Tag Archives: China

Space Ambitious

NASA’s upcoming announcement for their unambitious plans in which they may or may not be seeking international partners got me thinking about what is ambitious, what is not and the relationship between agencies.

If we take ambitious to mean ‘Intended to satisfy high aspirations’ then for me an ambitious space project would mean landing people on the moon, setting up a permanent base on the moon and after that setting off for a manned mission to Mars (one-way or return). That would truly be ambitious.

So with that in mind which space agencies are ambitious? Well I have only found three space agencies that have real plans for a manned mission to the moon (that means actually landing astronauts on the moon) and that is China’s CNSA, Europe’s ESA and Russia’s RFSA. The other ‘major’ players such as NASA, JAXA and ISRO seem to have no real current plans.

While I completely support the major space agencies working together it’s imperative that they plan ambitious missions together, for the benefit of everyone without letting petty ideological/political nonsense get in the way of achieving major goals. If NASA continues to exclude China (especially when the other nations have no problem) from projects such as the ISS then they may very well find themselves losing out as China goes it alone or works with Russia to meet its targets. As the saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer!

Though finally I would like to add that I personally couldn’t care less weather American short-sightedness back-fires on them (again).

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6 Months in: Living in China

I have been in China for 6 months now, living and working in a small city east of Xi’an in Shaanxi province. Many of my experiences come from breaks from work where I have been able to visit other parts of this fascinating country.

First port of call was Mudanjiang in north-east China, not far from the Russian border, this was a brief stop over from the train that left Vladivostok (RU). This seemed (at the time) at be a magnificent place a busy, bustling city, heavily populated with seemingly everything available that one could want. This view was in part due to have come from Russia where (outside of Moscow & St. Petersburg) there is nothing but abject poverty, people living in tin sheds spending their time drunk (possibly because alcohol and cigarettes are the only things affordable).

One thing that I found really strange was, at night, a well dressed woman (maybe in her thirties) carrying a baby (not with a man or friends) approached us (my girlfriend, a German friend that we made on the train and myself) smiling, making the baby wave at us and wanting us to hold the babies hand (she didn’t speak English and we don’t speak Chinese). A woman with a baby (or otherwise) would never approach a stranger or strangers at night in the UK, it would be deemed too dangerous. In China, here and elsewhere, it feels very safe from other people, no-one wants to harm you, they want to be your friend, shake your hand, see you smile and move on, no strings attached.

We got a taxi from the train station to the city centre (about 5-10 minutes drive) the train attendant paid 5 Yuan (47 UK pence) 47p! I knew I was going to like this place!

Places visited so far:

Mudanjiang – Nice introduction, good food and shops, not much else.

Harbin – Beautiful, European style city, well worth a visit any time of the year.

Guangzhou – Huge city, can be a bit overbearing at times as well as polluted, plenty to see and do.

Guilin/Yangshou – Stunning scenery, a must see for everyone, watch out for ‘tourist prices’

Xi’an – A lot to see and do, easy to get around and reasonably priced, could happily spend a lot of time here.

Food:

Some is great, some is crap. Prices range massively, large portion of noodles with egg and beef in a small restaurant can cost from 3.5 Yuan (under 35 pence). Hot pot at a fancy restaurant can cost up to 80 Yuan (just under 8 pound).

China does noodles and rice dishes extremely well along with Chinese dumplings and some other specialities. China is clueless when it comes to chocolate, coffee and bread (that isn’t sweet), which is a real shame as back in the UK they are some of my favourite things!

Some ‘street food’ is delicious and cheap, some will give you (me!) food poisoning.

Transport:

China’s transport system is generally very good, fast, efficient and cheap. A one-way hard sleeper bed on a 17 hour train journey (not the cheapest ticket available) costs 323 Yuan (under 32 pound). However, one journey (a 37 hour one) where all beds and seats were booked meant our ticket was standing only! Too many people can make some trains a living nightmare, standing for 37 hours is a joke, I slept on newspaper in the gangway between the two isles of seats (I wasn’t the only one either). What is even more bizarre and irritating is the train staff trying to sell you crap every half an hour, from torches to key-rings to cuddly toys.

If you suffer from a nervous disposition it would be wise when taking any form of transport on the roads to keep your eyes closed! They are crazy drivers, traffic lights and green men (safe to cross the road) mean very little, near misses happen on every journey and often we will find yourself staring at oncoming traffic while the driver is smoking and using their mobile phone.

Health & Hygiene:

One of the major drawbacks for living in China is the health and hygiene issues, polluted skies, dusty streets, dirty food preparation leading to food poisoning.

Almost on a daily basis I will see babies shitting in the streets and people throwing up by road side trees. Meat is often not refrigerated and left on benches all day (sometimes in direct sunlight) waiting to be bought either by businesses or individuals. Fish and other animals are at times skinned and/or gutted while it is still alive, both on the streets and in supermarkets!

In this 6 months I have had food poisoning twice, diarrhoea for a month and the flu. Drugs in the pharmacies are generally weak and ineffective.

People & Culture:

There are many great things about China but number one is the people, whether it is in the workplace, in shops/restaurants or just on the streets on China, the Chinese people are amazing. Having been to around 20 different countries and China being the third that I have lived in I can honestly say that the Chinese people are the friendliest, most helpful, genuine, want for nothing people I have ever met. It really does seem, especially in the smaller less touristy places that it makes their day just to see you, to say ‘ni hao’ (hello) and shake your hand.

At times it can feel like the place revolves around you, you walk down a street and everyone either smiles at you, says hello or wants to get your QQ (Chinese version of MSN) number.

Other:

For some people there are other issues that can irritate, such as not being able to access certain websites though this doesn’t effect me as all the ones I wish to access I can, Though it would be nice if the broadband services were faster and a little more reliable. All things considered (for a foreigner) this is an awesome place to live short term though long term people will prefer somewhere physically healthier.

6 Months in: TESOL in China

The thought of teaching can be pretty daunting for anyone, let alone teaching in a developing foreign country. Prior to coming to China to teach I had never taught before or for that matter stood in front of people to give a speech/presentation etc.

Teacher training in Guanxi province to obtain the TESOL certificate included a few seminars/workshops and to teach a class of 15 Chinese students while being assessed by the training/employer company.

This doesn’t sound too bad but as it was the first time to do anything of this nature and that it was being assessed and watched by all the other teachers in training it was damn nerve racking! My class which I had to plan myself was on holidays, where people go, where they stay, what they see and what hotel/hostel problems they may face, despite the nerves it went well and the assessment went well.

Watching the other teachers go through the same experience you could clearly see who was set to be a great teacher and who wouldn’t last 5 minutes before heading off back to their home country (and there were a few).

The teachers, including myself set up a mailing list and agree to keep in touch before we go our separate ways being sent to different schools all over the country.

The senior middle school we (my girlfriend and I) arrived at was in a small city in Shaanxi province, I would be teaching about 2200 16 year old students (grade 2) split over 30 classes. Class 1 has 30 students and the rest average at about 75 students per class. I teach 15, 45 minute classes per week.

The apartment is by western standards poor, the heating system at best can be described as antiquated, no double glazing (in winter the kitchen gets thick chunks of ice on the inside of the windows) you can see yourself breathe! Another drawback is the lack of hot water, only the electric shower has hot water. On the plus side the apartment is a good size, two large double bedrooms, a computer room, a lounge, kitchen and bathroom (with western style toilet). I have been provided with new appliances such as fridge, freezer, computer, rice steamer etc.

Some of the staff (mainly from the English department) met with us and took us out for dinner and we had a nice ice-breaking chat, they were and remain to be very helpful and friendly people.

The first day of work was again a nervous one but the rapturous welcome as I walked through the door of the classroom was very warming, exciting and calming. The students though numerous were not intimidating at all and I settled into the role of teacher much easier that I had expected.

Through the mailing list with the other westerners who I trained with I learned that some were having difficulties adjusting to their new careers as teachers, some had problems with the job, some had problems with the living standards of their new homes (accommodation and cities). Indeed some had returned to their homeland. One thing that struck me was that though there was a mixed bunch of native English speakers, Australians, New Zealanders, British, Americans, Canadians and South Africans the only nationality that has yet to either go home by their own accord or having been sent home (sacked) by the company is British. This is maybe one of two reasons, either it’s British grit or we are just used to a poor standard of living!

Some of the students regularly visit us at our apartment to practice their English and to be friends with us, 99% of the students at the school are lovely, friendly, curious and helpful, the staff are still excellent. We have met some other westerners in this small city, mostly Americans and one Brit, we often go out with them and Chinese friends for dinner. Despite the dust and smoke constantly in the air this place has a lot going for it, primarily the wonderful Chinese people.

During the half term we were invited to participate as judges in an English competition by the head teacher of another language school (owned by our employer) for 7 to 15 years of age, it lasted a couple of hours and involved 50 students. The organisers took us out to dinner afterwards and gave us a cooked Beijing duck each packaged up in a fancy box which was a bit strange but really nice of them.

We look forward to the next 6 months.