Saturday, December 31, 2011

Last day of the Term

Saturday is a make-up day so that the college can have a three day weekend of Jan 1-3.  We are teaching Jan 3rd's class today.  Tuesday is the day I have 6 periods, a long day.  I am lucky though coz today is the last day of the term for me.  The school asked me to give my finals early, but everyone else has to stay till the 11th of January.
I have about 10 more culture interviews where the students have 10 minutes to
1.  Describe a picture
2.  Look at two pictures and give their opinion about which one is western and Chinese values.
3.  Answer 2 questions about material from the western culture class.
During the other 4 periods, students will watch a movie while I grade their notebooks so I can give them back their notebooks.  Why do I not feel guilty about just showing an end of the term movie and not teaching a lesson?
  1. They have already taken their finals and I will teach them again next semester.  Why teach a lesson plan that I will need for next semester?
  2. In Gansu I participated in the kung fu P.E. class and the way the teacher administered the exam was to have all the students just sit around while he watched one student do the routine.  Having students sit around while I grade their notebooks is somewhat similar but instead of just being bored, they get to watch an English movie.
  3. Watching a movie is like a treat that I want to give to my students for their hardwork this semester.
This semester has had quite a few lows:
1.  Commuting
2.  Having two campuses
3.  Responsibility and stress with the PC support and office position
4.  The dark and dreary weather of Chengdu
5.  Weariness of teaching for 11 years
It has also had some highs:
1.  Biking
2.  Food, art, music
3.  Attending a couchsurfing event and meeting a bunch of independent young local people
4.  The easy to work with school leaders, officials, and counterparts
I need a vacation and what does fate have in store for me?
Paris...  then Guangzhou... then back to Chengdu...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Secondary Project Fell into my Lap

At some schools it is easy.

In a previous post I wrote, "

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Foreigner Party

Yep that was what it was called.

The day before the party, I received a text message from my counterpart saying, "Are you free to attend a meeting hosted by someone in Chengdu?  You will represent us there."

"I am free.  I can go," I text back.

She sent me the address via email and I would have biked if the rain hadn't been pouring down.  One thing I love about living in a new city is the exploring of streets, bus lines, and getting lost but eventually finding my way.  The meeting was held in a hotel on a street that I had already walked along during one of my exploratory walks through Chengdu.  It was a street full of bright fabric, dance costumes, hostess ball gowns, and ethnic clothes used for performances.

I assumed the meeting was about the safety of foreigners in the city.  I remembered that the Lanzhou volunteers had to attend a session with the police on how to be safe in the city.  Instead the banner read, Welcome to the 2011 Foreigner Party welcoming us to a room full of balloons and plates filled with sunflower seeds, peanuts, candy, oranges, and cookies. 

I arrived early wanting to give myself plenty of time to get lost in case it was a hard to find location.  Plus I had 90 listening papers to grade which I graded to Christmas elevator music whose 2 songs ran on repeat.  By the time the event started, I had finished about 50% of the work.

The room filled with a small number of about 20 foreigners which was surprising because the city has a TON of foreigners.  The party opened with 30 minute of speeches, then two people sang Christmas carols, then we were asked to play games- a balloon race with a partner where you can't use your hands, musical chairs, with your feet pop the balloons that are tied around two people's legs, and organize three people to somehow be on the smallest area of a piece of newspaper.  It was a strange surreal atmosphere where as the party progressed the numbers dwindled from 20 to 10 to eventually 5. 

People in China love playing these games that I often consider are children's party games.  I remember sitting at a Chinese restaurant watching adults play musical chairs and have a watermelon eating contest to receive a free plate of fish or a water bottle.

I did mingle and make small talk learning that many of the foreigners were primary and secondary education teachers and their biggest challenge was classroom management with 60-80 students.  Not sure why my college was invited, but I did learn new games that I can use in my classroom or at parties I might help organize in the future.  It wasn't a total waste of time.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

PCV Living in a Big City

Here I am a Peace Corps Volunteer living in one of the most populated cities I have ever lived in.  Incredible isn't it?  Not your mud hut in a village of 300 families.

It is hard to wrap one's head around being a volunteer and living in such a city of luxury.  I feel like I am back in Seattle riding buses to music shows, biking to museums, feasting on international food, and sipping coffee in a different tea shop every week.  The buses are packed and it is hard to find a seat.  You are always standing.  The subway with its one single line that runs north and south is way less crowded but more expensive.

At first I had culture shock moving from small town to big city, but I have adapted and now am loving big city life.

Because I am working so much with the PC community, I tend not to have as much energy for my Chinese community.  Also because I am only here for one year I have a different mentality towards community integration.  I am holding office hours and learning about my students' lives.  I am inviting people out to dinner and learning about the lives of Chinese teachers, but I am not really doing the footwork that is necessary to start a secondary project. 

If I had been assigned Chengdu for my two years in Peace Corps I would have become more involved.  Even though there are foreign teachers in this city making $1000 a month compared to my $220 living allowance, I think as a PCV there is a different mentality when living in the community.  As a PCV, I tend to want to integrate, to learn language, to find people to work with, and to start secondary projects.  I try to do more than just teach.  I am not here for a salary, for hanging out with ex-pats in foreigner dominated venues, but am here for the Chinese experience, for the culture exchange, for the idea of serving a community.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Chinese American Lost in China

Tonight I went to a CD, Trail Dust, release party at Machu Piccu owned by Zhou Fei.  Living abroad for 6 years in much much smaller communities I haven't been able to go to live shows, so it really is a treat to be able to look at a calendar of events (GoChengdoo) and have a selection of local happenings to pick and choose from.

Back in the states, I would wander Seattle, eat out, drink Earl Grey in coffee shops, attend shows, bike around Lake Washington, and every once in a while meet up with old friends and make new friends. 

Returning to a city whose weather reminds me of the dark winters of Seattle, overcast without sunshine, the life here feels somewhat familiar as I wander the city, drink lattes, eat sushi, attend shows, and bike to lakes, yet I feel like a stranger to this city person who feels somewhat familiar but who also feels like something is missing. 

I have somehow lost part of my identity.  Which part?

Back in Seattle, I felt surrounded by strangers and felt this urge to take part in my own personal social experiment where when riding the bus, I would dare myself to say hello to someone new.  Going to a party, I would take a deep breath and give myself a pep talk to start a conversation.  I was trying to see if by forcing myself to talk I could turn shyness into something new.  I was trying to see if the world was actually a place full of friendly people who all just want to make a connection with another human being. 

I have lost my American identity.  With students, I am the American teacher.  With strangers, I am Chinese.

There are two worlds, the Chinese one and the foreign face one.  I wander an in-between world of having an Asian face who can't speak Chinese yet inside know that I am just like the foreigners with non-Asian faces visiting China.  With foreigners, I am silenced by the expectation of a language barrier.  People won't even say hello unless they know Chinese and I am too afraid to say hello to break that barrier to announce to people that I am American with my accent.

In the Chinese world, people will say something to me in Chinese but if I don't understand their words, they are quickly silenced by their fear of embarrassing one of us because we are having trouble communicating.  When I see a bunch of Chinese bikers all wearing the same biking clothes, I am too afraid to approach them to say" Ni hao," even though I know that they would be friendly.

I feel caught in between two worlds.  I am Chinese who can't speak fluently.  I am American who isn't obviously outwardly American.  In a city where foreigners seem to flock together or where Chinese people want to make foreign friends, I am ignored. 

The reality though is I am the one who is imprisoning myself in my own solitude of fear unable to break through the wall and say a friendly hello in English or Chinese.  I have lost the ability to have a conversation, to reveal little bits and pieces of myself, to tell my story.  This part of me has been replaced with teacher mode, the person who can ask questions to get students to speak English.  If you're not my student, then using Mandarin I can start a typical Chinese conversation about food and where you are from, but find the conversation to dead end pretty quickly making me wary to even start the conversation.  Using English, I have lost the ability to reveal myself replaced with question after question about another culture.  If we are both Americans living in China, then I don't know what to talk about, what questions to ask. 

I feel socially awkward and lost so then I hide away in silence behind my knitting.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

60 km Bike Loop

Southern Chengdu:  3rd Ring Road next to Ikea to Chenglong Avenue to XingLongquan (25 km) then to Huayuang along Chenghuan Road that turns into Lushan Ave (25 km) back to Ikea (10 km)

The roads were wide and the cars were few.  Along this route would you believe that I passed two drive-thru McDonald's?

It was a chilly day to ride but with only 3 top layers, a bandanna to cover my ears, and mittens, I was warm and toasty except for my feet which turned completely numb about halfway through the ride.  I'm still trying to thaw out my toes.