Chapter 10 Working in Wuhan
When I arrived in Wuhan to work there, I found myself living in the 'big smoke'. Wuhan is a conglomeration of three cities; Hankou, Hanyang and Wuchang in which I worked in the district of Lvxiang (in Mandarin) but otherwise called Louheng. Whereas the City of Hong Hu was in the countryside, and the central town of 'Xindi' where I worked was only about five by seven streets wide, Wuhan is the capital and the most populous city of Hubei Province in Central China, and is, according to Wikipedia, sometimes referred to as the 'Chicago of China'. It has a 3,500-year-long history and is more ancient than Beijing, Xi'an and Nanjing. It was in Wuhan in 1911 that Sun Yat-sen's followers launched the Wuchang Uprising that led to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China.
Like Hong Hu, Wuhan sits on the Yangtze River (the Changjiang). The Changjiang also intersects with the Hanjiang which separates Hankou from Hanyang. I have swum in both rivers - well actually I only 'almost' swam in the Changjiang. I swam in the river in Hong Hu just down from the 'lock' cutting it off from the Changjiang. Close Enough! But people do actually swim across the Changjiang in Wuhan - just up from where the Hanjiang intersects near the Holiday Inn in Hanyang, just down from the No 1 Bridge.
The Number 1 Bridge extends from Wuchang in front of the Huang He Lou (Yellow Crane Tower) to Hanyang near the TV tower below which is located the Chinchuan Pavilion. To travel in peak hour from Louheng to the No 1 Bridge 'used to take' an hour, and sometimes it would take an hour more to just get across the bridge. These days there is an under river tunnel to relieve the traffic congestion. Imagine my surprise then when one day I left home by taxi at 6am to travel to the airport, (travelling across the No 1 bridge to Hanyang and across another bridge to Hankou and then miles out from there) and arrived at the airport in less time than it usually took to get to the No 1. Bridge. Wuhan is a big, noisy, traffic filled city with a population of about 10 million people, a third of which live in the inner city.
There is plenty for tourists to see in Wuhan, including Moshan park on East Lake, the Meiyuan (Rose Garden) and Zhongshan park, as well as buildings like the Yellow Crane tower, the Chinchuan pavilion and others which you can find doing an internet search.
My apartment at college was located in an old 3 storey building in a corner of the campus at Louheng and the apartment had been refurbished sometime previous to make it habitable for a foreigner. There were 4 apartments on my floor, three of which were unoccupied during the first 18 months of my residency. During my first semester (Feb-June 2005) the school bus dropped me off every morning at Wuhan University on its way to the decrepit East Lake campus. After my Chinese classes I would take a local bus out to the campus and teach 4 lessons in the afternoon and then return home on the school bus.
The Chinese school year runs from September to June, and from memory I spent the following school year (Sept 2005-June 2006) teaching only in the main campus. It had seen better days and there were many empty classrooms which I appropriated in order to split up my classes into different working groups. During my last semester (Sept 2006 - January 2007), if memory serves me right, I only taught one class at the main campus and all the rest were at one of two new campuses some distance away. When I was informed that I was to start teaching at one of the other 'brand new' campuses, I was also told that I would be teaching in a 'Multi-Media' room. Imagine my surprise then when I turned up with everything on computer disc to find that my multi-media room consisted of a blackboard, a TV and a video player. The Chinese teachers got to use the real 'multi-media' rooms and I would occasionally stand in the corridors counting how many students were sleeping while the teachers were lecturing using all the latest technological equipment.
As I have said already, once the school in Hong Hu gave me my own classroom and made 'Oral English' non compulsory, I was forced to learn 'how to teach' Chinese Students. China is full of students who have studied English from Junior Middle School right through university and still can't have an ordinary conversation in English. There are several reasons for this but when a foreigner stands in front of a class of Chinese students 'who want to develop a decent measure of fluency in English', then that foreigner damn well better do more than 'teach grammar and sing songs and play games'.
At one point during my life in China I found myself in regular contact with several foreigners who taught in a local 'big name' private English school. I made a point of getting to know them because the first time I saw them I listened as one foreigner spoke derogatively of one who was not present, saying of him that he had a 'minor' degree from some 'insignificant' university. After a time I began to ask questions about what these 'qualified grammar teachers' do in the class, and what I heard from their mouths, I have heard so often before. They basically waste time and collect their salaries. And you really can't blame them because as I wrote in chapter 8: "No matter the foreign customs and technology that has found a place in Chinese Society - they are Chinese! They are not Westerners!" The biggest problem that foreigners face in China is that they simply don't understand Chinese attitudes, thought processes and culture. And who can blame them?
When I was finally faced with small classes of 2nd year Senior Middle School students in Hong Hu who wanted to learn, I was forced to pay attention to what interested them, what turned them off and to listen to what they said and to be innovative. The very first lesson I learned was that 'they must be manipulated' into breaking through their cultural barriers - and there are lots of them. While I was becoming successful in Hong Hu, by the time I arrived in Wuhan I had learned to streamline my teaching methodology and extend it. This I have done year after year always searching for new and more efficient ways of breaking through the culture barrier and fast track their learning and so fast track the development of English Language skills. It is not easy!
In Wuhan I would randomly split half of the students into groups of 5 or 6 and send them off for 20 minutes to vacant classrooms to discuss the topic I had nominated for each group while the other half of the class did other work with me. In the beginning, when students would return to the classroom they would all be well and truly prepared to verbalize a 'rehearsed' conversation, but I would devastate them by splitting them all up again so that their 'role play' was ruined and they would have to start thinking. It was a shock to their system. 'Role Plays' are not a good way of making Chinese students learn to think and talk in English. To the Chinese mind a role play works like this. They have a discussion in Chinese and the best one among them translates it into English and then they all learn their lines in English. It is totally memorized! It doesn't work!
I must also point out here that as far as college students are concerned, most of mine have been 3rd tier students. What this means is that they have turned up at their 3rd choice college and have in all probability chosen an English Major because they couldn't or wouldn't do one of the other majors. (I did however teach two different Bachelor Degree classes of students in Wuhan in two different campuses and as well taught bachelor degree students in the Teachers College in Yancheng.) If you missed my meaning about 3rd tier students it is this: Most of the students studying English at college in China are not exactly the most attentive or hard working students in high School. It was because I wanted to help both students and foreign teachers that I begin writing teaching lessons on my website at kingscalendar.com
Whilst it is true that most students attending a 3rd Tier College do so because of their poor performance in the College Entrance Examination, not all 3rd tier students choose English because they feel that they have no choice. Just as some students choose 3rd tier schools for convenience or financial reasons, some students would have chosen an English Major no matter where they ended up. Such was the case for one of my students in Hong Hu (Sept 2003 - June 2004) who did so poorly in his College Entrance Examinations that he ended up at my college, only to discover that I was to be his teacher again. Whilst he was delighted with that prospect, one of the girls from my classes in Hong Hu was not!
I asked Yan Yuhua how it was that such a good and bright student ended up in a 3rd tier college. He told me that during his final year at school he found himself in an emotional state that hindered his scholastic performance.
How bright are Chinese students:
Chinese education focuses on 'memorization' of information and processes. The Chinese mind has a fantastic ability to memorize, which is hardly surprising given how they learn to read and write Chinese. Unfortunately it takes more than memorization to learn a language. When I mention to people that I teach in China they oft times express their admiration for the dedication and intelligence of Chinese students they have encountered in the west. Little do they know that the student's 'dedication and intelligence' is the result of a lifetime of hardship. Most foreigners 'know' but don't really understand the implication in the fact that the majority of Chinese students studying abroad come from well-to-do families.
A student's life in senior middle school is not something that I would wish on anyone, particularly if they have to live 'in school'. Their day starts at 6am and they finish evening classes somewhere between 9pm and 10pm. If the student comes from a well-to-do family, they will probably spend their weekends in private lessons being taught or tutored in subjects such as: Calligraphy, Chinese, English, Dance, Music, Math, Physics and whatever else mother and father think would be good for them to learn. But these classes don't begin at that age. For a kid born into a well to do family (and even struggling families), a big chunk of their otherwise 'free time' is taken up with a variety of classes all designed to give that kid the best educational chance they can get, which in turn leads to the best career possible or better yet - the opportunity to go west. That brilliant foreign Chinese kid that you know or met, has had to sacrifice what we would term 'a normal childhood' in order to get where he or she is. As brilliant as they might be, they are not to be envied.
I don't really know the what or why of what happened to Yan Yuhua in high school but fortunately his acceptance into my college was based primarily on his English score and together with his classmates, he was slotted into a Bachelor of English Course. The fact that he already knew and liked me made it easier for him I suppose, but the best thing about his course was that he knew exactly what my teaching style was like and I'm guessing that that is why his classmates took a real shine to me first semester. Second semester they turned into a mindless dollop of sticky rice pudding. Come the following semester when the school did not allocate them time with 'the foreign teacher', they all protested. They won the standoff, did a third semester with me, and progressed well. I have some real fond memories of that class.
I have never given 'final exams' in any of my classes in any school in which I have taught. Student assessments are continuous. I call their names one by one to stand up and answer a question, and one by one they stand up with eyes cast down saying nothing until the teacher gives up and says 'sit!' On the other hand I may call the names of a half a dozen students and make them sit or stand in a circle and discuss a particular topic. One or two might try to say something but generally speaking no one talks. It doesn't matter! As their final marks depend on the 4 highest speaking scores they received during the semester, they have plenty of time to learn to talk. To help them understand that point, I ALWAYS leave their assessments open (either on the computer or handwritten) on the desk when I take my break after the first 40 minutes of class. I generally find that I only have to give a maximum of four 'Zero' scores before students wondrously discover an ability to open their mouths and talk.
At the end of the third and final semester in which Yan Yuhua was my student, I gave the students their 'Last Day Final Chance' to improve their scores via group discussions. Yan Yuhua was in the last group of 6 students, and what a 'non-event' it was turning out to be until Yuhua looked up at me, raised his eyebrow, smiled and then made a statement to his group. And all hell broke loose! Yan Yuhua knew me well. I will do and say anything to get students talking. I remember in one class in Wuhan a group of students were talking about Tibet at a time when there was great turmoil in Tibet. The discussion was really boring so when one student finally said; 'I think if we gave more money to the people of Tibet then maybe they would be happy!' "More Money?" I said. 'Just bomb them out of existence and then there will be no more problems!"
The students freaked out and were all falling over each other trying to chastise me for such a disgusting statement. The following week in the same class, a student who thought he would score brownie points with me decided to express his opinion that Tibetans were all traitors and that we should send the army in and kill them all. "What?" I screamed. "You murderer! What sort of citizen are you that you want to kill your countrymen!" The class fell apart laughing. I do my best to make students understand that group discussion is a place to exercise you language ability, and that we need not actually speak what we believe.
Yan Yuhua already knew this about me and following my example he made a comment (I forget now what) that was guaranteed to get the group angry and talking. He was relentless. He badgered them, incited them, inflamed them and thoroughly disgusted them. Not only were the other 5 students in his group jumping up and down, but other seated student onlookers. When a student in the audience began calling out, I turned on her and said: "Unless you are a part of this group you have no right to say anything, so either shut up or grab a chair and join the group. She did and she was joined by others. They were all screaming and yelling, objecting to and conceding points, and otherwise fully engaged in a furious English debate. Meanwhile the other students were in shock. They didn't know what to say, do or think. The 'raging debate' lasted about 15 minutes and when I finally halted it, I was beaming with pride. The scores I gave that day were the highest I have ever given any students. That argument was fast and furious. The students completely forgot their inhibitions, fears, and 'poor English'. It was great!
There is an old saying that self-praise is no recommendation but as I am not recommending myself to anyone, I am not afraid to 'praise myself' by saying that I am a good teacher. That may not mean much to anyone else, but it means an awful lot to me. My life in China has been dedicated to becoming the best I can be in what I do, and what I try to do to the best of my ability, is to provide students with a chance at a bright financial future through the medium of the English Language. I have developed 'self-esteem' and I have had real impact on people's lives. Yan Yuhua like so many other students from Wuhan still stays in contact me even though I left the school at the beginning of 2007. I know I have helped many students and I know that they appreciate what I have tried to do for them, and that too is a wonderful feeling - to be appreciated! And every so often I do get the chance to catch up with some of my former students as I travel around China.
Writers Journal Kingscalendar
2013 Social Commentary Articles
Giving the Finger to Comrade GOOGLE's brand of Communism
By Comrade R.P. BenDedek
August 26, 2013
I have come to the decision that the only thing I can do is take a page out of Comrade Google's 'Little Red Book' and say: 'Screw You!' Comrade Google didn't like the way the Communist Government of China kept changing the rules. Comrade Google would not submit to a 'totalitarian authority'. Comrade Google decided to pull up stakes and leave. Is there a lesson to be learned in that?
Political Islam is full of hypocrisy and lies
by R.P. BenDedek
August 11, 2013
Politicians care only for themselves and nothing for the truth unless it suits their purposes. What they do call truth is usually nothing but lies! The general population - never seem to notice when radicals of all nationalities, religions and persuasions turn to 'ad hominems' rather than to logical debate when someone disagrees with them. The honest man will argue his point honestly. The perverted man ignores the argument and attacks the man (ad hominem) as though truth is not found in discovering and weighing the evidence and facts but in the character and 'Politically Correct Nature' of the person speaking them.
R.P.BenDedek (pseudonym) is the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' (http://www.kingscalendar.com ), and is a guest columnist and stand-in Editor at Magic City Morning Star News. He is also the Editor of the 'Writers Journal' at Kingscalendar.com. An Australian, he has been teaching Conversational English in China since 2003.
Writers Journal Kingscalendar
"The King's Calendar" is a chronological study of the historical books of the Bible (Kings and Chronicles), Josephus, Seder Olam Rabbah, and the (Essene) Damascus Document of The Dead Sea Scrolls