China Team Journal

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Team 154 CHI0710A1 Oct, 6-8

October 6-7, 2007

By Saturday morning, 6 October the 10 or so’ early birds had arrived at this old Western Capital of China. We met for breakfast with Hu Di and Wang Baoli our team leaders and were given a modest advanced briefing of things to come---mainly a dinner with, we hoped, the full complement of Volunteers at 6:00 that evening.

And so dinner came and 28 of the total of 29 volunteers were there, many weary with long hours of travel coupled with up to 12 hours of jet lag. Yet, the camaraderie was sensed as people talked, relaxed, and asked questions about the soon to be future. Most were new to Global Volunteers and mild apprehension was apparent. But one of our leaders, Hu Di, put an end to such prattle by having each of us give a brief synopsis of who we are, and why we have come to Xi’an. The evening ended after all 30 bios were given and the tired masses retired for the night.

Sunday, October 7th brought us the long 12-1/2 hour day of orientation and final preparations. Hu Di spent the morning telling us the history of Global Volunteers’ 10+ years in China; reviewed the guiding philosophy as well as the operating in-country policies of Global Volunteers; and with the synergistic participation of all volunteers developed the 6 goals and the 23, yes 23 characteristics of an effective team.

At 3 p.m., after introductions, speeches, comments, entertainment, and a group photograph, the long awaited meeting of the teachers and the school assignments were at hand. Huddled in corners, fears were assuaged; smiles arose---this was going to work.

Thought for the Day

This thought is from part of an email I received from a former student, here in Xi’an.
I quote, “The autumn comes—so may you have a cool autumn—take care your health─living a warm cozy family life─eating fresh vegetables and food─taking some exercises─traveling some beautiful places─sleeping sweet sleep─that’s a happy life.”

By John Nordling

Monday 8 October, 2007

Our first real work day began at 7 AM with breakfast and a joke (which would not be appropriate to repeat in this family publication) by our resident stand-up comedian, Rich. John, our old China hand, then read his journal entry for Saturday and Sunday and thereby provided a model for the rest of us to aspire to. Precisely at 7:20
our Team Leader Hu Di (She who must be obeyed) gave us our orders for
the day which can be summarized as so forth and do everything I told you to do yesterday and make sure you don’t do anything I told you not to do.

Our team started leaving from the hotel for its six assignment locations at 8 AM. My group of six was assigned to the Xi’an University of Science and Technology. Upon our arrival at the University, we were ushered into a Board Room with a large rectangular table with just enough room for the six of us on one of the long sides. In the middle of the opposite side was the President of the school flanked (at a respectful distance) on one side by a Vice-President and on the other by an official whose title I did not catch. At one end was Alan, the English teacher we had met Sunday afternoon; at the other was Miao, another English teacher who said to call her Miao Miao. Alan and Miao Miao acted as interpreters.

The meeting began with the obligatory cup of tea and a welcome from the President who informed us that the University was divided into twelve colleges. Ours serves 3,500 students in thirteen specialties, mainly in various branches of electronics. After the meeting we were given a tour of several of the shops and laboratories. One shop contained standard metalworking lathes and other modern computer-controlled milling machines.

Finally, at around 10 AM, we got to meet our students and the fun began. I was assigned to a group of 11 students, nine boys and two girls, all about 17 years old and studying numerically-controlled machines. They were eager, bright and, after some encouragement, not at all shy. We each told our life stories and, in every case, something came up that was a take-off point for learning a new word or phrase or a chance to work on some fine point of pronunciation.
After a lot of laughter and what felt like the passage of only ten minutes, our hour and a half was up and it was time for us volunteers to go back to our hotel for lunch. I eagerly anticipate our next meeting tomorrow morning when we will have our next encounters with these marvelous students.

After lunch, a large group of volunteers walked to the Global Volunteer office with Hu Di and Bao Li. The office contains lots of teaching materials and books. I found it amazing that all the detailed planning and preparation for the extensive program in China could come out of such a small space with a staff of only two. Faced with about two empty hours with nothing scheduled, Dixie and I walked 15 minutes to a store called Vanguard, a three story megastore something like a Costco. We bought some batteries, (10 Duracell AA batteries for 23.80 Wan - about 32 each - very cheap), snacks and juice.

Back to work at 5 PM for a Chinese language lesson given by Hu Di. There are about 50,000 characters in Chinese, but we were assured that only the 1,500 most common characters are required to read a newspaper. It was also made clear that each character can have several meanings depending on context, and that each spoken word can be represented by several different characters, depending on meaning. With this encouraging overview, we began our serious study of the Chinese language. Hu Di showed us hand gestures that go with numbers, to use in bargaining when we shop in China. By the end of the hour I can say with full confidence that all who attended had mastered a portion of the Chinese language: we were fluent speakers of the Chinese words, Hello and Thank you. That leaves only 1,498 words to go, but we still have two weeks in which to do it.

Thought for the day:
The only way to avoid mistakes when speaking a language (your own or another) is to never speak.

Respectfully submitted,
Leon Ablon