YI ER SAN SI! (One two three four!) This is what I have heard all day every day since Saturday and will continue to hear until next Friday. I first hear it at around 6:45 in the morning along with a steady rhythm of marching feet making their way around campus until 9 at night when the students sing their patriotic military chants. This is compulsory Chinese military training. In China students are required to have two weeks of military training the first year of middle school, first year of high school, and first year of college. So currently at this college that I teach at every freshman is decked out from head-to-foot in camouflage and is taking directions from a handful of young male soldiers. But what is happening around me is probably not what comes to mind when you think military training. These students are not learning military tactics nor are they doing difficult military maneuvers, and actually these students are not even brandishing anything close to a weapon (though my friend Vivi said that when she did her military training in her undergrad they were allowed to fire ten shots from an automatic rifle—she says hers went everywhere other than the intended target). No, these students are practicing marching, saluting, turning, chanting, doing tasks in unison, taking commands, and squatting. The purpose is to teach the students discipline, hard work, teamwork, and obedience. Some students really enjoy this experience (usually they have a gentle soldier leading them), whereas others get on QQ in the evening and tell me how miserably tired they are and how much they do not like their leader. I am sure they will all gain something from this experience, though what I am not sure.
Due to the military training my days have almost limited free time since 12 of the 16 hours I teach in a week are freshmen classes and they are not in class during their training. Luckily, though, I have found work for me to do (mostly I am catching up on my laziness that I have had with studying Chinese during September, which was studying…nothing). I have also managed to plan my lessons for the rest of this semester which ends the first week in January. Ambitious? More like a preventative to boredom which is a slow killer amongst our species.
I have also managed to start pillaging my way through Janice’s book collection. My current repertoire of books to read consists of only Chinese fiction and nonfiction. I yearn to indulge myself in as much Chinese culture, history, and politics as I can in order to better serve and understand this world in which I now live. Currently on the reading agenda include two Pearl S. Buck books (but alas we do not have The Good Earth), one Anchee Min book (Katherine—what a coincidence that the book is about a foreign English teacher named Katherine, though this teacher is nothing like me), China Road (nonfiction about this guy’s travels throughout China), and an Amy Tan book (The Bonesetter’s Daughter—and if you have never read The Joy Luck Club, please do). I am hoping that these books can take me into November at least. All of those literature classes at FSU turned me into a speed-reader.
Although I wasn’t teaching very many classes my week did consist of some interesting events. On Monday I gave my students some discussion questions and they really got into it, which is really pleasing for a teacher. The question that they particularly liked was ‘describe the qualities that make a perfect husband/wife.’ In the afternoon I had my first tutoring session with Eliam. We basically decided on my goals for learning Chinese. She assessed my needs and my ability. We practiced my pronunciation and she gave me cards with fruits and vegetables on them to study (which I did. Go ahead and ask me any fruit or vegetable and I will probably know it). Afterwards she joined me to play basketball with two students. One of the students was the girl that I met on the train to Yibin. I taught them the games Horse and Around-the-World. It was fun.
On Tuesday I went for a walk with one of my students named Vienna. She bought me a present when she was on vacation during National Day in Yunnan Province and said that it is supposed to bing my love and a bopyfriend. Haha! I will post some pictures. She also got a similar one for Mark and Janice, but theirs is supposed to bring them a happy family life. While we were walking I received two calls. One was from a student and the other was from another volunteer. Vienna, whose English skills are one of the better in this college, could not stop laughing when I was on the phone with the student. Apparently my face showed much confusion and I was speaking quite deliberately and slowly, as opposed to when I was talking with the other volunteer and I spoke at a normal speed. She found it interesting, to say the least, how I spoke differently with students and with native speakers. During the walk she also told me about how this 50 something year old Russian man was talking with her in Yunnan. She thought it was nice and a good way for her to practice English. At the end of their conversation he asked for her number and she gave it to him. But then she said it became weird and he would message her all the time and say how beautiful he thought Chinese women are, etc. She was struggling to find the word to describe him and said “he’s a p…p,” and I offered “pervert?” And yes, this was the word she was looking for, and based on her description, I would have to agree, so I told her she should be careful and not to answer his messages any longer. What kind of 50 year old man asks a 20 year old for her number? Finally she asked me why I don’t go out with students very much. I realized she was right, so during November I am going to make more of an effort to hang out with students during free time.
On Tuesday afternoon I had my running club, but when I got out there I saw that Mark was trying to get a soccer game started but few students had come. Well not many students came to running club, so I rounded those students up and signaled to a few students on the track to join soccer. Mark had asked all of his classes during the day to play soccer and only a few showed. Later he asked his classes why they didn’t come and they said that they didn’t know how to play. Exasperated he told them that was the point in playing—so they could learn. The following week a few more showed up, but still very few. It takes time. They get really nervous for some reason to join in sports with us. Well when we were about to start our game we noticed we were one player short. I noticed a girl leaving the basketball court. I ran over and asked her in Chinese if she spoke English. She said yes in English. I then asked her if she wanted to play soccer. She became really flustered, so I asked her again in Chinese if she wanted to play soccer. She was trying to find the words in English to say that she couldn’t, but became rather distraught about the whole thing and walked away banging her fist against her head. I think this might be the last time I try to engage a student I don’t know in English. I think she was really embarrassed about her English skills, but she had to have noticed my Chinese skills were equally appalling. But in the end we managed a small game and Mark taught them how to kick better. Towards the end of the game, two students came by to give Mark and me a present from their vacation during National Day. Mine was a green bean cookie that was the most dry, oddly flavored cookie I have ever eaten in my life, but it was very sweet of the student to give me.
Wednesday afternoon Mark and I met Kerry and invited some students to play Frisbee. We started with passing it around and teaching them, including Kerry, the basics. Then I decided to teach them all ultimate. They all had a lot of fun with ultimate and I saw them getting more and more into it, and a little more aggressive and competitive (which is awesome, since this is rarely displayed amongst Chinese girls). Then I guess because some people were getting tired Kerry decided to teach us all a frisbee drill. Well, everyone was confused. His game/drill made no sense. I would explain it but I can’t because it didn’t make any sense. I think he might have lost a little face, but we all tried to do his game. We went back to ultimate a bit more, then tossed it around before everyone had to disperse. Kerry plans to teach the game to some teachers, and hopefully we can all play again.
In the evening Vivi invited me to help her judge some students her were interviewing for a temporary English teaching position at a local middle school. The permanent teacher became pregnant and I guess there are no substitute teachers. The interview consisted of the students giving a mini English lesson in front of us and their classmates. 10 students participated and Vivi and I judged. After they all went, with varying abilities in English and teaching, Vivi asked me to give them all some feedback on their teaching. I thought it would have been better one-on-one, but she asked and the students said it was okay in front of everyone. Then Vivi and I discussed who the best was, but we had already come to the same decision. We had both picked the same person, so there was no need for discussion. This student had both good English and teaching ability. And what is funny is that this student will make more money than I make in a month. I am not complaining because, as a volunteer I get as much as I need, it’s just funny.
On Thursday afternoon I went with Vivi to visit a preschool in town. We just observed the class, and I took some pictures which I posted online. There are not any big differences with their prek and ours, except class size and length of time they are there in the day.
On Friday evening I had dinner with Janice, Mark and some students that we asked to lead English Corner which is starting the following week. We just discussed when (Thursdays 530-630), who (any students), what (discussions and icebreaker activities), and how to get students to come (poster). Janice and I agreed to do the first English Corner and to lead all the opening icebreakers and the students would lead small group discussions.
On Saturday I went on a picnic with some teachers, but a Chinese picnic is not like a Western picnic. First we hiked two hours to a nearby mountain, and then the men got huge stones to cradle the pot and wood for the fire. Next some water was brought to a boil and Kerry made a soup on the mountain. It was a lot of fun; the soup was good, and the environment pleasant. Janice also taught the Chinese about roasting marshmallows, but I think the westerners were the only ones who enjoyed them. The men bet cards, and the children fought over candy, while Mark, Janice and I secretly threw our chicken feet snack in the woods (as Mark so nicely put that the woods hold all secrets). At one point Kerry mentioned to me that he was hung over. Well I had to explain that unless he went out drinking last night he was in fact not hung over, but that he could possibly be a bit tipsy from the one beer Mark gave him. He said, oh then I am not hung over. No Kerry, you were not hung over. The pictures online can better describe the festivities I think.
Other news, Peace Corps was mentioned on NPR (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130550616). The BBC has an entire section of its website devoted to China which if you want to know anything about Modern China you should check it out (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/asia_pacific/2004/china/default.stm). It has anything you might ever want to know about China.
And most importantly, Peace Corps Niger has lost one of its volunteers. Please keep Stephanie Chance and her family in your thoughts during this difficult time. They are unsure of the exact cause of death but believe it to be natural. She was in her late twenties, and started her service the same time as me.