Ok, so you know how we said we'd keep up with this blog? Ha, well, obviously we haven't been doing a very good job. * Sigh *
To be honest, we've been in such a routine here that there really isn't a whole lot of interesting things to write about, but I suppose there might be something now and then. Anyway, I'm gonna try to write more often, even if it's about the mundane daily life. You never know what could happen!
So, the holidays came and went. Christmas in Shaoguan was pretty uneventful, but Collin cooked a really yummy meal of chicken and all the trimmings. We actually found a Christmas tree and decorations at the store downtown, so the apartment looked pretty festive. On Christmas Eve, we actually went to a Catholic mass at the church in Shaoguan with our Canadian friend Heather. Now, none of us are religious, but we thought it would be really interesting to attend a Catholic mass in China. It was actually kind of nice, because it was the only time during the Christmas season that we actually heard traditional Christmas songs! The sermon was in Chinese, both Mandarin and Cantonese, so it was actually kind of interesting. Plus, they gave us oranges and cakes afterwards, so that was nice. On Christmas Day, Heather came over and joined us for dinner, which was really nice for us and her. But, all in all, Christmas just wasn't the same without snow, traditional food, and family and friends from back home. We were also invited to a Christmas “party” which was put on by the school. It was interesting to say the least, because it wasn't really a party at all, but more like a variety show with skits and performances. There was a Titanic reenactment, which was actually pretty funny considering the parts of Rose and Jack were both played by guys. But, not exactly Christmasy, if you know what I mean. There was a pretty good performance by the international students from Panama and Indonesia where they sang “Last Christmas” and danced. Probably the most Christmasy thing about the whole “party”!
New Year's Eve was actually pretty fun. A group of us including Heather, Steven, and some of our Chinese student friends went out to the street for Chinese BBQ and some beers. After that some of us came back to the apartment where the guys drank shots of really cheap (and I mean REALLY cheap) Chinese booze. We're talkin' like 50 cents for a small flask. Heather and I made chocolate fondue, which everyone loved, and just hung out at our place and listened to music until midnight. Good times.
Shortly after, Heather left Shaoguan and went to Southeast Asia to do some traveling. I didn't want to say goodbye, it was really sad! We'd become really good friends, and we'd spent a lot of time hanging out, watching movies, eating chocolate, talking, eating more chocolate, etc. We might get to see her since she'll be staying in Hong Kong for awhile, so maybe we can work something out, but I really miss her!! :(
After New Year's came finals, which was a really busy time. I gave each of my students (6 classes – almost 200 students) a spoken exam where they had to prepare a short speech from a list of preselected topics. During our normal class time, I had each of them come into the classroom one at a time, and give their speech. I also asked them one random question which they were expected to answer spontaneously without preparation. Most of them did really well, so I was pleased. The hardest part was determining the exam grades since it was completely up to my discretion as to how well they spoke English. But I think I graded fairly, and I really think that over the course of the semester many of them improved quite a bit in terms of skill level and confidence. I also gave a written English grammar exam to my single student preparing for study in England next year, which also went very well. Collin had many more exams to give then I did, and many more of them were written, so it took a lot more time and energy. I helped him with grading exams so we could get all of the grades in on time. Turning in the grades was kind of confusing, because we were given a sheet (written completely in Chinese) with all the students' names on it (in Chinese) and we weren't sure where exactly where to write the breakdown of percentages for each grade. When I turned it in the first time, I had to do it over because apparently I had done it all wrong, but after a second try I finally got everything right. Whereas my grades were all written on paper, Collin's exam grades in the Econ department had to be entered online for some reason, which was also really confusing. The system wouldn't let him log in sometimes, and if you didn't immediately save your data the system would time out and you'd have to start all over again. Needless to say, kind of a pain in the ass. So, after a lot of hassle, we managed to get all the grades in.
Pretty much immediately after we turned in our grades, we left for our winter break trip to India. Too much to write about that part at the moment, but I'm working on a huge blog entry about the trip. So look for that soon!!
We started teaching classes again about 4 days after we got back from India, which really didn't give us a whole lot of time to catch up on rest, but what can you do? Coming back to China after spending 5 weeks in India was definitely a bit surreal at first, but we're adjusting back to our routine here. When we got here in September, I remember thinking how dirty everything was. But, after being in India, China seems like a clean paradise! NEVER ever in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would say that, but it's so true! India was amazing, for sure, but really really dirty. More on that later...
Teaching is going well so far, I'm teaching four first-year spoken English classes again, two one-on-one spoken English classes with my student preparing for study in England, and one class of spoken English for first-year double majors (students majoring in English and one other subject). We managed to get out of teaching at the language school for kids downtown, which is AWESOME because we really didn't like doing that at all. For my second semester of teaching first-years, I'm trying to make things a little more challenging for them. Last semester, I noticed how so many of them lack confidence while speaking and really need more practice. So this semester I'm really trying to come up with more activities to get them to speak as much as possible. Especially random and spontaneous speech, which a lot of them really struggle with. Many of them need to write what they want to say and then read it aloud, which isn't going to help them at all. This week, I wrote some random questions on pieces of paper and had each of them pick one out of a bag and answer the question spontaneously. I tried to make the questions interesting, so I wrote things like “If you had only one month to live, what would you do?” or “Do you think it is ok to live with your boyfriend/girlfriend before you get married?”. The questions got them interested, and I think it went over really well, plus they were basically forced to speak without preparation, which is exactly what I wanted them to do. I even included one question about gay marriage, asking whether they thought it was ok for gay people to marry, and many of my students agreed that it was ok with them, which surprised me. So not only was this a good lesson for them, but a good lesson for me because I got the chance to learn more about my student's opinions on their own culture and other issues. Very interesting...
We went to Guangzhou a couple of weekends ago, which was a really fun time. We met up with a couple of Collin's friends, Mei Mei and Daniel, from his first China experience in 2008. Mei Mei is Chinese and goes to school in Guangzhou, and Daniel is Nigerian and he works in Guangzhou for the government. I had met them when I visited Collin in 2008, so it was really great to see them both again. Daniel took us to a bar in Guangzhou and we sat outside and had a few beers, which was awesome because there are NO bars in Shaoguan. The place was full of foreigners, and we had a lot of fun talking with Daniel and catching up. The next day we hung out with Mei Mei and ate at an amazing Brazilian BBQ restaurant, which had the best meat I'd eaten in China! So yummy! Then we went shopping at a Western grocery store and bought food to make a Mexican meal. It was really expensive but so worth it! Before we went back to Shaoguan, we visited Mei Mei's family at their downtown apartment and spent the afternoon drinking tea with her father and stepmom. They are such nice people, and it was really awesome to just sit and enjoy some good Chinese tea and their company. All in all, a really great weekend.
Last weekend, we made our Mexican meal with the groceries we bought in Guangzhou. You never fully appreciate what you have until it's gone, and man have we missed Mexican food! We made burritos with all the fixins, and it was delicious! Steven and our friend Lexus and his girlfriend Eureka came over and enjoyed the meal with us, and afterwards we broke out a bottle of tequila along with some limes that we'd bought in Guangzhou. (Oddly enough, you can find lemons in China, but not limes, go figure.) Between the five of us, we drank the whole bottle of tequila, and it was awesome. Especially with the limes! Was a really fun night.
We also went over to Alex's the other night and played poker (with Monopoly money) with some other Chinese students. I'd never actually played poker before, so I was pretty horrible at it. But it was really fun and I learned something new! Never thought I'd learn to play poker in China, but here I am! Ha! Went to play pool a few times at the local pool hall near campus with Alex and Lexus. Again, I'm a terrible player but I still have fun anyway. I came down with the flu earlier this week, which wasn't fun at all! Felt like crap all day Monday, and it took me a couple of days to feel human again, but thankfully it didn't linger too long. Getting sick is never fun, but getting sick in China is probably worse than normal. Thankfully Collin has stayed healthy so far this semester (knock on wood).
Anyway, I know this is long, so if you got to this point, thanks for reading! I'll try to keep updates shorter and more frequent in the future! :)