Part Fifteen in a series of articles about the experiences of an Australian Conversational English Teacher in Hong Hu, Hubei Province China. Self published author of 'The King's Calendar:The Secret of Qumran', (a study in the history and chronology of Ancient Israel), R.P. BenDedek is a pseudonym.
Chinese BS versus Australian BS.
It's 9:30pm on Thursday September 2nd 2004, and I have just returned home from one really interesting day. A day of complete BS that left everyone happy. And why not? BS is a way of life in China. This story is divided into three parts: The Morning, The Afternoon, and The Evening.
|The Author |
My day started at 7:30 am. I got up, checked my emails, checked some online news sources, had some coffee, had a shower and even a shave, and headed off to the first of four classes that I was to teach. Today is my second day of the new semester. Yesterday I taught only one class, and how lucky I was to have had 'that' class as my first, for it paved the way for today's events.
But to put my day into perspective, I have to take you back in time.
If you have been following my stories, you will know that I was forced to teach the town's English Teachers during Summer, and that the experience left me wanting to flee China. They were hopeless people, generally speaking, and I finally understood why the students here are so difficult to get through to.
|Top photo is one of my favourites from the Three Gorges. Bottom one is of yours truly with a blue tinge thanks to the colour of the sunshade.|
Following that camp, I went to PuQi, YiChang, and Wuhan. By the time I was finished travelling around, I was finally calmed down and really looking forward to the challenge of whipping the brand new students into shape (figuratively speaking - I think! - Maybe!).
It had been agreed for a long time that I would teach the new Grade One students, and the new foreign teacher would take the new Grade Two students. I knew that the school had been making arrangements for a new foreign teacher, and equally that they had lost two opportunities by virtue of 'cultural mentality'. In other words, the foreigners didn't bother to wait around while the school administration made up its' mind.
Before I left on vacation, I had given the administration the details of a Filipino man working in the South of China, and told them to grab him as quick as possible. This they did not do. So when I got back to Hong Hu, I discovered that there was no teacher for Grade Two. I'm not going to explain this comment right now, but I felt it appropriate that Grade Two students should be left without a foreign teacher.
Then last weekend, when I asked my co-ordinator for my class schedule, he informed me that I would be teaching not Grade One, but Grade Two. What a disaster for me, and what a mistake by the school. On Monday I handed a three page letter to the Vice Principal in charge of the English Department, (a copy) and on Tuesday I had my written reply, and a meeting with her in her office.
I had informed the school that I would not renew my contract in January, and that I would give the grade two students just 8 weeks to demonstrate that they were willing to behave, to work, and to actually speak English. I informed her that if they would not, I would then leave. Of course she made various excuses following which she insisted that I fulfill my contract (something to which I did not agree), but more importantly, out of the discussion came two particular points. Firstly, that the school understood that I was committed to student success, and not merely taking a joy ride through China at the Education Department's expense, and secondly, that as long as I have even one interested student in each class, that the school is happy to pay me my salary.
|Top shot is of me hanging around in a park within the yellow crane tower complex at Wuhan during my summer camp and the bottom shot is of a couple of guys hanging around outside my bedroom 16 stories up in the hotel in Wuhan after my trip to YiChang.|
So there you have it. The new school term commenced with the usual BS!
On Wednesday September 1st, I taught my first class of the term, and the only class for the day, and that class was Class two. The first thing that happened when I walked into THEIR classroom, was that a half smart 'so & so' called out, 'Where's your brother?'. My brother had started out last school year as their Grade One teacher, but they were so undisciplined, (and remaining so for 12 weeks), that my brother continued to kick them all out of class, each and every week, the whole class at a time, and ultimately, this was the reason that he found an excuse to leave, rather than continue to the end of his contract.
Knowing full well how they felt about him, �He was a BAD teacher!', that when this kid called out to me, I exploded. I fired both barrels at them, and spewed forth such a mixture of truth and BS, that I had their attention from the first moment I opened my mouth until the end of the period. I was utterly astounded by my success. So I went home and ruminated on what had happened, and planned the next day's strategy.
Thursday September 2nd 2004 - THE MORNING:
|Under the bridge at HanYang Wuhan during my 6 days there after visiting the three gorges. Those are all hairdressers folks. Fast, cheap, clean and efficient and what a fantastic view you have looking directly out onto a lake with Bridge and Temple.|
I took three classes before lunch today, and one afterward. I walked into each class room as soon as their previous teacher walked out, and during the 10-minute break wrote all over the black board. This is what I wrote.
BAD NEWS: I'm your teacher. GOOD NEWS: I leave in 8 weeks.
I was supposed to teach Grade One. The New Teacher was to teach you. There is no new teacher. Why? The money is too little, and Hong Hu is a nothing town that no foreigner wants to come to.
I don't want to teach Grade two students, because I think that they are too badly behaved and two lazy to study, learn, or speak English.
I have made a promise to the principal that I will stay for 8 weeks, to give the students a chance to prove that they are prepared to behave and to learn and to speak English.
My BAD teacher brother is earning 8000 RMB a month, while I earn only 4000 RBM. I would rather be a BAD teacher and get more money and live in a better city.
The whole time I was writing they were congregating to read it. By the time class commenced, everyone was silent. You might not find this significant, but for those who teach in China, the hardest thing to do at the beginning of any class, let alone the first class of the year, is to get their attention. I had it.
For the next thirty minutes in each class, I expounded a variety of issues such as;
The Chinese Athlete 'He Ying' who was disqualified at the Athens Olympics because having failed to understand the English command given her by an official, a command that she was supposed to have learned, a command that could have saved her from disqualification, she was in fact disqualified.
The Fifteen year old Chinese girl growing up in Germany who learned English at school in Germany, and who speaks it beautifully.
|15 years old and speaks Chinese, German and wonderful English. Her next step is to start Latin courses - of all things.|
The three possible reasons why Chinese Students can study English for 10 years and yet still not be able to speak it, namely, Stupidity, Laziness and Chinese Culture. Rejecting the first two, the students were forced to recognise that it is only Chinese Culture that stops them. For example:
- I am too shy.
- My friends won't talk to me if I speak English
- If I volunteer to speak people will think I am showing off.
- I don't like making mistakes
- I don't want to lose face
- It is not important.
- I can wait until I get to university
- I am too busy to speak it right now
From this we moved on to discussing the fact that I only taught 200 of the 1100 students in Grade Two last year, and to the fact that as long as I teach only one student in each class, I can received my usual monthly salary. I rammed home to them that they are only guaranteed 8 weeks of Oral English, and that even if I complete the semester, I will be leaving the school in January.
From this I went on to discuss what the International English Language Testing Service Examination is, and that it is currently being introduced to China (and in some universities, already in place) and that there are 6 universities in Shanghai that will now not take any student who can't actually speak English.
I then spelled out for them what was needed to pass the examination, and that my 200 students last year can already pass the final year university Oral English examination.
|The classroom is prepared for Semester Week Two when the students start classes in MY CLASSROOM.|
I explained to them that I actually TEACH, something called 'The Mechanics of Conversation'; a subject that exists nowhere, for it is not necessary to teach it anywhere except in China, because the mechanics of conversation are learned through conversation, but in China the students never converse.
I then picked out one student from each class, and did a practical demonstration of what I would teach; things like anticipating questions, speaking in complete sentences, and providing informative answers. This is how it worked.
I make a student stand at the front of the class and tell him/her to pay close attention to what I will say. Then I went around the class asking different questions to different students, questions like, What is your name, how old are you, where do you come from, where do you live, who do you live with, do you like living there, what grade are you in, which school do you go to, which university will you go to, what will you 'major' be, what work will you do when you graduate from university....
With this done, I returned to the front of the class and told the student that I would ask JUST ONE QUESTION. Whew! They were relieved. �But I expect you to give me answers to 6 questions!�
First I asked their name. Generally they just spoke their name and I had to state it within the context of a complete sentence, which was then written on the board. Then I asked them to GUESS what my next question would be. This was a little harder. As each new answer was given, it was written on the blackboard, and then they were made to use conjunctions to join multiple answers to form an informative answer such as: 'My name is Li Wei and I'm 16 years old. I come from Hong Hu and I am in Grade Two at Hong Hu No. 1 Middle School. I live in Xin Di with my parents and I like living there because they love me very much.
The exercise was one of anticipating questions, speaking in complete sentences, using conjunctions, and providing informative answers. Not that they understood that, but the lesson demonstrated to them, that there is more to conversation than just answering questions with 'phrases'.
|What are these kids doing? Well - they are standing outside of MY classroom. But for that story you will have to wait until next week.|
So that was how each lesson went. They were rapt. I told them not to come to my class room next week if they wanted 'fun' or to have an interesting time. 'Don't come if you won't speak English. Don't come if you don't bother to bring two writing books, a pen, a dictionary and your grammar book.
Of course it remains to be seen what happens in the coming weeks. (That story will appear here next week.)
Now at the time that this article was written, the Australian Government had just called an election, and as I made sure to keep my electoral enrollment valid, I have a duty to vote. After spending three days trying to find out how to vote, I eventually downloaded a 'request for a ballot paper'.
Having organised a copy of my passport, resident's visa, a declaration that I have no authorised person to witness my signature, I needed to send everything 'Special Delivery' to the Australian Consulate in Shanghai. For this I would need some help.
I asked Xiang Jun during the morning if he would go with me to the post office at lunchtime. He agreed. At the end of my last morning class, I hurried home, quickly showered, and quickly heated some left over dinner from the previous night (because I hadn't eaten breakfast). Before I could dress or eat, Xiang Jun arrived. He had not had a class immediately before lunch recess, and so had taken an early lunch at the Canteen.
|Xiang Jun (Bill)|
Apologising for the delay, I woofed down my food, ran to the bedroom and dressed, and when I re-emerged and said 'Let's go!' he said, 'But we shouldn't go now, everybody will be having lunch and so we will have to go this afternoon! Brilliant! I could have taken my time eating my left overs. Agreeing to go with me to the post office after period six (4:15pm), he went off to have a lunchtime sleep.
At the appointed hour (despite the fact that I was expecting a telephone call), we set off for the post office up the road. There was a bus leaving from the school at that moment, and we took it. When we entered the post office, before I could say anything, Xiang Jun began to talk to the lady. They discussed back and forth for five minutes before XJ told me that we must go to another post office. 'Why?' I asked. 'They don't have any envelopes here!' he counselled me. Mmmmmmm!
|There are not too many 'traditional'buildings in Hong Hu but this is one of them. What it was I do not know, but it appears to be some sort of conference center now. I just threw this in for the first timers to my articles.|
We grabbed another bus, but not before XJ inquired of the conductor (correct term/wrong imagery) if this bus would take us there. Yes it would! At the right place, the conductor told us to get off, and XJ was lost. We could not find a post office, but a passerby did point us in the right direction.
Finally I said, 'Look, there is a stationary shop up the street, we can get an envelope from them!'
No No! he replied, we can only get it at the Post Office. That shop does not sell Special Envelopes!
OK XJ, what do you mean by Special Envelopes?
I mean International Envelopes so that you can send letters to Australia.
I'm not sending this letter to Australia I shouted, It's going to Shanghai!
Oh! You didn't tell me that!
YOU didn't tell me that the other Post Office had no Special Envelopes, you said they had NO envelopes! Oy oy oy oy oy oy oy!
The problem here is that the better someone speaks English, the less care you take to be totally precise, the less number of times you repeat yourself to ensure that they understand, and the less often you check to ensure that they know what they are doing. I had said that the letter was going to Shanghai. I had only asked him to help me send the letter EXPRESS DELIVERY. And he never told me that the post office had no special envelopes (international), only that it had no envelopes.
So, having sorted all that out, I sent off my application to the consulate in Shanghai, and dashed home.
Having turned down several requests to dine with the Dry Cleaners family, I had finally agreed to join them Thursday night, but after doing that, I got a call from Diana (My summertime Chinese teacher), asking me to join her for coffee, as her friend, the Television presenter at CCTV something or rather (whom I had met before), wanted to talk to me.
|Chen Yang's mother - the Dry Cleaner whose dinner I missed the night I was interviewed by CCTV Hong Hu.|
I figured that once Diana called me with the time on Thursday, that I would be able to let Chen Yang's mother know what time I could make it for dinner. As soon as I returned from the post office with Xiang Jun, the phone rang. It was Diana. She wanted me to meet her immediately at the new restaurant we had visited together just a few nights earlier.
|HU Jian Shi or Judy HO - American Chinese from California now teaching in Hong Hu No 5 School (or at least the private part of it).|
When I hung up the phone, I immediately called Judy, the brand new Chinese/American foreign teacher teaching at No.5 Middle School, and Informed her that we were to leave immediately for coffee with Diana and her friend. Giving Judy directions on how to walk down to the main road from her school, I hung up, apologised to Xiang Jun for rushing off, and raced down to the road to catch a cab.
Judy arrived at the intersection of AiGuoLu and the main road, just a minute after I got out of the taxi. Not knowing the name of the street to which we were headed, I knew it was pointless trying to take another taxi, so we walked. It took about 10minutes, and we arrived at about 5:15pm. Neither Judy nor I were especially dressed, and as I had gone directly from class to the post office and back home, I had had no chance to shower or change. I was covered in chalk dust. 'But it doesn't matter!' Chinese saying.
OH! But it did!. Here is where the real BS kicks in!
When Judy and I walked into the ultramodern, flashy, expensive, upmarket restaurant/ coffee shop, there was Diana and our mutual friend Crystal, the Television presenter, the Reporter who interviewed me last year, AND A BLOODY CAMERAMAN! Judy and I were both ready to run!
They were all at a beautiful table that had a nice fruit platter on it, and a plate of sunflower seeds, and outdoing the table were the four women, and one cute little 2 year old boy. Introductions were made, and we all sat down.
Now I am not going to bore you with the running conversation, but over the next 15 minutes, I asked several time, (only to be ignored) 'Is this a Television interview?'
|Here is the cameraman, but don't know who the lady is on the wall in the top photo, but it does give you an idea of how grand the place is.|
They do this you know! They don't tell you about it, they just do it! They get all dolled up and you turn up to face a television crew dressed in whatever! (Judy was gaining some new insights into Chinese customs).
Finally we were informed that the Television crew were doing a story on life in Hong Hu, and had decided to do some filming in this restaurant. (Yes! And I calculated that we received about 400 RMB worth of free food! BUT IT WASN'T FOR AN ADVERTISEMENT!)
After about 5 minutes at that table, it was decided that the lighting was not so good, so we moved to another table, and from there to another, and eventually back to the first table, where the light was just fine. With each move, fruit platter, sunflower seeds, water glasses, Ice cream and coffee had to be packed up and transported to the new table. Finally we settled.
Now this restaurant does as great 'hamigua bingjiling' (Ice cream sitting on cantaloup), and so to bribe us, (I mean, make us feel welcome), we were presented (Judy and I) with a bowl each. Then of course there was the coffee all round. As there was a delay in the arrival of Judy's ice cream, I held off eating mine. But with time, it began to melt, until there was a mess on the table. When I finally decided to just eat it, with my first spoonful (with the tiniest little spoon you ever did see), the ice cream fell down my face, across my black chalk covered polo shirt, and into my lap. Ahhh! Nothing like seeing a dribbling idiot being interviewed on TV. (Oh! I do apologise. I forgot that America and Australia are at the polls!)
|Group shot everyone! Hugs and Kisses! Say 'Egg plant'! Sounds like 'chairser' in English.|
Finally it was explained to me that the reporter would ask me two questions about this restaurant. 'Do you like the place? And How often do you come here?' (Oh Yeah! Every second day! I'm a rich foreigner!)
They were true to their word, for there were only two questions, two answers, and two translations into Chinese. But the cameraman wasn't happy with the playback. So Judy who had been on my right (I was at the head of the table), and Crystal who had been on my left, got shifted so that the reporter was to my left and Diana was to my right (and Judy kept ducking everytime the cameraman did a wide sweep of the table!)
|What a happy little kid - usually they cry when they see me.|
Finally with all that done, we got down to some serious coffee and talk, and, surprise surprise, dinner on the house. Just what Judy wanted! From her first day in town she had been sick, she couldn't eat much, and was not used to spicy food.
Unlike the usual Chinese dinner where the food is communal, this was served western style, with each person provided a meal of meat,vegetable and rice in a beautiful ceramic caserole dish.
|Underneath the fried egg, the pork and the green stuff is some baked rice.|
It was actually the best 'little pieces of pork on bits of bone' that I have eaten here, the proof of which was that I ate most of Judy's meal as well.
The night progressed wonderfully and a lot of fun was had by all, until just as we were about to leave I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to have dined with Chen Yang's mother. I got Diana to write me a note in Chinese, and while walking Judy back to her school, we called in at the dry cleaning store to deliver the note.
Mother was still there, but didn't see me coming. When she turned around, I was kneeling on the ground in Chinese supplication, holding a note and saying 'Dui Bu Qi' (Sorry!). She freaked! She grabbed both my hands and dragged me to my feet. Having read my apology, she arranged for me to join them the following night.
|One fine waiter and some of the food that he served.|
After I walked Judy home, I took a bus to Yi Zhong (school), and sat down to write this article. So there you have it. Another day of BS.
|Photo taken in the street outside No 5 Middle School while I was on my way to meet Judy.|
I do hope you have enjoyed reading it. You won't get to read this for about a month, so I will post an update later and let you know how my classes are going. As for that dinner I went to at Chen Yang's home the following night. The less said about that the better. Actually, after all that beer I don't remember enough of it to write about it. Have fun!
|Three shots of the ground floor section of the place. Top floor has private rooms + kalaOK.|
|I was on the way to the WC when these boys started saying 'foreigner foreigner'. So I whipped out my camera and got this shot. I wonder if the girl who hid her face was supposed to be with these boys?? MMMM????|
|That is Crystal on my left and Diana on my right. Yellow shirt is the reporter, white shirt is the TV presenter. And that one in the corner is Judy the Chinese American foreigner.|
|Judy and Diana|
|And there is room for one more! I just threw this in for good measure. This is the first time I have captured a clear image of how the families travel around together on motorbikes.|
|I have a ton of stuff to both interest and help the kids who are serious about English. Herre are some of the books and magazines they will miss out on if they misbehave and get kicked out of class. Woman's Day - Woman's Weekly - New Idea, all of which are I believe, CONTRABAND. ssssshhhhh!!! |
|People's China Daily - English Edition curtesy of Qing Chuan Hotel HanYang Wuhan. I have four of them around the classroom, plus a stack of Australian Newspapers.|
R.P.BenDedek is the pseudonym of the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' (www.kingscalendar.com), and he is a guest columnist at Magic City Morning Star News. An Australian, he currently teaches Conversational English in China. Other Stories from China.