Saved by the Bell?

I’m having a “why am I in China?” day. It’s raining like crazy, and I’m mad at my teachers. I’m at once totally too busy and not busy enough. Everything keeps getting rescheduled. It’s impossible to keep track of what I need to do each day. I feel so unprepared.

Yesterday, my teacher calls me at 8:00 p.m. to reschedule Wednesday’s class for Tuesday (today). Ok, so I stay up late making sure I have memorized all my vocab and everything. That’s good for me, I guess.

So. So today I started out feeling extra prepared for my classes, but my teacher was totally impatient with me because I couldn’t remember the Chinese words for all the particles of speech. I mean, I don’t think I can define “predicate” in English. Just insane. I almost cried. I got all my vocab words correct on my quiz! But she didn’t seem to care.

And. And I was supposed to have a second class today, but she conspired with this first teacher, realizing that tomorrow’s class had been rescheduled for today — she insisted that we have 4 hours of class tomorrow instead of the normal 2 hours. What?!? I protested, but relented because BOTH of my teachers are there and I can’t say I’m not available. I can’t do it! The reason she wanted to reschedule is that today her student 1:00-3:00 p.m. cancelled, so she didn’t want to wait around for our 3:00-5:00 p.m. class. Not MY fault! And I did so much work to prepare for today’s class…

And. And then at the end of my class (we end EARLY) my teacher says, oh we have to end class because I have to punch the clock for your other teacher. What?!? We end EARLY so you can punch the clock for a class I’m not having. Oh, makes me so mad. Of course I didn’t say a word.

I mean, I was speechless.

I feel like everyone’s pet foreigner. Really uncool. And these are the two teachers I LIKED.

Sigh. And I’ve called two different people, but no one’s available for dinner. Eating alone again.

7:30 p.m. Update: I watched an incredibly depressing movie (bad move), but I called my teacher (good move) and negotiated down to 3 hours tomorrow and next week we make up the other hour. She was clearly embarassed and apologetic, but I’m still feeling like a pushover. Argh!

Not So Hot

Well, the last few days haven’t been very pleasant.  One of my students took me out for dinner on Friday and I was very sick the next day.  I’ll spare you the details — mostly because they aren’t pretty and I’m embarassed — but I ate some cow stomach and drank some very powerful Chinese liquor.  Anyway, it totally put me out of commission for 24 hours plus.

Sunday I was able to go out and sit in a cafe for a bit, which was nice.  I had some mild Western food.  Later in the afternoon I had an appointment to meet my teacher, because she wanted to introduce me to a woman that was interested in language exchange.  I was still a little under the weather when I arrived at our meeting place 5 minutes early.  It was raining and I stood under the awning of the main gates to one of the big parks.  I was pretty soaked though, because I lost my umbrella and stubbornly thought my raincoat was good enough.  I called my teacher maybe 5 minutes after we were suppose to meet — I wasn’t positive I was in the right spot.  She tells me she’s in a traffic jam, and she’ll be there in 10 minutes.  She ends up being 30 minutes late.  The plan had been to meet at the park and then she would walk with me to the tea shop where we were meeting my new language exchange partner.  So, we were 20 minutes late meeting her.  She brought her husband with her, so at least she wasn’t waiting alone.  It wasn’t the greatest meeting.  The deck was really stacked against me — three Chinese speakers all embarassed/unable to speak English and me.  Me with my pathetic Chinese.  Yeah, it really killed my confidence, because I felt like they were laughing at me when I tried to speak.  I know this kind of nervous laughter has more to do with their anxieties than with my inadequecies, but ARGH!

However, they seem very nice and invited me to their (no doubt very posh) home on Friday.  It’s a very generous invitation I think, but once again I think it puts us on uneven footing — literally her home base, you know?  But we’ll try.  I suspect her English is a little better than I think.  I only worry that my Chinese is so bad.

Oh, I forgot the most terrible thing that happened this weekend: when I was sick, I decided it was a good time to help a friend out with a website.  I totally messed it up.  I deleted it all.  I mean, it couldn’t be much worse.  Thankfully, I was able to recover most of it, but it still looks all funny.  The content is there, but the formatting is all wrong.  I don’t think I should go anywhere near anyone’s website anymore.  The set-up was unfamiliar to me, but it’s really my fault for failing to make adequate back-ups.  And data recovery isn’t exactly my specialty.  I was in over my head at that point.  So, no more websites.

And I haven’t heard from my friend to know if he thinks he can fix it.  I feel terrible.

But I met with a very nice woman this afternoon about tutoring.  She and a friend have an exam in October, so they have a textbook they’re working from.  She is very easy to understand, and seems more like my kind of people.  It was a very relaxed meeting.  No awkwardness.  Her English name is “Prisma” — how exotic!  I think I won’t have time for anymore students after this!

Oh, one of my students recommended a Chinese film: Blind Shaft (盲井, 2004), directed by Li Yang.  It seems to have been banned here, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find a copy.  Anyway, from the online reviews it looks way progressive.  Let me know if you check it out.

Still no passport, so no camera.  I think maybe I’ll save up my tutoring money for that purchase.  I have 200 RMB so far.  Not bad, but still not enough.

Improve Your English! (Not Necessarily Your Spelling)

Thinking a lot about Grandpa Jenkins today. I heard from Jeremy this morning that he had a fall and broke a rib. I hope he recovers quickly. This is when it feels terrible to be so far away from home. He certainly has a lot of people that care about him nearby, and of course I’m sure Grandma is an amazing help to him. Love you guys!

I suppose it’s been a little while since I posted an entry. I have one English student so far, Mr. Cheng. In fact, he’s a professor at the big university in town and teaches chemistry. He has plans to study in California for a year starting in September 2007, so he’s highly motivated. I’m really looking forward to helping him. I also met with a woman, Anne, last night that wants me to help tutor her parents and her cousin’s sister. She is herself very fluent, but wants my help because they are reluctant to speak around her. They have a habit of confirming in Chinese whatever they say in English. She already has a program worked out and she has textbooks for them. She thinks I can help apply the things she’s teaching them, meeting three times a week in their home. We’ll have our first trial lesson in a couple of days. How exciting!

It’s funny because everyone I’ve talked to about the signs I put up, has commented that 100 RMB ($12.50) per hour is very expensive. But in addition to Mr. Cheng and Anne I’ve had several calls inquiring about my availability. I haven’t been flooded with calls, but I’m happy. The prospect of tutoring English really makes me think about language acquisition. I prepared a lesson plan for Mr. Cheng that includes a short article and dialog about the World Cup. His reading comprehension is very high, but we need to work on listening and speaking, so after some internet research here’s the plan:

  1. We have an informal introduction to the topic: The World Cup.
  2. I present some vocabulary that might be unfamiliar, especially proper nouns.
  3. I explain that I’m going to read a short article for him slowly. He’s not allowed to read along with me or write anything down. He might not understand anything the first time — that’s ok, we’re going to read it several times together!
  4. Then I’ll give him a copy of the article and ask him to read it aloud.
  5. The third time, we go through each sentence for comprehension and pronunciation.
  6. Then we read it together in unison — “duet.”
  7. Finally, he reads it once more on his own.

I also prepared a short dialog to supplement the article. “Did you see the game last night? etc.” That way we can do some talking/reading in a more conversational tone. Afterward, I’m going to give him a CD of me reading all of the material, so he can practice on his own. We’ll see if this is a good method for him. I know I’m learning a lot about the World Cup!

I’m trying something similiar for learning Mandarin. I’m reading aloud as much as possible, regardless of whether I can understand it. I bought a collection of 365 bedtime stories for this purpose. Each story is only two pages long. I’ve been reading them with very low comprehension, but I can get bits and pieces. I think tonight is the three little pigs — but many of the stories are completely unfamiliary to me.

One of my teachers is trying to set me up with a language exchange partner. That would also be cool. We’d spend maybe the first hour talking Chinese and the second hour talking English. Of course, at this point there will have to be more English than Chinese, but every little bit of exposure will help me.

I watched the movie Dogville the other night on DVD. Man, it’s a mean little film. Has anyone else seen it? I was telling my sister that I’m not even sure why a person would bother making the film at all, since I think the under-lying theme is that we are all monsters as well as victims. Sometimes we are a victim of our situation, sometimes we are given the power to choose to be a monster, sometimes we are given the power to choose to be a victim, and sometimes we are given the power to be an even bigger monster. Are we to conclude then that we are UNable to choose NOT to be a victim without becoming a monster? Yikes! Or maybe it’s simply that the “gift” of power will inevitably destroy us. Anyway, it got me. If you have a less bleak take on it, I would love to hear someone else’s analysis.

Yes, yes. I’ll buy a camera soon.

Chinese on My iPod

My internet connection in the dorm isn’t working, so now I have a valid excuse for plopping down in a cafe for a few hours. I can smell the wet pavement from outside, didn’t even notice there’s a light drizzle.  I had a yummy breakfast of yogurt with muesli and fruit — an exorbitant 12 yuan ($1.50). And it comes with a comfortable atmosphere and wireless internet!

Trying every which way to learn Mandarin. I recorded myself saying a handful of new words and put them on my iPod. Actually the iPod displays the file name as it plays, so I made each word a different file and labeled it with its Chinese characters. So I can listen and read at the same time. I’m getting frustrating with the pinyin as a kind of fake intermediatory language. I try to picture the pinyin when I’m trying out new vocab, and it’s impossible. Whereas, learning by getting the sound in my ear is quite different. By nature I’m not very out-going and not a talker really, so I’m filling my ears via iPod and t.v. It’s a new approach, so we’ll see if it helps. I guess it can’t really hurt.

I really want to get a camera, but I need to wait until I have my passport back. (I’m on a limited bit of cash while they are processing my visa, because the bank requires my passport to exchange money.) But I have so much I want to SHOW you. I can’t wait to get a camera.

Caught Jeremy on the Google talk earlier. It’s so important to connect. Even as I make friends, it’s not exactly the level of communication I’m used to. And, of course, I’m in love with Jeremy, so I generally miss him like crazy. He’ll probably be joining me in Kunming in September. Trying not to get my hopes up too high, because he’s got to focus on his bar exam right now. He will probably try to visit family before he takes off. I know he really wants to see his niece and nephew.

My roommate is away for about a week, taking a big exam, so it’s nice to have some space to myself. There are only two of us left in the suite, which normally holds six, so it’s been quiet. Of course, I do miss them and their crazy antics. Silly girls! I caught my Thai roommate last night and asked her how long they’d be gone – I didn’t really understand it would be the entire week! We’re going to try to throw them a little party when they return. I think they’ll like that.

Shameless Self-Promotion

I guess it’s for the best that I forgot my wireless card. I’m sitting outside at a foreigner cafe, drinking over-priced beer. Can’t play on the internet, but for the most part I’ve been using the internet just to connect with people through MSN or Google Talk. And right now you’re all sleeping. I’ve been frustrated with the time it takes to resolve most American-based websites. And I’ve had trouble accessing my normal news sources. This I find to be the most troubling. But anyway, I can write a blog post offline and post it once I’m back in my room.

I suppose it sounds funny to call it a “foreigner” cafe, but that’s what it is. There is a small stretch of cafes that cater to a foreigner crowd. The staff will speak English if you like and they have foreign food on the menu – American, British, French, Japanese, Korean. It’s where the foreigners go for comfort and the locals go for a taste of the exotic. Also, they serve the beer cold. Which is not something you can assume. And they have wireless internet. Of course, that only works if you have a wireless card, which I already told you I forgot mine back at the dorm.

Yesterday I shameless made a flier and posted it around all of the foreigner-type places, advertising english tutoring. I think maybe the rate that I published (100 RMB/hour~12 USD/hour) is totally outrageous, but we’ll see. I’m not terribly pressed for money, although I could obviously use it. My classes at the university are 90 RMB/hour (~11 USD/hour). Already paid, but that’s the kind of buck I shell out and I’m in China for goodness sake! There are millions of people that speak Chinese here, but how many are native English speakers?


Like I said, totally shameless. Oh, the most shameless bit is that I put my photo on the advert. Ha!

Anyway, more importantly I should report that I submitted all of my paperwork to get a study visa. This is a tremendous relief. I finally caught the more sympathetic of the two administrators. The other woman, it turns out, is getting married today! How funny. I should receive my passport back next week. This is only inconvenient for the purpose of changing money – you can’t use a copy of your passport for that transaction, only the original will do. But I live frugally, excluding the present excursion to a foreigner cafe. I eat at the cafeteria most meals and that costs 10 RMB ($1.25) for 2-3 meals. I shouldn’t need to exchange anymore cash for a while. Although I do want to buy a digital camera…

This morning I also stopped by to talk to Chen Laoshi about one of my teachers that I’m not really getting along with. She diplomatically suggested that she talk to her, and I give her another chance to improve. I reluctantly agreed. I feel like the class is a waste of time because she basically writes all of the vocab on the board in pinyin and hanzi (Chinese characters), with examples and things. Then, I copy it all and then we read it all. Not really interactive. While I have to admit that she’s taught me some hanzi, I am more interested in learning how to put together a sentence and hold a conversation. I mean, there are plenty of people in China that speak but not write.

Of course, the adult way to handle the situation is to directly talk to my teacher, but I haven’t really felt comfortable saying anything. On the other hand, I didn’t have any trouble bringing the issue up with my speech teacher. I told her that I really lacked confidence when it came to talking, and she was understanding. She’s very young, so she doesn’t have a lot of experience teaching, but teaching Chinese is her major. She’s very eager to get it right, and it’s clear she wants to try to help me. So she agreed that we would focus just on the pinyin for now. She insisted that she could understand me well, and that I’m not having as many problems as I think.

We played a game in class today, counting from one to one hundred. We counted back and forth (she says 1, I say 2, she says 3… etc.), but the game is when you come to a multiple of 7, you don’t say the number – you clap your hands. I turned out to be very bad at the game and messed up three times. Afterward, she explained to me that when you lose at a game like this in China, you have to put on a “performance”…. I vaguely remember someone telling me a horror story about this last time I was here. She wanted me to sing a song or something. So, I pulled out one of my drawings to show her. I guess it wasn’t really a performance, but it did the trick. She really liked it and immediately offered to model for me. So next week she’s going to bring some “traditional garb” and model for me after class. Wow! How cool is that? I should practice drawing this weekend and maybe buy some new paints. I just have oil pastels and I’m not very good with them.

The other day (Was it yesterday?), my dad was telling me about Janice Able, a graphic artist from Chicago. He was very enthusiastic (of course!), so I looked her up. Last night I read through a lot of her how-to’s on making comics. It’s all posted at her website . Pretty cool. I’m inspired. I don’t have a good story yet, but I feel really empowered by her explanations. She totally demystifies the process. I’m not sure I can find all of the materials I need here, but anyway I’ve promised myself that I would start with what I have and only buy the proper materials once I have some decent content. I can get a lot done with the paper, pencil, and ink I already have. It’s not archival (something she emphasized), but for practice it’s fine.

So, the World Cup continues. I hardly notice, but there’s definite excitement everywhere. It’s not really my scene, but it’s fun to see the international flavor infect the locals as well as the foreigners. Everyone’s routing for Brazil and Argentina. What’s-his-name from Brazil (?) is plastered all over the ice cream stands, advertising something or other – probably ice cream, eh? The café I’m at now has tonight’s games listed on a chalk board, but I don’t recognize the country names (in Chinese).

I’ve started to connect with my teachers through email and MSN. This is super cool. We can write in a mixture of English, Pinyin, and Hanzi (Chinese characters), although I suspect they will favor English. We’ll see.