Halloween in China was interesting. I spent the week before Halloween watching a lot of horror movies to make up for the lack of celebration. I LOVE Halloween, so being here just wasn't the same! But, I taught a Halloween lesson for my classes the week before the holiday, which went pretty well. I spent hours, and I mean HOURS, making little trick or treat candy bags for my students, almost 200 of them. They all had little jackolanterns, skulls, and frankenstein tags on them, so I explained what all of these were, and I think my students understood for the most part. I also showed them Michael Jackson's Thriller, which got mixed reactions, and a short film by Tim Burton called Vincent.
On Halloween day, Collin and I went to the language school in downtown Shaoguan where we are now teaching young kids English a couple of times a week. The school had a little Halloween celebration where the kids could dress up in their costumes, so the teachers made a slide show of all the different costumes for us to watch with the kids. It's kinda funny how the Chinese interpret Halloween, many of the costumes were kinda strange, the kids might just smear paint on their faces or wear a hodgepodge of different things as their costume. But some of them had more traditional costumes like witches and superheroes, so there was a good mix. I brought a big bag of candy, so at the end of the costume slide show the teachers told the kids we had candy, which then caused a frenzy of excitement. I was immediately surrounded by all the kids grabbing huge handfuls of candy and screaming “TRICK OR TREAT!!! TRICK OR TREAT!!!” Within about 15 seconds, my entire huge bag of candy had vanished. The same thing happened later on when the teachers gave us more candy to hand out during some of the Halloween games. As soon as they knew we had candy, they pretty much mobbed us for it, pushing and shoving each other and trying to rip the bag out of my hands. CRAZY!! Some of the games were cool to watch, there was one game were the kids had to try to drop a chopstick into an empty soda bottle from varying heights, which is not an easy thing to do! There were also speed games, like an apple eating contest and spelling games. The kids seemed like they were having a really good time, but it was kinda crazy so we didn't stay too long.
Last week I taught my Oral English students about thanks, apologies, and appointments. Thanks and apologies were pretty easy for them to understand, and I tried to think of some different ways people in America might say thanks or respond to thanks like “Thanks much!”, “No problem.”, “No worries.” and “Don't mention it.” For the most part, they seemed very interested in learning about these. I also talked a bit about appointments in the West, which has more to do with the cultural differences between the China and the West. In China, no one really makes appointments for anything. Most things happen last minute and people often visit others without notice because it's considered nice to give someone a surprise visit. Our textbook, which I have mixed feelings about, talked a little bit about appointments in the West, but made it sound like all Westerners are these extremely rigid people who never do anything without making an appointment. I really wanted to make sure that my students understood that not all Westerners are this way, and it really depends on the person or the situation. Again, I think they were really intrigued by this subject, as most of the students here are very interested in Western culture.
As I mentioned before, Collin and I are now teaching at an English language school for children in downtown Shaoguan. To be honest, when we got here, we weren't really thrilled to learn that we'd be teaching young kids. It was our original understanding that we'd just be teaching university students. In fact, when the idea was first brought up by the university, they were originally going to make Collin teach at the language school three times a week for two hours each time. Needless to say, he wasn't too thrilled about that, so he asked me if I would take one of those classes, so I agreed. Last week, we taught at the school for the first time. My class, on Wednesday night, was a group of nine students ages 6 to 8. Collin's Wednesday class was a smaller group of kids aged 11 or so. My students, although pretty cute, were absolutely hyper and really difficult to control. The school prepared the lessons for us, so all we really had to do was practice vocabulary words with flash cards and then play some games to help the students learn and remember the words. I did some bingo games which went over pretty well, but by the end I was pretty much exhausted from telling them over and over again to be quiet and sit down. But, I guess you can't really blame them for being hyper. In China, primary school students will start school very early in the morning around 7am, and end classes at around 5pm. Then, they go home for dinner, and then many of them have tutoring sessions or attend language schools like the one we teach at around 7pm until 9pm. Many of them also attend classes on the weekends, too. So, all they do all day long almost every day is go to school, and they don't get much of a chance to play and be normal kids. By the time I see them in the evening, they've already been in school all day and are really hyper. It's understandable. So, even though the situation isn't ideal, we're dealing with it. I'm sure it will be an experience we'll never forget!
Once a week, usually on Thursday or Friday evenings, the English students will hold an event called English Corner. It's a time for students and teachers to come together and speak English to one another, and for the most part it's pretty fun. It can be a rather exhausting experience, though, because once Collin and I arrive, we're pretty much surrounded by students wanting to talk to us. I try really hard to talk to many different people, but usually you get asked the same questions over and over again like “Do you like China?”, “Do you like Chinese food?”, “How long have you been in China?”, “Have you been to other places in China?” etc. Sometimes, though, you get some really interesting questions about America and Western culture. Of course, since we're in China, there are some things you cannot talk about, so you have to be careful what you say, but I think we do a pretty good job explaining things to them. The students try to come up with fun activities to do, like dancing and games. But I try to encourage people to talk to each other in English as much as they want me to talk to them, because many students are very shy about speaking English and are not confident in their language skills.
My new friend from Canada, Heather, and I have really bonded, being the only two Western women in Shaoguan, and maybe even in all of northern Guangdong! We had a really fun movie afternoon where we watched cheesy romantic comedies and ate peanut butter and chocolate Oreos (yeah they have those here, and they are YUMMY!). It's so nice to be able to hang out and be friends with people that you have more in common with. Don't get me wrong, I love most Chinese people, and I've made some really good Chinese friends here, but the differences in language and culture sometimes make it difficult to achieve a close friendship. She also comes to English Corner once a week, and so we take her to some of the local restaurants that we like here. I think she really appreciates having friends who already know where things are and can show her the ropes.
This past Saturday, Heather and our friend Steven came over and Steven cooked traditional Chinese hot pot. He brought all kinds of tasty food like meat balls, sliced lamb, tofu, and veggies like mushrooms, corn, lotus root, and cilantro. You add some hot spices to a pot of water, and then add all your ingredients to cook together in the pot. Once everything's cooked, you just fish out what you want to eat, and man was it tasty! I really hope we get to do that again soon!
I had wanted to take Chinese classes here, but due to our busy schedules, it just didn't work out this semester. So instead, a friend of ours named Patrick has volunteered to come over and tutor me in Chinese. He's actually a student here, and we initially met him through the international office but we became good friends after he helped us with a lot of different things like fixing our internet, and taking Collin to the hospital when he was sick last month. Patrick is a really great teacher, and even though we're only had a couple of lessons so far, I'm really enjoying it and learning a lot. I know I'll never be fluent in Chinese, but I also know that understanding the language better is going to help me immensely while I'm here, so I'm hopeful to learn enough to be able to communicate with people better. I've already picked up on quite a few phrases and words, it's amazing how much you learn when you are immersed in a language. I even recognize a few Chinese characters now, which comes in handy especially when you're ordering food at a restaurant! The language itself, although a difficult thing to learn, is surprisingly not as complicated as I originally thought. So, I'm really excited to learn more and hopefully speak more, too.