CHINA JOURNALMonday, May 20 through Saturday, May 26, 2002
The weather has turned hot and muggy. Well, actually, it is not that hot. It is just that the mugginess makes it seem hotter than it is. Cotton is definitely the cloth of the day. One of the directors, Zhang Zhong, came into the office wearing a cotton blue and white Chinese style blouse that I loved...Chinese neck, blue frogs down the front, and the cut to be worn outside instead of tucked in. When I complimented her on it, she motioned me into the piano practice room next to our office and took it off for me to try on. She is much shorter and much bustier than I but it fit well. She stood there in her bra while she sent me up to look at the mirror on the next floor. She was all set to give it to me, but I convinced her that I really wanted to buy one. Later that night, when Fu Ling was insistent we would go buy me a particular pair of shoes that she liked and was sure I would (and I know I wouldn't), I suggested instead that what I really would like to buy was a blouse like Zhang Zhong's. So, hopefully that may happen.
I spent Tuesday morning at the office going over some teacher applications and showing Li Di how to repost one of the job ads that only stays posted for one month. We also got to talk over my last tour. They are still working on it, but it looks as if the idea of leaving school a week early was a passing statement of generosity that has been forgotten, so I will have ten days. Jo Critchlow had mentioned a park called Zhang Jai Jie and they all said it was beautiful...so we will see. My two ``must do'' places are the Yangtze River Three Gorges and Xian. Huang Shan is a particularly beautiful mountain that is popular too. Patience!
Like a good newspaper, I have a correction to make. I really have two, but the second one keeps leaving me. When I described the silk factory and the eight women who pulled one batch of silk out to a full double size comforter size, I was wrong on the number. The pictures came in and there were only four women. How did they get it to fit the corners? They must have had an angel on each corner that I was counting.
I talked to Ren Hai Ying about the shepherds having whips instead of crooks. I realized there is another difference. The shepherds we visualize use the crooks to rescue lambs which fall into crevasses, but they use dogs to move the sheep and keep them under control. In China, there are no crevasses where the sheep are grazing (usually along the roadside) and they have no dogs to move the sheep along. So the whip becomes the ``sheep mover''. I'm sure I'd move if someone cracked a whip near me.
We have been having great entertainment at home. Snow King, the big, white, male cat, stays in the office with the door closed. The three dogs roam the living room with the doors to the bedrooms closed. Zhang Jie is giving them some play time together. Charlie, the white dog, and Snow King, the white cat, have become chasemates. The cat is fearless. They play a fairly quiet game of chase and often end up nose to nose. Ling Ling, is neutral about the cat, but Cong Cong, the little one, is very noisy around the cat. One night when Zhang Ji Sheng had them all out in the living room and it got noisy, he put the cat up on a bar stool chair, where he sat watching the action below. Next thing I knew, the cat was down and he had put Cong Cong up on the chair. Cong Cong won't jump from there so she just sat and watched. She did object when Zhang Ji Sheng put out the cats' food, and Snow King went over and ate Cong Cong's food right next to the two dogs. Sometimes when Snow King has been put in the study with the door closed, you suddenly hear this terrible racket as if he is knocking over all sorts of things. He wants out. So he runs and leaps at the door, scrambling all the way up to the ledge of the window and hangs on with his claws. Interesting group.
If you are at all squeamish about bodily functions and social conventions, you might just skip this paragraph. Because I'm in the middle of it I find it interesting to think about. The topic is the Chinese habit of both expectorating and blowing one's nose directly on the ground, any time and any place. I've not seen as much of the nose blowing, but the expectoration is quite regular, sometimes quite noisy and sometimes not. I'm dumbfounded at what, to a Western mind, is very inconsiderate and unsanitary. I've seen more than one person expectorate onto a carpeted floor of a restaurant or other public room and onto tiled floors anywhere, which both looks gross and is slippery. What I have become interested in is learning when this habit entered into the Chinese culture. By the third month here, I had developed chronic phlegm in my throat and mucous in my nose. I didn't have a cold and I wasn't stuffed up. I, who never learned the manly art of expectoration, must do the elimination of all such extraneous matter through blowing my nose...and the amount has caught my attention. I'm thinking that this is my body's answer as to how it eliminates all the pollutants that enter my nose and mouth from breathing the air. Very rarely do you see a Chinese person blowing his or her nose, which makes me think they are getting the same sort of pollutants but have learned to bring it down to their throats and spit it out (probably a much healthier approach than mine...though I do wish they would choose where they spit with more care.) So what I'm wondering is whether Chinese all over China do this or only the ones living in the more polluted areas. And, is this a habit of many years standing or did it only come into the culture with the arrival of more air pollution? I wonder if there are any studies on this.
At the talk on Wednesday, which was on the history and geography of the United States, among the slides was one giving the best known words from the Declaration of Independence and one giving a ten-point summary of the Bill of Rights. The director afterwards asked me to send her a copy of each of them so she could make copies for people. Propaganda! Whoopee! I thought I had done real well just to read them in front of the group.
One of the teachers there was one of the twelve (or was it twenty) who just got back from spending three months in Bakersfield living with families, taking classes with Jess Nieto, and visiting schools. I asked her about the school visitations. She was really impressed. After saying both America and China can learn from each other on schooling, she went on to describe what caught her attention the most. She was impressed with the encouragement of creativity and thinking. In amazement she said, ``Your students actually ask the teachers questions.'' I hope to continue the discussion with her next time and find out specifically what she feels the United States should take from Chinese schools (besides the morning exercises, which I love). I find myself being more and more impressed with American schooling, in spite of all its problems. While we could use a bit of the Chinese child's fear of the teacher (I would prefer respect), I would hate to get it at the cost of shouting at the kids in angry voices. Even the sweetest teachers resort to that loud angry tone on a regular basis, at least once a class session and usually more than that. (I hasten to add that it is a harsh angry-sounding tone that is used in all settings, not just schools, even if someone is telling someone what to do or just making a strong point in an argument. I hesitate to refer to it as a discussion because in that tonality it strikes these Western ears as no longer being a discussion.) Our office is attached to the third grade room and I find myself wincing every time the teacher suddenly bursts forth with that loud angry tone or bangs angrily on the board with a yard stick. My two officemates do it as loudly and angrily as anyone. Both of them will have students in the office and be yelling at them telling them off for being lazy. Meanwhile other students will be in the office with all the voices getting louder and louder. It is difficult for me, the non-shouter, to be around. But the students truly love both of my office mates. They are neat people.
I'm down to just about two weeks of teaching. I'm planning things so that each child has a ``book'' to take home at the end, following some of my sister Georgia's guidelines. I realize that nothing creative or fun ever goes home from school with the kids. It is a challenge to my ingenuity to find materials. Nothing that I am used to and want is here. Each book has four pages about one fourth the size of an 8 ½ by 11 sheet. There is no paper that I can buy which is a heavy enough weight for the book pages, so the art teacher let me have ten of her art tablets, each of which has fourteen pages. (So far as I can tell, this is the only size or weight paper they ever use for any drawing or painting.) These are only about the weight of our notebook paper, and each page has the Chinese characters asking for the class, date, and name. I cut them into fourths and turned the parts with the characters to be on the back of the two inside pages. There is no paper cutter so all cuts are by hand held scissors. There is no colored construction paper. The only thing colored and heavier are thin sheets of colored foam. These are a bit fragile but are turning out to be rather fun. That will be folded over to make the cover, a different color for each of the seven classes. Georgia sent me some address labels. There are enough of those to label four of the classes and I can't buy any more of any size. I found a two-inch wide tape which is yellow but translucent and devilish to work with, but I have used it to make the other labels. (A marking pen won't work directly on the foam.) The yellow tape will also be used as a binder edge over the staples because I'm afraid the foam may come apart at the staples otherwise. Each class has sentences appropriate to its English grade level. (I've written all the sentences on the pages.) Each student is drawing the picture to fit each sentence. I describe this simply to help us all realize not only how blessed we are with the abundance and variety in our country but what a wonderful job the teachers do in encouraging creativity and surrounding our children with it. It is a different world...a different approach to the joys of life.
Some interesting things have happened in the classes on this project. The first graders' sentences are See the dog, See the cat, See the bird, See the hat. Following Georgia's suggestions, I made little word cards for them...one word to a card (using about 1x ½ inch pieces of the precious note cards which I brought with me and can't find here). We have worked on several of those each time we meet, trying to get the look of the word matched to the sound. Hat and Cat are very hard to keep straight. I made them each a little envelope in which to keep the words. (There are no library pockets available like Georgia used.) I had made a sample of a book with a picture on each page. The first picture I had them draw was of a cat. I asked four students to come up to the board and simultaneously draw a cat. They were darling...all with four long legs, tails and whiskers. My hope was that by getting a variety up on the board the students would realize there was no cat prototype which they were supposed to use. After getting the variety up on the board, I flashed them my picture simply to show them how I wanted them to use their colored felt pens to draw a cat on the page. Then I disappeared it. My cat picture was just a head...and, by golly, every one of their drawings was just a head like mine. They do toe the line! So today, when we were going to draw Hat, I had five students come up to draw a hat. As before, they sort of watch each other to see someone get a good start and they all follow that pattern. After they got a good start, I reached over their heads and quickly drew four totally different types of hats. When I started on the first one the four students looked up and started to erase theirs and I motioned to them not to...to keep drawing. This time I didn't show them what I had drawn in my book and we got a fun variety. Both they and I keep learning.
Thursday the middle school students had a special session going on so I missed them again. I'm getting very few sessions with them which is very frustrating for me.
Friday I was at the office until my class time in the afternoon. They wanted me to call a woman that they had hoped to get as a teacher for next year, because she just sent an email that she had accepted someplace else. They were sure if I would call her, we could get her to come to Tianjin. She has a four year old daughter who is coming with her. I looked up on the web the city she said she is going to and, out of several possibilities, I was sure which one she had chosen...a university that has a university school so they could be housed on campus and both of their classes would be there. As it turned out, I had guessed correctly, and it is a much better situation for their needs than anything Bohan could offer right now. The conversation was fascinating. The woman lives in Texas with her husband and they have a very successful car dealership. It turns out that the daughter was adopted from China. The mother, who had been born in Germany, had been adopted to America as a baby and her parents made an effort to be sure she knew her birth culture and language, and Candace and Alex want to do the same for their daughter. Alex is willing to stay home while Candace and the daughter come over every few years to learn and experience more Chinese. Really admirable. We have exchanged a few emails and I told her the experience of Scott and Patty's friends who adopted a Chinese baby eight years ago. In trying to give her some of her heritage they enrolled her in a Chinese school in San Francisco but eventually realized that she was being discriminated against by the Chinese children and parents who felt she was from a ``different class''. Really sad. I told Candace she might want to be a bit circumspect about her daughter's background until she knew the lay of the land...just say she is American and that there are lots of Chinese in America. She was glad for the warning. Like I, she never would have thought of that possibility.
While I was at the office, the report from the tour agency came in. They had one tour that would take me to the Yangtzi and another tour to go to Xian, and that would put me back in Tianjin on June 18th. My plane leaves June 17th! Since my visa is good until the 19th, I called to get see if I could get a seat on the 19th. Nothing is available even if I pay more money for another class. I reported that to Sun Zhi Hong and Zhang Fu Ling at the office, and they said they would end my class early so I could go. Now I have to wait to find out when. Sure would be nice to know in terms of my lesson plans!
Saturday I have spent all day at the computer getting ready for Wednesday's talk for the Nankai Bureau. Partly on the American family, birth to death, and partly on my observations about differences between China and America. What I'm finding I'll be emphasizing is that there is no ``normal American family''. We are an amazingly diverse culture. I'm glad this is the last talk. They have been fun, but they've been a lot of work.