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Our Exciting summer plan

If you had asked me a month ago what we have planned for this summer it would have gone something like this- hang out around our new place in Israel, go to the beach, hear some music,and maybe go away to some nice European destination for a few days.

Well part of that has not changed. WE are in fact going to Vienna for a week in May, and I have already booked tickets to a classical concert in period costume and a performance of the Vienna boys’ choir, and booked our cute little air b nb  accommodation (Anton Herzl’s apartment ). But then a little ad on the EFL teachers’ website   Dave’s ESL cafe caught my eye- teaching Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka for one month. Well, not being one to pass up an opportunity I popped them off my CV and sure enough a few days later I was having a Skype interview with a lovely man called Paul. Paul works for a Volunteer Not for Profit organization called  Give a Fig . They were looking for two teachers to teach at the only Buddhist University in the world the Bhiksu University of Sri Lanka . The job would be for 30 days but only the first 20 days are the teaching program. At the end of 20 days you are taken on a tour of the heritage sites and historical interest places on the island. Also, the students are not undergraduates, but are lecturers at the University. They lecture on many different topics including Buddhist philosophy.

From here on, things started to move pretty fast. We had another two talks to Paul on Skype and today we received a draft contract which we were asked to approve/ suggest any changes. We will now get the signature of the Vice Dean, after which we can book our tickets! The tickets will be reimbursed at the end of our stay. Plus, we get free accommodation and a cook, and driver! All this is rather exciting, not to mention overwhelming. Paul and the Reverend Mediyawe Piyaratana , head of the English program, assured us not to worry about a thing. They will make sure the accommodation is to our satisfaction, with portable a/c unit and they will fix the wifi.

 

By the way, the name of the place we will be based is  Anuradhapura, a UNESCO world heritage site.

WE have no clue how this is all going to turn out, and like when we went to China, we have no expectations, either positive or negative. But to say we aren’t excited – well, I ain’t gonna lie! Stand by for online visa and innoculations!

 

Buddhasravaka-Bhiksu-University-226_2 Continue reading

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Some reflections on Chinese students and EFL (for teachers,probably)

We are nearing the end of the first semester here in Xiamen and our 3rd semester in China so time for a bit of reflection.I have spent the last 2 weeks testing my students orally for their Final Exam,and I have a few observations. It seems that there is a great deal of difference between teaching English majors and Non English majors,but there are some things which seem to jump out at me as “weird” or “different” when I compare the Chinese universities to the Western ones. Firstly,the students here seem to have a lot less choice in their lives than our children do,and than we did as students. Most students here,when asked why they chose this university or why they chose their major reply that “My parents picked it” or “My Gao Kao (high school university entrance exam) score was too low to go to another place. They don’t seem to express any opinion about what to study or where to spend four years. Another thing that sticks out is that they mostly plan to return home to their “hometown” when they graduate to help their parents,or because getting a job there is easier than in another city.They often plan to follow a career choice chosen by their parents,again in many cases not something they are crazy about. I find this rather sad,looking back on my University l ife and how much I loved it.

Students,by and large, try to answer our questions with what they think we want to hear,and not their “real opinion” as far as we can fathom,and it is impossible to get them to be honest and really tell us what they think.And by the way there are some other rather confusing things. Frequently a student will refer to his “hometown” which is his ancestral family home,but not necessarily where his family now live,which can be thousands of miles away. And they will also refer to “my sister” or “my brother” when referring to a cousin,but it can also mean a true sibling. Many of them ,despite what we know about China,do have a sister or a brother,sometimes two!

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Students here seem to be perpetually busy doing pointless tasks for the university,and when they are free they just watch movies online,or sleep,or play computer games.They rarely go into the city which is only 30 minutes away as they seem to think it is too far or too crowded.They are lacking in ambition and independence,and on weekends go home to their families if they live near to Xiamen.There is very little of the typical University life we know in the UK- certainly no pubs,no parties,very little mingling of the sexes at all.In class the boys and girls sit separately as we did when we were very young in elementary school.They are pretty immature,look much younger than British or American students and have very little social life.Classes have a class monitor much as we did in high school,who has to do various things for the teachers. I asked some students about hobbies,or what they do in their free time and the predictable answers were “play computer games”,”sleep” “go to the library” and for some girls “go shopping”.

Of course the students are delightful people on the whole,very polite and respectful,curious about us and where we come from,why we are in China and what we think about it.They find it hard to imagine why we would have left a place which they consider to be alluring,magical,and highly desirable to come to China and they mostly have very little idea of travelling even as far as Shanghai,let alone abroad.IT all seems very unreal to them. I can’t help wondering,however what the future holds for them,and what China will look like when they reach adulthood…

More anon…

 

The Speaking Competition in Fuzhou

We have just returned from a really interesting weekend accompanying the team of three girls that we coached to participate in the Regional English Speaking Contest in Fuzhou. Altogether 75 candidates from different Universities in the province competed to go to the National Contest in Beijing. Our team consisted of Mavis,Witty and Shirley three lovely girls who have somehow become our “Xiamen Daughters” or possibly the 3 Musketeers.

ImageWE coached them on pronunciation, presentation,body language and suchlike over the course of the last 6 weeks and became very close. They frequently came over to work at our house and were regaled with tea and biscuits. Anyway the culmination of this process was the contest. For this we had to take a fast train for 2 hours to neighbouring Fuzhou where we were met by a volunteer from the Fuzhou College of Foreign Languages and Trade,this year’s venue for the Contest. The organization of this contest was terrible even for China, but despite all the hitches we had a great time. This was partly because of the girls, but also because of the people we met.Out of all the hundreds of people attending,the only non  Chinese were me,Danny, a coach for the Xiamen University team called Michael Oviedo (A Jewish guy from California) and Michael Garnett, a judge from Hatfield,(more of him later) and another lady judge whom we didn’t talk to.The girls were really nervous but did a great job. We got 6th place out of 74 and they performed really well.On arrival at the venue there was a draw to determine the contestants’ running order. WE got 1,23 and 37 which meant first contestant and then one in the middle and one almost last,as there were two separate rooms of speakers. The girls had to give a 3 minute prepared speech and then an impromptu unprepared speech followed by questions. Then we were taken by bus to the hotel (not so great but ok) and then dinner. Chaos was the main theme of the checkin at the hotel and then the subsequent running of the contest. What was really enjoyable was meeting all the young people participating and seeing their seriousness and fervour in preparing for their speeches. Some were really excellent too,although a few were weak. During the long afternoon in which the girls got all dolled up in their best and put on makeup and practised, we were suddenly approached by a Chinese lady who addressed us in fluent Hebrew! She turned out to be the wife of Michael Garnett,and had spent 10 years living in Israel,on Kibbutz Hazorea and then in Haifa. She embraced us like long lost family and said that now she and Michael live in Fuzhou and teach at Fujian College! Talk about a small world!. We of course exchanged phone numbers and emails and will stay in touch.

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Mavis doing her thing

At one point Shirley was in the lead,but at the end of the day the 3 winning contestants were from Xiamen University and Fujian University. The contest finished at 6pm when we were returned by bus to the Fuznou train station,together with Kevin the Chinese teacher from our school who had been a judge in one of the rooms. On arrival back in Xiamen,Kevin ran us home in his car which he had parked at the station,and thanked us for all of our hard work. Today is Sunday,so we have a well earned day of rest!.

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Mavis,Witty,Me,Danny,Kevin and Shirley

From Chengdu to Qingdao-hotpot to seaside

Warning- this may be a bit wordy since a lot has happened and I didn’t have a chance to write for a while,and the laundry has been piling up! Well we got back safely from Chengdu all chuffed at the new contract etc. and immediately started to plan the rest of the time we have here in China before we leave for Israel. THis may sound a bit weird but we felt that we needed a bit of a holiday and since I had wanted to see Qingdao,the seaside place made famous by beer, beaches,Germans and the 2008 Olympics we decided to head off there for a bit of relaxation. WE were originally going to take a boat from there over to South Korea across the Yellow Sea but decided it was too much, added to which the weather forecast there gave rain and more rain, and then the University here said that we were not supposed to leave before July or we would not be paid for June and July. So we thought we would take it easy, spend a few days in Qingdao walking along the beach and so on and then come back to Lin’an to pack up and hopefully spend a few days shopping in Shanghai before we get to Eretz Israel.

WE took a bus to Shanghai from Lin’an,spent the night at our old friend the Asset Hotel, and then bought train tickets from Shanghai to Qingdao. The train is the fast one which does the huge distance in only 6.5 hours and can reach a speed of 320 kilometres per hour. Actually it only went up to 307 but believe me that was FAST. This journey was really comfortable,but it was also more expensive than the plane we discovered AFTER we had already bought our tickets. Due to our crappy Chinese the lady sold us first class tickets.but we weren’t sorry as the trip was so incredibly smooth and comfortable.

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lovely promenade full of statues in Qingdao

We were offered three different places to stay in Qingdao,one with a couple called Pia and Gareth from Couchsurfing,one with Andrea also couchsurfing and a third Chinese guy. We didn’t want to impose on anyone and had never slept at a couchsurfers’ place before so we fixed only 2 nights with Pia and Gareth and then took a cheapo hotel for another 4 nights. We had a lovely time with Pia and Gareth,who are a young couple-she is from the US and he is from Ireland. We found much to talk about with them and they kindly hosted us and showed us round some places in the city, the night market and the old part of the city with its German buildings. We also went on our own to the Qingdao Brewery built by the Germans in 1903 and we took a sailing boat on the sea with a Chinese couple and their kid.

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Olympic Marina

In the evening we went twice to Beer Street which is a street full of bars and restaurants selling typically Qingdao beer (which some people carry away in plastic bags!) and lots of seafood. There are also people singing and playing guitars and it is generally a lot of fun there.

We also had dinner one evening with Andrea, a teacher from Texas who I met from Couchsurfing and exchanged teaching experiences.It was very pleasant,and she said she might come visit us here in Lin’an to look around ZAFU.

On the Saturday morning as we were leaving Pia and Gareth’s place we chanced upon a Chinese wedding which was just beginning outside their apartment so we stayed to watch and take photos. It was great to see the dancing and the dragon and lion costumes, the drummers and canons shooting confetti over the bride and groom.There were also people breathing fire! It was great.

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Wedding Drummers

We also took a ride up the top of the TV tower to see a view of the city but unfortunately it was very cloudy so we didn’t see much. All in all we enjoyed the trip immensely and had a good rest and some sea breeze and flew back to Lin’an to pack up and get our heads round the idea of returning to Israel in a couple of weeks.

End of the Semester-Exams and Parties

As I wrote in the last post, we are busy with final exams,grading and preparing for the Spring Festival break( which is in the Winter,go figure!)

.My 6 Literature classes have a written exam that I have to mark , and my 2 Freshmen oral classes have been tested in a small interview,much like the Bagrut oral exam.Some of them told me it was the first time they have ever been tested orally in English and were very nervous. The English majors have been busily preparing for the exam,and seem (for the most part) to take it all pretty seriously.So tomorrow I will give an exam to around 120 students in a huge auditorium (freezing cold-no heating) and students take the exam with their gloves,coats and hats on! But of course, NO extra time, no LD dispensations (ignoring spelling mistakes,oral test or any of THAT stuff ,fellow EFL teachers!) And,also by the way,many students thanked me and gave me a big smile as they handed in their tests.

Then my loyal assistant Livia will help me put all the grades into the University computer system (in Chinese). After all the exams and parties are over,everyone will leave for the long Spring break,the students going home and the foreign teachers off traveling. We will be going to Xiamen,Hong Kong and then a brief visit back home to Israel,before we return for the second semester on February 13th.

Last night we were invited to Autumn’s house (the head of the English department) for a Christmas Party and farewell as she is off to study in Manchester,and she introduced us to Teresa, her replacement.

There were 7 foreign teachers and our respective student assistants there,and everyone brought potluck dishes to eat. We then exchanged gifts in something Ryan described as a :Yankee Swap” in which each person opens his present but if he doesn’t like it he can exchange it (once only ) with another guest. I was most satisfied with my electric foot warmer!

Then Autumn presented us with a little gift each and handed over “baton” to Teresa who promised to help us with all our problems in the coming semester

The Lovely Autumn

The Lovely Autumn

.It was a lovely evening and made me realize again what a great welcome we have received from everyone here,both staff and students.

Fran,one of my lovely students

Fran one of my lovely students

my footwarmer

My electric Footwarmer

Chinese tummy strikes

Well I guess it was too good to last.We have been here a month and I have been eating all kinds of things all over the place and finally my tummy decided to rebel.This is hardly surprising since all the other teachers bar one have already been sick,and also many students sent me messages that they were ill and not coming to class on Wednesday and Thursday.

So instead of rushing off to Hangzhou this weekend as we had planned I stayed in bed with tea and immodium to keep me company.On Friday we went into Lin’an city to scout around for various desirables for the house such as chair cushions and mattresses,since Chinese furniture is notoriously hard. We did get cushions,and we located some lovely covers to put on our couch and chairs in the sitting room,but want to measure before we buy.

This week I start to teach 2 new classes,of Freshmen,who have now finished their 10 days of military training. Then next week we have a week’s holiday for National Day. We are planning to go travelling but more of this anon,as my herb tea beckons.

A few pictures from around our campus

Just walked around this morning and took a few shots of the campus for you.

Comments welcome!