Red Hats and Tarnished Pennies

Well, another (long) day of teaching has gone by. My first class starts at 8:20 each morning–I teach a group of fourth graders. I have about 45 students in each of my first and second classes. Luckily, I have a TA, who translates the things the students don’t understand into Chinese for them and passes out papers for me, etc. It is nice to have someone helping like that, but I wish she would speak in Chinese a bit less so the students ears could get used to hearing English. They have, after all, been studying English for about 4 years, but I’m under the impression that the teaching technique here involves translating the English sentences and words in Chinese, which is highly ineffective. I was teaching my fourth graders about chronology with an activity where you had to fill in the blanks about a girls day: “She brushes her teeth before she eats breakfast.” Then, I asked the students to make a list on the blackboard of things they do before and after school. One student wrote, “I brushes her teeth,” so I tried to teach them the difference between “I brush” and “She brushes” and “my” and “her.” But since there is no real equivalent of “my” in Chinese, it was difficult for them to understand that you can’t say things like “I do I homework” without some coaxing. Still, the students are mostly very eager to learn. It is hard to handle such large classes, though.

In the meantime, as I mentioned in the last post, we’ve become celebrities! During all the breaks, Dawson and I are both bombarded by students asking (I’m not kidding) for our autographs! They want us to sign their books, little pieces of paper, and the red hats that are part of their uniforms. I refused to sign one boy’s arm.

We have a welcome reprieve from 11:30 to 2:50 for eating lunch and, if we are tired, napping. In the afternoon, I teach a class of only eleven first-graders. They are all adorable and all so enthusiastic! All the students stand up when they speak, but they are not too disciplined. I think that would be an improvement in American students. This afternoon, I gave each of my first graders a penny from my purse, and they were all thrilled. It’s funny to think that such a little thing can seem so important. One of them even knew who Lincoln was.

All of the children are so tiny! They are skinny to the point of looking malnourished, although we were told that many are children of government officials. I suppose most Chinese people are shorter than Americans, and their diets are different, but it still upsets me. Also, their teeth are in seriously bad shape. Most of them are still baby teeth, but I’ve seen dark spots on a lot of their teeth which are pretty visible. I’m not sure if there is anything I can do to help or if I even need to.

This evening, as we were getting ready to leave school, three police officers showed up. They were checking out our status in the country and had copies of our passports with which the school had provided them. One of the four of us, Douglas, had already left, but it turned out his passport had expired in 2002! I’m not sure how he pulled that one off. They must have overlooked it at the consulate where he got his visa. Anyway, I’m curious to see what happens to him and hope he’ll be able to get back into the states without being suspected of terrorism.

That’s all for now. I’m going to walk around Jiangshan a bit and try to buy some sneakers so I can go hiking in the mountains.


Between mountains and neon lights

I arrived, with Dawson, two other Americans from a different teaching program, and our English-speaking Chinese guide (who acts a bit like a babysitter), in the city of Jiangshan, China yesterday. There was a bit of confusion, as Dawson and I were both under the impression that we were staying to teach in Hangzhou. However, we learned at our meeting on Sunday morning that we would be shipped off to Quzhou, a city of about 2.4 million people. This, too, turned out to be false, and we know reside not too far from Quzhou, in Jiangshan, where it appears the only white people who set foot are summer teachers like us. The city is several hundred thousand people–a much greater population than I had expected. As a result of both the high population and the rarity of people of our race, the four of us have become celebrities in town and especially at school. But I’ll get to that later.

We are being put up in a hotel–the Jiangshan hotel–the address of which I am desperately trying to find out so I can order two copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It is rather nice–though I never expected to call a hotel home for three weeks. There is a shaky wireless connection from somewhere, which I am using to write this. The hotel is on the main street in town, chock full of shops with incredibly inexpensive clothing and food. Behind these storefronts, as we can see from our eighth-floor hotel room, lie residences, each not more than a few feet from another. The roofs, I am pleased to see, are home to solar-powered water heaters.

I surely shall never forget my first sight of the students at our school. We are teaching at a school that has an annual “English Village” summer camp. About three hundred students attend. Before class started this morning, there was an opening ceremony. The four of us Americans waited outside the building, and when we were welcomed onto the stage, we were greeted by a sea of tiny Chinese children, all wearing matching red baseball caps, and all cheering like mad. I gave a short speech on behalf of the visiting teachers, and then class commenced.

I’m getting a bit tired and there is ramen a-making, so I’m going to stop here. But first, a note on this blog. I hope this to be a forum for my thoughts an observations, as well as a travel journal so that I will remember the events of this trip and you can read about them if it interests or entertains you.

Until next time,