Deborah's report mid page

David's Trip Report to China and Tibet, 30 June to 25 July 2004

Hi everyone,

Well the trip started off badly, with Christchurch airport being fogbound. My flight was cancelled but I got rebooked on the next flight to Auckland. Only just, as they gave me a boarding pass with the wrong gate number printed on it. Only my last minute check saved me. Then the flight attendant assured me that I had missed the flight from Auckland to Singapore. However Chch airport being closed had a ripple effect through the system and I reckon that a number people were delayed. Anyway I walked briskly to the AK international terminal (no shuttle bus in sight) finally found someone to ask, and discovered the flight HAD been delayed - so I paid my departure tax and got some Chinese Yuan - held up by an incompetent teller who had several deep conversations with the supervisor while I was waiting. Charged up the stairs and out to the departure room - hundreds in the queue - found another official - discovered I had a priority code on my boarding pass that no-one had mentioned! and made it to the departure gate just as my rows were being called.

So I made it to Singapore and had several hours to kill before my flight to Beijing. Found a free internet connection, so checked my mail. Did a lot of shopping - safe as I had no currency. More like a shopping mall then a transit lounge. Prices no better than NZ, but some interesting electronic stuff. The Treo cell phone/PDA is $1200-$1400 in NZ. In three shops here it was $S1226.60 (no price fixing, of course).

Starting to droop - my flight leaves at 1.20am - about 5.20am NZ time and haven't had any sleep for about 23 hours. Occupied myself on the plane over watching 3 movies and trying 6 wines, well structured, and eating two meals which wern't. My favourite wine was a Shingle Peak 2002 Reisling, showing a nice amount of age.

Took a sleeping tablet on the five hour trip to Beijing and got a good sleep. The Harmony hotel that Intrepid travel uses is fine. Still on a quest for a TREO 600 phone and a Nikon D70 camera so after asking the hotel desk for a suitable street I set off. Beijing blocks are BIG - what looked a short distance on the map was turning out long. So I asked directions from people who couldn't speak english. Turned out that my best scenario was correct - I was where I thought I was. Doesn't help if you cant relate any street names you might be able to read to the map - seems the streets get renamed when there is a change of premier.

Well I found the street and was soon caught in the tourist trap - an attractive young couple wanted to talk to me to practis their english - turned out that they were art students and they were having a display of their work which was just down the street that I wanted (well - the last statement was true and enabled me to double check that I was where I wanted to be) To cut a long story short I ended up climbing several floors to their school, writing my name for their 'teacher' to translate into calligraphy, free, and was shown a number of rather nice chinese prints - which supposedly were her work. Eventually I convinced them that I was not interested and escaped. Twice more along that street I was approached by 'art students' - who were a bit bemused when I explained their whole scam back to them.

Anyway back to the quest - I tried one hugh department store, several cell phone shops and photo shops. Score 0 for the TREO - obviously hadn't made it to China yet and 1 for the Nikon - maybe 1.5 as one shop offered me an old N70 - not the digital. The offered D70 was 9900 yuan body only - near eough to $NZ2000. As I can buy it wholesale in NZ for $1560 with no guarantee hassles I didn't bother to start bargaining.

However food is cheap - I had a very pleasant lunch of pork and bean sprouts with a 640ml bottle of beer for 30Y - $NZ6. Interestingly the beer was labelled 11degP - proof being a very old way of measuring alcohol strength - if my trivia memory is correct it was to do with the maximum strength of alcohol that you could wet gunpowder with and it would still burn. Still gunpowder, fireworks and Chinese makes an odd kind of sense. Incidentally 11degP is the usual 4deg,for beer so I can still type this.

Off to the Great Wall tomorrow.

Hi again,

Had a bit of time to kill before the Intrepid Travel group meeting Thurs evening, so took the subway two stops to the silk market. Subway fast, pretty clean and not too crowded. The silk market was rather like running the gauntlet - narrow alleys, vendors on both sides, generally hasseling you, tugging at your sleeves - quite aggressive. Garments were cheap - good for your 'North Face' jacket or any brands of running shoes, but not so pleasant if you were just browsing. One pass down and one back through the crowds, then back to the hotel.

Good crowd in our group, two kiwis, four aussies two poms. We went out for a Peking Duck meal - not impressed by the duck, not so flavoursome. Many of the accompanying dishes had a lot of chillies. But lots of fun.

Left at 8am on a bus to the Great Watt at Mutyanyu. About two hours there - roads crowded - wonder about the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Fortunately it seems that most of the olympic venues are close to the airport, so it might not have too much impact. It wouldn't take much for gridlock. Beijing reminds me of Seoul, in the old and new co-existing - our hotel is a block from the main, 8 lane, street, but behind it in the small alleys things have never changed. Told that Chinese are encouraged to buy cars as it helps the GDP figures, currently about 10% of beijingers own a car.

But I digress. The Great Wall was much more up and down than I had imagined - had a 1000 step climb to reach it, then down and up several hills and valleys. Most impressive, and a great view, a lovely clear day, blue skies.

When we got back we had some spare time, so five of us took two taxies to the Temple of Heaven, pretty impressive, then taxied to Jingshan Park (cost 12Y, about $1 each)

  Temple of Heaven – hall of prayer for good harvests.

Climbed up the hill to look down on the forbidden city, where we were going the next day. There were dozens of photographers there, with big lenses. Probably the one clear day of the year and they were making the most of it. It was an amazing view, all around Beijing as well as over the Forbidden city. Taxied back to the hotel - with some difficulty, as the taxi driver and his mate in the next taxi could not read the map we had, nor could they understand the cards that we had from the hotel saying 'take me home, in mandarin. Fortunately I had a fair idea where we were and by waving left and right and pointing to the hotel when it came into view we got there.  Six of us went out for a meal - had a selection of seven dishes - was delicious and we all ate too much.  Then four of us went down to the internet cafe about 10 minutes walk from the hotel. I stayed on and walked back alone about 10.30pm. Seemed quite safe, less homeless than many big cities. Of course I was walking along the main street, well lit. Still doing some reconstruction at that time - pick and shovel, concrete carted away by wheelbarrow.

Saturday 3rd, left at 8am for Tianiamen square and the Forbidden Palace. We had a very good local guide called Kevin. Took the subway there. A big queue to see Mao's tomb (being Saturday)-1.5 to 2 hours, so we didn't bother. Forbidden City is being restored - about a third of it was open, but we just skimmed the surface. There were 9,999 rooms initially. There was a public area for the emperor to do the daily business - in a large hall on an enormous throne, then a private enclosure within that enclosure where his family lived. One official wife and any number of concubines - one emperor had over 100 sons - daughters were not counted, but came in handy for marrying off to neighbouring countrie’s rulers to stop them attacking.

Took the overnight train to Xi'an. Was a hard sleeper, certainly hard beds. No door to the corridor, so also noisy. Train was cleanish, smooth and fast and on time. The station was very crowded, all our bags had to go through an xray machine.

Arrived at Xi'an - stubbed my big toe and tore the nail - much blood - difficult to manoever one large and one day pack through small corridors. however I was well looked after by my group. When we got to our hotel I had a room to myself, so had a bath and soaked myself and my toe.

The trip leader, Tian, took us on a walking orientation tour, then we had free time for the rest of the day. We started at Culture St, looking at carved stone stamps with your name on them  - I finally bought one with David (Dawe) on it - probably paid a bit much at $28, but I really liked the stone. Then three of us took a taxi to the great Wild Goose Pagoda, Sue & I climbed to the top - Pepe was feeling the heat (must be in the 30's) so waited behind, then we 3 took a taxi to the Muslim quarter - heard the (noisy) end of a service in the large mosque and met up with another four of our party. I have left them bargaining, found the internet cafe and will shortly meet Pepe at the South Gate to go for a bike ride along the city wall - well preserved and maintained (I hope)

     Xian – South Gate into the old city


Tomorrow morning I intend to get up early and have a free Tai Chi lesson before breakfast not far from our hotel. Then we get a bus out to the Buried Warriors.

Hi again,

Riding tandem bikes along the top of the Xi'an city wall was great fun. Pepe and I had a race with Sue and Julia, and we won. Might'nt have been quite fair as Julia had never ridden a bike before. We went (at a slower pace) about 3 or 4 k's - a bit rough in places, but wide - a good 15 metres.

               Xian – riding tandem along the top of the city wall

Had what you might call a rude awakening when the phone went at 10.30pm and a female voice asked if I wanted a massage. I said a firm no. Today I told this to our tour leader, and she said that she had had two such phone calls!

This morning (4th) I got up early and went to the Xi'an main square looking for the Tai Chi class. There were quite a few people doing it, but not the person in a pink dress that I was looking for. I wandered around and spotted our group leader, Tian. I went over when she finished and asked if I could join in. That was OK - but the next form was fast, using swords. So not only was I trying to follow the circling, crouching and swooping but also not getting too close to the swords. Was great fun. Then back to the hotel for breakfast and packing.

Off to the terracotta warriors in a bus with an excellent local guide Lucy. It is called the 8th wonder of the world - was great.

The warriors were part of the burial plan of the first emperor to unify China - when he died they were destroyed in the uprising and passed out of memory or record. Discovered by chance when some farmers were digging a well in the 1970's - one of those farmers was signing books at the place - no doubt easier work than farming. Stopped in at the factory on the way back and bought a small crouching archer. Pepe bought an almost lifesize terracotta head - ostensibly for her husband, causing jokes when she was packing her bag about it containing her husbands head.

Our sleeper train to Suzhou arrived late. My back was sore from carrying the pack, but after a bath was felt better.

                         It is a city noted for its gardens and canals.

Took a taxi to the Humble Administrators Garden. Just beautiful - then walked to the silk museum. Thought the prices a bit dear. That evening we went to a performance of theatre and music in the Master of Nets house and garden - very old, built around a beautiful pond. Each short performance was in a different room. All the actors and musicians were masters - very well done.

                        Mr Rat

Walking home afterwards, Pepe & I stopped for dinner in an Indonesian restaurant.  Pepe was born in Indonesia, so we had a good conversation with the chef, who had spent some time in Australia. We were discussing our day, and he said 'of course you know that everything in this street are fakes.' Pepe had bought 5 'silk' scarves there earlier in the day! So he told us where the genuine silk shops were, not far from a KFC near the silk museum.

Next day we got the chinese characters for 'KFC on Renmin Rd' from the front desk and set off at 8.30. I bought 4 scarves there - twice as dear as Pepe's fake ones - of course she bought more. I was looking at bedspreads, but they were rather gaudy - strong colours with parrots and flowers embroidered. Then we took a taxi to the blue wave gardens, also lovely, and another back to the hotel.

Had to track down the internet cafe, so armed with the appropriate chinese characters and the direction I set off. After being misdirected a few times and walking for ages I got fed up and showed the characters to a threewheeler bike guy. He looked optimistic, so we negotiated a price of five yuan ($1) and set off. When we arrived I didn't believe it - nothing that I could read that said internet, so left him at the bottom of the stairs and checked it out - was OK so went down and paid him.

Train to Shanghai left late and arrived later.
Tell you about Shanghai next time.

Hello again,

Well Shanghai is a bit like New York. Skyscrapers, people and a picturesque water front area called The Bund. After we had had our orientation walk with Tian our party had a meal and walked to The Bund, where we took a one hour evening cruise. The light show on the TV tower was impressive. The boat was too crowded for everyone to be on deck, so after half an hour the ones below and those on deck changed places.

Next morning we walked to the Shanghai Museum. We bought our tickets at the hotel desk, which made it easier asking directions – could show the chinese characters. It was an excellent museum. Pepe was experienced in Chinese painting and calligraphy, so could interpret some of the exhibits for me. It was also a pleasure having English captions that made sense. Later we took a taxi to the YuYuan gardens and market and did some shopping - I bought some casual shirts for 30Y ($6) each.

I was walking along the main mall and saw a sign advertising foot massage - it had a 5 on it - thought it couldn't mean 5 yuan, but thought it worth checking out. Turned out that it was on the 5th floor - and was 78 yuan for 80 minutes. Thought this was a bit expensive, even on my birthday, so bargained for 58 Y (about $13) for one hour. It was just amazing - all opulent - one guy lead me to a room with 5 lying back armchairs, shortly a girl brings me watermellon and tea and removed my shoes then put my feet into a bucket of hot murky water. After a while another woman comes in, motions to me to remove my watch and proceedes to give me a hand, arm and shoulder massage. I figured that she must have seen my feet in the bucket and she would get around to them eventually - which she did, giving them a through massage, then my calves. Then she wrapped each foot and leg in three steaming hot towells, then in plastic and continued the massage. Then I got up, turned around and she gave me a back massage!  I was a bit spaced out at the end of this - and on giving myself a mental check over I was startled to find that some RSI that I had had in my left forearm for at least nine months had vanished.

Anyway I floated back to the hotel, told all the group about my massage, then we went out to the Shanghai acrobats - an amazing show.

Afterwards we had a last dinner and birthday party for me, it being my 60th. The group bought a cake for me and sang happy birthday. Was a good ending to a great trip.

Next morning I was up early, had the excellent hotel breakfast and out to the airport. Had heard some horror stories of having to push to the front of queues to check in, so there was no way I was going to miss my plane to Lanzhou and Deb. I was so early that the flight hadn't been opened to check in and had to wait a couple of hours. All very civilised - queues and all. Then the flight was delayed - eventually I caught an announcement that they were feeding us, so found a special room for delayed passengers and got some very doubtful looking food. Then caught another announcment that we were catching a bus, so followed the crowd to the bus and was driven about half an hour to a hotel. We exchanged our boarding passes for room numbers. After a while with no action I phoned the front desk and found that we were checking out at 2pm. Of the planeload of people - two large buses full - I seemed to be the only english speaking person, so I had to keep alert.

Anyway I eventually arrived at Lanzhou about 4 hours late. I grabbed a taxi and headed in. Eventually managed to phone one of Deb's party on my cell phone to confirm I was on my way and passed the phone to the driver to confirm the directions I had tried to give him.

This was my birthday party from Deb, where we got an unwanted present - a bad dose of diarrhoea. Probably because it was a buffet meal which had been out for some time. We were the last diners because I was late.

Saturday we had a quiet day - a bit of gift shopping including a number of DVDs.

Sunday we took a big box to the post office to post back to NZ, then had another farewell meal for Deb with her friends - a large lunch cooked by the husband of her friend. I felt really ill after that - probably a combination of carting around the 16Kg box, the altitude - Lanzhou is about 1600m, the diarrhoea and the large meal. Anyway we went back to Debs flat where I slept for three hours. After that we took two busses to the Yellow River and saw the Yellow River Mother - a reclining statue, walked down to the gondola and took it over the river to the top of the other side.

We decided to walk down through the park but got conflicting times when it closed - 8pm (current time), 9pm and 10pm. So we had a fast walk down the many steps - stopped briefly at the Golden Pagoda, just got out the gates at 9pm. Took a bus down the river to a fountain with many jets and colours playing to western music. Then a taxi home.

Tell you about out visit to Bingling Si and the Footprint of the Dinosaur - next time

Hi Again,

Monday 12th we joined a small bus load of English teachers and their families from Deb's school, it being sort of holidays and one of the teachers had organised this to show us the 2000 year old buddhist rock carvings at Bingli Si, and also the newly discovered dinosaur footprints. We drove to a dam on the Yellow River in the next county. This dam was the first one constructed by the communists in the 1950's for hydro power. As the caves are at the end of the lake only accessable by boat (one hour there by fast outboard) by an ironic twist they were protected from the destruction of the cultural revolution. There was a hugh statue of the Maitreya Buddah carved into the stone and hundreds of small ones. There didn't seem to be much effort into conserving them. The mountains around the area were spectacular.

When we got back to the dam most went on a tour of the power house - but the foreigners (us and Toni) were not allowed to - security.  After that we drove a bit further up the river and spent the night at a fairly new hotel by the river. A pleasant setting, spoiled partly by there being no running water - so our toilet, shower and hand basin did not work.

However Deb and I played majong with two of the teachers and I won one game out of four, with only a little help from another teacher. Haven't played for years - must get into it again.

The next day we took a barge towards another dam on the Yellow River for about two hours - very pleasant. Then we stopped at a restricted  area. Walked along then up a track - were stopped by a guy and after much discussion he accompanied us up the hill to the dinosaur dig. There was a geodesic dome structure, but no covering, so they had buried the footprints again to protect them. However it turned out that there was some smaller footprints left uncovered that we could see. Apparently there was a dinosaur egg discovered nearby not so long ago - which in the new spirit of free enterprise they tried to sell overseas.                                   Two dinosaurs and footprints

Were delivered back to the school after a most enjoyable trip. That evening the principal presented Deb with two beautiful chinese scrolls.

Wed 14th Toni & I had a quick visit to the internet cafe while Deb finished her packing, then 12.30 we were collected by the school car and driven to the Lanzhou airport. Unfortunately I had forgotten that you are not allowed to carry alcohol in your carryon luggage, and it was picked up by the security x-ray. Fortunately Brian from the school was waiting to ensure we got away OK, so we gave the wine to him.

Arrived at Chengdu, took bus and taxi to Sammys Guest House. Had a wander around the area, had a delicious dumpling meal - then remembered we hadn't checked with Sammy about our Lhasa reservations. Turned out that he had tried and failed. On to the cell phone again, fortunately found someone who could speak English and made them ourselves.

Up to catch the bus at 5.30 to the airport - then the plane to Lhasa was delayed.   Tell you about Lhasa next time.

Hi All

It was a pleasant day when we arrived in Tibet - the weather around and in Lhasa is much more changeable that where we have been in China and had delayed our flight.

It was hard to believe that we were about the height of the top of Mt Cook - apart from the green river valley where they were growing and harvesting barley and mustard it looked rather like the McKenzie country around Omarama in the South Island. We drove past a sucession of small walled villages with single story mud brick houses for an hour and a half before we arrived in Lhasa. I was a bit short of breath.

We checked in to the Yak Hotel, then went for a (slow) walk to, then around the Barkhor Circuit. We stopped at a number of shops - I was blown away by the thankas - religious paintings. I have been familiar with these from photos from Pisces Bookshop, and also originals when I was involved with the Sphere Group, but these were amazing - such a range of deities, sizes, colours, details - and a number were being painted in the shops. Deb was not so impressed. The Barkhor circuit is a river of people going clockwise around the Jokhang temple between the stalls - most walking, some prostrating themselves and measuring the length of their body and doing it again - one guy was doing it by the width of his body. It takes about 45 minutes to walk around the temple. Back home for an early night.

16th we had the hotel breakfast - a bit strange, but filling. Took a 3 wheeler to the Potala and thought we'd go in. No obvious way - eventually found the queue, then found that this was for 2.30pm today. As it closes at 3.30 we tried to get tickets for tomorrow - but had to come back at 3pm for that! Joined the pilgrim circuit around the walls of the Potala - between the spinning prayer wheels and the stalls.

 Walked to the tourist office to try and get more info on Lhasa. Eventually found it - the guy gave us two pamphlets and explained that they were only available at the up market hotels.  Walked to the Norbulingka - which was the summer palace of the Dali Lama, the Potala being the winter one. We hovered close a tour group to get more info, then Deb got talking to one lady who was a Quaker from Philadelphia. The New Palace which was built in the 1950's, not long before the Dali Lama fled, had beautiful and detailed wall paintings.

 Taxi back to the Potala - waited for 40 minutes in the queue to get the permit to get tickets to get in at 10.40am tomorrow. Then walked to the bus place to check on the bus back to the airport on Tuesday. Walked to the Yak Hotel - Deb had a sleep for two hours while I did another two circumambulations of the Jokang and checked out every thanka shop -  and bought one that I saw on the first day. Was worried that either they would have sold it or I couldn't find my way back to the shop - but all was well. Paid about $140 for it and it is beautiful - Chenrezig, deity of compassion, with Amitaba, Vajrapani and Manjusri.

17th. Took a taxi to the Potala.

 I was feeling the effects of the altitude and took only a camera and some water. Many steps and stairs to climb, but Deb got the taxi to drive most of the way up. It is an amazing number of images, statues, stupas, rooms. the remains of a number of  Dali Lamas are there, covered in gold.  We attached ourselves to a small group of Norwegians with an english speaking guide, as it was not possible to get a guide at the entrance.
In the afternoon we walked to the Tibet Museum. It has a great collection of ancient artefacts and an amazing recent thanka - over 600 metres long. The recent history is from a Chinese viewpoint - I guess he who builds the museum writes the history. The museum shop was rather expensive. Glad I had bought my thanka from the Tibetans.

18th We walked to the Jokang Temple. Not so well organised as the Potala - few signs in english. We attached ourselves to an english speaking group, but soon left them. The main image of the Buddah Sakumini as a 14 year old was very ornate. We went up onto the roof - great view over to the Potala one way and the gold roof of the Jokang the other.

Had a talk to an American lama who was there with a group from Sweden who were travelling on to another monastery for study. Did some more shopping.

19th. Becoming acclimatised - slept well, not so out of breath on the stairs. Took a bus to the Drepung Monastery about 5k out of Lhasa on the side of a mountain. Great views. A working monastery - monks studying scripture. The usual outstanding wall paintings and statues - I can recognise a number of them now, although I sometines get confused between Shakamuni (last) and Maitreya (future) buddah. Shakamuni often has blue bobbly hair. Joined an Intrepid travel group - they had an excellent english-speaking local guide. The monastery had a really nice feel to it. In the afternoon we visited Sera Monastery, just out of Lhasa. It still felt like it was in the city. One enclosure had many monks debating - one sitting on the ground looking bored, another shouting, clapping, moving around him to make his point of view.

Starting the trip back home tomorrow, via Chengdu, Beijing, Singapore, Brisbane, Sydney (where I spend a couple of nights with my sister). Back on 25th. Deb is staying top see more of China - back on 12th September.

This is my last report. Hope you enjoyed them


Experiences in a Chinese High School in Northern China

(This article was originally written as for our national ESOL teachers’ newsletter. It was abridged but I can send you a copy of the original by email if you wish.)

ENGLISH for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher Deborah Williams recently returned from a stay in China thanks to the annual teacher programme of the Christchurch-Gansu Friendly Relations Committee. It is the second year the committee has sent two ESOL teachers to the north-western province of Gansu. The committee has operated Christchurch’s ‘sister city’ link with Gansu Province since the relationship was formed in 1984.


The return airfares are paid and as long as the teachers remained at least 3 months  they did not need to repay the cost. Six months insurance is also paid from the New Zealand end. In Lanzhou the New Zealanders are provided with a modern flat on the school campus free of charge. They are also provided with a cellphone and electricity free of charge but they have to pay the gas bill which is  low. The meals in the school dining room are very cheap and good. A typical dinner costs Yuan 3.50 (70 cents) and is enough for two meals. Although there are good facilities for cooking in the flat the teachers are often invited out so there is little need to ever cook a meal for themselves. A restaurant meal for ten people might cost from Yuan 250 to 350 (NZ$50 to $70). The salary is Yuan 2,600 a month (about NZ$500) which is more than adequate for ordinary living expenses. Cost of travel further afield is relatively cheap by train but similar to New Zealand prices by plane.


I flew to Beijing in mid-March and was met by an English teacher from the school. It took 24 hours on a sleeper train to reach Lanzhou City in north-west China. Toni Byrne, the second teacher, had arrived a month earlier and will remain in Lanzhou until November.


Lanzhou Foreign Language [English] Senior Middle School is a mixed senior middle school and has Grades 1 to 3 which are equivalent to Years 11 to 13 in New Zealand high schools. When I arrived there were only 1000 students and 70 teaching staff in the school. In the new school year which started in September, 2004, they expected to have 1,500 students and about 100 teaching staff.


I was only required to teach English for 12 lessons a week. Each lesson was 45 minutes. As there were 12 classes at Grade 1 level Toni only saw her classes once a week. I, however, had only 6 Grade 2 classes and as there was pressure to cover all the material in the textbook I agreed to do one lesson from the book (usually the listening section) and a second lesson involving some activity to promote oral English.


The school has recently been granted the status of provincial model school which means that the school has reached a certain standard of management and teaching. The school has very large modern buildings as it is in the process of rapid expansion. The teaching building is five stories high. It has 2 language laboratories which I never saw in use. A second building contained offices on the ground and second floors and many laboratories and some computer rooms higher up. There are plans for further buildings in the future.



School begins on Monday morning at 7.30am with the Flag Raising Ceremony. Classes are 45 minutes each. Classes are from Monday to midday Saturday. The New Zealand teachers are not asked to teach in the evening nor on Saturday.


Lesson 1          8.25 - 9.10

Lesson 2          9.20 - 10.05  At this time they have mass exercises outside.

Lesson 3             10.25 - 11.10

Lesson 4             11.20 - 12.05


There is a break of 1½ hours for lunch and a rest. The dining room is part of the boarding house and is in a separate building from the teaching building. There is no covered way to this building. Staff and students have a card loaded with money to pay for meals.


After lunch students and staff take a rest in the boarding house. Each teacher has a bunk there, even if he or she lives elsewhere.


The boarding house has basic amenities but does not have hot water. Some students go to the bath house when they go home on Saturday. Some are back at school on Sunday evening. Many of the students who live in the boarding house Monday to Saturday midday live in the same city. As they live in another part of the city it is easier to board than to go home each evening.


Lesson 5           2.30 - 3.15

Lesson 6          3.25 - 4.10

Lesson 7           4.20 - 5.05

Lesson 8           5.15 - 6.00


After evening meal the students are free until 7.30pm when they have another class. We were not asked to take evening classes.


Lesson 9           7.30 – 8.15

At this point the day students go home.  From 8.30pm there is supervised homework for the boarders until 10.20pm.




The Chinese teachers only have 2 classes in the same grade. A full-time timetable for a teacher is about 14 lessons a week and some have form teacher duties. The teachers also have a heavy marking load. Sometimes they are required to stay the night to be on duty.


At present teachers are in offices (as yet unused classrooms in the teaching block) according to which grade they teach. There can be maths teachers alongside English teachers. I was on Floor 3 with Grade 1 teachers although I taught Grade 2 classes. This has meant I got to know four of the Grade 1 English teachers as well as other staff. Some of the teachers of other subjects made a commendable effort to speak English to me and I saw a great improvement in their speaking skills.


Each class has their own classroom and the teachers of different subjects come to the form classroom except when they need to use equipment such as computers.




There are from 35 to 50 students per class. Although the rooms are quite large it is quite hard to move around large groups and have  activities where the students need to move around.

 In general the students are pleasant and co-operative. They are usually polite and say “Hello, Deborah.” as I prefer no title. Sometimes they call me “Teacher.” but I don’t let that pass as that is the Chinese and not the English way of addressing a teacher. I have explained the correct use of titles as “Ms” came up in one unit of work.


  Denise, a Grade 1 student,who invited Deborah to climb up to the White Pagoda which overlooks the mighty Yellow River and the central city section of Lanzhou City.



One of my most memorable experiences was taking part in a Chinese film. We were on location for a week. Along with other teachers who mostly taught English in local universities, Toni and I became tourist extras in the film.  It was shot in the town of Xiàhé, which is the leading Tibetan monastery town outside Lhasa - it's an interesting town with the long lines of prayer wheels and the Tibetan people with their own distinctive style of clothing. When first asked if we wanted to take part we did not like to ask the school if we could take time off. We were amazed when the school let us go and allowed us to extend the time on location. 


[A fellow actor, Jim Shelley, reported at the end of December, 2004  that the film has come out. Jim  told me that our names are not listed in the credits! You can read about the film at:             and ]


When students were involved in exams and I was not required I went with two Christchurch Polytechnic students and two Chinese friends to visit the beautiful Maijishan (haystack mountain) a honeycomb of  buddhist grottoes on a sheer cliff accessed by steep spiral stairs and catwalks. During the May break I went to northern Gansu with Dr Peter and Mary Long of Massey University who were working at Lanzhou University for 3 months. We visited the famous Mògao grottoes near Dunhuang up on the edge of the desert and saw remnants of the Great Wall and the reconstructed Jiayuguan Fort. This is part of the famous “Silk Road”. 


Peter and Mary introduced me to the English corner at Lanzhou University. On Friday evening anyone who wanted to speak English would meet at the fountain. There were always crowds of people around those of us who were native speakers. Unfortunately there was no building designated for rainy days!


In mid-June I had the confidence to travel by myself to the neighbouring province of Qinhai. I visited the  bird sanctuary at the largest lake in China which is saline although landlocked and took in another famous monastery.


Deborah stands beside the large statue of New Zealander, Rewi Alley, who lived in China from 1927 until his death in 1988.

The link between Gansu Province and Christchurch City (New Zealand) was created through Rewi Alley's work in the Shandan Bailie School.

In June when the weather was warmer I was invited several times to walk up a mountain (a hill by New Zealand standards) and partake of a Chinese style picnic. We sat at tables outside under shady trees. There was beer to drink and sometimes a toast or two of “báijiu” (Chinese schnaps). We played cards and I enjoyed honing my Mah Jong skills. Precooked food was served and a good time was had by all. I loved the Chinese food and was constantly surprised when new dishes were presented.


In mid-July when my husband, David Minifie, arrived a colleague arranged a three day trip to Bingling Monastery which was only accessible by water. On the way back we stopped to see a site where dinosaur footprints are being excavated.



 Farewell Banquet given to Deborah and David by the English teachers of Lanzhou Foreign Language Senior Middle School, July, 2004.



David and I spent a week together in Lhasa in Tibet. David then flew home for his annual week ski-ing. As I prefer warm weather I stayed on in China to enjoy the summer. I visited the panda centre in Chengdu, saw the largest Buddha in the world at Leshan and cruised along the Yangtse River, China’s longest river. I decided to do this trip as by 2009 the Three Gorges Dam will be commissioned and the landscape will be changed forever. After Shanghai and the gardens of Suzhou I travelled by train to stay with a wonderful family in Yantai.


 I came to stay with the Jiang family in Yantai thanks to Christchurch Mayor, Garry Moore. He gave a banquet when he visited Lanzhou. I was seated next to Jiang Wen Lan, who is the Director-General of Agriculture in Gansu Province. She had studied in New Zealand at Massey University. When I told her of my wish to stay with a family on the east coast of China near the sea she said “No problem.”  I was then invited to stay with her brother, his wife and son. The idea was that I would help Andy with his English but when I arrived I found a 16 year old who already spoke excellent English. I had a great time honing my Mah Jong skills, dancing with the women in the city square in the evenings, going to karaoke bars, eating great food and finding out more about the Chinese culture.


When I announced I wanted to climb Taishan (“shan” means mountain) the father of the  family contacted a friend in Tai’an. In no time the friend had arranged for luxurious accommodation in the city, a guide up the mountain and a trip to Qifù, the birthplace of Confucius. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of people I had never met before. I wasn’t allowed to pay for anything. At first I found that difficult as I am a very independent person but then I decided to relax and enjoy the hospitality.


My final stop was in Beijing where I revisited the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and saw the Summer Palace for the first time. A second reason for my visit to the capital city was to visit educational authorities in my efforts to set up a new exchange for teachers between New Zealand and China.


I also stayed with an English teacher in Mentougou, a suburb of Beijing, about an hour from its centre. I met Jihong Zhang at the Rewi Alley School when she was in Christchurch in February. I visited the Dayu Senior Middle School where Jihong supervises the English teachers. They gave a banquet lunch in the hope of persuading me to stay or come back next year. I was very impressed with their facilities.




Although I found everything more difficult at the beginning than I expected, I learned an enormous amount about the culture. In China it took some time to gain the confidence to buy fruit at the market and travel around by myself.  As a language teacher I know that a language and culture are inextricably intertwined. Not speaking Chinese definitely made life more difficult. The teachers for next year will be chosen in November so that they have more time to prepare for the trip.


The Chinese people often reminded me that their country is a developing country. I was constantly surrounded by change even in the school environment. Before my very eyes a circular running track was constructed and suddenly there was grass growing in the centre of that track.


I plan to do some further work on the new teacher exchange and see it through to implementation. I will canvas schools in search of a sister/brother school for my host school. I think this a great scheme to help a sister/brother province develop and give New Zealand teachers a chance to broaden their horizons.


Deborah back home wearing a Lama jacket bought when filming in Xiàhé and showing off a few of the gifts given to her by students and hosts.

I loved the Chinese food. Chinese people were always patient and generous with me. This was a fabulous opportunity which I can recommend to anyone with a sense of adventure.


Deborah Williams


October, 2004

Christchurch, New Zealand