China Team Journal

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday May 22, 2009

Thought for the day: “A friend is one who knows us, but loves us anyway”

Friday morning – our last breakfast together as a team. We chat about our day before - Thursday. Julia invited the 7 of us who taught at the Bio/Med Tech College back to her home for a “Dumpling Party”. She had everything ready for us. We took our shot at “stuffing” the dumplings, and then they were cooked for us. We spent over 2 hours eating dumplings and vegetables, talking, and even sipped a bit of “Great Wall” wine. After we all had our fill, we stayed a bit longer so as to not “Eat and Run”. More photos and sharing, and for me – a bit more Great Wall wine. If it was up to Julia, we would have stayed all afternoon.

After breakfast we all left for our last day in class. A lot of sad goodbyes and a few tears and as always, many “thank yous” and “Please come back soons”.

In the afternoon we had our “Team Farewell Party”. Members from all 4 work sites came to the hotel. Students from the La La Shou School and the Bio/Med Tech College also joined us.

Bao Li began by thanking all of us – volunteers and worksite reps – for our hard work. The microphone was then passed around and we all took turns doing the same. I told my students and teachers that I had a wonderful time and would be back in the Fall.

Then it was “Showtime”
John and Ken sang songs and danced with their students from the La La Shou School. It was touching to see the students follow John and Ken. They concluded with a song I believe is called “Have a grateful heart & never give up” and as the song began, the students from the Bio/Med Tech College joined them “on stage” and stood behind them, lending support. Not a dry eye in the house.

The Bio/Med students then sang for us, followed by a beautiful solo by Jenny – only 16 but with the voice of an angel. Helen, a teacher at the Bio/Med School who nicknamed me “Naughty Boy” the first day she met me, performed a harmonica solo. Yes, harmonica.

Then it was our turn to “shine”. Our team danced a Hula, and then sang songs selected for their reference to some of the states we were from. All great fun, and fortunately NOT YET on YouTube.

The teachers and students from the Bio/Med College then sang for us and we concluded the performance by singing “Auld Lang Zine” together. We took more photos, and said our goodbyes, and the party ended.

That evening, Hu Di – the China country manager - arrived to join us for our last dinner together as a team. We took MORE photos, and said our goodbyes.

After dinner, Ken, John, Joanne, Lucy and I joined Leigh and two of her friends on a last visit to the “Big Wild Goose Pagoda” and park. Seemed simple enough – jump in a few taxis and meet there. Except each taxi dropped us off in a different location. Add a million Chinese, and of course we could not find each other. After over an hour of some of us finding each other, then losing each other, then finding each other again, we met for a final drink and chat and photo opportunity. Then back to the hotel to pack.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thursday May 21, 2009

Thought for the day: “Make the most of yourself, that is all there is of you.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

What is development work, really? And what are we here to help China, a civilization and a people group many thousands of years old, develop into exactly? These are questions that have been running through my mind throughout my time here. In addition, who are we, as outsiders, to think that we have something of value to offer here?

I am often struck by the stares I receive on the street. I cannot tell how most people feel about my presence here. The reality is that most people probably do not give my presence a lot of thought, but still I wonder: “Do they think I am just another foreigner coming in, trying to impose my foreign ways upon the? And am I? I appreciate the philosophy of Global Volunteers, that we only go where we are invited and only stay as long as we are needed.

In my time here, I have seen that child protection laws in China are not nearly as extensive as they are in the states. This has caused me to wonder how culture affects the development of and expression of universal human values. When I get to know Chinese people, though, I feel that the differences between us are only superficial, and at a deep level, we are all the same.

Chinese people understand as well as anyone that it is good to protect the small and weak members of society, and the protection of the weakest members is something with which all societies struggle. If there were not a human tendency for the strong to overrun the weak, then there would be no need for child protection laws in any country. I wonder at what point without societal development laws protecting weaker members tend to emerge. Does a society have to be at a comfortable place in its own economic development in order for the government to take on the cause of all of its weakest members? Many children certainly fall through the cracks in the U.S. system, as well. Whatever the problem is, it is one of degree and not one of a kind, because it exists in all societies.

Can we ever overcome our selfish inclinations to look out only for ourselves: Probably not, but maybe there is still something good that can come out of development work. In the grand scheme, of course we hope that development work benefits those whom we come to serve, yet I cannot help but be struck by how greatly I find myself changed and benefited by the work. Perhaps this feeling of personal change and growth is part of what we are seeking in an experience such as this one. It’s not entirely altruistic, but no human endeavor ever really is. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing, after all.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wednesday May 20, 2009

Thought for the day:
Confucius say: Equitable apportionment of lazy Susan only derived by astute planning

A few impressions of my days teaching at Biomedical Technical College:

Being the only male student in the class is difficult enough but after all the girls described their names a “sweet flower”, “beautiful girl”, and “lovely lotus”, when asked to define his Chinese name it was apparent that no definition was forthcoming. And so he became known as William. After several girls had introduced themselves with information about their villages, etc I gave William a smile and a nod. After much hesitation he arose. In quite good English, he spoke a sentence. The teacher who was assisting me whispered to me, “Those are first English words I have ever heard him speak”. She was his regular English teacher and William was one of 62 students. For me this was a heart warming moment and I imagine William must have had his own unique feelings as well. Just about that time the teacher figured out what the translation of William’s Chinese name is ”King Dragon” and thus William became King Dragon – a well deserved name. I await my next meeting with King Dragon this morning.

My cultural learning continued at dinner tonight as Baoli announced that she rather enjoys a good plate of fried scorpions. I suggested perhaps I join her for such a delicacy. I was quite relieved to learn the scorpions are not a menu item in Xi’an. Millipedes and cockroaches from the Beijing market, anyone? Some even more exotic delicacies we’ve discovered on the hotels’ Chinese menu, by Leo of course, eliciting surprises from the men and exclamations of shock by the women. My interests were solely as biology major. What better way to have discovered some of the culinary specialties of China than during our evening meal together.

More than anything else, I will remember my experience here in Xi’an as “one big smile”.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tuesday May 19, 2009

Thought for the day: “When a ruler’s personal conduct is correct, he will be obeyed without the issuing of orders. If his personal conduct is not correct, he may issue orders but they will not be followed.”
- Chinese Proverb

When I get home I will have to give my sheep and chickens extra rations as payment for all the material they’ve provided me. My students are enchanted by my hens that lay colored eggs, my cat who speaks three words, and my black sheep. Without my animals I would be sunk. My team mates all have such special and unique skills.

Karen has totally swept the students and teachers off their feet with her expertise with Hawaiian music and the hula. What a wonderful gift to the students.

Sandy shines as our prestigious professor. His eye-catching ties will keep his students awake if his lectures do not.

As far as the younger crowd, Leigh has stepped up to the plate in all challenging jobs, as have Ken and John. They have shown us oldsters a thing or two about grace under pressure and serving without complaint.

Other Bob’s infectious laugh lifts our spirits as we sometimes drift into fatigue.

We have a resident artist in our midst in the person of Gail, who talented as she is, is able to bring out artistry in our students.

Lucy’s enthusiasm is matched only by the wealth of tools and ideas with which she tirelessly delights her students.

Stalworth Bob’s entertaining formats and keen observations give us a fresh perspective in looking at things.

Last but certainly not least is our ring leader Leo. He is our heartbeat. What would we do without him – what will he do without us?

Not surprisingly under our outstanding team, Baoli’s subtle guidance we have evolved into a team that I feel without a doubt has left its mark on this little corner of the world in China.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday May 18, 2009

Thought for the day: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read” - Groucho Marx

I’m a fan of old Marx Brothers movies from the 1930’s. This past week at LaLa Shou, I’ve often felt like a straight man in one of those films, swept up by the schools frenetic energy. Like silent Harpo, I communicate by pantomime. And because of the language barrier, I feel as though I’m experiencing the school in black and white, much as these children must live their lives.

But the teachers at LaLaShou, through humor and patience and unflagging energy, are determined to give the kids lives that are rich in color. I work with three teachers in a class of 10 students. One teacher is 22, the other two are 25. They are caregivers, wrestlers, therapists. The room is filled with twitches and shouts, with hopping and stomping and moans. They never lose their temper. The teachers will correct kids – they will be firm. This morning, a boy I’ve taken to calling “Sleeves”, because he likes to lift your sleeves up to your shoulders, punched the boy sitting next to him in the back. And then he did it again – despite being corrected. After a third shot, a teacher smacked his hand, not hard, but enough to get his attention. And then she said something that sounded to me like “Not so much fun when it happens to you, huh.” And then she kissed him.

LaLaShou is not a sad place – The students are usually smiling, the teachers seem always to laugh. The affection they have for the kids is obvious: the way they cup a hand around a child’s cheek, the way they giggle when a child says something cute. In fact, my biggest regret is that I’m missing out on so much of the comedy, though I find myself laughing too.

I don’t think I’m helping much here. The language barriers are too great. I often feel like the 11th student. But I think the teachers like having me around. I’m an English-speaking novelty; a break from their exhausting routine. So I smile, more than I ever have before, and I do whatever I can to ease their load rather than add to it. I consider it a privilege to know these strong, spirited women, who help these children to experience life outside of the dog, away from the dark.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday May 17, 2009

Thought for the day: To experience difference is to know oneself. – unknown

I still get up very early in the morning – tired and annoyed at myself and this jet lag that just won’t go away. But then, this is quiet time and a chance to reflect on all that has happened. I have experienced much, gained much and I think, accomplished something. And we’re only one week into our two week commitment. This is quite a team that GV has assembled. I do feel fortunate to be a part of this collection of committed, caring individuals, very different from myself and yet, very much alike. The sense of discomfort and unease that I initially felt – being a part of this group of strangers and being in a place where I was unable to speak the language, unable to understand gestures and behavior – was difficult and disorienting. But after a week, my perceptions and reactions have changed. The stares in the elevator still get to me and I am still embarrassed when someone walks up to me and starts speaking to me in Chinese. But now I see past the unfamiliar. I see more of the humanity that I share with the Chinese people. It is the smiles and warmth that lifts my spirits and it is the rich traditions and history of this great land that awes me. When I observe something I do not understand, I realize it’s because we are different and that difference is what enriches this experience. And in the end I do think China and I are slowly becoming friends.

Team Journal:
It is Sunday, another free day, and all of us looked forward to further exploring Xi’an city and Shaanxi Province. Lucy, Leigh, Karen, Bob and I headed to the Shaanxi country side on Tour #3 to see a part of Chinese life that is in sharp contrast to life in Zi’an city. We were greeted in the hotel lobby by our guide Ellen. And left on a 90 minute drive to a small village south (?) of Xi’an in the HuXian County. Upon arrival we were greeted by Mr. Zhang Qingyi, a local wheat farmer and renowned water color and wood burning artist. He informed us that the village had a population of about 670 and that the farmers grew mostly wheat and corn- he himself works 8 acres of farmland. He quickly escorted us to his family home and gallery where villagers were awaiting our arrival. There we were treated to a dragon dance (which Lucy, Leigh and Bob later participated in) and to the rhythms of a drum and cymbal played by four village men.

After that warm welcome, Mr. Zhang took us on a walking tour of his farming village where we met local villagers,, toured an older home, walked by wheat fields and kiwi growers and visited the villages, Pureland Buddhist temple.

For lunch we returned to his home for a wonderful meal of hot and cold local dishes prepared by his wife and daughter-in-law. After we proceeded upstairs to his main art gallery and studio where he demonstrated his water color and wood burning techniques.

We were then given time to browse and to purchase some of his art works (which we did).
In ending the visit, Mr. Zhang took us to the village’s primary school. There we met some teachers and walked through a classroom. School was not in session.

Rural life appeared to be a very difficult one. As Mr. Zhang said, while villagers do not have a lot of material goods, their spirits are strong.

In leaving, I think we were all in agreement that this was an invaluable tour – personal, different, real – and that we’d highly recommend it to future Global Volunteers.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Saturday May 16, 2009

Thought for the day: “I know of no more encouraging fact then the unquestioned ability of a man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor:” -- Henry David Thoreau

“John?” The teacher approached me. “Yes”. “You help write” She gestured toward the west room of the small concrete-floored apartment. The room had a large window overlooking the building’s court yard. I was familiar with the writing exercise. I was to help the students practice writing his numerals.
The student held his arm out politely allowing me to enter the room first. Then he got two chairs from the corner and slid them up to the table at the window. It was raining outside and cool fresh air poured across the tabletop from the open window. I sat down with the student and opened the practice book to the first uncompleted page.

“Oh, seven today”. I looked down at the sheet. The teacher had drawn a grid – six rows, nine columns. In the left-hand column wee six neatly drawn sevens. The student was to copy the example into each of the boxes of the grid.

“Right here”, I said, and tapped my finger on the first blank box to try to draw his attention there. “Bah”. He half shouted and thrust his hand up to point to something outside the window. He turned his fourteen year old face to me – mouth and eyes smiling broadly. I tapped my finger a few more times and looked down at the sheet. He reached for his pencil box opened one side pulled out one of the pencils and examined the tip. A few more finger taps.

He looked down at the page, held the paper flat with his left hand and drew a seven with the right. He drew a second. He began a third but apparently dissatisfied with the first stroke, he reached for his pencil box and retrieved his eraser from a small compartment on the end with a magnetic clasp. He closed the box and paused to look at one of the stickers on it. I tapped my finger a few more times. He turned to look out the window. I put my hand on has and moved it toward the paper. He looked down, seemed to recall his dissatisfaction with the pencil stroke and reached for his eraser. He smeared away the pencil mark and started again. Better. Hew moved on to the fourth box, then the fifth. By the sixth his seven was looking more like a one.

I stopped his momentum and pointed for him to re-examine it. He reached for his eraser and re-drew it. Still a one. I put my hand over his and guided his hand and pencil to make a seven.

Then I helped him with another. He pushed my hand away and finished the final entry in the row himself. He moved his pencil to the beginning of the 2nd row. A sound came from the other room- one of the other students. He spun his head around to look, then looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back then looked down at the page and tapped my finger. He looked down and drew a neat seven next to the example the teacher had done. He reached for the pencil box again and got out another pencil and attempted to write, no mark. The pencil needed sharpening. Back to the pencil box to get out the sharpener. He pressed a button and small door flipped open and he pulled the sharpener out of its slot. He put the pencil in and started turning. Crack. The tip broke off. I handed him the original pencil. “Maaa”, he cried. I helped him sharpen the pencil with the broken tip and he returned to the paper. He drew another seven then turned his head to look out the window. I tapped my finger. He looked down and drew another seven. Not as good as the previous one but still acceptable. He paused, then flipped forward to the next page in the practice book. Another page of sevens was waiting. He flipped again. More sevens. He flipped again. There were the eights. He paused and stared. I turned the pages back to where we’d left off. He looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday May 15, 2009

Thought for the day: “Talking about Art is like dancing about architecture” - Steve Martin

The act of teaching is an art. Your intuition will tell you – if you listen – when to push, and when to slacken – when to praise, when to be silent – when to diverge, and when to stay on task.
At 9:09 as we walked thru the dark corridors of the school towards our classrooms, Robert asked me, “Are you feeling better?”

I’d told him in the bus I’d woken at 1:30 and how tired I was. Still heavy with fatigue I told him, No. I’m still really tired”, and I wondered if my tiredness would effect my teaching.

But did anyone ever devise a more wonderful way to begin your work day! Seventeen girls sitting in a small u-shape turned toward me as I came into the room; they smiled and clapped their hands and said/ Welcome-Welcome!” and for three hours I forgot my fatigue completely.

I smiled and thanked them and walked to the table by the window and took about a minute to set out my supplies. I went to the table in front of the room and said, “Good morning, class”. They stood and in unison replied Good Morning”. They sat down and we began our day.

I introduced myself. I asked them each to stand and say their names. I wrote one sentence at a time on the board and then read it aloud. If it was a long sentence we broke it into parts. We practiced the more difficult words. If the meaning of a word was unclear I pantomimed the word or drew quick simple sketches. Sometimes I asked Fisher the teacher to say the word in Chinese to save us time – in order that we didn’t lose momentum. I signed into California and U.S.A with maps and photos. I asked them to tell me their town. We did sentences “(name) lives in (town) which they recited aloud. All the time I kept in mind my wonderful French teacher Mrs. Chavdarian and all the various ways she conducted the drills and how she helped us all – brave and timid alike- to try.

She would call on me to recite and say with a radiant smaile “Vous ete un bon studiante, Robert”., and I would blush and be seated. Never once did she leave French and lapse into English.

Drills with pictures of Chinatown evolved easily into pictures of my daughters and their artwork – and photos of my cats. I asked them to guess Amber’s age from her photo and they were all amazed when I wrote her age on the board.

I wrote “I have two cats” on the board and asked “What is a cat?”. One girl went “mew-mew”. I pretended to not see her. I cupped my hand to my ear and said “I hear a cat,” and I looked down at their feet. When I came to the girl who’d mewed I feigned surprise. * My situation here is perfect. I cannot lapse into Chinese. “You! I said, “you are the cat!”. And for a few seconds l7 cats mewed. Only then did I show the pictures of my cats.

About half-way through the morning, we went to the workbook. I moved my stool into the top of the U so I sat within 6 to 8 feet of all of them. I made eye contact and smiled and moved quickly, trying not to act rushed. I remembered Mrs. Chavdarian and heaped praise on each person.

We first went over vocabulary and then read the dialogues and the paragraphs. Frequently I went to the board to write or sketch a diagram. I asked Fisher to explain what “good” meant because I said it after every response and I could tell they were pleased to know I was praising them

At the end of the morning we had 8 minutes. Fisher said, “They would like for you to teach them a song”. I said I couldn’t think of one but I would teach them a tongue-twister. “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. How many peppers did Peter Piper pick? A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, how many peppers did Peter Piper pick?” We did one line at a time in unison. Then I had them do it all and of course it collapsed into bedlam- as it is supposed to do – with laughter and applause.

I ended by thanking them for being such good students, said “Xie-Xie”, and “bye-bye” and thus ended on of my most gratifying teaching days.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thursday May 14, 2009

Thought for the day: “May every creature abound in well-being and peace.” Buddhist tradition

I woke about 5 a.m. to heavy rain again. We’ve had only brief sun, but hope for more at the weekend. So we prepared to take umbrellas, rain jackets, and some warm cover as it promises to be cold as well.

Today we teach for just three hours. Unfortunately, the rain wreaked havoc with the traffic and we were about half an hour late – so I raced off to class. I had a junior dental technology class and I believe that their English was less advanced than any previous class I’ve had. They were energetic and willing (with two exceptions) but it was quickly obvious that they understood very little, at least initially. I let my English teacher help only when absolutely necessary as I feel that they need to try and listen to my talking, my speech. They followed words I wrote on the board about myself, my interests and my family, particularly since I told them that I wanted them to share similar information with me later. We looked at photographs and pictures and they repeated words after me. But it took an extra bit of energy to try to make them understand.

After lunch, thanks to Joann’s suggestion about spending the rainy afternoon in the Shaanxi History Museum, five of us took taxis there – just over $2.00 each taxi. The museum is fairly small (almost more gift shops than art) but very well laid out with decent signage. Since I know something about Chinese dynasties, I found the Han, Sue, Tang and Ming dynasties exhibits fascinating – We learned about the early Han explorers who walked to the west (taking silk and iron) He is regarded by the Chinese much the way Marco Polo is regarded by the West – only over l,000 years earlier. When we left the museum at l: 50 the rain had stopped (Hallelujah) and we got a taxi immediately for about $2.00 (13.5 Yuan) I gave him 15 yuan. Oh yes, I bought a cinnabar covered bowl (got it for “half price”) from the Friendship House at the museum.

We returned for a fascinating lecture about Chinese names as well as the Chinese Family Policy given by Baoli (very well done) just before dinner – Another rewarding day!


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wednesday May 13, 2009

Thought of the day: The earliest we can begin any project is now, and if not now, when? Anonymous

On the third day of our work in Xi’an, it seems as if the volunteers have found a philosophy, a routine and a way of working with the gaps between our expectations and the reality of our missions here. As for those gaps, speaking only for myself as a volunteer assigned to the Technical College, I have been impressed both by the positives and the negatives. I have been overcome by the warmth of the welcome given us by the staff and the students, as well as by the affection expressed by the students inside and outside of the classroom. At the same time, I have been disappointed by the low level of knowledge of English and the reluctance of many to make the effort necessary to achieve even a basic proficiency. I know we were warned, but I was not quite prepared for the reality.

The day began in the usual way with breakfast, the reading of yesterday’s journal, and the ride to the campus. When we reached the campus, the students were again waiting for us, and greeted us by standing and applauding. I began my class by introducing myself and then giving the students five minutes to write answers to simple questions about their family structure, their hobbies, and their goals for life after college. I taught them the friend song (Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other, gold.) We then talked about the United States a bit with the aid of a US map, and a look at the soft plastic world model the school possesses. We made some comparisons between the U.S. and China. We sang the “small world song, and the students remarked that it was much like a song sung at the Olympics. I then tossed the globe to one of the boys, and after he recovered from his surprise, asked him to read the information about himself he had written. He then threw the globe to one of his classmates, who followed suit, and we proceeded until the whole group had performed. It seemed easier to do this and more fun than to go systematically all around the class. I made some corrections of pronunciation, and got most of them to improve (followed by much praise). I drew a stick figure on the board, and labeled most of the body parts in English. We then played a rousing game of Simon Says, using the body part vocabulary. We took a break, during which about six girls decided it was time to teach me Chinese. So we had an impromptu lesson much enjoyed by all, as it provided some comic relief.

After the break I made the mistake of turning to a unit in the text but working on a paragraph instead of a dialogue, through my misunderstanding of instructions. It became clear that the students were not prepared to read even a few words aloud, much less understand their meaning in context. After about 20 agonizing minutes, which included heavy contribution by the assistant and much role playing, I gave up. We then looked at some photos of Lucy’s lifestyle, each with short captions which the students were able to read. This took us to lunch. Lunch was much like yesterday, except that we substituted hilarious finger and shadow play for the singing of national anthems. Though the menu included some mystery foods such as ancient eggs and some delicious but sinister looking eggplant, once again Julia had found delicious food and we had a great time.

The afternoon class was the high point of the day. The students were more advanced and more ready to participate than the morning contingent. We skipped introductions and did some songs and some games, with work on pronunciation and developing some vocabulary. During the break, one of the girls asked if she could sing a Chinese song. She sang a long selection from a Chinese opera, after which she explained the plot in Chinese to the assistant, who then translated. The child has a velvet voice like an angel. It was an unbelievable experience. After the break we played Simon Says and then learned another song: “This Land is Your Land" We discussed love of country and the meaning of the song. One of the girls later confided that she loves her country and thinks it is pretty. It was then four o’clock. Both the assistant and I thought that was the end of the session. Before we left the classroom, the group burst into song: “You are my sunshine? When we found that we had 30 minutes to go, we found a vacant office, and after a few false starts where I tried to get conversations going, I decided to tell them a story. Speaking very slowly, and with some translation, I told them about Goldilocks and the three bears. When we got to Goldilocks trying out Poppa Bear’s bed, the bell rang and we left everyone in suspense including the assistant. I promised to finish next week, and will probably go on to the 3 pigs. We drove home, ate dinner, had an inconclusive discussion of tour choices, and realized we had reached the end of another day.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tuesday May 12, 2009

Thought for the day: “The best way to learn something is to teach it.” Anonymous

I, too, feel like a superstar – from the moment I wake up in my lovely hotel room, eat a sumptuous breakfast in the company of good friends and greeted with applause by my adoring, yes, adoring students. Who wouldn’t feel like a rock star?

But I am here to learn and to teach and our morning meeting included a health alert by Baoli. She advised us to be extra vigilant – wash hands, cover mouth after sneezing avoid touching eyes, drink lots of water. She also gave us a very interesting cultural lesson on Chinese names and their different characteristics that the family name comes first, another woman keeps her formal family name and the children take the mother’s name as part of theirs. It is also important to incorporate the 5 elements; metal, earth, fire, wood, water – determined by the minute and hour the child was born.

At school we were officially welcomed by a group of faculty and administrators, including the president Mr. Liu.

Morning class went well with much laughter from both students and teacher. And I could not do my job without the help of my teaching assistant, Della, tho I’m sure she is starting to tire of my well used introduction and stories about my chickens and sleep. Today to liven things up for them I selected Del to be one of my sheep and I chased her around the room trying to lasso her before catching Del and throwing her (symbolically) on the ground for shearing. That led to a discussion on washing the wool, spinning, knitting hats and mittens, etc. I find that one thing often leads to another. I think the students are able to keep up.

Julia and some of the readers took us out to lunch at a restaurant just a couple of blocks from school. We all enjoyed a convivial meal singing national anthems and other songs. After lunch we strolled through a small park and Julia took many photos of us. We returned to school just in time to join a commemorative moment of silence for the earthquake victims.

My afternoon session was fun – I’ve found if I can get the students to laugh without making too big of a fool of myself it breaks the ice. The sheep lassoing trick usually does it but I sometimes add in a little Chinese lesson. I usually go around and ask how old they are. They tell me in English and I say it in Chinese. After about the tenth time they see how much I have improved and I tell them that’s how it works – they will too. Drive back to the hotel with the usual game of tag with pedestrians, bikes, trucks and this time one with a train thrown in. Lucy commented that she thought she saw one driver with his eyes shut.

Dinner and probably an early night of it for most of us as this was our first full day of teaching.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Monday May 11, 2009

The facilities at Xi’an Pei Hua University are drab. The halls are poorly lit and the offices are crowded. What a contrast with the students, who are exuberant, alert, and vitally interested in learning English. I was the fortunate recipient of all of this energy, greeted with thunderous applause as I entered the classroom – a superstar on my first day of teaching on behalf of Global Volunteers. I covered two classes under the direction of Cynthia, a superb English teacher with barely an office in the University.

This was Monday, so the initial activity was the presentation of two plays in English written by and acted in by the students. The students even memorized their parts. In general, they were clever and fun. Three of the four performances were adaptations of Chinese romantic plays, their version of Romeo and Juliet, cast into a modern version. One of them was a play about the relationship between children and their parents, the parents depicted as an apple tree. The play demonstrated that the children need the support of their parents even as they grow older. This gave me a great opportunity to introduce the idiom: “The apple does not fall far from the tree”.

After the presentations, I introduced myself, observing the intense level of interest on the part of the students. They applauded when I told them that I had a doctor’s degree in engineering. Then I showed them pictures of my family. They were enthralled with my grandchildren and my younger son’s cat, Po. This was followed by photos of my neighborhood and the interior of my house. They were interested in the difference between the living room and the family room, a question I had some difficulty answering.

Then I showed a map of the U.S. describing the various regions and discussing some of the most important states, including Illinois where I was born. They asked about the climate, and I gave some rough estimates of the temperature extremes. I had planned to follow this with presentations by the students describing their home provinces. We only got as far as Shaanxi Province, when the bell announcing the end of the first period rang. I will see this class again next week, and they made me promise that I would make time for presentations by students from other provinces.

During the following period, I presented pictures from Washington, DC and New York City after showing them my family and neighborhood. They were excited to see Barack Obama’s White House, and pictures of the cherry trees around the tidal basin. They explained that there are also cherry trees donated by the Japanese in Xi’an. The highlight of the New York City photos was Chinatown, pictures I had taken three weeks ago while visiting my son in NYC. Of particular interest to the students was the diversity of New Yorkers, demonstrated by pictures of African Americans and Asians sitting together on park benches in Central Park. This was followed by images of Chinatown, an unexpected treat.

I listed a number of topics on the blackboard for discussion, each with opportunities for the presentation of US and Chinese perspectives. They were asked to select their particular copies of interest, and they chose “pastimes.” I presented some of the favorite pastimes of Americans, and several of them got up to discuss music, hiking, and sporting activities in China. One of the gals sang a song written by one of her favorite popular music contemporaries she could easily qualify for American Idol. Then one of the few boys in the class came up to the front of the class and declared that he had a dream, just like Martin Luther King. When I asked him what it was, he explained that it was to embrace me. So we embraced. I realized that this would only be appropriate for one of the boys.

I brought with me a map of the world and told the class that my wife and I had done a lot of traveling. They asked where we had been and I pointed out several of the countries we had visited. They were particularly interested in Africa, and wondered about economic conditions in South Africa.

Before the class ended, one of the students stood up and reminded that I had spoken several times about my wife, Gail. She asked whether we had a “romantic relationship.” I assured her that this was the case.

I enjoyed being a superstar for a day, and hope that I was able to enrich the English learning experience for a few of the students.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday May 10, 2009

Thought of the day: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (& women) do nothing.”

The formation of Team 173 began Saturday evening with our welcoming dinner hosted by Mrs. Wang Bao Li. We all met in our private dining room and introduced ourselves.

The 12 of us sat down around a huge round table with the largest glass lazy Susan we had ever seen. We broke the ice with the “name game” helped in part by our brand new Global Volunteers name tags which included our American name and a Chinese name selected by Bao Li. She has not told me what my Chinese name means. I have worked with Bao Li before and I am not sure I want to know what she calls me in Chinese.

We all spoke and gave the who, what, when, where and whys we were in Xi’an. Then the food began to arrive and just kept on coming until finally the watermelon and cherry tomato platter arrived and ended the food fest.

Then I remembered why Bao Li feds us so much on Saturday evening. She was getting us ready for our marathon 12 hour Sunday workday. That’s right, Mr. IRS Taxman – if you are reading this we worked 12 hours on Sunday.

Sunday began promptly at 7:20 am with our breakfast meeting. Then we were whisked to the 4th floor conference room where Bao Li told us about Xi’an, the history of G.V. in China, and our training to become a team began, interrupted occasionally by fireworks outside our window – a wedding! We discussed our goals, the characteristics of a good team, how to stay alive and not get robbed in Xi’an, and the policies and guidelines of G.V. 4 ½ grueling hours later, surviving only on tea and hard candy, we broke for lunch and an afternoon break.

At 3pm, representatives from the 4 schools where we would be teaching arrived, told us about their schools, and they proceeded to thank us for 2 hours. We met teachers and students from the Biomed/Tech College, and their excitement and enthusiasm at the opportunity to work with us was overwhelming. We are needed here, and we are appreciated here 24/7. This is always the case on all 5 of my Global Volunteers trips.

Our day ended with a dinner meeting and at 7:20pm I returned to my room, Tsing Tao in hand, to begin to prepare for my 3, yes 3 weeks ahead.