Sunday, July 31, 2011

Another lesson learned....

when playing soccer on gravel, you should: 1. Definitely wear a shirt. 2. Don't look to draw fouls simply because it would be a PK and a red card in a real game....3. Don't fall down, ever.

Road rash--all over my back, legs, and arm.

Soccer with the Chinese Fellows

I've been playing a decent amount of soccer with the Chinese fellows (once or twice a week) and it's been great. They're really friendly, and I love how casual it is. My favorite part is that, because they've never had refs, the whole concept of part of soccer being to fool the ref is completely non-existent. People call their own fouls, even on themselves, and it just makes playing so much more friendly.

Walking over to the cafeteria yesterday I ran into some of the fellows playing, so I joined in. I was wearing jeans, a dress shirt, and dress shoes, so I ended up going barefoot, shirtless, and in jeans that we're rolled up over my calves. The field is just dirt/mud, so my feet ended up getting a little torn up, but it was fantastic, and I'm told I looked hilarious: a giant white man running around in a goofy outfit is apparently something that strikes people as quite funny.

We're going to play against some of the high-schoolers in an hour or so, which should be a lot of fun.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A normal day

I've been extremely busy so far at institute, which has been awesome, but it's also meant I've done a really poor job of keeping in touch with everyone from back home.

Anyways, I figured people might be interested in what I do in an average day.

7:20 Get up, do morning necessities, swing by dining hall to grab food before getting to the classroom at 7:45
7:45 Students start showing up around this time, which means I have to be in the classroom. I normally spend this time eating my breakfast, addressing any questions that students have, and reviewing my lesson plan for the day.

8:30--9:10 Class. I'm teaching an 8th grade class (English) to about 16 students. Right now we just finished up discussing the differences between inexact and exact adverbs of frequency (i.e. I usually do something, or I do something twice a week).

9:10 Run down to the elementary school. When I got there today there were around 70 kids in the classroom. The teacher who teaches the class before had combined their class with another one so that both could practice their greetings, and it was disastrous. The Chinese of these two other fellows isn't very strong, so I got to restore order and calm. I felt pretty dictatorial and powerful afterwards.

10--Yell at kids who are running in the hallways.

10:10-10:50 Class. I also teach a 5th grade phonics class, so today we learned how to say the short vowels o, and e (think odd and egg) and d. They got it pretty well, which is good because tomorrow we're going to read our first book. It's pretty exciting! The kids are starting to have English accents because of how I stress the vowels to them, it's pretty cute.

11--Yell at kids who are going too close to the river or who are running in the hallways.

11:10 Grab lunch with people on the way back to campus.

12: See a cow running down the street. Shortly thereafter see two men on a motorcycle chasing said cow.

12:10 Try to sneak a 30 minute power-nap in. See a cockroach on the inside of the top of my mosquito netting. Dive desperately out of bed taking my pink mosquito netting with me. Decide napping isn't going to happen. Take a bucket shower, and then start doing laundry (in the same bucket).

1:00 Group meeting with our team leader. Talked about time management. I really wanted to be working on my lesson plans the entire time because that would have really been the best use of my time.

2:00 Go to print shop to print out giant copy of "Get the Pets"--the book we're going to be reading in phonics class. Chill with an old Chinese guy and his dog while my stuff is printing. He had a really strong accent, but we managed to have a conversation which was pretty cool.

2:20 Spend time writing lesson plans. I needed to be done with the lesson plans for Monday through Wednesday by tonight for both my classes .

3:30--5:00 Lesson on how to teach phonics. Pretty interesting, but I'm still of the opinion that we probably should have had the lesson before we started actually teaching phonics.

5:00 Lesson plan some more.

6:15 Grab dinner with some friends at this local restaurant that we like. Like pretty much every conversation here, we ended up talking about teaching, our students, our placements, and food we miss. For once, strangely, we didn't end up talking about bathroom issues.

7:00 Write lesson plans.

9:00 Now, taking a break to write a blog.

9:30--2:00 Finish writing lesson plans. Write guided notes and assessments for tomorrow. Print stuff out. If time, work on posters and trackers for class.


Monday, July 25, 2011

I am Mr. K, hear me roar

I had my first day of teaching today! And I'm still alive and didn't feel the urge to run away, cry, hide, or puke afterwards which is definitely reassuring.

Now I just need to write 3 more lesson plans, two guided notes, and revise my phonics lesson plan before bed.

And fun food of the day--miniature dried spicy fish/minnows that I found at the corner store. Not half bad.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

About that Backpack

So, that backpack I bought turned out not to be the wisest of purchases. Within a day, its main zipper and one of the straps had broken. On the second day that I shared with that backpack one of the plastic bits on the strap snapped, sending my backpack and everything in it plunging to the floor. My poor little netbook was in my backpack, and it didn't really like getting dropped. My screen cracked, which means only 2/3 of my originally small screen is working, but it's enough to get stuff done. That backpack was definitely not the best purchase I've ever made.

Also, completely unrelated, but I had some crickets yesterday. They were slightly spicy and pretty good.

Monday, July 18, 2011

So I bought a backpack yesterday

And I was pretty proud of it. I paid 25 kuai for it, about $3, so I thought I had done a good job shopping. Today, one of the straps has already broken. I'm hoping the other one will hang on longer, because as long as I have one strap and a zipper working I'm going to be pretty happy. I'm just amazed at how cheap some of the stuff you can buy is.

And I'm not sure if I've mentioned this, but we found out where they sell pirated movies in this's in the movie theater. Let me repeat that: they sell pirated DVDs in the movie theater. It's the last place that I would have looked, but they've got a pretty big collection of DVDs that were clearly not legitimately purchased.

When I was shopping yesterday I also managed to get a new local sim card, which I'd been needing to do for a while. So, I have a phone number again which is really pretty exciting (at least for me).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

If some Chinese kid gives you a hot pepper...

...and dares you to eat it--don't.

And just because it's not hot immediately, it doesn't mean that you should just keep chewing.

That's all.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Another week in Lincang

I've made it through another week here, and I definitely feel like I've learned a lot. One of the main things I've learned is that doing laundry by hand is a major pain. It just takes forever, and is basically the worst thing ever. Laundry machines are one of the best inventions of all time.

Classes are going well too. We're spending more time working on phonics and the actual mechanics of teaching English as a foreign language, which ends up being pretty fascinating. The Chinese teachers have (mostly) shifted their focus to more classroom appropriate vocab, which is much more interesting, and it's so much easier to be motivated to study. I now know how to tell a kid that all of his ancestors are ashamed of him, the teacher in charge of me that corporal punishment just isn't my thing, or how to tell a kid that letting her friend copy her homework is still cheating and that she has made her parents lose face--all of which will be useful.

Even though we don't have classes on the weekend, I still feel really busy. Doing laundry, studying, and try to keep up with people on the internet makes time really fly by. Next week will be really interesting--a week from Monday we will starting teaching classes here, which is pretty terrifying. We'll be preparing hard, but I don't know how ready we'll be to stand in front of a class and try and help them learn. I'm sure we'll all get more nervous as it gets closer, but I'm sure it will go fine.


I'm a huge fan of the food here. The staple dish is noodles in a light spicy soup with a small bit of meat, chives, and other random veggies. It's pretty delicious. There's a lot of standard Chinese fare as well--white rice that you top with flavorful and spicy chopped veggies and meat. My two favorite dishes, which is available everywhere because everyone likes it, are rice with tomatoes and eggs, and mapo doufu which is a spicy tofu dish. I'm a huge fan, but I definitely need to look around Lincang for more variety. I've hit up some of the more ethnic places, which have been nice, but this place definitely lacks far behind Beijing (or any of the major cities) in terms of the varieties of food available. At least it's delicious. I've managed to charge my camera, so I'll try and take pictures of all these delicious foods that everybody who is reading this blog doesn't get to eat. :D

Friday, July 15, 2011

Exciting Things!!!

I now have a VPN!!! And the internet is amazing!!! Lana got it for me as an early birthday present, and it’s fantastic. I was able to skype with video, and I’m listening to Pandora, and I might even move this blog back to blogger where it originally was so that people can comment and stuff. 
Almost as exciting: we found nice bathrooms!!! They flush!!! And they have a (short) door!!! And they’re not horribly far away. And they’re still squat, but it’s great. There is a constant stream of foreign fellows going into this one building to use the bathroom. That’s the only reason any of us are ever in this building, so you walk up the stairs, see about 5+ people (especially if it’s at a popular time) and give the head nod or other acknowledgement that you’re really excited by how your situation has just dramatically improved. 
Speaking of bathrooms, (which I seem to do a lot) I went to go to the little boys room right before bed, and there were about 10 middle school/high school kids in this bathroom (and more in the entrance) smoking away. Everyone hid their cigs when I went into the restroom, but it was clear that they were just standing around the walls for the express purpose of smoking. I definitely smelled of smoke after my short sojourn, and I was coughing when I was leaving. It just made me laugh. 
Following that adventure, I decided to take a Chinese style shower. Basically, on every floor there is a room full of faucets that is used for brushing teeth, washing faces, and doing laundry. You can also just strip down to your underwear, and dump a basin (which we all have) of water over yourself. Then you lather up (protip—you get to clean your boxers while you’re doing this) and dump more basins of cold water on your head to rinse off. Anyways, I had locked the room when I left (there are problems with theft here) and when I tried to open the door my copied key just snapped. So I was stuck in the hallway of the dorm, wet, and in my boxers. I managed to get a hold of one of my friends, and I got someone else’s key to get back in after about an hour. And, as a result, I got to meet a lot of the kids that we’re sharing the dorms with. So, yay!
I also just discovered that the guy who is leading the sessions where we learn about teaching theory is an avid climber who brought his rope and stuff, so we’re going to try and make it up to Dali (a bigger more famous city) to go climbing!!

Small Problems...

I’ve ran into two small problems so far. One was withdrawing money from a bank—it ended up charging me 150 bucks, and then didn’t give me any RNB, so that was a big bummer. I talked to people at the bank, and it sounds like China Construction Bank and Bank of America are just blaming each-other or something? Banking terms in Chinese are not my strong suit. But basically it ate my monies. We’re starting to get a small ($30/week) stipend next week though, so that will be nice. 
Also, gmail is just really problematic. I managed to get on now (with the lovely wifi we’ve now got in our workroom) but it’s not that dependable. I’ll be able to read all my emails, so definitely email me! but my responses are likely gonna be short. I’m considering buying a VPN (basically a thing that allows me to connect to a server in the US and bypass the firewall (and use netflix!)) but it would just be a rather large portion of my salary so I’m hesitant to do it just for email and netflix, especially when gmail works just fine on the kindle. 
Also, cockroaches and mosquitoes everywhere. 

The Dorms

We finally moved into the dorms that we’re going to be staying in for the rest of the institute where we learn how to teach. They’re the exact same dorms that the middle schoolers have been living in….and they’re interesting. 
My bed is literally boards that you cover over with a blanket like object. And the bathroom is a trench. There are short walls (lower than waist height which makes things awkward) and no doors or anything so it’s a very public experience. You just go in and chat with friends. For some of the fellows, it’s their first time using a squat toilet, so we practiced in the hallway (which I’m sure looked hilarious). 
Other modern facilities, like plugs, washing machines, air-conditioners, or anything of that nature is completely non-existent. 
All the Chinese fellows are here now, and they seem to be pretty awesome. I’ve already tossed a frisbee around with one of my new Chinese roomies and some of the other guys. they all seem great, but learning names is going to be difficult. Both Chinese and American fellows have been having problems learning each-others names, but I feel like the American fellows are having a rougher time of it. 
We’re supposed to use mosquito netting on the bed, and I ended up getting this bright pink mosquito netting that is clearly meant for use by a 12 year old girl. Added to that, the sheets that I was given are covered in flowers, so basically my bed is pretty cute—not necessarily what I was going for—but I guess I’m a pretty princess?? I’ll deal. 

Thoughts after 1 Week

1 Week in LinCang:
Thoughts after one week: 
1. the food is amazingly delicious. 
a. I feel so sorry for people who can’t eat spicy food because they keep crying and sweating and don’t share my opinion. 
2. I’m going to get good at pool while I’m here—there’s a pool hall nearby, and it’s real cheap, so I’m going to get awesome during the twoish months I’ve got here. Fair warning: I plan on pool sharking everyone when I get back to the states. 
3. every conversation with people here eventually turns to bathroom issues (e.g. some of the girls hadn’t realized the correct way to face in the stalls, and were apparently mooning everyone (even the little middle schoolers whose school we share))
a. every conversation here also uses the teaching lingo/skills we’ve been learning (e.g. How would we able to teach someone to correctly use a Chinese squat toilet? Objective: SWBAT (students will be able to) explain and demonstrate the proper squat position….)
4. the other people in the program here are awesome. I’m a huge fan of everybody
5. teaching is going to be so hard. I’ve talked with a lot of the older fellows (especially ones who aren’t associated with teaching us and are willing to be more honest and direct) and it sounds tough, and it also sounds like there are things that we just aren’t hearing at all from TFC (my program, Teach for China) but I’ll get into that some other time. 
6. I’m really tall and white. 
a. (people notice)
7. other than chuanr (Chinese meat on a stick) the kindle is the most amazing invention in all of ever. 
a. I had pig mouth on a stick last night (surprisingly tasty)
b. if I was writing this on my kindle I could post it right now, rather than having to wait for the internets to work, the only downside being actually having to write on the kindle. 
8. I’m really tired, this program is exhausting, but in a good way. It’s going to be nice to have two days to relax and recuperate.

The Internets

Accessing the internet will hopefully be much easier next week because our leaders are trying to set up a workroom for us with wireless, so once that gets put into place things should be better. As it is now, most of the internet bars require a Chinese identification card to use, and the places that offer wireless are crippling slow, which coupled with problems loading western websites already, makes it extremely frustrasting. Apparently the PRC is limiting access to gmail, so sometimes you can manage to get on, and sometimes you can’t. 
Thankfully, I’ve got my Kindle!! It’s got 3g capabilities, so I can just sit in the hotel and surf the web (very slowly). More importantly, the 3g on the kindle somehow circumvents the Great Firewall, so I’m able to access gmail (and even facebook!). I’m so happy I can email people, even if typing on the kindle is extremely challenging. Most of my emails have turned into a “Thanks for writing! You’re awesome!! But I gotta go because writing this took about 15 minutes.” Apart from the length, every single message I’ve sent has been riddled with spelling errors because they’re hard to avoid when writing on the kindle, and  backtracking to fix them is so time consuming that I’ve just given up on it. 
Apart from basically saving my life with its 3g, the kindle has been really awesome for reading. The screen is great, and I’m happy that I’ll be able to get access to good books when they come out (GRRM, Jim Butcher, WoT) because otherwise I’d be devastated. It can even handle pdfs (somewhat poorly) which means I can do my reading for class on the kindle rather than on my laptop screen

Classes :-/

There’s about 50 of us American (mostly) fellows who are here for a week before the Chinese fellows get here, and we’ve been working for the most part on learning to be teachers by going through basically the same program that the Teach for America kids go through with some extra stuff added. The TAL sessions (Teaching as Leadership, they love acronyms) are where we learn about what makes a teacher effective, how to construct an effective lesson plan, what good practice looks like, etc are really fascinating because you can recognize them using the same things that they’re trying to teach you to teach you and it just gets really meta. It’s just really nice to have the example of what a good lesson and teacher should look like at the same time that we’re learning about these things. 
These sessions actually contrast a lot with the Chinese language sessions because these Chinese teachers have definitely not gone through this kind of teaching program, and approach teaching with a very different mentality, so we end up analyzing what the Chinese teachers could do to improve, while at the same time learning Chinese. 
The Chinese classes are going well. The first day, I got placed in the lowest level Chinese class, and moving classes was somewhat inflexible so I had to wait till the evening to chat with the Chinese teachers about moving me to a different class. It ended up being a really funny conversation, because the fact that I was able to have this conversation with them in Chinese clearly meant that I had been placed in the wrong level. I got moved to a much higher one, and talking with the teachers then we figured out that while I had tested for level, that information had just not gotten processed so I was put in the default lowest class. Having one day of that class was kind of cool though. I was with all the kids who did the pre-institute training in Beijing, and it was awesome to see how far they had come in only 3 weeks.

Hiking Qishan

LinCang is up in the mountains, and it’s beautiful. We decided to use our last day of freedom to try and hike one of the local peaks. In China though, when you “hike” up a mountain, you’re walking up stone stairs that are set into the mountain going directly upwards, and it’s hard because you end up doing nothing but walking up stairs for an hour and a half. I was really craving a good old fashioned trail the entire time I was walking up. I mean, I feel like making a simple trail is just so much easier for everyone involved—workers don’t have to put in stone steps, and people who are hiking it get to walk up in a way that’s not miserably exhausting. Not everyone in the group we were going with ended up going all the way—it was a tough hike—but I made it!
The view from the top totally made it worth it though.

The Long Dreaded Bus Ride

The bus was actually much nicer than every other Chinese bus I’ve ever been on. In most of them, the beds are really small and make this weird shape that’s ideal for cramming lots of people into a small face…I just don’t fit into those beds. These beds were flat, and I actually managed to get some decent sleep. Part of that was just the 5 hours that we sat in a traffic jam literally not moving at all—I managed to sleep quite soundly without the bus bouncing around…sadly in those five hours the bus didn’t magically make it to lincang, so it ended up being a 13 hour bus ride rather than an 7-8 hour one. I was traveling with another fellow, James, and once we got here it was really easy to grab a cab and get to the hotel where we’ll be staying for a week before we move into the dorms. We’ve got two full days before classes start, so things are looking good. 

Attempting to speak Chinese

My Chinese level has definitely plummeted. I understand what people are saying, but when I try to express myself, I end up sounding like a complete idiot. I get my point across, but it’s ugly. Hopefully it will come back after a few weeks in China. We’re going to be taking Chinese classes at the institute where we learn how to teach so that should help. For now, I’ll just blunder on. 
The nice part is that because I look foreign, whenever I say anything in Chinese, I still get compliments. I’ll say something completely wrong, but people are just like—“Oh!!! Chinese words!! This foreigner is trying to speak my language!!! How cute!” I’m hoping my future students will be similarly impressed with my ability to grunt, point, and say things like “me want you work gooder now.”


The flight over was pretty good. I just slept, and then watched Rango which turned out to be a pretty awesome movie. My one complaint was that during the scene where Rango needs inspiring to save the day, the flight attendents made an announcement so you couldn’t hear the crux of the movie. I guess I’ll just have to buy the DVD when I get situated and watch it again. 
When we were getting off the plane, it was about 2:30, and there were some American girls ahead of me, saying something like, “Weird, it doesn’t feel like we’ve left home and all—it’s foggy just like San Francisco!!” I didn’t have the heart to tell them that it wasn’t really fog that they were looking at, but they’re going to figure it out eventually. 
I took a look at the exchange rates in both the US and China, and exchanging money in the airport in China was a way better deal—there was a really big difference in the rates. (I wish I had waited and exchanged here). 
Also, customs is so much easier in China than it is in the US. The line just moves so much quicker, and there’s so much less hassle, and that’s for a foreigner. The Chinese lines looked even better. China is just really good at handling massive numbers of people. 
I’m still not done traveling though. I need to hop on a plane to Kunming, and then I’m going to ride one of the dreaded Chinese overnight buses. I’ll spend the entire night crying and wishing I had spent the money on a plane ticket. These buses are miserable—they’re simply not designed for anyone over 5’3” and they’re just hot, sweaty, bouncy, cramped, and miserable. On the bright side, I have my kindle, so I’ll just spend the night reading Sherlock Holmes. 


I’m off to China! I just spent an entire day packing, and I ended up bringing way too much stuff. I’ve got a camping backpack, and two small bags. Most of it is clothes, but I brought some fun stuff too:



climbing gear including a whole bunch of stuff for making anchors

hiking boots

3 juggling balls

boggle, bananagrams, and a deck of cards

an absurd amount of deoderant

a frisbee

pullup grips

running shoes

cards from home

a New Mexican flag

a 3g Kindle

and stickers and stuff for my future students

I think I did a pretty good job packing, but I’m looking forward to seeing how much and what the other people doing the program with me brought. I think I’m on the lighter end of things, but I definitely ended up bringing more than I originally planned.