Monday September 20, 2010

Thought for the day: If you think some small thing doesn’t make an impression, you’ve never been in a room with a mosquito.

Entering the nonsmoking section of the hotel restaurant we were greeted by a cool breeze through the open door. The team assembled and made selections from both Chinese and western dishes on the breakfast buffet. After the journal reading by Tony and announcements by Baoli, we trooped back to the 8th floor to gather our teaching materials before boarding the school van for the 45 minute adventure in driving safety-not. Diana asked for help with a project involving an employment contract. The first page was routine – company and employee information including the province of birth. The 2nd page referred to standard employment practices as directed by Chinese law. Since I was not familiar with Chinese employment regulations I tried to check grammar but had to defer to Dong Laoshi for accuracy of the terminology. Since many students had departed for Autumn Festival, we were unsure whether we would team teach or meet our separate groups. Eventually it was sorted out as English Club students straggled in. The library where Marcella, Tony and I regularly teach had no electricity and I envisioned a hot morning. Luckily a workman was called and solved the problem. Lights and fans were turned on and vocabulary review began. After listing campus locations and time words, students constructed and reported on schedules for a typical college day using what, where, and when questions to direct their writing. “I eat breakfast in the dining hall at 7am.” The students were inventive – “I slept late and missed breakfast this morning.” and the exercise went well. After some pronunciation practice, we ended our session early so that the volunteers could visit the student dormitory [6 floors, about 20 rms/wing and 4-8 [most common and cheapest] students to a room. Nearly 1000 girls in that wing alone. What an enormous adjustment for some girls, who previously lived with family only, to be crammed into a small room with complete strangers.

After the usual photo ops, we were off to visit the home of the in-laws of Mr. Hao, a school leader. A bumpy ride ended in a small village just beyond Xi’an’s technology expansion area. Brick enclosures and brightly colored doors provided privacy for family dwellings. Our host and hostess greeted us warmly and invited us to enter through their small vegetable garden into their spacious and comfortably furnished home. The downstairs area included living room, 3 bedrooms, bath, kitchen and dining area. An early family portrait depicted the couple in their prime with their four children, 2 girls and two boys. The children evidently purchased the house for their parents – filial piety in practice. Our attention was drawn to some beautiful calligraphy and paintings gracing the walls – such exceptional art work. We were awed to discover that Mr. Tan, our host, was the calligrapher. Introductions and photos were interspersed between handshakes. We settled into chars while being served persimmons and tea. Questions and answers flew back and forth in both Chinese and English as we exchanged information about one another. Soon it was time to adjourn to the kitchen where the volunteers tried their hand at rolling and stuffing jiaozi. The table was cleared and everyone was seated around the table laden with food. As our host pointed out, “When Hu Jintao visited the White House he was served only four dishes but we were being served 6 dishes.” We all laughed. The food was flavorful and remarkable. Of course, the jiaozi were a hit, but the organically home-grown vegetables stole the show. A pepper in sauce, a tangy tofu-red cabbage and spice dish and a lovely orange squash were recognizable. One platter held a unique combination of marinated stems and fiddle heads of a mountain fern. A 2nd held dandelion greens with garlic, peppers and vinegar. The latter two dishes were touted to be aids in preventing diabetes and cancer. Ah, nothing like having plenty of antioxidants.

When we could eat no more we enjoyed Marcella’s family pictures and Mr. Tan exhibited his calligraphy technique and presented his art to Marcella. More photos were taken and heart-felt thanks offered for a wonderful afternoon. During the return to the hotel I learned from the student president of the English Club that he wanted to study in the US but feared that his English was too poor. Many students aspire to study abroad but application and living costs are beyond their resources even if they succeed in attaining a good score on the foreign language exams.

So, do we make a difference? Maggie related that during her visit to the Han Tomb museum she spoke to a shop girl and complimented her on her English. The young woman asked if Maggie was visiting. Maggie responded that she was a volunteer English teacher. The girl grinned and said “Global Volunteers? I had Global Volunteer teachers in 1997.” Then she said, “I’ve never forgotten them.” So, I guess we do make a difference!

– Claudia

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