China Team Journal

Saturday, May 21, 2011

My last day...

Journal by: Katrina

My last day was sad for me. In just two weeks, I had become attached to the sixth grade boys and all the teachers and students at that beautiful little school with little room and little money.

Donald sang two songs for me, which was his forte, Mickey was going to sing, but he chickened out, and they gave me a beautiful card that said, “May Everyday Be Happy” and “We love you and will miss you!” I also received a pendant that said La La Shou, it was very unique and delicate, something I will keep always!

I had fallen in love with the students and the teachers. We communicated with our smiles, our laughter, and with our eyes. The translators were from the university and absolutely wonderful. They would bring me water and always tell me to sit! They loved America and President Obama. They all loved seeing pictures of my family and pictures of Abe Lincoln. They were very happy without a lot of material things, except of course their cell phones. They were English majors and they wanted me to be pleased with their English. They worked very hard translating and also helping with the students. They also were very proud to be in college and demonstrating their talents. They seemed to be more motivated and respectful than college students in America. They were very proud to be able to attend college.

China is a country of contrast, old and new. It is a country so vast and varied, yet the people seem to all work together peacefully. They find ways to survive and are very resourceful in a crowded city with 9 million people, and with what they have. It has truly been a life alternating experience. Basically, we all want the same things to be happy. Those students are so sweet and gifted in many, many ways. They love music and I found their choices of songs are the same songs that people in America. We practiced for a sports event they were having on Saturday. “We will, we will rock you,” was the song they were using in their dance routine. They all knew and loved Lady Gaga! They listened and exercised to “The Long Road to Tibet,” a sad and beautiful song that I loved. They also like “Old MacDonald’s Farm” and we sang that song many times during my short time at La La Shou.

I have had an excellent eye opening opportunity to have been invited to La La Shou. The parents and teachers are moving mountains in order for these children to be happy and successful in school. I never once saw any of the teachers become angry with the children. Mr. Tom and Mini, the teacher for sixth grades, (yes, I gave them English names too,) were very professional and caring to the autistic children.

My trip to China will remain with me always. I promised my new friends in China that I will try my best to make it back, but not without learning to speak more Chinese! One of many things I have learned is never to form an opinion about any country unless you have been there and overall try not to form an opinion about the people of a country unless you have worked with them and lived with them. China and especially Xi’an was a dream for me that came true! Thanks to Global Volunteers and my wonderful country team leader, Wang Baoli, it would have not been possible for me to have had this exciting opportunity! Baoli went above and beyond her call of duty to help. She made sure we were taken care of, that we were safe, and comfortable.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Journal by: Peace

From our hotel room on the 11th floor I can see down to the old city walls and the park. In the morning there are a few dozen people out there doing a calisthenics routine or Tai Chi. Living in such small places, it seems to be a treat for them to exercise in open space like that. Mostly it's people over 50. I asked Teacher Della about running yesterday since people do that so much for exercise in the U.S., she said she thinks people don't do it because there is no room. I told her we run on sidewalks and in the streets, she doesn't know why people don't do that here. I've seen an gym advertisement, perhaps this will catch on here, who can say.

No teacher accompanied me today, just the driver who is the father of the baby I held yesterday. Time has taken on a strange quality, it seems like that is a week ago. I don't think he spoke much English, it was a very quiet ride, but quicker than yesterday. The sun has come out. We passed a dental clinic, all glass walls on a busy street, everyone can watch you as you get your teach cleaned or pulled or whatever.

Driving up to the school the gate wasn't working and we had to drive around to the side and be let in by a person. The driver walked me up to the Foreign Affairs Office on the second floor and I met with Della and Julia. My classes were supposed to be held in the library, but there was no power so they asked if I minded walking up to the fifth floor for class. I asked where the materials were, the ones left by other volunteers, but Della said there were none. I had a rough outline and a few materials, so I went with what I had. My class was about 25 people, but only 2 boys! I thought there were more boys that girls in China and yet here I am with a class full of 16 year old girls. A couple of girls in the front row stood out right away, giving every answer, knowing a lot of English. Everybody kept telling me these kids were low level, but several of them have studied English 5 or more years and knew a lot. All the stuff I had for reviewing numbers, time, all way too easy for them. In fact we blew through everything I had in the first hour, with 2 more to go. It was fantastic when the teacher stopped in and led class for a while, she ended up asking me to do the first few exercises in their book with them, and then she assigned the rest as homework. I wish I had taken pictures.

They already knew the alphabet song, although they sing it differently ABCD, EFG, HIJK, LMN,OPQ, RST, UVW, XYZ, Chinese ending. A few of the girls knew Old MacDonald too. At some point I realized they were calling me teacher and we hadn't practiced introductions. I wrote my name on the board and then one of the girls asked if I could write my name on her textbook. This started a rush, and soon I had printed my name in every text in the room. It was a little rough the whole morning though, I really had a beginner lesson plan and they were intermediate students.

For lunch Julia & Della walked over to the cafeteria with me, it is much like college cafeterias everywhere. They asked what kind of soy sauce I like to drink, but with a little translation I figured it was soymilk. I said, "what do you mean what flavor?" and Della said, "you know, green bean, black rice, etc." I said in America the choices are vanilla, chocolate or plain. I let them choose. I got piping hot sesame flavored soymilk and it was good. Grain flavored and weird, but good.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Journal by: Peace Gardiner

First day in China...

Since I didn't have a meeting until 12:30, I decided to walk along the city walls and explore a park I could see from my 11th floor hotel room. I also had directions to a large supermarket nearby. I walked and explored, and as happens so often in China, I saw so many new and wonderful things. As I approached the park I heard loud rhythmic popping sounds and saw a group of maybe two dozen men and maybe two women. They were cracking whips! They had giant 8-10 feet long bullwhips and seemed to be seeing who could do the most continuous cracks. There was a talented younger man who was helping others. Some people were only able to do 2 cracks, while others kept going for several minutes. Even after such an achievement there was no applause, but you could feel the approval of the crowd.

For lunch Katrina & I met with Wang Baoli, our Global Volunteers coordinator. She took us to a Sichuan style restaurant near the hotel. She ordered us rice, stewed eggplant, bok choi, and some sort of cashew chicken sort of dish. It was very good. Katrina had never had eggplant before, but she is such a trooper, she seems to try everything without complaint. We tried to get a taxi to the school that we had meeting at, but there was a wedding letting out and 20 or more people in line for taxis, so we started walking. We made it to the school where Katrina will be teaching, a private school for autistic children. We had meetings until dinner time with Global Volunteers policy review & such, and then met staff for both of our schools. Several nursing students from the college I will be teaching at came to meet us too.

They asked each of us to introduce ourselves in English as much as possible, and the students had prepared notes. They did quite well and we all applauded each other’s efforts. They each had a question prepared too. In some cases it was "Do you like Xi'an?", "Have you been to Xi'an before?", or "Does the hot weather here make you feel short of air?" One girl asked us for our favorite singers. Katrina and I started trying to name somebody we thought they might have heard of, although I drew a blank for quite a while.

Us: Justin Beiber?
Them: Justin Beiber?

Us: Frank Sinatra?
Them: blank stare

Us: Elvis Presley?
Them: blank stare

Me: Lady Gaga?
Them: LADY GAGA!!!

Man, I love China.

Working at La La Shou (Xi'an China)

Journal by: Katrina Beattie

We met at my school for autistic children, La La Shou. There was a room full of teachers, speaking in Chinese all at once. I could feel the panic rising up from my feet and sweat dripping down my back! How is this going to work? The room was very humid and everyone was looking at Peace and myself. Baoli, my team leader, began translating in English. I began to relax and a sense of well-being came over me. I knew this is where I was meant to be, here and now, at this moment.

After walking to school, I thought I had seen everything! People were dressed with suits, dresses, ankle length pantyhose, beautiful black haired girls with outfits that would have passed for American dressed girls with the latest attire. People dressed in rags. People with their wares on a towel to sell on the sidewalk, people eating porridge with chopsticks on the sidewalks, reading news, washing their cars, cooking, sitting, and staring at me! The smells were very different. Some were horrible, some were pleasant!

La La Shou means hand in hand in Chinese, One of the parents started the school, as she didn’t know how to educate her autistic son. There is not a special needs program in the schools of China. It operates on donations only. The school is incredible in that the teachers are caring and patient with these children who have short attention spans, can not tolerate loud noises, are obsessive compulsive, cannot stand to have anything wet on their skin and clothes. Most of all, the general population has difficulty accepting them, let alone trying to teach them. With very little money, the teachers and parents have found a way. The students seem very happy, they smile and love to be touched. There are approximately sixty students at La La Shou. They have various difficulties, just like the autistic children in the USA. They can have very atypical social behavior. They are in their own little world and want to stay there.

After meeting with the translators and the head teacher, Global Volunteers, team leader and myself, we decided that I would join the sixth grade. They were all boys and had become oppositional and somewhat aggressive. When I met them, I knew this was the spot for me! One of the students was rubbing his forehead and rocking back and forth. He was not a happy camper! I found out later they were not playing his choice in music.

After one week, when the teachers and I felt they would be comfortable with me. I taught them the English alphabet. They progressed quite well and seemed to be attentive to this strange English teacher from America.

I read them stories. One was “The Three Little Pigs”. THEY LOVED THE STORY AND WANTED TO HAVE IT READ TO THEM SEVERAL TIMES. We said the alphabet and numbers in English and sang songs. They also loved my scrapbook, showing pictures of my family and the museum where I worked, “Abraham Lincoln Museum.”

The boys at the school were a unique and tight little group with their own way of communicating with one another.

They all wanted English names, that was a really big deal. They loved the cartoon, “Tom and Jerry”, so I named them accordingly. Tie Jiawei (Shea Swek), was given the English name, Jerry. He was nonverbal, was in the top spectrum of autism, and would become very agitated if he could not listen to his favorite songs.

Mickey was very intelligent and learned English phrases quicker than I could learn the Chinese language. Periodically, he would want me to sing “Mickey Mouse” or “Chinese Opera.” He would say English sentences that would come up out of nowhere.

Donald was a crooner that would sing beautiful sad songs with a pretend microphone. I wanted to name him Frank Sinatra, but he liked Donald. His voice had perfect pitch.

One of the student’s was quite low functioning, but understood social behavior well, and was a joy to be around with his continual smile. We named him Shrek. He was a hero in his own sweet way. He also was nonverbal, but somehow was able to communicate with us by pointing and making disjointed sounds.

The last young man was Islo. He was the “assistant principal” of the group. He was constantly making sure his classmates were not wandering off and that they were paying attention in class. Islo was the always smiling as if he were watching a funny play that he was not a part of. He was a tremendous help. He would make sounds and pull us to attract our attention whenever the routine was off schedule or when the other students were doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing.