Mid-terms, zongzi, and lunch with my English corner

We’re having mid-terms this week at my school which has made for a delightful change of pace for me. I’ve assigned my students to each teach me something about Chinese culture for their mid-term and instead of making them present in front of the class, they just need to show up to our classroom at a designated time and give their little presentation or talk to just me. It’s very informal.

This week I’ve learned so much. Of course I’ve seen many repeat presentations. By now I know all about the Dragon Boat Festival and the famous story of the poet Qu Yuan who was also an activist and politician. The short version is that Qu Yuan was warning the king about an enemy and the king didn’t listen and Qu Yuan was banished (and during his exile he was quite the prolific poet) and then the enemy captured his city and so he committed suicide by drowning himself in the river. It’s said that the local people loved Qu Yuan very much and they raced their boats out to save him, but they couldn’t save him. So, the threw zongzi in the water so that the fish would eat the sticky rice balls instead of the dead poet’s body.

I love knowing the stories behind customs and such. This week, I’ve learned about kung fu tea, I’ve been reminded of the fact that “China” in English means porcelain, I’ve learned about Chinese Valentine’s day and many homesick students have given me presentations about their beloved hometowns. It’s been a really good opportunity to sit and talk alone and get to know them individually. I’ve been surprised at what some of them have been able produce and the stories they’ve told me! One really beautiful, quiet, and metropolitan-looking girl explained to me that she comes from a really rural area where children are considered to be adults at age 13 and the coming of age party involves the 13 year-old biting the head of a chicken (already baked) to signify that now they can live as they please! Strange but true, she even showed me pictures. From the little bits she has spoken in class, I never would have guessed that this girl came from such a rural area. I wish I could have mid-terms EVERY week though I’m sure my students would protest.

Two of my students today actually brought me zongzi as part of their little lesson. I already had lunch plans so I just put them in my book bag and carried them to a little restaurant that we sometimes frequent which is outside the school gates.

Every week we are required to do an English corner which is a voluntary thing for students to come to and practice their English. We were allowed to chose special topics and I was originally teaching a “Modern Poetry” English corner until I realized that it wasn’t very popular and mostly I was scaring students away and so I switched and now teach one of the ubiquitous “Open Talk” English corners. Anyways, this week my English corner decided they wanted to have lunch with me! So, we set up a time and this afternoon I rode my bike and took my zongzi to the restaurant.

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The crowd that showed up for English corner this week. It varies. Obviously MOST of these girls did not show up to the lunch we had planned, which was fine by me.

Now, this week the kung fu coach came to my English corner because he wants to practice English. Shortly after I arrived at the restaurant, the kung fu coach arrived as well but he let me and the students know that he could only stay for 10 minutes because he had a meeting, so I gave him one of my zongzi so that he would not be without lunch. Also, there’s only so much glutinous rice that I can or should eat in one day and I didn’t want to waste the food.

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Random snapshot taken while we were preparing to order lunch. This restaurant is called “Yellow Chairs” by the foreigners but obviously we don’t have yellow chairs there anymore.

The rest of lunch was just myself, three male students and one female student after the kung fu teacher had to leave for his meeting. The chief speaker and organizer of the lunch was my friend, iPhone (his English name). I don’t actually call iPhone by his English name because I think it’s too silly, so I use his Chinese name. Anyways, we had a good lunch. We talked about language learning strategies and other things. My new goal is to write one sentence in Chinese each day and I’ll send it to iPhone and he will check it. This will no doubt be quite a challenge.

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