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We Are All so Much More Alike than We Are Different

China Team 218 Journal for Monday October 19, 2015 by Jo Carol

Message of the day: “I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning.” J. B. Priestly

Lovely students

Lovely students

After six days of teaching my Chinese college students and having interactions with other Chinese young men and women in Xi’an, my heart sees what my mind had not known: we are all so much more alike than we are different. Kindness, patience, integrity, generosity, and a healthy work ethic are the virtues that have shrouded our exchanges; and I mean their virtues, not mine. In my classes, and Carolyn’s, the students arrive on time. With rare exception they come prepared to learn what we have to offer–a crisper, more standard pronunciation of English words as native speakers of English articulate the spoken words. The students widen their mouths, stick their tongues between their lips, or make sounds with a different part of their mouth than they are used to, as a sound may require. They repeat it and repeat it again and repeat the core sound through rhyming words, all in good humor and without disdain for the effort. My flawed attempts to say words and phrases in Chinese give them the comic relief the class needs. When I mangle a phrase like “pleased to meet you,” they all seem to jump to my aid to help me create the correct tone, and when I by chance get it right, they seem enormously pleased with their success. I find it easier when the language tones are sarcasm, irony, or sincerity, rather than rising, falling, falling then rising, or flat.

Jo Carol teaches prepositions to students

Jo Carol teaches prepositions to students

One of my most successful activities is the memory game, where I take fifteen items out of an opaque bag one at a time, name them, pronounce them with the students, write them on the whiteboard, then name them again as I put them back into the bag. I then challenge the students to write down in English the name of each item, working alone, trying to remember as many of the fifteen as they can. Okay, some cannot help collaborating, but it’s okay. Several times I have had one or two students in the class remember fourteen within the sixty second time limit. I gush over them and we all applaud. Then I use those same objects for a preposition drill: “Put the comb under the blue cup.” Collaboration almost always produces the correct result and everyone gets involved as I move the items around the table, selecting students randomly. A favorite: “Wrap the toilet paper around the glass.” Giggle. Snicker.

a grandma and her grandchild

A grandma and her grandchild

Today teacher Lei Shuya brought to the class the camera I had left behind at the restaurant where Carolyn and I had eaten as guests of the college on Saturday. I had been really anxious that I would never see my husband’s pricey camera again. A young waiter new in the job had found it under my chair and turned it in to the manager. A call from Shuya to the restaurant the next day triggered the happy reunion, one that was completed when Shuya drove back to the restaurant on Sunday just to retrieve the camera that I had carelessly left. She took a photo of the young man and his boss so I could see the honest men who took good care of my camera. Tonight I wrote a letter of appreciation to the young man. And tomorrow I will give Surya a token of my gratitude to her. I have found this kind of goodness to be typical here.

This afternoon I went into a small store to buy fingernail polish remover. The bottle cost 58 yuan, about $9.00, way more than I would pay. They had a tester bottle. I “asked” if I could just use a little of the tester bottle and pay 3 yuan. The young woman took a cotton ball and very carefully took off all of my chipped polish. All the while I was practicing Chinese phrases with her and another employee who joined us. They gently laughed at my attempts to describe the bride at a Chinese wedding reception I saw on Sunday. Fortunately I had written down the words for bride and beautiful. Now they had something to work with and could help me! The polish removal took at least ten minutes. I reached to get my money and they would not hear of it. They sent me off with clean nails and a gladdened heart.

Claudia and Mary with their wonderful hostesses, students and teachers for a dumpling party

Claudia and Mary with their wonderful hostesses, students and teachers for a dumpling party

It’s been that way since I arrived. Polite students. Courteous teachers. Gracious hosts. Strangers who point me in the right direction every day, or walk us there. Workers extending hospitality to an alien. A young man returning a stranger’s camera. And the musician playing the bells in the Muslim Quarter’s Bell Tower ringing out the familiar strains of “Auld Lang Syne”.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all simply extend a cup of kindness to each other instead of the harsh political rhetoric and actions of strangers scared of one other? Global Volunteers certainly does its small part in helping its participants make friends of strangers.

Mary and Claudia had a dumpling feast for lunch today at their college. Friends from years gone by and current teachers and students prepared a seven course meal in a celebration luncheon, a fun, filling break from their teaching duties. Wednesday night is the evening program/extravaganza to welcome the new students to their college. Both are joining the students in a songfest, with Claudia perhaps singing a duet. We have learned here to be flexible with our schedules. Hopefully the journalist will get to report on the festivities.

It’s been another good day in Xi’an.

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