Lixian Vocational School, Lixian, Hunan
Lixian vocational school is a high school located in the city of Lixian in the Chinese province of Hunan. The students are typically 15-18 years old, although there is the odd 14 or 19 year old. This year we taught grades 1 and 2, and chances are that you will be doing the same.
The size of each class can vary greatly. This year I had a couple of classes that had about 30 students. In contrast to that, I had a couple of classes with almost 80 students (don't worry, it's not as bad as it sounds). The classrooms are fairly standard, although the resources available in each one can be different. Some classes have speakers where you can plug in your phone or laptop if you want to teach the kids some songs. Others have projectors (very few though) where you can teach more visual lessons. Everything else is chalk and blackboard I'm afraid, but you will get used to it.
The students themselves are very friendly, and will be very eager to get to know you. You will soon find that some students have good oral English, and some have practically zero; so be sure to take this into account when planning lessons. As with most schools, you will have some classes that are as good as gold, while others are a bit feistier. In saying that, even in the feistier classes the most you will have to deal with is the noise level. My advice would be to implement some class rules early on. You have complete control over what you can teach them. This sounds scary at first, but once you get a feel for what the students are interested in the lesson planning gets a lot easier.
The school itself is pretty big. There are separate building for each grade and plenty of recreational areas within the campus. If you like sports or just generally like keeping fit then you should have no problem doing that here. There's a football field, running track, basketball courts, volleyball/badminton courts and plenty of ping pong tables.
The apartments are located within the school, down towards the back of the premises to be exact. This has its ups and downs, but it's generally not a problem at all.
Takes a matter of minutes to walk to class.
Feels private, even though you are still at the school.
You can come and go as you please, no curfew or anything like that.
The actual apartments are fine and will have pretty much everything you need. There's two apartments for the two foreign teachers that teach each year at the school. The apartments are at ground level and located right next to each other. Each has a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room and office/storage space. The apartments are certainly big enough, so no complaints there.
The kitchen has most things you need...microwave, fridge/freezer, gas hobs, utensils and a rice cooker. Anything else you need is easy to find and cheap.
The bedroom is a decent size and has a large bed with plenty of storage space. One of the apartments has a TV in the bedroom, the other has a TV in the living room. I personally, haven't even turned it on so can't comment on how good or bad it is.
The living room is a good size and has a dining table (and chairs), 2 sofas and an armchair. There is also a coffee table and a computer desk. The furniture could probably do with some upgrading, but other than that it's good.
Lixian is a small city (probably a town in China) with a population close to 1 million. It is located in the north of Hunan province.The nearest city is Changde (1 hours), and the nearest major city is Changsha (3hours).
The weather is good, but that all depends on what you would classify as good. Summers are very hot and humid, The humidity is the worst thing, can be quite awful at times. Winters are mild enough, although January and February can be a bit chilly. It rarely snows though, and sub zero temperatures are not common.
The city is small and compact. It is a 20 minute walk from the school to the center, or you can just get the number 1 bus that stops outside the school (1 rmb). There are hundreds of shops that sell practically everything. There are also about 5 or 6 large supermarkets that have most things you need, apart from much western food. There is a small group of local shops near the school that sell day to day items. If you go right out the school and walk about 80 metres, you will see a kind of laneway between the 2 sets of student dorms. The shops are just down there. I always went to the first one, the people were really friendly (see picture).
The food in Hunan is really good and it was one of my favorite things about living here. Hunan is known for its spicy food, so be aware that a lot of the food is at least a bit spicy, with some of it being on the extreme side. Dishes are nearly always cooked from scratch, so you can request less chilis if you so wish. Just like with the shops, there is an abundance of places to eat (literally hundreds). It would be wise to memorise the Chinese words for some of the foods you like (or write them down) as many of the local restaurants have only Chinese menus and no staff that can speak English. There are also 5 or 6 restaurants right next to the school (just turn right, you will see them). I recommend the one next to the small local shop, right next to the entrance for the apartments behind. The owners name is Louise (we gave her that name) and we taught her some English. She is a lovely person and now knows almost all of the menu in English, so its very handy.
There are also a few restaurants that have some western food. There is a mall next to KFC. On the 5th floor you will find a number of nice restaurants, some of which have western type food. If you have feeling a bit extravagant you can go the Victoria Hotel in the centre of town (you can't miss it, it's huge). They have a really delicious buffet restaurant (7th floor) that serve Chinese food as well as some western food. It's not cheap (120rmb) but totally worth it...all the food, drink (alcohol included) you can eat. You can then have a drink in the jazz bar on the 6th floor.
There are plenty of things to keep you occupied in Lixian. There is a nice park (lanjiang park, see picture) that is on the way to the town from the school. There you can play badminton, ping pong, take a stroll or eat some street food. KTV (karaoke) is also very popular and great fun (see picture below). There is a gym, a pool hall and a number of bike clubs. The bike clubs are good way to meet and make friends with local people. You simply go whenever you want and rent a bike for a small fee (10-20 rmb). Then you can head off and explore Lixian and the surrounding areas.
The local people extremely friendly, and most of them will be more than willing to help with anything you need. You will get stared at, A LOT, but just remember that they are only curious and mean no disrespect at all. You will get used to it pretty quickly. Once you say hello to them you will always get a smile and a hello back. So in other words, you will have no problem making Chinese friends here.
There are also a few people here that can help you out a lot. Your FAO (foreign affairs officer) will be Cindy. She is an English teacher at the school and if you need anything at all she will be on it in a flash. I've heard stories about FAO's from other teachers in China and believe me, we got very lucky with Cindy. Apart from being a great FAO she's a lovely person and very easy to get one with. Her English is also very good, so there are no problems with communication.
Tom is also teacher at the school and is a really friendly person. He will be more than happy to show you around or help you out with anything you need. If you enjoy a drink or 2, Tom is your man. He's great fun and his English is also extremely good. I'm sure you will see him around, if not just ask Cindy to introduce you. Another person to look out for is Mandy. She is an English teacher (not at your school) and works in a local Buckland school at the weekends. I'm not sure if she will be there next year but if she is you will meet her. Again, she is a lovely person and easy to get along with.
Just a few useful tips:
I could write a book on Lixian, but I don't have the patience for that. Instead I will give you my email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can add me on facebook https://www.facebook.com/ste.dempsey1?ref=tn_tnmn, I've tons of pictures on there. I would highly recommend you get in contact with any other questions you have about the place, be it about the teaching or just general day to day life. I'd be more than happy to tell you more about my time here. If you want to know where certain things are, I can also give you directions.
Enjoy your time in Lixian.
Bring some general medication with you for flu, diarrhea etc. You WILL get sick at some point. You can get it locally but it saves the hassle, at least initially.
If anything in the apartment stops working or breaks call Cindy straight away, she will have it sorted ASAP.
Bring some small souvenirs from your country. The kids love that kind of stuff. Also bring some coins or notes of your own currency. The students are really interested in them and it also makes a great lesson topic.
Learn a few basic Chinese phrases (you can even get the students to help you). It will make your life a little easier, and also makes the locals laugh. You can get by without though, so no pressure.
I forgot to add it above, but you can have breakfast lunch and dinner at the school if you wish. It's not bad, and only about 3 rmb.
There will be at least two other foreign teachers (other than yourselves) in Lixian. There will be two in number one middle school and maybe two in another school. Cindy knows the FAO's from those schools, so if you ask her she will be able to get their numbers for you. As strange as it might sound, the chances of you meeting them on the street is remote. There 4 other foreign teachers here this year. They were really cool people and we all got along great. It made life a lot easier.
If you stay out late, be sure to make plenty of noise to wake the guards at the gate. Pretty minor, I know, but they are heavy sleepers
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