We had to get up early and boy did my Chinese counterparts make sure the token foreigners on this trip would not be late. We got an early wake-up call from the front desk, a call on our cell phones, and someone banging on our door. When I went to open the door, no one was there. Cheeky monkeys.
At nine o’clock we arrived at the United International College for a greeting ceremony and a signing of an accord between all parties concerned.
One of the great options for Chinese students is the idea of studying abroad without going abroad. Many colleges are popping up that have English-language campuses/dual-language campuses, and/or have instituted agreements with foreign universities to in essence bring the mountain to Mohammed.
Some students cannot afford the expense or they are not interested in living abroad or they just want to see what studying completely in English would be like. Universities offering English-language instruction and/or dual degree programs are gaining traction in China. Makes perfect sense from a financial viewpoint. Moreover, many colleges abroad can only absorb so many international students, so this is an excellent compromise and I can say that the facilities we’ve visited have all been top-notch and run by impressive people.
English is the lingua franca on the UIC campus, so Chinese students are immersed in an “international” program without having to leave the motherland. It would be cool if an international college opened up in the States where Mandarin was the medium of instruction, or hell, I’d even like to see Spanish!
To be honest, I’m envious of the professors I’ve met. I would love a position in such an august and professional academic setting, but I would not pass muster. Many of the Chinese directors and professors speak fluent English and have attended the best academic facilities in the world: Harvard, Yale, Oxford. Reading their credentials, my head started to spin. I’d be lucky if Harvard let me ride a tour bus onto their campus much less actually attend class. Ah, perhaps in another life.
Best of all, the ceremonies and signing and official blah blah blah lasted less that two hours and afterward we got to tour the campus. I thought this would be boring. I was wrong. They were having “Psychology Day” on campus and the participating departments put on demonstrations, displayed exhibits, and delivered relevant information on how to have a healthy psychology and other related topics. I needed them
twenty-five years thirty-five years ago.
For me this Psychology Day was the bomb. I absolutely friggin’ loved it! This is how education should be: practical and real, not paper and pencil and testing until children choke to death on statistics. Sadly we were on a tight time schedule so we had to more or less hustle quickly through the exhibits. I could have spent half a day easily.
Some highlights: we watched a tai ji demonstration (and since I used to practice tai ji quan almost religiously I really really wanted to join, but my English cohort kept me on a short leash–which was all for the best).
Then she and I got to participate in a mock crime scene. We even got to dress the part of forensic experts. We wore lab coats, latex gloves, and surgical masks (I used my pollution mask, which impressed them). Then, we were given flashlights to negotiate the dark room where the murder took place. The male student who was “dead” should have gotten an Oscar. He never moved an inch, even when I bent over him close enough to give him a hickey and he didn’t budge a millimeter. For a second I thought he really was dead; either that or an amazingly lifelike dummy. He was real. I watched him and watched him as his two articulate and knowledgeable classmates gave us the lowdown on the details of his gruesome death and on serial killers and how the murderer was new at this, but most certainly would commit another crime and why. Gulp!
We saw illusions, one foreign professor playing speed chess simultaneously with different opponents, a demonstration on meditation that measured brain waves with the kids all hooked up with electrodes and wires, looking like beatific and handsome bit players in the Matrix. It was just too cool.
By the way, the students’ English language ability was outstanding. Yeah, we met a few kids who were rough or who had obviously memorized their spiel for their exhibit or demo, but all in all, I could see many of these kids going anywhere in the world without a problem. It was impressive and my English cohort agreed.
We saw many things that you’d expect to see at an international campus, lecture halls, recording studios, labs, etc. Another huge treat was a studio dedicated to the art of shadow puppetry. The jovial master let us watch as he directed students in the crafting and presenting of these puppets. Then, he even gave us an impromptu shadow play! I’m pretty sure my Chinese counterparts have seen such plays many times in their lives, but I’ve only ever seen one and I’ve never had a chance to go backstage and watch the master at work. I will try my best to figure out how to post a video on my blog so you can see a little bit of this interesting ancient art form.
After lunch it was back to business. The UIC lent us a conference room where each of the partner schools reported on the progress of our intensive English program for high school students.
For some time I have been pushing to get a dedicated reading class added to our program. Reading is fundamental as we used to say. How did I learn Spanish and Mandarin? Yes, by talking and listening and writing essays. AND BY READING. Reading a lot of comic books in my target language by the way, besides boring textbook stuff and newspapers. Nowadays, besides boring reports, I read novels. It would be even better if I read and listened to audio books while reading the text. That’s what I’d like for our students.
I was pleasantly surprised and also exacerbated that the Daqing school had already done exactly this. I love Daqing. The woman in charge knows about second language acquisition and she has set out to do just that with her school. I don’t know why the other schools don’t take a page from her book. She had anticipated all of our research on her own. And she’s very proactive. She’s not waiting for permission. She understands the pedagogy, the research, the strategies, all of it. She also understands Chinese students. When I spoke to her about her reading program for the English students, she said something that was a big “A HA!” moment for me. She does something I did not do. She forces the kids to read.
Sounds horrible doesn’t it. You have to force students to read fun material. But, she gets Chinese kids. They’re tired and horribly horribly overworked. Even if I offer them a cool graphic novel about the Avengers or The Walking Dead or whatever is hot, their reaction is still a dispiriting “meh.” This is why just leaving the books sitting in a classroom library is not a good idea. They gather dust. So, now I am starting teacher-directed reading. My hope is that once the kids get hooked on–no, not on phonics, smartass–once they get hooked on reading, then they will read on their own, for pleasure, for all of their lives, forever. That’s my new hope.
After all of the reports, which was pure torture for the foreign teacher since she obviously doesn’t understand Chinese beyond ‘hi, I’m vegetarian,’ they gave us a certificate of appreciation and a hong bao, the red envelope stuffed with renminbi, a token of their esteem and appreciation.
For me it’s a mixed bag of nuts. Who doesn’t like getting applause and money? Well, for me, it didn’t feel deserved. This year has been in some ways a huge step back while talking two strides forward. Anyway, I won’t go into all that now. Remember: I feel weary. At least the foreign teacher showed elation and genuine surprise when they called her name and gave her this unexpected gift. Unexpected for her. I knew it was coming.
Receiving this gift is proof that I am still not one of them. I am still and probably always will be an “other.” Which is why most of my best laid plans have “gang aft agley”!! It was a nice gesture, but I would rather they keep the accolades and money and maintain an ironclad schedule of classes that won’t get dumped at a moment’s notice. Yes. I’m sure you’re laughing at me. Stranger in a strange land. It doesn’t matter. I felt like that back “home” too. But I digress.
I was given a little time to give teacher training to my English cohort and it was time well spent, but it would have been nice had all of our foreign teachers attended as I
complained about stated in the first post.
We went back to the hotel, packed up, and headed for the wharf/pier/quay/dock whatever you call the place where boats dock and set off from to wait for the ferry to Shenzhen. The ferry ride was like being thrown into a large sitting area that pitched to and fro while mammoth bees droned outside the window. I tried to sneak outside and get on deck, but darn it, they actually had staff posted at all of the emergency exits. No fun.
In Shenzhen we dropped off our bags and went out for dinner. Ah, dinner. More food and copious amounts of alcohol. Lord help me. Dinner proved to be interesting.
I have a nemesis where I work. I am sure he does not consider himself my nemesis because I am an insignificant flea in his estimation. I am pretty sure he is a racist, so even if, let’s say, a black man with multiple degrees from MIT and CalTech were to appear on our doorstep and offer to teach classes–for free–he would say, “Oh no. I’m so sorry! You are unacceptable for our schools.” Yes, I will admit it. I hate this guy. And I am not alone.
I have tried to do the Buddhist thing and failed miserably. I tried to put myself in his shoes and the only thing I came up with was: “Why am I such a dick!”
He’s just a bean-counting jerk bureaucrat. But, man, I hate being around him. Why? Because he does crap like this. Why? I don’t know why. He is the inscrutable poster child for inscrutable arseholes. I think he likes to foment chaos. Yeah, that’s it. This guy an agent of CHAOS.
I knew we were in for another horrible session of food and DRINK. Yes, the food is delicious. Lucky me. But I am forced to eat this manna from heaven along with “white liquor” (rocket fuel) until my head hurts, my stomach cramps, and my sphincter is trembling with fear that at any moment the Kraken will be let loose. It is so damn uncomfortable. I dread sharing a meal with these otherwise lovely people. I do. I love my director. She’s tops. And most of the leaders are wonderful sweet people. But…! Why they feel this need to consummate every fucking meal with grain alcohol potent enough to explode the stomach of even the most veteran drinker of Tennessee moonshine is beyond me.
We tried to dodge into the non-drinking room (they had two rooms reserved–one drinking, the other non-drinking, but usually the office staff ate and drank in he non-drinking room along with usually, interestingly enough, the older female leaders), but they corralled me and the Englishwoman. Our lovely director had not yet come in. The bean-counting jerkwad sat across from us, staring at her, glaring at her, speaking out of the side of his mouth to another leader. And he’s badmouthing the foreign guest. As if I couldn’t understand. She knew it. She felt it, his oily gaze and sleazy intonations. She doesn’t understand Chinese but everyone all over the world groks asshole. And he’s exactly that. Not hard to interpret.
I looked at him and as calmly as I could reminded him in Chinese that she is a guest here and he’s the host. Simpering smile and continues to glare and spew criticisms. I turned to her and told her to just ignore him. “Everyone hates him that has to work with him.” My sphincter was spasming something awful so I ducked into the restroom to try to calm it down before the alcohol arrived. On the way out to find a bathroom I saw the director, dressed as always impeccably and fashionably, selecting a few bottles of white liquor. I hurried my steps to the bathroom.
I was gone maybe seven minutes, not ten that’s for sure. I come out and I see the foreign teacher in a heated discussion with K. She’s upset and K is trying to calm her down. Oh Lord.
In minutes, Professor Insensitive reduced this petite and pretty young Englishwoman into a blubbering hot mess of tears and vitriol. She kept saying, “I hate him! I hate him!”
I should not have left her alone with them. I should have told her to get up and go with me and then we’d go back in together. A young lady confronting a half dozen Chinese doyens with one angular pompous clown berating her in a language she cannot speak. She felt their collective gaze burning her and melting her down into nothing. Is it a surprise that she burst into tears?
Professor Compensating-for-lack-of-Penis-length was picking on her for having a nose piercing apparently. K even went so far as to blame me. “You should have told her not to wear that in front of all the leaders.” If K and I hadn’t had history, I wouldn’t have reacted so vehemently, but it angered me that she would blame me for something that was so obviously not my fault. Worse, when I commiserated with our foreign teacher and said in no uncertain terms that this was all Professor Jerk’s fault, she defended him, and this despite the fact he had made her life miserable at work, piling on extra assignments and then criticizing her for not getting all of her work finished.
I looked at K like she was an alien. She was alien to me. She was defending the honor of China. As if this had something to do with China instead of one petty bureaucrat who reveled in wielding what little power was in his possession. But it didn’t matter. He was a Chinese leader and therefore above reproach.
Not in my fucking playbook. She wants to or has to toe the party line, I get it. But she became dead to me then. She was too small-minded to think out of the box.
Another office girl came out and said they were waiting for me to start dinner. I told her I would not be coming in. They could start without me.
That was not possible.
Wanna bet? Tell them I’m sick. I’ll be in soon. Start without me.
The office girl went back in looking very upset. K was glaring at me too. Whatever. I was fed up with this lout. He’s done this exact same thing before to other teachers. He tried it with me until I showed him that a) I understand Chinese and b) I have no problem confronting him.
I tried my best to soothe the aggrieved party and also give her some reality statements: don’t let him win; he wants to see you upset. He thrives on this kind of nonsense. You have to compose yourself. I reminded her that when living abroad many things seem worse than they are because you’re far from home. Which is very true.
When you’re traveling abroad it’s easy to have panic attacks or break out into mad rants against the system, whatever system that may be, whether it’s petty Chinese bureaucrats or a recalcitrant Indian railway ticket seller or a racial-profiling American cop on the beat. A small slight suddenly balloons into a massive injustice and serious infringement of your rights and…
You. Just. Can’t. Take. Any. MORE!
Mount St. Helens.
Eventually we got her to calm down and she accepted going into the non-drinking room and I went back to the drinking room and took one for the team. I drank very little though and everyone in the room knew I was unhappy. I fobbed off my unhappy demeanor on a bad can of coconut juice that I drank prior to coming into the restaurant. Of course, I looked right at Professor Swine when I gave this excuse.
Ah hell. There were still two more days of this. Now I need a drink!