Sunday, February 26, 2012

Live Music

I love drums.

Mongol Folk/Rock was the three word description on the online Events Calendar.  Inviting as many Chinese friends and teachers, we paid 30 RMB, a small risk for us all as we debated in anticipation about whether or not the music would be good and what we might hear.  It was a bigger risk for me especially since the 1,500 RMB living allowance deposit from the USA has been delayed for a week.

It was an incredible music filled experience standing amongst a people packed tiny space in front of a tiny stage where there was a drummer, two singers, two people playing traditional string instruments, a guitar player and bass player, crammed onto a tiny stage all within a hand's reach of each other.  There were about 100 people in the audience and compared to America, most people were short, perfect for this 5'3" woman.  The crowd stood as still as statues as melodic strings filled the air, as throat guttural sounds vibrated, and as the drummer and singers built the energy into a frenzy.  By the end of the 1.5 hour concert, the crowd was slapping their hands raw, bobbing their heads, and shouting for encores as the band explained that they had no more new music.  Wanting to continue to rock in the Mongolian language, the crowd refused to believe them,  "Play another one," they shouted.

Going to the new Little Bar last night was absolutely wonderful.  Throughout the evening, my feet couldn't stop moving and my spirit was filled with the frenzy of joy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hot Pot

Seattle hot pot...  I remember it being delicious, meat packed, and spicy?  I actually don't remember if it was spicy.  I just remember it being fun, eating all the meat cooked in broths.

Gansu hot pot...  I enjoyed the mushroom flavored non-spicy individual fondue pots used to boil thinly sliced meat and veggies.  The sesame dipping sauce was divine.

Chengdu hot pot...  Chengdu is famous for its hot pot where there is a debate between the sanitary conditions of re-using hot pot oil versus recycled oil making the food taste better.  I enjoy the spiciness of a huge pot of redness full of numbing peppers, shared by all.  Also, I love it when Chinese people order, so yum- duck tongue, brain, intestine, seafood, seaweed, chicken's feet, and more...  It is an exciting array of textures and flavors.  Love that gritty, crunchiness of tendons and bone dipped in a bowl of oil filled to the max with freshly chopped garlic.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Teaching Techniques that Work in my Chinese Classroom

For a PC China TEFL certificate, I had to submit a lesson plan and a one-page reflection on how I integrated what I have learned regarding culture, language, school system, students, and social context into my lesson plans and style of teaching in a Chinese classroom.  I mostly wrote about lesson plans and did not touch on teaching style.  Here are some of my thoughts about successful strategies that have helped my teaching.

choral recitation- The students have been reciting texts ever since they started school, so in order to gain students' trust and build their confidence in my classroom, I tend to sometimes request the students to recite a dialogue, a poem or lyrics as a class.

call on the students-  Having observed Chinese teachers, I noticed that they do not usually wait for students to raise their hands and volunteer an answer.  Instead they just call on a student.  In my class each student has an assessment card that I use to keep track of a student's progress.  During each 2 hour course, I use these cards to call on every single student in my class to answer questions.  It is a way for me to take roll call, and it forces every student to speak out loud to help them realize two things.  First, it isn't scary to speak English in front of our class.  Secondly, everyone must speak, not only the best English speakers.  By the end of the term, I am pleasantly surprised to have students raising their hands to volunteer answers.

silly games, theater, songs-  Students love laughing and playing silly games.  They love acting outrageous roles, doing dialogues that have twisted conflicts, and using expressive emotion in their skits.  They love English songs.

walking around the classroom and speaking personally to every student- This is the one way where I can cater to each student's English level by having personal conversations every class.

In four years, there has been one challenge that I haven't been able to overcome.  Students will not listen to a fellow student who is giving an in front of the classroom presentation.  I ask the students to take notes or to be ready to answer questions.  I stand by the talkers and glare at them.  Because I am not a stern teacher, when a student is giving a presentation, I have trouble fighting for the silence of the classroom.  I do believe if I were consistent with my rules and expectations and with positive/negative reinforcement, I'd have a respectfully quiet class listening to their classmate.  I never taught a speech class so I prefer giving different types of tasks rather than battle it out with the talkative students who don't feel like they can learn anything by listening to a non-native speaker.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Teaching Schedule

Teaching schedule for three courses that meet twice a week with the same students:

1.  Writing
2.  Listening and Speaking (Tourism listening book)
3.  Listening and Speaking (Business listening book); repeated with different students

10-16 hours and 2-3 days off per week
Odd weeks, teach Thursday and Friday, 3 lesson plans (Sweet deal with a 5 day weekend.)
Even weeks, teach Monday, Thursday and Friday, 6 lesson plans  (I am not too worried.  I will figure out a way to slim these 6 lesson plans down into the same plan.)

No more biking to the countryside campus because I will be teaching on two campuses in the same day where in the morning I will teach on the city campus, and in the afternoon I will be on the countryside campus.  The lunch break is not exactly long enough for lunch and biking.

I am feeling a little overwhelmed especially since the school is going to assign me 3 students to start working on an English resource room, plus a bunch of other PC responsibilities like two Project Design Workshops, a Resource Room workshop in Lanzhou, a 2011 annual report, newsletters, COS conference and more...

Will I have the energy for Chinese corner and job hunting?

My teaching schedule and other responsibilities aren't really that overwhelming or am I kidding myself or am I acting like a whiny baby?

As a Volunteer, at what point does one put one's foot down and say, "Sorry I can't.  I don't have the energy to do that."?

I think it will be fine.  Once the semester starts on Thursday, I will find a rhythm and all will be good?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Blues turned Colorful

Would you believe that Paris, Guangzhou, then two weeks of PC IST (in-service training) got me out of my depressed funk? 

Knowing that negative criticism rises to the surface more often than positive feedback due to people's personal frustrations leading to constructive complaints, I tried not to worry so much about pleasing as many people as possible, yet IST was still a responsibility anxiety.  Surprisingly, it still somehow refreshed me.  Other than having to deal with daily tiring things, IST was overall enjoyable.  I liked learning Chinese 2-4 hours a day.  I liked meeting and talking to people.  I discovered new things in Chengdu- an anime convention, a bar that hosts independent artists, a 6 RMB waffle shop, and a new community of people I've hidden away from over the past 6 years. 

Over the past 6 years, my Peace Corps service has mostly been a peaceful, lovely journey except for the months when I struggled with break-ups and rejection.  I thrived in the isolation and depression rarely reared it's ugly head.  This past semester though was one of my biggest challenges.  Taking on the added responsibilities of "real" work in a faster paced office with deadlines and meetings was stressful.  I struggled with having a "real" job on a volunteer's allowance.  It was weird how money, something I never cared about before, had somehow entered into the equation these past few months where I felt my worth would be better measured with a paycheck.

I love being a volunteer where I find my life meaningful through donating as much time as I am willing and receiving the rewards of exploring a culture and of feeling the students' happiness as they learn.  I use my leisure time to refill my need for alone time by coloring, reading, and biking.  This past semester though I was working for a machine, keeping the gears oiled, but in the ambiguity of doing a minuscule part to keep the organization working.  I liked the work.  I really did, but the rewards of seeing the happiness of people I interacted with was lacking.  For the work of sitting in front of a computer 8 hours in a day, I think I prefer a reward of money.  If I could do such work with sufficient leisure time, the leisure time would be a reward and I would care less about the money.  As a full time volunteer teacher commuting and living on 2 campuses with a part-time American job, I got worn out.  The leisure time was no longer leisure time, but recuperation time.

Today though after a month and a half of vacation, I'm rejuvenated.  Instead of hiding away in my flat for days depressed, knitting a million hats, and trying to escape the cold while recuperating from the anxiety of fulfilling responsibilities, I am back to exploring the town, finding new restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries, and music.  I visited Ya'an and explored a new city, finding a sword shaped bone in the head of a local fish speciality.  Today I discovered a new Starbucks and a DQ opening a block down the street from the other one, both in my neighborhood.  Today I met with an amazing local couchsurfer who is only 23, but has already travelled to 2-3 other cities in China looking for new experiences, working part-time jobs just to make enough money to live far far away from home.  I am coloring reading, and writing letters.  I feel happy with my productive leisure time.

Monday though, school starts...