Giving Advice – Don’t entertain!

This is the last week before a nine-day holiday. I have no plans to travel – everyone does, it seems, and the transport network will be busy (Beijing is supposed to also heave under the swell of tourists, quite the opposite during winter holidays, when many Beijingers go to their home province to visit family and the city becomes something of a ghost town apparently). I am staying in Beijing, planning lessons, resting and relaxing…. As well as completing Chinese homework!!

My lessons this week have gone very well. I was doing a class on ‘Giving Advice’. This is not, on paper at least, an exciting lesson. But I tried and make it as fun as I could. The activities seemed to work well, especially with one I did with my Friday classes. I gave them all a different problem and an answer sheet, where they had to write the problem on the top and then ask their classmates for advice, before choosing the best piece of advice and stating why they thought it was the best. They all seemed to enjoy this and most people took part, speaking English as well, which is always good.

Outside the classroom, one of the Chinese teachers (that is, they teach Chinese) is going back home for the holiday, to Inner Mongolia, and I invited her and her roommate over for food. Now I should say from the outset, I’m not that good a host, as witnessed last year in the ‘Come Dine With Me’ competition. Furthermore, I live alone and eat mostly in the cafeteria or get food from 7-11. Any food I do make requires minimal preparation.

The roommate disappeared off to meet another friend, and so it was just me and the Chinese teacher, who is very nice and we get on well, but there were some problems during the cooking, mostly my (lack of) equipment and basic essentials. For instance, when I moved in, I was given a new wok. Great, except you have to screw the handle on and the screws are already screwed into the metal, meaning you’d have to unscrew them first, then put the handle on, then screw them back on. Well, I hadn’t used the wok before , and could I get the screws off?! No! Then, I suggested we put another pan on the hotplate, but that ended up burning the pan and (almost) causing a (small) fire.

Because I don’t cook much, and I’m somewhat set in my ways – and I usually only cater for one – I don’t remember, nor am I conscious of, what might be useful when cooking. So even things like a chopping board I didn’t have, because I don’t usually chop things up. So I had to buy things like that. It got pretty late as well by the time we started eating (I’d already eaten some grapes earlier so I was hungry but not starving). But after all that, the conversation was interesting; mostly about teaching and about English.

One situation I did not give my students was the one I faced here, where pretty much sod’s law played out, that anything that can go wrong, will. Perhaps, after the fact, I should have asked them for advice and see what they said. The closest was one situation which read, ‘You invite your friends over for food, but you can’t cook’. The suggestions in one class included: order take-out (what I should’ve done, I think); ask for help from my friend who can cook (which I did – the teacher did most of the cooking); eat outside; have salad; learn from a cook book; learn from a TV programme; and ask my friend to cook with me. The piece of advice the student picked was the last one because it can help promote friendship, which isn’t the worst advice, or reason, in the world at all. Far from it. But next time I entertain, if I decide to do that again (as it can be quite stressful), I should prepare better and maybe even follow my students’ advice!

The finished product!

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