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Movie Night

October 25, 2016 — Leave a comment

A fellow teacher at the university where I taught in China suggested to me that I show a movie to my class sometime. Hearing and seeing a movie in a foreign language they were studying would help them with some of the slang terms we use, and help them with the speed of our conversations. I liked the idea, and I took it a step further.

I told a sophomore class of English majors that we would have a movie night. I reserved one of the auditoriums on campus, and I told them that we would make it a cultural event as well, so everyone was allowed to bring one friend and all the snacks they wanted. The only rule we had was that they had to clean up after themselves.

The class I invited had 50 students, and if all of them brought a friend, the 150 seat auditorium would have ample space for everyone. Well, I was in for a big surprise, because when I arrived about 30 minutes before the assigned time to setup the movie with the projector, the room was absolutely packed!

A funny thing I noticed immediately was there was a thin man sitting beside the area where the computer was, so I could start the movie and adjust the volume in the speakers, and he must have been at least 80 years old! Apparently the word had gotten out that there was going to be a free movie shown, so it was packed. That actually made me very happy!

Movie Night in China

This is a photograph of the auditorium where I showed the movie. These are some of my students, but this wasn’t the night when I showed the movie. Maybe I should have made a second rule addressing the number of guests they could invite!

 

Where It All Started

September 15, 2016 — 1 Comment

When I was teaching at a university in China in 2003, I spent a lot of time teaching in classrooms just like the one pictured below. The room may not have been spectacular, but the students certainly were! One day, one of the female students looked sad, so I asked her if everything was OK. Her answer completely changed my life!

GPiL: Where It All Started

She told me that she was sad, because she had heard that in a rural area about an hour from campus there had been a fire in an illegal (not registered with the government) fireworks factory, and many people died from the fire because they were trapped inside. She continued with her face looking down and sobbing slightly, “Now there are many children without a mother and a father.” Without knowing any of the facts, I tried to comfort her.

Later that day, some of the foreign teachers had a meeting, and we were very fortunate to have the former Director of the Foreign Language Department (a Chinese lady) with us. I started asking questions about the fire, and she confirmed what the student had told me. She knew there were at least 20 children that lost both parents in the fire, so our small group of foreign teachers agreed that we must help those children! This horrific event occurred in a rural area — there wasn’t an orphanage to accept the children, so the children were taken in by distant family members and local villagers.

Our group of foreign teachers, with the help from the former Director of the Foreign Language Department, pledged to pay the school fees for all of the children through high school graduation, regardless of their current grade level.

When I returned to the States after teaching at the university, I started Global Partners in Life! I am happy to report that all but one of the students, which ended up being over 20 children, graduated from high school! One boy, two months from graduating, ran away from home and we never heard anything else about him. We are still proud of the other students who overcame such a horrible event in their lives and remained focused enough to complete their high school education.

We felt thankful to be in a position to assist some truly needy children, and that is what Global Partners in Life continues to do!  Would you like to help us by investing in the work we are doing in China?

The Chinese are very financially responsible as a rule, so I think that is what is at the foundation of my story for today. It is VERY common to view laundry hanging out to dry in China. For a country with all of the wealth that China has, you would expect to see many clothes dryers, but that isn’t the case.

Iimage002n the picture to the left, you can see where someone tied a cord between two trees by a street and used that as their clothes line. I wouldn’t recommend using this approach, because that bus going past it may spray exhaust all over the nice clean clothes!

On the college campus where I taught, it was very common to see the student’s clothes hanging outside their dorm windows to dry. As you can see from the photo, there is even a clothes hanging rack outside the dorm window.image004

In most apartments there is an enclosed balcony with clothes hanging lines in it. That is what I had at my apartment at the university, and in some of the other places I lived I had a folding clothes rack.

I salute the Chinese for not wanting to have large utility bills, and opting to air out their laundry!

As someone who considers himself a fisherman, I often enjoyed the views I had from the area around the campus where I was teaching.  There was a dirt road that ran along the east side of the campus, and the building where I lived was right beside the dirt road.  My apartment was high enough to look out and have a fantastic view of the best sights in the city.

On the other side of the dirt road was a river.  It wasn’t a large river or a deep river, but the fishermen must have had good luck fishing there, because they spent so much time there.  In fact, they set up fish camps and lived out of them.

These fish camps came in various shapes and sizes, and I found them very interesting.  Some looked like enhanced tents, some were just huts, and others appeared to be larger and have a more stable structure.  Here are some of the fish camps I saw frequently while living in China:
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As you can see, one camp had an area like a fisherman’s squatters neighborhood.  The people living here were also gardeners, as you can tell from the previous picture.  The large and old bulldozer in the photo never moved.  I imagine it helped grade the dirt road and just died there.

These homes may not have had all of the modern conveniences we enjoy, but they did have an amazing location.  They were right on the river, so their views were wonderful every day, and they had the peace and quiet of being away from center of the city!  I can easily understand why they chose to live in their fish camp beside the river!

After transitioning into my new environment, schedule, and culture, I fell in love with my position as a new college teacher in China. Before teaching at a university in China, I was in IT management. The daily commute to my company was not exactly an easy drive. I lived outside Atlanta, Georgia, on the southwest side. My office was on the northeast side of Atlanta. I would get up at 4:45 each work day and drive to work to beat the traffic. Sometimes, coming home, the drive was 2 hours, depending on the traffic. I worked for a wonderful company, with fantastic people, but some days this was challenging.

Once I became settled into my routine at the university, I discovered a new pace of life… and I liked it! My apartment was on campus, so I could walk to my classes. There were cafeterias on campus. I purchased a meal card, so I didn’t have to cook or do dishes. Also, I could easily walk to a grocery store outside the campus gate, and there were always food vendors outside the gate selling a delicious variety of inexpensive food. The campus also had an infirmary, so medical attention was a short walk away, should I ever have need of it.

The students kept things simple just like I did. When they did their laundry, they would just open the window and hang their clothes out to dry. They didn’t have a clothes washer in their rooms, but I had one in my apartment. I had a clothes drying rack and a clothes line on an enclosed balcony. I didn’t have to put mine outside like the students did, so my clothes drying may have been a little more convenient.

Here is a picture of one of the dorms on campus. Looks like it must have been clothes washing day! I must give the students credit, because I never saw them wearing dirty clothes, although I am sure some of the boys were tempted!

015a_SimplerTimes

 

For a semester I taught at the Jing Mei Business School in Beijing.  This was a wonderful school.  I made many friends and we have stayed in touch over the years.  It was humbling for me to teach there because my students were all smarter than me.  We had attorneys, graphic designers, research market analysts, publishers, IT leaders, and business people.  So, not only were the students intelligent, but the building’s concept was a great idea to me.

Let’s say the building was 35 floors high; I am just guessing since I don’t remember!  The building was established with a plan where the floors alternated business and residential.  The philosophy was that when one floor was leaving to go to work, the other floor would be coming to work.  This concept would maximize the building’s limited parking.

There was a nice area around the building where trees were planted and open areas where people would walk their dogs.  Also, there was a nice walking path that had stones which extended upward from the sidewalk.  The stones were there to massage your feet, which is important in that culture.  It was very peaceful in the park outside the building and there was playground equipment for children.  There was an international element to the building, as we made friends with an Egyptian family living there.  They didn’t take any classes, but would just come and hang out with us.  This made me think the design of the combination of residential and business was a great idea!

JingMeisBuilding001

Green Thumbs

 

In my recent post, Heaven on Earth, I mentioned how the gardeners on the university campus where I had the honor of teaching didn’t have many modern tools or vehicles to carry their tools. I was very impressed with how well these workers kept the grounds looking, and knowing the resources they used made it even more impressive. Regrettably, I didn’t speak Chinese well enough to tell these workers how impressed I was with their work, nevertheless I will show you some of the fruit of their labor.

 

Roses in China_BeauSides

 

The Director of Foreign Affairs at the university was a wonderful man; however, one thing in particular made my trips to his office so enjoyable: An area behind his office had beautiful roses and a long hedge going the length of the next building.

 

One day, I was surprised to see a man with manual hedge clippers trimming the row of hedges. I couldn’t imagine how long it would take him, but he was doing a great job with the tool he had.

 

Trimming hedges_Beau Sides_Lessons from China

 

The gardeners did have a lawn mower, which they used to cut to cut grass in large open areas. But on more than one occasion, I saw people using hedge clippers to cut smaller sections of grass. Even though the hand-clipped areas of grass were smaller, I couldn’t imagine how long it would take to complete that task.

 

One project that was reported to be completed on time and under budget for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing was the planting of trees. One million trees were planted! I have noticed that when many trees are planted in China, they are kept in a very straight line.

 

Beautiful trees in a row_BeauSides

To learn more, check out my book Lessons From China

 

Beau!

 

To learn more, check out my book Lessons from China: A Westerner’s Cultural Education!

One of the best ways, I have found, to meet new people in China is to go to an English Corner. An English Corner is where indigenous people gather to practice speaking English. It’s a bonus for someone trying to improve their English skills to have a native English speaker join them at an English Corner.

Talking at English Corner

Some English Corners are very casual. The university in China where I taught had a designated spot on campus and time to meet. I was amazed by how many students attended. Some weren’t English majors, but they still wanted to have conversations in English. Anything and everything was discussed in this setting. Now, I must brag on my friends there, because they would come out in any weather. I have literally stood in snow and on ice with my toes numb, and the students kept wanting to speak in English.

In another casual setting―in a different city in China where I lived― many people would gather at a coffee shop on Friday and Saturday nights to practice their English. We would have quite a range of ages and backgrounds at these gatherings. Oftentimes, a middle school girl would come, a large group of college students, some young professionals, and a retired guy that was a global current events guru. We were quite a group! We enjoyed each other’s company, and we’d miss someone if they weren’t there.

On the other end of the spectrum, some English Corners are more formal or structured. When I taught at a business school in Beijing, a designated subject or magazine would be discussed. At the end of the meeting, a new assignment was given so that everyone would know what to be prepared to speak about at the next gathering.

I am very fortunate to have met so many wonderful people during my time at English Corners, and with many of whom I am still friends.

Beau

Learn more by reading my book Lessons from China: A Westerner’s Cultural Education.