It is now May 31 and we have completed three weeks of teaching.  We have been busy, so will do an overall description of our classes and give more details about our weekend activities.

 

Tuesday, May 11

Tyler’s first class was at 2:30.  It was a bit disappointing.  I had the feeling that about 75% of the students just weren’t getting it.  Their English is not good enough to follow me.  I was teaching in the style that I usually do at DigiPen, projecting pages of lecture notes written in a Word or Acrobat format.  The audio-video equipment is good, though the microphone is not that great.  I had my lap-top computer plugged into the projector.  This class is “Computer Graphics” for 242 juniors majoring in Computer Science.

After this class, Tyler scrambled to put together a bilingual Power Point presentation for the next class.  We have software that translates form English to Chinese, though it does not do it well.

 

Fran’s first class was at 7:30 PM.  Her adrenal glands were functioning VERY well and a large flock of butterflies was residing in her stomach as she walked over to the Environmental Science building with the laptop computer and her lecture notes.  However, her Toastmasters experience kicked in and she was able to get those butterflies to “fly in formation.”  Tyler provided emotional and logistical support by running the computer projector and Dr. Wang introduced both of us (in Chinese) to applause by the students.  The first lecture went well.  Afterwards, one student sent Fran a heartwarming email message welcoming her to Northwest University and saying “I am glad that you are my teacher.”

 

The adrenaline and butterflies continued throughout the first week, but in smaller quantities.  Thanks to some quick instruction by Tyler, Fran is also preparing bilingual Power Point slides for her lectures.

 

Wednesday, May 12.

The other class that Tyler is teaching is “Machine Vision” for 79 juniors majoring in the Software Institute.  This class meets on Northwest University’s new campus, which is 3 miles from the main campus where we live.  Gao Yuan and Tyler biked over there.  Tyler had a better feel for this class.  It is smaller, the students are attentive and seem to understand English better.  The connection to the lap-top computer did not work.  Instead, Tyler used his memory stick on a Chinese language computer in the classroom.  That worked well enough that Tyler has stopped taking the laptop computer to class.  He can stumble around reasonably well in the Chinese language Windows interface.

 

Subsequent days

 

(Fran) I am pleased that half of the students in my class are women.  The same is true for Tyler’s classes.  Perhaps Chinese girls do not receive the same negative messages about their math and science abilities that some American girls unfortunately still do.

 

Most of my students are attentive and seem to be following my English (a few are chatty and I need to stop occasionallly and ask them to wait until after class to talk with their friends).  I speak very slowly, explain all technical terms, and repeat the main points from each lecture at the following lecture.  There is a core group of students who sit in the front of the room and have positive, reinforcing body language (e.g., nodding while I am speaking).  I tell many environmental stories from my work experience to illustrate the concepts that I am teaching.  The students seem to like these examples and are especially interested in hearing about environmental problems and controversial issues in the U.S.  

 

I have encouraged the students to ask questions during class, during the break between lectures, and after class.  A couple of students have asked questions during class, but most do not.  I think this is a reflection of differences in American and Chinese culture.  Chinese students are concerned about “losing face” in front of the group.  I believe that there is also a concern that it is selfish to “waste” group time with an individual question.  I tried to explain that asking a question is good for the group because other people likely have the same question.  This approach did not bridge the cultural gap.  However, several students ask me individual questions during the break and after every class; other students hang out to listen to the answers.  I really enjoy these discussion sessions.  The technical questions show that the students are doing the assigned reading and are listening to the lectures.  Some questions are about environmental issues and life in the U.S.  It is fun to answer those too!  One day, a student asked if he could take a photo of me with his camera.  I said “yes” and six other students got into the photo.  Then each of those six students posed with me for a photo of their own.

 

I gave a 10 question, multiple choice quiz at the beginning of my second week of teaching to find out if the students were understanding my English.  Most students received a grade of 70% or 80% on this quiz, so I am generally pleased with the results.  However, during the quiz, I had to ask students to stop talking several times and to reiterate that everyone had to do their own work.  I caught two students copying answers from each other, confiscated and ripped their papers in half, and wrote a “0” in red at the top of each paper.  This (unplanned) dramatic action got the attention of the cheaters and their classmates.  The cheaters apologized profusely and pleaded with me to give them another chance.  I told them that I would think about it and tell them my decision at the next class (I wanted to compare their papers first).  I was not surprised to find that their anwers, including their wrong answers were identical.  Maureen and Toni (the other American Visiting Professors) suggested that I tell the students I would give them another chance, i.e., a new quiz.  I thought that was a good idea.  I seated the two students on opposite sides of the classroom.   One received a grade of 80% and the other received a grade of 60% (compared to 70% for each on the first quiz).  These two students have been very attentive in class since then!

 

Tyler gave a quiz to each of his classes.  The format was 15-minutes, 10 multiple choice questions in English.  His big class averaged only 59%.  His smaller class averaged 46%.  The quizzes were meant to be easy, so there is a real problem with students’ ability to understand English.

In the third week, Tyler was assigned teaching assistants.  Gao Yuan is grading and translating power point slides for the Machine Vision class.  Zhang Xingping and Meng Shibin are translating slides and grading for the computer graphics class.

 

Weekend  May 14-16

On Friday at 5:30 a Tai Chi class started up for people in Computer Science.  We participated, following the instructor’s motions but not his Chinese.  We mostly did preparatory exercises and breathing.  So far, it does not seem very much like the Tai Chi Tyler had studied at home.

Gao Yuan is in Beijing from this weekend to next, taking a database class given by IBM.  Thus we have been on our own for looking around the city.  She had recommended a massage place, Bai CaoTang 百草堂and we checked it out on Saturday afternoon.  We had initially planned to just get foot massages, but we wound up with the whole works.  We were there for two and a half hours and spent 110 RMB (about $13.75 each).

The massage was an interesting cultural experience.  It is a large place, claiming to be able to do 300 massages at once.  Several hostesses in long dresses greeted us in the lobby.  We checked our shoes and were given paper slippers to put on.  We went upstairs and  were ushered into a room with two beds, given shorts and tee shirts to change into, and given tea and cookies.  Two massage practitioners entered the room; a man massaged Fran and a woman massaged Tyler.  The massage started with a heavenly foot bath; while we were soaking our feet, our masseur/masseuse massaged our heads.  Then they massaged our feet, legs, arms and hands, and backs.  The technique was mostly shiatsu (pressure point work) rather than the Swedish style massage that we received at home, accompanied by some pounding (which stimulates the circulation).  The massage ended with the application of hot stones in a bean bag; the heat felt wonderful.  We left Bai CaoTang feeling relaxed, re-energized, centered, and looking forward to returning!

 

Afterwards we looked in a fancy department within the walls of the Old City and were impressed by the luxury items.  We bought corn flakes, cheese, bread.  We had dinner in the Fortune and Prosperity restaurant, which was a Muslim style stew with lamb and soup over torn-up bread.

After that we tried checking out a disco.  The English part of the neon on Club 520 said “disco” and “KTV”.  We went in.  Tyler set off the metal detector security system at the entrance, but no one cared.  They showed us to a private room with a couple of couches, a karaoke TV system and two or three hostesses in long silk dresses.  We were looking for dancing, so we left.  The next place we tried really was a disco.  We had drinks and danced, then left a bit before midnight.  The disco was packed with mostly young Chinese couples and groups of friends.  There were two go-go dancers (a man and a woman) on the table at the bar.  This scene did not exist in China in 1984.

 

When we left the disco, we were unpleasantly surprised to find that our bikes were gone!  We had left them in the bike park next to McDonald’s.  The whole bike park had folded up for the night, with no trace of any bikes.  The people in McDonald’s told us that the bikes were locked in a shed and we could reclaim them the next day.  We took a cab back to Northwest University.  Taxis are really cheap; we paid approximately 80 cents for the three mile trip.

 

On Sunday we came back to the center of town and the bike park was once again where it had been, with our bikes.  We took a tour of the Drum Tower and Bell Tower which were constructed in the 1370s.  A medical student practicing his English served as a free guide.  Later in the day, we biked over to the West Gate of the Old City and took our bikes up to the top of the city wall.  The wall top is wide as a good-sized street with stone pavement.  There is almost no one there.  It was an unusual chance to bike in China with no traffic, while getting an interesting view.  We stopped by the Arrow Tower above the gate and got an interesting look at silk carpets.  This is the start of the silk road, which stretches thousands of miles west from here to the Caspian Sea.  Chinese silks found their way to the Roman Empire.

 

Weekend  May 22-23

We had planned to take the train to Luoyang and stay overnight.  Luoyang is another ancient capital of China.  The capital went back and forth between Luoyang and Xi’an depending on how safe the borders were.  Today, Luoyang has almost no trace of its ancient glory, but the nearby Buddhist carvings at the Longmen caves are a major attraction.

 

Chen Qi, a Computer Science graduate student who is a friend of Gao Yuan, went with Tyler Tuesday morning to buy train tickets.  She thought that we could buy them at a nearby travel agent, but they only sold one-way tickets.  We took a bus to the train station.  After asking around, she found the window; there was only one that sold round-trip tickets, and it was closed for a break.  We waited 15 minutes until it opened.  Then we found out that it only sold tickets within three days of travel.  We needed to go to another building 400 meters away.  We went that way and bought tickets, but could only get one-way.  It turned out that the office we wanted was a little farther on. 

 

In the afternoon, Chen Qi told Tyler about a trip that the Computer Science Department was doing over the weekend to Jiaoazuo.  There was supposed to be some good scenery nearby.  Tyler looked on the web and found that there is a mountain and river excursion near the town.  None of this is mentioned anywhere in our 1280 page small print guide book.  The excursion is free for teachers in Computer Science.  It sounded interesting, so we signed up.  Chen Qi was kind enough to go back to the railway station the next day to get a refund on the train tickets.

 

The trip was originally supposed to leave at 6:00 Saturday morning and return at 8:00 Sunday evening.  We were then told of a change of plans: leave at 6:00 PM on Friday and bring lots of warm clothes.  We brought our bags to the Computer Science building and thought that we could catch part of the 5:00 Tai Chi class.  It seems that the class was cancelled due to the trip.  We were told that there would not be a dinner stop, so Tyler went to the little store on campus and the refrigerator in our apartment to get some munchies.

 

We had a nice tour bus and were all given white caps with the name of the tour company.  We were on the bus until after midnight and were impressed by the Chinese motorway system.  There is a network of 4-lane toll turnpikes, complete with highway rest areas.  Most of our fellow passengers were graduate students and they were more boisterous than we would have expected.  There were some lively card games.  When we finally stopped for the night, we were assigned hotel rooms, two people per room and told to be up for breakfast at 7:00.  It turned out that we spent the first night in Luoyang.

 

The next day the bus was moving by 8:00 AM and we reached a nature park at about 11:00.  To get there, the bus left the main road and snaked up a gorge in the mountains.  We could see a canal below us, a bit above the dry riverbed.  We got off the bus and walked a bit until we reached the river crossing.  This was the Qing Tian青天(sky blue) river. There were some steel cables slung across the river, with the far end lower than the near end.  Some people from our party strapped themselves into slings and crossed the river in what looked almost like bungee jumping.  I thought that we were all going to cross Indiana Jones style, but there was also an option of walking.  We followed most of our group down to the water.  The dry riverbed that we had seen before was downstream of a dam.  Here we were upstream in a pretty green canyon.  There were tour boats here.  It looked like they were going to ferry us across the river to the place of the cable crossing.  Instead, we went on a 20 minute cruise through the gorge.  At the other end, there were paved hiking trails.  We were told to be back at the boats by 1:15 and followed the guide to see the sights.

 

When we finished with the river excursion we got back on the bus and rode for about an hour to the town of Jiaozuo for a late lunch, finishing about 4:00.  We then got back on the bus for more driving to a red rock canyon.  It was very pretty, walking along a paved path above a swift and deep stream.  It reminded us a little of Zion National Park in Utah or the Samaria gorge in Crete, but with more people.  It was a loop trip.  We wound up at a dam above the stream and walked from there back to the bus at about nightfall.  The bus took us a short distance to a mountain hamlet where we had a mediocre dinner.  Then the bus took us back to Jiaozuo where we checked into a hotel at 10:30.

Breakfast the next day was at 6:30 with a 7:00 departure.  We drove back up the mountain and beyond the dam where we had finished the walk yesterday evening.  When we reached the destination, there were hundreds of tour buses parked.  We were at Yun Tai Shan 云台山(shan = mountain) National Park.  A guide told us that the park gets 10,000 visitors a day, and that looks about right.  The paved trails are mobbed, with each tour group having their own hat color and a color coded flag carried by their guide.  These trails made Green Lake or Mt. Si on a sunny summer weekend day look isolated!  We did not see any other non-Chinese tourists all weekend.  The hike was a 5 km loop on one-way paths, along a cascading stream up to the end of a canyon.  There were towering peaks overhead.  Very pretty, but also very crowded.  After finishing that hike, we had a bit of time to do another, which was a bit less crowded.  The second hike went to the highest waterfall in China (314 meters).  We didn’t quite have time to get there, but were told that it is dry now.  The wet season is summer and fall.

 

We had lunch at the same restaurant that had not impressed us last night, then a long bus ride back to Xi’an, arriving at about 10:00 PM.  It was interesting to be part of a Chinese tour group and to discover one of China’s national parks.  We were surprised that no foreigners and so many Chinese visit the park.  The government listed this as one of the top 10 scenic attractions.  We were also impressed that the whole trip was free, courtesy of the computer science department. The crowds got to be a bit much, especially the last day.  We spent at least 20 hours riding the bus.

Although we are not tour group people and the schedule was too regimented for our tastes, this was a great opportunity to see a beautiful part of China that would have been difficult to access on our own.

 

Weekend  May 29-30

This weekend we got to play host for one of our friends from Seattle.  Judy Young was visiting a friend in Korea for a week, so she came out here afterwards.  She was supposed to have a non-stop flight from Seoul to Xi’an, but that was cancelled, so she had to change in Beijing.  Her flight was due in at 6:00 PM Friday.  We were planning to take a bus to the airport to meet her. Gao Yuan gave us some help with bus directions, but was concerned that we did not have time after Fran finished teaching her class at 4:30.  It turned out that the Computer Science Department provided us with a car and driver to the airport!  The car showed up at 4:15.  After Fran’s class finished, Tyler, Fran, Gao Yuan and the driver went to the airport.  We wound up being an hour early, but met Judy and took her back to the University.  She checked in to the same hotel where we are living, paying $7 per night.  We went out for a nice dinner in the neighborhood.

 

On Saturday, we took a local bus out to the terracotta army and spent about three hours looking at it.  We had lunch out there, then came back to town.  Judy’s birthday is coming up, so Fran treated her to a massage.  We went back to Cai Bai Tang and got a room for three.  The massages were at least as good as before.  This time we skipped the pedicure, but still had two hours each, with lots of attention to feet.  The last time they had given us discount coupons for a return visit, so the total bill for the three of us was $26.  Afterwards, we headed for the dumpling restaurant, but it had closed at 9:00.  We had a light dinner next door at the Prosperity and Fortune restaurant.

 

On Sunday, we went to the Bell and Drum towers, catching short traditional music shows in each.  We went to the dumpling restaurant for lunch.  This time we went upstairs and had a different experience than when we had eaten with our Chinese student friends.  The upstairs is more elegant and we had a low end dumpling banquet.  The dumplings were more elegant, with a wider assortment and chicken and duck dumplings shaped like the birds.

 

We next visited Century Ginwa (the fancy department store).  China obviously has a middle class that can afford to shop there and can also afford weekend trips (as evidenced by the crowds at the national park the preceding weekend).  Then we visited the Stone Forest Museum, a vast collection of stone tables dating back 2200 years and including some original Confucian scrolls.  This area of the Old City was very pleasant, with traditional Chinese architecture and many colorful street stalls.  We continued the early celebration of Judy’s birthday with a delicious dinner at a restaurant near the Bell Tower, strolled through the Muslim section of the Old City, and returned to Northwest University.  There were many Chinese people out and about at all of these places.

 

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