Thursday, September 2, 2010

Our trip to a province

During training, we made a trip to Shinjianzhang to visit a former student, Susan. We only had a day and a half, but it was an amazing trip. We were concerned about the living arrangements we might find and whether or not they really had enough room for us to stay, but it turned out fine. They actually had a three bedroom apartment because Susan's father-in-law sometimes stays with them, and the bedrooms were air conditioned, so they were quite comfortable. The city was a two hour bullet train ride from Beijing, and we found out later that it was the capital of Hebei province.

When we arrived at the railroad station, Susan was especially excited because her son had just gotten his senior school exam scores and they were very high. In their city of 5 million people, he scored 4th place of all of the junior high students! This exam is very important in China because it determines where a student will go to high school and eventually what University he will attend. Because he scored so well, it reflects on his school, and more students will want to attend there, and of course, he can choose which high school he wants to attend. We were as excited as Susan was, because we know how hard he studied and how important it was in his life.

After her husband got off of work, we all went to a very nice restaurant for a Peking duck dinner. We were escorted into a semi-private room with a table set for twelve, which was surprising for the four of us. It turned out that some friends and their daughter, as well as Susan's son joined us. Last year, when Susan and her family visited us at our campus, her husband surprised us by sneaking to the cashier and paying the bill. Paul has been waiting all year for the opportunity to do the same, so when Susan was looking at the menu and her husband was out of the room, he was able to give the waiter the money for dinner. When his trick was discovered, everyone had a good laugh because Paul had learned the Chinese way.

The next day, was an opportunity to participate in everyday life in China. While Paul and son David rode bikes to his middle school, the women (neighbors dropped by to help) made zhongzi, or sticky rice dumplings and jiaozi, or boiled dumplings for lunch. They showed me how to wrap the sticky rice in a special kind of leaf to form the little pyramid, while keeping the rice inside. I wasn't very good at it, but it was a lot of fun trying. We then filled and shaped at least two hundred dumplings in preparation for boiling. I learned how to prepare and roll the dough into little circles and then fill them with a bit of stuffing, made with bitter melon, ground pork and lots of garlic, ginger and other seasonings. I also learned how to shape them in little half moons and fancy shapes such as mice. This picture shows Susan putting some of the dumplings into the water to boil.
The neighbors stayed for lunch and we had a great time trying to communicate in Chinese, English and sign language. As you can see, our lunch table was actually the living room coffee table with a variety of stools for sitting.
After lunch it was time to head back to the train station, so Susan's husband went downstairs to get a taxi. When we followed in a few minutes, he had two taxi's because almost everyone was going with us to the train station! When we arrived, there was a long line and only those with tickets were allowed in the station. That didn't seem to be a problem for our little group, because after some animated discussion, a security guard escorted us all around the waiting crowd and through a separate door into a special air conditioned waiting room. Then, when it was time to board the train, our entourage continued to the door of the train to make sure we were safely on board. It was a really fun ending to a wonderful visit!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Christianity in China 2010

These are pictures of "our" church in Beijing, the Haidian Christian Church. They have four Chinese services and one English service each Sunday. This picture shows some of the English service worshipers crammed into a meeting room, where we met the first two years we attended. This year, they have rearranged the Chinese services schedule and moved the English service into the main sanctuary. The room was still completely full and had "standing room only" outside with televised services. It appears that the service is about 2/3 Chinese and 1/3 foreigners. There are several other churches in Beijing that are specifically for foreigners, requiring a passport to attend, but anyone can attend these English services. We were surprised to hear that Josh McDowell had spoken at Haidian the week before we arrived.

These are pictures of the Fengtai Christian Church, another registered church in Beijing. They have recently begun an English service, with about 100-125 in attendance. The services are at 2PM because the Chinese services take up the rest of Sunday.

These church buildings are all very large, relatively new and in different parts of the city. We were told that because they are registered, the government has financed them, not the members.

The building pictured above is the Chaoyang Christian church, the one we visited on a Saturday afternoon. The first thing we saw when we walked in was the Bible bookstore. You could buy a wide variety of Bibles, both in Chinese and English, as well as both languages, and other Christian study books. As in American Bible stores, you could also buy a variety of Christian "stuff", wall hangings, paperweights, plaques, etc. Each of the other registered churches we attended had a similar bookstore.

Each year, we puzzle over the apparent discrepancy between what we hear about the "persecuted church in China" and what we see in Beijing. This year, we had an opportunity to talk with two seminary students who attended the TIP program. One was from a registered church and had just graduated from his seminary and one was from a home (underground) church. We were most interested in what the home church student had to say, but they both agreed on the basic information. In order to make sure I didn't forget anything important, I recorded our conversation with "Paul" in my journal. Here is that entry:

"Today at breakfast we talked with Paul, a theology student going to seminary in Hong Kong, and got some helpful information about the church in China. He says the estimates of Christians in China are between 40,000,000 and 80,000,000 but it is probably around 60,000,000. 35,000,000 are in home churches and about 25,000,000 are in government approved (registered) churches. Paul said that he was from a home church in his province, although sometimes he works with pastors of government churches when invited. He explained that home churches are more intimate and have a lot of heart, but have poor facilities and organization. The government churches, because they can operate in the open, have much better facilities and organization. Pastors from government sponsored churches are able to get seminary training, but home church pastors are not, so they do not have as much Bible knowledge.

He explained that the local government leaders determine how the church is treated in each community. If the leader is friends with the Christians, they are treated well, but the leaders can be "crazy" if they don't like the people who are Christians. Christians have an easier time in the large cities that have more foreign influence, but in the outer provinces treatment varies a lot. He says that pastors from government sponsored churches must work only in their own congregation (and we have heard from others, only in their own buildings) unless they go through a large amount of red tape. Home church pastors have much more freedom. Paul explained that he is able to go to seminary only because he is going in Hong Kong. He would not be allowed to attend in Mainland China because he is from a home church."

This explanation has helped me to understand the differences in what I see and what we often hear. The bottom line is that China is a large country, with local officials sometimes interpreting the "law" as they choose. These seem to be some of the horror stories we hear. I also have talked to a young Chinese man here in America whose family had been treated brutally for economic reasons as well.

We have also been told that membership in a registered church requires quite a bit of effort. Once someone has accepted Jesus as their Savior, they must participate in the church, take part in Bible classes and become known to the pastor and congregation for six months as a requirement for baptism. Baptism is a requirement for membership, and to partake in communion. During a service with communion, the pastor asks all those who have been baptized to stand, and those standing are the only ones offered the elements.

As China is becoming more and more tied to the West economically, they are becoming more and more influenced by Western culture -- and religion. We heard reports this summer that the Chinese government is beginning to encourage religious beliefs because their research has shown that religion is a common factor in economic growth in the West. This, of course, can lead to the idea that religion is a works based ideology that is beneficial for prosperity.

We spent most of the month of July reading and discussing Bible stories with one of our students and it seemed that her conclusion was that the Bible was a good guide for living. We are praying that the Chinese people will see the need for spiritual as well as economic prosperity.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Classroom Activities - Class F, July Session

One of the most popular parts of the TIP program is the "Morning Motivational" which are thought provoking lessons about life. Because of changing schedules, classes sometimes miss the "Momo", so we tried to incorporate the lesson into our class time. This lesson was a story about sharing a "blue ribbon" with someone to show that they are valued. Of course, we gave each student a blue ribbon. In addition, we had "stars" for those who worked hard and did something out of the ordinary. By the end of the session, each student had a "star" to take home as well as their "Blue ribbon". Hopefully, these will be reminders of the "once in a lifetime" experience they had at TIP.
Meals are actually considered part of class time because the purpose continues to be the same -- to speak in English in a variety of situations. We used somthing called "Conversation starters" to keep the topics more interesting than "What are you eating?" They would contain questions, such as "What do you value most in life?" along with vocabulary words related to values. These questions were especially helpful for our lower level speakers.
One hour each day was devoted to computer lab, where they would listen to native speakers reading passages for them to repeat. The computer program allowed them to compare their voice patterns with the native speaker to help them improve their pronunciation. Each student was given a copy of the program to take home with them and continue practicing.
One of the week-end activities was an old-fashioned school carnival, and here Peter is trying to create a fishing pole for our class game. He tied a couple of branches together with some leaves to make it long enough. Quite impressive, I thought! The class decided to use a different game, so Peter's innovation ended up in the trash heap -- as many do.
Our Chinese students loved games and puzzles. Fortunately, Paul does too, and has a bag full of tricks to use if the regular class activities end sooner than planned. This game started out with the two strings intertwined and the object was to get free without removing the strings from our arms.
If you notice the classroom, it is set up in a "U" shape. The idea is to allow the class to be student centered, not teacher centered, as the Chinese teachers are use to. In addition to helping them improve their English, we are trying to help them learn new teaching methods. The Chinese education system is set for rote memorization so that the student can answer the exam questions critical to their future lives. If they do well on their exams, they can progress to better schools and universities, but if not, they may not be able to go to a university at all. If they don't do well on their exams, they will probably be relegated to a life of manual labor or street vendor.

The Chinese government is beginning to recognize the need to change their education system and is using TIP to change the way teachers approach their own classrooms as well as improve their English.

Classroom activities - Class A, June Session

Class time in the TIP program has a wide range of activities. Our purpose is to build a team to work together and improve everyone's spoken English. We begin with 30+ teachers from all over China who don't know each other and in just a few days we are close friends and everyone is doing their best to help everyone else succeed. The first picture is from our Talent Show. Each class has to perform before the entire group of 200 or so students and they can do whatever they would like. The performance must last 7-8 minutes and at some point, everyone in the class must participate. Our Class A (June session) was very creative in their costumes and chose to sing a song called I am a Pizza. In preparation, we showed them what a pizza was and how it was made, including an explanation of the ingredients. As you can see, they had lots of fun!
One of our students, Amy, was great at organizing us all, and she always wanted everything perfect. Here she is arranging the group for our class picture.
We are all ready -- but where's Panda?
Waiting around is a favorite activity in China. It seems like the students are use to it and do it very patiently.
This was a class activity -- sort of. As part of the week-end Photo Scavenger Hunt, they were suppose to take a picture of a bottle of Coke. Did I mention that this was a creative group?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Around Town

Since we have been to China and Beijing several times, we don't spend a lot of time shopping or visiting tourist attractions any longer. However, this year we had a special treat. Several of our students were from Beijing and Lydia's husband wanted to thank us for being such a help for his wife. He wanted to take a Saturday afternoon and give us a tour of whatever we wanted to see in Beijing! I'll tell you more about Lydia later, but her husband was born and raised in Beijing, and had been a local TV photo-journalist as well, so he really knew the city. His current job was in public relations for one of the districts of Beijing, so he had a special government pass on his car. All that meant that we had a personal driving tour of some of the most intimate parts of the city.

When we travel, we like to see the REAL city, so we were especially thankful for the offer. We told him we would like to see the Bird's Nest and Olympic Park, but then we wanted to see some Hutongs -- the oldest parts of the city which are now designated as national landmarks. They are the old single story neighborhoods that have several homes built around a courtyard, usually for the extended families. Most have been torn down to build high rises, so even though many are dilapidated, they are some of the more expensive properties in the city. Some that have been restored sell for millions of dollars. In any case, our tour included the Hutong where James, our guide was born, as well as several other areas of "real Beijing". We were delighted to have this tour in a comfortable air conditioned car with someone who knew the city well and could tell us about the things we were seeing.

The picture at the beginning is of an old man playing a Chinese string instrument. We were surprised that he wasn't expecting any money. We were told that the people are encouraged to practice their skills in the parks and open areas, so that is what he is doing. Below are some of the shops and a restaurant on the neighborhood streets. Check out the outdoor dining area of the restaurant in the first picture. Hint: look on the roof! My favorite is the one with the bicycles -- it is a second hand store -- just like in American, except with Chinese junk.

These are some doors to actual courtyards, and the third picture is a glimpse into a courtyard. Apparently it was laundry day.

The last three pictures are from a friend, but I think are beautiful depictions of the "real Beijing".

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Beginning classes

We adjusted well to the time difference in China -- actually it only took a couple of days to sleep at night instead of during the day. The food adjustment took bit longer. The most difficult part was all of the oil used in cooking. We learned to make better choices -- like wonton soup instead of some greasy concoction over rice, but the options in the cafeteria were very limiting. My favorite Chinese food turned out to be peanut butter on Ritz. This year, for the first time, we took a large jar of peanut butter with us -- and used most of it. And yes, we were able to buy Ritz crackers at the little campus store.

We stayed for two sessions this year. June was the last of the "year long" sessions, meaning that the facilitators had been there since August. Even though we normally go just for the month of July, there are sessions once a month all year long. Some year long facilitators were on their annual furlough and some were on the admin staff preparing for the summer, so it was especially helpful to have us there early to actually facilitate a class. We had 31 teachers, mostly from the middle of China in the coal mining areas. Many of their lives had been touched by the tragic accidents we have read about in the news, but they are resilient people who choose to move past what has happened and do their best to do their job. "It is my duty" is a phrase I heard many times in a variety of circumstances and I think it says a lot about the Chinese people.

One of the most important things we try to do with our students is have fun so it's easier to relax and not be so self-conscious. The program is called "total immersion" and is based on how children learn a language -- naturally while living their lives. Since most who attend the program are English teachers, they already know the grammar and basic vocabulary, but in many cases, they have had very little opportunity to actually speak English. As a result, they are afraid to even try because they don't want to make a mistake. "Saving face" is very important in China and our first job is to get our students to just talk -- regardless of how poorly. One way we do that is to play games and sing songs. We stand in a circle, toss a ball around the room and they have to say their name or a simple phrase if they get the ball. Or divide into two teams on each side of the room while the teachers hold up a blanket. The teams choose someone to stand in front of the blanket and when the blanket is dropped, the team who identifies the person from the other team first is the winner and gains a new teammate. In addition to relaxing and feeling more comfortable, we are trying to build a team of people who will help each other and work together.

This picture was from a photo scavenger hunt when they were asked to have as many from their team as possible stand on one sheet of newspaper. They weren't completely successful, but had a great time trying!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Arriving on the Yuan Ming Yuan Campus of Peking University

After one full day in Bejing, it felt like we have never been away. We arrived about 5:30 AM, right on time after leaving Vancouver one hour late. We were greeted at the airport by Alex, a delightful young man who was our lifelong friend after the first hello. Alex worked with us as a facilitator for the June session and we were definitely glad to know him! When we arrived at the campus, right outside the gate was a delightful array of breakfast treats to buy -- freshly cooked on the street. We had eaten on the plane, but that definitely was a stop later in the week.

As we were walking through the campus to our buildings, we were greeted by a number of the workers Paul befriended last year. The maintenance man/cleaning supervisor for our dorm was delighted to see us and we now expect "extra special" service. Of course, that only means vaguely normal cleaning/maintenance help in real life. Things are relative in China.

We were taken directly to our home for the next two months -- right next door to where we stayed last year. As expected, things have changed a lot. First of all, instead of cement, the halls and rooms have beautiful white marble tile floors. Unfortunately that, like many things at this campus, is only a skin deep change. We were delighted to have a private "suite" this year instead of having to share our bathroom with 20-40 others. That was a major improvement and a definite answer to prayer. It also meant our "room" had expanded to the area originally built as an apartment kitchen and we didn't have to stand in line for the bathroom we were assigned. A good thing too, because Paul could not figure out how to get the bathroom door to close. The solution to that problem was to leave it alone. Chances are good that if we could get the latch to close, we could be locked in the bathroom forever. :-(

These pictures show our dorm room and private foyer:

Last year, we were treated to life in a construction zone almost the entire time we were here as they worked frantically to get our dorm ready for western occupants. Basically, they were putting private bathrooms in 17 6-person dorm rooms right next to our "apartments". That meant jack hammers in the room next door as well as all up and down the hall and wheelbarrows of cement rolling by throughout the day. Needless to say, we were very curious about the results of all that work. These sterile dorm rooms have been turned into 2-person rooms with potentially nice private baths. We were told, however, that the Chinese idea of nice isn't quite the same as ours. The bathroom is in two parts -- the toilet on one side in a little room as you walk in the door and the sink/shower on the other side. The shower is not separate from the sink, and when in use, sprays water all over the entire area, including the fiberboard cabinet. We were also told that this is a normal Chinese style shower and that people just wipe down the entire area when finished. The problem, in American minds, is that you can never get things completely dry in this humid climate, and things get ruined very quickly. Also, the water runs under the door and towels to contain the water are lying around wet all of the time. Our bathrooms, by contrast have exposed pipes and drains that don't always work, but have a seal around the door and an indented floor in the shower area to somewhat contain the water. Oh, but did I mention that the door won't close? Shower report: Fortunately Paul tried it first and discovered how to unplug the drain. He then showed me how to adjust the hot water from "boiling" to comfortable and I was good to go.

The new western style dorm rooms are used by the year-round facilitators and many of them will be here during the summer sessions, so most of the summer facilitators will be housed in the Chinese style dorms on the second floor of the building. Their living situation will also be similar to those who were here last summer, so as much as things change, they stay the same.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Safe arrival in China

We have arrived safely in Beijing and are trying to adjust to the time change. (15 hours ahead of California) We learned just before we left that we would NOT have to do any quarantine, which will make life much easier. We also learned that we have until Wednesday to relax and prepare before classes begin again. We usually come for the July summer session, arriving in time for two weeks of training and team bonding beforehand, but this year we will teach at the June session and then do our usual routine. We have met some of the delightful people we will be working with this month and are looking forward to our first session.

Access to Facebook, Twitter and this blog is blocked, but sometimes I have been able to borrow an internet connection that works around it. Email seem to be fine and available all of the time. I will post again when I have some pictures!

Oh BTW, we will be visiting a new start-up church today. Apparently they have about 100 people plus 20 on the worship team. It should be interesting.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Returning to China

This will be our third summer in Beijing working with Chinese English teachers to help them improve their verbal skills. Every year is different and the opportunities are always a surprise, so we are looking forward to seeing what this year holds.

There are some things we know: We will leave on June 2nd and arrive in Beijing at 5:30 AM on June 4th. This is a bit earlier in the month than usual and we will be spending almost two full months this year. We normally arrive with the summer team at the end of June and spend two weeks in training before working with the teachers in a classroom setting during July. This year, we expect to spend four days in quarantine (probably reviewing the training) and then begin immediately with the three week June session. There will be a break while the rest of the summer team arrives and is trained, then we will participate in the July session. During that break, we expect to help with training as well as participate with the others.

Sorry, there are no pictures, but I know there will be lots when we get back and I will post when I can.

Even though we always go in the summer, this is a year round program. Because most Chinese teachers have a summer break, and most American students/teachers do too, the July and August sessions are larger and are considered short term. In addition, most months from September to June have the same sessions which are taught by about 15 year round staff.