Class Observation

Trip Start Jun 15, 2007
Trip End Jul 24, 2007

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Monday, June 25, 2007

June 21, Suzhou, another hazy day, AC ON!
Have I told you that the Chinese class that the study-abroad group took was in the same hotel at which they were staying?  It was a strange arrangement.  When I asked for the reason, I was told that the campus was 10 minutes away on foot and that students might be tired of walking by the third day.  For the students' convenience, the class was held in a small conference room on the third floor of the hotel instead.  Sounds reasonable, except that this makeshift classroom had a dirty white board precariously propped against the wall on a table and the dated furniture was not exactly made for writing (the desks were too high!).
Like it or not, the classes had been going on for the past three days.  Bobby, Ben, and I (hey, together we're BBC!) sat in on the Chinese class today to observe the lesson.  The language teacher was a slender young woman whose only teaching material was the textbook.  She was patient and giggled here and there whenever she found something entertaining in the students' response to her prompting.  The teaching, however, was based on rote learning and audio-lingual language instruction.  There were more "Repeat after me" than I'd like to hear during the two-hour lesson.  Most of the students were visibly bored, but they were genuinely interested in Chinese and were willing to go along with the repetition drill and occasional correction on their pronunciation.  I took notes like I usually do when I observed CELTA trainees, but I had to stop before I started to write my third page of recommendations for improvement.  I began to think that if CFC is going to organize a short-term study-abroad tour, the language instruction needs to be done at CFC.  I guess I'd like to see more interactive and communicative language learning for students to develop more interest in the language before sending them for culture learning.
The lessons went slowly, and by noon all of us couldn't wait to get out of the classroom!  Some of the students decided to have lunch with the three of us instead of having another pre-paid lunch at the hotel.  At the recommendation of the Taiwanese owner of Provence Cafe, the "breakfast place" to the study-abroad group, we took a short walk to a Korean BBQ place.  It was a small, family run restaurant.  We were led to the second floor of the building, past the clothes hanging on the ropes to dry, into one of the small rooms.  We had to take off our shoes and sit on the floor, but there was an air conditioner for the room.  We were happy just to see the AC unit!  As it turned out, the food was heavenly, and the bathroom extremely clean!
One thing about eating out in Asia is this: you get to burn off some of the calories after the meal simply by strolling back to where you live.  In our case, we strolled almost 5 miles to the Foreign Language Bookstore, partly because we'd rather not return to the crammed and humid hotel room.  The weather was brutal - the onslaught of humidity and heat had been the biggest challenge for all of us.  On top of that, the maneuver required to walk around people, cars, parked motorbikes, bikes, and garbage wore me down.  We finally arrived at the bookstore after almost an hour.     In a strange way the English books made us feel like home.  Bobby and I picked up books on learning Chinese and on Chinese culture for CFC.  The variety of resources made our walk worthwhile.

On our way back we stopped at a tea place, Qiantang Charen (tea connoisseurs of Qiantang), and stayed for hours!    It was a great place to take a study-abroad group to: the décor is traditional Chinese, the live music features the world-famous Suzhou Pingtan (traditional story telling with singing and commentary), the snacks to go with the tea are plenty in variety, and, most important, it has wifi!  None of us brought a laptop with us at that time.  Otherwise, we would have posted another Travelpod report.  This place is highly recommended!
The day ended with a slow stroll back to the hotel at around 9 pm.  The bars on the Shichuan Street outside of our hotel had just opened for business.  We had heard that some of the bars were more than just a drinking joint, and I could see girls sitting inside the bars eyeing the men in our group.  Initially no one approached us because Aimee and I were walking not too far away, but as the two of us began to walk faster than the guys, they were solicited a couple of times.  It was an unexpected cultural experience for the study-aboard group, I'm sure. 
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