Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Visitor!

My Uncle Mark recently visited me, and he wrote up a post about the
experience. Here it is!

I consider myself well traveled and have been in many different places
and cultures, but I did not realize 1) just how far away Will's
village is, 2) or just how beautiful it would be in Yunnan Province.

Will was kind enough to travel several hours by bus to meet my plane
landing in Lijiang Airport.  The airport is nice - a sleek modern
airport.   Lijiang is a modern city that has an incredible "ancient
city" filled with wooden homes, cobble stone streets, stone bridges
and greenery. It has some of the most amazing street scenes, food
vendors, and the main palace is probably one of the best I have seen
in Asia.  Will and I had dinner there Sunday evening and spent Tuesday
wandering the streets and climbing to the top of a hill overlooking
the old city (a good 45 minutes of stairs, every step of which was
handled with more vigor by Will than me).

The day intervening Sunday and Tuesday, was of course, Monday.  Monday
was one of  the best of the trip and I was able to spend the day in
Will's village and attend some of his classes.    The village is about
90 minutes South of Lijiang and has about 6,000 inhabitants.  Will had
arranged transportation for me from my hotel and we met for breakfast
- a bowl of piping hot noodles in a spicy broth - at a roadside stand
beside the main thoroughfare.   As we ate, scooters, trucks, and
tractors that looked like they had been featured in Road Warrior all
chugged by.  Clearly though, no one was out for a morning drive but
everyone was already hard at work.

After breakfast, I was able to attend Will's second session of the
day.  The kids in Will's class all wear matching jump suits and just
beam as they wrestle with English pronunciation and sentence patterns.
 Will is a dynamic teacher and after introducing me, and after  the
kids asked me questions such as what is your favorite color, how old
are you, how old is my wife (the answer that I was single was pretty
horrifying to the kids) and my favorite, what's your favorite country?
 (I gave the only acceptable answer to that last question).  After my
moment as a star, Will got down to business and had his students work
on vocabulary, phrases, simple conversations and quiet study time.
Will walks around as he teaches and does an amazing job keeping
students of varying abilities, language backgrounds, and interest
engaged, especially given the class size of around 60.

The school itself is much larger than I would have expected.   It's
pretty bare bones, with unheated and un-airconditioned class rooms and
living quarters.   The dorms for the children house 10 to a room, and
the rooms aren't that big.  The children are under far more pressure
than I ever was with classes going from 7:00 am until the day ends at
9:00 pm.  Learning English, Math, Science, and of course Mandarin
doesn't leave a lot of free time.   Will is doing a great job though
and the kids seem to really enjoy his class.  I think his goal of
transformational teaching, and inspiring the kids, or at least some of
the kids, to go as far they can with education is one that he is

Will also had me sit in later in the week in classes taught by two of
the other Fellows from the US- Jarlene and Tim.  The Fourth teacher
from the US, Laura, had a difficult class behavior wise, so I skipped
it as my presence would have been distracting to the kids.

When I was  joined Jarlene's class, it had a number of the kids I had
already met.   Jarlene and Will had combined their classes and then
split the combined classes into weaker and stronger students so they
could focus on helping both groups do as well as they can on their
upcoming exams.  Jarlene is a pretty no nonsense teacher, and as I
walked around looking at the kids' papers it was clear that many of
them had a good idea of the concepts even if they were terrified to
speak English with a foreigner (or at least me).

Tim teaches at the elementary school and has a group of about 30 5th
graders.  Will and I had the chance to talk with some of the kids
before class started.   Will was asking the kids what sound a goat
made, what sound a cow made, and then when he asked what sound a dog
made, Tim let off a ferocious "BARK, BARK, BARK" which scared the crap
out of everyone, except for Tim and Will, who had set the whole thing
up.   Tim's kids are pretty cute and tried to teach me some Chinese.
Tim is also an excellent teacher and conducts his class mostly in
Chinese which is impressive as he did not speak any Chinese when he
entered the program.    Even with the class being taught in Chinese, I
picked up a finer point of English, which as a native speaker I knew,
but had never really thought about there actually being a rule in

Will organized two dinners with most of the American and Chinese
fellows in the area: both of which were fun.   Clearly they are a
group of quality people, very much dedicated to transforming the kids'
lives as much as possible.  They very much all think about how to
engage the kids and develop them into leaders and to also develop
project development and management skills.  One of the Chinese
fellows, Sam, has been working on setting up a mini-library program
for the kids while they are on summer break.   He has the kids working
on how the program will work, selecting the number of books out of the
available stock that will go to each village, who will be responsible
for caring for the books in each village and tracking loans of the
books.   Other fellows were talking about selecting team capitals, and
different ways of engaging kids - the TFC fellows are clearly here to
do much more than teach English.

As I sit here in the Lijiang airport beginning my journey back to San
Francisco where I live, I am glad I came.  This is a part of China
that I never would have visited otherwise.  Now I know that it is
filled with hardworking kids that have a lot of obstacles in their
path, parents that are working hard to provide for their families,
teachers that are working hard to make a difference, and that the
kids, the parents, the teachers, and the fellows are all working
together to make their future a better one.

Added bonus: a few pictures of his trip!