not your usual vacation
getting out

as yet uncharted territory

AstronautMoiI have to keep reminding myself that this isn't a vacation, it's actually work, and that I'll be here for a month. I was hoping to get away and wander around on my own a bit, but then I realized that I really need to figure out what I'm going to be doing with 60 students tomorrow morning from 8:30 to 11:30. The instructors rotate through three sections of about 30 students (it would have been 4 sections of fewer students, but we lost one teacher to a broken ankle the week before we were flying over; she must be devastated), so our schedule looks a bit odd, but it's only 8 classes in total with prep ever couple of days and it looks like we get Fridays off to romp around the city with faculty, and, of course, the weekends. In the afternoons we rotate through another three hours of playing games, showing a movie, field trips and our choice of activities, which will probably be writing or speaking workshops.

I'm very used to teaching writing workshops, so it's taking me a bit of work to turn my thinking around to teaching not just about writing, but about the language itself: expanding vocabulary, working on pronunciation and enunciation, helping them understand the grammar, exploring jargon and idioms, all of these in the context of science communication. I'm usually all about the content, now I need to be all about the media.

Today was the first day of class and I think it went okay, but it's hard to be sure when you're working in another language. The visual cues are similar but even when things aren't working, students here try hard to please their professors. I've gotten some useful feedback from some students but it's usually after class. They're all so polite, and a little shy. More thinking about how to teach them the language . . . We spent a good part of the class talking about the innovations in Star Trek, what geeks are, why Star Trek is so important to American culture and how it meshes with science, and they seemed to like that. I got there from Jennifer's latest article at the Washington Post, which is a fun read too, even though I don't agree with the conclusion about science fiction that she sites.

In the afternoon, I had an interesting discussion with three of the faculty, about life in the US and the details of my life: where I lived, what pets I had, who my family are, what kind of house I had, and more interesting political discussions too, about our relationship with China and Japan and with one professor about building materials and where to find textbooks about them in English. Who knew my stint at AKRF would come in so handy?

Out to dinner with the gang to a dumpling restaurant at the HIT hotel (and how come they're not putting us up there?), where Marcy's awesome language prowess was on display. Walking through the streets was again fascinating. People seem to use their balconies here not as sun rooms but as laundry rooms or storage rooms. I guess when you're in a small space, there's no wasting any of it. Street was full of more vendors selling what looked like fabulous fruit, and a derelict Japanese guy shouting at everybody in general. It's been raining off and on all day and as we came out, one of the streets we walked down was flooded, though it hadn't rained that hard. Elliott made the observation that it was interesting to see an obviously developing economy cheek by jowl with stuff that reminds you it's still developing: like the lack of infrastructure. No one can drink the water here unless it's bottled; the storm drains smell of sewage; and the drainage itself is pretty spotty. People just wade through it. Not being able to drink the tap water is interesting, to say the least. On the floor beneath ours, you can get boiled water from a spigot, and wash in the water just fine. I've been showering and brushing my teeth with it, but rinsing my mouth with bottled water. The construction of even the new buildings is what any US developer would call shoddy: exposed hot water pipes, half of the wiring just strung along the walls, thresholds not sunken into the floor. That said, the rooms were in are perfectly nice, with AC and decent, if cheap, furniture. They're a little smaller than my NYC apartment.

Again, there's so much more I want to write, but I'm just . . . toast. Blackened, burnt, toast. Later for you.


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Very brave! Brushing teeth with Chinese water.

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