12.28.2007

Cheating

During the final exam for phonetics over one hundred students filled two classrooms. A colleague monitored one class of fifty students and I monitored the other. The students generally complained that the exam was too difficult, but I explained that it is best if an exam’s roof is slightly out of reach. I’m not sure my point was well received, as the students continued to groan and sigh.
An hour into the test I caught two students helping one-another. I quietly took their tests and asked them to leave. Later a student was using an electronic dictionary under the desk and this student also had to go back to the dorms. Near the end of the exam, one student motioned for their neighbor to turn to a specific page in order to copy the answers (this was my interpretation from across the room).
The day before the phonetics exam, one student cheated on the listening final exam by using notes. The student was looking at me strangely during the test, so I decided to investigate. When I arrived at the listening station it looked as if their chair had a mattress tag: the student was sitting on a stack of cheat sheets and the front page was covered with the answers to questions on the listening final. At the student’s feet was a bag they had brought, which contained books and an extra pen. There was no way this student “accidentally” sat on the notes when they could have put them in the bag instead. And yet, the student protested that the notes weren’t being used.
The students during the phonetics final had similar excuses. I had felt so badly for them and then they began to give me excuses for their behavior. It was bad enough that they had cheated, but when they began to give excuses it made them seem to have no moral compunction. Couldn’t they just admit they had made a mistake? Maybe not.
I have realized that writing helps me and it also fills me with questions. As I write I begin to understand more about my feelings and the cultural responses in this country. The drawback is that I begin to encounter questions that I have no time to explore, and this case is a prime example. What time do I have to try and comprehend the difference in morality based upon cultural and historical teachings? Besides, I lack the cultural knowledge to answer this question fully. These experiences can only add to my growing body of knowledge about China.
I am almost certain the students didn’t understand how I felt, but most of them apologized anyway. After such efforts to try and explain away the cheating, the apologies seemed like last-ditch efforts to avoid punishment rather than sincere feelings. It would be easy to see my feelings about the cheating as something like anger or a sense of the students “letting me down.” But I did not feel these things. I was confused and upset, but mostly I was sad. I had not expected deliberate cheating. The entire incident has led me down the dangerous road of generalization, but knowing that students cheat in America too helps me to avoid this.
I want to address why I feel the students cheated (and why I think most people cheat). The students were taking an important exam. The benefit of cheating is clear: a higher score on the exam. The drawback is not quite so clear and, in some ways, more flexible: the possibility of getting caught. The reaction of the teacher (unknown to them when they cheated) must have been worth the risk of being caught. Simple, right?
Did the students factor in the damage the cheating would do to our relationship? The very idea of cheating, though considered morally wrong in most cultures, is more flexible in China. Perhaps it is easier for a Chinese teacher to forgive a student who has cheated than it will be for me. Of course, all will be forgiven in time, but I may never again be able to trust these students fully. And worse, their cheating makes me suspect that there were more students who simply did not get caught. If I caught half of the students who were actually cheating (making me an expert catcher) then that means that 20% of the students were cheating.
Please note that these are only ruminations, not conclusions. This is yet another experience that has shown me just when I think I understand something about China or Chinese culture, I am given an entirely new problem to contemplate. This problem would be difficult enough in America, but adding language and cultural barriers makes it even more puzzling. On the positive side, perhaps some students will be affected by this event and decide to never cheat again. How I deal with the problem in the next few days will likely determine what they will do in the future. Should I simply give them all zeroes? Offer them another test for possible full credit? Something between these extremes?
Maybe the school needs to formulate and teach an honor code to help the students govern their own morality. Or maybe (and I doubt it, but one never knows) cheating is an important part of being successful in Chinese society: maybe those who are cheated are the fools and the cheaters are the heroes. It’s like our president once said: “Fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me twice…you can’t get fooled again.”

12.22.2007

What do people do what I tell them...

...I'm studying Chinese?

This was a trick question. Or, at least, it doesn't have one clear answer. Generally I get strange looks from them. Sometimes I get a laugh. I get one of those there-is-no-way-you-could-possibly-learn-Chinese-it's-way-too-difficult kinds of laughs. Or I get the same thing as a skeptical, but curious scrunched up face: "really? Let me see those flashcards!" as they shuffle through looking for the most difficult characters. "What about this one?" they ask.
"fu." I say.
"But what does it MEAN?" they ask.
"government." I respond.
"No, government OFFICE." they correct me gleefully.
What exactly is this? I don't know. But I see it often. I can do the smallest thing, but if it doesn't fit into the proper tradition, I will be corrected. Sometimes I drink tea too quickly, or I write my question marks incorrectly, or I walk on the wrong side of the street, or I do something which doesn't matter except for the fact that it is new and different - but it is wrong and I will be informed.
Growing tired of this (can't you tell?) I have begun to ask questions and challenge students as they use tradition for justification of trivialities. I try to get them to open their minds and think a little more freely. And I share with them what then becomes a cultural revelation: Americans don't like to hear about every little thing they have done wrong, especially when you don't provide any evidence that your method is any better than theirs. I hope I am truly speaking for Americans here and not only justifying my frustration with the constant correction.

Most Chinese people are very happy to receive direct feedback about being wrong. In fact, criticism is seen in Chinese culture to be motivating and healthy. Chinese students mostly want to know that they are wrong and how to improve. This fact, blended with trusting authority and textbooks, makes for people who are more than willing to help you out when you foolishly bring 12 ounces of coffee to class instead of 6 ("It's bad for your health, you know!").

As for the language learning, I think people are genuinely surprised whenever a foreigner is interested in learning Chinese (especially in rural China). But I won't expect any pats on the back or way-to-gos any time soon (if ever). I will continue studying and listening in on the very interesting Chinese conversations about the foreigner on the bus. Looking around, I realize that this foreigner must be me. "Don't worry, he doesn't understand." one says to the other, mid-conversation.
"Are you sure?" I ask in Chinese. "Maybe my Chinese isn't so bad." I live for these moments.

Coal



When I first saw this I finally understood why it was so smoggy on campus sometimes. In the photograph the wind is doing its job well. The smoke from the burning coal is pulled away from the campus, or at least over our heads. But the wind isn't always blowing, and often the smoke tends to collect around the campus. Some days we must walk through a thin haze of this smoke. Carbon Dioxide and Sulfur Dioxide are the main by-products, but I'm not sure which one makes you cough. We usually use our t-shirts as filter masks and it's generally enough for me. This struck me as a genuine problem that I could help remedy. Again I marched forward to help the community and again I was left only with my own ignorance to ponder at the end.

I have been in China long enough to understand that there are many things I cannot expect to happen. I know that there are a lot of things that people don't want to think about and they prefer to push the blame upwards and away (if only this would happen consistently with the smoke). I figured I would begin with the students and go from there. Before I started to ask students about the smoke, however, I wondered if I were going to far. What was this smoke doing? I mean, of course, by becoming smoke (from it's previous state as coal) it was serving a purpose. I allowed the question to rest in the back of my mind as I questioned students about the smoke. Universally students agreed that the smoke was very bad and that everyone would be healthier without it. Step one complete. Most of the students followed this with the following phrase: 没办法 (mei banfa), which basically means "there is no other way" or "we have no choice." Immediately thinking this was due to government or school officials generally not allowing a change I blindly continued to think of ways to make a change.

I decided to at least raise some awareness about the problem. Again I wondered about what the coal was heating and if, perhaps, closing this place down would put a family out of work. Would that be worthwhile? How do I decide what should happen in such a case, especially since I am a foreigner living abroad? I could find these details out later, I thought, and I continued to think about how to present an awareness campaign. Already I had plenty of willing English majors to help with translation. A little knowledge from reputable sources could lead to posters and potential lectures. Finding a way to convince school officials to allow posters and lectures to occur was another hurdle I had to clear. As it turns out, I never had to do this.

While walking with some students after dark I commented on the smoke and pointed to the place that we couldn't see (it was all the way across campus and it was dark, but we could still smell and taste the smoke in the air). The students looked at me and gave me the same response: "We have no choice." This time I was ready to inspire them and ignite their passions against a gross injustice: their right to breathe clean air was being violated! "But why not?" I asked, "You can change it if you really want to!" They looked at one another, spoke in Chinese, and then one turned to me and said in English, "If they stop the smoke we will not have warm showers."

I was shocked. I felt such shame at ever thinking I could presumptuous enough to spread awareness about something which was such a difficult situation. I felt sad, too. There really isn't much of a choice. In China, 85% of the electricity alone comes from coal, not to mention the coal used for heat alone. America uses approximately 1 billion tons of coal compared with 2.5 billion tons in China. Energy is valuable and coal is cheap; what can we do?

"So what now?" I often think. What can I do, besides sit here and watch it happen? I can boil in my own anger, but more often I am caught thinking the same thing over and over again: there is no choice and that hurts. In America, what we consider basic rights are not always honored in China. Sometimes I felt that I could do anything in America, and in China I have not been able to suppress this. Instead of realizing the limitations, I struggle and fight against it (at least mentally). For now I will keep my ears and eyes open for solutions to this and other problems, looking for a way that I can help. I can only hope that 2 years do not slip past before I find a way to make a positive change.

12.14.2007

Language Learning

As my language learning has progressed I have finally entered the world of Chinese Characters. This world can be a mysterious forest of slashes, dots and slightly curved lines. Continued study, however, leads to finding patterns between the characters and the realization that some things make a lot of sense.

I searched the internet to find a Character test because I'm no longer sure how many Characters I know. It was easy at first. I knew about 5 characters... and then 10... and then 20... but now? Anyway, I found only one website with a good character test called Clavis Sinica. In addition to having a free test they also included Chinese studying materials for a variety of skill levels. Unfortunately, my internet was too slow to take the test. But there was another option: buy the test and the study materials.

As you may or may not know, my salary is not a huge sum. In fact, I find it difficult to afford something in the, say, $10 area. I was really frustrated because this was the only good character test online and I had no way of taking it.

So I did what I always do in these situations: I asked the website if they would give me the software for free, explaining that I am a Peace Corps Volunteer who is genuinely interested in learning the language. And they said yes.

From America you can probably take the character test for free because your internet connection is likely to be fast enough.

12.12.2007

Ummmm...



Food


If this wasn't my reason before, it is now. I came for the food.

The thin veil of Altruism and Adventure cannot hide the perfect jiaozi, boiled with eggs, cucumbers and onions tucked neatly inside the hand-crafted dough. And guess who made it? That's right - I did! Actually...

My tutor's mother made the filling and she made the dough. She rolled the dough into little circles and I added the filling and shaped the jiaozi. Essentially I did about 10 percent of the work.

In America we discuss food by asking people what kind they like. For example, we might say, "Do you like Mexican food, Chinese food, Italian food...?"

In China, people also ask what kind of food I like. What kind of CHINESE food. There are not a lot of alternatives. In fact, I am almost certain I couldn't throw a stone and hit a Starbucks or McDonalds. So people might ask: "Do you like sweet food?" or "Do you like spicy, numbing food?"

At a banquet in early November I nearly broke down sobbing after realizing that I had spent 25 years of my life completely ignorant of the deliciousness of Chinese food. I have seen the light.

next post: water buffaloes cross main street in downtown Anshun.

12.10.2007

video

12.08.2007

Poisonous Banana?

The voting dash-bar has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Indeed, if you replace the word 'banana' with 'beans' and 'did not get sick' with 'got sick' then it has...

What can I say? I was rooting around near the floor of my larder when to my surprise I found some dry white beans. Immediately several ideas ran through my head, but instead of waiting until the next day for a beanstalk to grow next to my apartment, I soaked them in a pan immediately.

24 hours later the beans were being cooked and 5 hours after that I was waking up in the middle of the night wondering what was living in my stomach and why they were already stringing Christmas lights across its lining.

Who knows what step in the process this was... Perhaps the fact that I did not adequately wash the beans, or that they were poorly soaked (although 24 hours, the water level was low by the end), or the fact that I have no idea how old they were: The possibility is up to 4 years, but I'm assuming between 6-12 months.

More justification for going out to eat!

Another Post


What's this?

Yes. It's a boot.

But not just any boot. This boot has revived my belief in the magical foot people. Remember? Think back a moment to your childhood. Didn't we all believe in the magical foot people?

Ok, so you've never heard of them. Maybe it's only me. If so, I will advance my idea... you can take it or leave it - it's up to you.

According to my science, wearing these boots (actually, using the picture as a reference, I must use the singular. Let me rephrase: wearing this boot and another like it on my opposite foot...) has changed my ability to stay warm. There was a transformation that occurred: yesterday I was cold, today I am not. The only difference was the footwear. Unless, of course, the temperature was different - which destroys my hypothesis completely.

But if not... if it was the boots alone (Danner boots, 1000 grams thinsulate insulation) then I hope to convince you of my belief: These boots provide a save place for the little elves that live inside our feet to put coal in their mini-stoves and warm the body. Without protecting the foot properly, the elves are afraid and usually they will leave to begin cookie factories (they use entirely too many preservatives) or work for Santa (and sometimes they actually want to be dentists). The foot people respect a good, protective boot; get your own pair today! (No magical elves were harmed in the posting of this blog. Perhaps only the reader was harmed by author's gross overestimation of the reader's capacity for patience. If so, apologies. Perhaps I thought that using the statement, "My boots keep my feet warm" would be trite)

11.28.2007

Heat



PLUS (+)



EQUALS (=)



When someone first explained this concept to me I was skeptical. The electricity would actually heat the water inside the bag? When I was younger my parents taught me a few things (1) don't run into the street - look both ways and walk across; (2) Eat your vegetables; (3) Water and Electricity are not friends and they do not want to play with one another. The third tenet of my tender years cautioned me until someone unplugged in this Potential Electric Fire and handed it to me. The warmth radiating from this contraption seemed to whisper, "just be careful." As I've said before, I do not advocate plugging a bag of water into a 240 volt outlet; see number (3) above.

I know it's cliche, but I like talking about how this bag keeps my feet warm. In fact, I like talking about how to stay warm. My site-mate and I have conversations which always tend to drift in this direction. Here is an example of an actual conversation:

Dustin: ...and then the student said he could write the poem and perform it later.

Bethany: (in deep thought, ostensibly thinking over my words) We need a couple of Guinea Pigs to carry around in our pockets. If we feed them they will keep our hands warm.

Dustin: (forgetting the earlier conversation) YOU... ARE... A... GENIUS!!!

Yes, this is how it goes sometimes. Call me fickle, but I'd trade a small part of my eternal soul for a warm bag of water. In addition to its practical use, this bag is covered with monkeys and bananas. I'm not saying this makes the bag any better, but it doesn't hurt. I've already forseen the possibilities: If I buy no less than 6 of these bags and heat them simultaneously I could put them on my body like a blanket when I go to bed. Nevermind the lack of automatic shut-off or missing GFI component: This is heat we're talking about.

Maybe you ask that I look at the tag, but my answer is simple: I have! The tag very specifically says somethings about the bag being safe as long as one never plugs it in. "Under no circumstances should anyone use electricity to heat this bag." And despite the fact that they include an electric cord! Actually, this is what I am guessing it would say. The chinese characters listed on the tag are far too difficult for me to read.

11.26.2007

Thanksgiving

On the train to Guiyang this weekend I asked a little boy if he wanted to sit in my lap. The train did not have enough seats for everyone and he was standing with his mother. Although the child looked up at me without speaking, likely wondering why I spoke so strangely, he did not sit on my lap. The incident did inspire his grandfather to offer a seat, however, where the child quickly fell asleep.



In Guiyang our Thanksgiving Day celebration was filled with the hustle and bustle of preparing to serve 25 in a foreign country; it was the most amazing feat of preparation I have ever seen.

After dinner I was reflecting on the importance of this holiday. It was the first time in my life that I fully appreciated its significance: the basic idea of being thankful for things. Thanksgiving's impact upon American culture is easier to think about now that I've gone far away from that culture.

Several of my students asked me about the holiday and I kept responding, "it's a day when we are thankful for things and we eat a bunch of food." But then I wanted to go deeper and explain more, only uncovering more and more about American culture as I explored. I wondered, what kinds of things did I do for Thanksgiving as a child? What do older people do? What does it mean to host people for Thanksgiving? And where, oh where, did I put the whipped cream? Pumpkin pie just isn't the same without it.

I thought back on my Grandfather's pig farm. I dreamed about my breath in the air and the orange leaves hanging from trees. I realized that this holiday has been a part of shaping who I am.

American culture is so much more real when people are asking me about it. Indeed, it becomes even more so when I realize how little they know. "How could they NOT know about the wishbone?!" I think to myself. What about Turkey, the unfortunate, steroid-filled victim of our need for tradition? Surely you know the phrase "Turkey Day!" But nobody does.

The brief speeches about thanks make so much more sense when you actually say them aloud: "I am thankful for all of you, my fellow volunteers." And why does it feel so good to say this? Because I realize the depth of my thankfulness and how lucky I am. Thanks to you, too.

11.21.2007

Water

I hadn't taken a shower in 3 days (the weather is cold, I tell you!) and getting in after this long is really nice. Unfortunately for me, pulling the shower handle resulted in a maximum of 3 drops from the spout... the same from the kitchen...

Oh well.

No, this didn't upset me much - not like the first few times. It was later that I let it get to me. The next day I checked the kitchen sink and the water was back on. I checked the bathroom just to make sure - and it was perfect - a strong, warm shower awaited me. After going back to my bedroom to get my clothes and towel, I went back to the bathroom pulled the shower handle - nothing came out.

Amazing. I had JUST checked it!

This was yesterday, actually. Today I have water again. I even have the time to go and take a shower. Everything is ready. But something is missing...

Courage. Deep down I am afraid to return to my bathroom ready to shower. This fear is of another disappointment, another time when my hopes were false hopes. But I must. And I will. For everyone's sake.

I received a package...


and what a package! Thanks to everyone at Penny Creek who helped to put this together and thanks to Julie Ogura for sending it!

I was carrying the box back to my apartment and people asked me what was inside. When I said "American Candy" they gasped. Actually, the conversation went more like them asking, "那个是什么?“ and me replying "美国糖” followed by their exclamation "太好了!“ but basically nothing is lost in translation here.

This thanksgiving I have yet another thing for which to be thankful: the many people who have helped support and encourage me during my first months here. Thank you everyone (and thank you mom and dad, for your constant little care packages - I haven't forgotten!).

11.13.2007

My site mate

My site mate is cool. We can talk about many things together. She comes up with very cool quotes that I take out of context and then re-quote later to her eternal frustration. Here is an example:
"I like windows."

She is artistic and musical, too. I think I am lucky. She can pick a pretty good poem. Here is one she showed me (by Ogden Nash):

The Cow

The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.

In case you were wondering how this would look in IPA presented to my students in phonetics class, please read the following:

ðə kaʊ

ðə kaʊ ɪz əv ðə boʊˈvaɪn ɪlk
wən end ɪz mu, ðə əðər, mɪlk

Bethany is one of the few people I've met who disagrees with almost everything I believe, but who is still willing to be friends. Here we are near the Long Gong caves (not pictured - that is a different 'cave'):

Village outside Anshun

I had planned an elaborate "House that Jack built" piggyback poem but I got confused about how to do it. Instead I decided just to talk about our drive this weekend. My tutor is connected to some prominent families in the city because she teaches their children English. She has connected Bethany and I so that we can help their children learn English during weekend outings. This weekend we took the winding road toward the Long Gong Caves. On the way there was a village built by the farmers who lived there (or their parents, grandparents, and so on). The houses were very old and made of stone. One woman said they were cold in the summer and warm in the winter. They did not use mortar between the stones, instead using smaller stones to fill air gaps. This was the most amazing day I have had in a long time. The village felt deserted and the only warning as we entered was to be careful of the dogs. Terrific.

Farmer



This is a tree growing (somehow) from a rock.



Slate roofs.



Stone walls, An alley.




11.10.2007

Some thoughts

I find it curious that I have an internet connection more often than running water. When I turn the handle of my kitchen sink and watch the last drops of water fall it makes my day to remember taking a shower within the last 24 hours. That means I am cleanish.

I eat out a lot. The truth is that it's cheaper and easier, but I justify it by saying that my stomach needs conditioning for the periodic, inevitable bacterial assaults (which is also true).

I get frustrated when I can't communicate. So many hours are poured into learning the language and sometimes I find myself struggling to understand words and phrases like "Sunday" and "Most of the time."

I think it is possible to make good friends in China, but I am skeptical about making close friends. At times the language and culture seem to be insurmountable obstacles.

Last week a restaurant owner told me his grandfather was Bin Laden, and it was a shame about Saddam Hussein. The people I was with tried to downplay the incident and I felt the need to communicate my thoughts to the man; I also felt constricted and unable to explain my views. When I left I was angry and confused.

I have difficulty understanding how people get by sometimes. Poverty is everywhere. The people are so friendly and always smiling. I wonder why people who work a hard 12 hours farming each day make a fraction of people who work a 9-5 selling books at a bookstore in America.

Every day I take another step deeper into China. I think I'm becoming more "Chinese." Every day the differences are highlighted too.

Every day I feel the weight of my ignorance and I am trying to make it lighter through listening.

Tomorrow we are going to see masks created by an ethnic minority population (maybe the Miao, but I'm not sure). Guizhou has a 40% minority population (one of the largest in China).

11.06.2007

Are you a teacher?

Are you a teacher? Do you teach Elementary School Students in the 4th or 5th grade? Are you looking for a class of Chinese students with whom you can exchange letters written in English?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you're in luck! My site-mate (Bethany) and I have students who are eager to write. You might be asking yourself, "But what about the mail, isn't that expensive?" The answer is no! The Coverdell World Wise Schools program may be willing to pay (or we could always email).

Anyway, if people are interested I will talk with Bethany about the logistics. Just click the comments link below or send me an email.

Actually, I have done very little research on this project and I may later recant. This posting is to gauge the interest level.

11.04.2007

video

10.29.2007

In the dark

Last week I taught without electricity. Not that one needs to 'plug-in' a piece of chalk or chalkboard, but there's something surreal about teaching students in overcast half-light that only seeps through the windows.

I learned one important thing which will always help me in the future: Yellow chalk is the brightest.

I also learned that planning should be done including a contingent plan for not having electricity (we have seen several power-outages so far). What exactly can one do to learn English without using your eyes or the use of technology? This question has a riddle-like quality, and if you have ideas I am all ears.

The students were ready to learn. There was no talk of rescheduling. As a sign of my own understanding, I never thought of that as an option (though I would if I were ill).

On the upside, it IS easier to see the glow of a cell phone in the dark.

10.28.2007

The Chinese Classroom

Lately my life has been the same routine each week. My schedule is so ingrained that I feel everyone else must know what I’m doing day-by-day too. After all, it’s the same thing each week. This kind of thinking has led me away from posting lately because I have a sense that you already know what’s going on. This is ridiculous, of course, but I often overlook things to write about because of this exact concept.

I have never talked about my students or the specifics of the Chinese classroom. I had been introduced (on a surface level) to the Chinese classroom by things I read in the United States. Then, during our training, we talked about them. Current volunteers came and shared their experiences with the new volunteers. After that we taught for 3 weeks in a model school, where we began to understand the students and the “feel” of the Chinese classroom in general. Finally, we came to our sites and taught on our own.

This process has slowly given me a better understanding of the classroom. There was no immediate rush of information. Nothing anyone told us completely changed our view of the Chinese classroom. But we learned and slowly began to understand and see differences. I guess what I’m trying to say is that whatever I write about the Chinese classroom will not give you a completely accurate picture. I can only share my own experiences.

Chinese students are incredibly attentive. If I wanted to speak for 2 hours about mud, I could probably do so and the students would follow the entire presentation. In their classes, when Chinese teachers call upon students, the students stand up and respond. This bothers me so much that I asked them to stop doing so in my classes. The students typically are not allowed to eat food in their classes. Walking down a hallway while classes are in session allows you to hear one of three things: The teachers lecturing, the students responding or chanting in unison, or a single student responding to a direct question from the teacher. The methods are universally focused upon memorization and rote learning. The classes are teacher-centered and there is little or no group work done during classes. The textbook is the law, even if it is filled with errors. Students can memorize an alarming amount of information. This seems to be built into the very idea of memorizing characters as individual pictures. Rather than learning the phonetic rules and patterns, there seems to be more of a need for young children to memorize stroke order and vocabulary.

This is the classroom I walked into my first day of teaching and, despite my knowledge of these particular things, I still run into problems. My teaching style began as a combination of lecture, activities and games. Even this was too much for the students (they are used to mostly lecture). The day I announced meaningful role-plays the students were very confused. One student gave me a letter because she was concerned about my health (no healthy teacher would give such a crazy assignment!). Often my questions are met with passive silence. “Do you have any questions,” is challenged with their own thoughts, “Why would we ask questions if that shows you didn’t explain it well enough – we don’t want to embarrass you!” or else my “Who knows the answer?” is received with the same quiet thoughts: “If I show I know the answer my friends will think I’m bragging.”

But things are changing. The students are already beginning to become used to my teaching style. They are speaking more often and they are more willing to take risks. My American accent is becoming more familiar to them. And they’re learning to speak, understand, read and write in English.

I throw chalk and poorly write Chinese Characters on the board. I dance and pat them on the back and try to wake them up to these new ways of thinking and speaking. I trip over podiums and I use poorly pronounced Chinese to help them understand instructions. It is only the beginning. We have a long way to go.

10.27.2007

Already an expert

10.25.2007

Secondary Project

One of the expectations of Peace Corps service is to find ways to improve the community in some way. In China, our primary responsibility is to teach. My site-mate and I have been thinking about how to best fulfill the needs of our community.

Recently the Peace Corps Medical Doctor came to visit us in Anshun. In addition to showing us around our hospital, she also suggested several secondary projects: Buying a goat and selling its milk to make money for the school, starting an apiary and selling the organic, non-pasteurized honey to make money for the school, or opening a cafe. Raising the goat was immediately shot-down by an official at the school. All three options require money, which we don't have. We have been considering applying for a small business grant and we are combing the internet. If you have any ideas about organizations which may give to cover startup costs, we would love to hear about them.

Opening a cafe would have several benefits, including bringing an awareness of American (or western) culture to China, giving students a paid-wage part-time job, and helping the school purchase computers with the profits. The eventual goal would be to hand the business over to the students so that it becomes a sustainable, constant source of income for the school. We are still in the dreaming phase of this project, and you can help us with suggestions to make it work. Just click the 'comment' link below the post. Cheers!

10.15.2007

T comma IBE period period T (and guanxi)

T comma IBE period period T seems to be winning the hearts of the masses (the six people who have thus far submitted votes in the poll). A note about how to accomplish this task is in order, because it's not exactly like traveling to California (or to Thailand, Vietnam, etc. for that matter). In fact, I cannot even write the word as it is.

There are new restrictions on travel to this place, and I am rather unfamiliar with the mountains of paperwork required to visit. This is where guanxi comes in.

I could go into a brief history of the etymology of the word guanxi, but I'd rather just say, "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine" or, as in zoology, "you remove the parasites from my body, I'll remove them from yours." In any case, the difference between the 'guanxi' in America and China is the overt quality it has here. We all know about the idea of guanxi, and we have all used guanxi throughout our lives, but we don't really talk about it. It's generally the principal of reciprocity. We feel an obligation to repay any favors people do for us. In China there seems to be more expectation for this to be carried out. For example, an expensive gift is generally a sign that the gift-giver wants a favor in the future.

Maintaining relationships and "building guanxi" is key to increasing one's success in China. People understand this in the business world, but generally, foreign teachers do not realize its full potential. This all may seem a little superficial, I'm sure, but I prefer to consider it a unique feature of this culture.

Recently I went to Anshun's customs and passport office to have my Visa renewed for 1 year. During this trip I caught a glimpse of guanxi in action. As we were leaving, one of our school officials spoke with a passport official and arranged for them to see one of our classes. In fact, I had 8 passport officials in my class last Friday. During our class break I helped them with basic phrases such as, "May I see your passport please?" and "Have you come to China for business or travel?" This project, still young, may turn into a language-learning CD of more useful English phrases for passport officials. After class I found myself at a banquet hosted by the passport officials. One of our school staff members told me that I could talk to these people if I ever wanted to travel anywhere. Hmmm... I thought.

Now I need to make a language-learning CD.

10.12.2007

video

Video

video

10.10.2007

A treatise on why Chinese food is so delicious

MSG

Teaching

Finally I'm teaching. This is great. Really great.

I always forget how much teaching takes out of you and the first week is crushing me. My voice is almost gone.

But it is interesting and the students are AMAZING. I haven't confiscated a single cell phone...yet.

I found out that I have one 'class' of students for about 10 hours each week. This is very unusual (I have them for listening, phonetics and oral english), but I'm looking forward to knowing them well.

I took these photos with my computer, so I'm sorry if they are not clear!

Cheers,
Dustin



Teac

10.08.2007

Shipping

Although this is rather presumptuous of me, I am going to include it anyway! People have asked what kinds of things would be nice to have and the big 3, due to scarcity and/or expense, are as follows:

Books
Peanut butter
Coffee

(oh yeah, and American Candy)
(and American Coins)

The basic shipping rates (I know it's expensive!)

1 lbs. $10
2 lbs. $16
3 lbs. $22

Anything over 4 lbs. goes priority at $37+

Cheers!
欧雷

10.04.2007

Liupanshui, Guiyang, Favorite restaurant

Last weekend I went to Liupanshui to visit another volunteer. On the way back, the train was so crowded that I had to stand for the 2.5 hour trip. I read a book, listened to music, and watched kung fu on the television (just like airplane televisions). About 30 minutes from my destination, Anshun, I made small talk with some of the people around me. They all started speaking to me in Chinese and they were very excited. Suddenly, I had 3 offers for seats and people were asking me where I came from, what I was doing in China, and how I like it here. Incredible. People are so friendly.

I am going to Guiyang this weekend to see all of the Guiyang volunteers (there are 9 in and around Guiyang). I have heard rumors that they have cheese and coffee.

Finally,
My favorite restaurant is near the college. I have been going there a few times each week since I got here. The owners are a man and his wife. I keep going to this restaurant because the owners are so nice to me. They speak a little mandarin and they always try to communicate with me. Often I will get extra dishes for no charge, or they will charge me less than the menu price. A few weeks ago they gave me a jar to make pickled green beans. When I returned from Liupanshui at 10 p.m. they stopped me, pulled me inside the restaurant, and gave me fruit. So we ate and talked about my trip.



The owner is on the left with 2 customers (I told them to make sure they sat from left to right).



This is the wife and her daughter.

10.03.2007

Staring

Firstly let me apologize about the recent lack of posting; my computer has been acting a little strangely for the past week (last night I came home and it was watching TV with the telephone). I'm not sure what's wrong but it has caused the follwing problems: All of my pictures have been erased, all of my music has been erased, I cannot download anything, and the list goes on. I have wanted to include pictures for some time, but the software is not recognizing the files. This being said, I wanted to share some of my thinking about Staring in China. Ken Harvey recently brought this up during a conversation and it has been a topic of concern lately. I will even give it a nice little title...

Staring

One of the most interesting aspects of the Chinese Culture is the relentless staring. Each volunteer (or anyone who goes to China for an extended period) goes through stages related to staring. For me, this has progressed very typically. Before we got to our sites we were told about staring and people saying "hello." This may not seem very strange, but it becomes so when it is incessant. And I notice it more when I'm in a bad mood.

I can classify people who say hello in many ways, but generally there are a few:

Some people will say hello in a friendly manner (especially children).

Some (generally older men) will say hello as soon as they see me just because they see I am a foreigner.

Others will be walking toward me on the sidewalk and whisper something to their friend, who will then look at me. They will stare at me and continue to talk until they pass me. After walking past me one of them will shout "hello!" at the back of my head.

The first two are no big deal. The third becomes a little unnerving. I must say that this is by no means how typical Chinese behave, and it is considered rude to do this by Chinese standards.

Nearly everyone will stare at me if they see me, and many people will generally fall into one of the three categories for saying hello.

Getting back to my main point, the hellos and staring become different as one lives here longer and longer. I have only been here a little over 3 months, and already I have felt many different things.

At first the staring and hellos were a little strange. I chalked it up to a new culture. I didn't worry about it, but found it rather interesting. After awhile I began to love it. The people were giving me so much attention! And it was free, guaranteed attention! All I had to do was show up. At some point, however, it began to bother me. I think this really hit me last week. I have been in my community for a month and people were still staring, pointing and whispering. I felt like this place was becoming "mine" the more time I spent here. It bothered me so much, in fact, that I had to think about it - really think about it. This is because it was causing me to feel like being rude as a reaction to the unwanted attention.

I came to the conclusion that I was internalizing the staring in the wrong manner. By identifying the behavior as staring, I missed the point entirely. The Chinese have no social rules about staring; if they find something interesting they have the "social" right to "stare" as long as they would like. For me to identify this action as staring was unfair to everyone. I am the guest in this culture. Bringing my expectations of how I should be treated is a huge, haughty mistake. It's a bit like walking into someone's house with mud on my shoes because I do that at home. This is not to say that I am feeling much better about the staring, but I more deeply understand my own thinking.

I am interested to see how my feelings continue to change. For now I just smile and wave. Like a movie-star.

9.23.2007

Agriculture

Today I went for a walk before sundown. I left campus and walked through the adjacent neighborhood to the reservoir. Large areas were covered with drying corn. This was the usual path, until I decided to try and go all the way around the water. This walk is typically the same: students, fishermen and other locals are walking around and preparing to return home. Instead of turning around, I walked to the left. There were more houses here, and closer together. The path narrowed, but still wound through the homes. As I continued walking the path diverged and became smaller, more rocky. Eventually this led to an opening where the path ended. The houses were behind me, but now I was standing in front of small plots of farmland. Farmers were using hoes to turn the soil. It struck me, the closeness of the city and the college to this patch of farmland.

Before we arrived at our sites we learned that China is home to roughly 10% of the total arable land in the world, though it supports 20% of the world's population. Knowing is very different from understanding in this regard. There are several reasons for the efficiency, but I only wanted to point out that all soil is used to grow things. In fact, the dirt collected in one's shoes from a walk around the neighborhood is enough to grow a single stalk of corn. Between restaurants the green tops of carrots spring from the ground. Never does good land go to waste. Currently, this land is being lost slowly each year due to flooding.

I find it a shocking idea that we have personal lawns in America. Any grass grown here is used to feed the water buffaloes or for playing soccer (or both! I have the pictures somewhere...).

9.22.2007

Training

The new students are no longer everywhere. Actually, they still are everywhere, but they are now in rectangular units throughout the campus. There are differences now. Before the students were settling in, walking where they wanted and dressing how they wanted. Now all students wear the same blue and white pants and shirt (very much like a cross-training outfit). Chants and shouts can be heard all throughout the day. Each new student is assigned to a group of about 50-100 other students. These students are part of a training group that marches, shouts responses, makes turns, comes to attention, shuffles, regroups and does it all over again at the command of a drill sergeant. All Freshmen partake in this two-week training for six days each week, eight hours per day.

I wanted to give the facts, rather than make comments about my thoughts on such training. Some of the questions I have asked are:

“What are the benefits of such training?”
“What are the drawbacks?”
“What do the teachers and students think of this?”

I was concerned about taking pictures of this event due to the questions it may raise about why I was doing so. Instead I took a couple of pictures from my apartment.





I was not excited about another incident (on the train I tried to take some pictures of signs like, “please don’t spit everywhere,” and several crew members became very angry with me). I then proceeded to delete the photos in front of them.

9.18.2007

Strangers with Corn

By supermajority 'Strangers with Corn' wins! This story is probably the most interesting anyway.

Whenever I leave my America (apartment) and step into China (outside) I have to make a mental shift. If this does not occur I wander around with my America-colored glasses: frustrated and confused by most things. People stare at me continuously. At first this was interesting, and then it bothered me. Now, however, I know that a smile and "Ni hao" are enough to make these people smile back; this also helps me realize that they are not "staring" as much as expressing curiosity.

This behavior is especially pronounced when riding the bus. It is as if people are wondering how I could possibly know which bus to take or where I am going. If I am carrying groceries this confounds them further: why does this foreigner carry groceries and who bought them for him? Generally I can break through all of this tension by speaking Chinese. I make a point of having a Chinese conversation on every bus ride. Usually these things are restricted to general questions and topics, but occasionally people want to discuss economy, etc. which tends to be above my head in English, let alone Chinese. The following is a transcribed conversation I had while on the bus a few days ago:

Setting: Crowded bus. Protagonist sitting by the window. A woman of about 50 (stranger) is sitting behind me eating cooked corn from the cob.

Dustin: Hello!
Stranger: uhhh hello. You can speak Chinese?
Dustin: I can speak Mandarin but I don't understand the local dialect.
Stranger: You speak very well.
Dustin: No no no. Hey, I have seen that cooked corn before. Let me ask, how much does it cost?
Stranger: 1 kuai (about 15 cents).
Dustin: Wow, that's cheap! It sure smells good! Is it delicious?
Stranger: Of course! Here... (breaks the ear of corn in half and gives it to me).
Dustin: (eating corn) This is really good! Thank you!
Stranger: Why did you come to China?
Dustin: (between mouthfuls of corn) I teach English at the local college.
Stranger: (sees that I have finished with the corn) Give me that and I will throw it away.
Dustin: No, I can do it - really.
Stranger: Don't be so polite, give it to me!
Dustin: Thank you, you are too nice! (reaching my stop) Goodbye!
Stranger: Goodbye!

The important thing to note here is that I would never have done this in America. Even in China this was a calculated risk on several different levels. In no way am I advocating a philosophy which exalts eating corn given by strangers (or eating anything given by strangers, for that matter). Neither do I wish to denigrate by omission how delicious popcorn tastes. This is not meant to be a comparison. I merely want to show that there are cultural differences which can be difficult to understand (and therefore interesting).

Another example of this is the following:
"Have you eaten?"

I used to answer this question with a real answer. Now I know better. The correct answer is almost always:
"Yes."

But one of my favorites is when I am obviously going to the bathroom and someone asks:
"Are you going to the bathroom?"

What answer can there be other than:
"Yes."?

9.17.2007

Update

Pickling jar at the local restaurant: 0 dollars.

Tips on pickling green beans from students who know: 0 dollars.

6 hours of Mandarin lessons each week from a College Teacher: 0 dollars.

Quiet walks through hidden neighborhoods: 0 dollars.

Half husk of cooked corn from a complete stranger on the bus: 0 dollars.

Soccer Shoes: 2 dollars.

Umbrella: 2 dollars.

Living in China: You got it – Priceless.

Some things in life don’t cost anything. For everything else, there’s my living allowance.

9.09.2007

Schedule Change

Our schedules have been rearranged and solidified. Today I found out that I will be teaching 7 classes of Freshmen students (Phonetics (3), Reading, Oral English, Listening(2)). Since the Freshmen do not begin until October, I have 3 weeks for preparation, studying Chinese, running, shopping, meeting people, and generally getting on my feet.

My host family gave me some glass jars filled with chili spices to include in certain Chinese dishes. Unfortunately, one of the many porters at the train station was not told this important information. I effectively destroyed 3 of my 7 pairs of pants and several shirts. I also forgot my glasses on the train. I am working on both of these issues now.

The staff and students at the school have been very welcoming, and I think integration will be easier than initially expected. I met some students in the cafeteria last night and often students are eager to speak with one of the few foreign teachers. Today we will get our books for future classes and have a teacher's banquet (it is Teacher's Day in China).

Cheers!

9.07.2007

Ambassador


Clark T. Randt, Jr. at the Swear-in ceremony.

PCV

Today we were sworn-in as Peace Corps Volunteers by the American Ambassador to China. Several volunteers left Chengdu today (those going to places in Sichuan or Chongqing, especially). The rest of us will depart tomorrow. I will include pictures from the ceremony later.

9.03.2007

Language Proficiency Interview

The levels of language proficiency, as specified by Peace Corps, are as follows:
Novice-Low
Novice-Mid
Novice-High
Intermediate-Low
Intermediate-Mid
Intermediate-High
Advanced-Low
Advanced-Mid
Advanced-High
Superior

I received an email regarding my language proficiency after Peace Corps evaluated a tape-recorded interview of my speaking and listening skills. I have reached Intermediate-Mid, which is defined below.

INTERMEDIATE MID

Speakers at the Intermediate-Mid level are able to handle successfully a variety of uncomplicated communicative tasks in straightforward social situations. Conversation is generally limited to those predictable and concrete exchanges necessary for survival in the target culture; these include personal information covering self, family, home, daily activities, interests and personal preferences, as well as physical and social needs, such as food, shopping, travel and lodging.

Intermediate-Mid speakers tend to function reactively, for example, by responding to direct questions or requests for information. However, they are capable of asking a variety of questions when necessary to obtain simple information to satisfy basic needs, such as directions, prices and services. When called on to perform functions or handle topics at the Advanced level, they provide some information but have difficulty linking ideas, manipulating time and aspect, and using communicative strategies, such as circumlocution.

Intermediate-Mid speakers are able to express personal meaning by creating with the language, in part by combining and recombining known elements and conversational input to make utterances of sentence length and some strings of sentences. Their speech may contain pauses, reformulations and self-corrections as they search for adequate vocabulary and appropriate language forms to express themselves. Because of inaccuracies in their vocabulary and/or pronunciation and/or grammar and syntax, misunderstandings can occur, but Intermediate-Mid speakers are generally understood by sympathetic interlocutors accustomed to dealing with non-natives.

I always knew I had some difficulty manipulating time and aspect. Oh well. We'll see next summer...!

9.02.2007

Transition

Tomorrow morning we will take our bags, meet at the University (Sichuan Shifan Daxue Dongqu), and set off for a hotel. These next few days will be all about our final move to sites. Preparation for medical emergencies, setting up bank accounts and meeting for our final interviews will take place (not to mention finding out our language proficiency score). We are saying goodbye to our homestay families: saying goodbye to the great food, friendliness, comfort and safety we experienced while living with them. Then we will look ahead to our first months in China as Peace Corps Volunteers. This transition, trainee to volunteer, is already ominous. We will say goodbye to more than our wonderful host families. Our many friends are here together, and it is little consolation that we are ALL going off on our own. Plans for Halloween are already being developed. We are saying goodbye to Chengdu as well. In the morning I cross the narrow bridge, catch the 336 or the 885, yell at the driver to open the back door, and make my way to language class. Only now are the drivers beginning to understand my speech; the door opens every time. But we are going to new places. How long will it take to adjust? Will we be successful? How will it be when something funny happens and we cannot share it with the group? Is the winter as dark and cold as they say?

Despite the questions and the fears (we all have these) there is an excitement we all feel. We crave this change, this independence and freedom to make our colleges our own in whatever ways we can. We are thinking about secondary projects: about the environment, about communities and education and learning Chinese and playing ma jiang and eating in the cafeterias of our colleges. We are pondering syllabi and teaching English classes and talking with students at English Corner. We are thinking warmly of instant coffee and rice. I already know they will be my two new best friends. We are thinking of the people whom we have not yet met: our future friends. Who will they be? Where will we find them?

And so we have reached this point of transition. Our bags are packed - loaded with ESL resources and language learning materials (and that instant coffee I was talking about). We are ready. Here we go.

8.31.2007

Eating Chinese food

I was eating lunch with my Chinese host family today and I suddenly realized how different eating is in China. I began to analyze all of the differences and found that there are many things that could be considered quite strange in America.

Chinese food is almost always served 'family style.' At larger tables a lazy Susan will slowly revolve and anyone can take what they want. At my host family's table, however, this is not needed. People will reach across the table with their own chopsticks and take a little of what they want.

The utensils are typically chopsticks and a bowl. Bones or other inedible parts of the food can either be thrown on the ground (outside restaurants), put directly on the table (as in my home), or placed on the extra small plate next to your bowl (as inside restaurants). The bowl has three basic positions: on the table, in your hand, and against your lips. Eating with a bowl to your lips is done for soup and the last bit of rice in the bowl. In addition to having the bowl at your mouth, chopsticks sweep into the bowl and pull out the last grains of rice.

If the rice comes at the beginning of the meal it becomes saturated with the flavors and oils of the foods eaten throughout the meal. This allows it to take on other flavors. When eating so much rice, this is preferable because I will typically eat rice with chopped pickled green beans to give it more flavor (one can only eat so many pickled green beans).

8.30.2007

mashaji

In bookish Chinese, 'anmo' is massage. The two parts 'an' and 'mo' are distinct characters related to massage. In colloquial Chinese, however, sounds are taken from English to produce something similar in Chinese: 'mashaji' or, literally, horse kill chicken. After learning some vocabulary for haircuts and massages today, we persuaded our teacher to take us for our last class. In the morning we walked to a haircutting place and a few people got haircuts. During the afternoon we took a bus to get massages. These were amazing. They lasted one hour and were very deep massages. By the end I was very relaxed. Actually, I felt a little like an old rug after being dusted with a swinging broom. Overall the massage was very nice, but the best part was the price: $3.

8.27.2007

More Market Pictures




Vegetable/Fruit Market

There is a vegetable, fruit and meat market near my house. Sometimes I will walk through and talk to people which is quite difficult and often impossible (because they speak Sichuanhua not Mandarin). The people are friendly and patient and usually happy to see Americans ("hello" is a word I hear a lot). Here are a few pictures from this evening. I took more but they are on another camera. They will be added soon.


8.26.2007

Anshun

I spent the last week in Anshun. When we arrived, officials from the college brought us to see our apartments. I live on the 5th floor of one building and Bethany lives on the 2nd floor of another building. We were then collected for a meeting with the vice president, foreign affairs people, teachers and, of course, a translator. Our translator, Charley, spent the week helping us get accustomed to life in Anshun. It is a small town by Chinese standards (we found out there are about 1/2 million people) and the college is set about 30 minutes away in the country. Charley helped us with everything. We ambled along and quietly mentioned things: "Bank account?" Done. "Good place to eat?" Let me introduce you to the owner. "Bus lines, maps, sites, attractions, how-tos, why is thats, etc..."

Early in the week I began to feel dizzy and I had trouble walking without feeling a little ill. My symptoms got worse and I collected more throughout the week (sore throat, chest pain, coughing, runny nose, sore muscles, nausea) and I called the medical office in Chengdu during my visit. The second half of the week I was in my apartment, drinking liter after liter of water and studying Chinese. I am better now! Unfortunately, I believe Bethany may now be sick...

We found a batik shop that does batiks by hand. Some of them take weeks to make and they are huge. The shop was dedicated more to the 'art' of creating the batiks than to making money because they take the time to make the batiks by hand rather than running cloth through a printer. I imagined a shop like this existing in America and I could only see dollar signs. I can't imagine a city without a traditional Chinese batik shop.

Anshun's outskirts are defined by green, hilly farms and small villages. We walked up through a very poor village and around a reservoir. The people are very friendly and warmly welcome a smile accompanied by a "Ni hao!" On and around campus I am reminded, perhaps, of the foothills around the Cascades or the small drive from Forest Grove to Gales Creek. From the window in the back of my apartment I can see two large dormitory buildings, a track and soccer field, and basketball courts, all signs that this will be transformed into a college campus once the students arrive. In the middle of my reverie something catches my eye: a man with a straw hat drives a family of water buffalo across the basketball courts and they move slowly, swinging their tails as they go.

The train on the return trip was painful. We left Anshun at 7 p.m. and arrived in Chengdu at 5 p.m. the next day. The trip was long, hot, sweaty, and cramped. The only thing that saved me from insanity was the clickedy-clack of track ties which repeatedly put me to sleep. The green hills disappeared overnight and then farms made way for buildings. We were back "home." Enjoy the photos.


Water buffaloes

Batik Shop

Rural Anshun

Fishermen

Children

8.18.2007

你好朋友们!

你们好,

明天我要看看我以后的地方。我们要认识很多人。

下个星期我要告诉你们。

谢谢,
欧雷

Hello Everyone,

Tomorrow I will go to see the place I will work. I will meet many people.

Next week I will tell you all about it.

Thanks,
Ou Lei

8.17.2007

Site Visits

We are going to leave for site visits tomorrow. Since I will be in a "rural" location for a week, I may not be doing much communicating. We all have hard sleepers because it takes so long to get there; my train will take about 18 hours to get there (according to my ticket, so maybe longer). This led me to thinking: "What takes 18 hours to complete?" I figured 8 hours of sleeping and 10 hours of preparing for my Language Proficiency Interview (LPI) through rote memorization of dialogues. Yippee.

We were given a packet of information that will keep us very busy over the next week at site. That's because most of the packet is an array of empty fields to be filled in as we learn the information. It is like a great big scavenger hunt to help us better understand the place we will spend the next two years of our lives. Questions such as, "What are two popular local Chinese dishes?" did not escape the person who generated the packet. All of the questions are designed to help us begin thinking about integration, community, responsibilities, relaxation, etc.

Now I will go to bed. Goodnight.

8.14.2007

Our Site

Today our site placements were announced. I will be going with one other volunteer (Bethany) to Anshun (pronounced 'on shwun'). It is one of the most rural locations in Guizhou. In fact, it is one of the most rural locations Peace Corps currently serves in China. There are over 200,000 people in the area. I think it is big enough to be on google maps, so you can check it out there. Nine people in our group are headed to Guiyang, which has a population of about 4 million people.

The two girls who were former volunteers in Anshun (we are taking their places) came to talk with our group about secondary projects before they left for the states (They were China 11s, we are China 13s). They began this enormous effort to clean up their campus and spread awareness about putting garbage in cans. They left a packet of information to guide us. I will include some of that here:

Items for future volunteers (us):
dishes, sheets, towels, mop, broom, dvd player, sheets, pillows.

Unique features:
Sometimes the water will go out, but keep a bucket of water to flush the toilet.

Classes:
Oral English, Listening, Literature, Reading, Writing, Culture.

What is a place to 'get away'?
It is very easy to get away. Just go to the mountains!

Cheers

Sunday

My photos from the lake on sunday will not upload. Duibuqi.

8.11.2007

我会写中文...

你们好!

My Chinese family is taking me to a lake tomorrow. I will try to remember the camera...

Tuesday we find out site placements, as I've probably mentioned before. Everyone wants to know where they will be for the next two years.

There are only 2 more weeks of intensive language training and we take our test. The goal is for everyone to reach the "Intermediate Low" speaking level, which bascially means survival Chinese (can talk about hobbies, weather, family, friends, ask for directions, buy all kinds of things, make comparisons, etc.). Recently I have been more likely to use Chinese with my Chinese friends and family. This has been met with mixed reviews, but mostly it has been good.

I have begun to learn reading and writing on my own. 好不好?

We went to dinner with our students yesterday. It was really great. They wanted to meet up with us again to practice their English and hang out. Maybe we will go find winter clothes next weekend.

欧雷

8.08.2007

Field Trip!

At 3:45 today we were given a task. We needed to go to the train station in downtown Chengdu, ask a series of questions, and return in time for dinner at 6:00. Unfortunately, my host family had no idea about this challenge and we ran into some problems.

On the way downtown we got off at the wrong stop and had to ask for directions to the train station. We were helped by some people and we got on the 27 bus. This bus was interesting. For some reason (Aron, this is your area of expertise) the bus would die whenever it stopped at a traffic light. He was, however, able to get it started again and again. Until the time that he didn't. We watched as half of the people on the bus poured out and the other half stayed. We were confused. The natives were leaving...or were they? Suddenly, just as we were realizing that there were no men on the bus, the bus slowly started to move. It was as if billions of ants were lifting the bus and moving it along. They were pushing. And so I got out and pushed too and we started that bus! Crisis averted.

Shortly after we arrived at the train station (finally!). We entered and saw about 25 LONG lines of people at ticket windows. Our homework was not to buy a ticket (becase we don't have our site placements yet), but to ask several questions, such as:

How much is a ticket to Sanzhihua (or Guiyang)?
How much is a hard sleeper top (middle or bottom) bunk?
How long does it take to get there?
How many trains leave each day?

We accomplished this, much to the frustration of the information attendant, who fielded question after question which was THE SAME. She must have been thinking, "If these idiots just talked to each other they would get their information in a fraction of the time!" But, of course, the idea was not to talk with one another, but to practice speaking.

After this we began the trek home. We waited for bus 27 and rode this for about an hour. When we got off the bus there was frantic questioning of locals about how to get back to the university. These little discussions lasted about 15 minutes and we finally found the 336 back to the university. I arrived at my house around 8:15. It took a mere 4 1/2 hours for this field trip, which provided some valuable experience.

8.04.2007

Comments

Please feel free to make comments about postings. I changed my settings, so anyone should be able to click on the comments link on the bottom of each post.

Cheers!

A couple of photos

This is another photo from the 山 (before we left the university)...



Last Friday we did skits in language class. Ours took place in a restaurant. We were talking about our days using the structure 'First, then, and then, and then, finally...' We were also added some restaurant vocabulary: I stopped Melanie's story at each 'then' and called the waiter over to bring us something (Chopsticks, Milk, Coffee). Since the 'waiter' was one of my English students, he speaks Chinese. He made 'mistakes' such as providing chopsticks which were too small, or bringing the wrong drinks. The skits allow us to practice sentence structures and vocabulary we have learned.

Qing Cheng Shan

Today we took a field trip to a mountain called Qing Cheng Shan (Green City Mountain). With my limited writing skills I will use the Hanzi to express what I did in Chinese. I hope you will be able to follow. Here goes...

Today we got on a bus. One of our LCFs found a microphone...



Our teacher then called people to the front of the bus. Jonny and Keri sang a lovely duet...



After which Jonny sang a single, solo verse of a song that went... "I'm proud to be an American...and I'd gladly stand up...God bless the USA."

Our destination was Qing Cheng 山 (there's the Hanzi!). The 山 was about 1260 meters and it was paved the entire way (many, many steps). There were a lot of people and I experienced, for the first time ever, a traffic jam of people on a nature trail. Here are two pictures of people working at one of the ubiquitious temples...





There were also hundreds of candles with incredibly thick, strong wicks which burned with fury as the wind blew through the temple...



I tamed a wild, fanged turtle while these people looked on with approval.



And, farther up the 山, Kehl found a stick-like insect. They were so many of these creatures that I cannot begin to describe the high number of casualties along the steps (trail).



We encountered innumerable signs with warnings and advice, such as...



And...



Which, according to the Random House Dictionary, is a noun...

slung shot
–noun
a weight, as a stone or a piece of metal, fastened to a short strap, chain, or the like, and used as a weapon.

Needless to say, we were scanning the treelines for suspicious activities. Later we realized that this referred to the overhanging rocks. In fact, the trail became narrow in this area, a girl stopped in front of us to take a picture with her telephone, and I yelled, "Do not linger under the slung!" She seemed to know what I meant and we hurried to safety. One nice thing about the overhanging rock was the cover it provided (it was raining).

We found these many locks, which Kehl said was featured on "The Amazing Race." I forgot what they mean exactly...



And, finally, we reached the top of the 山...



Because it was raining, we decided to take the cable car down...





And the Ferry across the lake (which was also pulled by a cable).



And that was our wonderful day at the 山. I guess this has been less an opportunity to write in Hanzi, and more of a cloze activity for you: What exactly does 山 mean?