Tag: teaching


16

Oct 2002

Tutor Update / River Story / Mr. Manners

A while back I listed a bunch of requirements for the tutor I was looking for. Well, with the help of someone in the Foreign Language Department, I have found him. He’s an awesome tutor. He’s critical. He tells me when my pronunciation is a little off, he tells me how it’s off, and he tells me how, phonologically, to correct it. He speaks to me all in Chinese. He speaks fast, and with good vocab. He’s well-read, and knows Chinese history well. He speaks standard Mandarin. He brings his own materials and demands that I learn this or that. It’s great to have a tutor with definite ideas of what I should be learning. He brings me 12 new chengyu (Chinese idioms) to study every class. He requires me to read from a standard Mandarin pronunciation class textbook, and criticizes my pronunciation, and then makes me read again, and again, and again… He also records his own readings onto my computer so that I can practice on my own for the next class.

After each two-hour session, I am exhausted. He’s a good teacher. I can feel the now unfamiliar soreness of progress once again.

Last Thursday I had my advanced English discussion class at the English Department. Those students are just great. Their English is so good, and the people just have such personality. I thought college students were great for those reasons, but these adult students take it to a whole new level.

Last week we did the “River Romance Story” (for lack of a better name), which I’ve already made famous at this school. It’s pretty famous already anyway, so I’m kind of afraid to use it, always expecting my students to be familiar with it already. But last Thursday none of my students were. Good.

Before I give an account of the discussion, I should tell the story. Here goes.

Long, long ago, in the time of kings and queens, there lived a Man and a Lady, deeply in love. It was true love. The Man was a high-ranking servant of the king, often sent off to new posts to solve problems. Where the Man went to work, the Lady followed. Then the Man was assigned to a faroff village that was only reachable by way of a treacherous river. On the river, a storm suddenly sprang up. The boat was run into rocks, and everyone thrown overboard. The Man was the only passenger that could swim, and he managed to save himself, all the while looking fervently for the Lady. He couldn’t find her. Not a single body turned up; all were lost in the swift current. After searching for days, grief-stricken, the Man was forced to accept the unimagniable. The Lady was gone. With heavy heart, he headed off to the village to fulfill his post.

As fate would have it, however, the Lady didn’t die. She was rescued by an inhabitant on the other side of the river and nursed back to health over a series of weeks from the brink of death. As soon as she could walk, she set about trying to get back to the Man. However, the river was uncrossable. There was no bridge. There was only one way of crossing: by way of the Boatman. He was the only one with enough skill to ferry people from one side to the other. He charged 10 gold pieces each way for his service.

By the time the Lady reached the Boatman, he had long since heard of her. When she asked his price, he told her 100 gold pieces. She had only 10. No matter how she begged and pleaded, he would not bring the price down or even let her pay after crossing and finding the Man. It was 100 or nothing.

The Lady soon met another man, however, named Sam. Sam was a landowner with a good deal off money, but he was a bit of a womanizer. The Lady was beautiful, and he took to her immediately. She made it clear that she wished only to return to her Man, though. Magnanimous man that he was, Sam said he could help her — on one condition. The Lady must sleep with Sam for a night.

The Lady was outraged at this request, and stormed off. She soon sank into despair, however, and quickly came to the conclusion that her life there, on the wrong side of the river was meaningless, and there was only one way out. She would sleep with Sam.

So the Lady slept with Sam. She received 100 gold pieces. She paid the Boatman and crossed the river. She made her way into the village and found the Man. They were reunited at last, and their joy was boundless. Yet, at the back of the woman’s heart gnawed the question: should I tell him? She decided to leave it be for the time being.

After arriving, the Lady met the Man’s new Friend, who also worked in the village. This Friend left the next day for the other side of the river to do business. His business was with Sam, and Sam liked to talk. He had a tendency to brag about his womanizing exploits, but he was known to always tell the truth. Sam told the Friend about his night with the Lady.

The Friend was now in a hard position. Should he tell the Man? He didn’t know all the circumstances of the incident in question, but he could be sure what Sam said was the truth. Finally, he decided that the Man should know the truth, and told him.

The Man was angered by this information, calling the Friend a liar. Still, doubt overtook him, and he brought the “outrageous rumor” up to the Lady. She immediately burst into tears, admitting it was the truth.

The Man was in total shock. Never had he felt so betrayed. He had vowed never to love again when he lost the Lady, but how could he forgive this? In the end, he couldn’t. He parted ways with the Lady.

They never saw each other again.

So that’s the story. The task is then to rank the people, 1-5, from “best” to “worst.” Then discuss. This always yields great discussion. I love it.

After discussing that, you can reveal what each person is supposed to symbolize: Lady – Love, Boatman – Business, Friend – Friendship, Sam – Sex, Man – Morality. Then we discuss whether the activity actually reveals our priorities in life.

Anyway, last Thursday my class got so into this discussion. It was incredible. They were funny, too — when I mentioned in the beginning how in love the Man and Lady were, one of my students said, “what’s the use?” Later, when they were guessing what each character symbolizes, this same girl said the Lady represents weakness! Funny stuff.

Anyway, we had a long discussion on morality. This example really brings out the differences and similarities between Western and Eastern morality. Eastern is much more relativistic. I taught them phrases from Western thought like, “the truth will set you free,” “the ends doesn’t justify the means,” and “ignorance is bliss.”

Chinese girls seem to love to say the Lady is the best (and even that she did nothing wrong), and the Man is the worst for not forgiving the Lady. Some of them also say the Boatman is worse than Sam, because the whole mess was started by him, even if he was ignorant of the drama he set in motion.

So I thought of all kinds of hypothetical situations to test their stances. Unsurprisingly, the girls became quite similar to the Man when I posed the situation of their husband sleeping with his female boss to get a promotion and provide better for his family (which was struggling to make ends meet and had no hope of properly educating the child).

What blew my mind, though, was two girls’ answer to this question: “Would you rather have a husband who was completely faithful to you and made you happy, or a husband who was not faithful, but you didn’t know about it, and so were still happy?” The answer? “Either one is fine, as long as I never find out he’s cheating.” Either one is fine! Incredible.

That class was a blast. I learned so much. It’s classes like that that remind me how much I’m still learning here, and how my life is totally on track.

This past week I also started a third teaching job. It’s for a large department store, only teaching three times, for two hours each time. It pays very well. My job is to provide training for some of the department store employees so that they can do a little job-related communication with foreigners when necessary. I was also asked to give a short lecture, in Chinese, on “how not to offend foreigners.” My first lecture in Chinese. Awesome. I was excited.

The lecture went pretty well. I held their interest with humor well, and they learned a lot. Here’s what they learned:

1. Foreigners value hygiene highly. Do not cough, yawn, or sneeze without covering appropriate orifices. Don’t spit. Don’t pick your nose or ear in public. Don’t scratch. Don’t fart. Don’t have a runny nose (or at least don’t blow a snot rocket!).

2. Be careful with questions. Don’t ask age or salary. Don’t assume people are American or any nationality.

3. Be careful in your actions. Don’t fidget. Don’t yell for any reason. Be patient. Smile. Never litter, anywhere.

4. When eating… Eat slowly, with small bites. There should be no noises coming from your mouth. Sit up straight, never hunch. Put one hand on your lap, with your napkin. Don’t spit out anything if it can be avoided.

5. When communicating… Maintain eye contact, but don’t stare. Don’t be too self-deprecatory. Don’t comment on physical appearance.

Some of these may seem unnecessary, but I personally made this list, and my reason for adding each item comes from my own real-life experiences with people in Chinese society….


27

Sep 2002

Classes

I’ve now got 14 hours of class per week at ZUCC, but that’s going to increase after the holiday next week. The school decided that the 14 hours the foreign languages department had decided to give us was not enough; we should be teaching the full amount that is specified in the contract (16), since there are still more students that “want to study” spoken English. Hmf. And I teach 3 hours Thursday nights now for my friend Tim at his school, now called The English Department.

This past Thursday night teaching was a lot of fun. All the classes at Tim’s school are very small, and my classes there have only had 3-4 people so far. The students are all young adults and speak good English. Last class, we covered a number of topics, and the subject of “superstition” came up a few times. One of the students informed me that the Chinese custom of wearing red every day on your ben ming nian (the anniversary of your Chinese zodiac birth year, which occurs once every 12 years), as well as the custom of planning weddings and other official events according to what are regarded as “lucky days” and “unlucky days” are both traditions, not superstitions. (“Superstitions” such as “religions” are officially frowned upon by the Chinese Communist Party, and yet so many practices somehow slip through the cracks….) Nice save. I don’t buy it. Chinese try to be slick like that.


15

Sep 2002

Linguistics, Anyone?

Ah, love of linguistics… both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in that it’s just fascinating, and I’ve somehow been let in on that little secret. It’s a curse because the fact that it’s interesting is either withheld from or is being actively denied by the rest of the world. It’s really shocking to me how linguistics bores most people to tears.

So I picked up a few books on linguistics at the friendly neighborhood foreign bookstore. Evidently Oxford University Press and the Cambridge Books for Language Teachers series have deals with Chinese publishers. The result is that quality educational material cames to China unaltered (?) except that a Chinese title is slapped onto the cover and a Chinese introduction is inserted. The best part, of course, is that the prices are also Chinese, and they are very good. Check these out: Pragmatics by George Yule (8.80rmb; roughly US$1), Psycholinguistics by Thomas Scovel (8.80rmb), Second Language Acquisition by Rod Ellis (9.20rmb), Psychology for Language Teachers by Marion Williams and Robert L. Burden (23.90rmb, roughly US$3), and — the best buy in terms of immediate application — Lessons from Nothing by Bruce Marsland (8.90rmb). That last one is a great buy for any TEFL teacher.

I also picked up Hong Lou Meng (“Dream of Red Chambers”), Chinese edition. Anyone familiar with this Chinese classic should be thinking I’m crazy right about now, as it’s volumes and volumes long. However, I cleverly side-stepped the length issue by picking up the children’s verison. It’s a good level; it’s almost 300 pages long and it doesn’t have the pinyin for all the characters like really low-level children’s books, but it has parenthetical pinyin for the really tough characters. (That will save me a lot of time looking up characters by radical!) The rest of the characters are not too hard. I can read this thing!

Finally, I got a book called “100 Chinese Two-Part Allegorical Sayings.” I suppose there’s no really good translation for “xiehouyu,” but nevertheless, I hope the guy that came up with “Two-Part Allegorical Sayings” is not too proud of himself. The idea is that you deliver the first line, which seems kind of strange, but then you deliver the second line, and the meaning of the first line becomes clear. They’re usually pretty clever or funny, and sometimes involve puns. I first heard about these a while ago from my friend Andrew, but this is my first time actually studying them. Here are a few of the interesting ones:

> Putting make-up on before entering the coffin — saving face even when dying.

> Boiling dumplings in a teapot — no way to get them out.

> Killing a mosquito with a cannon — making a mountain out of a molehill.


12

Sep 2002

New Semester

OK, school-related news…

So on Tuesday I finally got my schedule for this coming semester. A whopping six days in advance. It’s just the way things get done around here. Anyway, they decided not to let me teach my former English major students. I worked pretty hard at learning all 120 of their names, too! I’m only teaching 3 classes of English majors this semester, and they’re the new freshmen. Plus 2 classes of International Business majors, and 2 of Tourism Management majors. But it’s all the same class: “Spoken English.” “American Society and Culture” has been handed off to someone else this semester.

The bad news is that the international business major classes and the tourism management classes all have 45 or 47 students each! That is insane! The 30 I’ve been having is really pushing it, but 45 is just impossible. So I told them I’m splitting the class into two, and the students will each get one hour per week instead of two. I told them it was that or nothing. They OK’d it. It means I only have to plan one hour of lessons per week for those students, but it means doubling the repitition factor of the lesson. That’ll get monotonous.

The other bad news is that I have over 270 new students to teach. That’s over 270 new names to learn. I’m done for…

The good news is that I got Mondays off. And it’s still just 14 hours per week, leaving plenty of time for other projects. Very cool…


10

Sep 2002

New ZUCC Arrivals

In other news, more and more teachers are showing up for the new semester. I met Nicola from Australia today. She’s about my age. Then there’s the Smith family across the hall from me (John and Cathy, plus sons Johnny, Nick, and Drew). They’re originally from Michigan. Next to them is a Chinese American couple. I haven’t met them yet. Saturday Josh and Caroline showed up from the USA, but then promptly left. Apparently they were misled as to what they should expect, and it seems their “old China hand” cousin advised them against working here. It’s really a shame; it would have been great to have them, and regardless of what their cousin thought, this is really a decent school.


19

Jun 2002

ZUCC Online

Wow, just found out the Computer Department of ZUCC has put together a nice little webpage: BeInCity.NET. There’s also a campus life section. Granted, it’s a little less exciting if you read no Chinese, but hey, there it is…


19

Jun 2002

Goodbye, Aussies

On June 12th we had a goodbye dinner for Len, Jo, and Ben. (Simon’s sticking around a little longer.) On Saturday, June 15th the three of them departed for Beijing, leaving their lives in Hangzhou behind. It was kind of sad. We’re already missing them…


10

Jun 2002

Recent Events

So what’s been going on with me lately? Things have been busy as the semester winds down. Here’s a quick rundown of recent events:

29 May – 02 June :: Most of the teachers from the English department went to Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) for the semester trip. It was the second time I’d been, but we had a great time. My pics will be online soon. Until then, Wilson’s will have to suffice. 🙂

03 June :: Small surprise birthday party for Wilson as well as Japanese teacher Noriko. Not many people were there, and the whole thing was kind of thrown together at the last minute because we didn’t realize that the Huang Shan trip was going to be in the way. All things considered, though, it turned out to be an amazingly fun party. My pics are coming; some of them can be seen on Wilson’s site along with the ones he took.

05 June :: My debut on national Chinese television (CCTV4). I was a guest on a show called Travelogue. I was on the show to share my impressions (in Chinese) of a nice little town called Xitang. I got a good little bit of airtime.

06, 11, 13 June :: I’m doing English training courses for a company outside the school. The pay is decent, but 7 hours with the same people is sort of a new challenge that I’m not used to. Working on these days (which I normally have off) also means my week is much fuller.

12 June :: Sendoff party for the Australian teachers at the Shangri-La Hotel. At 98rmb (US$12.50) for a pizza dinner, we’ll be eating in style — Western style, for a change…


08

May 2002

Apathetic Dialogue

I did some skits in class today. They were supposed to use some of the slang I had taught them, and I told them to make them love stories. (Nothing excites Chinese college kids like romance.) The following is a telephone dialogue from one of their skits:

> BOY: Hello, may I speak to Angel?
> GIRL: This is Angel.
> BOY: Angel, I need to talk to you.
> GIRL: What is it?
> BOY: I need to tell you that I think we should break up.
> GIRL: OK, see ya.
> BOY: …because I found another girlfriend who is more beautiful and nice.
> GIRL: OK, see ya.
> BOY: Bye.

I guess it’s a lot funnier to see the real thing… The girl’s apathy was hilarious.



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