JISHOU, HUNAN — One of my Facebook followers left me a message, complaining that she hadn’t heard much from me lately. So, this one’s for you, Angela!
The spring term ended here on July 15, but I gave my exams much earlier than that, on July 1 and 2. While my students prepped for their other exams, I read their research papers and composition exams. For a solid week. After reading several second and third drafts of the papers, I finally handed in my grades on July 14.
But I was not entirely free yet. The parents of some of the students I had been tutoring during the fall and spring wanted me to continue their lessons for the rest of July. Fortunately, not everyone wanted the summer classes, so I only had eight students in all, and most of them could come to my apartment for lessons. Some days I taught for three hours, others for four; and Sundays I was free.
I’ll tell some anecdotes about these kids now.
Marike is 9. Her daily schedule during the summer included an hour of violin lessons, two hours with me, and two hours of writing (calligraphy) lessons. She did not get a midday nap. (During the school year, Marike had “panda eyes” when I would see her on Sunday mornings.) One of our summer lessons was a two-person dialogue about shopping. I thought it was pretty easy, but our insistence that Marike (a shy girl) do the dialogue with her friend made her break down in tears. She was just too tired to put up with it, she said. For the next lesson, we played Scrabble, which was less intimidating and the kids really enjoyed.
Her best pal is Sally, who at first I thought was a little lazy. I was wrong. She’s just easily bored, and I was boring her. Oops! Sally has the same schedule as Marike.
Julie is also 9. She and her best pal, Billie, are energetic and outgoing, but of the two, Julie is more serious about learning English. Her vocabulary is pretty astounding for her age. Julie and I can chat on QQ. Jane is their classmate, but not quite as accomplished in English yet.
Shawn is 11. He’s quite smart, and often annoying. Like Julie, his vocabulary is pretty good, but sorry, buddy, hers is better. He and Julie were usually the winners in the Scrabble games.
Lee is 15. His mom teaches in the PE college. Our first two lessons of oral English were painful, because I couldn’t get him to talk more than a few words. Then his other English teacher (one of my sophs) dragged him to an English corner at the teacher’s college. Now Lee jabbers away in English, and I have to remind him that the lesson is over.
Cara is 9. She came as a companion for her friend, Cathy, who had spent fall term in English-medium schools in Singapore. Originally, I was to teach Cathy oral English, so that she didn’t lose the advantage she got while in Singapore. Instead, I ended up having real conversations with Cara while we went through our lessons. Cara, like Lee, wanted each lesson to last longer than the scheduled time.
Saturday was the last day of my summer lessons, but on Sunday I went to a friend’s class as a favor. She was also ending her lessons for the summer. Her kids’ names are Mark, Jack, Linda, Michelle and Sunny. All but Linda — who is 8 — are 11 years old. I spent about an hour chatting with them. Their conversational skills are limited, but little Linda can talk more than the older kids. I asked them what they liked to do in their free time. Mark likes to sing, so we sang “Auld Lang Syne” together. Michelle likes to dance, so I invited her to waltz. She agreed, if very self-consciously. Jack is eager to show himself, and Sunny (I learned later) has overcome some speech defects so that she now pronounces English quite clearly.
I met friends downtown later that evening, and ran into Michelle and her dad. She said hello to me, and introduced me to her dad. Pretty good for an 11-year-old Chinese, I should say. (I am not sure if she said I was her dance partner, though. We need to work on our moves first.)
The weather here has been, in a word, scorching. In the high 30s, which corresponds to the mid- to high- 90s in the USA (remember that 37 Celsius is body temperature, 98.6 Fahrenheit). So, I avoid going out during the day, exiting my air-conditioned flat only for dinner and evening activities when the air is less stifling.
August is my travel month this year. First, I will visit Hefei, the capital two provinces over in Anhui, where a former neighbor here now lives with her new husband. The trip will be by high-speed rail, taking just five hours from Changsha at top speeds of about 250 km/hr (155 mph). Two of us (both friends of the Hefei woman) leave on Wednesday.
After Hefei, I may visit Guangzhou (by bullet train from Changsha, just 2.5 hours) and/or Shenzhen, where I also have friends. Around the 18th, I will fly to Beijing (high-speed rail from Hunan to the national capital is not yet complete) to meet the new teachers from America and their 11-year-old daughter. We will fly back to Jishou by way of Changde together. The last junket will be (hopefully) to Shanghai, perhaps to see the World Expo, but mostly to see the city itself.
Classes begin Sept. 6. I am hoping I will know which classes I will be teaching by then. Some things never change.