Thursday, December 01, 2005

Conversation Room Message Board

Hello Everyone,

*** Miss. Currie is now available for private tutoring sessions in Vancouver, BC.****

Do you have an English related question for Miss. Currie? If so, please post it on The Conversation Room Website. (in this box, click on comments, bottom left-hand corner).

I would like to encourage ESL speakers to start communicating with each other and myself in The Conversation Room. Don't forget to post it on the comments board.

Enjoy the rest of your day,
Miss. Currie :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Coming Home

In Summary

As frustrating as my days have been, looking back, I still do not regret my decision to come here. There are days, when I have to admit to myself; the many difficult challenges that I’m facing are what I have asked for. I have always wanted to understand what it is like to be without many of our luxuries back home. Silly me, now I am getting my wish. It is one thing to want something in your mind and another, to experience it with your body. Even though, I have been here for only two months, I have learnt a great deal. I understand what it’s like to be judged because of my skin colour and I know what it’s like to face language and culture barriers. I am starting to gain an appreciation for what is truly important in life. There are many shiny gadgets and plastic toys that what we can do without in order to live. I think, that this experience will teach me to rely more on my spirit and mind than on the masks and social pretences we value too highly in our culture. In order to continue to exist in life and among others, in life we are all learners, and I must find ways to embrace the lessons set before me.

Unhealthy Days


My health seems to have its ups and downs. As I mentioned before, the weather here is dam hot, it look a long time for my body to adjust to it. It is getting closer to winter, so the days are getting cooler. The climate here is odd, one day it’s really hot and the next it’s really cold. When it rains, it just doesn’t sprinkle lightly, or rain like it does in Vancouver, the rain crashes to the ground in thick droplets, leaving water pools at least a foot deep. The rapid change in weather has taken a toll on my body. I think my internal body temperature is out of order. Some days, I have very little energy and so I sleep during my four breaks. I have been sick a few times, which is too many by my health standards. One weekend, I had the worst sore throat and felt very weak. I was given Chinese medicine to take which helped. The medicine... You don’t want to know, but I will tell you anyway. I drank this red thick syrupy medicine that was sickenly sweet. The ingredients, snake bile!!!! The next weekend, I woke up with a weird mark that looked like a scar on my face, I thought it was another bug bite, but it turned out that it was a symptom of a virus. I went to a Western Doctor, who gave me too many pills to count and a cream application, which seemed to cure me of whatever the virus was. It also accounted for the reason I was had lacked energy. Yes, I can definitely say that China is an adventure. I have started taking Kung Fu lessons, and will continue to run and do other exercises. Hopefully, my health will improve.

My Tourist Days

Travel in China?

I have not been to very many tourist spots because my hosts are often busy. I have been to Yongquan Temple, which is at the top of Gushan Mountain. The hike wasn’t that bad, it only took a few hours to get to the top. The temple was beautiful; there was a pond with swans in it and a tall statue of the Buddha fertility goddess. The halls had great statues of Buddha Gods. My favourite hall had the four statues of the gods of protection. The statues were massive; I was in awe of them, I’m sorry that I can’t give you more information about Gods; my host did not know how to explain the Gods to me in English. In the halls, I couldn’t take pictures, because it would be considered disrespectful. There were many people that were there to pray to their Gods. There were other wonderful sites at the temple, but I lack the words to describe them.

I have also been to a primary school in Lanqui. The school is not like our schools back home where the classrooms are contained in a building. The classrooms surround a large courtyard. You can access each classroom from the outside. The classrooms are small, and have tiny wooden desks. There is a black board at the front of the room and a teacher’s desk. I felt like I was sent back into time in the late 1900s.


Celebration Time!

Since, I have been here; I have celebrated Moon Day and National Day with the Chinese people. The Chinese use a lunar calendar, so the holidays change according to the moon. This year, Moon Day was on September 11. No one was able to enlighten me, on the origin of moon day, so far as I know, it is a day for families to join together, eat moon cake and gaze at the moon in wonder. The Chinese have many legends and poems about the moon. Moon Cake is a small round egg made from flour, eggs, red beans and sugar with a fruit center. I have had, strawberry, egg (yuck), lotus flower, and other kinds of moon cakes. On the first bit, my taste buds were not overjoyed, but after three or four, they were hooked. We did nothing special on National Day, most of the celebratory activities occurred in the major cities. In Fuzhou, most people go shopping because the prices of products are driven down.

The Media

The Internet in China

Before, I came here; I was mistaken in thinking that China has implemented strict communication policies. I have learned that there is no risk, in expressing your opinion about the political or economic conditions of the country. I am not sure if the government restricts content that networks broadcast, because I can’t understand Chinese but none of the teachers seem to be aware of previous limitations that China imposed upon people in the 1980s (not everyone is politically minded). There is no federal firewall on the Internet; I am able to access any internet site that I want to go to. However, there was a recent meeting among the leaders in China where the topic of discussion was, how to regulate content on the website to ensure that citizens receive information that is accurate and not misleading. I am sure that many countries are faced with the same problem. I am confident in stating that in the future, lone individuals will not easily be able to manipulate the Internet as they can now. A lot of money and power can be gained by monopolizing the Internet. Sorry for the rambling, it has been a long time since I have engaged in a hearty political discussion with anyone. As you all know, this is something that I thrive on in order to pacify the constant chatter in my brain.

Economic & Social Observations

Culture Shocked?

There are many beggars in the city, but I have yet to seen any in the town of Lanqi. Unlike homeless people back home, who sit and wait for you to approach them, beggars here push and tug at you insisting that you give them some money. I have yet to give anyone money, out of fear that I will become a constant target in high-populated homeless areas. There are lepers and other disabled homeless people who, will lie in the middle of a high-traffic area, crying out for you to help them. It is a hard site to see and it makes me uncomfortable. The really sad thing is seeing children beg for money. There is this one girl who I frequently see near the shopping mall. I think that she is about eight years old. She is has a dirty face and hands. Her face is shrunken giving her the look of wizened old woman. She has angry black eyes. Her hair is tangled and matted into two pigtails. She stands on a corner and will open the door for taxi passengers. She will then expect money from them; she will grab on to you and not let you go, until you give her money. I have been told that a woman watches her and collects the money. Sadly, she is a child of bonded labour. There is nothing that the authorities can do for her, because she always runs away before they can catch her. There are organizations in China who collect children and get them to steal or beg for them. Bonded labour for children is especially common in the country, where people sell their children to farmers who need extra laborers.
Chinese people do not hold the same traditional beliefs towards woman as their neighbors in Japan, however; there is quite a large equality gap between men and woman. Woman has the option of working in any career field but there is still an expectation for them to marry young and stay at home and raise their children. The words stay- at -home dad have yet to enter their vocabulary. Most of my colleagues are not interested in getting married right away, because of this notion their parents hold. Most marriages here are a business arrangement, even my forward thinking colleagues want to marry someone who is handsomely financially stable. I have seen many young beautiful women holding hands with old fat men with rich pockets. China still has population laws, but they are not as strict as they were a few years ago. About two years ago (not sure of the exact time), after a woman bared her child quota, she was forced to have a hysterectomy. This is no longer the case, in the countryside, families are allowed to have a second child, if they pay a fee, which is over five thousand yen (a great deal of money). The government has become more flexible with the law, because they recognize the fact that many farmers need extra hands to help with the labour. The government monitors the child law by making it a requirement for married women to have a physical exam once year to ensure that they are not pregnant.

Like most cultures, Chinese people are very family oriented. Those children that are cared for are very spoiled and have little independence. I visited the culture palace, which is a place for children to take art, singing, painting, dancing and other culture lessons, I observed that children’s parents will accompany them in the classroom and watch over them as they learn. If a child fails to get it right, the parent will do it for them, so that the result will be perfect. Parents expect a lot from their children. Children here go to school on Saturday and Sunday and are flooded with homework. They are required to learn Chinese, Math and English.

It is customary for a husband and wife to live with the man’s family. Grandparents often play a bigger role in raising their grandchildren. They do have nursing homes here, but it is not as common as North America. Children are expected to care for their parents, when they reach the age they can no longer live independently. Of course, older people are healthier here. I see them often at the park, playing Chinese cards together, or exercising with each other. They are not as isolated as the elderly in Canada.

Homosexuality is talked about here, but it is still a taboo subject, there is not a Davie Street Village, but like most traditions, the younger generations are coming to accept these things. Of course, when I have talked to my students about North American couples, some of them still turn their noses up at the subject. Surprisingly, most of them are open-minded about this way of life for people. Young people are not afraid to show affection towards each other. Young teenage boys will hug each other and young girls will hold hands.

The Big City

Fun in Fuzhou

On the weekend, I head off to Fuzhou city, which is about a two hour commute from Lanqi Island. Fuzhou is not anything like Vancouver; after all I am in China. Of course, the general differences, between rural and urban areas, are the same. The traffic is heavy, people walk the streets at all-hours of the day, and there are more things to do than in the country. There is one department store, which has eight floors in it; you can purchase anything from groceries to clothing. Prices in the department store are much more expensive, than the local businesses. The local businesses have lower prices because many of them don’t declare their total revenue to the government. If you want a receipt, you have to ask for it. Oh yes and for all you WAL-Mart fans, there is a Wal-Mart here. I did my shopping in a market place and did not realize, until way after, that I was in a Wal Mart (no obnoxious greeters at the door to give it away). I have yet to discover how Wal Mart managed to weasel its way into China. Once you get past the general things, you will find yourself in a city full of Chinese culture, there are temples and not churches, the local stores are still garages and the residential areas are under-developed Most of the apartments are not the same as ours back home. What we consider to be a poor area, would be thought of as a middle class, over here in China People empty out their water into the streets, so you have to be careful about where you step. I have finally managed to be courageous enough to cross the street by myself. I must say that I have been hesitant because I have had three close calls between manic bus drivers and my person. I am thankful that I have only felt the wind of the busy on my face and not the bus itself! As crazy as the driving is here, I have seen only one accident, several near hits, but no fatal mishaps. There seems to be a mutual understanding between pedestrians, motorists and drivers as to know how to share the roads. Crossing the roads here reminds me of the computer game, Frogger. I still haven’t cracked the code yet. I survive by shadowing someone that knows what they are doing, so I don’t wind up as road toad.

As for city entertainment, the choice things to do are: disco dancing, karaoke, drinking beer in a pub, or going to a tea bar. I have yet to go to a club, because my host fears for my safety. I have been to one pub, which has attempted to create an American atmosphere. The walls are decorated with pictures of Jimmi Hendrix, the Beatles, and the Marlborough man. It is my opinion that Chinese beer tastes just the same as Canadian draft; of course I am biased, after a month, the taste of beer in my mouth, felt too good. Right now, my idea of a good Saturday night is drinking beer and treating myself to a spicy lamb skewer.

It is very unsafe for woman to go anywhere at night, without being in the company of men. One of the dangers, believe it or not, is the cab drivers. Mrs. Zhiaow and I need to take two taxis in order to get home, on Sunday nights. The city cabs are restricted to carry passengers only within city boundaries this means we have to take a black cab to reach the ferry port. These black cab drivers are desperate for money. They will push you, grab you and corner you into their cab. If you’re not careful, they will actually physically push you into their cab, drive you to God knows where and force you to pay the cab fare. This is an interesting way to create entrepreneurial opportunities for oneself. Miss. Zhiaow knows how to handle them; I think they are afraid of me. I have shouted at them to stay away, if one comes near me, I have no qualms about kicking them. Unfortunately, one of teachers was not so lucky. They forced her onto a bus, drove her to her destination and made her pay. There are other dangers, my host fears that I may encounter during my travels. This has imposed a great barrier upon my freedom as there is a limit as to what I can and can’t do here. As I am a guest, in this country, I have to respect my host’s wishes and suck up what I don’t like.

The Boonies & Language

It Dosn't Sound English

In the country, entertainment is sorely limited. In my free-time I will: run on the farm roads, watch the news on the only English Channel, learn Chinese, or attempt to read an English book translated from Chinese (very difficult). Such a thing exists, called Chinese-English. In Chinese English, words that we don’t normally use are used in literature and speaking. I have discovered that the benefit of learning another language opens up the world in a different way. A new language gives you new ways to express yourself, and learn about life, it’s almost like being a child, you are given new was to learn and open your mind. Whether, it’s learning Chinese-English or Chinese; I am learning about the world from a language that comes from different beliefs and values. My Chinese has improved, I can decipher the breaks in a sentence, what word is what, and I understand how to read Chinese Phonetics I can also speak a few basic sentences. When I hear a conversation, I can understand the gist of it, from key nouns, or pronouns. At the moment, I am only learning how to speak Chinese, learning how to write will come after I become confident in speaking the language.

Fine Dining

Fine Dining

Our kitchen is outside of the school; so, everyday I trundle off to the kitchen with my metal bowl and chopsticks anticipating the cuisine of the day. I continue to be greeted by fish heads in my soup and other odd ethnic dishes. One popular dish is gelatinous cubes of pigs blood, it‘s supposed to be good for your health. I have yet to brave the taste; my stomach turns at the idea of ingesting cold slimy hardened blood cubes. If you are wondering, yes, I eat rice everyday. There was this one rare day, where rice wasn’t served, I was actually disappointed. My diet consists of rice, fish, bean curd and bamboo shoots. On some days pork with potatoes is served or other dishes such as: fish balls, squid legs, chicken feet, and duck. It is not advisable to eat anything fried, because it is so hot here. The human body does not react to hot (not spicy) food well. You can easily get a soar throat, or acquire other physical aliments. When we go to a restaurant, lobster, crab, and other more elaborate seafood dishes are served. For snacks, I have taken to eating dried olives, dried plums, coated in sweet and sour powder and drinking almond juice. Food has now become a necessity to eat, rather than a celebration of gluttony. All of this low fat food has dropped my weight considerably; I am now down to less than 120 lbs. A friend has told me that, Chinese people have a lower cancer rate because of the food they eat. I have a feeling that, upon my return, I’m no longer going to want to eat at A & W or Dairy Queen.

China & Other Living Things

Other Living Things

To date, my living quarters have been invaded by coach roaches, spiders, an innumerable number of mosquitoes, moths, crickets, and other disgusting flying insects I have seen many rats or mice scurrying away in the dark and a bat has nearly brushed my nose. Every creature imaginable has bitten me! One morning, I woke up with a bite the size of a Twoonie, on the back of my leg. I don’t know who the dinner patron was, but it certainly put my leg out of shape. After a visit to the Chinese herbal doctor and an application of brown herbal paste, my leg was back to normal. Yesterday our class was visited by one of the spiders. It was big, black and gave me the creeps (shudder). To give you an idea of how big it was, you could see it very clearly from the other side of the room. I was leery of it dropping on my head during my class instruction. That had to be the godfather of all spiders. The other day, I saw a baby rat. It was no bigger than my pinkie finger and had a short stubby tail. I think its mother abandoned it, or somehow it lost its way, I’m sure it’s some other creature’s dinner by now.

Life in China

The Life

As for the living situation, I will be honest with all of you. I have been going through many emotions since I have been here. I guess I can say that my emotions are a by-product of culture shock I won’t deny the fact that I miss home. Having this experience has made me into a patriot. I will admit that my living situation is less than desirable. The school was just build this year, in February; as a result there is a limited amount of classroom space. What once was a boardroom outside our rooms is now a cramped classroom. When I leave my dorm in the morning, I will see students milling about. As, all the teachers live together, I never really experience the luxury of privacy that I had at home For a while, our hang out room was converted into a make shift classroom, but another classroom has been built, so we have our TV room back (thank goodness). The other minuses are that our electricity often cuts out on us, some days we have no water and unwanted company (spiders, cockroaches and mosquitoes). In order to preserve a cheery front, I try to look at the situation positively I never had to worry about being alone and there is always a teacher around to gab with. Perhaps, this experience will make me more of a tolerable person to live with.

My Classes

On Saturday, I will have been in China for two months. There is so much to tell that I think I will start with the reason, I decided to come here in the first place; teaching English! The number of students in the school has grown considerably in the last few months; we now have approximately three hundred students. I have four classes with an average of thirty-five students; my largest and most challenging class has sixty students. About 90% of the students who attend Ming Quiao are planning to work in a relative’s restaurant, in the USA. The majority of them will be living in New York. Initially, I was surprised at the level of English, the students possess. For the most part they have a rich vocabulary, but don’t know how to structure sentences or construct their own. It is my job to teach them how to use English to express themselves; we work together on pronunciation and conversation exercises. It has taken some time for my students to get used to my teaching methods. They have been conditioned to learn English by repeating, the same sentence over and over again. My big challenge is teaching them how to think about the words they are familiar with. They seem to share a similar attitude where they don’t want to attempt to use words for themselves. They impose unreasonable expectations upon themselves by wanting the finished product to be right. It has to be perfect or they won’t > do it at all. They find a lot of my exercises difficult because I keep pushing them to figure out how to use the words they already know. This is a problem for them, because they are liable to make mistakes. They are even uncomfortable with some of the games we play because they are not as orderly or will not get the results they want. I tried the create a story game, where each student says one word to create a story together Many of my better students didn’t like it because they couldn’t control what was happened in the story. They also like to work independently (trying to get them to worth together in groups is like pulling teeth). I have finally found ways to overcome this, but it has been a very slow process. In time, they are growing accustomed to my western ways.
The other challenges that I have are typical for a teacher to face: noisy students, sleeping students, shy students and disinterested students. Of course, these students pay to come to school, so traditional disciplinary methods are ineffective. Like every other challenge, I am finding ways to handle the problem students but sadly, I have to ignore some of them. Another challenge, I am faced with is learning my students names, they are all in another language, and not easy to pronounce them.

One of the biggest things that concern me is my ability to effectively evaluate my students. When I first started teaching, I was taking attendance and monitoring each student’s progress, but because my class receives about three or four new students a day, I have abandoned all evaluation methods. I am just focusing on my immediate concern; teaching them how to think in English. Most days, I tend to constantly remind them about the importance of learning English if they want to live abroad. I fear that some of my students will end up in isolation and not be able to adjust to western life (if they don’t start taking language classes more seriously). I guess this is what being a teacher is about: being concerned about my student’s ability to fend for themselves in the ‘real world’ and encourage them to follow their dreams. I hope that they will not want to be waiters their entire life.

I have also had my battles with the administration. The head teacher is concerned that the students need to be entertained, and if for some reason they are bored, I hear about it. Since, when is learning as fun as an amusement park ride? As, I live in the school, I have been woken up from my peaceful sleep twice, to hear that some of the students were not happy. Of course, these are the one or two students in my class that don’t pay attention in the first place. The disadvantage of living in the school is that work is home for me.

As this is a developing country, computers are a limited resource. The teachers prepare their lessons the old-fashioned way, on paper. As this is the case, I have had troubles using the computer to create my lesson plans. It took them one month to finally get a printer, another two weeks to get printer paper and then another week to get the right paper. And the chalk that we use makes this horrible screeching sound. I feel like a teacher back in the pioneer days, the only difference is that students are using notebooks and not slates.

Complaints aside, I am happy teaching, the students like me as a teacher, and they have improved quite a bit in their conversation skills I know I have had good teaching day, when we can laugh together and still make progress learning.

Tuesday, September 3, 2003 & Wednesday, September 4, 2003

Typhoon Coming!

Today, I woke up to begin what has now become my morning routine. After my morning class, I was told that afternoon classes would be cancelled because of a pending typhoon. Typhoons are a common weather disaster that occurs here in the summer. Unfortunately, because classes have been cancelled today and tomorrow, we have to teach over the weekend.

No Classes & No Typhoon

It looks like we will not get a typhoon today, thank goodness! Believe it or not, there are many more things to tell all of you about China but they will have to wait until another day.

Monday, September 1, 2003

First Day of Teaching

My first class begins at 8:20am and ends at 10:30. We have a twenty-minute break in between the hours. The classes here operate by levels, there is:
Level 1 - beginner to minimal English skills
Level 2 - medium, has some knowledge of English but poor grammar
Level 3 - advanced English
We have a break from 10:30-2:30pm and then classes resume from 2:30-5:30. On Monday, I taught level 3 and level 2. The material we covered was the same because it will take the students quite some time to get used to my Canadian accent. My students are very kind and eager to learn English from me. I was surprised to discover that their English skills are quite strong for ESL students. My senior class is quite big; there are thirty+ students in it, which makes for a challenging lesson plan. I have been asked to work on their pronunciation, which is quite difficult to do when you have thirty or more students to listen to. My middle class, is quite small, it was perfect because we could sit in a circle and conduct a dialogue with each other. The other teachers have told me that they have heard the students tell each other that they are very excited to have me as a teacher. In knowing that, I have more confidence in my ability to teach them.