The Semester is Half Way Over!

Trip Start Jan 14, 2008
Trip End Jun 30, 2008

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Bi Gui Yen Apartments

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

May 7, 2008 The First Half of the Semester is OVER!
I figured, considering the title of this blog, I should actually try to write about some of the experiences of teaching American History to Chinese students. If I don't do it now, the semester will be over before I know it and I'll be on my way home. So, here goes!
I have three content classes as they call them here. That is to differentiate them from ESL classes which are also taught by the faculty (more on that later). My three classes are two of the freshman US history survey that I teach all the time. The other is a new course called America: Myth vs Reality. This class has been the biggest challenge because I don't have any books for it. So far, all the classes are going along fine. The students are overall bright, engaging students who are interested in American history though a great deal of it befuddles them too. They are also all taking 6 other classes so their schedule is very full of new terms and concepts in a language that they are still acquiring.
In the freshman class, I am teaching the first half of the freshman survey-US History from colonization to the Civil War. Interesting things confused them. One student asked me after the first lecture (on European contact by the Spanish) if the class was really American History-I said yes. He then asked why we were talking about the Spanish! The whole colonial period tended to really confuse them-the Spanish, then the British (who alarmingly are the same as the English) and then the French-good grief! Where were the Americans? The Revolution wasn't much better-trying to get the idea of protests over taxes leading to war was hard. But also all the new words: boycott was hard, empire was surprisingly difficult, militia took quite a bit of explaining. Mostly I had to realize that all the terms we take for granted are new to them. And not all translate easily-the best example I had of that was when I was talking about the Boston Massacre precipitated by citizens of Boston pelting British soldiers with rocks. The word that was the hardest? Rock. Turns out I should've said stone. That translates easily in their little electronic dictionary but not rock-go figure.
But the Revolution was easy compared to the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. This section is just riddled with words that are hard-confederation, federal, equal representation, proportional representation, direct election, indirect election (just try explaining the electoral college) and compromise. All these had to be really explained or our system of government can't be understood. Checks and balances! Bill of Rights! Veto! Ratification! They struggled a lot with this section and the test grades showed it. We are now thankfully beyond that though now the interpretations of the Constitution and terms like nullification and secession are being slowly introduced. The Civil War looms. Most of them have at least heard of that and Abraham Lincoln and the problem of slavery. Thank goodness.
The other class, Myth vs Reality, has been harder to get a handle on for them and for me. I had no sources and no books so it's been cobbled together from internet sources. I've done themes-Equal Opportunity, Land and Frontier, Gender, Education-and tried to show what people THINK America offers-the American Dream in other words-and then the reality of how discrimination and unfair laws can prevent some people from realizing the dream for at least awhile. These kids would make Andrew Carnegie proud-they are robust optimists and very sure that anyone who works hard can make it
financially. China's economy is exploding and there are opportunities everywhere and they are pretty darn sure that, like Ragged Dick, they can make it with hard work, honesty and a little help.
The students are very much like American students in many ways. They hate Zengcheng where the school is located. It is a small (for China) city with not very much to do so they all live for Friday so they can leave and go home. They all love their hometowns and miss them a lot. ZengCheng is boring-and needs better streets and more entertainment! All the students take an English name-one of their choice. You do see some unusual choices too-Hill, Jet, MaoMao, Twiggy, Edge, Obone and Kelvin (as opposed to Kevin which is pretty popular) are some of the more unusual choices. They are predominantly bright kids who work hard taking courses in English. They can be lazy and they can complain but overall, they do very well. Chinese young people are much more openly affectionate with each other-male and female. Young women walk arm in arm or hand in hand all the time and young men put their arms around each other in ways American guys would hesitate to do. They are very funny when they get to know you and will joke with you.
The school is ok though it certainly has its challenges. CIW is housed within the Hua Li Science-Technology Vocational College and it has its good points and its bad points. It has lovely landscaping and the grounds are just lovely. There are very nice inspirational sayings on top of some buildings facing the highway in Chinese and English. One is "High Quality Eduation", another "People Oriented, another "Facing the Future" and Last "Advancing Science." But, the classrooms are terrible-hot, stuffy with no a/c or heating. If you turn on the fans, no one can hear you-if you don't, everyone will pass out. The toilets tend to overflow A LOT and the stalls harbor huge numbers of ravenous mosquitoes this time of the year. The teachers' office is nice though-very light and open and has a/c and broadband! Two good things. One whole wall is plate glass with two sliding doors on either side and a nice balcony to go out on. We did have a little bird fly into the glass not long ago-I held it for sometime and then put it in a little box on the balcony and sure enough, after about awhile, it decided it was ok and flew off. I asked my bird lists what kind it was and posted pictures and after a bit of conferring, it was decided it was an Eastern Leaf-Crowned Warbler. Very cute and I was glad it was ok.
Right after Easter, we hosted a groups of students who came from UIW in San Antonio and UIW's branch in Mexico City. This was a very interesting meeting of students from three distinctly different cultures with fairly large language differences. We turned out at the front of the school en masse with 4 of the students dressed in traditional long red Chinese gowns. We all clapped and a millions pictures were taken. Then we showed them around, had sample classes and then a really good lunch. After lunch we had question and answer periods where they did begin sharing with each a little. But the best part was the Chinese BBQ that evening. I joked that only the Chinese would think it was a good idea to have large firepits, raw meat and sharp forks along with a bunch of young people. But it went great-at our firepit one of the newer students showed himself to be a very good cook.We had chicken, fish balls, pork balls, thinly sliced beef, sweet potato, corn on the cob and other goodies-sauces to dip in too. It was great fun. The students really loosened up and began talking to each other and ended up swapping emails and making some friends.
Last week, (on Monday April 28), CIW hosted the Wacky Olympics for the students. It's a way to build a sense of identification with the school and get the students interacting with each other and us on an informal basis and it was great fun. Most of the games included shooting each other (and Travis) with water guns-the big ones that can shoot really far. One game was a three legged race to a place on the basketball courts. Then one of the two in each team had to put their forehead on a stick and turn around ten times and then try to run and make a basket. Ok, that all sounds hard enough but the BEST part for the students was that they got to shoot all the team members with water guns the WHOLE time. When Scott and Travis, both teachers, did it, the students couldn't wait to shoot them both with the water guns though most of them seemed to want to get Travis the most. He has been here the longest and is very popular-several of them call him "Our King!" It was great fun. The students would've been perfectly content just to shoot each other with the water guns for the whole time-except for the time when they were throwing water balloons at each other.
The only three sightseeing outings during the first half of the semester were fairly small. First Travis took me over to Shamian Island. It is a lovely little area on Guangzhou that was set aside for foreign officials and businessmen in the 19th century. It is very secluded and quiet and is still a popular place to live. There are some lovely old colonial style buildings with markers to explain who used to own them. There are also some really neat statues and nice souvenir shops as well as good restaurants. Here is a good description from Wikipedia (of all places)
Shamian Island, formerly known as Shameen Island, from its Cantonese pronunciation (Chinese: , pinyin: Shāmin d o) is a sandbank island in Guangzhou city, Guangdong province, China. The territory was originally divided in two concessions given to France and the United Kingdom by the Qing Dynasty government in the 19th century. The island's name literally means "sandy surface" in Chinese.
The island covers an area of 0.3 square kilometers and is a gazetted historical area that serves as a tranquil reminder of the colonial European period, with quiet pedestrian avenues flanked by trees and lined by historical buildings in various states of upkeep. The island is the location of several hotels, a youth hostel, restaurants and tourist shops selling curios and souvenirs.
Various bronze statues are scattered around the island which depict life as it was during earlier periods on the island, as well as from more recent times. For example, one statute entitled "A gentleman, a lady and a darn woman" shows a Western couple watching a Chinese woman darning cloth. Another depicts the changing appearances and stature of Chinese women, with a woman from colonial times in traditional clothing, a slightly taller woman from the early or mid 20th century wearing a cheongsam, and a relatively tall and slender young Chinese woman wearing shorts and talking on a mobile phone.
Travis and I also got over to the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall in Guangzhou one weekend. Here is a description of the hall
Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, situated on the southern slope of Yuexiu Hill, was constructed between 1929 and 1931, a monument to Dr Sun Yat-sen, the forerunner of Chinese democratic revolution, by the people of Guangzhou and overseas Chinese.
The hall, a grand octagon building of typical Chinese architectural style, looks brand new because of reconstruction in 1998. The masterpiece of architecture history is created with a span of 71 meters (about 78 yards) without a pillar but significant outlooks and delicate interior designs. As an important place for conferences and performances, it can hold thousands of people with sound equipment. In the hall there is also a display gallery showing pictures and letters of Sun Yat-sen.
The oldest ceiba in Guangzhou City grows in the hall, like a centuries-old man, witnessing great changes of this city; besides, you can also have a chance to see the two biggest white jade orchid trees of Guangzhou.
A bronze statue of Sun Yat-sen was set up in 1956 in front of the memorial hall. Stepping on the monument by a steel spiral staircase, you are presented with a panoramic view of the memorial hall.
Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall will refresh you after visiting the bustling commercial metropolis and provide you with a moment to touch this great man in Chinese history.
In case you aren't aware of it Dr. Sun Yat-Sen is a very important figure to the Chinese-there are things all over dedicated to his memory. Here is a short bio of him and you can find the rest at the link provided.
In Chinese history he is known as "The Father of the Revolution" or "The Father of the Republic." In the West he is considered the most important figure of Chinese history in the twentieth century. As a revolutionary, he lived most of his life in disappointment. For over twenty years he struggled to bring a nationalist and democratic revolution to China and when he finally triumphed with the establishment of the Chinese Republic in 1912 with him as president, he had it cruelly snatched from him by the dictatorial and ambitious Yan Shih-kai. He died in 1924, with China in ruins, torn by the anarchy and violence of competing warlords. His ideas, however, fueled the revolutionary fervor of the early twentieth century and became the basis of the Nationalist government established by Chiang Kai-shek in 1928.
It is a lovely setting and it is wonderful to walk around in the park around the building. The building is mostly a large auditorium but is beautifully preserved.
The other outing was a trip to Hong Kong for my multiple entry visa. I have to leave every 60 days so o April 18, Travis and I took off to go to Shilong to catch the train to Shenzhen. From there we could walk across to Hong Kong, catch some form of transportation into the city. This sounded like a great plan. As usual, nothing went quite the way we envisioned it. We left by taxi-Mr. Li is a regular driver for the school and he was to take us to the train station in the little town down the road named Shilong. We wound on some very lovely back roads seeing Chinese scenery and some pretty bleak housing and some really lovely little villages. We got to Shilong and were close to the train station though we didn't know that when out of nowhere, a scooter came up on the taxi's left side. Mr. Li didn't have time to react in any way and the scooter slammed into the driver's door. The scooter driver broke the rear view mirror and the windshield! It was over very fast but all three of us were very shaken. Luckily no one was badly hurt-the scooter passenger was ok and the driver was conscious and said his ribs hurt but that was all. Mr. Li was very concerned and he flagged down a van with a driver that we don't think he knew at all-he had him take us the rest of the way to the station. So we are bouncing along in a back seat that was not fastened down at all hoping he was taking us to the station (and that it wasn't too far.) It wasn't-he got us there just fine-the Chinese are very nice to strangers and we went into the station to get the tickets. It should've warned us, though.
We got to Shenzhen just fine-the train was fast and very nice. We walked across to Hong Kong and got a train to where Travis thought we could catch a ferry, bus or something to get across the harbor to Hong Kong proper-Hong Kong is much bigger than just the island so getting around is interesting. After walking for a bit, we finally took a cab to the hotel by the tunnel. It was a nice hotel and all looked fine. We'd seen that a typhoon was heading for the area but we had to go that weekend so we hoped for the best. The next morning, it was not the best! It was the typhoon! The wind was whipping, it was raining like crazy. From the few pictures I got, you can see the mist and rain obscuring everything. We decided just to go to Guangzhou and get the school van back to Zengcheng. We walked down to the harbor and finally found the ferry station-we took the famous star ferry across the harbor and it was really neat. The Star Ferry has been running for a long time. Here is a bit on it:
The Star Ferry, one of the must-do's in Hong Kong, has been running for about a century. It is a leisurely 5-minute ride across the Victoria Harbor for just HK$2.20 (~US 30cents). Locals still take it routinely. There's one just about every 5 minutes, operating from early in the morning till a bit after 11 o'clock at night.There are three routes: one between Tsim Sha Tsui and Central, one between Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai, and one between Hung Hom and Wan Chai.
The ferry has two decks. The bottom deck is cheaper, but even the upper deck only costs just less than 30 cents US to ride. The bottom deck is not as nice and if you don't like diesel fumes, upper deck is your choice. another good site is
We did manage to see the century old Clock Tower near the ferry station too. But we were drenched by the time we got to the train station that would take us to Guangzhou. The wind had been turning our umbrellas inside out and we were happy to get on the train and leave! It was not a great trip to Hong Kong.
One of the mostly nice things is the bus ride in the morning-the school sends a bus around the town to pick up students and teachers every day at 7:40-most of the time.We live a good distance from the school and taking a city bus is always iffy-they stop a lot and they don't come at regular intervals. So, the school van is nice. And it is nice not having to drive to work. But like every other vehicle in China, the brakes are not great-the city bus brakes are even worse. I don't know how everyone here isn't deaf from the squealing of brakes and the honking at scooters, trucks, buses, cars-you get it. They honk at everything because everyone just goes-traffic lights are more suggestions than law. Hardly anyone stops at one-they might slow down. The scooters carry little tiny kids to school-no helmets! ACK! So, it's good to be in a comfortable bus and you can shut your eyes. But within the last month, Zengcheng decided to upgrade the sewer system in town which was quite overloaded apparently. Now, they didn't do it in stages, they just dug up all the streets at once. Over night, there were streets blocked off, divided in half-huge gaping holes and constant noise of jack hammers taking up concrete. No one knew where to catch the school bus-we went from full to almost empty. We wound through the streets and gradually set up a new route and then another street would close. We did get to see some interesting new buildings-I do wonder about the one that is called the Imperial Boid Metting Club. We have no idea what that is. The Chinese take it all with a great deal of aplomb. I have seen testiness on a city bus going home when the driver suddenly stops and announces that if you want to go anywhere around this place you better get off now!
So, I have about 7 weeks left before going home. All in all, it's been fun and hard and frustrating and a great experience. We lost one of our teachers-don't ask. So, we all had to take an extra class-all ESL classes. I have Listening twice a week for an hour. The students listen. It is to get them better in English-there is also Writing, Conversation, Grammar-maybe more. These students are quite different from the content class students who are much more fluent and more used to us as teachers. They are more shy and often more reluctant to speak. Some are trying very hard, some don't seem to care. But it's been a very interesting addition to my other classes. I hope I'm helping them a little-I feel totally out of my comfort zone in that class-I know how to teach history-I'm not sure at all that I know how to teach listening! I'm not even sure my history students listen to me at times. But no matter what, in 7 weeks, we'll all leave and next year, the students will have all new folks to get used to.
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profj on

your semester makes me tired
You are going to need to come home in order to get some rest. But then, I know you, you'll come home and hop into the airstream for some quality time with Tom. You never stop, woman!

cinderoonie on

Not so different?
I'm quite certain many *American* college students are still confused by the electoral college. :)

7 weeks sounds like a lot of time, but it truly isn't. It'll fly by. Take care!


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