Thursday, June 24, 2010

Party Time

by Ruth
This last week, in addition to finishing up our final exams, we have been giving parties for our classes. Well, actually I am only doing parties for the students I particularly like, the sophomores I have been teaching for the past two years. We have become quite attached to each other and they love me immensely. :) Although one of them did cheer when I mentioned they wouldn't have any more Oral English class...

Chinese parties are a little different from American parties. Here, the core of the party is a series of performances which everyone sits around and watches. I told my students to plan performances, bring food, and decorate, and so far they have taken their parties very seriously.

The other night was my second party which was the most enthusiastic of them all. When I arrived, students were rushing around excitedly blowing up balloons, pushing desks out of the way, slicing watermelon, and turning up the already blaring music. Some students had come early to decorate. The board was covered with pictures and colorful writing. Balloons were hung from the walls and ceiling and even the fans were decked with streamers.

In the corner, the group of students in charge of snacks started to chop up three large watermelons. They moved around the desks scattering piles of sunflower seeds, salty dried peas, some kind of semi-popped corn, and candy.

More and more students appeared, some of them wearing fancy dresses and makeup. Most students (and Chinese people in general) hardly ever wear makeup, and when they do it's full-on stage makeup. As the students piled in, the room grew louder and louder. They excitedly greeted one another like they hadn't just spent all day in class with each other. Every few minutes a balloon would explode, accompanied by shrieks of surprise. The music, which I had the students turn down for fear of disrupting the entire campus, had somehow returned to it's normal blaring volume. After all, what is a party without lots and lots of noise?

The MC/host (another necessity for any real party) finally called the students to attention. Lara hosts the school radio program each week, so she has her “host” voice down pat. “Ladies and gentlemen, my dear classmates, let us be quiet. Be a little silent now.” She began our party by calling on students to express thanks to me. They all basically said the same thing, but it was sweet. After this the performances began.

They were mostly typical performances: one student sang “Yesterday Once More” and another “Take me to Your Heart.” Some others danced to “My Heart Will Go On.” Several groups did role plays (one followed by a Q&A session where they quizzed the students on the events of role play). Two small, sweet girls got up and demonstrated some kind of kickboxing.

During the songs, the students waved their arms around in the air, snapped pictures with their mobile phones, and took turn running up to bring balloons and candy to the performer (another important part of any performance). If someone made a mistake or forgot the words, they cheered even louder than when they actually sang well.

Throughout, the entire room cracked their way through piles of sunflower seeds. They are really adept at sunflower seeds. In about 3 seconds they've got it cracked, extracted the seed, discarded the shell, and are going for another one. It's a skill that seems to be as inbred as breathing or squatting or operating a mobile phone.

There were several games. The most important part of any Chinese game is the punishment at the end – typically, giving a performance. Prizes for the winners seem rare, but punishment for the losers is a must. At one point, when Lara decided the students weren't paying enough attention, she threatened that anyone not listening closely would have to give a performance. Usually, when called on to give a performance, students will pretend to resist for half a minute, then they will jump up and say, “Well, I have prepared a song for you...”

The night wore on and Lara had announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, now for our last performance...” about five times already. Finally it really was the last performance – me. I had decided I would sing a song for the students because I knew it would make them so happy, and they would probably find a way to rope me into it anyway. I don't think I would ever sing by myself in front of a group of people in America, but China is sometimes like another dimension of reality altogether. Besides, it doesn't seem to matter if you are actually talented. I sang “I Hope You Dance” (they really eat up cheesiness) and the students were appropriately thrilled and promptly pulled out their phones to record me. I'm sure I am now all over the internet. So long as I (or anyone I know outside of China) never have to see it...

And then the party was over, except the long line of students waiting to take a picture with me. We really are like celebrities. At the end of the year, students usually get all sentimental and tell you how much they love you and how much they'll miss you and how beautiful you are and what a lovely baby you will have and stuff. I, in turn, am filled with warm, pleasant thoughts and forget how annoyed I was with them in class just last week. Then everyone goes off to live their happy everyday. Not a bad way to end things.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My 5-Part McDonalds Adventure

(The picture is unrelated... though I do look more pregnant after a trip to McDonalds...just thought you might like to see what I'm looking like these days.  )

by Ruth
I had only been to McDonalds once this semester (the only western food in Weinan other than KFC, which I just don't like). It tastes good, but I always feel kind of gross afterwards, and it certainly did not mix well with morning sickness. But lately I had been craving a good milkshake (good in this case meaning “the only one around”). I also had quizzes to grade and thought it might be a nice diversion to mix up the environment (with air-conditioning being a big plus).  You could say it was a five-part adventure.

1. Free Cup
It turned out to be totally worth it because not only did the milkshake live up to my expectations, we got a free Coca-cola/World Cup glass with our meal! For some reason, I found this very exciting. It's not that I care about the World Cup or really need another glass, but it's a nice glass. In that old Coca-cola/soda fountain shape. Real glass. And they just gave it to us! Way better than a Happy Meal toy.

2. Foreigners
While at McDonalds, we saw a couple of the other foreigners who teach at a different school in Weinan. We seem to run into each other just about every time I've been at McD's, so that wasn't unexpected. What I didn't expect to see was two separate, never-before-seen foreign men. I stared hard at both but of course didn't talk to them because that would have been awkward. (I did try to not obviously stare at them, at least while they were looking. But when I first saw them, I did stare for a minute because it took my brain a while to process, “Something is strange about this, what could it be?...they look a bit different...OH! It's a foreigner! What in the world?). It really is strange to see random foreigners wondering around in Weinan. I know it's not one of the dozen that lives here, so what could they be doing here? It's not really a place you just drop by for no reason.

3. Students
So that was the first interesting experience. We also saw three of our students. We don't usually see students there because it's so expensive. One of them came over to talk with us and we marveled together at the strange foreigners, appraised their appearance, and speculated as to what they were doing. Sometimes it's just nice to be the one doing the staring. To be the one that belongs here and gaze suspiciously at the outsider. You can forget that to everyone else, you are and will always be just as much of an outsider. The other people in the restaurant were probably having a great day. Seven foreigners, very Westerners looking foreigners, in one day. How often does that happen?

4. Rabbits
Some kids settled into a table next to us, bringing with them little baby rabbits! I mean, sure they were jumping around on the table and that can't be totally sanitary, but they were really cute. So little. I tried not to think about how long they would/wouldn't live. After a while the rabbits got relegated to the floor, cornered behind a skateboard, and food replaced them on the table. The kids did considerately bring in some grass to spread on the floor, just in case the rabbits were hungry too. Foreigners, was all very distracting. McDonalds is such a happening place.

5. Quizzes
I tried to concentrate on the Chinglish quizzes I was grading. Sometimes I would get distracted by the quizzes and the funny answers students would put. The quiz contained a variety of “Chinglish” phrases (weird/incorrect things students often say) we had gone over in class, and they had to write the correct phrase. Most of them were either correct or were same-old boring Chinglish, but a few came up with some interesting ways to change the sentences.

One phrase they had to correct was, “I'm just making a kidding,” which should have been changed to “I'm just joking,” or “I'm just kidding” or something.
Several students changed it to, “I'm just for fun!” and one wrote, “I'm just making a kid.” Not quite the same...