October 30, 2007

YMCA, Invisible Children, and Frogger

Explaining your own culture can be hard. Unit 9 of our book had me trying to explain fads. We usually can’t explain fads even when we find ourselves in the midst of them! The 1950's Hula-Hoop went well; they got the idea through a picture and my ever-so-graceful example from the front of the room. Next were the Beatles. I burned a CD and played some of the classics. This was rather disappointing- I don't think my students were that impressed. They kept thinking it was country music, and I had to explain that they were rock ‘n’ roll… one of the first to start the pop category. C’mon, they were a boy band, a teen sensation- Beatlesmania, with some of the most recognizable songs ever! I got polite smiles in return; it was time to move on.
The next fad was Disco and I was ready with a sure Chinese crowd pleaser. I don’t claim to have a formula for the Chinese people’s taste, but this I know- take simple English lyrics, pair it with cheesy movements, and add a splash of femininity…you’ve got a winner. And so, I chose to teach my students the YMCA. After 3 minutes, I knew we had a hit. My students gleefully made letters with their arms, and clapped until it was time to throw their arms into a ‘Y’ again. Walking away during our 5-minute break I couldn't help but think, “Why do we think it’s such a great song? People play this at their wedding receptions?!”
Explaining a Rubik’s Cube without one on-hand was daunting. The little thumbnail picture in the book didn’t help much, either. Finally, one of the girls piped-up with a Chinese equivalent and I heard lots of “Ah, yes, I see…very difficult toy”
The last fad the book mentioned was Madonna. I don’t know about you, but I wondered- should I put an end date to Madonna? Isn’t part of her legacy that she is never really done? Doesn’t she always come out with something new, sending record sales soaring decade after decade? I played “Material Girl” and silently sang along. I couldn’t stop her arrow on our timeline, I just kept it pointing into the future. Does that mark that I’m a child of the 80’s? Probably.
So the fads lesson was yesterday, but we moved on. (Pun intended.) Today we talked about social movements and I used this as an opportunity to show the Invisible Children DVD. This movie rocked my students this year, much more than last year. There was sobbing all around the room- it’s a compassionate and empathetic group. When the video ended, we sat in silence for a while. I asked if anyone would like to Think for the children in Africa. Quickly, Anna stood to her feet. Fervently and through tears, she talked to the Father. I don’t know everything she said in Mandarin, but I knew that she wanted the children to be safe and for America to help stop the war. We ended the class in agreement.
In final news, I was almost killed today on my bike ride home. This is nothing new. I live in a city of 17 million people. Many of them truly don’t know how to drive. Riding my little one-speed pink bike in Beijing is like playing the old video game Frogger, circa the Pac-Man era. The sole goal of it all is to just cross the street without the cars/motorcycles/wood logs hitting you. And it’s always the last second dodge that saves your life. I’m alive today, but I could never get a very good score on Frogger.

October 29, 2007

A Case of the Mondays

Monday. Most people hear 'Monday' and react the same way they would to the word 'vomit'. They cringe at the thought of another day of work or school or anything else that kicks off a week of unpleasant exertion. I used to be that way. But this year's different.

On Monday nights I teach at an aluminum can manufacturer to about 19 business professionals. It's seriously hilarious every time! Last week I was teaching how to ask follow-up questions. One of the students Everest asked, "Allison, I hear in America many people have credit cards. Do you have one?" I answered, "Yes, I have a credit card that just pulls money from my checking account." (Time for the follow-up question) Everest smirked and with his pen to his notebook said, "Hmm, ok, and what is the code?" Nice try, right?

Tonight's lesson was on interpersonal communication in the office, with a portion devoted to office gossip. I thought for an activity it might be a good idea to play the childhood favorite game of Telephone. For a refresher to those that might have forgotten this classic, a message is whispered from one person to the next in a line of people. Simple enough. Wrong! This game is FAR MORE entertaining with ESL students. Take poor pronunciation, mediocre listening skills, and you've got a whole different level of enjoyment. I was crying laughing and so were the 19 other people in the room. The girls were having to fan their false eyelashes because if they cried laughing, their eyelashes would literally fall off. Quite the dilemma...

The best part of this enthusiastic crowd is that they clap at the end of the lesson and say "Sank you!" (Thank you!) We've worked on the 'th' sound, to no avail. The clapping throws me off every week, as if I've performed. We did grammar and played Telephone- I didn't dance the Nutcracker. And this is yet another reason why I love my job...and Mondays.

October 26, 2007

Wait, it's not cold yet?

I'm a cold weather wimp. What was I thinking as a Californian moving to Beijing, China? Currently, I'm sitting in bed below a down comforter, electric blanket underneath, and enough layers on my body to make you think I was living in the Arctic. The government-controlled heat comes on November 15, until then we just need to wear our outdoor clothes, indoors. The other day I stooped rather low and wore my knee-high Ugg boots to class. My student Lucy gently asked, "Allison, if you are wearing those boots now.. what will you wear when it gets cold in the winter?" Wait, it's not cold yet? This isn't winter?! I just scratched my forehead and cracked an embarrassed smile.

In the classroom last week I taught my students the popular song "You Said" by Shane Barnard. It was one of the greatest moments I've had in China- they all were belting it out. "Distant shores and the islands will see your Light as it rises on earth"...amazing.

I had the chance to teach at a dog and cat manufacturer last week- Pedigree and Whiskas. It was so interesting! They had dogs lounging all around the office, near the copy machine, next to employee's laptops, in the break area. And a rarity in China- they had a grass lawn for the dogs and cats to run around. I stared out at the lawn throughout the entire lesson. For a brief moment I wanted to be a dog in China, but then I quickly changed my mind when I considered the typical 'menu'.

This is the time of year that people typically get a little homesick- with the holidays around the corner. I'm so thankful that Cori and Christine will be visiting in just a week! I'll be picking them up in Hong Kong and bringing them to Beijing for my workweek and then we'll take a train to Nanchang for a weekend. I seriously can't wait.

October 22, 2007

October Fires

Four years ago I was a Sophomore at San Diego State when fires struck San Diego County. The sky became dark with ashes and thousands were forced to evacuate. As I caught up on World News yesterday at abcnews.com, I couldn't help but be reminded of the 2003 San Diego October Fires.

I remember waking up and looking out on our patio to a glowing sky. The sun was attempting to peak through thick gray smoke.. the result was a glowing orange sky. At the time I lived directly across the street from Qualcomm Stadium, so that first night my roommate Carly and I went to offer a hand to all the evacuees that filled the Qualcomm Stadium parking lots. What we found was pretty alarming. No one was in charge. Red Cross hadn't shown up yet and were instead focusing their efforts at a shelter in Balboa Park. Carly and I happened to be wearing matching t-shirts and a man put us behind a long table and said to do what we could to help. I remember that look of pure inadequacy that we exchanged. "Help people? How? We're supposed to organize this?"

Resources started to come together.. donated water from Costco, coffee from Starbucks, dog food from Petco, blankets from families and local businesses. Before too long, there was a system in place. I remember the hours passing quickly as cars continued to fill the parking lot. After about 5 hours a Red Cross representative came to take over and we were grateful.

Carly and I still shake our head when we talk about that night at Qualcomm. How did that happen? Were the matching t-shirts enough to give some sense of organization and order?

From what I've read, the fires in San Diego right now are much worse than 4 years ago. I called my friend Sean Lynch to get an update and he was.. of all places.. at Qualcomm Stadium offering a hand.

This morning in class we Lifted up the San Diego and Malibu area. We asked for safety for the residents and firemen. Email me if there's specific things we can Petition for. Please also Lift up my family in Malibu.. they're about 5 miles north on PCH.

October 15, 2007

just read a book

In the evenings I teach at nearby businesses- one of which bottles beverages. There's a huge factory on-site with rolls of aluminum to make soda and beer cans. So, twice a week we sit in the company conference room after they get off of work and speak English. It's really pretty fun.

Tonight we talked about the different ways that can learn new things. I would say, "I want to learn how to speak Mandarin. What should I do?" And they would give me advice like, "The best way to learn Mandarin is to spend time with a native speaker." The book we use had a list of recommendations which made the exercise easier.

It came time for Everest to give me advice. Everest is one of the most honest Chinese people I've met, but quite the revolutionary. He works for sales, which explains a lot to me. If I want to know the truth about culture, I can ask Everest. Tonight I said to him, "Everest, I want to learn how to fly a plane. What should I do?" I saw as he glanced down at the first line of advice in the book. With a straight face he replied, "Just read a book about it. Then, give it a try." I told him I'll get a book from the library and then borrow his plane next week.