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I thought you may like to know what a typical week in Tangshan is like for David and I.

Monday-Wednesday we don’t have to work. Monday tends to be a catch-up day when we clean the apartment, do laundry, catch up on emails/blog posts, etc. For the next two days we either go to a nearby city, or stay around here and go to the gym, visit local markets, (I) get $3 massages, ride bikes to eat on food streets, and say hello to the teachers at school. Last week was actually Arzola’s birthday, and we had a party complete with home-made dumplings and steamed bread (courtesy of Ada and Liu) and a birthday cake!

Thursday David has a public kindergarden class early in the morning, while I used to have private one-on-one sessions with older students in the evening. However, those sessions have now ended and we will both be handing out fliers to potential clients at schools around the city, to promote our summer session. I also start on my lesson plans for the weekend.

Friday I go to the public elementary school to teach in the morning, bike to the mall for a yoga class, and head back to school for lesson plans. We both teach a free “English Corner” at 6pm, and go to bed early for classes the next morning.

Saturday/Sunday we both work from around 8am-6pm, teaching half-hour classes to the youngest kids (3-5), one-hour classes to the middle ages (5-10) and two hour classes (10+) to the older levels. We have 10 minute breaks in between classes and an hour for lunch. These days are tough and honestly not fun at all. I usually have plenty of energy and excitement to teach the 4 hours before lunch, but afterwards my throat and patience begin to wear out. I don’t enjoy the young classes because they are just about lots of repetition. The little kids are incredibly cute, but it’s very tiring to repeat the same questions hundreds of times. The older kids are more engaging, but I think that 2-hour classes and just entirely too long for all of us. I am, however, learning how to introduce grammar better and better, and have found some games that the kids really seem to like. One of my classes was videotaped as a “demo” for one of our workshops, and I liked my one on one sessions with the older kids…but overall I don’t want a future as a English foreign language teacher.

Last week David and I attended two really fun events with the kids. I found out that the public school was hosting a Children’s Day Festival performance, so Ada, Liu, David and I got up bright and early for the event. I felt a little guilty because we were the only adults let inside except for the staff; parents had to take pictures from outside the schoolyard fences because they are too over-bearing and interfere with the performances! The pictures can describe the event better than I, but it was really well-done…they danced and sang to everything from Chinese Opera to Britney Spears! Also, the kid in the cow costume was hilarious, he sauntered around just like a little cow. Check out Ada and Liu’s matching shirts…a popular trend for younger couples in China. Liu even picked these ones out! Will David be next…?

We also went to the Tangshan International Golf course with our school, which was a special event for students that had received the most “cards” in class. We hand out cards for correct answers and good participation, and about 15 kids and their parents came out to the event. The golf course is actually nationally certified and it was REALLY nice. The grass was perfectly green, the buildings were clean and modern, and the day was warm and sunny. We found out that it costs over $40,000 just to become a member, and you pay more to actually golf. Some of kids were able to hit the balls surprisingly well for their first try, and David and I had fun at the driving range. The nicest houses we have seen here were on the golf course, and belonged to government officials. They looked at lot like modern beach cottage mansions…which was a tough pill to swallow for the Chinese and the foreigners alike.

Overall our schedules are very relaxed and we are really enjoying the warm weather. Seeing people out allows us to practice our basic Chinese more and get more exercise. I have struck up a language-limited friendship with a street vendor who travels around the neighborhood corners selling sweet potatoes and other vegetables, and I always try to make as much small talk as possible, and tell potential clients that she’s a good woman. She also gives me a sweet potato or tomato nearly every time I see her. Contacts like these really make living in China fun. I also included a photo of the fattest pug I have ever seen, especially for Matt Busa and Annie Weathers…die-hard pug lovers.

I’m VERY excited to say that we are headed to Tianjin tomorrow for Ling Ling’s traditional Chinese wedding…yeaaaa!!!

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So we just finished our first weekend of teaching in Tangshan.  Erin and I both had basically 9 hour days, with 10 minutes between classes, with 1 hour for lunch.  Our kids ranged in age from anywhere between 4 and 15, with some outliers.  The biggest outlier was a 2 year old in one of Erin’s classes, causing Erin to ask the Chinese speaking teacher,”Why is there a baby in our class?”  The kids are grouped by skill level, although this will vary GREATLY in each level.  I initially thought I would prefer the older kids, but I am not so sure any more.  I really liked having the very little kids, giving them English names (which had to be an incredibly confusing experience for them), and not having to deal with the annoying attitudes of the teenagers.  Think of a Chinese teenager as similar in attitude to an American, only couple that with a massive fear of failure and usually being totally petrified of being different.  This is obviously a large generalization, and I have some great teenage kids (especially my favorite Hilda, who there is a picture of in a different post with Erin), and I hope that I can win the rest over in a few classes.  We shall see.

I think most Westerners think Chinese/Asian students are usually unbelievably well behaved and quiet in class.  This is definitely not always the case.  There are good kids, bad kids, hard workers, teachers pets, class clowns, etc.  Things can get crazy very quickly, especially with younger kids, so you really have to keep them stimulated or else you can lose total control.  It is a balancing act, especially when you don’t speak any Chinese(!!!), but I found myself improving over the course of the weekend.  I would say that overall I am extremely impressed with how hard the students work, how interested most are in the material, and how much respect/admiration they give to the teacher.  I suppose it isn’t too different from the USA, but these kids are going to school year round, and also taking English classes on the weekends.  They have literally hours of homework a night, and then have English homework to boot.  I imagine it would be a tiring and stressful life.  The effects of this lifestyle can be seen in many of their habits, even from just a single class.  About half of them are INCREDIBLY shy, but luckily most have figured out that the English school is not a place where you need to be shy or afraid.  They are all morbidly afraid of making mistakes, or even attempting something for fear of making a mistake.  This can really complicate class, because you will try to ask for volunteers, and get a sea of blank stares.  So I usually don’t ask for volunteers, I just call on someone.  Then they feel the eyes of the whole class and teacher on them, and usually spit something out.

There are many funny anecdotes from the first weekend.  The names of the children are often pretty hilarious, which is a combination of the Chinese Teacher’s (what we call the Chinese speaking teacher in the class) spelling and the name that the child decides they want.  Some great ones have been Jachary (a girl), Sweet, Caesar, Golden, Baron, Garin (who was called this for 3 years, only because they all thought the V in his name was an R), Ely (a boy, pronounced Ellee), and many others.  A popular one for younger kids has been Leo, primarily because the movie Titanic is very popular here.  I got the chance to name my first batch of preschool kids, which I did by listening to their Chinese name, and then giving them a similar English name.  It is almost hard not to laugh when the first three kids in your class introduce themselves as Garin, Baron, and Sweet, but nobody ever said you couldn’t laugh.

Another fun part of the teaching experience is the comments you get from kids.  Chinese people are very blunt, which has actually been pleasant so far.  I have gotten a lot of “You are handsome” and “You look like Harry Potter” or, my favorite “SPIDER MAN!  SPIDER MAN!  You are Peter Parker!”  I guess we all look alike to them.  It is not just the students saying hilarious and ridiculous things though.  I have only spoken to a few parents (if you can call a Chinese teacher translating every word we say “speaking), and they usually think that I am 15 years old.  I had one grandmother of an “active” boy come to me, ask the CT (Chinese Teacher) if I was smart, and then literally grab my arm, start pulling me towards her grandson, talking to me in Chinese.  I asked the CT what she wanted, and she said that she wanted me to give her my phone number, and wanted her grandson to get it from me.  The parents take this stuff pretty seriously, which is a little intimidating when you have 8 parents sitting in the back of the class, but it definitely makes the kids behave better!  Its a double edged sword.  I am sure we will have some more interesting parent stories to tell by the end of this, probably by the end of this week.

We have the week off until Friday, so we will hopefully be able to travel around the city a bit, clean up the apartment, and keep updating the blog.  If anyone wants to skype, send Erin or I an email or skype message.  Hope everything is going Sweet back home, enjoy the Golden sunshine.  Jachary.

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