Well, I am late in joining the blogging game, so I will try not to repeat what has already been written. Everyone has been writing such fantastic entries! I find it difficult to summarize the past ten days here in Qufu, so I will try to focus on specifics.
First, I must say that my first week as an English teacher was thrilling. I had expected to be terribly nervous when walking into my first classroom of 35 students (Junior Writing), but they were all so eager and excited. It made my job a whole lot easier. I felt immediately at ease and began the class by telling my students a bit about myself, my home, and my family. I showed them several photos, including one of my father holding a giant fish he caught early on in the summer. The entire class gasped in unison. They loved it. They also enjoyed hearing about all of my pets, especially my imitation of the way my talking parrot says "Hello." I tried to use humor whenever I could to ease the nervous tension and was surprised to find that the students understood and appreciated my humor. Today, for example, my class was extra quiet. It is Monday, and I imagine they are exhausted from the weekend. Apparently the students here spend their weekends studying and doing work, instead of relaxing and going out. I felt myself becoming a bit nervous and tense, not getting the interactive feedback I got from them last week. Outside the building, in the front of the college, the Freshmen were gathered at a welcome lecture. Someone was speaking loudly, and the noise was a bit distracting. The large crowd burst into applause at the end of one of the speeches and I turned toward the window, facing the applause, bowed, and said "Well, thank you." My entire class burst into laughter and the tension was eased. Whew.
Things around here are a bit disorganized and last-minute, administratively speaking, but we all just go with the flow. For instance, I was told at the end of last week that I would begin teaching my elective course (I have chosen to teach a course called "Who Wore What When: A Survey of Twentieth Century American Fashion") this week. I made sure to get my syllabus to Peter before the weekend and expected to have at least a few days' notice before having to teach the elective. Yesterday afternoon, one of my students approached me while I was waiting for the bus and told me I would be teaching my elective course on Monday at 10:10 (which is when I am supposed to teach a section of Junior Writing). I thought perhaps she was mistaken and told her I was waiting to hear from Peter. Sure enough, around 7:00pm, Peter came to us with our revised course schedules, and of course, I realized that I had to come up with a last-minute lesson plan for my elective course, to be taught the following afternoon. Luckily, the class was very relaxed today, since the students are basically "shopping" for their elective course. I only talked for about 15-20 mins. I showed them some photos of American fashion from various decades and explained what we would be learning over the course of the semester. I did this while standing on a raised platform in front of about 130 students (all 4 Junior classes). They all seemed to enjoy my albeit brief imitation of a supermodel doing the catwalk. I think my theatre and performance experience will come in very handy this year.
On a completely different note, I would like to point out some glaring cultural differences that I have noticed. Perhaps my favorite is the holding of hands. Friends of all ages hold hands here, unabashedly and proudly. Most often I see girl friends holding hands with each other--on the way to class, shopping, walking the street. However, while riding the bus one day, I noticed two grandfatherly men linked arm in arm. In a homophobic culture, it is so interesting to see members of the same gender shamelessly being so publicly intimate with one another. There was something so tender and genuine about those two old men walking together, arm in arm. Now, at quite the opposite end of the spectrum, is a much less endearing cultural difference: the spitting. One must be ready, at any time and in any place, to dodge the mucus being spat--on the street where you are walking, or perhaps my favorite, on the floor of the restaurant, right next to the table where you were sitting and enjoying your plate of green beans with sliced pork and garlic. It's a fantastic way to boost one's appetite. I do not, however, mind the "Hulllooo"s that are constantly shouted at us. I actually like it when it comes from the cute little Chinese children. I usually say Hi back to them. I kind of feel like a celebrity. We have found that sunglasses help. It makes us feel less visible, or at least, less obligated to respond to the shouts.
On a final note, I would like to point out that they do not eat all the dogs in China. (See photo for proof)