China Team Journal

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Weekend Adventure

Today was quite an adventure! We met at 11:00 to go to the Chuangku (Art Loft) neighborhood, have lunch at a restaurant called Salvador’s, run by an American from Denver who now lives in Kunming, and visit Aling’s Crafts.

We started out by taking a bus. Baoli got directions from the hotel and we did manage to get to the art gallery neighborhood. One problem: The art gallery scene had evidently evaporated. Former galleries had been boarded up. Thus we took a stroll through a beautiful park we had previously passed.

We then proceeded to Salvador’s by taxi. Or so we thought. It was impossible to get a taxi. We then decided to continue by bus. Baoli called the hotel and bus company for directions but no one seemed clear as to exactly what buses to take. We finally took a bus but had to walk a long way to the restaurant.

We were rewarded by delicious American fare: wraps, bagel sandwiches, quesadillas, smoothies, and homemade ice cream. Salvador’s is a funky coffee shop/restaurant in an equally funky neighborhood. There is a website at

Even though we were tired, we decided to trek on to Aling’s Crafts. After asking for directions many times we finally arrived.  Although small, Aling had some fascinating crafts.  The most unique were “paintings” made out of fabric bits. Interestingly enough, Aling is the Chinese wife of Colin, who owns Salvador’s. 

We again lost our way as we tried to negotiate our way back to the hotel. Baoli did find a taxi for Nancy, Esther and Jim. Baoli, Leon and Dixie then followed in another taxi. We were exhausted when we got back to the hotel but we got to see a lot of interesting Kunming neighborhoods and got our walking exercise in for the weekend.


Friday, June 29, 2012

A Few Reasons to Smile

Four of us had more than a few reasons to smile, all day Friday:

-We were completing our first week of working with our students on their English: their spoken English was at a higher level than we had expected, generally.

-We were ending the morning with songs and dances for all 60 students.

-We were invited by Chris/Li Baokun to relax in a Hot Springs for the afternoon.

The “rain on our parade” Friday morning, though, was the absence from school of Team Member #5, Leon. At breakfast we learned that he would be spending the day in the hotel, recovering from a flare-up of asthma and troubled tummy.

Nancy subbed for Leon. We decided that the last 45 minutes of the morning we would meet in the big room on the first floor for activities all together.

In our respective classes we asked the students to recall and share some of the material from the “Break out” sessions of the previous afternoon. They responded to the new experience of “Break out” sessions favorably, although they found that some of the topics had advanced vocabulary or concepts that they found very challenging.

Break-out session topics were:

    pronunciation - led by Nancy

    what every good teacher knows - led by Jim

    idioms and slang - led by Leon

    the language of American Politics - led by Esther

In my class I asked the students for topics that they might suggest if choosing a Break Out session in the future. Their suggestions were:

     American teaching methods

     Comparing American teaching approaches to Chinese teaching approaches

     How is reading taught in American Schools?

The assembly for everyone, at the end of the morning included the game, “Who Stole the Cookies from the Cookie Jar.” They did pretty well at fitting the words within the strict rhythm of the game.

Our afternoon with Chris/Li Baokun began with a drive to a Muslim restaurant. We sat around a deep copper skillet that was placed over a bucket of hot coals. The spicy beef broth bubbled and cooked pieces of beef, potatoes, mushrooms, taro, two kinds of tofu/doufu, slices of lotus root, greens, and possibly a few more ingredients that I don’t recall.

After lunch we proceeded to the resort town of Anning. Our destination was the Jinfang Japanese-style Hot Springs. We changed into our swimsuits. Enrobed in blue terrycloth bathrobes and plastic sandals, we walked along stone pathways under pine trees. Each of the stone-lined pools had warm or sometimes very warm water. We would stop, disrobe, and ease our bodies into the pool for a relaxing soak. Depending on the pool, the water was sometimes clear, sometimes tinted, and sometimes scented. One pool had white water and a coconut scent. Another pool had pink water and the scent of roses. The most unusual pool, “the fingerling bath,” had small fish that nibbled gently on feet, legs, or other body parts. This pool was a particular favorite of Jim and Baoli.

After three hours of luxurious liquid languor, we four and Baoli left the Jinfang Hot Spring with Chris/Li Baokun. Our next and last stop in Anning was a Dai-style restaurant. Here we ate outside under a thatched shelter, sitting at a low rattan table and low stools. Pecking the ground around us were chickens. All of the food at this restaurant was prepared on a grill. The featured meat was barbecued chickens, served flattened, and with heads on. The other dishes were barbecued fish, mushrooms wrapped in banana leaves, eggplant smoked and baked in the coals, slices of beef, rice served in half of a pineapple, and a squash soup. We ate with chopsticks and with the plastic disposable gloves that were on the table. Delicious!

Feeling very satisfied, we then got into the cars and were driven back to the hotel, smiling inside and out.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

New Schedule

Today is the second morning of our new schedule which gives us 10 glorious extra minutes in the hotel before we have to depart for the Kunming Teachers' College.

Breakfast, teaching and lunch went off without any significant events and all the volunteers reported good interactions with their students.

It was the afternoon that brought some new experiences. As reported by Dixie in her journal for June 24, we offered the students break-out sessions. Our students chose which two of four topics they would like to know more about:

The Language of American Politics with Esther
Pronunciation with Nancy
What Every Good Teacher Knows with Jim
American Idioms with Leon

Each session lasted 45 minutes with a 15 minute break between sessions.

These sessions gave our students the opportunity to spend a period of time with a group of like-minded students working on an area of common interest. Overall, the volunteers felt the afternoon was a success and will ask their students what they think, tomorrow morning.

Baoli told us that Li Baokun (Chris) suggested a change in our jaunt to the Hot Springs of Anning. Instead of driving there Saturday, we'll leave from school Friday afternoon. Anning is about an hour from Kunming. We'll soak in the pools in the afternoon, have dinner in Anning, and return to the City in the evening. We five agreed to the change and are looking forward to our new adventure in Yunnan.

Dinner was in the Porridge Restaurant on the first floor of our hotel. Baoli ordered another delicious Chinese meal.

After dinner we prepared lessons, packed our school bags and our swim suits.

Respectfully submitted,

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together."- President Woodrow Wilson

Traffic has been tough this year in Kunming (will they ever finish the subway system?), so we left the hotel at 7:50. However, we arrived at the University so early that Jim, Leon and I had time to stroll over to the small park area across from our classroom building, where Leon demonstrated Tai Chi. 

Nancy taught all the classes the song, When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you, to practice the long “i” sound.  We soon discovered that we needed to also practice long “a,” since the word “rain” in the song came out as “reen.” The morning passed quickly as we are beginning to know our students better and to fall into a rhythm of teaching.  In my class, I shared pictures of my family and friends.  The students were impressed by the size of my family and how young my 97-year-old father looks (not a day over 79).  At least a couple classes, including mine, are sharing family history to practice speaking and we have learned that there are only two occupations in China – farmer and worker.  All the classes are enjoying a variety of games and songs as part of their learning experience.  My class learned the songs I like to eat and Bingo, and made a “Chalkboard Chain.”

In the afternoon, the Piver-Ablon contingent returned to the campus to present Nancy’s and Leon’s lectures, sharing their own family histories.  Nancy reported that she actually fielded two oral questions, perhaps a record.  The students especially enjoyed the picture of Nancy’s mother pointing a long gun and Leon’s short video of his grandchildren singing in Chinese.

Jim and I stayed back at the hotel to work on our lesson plans, our plans for tomorrow’s “break-out sessions” (a new experiment in learning for the Chinese students), and this journal.  However, the hotel’s free coffee hour beckoned and the sofa-like chairs by the window were comfortable, so we spent a couple of hours chatting about a variety of things, and suddenly it was time to meet for dinner. Oops!

Dinner was at the restaurant around the corner from the hotel where we have enjoyed meals in past years.  This year was no exception as we feasted on two of our favorites, an “inside-out” fish with sweet-sour sauce and a pyramid of slightly sweet and sticky rice. Satisfied, we all returned to the hotel to work on our various assignments.

Tomorrow we will leave at 8:00 instead of 7:50, a most welcome change.  We look forward to another rewarding day with our Kunming students.

- Esther

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dancing and the Letter "L"

The second teaching day for Kunming Team 202 was an "L" of an experience as Nancy introduced the twelfth letter of the alphabet and how to pronounce words containing it. As each student in each class practiced placing the tongue just behind the top teeth, a mouth puppet was a useful model. Body parts and actions using "L" were included in the lesson, also, as a preview to the game "Simon Says" that each of the teachers later taught.

Four of the five of us volunteers returned to the school in the afternoon for a lively game and dancing session involving all 69 students. With three dollars each in play money, the students asked each other questions; if the answer was a simple "yes" or "no," rather than a longer phrase or complete sentence, the answerer had to give up one of the bills. "Simon Says" was the next game, with several rounds led by students. Then Dixie taught folk dances from Germany, French Canada, Alabama, and Israel, her students ably demonstrating the steps before the whole group danced. Everyone left with a smiling face.

Dinner for the volunteers and Wang Baoli featured Yunnan's famous Crossing the Bridge noodles, with everyone cooking and eating the ingredients from individual pots of broth brought boiling to the table. The modest restaurant was just down the street from our hotel.

And so ended a successful day of teaching and learning in this vibrant city.


Monday, June 25, 2012

First Day of Class: With a Twist

Today was our first day of classes.  All five of us have been to Kunming multiple times so we pretty much knew the drill.  There was a welcome ceremony in the morning where introductions of officials were made and the goals of Global Volunteers were addressed.  We all introduced ourselves in clear, slowly spoken English.  As Leon pointed out, we represent the United States well:  Nancy is from the west coast (California), Esther and I are from the Midwest (Minnesota and Wisconsin) and Leon and Dixie are from the east coast (New York City).  Finally the official program picture was taken outside.  We are team 202.

It may have been our first day of class but with a twist:  this year we would not be teaching in pairs but rather by ourselves.  No more relying on another volunteer when fatigue starts to set in!  Another first for us:  Nancy, with her musical talents, will be a “floater”, gliding from room to room teaching a song or two on her ukulele.  Today she taught my class the “Hello” song.  Students joined in enthusiastically and seemed pleasantly surprised that this would not be the usual teacher in-service to which they are accustomed. 

All the volunteers seemed to agree that this year’s teachers were somewhat stronger than in the past.  Interestingly, most teachers are not from Kunming but rather from surrounding towns and counties.  It will be an interesting and exciting two weeks for all involved!

- Jim

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Welcome team #202!

“Welcome, Global Volunteers, Team #202” read the sign in the lobby of the Golden Spring Hotel in Kunming, Yunnan Province. “Welcome back - Leon, Dixie, Jim, Nancy and Esther!” would be appropriate for this team, as we are all veterans of the G.V. Conversational English program in Southwestern China.

Baoli welcomed us warmly at our morning Orientation meeting. We met to establish team goals and define the characteristics of an effective team. Under Baoli’s guidance, we five considered ways to maximize learning opportunities for the students’ in this two-week program. We are anxious to provide the teachers an experience that will result in a significant improvement in their English-speaking.

In our meeting with Baoli, we came up with the following:


1.     Dancing/games

2.     Powerpoint lectures

3.     Break-out sessions, with topics such as:

Pronunciation - led by Nancy

Songs, movement games - led by Dixie

Foreign words in English - led by Jim

Idioms and slang - led by Leon

The language of American Politics - led by Esther

Breakout session topics might also be: phrasal verbs, tongue twisters (ràokǒulìng), grammar, or topics suggested by the students.

The students will write down first, second and third choice of topics, and will be assigned a Break-out session to attend.


Declaration of Independence

Have each of the 4 classes read aloud a section of the Declaration of Independence and explain what the language in that section means.


60 students, 4 classes.

Nancy will be the “Rover” or “Floater” who teaches short lessons and activities in each of the four class groups. She will help us coordinate the repertoire of songs, so that we all can sing together during the Sharing Session on the last day.

Our Sunday of Orientation ended with a fine banquet in our honor at a Muslim restaurant. The hosts were Mr. Chen, the Dean of the College of Continuing Education of Kunming University, Mr. Zhang, the Associate Dean, Ms. Chen, Director of International Relations, and our old friend Li Baokun (Chris) of the Teacher Training Center.

Chris informed us that our students will be from villages surrounding Kunming: 30 primary teachers and 30 middle school teachers. He also said that there will be a field trip on Tuesday of the second week to see the new campus of the University.

We appreciated the toasts and the selection of dishes served at the banquet: hǎochī! (tasty, or good eats!). The private room in the restaurant had an opulent decor, with blue velvet upholstery on high-backed “throne-style” chairs, a large chandelier, and an electric “lazy susan” rotating the 13 dishes past us.

Kunming, we are happy to return!

- Dixie