Thursday, February 28, 2008

The National Bird's Nest

Following up on my recent post on the 2008 Olympics, I found a good article today discussing a different aspect. If there is one early highlight from the upcoming Beijing games, my vote goes to the architecture. The sporting events will not lack for grand venues.

The "Bird's Nest" seems a perfect fit for a China anxious to showcase itself as a rapidly modernizing nation to the rest of the world.

Follow the link below for the original article and pictures.
Secrets of the Bird's Nest

Monday, February 25, 2008

Second Semester, First Day

School has started once again.

This semester I'll still be teaching 12 hours (3 classes - twice a week) but with different subjects and some new students. This term I have two courses of "Survey of Britain and America" and one class of "Western Culture Audio/Visual." It should be more structured than the Oral and Listening English courses of last term that gave me a good deal of freedom inside the classroom.

China being as it is, I received my new schedule Sunday afternoon with classes starting the following morning... In a slightly more unexpected twist, textbooks for the courses won't be arriving until sometime next week! Not as big of a deal in a speaking class, but I'm not sure exactly what I should be teaching here. The topics seem broad enough to cover anything from humanities to simple geography.

In any event, having a number of new students, I'm just using the first week as a chance to try and familiarize myself with their English level. Hopefully, once the books arrive, I will have a better idea of what I should be preparing for them. One great thing is that all of my classes are small. I still have the college class of twenty-five from last semester, but added to them are two high school classes.; One with just twenty students and the second with about thirty. Overall, I'll have under 100 different students this term. Compared to the foreign teachers at Zhanjiang Normal University who usually average around 400 to 450 different students, this will be quite a luxury.

I think the new courses may be a bit of a challenge (imagine learning history, politics, etc. in a second language), but with a little experience now under my belt, I'm hoping I'll be able to meet it and be a more effective teacher this time around.

My New Schedule

  • Monday: Survey of Britain and America, Class One - 8:00-9:40AM
      • Survey of Britain and America, Class Two - 2:50-4:30PM
  • Tuesday: Western Culture A/V - 9:50-11:30AM
  • Wednesday: Survey of Britain and America, Class Two - 2:50-4:30PM
  • Thursday: Western Culture A/V - 8:00-9:40AM
  • Friday: Survey of Britain and America, Class One - 9:50-11:30AM

Friday, February 22, 2008

Wrath of a Nation

Recently, famed film director, Steven Spielberg, pulled out of his role as "artistic consultant" for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Spielberg citing China as not doing enough to help end the ongoing crisis in Sudan as his reason.

I have no doubt that Spielberg's next movie, if not outright banned from China will be met with protests at the minimum and poor box office results. With the high rate of pirated movies, perhaps it would ultimately not be that large of a loss.

Already, backlash against the move is appearing. A recent editorial in The People's Daily, China's official English language, party approved newspaper, starts out...

A Western film director is so "naive and simple-minded" that he has made an inopportune move on the issue of Beijing's 2008 Olympic Games by linking it to Darfur issue in Sudan, and this perhaps exhibited the "unique" qualities of this Hollywood celebrity. Nevertheless, the "naivety or innocence" shown by a few Western media seems all the more ignorant and funny.
(Read the full article here).
While I'm certain that Mr. Spielberg and I would find ourselves at odds on a number of political issues, "naive" and "simple-minded" are two adjectives I would not use to describe him. That seems childish and conjures up memories of kids arguing at the school playground.

I have to admit to not knowing much about the disagreement and China's involvement in Sudan other than the fact that having a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council gives them veto power and they have close business ties to Sudan as an important source of oil.

I look forward to watching the upcoming games and expect there will be many interesting stories coming from both the athletic events and the political realm. I for one, would love to see the issue of free speech and internet censorship addressed!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Still Zhanjiang

Its a funny feeling be back here in Zhanjiang. I was away for just over a month and spent most of that time in Thailand. Though not very far away on a map, Thailand was quite a bit different than my impressions of China from the backwater town of Zhanjiang. It seems that so much has happened for me in the past four weeks but back here, things are more or less the same as when I left...

The campus has been empty, the students are not back yet and only a few other of the teachers live at the school. It has been very nice. I guess I had grown used to the constant noise of students in the courtyards below and blaring announcements coming from the school PA system followed by a random soundtrack of songs, but now that it is gone for a few days, you really notice a difference. One of my earliest thoughts in China was that they do not like silence. I came to this conclusion after every tourist site we visited early on had silly music pumped in from speakers, even out in the woods and on the sides of mountains. I think this doesn't always hold true, but here on campus, it sometimes seems like it. In the absence of steady background noise, I've even turned off the mp3 player on my computer as I've surfed the net and enjoyed the quiet.

The only occasional breaks in the silence have been from the explosive ordinance that passes for fireworks around here. It puts to shame the little things that we use for fireworks that our local and state governments are constantly trying to ban.

As for what's next - I guess five more months of teaching are all that is left. The time seems to have gone by quickly. Still not sure if classes officially start on Monday or not and I definitely don't have a schedule yet...

In the more immediate future, I plan to finally start churning out some Thailand blogs. Also, I did upload pictures from my trip onto Webshots (which is still blocked in mainland China), so if you haven't seen them yet, check them out.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Heading South...

Hello again!

I have not been posting regularly, sorry. In my defense, it is vacation! I have been keeping notes and slowing filling them in on the different things I've been doing. Probably, when I get back and have a little time on my hands, there will be a wave of posts coming.

Tomorrow morning (February 5), Janet and I are flying to Phuket. We will probably spend a few days on the beaches there before hopefully moving on to some of the smaller islands. We are hoping to visit some of the less crowded islands, which means we may be out of touch for a few days at some point. Some of the smaller islands only have electricity for a few hours each day and many do not have internet connections. Some do, but they are dial-up connections which seem to be only somewhat reliable from the reviews I've read.

Some of the places we are currently looking at include Ko Phi Phi (which will be crowded, but is supposed to offer some of the most beautiful beaches), Ko Lanta and Ko Lipe. There are also a number of other islands in the area and our ability to get transportation between them and accomodations may also change our route.

Wherever we end up, I'll be taking pictures to post! If you haven't checked lately, I have uploaded some pictures from Bangkok, Ayutthaya and Kanchanaburi. I also have a few more to post when I next get the chance...


My next excursion outside of Bangkok was to Kanchanaburi, about two hours to the west. The sleepy city's main claim to fame comes from the bridge on the River Kwai, made famous by a novel and movie (mostly fictional) of the same name. The bridge is the starting point to the "Burma Death Railway," built by prisoners of war during World War II under the command of the Japanese.

More recently and more positively, Kanchanaburi was featured as one of the many destinations in the first season of the TV show The Amazing Race.

After dropping off my bags at my guest house, a little plywood room on stilts above the river, I made the short walk down to the bridge. Nearby is a small museum that houses an odd collection of World War Two artifacts. There is also a small monument erected jointly by the Thai and U.S. armies in memory of the lives lost constructing the bridge. Though the bridge was eventually bombed by the Allies, Japan sent two large steel spans to repair it as part of a reparations payment. Today, you can walk across the bridge and it has become a tourist draw for people looking to escape Bangkok.

Another hour and a half by bus from the city, is the Erawan Falls National Park. There are seven tiers to the waterfall that you can hike along. According to Wikipedia, the waterfall is named after Erawan, a three-headed elephant in Hindu mythology, as it said to resemble Erawan. I missed the resemblance, but the park was refreshing and the blue, cold waters picturesque.