We all are constantly having experiences where we feel like we understand something or are communicating something clearly only to find that we are oblivious to what people are saying. It's happened to me so many times, but I would rather share one of Stacie's amusing moments. We were at the McDonalds buying the two little girls ice cream cones. Stacie said she wanted "Liang ge" cones (two cones). The lady responded in Chinese, "Liu," which means 6. Stacie said, "No, I want two cones." Then, the lady said again, "No, six." Finally, we figured out she was telling us it costs 6 yuan for two cones. We laughed about it because it happens so often. We'll just have to keep practicing.
We weren't sure how safe we would feel here with the children. We still do NOT let them go anywhere outside of the apartment by themselves. But, we do leave the kids with Annie sometimes while Stacie and I go on a few errands. It's much easier to get things done without the whole family (the pace of the kids and the constant barrage of people wanting to talk to us). Our apartment is pretty much a fortress with the bars on all the windows and the big iron gate outside our regular front door. There is also a big wall around the back side of our apartment building with shards of glass on top of the wall. The Chinese are very inventive and have used broken glass and concrete to create a very burglar proof barricade around our house. So, we feel pretty good about leaving Annie for a while at home. This is good because our apartment is like a cave with some major echoing of Lucy and Jeanie's sweet (no sarcasm here) voices reverberating off of the walls. Stacie and I need to get out of here sometimes.
We try to go on a new walk every day. You've seen pictures of Yuelu Mountain and Taozi Lake on the blog. We recently walked down to the Xiang Jiang river, which is only a couple of blocks from our apartment and separates the campus community (with its three large universities) from the more urban parts of Changsha. We took the kids and walked along the river where they really enjoyed the more sparse crowds and the nice cool weather. I think the heat wave is over and it's now been in the low 80's or even 70's here with the rain. It's been very pleasant to go outside and to do some of these family walks. Sometimes, we will just take a side street or any alleyway just to see what's there. Many times, there are unique little shops or new food places in the spots you would least expect to find one. Neither Stacie nor I have taught yet, so most of our days at this point are filled with shopping for interesting things to eat, going for walks, and hanging out at the apartment (which usually involves playing with the kids, studying Chinese, or just watching TV). We are pretty well "hooked up" in the entertainment category. We have Hulu Plus, Netflix, Dish Network, and a whole DVD case full of movies. Projecting them on to the wall has been pretty sweet too. I guess there are perks to living in an apartment with bare white walls and nothing to put on them.
Stacie starts teaching her first class of young Chinese kids (and our kids of course) on Saturday. She is a little nervous, but has much experience over the last two years homeschooling our own children. She is a very natural teacher and will be good with them. She has been prepping hard over the last week trying to get some material together.
In terms of my own teaching, I got called in for a meeting the other day at the international office. Amy wanted to introduce me to the dean of the tourism college where I will be teaching a few of my classes. My understanding was that I would be teaching 6 once per week classes (hour and a half each), that they would all be freshman, and that the classes would begin in the middle of September due to military training for all new freshmen. I was then told that none of my classes would begin until about October 9th. So, I was stunned because I was asked to be in China before August 25th only to be told I'm not teaching until October 9th. So at this meeting with Amy, I'm now told (at least for now) that I have 3 classes starting on September 16th that are all PhD students. Then, I will add the other four classes of freshman later on October 9th. I'm actually quite excited that my teaching begins in a week and a half rather than a month down the road. Of course, I do have other projects including my research on the NPR's fraudulent reporting on the Chinese Apple computer factories as well as my involvement with the new American Studies center, but I really didn't want to wait too long to get into the classroom. Perhaps it's by sheer habit that I feel like I should be teaching at the end of August every year. So, my first question to Amy is obviously how much better the PhD students are at English than the freshmen. She tells me that are equally bad, which is strangely reassuring to me since it means that my lessons plans (including the actual course content and my sometimes poorly received dry humor) can be equally applied in all my classes with equal success (or failure). Amy did mention that one of my freshman classes has particularly poor English skills. This should be pretty interesting if I speak their language poorly and they speak my language poorly. I'll do my best, though. After my meeting with Amy, a student (named Joyce) showed me the buildings where my classes would be located. Every class had a blackboard and a screen for projecting, so I should be good to go on that front.
Today, I had a meeting with Jay Sorensen and an American kid from Wisconsin who is here to assist with HNU's debate team. I didn't know they had a debate team here in Changsha. In fact, I didn't know there was even organized debate in China, but there is. They have competitive tournaments where they do parliamentary style debate and teams travel from different universities to compete. It's a great deal like the U.S. debate circuit. One of Jay's responsibilities over here for his graduate internship/project is to propose events and activities that we might sponsor through the American Studies Center. One of his ideas to to coordinate a debate tournament where teams can debate topics of relevance to U.S./Chinese relations. I'm not sure if we can logistically pull it off, but it would be a great event to promote the center and HNU's debate program. We are targeting this for the spring (March perhaps), but still need to discuss the merits of the idea with Kurt Harris, our Global Engagement Director back at SUU, who is the author of the State Department grant to create this center and provides final approval on the center's activities (Kurt, if you're reading this, I will be in touch). The priority for the center right now, though, is to have HNU assign us an actual space for it. We have created a counterpart at SUU in the form of a Chinese Studies Center and are awaiting the final approval of a space for our center. Once approved, we will utilize grant money to furnish the space and decorate it (any suggestions would be welcome of things that would promote harmony between our two cultures). Kurt has indicated that he would like to have a formal grand opening for the center in October if we can pull this together quickly enough. So, the debate tournament will take a backseat to actually having a physical space for some of these activities.
On the way back from this meeting with Jay and the American debate coach (A.J. Carver), I received a call from Amy indicating that she had something urgent to discuss with me. I'm thinking that I'm now teaching my classes starting in 30 minutes, but I was relieved to find that they simply wanted me to take a picture. Sometime in early September in China is National Teacher's Day and the administration at HNU wanted to commemorate this event by creating a poster and a web page with some pictures of their teachers. They wanted foreign faculty to be represented. I asked Amy if they wanted someone a bit more "handsome" on their posters. She laughed and simply replied "You'll do." I found out later that I'm currently the only foreign faculty in my college and so I was really their only choice. They brought in a photographer and had me "fake" teaching in front of three people. I've done this before and it's pretty awkward pretending like you're teaching a group of students when you have a photographer, Amy, and an administrator staring at you blankly while you talk about some aspect of your discipline. At one point, they told me to point to a projector screen with nothing on it. It was kind of strange, but the weird part was yet to come. Once we took the photographs, they took me down to the international office and asked me to write a short passage about how I feel about teaching at Hunan Normal University. I said, "Ok, I'll email you something today." They responded: "No, we need you to write it now." I said that would be fine and pulled out a piece of paper. They said: "No, use this paper and this pen." Pushy, but I agreed. I wrote something about how delighted I am to be teaching here and that I look forward to working with such bright and hard-working Chinese students. As I wrote, they all stared at me. It kind of reminded me of photos I have seen of U.S. presidents finally signing a piece of legislation into law. You would think this was the most important paragraph ever put to paper. I wrote very slowly and tried to make it as clear as I could. When I was done, they took the paper and I asked, "So, will you retype this for the poster?" They said: "No, we are going to take a photograph of your paper and place it next to your picture." Once they said this, I was horrified because I realized that my handwriting is not very good. Also, I write in upper and lower case letters (like a normal person) only when I'm trying really hard and I write in all caps when I'm just being me. So, I started this passage in upper and lower and then digressed to my normal style about half way through. When this poster is finally completed, everyone will see that the foreign teacher of English doesn't know how to write in one particular style, but fluctuates all over the place. Oh well. I'll post this thing when I finally get it so you can see for yourself the disaster.
Anyway, we miss our family and friends. It has been so good to correspond with everyone by email, Facebook, Skype, and comments on the blogs. Our favorite is being able to see people on Skype or Facetime, so please try to get your webcams and microphones updated to the 21st century so we can see you face to face. We'll take what we can get, though, and love any communication that we can have with you.
|My favorite spot on campus. You can see an assortment of fish swimming in the pond on most days, but today it had rained and was kind of muddy.|
|I typed into Google Translate that I wanted them to cut both boys 1 centimeter on sides and back and 2 centimeters on top. However, I warned the boys that they could end up with anything and to be prepared. It turned out well in the end.|
|I think Nicol wanted a bit more length on top, but he's a good boy and said he was fine with it. The lady in the background there was really nice. She was missing an eye, so we wondered what happened there but of course we didn't ask.|
|Sophia is explaining to this guy at the electronics store where to deliver our printer. He is so confused, which I don't understand because it's just right across the river and not far from where we were at the time.|
|All of the kids took turns sitting on this dragon thingy. Sorry, I don't know more about the cultural artifact. Shameful, I know. That lady in the background is doing Tai Chi.|
|Lucy didn't want to get down.|
|Thanks to my brother Eric, I can watch Sportscenter on the wall.|
|Wal-Mart has several levels and you can take your cart up and down since the escalator is just a flat incline.|
|Lucy now thinks China isn't so bad after all.|
|Some construction in the downtown area. They were working on this when I was here last summer. Must be a big project.|
|Having some ice cream with the girls. Annie got a Dairy queen and the other two got McDonalds cones. It didn't take us long to learn Bing Qi Lin (ice cream).|
|McDonalds here apparently has hamburger buns that are black.|
|The river is about a block from our apartment and this is the view across to the city side. The side we are on has three large universities, so there is a different feel over here.|
|Nicolas enjoying the view of these old boats and the city.|
|This is my formal schedule. I guess I has better learn how to teach Spoken English real good before September 16th. Somehow this sketch doesn't give me much confidence that things won't be switched on me before all is said and done.|