Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Anatomy of a classroom... and a pig

After this evening's banquet, Shannon and I were walking home with one of the English teachers (a very classy woman, probably in her early fourties). We learned a couple of new things. We learned that the 24 classes that we teach is about double what the normal teacher at the school will do. Yeah. We teach a double load. Joy. No wonder we're always wiped. We also learned from Mr. He, that instead of roughly 1300 students, Shannon teaches 1600+ students, and I teach a whopping1700+. :P Do you know how many people that is? It's like teaching a 10th of BYU-I's students. And they want us to remember their names.... Uh....

Also, I have a new item to add to the litany of strange un-eatable edibles that have graced my palate in the last few years. In Argentina I ate just about every part of the cow and pig imaginable, and nearly every piece of the digestive tract, from tongue to small intestine. Here in China I have had snake, tortoise, frog, chicken feet and head, a fish eye (that one was mostly just gooey), and the "hundred-year eggs." (They take an egg, cover it in ashes and pine-needles and then bury it for a month. Then they eat it. Who dared who to start that one?) I have a new one. Can you guess? I don't think you will. I'll give you a hint. It's part of a pig. Mr. He told me it is to help make a man stronger. Yup. You guessed it. Pig Penis. :) Yumm!!

Just thought I would share that with you all. (Shannon wouldn't eat any)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chinese Roller Coaster


Yes, we rode this.  It made me nervous, not gonna lie... but it was fun!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Culture...?

The bus bumps along the windy mountain road. Our tour guide is talking, but in Chinese of course; apparently he’s funny though, because the people in the seats around me are laughing. I squeeze my husband’s hand and stare out the window, trying to ignore the smell of body odor emanating from members of a culture that has yet to discover deodorant.

We are en route to the LongJi rice terraces, about a three-hour bus ride from our hotel in Yangshuo. The tour guide explains in English that we will first visit the village of the native Yao people, who are famous for their women’s long hair (sometimes 2 meters long), and then take a local bus up the mountain to where we can hike around the terraces.

As we pull up and then alight from the bus, my eyes fall on a couple of small restaurants in the buildings before us. Then, piranha-like, they are upon us.

“Hello! Look!”

“Hello! Beautiful!”

“Hello! Cheap!”

The local people have spotted fresh meat, and there is no hesitation. We push our way past women in brightly colored woven clothing, trying to make our way to the entrance of a nearby swinging bridge without finding ourselves the sudden owners of postcards, weavings, and sundry other items these women are anxiously proffering.

Having gained the relative peace of the bridge, we cross the river and find ourselves in the Yao village. We follow the crowd of tourists into one of the log structures, and our guide explains that we are in the actual home of a Yao family who has agreed to open their home for tours. It’s a neat cultural experience; I mean, you could honestly believe you’re in a traditional Yao home if it weren’t for the giant basket full of plastic bottles on the top floor, or the NBA posters visible through the half-open door of a bedroom.

As the rest of the group files into a new-made-to-look-old building for the local show (“only 55 yuan!”), my husband, Ryan, and I wander on through the village. The streets wind up and down as much as side-to-side, but it takes maybe two minutes before we emerge at the other end of the village. The path continues on, however, so we do the same, following it until a side path looks more interesting and we end up on some large boulders at the edge of the river. Here we stop, and look back toward the village and up at the mountains.

Someone has left a dead snake on one of the rocks, and its three-foot long corpse basks in the sun as though it could still reap some benefit. Ryan goes over and kicks it into the river, but it holds my thoughts, because it bears similarity to the village I have just seen. Like the snake, this village once had true vitality; now it has a semblance of life. Amidst the bustle of tourism there is a forlornness to this place which it seems only my husband and I can feel; perhaps because we alone took the time to stop and truly look. Beneath the tourist fa├žade, does this place still have a beating heart?

But the heart of a place is its people, and that is the core of our dissatisfaction here. This is a people who were once proud and hardy, a people who literally carved a living out of these rocky, steep mountains for 700 years. Now a woman in traditional dress and with her long hair tightly wound around her head laughs loudly as she waves a 100 Yuan bill in the face of her neighbor. A child finishes his ice cream bar and drops the wrapper in the street, just as he sees all the adults do. A man in an old wooden shed runs a stand selling ice cream, water, cigarettes, and beer; the last of which fills most of the shed, and scattered bottles around the village testify to its popularity. A man and his wife thrash rice as their people have for hundreds of years, but next to them looms a satellite dish.

What has happened to this people? Is modernization the problem? Tourism? Our guide explained to us that the Yao can’t grow enough rice to support themselves anymore, so the government subsidizes them. Why can’t they grow enough rice? Is it because all their time is spent catering to tourists?

In America going to “Colonial Williamsburg” doesn’t bother me. But see, Williamsburg is just a re-enactment: people putting on a show, then at night going home to their regular houses and lives. They are showing what the culture was, but there is no mistaking the fact that it’s pretend; a museum of sorts. Here you can taste what the culture should be, but it’s warped and sour; a caricature that tries to convince you it’s the real thing.

These people are no less tenacious than their ancestors, but now it’s directed into selling post cards instead of sculpting mountains. Thanks to the wonder of tourism, a part of their heritage and culture will always be preserved—but is it worth the cost?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chalk

I hate chalk. HATE chalk.

That being said, I've determined what my favorite kind of chalk is: white, about an inch and a half long.

There are reasons for this. First, the "blackboards" here are actually green. The color options I am given for my chalk are white, blue, pink, yellow, and occasionally teal. Blue, yellow, and teal tend to blend into the background, making reading difficult for kids in the back, or at angles with a glare. Pink just makes me feel really girly and biased, not to mention with the green chalkboard it reminds me of childhood shows with a giant dinosaur (okay, that was purple, but it was a pink-ish purple).

Secondly, chalk dust goes EVERYWHERE. I often wear black skirts to work, and while the rainbow effect is pretty, I stand out enough as it is. White chalk dust is a little less attention catching.

Now for the size. Why an inch and a half? Anything shorter is difficult to use, or will wear down too quickly into a size difficult to use. Anything longer I will break. Belive me, I've tried. I've tried using a whole piece of chalk. I've tried using a two inch piece of chalk. Perhaps the chalk is inherently weak (*cough* made in China *cough*), perhaps I just don't know my own strength. Whatever the case, it breaks consistently enough for me to have given up on it.

So there it is, folks, the part of the teaching experience I'm sure you have been the most curious about! Consider your unasked questions answered. You're welcome.

The Therapy of Distance

Yeah.

I've come to the conclusion that I'm very far away from everyone that I know and love. I've also been receiving a disproportionate amount of difficult news lately, what with my Grandfather passing away, and my buddy, Frank, getting hit on his moped, and needing 7 titanium plates in his face, and (mentioned in a previous post) my mission buddy from Paraguay getting hit by the truck.

I thought about writing another somber blog, but realized that I really am not in somber mood at all. Yeah, it's a little tough to get news like that, but I also just found out that Cordoba will be getting a TEMPLE!! I can't get general conference, because the church isn't allowed to do much here (I'll have some stories for you later), but I got an e-mail from the mission president's wife, and she clued me in.

Also, I MISS MY BROTHERS!! Someone should make sure that Scott and Stuart have my blog address, and that they read it. Also, THEY NEED TO E-MAIL ME because I love them. I miss them. :P I'm jealous that everyone get's to see them before I do.

The fun part:

The other day, while we were waiting for the bus, I heard, from a group of girls, "Oh my G**!! It's Mister Cooler!!" :D I can't say that's ever happened to me before.

You've noticed the care they have taken to get my name right? Well, we've gotten everything from "Cookie" to "Cooler," but my personal favorite is "Mr. Cool."

This weeks lesson was on Describing People. Last week's was on Emotions. I have some funny things to share from that lesson. After explaining the emotions and acting them out (I would get applause almost every time for each individual emotion) I would go around and ask the kids how they feel. Some of the responses include things like, "Happy." When asked why, they would reply, "No why."

One conversation happened as follows:

"How do you feel?"

"Sad."

"Why?"

There was a pause here. Many of my students can read and write English, but most of them can't speak a word. Weird. He gathered his apparently scattered thoughts, and while pointing to the boy next to him, was able to reply, "He... drink all me water!"
The vehement protest and denial that followed was a quick, "I do not drink you water!"

"You drink me water!"

"I do not drink you water!"

Another amusing answer was based on context. Being a teacher in a classroom where only a couple of students consistently understand you lends itself to certain abuses. I approached a boy and asked him to stand. I said, "Alright, buddy, you're next up for the guillotine. How do you feel?"

"Happy."

I smiled.

Next: I asked a boy how he felt, and was unsurprised to hear his reply of, "Happy." I asked him for a reason, and he said, "I like... ME!... you?" (He was trying to correct his pronoun to the one that would indicate his teacher.)

Continuing: Another response from a boy: "Sad. She always look at me!" I followed the line that his finger indicated, only to see a boy!

I was surprised, and asked, "You mean, 'he'?"

"No! He is a SHE!"

For a moment I doubted my first judgement (trust me, this boy will have genderal identity issues later on...) but my intuition, and the laughter of the class, confirmed my first appraisal of the indicated student. He also had a mustache.

Summary: The phrase, "I love you!" is apparently an acceptable answer to any possible English question posed by Shannon or myself. I have had more professions of love (by the person herself, or by their friends) than I can count.

The other fun part:

This story isn't truly mine, but I was present, and I want to share it. We went to a cave that purported to be an all-natural concantenation of different geological formations that looked like different things, like animals, and the great wall, and stuff. Yeah. Not really that natural. We passed the surprisingly life-like rooster closer than we were supposed to (it's hard to tell someone to stay on the path if you can't their language... he he he....) and could clearly see that it wasn't even shaped stone. It was cement. I was not impressed. Our companion, who spoke some English, asked the guide for us, and was obviously convinced by her response. He insisted, "It is truly amazing. All natural." :)

After the cave's astounding array of "natural" formations, we went outside to wait. The 2 teachers from Shuangpai were going home, and we were to visit them and their school, and then return home to Youngzhou. There was a car that was supposed to come and pick them up (ours was on time, but theirs was late), so we were waiting. A police car pulled into the parking lot, and I said, "Well, they found you two, and their going to lock you away in a Chinese prison."

The car pulled up, and Mr. Chin (their liason) got out of the passenger side. He said that this was the car, and, seeing that he was not going to make any explanation for it being a police vehicle (lights on the top, and everything!), they climbed inside. As it drove away, I noted that there was no license plate. Hmmm.... I don't even know what to think about that one. And when they got to the school, they told us that there were bloodstains all over the floor! Transportation in China really blows my mind.

I love you all, and expect to hear from you!