Postcard from China…

Chinese CRH3 Hi-speed train

Beijing 9th March

I’m writing this in a coffee shop at Beijing South Station as I wait for my first ride on a Chinese hi-speed train and I can’t tell you how excited I am about that. Having enjoyed the hi-speed train experience in Japan, Korea and Taiwan, I’m pleased to see that China is getting into this kind-of-environmentally-friendly travel mode, even if it’s a little late in the day.

The station looks great – more like an airport than a rail terminal. Coffee here, however, is staggering expensive – 42 RMB, nearly £5.

This is Day Three of my British Council Roadshow workshop tour. I’m doing the northern route, and my wife Dede is in the south. We are (theoretically) doing identical presentations on the theme of Motivation.

On the remote chance that someone reading this is in or near one of the venues, this is our itinerary:

Date Route A (Dede) Route B (Ken)
7th March Monday Zhuhai (14:00-17:00)  250 participants (both primary and junior secondary) 


Xi An  (13:30-16:00) 

350 participants (both primary and junior secondary)

8th March Tuesday Guangzhou Teachers College of Foreign Language and Art   (08:30-11:30) 

250 participants (both primary and junior secondary teachers, and students who will be future English teachers)


Beijing Teachers’ University  (14:00-17:00) 

250 participants (students who will be future English teachers)

9th March Wednesday Yueyang (08:30-11:30) 

250 participants (both primary and junior secondary teachers

Tian Jin (13:20-16:00) 

260 participants (both primary and junior secondary teachers)

10th March Thursday Fuzhou (13:30-16:30) 

300 participants (junior secondary English teachers)

Ning Bo  (13:00-16:00) 

160 participants (both primary and junior secondary teachers)

11th March Friday Shanghai(13:30 – 16:30 ) 

300 participants (both primary and junior secondary teachers)

Chong Qing (14:00-17:00) 

250 participants (both primary and junior secondary teachers)

Like any visit to China, there are delights, frustrations and surprises in equal measure. The main frustration is the fact that Facebook, twitter and youtube are inaccessible here. A major surprise is that hotels don’t have wifi and charge an exorbitant 60-80RMB per day for internet access, and it’s inconsistent.

I started my trip in Beijing, in a hotel room where the bathroom flooded every time I had a shower. When I returned to the same hotel two days later, they were clearly so embarrassed about the flooding that they ungraded me to an executive room (ie two armchairs and a plate of fruit).

Before that, on Sunday, I flew to Xi An, the home of the terracotta warriors. I’m sure you all know what they look like, but here’s a link.

I flew in and out in 24 hours, so didn’t have time to visit the site. Dede and I are staying in China for a week after we finish the tour, and Xi An was one of the places we thought about visiting, but I really don’t want to go back there – a seriously polluted city where the drivers are completely mad.

Just in case this sounds a general criticism, it isn’t – I think the general standard of driving in Beijing is good.

For my Xi An presentation, as you can see from the  itinerary notes, I was expecting a mixture of 350 primary and junior secondary teachers, a mix I can handle, because I’m not an expert about teaching primary.

In the event, there were only primary teachers, and the venue had changed, so they all walked to one school to be told to walk to another, about fifteen minutes away. This being China, they did this without any complaint. When they arrived, they found a lecture hall with 180 seats. 296 teachers turned up. Again, no complaints, as 100 of them sat on narrow wooden benches in the aisles.

We had been warned not to be upset if some of them fell asleep. You could see that some of the men had that in mind. One of them put his head on the desk in front of him as soon as he arrived. I think some of them were a bit shocked by my style – marching up and down the small amount of space in the aisles, and tapping them on the shoulder if they looked as if they were nodding off. 🙂

The women teachers all looked about 18. During one activity, they discussed good teachers they remembered from their own schooling, I walked around and asked them to give me words to describe them. I put the mic in front of one young woman, and said: ‘So, what should a good teacher be?’

‘Handsome!’ she shouted, and laughed like a drain.

It’s moments like that that make it all worthwhile. 🙂

Yesterday, International Women’s Day, I talked to 250 training teachers at the Beijing Teachers’ University. I wish I could talk to fresh young minds like this every time. They leapt up, ran around and did everything I asked them with gay abandon (can we still use that phrase??). And when something remotely funny happened, they rocked with laughter.

Today is a fairly normal British Council tour day. Train ride to Tienjin, workshop, car ride back to Beijing, flight to Ning Bo. Tomorrow we are invited to lunch by the local organizers. As the workshop starts at one, lunch is scheduled for 11.30am. And there will probably be about twenty dishes.

This is China!


13 thoughts on “Postcard from China…

  1. I was wondering where you had got to, Ken! I’ve been standing outside Bilbao Airport for the past 24 hours…

    Enjoyed your update very much, and I hope you get a little time for sightseeing at the end of it (as is your plan, it seems).

    Only 160 participants in Ning Bo? Or should that be 1600?

    Take care… and come back!

    1. You’re right, Mike – that is a suspiciously low figure. I’ve just arrived in Ning Bo, so I’ll let you know tomorrow.

    1. Like most places, China grows on you – well, it grows on me … a few days in, and I can’t imagine eating with a knife and fork!

  2. Dearest Ken & Dede (hoping Dede is a regular reader of it)

    What an unforgetful experience in China! As I was reading your post I began to think about a similar tour through the interior of northeast Brazil. We have been working on a project with the State Council of Education which aims at training English teachers from the primary and secondary state schools. Like anything else at state level, this is an initiative which will take time to materialize. Should it ever come to fruition, I will approach the Wilsons and give them first refusal. Take care. Saudades de Fortaleza!

    1. Hey Evandro!

      what a great idea! You can be sure it WON’T be a refusal. 😛

      The only frustrating thing about this China workshop experience is that Dede and I are doing it separately, rather than together. I think the two of us together make a formidable team.

      Today, she is in the amazing city of Shanghai, and it’s sunny. I’m in one of the world’s biggest cities (Chongqing, 30 million people) and it’s smoggy. 😦

      Saudades de Chongqing! 😛

  3. Hi Ken-

    First off, I saw a Fab video from Shelly Terrell of you welcoming folks at a conference in something like 7 languages. Quite the showman! Will you be speaking at IATEFL?

    I lived in China for 3 years and I remember the days when it would take 13 hours to get from Shanghai to Beijing… this spring 5 or 6 on those bullet trains!

    “Handsome”, huh? ROFL. Have a great trip, Ken 🙂 Cheers

    1. Hi Brad….

      Shelly’s video was of the Pecha Kucha in Paris in 2009. And yes, I’ll be doing a talk at 2.30pm on Sunday at IATEFL.

  4. PS I was in China from Jan 12-Feb 12 for consulting as well.

    While there my FB/twitter/blog frustrations were solved with If it’s worth the 70$ for a few days for you, it’ll take put you back over that chinese firewall. Cheers

    1. Yes, I heard about that – actually, I’m quite enjoying this enforced break from my Facebook addiction. 😛

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