Cwray's Blog

Karma’s Update
October 18, 2010, 11:32 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m sure you all remember my good friend Karma.  For those of you just joining us, Karma is a little boy who I named Karma (and have since called him that in class) who reminded me what a little…pain I must have been for my teachers.  He punched, he kicked, and he screamed which lead to me breaching my contract and disciplining him.

That has been a month ago and now Karma is…well still Karma.  He still roams wherever he wills, he knows which rules to push and which ones not to, and to the other teachers he is a problem child, but to me he is adorable.

When I enter the class now the first person I look for is Karma; I sort of look forward to seeing him now.  If you recall from my previous blog, Karma is intelligent.  He was the only one in his class to remember the colors I had taught previously, he understands what I am teaching almost immediately (his peers on the other hand cannot after an entire class), and he was one of the only one of my students (I teach K-4, Karma is in 1st grade) that knew I was from the United States, a fact that still boggles my mind.  But unfortunately for Karma, he is a bit…hyper.  He thrives on constant attention, he needs constant stimulation and if he does not receive it he will cause chaos and that is why he is has been labeled as a problem child.

This past class we were scheduled to go outside.  Students scurried for the door and I grabbed Karma’s hand: he was walking with me.  The students had just been given their snacks, some had finished, others had not.  Karma, being one of those who had not finished, decided to bring his snack with him and hide it in his coat.  Perhaps it was because I am constantly hungry, perhaps it was because I hid snacks in my pocket, or perhaps it was because when I caught Karma trying to get a cracker out his pocket he looked up at me with a sly smile, but I did not discipline him.  As we walked outside Karma would hold my hand with one of his and with the other he would reach for a cracker.  Even when he struggled to wrestle a piece out he never once let go of my hand to use two.  He continued to struggle occasionally looking up to smile.

The lesson of the day covered the topic of animals.  We learned the words dog, cat, and bird and given how well the game “duck, duck, goose” had gone previously I thought it would be fun to play a variation called “dog, cat, bird”.  In this version instead of tapping three students heads while saying “duck, duck, goose” I say “dog, cat, bird” while handing the three students pictures of the animal I named them.  The students the run around the circle, dog chasing cat, cat chasing bird, while making the associated noise of their animal.  The scene is quite amusing to watch and the students enjoyed it immensely.  Their enthusiasm grew when at the end of the game, I joined and have the students chase me, often times not around the circle, but around trees or any other obstacle I could find.  When it came to Karma’s turn to chase me I already knew what I would do.  I waited for him to get real close to me and then I scooped him up and with Karma in tote I ran around the circle.  I eventually set him down but by now he was laughing uncontrollably.

We arrived back to the classroom with five minutes remaining.  I had originally planned to review the animals one more time but everyone was hot after chasing after me.  I called Karma to the front and taught him the words hot, cold, and tired.  For cold, I shivered, for hot, I panted, and for tired, I fell to the desk and snored.  Karma and I then taught these words to the class and all the while I looked over and he was smiling.

So as you can see things for Karma and I are looking up.  He still has his moments and I’m sure they will continue, but I am not ready to write him off just yet.  Instead I see intelligence going unnoticed by others.  Karma has become a helper for me and I often use him to demonstrate new terms to the class.  He seems to enjoy his new role and will not sit down or wander until either I tell him to or fail to engage him.  Will this all make a difference?  I do not know, I can only hope that it will, that possibly his teacher can see that he needs to be engaged instead of ignored or that maybe years down the road Karma might remember that big goofy American that carried him around the circle and smile, I can only hope.


October 16, 2010, 4:38 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

These are the doors that lead to my classes. Once I step through these doors I become a bit of a celebrity and believe me, anything is possible; this blog will discuss a few of those possibilities. My classes begin at 7:50 and for those of you who have had the chance to know me for any amount of time know that I do not like getting up early. Unfortunately for me my students do not know this, so upon my entering of the building and trying to make my way to the office I am immediately bombarded by students. These encounters can vary from the helpless “hello, how are you’” to the occasional hitting of various body parts that will go unmentioned. My clothes are tugged on daily, students enjoy jumping up and touching my head, and I am shot multiple times with imaginary guns. At this point in my day I am awake.

As I leave the office I am usually followed by a few students who again, spank my rear, tug on my clothes, etc., but when I walk into the classroom all these annoying little tidbits matter no more. I am greeted by smiling students who cheer for me and, depending on the teacher who accompanies me, they are quiet and still with almost military precision.

Now if you remember, I am more of an entertainer than a teacher, so my activities must be engaging. One of my favorite lessons so far has been on the topic of “directions”. These directions including “turn left, turn right, go back, go straight.” When I first saw this as a possible topic I was a bit unsure of how to make this entertaining but then I had an idea and armed only with my bandana I taught one of my most successful lessons. I started out the class easily enough; I had the students stand up and “go back, go straight, turn left, turn right.” I would then have a student go to the back of the room and have the class tell him how to come to me at the front of the class. The students enjoyed this as well, watching their fellow peers who are utterly confused at the directions being shouted at them, all the while bumbling about the classroom much like a pinball does in a pinball machine. Yes, students were eager to volunteer for this seemingly harmless, but fun activity, but their excitement grew immensely when I pulled out… the bandanna. You see, I kept the bandanna hidden from the students until I had established that my class had an understanding the day’s terms. I would then pick a student who would come up to the front of the class and from my back pocket I would pull out the blindfold. This in itself caused an uproar of laughter but not as much as the events that would ensue.

Now I’m sure you can imagine some of the things that can happen when someone is blindfolded and asked to navigate about a crowded classroom, but throw in the fact that these children also have to do so with directions in a foreign language and you have created quite the comical scene (so hysterical and loud that teachers from other rooms would come up to me after class and say “oh, you taught directions today”). I have had multiple students trip and fall (which, for the students his hilarious, but for a teacher…well I laughed too), I have hidden behind a door and had two students hit their heads on the corner of that door (again, roaring laughter), and I have sent students into the hallway and closed the door on them (although one student amazingly came in the other door still blindfolded). Needless to say the students are sad to see me leave when class is over.

After a successful class such as this I am then escorted back to my office by students who repeat the above mentioned actions, however, if I am unfortunate situation arises and the office happens to be locked the mob forms. Now, let me assure you, I am making no exaggeration when I use the word “mob.” I have been surrounded by as many as fifteen students at once, all the while being tugged and smacked where no sane human wants to be smacked, waiting desperately for a teacher to appear to save me (and my clothes) from the dismemberment that would no doubt ensue if not for her arrival. When they do I dash for cover in the office but if that door is left cracked, believe me, students will be there peaking in smiling, waving, and saying hello until they are told to leave.

Xiannzai (which means now, but I noticed I have used it to start half of my paragraphs already), I do my best to not use the restroom while teaching because of two things: massive amounts of urine and gawking students. The former is quite a problem and I do not understand why. Women, you all know very well that men have problems with…shall we say…aiming, but one would think this would not be an issue with trough-style toilets, but somehow it is. While this is a frustrating issue (and why my shoes come off immediately upon entering my apartment) the main reason I avoid the restroom is this this: no doors on the stalls. When you walk into the restroom, or should I say wade into the restroom, you can see someone staring up at you, fully exposed while taking a number two, all the while smiling at you and saying “hello” because you are a foreigner. I go to these stalls only partake in number ones so my back remains facing the students, but even this does not stop the curious from peering over the stalls (I assume to see if “it” looks the same) or from trying to squeeze in to join me, all the while saying “hello, what is your name?”

As you can tell, teaching in China is quite different from teaching in the United States; what constitutes an everyday occurrence for me would constitute sexual harassment and expulsion in the United States. Things are different here and school is no exception. Students are corporally punished (often times with sticks) but that has to be expected when students are in school for seven days a week (although I am told five is the norm elsewhere) from 7AM to 7PM for kindergartners (who are as young as three) and 8:30PM for the older students. Yes, things are quite different and part of me (all of me actually) feels pity for these students who are missing out on being a child. For them things are much more serious – getting into university is something like a 1:1000 chance for a child from the countryside and education is of the utmost importance. So I suppose the constant tugging of my clothes, smacking of my unmentionables, and my sometimes feeling like a zoo animal is worth it, if for those short forty minutes I have each week, I can take these students away from the stresses of their everyday lives and let them feel like…kids.

The Drive-Thru Wedding
October 11, 2010, 2:38 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Well it seemed that either you, as my readers, thought I was getting married or you were excited at the prospects of reading about a Chinese wedding because my blog stats were the highest they have been in a month. For those of you who thought I was getting married – in China none the less – you must be a casual friend who I have not heard from in quite some time, because those of you who know me more closely realize how absurd that notion really is. Now, for those of you who were interested in reading about a Chinese wedding I apologize, because what I attended seemed to me no more than a reception (albeit with an overabundance of delicious food). With that said, I do encourage you to stick around for there will be pictures to follow as well as some interesting tidbits about weddings in China. Shall we proceed?

Now as you may imagine, Lizzie and I were a bit unsure of a few things prior to the wedding: what should we wear, what should we give as a gift and how long would this last? Luckily for us we have made some Chinese friends recently who were able to offer up an insider’s opinion on these matters.

First: the gift. Now, ladies, are you sitting down, because I hate to inform you of this, but there are no Targets or Bed Bath and Beyonds to register at in China (it’s going to be OK, deep breaths, in and out, good).  There is in fact no registration to be done. Instead the gift is rather simple: a red envelope with cash (I am beginning to really like China). How simple is that? No returning of gifts, no fussing at getting two of the same Margaritaville margarita makers, but simply, cash – and a red envelope.

Second, what to wear. Now for me, this was quite easy considering I carried on for the five month trip, but for Lizzie, who did not carry on for the trip, this was a bit more complicated for a couple of reasons. First, Lizzie is of the female gender and what I have learned from growing up with two women in the house is that no matter how many clothes a lady (a lovely one at that) has, a wedding is as good of an excuse as any to buy something new. Secondly, wearing black and white to a wedding in China is out and what color do you suppose Lizzie’s nice clothes were? You guessed it, white and black.

Third: the time. Now I have heard of some long weddings (Lizzie mentioned eight hour ceremony plus reception in Quebec) and I have heard of some short ones, but we were told an hour and we hoped this would be the case because the wedding was at noon and I still had to play classes for the coming week.

When we arrived to the wedding I stepped off the bus (there were 10 of us) and into a restaurant that was rented out for the event. There were roughly one hundred people and needless to say, we attracted some attention being the only foreigners in attendance. Now what quickly grabbed my attention was the fact that Lizzie and I were some of the nicest dressed guests in attendance. There were women in tracksuits, men in t-shirts, and children in sweats, not the usual suits and tuxes I had grown accustomed to back home (did I mention I was beginning to like, dare I say love, China?).  We were quickly ushered to a table where we sat with a feast spread before us. Now, the bride and groom had not arrived, but we were told to eat because “they might be a while.” I was a bit surprised for this because this is the exact opposite of what I have encountered in the States, but being the gentlemen I am ate.

The Table

We ate for what was about an hour and then…we left. The bride and groom arrived and made their rounds, toasting to every table while stopping to say hello, but that was it; no speeches from best men and maids of honor, no dances with teary-eyed parents, just food and alcohol. Chinese simplicity is lovely.

Now I am sorry if you are a bit disappointed that A) I did not get married or B) that the wedding was quite simple, but for consolation I do have some pictures to offer and I do hope you will enjoy them.

My fellow co-workers

And of course one with the newlyweds.

The Lovely Bride and Groom

Going to the Chapel and…
October 10, 2010, 2:58 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

One day while sitting in the teacher’s office between classes the topic of marriage was brought up.  Helen, one of the English teachers at the school, had been married three months prior to my arriving here.  During this discussion it was discovered that out of the remaining Chinese English teachers, all would be married within nine months of Helen’s marriage.  I was a bit astonished to hear this, but was even more astonished when I was invited to attend one of these weddings.  I was under the assumption that the wedding would be in January, but this week I found out that it was in fact this coming Sunday, which is today!  So as I sit here writing this to you I still have to get dressed and cleaned up for the momentous occasion that I must leave for in forty minutes.  I have heard rumors of foreigners being asked to attend these weddings, to give speeches, to sing, or all of the above, but I hope I will be able to avoid all of these instead offering a glowing smile or butchered Chinese.  If that proves not to be the case and I am in fact asked to perform, do not fear, for Lizzie will have a camera to document the hilarity that will undoubtedly ensue.  Until next time, zaijian!

The Road(s) Less Traveled
October 4, 2010, 1:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The road leading from our school to civilization.

For the past month I have been wondering silently to myself, “How could someone want to do this for more than a year?”  The claims I heard before I came were: “Foreign teachers are viewed with great respect”, “You will have such a great time” “You will fall in love with China” “You will make lots of friends” and for me, none of these prophecies have come true.  I have silently relished in the fact that I will only be here five months; I have counted the days, I have looked forward to my return home, but part of me wanted those prophecies to come true.  I wanted to be invited to my student’s home town to visit their family, I wanted to sit around the dinner table and struggle to converse with people I had only just met – I wanted to see China intimately.  Unfortunately the closest I have come to that has been the brief encounters I have had while out to the grocery store or to the gym.  I have essentially lived the last month of my life confined to my school, my room, and two streets, bitter at these failed prophecies, but one day I came to a realization: my experience was up to me.  Even if my placement wasn’t ideal, even if I wasn’t surrounded by other foreign teachers, ultimately, my experience in China will be shaped by my willingness to make it into what I want it to be, not by mulling over what it is not.  And so, this Friday, I decided to get lost.  I took a bus to the end of the line, was told to get off by three students, and then I wandered – and it was the best decision I have made while in China.

The decision to wander came about because Lizzie and I had dinner plans with some foreign teachers from a university in town (it seems that my mom has connections even in China because thus far she has given me two emails to two different people teaching in Baoding).  There would be eight of us altogether: six of us being from, or having spent significant time in Kansas, so needless to say, I was a bit excited.  Not wanting to be late for our very important date, Lizzie and I decided to ride a bus, bus 37 if you must know, and see where it would take us.  We went down roads we had never seen, saw places we have never been and passed what we thought was Sam and Nate’s university.

We got off the bus near another university (there are seven universities in Baoding alone) and asked the students if they knew where North China Electrical University was.  They did not, but they seemed certain the university we were looking for was theirs which was right in front of us and wanted to take us to someone who spoke better English.  I knew that this was in fact, not the NCEU because I had seen the map on Google earlier and knew that NCEU was in the middle of the route, but wanting to be adventurous I decided to entertain them (and possibly meet some more foreign teachers) and proceeded onto campus.

Lizzie and I were immediately taken aback by what we saw: there were fountains, benches, a coffee shop!, a store, and two cafeterias – we were a bit jealous.  We wandered through campus talking to our new friends in what English they knew and we were soon at the International Building.  We walked into a lobby furnished with marble floors, leather couches and a guard.  The girls went off to find someone who could speak English and when he arrived I informed him of the situation.  He proceeded to chuckle a bit because as it would seem we were about a half hour away from our destination in the opposite direction.  The girls insisted on taking Lizzie and I back to the bus stop, but not before stopping to take pictures.  The girls sent us on our way and we headed back to NECU where we got off the bus and walked around.

Our newfound friends.

We went on to have a wonderful time with Sam, Nate, and their friends Saturday; we had a good dinner, great conversation, and we discussed our experiences teaching.  We headed back to their university to play cards and to see their apartments.  At first they did not want to show us, fearing that we would be jealous (and we were) of how they lived.  We were led into their apartments, first having to pass through their kitchen (complete with a stove, oven, and microwave) to get into their living room complete with a sofa and bookcases (I have a chair and bed to sit on).  We were then shown their bedroom complete with a queen-sized bed.  Amber, who lives by herself, said that “the queen bed is just too big.”  I, being the gentlemen that I am, offered to switch my twin bed with her queen (even though it would have been a bit of an inconvenience for me).

After the tour we played a card game called “nerds” which was quite fun.  It is a team variation of solitaire with a few twists in it that make for a challenging and entertaining time.  We had some laughs, we killed some mosquitoes (nearly smashing a guitar in the process) and the night was over.  Nate informed me that he and Dave had taught some of their students how to play American football and invited me to play with them the following day.  I accepted the invitation and Lizzie and I headed home to rest up for the big game.

As we headed home in cab I was beginning to see why some have come to teach in China and have never left.  Sam and Nate have a great placement: they have a great apartment, they have students who view them with respect and curiosity, and they have friends to rely on when things don’t go well.  And then there are those whose placements are sub-par, who are viewed more as sideshow and are worked until they can’t work anymore.   They barricade themselves in their rooms and seek to create a sense of normalcy in what little space they have and to them I ask, “Why did you come to China?” I have told myself that I would not do this, but unfortunately, my opinion on this teaching experience, on Baoding, and on China, has come from my experiences on two streets.  These two streets are familiar, they give me a false sense of security, of normalcy and predictability, and in China, these are the things you desperately cling to.  And while my placement may not be ideal, I now realize that my experience is not shaped by my placement, but by my attitude towards it.  So now I choose to venture off those two streets a little more often, to embrace the unpredictable over the predictable, because after all, why else did I come to China?