Owen and Jennifer,
was great to hear your voice this morning when you called--it
was like hearing a voice from home!!
Life here in Ningdu continues to be fantastic!
Yesterday was Friday, and we had an unexpected day off
(which we must make up for by teaching next Saturday).
About half the students had to leave to write exams
Saturday or Sunday. Two students, English names Tom
and Tim, are from a town about 1 hour away from here.
It's called Xiaobu. They have invited us a few times,
but we were unsure about whether we should go, because
to answer invitations from one student might mean answering
invitations form all 105 students--and there isn't enough
time to do that! We kept saying to the students to ask
Xiao Ting (the person who is mostly in charge of us).
It was finally decided that we would all go--Marcia
and I (as the 2 foreign teachers), the 5 woman teachers
who are with us every day, in class mostly, but sometimes
they accompany us on outings as well, the two students,
Tim and Tom, and one other student. Xiaobu is famous
for its tea (it won a best beverage award several times)
and a waterfall (pubu). Two cars picked us up about
8:30 am and we drove to Xiaobu. We first went to the
processing plant of the tea factory, but didn't go inside--we
walked up the mountain to the waterfall. The walk up
the mountain was amazing. I am first and foremost an
outdoors person--I love to be out in the countryside
where the air is clear, the smells are fresh and the
scenery is wonderful (you mei). We had to criss-cross
the mountain stream many times by balancing over log
bridges, or jumping from stone to stone. Part way up
the mountain is a very large abandoned house. One of
the students was with me at that time and I asked him
about the house. He told me it used to be a paper factory--where
they made paper. (I know that paper was invented in
China). I asked if anyone lived there--he said they
used to, but found it too dangerous. I asked why and
he told me that it was because there were too many snakes!
I shuddered, and he told me that was only in July, August
and September. We continued up the mountain and finally
came to the waterfall. It was very thin, but high and
seemed to come from nowhere above the top of the mountain.
It had been a hot climb up the mountain, so the mist
from the waterfall was a nice relief! We played around
the stones and the water, taking lots of photos, before
we had to go back down the mountain. At the abandoned
house, Tom pointed it out to me and said "paper
house". I told him I had been calling it (in my
mind) the 'snake house'. He told me he didn't know about
the snakes for sure, but there were a lot of stories.
I told him that sometimes stories were more interesting
than the truth!
We got down the mountain, into the cars and drove to
Xiaobu Middle School for lunch. (Both Tim and Tom had
graduated from there) There were many students there--they
had never seen foreigners before. They gathered around
, but not too close--maybe they were a little afraid
of the "aliens". I got my camera out, and
as soon as I pointed it toward them, they screamed,
giggled and ran away. Then they came closer again. I
finally got a few photos, and since my camera is digital,
I showed them the photos. I had to approach the kids
slowly, because they were a little shy. When one got
brave enough to come and look at the camera, others
came--soon I was surrounded by kids trying to see themselves
in my camera!
Lunch was, as usual, multi-course, and delicious (hao
chi!) The kids watched us from a respectful distance
through the doorway.
After lunch we walked to the HUGE tea plantation. I
have never seen tea grown. The bushes are dark green,
thick and round, and are about hip high (depending on
your height, of course). Tom and Tim showed us which
leaves were to be picked to make the best tea (young
shoots). Some students from a school were there picking
leaves, and having them weighed before they left. It
was an amazing sight to see these neat little trees
spread out over a vast area, and surrounded by mountains.
The colourful clothing of the people picking the leaves
added to the beauty!
We walked back to the tea plantation and were given
a tour of the factory. The leaves are taken from huge
bamboo, round trays into a bamboo sorting cylinder.
The cylinder is turned by machine, and banged by hand
by a person, so the leaves fall through the appropriate
size holes--small, medium and large, so the tea can
be graded properly. They are put back onto large, round,
bamboo trays and weighed again, and stacked in racks
until the drying process begins. They are put into wood-fired
oven-type things--turned over and over until they are
dry--there are I think 3 or 4 different stages the tea
goes through in the drying room. We didn't see the packaging
process, but we were given cups of very fresh tea. The
company also gave us a gift of packages of tea to take
We were also invited to each of the two students' homes
for more refreshments--tea, oranges, bananas, peanuts
and other goodies. We didn't stay very long at these
homes, but felt very honoured to have been invited and
to meet the boys' mothers. It had already been a long
day, so it was time to go home.
On the way home, we were again in 2 separate cars. I
was in an older car, behind the car most of the teachers
and the other foreigner were in, when the car engine
suddenly stopped on the highway. Everyone was talking
Chinese, so I didn't know what was going on for awhile.
The driver kept trying to start the car again, but nothing
worked--he just kept coasting--about 200 metres, right
into a gas station and up to the gas pumps. One of the
people in the car spoke a little English (she is one
of my students), and told me we needed gas. I started
to laugh and couldn't stop! I had to take a photo of
us beside the gas pump to remind me of this event. The
driver finally started to laugh--I think they thought
I might be upset, but to me this was all part of the
adventure! The driver said I brought them luck!
We finally reached Ningdu, tired, happy and with more
At other times in Ningdu, Xiao Ting and sometimes one
or more other teachers, and us, go for facials--what
a relaxing experience!!
My toilet doesn't flush--they try to fix it and it works
for a day, then quits again. I am familiar with Chinese
plumbing (I have a Western-style toilet, but it's all
hooked up to the same Chinese plumbing) so the first
day I was here, I bought a bucket. This way, I can always
flush my toilet!
The kitchen came fully equipped. They even bought us
rice cookers. For some reason, the aluminum insert in
my rice cooker started to rust. I told Xiao Ting about
it (cooking with rust isn't healthy) and they bought
me a new rice cooker the next day! They are really good
about making sure everything is right for us.
We have been on so many outings--climbed a mountain
twice--the Department bought us (and all the woman teachers)
track suits for Woman's Day. We have been invited to
various teachers' homes for lunch, and to learn mahjong.
Mr. Zhang, one of our directors, arranged for a man
to come to the school and teach us Tai Chi!
One of the teachers' husbands is in agriculture, and
gives a lot of advice to people who have an orange orchard,
about half an hour from Ningdu. One day we were invited
there to wander around the orchard and smell the blossoms!!
We were given tea, oranges and peanuts, which we ate
to our hearts' content, then we were told that lunch
was ready!! Food and beer were plentiful! At least once
every two weeks we are invited out to dinner by the
department--the same 5 teachers and some leaders. They
treat us so well.
One Friday night, the boys in one class invited all
the woman teachers out for dinner. They were so excited
and so sweet. We talked, ate, drank beer, laughed and
sang. Of course we all toasted to each others' health,
luck, and happiness. (I learned some Chinese toasts,
which were greeted with loud cheers!)
Classes--the students have made a lot of progress in
the 7 weeks we have been teaching them. They are speaking
out more, their confidence is visibly growing!! I hope
that by the time they leave here, they have lost their
shyness, and have developed their confidence to the
point where they will be able to attempt to speak English
no matter what their level. Even students who never
volunteer in class, but by the nature of the exercise
we are doing, must speak, are speaking a little--and
getting cheers and clapping from the other students.
Because we spend 10 periods each week with each of 2
classes, we are getting to know the students pretty
well. I made a seating plan (which I have to change
every month, because they change seats) with their Chinese
names, and I call them by their Chinese names. They
sometimes cheer or laugh when I say the names, depending
on how close I am to saying it right. It is very gratifying
to say a name and have a person stand up!! I have learned
most of the 'sounds', if I can see them written down,
but I get the tones wrong most of the time. Some of
the names I have even memorized!
Quite a few students have asked for English names. A
name is a big responsibility--so what I do is make a
list of as many names as I can think of, pronounce the
names for the students, and have them choose their own.
The work we are doing is from a text book. It is full
of exercises and activities that make the students speak
and think in English. The exercises also force them
to interact with each other--there are exercises about
introductions, interests, directions, fantasy stories,
shopping--all daily interest activities. I always mold
the exercise into my own words, and we start the lesson
by doing examples not from the book, but close to their
lives. I tell them stories about Canada, I ask them
questions about their lives. I start out each class
with about 6 questions--such as asking about their favourite
colour, fruit, food, animal; do they have a pet, what
is it; what do they do in their free time; what would
they like to do if they were not teaching; what is their
life dream; where do they think they will be in 2 years,
5 years; what is the their favourite season and why;
can someone give me directions to the river (I want
to go for a walk); or a good place to get my haircut,
or the post office, or the market for some vegetables.;
what did they do on the weekend; what did they have
for breakfast/lunch/dinner; I ask a lot of questions--and
I make them answer me in a complete sentence. Since
I now have a seating plan, I don't ask for volunteers
as much, because there are always a few who will always
answer questions, so the rest don't even need to listen!
I ask the question--they know by now to listen--it's
listening practice--then I say a name. If a student
does not understand me, the others sometimes try to
say it in Chinese. I stop them and repeat, slower, in
English. If a student does not know the answer, that's
ok--I ask someone else.
I know this has been a long email, but once I get started
it is hard to know where and when to stop. Any of this
information you want to use you may--you can divide
it up as you like.
I look forward to seeing you when you visit Ningdu--I
will keep you posted on events here.
My best wishes to you both and to Tracy and James--hong
yuan kuai le, and hong yuan hao yun!