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Big Sister Woo & China’s Epcot

After we got a solid introduction to Heart to Heart Community Care Center last weekend, we were asked by the staff to return to the village’s community facility to teach English classes! I had never taught English before, so I was a wee bit nervous. I kept thinking about all of the English grammar I actually don’t understand… which made me think about how difficult it really must be for my Chinese university roommate to help me with my homework. Anyway, I turned out be quite lucky. My friend Mara and I got placed into a second grade classroom, where we were to teach simple words like “park,” “lake,” “tree,” and “grass.” Given a picture textbook to draw from, we had 20 minutes to create a lesson plan on methods to help the kids remember words’ sounds and meanings. I was so excited! We thought of songs, of dances, and how to make it fun. Little did we know that our class would consist of 50 screaming hyperactive students… oh were we in for a ride!
We entered a classroom full of shrieking, laughing, bouncing off the wall kids, all who were very fascinated by their suddenly foreign teachers. Stan ding at the front of a classroom facing curious and impatient cute pudgy faces was extremely intimidating. First, we wrote our Chinese names on the blackboard, and introduced ourselves as our name + jie jie, which meant, “sister.” Our age and gender prompted younger children to refer to us as their older sister. It was a form of respect and a cultural norm. On the same note, we refer to those who are a bit older as “aunt,” to signify respect. 

We soon realized that these kids knew not a word of English. We kept repeating the same English and Chinese phrases and examples over and over again. We encouraged them to get up and act out animals to remember them easier. But that of course just created buzzing and quacking chaos! I practically lost my voice by the end of the class. Thank god these kids were the cutest kids on the earth, otherwise I would have just pulled a Trunchbull from Matilda. But just wait, the most heart-melting part has yet to come. When I asked the class a question, for example, “what is the English word for lake” in Chinese, all of the kids responded by yelling and whining in a “pick meeeee!!!” voice and form their hands in a 90 degree angle with their right arm raised. Once I called on a student, he/she would stand up and answer. Of course when they stood up they were the same height as if they were seated, but it was the adorableness that mattered! When they had class breaks, and wanted to re-enter the classroom, they had to ask me for permission to do so. I felt so powerful and authoritative! Too bad they kept correcting me when I spoke Chinese words wrong. Now that was classic humiliation!
In between the two classes we taught, in addition to running around with the kids on the blacktop, we wore our hands out by signing our names on students’ notebooks, textbooks, and random scraps of paper. The visibly foreign looking Duke students had mobs of little kids surrounding them with notebooks and pens yelling over and over again “laoshi qing qianming!” literally, “teacher please sign your name!” Even though I was obviously Asian-looking, they continued to badger me to give them my “autograph.” I felt like a celebrity! Haha that isn’t lame is it?
Aside from taking Chinese language and Chinese contemporary history courses, we are also all enrolled in an independent research project study class. Because we live in China, we’re expected to carry out Chinese interviews and surveys with locals, visit sites that may help our research, and use our lived experience to add to our paper. I won’t bore you on the details, but my paper is on ethnic tourism and its gendered aspects in Chinese advertising, specifically in Kunming. Isn’t it interesting that almost all advertising uses sexualized females? Most with ethnic, almost eroticized females beckoning men to come visit their tourist sites. Haha it’s my feminist nature coming out… but it IS something to think about!

To gain some insight on these processes, last Saturday, two of my Chinese university friends and I went to one of Kunming’s famous tourist spots, Minority Village. Picture Disney’s Epcot (shout-out to my co-castmembers!) but replace the countries with all sorts of Chinese ethnic minority villages. It was so bizarre. We would visit one “village,” watch a dancing and singing performance, and then move on to the next place, and so forth. Although each place had a very unique culture, language, dress, and tradition, it was difficult picking out the differences because the varied minorities often performed together. I was actually incredibly surprised at how similar the colorful and diverse outfits were with the seemingly exaggerated costumes that Disney has its cast members wear. I had to keep reminding myself that unlike Disney’s make-believe pavilions, these small villages were supposed to be very, very real. Weird.

After every performance they encouraged the audience to join them in a final dance. The first two or three dances had me walking away, but at one point, I thought why not? I danced (okay let me rephrase that, I awkwardly moved) with performers in a circular formation while simultaneously “whipping my hair back and forth.” Who would have thought that a dance at Shooters would resemble a culturally rich and significant dance of the Wuzu minority people in China? (You can see my little head in the pic.)

The park was also massive and incredibly beautiful. Stunning mountains filled the background, and the towering trees sitting next to the many lakes, coupled with the gorgeous weather made for a nice stroll in the sunlight.

I also continued my trend of engaging with animals on this little excursion of mine. So far, I’ve sat on a camel’s back, which I mean was pretty badass, am I right? That picture totally said it all! Well at Minority Village, I also went horseback riding around a track! Yeah they just had a random horseback riding area in the middle of this park. My parents and I went horseback riding ages ago, but it was just a simple trot. This time, however, the horse was bucking it! My butt hurt so badly after because I kept bouncing up and down on his back. It was still a 5 dollars well paid. 

Right before we left, we hit the elephant show… another random section of this minority’s village park. The elephant did tricks and people stood on top of the elephant’s head and such. At the end of the performance, people were given the opportunity to pay to sit on the elephant and get their picture taken. Obviously, I did it. I mean why not pay three dollars do get a picture on top of an elephant? Not only did I sit on the elephant’s back, but also sat on his tusk! I couldn’t believe how strong he was. Now HE was the badass one. 

I’m so incredibly jealous that basketball season is starting. As I write this, I have no idea whether or not we will win our 903rd game with Coach K (which would earn him the most wins in division I men’s college basketball (for those of you sad souls who have no knowledge of Duke ball) because the game plays while I’ll be sleeping tonight. Ah can’t wait! Apparently they play Duke games in Chinese now? Maybe I should check that out… how odd that would be.
I mentioned last week that Kunming always seems to surprise me. So you can imagine how surprised I was when I got my wallet stolen about two hours ago. Ahhhh! It sucks! I got both my debit and credit card stolen, and about 100 US dollars worth of Chinese yuan. And of course I was silly and had my license and Duke card in there, when that does me absolutely no good in China. I guess my first blog entry, when I said that I would prove to my parents I wouldn’t get robbed, turned out to be quite a fail. Now I just have to focus on not dying for the next month! Wish me luck!
I hope the winter cold isn’t keeping you inside all the time right now! Sending warmth and love from China!
Until next time,
My soon to be famous in China autograph,

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