Wednesday, November 5


We've been in Kunming for a week now, and started teaching. I'm teaching twelve-year olds at Yun Da Fu Zhong, the city's most prestigious middle school. It's absolutely huge, with more than six thousand students, and has noticeably different resources from the public schools I've seen here. The facilities are new, the classrooms technologically advanced, and the teachers speak far better English than at other schools. I teach four different sections of seventh graders; each class has sixty five students. I'll only see each section three times each, so we don't actually have much time for substantive lessons. Mostly we're doing introductory presentations on American culture and giving them the chance to practice conversational English.
with middle school students

The educational system in China is somewhat different from the one back home. Historically, Confucian ideals have instilled the importance of education, and because of the one-child policy, parents push their only child to excel in school -- thus school is hugely important. The kids we've seen go to school sometimes six days a week, often until nine o'clock at night! The ultimate goal of middle and high school is to pass the matriculation exam for university (SAT, anyone?) But this test is far more grueling than anything in the US -- often up to forty-eight hours, the tests assess rote memorization. The raw score alone, and nothing else, determines your admittance to university. Only 21% of the students who take the entrance examinations find spots in a university.

a typical classroom

Things in China continue to be interesting and exciting ... Last Friday, we celebrated Halloween by watching a Chinese ghost film (perhaps the least frightening scary movie I've ever seen). This past weekend, we did some exploration of Kunming, learning the bus system, visiting temples and parks. On Sunday, my family taught me how to make dumplings. One night this week, I went with my mother to a dance class for middle-aged women: complete with traditional music and fans. I've learned the difficulty of going for a run during rush hour here - it's next to impossible with all the cars, buses, bikes, and pedestrians.

Each Thursday at the local park, there's an informal but well-attended gathering called English Corner, where all the students, businessmen, and ex-pats who want to speak English meet there in the evening to chat. Last week a couple of TBB-ers went, and I had the most interesting conversations about what I'm doing in China, about US politics, and about Taiwan. Everyone was extremely inquisitive and curious and friendly, eager to practice speaking.

The TBB group read Three Cups of Tea, written by David Oliver Relin about Greg Mortenson's work building schools in Pakistan. It related to a lot of our work, in development volunteer work, and in education. We met at a cafe to discuss the book, and we all pretty much agreed that though the story was amazing, the writing could hardly have been worse.

We'll keep teaching for a couple of weeks, having guest lectures, and TBB seminars. After that we'll visit a rural area also in Yunnan Provence, before heading off to Cambodia ... !

making dumplings .. hao chi

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