Spring 2007

Posted by Matthew Corcoran on 12/16/2014

Spring 2007

(Carolyn Mack, teacher)

We had a wonderful trip on the May holiday. The students, John, Emily, Clara, Del, and I traveled to the Yellow Mts. where we saw spectacular views in the rain and sun. Truly the weather changed drastically in the day we were there. We saw incredible sights including men carrying several kilos up the mountain to the restaurants. They get paid a few yuan per kilo so they carry as much weight as possibly. I could hardly get myself up let alone several food items and propane gas tanks.

We then traveled to Hangzhou and on the way saw the ancient city of Xidi. The streets were narrow and very unusual architecture. On to Hangzhou where we took a boat ride on West Lake. We spent one night here and then traveled to Suzhou. Here we saw a rock garden and a water canal city.

Next Shanghai. In Shanghai we visited the Bund area and the French Quarters of the city. We spent one night here and flew to Xian. In Xian we saw the Terra Cotta Warriors and took a bike ride around the old city wall of the city. We also visited a hot spring and the stone writing museum then flew back to Beijing. Truly a wonderful experience.

(Kiernan Folz-Donahue, student)

America has almost no history. It has been a short 225 years since independance, and a mere 400 since the founding of Jamestown. Because we have, more or less, no history, we also have no great philosophers: We have no Shakespeares or Confucius'. And this, explained one Jingshan middleschooler to me one day (sans statistics), is why there are so many bad people in America. A very Chinese perspective, I suppose, reinforced by the observation that many Americans don't seem to care much for history. We do have barely any, at least compared to China, famed for the longest continuous history of any civilization. Of course, this view fails to recognize that American society has largely been an offshoot of Western European society, and that our great philosophers are largely imported. I don't think people in China think that Americans are, really, bad people. After the Virginia Tech shootings, the Chinese Daily ran an article condemning the US Gun Culture, and many students at Jingshan have expressed their dislike of our current president and the current war, but I don't think that Chinese people really have anything against Americans.

However, there is another idea that Chinese people have about Americans, and Westerners in general. One that is far more apparent and aggravating. One that the poor Westerner notices as soon as he walks into shopping area -- the assumption that Westerners are 1) Rich, 2) Easy with money. You don't even have to be a Westerner, you just have to look like a Westerner. I.E., you have to be white. As a member of the middle class, I do have quite a bit of money (times 7.6, the exchange rate). However, I'm not easy with money, and I've been in China long enough to have heard that almost desperate "Low price for you" just one too many times. I cannot stand the Pearl Market or the Silk Market or similar malls in which many vendors set up small shops in rows, (with the same products, using the same storeroom, but this is irrelevant,) and try to get the most money out of you by haggling. Foreigners are easy pickings, and I have long grown tired of having my shirt pulled on by the vendors as I walk down the aisle, as they call "Nice boy!", "Shoes for you", "Lookilooki","Hello, you buy", or whatever else they might say to the same effect. "Hello" is the worst. I don't mind that they'd try to overcharge me so much as I mind that they annoy me.
 
Nevertheless, I recall one time I was coming home late. I was sitting in a subway stop, waiting for a train. A man approched me, and sat down. He told me, as we chatted in English, to tell people when I get home that Chinese people are friends. And, he's right. I have very much enjoyed my stay in China. A great many people have been very good to me, despite the Pearl and the Silk and the Whatever Else markets. Our two countries and peoples are and should be friends. Even if we have no Confucious.

(Jessica Chin, student)

For our May vacation trip, we ended up taking a whirlwind tour around China; we visited Huangshan, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Shanghai, and lastly, Xi'an. Although we weren't able to stay very long at any place, although we were able to spend a couple of days in Xi'an, there were several things during the trip that left an impression on me. First of all, Huangshan was gorgeous, although it was misty in the morning, when we walked down, it was clear, so we got to experience the scenery shrouded in mist, as well as see the mountain in bathed in sunlight. Hangzhou and Suzhou both had a lot of tourist sites based around Chinese culture and history, the West lake and Xidi as some examples, respectively. Hangzhou is known for it's villages built along waterways, and at Xidi, there was housing still in use that was open to visitors, and reminded me of the hutongs in Beijing because there were so many side pathways. It was a lot different from what we saw in Shanghai. Shanghai, being a big city, although it was very foggy the day we went, has a lot of international ties in its past. The architecture ranges from Chinese style, to European, and from traditional to modern skyscrapers. In Xi'an we were able to see the terra cotta warriors, and bike around on top of the city wall. We were also able to visit part of the city where most of the Hui, a minority, lived. One thing that the tour guide in Xi'an said that really struck me was how different cities represent different aspects of China. Guilin, which we visited earlier, is known for it's beauty and the nature that China is built in and around. Xi'an is supposed to symbolize China's past and history. Beijing is symbolic of China's current state, and is the city and heart of things. Shanghai, as a big city, stands for China's future, and increasing industrialization. Having been able to see so many different areas around China, it was interesting to see how similar and different the different areas are. One thing that always strikes me is how you can always see a slightly more depressed part of any area, but also see all of the constantly on-going construction that seems to be going on everywhere. The evidence of China's industrialization is definitely clear, as well as the importance of Beijing hosting the Olympics, which seems to be something that shows up everywhere.

(William Ho, student)

May 10th came around the corner and it was time to meet as well as teach the students at the Jingshan branch school. I felt excited and nervous at the same time.

When we arrived at the school, I was very impressed by how magnificent the school was. The school was large and looked very welcoming. After some brief introductions we were ready to start teaching. For today I was assigned to teach fourth and seventh grade. My first class of fourth graders were very amusing and eager to learn. I had taught them cursive and read them a story, which they all enjoyed. At the end of class I was asked by the students to give them autographs, which I found a bit amusing.

Next I was arranged to make some traditional face masks by the school. I was accompanied by some elementary students who taught me how I would paint these kinds of masks. All the masks had different and unique designs on them. Some were very complicated while others were pretty plain and simple. After forty minutes, I had successfully made myself a traditional face mask.

Following my activity I was arranged to teach the seventh graders. Before I came to the branch school, I was informed that the students level of English was below that of the students at the main branch. But this info was proven wrong when I came to their class. Their English was surprisingly very good. All the students were very curious about student life in America and what high school students usually do. It was an excellent class where I felt that I had achieved my goal of having the students improve their speech and listening comprehension.
I felt that the students here at the branch school seemed more independent and well behaved compared to that of the main school. It probably must be that the students here live on-campus and have to do everything for themselves. It was very interesting to see this difference.

Coming to the branch school and meeting the students was very worthwhile.

(William Ho, student)

Beijing is wonderful! Yesterday I went with my host brother to "hong qiao" market for the first time. It was very interesting seeing how many different kinds of items people were selling. My host brother showed me how to bargain with the sellers. It was pretty fun watching him try different methods to persuade the seller to drop the price of the item he wanted. He also gave me some tips on how to drop the price so that I would be ready to buy stuff the next time we come back. I'm very excited to learn more about the Chinese culture as we explore Beijing.

(Kiernan Folz-Donahue, student)

I was sitting on a couch this past Sunday afternoon, attempting to draw the scene out the window. It was a hopeless affair, really, colored pencils aren't exactly my forte. But there was something intensely alluring about that cityscape out that window on that Sunday. It's quiet eleven stories above the city. You're removed from the hustle and bustle of the streets, and you can look down upon the people below (from your perspective) silently going about their business. They line up along the street, probably waiting for a bus. Of course, this is a city. You hear the car horns from the streets below, and you hear the construction workers banging nails into wood somewhere in the building. You don't know where, and really, it does not matter. Somehow it's oddly relaxing. Really, though this is all a backdrop, just like the music you're listening to on headphones – Hopefully it's quiet, laid-back symphonic music. It'd be more mood-setting.

But it's the haze that strikes you. You may realize that fifteen million people are breathing that air, but for the moment, it's just beautiful. The sun, high and bright, turns buildings into silhouettes. The smokestack is prominent and dark in your view. So too is the great crane with a fluttering red flag. The flag is barely visible, however, lost in the wash of buildings that looks for all the world like a watercolor. The painter has decided to use atmospheric effects to indicate distance, but being a tad hasty has exaggerated the differences, such that buildings in the distance just barely manage not to lose themselves against the sky. Even mid-ground buildings are pronouncedly covered in the yellow-brown haze, at times more orange, and times more rosy. But always pale, like the sky behind it, except for the few foreground buildings -- The smokestack and that giant crane -- stark shadows in the midday sun. And all this scene is unmoving and unchanging, save for that little flag lost in the grandeur of it all.

(Erica Horowitz, student)

My my little China story happened before we went to Guilin. I went with Shuaiqing's cousin to the Lama Temple (Yonghe Gong). We bought some incense on the way there, so at the temple Shauiqing's cousin showed me how to burn the incense and pray.

The temple consisted of many smaller buildings, all of which where beautifully decorated and had different alters inside. We were in one of the buildings, surrounded by the smoke of incense and hoards of people kowtowing in front of the alters, when all of a sudden...the Nokia ringtone goes off.

That pretty much sums up China: modern culture is mixed with ancient culture.

(Jessica Chin, student)

When we went on our group trip to Guilin, one of the first thoughts that I had was, it's beautiful, just like the tourbooks said. Right after that, I thought that Guilin really is as tourist-y as the books say too. Guilin is known for its gorgeous landscapes and sceneries, and in some places, hills just seem to protrude in the middle of a mass of buildings. We visited two of its four caves, Silver Cave and Reed Flute Cave, and got a different perspective of all of the hills on a boat ride along the Li River. Even at night, when walking on the streets, the hills loom in the darkness. In the morning, the mist gives the surroundings a mysterious feeling. But admist all of the breathtaking sights, the thing that struck me the most was how much the city caters to tourists. The tour guide mentioned how the city spent lots of money on lights to support the city's nightlife, which is amazing; however, at the same time, it seemed like some of the local people face hardship. While we were on the boat, there were people who were on small rafts who would try to sell things to people on the boat, as well as younger kids along the shore holding nets trying to get money. People selling things on the streets were also extremely persistent, although it could have also been because our was targeted as foreigners. That is not to say that people in Guilin have poor living standards, but I personally feel that instead of using money on city lights, as well as creating one of the, if not the largest, man-made waterfalls in front of a hotel, the money could have been used on building up the city, rather than building its dependency on tourism.

(Tim Te, student)

I have to say that when I arived in China, the two things that i instantly felt were different were the traffic and the currency. There are a lot more cars in Beijing than in Newton, actually a lot more people in general. Besides the cars they have all the pedestrians and cyclist. The heavy traffic seems really chaotic to me. Cars are not afraid to cut off busses and trucks, and the lane lines do not seem to maintain much functionality. Other conveniences aren't used; almost no one uses seatbelts. in the back seat of all cars there are seatbelts but no buckles. I don't know why. but one thing that i love is the exchange rate. everything is so cheap if you convert it to US dollars. The McDonald's "dollar" menu is 6 kuai, less than a dollar. instead of apple pie they sell Ubi and Red Bean. Those are really good. the only problem is that i overestimate the cost of things. when it says 30 yuan i think, "whoa, that's expensive," but it really isn't that's around $4. In Guilin we were bickering with the vendors over 5 yuan, which is pretty bad because we were treating it like $5.

(William Ho, student)

Recently these past few weeks have been very interesting. I've gone to teach with Mrs. Mack and Mr. Callahan for their classes. Students ranged from 4th graders to 11th graders. It was fun getting to know the students. With the
4th graders we taught them some songs as well as teaching them new games. For the older students we had discussions about what they were curious about and differences between American and Chinese holidays. All of the students seemed very eager to learn about American culture and wanting to get to know us better. What I found very entertaining with the older students was that they had pretty much the same questions such as, "Do students drive to school?" With each new class I teach, with the Newton teachers, I make many new friends.