China Team Journal

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thursday, April 10

By Hugh Ragsdale

Part A. Team narrative
The morning routine was familiar, classes as usual followed by lunch at the school.
In the afternoon we bought our two weekend day trips, Saturday to An shang and Sunday to Hua Shan and the Terra Cotta Warriors. Then four of us (minus Peggy, busy with her own work with autistic kids) went to Eurasia University for English Corner. We sat at four separate tables surrounded by six or more students with whom we talked about various subject for about 1 ½ hours before returning to the hotel for dinner.

Part B. Very personal recollections and impressions
Notable observation: there are five portraits prominently displayed at school, a motley collection—Confucius (chronological order), Marx, Edison, Einstein, and Mao. Our minivan transport to school also hangs a Mao button from the mirror.

The beginning and end of classes are marked by music over the PA system Is it plan or destiny that classes answer to “Yankee Doodle”? And what explains our arrival at a restaurant for dinner to the tune of Mendelsohn’s “Wedding March”? Other local favorites are “Happy Birthday” and “Auld Lang Syne.”

I expected to arrive to deal with high-school and university students, and yet I have been assigned to grades 1-3. Is it squandering resources, or is it comic relief? My impression of students: those who begin English in kindergarten are remarkably good. All over the country there is poor comprehension of spoken English, e.g. “a beer” or “address of Air China.” Inscrutable. Yet there is precise pronunciation by students reading in class.
The best was to get attention in class is visual, such as a picture dictionary. Phrases such as “How beautiful” or “How lovely” are rehearsed but delivered with spontaneous conviction. Last class Thursday was 1st grade. Wild! No control at all, ultimately amusing.

Finally, largest English-speaking country in the world?
Next stop: rice wine.