Julianne and I have been living and teaching English now in Changsha, Hunan, China for just over a month–and we’re both really happy we made the move from South Korea to China.
The biggest thing I love, so far, is the general pace of life in the Hunan region of China (not sure about other regions, or how super-cities like Beijing and Shanghai are in terms of pace) and how it is slower and very relaxed. People here have a calmness to how they go about things. People here also have a confidence in themselves, and there is a feeling they project as they go about their everyday lives that everything will be okay.
Some expats I know back in South Korea have suggested that I would miss Korea in many ways–so far, based on the month of experiences in China, I don’t miss Korea at all. In fact, I wish I had left sooner.
I don’t miss the frenetic-manic pace and energy of everyday life in Korea. And I certainly don’t miss the all too common insecurities that lie beneath far too many Koreans speech and actions as they go about their everyday lives.
I love how Chinese people will make efforts to communicate with you in English regardless of their proficiency level in speaking. I think they’re still a little nervous or anxious about speaking English because they don’t want to make mistakes, but their desire to practice their English/speak to the foreigner/successfully achieve the communciation goal of the situation seems to override their worries–this is NOT the case all too often in Korea as many expats can testify.
A couple weeks ago during the ten minute break of a two-hour class I was talking to my sophomore students about study and test culture in China. I wanted to get a sense of what it’s like, and also compare and contrast it with how Korean students think about it.
I asked the students how much sleep they usually got while in high school and they all said 6-8 hours depending on what was going on. Most said that the average was 7 hours a night. I told the students about a common saying in Korea for high school students: Sleep five hours, get into an okay university. Sleep four hours, get into S.K.Y. (Acronym for the top 3 universities in Korea).
They were horrified at the idea! One of the students standing next to me vehemently said, “Everyone knows the highest ranking students usually get 7-8 hours of sleep!” I was thrilled to hear this kind of common sense coming from Chinese students, and wished that it was a more common attitude in Korea for parents and their children.
Anyways, other stuff that’s been going over the past month . . .
I was asked to begin coaching my university’s first ever debate team that will go to compete in a national debate competition. I met the team of four sophomore’s yesterday for the first time. It was awesome. The students were exceptionally smart, had advanced level English fluency, and displayed that each of them have an innate talent for debating and critical thinking.
I had iniitally planned to spend two hours with them practicing debate skills and seeing what they were capable of doing for the first practice session . . . and we ended up talking and debating in a free-style manner until nearly 5pm (we started at 1pm)–wow!
The national debate is based on the British Parliamentary rules and procedures, and while the students have familiarized themselves with those things they are still nervous because it will be their first time at a national level competition. After spending hours with them to get a sense of how they construct an argument, and what kind of critical thinking skills they each have, I got a much clearer picture of what we need to do in our next practice session. I’m actually looking forward to it! It’s freaking awesome that after spending so much time with them that I left feeling energized and excited about the next session whereas there have been times in the past when I taught or was coaching debate-students and left feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of the next class because the students’ language levels were too low to actually be learning debating skills, or as is all too often the case not enough class hours/practice time had been planned before the competition (ah, Korea, stop trying to do too much in too little a time with unachievable goals!).
I’ll write more about the first debate team practice session in another post . . .
Other things that have happened . . . Mr. Mouse has now defeated all attempts by Julianne to capture and/or kill him (we have a mouse in our apartment). He continues to lurk and prowl around our apartment at night, and last night I discovered he has a taste for left over teabags. I accidentally left a mug with a teabag on my desk and this morning noticed he had dragged it behind my computer monitor and munched away on it leaving a nice pile of leftovers . . .
I’m beginning to think that I will have to let go of my fondness for Mr. Mouse and launch an all out offensive to capture him . . . we’ll see what happens. I remember a few of the improvised trap designs I read about in the SAS Survival Handbook I have back in Canada . . . might have to try using one. Pictures will follow on my flickr page.
Julianne and I continue to be amazed, horrified, and bewildered at how Chinese people drive and don’t maim and kill thousands of each other on a day to day basis. We’ve gotten used to the driving culture to a fair degree, and as Julianne points out she isn’t nearly as scared in China about the driving because Chinese people seem to be very alert and aware (most of the time) about the other vehicles and pedestrians that are around the vehicle they’re driving. In Korea, the ‘culture of obliviousness’ to one’s surroundings would have Julianne gasping and clawing my arm or the seat in front of her when we’d be in a taxi, lol, but I have yet to see her as freaked out in China. That says a lot about some of the differences, I think.
We also continue to be amazed, horrified, and bewildered at how crossing the street at traffic lights is done in China. Scooters do not stop for anything–period. Cars also generally will run a yellow light for sure, and ‘most’ stop for red lights but you just can’t assume that–period. For some of the massively wide streets that have eight lines of traffic (four on either side) you’ll see Chinese people, and CHILDREN, randomly stepping out into traffic to cross four lanes of oncoming traffic on one side, and after they’ve negotiated the fast-moving-heavy-metal-projectiles-aka-as-cars/buses/trucks/scooters they then negotiate the other four lanes of fast moving lethal projectiles . . . and often the pedestrians are NOT crossing at traffic lights or at crosswalks but just crossing whereever they are and happen to need to go to the other side. Oh-My-God!!!
As far as Chinese foods go–I like nearly everything I’ve tried. You can see pictures of foods Julianne and I have eaten here. We want to go and try more new foods, and I’ll take pictures as we try them.
Our schedules have been very erratic over the last two weeks because there was the Mooncake Festival period from Wednesday to Friday (which meant a five-day weekend), and then a week of regular work/classes, and now we’re on another week long holiday for China’s National Day . . . which actually seems to be ‘national week’ since our university doesn’t have classes all week. We’re still trying to find out what kinds of cultural events and performances we can find outside for free. If we manage to find our way to them we’ll definitely be taking pictures and I’ll upload mine onto my flickr page.
Looking at the wikipedia page on China’s National Day it says, “The National Day marks the start of one of the two Golden Weeks in the PRC. However, there have been some recent controversies over whether Golden Weeks should be kept.” I guess we’re now in the “Golden Week” . . . wikipedia goes on to explain about “Golden Weeks,”
- The “Spring Festival (or Chinese Lunar New Year) Golden Week” begins in January or February.
- The “National Day Golden Week” begins around October 1.
It’s very cool that “Three days of paid holiday are given, and the surrounding weekends are re-arranged so that workers in Chinese companies always have seven continuous days of holiday.” In Korea, it’s a hit or miss thing all too often with how much time off you get during Chuseok. The logic behind how the Chinese organize the holiday it is pretty solid: ” These national holidays were first started by the government for the PRC‘s National Day in 1999 and are primarily intended to help expand the domestic tourism market and improve the national standard of living, as well as allowing people to make long-distance family visits. The Golden Weeks are consequently periods of greatly heightened travel activity.” And that’s why Julianne and I are staying inside the city and not traveling.
A friend of our’s that we work with sent us an email about her trip so far to another part of China during this time off. She was hit by another scooter while on the back of a scooter-taxi on the way to the train station . . . for a trip that she thought would be 22 hours and turns out it will be 25 hours. On reaching her bed/seat she found an old man sleeping on her bed, and the sheets were not replaced after he was told to get out of her paid for spot. Lunch on the train? Chicken feet . . . yeah.
Julianne might be up for an adventure of that sort once we’ve got more Chinese language skills under our belts, but for now we’ll settle for whatever ‘interesting’ travel experiences we are confronted with inside the city we’re living in.
And on that note, it’s time to get my butt outside and walk around taking pictures, and learning more about China.