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August 11, 2010

8 August 2010

So I just finished the third week of class at HeiDa. The classes move pretty quickly, but I’m not always sure that things are well planned and designed. The entire experience of the classes is determined by the teacher’s ability and interest. I have had four teachers in these past three weeks and two of the four were significantly better than the others. The schedule is four classes a day from 8am to noon broken up with three breaks. We have our regular class-grammar and vocabulary for the first two hours with Wang Li Laoshi (say “laoshur,” teacher) who is substituting indefinitely for another teacher who is very sick.

Wang Li is incredibly capable at speaking to the level of the students, timing class well and explaining concepts well. Du Laoshi on the other hand, who we have for our kouyu (speaking) class from 10-l2, is remarkably unable to speak to the class’ level. You’d think that she was simply speaking for herself. She constantly uses vocabulary that the students are unfamiliar with. When someone says that they don’t know what the word is, first, she berates them in front of class for not being familiar with a word, which is, according to her, so simple. Then, she launches into an explanation introducing an incredible amount of words that no one in the class is familiar with, until ending with “everybody understand?” at which point the entire class is lost. Unfortunately, telling her that she didn’t explain the concept clearly is futile. She is so bad, that after some Dui Wai Hanyu (Teaching Chinese to foreign students, yes that is a major here) students sat in her class, all they recorded were negative remarks on her teaching style, so they had to return the next day to try and find something that she was good at. It’s hard.We are using a couple of good language books that I think I will use in the future with private tutors in Nanning once I get settled. Apparently private tutors are very cheap here only about 15-20 RMB/hr ($2.5/hr), so I think that I’ll be doing that as much as time allows when I’m teaching.

Every once in a while, the school has trips planned for us, which are covered by the school. This week, the trip was to the Manchurian Tiger Sanctuary, which was very weird. I would say look forward to pictures, but this was one of the most uninspiring places I have ever been to in my life. Many tigers were is very small cages with concrete floors. And the peak of the excitement was when some Russian students purchased a chicken to wrap up on a pole to hang for the tigers to jump up and eat. And this place is called a sactuary. Supposedly, the park is keeping the Manchurian tiger populations from bottoming out as a result of habitat intrusion. I can’t think that having humans hang chickens on poles and screaming at them is going to ease their reintroduction into the wild (if there are even any plans to do so). Oh China.

Yesterday, Nathan and I went to the “museum” of the artists we had met the week before at the beer garden downtown. It took a while to find, and was a cab ride away, but after walking around for about half an hour we stepped into one of the most uncomfortable situations I’ve experienced on this trip. The Chinese word for museum must be very flexible, because we saw was, of course-this is China, a much more commercial establishment that we had been expecting. As we walked in, about 9 pairs of confused eyes looked at us like, “what the hell are you young foreigners doing here?!?” Pretending like we knew what was going on, we strolled around the tiny room looking at art on the walls and handicrafts in the glass case in front of us and tried to ignore the eyes on the back of our heads. In one corner of the room a young female fuwuyuan (service woman) was cleaning up an intricate tea set, and in another corner several people were on computers. Two other fuwuyuans stood a few feet away from us, staring at us no matter where we went. Nathan began speaking one of them to minimize the weirdness of the situation. This turned into a long conversation, and I stood by, unable to understand what they were talking about, for a while. She walked us through the place, taking us upstairs to a hallway with several other small rooms, each of which had a very nice tea set and art on the walls, but which, aside from the incense, had the feel of an austere dentist office. At about 4 feet off the ground, the wall was lined with pictures of the bossman posing with other artists. Upon leaving, Nathan and I came to the conclusion that the wealthy “cultured” men of New China would come in and pay silly amounts of money for the pretty young women to serve them tea, and look at the art on the walls, occasionally buying a piece. It’s an interesting business plan, and one that is, according to a local Haerbin student, increasingly popular these days. Lesson: Don’t every go to a public establishment in China without realizing that somebody is going to be making money. There’s a subtly to business that exists in developed countries that doesn’t exist here.

Future plans

I’m looking forward to Liz arriving in Beijing on the 11th. She will be taking the train from Beijing up here around the 13th or 14th after which we will be traveling southeast to Changbai Shan National Reserve on the border with North Korea. Don’t worry, I won’t be the next stupid American on the news, but there is a warning in my Lonely Planet that the border is poorly marked. This reserve is China’s largest, and contains the mystical Heaven Lake, a volcanic crater lake at the top of a mountain in which Kim Yong-Il claims to be born (the lake is split between China and the DPRK). There’s also a waterfall and a hot spring, should be fun. On the way, we’ll be stopping in Changchun (say “chongchwun,” meaning eternal spring), where the Japanese established the puppet state of Manchukuo in the 1930s with the Last emperor of the most recent Qing (say “ching”) dynasty Puyi, as seen in the Bertolucci film, The Last Emperor. As far as other news, I’ve been looking to the future mostly, nervously wondering what the teaching is going to be like, how comfortable I’ll be there, and how much free time I will have to continue studying Chinese. Also, I’m going to look into scholarships for next year, as I think I could enjoy going to back to school if not just for Chinese improvement (I really need this), then for studying environmental stuff. We’ll see. Also, I recently learned that it’s not that as expensive as I thought to call my cellphone from skype, so here’s my number, which will probably change when I move to Nanning (it’s cheaper to have a local number), at which point I’ll update you all. 15 hours ahead of the west coast, 12 of the east.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. allyson permalink
    August 12, 2010 09:26

    Yay-seeing Liz will make you both feel more like you have your own place in the China. As for concerns about teaching English, commit yourself to piquing your students interest, being provocative but gracious, challenging them with a new way to consider western thinking. The technicalities of grammar, writing and speech skills can be found in books. xo, A

  2. Owen permalink
    August 14, 2010 11:09

    “Don’t worry, I won’t be the next stupid American on the news, but there is a warning in my Lonely Planet that the border is poorly marked.”

    ?????!!!

    I resent that! Haven’t I told you my N Korea border story?!!! Watch your ass up there and don’t hike beyond the trail!

    I’m pretty sure you know my story but if you don’t then Liz can tell it to you.

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