Tuesday, March 30, 2010

More Randomness

I Can Read It But How Do I Say It?
Often students come to me asking how to pronounce words. I think a guy found the most challenging one, parallel. There was a group of about half a dozen or so of guys, all trying to say this tongue twister, all of them coming out with some version of pellaler, or pelaluh, or pehluwuh. I tried to split it-- para-lel, but the lel was killing them. A girl walked by, looked at the word and came out with a perfect "parallel". Girls are much better at English here.

No Daddy
In talking with students about American families, the fact that around 40% of American babies are born out of wedlock came up. This was an alien concept to these kids. It just doesn't happen here, for lots of reasons, not least which is the fact that the vast majority of these kids don't date, let alone have unprotected sex. You can't get married until age 24 (men) and 22 (women). Social mores and laws just don't condone this kind of baby making. One kid, trying to get his mind around the fact that so many kids are conceived without a lot of forethought asked, "Just like animals?"
I explained that there are lots of one parent families in the US that do just fine, and that there are some here in China, too, but they are mostly aghast at the lack of structure.

Coming to the City
Yesterday on the bus, there were a couple of groups of countryside folks with all their belongings waiting at the bus stops. They piled in and packed the aisle with their bundles wrapped in plastic. The driver still only charges them 2 Yuan each, and everyone is tolerant of having to climb over their stuff to get on or off the bus. We will probably be seeing a lot more of them from the drought plagued areas.

A Cool Thai Blog
http://expat-matt.blogspot.com/ is a good blog by a buddy of mine, another American economic refugee, who moved to Thailand. He is a good writer who is having an adventurous time making a go of it in Chang Mai as a musician. It takes some big ones to make the quantum leap from Idaho to Thailand.

Zhanjiang Branch of the UN Security Council
Last Friday's beer night included: Several Chinese, a Canadian raised in India, two Brits, an Aussie, a French-Vietnamese dude, a 6 ft 7 inch Finn, and two Americans who felt kind of stumpy compared to the Finn. The Brits put up with the French guy because they like his wife, who is Chinese. The Finn is a 28 year old who works for a shipping company that does business here in China. He made me feel stumpy.

It's actually raining more than just a heavy mist, and there is standing water outside. It smells good, and has to be welcome by the local farmers, who water their veggies with big cans when it doesn't rain.


Neighboring provinces are suffering the worst drought in 100 years. It's been dry here, too. Normally it's warm and rainy, but it has been mostly cool and windy. Farmers rely on the ample rainfall of the region for watering their crops and every day use. Wells are shallow and dried up. The government is drilling deep wells so that villages have some drinking water, and maybe something for agriculture.
The kids in the photos above are hauling water up a steep mountain to their isolated village. The article here describes their family's plight.
This is a regional drought affecting the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and our area of China. It apparently is caused by El Nino conditions in the ocean which are preventing the rains.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Random Stuff

Hard Work
I've been very busy, and will continue to be very busy until school ends. I may try to take some time to travel if the government gives us a long Labor Day holiday, which comes May 1.
Pro Life
The park I walk through every morning has a big lake. I saw a Buddhist nun walking with a small mesh bag containing two water turtles. She was on her way to release them there.
Dog Food
On May 1 the Chinese government will ban the practice of eating dogs and cats.
Neighboring provinces, Guangxi, and Yunan are suffering a severe drought. Normally this is a very wet region, ours included. It has not been raining like it usually does. Lots of stories in China Daily.
Bus Variety
Some days my bus commute sucks, and other days it's just fine. A few mornings ago it seemed as though every other person on my packed conveyance was sick. One guy was happily hawking lugies into the waste basket by the exit door. A person behind me had some kind of death rattle. There was a cacophony of sneezing and coughing, including the snotty jerk who sat down next to me, Mr. Mucus. I turned my face to the window, breathed shallowly, and somehow escaped this plague bus unscathed.
Yesterday morning the bus had a large number of pretty young mothers with cute babies, including a very cute one year old and her mom who sat next to me and kept me entertained all the way to my stop. Not a cough in the carload.
Bad English
The English text books here are really pretty good. The English tends to be more of the British variety than the American, although most people prefer American English. One of the things I noticed teaching primary school last year was the use of the work "cock" for rooster.
We went to dinner at a friends house at the end of the New Year holiday. We had a hot pot dinner, which is a big soup pot on a burner in the middle of the table. You add various goodies to it. It had a chicken cooking in it.
Our friend is originally a village guy who has done well as a manager for the Postal Service. A village friend had given him a big rooster for New Year which is a big deal. The Chinese love them a big rooster for the stew pot.
He told us in his text book English that we were having big cock for dinner and that he really liked eating a big cock. He elaborated at length about the great qualities of eating a big cock, and it was all Brian and I could do to keep from choking on our cock. We couldn't correct him, since his wife and daughter were there. Later we had a big laugh when we explained to Yali and Tody the double entendre. A couple of weeks later we were having dinner with this friend and Yali explained to him what he had been saying. Both roared with laughter since the local Chinese are a bawdy people, and this is fast becoming a kind of local folklore. And our friend uses the word rooster now.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

School Differences

The past couple of weeks I've been doing a lesson on the differences between Chinese and American High Schools. The differences are pretty significant, and I put together a Power Point presentation that tried to keep a positive slant toward China to compensate for the obvious fun that American students have compared to here.
The most obvious difference is size. My school has 6,000 students. There are 2,000 students in grade 10 and classes are roughly 55 students each. The students remain in their one classroom for virtually all of their classes. The teachers come to them.
Unlike the US, the schools here are ranked according to test scores. The top scores in the region get you into the top schools. I teach at the #1 school, so I teach the kids that scored highest on their exams. Some live near the school, but many live in dorms. A lot of them come from outlying cities and towns, and I even know one girl from Beijing. The school has an excellent reputation.
There are 38 classes in grade 10, and they are also ranked according to test scores. Having the students in one classroom has its advantages. They become a community. They are responsible for the cleanliness of the room, and they have class activities. There are class leaders. Each class also has its own personality. Some are messy, some are neat. The higher ranked classes are always clean and neat, as is the bottom class. They have desks with a compartment, but it doesn't begin to hold all their stuff, so there are big plastic totes in the aisles full of books. It gives them their own space at school where they can study, nap or hang out when there is no class. There is no need for lockers.
Like most students in the world, they wear uniforms. These vary. The colors are royal blue and white. Different grades and classes might have variations. There is a standard polyester sweat suit, a blue polyester blazer, white shirts, blouses, black slacks, and off white slacks. The school is a little lax on uniforms and you see civilian clothes mixed with uniform parts a lot. The atmosphere is a little more relaxed than other schools. Boys shoot hoops between classes, and kids spend time listening to music and talking. I think the administration knows that they work very hard, so they cut them some slack.
The food in the cafeteria is much better here than in most American schools and definitely healthier. Lots of great Chinese food!
The work load is bone crushing. All of the grade 10 kids take the following classes: English, Mandarin, Geography, History, Social Studies, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Advanced Math, and PE. No elective classes, no art, no music, no organized sports, no dances, no drama class, no film class, and no prom. Also no parties, drugs, drinking, teen pregnancy or car driving.
They go to school 6 days a week and have homework during holidays. They have little time for the Internet and little time to pursue other academic interests. They don't have time for things like TV, movies, or shopping.
They come out of this well prepared for college, and with an incredible work ethic. Their math and science skills dwarf most American kids.
This is the top school, and I don't know what most of the others are like. I have a friend who teaches at #2 school and it is similar, only more strict.
What they don't get in their education is a chance to explore. Since they don't have time, they are limited in the time they could have reading literature, surfing the Net, and socializing. One boy in my English discussion group said that Chinese schools teach you things, but American schools teach you how to learn and question. They could make classes, especially English, smaller. I also think it wouldn't hurt to let them have a dance every once in a while.
They also don't have organized sports. The government thinks this would be a distraction to their studies. Maybe. I do know that my students are bookish kids with puny arms, except for the basketball dudes, and when they had a sports day, the performances were a little pathetic. Kind of like Napoleon Dynamite playing tetherball.
I didn't tell the kids about how many fewer classes American kids had to take, that many take just a few classes a day and they have weekends off. I didn't have the heart. I did say that a lot of kids opted for easier classes, which didn't necessarily prepare them for the future. I also talked about how hard the top students worked, just like them, only it was a bit of a lie. They still have dances, and a social life. They might even have time to participate in sports! Our kids have it easier, a lot easier, and that was something I tried hard not to emphasize since I didn't want to crush their spirits. Instead, I tried to put a positive spin on how they were building on their future, and how impressed I am with their work ethic and intelligence. Which I am.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Gotta Go Back to Kunming

I saw this in the Times. I've been to Kunming once, but now I must return!

Off to the Beach

Yesterday was 85 degrees and it was time to go to the beach. We hadn't been since last October, and it was time. My favorite place is on a barrier island, which has a great beach and is uncrowded. I had a morning class, so we planned to meet Yali's best friend at the ferry docks at noon. She showed up fashionably late, which gave us a time to enjoy a snack and to watch the scene. You have your basic free for all, with several different types of boats for hire. There are little blue speed boats, poky ferries, junks, and speedy passenger water buses.

Click the pix for larger picture.

Here are two of the watercraft available, the Third World ferry, and the African Queen style junk.
Many snacks are available, including sugar cane.
We took a speedy bay bus, which got us to the island in a quick ten minutes. We called ahead for our favorite sanmo driver who gave us a pleasant, bone jarring ride across the island. It takes about 35 minutes, but we needed a pit stop to fuel up and and to enjoy the comfort facilities. These consisted of a lovely bucket out back whose bouquet was released upon use. At least it wasn't in a closed room.

We arrived at the beach, and headed straight for the best restaurant around.

They serve the catch of the day, and produce from the local farms. You go back into the kitchen to choose your meal. Zhanjiang people take forever to talk about what they want to order, and Yali and Xiaoyi took some time discussing with the staff how they should prepare the goodies.

The fish was crispy fried, the squid was cooked in a sweetened bean and ginger sauce, the prawns steamed, and the lao (jellyfish) cooked with sweetened tomato. We also had bitter squash and peas in the pod, along with tea and ice cold Tsing Tao beer.

The scraps go on the floor where the chickens eat it.
Then it was off to the beach. There is a resort here that has fallen into major neglect. No one stays there, so nobody comes to the beach. That's fine with us. There were a handful of folks from the city there, but mostly locals. There was a big jellyfish catch going on, and the local fisher folk were bringing in their lucrative harvest. They were very happy since lao brings in a big price.

Brian and I went swimming, and the water was perfect. Just cool enough to be refreshing. He was a big hit with some local youth who took about a hundred snapshots with him. Of course we were the only people swimming, except for a couple of the local teen boys. The ladies stayed under their umbrellas and Tody ran around gathering shells.

After enough beach fun we went back to the food shack for some brews and peanuts and decided to have some dinner. They grabbed one of the chickens that had been pecking at our lunch refuse and turned it into a nice soup that we had with rice. We invited our sanmo driver to join us since he had come to fetch us before we finished. We drove home in the twilight, getting swarms of mosquitoes in our teeth, or on the backs of our necks, depending on which way you were facing.
One of my favorite Chinese vehicles is this rototiller powered thing. You see them around the countryside.
We arrived at the docks at dark, and it was too late for any conventional transport, so we hopped on a junk that took us back to the city. We enjoyed the lights, the rock hard benches, and the knock knock of the old diesel engine taking us back.

We got home tired and happy. We discovered a small, new hotel that has rooms at a reasonable price near the beach, so our next trip will be an overnighter. It's so nice to have such a peaceful, backward getaway so close to the bustling city.