Today I taught my first Thursday classes for next week because Wednesday thru Friday are cancelled for the Mid-Autumn Festival. It was a dreadfully hot and humid day. The Chinese describe this kind of uncharacteristic heat out of season as “The Tiger in the Autumn.” Believe me, it fits. My first class that morning was acting out my own sentiments—they all had their heads down on the desks when I walked in. Despite that it was Sunday, excruciatingly humid, and sweat was cascading down my back and forehead I did my best to get the students energized for learning English. It was an informative lesson. I became aware that this freshmen classes’ English level was lower than I had originally assessed, but I took it slowly and we all got through the lesson on transportation. 45 minutes is a frustratingly short period of time to teach these students. I realized that the 45 minute freshmen classes will learn less than half of what my second year students will learn this semester and I find that really irritating, especially considering how much practice these students need. Nevertheless I will do my darndest to help these students improve.
My second class on Sunday was my small class. An activity that went exceptionally well was giving the students different pictures that I had of my family and friends. They then had to create a story about the picture explaining who the people were (describe them and give them names), what they were doing in the picture, where they are (including the time of year, is it a holiday or party), and the relationships of the people in the picture to one another. It was so funny for me to hear the students describe these pictures of my family and friends (like he is dating her), and the students did a great job with their oral English. I wanted the students to focus a lot on describing, as well as working on getting their pronouns correct (Chinese English speakers often mistake she/he and him/her—which is very confusing for native speakers to hear). This activity is going down in my great activities folder along with my guess the item activity during my packing lesson. The picture activity took a while, though, and I ended up scraping half my lesson—to be picked back up next time we meet after the holiday.
Sunday afternoon I looked at pictures of Vivi’s family and friends which was nice to get to know her more. And then I got my water distiller to work! It was so exciting! So now I have clean drinking water all the time that is free!
Another terribly hot and humid day in Jiangyou. Got to the office and the power was out—which is not uncommon. Usually once a day the power goes out. But the bad thing about this was the elevator had stopped running with people in it and we were all sweating profusely in the office without the AC working. A positive thing in the morning was that Vivi gave me a mooncake in celebration for the Mid-Autumn Festival (aka Moon Festival) which is this Wednesday. Later on I tried it and it was good. Some people do not care for the mooncakes, but I rather like them. They are a dense cake filled with meat, fruit, or flowers usually. The sweeter ones tend to be better in my opinion.
My first class on Monday was a freshmen class that I hadn’t met yet. I walked in to oohs and ahhs and several students taking pictures of me with their cell phone cameras—foreign teachers are like movie stars over here. I am sure that for some of my students I am the first foreigner that they have ever met.
More than half of my students for my second freshmen class that day were missing. They were apparently dancing or something like that. It was difficult to say where they were because the student that told me where they were had very poor English.
For my sophomore class Media (another Chinese English teacher) observed me. She said that she was having trouble engaging her students and getting them to participate, so she wanted to see what I do in my classes. She took lots of notes—which made me a bit nervous, and then we debriefed afterwards. She may try some of my teaching methods in the future is what she said.
At 7 that night all of the students were having performances to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. I went to Vivi’s class celebration because I was performing with Vivi and Jaime (an art teacher at the school). They sang and then I said a part of a Chinese poem about the moon. The party was incredibly fun, exciting, and festive for the students. The students sang, did skits, danced, one girl did an amazing yoga demonstration (and then did a mini lesson for the audience—us), and one group of girls sang a song to a girl from their dorm who had just failed her computer exam. The song caused some tears to fall. Very sweet. Chinese people are very encouraging of others. When they forget their lines when singing the audience would always pitch in to help—no one laughs or ridicules. There were also two contests during the night. One involved popping balloons and answering questions and the other had baijiu (strong liquor) involved. Very interesting.
The start was also worth mentioning. The students had placed desks and chairs in the front for any teachers that came to watch, and they gave us all juice boxes and snacks. The students also had drinks and snacks. For all solo singers we would give them one snack to show our appreciation—I gave one girl a lollipop per Vivi’s suggestion.
The second notable thing was when Janice, Mark and Charlie came. They got a standing ovation. Everyone loves adorable Charlie. But poor Charlie (in this Tiger in the autumn) developed a heat rash, so I started fanning him with my paper until this sweet student brought me a real fan—so the rash soon disappeared. They didn’t stay long, though, for Charlie’s sake.
At the end of the celebration the students brought out 3 gigantic mooncakes and had me, Vivi, and Jamie do the honors of cutting it. Two boys stepped in to help me and Vivi finish cutting because of the thickness of the cake—much appreciated. And it was devoured in minutes by students. They made sure the teachers got some. It was delicious, too. Very sweet.
The students were cleaning up everything when we left and singing a bit since they had rented the sound equipment and were getting their full moneys worth.
The morning brought a wretched storm. The humidity that built up for days released its fury in deafening claps of thunder and close range lightning bolts accompanied by furious winds and downpours. I didn’t want to leave my apartment. I eventually left for the office and was greeted with mooncakes galore from students and other teachers. While in the office I took out the Tallahassee Democrat to look for articles to read to my students, and two teachers came over curious. One article was about the Tallahassee Museum of Natural History and I mentioned that I used to volunteer there to teach the public about animals. One teacher said she loved animals and was actually a vegan (really rare in China) and a member of PETA. She asked me if I was also a vegetarian. I said no. She asked why I ate meat if I loved animals so much, so I explained to her about the circle of life theory. She told me that some students on campus had a Vegetarian Culture Organization which she sponsors. They were planning a vegan picnic on the 23rd. Later she told me about a good website for watching TV: www.suprememasterstv.com. Interesting. I immediately emailed another volunteer that I know that is a diehard vegan, so that she could visit my school and maybe be a guest speaker for the club.
Tuesday evening Janice and I went to running club, but it turned out that the track was closed for the holiday. So we went to buy some Chinese barbecue (which is nothing like our bbq). We got barbecue veggies and Mark made rice. Janice also paid and got us some bubble tea. We ate, played a few card games, then watched Balls of Fury. Janice and Mark have a nice collection of DVDs and a DVD player in their apartment. To top it all off Mark and I both enjoined a cold Heineken that he’d bought when they were in Chengdu earlier in the month. Interesting about watching Balls of Fury, if anyone hasn’t seen it there is Chinese in it and this one guy would always translate. The interesting thing was that we were watching and this little girl spoke Chinese and then the guy translated and we all looked at each other and then said “that’s not what she said.” Very interesting. She didn’t say anything bad, but it was interesting that the translation was incorrect. It makes me want to learn more Chinese, which is good since I have been unmotivated.
Wednesday morning at 8 I went with Vivi and another teacher named Sharon to nearby mountain (Douchuan Mountain). It was great and relaxing. Unfortunately part of the mountain was under some construction so we didn’t see about half of it. There are pictures on the Windows Live account. Check it out! When we got back to Jiangyou we had dinner (I paid since Sharon bought the snacks). Then we went shopping at the market, which was packed and crazy. The mooncakes were now ½ off since Mid-Autumn Festival was that day, so everyone was loading up. I got some to try as well. It was a long but pleasant way to spend the first day of the holidays. It was also incredibly cool which was awesome!
Thursday was great. I spent the entire day inside reading, sleeping and relaxing. I can’t do that too often, but every now and then is okay. Thursday evening Media invited me over to her apartment for some Guizhou (another province where she is from) tea and to chat. It was nice and I got to know her a bit better.
Friday morning I headed over to Mianyang on the bus. I spent the whole cold and rainy day there with Angel, Joel, and a returned Peace Corps volunteer turned contract teacher Tom. It was nice to get away for a bit, and I was able to pick up a new keyboard (since the one on my laptop is broken) and a small toaster oven! I am super excited to begin baking things. I am hoping to bake cookies, although all-purpose flour really does not exist in China. I picked up the oven, along with some cinnamon, curry powder, some soup packets, and a high-gluten flour (which I am going to test for cookies) at Super Wal-Mart in Mianyang. It was similar and yet different from the Wal-Marts back home. It was interesting. I got a steal on the oven, too along with a two year warranty. It was great having Tom around who could speak Chinese and enjoyed bargaining—something which I hate. Angel cooked us all a nice stir-fry and his sitemate (a China 15) named Jeff came over. It was nice, but I was looking forward to returning to Jiangyou the next day. It was nice that I didn’t have to teach on Saturday, so I could get some things done. Tomorrow, though, I teach and thus ends another week in Jiangyou.
*Oh and I beat the difficult level in Spider Solitaire this week—I am so proud of myself!