Wednesday, March 31, 2010
I like going to tailors; however, I am very bad at bargaining. I also feel bad that labor is so cheap and undervalued. I tend to pay more than what the locals would pay.
I spent 90 RMB ($13) to have a Chinese blouse made out of hand-dyed blue yunnan fabric that cost 25 RMB ($4) per meter plus some. It has a high collar with handmade buttons and is long for a blouse but too short for a dress. My sitemate says that the work is high quality.
I know that I was ripped off though. Why? Because when I asked how much it would cost to have a skirt made, the two women discussed the price in rapid Chinese before giving me a quote. From what I gathered from the bits and pieces I caught of their private conversation, one woman gave a cheap price while the other said, "No. That is too cheap. She paid 90 RMB for the blouse." The problem is I didn't catch the price they were debating about. In clear Chinese they quoted me, "60 RMB to make a skirt."
Why did I not think 90 RMB was too much? Well, to have a medium quality silk dress made where the fabric is included in the price, it costs 260 RMB ($38). What percentage of that price is labor versus materials?
I have had other things made where the fabric was included in the price. A white short sleeved button dress shirt cost 85 RMB ($12.50). Pants cost 60-90 RMB ($8-13), and a skirt with added embroidery cost 120 RMB ($18).
I still have fabric left over from Yunnan and want to have skirt and a sun-dress made. When I went to my usual tailor she refused to make a skirt out of the fabric. "It would not be beautiful," she said and then showed me how to just wrap it into a skirt African style. After I told my sitemate that story, she decided just to hand sew her own skirt out of the blue fabric.
So, how much should I pay to have a skirt and a sun-dress made? I was thinking 100 RMB ($15) for the both of them. Does that seem too much or too little?
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Yesterday my gas tank ran empty.
There is street food everywhere, fried breads, pineapples peeled ready to be instantly eaten, boiled corn, deep fried chickens, bakeries the size of closets making cakes and cookies using huge ovens, and sweet potatoes cooked in large metal drum barrels. Here there is a connection between the consumer and the supplier. In America, the supermarket culture has replaced the open market culture.
Invited to lunch by 6 freshmen roommates, we ate rice and green pea porridge plus cold noodles out of bowls lined with plastic bags. It is easier to wash the dishes by using the disposable plastic bags they said.
In my senior class today, I held a lottery good luck ritual to find the leader of the class who will lead the class to a prosperous future. The students were super excited and just loved it even though they didn't realize that the winner would receive a prize of an instant milk tea packet. Their moods changed though after we finished reading, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery."
The movie we showed last week, 7 Pounds, caught students interest because I have been receiving a bunch of questions about it. They didn't understand the movie fully and really want to know what it was about.
Yet my spirit feels a heavy nay.
I am tired and exhausted.
I have not had a weekend yet.
Yep no weekend
where the time is only for me,
no work responsibility.
What do you mean? No weekend?
Didn't you just finish Saturday and Sunday?
Yeah, but I was working on Saturday and Sunday, preparing for clubs, for lessons, then having knitting club followed by writing club. The weekend was not my own but filled with scattered work.
In one week, I have spent 34 hours interacting with students. It is draining. When I have free time for myself it is not really my own because I have to prepare lessons and activities. My schedule is scattered so even though I get big chunks of free time, it still feels like I am working all day from 8 am-7 pm. There are very few moments where I feel like there is no responsibility on my plate except when I lay my head down to go to sleep.
This semester reminds me of how parents are always on. They go to work and when they come home they have their kids to be responsible for. My time is filled with students morning, noon, and evenings. I get moments of free time, but haven't learned how to use them to unwind and re-energize.
I feel like I need a full day without social interactions with students, without feeling the stress that I should be preparing for lessons and clubs. I need solitude from the patience and engaged attitude one needs in order to have English conversations with English learners. I need a moment of rest from the not very intellectually stimulating interactions where the focus is on the student. I need to be able to leave work at work, but as a volunteer in China my life and my social interactions are work.
Over the past year and a half I have had a light teaching load of 10 hours a week; therefore, I filled the time by interacting with students outside of class in the English community center. This semester I have jumped to a teaching load of 16 hours a week and still feel responsible to maintain the interactions with students outside of class.
The question I need to ask though is when is too much too much? Maybe I should cut back? As a volunteer should I drive myself to exhaustion turning into a drained shell of a person unhappy, stressed, going to bed early and having anxiety dreams, feeling the dread of each day, feeling like a machine churning out English learning conversations?
Teaching volunteers in China are responsible for their primary job of teaching English in university classrooms. Plus there is a slight push to do secondary projects. Volunteers can feel pleased with their volunteer service if they are successful at their primary job even if they only do a small secondary project.
My dilemma is will I still be a good volunteer if I cut back my secondary projects from 18 hours a week to maybe something a lot less?
I fear that if I stop going to the Tree House the students will be disappointed since many of the workers volunteered to work in the library in order to have weekly conversations with a native speaker where they have to be there because it is their job.
When I asked one of the Freshmen assistant managers, "Do you like being responsible for opening the door twice a week and having to sit in the Tree House for four hours a week?"
She replied, "Yes I do because it forces me to go to the Tree House to practice my oral English."
If I cut back my secondary projects from 18 hours a week to something a lot less, students won't get to interact with me as much on a one on one level, will I still be a good volunteer?
Sunday, March 28, 2010
I do not consider myself to be a visual artist, but hearing people talk about their art made me wonder why have I stopped coloring.
I am someone who likes to color. Before college, I was scared of drawing because nothing I did looked realistic. My brother was always drawing. Me? Too scared to try.
As an undergraduate I wrote in a diary and started writing even more once I got my first boyfriend. There was no one to tell my secrets to except a blank piece of lined paper. When I finished my first journal, I bought a sketchbook to use for my thoughts and the empty white pieces of rough pressed wood pulp spoke to me, "Fill us with color."
At the dollar store I saw a box of color, 64 crayons with a pencil sharpener included in the side of the box. "Color." I listened and at boring football games and never ending graduations I colored two dimensional shapes, filling page after page with colors combined in ways that were super ugly, unbalanced, pointless, just coloring for the sake of coloring, feeling the paper under a crayon.
Then I found oil pastels and loved the new vibrancy and brightness that Crayola never seemed to catch.
I became obsessed with color, coloring the same scenes over and over again, spreading reds, blues, black all over pages, fingers covered with colorful oil and sore from the friction of trying to fill huge pages of paper, tables marked with dashes of yellow and green, walls being filled with paper colorfully smeared, smeared with my obsession.
Why do I color? Why in China have I lost my obsession?
Listening to today's interviews with the artists, I felt something is missing. Maybe tonight I should put down my knitting and spend some time coloring.
I. Build adjective lists
a. Label five pieces of paper: Sight, Smell, Taste, Touch, Sound
b. Pass the pieces around the circle
c. Each student writes down an adjective
d. Hang the lists
II. Writing warm-up
What did you see or hear today? Write for 5 minutes about it.
Ideas from Writing Portfolio.
III. Writing Activity: Setting
a. From a picture, make a brainstorming map with the name of the setting in the middle. Around the setting write down at least two adjectives for each of the senses. Include emotions that the setting invokes.
b. Write a descriptive paragraph about the setting.
c. Trade paragraphs about the setting with a fellow student.
d. From the written paragraph about the setting(not the photograph), write a paragraph about how you feel or what you would be doing in the setting.
e. Share your writing from part d (not the descriptive paragraph about the setting). Then guess which photograph had inspired the writing.
My writing tonight
I heard a beep of the phone, an annoying beep filling an already stressed moment in my life. I was lesson planning, a terrible whole morning where the computer was slow and not cooperating, not downloading anything, a lesson plan worked on since 8 am and at noon only half-way finished.
beep, beep, beep....
an interruption into the stressful peace of solitude, but I knew that on the other side, an ex-bf was calling, an ex-bf full of pain. Each beep hit my heart.
beep...beep... beep... help me... help me... help me....
A cry of help, a cry for please pick up. I'm so lonely and need someone to talk to. Even though I just wanted to ignore it, I couldn't. He had been calling all week and I'd been ignoring it too busy with a full schedule.
Trying to be compassionate, I pushed the green button and said, "Hello."
III. Writing Activity: Setting
b. Write a descriptive paragraph about a setting shown in a paragraph.
The wetlands were quiet, devoid of the noise of the city, no cars, no people, no rushing to and fro. Only brown, green grasses and shrubs were singing quietly in the hot, humid air that touched the skin like a heavy coat. The screech of insects filled the silence but the calming still waters, a vast blue, stilled the heart into a peaceful calm.
Suddenly, the beauty and peace was caught off guard by the crack of a shot gun. The panic of a deer fled across the water, leaving gashing wounds upon the shallow smooth water, little puddles of violence as the animal quickly flew into the safety of the trees.
d. Using another student's written description of a setting, write about how you feel or what you would do in that setting.
I was given a brainstormed map with the words, disordered, rubbish house, noisy, smelly, wet, flood, abandoned.
I felt overwhelmed by the disorder and smell. I just wanted to fly away to somewhere safe and clean. Like how the house was abandoned, I wanted to abandon my own life. Like how the place was full of rubbish, my own life was full of trash. Nothing was left except trash and chaos. It all just made me sick like the puke green of the house. All the pain of the flood, I just wanted to vomit it all out into the rotting water, mixing my own bile with the fluorescent green of the growing algae. Maybe you can survive on water, sunshine, and the pain of my vomit. But me? I'd rather just sink. How will I survive?
e. Sharing our writing
I was amazed at how well this activity worked. When students wrote a description about a setting, often what they described, the mood that the setting invoked was interpreted by the reader in almost exactly the way the writer of the setting intended.
I never realized how a description of a setting can be really useful to invoke certain moods. I should probably write more descriptive settings.
It is funny. When I read stories and as I teach this English short story class, I can analyze the text and mark key passages that help the story along. When writing though, it never occurs to me that I should add some creative descriptive elements that short stories have like setting, characters, plots, point of view, conflict. I feel that my writing is too scientific.
Writing club has been an excellent way for me to break out of my familiar scientific writing and try something new.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
The last time I lived in China, I was 12 years old and was one of the oldest kids amongst the English speaking children in an expatriate village in the middle of nowhere in Guangzhou Province. I would ride my bike to little hole in the wall shops and buy the most terrible candy that had been sitting on the self for years, bubble gum that would break your jaws, and milk candy covered with rice paper. Then I would organize activities for all of the English speaking kids with candy as prizes. I organized an Easter egg hunt with terrible fake chocolate. I organized games, competitions and weekly picnics. Even got a bunch of them together to re-enact my rendition of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. I was a 12 year old day camp director clipboard included.
I should have paid attention to my playtime as a child. It could have shown me that maybe chemistry wasn't the right path but rather being a kid youth camp counselor or being a leadership workshop director, team building seminar leader, or a training organizer was a better career for me.
Ten freshmen showed up at the designated meeting place and then we proceeded to my apartment. We spent an hour and half in the first meeting of English Club for Knitters. We played team building balloon games filling the tiny apartment with laughter, stomping and jumping around as we tried to juggle 20 balloons in the air. I wonder if the neighbors were annoyed hopefully more curious than irritated. In this dry weather my hair will not lie flat, so balloons flew upward attracted to the ceiling, their final resting place ending the fun and games.
The girls were all leaders and took initiative. Teams of two quickly and without hesitation volunteered to be treasurer, secretary, communication director, and snack committee. We made a list of English topics to discuss, other activities we want to do, and projects we want to knit. We decorated a notebook with pictures of knitted goods and filled it with the minutes of the meeting along with a ledger of money spent. While I was in the kitchen making tea, I could hear the students shouting English debating when and where we should meet and then heard them vote on it. We ended the meeting with an animated short, "The Last Knit."
My strength is not as a classroom teacher but as an organizer of people into communities that together learn, create, have fun, and grow as individuals. I have been doing it since I was 12.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
On an airplane, I remember watching a man open one of the provided lunch packets of a pickled veggie and pushing out the contents into his mouth like a push up Popsicle. I was like okay so that is how you eat these veggies out of the package. You don't dump them onto the tray and pick them up with chopsticks. You just eat them directly out of the package. I was like cool. I opened it up, pushed the veggies to the package edge, popped them into my mouth and blah.... gross...completely foreign spices combined in a way that stung my tongue and burned their way down to my stomach.
I am extremely experienced at eating and enjoying strange foods. Popping in ram eyeballs and goat teeth from a stewed head was easy. Eating insects off a stick, piece of cake. Crunching on frogs heads and bellies, yummy. Slurping up kidney beans, strawberries, blueberries, and peas all mixed together with shaved ice covered with sweetened condensed milk, delicious. Pickled vegetables out of a package umm... not so easy.
But here I am sitting with a bowl of rice covered with canned fried dace with salted black beans and pickled radish out of a package. It is my dinner.
The fried fish with its edible bones is nothing new. I learned how to eat that from my roommate back in Seattle, never thought it was something you could actually buy in China. Sometimes Asian products in American Asian stores I think, umm.... maybe that is an American Chinese food. Nope canned dace is actually Chinese food found in Chinese supermarkets.
The packaged pickled radish is surprisingly yummy. I wonder if is healthy.
I do believe my taste buds have changed, have changed into Chinese taste buds leaving my desire for American flavors forgotten. What does cheese taste like? Real ice cream made out of cream? Hamburgers? Lasagna? Macaroni and cheese? A beef steak?
No thank you. I'll take rice covered with pickled vegetables.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
I am excited about the next story, david sedaris' "Us and Them." Plus I found a really interesting review by Clay Burell about teaching that particular story. It felt somehow validating that a story that I picked to teach (author and stories recommended by my sitemate and a PCV in Langzhou) other teachers also use in their literature classes. As a science major, it has been years since I have had to remember how I was taught literature and am not very confident that I am doing it right.
Monday, March 22, 2010
We read the story "Sons and Daughters" from Paul Yee's Tales from Gold Mountain. It was a story about a Chinese man immigrating to Canada and trading his daughters for sons. The theme that we explored was the idea that people sometimes become who they are because of tradition and explored the questions: Can cultures judge other cultures? When should humankind judge other people?
She asked an interesting question that I found a bit strange, "Is this author famous?"
Hmm... When putting together my English short story class I did not take into account whether or not the authors were famous, were award winners, were well-known, were authors of classics. I picked stories that went with the theme of human behavior.
In retrospect though, I wonder if my course seems silly and pointless to the students since we are not studying the classics, the famous works, Shakespeare, Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway. I wonder if the students feel my class is less important because we are studying modern day diverse authors who make it into middle school and high school literature textbooks. Last year I taught English and American literature using a Chinese published textbook full of tiny excerpts from classic novels written by old dead white men. Maybe the students feel that only the so-called greats, the notables, the authors who have survived the test of time are worth studying, the more complicated and difficult the text, the more value it has to be taught and learned.
Today, my one student told me that she loves reading literature and pointed to a book in Chinese. It was filled with ancient stories from long long ago written by dead authors, literature that has survived the test of time. She told me about a tragic opera she read this morning about a boy and girl who die unable to marry each other, the girl being forced to marry a rich man.
My course is not a course of introduction, is not a course to memorize the names of notable authors who have survived the test of time and to read excerpts from their well-known works. Last year teaching American and English literature I kind of felt it was like that. Students were studying because they needed these facts, the names of authors matched with their famous works in order to pass the post graduate exam.
Instead my course is a student centered course where students' opinions are more important than the opinion of the teacher, more important then the opinion of famous people, more important than just regurgitating other people's ideas. Maybe it is hard for them to see the value in exploring their own reactions, own opinions, own understandings in order to grow as individuals. My questions make students pause and think. I know it is a hard thing to do, but I still wish more students would come to class.
Maybe though it is I who needs to consider the culture I am teaching in and change my ways to better suit the needs and wants of the students, then maybe more students would come to class.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
One of the Tree House volunteer freshmen student workers told me her happy news.
She had a 20 minute teaching interview with an English language tutoring center for primary students. She said she taught the kids a song that I had taught their freshmen class last semester, "You are my sunshine."
I told her, "Wow that is great! If you get the job and need help lesson planning, come to the Tree House. I can give you suggestions, lend you books and teach you how to plan for a class."
One of the Tree House volunteer junior student workers told me about her homework in her teaching methodology class. They had to lesson plan a 10 minute English warm-up.
The other Tree House workers and I became her students and she practiced being the teacher. She gave us instructions for the warm-up pair-work activity where one student thinks of three things then describes them while the other student guesses.
The student teacher got to see how students responded to her instructions. She realized that maybe she should ask the students to write down the three things first before starting to describe them because it is hard for students to come up with three things right off the top of their heads. Students need some pre-thinking time and need to write them down so they are ready to describe the items. Also, the student teacher realized this activity was not a 10 minute activity and might need to expand it a bit.
In and outside of the classroom, Peace Corps volunteers teach English and teach how to teach English. Students learn songs and different teaching methods. Volunteers expose students to English in a different way than their Chinese teachers and give the students one on one attention.
China asked for English teachers and we are doing our job. This is one reason why we should be in China.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Students' speeches in competitions and essays for writing class often reflect a very happy every day attitude, an overly optimistic feeling, a positive outlook on everything. Their writing is super sugary sweet and I often wonder is this really how they feel? Is this really who they are? Is the dormitory full of these happy, love life, nothing ever bad happens, negative emotions wiped away with positive thinking students?
A couple of student workers at the Tree House read my poem about being alone and commented, "Jennifer you seem to be always be looking for the deeper meanings behind things."
I commented back, "Chinese students seem to always write about positive happy things. Is this really how they feel?"
They explained that no they don't always feel happy but also feel alone, depressed, sad, angry and lonely, but they don't want to make other people uncomfortable by revealing such emotions.
Their explanation verifies the Chinese stereotype that I have been told about in culture trainings. Chinese people smile when they are happy and smile when they are angry, always revealing a smile to the outside world while hiding one's inner feelings. Why? To create and maintain harmony.
Many people in America think just the opposite. Just do it. Be direct. Say what you are thinking and feeling. Get it all out. Don't hide anything. Create conflict by being truthful then resolution can begin. By bundling up all those negative emotions, an explosion is bound to occur. Get it all out earlier than later to find peace.
Two opposite ideas.
Both searching for harmony and peace.
When I first encountered the positive happy every day attitude of the students, my American attitude cringed away from it, felt that it was somehow phony, thought it was boring and uninteresting. I was so pessimistic and cynical.
Maybe there is lesson behind the idea of think positively and positive things will result. In a world where there is so much pain and suffering why focus on that? Think about the good things in life and be thankful. Create harmony and peace through positive thinking. Nothing is permanent so why give negativity power by thinking about it?
Yet, I also wonder if this idea of think positively and positive things will result is also a way to lead the lambs to the slaughter. If one never shows their dissatisfaction and always believes that by thinking positively something good will result, that one should show happiness for the sake of harmony, couldn't this way of thinking keep a person imprisoned in terrible circumstances?
Hmm.... Maybe my question is only my negativity and pessimism revealing itself.
I remember a few key learning moments in my high school and undergraduate life where I was given the opportunity to learn about a subject and try to form my own opinion about it. Some examples are reading Catcher in the Rye and personally relating to Holden, doing a term paper on Ellison's Invisible Man and realizing how skin color influences personal identity, in history class being asked to write about Louis Farrakhan, going to lectures about ebonics, racism, and African American pride, listening to classroom philosophical debates about sacrificing for the greater good, in writing class doing research on international adoption, and in Shakespeare class trying to determine whether or not Shylock was evil. Those learning moments that interested me personally were key in my growth as a thinking human being with opinions.
This is why I wanted to teach my English Short Story class in a very academic way: have a short lecture on the background, read a story, then write and discuss the issues and themes in the stories as they relate to you personally. I wanted the students to connect to the universal and cultural themes about human behavior in these stories and to start growing as human beings as they ponder hard questions that don't have right or wrong answers.
But I have gotten discouraged as class attendance is poor, as students are too shy to talk, and as students don't do the in class writing assignments. I have started debating whether or not to change my teaching methods into games and activities where the focus of learning would be speaking and listening skills using the stories to get the students to do role plays, interviews, posters, etc... The focus would be shifted from trying to hear students opinions about the stories' themes to seeing if the students understood what was happening in the story.
Today though there were a few rays of sunshine in the gloom.
First Ray of Sunshine
Because of a job fair in Lanzhou only 5 students showed up to class. My lesson plan that would cover two days went out the window. With most of the class missing, it seemed impossible to have five students spend a class reading the lengthy story and preparing their interviews with characters in the story which would be presented on the second day. Instead we spent an hour writing and sharing our essays about the quote, "We can never judge the lives of others because each person knows only their own pain and sacrifice."
The ray of sunshine came when some of the students' essays were fantastic thinking about the topic in a way I hadn't considered.
One student wrote about how nature will judge human beings. When we break the rules of nature, humankind will suffer. I didn't understand what she meant at first. My first assumption was that she was talking about fate, how fate will punish those who do wrong. Instead she was talking about the rules of the environment. Ruin the environment and we will suffer.
Another student wrote about the freedom of choice, how everyone should have the freedom to go their own ways without being judged. People shouldn't make decisions for other people.
Since the class was so small, I asked them, "Do you want an academic class like what we have been having or do you want games and activities?"
They replied, "We want a mix. Tuesdays write essays. Thursdays play games." Cool....
Second Ray of Sunshine
This afternoon I ran into some of my senior students and asked for their opinion about the class, academic or games and activities? They said, "We are seniors and want to read more stories and learn more. We like writing the essays because you don't care about grammar or organization. We feel free to just write whatever we are thinking." I was like wow. Thanks for the encouragement.
Third Ray of Sunshine
The short story class has been teaching me a lot, has been forcing me to write essays, and has given me topics that I can bring up during free talk at the Tree House making the two hours fly by.
Don't let feelings of discouragement stop you from trying.
Monday, March 15, 2010
As a young adult about to leave home, my ideas about diversity were very naive. I hadn't ever really thought about what it meant to have a different skin color than others, to have a different heritage of ancestors, to have a different background. I hadn't ever really thought about what people who were not white were going through, what problems and difficulties they faced, nor how all of that influenced who they became.
Right before going to college, I believed in the importance of being colorblind. We all bleed. We all face difficulties. We are all part of the human race. I left the safety of my home of uniformity, went out into the world, and changed my mind. My face and skin color forced me to think about the importance of understanding diversity and how naive I was to believe in the importance of being colorblind.
I find that my Chinese students' thoughts about diversity are like mine when I was a young adult about to leave home. It is something foreign to them because they have lived all of their lives in a very uniform society.
Why is it important to think about diversity even though you live in a uniform society?
Because the world is not full of uniform ideas, nor full of universal human beings who are all more similar than different since we are part of mankind. Exposure to the diversity of thought, of beliefs, of customs, exposure to the diversity of people and how people are influenced by their different backgrounds are all important to think about.
Even if the students don't personally relate to some of the ideas that I am presenting in the English short story class, I can only hope that students get exposed to some new ideas and maybe start thinking about things in a different way.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
"Your stories are your stories. They're the ones you can really tell, and if you try telling ones the world would like you to tell, you'll do it badly." -Dorothy Allison
Tonight's writing club had 7 participants and we spent time making brainstorm maps to write down all the things we know about.
- Who am I?
In my Who am I? map, I wrote the concept adoption which lead to the thought alone.
The following is what I wrote at tonight's writing club.
I may have a family, friends, students, and co-workers.
I may even have a lover or two.
But if you really want to know the truth,
I am alone in this world of a billion people.
What do you mean alone?
What do I mean?
I don't feel lonely.
I don't feel sad or sorry for myself.
I don't feel hurt, depressed, or angry.
I just feel alone.
I am 32 years old and have passed year after year meeting friend after friend, enemy after enemy, lover after lover, thousands of people have passed through my eyes, through my life, and here I stand alone, forgotten, a memory from the past, an empty in-box reflecting all those connections lost to the passing of time.
I sit here surrounded by you, and you, and you,
all of you
and in a few months time
boarding a plane to another land
with only a suitcase of memories.
I stand here
as an individual
somehow unconnected to my past
unconnected to my ancestors
unconnected to people.
In this moment,
this one right now
this one single second
even surrounded by people
I am alone.
How can that be?
I don't know how to explain it but I feel like that forgotten memory of your mother's smile when you were born.
You will forget me
And once again I'll be alone
alone as I am today
alone as I have always been.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Visitors to another country often make mistakes because
1. they are not aware of their own culture
2. they are not aware of the other culture.
In the beginning we look at the world through a pair of tinted glasses and everything is filtered and judged through our cultural identity.
For example, in Africa at first I may judge, "Why are people so rude? While having a conversation, no one is making eye contact with me." Because I am not aware that Americans feel comfortable with eye contact while some cultures deem it rude to look at you directly, I make a mistake and judge incorrectly.
Another example would be, in China, why when I ask students if they want to play ultimate Frisbee on Friday evening, all the students answer yet, but then no one shows? As an American I trust their direct yes, but then feel confused when no one shows up on Friday. In Chinese culture, yes can mean no. There were probably questions I should have asked to determine what the students really wanted as well as indirect cues that I didn't catch indicating that the yes really meant no. Now because I am aware of this custom of saying yes but really meaning no, I can put aside my American assumption that yes means yes and start to notice indirect cues as well as ask the right questions.
After four years, I thought I was pretty good at being aware of my culture as well as the one I am living in; however, I still make mistakes.
My latest mistake was while teaching the short story "The Scribe" by Kirstin Hunter. It is a story about an African American boy in the 1970's who offers a free service of reading and writing to help people who are illiterate. These people are paying rude loan sharks a small fee to fill out forms and read letters for them. The young boy also educates several people that instead of paying a check cashing fee with the expensive loan sharks, customers can go to a bank and cash checks for free.
After the story, one of the high school textbook questions was discuss the following quote, "Those who have little, much is taken." In America, there is a belief that people take advantage of the poor- loan sharks, extra fees, and scams. There is a belief that America was built on the backs on the poor. For example, factories, railroads, farms, jobs that no one wants except illegal immigrants.
I wanted to know what the students' thought about the poor. Do they also believe that those who have little, much is taken? It was a hard question for them to answer and I couldn't understand why. To me it was so obvious that poor people are taken advantage of.
What had I not considered?
What mistake had I made?
I had forgotten that China is a communist state and the viewpoint from students raised with communist socialist ideas would probably have a very different viewpoint about the poor. If I had remembered that, I could have asked more appropriate leading questions instead of questions coming from an American assumption.
Living in other countries for so long, I have stopped tip toeing around so much. I have stopped being afraid of making mistakes by not being aware of my culture or the culture I am living in. This recent misunderstanding was a wake up call. I can still make mistakes, so don't stop being aware of who you are and who you are interacting with. Don't get lazy. Search for the reasons and the assumptions behind the misunderstandings.
I think I am going to learn a lot about myself and Chinese culture with this English short story class on human behavior.
Friday, March 12, 2010
1. interesting discussions where I would learn about Chinese culture
2. interesting short essays about human behavior, universal and cultural themes that help develop students' critical thinking skills
3. enjoyment of interesting stories from another culture that provide some insight into some different ideas
Instead my expectations are being dashed left and right. I have lost control and the respect of the class. Students spend 20 minutes talking, not doing the writing assignment. The class is loud with discussion, just not in English and discussing other things like their senior thesis. Instead of reading, the students just talk to each other. Instead of coming to class the majority of students don't. I was happy to learn that my class is not the only senior class that has low attendance. The other courses, intensive reading and Russian also have low attendance.
What am I doing wrong?
I was so hoping that the interest in the material and the discussion questions would motivate students to participate and attend classes. Instead I feel that the students aren't connecting with the ideas that I thought would be thought-provoking nor are they interested in the stories I selected. I have always had the theory that the things we learn best are the things that we are interested in. I am getting zero interest from my seniors.
I have taught three stories so far:
1. heartbeat by Sharon Stone
Focus: a family's experience having a baby
Essay Question: Discuss the similarities and differences of having a baby in Chinese culture compared to Annie's (12 year old American girl) perspective. Use concrete and emotional examples.
2. "Miss Bertha Flowers" from Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing
Focus: role-models for women
Essay Question: Discuss the cultural and universal characteristics of role models. Use the following ideas in your answer: In the 1920's consider an African American caged girl and a Chinese caged girl. Do the two girls need the same role model?
3. "Scribe" by Kirstin Hunter
Focus: poverty, illiteracy, and doing something new is healthy.
Essay Question: Consider the following statement as it relates to the story and to your life. Use specific examples. "Although most people are inclined to confine themselves to familiar territory, it is healthy for them to break out."
What am I doing wrong?
1. Maybe I picked the wrong stories, uninteresting ones for the students.
I have lived abroad for 4 years now and know that there are cultural differences between us. There are very visible obvious cultural differences, but there are also very subtle ones that I probably still don't really know about nor understand. Maybe my problem is, the things I thought would be interesting since I am an American raised in an American educational system just aren't interesting to Chinese students. Students are always asking about American culture wanting to know more, so I picked stories that tell about American diversity, growing up in America, attitudes toward having a family, and universal themes like marriage, divorce, love, and jealousy but with a western twist to them. Maybe it is hard to connect to such things when the ideas are from a different culture?
For example, when I ask students what are the problems of an African American girl in the 1920's their idea was very textbook. Their one answer is racial discrimination. It was hard for them to push further past those two words. It was hard for them to put on another person's shoes and understand how does racial discrimination actually influence a little girl's identity.
Maybe the chosen themes dealing with human behavior are too big. I enjoy taking surface issues and pushing myself to think about them deeper. Maybe others don't like doing that and just want to read to get the main idea not interested in using the idea as a springboard to question and dig deeper.
Maybe we just aren't interested in the same things. When I ask students what type of music, movies, and books do they like, we are quite different. I like controversy, heavy issues, non-harmonious things, self-reflection. I am not so much into happy endings, cheesy pop, dramatic love stories, stories with morals about how to live and be a better person, or the idea of happy every day.
2. Maybe my teaching style of first giving a short lecture with some background, then reading the story, discussing the story, and ending by writing a short essay is not working for the students.
Maybe I need to do more games, activities, debates, role plays, posters with colorful markers. Last year I taught senior English and American literature. I did not have them write essays. Instead we filled the time with reading, answering fact type of questions, and doing activities. However from that group of seniors I felt an attitude of we are seniors and are tired of all these foreigner activities. We want a class with some substance, with intellectual discussion. We don't want to just practice our oral English and skills of creativity. This motivated me to create a course this semester that was more like a college course in America. Read, discuss, and write. Think for yourself and express your opinion. Is this working? Maybe not.
3. Maybe I am too lenient and need to become a strict teacher motivating the students who have senioritis to participate and learn.
Because I am a university teacher, I don't feel like babysitting. I want the students to take responsibility for their learning. I don't want to force students to do their work, to stop talking, to stop reading their Chinese books that they bring to class. I don't want to be the type of teacher I was in Africa with a bunch of middle school kids. A lot of students are done though, done with school, ready and worried about their next step in life.
I think I would prefer to just take a deep breath, be lenient, be easy going and not be a babysitter.
So what am I doing wrong? I can't really say.
In conclusion, all I can do is keep trying and keep putting in the hours to lesson plan. There are only 8 weeks left for the seniors. Summer will be here in no time.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Yes, we will be starting an English Club for Knitters. We even got a RELO (Regional English Language Office, Beijing) grant to off-set some of the cost of running such a club.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Their list painted a certain type of woman and I wonder which adjectives Americans would use to describe women. Please in the comments section finish the sentence, "Women are ..."
Later I will compare our lists, the Chinese made list with the American made list.
I am cold.
Even had to wear my jacket in the unheated classroom today.
The classroom is silent.
I am frustrated.
I will keep trying.
My fridge has peppers and pork.
I am hungry.
I will stir fry up some crunchy spiciness
seasoned with salt and chicken bouillon.
Monday, March 08, 2010
1. Should I be strict and fail students who never come to class?
2. Should I just be happy for the 8 out of 30 who come since we can have a discussion class? It is only the second week and I have already lost more than half the students.
3. Should I become a motivational teacher who uses words to motivate students about the importance of learning?
4. Is something wrong with my teaching methods therefore students don't attend? According to this article, "Our View: Attendance Polices are not Motivational Enough," it is the teacher's fault.
5. Should the students be responsible for their own learning?
One big difference between the colleges I attended in the states and the college I am teaching at in China is choice. In the states, I could pick and choose which electives I wanted. At my Chinese college there are no choices. The courses you have to take are set in stone for each and every semester. There is not a national curriculum so every college creates their own four year calendar of courses. This semester, my school decided to create a new course called English short stories. Even if you are not interested in reading English short stories, you still have to register for the course and take the final.
The seniors this semester are only taking 3 courses: Russian, Extensive reading, and English Short Stories. I am assuming that since the seniors have now finished all of their national exams, these classes are kind of like electives, but you are forced to take them.
How does one motivate students to want to learn for the sake of learning, for the sake of interest? How does one motivate students when they have spent a lifetime being motivated to learn through the fear of not passing a national exam?
Saturday, March 06, 2010
then why not journey through the Tibetan Plateau of Western Sichuan and experience numerous distinctive varied landscapes, architecture and people.
Top: Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shangrila Middle: Bai Shuai Tai, Shangrila Bottom: Xiang Cheng, Litang
During the winter this trip is not for the faint of heart, the cleanliness of hands, or for those who thrive in luxury. If you can answer yes to the following questions, then maybe Li Jiang to Shangri-La, to Xiang Cheng, to Li Tang, to Kangding ending in Chengdu might be for you.
- Are you an outdoor adventurous type who likes camping and hiking?
- Can you sit in the sun doing nothing but watch as time passes and the clouds move instead of going to tourist sites?
- Do you enjoy watching landscapes go by through windows?
- Can you endure 8-12 hour bus rides on rocky dirt roads while going through passes anywhere from 8-14,000 ft high?
- Can you breathe in smoke with music blaring full blast while your toes feel the beginning onset of frostbite while wedged into whatever is fixed to the bus so you don't bump your head or go flying all over the place as you travel on dirt rocky roads?
- Can you deal with altitude and too much sun headaches?
- Can you face extreme poverty traveling through mining towns and undeveloped towns?
- Can you enjoy simple expensive meals that aren't anything special?
- Can you return a friendly smile to 100 shouted OKAYS and HELLOS and not start fights with girls who while walking down the street pinch you?
- Do you mind sleeping in psychedelic colorfully painted rooms of yaks, rabbits, landscapes, horses, and birds or in decrepit falling apart smelly rooms?
- Can you sleep through yappy dogs who never lose their barks?
- Can you sleep through an unknown rabid animal scratching through the wooden panel walls of your bedroom digging and digging to scurry across your bed and jump on your face?
- Can you use squatters that are the grossest things imaginable and only get worse as you travel to more and more remote areas, balancing on two feeble looking rotten wooden planks over a pit of waste touching shoulders with the neighbor beside you praying that you aren't overweight for the wood holding you inches above doom?
- Can you go a week without bathing and sleeping on probably dirty sheets? A lack of running water, a lack of heated water, and below freezing temperatures were not ideal conditions for showers or doing laundry.
- Can you deal with the possibility of head lice?
- Do you have the patience and ingenuity to communicate and find solutions for unpredictable bus schedules where transport in and out stop running because of Chinese New Year?
Li Jiang (altitude 8,000 ft)
Transport from Chengdu: 2 hr plane ride (420 RMB)
Stayed at Mamma Naxi who picked us up from the airport for 50 RMB per car
- Walking around the old town, getting lost to find our way again. Travel tip: To find one's way, one must get lost first.
- Watching Naxi women dance in the square.
- Sitting in a cafe terrace up on a hill drinking puar tea overlooking the rooftops of the old town
- Buying blue dyed fabric for 25 RMB per sheet reminiscent of the hand dyed blue fabrics in Guinea (In Xian, I heard that if you buy a lot could have gotten it for 20 RMB.)
Shangri-La (altitude 10,000 ft)
Transport from Li Jiang: 4 hr bus (59 RMB)
Stayed first at Old Town Youth Hostel but it was freezing cold and had no public sitting area or free Internet. Then went to Barley Hostel whose rooms were a lot warmer and had a warm sitting area, very hip hostel.
- Very few foreigners, empty city
- Lots of walking up hills to see temples and Tibetan shrines
- With about 10 people helped turn a HUGE 4-story tall prayer wheel
- Knitting outside at a monastery in the daytime sun (nights were really COLD!)
Tiger Leaping Gorge (tallest hiked peak altitude 8, 759 ft)
Transport from Shangri-La to Jane's Hostel: 2 hr bus (23 RMB)
Transport from Sean's back to Jane's Hostel: 40 min taxi (140 RMB for 7 passenger van)
Transport from Jane's Hostel back to Shangri-la: Bus 30 RMB (stood at the crossroads waiting to wave down the bus)
Entry fee: Free because of the construction and the government not wanting to be responsible for injury. Enter the gorge at your own risk.
Stayed at Tea-horse Guesthouse
- Hiking in long underwear followed by a donkey over two days for about a total of 8 hours and staying at a hostel with an amazing view of the mountains
- Naxi sandwiches
- Because of the construction the road for cars is pretty bad. An exciting moment was stopping to look up at the mountain, watching the rocks slide and hitting the acceleration to out-drive the slide.
- Jane's Guesthouse food was great after the hike
Xiang Cheng (altitude 6,500 ft)
Transport from Shangri-La to Xiang Cheng: 8 hr bus (75 RMB)
Stayed at Bamu Tibetan Guesthouse which is shown in the picture. (It would be hard to find on your own. No signs indicate which Tibetan house is a guesthouse. We stood in front of the bus station and a local called the guesthouse who came and took us to the 4-story wooden house. )
- This city was warm during the day because of the sun and cold when the sun was hidden behind clouds. It was nice to just sit in the sun and knit.
- It was a tiny tiny town. We just enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere of doing nothing.
- Ate some great deep fried chicken legs at a shou kou place and some expensive delicious Muslim noodles.
Almost stranded in Xiang Cheng:
The bus station was extremely unhelpful. They continuously said that there were no buses to Li Tang. It cost 600 RMB to rent a 7 passenger van but because of the holidays it was hard to find passengers to split the cost. We should have just paid for the bus to Kangding and just gotten off at Li Tang. Instead we waited around several days then the buses to Kangding stopped running the day we wanted to go. We had to pay for a 1,400 RMB 7 passenger van to Kangding. Luckily I sat at the bus station waiting for others to realize that the buses to Kangding had stopped. I found 4 other people who were looking to go to Kangding. We hopped off at Li Tang. It was an expensive way to get there.
Stayed at Peace and Happy Hostel (not a very nice place)
- I feel that Litang was the most Tibetan place we had visited during the trip.
- Getting the thumbs up and smiles from the locals as we walked around a temple with about 50 other local elderly people who carried prayer beads and spun hand held prayer wheels.
- Little children invited us into their homes.
- We saw the local flavor of the place come alive as people washed their clothes in the dirty canals, as girls totted plastic water backpacks fetching water from spouts, men playing cards, and drinking yak butter tea.
- We walked to a monastery and watched an elder monk down below order younger monks who had rope tied around their chests scramble on top the eaves of a roof of a 4 story building hang banners. We watched as elementary aged monks play with a pet rat in a metal cage and as teenage monks practiced a dance. We saw monks practicing 10 feet long horns and one lone monk painting a yellow line on the performance stage.
- We hiked up the yellow barren hills surrounding the city.
- Litang was probably my favorite place.
Transport from Litang to Kangding: 8 hour bus(85 RMB)
Stayed one night at Black Tent near Anjue Temple but the hostel closed the next day, so we moved to Dengba Hostel.
- Riding up a small mountain in a cable car, reaching the top, and then realizing we still had to pay for a ticket to wander the park on top of the mountain. We sat at the ticket office not wanting to pay a ton of money to see another Chinese park. The ticket sellers had pity and gave us a reduced rate ticket.
- Drinking tea in the numerous second story tea houses.
- Finishing my sweater.
Transport from Kangding to Chengdu: 6 hr bus (117 RMB)
Stayed one night at the super posh Traffic Hostel but because the cheaper dorm beds had been booked moved to the Mix Hostel which had dorm beds plus free breakfast.
Eating doughnuts at a new place where the line was going out the door
Xian (altitude 1,300 ft)
Transport from Chengdu to Xian: 16 hr train (201 RMB)
Stayed one night at 7 Sages and one night at Bell Tower Youth Hostel which is now my favorite hostel. Wonder why? Ask, and I'll tell.
Home (altitude 4,500 ft)
Transport from Xian to home: 4.5 hr bus (65 RMB)
Notes about Altitude
All altitudes are estimations from looking them up online.
The hardest altitude to deal with was at Shangri-La. Just walking up the inclines in that city were super difficult. By the end of the trip after about 9 days as we climbed up and down in altitude, I did not have a very difficult time in Li Tang, our highest point.
Pictures taken by Caitlin
Thursday, March 04, 2010
They enjoyed the simple language that revealed the heart-felt emotions of growing up and how a family comes together to welcome a new baby. They said that it was a good way to learn about the steps of pregnancy and what happens during the 9 months.
I learned some tidbits about pregnancy in China.
Many students agreed with the following answers to my pre-reading questions about pregnancy in China:
1. Women don't usually publicly announce that they are pregnant to their friends. Once they start showing then friends start guessing eventually coming to the right conclusion as the woman grows bigger and bigger.
2. It is illegal to test for the sex of an unborn baby.
3. Babies will sleep with the parents until they are 1-5 years old.
4. Fathers cannot be in the hospital room while the mother is giving birth.
5. It is very important for the mother to stay in bed at home for one month after giving birth.
Several American women responded to the survey in my blog titled Am I different because I am an American or because I am an individual?
In the post I was trying to determine if Americans would answer the two questions that I asked my Chinese students the same way I answered the questions. Did I answer the question the way I did because of my culture or because I am just a unique individual? The Chinese students all answered the questions the same way, so I would assume their answers were culture based.
The American answer to the question about teenagers had a similar theme of searching for one's identity as an independent individual which was different than the Chinese answer. The American answer to the question about the elderly was more similar to the Chinese answer.
In conclusion, my answers to the questions mirrored American answers. I am American; therefore, I think like an American.
Below are the results to the survey:
Question: What are the major themes and issues of being a teenager?
Chinese College Seniors
Question: What are the major themes and issues of being an elderly person?
Chinese College Seniors
Enjoy life and take care of grandchildren
Thank you to the 5 American women who answered the survey.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
- Music player of some sort and a digital camera
- Knitting book to teach myself how to knit, set of crochet hooks (hard to find crochet hooks in China), set of large sized DPNs and in the round knitting needles. Chinese women like to knit with DPNs size 0.
- Favorite sheet music for the piano
- 1-2 favorite books that I can read over and over again, plus a journal and a few good pens
- Money belt
- Clothes I don't mind leaving behind and clothes or patterns that I would love to have copied by inexpensive tailors
- A warm jacket and long underwear
- 1 pair of comfortable dress shoes that can be used for all occasions, hot weather and cold weather
- 1 pair of comfortable sandals that can be used for all occasions
- 1 pair of good running shoes
I do not enjoy shopping but do know that I can buy almost anything I need in China. Good batteries are expensive and hard to find. I don't like shopping for clothes, so I would pack clothes. If you are bigger than the average Chinese person, then clothes and shoes are probably quite important.
I asked the students what are the different life stages in a person's lifetime starting with birth and ending with death.
We all basically came up with the same idea:
Birth, Childhood, Teenage Years, Adulthood, Old Age, and Death
But then when I asked what were the major themes and issues of each particular life stage, all of my students across the three different classes came up with the same answer for the teenage years and old age. Their identical answer was very different than mine.
So then I started wondering was my answer different than theirs because I am an individual or because I am an American? If asked the same questions, would Americans all come up with the same answer?
I want to take a survey and see what the results are. Please answer the questions off the top of your head like you have 30 seconds to answer them all.
1. Which culture are you from?
2. What are the major themes and issues of being a teenager?
3. What are the major themes and issues of being an elderly person?
After collecting some answers, I will post my findings, comparing the answers that the Chinese students gave with the answers from people from other cultures.
Monday, March 01, 2010
I am always shocked at the difference between the language levels of freshmen and seniors. Four years of English nurtures students' creativity, thinking, and confidence in being able to express themselves. It is kind of hard switching gears from seniors in the morning to freshmen in the evening.
With seniors, we can discuss philosophical questions about morals, universal human characteristics versus cultural characteristics, the historical origins of the differences in western and eastern ways of thinking.
With freshmen, we are discussing what did you do during Spring Festival, what kinds of foods did you eat, what is the difference between a firecracker and a firework.
I believe I spoke too fast and taught too high this afternoon with the freshmen. I need a gimmick to remind myself to slow down, to use shorter sentences, and to repeat more often. Any suggestions?
In Africa because the class sizes were so huge and because students were too afraid to ask questions or to tell the teacher to slow down I had always toyed with the idea of having bell ringers or flag wavers as the representatives of the class to chime in when I was speaking too fast or when students didn't understand what was going on. I just never implemented it. I wonder if it would actually work.