted for the gods, those portraits on the walls were the centrepieces amongst the many installations that told the peril and bloodshed the opposing side inflicted onto the Korea that was then ruled by Kim Il Sung. One installation acted as moving piece of theatre with flashing lights and a revolving platform that gave us a Birdseye view over the model version of the former Korean battlefield. That museum experience wasn't like any other, the commitment to the order of events was outstanding, recounting every single movement and justification for each action. I won't ever forget that museum, no word of a lie! Being a holiday in the DPRK that day, we vacated the museum for a special Party Foundation Day surprise!

I wasn't going to see the Mass Games but in second place I would be seeing a Mass Dance instead. Signalled to start by a voice from the stage, three hundred or so students commenced their fiercely choreographed circular dance routine in unison. Their timing was something to be proud of, no mistakes were made throughout our time that we watched the students dance. It was such a bizarre sight, being a holiday it looked like the students had prepared for this dance for sometime. I even got into the circle of dancers for a brief second, it felt so forced and the dancers were practically chained to a rhythm so I jumped back out again to rejoin the tour group. Going back to the coach was such a relief due to the freezing cold temperatures, I was looking forward to lunch because that meant being in the warm! Lunch refuelled our cold selves, it was time to visit a normal Pyongyang City middle school. I was so intrigued P!

OK, let me backtrack! We stopped by the Arch of Triumph for a little look around, going to the viewpoint gave us a nice vista of the city. Next to the Arch of Triumph was a football stadium that had been featured during one of the documentaries that I had previously watched, it was pint-sized! The sports shop was strange, anyhow I got some pretty bags for my language materials. Right, let's get back to that school! After digesting the schools trophy room we were taken to one classroom, being a teacher I felt it was a normal place to be but we were literally the main attraction! The confused students had their eyes transfixed on us, some of the group got asked questions but one of the boys asked me what my job was, they genuinely looked gutted that I wasn't their teacher! I was humble about their praise! Our final day in Pyongyang was almost over but we had seen so much, I personally loved the visit to the school. Of course, I was ready to go underground on the Pyongyang Metro!

Going down what seemed like the deepest and steepest escalator down to platform level of the Pyongyang Metro felt unnerving to say the very least. From the concrete streets to that platform acted as quite a contrast, the opulence of the chandeliers and the intricate paintings that brought the platform level to life amazed us. The vintage metro cars pulled into the simple yet elaborate station, no advertising was needed because the leaders had painted all the necessary eye-catching things on the platform walls. Boarding our very own compartment gave us a quieter experience compared to the other YPT experiences but if truth be told it gave the local people the chance to go about their business without cameras in their vicinity. Each carriage had their own paintings of the dear leaders, I don't think the Queen's portrait will be on the Tube anytime soon? No way! But both stations reminded me of Beijing's Line 2!

Our final day in Pyongyang was almost over but we had one more place to visit before our leaving meal. Leaving our cameras behind on the coach it was our chance to experience a real Pyongyang department store! Changing our foreign currency from Chinese or American tender to the local DPRK Won was insane, it wasn't something that was accepted for foreigners to carry so it was exciting to spend it all up! The Gwangbok District Commercial Center showed us a raw and everyday view of North Korean people in a shopping centre. Going to the food court made me feel I was in Xianning, Hubei because those local people had no clue about foreigners, they were so interesting and actually smiled back! The beer was cheap, the snacks were tasty and the supermarket downstairs was a visual treat! Enjoying our final meal had to be done before going back to the hotel for the final drink as a group! At the end of things, Pyongyang City had been utterly bizarre but amazing at the same time! Yes, P!

Pyongyang, DONE!

Joseph Harrison