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6 months down..7 to go

6 months down…7 to go
August 2005

 We’ve been living our life of chalk and chopsticks for six months now.  Our first semester at school is complete, and this week we finished up the exams, passed back their reports, played some games and said farewell to the kids we spent 2 hours with every week for the past half a year.  I’d love to give another riveting account of how I cried my eyes out and how I managed to touch their lives, but no such things happened here.  The truth is, I didn’t get to know my students very well at all. 

 All told, I spent a mere 48 hours with each of my classes, and during most of that time we were strictly following the book.  There was no time and little opportunity for personal interaction when teaching grammar.  Most of the real teaching was done by the Chinese  co-teacher.  The kids would ask their questions to the Chinese teacher, and the Chinese teacher explained most of the grammar and definitions in Chinese.  I was completely left out of the learning circle.  In fact, most of the kids never spoke to me directly outside of some pre-arranged conversations like:

 “What did you do yesterday?”

“Yesterday I go to the zoo.” 
“Yesterday you GO to the zoo?” 
“Ah! Bu!  WENT.  Yesterday I went to the zoo.”
“Very good.  Yesterday you WENT to the zoo!”

 The kids always went to the zoo yesterday, go to the zoo every Thursday, are going to the zoo next week, have gone to the zoo, would go to the zoo, etc. depending on which verb tense we’re working on.  But nothing they say is actually true—they just say what they can with their limited vocabulary.  I don’t blame them for this, I’m just saying it makes my job rather boring.

 This boredom has caused me to do the unthinkable: stop teaching.  That’s right folks, Sera is a teacher to students no more.  I landed a job as the teacher trainer of the foreign teachers for all seven Future English schools in Dalian.  So starting with the new semester on September 1st, I will work 60% more hours for only 33% more pay, be at the top of the substitute list, have no fixed schedule, and be controlled by the whim of my 3 different supervisors.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?

 When I signed my new contract, I couldn’t help wondering if I was signing my life away.  My new contract is for a 40-hour work week (compared to my previous teaching schedule of 25 hours a week)  and I’ll be part of the “management” now.  I will usually have the same 2 days off a week that Zac does, but other than that, we won’t see too much of each other.  The contract has also extended our stay in China by one month; instead of leaving at the end of February, we will finish at the end of March next year. 

One of the drawbacks is that I won’t have my adult class anymore either.  It was the saving grace of the past six months.  Although, even it was growing a bit tiresome.  I had to ban any discussion of Japan from class as a few students had taken to saying quite racist and discriminatory things against the Japanese, which I simply would not tolerate.  This class was quite political and among other things, I had to try and counter the belief that George Bush wanted to make Iraq the 51st State of the U.S. in order to get free oil.  I also had a student who would always come up with the most absurd rumors about America that I would have to refute.  For example, he “heard” that many college graduates in America work as street cleaners because they cannot find a job and everyone has a degree there because it’s so easy to get into universities.  He also heard that people will use computers to calculate 2+2 because Americans are so bad at math.  And so on.   The amount of misinformation they had was just incredible.  But I guess that’s natural considering that most of their knowledge comes from Hollywood and their state-run media.

 The second half of our stay here will also be different from the first because we are moving to a new apartment on Wednesday.  We’re trading our happy little home on the hill by the sea for a large apartment inland that has a real bathroom and a real kitchen.  We’ll miss our quaint neighborhood street full of fruit sellers, and our view of the sea (only available on clear days), but the new house is closer to the school and big enough to have some friends over.  Plus, our new kitchen is actually part of the house (not on the balcony like now) and so it won’t ice over in the winter.  We’re able to upgrade because many of the teachers finished their contracts and are heading home, so we used our seniority to pick the best apartment.

 And last but not least, we went to a Chinese wedding on Sunday night.  One of the Chinese teachers from our school and an American teacher from another branch got married and will be leaving for the U.S. in a few days.  The wedding was held in a restaurant/banquet hall.  First, we all gathered outside the restaurant and the bride and groom walked out as people shot confetti guns into the air.  Then we all went back inside the restaurant and sat at large round tables laden with cold dishes of food.  After a while, the bride and groom walked up the aisle of the restaurant while people lit sparklers on the two sides of the aisle.  It was really cool.  Then they went up on the stage and the host, who takes the equivalent role of a minister and DJ at a western wedding, said lots of things in Chinese.  Among other things, he introduced himself and said that he had played Chairman Mao Zedong in a TV series.  The host also talked about how beautiful the bride and groom were dressed, introduced the grooms parents and assisted in something kind of like vows.  Within a short time, the bride and groom exchanged rings, drank wine with their arms intertwined, cut the cake in half (but didn’t eat any of it) and lit many candles in a heart-shape.  The part I liked the best was where they bowed several times to their parents and then several times to each other.  It was really beautiful.

 After the ceremony part, the waiters brought out the hot dishes and our table literally had dished stacked on top of each other.  There was an absurd amount of food, but in the Chinese tradition, it would be rude to have any less.  During this time, the bride and groom went to change into Chinese outfits.  For the first part, they were attired in the western style of white dress and black suit, but during the latter half, the groom wore blue and the bride wore red in the Chinese style.  I think at a full-fledged Chinese wedding, the bride will change dresses as many as four of five times throughout the evening. (Don’t worry—they rent the dresses.)  After the couple re-merged in their new clothes, they had to go to every table and have a toast, and the bride had to light cigarettes for all the men.  The bride and groom don’t actually have time to eat anything at the wedding.  They didn’t have dancing, but the host did manage to blare out a few songs using the karaoke.  All in all, it was quite nice and we were really glad to have the chance to see a Chinese wedding first-hand after doing so many adult classes on the topic.

click here for more pictures of school  |  click here for more wedding pictures

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