The new semester has begun here in Liaocheng, and Chinese classes are going well.  I have four classes in total: Chinese listening, Oral Chinese, Chinese reading, and Chinese characters…so basically I’m taking one very long and arduous Chinese class.  I spend four hours a day in a classroom with about five other students that come and go.  There are two girls that live in my building with me, a boy from Ghana, and a husband, wife, and daughter from Korea that live in the city and take classes at the school.  Will, the kid from Ghana, and I are the only two students that speak English fluently. The teachers all speak English, which makes me feel kind of bad for the Korean students, who at best have a limited English vocab.  Often times the teachers spend most of their time talking to Will and I, and the Koreans just stare wide-mouthed at the whiteboard, periodically repeating what the teacher says.  Fortunately for them the Chinese characters come much more naturally, and they’re making strides where I’m foundering.  The international school seems to be geared towards English speaking students, which is ironic because I’m the only student from a dominantly English speaking country.

Any expat that has taught at a Chinese school will provide a long list of vast differences between China’s education system and that of the West.  I haven’t had the opportunity to visit any normal college classes, but my Chinese friend Huang told me that college is really nothing like grade school.  All public school students in China wear matching colorful jumpsuits, making it easy to spot a group of kids on their way to or from school.  At the beginning of each day students assemble in the school courtyard and do a series of morning exercise, including a set meant to promote eye health.  The students rub their temples in a prescribed pattern, chanting Yi! Er! San! Si! “One! Two! Three! Four!”  They count to ten and then move on to the next set of exercises.  It’s enough to make any high school mutineer in the US happy to be part of such a liberal educational system.  Not to mention the Chinese style of teaching involves a good deal of shouting at the student, Bu dui! “Wrong!” Click the link below to watch a Youtube video of the morning exercises.

My Chinese teachers are far more polite, far more understanding, perhaps even a bit too understanding.  Because of the social phenomenon of saving face or mianzi, it is extremely rare for a Chinese person to be direct when there is a chance that it might offend the receiving party.  I find this to be especially true when someone is dealing with foreigners.  Sometimes when I get something wrong or if I ask a question that the teacher doesn’t understand, the only response I get is a wide smile and a quick nod of the head.  It’s important for foreigners in China to learn to recognize this telling smile and understand what it means.  It’s a good sign that you’re making whoever you’re talking to uncomfortable for one reason or another, and perhaps another tactic is required.  I’m trying my best to honor this system of social interaction, but at times I feel like shaking my teachers by the shoulders and telling them to just spit it out!

I’m still having trouble posting pictures due to a glitch with the WordPress server, but I hope to have some more up in the next few days.  In the mean time, go to the website below for some stunning photos of life in China.  These guys are actual photographers, so they’re much more beautiful then I could ever achieve.  Until next time!