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Archive for August, 2006

Consistency

China seems like a world of inconsistencies, but the reality is that the longer I am here the more I understand why things are the way they are. Here’s a little example. Take this bin. It looks like a regular bin except that it has a battery-powered proximity sensor built in. As you move your hand towards it the lid flips open so that you don’t have to touch it. Nice in theory - it supposedly limits the spread of germs - but think of all the extra work it generates. Now does it not only require the bag to be changed but it also requires regular battery changes and someone to throw it in the bin when it breaks down. It stimulates industry because the bin manufacturing company now has a regular demand for it’s cheap products.

Electronic Waste Paper Basket

The Chinese have a monopoly on manufacturing on all kinds of goods, be they goods that are bargain basement or quite elitist. Due to the local manufacture, the locals can afford to buy all kinds of stuff. As such, it’s not uncommon to see people who look like they need a bath and a new set of clothes toting a fancy mobile phone and a designer handbag. The Chinese also have a plethora of available labour, so swapping a few batteries in a loo doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. People are employed in all kinds of seemingly menial tasks.

The western world really has enslaved itself to China and China has capitalised on it (pun intended). Given that so many of the world’s goods are manufactured here, the Chinese government is now in a very powerful position. The progressive integration of Hong Kong has brought western aptitudes in-house. There’s such a breadth of expertise and high-tech know-how here that even if the west moved on to another country, where labour may potentially be cheaper, China has effectively industrialised itself - by getting the rest of the world to pay for it.

Hi again all, this is the second installment of my first day at school, namely teaching the Year 8s and 9s in the afternoon. Basically, they amply made up for the frustration of the Year 7 class. Both classes are an absolute pleasure to teach. Yes, I am still getting the hang of the multiple ‘bell’ system (fragments of Muzac, especially the first section and 1/2 a bar of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turka - not the end of the phrase) to indicate the beginning and end of the lesson, and associated teacher protocol (another post), and they are likewise coming to terms with my class requirements, but they are doing a very good job of trying to understand me, and I, them. Basically, they’re good kids. Ok, a few are a little too sprightly at present, but it’s not malicious or trouble-making in any way, and they’re learning to settle in Miss Gail’s class (the other teachers are miss xyz, regardless of marital status).

With the Year 8s, I spent their first two lessons introducing the ‘writing prompt’, ie, ‘Write 5 sentences in English on, “What if… you were the leader of China for a day?” They hadn’t done anything like that before, and I think most were focussed on, ‘What is the right answer? What answer does the teacher want?’, so introducing creative/ free thought, which is part of the activity, is perhaps harder than the actual writing. It took 2 lessons, including one failed attempt (’what do we know about fish?’) and one successful attempt on the board, but they’re getting the hang of it. At some stage one of them is going to have an ‘ohh!’ moment when it finally clicks. Groupwork is also a foreign concept, as are mind-maps (brainstorming on the board using linked circles and lines), which we’ll have to lead up to; not too many new things at one time!

The year 9s are gorgeous. There are only 3 or 4 boys in an otherwise all-girl class, so they are very social and help each other, but are still focussed on their work; after all, at the end of this year they will take their big English test to decide on their high school and therefore job prospects, so they’re working hard. They also understand groupwork. ) The year 9s also come with questions, and have both the language skills and confidence to be able to articulate what they want to know.

Since I only see the year 7s on Monday, Thursday and Friday, I have been sitting in on Mr Chen (Erik - ‘not a fish’)’s classes with them, and finding out what he’s been doing, and more importantly, at what level he’s teaching them. Their language is quite rudimentry, and they need a lot of repetition. He also uses a bit of Mandarin in the class, which I won’t be able to do. There are only 11 kids in the class, but it’s still the most intensive class for me. It has helped, me sitting at the back of the room and sometimes assisting, as the kids now are used to me, and no longer see me as a white, scary foreigner who talks fast and is harder to understand than the Americans, so I think they’ll really try. I’m trying hard to learn their names. I’ve also organised to have a text book for them which should come in on September 1 and not before, (why would the supplier possibly think we could need it before, since Sep 1 is officially the first day of school? - Government departments. ) ). That should really help, since I think the kids are still at the age where they really need something in front of them, rather than only arbitrary exersises in a book.

So the first half-week at school has been exciting and nowhere near as bad as normal first weeks. - I’ll need to start with the kindergarten after Sep 1, though, which should bring its own challenges. I’m really glad we haven’t had them this week, since I’ve been coming to school for 10 days already. It’s not that the work has been hard, it’s the emotional burden of the unknown classes that’s mainly been the problem. It’s going well.

Hark, I hear the dulcet tones of (James Galway, I think?) playing the ‘it’s nearly the end of the lesson’ cheerful music. Again, it finishes on half a phrase. I wonder if they do requests? )

Splendid Performance

Gengis on a float

The last post we put up about our trip to Splendid China wasn’t actually the whole story. In the evening we went to the free show called ‘Dancing with Dragon & Phoenix’. This performance seems to be about presenting a little Chinese history and mythology in a format designed to impress both natives and visitors. It should impress too, given that it cost 100 million RMB to make and each show consists of over 500 performers and 1200 costumes! Don’t forget to click on the pictures for larger versions.

There were lasers, blazing fires (the heat of which was quite intense), billowing fog, a mechanised rock face for a narrator, a waterfall the width of the stage roof that fell into an opening in the floor that also housed water fountains, a movable retractable stage level, swinging side platforms, a high-wire act from the roof above the crowd, horse stunts, elaborate sets, contortionist gymnasts, pyrotechnics, motorised this, illuminated that … you get the idea. Even the numerous mosquitoes didn’t detract from the entertaining performance. This all took place in a show lasting a shade under one hour.

It’s worth reiterating that the Chinese are much, much better at expressing their own culture than trying to imitate everyone else’s. The performances were fantastic, the miniatures of their national landmarks were highly detailed and accurate and on the whole it was a richer experience than when we went to the even larger Window Of The World back in January. That makes sense really, as we spent a whole day looking at a single culture rather than a day looking at one specific landmark from hundreds of different cultures.

Blazing Fire Swinging Stage The Crowd

mY fIRst Day aT SkoOl

Hi all, I know lots of people have been interested and (very kindly) asking after when I start classes at school (that may be an American expression; I don’t know. All the teachers use it. Let me know if it is). Well, the day has arrived and at present it is the lunch break/ ‘lunch and then sleep’ break. The school virtually shuts down over lunch, and people either sleep or read quietly or do some quiet activity. I will ask for a snoozing mat, and make myself at home in the airconditioned (yay!) English office. It’s a good time to do lesson planning, but that’s a bit hard for reasons I will shortly go into.

By the way, we received our schedules this morning. On the first day of school. I have to admit, that was the one thing that was bothering me. It shouldn’t have been, but it was.

I had my first lesson this morning: Year 7s. They have had many different native English and Chinese English teachers and teaching styles over the past few years, which has drastically influenced their learning. They are also the first class of the middle school, and many of them have the pubescent ‘I’m too cool for this class’ mindset, which I’m sure creative and interesting lessons will work wonders for. It also doesn’t help that their written and spoken English is very poor. I suspect there may also be accent and speech speed issues.

The main problem for me is I don’t know what they know and what they don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an unresponsive class. I suspect their written English is ahead of their spoken English. They didn’t have any books. During the first lesson, I think all they learned was the rules. I’m liasing with the other English teacher to reiterate the rules and requirements, so there’s continuity between us and so the students learn them properly. It’s worth spending the extra time on them up-front. I find their Chinese English teacher, Erik (not a fish ) ) quite hard to understand, and I’m sure it’s most mutual, judging by previous difficulties. But I’ve helped him understand how important it is for us to work together, and briefed him on my class this morning, and what I’d like him to add to his.

For the next year 7 class, I’ve photocopied a comprehension unit, so they have about a week to get books and dictionaries. I think it’ll also help to use some printed, written materials and have them as a platform. It should also make them more comfortable with expressing what they can do. I strongly suspect they may be bluffing a bit (insert raised eyebrow at this point), because when I said they couldn’t leave until their homework was written down, most wrote it down awfully fast. How about that, eh? It will help to co-teach some lessons with Erik, or at least us both be present, especially initially.

So that’s how the first lesson went. The Year 8s and 9s are after lunch, and their spoken English is a lot better. A huge hooray for that!! I’ll have the comprehension sheets, and also what I planned for the Year 7s, so should be covererd for minimal/ high English abilities. )

Protesting in China

As with all potential aspects of potential unrest in China, which would be unhelpful to the mercentile wellbeing of the people, protesting is a highly regulated domain. To exemplify this, I was told the following story the other week.

Someone was travelling in a taxi with a Chinese partner and tax driver. Their journey was not long, and traffic was unaccountably banked up. This person asked her partner if she knew what was going on, whereupon she was advised that it was a protest. Of course, she asked what they were protesting about, and was told ‘Japan’. She questioned the validity of this statement, given that the advisor wouldn’t be able to easily see what was going on, and learned that any Chinese protest that is not quashed within the first three seconds is always about Japan, and boycotting Japanese products. )

Many Chinese avoid eating sushi and buying Japanese-owned products for this reason. When asked the excuse/ reason for their dislike, it is almost always, ‘because of what they did to us [at some time]’. This irrational statement led to my introspection along the lines of, ‘do we think of any group in a similar way?’ I can’t think of any; maybe you can. - I also write this to perhaps stimulate some thoughtful/ considered/ ANY comments on the posts, because comments are quite thin on the ground at present. Shame, shame, shame, people. )

Happy blogday to me!

This marks 100 blog entries by myself. ‘It’s my birthday present to me! I’m so happy,’ to quote Emperor Kusko. Actually, it’s my 101st blog entry, but hey, who’s counting. To mark the ocasion I’ve given the blog a freshen up in the form of a new theme. It’s just a readily-available theme that I’ve tweaked slightly so I take no credit for the design.

Gail has just walked into the kitchen door by accident. It seems that she was a bit slow on giving the door handle a twist. Clearly the new theme caught her attention. )

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