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I just got back from a really nice mini-vacation back to Tangshan for the Mid-Autumn festival. Our “Chinese Mama Baba” asked David and I to join them for this holiday that families typically spend together eating Moon Cake and telling stories. Unfortunately David had to work, but Ada and Liu joined me for a feast made by our favorite friends from Dongbei, China. In true parental form, our Chinese parents sent me back with about 10 extra lbs of food because they are worried we aren’t eating in Beijing!

The mid-autumn holiday is a really big event in China, and it was amazing to see how many people carried around red square bags filled with Moon Cake. Entire warehouses opened up for a week just to sell it! In fact, I went to the mall the day before the festival and the line for Haagen Daas brand cake stretched for what looked like six hours…so I took some photos! I find it interesting that despite the long tradition of eating moon cake (there are many different kinds, green tea, red bean, 5 nut, coconut, etc.) the most popular place to buy it is Haagen Daas; probably because they use ingredients like dark chocolate and marshmallow. The quality of the moon cake also shows how much you love/appreciate a person, and boxes of 6 at Haagen Daas started at 268 RMB and went up to over 600RMB! David’s work gave me my first moon cake, red bean, which you can see below. The decorations on top are usually intricate and very pretty. Although there are some flavors I don’t prefer, overall I like the cakes.

The next set of photos is from our elaborate good-bye dinner with all of the staff. In true Chinese form there were about 50 different kinds of dishes, and it was fun eating together one last time. Ada also took some great photos at the school for your viewing pleasure! One one of our last nights in Tangshan we had another dance off with the Uighurs, but this time in the middle of the sidewalk for all to see! We attracted quite a crowd to watch the show, and had a great time getting down to the traditional Uighur music. I also finally got some photos with my di gua (sweet potato) friend, who was always so patient and friendly in trying to understand my broken Chinese. She would always give me free potatoes when I passed, and enjoyed taking a firm grip of my arm to tell me I was strong and healthy. The food photos were taken on the food street where we ate most meals, including a jaozi (dumpling) feast made by the Dongbei Mama Baba before we left for Beijing.

And next up…the beach town of Beidaihe!

Hey everyone, I (David) am very tired so am going to keep this brief.  I was exhausted most of the day today, mainly due to staying up until 3am so I could watch Georgetown beat our arch rivals, Syracuse, and I also had to wake up early to go teach at my first public school.  It was about a 10 minute bike ride to the public kindergarten, and I was met and ushered around by a nice girl who gave me a list of words to teach the kids.  The words for the very little kids were lemon, mango, and kiwi, which was easy enough to get them to say.  With no pictures, no idea how to say them in Chinese, no anything, I don’t think they really will retain this knowledge, however.  For the older students, I had a very long and complicated story to teach them, of which I think they probably understood 5% of the words.  This is a major problem with the lesson plans for teaching English to kids abroad, at least in China; the lesson plans are often written by someone who has a very slight grasp of the English language themselves.  Children at an English speaking elementary school would not have understood 25% of the story, yet somehow these kids that know maybe 30 total words of English will understand it?!  It doesn’t make much sense.  So I told the school not to prepare anything for me, because I would prepare my own lesson plans for them.  They seemed very relieved by this, and it shouldn’t be hard to do.  I think it will work much better, and that way I do not have to teach lemon, mango, and kiwi for 30 minutes straight…

I had another class at a different public school which also went well.  It is pretty bizarre thinking that the schools just want a foreigner that speaks English to come in, with absolutely nothing prepared, and just “teach” a class for 30 minutes.  It makes the parents happy though, and all of the teachers were encouraging me to teach the kids words that they could then discuss with their parents.  They were very well behaved overall, only getting out of control when the games I played with them got more competitive.  They really do go crazy in competition.  Everyone is crushed if they lose, and the victors all cheer with one another and take it very seriously.  It makes you understand why athletes have so much pressure to perform, and also why China would be willing to cheat (I am not saying they cheated (but it sure seemed that way)) in competitions like the Olympics (the underage female gymnasts).  They really pride themselves in performing well in competition, and are ashamed of losing.  It gets pretty intense.

After these classes, I had a demo class at our school, just a free class for kids that want a little something extra.  I just played 3 different games with the kids, and they were a little shy at first, but got pretty crazy by the end.  It is difficult for me to read the Chinese people that I have met, because they respond to things differently than most Americans would.  This is enunciated because sarcasm is something that the Chinese really do not pick up on.  So you have to be careful, because the Chinese don’t kid around.  They will come right up to you and say, “You are so handsome”,”You are so beautiful”, or “She is more beautiful than you” (a student said this to a pretty teacher at the school in reference to Erin).  So it is hard to tell if something offends them, confuses them, or excites them, but when everyone was screaming answers during the 3rd game, I could tell that they were enjoying it.  We then went out to eat with one of our Co/Chinese Teachers, Ada, and her husband, Liu.  They are both very cool and we had a good dinner.  We are both ready for bed though, so we will have to add pictures of our neighborhood another day.  A full day of teaching awaits us tomorrow, so it might not be until Monday.  Hope all is well with ye and all of your kin, go HOYAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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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