China Team Journal

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Team 154 - Oct 9, 10

Tuesday 9 October, 2007 (Entry One)

It’s day two of our teaching experience, and already the five volunteers at the Biomedical Technical College are settling into a routine—or at least a semi-one. We’re picked up by Julia Dong, director of the Foreign Affairs Office at the college, and a driver precariously weaves through traffic for a 40-minute, sometimes scary drive to school. Clearly, driving in China is like playing a game of chicken, and our driver never winces.
The school, which opened in 2003, is a vocational one with 15 specialties such as nursing, health information, nutrition, Chinese herbs, counseling, even selling medical equipment. The 3,900 students at the college hope to get jobs in the field, and having good English skills will enhance their careers, the president told us when he greeted us on the first day.
That day’s students were freshmen, with English skills at the intermediate level. Their enthusiasm, however, was at the highest level. During a break, a charming and out-going girl pulled up a stool near where I was standing and said, “Let’s talk!” She didn’t want to miss a minute of this experience.
While we’ll have the same students again next Monday and Tuesday (and nursing students each Wednesday-Friday), today’s recruits were 14-16 year olds bused in from a secondary school. School children now start to learn English in the third grade, but these students missed on this earlier experience. For most, their English skills are poor and confidence in speaking it quite low. Initially, only a few students shyly but willingly responded to answering questions such as “what do you like to do.” A round of head-shoulders-knees- toes loosened them up, and by the end of the morning every student was responding actively to questions. One of the shyest asked me what I liked about China. The session ended with three vigorous rounds of Hokey Pokey. For most, if not all, of these students, this was the first time that they met an English-speaking person. And it was the first time for them—and even Swallow, an English teacher from the college—to do the Hokey Pokey.
For the shop-to-you-drop crowd and a change of pace, the Global Volunteers team went out on two disparate excursions: one to the Jade Factory, the other to Vanguard, a Costco-type store. At Vanguard, Baoli led our group through an array of fruits, vegetables, bread products, teas, rice, spices and more. A sample of a huge but odd-shaped grapefruit was delicious. There are many similarities to a U.S. grocery store, but two differences stand out: the turtle and frog in the fresh fish section.

Thought for the day: If Global Volunteers provide the water for students to swim in, then there’s no need for it to rain so much this week.

Jane Stein

Tuesday 9 October, 2007 (Entry Two)

We started the day being treated to journal readings by Gladys and Leon. What a nice custom to have every-morning centering reflections like these on what we are doing here. Yes, even though I have done this once before, getting into the GV grove takes some work, patience and letting go of my more customary feelings of self-importance. And fun and laughter: thanks Rich for another humor moment.

Although we are only on the early stage of our assignment, I watch with some awe the skillful, deft and loving touch of both Hu Di and Wang Baoli as they lead us forward, teach us, and with unfailingly good humor untangle here-and-there problems. Among others, I know reordering the work hours of several team members was much appreciated.

Yes, we are settling in. We’ve learned how to keep the elevator door from mashing us; our first loads of laundry have come back, and we’ve just about finalized our plans on how to keep warm without building heat.

But I think more importantly, we have the beginnings of new friends and a team—in fact with many small teams. We also have a growing sense that what we are starting to do with our various students really can make some sort of difference although the dimensions of that are probably still a little mysterious. And genuine fun and engagement with our students has mostly replaced an uncountable number of fears.

But that doesn’t mean that all is well on the front lines. Just ask the Muriel-(birthday-boy) Lee-and-Kurt team that yesterday started working with freshman university pre-law students. Yes, we were told that their English was rather poor and we would have a translator. Yes, we planned out what we thought were some simple discussion points of probable interest to them. But as it turned out, our translator translated very little of what we said. (We by the way asked her to use her judgment as to how much to translate.) And in any event our talks were way too lofty. The result was that the translator told us afterwards they understood very little of what we said!

Hey, with our Monday-developed confidence working with regular English-major university students we used the 10-minute break before our next pre-law class to regroup. We asked the same translator to essentially do simultaneous translation and we aimed our discussions even closer to the ground. This next class turned out to be we think a wonderful success with enthusiastic discussions with our students about how legally to deal with an auto accident; write a business contract; and settle child custody issues in a divorce among other things—in I should say both the U.S. and China! I guess we’ll leave for some other time all the wonderful aspects of the U.S. Constitution and other lofty things.

Since I have a feeling that Jane will share with you in more detail our visit to the grocery store, I will just say that I was very pleased with Pat’s and my purchase of four cookies for less than 3 Yuan. They’re all gone! Rumor has it that the jade shop helped reduce the net worth of some of our team.

Just before dinner we meet with a local travel agent and reviewed possible trips for the weekend. My digital will be charged.

And the highlight at dinner was a surprise birthday party for Lee who had a big smile on his face as Wu Di lit a fabulous birthday firecracker in celebration. I had a big smile on my face as I ate a large slice of his birthday cake.

My thought for the day is the hope that the spirit of humility will guide us all here in what we do.

Kurt Steele

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Well, we’ve completed Wednesday—our third day of classes!
By now we’ve settled in. We’re used to the rain—sort of. We’re used to the commute. For those of you who ride an hour each way, our commute is a 15-minute stroll through downtown Xi’an—a chance to watch yams being roasted over coal, bicycles being repaired, and taxis trying to run us down.

The three of us—Corrie, June and Pat—don our rain gear and set out for La La Shou Special Education School. The school is an amazing place. It was founded in 2002 by two remarkable women, who decided that their handicapped youngsters were not going to be served by anything available in Xi’an. They planned a program, gathered some other mothers, lined up a place, and began working with their students. Eventually they were trained as teachers and licensed by the government—but not funded. So with great perseverance they found donors—foundations, corporations and individual givers—and built their program.

They have moved three times in five years, and are now housed in two upper floors of a small commercial building, over a tea distributor. They have a staff of 35 teachers, plus numerous volunteers and parents, and serve more than 60 kids. The youngsters range in age from 3 to 17 and exhibit a wide variety of mentally handicapping conditions---autism, Downs’ syndrome and cerebral palsy among others. The children are divided into three programs, primarily by age.

My assignment is a 13 year old girl with cerebral palsy. Zhu Cao is one of the better students. She knows 200 Chinese characters as well as her numbers, can read and do math at a basic level, and even knows a little English. But life skills are a challenge for her—dressing, eating, bathing, or anything physical.

We spend most of the morning with her class of 6 children between 9 and 14, usually with 1 or 2 teachers. Among the kids are an autistic boy, one Downs child, a couple of nonverbal youngsters, a big and very friendly teenage boy, and my tiny little girl. The teachers are fabulous—we do reading, math, Chinese script, poetry, music and gym. Like many of the kids, I do best in gym class—I’m a whiz at marching, cheering with pompons and learning simple folk dance movements. I have more trouble with the reading and math, but I’m proud to report I can now count to 100 in Chinese!

After gym class, we watch a Winnie the Pooh cartoon and I teach the kids the English words for Winnie, Tigger and Piglet. Then it’s off to physical therapy, the most challenging part of our day. PT is very hard—Zhu Cao is expected to do 100 deep knee bends, 50 sit-ups and time on a bicycle. She doesn’t much like it—and I suspect she doesn’t much like me either. Who is this foreign stranger who keeps making her do these rotten things?

But I’m learning to give her space when she is a bit afraid of me, and I’m bonding with some of the other children. All in all it’s an amazing experience, and the morning goes by quickly. I’ve learned so much about the skill, patience and dedication of the parents and teachers, the determination and energy of the children and the courage of all involved in the school.

Then it’s off to lunch, followed by a trip to the wonderful Chinese history museum with Jane and Bob Stein. I’m ready for a quiz on Chinese dynasties over the Hot Pot dinner. But first—a nap!

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: From our orientation at the school,


Pat Steele