Teaching & Travelling in China: Daniel Mezzina-Samuels

Wing Yip Travel Grant Report 2014

My decision to go to China was borne out of a compulsion to experience the culture and was facilitated by my obtaining of a teaching role at a summer camp in Kunming, Yunnan which paid for me to flight out there. Initially I travelled in China for two weeks and then I taught for two weeks.

London to Beijing: 2-day stay in Sanlitun

After an 18 hour layover in Azerbaijan airport with no food, I found myself starving in the morning streets of Sanlitun (Beijing’s bar street). In Beijing I took the opportunity to explore the streets without a clear motive to see get my first taste of Chinese culture. I was immediately taken aback by the relentless hustle and bustle of a downtown Chinese city. The weather in Beijing was another element of China that I hadn’t anticipated; thick overcast the entire time locking in vast amounts of humidity rendering air-conditioning a necessity. Day 1: I visited the Temple of heaven where I made my first Chinese friend who taught me how to play shuttlecock game for about 3 hours. He gave me load of advice (using his broken English he had learnt from TV shows) on where to get the best Peking Duck but said £5 was too expensive for him. This was the first time I had become conscious of the wealth gap between western and eastern culture. Day 2: Visited the Great Wall of China on an excruciatingly hot day. Although impressive the main part of the wall got old quite quickly. I much preferred the broken down part where you could explore and think about how old the rubble and rocks were and the battles that took place at that watch tower. I made a group of friends on the trip too who invited me out that night. Chinese nightlife in Beijing was incredibly eye-opening for various reasons but one of the most enjoyable aspects of it was the attention you received from the locals – felt famous!

Beijing to Shanghai: 3 day stay in Shanghai

The first thing that takes your breath away when you arrive in Shanghai is the ominous size and quantity of its skyscrapers. It is like a forest of building through the city centre. Places I visited included: Pearl Tower, Old Shanghai and Copernicus’ Temple. Along the way I made friends with these two Chinese girls who took me to a tea ‘’festival’’. Little did I know it was actually a massive scam that cost me £40 pounds! I maintain it was an incredibly authentic experience though… I swear! Fundamentally though, my visit to Shanghai was predominantly filled up by the nightlife which is highly decadent, showy and international. The weather however was still the thickest overcast I had ever witnessed; eclipsing the sun entirely.

Shanghai to Kunming: 2 day stay in Kunming

Here, I took the opportunity to rest and stayed at an £3.50/night hostel which had a naturally heated swimming pool where I was the only western guest ever to have stayed there! The manager was a Singaporean man who spoke fantastic English and showed me where to find all the essentials in Kunming and how to travel on the cheap (he was a massive penny pincher as he referred to himself). He gave me some good advice for my planned trek through the Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Kunming to Dali: 3 day stay in Dali

My first ever overnight Chinese train journey. Nothing more needs to be said beyond this picture. Dali was one of my favourite legs of the journey. The people I met there were great and they could speak English and Chinese so getting around and more directly experiencing the culture was so much easier. I stayed in the Old Town which was host to some ironically Chinese housing and buildings (apparently it was all built less than 200 years ago so isn’t as ancient as it claims to be!). I felt like I had finally arrived in China, it was exactly how I imagined it to be. I revisited Dali with the teaching team after the summer camp and experienced some of the day activities that were on offer but the first time around I was much more immersed in the culture and interacting with the locals.

Dali to Lijiang: 1 night stayover

This part of the trip was just a stop off point before Tiger Leaping Gorge. I was staying at a hostel with a friend I made in Dali resting up before the 2-day trek. Overall though, I am glad I wasn’t staying for very long. This place had become extremely touristy, infested with gift shops that basically all sold the same thing. One aspect I like was the local market where we were dropped off at by the taxi driver. Watching the local barter and argue and imagining what they could be saying was very entertaining

Tiger Leaping Gorge

This is the first time I had ever done a trek and I was going with a friend who claimed to be really good at track and field and had done 4 treks in the past month so naturally I was worried. Turns out there was no need despite being a tough trek my so called experienced partner just could not keep up. This picture says it all. This was definitely the highlight of the trip. The combination of the stunning views, great weather and great company made it an incredibly rewarding, eventful albeit exhausting trek. The pictures can explain it far better than I ever could!

Cambridge Youth Summer Camp - Kunming

Teaching is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things I had ever done. I consider it one of my proudest achievements. The role of a teacher as CYSC was as follows: 3 hours of English lessons in the morning where you were given free rein to theme the lessons around any topic you found interesting (I chose the Cosmos), followed by lunch then a an hour of activity (I played basketball with the kids) followed immediately by an hour of drama lessons, next we had dinner followed by an evening event that was planned by a different teacher each night.  My event was the Mini Olympics day that  I planned from scratch, including events and a points system, for 120 students which not only greatly honed my leadership skills needed to coordinate my peers but also proved my creativity and planning receiving massively positive feedback from students. On a personal achievement level, I was awarded Best Teacher by the founders of the camp after achieving an average 22% grade rise in the 60 students that I taught. But this is academic success was dwarfed by the emotional progression I was able to see in the children as people; seeing how their confidence and personalities developed alongside their capacity to speak English instills you with un-paralleled pride. This experience taught me the value of innovation and quality of work needed to achieve outstanding results. Here are some pictures of the camp.

On the weekends we got an opportunity to taste the City of Eternal Spring for ourselves:

Teacher’s Trip to Dali

After the camp we were treated to an all-expenses paid holiday to Dali by the founders which was a perfect way to downwind and finish off an eventful, challenging and rewarding travelling experience. Luckily this time around the visit was coordinated by some people who knew the area which allowed us to do all the really fun activities they had to offer and visit all the most interesting places too. A highlight was the visit to the ethnic minorities city which comprised of all the different minorities that existed in the Province in now and in ancient times. Seeing the difference in culture and the artifacts they produced was a very unique experience.
Sadly, even though I made it the whole trip without getting ill once, my hotpot experience on the last night did not do wonders for my digestive system!