Richeldis Brosnan updates on her first 4 weeks in China

Richeldis Brosnan reports on her experience in China so far, four weeks into her time volunteering with Project Trust. This report follows her previous report on her thoughts before she set off from home. Richeldis was awarded one of our Footprinter Grants to help with her work. 

I have been in China for four weeks.

It is safe to say that we never quite know what requests our host school has for us each day. So far, my partner, Jamie, and I have been instructed to perform a dance as part of the school’s annual parade, with one day’s notice. Our current task is to choreograph our own dance which we are expected to perform in front of the schools two hundred staff members. The pupils here at the school work very hard but, contrary to belief, they are very mischievous. I absolutely love it here in Jiayuguan and I’m having so much fun, but it certainly hasn’t been easy.

“Gap years are easy”.

Gap years most certainly aren’t easy. They require work, endurance and flexibility. I really do love my project and I’m very grateful for this opportunity also. However, that doesn’t mean it’s been easy.

I have been ill for most of my time in China which has made the homesickness I’m suffering from, far worse. The lack of familiarity when you’re ill can be quite alarming and I’ve only just begun to become accustomed to that. Combining illness with a blocked toilet for a week and a half has not been pleasant. However, slowly my illness is ebbing, and the toilet has been fixed!

Another difficulty is that in China you will never be told the full story. For instance, this Friday Jamie and I are expected to perform a dance, we would not have known that this was expected of us if it had not been for one of the other foreign teachers at the school telling us about it. Ultimately, we’re managing by asking as many questions as we can about absolutely everything and aside from it slightly annoying the teachers that strategy seems to be working.

Making Jiayuguan my home is beginning to feel possible.

For the first few days I really struggled to have the confidence to buy food unless it was from a shop. I would only buy food I was familiar with. There were only so many times you could eat jam and bread before getting fed up. Luckily enough our school provides us with two meals a day so we were still getting our five a day. However, we have begun to venture out and have eaten many delicious things. Jamie and I have plans to begin cooking lessons soon to keep ourselves busy and hopefully we’ll begin to tutor pupils one to one soon.

We’re both also involved in the school’s English corner. Each Tuesday roughly 50 pupils come to the English corner to experience having a proper English conversation. I’m beginning to find a routine and I’m starting to pick up small bits of Mandarin along the way.

My highlights so far.

I’ve experienced so many amazing things it’s hard to know where to begin.

Visiting the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China provided us with some amazing views, which were very well deserved after the trek it took to get there. After two bus journeys we walked through a small market. Once the stallholders spotted us a chorus of hellos followed as it is widely believed that foreigners are rich and easy to rip off. Then we arrived at the steps. To reach the Great Wall you must climb a long set of steep steps taking roughly an hour and a half. It is safe to say that some of us were more worse for wear than others, especially considering it was 38 degrees at the time.

Something people don’t tell you about the Great Wall is that it is isn’t flat and it actually rises and falls, meaning that the strenuous walking isn’t quite over. Regardless of the effort it took to arrive there the Great Wall was very worth it, and it is safe to say the descent was far easier.

richeldis brosnan at great wall of china

The great wall of china

Thirty-hour train journey to Jiayuguan.

Contrary of how it sounds the train journey was one of my most enjoyable experiences so far. During the day I was able to see the very different Chinese countryside and at night sleep on a very comfortable bed. Jamie and I were also lucky enough to have Robbie and Iain (other volunteers in Jiayuguan) for company. Throughout the journey we also met many interesting people. With assistance from Iain (our Mandarin expert) and Google translate we were able to have many conversations with them over the course of our journey. We even got to see camels from the train.

Richeldis Brosnan On the train

Hot pot with the staff.

On our second day in Jiayuguan some of the teachers took Jamie and I out to try hot pot, which is widely loved in Jiayuguan. It was very difficult to use chopsticks eating the hot pot. I even dropped numerous things into the hot pot, which caused much hilarity for the staff. Unbelievably, I also tried duck intestine, which was very chewy, but it tasted very nice. I really enjoyed the hot pot and it was a good opportunity for us to get to know our colleagues better.

Hot pot

My eighteenth birthday treat

The school I work at has many minority students who have come to the school on scholarships. Many live at the school as their family are in provinces as far away as Tibet. As a result, on the mid-autumn festival holiday the school organise day outs for these pupils as it is a day to spend with family and they cannot be with theirs. The school invited Jamie and I along.

To begin the day, we went to the Jiayu pass which was amazing. The difference in the Beijing Great Wall and the Jiayuguan Great Wall was big. It is understandable now as to why the Jiayuguan Great Wall is one of the most preserved sections of the Great Wall. Afterwards, we went to the nearby museum to learn about the building of the Great Wall and it is no surprise that it took so long to build. We then went to a nearby park for a walk. It was filled with flowers and there was no rubbish whatsoever. They had even painted the riverbeds blue to make the rivers and lake appear to be bluer.

We then went back to the school for lunch which in turn was also a birthday celebration for another teacher and me. Many delicious things were eaten even though I had no idea what they were. We then went away to get ready for the mid-autumn festival talent show. The talent show was a lot of fun and even Jamie and I joined in, so if anybody finds a video of Jamie and I singing on WeChat that’s why. To conclude the evening the Tibetan students taught everyone a traditional Tibetan dance which was really good fun.

So far China has been one of the best experiences of my life and I’m really grateful to have been given the opportunity to be here. I’m really looking forward to what comes next.

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