The Color Run: Shenzhen, China

The color run

The Color Run Shenzhen, China

I made a goal to run at least one 5k a year. When I was in the USA this summer, the weekends kept arriving so quickly that I never took the chance to schedule a fun run. When I heard “The Happiest 5k on the Planet” was coming to Shenzhen, I signed up. It is not easy to get Bean to run with me. It’s not easy getting anyone to run with me! The Color Run was a great opportunity to run with others and have a great time.

I make the mistake of expecting events to be the way I remember them from the West. In my mind, if it has the same name it will be the same. I am learning that nothing is the same, not even a race. In the USA, we have lots of hype. Before arriving to the event location, there are signs, people in athletic gear or costumes, music and lots of free stuff!

When we arrived, things were so quiet we were sure The Color Run must have been cancelled. The directions I was given were on the opposite side from where we saw a group of people with Color Run gear headed. We followed them and walked for ages. Even as we got closer to the location there was no music, no crazy costumes. There were no signs. We walked until we saw the finish line. Finally, we arrived.

The color run shenzhen

Ready, Set, Run!

At the actual location of the event, there was more action going on. People changing into their race t-shirts, taking pictures, lining up. I began to get as excited as Bean. We were bursting with enthusiasm!! We got our registration packets and we were ready to run!!

People of Color at the Color Run, Shenzhen

We brought Color to The Color Run in Shenzhen, China

Along the race route, there weren’t people standing on the sidelines cheering us on. There were no markers telling us where to run. Laborers continued their construction projects. Families played in the parks. Vendors sold clothes and school supplies. We still had a blast! It is the happiest run after all.

Between kilometers, there were stations were we dove into color. Pink, purple, blue, yellow, green and foam. We ran through them all! We were covered head to toe in a rainbow of colors. As we ran along, other runners showered us in color. There were so many, I feel they wanted to say they had a chance to throw color at the foreigners.

The Color Run Shenzhen china november

Bean’s favorite part of The Color Run in Shenzhen, China

Bean loved the color stations. It was an excellent incentive for her to keep moving until the end. She left covered in blue from head to toe; in her mouth too. She got her wish to have blue and purple hair, at least for a few hours.

the color run shenzhen china

Dreamers are Winners!

The Color Run in Shenzhen, China was a great experience for us all! I am glad that I didn’t participate in a fun run when I was in The States. I would have missed this amazing opportunity. Now, how do I clean my shoes?

The Color Run shenzhen China

Where are my black shoes?

25 Things to do in the Middle of Nowhere

Shenzhen, China

Hiking in remote areas of Shenzhen, China

Bean and I have been in the middle of nowhere many times since leaving Chicago. We have never owned a television, so the adjustment for us is different than for most people. Arriving in China, I here of foreign teachers struggling with homesickness and boredom. For the times when internet access isn’t available, when there are no other foreigners around and the pubs are in another city, here is a list of activities to try. Bean and I haven’t done them all, but we have done many.

1. Learn to cook the local food- There is always someone who wants to share how to make their special dish. If you ask a few questions and are willing to learn, you can always be busy.

2. Take a walk- One of my favorite activities. I like to follow a path or street I haven’t taken. Even the most direct route has a detour somewhere along it. I am always discovering something new.

3. Go for a run- I enjoy going for a run every morning. I go to the local park, but anywhere is good. Unless I am lucky enough to have a running partner, I am the only foreigner present. It has been a great opportunity to meet people and start having a conversation.

4. Go for a hike- Just like with walking, most paths can be turned into a hike. If not, hiking trails abound in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes the scenery at the end of a long hike is awe inspiring.

5. Learn the language- It is always easy to find someone who wants to share their language. We have had random strangers walk up to us and volunteer to teach us Chinese. Whether it is difficult or not to learn the language, we are trying!

6. Learn a new language- If we already know the language, we can always start learning another language. It is like the man I read about who learned Spanish while living in Japan.

7. Play a board game- Board games from home may not be easy to find at the store, however, there are many native board games on the shelves. A quiet night with nothing to do is a great opportunity to learn how to play these games.

8. Learn to dance- I have discovered a great way to break out of my comfort zone and learn something new. It’s dancing. Even if the location is remote, someone should know how to do dance. Staying in a small community in France, I mentioned my interest in dancing to my host. She told me the couple downstairs loved to ballroom dance. Meeting them I found out about dancing in the area.

9. Learn to do woodworking- I have never taken up woodworking. Thinking about being stuck on a farm, I remembered there were lots of trees. I could have taught myself if I was bored enough. I suppose I could have learned basketweaving too.

10. Milk a cow- Milking cows has changed in our modern times. Not many people use a bucket to catch the milk. Following behind a few farmers, I have attached the milking apparatus to the cows at milking time.

11. Grow a garden- In small communities, people are always willing to share seeds and tools needed for gardening. They are also willing to let you work alongside as they work in their garden. If there is no one who likes to get their hands dirty, growing things, there is always a pot I can place on my windowsill. I can have my own indoor garden.

12. Learn to paint- I have read somewhere about people using natural colors of leaves, dirt and rocks to make paint. The idea is fascinating, especially if there isn’t an art supply store nearby. I don’t currently have the time to try anything like this out, but if I did, I might become the next big thing!!

13. Read a book- As much as I love the library, there isn’t always one around. I have my library’s app on my phone and I am able to read as many books as for which I have the time and interest. Reading is great for those early hours of the morning when I can’t sleep.

14. Write a book- Having no internet connection is a great way to focus creative energy on writing about being in a remote location with nothing to do!

15. Learn to bake bread- Bread requires very few ingredients, most of which can be found in practically any store worldwide. The smell of baking bread is so comforting. Having extra time, proper attention can be paid to adequately kneading the bread, letting it rise, punching it down and starting all over. The finished product is often well worth the wait.

16. Discover local history- Regardless of language barries, there is always someone who wants to share the local history. It is possible to communicate with our hands and gestures, making learning history something to laugh about (depending on the subject matter, of course).

17. Interview locals- Goes along with learning about the history. It would help to have a translator or a basic knowledge of the language.

Shenzhen Bay, China

Shenzhen Bay

18. Attend local events- Regardless of the size of the community, there is always something going on. One place we visited with less than a thousand families, there was a circus that came to town, a community center with nightly activities and the local epicerie. If I didn’t want to go out at night to the community center, I could always go to the epicerie and catch some gossip.

19. Learn to draw- I heard that drawing is just putting what you see on paper. Well, what I see never turns up on the paper. I could spend hours drawing something as simple as an apple and not have it turn out looking like what I see. Learning to draw is certainly an option when stuck in a remote location.

20. Repair or Build something- Being out in the woods, farm or far suburbs, there is always something that needs to be repaired. I am not very handy with tools, but given the opportunity, I can try. Whatever I make may be leaning to the side a little, but I tried.

21. Sew/ knit/ crochet- Whenever I think about being in the countryside, I always think about Little House on the Prairie books. They would sit by the fire at night and sew or crochet. I have been in foreign homes very similar to Little House in the Big Woods. I had my sewing kit with me, pulling it out at night to repair a hole. My very own Little House Experience.

22. Recycle or upcycle- The projects are endless for recycling and upcycling.

23. Teach something- Share knowledge. We all have something to share with other people. While I am here in China to teach English, I am knowledgeable about many things. Just as the people can teach me, I can also teach them.

24. Meditate- I have learned that there are times when I am supposed to be still and quiet. If I am in a quiet place with nothing to do, that is a good time for me to go with it…relax. It can not hurt me. In fact, it is useful when learning how to accept a situation that I can not immediately change. Meditating, focusing on the present moment and accepting are all states of being I will always have room for improvement.

25. Be a detective- Enjoy the adventure. Find something to do! If we seek, we will surely find.

My list was thought up on the spur of the moment, based on my travel and experiences. Your life is different than mine. I would love to know what you do when you are in a place with nothing to do!

The Mall and Minimalism: China Edition

HaiYa Mega Mall

HaiYa Mega Mall in Shenzhen China

I never expected to write or talk so much about malls. When identifying with any group of people, there is group behavior. When we embrace the group, our behavior tends to mimic theirs. This can happen whether we are trying to be an individual among many or not. This has been what has happened to me as I identify as a minimalist.

Minimalism is about embracing events, people and our social interactions more than accumulating material possessions. Even before I was a minimalist, I lived a budget conscious life where I bought what I needed and only used the money that I designated for each household account. It was very helpful when it came to saving money.

I have always looked at the obvious purpose of the malls, which is to promote spending. I stayed away from them because I didn’t want to spend money unnecessarily and I hated seeing people shopping for relaxation or because they are not creative enough to find some other activity. It bothered me to see people buying things they do not want to impress people they do not know or even like. I hated malls.

Since leaving the USA,and especially since arriving here in China, my attitude towards malls are changing. I can recall many times in the last few months when the mall was a blessing to me as a single mother.

When Bean had her birthday and we were in Morocco, it was so hot. We spent the day at the zoo and had dinner with a friend. But in order to do something special for a kid who has no brothers or sisters or friends, in a foreign country, I had to do something I would not normally do. I took her to the mall!

The mall had a great big indoor game center for kids, much like ChuckECheese in the US. It also had a wider variety of food than tagine and couscous. Bean was able to play, get balloons, eat ice cream and a hot dog. It made her day.

Haiya Mega Mall candy store

Stores overflowing with candy at HaiYa Mega Mall

Another time, we were spending a few days close to the Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. I didn’t want to get up on the day of our flight and make the long trip to the airport. We had already been traveling to get to Paris and I wanted to rest a couple of days before we flew out again. Travel can be tiring. We checked into our budget hotel and went to look for something to eat. There was nothing anywhere we could see except factories and business parks. However, there was an airport shuttle that made stops in the area.

We decided to take the airport shuttle and to our amazement, we found a mall. The mall had everything our lodging did not, a children’s play area, a gym, a cinema, many restaurants, a supermarket to buy meals if we wanted to eat in our rooms, and more. It was a relief. Bean could be amused. I could get a break and it was all in one spot close to the inexpensive hotel.

Arriving in China and looking for familiar brands, the sheer amount of malls has been alarming. However, since we don’t need the malls to buy unneccessary stuff, we use them to find the things we do need. They are great in so many unexpected ways.

First, most malls have a western style supermarket. They may be more expensive than the chinese store, but when we are looking for familiar brands that we trust, I will pay a little more. Every western style store is similar, but some carry more things than others. One store, that will probably become my favorite, offers vitamins and nutritional supplements. I was so excited. Many foreigners order things online, but I have never liked doing that. I am glad to see things that I want in the store!! They also had brownie, cookie and cornbread mix! I would have bought them if I had a stove.

When I don’t want to eat an inexpensive meal covered in oil and red pepper from one of the neighborhood restaurants, we can find a wider variety of food at the mall. We have eaten at several curry restaurants and enjoyed them. The hotpot restaurants, where you can eat a specially made soup sitting at a table with your friends and family, was a great experience for us. Each one has a different specialty. One chops open a large green coconut and pours it into the pot, another one may roast the crawfish standing at the table before you. It keeps you curious.

KK Mall Shenzhen China

More than 30 restaurants in this area of KK Mall

At the malls in China, it is easier to find activities for children. In fact, it is common. One mall has a HUGE rock climbing wall. Another one has a trampoline play space. Yet another mall may have the cinema, the arcades and more. It is very hot in this area of China, so it is nice to escape indoors to play.

While malls may still have their downsides, I am finding it easier to find the good things about them the longer I am here and the more that I frequent them. I do not believe I will ever change my habits and take up shopping as a hobby. That is not my temperment. I will take the good, and leave the rest. Just like a good minimalist.

Sports Day at Shenzhen Baocheng Primary School

Sports Day 2017

Sports Day at our Chinese School!

Since arriving in China, I have been impressed with the amount of physical activity that I see everywhere. I have always heard how the students do nothing but study all day. Soemtimes when I see my students, I think they do nothing but run around yelling all day. They have so many opportunities to get physical exercise. From seven o’clock in the morning until seven o’clock at night, the students are out on our sports courts playing basketball, running and marching. I would think that is enough, but they also spend a lot of time chasing and wrestling each other in between classes as well.

Being the only foreign teacher at my school and a mom, I was not asked to participate in any of the preparations for the 24th Sports Day here at this primary school. For two weeks, the preparations have been in full force. The students are practicing dances, twirling and singing in preparation for the opening ceremonies.

I could not understand the importance of a sports day for the entire school. To my Western mind, a whole day for the entire student body to participate in sports is inconceivable, let alone three days. I asked around until I received a better understanding as to why have a sports day. The answer: Tradition. The Chinese schools have Sports Day because that is what has always been done and because it is what you do.

One adminstrator with whom I spoke said that the final exam for high school students now contain a physical education portion. The students must pass this portion of the test. Because it is basically the simpliest part, worth 120 points, students try to keep active when studying. Physical education classes are at least three times a week for all students in primary and secondary schools.

Sports Day Parade

Sports Day Parade

When Sports Day finally arrived, I was pleased to stand on the sidelines, take pictures and watch the festivities. Every class, with the exception of Grade 1, performed a small 30 second routine and participated in the parade. That means 36 classes marching around the school in full makeup and costume. They performed for each other and for their parents. It was beautiful.

Sports Day 2017

So many elaborate costumes for the Sports Day Parade

Not being fluent in Chinese, I did not enroll Bean in any activities. I wasn’t sure if it was mandatory or if I needed to be there. I knew nothing. Thankfully, she has a kind headteacher who signed her up to participate in some sports events. Bean has never been in a competition before, so she isn’t as competitive as some of the other children. She did have fun though.

hula hoop

Extreme Hula!

Sports Day teacher

Bean and her teacher on Sports Day

I am a very strong advocate for physical activity for everyone. I wonder how many children would become interested in living a more active life if it were accepted as a part of the daily routine; especially if they could have a Sports Day! What do you think?

Shenzhen Food: A Photo Story

food republic

My favorite type of restaurant where you can see the finished product before ordering.

Everyone takes pictures of their food these days. When you are surrounded by familiar food, this habit can quickly become annoying to others. For those of us here in China, it is a way of communication and celebration. It is how we find our way around the city. A good meal is unforgettable and marks a place on the map we must visit again…even if it means an hour train ride in either direction.

Welcome to the celebration of a few of our favorite meals!

Food Republic

Fried Buns at Food Republic

Many restaurants one republic

Food Republic: a collection of many restaurants under one roof.

Kid's meal coco curry

Bean LOVES her kid’s meal from Coco Curry!

tequila coyote's

I dreamed about this super nacho from Tequila Coyote’s. Ole!!

Eating Abroad Part 2

Tomato fruit salad

An abundance of fruit salad with a twist: tomatoes!

I had no plans to talk repeatedly about food. I thought that I was made of stronger stuff. I have listened to others speak of their struggles finding food for their diet. Others acknowledge that they are picky eaters and don’t like anything. Finally there are the people who will eat everything. I thought I could try and be more like them. If you read the previous post on food, you can see that I have a long way to go to become something other than I am.

I fully expected to have recovered from a momentary difficulty in adjusting. Maybe that will happen in a few weeks. Right now, I am in a full blown revolt against Chinese food. I have lost my appetite for many of the foods that I normally turn to when I lose my appetite. I don’t want plain oatmeal, cashews, peanuts. I don’t want white rice, steamed vegetables or duck. I don’t want chicken, fish or tofu. I am tired of baos, clear soup and cantine food.

California sushi roll

I made a California style Sushi Roll!

Bean doesn’t know this. I am doing my best to model good behavior. At lunch, I dutifully eat what is on my tray. I encourage her to put food in her mouth and chew. She doesn’t realize that we have eated at the western restaurant with the good pasta and sandwiches four times in the last two weeks. For Bean, we are spending time with our new friends. For me, it is survival.

sushi roll

All of the ingredients were already assembled. I just followed instructions!

This is a passing phase. I went to one extreme thinking I could eat everything just like I have lived here all my life. Now, I trying not to go to the other extreme and spend hundreds of dollars on processed Western foods. Give me time and I will find the right balance for Bean and I.

The final product!

The final product!

Until I do, I will keep trying new things!

Eating Abroad-My Food Experience in China

Fish in China

Eating the whole fish in Shenzhen, China

Chinese food has been a surprise to me. I expected differences, but sometimes eating while abroad is hard. I can imagine what it is like for foreigners who come to America looking for a plate full of home only being disappointed repeatedly.

The funny thing about food is that you can find what you want, but you may need to look far and wide. It is helpful to know other foreigners because it saves you time going from store to store looking for things that you may want. As I stated before, I find great comfort in knowing that I have bread and butter at my house. I can go into a restaurant and point to something on the menu and if it isn’t what I was expecting, I can go home and have some toast. As I am not following a strict diet, vegetarian/raw food/ vegan, etc. I figured it would be simpler to find food that meets our tastes. It has and it hasn’t been simple.

We eat a lot of meals that are rice and vegetables and sometimes chicken/fish/duck. But the difference is that it doesn’t have the familiar taste. For instance, I may eat eggplant. But it doesn’t taste like eggplant that I would cook. It has different spices. Or carrots and celery. It tastes like carrots and celery, but often it is with another type of meat, giving it a different flavor.

The other day, we went to eat at a western style chinese food restaurant. The girls with us mentioned something I had felt. “i just want chinese take out food that I am familiar with, sweet and sour chicken, orange chicken, lo mein.” I totally knew what she was feeling. Thankfully a few days later someone shared a local spot where the noodles and rice tasted like we were home. Bean said, “Let’s go there all the time when we want fried rice.” I agreed.

fried rice shenzhen

Fried Rice. Delicious!

There are places that really try to make good western food. I have been to several and am so happy when I get the menu, only to end up sorely disappointed. Spending so much time in Texas this summer, I crave the food. I want a good taco, a big plate of nachos or a really good burrito. I haven’t found it yet. One day, I sit eating a fish taco. That is, a taco shell filled with tuna fish and mayonnaise. I wonder if I should tell the chef and proprietor how to make a real fish taco. And then I don’t. Maybe this is the type of fish taco that Chinese people like. And what about my plate of chips and salsa? Why did they make a tomato salsa with sweet pickles? Maybe that was local taste too. I felt like crying, but instead I went next door to the gourmet grocery store and bought some pigs in the blanket and some good French butter.

I don’t have much to complain about. Really. So many things are just ALMOST right. There are many things that are perfectly done, but I am not one to eat at McDonald’s, Burger King and Pizza Hut. I think about all the foreigners who have gone west for school. No wonder they spend so much time in their rooms studying. If they go out, they will feel complete and total homesickness. Imagine eating three meals a day and not finding one that is familiar to what you have known all of your life. That is hard.

The people of this area eat soup with every meal. It is usually a broth like, clear soup. In all the Chinese restaurants that I have been too, I can not remember a soup like this. Egg drop or Wonton soup maybe. They must be miserable in the west.

Food ties us to home in ways we don’t expect. Even if I don’t miss much about the USA, there are comfort foods that I do miss. In that way, I am tied forever to the place where I was born.

Teacher’s Day 2017 in Shenzhen, China

Teacher's Day Shenzhen China

Teacher’s Day at Shenzhen Bao’an Primary School

Let me tell you the nicest thing so far that has happened while teaching at my school. Walking into the school, greeting the parents and students at the gate, looking up and seeing a group of children singing a welcome song. Wow. “What is going on?” I asked. There were many teacher’s milling around, walking up to a billboard that was not there the day before. Pictures, pictures, pictures. Everyone was taking pictures. “Come Teacher,” another teacher called. I walked over and was invited to join the group of picture takers. “Today is teacher’s day!” Imagine my surprise. School has not been in session very long. We are already being celebrated as teachers. This is amazing and totally unheard of in the places I have visited.

I took pictures just like everyone else; with the rest of the teachers, with the students who were singing, by the billboard and of the school. A celebration of teachers! China gives me many opportunities to feel special, kinda like a celebrity. Most of the time, I enjoy the moment. All of the teachers received a beautiful flowers. We were also given a lovely potted plant to take home and some of the children handed out flowers to teachers as well. I was thankful that even though I have not been teaching at the school for very long, I was not left out.

After a mini program for teachers day out on the exercise ground, we continued on with the day. However, the festivities were not over. All of the teachers, and their families, were invited to go to a restaurant across town to eat a special meal of roasted pigeon. Most of the teachers at my school joined in and we all packed into two tour buses. Riding in a bus surrounded by teachers in a festive mood, I feel proud to call myself a teacher.

Arriving at the restaurant, I pity the teachers sit at the table with us. How hard will it will be for them to overcome their shyness and try to speak to two newcomers with their basic English? Instead of being shy, they speak anyway and told us the names of things in Chinese. We promptly began to butcher the language. One teacher shared that she enjoyed listening to Selena Gomez. I happened to have a song on my phone and we talked about that for a while.

A parent and the headmaster stood and made a toast to the school, the teachers and the day. We joined in. I was waiting for someone to break out and start karaoke, but it did not happen. We began our meal. If you have ever had a family style meal, it was very similar. The food kept coming and coming. We started out with soup and then had a variety of vegetables with rice and fried fish, followed up by the much awaited pigeon. Bean was willing to try most of the dishes. In China, often fish, chicken and duck are served with their head on, Bean will not eat it. For the end of the meal, we were served a special bread of the region. I was too full to want to carry left overs home, but many people were thrilled to fill a bag. I like being in a country were doggy bags are acceptable!

Waiting for the bus to take us back to the school, many teachers and their families decided to take a walk through the countryside. We joined them and walked with a teacher acts as my assistant. How likely is it to have an assistant who speaks english and who is herself a single mother? Not very, but it happened for me! We learned a little more about the area and made a date to get together with our children.

Before getting on the buses, a private company gave us cases of date milk. I was sceptical of taking home a large case of milk. What if I didn’t like it and Bean would not drink it? No sense in take something and wasting it. We tried one and loved it. That milk was gone within a few days.

Teachers Day turned out to be a pleasant surprise and an experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. If more countries celebrated teachers the way that China does, maybe more young people would find it a job worth having! Bean says she is going to be a teacher when she grows up. I tell her, “That is an excellent choice.”

Education: East versus West

china school cafeteria

At the school cafeteria!

I have only been in China a short time,so I can not claim to know all of the differences in education between the East and West. I have been speaking with different native teachers from the area schools and in our conversations, I have found that maybe there is more to this subject than I originally thought.

There are a few similarities, such as
Teaching to the Test-
One of the first things we remarked on was how the teachers are teaching to the test. In the United States, teachers often get bent out of shape over the amount of time they must spend adapting their lessons to the latest standardized test. In China, I am not sure how often they change the tests,but the teachers all deliver information in a style that will guarantee the children will learn the information and pass the tests. You must pass a test to get into a good middle school, a test to get into a good high school and to go to college. Each test gets harder, so the amount of work the students must do is increasingly more difficult. Teaching to the test is a common practice, indeed it is the only thing to do.

Parental involvement- Parents pushing children their children to do well in school, enrolling them in after school activities, camps and additional learning centers. This phenomenon is not something that exists only in the United States. It is very prevalent in Asian countries. I have always felt sorry for poor sleep deprived children who must go back and forth from one activity to the next. It is the same worldwide I suppose.

School Uniforms– I love uniforms for school. It reminds me of my elementary school days. In China, every student wears a uniform. Many workers wear uniforms too. In my opinion, it just makes life easier. I know everyone does not agree with me. However, I am thankful that as Bean and I get up in the morning and go through our routine, I do not need to tell her what she can and can not wear to school. It makes my life so much more peaceful and we get out of the house on time!

The many differences begin from here.
Modes of Education
In China, there is only one way, maybe two of educating children. You send them to the Chinese public school, or if you are rich, you send them to the international private school. You follow the program of learning for the school and you are thankful that you were able to get your child a seat in school. The population is steadily growing and the need for schools is outpacing the availability. I asked about home school and everyone that I have mentioned it to has been flabbergasted. “That’s illegal. Why would anyone do that? How can the child re-enter the system?” It apparently does not happen. I asked about drop outs, what would they do in order to finish their schooling? Apparently, that is unheard of also. Children are required to go to school until they are 15, or high school age. High school is not compulsory. So until then, the children MUST go to school. That’s it.

Student conduct-
Imagine my surprise to see the students left alone in the classroom to do as they please and running wild in between classes. They hit each other, wrestle, kick, yell, scream and run. It is amazing. I look around for an adult, a teacher, anyone to get them in order, but there is no one. This is the normal behavior of students in between classes. In fact, the teachers seem to disappear,showing up right on time for class. Initially I was shocked. I told my contact teacher, “If our students were doing this, everyone of them would be in the principal’s office.” But maybe this way is better? We tell our students walk, don’t run, no hitting and no violence. We have a violent and aggressive society. Here, the people are not aggressive. The children are allowed to run wild, but expected to reel it in when the time is right. It seems to work.

Exercise, Exercise, Exercise- Every day, when it is not raining, the entire school comes out onto the playground/courtyard for morning exercises. The entire school body will march to their respective locations and do a series of exercises to get the day started. When they are done, they will orderly back to their classroom. I could not imagine an entire American school being able to have such order and precision every single day. It amazes me. Twice a day, the students will perform eye exercises after their lessons. They will also go outside for gym class. Many american schools are discontinuing their physical education programs, but these children participate in exercise all throughout their day. You also are not allowed to sit on the sidelines if you feel that gym is not your thing.Everyone participates…everyone.

Rote learning- There are pros and cons to every learning methodology,but rote learning seems to work very well. In Bean’s classes, she is ahead on some of the things she does, like math or reading. Even though she is ahead,it is not that she does the work really well on her level. She is not really interested in learning as I would like her to be. Rote learning works really well because she can know the facts and then one day, the light can come on and she will fall in love with all of the additional information. Rote learning helps the teachers teach the facts that the students need to know without adding too much fluff. In the United States, as a teacher, we share information for things that we love. Sometimes this is not information that a student needs in their future. It may be fun,it may be cool but it is not vital. We spend a lot of time making learning fun and as a country, our students are falling further and further behind. As a minimalist, I like cutting out the fluff and sticking only to the basics. The students can fill in the rest as they desire.

Respect for Teachers- Children will not talk back to the teacher or use violence on a teacher. I have heard of many teachers in western countries that are afraid to go to their schools every day. I have no fear. I know that I will not have trouble with a student disrespecting me EVER. I can go into class, expect to have my students listen to me and deliver my lesson. If I have any trouble with any student, all I need to do is say something to the head teacher and they will put the fear of God into that student. The problem is solved for good. I like it.

There are many more differences than I expected. Some that I haven’t even noticed or haven’t written here, but I will speak more about it in the future. Of course, as with everything and everyone, people are not content with what they have. Many Chinese with money are sending their children abroad to study and to learn in other countries. Will this be better for their children in the long run? I really don’t know. It is all a matter of debate and opinion. My educational background is different than many other foreign teachers, yet, we are all here in China. Many Chinese share the same background and education, and yet, they end up in the same places I visit. It is all about choices and life paths. We may not all take the same path, but at some point, we all end up in the same place.

Have you ever taught abroad? What were some of the differences you noticed in education? I would be interested in knowing your thoughts.

Teaching English in China

teaching english in shenzhen, china

Teaching English in Shenzhen, China

“Teacher, Why you black?” This was the first question that I was asked on my first day as an English Teacher in China. I have been teaching China for a few weeks and I am thrilled. I am back in the environment that I enjoy so much. American parents and teachers get all bent out of shape over class size. Here, the average class size is 50! I can hardly believe that I am teaching 600 students!

Growing up, adults always asked if I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I always said no. That was not exciting! I loved school. I loved the smell of the halls, sitting in class, the activities, the kids running around, discussions and learning. In time, I discovered I am a teacher.

There is so much to love and I am constantly challenged. I was not expecting to have an assistant to help teach my classes. In every class, there is another teacher, acting as an assistant, who translates what I am saying to the children. I stand there telling the students what to do and the assistant is saying something else in Chinese. Depending on which class I am teaching and who is helping me, she may continue talking for a while after I have finished speaking. I know she isn’t saying everything that I have said. Sometimes, I stand there for a few minutes waiting until she stops talking. If she is telling them they better be good and listen to me, I certainly don’t want to interrupt!!

I feel very blessed to have my job. As a westerner, I am treated with respect by the staff and the students. I do not speak the language yet, but even so, it is not something that is treated with derision. I have not had anyone refuse to help me because I can not speak Chinese. In fact, they will go out of their way to find someone who can be of assistance. I am given liberty in what I do in the classroom, as long as I get the kids speaking English.
As a westerner, I am paid as much as a teacher who has been on the job for 15 years or more. For me, that is humbling. I know that if these teachers were to come to America and teach the same subjects in our schools, they would not be rewarded with higher salaries. It makes me want to do a good job designing and delivering a good lesson.

The main challenge that I face as a teacher is my expectations versus the school’s. The parents and the children just want to say a few words in English. That is progress. I really want to get the students talking and having conversations. For me that is progress. I am a language learner myself, so I know that it is possible to speak well in a short amount of time. However, the difference is the school setting versus being in an independent setting. Somehow, we will reach a compromise and find the right road together.

While there are some similarities between western and eastern schools, there is a lot of differences. Next week, I will discuss them. Right now, I better go plan a lesson!