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Natalie Bowie’s diary from Shandan, contd… March 2014

Many statues of buddhist monks
500 statues of Buddhist monks in ‘Dafuzi’ temple

This month Natalie has posted many fascinating photos on her blog (as well as lots of news):  Lots of small children in the parks on Sunday afternoons; trips to a traditional Chinese doctor and her amusing comments on that; a sports academy school where she watched  students practising traditional Chinese dance [T’ai chi ch’uan] using cutlasses, poles and other unlikely items; visiting beautiful old temples, and the  nearby town, Zhangye.   She comments on the land of which every inch is farmed and concludes that they are gradually trying to be environmentally sound. 

March 8th sees her with new-found friend Liu Guozhong, who works closely with a number of co-op groups around Shandan and later she goes out with friends to a karaoke room.  The latter is a must read!

10th March and Natalie is out to dinner with neighbours and learns about the ‘Cultural Revolution’, white wine and the delights of caterpillar and fungus additions [at $50,000 a pound] to it!

14th March and lessons in cooking, visits to historical temples and a course of acupuncture are the order of the day – all fascinating subjects and worth checking out.

March 18th gives us a synopsis of her stay in Shandan to-date with very amusing comments.  Another must-read and very funny, e.g:

  • “Number of times I am glad I’m not blonde– about 500 (I get stared at enough as it is).
  • “Times I’ve watched TV– none, it’s been broken since I got here”
  • And many more in similar vein…..

March 24th and the title is ‘Wo chi bao le’ (I am full): Lots of photos of food eaten and a treatise on differences between East and West food and why the Chinese eat a lot but stay slim! 

Old folk exercising at night in Shandan
Old folk exercising at night in Shandan

March 29th More stunning photos dealing with sports, health and the delights of fairy lights in town.

Once again, Natalie gives a deep insight into life in rural China and in particular Shandan.   

The photos are fascinating and the comments varied and thought-provoking.  Natalie’s blog is recommended reading for anyone wishing to visit China and who want to plumb the depths of the realities of Chinese culture.

Natalie comments (separately from her blog) on her progress with her students:

Shandan Peili boys concentrate over lathe-work
Shandan Peili boys concentrate over lathe-work

“Having taught conversational English in Spain before, I had a bit of an idea about what to expect when coming to China.  What I didn’t fully appreciate is that the students are sitting on their stools from 6.40am until 9.30pm at least 5 day’s a week (some have classes on Saturdays and also homework sessions on Sunday evening).  They do have a couple of breaks during the day but even so, they are pretty exhausted.   Most of the students are forced to take English, therefore their good behaviour and listening skills that were prevalent the first couple of weeks that I had them, have disappeared (the novelty of a foreign teacher has worn off!).  My class of 44 boys, for example, are majoring in mechanics.  They are hands-on, rugged lads who like basketball, tinkering with motors and showing off to the girls.  To get them to sit through a double period of English and engage was always going to be a challenge!    What makes the task more challenging is the lack of resources – I have a blackboard, a piece of white chalk and my voice to encourage them.  I have had a lot of fun scouting around my apartment sorting out props for the students and am very thankful that I bought over my 3 trashy magazines (OK, Lucky Break and NW).  I have been carefully cutting out images, words, recipes, all sorts from these magazines which should really be thrown away now but I am never sure what my next inspirational idea might be so am storing them in case I need to get my scissors out again!

As is typical in most classrooms I have been in, the students up the front are the keen ones, willing to learn, and the ones down the back tend to talk most of the time (or fall asleep!).  

Flower arranging at Shandan Peili School, taken by the agriculture teacher
Flower arranging class at Shandan Peili School, taken by the agriculture teacher

I have some lovely students who ask questions, are willing to try and work out the answers and whose English tends to be quite good.  They tend to dominate the class answering sessions but they are my saving grace as they often, supposedly behind my back, tend to explain to the other students in Chinese what I am expecting!  When you ask one student a question who hasn’t been listening or who does not know the answer normally about 5 girls will ‘whisper’ the answer to the student standing.   Last week was week 6 and I did a revision session on a range of new words that we had learnt over the previous 5 classes.  It was great hearing them tell me what ‘married’ meant or ‘midnight’ or ‘pumpkin’. It gave me a wee bit of peace of mind also that we are in fact progressing!

Although its challenging and frustrating it is also really rewarding.  I am enjoying seeing the confidence grow in some of the students both inside and outside the classroom.”

Teri France and Natalie Bowie, April 2014