We had a great weekend introducing the girls to some more of Baoding.
During our adventures we found a new restaurant in the He Da (Hebei Daxue/University) alley (where our bread people are) that served what’s essentially sweet and sour chicken (plus two more dishes we ordered)!
I got to see Duncan teach a class for the first time:
And I had my first experience with a Korean restaurant when we went with the girls and Lex. I tried Kimchi, a Korean tea, a kind of potato pancakes, kimchi bread, marinated peanuts, some mysterious green stuff, and super squishy tofu all for the first time (I liked all of it but the tofu). And while everyone else ordered one-bowl dishes, Duncan and I, in the way that is quite normal for us, ordered a bit more extravagantly and got a dish called “the whole pig”. The middle of the table had a grill in it and a waiter cooked our platter of pork right in front of us. It was probably the most delicious meat I’ve ever eaten and I would go back their daily if I could afford it.
My students have been hilarious when they see Caitlin and Haley in the hallway talking to me in between classes or when I introduce them to the class. All of the students gather in the doorway to catch a glimpse of them when we’re in the hallway and once we’re in the classroom, the students are torn between being really excited about a new teacher they want to get to know and being afraid and nervous. Almost all of our classes have been better behaved than they normally are because Haley or Caitlin is sitting in the back and the students aren’t yet sure what will happen to them if they misbehave in front of the new foreign teachers.
When I introduce them to the class all of my students ask them the same few questions: What’s your favorite food? What’s your favorite sport? How old are you? But yesterday one of my sixth grade students asked me a question I wasn’t expecting – “Aiisa (Alyssa) why do you have yellow hair and your friend has brown hair?” She worked so hard to say that correctly in English that I felt bad when the only answer I could give her was “I don’t know”. But that question really highlighted a unique feature of American people. Since Americans, historically at least, are a mix of many different groups of people, our features can vary dramatically. So while we, as Caucasian Americans, expect diversity in our looks (such as brown and blonde hair, brown and blue eyes, different nose, eye, and mouth shapes), Chinese people aren’t used to that kind of variation. Almost all Han Chinese people (and many other homogenous racial groups) have black hair and black eyes. Of course they have variation in their features as well but it’s not nearly as dramatic as two white girls from the US both with drastically different hair and skin colors as well as feature variation. In the same class, many students kept asking me if Haley and I were sisters. At first I laughed at thought that it was a ridiculous question but then once I thought about it more I realized that they might think we look a lot alike as foreigners just as a lot of people say all Asian people look alike if they’re not used to seeing it. For example, when I first got here, I confused a lot of my students because I wasn’t tuned in to how their features are different but now I notice the differences in my students without even thinking about it. I’m sure they were doing the same thing I used to do.
Today I sat in on a Chinese-English class and was very impressed and interested to see how Chinese teachers teach English to Chinese students. Though it wasn’t what I was expecting, this particular teacher, I thought, did an excellent job at making sure the students really comprehensively understood the English words and phrases they were learning. Still, as in all of my classes, students tend to add an –a sound to the end of words that end in consonants. Whereas we say “park”, Chinese students often say “park-a”. I suspect that this is because Chinese language words don’t often end with a hard sound and I don’t think they even hear themselves adding the extra sound a lot of the time.
After the class Caitlin, Haley, Li Laoshi, three Chinese teachers, and I had a meeting that ended up lasting almost two hours. We spent the time giving feedback about the class that we watched along with the classes the girls have watched and then had a really long discussion comparing the two education systems. One of the things that struck me the most that came out of this meeting were the ideas of respect and educational entitlement. In China, getting a good education is definitely seen as more of a privilege and thus leads to some more respect for the teachers from the students. In the US, students often feel entitled towards their education and frequently have an attitude of “the teacher must earn my respect”. I think this combined with the characteristics of individualistic and communal societies, respectively, has a lot to do with how the students behave in the classroom in each system. Developing your individual person and asking the question “why” is a big deal in the US and while I think that is a great thing most of the time, it can also lead to students believing or saying, “I don’t see the point behind doing what this teacher says so I’m not going to”. That situation is almost unheard of in the Chinese system. Students do their homework when it is assigned and they pretty freely give the expected authority and respect to their Chinese teachers. However, when respect isn’t used to maintain the student’s behavior in the classroom, it seems that fear fills that gap. The Chinese teachers we talked to today said that they assign more homework to bad students but throughout our time here, we’ve also become aware that corporal punishment is not absent in Chinese schools and is also frequently a source of fear for these students. China, as I learned from Li Laoshi today, is actively making a conscious effort to eliminate corporal punishment from within the schools, but still seems unsure of how to maintain good classroom management in its absence.
Today has been a very educational day. Thursday I’m hoping to see some of the art classes offered at the school and at some point in the future I hope to sit in on a middle school Chinese English class and also a regular Chinese class. I’m very interested in seeing how the different classes are taught to different ages and with different subjects.
To finish the day, Li Laoshi called me into her office after my last class and said she had something to give me. Once in the office, she reached under her desk and plopped a giant watermelon into my arms. I said thank you but then asked her why because it seemed really random and she said “because you have been so good”. And then when I said thank you again she said “what do you think about the reason?” Confused, I said, “it’s very nice”. She laughed and as she walked away she just said “you can decide on the good reason!” So I said thank you again and carried my gifted watermelon upstairs with me. I think it was intended to be a gift of thanks since Duncan and I have helped her a lot with acclimating the new teachers to Baoding and the school, but I was very confused. It’s a great way to end the day though.
Next week we are going to Beijing for a few days over our May Day holiday. We’re excited to revisit some of the places we toured when we first went to Beijing in October over National Day with our friends from North Carolina. This year seems to be rounding out quite nicely.
Thank you for reading and until next time,