Saturday, December 31, 2011

Yelling in Chinese!

Since the beginning of the year, I have made great progress in my ability to yell and sound angry in Chinese. Chinese has four tones, and so making each of those tones clear while also expressing anger is difficult if you're not a native speaker. If you don't pay attention to tones, the meaning of something like "Why are you not listening to me?" can change to something like "Why aren't you stopping chemistry?!!" which is not quite the meaning I'd be wanting to get across. The kids will figure it out, but tones are important.

At the beginning of the year, I had a very hard time expressing emotion, while at the same time communicating my tones clearly. It's hard enough to express emotion in a foreign language because you're constantly having to translate in your head, and it's not natural, and then Chinese has the added difficulty of dealing with tones. Thankfully, I'm to the point now where I don't have to think about how to say what I want to say (in the classroom, at least), and I'm able to actually express my emotions. So, I can yell in Chinese, and I sound scary rather than just loud, which is a good thing. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dentists and Bananas

It's market day in town today, which is always nice. Songgui (the town where I live) is decently big (relative to its surroundings) and gets a market day every day that ends in 3, 6, or 9 every month. Being relatively big is also the reason that the middle school is situated kids--some kids can be over 3 hours away.

Anyways, one of the main reasons that market day is awesome is that you can buy cheap fruit. Normally, to buy bananas you have to pay 3 kuai for a half kilo (1.1 lb), but on market day you can get bananas for 1.5. I probably could have gotten them for 1 kuai (about 1/6th of a dollar), but I didn't feel like bargaining.

Also, all the dentists come into town on market day. A dentist is a man with a very small table, and a few tools and sets of false teeth who will sit alongside the street and help you with any tooth-related problems you have. They're only in town on market day. It's very ghetto, but it makes a lot of sense. People need their teeth taken care of, and there's no way that they can pay for modern dentistry with a dentist who went through years and years of training.


I just got to play in the teacher's basketball game, which turned out to be a lot of fun. It was an official(ish) game, so we had a ton of kids watching for the first half, which was fun. They seemed to enjoy watching, and also (surprisingly) seemed to enjoy  it when I ran several of them over (mildly).* Tim got to come up from the Elementary school to participate, and he got placed on the P.E. teacher team, and I got placed on the regular teacher team. It was a really close intense game--we ended up tying 45-45 and not going into overtime, for which I was grateful. I'm exhausted now. I've been doing some running, but it doesn't really prepare you for basketball. I think I might try to get more into basketball while I'm over here. I've got basically no experience, but there's nobody who plays soccer, and playing tonight reminded me of how much fun running around is.

I also happened to glance at the square on the blog that has links to all my previous blog entries.....I really really like using exclamation marks in titles. Probably too much. I tried taking the exclamation off of basketball, but it just seemed wrong, so from here on out, if I'm really excited about something I'm just going to add an exclamation mark, but the default is definitely having one.

*more than once. It was different kids!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Happy Day after Christmas everybody!!

It's weird and sad being so far away from my family for Christmas-time, but I spent Christmas Eve with friends in Dali, and Christmas Day grading papers and teaching a class, so it was nice.

In Dali, people have started this truly awful tradition of spraying people in the face with silly string on Christmas Eve night. It's impossible to walk around because you'll get a mouth full of silly string, whether or not you're trying to participate. In fact, if you're unarmed (as I was) and tourist looking (I'm not really that Chinese looking) you're going to be sprayed a good amount. My enraged glower kept away a lot of people, but walking around was still not a fun experience.

More fun was last night. Where I'm at, there's a Christmas tradition of giving people apples wrapped in lots of plastic and looking all pretty. Every Sunday night my class has a study hall that I'm responsible for watching over, and my kids gave me lots of these apples. A hilarious amount of them. It's made my entire outlook a lot more cheerful.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fun Stuff!

I've been really busy lately, but here's some random stuff about eating and restaurants:

There are a total of nine Muslims in town. They're all Hui. It's impolite to say words for pork or pig around them. Their Imam runs a delicious local restaurant, and they go through an entire cow every three days. (if I remember correctly, a cow is about $450. a donkey is about $300.)

When eating, it's polite to toss bones (and other uneaten portions) on the table or on the floor.

Most restaurants have tables, but they tend to be below knee height, and have short benches or stools around them. Full sized tables are common, but tend to be reserved for the nicer places.

There isn't a single restaurant in town with a menu. To order, you look at a large fridge with a glass door and choose which veggies and meat you want cooked and how you want them cooked. It's hard for foreigners (even Chinese people) because outsiders don't necessarily know local dishes or vegetables.

Some of the best food is Chinese barbecue, and there's a couple do it yourself places in town. You sit around a table where there's a grate under which are hot coals (which is awesome because it's freezing) and cook meat, veggies, and (because it's a night-time thing you) drink baijiu.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A normal day

What I do varies a lot by what day it is, and what we've been doing recently, but today was a pretty normal day:

6:40 wake up for 7:10 morning study hall

7:10-7:50 morning study hall. The kids are still a little sleepy, so I mostly drill vocab and have them practice reading passages. (recent vocab: play the guitar, violin, piano, trumpet, chess club (none of these kids can play chess, I'm gonna teach em), swimming club (does that sound strange to anyone else?) why, or, then....there's a lot every chapter). I also did a small spelling test

8:00 walk into town and grab a meat bun for breakfast, then work on grading a test I recently gave.

10:40-11:20 class: we worked on grammar structures using "or, but, and, why"

11:30 I go an eat lunch. I keep getting food poisoning from the cafeteria, so I've started eating off campus so I head to a local place and get pulled rice noodles.

12:30 back on campus for  a tutoring session. I've been working on mastering simple key words (he, she, her, his, what, where, when...) with my slower kids, so we work on that for thirty minutes.

1:05 English Corner! English Corner happens every Wed, and every class sends its best two English students for Jarlene and I to teach. Today I taught them to sing (a modified version of) the drinking song from Jaws (Show me the way to go home.....)

2:00 Class: Learned the remaining vocab in Chapter 10 today. (Sunday, am, pm, kid, show, email, address) and reviewed previous vocab. (Jarlene co-taught this period with me)

2:50-3:30--prepped materials for afternoon, took a look at the spelling test I gave them during zaodu

3:40 class: I normally don't have this period, but having to substitute class is pretty common. The worked on a worksheet for a few minutes, and then we practiced vocab and sentence structures for the remaining time. (2 classes of content is already quite a bit for many of these kids).

I normally have a dinner tutoring session at 5:30, but I couldn't go, so I gave those kids who normally go to that session homework to leave by my door at 6:00.

5:00--6:30--We (TFC fellows) organized a dinner with our homeroom teachers. Homeroom teachers are incredibly important here (homeroom teacher is a really bad translation that doesn't explain the importance that these teachers have in these kids' lives). We had good food at a local restaurant, and got to chat about kids in our class. It was useful, and it was nice to commiserate about some of the kids with somebody else who really gets it.

6:50--7:10 Another tutoring session, this one for more advanced students. It's voluntary (i.e. only three kids show up) but it's really nice to be teaching the kids that are pumped about learning. We worked on translating fairly complex Chinese sentences into English.

And now it's now! After I'm done writing this, I'm going to type out a more official lesson plan for the class that I'm getting observed tomorrow, finish grading tests and entering the data into my tracker, and then hopefully have time to skype.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


It's gotten pretty chilly here (to the extent that it's a little hard to type this because my hands are cold) and it's making me much more willing to skip showers. Central heating (and air conditioning*) are nonexistent, and the showers are solar powered, so when it's cloudy out, there's only freezing cold water. I've had some really short showers fulled with tons of yelping and dancing.* I've got a space heater in my room, but it can still be cold, and my space heater can't travel to class or restaurants with me. So, showering is a bummer, and the main way that people choose to deal with it is by simply not showering. Sadly, I've been running, and so I can't go for a week without a shower like most everybody else. I'm going to work on naturally smelling better--we'll see how it goes.

*Fun fact: air conditioner is one of the words in the curriculum for the 5th graders over at the elementary school--I don't think they could have chosen a word less relevant to these kids' lives. They have no idea what an air conditioner looks like. The curriculum is, sadly, littered with such words that simply aren't of any interest or use to my kids.

*If it weren't for the nudity, a video of me showering would probably become the next big thing on youtube.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Recently I:

saw an awesome lunar eclipse
wrote a lot of lesson plans
got food poisoning (for the fourth time since coming here)
ate lots of delicious Chinese barbecue (not related to above)
made a student cry (and I'm not very sorry about it)
found out that that picture of me is on renren (the Chinese version of fbook)
used a lot of parentheses in a blog post (because they're awesome)
and have been too busy to write blogs about what's been going on and ones answering people's questions

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Here's a picture....hopefully!

I just got an email from one of my friends with this picture attached. She's not at all affiliated with TFC, and apparently saw my picture online, and decided to email me! I'm not really sure where she saw it, but it's pretty cool that TFC is getting out there more. The watermark in the lower right says TFC in Chinese.
In this picture, I'm doing review class/tutoring with some of my weaker students. You can't see any of my students, but they're there! I'm not just posing with a whiteboard because I look really good that way. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I just saw a man walking around with a monkey on his head

Seriously, that's it. He just had a pet monkey that rode on his shoulder and held on to his head. It looked like a really weird hat from far away. I was riding my bike with friends, so we didn't have any cameras to get pictures.

Another weird thing I saw on someone's head recently: a man riding a motorcycle was wearing a helmet. WEIRD

Monday, December 5, 2011


I just got back from another professional development conference, so I can answer questions! 

First, what is your typical day, start to finish?--awesome! I will write about this, but I don't have time right now. 

How do you know what the radical stroke number is? You just look at the character and count the number of strokes in one part (generally the left part) of the character, and that's the stroke number. You then take that number and look in the front part of the dictionary until you find that radical, and there you'll be able to find out where the character you're looking for is. There are also dictionaries that do it alphabetical by pinyin, but those are generally English/Other language-Chinese dictionaries for foreigners. If you don't know what the character looks like, you're not going to figure out how to write it.  In short, looking up stuff in a Chinese dictionary is a pain, and I never do it. Online dictionaries are awesome, and even allow you to draw in a character you want to look for. And I assume women are as stubborn in China as they are anywhere else? 

Dating-Marriage culture--long topic that I will totally write about soon. 

How do the kids feel about not doing great on the midterms? --They're actually OK with it. My class's grades weren't where I want them to be, but we were right in with the other classes, so they didn't feel bad about that. In addition, one of the main problems that they had is that we never covered how to answer questions like the ones that they encountered on the midterm [e.g. multiple choice, matching, writing a passage, reading comp, cloze (fill in the blank) reading, etc] which is my fault, and not theirs, and this is something that I explained to them. We've been practicing a lot more test-like questions in class, and I'm confident that there will be improvement on the final. It is sad that we have to basically teach to the test, but it's a reality of the local situation, and something that I'll probably complain about later.