Teaching in Ningdu, a small town in Jiangxi province
--from Judy Cairns
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1--Life in Ningdu

Hi Owen and Jennifer,

It was great to hear your voice this morning when you called--it was like hearing a voice from home!!
Life here in Ningdu continues to be fantastic!
Yesterday was Friday, and we had an unexpected day off (which we must make up for by teaching next Saturday). About half the students had to leave to write exams Saturday or Sunday. Two students, English names Tom and Tim, are from a town about 1 hour away from here. It's called Xiaobu. They have invited us a few times, but we were unsure about whether we should go, because to answer invitations from one student might mean answering invitations form all 105 students--and there isn't enough time to do that! We kept saying to the students to ask Xiao Ting (the person who is mostly in charge of us). It was finally decided that we would all go--Marcia and I (as the 2 foreign teachers), the 5 woman teachers who are with us every day, in class mostly, but sometimes they accompany us on outings as well, the two students, Tim and Tom, and one other student. Xiaobu is famous for its tea (it won a best beverage award several times) and a waterfall (pubu). Two cars picked us up about 8:30 am and we drove to Xiaobu. We first went to the processing plant of the tea factory, but didn't go inside--we walked up the mountain to the waterfall. The walk up the mountain was amazing. I am first and foremost an outdoors person--I love to be out in the countryside where the air is clear, the smells are fresh and the scenery is wonderful (you mei). We had to criss-cross the mountain stream many times by balancing over log bridges, or jumping from stone to stone. Part way up the mountain is a very large abandoned house. One of the students was with me at that time and I asked him about the house. He told me it used to be a paper factory--where they made paper. (I know that paper was invented in China). I asked if anyone lived there--he said they used to, but found it too dangerous. I asked why and he told me that it was because there were too many snakes! I shuddered, and he told me that was only in July, August and September. We continued up the mountain and finally came to the waterfall. It was very thin, but high and seemed to come from nowhere above the top of the mountain. It had been a hot climb up the mountain, so the mist from the waterfall was a nice relief! We played around the stones and the water, taking lots of photos, before we had to go back down the mountain. At the abandoned house, Tom pointed it out to me and said "paper house". I told him I had been calling it (in my mind) the 'snake house'. He told me he didn't know about the snakes for sure, but there were a lot of stories. I told him that sometimes stories were more interesting than the truth!
We got down the mountain, into the cars and drove to Xiaobu Middle School for lunch. (Both Tim and Tom had graduated from there) There were many students there--they had never seen foreigners before. They gathered around , but not too close--maybe they were a little afraid of the "aliens". I got my camera out, and as soon as I pointed it toward them, they screamed, giggled and ran away. Then they came closer again. I finally got a few photos, and since my camera is digital, I showed them the photos. I had to approach the kids slowly, because they were a little shy. When one got brave enough to come and look at the camera, others came--soon I was surrounded by kids trying to see themselves in my camera!
Lunch was, as usual, multi-course, and delicious (hao chi!) The kids watched us from a respectful distance through the doorway.
After lunch we walked to the HUGE tea plantation. I have never seen tea grown. The bushes are dark green, thick and round, and are about hip high (depending on your height, of course). Tom and Tim showed us which leaves were to be picked to make the best tea (young shoots). Some students from a school were there picking leaves, and having them weighed before they left. It was an amazing sight to see these neat little trees spread out over a vast area, and surrounded by mountains. The colourful clothing of the people picking the leaves added to the beauty!
We walked back to the tea plantation and were given a tour of the factory. The leaves are taken from huge bamboo, round trays into a bamboo sorting cylinder. The cylinder is turned by machine, and banged by hand by a person, so the leaves fall through the appropriate size holes--small, medium and large, so the tea can be graded properly. They are put back onto large, round, bamboo trays and weighed again, and stacked in racks until the drying process begins. They are put into wood-fired oven-type things--turned over and over until they are dry--there are I think 3 or 4 different stages the tea goes through in the drying room. We didn't see the packaging process, but we were given cups of very fresh tea. The company also gave us a gift of packages of tea to take with us!!
We were also invited to each of the two students' homes for more refreshments--tea, oranges, bananas, peanuts and other goodies. We didn't stay very long at these homes, but felt very honoured to have been invited and to meet the boys' mothers. It had already been a long day, so it was time to go home.
On the way home, we were again in 2 separate cars. I was in an older car, behind the car most of the teachers and the other foreigner were in, when the car engine suddenly stopped on the highway. Everyone was talking Chinese, so I didn't know what was going on for awhile. The driver kept trying to start the car again, but nothing worked--he just kept coasting--about 200 metres, right into a gas station and up to the gas pumps. One of the people in the car spoke a little English (she is one of my students), and told me we needed gas. I started to laugh and couldn't stop! I had to take a photo of us beside the gas pump to remind me of this event. The driver finally started to laugh--I think they thought I might be upset, but to me this was all part of the adventure! The driver said I brought them luck!
We finally reached Ningdu, tired, happy and with more China memories.
At other times in Ningdu, Xiao Ting and sometimes one or more other teachers, and us, go for facials--what a relaxing experience!!
My toilet doesn't flush--they try to fix it and it works for a day, then quits again. I am familiar with Chinese plumbing (I have a Western-style toilet, but it's all hooked up to the same Chinese plumbing) so the first day I was here, I bought a bucket. This way, I can always flush my toilet!
The kitchen came fully equipped. They even bought us rice cookers. For some reason, the aluminum insert in my rice cooker started to rust. I told Xiao Ting about it (cooking with rust isn't healthy) and they bought me a new rice cooker the next day! They are really good about making sure everything is right for us.
We have been on so many outings--climbed a mountain twice--the Department bought us (and all the woman teachers) track suits for Woman's Day. We have been invited to various teachers' homes for lunch, and to learn mahjong.
Mr. Zhang, one of our directors, arranged for a man to come to the school and teach us Tai Chi!
One of the teachers' husbands is in agriculture, and gives a lot of advice to people who have an orange orchard, about half an hour from Ningdu. One day we were invited there to wander around the orchard and smell the blossoms!! We were given tea, oranges and peanuts, which we ate to our hearts' content, then we were told that lunch was ready!! Food and beer were plentiful! At least once every two weeks we are invited out to dinner by the department--the same 5 teachers and some leaders. They treat us so well.
One Friday night, the boys in one class invited all the woman teachers out for dinner. They were so excited and so sweet. We talked, ate, drank beer, laughed and sang. Of course we all toasted to each others' health, luck, and happiness. (I learned some Chinese toasts, which were greeted with loud cheers!)
Classes--the students have made a lot of progress in the 7 weeks we have been teaching them. They are speaking out more, their confidence is visibly growing!! I hope that by the time they leave here, they have lost their shyness, and have developed their confidence to the point where they will be able to attempt to speak English no matter what their level. Even students who never volunteer in class, but by the nature of the exercise we are doing, must speak, are speaking a little--and getting cheers and clapping from the other students. Because we spend 10 periods each week with each of 2 classes, we are getting to know the students pretty well. I made a seating plan (which I have to change every month, because they change seats) with their Chinese names, and I call them by their Chinese names. They sometimes cheer or laugh when I say the names, depending on how close I am to saying it right. It is very gratifying to say a name and have a person stand up!! I have learned most of the 'sounds', if I can see them written down, but I get the tones wrong most of the time. Some of the names I have even memorized!
Quite a few students have asked for English names. A name is a big responsibility--so what I do is make a list of as many names as I can think of, pronounce the names for the students, and have them choose their own.
The work we are doing is from a text book. It is full of exercises and activities that make the students speak and think in English. The exercises also force them to interact with each other--there are exercises about introductions, interests, directions, fantasy stories, shopping--all daily interest activities. I always mold the exercise into my own words, and we start the lesson by doing examples not from the book, but close to their lives. I tell them stories about Canada, I ask them questions about their lives. I start out each class with about 6 questions--such as asking about their favourite colour, fruit, food, animal; do they have a pet, what is it; what do they do in their free time; what would they like to do if they were not teaching; what is their life dream; where do they think they will be in 2 years, 5 years; what is the their favourite season and why; can someone give me directions to the river (I want to go for a walk); or a good place to get my haircut, or the post office, or the market for some vegetables.; what did they do on the weekend; what did they have for breakfast/lunch/dinner; I ask a lot of questions--and I make them answer me in a complete sentence. Since I now have a seating plan, I don't ask for volunteers as much, because there are always a few who will always answer questions, so the rest don't even need to listen! I ask the question--they know by now to listen--it's listening practice--then I say a name. If a student does not understand me, the others sometimes try to say it in Chinese. I stop them and repeat, slower, in English. If a student does not know the answer, that's ok--I ask someone else.

I know this has been a long email, but once I get started it is hard to know where and when to stop. Any of this information you want to use you may--you can divide it up as you like.

I look forward to seeing you when you visit Ningdu--I will keep you posted on events here.

My best wishes to you both and to Tracy and James--hong yuan kuai le, and hong yuan hao yun!


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