January 2011 Archives

Shuang Lang = Fun ; Lijang = Not Fun

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My first stop after leaving Yongbao was Shuang Lang, a Bai town across from Dali. Nestled on Ear Lake (Erhai), Shuang Lang offers a bucolic view of not only the lake, but also the mountains and surrounding farms. I stayed at a place called Sky & Sea Lodge, where I met some interesting people. I had intended on staying for only a day, but ended up staying for three. You can find a more detailed account of my trip here.

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Unfortunately, after my time in Shuang Lang, I had to go to Lijiang to catch a flight to Chengdu. I stayed in Lijiang for two days. There were a lot of obnoxious tourists, the town was filled with tourist traps, and the food was pretty terrible. In fact, I'm trying to forget my time there, so I'm going to stop writing about it. At least I saw some people shooting a film:

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One Last Look at Yongbao

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We're on vacation! Since there were no lessons to plan and no more tests to grade, Sam and I decided to go on a bike ride. That orange speck is Sam riding down the mountain.

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Motivational Speech

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To motivate my students, I've tried yelling, I've tried cajoling and I've tried bribing, all to limited success. The night before my class's final exam, I decided to be honest, and scare them into studying harder. Recently, while speaking with a local teacher, he told me that after winter break, a lot of the students drop out, either to stay at home or to become laborers. That some of my 7th grade students will drop out and work in a factory is one of my greatest fears. I am worried that while they will be able to find a good paying job now, but once China moves up the value chain away from producing cheap goods, my students will be left jobless.

Before I began my fear mongering, I had one of my students draw a map of China on the board. Next to her map of China, I drew an outline of the United States. My outline of the United States was much larger than her drawing of China, perhaps because of a subconscious need for the US to dominate China. I started the class by asking my students if they had any friends or family working in factories. Almost all of them raised their hands. I called on Dennis and asked him where the factory was and what the factory produced.

"I have family that works in Anhui, producing fish!" Dennis said.

"That might not be the best example. Anyone else? " I asked.

"Yeah! I also have family that works in Kunming producing shoes"

"Great! That'll work," I said before seeing if they knew where the shoes produced in Kunming might be sold. Most said China. I pointed to the United States and told them that many of the products produced in China were bought in the United States because they were cheaper to make in China.

"Americans are just too rich!" Tracy yelled from the back of the classroom. He, like always, was attempting to hijack my lesson and make everyone laugh.

"No. That's not it. Anyway, have you noticed any price changes in the cafeteria recently?"

"It's cheaper! The government gives us subsidies," Mark, my most precocious student replied. It took me a while to finally get someone to admit that food prices had increased (It's ridiculous! My meals have gone from 50 cents to 90 cents). Then I turned to the board and tried to explain that wages were a part of the cost of producing shoes, and if food prices kept on rising, then the shoes would no longer be cheap, thus forcing factory owners to relocate. To highlight this, I tacked on a sickly looking drawing of India to China, and started haphazardly drawing lines from China to India.

"Look!" I yelled. "You might be able to find a job now, but in 10 or 20 years, you'll be unemployed. You're going to have kids, but you won't have a high school diploma, much less a college degree."

"We'll just go with you to America," Tracy laughed.

"Really? Really?" I said, spittle flying. "You think you can get a job in America without graduating high school? The same thing has already happened in America. Some people who used to make steel in America can't anymore because it's cheaper to make in China. If you don't work hard in school, you'll be broke and no one will want to hire you."

After this bit of hyperbole, my class was silent. Part of me felt like I was lying to them, since even if they did get a college education, it might be worthless. Even so, I started my lesson, trusting that they had been scared straight.

Epilogue

So did my motivational speech work? Well, afterwards, I over heard one of my students, Liz, say, "America is going to take away our jobs." Also, one of my other students, Clint, never showed up for my night class's second period.

The final exam grades weren't as good as I hoped. We'll see how they perform next semester, though. I'm expecting everyone to come back. For now, I'm content with wandering Asia for the next month and a half during winter break.

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My Favorite Basketball Player is Sell Dog Jordan

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It's finals season, so I've spent more time these past few weeks trying to cram some knowledge into these kids' heads. Normally, when I introduce vocabulary, I see some students writing Chinese characters next to English words. I figured they were transliterating the English words into Chinese, thus destroying my vain attempts at teaching phonics. I wasn't sure, though, until I picked on one student's book and found the characters "愛死"next to the word "ice." "愛死" means "love to die" in Chinese, but is pronounced "ai si," just like "ice." It's just another problem I'll have to deal with next semester.

After the "ai si" discovery, as I spent more and more time with them in casual settings, I realized that they had not only transliterated the vocabulary, but the English names I gave them as well. Before starting teaching we were warned not to name any students "Ben" because it sounds like the Chinese word "" which means stupid. However, it turns out that any English name can be turned into something ridiculous:

"Michael"

Transliteration: 賣狗(Mai Gou)

Chinese translation: Sell Dog

"Sasha"

Transliteration: 傻傻 (Sha Sha)

Chinese translation: Foolish

"Taj"

Transliteration: 他死 (Ta Si)

Chinese Translation: He die

"Steve"

Transliteration: 吃豆腐 (Chi Dou Fu

Chinese Translation: Literally it means to "Eat Tofu," but more colloquially it means "to flirt" or  "to grope."

There were some steps in the evolution of Steve's name, but I think I missed them. These rascals also keep on saying the words "Yellow Book" because in Chinese it means porn. I keep on trying to explain that in English, a "Yellow Book" is just a directory filled with phone numbers.