Monday, April 28, 2008

Music Class

In China, I often hear the same music played to the point of exhaustion. I know the words to many of the Chinese songs and to make matters worse, the English songs are almost exclusively horrible boy band pop or cheesy love ballads. Backstreet Boys, N'Sync, and a hundred other similar-sounding groups are extremely popular. So, last week in class I decided to teach the students a little bit about other genres, including country, rap, rock, oldies, and 80's music. I read a short passage about each type of music and then played several examples:

Country: Chattahoochie (Alan Jackson), Song of the South (Alabama), It's Your Love (Tim McGraw and Faith Hill)

Rap: Get Low (Lil John and the East Side Boys), Dirt Off Your Shoulder (Jay-Z)

80's: It's Raining Men (The Weather Girls), Video Killed the Radio Star (Buggles)

Oldies: Blue Moon (Dean Martin), The Twist (Chubby Checker)

Rock: I Can't Get No Satisfaction (Rolling Stones), We Will Rock You (Queen)

The most popular songs were It's Your Love, Video Killed the Radio Star, It's Raining Men, and -surprisingly- Get Low, which had almost every student dancing in her seat! I just hope they didn't listen too closely to the lyrics...

I gave them some download suggestions at the end of class; my sweet little students may be spending the May Day holiday listening to Timbaland, Jay-Z & 50 Cent!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Best Bar in Zhanjiang

I am looking forward to Zhuhai next year, but in the meantime I've sure been having a great time here in Zhanjiang. For one thing, we started having parties on the roof at the Normal College. Let me explain...

The opening of the rooftop bar represents the end of a 6-month quest for a decent Zhanjiang bar. Our original criteria for "decent" were simple: somewhere with good music and mixed drinks. Consider the typical bar scene in Zhanjiang:

Chinese techno music is pounding so loud you can't hear someone yelling right into your ear. Within seconds of walking into a bar we are surrounded by Chinese eagerly toasting us with "baijiu," a foul Chinese grain alcohol. There are no mixed drinks available, only baijiu or beer. Of course, our new friends must share our table and shout at us in broken English... WHERE ARE YOU FROM? DO YOU LIKE CHINESE FOOD? YOU ARE VERY TALL. YOU ARE VERY BEAUTIFUL. etc, etc. After the bar closes, we wander around in vain looking for somewhere to go after hours. We finally admit defeat and stumble home.

REPEAT: each weekend.

ENTER: excellent idea.

The Normal College foreign teachers' apartments are all together in one building, and the top is graced by a level, spacious roof accessible through a trap door on the fifth floor. A few weeks ago, we bought a ladder and hauled it up there. Gradually, Jamie, Lindsay, Scott and I have stocked the roof with various amusing articles until it reached its current status as the best bar in town. Jamie rigged up some bamboo poles and decorated them with Christmas lights. We brought up beach mats, speakers, chairs, and pretty much enough liquor for a full bar. Just in case sitting around listening to music and chatting gets boring (which it hasn't so far), we also have Super Soakers, a dart board, a kite, and a toy bowling set. It's pretty much really awesome to sit outside on a nice spring evening, listen to relaxing music, and sip a margarita/ tequila sunrise/ whatever.

I'll be up there tomorrow night... and probably most other weekends I'm in town!

ZHUHAI Here I Come!

Wow, it's been two weeks since my last entry! A lot has happened since then... for one thing, I've accepted an offer to teach with Maryknoll another year! In September I'll be moving to Zhuhai, right across the border from Macau. Scott and I visited the school last weekend and as soon as I set foot on campus, I knew that was where I belonged.

Sun Yat-sen University in Zhuhai is a branch of the larger Guangzhou campus. It's located about 20 minutes north of the city center, but unlike my present school it is still amazingly convenient. Campus has several canteens, tennis courts, a gym, a swimming pool, track, and a driving range. Not to mention, it's surrounded by beautiful mountains full of fabulous hiking trails. The library has an entire floor devoted to English resources, and top students have the opportunity to participate in exchange programs to study in English-speaking countries. Every classroom has computers, and freshmen are required to bring a laptop. The difference between the Zhanjiang Finance and Trade School and Sun Yat-Sen University is comparable to that between a public high school and Harvard. The college is one of the top 10 universities in China, so the students will be excellent and very studious. Needless to say, I'm so excited about teaching these students and getting to know the school!

Kevin Clancy (the Maryknoll program coordinator) and his Chinese wife Kai Shan both live in Zhuhai. Kai Shan teaches at the school, and will act as our foreign affairs liaison with the school. This is amazing, since Kai Shan and I are already friends. She speaks fluent English- curses, even!- and spent two years in England working on her Master's degree. Through Kai Shan, it will be much easier to get to know the school's Chinese English teachers than it has been this year. I'll look forward to spending time with Kevin and Kai Shan next year.

Another huge bonus- and one of the reasons I accepted the position- is that I can enroll in the school's Chinese as a Foreign Language program and attend regular Chinese classes for free. I'm just now getting serious about studying Chinese this semester, and next year I hope to make some serious progress.

Zhuhai itself is wonderful, with an abundance of Western restaurants, import stores, and other foreigners. We even found a couple of wine bars and visited the beautiful Zhuhai bar street last weekend. The city center is constructed along the South China Sea, so most places have an excellent view. Macau is right across the border, and Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and other major cities are just an hour ride away.

I originally went to visit the Zhuhai school on a whim, more of an absolute last choice back-up run. However, I was blown away by the school as well as the city; both far exceeded my expectations! I'm counting down the days until I begin my new job and am thrilled to have such an exciting opportunity to look forward to in the next year. :)

*More proof that this school is legit: they have a website in (mostly)CORRECT English! Check it out at

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hainan Island

*Picture: the famous Hainan beach outfits

Last weekend, Scott, Jamie, Lindsay and I rode the night train down to Sanya, Hainan Island, which is connected to the rest of China by a bridge. Zhanjiang is right at the southern tip of mainland China, about as close as you can get to this beautiful tropical island. We arrived early Thursday morning, and bummed around on the beach in our train clothes for about four hours before we could check in to our hostel.

The hostel was great; if you've ever staying in Sanya I'd highly recommend it. ( Located just five minutes from Dadonghai Beach, this place hosts lots of interesting travelers, has a friendly staff, and offers clean rooms with private bathroom for just $18 per night!

Anyway, the four of us had a wonderful time lounging on the beach, swimming, and exploring the island... all without attracting more than passing interest from Chinese tourists. Someone may have snapped a photo from time to time, but mostly I was too absorbed in enjoying the sun to notice. Because there are so many foreign tourists in Sanya, the locals don't pay much attention; we even played pick-up beach volleyball with a group of Chinese guys, which was a lot of fun even though the Chinese were exponentially better players than all of us!

One of the best parts of being in Sanya was observing the Chinese tourists at the beach, which is not their natural habitat. Large tour groups of grown men and women wear matching Hawaiian- pattern shirts and Bermuda shorts. Although some people do buy sandals to wear with their tropical attire, many choose to leave on black leather shoes and black socks to complete the bizarre look. One man I saw hop into the water in charcoal dress pants.

The Chinese descend upon the beach, put their feet in the water for the obligatory "peace sign" photo, and then scurry back to the shade to avoid getting any sun (dark skin= peasant). Many Chinese are weak swimmers, but that didn't stop them from testing out the famous Hainan ocean water- with the help of an innertube, of course. It was amusing to watch the mass of bright yellow rafts bobbing around within the roped-in swimming area. I even saw one middle-aged man wearing arm floaties! Excellent people watching, I must say.

Sanya has many excellent Western restaurants, so the four of us had our fill of cheese, Mexican food, pizza, mixed drinks, potato skins, and other "delicacies" hard to come by in Zhanjiang. We met other vacationers from Russia, Scotland, England, Canada and Sweden and all enjoyed hanging out and playing foosball & darts together.

After four days of sleeping in and not doing much else but eating and relaxing on the beach, I returned to Zhanjiang refreshed and ready to tackle another week. Not that this was too difficult, because I'm leaving town again this afternoon to visit Kevin Clancy in Zhuhai! Zhuhai is located right across the border from Macau, about 5 1/2 hours' bus ride east from Zhanjiang. Maryknoll wants to place teachers at a university there next year, so Scott and I are going to take a look and see what we think. Another weekend adventure, coming up!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Zhanjiang Finance and Trade School: "Don't Go Here!"

Last week in class, I did a lesson on ad slogans and commercials. I started out with some popular ad campaigns from the US, such as "Diamonds are Forever," "Good to the Last Drop," and "Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hand," and had the students guess what type of company they represented. Then they each made a practice slogan for our school: I found out what they really thought of this place when everyone came up with something along the lines of "Don't Go Here!" and "It Is a Waste of Time." Oh well!

Next, I had each group choose from a bag of random items I brought from my apartment (a can of baked beans, nail polish, UNO cards, a CD, vitamins, etc) and make up a commercial and slogan for the product. They got really creative with it, and some of the slogans were very clever. Here are a few of the best ones:

"It's My Savior!" (A Chinese-English dictionary)
"Taste It, Taste the World." (Trident gum)
"Keep the Doctor Away!" (Zinc supplement)
"A Good Book is a Good Fortune." (Principles of Economics book)
"Little Nurse" (Band-Aid)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Fool's & Tomb-Sweeping Day

10...9...8...7...6...5...4...3...2...1... HAPPY APRIL FOOL'S DAY!

The English department here at our school is under the impression that April Fool's Day is a huge holiday in the US. The misunderstanding has been quite cute, actually. Right at the stroke of midnight, I received a HAPPY APRIL FOOL'S DAY! text from a student, followed by several more throughout the day wanting to know how I celebrate April Fool's Day in America. Tonight, English corner is an April Fool's Day-themed party. I'll be interested to see what activities they've come up with for that one; even I drew a blank at the organizers' requests for game ideas!

Anyway, tomorrow I've got one class in the morning and a dinner meeting with visiting representatives from the Hong Kong Maryknoll High School. After that, I'm done until Monday! This weekend is a long one in honor of Qing Ming (Tomb-Sweeping Day) on Friday. Students will return home to visit their ancestors' graves, where the entire extended family will tend to the tombs, leave food for the dead, and burn paper money for good luck.

Not having any ancestors buried in the greater Zhanjiang area, I'll be spending Qing Ming at the beach. Tomorrow evening after our meeting, Scott and I will join Jamie and Lindsay on the night train to Sanya, a city at the southern tip of Hainan Island. We're set to arrive in Sanya at 5:30 Thursday morning, and will stay in a hostel on the beach for three nights!

I've heard that Hainan is not quite "The Hawaii of China" that zhongguoren claim it is. All the same, the island is supposed to be clean, beautiful, and relaxing; I'm really looking forward to it! I'll be sure to post pictures when I get back to Zhanjiang on Sunday night.