Monday, 1 July 2013
I hope that you have had a virtual experience with living here and have enjoyed the sights and sounds of this great land.
Don and I have had a true adventure that has been positive.
We have seen much of China and have enjoyed the four corners of the country and more.
We have made friends from across the globe and we cherish them.
We have almost learned to live 24/7 with each other in a small space.
We have worked hard.
Our experiences have been overwhelmingly happy. There have been a few negative incidents such as
receiving counterfeit 100 yuan bills or grouchy taxi drivers who wouldn't take us onto the campus.
Don saved his wallet from being pick pocketed just once, and we thought that was a pretty good statistic.
There have been the usual, curious stares, but we have never felt in danger. The one and only time
when I was afraid was at the border crossing between Tibet and Nepal. There is an admirable quality
to a government that can get things done in a swift and practical manner.
The Chinese are kind. That is the quality that I will remember them for. Many of the older or less
worldly people, such as those who live in "Dumpling Alley" behind the campus, are shy or unwilling
to engage until they realize you are a repeat person in their lives. Then they are open and helpful.
The traditional desire for harmony with family comes across even as many families are separated
due to educational pursuits or jobs. Many families don't live together, which is rare for Canadians.
Students often said that they lived with grandparents while their parents were away working.
The Chinese seem to have an obsession with "happiness." This came up often in presentations and
general conversation. One great sadness for me was seeing so many hardworking students unhappy with
their chosen courses. This was expressed repeatedly. When students graduate from high school they
have three days to chose the major that they will pursue. Many have no guidance or even knowledge of
what the field actually exists of. Many chose almost blindly and then it would be a loss of face to
withdraw. Many are working ten or more hours a day in a lab, doing work that they have little interest
in. Also, jobs after they finish are not there for about half of them.
Another sadness for me was that many are slotted into a field and they have a dream for another career.
One lovely, thoughtful and mature student confided that he had always wanted to be a medical doctor
and help people in the country. He was not able to do that, and there seems to be only one chance to make
a decision. Another said, "I wanted to be a lawyer," but I will be happy with architectural design. Some
ask, "What should I do?" and I can only advise to finish the present course, as this is the only practical
solution. There is no room for a late bloomer or someone who simply wants a change.
Our aim was to teach with integrity and to represent the church through BYU, the recruiting agency
that sent us here.
It is difficult to answer the question, "Have I done any good?"
We certainly didn't make fluent English speakers out of any of the students.
Hopefully we were able to give methods to improve English skills in the future.
One of my main goals with our oral classes was to show how to speak in a more
natural English style with pauses, exaggerated intonation variation using the rhythm of a stressed language.
I enjoyed it immensely and was fulfilled with the teaching experience.
None of the students were fluent although all could carry on some sort of conversation.
They have had good teachers, but almost none were foreign, native English teachers.
As a result, most of the English work was written and the oral skills lag far behind.
A few felt that they had conquered the English language and were surprised to learn that there was much to improve upon.
Most were very nervous about speaking and could hardly utter a word without embarrassment, and Chinese students
really don't want to embarrass themselves.
In general, the students from Guangzhou were the best speakers, as they have had more contact with English speakers.
Yet, some of the best grades went to students from the fringes of China. One girl from Urumchi in the northwest received an excellent grade
and she credited her good English on spending a year in Denmark at a university where the course was in English. Another
student with an excellent grade came from the southwest corner of China, from Dali. He was from a minority group, loved to
talk, was very cocky, and had a need for English. Only a handful could be called fluent in any degree, and those often were
the kids who had spent a lot of time in front of the TV. Another excellent student said that she loved to sing English songs,
and this made her sound very natural.
Many thanked us for giving them confidence. Some said that I was the first foreign person they had ever spoken to.
Gratitude for giving them confidence was our most common message of appreciation from the students. And, that is
a significant hurdle since I repeated over and over that you can't learn to speak English unless you open your mouth and speak.
The final exam, which was a personal interview, was my favourite part of the semester, even though there were almost 200 students.
Most students were open, in an innocent kind of way. They could come in and start any conversation. Some talked about their
dating problems, many about their unhappiness with their major, some about being lonely, some about the problems with the
education policy in China, some about the one-family policy, others about Chinese cuisine, one about building a personal
nuclear reactor that could be put on a desk at home. One asked how to find out if their was a God. Another said how he hated
Chairman Mao because his grandfather had lost everything. As we continued the conversation he admitted that he would
never say that in public. The students came from all backgrounds and the interviews showed me just how many had
sacrificed for education. Many are also quite pampered with no thought of being independent until marriage, which comes
later in China after school is finished. Two students recently caused a sensation on campus by getting married before
their education was finished. Students saw it as romantic and unusual. Many came into the exam wanting to talk about the event.
Something so ordinary for us was big news.
My favourite compliment came from Jason. He was a student with an aggressive personality and I always referred to him
in my mind as my "Red Guard," as I was certain that he would have led a Red Guard brigade during the Cultural Revolution
of the 1960's. He was a bridge engineer in a PhD program, and he was one who loved his major. One day in
class he said, "This class makes me happy."
It made me happy too!
We leave here tomorrow and will see you soon.
I love you all.
As I press the button to send my last blog, I have tears in my eyes.
This morning we returned on an overnight flight from Kathmandu, Nepal to Guangzhou, China, our home away from home.
Last week we took part in the ULTIMATE ROAD TRIP.
Don has wanted to show me Mount Everest ever since he made the trek to Everest Base Camp two years ago.
So, he worked with a Kathmandu company, Ace the Himalaya, to put a tour together. Eight other BYU China teachers joined us
in a wonderful adventure. It was a lot of work for Don since there are many visa requirements and uncertainties in going to
Tibet which is a SAR or Special Administrative Region of China. Tom Cutting, a BYU teacher stationed in Beijing, helped
with the northern group and provided encouragement, since there was push back from the usual tour company
that the BYU teachers usually use. (Many are not satisfied with this company's service and a little competition is needed.)
Our group met in Lhasa City and spent a week together on the road in a small bus. The road trip exceeded everyone's
expectations and I can hardly express the thrill of it all.
Of course there was a rocky start. The first day and night was difficult with the adjustment to the high altitude. Since we were
coming from sea level, our Guangzhou group had bad headaches and one friend even fainted out cold. High altitude acclimatization
is interesting and we all suffered from shortness of breath until we started descending after the highlight of Everest Base Camp from
the Tibet side of the mountain. It is interesting to realize you are not thinking clearly or moving with secure balance.
There are too many incidents to relate, but just believe me when I say that Tibet is one of a kind, with a unique traditional culture
and some of the most diverse and majestic scenery in the world. We were all in awe of the raw beauty of the place, plus, the
funny little inconveniences made us realize that this is a remote and tough country.
Our hotel window in Lhasa City looked out on the Potala Palace and that was just one of the spectacular views.
After many security passport checks and a bumpy washboard road that took six hours of travelling, we saw Mount Everest.
It was a perfect, clear day and we were so happy, since it is the wet season and many tourists get only a glimpse or none
at all, after the bone jarring journey to drive to base camp. Don's assessment was that the Nepal trek to Base Camp
is more satisfying since you are doing the work, but on the Tibet side of the mountain you see the tallest mountain in the world
in all its glory, front and centre, positioned in perfect symmetry among the surrounding hills. He was as thrilled as the rest of us.
We left the barren, windswept high hills and continued on the Friendship Highway (a highway that links Shanghai and Kathmandu) and continued to the border crossing with Nepal. The scenery changed to lush, sub-tropical, huge Himalayan hills and we followed the
most spectacular river through a narrow gorge for most of the day. Tibet is truly a land of rock and water. The border crossing was
about the worst experience of my life, with hundreds of Indians tourists on a nearby pilgrimage and others from China and everywhere else pushing to get into the building. Don literally rescued me when the Chinese border police closed the door on me as I was
being pushed from behind. It was terrifying since people were angry with each other.
Just believe me when I say that we saw incomparable natural beauty alongside some of the most impoverished living
Kathmandu was a fun place to visit. We saw the usual cultural sites and shopped until we had made good friends with the Indian
couple who owned a jewellery story across from our hotel in the Thamel area. Don made sure I saw the things that some of
the family saw when they were in Kathmandu with him.
How lucky we were to have this memorable week together with our new friends.
And, how lucky to have survived the bad roads and close calls.
Here are a few photos and may need more that one posting:
- the view from our hotel in Lhasa City
- Tom and Don bought hats, since almost all the men their age wore felt hats (also Kayleen Seiver from Detroit)
- Terry Ryan with a Tibetan woman (by the way, her mother is a Beazer)
- a stalled and submerged vehicle that got caught in a landslide that delayed us about 2 hours
- Mount Everest
- a typical scene near Nepal
- Don and I on the road to Nepal
- sacred cows in Kathmandu near the Hindu cremation temple
- Brad Hertz challenging some local boys to a table tennis match in Kathmandu