Sunday, October 24, 2010

weekly events

Today Shenyang saw its first snowflakes of the upcoming winter, and, with the exception of one or two cool autumn days, the last week has been very cold. I’m finding that even four layers of clothing is not enough to keep me warm during my daily outings, especially when the wind chill kicks in, so I hope to find some warmer clothes (including gloves and snow-durable shoes) in the next few days. In the meantime, here is a report on the last week.

Last Sunday I asked a student and her friends to accompany me to Shenyang’s Liaoning Province museum. The five of us took a bus to the museum, where we admired beautiful paintings, decorated pottery, and money from every period of Chinese history (from coins to seashells). The students seemed to have fun practicing their English as they translated exhibit signs for me and explained the cultural significance behind some of the artifacts. The most memorable encounter of the day was when two strangers—female students from another university—overheard me talking and excitedly asked to have their picture taken with me so they could show their friends that they met “an American.” Although I’ve long grown adjusted to being eyed and pointed at by many of the locals here (especially when riding the bus), this was the first time I had been asked to be part of someone’s photograph. I expect autograph requests to come soon.

Outside the museum

My helpful tour guides

On Monday I held one of my two weekly English Corners, which brings in students numbering from five to twenty-five, depending on how many feel like putting in some extra time to work on their conversational abilities. On this evening only one student showed up, so the two of us joined the English Corner of another English teacher (a friendly older man from the U.K.) and helped in his group’s preparations for an upcoming Halloween party on November 1. I haven’t decided what costume I’m going to wear, but seeing as the Chinese consumer market doesn’t get into the pagan holiday spirit, I’m pretty much limited to what I can whip up in my apartment. Maybe I’ll go as Jack Skellington, since I’ve already got a head start in my body structure.

The next day I had lunch with my good friend Ping (a Chinese student on campus training to be a Chinese-language teacher) and one of her Korean friends. Ping tends to be my go-to person for meeting some of the Koreans on campus, mainly because she regularly tutors them in Chinese and has made many friends in the process. The three of us took a taxi to the local Korean district and barbecued some delicious pork, mushrooms, and onions at a nice, very home-styled restaurant in the area. At one point the electricity went out, so the waitress (who I believe was also the owner) brought out candles placed on Coca-Cola cans. After lunch, I joined another Chinese friend, Claire, a former student of another English teacher. Upon first meeting me a few weeks ago, Claire remarked on how beautiful my hands were and even took a picture of them, shortly thereafter sending me an e-card with a photograph of my palely white (but Chinese-fetishized!) appendages. On this afternoon she introduced me to the campus library, where she checked out a book on Chinese poetry and then sat down with me to read some of her favorite pieces.

Wednesday and Thursday are two of my primary teaching days. This week I engaged in an informal group discussion on the topics of dating and marriage (particularly their cultural differences in America and China), followed by an in-class group activity. I gave each group an American magazine (various publications I brought with me from the U.S.—Entertainment Weekly, Lucky, Time, Sports Illustrated, etc.), had them find one advertisement in their magazine, and then prepare an English-language “commercial” performance for the ad. Most of the students really had fun with it, adding in movie references and in-jokes into their short two-minute skits. (One group even introduced two of its performers as “Teacher Jeremy and his beautiful wife,” which I applauded.) After some ultimately successful but still awkwardly assembled first classes, I think my teaching methods are becoming more loose and casual, which I’m realizing is probably the best way to teach conversational English.

Clockwise from me: Claire, Steve, Heather, and a new guy whose name I've forgotten

On Friday I joined Claire, some of her friends, and the U.K English teacher on an outing to the city’s beautiful Beiling Park, which I’ve already visited two times before (most memorably with Ping and three of her Korean friends). I was feeling a bit tired, though, so I left the group early, taking a bus back to my apartment and resting until 6:00, when I went down to the courtyard to meet with students for my second weekly English Corner. Unlike Monday, this time 20 students showed up, so we had to find a room in the nearby school building in order to have our conversation. I was still very tired, so I sat down with the students and simply asked who had done anything interesting or “special” today. Many of the students were responsive, with one even going up to the board to give a cartoon demonstration on how to draw a parrot in under five seconds. Two of the students didn’t possess English names, too, so I had the group help me in naming them (we decided on “Anne” and “John”—the two most phonetically similar names we could think of to their original Chinese names). After an hour, however, I was so exhausted that I had to end our time together. When I went to bed later that evening, my entire body was aching and my head was throbbing, which kept me from getting much sleep.

Sleep deprived and still exhausted, on Saturday morning I had to call and cancel my weekly tutoring session with the four ten-year-old girls. I slept for four more hours and, feeling better, then invited Ping to join me for lunch with Shere, a friendly student I had met at the Mid-Autumn Festival last September. We ate at a fancy Chinese restaurant, where we had these dumpling-like meat-and-mushroom filled noodles, along with eggplant and sweet pork. The generous Shere, having just returned from Beijing, gave me a package of the city’s traditional Tuckahoe Pie (a delicious pastry with fruit filling). She also expressed an active interest in attending my classes in order to practice her English, which makes me very happy—her friendly and enthusiastic attitude should help to ease my classroom environment from whatever tension the students bring in from their more traditional classes.

My new student: Shere!

After lunch with Ping and Shere

Unfortunately, after my lunch with Ping and Shere (see above), my exhaustion came back. Realizing that I had caught some kind of flu, I spent the rest of the evening in a continual shivering state, despite wearing a sweater, coat, and a blanket while having my heating system turned on full blast. Doing as the Chinese do, I boiled some water and drank it throughout the evening, which turned out to be just the remedy as I relaxed and watched Bernardo Bertolucci’s absorbing The Last Emperor—a recent purchase at the local DVD shop. Nevertheless, I still ended up going to bed completely clothed, sweater and all, until my clothes were so drenched in my sweat that I was forced to peel them off.

This morning (Sunday) I woke up, good as new and completely refreshed—the hot water really works! I was so well that I was even able to join three of my students for another museum tour, this one dedicated in memoriam to the September 18th Incident, which compelled Japan to begin its attack on China—beginning in Shenyang—that lasted until the end of World War II. The exhibitions were very moving and at times devastating, featuring photographs of atrocities comparable to the Holocaust. Coincidentally, I noticed that a major section of the museum is devoted to the “puppet emperor” Puyi, whose life is dramatically depicted in The Last Emperor. Having just watched the film the night before, it was fascinating to see pictures of the real-life Puyi and to have my students tell me about him. (Joyce remarked, smiling at a photograph, that “he was a very handsome man.”) After squishing into a crowded bus in our return to campus—fine by me, since the body warmth helped to alleviate the cold weather—I had dinner with my Russian friend, Anna, at the local Pizza Hut. Unlike back home, Pizza Hut in Shenyang is apparently is one of the more upscale eating establishments in the city, complete with exotic salads, a nice soup menu, a wine selection, and various other fancy additions, including a large number of city-themed pizzas (we decided on the “New Orleans Special”). I was hoping to buy some warm clothes after dinner, but Anna and I discovered that all of the shops in the local underground shopping mall closed early on Sunday, so I will have to bear the weather until next week.

The "9.18" museum is engraved with the face of a skull

Me and my students, Joyce and Rebecca, in front of the museum;

their peace signs were appropriate, but I apparently didn't think a full smile was.

So there you have it—a typical week for me in Shenyang. Considering how anti-social my life was in the U.S., this sudden popularity is a little bizarre, even if it is flattering. As exhausting as my celebrity status can be at times (to the point where I may need to keep a “social life” schedule in addition to my teaching one), I think I could get very well used to this. Until next time!

Not only is China's Pizza Hut more interesting than America's, it's also funnier!