Why Does It Matter?


frenchwordle.png“I took French for 4 years and I don’t remember a word.”

There are so many “teacher rebuttals”  to this statement, it’s not even funny. This is the most common statement I hear as a French teacher whenever I say what I do for a living.

So knowing that my students will say – to me or to someone else – that they don’t remember any French, WHY DO I BOTHER?

Because the moments when they say to me:

“This, like, actually makes sense.”

“I love French culture”

“Madame! We learned French jokes over lunchtime!”

“This sounds like the coolest place ever.”

“You make traveling sound like something I could actually do.”

“I want to be like you.”

Are worth everything to me.

Beijing: My Forbidden City


IMG_1500.jpgRecently, I had the pleasure of getting to spend four beautiful, perfect days in Beijing — which enabled me to get some experience with china’s transportation system as well as check off some must-sees on my travel bucket list.

First off, there was the train ride TO Beijing. My travel partner, Jeani, and I made the mistake of taking the slow train to Beijing. Though a fourteen hour trip on any mode of transportation would be grueling, we also had to spend it with street beggars. We had to take turns sleeping, because if we both slept, we would have woken up with no belongings. Smoking is also allowed inside the slow trains, so we were breathing in extremely filthy air.

IMG_1516.jpgFinally we arrived in Beijing and it is breathtaking. We are so excited to be in a new city for a change. We navigate through the train station, where we are greeted by the bluest, clearest sky I’ve seen in months. People told me horror stories about Beijing — that there’s so many people you’ll never get anywhere, that the pollution is so bad you won’t be able to breathe at all, the people are rude, there’s hardly anything to see… They were wrong.

Albeit, I haven’t seen much of China, but I feel confident that I can deem Beijing to be the Paris of China. I love the diversity in the people, the neighborhoods, the food. Instead of castles, Beijing has palaces; in lieu of cathedrals, they have temples. Beijing has both historical and modernized districts. People are sophisticated, they don’t stare at you, they care about their city and don’t litter all over the place. Beijing is an extraordinarily safe city and the police officers seem to really enjoy their job.

IMG_1573.jpgNow, I will admit that I came to Beijing in the perfect circumstances (by accident actually!) –> there was no pollution because they just cleansed the air after some big delegate meetings, it was right before high season started so I got all the low season prices for the same weather and circumstances, and there were less people because it was the week before a Chinese holiday.But all that aside, there were still some simply basic things I liked more about Beijing:

  1. Based on the numbers recorded over the past few years, Beijing’s pollution isn’t much worse than Changsha, despite what people seem to tell me. And Beijing acknowledges that pollution exists, whereas Changsharen refuse to see it as anything other than “fog”. The first step in recovery is seeing the problem, so I appreciated that Beijing was taking that first step in moving forward.
  2. Beijing follows more western rules: no smoking inside, no littering, etc. And because tourists are common, they don’t stare at you as much.
  3. Beijing is the same pricing if not cheaper than Changsha. When you’re shopping, the prices are listed about the same, but in Beijing, they barter with foreigners, and they throw stuff at you for free if you’re a foreigner who speaks Chinese… 😉
  4. More variety. Western food, better coffee, neighborhood styles. Whatever you want, it’s there.
  5. THEY UNDERSTAND ME WHEN I SPEAK CHINESE. (exception: taxi drivers).
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我学中文


Lately in March, I’ve taken the step to get serious about studying Chinese while I’m here. You learn the basics in the first month – how to say “this one” and the numbers 1-10; you learn to say “I’m a teacher” and tell people where you’re from since those are the first questions that people ask you. I have two Chinese lessons per week: one provided by my school, and also I’ve hired a private Chinese tutor (who came recommended by a friend) to help me grasp this incredibly simple, yet frustratingly complex language. Having a base set for me from my Chinese 101 class certainly helps me as I learn and my general knowledge of grammar and linguistics doesn’t hurt either. flowershop-vintage.jpg

Chinese is really simple grammatically. They don’t bother with grammatical fluff like indefinite and definite articles, subjects are often optional, there are no verb tenses or conjugations. Even the vocabulary is fairly simple most of the time, with the complex nouns being compilations of other, more simple vocabulary. For example: if you know the word for medicine, and shop, just put them together and you know the word for pharmacy. It doesn’t always work like that, but that helps with the lack of cognates. On the other hand, English is a very hard language to learn – it has one of the most extensive vocabularies of any other language, the grammatical structure is complex, it breaks rules faster than it can make them, and the phonetics is such a mutt of languages that it’s no wonder even native speakers have to guess how to pronounce a word.

Chinese being the third language I’m learning, I’ve noticed how confused my brain is. It’s trained to respond to any non-English speaking person in French…which certainly doesn’t help in China. Sometimes I manage to compose a sentence from all three languages, which ends up being incomprehensible to everyone but me. Also, during my Chinese lessons, we haven’t even gotten to tones yet when working with my phonetics. We’re still working on the initials and the finals…the problem being that I can’t seem to say them together. My tutor is really confused that I’m able to make (most of) the sounds individually, but I can’t put them together. By the end of a two hour session, my mouth is in so much pain from trying to say the words correctly.

Next stop: Beijing

 

Hello Friends


It’s been a while…

Sometimes you’re just out there living life and then you don’t really notice how much time has passed. In some ways, it feels like nothing has happened, and in other ways, it feels like there’s a whole different person emerging. It really depends on the day and the hour that you ask me “so how are you doing?”

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To recap, we finished up the first semester of the school year in January and then had a week long break for Chinese New Year. In class, we’re reviewing some more and working on trying to get my kids to speak in sentences rather than just words. Meanwhile we’re also planning the new curriculum that will begin in March. We’re talking about things that are important (like, keeping the toilet paper stocked in the bathroom, and wiping the foreign toilet seat off when the Chinese teachers pee all over it) and organizing who is going to teach all the extra classes we have. If anyone’s looking to teach abroad, our kindergarten has about 4-5 positions available.

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During my Chinese New Year break, I wasn’t in a good enough financial situation to travel in or outside of China (prices are through the roof during this time!), so I stuck around in Changsha to watch everything close down. I really expected there to be more parades and parties, but it was really quiet because Chinese New Year is the time of year where all the Chinese go back home to their families. I had almost anticipated that it would be like the lantern ceremony in Tangled or have the dragon dances and masks. Alas, all that happened was an abundance of fireworks. And boy, were there fireworks.

The Chinese love noise. They are so loud. They blast music, they scream through microphones, and they release fireworks ALL the time –even during the day when you can’t see them. But during Chinese New Year, especially on the eve of the New Year, there are fireworks all night long. My landlord told me I needed to shut my windows to make sure that no sparks entered the house and started a fire. The fireworks were set off everywhere–even less than 20 feet away from my apartment building! Fortunately, the weather was extraordinarily warm and the air was clean and clear, so you could see for miles! At least that meant the fireworks were actually pretty.

 

Unrealistic Expectations


When I went to France, Americans told me that the French were mean, they smelled bad, and that they hated Americans. When I went to Saipan, Americans told me that it was too hot, it was too isolated, and I’d be rejected as a non-islander. When I went to China, Americans told me that it was too polluted, the government would control my every move, and that they hated Americans.

In every one of these statements, there is some truth. Someone had a [bad] experience and they’ve just passed the story down like a game of telephone. The truth gets twisted and exaggerated the farther it goes. If all we see is the bad in a place, then we will never be happy anywhere we are or anywhere we go.

If all I remembered of France was the grumpy expressions on the metro and how it smelled like pee, I would never want to return. If all I remembered of Saipan was the typhoons and the heat, then I would never want to return. If all I remember of China is the pollution and the firewall, I will never come back here again.

If you go to a place and expect it to be bad, I guarantee that you will not be disappointed. If you go to a place with unrealistic expectations of greatness, then I guarantee that you will be disappointed. No place–no matter how it seems–is perfect. Similarly, no place–no matter how it seems–is completely horrible either.

ChangshacityHunanProvinceChina

[skyscrapercity.com]

polluted China
Just because Changsha doesn’t always look like the photo above, it doesn’t always look like this either…just more often than the one above!

Also, there’s a common theme among all the things that Americans tell me is that everyone hates Americans. I’m not really sure where this started, but it’s not necessarily true. People only hate Americans when you act like you’re the most important person in the world (a self righteous jerk) and then tell them you’re an American. They don’t hate you because you’re American, they just don’t like you because you’re being rude and disrespectful.

There are bad days and good days in China. Sometimes I look out and I see China as district 12 from the Hunger Games. Other days I feel as happy as I would working in New York City.  It’s like that no matter where you go; you just have to remember the good days along with the bad ones.

Christmas in China


Lately my internet has been working less and less in my room of my apartment. So that means that my blog posts are becoming more and more infrequent because the room where my wifi is located is cold right now since it’s winter. So I meant to post this a few days ago, but I got a little lazy.

20151220_103315.jpgI’ve gotten a lot of questions about how/if the Chinese celebrate Christmas. In reality they don’t. In fact, my kindergarten even still had school on Christmas day! But the foreigners in Changsha do still celebrate Christmas (kind of), and as always, business are willing to make a profit off of that! 😉
To the Chinese, Christmas is a western holiday that has no meaning to them, but they know what it is and when it is. You’ll see certain cafés and bars and restaurants that are aimed towards westerners will put up Christmas decorations. Some businesses might put up a tree or have some lights out front. But that’s it. Christmas is the western Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival)

At school, it’s the foreign teacher’s job to create and put up all the Christmas decorations. So we’ve been spending the last month working on decorations around the kindergarten, and inside our classroom, as well as working on crafts and cooking activities with our kids and teaching them all the Christmas vocabulary. My favorite days are Wednesdays because those are the days that we get to show them a Christmas movie.

On Christmas Eve, the foreign teachers put together a morning circle time where we played games and sang songs together. Then we split up into our classroom where we did different things. My class made cookies and we had a Christmas dinner together with the children, their parents, and the classroom teachers. 🙂 This is my first long weekend since I got here. It is much needed. Zzzzzz.

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Merry Christmas to you all 🙂

 

School Schedule


20151208_093022.jpgWhen I got here, the whole school situation seemed rather chaotic and lacking structure. However, after a few weeks, I’m beginning to get into the swing of things and catch on to how things work around the kindergarten. To start off with, there are 4 teachers in each classroom (ideally). There’s a ‘life teacher’, who does the food and cleaning tasks. there’s a head teacher and a TA. The TA pretty much always speaks more English than the head teacher in every classroom, and the TA and the head teacher alternate weeks teaching the Chinese class.

And then there’s (theoretically) a foreign teacher in each classroom. Everyone asked me “how is it that they’re taking you in the middle of the school year?” Because foreign teachers end contracts, ditch off, get fired during all times of the  year. Currently there are two classrooms that need English teachers in the school.

Now, the daily schedule goes as follows:

8:30 – The kids come in, get dropped off by their parents and they eat breakfast (which consists of some combination of cake-ish bread with some seeds on it, a roll, some quail eggs, or really soppy looking oatmeal).

20151215_0926119:00 – Classes. There are two 30 minute classes, with a short fruit eating break in between them. Typically, English class comes first at 9am, but sometimes if there is a kid that’s always coming in late, they ask us to switch to the second period (9:45/9:50 to 10:15/10:20).

10:30 – Dancing! The kids go outside (unless it’s raining or really really cold) and dance these interesting hand waving and jumping concoctions of movements. Then they run a few laps, and the teachers might do some other activity or let them play on the playground for a bit before bringing them in for lunch.

11/11:30 – Lunch. This time seems kind of class dependent. Usually my class eats lunch at 11, but that is certainly very flexible — others eat at 11:15 or 11:30. It’s all about how long you let them play outside for. After lunch, every class usually goes on a little walk around the preschool. We sing songs, and do walking games. A little last bit of exercise before naptime. (!!!!!)

12:30 – NAPTIME NAPTIME NAPTIME NAPTIME NAPTIME NAPTIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Favorite time of the day 😉 Teachers eat lunch and then we either take a nap, hang out quietly doing stuff, or we can leave the preschool and go out for coffee or something.

2:30 – Wake up the little rascals and make them put on their clothes and drink some milk (full cream) or some watery soup.

3:00 – In the afternoons, they have activities. And it varies from day to day what they’re doing. Mine go out and run for a bit before going to their first activity (recreation, art, music, library). Then a couple days a week, they spend time in the classroom doing some activity that the head teacher has planned.

4:00/4:30 – Dinner. Again, not exactly set in stone, but closer to 4 for my class. After dinner, my head teacher organizes them and she reads them a book or has them do some sort of activity until their parents come and get them.

5:30 – Kids go home, dinner time for the staff (or we can go home if we want).

Hurrah! And that’s my day. Every single day. Monday through Friday.
Yahoooooo. Sometimes we have half days on Saturday for special Parent Student game days. 20151128_105125.jpgThe Chinese don’t take very many days off and they have school all year round. They get two weeks off in the spring, National day (in the fall), Christmas day, New Years Day, and that’s essentially it. f you want to be at the top of  your game, you don’t take 3 months off in the summer to lounge around and let your mind forget everything you’ve  learned!