Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Qing Feng Experimental School,Guilin

Although I had had two weeks of training and orientation, nothing could have prepared me for Qingfeng Experimental School. With fifty-five rebellious, teenage students in each of my four week-end classes, teaching English was a huge challenge! To top it off, no teacher's assistant was provided! I was on my own. Every Saturday, I came to dread walking into the "lion's den".

Wall to wall students who don't want to learn on their week-end. Can you blame them?

At the beginning of every class, I travelled the room, confiscating
items such as MP3 players, text books, toys, games, gadgets, bits of string; you name it, they had it. My new game was called "How Long Can You Last In My Class?"

I started kicking students out of the room. (There were no reprisals, they were free to leave and I didn't report them.) The noisiest ones were first to go. The chatty girls were next. I figured, the less students the better. That way, the ones who were left had a better chance of concentrating. Eventually they realized that if they came into my class room, they played by my rules. By the time Sunday was over, I usually had no voice left.

After this initiation into teaching English in China, I lowered my expectations, went a lot slower and taught a lot less content. Even a few words per class would suffice.

Now, teaching English is all about repetition and fun!

The Li River, Guilin

One day, a young lady named Christy called to offer me an op
portunity to teach for a private school. Since I had five days off per week, I gladly accepted! They sent me to middle schools in the area. That meant that I had to learn the bus routes to various locations in Guilin with the help of friendly assistants who accompanied me to all the lessons. This was an enjoyable time of cultural and language exchange as we all got to know one another and became friends. We were actually able to accomplish something. I taught a lot of songs as was requested. The studen
ts were younger, interested and fun to teach!

Class Mates at a Government School

Many times, after class, my assistants would introduce me to the local restaurants. Jao ze (dumplings) became my favourite food. The soy/vinegar dipping sauce was addictive! Still, I have to admit that the sweet and sour pork ribs were hard to beat! We pigged out!

The night market was also very interesting. Two rows of vending stalls extended three or four city blocks, each one lit with twinkly lights or lamps. Like the students -you name it, they had it: dishes, posters, music pipes made from dry squashes, souvenirs, hand knitted sweaters, scarves, toys, perfume, jewelry, everything. I found a stall selling little perfume bottles like the ones I'd get at Christmas when I was a kid! They were two inches tall with a little red tassel on the lid and you could select your perfume to fill it with from big vials. I picked jasmine.

My Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr. Benjamin, introduced me to a young man named Sean who wanted to improve his English and asked me whether I could help. So, Sean came to my apartment for conversational English several times a week. In return, he took me to climb a karst and helped me to find a suitcase at the market.

My living quarters were in a compound that was enclosed with high walls and gates that were locked at night. Within the compound, were several little squares where people could sit on benches or play cards and at one of these areas, an old well with a pump was still in use for water.

Part of the Wall of the Compound

A permanent guard sat just outside my building, usually engaged in an intense game of Mah Jongg on a rock table. Whenever I came out, the players looked up from their game to acknowledge me and the guard spoke the one English word he knew, "Hello."

My Double Decker Bus

Soldiers walking downtown in Guilin

Rice Farmers with karst (mountains) back-drop

Any time I passed through the narrow streets to go out onto the main road, heads turned and sometimes fingers were pointed at me. I experienced a little of how movie stars must feel when they go out in public. Many Chinese feel unabashed about outrightly staring at "wai goren" (white people).

My friend, Li Jing (first name last) called
from Mengla to invite me to come and teach English there at a time when I was looking around for somewhere to go to get out of the Guilin cold. The ancient apartment I inhabited was getting colder by the day, and the only means of warmth was "reverse air-conditioning" which was like a hair dryer that blew a little warm air into
the room and right out the wide cracks under the doors.

Winter moved in in all its dampness. It took me by surprise. All the summer humidity suddenly left off its sweltering stickiness to become an unshakable, bone-penetrating chill. That, along with the problem that no repairs were done on my place made
his offer very tempting.

However, in mid-November, when my father had a sudden collapse, it looked like I would be returning to Canada. I immediately gave notice to the school and decided to go to Kunming where I knew English speaking people who could get me a cheap flight. (Right before leaving, I received news that my father was fine. There was no need to go all the way back to Canada, but since the boat was already in motion, I notified Jing that I was on my way to Mengla.)

My friends helped me get a taxi to
the train station where we waited for the train to Kunming. A moving sign board indicated that my train was delayed by two hours, so we chatted together in the station. Again the train was delayed for several hours. We all went for dinner, then the girls decided they had to leave since it was dark. Only Sean stayed to the end.

Kelly, Joy, Jenny and Sean in front of the gate of the school yard.

Jenny, me, Joy and Kelly at my apartment
(My Teacher's Assistants)

At the Train Station Waiting and Waiting...
As I boarded, a young man from Tasmania struck up a conversation. Our bunks were only one bunk away from each other, so we sat at a fold-out table and had an interesting chat. Nick talked about his passion for rock-climbing and world travel. He'd bought a "Round the World" package and had toured the States, Europe and India. Now he was headed for Thailand.
Kunming Train Station
Kunming Train Station Bull
Downtown Kunming
Coincidentally, we were both bound for Mengla. So, when we arrived in Kunming, we went to the bus station together and bought two sleepers. (A sleeper bus has upper and lower sleepers like on a train only without curtains or dividers.) Ours were along the very back of the bus. We lucked out. Each of us had an extra sleeper to stretch out on while Jackie Chan movies entertained us on the TV. Nick was thankful to have enough leg-room for a change.

Tassy Nick, the Rock Climber