Questions about Shanghai: the Bund, SNU, Students, and More
We’ve gotten several questions about how Barry and I are doing in Shanghai. So on the assumption that many of you are like quiet students and want to know too, here are the questions–and answers.
What are the temperatures?
In February and now the beginning of March, the temperatures are in the 30’s and sometimes in the 40’s; it is also wet. I do wonder sometimes what am I doing here — like Tuesday morning when I got up in the dark to catch the 7 am bus for my classes. But the experience is fun and challenging. We’ve read the best time to be in Shanghai is between March and May. The trees are already budding.
Movie theaters do play many films in English, but Barry and I think they are too expensive when we can get Netflix 🙂 and stay home and be warm. My students watch lots of movies in English.
You would be shocked about how free the Chinese people are in most ways as far as we can see. They are constrained by fierce competition of the billion more people here than in the U.S. So far, we haven’t found a topic that we can’t talk about here.
The first weekend, we went to Lin’an to see everyone and to collect our long underwear, winter coats, and boots, which we needed desperately. It was wonderful to see everyone–many of my favorite students, the other teachers, including the new Israeli couple Ruth and Danny, who are in Barry’s and my old apartment and let us stay with them; they seem like old friends.
We feel we are living in parallel universes: one on Maui, one in China, and one on the U.S. Mainland. Oh yes, Oaxaca too . . .All have people we love.
What’s your apartment in Shanghai like?
Surprisingly, our apartment is quiet. Although we’re in the middle of 21 million people, occasionally we hear birds chirping, classical music coming from the corner apartment that also has window plants growing even now in the winter, and sometimes a neighbor singing Chinese opera.
Do you have an office on campus?
How long will you be staying in China this time?
We’ll here until May 13. I will be teaching only nine weeks. Then we will travel in China before flying out to St. Louis where much of my family lives.
I hope that the 70 papers to be graded didn’t need to be graded before the next days classes.
Although I’m grumbling about the 70 papers, I teach only two days a week, so getting the assignments back quickly won’t be a problem. This week, I had the Thursday assignments marked and graded by Saturday, and I don’t meet the students again until Tuesday morning. Being here is a wonderful opportunity. It’s much less grading than I did at UHMC!
I can only imagine that you and Barry are picking up some basic Chinese as well so that you can communicate in both your classroom and in your day-to-day interactions with the Chinese.
Thank you for having such great faith in our language abilities. Although I went to Chinese classes for much of last year where we were to learn vocabulary, writing in pinyin and by the end of the year characters, reading, and speaking, I was always behind. The other Mandarin learners, full-time students, were in class six-hours a day. I was able to get to class six hours a week, and I didn’t study much. My excuse was I was teaching. This week in class, a new student spoke to me in Mandarin; I had no clue what he said. So in my classes, the students must speak English. Barry and I can say a few things, but Ruth and Danny, the Israeli couple who are now at ZAFU, have a tutor and focus on useful oral phrases. They have been here only five months but can say things I can’t. However another teacher, Becky has been going to the ZAFU Mandarin classes for two and a half years; she was always behind because of teaching, but struggled on and studied; she can now read, write, and speak enough to travel in China on her own! Although we would like to come back, Barry and I don’t plan on being here for long stretches (and I’m a bit lazy), but I would like to be functional.
Do many speak any English at all?
At ZAFU last year and SNU this year, all the students, not just the English majors, needed to pass an English test to get in to the university. Can you imagine if all our UHMC students had to pass a foreign language test to get in? We would not have overcrowded classrooms nor a need for lecturers :).
What are the age groups of those you are teaching?
Students take important tests at the end of their high school years that determine which colleges and what majors they may pursue. I’m teaching sophomores, so they are 19 & 20. Last year, I had one man, Tom, who remembers as a child catching little fish that helped his family survive during the years of much want in China. Tom is 65, teaches English, and audited one of my Oral English classes. Every other student was between 19 and 21.
Have you discovered great things to do in Shanghai?
Look up <SmartShanghai.com> for what to do and where to go here. We know YoYo Ma and Divo are coming to Shanghai, but the cheapest tickets that Barry could find were $140 each, and we wouldn’t get to select our seats, just the area. Do you think we can be volunteer ushers at the Shanghai Opera? We may just have to wander through the parks and listen to the public music, which is a lovely option.
Have you been going to the Old City? That’s my favorite place in Shanghai, that tea house on the crooked bridge. Dont’ know what it’s like there any more.
We were in the Old City in June, and we will be back. It was crowded though, but next time, we will look for the tea-house on the crooked bridge.
Have you been going down to Nanjing Road just to be a part of the human sea?
We were there about four hours Saturday night with my ZAFU student, Jane, who is from Shanghai and doing a four-month internship here as part of her program. We took the clean, efficient Metro that has signs in both Mandarin and English to met Jane in People’s Park, where some groups waltzed to stately music, some argued (perhaps politics or my students say they are talking about stocks!), and some lovers sat and kissed on isolated benches. One older Chinese guy said in perfect English, “Haven’t I met you somewhere?” Then he laughed, “Just kidding.” We floated with the stream of thousands it seemed from People’s Park down Nanjing Road to the Bund. Vendors tried to get us to buy everything from Gucci bags and Rolex watches to glowing wheels that clamp on your shoes to make them into skates. Almost everyone we saw was young and Chinese. Many carried fancy bags of their latest purchases. Even in their winter wear, we could see they were fashionable and had cool haircuts; everyone had a cell phone, probably an iPhone. The shops and restaurants were packed–even the Apple Store. Barry moaned about not buying Apple when the shares were $20 each, not the $500 + for each share today!
We’ve also wandered the French Concession, an area of European architecture from the 1920’s and 30’s, and now a place of up-scale shops, restaurants, and night spots.
At the Fuxing Park in the French Consession, we found
Where in Shanghai is your school? How far is it from the Bund?
The main campus of Shanghai Normal University is in SW Shanghai near the South Bus Station and the Shanghai South Train Station. We can catch a bus or walk about 15 minutes to the Shanghai Metro Line 1 –red line—subway. For a little more than a dollar round-trip, we are a quick seven stops from People’s Park.
How’s the air? Is it smoky with people trying to stay warm?
We’ve heard the pollution is terrible here, but so far, that is not our experience. When we came to teach last year, we arrived in time for the 2010 Shanghai Expo. The sky was a bright blue the four days we were here. Then we came again in June, 2011; it was rainy, but our eyes didn’t hurt or our lungs burn in any way. Now it is cold and often rainy, so the sky is gray and foggy more than polluted at least where we are. Further outside Shanghai where the factories are is likely to be polluted. As for the smoking, in fact the restaurants now are no-smoking, and the people seem to be respecting the ban here although they weren’t when we left Lin’an last July.
What courses are you teaching?
I’m teaching two classes of English Writing for Tourism Management. I have 35 students in each class, and each class meets with me twice a week. And for that, I get a round-trip ticket from the U.S., a nice furnished apartment with utilities, and a salary! Besides, we get to be in one of the most vibrant cities in the world!
Do you live on campus? What neighborhood is your apartment in? Who is the owner?
We live about a 15 minute walk from the entrance of the main SNU campus on Guilin Road, in SW Shanghai. We are in a six-floor flat on the ground floor. We have a two bedroom, one bath nicely furnished apartment with a kitchen, and a solarium/laundry room. We haven’t met the owner.
Why don’t you hang out with your students after class (like you did at Lin’an)?
The SNU freshmen and sophomores live and have classes at the new Fengxian campus. It’s a 40-minute school bus ride from the in-town Xuhui campus. Many Chinese universities now, we are told, have campuses outside the cities; there the land isn’t expensive and the new students are less distracted by all the night-life of the city. In Lin’an, we lived in faculty housing right on campus, so we saw students whenever we walked out the door. But for SNU after my Thursday afternoon/evening classes, I have 10 minutes to walk across campus to catch the last teacher’s bus of the night back to near our apartment. However, I’m sure I’ll figure out a way to see those students who would like to meet with me. Barry met with one student for three hours last Thursday! We loved doing the movie night almost every Saturday last year for the ZAFU students who wanted to come. We won’t be able to do that here, but we will find other things to do.
What is the level of most of your students?
Not that I’m an expert in ESL now, but the students here and in Lin’an have been studying English in school for 10 years or so. They watch many movies in English and listen to English-speaking songs, T.V. shows, play video games in English, and read books written in English. They have writing problems similar to our English 22 or even English 100 students at UHMC: occasional irregular verb errors, faulty parallelism, much/many confusion—and not enough supporting detail! Often I forget they are second language learners. Someone may say, “I’ve been eating too many snakes lately,” and mean “snacks,” not “snakes.” One of my students just wrote, “I feel really thermal” in describing how her mom knits her warm sweaters for the winter. Students use British words: mum, brilliant, and maths, but those words are only “wrong” if you are American. Especially since I’m so challenged by Mandarin, I’m really impressed by their competence. I do include cultural concepts that I think could be useful for their business work or for their own lives. For instance because I feel it isn’t fair that the Chinese males are now responsible for all the material wealth of the family, last week I told about how in the U.S. it is almost essential for a family to have two wage earners and how couples now need to be a team rather than just relying on the male. The students listened politely, but I don’t think anyone changed his or her mind.
What materials are available to you?
Several times before I came, I asked what English Writing for Tourism Management should cover. I knew the title of my courses, and Liping sent me an example of what she does for another Tourism Management course, but I’ve been able to design the class myself. I assume that what would be useful for them would be a business writing class, so we are covering memos, electronic messages, bad news and persuasive letters, resume and cover letters for English speaking foreign companies, press releases, brochures, and focusing on cultural differences and how to minimize cultural misunderstanding. Derek Snyder pointed me to two good business writing books on the share shelves in our UHMC office; they are helpful. The Shanghai interns at the Makena Resort gathered a few pieces of writing that I can use as examples too. I hope the class will be useful for the students and improve their English writing skills too.
So we are doing well here. We’re looking forward to getting to know the students and Shanghai better and enjoying spring and travel in China.
What is Johnny doing?
At the end of January, Johnny flew out with Captain Rob. Johnny is now the crew on Captain Rob’s 45′ sailboat. A couple of days ago, they were on Lola Island in the Solomon Islands, know as the site where JFK’s PT boat was hit by a Japanese destroyer. The islands previously were also known for cannibalism. Now the Solomons are known for beautiful coral reefs, great surfing, and friendly people.
Go to <http://www.sailblogs.com/member/rose/?xjMsgID=210921> to find out what they are doing. John has long wanted to learn to sail, and he now has an incredible chance to learn with Rob.
Thanks to Sue, Joy, Kate, and San for the questions. What would you like to know? Greetings from Barry.
Aloha and zaì jiàn, Renée