Sunday, September 5, 2010

Herbie is officially gone. Herbie was what I named that grasshopper-like insect that stayed in my apartment for one week. Name thanks to my friend Amy. Let me backtrack for a moment and we shall get back to Herbie.

Thursday I had my second class. It was a ridiculously small class. I was shocked to find only 19 faces staring up at me when I walked into the classroom. And they are a wonderful 19 bunch of girls. There are no boys in the class, and all of my students will become teachers in the primary school. Their English skills vary from better than most of their teachers to not understanding most of the words that I say. One girl, Sophie, is the one with English skills exceeding the skills of the English teachers I have met on campus, except maybe two teachers (one of who studied in Australia for two years). She is a pleasant girl who often acted as though she were the only one I was actually talking to in the class. She would nod her head in agreement, furrow her brow at confusing moments, and answer every question I posed aloud to the class. I could also tell that she had taken ownership of this class, and would make sure that everyone understood what was required of them. Very sweet, and very outgoing. I passed her on campus on Friday and she nearly shouted my name as to be heard.
I should explain the ownership of the class a little more, excuse my digression. In China, including in the universities, the same students sit for all the same classes throughout their education. So the same 40 students that I teach for Oral English Janice might also have for Culture, and Kerry might also have for grammar. The students also all have a head teacher that they must report to throughout the year. So if the student’s grades are slipping, if they must miss some school, if any other problems come up they must report these to their head teachers. The students also have a specific night study time in which they must report to a classroom to study for a few hours one evening. Their head teacher will also report, take roll, and stay with them during the study time should the students have any questions. The students will also live with the members of their class. The students all live about 8 to a dorm room with a communal bathroom, laundry facility in the dorm. The 8 students will also be their classmates. So the educational system in China has a lot of dependency, communal, shared life experiences. Students are rarely alone. I rarely see one student walking alone, rather they are always accompanied by a friend.
Back to the class. I taught the class with the same lesson plan I had for my Monday class. Since I will only be teaching Listening and Speaking, I will just use the same plans for all of my classes. Because the class was smaller, though, I found that the lesson went better than the class did on Monday. The class on Monday did not go poorly (except for one section when the students completely misunderstood my directions, but this was clarified and the students successfully did the activity), but having the smaller class made the lesson smoother, made me able to listen and talk with my students more, and made giving directions simpler.
The rest of the day on Thursday passed with me in the office, until a rather putrid, chemical smell started seeping into the office. After several minutes of smelling this, Kerry (who sits behind me) stated that it is best if we left because the smell was not good to inhale. I couldn’t agree more, and several other teachers got up to leave when we did. The building is still in the process of being finished (something that Kerry and I both agree should have been completed over the summer holiday before students and teachers returned). The building is often filled with workers doing woodwork, electrical work, and various other items needed for a building to operate effectively. It will likely be another month before it is completed. There are a couple of other buildings on campus that might be done in a month or two (so I am told). But I am happy to report that the office space now has internet access as of Wednesday. It is very convenient for the office to have internet. I mainly lesson plan during the day in the office, and sometimes have wanted the internet to look something up, and now I can say that I can. This really is posh corps. (Posh Corps is the nickname for Peace Corps China because it is not the walk a mile to the school house, wash your clothes outside, no internet access kind of Peace Corps that is found in other countries). However, Peace Corps China has difficulties that no other country faces, in terms of our responsibilities, expectations, work, and relationship with host country nationals. Every country in the Peace Corps has its own hardships, whether this is more physical or more mental.
Once again I am back from a side note. Also during the week I have had practice for next Friday’s performance for National Teachers Day. September 10 is National Teachers Day in China and our school is having a performance night. All of the departments are doing some sort of act for the event. The English department is singing a song which is about a moon. I agreed to participate to sing along with the other teachers. Well, sometimes I have trouble understanding Chinese people when they speak English to me (sometimes key points are left out or whatnot). So this occurred around Wednesday when a group of my female colleagues started talking to one another and then asked me if I could sing or something. I said yes I am excited to sing with you all. It turns out that they were asking me to sing a two line solo from the song. Oh boy. So now I am singing a solo. I practiced with another teacher, and first I was pronouncing the words incorrectly. I improved my pronunciation, and then I wasn’t in tune. They told me I should practice. Maybe I shouldn’t sing actually is what I am thinking. I mentioned this on Saturday to Vivi, and she responded that I should just try my best and also that a boy would be singing the lines with me. Okay, but I still think it is their loss to have me sing.
Fridays seem to be a bit more relaxing on campus. Most teachers were out of the office most of the day, and there was no singing practice in the afternoon. In the evening, Janice and Mark invited me to come over to their house. It was rather nice. We just talked about various things, mostly in relation to the university. They told me the first time they met me that they were really excited when they heard that another foreign teacher was coming to the school after being the only foreigners at the school (and likely the entire city) for a year and a half. They said it would be nice to speak to another native speaker of English every now and then. I didn’t quite realize what she meant until I came over on Friday. I was able to speak at a normal speed and to use phrases or slang without having to explain my meaning. So, we most likely will not spend a lot of time together, but the time we do spend will be nice I am sure. It is also nice to go over different aspects of the university with them that they now understand (sort of) and can help to navigate me through some parts (like turning in grades, explaining the make-up of the school, etc.) I can also bounce some ideas off of them, for example I mentioned to Janice about having a potluck with the other teachers that live on campus one evening and she thought it was also a great idea. So hopefully it will come through because I think it would be fun and a good chance to get to know the other teachers on campus.
Side note. The make-up of the school deserves some attention. The school is made up of two parts. One is the university and the other part is a high school. This made no sense to me for the longest time and is now becoming more clear since speaking to Janice and Mark and later to Vivi. The school has about 500 -600 high school students that go to school here. If they finish high school at the school then they will automatically be accepted into the university. That being said, the students that come from the high school usually have the lowest English ability (or so said by Janice and Mark who have taught both students). All of the other students that enter the university must take the college entrance exam which is extremely difficult in China. The high school students that study at this university do not have to take the exam, but are just let in, so there is no assessment of their abilities. The university is extremely small and this is a way for it to add more students. The school cannot take students from other provinces because of how small it is, only large schools like Sichuan University or Sichuan Normal University are able to take students from other provinces (the small schools may not). So all of the students from my university are from Sichuan only. But now it makes more sense why I was eating dinner with 16 year olds one day, or running into 14 year olds. Everything is clearing up. Just a note, I do not teach any of the high school students. I will only be teaching the university students during my two years here.
So that was Friday, Saturday morning I went with Vivi to go shopping downtown. It was quite productive. I was able to buy a ladle, vegetable knife, spatula, an extra towel and hand towel, and some groceries that included vegetables for cooking! So I am almost set to begin cooking. I still need to buy rice and oil which I can pick up at the stores near the school gate. I still have much to get, but I am in no rush to get them. It is a little bit of a hassle to buy things downtown, so I only get a little at a time. After we finished shopping and we were on the number 16 bus back towards the university I heard “Hi Katie” come from a seat on the bus. It was one of my students! At the next stop some students got on and said hello to Vivi. She said that you cannot go downtown without running into at least one of your students. I think this is kind of nice. It made me happy to see one of my students, although I must admit that I didn’t recognize her. I should hopefully get better about names and faces in the coming weeks. When we got off of the bus near the school one of Vivi’s students were there with I think her mom and they greeted us and then gave us both a small watermelon! We politely refused, and then took them. Very sweet. Later Vivi invited me to have lunch at her apartment. It was nice. I watched some of the news at her house and was surprised by what was going on (hurricane in North Carolina, earthquake in New Zealand, something about the leader of South Korea) and realized that I should read the news more (and did that later that evening). Her lunch was delicious with tofu, some vegetable that I wasn’t sure about, boiled tomatoes, and this egg fluff thing. Not sure. Then we went for a walk around campus and I showed her my apartment. I should say that my apartment is a lot nicer than hers which makes me feel a little bad. Her apartment is very small and she also said that when she first came to teach her that they handed her the key and there was nothing in her apartment (no fridge, no chairs. No washing machine. I think there was a bed). So everything she had to get. I feel much appreciation for the many things the school gave me in my apartment (including a washing machine (which will be fixed at some point, but no big deal-I’ve just been washing by hand which probably does a better cleaning job than the old washing machine anyways), a fridge, couch, coffee tables, desk, chairs). They treat their foreign teachers better than their own teachers in terms of apartment amenities.
This brings me back to Herbie. Herbie was sitting on the couch when we came in and Vivi was startled and asked why I hadn’t removed him. I said that I had tried but that he wouldn’t budge. She insisted I try, so I got the broom and tried to sweep him away, at which point he flew half-way across the room. Yes, I also didn’t know he could fly. She said if she were me that she would step on him. I told her that I cannot do that, but that he is really harmless and I will just ignore him. Later that evening Herbie crossed the line. He went into my room when I was going to go to sleep. Well I couldn’t have that. He was making all sorts of strange night noises that bugs make. I got up and he happened to be near the door to my balcony, and I was (with some difficulty) able to sweep him out of the door. So Herbie is gone. Not far, though, because this morning when I woke up he was still sitting where I left him on the balcony, like a poor, helpless, wet dog begging his owner to let him back in after having an accident in the house. Well too bad for you Herbie. Good riddance!
Once Vivi left, I just relaxed. For some reason I was completely exhausted and ended up falling asleep for a few hours in the late afternoon. It might have something to do with moving to a new place only a week ago. Just a guess.
Later I went to go by some water in the convenience store outside of the school gate and I was greeted with a terrible site. There was a dog lying dead in the road and another dog was smelling and pawing it. It was awful. And everyone kept walking by, and I kept thinking “How can they walk by?” But then I bought my water and walked by. There was nothing anyone could do. It was really sad. Luckily I never got close enough to it. I am sure that will not be the last dog I see in that condition. There are tons of dogs, mostly stray or farmers’ dogs running around the school gate. I suppose it is a matter of life here, but that didn’t make it any easier to see.
Now today is Sunday and I am behind on work because of my sleepy self on Saturday. I am off to do some cleaning, emailing for World Wise Schools (a program that connects classrooms in the States with volunteers), emailing my students the syllabus, and I am going to attempt to put together the water distiller the Peace Corps Medical Office gave to every volunteer (now that I was emailed the directions in English). I wish you all well and many happy wins for FSU!

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