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March 11, 2004

Teaching in China and our trip to Nanjing

Hi, everyone! Norty and I are still doing fine, although we'll be very glad when spring is really here.

The weather is warming up now were in a pattern of a few increasingly warm days, then one very warm day, then a cold front with rain and much cooler temperatures, and then it starts over. But each time the very warm day is warmer than the one before. A good sign!

I am now fully engaged in teaching at the Nantong Institute of Technology. I have 6 student classes (3 freshman classes and 3 sophomore classes) and 2 classes for teachers outside the English department. Two of my student classes are what they call "key" classes. The students in these classes are those who scored very high on their entrance exams in English. These classes are great fun. The students love me, and I really enjoy teaching them because these kids are very motivated and they work hard. I have had so many students ask to transfer into these key classes that I now have a waiting list! On the other hand, I have a couple of classes that students were transferring out of as fast as they could at the beginning. These classes mostly have students in the more vocational programs, like textile design. I'm sure the kids are smart and creative, but there were a lot of them who just werent very interested in learning English. I think having the less-motivated students drop has improved the classes a great deal. The biggest problem I have is that the classes are just huge - 50-60 students each! Its really hard to get to know more than a handful of kids in each class, especially because I find Chinese names very hard to remember.

My teachers' classes are much smaller they started out with about 20 teachers in each - but there was so much variation in the teachers' English skills that it was hard to plan lessons at first. However, there are been some shakeout in those classes, too, and now Im down to 12 teachers in each class. Oddly enough, the teachers who stayed are the ones with the best AND the worst English its the ones with average skills who dropped out! This has given me the chance to use the ones with the best English to help teach the others, which is working like a charm, and a great time is being had by all!

The students in my key classes have invited me to give a lecture to the English Union (sort of an English honor society) this coming Monday night. They told me there would be about 300 students in attendance, and they want me to talk for an hour on the differences between the US and China! Im really looking forward to doing this, but its going to be a lot of work this weekend to prepare. Fortunately, they have an LCD projector, so I can show PowerPoint slides.

We're really having a great time here. I think the secret to living in such a different culture is just to relax and take things as they come.
We're doing a fair amount of traveling. Weve been to Nanjing once and to Shanghai three times. Were planning to take a cruise on the Yangtze River during the May holiday, either starting or ending in Wuhan where our friend Jonathan lives.

Our trip to Nanjing was fascinating. The weirdest thing was discovering that theres a Wal-Mart there! Aside from the fact that nearly everyone in the store was Chinese, it looked pretty much like a Wal-Mart anywhere: the same greeters at the door, the same announcements of special offers (in English and Chinese), and the same familiar, tacky ambience. But it did give us a chance to buy some Western-style bread, which we have really missed. The Chinese do like bread, but they like it really white and soft and sweet like Wonder Bread with extra sugar. Yuck! The second day we were there, we went sightseeing. We had planned to go to the memorial to the victims of the Japanese massacre, but it was pouring rain, so we went to the museum instead. The museum was terrific, with fascinating exhibits on the making of silk brocade, silk embroidery, jade carving, the history of Chinese porcelain and lacquer ware, and a whole bunch of other things. Your mouth would just drop open if you could see the unbelievably intricate woodcarving they do here! At the entrance to the museum, there is a huge (maybe 8 feet in diameter) round wooden thing that is completely covered on both sides with scenes from the life and times of some emperor or other. The human figures are about an inch high, so that should give you some idea of how much carving was involved. If you look closely, you can even see the expressions on the faces. It's really extraordinary!
We miss you all. Love, Terry

Posted by now at March 11, 2004 06:35 PM