The Lester File

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Let's take a stroll through a typical Wednesday afternoon here in Wuhan, Hubei, China at South Central University for Nationalities:
Wednesdays are one of two 10 o'clock morning classes I have during the week... all the others are 8 o'clocks. But, Fridays are free days for everybody, YIPPEE! On this day, Wed., I teach sophomores oral English from 10-12 with a ten minute break in between. All classes are two hour stretches like this, so being unprepared will definitely be awkward for everyone. Recently, they've been presenting advertisements that they have created in groups to the class. I gave each group an object to sell like: a purse, a timer, an black cord with a plug on each end, something I got in Thailand, some hair rollers (thanks mom), and a tea cup. So far, the cord has seen the most interesting interpretations from the students. One group sold it as a new and highly accurate lie detector called Lie Line, which I thought was clever. Another group sold it as an appearance generator of some sort that could make you look attractive and help you lose weight... or something. Each group created a poster with a name, a slogan, and a price then performed a "commercial" in front of the class. It was fun, but I forgot to bring my camera. D'oh! I'll take pictures next week and Meg's doing something similar in her own classes.
After the 10 o'clock class, its time for the Chinese siesta from 12-2pm. Usually, during this time, I'm either watching movies while trying to lesson plan, searching for fun class activities on the internet, or off doing God knows what. But first, its time to eat. There is a place we teachers here at SCUN (acronym) where we go to get some quick food that we affectionately call "The Scary Dirty Alley" or "Scary Alley" for short.
The Scary Alley is an open air market of food vendors that is not visible in any pictures I've posted on this blog. I will take pictures of it soon. Each vendor has fresh (or not so fresh) vegetables out for people to pick and choose what they would like fried up quickly with some noodles or rice. Rice here in China is more of a filler food meant to soak up the oil from the dishes placed on top and can either be eaten or tossed out afterwords. They have a multitude of choices such as Muslim noodles, a noodle soup, fried dumplings, fried rice, or some other concoction you make up. Also in the Alley there are small beauty parlors, bike shops, book stores, fake jewelry stores, copy machines for hire, and lots of stray or owned dogs floating about.
If we're in the mood for something slightly more high class in the Alley, we go to "the Lady." The Lady is a woman who takes our order at her small restaurant further down the Alley near a high school. If I could draw you a map, it wood look like an upside down L shape with a small circle at the bend of the L. The Lady is probably the only restaurant we frequent at the Alley where we always sit down t
o enjoy the food; otherwise, we take it away to eat at home. She knows what we like and the two men who do all the cooking are serious geniuses. Its really really good and super cheap. Bonus. The Lady has become a spot where we gather when we have some time to eat and talk about stuff: classes, plans for the future, Brad's excersise routine (jk ;). Like I said, the Lady is usually a dinner-time activity and in fact, Meg, Brad, and I went there this past Wed. to enjoy good ole' Chinese food. (Nevermind the fact that there is no other food besides Chinese food within walking distance.)
Where was I? After the siesta, Meg, Brad, and I have Chinese class together from 4-6. Lately, we've been reading conversations outloud from our textbooks and learning phrases related to Who, What, Where, When, Why, Which, and How. So far, I'm still not used to recognizing characters, but there are some that I can point out. Our teacher is very pat
ient with us and answers our endless questions and writes everything out in both character and Pinyin.
After Chinese class, I have American culture from 7pm-9pm. Yes, this is a very long day for me, but I only had 12 hours last semester while everybody else had 14. Karma: it doesn't mess around. American culture is a fun class full of Juniors. At SCUN, every year is broken down into groups of about 30-40 students called classes. Students remain in their respective classes throughout their college careers. Along with classes 5,6,and 7 of Sophomores, I also teach writing to the Junior classes 4,5, and 6. The American culture class is an elective, so there is a mix of Juniors from all the classes, including my regular students. Lately, we've been learning about seasons in America: baseball, basketball, and football to be exact. They get a kick out of the idea that sports correspond to seasons of the year. I explain that it has to do with opportunity cost and the very roots of capitalism, but it is also a cultural bonanza. We talk about food and eating and how, although we may not be able to touch culture, we can certainly eat it.
On a more sour note, pertaining to this class, I had to accuse several students of cheating on the last exam I gave. In China, although cheating is frowned upon by society at large, plaigerism and looking on a friend's test for answers is not uncommon in the classroom. Most teachers simply look the other way and the school will actually change the scores for some students who fail after the fact. It is also not uncommon for parents to pay the school to change the grades. In our classes, mine and other foreign teachers, however, the practice is not condoned and will be punished.
Well, that's my Wednesday. Right now its Thursday and time for the weekend! YAY!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Would You like to Hear a Story?

Last Week, Jennifer, Sandrine, and I went on a most action-packed adventure that begins with a 12 hour overnight bus ride from Wuhan to Shanghai. You see, it was Labor Day or May Day here in China and everybody had a week off. It used to be one day, but they extended the time off for the whole week, which means that every able-bodied (and ill-bodied man), woman, and child in China was on the move. Trains were booked the minute they went on sale and all the famous tourist attractions were bombarded by a massive influx of bodies... including ours. Truth be told, we are all very accustomed to the masses surrounding us, the knowlege of such a constant presence is a very comforting one... until that presence hawks a lugee or blows a snot rocket on the sidewalk where you happen to be walking. But I digress...

Now, m
ost foreigners living in China tend to have the good sense (or lack of funds) to stay at home during the May holidays, but we were on a mission. Meghan, Kate, Duff, Lindsay, and two new friends went to Yunnan (one of the most beautiful provinces in China) to get some fresh air, while we headed north where some of the most significant modern historical events in China occurred. We slept on a sleeper bus all night then arrived in Shanghai at around 8am the next morning. Groggy and a bit out of sorts... we tried to figure out where we were. Shanghai is China's most lucrative economic district and has many Western comforts that we had forgotten to miss... like cheese sticks... mmmm. However, Shanghai is still immistakably Chinese with street vendors and markets selling bootlegged and fake name-brand merchandise ready and waiting for a savvy haggler to drive a deal. Its one of our favorite games to see just how low some venders are willing to go before they get upset. Of course, this is a game only played when we see something we want because it would be rude to make them go so low and then not pay. I... am still sort of learning this game... not getting very good at it though.
Upon arriving in Shanghai, we hopped in a cab and followed the Lonely Planet (famous travel book) to the Captain Hostel where we had 3 beds reserve
d in a dorm style room. (60 yuan per night = $7.50) We set our bags down, maybe changed?, and then began our tour of the city. We started with the Bund, which is a the riverwalk and financial district on the West Bank of the Huangpu River. It was described in the Planet as the Wall Street of China and it is indeed very impressive. Across the river is the famous space-age looking weather needle seen in the background of my picture. At one point we began searching for a legendary place that we'd heard about from a trusted friend. It was a place that promised abundant knowledge and sustenance the likes we had not known for many many months. I speak, of course, of a Barnes and Noble. We searched both sides of the river and ended up in the largest and emptiest shopping mall in the city. We walked around the city for hours and hours until we could stand it no longer and grabbed a cab and STILL the mythical bookstore remained elusive. We found a quiet place in the mall to order a drink and wait for the lights of the city to come on and then we returned, exhausted, to the hostel. However, we decided we should venture out and see more of the city at night. So, we went to a jazz club called No. 5 and it was actually very good. The next evening we went out to one of the city's night spots and found a nice little tapas restaurant. Can you imagine? We ordered a small appetizer and then I had a steak... wow... i can almost still taste it.

Over the next few days we visited a number of historical and religious sites including Dr. Sun Yat-sen's former residence and the Jade Buddha temple where there were a number of interesting worshippers performing various acts of prayer.

On the evening of May 1, we boarded a small cruise ship for another 12 hour overnight journey to the island of Putoushan and stayed for 2 nights. This island is the sight of some of China's oldest Buddhist temples as well as some of the newest ones. It is also apparently a military base from the amount of ships, soldiers, and the strange "off limits" area at the top of the mountain. We eventually made our way up to that sight to take pictures from the absolutley breathtaking view that layed out before us.