Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Best wishes on your 60th

On October 1, China will throw itself a birthday party like we've never seen before. The People's Republic is celebrating 60 years -- a momentous occasion indeed.

The current government has presided over significant progress in the past few decades. China has modernized. It has become an economic giant. It has its sights set on the moon! What's more, it is said that China has lifted more people out of poverty in the last 30 years than any country, ever. The World Food Programme issued this release in 2005: "Since WFP began working in China in 1979, the Government has lifted some 300 million of its people out of extreme poverty. This immense achievement is a tribute to the commitment of its leaders and the diligence and dynamism of its people," Morris said.

Have you ever thought to thank China for supplying us with inexpensive goods? How about for their contributions to science and technology programs at universities all over the West?

Today is a day to be thankful for the good things coming out of China and to send our best wishes to her people. China, thank you for welcoming me as a guest to your wonderful country. Happy 60th birthday!

Ghost Town

1) Shandong Province. Qingdao is on the coast.
2) Receiving the news about our holiday.
3) Me and the corn harvest.
4) Husking corn.
5) Stupid chicken stupid egg restaurant.

Chinese phrase of the day: 坐 火 车 zuò huŏchē (to take a train). At midnight tonight, I will board a night train to Qingdao, where one of my student Angela lives. I had been praying for an opportunity to go home with a student, so I'm excited for this answer to prayer. I will stay with her for a few days and then return to Qufu.

Remember when I said we didn't know if we would have our October holiday? Then we were told that the holiday was still on. Hooray! On Saturday night, we got a call from the foreign affairs director. Uh oh. I was biking with my teammate Lisa at the time, and we were sure they were going to tell us that the holiday was canceled after all. She answered the call, only to be told that 12 students on campus had swine flu, so October holiday would begin immediately. In just a few days, our holiday had gone from 8 days to 1 day to 8 days to 12 days. That's China -- plans can't keep up with changes!

Due to the flu on campus, the university sent all the students home. It's like a ghost town now, with only a few students remaining. They are strictly monitoring the campus gates, taking temperatures and checking IDs of everyone who enters and exits. For foolhardy foreign teachers like ourselves, who are in no way afraid of a little flu, the news has meant an extra four days to relax and enjoy Qufu. We spent an afternoon biking outside town, where the corn harvest makes everything colorful and bright. We discovered a restaurant where you eat in little huts and enjoy fresh free range chicken from the restaurant's "stupid chicken stupid egg selling department." (One of the best Chinglish signs I've seen so far!) It's been really nice to have a break.

Today I will pack, clean, and finish grading my students' writing homework. Then it's off to the coast!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Happy Holidays Indeed!

We received word yesterday morning that we will, in fact, have an 8-day holiday for National Day (Oct. 1) and Mid-Autumn Day (Oct. 3). Hooray! I will probably go home with a student to Qingdao for a few days and then return to Qufu for the rest of the break.

The pictures above are from the big singing contest held on campus last night to honor China's 60th anniversary. Different departments have been practicing their songs for weeks. The contest began at 7:00 in Confucius square, with the singers performing on brightly lit steps and thousands of people watching in the square. Every performance followed the same sequence: The singers filed onto the steps in rigid rows, with the most beautiful girls in the front row, the plain girls behind them, and the men in the back. Often several men in military dress waved a Chinese flag behind the singers. An elegantly dressed announcer would say a few words, and then the singers would burst into a patriotic tune. Most of the songs were recycled several times through the evening, with some songs being sung twice in a row by different groups. In spite of the lack of variety, I enjoyed being part of a big crowd listening to music on a beautiful fall evening. And I learned something about China: Tradition trumps innovation.

The pictures above show:
1) Students practicing on the afternoon before the contest
2) Spectators covering every square inch of Confucius's statue
3) Singing
4) Some of my students after performing their song

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Picture Parade

A few photos for your enjoyment: My first horse sighting on the streets of Qufu, my first package (thanks, Mom and Dad!), playing Spoons in my apartment at free talk, and laundry hung on the wall in the center of the old city.

Happy Holidays

Chinese word of the day: 国庆节 guóqìng jié. Guoqing jie is the National Holiday of the People's Republic of China, and it is coming up on October 1. This year marks China's 60th anniversary, and preparations for a big celebration and military parade in Beijing have been going on for the past few months. Preparations are also in full swing here, and I often hear patriotic songs wafting through my window as various departments prepare their numbers for the big singing competition tomorrow night.

All Chinese generally have a week off at the beginning of October to celebrate National Day. However, due to H1N1 and security concerns, rumors have been flying:
"They might not allow us to go home for October Holiday."
"They might quarantine us all on campus." (This has happened in a few schools in my province, due to H1N1.)
"October Holiday probably will not be canceled."
"October Holiday definitely will be canceled."
"October Holiday will be only one day instead of 8."

And on and on. We may not have any official information, but doggone it -- we have rumors to make up for it. Today many of my students said that October Holiday will be reduced to a single day, although I am not sure where they heard this. In America, it would be the equivalent of canceling Thanksgiving break a week before Thanksgiving. My homesick freshmen especially will be disappointed if they can't go home for holiday.

In unrelated news (or is it?), my method of accessing Facebook, Blogspot, and other such sites is no longer working. So I will be blogging via e-mail, which means I can't see your comments and my pictures might not get formatted right. Thanks for bearing with me!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Alison, Part 5

For the final post in this series, I will answer the most common question I receive from students: Why did you come to China to teach?

I came to China because the need for English is great, and the need for hope is greater.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Everything you Never Wanted to Know about Alison, Part 4

A few fun questions from students:

"Would you give us an interesting and special writing class?" (That's a tall order!)

"What are the days of American college really like?  Is that the same as High School Music -- a movie?"  (Yes, exactly.)

"Do you want to live in China, get marry, give birth to a baby in China?" (This one cracks me up.)

"As you love traveling, do you have something that you like to take with you when you travel to another place?  (Something special, not toothpaste.)"  (Actually, since you can't get it in China, my Aquafresh toothpaste is pretty special to me.)

"Can you feel or smell the difference in air between Iowa and China?"  (The air feels and smells almost the same around Qufu.  But can you SEE the difference in air between Iowa and China?  Yes, yes you can.)

Everything you Never Wanted to Know about Alison, Part 3

A Common Student Question:  What's the deal with speech pathology?

Variations: "Why do you come to China instead of doing the job related to your major in America?"
"Would you like to explain some detail information about your major?"
"What do you think about your major?  Do you like your job in the hospital?"
"Why do you choose to be a foreign teacher in China and what's the relationship between your major, speech pathology, and an English teacher?

On the first day of class, I told my students that my degree was in speech pathology.  You've never seen 30 electronic dictionaries whipped out so fast!  The field is practically non-existent in China (except maybe in the big cities), so they have no idea what it is.

I loved my job as a speech pathologist at the University of Iowa Hospital.  My degree is only distantly related to what I am doing now, but my knowledge of linguistics and pronunciation do come in handy sometimes.  Maybe I will return to speech pathology someday, but for now I am content as an English teacher in China.

Everything you Never Wanted to Know about Alison, Part 2

A Common Student Question:  What do you think of China?

Variations: "What's your impression of China and Qufu City?"
"What is your impression of China through your traveling?"
"What's your first expression of Qufu?"

My usual response:  "I like it!"

China captures my interest.  It is funny, infuriating, amusing, confusing; developing but staying the same, moving forward but looking backward.  I (usually) like the uncertainty and mystery of living here, because it keeps me questioning.  And, of course, I like the food.

As for Qufu, it is a small-ish, quiet city with a 3,000 year history.  As far as I know it, I like it.

Qufu's city wall, which encompasses the town center

Everything you Never Wanted to Know about Alison, Part 1

As an introductory activity, I had my students each write three questions for me.  The questions could be about anything -- about the course, about me, about American culture, or whatever.  I take them to class and answer one or two questions whenever we have a stray minute.

Here is a sampling: 

"How many years will you stay in China?" (Answer: At least 2)
"Do you play football?" (Answer: Yeah right!)
"What is your hometown famous for?" (Answer: Umm... UNI?)
"What does the number 4 mean in your culture?" (Answer: Nothing.  Definitely not "death," like it means here.)

This week, I will take some time to answer some of the most common questions.  Stay tuned.

Friday, September 18, 2009

September 18

I was teaching a junior writing class this morning when sirens began going off outside.  I asked my students what they were for, and they told me that sirens sound every September 18 to mark the anniversary of Japan's invasion of China (almost 80 years ago).  "That's interesting," I said, and told them that the same siren is used in my part of the world to warn people of coming tornadoes.

During the break, one of the students raised her hand to tell me a bit more information.  She explained that they remember the anniversary because the Japanese "did very terrible things," and to her, it wasn't "interesting;" it was tragic.  She was wiping away tears as she said this.

I learned two things:
1) Japan's invasion of China is not a distant memory here.  In some ways, the wounds are still fresh.
2) Be careful that I don't take the tragedies of another culture lightly, even unintentionally.

I think the following quote demonstrates the Chinese mindset on this issue:
"A nation should never forget the trauma it suffered and its people should have sirens wailing in their hearts forever." Qi Shenhong, researcher with the provincial Party school in northeast China's Liaoning Province.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Big Man on Campus

In America, I'm a quiet girl of average appearance and an average-sized group of friends.  In China, I have a beautiful smile and an elegant figure; hundreds of students know who I am, and most of them want to talk to me.

Want to be a celebrity?  Come be a foreigner in China. 

Monday, September 14, 2009

An Agricultural Excursion

Chinese word of the day: farm.  I don't know how to say "farm" in Chinese, and I can't quite figure out which character is most appropriate, so I will leave it to you to research.

Yesterday I took a Sunday afternoon jaunt just outside Qufu.  I biked out the north gate of campus, and within 3 minutes I was cruising along amid corn, beans, and cotton.  There's nothing like a good corn field to make an Iowa girl's heart happy. :)  

Two middle-aged women were harvesting these bundles by hand and stacking them on the carts.  Anyone know what crop it is?

This woman saw the camera dangling off my wrist and really wanted me to take a picture of the kiddo.  So I did!  The language barrier is killer in situations like these; I would have loved to stay and chat in the village, but we couldn't communicate.

These schoolgirls turned around every 30 seconds or so to look at the foreigner biking behind them.

The blur on the right is an older gentleman picking cotton by the side of the road.

I've biked on this road twice now.  It is smooth and wide, with two lanes and a median.  And yet, there is very little traffic other than farmers on their bikes and a very occasional car.  

Thanks for joining me on my jaunt outside Qufu.  I hope there are many more to come.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Promised Land

Today my teammate Tarah and I hopped on a bus to Jinan, the capital of our province.  We wanted to buy some goods that are not available in Qufu.  Here are some of the items I bought:
  • Floss
  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Chocolate Chips
  • Paprika
  • Plastic Spatula
  • USB cord
  • Clothespins
  • Curry Paste
  • Pudding
  • Bacon
  • Tortillas
Another treat:  I got to have lunch with a family that used to be my neighbors back in Iowa City!   Cissy was doing some work at the University of Iowa Hospital for a couple years, and we got to know them before they moved back to China.  Here are some memories of Cissy and her daughter, Cynthia, at my apartment back in Iowa:



It was the first time since leaving the U.S. that I've seen someone I've known longer than two months.  Thank God for old friends, and for Jinan -- a land flowing with butter and chocolate chips.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Happy Teachers' Day!

It's Teachers' Day in China.  Last night, the foreign teachers had a welcome banquet with the president of the college and some other school officials.  It was a beautiful feast with 27 different dishes.  There were many toasts given to celebrate China's 25th annual teachers' day.

Today I received cards from two of my classes.  Junior class one writes, "We express our great gratitude to you for leading us to a fantastic world of English writing."  I hope it will be just as fantastic as they anticipate. 

Happy Teachers' Day to all the current and former teachers reading this, whatever country you're in. :)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Movie Night

Our junior video class had their first movie showing tonight: Father of the Bride.  The purpose of video class is to teach advanced listening, speaking, and culture through American movies.

All four sections (about 130 students) sat in wooden desks in one of the large classrooms to watch the movie.  It was so fun!  These students are every movie-maker's dream come true -- they laugh at every joke, "aww" at every touching moment, and gasp at every unexpected event.  My favorite part was when the girl's fiance was introduced in the movie.  When he made his appearance, a little ripple of happy surprise went through the room.  So dreamy!

Around Campus

Chinese word of the day: 大学 da xue (university).  I have enjoyed learning about campus life here at Qufu Normal University, which has around 20,000 students and several thousand staff.  The campus is walled off from the streets, and you can freely come and go through several gates.  It takes about 15 minutes to walk from one side of campus to the other.

Here are a few photos to help you get a feel for the campus:

This is the foreign language building that I teach in.

There aren't just students on campus; you can always see people of all ages, including grandmas with their toddlers, older men on the exercise equipment, and other folks just doing their jobs.  I wonder where this guy is going.


Students walking into one of the larger classroom buildings.  Note all the hot water thermoses by the door.  Students fill these so they have drinking water in their dorms, but they can't take them into the classrooms so they pile up outside.  (Not only do the dorms lack hot water, they apparently don't have showers either.  There is a building near my apartment that the students walk to when they want to take a shower.)

Orange tents everywhere on freshman move-in day.

Based on my observations, this photo captures the "three essentials" for freshman move-in: the big blue bag, the thermos, and the plastic basin.  Almost everyone had some combination of these three items.

They are painting a sign to commemorate October 1st, the 60th anniversary of this government.

China has these blue and yellow exercise playgrounds everywhere.  There is a large one by a track near our apartments. 

Good to know my work-out options include monkey bars! 

Monday, September 7, 2009

Adventures in Cooking

Today I tried to make a marinara sauce for my noodles and chicken.  Lesson learned: Ketchup is not an acceptable substitute for tomato paste.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

First Week in the Classroom

Chinese word of the day: 教室 jiao shi (classroom).

I finally made it into the classroom!  I had been really looking forward to meeting my students, and so far they have proved just as delightful as I expected them to be.  Here are a few of them in their own words, taken from writing samples from writing class:

On themselves: 

"I am a careful boy, so careful that I can't believe it."

"I like chatting with others, and I am very active.  Sports are my most favorite hobbies.  I like playing basketball, badminton, and table tennis.  I like the sentence 'No pains, no gains' very much.  It encourages me when I was in trouble.  I think I will be successful in the future."

"My personality has been changed a lot since I came into the university.  It is a great change for me from a shy girl to a girl who fears no failure."

On their future goals:

"My dream is to become an interpreter in the future.  I know it won't be easy to achieve this dream, because to become an interpreter one should have a very good pronunciation, a very wide range of knowledge and also diligence and persistence."

"I want to be an English teacher in a junior high school.  I admire the teachers who can be the friend of their students, so I want to be one of them.  I don't need a very high salary, as long as I can support the basic need of my family.  I'll marry a man who loves me most, and we'll live with our parents.  We'll go to visit the grandparents once a week, and take them to travel with us once a year."

"I hope to live an exciting life.  Maybe I will own a small shop."

On the life of a college student in China:

"In China, entering a college, at first, means you have finished the hard times in high school.  We don't need to have such pressures any more."

"We are busy studying every day... To get up early and have no time for eating.  To have classes all morning and then have our lunch.  After a noon break we have classes in the afternoon.  Doing some sports and reading then and preparing for next class.  Campus life is simple and happy.  You can get away from the terrible society.  But I often feel boring and tired of it."

"Our college life is colorful to some extent. We don't need to concentrate on our school work all day and we have enough free time to do our favorite things, such as reading novels, watching movies.  The most common thing we do in college is to do a part-time job... So we can say our college life consists of study and work.  Monday to Friday are our study days and weekends are our work days.  I love it!"

Aren't they great?  Those are all from juniors.  This week, I taught two sections of junior video and a section of junior writing.  (I have another one tomorrow.)  Eventually I will also have two sections of freshman oral English, but that won't start for a few weeks since they are doing required military training.  

We have a team meeting in a few minutes.  I'll try to update more later!