I am a bit behind on blogging and I need to go back more than a week to the Friday before last. On this day I first went running with a student of mine. It was the first time that I had hung out with this student outside of class and I found it really nice to get to know her better. We talked of various things that were interesting (like the Chinese educational system), since she is one of the more advanced speakers of English in my class. After running and dinner I went back to my apartment because another student and her friends were coming over to play English games. Jane wondered how many of her friends could come and I said there was no limit, so about 12 girls came over. I taught them chess and they picked up very quickly. I am not a very good chess player, so it came as no surprise when I was beat. To save a little face I should mention how I guided them against making bad moves and it was more like a draw than a full on win. But nevertheless I was impressed with their quick learning of the game and their ability to strategize. But the best part of the evening was when my friend back home came on Skype to meet the students. The girls were so excited to meet an American guy and actually it was the first thing they brought up when they came over at 6:30 (when will we meet your friend?). I should have foreseen the questions they might ask and warned my friend. Most of the girls crowded around my laptop in my office and were quite giggly. It basically went: ‘you are so handsome! You have beautiful eyebrows! You look very cool! Do you have a girlfriend? What do you think of Chinese women?’ Then...’is that your dog? What’s your dog’s name? Can we see your dog?’ Then they introduced themselves to him one-by-one. I found the entire experience quite funny. They of course welcomed him to China as they are all very friendly Chinese girls. So if any of you want to get on Skype and meet some students, let me know. Keep in mind that with the east coast during daylights savings time there is a 13 hour difference.
Saturday I got up early to go with Kerry and about 30 of his students to a nearby mountain to go hiking. I thought it was just slightly cold and wore a light coat but as seems to be normal in Sichuan it got progressively colder during the day and I was shivering by the end. The experience can be summed up in one word—random. It was a random mountain in the middle of nowhere. First we took the bus from the school and got off at the wrong stop and walked. Then we hailed 3 random buses going by and got dropped off at a random street. We walked through some farmers’ fields until we came to a random path that appeared out of nowhere. We walked for almost an hour up steep slippery rocks and at the top was a random Buddhist temple. This is where we stopped and ate snacks. Supposedly Li Bai the poet was inspired at this mountain so Kerry did some teaching about Li Bai. One of Kerry’s former students was randomly at this mountain, too and there was a reunion. The way down was interesting due to the steepness (during this time I slipped and crashed to the ground). The students gasped and said be careful. Kerry laughed and said he wished he had his camera. Thanks Kerry.) After walking down it a bit we found a different less dangerous way down. We needed to ask a few farmers for directions throughout but we made it back. Walking back I was able to practice my Chinese with the students a bit which is nice. When we were waiting at the bus station Kerry called me over to a meat stand to show me something. Did you ever wonder what happened to all of the chicken feet in America since Americans don’t eat it? Well for the Tyson chicken company they freeze it and ship it to China apparently because that was what Kerry showed me: a Tyson brand bag of frozen chicken feet straight from the Arizona company.
Later that night I was chatting with my parents on Skype when I get a text from this senior high student that I have been helping with English. This student’s English skills are very low so I usually cannot understand her texts. This one said teacher help. I sent a message back to say maybe tomorrow I can help, thinking that for some reason she needs English help at 8:30 at night. She then tries to call but I reject it and message her to say I am speaking with my parents. She then sends a message saying help over and over. Thinking maybe it is serious I end the call with my parents and call her back. I cannot understand and she is speaking mostly Chinese and is in near hysterics. I hear the words bad student and KTV (which are karaoke bars in China) and I became nervous. What is going on? I tell her in Chinese to call her Chinese teacher because I cannot understand but she insists that she cannot. I try my friend downstairs to see if she can talk with this student but she is busy. The student comes over and is freaking out about what I am not sure. I call Kerry and say there is a distressed student at my house and she doesn’t speak much English. He talks with her about 5 minutes and then tells me that she might stay with me for a bit but doesn’t tell me why or what’s going on. When I turn around the girl is in tears. I comfort her and calm her down while she cries and speaks in Chinese and English to say what’s wrong which I still can’t understand. At one point she says that her mother doesn’t love her and I am like a mother to her and I am her best friend and she loves me. What?! Anyways she leaves about 10:45. The next day I ask Kerry and he said it was a dispute between her and a classmate. Really? Yes.
Well the next day in the afternoon I agreed to help her with English which I did and have done several times since. I also tutored two of her classmates with no English ability the next weekend. And no means no. we started with hello. How are you? My name is…
But also that Sunday I went to my friend Allies house to make and eat dumplings with her, Vivi and a dance teacher. It was fun and reminded me of making dumplings with my host mom and her friend in Chengdu. It also gave me more Chinese practice. I might get better at the language yet!
Monday evening I…bought a rice cooker! It was very exciting. Well exciting is not the word but it was really nice and now my life is just a bit easier. I went with Media which was more to chat with her than that I needed assistance. I have learned the ways of the supermarket and don’t feel like I need help, but the company is nice. That evening Vivi told me that there was to be a broadcast film about AIDS. Seriously? For those that don’t know sex education in China is…nonexistent. Naturally I was curious so I went to see. It was difficult to read the English subtitles beneath but the video taught these college students about AIDS in what appeared to be a musical. Interesting. They were showing a movie afterwards so many students were there to see it.
Wednesday we had English corner because Janice’s brother was visiting and this day was better for them. The English Corner centered around Canada and Janice’s brother which was a really great opportunity for the students to learn more about Canada and to speak with a native speaker who was not their teacher. After English Corner I went out to dinner with Vivi to a restaurant by the school gate owned by the mother of a dance teacher at the school. The food was delicious, the restaurant clean, and his mother was so nice. I am definitely going to return there. Also there was the cutest boy maybe 4 years old who kept walking up to me and saying hello. It was very cute. When we finished dinner I went with Vivi to see her class that she is the head teacher for (about 125 students). I began teaching them English Children’s songs since they will all be preschool teachers when they graduate. I taught them: Old McDonald, Two versions of 5 Little Monkeys, Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, The Wheels on the Bus, I like to eat Apples and Bananas, the Hokey Pokey, The More we get Together, Bingo, Two versions of the Days of the Week song, The Eensy Weensy Spider, if you’re happy and you know it, Mary had a little lamb, Shake my sillies out, Ten Fingers, Five little ducks, and Teddy Bear. My voice was hoarse by the end. They knew a few before like The More we get Together. Their favorites were Five little ducks, Adam’s Family Days of the week, the wheels on the bus and the hokey pokey. I plan to teach it again to other classes since it is really good for future teachers to have these songs. And anyways it is fun to teach.
Thursday night there was a school performance that resembled a chorus concert. The songs were about the history of China. It was good. I sat with some students in the back who explained the songs to me. Some of my students were in it, as were Vivi and Kerry. It was also a competition. There were 4 third place winners and they each got 300 Yuan (our department was in this category). There were 2 second places with winning 400 Yuan and 1 first place winner with 500 Yuan. Our department leader used the money to take the teachers that performed out to a nice dinner on Friday. It was disappointing that Janice’s brother didn’t get to see a typical performance with dancing and curious costumes.
Friday morning a student of Kerry that I met last weekend wanted to chat with me. First I edited her speech but then the real reason came out which was that she was thinking of breaking up with her boyfriend and wanted my advice. This is a bigger issue for them then it is for us because they do not casually date and do not date often. I basically said whatever makes her happy but think it over a week or so before making a decision she might later regret making. She seemed to already have made up her mind but you all don’t want to hear the woes of an 18 year old anyways.
All during the day Friday I was getting messages from students wishing me happy birthday. I kept saying thanks though I was confused. Finally I told a student that it wasn’t my birthday until next week and why did students think my birthday was this week. It turns out that when Kerry signed me up with QQ he put my birthday as November 12 instead of November 19. So in China I guess I will celebrate the same birthday as my dad because it might be too confusing to change it now maybe I can change it in the summer and students won’t remember the different days. But a really exciting thing happened Friday morning and that was my host mom and later my host brother from Chengdu called to say Happy Birthday and that my host parents will visit me in Jiangyou sometime in a couple of weeks. Very exciting.
Friday was the last night that Janice’s brother would be in Jiangyou so Janice and Mark treated the English teachers to hotpot and KTV. There were maybe 8 of us for dinner but more stopped in for KTV. I sang some Lady Gaga (Just Dance) with her brother, Madonna’s Vogue was my solo debut, and Allie asked me to sing a duet with her of Celine Dion’s My Heart will Go On ( a favorite in China). Overall it seems that the westerners prefer to be silly and sing fast and upbeat songs and the Chinese take it seriously and sing slower songs. It was fun. The teachers celebrating the performance stopped in and got their own room. The men had been drinking quite a bit it seemed before getting to KTV. We left at 10:45 and at this time I was happy to be a foreigner because Vivi and Sharon had to stay until the leader of the department decided to leave, though they wanted to stay. I was tired and not held to the same expectations and thus left with Janice and Mark and the teachers not in our department.
Saturday I tutored some students in the morning in English and then a student came by to chat with me about some issues she is having and then a teacher brought me some soup (which I found to be stomach churning but I ate it anyways because she was watching me eat it) and sat down to chat about some things. I remember when I was first starting college I was at a crossroad , in which I considered getting a degree in psychology and later a masters in counseling, but then I chose teaching because teachers sometimes need to be a counseling ear for students. Nowhere is this more true than in China. These students seem to find me to be a better listener than their friends or Chinese teachers. Other empathetic foreign teachers also have this experience. I wonder if it is because we can take their secrets with us back home and maybe we come across as more understanding or willing to listen because we have such different experiences. Either way I don’t mind being a ready ear for my students and fellow teachers. I find this aspect of my Peace Corps experience to be quite rewarding.
I will end this blog entry with a poem I wrote for the Sichuan Rice Paper, an electronic newspaper put together by Sichuan volunteers and distributed once a semester. The editors, Obi and Leo, are also volunteers. The paper consists of anything under the sun, from essays to poems and recipes to advice. It will come out maybe in December. But below is my poem about being a foreign (waiguoren) teacher in China.
Woes of a Waiguoren
A series of limericks
By Katie D’Souza
There once was a Waiguoren named Mike
Peace Corps wouldn’t let him ride a motorbike
So he walked all day
And his students asked if he wanted to play
So it was with Mike because the other teachers, Mike, they didn’t seem to like
This is about a foreigner named Jane
Who thought she was just very plain
But the Chinese stare whenever she goes
Maybe she doesn’t wear enough glitter and bows
She thinks sometimes being foreign is such a pain
This is the laowai story of Ben
Who had a student who called herself Pen
Everyday in class Pen would giggle and turn red
Until one day Ben made a bad joke about a panda being dead
And soon Pen found a foreigner with whom to giggle named Ken
Last, but not least, was the waijiao called Kay
Whose own English seemed to get worse everyday
She spoke Chinglish with her students in and out of class
And heard Sichuanhua wherever she passed
So that Kay might need an English tutor by May
*laowai is a polite title for a foreigner. And waijiao means foreign teacher.