Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Night Under the stars on Halong Bay

Today was a once in a lifetime experience. At 8:00am we boarded a bus to the world heritage site: Halong Bay

This massive bay contains 1969 separate little islands that are made of limestone jutting out from the water. It’s truly a breathtaking site as you enter the bay. I tried so hard to capture the experience on film, but failed. Some of the shots turned out ok though 😁

We toured around the bay for a couple hours before making a couple stops. First up: Hang Sung Sot caves.  In many of the limestone islands, massive caves have formed over millions of years.  My expectations for the caves were kind of low. I’ve seencaves in the past and figured it would be a similar experience. My predictions was way off, though. The caves on the island we went to were comprised of three separate rooms - each one larger than the previous. By the third room I was in awe of the rock formations around me. It felt as thought I had teleported to mars or some other distant uncharted planet.  Vietnam, being a deeply cultural country, caused many legends to be created around some of the rocks in these caves.  They believe the shapes of their four most important animals can be found throughout. The animals they honor are the dragon, turtle, phoenix, and unicorn. See if you can use your imagination o spot the animals within the rocks!

Our second adventure on Halong Bay was a beach trip and/or hike. I opted for the beach because of the heat - couldn’t handle more hiking after going through the caves. The beach itsself was actually pretty small and not that great, but the island it was located on was certainly interesting. The island, which is known as Ti Top island, was named after a former Soviet war hero, Ghermann Titov, from WWII. Just another subtle reminder that I am a long way from home. 

One of the best parts of our time in Halong Bay is that we get to sleep on the bay!  The boat we are on is a three storied junk boat with cabins on the first floor, a dining area on the second, and sundeck up top. It’s surprisingly nice - and my tour group has the entire boat to ourselves!  There is even a floating mini mart - this woman rides around in her boat and pulls up to the port hole window in your room to let you buy snacks or drinks. She has a net with a long handle to pass the snacks and money back and forth to the bigger boats. 

Oh, and for the record I went way outside my comfort zone and ate an oyster today 😖 

Ok, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but it’s certainly not a favorite. Overall the food has been quite nice on our bay cruise. The chef goes all out with the decoration!

The prawn were surprisingly good - caught right from the bay around us!

This is a net made from a single carrot!!

Tomorrow we spend some more time touring the bay in the morning and then head off to our next city via sleeper train 😬  Another new life experience!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Life in Hanoi

Good morning Vietnam!'s actually 10pm, but I had to write that 😀

I landed in Hanoi, a city in northern Vietnam yesterday afternoon and am still shocked by the sights and sounds.  I really feel like experiencing Asia has different levels.  The cultures are so drastically different from western culture that Asia can be shocking.  If there were a comparison scale of cultural differences between the US and each Asian country, Vietnam would rank quite high.  While China has really become quite modern and has many familiar western amenities, Vietnam is quite different. It's clear that western influence is just now beginning to rear its head in Hanoi.  For instance there is one Starbucks in the large touristy section I am staying in, but it only opened in 2015.  Vietnamese people are clearly proud of their culture and don't see a need for many of the things westerners have come to depend on.  The Vietnamese seem much more accustomed to sitting on tiny chairs which line sidewalks while chatting and enjoying snacks, drinks, or even meals.  The casualness and sense of community of these spaces is sometimes overwhelming, which leads to my next observation.....the kindness of the Vietnamese!

From the moment I arrived in Hanoi, I was astounded by how friendly the people are.  My driver from the airport accidentally took me to the wrong hotel, and then didn't understand my english when I asked him to wait while I checked my reservation.  Sure enough it was the wrong hotel, and he did not understand when I asked him to wait.  Luckily I was dropped at a hotel with the most kind front desk employees I have ever met.  When they realized I was in the wrong hotel, they did everything they could to help me get to the right place.  They even called the correct hotel to confirm my reservation for me before leaving and then called a taxi for me!  The one woman that was helping me was really nice.  She had actually travelled through Philadelphia on a trip from New York to DC a couple years ago.  She was excited to learn she had a connection to where I am from.

Upon arrival to my actual hotel, I was once again met with wonderful hospitality.  The manager even took me up to my room and gave me a tour since I am in a little suite (free upgrade!)

I also had the privilege of meeting some college students in the park near my hotel tonight.  They were hanging around there specifically waiting for western looking people to pass by so they could practice conversational english with them.  I, of course, thought this was the coolest thing ever and struck up conversations with several different friendly students.  Their language skills varied drastically, but I give them all a lot of credit for spending their Friday night trying to better their english skills!

One of the students I chatted with

In addition to having wonderful people, the food here is off the hook....not to mention incredibly cheap!  I went to a vegan restaurant last night.  There seems to be lots of vegan places around, most likely for buddhists.  The food I got there was both artistic and delicious!

Some crazy coconut drink

Fried lotus favorite dish!

Pineapple fried rice with macadamia nuts 

This whole meal cost $8 usd!!  Which made more sense when I got a banh mi (Vietnamese hoagie) today and it was $1.14 usd!!  The low prices are perfect because I can try everything I want and more!

I have another full day in Hanoi before my official tour begins.  I am loving the free time to wander and explore on my own.  There is something invigorating about trying to navigate a foreign land.  Especially when there are thousands of motor bikes zipping around you with no real traffic laws!

Well for now, good night from the splendid country of Vietnam.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Hong Kong: World Class City

Three days in Hong Kong and I am amazed at how unique this eastern world city seems to be.  I have made so many connections to my time studying abroad in London, which makes sense since the city was on loan to the UK for 99 years.  In 1997, the loan ended and the territory was handed back to China, who continues to influence the culture here more and more.  One China - two systems is the phrase here to describe how the governments interact.  Essentially, the Chinese communist party has tolerated the democracy of Hong Kong out of fear of rebellion, but they are most certainly still working toward One China.

Victoria's Peak

We've spent the past few days really exploring the different parts of the city.  It's a stunningly beautiful city spread across over 200 islands.  The bulk of the city is located on Hong Kong island, with many neighborhoods peppered across the other islands.  The progressiveness of the city is really energizing as well.  40% of the land is to be preserved and will never be built on.  Also, we were shown an island which has a restriction for its residents - in order to drive on the island, you must drive a fully electric car.  Amazing, right?  It is also probably the reason I see Teslas absolutely everywhere around the city.

Some of the sites we have seen have been beyond belief.  My favorite so far was an absolutely massive sitting buddha statue.  In fact, it is the second largest in the world.  Beat out only slightly by a statue in Taiwan.  The entire experience is memorable.  From the cable car ride up to the walk up all 238 septs to the large statue.  The pictures do the experiencer no justice, but have a look.

Temple of 10,000 Buddhas

We also went to this spectacular little Japanese inspired garden after the typhoon, which, by the way, never really amounted to anything.  The garden was a spectacular little oasis amongst the bustle of a large city.

Looking forward to my last two days in Hong Kong before going to my next stop: Hanoi, Vietnam!

I think this sticker I found at the base of a Buddha statue sums up life in Hong Kong

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Reflections of teaching in Fuzhou

So, I have to say I was excited to experience teaching in a new city in China this year, but I was definitly nostalgic for the Greentown school in Hangzhou where I spent the previous two summers. I am so glad I opened my mind to the new city, though. Teaching in Fuzhou was truly unique. It was nothing like my previous summers. The teachers in Fuzhou were amazingly grateful for our time together. They wanted to truly learn as much as they could from our two weeks together and they put in the needed effort. 

I think this experience was so different for me because the teachers we worked with had never learned teaching pedagogy. They spent their college leads mastering content, which in a way is fantastic, but at no point are they trained in how to best teach kids. The teaching is an afterthought. Which makes sense in a country where student failure is purely seen as a lack of effort.  The teachers left SABEH as better educators than when they arrive. I hope they take what they learned and find a way to apply it to their own rooms for their own students. 

One of my favorite parts of the two weeks was something that was not done in Hangzhou. The teacher learners all worked tirelessly to create performances to end the summer program. Some of the performances were really creative and well done. It was a fun way for them to do one last activity with their newly made friends. 

Their energy and enthusiasm was infections throughout the program. Classes had shirts made, some had posters made, and one even had a banner made. Their love of SABEH was evident. 

Looking back I feel like I really helped to make a difference in the lives of the teachers. Even if they are held to curriculum and will have a tough time integrating the strategies I taught, every single one of them left the two week program with a new sense of rejuvenation within their work. It was wonderful to be a part of that inspiration. 

I don’t know where I will be next summer, but Fuzhou will always be on my list of places to one day return. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Final Night in China

I am sitting here in my room baffled at how fast the past two weeks flew by. Fuzhou has been an incredible city with truly unique people. Through our students and assistants, I really had the opportunity to meet some beautiful people. Like the lacquer artist whose work drew me in and totally changed my views on Chinese lacquer art - which I previously did not care for, but I just had no idea what contemporary artists are doing with the medium.

Or the wonderful calligrapher who took us in and showed us how he has perfected his art over twenty five years. The self taught artist was extremely knowledgeable and gave us some pointers on how to make calligraphy.

Or the charming Yumi who toured us around so graciously in her free time because she is so dedicated to the SABEH program. She ev n took us to ja r favorite dessert place which was mind blowingly delicious while still being healthy!!

Tomorrow at 8:00am we depart Fuzhou for our next destination: Hong Kong. As part of SABEH’s contract we are given a week long tour around the country. This year we will be going to Hong Kong. I am sad to leave traditional provincial city life in Fouzhou so soon, but the allure of Hong Kong’s busy streets and bright lights would attract anyone like a moth to a light.

For now, I am signing off from mainland China for my final time this year. The next blog post I make will be done so without the great firewall complicating things!  Also, still stay tuned for mor teaching blogs. Things have been busy, and time limited. I will be sharing my experiences as soon as possible 😁
Ready to say: See you later China!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Protesting Civil Rights in China

I am not sure why, but Blogger continues to delete my posts.  This is a repost of the one from earlier since it was deleted.  Happy reading!

Unfortunately I am writing this post on my second to last day of teaching in Fuzhou.  What a whirlwind it has been!  China is such a unique place with amazing people.  Getting to know the teachers and assistants provides an experience unlike anything else.  The connections that are formed between us go quite deep as we are all working toward the same goal of improving instruction to make our students stronger!

Today I taught the teachers in my classes about reader's theater.  We talked about the benefits of acting out written scripts and then I had them perform mini plays about famous people from the civil rights movement in the US.  They only had about an hour to prepare their skits and some of the creativity they showed was remarkable.  They had all kinds of props to make it more realistic and used great expression while acting, which is WAY outside the comfort zone of most of the teachers who tend to be quiet and reserved.  They had a blast with this lesson.  It was definitely a home run..

Arresting black protesters

Staging Rosa Parks' bus protest

Protesting MLK at the march on Washington

This week, the evidence of our work here became clear as the teachers were to demonstrate a lesson using the techniques they learned from our time together.  Some of the lessons they taught were incredible.  It was great feedback that showed our time teaching here.  It was like watching a different version of myself up front teaching.

Their eagerness to learn to become quality teachers is inspiring.  I even had an assistant approach me about how teachers in the US make all of their worksheets and presentations so nice looking.  Naturally this evolved into a working lunch where I taught her about Teachers Pay Teachers and showed her the basics of designing materials in Powerpoint - or ppt as they call it.  It was impressive to have such creative passion from a Chinese teacher.  I told her she needs to send me the materials she will make.

As far as cultural experiences, China never falls short.  The other night we visited the residence of a doctor and professor with a strong interest in tea culture.  He hosted us with a presentation about tea and a spectacular tea ceremony.  We even had the chance to practice ourselves.  Tea art is a field of study in China and something college students become certified in.  My tea skills were rookie level, but it was still fun!

Oh and big things are in the works for SABEH.  If you have ever been curious or interested in teaching in China, next summer could be the year you've been waiting for!  Stay tuned for more details throughout the rest of 2017.

For now I must sign off and prepare to go watch the final set of reader's theater plays from my final class.  If made possible by the wifi,  I will attempt to post a video here in the future!  Until next time....

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Visiting a public primary school

Ahh...I am sitting in my new Chinese oasis - Cafe G.  This magical little coffee shop really helps me focus on my writing and escape the sometimes overwhelming madness of this country.  I am currently enjoying a caramel macchiato and avocado chicken panini....IN CHINA.  The owner seriously knows her stuff 😁.  

Things have been enjoyably hectic the past few days here in Fuzhou.  I am one class away from the weekend and finishing my first week of teaching!  The classes have been nothing short of successful even though it is unique to hear their worries on some of the strategies I have been teaching.  I am coming to find out  that their way of preparing to be educators is by mastering the content of their class.  They, at no point, learn about educational philosophy, pedagogy, or even psychology.  Realizing this, I can truly understand why American strategies can appear overwhelming and cause worry. It is great seeing how eager they are to learn this critical information.

What I would really like to share with you in this post, though, is the exciting time I had on an adventure to a primary public school last night.  First, of course, the journey was just so spectacularly Chinese.  The plan was set to meet at 7:00pm at which time cars would be waiting to take us to the school.  Well, that almost happened.  there was actually 1 car waiting, which was impressive, our Chinese colleagues quickly learned, one car was not enough for 12 teachers and two assistants.  And so began the process of trying to arrange Uber cars to the school.  To the surprise of the people in my car, we made it to our first stop both alive and in a timely manner, both of which were a surprise due to the questionable driving techniques of our driver and every single other person on the road.  Anyway, we quickly learned that one of the other cars had become lost in the move to our destination.  After about a half hour they arrived and we were ready to go only.....we were not at a primary school.  We were at a normal university (teacher college).  One of our hosts decided it would be great to make a stop at the university to offer us a tour.  Now first of all this college campus is absolutely not what you are picturing in your mind right now.  It was more like a public space for dancing, sports, and general tom foolery with a few university buildings and copy shops throughout.  It was really quite striking to see the difference compared to a western campus.  

Student dorms
4 to a room - smaller than US dorm rooms
Newly air conditioned!

After about an hour walk around the campus and some delicious watermelon juice, we made our way to the next stop via Uber, which, by the way dropped us all at the wrong location once again.  Although it did drop us next to this fabulous street food stand...which we did NOT eat at...

After about a 15 minute walk we had finally arrived at the primary school, which was great since it was now 10:00 at night!

It was a newly built school, which was quite obvious.  I was actually surprised at how clean and modern it was.  It reminded me a lot of the school buildings at the campus I worked at in Hangzhou.  The difference, though, is that the school in Hangzhou is a private school with much more freedom and funding than the public schools.

Anyway, we were fortunate enough to meet up with a teacher from the school.  He took us up to one of the higher floors to view a classroom.  Even though it was clean and new, it was still very much designed with a Chinese philosophy of education.  The classroom was small and jam packed with desks....enough for 48 students, in fact, leaving very little room for the students to move about.  What you see in the picture below is the entire classroom, minus another row of students, which are to the left of where I was standing in the photo.

At the front of the room was a raised platform where the teacher stands and lectures.

One thing that is always neat to see in Chinese schools is cleaning supplies.  Just as in Japan, the students are responsible for keeping their school clean.  Each day students are assigned a cleaning or housekeeping task to complete.  We could see the pile of cleaning supplies at the back of the room.

This was a fifth grade classroom for 48 students.  They stay in that room all day while teachers rotate in and out teaching them different subjects.  I can't imagine trying to keep 48 11 year olds focused and working hard in a classroom setting like this.  It really gave me a good insight to the minds of the Chinese teachers I have been training.  I suddenly understood their most frequent complaint: "I can't do this with my students"  it was quite clear after this experience how truly limited they are regarding space for moving around in the classroom.

We ended our tour with a stroll along the roof of the building where there was both a cool breeze and a stunning view of the city.

All and all it was a wonderful night with a fascinating look into 'real china'.

Tonight, I am mentally preparing myself for a KTV outing with our teaching assistants.  For those unsure, KTV is karaoke, but with your own personal room.  It will take me far outside my comfort zone, but isn't that what this trip is all about?

When in China......