China Team Journal

Friday, March 23, 2012

Week 3

Dumpling and karaoke Monday - after teaching the wigger students - the ones from a rural province - a bit of English, I went with Baoli and Della to the president of the college and his wonderful and talented wife Julia's home.  We entered the apartment and could smell food preparation - however, it was no warmer than the school and the window was still open of course.  We dug into the doughy wrappings and stuffed them full of pork, eggs and chives.  I was by far the weakest member of the production while The others created perfect and consistent moon-shaped dumplings at five times the speed.  Apparently, this is what families do for New Years - a bit different from the binge partying of the USA.  After a bit, there were rows of about a hundred dumplings which were promptly boiled up and eaten while Della entertained us with her piano playing.  Soon after I was in my bed in my room nursing a very overstuffed belly and on my way to a short but fitful nap.

At 6pm, Baoli and I went for noodles and a sandwich - like I needed more to eat! - and we went to the karaoke house and met out dumpling crew.  We spent 3 hours singing a variety of international songs in a private room and really enjoyed the eclectic mix of music and dance.  After a while I even managed to work the Chinese keyboard on the karaoke machine to navigate the menu and pick my own songs.  It was an absolute hoot and we all had quite a great time.  I don't think anyone really wanted to leave but we were all worn out from the singing in the hot and stuffy room and thankfully enjoyed the brisk air outside for once.  It is my last week here in china and what a start!  While I am really anxious to get home, I will also be loath to end this amazing journey.

The rest of the week went smoothly much the same as previous weeks -- except for the cold and grey of Xi'an is certainly starting to get to me.  It had started warming up last weekend after the government shut off the heat for the year, but now it has dipped back to freezing - this time with no heat - yet classroom windows remain open!  Sheesh!  My last day teaching was Thursday and while I felt a terrible cold coming on, it was a very special day.  The kids and teachers came together for a final farewell ceremony.  There was singing and dancing (even I was cohersed into participation) and wonderful praising speeches (not that I'm sure they were deserved ;).  Then we took a bunch, and I mean a bunch!, of photos and we went our separate ways - the kids to class or lunch and the teachers and myself to lunch off campus.  We walked across the street and upstairs to a family-style restaurant where I was seated facing the door in the VIP seat.  Lunch consisted of courses of beef, veggies, corn, rice and chicken soup - I also had some noodle soup to warm my bones.  We all just hung out and swapped stories while shoveling food into our faces.  Soon after, we said goodbye and went our own ways.  I will miss the kids and teachers - at least those enthusiastic ones - very much!

All in all, what a trip!  The cultural, language and certainly food differences have been vast and quite challenging at times!  Friday is the day to set my affairs in order for my departure - packing, checking my flight and generally resting up in preparation for a very long flight home.  My final fair well dinner with Baoli and some last minute shopping concludes my itinerary and then a restless nights sleep and journey to the airport.  Goodbye   Xi'an!

- Ryan

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Week 2

Well the second week in school was much like the first - serious language barriers to overcome, more word puzzles - crosswords and word searches - a new Unit of the text and much repetition of the same.  The classes are getting more used to me and I find myself the object of many paparazzi photo shoots.  I brought a guitar to my classes this week and found that simply having an instrument in your hands makes you a rock star.  I played some songs, got other kids to show off their talents - tai chi, kick boxing and Kung Fu.  The class is very encouraging and it is a nice brake from the dry textbook. 

It is still freezing in the classrooms but the kids just leave the windows open anyway.  I believe they are impervious to the cold.  I seem to be adapting little by little but it is a drastic change from the weather in Africa and India.  Between and after classes, we enjoy lots of noodles and broth and exchange stories and answer the teachers' questions - which seem to never end...I guess that's the point though.

The week passed with little incident and I was certainly looking forward to the weekend.  No real big plans though.  I went shopping for gifts in endless stalls of the west market and decided to go out and see the bar was very interesting.  Since my Chinese is so very limited, I decided it would be good to bring the Chinese checkers game 'waitshi' and ended up playing quite a number of games with an onlooking crowd throughout the night.  I was urged onto stage to sing and dance like a trained monkey...and proceeded to do so like a willing good monkey I am.

In the meantime, I played and won many games of 'waitshi' and had eventually drawn quite the crowd.   After a while, it was like the language barrier was no longer there - although I will be returning home as a champion-level sharades player.  Overall, I had a really great and relaxing weekend... And looking forward to dumpling and karaoke Monday.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Week 1 - 3/5/12 - 3/11/12

After a quick briefing from the team leader Wang on the ride from the airport, we arrive at the Le Garden Hotel where I planned to get a bunch of much needed rest.  However, due to the drastic time change, sleep did not come.  So, I went to work for my first day at Xi'an Biomedical Technical Institute very exhausted and met my teachers and others I would be working with.  Everyone is very warm and welcoming and my first class even sings some Chinese songs, including their national anthem.  The students are generally very attentive, shy but enthusiastic.  However, the level of  English speaking and comprehension is quite low.

I start out with some basics of greeting and introduction and have the students do the same - some are certainly better than others.  I try to help engage them in English conversation and attempt to politely correct grammatical and pronunciation errors.  Next, we move into their college English books.  The content of this unit is on Subhealth - a concept practically nonexistent in American medicine.  The words being used in the reading are extremely advanced, and in my opinion, certainly out of the ballpark of the classes English level.  Nevertheless, we trudge through the material day after day - the same 3-4 pages of the same text, only different classes.  I start to feel a bit like a broken record but try to keep my energy positive in attempts to engage the students.

Finally, I realize I'm gonna have to get creative, so I take the difficult vocabulary terms and create a word search and crossword puzzle with them.  These are a bit foreign conceptually for the students and teachers alike.  But, after a bit of explanation I find everyone enjoying the break from the lecturing and actually learning the material too.  I'm running out of ideas quickly though, so I'm brainstorming on more active and educational activities for the following week. 

The week is cold and smoggy in Xi'an but seems to be warming up to spring as my first week teaching here comes to a close.  It is certainly a different experience from my other teaching expeditions with GV, but I think I'm getting the hang of it and finding my groove.  Wang has been great and we are getting to know each other quickly.  She shows me the good places to eat, what and how to order and eat when the food arrives, and my very basic Chinese is slowly progressing.  By now I know how to greet and respond, ask for a toilette and I can even write my name in Chinese-which is quite complex but very cool.

The first week of work finished, I spend Saturday with Rafael, my guide through the Terracotta Warrier museum and archialogical site.  The enormous scale of the project and its vision is fascinating.  I even got to meet the farmer who found the site while digging a well in the mid-seventies.  He now sits at a desk and signs books all day.  What an amazing thing to find in your backyard.  We eat at Subway for lunch, which is a nice break from all the new foods I have been eating these past six weeks, and we drive back to Xi'an to visit the city wall.  The wall is gigantic in size and scope and I take a rickshaw to the drum tower as the sun almost peeks out from behind the clouds and ever-present smog to warm the chill from my fingers. Afterwards, I say goodbye to Rafael and head to the hotel.  I take it easy and go to bed early on Saturday and spent much of my Sunday also relaxing and prepping for the next week's classes.  It has been a great week and I am beginning to really warm to China and its people.  While I am certainly looking forward to returning to the states, I have a feeling that I still have some great experiences to look forward to here in China first.