Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Recently, one of my friends, another TFC Georgetowner stationed in Yunnan came up to Heqing (where I am) to visit and check out our schools. She was struck by who many Bai women there are everywhere here. (the Bai women have a very distinctive manner of dress: ). It was something that I hadn't thought about in a very long time: I'm used to it. That made me start thinking about how many other things that I've gotten used to, that it wouldn't cross my mind to write about simply because they are everyday parts of life. On top of that, I've spent about 5 months in Beijing, and while Beijing is quite different from Heqing, I'm still not looking at China with very fresh eyes.

So, questions? I'll answer anything. Just write a question in the comments--it can even be anonymous--and I'll do my best to answer. Want to know how a Chinese dictionary is organized? (radical stroke order) Want to know more about food? About the school? About the kids? This is your chance.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pig Killing Party!

I got to go to a pig killing party yesterday with teachers from my class! It was a lot of fun. Pig killing parties are when a family will kill its pig(s) and then have a party to celebrate and eat pork. These parties have started because it's finally cold enough out for decent refrigeration and will continue through December. I'm really looking forward to going to more of them. There's a ton of delicious food, and lots of friendly people.

I don't think I'll ever have to see a pig getting slaughtered (they need to drain), which I'm torn about. On one hand, I'm told it's a horrific experience--the pig screams, there's lots of blood, and it's really disturbing. On the other hand, I do eat meat, and I feel like I should be able to confront what exactly eating meat entails.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Food Poisoned, Again

I managed to get food poisoning again, and it was a bummer, though I think it was slightly better than the first two times. Getting food poisoning just seems to be a fact of life here--there are some fellows who get it even more often than I do. Students tend to have issues with it as well--there's often a student out with stomach problems.

I'm just glad that there's a bathroom I can use close by--it makes the whole experience a lot more bearable than it would otherwise be.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I'm back

We had break, so Tim, Laura, Sasha and I all headed down to Lincang (about 10 hours away) to meet up with our friends down there, and have a Thanksgiving feast. We brought down a peanut butter pie and some baguettes (Dali is the only place in Yunnan with decent bakeries) and other people made mashed potatoes, duck, and soup. It was a ton of fun, and it was great to see everyone.

Tim, Laura, and I then headed to Xiben, an elementary school that's about ten minutes out from Lincang to visit our friends there (who also had an x-box, a dog, and a projector). It was a whole bunch of fun. They teach a first grade P.E. class, so I got to play with cute little Chinese kids--we mostly played "climb on the foreigner." (Only Heqing schools got vacation because we're in Dali zhou, other schools had school like normal this week).

Now I'm back in Songgui, trying to prep for the eight day school week that's starting this Friday.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


My Chinglish is getting pretty bad. I've noticed that when I skype with people back home, I'll accidentally use Chinese words in my conversations. It's hard not to though--there's a lot of words that we use here (in Chinese) that don't necessarily have a good English translation, or one that we want to use: we don't say "homeroom teacher" because that's not what that person is, "Chinese barbecue" isn't shaokao, "redo class" just sounds weird, and saying "county city" seems unnatural. There's also a huge realm of food words that we use the Chinese for mostly because we would have no idea how to say it in English. There are fruits, vegetables, animal parts, and dishes that I only know the Chinese for.

The Chinese fellows also use English for a terms that we learned over summer-institute because there's often not a great Chinese translation of the same concept, or the translation sounds silly. Our Chinese fellows also tend to express their displeasure (&!*# etc) in English as well because nobody understands English other than us.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Getting Interviewed is Scary

So, there was a film crew here yesterday filming our school, TFC  fellow's classes (mine included), and interviewing us. I think the class that they filmed went well, and the interview....happened.

It took place in my room. My room is very small. There's very little room for two men with gigantic cameras, a dude with a boom stick (or whatever those sound things are called), this giant lamp-like structure that made my room really bright, my boss who was interviewing me (I ended up using English because he did) and another random dude with a high-powered camera who was snapping photos. I really wish I had a working camera so that I could have gotten a picture of all these people crammed into my room. I said words when I got interviewed, so hopefully that was what they were looking for.

(p.s. Everybody enjoyed the awesome New Mexico flag that I have hanging up)

I talked to an old lady!!

And actually managed to have a conversation! I was running, through this village that's a ways away from Songgui (where I live), and this old lady said hello, so I stopped to chat. We only talked about really basic stuff--what I was doing here, my school, which class I was teaching, why I was wasting energy running, etc. but the fact that I could understand her makes me really excited because it means I've progressed with understanding the accent. Old people are always the hardest to understand, so being able to talk to a nice peasant woman was awesome.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

I'm getting filmed today

By Jiang Wen's ( film crew. He's going to create a promotional video for TFC, and my school is one of the ones that's getting filmed. That means there's going to be scary men with big cameras in my class. I'm also going to get interviewed later, and I'm supposed to use Chinese to respond.

I'm a little stressed about the whole thing.

Devils on the Doorstep, one of Jiang Wen's films is awesome btw.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I have a new student!

And I'm actually not very excited about it. This kid is just starting school this week, so he knows nothing. We've been studying English for a couple of months now, and he's coming in not even able to say "hello," "I," or the alphabet. In addition, he doesn't understand Chinese. I was telling him that he needed to come to my room after lunch to review, and he's nodding. It's only when another student (who is actually one of my weakest students, and seems to have some sort of learning disability) comes up and tells me (in dialect) that the kid has no idea what I'm saying.* I'm able to communicate through my other boy, and we've started reviewing, but I just don't see how this kid is ever going to be able to catch up. Not only is he extremely far behind, there's just no time to review, and he's not going to understand any grammar explanations that I give in Chinese unless I have a student translate for him.

*A lot of the times the speak to me in dialect and not even realize that they're doing it. I'm the only person in their lives who doesn't speak dialect, so it's hard for them to speak very standard and clear Mandarin to me. They'll also sometimes speak really idiomatically, and that can also be problematic. For example, "teacher, release my hands!" means "Can I go to the restroom." I've actually started saying a few of the more dialecty things that they do, so if I go to a different part of the country people are going to be confused and bemused by some of the things that come out of my mouth.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Here's a Map!

Of all the schools in China that TFC is currently located at:

I'm in the green cluster at Heqing Erzhong. The green dots are pretty separated from everyone else--we're tight, but we never get to see any of the other fellows in Yunnan. (or Guangdong for that matter)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Being a new teacher

I am still incredibly inexperienced at teaching, and it's challenging in a number of different ways. I spend a lot of time figuring out what works, what doesn't, and what I need to focus on for my class. The lack of experience hurts. In addition, all the challenges that first year teachers face are exacerbated by teaching in rural China; my class has sixty students of wildly different backgrounds and cognitive ability that don't even necessarily speak Mandarin very well. It's hard.

All of this means that my students aren't doing as well as I'd like. I need to become a better teacher, but that's not something that happens quickly, and in the meantime my kids have to deal with somebody with a month and a half of teacher training, and about three months of teaching experience--it's not enough.

The conference I just went to, apart from living up to its nickname, also helped us all out by showing us that other first year fellows were facing similar challenges and setbacks, but that second year fellows were doing awesome things. The first semester of teaching is supposed to be an unmitigated disaster, and while it might be rough now, it will get better. (or I will crack and run away from my school crying. Hopefully the one that doesn't involve tears.)


PDA Conference: fun, useful, and really time-consuming
Students: failed midterm
Me: horribly busy
Weather: chilly
Knife-shaved noodles: tasty

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


It's midterm season here, so for the past two days I've done nothing but stare at students taking midterms, and grade said midterms. The students still have midterms tomorrow morning, and then normal classes in the afternoon. All of the students seem dead and a little stressed out. I'm a little stressed out as well--I'm worried about how my students will do. It is nice to not have to write any lesson plans, teach normal classes, or do the normal tutoring sessions that I do, so in that sense it's a nice break for us teachers.

This coming weekend Teach for China has a PD (professional development) conference, that most of us in Heqing refer to as a PDA conference because of the tendency of reunited TFC fellows to greet each other with extra exuberance. I didn't go to the last one because it wasn't required for people in my county (we're far away) but this one is required, so I'll be going. I am excited to see people that I haven't seen in months, but at the same time I've heard that the actual workshops at the PD conference are not very useful, so I feel like I'm being forced to give up a weekend that I could use for home-visits and preparing materials for my class.