Wednesday, September 1, 2010

settling in at Jiangyou

The last few days in Jiangyou are a bit of a blur but I know day 2 began with workers coming over to fix my hot water. So yay! I have hot water now. Next thing to be fixed will hopefully be the washing machine. Once the workers left Kerry took me to get a cell phone. I still am unclear a little about how it works which seemed to frustrate Kerry a bit. It is very different from cell phone services in the States. I paid an upfront cost of 410 yuan which from what Kerry was saying included the phone and 20 yuan each month for 18 months. If I go over this amount each month then I should go in and pay the extra. If I do not use up the 20 yuan each month it does not roll over into the next one. I will see what happens in a month and figure it out from there, but at least I can scratch it from my list of things to do. I also got a really cool screwdriver tool out of the deal by signing up. That may or may not come in handy, but I still thought it was cool.

Also Kerry informed me in the morning that the teaching schedule still has some problems, but that I will be teaching one class tomorrow from 225-405. It is a listening and speaking class of 2nd year students. He will let me know where the classroom is tomorrow morning. He will also let me know the rest of my teaching schedule then. From what I understand, though, this is my only class of 2nd year students. The rest of my students are 1st year students which means that I do not begin teaching them until September 13. All first year university students in China have mandatory military training in the beginning of their first semester. I shall see.

Well a little later this week I found out I will be teaching another class of 2nd year students listening and speaking. I am glad to be teaching a little bit and not have to wait for two weeks. I have been staying fairly busy actually considering I am not doing any teaching. I have been doing a lot of lesson planning. I have a general plan for the semester, and have been working on the details of the lesson plans the past two days and hope to have the entire semester’s lesson plans completed by the end of next week before I start teaching freshmen. The main reason that I have been doing so much lesson planning is because it gives me something to do in my office space. Each department in the university has a large room office space divided into little cubicles. It is a really nice way for me to get to know some other teachers. I have been making an effort to go there and do lesson planning, so that I can sometimes chat with another teacher. It seems to be working because occasionally someone comes over (sometimes to say hello and sometimes to ask me an English related question). The first English related question was easy; the teacher wanted me to explain the difference between pedagogue, pedagogy, and education. The second question, though, I failed as a native speaker of English. Well, kind of. Not many native speakers of English probably know the etymology of the word pedagogue. She wanted me to break down the word parts, their meaning and origin for peda. I told her I would look it up and get back to her, although if I were to wager a guess I would assume that peda is derived from Greek origins. So pause for a moment whilst I look up this word and the meaning of its parts. Okay, so its origins stem from Latin, Greek and Middle English, the latest coming from Greek. I think this means I win. What I win exactly I am not sure. Anyways, pedo comes from child and agogos from leader. I am sure all of you were just dying to know this.

Moving on, Monday’s class went well. I didn’t really teach them. It was more an introduction to the course, who I am, me assessing them, and what they could expect from this class this semester. There were 3 boys and 38 girls in the class. Remember that this is a school for future primary school teachers. Also, in general around China, girls are typically more likely to be English majors than boys are. So first I introduced myself and that I was a volunteer. Then I split them into 8 groups to discuss amongst each other why they were taking an English course, what was the purpose of studying English. Basically I wanted them to look at the big picture of why they were even taking an English course. Why did China see the need for students to study English? Then we discussed aloud. The students responses were:
1. because it is a popular language
2. some said they were interested in it
3. in order to get a job
4. some wanted to live in an English speaking country
5. to learn the culture of English speaking countries
6. to talk with foreigners
7. to watch foreign movies
8. because it is a useful language
9. because I am an English major (simply put)
10. it will make the future better for me
11. to improve myself
12. to be proud of myself
13. it is a challenge
14. to teach foreigners Chinese
Next I had them take a survey that I made up on to see what their strengths and weaknesses are in English, as well as their confidence level in using the language. The answers were pretty mixed, but much like I expected them to be. Students usually feel more comfortable using Chinese around their classmates and Chinese teachers than foreign teachers. Students find reading and writing English easier than listening, speaking, and grammar. This is natural for any second language. The order of Second Language Acquisition is Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking last. The order of first language acquisition is listening, speaking, reading, and writing last. Then they did a quick multiple intelligence survey so I could gauge where the majority of the students are in terms of learning styles.
Then they had a break and I talked with the teacher next door to me who was also having a break. Then we did a tea party activity in which they are supposed to find a new partner and discuss with each other a topic that I assigned. I only did 3 of the 5 topics. They were really confused about the activity at first and one girl (Monica) just blurted out "we do not understand." I appreciated this openness in Monica very much. Usually Chinese students are too shy to voice their confusion. So I changed the activity a little so that it was less confusing, and they did alright with it. I did the activity so that I could walk around and listen to the students’ abilities at speaking English (which were quite mixed). Then we went over what we are going to do during the semester and the class rules and my questions box (which they thought was really funny). The question box is just a box that I have available in case students have any questions but they do not want to ask in front of their classmates or do not want to acknowledge their confusion to me, then they can just drop their questions in the box and I will answer it later.
For the last bit of class they worked on a family crest activity which we will have to finish next week. This was just an introductory activity for me to get to know them and for them to practice speaking.
I am going to do the same thing for my Thursday class since it is the same subject. I am teaching from 1105-1150 and then we break for lunch and I resume teaching from 130-215.

Moving on, I met the Canadians on Tuesday. Kerry gave Janice (the lady Canadian) my cell number and she called me Tuesday morning to introduce herself and to see if I wanted to accompany her and her husband to downtown to go shopping. I wanted to get out of the house and meet them, so I said yes. I ended up buying a few things (a pot, a pan, peanut butter-which I lost my only spoon and so I have been using a chopstick to take my peanut butter out of the jar until I can get another spoon. Oh and there was no normal peanut butter at the store, so instead I have peanut butter with swirls of some sort of chocolate sauce. Also bread, some fruit for my counterpart, raid, and soap to clean my clothes by hand since my washing machine is still broken). The great thing about going was that I was able to see what was available, as well as how things operated. It was really helpful to go with them. It was also nice speaking to native speakers. They are a very nice couple with an adorable 6 week old son named Charlie. They have been in Jiangyou for 1.5 years and will likely stay only this year and then return to Canada. They have not decided for sure what they would like to do, it depends on Charlie. Later Janice texted me to invite me to dinner, but I already had plans to eat with Vivi one of my Chinese colleagues. I liked the Canadians, but I do not think I will spend too much time with them because of why I am here in the Peace Corps. The PC didn’t send me to China to meet Canadians. But Mark, the male Canadian, gave Kerry a Frisbee and Kerry and I talked about starting an Ultimate Frisbee team which I told Mark he should join.
So Monday I had dinner by myself outside of the school and not many people talked with me. The next day I had two dinner invites and several people talked with me. I have been trying to make the effort to stay out of my apartment all day (to walk around, eat in the teachers dining hall, stay in the office, etc.) and it seems to be paying off. I am going running with Vivi tomorrow evening, as well. I also went to Vivi’s apartment after dinner to watch some TV with her and another Chinese teacher came by so I was able to practice my Chinese since she was not an English teacher and couldn’t speak any English.
So another thing, I have signed up to participate in a performance of September 10 for National Teachers Day. All of the departments are doing some sort of performance and the English department is singing this beautiful Chinese song. I get to wear this blue dress, and I am not sure yet because I get confused here often in China, but I might be singing two lines on my own which is a little scary. I don’t even know the words yet because when we practiced today the song was only in Chinese characters. Kerry promised he would translate the song into pinyin for me, which would be good. Thursday afternoon we are practicing again, so we shall see. I seem to take more risks here in China, maybe because I still sometimes feel like I am living in a dream and this is not actually happening (which would be very sad if it did turn out that I was in a coma and in my comatose state I am writing in a blog).
Okay, so I have been getting into the good habit of running every afternoon around the track. I just take my ipod out with me and do some laps. It is really relaxing to just be in a rhythm for maybe 30 minutes in my day. Monday after running, I was leaving and three girls stop me to take a picture with me on their cell phones. I would think this strange except this is not the first time this has happened to me or another volunteer in China. Foreigners, especially those present in smaller towns, are like running into Brad Pitt at the supermarket (rare and exciting, and taking a picture seems only natural). I don’t know why some people get offended; I just think it’s funny. So on Tuesday I had been running for a while and three young girls decided to stop me and talk with me. They were 15, 14, and 10 and most likely the children of some of the teachers. They wanted to know if I played basketball. I told them I would. Well playing basketball to them meant trying to interfere in the boys’ game that was going on at the time. Well the men were nice enough to toss me the ball. I made 2 of the 3 shots I tried. Then I just sat down and chatted some with the girls. They spoke no English, so it was a good time for me to practice my Chinese on very patient girls. Wednesday they were at the track, but I was late because of singing practice with the English department. I hope they didn’t want to shoot hoops with me. Maybe they will be there again and we can try our hands at some basketball. I don’t think they would care if I was terrible. Oh and the day I went to have dinner with Vivi this little 4 year old boy ran up to me, said something in Chinese and then started holding my hand. Oh my heart! He was just so cute! He then ran off. Vivi said that what he said was hold my hand. He just wanted me to hold his hand for a little bit. It was just too cute. So if nothing else, at least the children seem to really like me.
So basically I will talk with anyone. On my first day I might have mentioned my dinner with the 16 year old girls. Okay, I should note that it is extremely difficult to tell ages here in China. The university students look like high school students, and some teachers look like university students. Also most university students act the same age as middle and high school students in the US and some of the women in their 20s act like high school and undergraduate students. It can be very confusing. I enjoy talking with anyone who will talk with me though. I was walking once and Hu Laoshi (this nice man from the library) stopped to talk with me for a little bit. He knew very little English, but we managed with a mixture of Chinese and English to have a good 5 minute conversation. What is really funny is when I meet someone for the first time, but they already seem to know everything about me, and yet I do not even know this person’s name. Oh and for the next two years it seems I will be known as Kitty. I guess I do not enunciate my name well enough. But anyways, when I say my name it is followed with some giggles and an occasional meow. I don’t even bother to correct them. When they say it, it sounds like Katie to me. I talk with teachers in the dining hall, walking around school after lunch or dinner, in the office, and next to my classroom. The teachers dining hall is interesting. There is a mad rush in at 1150 and most are done eating by 1215. crazy. The food is okay. It is Sichuan food, but not as good as in the restaurant because the cooks are making mass amounts of it. I still eat it. It’s not bad and even better than that is that it is free!
My office space (sorry to jump around) is a little blue cubicle space. Kerry is behind me and Vivi is next to me. I have all of my teaching resource books there, some magazines, stickers, pens and pencils, picture of my training site, a month header that says September (which I will change every month) and a bowl with snacks for me and my colleagues (mainly my colleagues since dry tofu is in there now, which is okay but not my first choice for snack). There is also supposed to be internet available which will be nice.
One night this week I had to go over to Kerry’s to register for my foreign teachers’ certificate. It was an interesting ordeal. He was having a little difficulty translating and obviously I couldn’t read the Chinese characters. So the first question had to do with my schooling. Well Kerry was asking me about high school, which I didn’t think was relevant, but of course I answered. Well high school in the US is different than high school in China so a lot of the questions don’t make sense (like, I did not have a major in high school. I also didn’t have a head teacher). So we sort of made up the parts in the high school section. Then there were questions pertaining to my talents, how I would describe my character, what are my hobbies. How this is relevant to me teaching in China I may never know. Afterwards, though, Kerry and Eliam helped me to sign up for a QQ account which is similar to facebook but for the Chinese. It is the best way for me to keep in contact with my students and for them to practice their English with me online. So everyone gets a number for signing on to QQ, and supposedly I have a good number is what they told me. There are a lot of 0s, 6s, and 9s. I haven’t downloaded the information onto my computer next, but I feel a little more Chinese just for having QQ.
So in the hotel in Chengdu I apparently left my retainer and mouth guard, so I was slightly panicky the first day. I couldn’t imagine not wearing my retainer and mouth guard for 2 years. My jaw would be in mass amounts of pain by the end of my service. But they were able to recover it! So my program manager will bring it to me during her site visit sometime in October, November, or December. I can wait a few months, just not two years. Also most things in my apartment are now fixed! Just the washing machine (which I have just washed clothes by hand, no big deal) and the TV which I don’t really want fixed because it will encourage bad habits of sitting in front of the TV. So once I get a knife, a new spoon, and some food I can begin to cook!
I would really like to have a potluck with the teachers that live on campus. I wonder if they could open the dining hall during dinner time for us to use. Maybe I will ask Kerry.
And last, but certainly not least, a giant spider came out at me while I was taking a shower on Monday. It was the size of my palm. I screamed, literally, jumped out of the shower and started spraying it with water. Well the water didn’t kill it, so I started releasing soap onto it. This didn’t kill it either, so I ran and got my bleach and started spraying bleach on it. This did it for the spider. So I brutally murdered a spider. I hope this was a lesson to his friends not to come.
But at least I am not having as difficult a time as my friends Katie and Richy. Their apartment has giant spiders, roaches, and bedbugs. I feel so bad for them. I went ahead and put down the Raid even though I haven’t seen a roach yet, just to be careful. Bedbugs, I already know I do not have (thank heavens). I can deal with a lot of things, but bugs are a lot to handle.
I will try to keep everyone posted and also post links to my fellow volunteers’ blogs, so you can read some more about China if you would like. In the meantime, though, my site training manager in Chengdu found a link to my news interview on Chinese television. So have a look! It is me with my friend Leo. He also was interviewed, although for some reason they cut him off. I have no idea why.

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