Saturday, October 30, 2010

Simba, 喜羊羊 (Xi Yangyang), and... Denzel Washington?

My life since returning from a whirlwind trip to America has been, well, another whirlwind. The daily pace has really picked up (not that it was ever terribly slow), crescendo-ing to a climax this Friday.

These days, I teach until noon, start eating lunch at 12:10, and finish lunch eight minutes later in order to make a meeting. Then, twenty to thirty minutes later, I am out of the meeting and rushing to either A) music workshop for the Lion King (explained below), B) Library Hour (students from all over the school come to talk), C) Office Hour (only for my classes' students, or D) another meeting, probably with a college advisee desperately seeking help (also explained below).

1 - College application advising

How have I not escaped college applications and personal essays already? I am currently acting as an adviser to a few senior students who are applying to U.S. colleges, and the deadline for early applications is, ugh... now. As a result, my inbox has been inundated with drafts of personal essays and pleas to look them over. Even when I do get a chance to look them over that same day, the student would often shoot an email back the very next day asking for further revisions. Were we this crazy back then??

While the process has been time-consuming, tedious, and even frustrating at times, I found it worthwhile overall. Really getting to know these kids--learning their stories, hearing about their experiencing, gaining their trust--has been insightful and rewarding.

2 - Halloween!!

Although I am in China, I will not not celebrate Halloween (yay English!). Teaming up with the group of English librarians the fellows and I selected, we threw together a huge Halloween party for the school, much like the good ol' days in the Cottage, except replace crazy college students with crazy high schoolers and gallons of alcohol with thousands of glue sticks!

Three of my students: Tiffany and Maggie (as doctors) and Ryan (as 喜羊羊, or Xi Yangyang)

The party was carnival style, with eight different booths for the students to go around and play. There was the "Guess the Organ" booth (actually grapes, tofu, noodles, etc. doubling as human organs). Additionally, there were "Deadly Chairs" (musical chairs with scary music!), "Mummified!" (teams compete to see who first can wrap up a member completely in toilet paper), "Masking Making" and "Pumpkin Carving"! And, of course, students learned the Time Warp and Thriller dances.

The English librarians with the pumpkins they carved!

Viana, one of our student English librarians, carves her first pumpkin.
Also, notice how different Chinese pumpkins are...

Some students deserve a shout-out here: The English librarians, eight students we selected at the beginning of the year, were key to this party's success. While we came up with the idea of the carnival, they totally ran away with it. At the beginning, they brainstormed for various games that could be made into booths. Then, They went out and bought supplies, they made posters, they got costumes, and at the end, they pulled everything together. This was no easy task; some of the booths took many many hours of preparation work. At last, the day of the carnival, the fellows and I only had to do a little setting up of the decorations beforehand, and for the rest of the party, we got to enjoy ourselves like we were students as they ran the show. Super, super impressed. I cannot wait to work with them on other projects throughout the year!

Love the faces on the girls in the back, at the end of Deadly Chairs.

The Halloween Carnival at noon was followed by Costume Extravaganza! (a costume contest) after school, as part of the school's Extracurricular Show. Two words: controlled chaos (more emphasis on the latter word). Twenty minutes before we were to go on stage, we only had five contestants. Stress-out time. Since we had expected at least fifteen, the fellows and I had to do some last-minute revisions to the program in order to make the contest more appropriate. Then, about ten minutes before we were to go on stage, thirteen more contestants showed up--super stress-out time! We had not had a chance to go over the contest rules or procedures with any of them--procedures which included doing a dance on stage. Nevertheless, the audience beckoned, lights went out, and we were thrown onto the stage so suddenly that Chris had his costume on backwards.

Considering the chaotic beginning and more contestants showing up even after we had already begun, the Costume Extravaganza went very well. We crowned a Chinese ghost as Mister Yali Halloween Contest 2010, and ended the show by throwing candy into the audience. This last part may or may not have been a good idea... All the students jumped out of their seats and started storming the stage, transforming into vicious beasts, pouncing on the candy left and right, from the floor, from the students, and eventually, from the sources--the teachers. Though, in hindsight, doing this was probably not the best--or safest--idea, I found it to be incredibly entertaining and the perfect cap to my chaotic week.

A student and me, after the Costume Extravaganza!

3 - The Lion King

The fellows and I are working with the Yali English Society to put together the annual English musical. This years musical? If you hadn't already guessed from the heading: The Lion King!

During the first week and a half back from the States, we had acting, dancing and music workshops to ready the students for their auditions. I was in charge of the music workshops, where we learned "I Just Can't Wait to be King!" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." The workshops went extremely well; there was a noticeable increase in the number of participants from the first workshop to the last, and they all seemed to have relatively good ears, making it much easier on me.

Casting auditions began today. We had the participants read lines from the movie, pretend to be various animals, and sing either the two songs practiced at the workshops or one of their own that can better demonstrate their abilities.

It's terrible--not everyone has auditioned (in fact, it is only day one), but this student, Ben, has stole my heart and, along with it, the role of young Simba. His personality, his voice, his mannerisms--the boy is perfect for the role.

Auditions will last this entire week, and hopefully we'll have the cast chosen soon after! The finish product--coming to you in Spring 2011!

4 - The Great Debaters

Last, but definitely least, is class. We have been toying around the theme of persuasion all year, and currently we are working on debate.

To make it fun, I am screening scenes from the movie The Great Debaters, starring Denzel Washington. The movie takes place in the American South, 1935, about a debate team at a black college. My kids seem to really like it--the idea of going on stage, using words as weapons, speaking with power and intent. Haha... we'll see how well they do when they have to do it themselves.

Beyond debate, the movie is a real eye-opener into U.S. history for these students. They are shocked by the intense racial hatred prevalent in American during those times, the uncomfortable scenes of helplessness on the Negroes' end, and even one of a lynching. It totally goes against what they have always thought--the United States as a place where any one from any race can go and be accepted. This led to several interesting discussions, including the existence of narrow-minded prejudice in America today, for example, prejudice against Islam, against Hispanics. Some students even talked about the prejudices that exist in China, racism towards ethnic minorities, and how they haven't really considered the implications of holding such views before this.


...between juggling classes, intense after-class activities with having a life outside of Yali, it is an understatement to say that downtime is sparse. Each day is a blur, one melting into the next. I mean, shoot, it is already November! I often find myself comparing it to life back at Yale, but while I am similarly busy, I haven't felt completely wasted away here. Don't get me wrong--when the weekend arrives, I usually collapse into what will eventually become a four-hour nap. But, with the start of a new day, a new week, the excitement radiating from the kids seems to act as an energizer, and like the Energizer bunny, I keep chugging along.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Some glory, some tears, lots of fun and excitement

The 2010 Yali Sports Meeting has officially begun, and here are the pictures:

The Parade of the Classes begins the annual Sports Meeting.

This boy kept his chest out for a good 30 minutes.

John, the only boy librarian at our English library!

There was one thing I noticed from my observations: in the six-lane, 1600m race, there weren't just six runners. For each runner, there would be at least two friends running alongside the entire time, giving encouragement to the runner. Some of them even ran the entire mile with their friend who was suffering on the track! Rather unbelievable.

Would I have run that (unnecessary) mile if I had been in that situation? Hmm....

If you didn't know what goosestepping was from the previous post, here's a clip of the Yali students "goosestepping":

[Update: October 25] Here's a picture that I think sheds some insight (What insight exactly? Iono...) into the Chinese education system:

All students are required to be outside on the benches for the Sports Meeting. Yet, half of them are still doing their homework! Poor students... O_o

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Goosestepping to the Finish Line

Apologies for the lack of posts in the last week and a half. All of a sudden, the pace of life has really picked up.

The campus atmosphere recently has been quite exciting--there is definitely an extra skip to the students' steps. Lots and lots of chatter.

Indeed, it is that time of the year: the annual, school-wide track and field Olympics. Students compete for their classes in sprints, relays, long jumps, high jumps, javelin throws, and more. Between classes, during lunch, and even after school, they are prepping for this monumental event. They rally around their class flag, get into formations and practice marching down the track lanes, they how to goose step while chanting class cheers and shouting "Yi! Er! San! Si!" (One! Two! Three! Four!)

Anyway, tomorrow is the big day. The Opening Ceremony--yes, there is quite a grand opening ceremony planned--begins at 8am, and you will most definitely find me there.

Pictures galore to follow!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Odds and Ends

Here are some random happenings of the last month, told through photographs.

The other fellows and I have been treating ourselves to this full-body massages once in a while. They do all sorts of crazy stuff, and are not shy about getting under you. I usually leave more sore than when I first walked in... Hmm, on second thought, maybe I should stop going...

I think this picture speaks for itself.

There seems to be an imbalanc
e in supply of taxis in Changsha. When I need to take one from Yali, I have to add a cushion of another thirty minutes or so just to find one. Here, we waited in this lonnnnng line outside the train station for one, but there were no taxis in sight... I think I could start a very profitable business by filling this void in the transportation market.

Personal Accomplishments

While trying to do a roll onto Chacey's bed, I somehow ended up doing a headstand for the first time ever. Pretty proud of that. =)

I haven't been able to touch my toes for many many years (since middle school??). It became Chacey's personal mission for the past month that I improve my flexibility. Here, you can see the progress I made over a span of about two weeks. Yes, I was that inflexible (see top notch). Unfortunately, recent efforts to retain this new-gained flexibility have been half-hearted, and the distance between my fingers and my toes have started to climb again.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Changsha-->Beijing-->Newark-->New Haven-->New York-->Shanghai-->Changsha

In just over a week, I managed to go half way around the globe, passing through six cities. Although I was only in transit through many of them, I haven't had much chance to breath. All the traveling has really screwed up my inner clock; I think I would be able to sleep any time during the day and it'll feel completely natural.

Anyway, everything went according to plan. Took a flight out to Beijing, had a homemade smoothie, purchased some pirated dvds, boarded flight to USA. Then, spent a day in New Haven--played with Asher (former dean's incredibly cute son) for an hour, dropped by the Foote School (right by Yale) to see the Yali delegation, saw some students. Swung by New York City--saw more friends, a health panel, spent quality time with mom and grandma, and finally, schmoozed at the Yale-China Gala.

Yale-China Gala - 100 Years of the Teaching Fellowship

Held at the Pratt House of the Council of Foreign Relations, the gala definitely lived up to its hype--lots of reminiscing and, of course, copious quantities of wine! Over a hundred former bachelors, most of the current fellows, and countless other trustees, board members, employees, supporters, family members and friends of the Yale-China Association gathered for this occasion. It was a great time, especially the opportunity to talk with some of the former fellows, whether a couple years removed or even a few decades removed. Everyone's experiences were so different, and yet, in some fundamental ways, very much alike.

Sheshan Mountain 余山

The most bizarre experience happened when I returned to China after the whirlwind trip through Northeast USA.

My friend Mike, Chacey, and I took a day to trek out to this small mountain just a short subway's ride from Shanghai. The mountain itself wasn't much, save for a lovely French catholic church at the top. The church was built in 1871, destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, and then "rehabilitated" at the close of the millennium. Besides those details, plus its exact dimensions and the materials used to construct it, there wasn't much more information about the church.

The three of us had hitched a ride to Sheshan with a few Chinese campers who eagerly invited us to spend the night with them. At first, we went to join them for their 烧烤 (shao1kao3, basically Chinese BBQ), but indecisiveness afterward resulted in missing the last subway back to the city and, having no other choice, pitching a tent with them, in the middle of a neighborhood full of beautiful but hauntingly deserted mansions (can we say housing bubble?). That's when the night became more and more strange...

Chacey and Mike, in the campers' van.

Apparently, the thirty-odd campers were strangers to each other, having met on a website and only knowing each others online identities. Whether it was an outdoors group or a singles group wasn't entirely clear to anyone in my party. After the BBQ, the group gathered around to play some games. In the first game, Dollars and Cents, guys were worth $1 and girls were worth $0.50 (Sexist? Quite.), and everyone, hands linked, would run around a circle until the leader shouts out a value ("$5.50!"). The goal is to find the necessary number of guys and girls to make that value, and people left over are eliminated. All the running and hugging and shoving made for a very exciting game overall.

At the end, for punishment, losers were dry humped. I was one of the winners. Phew...One member of my group wasn't so lucky...

The last game was even more suggestive! Simple instructions: Person A passes a napkin to Person B. The catch? You could only do it by mouth! The Person B has to rip the napkin from Person A, Person C from Person B, and so on. Of course, the napkin gets smaller and smaller as it tears. If you mess up, or if you refuse the napkin, you have to get up and do "Truth or Dare". Piggy-back rides, writing Chinese characters with one's behind, and vulgar questions. You get the idea. Again, I performed flawlessly and avoided such embarrassment. =)

The experience was definitely interesting, if not totally surreal. It was like I was back in middle school--for example, no one actually had the nerves to "kiss" another person when dared. When the napkin got too small, the receiving person always opted out, fingers crossed for a lenient dare. At the same time, there is a tinge of bravery whose nature I can't quite put my finger on. I mean, I don't think I could ever go on a camping trip with random strangers I knew only from the internet. Actually, I don't know if I could ever build a friendship solely online at all.

Our "campground." This was actually the first time I've ever camped! Strange first time...

Now, I am back in 'Sha, back to the blue uniforms, back to the classrooms, and back to teaching. Unfortunately, with the constant traveling this past week (six cities, 35 hours in the air, 15 hours on trains), I don't really feel rejuvenated. Hopefully this weekend will be nice and quiet.