Drill Photos, New Chinese Friends, & More

Trip Start Aug 13, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  , Hunan,
Thursday, September 2, 2010

September 2, 2010

    Wanting to get my blood flowing this morning, I took a stroll around campus, taking photos. I took some photos of the military drills this morning. There were two moments, in which I thought that one of the drill masters was going to come over and shout an order at me in Chinese. At one point, I was watching some students hoist up the Chinese flag and thought it would be a good picture. As I was focusing my digital camera, I saw one of the guys dressed in their military gear walking towards me. I didn't know if he was actually walking to me or just in my direction, but I quickly put away my camera and walked away. I didn't want any awkward attempts at communication to happen. I settled myself upon some steps just above the track and watched the students for a while. As I was sitting, I noticed a group of students marching towards me and saw their military leader pointing in my direction. I looked away quickly, hoping that I was not in their way and that he would not yell something at me in Chinese. Soon after, I saw two kids run past me and start running up and down the small slope next to the stairs where I was sitting. I'm guessing that they had been misbehaving and were being punished.
    I can't imagine being a middle school student and having to do this. I think they begin at 6:30 in the morning and I'm not sure how long it lasts or how many sessions there are. Rodger, our liason, told me this morning that these military drills will end tomorrow and that they are to instill some kind of discipline into the children. I wonder how well it works. It seems like these kids work so hard-- they have these drills, class all day, and basically study time after dinner. It seems like they are always working.
    Yesterday I talked to one student, Jackie, who is the son of Robert, a head English teacher, and it sounds like the students are always so busy. Jackie is a senior two, I think, and has very good English. He was a very sweet boy and answered the many questions that I threw at him. He told me that the students begin school on different days, depending on the grade. I asked him what he enjoyed about his oral English classes with foreign teachers and he basically said that those classes were always good. He encouraged me to use incentives with the junior twos and that students enjoyed hearing about America and playing games. I don't worry about students like him though-- he seems like he's a good student. I am a bit concerned about the students who are not interested in learning and who disrupt the class.
    Also yesterday, I met an English teacher, Vicki, whose English was so good, it made me wonder why I was here. I asked her a lot of questions about school life and the students and she was very friendly and outgoing. She taught Chinese in Thailand for one year after she graduated. Interestingly, she said she used her English to teach the Thai students Chinese. That would be like if I used Spanish to teach my Chinese students English. Weird. Apparently, she had met Andrew and Derek one night downtown. We met her at this dinner that we were invited to by this Chinese teacher and her boyfriend. The Chinese teacher, He Qing, is a biology teacher who lives in the same apartment building as the rest of us. We met her while standing outside talking one night. She called while we were out shopping one day and invited us to have dinner.
    So, at about 7, Andrew, Derek and I, after I called a couple times to confirm that we were indeed having dinner (I was a bit afraid there was some kind of communication mix-up), went to her apartment. We met her friend, Xin, who is a politics teacher and also lives in the building somewhere. I really wanted her to talk a bit about politics in China, but I thought that might not be a good subject to bring up on first meeting. Actually I've been told to avoid talking politics in China. I might try to approach the topic very delicately sometime in the future. It would just be interesting to know a bit about what Xin, as a politics teacher, is teaching the students. I don't know how well she'd be able to express herself though, as her English was only so-so. It was a little bit better than He Qing's but both were far below Vicki's level. I felt a little bit bad because during the dinner, we talked a lot-- and fast-- with Vicki, whose English is really good. I hope that He Qing, her boyfriend (Li Huang) and Xin did not feel left out. After dinner, I went to the kitchen to ask He Qing if she needed help cleaning up, and we talked for a little bit. I talked a bit with Xin as well.
    The actual dinner was quite good. He Qing made about 6-7 dishes, including a mushroom soup, fried egg, sauteed green leafy vegetable, some kind of fish, some kind of pork and pepper, fresh tomato with sugar, and this vegetable that no one seems to be able to name in English (maybe lotus?).  And we each had a bowl of rice. It was like eating in a restaurant with the variety of dishes, except the food was a lot less greasy. It was really nice, actually. It was interesting to see that people make similar dishes at home, as is eaten in restaurants, but that there is that healthier feel. I loved being in a real Chinese person's home and eating real home cooking. (Well, I suppose I do that everyday at home in the States with my parents...but it's different!)
    The dinner was really fun, especially compared to the rest of our day. We had just spent about 3 hours before dinner at the police station, filling out forms and waiting around for our resident's permit and Foreign Expert's Certificate. Yes, I am a Foreign Expert. I guess all the forms had to be filled out in Chinese so Rodger had to do most of it. I'm not really sure what took so long-- Basically we all just stood around and waiting for Rodger to give us instructions. It was a little bit boring. I was afraid we weren't going to make it to the dinner, but we did make it. After dinner, we had a little meeting with Robert-- the head English teacher-- about some basic rules and discussed some ideas. He told us not to mention the three T's-- Tiananmen Square, Tibet, and Taiwan. We discussed lesson plan ideas and he answered some questions we had. Vicki came in too and told us that she had to do a presentation on British schools and wanted to know if we had any ideas. Then this other Chinese English teacher came in and basically told us all about her lesson plan on happiness. I'm not quite sure why... She asked us for some ideas and then she pretty much told us all of her ideas, which was kind of interesting, kind of dull. It was kind of a long meeting. Even after it ended, a bunch of us stood outside talking for a while.
    I'm really surprised at how quickly I've made friends. I thought I was going to be very alone this year but I have American friends and Chinese friends that I can call. I have friends that I can have long talks with, friends to learn Chinese from, friends that I can go out with, friends that can help me around Changsha. I've been around a lot of English speakers though. I think I'm going to need to put more effort into the language learning. I feel like I could easily get by and not learn Chinese-- there are so many English speakers around. Andrew has really been making the effort to learn Chinese-- I think a lot of people are impressed with how much he knows. I feel like I won't use my Chinese unless I really need to-- I wish I could just blurt out whatever I've learned whenever I get the chance. I guess I just feel like I don't want to use Chinese if the other person knows English-- I like to use whatever language makes the most sense to use. Maybe that's why I'm such a slow learner.
    I've been watching a little bit of Chinese T.V., but I realized that I'm so used to hearing Chinese T.V. at home that it's basically like background noise to me. I don't think I know enough to actually follow dialogue though. I also need to be working on lesson planning. The World Teach teachers have to submit lessons plans so they're always talking about it. They're very focused on lesson planning while Andrew is very focused on learning Chinese, I think. As usual, I'm not very focused on any one thing. Except maybe my blog!

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