Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Papermaking Procedure with Minimal Supplies

With about ten students, the second meeting of the Tree House English Science Club was successful.  We learned about saving trees and reducing pollution by recycling paper.  For three evenings, the Tree House has become a papermaking recycling factory.

I scoured the many papermaking websites to learn the technique.  The Pioneer Thinking Website and The Illustrated Step-by-Step Guide both called for a wooden frame and a blender; whereas, the Recycling Paper at Home site called for a mortar and pestle.  My students were a bit amazed that I had never been taught how to make paper, but that I independently studied how to by myself.  

With my limited Chinese vocabulary, looking for materials in the open market can take a whole afternoon.  Plus since I am trying to save money for a winter holiday trip, my pocketbook is pretty empty.  I needed to find the cheapest bare essentials.  Here is the procedure I used for making paper without a blender or a wooden frame using hands as a mortar and pestle.

wire mesh
rolling pin


1.  Instead of scissors use your hands to rip the paper into tiny pieces, the tinier the better.
2.  Add water to just cover the paper.  The water paper mixture should be a thick sludge.
3.  Let the paper soak for at least a day, stirring and mashing the paper between your hands.  Add water if the sludge is too thick.
4.  Cut the mesh into the shape of paper that you want to make.
5.  When most of the paper seems to be broken down into sludge, add more water to the mixture.  (Use less water if you want thick paper and more water if you want thinner paper.  Experiment with this step to get the desired paperweight.)
6.  Holding the mesh taunt emerge the mesh into the sludge then pull out the mesh picking up fibers.
7.  Let the water drain.
8.  Place the paper side onto a piece of cloth with the mesh facing up.    
9.  Using a sponge, remove excess water.  
10.  When enough water has been removed, carefully remove the mesh leaving the wet paper on the cloth.
9.  Cover the wet paper with another piece of cloth and use a rolling pin to roll over the paper to remove more water.
10.  Let air dry.  When the paper dries, it will easily peel off the cloth.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Knitted Short Sleeve Pullover

Last summer I knitted the Plain and Simple Pullover by Veera Välimäki for my previous sitemate.  Today I finished one for myself.

Knitted Dissected Rat

Here is another picture of the rat with felted internal organs.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rat Guts

About a couple of months ago I knitted rat, pattern by Emily Stoneking.  Today a student from knitting club worked on filling the insides with organs.  I might re-make some of the organs and felt them.  I'll send a melange of organs to my biology teacher friend who wants to use it for his dissection class.  He can assemble the rat to match his preferences, a do it yourself rat dissection kit. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Short Story Class

Last year within the first month of teaching, 120 seniors stopped coming to my English short story class.  I am still not clear about the reasons why:  dislike for reading, lazy, mentally checked out as seniors, looking for jobs, teacher wasn't strict enough, knew that the class was ungraded so what was the point?

This year though I am teaching juniors.  Sometimes I have all the students attending.  Sometimes maybe I am missing 15-20 students, but overall I have at least 30-65 students sitting in class wanting to learn.  Thank goodness!  No more wasted time lesson planning to arrive to an empty classroom.

Again this course is a non-graded class; therefore, I have not felt a great pressure to teach a lot of stories.  Instead, we spend a class period doing an activity to understand the differences and similarities between American and Chinese culture, spend a class period reading the story, then the next week answer questions and discuss the story.  

Because last year, the few seniors who did attend the class preferred stories about China compared to the stories about the west, the students this year compare two stories, one from China and one from the West that have similar themes.

The first theme was about universalism, cultural relativism, and ethnocentrism.
The second theme was about stereotypes as well as discrimination of fathers for their children: gender and racial.  
The third theme was about women waiting for 10-45 years for their fiancees to return.
The fourth theme will be about charity and honesty.

So far the students and I have learned about the differences between the rituals surrounding pregnancy in China compared to America.  For example, pregnant women rarely directly tell their co-workers that they are pregnant.  Instead everyone guesses that the woman is pregnant as she grows in size; whereas, Americans have baby showers.  Chinese pregnant women go to the hospital to deliver their babies sometimes even a week earlier than American women.  Doctors in China who deliver babies are always female.  Babies will sleep with their parents, sometimes even until they are as old as six, compared to the American walkie talkie method where parents sleeping in another room can hear the baby.

The next thing we learned about was the differences and similarities between dating practices in China and America.  From our discussion, it feels like there are more similarities than differences.  We find dates the same way:  through friends and classmates, parents' recommendations, strangers you might meet in the self-study room or out in the city, internet.  We basically do the same things on dates:  restaurants, shopping, walks, go to an internet bar and watch a movie together.  The one thing that shocked students was the number of people I have dated.  They feel like they'll probably only date 1-3 people before getting married.  Anymore than that seems kind of outrageous.  Also, the students were uncertain of how to tell when they are officially boyfriend and girlfriend.  One student said, "When we kiss it means we are official."  Another student said, "When the bf or gf introduces us as a bf/gf to their friends it means we are official."  One big difference was that on a first date, do not bring flowers or a gift.  The students said, "If you don't know the date very well then bringing a gift is being too familiar."  

So far, I have found the class to be rewarding.  Not exactly sure what the students think, but I do know they still prefer the Chinese stories to the western ones.  They understand the Chinese ones but get lost in the language and ideas in the American ones.

For example, two stories about gender and racial discrimination were set during the mid 1800's early 1900's. 

One student asked, "During that time why do white people feel so superior over black people?"  

I replied, "Remember it was during the time of slavery."  

Then the student asked "But all people are equal.  Why did the white people think so differently?"  

I replied, "In the Chinese story, how could a father prefer sons to daughters?  The reasons behind discrimination is often not a very straightforward answer.  We can list all the cultural reasons like sons can carry on family names and inherit the business, or because people lived differently and spoke different languages one group of people could think their lifestyle, way of thinking, advances in technology make them superior.  The why though, why do people discriminate and create a culture of discrimination where only sons can carry on family names or black people will be slaves is complex."

The students feel that the western stories are too difficult and they haven't learned anything.  Of course, as the teacher, I know that the feeling of confusion, the feeling of being challenged and pushed is beneficial in the long run even if the students cannot see it today.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

White Baby Dolls

Baby dolls found in my local Chinese toy store.

The manager of the classroom building who lives in a tiny narrow room under the stairwell often has his grand-daughter with him.  She is a serious, shy girl who rarely smiles as she plays on the ground floor as I go to and from class.  The other day she was the cutest three year old loving mother cradling her blond haired blue-eyed baby doll.

In Africa, if a child was so lucky to have a baby doll, it was usually created from corn husks or was a store bought white one.

Do white baby dolls dominate the world doll market?  If so, why?

When I was seven or eight for my birthday my parents special ordered a Chinese baby doll from a woman who sewed by hand babies from around the world. They got both me and my brother one, a doll with slanted eyes, white skin, and a tuff of black hair. Many of my dolls though were given to me by my grandmothers.  One gave me a collection of Barbie dolls much to the dismay of my mother who did not think these full figured, skinny, long legged blond haired women were appropriate for a girl of six.  My other grandma stood for hours in a long line to purchase an orange haired Cabbage Patch doll with pig-tails.  They even bought my brother a boy one.  My aunt on the other hand sent me an awesome Christmas present, a Chinese doll with black silky shoulder length hair, blinking eyes and handmade clothes.

However, I am not sure if as a kid I was particularly aware of the race of my dolls.  What mattered most to me was what could the doll do? What accessories did the doll have?  Did it have pretty clothes, bottles, a backpack that it could be carried around in?  Could it drink a bottle of water then wet a diaper?  Could it cry and blink its eyes?  Could it say Mama?  Was it life-size?  Was it heavy like a real baby?  Could it walk?

As little girls does it matter if we play with dolls that look like us?  Is it important to play with a diverse group of dolls with different skin colors, eyes and hair?  Even though it may only be a subconscious message that little children are unaware of, white dolls are a message, "White is beautiful."

Discussing the quote by Martin Luther King "We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish as fools," a student in the English short story class wrote in her essay, "As we all know everyone likes beauty.  If there is possibility each one would like to be white skin."

According to an American study done fifty years ago by a psychologist Kenneth Clark, black girls chose white dolls over black dolls.  In 2005 a young American teen filmmaker, Kiri Davis also showed that this was true today.  Are girls' viewpoints about beauty influenced by the dolls they play with or by media images?  Maybe the domination of white dolls in the doll market across the world is just a result of the bombardment of media images.  White is beautiful; therefore, white baby dolls are preferred and will sell.  Even in a country of a billion Chinese people, the toy stores carry white baby dolls, very few are Chinese ones.

Favorite Teacher

During the break, my sophomore listening students asked if they could vote for their favorite teacher, a competition that the student union was holding.  In the English only classroom, the leaders went into Chinese mode, handing out ballots and my ears turned off until I caught my name being spoken, "Jennifer Laoshi (teacher) has only been a teacher for 3 years.  It isn't enough.  So you can't vote for her."  That moment was one of those instances that sums up my experience in China:

1.  Wow I can understand Chinese.
2.  Wow the students like me.
3.  Chinese rules are frustrating.

Later in the Tree House students told me, "We are so angry today because we had to vote for our favorite teacher.  The student union gave us a list of three teachers to choose from.  We had never had those teachers before and didn't even know them very well."

Monday, November 15, 2010

RELO Grant Money

We applied for a $1000 grant from the Regional Language Office in Beijing and learned today that we got it.  We will be buying a computer and digital cameras so that the students can improve their English writing, listening, speaking, and computer skills by creating a creative writing zine and a Tree House yearbook as well as by starting a livejournal to do a blog exchange with students in America.  The computer will also be used to manage the thousands of books that the Tree House English Resource and Community Center has.  In addition a subscription to the magazine Highlights will be bought.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fishing Simulation

Today's first science club activity was a great success.  I had forgotten what it is like to teach science.  I taught chemistry in graduate school and then taught math, physics, and chemistry in Africa but had to use French in a pretty challenging classroom.  Teaching a low level environmental simulation in English even to students who are learning English as a foreign language was wow... easy and super fascinating.

During the first part of the simulation where students were not allowed to talk, they quickly emptied their pond of fish and no one was able to feed their family after two fishing seasons.  It was interesting to see that when there were only two fish left in the pond, no one wanted to take them even though it meant that they would live and be able to keep playing.  Another observation was that one group tried to fish all at the same time which created a competitive atmosphere where actually no one was able to use their straw to get any fish out of the bowl.

During the second part of the simulation where students were allowed to talk and strategize, one group decided that everybody would only be allowed to take two fish which created a balanced sustainable fishing season that could go on for years.  They were a very organized group and would take turns to fish instead of trying to fish all at one time.  The other group didn't really strategize and realized too late that soon their pond would be empty.  Eventually a student from the group with the empty pond moved to the sustainable pond.  By adding an extra family to feed, the pond quickly ran out of fish.  I found it fascinating that the group with the sustainable pond let the newcomer fish first, but once they all realized that the newcomer would create an imbalance where the pond would soon run out of fish, she no longer was allowed to fish first.  

The group that made rules about fishing and then had an extra mouth to feed was able to fish for 6 seasons.  The other group only fished for 3.

The students came up with the following strategies to protect resources for the future:
  1. Communication and cooperation are necessary.
  2. Rules and regulations are needed.  ie.  kick out the greedy people
  3. Education helps people realize what the rules are for.

The students recommended the following to help protect our resources:
  1. Trees will disappear if we keep using wooden chopsticks, so bring your own chopsticks to the cafeteria.
  2. Re-use plastic bottles and plastic bags instead of throwing them away.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

New Knitted Mittens

I recently finished knitting these Broad Street Mittens by Janis Cortese.  The weather though hasn't been cold, but soon it is bound to turn super chilly.  Plus I am going to Harbin for a few days during winter break.

Science Club

In August I spent a month in the USA for home leave and was inspired by a fellow RPCV from Africa.  He is a biology teacher and told me about a fishing stimulation he used in his class where the students explored the ideas behind the tragedy of the commons.  What happens when there is a common resource used by many people?  What strategies can be applied to protect common resources preventing the overuse of limited resources?

This Friday the first meeting of science club will be held and the Chinese students will do the fishing stimulation.  A group of four students will have access to one pond of of sixteen fish (candy) to fish from using straws.  Each student must take two fish or their family will starve and die.  Without talking, the students can fish for one minute which represents one year.  When the minute is over, the fish left in the pond can reproduce.  For every fish that is left, one baby will be added.  There can only be a maximum of sixteen fish in the pond at a time.  Then the students will fish for another year.

I wonder will Chinese students fish differently than American students?  In American schools after several years of fishing, usually students will empty their ponds of fish.  At my university, students have a habit of living in dorm rooms with eight people, of eating communal meals, and of copying each other rather than doing their own thing.  Sometimes I feel like the students are a collective with a single mind.  At knitting club instead of each student eating an orange, eight of them will share one orange.  I always feel guilty eating my own orange when they give a slice to everyone.  Plus China's one child policy is an example of using government regulations to try to prevent the exploitation of their limited resources, sacrificing for the greater good.  Another thing is, privatization is new in China; although, land is not privately owned in China.  It is owned by the government.  

Will these things influence the way the students approach fishing their ponds?  Will each student copy each other and ONLY take two fish every year?  Will they without talking to each other see what the greater good is and only take what they need not to starve?  We will see on Friday.

If you are interested in doing this with your students, here are some websites with the Fishing Stimulation Labs:

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Following Dreams vs Tackling Fears

Recently I came to the conclusion that it was time to tackle my fear of returning to the USA as well as my fear of getting a job to become the responsible adult with an income who is saving for retirement.  Even though PC will allow me to serve seven years, I decided to let go of the dream of discovering a new country and a new culture to return to the USA.

A friend recently said, "Jennifer follow your heart and your dreams."

Tackling my fear is not following my heart or my dreams.  It is in my opinion for me selling out.  Do I really want to return to the states, live under the roof of my parents or generous friends, send out hundreds of resumes and cover letters to start down a career path?

What about my dreams of living the adventurous lifestyle?  Working on a fishing boat, doing a bike tour of China, doing a temp job tour through all the cool American cities, being a lifetime volunteer, living in Antarctica, Alaska, Mongolia, or Africa?  

Monday, November 08, 2010

Halloween: Ping pong

Thursday night Tree House workers recommended this game where students race by blowing a ping pong ball from one cup of water to the next.  It was an exciting competition.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Halloween: Apple on a String

This game was a hit.  

Saturday night's cooking club students commented that the Halloween party was like being a bride and groom at a Chinese wedding.  Usually the newly married couple has to play games before being allowed to enter the bedroom.  For example, at the same time they both would have to bite into a Chinese mantou (steamed bun/bread).

This week's cooking club had a huge hurdle to overcome.  At 5 pm there was no water.  At 5:30 pm there was no water.  Finally at 6 pm we decided to buy bottled water to cook a huge spicy Chinese hot pot of potatoes, pumpkin, rice noodles, eggplant, leafy greens, tofu, imitation crab, hot dogs, and pork blood disks.  At 7:30 pm there was still no water so cleaning up was left for the next day.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Halloween: Pin the Eye

Pin the eye on the Jack-O-Lantern was a fun game for students who didn't want to get their faces wet; however, the students made the game less challenging by allowing each other to feel their way around the poster before sticking the eye on.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Halloween: Bobbing for Apples

This semester I've been busy and haven't been able to devote much time towards activities in the Tree House.  Every evening I am interviewing students in the library leaving little time for anything else.  My new sitemate as well as the Tree House workers have been working for the past two weeks to plan Halloween:  organizing four games, deciding which ghost stories to read, rehearsing a skit about the headless horseman, buying candy and apples, practicing the Cupid Shuffle, carving pumpkins, and planning the movie.  I haven't had to do anything except advise by answering questions and asking questions back.

Tonight's Halloween party was a great success!  With over sixty students in attendance, I didn't have to do anything except walk around and enjoy the festivities.  The students led the games.  The students explained Halloween.  They told stories and did skits.  They washed apples, gave away candy, and set up the movie.  I just had to show them how to bob for apples successfully.  Over 30 apples were won by students unafraid of getting their faces wet. 

Stay tuned, next three blog posts will be photoblogs of the games that were played.  Find out which games you too can use at a Halloween party in China with great success. 

Thursday, November 04, 2010

volleyball, high heels, pumpkins, musicals, male vs female

The morning started with leaving the now heated apartment to walk past the back gate food carts towards the vegetable vendors.  I tried a new thick pizza like breadstick that was sold by weight and skipped my favorite crepe filled with a fried egg and crispy fried dough.  I then bought five small pumpkins for 16 RMB ($2.50).

Ten minutes before PE class I learned that I had a package of books waiting for me so I ran from the mail room to my apartment and then to the playground for Tai Chi class.  With the sun out, it was a pleasant day to strengthen my legs where by class end my muscles started to shake.

My afternoon songs class watched The Sound of Music because we had learned two songs from the musical the class before.  Plus the Chinese teacher who usually teaches this songs class always shows this particular movie, so I decided to use his song sheets and follow his lesson plan.  I was pleasantly surprised that the students loved the movie and thought it was deeply meaningful with heartfelt opinions about family and friendship.  Would American college students appreciate this musical or would they just think it was boring?  Is it a timeless masterpiece?

I then had to run to volleyball practice.  The English department is participating in the school wide teacher's volleyball tournament.  I practiced with women who were all dressed in their professional teaching clothes with high heel boots.  No one told the teachers that they would be practicing after today's teacher's meeting.

Next was an hour of interviews with students from my listening class.  Two students spend thirty minutes making small talk, reading news that they got off the internet and then discussing the ideas mentioned in the news.  Today we discussed retirement and bombs hidden in packages.

At the Tree House, students carved jack o lanterns, practiced their Halloween skit about the headless horseman for tomorrow's party, and chatted in English.  Tonight we talked about differences as well as the pros and cons of being male and female.  

According to the students:
Pros for being male  choice, opportunities, no pain from childbirth
Cons for  being male  heavy load of responsibility for family, job, and money; bad temper 

Pros for being female  can have children; don't have too much family, money and job responsibilities
Cons for being female housework, cleaning dishes, housework, few choices, lots of time and money to be beautiful 

Now I am tired.  It is time to read one of the new books I received in the mail.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Electrical Explosions

The first time I heard about an explosion was about a year ago through gmail chat.  
Sitemate:  Umm....Jennifer, my water heater in the bathroom just exploded.
Me: Oh that is scary.

Then I got to hear an explosion for myself.  The other week my PC provided water distiller that removes heavy metals and minerals went POP, with a nice flashy bright explosion.  Now I am truly cursed.  I helped my sitemate carry her HEAVY water distiller back to Chengdu when she COS'd (close of service) and now I have TWO of them to return to Chengdu.  The PC medical officer sent me a new one.

The third explosion was today.  As students were standing up to do the Cupid Shuffle, we heard an explosive POP and the glass from a florescent light bulb dangerously rained upon the four of them.