08.10.2011 - 30.01.2012
The next school week (Oct 17-21) passed pretty uneventfully. We had all reached the point of the semester where Chinese was a struggle. We just covered so much information each class that most of us continued to fall more and more behind. Luckily this trend didn’t last too long and eventually I found the time to just sit down and figure everything out. But for a solid two weeks, Chinese was a living hell. In Ethnology we continued to chug away at the dynasties. And in SAS we worked had One Question presentations as people presented their topics. On Wednesday (Oct. 19) Sarita and I went to dinner with Sophie and Sol to the guy that loves us. They enjoyed it much more than when we went to the Korean restaurant. On Thursday (Oct. 20) I babysat for the Johnson’s so that they could have a date night. Throughout the course of the semester almost all of us were asked to babysit them at least once. I was a little nervous about the night would go. Dan and Bert had watched them Tuesday afternoon for only about an hour and a half at the park and said that it was exhausting. They were constantly running around trying to keep an eye on both and keep them from getting hurt. I knocked on the door of room 202 with a sense of apprehension in my stomach at 6:00. My worry was for nothing. The kids were super good. We curled up on the couch and watched movies for the night while eating strawberry flavored popcorn (China had this thing for fruit flavored popcorn, they also liked orange which actually was pretty good, as was the strawberry). We watched the two of the new Land Before Time Films (seriously how many of those movies are they going to make?). When they started to get rambunctious I taught them some of our Kung Fu routine. This turned out to be one of their favorite things ever and throughout the rest of the trip they would attack the students with it whenever they got bored. Sam and Annie came home around 8 and I was free for the rest of the night. Sarita came with me while I got dinner at one of my favorite rice places by the Noodle Man. They made a usong rosa that was delicious. After that we went for milk teas as usual.
Friday (Oct 21) we had Chinese in the morning and then Sam’s class was cancelled for the afternoon because we had our first teaching weekend for our Teaching Practicum course. Around 1:15 the “teachers” assembled in the courtyard. It was Cindy, Sarita, Kia, Axel, Chris, Luke, Zach, Nolan (who we called Nogan all semester, the remnant of one of our first nights in Beijing), and I. We would be teaching in Sichuan Provence. It was about a two and half hour drive to the town of She Hong. We would be teaching at the Primary school which in this case had grades (K-9). Usually primary school was K-6, the middle school is 7-9. But this school was small with only 4,000 students (small, right?) so they were combined. One fun fact about our school was this it was sponsored by the local alcohol distillery so the walls all around the school were decorated with pictures of the alcohol they sold. When our bus pulled up it was insane. It was as if we were celebrities. Kids crowded around our bus just trying to get a look at us. When we stepped off the bus they immediately starting taking our pictures on their phones. It was a very strange feeling. We had had our pictures taken by strangers before and were used to people staring at us, but this many was a new experience. We then met with the teachers and were told what grade we would be teaching and given the textbooks. Cindy and I were co-teaching a section of 6th graders, she had the first two periods and then I was in charge of the next four. We were given their textbook told to start at lesson 1 and get as far as we could in six periods. This was going to be interesting. After that we headed into a nearby city which was where our hotel was. After dinner (the first of many to serve us pigs ear, fish stomach, and pickled intestines. They’re considered delicacies and our hosts ordered them for us at every meal when we went on teaching weekends), Luke, Sarita, Chris, Axel, and I went out to explore the area around our hotel. We basically just wanted to see what was around and get some ice cream. We were very disappointed. Everything around our hotel was closed at it was only 7:30. We wandered around and after about an hour gave up and headed back without finding any ice cream. We were all super tired so ended up going to sleep by 9:30.
Saturday (Oct. 22) was our first day of teaching. We had to leave the hotel at 7:50 to get to the school in time for class. Cindy and I the night before had briefly glanced at the textbook lessons (they covered greetings, farewells, car brands, and a handful of nationalities) and decided we were just going to wing it. One other point, the books taught British English, which impacted both spelling and pronunciation. Cindy and I quickly informed them that neither of us spoke British English and that we would teach them American English. We started going through the lessons but it quickly became apparent that the students already knew a lot of the material. We spent a while on it and then came up with our own stuff to do. We taught them colors, clothes, seasons, and food. It became fun for them because we would teach the English and then challenge them to teach us the Chinese. After Cindy left I kept going with teaching them whatever I could think of. We got a break after the first three periods to have lunch. Our hosts took us to lunch at a local restaurant with all of the other teachers. We again got the honor of eating ear, stomach and other delights. They also served us more normal food though such as duck, lotus and a variety of other dishes that were all very good. After lunch we got back to the school and still have about an hour and half before classes resumed (like our class schedule at SWU the students had classes in the morning and then a 2 and a half hour break for lunch and resumed class at 2:30). We hung out in a conference room and took naps and compared storied. Luke, Zach, Chris, and Axel were having a great time with their classes. Nolan had had a rough morning trying to stretch teaching the numbers 1-12 into enough information to last 3 hours. Kia and Sarita were also struggling with their classes. Their students were hard to control and Sarita’s class was not particularly interested in listening to her. To say that they were less than excited to head back to the classroom was an understatement. I was also a little hesitant because I was out of new vocab material but my class was amazing and I loved them so the excitement at getting to spend more time with them outweighed the nervousness. The next three periods went pretty well. We covered some more random vocab such as body parts, days, and months. Then Zach showed me a few games to play with them. One involved writing all of the new vocab words on the board. Then two students would be called forward. I would say a word and it was a race for them to find it. The best 2 out of 3 won the game. We played that for a while and then changed it so that one student would say the words and their partner would have to find it. After that we played hang man. It was a good way to end the day. On the bus ride back to our hotel we compared stories. Everyone’s afternoon had been similar to their morning except for Nolan’s. He had had 2nd graders in the morning and then 3rd graders in the afternoon. It had not gone so well. His class was utter chaos. Two kids took mops from the hallway and started having a broom fight during class. Other students would stand on their desks and try to tackle Nolan. Another kid had a nose bleed that would not stop. Overall, it was a crazy class period. At the end of the day their real teacher came in and instead of dismissing them brought in the bamboo discipline cane. He excused Nolan and we can only assume then used the cane on the students. Side note, the only naughty thing my class did (and it wasn’t even that big of a deal) was remove the door knob from one of the doors of our classroom. After the day of teaching we went to dinner and then all went back to the hotel and passed out.
Sunday (Oct. 23) was our second day of the teaching weekend. Cindy, Sarita, Kia, and I were assigned to the kindergarten for the day. I was super excited. I got the oldest kids in the kindergarten (in China children start kindergarten at 2 and attend it until they are 4, think of it as a more rigorous version of our preschool) who were 4 years old. They were so cute! I got to the classroom and the teacher simply assigned me to play with them. That I could do. We played outside on the playground equipment for a while. My clothes were never the same size again after that day. I literally had a throng of about 12 kids pulling my clothes in all directions. It was cute for a while then it just became annoying as I heard the threads ripping. After playing outside I was instructed to teach them big, small, long and short using some illustrated cards their teacher had made. Big was illustrated by a basketball, small by an orange, short by a pencil, and long was also a pencil. We then sang English songs until their parents came to get them. As they left I gave them each a piece of candy which they were not allowed to receive until they said please and thank you. After classes were over we went to lunch with the teachers. Then we boarded the bus and headed home to BeiBei.
Classes the week of October 24-28 were stressful. Chinese was way over our heads. We would literally go in and sit down, she would start talking and for a bit we could keep up and then it was like a switch was flipped and we had no idea what was going on. Luckily, I just took notes over everything she said and figured it all out outside of class. In Kung Fu we finished choreographing our performance and focused on learning it. In calligraphy we started a Chinese painting unit, turns out pandas are kind of a struggle to paint if you don’t get the first three points (the eyes and nose) exactly right spacing wise. In Ethnology we watched Hua Mulan which was an amazing movie. It was really different from the Disney cartoon but so heart wrenching. Nothing goes right for her, even in the end. It made all us tear up, even a few of the boys were touched. In SAS we had finished presentations and started discussions on our second textbook, The Art of Travel. We focused primarily though on our Halloween party in Sam’s class. The Halloween party is a study abroad tradition of our program. Every year the students in the group put on a Halloween party for about 200 people. The point of it is supposed to be a way to show our Chinese friends an American tradition. Last year’s group had told us before we left that they had thrown the best Halloween party in years and that we had big shoes to fill. When we began planning our party we got a different story over what had happened last year. Let’s leave it at that there were some heated emotions that resulted in a fight. Oh and a biker gang showed up. Anyways, because of last year’s incidents we had some serious guidelines we were expected to follow. Our party had a strict time policy of 7:30 to 9:30. No alcohol was allowed. Entrance would be strictly monitored by the guard of our compound. No one was allowed in without a ticket. There would also be six addition security officers on hand to monitor our courtyard. The Waiban also tried to limit the number of Chinese students we could invite to 2 each (we were each allowed to invite 15 people so they wanted 13 of the invites to go to foreign students) and wanted the rest of our guests to be the other international students. Our group refused to agree to this though. We said that the point of the party was to introduce Chinese students to the holiday of Halloween. We were more than happy to have the other international kids there, they were our close friends, but we wanted to make sure that the Chinese students got to experience this too. For the party we each had a committee we were in charge of. We had a 1,000 yuan budget for the party and we were determined to make it good, despite the new rules. Sarita and I were in charge of decorations. Since this party is a yearly tradition each group leaves behind anything they used for their party that they think will help future groups. This means we had 26 years’ worth of decorations to sort through. Going through all of the boxes was a lot of fun. We found all sorts of stuff, such as Halloween mix tapes on cassettes from the early 90’s, old costumes and masks, lots of bloody and gory stuff, and lots of balloons. With all those decorations there was very little we needed so we just bought a bunch of orange and yellow Christmas lights and a bunch of toilet paper to hang in the trees and called it good. By Thursday (Oct. 26) we were in a desperate need of a break from planning mode. There were only so many times we could go over food (it would consist of fruit, punch, candy, chips, and cocktail wieners), games (bob for apples, costume contest, bean bag toss, and mummy wrapping contest), the music (that actually wasn’t stressful at all, Dan, Guy, and Bert put themselves in charge of that and did a great job). So Ronnie decided to take Sarita and I out for the night. We went out for an early dinner. Then took the trolley over to gate 2 to go rollerblading at an indoor rink a short walk from the gate. I hadn’t been skating since about 6th grade and neither had Sarita so we had a lot of fun adjusting to being on skates again. It was a good laugh. After about an hour Kevin, another international student from Canada, and a guy we had not met before named Charles came to join us. Charles was studying upper level Chinese at SWU too. He was from Vermont originally and had graduated in May from the University of British Columbia in Asian studies. He was at SWU on a full government scholarship studying upped level Chinese. He was a really nice guy and Sarita and I were sad we hadn’t met him earlier in the semester. We kind of had the worse timing ever because Charles was leaving on Monday for Beijing. He had revoked his scholarship and was heading to Beijing in the hopes of getting a job. He just felt that he had had enough of studying and wanted to start putting his Chinese to use. After skating for a few hours, we walked over the Eats Street (it’s an area right off campus that is filled with street vendors. It has every kind of food one could want). Charles took us to his favorite stand which had sandwiches. This was a big deal to us, China has like zero bread and none of us has had a sandwich in about two months. He ordered each of us a fried egg, bacon, lettuce, mayo, tomato and cheese sandwich. It was one of the best things we had eaten in a long time. After that we all caught a taxi back to the dorms. Charles invited us over for movie night with the international kids. We watched Zombieland and had a great time laughing and joking with everyone. After the movie we headed back to Wisteria Garden Hotel strongly wishing that we lived in the other international student dorms with everyone else. Back to the Halloween party, the other thing that we wanted for decorating was pumpkins for Jack O’Lanterns. We had no idea how hard this would turn out to be. It turns out that pumpkins in China are not like pumpkins in the US. They are thin (think about 5-7 inches wide) and tall (about the length of my elbow to fingertips). They are also impossible to hollow out. So after the first failed attempt at carving a China pumpkin we had to improvise. Ronnie had found orange melons at the supermarket that looked almost exactly like pumpkins. They ended up working really well for carving. So on Friday (Oct. 27) Sarita, Deanna, Kia, and I were in charge of carving ten pumpkins for decorations. We also invited Sally, Sarita’s language partner, to carve them with us. She had never carved a pumpkin or celebrated Halloween. She was so excited. She had a great time carving the melon and her jack o’lanterns were definitely the best of the group. The lead up to the Halloween party was stressful. It involved a number of meltdowns, some tears, a lot of whining and overall just a lot of unnecessary problems to deal with. The night before the party our group was in agreement that we wanted nothing more than for it to be over with.
Saturday (Oct. 29) was the day of the party. We all had the morning free to do what we wanted but had to meet at 3 pm to start setting up the courtyard. That morning Ronnie invited Luke, Kia, Sarita and I for brunch at her dorm. We were joined by Charles and Andrew. It was a delicious brunch of omelets, potatoes, toast, banana smoothies, and pancakes. It was one of the best breakfasts I had in China. After brunch I spent the rest of the morning helping Cindy and Luke with food prep. They were in charge of fruit salad and skewers for the party so it involved cutting up dozens of apples, chopping five giant watermelons, picking all the seeds out of four pomegranates, and slicing 5 pounds of apples. We had a lot of fun doing it despite the amount of work involved. Since Sarita and I were in charge of the decoration committee we were in charge of directing everyone on what to do. Set up actually went really well. With whole group working on it, it went really fast. We put up fake spider webs, decorated the gate to our courtyard, hung lanterns from all the tress, hung dozens of balloons, put up miscellaneous spooky stuff around the courtyard and let the boys have a blast tping all of the trees in the courtyard. Set up finished around 5 and everyone had about an hour and a half to get dinner and get dressed. Deanna and I went to Muslim for a quick dinner and then I went back to get dressed. Sarita and I had hoped to get custom costumes made for us at one of the tailors like the girls from the year before us had done. Unfortunately though by the time we had got a free moment to find a tailor there wasn’t enough time for them to complete the costumes in time. We then thought we would wear the black dresses we got in Chengdu with some masquerade masks we had found in the decorations but we wanted heels to go with our dresses. After hours of fruitless shoe shopping trying to find something not covered in sparkles we found that our feet were too big for Chinese shoes. Finally, we went with Guy’s friend Emily to a costume shop she knew of. At first we were really sketched out by the whole thing when an old woman lead us up the stairs to a dilapidated apartment complex but they she showed us into a room filled floor to ceiling with different costumes. Emily had previously worn a belly dancer costume that the woman had and I had fallen in love with when she wore it and knew that was the costume I wanted. Sarita looked at a variety of other options and then decided on the belly dance costume too. Anyways, I loved my costume and was super excited to wear it. I felt that the way set up had went was a good sign for how the rest of the party had went and was excited. It turned out my feeling was right. Our Halloween party was a blast! All of our friends came, both Chinese and international. Everyone looked amazing and had a fabulous time. Guy and Charles won the costume concert. They both dressed up in drag and made surprisingly pretty girls. It was an awesome night and everyone who attended our party and the year before’s party agreed that ours outdid theirs. We were pretty proud. Sadly, though the two hours passed super fast and before we knew it was 9:30 and it was over. Our hotel had made us promise to clean up the majority of the decorations that night and the rest we could leave until morning. We spent about half an hour taking down the gist of the decorations and then were free for the rest of the night. Larry, one of the other international students from the US, and his roommate Max, also American, hosted a Halloween party at their apartment following our party. Cindy, Sarita, Luke, and I went. We met up with the rest of our international friends there. After a while there we went to 99. After a few hours there we all called it a night. It was a great way to cap off 21 straight days of school and we were all very excited to finally have a free Sunday to sleep in.