A post... finally! Summer Project!

Due to faster internet connections and relaxed c3ns0rsh1p in Kunming (Yunnan Province) I am able to make postings. My school in Anshun disconnected its network to save money over the summer, so I am unable to publish anything online. The internet cafe down the road uses a heavy blog filter, preventing me from accessing blogspot. It may seem that I am being lazy when it comes to my blog, but really I have been completely blocked.

The last two weeks have been the most wonderful and intense weeks I have experienced in China. Volunteers gathered in groups of 4 to teach at various rural sites throughout Guizhou. Bethany, Dave, Jessica and I gathered in Zhenning to participate in a training whose goal was to improve the English of rural elementary school teachers and give them ideas for teaching their students (i.e. western teaching methods). Due to the fact that the teachers do not know much about lesson planning, classroom management, fostering creativity, or speaking English, our job was anything but easy.

The first week of the training included two near-breakdowns in the hotel while planning for morning lessons and one broken bone while running after a woman wearing high heels. Late night planning was the norm, and typically we were up until midnight. Our days were rigidly structured, including a schedule with such translated titles as "Time for getting up (7:00)," "Supper (12:00-12:30)," "Time for taking nap (12:30-2:30) and "Time for free talking (7:45-8:30)." The teaching day was split into morning and afternoon lessons, both of which were 3 hours.

When we first arrived we thought it would be useful to review some of our original lessons plans from our colleges, adapting them to meet the needs of these teachers. During the initial assessment we quickly realized that it would be impossible. Half of the teachers were unable to respond to questions like, "What do you like to do in your free time," "How old are you," and "What's your name?" Eventually we decided to teach lessons from the elementary textbooks, giving the teachers different western models for teaching elementary students.

A little background is required here. Elementary teaching in China is unique in a couple of respects: Size and style. Classes are comprised of around 80 students crammed into a small room. Lessons are delivered in a stand-and-deliver format. Discipline follows deviation from the listen-repeat teaching style. In short, large class sizes have forced rural teachers to take refuge in behavioral education that does little to promote creativity, kinesthetic learning, or emotional attachment to new information.

During the mornings I taught teachers how to teach their students 'animals', 'ABCs', and 'review' using various methods. I ran across the classroom, acted out the sounds and behaviors of various animals, and acted exactly as an 8-year-old would if given control over the classroom (probably breaking a few cultural norms in the process). The teachers were very receptive of learning new methods and games, improving their own teaching through this training.

Our hosts were instructed to watch us and protect us. Each of us was assigned one person to monitor and learn from us. Each person had their own watcher. These were good people who did their best to help us in every way they could, but the lack of any independence became apparent when we weren't allowed to leave the hotel without surveillance. Despite repeated protests, we were almost completely restricted from independence (we were given time to plan). We requested to eat lunch on our own, but the reply was, "Maybe you will get sick if you eat outside the hotel." It took an entire week before we were given a day of freedom. Even this short time was interrupted by phone calls and constant worries about our safety and whereabouts. I have never felt so imprisoned.

We were given the pleasure of a weekend trip to some nearby caves: a trip in which we were herded through underground passages while we dreamed of home, independence, family and friends.

Despite several delays (our cultural skills provide some advantages) we were eventually forced to sing out-of-key Karaoke, an experience made difficult when you're reading the lyrics to "take me home country roads" through thick tears of fruitless longing for home and freedom.

But things went well too. The stress made life difficult, but we banded together. We ate chocolate and ice cream, listened to music, and made jokes throughout the evening as we laughed, cried and planned lessons collaboratively. I learned a lot about myself: my abilities and limitations. I learned how to ask for help and why to give it.

I'm coming home soon. It's only a of couple weeks away. See you soon.



I have alluded earlier to the differences between the China of this interior region and the China of the Coastal region. There are many more differences than this standard, oversimplified generalization, but for the sake of a brief discussion I'd like to use it. One of the posts was an invitation to those who would be in Beijing during the Summer Olympics. I stressed that there were differences between the "two Chinas," and encouraged people to venture inland. What I haven't much talked about are the differences that we experience as volunteers and the differences someone who has never been to China might see.

When we arrived for training one year ago, the very first place we saw was the Beijing airport. I was immediately shocked by my surroundings and I thought that the place was a little underdeveloped. After catching a connecting flight, we landed in Chengdu. I was even more troubled by the crowds of people and seeming disorganization, not to mention the condition of the airport itself. Arriving at our hotel, a sign read "Don't drink the water," and it was directed at the 65 volunteers who were lugging several heavy suitcases through a line to pick up our name-tags at 3 a.m. before we officially slept for the first time in about two days. We moved in with our host families and became accustomed to our lives there. We learned to accept the conditions of the colleges at which we received language, cultural and technical training.

And then, two months later, we visited our sites. It wasn't too long: just a week to get acquainted with our surroundings and meet the right people. We went back to Chengdu and made final preparations for our move to our new homes. Some people didn't have much readjustment to do. They lived in cities where other PCVs could be found, or even other foreigners. Places like Chongqing, Chengdu, Guiyang and Lanzhou became different to me. At first they were places I compared with America, but now they are places I compare with Anshun. At first they were elusive places with strange customs, but now they are beacons which harbor small luxuries that do not exist in Anshun (mostly food).

In my daily life I see, hear and smell a lot of things that I no longer notice. These things have become a part of the daily milieu into which I have integrated (even if hundreds of staring Chinese have not). What happens is that we get together, the PCVs, I mean. We meet and talk about our experiences and our teaching and our lives. Inevitably we make comparisons with things in America or someone will make an argument that something is "wrong" with how China works. I have become increasingly sensitive to these statements because people are making some fundamental mistakes in their reasoning. I have begun my own argument.

China is big. China is filled with different places and different people. Although there are certain aspects of culture that permeate the deepest hill countries and most backwater towns, the differences are often a result of economic hardship or harsh landscape. The truly difficult distinction is when an event occurs which cannot be separated from culture, just as it cannot be separated from poverty. When poverty and culture intertwine, the scenario becomes something that even someone in Beijing or Shanghai would watch with curiosity. The China that many volunteers see on a daily basis is the China in which the land and poverty and culture come together to more completely conceal the reasons for certain actions. This stretches across a continuum: from the street to businesses and actions taken by people in a school who are trying to solve a problem. Each place will have its own unique reasons for doing things or making certain decisions.

When people from the outside look in, there are certainly differences between the "two Chinas." These differences might be a bit different for people who are watching from outside, and people who are living inside. I never wanted to presumptuously claim that one China is "real" or not. They are merely different.



This is just to say
I have lived in China
for one year
It was so sweet
so cold