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March 2004


I've received several emails asking about what it is like in China; the school, the town, the people, etc.  Let me try and describe some things that Yanti & I do weekly.

The School
Let's start with the school and the students.  This school is one of the top rated schools in the area.  The students must pass a competitive exam to get into the first year and then again in two years to continue here.  So, they are both very smart AND very hard working.  Our apartment looks out onto one of the many classroom buildings here and a place where the students park their bikes when they arrive in the morning.  Many students arrive before 6:30AM and by 7:15AM they are all here.  Many students stay until 10PM at night, we see them in their classroom!  They also come on Saturdays (all day) and many are here on Sundays.  By the way, it is cold this time of year in Nantong (maybe the same as St. Louis, MO) and the classrooms are NOT heated.  So they are in class most of the day wearing their coats and gloves!  (Well, ok, MY classroom, the language lab, is heated).  They have a break about 8AM when they go outside to do exercises like jumping rope and again at 10AM they sit in their classrooms and do eye exercises!  Between classes the school plays music.  Everything from polkas (yes, polkas), to popular songs, and classical music.  It's very nice.

The city and the school location- the city is quit beautiful with many new, modern, and beautiful high-rises.  There are many canals that run thru town and when it gets warmer Yanti & I can rent little boats and go around!  The city is doing a huge urban renewal project that is almost complete, it will complete the shore line of the center of town's water area (look at the map of Nantong to get an idea (sorry, it's in Chinese but will give you a good idea anyway), note the central area and the water.  The school is within walking distance of this center part of town.  But, if it's too cold or we have lots of groceries to bring back from shopping, a bus is only 4 stops and is 1 Yuan (about US$.12); while a taxi is 7 Yuan (about US$.80).

My week
My week starts on Mondays and everyday I have an average of four 40 minutes classes in the language lab.  (I teach 13 Senior Two classes and 16 Senior One classes over a two week period.)  It's a nice lab, but I only use the computer for PowerPoint presentations, and an overhead projector.  I start the class with some English words for the students to repeat after me.  Each time we meet I have a different set of words that help them with a particular sound in English.  Then we discuss something like 'English Idioms'; I break them up into groups of 2, 4 or 8 and they talk about the subject (in English); then I call on a team or a student to read something their team has come up with.  (For instance, creating sentences using the idiom they have been discussing).  I assign homework only every 3-4 weeks because they have so much other homework and because I teach 'Conversational English', not grammar, written, etc, English.  Yanti and I eat in the school lunch room with the other teachers and the food is VERY good.  Always at least 4-5 entrees to choose from, rice, and soup!  They pay me for my lunch and I get a special 'charge' card that they reload each month.  But it's enough for Yanti & I to eat on!  In the evenings Yanti will cook something for us.

Speaking of Yanti, she stays VERY busy.  She has several Chinese language classes per week and is picking up this very difficult language pretty quickly (after 5 weeks, I have mastered 3 phrases :-0   She also cooks my breakfast, dinners, cleans the apartment, and does the laundry!  She works very hard.  Yanti also helps me in my classes.  She sits in the back and will send me a 'secret' signal if the kids back there are mis-behaving; she also helps me stay organized with all my papers to grade, etc.  I'm now applying for a summer job in Beijing and a fall teaching position in the south of China and Yanti (who has a really great memory) helps me with that as well.  I don't know how I would be able to doing all this if it weren't for her!

On Saturdays we do our shopping.  Across the street is a market with most of the things we need, but we like to get fresh veggies, fruit, meat, etc., at the larger market down town.  So we usually walk there and take a bus back.  On Sundays, each week, we take a different bus to the end of its run to see different parts of the city.  Nantong is right on the Yangzi River, which is HUGE!  You can just barely see across! 

The people
It's pretty amazing.  Sometimes I feel like some celebrity here.  I think there are only 3-4 westerners in town and I may be the tallest (ok, also the biggest).  People are always staring at us and I think Yanti & I have caused a few bike rear-enders as people look over their shoulders at us.  Then there are my students (almost 1,800) who wave to us.  The funniest thing happened last week when Yanti & I were downtown.  Some students from another school saw us and wanted our autographs!  We weren't sure if we should be embarrassed or what.  We chatted with them in English and then went on shopping.

We have learned enough Chinese to say 'hello', 'good morning', etc.  and people are very happy that we do that!

English Speech contest
Last week I judged an English Speech contest with one student from each of the Senior One classes (16 in all).  Most were very good and a few were really sweet and touching.  As they were totaling up the scores they asked me to say a few words - me, say a few words - right!  But, I was actually a little nervous up on the stage with all the lights and all.  But I made it through it and enjoyed my few moments of fame!

In April, we'll get two weeks off (paid), because all the students have a huge week long series of tests.  So one week they'll concentrate on preparation and the next the tests themselves.  Yanti & I will head via a fast ferry to Shanghai to meet up with some friends and see the city along with two near-by towns.  Suzhou, a city of canals and beautiful traditional gardens and Zhouzhuang, a beautifully preserved riverside village known as the new Venice of China and recognized as a International Heritage site!  We'll do shopping in Shanghai - we hope to buy a Chinese-English electronic translator and a new cell-phone for me.  We'll let you know with stories and pictures, next issue!


Coming up....

This Summer we hope to teach and live and see Beijing and Xi'an. Beijing to see the capital of course, and the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.   Xi'an to see the 6,000 full size terra-cotta soldiers!

In the Fall we are looking at a teaching position in the south of China, near Macau or Hong Kong.  That area has much milder climate, much closer to San Francisco.

We both want to return to California in the middle of December to help celebrate my parents 60th Wedding Anniversary.  The entire family of 5 children, 8 grand-children, and 2 great grand-children will be taking a cruise to Mexico to celebrate!  Then Yanti & I will head to Las Vegas to be married in the United States.  No real reason for us to do this, but itíll be fun just the same.  How many of you were married in Vegas by Elvis?  Then back to San Francisco for News Years Eve and more celebrating! 

We look forward to seeing everyone!

.....Stay tuned!


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One of my classes

Map of Nantong





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Well, it's the HUGE country above Vietnam and west of Japan!