China Team Journal

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday September 24, 2010

Thought for the day: Xian is now part of us, and who knows? We may be an English-speaking part of some Xian students' lives.

Team 187's final day volunteer-teaching in Xian brought rain and grey skies. The van ride to campus was swift, thanks to light holiday traffic. The bike and motor scooter masses were clad in many colored ponchos. Rain and the harvest holiday didn't halt work at construction sites. At one, a laborer, like tens of thousands before him, patiently waited as his hefty woven backpack basket was filled with wet sand to be carried up to the masons high above. We saw preparations underway for several weddings.

Marcella and I began class with the nursery rhyme: Rain, rain, go away, come again another day -- more tough words for students to pronounce.

I asked my students to describe their dream home some years after college. One young man wanted an apartment with many rooms in a high rise building and a yellow Ferrari. Some of us had a mix of nursing and Uighur students. Lively sessions.
Afterwards, another cordial exchange with local teachers. We continued to advise them of errors in the answer guide for their test manuals.

College president "Robinson" Liu Jin Tian and his always cheerful wife Julia hosted us to another multiple-course lunch and far ranging conversation, including general agreement that the US and China should stop worrying about any threat posed by the other and join in finding solutions to our energy problems. Robinson said private colleges do not receive government financial help, but students can qualify for aid. He expressed his appreciation for our GV service for his students and spoke of his desire to use his college also to build friendship between Uighur and Han students.

Afterwards, Julia invited us to group teach a physical education class how to play baseball -- indoors because of the rain. We probably set the sport back 50 years, but the students had a rousing good time. Maggie, Marcella, Claudia and Wally demonstrated jitterbug and swing dance steps to Bill Haley's "Rock around the Clock" and the twist to Chubby Checker's classic. Later, Uighur students again glided into their graceful ethnic dance, followed by a female Han student who gave a stunningly muscular hip-hop performance. Julia led a moving chorus of "We Are One World.
Student requests to have their picture taken with us strung out our farewell from campus for 45 to 60 minutes.

Back at the hotel for our GV farewell dinner, it was a similar occasion of mixed emotions -- happy to have finished our service, a little sad to part from our new friends. Much praise for our team leader Baoli. Then off to pack for morning departures.

- Tony

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thursday September 23, 2010

Thought for the day: We can disagree without spite or violence.

Team 187, the "A" team, is winding down in our teaching duties. My morning class was a pleasant surprise. There were 2 Uighur students among the 8 students I had in my class. When the class started I was under the impression that the 2 Uighur girls had had very few English lessons. To my surprise after the first 10 minutes they could read and speak English quite well. Actually some words were easier for them to pronounce than the Han students. I was having fun and I also believe that the students were having a lot of fun, despite my goofy teaching style. We didn't know the class had ended until we saw Tony and Claudia waiting at the library door. Even so the students wanted to read and then sing an English song before the class ended. Of course the song they sang is the one that team 187 made famous here -- "You Are My Sunshine."

At our usual noon feeding, Baoli gave us GV questionnaires to fill out. She also informed us that Julia thought that Maggie was going to teach the students ballroom dancing. There might be over a couple hundred students tomorrow afternoon for our farewell event. Teaching hundreds of students ballroom dancing is an unimaginable task. Hmmmm! There seemed to be a communication problem between our team and the school. However, Maggie is a fast thinker having been a teacher for over 20 years: she has learned how to compensate when the chips are down. Maggie suggested we teach the students Swing and the Twist if we have to. After solving the dancing lesson problems we had to solve our second challenge for the Friday afternoon program. The students expect us to sing and dance. Since Wally is our designated entertainment director, he came up with the idea that we should do a skit in Chinese so the students could have a good laugh over our butchering Chinese pronunciation. So after lunch we practiced 3 Chinese tongue twisters and moved to the hotel mezzanine to practice a couple of swing steps and a few twist moves. The music for swing and the twist was to be downloaded from Wally's computer. This turned out to be quite a task. It took me over an hour to download and install iTunes onto his laptop. Rock around the Clock and The Twist are downloaded and we are ready for Friday - - our farewell party.

Before our evening feeding we had a little celebration in Claudia and Maggie's room. Thanks to Wally. As the evening progressed, Wally's English sort of vanished and he was speaking more and more in the native tongue -- Chinese. At dinner we had a wonderful disagreement and yet friendly discussion of our favorite subject "politics" which we had avoided for the entire 3 weeks. We demonstrated to Baoli how civilized we were not to kill each other when we disagreed. The truth is we do tolerate each other and like each other at the same time. In our mind, Team 187is the "A" team, the "Dream Team."

- Marcella

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday September 22, 2010

Thought for the day: Speak softly, learn Chinese.

The team assembled for breakfast a bit later than usual – it was the Chinese Moon Festival Holiday. However, it wasn’t really a holiday for the dedicated 187 Team! The first task of the day was to arrange for a suitable venue for our guests, scheduled to arrive at 10:30AM. Marcella spoke with the Western Restaurant wait staff in our hotel and arranged to have a table set by 10AM. We adjourned to work on lesson plans and our mottoes for the College students – to reconvene at 10AM. The table was set and we busied ourselves arranging the goodies for the tea: oranges, candy, moon cakes, walnuts and cupcakes. The wait staff would provide and serve tea.

At 10:30 our guests arrived, minus the college president, Robinson, who was unavoidably involved in meetings. His wife Julia, teacher Della and a friend arrived bearing marvelous gifts – a beautiful chest containing eight drawers with a moon cake in each drawer and a lacquered box with two amazing enameled tea canisters. The team immediately captured these gifts on film and thanked our guests profusely. They were very kind to include us in their holiday tradition.

We then sat down to tea, goodies and far ranging conversation. We discussed our teaching experiences, the Uyghur students that we taught for the first time on Tuesday, and a myriad of other subjects. Tony brought their IPad and the guests were most intrigued by the high resolution and capabilities of that marvelous gadget.

At 11:45 the wait staff served a delightful Chinese lunch which Claudia, Maggie and Marcella had ordered earlier in the morning. The highlight seemed to be the asparagus – which our guests had not previously eaten. Sliced lamb with a moderate hot sauce, sliced beef, noodles and vegetables as well as the asparagus rounded out a very good lunch.

The guests departed at 1:30 and the team dispersed to catch up on missed sites in Xi’an and do some last minute shopping. We reconvened at 6 PM for a lighter dinner at the hotel and continued a review of the day and our enjoyable experience with our guests.

At 7:30 the team strolled over to the park across the street and enjoyed watching the line dancers and the people, especially children, enjoying the cool air and the full moon – obviously shining in honor of the Moon Festival. We strolled up to the outdoor pool hall – Wally and Tony showed the locals how the game is really played – had an interesting discussion in English and Chinese with some fellow strollers – and retired for the evening around 9PM.

The holiday was indeed to be remembered. Great weather, good company and an all around enjoyable day as we rapidly approach our final teaching day on Friday.

- Wally

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday September 21, 2010

Today, we were scheduled to teach the Uighur students. The college has had students from Xin Jiang but this year over 100 enrolled. We had been told that they had little English. We discussed how to change the lessons for them and we were worried that what we were planning might not work. Marcella, Wally, and Claudia speak Chinese so they had an advantage, but Tony and I would have to rely on body language and enthusiasm to get the lessons across. I had studied the geography of Xin Jiang ahead of time and drew a map of China on the board so that the students could find their home towns. We began with introductions. While it was clear that their English was limited, they more than made up for it by being attentive, eager, and happy to try the sentences we were teaching them. It turns out that all but two students came from Kashi, Xin Jiang. We went on to colors and clothing and they began to smile and talked more naturally. They have less trouble with "th" but "w" was difficult. We marched on to names of parts of the body and the hokey pokey. We ended with counting, American money (with all the different presidents) and family pictures. Wally worked one side of the room and I worked the other making sure that the students knew what to say before they stood up to speak in front of the whole class. They have such a positive attitude and they will pick up English very quickly. Marcella, Tony and Claudia reported that their students were quite lively and that their English was much better than expected. They had a wonderful time with them and we all felt we would be happy to teach them again.

After lunch, we headed out to the jade shop to buy some presents for family and friends. Our taxi driver had a hard time finding the place but we finally joined the others. Then we all went to our favorite shop - Ren Ren Le to buy moon cakes, cupcakes, cookies, oranges and nuts for tomorrow. We have invited Julia Dong, the head English teacher, and Mr. Robinson Liu, the college President for tea and lunch. Tomorrow is Autumn Festival and classes are cancelled. We are looking forward to having time to talk about teaching and their plans for the college.

For dinner, we decided to escape the hotel dining room. Three of us ended up at A Small World Cafe for some western food including French fries. Two of us ate at Chengdu and had Sechzuan food with numbing peppers.

- Maggie

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday September 20, 2010

Thought for the day: If you think some small thing doesn’t make an impression, you’ve never been in a room with a mosquito.

Entering the nonsmoking section of the hotel restaurant we were greeted by a cool breeze through the open door. The team assembled and made selections from both Chinese and western dishes on the breakfast buffet. After the journal reading by Tony and announcements by Baoli, we trooped back to the 8th floor to gather our teaching materials before boarding the school van for the 45 minute adventure in driving safety-not. Diana asked for help with a project involving an employment contract. The first page was routine – company and employee information including the province of birth. The 2nd page referred to standard employment practices as directed by Chinese law. Since I was not familiar with Chinese employment regulations I tried to check grammar but had to defer to Dong Laoshi for accuracy of the terminology. Since many students had departed for Autumn Festival, we were unsure whether we would team teach or meet our separate groups. Eventually it was sorted out as English Club students straggled in. The library where Marcella, Tony and I regularly teach had no electricity and I envisioned a hot morning. Luckily a workman was called and solved the problem. Lights and fans were turned on and vocabulary review began. After listing campus locations and time words, students constructed and reported on schedules for a typical college day using what, where, and when questions to direct their writing. “I eat breakfast in the dining hall at 7am.” The students were inventive – “I slept late and missed breakfast this morning.” and the exercise went well. After some pronunciation practice, we ended our session early so that the volunteers could visit the student dormitory [6 floors, about 20 rms/wing and 4-8 [most common and cheapest] students to a room. Nearly 1000 girls in that wing alone. What an enormous adjustment for some girls, who previously lived with family only, to be crammed into a small room with complete strangers.

After the usual photo ops, we were off to visit the home of the in-laws of Mr. Hao, a school leader. A bumpy ride ended in a small village just beyond Xi’an’s technology expansion area. Brick enclosures and brightly colored doors provided privacy for family dwellings. Our host and hostess greeted us warmly and invited us to enter through their small vegetable garden into their spacious and comfortably furnished home. The downstairs area included living room, 3 bedrooms, bath, kitchen and dining area. An early family portrait depicted the couple in their prime with their four children, 2 girls and two boys. The children evidently purchased the house for their parents – filial piety in practice. Our attention was drawn to some beautiful calligraphy and paintings gracing the walls – such exceptional art work. We were awed to discover that Mr. Tan, our host, was the calligrapher. Introductions and photos were interspersed between handshakes. We settled into chars while being served persimmons and tea. Questions and answers flew back and forth in both Chinese and English as we exchanged information about one another. Soon it was time to adjourn to the kitchen where the volunteers tried their hand at rolling and stuffing jiaozi. The table was cleared and everyone was seated around the table laden with food. As our host pointed out, “When Hu Jintao visited the White House he was served only four dishes but we were being served 6 dishes.” We all laughed. The food was flavorful and remarkable. Of course, the jiaozi were a hit, but the organically home-grown vegetables stole the show. A pepper in sauce, a tangy tofu-red cabbage and spice dish and a lovely orange squash were recognizable. One platter held a unique combination of marinated stems and fiddle heads of a mountain fern. A 2nd held dandelion greens with garlic, peppers and vinegar. The latter two dishes were touted to be aids in preventing diabetes and cancer. Ah, nothing like having plenty of antioxidants.

When we could eat no more we enjoyed Marcella’s family pictures and Mr. Tan exhibited his calligraphy technique and presented his art to Marcella. More photos were taken and heart-felt thanks offered for a wonderful afternoon. During the return to the hotel I learned from the student president of the English Club that he wanted to study in the US but feared that his English was too poor. Many students aspire to study abroad but application and living costs are beyond their resources even if they succeed in attaining a good score on the foreign language exams.

So, do we make a difference? Maggie related that during her visit to the Han Tomb museum she spoke to a shop girl and complimented her on her English. The young woman asked if Maggie was visiting. Maggie responded that she was a volunteer English teacher. The girl grinned and said “Global Volunteers? I had Global Volunteer teachers in 1997.” Then she said, “I’ve never forgotten them.” So, I guess we do make a difference!

- Claudia

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Weekend September 18 & 19, 2010

Thought for the day: Consider blessed even Sunday teachers in the park who can attract such eager, willing learners.

Team 187 soaked up more Chinese history and neighborhood life in Xian. On Saturday, Marcella, Maggie, Wally and I visited the Western Han imperial tombs on the outskirts of the city, while Claudia re-visited Xingqinggong Park.

Only about 10 of the 81 Han Yangling tombs have been extensively excavated. Jing Di (aka Liu Qi) was enthroned in 157 BC at age 32 and ruled 17 years. Although he and his father Emperor Wen subscribed to the Taoist principle of "doing nothing" (go with the flow) their reigns were considered a golden age. Jing crushed a rebellion of 7 kingdoms.

Jing is the Rodney Dangerfield of emperors -- no respect. The Qin terra cotta warriors get all the tourists, but the Western Han anatomically correct figures and artifacts are extraordinary in their own right. Han tiny figures should not be brushed off as Barbie dolls. The hologram film was superb. Amazingly, we had the other exhibition hall all to ourselves. Some ceramic vessels looked as modern as any we see today on worksites. The soldier figures included female troops on horseback. Western Han loved their pork -- lots of little piggy figures. For 28 years of Jing tomb building, the heavy lifting was done, again, by forced criminals.

On the way to and from the museum, our trusty driver Carravagio briefed us on high rise building economics. In exchange for farmers' land to build, say, 100 apartments, the farmer gets to live in one apartment and collect rent on perhaps three other units. Near a forest of new high rises, we saw the grand new railway station rising skyward.

Later, Wally, Maggie and Claudia reported good pickings at a jade factory. On the bus ride to dinner, Wally's pocket was picked. We ate a savory meal at the Xian Hotel restaurant where reportedly Zhou En Lai and friends in December 1936 met to resolve the impasse from Chiang Kai Shek's capture in the Xian Incident.

Afterwards, at the mobbed Muslim market, enterprising vendors with giant white barrel telescopes mounted on three-wheelers were charging 10Y for customers to look at the harvest moon. At a silk shop, Marcella checked the labels and found all the merchandise was polyester.

On Sunday, Marcella and I learned from the corner bullwhip slingers that the practice dates back to the Qin dynasty when they used whip cracking instead of firecrackers to salute the emperor. At Xingqinggong Park we were charmed to see how locals gladly devoted their Sunday leisure to outdoor practice under the direction of a teacher or leader, be it choral singing, hard tai ji, Chinese opera, belly dancing, ballroom, line dancing, knitting or whatever.

At dinner, the hotel kitchen lost, not misplaced, our order, but the meal once it arrived was tasty. Our team offered to perform surgery with a dull dinner knife on a US doctor who has been giving Baoli the runaround about volunteering.

- Tony

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday September 17, 2010

Thought for the day: When the going gets tough, don’t go shopping; get a good night’s sleep.

Another scorching and humid day in Xian. Friday is a very long tough teaching day. We taught a morning class until 11. Then we had teachers’ meeting starting at 11:15; it runs about an hour till noon. As last Friday, we had a wonderful lunch at a local restaurant with Julia and many English teachers. Julia ordered a variety of local specialty dishes we never had before. Among the nine different dishes 8 were vegetables and only one was a meat dish. Maggie commented the Chinese could do wonders with vegetables. I couldn’t agree with her more. During lunch Vivian was very surprised that we ate very little. What she doesn’t know is that we have been fed every 4 hours non-stop since we arrived in Xian. Personally I haven’t been hungry at all and yet I could not stop eating when the food was in front of me. We also learned a new Chinese saying: “Sweep off your doorstep.” It means at the end of a meal if there are still leftovers on the serving plates, each person should finish the dish of food in front of him or her.

After lunch we taught another class. At this morning’s class I had about 12 students. They were engaged and tried quite hard with their pronunciations and struggled with their writing. It went as well as could be expected.

However, my afternoon class was truly a test of my endurance in teaching. It was hot to begin with plus there were students I guess were in the class by command. This was not an ideal situation for a non-professional teacher like me, without a great deal of self control, who was tempted to scream and run out of the room. What saved me in this afternoon class was to see some improvements in 5 students from my last week’s class. I guess I did make a difference. On our drive back to the hotel from the school I was wondering whether our teaching in this school is a waste of time. Claudia and Maggie were trying to convince me it wasn’t. And that we do make a difference because there is a cumulative effect. I wish I could truly believe them.

At dinner time we had a long discussion about the problems we saw in this school and in their testbooks. We sympathized with both the teachers and the students. I for one am not qualified to solve this impossible situation. I think the best thing for me to do is just to go to bed and get a good night sleep.

- Marcella

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thursday September 16, 2010

Thought for the day: A proper attitude conquers all evil.

Today was the most exciting day to date for our team. Teaching went very well – we had interested and enthusiastic students. Claudia presented a technical lecture to the nursing students. Baoli joined us and visited our classrooms and took pictures of us with our students. We returned to the hotel for a working lunch. The teaching experiences were reviewed and we then planned the rest of the day. Tony and Marcella headed for the huge electronics store to purchase a laptop replacement for her IPad – which died – but could not find a suitable replacement. Claudia stayed at the hotel to research additional material for a lecture. Maggie and Wally left to visit the Small Wild Goose Pagoda and managed to find a bus that stopped a block from the North Gate – quite a feat! The team rejoined at 6PM, meeting Baoli for a fantastic Peking Duck dinner.

The carver arrived with a beautiful roasted duck which he artfully carved onto three plates. Hoisin sauce and the thin wrappers were quickly snatched up and married with the scallion slivers to create a delicious duck roll. It was during this feast that Marcella informed us that Chinese characters and English words were not the same?? The team shows no mercy for such clairvoyance. When we thought dinner was complete, a fabulous basket of steamed sticky rice and spare ribs arrived which was quickly attacked. During a lull, waiting for the duck soup, Baoli drilled us on the team goals. It seems her professionalism never rests!

All of Baoli’s meals have been excellent but this dinner will be exceedingly tough to top.

The duck soup arrived and we devoured that as well. Marcella observed that it tasted too much like duck – two in one evening sets a team record – but we are a forgiving bunch.

After dinner Tony and Marcella headed back to the hotel – another bus adventure – while Claudia, Maggie and Wally waited for 15 minutes trying to hail a cab. Baoli stayed with us and we finally captured a cab during a very busy time. The three of us headed for the International Studies University to visit the English Corner. This proved to be a fascinating evening. The English majors, as well as other students and graduates, gather on the University Terrace to speak English, hopefully meet Americans or other English speakers and engage in what must be termed a free for all. Each of us had a large group of students around us who were not a bit shy about asking questions on everything from the Opium War to 9/11 and Americans opinion on building a mosque near ground zero. The enthusiasm and dedication to learning was palpable. These students engaged us from 8 until 9:30 and it appeared that they would have continued as long as we could stay. Many of the students want us to come back next Thursday but it is a National Holiday so we will probably not have this opportunity again. However, I feel certain that if we go, there will still be a crowd of students anxious to practice their English.

The students found a taxi for us and we returned to the hotel at 10PM – tired, hot, but thrilled to have had this opportunity. It is these somewhat impromptus engagements that make volunteerism a truly meaningful experience.

- Wally

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday September 15, 2010

In spite of a long discussion about teaching topics at breakfast, we were able to depart on time and arrived early at XBTC. During our ride, Swallow related information about the construction industry. Her father’s company hires workers from Shanxi and surrounding provinces. Workers stay in rooms, often in temporary buildings resembling dormitories, at the construction site. Oversight of the workers needs and “care” is relegated to an on-site manager.

Off to class where some of the volunteers had the same students as last week while others, including me, had new students. Marcella and Tony team-taught and laughter and singing from their group confirmed their successful enterprise. Maggie reported that in addition to her talented students from last week medical secretarial students joined her class. A dialogue about making an appointment to see the doctor was a highlighted activity. My class of 11 men and 1 woman told me they were 2nd year medical instrument students. One young man with an engaging smile confirmed that indeed he had been in my class last year. How nice to see progress in his performance. After a standard set of questions and dialogues to assess listening comprehension and speaking ability, we reviewed vowel sounds and the most troublesome consonants. “We want to do something more difficult.” said 2 students. In response to my question about a text, one student entered the stacks and located a book with some useful information. These students will learn to operate and fix instruments but will not interact with patients. I asked them for some appropriate vocabulary and they responded with ECG, current, battery and circuit. Ah, ha! They will be working with electronics. Not my forte. Although it was pretty basic, we managed to discuss, in English, wave energy, wave length, amplitude, various meters, and oscilloscopes. To lighten things up a bit after such a difficult topic, we talked about sports and one student gave a Tai Chi demonstration. We also sang “It’s a small World” and took pictures.

Julia, Swallow, Fisher and Diana accompanied us to lunch and we enjoyed a lamb and glass noodle soup, several well prepared vegetable dishes and bread with a tangy relish. Just as we thought we were finished, 2 more plates piled high with spicy goodies arrived. After a brief rest period, we were off to our afternoon classes. The young women in the nutrition class, although not as advanced as the morning class, were enthusiastic and wrote creative dialogues about “good foods”. We also used a table in the text to review the role of vitamins and problems related to deficiency diseases. I think, however, that I disappointed them by not knowing a Michael Jackson song but they sang a Chinese folk song for me.

On the way back to the hotel, Mr Zhao again demonstrated creative driving maneuvers. Dinner included jiaozi, crispy pigeon, mushu pork with pancakes and finished with apples which were gifts from students and teachers. Maggie and Wally are nursing colds so they turned in early. No adventure this evening.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tuesday September 14, 2010

Thought for the day:
“May your hands show mercy.”
“May your feet care for the green earth.”
- Sign at the Grey Goose Pagoda

We set off for school today trading last minute ideas on how to get the students to talk. I drew a town map on the board while the students were making shopping lists. Then we found the stores and they gave directions from one building to another. After that, we worked on pronunciation: th, l, and v, also "ing" and d. They want to drop the "g" in "ing" and add an "e" to the final "d" in a word. Then they opened accounts at the local bank. They like the dialogues especially when they write them. Today, I had dental students, so we went over dental vocabulary and they acted out their own dialogues about toothaches, cavities and teeth that got knocked out.

In the afternoon, we went to the Grey Goose Pagoda. The fearless Marcella and Tony went to the top. I stopped halfway fascinated by a movie about Xuan Zang, a Buddhist monk who left China in 629 A.D. to travel to India along the Silk Road in order to bring back the holy scriptures. When he returned in 645, he "burried the grey goose and built a pagoda". The courtyards were peaceful and the exhibit halls on the sides were filled with carved jade murals of his travels or Buddhist images.

We all met for dinner at the Bamboo Garden Village for Mongolian hot pot. We happily dipped meat and veggies in swirling stocks, one mild and one very spicy. Claudia and I took a cab home. Marcella, Tony and Wally stayed for the light show at the fountains in the square outside the pagoda. Claudia spent the evening working on her presentation on cells for a biology class at the college on Thursday.

- Maggie

Monday, September 13, 2010

Monday September 13, 2010

Thought for the day: It's not the brightest students who need the most help.

Week 2 of team 187’s volunteer teaching in Xi’an: English Club students can cure whatever ails visiting English teachers.

We managed to extricate ourselves from a sudden swarm of smokers at our hotel breakfast, and driver Zhao demonstrated some NASCAR-like reflexes by detouring onto a sidewalk to extract us from a traffic jam. We passed a classical Greco-Roman building reminiscent of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome except the rooftop apostles in this case were nude to advertise a bath house Wei Duo Li Ya Yu Chang. Rush hour drivers carved an additional lane out of oncoming traffic proving once again that in China the wrong way can be the right way.

I had 23 students in my class. Thanks to Maggie's and Claudia's suggested dialogues, my students worked hard and some showed real imagination with their dialogues. The rest of our team reported similar good results.

I also asked students to help me make a list of tough to pronounce "th" words, then asked them to weave such words into complete English sentences. After class, several students spoke of their frustration in not being able to practice English with native speakers like us. Local teacher Swallow sat in on my class. It may be some sort of Freudian disorder, but once again I forgot to give them homework.

Marcella noticed in the office a school list of pesticides including "heavenly cow." It turns out that's the name for a long-horned beetle.

After lunch, we scattered to our separate errands. Maggie walked some of the city wall. Marcella, Wally and I checked out the local market, with many of the vendors taking their siesta. We passed two rag-tag old-time knife sharpeners pushing tool-laden bicycles and calling out their trade as it must have been done for centuries. One vendor was using a gas torch to burn hair off a pig skin. Moments later we were startled by a tour bus that also decided to use the sidewalk behind us as its personal traffic lane.

At the Shaanxi Daily headquarters we tried to wangle an invitation to see the newsroom but a meeting was in progress. A reporter in the lobby knew all about Marcella’s father and his various government posts. The paper employed about 700, 230 of them reporters.

Next we visited Xingqinggong Park. A brass band of Christians tried to save our souls but lost interest when they found we didn't speak fluent Chinese. They delivered the worst rendition of Onward Christian Soldiers I have ever heard. I doubt if even Jesus could stand it.

Dinner was at the Muslim restaurant Old Sun House, where we worked for our supper tearing up biscuits for lamb soup. The stroll back from Renrenle was fascinating to see life on the city sidewalks, people eating, gambling, repairing bikes, etc.

- Tony

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Saturday & Sunday September 11 & 12, 2010

Thought for the day: Whatever you do have fun otherwise it's not worth doing

Saturday. Team 187's weekend started with a trip to the Hua Qing hot springs and the Qin Shihuang Terra-Cotta Warriors' Museum. Our private "WHITE" van was from Raphael's travel service. We were picked up at the hotel right after breakfast around 8:10. All the seat covers in the van were with a "Pooh" bear design. I thought it was quite cute so I made the comment there was a "pooh" on the cover. My comment gave Claudia quite a shock for she thought it was something other than the cute Pooh bear from Winnie the Pooh. Afterwards all went smoothly during the ride.

The famous Hua Qing Hot Springs were built in the Tang Dynasty. Supposedly one of the most beautiful concubines from the Tang dynasty took her bath here. And this was also where took place one of the most famous incidents in Chinese history during the early years before the Communist Party came into power. Chiang Kai Shek the "generalissimo" of the Nationalist Party was captured by rebel leaders when he stayed here.

The highlights of this place for me are the rooms where Chiang Kai Shek and his entourage stayed. Also, the grafted persimmon trees on top of local Xian fig trees. According to the locals this gives Xian persimmons a unique flavor. All this I overheard from local tour guides explaining it to their tour groups.

There were hundreds of local tourists but only 5 non locals and 4 non Chinese at this place. I don't think I need to visit this tour site ever again.

From the hot springs we went to the Terra-Cotta Warriors Museums. Thanks to Claudia, we had our own private tour guide. The place was huge! Claudia showed us where we should start our tour -- the panorama theater. The show gave us a general history of Qin Shihuang, the process of how these extraordinary figures were made and a simulated re-enactment of life during ancient times. The movie was well scripted and the cinematography was well executed.

Next we went to the second museum building. There in an enormous domed structure were hundreds of the Terra-Cotta Warriors. It was breathtaking. I feel I could spend days in this part of the museum and never get tired of looking at these remarkable figures. It's the thought of how skillful these craftsmen were. The artistry, the craftsmanship, the creativity and most of all the amount of labor that went into the creation of this masterpiece. Later I learned in another museum building that many workers were criminals, forced laborers who created this enormous and one of a kind work of world-class art.

We were in the museum for so long that the wonderful driver provided by Raphael Travel called twice to make sure we hadn't left the museum without him. We got back to the hotel around 5:30. 6:30 we met at the dinning room for dinner. We each ordered a dish and shared in the Chinese style. Wally ordered two crispy pigeons since one pigeon were a bit small for 5 hungry people, Tony ordered a whole steamed flounder, Maggie ordered two plates of steamed dumplings because again 12 little dumplings per order are not enough for 5 people. Claudia ordered the healthy vegetable of stir fried asparagus and I ordered a great bowl of spicy noodles. Of course we all had beer to help us top off a wonderful outing.

Sunday, was a free day for all. Tony and I went to walk on the old city wall. It took us 4 hours to walk the complete wall because I was stopping every few minutes to take pictures. To see Xian in the morning when the city is starting its day is fascinating. The market was bustling, shoppers bargaining at the fruit stand, men doing laundry on roof tops, a woman washing vegetables on the street, a barber cutting hair on the sidewalk, a man sleeping on the couch in the open on the side walk, men and women exercising in the park, a man standing on his head in the park, rows and rows of ping pong players in the park, workmen on roofs laying roof tiles, window washers hanging from roofs without safety lines, brick layers laying bricks at the edge of a building on the third floor without guard rails, workmen squatting in a courtyard eating. Amazing sights.

After getting off the wall we went to a gigantic department store near the Bell Tower. The store has 7 floors and was packed. The busiest floor was the women's shoes department. I believe this might be true world wide. There were so many people inside the stores and on the street it was overwhelming. There were people eating everywhere, people selling things every few feet, people squatting and sitting on the steps in front of the gigantic department, people in front of stores shouting into bull horns, people sitting under trees. It was hard for me to think what it would be like if there were no one child policy in China.

We picked up a birthday cake for Wally because it was his Birthday. Team 187 celebrated his birthday at dinner with a pink lotus flower candle brought by Baoli which opened up with flames on all petals and in the center. It played the happy birthday song at the same time. We were lucky that we did not set the place on fire.

The cake looked so over the top. I cannot describe it to do it justice. All I can say is the cake had tomatoes, parsley, dragon fruit and other fruits on top. Only a photo can capture it.

It's getting late and I need to end this report. But I can not end this report without reporting that at dinner that Tony jokingly suggested that I should write this report as a dialogue. Such as what we do in teaching our English classes. Claudia humorously delivered a mock dialogue. We laughed so hard at the suggestion that I actually hurt myself.

- Marcella

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday September 10, 2010

Thought for the day: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. The teachers seemed to like “Love me, love my dog.” Perhaps we should let a sleeping dog lie!

The Friday 6:30 wake-up call seemed to be earlier than usual! The breakfast meeting, missing Baoli (doctor’s appointment) was kicked off by an excellent and brief Thursday report by Maggie.

We arrived at the school to find new schedules which required minor adjustments. It seems we have each developed a teaching method and style that works best with the various student groups that we meet each day. Friday was a long day with both AM and PM classes. Lunch was a highlight – hosted by six Chinese English teachers. The restaurant was a noodle house and we were served three different noodle dishes – all excellent. Noodle broth was served first, highly reminiscent of dishwater – but good for the digestion. We used three bowls for the variety of dishes presented – a great meal enjoyed by all.

After the PM classes the Chinese teachers took us to see the dental lab. It was amazing to watch the dental technicians make individual teeth, bridges and dentures. The instructor told us that several of the advanced technicians are going to Suzhou for an international competition. Then we went to the street market and had fresh winter melon and baodz hot out of the steamers. Another marvelous experience. With Marcella along to translate we actually know what we are seeing and eating! Claudia, unfortunately missed these events due to her dedication to duty – she promised a teacher that she would locate and print pictures of various medical devices. We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening in the visiting teachers office speaking with the Chinese teachers and helping develop their vocabulary.

At seven PM we went to the auditorium and witnessed an absolutely fantastic student presentation – which they labeled a Hip Hop. Each act seemed to top the previous one: A formal dance with formal attired students was performed, followed by a speaking quartet, then a Xinjiang solo dancer in costume, a group dance, an excellent solo singer, a kung fu presentation performed to music which was top quality, and break dancing. We got roped into some community dancing, and wore Chinese opera masks (which none of us understood and the Chinese teachers claimed no knowledge thereof).

We returned to the hotel after 9PM, tired, but appreciating a near perfect day!

- Wally

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thursday September 9, 2010

Thought for the day: “In life, it is not the things that knock you down that count, it is the people who help you up."

While we were riding to school this morning, one of the teachers, Diana, told us a fascinating story about an American nurse who married a Chinese farmer and went to live in his village which was very poor. While she was raising their two children, she bought a cow and sold the milk in order to buy some chickens, she then sold the eggs to raise more money. Over the years, her businesses improved the whole village. I really enjoy talking to the teachers about their school and teaching. Today, Diana and I discussed the differences between American and Chinese farmers and one day Vivian and I talked about whether or not a mother-in-law ought to say anything negative about her daughter's boyfriend.

Our classes went well today. I had l6 medical instrument students. We worked on pronunciation especially "th" which is very difficult. All week, I had been using a dialog about going home for Autumn Festival. But many of these students live too far away to go home. To my surprise, the majority of the students I had all week had brothers and sisters. Not surprising was the fact that most of them had grandparents living with them.

This afternoon Marcella and Tony went to check out the history museum for us. Wally got a haircut and was quite pleased with the results. Claudia and I spent the afternoon at the office looking over the teaching materials. I was looking for more ways to get the students to talk to each other and to me, specifically topics for dialogues and role playing skits.

Baoli took us to a neighborhood restaurant for dinner and later we spent time in the park. Marcella and I joined the regular evening line dancing. The park is full of families and young people and many of them smiled at us and let us talk to their babies. In the daytime, people are flying kites, cracking whips, doing Tai Chi, dancing in traditional dress, playing both traditional and western musical instruments and best of all singing local opera. This is my third Global Volunteer trip. Each time, I come away with a warm feeling about a country and its people that I could never get from a tour of that same country.

- Maggie

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wednesday September 8, 2010

Thought for the Day: Don’t be afraid to explore unchartered waters.

An auspicious beginning to our day – the sun is dimly visible through the low clouds and ever-present smog. The breakfast meeting is over and the 5 members of Team 187 load into the school van taking us to XBTC. Zhao shifu pulls into traffic and, with astounding nerve and skill, drives us successfully to the campus in record time. In addition to the daily exchange of ideas for our classes, the team’s “three merry maids” continue to rave about the local opera experience the previous night and the adventuresome jitney ride back to the hotel. A quick stop at the Foreign Affairs Office, then we disperse to our respective teaching locales. Marcella, Tony and I assist our students in arranging the tables in three regions of the library; the kids arrive, and we begin the day’s teaching.

Because we see a different group of students at each teaching period [roughly 2 ½ hrs], we tend to repeat activities. The emphasis is always on conversation, however, whether the topic is family, college life, fashion, etc. The ability of the students to speak and to comprehend spoken English varies dramatically within each group, but classmates help one another with dialogues and understanding questions.

Students in today’s morning class aspire to jobs making dentures while the afternoon students are studying nutrition. Near the end of each class I introduce some terms relevant to their major or subjects and offer anecdotes of how English skills might help them get a better job.

Between the morning and afternoon sessions, Julia Dong and 4 teachers escorted us down the main street to a local restaurant for a delicious meal. After lunch I spent a little time with a teacher who had been assigned a new course while the other team members visited the nursing anatomy and the pharmaceutical labs. The afternoon teaching went well for everyone in part because the students had been exposed to a bit more English. Weary but satisfied by a good day’s effort, we returned to the hotel for yet another dinner of inspired selections by Bao Li. Can we all say, “more food”.

Our team has consistently displayed the desired team characteristics of communication, cooperation and so on. But I must note that what I am enjoying most is their marvelous energy, playfulness and humor. As these traits extend into the teaching enterprise, it is no wonder that much of the applause heard during class is the appreciative recognition by the students of the caring and personal effort of the volunteers.

- Claudia

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tuesday September 7, 2010

Thought for the Day: A picture word is worth a thousand abstract textbook words.

Day 2 of our Global Volunteers teaching in Xi'an began with great promise as our driver zigged and zagged through traffic snarls in record time. Della, one of the English teachers at the college, graciously rode along as escort. (The school van was still black.)

When we arrived at the campus, long lines of students were waiting to register. Those of us assigned to teach in the library found the double doors locked and not a student in sight. Eventually about 15 students strolled up and the doors were unlocked. We divided those 15 among us -- 5 per volunteer teacher -- with mixed results.

Most of our team today reported very lively sessions. My five students, all from outlying farm communities, struggled with reading and using even simple English sentences. Often they could manage only phrases. None had a textbook and I had to lend one a pen. Yet they tried as best they could to communicate in English. And by noon quitting time I believe we all knew more about each other's lives and English conversation. One student helpfully reminded me that China's one-child policy was interpreted as one child per city family, two in the countryside.


Especially with less advanced students, Claudia is right that the teacher should read a passage first before asking students to read.

Maggie is right that you cannot overdo "modeling" dialogue or other exercises before asking students to try them.

Prodding and enthusiasm such as Marcella radiates are powerful assets in motivating students to learn.

Wally is showing that hamming it up works in the classroom, if not on stage.

I found even my struggling students rallied when given a framework such as who, what, where, when and why -- with answers modeled in advance.

The textbook we were given is woefully lacking in conversational "picture words." Students are focused on exams anyway. So skip the abstract textbook vocabulary whenever possible and go for hot button conversational topics.

Our afternoon visit to the Grand Mosque was fascinating.

Also, you can measure distances along the Xi'an historic wall by the number of parkside Chinese opera singers. Our walk to buy opera tickets was a six singer trip, at high decibel level.

Most wonderful of all was a slender elder brother in grey scholar's garb dipping a 3-foot long brush in a tin can full of water and producing the most elegant ephemeral calligraphy on public park paving stones.

- Tony

Monday, September 6, 2010

Monday September 6, 2010

Thought for the Day: We are all life-long learners.

I woke up around 5 a.m. anxious about what lay ahead of me today. Teaching a class is something I had never done before, and here I was about to teach conversational English to a group of students in Xian Biomedical Technical College. These students are high school graduates from different provinces and backgrounds. Many of these students have never seen a foreigner or heard a native English speaking person. I had only a vague idea as to what I needed to do. I was not afraid of the challenge but I did feel quite inadequate. Well, since I always believe that life is all about new experiences, I decided to dive in head on.

We were picked up at the hotel by Julia in a black van. She is the wife of the president of the school. The traffic was extremely heavy because it was raining and during the rush hours. Riding in a car in China is an experience you will never forget. Chinese drivers, bikers, and walkers are like kamikazes. Weaving in and out of traffic in whichever direction they want and whenever they see an opening, even if the opening is just a foot away from the next car, bike or person. Because of the rain and the traffic we were about 15 minutes late getting to the school. When we arrived the president of the school and the students were there in the front entrance hall waiting to welcome us. It was very moving and at the same time I was a little embarrassed and I don't quite know why.

After we shook hands with the students, the president gave a short welcome speech and from our volunteers group Claudia responded with a very warm short message. Then our whole party moved upstairs to a very large conference room. On one side of the room there was a huge development plan for the future school. It was quite an ambitious plan. On the oppose side of the room on a long dark wood cabinet there were 5 gold colored awards for the school's achievements. Robinson, the president of the school, gave us some information about his background and we each introduced ourselves. Then we were escorted to our classes.

My classroom was in the library with Claudia on the other side with another class. When I saw how many students were there in the class, I had a moment of panic. I found it was very difficult to get the students to be involved in the beginning. But with some trial and error I finally got them to respond. There was one particular student with quite an attitude. I think she feels that she is quite good at conversational English already. But when I asked her to answer what she wants to be, she could not speak a complete sentence and was having difficulties with words. So I tried to get her involved every chance I got. I don't know how successful I was with these students. All the while I was teaching trying to think of things that might interest them I was perspiring with sweat running down my back. It was the combination of anxiety and frustration plus the heat I suppose. I was really glad the class was over. I didn't know what to expect on the first day. Hopefully, all will be well tomorrow and it might be slightly easier after the first day, and this first ever teaching experience.

Now I can understand what teachers everywhere go through.

- Marcella

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday September 5, 2010

Thought for the Day: "Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous." CONFUCIUS

The team, consisting of Claudia, Maggie, Marcella, Tony and Wally met at 8AM for a breakfast meeting with Baoli in the hotel dining room. At 8:40 we had out first planning meeting in the Global Volunteers office. We continued personal introductions, defined team goals and explored the characteristics of an effective team.

Baoli thoroughly covered the Global Volunteer policies and discussed how the team could best fulfill our goals. We adjourned at 12:30 and met in the hotel dining room for lunch. The discussions continued in lively fashion.

We met again with at 3PM with several teachers and students from the Xi’an Biomedical Technical College. The students and teachers each introduced themselves with a brief description of their names and where they were from. Several spoke about their desire to learn English and made us feel extremely welcome to Xi’an.

The team members then introduced themselves and spoke briefly about why they came to China and how they hoped to help the teachers and the students. Then the teachers provided additional details of their background and experience. This was followed by a request to have the team members speak in more detail about their “previous lives”, occupations and experiences. This led to continued conversation and questions which was enjoyed by all.

The meeting adjourned at 4:30PM and Baoli, the team and the teachers and students walked back to the hotel. Additional, wide ranging discussion continued.

The team members spent another hour discussing and planning for Monday’s first day of teaching members of the English Club at the University.

We met for dinner at 6PM and continued to voice our potential difficulties to be faced on Monday morning, our “baptism of fire.”

The day was an exciting and informative experience. The team members are all here for the right reasons, communicate and cooperate. There is no doubt that the next three weeks will be exciting and productive. And if we continue to eat all of the fantastic meals ordered by Baoli we will all have to purchase new clothes to return home.

- Wally