Sunday, October 30, 2011

Please Speak Mandarin

and Write with Criterion's Word

There are signs like this all over the school, reminding the students not to gambol, to walk on the right side of the stairs, and all that good stuff. The English translations can be a little odd, and the sign "Please Speak Mandarin, and Write the Criterion's Word" is definitely my favorite.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Marijuana is extremely illegal in China, but in Yunnan, the province I'm in, it grows wild. Some of it is cultivated by local people to use as a spice in cooking, and to eat the seeds. My friends were on a home-visit the other weekend, and the father served them weed seeds. These same seeds can be bought in our county capital (which is about a 30 minute van ride away). Nobody smokes the marijuana, so the government just turns a blind eye to the whole affair.

Friday, October 28, 2011

I'm a Square

My school is extremely strict on smoking on school grounds, at least for the students. If a teacher find a student smoking, that student may be forced to eat their cigarette, and when (male) students ask to go to the bedroom in the middle of the night, they'll be pat searched to check to make sure that they're not sneaking off to light up in the trenches. That said, there's such a culture of male smoking around here, that it's unsurprising that so many of my school's boys want to try it. 

The other day I was riding my bike after a school on a Friday, passing 7th and 8th graders as they were walking to their villages, and many kids were smoking. As I passed by, I would yell to the kids that they shouldn't smoke, or stop smoking--I kinda felt like it was my teacherly duty. Later, I realized I was the stereotypical image of the dorky teacher: riding a bike, chiding edgy students, and in general just being a square. The only thing that saved me from completely fulfilling that image was my lack of a helmet....and that lack was due an inability to buy a helmet, and not due to any remaining coolness that would have saved me from complete squaredom.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Random Observation

When a Chinese person hands you a knife, they will do it blade first, not hilt first as we're accustomed to in the states. It feels weird to just grab a knife by the blade.

The reason enough Chinese people are handing me knives for me to comment on it--you peel every single fruit you eat here (almost). Pears (of which there are a ton of varieties) and apples always get peeled; I think it's because people don't like eating the skin, but I'm not exactly sure so I just follow suit.

My Mom, who despaired of my inability to properly peel an apple when I was trying to help her make apple sauce (I went for lots of hacking rather than proper technique), will be pleased to learn that my peeling abilities are masterful and getting better.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Squat

One of the major skills that I'm going to take back with me to the states is the ability to do the Chinese squat (incredibly well); To do a proper squat: have your heels flat on the ground, and lower yourself until the backs of your quads and your bottom is resting on your calves. It will probably feel pretty unsteady at first. (please make sure you get someone to take pictures of you attempting this--I've taught some people how to squat, and it's always a pretty funny experience).

Now that you've learned how to squat, you can do it anywhere, and for any reason. Playing cards? Squat. Eating lunch? Squat. Bored and waiting for something? Pop a squat and chillax. Going to the restroom? Get used to the position. (People have been squatting their entire lives, so it's a very comfortable position, and if there's no seat, they'll just hunker down)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Home Visits

One of the main things that I'm trying to do to get my kids invested in learning English, and in school in general, is going on home visits. Because many of the students live in villages that are up to three hours travel away (often with some serious walking) it can be quite time consuming and tiring, but I hope that it will pay off.

One of the major obstacles that I encounter doing home visits is that I often don't really share a language with the parents. Most of the people in this region speak dialect or baizuhua, and not Mandarin, so expressing basic thoughts can be quite difficult. I went on a home visit last weekend, and the father dropped out of school in third grade (which is not at all abnormal for people of his generation) to start working. This means that he doesn't speak Mandarin, has trouble writing his own name, and isn't able to help his son with his own schooling.

There's often a serious language barrier, so asking basic questions like, "Is school good?" requires serious effort on both sides. I often end p doing a lot of smiling, nodding, and they will say words in my direction, and I will say words in their direction. It's much easier with my better students because they have better Mandarin, and are able to understand me, and then able to translate for us, but the Mandarin of my weaker students is general also quite poor (a students Chinese scores and English scores are directly correlated) so even that is not necessarily of that much help. (this is exacerbated by the fact that my weaker students are also generally poorer, so that means that their parents are more rural, have less education, and are the ones that I have the most difficulty in communicating with in the first place)

I'm hoping that by just showing up I'm able to demonstrate that I care about these kids and their families and that I want them to do well, and that I believe in them, because most of the time I'm not able to communicate more than that.

This weekend I'll be doing home visits in my own town  (I don't have time for traveling this weekend), which means that the students whom I'll be visiting will be better off economically, and their parents will likely speak better Mandarin. Next weekend though, I will be trying to visit a more rural area to see a kid who doesn't really speak Chinese, so that should be an adventure.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's a miracle!!!

I'm actually uploading pictures!!! While Jenn was here for Guoqingjie (national day) she came to my class and took a couple pictures. The first picture is from a seat in the third row from the back. so there are still a lot of kids you can't see. 
The second picture is my students lining up to turn in "star-bucks" that they get for answering difficult English questions correctly or otherwise helping me for prizes. The kids get a chance to do that every month and a half or so. Prizes included pencils, pens, notebooks, and books in simple English. 

The three kids in the front of this picture are some of my weaker students, but they're really enthusiastic and well behaved.  I actually visited all three of their families over the past weekend. (Wangshilin and Liuwenfeng, the two students on the left both live in the same village which is a terrifying bus ride away. The mountain road you go on is so twisty and narrow, and there's a huge drop-off to the side. Imagine Slumgullion pass except much much much worse. Zhangzeming lives a thirty minute bus ride and an hour walk away. )
The student in the middle, Wangshilin, is one of two students in my class who definitely need some sort of special education class. There are other students who are falling behind, but him and another student definitely need to be in a completely different class. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Care Package!

I got a care package from my parents, and it's the most magical thing in the world! I'm sitting here drinking starbucks coffee, and it just feels so good. I feel so rich right now, it's incredible.

On top of that, I've only got one more class before the weekend. It's been a long week.

Fun food I had recently: yak yogurt. It was pretty tasty, and you could definitely tell that it wasn't cow. I also had some yak kebabs, and some black mountain goat kebabs (no, I don't know why it was specified that it was a black mountain goat rather than just a goat, but it was) and those were good, and the yak was very rich.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Staying Optimistic

It's really important to stay optimistic and positive out here because there's always something going wrong, and it can just be a tough experience. That said:

Food Poisoning--The Positives:

Got to skip two classes
Jarlene (my co-fellow) got me some delicious crackers and a drink with electrolytes in it
I needed to lose some vacation weight anyways
It's less likely I'll get food poisoning here again
People are nice to sick people
My squatting muscles are now awesome.
It's a great excuse not to go running or workout
What doesn't kill me makes me stronger

Friday, October 7, 2011

7 Day Week

The coming week has seven days of classes. We start on Saturday and then end on Friday. It's going to be exhausting, but I'm looking forward to getting back into the classroom and doing some edifyin'. Them kids gonna get them some book learnin' and it's gonna be awesome. I'm just hoping they haven't forgotten everything over break.

I feel like I'm figuring out more and more things about how to teach my students, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how they're gonna do on the next test, and the one after that. I've got high hopes for them.

I've also started learning a little bit of (the Dali regional version of )baizuhua (the language of the Bai people ). About 90% of the population where I am is Bai, so I want to learn how to say a few basic things in it. There isn't, sadly, any sort of information about the Bai language (it doesn't really even have a written language) so I'm going to chill with my noodle guy and just ask him and other people how to say things....we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Travel Stories

My vacation is (sadly) almost over. I'm in a bakery in Dali completely food coma-ed out. Seriously, I can't move. What's making me feel especially fat is the 7 jars of peanut butter that are sitting right next to all the empty plates of food at this table. It's incredible.

I was in Lijiang a few days ago, and it was lots of fun. We just wandered around and did a ton of tourist stuff, and spent tons of money at KFC. (note: KFC in China is different than regular KFC. It's not the same thing at all. Get the Mexican chicken wrap, and the little egg custard tarts. And get the popcorn chicken too. And everything else.) Anyways, I was in this shop looking at this necklace that I wanted to buy, and I heard a Chinese guy ask how much it was, and the response: 15 kuai. I then asked the lady how much it was, and was pretty surprised when she said 25 kuai. The conversation goes like this.

-How much is this?
-25 kuai.
-but I just heard you tell that guy that it was 15 kuai!
-you understand Chinese don't you?
and then she just stares at me. she looked so uncomfortable, and eventually was just like "so.....15 kuai?" I didn't feel like bargaining for it, so I ended up not buying it.