We’re officially in the final stretch of the year! With 55 days left until we’re back in the States and less than 50 days until our contract is over, we can see the finish line growing ever closer. And to celebrate, we got a real rainstorm today (if you call 2 minutes of rain a true rainstorm). It was very exciting and made us realize just how dirty everything was. We’re so accustomed to seeing everything – bikes, cars, people – covered in dust and grime that after the rain we were astounded by how shiny everything appeared. I guess that’s one of the many things we’ll be getting re-accustomed to once we’re back in the US. And, to also signify the beginning of the end, the two new teachers from Kentucky will be here tomorrow! We’re super excited to meet them and share this experience with them for a month. My students are also looking forward to having and getting to know other meiguo laoshi (American teachers).
We’ve been solidly in the routine since my last post that, though we’ve been happy, has left me with little to write about. My lesson this week has been about the United States (in preparation for the new teachers) and has led to some very interesting situations in the classroom ranging from my students being very impressed by my ability to write the RMB/yuan character (元) on the board to a student’s exclamation that President Obama is black to my acting out cowboys to give them a stereotypical understanding of Texas. Clearly, it’s been a multi-cultural week in my classrooms. But while my students have started asking me why I don’t study harder to learn Chinese because tones are “so easy, teacher!”, I impressed Li Laoshi and Duncan with my Chinese language ability the other day when we were all just hanging out talking. That was an exciting and motivational experience, for sure.
This week, we also got a “special friend price” (discount) from a noodle shop we frequent and our bread people gave us an extra-special twisty bread thing for free. Additionally, QLH got some new drinks (that may or may not be the same drinks they had over summer last year – we don’t remember) that are delicious and magical.
Also this week, Kuai Long (the motorbike) got its seventh flat tire in a month and we finally were able to replace it with a new tire (rather than continuing to patch it). Though the rim was a little bent, hopefully that’s all been fixed and we won’t be walking our bike around town any more.
I also got an important lesson from some students in my “international” class about Chinese education. According to them, Chinese education is essentially composed of five things/focuses (this is how it was presented to me):
1) Moral education
4) Moral education
5) Physical labor
I’m not sure what the difference is between moral education #1 and moral education #4 but they did explain to me that moral education in schools is important because most parents don’t like religion and expect the school to teach their children this subject (I’m not sure what they teach though). Intelligence is measured by scores on standardized testing to get into middle school, high school, college, and beyond (these students did recognize that few Chinese students have well-developed imaginations because of this intense focus on testing and competition but brushed it off by pointing out to me that students that show potential in the arts go to an arts school and likewise with sports). Physicality, though not defined to me, I assume means physical education much like is in the US with PE classes and extracurricular sports. Physical labor is literally chore-work. It is the students that clean the classrooms, sweep the walkways, scrub the bathroom floors, garden, weed, plant trees, etc. The children at school make up the majority of the maintenance crew and janitorial staff. When I explained that students do not do that kind of “physical labor” in the US, my students were genuinely astonished. “Who keeps everything clean, then, if the students don’t do it?!” they asked me. I was surprised to hear that this kind of “physical labor” is considered an important part of the Chinese education system (I assumed it was a way to save some money on the school’s part). But my students seemed equally confused when I tried to explain critical thinking to them (even with the aid of a Chinese-English dictionary).
Whereas some idioms, interestingly enough, are exactly the same in Chinese and in English (for example, “bite the dust” and “tip of the iceberg”), there are also some definite differences in linguistic and cultural expressions that are as frequently unexpected as they are assumed. This is just another example of how interesting comparing and contrasting American and Chinese cultures has been for me during this year. I just love thinking about and noting how people from all over the world can relate in some ways and learn from each other in other ways.
We may be making a trip to Beijing again within the next month (partially to take the new teachers but also partially because we’ve literally been to all the places on our list that are convenient for us to get to without a car or a Chinese guide). Datong is eight hours on a regular train one way (which just doesn’t seem worth it to me), Zhangjiajie is truly out of the way to anyone without car, and Huangshan is a day-long journey one way on a train with the need for several hours of bus riding after that. We’ve seen all the big places on our list though, so I’m not feeling like we’re missing out on anything from our decisions. It just means we will do less traveling this semester to new places. Turns out there’s a five-hour bullet train ride from here to Shanghai so we may have to head back to that mega-city to round out our year in China (since that’s where the whole adventure began).
Thank you for reading and until next time,