Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Life Tidbits

Chengdu

During a weekend trip for a PC workshop on designing secondary projects, my sitemate, a Chinese teacher, a Chinese student and I brainstormed ideas of how to improve the Tree House and how to entice more students to visit and practice their English
1. Feng shui the library room
2. Host activity nights planned by students

Weather
cold with about an inch of snow

Apartment
no heat
using a sleeping bag and lots of layers
Knitted goods are useful for moments like these.

Monday's class
one student

Wednesday's class
zero students

Emotions

Angry
What is the point of teaching in China if no one comes to class?

Disordered
I have started packing trying to order my house, throwing away stuff, and trying to figure out what is really important to keep.

Excited
There is a new excitement in the Tree House to learn English outside of the classroom.

Blah
Tired of cafeteria food and noodles.

Stressed
I need to return to Chengdu to get medically cleared so I can stay for a third year. This means I have to miss classes.

Lost
Currently I have a lot of questions running in my head about relationships, identity, life in China, as well as getting lost in the realm of Internet.

Unhappy
I have not been able to find time to study Chinese this semester because of my full plate.

Scared
Do I really want to go back to the USA for a month home leave?

8 comments:

William said...

How does Tree House work?

Would your students be convinced by the feng shui? Do you find that your students are superstitious? There was brief effort (probably unsuccessful) to purge superstition like this during the communist revolution, but I'm sure it remains, especially in less developed areas.

Are your students religious?

Dr. Jen said...

I don't think the students really care about the feng shui of the room; however, we feel that opening up the room to facilitate small talk would be helpful. We moved the furniture so we could have one big circle instead of two little circles.

The students are not religious.

Superstitious, doubtful.... although maybe some of the older generation are still superstitious. People do still pick wedding dates according to superstition.

Dr. Jen said...

The Tree House is an English community center and library that is open 6 days a week, two hours a night. It is student run with 2 managers, 1 assistant manager and about 18 volunteers. We the foreign teachers often sit in the Tree House helping students with their English and having conversations with them.

For example, last night I helped a girl with her speech for an English speech competition. Also, seniors have stopped by to practice their post graduate interviews. Others just come by to tell us good news like one student wanted to tell me about a job he was hired for but then quit because the work was too painful for his eyes. Other students check out English books.

William said...

Your students' parents were perhaps caught smack in the middle of the cultural revolution. It is unsurprising then that the students themselves are not very religious.

But there seems to be a gradual, very cautious return to secular Confucian values in Chinese society. As China asserts itself on the global stage, I wonder if your students are in the process of establishing a new cultural identity--one that is tempered by a re-embracing of traditional values.

To them, what does it mean to be Chinese? The cultural revolution had a huge, pervasive impact that confused an entire generation about the definition of Chinese culture. That generation matured, had kids, and now those kids are your students.

It'd be really interesting to find out how your students define their own culture today. The generations that came before the cultural revolution and perhaps even before the '49 revolution would probably almost certainly cite Confucius. But what about now? How do people perceive Confucianism? Are people re-embracing it?

These might be interesting topics that could motivate your students to become better engaged in class. It'd be an exploration of their own identity and Chinese culture in general. Once they define themselves, perhaps they they'd be more ready to learn about how Americans define themselves. That can be a whole class unto itself.

But then again, I have no idea what topics you cover in class. Are you given much creative freedom in terms of how you teach your classes? What exactly do you teach?

Sorry for the laboriously long comment and incessant questioning. I'm on Spring break and I have nothing better to do at the moment :P

Dr. Jen said...

As an outsider looking in at the Chinese culture I can see the strong influences of Confucius; however,the students are not so much aware of how to define their own culture nor how to define what motivates their own actions and thinking.

It is the same in America if you ask Americans why are we so individualistic and have such big debates over religious moral values, could Americans discuss what the Greeks and Aristotle passed down to us or how the impact of the migration of people searching for religious freedom influenced today's culture?

Chinese culture is very different than western culture and as a westerner if I understand Confucius and Taoism better then I would understand my students better. Why they write the way they do? Why they think the way they do? Why they don't want to participate in classroom discussions but only want to listen to teacher's lectures? Why they are always talking about harmony and cooperation?

Currently I am teaching a short story class where the theme of the semester is Human Behavior from birth to death, universal and cultural characteristics.

I was given no book so everything I am teaching is from the materials I pick.

My Peace Corps sitemate who teaches writing had an interesting student initiated debate in her class. The debate was whether or not foreigners should learn about Confucius. It was a heated discussion where half the class was NO because we don't even know anything about Confucius. The other half was YES because he is very old and important to Chinese culture.

Dr. Jen said...

Your suggestion of exploring Chinese culture and American culture is a great idea; however, my expertise in this area is lacking. At the beginning of the semester we explored what is culture and what are the differences between western and Chinese culture, but not in great detail. The English level of seniors is a lot higher than freshmen; however, it is still difficult to discuss more complex ideas using English. Often we only can touch the ideas on the surface. Also, seniors are still afraid to use their oral English to have discussions and to express themselves unless it is an easy question.

shelly said...

for more internet 'black hole' enabling. try librivox.org. there is an audiobook on there..China and the Chinese. as well as a book on buddhism and confuscious.

not much happening in the USA except houses being sold right and left. bleh...if you are like me and actually saved money in the peace corps; USA home leave can be a mindblow.

William said...

Human Behavior--there are so many ways that you can go about teaching that class. It sounds like fun!

Much of Confucius's principles are attempts to regulate human behavior. As with any philosophy, Confucianism defines human nature in a certain way and prescribes rules for behavior based on what that view of human nature is.

Examining Confucian philosophy and making comparisons with Western philosophy could be an interesting way of exploring the nature of human behavior.

I'd be hardly qualified to teach a class like this too, but if you can manage to find the resources, this could be a good way of doing things in future classes.

Some names worth mentioning if you're interested in Chinese philosophy:

Laozi (Daoism)

Xunzi (Confucian view that human nature is inherently bad)

Mencius (Confucian view that human nature is inherently good)

Han Feizi (Legalism--like the Chinese version of Machiavelli)

Mozi (Mohism--somehwhat similar to Western utilitarianism)

Zhuangzi (branch of Daoism, similar to relativism)