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Wuhan University and Mulan Mountain

Wuhan, China

Sept 8th
Tuesday morning in Wuhan. I went to the super-market and made my first random friend. His name is Michael, and he latched on to me as soon as I walked in looking for breakfast. He helped me find a power strip for my computer, and seemed like a fairly friendly guy. He left and won't be back for several months. Oh well. At around noon Karen picked me up at the hotel and we took a bus to her university, which I was informed happens to be “The most beautiful university in China.” It is indeed scenic, and contains a temple-ish building right in the middle of the campus, alongside “cherry blossom lane” and above the ramparts of several-century-old dormitories. It sits overlooking the university from the top of a big hill and a couple hundred steps. Wuhan University also enjoys a reputation as one of the more prestigious universities in China. We ate a yummy mushroom lunch at the University cafeteria, before Karen left me to sightsee while she went to classes for four hours. When I had sight-seen to my satisfaction, I found a wooded place on the temple hillside where there were pleasant shade and scattered stone picnic tables and benches. I had just begun to settle down for a nap to the lullaby of noisy cicadas, when my attention was diverted by a particularly large table with a row of bricks laid across its center. Clearly this was meant to be a rudimentary ping-pong table, and as I watched, a group of about six young college students walked along the trail past me, glanced furtively in my direction, giggled and chuckled at my foreignness, and then approached the cement table for a bit of ping-pong.

I couldn't resist getting a better look, so I moved closer and watched a few of their games. After a time, I took the liberty of approaching the group with a friendly (though evidently incomprehensible) greeting, and within a few minutes I was playing ping-pong with them. I wondered what they must think of me, and for some reason I thought of Clint Eastwood movies, where he just sort of barges into the middle of something foreign with no invitation at all. I spent another three hours with three of the most friendly-looking students in the group, and we walked around the campus, taught each other card-games, and shared little bits of each-other's language. I had quite a good time, and ended up making three new random friends by the names of “Juan Wen Po,” “Jueh Singh Whey,” and “Noah y Sha.” They are freshmen at Wuhan University, and will be beginning one month of mandatory military service in the next couple days.

September 9th
Wednesday morning I was embarked on an “educational” expedition away from Wuhan to Mulan Mountain. It is in fact the same Mulan mountain claimed to be near where the famous Mulan Disney character lived. A two hour bus ride north brought us through farmlands and rice paddies to Mulan Mountain and the Hotel where we left our belongings. We enjoyed a lunch of pig's blood with other assorted oddities, and after a 10 minute nap time, we piled back into the bus for an hour ride to the “village” where we were to “teach a class.” In fact, our service was to be used as marketing and educational creatures of interest, promoting the New Oriental School teaching academy to a local Middle School. Our arrival at the Middle School was spectacular. Can you picture the crowded streets and balconies in photos of the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain each year? Or maybe a bit like movies with hordes of inmates waving their arms while leaning over railings and jeering down at new reviled prisoners filing in on the ground level. Suffices to say there must have been upwards of one thousand middle-schools students buzzing and shouting, ecstatic that we were about to come and visit their class-rooms. We were first split up into four groups of four foreigners, to spend an hour discussing teaching tactics with the local teachers, who themselves were only capable of broken English. Then we were split up again, each one of us individually tossed in front of a class. We were given a room too small to budge the desks, filled with about sixty students packed together, (my class had 64 students.) We had one hour to “do our thing.” The only reasonable to do, I thought, was to play Simon Says, with all 64 of them. After I was formally introduced to the class, I shouted: “Teacher says everybody stand up.” The game was on. “Teacher says everybody touch your head,” “teacher says put your hands under your desk.” It was just the right level. After fifteen minutes of “teacher says,” we proceeded to play “secretary,” and then finished with five minutes of “teacher says” to review the new vocabulary from the beginning of the class. The strategy was a success. Nearly all of the students had retained eight brand new words! : )

An interesting observation I noted while teaching the class was that although the students in the class should ideally have been at similar levels, there was clearly a broad span of English proficiency within the same classroom. While some students could easily read most simple sentences and understand a spoken phrase, others did not understand even the most basic structures of English, in spite of a couple of years of classes. It seems it is the sheer numbers of students, not to mention the widespread lack of enthusiasm for studying, that the teachers here must struggle against.

After our classes had ended, we were led down into the central courtyard, and swamped by a mob of Middle School students jamming pens into our hands and notebooks in front of our noses. For 5 minutes I was trapped signing notebooks at the center of a middle-school horde, before our New Oriental School guides muscled us out of the crowd and towards our bus. We were treated like celebrities... And all because we are WHITE.

permalink written by  smartwater on October 2, 2009 from Wuhan, China
from the travel blog: The easy way. Wuhan, China, fall 2009
tagged WuhanUniversityAndMulanMountain

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Noah---What a captivating account of "Wuhan University and Mulan Mountain"! It sounds like you are finding the right way to both become acquainted with people who speak another language and to teach children to speak yours. I love your idea to start with "Simon Says". I know you will leave a wonderful impression of "white" people with the Chinese and contribute to what this world needs most---a good understanding of other cultures and their problems and points of view. Love, Gmama

permalink written by  vivian on October 4, 2009

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