Back in March 2017, I spent a month in China. I had planned this trip for a while – it needed a lot of planning and as China has so much to offer, you can’t just turn up and ‘play it by ear’! I spent 2 weeks working at a Panda volunteer sanctuary in Ya’an in Chengdu province and the rest of the time travelling around Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu & Sanya. It was a great way to be introduced to the Chinese people and culture, and at the time, I didn’t realise 3 years later, I would be teaching English to students online there!
Arriving in China and my first experiences
As most tourists do, one of the first places I visited was The Great Wall of China. Such an amazing feat, stunning views and A LOT of people! Getting out of the centre of Beijing was chaos…6 lanes of traffic to get through! It wasn’t quite as busy here, but due to the nature of the site, I don’t think they ever have a ‘quiet’ season. I managed to walk along the ‘quieter’ route if you can call it that, mainly because it has more steps and is the steeper side of the 2, that tourists can access.
There are so many people in China, it has a population of over 1.4 billion people, so everywhere is busy! Even though the majority of native Chinese speak little or no English, everyone I met was very friendly and helpful and made me feel very welcome in their country.
A lot of the younger generation communicated with me via their equivalent of Google translate which was really helpful, especially in restaurants and when travelling on public transport! Not that I would recommend Google translate for all your foreign language needs, however it helped in a foreign country where the language is extremely hard to learn! (trust me I tried! I managed a few words and phrases to get by, but sometimes that made locals think I understood more than I did!) It was a great way of using technology and being able to communicate.
My next stop while in Beijing (this was where I spent the first few days of my China trip) was Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. This was filled with so much history, and there was a lot to see and learn. Again, another popular attraction on the tourist route, and surprisingly, a lot of the tourists were native Chinese. There were tourist groups from around the world, but the majority of tourists at all the places I visited in China were Chinese. The country is so big and vast, its impossible to see it all in one go! I spent a month there, and that was like a ‘drop in the ocean’.
Volunteer time with Pandas
After spending around a week in Beijing and Xi’an, (I know I didn’t cover everything – I’ll do another blog!) I then went onto Chengdu. This is a really great city, and famous for Pandas as most of the research centres and remaining wild pandas are based in this province. I was really happy to be able to spend a few days touring the city before my volunteering work at the Bifengxia base in Ya’an started. The city has a ‘Panda Tour’ where you can spot all things panda related. Well, for those that don’t know yet, I’m kind of obsessed with pandas, so this was a great way to spend a day in the city! They have a panda post office, panda bus, panda monuments on top of buildings and panda paraphernalia everywhere! I would really recommend Chengdu as a city to visit, not just for the panda lovers! It is a very modern and trendy city, with lots of different areas; temples in the middle of a fancy shopping district, lovely parks and Jinli Street which is dedicated to amazing street food/ drink and local products.
After my time in Chengdu city, I travelled out to Ya’an where I spent 2 weeks working at the Bifengxia panda base. Here pandas have either been rescued, or born in captivity and are looked after, as unfortunately they are rarely released back into the wild from here. Here is an interesting fact about pandas – did you know that every panda around the world is owned by China? Whether there is a panda in New York zoo or London zoo, they are all on lease from China.
Working with the pandas on a daily basis was an amazing experience. Along side the park rangers, each day we would clean out the panda enclosures, prepare food, which included smashing up bamboo, and studying their daily habits and behaviours which was really interesting. Working with the park rangers was a really good experience and helped me to understand the Chinese culture and way of life more. Each day was pretty set out in a standard routine as both the pandas and rangers liked to follow a regular pattern. I also had to follow certain procedures to ensure safety for both myself, the rangers, and the pandas!
Teaching Chinese students online
All my travelling around China set me up nicely for when I started teaching students online via a Chinese teaching app earlier this year. Understanding the culture and a little of the language, gave me a great starting point and insight ready for my first Chinese student. I mainly teach young children through the app, so lessons are really high energy and involves the use of a lot of toys and props. However, a lot of the time, parents are lurking in the background so it’s great to be able to interact with the adults aswell – sometimes they like to learn alongside their child too!
The children are generally extremely focused, even the younger ones! I think this is something that is quite common within Chinese culture, in that education is a very important part of their life. A lot of the lessons I teach, come after the student has already had a full day at school so I think ‘hat’s off’ to them!