China Team Journal

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

Thoughts For The Day: If we use today well, tomorrow will take care of itself. AND Plan briefly, and act boldly.

We departed from the hotel at 8:00 a.m. and began our last classes at about 8:30. This last class lasted only until 9:50 a.m. Carol and I undertook a number of activities that would get the students to talk a good deal and added to the list of American idioms we had given them in a previous class. We also showed them some pictures of New York City and of the Amish people. (During these two weeks we have talked about a number of minority groups in the United States, and it is clear from their questions that the students were interested in those topics.) We ended with the spelling game Hangman, which we had played before and which they really liked. The very last Hangman puzzle for them to figure out was "We will miss all of you." Actually, they figured it out very quickly. Our last class ended, as had all the previous classes, with many smiles and a great deal of enthusiasm. It was hard to realize this was the last time "our" group of students would be together with us and with each other.

All three classes and the volunteers gathered for the final ceremony. The ceremony was preceded by an exceptional collection of photographs that the University folks had taken of the students and all the volunteers over the past two weeks. We heard a series of speeches from several dignitarites, including our own Baoli, thanking the volunteers and congratulating the students on their hard work and achievements during the program. In addition, the volunteers each said a few words about what these two weeks have meant to us, and each received several very thoughtful gifts.

After the formal part of the ceremony ended, each of the three classes presented a medley of songs for the entire group. The songs were spirited, well done and very much appreciated. The volunteers, with Baoli, ended the program with our stirring renditions of "Getting To Know You" and "It's A Small World." (But let us be very clear that no matter what singing talents the volunteers may have exhibited, each of us knows it is important "to keep our day jobs.") The program was followed by many pictures with students and many heartfelt goodbyes. It was a perfect ending to what has been a wonderful two weeks, for the students and certainly for the volunteers.

We returned for lunch at the hotel. During the afternoon Bob, Carol and went to the Bird and Flower Market. It was a great deal of fun (although getting a taxi to go there proved somewhat difficult). We gathered for our last dinner together at our hotel at 6:00 p.m.

This ends the Journal for Team 185. Martin, Kathy, Bob, JK, Carol and Dick, always so ably helped and organized by Baoli, became good friends; we enjoyed Kunming a great deal; we loved working with our English teacher students; and WE DID HAVE FUN. For the future, the very best to all of us, and here's hoping that we meet again.

- Dick

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thursday July 22, 2010

Thought for the Day: "Life's most urgent question is, what are you doing for others?? Martin Luther King

We began the day as usual -- chatting, enjoying a delicious breakfast, and today practicing our two songs -- "Getting to Know you" and "It's a Small World" -- which we will perform at the Final Ceremony. We plan to practice several more times in order to be presentable! We all hopped on the van at 8AM and traveled to our English Classes at Kunming University -- we can hardly believe that we are on Day 9 of our of teaching project. We are tired but feel so satisfied with the progress that all of our students have made and how friendly everyone has become toward one another. We remind ourselves that our goals include improving Conversational English skills but also building relationships and I do believe that we have accomplished both. And yes, we are having fun!!!

Dick and I began our class with several games -- Telephone, Hangman, Let's Tell a Story, and 20 Questions. We always emphasize how good these games are for their students to learn and the teachers seem to love them. Then we spent the time up to the break and some of the time after, allowing our 6 student representatives to practice their speeches again. This time many more students had comments and suggestions for them. Everyone seemed very excited and enthusiastic about this Speech Festival. After the break we talked a little about America's early history, some important Presidents such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. We had pictures to show them of Washington, D.C. and the various Monuments and Memorials connected to these Presidents. We finally ended our class by practicing the two songs that the students will sing tomorrow at the Closing Ceremony -- "Blowin' in the Wind" and "You are My Sunshine." One of our students will play the guitar for this performance -- I think it will be very nice.

We traveled back to our hotel for lunch and a slight rest -- and then back in the van to attend the Speech Festival. Chris introduced the Festival and one of Martin and Kathy's students acted as moderator. We sat and listened to 18 speeches -- 6 students from each class. The topics were varied, the body language was wonderful, the eye contact was very good, and everyone seemed to have a fine time. After the student speakers, the Volunteers each said a few words of encouragement to all of the students who participated, including those who did not speak at the final round. We all agreed that we felt the students had made significant progress in this short time and that they were all very enthusiastic.

Baoli decided that since it looked like it might rain, that we should forgot our trip to the pagoda and the restaurant and just go back to the hotel. We all agreed that a rest and another fine meal in our hotel would be fine.

We all will certainly look forward to our final day tomorrow with our wonderful students and will store memories forever of our "adventurous" experiences here in Kunming.

- Carol

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thought For The Day: God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

8:30 - 10:00 a.m. -- This morning we prepared the students in our class to practice for the First Round Speech Festival. Each student was required to give a brief 3 to 5minute speech on any subject. After the end of each student presentation, Bob and I gave our comments and tips on how they could improve their speech in English. As a whole, the class did quite well, and we plan another speech dress rehearsal tomorrow morning before the Final Speech Festival.

10:00-10:10 a.m. -- Bob and I left the class room, and the students selected 6 representatives to represent our class in the Finals. In addition, we announced that in the closing ceremony, Friday, our class will be singing two songs.

11:30 -- 1:30 p.m. -- During the Friendship Activity the class treated Bob and me at a restaurant call Foo Chou Lou. It was a fabulous 15 course meal which to me, was more like a feast for a king. Interestingly, because of our age and the fact that we were teachers, the students insisted on carrying our books and held both of us by the arm to protect us from falling.

To make things even better, one of the students owned a fancy red Honda and drove Bob and me to the restaurant and back to the hotel. Why can't we get such VIP treatment back home?

- JK

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tuesday July 20, 2010

Thought for the day: Why is that when people reach a certain age we think they're approaching death soon? We should instead celebrate the fact that they're still alive and kicking. It is not so much dealing with death, it's learning from people who have come this far (Personal philosophy derived from life experiences).

Today started off with a very busy morning going over several agenda items which will occur over the next three days: the Friendship Activity, the Speech Festival, and the Closing Ceremony. We spent so much time going over these items that we were rushed in doing our regular exercises of the journal reading, pronunciation drills, open-ended discussion questions, and role playing. We did manage to sing some songs and teach the students some games which they might use in their classes including Hangman.

After lunch at the hotel, we went to the Hump Memorial where we spent the afternoon with our classes teaching them about American assistance to the Chinese government during the Sino-Japanese War. Beginning with the American Volunteer Group lead by Claire Chennault in early 1941, the outfit turned into the Flying Tigers when America entered the war after Dec. 7, 1941.

The weather was quite bad with continual rain changing from light to heavy showers. My arthritis was acting up, aggravated by the wet weather, and I decided to stay in the van. Martin told me the students enjoyed taking pictures of their friends and with the Global Volunteers. J.K., our dancing master Volunteer, felt under the weather with flu-like symptoms and spent the afternoon resting. He was still not feeling up to par by dinner time and Baoli arranged for him to eat supper in his room and continue to rest.

We were all tired after the day's outing with the rain and mud, but got our second wind when we had dinner at Che Che, a restaurant which serves American food in Kunming. The food was quite tasty and a welcome change to all the wonderful Chinese food which we have been eating. The food did not taste exactly what we are used to eating in California, New York, and New Jersey where the Volunteers are from, but it was appreciated by all. After our American food fix we all walked back to the hotel in the drenching rain for a much needed night's sleep.

Tomorrow is the Friendship Activity session and I look forward to seeing what our students have planned.

- Kathy

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday July 19, 2010

Thought for the Day: “Some men see things as they are and say 'why'. I dream things that never were and say 'why not?'” - John F. Kennedy

Following our morning meeting we boarded the van with Chris and headed for the flower market. We learned that Kunming is the flower capital of China, and for much of SE Asia. Although much of the activity had slowed down by the time we arrived (9:00) it was still very interesting to observe the site and enjoy the beautiful displays.

We met a group of English speaking college girls who insisted on our having our pictures taken with them. I tried to resist but they threatened to use force, so I succumbed.

We then drove through the new city where there is construction going on a monumental scale. The University, a medical school and a tech campus is being built. Along with huge housing complexes for faculty and staff. It is all on a world class scale.

The van to take us to school after lunch was a little late, so class was a little compressed. JK announced about the speech festival. He discussed the various ideas for delivering a good speech. He then discussed the variables that determined a teacher's salary in the US.

I added one point to the tips for the speeches, Inflection. I explained the meaning and we had a short drill to illustrate.

After that we had a short game of telephone and learned some new slang. We finished with a new song, The Unicorn, to add to their play list of Yakety Yak and Where Have All The Flowers Gone.

Dinner was at a Moslem restaurant. The ambiance was pleasant, the food was good, the service attentive and a good time was had by all.

- Bob

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday July 18, 2010

Thought for today: The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Neibuhr, American theologian and Christian intellectual. God give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

We are half way through our two week service session in Kunming and it has been exhilarating, exciting, fun, and exhausting. I was very happy to have the weekend free in order to recoup after being away from home for over one month, traveling over Southern and Southwestern China and winding up at the Shanghai World Expo before starting my Global Volunteers session in Kunming.

I anticipated teaching in Kunming would be relatively easy since this is my fourth term back to Kunming University (previously Kunming Teachers College). But it has been a little disorganized for both Kathleen and me, first time teaching as a team, in that we have not gone over and refined our lesson plans as we had planned to do before starting our China journey. But we started our first week in Kunming on cruise control and like bicycle riding, the techniques come back on a subconscious level.

The first week ended and I was happy to rest yesterday with spending some time in the street next to the hotel with shopkeepers whom we have known for four years and who recognized us from prior sessions. We have also had an opportunity to touch base with some of our former students who have kept in contact with us throughout the years.

This morning was the first time Kathleen and I ate breakfast at the late hour of 8:00am in the hotel and enjoyed a long leisurely meal. We didn't have an opportunity to eat with the other team members although J.K. Chun stopped for a few minutes to have a second cup of coffee with us.

After breakfast, Kathleen and I went to Green Lake Park to spend several delightful hours mingling with the local people and seeing how Kunming families, young couples, and a few tourists, spend their Sundays. The park is quite nice for a large park located in the heart of a big city and like Central Park in New York, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and Grant Park in Chicago, it forms a large part of the culture of the city dwellers. We enjoyed seeing young singles, one, two, and three generation families, the little kiosks offering souvenirs, toys, refreshments. the lake with its lotus plants, ducks, paddle boats, and many people, like us, enjoying a respite from the hustle and bustle of city life.

We returned to the hotel and had lunch at a restaurant a few yards adjacent to the hotel, XiYingZhai, a modern Chinese fast food/cooked to order, hybrid, restaurant/cafeteria. The decor is clean, McDonald's style, with their logo on plastic plates and bowls. After entering the restaurant you read the menu with accompanying pictures on the walls. After deciding what you want to eat, you go to the only cashier, tell her what you want and pay her for your meal. You get one receipt for each item you offer. You then turn around and go to the counter where your food is cooked and present your receipt. Your order is filled, you take your tray and utensils and find an empty table and enjoy. The dining room employees, almost all young women, clean all the tables and keep the condiment trays filled. No self-busing.

The food is quite good for simple dishes, well prepared. For 12 Yuan, approximately $1.80, I had a four item tray: a covered bowl of seaweed soup, a covered bowl of rice, a plate of sliced barbecued roast pork, and a small dish of stirred fried cabbage with mushrooms. Utensils and paper napkins are included. The only unusual part of this nice lunch was the absence of anything to drink -- no water or tea. Since soup is served, most patrons do not drink anything else. As usual we always bring a bottle of water with us in case of situations like this.

My wife had a large bowl of soup rice noodles with beef: 6 Yuan or 90 cents. Total cost of a leisurely lunch for two, nice ambiance, tasty and enjoyable food, good nutrition: $2.70 American. Tipping not expected nor desired, but probably appreciated. Welcome to Yunnan Province! The only downside: if you don't speak elementary Mandarin, you may have some challenges to overcome. Learn to point or study Wang Baoli's Chinese lessons.

After lunch we retreated back to the hotel, relaxed with some television and computer time.

Dinner at 6:00 pm at the hotel with the team who filled everyone in with their Sunday activities. Wang Baoli gave us some background material for our Hump Memorial visit on Tuesday. After dinner Kathleen had her weekly nail treatment at the local beauty emporium on the adjacent street. As a finale to a restful Sunday, Kathleen and I went back to our room where we prepared for our teaching session tomorrow and where I did my journal duties.

Week two begins tomorrow with a morning visit to the wholesale Dou Nan flower market in the New Kunming area. Let the activities commence!

- Martin

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday July 17, 2010

Thought for the Day: "The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit." (Nelson Henderson; from Boldt, Zen Soup -- Tasty Morsels Of Wisdom From Great Minds East & West, Penguin/Arkana, 1997)

Because it was Saturday we had no classes to teach. Martin and Kathy spent a quiet day in and around the hotel. Carol, Bob, JK, and Dick traveled in a rented van with Chris (the program assistant at the University who provides so much help for us). We rode for about 2.5 hours to a stone village occupied by people from one of China's minority groups. The village is very old, and we had the impression of stepping back into life that is similar in many ways to life lived a couple of hundred years ago. Only very recently did any electricity or running water reach this village, and we could see small pipes running above ground for the most part and then entering houses, and electric wires running into the buildings. We had a delicious and much too large lunch with a young family who live in the village. After lunch the husband and wife sang two songs for us, and their five-year-old daughter sang an additional number. Bob and Carol each bought one of the hand-made items that they had for sale.

We then travelled to a small lake (Long Lake) surrounded by a park. We walked along the shoreline, sat in the shade, and talked for a while. After that we drove back toward Kunming and stopped at the Stone Forest, one of China's remarkable natural treasures. Here great stones (formed from what was originally limestone at the bottom of an ancient ocean) create sharp towers and rocks of many different shapes. This is a truly fantastic landscape. We had an English-speaking guide -- one of Chris' former students; he was a delightful young man who has worked at the park for four years. We walked some distance through the park. After the hiking and climbing, some delicious chocolate ice cream truly "hit the spot."

Chris parted from us when we left the park, so he could stay with his parents in a nearby village. Our faithful driver delivered us back to the hotel just in time for a 6:30pm dinner with Baoli, Kathy and Martin. It was a very full, busy, warm, and memorable day. Sleep came quickly.

- Dick

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday July 16, 2010

Since I'm 80 and time is short for me, my Thought For The Day is: "Enjoy your self (baby). It's later than you think."

8:30-11:30 a.m. Small Class Teaching at Kunming Teachers College

I thought since my arrival 5 days ago, today was the most successful and productive class meeting. The students seemed more relaxed, more confident, less shy and even smiled when they spoke.

Although Bob and I teach alternate hours (1.5 hrs. each), we both decided today to focus on encouraging students to ask us questions rather than vice-versa. In that way the students could practice their English by speaking, and when we answered their questions, the students could practice their English by listening to our answers.

The strategy I used today was to explain the importance of being a "team player," emphasizing the fact that 2 heads are better than one.

So I chose 3 of our bravest and best students as "Team Leaders." Then each leader would have 4 students under them, and together as a team, they would decide what questions to ask me. In that way, as a team, they would feel less embarrassed to ask me questions. For example: How did you meet your wife? Was it love at first sight? (As an individual, they would never ask me these questions, but as a group together -- Anything Goes.) I wrote their questions on the board from the 3 team leaders, and they were very interesting; but my time was up so I had to turn the class over to Bob.

When Bob took over the class, he also asked students many questions to encourage them to be more confident and to speak more. In addition, Bob also taught them a few American idioms. Later he played a game called "Telephone" which was interesting, and the students responded well.

12:00 -- 1:30 p.m. Lunch at Golden Flower Hot Pot Restaurant

Bao Li made an excellent choice by bringing us to this unique restaurant. Although my wife and I have hot pot occasionally in L.A. (usually in the winter), this experience was interesting because we use different kinds of food and ingredients. Which tastes better? Our American-Chinese style or Kunming style? No comment.

5:00-5:45 p.m. Chinese Language Lesson

Dick and Carol as pure blooded, white, Caucasian Americans attended. Kathy, Marty, and I as Chinese-Americans, "played hookie" and did not attend.

6:00-7:00 p.m. Dinner at Yunan Food Restaurant
The food there was also good, but we had to rush our meal to attend the Yunnan Dynamic Show.

8:00-10:00 p.m. Yunnan Dynamic Show

This show was spectacular with a huge cast composed of China's minority groups. The costumes were unique. I really enjoyed the show because where else in the world can you see authentic native minority dancers and singers, except in Kunming?

My main objection, however, was during the show I was caught "illegally" taking pictures. Yet many people from the audience (including Bob) were also taking pictures during the show, but they got away with it. My question is: Why me?


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thursday July 15, 2010

Thought for the Day: Tell me, I will forget. Show me, I may remember. But involve me and I will understand. - Chinese Proverb

We again woke up to another wonderful Chinese Buffet Breakfast. I am always amazed at the variety of food we find and the many interesting names that accompany this food! We ate, conversed as usual about our many experiences here in China, and also our many opinions about just about every subject. This group is so interesting and knowledgeable about everything. At 8AM we all met downstairs at the white van and traveled to our teaching assignments.

Dick and I also are finding that the students are becoming more and more comfortable and confident to speak up in class and to ask many questions. We began today by reviewing questions from our "lectures" yesterday -- Dick speaking on American History, Carol speaking on Special Education and Disabilities, and Bob speaking on Jewish History. We helped them if they needed clarification on information presented and answered some written questions. Then we began a discussion of our National Holiday -- Thanksgiving -- and the Chinese holiday of Spring Festival or the New Year. Dick and talked about some Thanksgiving customs and I put new vocabulary on the board. Then we went around the room asking each student to say a sentence or two about the Spring Festival and that was very interesting for us. Many students had some similar customs and then other students shared more unique experiences such as taking short trips, spending time with friends, or going to the Buddhist Temple to pray. Our next activity involved the World Map -- a wonderful activity since it did not appear that the teachers had spent much time with maps. We brought all the students up around the map and then "quizzed" them on oceans, continents, countries, rivers, seas, etc. and they were very interesting. Again we put new vocabulary on the board. Next we put the letter "B" up on the board and with partners, the students wrote down as many words as possible beginning with that letter -- I printed all the words on the board -- we pronounced newer, more difficult words and often used them in sentences. I was amazed at the number of words they found. The students seem to really like working with one or two other people and then sharing with everyone what they find. Finally, Dick and I passed out a short Rober Frost poem (The Road Not Taken) which we hope to work more on tomorrow -- we read this poem in unison and then tackled a few unfamiliar vocabulary words before finishing the class with the Hokey Pokey...they loved it.

Other Volunteers shared some of their Thursday teaching experiences at lunch -- which included more "open-ended" questions, students being teachers, and lots of good conversation. JK even got a "headstart" on our afternoon entertainment by teaching his students both the Bunny Hop and the Macarena.

In the afternoon 5 of us again met at the van at 2PM and traveled back to the University to participate in both another lecture on Chinese overseas and some wonderful dances and songs. JK, Martin, and Kathy formed a panel and related such fascinating personal experiences as people coming from two cultures. The students stood up and asked questions as they had yesterday when the previous three Volunteers gave their presentations. Then we took a short break and walked back to our classroom building for another hour of the Bunny Hop and Macarena -- and then we all sang "You are My Sunshine" and “This Land is Your Land”. I think it is safe to say that the whole event was a big success.

Finally, at 6PM we met outside the Hotel to walk 10 minutes to the Jordan’s Cafe...along the most interesting street I have seen in China. We walked through a "neighborhood" within a big city -- a place where you could really find any consumer good necessary or have your pants shortened or buy your live chicken for dinner. I definitely want to walk along that road again, perhaps on Sunday, and take in more of the sights, sounds, and smells. I'm not sure how I can really describe this all to my friends at home -- everything is so fascinating!

I am feeling tired at the end of this wonderful day and so happy to be involved with my new Volunteer Friends as well as my new Student Friends. I look forward to tomorrow and another whole set of possibilities...

- Carol

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wednesday July 14, 2010

Thought for the day (after observing the relationship between GV team members and their students at Kunming University): Youth is a wonderful thing; it is a shame that it is wasted on the young (paraphrased from Mark Twain).

Today was a turning point in the student/teacher relationships in our class. The students were at ease, asked questions, gave opinions, and in general appeared interested in the program. After a routine journal reading by one of the students, essentially a copy of our daily GV exercise, comments were given from me, Martin and the students regarding grammar, syntax, pronunciation, body language and anything else that might contribute to improved English written and conversational skills.

We then spent some time commenting about yesterday's presentation by Baoli and the GV about volunteerism. Each of the students gave their opinion about the presentation and how much they had learned about volunteerism and the motivation to participate. Their interest was stimulated and they appreciated the opportunity to learn about a cultural phenomenon not often seen in Asian cultures.

We went through a variety of exercises including team role model playing, instant creative responses to open-ended questions, vocabulary building, pronunciation exercises, singing, and public speaking techniques. By 11:30 both students and GV were ready for lunch and some rest from a full morning.

After the usual delicious and nutritious lunch at the hotel, three members of the team returned to school to give cultural enrichment talks: (1) Dick spoke about American History, (2) Carol discussed Special Education and Disability, and (3) Bob talked about Jewish culture and religion. All the talks were well received by the students as evidenced by a prolonged ovation to all the speakers.

My husband and I underwent a different adventure as we had to go to the local police department, named the Public Security Bureau in China, in order to extend our China visas. Although I speak fluent Mandarin, without Baoli accompanying us to the Exit & Entry Certificates Service Office where they issue visas in cities without consulates, we might be there for the rest of the afternoon or given a run around to return with additional documents, pictures, credit cards, hotel statements, etc. Several GV in Xi'an had to do the same and they experienced nothing but grief until they got their visa extension. The process went very smoothly in Kunming with Baoli's guidance and with luck. We will get our new visas after a week.

On our return walk home, the afternoon heat had its effect on me after a few blocks but we were fortunate enough to get a taxi for all of us back to the hotel. After a brief rest the entire tea met for an evening dinner and show at the Yunnan Flavor Restaurant where the quality and quantity of food was memorable. Just when we could not eat anything more, individual bowls of Across the Bridge Noodles, a Kunming specialty, was served to each of us. After the meal, a thoroughly enjoyed show demonstrating the various dances of many Yunnan minority groups was presented with singers, acrobats, and even sword walkers involved. At the end of the show, the audience was encouraged to come on stage to meet the performers and get pictures taken.

And so ended another day in Kunming with too many activities, too much food, a lot of work but at the end of the day, it was thoroughly enjoyable and I look forward to tomorrow for more of the same after a good night's rest..

- Kathy

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thought for the day: Hillel, the great Hebrew sage of the millennium, was approached by a young man. The youth said he would convert and follow Hillel if the Rabbi could explain his religion to him while he stood on one leg.
Hillel responded: "That which is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor. All the rest is commentary".

Dick read the journal at the breakfast meeting. The day's program was given to us and we headed to the University. Our class went well. We did role playing, discussed the American education system, and JK did an extensive presentation on effective teaching methods. The other groups did not discuss their sessions with us, but we gathered the impression that their classes went well. Baoli distributed the syllabus for the rest of the program at lunch.

Following lunch we returned to the University. The combined classes were gathered in a conference room. Baoli gave a very effective power point presentation on GV and the concept of volunteerism. Then each team member spoke about their own roles as volunteers.

The students were asked to ask questions. They were reluctant to participate at first. But when given the opportunity to submit their questions in writing they were very responsive and a number of very good question were turned in.

We returned to the hotel at 5:00. A full and satisfying day.

- Bob

Monday, July 12, 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

Thought for the day: "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." (Einstein)

After breakfast we left the hotel at 8 AM in a van to travel about 20 minutes to the local college where we will meet our English teacher students for the first time and have our first day of class. Our "teaching day" began with an Opening Ceremony attended by all the English teacher students, team members, and a number of dignitaries. Each of the dignitaries spoke at the ceremony, including our team leader Baoli. All the speakers welcomed us and said how delighted they are that we have come from the United States to assist Chinese English teachers with their conversational English. All of them also said how important a learning opportunity this will be for the English teachers who are present and how important learning English is for the children of China. The ceremony took about 40 minutes. It was followed by a "photo op" in which one of our hosts took a group picture of all those who attended the Opening Ceremony.

We met our three groups of students and went to our respective classrooms. Each of the three groups (as noted previously) is taught by two teachers: Martin and Kathy; JK and Bob; and Carol and Dick. The groups completed a variety of first day activities designed to help everyone meet everyone else and to allow our volunteers to gain a sense of the existing conversational skills of the English teachers (so that we can plan for the best possible classes during the rest of our two weeks here). Creativity in running the class sessions was very evident in each of the classrooms, and everything seemed to go splendidly throughout our first day. Most importantly, all of our students seemed eager and very interested in the activities that we suggested.

At approximately 11:45 AM we got back in the van and traveled back to our hotel for lunch. We spent a good deal of time at lunch talking about the two week teaching schedule and in particular about the "lectures" that team members will give on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons this week. Most mornings we will be teaching from 8:30 until 11:30 AM, and we will have afternoon sessions for two hours each on some days, but not all.

The afternoon was spent on a variety of "free time" activities. The high point of the afternoon was Kathy and JK's visit to a local craftsman who successfully opened JK's locked suitcase. In addition, Dick spent an hour talking to a young man who is a third year college student here in Kunming. He hopes to attend graduate school in the United States, and he had numerous questions about what he might expect if he does eventually do so.

After dinner we reviewed our first day's activities, so each group could learn something about what the other groups are doing. We can be very pleased that our first day of teaching went so well, that our group of six volunteers plus Baoli get along so well together, that we are so enthusiastic about the English teachers who are our students and about the opportunities we will have to help them during days to come, and that we are having fun (as Kathy keeps urging us to do).

Remember: "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile."

- Dick

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday July 11, 2010

Thought for the Day:
(1) Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
(2) It's not about how to achieve your dreams. It's about how to lead your life.

On a lovely Saturday evening our team met for the first time at dinner at the Golden Spring Hotel with the mission of improving the English conversational skills of teachers from Yunnan Province. Our country manager, Baoli, begins her 2nd year leading this successful and popular program at Kunming Teachers College. All of the Volunteers are returnees and most have a teaching background but other fields such as medicine, law, business are represented. Each of the Volunteers made a brief biographical statement:

(1) Dick, a professor in Regional and City Planning at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, is a third term GV having previously taught in Poland and Rumania. A lawyer by training, he teaches environmental law. This is first program with GV in China.

(2) Carol, from Ithaca, New York, is the wife of Dick, and is a special education teacher with special interest in autism and developmental handicap conditions. Kunming will be the third program in which she and her husband have served.

(3) Junion, a teacher of business strategies at Pasadena City College, is from Diamond Bar, California, and returns to China as a GV for the second time having previously served in Xi'an 1998. He is a retired businessman and teacher.

(4) Kathleen from Los Altos, California returns to Kunming for her fourth summer to enjoy the teaching program and cultural enrichment experience in Kunming. She is a retired research dietitian and this is her fifth GV program.

(5) Martin, Kathleen's husband, returns to Kunming for his fourth summer and looks forward to improving his teaching skills in the great program at Kunming Teachers College. A retired eye surgeon, he is serving on his fifth GV program.

(6) Bob, from Summit, New Jersey, has served on three GV programs, in Xi'an, Ho Chi Minh, and Rumania. A retired high school teacher of business courses in New Jersey, he looks forward to teaching the English teachers at Kunming Teachers College.

On Sunday morning, the formal orientation began at 8:20 am with Baoli covering (1) The history of the Global Volunteer Program, (2) Philosophy of Global Volunteers,
(3) Team Building, (4) Policy and Guidelines, (5) Heath and Safety, and (6) Teaching Assignments. The team will be divided into three teams, each team teaching 16 to 18 students. The three teams compose: (a) Dick and Carol (b) Junion and Bob, and (c) Martin and Kathleen.

Baoli then reviewed the six Global Volunteers Policies, and 3 Guidelines for team member behavior.

An outline of the teaching schedule was given with daily teaching in the morning and cultural enrichment lectures for three afternoons of the first week, and field trip and speech festival for afternoons of the second week.

The team was then divided into four coordinating areas with one lead and one support person. These include:
(1) Journal managers: Dick (lead), Martin (support)
(2) Health and safety coordinators: Martin (lead), Bob (support)
(3) Free time coordinators: Kathleen (lead), Bob (support)
(4) Final celebration coordinators: Carol (lead), Junion (support)

After a delicious lunch at the hotel, the meeting was adjourned and met again at 5:30 pm where we dined at a local restaurant hosted by our local hosts from the Bureau of Education and Kunming Teachers College.

A full enjoyable day was experienced by all who look forward to beginning our teaching sessions in the morning.

- Martin

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Friday July 9, 2010

Thought for the Day: And gladly would he teach, and gladly learn.”
This line is from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales—it occurs in his introduction to the pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. The pilgrim being described is a young student at Oxenford (better known today as Oxford). Chaucer clearly approves of him (he doesn’t approve of all the pilgrims). I thought this line could describe us, who come to China to teach and to learn. Pilgrims we may not be in any religious sense, but given the number of us who have come to China again and again, we may be pilgrims in a broader sense.

Chaucer’s band of pilgrims is decidedly a mixed bag of characters, which is a large part of the charm of the work. So I thought I would present a mixed bag of odds and ends of reading suggestions for this last journal entry.

In the Chinese tradition there are four classic works of fiction: Journey to the West, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The Water Margin, and The Story of the Stone (perhaps better known as Dream of the Red Chamber). Read all of them. They all generously repay reading, but you should know they are all very long. (An interesting question is why works of classic Asian fiction tend to be very, very long.) For those of you who know and love Xi’an, you might be interested to know a little of the literary history of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. In the Tang dynasty a Buddhist monk, the Eminent Monk Xuan Zang, journeyed from Chang’an (present day Xi’an) to India and back, traversing both the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts on the way. The journey took 20+ years. Upon his return the emperor commissioned the building of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda for Xuan Zang’s use as a scriptorium, and there he and a crew of translators worked on translating the scriptures he brought back with him from Sanskrit into Chinese. Journey to the West is a work of fiction loosely based on these historical facts. Interestingly, the main character is not Xuan Zang but a mischievous, clever, street-smart monkey named Sun Wukong. In the novel Xuan Zang is reduced to a slightly dim, slightly spaced-out, incredibly naïve character.

The other three works have equally interesting backgrounds, but I digress. In my last journal I mentioned the early Chinese historian Sima Qian, the founder of Chinese historiography. (Remember? He chose to be castrated in order to continue working on his magnum opus.) His history has been translated and is well worth reading. Probably the best modern translation is a selection (this work too is very long) titled Records of the Grand Historian, translated by Burton Watson.

There’s a wonderful tradition of poetry in China. Her earliest named poet (the Chinese Caedmon) is Qu Yuan, connected to the Dragon Boat festival and the eating of zungzi by a not very reliable traditional history. One of the best ways to sample this tradition is Stephen Owen’s anthology - An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. Owen is one of the very best scholar/translators of Chinese poetry working today, and his anthology is sensitively constructed with very helpful brief comments and historical contexts. There is an especially rich selection from the Tang dynasty, usually thought to the golden age of poetry in China.

Switching periods, if you wish to read about modern China’s history, Jonathan Spence’s The Search for Modern China, while often used as a text in college history classes, was not written as a textbook but as a popular history. Hence it is quite lively and very readable. The book begins with the Ming dynasty and moves forward through Mao’s time.
For a very different book about a small piece of modern China, I cannot praise George Kate’s The Years that Were Fat highly enough. Kates lived in Beijing from 1933 to 1940 and loved every minute. His book is at once an evocation of a Beijing we can only dream of and his intoxication with it. Once you read this book you will never walk through Beijing again without thinking of Kates and, if you’re lucky, catching a glimpse of the Beijing he knew.

And if you want to be completely au courant with Chinese literature and culture, there is a listserv based at Ohio State University’s Modern Chinese Literature and Culture Resource Center which distributes materials on those topics and occasionally veers into politics too. See (Disclaimer: MCLC is publishing a translation by my colleague Wang Dun and me.)

Finally (I bet you thought that word would never arrive) here are two modern novels. John Hersey, born in Baoding to Chinese missionary parents, wrote a novel titled The Call about an idealistic young American who came to China early in the 20th century. Despite the title, he didn’t come as a missionary but as a worker with the YMCA. The novel is an interesting personal view of Chinese history in a very turbulent period. And Yu Hua’s To Live is another novel about an equally turbulent period, from Liberation into the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Zhang Yimou made this into a movie (and was banned from movie-making for two years) in which one can catch glimpses of both shadow puppets and Gong Li.

I’m almost out of time, and I haven’t even made the transition from the Oxford of Chaucer’s time to the University City of 2010 Kunming. I’ll save that for another journal.

- Michael

Friday, July 9, 2010

Kunming Teachers Performence - Creative and hilarious!

This is the closing ceremony for our program in June 2010. See how talented and creative the local English teachers are! We volunteers are so proud of them.

Now, can you tell if the "old lady" is played by a female or male? - It's one of the male English teachers from the volunteers class!! Enjoy!

Thursday July 8, 2010

Thought for the day: This is the true joy of life; the being used up for a purpose, recognized by yourself as a mighty one. - George Bernard Shaw

It was the final day of a memorable three weeks for Team # 184 in Kunming. As one volunteer said, “On the second Monday, it looked like a long two weeks ahead, and then suddenly, it’s over.” Indeed the last week has gone quickly and so on our last day of class, we strive to do just a little bit more to send the teachers home with improved speaking skills, new English words and renewed spirits.

After class, our last “friendship activity” was a convivial lunch with all the classes at a local restaurant, including multiple, delicious dishes, some toasts and the ever-continuing photo opportunities.

The Closing Ceremony (aka Final Celebration) was both – ceremonial and celebratory. There were the speeches by the dignitaries, certificates for each teacher and showers of appreciation for us volunteers. The celebration continued with an exuberant performance by each class, ranging from a spoken comedy skit to songs and dances.

Then the hard part comes – truly having to say “ZAIJIAN” to these warm and wonderful people who live halfway around the world from us but have become a part of our hearts. How much did they learn in this past three weeks? Did we help them? Will they speak English at all back home in Pu’er city and the surrounding counties? We don’t know. But as China Country Manager Wang Baoli expressed in a quote in her closing remarks, “I may not remember what you said. I may not remember what you did. But I will always remember how you made me feel.” Hopefully, both and we will depart with that feeling of friendship and good will and what better gift to exchange as we head home.

- Betty

Wednesday July 7, 2010

Thought for the day:
Today’s mighty oak is just yesterday’s nut that held its ground. - Anon

We climb the stairs to the building where we teach, bound for our classrooms. I know that I’ve reached the fourth landing when I see the portrait of old Zhang Heng. I proceed along the balcony, past portraits of heroes of modern China. Revered today, were they considered, in their time, to be nuts? When did they receive recognition as visionary leaders, or scholars or poets of China?
I turn a few corners, pass the portrait of Bei Duo Ven (ah, so! a German composer familiar to all Westerners) and know that I have reached my classroom and the eager Chinese from Pu’er, of these three weeks.

How minor seem my puny efforts to guide these teachers of English, these young acorns struggling in the dark of the Forest, in bettering their spoken English! Yet, with enthusiasm and persistence they try to follow and engage in a discussion of the lectures they’ve heard in the afternoon sessions, such as the one last Friday, on Teaching Methods. They try an activity in which they break into small groups, look at flash cards with words of all kinds, and construct stories, using all of the words on the cards dealt them. Please, my little saplings, reach out and offer your ideas in English! At the conclusion of the project, the Scribe for each group reads a story that is imaginative and amusing.
We all laugh together.

One of the suggestions to the teachers from Lecturer Zi Gusheng was to ask their students to name, in English, every item in the classroom. I discover that these teachers do not know the English words for blackboard, chalk, eraser, ceiling, loudspeaker, flagpole and uniforms.

Later in the morning, they shriek with delight, playing “The Flyswatter Game,” competing to be the first to swat the correct word written on the blackboard, running forward at full speed in their high heels. The plural of “man” is...? The plural of “foot” is ...? Will the person wielding the blue, or the green flyswatter win a point for her team today?

This morning is the last chance for the four Speakers representing our class to practice in front of us. In the afternoon comes the Speech Festival, programmed with twenty Speakers. Will my four improve their English pronunciation miraculously by this afternoon?

Afternoon comes. Topics range from “My Teaching Experience in my Village,” to “Maintain a Sense of Balance,” to “What I am Getting from this Training Program.” Lines from other Speech topics that stay with me include: “Love is just a thread in the Quilt of Life” and “Money can buy you a clock, but not Time, and “Money can buy you Medicine, but not Health.” Every Speaker has prepared well, with thoughts clearly expressed and pronunciation better than I had expected. The Hostess, with considerable nimbleness and skill, introduces each Speaker and then briefly comments on what we have heard, after each Speech. There is even an attractive graphic projected on the screen upstage, with each Speaker’s name in English and Chinese and his/her Topic.

And very shortly, it is back to distant Pu’er for these teachers of English. We wish them all the best in continuing to grow, despite the dry or thin soil in the remote villages and towns in which they find themselves rooted. They will be the mighty oaks that nurture their young charges and model oral as well as good written English.

- Dixie

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tuesday July 6, 2010

Thought for the day: It's frustrating to be at that age when you are just beginning to understand some of the questions and realize that you will never know any of the answers. Anon.

This rather ordinary day in the life of our nine volunteers started with our usual 7 AM buffet breakfast. A combination of western and eastern delicacies which includes a noodle bar where one can construct one's own custom flavored dish from the large selection of meats, vegetables and condiments and have them cooked as you watch. There is also an omelet station. "Omelet" in name only since a major triumph is successfully getting a pair of scrambled eggs with less than a cup of oil.

After the reading of the previous day's journal, we, after some prodding, sang through (melody only, the words were held over until lunch when we all agreed we would be more awake) the number we volunteers will present to the assembled multitudes at our closing ceremony.

The teaching morning in our class went generally as expected: rehearsing the four speeches that will represent our class in the Speech Festival; preparing our contribution to the closing ceremony; and, going over vocabulary items to prepare our students for the lecture that my teaching partner, Jim, will be presenting this afternoon. The most unusual moment occurred when, after distributing a list of ways of representing large numbers (million, billion, giga, etc.) which included the Chinese equivalents, we noticed what appeared to be some dissension among our English teacher students over one of the Chinese characters that appeared on the list. The character used for giga (billion) they showed us, is not the archaic character that I found in my previously trustworthy iPhone English-Chinese dictionary, but a character that looked at first remarkably like a capital G. It took some moments before I realized that it looked like a G because it was a G. As the nimble and experienced teachers we are, we turned this incident into a "teaching moment" that illustrated the dangers of relying on single sources, and the need for fact checking.

After lunch, Jim gave his presentation, "The Changing Population in American Schools". He illustrated his talk with charts of demographics, photos of American faces representing our "tossed salad" of ethnic groups, and even a few photos showing the Chinatowns of America. From all accounts, Jim's talk was well received and stimulated considerable discussion.

The day ended with our usual multi-dished banquet in our private dining room in the hotel. Our leader, Wang Baoli distributed questionnaires about our China Global Volunteer experience for each of us to complete before we leave at the end of the week. It's hard to believe that we will soon say farewell to our teammates and to the 15 or so members of our respective classes.

The likelihood of seeing any of these Chinese teachers of English ever again is vanishingly small. How sad.

Respectfully submitted,


Monday, July 5, 2010

Monday, July 5, 2010

Thought for the day: All there is to thinking is seeing something noticeable that makes you see something you weren’t noticing, which makes you see something that isn’t even visible. -- Anonymous

This bleary-eyed scribe and fellow Volunteer Jim didn’t dally during our visit to Dali over the weekend, but our flight back to Kunming in the wee hours last night made sleeping late a prudent way to gather the energy we knew we would need for the afternoon’s visit to the Hump Memorial, an all-school field trip.

Our students practiced in the morning for Wednesday’s Speech Festival, decided what to do for the last day’s celebration, but seemed more subdued than usual because they, too, were recovering from the weekend.

The curving road to the Hump Memorial, in the hills above the city, was interrupted by dusty construction and speed bumps, which made the bus ride less than comfortable, but we amused ourselves by singing and chatting with the teachers that filled the flipped-down seats in our vehicle. When we arrived at the steps leading to the memorial, we were a bit startled to see men with tiny red flashing lights at target points on their camouflage uniforms, but they were laughing and swinging their apparently plastic rifles in a casual manner; they may have been a civilian corps of some sort.

After reading—or attempting to read—the weather-beaten explanatory panels about the Japanese attacks on China beginning in 1937, the building of the Burma road, and the Kunming-based Flying Tigers who flew supplies to quickly built airfields, taking photos became the most popular activity, with our teachers wanting to “Take Photo” with each and all of the volunteers in various groupings. The school’s official photographer was snapping photos as fast as he could, too.

After placing bouquets at the memorial, we all walked to a meadow to dance, first learning, from May, the rhythmic steps of a Wa dance, and then doing French-Canadian and Russian dances led by Dixie. Despite our advising the teachers to wear practical shoes, many of the women wore their usual feminine high heels, somehow managing to stay upright while sashaying around the grassy circle.

For the Global Volunteers, dinner at a Muslim restaurant was next on the schedule. The Peking duck, thick West Lake Beef Soup, eggplant disguised as a fish, and seven other colorful dishes delighted our palates, whether or not they were of authentic Muslim origin.

This day ended a bit oddly for me, as typing this journal entry was interrupted at 10 p.m. by a burp from the nearby water cooler, and water began leaking from the top of the machine. After I had soaked up the small spill with a towel, another burbling brought more water out of the container, and the almost empty bottle looked even emptier. My attempt to phone the reception desk didn’t work, so I reluctantly dressed and went downstairs, wondering how to explain the mystery if the attendant on duty didn’t speak English. I was in luck, and the Chinglish-speaking assistant called the maid on duty, who removed the water bottle and container, wiped up the spill, then installed a new container and full bottle; she even made sure that the hot water mechanism worked.

A long day is ending, and now I’ll rest my bones on the three quilts that inadequately pad my authentic Chinese bed in this complex country where seeing something obvious leads to seeing something I haven’t seen before, which leads me to something that wasn’t even visible.

- Nancy

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sunday July 4, 2010

Thought for the day: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Here we are in China, the former land of fireworks, on America’s Day of Independence
Specifically we are in Lijiang, China up in the northwestern portion of Yunnan Province.
Three of us, Esther, my wife Betty, and I arrived from Kunming on Friday evening and returned to Kunming Sunday evening. We came to see and experience this famous city on the edge of the Tibetan plateau.

So firecrackers, skyrockets, cherry bombs etc. are now forbidden here and in Kunming.
Well that is not so bad; silence is not easy to find in China. We also don’t have to hear that particular movement of the 1812 overture that has become such a commonplace closing of concerts on the fourth and its playing heralding the onslaught of skyrockets and orchestrated canons.

But in the silence we can still quietly utter “Happy Birthday, America” … all 235 years of your existence. China salutes you and advises patience.

The trip to Lijiang was a success. A delightful and knowledgeable guide, good weather, and interesting sites to visit and enjoy. And we did our part to support the local economy even thought the idea of 4000 stores in the “old city” rather overwhelms one. But it’s their city and they can choose to have rampant entrepreneurial enterprise and find out how it works.

But now I lay me down to sleep and pray the Jim and Nancy will be back by dawn.

- John

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Saturday July 3, 2010

Thought for the day: "Life is nothing more than a series of hurdles. Take each as they come and embrace all that life has to offer". - Katie Austin

Nancy and I woke up to our first day in Dali. We were both surprised at how hot it was early in the morning and we started out with our Bai guide, Jane.

We first headed to Lake Erhai (which means “ear” in Bai) for a boat cruise. An uninspired cultural show and a stop at a beautiful island covered with greenery and bougainvilla were included.

Afterwards we had a relaxing walk through Butterfly Spring which included a visit to the amazing butterfly garden. We walked through it as all kinds of beautiful butterflies flitted by—some multi-colored and some that looked just like leaves.

We then went to a tie dye cloth workshop where we could see the various steps that lead to beautiful indigo-dyed fabric. Nancy bought a dress and I got a shirt.

A stroll through Xizhou Bai Town followed. The village seemed to be off the tourist path and is the home of several rich merchants who profited from trade with Tibet.

Then we headed back to touristy but beautiful Dali. We are staying at the Landscape Hotel in Old Town. It is built in the style of a multi-courtyard Bai mansion.

We are tired but happy to be in such a scenic location. Tomorrow we look forward to visiting the Chongseng Buddhist Temple complex (1200 years old), the Three Pagodas and hiking in the mountains with a visit to Zhonghe Temple.

- Jim

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friday July 2, 2010

Thought for the day:
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
And they said, Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built.
And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

This familiar quote blames God and human hubris for our plight: Thus we people have been scattered over the earth and can’t find a common purpose because we can’t understand each other’s language. So here we are Global Volunteers, near a Chinese frontier, among the scattered, trying to undo God’s work by learning about each other’s culture, which seems possible, and teaching our English language, which seems really hard.

All of our students Friday gave their speeches, choose the best four speakers, and, if our experience was typical, showed they earnestly cared about being understood in English. Our student with the most limited English, ironically named Hamlet, was clear and moving when describing his wonderful mother. He practiced saying “village” over and over until he got it right and could then tell us how this simple village woman encouraged him to go to college and become a teacher.

When we taught in Kunming a few years ago our students acted out a skit in which a teacher playing a student said, “I don’t want to learn English. I want everyone to learn Chinese.” And this sentiment has to be more acute in the villages nearby and far from Pu’er where our teachers’ students are brought by bus from the country to spend the week. Students and teachers must wonder why a young Bai or Yi or Nu, in addition to learning Mandarin, must also learn English.

In the speeches on Friday one of our English teachers may have partly answered this by saying that we must build a powerful and practical China so that we can avoid “humiliation like in the old China.” Apparently the sun never sets on the language we speak and teach, so a nation that wants to participate fully in the world’s commerce, on the Internet, in attracting tourists, and has already shown itself extremely eager to prove through an Olympics and a World Exhibition that it is a talented, advanced, and powerful country to be reckoned with, needs English.

But what about the children of Pu’er? To them “the humiliation like in the old China” may refer to a China that seems very old indeed, too old to care about. Another country. Again on Friday one of our teachers passionately expressed the problem of motivating students when he leaned forward to say to his fellow teachers, “You know about the pain, the suffering, and the noise” which we must endure.

The Friday afternoon speaker Zi Gusheng was clearly aware of how difficult teaching English to these students must be because he spent a lot of time giving the teachers very practical advice on how to make their teaching more interesting, effective, pleasant, fun, and especially humane. Among his suggestions:

1. Break them into teams and have them compete to name, in English, every item in the classroom. Give prizes.
2. Bring in interesting English language films.
3. Don’t be afraid of grammatical errors.
4. Put them in groups frequently to lessen the problem of large classes.
5. Ask them to write sentences about what is important to them in their lives.
6. Ask them to say English aloud in their heads or to a wall. Shout it.
7. Tell them to bring in passages that are interesting to them in English and tell the class about them.
8. Write diaries and journals
9. Use the Internet for games and use competition.
10. And, most important, don’t criticize your students in front of other students. Care about them and show that you care.

The speaker added that in an American classroom when he told them that practice makes perfect, a black student, the speaker mentioned his color more than once, interrupted him and said, “No it doesn’t.” And later the speaker decided the student was right. “Practice makes progress.” So God needn’t have worried. We won’t all speak the same language and build a tower that will reach to heaven or even be able to create a heaven on Earth. But our advancing technology and our efforts at a common language will mean that more and more of us will be able to participate in the global conversation. And because most of our current, really difficult problems are now global, we scattered, humbled people will try to reconnect with our stories, our language, and our good will.

- Janet

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thursday July 1, 2010

Thought for the day:
“Peace is achieved one person at a time, through a series of friendships.”
Fatma Reda
Psychiatrist/Associate Professor
University of Minnesota Medical School
Also, Spokesperson for the Islamic Community

Our morning classes continue. Nancy and I have experienced exceptional attendance and participation in our class of 16. Bobby, however, has missed two days of class over the two weeks and returned today from a one-day illness. Every time his illness was mentioned, the rest of the class giggled, so we suspect that Bobby suffers less from a medical malady and more from too much of a good time.

We spent a good portion of the morning helping students one-on-one with their speeches for the upcoming Speech Festival (not Contest!) The topics were varied and interesting. Some students struggled to write more than one long paragraph while others wrote several pages. Some of the writing was surprisingly good, considering most students’ limited ability to speak English. Certainly the students have many ideas that they wish to communicate.

Our student Cathy had a birthday today and we delighted the class with our poorly done rendition of Happy Birthday in Chinese. Afterwards, the class insisted on teaching us a dance from one of their nationalities. I’m afraid that I wasn’t much better at the dancing than at singing in Chinese.

Today was Friendship Day, so our students took us out to lunch at a nearby restaurant. Lizzy was in charge of ordering and wanted us to help choose the dishes to be served. She showed us the offerings, several pots of stews and soups and whatever, and a refrigerated case full of vegetables and meats. Nancy and I weren’t much help since we weren’t sure what everything was or what the items would be turned into, so we assured Lizzy that anything was fine – as long as it was cooked and not raw. Nancy also made sure that chicken feet were off the menu.

A few minutes later, dish after dish appeared, the usual amazing array of delicious food. One student just shook her head when I told her that a typical American meal might only have three or four items – what kind of meal would that be? Conversation flowed, mostly in Chinese, many pictures were taken by an extremely patient waitress, and we all left with good feelings and a full stomach.

The rain that has plagued us all week continued, but that didn’t stop our group from walking over to Green Lake Park in the light drizzle and exploring the grounds around it. Of course, many more pictures were taken. After a while, the students started asking us if we were tired. “No, we’re fine. We like to walk.” It finally occurred to us that the students might be tired (or at least tired of us), so we suggested that, yes, it might be time to find a taxi to take us back to the hotel.

The rest of the day passed quietly, many of us preparing for our upcoming weekend adventures. At dinner the other volunteers shared their stories of lunch with their students. Two classes left for their lunch early, at 10:30 am, and were properly punished by enduring a pouring rain. Our dinners are always accompanied by lively conversation and much laughter. We all agreed that this has been a terrific team and we look forward to our last week together, a week that will surely fly by, much as the last two weeks have.
- Esther

Wednesday June 30, 2010

Warning: This thought has almost nothing to do with what follows. The thought for the day is the title of a novel by Jefferey Chan: Eat Everything Before You Die.

I’ve been thinking about an interesting difference between the Chinese language and the English language, and because I can’t get Janet to listen to me I thought I’d inflict this on you. This difference lies in where the Chinese and English languages place the future. For example, in this famous line the future is thought of as lying in front of the audience, and presumably also the speaker: “The future lies before you, like paths of pure white snow.” Another example is the title of a movie, Back to the Future, which seems like a contradiction in its placing of the future behind rather than in front. Here’s the headline of an article about contact lenses: “The future before your eyes” And one last example: “Graduates have their future before them.”

The corollary is that the past is behind you, as in this question: “After You Have Been Cheated on Can You Put it Behind You and Trust Again?” And this one, from a popular song: “You hide the cracks, the facts will find you/ Turn your back and leave the lonely days behind you now,” where the past is explicitly placed behind the speaker.

Now, in Chinese I think it is not the case that the future is front of you and the past behind. Let me explain. There’s a very common word in Chinese, pronounced hòu, that means back, behind, rear, etc. So someone at the back door is at the "hou" door; someone in the back yard is in the "hou" yard, the back surface of an object is the "hou" surface and so forth. But when we find "hou" used in expressions of time something funny happens. For example, toward "hou" means “from now on; in the future.” That is to say towards the back means in the future. Compare this with “the future lies before you;” they’re exactly opposite. For another example, "hou" day is the day after tomorrow, a day to come, not in the past.(The opposite of the day after tomorrow is the day before yesterday, which is front ("qian") day, since that day is past and hence in front of us.) "hou" children are our descendants, those who will come after us in the future. That is to say, whereas in English the future thought of in spatial terms is in front of us, in Chinese it is in back of us.

I think there’s a simple explanation for this phenomenon: we can’t see the future or what happened there or then, but we can see the past and what happened there and then. What we can’t see, the future, is therefore placed in back of us in Chinese (no eyes in the backs of our heads), while what we can see, the past, is in front of us, where our eyes naturally fall. I think Chinese recognizes this, while English, for whatever reason, does not.

This difference would be nothing more than an interesting oddity if it had no consequences. However, I think it does have consequences. Let me give two more quotations. The first comes from Wired magazine: “Netflix Everywhere: Sorry Cable, You're History” The second is from Henry Ford: “History is more or less bunk.” I suggest that because of the English language’s placing the past behind us we can more easily than the Chinese ignore history, kiss it off, put it behind us and, therefore, out of sight.

I think we’re all familiar with the importance the Chinese tradition places on history. Let me close by telling you a poignant story about the greatest of all Chinese historians, Sima Qian. He lived during the Western Han dynasty, from ca. 140 BCE to 86 BCE. While working in the imperial court as a historian and advisor to the emperor Wu he incurred the emperor’s displeasure and was sentenced to death. The only way to avoid the sentence was to pay a large amount of money, of which he had very little, or submit to being castrated. So important to Sima Qian was history that, in order to continue work on the history of China he was writing, he chose to be castrated. I wonder if anyone said to him, “Put that behind you”?

Meanwhile, team 184 continues its good works in Kunming, trying to eat everything, not before we die, of course, but before we have to leave.

- Michael