Wednesday, November 24, 2010

music and games

Aside from watching movies purchased from the local DVD shop, one of my favorite ways to relax after a day of teaching is to take out the guitar I bought near the music school (for 2100 yuan) and play three or four songs. It's mostly been a private pastime, aside from the one or two times I've entertained a visiting friend, but this changed a bit over the last week. Last Friday I thought it would be fun to bring my guitar to English Corner and teach some songs to my students, which ended up being a lot of fun, despite my being a little nervous about performing in front of such a large crowd. I played some of my favorite tunes (or at least favorite ones to play: The Magnetic Fields's "All My Little Words," Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," and the Violent Femmes's "American Music," to name three) but also took some requests, including "Jingle Bells" (both the traditional and the "Batman Smells" version theyloved the latter) and "Country Roads" (which I'd never played before but was able to quickly figure out, thanks to a student who helped me find the lyrics on his phone). One of the best moments was when I began to pick the tab for a song I've been teaching myself from the Chinese film Perhaps Love; I could not sing it myself, since the lyrics are in Chinese, but the majority of my students knew the song well and all joined in chorus as I played. Overall, the night was a big hit, and judging by what I've heard from students since, word seems to be getting around campus about my guitar playing.

Coincidentally, the following evening I had another chance to play guitar in front of a crowd when a colleague (an older gentleman from England) and I visited a local bar for pizza and drinks. In the corner of the bar was a spotlighted stage, complete with guitar and microphone, occasionally used by the owner to entertain his guests. Upon hearing that I play guitar, too, the owner invited me to play myself; I agreed and sang two songs from the previous evening, which was greeted with a lot of clapping and cheers from the happy Chinese crowd. (The fact that the bar has few American visitors probably had something to do with the enthusiasm.) Not having performed in front of so many people since my days in summer creative dramatics as a teen, these two nights were very invigorating for me.

I've also had the chance to play some games with my students this past week. On Monday's English Corner only five students showed up, so I introduced them to "Apples to Apples." Unlike "mafia," they had never heard of this game before, but they all got the hang of it immediately and had a blast. (One of my students clearly understood the humor of the game when she put "Jeremy," a create-your-own card I'd made, for the adjective "Clueless.") Only one of my students seemed to grow increasingly disappointed due to never having any of her cards selected, so I "cheated" a little during the last round and kept an eye on her card as I mixed them, then selected it after I laid them out on the table, which ended up being the best choice anyway ("Midlife Crisis" for "Crazy"). Fortunately, this seemed to do the trick, and she was happily saying "I won, too!" for the rest of the night, despite the fact that she still had less cards selected than the rest of us. Ultimately, the game was a wonderful way to introduce some vocabulary to my students; I only wish it was possible to play it in my classes, but I'm afraid it would be too difficult to manage in a large group setting.

After I teach my classes today, I will be having dinner with some students who kindly offered to take me out for Thanksgiving. I will bring my camera and hope to take some pictures, which I'll post here on a later date. In honor of the holiday, I've been showing my students this week how to draw turkeys by tracing their hand and then adding eyes and feet to the drawing. Despite their being in graduate school, most of my students marvel like children at this demonstration as if it were a magic trick, so it's been a good way to get some discussion going on Thanksgiving traditions, among other topics. I'd like to have similar success with this activity when I use it for the children I tutor this weekend; maybe drawing a picture will help to calm them down for once. Here's hoping.

Monday, November 15, 2010

tentacles, karaoke, and the mafia—all in one week!

Busy week, as is usually the case here, but I had some fun moments.

On Tuesday I joined some Korean friends and one of my Chinese students for dinner. We headed down to the local Korean district and, after wandering the streets for about ten minutes, found a nice little sushi restaurant. Upon entering, we were required to take off our shoes, which we placed in a bin, and then sat on the ground around a lowered table. We were brought a variety of delicious seafood, including chopped octopus tentacles, which were still very much alive and moving. When I grabbed a tentacle with my chopsticks, it would sometimes curl around my stick and hold on for dear life; one of them even grabbed onto my lip and wouldn't let go, as much as I tried to suck it in my mouth. I also had fun entertaining my female companions with the fresh crabs, sticking chopsticks in their claws and then making them do a little dance on the table, Charlie Chaplin The Gold Rush - style. (Unfortunately, I neglected to bring my camera.) When I wasn't goofing off and playing with my food (or being played with by it), I enjoyed eating and tried a little of everything. Judging by how well my stomach handled the dishes, I think I'm not only growing fond of but also adjusted to seafood.

In China, November 11 (or "11-11") is Singles' Daya kind of anti-Valentine's Day when young single people meet and party together. After finishing class on Thursday afternoon, some of my students, aware that I am still single, asked me to join them for karaoke at one of the local "KTV" centers. Having heard much about this popular entertainment in Shenyang, I immediately accepted the invitation and spent the evening watching my students sing popular Chinese pop songs, along with the occasional Lady Gaga hit. (Considering how poor some of their English-speaking skills are in class, I was surprised by how well my students could sing "Poker Face"maybe I should use Gaga in the classroom more often, at least on the days when I'm not feeling so strongly opposed to the very idea of using Gaga in the classroom more often.) I sang a few songs myself: "Hey Jude," "Stayin' Alive," and Elton John's "Your Song," thereby exposing my ignorance of what's currently popular in American music. To be fair, I did look to see if the karaoke machine had Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack," but alas I could not find it and thus had no opportunity to bring it. But I had a lot of fun, and my students certainly made me feel like the life of the party.

For my English Corner on Friday, a whopping 27 students showed up, so I decided it would be a good time to introduce the game "mafia" to them. To my surprise, a good number of my students were already familiar with the game (a variation roughly translated as "The Killer Game"), which made explaining the rules a lot easier than I thought it would be. With so many people, we elected for four mafia, two cops, and two protectors and then proceeded to play an entertaining, plot-twisting game for the next two hours, with me acting as the master of ceremonies. The students really got into the role playing, especially when I asked the accused for each round to give a small defense. Many of them seemed to forget they were speaking English and primarily concentrated on communicating their thoughts to others, so it turned out to be a wonderful opportunity for my students to speak naturally and without the usual pressure.

I now have two groups of kids that I tutor weekly: the four ten-year-old girls on Saturday morning and another groupfour boys and one girl, all about six years oldthat I tutor the same afternoon. Some of the girls in my morning session are becoming a little too rambunctious and just plain naughty, which has been a bit stressful for me. (Although I do well in working with my students at the university, I find that I'm often at a loss when it comes to taking care of children, as much as I love them.) Fortunately, after sharing my troubles with my mom and my good friend Fei back home, I received some ideas that should help.

Other than that, I've been meeting with friends for the occasional lunch, taking the bus where I occasionally chat (or, more precisely, attempt to chat) with fellow passengers, and watching movies that I find at the local super-inexpensive DVD shop. Today I found some of my favorite Hayao Miyazaki films (Howl's Moving Castle and Princess Mononoke), along with a bunch of other Japanese titles, including Toyko Drifter, Tokyo Story, and one of my very favorites, Tokyo Sonata (the clerk must have thought I really have a thing for the city). Tonight I talked to a few students who arrived for my Monday English Corner and then retired to my room, where I fried myself some eggs, made a ham-and-cheese sandwich, and watched Dog Day Afternoon on my laptop. I need to bring some of Pacino's frenzied performance to my teaching mannerisms this week.