Friday, May 15, 2009

Bits and Pieces

Angelyn and I have a current list running of Things to do Before We Leave, from eating crawdads on BBQ street to finally going to the Shiyan sauna. We are also on the hunt for something that is truly "Epic". We feel this need to leave our mark on the city in a big way - it seems like we have gotten close a few times. The discovery of Tribal Leisure Bar was nearly epic...the tree sitting was almost exactly epic. Showing the Passion of the Christ as a classroom movie, that would be epic. When it happens, we will know. But until then we will grab every opportunity, and if it ever stops raining we will be unstoppable. Things that we have done recently:

Our dream of tree-sitting finally became a reality. Last Sunday Barry, Angelyn, Megan and I climbed (with the helpful aid of a few friends) the trees that line the street at the bottom of the hill, and gave the Chinese a reason to stare aside from our white skin. It was childish, crazy, and as great as we thought it would be! We all took sunflower seeds up in our pockets and there was a Sound of Music singing moment.

Angelyn, Katherine and I went to the Chinese dentist (aka, the hospital) and had our teeth cleaned - not at all scary to open your mouth and allow it to be violated by a woman you can't understand when she tells you NOT to swallow the water.

Megan, Angelyn and I went to Cherry Valley to pick strawberries and cherries with two teachers from Megan's school. The locals were just shocked when we climbed our own cherry trees and picked them ourselves. And per your suggestion Heather, I did wear pigtails.

I had a particularly nasty run in with a student that left me a little shaken. After class, Trent worked his magic and cheered me up by taking me to buy turtles! After we rescued 5 turtles from a really rough turtle wrangler, we bought some paint and proceeded to give them some flair. Trent had this dream of releasing them into the pond outside his house with painted shells so we could find them. We painted them perfectly, then proceeded to watch as Kicks attempted to mount Red and then carry pink footprints across the rest of their backs as he made his way through the group.

Trifecta - painted with a tri-color target on his back was the beast of the group
Star - never came out of his shell
Rosie Red - always the lady
Kicks - given a soccer ball pattern on his back because of his constant need to kick me with his back left leg
Giggles - had no personality

It was too late to release them, so I came back the next day to do so. In that time, Kicks had carried paint from turtle to turtle and they had all turned into weird Bubble-Eyed Monsters (see photos) Turns out its a defense mechanism in the turtle's body to protect their eyes, but Trent and I thought they had all gone blind from eye infections! (The guilt was overwhelming, I was seriously questioning our ability to ever be parents) In an attempt to save Kicks - even though he was the instigator of their mutations, he was still my favorite - we cleaned his shell and decided to keep him for a while. He is now lost somewhere in my house.

So when Jessica attempts to read "waterproof" in Chinese, turns out she can't. We released the 4 turtles into the water, which they all immediately left water trails of orange, white and pink behind their sinking bodies. We worried for a minute that perhaps these particular Chinese turtles don't swim and we made a terrible mistake...until Trifecta surfaced and made a desperate attempt to try to get back up to Trent! They were adorable, we had such a sense of pride watching Star make his way out into the scary water world.

Here are some PHOTOS - strawberries, turtles and the UN.

Yes, the UN.

Trent's students are amazing. Last week we were invited to UN Meeting, and we were not really sure what to expect. Turns out, it was a staged-comedy of a United Nations Council Meeting, to which even North Korea was allowed to attend. It was completely organized by the students, not one teacher was present. They did a fantastic job!
*Screaming match between "good" and "evil", left and right side of the table, (America, Britain, France, India, Japan and South Korea) versus (China, Russia, South Korea, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia)
*Peace speech made by the Saudi Arabian representative to the background tune of Amazing Grace
*Trent's 15 year old student Teddy sitting behind us translating into English verbatim every word said. (Later, he became my favorite person by being the first Chinese to ever ask to see my engagement ring)
*Somalian pirates breaking into the meeting carrying guns of brooms and a squirt gun to hold the United Nations Council hostage.
*The head of the Somalian pirate ring marrying the UN Council Secretary to form a binding peace treaty. You can't make this stuff up!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Build houses and settle down

I was just looking over my blog and realized how long it has been since I have recorded anything of personal substance. To be perfectly honest, its been hard to find words to put here - so much is happening, at the same time as absolutely nothing.

What I mean by that is, my life in China is exactly that - a life in China. This place is my home, and I exist in a comfortable routine. Aside from the occasional weekend getaway, each new week has looked exactly like the one before it, and I anticipate the next to be strikingly similar. I teach class Monday-Thursday, have weekly dates for Mahjong and my book club, Tuesday night is date night with Trent, and Sunday is family day. I grocery shop and have bills. My point here is not that my life bears an uncanny resemblance to that of a retiree, but that it is normal. I realize it has become hard to blog because in my mind, the usual Wednesday morning of running, study and crunchy rice is nothing of interest. I live here.

Its ironic. From the beginning, when I made my decision to come to China, this place was presented as a temporary home. Much like a new university to attend, or a summer internship, it was a place to be for a while...nothing of permanence. I was told I didn't have to learn Chinese and I could make the decision to renew my contract on a year-to-year basis; basically, that I could do HIS work in China as long as it suited me. I didn't bring many great comforts from home across the ocean, because I knew I would be returning to them shortly. No change of address forms were filled.

I'm reminded of a lesson from Jeremiah that Megan shared with me a while back, 19:5-7
"Build houses and settle down: plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there, do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."

How confusing it must have been for the Israelites to invest their work, livelihood and children in a temporary home. (In exile, even!) It would seem that their original intention was to wait out God's timing in a state of transition. But HIS intention for us seems to be different...almost like an investment in our emotional health. Not just to be in a place for a time, but to live completely where you are, in the place HE has made for you to thrive. To give it your heart, to do HIS work in that place, and to allow some semblance of a life grow, even if just for a moment.

...And then to be prepared to say goodbye. I believe the phrase is, "This world is not my home". The same willingness which I have to say "see ya lata" to this world, is the same faith I have to have to go to the next place HE is taking me. I laid down my roots. I built a house and settled in Shiyan. I have a fruit lady. Honestly, its breaking my heart. As I told Angelyn the other day, "Maybe I'm not doing as well with the whole moving thing as I thought."

I have memories of Carol dropping by on a random Wednesday evening, Florance giggling at my front door, and Juice Lady asking me for the upteenth time if I have had dinner yet. This place is treasured, from my bright yellow-walled bedroom, to my roach-infested bathroom with the China smell, and the delicious smelling tree out my frosted window. But I am assured that it is time to move on, that HE is calling me to the next chapter, asking me the leave the house I've built and go in search of a new home. I feel blessed in so many ways, the greatest being that I have a person to be at home with, anywhere. I've got options, and a conviction that HIS work is to be done in the midst of any of them.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Common Misconception Response #6 - Final

Misconception: All Chinese are clever and study all the time

Dear Lady,
I'm glad tor receive your letter. I am happy you said we Chinese children are clever in the last letter, but it is not because we study in class all day long as you think. I think this is your misconception about China.
The education between our two countries is different. Though for one thing, it may be the same I think, that we study in school for at least 10 hours everyday. Isn't it? The distance between us isn't how long we study, but the way we learn in class. In class, all of us have the same textbook, and what the teacher teach us is all from it. We need to read some important passages many times until we can recite it. We also need to learn the passage wrote by ancient people, which is different from now. Certainly, there are a lot of formulas of physics, math, and chemistry we need to remember. So we must do many exercises. Because everyone wants to enter a good university, we should get a high score in the entrance exams. It's very hard. We must work hard for it, so we spend most of our part time on studying.
I think above is the reason you have the misconception about China. We are all clever the difference is just which concept we express. I wonder if you have desire to learn more about China. If you have, I'm glad to help you whenever you have met difficulties.
Love Monica

Misconception: Asian parents exercise more control and less warmth with their children.

Dear Jamie,
Nice to meet with you! I must tell you, I think the former part of this sentence is right in some cases. In some cases, when children are young, their parents send them to attend many interesting classes like piano, drawing, or swimming, and always make certain decisions despite how their children might think. They think it is good for our future, so we must do it. Although every parent want their children to succeed, but sometimes is what they do to prevent their children from growing up happily.
But the last part, I don't agree with that. No parents don't love their children, oppositely, Asian parent give too much love to their children. But now, the attitudes changing. Many parents try to touch their children the correct way. They ask their children to earn money by themselves so that they children can learn that they should value their happy life and so on. So things are not always the same.
Sincerely, Zoe

***Note: It seems like Zoe may have misunderstood a little, though she reveals a lot here. In the little exposure to the Chinese family I have, the use of control is revealed in constant pressure to succeed. Working hard in school, getting good grades on the college entrance exam, getting into a good college, getting good grades in college so you can get a good job that makes a lot of money. This mentality appears to be universal in all Chinese families, but the children characteristically view this attitude as the parent's expression of love, and attempt to honor them through their success. Many of my students tell me they want to make a lot of money so they can take care of the parents who love them so much. Verbal expressions of love, "I love you" are few and far between in the Chinese family.

Common Misconception Response #5

Misconception: All Chinese people are in the Communist Party

Dear Jennifer,
I just know that you think we Chinese are all in the Communist Party! I think its really a misconception. On one hand, our population is 1.3 billion, but our Communist Party member's number is only 70 million. These figures show that not all the Chinese are in the Communist Party. In China, there are also some other political parties like Chinese Peasants and Workers Democratic Party, China Association for Promoting Democracy, China Democratic National Construction Association, and so on. As we all know, Wan Gang, the Minister of China Science and Technology department doesn't come from the Communist Party, he is a member of China Zhi Gong Party.
On the other hand, if you think that all the Chinese people are believe in communism, maybe you are right. China Communist party is the administration party in China. All the people are influenced by Communism since they are born. So, to sum up, not all the Chinese are in the Communist party, but most believe in communism.
Yours, Eric

Misconception: Chinese people only eat rice and fish every day

Dear Sir or Madam,
I think you have some misconceptions of Chinese food. Now I will show what Chinese people eat. Chinese food can be roughly divided into Northern and Southern styles of cooking. Northern dishes are relatively oily and the use of vinegar and garlic tends to be quite popular. Wheat plays an important role in Northern cooking ravioli like dumplings, steamed stuffed buns, fried meat dumplings are just a few of the many flour based treats that are enjoyed in the north of China.
Representative of Southern cooking styles are Sichuan or Hunan cuisine, famous for their liberal use of chili pepper. Within the whole of Southern cooking, the Jiangsu and Shejang regions emphasize freshness and tenderness, while Guangdong cuisine tends to be somewhat sweet and always full of variety rice and by products, including noodles, cakes and congee.
In Chinese cooking, color, aroma, and flavor share equal importance in the preperation of every dish. Normly, any one entree will combine three to five colors, selected from ingredients that are light green, dark green, red, yellow, white, black, or caramel colored. Usually, a meat and vegetable dish is prepared from one main ingrediant and two or three secondary ingrediants of contrasting colors are then cooked appropriately, incorporating the proper seasonings and sauce to create an aesthetically attractive dish.
In fact, many of the plants used in chinese cooking, such as scallions, fresh ginger root, garlic, dried lily buds, tree fungus, etc have properties of preventing and alleviating illnesses. The Chinese have a traditional belief in the medicinal value of food and that food and medicine share the same origin. This view would be considered a forerunner of nutritional science in China. Notable in this theory is the concept that correct proportions of meat and vegetable ingrediants should be maintained. One third of meat-based dishes should be vegetable ingrediants and one third of vegetable-based dishes should be meat. In preparing soups, the quantity of water used should total 7/10 the volume of the serving bowl. In short, the correct ingrediant proportions must be adhered to in the preperationg of each dish or soup in order to ensure full nutritional value.
Yours, Jerry

***Teacher's Note: I spent time to type out the audaciously copied email above to give you all a little treat! Enjoy my student's shameless attempt at plagiarism and apparent belief in my didn't take long in my teaching career to learn that most of my students can't put a grammatical sentance together...and words like ravioli, liberal, medicinal, aesthetic, and adhered are generally forgery flags! Now to determine a punishment...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Common Misconception Response #4

Misconception: All Chinese are polite and giving

Dear Ragan,
China is known as the country of "ceremony and propriety" since ancient times. Trying to be polite is one of China's fine traditions. In China, parents or teachers begin to teach kids manners in primary school or earlier. They teach them how to call their elders, or have respect for others. And parents and teachers always make a good example for them. In this way, they respect this kind of education at their childhood. And in their hearts, to treat others politely is good moral character. Giving is another character that is above polite. It is a refined accomplishment. It is set up by the way that someone studies in life and tries to be that type of person. There is an old saying in China, if you want to get success, try to give at first. In our daily life, you can be polite, but it is hard to be giving. Only reach a certain level of self-cultivation, then you can realize the beauty of giving.
From Andy and Alex

Misconception: Chinese women must be quiet and obedient

Dear Brian,
It's our honor to write you about the Chinese culture. We are very glad that you are interested in our Chinese culture. But we are sorry to tell you that your saying about Chinese women is a misconception. Let us tell you the truth.
In the past society, the women may have to be quiet and obedient. Because there are many rules for women to obey. They can't go to school, especially go out to be a leader. They have little rights. Also, there is a saying, a woman without intelligence is a respected woman. Under this social environment, women have to obey their fathers, mothers, husbands and families. They have to serve for them, and not speak one nonsense word. So they always give us a quiet and obedient impression.
However, with the development of society, people's views of women and women's social position have changed a lot. In modern society, we advocate that women have equal rights to men. They can go to school to read and write. besides, they have their own careers. Modern woman are very different from the past. They have their own opinions about things. They can express out their views freely. They can sing their own songs from their hearts freely. So they are not always quiet and obedient, they have the right to give advice. They are confident, considerate and intelligent. They can go out of their family to run for their dreams. Some of them are even becoming leaders. If you have any questions, you can write to tell us.
Yours, Grace and Debbie

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Common Misconception Response #3

Misconception: There is a lot of pollution in China

Dear Mary Ann,
We think that what you said is a misconception. Now, let's tell you what is true about pollution in China. In the past, there were many environmental issues. One of these is the serious pollution of the air and water. The polluted air, which mainly comes from factories and cars, and the polluted water, causes some diseases. What is worse, rubbish was increasing with the growth of population.
But now, the condition has been greatly improved. The government has done a lot to protect the environment. Legislative steps have been introduced to control air pollution, to protect the forest and sea resources, and to stop any environmental pollution. For example, in some cities, they have returned land for farming and forestry. More and more trees are planted. More dustbins are fit beside the street. What's more, most people have been conscious of the importance of protecting the environment and the take the lead not to through the litter about.
In our opinion, the government should take even more concrete measures, though the condition becomes better. First, it should let people fully realize the importance of environmental protection through education. Second, much more efforts should be make to put the population planning policy into practice, because more people means more pollution. Finally, those who destroy the environment intentionally should be severely punished. We believe China will become a perfect place to live one day.
Love, Karl and Red
***Note: I live here...this is NOT a misconception. China is extremely polluted. I have never heard more people talk about protecting the environment, and never seen more people throw trash on the ground. A clean strip of land is quite literally a shock to my senses. Interesting note, I asked Karl what a "severe punishment" would entail per their suggestion. He recommended prison, or a 20 rmb fine...approximately 3 dollars.

Misconception: Chinese use bikes and scooters more than cars.

Dear Rodney,
I've heard that you think Chinese people use bikes and scooters more than cars. Maybe you believe that cars can hardly be seen in the street. But the truth is a little different than what you thought, let me explain it to you.
In the past, around 30 years ago, the car industry in China was not developed. Cars were quite expensive to common people. Only those who owned a great property could afford cars, and cars were not so important as they are now. They were only used by big companies and enterprises, instead of individuals. Private cars were the insignia of honor or rank. So at that time, common people rode bikes very often.
However, China has grown a lot. We brought in many skills and technologies from abroad, Also, we have joint ventures and our own car factories now. So automobiles are not that far from common people any more. It is said that by the year of 2009, China has 130 million private cars. The price is reasonable and we become richer. Private ownership of cars in China is not a long shot, owning a car is not a dream to us. Cars become more and more popular to us now.
As for me, I still like riding a bike. Because bikes are environmentally friendly and very convenient in many cases. Bikes can reach some places which cars can't. Therefore, cars may dominate nowadays, but bikes and scooters cannot be sbstituted for the moment.
Sincerely, Kevin
***Note: I asked my class of 30 how many of their parents owned cars, and only one person raised his hand. However, I have lived in China for two years and do not have enough appendages to count the number of times I have nearly been run over. Cars are prevalent, but the sheer number of Chinese in the country makes it so - I would say the average car is for business purpose, not family ownership.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Common Misconception Response #2

Misconception: There is no difference between Chinese and Japanese.

Dear Beth,
It's normal for you to say that Chinese and Japanese have no difference. But I have to tell you that this idea is totally wrong. We do share the same characteristics in appearance, but we have plenty of differences which you may not know. Let's take food for example. Difference parts of China have different flavors for food. Sweet in south, salty in north, sour in west and hot in east. We eat many kinds of food. Cantonese, Sichuan cuisine and so on. Japanese eat seafood especially fresh fish a lot because of its loction. To make it convenient, Japanese chopsticks are longer and more pointed than Chinese chopsticks. We pay more attention to the taste of the food, while Japanese like beautiful utensils to hold the food. The eating habits, Japanese always do acting appointments, they should decide how much they would spend before the meal, then give the money to the host. In China, except for the banquet, all the payments will be taken into the host's arm, even if it is the dining between colleagues. One treats this time, and another will treat the nxt time.
To be honest, Chinese education is not very successful. Students cope with all kinds of exams everyday, it feels like we are led by the nose. To some people college entrance examination is the most important thing in their whole lives, more than their marriage. In the eyes of public, students in brand-name university are definitely more superb than those from normal ones. Japanese educational services pay high attention to students' comprehensive quality, especially to their competitive spirit, practical ability and interest cultivation. The culture of China and Japan is not the same thing, either. We have Confucious, Mencius and so on. We are influenced by their thoughts so we are friendly to others most of the time. Japan is influenced by many foreign factors, including Chinese culture, but western culture affecs them in a large extent. They have turned those to their own culture. I should say that Japanese are really good learners. That is the brief explanation, I hope it will help you.
Yours, Ferrer

Misconception: All Chinese are born knowing kung fu and other martial arts

Dear David,
How is everthing going? I know you must like China very much, you think that we are born knowing how to do kung fu, or some other martial art. But I want to say that this is a misconception. You say that someone knows how to do Kung fu, or some other martial art. That's true. But not all of us can do it. And we are not born knowing how to do it. If you come to China, you'll find that most of us can't do Kung fu. Someone maybe do it because they want to strengthen their bodies.
So, why do you have this misconception? I think that nowdays many directors like to produce movies about Chinese Kung fu because its mysterious and can attract many people. If you want to come to China, do not hesitate. China is really a beautiful country and all of us like peace and harmony. Welcome to China!
Your friends, Fredz and Daisy

Monday, April 6, 2009

In Other News...

*The sun is coming out, Shiyan is never more beautiful than in the spring.

*This weekend the foreign women in Shiyan went to Xiangfan and spent 4 hours on a bus driving to A Hot Springs - totally worth the road blocks and rain. We relaxed, were steamed in a giant turkey like roaster, and most importantly...laid in a pool full of fish who ate our dead skin. It was creepy and amazing. Katherine, the animal tamer, was swarmed and beloved...the rest of us cringed and dealt with our 20 fish, while she had over 200 from her hips down!

*Trent and I are playing hookie (okay, I'm playing hookie, he has three weeks off) at the end of the week and taking a boat tour of the Three Gorges Dams. I am so excited about it, its one of the things that I really wanted to see when I came to China. This dam is such a treasured accomplishment in China, but there are so many potential downfalls that its quite contreversial. It endangered or eradicated countless species, the pollution levels are overwhelming and climbing, the 600 kilometer reservoir has flooded 1,300 archaeological sites, and will irrevocably alter the beautiful Three Gorges as the water rises. Erosion is causing sediment slides and they have had to relocate millions of people from homes near the reservoir.

*The men of Shiyan had an awesome retreat this last weekend, which brought tons of seekers together. I am so excited by the answered pr-y-rs this year has brought, there are incredibly inspiring Chinese walking through our doors every week. He is SO good.

*I am exactly half way through the semester...only 8 weeks of classes left!

Common Misconception Response #1

Thank you all so much with responding to the Teacher's Aid blog post. I compiled a list of all the ideas you had about China...everything from all Chinese men having long mustaches, to all Chinese belonging to the Communist Party. My students were fascinated by the ideas that Americans had of them and their country, and anxious to set the record straight. Here are a few of their responses in Dear John letter form for Mandy specifically...there is more to come...

Misconception - All Chinese are really smart, especially in math and science

Dear Mandy,
Hello! Actually, most Chinese are not smart. Take me as an example. I'm not good at math and science. At the same time, I'm not one of the ones who is very smart. I think if someone have interest in something, he or she will good at it. Besides, hard-working is very important too. Even if you are not very smart, but if only you work hard...the harder you work, the more improvement you will get. In fact, Chinese are just like Americans. Its the same, some people will indeed be smarter than others. But its just a small part in all the people. On the other hand, Chinese people also enhance a passion on other subjects besides math and science. Such as music, nature, history and so on. And they are very good at these.
Sincerely, Jack and Jason

Misconception - All Chinese are short and thin

Dear Mandy,
I'm sorry to tell you that I'm not so in agreement with your idea. I will tell you the truth as follows. Chinese persons' average height may be shorter than American, but that does not mean that all Chinese are short. The famous basketball star, Yao Ming, is much taller than other players. There are many taller persons that come to our eyes in many international games, such as Li Ning, Zhang Yi Ning. There are many people that are short in China, so are there many in America and Africa. The value of an individual is not based on the height. Its based on how much he does for the soceity. Many Chinese are thin, for they eat a lot of vegeatbles. They treat their body seriously. They want to keep fit. They are healthy, but not all of them are thin. Some are fat too. Some athletes are required to be strong and fat. They do a lot and are famous in the world.
Yours, Mory
***Side Note*** I learned recently from Angelyn's research that Chinese women are taller on average than American women. We concluded it may be due to the varying heights in minority communities that bring the American average down, white women on average are much taller than Chinese. Men are actually nearly the same height. Interesting - I compeletly bowed to this misconception!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

If you really want to understand what I do here...

What do the Students think is my Job? When one asks students to describe the foreign teachers job, they reply with one or more of the following:

  • 1. To teach us English
  • 2. To teach us correct English
  • 3. To teach us Oral grammar
  • 4. To tell us about foreign culture
  • 5. To Improve our English
  • 6. To correct our pronunciation
  • 7. To get paid a lot of money for talking talking talking

I received this ARTICLE from Angelyn, my fellow teacher. As soon as I read it, I knew I had to share it with you. I think it will give you a really interesting insight into what I do here, and the expectations our students have of us. (Teacher, what is the secret to learning English?) Sadly, I have no magic wand, and neither does this man. It is obvious that this teacher is more than a little frustrated with what he probably feels is a no win situation...I can relate. I love my students, but there are certainly days...

Meanwhile, I received a lot of wonderful "common misconceptions" from my readers, I will be sharing them on Monday and be sure to let you know their responses. Thanks for your help!