China Team Journal

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Team 156 Hainan Island Team 1

China Team 156 Journal
Hainan Team 1
December 15, 2007 – January 5, 2008

Team Members: Russ Erdman, Sylvia Haven, Myrle Langley, Shirley Langley, Natalie O’Donoghue, Dan Penoff, Janet Rodriguez, Michael Rodriguez, Ann Rotermund, Dodie Ruegemer, Jan van den Top, Jeri van den Top, Jim Wallace, Marta Wallace
Global Volunteers: Hu Di, Jim Swiderski

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Our team, now fully constituted with 14 volunteers led by Jim Swiderski and Hu Di, started the morning in what is likely to be the usual way; with breakfast on the 31st floor. Noisy and very busy, the hotel restaurant is also host to a large number of business people who will be here until mid-week. Talking over the din, team members continued last evening’s effort to become better acquainted while the restaurant slowly revolved, giving us an ever changing perspective on the persistent and unchanging haze that covers the city.

At breakfast’s end, we convened for our initial organizational meeting, a process structured to forge a cohesive team with common goals from disparate souls from both this and the other side of the world. Following Hu Di’s description of the history of Global Volunteers in China, we set to work on job number one; articulating team goals. The prolonged, slightly painful and sometimes frivolous labor eventually gave birth to a set of objectives we could all agree on as the benchmarks of a successful Hainan Team One. No one doubted that the real work is seldom in the formulation but in the execution. Undeterred by the realization though, the team tacitly agreed that the goals are both ambitious and attainable.

Defining over 22 of the 15 characteristics of an effective team was surprisingly easy. In retrospect though, it seems we may have made a mistake in overshooting the defined number of “rules” we are to be held accountable for. What were we thinking? Wasn’t 15 enough? Already we are an over-achieving team and the real work has not yet begun.

There followed a serious recitation of the most important personal behavior issues that capped the morning’s deliberations. Having ingested literally gallons of tea and the essential chocolate fix graciously donated by Russ (ah, experience, how important it is in crisis), and with the business of the day essentially complete, lunch was served. Responding to suspicion that Hainan cuisine may be characteristically bland, Hu Di set us straight by ordering dishes that would put four alarm chili in the “ho hum” category. Failing to order a beer with lunch proved to be the error of the morning, since tea alone is not an effective extinguisher of hot peppers. A few final announcements included some doubts about the Monday morning schedule. Thus informed about the tenuousness of scheduling in this new program, we could at least settle on the basics of the evening’s ceremonial dinner. Lunch and meeting adjourned until our 5:30 departure.

After whiling away the afternoon each in ways that suited them best, we assembled in the lobby. Dressed in our finest, we were taken to a nearby restaurant to meet representatives of the host organization. We were seated outdoors in the windy evening, and then presented with every conceivable example of the local favorite dishes. Taken mostly from the sea, some defied description and some would have benefited from less description….or none at all. Fish stomachs would probably taste better (or at least enjoy greater popularity) with a name less specific. The generosity of the hosts overwhelmed even the heartiest appetite. In spite of our best efforts, the table was covered with an embarrassing excess at the end of the evening. If the experience is indicative of what we have in store in terms of hospitality and gracious treatment by our hosts, the next three weeks will be a very satisfying experience, indeed.

Now it’s clearly up to us to reciprocate hospitality with performance. Do we suppose that’s precisely the way these things are played out in China? Not at all an improper quid pro quo among good friends.


Thought for the day: “There is probably no more important role in our society than helping to shape the opportunities, aspirations and potential of children”

Jane Lomax-Smith; Australian Minister of Education and Children’s Services

Monday, December 17, 2007

The journal is written by Natalie for this day. We started early with our shared
breakfast. I am mentioned at the time as an incident occurred which showed
the agreed characteristics of the team were already being strongly supported at
this time. As the day passed we had our first visit to the Education Training Center. We began working with our given teaching team partners. We checked the resources and began our planning and prep for Tuesday, the first teaching day. Although I was busy planning with Jon, I observed that everyone was engaged and on task.

The time flew for me and it was soon time to be back at the Hotel for lunch. I have asked some team members to give their version of the morning activity. Marta and Russ are team partners and Russ said he wants to eat less breakfast and he is hoping things go well. Nice facility, good partner and coming along well. He also hopes we venture outside for meals.

Sylvia and Dana – Sylvia said she searched her brain for plan before the first day. Jerry is impressed with the computers. We dispersed after lunch. We had
teaching resource errands to do. Some of us went to the shops and others went exploring for cultural development. Jim, Marta, Jerry and Jon took Bus 22 to the old part of town. They said they were checking out interesting sights but everyone knows they were more fascinated by the many toilets and shrimps.

Jon is my teaching partner and his errand for the afternoon was resource in
Geography. Thank goodness he will be able to local loos for us when we are
sightseeing. It was a busy afternoon as we were buying resources or preparing
whatever was thought to be personally important. Once again the team was supportive in helping and discovering a chemist shop which sold crutches. Myrle acted out a convincing “crutches needed” pantomime and a pair was quickly produced.

At supper time I asked other team members for their slant on the day:
Michael; broccoli is a noble plant, he was referring one of the local dishes. Dodie; found crutches, bought two, then 1 found, two then returned one. This is not an IQ test.

Myrle; boring day, let’s do the job we came for. Seems he is loving his board bed. Shirley; she made a tour of the stores that carry glasses. Dana; slept the day away…seems she is practicing for the noon break. Hu Di; busy, interesting day spent “ironing out the wrinkles.” She has been in negotiations with school leaders and was pleased with the outcome, having worked with a very cooperative person. Also the travel agent she saw was helpful. She found two restaurants. Good results and she is happy. Marta and Russ decided on what they will be teaching. She is enthusiastically looking forward to the experience and meeting the teachers. Jim has not commented as yet, I guess the mongoose was under his table. He was not hungry at supper tonight and he explained his understanding of decisions of the “officials”; how they were made, by whom and why.

Jon; interesting day, paired up with an Australian, he said could be very stressful at times. Anne had a hand in Sylvia’s use of the crutch during the day. During the evening supper Hu Di gave an inspiring talk about her childhood and U.S.A. experiences and what we could share in speaking to this community. Jim W highlighted further plans in relation to afternoon activity.

With supper finished and plans in place, everyone appeared to retire to their
rooms. In my case, to finalize preparation and to write this journal. A busy day, 11:45 pm lights out.


Thought for the day:

To understand a man, you must know his memories. The same is true of a nation.
Anthony Quayle

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The morning began bright and early with the 31st Floor restaurant not quite ready for breakfast. We heard the thought for the day from Russ and then Natalie, having interviewed each team member, regaled us with an excellent reporter’s eye view of the previous day’s activities.

We left for the school filled with excitement and anticipation of finally starting our teaching. Upon arrival, the group was ushered into a large auditorium and lined up alphabetically by first name except that R was after S at the end. After numerous enthusiastic speeches by the various Chinese school officials, our Country Manager, Hu Di, gave an excellent and encouraging speech, aimed at the students/teachers regarding learning English and explaining the history of Global Volunteers. In a reversal of the usual process she started with English then Chinese.

A somewhat surprised Jim was called on, out of what he thought would be the expected order, but he quickly recovered and gave some great opening remarks. Now it was time for the volunteers to introduce themselves. We kept the introductions short and sweet. Many students were impressed with Michael’s ability to speak Chinese. Of course, no one translated into English what he had said. He confessed later that he had forgotten to say his name.

We moved to our classrooms and discovered that there had been some additional confusion regarding the start of the program. Some of us had full classes and some had only four or five teachers. Marta and I had only four primary school teachers, so we decided to wait for a larger group to start introductions. We said we will have a casual talk today. Our students are a wonderful group with quite good English skills. They are enthusiastic and inquisitive. We ended our morning with a fairly extensive explanation of how to play baseball, the rules, etc, including singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”. We needed the photographer to film it for future use, but perhaps because we were a small group he didn’t bother to film us today.

We hurried back to the hotel for lunch and some information from the travel agent. Our social directors are hard at work trying to arrange some opportunities for our free time. After lunch, Russ helped Natalie reconfigure her computer to use broadband, so she could use the Internet. Several volunteers returned to the school for an afternoon lesson, from 3 PM to 5 PM, on volunteering.

Michael. Janet and Russ caught the #22 bus to the Park by Two lakes in the old town area. It was a very pleasant afternoon at the park. We also wanted to find an unusual market street that Jim and Marta had visited on Monday. While trying to find the market, a young man came up to us and started speaking English. Between his English and Michael’s Chinese, the young man thought he knew where we wanted to go. After following him, at a brisk pace, it seemed the area was getting newer rather than older. We rechecked with him and found he had misunderstood us. He then proceeded to retrace our steps at an even brisker pace, but we eventually found the street with the market. We thanked him for his help and proceeded up the street.

It was well worth the effort to find the street market. It went on for about a mile with the usual stalls and vendors selling knick-knacks, but also had the most exotic food items for sale. There were live snakes, turtles, fish, crab, pigs roasting, ducks and geese being cleaned, bags of dried sea horses, shrimp and some unrecognizable sea creatures. The street had a definite odor of live animals and seafood.

At the far end we kept looking for a way out and followed a narrow, almost Medieval street that seemed to go someplace because of the constant traffic of scooters and bicycles. We eventually found our way to a main street after passing an incredible, local restaurant that had tables up both sides of an alley that seemed a quarter mile long. It reminded us of the long trip from the kitchen to our outdoor tables on the previous Sunday night’s dinner.

We had walked for some time and decided to take a cab back to the hotel. We were surprised as the cab driver drove us to the Bay View Hotel and not the Golden Sea View Hotel. After some more discussion in Chinese, with Michael and a call by the cab driver to his office we finally reached our hotel. Dinner was at 6:00PM and we went out to eat for the first time as a group on our own. Sylvia was transported at high speed by wheel chair (it seemed like a good idea at the time) to an excellent restaurant Hu Di had discovered. The atmosphere and décor seemed a little Japanese, but the food was all Hainan. Some of us find the food is bland compared to Xian and Kunming, but Hu Di ordered some spicy fish that added zest to the meal. After a few beers, we realized we had no designated driver to push Sylvia’s wheel chair back to the hotel. Also, for safety’s sake, since it was now quite dark out, our leader, Jim, rose to the occasion and escorted her back to the hotel by taxi. The rest of us had a leisurely stole back to the hotel on what was a lovely evening.

We were glad to hear that Sylvia may be able to join us at the school with the use of the wheel chair. All adjourned to rest and plan for our first full day with our teachers.


Thought for the day:

“The teacher opens the door – the student walks in by himself.”


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I am really impressed with our group of teachers. It’s such a pleasure to see them in the morning and watch their reactions to what is said and listen to their responses. It’s been a long time since I’ve spent much time around this age group other than a passing acquaintance, and, I must admit, it’s stimulating. For more than a month I’ve been apprehensive about what this experience would be like and worried that it was not something I’m prepared to do. This group of young teachers changed all that. They have put me at ease and made me feel welcome and useful. With only one day’s experience, I’m beginning to feel almost qualified to help. I can hardly wait to have a long talk with my daughter and best friend about this amazing experience.

The girls are beginning to be comfortable with us and I think we were comfortable with them from the start. My only worry was if I could help them to improve their work as teachers…something a non-teacher should probably doubt anyway. This morning though, with the “get acquainted” session behind us, we began serious work and they seemed to respond with real enthusiasm. They take so many notes, it seems as if we must be saying or doing SOMETHING useful. The questions were slow to come at first, but we are (or at least I think I am) beginning to recognize the signs when they do not understand but don’t want to hurt our feelings by saying so. I’ve begun to see a useful role for myself when I’m not leading the discussion. It may be as valuable to observe and add my thoughts when I see that my teaching partner has overlooked some of those body language signs of failed comprehension….and he does miss a few.

A long discussion arose from simply having them take turns reading and discussing parts of an article from the Washington Post on China and it’s “baby booms”. I’m probably guessing, but it seems as if their vocabulary, or at least the part that they use most, is what they need for the grade level for the students they teach. The context of the material led us into ideas that could not be understood without knowing the definition of words that they seemed to be unfamiliar with. There was sort of a “breakthrough moment” when one of the shy teachers ventured to ask what we thought about “Iraq”. I think we (to be fair, mostly my teaching partner) explained the history in a reasonable and objective way. We shall see if the result is more willingness to ask questions that matter to them.

The morning went quickly, but it was interrupted with the prospect of changes that may reduce the time we spend with the teachers. I will be disappointed if that happens, but it does seem that there are problems again with the plan. We will do whatever needs to be done. That was our plan from the start, so if change is necessary, we’ll manage. I suppose that’s why we have that “be flexible” item in the 15 characteristics of a good team.

Another big lunch, but happily for me, free time followed. Listening to Myrle, Russ and Natalie discuss the afternoon plan…or sort of a plan… it might have been fun to be a fly on the wall at school. In the end though, shopping was more appealing, even though it eventually turned out to be unsuccessful. A bit of a rest after a long afternoon turned into a need for more… dinner was less appealing than tomorrow’s breakfast.


Thought for the day: “Things so arrang-ed are
Thou canst not pluck a flower
Without the troubling of a star”

Author unknown

Thursday, December 20, 2007

This was a day of decisions. The valiant efforts of Jim and Hu Di have resulted in the finalization of our schedules and assignments – with the usual caveat that changes are still possible. We are nothing if not flexible, true to the spirit of our endeavors in Haikou and for Global Volunteers first venture here. Feathers have been unruffled and wrinkles ironed out. Getting to this point required many behind the scenes deliberations by our talented leaders. Is it possible to achieve the “employees of the year” award twice within two years?

The agreed upon schedule is as follows: Weekday from Dec. 21 – Dec. 20 and from Jan 2 – 4 we will be on our original schedule at the Academy from 8:30 – 11:30. Because of our three and a half day holiday over New Years, we will teach Dec. 24 and 25 but both afternoons will be free.

Our hosts are not content to see us neglected on one of our country’s most widely observed holidays. They have planned a Christmas eve dinner out with a special invitation extended to government officials to join us. Since the success of future Global Volunteer invitations to Haikou are at stake, we were exhorted to make special efforts to create the best possible impression.

We have been enlightened as to Chinese meal time etiquette: For Global Volunteers the lazy susan spins clockwise.

1. The plates presented to us at each meal are a special dispensation allowed to foreign guests who do not follow the Chinese style of eating just a little bite at a time as the serving dishes glide by.

2. Blowing one’s nose at the dining table is comparable to farting. Rather, one may excuse oneself and step outside

While on the subject of food it needs to be mentioned that Russ has earned everyone’s gratitude for his scouting skills in locating good restaurants and cafes. We do seem to spend much time on food issues – all to the good of course. We received a delightful surprise after lunch. As a reward for our good behavior, Jim and Hu Di bought us each a chocolate torte topped with fresh strawberries and frosting. Again this day ended with another memorable meal at a Korean restaurant.

As one of the few newbies among a group of seasoned Global Volunteers, I am grappling with the team teaching concept. I also find it necessary to adjust my ideas of what will work best to help the teachers in our team achieve the goals they set for themselves. Several teachers told us they wanted teaching ideas they could use in their own classes. One great vocabulary idea I had wouldn’t work when I discovered they only present the vocabulary in the text book. Thank goodness I asked them directly, “would this work in your classroom?” And thank goodness they were honest enough to say, “no”. Finding out many have upwards of 60 students per class changes my perspective also. I will be scurrying to revise the lessons I developed back in Seattle.

The biggest lift to this teaching experience so far is to be embraced by the teachers so quickly and completely. I merely asked during one of our breaks if the teachers could point out the location of the public library on the map. It became a Sunday field trip with four teachers and two of their own children all taking me to the newly opened public library. In class one of the teachers told two good jokes which would be appreciated in any culture. Lots of happy laughter and smiling faces followed. Some say that love is what makes the world go ‘round, but I’m wondering if it might be laughter.


Thought for the day:

“A gem is not polished without rubbing, nor a man perfected without trials.”

Chinese proverb

Friday, December 21, 2007

Breakfast: Yum! Dilemma: Teaching materials in room with key inside. Waited in hall as first Dodie, then Sylvia, Natalie, and I pleaded with housekeeping. Only Hu Di, 20 minutes after first call, gets results. Taxi to school, 21 Y

Arrived to find Dodie and our teachers in an enthusiastic spontaneous dialogue on many subjects. Glad to see Li Li back—no Gibson, though. A frank evaluation from Marry during our closing: The poetry [referring to “Song of a Well in a Small Yard” written by Chairman Mao at age 12] has its good points, especially the accompanying story, but [and four agree] they’d rather study American poets!

At lunch, Leader Jim had everyone share what had worked well. Marta & Russ: a fun unit starting with food ads; practice using a knife and fork, both American and English style. Russ later had teachers practice on a “field trip”—they used a knife and fork, while he used chopsticks. A successful technique: One teacher reads a paragraph, the next one explains it; then that one reads, the next explains, and so on.
Myrle & Shirley: A variation of “Telegraph” or “Gossip”—one in hall while article is read. Myrle had listeners summarize key points on a 3x5 card after he read a short story. Myrle and Shirley have a 45 min. free-talk time when the group splits into two corners.
Janet & Michael have used Dave’s ESL techniques from the internet, pronunciation practice, and tongue twisters. “Rock-a-bye-Baby” is weird when analyzed!
Jan & Natalie: Nat teaches first half, Jan 2nd half—each full of praise for the other’s expertise and strengths. Must ask for a fuller description of “Hot Seat.”
Dodie scored with Stick Man & Hokey Pokey with each teacher taking a turn to lead. Ann tore up a picture book of the United States so each teacher could have his/her own page to report on.

Dana & Sylvia used a world map as a focus for “Dream Vacations.” Dana has a version of The Little Prince with both English & Chinese text. Sylvia learned that their class wants to concentrate on the vocabulary their students get in the text. In “Five in a Row” you analyze which word doesn’t belong.

Jim & Geri exchange information: they describe the American way, then the teachers tell the corresponding Chinese practice. Their class really liked learning about American money. Team Leader Jim recalled a bumper sticker: What if Hokey Pokey is what it’s all about! Hu Di suggested a number of proven strategies that have been edited out in the interest of saving space & time.

After lunch, we headed for the Volcano Park. On the way, we drove through the American Industrial Village. As we didn’t alight, this detour became the topic of good-natured ribbing and a standard for judging all subsequent trips.

Fortunately or un-, I had my notebook to record the comment of our excellent guide at the National Geopark of Haikou. Tessellated volcanic shapes formed the walkway leading from the entry flanked by palms amid blocks of volcanic rock, some inscribed with calligraphy. Shirley tried walking barefoot for a natural foot massage.

We learned that the ficus tree, with its exposed external roots, symbolizes people who move to a new house and make it their home. The ficus also suggests prosperity.

Large volcanic shapes, some amusing, were named for animals. I thought I spotted a camel, but it was already designated a lion. Downward flowing shapes ended in a great dragon head at the aptly named gate. Hu Di showed us how to jump over the dragon gate [women right foot first, men left] to achieve the promise of more education leading to a better life.

Large machines made from volcanic rock testify to the ingenuity of their creators. Imagine a tofu maker in which the wife pours soybeans down a central hole while the man manipulates a swing-like harness to turn the grinding stones.

We had a refreshing rest stop where green coconuts had their tops sliced off and straws inserted. Dona attested to the nutrition and ease of digestion of the drink—but after climbing the next 191 steps I thought, “I can’t believe I drank the whole thing!”

We climbed to a plateau overlooking the hill, a site established 8000 years ago. Natalie, then Jan, burned incense at the shrine and signed a visitors’ book. People pray for a safe world and for harmony between nature and humans. Shirley meditated and I rested while the rest of the group completed the climb. Hu Di found a wild pineapple. We all enjoyed the breeze and the perfect weather. On the descent, we passed a pool where two children cavorted inside a floating plastic ball. Hao yun guan guan lai

As the coconut drink began fomenting with my gastric juices, I decided that staying outside while the others had hot pot was a necessary courteous sacrifice. I missed watching the Hainan Island traditional dancing in which people step between moving bamboo poles, an activity I used during early teaching days. Sylvia gave a vivid description of the “phenomenally talented” player of a mouth leaf.

A very full day, wouldn’t you agree?


Saturday, December 22, 2007

The local village tour was the order of the day for the majority of the volunteers,
accompanied by Hu Di and our fearless leader Jim Swiderski – I suspect they came along to prevent us from misbehaving.

The first stop was at the Jack Route village to see the local houses built of
volcanic stones. The highlight was a long walk to see the Goat Palace, built In the 15th century to house the famous local black goat. Most impressive! A walk around the village with a merry entourage of local children followed with Natalie as the pied piper. They demonstrated the playground equipment and a few showed us kites they had made from newspaper and string. We then inspected the local natural well, the only source of water for the poor village, and a small shrine with some meager offerings. The bus pulled out without me but decided to retrieve me for the tour.

We then returned to Haikou for a bountiful lunch and continued to a model Ecologic green village on the West Coast, which in contrast seemed to be a more of an affluent village. By skipping the scheduled stop at the Volcanic Park we were afforded a visit to the Mangrove Natural Reserve, took a boat ride to check out the crab traps and a bevy of ducks and more fauna and flora before returning to the hotel. Dodie and Natalie immediately took off for a shopping spree. Shirley And Myrle had toured the Haikou bus system and returned with our Santa Claus hats. Russ made his own discovery accompanied by some of his students as guides. Sylvia had a day of rest reading and healing her ankle injury. A good time was had by all.


Thought for the day: No thoughts for the weekend

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Yes, indeed there is an ocean in the vista outside our hotel window. This is the first morning we have been able to see a fairly clear view. The fog has lifted early and it promises to be a clear sunny day for the Cultural tour of Haikou City.

Jerry picks up 8 of us and with the manager of the tour company we are off. First stop is the Hairui Memorial Garden. We are alone for the first hour walking along the beautifully restored buildings and grounds. Then we loaded into the van for the long ride to the Hainan Wildlife Park and Botanical Gardens. We drove around the Park to see some of the wildlife. We were all fascinated By the “Ligers”, the off spring of a lion and tiger. The comment “I didn’t think that was possible” pretty well summed up our reaction. We ate lunch in the Flamingo Room in the Park, followed by Ice cream treats for some and the walk through the Park, viewing plants, lizards, crocs and more.

A real delight was a visit to the Monkey City….monkeys everywhere and
we were given a warning to not make prolonged eye contact or a sudden move to reach for cameras. The monkeys might think there was food available and pounce. After about an hour of this, the group was growing weary and dusty and suggested to Jerry that we could move the tour along.

Our next stop was the five exiled official temple. We arrived back at the Hotel about 4 pm, tired, dusty and thirsty. After a refreshment stop in the lobby, we had to get ready for a dinner with Mrs.------ and (?) Mr. (?) from the teacher’s academy. We were on our best behavior. A brief discussion of the program was held with Hu Di translating. Jim W and Marta’s son Dirk has arrived for a Christmas celebration.

A short meeting was held after dinner to plan our Christmas celebration at the school. All the students and teachers will be invited to attend the last 1 and ½ hours for our Tuesday Christmas day session, to greet Santa and sing carols.


Thought for the day:

The thought of the day was inspired by the day: “Bah Humbug”

Monday, December 24, 2007

The great view we had yesterday from the breakfast table on the 31 floor of the hotel is gone. The usual high humidity has come to rest on the windows again, so it must be a work day. That is good after two days of sightseeing. A quiet workday it was. To use the Chinese fire cracker analogy; the use for a great a Christmas celebration was lighted yesterday, is smoldering today and it should explode tomorrow.

We left in our two vans to go to the school but did not notice that we also left Natalie at the hotel. She found the quickest taxi driver in town and almost beat me to call. Each class kept the secret of the smoldering Christmas celebration. Or did they?
At lunch Jim reviewed our team goals and it was concluded that at this point they are within reach. This team selected 22 characteristics of which #13 – share chocolate has been proven to work well. Even the efficiency in computer based journal production got a sincere boost.

The free afternoon culminated in an excellent hot pot dinner (meat 1 minute, vegetables 2, and potatoes 4 minutes. Again this restaurant was located in our favorite restaurant row, within walking distance of the hotel. The afternoon had been filled with activities like shopping, relaxation, exploring and preparation. After dinner five went to a Christmas eve church service, while Jeri and I stumbled upon a Christmas party at the shopping mall. There were Chinese dancing, modern Chinese singing, a male and female fashion show, and a tea ceremony, etc. At 9:30 it was time to go home to do the journal. No sweets for this “Scrooge.”


Thought for the day:

“Practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent.”

Pat Wolfe, 1997

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A question from a friend in California: What will you be doing for Christmas? I don’t imagine the Chinese celebrate it.

A comment from a global volunteer in Haikou: I came to China to get away from Christmas.

When we return home it might be difficult to get people to believe how thoroughly ready the Chinese are to celebrate Christmas, Our hotel is saturated with Christmas decorations and they are clearly not just for our benefit because other hotels, which seem to contain no westerners, look the same. And we hear Christmas music everywhere, not just in the mall, where we might expect it, but in the street, in corridors, and in most of our restaurants. Jeri and Jan witnessed a Christmas party in the mall, which shows, I think, an impressive Chinese logic – If Christmas is about presents then the mall is clearly the most efficient site. People needn’t bother carrying them home. Sometimes I feel the Chinese are saying to us, OK we get capitalism – now step out of the way please. I heard a TV evangelist in Hong Kong say, “Think of a your heavenly father as your financial advisor and your Bible as your financial handbook,” and “Jesus talked more about finance than any other subject.”

So are they saying, “We also get western Christmas”? When we asked a student about why the Chinese were celebrating Christmas so eagerly she said, “It is the young people. They want to be like westerners.” And I was reminded of leader Jim’s instructions: The Chinese get the commercial part of Christmas but not the spiritual part behind it. That’s our task.

So how did we do on Christmas day? We are not Christian missionaries, so we really can’t preach about what ministers in my church and probably yours called God’s gift to the world. And we would probably jeopardize the Global Volunteer Program in China if we did.

But in spite of that I think we did well. Natalie, who is always merry and bright, started our day off well by looking more festive than the rest of us and happily giving us each a gift, reminding us that when some one has gone to some trouble to buy, wrap and present a gift, both the giver and the receiver share in the good will. And Jim Wallace, with some help from his handsome and very charming son, heroically suffered and had a good time for hours being a jolly and much photographed Santa. Our students sang Christmas songs with us when they could and continued to participate by clapping when they couldn’t. They also gave us gifts, in my case, and probably in yours, gifts to remind us of China at Christmas, because they know we love their country. And even our final, official gift was perfect – not the calorie, sugar, cholesterol filled treats we carried home from schools and offices in America – but the exotic, tropical fruits of China, the country that dramatically changes while it manages to continuously interest and charm us.

The good will, or something like it, took a quantum leap in the evening when the Teachers Training people feted us with good food, very frequent toasts, and, at the end of the meal, music. And we could observe that: The Chinese can have a very happy time on not very much alcohol. With few exceptions teaching volunteers really love an audience (I don’t remember ever enjoying Old MacDonald as much as I did when Anne was leading us.) Our Chinese hosts and Hu Di and Jim were really good and creative at complimenting and thanking each other. And the Chinese hosts were, in fact, genuinely grateful. (Hu Di overheard them say to each other that the reports from the students have been universally enthusiastic)

So I don’t think we can know how much we contributed to peace on earth, but, yes, yesterday and throughout our time here we are bringing and receiving the genuine spirit of Christmas, a spirit of giving and good will, which we wish all people could share, in every season.

Thought for the day:

Peace on earth, good will to men.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Our first observation this morning was that the tunes had changed – no more Christmas music. But today was not be an after Christmas let down – a new adventure or experience was in store for all of us. It would be our first afternoon to visit and teach classes in a local public school.

Our morning routine was the same, teaching at the Training Academy. In our class (Jim Wallace and Jeri) were comparing wedding customs with our teacher/students—when one of our teacher/students, who is getting married next week, shared with class his wedding invitation. This sharing of festivals, customs makes this experience special and a wonderful way to experience China.

During lunch Hu Di thanked the members of Team 156 for being the building blocks or foundation of the new Hainan program. She is leaving tomorrow. She expressed some of her early frustrations, some of the services the Academy has and is providing, and explained the misunderstanding about the fresh fish restaurant.

At 2:35 we gathered in the lobby of the hotel to await transportation to No. 7 Middle School. (The school has approximately 2000 students.) We arrived at the school to be individually greeted by a student with roses and a welcome to our school greeting. We then climbed to the 3rd floor to be officially welcomed by Mr. Zhao, the headmaster of the school. After introducing ourselves to the English teachers present, we were assigned a teacher/classroom for the first 40 minute session. At break we gathered again for our second class assignments. One member of our team expressed her delight with these young eager students.

After our 2nd class we re-assembled and were treated to three student performances: a young man playing a guitar, a young lady played the Chinese violin, and chorus singing a Chinese song. Before departing the school Shirley was interviewed by the local school.

Our day was topped off with another bountiful feast—this time at a Xinjiang restaurant. There was also a performance by dancers and singers from Xinjiang (in western China). Oh, and I almost forgot, while awaiting transportation from the school, we suddenly realized we were “stars”—students flocked around us asking for our autographs. We were the best show in town. But it is really Hu Di, Global Volunteers China country manager, who is Team 156’s “Star.” We bid her a fond farewell this evening.

Thought for the day:

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself”.

Dana Kaye

Thursday, December 27, 2007

It is anticipated that tourism will be the mainstay of the economy on Hainan Island for the extended future. It was recently reported that the current Hainan Province Economic Five Year Plan projects 18,000 to 20,000 visitors from North America by 2009 and steady growth in following years.

The situation in 1965 was considerably different. Hainan was an underdeveloped backwater outpost of the vast Chinese empire. Visitors were largely discouraged and tourism was virtually unknown. In point-of-fact, there was only one American visitor recorded during the entire year.

Phillip Smith arrived on the island on September 20, 1965. During his extended stay in this tropical paradise, Phil was given a police escort wherever he went, provided with free room and board, enjoyed twenty-four a day security protection and was transported free of charge from Sanya to Haikou to Canton and eventually to Beijing. There was only one small problem with Phil Smith’s apparently idyllic vacation – the method and location of his arrival. You see, Phillip Smith was a Major in the U. S. Air Force and he unexpectedly arrived via parachute approximately twelve miles off of the coast near Sanya on the southern tip of the island after ejecting from his disabled F-104 aircraft.

Major Smith had been flying a support mission providing airborne coverage for an electronic intelligence-gathering ship operating in the Gulf of Tonkin. An unexplained navigation error apparently resulted in his arrival off of the Hainan coast. He was picked up by local fishermen and his “visit” began that day. He was initially charged with violating the marine boundaries of the island although he never was put on trial or convicted of any crime.

Phil’s vacation stop was to eventually last two thousand seven hundred and fifty-five days (seven and a half years). At that pointy, he had apparently overstayed his welcome and he was sent home. The day he was released, coincidently, was the same day that all of the Allied Prisoners of War were released by the North Vietnamese.

The growth rate of tourism from Phil Smith’s single visit in 1965 to the 20,000 people expected in 2009 represents an annualized growth rate of approximately 26%. If this rate is to continue, by the year 2051 every man, woman and child in the U. S. and Canada will be required to visit Hainan on an annual basis. I’m glad that I wasn’t here at the time of Phil’s visit and I doubt that any of us will be eager to venture this way as we approach 2050.

And now you know the rest of the story.

On the Global Volunteers home front, Team 156 continues to do well – in many ways our lifestyle resembles that of a happy, active six year old. We get up in the morning, brush our teeth, eat breakfast, go to school, come home for lunch, play with our school-age friends in the afternoon, have dinner, brush our teeth and go to bed. We go where we are told and we eat what is put in front of us.

Life is good.

Jim W.

Thought for the day:

“Blessed for the flexible, for they will not be broken!”

Author unknown

Friday, December 28, 2007

Often one hears the questions: Why are we here? In three weeks are we REALLY able to accomplish anything?

I would like to read an e-mail read I received just before I left the U.S. from one of the teachers who was in my class in Kunming three years ago:

“Dear Marta,
Pleased to hear from you. It’s so great that you still remember us, it’s very kind of you. You’re always doing something useful for us Chinese. Thank you. Because of your help, I think more and more people will learn English and love English. And what you do will make our job more exciting and more interesting. We should express our heartfelt thanks to you and all the volunteers who are willing to help us. Thanks again.”

While we often get too involved with the daily details, it is rewarding and refreshing to see our students often recognize what we are truly trying to accomplish.

Respectfully submitted by: Marta Wallace

Thought for the day:

“It is noble to teach oneself, but still nobler to teach others…and less trouble.”
Mark Twain

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Reflecting on Some American Conceptions of Chinese

Consider the Chinese as they are often represented in the West. Bruce Lee, the kong fu master. Charlie Chan, frequently quoting spurious Confucian proverbs and played by a Caucasian. Fu Manchu, the classical example of the evil Chinese. Lee, the Confucian cook in Steinbeck’s East of Eden, who hides an active intelligence behind a mask of pidgin English. Confucius himself, who must be the most misquoted figure in history. Mao Zedong, so often reviled that his admirable qualities and achievements are hidden from the West. The Dragon Lady (Chinese in part) in the comic strip “Terry and the Pirates,” who has given her name and her unique combination of sex appeal and Machiavellian wiles to several historical figures. The iconic Chinese peasant in his conical hat cultivating a rice field The equally iconic urban Chinese rickshaw puller. And the, yes, just as iconic mandarin, hands tucked into his opposite sleeves, a thin drooping mustache over thin, abstinent lips, smiling enigmatically at us from the inscrutable East. These are, I think, a representative sample of the images of China prevalent in the West.

Here are some other images of the Chinese from some recent experiences in China. Sitting in the courtyard of the Blue Skies Experimental School listening to the young boy playing the 葫芦丝 (hulusi). Sitting in the schoolroom in #7 Middle School listening to the young girl play the 二胡 (erhu). Sitting in that same room listening to a choir of 12 girls sing very sweetly. Hearing people sing Chinese opera tunes in the park across the street from the hotel in Haikou at 9:30 in the evening, every evening. Walking into an otherwise empty gallery in a museum and hearing the guard singing, quietly, to himself. Walking through the park which runs along the city wall in Xi’an to hear group after group singing opera, some groups surrounded by listeners, others singing just for themselves. Finding a group of oldsters in a park in Shantou who, they told us, gather there every day to sing opera in the local dialect which, one woman said, “You can’t understand because it’s so different from 普通话 (putong hua, i. e, mandarin).” And, of course, classroom after classroom of Chinese students singing “This Land is Your Land” and “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” and “Home on the Range” and “Take Me out to the Ballgame” and so many others. These images, grounded in reality, are very different from those images I mentioned above. Chinese are the most musical group of people I have ever run across, and those images I mentioned initially say nothing about this wonderful trait.

The point is not, of course, who is the most musical but this—we Global Volunteers know the Chinese are not what they are represented to be in the West. (And, in truth, no group is what it is represented to be in foreign countries.) I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but since we know some of the truth about China and her people we should, or we must, take that knowledge home with us and share it. The West over the years sent thousands of missionaries to China. Maybe we could be missionaries from China to the West.

Thought for the day:

“One who knows his destiny does not resent Heaven; one who knows himself does not resent others.”

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Team 156 awoke this morning to find that our shackles were asunder. No longer subject to the scheduling dictates of the emissary from Minnesota, we slept in and dined at leisure. Free at last, Free at last!

After a meal unsullied by haste, some made plans to yield to a somewhat slothful nature while the more ambitious set out on various voyages of discovery. A small group had accepted the invitation of Mr. Han to join him and his family for a brunch/lunch at his apartment. For those so honored, it was both an interesting and rewarding experience. Mr. Han’s ever gracious and hospitable wife, Jennifer, had begun preparing a huge meal while we were still enjoying breakfast at the hotel. The preparation continued until just minutes before noon when she could finally sit with us and enjoy her handiwork. In the process she taught most of the ladies and a few of the less timid men to prepare various dishes the Chinese way and gave us free access to the family home.

To ensure that we savored the meal properly, tea opened the preliminaries which included peanuts, fruit, chicken and yet more tea. By the time the first glasses of beer and wine were poured with lunch, toasts were superfluous; we were already fast friends comfortably enjoying one another’s company. I can’t imagine a meal more graciously served and presented even in the company of American millionaires. Joining us were neighbors of the Han’s, their daughter and the small son of a friend, whom we christened with the English name, “Jack”. He kept it at least until we left.

Mr. Han is only recently the proud owner of an automobile and a driving license; clearly significant indicators of one’s status in China. He is extremely cautious with both. Never exceeding 40 kmh, our presence on the freeway gave rise to a measurable increase in the decibel level of honking horns. Unperturbed, we motored safely on.

Lest the story appear to trivialize such a wonderful opportunity, Jim S, Ann, Michael, Janet, Myrle and Shirley sincerely enjoyed the unique experience of sharing a meal with a Chinese family in their private home. They could not have been more kind and hospitable.

In some ways, and for some of us, the rest of the day was anticlimactic, if restful. A small cadre of team members, ravenous for a shopping experience, sallied forth to bargain and dicker with local merchants for baubles and beauty potions. Meanwhile, the Wallaces have yet to return from a mission to Sanya to explore on the team’s behalf. Reports by telephone are not so encouraging that others are likely to plan a trip there on their own.

Having earlier used the good offices of Jim W. to negotiate a custom plaque to be presented to our hosts on our departure, my afternoon was largely spent retrieving the result. Fearful of the prospect of a syntactical train wreck, owing to the total lack of a common language between buyer and seller, it was with some relief that I found only one misspelled name and that likely my own fault….abject apologies to Dodie.

Looking forward to two more days resting our vocal chords and speaking in our native rhythm and dialects with one another, we formed up in columns of twos and marched off to dinner. Past the street vendors and the flattened urban renewal project, stepping over gaping holes in the sidewalk that no doubt contain the bones of lesser mortals, we safely evaded busy commuters rushing about to enjoy the run up to a holiday. Jim successfully negotiated the complex distribution of beer bottles and everyone seems to have gotten a necessary share…albeit too late to save them from severe burns to lips and numbness of the tongue perpetrated by a harmless looking, but thoroughly malignant, little Chinese red pepper.

In symbolic expression of our temporary freedom from structure, the columns broke up, we crossed the street without holding hands, and made our way by ones and twos to the snug safety of the Golden Sea View. All in all, a very nice break from the rigors of daily classes.


Thought for the day: No “thoughts” on the weekend

Monday, December 31, 2007

Natalie provided a brief verbal report on the team’s New Year’s Eve celebration that was held in the 31st floor dining room, much to the amusement of Chinese diners.

Tuesday, January 1, 2007

Leisurely breakfast overlooking Evergreen Park on a very sunny day. Brief discussion over tea and coffee searching for ideas to fill the day. Myrle, Dodie and Shirley decided to immediately take advantage of the beautiful day to wander. After obtaining directions at the desk, we took a short ride to the Haikou East Bus Station
To catch a bus to Wencheng, a small town 70 km to the southeast. Pleasant non-stop ride through the countryside observing farms with crops of many varieties; banana palm tree farms, duck farms and various vegetable and rice farms on both sides of the road.

Upon arrival in Wencheng, we found a very pleasant and relaxed town unlike the hustle and bustle of Haikou. We began walking toward the center of town and the first find was an open bakery where we managed to buy a welcome snack, using hand signals and smiles. As we neared the center of town we came upon a very nice park with an outdoor market filled with local venders selling clothes, household items, fruits and vegetables. Next came the local supermarket; a very different sort of “RT”. On the streets, jitneys outnumbered cars by a large margin, adding to the scene of a quaint and very nice small town atmosphere. Hunger overcame our ignorance of the language and we decided to have tea and lunch in the first restaurant we saw. There was not a word of English in sight and very few pictures we recognized on the menu. The very nice, smiling and patient waitress could barely hide her anxiety at the prospect of approaching us.

She must have known what was about to happen. We made as many gestures as possible and tried very hard to communicate. After a while she smiled nicely and left us. She returned with six young girl students who were trying to have their lunch before our disruption of the entire restaurant. Working as a group, they helped us to order tea and noodles with soup. Their command of the English language seemed to surprise the other people in the restaurant…perhaps they are now locally famous.
After lots of laughter we had a great lunch. One of the goals for team 156 is to improve our understanding of China and its people and culture. This little venture on our own achieved this goal for us in so many ways.

After lunch, we were on our way, more walking and greeting people on the street, and we finally ran out of time to call it a day and return to Haikou. We chugged back to the bus station in jitneys to put a cap on our very shallow immersion in local culture. The station was very busy and like any place else in the world at the end of a long holiday everyone was trying to get back to work and home, as were we.

By jitney, bus and taxi we were back at headquarters in time to test the new foot bridge and still have time for a brief rest before dinner and meeting. Our plans for the fast dwindling days in Haikou for team 156 are largely in place as we approached the end of another fine day “out” there.,.


Thought for the day:

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”.

Albert Einstein

Wednesday, January 2, 2007

The morning teaching routine proceeded as usual with a restful afternoon until 4 PM. Because of Global Volunteers relationship with Mr. Li Chun we were invited to the Haikou Tourism Vocational School before dinner. With 2300 students and a beautifully designed and well equipped campus, it far surpassed anything we have seen to date on our visits. It is fully government funded including the boarding of many students from the countryside. The program prepares students who have completed junior high level 1 for employment in the trades and social services as hotel workers, banking and the restaurant industry. Very rarely, if ever, would these students go on to college or the university. Such an outstanding school was an excellent choice for our last school visit – we won’t soon forget the beautiful shining faces, crisp uniforms and impeccable manners of these students.

Listening to the hard working, extremely intelligent teachers we have met in Hainan, I’ve learned about the long days they are willing to work and the hopes they have for their students. As an example at one school, the teacher told us she begins her day at 7:45 AM and teaches till 3:00; then she has another shift from 5 PM till 8:30. Looking at the structure and format of the lessons they teach makes it plain that they have been developed by those who clearly understand the pedagogy behind good teaching. Great attention is paid to various learning styles, pacing, repetition, modeling, content progression and dramatic interpretation. I also noticed a great deal of bustling in and out of the big, new public library on a Sunday, A quick walk down the stacks on the social science floor revealed the depth of the collection on educational psychology – and these books were in English!

Given the many talented, energetic and business savvy Chinese people it’s obvious that this country can only increase its already huge world impact. I feel an impending explosion. A statistic I read recently puts it so graphically: the number of Chinese students in their top 10 percent is equal to or greater than all those in the U.S. combined. Just imagine! All that brain power plus their spirit of industriousness. Look world! Here they come.

It’s no surprise. The duration of civilizations and world powers has been collapsing since the days of ancient Egypt through the Greeks and Romans in the West and China and India in the East. The British Empire barely lasted one hundred years and we can only really count the U.S. as the world’s leading power since the mid 20th Century. Now I feel our country’s position will be eclipsed by this powerful force from China. When and how I’ll probably not be around to witness. I only know that cementing good relations through activities such as Global Volunteers and other people to people contacts can only help make this transition a peaceful one. That is what the common folk of both countries want and pray for.


Thursday, January 3, 2007

The day had no outstanding events. The morning classes went on as scheduled with discussions and practice for the final ceremony, collecting, correcting and re-correcting names and addresses of all the participants!

The first free afternoon was spent in errands, last minute shopping and cultural pursuits such as Dodie going to the “traditional” spa recently opened by a doctor who was trained by his father. She reported being totally renewed by the mineral soak in a hot tub and a vigorous massage!

Dinner was a delicious event at the “Chairman Mao” restaurant with Mr. Han joining us and many toasts were given. I believe we will miss the eager smiling faces of the teacher’s we’ve befriended these three weeks, however. We are all looking forward to the final ceremony , several of us are hosting the teachers from our classes for lunch. We all are looking forward to the official dinner of local seafood on a boat hosted by the local VIPs before we all disperse to miscellaneous destinations leaving Jim Swiderski alone and forlorn without our presence.


Thought for the day:

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”

Antoine de Sainte-Exupery, “The Little Prince”