Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Day! (Take 2)

It is a bit strange to be so far away, in such a foreign place (where they don't even have turkeys), during a holiday where the tradition involves a gathering of friends and family.  I am happy, though, to have some Skidmore friends to share the holiday with.

I have been receiving text messages on my cell phone, since yesterday evening, from my favorite freshman class, all wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving and thanking me for being their teacher.  It's funny, I often don't think of myself as a teacher, since I am so inexperienced, but I must be doing something right.  Yesterday evening, two of my freshmen invited me to dinner with them.  We enjoyed a really nice meal together (I tried a pamelo for the first time...delicious), and we sat and talked for two hours.

It's another sunshiney, beautiful, Autumn-feeling day here in Qufu. On rare days like this, when we can actually see the blue of the sky, we can also see more clearly the thick, billowing clouds of black coal smoke that spew from the old-fashioned industrial chimneys.  We can see the wisps of smoke dissolve into the blue, but we know that we have already inhaled the fine dust into our lungs, and it is already forming another layer of gray/black dust over everything.

I often find myself in disbelief that we have now been here for only three months.  It feels like so much longer.  And upon this realization, my initial reaction is that I can't believe we have another seven months to go here; it's going to drag by.  But then I stop and think, wonder why I seem to be in such a hurry to return home (other than, of course, the fact that I miss my loved ones).  I remind myself that this is exactly where I want to be.  Last night I sat at a table, enjoying a meal with two students who were sharing with me their future dreams.  We discussed the great cultural differences between China and America, specifically within the educational system.  We laughed.  They eagerly practiced speaking my native language, and I theirs.  They thanked me genuinely and heartily for coming all the way to China to teach them.  Here, I am a teacher (whether I feel like one or not).  They appreciate me, respect me, and I am in awe of the things I see around me and the people I meet every day.  I am in China.  Not just in China, but in China--for eleven months I am a resident of this quickly developing, dusty little city; a teacher at this quickly developing, somewhat disorganized private college.  I am living one of my great dreams: to be inside the bubble of a foreign place and culture, to see and know it from the inside, not just gloss over it with a camera around my neck as I hope a plane from city to city, trying to hit all the tourist hot spots.  So for this, I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Day!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Their very first foreigner

On Sunday Lucy and I went to a town near by--about 30 minutes drive from Qufu--to teach children between the ages of 5 and 12. We really didn't know anything more than that when we were picked up at 7am. During the ride there I was tired and not really looking forward to spending my Sunday in a classroom teaching. We arrived in the center of town and split up; Lucy would go to 3 schools and I would go to another 4 all in surrounding villages. Once I walked into the school my feelings about the day radically changed. The children were all so incredibly energetic and enthusiastic. I think Lucy described it best when she said she felt like Santa. Because we were the first foreigners that they had even met they were shy and hesitant in deciding what to make of me at first. Was I real?  And then, moments later, once they decided that I was not someone--or something--to be afraid of they swarmed. For 3 hours I moved from class to class, school to school. The children had been taking English for anywhere from 2 months to 4 years so their levels varied. After introducing myself to each class, I would answer their questions--all the basic phrases they had learned: what is your favorite color; what is your favorite food; do you like oranges; what is your favorite sport? Then they would sing me a song or chant a song or two. I would then teach them a song and play a game with them. For most classes I taught them "Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes" and they all learned very quickly. After singing the song and doing the motions together a few times, I would point to a part on my body and they would have to say it correctly or I would say a part of my body and they would have to point to it. Though some were a moment or two behind the others, most learned quickly--we'll see if they retain any of it. 

After 3 hours of teaching Lucy and I met up again and taught a large group of very young children ring around the rosie. Holding hands with one little girl in a pink puffy jacket, I really noticed just how curious, enthusiastic, yet shy many of them were. She wouldn't really look me in the eye when I asked her questions, yet she clung to my hand, not wanted to let me go. We signed dozens of "autographs" in their textbooks in a frenzy of pushing and shoving and then said good bye. Following teaching, we were treated to a feast for lunch. Six or so dishes of food came out and we ate quickly, hungry and worn out by the long day. Having stuffed ourselves we forced ourselves to make room as another 5 dishes appeared. We did our best not to appear rude in refusing to eat more. We arrived back at our apartments at about 1:30 in the afternoon, exhausted from the morning but grateful for the experience. 

The conditions of each school varied dramatically. Some were a large complex with larger, clean classrooms while others really nothing more than a single room in a rapidly aging building. From what I could gather, the each school was part of the larger single organization that had brought us there. Most seemed to have to do with educating the children of coal miners as the town is supported largely by coal mining. The children were all adorable though--I have to say Chinese children really are the cutest. Some were dressed in school track suites while others, mostly the girls, wore tweed jackets and knee high boots, making them appear almost as miniature adults. In the spring, when my Juniors go to their hometowns to do student teaching for a 5 weeks, I hope to be able to go back to the schools more regularly and really interact with the children. 

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Enjoying Life in Zhuhai

Well, it has been much too long since I last wrote on this blog. Travis and I are settling into our lives here in Zhuhai. We are very busy during the week; we both teach 8 classes, host an English movie night, receive tutoring in Chinese, and tutor in English. On top of that, there are always events for us to go to, papers to grade, and emails to respond to. While we are amazingly busy, we are pretty happy. Life in Zhuhai is always full of fun excursions and great meals (we eat very, very well here!) This weekend it finally got cool (70 degrees Fahrrenheit) and so we had our first hot pot experience. I know that our Northern friends have been enjoying hot pot for months, but in Zhuhai it was too warm to really enjoy it. We went out with three of the Chinese teachers in our department: Vincent, Kaitlyn, and Tom. We had a great time eating everything in sight and talking about Chinese accents, Obama, hand-holding in China, and our department. I really feel that the longer I am here, the more I love the people around me. Travis and I really lucked out coming to Sun Yat-sen University; everyone has been amazingly kind and generous. We have been very well taken care of. This Tuesday we are going with some of the other foreign teachers on an excursion to Sun Yat-sen's hometown. There always seems to be some excuse for a fun event or a big meal, and I am loving it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Day

I think I can speak for all of us in Qufu when I say that today (the 4th and 5th here really) was the first day we really wished we were in the US. We've gone without the comforts of home for just over two months now but it is today that we really feel an almost painful desire to be home.  In Qufu people for the most part went about their days not just indifferent but oblivious. Though almost all my students have at some point expressed their support for Obama, there is no sense here of the monumental nature of the day. We can only image the atmosphere that stemmed from the many varying emotions in response to the election results. Joy, relief, hope, disbelief that we would ever finally see the day when a black man was elected president. We have in large part enjoyed every single day here in China, but today I think we are all more than a little jealous. So try your hardest to remember the day for us. It's one for the history books.