Rote-Learning

Day 103 (6th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

I woke up this morning after a night out in the city centre with some of the Ukrainians. The bar there is called ‘Fusion’, and it’s the closest thing which Xuzhou has to a reputable venue. It’s owned by my colleague at the English school. He has his first child on the way with his Chinese wife, and I’m using ‘supporting his family’ as my excuse for going out more often.

The night was great fun, especially since there was a group of Chinese people at the bar who I was able to switch back and forth in conversation with. Before long the groups had merged and I became the translator which is a unique experience for me. The conversation was quite elementary, so I’m sure that I got most of it correct.

Before leaving to head home, I launched my bid to the owner to have international TV installed by next Saturday in time for Australia vs England in the rugby. Being a Brit himself I thought he’d be more enthusiastic about it, but apparently it isn’t too economical. It’ll have to wait until Xuzhou has a bigger expat population, I guess. Looks like I’ll be streaming the game online.

I was able to sleep in and wake up just before my afternoon class, which was a luxury.

After the class, I discovered that Morrissey will be playing in Istanbul when of the days when I’m there in August. I can’t believe my luck. It’s always been a dream of mine to see an artist I love offshore, let alone the frontman of The Smiths. Hopefully the ticket doesn’t burn a hole in my pocket. And I won’t scalp it this time.

Without Mum living at the same place as me I’ve found myself paying unusually high amounts just to get single buttons resewed onto my shirts. Simple skills like that which I’ve neglected learning start to poke their rude head when you’re on your own. On my way to one of the sewing shops which does this for me, I was surprised to pass a flock of a few dozen goat outside my dorm.

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The evening was spent tutoring. This week I am tutoring for sixteen hours compared to my six hours of scheduled class. It’s going to be a busy week in terms of work, but I need it to be to pay off all of the holidays I’ve been booking!

Day 104 (7th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

Today was a full day of class with three hours of tutoring in the evening, and so there wasn’t much room to do anything outside of the ordinary.

During one of my conversations, I found out one of the underlying reasons as to why there is such a high number of Ukrainians in China. For those who aren’t aware, the political and security situation in Ukraine remains volatile due to conflict with Russia. In the Eastern regions of Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimea, many areas are still controlled by armed separatist groups. Even after declared ceasefires, there continues to be conflict over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and in the region surrounding the MH17 crash site. As a result, Ukraine requires compulsory military service for those leaving school. This can be avoided by being accepted into certain university courses, including in China. Many of the Ukrainians at my university arrived not knowing a word of Chinese simply as a means to  evade the danger of serving in the military at home. It’s quite surreal to think that some of the people I socialise with could have been on the front lines fighting these bloody battles.

In the evening I went for a stroll off campus to find some more interesting food. I ended up eating a plastic bag full of chicken skewers.

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On the way back, I passed the construction site just outside the Eastern gate. It was roaring with life – the majority of construction in China occurs during the middle of the night. No wonder buildings pop up so quickly. I noticed on the billboards surrounding the site the names of the brands which would one day set up branches in the new shopping centre.

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I looked at the names in shock. Never would I have thought that an H&M or a Calvin Klein Jeans would belong in Xuzhou. It’s a testament to the rapid globalisation of this city, just like the other third tier cities around the country. I would love to revisit this town in years to come and witness its progression to the global stage. I feel like it is the one place I’ve been to in which I’ve genuinely immersed in its fabric at a time before it has been fully developed. I envy those who talk about seeing China in the 1980s or 1990s at a time when it was so strikingly different. Xuzhou, though, still retains elements of that period of China’s history. It will be extraordinary to see those things progress with time.

Day 105 (8th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

This morning I woke up after a rough sleep with a painful ear infection. This is especially bad news when it occurs in a city with no Western hospitals. I quickly messaged Taff and decided that I’d give a doctor’s visit a shot, and if it didn’t work out then it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Before long, we were on a taxi to the “People’s Hospital”. I don’t think they do GP checkups the same way we do – I felt like I was about to enter the intensive care unit.

The first question I was asked upon arrival was “do you want the good doctor or the bad doctor?”

“What?” I replied, confused.

“Good doctor costs 24RMB,” I was told.

I turned to Taff unable to understand what was going on. Was it a VIP ward where I could skip the queue?

“It’s the fee you pay if you want a doctor who’s qualified,” he said.

I promptly paid my dues.

I was marched to a doctor’s room where I sat alongside a woman who was having something surgically removed from her back with a scalpel. The scene wasn’t covered up at all. I could see straight into the flesh of her back. I sat there scarred for life as I had my ear looked at.

Before long, I was handed some medication and the appointment was finished.

At least I’m experiencing every facet of life here.

In the evening I decided to help my ear infection by doing the only thing which made sense – going to the bar. It’s a public holiday tomorrow, so I thought that I ought to take the opportunity to celebrate while I can. I’m beginning to enjoy the city centre of Xuzhou more and more. Although it lacks the character of cities elsewhere in China, it has some streets for a good meal and drink.

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I was recommended a Korean take-away joint where I could buy some rice cake and chicken. Sure enough, it was one of the best meals I’ve had in Xuzhou.

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While at the bar a Chinese group arrived who were celebrating a birthday. This is always quite a scene because it is tradition for all of the men to take their shirts off before any drinks have been consumed, and then to banter extremely loudly. The volume was only increased by the construction nearby which continued throughout the night. Workers were even hauling big planks of wood off a nearby balcony. They didn’t even cordon off the area beneath, which was pretty dangerous.

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Day 106 (9th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

Last night didn’t wind up too well at all. I had enjoyed my dinner and was ready to go home when I shared a taxi with a Ukrainian girl back to the university. Her mental state slowly descended into chaos. As the final hours of the day wound away and the sun began to rise the next morning, I was still consoling her and her endless mental demons. I genuinely felt very sorry for her – I could see the pain she was in.

After hyperventilating over one particularly traumatising memory, she went through what I can only describe as a psychotic fit. Eventually, I found other people to help me in caring for her, but it didn’t make for a very restful night.

The good news is that she was feeling better the next day.

As a result of the night’s conclusion, I slept until the late afternoon. Today is Dragon Boat Festival (端午节) where Chinese celebrate the life and works of Qu Yuan by racing dragon boats. Xuzhou doesn’t have many festivities for the occasion, so apparently I didn’t miss out on much.

Upon waking up, I went in search of some Shandong food to make me feel better.

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The girl even gave me a kind gift for my troubles. It was a packet of Lays chips of the ‘Numb & Spicy Hot Pot’ variety.

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The evening was spent indoors eating some more ‘convenient noodles’.

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Day 107 (10th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

In classic Chinese Government fashion, today was actually a Sunday (despite technically being a Friday).

Let me explain.

Since Thursday was a public holiday for the Dragon Boat Festival, Friday was also made a day off work to join up the weekend. However, since the government didn’t want productivity to be inhibited by taking more time than is necessary off the job, they officially switched Friday and Sunday.

As a result, I had work today. It was an incredibly easy day with only five classes of half-an-hour each. I also had a three hour lunch break, which gave me time to complete a lot of the applications for colleges back home.

During one of the classes, I was placed with the same teacher who had committed the atrocity of double dipping a straw for every student to taste sugar off. This is the person I blogged about last week. Today, her class was learning about a new flavour: spice. As I went around the classroom checking that the children could correctly pronounce the word ‘spicy’, she would follow behind me and offer them a sliced piece of chilli. This was already a little unusual, but these children’s palates were well suited to that level of heat. What was more remarkable was that the teacher was telling them all to touch their tongue against the same piece of child to taste the spice. THIS is why China has a hepatitis B problem. This is completely normal! I still can’t believe it and it took everything in me not to tell her to stop.

In another class, I was put with ‘Cici’ – the corporal punisher. Cici’s class is renowned for achieving the highest test scores, and she has a very particular way of teaching her class. If I could put into one sentence my biggest gripe with the way she teaches, it would be this: it is disgustingly rote learned.

Allow me give you an example.

Today, we were learning about three new foods: honey, papaya (paw paw) and pear. Cici led chants of “HONEY, HONEY, H-H-H”, “PAPAYA, PAPAYA, P-P-P” and “PEAR, PEAR, P-P-P” to them and they would sing it back. With each chant, she would make a unique hand action which the children would learn to associate with that particular word. Honey, for example, was symbolised by two hands being cast behind the head. After I was satisfied that they knew the jingles, I wanted to check that they could actually use the words outside of the song. I devised a game where I would go around the class asking each one of them “which one do you like the most?”, and they would answer with one of the three foods. Easy enough, I thought.

Cici interrupted me.

“No, that’s too hard for them. They don’t know what the words mean yet.”

I looked back at her in shock, struggling to comprehend that she had just argued my case as for why I should by trying to play a game which required learning the word’s meaning.

I decided to stand my ground.

“Well how will they know the meaning of the words in the test?” I rebutted.

“I just make the action of the word and they remember the song.”

I couldn’t believe it. The only reason Cici’s class gets good marks is because she stands in front of them throwing her hands behind her head like a lunatic, and meanwhile her students have zero idea of what the words even mean.

It’s this sort of rote-learning which plagues Chinese education. While Australia can learn a lot from the Chinese dedication to study and widespread attitude that good grades are important, this is one area where China doesn’t perform so highly.

This was exemplified to me even more after work. It’s the 高考 this week, which is the Chinese equivalent of the HSC. Walking into the public library on the way back to the university, it was filled with Year 12 students at every desk with books piled higher than their heads. The strangest thing was, though, that this was no regular library. It was deafeningly loud. As I looked around, I realised that every student was speaking the content of their textbooks out loud. This is how they study. They memorise chapters word for word and recite them. That, my friends, is the definition of rote learning. And I’m not sure that you’ll see the next Steve Jobs coming out of that hall of regimentation.

I only wish I could have taken a picture of it, but of course there are no phones allowed in the library…

Here is a stock photo instead of a very similar scene.

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For those who are avid followers of this blog, they will remember that Cici and I have a hint of tension because of my tendency to speak Chinese to the students if they don’t understand something. Another incident happened in the same class.

“Papaya 有什么意思?(What does ‘papaya’ mean?)” I asked the class, determined to teach them the meaning regardless of my fellow teacher’s take on the situation.

Cici butted in before the students could answer. “I told you, don’t speak Chinese.”

This time I knew she wasn’t joking.

“They will be able to tell the meaning of the word from the picture,” she assured me, realising that this might be an issue which I’m passionate about.

So, I continued the class without checking that the students knew what a papaya was. As soon as Cici left to go to the bathroom, I asked one of my more trusted students what ‘papaya’ meant.

“芒果, (mango,)” he replied.

Exactly as I’d guessed. The picture which was associated with the word looked deceptively like a mango, and I’d just successfully taught twenty young children that ‘mango’ is pronounced as ‘papaya’. But I have to put up with things like this, knowing that what I’m teaching is factually incorrect.

To make the day worse, I found myself bloated and feeling sick in the bathroom when I got back to my room. There is nothing worse than having gastro on your own, especially in this country.

Day 108 (11th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

Today was the hottest day in Xuzhou since I’ve arrived. It reached 32, but it felt much hotter because of how dry it was. I continued work today under a much more intense schedule. I was able to shift most of my classes to the shady side of the building, thankfully.

Here’s a selfie of me with one of the students.

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For lunch, I bought some take-away of my new favourite meal: chilli chicken, white mushroom and rice.

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In one of the afternoon classes, I had Cici again. In one of the most confusing reversals of attitude, she actually hit on me in front of the class.

This is how it went down.

“What activity should we do now Cici?” I ask.

“Whatever you want, Eddy, you’re the best teacher. All the parents request you.”

I was pretty chaffed at the compliment, so I naturally replied: “Aww, thank you Cici. You’re my favourite teacher to work with.”

And then, out of nowhere she replies, “Thank you. I wanted to be your girlfriend, but you already have one.”

I laughed, looked back at the white board and then took a double take of what had just happened. I turned around to look her in the eyes again, and was confronted with a deadpan face. Shivering in fear, I turned again to continue the class.

The drink which I bought on the way home aptly described the mood of the day.

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In the evening, I managed to get my hands on a live stream of the rugby.

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The first part of the game was undoubtedly one of the most exciting and beautiful pieces of rugby I have ever watched. I switched off the stream twenty minutes in to settle in for a nice night’s sleep knowing how the result would inevitably turn out.

Day 109 (12th of June, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

Since today was switched with Friday, I had classes all day. It makes for a six day week – an adequate punishment for the privilege of a public holiday. Luckily one of my classes was cancelled and I was able to spend most of my time tutoring and writing. With the HSC heating up in Australia, so is my workload. It’s actually incredibly satisfying to relive from the other side.

This evening I’m going out to Fusion again to catch up with my friends.

One of the British guys showed me a picture of him at his wedding today. He married a Xuzhou local, and apparently it is Chinese custom in these parts that the groom wears a white suit. The picture was hilarious to say the least. He’s a big guy, and apparently he was wearing a coat from the photography studio for the photo which they slit down the back so that he’d fit in it.

I’ll be sure to wear a black suit for my own wedding.

I hope that you’re all well as always.

Until next time,
Xavier.

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2 thoughts on “Rote-Learning

  1. Xave,
    Nice to hear from you. Interesting that even Xuzhou accomodating western businesses, I noticed a Pizza Hut but no Macka’s. You must find it very trying working with CRAZY CICI, she would give me gastro without drinking or eating.
    When do you leave Xuzhou?
    Love,
    G & P

    Like

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