Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fireworks, Park, and National Teachers' Day

My blog frequency took a serious hit once I found out my teaching schedule.  I begin this coming Monday and could do very little prep before I had my schedule because the Chinese are notorious for changing things up at the last minute.  Last summer, I was told how many classes I would teach each week and began to prepare a bunch of material for those classes.  Then, when I arrived in China, it was totally different.  I felt like I had wasted quite a bit of time in planning out the class and so this time, I was committed to the idea of doing almost nothing until I felt like my class details were firmly nailed down.  Teaching Spoken English is quite a bit different from my usual communication classes, but I plan to integrate some components of my SUU classes, such as critical thinking and public speaking into the class.  I brought some of this material with me (the ones I forgot were scanned for me by Tammi Miller--thanks, Tammi, and so I have them).  The oral English component will be taught out of a few different textbooks I brought with me.  However, I hadn't structured the class or decided which topics to do week by week until just a few days ago.  I work well under pressure, so everything will be just fine.

The biggest adjustment to teaching in China is that nobody thinks I'm funny here.  Wait, maybe there isn't much difference between HNU and SUU.  The students also are not used to an interactive environment.  They simply want to take notes, memorize the material, pass the final exam, and get their degree.  I suppose they aren't much different than American students in believing that a degree is the ultimate payoff for an education rather than to simply "be educated."  Anyway, last summer was difficult for the first couple days of class, but I noticed over time that they became more comfortable with me and would open up.  I WILL break them down eventually.  They can only resist my charm for so long, at least that's what I'm telling myself to get psyched up.  I went to this spot on campus called the English Corner where every Monday and Thursday from 7 p.m. until about 9 or 10 p.m. students go to practice their English.  It was quite fun to go and engage these dedicated students who are there after all the time spent at work and school just to practice conversing in English.  I asked one kid about the learning style of Chinese students and he said, "We prefer to be bored."  I pushed him a little for clarification and he elaborated by saying, "We are so used to the teachers just lecturing and having us take notes that we don't know any other way.  We accept it."  I said, "Well, I plan to meet my students in the middle.  I'll give them a little of what they are used to, but they are going to have to stretch themselves quite a bit to adapt to my style."  He looked at me, smiled, and said, "Good luck."  I'm really excited about starting and will update you with pictures from class next week.  Yes, I plan to wear my teacher hat and my tourist hat at the same time and snap a few pictures of the class environment.

I wasn't aware of this before, but Tuesday was National Teachers' Day in China.  Apparently, it is quite a big deal here and students will often go visit their elementary (called Primary here) and high schools to give gifts to their former teachers.  I think I blogged a few days ago about being asked to take some pictures teaching for the Hunan Normal University website.  On Tuesday, Amy called me in for a meeting and gave me a gift of a framed picture of myself teaching and a card with pictures of all of the most famous teachers in China (along with me).  Of course I felt a little out of place in this collage of famous teachers, but it was a nice honor and a really flattering gift. I thanked her for the nice gift and she asked if we honor our teachers in America.  I didn't really respond verbally, but I think my chuckle communicated the answer loud and clear. They also made me business cards with the HNU logo and my Chinese contact information.  Today, Lily came over and told me I was on the web and showed me which links to click, so I could find it.  I'll post a screenshot I took of the website below. 

I'm not sure if Stacie blogged about this yet, but we finally got to see the weekly Changsha fireworks.  Apparently, Changsha (and also the Hunan Province in general) is the fireworks capital of the world.  I remember watching the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony and thinking how spectacular was the display of fireworks.  I was recently told that all those fireworks came from the Hunan province and some from Changsha.  So, it's a big deal here.  I wondered why so many thousands of Chinese people would go to these firework shows every single Saturday and not get bored with them, but I discovered that each week has a different theme.  I'm not sure what the theme was from last week, but there were some remarkable things I had not seen before, such as fireworks exploding into different shapes (such as hearts) and different visuals overall than I have never seen at the Utah Summer games or 4th of July firework celebrations.  We walked down to the river, which is really only about 100 yards from our front door and found a spot on this little bridge extending over the water about 150 feet.  As crowded as it was, it was really nice to find such a quiet spot to ourselves.  I've posted a video below of Jeanie in absolute euphoria over these fireworks.  It cracks me up every time I watch it!  She kept saying "Boom," "Woohoo" and "Pink!!!" 

We also went to the most beautiful park with four other Chinese families.  I know this is going to sound strange, but they were all just really wonderful normal people.  I'm not saying I expected the Chinese to not have good families, but it just reminded me that people are people anywhere in the world and the Chinese are not that much different than we are. They love to take their kids to the park, play frisbee (Chinese word here translates to "flying plate"), ride bikes, fish in the pond, go on leisurely walks, and eat snacks.  That about sums up our family too, so we are fitting in well.  Lily told us today that the other families really enjoyed spending that time with us and want to plan a variety of other activities.  Stacie wrote a good deal about our park experience, so I won't go into too much detail.  I should add that the poor shrimp that Lucy brought home as a pet has died.  We planned to release it into Taozi lake the day it died, but we never made it.  We put that poor shrimp to rest the old fashioned way (Hint--flush).  Surprisingly, Lucy seemed ok with her shrimp being gone, so we didn't make too big a deal out of it.

Lily told us the next family outing might be to visit a traditional Chinese farm to see how it operates and to buy some "organic" food.  We are so hungry (no pun intended--really because it's so stupid) for any experiences that we can have here that we would not pass up an opportunity to go anywhere and do anything.  In fact, next weekend is the mid-Autumn festival and all the students are out of school.  Today, I booked a tour for our family (with our friend Sophia) to go to Zhangjiajie for three days.  I blogged about my trip there last summer, so most of you know what this park looks like.  The tour includes the bus, the food, and the hotel.  In addition to going up the world's largest outdoor elevator, we also will get to see this spot nicknamed "Heaven's Gate."  It's a big hole in the mountain that let's a huge stream of light through (hence the name).  We are all set and leave next Thursday in the early morning.  Everyone is so excited! Surprisingly, it was only 3300 yuan for all eight of us ($540).  It will probably be our one big trip this semester and then we'll have to wait until the winter break to hit Beijing and see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace.  I'm not sure because of my teaching schedule if we will be able to do much besides Zhangjiajie and Beijing.  We will also have a short trip during the semester to Shaoshan, which is the birthplace of Mao Zedong. 

Anyway, we are doing well.  Everyone is adjusting to life here in China.  It's only been 3 weeks, but we are starting to feel like we might be able to do this.  If we can't, it's a little too late to change our minds anyway.  I have my angry moments where I get sick of people treating a face-to-face conversation like they are shouting to an auditorium of people, or people almost running over my toes when they drive by on their cars or scooters, or having Chinese food for lunch and dinner every day, but overall we are seeing a really wonderful culture up close and personal.  Obviously, the language barriers prevent us from really learning about these people or their experiences in great depth, but we are working on that.  We study hard every day as a family and have picked up quite a bit of vocabulary that's helped us on the street.  We still aren't quick enough to be able to understand it when it's spoken to us quickly and the characters are a whole different ball game (even though we are learning those too).  It's nice when someone speaks English and we tend to gravitate toward them.  I can now understand why the foreign students at SUU are hesitant to branch out and make friends outside of their cultural group.  I definitely feel their pain. 

One more quick story before I sign off.  There's a scene in Karate Kid (the new and inferior one with Jackie Chan) where Jaden Smith tries to speak Chinese to this guy on the airplane to Beijing.  The guy just looks at him and says, "Dude, I'm from Detroit" in a perfectly native American accent.  Well, I was walking up the stairs to our second story apartment and saw this Chinese guy.  I said "Ni Hao" (hello) in a very strong American trying to sound as Chinese as possible accent.  He said, "Hey, man.  Whassup?"  Turns out he's from California and his parents are Chinese, so he's lived here since 2008.  But, he was raised in the United States.  Now, after embarrassing moments like those, I just say "Hello Ni Hao" to everyone.  It's a little repetitive, but I don't feel like such an idiot.  I can't tell you how many times, though, that I have said "Ni Hao" to a Chinese person and they responded with "hello" back.  I also will sometimes try to speak Chinese with great difficulty and then I find that it's a word they actually know in English and I could have avoided the trouble of speaking Mandarin.  The exchange would go something like this: "Women yao zhe ge cai chi" (We want this dish to go).  They respond with "Oh, you mean to go."  Keep in mind that it probably took me 30 seconds to spit out that one sentence.  Nonverbally, they communicate to me: "Oh that's so precious.  Look at that American guy trying to speak Chinese."  I'm convinced that if you don't have a thick skin, you will NEVER learn a foreign language.  They laugh at you, point at you, and smile when you make mistakes.  They don't mean it in a hostile way.  It's just sort of funny to them.  Imagine a grown man saying in English: "I want food.  This kind.  Thank you."  He might as well be saying "Mama" like one of those little baby dolls with the strings you could pull.  Stacie also looks kind of nervous when I try to "represent" the family with my Chinese skills.  I think I'm a little embarrassing to the family because I'm certainly not very good.  But, I'm brave.  I asked Annie why Stacie has that look on her face and she told me it's just kind of funny how nervous and unconfident I look when I'm speaking Chinese. 

I hunted all over for this thing.  Finally found it at a an appliance center on our side of the river.  It's a zip up wardrobe with a heating unit on the bottom to dry our clothes.  Stacie said "Enough" after it once taking 5 days to dry a single load of laundry.  We aren't sure exactly how long this one took, but it was more like an hour to an hour and half. 

Ezra loves to try new treats.  This ended up being barbecued chow mein noodles.

This is how I kept Stacie happy in Cedar and this is how it's done here. 

I'm on the wall of fame, baby!!!

All the inspiration I need to be a great teacher.  A textbook they gave me (in Chinese) and a picture of the person I admire most in the background. J/K

So this is what homeschool looks like?  I think most people envision homeschool families churning butter and making their kids do household chores (well, they do that too).

Do you think Jeanie likes this new dessert we found.  Fried bananas drizzled in caramel.

AKA "Shrimpy."  Rest in peace, little guy.

No, Nicol!  Don't do it!

One of the couples we went with to the park and a continuation of my quest to find the Asian Doppelg√§nger for everyone I know.  That guy on the right reminds me of my colleague, Matt Barton.

Watch out for the "flying plate."

Such a beautiful park.  I like this picture because is shows everyone all lined up.

Stacie is always making friends.  She is so popular here. I think it's the cute freckles.  This lady on her right had a daughter named "Happy" who would take Jeanie around and hold her hand. It was really sweet.  Hey, is that Matt Barton again :)

Annie hates the fireworks, but everyone else is having a good time.

Who's the hero of the day?  That's right.  It's Dad who made french toast and served up Minute Maid orange juice.

I'm famous for at least a few days.  Not sure how long this thing will be up.

This largest outdoor elevator in the world is on our tour next week.  I went on it last year, but it's going to be even better seeing the look on the kids' faces.

This is the spot I didn't get to see last year, but is on the agenda this time.  I can't wait.  It's called Heaven's Gate.

This glass walkway is built into the side of Tianmen Mountain (Hey, I actually know that means Sky Door without anyone telling me).  The pathway, which was built in 2011 is much like the glass-bottomed walkway at the Grand Canyon.  This 70 foot bridge is 4,000 feet above the ground and tourists can look through the glass bottom which is 2.5 inches thick.  Not sure I'll be going on this one to be honest.

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