Wednesday June 23, 2010

Thought for the Day:
“Become so wrapped up in something that you forget to be afraid.”
Lady Bird Johnson

When some of my friends and acquaintances heard that I was traveling to China with Global Volunteers, they said things like: “Wow! You’re so brave to go to such a far off place!” or “You’re flying alone to China? And transferring flights in Shanghai? I could never do that!” and even “What about the food? Do you think you’ll like it?”

But the amazing thing about traveling with Global Volunteers is that you get so wrapped up in the service you are performing that you forget to be afraid of the adventure.

As the only person on the team who has never been to China before, I’m perhaps noticing some of the things that the others take for granted. For instance, my first introduction to China’s city traffic was the drive from the Kunming airport. It reminded me most of the “bumper cars” found at amusement parks – without the bumping (I hoped), but with plenty of weaving between cars, motorbikes, bicycles and people! I continue to be astonished by the pedestrians who cross in the middle of a crowded street, get half-way across to where they encounter a short barrier, stand there until they see an opening and then leap across the barrier and cross the rest of the street, horns blaring and motorcycles swerving. This may be an authoritarian country, but that certainly doesn’t stop anyone from breaking every traffic rule in every possible way!

Wednesday started as usual with a mixed Chinese and Western breakfast and a short meeting. Then we headed into said traffic to our morning teaching assignments. Nancy and I teach 16 primary school teachers who are always more than prompt and offer help getting things ready. They love singing, so we sprinkled songs throughout the morning, including When Cows Get Up in the Morning. Please ask one of our students what roosters say – they found this very amusing. We also had the students “interview” each other about their families and discovered that we have one female student and one male student who are unmarried – both very attractive. Perhaps Global Volunteers has match-making in its future.

The always bad traffic was especially bad on this day so we arrived back at the hotel late for lunch. The food was delicious, as usual, if not always identifiable. We shared our morning stories, and then some of the group left for a free – oops! – a “lesson-planning” afternoon. Leon and I, however, were due to return to the training center to give lectures to the entire group of students. Back into the traffic we went, along with Baoli and Nancy.

I gave a talk on the American school system, a source of great interest to these teachers on the other side of the planet. Because we wanted to encourage questions and knew that the students were unlikely to speak up in such a large, public setting, we passed out paper for the students to write their questions. This turned out to be very successful, generating 19 questions. They ranged from simple ones like “How much is the average salary of a U.S. teacher?” to more challenging ones like “Which school’s teaching quality is considered better – a private school or a public school?” My favorite question was this one: “In China, our parents are strict with our children. They ask their children to be best in everything. How tired they are! How about the children in the U.S.?” A student also approached me during the break and, having heard that I teach parenting in the U.S., asked me about her concerns about her one-year-old daughter (“She won’t sit in my lap and read a book.”) We talked about typical development and what she could expect at this age, and she seemed reassured. Interestingly, I heard this exact same question from an American teacher a few years ago.

I do want to thank everyone in the group who taught some educational vocabulary in the morning in preparation for the afternoon talk. I believe that helped make the presentation more successful for the students.

Leon followed with his presentation on the immigration story of his family and, by extension, the story of America’s growth through immigration. The students were alternately delighted and amused by his pictures – both sets of Old World grandparents, his parents and their siblings, his 8th grade graduation picture that reflected the diversity of America, his discovery of a Chinese monument in Africa, his tough but tiny mother visiting China, and finally, a video clip of his grandchildren graduating from their Chinese Saturday School class.

Another ride through traffic, then dinner in the first floor restaurant for a change of pace. A good day and the sky finally cleared. Perhaps tomorrow we’ll have sunshine.

– Esther

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