Archive for September, 2009

Of Beer Tents and Scenic Views

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

St. Rupert's Day Tent

We had a speaking exam on Thursday and a written test on Friday, and so German tests marked the end of week two in Salzburg. The exams meant the end of our intensive German class and the start of a fun-filled homework free weekend. Salzburg celebrated St. Rupert’s Day on the 23rd (I think?), and they filled a section of the Old City with a festival to mark the occasion. The fair, because it also serves as a sort of Salzburg Oktoberfest, ran for a few days after the official holiday. This gave us more than enough time, as in every night this weekend, to see everything there was to see: several carnival rides and games, lots of food stands selling everything from gingerbread to sausages, booths selling hand made crafts, toys, clothes (we all really want to buy lederhosen/dirndls now) and of course the huge beer tent. Even for someone who doesn’t like beer (I was just happy I finally found a place with sauerkraut), this tent still managed to serve as the ultimate in entertainment. A live band played traditional march music, drinking songs, and the occasional chorus of some random American pop song like “I Will Survive.” Several hundred people drinking beer out of mugs the size of my head accompanied them whenever the occasion arose. For some reason the urge to stand on benches and tables accompanied the need to belt out a tune, increasing the danger that this person may at any moment slosh beer onto anyone unfortunate enough to be sitting within a four foot radius. Somehow, I avoided just such a shower. I did not, however, and nor did just about anyone, avoid the amusing but creepy advances of the many drunken characters sure to make an appearance during any visit to the tent lasting more than 45 seconds. The first night they came in the form of older Austrian men intent on trying to speak English to us (I’m fairly sure they still think we’re all from California) and kissing us all on the cheeks as they left. Saturday night brought to our table a crowd of guys from Germany celebrating the impending wedding of one of their own. They were the loudest in the tent at times, but we learned some new songs while standing on benches and singing with them. When a few of them decided standing on the table was a good plan, I was relieved to discover it somehow held their weight. Around dinner time on Sunday night we joined some friends who had camped out in the tent all day. The combination of their lengthy stay and the amount of alcohol consumed meant some friends had been made, most notably a middle aged Russian/German man intent on creeping us all the heck out. This often involved one of those gummy hand things sometimes found in little kids’ quarter machines. He left after a little while though, only to be replaced by an Austrian teenager whose parents should obviously lower/eliminate his beer allowance. He’d gotten into just about everyones’ faces, male and female alike, and caused several stories of fake husbands/boyfriends to be concocted before we made a break for it and said good riddance to the beer tent. After our escape, some friends and I ran into an Australian couple who had been on the road around Europe for almost three months and had plenty of stories to tell, so we chatted with them for a bit before they informed us of the impending end-of-festival fireworks to be set off over the fortress. We stuck around to see them, and it was well worth it. Not even the momentary fear that some silly fireworks could end up burning down a 1000 year old structure could wreck the show.

But I didn’t spend the whole weekend squished on a wooden bench singing “Ein Prosit” every fifteen minutes. Saturday some friends and I decided to venture out into Austria’s lake district, which is in another Austrian state but only about an hour bus ride away. How this came to be the plan is a long and convoluted story beginning with a quest to get to Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria and ending with my holding an all-in-German conversation with an employee at the train station about the hows, whens, and how muchs involved in getting to the little town of Mondsee. As it turns out, its super easy. We got up early Saturday and caught an 11 Euro bus at 8:40 that took us through several smaller towns until we got to Mondsee, which translates literally to Moon Lake because of its large, crescent shaped lake of the same name. We didn’t have a whole lot by way of plans for seeing and doing in the town, so we wandered a lot and ate our way through many of tiny Mondsee’s eating establishments. Mondsee is home to a church they used in filming The Sound of Music, so we went in and around there and then explored the waterfront. Rachelle and I had brought swimsuits with the hope of possibly getting into the water, but, and much to the guys’ amusement, the weather and the lake temperature did not cooperate with such plans. We did have some gorgeous views of the mountains around the lake though. Not quite content with that, we climbed a steep hill to another church so as to see the lake from a higher altitude. By that point in the afternoon the fog had cleared, and the scenes were so pretty that the five of us were ready to pool the Euros in our wallets and buy a house on the hill overlooking the town. We ran out of places to wander shortly thereafter, and we caught a bus that had us back into Salzburg by dinner time.

Sunday, after I (oops) slept through the alarm meant to wake me up in time to get to church to watch Rachelle sing in the cathedral choir, some of us became tourists in our own town and climbed yet another impossibly steep hill up to Festung Hohensalzburg, the fortress that looks down over the entire city. The fortress is one of the largest of its kind in Europe, and at no point during its hundreds of years in use was it taken by force. We’re pretty sure this is because the need to climb an epic mountain before even getting to the walls of the fortress itself would have deterred any potential invaders. We took a short tour of the interior of the castle and shot some pictures of the whole of Salzburg from its tower. We also listened to the beer drinkers singing from the tent at the bottom of the hill. That’s how loud they were. The fortress has some museums and things as well, mostly of military history items, that we skimmed through, and before we knew it our afternoon, and most of our weekend had vanished. Lots of people have classes starting tomorrow, but I’m lucky enough to have one more day to sleep in and hang around because the class I’ll normally have Monday and Wednesday is not starting until Wednesday. On the list for this week: more grocery shopping, searching for cheap places to buy dirndls in Munich so we can get one while we’re there next weekend, and finalizing plans for the many other weekend trips we want to make this semester. And maybe some homework.

In Which Taco Tuesday Gets Its Start

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

After the ultimate of lazy days on Sunday (I never even left the dorm), we went as a group to Burg Hohenwerfen, which is about a half hour south of Salzburg and well into the Alps. We parked at the base of a rather large mountain, and our “culture expert” and tour guide, Andreas, calmly informed us we would simply be walking up the hill. Our epic 4 hour city tour last week taught us that Andreas tends to underestimate the amount of effort involved in things like mountain climbing, so we we weren’t all that surprised when he directed us towards the dirt hiking path that led up the mountain instead of to the incline train that started in the parking lot. Some of us got bored with the endless switchbacks and started climbing straight up the mountain. Lots more effort involved but we had some laughs attempting not to fall over backwards on the steep trail. When we finally got within the walls of the fortress we still had another steep climb and dozens of steps to go until we got up to the building itself. Really Andreas, a walk up the hill? But the fortress was gorgeous and the view from that high even more so. Hohenwerfen also has several birds of prey, from local falcons to a bald eagle, and the staff puts on demonstrations to help illustrate the way people would have used birds in hunting way back when. We sat on the side of the hill and watched the birds soar over our heads and occasionally dive straight for us. The falconers used whistles and bells to call them and tossed them pieces of food every so often. I only understood about every eighth word of the spoken presentation, but I don’t think it mattered. When the show was over we trekked back down the mountain, a much easier feat than the climb up. Our bus driver decided to take the scenic route on the way back to Salzburg. We drove through the mountains for a while and then through our driver’s hometown. He even took us past his house, which involved squeezing our huge tour bus down a narrow small town street. Sometimes I wonder about Austrians.

On Tuesday, when we discovered the supplies in our cupboard basically consisted of stale bread and Nutella, Rachelle and I decided it was time to either brave grocery shopping again or starve. We chose a different store this time and managed to have a much less spastic shopping experience. We’re really enjoying working our way through the cookie aisle. Chocolate covered gingerbread? Heck yes. Also, Pringles are huge over here. I feel as though there are about twenty different flavors in the snack food section. Most exciting though was that we found all of the ingredients to put together a pseudo-Mexican dinner for that night. Some of the girls got together and, though we made a huge mess and had to borrow stove space and silverware from friends, Taco Tuesday was quite the success. I think it boosted our confidence in our abilities to cook in our little kitchen closets, too, so meals more elaborate than canned soup may be in our future. The rest of the week appears to be devoted to figuring out how to do laundry and studying for our German final exams. Real classes start on Monday!

Of Trick Fountains and Austrian Food

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

First weekend in Salzburg is coming to an end with a lazy Sunday spent doing homework and singing along to various Broadway musicals with my theater enthusiast of a roommate. It’s a much needed break seeing as we’ve all been constantly in motion since just about the moment we pulled our bags up too many flights of stairs during move-in a week ago today. We had more German classes on Friday, and for dinner roomie and I decided to try out the canned soup we’d bought during our stressful shopping experience. Mine was noodle soup. Familiar enough. She had bought what we thought was tomato soup. It wasn’t. In fact, we’re still not entirely sure what it was, but she gamely ate all of it. We made plans to go to an open air jazz concert in the old town that evening with some other friends. Of course, in reality, the concert was indoors and hardly jazz at all. After a week of making plans the way little kids play whisper down the alley, this didn’t seem all that strange to us. It was a fun girls’ night out anyway.

Schloss Hellbrunn
Saturday some of us hopped on a bus to Schloss Hellbrunn, a castle on the outskirts of Salzburg built 400 hundred years ago and famous for having trick water fountains. It was a nice day by Salzburg standards (72 and sunny!) so we went prepared to get wet. And even though I’d been there before, the castle did not disappoint. We had a brief freak out moment when our tour guide began speaking in German to the whole group (why hadn’t it occurred to us this would happen?), but he translated his speech into English a few minutes later. All of the fountains and moving scenes in the gardens are water powered, and it’s hard to believe the technology to design and build them existed 400 years ago. Of course, the castle’s builder had a sense of humor, and many of the fountains are meant to surprise (and soak) guests. I’m quite convinced our tour guide had to have been picking on us. He would consistently wait until everyone except our little group of eight had walked away, and then he’d turn on the extra jet of water aiming straight for us. We ended the tour dripping but amused. After we’d walked around the inside of the castle itself we wandered the park adjacent to the grounds and made the mandatory stop at the Sound of Music gazebo. There was also a festival for little kids going on, so being the kids we are, we petted a pony and painted a car.

All of us in the program had the option of staying in an Austrian household rather than a dorm during the program, and our friends Rachel and Kirsten are roommates at the home of the most amusing seventy-four year old Austrian woman in Salzburg. Or possibly anywhere. We’ve only been here a week, but already her food has quite the reputation, and so after Hellbrunn some of us went back with Rachel and Kirsten to have dinner at their apartment. Frau Schoettke called it a snack, but we were greeted by a ridiculous amount of food in multiple courses. We’ve all been eating out or attempting to cook for ourselves for days now, so real homecooked food was much appreciated. She told us (dirty!) jokes and showed pictures and told stories of past students that had come through Salzburg with our program. When we were finally all full to bursting, we headed back into town and found more friends with whom to wile away the rest of our Saturday night.

Tomorrow- day trip to Castle Hohenwerfen.

And So it Begins

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

London Skyline
Somehow it just doesn’t seem real that I was getting on a plane to London only a week ago today. I feel like I’ve been away from home for months. In a good way. We’ve crammed so much into such a short amount of time. My first weekend abroad was spent exploring London and getting to know the group of fun people I’m going to be in Salzburg with for the next three months. Jet lag attempted to hold us back, but most of us managed to stay sufficiently awake to avoid getting hit by those always unexpected other-side-of-the-road drivers. We fought The Tired long enough to see some of London’s major touristy spots even while still managing to sneak in a bit of a very much needed afternoon nap. In our free time some of us decided to tour Buckingham Palace as it’s only open to the public through the end of this month. After having seen so many castles long since devoted to tourism, it was a bit strange to walk through the hallways and know that, no matter how glitzy it was, people still lived there. Though I do have to say, the Queen’s backyard was a bit disappointing. It was a large field. I feel as though flowers and hedgerows should have been involved.

Our time in London came to an end far too early in the morning on Sunday. We got up in time to leave our hotel at 5:15 AM. For most us of this meant we were traveling on about ten hours of sleep spread over two or three days. Lack of sleep made the news we got upon getting to the airport, that our luggage van had broken down somewhere along the side of a suburban London highway, all the more depressing. So we sat on the floor of the airport and guzzled coffee. For hours. Finally we greeted the arrival of our rescued suitcases with more enthusiasm than any of London’s sites had gotten out of us. We made our flight with only a little time to spare, and my sleepiness induced crankiness was eased somewhat by the even more exhausting tale of my German seatmate, a girl who had come all the way from Costa Rica via Miami and was finally making her way home to Germany after more than a day of traveling. She still had enough energy to chat, so she told me about Salzburg, and her school, and whether I would understand anything the Austrians said, because “they don’t speak real German.” When we finally got to Munich we had changed time zones yet again, but all of us piled onto a bus that would take us to Salzburg and our home for the next few months.

Dorm Room
It was on the bus that we found out for the first time where and with whom we would be living. Turns out my dorm resembles a bit of an Ikea ad. It’s a whole lot different from the red brick, white columned buildings at Mary Washington, but it will do for now. My roommate, Rachelle, is from California, and we’ve been having a grand time laughing as we figure out what to make of the ridiculous situations we put ourselves in. Our shower is a death trap, our kitchen is inside a closet, and we can’t turn the fan in the bathroom off even if we wanted to. But it’s fun. And I’m loving it. We’ve bonded with the other Americans in the building, and it seems that just today there are Austrian students moving in, so soon enough the dorm will be a interesting mix of people and languages and customs.

Salzburg in the Fog
We had orientation for the first few days that we were here. We learned how to use the bus system, how to find our classes, and spent a few entertaining hours emptying out several stores of their cheapest cell phones. Virtually everyone in the program now has the exact same phone, and how we’re going to tell them apart if we should ever put them down together I have no idea. Our orientation tour of the city showed us how lucky we are to be living in a town that goes back thousands of years. Our overly enthusiastic guide informed us we would be trekking up mountains, girls in flip flops and all, and though we mumbled a bit about the rain and the cold and the endless walking, the views from the hills were stunning. Every time you turn a corner in this city you’re greeted with a new view even more dramatic than the last. Having a fortress on the hill is still something I’m getting used to.

We spent our free time scouting out the cheap yet tasty restaurants, buying bus passes, and figuring out how to get by speaking an awkward combination of German and English. Germish, if you will. Rachelle and I had our first real culture shock experience when we attempted to go grocery shopping. We had been warned that we would have to bag our own groceries. We were prepared for this. We muddled our way through shopping, which is time consuming when you have to guess at what a lot of the items are, and worked up the courage to go up to the register. I have never seen a person scan groceries as quickly as the woman at the check out counter did. As she’s scanning them she’s practically throwing them at us, even though Rachelle is throwing things in our bag as quickly as she can. It was stressful. And afterwards highly amusing. And now we know that we just have to push everything into the cart until after we pay; once that’s done we can walk calmly over to the “bagging area” to organize things and recover from the trauma of watching your groceries moving at the speed of sound. It’s the strange little things like that that keep making me realize we really aren’t at home anymore.

We started intensive German classes this week, and they run through the end of next week. We don’t start our real academic classes until almost October. Three hours a day of grammar is a bit much, but I do know far more of the language than I realized. I’ve started working up the courage to speak German to the Austrians, though they don’t do much for a person’s confidence when they instantly switch to English. All in all though, the Austrians we’ve spoken to have been amazingly friendly despite their reputation as being standoffish. We’ve gotten tips on everything from which train to take to Oktoberfest, to which spicy peppers to avoid eating in our Indian food, to which bus stop to get off at when we’ve looked lost and confused. Some of us had a highly amusing time of it attempting to communicate with a group of older Swiss men at a restuarant, but somehow between our broken German and their handful of English phrases we got quite a bit said. But I feel like something got lost in translation the other day when someone asked me if I was Amish upon finding out I was from Pennsylvania.

I’m starting to feel like I know my way around a bit more, and it’s fun planning our future weekend excursions. We don’t have classes on Fridays so three day travel weekends here we come. Italy! Slovenia! Croatia! Czech Republic! Plans to see them all! Stay tuned.

16 Sept 2009-David stays home, sick

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

So I missed school for the first time today.  I think the pressures of teaching 25 classes a week is finally taking a toll on my body.  I woke up this morning with a throbbing headache, a sore body, a slight cough, a little fever, and no energy.  I even struggled to grab my phone next to me to call my company and tell them that there was no chance I was getting out of bed.  Jessica, one of the main contacts and the sweetest person you’ll ever meet, offered to take me to the hospital.  Apparently this is SOP for the company, because I guess if you are ill to the point of missing class, then it must be severe enough that emergency-care is needed.  I told her that it wasn’t necessary, and she took care of calling the school and notifying them that I wouldn’t be teaching the 5 classes of 7th graders I am usually scheduled.  I did get better later in the day and managed to get myself out of the apartment and to the supermarket to grab some orange juice and fruits, and then to KFC for an old-fashioned chicken sandwich.

I did feel a little bad for staying home today.  I’ve done a lot more in worse conditions before, but I had to consider my health in the long-term.  I did a lot of thinking while laying in my bed till noon (and again from 2-4pm), and I came to the conclusion that this job is kind of grueling.  First off, the teachers in this company have more classes than the actual teachers of the schools.  Secondly, most of us are unfortunate enough to teach at a different school everyday (On Mondays and Fridays, I teach at two different schools).  This requires riding a different bus to each school, trying to remember all of your school’s exact locations (I got lost going to school twice, but I’m getting the hang of it now), trying to remember what floor the teacher’s office and your classes are at each school (thankfully I have the TA’s showing me to each of my classes), and…I won’t even get into trying to remember students’ names.  And thirdly, what I think contributed to my uncomfortable state is that everyday, I’m speaking out of my normal vocal range and trying my best to be energetic and charismatic.  These are qualities I only exhibit after a couple vodka-tonics.

It doesn’t help either that the culture of China allows people to spit on the ground centimeters from your feet (that’s right, I just used the metric system), dogs to poop in the middle of the street, and to have no real garbage disposal system outside of your apartment.  I feel icky every time I come home

Each day we bounce around the city between home, school, the office, and some sight-seeing in between.  I’m only 3 weeks into this journey, and I’ve already missed my first day.  So, it looks like my immune system has some toughening up to do.  I’m pretty sure, though, that when I come home after 10 months here, if someone sneezes on my face I”ll just think its raining.

10 Sept 2009-Teacher’s Day

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Teachers were celebrated today by students giving us flowers, cards, and little gifts as we entered school and when they dropped by the teacher’s office.  As I arrived to Jeifang Primary, there was the marching band lined up on the sides of the brick pathway leading to the front entrance.  I was too shy to figure out that this was for teachers, but when I saw my colleagues walk in, the band started playing.  On my way to the English office, a student who was not even one of mine gave me flowers.  At the end of my second class, my students presented me with another bouquet of flowers as they said in unison, “Happy Teacher’s Day!”  A student in my third class also gave me a tiny stuffed bunny-keychain.  All this was capped off with an early dismissal so teachers could go home and relax by lunch-time.  What a pleasant day.

Another thing I wanted to mention before was what the students did during their breaks.  There is one period where students have “morning exercise,” in which all the children line up outside on the playground.  An adminstrator, with megaphone in hand, commands the students from upstairs inside the building through a window, and the kids go through a series of stretches, calisthenics, and marching drills in a military-like fashion.  I’m not sure exactly the purpose of this.  The students also have P.E. and recess, so I think this is just an organized routine in Chinese schools since the days are very long and it is a way for them to stay in shape throughout the day and throughout the year.

Another way to help students get through the day is during the 10 minute break between classes, they perform “eye exercises.”  Since students are constantly staring at teachers and the blackboard, this supposedly helps them endure the long day.

One thing I do appreciate is that at some of my schools (mainly the upper-class ones), when I walk through the hallways and pass by a group of students, they all bow their heads and say “laoshi” (which is “teacher” in Mandarin).  I don’t think we have to say or do anything in response, but I’ve seen some simply bow their heads in return, which is what I’ve been doing every time.  Teachers get love here in China…

9/9/09 – Botanical Gardens and Russian Street

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

So I did a little bit of sight-seeing today.

Firstly, this morning I passed by a group of people as I was catching the bus to school.  They were doing some sort of martial art.  I’ve heard two different explanations for this:  either these people are preparing a performance for the National Holiday coming up next month, or they are simply exercising really early in the morning.  Either way, I found it interesting enough to take a picture of what was going on.

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After classes, Ben (a fellow teacher) and I decided to take a stroll through the Botanical Gardens, which is only one bus stop from my apartment.  It was very pleasant.  There were many pathways that take you to a pond where people fish, through forest-like areas, to little grassy hills where you can relax, and to monuments of some famous Chinese people (I’m sorry I can’t be anymore specific than that).  There are also some great views of downtown Dalian from the Gardens, which to me depicts what this whole place is about:  a busy city with a nature-like scenic backdrop.  I really enjoyed walking around, but to avoid any “bro-date” kind of implication, Ben and I thought it best to cut the visit short and meet up with another teacher.

After rendezvous-ing with Matt, we strolled on over to Russian Street, a little strip of tented shops and mini-markets.  While I was disappointed to see no Russians there, there was a variety of the country’s goods:  whisky flasks, dolls, and even a little store that sold military equipment and fatigues.  It wasn’t the prettiest place, but it seemed like a good place to buy street food and/or souvenirs.

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Dalian Part 1 047

6 Sept 2009 – English Corner

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Every Sunday at 2pm, Chinese men, women and children of all ages and backgrounds come to Dalian’s most popular Zhongshan Square to congregate with each other and with Americans…to practice their English.  It is a very pleasant and encouraging sight to see these people enthusiastic about learning and perfecting the English language.

Today I made my first appearance, but not without hesitation – more on the Chinese’s part.  They were surprised by their discovery of me not being Chinese, which to them explained my fluency in English and my American accent.  Once they got over that, we were able to communicate with ease.  With the young adults and the middle-aged men, we spoke about politics and economics – mainly the latter.  They were curious about the U.S.’s economic situation as they tried to compare and relate to their own economic crisis (although, “crisis” may be considered an overstatement compared to the U.S., but it was the term consistently used by the locals).  My Psychology background also sparked some interest, but I had to help erase the stigma that all Psyc. students constantly psycho-analyze strangers for their own amusement (aside from that, they found the topic very intriguing).

However, my favorite part of the day was talking to the children.  Their English speaking skills were superb, often better than their parents and the older locals.  They are polite, formal, and very willing to speak.  They ask a lot of questions (where are you from, what is your favorite fruit, how long will you stay in Dalian, are you married, etc) because they just simply want to get to know you.  When I ask for their names, most ask if I want their “Chinese name” or their “English/American name” (as is the case with my students in class), which I find very cool that they can have this dual nomenclature.  I even played a word game with a group of 12-year-olds, though they looked like they were 8.

The best sight, in my opinion, was when I saw the Chinese talk among themselves…in English.  By the end of the day, I got the impression that the people that showed up to English corner were individuals dedicated to becoming bilingual.  Even the parents urged their children to approach me and show off what they could say.  When I left Zhongshan Square after 3 straight hours of conversing, they asked me if I was going to be there next week.  I told them that I couldn’t wait.

3 Sept 2009 – Day 2

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

My second day of teaching went just as well, if not better, than my first day.  I had all fifth graders today and one sixth grade class, and their English was phenomenal.  I basically did the same lesson plan as yesterday’s, and they loved it.  They were eager to stand in front of the class and recite the questions I had on the board, and they especially enjoyed Hangman (I have a feeling they call it something else, because when I write the name, they get confused, but when I start drawing it, they go “ahhhhhhh”).

A funny thing happened during my first class.  Like I mentioned before, there is no A/C in most schools here.  So, within the first 10 minutes of class, I started to sweat…profusely.  All I was wearing was a polo and jeans, but for me that was enough to make me look like a fat kid chasing an ice cream truck.  The TA in the class thought I was nervous, so in the middle of class she handed me some tissues and a piece of paper that read “Don’t worry, you’re doing a good job!”  That was very nice of her and it definitely gave me some confidence, but I told her that it was simply the fact that it was hot in the room.  The TA then went above and beyond and went out in the hallway to open more windows.  They really take care of you here.

I was also intrigued by the number of male teachers at the schools.  I saw a good amount yesterday, and two (three if you count me) were in the English department alone.  It’s good to see some diversity here in the classroom.

Also, my day was cut short because all the teachers went to another school to sing – a celebratory activity for the country’s National Holiday coming up.  So it was nice to be done by lunch time.

I hope tomorrow goes just as well…

2 Sept 2009 – First Day

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Class is in session.  I am your teacher, Mr. David.

I just finished my first day of classes and, to my surprise, they went very well.  The school I taught at was creatively called No.40.  That’s it, and I don’t know why, either.  All of my students today were Junior 1 (or Grade 7), and they ranged anywhere between 12 to 14 years old.  Each class was 40 minutes long, and I had five classes, so the day actually went by fairly fast.

My first class was at 8:20am, so I arrived at the school at 8 (only three short bus stops from my apartment).  The Chinese teacher who also teaches English showed me to each of my classes.  I was a little nervous before the first one (and hot – there is no AC in any of the schools), but I swallowed my nerves and just began.  I started with a clapping exercise.  I would clap a certain rhythm (goes like:  clap, clap-clap-clap, clap) and the students would finish with (clap-clap).  I hope you understand that.  I told them that I would begin each class by doing that, just to get their attention.

I then introduced myself as Mr. David, and told them a little bit about myself (like where I was born, in which I proceeded to draw a map of the U.S. and make a mark on Washington D.C.).  Next, I wrote four questions on the chalkboard (yes, Chinese schools still use chalkboards, and it’s annoying):  Hello, what is your name?; How old are you?; What is your favorite color?; What is your favorite food?.  I also wrote the answers to these questions (My name is…, etc.) and had the class read the phrases aloud.  They did a very good job of repeating them.  The next thing I did was have them copy down the questions and answers (with the blanks filled in), look at the person next to them, and practice conversing.  After a couple minutes, I randomly chose a couple pairs to speak in front of the class.  The main purpose of this was for me to gauge the level of English for each student because I expected the level to be varied with each one.  However, I was pleasantly surprised at how well they articulated the phrases.  I did have to correct them a bit, especially because they tend to speak too fast and not loud enough.  I only did this for a couple pairs, and then moved on.

I then had them ask me questions.  This wasn’t originally in my plan, but because I thought they could handle it, I added it impromptu.  They were shy at first, but the questions started flowing.  Picking on students to speak is a great sight.  They raise their hands, they stand up, speak, and then sit down.  It’s so proper, and I love it.  I got some normal questions (every class asked me if I spoke Chinese) and some interesting ones (“Where was your layover before coming to China?”, “Is America useful?”).

I then proceeded to my class rules.  I wrote down three:  1)When I speak, you listen, 2)ALWAYS speak English, and 3)Have fun.  I tried to keep it simple and not have too many rules.  I didn’t want to spend 15 minutes writing on the chalkboard, especially since I have pretty bad hand-writing.

I then spent the last part of class playing Hangman.  Most have heard of the game, others caught on quickly.  I still explained the concept, did a practice round, and then divided the class into two teams.  I think the students love the idea of competition, and everyone was enthusiastic about playing.  I used easy words like China, Harry Potter, and basketball.  I always made “United States of America” the last one and it was the hardest for most classes.

I ended each class by writing on the board “Goodbye, Mr. David” and told them that’s how I wanted them to respond when I said “Goodbye, class!”

All my classes went virtually the same way.  The class before lunch was the most hyper, and the last class was the most mellow.  Lunch was interesting, too.  I was shown to the cafeteria and helped with getting food, and then they took me to a private room where I could eat and “rest” before my last class.  To me, it seemed like special treatment.  Also, it seems that the questioning of the quality of cafeteria food is mainstream across the world.

Overall, a good day.  I only have this school once week because I teach at a different school every day.  The school today had about 25-30 students in each class, but I expect that to vary with each school (so I’m still dreading that 60-student class everyone tells me I’m going to get).  I also mainly have 6th graders and one 5th grade class.  I’ll try to update as much as I can, especially if I notice something very different and/or interesting about my classes.

P.S.  I just bought a microphone for my laptop, and I have Skype.  If you’re bored and feel like talking to someone halfway across the world, just e-mail me and I’ll give you my Skype name.