Oddities of daily life in China
01.11.2011 - 13.12.2012 17 °C
Hong Kong from the Peak
I can't believe my second year in China is almost half way through all ready. Times are really flying by; every week, I struggle through Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with a challenging schedule that leaves me extremely tired and with a sore throat from so much talking by the end of Wednesday night, and then comes along Thursday when I feel the weekend has arrived because I have the morning free.
My days here are far from boring, though. I had a funny sight the other day when, for some reason, the canteen was open out of lunch hours and students were enjoying an extra feast. Across the courtyard, students were emerging from the gymnasium, all pinching their arms over their heads with big bandages, as if they've just returned from war. They were ecstatic to show me the pin prick they got from having a blood test. Needless to say, the rest of my day's lessons were near impossible to teach due to the students fascination with the pin prick in their arm. Many used this excuse to need to go to the bathroom because of the 'pain' they were in, while others flaunted their bandages with pride, making sure to keep it pin prick up on their desk and to only use their un-injured arm to write and lift books.
This particular lesson, which was about good excuses, was made more interesting when I'd give the students a scenario where I found a dog on the street that was hungry so I brought him inside and my mom didn't know I had him and then the dog went to the WC everywhere. Whenever I got to this point in the scenario, the students all yell 'kill it!' or 'eat it!'.... not exactly the reaction I'm looking for.
It's doesn't just stop at dogs, either. When given the scenario of one of their fellow students stealing some things from a store, when I asked what they would do with him when they caught him, their reaction was the same, 'kill him!'. I then ask them how the student might possibly be found innocent if he went to court. I was looking for 'no evidence' or that he has a 'good excuse', but their first answer is always 'money!'.
A mangosteen fruit- something I'd never come across before coming here. Tasty!
Roger and I both taught Thanksgiving lessons, around the time of Thanksgiving. When Roger's colleagues asked what his lesson was on this week, and he replied Thanksgiving, their response was, 'but the students don't know much about Thanksgiving?'.
'Yes, that is why I am teaching them about it,'
'but.... but.... they don't know about Thanksgiving'.
And it carried on in circles like so. After the 'English Weekly' teaching magazine came out the following day with a Thanksgiving article in it, the teachers couldn't be more interested in Thanksgiving. It's like their saying, 'the first bird out of the nest gets shot'.
This Thanksgiving lesson was in absolute dire need. As I was sitting in my office, I had class loads of students asking permission to come into the teachers office to walk around in bunches of 50 students to their teachers desks yelling 'THANKYOU!'; next desk, 'THANKYOU' again, and so on until all the teachers looked absolutely chuffed with themselves. Confused, I asked what was happening, 'Oh, don't you know, it's Thanks-giving today, Anna'. Of course it is.....
I had a brilliant film clip from the Friends TV series for my Thanksgiving lesson. Film clips are a great way to show the cultural meaning of holidays. So after 20 minutes discussing Thanksgiving and the meaning, I put the film clip on the projector screen to show the students. The problem with our classrooms is that two of the 4 walls are all windows; one wall has curtains, but the other doesn't so it can be tough in the early afternoon to see the projector screen at all. So of course, I turned off all the lights to show it as best as possible. Soon after, a colleague knocked on the door, called me over, and said 'Anna, it would be best for you to turn the lights on so you do not damage the students eyes'. Please keep in mind this was by no means a dark-movie theatre experience, instead it was full-midday light within the classroom. How can they explain starring at laptops for 15 hours a day, and through entire weekends?
Coffee with a great view at the Peak, Hong Kong
After Thanksgiving, I always know Christmas is just around the corner when Starbucks starts their christmas drinks and brings out their red cups. In China, Starbucks (xin bu ke, in Chinese) got confused this year with 'Lets gather' and 'Be Merry' because their slogan this year was 'LET's MERRY'.
Roger and I thought it'd be a brilliant idea to teach the students Christmas carol's in our classes, and then have a short christmas caroling school assembly one evening. We asked our mentor to contact the head of the school to see if this would be possible. We were confused that we had to do this at all as they frequently have full-school gatherings in the auditorium (such as the art/talent show I'm going to see tonight), and every morning at 10:30 am when they do their morning exercises and having announcements. Any ways, fully confident we'd be able to do this, we started planning our christmas decorations. A few days later, we were questioned whether we had done this last year at the Guangzhou campus- which we hadn't done. Quickly, we had the response; 'With your christmas songs, The school says that such a big assembly is illegal here. It is even illegal at universities here. Guangzhou haven't done this before so it is not allowed for us to do it'. Sooo our christmas sing-a-long was banned. I'm convinced that one forward thinking school somewhere in China will allow it, and it will make headlines and probably also make the school very popular for parents, as they always want to be involved in cultural/western activities, and then schools will be dying for us to do this sing-a-long! Again, the first bird out of the nest gets shot.
So, china really doesn't do christmas... at all. Like they kind of sort of have an idea of what it is, but by no means actually understand what happens or how big of a holiday it is. Anyways, so, as iI'm hired as a sort of cultural ambassador, I decorated my desk with two handmade white paper cutout snowflakes to bring in some of the cultural aspect of christmas.
Very soon after, a colleague of mine, who is pretty high up in the communist party of the school (51% of the school is run by communist party, and 49% privately), came over to my desk to ask about Christmas. As I was explaining what the traditions are, O pointed out the snowflakes as a means of bringing in some of the culture I miss from home. The snowflakes were shot down- pretty strictly- apparently they should be red. Why? because the communist party is red, and white is 'against the communist party' and it means death to the people.... I was advised to take my two handmade snowflakes down... even after i explained that they are not the red paper cut outs they make at spring festival (like pictures of rabbits for the rabbit year, etc), but they are snowflakes (dont think he understood at all what snowflakes were even after i tried my best). So... my christmas joy is back to square one. im back to no christmas carols or peppermint mochas.... or snow... or 'merry christmas's' from people... or any christmas spirit!!!!
The tram going back down from the Peak, Hong Kong
The last class I had with my Senior 1 students (the second to last class I had with them before the Spring Festival), they approached me at the end of the class saying 'Anna, do we have an exam next class', 'No, no exams for my class this semester', 'Oh, but our teacher told us you were giving us an exam next week'. So I went to talk to their teacher to inquire why the students were told I was giving them an exam without me even knowing I was meant to be giving an exam. Keep in mind that in the start of the year I asked about 10 times whether I would need to record grades for the students, as I was caught in a similar dilemma last year, and they replied 'no no not here you don't have to'. So I went to see the senior 1 teacher, who had time to tell me that I need to give them all a grade, 'But I only have one 40 minute lesson with each class left now!' I said. That's about as far as our conversation got before the teacher's eyes rolled back in her head, her head hit her desk and she fell of her chair crumpled onto the floor. Oh my god. It was just me and her, and then a few chinese teachers at the other side of the office. If only I could remember how to say 'help!' in Chinese, this was the point I really needed it. I think my desperate 'HELP HELP HELP!' came across as people looked over and took over from me, calling the nurses. She was out cold for another 10 minutes, but I think she is fine now. I really need to learn how to say 'help!' in chinese...
So my exam issue was left unressolved. I spoke to my mentor about it, who said 'oh, don't worry, you can just give them each a few minutes of talking and give them a grade on that' 'But I only have 40 minutes with each class left and there are 50 students in each class! I don't have time to do this now.' I was really frustrated that I had only found out from the students, and that the teachers couldn't have told me previously I needed to do this. So I needed to produce immediate grades for 250 students who I would only see one more time before the Spring Festival (end of semester). I have resorted in giving them a written exam, as giving them a speaking exam which would inevitably be 4-5 minutes per student which is 21 hours of giving exams, and frankly, I don't have that time. Though I do have to be grateful that they didn't ask the same for my Junior 1 students because an Oral English exam of 4 minutes each would add up to 64 hours (with no breaks).
Outside Madamme Tussauds, Hong Kong
Another funny logic story to leave you with: Roger's friend from England came to visit China and unfortunately lost his passport while he was in Hunan province. After a registering it with the police department and getting emergency travel documents he had a long trip down to Guangzhou to attempt to replace his passport and make his flight out 5 days later from Hong Kong. Roger accompanied him in Guangzhou to try and sort it out. He should have, apparently, registered it lost at a different police station 300 KM north from where he was in Hunan, so there was a point where there was a big possibility he would have to travel back to re-register the loss of the passport. Meanwhile, the staff in Guangzhou told them 'come back at 1 o'clock', Roger checked with them that they would be there at 1 o'clock, and when they came back they said 'No, come back at 2.' So his friend also needed a hotel to stay in. As his passport was lost he had his emergency travel documents with him, and the ladie behind the desk says 'but we need your passport'
'But he doesn't have his passport, it is lost, that's why he has these papers'
'But where is his visa? we need visa.'
'It is in his passport'
'so we need his passport'
'But his passport is lost that is why we are here'... and so on and so on. Good news is that after a few very frustrating days, his friend has sorted out the passport, and I think he is leaving China with some very frustrating memories.
Similar story- for my Christmas lesson this week I have a short film clip, again, that I wanted to show with the subtitles in English so they can read and listen to it. I asked a colleague for help as I was really struggling to sort it out 'I need the subtitles for the movie I have for my class'
'After school you mean you want to show them a movie on thursday?'
'No, a short movie in the class. I need the writing so they can read the words while they watch the movie'
'Oh it's a christmas movie? maybe the movie is called 'Christmas' '
'I have the movie already. I know the name of the movie, but I need the words for under it. Can you help me find them online because I cannot read the Chinese on the website to download the words?'
'Oh, so whats the name of the movie?'
'oh, we don't have that word in Chinese.'
'It's the name of the movie, I just need the words so they can read it'
'Oh you can look at this website..'
'oh great, can you show me?'
'It's blocked in the teachers office'
'Oh ok, how about in our apartments?'
'It's fine there, you can find it there. But I think it will be very difficult for you to do this because you can't read Chinese'
And so that was that! Resolution-less. I did manage to sort it out eventually myself though
I've also included some photos of our weekend trips over to Hong kong. We've been a handful of times to set up banking to transfer our money back home because after 1 1/2 years of trying to solve this problem in China, we've found that every means possible of moving our money abroad is blocked for us. But we've had a really clear one day so we went up the Peak and had a great view.
Merry Christmas Everyone!
Me, at the top of the peak in Hong Kong