A Travellerspoint blog

February 2012

Guilin, Yangshuo, and Surrounds

For our one week vacation we flew from Xiamen to Guilin, about 800K. The area around Guilin, including the tourist city of Yangshuo, is famous for its green karst mountains, straight out of a Chinese landscape painting.

We spent two days in Guilin, wandering around on our own in the city's extensive parks and along the riverfront. We found it to be quite an attractive city, but wherever we went, other Chinese tourists and some locals wanted to take their picture with us. We felt like celebrities.


Disney characters it seems, are very popular in China with both children and adults. Here is a view of them from another section of the park pictured above.


The riverfront had it's share of wooden rafts and boats, some of which were floating restaurants.


In our guesthouse, we ran into Karen, probably the only black Canadian teacher in all of China. She too worked for WECL, though in Beijing where they had another school. Just prior to our trip we happened to be looking at the WECL newsletter and saw her picture, and there she was right next door.

We soon headed for Yangshuo, about an hour by bus. The town itself is an interesting mix of Chinese tourists and western backpacker types, complete with "Western Street" because of the number of western shops and restaurants.


The surrounding area is indeed gorgeous, with very green karst peaks sticking straight up from narrow river valleys and rice fields.


We are staying in a charming, but simple hostel, the Yangshuo Culture House, which is a few blocks away from the hustle of the main drag. The food, all part of the deal, is fantastic, and at the family styles meals we met some really nice folks from Holland and elsewhere. Nanette had a brush painting lesson with the owner Wei, which he offers free of charge.

We went on a long bike ride through several villages along the Yulong River, with our young Dutch friends.


This is ancient China, full of rice paddies being tilled the old way, by farmers with water buffaloes.


Narrow and rocky paths took us in between the villages and almost everyone was friendly and smiling.



The people live in old brick houses or houses made from adobe with slate roofs, and most of them looked to be as old as the houses. The young have all moved to the city to find work. It was a delight to get away from the hordes of tour groups that fill the main streets of Yangshuo. We ate lunch near Dragon Bridge, several hundred years old, and watched the bamboo rafts ferrying other tourists up and down the river.


The following day, we went on hike starting at Yang Di and ending at Xing Ping. We were told it was 24K in total, but it didn't seem quite that long. The trail and dirt roads weaved along on both sides of the Jiang Li River, which we had to cross about four times. The scenery was breathtaking, with sheer, rocky cliffs with lush vegetation rising directly from the river. Waves of misty peaks stretched into the distance with the occasional Buddhist shrine impossibly perched atop some of the rock outcroppings.


At one point we waded out on the slippery rocks and splashed ourselves with river water to cool down, as it got quite hot in the afternoon. At the same time a few old village women were trying to sell us fried fish and rice wrapped in banana leaves, which we didn't eat, anxious to avoid getting sick. They got big kick out of the lawei swimming in the river. Modernity has not touched everywhere in this country, at least not yet.

We find that even the few word we can say in Chinese make a big difference when we are touring like this. We can ask for simple directions and even find the bus station. This might not sound like much, but to able to make ourselves understood with all of the tones, feels like a big accomplishment.

On another excursion we took a local bus, accompanied by Karen, Bart and Maleenja, our Dutch friends, to Putao,


and then another one to Shitoucheng, which was about 10k down a very bumpy dirt road. On the bus we hired an old wrinkled farmer, just how old we found out later, to be our guide for the day.


It turns out he was 83. He took us up a steep set of old steps, muddy from the humidity and clay-like soil. We went further into the mountains and entered a world of stone houses, narrow rock walled lanes, and verdant bright green rice field interspersed with well tended vegetable gardens.

Yangshuo__..ina_240.jpg Yangshuo__..ina_230.jpgYangshuo__..ina_245.jpgYangshuo__..ina_238.jpg

We hiked for an hour or two when our guide asked if we wanted to have lunch. We realized later that he barely understood a word of Karen's Mandarin, because he only spoke a local dialect. Karen spoke better than we did because she had spent the preceding year teaching at WECL, but obviously it was of limited value in this situation. Somehow, we managed to communicate, as we continued walking up past the old stone gates of the town and then down into another valley until we eventually reached his house. Also made of stone, the primitive place was an interesting mix of the the very old and the relatively new. The walls were adorned with a big picture of Mao, and some other old Chinese Mandarins we didn't recognize. Nevertheless they had an old TV set, and yep, you guessed it, a cell phone. They cooked our rice and vegetables on an open fire while we took several pictures of the house, and the old NiNi's and YeYe's, grandmothers and grandfathers.


Bart happened to have a pink balloon, which he blew up, and one of the grandchildren was entranced for quite a while.


We debated how many westerners had made it into this town. Opinions ranged from once a day to once a month, or hardly any.

They brought out a live chicken and asked if we wanted that for lunch, which we declined, not wanting to witness the execution. We opted for vegetables and rice, but no matter, they butchered it anyway, carefully saving the blood, and then they ate it.

Our Guide Trying to Decipher the Dictionary

We soon had our illusions shattered of being the only westerners to "discover " the place, when another young American who spoke quite good Chinese walked in with his guide. . The guide said that almost 50 westerners a day came through the town, and not only that, lunch was going to cost us 100 Yuan, $15 US, and grossly overpriced in rural China. Sure enough, they asked us for 100 Yuen when we finished. At that point we began to think that maybe the old man rode back and forth on the bus everyday, just looking for tourists to guide and bring to his house for an expensive lunch. The Chinese are certainly very canny businessmen. It took a little of the joy out of the experience, but we still got some great pictures and had an enjoyable time tramping through the village and exploring the old stone walls and gates of the the town. When we got back to Yangshuo, the town was even more packed with Chinese tourists on their May Day holiday. It was wall to wall people, complete with firecrackers going off in great bursts, buses and cars honking adding to the general din.

Today we managed another nice bicycle ride to another nearby, but uncrowded village. We had lunch at a nice spot by the river, at a "farmer food" restaurant, though once again we were overcharged. We then pedaled through the narrow lanes and found an idyllic spot to dunk ourselves in the water. For about 20 minutes our only company was a water buffalo, also enjoying the coolness of the water. After that. a couple of cute, but rambunctious boys showed up and we skipped rocks in the river with them.. They each crunched loudly on cucumbers, spitting out the seeds and skin wherever it was convenient, sometimes almost on top of us.


Getting used to the lack of personal space takes some time. The Chinese, all 1.3 billion of them, seem to love a crowd which is just as well.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:00 Archived in China Tagged photography living_abroad Comments (3)

Thoughts on Chinese Culture and Teaching

We have had very interesting discussions with some of my older students. One of them, who will remain nameless here, described the Chinese character as basically selfish, in that everyone just considers his own self-interest or the interests of his immediate family. He or she said that few people pay attention to the law, and that most everyone tries to get away with things and cut corners. We talked about the traffic situation in Xiamen as an example of this. Traffic laws are not enforced and pedestrians have no rights whatsoever. When two drivers get to a corner at the same time he said, each one doesn't wait for the light, and they both try to go first (basically a game of chicken).

I asked how selfishness fits with the desire to save face, and the concern about what others think of them. The Chinese character is very complicated (s)he said, agreeing with me, that there is a kind of built in contradiction between being selfish, trying to get away with things, and concern about what others will think. It seems that if you can get away with something without anyone noticing, then face saving is not an issue. I asked about the contradiction between a very controlling government, and a people that are always trying to break rules. He/She nodded and agreed that here was another complicated issue. From his/her perspective Westerners are much more likely to obey the rules and do things fairly. Perhaps he/she said, because there are more negative consequences if they get caught trying to get away with something. From this I understood that you can get away with a lot here in China, so long as you don't challenge the government openly. Nobody seems to care about enforcing the laws and that is one reason why there is so much corruption. Of course, if there is a public scandal and you happen to be the fall guy, the consequences can be lethal.

Perhaps there is an inverse relationship between rigid centralized authority and individual rule breaking. The more tightly controlled you are from above, the more you try to get yours because there is so much inequality built into the system. Or maybe the Chinese have always been ruthless businessmen? As everyone knows by now, quality control is often lacking. I have experienced this in a direct way. So far we have had to have an electrician come into our apartment three times, to repair switches and lights, not to mention the lock on the front door which is about to break. When I told people in Cihina that I lived in a two hundred year old house at home, they were amazed. They said no one lives in a house more than 20 or 30 years. After that they tear it town. The implication was that they tear it down because it was put up so badly that it might fall down if they didn't. Planned obsolescence is a fine art here, or maybe its not planned? The constant construction is not just because of a fast growing economy.

The longer we are here, the more I realize just how conservative a society China really is, and not just the government The other night, we read a short article on values. I won't go into detail, but there were three classifications, and when I asked the students in the class where they would put themselves, all said they were traditionalists, whose main characteristic is an adherence to traditional values such as hard work, obedience to authority, and doing things the way they have always been done. They all talk of being raised by parents who on the one hand, would overprotect them to the point of cooking and cleaning for them while they were in college, but on the other hand expected total obedience. Any questioning would result in a beating. It is not just the education system that stifles individual creativity, but also the family structure remains highly rigid, based on Confucian values.

Children are taught that their parents always know what is best for them, and from a very early age parents decide what their their children will study, based on their test scores. These tests are based on rote memory . It is almost impossible to switch fields at some point later in life, because most kids are exposed to a very narrow range of ideas and information. As one person in the class put it, from age 4 or 5 children are pushed to enter a race for a good job or career so everything is scheduled for them. They have almost no time to have fun and and really not allowed to be children. Independence is simply not valued. This is slowly, very slowly, starting to change, but the pressure not to disappoint your parents who have sacrificed so much on your behalf is enormous. Even if your family has money, and you don't have to worry about a job, there is still enormous pressure to live up to your responsibilities and continue to expand the family business. Boys feel this more than girls, because they are still heavily favored and more is expected of them. Given all of this, it is really not surprising that the government can continue to operate in the way that it does. And this is not to say that on an private basis people don't question the government, but they have obviously been raised to obey authority and focus on their families.

One night someone asked me to teach more "business English", not surprising since all of them are in one kind of business or another. I suggested that we might want to brainstorm different ideas about how to do this. I explained what this meant, and they agreed it was a good idea. I asked whether brainstorming was ever something that was done at their workplace, and the answer was a definitive no. It was clearly a very non-Chinese idea.

China seems to be at a crucial time in its long history. Either it will continue to open itself to new ideas which will inevitably force greater changes, both in the government and the family structure, or the forces of conservatism, so strongly rooted in the fabric of Chinese culture, will reassert themselves, and China will shut itself off from the world, as it has many times in the past. Probably the most likely outcome, at least in the relatively short term, will be a constant push-pull between these different forces. As long as this it the case, it will continue to hamper the ability of the Chinese people to respond to world events, economic and political, in innovative ways.

You could argue that these same forces are at work in many parts of the world. It seems that the fundamentalist and traditionalist thinkers are in the ascendancy, at least in the United States. When it comes to conservative social, and increasingly even economic values, large segments of the US population are not so different than the Chinese.

My world culture class with the advanced day students continues to be a challenge. At the end of each chapter in the book there are a couple of "critical thinking" questions, and I said that I would ask these same questions on a test, which the school administration scheduled in two weeks. I went over the answers in class, but many did not understand the concepts, although they did know the meaning of the words. Of course, most of them made it clear that they had not read the book as it has nothing to do with learning English per se. I typed out a study page which contained all of the important information, and they seemed happy with this. I will obviously have to give up on my fantasies of getting them to think critically.

For the most part, they are ignorant of world events outside of China, and many don't seem to care. For example, very few of them know about the genocide in Rwanda, and they don't know that Laos and Burma border China. Of course, plenty of college kids in the US know little about events in Africa and nothing about Chinese history, but I think that more of them would be able to pick out the important things to talk about in an oral report. It's not that these kids are stupid either, but they are used to sitting in large classes of more than 50 students and being lectured to. Their role has just been to memorize whatever their teachers have told them, and they are heavily criticized for making any mistakes. This is not an atmosphere which is conducive to independent thinking.

Speaking of which, we have questioned the administration as to why tests are necessary at all. Many of the students don't take them seriously and know they will "pass" no matter what their grade happens to be. The powers that be at WECL however, want to maintain that this is a real school and how can they do that without tests. Bob, the head teacher, has turned out to be a very controlling anal type, who is full of unhelpful advice and totally unreceptive to new ideas. We try to avoid him as much as possible, but with a staff of six, this is not always easy to do. The other teachers have also been a bit of a disappointment. You might think that anyone who would choose to go abroad to China and teach would be interesting and adventurous, but that has not turned out to be the case. We prefer spending informal time with the kids and going out to dinner with them, which we do often. As it turns out, we spend more time with the less advanced students since we teach more classes with them, and since Bob has more or less corralled the others into his orbit.

The four months we have signed up for will be the right amount of time. We soon get a week off and will fly to Guilin. That will be a welcome change.

Posted by jonshapiro 05:32 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Life's Daily Adventures

All We do is Eat

We have begun to settle into somewhat of a routine. We usually eat breakfast at home, and then do some yoga and exercise before going off to teach. For both lunch and dinner, we eat out in one of the many restaurants in our neighborhood, and by now we have sampled most of them. The locals are starting to recognize us as the Meiguaren, Americans, who are teachers in the local English school. They put up with our incredibly bad Chinese, and it is always an adventure to see if we actually get what we try and order. Nevertheless, everyone is always smiling and welcoming, and seem to get a kick out of us attempting to speak Mandarin.

For example, the Uighur place just around the corner, makes great stuffed pita bread with spinach, (my usual breakfast) and also specializes in long homemade noodles with soup or other toppings, including what tastes like pot roast. The staff always laugh when we try to explain how many pieces of bread we want to buy, and we usually end by holding up our fingers. Unfortunately even that doesn't always clarify things in China. They seem to have a different way of counting with them. It was many weeks before we figured out that we could order a cucumber and tomato salad, something of a rarity here.


They also know us in the Dongbey restaurant, or Northern Chinese, where they make excellent jowza, or dumplings, not to mention whole sea bass with tofu. They speak of us as that romantic Meiguaren couple, as we sometimes eat there by ourselves. That is unusual as eating is such a group activity.


The beer man in the local package store knows us too. As we pass his shop everyday on the way to school, he always waves and says hello. Tsingtao, from Quingdao, the local brew, is dirt cheap though the alcohol content is similar to the beer I used to drink as a freshman in the college bars of Madison. It has been around since the German's first introduced it in the early 20th century.

After lunch, we have taken to sitting on a bench in the middle of our apartment complex to soak up a little sun. Many grannies with their kids come over to us to say hello and good bye in English, and in our building people go out of their way to be friendly and to make contact with us. Unfortunately after the initial ni hao, or hello, we are at a loss , and their English doesn't seem to go much further. Perhaps after another few lessons...Despite our ongoing presence in the neighborhood, we remain something of a novelty. There are few westerners, and little kids in particular, stop and stare quite openly, and then call out to us to practice their few English words. We try and answer them in Chinese.

On several mornings we have gone down to the ocean which is not far from our apartment.


It is a nice place to walk and get exercise. One time we inquired about renting a bike, but it seemed like the concession man thought we wanted to buy it rather than rent it, as he told us the year it was made as well as giving us the price. We didn't have our dictionary with us, so decided to put that off for another day. We did walk down far enough to discover a small amusement park, not unlike the kiddie places near us in Albany. They even had the same carnival music playing, along with shoot em up and knock em down games with balls. The place looked like they were gearing up to open for the spring season. On the way back, we passed several water trucks that clean the streets, all to the tune of happy birthday.

Language misunderstandings remain commonplace. For example an electrician had to come to our apartment the other day to replace a switch that was bad. We spent about five minutes trying to say we were sorry for being late, in a mix of Chinese and then English. Finally he nodded, and also said sorry, in English, perhaps imitating us. This was apparently the extent of his English vocabulary, because when he finished the job, he handed me the switch and didn't say anything. Thinking he wanted me to throw it out, I went to do so when he started vigorously shaking his head. He took the switch out of my hand and put it on a shelf. I still have no idea why, but obviously throwing it out was not a good idea.

It seems like much of our free time is spent eating. This is the primary form of entertainment for the Chinese as well. There are literally 15 to 20 restaurants on every block. One of the ways to say hello in China is chu le ma, which means, have you had your rice yet. Chu la, we reply. Yes, have eaten. Surprisingly, most people are thin, perhaps because they don't eat dessert. Last night we went to an out of the way barbecue place in a downtown alleyway. We would never have found it on our own, but we went with one of the Chinese staff at the school, James, as well as Morgan, the young English teacher who speaks fluent Mandarin. James picked out the food, which was a large selection of veggies, meat, seafood, and tofu, called dofu here, so it is one of the few words we can remember easily. We then sat around a large frying pan heated with gas from below and cooked our dinner. We must have had about 10 courses altogether, not to mention almost a case of beer. After eating, we sat around the table and played liar's dice, not unlike poker. It is based on bluffing about how high a number you have rolled. The loser says gombey, bottoms up, and has to drink another bottle of beer. They went easy on me as I was an old lawai, foreigner. There was real mix of people, some dressed in suits, others in jeans, but all obviously local. It was a great evening, but I had to run more the next day to work off all that beer.

We went by bus by ourselves to Gulanyu. This small island is a five minute ferry ride from downtown, and was settled mostly by rich foreigners in the late 19th century. They built mansions, churches and even music schools. For a time it was known as the piano island because of the classical music that could be heard wafting above the sound of the surf. Although far more touristy now (Chinese tourists that is) it remains charming with old buildings, plenty of which are in disrepair, winding narrow alleys, and blessedly, no cars. It is quite hilly, and we spent a couple of hours just wandering around. And of course, there are lots of restaurants facing the harbor


We have continued to explore other parts of the city on our own as well, and we have been largely successful in taking the buses around town and getting back to our neighborhood, Chow Fu Chen. Only once or twice have we had to resort to taking cabs and showing them the business card from the school, which has the address in Chinese. The buses however do not always go the same route because of all of the construction going on, which confuses things even further. Literally every 15 minutes there is a huge boom and an old building comes down. Seemingly just as fast, a new one goes up, and although Xiamen is relatively unpolluted compared to other Chinese cities, the construction dust in the air is noticeable. Crossing the street on foot can be challenging, as lights seem to mean nothing. Buses in particular routinely go through red lights, and cars often drive and park on the wide sidewalks. This may be one of the few socially sanctioned ways of rebelling.

Life here reminds me a little of the movie Being John Malkovitch. Playing himself, he gets stuck in a elevator between floors, and is forced to live in a topsy- turvy world on floor 7&1/2, where nothing is quite what it seems. He lives like this for quite a while before falling into a hole, and ending up somewhere near the the New Jersey Turnpike not far from the Lincoln Tunnel . I'm not sure we'll end up there, at least I hope not, but life here is similiar to floor 7&1/2. It's always intriguing, but accomplishing everyday tasks you take for granted takes much longer because of the language issues. In another few weeks, we get time off and are trying to decide where to go. Traveling will certainly be an experience, because in many places in China they only speak a local language, very different even from the few words of Mandarin that we struggle with. We have certainly been to many places where English was not widely spoken, but it seems different here, despite the fact that many young people have studied English in school for years.

Chinese, at least to us, is an amazingly circuitous language. It's hard to say anything simply, even harder to pronounce, and of course, impossible to read without spending years becoming a calligraphy artist. I'm sure that the language and its intricacies effect the way people think and act, or is it the other way around? In some ways, China is less different and certainly less third world in Xiamen, then other places we have been, and yet in other ways it is the most different and hardest to comprehend.


Posted by jonshapiro 08:11 Archived in China Comments (0)

Getting to Know our Students

Our day students, mostly in their early 20's, love to hang out with us and have dinner etc., while our evening students, because they are older are generally working. The more advanced group is easy to be with because their English is good enough to have real conversations. All of the students have English names which they have chosen for themselves. At times this makes for a humorous combination. Several of the students including Prince, a pretty 22 year old woman, have chosen to confide in us perhaps because we told them we are psychologists? She wrote a story in which she mentioned the incredible pressure she feels to get a good job, and not to disappoint her family who have sacrificed so much for her. She apparently was sickly as a child and her father, a doctor in a small town, took care of her. He now runs a seafood business because it is more lucrative. She seems to have a very bleak outlook on her life, and has several stress related problems including Irritable Bowl Disease and a constant sore throat.

Larry, one of the best students, is 24, and as the only son in a family with several girls is expected to take over the family business in the next few years. The business is a factory with over 1000 employees that makes inner tubes for trucks and bikes etc. He feels he cannot spend anytime having fun and must be very serious in order to perfect his English before the end of this year. He is also expected to get married and have male heirs within the next couple of years. He complains about chest pain, says he has grey hairs and nightmares because of all the pressure he feels. He wants to know why westerners seem to have happier lives than the Chinese people he knows. He can't talk to his family about these things because he doesn't want to worry them, and he can't talk to his peers because they won't understand. Here is a really bright student, in what most would think of as a very enviable position in China, but even at 24, he can't enjoy his life. No doubt when he takes over the factory things will be even worse. China may have more options for people than in the past, but it seems that even in wealthy families there is pressure to make more money and achieve. Enjoyment seems secondary.

I talked to Larry about the importance of relaxing and doing fun things. Maybe he took it to heart, because the next day he came with us and several other students to the beach to go bike riding and afterwords we made a big meal together. He seemed to enjoy himself.

A Day at the Seashore

Certainly not all the students are like Larry and Prince. Before we got to China we had the sense that all Chinese are hard working and diligent. What we realize now, is that this was an assumption based on the skewed sample we saw in the States. Those students were obviously the best and the brightest, while the others never get to study abroad.

And then there is Marjorie, age 26, who has more or less taken us under her wing. She lives now with her older British boyfriend in an upscale apartment near the water. She has been around the block a few times, has a sense of her attraction to men, and an appreciation for some of the finer things of life. She is a part time WECL student and part time Yoga instructor, but is obviously not killing herself with work or pressure. Her English is only fair, despite having the advantage of living with an English speaker. At the same time she is gracious, self effacing, and very generous.

Marjorie Posing for Nanette

Marjorie took us shopping for a mattress pad when we complained about our rock hard bed. She accompanied me when I had my first Chinese haircut. It was 10 Yuan or about $1.50 US for a process that took well over an hour, complete with washing and scalp massage. Perhaps I was his first lawai (foreign) customer.

She has also had us over for dinner. We went with her to help pick out the food at Shinpo market, more like an outdoor South American market than any we had been to before. There were all kinds of fresh veggies, fruit, and many varieties of fish, almost all alive. Marjorie picked out a dozen clams still spitting water, and shrimp still swimming around in a big tank. She also purchased half a Peking Duck, already cooked, complete with scallions and pancakes. Our contribution to this feast was Nanette's attempt to make brownies from scratch, using chocolate bars instead of baking chocolate. There was no baking soda, which resulted in unleavened brownies. Considering the lack of ingredients, they tasted pretty good. Ovens are practically unknown in China and so are baked goods. We met Frank, her 42 year old boyfriend, who is divorced with two teenaged kids in Britain. He is running the sales department for an American high tech firm. It was nice to talk to a fellow lawei for a change, and drink his imported vodka and wine. It was all very civilized, and they made us feel right at home. After dinner we were joined by another Brit and his Chinese girlfriend. Jim works in the family business making equestrian equipment in China for the British market. Both of these men make foreign salaries and are able to live very well here. While local wages are going up rapidly, party to keep up with inflation which is more than 10% a year, salaries are obviously far less than in the States and Europe. However, it may be that in the future goods from other Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and Cambodia will be cheaper than Chinese goods.

Inside Nampo

We have taken other excursions with different students. For example we went to Nampo Temple, accompanied by Juna, Nancy and Tammy. Nampo is one of the older Buddhist temples in this area, but rebuilt several times after it was sacked by various emperors. We didn't know that it was Buddha's Birthday, and the place was packed. The incense was so thick it was hard to breath. We climbed the many steps of the hill behind the temple along with hundreds of others to see the view of the city. We were surrounded by throngs of people, a very Chinese experience. After that we had a huge lunch which our students insisted on paying for, and then walked around Xiamen University. One of the oldest and best schools in China, the campus is large and beautiful with a lake in the middle. There were university students sitting on the grass, some studying, and others making out with their girl/boyfriends, something that would not have been tolerated a few years ago. Others were hanging out and shopping on Student Street, a bit like Telegraph Ave in Berkeley, minus the head shops.

Both Juna and Nancy are from nearby cities and are relatively wealthy, whereas Tammy is from Hunan province where her family members are farmers. She only gets to see them once a year, and this year, because of all the snow, she couldn't get back at all. Juna says she is a Buddhist, as is her family, and she was very surprised when she first heard about our interest in Buddhism. She actually knows very little about the sutras however, and was asking us questions about them. It seems as though most of the temple goers, including Juna, are most interested in praying to the fat sitting Buddha, known as the Buddha of Prosperity. He is ubiquitous here.

Left to Right, Rita, Amy, Tammy, Marjorie

Posted by jonshapiro 13:21 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

Teaching at WECL

We feel like we are working for a living once again because of the demanding schedule. Nanette has been enjoying her pronunciation class with the middle level students. Pronunciation is one of their major challenges, but they do a lot of laughing and things seems to going well. Teaching world history, which is basically European history, is more difficult. The American textbook has very little about what was happening in China at the same time as the Industrial Revolution, WW I ,etc., and so it is hard to make it relevant or interesting.

Left to right, Amy,Sally,Leo, Annie, Cecilia, Lucy

Three times a week I teach what amounts to a cultural history class to the more advanced students. I have asked them each to give a short oral report, based on different African countries, which is what we are studying now. They all go to the internet, print out a few pages, and then read them in class. It has been difficult to get them to use their own words (in English of course), and to really think about what they are reading. They often put in lots of details, but seem to miss the important points. I think that language difficulties are only part of the problem, The way they do the reports seems to reflect the way they have been taught in the past, which is to memorize a lot of information, and to be criticized heavily if they forget something. Thinking for themselves is not something that is important. Maybe the government wants to keep it this way, but it appears to be deeply engrained in the culture. Of course, the students are here to learn English, and not world culture and history. It is not clear to us as to why these courses are even part of the curriculum, but that is not something we have any say about.

Another factoid about their educational system is that most kids work hard in high school in order to pass difficult exams to get into college. Once they get in however, there is much less work in the university, and apparently they often spend time drinking beer and goofing off. Seems a little backwards. Corruption also plays a big part, and as long as their names are on the list of a good college, how much work they do doesn't seem to matter. Money often changes hands in this process.

Almost all of the students at WECL study English because they plan to go into business. That is where the money is in this so called communist country.

Stephanie with brother William, John on right. Mars is the tall one on left of 2nd picture

My level one students, pictured above, are quite a mixed bag. Some are much better than others and far more serious, and there are several who seem to do no work whatsoever. Sometimes it seems as though their rich parents sent them to WECL because they didn't know what else to do with them. William, is one of the brighter students in class, though he doesn't work real hard. He has spent much of his life growing up in the Phillipines. John on the other hand, does work hard, but may have some learning problems, at least with English, because his progress is very slow. Mars, (interesting name choice), is the son of professors, and is also bright, but puts in little effort. He belongs in the next level, but chooses this one. Baron and Kevin, not pictured, are total slouches, but we enjoy playing ping-pong together and going out to the nearby Taiwanese restaurant for mango-ice. And Happy, by far the youngest in the class at 15, works very hard and is from a poor background. We love her, and have become practically her surrogate parents. She is teased by the others because of her age, and often prefers to spend time with us.

Happy with Yours Truly

Unfortunately I have to teach a grammar class for this group which is not my strong suit, and certainly not theirs either. Because we are only here for one semester, it seems that Bob, the head teacher, has picked out many of the more difficult classes for us, grammar included.

My evening students, considerably older, have proven to be a delight. For example, Mathhew is a 40 something engineer who is married, and willing to discuss almost anything, including politics. Betty, a few years younger, is a middle-class woman with a school age child. She lives with her husband's family in a small apartment. She has taken to discussing some of her problems with her controlling mother in law, while living in close quarters. Amy is single, in her late 20's, somewhat less sophisticated than Mathhew, but very friendly and helpful.

Nanette and Amy

Posted by jonshapiro 06:54 Archived in China Comments (3)

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