Can You Say “Santa Claus”?, part 2

People who had previously been on one of Tracy Lesh’s and Michael’s tours, said that you don’t leave hungry, and our lunch on Monday proved true. After leaving the little girl’s house where we had distributed Christmas gifts, we boarded the bus and headed to LiJing Hotel.

Pretty girls in red dresses and cute jackets met us at the door and led us up to our private dining room.

Pretty girls in red dresses and cute jackets met us at the door and led us up to our private dining room.

This was about half of what they eventually brought out.

This was about half of what they eventually brought out, which is typical of Chinese meals at events.

Those brown balls that look like mushrooms were actually hollowed out bread bowls into which you put the yummy greens. The yellow dish at 10 o’clock in the picture is braised radishes in a pumpkin sauce. There was also a lamb dish, which was supposed to be warming in winter. I don’t know if it made me any warmer than I usually am, since I’m usually having hot flashes, but it was fabulously delicious!

This is the lobby and first floor dining room of the hotel.

This is the lobby and first floor dining room of the hotel.

The hotel was decorated in an eclectic mixture of styles

The hotel was decorated in an eclectic mixture of styles

We got back on the bus after lunch and headed to the migrant school. Migrant schools are for children who’s parents have come from the countryside to work in the city. Children must have a “hukou” or residence permit to attend the local schools, which excludes the children of migrants. Changing your hukou is costly and difficult, a problem that previously meant the children had to stay in the countryside and go to whatever school was available there. Eventually these migrant schools were built for the children, so that they could come to live with their parents.

The problem comes when the children reach the end of middle school at age 15. That is the end of free public education in China. (Which is why you might see young people in foreign factories–many just go to work.) High school, which is three years, costs money, and of course it costs money to get a local hukou so the child could attend the local school. The high schools do accept some migrants with foreign hukou’s but the number is small. High schools in the countryside tend to be very low quality, so if the family has hopes of the child going to college, they need to scrape the money together to get a local hukou and get the child into a city high school.

The school we were going to was the first of four migrant schools in town, built in 2001. It was built by the government. This school has about 1700 children, age 4 to 15 years; kindergarten (for which I believe tuition is charged)to middle school. There are 72 teachers, only 4 of whom are local residents, because the pay is lower than the local schools. Interestingly, this works out to about 24 students per teacher and yet we saw that most classrooms had 60 or more.  The teachers either live at the school or elsewhere in housing paid for by the school.

In grade school the kid’s are taught math, Chinese and English. I’ve had number of Chinese tell me that English instruction is not very well done–they tend to teach flowery English words that even we don’t use, and in private schools the English teacher is just a figurehead to give the school prestige. That’s why you’ll find that most fluent English speakers here have learned it by watching American television and movies.

In middle school, science, social science, geography, history, and art are added to the curriculum. Most teachers teach 1 major class like math and then music or P.E. or art. The population of students tends to be very fluid as the parents move around to find jobs. Some kids are only there for 2 to 3 months. The headmaster said the biggest problem the school faces is the need for more space–I can vouch for that!

We meet the headmaster of the school

We meet the headmaster of the school
The school looks a bit like an American motor court motel. All the windows and doors were open to school yard on the left. The result? When some classes are outside for recess, you can hardly hear inside the classrooms.

The school looks a bit like an American motor court motel. All the windows and doors opened out on to the school yard on the left. The result? When some of the classes are outside for recess, you can hardly hear inside the classrooms.

The open doors and the fact his chair is almost sitting outside, also allowed this rambunctious little boy to try to grab our attention whenever we were in the school yard. My guess is that he is not the star of his class!

The open doors, and the location of his bench in the doorway allowed this rambunctious little boy the opportunity to try to grab our attention whenever we were in the school yard. My guess is that he is not the star of his class!

The older kids had a bit more discipline and could continue to pay attention in the presence of the laowai.

The older kids had a bit more discipline and could continue to pay attention in the presence of the laowai. And yes, everyone was wearing their coats because it was about 50 degrees outside and all the windows and doors were open!

We split up into groups of 3 plus an interpretor and headed to our classrooms to give our English lessons.

Our class!

Our class! 

The girl in the 3rd row with the red scarf and pink coat was the star of the class. The girl next to her in black and the girl in front in the gold jacket were also very good.

 

Santa came to pass out candy canes (it's the headmaster). He was a little skinny, but his "Ho, ho, ho" wasn't too bad!

Santa (aka the headmaster) came to pass out candy canes. He was a little skinny, but his “Ho, ho, ho” wasn’t too bad!

Our mission was to teach the kids 5 English words: Christmas, Santa Claus, Christmas tree, Candy Cane, and Presents. They also learned our names. They could remember Debbi easily because it’s similar to Chinese; Deborah was harder–they got the first part but not the last; and my name–well, they could pronounce it if prompted, but couldn’t remember it. Our interpretor finally told them to just call me “Mama laoshi” (mama teacher).

The three of us teaching in this classroom, also sang “We wish you a merry Christmas” in Chinese and then taught them the English version.

Next we were supposed  to get volunteers to stand up and complete this sentence: “This Christmas, I will give ________ a ___________. We had been told that they would be very resistant to this. In Chinese classrooms, the students, en mass, repeat, repeat, repeat whatever it is that they are learning. They are not generally called on individually, so to stand out by standing up and answering a question is just not in their bag of tricks. Our solution was to give out prizes–pens, puzzle books, and chips for those at least willing to stand up and give it a try.

We didn’t tell them we were going to give prizes so at first we had no takers.  But then the girl in the third row stood up and made her sentence. Even after the roughly 60(!) other kids saw what she had gotten, they still weren’t willing to participate. Our star, however wanted to answer every question and at first we wouldn’t give her a second try. But soon we realized that we were only going to be able to bribe 4 or 5 other kids, besides her, so we just kept letting the same kids answer. Only a few of the girls and eventually one or two boys were willing to participate. It was hard for me to believe that the possibility of prizes couldn’t spur the kids on.

Last, the kids were allowed to ask us questions. The favorite was “What is your hobby?”, clearly a phrase they had been taught, and which some new students were willing to stand up and say.

The school busses are yellow in China too!

The school buses are yellow in China too!

The bridge over the river, next to the school--an indication that we are in one of China's water towns.

The bridge over the river, next to the school–an indication that we are in one of China’s water towns. And the laundry hanging out by the road also tells us that we are in China!

 

Last look down the street opposite the school, on our way to the bus.

Last look down the street opposite the school, on our way to the bus.

I was thrilled to catch sight of this truck as we were going past--mandarin orange season has arrived!

I was thrilled to catch sight of this truck as we were going past–mandarin orange season has arrived!

Wonder what where all those barrels have been and where they're going.

Wonder where all those barrels have been and where they’re going.

The next post will be about our visit to see an elderly couple in Nanxun.

IMG_0941                                                        Winter Mail Envelope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About DECRYPTKNIT: knitter on the loose in Shanghai

Hi, I'm Marisa Newhouse, a former pharmacist (for a brief time during the Reagan administration) who's real calling was probably anything that has to do with cooking, plants, literature and especially knitting; hence my last and favorite job, working at Woolyminded, a wonderful yarn store. But now, I have moved half a world away to Shanghai where my husband will be working. Lots of people are interested in what we will be doing here and I have always kept journals of our travels, so I thought I'd do it the modern way and keep a blog.
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