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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

1st Birthday in China and 1 Busy Week

Last Sunday I took my good friend Vivi out for dinner since she was leaving Wednesday for a little over a week to visit Nanjing, the former capital of China (near Shanghai), to attend some meetings concerning preschool education, along with her husband who is studying for his PhD in education at a university in Chongqing. When we finished dinner I decided to accompany her to see to her students. Vivi is a head teacher for about 125 students. As a head teacher it is her responsibility to see to the needs of the students, to grant them leave, and to notify their parents should they miss school. The students must also sit for evening class on Wednesdays and Sundays at 7pm and Vivi must take roll, give announcements, and occasionally lecture on some topic. So you can imagine she is quite busy. On this occasion I decided to accompany her since I had nothing else to do and Vivi said the students would be teaching about some things, including Thanksgiving. The students led each other in songs, discussions, and gave a short performance. The entire meeting was in Chinese, of course, so I did my best to listen and pick out words here and there and figure out what was going on. At the end of the meeting I was getting drowsy, maybe, and was paying less attention to what was being said, so I missed when I was introduced, but soon realized when Vivi elbowed me and I glanced up to see over a hundred students looking at me. It seemed that they wanted me to come up and say something, which I did. I gave them a short lesson about Thanksgiving in America and what my family does on the holiday. It was certainly a surprise, but I know most of her students which made it okay.

Monday one of my students gave me a birthday present. When I got home I opened it and it was…wait, what is this? It was green and something to wear, but I couldn’t figure it out. I decided to wait and ask Eliam when she came over to teach me Chinese this afternoon, but she didn’t know either! Together we figured out that it was a stylish scarf that hung loosely on my neck. It was very pretty once I knew what it was. My tutoring went okay and afterwards I awkwardly asked Eliam how much she might like to be paid, but she said she would prefer it if I taught her English and American teaching methods as a return for her teaching me Chinese. Yes, that I can do and I am glad I don’t have to deal with paying a friend money. After my lesson Media asked if I would like to accompany her to buy vegetables downtown and then she made both of us dinner. She said she wasn’t a good cook, but I thought it was delicious (spicy green peppers with dried pork, a green leafy vegetable cooked with garlic, and porridge—watery rice (I like it, though many foreigners don’t). While eating we came on the topic of the Chinese zodiac and who knew—we are both rabbits (which really excited Media). This means as much to me as being a Scorpio, which is nothing.


Tuesday Vivi invited Allie and me for dinner (lotus roots, eggs and tomatoes, fried potatoes, and a green leafy vegetable and tofu, and rice). Vivi invited me to listen to a speaker earlier that day and we were planning on going after dinner to the library. As we were leaving, though, Vivi said it was a student singing contest. I said okay. The conversation that follows is rather interesting and worth mentioning:
Vivi: what’s it called the person that comments on a performance?
Me: a judge?
Vivi: yeah! A judge.
Me: so who is the judge for this contest?
Vivi: um…we are
Me: what?!
Vivi: okay, let’s hurry; we’re late!
Then she grabbed my arm and we rushed to a library classroom where Vivi, me and two music teachers proceeded to judge 37 student singers. Vivi and I were wholly unqualified, but her students asked her and then asked if I would since there might be some students singing English songs. Well there were 3 English songs out of 37, but at least Vivi didn’t really know what she was doing either. After the contest a student flagged me down because she wants to be my friend. So my newest friend is Whitley, a student of Kerry’s from Chengdu who likes running and is just slightly goofy (the latter two sound like me a bit. Haha!). Later on Friday morning she ran me down on the track when I was running to give me some instant coffee—maybe she knew it was my birthday.

So I am often taken aback by this juxtaposition of old and new in China. Pedi-cabs maneuvering around BMWs, horse and ox pulling carts down the road next to construction trucks, and meat sellers with their pigs’ feet hanging from hooks outside the new mall. This week I was slightly amazed to see a farmer strolling down the road beside the school leading his massive pig with just a slight swish of his stick while I stood inside my tiled apartment having just finished my lunch. Life here is certainly fascinating. I hope I do not soon lose that feeling of astonishment of living in China.

Thursday I was pleasantly surprised to see the results of a homework assignment that I gave my sophomore classes. Last week we had discussed the topic of TV and computer, and I asked the students to create a 5 minute mini TV show and the results were quite entertaining. I wasn’t sure what they might come up with and I was very impressed with their creativity and the time they put into the assignment. There was a talk show, talent show, and dating show. The dating show was probably the funniest. There were 5 female contestants, the host, and one "guy" (it’s an all female class). First the women introduced themselves and why they were on the show. Then 'Peter' came on and introduced himself and why he was on the show. Then the host asked the women to decide if they liked him (which they did by putting their water bottles down for no or kept it up for yes). One girl put hers down and the host asked why and she said because he was too old. Then the girls were allowed to ask Peter a question. After the questions they could choose again yes or no (two more said no and gave reasons). Then Peter could ask the girls a question. In the end Peter chose between the two remaining girls. Then the rest of the class who were the audience shouted kiss kiss kiss! So they pretended to kiss and the host wrapped up the show.

Thursday afternoon I went to watch a jump rope contest after two students told me about it. It was really fun to watch so I took pictures. Then I went with one student to join two teachers playing Ping-Pong. They let me try for a bit, and I wasn’t as bad as I thought I might be. I wasn’t good or even okay—I was pretty terrible, actually, but I thought I wasn’t even going to be able to hit the ball which I did. When 5:30 rolled around this student and I went over to the center of the school for English Corner. Instead of having an icebreaker activity I had some questions to ask the students that my correspondence class ( a middle school class) in America had asked me this week but to which I didn’t know the answers. The following are their unique questions with my students’ answers:

1. Do you do Kung-Fu? A. No. Every student said no, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t do it in China. Many of the students at my school prefer dance to kung-fu. Kung-Fu is taught at the school, but it is an extremely serious and disciplined sport. Media told me that in order to be able to major in Kung-Fu you must start at an early age and continue throughout your school years. She remembers that the Kung-Fu students in her middle school had to rise at 5am and do Kung-Fu before school and these students were very limber and could lift their legs above their heads while standing.
2. Do you listen to hip-hop? All said yes
3. Who are some famous artists in China? Jay Chou (the most famous amongst students), Jorin, Lee Hom
4. Are there gangs in China? If so, what is the name of a gang? ‘of course’ was a student’s answer. They gave two names: Chen Shui Bian and Li Hung Zhi
5. Do you play any online games against people from other countries? Yes. AU
6. Do you celebrate anything like Thanksgiving in China? No
7. How old must you be to drive in China? 18
8. Any famous American artists travel to China to perform? They couldn’t think of any, and I’m sure that those that do probably only perform in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.
9. Are their any Chinese rappers? Yes, Pan Wei Bo

When they had so kindly answered these American middle school students’ questions the Chinese English language students split into 5 groups with a student leader and practiced their oral English. Every group was doing well except one that kept speaking Chinese every time I went over to see them. I kept trying to get them to speak more but I realized that it was their student-leader who is a bit shy, so I will remember this and put more outgoing students in her group to further the conversation along.


Friday, nothing special. Just kidding! It was my birthday! All morning I received messages from my fellow volunteers and students wishing me happy birthday, and many emails from friends and family back home saying happy birthday (thanks!). At lunch Kerry informed me that the school found me a TV and some students brought it to my apartment later, so now I can have students over to watch movies, which is great! And Mark and Janice had an extra DVD player that they said usually works, which I took back to my apartment along with a few movies I borrowed to watch with some students tonight. Friday afternoon I went running with Jane who apparently failed her running exam in PE and wanted me to help her improve. While I was heading to the track hundreds of students were pouring out—mostly my freshmen students. There was a sports game day at the field and they were participating. Two students ran up and gave me some balloons. Jane saw me wandering around amidst the crowd and called me over. First we played badminton with her two friends. I said I wasn’t any good because I hadn’t played since I was a child in Miami, but it turns out I have a natural talent for it. Then we ran a few laps, rested and ran some more. The PE test requirement is to run 800 meters in under 4 minutes which Jane couldn’t manage, so we just ran distance. When we were leaving a freshmen student of mine ran up to give me a card she made for me. It said Happy Birthday (in Chinese), then had a painting of a panda with a poem that she wrote:
I am a lovely Panda.
Im very popular in China.
I have good luck, happiness, and so on.
I have the world’s good things.
Now I give them to you!
Because I hope you’ll be the happiest person in the world!

Yours sincerely,
Yang Li
And she was so nervous writing it she said that she wrote the wrong month, but I still thought it was lovely. After running Jane and her friends and I went to dinner at a restaurant by the school gate which they treated me to on account of my birthday. Then I ran to a shop to buy some soda and snacks for the students coming over to watch a movie. About 7 students came over and we watched 27 Dresses and ate snacks. It was relaxing and fun. They also brought some snacks and a cake for me and some mittens as a gift! Very nice. As usual they cleaned everything up within the blink of an eye when the movie finished and they left quickly since they were tired and didn’t want to impose, but I enjoy the company of these students very much so it was no bother.


I find it just slightly irritating that the track cannot keep the same hours every week. I woke early, but not too early, Saturday morning for a jog and it was closed. Later I went at 5:30 and indeed it was open, but it closed soon after. Oh well! Now I know.

After my not-running, Sharon stopped by to use my internet and to chat. It turns out that on Friday she was observed by the dean of the department, since she is a new teacher, and he gave her a bad review. She said she was heartbroken over it yesterday, but then with some consideration she has come to terms with it. Some of his qualms over her teaching didn’t make a lot of sense to either of us, actually (i.e. she walks around the classroom too much; he didn’t think she was prepared (when really she was but her computer was having issues—however I must side a bit with the dean on this because I never assume technology will work and always have a plan B (thank you Dr. Froelich for that sound advice). We’ve touched this issue before and really her heart desires to return to school to earn her PhD and to work in a university (preferably in Chengdu where her family lives). If I hadn’t mentioned this before I teach at a junior college, so I don’t think anyone working at this school has their PhD, though several have masters. Like I tell everyone, both in China and America, the most important thing is to be happy (not money or a good job) but happiness in waking up and going to a job you enjoy or feeling satisfaction in your accomplishments. I suppose for some this is easier said than done.

Saturday afternoon I went with a student to lunch and then walking which was pleasant. Then I answered the myriad of letters that I received from my correspondence school in the States. That took forever! After my short evening jog I hurried back because Jane and her friends were coming over to see a movie. It was 5 girls this time. We watched half of Eat, Pray, Love before the movie stopped working because of a huge scratch in it. Since it was too late to start another film, two girls played chess and I taught the rest ERS and spoons, which they liked. We also enjoyed the cake that the students brought for me yesterday, but we forgot to eat. It looked great, tasted so-so, and later hurt my stomach. This explains why the Chinese do not eat many baked items. So the movie was great before it stopped (you should see it if you haven’t) and it was really cool for the girls to see other parts of the world, the culture, and the foods they eat. They loved seeing all of the delicious Italian foods—as did I. I taught them a little about the other countries that were represented on the movie (Italy and India—we didn’t reach the Bali section, but I know nothing about Bali anyways).

Sunday was the big party. Well I am not sure big is a good description, but it was the teachers potluck/ joint birthday party for Kerry, Media and me. I had no idea how many teachers were planning to come, but I was hoping for at least 7 and we had 8 so it was quite nice. Everyone brought food and I provided drinks, snacks and fun. Fun? Yes, I taught everyone beer pong! It was very funny. Later Kerry taught us a Chinese drinking game. Kerry drank quite a bit, but most of us shied away. Janice had a cake that she bought, and it tasted a bit like angel food cake with a whipped topping. We also had gifts. I gave Kerry a picture frame with a picture of himself in it that I took before and I gave Media a mug with candy. Media gave me hand cream because she knows my hands crack terribly from using the chalk, Allie gave me some sleeve protectors to wear over my sleeves to protect it from dirt, and Janice and Mark gave me a hand warmer and bookmark. It was really nice but when they left it was double-time cleaning because Monday my site manager, China country director for Peace Corps, and a person from the US Embassy in Beijing were visiting me!

The visit went well. Mark Lambert from the embassy was extremely nice and Bonnie (country director—i.e. head of China PC program), and Wang Laoshi (site manager—i.e. head of Sichuan volunteers) were very nice as always. They came to my house at 10, we talked and I showed them my apartment, a little of the school, and my office, and at 11 they observed one of my classes. After my class we accompanied Kerry, the dean of the foreign affairs office at the school (very nice man), and the president. They took us to the nicest hotel in Jiangyou and the food was okay but we sat outside because the weather was really nice. When we were leaving Mr. Lambert gave me the nicest compliment which was to say that he was impressed with what I have done thus far and that I make him proud to be an American. WOW! And he knew everything, too including that I taught the teachers beer pong (which while walking to the car on the way to the restaurant Kerry decided to ask me in front of them if I was hung over from last night. No Kerry! But apparently he was a bit. Haha! Mr. Lambert and Wang Laoshi laughed but Bonnie is very serious, so…she didn’t think it was funny) and that I am a proud Seminole and Southern! He respected the southern pride since he said his mom was from Alabama, but as an Oregon alum he couldn’t appreciate the Seminoles. And he didn’t seem at all offended when I teased him about the US Embassy in Beijing stating that the pollution in Beijing has gotten “crazy bad!” Well anyways, another interesting week of life in China has gone by and I welcome the start of another.

The following is an email I sent to the Peace Corps China Country Director thanking her for her visit.

Hi Bonnie,

Thank you for coming to visit me in Jiangyou. I hope it was a nice trip for you. I wish I could have shown you more of the school, but I understand that time is limited. I wanted to share with you a conversation that took place this afternoon. In the evening I asked a student from the class that I had missed today to join me in playing pingpong. Later when we were walking I apologized again for missing class. She said that it is okay; that she understands, but that we meet only once-a-week so she finds the time with me very precious since it is so limited. She also said that she was surprised when she came to this school that there were foreign teachers because the school is not good and she thinks that foreign teachers must only go to the better universities. She said that it made her very excited to think that a foreigner might teach her. This brings me to one last point, which is a conversation that I had with the Canadian teacher about a month ago in which she said that solely because we are teaching at this college we have improved our students' chances of getting employed by quite a lot. Our students can go into a job interview and just mention that they had a foreign teacher in their college and this will impress the employer enough to possibly offer them the job. So, I know I mentioned this morning about wanting the "Peace Corps experience," but I sincerly see my purpose of being at this college and in China more and more clearly with each student and teacher I meet, as well as the more I learn about this unique country. I hope all of our volunteers can see the impact they are having in their schools like I have begun to see this semester. Thank you for this opportunity and especially thank you for whoever decided that Sichuan Preschool Educator's College was a good choice for me because they hit the nail on the head.

I hope you had a nice trip back to Jiangyou, and you are welcome in Jiangyou anytime. I was wondering about one more thing, and that is if I can have the email address of your friend Mark Lambert so that I may personally thank him for visiting Jiangyou. It meant a lot to me, my counterpart (Kerry Long), and the school that you and Mr.Lambert could make the trip out to Jiangyou. Kerry and I discussed that we were both rather nervous about the two of you visiting because we hoped that we could impress you both. I know the school felt the same way as they were very particular about where they would take us to lunch. If I cannot have his email, please share with him my gratitude and appreciation.

Take care,

Katie D'Souza

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