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.


Kelly McLaughlin said...

What a blast you're having. =)

Terrence said...

this was a very very well written post, my son. and you couldnt have found a better simba.

pyang said...

yo, that kid is good. if you need a zazu, you know where to find me.