Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Recent Headaches

Photo taken by Mathilde Verillaud


Life has been busy.  I thought life would stop being so busy after the Tree House moved from old campus to new campus, was remodeled, and had its opening ceremony.  I thought I would have a nice peaceful month waiting till I moved to Chengdu.  Instead of a restful goodbye, one headache after another keeps popping up and bugging me.  My life has been stressful.


Headache Number 1


At the Tree House opening ceremony banquet, the dean of the department asked, "Umm.. Jennifer I heard you could play the piano.  Could you please play the piano for the Red Sports Meet happening in a month?  Our department is singing red songs and needs someone to accompany us."  


In China, it is impolite to say "no."  It is more polite to make an excuse or to say a white lie.


"Umm.. Well I am really busy.  I am moving soon.  I have 150 ten minute interviews to give the freshmen oral English class and about 60 five hundred word essays to grade."


"Well, we won't be practicing every day.  Only about once a week."


"Oh… well I was hoping to go to Lanzhou for dragon boat festival."


"Oh well you won't have to play the piano then because I have to first teach the teachers the songs."


"Oh… umm… well, I am not very familiar with Chinese songs.  I have only played western music and Chinese music has different melodies and rhythms."


"I can help you."


"Okay… umm.. I will see."


I spent the weekend cursing my inability to say "no" in an indirect manner that would get me out of playing the piano.


On Monday, I went to the dean's office and he showed me the songs with the jian pu symbols, no staff with notes, just numbers and numbers underlined to indicate rhythm for only the right hand.  It was at that point where I was finally able to escape the obligation to play the piano, "I am not familiar with this type of music and am not so good at improvising my left hand."


Headache Number 2


Even though it was a great honor to be nominated for the Dunhuang Prize, an award for foreigners who are making great contributions in Gansu for teaching, economics, science, etc, it was time consuming because I had to write 1000 words about my contributions.  It would have probably been easier if my computer was running efficiently. Instead my computer freezes every other sentence.


Headache Number 3


A leader of the department asked me to write 15 lesson plans on American and British literature using four books for a summer school course for middle school teachers.  When was it due?  Less than 24 hours!  Why didn't I say no?  Because I knew it was impossible for him to read four books, to decide which 15 stories to teach, and to write questions for each of them in 24 hours.  I had already taught the course and could do it.  He had two other courses he had to prepare for the next day.  Even though I couldn't use my own lesson plans but had to make new ones that consisted of 5-10 questions per story, I could still do it much faster than he could.  I felt obligated to do it because he had nominated me for the Dunhuang Prize and that is kind of how Guanxi works.  You rub my back and I rub yours. 


It was NOT fun!  Plus my computer is stupid, so I rode my bike to new campus at 6 am in the morning to use the computers there.


Headache Number 4


Women's club is great.  Each of us are preparing a topic for each week and it was my turn to prepare a topic about conflict resolution and active listening to help your friends when they are in trouble.  I spent the evening researching the topic, coming up with activities and questions.  I decided that as a westerner I couldn't really teach conflict resolution because Chinese people tend to follow the philosophy of conflict avoidance.  I did come up with cool activities for active listening though.


The next day, what did I learn?  The students are required to practice Tai Qi from 2:30-5:30 every day.  What time is Women's Club? 3:30-4:30. Women's Club is cancelled?


Headache Number 5


The students are required to practice Tai Qi from 2:30-5:30 every day for a month.  They are required to miss class.  In order to get through the 150 students, I had scheduled two weeks of oral interviews starting at 8 am till 4:30 pm.  All interviews had to be cancelled and I had to think up a new way to give final exams.


Headache Number 6


Paperwork.  Whenever you leave site, there is a lot of Peace Corps paperwork: a site guide, a volunteer reporting form, a description of service form, and paperwork that the people at your school have to fill out.


Headache Number 7


This past weekend was a three day weekend, Dragon Boat Festival.  I was going to Lanzhou.  I got a call the night before leaving, "Your writing final exam is due on Monday."  In order not to have to work on the weekend, at 9 pm, I worked on the final exam on my stupid computer where 30 minutes of work takes about 2 hours because the computer freezes every other sentence.  


Medicine for Headaches


Except for the 8 hour one way trip by bus, Lanzhou was super relaxing.  I visited M. who was a perfect hostess.  I ate real milk ice cream covered with real chocolate, a Magnum bar.  I hiked a dusty mountain and had a picnic with yummy sandwiches covered in lemon mayo, cheese, and sausage.  We took hilarious pictures.  I watched a French comedy.


I went swimming and learned how to do the butterfly then ate a baguette full of cheese.  There were two swimming pools.  One was shallow enough that almost all adults could stand comfortably.  The other swimming pool was much deeper and wasn't shallow enough to stand in.  If you wanted to swim in that one, you had to pay for a 30 minute exam in order to swim it.  I also got to wear a swim cap for the first time.  That was fun. 


I spoke French.  I ate chicken wings, then bacon and cheese pasta and watched a hilarious movie called Rubber about a tire that kills people.


Headache Number 8


I don't know how to say goodbye and feel stressed about it.

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