Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Starting Friday, we have PRC National Day, which means we get a week off from school. I'm really excited. I've got a friend coming in to visit from Guangdong, and we're going to go to Lijiang (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Town_of_Lijiang) and Tiger Leaping Gorge (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_Leaping_Gorge).

Last time I went to Tiger Leaping Gorge I had food poisoning, so I almost died. I'm hoping that this time I'll get the chance to enjoy the scenery a lot more.

It's going to be so nice to get a break. I'm just worried that my students will forget all the English that they've already learned over the course of the holiday.

Monday, September 26, 2011


We have a meeting for all the teachers every week on Sunday, and it's pretty boring. I can't understand anything that's happening, so I just doodle or lesson plan. Anyways, all the teachers are supposed to start turning in the notes that they take during these meetings (so that they can tell that we're all paying attention), but when I was told this I explained that I have no idea what's happening ever. The response, in Chinese, "just write down random things in English, it's OK." Very soon, whoever is in charge of this, will be looking at English song lyrics interspersed with things like "something about a test," "teachers must....uhhh....do something every day," "in class...students.....fish tacos???"

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Eating Meat

One of the things about living in rural China is that you are constantly aware of what exactly the meat that you eat is. You see pigs being taken to market, you see the raw cuts of meat on the side of the street, today I saw a rabbit being skinned, and it's a part of everyday conversation. I got invited over to dinner at a friend's house, and he told me that he was going to kill a chicken for me. It was a tasty chicken, but there's a certain lack of separation that I'm used to in the states.

Today I had lunch with two of my students, and we were eating in this courtyard staring straight at the pig pen (that was also in the courtyard). It was an odd experience looking at the animal whose fellow you're currently eating playing in its pen and knowing that pretty soon it'll get eaten too. My friend, a vegetarian, was walking around her school, and made friends with a donkey. A few hours later, she saw the donkey's head sitting in the refuse pile.

Graphic story time. Seriously. Do not high-light this if you want to remain happy for the rest of your day. Some of the second year fellows were walking along when they saw a cute little puppy, so they stopped to play with it. One of them decided that this puppy was so cute that she wanted to take it home with her and keep it as a pet. So, they told the owner of this dog that they wanted it. The owner says OK, and says, "just wait a sec." He then heads inside. They assume he's going to grab dog food or a leash or something. He comes out about 5 minutes later with a platter of raw meat. They decide not to pay him for the puppy. 

Another fellow, also a vegetarian, ran into a field because she saw a cow and wanted to go say hi and get a closer look. She gets close, and the cow gets its throat cut. She freaks out, starts screaming, sobbing, and puking everywhere. So there's blood, vomit, tears, and a crowd of very bemused Chinese people wondering what the crazy foreign lady is going on about. 

Anyways, all this tends to make you much more aware of where the food you're eating is coming from, which while disconcerting, I think is in general a good thing, and something that people tend to forget when just buying a hunk of meat at the grocery store or biting into a hamburger at a restaurant.

Friday, September 23, 2011

My Town!

While I am in rural China, I'm living in one of the larger towns for my district. In recent years, China has been pushing towards consolidating elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. My town doesn't have a high-school, but it does have a large middle school where kids come from villages up to three-four hours travel away to go to class, and that's where I teach.

Apart from the middle school, there are also a lot of businesses around here that are involved in buying produce from the surrounding fields. This industry means that the town also has things like multiple restaurants, a plethora of small shops, and tractors parked everywhere. It's also on the main (2-lane) road between Dali (population: 600,000) and Lijiang (population: 1,300,000) so that means that it has three small hotels. Thankfully, my small little town also has a supermarket, which is a huge luxury for rural China.

Despite the agricultural businesses and hotels that make their home here, it's still a very small village; if you walk in any direction for five minutes you'll end up in a field with Chinese farmers looking at you and wondering what the strange foreigner is doing. We also get to say things like, "meet at the intersection in 15 minutes," and it's not confusing because we only have the one intersection.

I've been really enjoying my town so far, and it's fun to have the shop owners slowly get to recognize me and meet people around here. It's going to be a nice place to live for the next two years. Sadly, I'm encouraged to not say the name of the town where I'm living because then people would be able to look up the name of the school. I'm also not allowed to share a lot of things on this blog, so just be aware that you're not necessarily getting the full story by reading this.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Cheating is a huge problem here. I knew that intellectually, but I hadn't really realized the extent of it until last night when I was grading homework. The assignment involved writing questions and answers, and well over half the class either copied their answers from someone, or allowed their answers to be copied. It was pretty depressing. I had way too many people who asked "Is your last name uhat" (someone had originally written "is your last name what?" and it must have gotten miscopied) told me that "My name is Neville," wrote that their last name was "Guopeng" (which is a first name coincidentally) or told me about a white key, a red orang, and a blue pen, and said that "am is student."

I'm not too worried about this as a long term problem though. It's what these kids do in every class, and this is what happens in every school in China. Even in college, most Chinese essays are copied off of the internet. They're soon going to realize that it's impossible to copy homework for English class, unless you actually understand the grammar patterns so that you can change key words (which is what I'm trying to teach them in the first place) and they're going to understand that the consequences are going to be more of a pain than actually doing the work themselves. As a long term goal, I want these kids to understand that copying homework is wrong, and that they should do the work themselves so that they can learn the material. For now, I'm just going to settle on being terrifying.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I've got a bike!

I've got a bike / you can ride it if you like / it's got gears and disk brakes and things to make it really light/ I'd give it to you if I could/ but it was really expensive

(here's hoping people actually recognize the song)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Visitng some houses

So, I did two house visits this weekend, and the difference between the two places I visited could not have been more pronounced. Both of the girls whose houses I visited are some of the best kids in my class, but one of the girls is apparently the daughter of the richest man in town. I walked into their house and my gast was extremely flabbered. The flat screen sitting in the living room, surrounded by huge leather sofas, was bigger than my wingspan, and the stone staircase went up at least two stories and maybe more. It was the nicest looking house I've ever been in, and I went to the Academy and then to Georgetown so I've been in some nice house. 

In contrast, the other place that I visited (actually the mother's hair cuttery) was in another village about 20 minutes away by car, and was much more poor. The floor was cement, it was small and cramped, and you could just generally tell that they weren't that well off. That said, I've got many students that are much much poorer than this family. It was just startling in contrast to the opulence that I had experienced the previous night. 

I mostly talked with the fathers, and they were both really convinced that education was the route to success for their daughters which made me really happy. They were very welcoming, and it was great to see where my students are coming from. 

And....it's Sunday night, so that means I should be frantically preparing for the coming week so I'm off to do just that. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Teacher! Teacher!!!

Teacher! Teacher!! Please come to my home!!!!

This weekend I'm going to start doing home-visits so I just asked the class who wanted me to come to their homes, and the response was overwhelming. There were a ton of students earnestly raising their hands and yelling for me to go visit them. It's just such a foreign experience from my middle school days. If one of my teachers had asked if anybody wanted to volunteer their home for a visit, everyone would have done their best to not make eye-contact and sink into their seats, but here it's considered an honor. 

And the surprising thing is is that it's not only because I'm white and foreign, although that might contribute to the excitement a little bit. All of the TFC fellows do home visits, and the Chinese fellows also get plenty of volunteers. Kids here want their teachers to come to their homes and visit their family. 

My next challenge--actually making it to the places where I'll be meeting these kids. Some of the kids come from villages about 30km away, so there's definitely going to be some traveling involved. And probably a lot of showing people a sheet of paper and then getting pointed in various direction. We'll see how it goes!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

English Class

One thing that I've noticed in class is that students are completely unwilling to ask questions when they don't understand something. I've repeated over and over that I am happy when they ask questions because that helps them and helps the entire class, but am unhappy when someone is confused about what is going on but isn't asking questions. Despite this, the kids still don't dare to ask questions. I don't think I've had a single student ask me a question since I've started teaching, and some of them are definitely wayyyy confused when I call on them. It's frustrating, especially because I think it's a cultural problem so it's going to be hard to overcome.

My plan: have a class dedicated entirely to teaching them how to ask questions and why questions are important. Hopefully that will work and they'll actually raise their hands to ask questions rather than just to answer them. .

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Aftereffects of the Dali Trip

I've been talking with a few of the other fellows after going to Dali, and the vast majority of us came back from Dali with pretty upset stomachs. None of us are used to a Western diet anymore, and that's all we were eating in Dali. Coming back to my town and eating Chinese food feels really good. (that's not to say I'm not desperately craving sandwiches or breakfast burritos with salsa, just that my digestive system is relieved)

Just got back from Dali!

And it's crazy how much work I have to do before tomorrow. There's always so much to do, especially when I take off the weekend to eat Western food and relax and not do work. The worst is definitely the grading, and I only have 60 kids.

We just celebrated the mid-Autumn festival in Dali which means we ate moon-cakes (not really very tasty) and enjoyed the full moon. While in Dali I met this man called Whisper who was from Bernalillo, New Mexico, and was one of the odder characters I've encountered. He described himself as a "citizen of the world," held forth at long length on various odd topics that we were already pretty familiar with, and was basically a ninja because he would just keep popping up out of nowhere. A lot of the expats that end up living over here are quite weird and I'd say that about half of them have really nasty looking dreadlocks.

Anyways, as tempting as it to procrastinate doing work to keep writing things that people may/may not find interesting, I'm instead gonna procrastinate by cleaning my place (it needs it).

Friday, September 9, 2011

Flexibility of the School Schedule

I'm constantly amazed by how flexible the school schedule can be. Because we have Monday and Tuesday off, we have extra classes today (Friday) and the students have to stay at the school for an additional night to attend classes tomorrow morning. This kind of schedule rearranging is common, and we only hear about it at the very last minute (i.e. today).

I'm excited to have a little break! Some friends and I are going to be headed to Dali where we'll meet some other fellows who are headed up from near Lincang. I'm looking forward to seeing people, spending way too much money buying pizza and peanut butter, and taking a little break.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Advice from some officials

The TFC fellows at my school had a meeting with a few education officials yesterday, and they had three pieces of advice for me (specifically): talk more with people, listen to more classes, and drink more. They then proceeded to expound on that last piece of wisdom, and started asking me about my alcohol tolerance (speculating that it would be high because I'm tall) and telling me that they're looking forward to seeing what kind of person I am when drunk. It constantly surprises me how much drinking is an accepted part of guy culture, and this activity that is openly endorsed by everyone--my principal, education officials, as well as my superiors.

On that note, I've figured out part of what I'm supposed to do when I have zhizhou--apparently it involves sitting in a guardhouse and drinking baijiu with chain-smoking Chinese men till 11:30 at night. I've decided that from now on, when I'm in doubt about what I'm supposed to be doing in a given situation, I will find the nearest Chinese men and start drinking baijiu with them.

Sorry for the discussion of drinking on this blog--I'm trying to make it as family friendly as possible, but it's such a part of men's culture here, as well as part of my job (I'm the designated “酒代表/drinking representative" for the fellows at this school) that it just comes up a lot.

I'm a zhizhou?

So, I'm a zhizhou this week. I'm still not sure exactly how to translate this, but it means I'm responsible for things. Exactly what things I'm still unclear on, but it involves walking around the students' dorms, and making sure they're there at night (from 9:45--11 at night). It also involves being awake at 6:40 and making sure the kids do a good job lining up for food. And then I'm supposed to do some more walking around, or something. Most of what I've been doing has been unclear to me, but I get to have a journal and flashlight, so that's cool? And I don't get to sleep much.

This experience basically encapsulates my experience in China so far--I had no idea I was doing this until 5 minutes before I started doing it, and I'm not really sure what I'm doing, but I just pretend like I do.

Fun times?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Putting me in charge of naming kids....

....was probably a very bad decision. I'm giving all of my students English names, and I get to choose them, which means there's going to be some awesome names in my class. On the guys' side: Odin, Thor, Loki, Mal, Wash, Jayne, Bruce, Wayne, Quint, Snow, Perrin, Archer, Lando, Han, Neville, Bast, and quite a few others. For the girls: Kaylee, Zoe, River, Inara, Penny, Elayne, Denna, Arya, Sansa, Val, Leia, Alanna. (if you can name the TV show, movie or book where each of these comes from, I'll give you a star-buck--seriously)

I'm trying to learn all the kids' Chinese names before I give them English names, but it's really hard. It's difficult for even local teachers to learn all the students' names quickly, and I'm trying to do it in a foreign language....it's tough, but I'm almost there. I'm just really looking forward to being able to ask a question, and then call on Quint , Odin, or Arya to answer it. Other TFC fellows are giving their students similarly interesting names; there's a Batman, a McNulty (the Wire), and a McLovin (Superbad) to name a few.

I just hope all of my students will know and be able to pronounce all of their names in two weeks....we'll see how that goes.