Why do I freeze in China?

That might be a rhetorical question.  Today it says the high will be 16 but right now it’s 13.  In Toronto I could still wear a spring coat when it was 10.  Here, I’m freezing to death.  The times I’ve been in China in the winter have been hellish.  I fear the winter.  The cold cuts right through me.  And there will be no refuge in the classroom because not only are they not heated, they don’t even have portable heaters.  What might save me is that I’m usually in constant motion.  It helps keep my energy level high and keeps the students on their toes because I might leap towards them and ask a question when they’re not expecting it.

Monday was the 4th day of the weekend and I basically did nothing.  That’s not exactly true.  I spent about 4 hours reviewing “biographies” the students had written.  Most of them can’t write a sentence and if I took a red pencil to their work, it wouldn’t be readable.  I write what they wrote and then I rewrite it in proper English.  My hope is that they will look at it and learn.  I doubt it.  I hear “oh teacher, I want to learn English” so much, but no one seems to make any moves towards improving themselves.  Wait, I lied.  There are a few students.  Lisa (my friend Shujie hates) had Lisa’s friend Eleven sat in on 1 ½ of my classes yesterday.  I asked them why since I think they’re insane.  They said they just like listening to me.  I really should be paid as an Entertainer.

Beata (my tutored student) came Monday night and we taped her speaking.  I think she was a little shocked at how badly she sounded.  She told me that her classmates can’t even understand her.  But she’s a sweetie.  She took my sample reading and she says she’ll listen to it and then record herself speaking.  I tell the students that the way the mouth works in different in Chinese and English.  In English, we open our mouths wider.  Beata was a real hoot.  She would pinch her mouth open when saying some words so they would sound better.  I thought that was great.  Someone who wants to get better and is actually doing something about it.

Yesterday I just didn’t feel like teaching.  I don’t think my students really felt like learning.  My “good” class was a little nosier than usual but I let it pass.  Everyone (and every class) had a bad day now and then.  They really are a pleasure to be with.  I have one boy and I told him yesterday (although I’m not sure he understood), that he has the best manners and is the most polite student I have, and that his parents should be very proud of him.  I’m not making fun.  I’m not saying the rest are rude, but he stands head and shoulders above everyone else.

The speech topic was “If I were King/Queen/Emperor/Empress/God of China, what would I do?  One boy said he would institute a multi-party system and he wrote it on the board in Chinese so everyone would understand.  I thought that was great of him but I told him afterwards (because I’m just a dumb foreigner) that he should be careful about what he says and where he says it.  People go to jail here for thoughts like those.  Shujie says he has nothing to worry about because he’s a nobody but I would hate to see any grief come to him for thinking “normal” thoughts.

It’s sports sweater week here for me.  Yesterday I work my Leaf’s jersey and today it’s my Canadien’s jersey.  Tomorrow will either be the Dodgers or the Penguins.  My life is full of the hard decisions.

Last night we showed “Rain Man”.  I just love that film.  The turnout was disappointing.  I can’t predict how many will show up.  I think that those who were there enjoyed it.  Next week it’s blood and violence as I bring in “Reservoir Dogs”.  I love that too.  I wonder how that will go over.

We’ve booked a hotel for our big getaway this weekend.  Yes, we’re off to Wuxi (sounds like Woo-She).  It means “no tin”, so we don’t expect to find any tin there.  We’ve heard it’s a nice city and they should be enough to keep us busy for a couple of days.  Plus they have a Friday’s so it’s another cheeseburger for me.

I handed out a story from the book I bought on the weekend called “Are Teachers Too Strict”.  They have to read it and come into class with questions about what they don’t understand.  Then we’ll read it again and discuss it.  If a student doesn’t have a question, I’ll ask them what something means.  If they don’t answer me, it will be worse than the Wrath of Khan for them.  They want to discuss things to work on their English, then they must be prepared to do some work.  I know this is only college and therefore a big joke to a lot of them, but as much as I want to have fun, I want to provide some sort of service.

Every class the class monitor (whatever the hell that is) brings me a book to sign and write in what the lesson was about.  I figure no one reads it so yesterday I just wrote in “Sex”.  We’ll see if we hear anything back about that.

I got a library card for the library here (for Shujie).  First we had to go to Wang Jing for her to call the library and tell them it was okay to give the foreigner a card.  Then we went to the library where a man wrote us a letter to give to someone else.  Then we took the letter there where they collected a security deposit from us (about $14) and told us that they would call when the card was ready.  Nothing is easy here.  They work so many damn hours because they are inefficient.  So yesterday Shujie got the card and went to check out the library.  She said it was a huge disappointment.  That’s too bad.  Hopefully in Wuxi we can find some books for her.

One of my 1st year students told me his class was going to have an English public speaking competition every 2 weeks on Monday nights.  They want me to be a judge.  I’m happy to go but I don’t want to judge.  They’re my students so I don’t want to be in a position where I might say something negative.  He also told me that the speeches were to be 3 minutes.  I asked him what idiot decided that and he told me the “boss teacher” whoever that is.  It’s some moron who doesn’t speak English is all I know.  A 3-minute speech is a challenge in your native language, it’s absurd in a foreign language.

He told me last night that he told the “boss teacher” what I said and the “boss teacher” said 30 seconds or 1 minute would be fine but if you could do 3 minutes that would be great.  I have them do little speeches in my class so this is overkill.  I was told by this student (by way of the boss teacher) that if I had any ideas I should mention them.  I show movies.  I offer help to those who want it.  I prepare speaking exercises for those who want to use them (all 2 of them but the students are lazy fools who should be doing this).  I’m out of ideas.  And they should create their own unique ideas instead of stealing mine.

I do not like the whole idea of the Chinese way of teaching.  Teacher talks, students listen, questions are discouraged.  Then you leave and go memorize everything.  You don’t learn anything, you memorize.  It’s stupid.  You have to ask questions in my opinion.  But it is what it is, and that’s China.  I can’t change anything.  All I tell my students is that when they’re in my classroom they are no longer in China.  All the Chinese rules go out the window.  Hopefully in a month or two they’ll catch on.


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