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Quiet Times

The summer schedule is in the rearview mirror and I have begun my slower, consistent fall schedule in earnest. It is a welcome relief from the constant teaching and planning of the summer. I suppose it’s a bit of fortune that the busiest schedule is in the summer months because the heat and humidity was unbearable, making any sort of sight seeing or travel out of the question. Fall showers have arrived, with rain occuring daily, leaving me mostly indoors for the past week or so.

China picked up on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and my friend and co-worker Alex from England decided to “give it a go” as he says. He was a good sport and the kids all thought it was funny. If you notice I was self designated camera man number three. Some moments are meant for 20 year olds, and getting a bucket of ice dumped on you at work in front of and by the students may be one of them.

The kids here in China are all registering for school and the organization leaves something to be desired. Hundreds of parents, grandparents, children and the ubiquitous mopeds all vying for prime classes and parking.

This scene was occuring all across China today, some 300,000,000 children were getting ready for the start of a new year.


My shopping center has various events every night, from rollerblading for the kids to climbing walls set up for adults, and this night there was an American idol style contest going on with some pretty good entrants, although the crowd was rather paltry.


Happily there is not much going on at the moment, although I begin teaching once a week at outside locations on Fridays, two 50 minute lessons at government schools. I watched a fellow teacher give a demo lesson this past week and I think I’m going to enjoy it. Most of these kids will be getting their first instruction ever from an actual English speaking Westerner, and if the response is anything close to what I saw, I should enjoy it. The students are just happy to have a respite from the boring and pedantic style of learning in Chinese public schools.

I’m going to try to post at least twice a week now that I have more time and will hopefully have more to talk about than teaching, which isn’t very exciting to write or read about. It’s cooling off with the arrival of Fall and I plan on exploring much more than I have been with the free time I’ll finally have. Friday or so I’ll post again, hopefully with some photos of the glorious Chinese poublic school system.

Chinese Starbucks. It was great.






Tiananmen at 25

One week ago was the 25th anniversery of the crackdown that crushed the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Would things had been different today had the protests not taken place? There was never a possibility of the protests succeeding in overthrowing the existing order given that the ideas and demands where inchoate and unrealistic, so what were the causes and consequences of the protests and why is there so little resonance here in China today?

Had Tiananmen not taken place, the perennial internal problems that bedevil China, internal versus coastal developemnt, rural versus urban and central versus regional power would remain. What the crackdown did was that it allowed the hard-liners such as Li Peng to gain enough power to recentralize control and shape social and economic policy in the years following the incident. Then Party Secretary General Zhao Zhiang, who was a champion of Deng Xiaoping's market oriented reforms, would not have been purged and the current economic liberalization may have happened sooner. Deng must be considered one of the great leaders and humanitarians of the 20th century, bravely initiating reforms that would eventually lead more people out of destitution than at any other time in human history.

In 1989, extensive fiscal and legislative powers had been decentralized to regional governments, leaving Beijing weakened and unable to unify policy. The economy was faltering, which was a prime driver of the protests to begin with, and Beijing may not have been able to reassert control without Tiananmen. What the protests did was allow the CCP to recentralize power on their own terms in 1989. This is important because two years later the disintegration of the Soviet Union rapidly occured and could have spread to China, and without the retrenchment of power in Beijing that had just taken place as a result of the serious but managable Tiananmen incident, China may not have had the command and control in place to manage the crisis. For the CCP, the Tiananmen protesters, with no real platform or power base, may have saved the Communist Party of China by giving it cause to reassert control before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Since 1989, due to censorship and a general scrubbing of history, “the incident” has disappeared down the memory hole for the most part. To those born after 1989, it exists, in some sort of ephemeral way, but an entire generation has grown up post-1989 with no real knowledge of the event and has only seen a China that is on the rise. No attempt has been made to rehabilitate the memory of those involved as is the case with The Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution. This history of Tiananmen should not be viewed as simply the crushing of a genuine uprising and realistic hope for democracy for China, it was neither to begin with. Ironically, the history of Tianamen shoud be viewed as the event that permitted the reassertion of CCP authority during a time of weakness, crucially just prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union that saw the fall of communism from Poland to Russia to Khazakstan.


Potemkin Villages

Today was the final day of my first full week as far as class load is concerned. The beginning of the week was pretty stressful and I didn’t have time to catch my breath till about five minutes ago. My initial impressions of the students at our school was that the students are fairly bright and motivated. I don’t believe that the little ones have any idea why they are there, but the parents do, which means there is always a mother, or a father, or a grandparent, or all of the above hovering around the classrooms trying to listen in on what’s going on. They are all very nice and respectful, students and family, but the overriding emotion I gleaned from them was total investment in the child. Taken to the extreme, your child’s performance as a reflection on the entire family can turn into perennial disquiet for all involved. At the younger levels the students enjoy all of the doting and just want have fun, but as the kids get older and know what is at stake, the pressure becomes evident and the children and parents have fewer smiles. The kids at this point are studying hard for their parents honor and face, not there own. A lot of strain for a 14 year old. Incidentally, several of the parents at the school have two children attending, so apparently upper middle-class and above can afford the fines, or find ways to be exempted from the one-child policy in China. I haven’t asked, but may in the future.

This morning from around 8:00 AM till noon, Dwayne, who is the head teacher and branch manager, gathered myself and four TA’s on a planned trip to give a quick English competition to students at three state schools. The kids were from six to eight I would guess and the test was very basic: five pictured flash cards were laid out with elementary vocabulary, and the students entered one by one and had to name the picture on the card in English. An example would be an apple, where I would simply point to the apple and the student would answer “apple”. Very basic; apple, banana, dog, red and yellow were all that were shown. Bear in mind that these kids have been studying English at state schools for at least three years now, and having heard of the vaunted Chinese education system I figured they would all ace the contest. Well, after about 120 minutes and as many students, there were maybe 5, that’s right, 5, that got all of these very basic vocabulary correct. Almost the entire lot was either clueless, or maybe one, two correct answers max. I didn’t expect bilingualism, but what I saw was stunning. The schools were dilapidated and I got the feeling that these government schools were there to churn out factory and construction workers, not scientists and thinkers. The difference in these students and the students I have at Shane English is night and day. From what I could learn from the other employees at my school who have worked throughout China, it’s much worse in the rural areas. It appears that a lot of what we see and hear in the West about Chinese education standards is simply Potemkin Villages all the way down.

Tomorrow I am off so I’ll try to take some pics but I’ll certainly post again on some unrelated thoughts.


Lesson Planning

If I don't post too much this weekend it will be because I have my first classes on Sunday. I have a morning class of about 6 kids that consists of some 8-10 year olds, then the same age group at around noon. This age group is pretty easy for me, I've sat in with some classes and participated with the teaching. I found them by and large a joy to be around. They are old enough to know what to do but not old enough to have the kind of attitude that I see in the next class.

This 3rd class I will be providing a test review for some kids around the age of 12-13 because I'm replacing a teacher before the end of the semester, so I'm just doing test prep. Michael, the guy I'm replacing, has been great getting me up to speed and is good at teaching, but his girlfriend is just ready to leave. The class has kids who are reaching that age where they are getting a little attitude and are carving out a pecking order in class. These 6 boys and one girl seem best dealt with by either having them do something embarassing if they act up or using their peers to self police one another during team games. They are at that age where they are getting competitive, and during activities they are pretty good at focusing on the purpose of the lesson. The test review itself will be pretty straight forward, I've looked over the material already, so I'll make sure all the points are covered.

Finally the last class, which will be a little more delicate, being of kindergarten age and totalling six kids. As with all the kids, I've already been around them so they know who I am and that I'll be their next teacher. They are happy yet diffident for the most part, with class primarily consisting of watching sing-along videos and playing with their coloring books. They were great when they weren't my responsibility, we'll see Sunday how they respond to a new teacher. I will have the TA with me, we have one in every class, and between assisting us and telephone turoring, making our schedules and a number of other things I don't now about, they work harder than anyone else in the building.

One picture today, I was mostly in the office preparing, taking a break with lunch and then a late afternoon trip to the gym. I'll be sure to do a nice post on Monday to let everybody know how things went.

Outside my front door. Life without a dryer. Not one-hour, it's all-night drying. Don't worry, I fit right in, it just shows I've gone local.




This is what normalcy looks like.


The internet guy came by a week early and installed the internet phone line. Unfortunately I didn't have the router yet so he couldn't hook everything up while he was here. I borrowed an extra router from a coworker and brought in one of the Chinese Teaching Assistants who translated everything in the manuals to set up the wifi; reading Chinese technical manuals is hard for Chinese. I was astounded everything actually works.

I can't understate the importance of being connected while being someplace far away from everything you know. The places, faces, names, foods, customs and most anything else is all unfamiliar, presented in a new, confounding language and script. The internet brings a modicum of comfort and the familiar that can't be expressed in a few words in the morning. That's all for now, I just wanted to let everybody that my internet is up, so I'll probably be posting more frequently, with longer posts since I won't be in a rush.